A/N: Well, here's the new story! To everyone who has been following Subtle Changes, and to all the new readers, welcome! I'm so excited about this story, and I hope you guys enjoy! I decided to go ahead and post two chapters today. Enjoy :)
I'm sorry. I don't know what else to say. I hope that one of these days you'll be able to forgive me.
I had been surprised to find the letter in my mailbox early yesterday morning; I had not been surprised to find that it was comprised of only three short sentences. Derek's short attention span combined with his desire to not give me too much of his time easily explained why only four lines of the college-ruled notebook paper were taken up. The rest of the page was merely wasted space- symbolic, really. I suspect that while his words were a formality, all of the empty space he left represented what he really thought of our relationship.
But I guess there was one positive (or possibly negative, depending on how a person looks at it) attribute to the letter's length; I had memorized it quite easily. After only the second time my eyes scanned the words, I could clearly envision them in my mind. This allowed for me to be in my current position, recalling the letter in my mind without glancing at it. Warm and comforting blankets encircled my body, acting as a barrier between myself and the cold air of the room. I checked the clock- 5:09 AM. It wasn't uncommon for me to be awake at this time. I almost always woke up at five to go swimming. Actually, the uncommon thing was that I was still in bed. But maybe I could just blame my foregoing routine on wedding nerves---
---not my wedding.
As one could see from my current situation, I was in no position to be getting married. The bride-to-be was my very own best friend and roommate, Gracie Jones (soon to be Gracie Greene). Having no sisters and no female relatives that she cared for, she proudly named me to be maid-of-honor. When she had first asked- though I felt excited- the one thing I was not happy about was the fact that I would not be paired up with Derek, who was a groomsman and my then-boyfriend. Naturally, I was paired up to walk down the aisle with the best man, somebody who I would prefer not to ruin my already sour mood even more by discussing. But Derek had pointed out to me that we would still be walking within a few feet of each other, and we would be together during the reception. I had nothing to worry about.
At least, I had nothing to worry about until Derek actually met the bridesmaid he would be walking with, Layla Love (no, I'm not kidding- that is her real name). Gracie and I had known Layla since kindergarten. She's sweet, beautiful, kind, and funny; any man could easily fall in love with her. And naturally, Derek did. I can't blame Layla, though. She really did reject his initial advances. She claimed allegiance to me and gave him the cold shoulder. But I guess true love- or something like that- won out in the end because they're together, and after devoting two years of my life to Derek, all I have is this sadly impersonal letter to show for it.
But I guess drowning my sorrows by laying in bed an extra nine minutes won't solve any of my problems. Today was not my day; it was Gracie's day. And I was going to do all that I could to ensure it would turn out to be the best day of her life.
"Gracie, what do you think you're doing?"
After taking a quick shower, I had wrapped myself in my pink robe with matching pink slippers and walked down to the kitchen to find the bride-to-be sitting at the kitchen table, typing furiously at her laptop.
"I need to write an analysis on the symbolism of the handkerchief in Shakespeare's Othello," Gracie explained, still concentrating on the screen in front of her.
"Um, honey, as of two months ago, you're a college graduate. You don't have to do these assignments any---"
"It's not for me," Gracie cut in, finally taking a rest from the laptop. "It's for my little brother. He asked me for help."
"So you're writing the entire paper for him?"
"Well, I don't have anything better to do," she shrugged. "Besides, I have degree in literature now, I might as well not let it go to waste."
"Hold on a second." I took the seat next to her and held her hands within my own. "You don't have anything better to do? You're getting married today!"
"Oh God, don't remind me," Gracie said, a look of pure fear on her face. She grabbed the empty coffee cup that sat in front of her and made her way to the coffee pot.
"Gracie, how long have you been awake?" I asked curiously.
"Oh I never really slept. Tried too but couldn't. I've been in here for the past four hours."
"Have you been drinking coffee all night?"
"Well no," she replied as if my question had been the dumbest thing she'd ever heard. "Not just coffee, at least. Coffee and vodka." She took hold of the nearly empty bottle of vodka that sat in front of her and displayed it proudly before pouring half a shot's worth into her cup of coffee.
"Gracie!" I exclaimed, jumping from my chair and snatching the cup away from her. "You are not getting drunk on your wedding day!"
"I'm not getting drunk! I'm just easing my nerves a bit."
