YOU MAY KISS THE BRIDESMAID – CHAPTER FOUR

← Read Chapter Three

Four

Summer

Archie’s breath is a warm caress down my neck. I swallow, trying to keep it together. No man has touched me in months, and my skin is singing at the unexpected attention. Tingles shoot up my arm from where our hands are joined, and having his mouth so close to my ear is making my entire body heat.

With such proximity, besides touching, I can smell Archie’s scent. A mix of clean soap, an expensive citrusy perfume, and bare masculinity.

I swallow and meet his stare made of icy blue eyes now crinkled with mischief.

Another whispered word, another touch, and I’ll beg him to bring me to his room and make me forget my name. But thank goodness, he doesn’t add anything. The best man nods in farewell as he lets go of my hand and walks away toward the elevators, looking unfairly hot for someone wearing sweatpants.

Yeah, staring at his round behind bobbing down the hall doesn’t help me stick to smart choices, so I look away.

My gaze lands on the entrance’s revolving doors where, to my horror, two of my ex-friends, Susan and Daria, are walking into the hotel, carry-on luggage in tow behind them.

The first ghosts from my past have arrived.

I turn my face away, wishing I had an invisibility cloak under which to disappear. Or, to be more pragmatic, that I had at least a beanie to conceal my hair. I love my long, white-blonde locks, but the mane is hard to miss. In a panic, I hastily get up and ask the bartender where the restrooms are. The man points me to a hall to the right with a toilet sign above it. I hop off the stool and follow his directions. I’ve already signed the receipt and won’t need to come back to the bar. And to go back to my room, I can find another set of elevators or take the stairs, steering clear of the lobby.

Down the hall, I push the bathroom door open and hide in a stall for good measure. Gosh, this is terrible. How am I going to survive a week trapped in a hotel with all these people I never want to see again? Avoiding two of them for an evening won’t solve the problem, and I can’t be a bitch and ditch all the events. I’d be spoiling the celebrations for Winter. Before coming, I was aware I’d have to face people, but the real-life experience is worse than I expected. I’m not ready for the panic and shame assailing me even without a face to face. What about when I’ll be forced to really confront them?

I close my hands in tight fists, digging my fingernails into my palms, and sag against the metal door to stare at the ceiling. Two glasses of wine should’ve helped me relax, but no, I’m still a bundle of nerves. And if a little liquid courage can’t even help me chill out, this week is going to be truly horrible.

The bathroom door swings open, and Susan’s voice drifts in. “Couldn’t you wait until we got up to our room?”

“Sorry,” Daria’s voice replies, getting closer. A door bangs next to me; she must’ve occupied the stall to my left. “It was a long drive, and you’ve seen the line at the check-in.”

On alert, I push away from the stall’s door and backtrack to the rear of the tiny space, hoping my feet won’t show underneath. Could they recognize me from my shoes? I doubt it.

“Whatever,” Susan says, her voice closer now. I can picture her staring in the mirror while bouncing up the edges of her short bob of brown hair. “Are we going out tonight, or are you tired?”

“I don’t know,” Daria says. “You?”

“I texted Winter; they’re downtown at a French brasserie.”

“Who’s ‘they?’ Is the Scarlet Woman going to be there?”

Blood turns to ice in my veins; she’s talking about me.

“Probably.”

“Yuck.” After the longest time, Daria flushes and comes out of the stall. “Then it’s a pass for me.”

“You’re still that mad at Summer?” Susan asks. “If Lana could move past—”

“Lana is an angel fallen from heaven,” Daria interrupts, turning on the water to presumably wash her hands. “I’m not.”

Susan must make a face, because Daria says, “Susy, drop it.”

“Okay, I will, if…” A pregnant pause follows. “If you explain why, just once.”

The sound of paper towels being yanked from their container on the wall is the only noise that fills the room for a few unbearably long seconds. In the ringing silence, I’m scared they’ll hear the pounding of my heart against my rib cage.

“What difference does it make?” Daria asks.

“I hate that our group fell apart and disintegrated. We were so close, the six of us, and now it’s just you and me most of the time. And I’m not saying I don’t love hanging out with you, but it isn’t like before.”

When Susan says the six of us, she’s talking about them, plus me, my sister, Lana, and Ingrid, who’s the wife of Johnathan’s best friend, Mike. The moment the affair became public, Johnathan and I were sort of cast out and Mike stuck to his buddy, leaving the group as well and pulling Ingrid along. But I had no idea that even Winter and Lana didn’t hang out as much with Susan and Daria anymore. I’d just assumed I’d dropped off the invite list to their nights out.

