Authors: Brooke Moss
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Adult
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 by Brooke Moss. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
2614 South Timberline Road
Fort Collins, CO 80525
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Edited by Libby Murphy
Cover design by Heather Howland
Ebook ISBN 978-1-62266-884-7
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition February 2013
The author acknowledges the copyrighted or trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction: Charlie Brown, BlackBerry, H
agen Dazs, Felix the Cat,
Miracle on 34
, Coca Cola,
Fiddler on the Roof,
Double Extend Mascara, “Oh Come All Ye Faithful,” Taittinger, Botox, Formica, Harley Davidson, iPod, Bvlgari, Red Cross, Seattle Mariners, United Colors of Benetton, Crest, Marlboro, Honda, Academy Award, Chevelle, NASCAR, Google,
, “Dazed and Confused,” Starbucks, Safeco Field, Pepto Bismol, “I’m All Shook Up,” “Fools Rush In,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” Spanx, Boy Scouts, Tiffany, Blue Man Group, Treasure Island Hotel & Casino, The Venetian Hotel & Casino, Cirque du Soleil, Cinderella, JumboTron, and Frigidaire.
For every girl who kept the secret.
Gabe hopped off the swing and faced me with a grin. “Are you ready?” he asked. “My mom and dad are waiting in the car.”
I clambered over the fence, landing in the grass at the back end of the Parkers’ lawn. “’Course.” I brushed dust off the knees of my pants, pretending like his aquamarine eyes didn’t make my heart start double-dutching inside my chest. It’d been that way for a while, Gabe feeling less like the best friend I’d had since I was little, and more like the boy in my sixth-grade class that made my palms sweat and my throat close up.
He held out his hand for me to take. “Well, let’s go, then.”
I slipped my hand in his and prayed
my face wouldn’t turn red. We went up the back steps, through the house, and out the front door, where Nora and Guthrie were waiting with smiles on their faces. On Guthrie’s head there was a worn Mariners cap—the same type that rested on Gabe’s—and on Nora’s lap was a brightly wrapped gift.
My stomach whirled with happiness as soon as I saw them waving. They were my second family. The people I counted on almost more than I counted on my own mother. Whenever I was with them, I felt like I was part of a real family.
“Happy birthday, Violet,” Nora called through the open window of the car.
When I hopped into the car, Guthrie turned around in the driver’s seat and winked at me.
“Got an exciting night planned, kiddo.”
“Dad, she knows what we’re doing tonight.” Gabe climbed into the backseat next to me and rolled his eyes. He always acted embarrassed by his parents.
Nora’s mouth dropped open, even though a smile tickled the corners. “Say it ain’t so.”
I laughed and played along. We’d been playing this little game every year since my eighth birthday, when our annual trip to Benito’s for pizza and Safeco Field for a Mariners game started. I looked forward to it every year with the same enthusiasm most kids waited for Christmas. Nothing felt better than sitting down to a margherita pizza with the Parkers.
“No, it’s a surprise, all right.” I offered Gabe a half shrug and buckled my belt.
“This girl’s a keeper,” Guthrie said with a chuckle, turning the key in the ignition. He always said that about me. And I loved it.
Gabe nudged me with his shoulder, and I saw through the corner of my eye that he was grinning. “Yeah. We’ll keep her.”
Emotion pricked at the backs of my eyes, and I blinked a few times to keep it at bay. This was the best place to be on my birthday. With Gabe’s family.
family. The car backed out of the driveway, and Gabe’s hand covered mine on the backseat as we rolled down the street.
“Happy birthday, Vi.”
August 19, 1997
I love Gabe. He doesn’t know it, but I do. Someday I’m going to tell him. And when I do, he’s going to say he loves me back. I know it will happen. I can feel it deep inside. We’re going to get married, and have babies, and live happily ever after. Mark my words…
“Damn it, Violet, why can’t my boobs look so hot when I wear that blouse?”
I tucked my journal deep in the back of my nightstand drawer and covered it up with an old scarf. The memories I’d been reading clouded around me like fog, and I had to shake my head to clear them. That’s what trips down memory lane did. Especially ones that involved reading my journal entries about my best friend. Sadly, out of the dozens and dozens of notebooks I’d filled with my innermost thoughts over the years, a huge percentage of them were devoted to dissecting my friendship—and more—with Gabe. Sometimes writing in, and rereading, those stupid, worn-out journals of mine was the only thing that kept me sane.
