We haven't made it to the bed yet. My back is up against the hard wall. The light switch had briefly hit my shoulder before he moved us over at the sound of my slight yelp, yielding our current position. His hands are digging into my ass possessively. My fingers are wrapped in his curly brown hair, my legs clenched around his waist. I can feel all of him, hard and ready, pressed up against me. I moan into the open-mouthed kiss, our tongues aggressively duelling.
This is a mistake: a familiar one, but a mistake nonetheless.
Our families are friends. It's how this thing began. We have known each other since I was ten, chubby and idiotic. Danny had been a surly fifteen year-old with long, greasy hair and a potbelly. My dad had become his surrogate father-figure when his actual father had run away when he was tender age of seventeen. Biannual meetings had become the main meeting times for the two families.
At the age of twenty-one, I finally came home from a four year sojourn to the opposite side of the continent for university. Upon being dragged to the annual joint summer garage sale, he and I took one look at each other, all grown up, and the pattern was set. His long, lean frame and tan muscles from working as a carpenter drew me in, so far removed from the surly teenager of yore. I'm sure the years had been kind to me too. Puberty does some strange and wonderful things once the initial hormonal surge wears off. He offered to show me his new television, within minutes we were hooking up on his desk, his fingers in my bra and his tongue down my throat.
This familiar pattern of hooking up and running away has been going for five years. Five years of Christmas parties and summer garage sales. It's not a relationship. It's not love. It's just sex. Twice a year, we go at it like bunnies before going back to our respective lives.
Six months ago, he brought his new girlfriend to Christmas. She was nice, smart and funny. I wanted to hate her. She complimented my new haircut, saying the bangs really brought out my large, green eyes. I told her that her crimson sweater really showed the holiday spirit while still being super flattering. They looked so freaking happy together, all sneaky smiles and casual intimacy and it hurt. That jealously was not expected or wanted. I wasn't supposed to expect anything. So, instead of banging in the yuletide season, I went to sleep unfulfilled and slightly heart-sore.
So, why am I here? Why is it me he's humping against the wall and not his girlfriend?
The easy answer, she's not here. I had shown up at ten in the morning, prepared to act pleasant and social. He took one look at me and now, a scant three hours later, we're here. I know they're still together, the internet says so. His mother loves her. Everyone adores her, she's a lovely person.
Oh god, I'm a terrible human being. I'm a terrible, slutty, home-wrecker. I can't breathe; this situation is just too out of control. His hands are beginning to work their way up my dress. His rough fingers send tingles across my naked skin, making my breath catch anew. I can't do this. I break away from his soft lips, my legs unhitching from his hips, my arms pushing him away by the shoulders. He growls as we disconnect, trying to move us towards his childhood bed. His blue eyes pierce into my own, pleading and guilty all at once. I shake my head, sidling away from him as fast as possible. I break from his lingering grip and escape from the room, not a word being spoken between us. There are no words. We both know that this is a mistake; I'm just the one who was smart enough to stop.
I join the rest of our families in the driveway and watch them haggling with the local masses over objects no longer useful or wanted. They seem so carefree. His mother and stepfather are serving everyone hotdogs, offering condiments. My mother has her fanny pack, overlooking a table of books. My dad is arguing intently over three dollars with another equally stubborn shopper. My younger sister, Ellie, and her new fiancé of six months are trying to sell her old bicycle, honking the horn at random intervals.
I pull down the hem of my green, linen dress. Looking around, I see him follow me out of the house, hands messing his short-ish hair up again to hide the damage my fingers made. I grab a hotdog and make my way over to my mom. Giving her a short side-hug, I start to go through the books on the table nearby. I run my hands over the old titles, remembering reading some in my youth. He follows me, standing on the other side of the table.
"We should talk." I hear him say, softly and urgently. I take a large bite from my hotdog, ignoring the phallic implications. I chew with purpose. The purpose being to avoid saying something I might regret. "C'mon, Kate…"
"I can't do this here." I finally respond, in a hissed tone, gesturing to our families around us. He looks around and groans.
"Fine. Where?" He hisses, reaching out for my wrist. I back away quickly, not willing to let myself be pulled in again.
"Nowhere. Never." I move to the next table, picking up an old kettle, the tarnished steel reflecting the summer sun. "You have a girlfriend," I whisper to the ground before looking up at him, "and she isn't me."
The words punch through the air, hitting him with force. Guilt, so prevalent on his features, is now tinged with a pronounced wince. I need to get out of here. I walk away, not looking back at him. Saying my farewells and making excuses, I grab my stuff from the front porch. Long hugs with my family are shaded with regret that I've let my messy personal life mess with some long needed family time. How often do you get to spend the full day with your family at twenty-six without a turkey dinner being involved? With my work schedule, never.
I run to my car, turning on the engine and setting the ignition to drive. Pulling away, I look back at the quaint scene behind me, such a lie underneath it all. Danny's standing pensively at the end of the driveway, staring right at me, arms crossed. My heart flip-flops at the sight and I sniffle slightly. From now on, I need to stay away. This sick, twisted cycle needs to stop. Today.
