Every little girl grew up dreaming about her wedding day. We dressed up in poofy white dresses, strung decorations over everything, and said our “I dos” to our teddy bears, Barbies, or the poor neighbor kid who had gotten stuck playing with us that day.
Or at least, I’d heard that was what little girls were supposed to do. Several movies had sequences about it in them and countless books I’d read described exactly that.
Maybe I’d skipped that phase of my development because I’d never done any of that as a child. I’d spent my days pretending to be a big-shot executive. I dressed up in some of my grandmother’s finest suit jackets and shoes and used my grandfather’s post-it pad as a checkbook.
Our neighbors’ kids didn’t get stuck marrying me. They simply had to work for me.
My christening gown had been the last poofy white dress I’d owned before this one. Frankly, I’d rather have been christened in a well-fitted corporate outfit rather than the frilly monstrosity my mother picked out for me.
“Fifteen minutes, everyone!” The wedding coordinator clapped her hands from the doorway of the bridal suite. “Only fifteen more minutes to go.”
Ember, my best friend, maid of honor, and walking beacon of skepticism about any man I’d ever dated, downed the last of her champagne. “Are you sure you’re ready to become Lindsay Cummings?”
She snorted when she said Will’s last name—again—and applied a layer of gloss to her lips. Her burgundy gown had so many layers of tulle that it covered her all the way up to her chest when she sat with her knees crossed like she was doing then.
I cast a critical eye at my own appearance in the mirror, trying to come to terms with the fact that I looked like a fairy-tale princess gone horribly, horribly wrong. “How many times are you going to ask me that?”
“As many times as it takes to make sure you really want to do this.” Her hazel eyes found mine, and in the reflection of the full-length mirror, I could see the worry darkening them. “We’re wearing the equivalent of an explosion in a princess-dress factory in some third-world country. Was that really what you wanted to wear on your wedding day?”
“I wouldn’t know. I never thought about it.” The dress was a disaster though. There was no way around it. “You know how much it means to Will that we’re wearing his mother’s designs.”
She snorted and reached for another glass of champagne from the tray sitting on the coffee table in front of her. “I love you, but these aren’t designs. They’re her hobby and she’s not very good at it.”
The mis-stitched lace on my bodice agreed with her. As did the uneven hem and the fact that I had a ribbon tying the back of the dress together instead of the buttons we’d planned.
I hadn’t even picked up any weight to have caused the change of plans. In fact, I’d lost a ton in the run up to this day. My fiancé’s mom and wedding-dress maker had simply realized she didn’t know how to neatly sew buttons onto a dress if they weren’t the ordinary type of button.
I sighed, turned away from the mirror, and snagged a glass of champagne for myself.
“It was important to him. Despite what you might think about him, Will is a really nice guy. He deserves to have whatever he wants on his wedding day.”
“And you don’t?” She rolled her eyes at me. “All I’m asking is if you’re sure this is really what you want. Will can be as nice a guy as he wants to be. It still doesn’t mean you have to marry him.”
“We’ve been together for a year. We’re both thirty-one. It’s time to get married.” I took a swig of the sickly sweet sparkling wine masquerading as champagne in the glass. “I’ve spent my life getting to where I wanted to be in my career. Will was the right guy at the right time and you know it.”
So what if I didn’t feel butterflies when I looked into his pale green eyes? Butterflies weren’t real anyway. No one really felt them. They were the figments of the imaginations of people who took creative license for a job. Period.
Ember shook her head. “He was a guy at a time. I don’t know anything about the right part of either of those two statements.”
I sank into the plush armchair opposite hers. At least the hotel we’d chosen for the wedding was nice. It was a perfectly respectable establishment close enough to Houston that our guests wouldn’t have to spend the night.
The bridal suite Ember and I were getting ready in had a nice sitting area, a nice big bath, and a nice balcony. It was, well, nice.
My parents were downstairs, ready and waiting, which was nice too. We’d never had the greatest of relationships, but I was truly grateful that they’d made the trip from Dallas, where they’d retired.
“Let it go, Em. Will and I are compatible in every way. We enjoy each other’s company. He doesn’t drive me crazy, doesn’t fool around on me, and we have a good time together.”
She leaned forward, fought with the tulle to have somewhere to rest her elbows, and looked me right in the eyes. “If you’re in love with someone, they’re supposed to drive you crazy from time to time. You shouldn’t just have a good time with them. You should be counting the hours until you get to see them again.”
“That’s just the way it is in stories. It’s not real life. Real life is knowing there’s dinner waiting for whoever gets home last. It’s being able to live with a person’s quirks and loving them anyway.”
“That’s just my point, though. You don’t love him.” Ember never pulled any punches. The girl was as straightforward as a mid-summer’s day was long. “I mean, think about it. You guys schedule your private time and you never do anything outside of it.”
Damn all those tequila shots at my bachelorette party. I never should’ve told her that. “There’s nothing wrong with keeping to a healthy schedule that both parties have agreed to and can live up to.”
She slammed her back into her chair and widened her heavily made-up eyes at me. “Fifteen minutes twice a week is not healthy for a newly engaged people, hon.”
“Twenty-five minutes with time for foreplay included,” I grumbled. “That’s perfectly acceptable.”
