YOU MAY KISS THE BRIDESMAID – CHAPTER TWO

← Read Chapter One

Two

Archie

Three Weeks Later

Something is wrong.

Sunlight filters in through the blinds, piercing my closed lids. Plenty of light, more than there should be. But why is the excessive brightness an issue? I’m between jobs, which means I can sleep in even if it’s Monday.

Still, I can’t shake the feeling something is amiss.

I blink awake, already alert, taking in the entirety of my rented studio apartment in one eye-sweep. The house seems in order. No signs of a break-in, or a fire, or a gas leak. Nothing wrong there.

Next to me, a redhead stirs. Brittany, Tiffany, I can’t remember her name from last night. We met in a bar as opponents in a game of beer pong. And I don’t recall who won, only that we decided to move the celebrations to my place.

I peek under the sheets.

Yep! We’re both naked.

Definitely nothing wrong with that!

Why hasn’t the nagging stopped, then? The sensation I should be doing something else—be somewhere else —stays put.

I shake my head, dog-coming-out-of-water style, trying to clear my brain. I’m too old to play beer pong and still expect to wake up fresh as a rose the next morning.

Careful not to disturb Brittany/Tiffany, I slither out of bed and hop into the shower. No better way to regroup.

When I come out of the bathroom fifteen minutes later, wearing sweatpants and a clean T-shirt, the lady is still sleeping.

Mmm. How to wake her without being unpleasant?

I settle on making coffee; the grinder is loud enough to raise an elephant. The beans’ capsule is running low, so I open a new pack, top the container, and switch my beauty on. Fancy coffee is a luxury I treat myself to, at least when I’m in a civilized place. The drip coffee maker with a built-in grinder was expensive, but worth its while. Nothing better than a pot of freshly ground java to start the day, whatever the hour. I make sure the water tank is full, turn the machine on, and wait for the magic to happen.

As predicted, the noise is enough for Brittany/Tiffany to stir awake. She rolls over in bed, blinking, and asks, “Is that coffee I smell?”

“Yep,” I say. “It’ll be ready in a minute.”

She pulls herself up on her elbows, using the sheets to cover herself. “Mind if I use your bathroom in the meantime?”

“Absolutely,” I say, and to give her some privacy, I turn my back to the bed, pretending I’m busy checking the machine.

I follow her movements around the apartment with my ears. The rustling of fabric, the padding of feet on the hardwood floor, and at last, the click of the bathroom door closing.

When Brittany/Tiffany comes back out—already dressed, I note with pleasure—I’ve just taken the first delicious sip of my superior Crema Arabica blend.

“Want a cup?” I ask.

“Sure,” she says, sitting on a stool at the kitchen bar.

As I turn to grab her a clean mug, my eyes land on the couch and the half-packed bag laying open in its middle.

Shit!

I check the date on my watch, which confirms that, yeah, I’m screwed.

Logan’s wedding is today. Well, not the actual ceremony, or I’d be a dead man. Thanks to my lucky star, the schedule only includes one meeting today. Starting tomorrow, the week will get busier and busier until the main event on Saturday. Guests will arrive between today and the next few days. But as best man, I’m supposed to get in the trenches with the first wave. And I have to report to the wedding planning Marshall at four for a comprehensive debrief on all my best man duties for the week. A destiny I share with the other wedding party recruits.

I stare at my watch again. Half past two.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

I make a quick mental calculation. From Berkeley to Napa it’ll take forty-five minutes on the bike. An hour tops if traffic is bad. If I hurry and skip breakfast or lunch—whatever my next meal would’ve been—I could still make it on time. But I have to finish packing and get rid of Brittany/Tiffany first.

“Hey,” I say. “Actually, would you mind if I made that coffee to go? Sorry, but I just remembered I was supposed to be somewhere else like five minutes ago.”

Brittany/Tiffany shrugs. “No problem.”

“You need me to call you a cab or something?” I say, opening the cupboard above the sink to pick up a paper cup.