Two days later…
"Kate, you have a visitor." My roommate knocks on my door softly, slightly hesitant. It's been two days since the hook-up mishap and I've been poor company ever since, moping around the apartment like human garbage. It does not help that my immune system has decided to stop working. Showering has been a bit suspect. Tears have been shed. My nose is suffering from mucus overload. Overall, I look like a complete mess.
I peek out of the nest of sheets and pillows on my bed, a fort forged by my melancholy. I can't pretend I'm not here. The chorus of sneezes that followed her interruption have ruined the element of uncertainty. I manage to croak out, "Enter," before falling back into the darkness of my fort.
I hear the slow creak of the door being opened, heavy footsteps on my carpeted floor following soon thereafter. A weight settles down beside me before the sheets over my head are gently pulled back down, revealing Danny's stupid, perfect face looking down at me uneasily. The back of his large, calloused hand caresses my forehead, a frown of concern flitting over his face. I shiver at the cold air hitting my sweaty skin.
"I brought you soup," he says, indicating a large, red thermos in his hand. There's a spoon taped to the side, like an elementary school packed lunch. He looks so strange in my room, so male and commanding, contrasting with the soft beige and yellow tones. His plaid shirt is rolled up, exposing his muscled forearms. "Chicken noodle, your favourite."
"Danny?" I croak out, not quite certain this isn't some fever-induced hallucination. It would be something my brain would cook up.
"Yeah…" He runs a hand, somewhat sheepishly, through his thick hair.
"What are you doing here?"
"When you're sick you like to have soup and watch Jurassic Park." He lifts up a DVD from beside him on the bed and wiggles his eyebrows. He's not wrong, but this isn't right.
"I like when young, hot Jeff Goldblum freaks out, saying 'Must go faster,' repeatedly." I mumble, turning on my side, mashing my nose into a pillow. The nasal tones making all my vowels sound funny. "But soup, Jurassic Park, and you are not mutually exclusive."
"I know, but I…"
"But I, what?" I say as icily as possible. I manage to hoist myself into a sitting position, only sneezing three times in the process. I wipe off the mucus with a tissue clenched in my fist. "Well?"
"I'm sorry." He states. I wait for an explanation, but apparently there isn't one forthcoming. I want him to say it. I settle for the usual female tactic of playing stupid, degrading but effective.
"About my cold? Not your fault. It's an immune system thing. It sucks major balls, but it isn't your fault."
"Not the cold. The garage sale."
"I'm not the one you should be apologizing to, Danny." I shake my head gently. Unfortunately, the pause gave my nostrils time to decide to sneeze, snottily and loudly. I grab another tissue from the bedside table and try to wipe my nose with as much dignity as I can muster. "I'm the accomplice not the betrayed."
"I shouldn't of…"
"No, we shouldn't of. But we did." I emphasize my involvement, trying to get him to see the situation completely.
"That's not what I'm…Fuck. I don't know how to say this." He runs his hand through his hair in frustration and I laugh grimly at him.
"Easy. I'm sorry I tried to fuck you behind my girlfriends back." Ooh, he winced. That means I'm on the right track. "If you could be a doll and never tell her, that would be fantastic. See, easy."
"Not easy. Not what I'm trying to say." He says with a snarl. I back away slightly, not used to his anger. Hell, we haven't had a real conversation in years. The only words we usually use tend to be focused on where to put things in the heat of the moment. Yes. More. There. Faster. The adamant avoidance after the act tends not to breed conversation about the weather.
"Then what are you trying to say?"
"This thing between us, it doesn't feel finished."
"Are you still with Claire?" I ask, already knowing the answer. Even if I didn't, his guilty expression gives him away.
"That's not the point." He says, evading the question.
"Are you still with her?" I repeat, keeping my voice low, not exactly by choice. The soreness in my throat limits my options for volume to quiet, quieter and quietest.
"Are you -"
"Yes, but –" He finally admits in a flurry of hand waving and sighs. I interrupt him, not willing to hear his excuses. There are no valid excuses when the heart is involved.
"No. No but. If you are with her, there is no thing between us. I'm nothing more than a former convenient biannual sex partner."
"How can you be so cold about this?"
"Because I am a human being and I deserve more. I refuse to spend my life waiting on the bench, for the coach to finally put me in the goddamn game. It's been, what, five years? Don't you think that if either of us wanted more than sex, we would've pushed for more by now? But we didn't. Now you have Claire. If you're with Claire, then I'm the other woman, the whore waiting in the wings. Maybe you have more of your dad in you than previously thought." His eyes flash in anger. It was a cruel blow, even by my standards, but I'm sick, miserable, and tired. I just want to sleep for a million years.
"Don't you fucking dare compare me to that man. That man abandoned his family for a condo in Reno and some gold-digging slut." He yells at me, standing up, pacing like no tomorrow. "He just packed a suitcase one night, and just left without a fucking word. I am nothing like him." The last words are so cold, a chill settles over the room in their wake.
"Then figure out what the hell you want before you destroy everyone around you in the process."
"I love Claire –"
"Then you've already made your choice. Stop trying to use me to sabotage your relationship. You're so scared of becoming your dad that you're trying to fuck away your only chance at a real relationship." I say coldly, and cuddling back into my fort of melancholy. I point towards the door, "Take your soup, take your movie, and get the hell out."
"With pleasure." He storms out of the room, leaving me to my misery. I look at the black TV screen...Shit, I should've kept the movie.
