I took a deep breath. Jumped off the cliff. “I think you should. I will be a basket case and everything that can possibly go wrong will, but I think you should come. Really.”
“I don’t want you to feel forced into this.”
Now I laughed. “I don’t want to force you into it.”
“Anything involving you I’ll never have to be forced into. Trust me on that.”
I was losing this battle, my caution not strong enough to fight the fall of my heart. “Okay.”
“When should I arrive? This invitation says the wedding’s next Saturday night.”
“Are you working that weekend?” He seemed to work every weekend, our trips often interspersed with his meetings or functions. I didn’t mind. It gave me some alone time, a chance to visit the spa or catch up on my reading. Or more recently, catch up with the girls on my new phone.
“Nothing I can’t get someone else to handle.”
“Then come Friday. You can stay with me.” I felt suddenly shy, like the assumption of his lodging was forward – even though we’d left the separate rooms arrangement back in Aruba.
“And what about this weekend? Can I steal you for a few days? The Caribbean weather is supposed to be perfect.”
I groaned. “I can’t. Chelsea has us all working overtime. Saturday night we’re having a sleepover at her house and assembling the favors. She’ll kill me if I flake out.” It was true. She literally would. She’d already described to me how she’d do it (strangle me with her garter belt), and where she’d put my body (in Lake Talquin, weighted down with the party favors I so carelessly skipped out on). Plus, forgetting the imminent threat of death, there was the fact that I missed my friends.
I lost a little of my stress in the giggle at his response. “Yes, a sleepover. What, you and your friends don’t have sleepovers?”
“Are hair braiding and naked pillow fights involved?”
“Oh yes,” I teased, dropping my voice lower while simultaneously shaking out the popcorn into a bowl. What could I say? I was a good multitasker. Could pull off sexy seductress and gourmet dinner preparer, all at the same time. “Naked pillow fights are right before skinny dipping and whipped cream wrestling.”
“Fine.” He let out a troubled exhale. “It’ll be a long two weeks.”
I smiled. “For me too.”
“So … no tux?”
“No!” I said sharply. “Khakis and a button-up.” Granted, had it been up to Chelsea’s expensive Atlanta wedding planner, tuxes would have been standard. We’d had to remind her, several times over the last year, that ninety-nine percent of the attendees were country folk and not millionaires. “No tie.” I added. “And even in that, I can’t guarantee you won’t be called a city boy.”
“It’s okay. I kinda am a city boy.”
I smiled. And in that moment, despite everything stacked against us, I felt a glimmer of hope that we would survive the wedding weekend.
3 months, 2 weeks before
(adj.) barely allowing time for completion
“a tight schedule”
It was official. Brett was coming to the wedding which meant he was coming here, would stay in my house, touch my stuff, pet my dog. Would meet my friends again, my parents—oh god, my father. All because Chelsea couldn’t mind her own business. I stared at my living room in a mild state of panic. I’d had two weeks to prepare; this wasn’t a surprise. Had twelve days and nights to work down my carefully written “to do” list.
Twelve days. And yet, two hours before Brett landed¸ only three items were crossed off.
Get a manicure/pedicure.
Wash all dirty clothes.
Fold all clothes.
Drop off dry cleaning.
Stock the kitchen with enough food to look normal.
Buy candles and burn throughout house the week before.
Wipe down all surfaces and toss all trash.
Hide all clutter.
Move high school awards and items to garage.
Track down and hide all Modern Bride issues.
Throw away ruffled pillows and toilet seat cover.
Hide super tampon boxes and any embarrassing bathroom/medication items.
Kidnap Megan, Tammy, Jena, and Mitzi and lock them away until Brett leaves.
Okay, so the last item was a joke. Sort of. A joke only because the feasibility of kidnapping four bridesmaids in such a short time frame seemed a bit ambitious for a novice criminal. But, even if I threw that item off the list, I still had a shitload of work to do in a short length of time. I moved to the bedroom, sweeping my hair into a ponytail and unbuttoning my shirt with hasty fingers. I stepped out of my skirt and moved to the dresser before retracing my steps, picking up the discarded items and putting them into the hamper.
I was sure there were normal individuals out there who liked cleaning ... but I hated it. Hated it with a passion. If there were a way to murder Cleaning in the study with a candlestick, I’d be the guilty Miss Scarlet. I normally straightened up on Sunday mornings, sometime between cereal and an afternoon nap. But my weekend excursions with Brett had pushed those Sunday cleanings off by ... four weeks? Five? I mentally added “Clean toilet” to the list. Then I changed into a T-shirt and jean shorts and got to work.
Two hours and forty-three minutes later, my panic had reached a more manageable level, one where exhaustion sat on its chest and made it shut the hell up. I swapped my sweaty tee for a cute tank top and grabbed my keys, giving the house a quick glance over before heading for the car.
It looked good. Clean, but not like I’d prepared for him. For once, I was grateful for such a small home, the dirt not having too much square footage in which to hide. Checking my watch, I swore at the time, grabbing my cell from the counter and running out the door.
“You hungry?” I tapped my fingers against the steering wheel, noting, for the first time, the cracks in its vinyl. I wondered what kind of car Brett drives. Seems weird that I didn’t know that. That I hadn’t been to his city, his house.
“Starving. I had some crackers on the plane, but nothing else.” He relaxed in the passenger seat, his hand resting on the back of my headrest, the faint scent of soap and a light cologne drifting over with his shift into place.
My stomach growled, as if it had the right to input an opinion. The sound reminded me of my failure to eat, not since eleven this morning, when I scarfed down a Wendy’s chicken salad behind the tellers. I probably burned a thousand calories during my cleaning frenzy. I was surprised my body hadn’t gone into shock.