I fill the cup with steaming coffee from the pot, asking, “Sugar? Cream?”

“Black is fine,” she says.

Great, she’s making the goodbyes easy on me. I cover the cup with one of the plastic lids piled above the coffee machine and offer it to Brittany/Tiffany.

She takes it with a raised eyebrow, probably assessing the fact that I keep a stash of morning-after, to-go paper cups in my kitchen. Oh, crap. Is this going to turn into one of those mornings after? With shouting and accusations being thrown around?

But, stoic, Brittany/Tiffany raises her cup at me in a cheers gesture and takes a sip. Guess we were both clear last night wasn’t about forever and ever.

“Sorry,” I apologize again. “I really don’t mean to rush you, but I’m running super late. Do you need me to call you a cab?” I repeat my offer.

She takes her phone out of her jeans pocket and unlocks it. “No need, I already called an Uber.” She checks the screen. “It should get here any minute. I’ll be out of your hair right away.”

I round the kitchen bar and walk her to the door, where we both stop, undecided how to say goodbye. Should we hug, kiss? We land on an awkward sideway hug, and Brittany/Tiffany is gone. Out of the house and out of my life.

I shut the door and rush back to the living room, running around the apartment like a Tasmanian devil, mentally compiling a list of everything I have to bring with me:

Best man speech—hilarious, charming, and with a few tear-jerking passages for the ladies in the audience to swoon over—check.

Rented tux. Will pick up at the location, will check off later.

Enough clothes for a week and a mix of casual and formal occasions? Nuh-uh.

Last night I only went as far as packing socks and underwear. A quick fix. I yank shirts at random from my closet, doing the best I can to fold them quickly but decently enough they won’t get too wrinkled. I don’t have time to make a conscious selection, so I overpack and have to struggle to pull up the zipper on my duffle bag.

But hey, packed bag—check.

I’m one step closer to making it to Napa in time.

I sling the bag over my shoulder, grab the keys of my bike from the nightstand, and stare at the apartment.

What else? What else? Am I forgetting something?

I don’t think so.

That’s when my gaze lands on the nightstand on the faraway side of the bed, and the red box laying on top of it half-open.

Condoms!

Damn, I can’t believe I almost left without bringing a pack. I dash to the bedside table and grab the box, shaking it. Two measly plastic squares fall out. Not going to cut it for a week. Good thing this is only the first box out of the family pack I picked up last night. But where did I stash the rest? Let’s see, I bought them at the CVS around the corner… I came home… dropped my keys in the hall…

I turn to check the small cabinet behind the door, and… Bingo.

I put all the remaining boxes in my bag—one might say I’m being optimistic, but a good chunk of the guests will be single gals, so—and I’m ready to go. I unhook my black leather jacket from the rack behind the door and exit the house.

The bike is parked askew in front of the garage on my half of the driveway of the single-story duplex where I live. Guess last night I was in too much of a hurry to bother to park it inside, or straight. I don’t own a car, so the garage is exclusive to the bike, whenever I take the trouble to store it indoors.

Almost never in the warm months. My neighborhood is located near the UCB campus, in Berkley, and if the area isn’t one hundred percent no-need-to-lock-your-doors safe, it gets pretty close.

I drop my leather duffle bag on the rear of the saddle and secure it in place with twin nylon straps. Then, I don my biker jacket and pick up my helmet, freeing it from where I’ve impaled it on one of the handles.

As I secure the clip beneath my chin, I can’t help thinking I’ve forgotten something else. Something important. What is with me today? Are a few beers really enough to make me woolly-headed for half a day?

I rack my brain another time, but nothing comes up. And anyway, if I really forgot something, I can always buy a replacement. Napa is not the desert; the worst I risk is being ripped off by the local tourist pricing.

Half an hour later, I’m about to cross the bay over Alfred Zampa Memorial Bridge when a giant billboard catches my attention. In the ad, a beautiful blonde is flipping her bare ring finger with an annoyed expression while the caption reads: She’s tired of waiting. In the lower right corner, a picture of a diamond engagement ring looms over the address and phone number of a local jewelry shop.