“Sorry, sweetheart, but the group will never be the same,” Daria says. “That ship sank when little Miss I’ll Go and Screw My Best Friend’s Boyfriend torpedoed it by having an affair with Johnathan. I still don’t understand how Lana found the strength to forgive her, but I never will.”

Daria’s last words cut through my heart like a blade.

“But why? Summer didn’t steal your boyfriend.”

“Susy, she was my best friend. Summer supported me when Tom had the affair, and then Gabriel. She witnessed firsthand what being cheated on did to me, how destroyed I was. Now, tell me, what kind of cold-hearted bitch would consciously unleash all that pain on another woman, let alone her supposed best friend?”

The blade slices through my already-injured heart, fileting it to shreds. What I did to Lana was wrong, inexcusable. And Daria’s right: I didn’t deserve Lana’s forgiveness.

“No, no, you’re right,” Susan says. “She’s a total bitch.”

I cringe in my corner, flushing in shame.

“Lana got lucky she fell into a new relationship straight away, but she could’ve been broken to the point of no return,” Daria continues. “I’ve learned my lesson, and Summer Knowles is the kind of toxic person I don’t need in my life, thank you very much. And besides, she hasn’t had the guts to send me a single text since she was outed.”

“Yeah, me neither,” Susan says. “Honestly, I don’t know how she’s going to show her face around this week. I mean, everyone knows.”

Thank you, Susan, for pointing that out. As if I wasn’t worrying enough already. Susy is one of the most good-hearted people in our group, and if this is what she thinks of me… Anxiety twists in my stomach, and I fight hard to choke a sob in my throat. They can’t find out I’m in here, hiding and eavesdropping on everything they say.

“Serves her right,” Daria snaps. “Let’s go.”

Wheels roll on the floor, and the washroom door is pulled open.

“Speaking of Lana’s new relationship,” Susan says, her voice moving away. “I have it on good authority Christian Slade will come to the ceremony. He should arrive by Thursday or Fri—”

The door slams shut, and Susan’s voice gets cut off.

After they’ve left, I wait another ten minutes before coming out of the stall, in case they forgot something and bounced back in. When I exit, I’m half-stumbling and need to steady myself by bracing my arms on the marble sink. Their words hit me worse than if they’d taken turns punching me. They loathe me. Despise me. And I deserve every ounce of their hatred. Everything they said is true.

I take a hard, long stare in the mirror. My eyes are bloodshot, but I managed to keep the tears in. Still, my skin looks pasty, except for the bluish bags under my eyes. At this moment, I’d give anything to be anyone but myself. And I know just the person who can grant me that wish.

I storm out of the bathroom and head for the bar.

Archie is no longer at the counter, of course, but I need a little extra liquid courage before taking him up on his offer.

Not bothering to sit again, I wave at the bartender to attract his attention.

He comes my way at once. “You wanted something else?”

“A shot, please.”

The bartender eyes me slightly too long before asking, “Any preferences?”

“Whatever,” I say. “Make it strong.”

He nods and gets mixing.

When he puts a tiny glass in front of me five minutes later, I don’t even ask what’s in it. I raise the glass to my lips and tip my head backward, downing the liquid in one swallow. Vodka, mostly, with some lemon soda and sugar. The alcohol burns my throat and makes my eyes water. I do my best not to let it show, and drop the empty shot glass back on the counter.

An annoying smirk stamped on his lips, the bartender asks, “Another one?”

“No, thanks,” I say. “One is fine. Put it on room 452.”

I don’t wait for the bartender’s response, but head straight for the elevators. The best man is about to get lucky; the least he can do is buy me a drink first.

The ride up to the fourth floor is short enough to prevent any second-guessing, and in no time, I’m standing in front of room 452 knocking on the door. 

AVAILABLE IN E-BOOK



   

 Available in Print:

COMING SOON IN AUDIOBOOK:


Books in the Series

chick lit book chick lit book chick lit book chick lit book holidays romance chick lit book chick lit


Box Sets in the Series

chick lit book chick lit book chick lit book

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 →

AVAILABLE IN E-BOOK



   

 Available in Print:

COMING SOON IN AUDIOBOOK:


Books in the Series

chick lit book chick lit book chick lit book chick lit book holidays romance chick lit book chick lit


Box Sets in the Series

chick lit book chick lit book