"With an entire bottle of vodka!?"
"Oh it was almost empty before I got to it. I am not getting drunk. I'm just scared out of my mind, Em," Gracie said earnestly. I sighed in relief; she was telling the truth.
"Gracie," I whispered. Like a lost little girl, she slid to the ground, wrapping her arms around her legs. I opened the cupboard, took two shot glasses out, and with vodka in hand, sat on the kitchen floor with her. She eyed me suspiciously.
"I thought I wasn't allowed to drink," she said quietly.
"This is the one exception," I stated. "Besides, these are our last few moments of drinking together as single women. Well, with you as a single woman. I think we're allowed one shot each."
"I think that's a good plan."
"No, I think I need this one straight." After I finished pouring the alcohol in the shot glasses, I handed one to Gracie and kept the other.
"So should we make a toast?" I asked.
"I think so," Gracie replied. "But it's my wedding day, so you have to make the toast."
"Okay," I agreed. I took a moment to think about what to say. Gracie needed to hear the right words to ease her nerves. "To our lifelong friendship. To you and Jake, who will only grow to love each other even more. And when Jake drives you crazy, may I always be there with a bottle of vodka, two shot glasses, and a getaway car, just in case." Gracie laughed, raising her glass to touch mine.
"Amen sister," she said before taking her shot. I pushed the alcohol down my throat, trying my best not to taste it. Deciding that maybe I did need some kind of chaser, I opened the fridge and pulled out the first beverage I saw- a can of Diet Coke. The carbonated soda agreed much more with my taste buds. I looked over to Gracie, who displayed a similar disgusted face, and handed her the Diet Coke. She took it gratefully.
"Okay, so maybe it won't be vodka that I comfort with you next time."
"Tequila and margarita mix sounds like a much better option."
"Agreed," I said, taking another sip from the Diet Coke. "Gracie?"
"Are you really that nervous?"
"I don't know. I---" she began. From the look in her eyes, she seemed to be unsure of how she felt.
"You're not nervous about marrying Jake. You just want everything to go perfectly today," I said for her.
"Exactly," Gracie said. "I hope Jake understands me as well as you do."
"He loves you so much. He's going to do everything he can to make you happy. And when he decides he wants to spend his Sundays eating chips and watching sports, you always have me to go shopping with," I reminded her. She nodded, then looked at me thoughtfully.
"Here," Gracie started, taking the shot glasses and filling them with the Diet Coke.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"Making a toast," she declared. "To you. May you find that guy who you'll want to spend the rest of your life with. I hope he knows that he better be worthy of you or else he'll have me to answer to." I smiled, looking at the shot glass. And may I forget about Derek and move on with my life. Here's to my newfound independence. I took the shot, this one being much more enjoyable than the last, and came to the conclusion that no matter what, I would not let Derek or anybody else ruin my best friend's wedding.
"You idiot!" I exclaimed.
"Relax. I'll find it. Did you look under the passenger seat? Maybe it fell down there."
"You better hope it's down there," I warned, looking at the one person who possibly could make me feel more uncomfortable and angry than Derek could- Evan Barrett, Jake's best man.
"It has to be in the car. I know it," Evan stated. Ten minutes ago, Evan had approached me, asked if he could talk to me privately, and calmly explained that he had lost the ring Jake had given him to hold. When I asked why he wanted my help instead of the dozens of other people who, unlike me, could actually stand his presence, he nicely explained that if he was going to get in trouble with the bride and groom, he was going to at least take someone down with him. Naturally, I was the best candidate for this.
"I swear, if you ruin my best friend's---"
"Hey, do you want to stop talking and look for the damn ring?"
"You should be thanking me for helping you," I told him. "Gracie's already going to kill me when she sees that I don't have my dress on yet."
"I don't think anyone will miss you too much if you're not there." Evan's eyes focused in on the steering wheel. His keys were clenched tightly in his hand.
Was he serious? He could not be seriously considering driving away. Maybe he had remembered leaving the ring at home. If that was the case, then he wouldn't have much time to drive home, pick it up, and drive back here before the wedding was supposed to start.
"What's going on?" a new voice asked from behind me. I jumped and turned around to find Jake looking at us expectantly. Evan walked over to my side of the car and smiled at me brightly, putting his arm around my shoulders.
