Chapter 1

I stepped out of my car and stood there for a minute, just smelling the air, listening to the birds singing their song, letting the sun wash over my face…

Natalie and Michael had picked a wonderful day for their wedding. There wasn't a cloud in sight. It promised to be a warm, sunny day. But the moment I opened the door to the kitchen, I knew something was up.

"What do you mean, you haven't told her?" Hannah said.

"I was afraid she wouldn't come, if she knew. The two of you are my best friends, Hannah, and I want both of you here. This is my special day," Natalie answered. They hadn't seen me come in yet.

"Why wouldn't I come?" I interrupted the conversation. Hannah and I were Natalie's best friends. So they had to be talking about me.

Hannah and Natalie looked like they got caught doing something bad. I smiled at them.

"Please, don't be mad at me," Natalie pleaded.

She looked worried and by now they had me worried too. Natalie hesitated, but Hannah nodded to encourage her.

"It's Alex. He's here. You know Michael and Alex are still good friends and he was in town visiting his family. So we invited him too." She looked at me and awaited my reaction.

"It's okay, Natalie. We haven't seen or spoken each other in 5 years, but it had to happen sometime. You don't have to feel bad. I'm over it by now." I said. I think.

I liked to believe that seeing him wouldn't affect me anymore. And I wouldn't be sure until it had happened. I didn't look forward to it. And suddenly I also hated that I hadn't brought a date. But I hadn't had one decent, lasting relationship after Alex. And I definitely wasn't seeing anyone at the moment.

Natalie looked relieved. And so did Hannah. Oh, I hoped this would go well. I would hate to spoil Natalie's big day. I smiled at them. But inside, I didn't feel so sure anymore and I got more nervous by the second.

"Now look at you, you look absolutely beautiful! Turn around," I said. Natalie's face lit up, and she paraded around the kitchen as if she was walking on a catwalk. She looked absolutely radiant in her traditional ivory dress. Her dark brown hair hung over her shoulder and she wore a tiara, decorated with white flowers. She looked like a queen.

Somehow I'd always thought Alex and I would have been the first of our little group to get married. But it wasn't meant to be. Natalie and Michael were the first. And Hannah and Mark would soon follow. I knew that for a fact because Mark had asked my advice for an engagement ring. And of course I knew Hannah would say yes.

Memories flooded my mind. We had a lot of fun, the six of us. We did everything together. Those had been happy times. We were so close that the whole group had suffered when Alex and I broke up. I still blamed myself. I shouldn't have overreacted like I did. But by the time I had cooled down and realized this, it was too late. Alex had packed his bags and moved to Los Angeles to continue his studies there. And I couldn't bring myself to fix things between us anymore. For months I had ignored his phone calls, his messages on my answering machine, his emails, his chat requests ….

"There you are!" A voice interrupted my trip to memory lane. Michael had come in and was now hugging Natalie. He looked very handsome in his black suit.

"Careful! I'd like to wear the dress a bit longer," she said as she smiled at him.

"Yes, ma'am, I won't hug or kiss you anymore until the priest says so," Michael laughed. When he saw me, he suddenly looked pale.

Natalie saw the worried look on his face and said: "It's okay, I've told her. She's okay with it." Michael sighed relieved. Like Natalie he wanted his best friends at his wedding. Alex may live across the ocean but he was still one of Michael's best friends. He smiled at me as to encourage me. I smiled back.

Just then Natalie's mom walked in, "Hi Sarah. Natalie, Michael, we should leave in about 15 minutes, we don't want to be late at city hall." I didn't have time to greet her back, she was already gone. No doubt taking care of the catering or flowers or something. Natalie's mom was a bit of a control freak. Something Natalie definitely hadn't inherited. She loved last minute changes.

I followed Hannah and the happy couple into the living room. My glance went straight to the fire place, as if I'd known Alex was standing there talking to Mark, with a glass in his hand, relaxed. Just like old times, I found him in a crowded room immediately, even without really searching for him. Never in a million years had I expected to react the way I did. It was like being hit by a tidal wave of feelings. My knees started to tremble, my palms became sweaty, my heart was trying to escape my chest it was pounding so hard, my tummy was pestered by a million butterflies, … and it took me a second to realize that I'd stopped breathing and I gasped for air. This was crazy. I couldn't still …? No, that was impossible! Wasn't it? I had to sit down before my knees would give out and I turned around to go back into the kitchen. I sat down on the first chair on my path. I needed to gather my thoughts for a minute. If just seeing him would do this to me, what was I supposed to do when he actually would come say hi to me?

I was starting to panic. This couldn't be happening. Half an hour ago I thought this would be a beautiful happy day. I would just have to suck it up and deal with it later.