Ten months later…
Confrontations are never easy. They are considerably more difficult in a bright, yellow taffeta monstrosity that makes you look like a human cupcake. This, combined with my auburn hair which was wrangled into neat curls and a half-ponytail, is making me look more Ronald McDonald than maid-of-honour. Unfortunately, this is the one family event I could never dream of avoiding. I'm in the damn wedding party, escaping was never an option. Even if I know he's here, sitting in the crowd, handsome in his grey suit. I can't run away, can't avoid him any longer. I couldn't exactly give Ellie and Eric a reason to not invite the Tavares'.
So, here we are. Me, the yellow taffeta draped mess on the heels of yet another failed relationship, walking down the aisle on the arm of Eric's cousin, Hamish. Danny, still dating Claire, otherwise known as the nicest girl I ever betrayed, and sitting in the third row beside his mother. It's not the best situation, I admit.
I turn to watch my baby sister, resplendent in white lace and love, walk towards us on our father's arm. Her long brown hair is swept up into a simple knot; her veil unable to hide her beaming smile. I feel the beginning of tears starting to form in my eyes as dad hands Ellie into the lanky groom's waiting arms, a happy smile upon his face. She hands me her bouquet, and the ceremony progresses. I become a weeping mess at weddings, and this one is no exception. The entire concept of two people pledging to remain together until they're old and grey is just so undeniably human and beautiful.
I try not to let my eyes wander from the wedding couple. However, the pull I feel towards Danny, despite the time apart, is strong and demanding. As I wipe happy tears from my eyes, I allow myself a few choice glances in his direction. Just one more second, just one more look, it's the addict's way of thinking. He's looking at me too. It's a look of intent that I just can't quite place. A mixture of 'I've seen you naked' and something else entirely. A moment of charged eye contact and I quickly turn away.
The rest of the ceremony and subsequent photo session pass in a fugue. Turn, smile, click. Hug, laugh, click. Step, turn, click. A medley of motions and exaggerated expressions, all choreographed by a demanding little man in black. By the time we finally make it to the reception, the booze is flowing, the appetizers have been picked over and I'm thoroughly tired. I make polite talk with the other guests, commiserating with family members over my single status, pointedly ignoring their barbed words on the subject.
"That promotion sounds great honey, but where's your husband." My great-aunt Margie enquires in a nasally tone. All my faults are laid bare by relatives young and old. I'm too picky. My boobs are too small. My ass is too large. Have I considered online dating or a gym membership? Sitting around, waiting for some magical man to sweep me off my feet, is getting me nowhere. If I would just consider lowering my standards a bit, then I would be up on that alter lickety-split. Thanks Uncle Joe.
I can see Danny in the background, arm casually slung around Claire, chatting up one of the groomsmen. She's so cute and dainty, tucked into his large frame. If you didn't know better, you'd think they're perfect together. Hell, I know better and I still think they're perfect together. However, one perfect year of avoidance is being shot to hell with every coy glance. Masochist, thine name is Kate. I eventually manage to extract myself from my well-meaning but prying relatives and settle at my chosen seat with the rest of the bridal party, away from temptation.
The happy couple finally makes their grand entrance, to some poppy tune they picked out months ago. Eric has this strange fixation on trying to match every moment with the perfect song. To propose, he stranded them in the woods and blasted The National. To walk down the aisle, he chose George Harrison's 'What is Life?'. The first dance is about the start to dulcet tones of an Ella Fitzgerald classic. The wedding band, while not able to replicate Ella's ability, or gender, is doing a fine job. They're quite the pair of hopeless romantics, Ellie and Eric, dancing like no one's watching, making love look easy with every sway. I want that, the love and companionship. I try to ignore the slight pangs of jealousy at their togetherness and choose to instead enjoy their happiness.
The food comes and goes. The champagne is poured. The idle chatter around the room echoes through the softly lit ballroom. The gentle chimes of glasses and utensils ring out, forcing the happy couple to kiss, adding to the jovial atmosphere. The speeches begin, starting with the groom's mother giving a slide show of a few choice moments from his childhood. Namely, those that didn't involve pants or good behaviour. My dad then brings out the rubber chicken, comparing it to Ellie's first attempt at fine cuisine. How he managed to smuggle it in, I'll never know. The best-man, Hamish, then speaks, in a little bit of a slur, of spending hours on the phone with Eric, teaching him how to woo the opposite sex, congratulating himself on a job well-done. And then, it's my turn. I wipe my sweaty hands on the ugly dress, grabbing another glass of champagne on the way up to the podium. Turning towards faces both familiar and new I pull a folded sheet of paper out of my cleavage, the only place I could find to keep it safe. I smooth it out on the wooden surface, clearing my throat into the microphone to call attention that I'm about to begin.
"Baby sister, I love you. I know we've had our rough moments but we've also had the best times. The best." I exchange a large smile with a glassy-eyed Ellie, only a few feet away, listening intently. Nostalgia and booze make us both a little weepy. "From pillow fights to Sunday brunch, we've grown together. I'm sure if two-year-old me knew how great you would turn out, she wouldn't have told mom to get that thing out of her room. Five day-old you, being that thing." I continue to the polite chuckles of the crowd. "Little did we know that, when we sent you off into the big, wide world, you would come home with such an amazing guy like Eric." I pause to give a small salute to my new brother-in-law which is returned quickly with a cheeky grin.