I pulled on my coat and shot my roommate a cheeky smile. “Because you’re too skinny, my dear.”
“Touché.” Kim laughed, tugging on a snowman sweater over her head. She had an arsenal of tacky Christmas sweaters in her closet, all gifts from her mother, and prided herself on being able to pair them with leather pants.
My other roommate, Betsy, emerged from the kitchen with a candy cane sticking out of her mouth. “I disagree,” she said. “I think your boobs are just fine, babe.”
“You’re biased.” I scooped my purse off the table. “She’s your girlfriend—of course you think she’s just fine.”
Betsy grinned and adjusted her glasses on her nose. “True. But for the record, I think you look fine as well. That shirt really does look great.”
“Gabe will be drooling all over himself. He’ll take one look at you and say,
“You’re saying the name wrong.” Betsy pointed her candy cane at Kim. “Remember? It’s Ah-lee-sia.” She added a British accent for good measure.
“Don’t mess with the name, guys. Seriously.” The first time I’d met Gabe’s latest ex-girlfriend, she’d corrected my pronunciation of her name. Twice. And after only ten minutes in a bowling alley together, she’d looked from her taupe linen pantsuit to my plaid schoolgirl skirt and “I Love
New York” T-shirt and immediately decided to dislike me. A claim Gabe vehemently denied.
But I knew better. I’d met dozens of Gabe’s girlfriends over the years, and as soon as they caught on to how close he and I were, it was a one-way ticket to Haterville. Population: one.
“To hell with how she looks,” Betsy said. “Once he hears what’s in your heart, he won’t want anyone else but you.”
It’d taken me forever to get to the place
I was at that morning. After living with Kim and Betsy for three years, they’d finally worn me down. Countless nights spent whining into a pint of H
agen Dazs because the man I’d loved was out with other women had convinced me that it was time. Time to tell him how I felt. And, of course, the e-mail I’d received from Gabe saying that he’d broken things off with Alicia helped.
“Thanks, you two.” I looked up at the Felix the Cat clock ticking away on the wall. “I’m gonna miss my bus if I don’t scoot. Don’t touch that eggnog until I get home.”
Kim’s hand crossed her heart. “I promise. It’ll be us and
Miracle on 34th Street
when you get back.
you come back, that is.”
“Right after we finish family dinner hell,” Betsy added, grimacing down at her own sweater.
I grabbed my umbrella. “Ugh…are you sure you can’t come to Christmas dinner with me? Give me some emotional support? Possibly a kick in the rear if I try to chicken out?”
“Oh, no. I’ll be damned if you’re going to chicken out, Violet.” Kim blinked at me a few times. “We’ve been over this a thousand times. You love him. You always have. There’s no point in denying it anymore.”
Biting my lip, I nodded.
Kim peeled herself away from Betsy, who was still sucking on her candy cane, and came over to brush a lock of my hair back from my face. “Lookin’ good. I really like the hot pink streaks.”
I grimaced. “Of course you do—you’re the one who put them in.”
Since meeting Kim at cosmetology school, we’d discovered
that we both had a fondness for body art and rockabilly style. A year later, after Betsy came into the fold, our passion for vintage clothing became a full-on obsession. Now our weekends—when Kim and I weren’t working at The Funky Fox, a hair salon on Capitol Hill, one of Seattle’s most diverse and eclectic neighborhoods—were spent scouring secondhand shops and flea marts.
Betsy groaned behind us. “Kim, we’ve got to go, too. My dad is going to flip if we’re late for another meal.”
Kim grimaced. “Seriously. In-laws. Oy.”
“You.” Betsy looked at me and frowned, making her freckles run together. “Don’t punk out. You’ve got the whole speech planned. Now you just need to trust your heart. All right?”
“Shut up.” She pulled me in for a hug. “Call if you’re home before we are.”
Kim leaned in to join the hug. “Yeah. We’ll use you as an excuse to get out of Betsy’s family dinner early.”
Betsy nodded. “For eggnog.”
“And a movie,” I reminded them, turning the door handle. I flashed my crossed fingers to my roommates and headed down the stairs toward the foyer, my platform pumps clunking loudly on the old, wooden steps.
