Authors: Jessica Sorensen
Tags: #Fiction / Romance - General, #Fiction / Coming Of Age, #Fiction / Romance - Contemporary, #Fiction / Contemporary Women
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To my readers, this one’s for you.
A huge thanks to my agent, Erica Silverman, and my editor, Amy Pierpont. I’m forever grateful for all your help and input.
To my family, thank you supporting me and my dream. You guys have been wonderful.
And to everyone who reads this book, an endless amount of thank-yous.
I’m trying not to think of all the messed-up reasons why Ella wouldn’t show up to our wedding, but it’s fucking hard. After everything we’ve been through, she didn’t even call or leave me a note. My thoughts keep drifting back to the day after we kissed on the bridge and afterward how she told me that she loved me. I’d gone over to her house the next morning, ready to talk about it—talk about us—hoping she hadn’t changed her mind overnight, after she’d sobered up.
When I climbed up that tree and ducked into her room, all I found was an empty bed. She was gone and that was worse than just dealing with an Ella in denial over her feelings for me. I knew she loved me even if she wouldn’t admit it, and I could handle that if it meant she was still in my life. But having her gone, missing from my life, having no idea where she was, was like losing my arm—or my heart. And right now, I feel like I’m verging on that that place again.
The cab driver is moving at a snail’s pace down the road that leads to the secluded neighborhood Ella and I have been living in and it’s driving me crazy. He actually looked at Lila, Ethan, and me like we were the ones who were insane when we’d hopped into the cab and I told him to drive as fast as possible, not worrying about the speed limit.
“Can’t you drive any faster at all?” I ask, thrumming my fingers on top of my legs. “We’re barely moving.”
He shoots me a dirty look through the rearview mirror. “I’m driving the speed limit.”
“You say that like it’s okay,” I say, leaning forward toward the plastic window dividing the front of the cab from the back.
“Micha, relax.” Lila touches my arm, trying to calm me down. Her blond hair and red dress are damp from her jump with Ethan off a cliff into the ocean. They were having fun while we waited for Ella to show up. We all should be having fun. But now I’m being stood up.
Stood up. Shit.
I slam my palm against the plastic, losing my cool, something I rarely do, but all I keeping thinking about is that she ran. Again. “I swear to God, you need to press down on that gas pedal or else—”
“Micha,” Lila hisses, her blue eyes firm on me as she grabs my arm and jerks it away from the plastic window while the cab driver narrows his eyes. “That’s not helping.”
I rake my fingers through my hair and then undo the top button of my shirt because it’s suffocating me. Lila hits redial on her phone, trying to call Ella for the hundredth time, but it goes straight to her voicemail. Ethan’s hardly said anything, but I know what he’s thinking—that I should have expected this. Except that’s the thing he doesn’t get. Yes, Ella does this kind of stuff a lot but it’s because she’s either scared or confused or hating herself. It’s what she’s done since we were kids. I know this, just like I know that no matter what, we’ll end up together.
Finally, the cabbie pulls up in front of the small single-story house I’ve shared with Ella since earlier this year. I don’t even bother waiting for the car to come to a complete stop before I shove open the door. I toss a few bills through the slot in the window and stumble over my boots as I step out onto the curb. Ethan shouts at me to settle the hell down, but I shrug him off and jog across the lawn, stomping over the flowers tracing the path to the front door.
I remember when we first came to look at the house. My mom knew a Realtor in San Diego and she said she could hook us up with a cute house we could rent for dirt cheap, due to the fact that the owner was an old woman who bought it back when houses were affordable. Ella and I had taken our time wandering around looking at the small bedrooms, the narrow but decent kitchen, and the wide backyard. I could tell Ella was pretending that she was uninterested, but I could see it in her eyes that she loved the house.
“So what do you think?” I’d asked, nudging her with my shoulder as she stared at the yellow shutters decorating the front of the house.
She’d nonchalantly shrugged, but bit her lip, which meant she was trying to suppress her enthusiasm. “It looks like a house.”
I moved up behind her and wrapped my arms around her waist, stifling a smile as I dipped my mouth toward her ear. “A house you could see yourself living in?”
She dithered and then amusement laced her voice. “Well, me yes, but you I’m not so sure. Maybe we’ll have to find another place for you. Or better yet, you could always live in the garage.”