"I will always remember the look on mom and dad's faces when you brought him home for the first time, this lanky eighteen year-old boy with ears like a monkey, talking a mile-a-minute. He wrapped them up in this giant hug and told them he was going to marry you one day. It did take him six years to pop the question, but I know he will never lie to you or treat you wrong." My eyes wander over to a certain man in the crowd, his expression calm and unmoving. His eyes are focused on me and I have to force myself to look away. With an almost imperceptible shake of the head, I continue my speech, wide smile firmly on. "The depths of his devotion to you are vast and immeasurable, baby sis. You two bring out the best in each other. He's opened you up to so many adventures and experiences. Eric…she stopped you from trying to buy a llama on the internet just last week and I know that, no matter what, my baby sister will always be safe in your care."
I raise my glass of champagne up, making the crowd follow my actions. "Congratulations Ellie-bear, you've snapped up the last decent guy on planet Earth and I couldn't be happier for you both. To Ellie and Eric!" I take a long sip of the bubbly drink before I look back over at my sister, crying happily on her new husbands lap. Thank goodness for water-proof mascara. On my way back to my seat, she jumps up and crushes me in a hug which I return full-force. It's a hug full of all the love and understanding between us, warm and only slightly suffocating. Boy troubles be damned. Boys are temporary. Sisters are forever.
The party then really begins to pick up. Shoes are abandoned. Hair is let down, figuratively and literally, in the case of Uncle Robert whose toupee was no match for 'Shout'. I make my way through the single groomsmen, dancing like there is no tomorrow. The music slows, and this time I end up with Hamish, giggling like little children over his aunt's drunken stumble back to her table, helped along by her beleaguered sons. A little girl, dancing with her father nearby, glares at us for daring to interrupt her precious night out, like she's a Beatles fan anyway.
My head is tucked into his shoulder, trying to quell the noise of my chuckling, as he twirls us around the dance floor in large and possibly dangerous arcs. I hear the noise of a throat clearing and startled, look up to see Danny, standing behind my dance partner. He taps Hamish lightly on the shoulder, before asking to cut in. Before I can mutter a word of protest, I'm flung into Danny's strong, muscular arms. Frozen in place, at the sudden contact after so long apart, I have no choice but to be led in a slow dance. His hand holds my back gently, the other clasps my hand tightly with fingers intertwined. I'm pulled closer towards him, only inches separating our bodies.
"You're supposed to move your feet, Kate." He whispers into my ear, his breath tickling my heated skin.
"What are you doing, Danny?" I ask gently, reluctantly beginning to sway along. I must keep up appearances after all.
"Dancing. I had to save you from the left-footed wonder over there." He replies cheekily and expertly twirls me before bringing me back towards him. Of all the skills his mother had to teach him, it had to be dance. He dances like he fucks, like a man in charge, and damn it all if it isn't wreaking havoc on my lady parts. He leans in again and whispers, "Nice speech, by the way. I liked the part about the llama."
"The ring-bearer had a cold. I had to explain that a llama was not an acceptable plan B. Father MacGillivray would not have been thrilled."
"And the pointed comment about lying men," he dips me down and I gasp at the sudden vertigo. Pulling me back up, he continues, "anyone I know?"
"Don't start." I hiss back, unable to escape his grasp. "Not here. Not today."
"I miss you, Kate. I've missed you so much." I whimper at his fingers making patterns on my back. He pulls me closer, so we're attached from knee to chest. I can feel that most important bit of his anatomy pressing up against me. Memories involving that appendage mess with my senses. My heart begins to pound harder, blood pumping to the places where lust lives. Where is my strength now? Was it just some poor illusion or a fevered mind? Untested bravery is just cowardice in the making. He touched me, I was tested, and I've failed egregiously. He leans in, his lips mere millimetres from my neck. He whispers, almost conspiratorially, into my ear, "You will always be the most beautiful girl I've ever seen."
"Where's Claire?" I whisper, my weak willed heart crumpling with his every word, giving in with every calculated caress. They always say that love is the most fickle emotion, as unpredictable as the sea, but the true traitor is lust. It topples civilizations and ruins lives. Lust without love is where the true danger lies. Lust has no conscience.
"She was feeling a bit sick, went to go lay down in our room for awhile." He says with a shrug, making his broad shoulders stretch the limits of his shirt. I gulp because I am stupid and weak. In his arms, I am putty. Maybe it's because he was never fully mine to begin with, that, even now when he belongs to another, it still feels like these stolen moments are just part of life. It's an addiction, this fire between us. Junkies can just stick the needle in the skin, finally getting their fix. My fix comes with a much higher price. How high must the cost get before I can learn to quit?
Danny keeps us dancing well into the next song, the need inside me growing with every passing second. Grim acceptance of his hold over me sets in, my cheeks flushed and eyes wide. My body quakes with anticipation. With a smirk, he knows he's won. "Meet me outside, Kate. Ten minutes." He whispers quickly, depositing me on the side of the dance floor. My lungs spring back to life at the freedom from his touch. He slinks away back into the crowd and I watch him disappear from my sight.