"Clumsy little Emeline lost one of her earrings, so being the thoughtful guy that I am, I agreed to look for it with her," Evan lied. Oh great, now he was trying to make me look like the thoughtless one.
"She lost one of her earrings in your car?" Jake asked doubtfully. I turned my head away, trying to hide my smile as I saw that Evan was going to be caught in his lie.
"That's what she said. I don't know what she was doing in my car either. Ask her," Evan said, looking to me. I rolled my eyes.
"Are you serious? That was the lamest excuse I've ever heard," I told him.
"Look, I don't know what you guys did, but whatever it is, fix it. Nobody's ruining today for Gracie and me," Jake declared in a rather harsh tone. He then looked to Evan. "I need to talk to you. It's McLaughlin." Evan nodded and started following Jake, leaving me alone at the car.
"Wait a second! What about the…earring?" I asked Evan. He turned to me and smirked.
"You'll find it. I have complete faith in you," he said. "And if you don't, well, you're screwed."
After searching for another twenty minutes, I came to the conclusion that the ring could not possibly be in the car. The situation was in Evan's hands now; he lost it, he could find it.
I entered the dressing room to be greeted with chaos. As long as I could get by without Gracie spotting me, I would be in the clear.
"Emeline!" a shrieky female yelled. Busted.
"Hey Gracie, no time to chat, have to go put my dress on," I told her. She grabbed the back of my shirt and stopped me.
"I've been looking everywhere for you! I asked Evan if he had seen you, and he told me he saw you taking a nap outside! And then he told me that he tried to wake you up to tell you to get ready, but you insisted that it wasn't important! Please tell me he was lying because I really don't want to believe that my best friend thinks that the most important day of my life means nothing!" Gracie exclaimed. Of course that lying bastard would say something like that.
"He said that!? That jerk, I was helping him find---" I began but decided not to freak Gracie out even more with the truth. "Well it's not important now. What is important is that this day means as much to me as it means to you, so I'm going to finish getting ready. Don't worry. Everything is going to be perfect today, I promise."
When I finished getting ready, I examined myself in the mirror to ensure that there were no stray eyeliner marks nor any loose strand of hair that hadn't purposely been left loose. I felt quite pleased with the dresses Gracie had picked out for the bridesmaids and myself- though I guess I should, since I helped pick them out. They were strapless, hugging tightly at the top half, then flowed out at the hips and stopped just below our knees. And of course, they were Gracie's favorite color- light pink. My brunette hair had been styled into an ornate updo with a few stray strands of hair framing my face. When I had first tried on the dress, Gracie had commented that the pink brought a sparkle to my green eyes. I couldn't see it, but I didn't argue.
"Em, it's time to go line up!" Layla Love announced, peaking her head into the small room I was currently in. I smiled and nodded.
"I'll be right there," I assured her.
"Em--" she said softly.
"I'm not mad at you."
"I know you say that, but---"
"I'm not mad at you," I repeated. She sighed.
"Because if you're mad, I'll go tell Derek right now that---"
"I'm not mad at you," I said for the third time. "Now come on, let's go walk down the aisle."
We found the other bridesmaids huddled in a group. There were six of us in all. Individually, the dresses looked cute, but with all of us grouped together, we looked like a cotton candy machine had exploded. Surprisingly, Gracie wasn't ordering anyone around or pacing around nervously; in fact, I didn't even see her yet.
Five minutes later, she still wasn't there, and it was about time for us to start.
"Where's the bride?" Layla asked, looking to me expectantly.
"Do you think she got cold feet?" another bridesmaid, Ashley, asked. I shook my head.
"She's probably just freaking out about her make-up or something," I pointed out. "You all stay here, I'll go get her."
I hurried back to the dressing room. Though Gracie had a tendency to be late for most things, I definitely hadn't expected her to show up late to her wedding, especially after she had snapped at me earlier.
"Gracie!" I called out, opening the door. "Gracie, are you---"
I stopped dead in my tracks as my entire body froze.
Gracie stood against a wall, a look of pure horror on her face. Two men wearing all black were pointing guns toward her. They turned when I entered, and one of the men pointed his gun straight at me.
Oh God. I'm going to die.
"Get over there!" the man pointing the gun at me yelled, nodding his head toward where Gracie stood. This was no time for snooty remarks and sarcastic comebacks; I did as he ordered and stood by Gracie, who looked like she wanted to cry but was too in shock to do so.