I pinched her ass and it made her squeal. “Don’t pretend like you’re not picturing all the many places in it that I could fuck you,” I whispered hotly in her ear.
She shuddered and I knew right then that it would be our first home. We moved in a week later and everything has been going good for the last sixth months. I’ve been working on recording an album in a small studio near here, playing in concerts with a lot of musicians who are similar to me, playing anywhere we can just to get the chance to play while Ella works at an art gallery and goes to school, wearing my engagement ring on her finger. She seemed happy and even content when we decided it was time to actually have the wedding. I’ll admit I would have rather had it back home where my mom could come to it, but Ella and I decided we’d have the wedding here, just she and I, and tell everyone later because it seemed to make Ella more at ease about the idea of getting married. It wasn’t really a big deal to me, not to have anyone there but Ella, me, Ethan, Lila, and the minister. I mean, I haven’t talked to my dad since I gave him my blood and marrow, so I wouldn’t have even invited him to begin with. But I know my mom’s going to flip when she finds out we got married without her… or she would have flipped anyway. Now I’m not so sure there’s even going to be a wedding.
Shaking the damn thought from my head, I make my way to the house. I unlock the front door and hurry inside, scanning the living room for a sign that Ella’s bailed. Everything looks normal, but then again, when she ran the first time, she barely took any of her stuff.
I go to the back door and check out the grassy yard and deck, but both are empty. My hope is dissipating as I walk past the empty bathroom and into our bedroom, pressure in my chest building at the thought that she’s gone.
She left me. Shit.
But when I push the door open, I jump back, shocked by the sight of her. She’s sitting on the bed, overwhelmingly gorgeous in a white-and-black wedding dress, her legs pulled up to her chest, her chin resting on her knees, her auburn hair pinned up in tangled curls. The bottom of the dress is pulled up over her feet, revealing that she’s wearing black combat boots, not heels like a lot of girls would. It almost makes me smile because I couldn’t picture her looking more perfect and more like herself if I tried.
But when she looks up at me, her big green eyes filled with so much sadness, it rips the approaching smile off my face. I don’t say anything as I make my way to the unmade bed, maneuvering over the pile of discarded clothes, sketchings, and my guitar, and then I sit down beside her. Reaching forward, I sweep strands of her auburn hair out of her eyes and tuck them behind her ear, then trace a line with my finger up and down her cheekbone. I wait for her to speak first, because I don’t know enough about what’s going on in her head to know what the right thing to say is.
We sit for what feels like forever, staring at each other, and the longer it goes on the more nervous I get about what she’s going to say when she finally does speak. I hear Ethan and Lila walk up to the door, talking under their breath, but the sounds of their voices quickly fade as they leave right away, like they sense that we need to be alone.
“I’m so sorry,” Ella says, finally breaking the silence. She lets out a deep sigh as she peers up at me through her eyelashes, biting her bottom lip.
I fight the urge to close my eyes against the sting in my heart. “What happened? I thought…” I cup her cheek with my hand, telling my unsteady voice to shut the hell up. “I thought we both wanted this.”
Her bottom lip springs free as she releases it, and then she lifts her chin off her knees and sits up. “We did… I do… It’s just…” She releases a frustrated breath and flops her hands against the mattress.
Pressure releases in my chest and confusion takes its place. “I don’t get it… You didn’t show up and you wouldn’t answer your phone… I thought you…” I have to battle to stay composed because it’s one of my biggest fears: that she’ll run and leave me. It’s probably pathetic, but I can’t help it. I don’t need anyone else bailing out on my life, especially not Ella.
“I’m so sorry, Micha,” she utters with wide eyes. “But I couldn’t talk to you until I thought of the right thing to say.”
“Talk to me about what?” My voice cracks with fear and I clear it.
“Talk to you about the wedding.” She looks around like she’s hunting for an escape route, but ultimately her eyes land back on me. “I talked to your mom the other day—she called me asking if I knew anything that you wanted for your birthday, and she also wanted to know if we were coming home for Christmas.”
I raise my eyebrows in surprise. “Okay, that’s nice I guess… but what does that have to do with skipping out on our wedding?”
She gives a disheartened sigh. “She asked if we’d set a date yet for the wedding yet. I didn’t know you hadn’t told her we were just going to get married here, without anyone.”
My fingers stiffen on her cheek. “Did you tell her we were?”
“You know I’m a pro at lying.”
I snort a laugh. “Not really, but we can pretend for now.”