Something about the sign nags at me, but it’s gone past in a heartbeat.

I’m already halfway over the bridge when it hits me: the rings!

In a panic, I let go of one of the bike handles to pat the inside pocket of my jacket. The box isn’t there. Only one other place it could be: back at the house.

Shit!

Shit! Shit! Shit!

I’m going to be so late. Even if I use the bike to dribble through most of the traffic, the round trip will still take me at least another hour. No chances of making it in time now.

Logan will kill me, but not before Tucker—my other best friend and also the wedding planner—has emasculated me.

I open the gas and speed up as I finish crossing the bridge, then take the first available exit, turn my bike around, and merge again onto I-80 in the opposite direction.

When I finally ride up my driveway, I’ve barely killed the engine before I’m vaulting off the saddle, removing my helmet, and racing for the door.

Inside, the apartment is a mess, as per last night’s activities and my hasty packing spree of this morning. Where the heck did I put the rings? I moved them around to be sure not to lose them, and now I can’t remember where I decided they’d be safe.

Nightstands’ drawers.

I open one, then the other.

Nothing.

I check my desk next. No red velvet boxes in sight on the desktop. And after a thorough search of all the drawers, I come up just as empty-handed.

A man on a mission, I proceed to systematically go through each drawer, cabinet, and container inside the entire apartment—bathroom and kitchen included—but I can’t find the damned box anywhere.

I’m a dead man.

If they were regular wedding rings, I could just re-buy them. With a rush order, a week would be enough for them to arrive on time. But my best friend, being the sentimental archeologist asshole he is, chose a pair of antique, engraved gold bands that are impossible to replace. Just my luck.

At this point I’m sweating, half from the panic, half from the heat inside the house—I turned off the air conditioning before leaving. Also, a skipped lunch and almost sleepless night are catching up with me, and I still have another forty-minute drive north to make.

Sweat drips down my forehead and pools under my armpits; this leather jacket is suffocating. I tear it off and, on impulse, I open the fridge to stick my head inside. This feels A-mazing.

As I pull my head out, five long minutes later, something red catches my gaze. There, innocently lying on the middle shelf, is the ring box. How and why it ended up in the fridge, I’ll never know, and I couldn’t care less. I take it out, kiss it, and stash it in the leather jacket inside pocket where it should’ve been from the start.

Domestic treasure hunt over, I check the time.

Ten to four.

So, I’ve found the rings, but I’m still neck-deep in trouble.

Even if I leave now, the meeting will be over by the time I arrive. No point in rushing. I might as well take another shower and eat before I go.

I fish my phone out of my pocket and compose a quick text to Tucker.

Sorry, man. Something came up and I’m not gonna make it in time

But I’ll get there by tonight, I promise

Tucker’s reply comes in the form of emojis. The first, a rolling-eyes yellow face, the second, a red pouting face with swearing symbols over the mouth. Guess I deserved that.

A second message chimes in.

Drive slow on the freeway

And a third.

And remember the rings

I type back.

Yes, Mom

My phone pings again.

Anyway, if you get here at a decent hour, we’ll be in the Magnolia meeting room

I don’t reply.

They booked a meeting room to have an informal meet-up between the groomsmen and bridesmaids? Are they nuts?

And how long does Tucker plan to have the session last?

Thank goodness I accidentally got myself out of it.

This is going to be a long week.

Read Chapter Three →

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YOU MAY KISS THE BRIDESMAID – CHAPTER ONE

One

Summer

Sterile and cold. The retrieval room is both. It’s a compact space filled with medical equipment: a gynecological bed, an ultrasound machine, various monitors, and a metal IV stand.

As uninviting as the gyn bed looks, I fidget in my hospital gurney waiting for the nurse’s permission to switch accommodations. I’m perfectly able to walk, but it’s the clinic’s policy to have me ferried between rooms this way.