This was it. I was going to Christmas dinner to celebrate the holiday with family, to open some gifts, to eat some pie, maybe sing a carol or two…
And to profess my love to Gabe. Talk about a Christmas bonus.
November 14, 2003
I think it was fate that brought Gabe and me together in Mrs. Pratt’s kindergarten class. He was the only boy I’d ever known who didn’t pick his nose and forget to zip his fly. On my way home the first day, he announced that he was going to marry me. He used to push me on the swings at recess and sneak flowers from his mom’s garden into my desk. One time he even gave me all of his lunch when my mom forgot to send money. All of it. Every bite.
Holy hell, my hands were sweating. I crossed the busy dining room carrying a bowl of sweet potatoes, my mother chattering away beside me. I watched Gabe pull a chair out for Alicia, and my fingers curled against the side of the bowl.
Why was she even here? Had they gotten back together? Gabe usually told me everything, but somehow he’d managed to forget to mention this little nugget. He must have brought her because she didn’t have family in Seattle. Yeah, that was it. She’d taken their breakup hard, and Gabe—ever the golden boy—invited her so that she wouldn’t be alone. What a guy.
When I saw him, every nerve ending in my body hummed with excitement. The hair on the back of my neck stood up, and my chest tightened painfully when he looked at me across a room. Nearly ten years after we’d tried unsuccessfully to date, my feelings for Gabe hadn’t waned. He was just…
As if the fact that she was unbearably nice wasn’t enough, Alicia was a waif with long legs and visible collarbones. I was shaped like an old-fashioned Coke bottle with boobs, hips, and thighs. Where she had long russet hair and bright green eyes, I had hazel eyes and hair that was once blond but was now streaked with pink. When I was around Alicia, I felt chubby and cumbersome, and not at all like the confident woman I usually was. And it drove me crazy how enamored Gabe was with her waifish beauty.
Just a month or so before the holidays, he’d said that he wasn’t ready to settle down. And they’d broken up just a few days ago. Sure, he’d brought
to Christmas dinner with him, but as soon as the meal was over, I was going to sequester him in a different room and profess my feelings. That would get rid of the beautiful and lovable Alicia once and for all, wouldn’t it? Just because she was willowy, had gorgeous auburn hair, and volunteered at a soup kitchen, it
didn’t mean I couldn’t scare the skinny cow away if I needed to.
“Put that bowl right there, Violet.” Gabe’s dad patted me on the shoulder as he passed me carrying a stack of Christmas CDs, jolting me out of my thoughts. When I looked up at him, my skin warmed at the sight of his light aqua blue eyes, the same shade as his son’s, though Gabe’s cocoa skin differed from Guthrie’s pale Caucasian.
I nodded at him, and watched Gabe through the corner of my eye. He was such an exquisite mix of his Caucasian father and African-American mother. He was tall and muscular like Guthrie had always been, and had his mother’s full lips and toothy grin that filled her face with joy. And his
blue eyes had been my weakness since I was six years old.
“Let’s sit down, dear. They’re ready to serve.” My mom tugged on my hand and pulled me into a chair next to her at the table, making a centerpiece of gold balls and fresh holly jiggle. When I scooted up to the table, she gave me a sideways glance. “What’s wrong? You’re all sweaty.”
“It’s just the eggnog, Ma.” I watched one of Gabe’s aunts plaster his cheeks with kisses and enjoyed the sounds of laughter and conversation.
Giggling, my mom nudged my stepfather Curtis. “I thought I saw Guthrie adding a nip to the bowl.”
Christmas music began to play softly on the nearby stereo, which was the Parker family’s way of telling the crowd to make their way to their seats. On my mother’s other side, Curtis poured a glass of wine, then passed the bottle my way, whispering, “Fill your glass. Someone’s giving a toast.”
I peeled my eyes from Gabe’s face and took the wine. Toasts were a big tradition at Parker family Christmas dinners. We’d joined them for countless celebrations over the years, and I loved every moment of the holidays with them—from the way their restored Victorian home was decorated from the floor to the rafters, to the homemade goodies set up on every surface, to the guest list of loved ones who treated my family like their own.
“Why does Nora look so anxious?” my mom whispered.
I craned my neck to spot Gabe’s mother at the opposite end of the table. It was hard to see her around all of the lit red and green candles, but her face was turned to Alicia, and only her long, dark braids, bound by a beaded barrette, were visible. She didn’t look terribly anxious from the back, but her job as a lawyer required her to appear as cool as a Frigidaire at all times. Though as I watched them, a glimmer of light caught my eye.