Okay, Sarah, don't be such a wimp. Get up and go say hi to those people in the living room. This is Natalie's big day, don't ruin it. You've dealt with this already, you can handle being in the same room as him. These feelings will go away soon. They're only here because of the memories. Everything is different now.

After my speech to myself and gathering my courage I walked back into the living room and tried not to look at the fire place. I looked for Hannah but of course she had joined Alex' and Mark's conversation. No luck there. Oh God, I had to do something, I couldn't think clearly. The sight of him took my breath away, and I didn't dare glance at him for too long to see that he'd still be as gorgeous as he was 5 years ago.

I saw Natalie's mom, rushed over there and asked her if I could do anything to help. She pressed a coffeepot in my hands and gave the order to go fill cups, but not too full because we would have to go soon.

Yes, ma'am. On my way, ma'am.

I knew my luck would run out sooner or later and Alex would spot me. And as soon as he did, he came towards me. Of course I hadn't seen him coming and when I heard his sexy voice greet me, I nearly dropped the coffeepot. I turned around and tried not to tremble too hard.

"Hi Alex." I tried to let my voice sound as normal as possible. I didn't want him to know, he still had this effect on me.

"It's been a long time. How are you?" he asked and looked me in the eye with his beautiful chocolate brown eyes.

My heart started pounding like mad. I tried desperately to control my feelings. He was still as gorgeous as he was 5 years ago. His shoulders were broader and he looked more masculine. He'd grown into a beautiful man.

"I'm fine. A lot has changed since we last spoke." I looked back. I forced myself to not turn away.

"Yes, it has. Hannah told me you didn't go into social work. How did that happen?" he asked.

He seemed genuinely interested in my life. He was right. At the time we broke up, I had just graduated as a social worker. But I had known for a while that that was not what I wanted to do. Our break up had messed up my life good and I hadn't felt like going on job interviews with red eyes. Around that time I did a lot of soul searching and figured out what was best for me. Starting graphic design studies was the best decision I ever made. I had something to take my mind off my miserable love life and I would be doing something I loved to do. I discovered I had real talent for this and soon after I graduated I found a job I loved.

"Yes, I never became a social worker like Hannah and Natalie. I did some soul searching and discovered I'd rather do something else. I went back to college and studied graphic design. I'm really happy with that choice." I smiled at him. "So, what about you?"

"I graduated last year. So now I'm officially a doctor. I work in a hospital in Los Angeles, in the ER for now. It's hard work, but I love it. I'm specializing in heart surgery now," he answered.

"That's great," I said. I felt a sharp pain in my heart. That was why he left me, sort of. He wanted to become a good doctor, a known heart surgeon. He'd thought it would be better to do that in the United States. Belgian universities weren't good enough for him.

So apparently he was really living his dream. Well, almost. He had told me his dream 5 years ago, and at that time it had included me. He had asked me to come with him. I had finished college so I could come with him and find a job there. That's what he thought anyway. But I couldn't. My life was here, in Belgium. My family lived here, my friends lived here. I grew up here. He didn't. He moved to Belgium with his mom, dad, brother and sisters when he was 17. He had family over here and over there. His grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews on his dad's side lived there. So he left without me. I was so angry with him for arranging the whole thing without telling me, for telling me at the last moment and I didn't want a long distance relationship, so we broke up. Regardless of the feelings I still had for him.

We stood there, staring at each other for a second. Both lost in memories. When I glanced further behind Alex, I caught four worried faces staring in our direction. That made me smile and I said to Alex: "Look, they're all keeping an eye on us." Alex turned around and grinned at them.

Then Natalie's mom yelled that we had to leave. First there would be a ceremony at city hall and then the ceremony at the church would take place. Afterwards there was a dinner for family and close friends. And this evening there would be a reception and big party for everyone. Natalie and Michael had invited 300 people for the party.

Everyone started to leave to get to city hall, and in the confusion Alex and I just went with the flow.

Both the legal ceremony at city hall and the ceremony at church were beautiful and serene. The moms had to cry a little, the dads tried really hard to cover up their emotions and I saw Hannah and Mark give each other looks. No doubt they were ready for this too. I glanced at Alex several times, I just couldn't stop it. Every time I told myself I wouldn't look anymore. But then I found myself staring in his direction only a few minutes later. He caught my glance several times and he smiled at me when he did.

The dinner was nice. I didn't talk to Alex, they had seated him far away from me, just to be on the safe side. After dinner we had some things organized. We showed a video with all the crazy things of Natalie and Michael we could have found, we told stories and we had hired someone to come tell jokes and do fun stuff to the newly weds. Like a game where Natalie and Michael had to answer questions about each other and if they answered wrong they had to do something. The comedian got Michael to strip right there, in front of family and friends. Of course by then, the alcohol was flowing like it was water.