This is wrong. This will only lead to more pain…I'm going to go anyway.
I stop in the washroom along the way, sneaking down the corridor like a thief in the night. I begin to fix the damage done to my hair and smudged eyeliner. Maybe I should lock myself in a stall for the rest of the night. Contemplating this plan, I hear crying coming from the third stall from the right. I look down, seeing lovely grey heels abandoned on the tiled floor.
I knock softly on the green metal door, "Are you okay?"
"Kate?" A sniffle-tinged, familiar voice replies.
"Claire? What's wrong?" Oh god, does she know? Did she see her boyfriend dancing with me, figured out our dirty secret? "It's okay, it's just me." I scoff inwardly. Just me? Just the home-wrecking whore on her way to fuck your boyfriend.
The click of a lock is soon followed by the door swinging open. She slips out, barefoot with red-rimmed eyes. Her pretty, purple dress is rumpled, but not beyond repair. I grab some paper towels and wet a portion, handing them to her. I hoist myself onto the counter as she sets herself to rights in the mirror, wiping away smudged makeup and tear stains. My legs nervously swing through the air.
"So, what's the story morning glory?" I ask, unable to resist the pun. She leans against the counter, arms wrapped around herself in a guarded gesture. Her full, red-lips trying to form words.
With a sigh and a quick glance towards her previously occupied stall, she says in a hushed tone, "I'm pregnant." My jaw drops to the floor.
"With a baby?" I ask dumbly. My mind is whirling, the twisted web of fate apparently at work.
"No, a mongoose." She replies sarcastically, before leaning against the counter with a sigh. "Of course it's a baby. We were so careful, but I guess something slipped through. There's a little person inside of me and it's weird. I just…Oh god, what is Danny going to say?"
"He loves you. He'll understand." Both true. He's the fuck-up. He's the one who needs to apologize. I'm a fuck-up. I need lobotomy to straighten out my messed-up mind. But Claire is no fuck-up. No one should get mad at her for this.
"I know he loves me. But me plus one, I have no clue. He's always been so iffy about kids, you know, with his dad and everything." God, she's starting to cry again. I'm so not good with other people crying. I shuffle uncomfortably on the counter.
"You'll figure it out. His dad was a dickhead, leaving them in the middle of the night like he did. Danny would never do that to you."
"But what if he…?" Her big blue eyes look up at me pleadingly, her sniffles preventing the completion of the question.
"No. No what ifs. Do you love him?" She's startled by my question, but her response lacks any hesitation.
"Do you want this baby?" I ask point blank.
"God yes." She smiles, rubbing her stomach in a possessive manner. "I've always wanted to be a mom."
"Then you don't need me to tell you what to do." I give her a soft smile which she quickly returns. It quickly turns into steely-eyed determination. Well, it's better than crying, I think.
"Thanks, Kate. I just needed to tell someone." Guilt fills me at her grateful expression. I wave off her thanks, I don't deserve it. I jump off the counter, heading towards the door.
At the last second I turn back, stuck in the doorway, "Just talk to him soon, okay?"
I leave her to her own devices in the washroom, the shocking repercussions of her news making me quake in my uncomfortable shoes. I stumble down the corridor, the exit within sight. I take a quick right, hiding within the shadows. Leaning against the cold wall, I try to pull myself back together. Only a few more minutes, then I can fall apart. I reach into my small clutch, pulling out my phone, scrolling down the screen for the one number I never thought I would ever need. I press down on the name, listening for the dial tone. He picks up within two rings.
"You're not coming, are you?" He asks, no preamble or pleasantries. Straight and to the point.
"No, I'm not." I reply with a sigh.
Frustrated with my noncompliance, he growls into the phone, "Why not?"
"You want to prove that you're a better man than your dad. This is your chance, Danny."
"What are you talking about?" I take a deep breath, taking the most of this opportunity. Before I spend the rest of my life as a sad mistress, benched from the real world, I need to say this.
"This sick, twisted thing we've got going on, it needs to stop. No more temptations or clandestine meetings. It's done. It's over. This isn't love or a relationship. You have that with Claire, who does love you and does need you."
"Kate –" He moves to interrupt me, trying to make excuses for our behaviour, but I stop him before he can ruin my resolve.
"No, I've said it before and I'll say it again: you made a choice. Now you need to learn to live with it. I need you to meet me halfway on this; I need you to stop fighting me on this. There's no avoiding each other permanently. I tried that, it didn't work…obviously. So, we both need to figure out how to give up screwing like bunnies at every opportunity. Okay?" He's silent on the other end of the line, just even breaths indicating his presence. Did I finally get through to him? Is it over?
"Wh-What happened?" He finally stammers out, softly, acceptance of my terms implied, needing no vocalization.
"The price became too high." I hang up quickly. Relieved, I sink to the ugly linoleum, yellow taffeta and crinoline swirling out around my legs. It's not like my heart is broken, but I just feel emotionally drained. I glance around the empty hall and sigh at how twisted fate can be. Alone again. Time to learn how to live again.