She shakes her head, her lips twitching to smile. “Stop making jokes. I’m trying to be genuinely serious and honest right now.”
“You… serious and honest?” I question with doubt, grinning amusedly at her. “Really?”
“I know. It’s weird.” She pauses, her chest nearly busting out of the top of her dress with each ragged breath. “I think…” She shifts her body, tucking her legs underneath her as she gets to her knees. “It’s just that…” Her eyelashes flutter as she stares at the sunlight through the window. “I don’t even know how to say this,” she mutters.
I scoot forward on the bed, shoving the bulky material of her dress out of the way and getting close to her. “Pretty girl, whatever it is, you can say it. You can say anything to me. You know that.” I just hope to God it’s not what I’m thinking. That she’s changed her mind. That she doesn’t want to get married.
She tilts her head and our gazes meet. “I know, but it doesn’t make it easier for me to say it. You know it’s hard for me to say how I’m feeling.”
I stroke the inside of her wrist with my thumb. “I know, but I’m always here for you.” I’m trying to remain calm, but it’s hard. She’s scaring the shit out of me, especially since I have no idea what the hell she’s trying to say. I thought we had all this behind us. The day she put that ring on her other finger was the happiest day of my life and I thought I’d have many more happy moments with her to come, but now I’m worried I jumped to conclusions.
“And it’s really hard for me to admit what I want sometimes,” she continues, squeezing her eyes shut.
“I know it is,” I say. “But like I said, you can tell me anything, even if it’s bad.”
Her eyelids lift up, her pupils shrinking as they hit the light. “I know and I think… I think we should just…” Her hand trembles in mine as her words rush out of her. “I think we should go home and have a normal wedding with our families.” She presses her lips together and holds her breath.
I remain motionless, fighting to keep my laughter in, because I know it’s going to piss her off, but eventually it gets to me and it slips out. “Oh my God.” I nearly choke, wrapping my arm around my stomach. “I can’t believe that’s what this is all about.”
“Micha.” She pinches my chest through my shirt. “Stop laughing. I’m being serious.”
“Oh, I know you are.” I continue to laugh and the longer it goes on, the more irritated she gets, until finally she gathers her dress and scoots toward the edge of the bed to leave. I quickly circle my arms around her waist and draw her back down on the bed. She flops onto the mattress and I fold my body over hers, fighting through the bulky fabric to get close to her. As I press up against her, she tries to squirm out from under me, pressing her hands against my chest, but I pin her arms to the side of her head.
“It’s not funny, Micha,” she says hotly, but I can tell she’s working really hard to stay angry with me. “I was trying to tell you how I feel and you laughed at me.”
“I know I did and I’m sorry.” I suppress my laughter the best I can. “But you’re too fucking adorable for your own good.”
She scowls. “I’m not adorable and you know it.”
“When you tell me things like you want to have a wedding with our families and are nervous about it, you’re fucking adorable.” I dip my head down and gently kiss her cheek. “I love you and we can get married wherever, however, and whenever you want, just as long as we get married and you never
stand me up again.”
She pouts out her glossy bottom lip. “I’m sorry about that. I just panicked.”
I nip at her bottom lip because it’s too delicious to resist. “Next time, please just talk to me. Or at least send me a text.” I kiss her again, then put a small amount of space between our bodies so I can look her in the eye. “A simple S.O.S or something.”
“Deal,” she says, but still seems anxious.
I hesitate. “Are you sure that’s all that this is about?”
She swiftly nods. “Of course.”
There’s something in her green eyes I don’t like, a familiar look that used to dwell there when we were growing up. Sadness, combined with fear and worry. I open my mouth to press her about it, but she arches her back and brings her mouth to mine. I distractedly kiss her, slipping my tongue deep into her mouth as all thoughts of abandonment and fear momentarily fade away.
I’m pretty sure it’s the best ending to getting stood up on my wedding day. If only I could convince myself that there will be no more bumps in the road, but I worry about the look in her eyes and going home to get married. I’m worried about Ella. Even though things have been really good between her and her father and brother, sometimes during her phone conversations with them, one of them ends up bringing up the past and I know it upsets her. They’re not trying to be hurtful. In fact, I have to give her father props for how much he’s changed, although it still pisses me off that he ever let things get that bad. Let his daughter feel the blame for her mother’s death to the point where she thought about taking her own life.