Authors: Michael Cain
Tags: #romantic comedy, #chick lit, #free book, #adult contemporary
Copyright 2012, Mercy Walker
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For Mom and April
And many thanks to the Adam’s Clan, Mrs. G (who told
me I’d be a writer one day), and to Krista Wagoner for teaching me
It couldn’t be
happening. Standing there in her pearl-white strapless satin gown,
her blond hair painstakingly straightened and pulled back in a
perfect twist, the veil already in place, she just couldn’t believe
it. With her bridal bouquet of pink miniature roses in her left
hand, Susan Rhodes couldn’t get over how heavy the generic white
cocktail napkin seemed to be as it drooped in the palm of her right
How could it be
burning her flesh? How could the message scrawled across it be
English one moment and gibberish the next? And how could that
short, inadequate message have so much power over her?
She had been so
happy: in love and engaged to a handsome, successful attorney--on
the cusp herself of becoming partner at the architectural firm that
practically worshipped her like a Greek goddess. She’d always known
she would be a great architect, just as she knew she would make a
wonderful wife. She had it all planned out, could call up the image
of herself, her career, her husband and two tiny children, with
such perfect clarity.
And now the shitty
little cocktail napkin had destroyed it all, with eight near
Can’t get married.
Marry someone else.
best man and best friend since college, stood there in his tuxedo
jacket and slacks, clashing ridiculously with a garish pair of
green hiking boots and a faded orange t-shirt with
emblazoned across his chest. He
slouched, staring at Susan, obviously waiting for some scathing
reply to the message he’d just pressed into her hand. Susan was
known for her temper and for always having the best comebacks
anyone had ever heard--sometimes polite yet viscous, sometimes so
expletive-laced sailors would blush. But as he waited for Susan to
lay into him, his drunken, apologetic smile slowly turned to
Susan just stood
there with the napkin in her hand, her face falling from a
bewildered smile to a completely blank stare. Her body slumped the
tiniest bit, the arm holding the bouquet dropping to her side, the
flowers absently dropping from her freshly manicured fingertips.
Her flesh turned cold as if snow and ice had replaced the blood in
her veins. Tim started backing away from her when he saw the first
tears trickle from her eyes, sliding down her cheeks.
“Suze, what’s with
dropping the flowers?” Liz, Susan’s best friend and maid of honor,
bent to retrieve the bouquet from the floor of Saint Anne’s
vestibule. “It’s like dropping the ball...” That’s when Liz spotted
Tim, a guilty expression on his face, right before he turned and
slunk out the door he’d entered.
She shook her head
and smiled, her mouth opened as if she were about to say something,
then her eyes got wide as she took a step closer to Susan. “You’re
whiter than your dress! What’s going on?”
Susan said nothing,
not moving. She wondered if she was even breathing. Her heart had
definitely stopped beating. Liz looked down at the cocktail napkin
and read the message upside down, her warm hand closing around
Susan’s now trembling wrist.
Without looking away,
Liz started to speak in the way she always spoke at her art gallery
when she wanted everyone’s attention--her tone bright and sweet,
yet steeped in authority.
“Ladies,” she said to
the bridesmaids. “May the bride and I have the room for a
Thirty seconds later,
the two women stood alone in the room, surrounded by wedding gifts
and flowers, standing facing each other, Liz’s hand still gripping
Susan’s wrist. “Suze?” she said, her clear blue eyes
Susan gazed at Liz,
startled, just comprehending her best friend was speaking to her.
Her face crumpled, the tears spilling chaotic down her face in
rivulets, a gasping sob escaping her lips. “Oh, Liz...”
Liz crushed Susan’s
shaking body against hers, holding her up, protecting her too late
from what had already harmed her.
Kevin Jacobs didn’t
want to be in Chicago, he didn’t want to be going to his best
friend’s wedding, and he certainly wasn’t masochistic enough to
want to watch his best friend march down the aisle to marry another
man--he was in love, not stupid.
And he wasn’t really
“in love.” Not really. He’d let that go years ago, when, after
trying to woo Susan their entire junior year at Dartmouth, she’d
simply blurted out--in typical Susan fashion--she didn’t see him as
a “romantic possibility.” But after two weeks of licking his
wounds, he’d decided he couldn’t live without her being his friend.
So he swallowed those lustful, romanticized feelings, burying them
deep in him.
The rest of their
college experience was a rose tinted haze of pizza and music and
frozen margaritas--and all night cram sessions when they invariably
partied too hard too often.
followed by jobs in separate cities, in separate states, on
separate sides of the continental United States. Yet somehow they’d
become even closer over the years, the distance acting as a magical
truth serum, letting each share things they would never tell
someone they actually had to look at in the morning. For five
years, texting two to three times a day, and calling each other at
least twice a week to share good news or to just sound off about
what pissed them off.
Kevin could’ve done
this long distance thing for the rest of his life, never having to
meet any of his best friend’s boyfriends and bed partners. He had
stopped dating after the second year after college, recognizing he
unfairly compared these women he dated to Susan and always found
them lacking no matter how wonderful they were. Instead he’d thrown
himself into his work, and when not designing buildings or whole
cities, he would spend his leisure time working out compulsively at
the twenty-four-hour gym down the street from his apartment.