Eventually, I rejoin the festivities. I eat, dance and pretend to be merry into the early morning hours, long after my sister and new brother-in-law decamped for their wedding night. The hotel staff is beginning to clean-up around the few remaining stragglers. I'm sitting at a random table, enjoying some leftover cake, attacking it like the wild animal drunk females become in the presence of chocolate. The pins holding my hair up have fallen to the table surface, letting the wild mass of curls and tangles free. I sigh, putting my aching feet up on the chair next to me. It's my sisters wedding and I'll stay as long as I want to…or until they kick me out, I'm flexible like that.
I hear the sound of a chair being pulled out nearby and I turn towards the sound. A vaguely familiar looking guy in a blue suit and red tie is settling in beside me, a large piece of cake sits on the plate in his hand. His brown hair is spiked up at the front, which on other guys would look weird, but suits him in a strange way. His deep-set brown eyes, separated by an aquiline nose and guarded by large bushy eyebrows, give me an evaluating look.
"Maid of honour, right?" He asks in a Scottish brogue which I try to place to no avail. I squint at him, trying to figure out how he knows me.
"Yes, Kate." I say flatly, returning to my cake with muted gusto.
"Nice speech, liked the bit about the llama." He continues with a large grin. Stupid llama anecdote. I sigh, he's obviously not seeing the giant sign on my head: emotional head-case, avoid at all costs. The accent does not help, every syllable is making my heart skip a beat or three.
"That's the general consensus…Sorry; I didn't get your name."
"That's because I didn't give it yet." He laughs and thrusts his hand out towards me, "Ian. Ian McCallum." I take it warily, not quite trusting the handsome stranger. He however blows past my reticence, shaking my hand with enthusiasm.
"Pleasure," I say curtly, trying to encourage him to seek other company. I'm only a recently reformed dirty, slut monster after all. All these tingles coming from his warm palm are seriously threatening this progress.
"I saw you on the dance floor, you really stood out." He continues, finally returning my hand.
"Is it because I look like a clown designed to sell children fried food?"
"No," he squints at me, "Well, a little bit, now that you mention it. Sisterly revenge?"
"She's my baby sister. I couldn't exactly say she couldn't use her favourite colour for her wedding because it would clash with my hair." He laughs again and this time I join in. "So, you were creepily staring at me…"
"What else would I stare at? I had the best view in the house." He takes a large bite of the cake, "Damn, this is good."
"The stage." It suddenly dawns on me where I recognize him from. I'm an idiot.
"You're the wedding singer!" I exclaim, my hand slapping my forehead. No wonder he's familiar, I had just spent the past seven hours intermittently staring at him. If I hadn't been so preoccupied, I might've noticed how attractive he is.
"And she figures it out! Ten points." He puts his hands up in a 'raise the roof' gesture and I involuntarily giggle. There are some things white boys just should not do, that action is number five on the list.
"I'm being graded?"
He beams at me and my knees feel a little weak. "Don't worry; you're passing with flying colours."
"Is there a rubric or some sort of check-list? Because if there is, I'd like to see it." He pulls out a piece of paper from his jacket pocket along with a pen. With a flourish, he starts to write out the list right in front of me.
"Gorgeous? Check. Sassy? I saw you dance, so check. Favourite song?" He looks towards me expectantly.
I sigh, "Eleanor Rigby."
"Good taste in music, check. Movie?"
"What about you?"
"What about me?" I steal the paper from him, flipping it over to see the band's set list from earlier. I grab the pen out of him hand, I go back to the list.
"Gorgeous?" I look him over, "Check. Sassy? Unfortunately, check. Favourite song?"
"Sympathy for the Devil." I roll my eyes; of course the man from the U.K. likes The Rolling Stones.
"No, No way." I admonish him. Making a large X on the paper beside Movie.
"Why not?" His voice getting higher in the wake of my disapproval, almost indignant.
"I cannot like a movie more badass than you. It's a total chick movie."
"Yes, well. I have two older sisters; I've seen it a lot. It's probably Stockholm syndrome at this point, but I like it."
"Sisters, huh?" He nods, taking another bite of cake before replying.
"Yeah, they're both still back in Glasgow. The oldest, Agnes, is married with baby number two on the way. The middle child, Rosemary, is an accountant by day, shoe designer by night. I moved over here to go to university, never left. The wedding band thing is just this fun thing me and the boys started doing in school. Our bassist, Jim, is friends with your new brother-in-law, made us take the gig."
"So, by the cruel light of day you are a…" I make a drum roll using the stray utensils from the table.
"Hot." I say sarcastically, picturing him hunched over a computer in a little cubicle. Ian glares at me in mock anger.
"And what do you do that's so much more attractive?"
"Lawyer. I work in one of the Crown Attorney's offices downtown." He looks at me dumbfounded. I suppose it is hard to picture a lawyer in a bridesmaid dress. I'm going to have troubles forgetting it, unfortunately.
"Shit, that's hot."
"I know." I throw in a hair flip for good measure.
"Excuse me guys, but we need to clean up this table now." A petite lady in a server's uniform interrupts us. A quick glance around shows me that we're the only ones left.
"Oh, right. Sorry." I stammer out, grabbing my stuff quickly from the table, and my shoes from the floor, Ian doing the same. "We'll just be –"
"Going. That way." He interrupts me, pointing towards the exit towards the hotel lobby instead of outside.