There was a ring on Alicia’s finger. A big one.
The oxygen was sucked from the room as Gabe poured a splash of liquid into her glass. It was as if time was moving in slow motion. Gabe lifted a butter knife and struck the side of his wine glass three times, prompting a hush to fall over the crowd.
“I would like to raise a glass…to my fiancée.”
My eyes snapped back to Gabe’s face. Wait…what? Surely, I’d misheard.
As Gabe stood at the head of the holiday table, I stifled a sudden urge to grab the table edge and send all the plates, the food, the candles, the glasses, the silverware
and possibly some of the guests
“Congratulations, Gabe and Alicia,” someone at the end of the table cheered.
My face heated, and my hands balled into tight fists underneath the tablecloth. I looked away from Gabe. His eyes were too bright, too excited, and he appeared too intoxicated by love for me to witness this scene without having an epic meltdown.
I scanned the people around the table, finding only tears of joy and raised wine glasses. Tears pricked at my eyes and threatened to spill over. I closed them for just a moment, careful not to let the tears fall.
Don’t do this now
Don’t fall apart here. Wait for later.
I took a shuddering breath. My chest tightened.
was supposed to be the woman sitting next to him as he stood there beaming and raising his glass. He was supposed to be gazing excitedly at
held out my left hand for everyone to see the sparkling engagement ring.
“Well, a wedding is just what this family needs.” Gabe’s Uncle Roy smacked the tabletop. “A good reason to throw a party.”
Everyone at the long table laughed, and glasses rose all around me. My mother patted my knee and made me jump. “Open your eyes, dear. You’re being melodramatic.”
I opened my eyes, and a couple of hot tears defied my will. They slid down my face, undoubtedly taking my Double Extend mascara with it. Great day to go full-on sixties retro with my makeup. Before anybody could see, I dabbed at my cheeks, hopefully removing any evidence of my anguish.
Gabe’s voice rang out above the music and crowd. “I gave her the ring this morning by the tree in the living room. She jumped up and knocked over Dad’s reading lamp when she hugged me.”
Alicia caught my eye and smiled sweetly, though the happiness didn’t quite meet her eyes, which were narrowed.
How had I not known this was coming? Why hadn’t Gabe told me that he was planning to do this? Hell, three weeks ago, he’d called to tell me that he was trying a new brand of pretzels. Next thing I know he falls off the grid for a week and reappears engaged to a woman he’s only been dating for a couple of months?
I always thought that I’d have more time. It didn’t matter that we’d attempted to date in high school. I’d assumed that we belonged together, and we would give a relationship—beyond friendship—another try. In every fantasy of my own “happily ever after,” it was Gabe I was standing next to. Whenever I’d imagined my wedding day, it was him I was pledging my life to.
“I’d like to propose a toast to my future wife.” Gabe
straightened the vintage Armani tie I’d given him for his birthday, and smoothed his starched button-down shirt. A lump formed in my throat as he raised her tiny hand to his mouth and kissed it.
This was too much. I was going to be sick.
My mother laughed nervously. “For heaven’s sake, pull yourself together.” Image was everything to my ex-beauty-queen mother, and it was clear that she didn’t want anyone else to catch on that I was crying at the dinner table.
Gabe’s smile softened a bit as we shared a brief moment. If he saw that I was crying, he didn’t acknowledge it. He raised his glass to me, his action barely noticeable to the chattering crowd around us. I grinned wide, showing as many teeth as possible, as if that would prove my loyalty to him. When he turned to his aunt, my facade faltered, dropping from my face as quickly as I’d plastered it there. I looked at my lap and noticed that my melting makeup had left several dark spots on my circle skirt.
This can’t be. This just can’t be…
Gabe took his seat and leaned over to kiss his new fiancée on the cheek. I sniffled, thankful the chorus of “O Come, All Ye Faithful” covered the sound of my meltdown. While wiping my running mascara, I caught Nora’s eye.
Her face was not what I would have expected from the mother of a happy, newly engaged man. It was somber as her eyes locked firmly on mine. Her mouth had turned down, and her eyes were wide and sad. As Nora Parker sat there among all of the celebrators, champagne being poured, she mouthed three words to me that I never expected.
“I’m so sorry.”