But no, that easy
routine of listening and being able to be detached--because, after
all, she was just a voice on the phone--was blown to hell. Susan
was getting married, and she needed her best friend--well, her
second best friend--to be there for support.
Swallowing the regret
and long buried feelings he’d had for her--and had thought he’d
forgotten--Kevin hopped on a plane for Chicago, and once there,
froze his ass off as he flagged down a cab and made his way to
Saint Anne’s Cathedral to do what he hadn’t been able to do all
those years ago when college had ended. Say goodbye.
The church was packed
with familiar and unfamiliar faces. Amber and rose-colored light
filtered through the stained glass windows. The sharp, sweet smell
of flowers filled the air, their bright colors popping against the
dim interior of the church. As if by instinct, Kevin found his way
back to the corridor leading him straight to Susan. The
mahogany-lined hallway was cluttered with half a dozen bridesmaids,
their lilac dresses clustered like living bouquets against the
walls, the plethora of their flowery perfumes overwhelming him.
There was also one rather disturbed-looking groomsman named Tim.
Kevin recognized him from pictures Susan had emailed over the last
year of her engagement with Mark, aka, “the shit-head.”
Kevin pushed through
the door to the vestibule and stopped in his tracks. Susan was
clinging to her best friend Liz, gasping heart-ripping sobs as if
someone had died.
Had Mark, the
shit-head, died? The possibility was intoxicating, yet Kevin
refrained from asking.
Liz’s eyes met
his and he mouthed,
Liz held out
the crumpled cocktail napkin and mouthed,
Tim gave her this
Kevin read the words,
not comprehending that they were not just some frat-boy joke, but
as he read them again, he understood they were the end of Susan’s
dreams, or at least that’s how she would see it.
into Liz’s eyes, Kevin could tell they were thinking the same
And when Liz’s
usually hostile expression abruptly turned beseeching, Kevin knew
exactly what she wanted him to do.
Kevin sprinted down
the corridor and shot with increasing speed through the long
sanctuary of the cathedral, the wedding guests’ jaws dropping as
they watched him hurtle past them and through the front doors of
The sun beat down on
the rain slicked streets, making the city glare as if it were
constructed of industrial strength halogen lightbulbs. Kevin
squinted and turned in quick circles until he spotted the
still-tipsy groomsman about to crawl into a cab. As Kevin ran
toward the car Tim’s drunken face changed expression, a slow
comprehension dawning. He tried desperately to yank the cab door
open, his hands slipping as he scrabbled against the handle. Kevin
was upon him all too quickly, pulling him around to face him and
slamming him hard against the cab door. The look on Tim’s face was
so ludicrously horrified it would’ve been funny if Kevin didn’t
feel so violently enraged.
“Where is he?” Kevin
seethed, his voice a thinly restrained snarl.
The front passenger
side window of the cab rolled down and the cabby leaned his head
out. “Get the fuck off my cab!”
Kevin turned his dark
glare toward the cabby, daring him to say another word.
The cabby gulped and
looked away. “Take your time,” he said as the window whined back up
to closed again.
Kevin turned his gaze
back to Tim and leaned in a little closer, not saying a word.
“I don’t know what
you’re--” Tim mumbled.
Kevin cut him off,
barking, “Where is he!”
Tim was starting to
turn green. “Honest, man, I don’t know--argh!”
Kevin pressed his
forearm across Tim’s throat and watched as Tim’s complexion turned
from green to pink, to scarlet.
“If you don’t tell me
where your shit-weasel friend is, I’m going to give you the beating
I was saving for him. Do you understand?”
Kevin waited for Tim
to shake his head in comprehension before letting up on the
pressure to his Adam’s apple.
Tim sputtered as he
gasped for oxygen, and he started spilling his guts. “Aspen! Mark’s
in Aspen, Colorado.”
Kevin shook his head,
unconvinced. “Why would he be in Aspen?”
“I don’t know,” Tim
sputtered, trying to right himself, but finding Kevin still had him
pinned against the idling cab. “I mean it, I don’t know why. One
minute we were drinking Crown Royal and telling him he’d be fucking
the same chick for the rest of his life, the next minute he was
talking up some cocktail waitress.”
Kevin bore down on
him again, enough to make something in Tim crack audibly. “What
about the cocktail waitress?”
“Oh God, fuck! She
was this redhead, great rack, even better legs--”
“Shauna!” He cried
out painfully. “Her name was Shauna, and all she said was she loved
to ski. Next thing I knew Mark told me to give that stupid napkin
to Susan, and he and the waitress were gone.”
they went to Aspen?”
“Yeah, yeah. He
maxxed out his credit cards paying for the honeymoon to Cancun. He
had to call me to get my credit card to buy the tickets and book
the hotel.” Tim looked like he remembered something.
realized he’s charging this whole thing on my card...that
Kevin tightened his grip on Tim’s lapels and let him go with a
snap, his knuckles cracking as the groomsman fell against the cab
door again. He stalked away, back toward the church, trying to
think of a way to break it to Susan that the man of her dreams was
off skiing in Aspen with the cocktail waitress of his.
Does Hallmark make a card