"That way?" I ask with a raised eyebrow and a pointed finger. He nods with determined eyes. A shiver runs down my spine at his rapacious gaze. Noticing my quivering, he puts his jacket around my shoulders, marking his territory much like a dog would.
"Well, whichever way you're going, I'm going too." He gives me a large toothy grin as we begin to walk towards the lobby. Whelp, there goes my knees. He quickly catches me before I hit the ground. His warm arms surround me and my heart starts to beat in overdrive. "Wotcha, feet are for walking not for falling." I manage to pull myself away, adding much needed distance to clear my head.
"Here's the thing. You're lovely and attractive and your accent is doing some very nice things…for my ovaries." He chuckles at my admission, reaching back out for me. I back away, walking slowly, maintaining eye contact. "But nothing is going to happen tonight. I've done the impulsive sex thing, it doesn't work, Ian."
"Kate, no one was saying anything about sleeping together…yet. But they're kicking us out and I want to see you again. In order to do that, I need your number. To get your number, I need to go where you go."
"Really? That's it?"
"Really, really." He grabs my arm, leading me once more towards the door. My hand is securely clutched by his elbow, in an action befitting a gentleman. He hauls open the heavy door before continuing, "And any guy that's stupid enough to get you in his bed and let you go sounds like a total knob."
"He is, kinda."
"Want to talk about it?"
One year and two months later…
"No one is going to buy that. It's broken and looks like it survived both world wars just by being too ugly to bother to destroy."
"So it's a classic then." The laughing man says, wiggling the offending alarm clock in my face.
"Classically ugly." I snort and my mother passing by lightly slaps the back of my head for my unladylike vocal mishap. I glare back with a fake pout, ignoring the laughter coming from the man beside me.
He turns towards my mother with a grin, holding up the clock before saying, "Hey Mrs. Berenson, your daughter here seems to think my stuff belongs in a trash heap instead of a new loving home."
"One man's trash is another man's treasure, that's why garage sales exist. And what did I tell you about this Mrs. Berenson business? You're going to be my son-in-law. Call me Mara, dear." My mother wraps him up in a tight hug before giving him a quick flick on the nose and I smile at the sight. I look down at my left hand, my thumb gently tracing the simple diamond ring gracing my finger. The summer sun is reflecting off of the surface, making it look even more radiant than the starry night I received it. I feel familiar arms wrap around me, hands coming to rest on the small of my back. A soft kiss is pressed against my forehead, which I then bury in his chest. This simple intimacy fills me with warmth that even the hot June sun couldn't provide. This is love, pure and effortless.
A baby wails in the background, loud and needy. With a sigh, I detach from the hug saying, "My turn." I walk over to the bassinet, in the shadows of the porch. I pick up poor little baby Lucy, crying like a banshee, carefully cradling her head in my palm. I sway, making little hushing noises, until she quiets down into her normal state of gurgling silence.
Still holding her, I look around the garage sale. My parents are standing to the side, arguing over the price of a coffee maker. My dad is insisting that it's worth way more than five dollars, my mom insisting that she wants it out of her house yesterday. Ellie and Eric, arriving late as usual, have taken up their typical post of sitting in chairs near the sidewalk, keeping an eye out for five-fingered discounts. Her long, brown hair is in her usual long side braid which bounces as she nods in response to Eric's rapid fire questioning. Mrs. Tavares is trying to convince some young girl to buy a pair of retro boots, her hands tucked in the band of her fanny pack. My fiancé is standing over by the books, staring back at me, a soft smile on his lips. I smile back before looking back down at the gurgling baby in my arms, my long hair brushing her little cheek. She really is adorable, a carbon copy of her father in every way.
"You're my saviour. You know that little princess?" I whisper to the tiny human, her wide, blue eyes looking back at me with curious wonder. I sit down on one of the porch chairs, "You saved me in so many ways. Would you like to know how?" I take her unblinking eyes as a yes, and launch into the familiar tale.
"Once upon a time, there was a lost little girl. She was trapped in a vast forest full of danger and excitement. Over time, she grew to love the dangers of this world, but she wasn't happy. For the one thing all lost little girls want more than anything is to be found. One day, she came to a crossroads. One path led back into the deep of the forest, familiar and exciting. The other path led somewhere new and strange. She, of course, chose the new path or else there would be no story to tell. Along this path, she came upon a queen disguised in rags. She had fled from the king's castle in the dead of night, during the wedding of a neighbouring princess, after discovering she was with child, fearful of the king's wrath. For the king did not want a child, secretly terrified of the responsibility."
"The little girl continued along the path before coming upon a large castle, the home of the king. The sheer size of this castle prevented her from just walking around it. It was an obstacle that must be dealt with. So, in she went. She met with the sad king, who offered her a place in his court. He talked about his great love for the missing queen, his melancholy making the girl's heart ache. As the days passed, she came to realize that this court was not her true home, but she cared for the king deeply. So she, despite her doubts, went back the way she came to find the true queen. The lost little girl convinced the queen that king would remain true to her and their child forevermore. So, they returned to the castle together and the little girl was granted passage to the other side of the castle. Determined more than ever to find her true home, she continued on. One day, she came upon a lost little boy on the path. They joined forces, her somewhat reluctantly since he was a bard and how useful can that be on the treacherous pathway. They battled every obstacle together. Until one day, they realized they were no longer lost. That as long as they were together, they were home."