“That’s what I’m saying. Perfectly acceptable doesn’t cut it.” She pointed a French-tipped nail at the window. “Do you really think there would still be civilization out there if people only had sex on the clock? Hell no.”
“There are a lot of people out there who schedule it.”
“Sure, but for a man with the last name Will has, you’d think he would at least make it enjoyable enough for you not to only want to schedule it.”
I was never drinking tequila again. It was official. “So what if his prowess isn’t overwhelming. It’s not underwhelming either. It’s just whelming enough. There’s nothing wrong with scheduling.”
“Scheduling it is fine for parents and whatnot, but you’re a young couple who’s supposed to be in love. Yet you’re never just spontaneous.”
“Spontaneity can’t be planned,” I replied dryly. “You, of all people, know how much I love my planner.”
“Professionally? Sure. Your personal time doesn’t always have to be planned though. What do you do if you find a really good show on TV on a Saturday night? You can’t plan that kind of binge-watching.”
“That’s different.” I scooted forward on my chair and took her hands in mine. “I appreciate that you’re trying to watch out for me, but it’s time to let it go. It might not seem like it, but in my own way, I do love Will.”
“If you say so.” The furrow between her brows told me she wasn’t convinced. “It’s not too late for us to sneak out the back.”
I squeezed her hands. “I can’t tell you how much I love you for knowing just how honestly you mean that, but I’m fine. I’ve spent too much time planning this to bail out now. This is the right thing for me to do.”
Her eyes caught mine and she let out a heavy sigh, shrugging as she withdrew her hands to pick up her champagne again. “If you change your mind, let me know. I parked near the back entrance just in case.”
“Thank you.” I really meant it. “I’ll keep that in mind, but I’m ready. We have our honeymoon in Fiji for a week, everything’s already booked and paid for, and after that, I’m hoping to convince Will we need to find a new apartment. I’m ready for this next chapter in my life, Em. I promise.”
“You still haven’t decided whose place you’re going to stay in from now on?” She sucked in a deep breath. “Come on, Linds. You’re getting married today.”
“I know. We just—”
A sharp knock at the door interrupted us.
I frowned at my friend before glancing down at the ornate watch on my arm. “It can’t be my dad yet. He’s nothing if not punctual and he still has a few minutes.”
Ember pushed herself up with her palms on the armrests of her chair and glanced at me. “Stay put. It’s bad luck for anyone to see the bride before the wedding, right?”
“Right.” An uneasy knot formed in my stomach. I wasn’t the most intuitive person, but something had seemed off to me all day.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to marry Will or wasn’t sure of my decision. It was something else. Something a lot more turbulent.
Shifting in my seat to face the door even though most of my body was still hidden behind the chair, I watched Ember swing it open to reveal our preacher. His cheeks were red and his gray hair messy, like he’d been tugging at it a lot.
His gaze rested on Ember, but I heard the anxiety in his voice. “Have you seen Mr. Cummings? He was due downstairs some time ago, but he’s not there. He’s not in his suite either. There’s no answer there.”
She shot me a look over her shoulder. “Maybe he beat us to the punch on the whole leaving out the back idea.”
“I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation.” My heart didn’t pick up speed at all, but my hands started shaking. I buried them in the millions of layers of my skirt and, for the first time, was thankful for such a big dress. “I’ll give him a call. We’ll let you know where he is in a minute or two.”
The preacher bowed his head and Ember closed the door, all traces of her joke gone from her expression. “You don’t think he really left, do you?”
“I don’t know.” For all the jokes and teasing and reassurances that we were doing the right thing, even I wasn’t convinced. I couldn’t disregard the possibility that Will might not be, either.
Rummaging through my tiny purse, I found my phone and hit my last dialed number. A tiny sigh of relief flooded me when the call connected. “Will? Hi. Where are you? The preacher’s looking for you. If you guys have gone out for cigars or something, it’s time to come back inside.”
Faint sounds of a moving car hit my ears before he said anything, and my heart sank. “I can’t do it, Lindsay. I tried to, and God knows I wanted to be able to, but I just can’t.”
The phone trembled against my ear and my voice came out thick. “Why not?”
“We’re just not right together. I love you, you know? I do, but you’re like a roommate to me or a friend. I know you feel that way too. I’ve already spoken to my parents about it and they’ve agreed to paying for everything, okay? You don’t have to worry about a thing. I’ve taken care of it.”
My chest just about caved in on itself, but even in that moment, I knew it wasn’t heartbreak causing it. It was just good old-fashioned humiliation. I had been stood up, left at the altar.
Most of the guests down there were his. Only a handful or so were mine, but even then, all of those people would now have a story to tell about a wedding where the groom didn’t show up.
That wasn’t what killed me, though. It was that I should’ve admitted it earlier too. “You’re right. I love you too but not in that way. Be happy, Will. Keep in touch.”
I disconnected the call and tossed the phone down in the layers on my lap. Ember planted her hands on her hips and took a deep breath. She might not have heard what he said, but she sure as heck had gotten the gist of it.
“Right. I’ll go tell everyone the wedding is off. You stay right here and I’ll sneak you out the back in a few minutes.” She bent over to kiss my forehead. “Don’t worry, babe. No one will even know you’re still here.”