Gosh, I hope this will be over soon. I’ve been second-guessing my decision to be here since the hormone shots began two weeks ago, and can’t wait to be done. They said the procedure would take no more than twenty minutes, but I feel like I’ve been stuck in this room for hours, and we haven’t even started yet.

The nurse must realize I’m fretting because she asks, “Are we waiting for someone to join you today?”

By someone, she means a partner. And the question is well-intentioned, I’m sure. Unfortunately, she’s twisting the knife into the wound of my singlehood.

“No,” I say. “I’m alone.”

The automatic doors behind me swoosh open, sparing me the need to elaborate further on my lack of a love life, and two female doctors walk in. One is wearing white scrubs while the other is clad in salmon.

The salmon doctor speaks first. “Good morning. I’m Doctor Philips, and I’ll be the one retrieving your eggs today. And this”—she points at her colleague—“is Doctor Mathison, your anesthesiologist.”

The nurse hands the doctor my medical file.

Dr. Philips does a quick check of my record, and asks, “How are you, Miss Knowles?”

“A bit nervous,” I say.

The doctor smiles. “No reason to be, Summer. Can I call you Summer?”

I nod.

“The procedure is quick, and you won’t feel a thing.” She gestures at the gyn bed. “Ready to jump?”

I nod again and, with the nurse’s help, move onto the bed. The hospital gown I’m wearing flaps open as I stand up, but today’s not the time for modesty. I adjust in a half-reclining position with my back leaning backward at about forty-five degrees while Dr. Philips instructs me to please place my legs in the stirrups. And so here I am, half-naked, legs wide open, and completely exposed.

“Has the procedure already been explained to you?” Dr. Philips asks.

“Yes,” I confirm. “But could we go over it another time, please?”

“Sure.” The doctor smiles again. “First, I’ll perform local anesthesia while Dr. Mathison will use an IV catheter to administer an intravenous sedative. Then, I’ll use an ultrasound probe attached to a thin needle that we’ll use to make a tiny puncture through your vaginal wall and enter the ovary, where we’ll suck out the fluid that encloses the eggs through the needle. And we’ll be done in no time. Ready?”

For a needle to puncture my vagina? I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.

I nod.

The doctor smiles another time and pulls on a surgical mask.

“Try to relax now,” she says. “I’ll start with the local anesthesia by administering four small injections. You’ll feel four little pinches similar to what you’d experience at the dentist.”

Ah, I disagree in my head, but the dentist operates on my gums. You, doctor, are jostling around much more sensitive parts.

The first pinch comes, and, okay, it’s not bad. Honestly, the dentist analogy is strikingly correct. Anyway, I’m distracted from the second needle’s prick by Dr. Mathison talking to my right.

She gently grabs my right arm where an IV line has already been inserted and hooks it to a drip, saying, “This is the pain medication. You might feel lightheaded, don’t worry, it’s normal.”

I can only think, Hell yeah, please get me high before the big needle comes. Long live the drugs!

As promised, in a matter of seconds, my eyes cross and I feel insta-happy, not a worry to my name. I barely hear Dr. Philips say she’s going in and, before I know it, I’m back on the gurney ready to be transported to my room.

Once there, the nurse helps me transfer to the hospital bed and instructs me to rest. She needn’t have done so. With the sedative still running high in my bloodstream, the moment my head touches the pillow, I pass out.

***

Best. Nap. Ever.

I haven’t slept so well in months and wake up only when the nurse comes back to get me out of bed. She asks me if I’m okay, and when I nod, she invites me to get dressed and wait for Dr. Philips, who will arrive shortly with my results.

I use the adjoining bathroom to get changed and, when I come out, Dr. Philips is already waiting for me. Her usual friendly smile stamped on her lips.

“How are you feeling?” she asks.

“Good,” I say, sitting on the bed—my legs are still a little like Jell-O. “The needle sounded scary at first, but I honestly didn’t feel a thing.”

“Happy to hear.” The doctor nods, satisfied, and taps the medical folder in her hands. “I have your results here,” she says. “The procedure was a success. We were able to retrieve seventeen eggs, of which fifteen were viable and have been frozen.”