"News of the little princess's birth rang out around the kingdom, so the little girl, no longer lost, returned to the castle. Upon meeting the little princess, the little girl knew she had made the right choice. The once not-cruel, but not the nicest guy either, king, under the thrall of his little heiress, became kind and the kingdom prospered."
"Nice story." I hear a tired but distinctly male voice from behind me.
"Hush, I'm not finished." I tell him as he settles on the other porch chair, intent on hearing the ending. I sigh and turn back towards the sleepy baby. "The king loved his queen and his little princess fiercely. Although the queen was tragically lost in a carriage accident four months later, she lives on in the little princess and her big blue eyes. And thank god, because the king had some terrible acne back in the day. The little boy and the little girl, soon to be man and wife, promised the king that they would help him protect the princess from the dangers of the world."
Danny stares at us, eyes not leaving his daughters blinking form. He's been crying again, lost in painful memories of Claire's death: the drunk driver and the crash that changed everything. Their first Easter as a family abruptly cut short by one terrible accident. He spent days at the hospital, standing vigil over her comatose body. Claire's parents could barely stand to look at their grandchild in the coming weeks, so Ellie and I had taken turns watching baby Lucy, while the Tavares' tried to cope with the sudden loss.
However, after two weeks of grieving, Danny still hadn't been alone with his daughter, instead letting other relatives and us take care of her. Fed up, stuck trying to keep her calm in the middle of a thunder storm, I snapped. I yelled at him. I don't quite remember everything I said that night, but in the end I left him with his baby in an empty house. I do remember telling him that he's not allowed to fall apart while he has a baby to take care of. The only one he had to be strong for was Lucy. It worked. Arriving at the garage sale earlier that day, Ian and I took one look at his tired, red-rimmed eyes and ordered him to bed. Obviously, instead of getting much needed sleep, he had cried the day away. Danny's eyes are dry now, out of tears to shed. I continue the story, towards him now, knowing that the ending matters more than ever.
"They promised to teach her the three lessons that would never let her become a lost little girl. Firstly, face every obstacle head-on. It is only when we prove our strength in the face of adversity that we get what we want. Secondly, be kind to others. It is in others you can find the strength to fight your battles. Cruelty may lead to riches but it will never lead to happiness. Lastly, but most importantly, love fiercely and with all your heart. Love your family. Love your friends. And when you find that one person that completes you, love with every fibre of your being. Life may be fleeting, little princess, but love will transcend every mortal boundary."
I look down, Lucy's asleep. Oh well, she'll hear the end some other time, when she's old enough to remember. "And so, the little princess gets to sleep on."
"May I?" He asks softly and I hand his sleeping daughter over carefully. He dwarfs the little girl, but you know he would do anything to keep her safe. "Thanks for watching her. I know mom could, but she needs a break, too."
"Of course," I reply, reaching for a water bottle from the table. I take a long sip and relax in the summer sun.
"How's Ian?" He asks, pointing towards my awkward fiancé trying to sell off the stupid alarm clock to a reluctant middle-aged couple. He sees us look at him and gives a quick salute and a wink in return.
"He moved in last week, so the apartment is a complete disaster zone. I don't think he realized how much stuff he had. It took about three seconds for me to realize that I now live with a boy. Went to go to the washroom, nearly fell in the toilet. He's already re-wired the TV system. I tried to watch Jurassic Park yesterday. It took three hours to figure out how to turn the damn thing on." Danny laughs, looking like himself again for a brief moment.
"When's the wedding?"
"We're thinking October, next year. The fall leaves and all that. Something small. Plus, by that time a certain little princess might be old enough to be our flower girl." He looks down at his baby girl, his sad eyes breaking my heart.
"How am I going to do this, Kate?"
"One day at a time, Danny. It's the only way." We settle into companionable silence. The beautiful day is almost enough to make you forget the horrors of the world. A warm breeze travels around us, its movement the only indication of the passage of time.
"You were right, you know?" He says unexpectedly, breaking the calm.
"About what?" I ask softly. I've told him a lot of things over the years. Yelled a lot, too.
"Everything. About me trying to sabotage my relationship with Claire, trying to scare her away before I turned into my dad. About us. About staying strong for Lucy. About choosing to be happy."
"Well as long as you never tell Lucy that Auntie Kate was a little bit of a trollop back in the day, we're even."
"Deal." He replies with a smile, his arms instinctively rocking his baby girl in his arms. With a flick of the chin, he points towards Ian. "I've got her. You go help Ian, it's his first trip to the rodeo and it looks like he needs some help." I laugh seeing Ian try to sell a self-help book on dating in the modern age to lady in her eighties. Oh, muffin.
"Thanks," I say popping off of my chair, my bones cracking after sitting for so long. I sneak a peek back at the father and daughter pair, the little baby oblivious that she's holding her father together, his little protector. But they'll survive, as long as they have each other.
I smooth down the hem of my blue sundress with sweaty hands, heading into the sunlight. I reach my fiancé and pull him into a tight, bone-crushing hug. Maybe that's the thing about life. We spend our entire lives on the verge of something great, one step from a breakdown. So, when we find true happiness, we grab on and hold it as tight as possible.