Soon the guests for the evening party started to trickle in and Michael and Natalie had to go shake hands and receive their presents. Hannah and I helped with putting away the presents. They would need a trailer to get all these presents home.

The party was really getting started by now. Everyone was dancing, drinking and talking. I got dizzy when I listened to the noise surrounding me and I had to focus on the conversation. I was talking to some friends when Alex found me again.

"There you are. I've been looking for you," he said to me.

"You have?" I asked surprised. And I couldn't help feeling happy about it. He had been looking for me.

"I was wondering if you'd want to dance with me, for old times sake," he said smiling at me seductively.

"Sure," I said. My mind said this wasn't wise, but my heart told me to go for it. It longed to be in his arms once again. And so I followed him to the dance floor.

We had fun jumping around and we stayed there during a couple of songs. Then suddenly the music changed and the couples started to slow dance. I didn't know what to do. Should I go back to my seat? But then Alex stuck his hand out and I reach for it automatically. He pulled me into his arms and he made the decision for me. It felt so good, so natural. Like we'd never been apart. I put my hand on his chest and I could feel his heart race, just like mine. He caressed my back softly. His smell was intoxicating. I would have to sit down soon, I couldn't take much more of this. He was too close. I felt tears well up in the corners of my eyes. And to make matters worse, my body started to react physically to his touch. Just holding me like this, made a hunger, a desire come alive that I hadn't felt in a long time. I had to get away from him. I didn't want to get hurt again. So when the song was over, I told him I had to go to the bathroom and without waiting for a reaction I turned around and fled.

I sat down on the first toilet I could find and just sat there, staring at the door. Luckily no one was in there. This was getting out of hand. I wasn't supposed to feel like this. But there was no denying it. I still loved him. Realizing this hit me hard. How was this possible after so long? And what could I do with this feeling? This couldn't go anywhere. He would go back to the US soon. I couldn't tell him. We had had our chance. I was desperately trying to organize all the thoughts and feelings rushing through my head and body when I heard the door open and close.

"Sarah? Are you okay?"

I should have known Hannah would keep an eye on me. Of course she'd seen me rush off towards the bathroom. But I wasn't ready to share my chaotic thoughts and feelings yet.

"Yes, I'm fine, Hannah," I tried to have my voice sound as normal as possible. But she was my best friend and she knew immediately that things weren't fine.

"Well, I'm here if you need me," she offered.

"Thank you," I nearly whispered.

A couple of seconds later I heard the door open and close and I was alone again. I knew that if I had come out of the stall and saw her standing there with a pitying look on her face, I would surely have started to cry. And that was what I was trying to avoid. But I was never successful at holding my tears and of course some of them escaped and rolled down my cheeks. I wiped them off angry at myself for giving in. This was not the time to feel sorry for myself.

I tried to clean up my face as best as possible and went back in. I had decided not to stay too long anymore. I had to get as far away from Alex as possible, and that would mean that I had to go home. It was getting late anyway. My original plan was to stay till last and go eat eggs and bacon at Michael and Natalie's place which was a tradition. But that was before I knew Alex would be here and it wouldn't be anytime soon anyway. There were still a lot of people here.

I didn't want to leave just yet for Natalie's sake, so I went to find Natalie's mom and offered to help hand out sandwiches. Of course she was happy with an extra help. I saw Alex looking at me, following me with his eyes, but I kept running around with the sandwiches so he wouldn't come talk to me. I was praying he hadn't noticed anything. But then I did rush off like that and he must have noticed something was up.

When everybody had had enough and there was nothing for me to do anymore, I decided it was time to find Michael and Natalie. Luckily I found the both of them in a conversation with Hannah and Mark, and I could say goodbye to all of them together. I told them that I had to finish a project tomorrow that I needed to present on Monday and that I still had a lot of work so I would have to get up early. I knew they wouldn't believe me, especially not Natalie and Hannah. But it was good enough for now. I wasn't ready to tell them how I felt. I knew they'd understand. I told Hannah to say goodbye to Alex for me. I couldn't do it.

Once outside, I ran to my car. I had to get away from here. And yet again, I had no luck. My car decided that it wasn't going anywhere. It wouldn't start. I tried and tried but nothing. Now what? It was too far to walk home. It was in the middle of the night, and I didn't have my cell phone with me. Going back inside wasn't an option either.

So there I was. All alone in the darkness. Listening to the rustling sound of the trees surrounding the parking lot and desperately trying to find a solution to get out of here …