"They'll both have to come with us," the other man remarked to his partner. Come with them? Where were they---
"We only need Greene's girl," the first said. "Kill the other one."
My heart dropped.
Kill the other one.
The other one was me.
"No," Gracie said weakly, coming out of her shock. Tears began to roll down her face. She shook her head furiously, looking from me to them.
"Shh," I whispered, taking her hand and intertwining her fingers in mine. "Don't panic."
"Please let us go," Gracie begged, ignoring my words. "My---my wedding---Jake. He's waiting. Please." I squeezed her hand tightly. We both knew her pleading was in vain.
Still pointing their guns toward us, they moved with quick strides. The first man grabbed me by the waist and led us outside. Before we could reach the door, it flew open.
Jake and Evan entered with guns in hand.
What the hell was going on!?
Jake saw me first, then looked past me to Gracie. His normally bright eyes had a cold hardness to them. He opened his mouth to say something, but no words came out. Evan, seeming to notice his friend's hesitation, took charge.
"Let them go," he warned the two guys.
"You're in no position to be giving orders, Mr. Barrett," the man holding me said harshly.
"We're just finishing the job that you couldn't," the other added.
In a brief moment of thoughtlessness, the man holding me loosened his grip. All I could do was try to seize the opportunity. I pulled away, almost freeing myself. However, he quickly recovered his position and pulled me back, this time holding on even tighter. I let out a cry of pain. His arm pushed against my stomach, making it hard to breathe.
"No!" Gracie exclaimed, seeing my pain. Tears were now streaming quickly down her face.
"Let's make a deal," Jake said quickly. He must have seen that we were quickly losing any calm and collectedness that we may have had.
"You lost all of our trust when you disobeyed orders," the second man told him. "No deals. Now get out of our way, unless you want to watch these two beautiful young women die."
They continued their verbal sparring, but I didn't understand at all what they were saying. Where were the rest of the people from the wedding? Wouldn't someone think of coming to look for us now? They probably figured that Gracie had gotten cold feet. Since Jake, Evan, and I had all presumably gone to look for her, nobody else would want to leave in case we came back. On second thought, it probably wouldn't be a good thing if anyone else came; they undoubtedly wouldn't think of bringing a gun with them.
Unless they all knew what Jake and Evan seemingly knew, and Gracie and myself were the only people not in on the joke.
I looked to Evan. To my surprise, he was staring right at me, his eyes blank and his face expressionless. Once he saw that he had my attention, he slowly moved his eyes down to the guy's right leg. He then looked back at me, then back at the leg, as if he wanted me to follow his eyes. He kept looking back to the guy's right leg. What was he trying to tell me? I gave him a confused look. Everyone else was so focused on the argument between Jake and the second man that they didn't seem to notice our little exchange.
"What?" I mouthed to Evan silently. He looked to the men to make sure their attention was still fixed on Jake.
"Bad . Leg," he mouthed back. Or at least, I think that's what he mouthed. I was decent at lip reading, but I was no expert. "Kick. It."
I shook my head softly. "No."
Kick it hard. This guy had a gun to my head and was practically squeezing all the air out of me, and Evan wanted me to kick his leg. My foot didn't seem to be much of a weapon compared to his shiny gun.
Trust him? That was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. It seemed that Evan and Jake had gotten Gracie and me into this situation, but I was supposed to trust him?
Sadly, it didn't seem like I had much of a choice. On the slight chance that we did all make it out of this alive, they had a lot of explaining to do. I looked back to Evan, who was still staring at me intently. I hesitantly nodded. Kick it hard. Oh God. I couldn't do it.
I closed my eyes. This could very well be my last moment alive. There was only one thing I could do now. I slowly lifted my foot, steadying myself to get as much power as possible.
And then I kicked his leg. Hard.
"Shit!" the guy yelled. Jake and Evan moved so quickly that I didn't even see them leave their spots, but the next thing I knew, I was being flung to the floor. A gunshot went off. My head hit the corner of a square table as I fell.
Had I been shot?
There was no unbearable pain anywhere in my body…
…except in my head, which was dripping blood. Dear God.
As my eyes spotted the first drops of blood, all of the chaos that surrounded me disappeared. I shut my eyes, letting the comfort of darkness take me away.