“Fifteen eggs? Is that good?”

“Fantastic. You’re under thirty-five, and with this many eggs, you stand a seventy percent chance of a live birth.”

“Okay.” I nod. Even if the pessimist in me can’t help but concentrate on that thirty percent chance I’ll never have a baby.

The doctor must be used to her patients not being a cheery bunch, because she doesn’t comment on my scarce enthusiasm but continues to give me my prognosis. “Now, the side effect of having produced a great number of eggs is that you’re at risk of OHSS: Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome.”

That doesn’t sound good.

“Luckily,” the doctor continues, “the condition incurs only if you were to get pregnant, which”—she checks my file—“I see is not the case with you. We’re not proceeding with fertilization, right?”

And I know she’s only doing her job, just like the nurse earlier, but, once more, it feels as if the doctor is purposely pointing out how single and desperate I am.

“No,” I say. “No sperm donors on the horizon for now.”

“That’s fine. Frozen eggs, if properly conserved, remain viable indefinitely. And our facility is top-notch. We also offer a wide selection of donors in case you decided to proceed with fertilization later in time.”

Again, she’s just giving me my options. But I can’t help feeling like a total failure, a woman whose sole chance to have a baby will be to pick a dad from a catalog because she couldn’t find a man in real life.

The doctor finishes her report by giving me a list of medications I have to take for the next two weeks and mandating that I use protection were I to have sex.

Aha. Fat chance!

I’ve been in a dry spell for months and before that, the last man I had sex with ruined my life. Well, not just him; I had a big part in my own self-destruction. But still, I’ve sworn off men. Hence the need to freeze my eggs if I ever hope to have a family.

On that cheerful note, I thank the doctor one last time and leave the clinic. A few minutes later, on the street, I hail a cab to JFK.

***

At the airport, I clear the security checks super early. Unsure how long the procedure would take, I’ve kept a nice cushion and booked the red-eye flight back to LA.

With a couple of hours to kill, I could stroll the shops, but I’m not in the mood for shopping. Plus, with the anesthesia fresh in my system, I’m still a little groggy. I don’t even have the energy to go look for a proper restaurant and settle for the first bar I find in my path.

I sit at one of the high stools at the deserted counter.

“Hey, you’re back,” the bartender—a friendly-looking guy with sandy hair and blue eyes—greets me as if we were old friends. He does a double-take and adds, “Not from the jungle this time, uh?”

What the hell is he talking about?

I stare, unsure how I should reply.

But the bartender just keeps going. “And how’s the doctor?”

The doctor? How could he know I’m coming from the clinic? Do I have “sad lady who froze her eggs because she can’t find a man” written all over my face?

“Did he find you?” the bartender asks.

He?

I blink, confused.

“Winter?” the guy asks, calling me by my sister’s name. “Are you okay?”

And the mystery is solved: he thinks I’m my twin.

“Sorry,” I say, smiling. “Wrong sister. I’m Summer. We haven’t met.”

The dude’s eyes widen. “Oh my gosh, you look exactly the same.”

“I know, identical twins and all… So, you’ve met Winter? When?”

“A few months ago. She was coming back from Thailand all upset about a professor not loving her. She told me her story over breakfast, and after she left, what do you know, the dude showed up and chased her halfway down the airport—guess he was in love. But I never heard how it ended.”

“Well.” I sigh, contrasting emotions swirling in my head—mushy joy, a bit of jealousy, and a boatload of terror. “They’re getting married in three weeks…”

I hope I’ve kept the dread from my voice. I swear I couldn’t be happier for my sister. But her wedding is going to span over a week in order to accommodate most of the groom’s guests, who will fly in from all over the world. For Logan’s friends, it wouldn’t have made sense to travel to the States only for a weekend.

And, normally, a week-long destination wedding in Napa would sound like a dream. I’d be looking forward to a break made of nothing but relaxation, wine tasting, and family time. While the celebration of love would be the cherry on top of my romance-loving cake.

