I steamed my way through the entire teeth-brushing process, staring at the damn velvet box the entire time. I had absolutely no doubt that Brad would do exactly as he had promised, telling the news to anyone and everyone he met. A small part of me, one that jumped up and down and did the salsa, was happy that he was proud. Proud of me, of our relationship, of our engagement. That he wasn’t treating it as a prison sentence. I tried to suffocate the happy part of myself but failed miserably.
I opened up the velvet box and looked at the ring again. It was so heartbreakingly beautiful, and I was terrified of falling in love with it and then one day having to give it up. I picked out the ring and slid it on, my knees weakening a little in the process. I allowed myself a brief, small happy dance in the middle of the bathroom, then put on my game face and headed downstairs.
I entered the kitchen and waved hello to Martha, hoping to grab a bagel and escape without interrogation, but I knew from the way she set down her hand towel and beamed at me, that I wasn’t going to get out easily.
“Julia.” She held out her arms and came around the island, pulling me into a strong, soft, lavender-scented embrace. “I am so happy for you.” She tightened the hug, and I laughed at the sheer strength of it.
I pulled out of the hug. “I’m sorry, is this the same woman who told me to get my ass out of her house, just—what—two weeks ago?” I grinned mischievously and shot around her, grabbing an orange and some grapes from a bowl on the counter.
“Nope. That was bitchy Martha. You’re part of the family now, so I’ll keep her hidden away.” She waddled after me. “You’re not eating just fruit. Let me fix you something else.”
“I can’t,” I warbled from a mouthful of grapes. “I’m late for work already.” She glared at me, and I saw a bit of the Martha I remembered. “I’ll eat tonight, whatever you make, I promise!” I called out the last two words as I trotted out the door, pulling it softly, but firmly closed behind me. I stopped short when I saw my Camry, parked to the side of the garage, Brad, on his cell, leaning against it. He saw me and met me halfway, ending the call and holding out my keys, his eyes sweeping over my ring finger.
I snatched the keys from his outstretched hand, stepping up on my tiptoes and giving him a brief kiss. “Thanks.”
“My pleasure. I’ll call you in a few hours.”
I rolled my eyes. “Fine. Good luck this morning. Please don’t come back with news of my eminent demise.”
He looked wounded. “Baby, I have better negotiation skills than that. At the most, you’ll have a few broken kneecaps. At the most.”
“Oh, that’s hilarious. Really. So funny.” I punched his arm and opened the car door. His hand grabbed my arm and caught me as I started to get in.
“Wait.” He pressed back, gently, and I stumbled, pressed against the side of the car. I caught a glimpse of his face a second too late, and he kissed me before I could move. The kiss was soft, not the typical De Luca passion-fest, and he added a second one before raising his head and smiling down at me. “I love you.”
“Love you, too,” I mumbled, not able to take my eyes off the depths of his.
He leaned down, brushing his lips over my neck, then whispered in my ear. “I like seeing you wear the ring.”
“You like getting your way.”
“That too.” He squeezed my waist and held the door, waiting for me to get in before closing it. I started the engine and put the car in reverse, watching him walk around and enter the garage.
My car grumbled as it moved through downtown, and I reached out with a distracted hand, feeling around the inside of my purse until I found my phone. I dialed Olivia, a quick glance at the clock confirming that Becca’s ass would be drooling and snoring right about now.
“About damn time. You can’t leave us hanging like that!” Her indignant tone had me smiling, and the nerves between my shoulder blades relaxed slightly.
“Hanging? You knew?”
“Yes, we knew!” she snapped. “That delicious man of yours had a car—a limo—pick us both up yesterday afternoon and take us to the jewelry store.”
I twisted my mouth. “And you’re telling me Becca kept that quiet all night long?”
She giggled. “I fed her tequila. With a side of fajitas. And hid her phone. We thought you’d text or call us with the news, but we ended up drinking all night while waiting.” The irritation in her voice was probably more from the hangover than the delayed news, but I spoke quickly to cover my tracks.
“I’m sorry, O. Things got ... distracting when we made it back home.”
“But you said yes.”
“Yes, I said yes!” I suddenly realized that my best friends didn’t really know my connection to Brad, the fact that I loved him. So much had slid by under their radar. They didn’t know about Brad’s family, about the situations that had pushed us together faster than normal relationship protocols allowed. I suddenly picked up on the odd tone of Olivia’s voice—not exactly enthusiastic—caution lacing her words. “I love him,” I said quickly.
“It hasn’t been very long, Jules. And you just broke off your last engagement—”
“This is different. Brad isn’t Luke.”
“You got that right.” The words were spoken under her breath, and I didn’t know whether to take them as praise or criticism.
I drove in silence for a moment, not sure of what to say, the pressure building as my car neared the office. I haven’t prepared, I don’t know what to say to the office, I need to go.
“Well ...” Olivia drawled. “Becca is passed out on my couch. I’ve got a nine AM class, so I’ll leave her here. But we need to celebrate. Los Compadres at six?”
I bit my bottom lip. I love the girls and wanted to share the excitement of my engagement. But I would also need to find out how Brad’s meeting with his father went, how his wing of the office responded, share my own stories of whateverthehell was about to happen inside the firm’s prestigious walls. I turned on my blinker, pulled up, and got a ticket for the parking garage. “Another night, O. Give Becca a giant hug when she wakes up, and I’ll call you guys tomorrow.”
“I’d say you only get engaged once, but with your track record ...” I heard the screech of hangers as she finished the flat sentence, irritation coating the words.