But this wedding, I won’t enjoy. All my ex-friends are invited. People that will stare, judge, and talk behind my back. The thought makes me want to crawl in a dark corner and never come out.

But I can’t. For my sister, I’ll put on a brave face, a fake smile, and trudge Monday through Sunday like a real soldier. Because Winter doesn’t deserve to have my poor choices ruin the most important day of her life.

“Whoa.” The bartender’s smile is wide and genuine as he reacts to the wedding announcement; he hasn’t picked up on my internal turmoil. Guess the past few months have taught me how to pretend well. “Engaged and getting married in less than a year. That was quick,” he says.

“Yeah, Logan is still working in Thailand most of the time, and a late-spring wedding was the only opening in both their schedules.”

“I’m Mark, by the way.” The bartender extends an arm forward. “Nice to meet you.”

“Summer,” I repeat, shaking his hand. “Nice to meet you, too.”

“And sorry,” Mark apologizes. “I’ve been monopolizing the conversation. What can I get you?”

I stare at the juicer machine behind him. “You make fresh orange juice?”

“Yes.”

“An OJ, then, and a sandwich if you have any.”

“We do,” Mark says. “Is cheese and ham fine?”

I nod.

He prepares the food and puts the sandwich on the grill to heat. With the push of a few buttons, he sets the timer and moves on to the OJ, selecting two oranges from a metal basket above the machine and feeding them into the juicer.

Two minutes later, he puts a coaster on the counter and serves me my juice. “So,” he says. “What brought you to The Big Apple? Business or pleasure?”

I wince involuntarily. “Neither.”

Mark must notice my expression, because he says, “Sorry, I’m being nosy. It’s a bad habit of mine. Guess it comes with the territory.” He gestures at the bar surrounding us while he gets my sandwich out of the grill.

“No, don’t worry.” I take a sip of OJ. “It’s just that I came to New York for a medical procedure. Something personal.”

Mark frowns. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude.” The frown deepens. “Are you okay?”

Gosh, I’m such a moron. I mentally swat myself on the forehead. Now he’s going to think I have cancer or something.

“Yes,” I say, taking a bite out of the sandwich. “Totally okay.” I swallow. “It was a voluntary procedure.”

Mark studies my face, probably trying to decide if I had plastic surgery, but obviously bites his tongue and doesn’t ask.

I blush and blurt out, “I had my eggs frozen, all right?”

Mark’s eyes widen. “Oh, what clinic?”

Uh? Not the response I expected. “Why do you want to know? Are you an expert on fertility clinics?”

Mark smirks. “Sort of. My sister is a nurse at FIVET HC.”

“That’s my clinic! I chose it because it was the most recommended on my insurance plan.”

“And I can certify it’s one of the best clinics in the country.”

“What’s your sister’s name?”

“Gwen, Gwen Cooper. Did you meet her?”

The name doesn’t ring a bell. “No, sorry, she wasn’t my nurse.” I twirl a lock of hair around my finger. “You think it’s pathetic?” I ask. “Freezing my eggs?”

“No, it’s smart. If you want a family but are…” He falters in his speech, most likely struggling to find a nicer way to say a spinster. “Not at a moment in your life when that’s… err… possible. Cryopreservation is a wise move to protect your fertility and chances to have a baby for when you’ll be ready.” He flashes me a goofy smile. “You can tell I’m a victim of my sister’s propaganda, uh?”

Despite myself, I smile. I’ve told this guy, this total stranger, my innermost secret, and he’s managed to put me at ease. Not just with him, but with my life’s choices as well.

“You’re right,” I say. “And I’m not at a time in my life where a relationship is something I want to pursue.”

“Busy with your career?”

“Yes, but it’s not that.” I chew off another bite before telling him the next part. “I’ve sort of sworn off men. I’m not ready to meet someone.”

“Oh, honey, but that’s the worst thing you can say if you don’t want a man.”

“Why?”

“Because the moment you stop looking, that’s when Prince Charming will come knocking on your door.”

Read Chapter Two →

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