I know I won’t though. I will be the picture of docile civility. I’ll greet him with a smile and a pleasant hello. I’ll continue being on my best behavior because I won’t do anything he could use as an excuse to fire me. No, that jerk is stuck with me until I decide I’ve had enough, until I find some way to move on. I have one paycheck in the bank, plus my measly advance. Even if I wanted to (which I don’t!), I don’t think I could even afford to get back to California at this point.
Asking either of my parents to bail me out is still an option, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. As far as they know, I’m still happily married to Andrew, living the sunny beach life. I won’t tell them otherwise until I have some kind of plan for the future. The only thing worse than dealing with Jack would be facing them in my current state. I can just imagine the look of disappointment on my mom’s face. She thought I hit the jackpot when I met Andrew and married young. Before I even walked down the aisle, she admitted how relieved she was that I’d never have to worry about money.
Oh well. I learned my lesson. I survived Andrew, and now I know better than to depend on a man ever again. I’m going to pave the way for my future on my own. I just need to, y’know, narrow down what that future will actually entail.
Saturday morning, I wake up early to start getting ready for the wedding. I eat dry cereal while standing at the window of the shack, trying to spot Jack inside the farmhouse. I check the upstairs office window, kitchen window, bedroom window, repeat. He’s nowhere to be found. After that bout of titillating reconnaissance, I do some light yoga to calm my nerves. I don’t know why I have butterflies in my stomach and a weird feeling in my chest—well, other than the fact that I’ll likely have to face Jack at the wedding, but whatever. I can handle him. I have a plan, remember? Polite indifference. Sometimes, a smile says eff you even louder than words can.
I shower and take extra time with my hair so by the time I’m done, it’s smooth and wavy. I apply my makeup carefully and slip into my dress. It’s dark blue with a triangle neckline and spaghetti straps. The top fits me like a glove, and the skirt flows just a little when I move. I wish I had a nice pair of shoes to wear with it, but I did manage to snag some nude heels at the thrift store. They’re pretty worn down, but hey, they were three dollars, so if they last the night, I’ll call it a win.
Edith comes to check on me a few minutes before Tucker is due to arrive.
“Well don’t you clean up nice. Sure you don’t want to cover up though? Maybe grab a cardigan? I have a wool coat you could button up over that thing.”
“Edith, this dress isn’t even that revealing.”
“Yeah, well, I’ve seen the way Tucker looks at you.”
“You’re the one who insisted on this date—you practically signed on the dotted line for me!”
She shakes her head at that, annoyed with me as if I’m missing something.
“Yes, right. Whatever. Are you sure you don’t want to ride with me and Jack? These country roads can be treacherous.”
“Oh, I’m sure.”
“It sprinkled earlier, so the roads are slick. Tucker probably doesn’t know how to maneuver as well as Jack does.”
“I don’t care. There’s no way I’m getting in a truck with Jack.”
“Listen, I don’t blame you. After you told me what you two fought about, I don’t really want to be in a truck with him either. We can leave him here, go by ourselves?”
Tucker pulls up and honks his horn before she can convince me to change my mind.
She sees me off, not bothering to wave to Tucker. I don’t know why she suddenly hates him considering how hard she pushed me into being his plus one.
Jack doesn’t show his face.
As we drive toward the church, Tucker and I have painful first date conversation that makes my pits sweat.
Did you have a good rest of your week?
Weather’s been nice hasn’t it?
What kind of music do you like?
I’m itchy from how much it seems like a cross-examination.
He compliments me on my dress and tells me he’s been excited to pick me up all day. He looks handsome in a dark blue suit. Everything we talk about is light and pleasant. I should be enjoying myself. Instead, I nearly barrel roll out of the truck after he swings into a parking space.
The church is a block over from the town square. There are cars lining the street, and Tucker tells me most of the restaurants and shops around Cedar Creek are closed for the night because so many people will be at the wedding. He’s not kidding. When we walk into the church, it’s overflowing. There’s no bride’s side and groom’s side of the aisle; seating is simply first come, first served. There’s a good chance I’ll end up scooted onto Tucker’s lap during the ceremony.
It seems most everyone knows each other, and Tucker is extra popular. For every one step we take, two friends come up to greet him. He introduces me to everyone and just about all of them proclaim that they’re huggers. I see a few women from yoga, and they’re all excited to see me here on Tucker’s arm. I get a few conspicuous thumbs up and one rather loud, Giddit, girl! It seems the whole town sees him as their golden boy.
“C’mon,” he says after we’ve finished making the rounds. “My friends saved us some seats up toward the altar.”
Of course it takes another ten minutes to fight through the crowd of people congregating in the aisle, but we eventually break through to the other side.
A short guy in a gray suit waves us down, and Tucker tells me that’s his best friend, Jacob.
“Tucker’s told me a lot about you,” he says, shaking my hand enthusiastically.
My smile falters for a moment, and fortunately Tucker saves me from having to reply.
“Nothing much, I swear—just said I had a smokin’ hot date to the wedding.”
Nice compliment considering my entire outfit cost me less than a cocktail back in California.
I let him step past to sit beside Jacob then I take the aisle seat and turn to scan the crowd, looking for the one person I haven’t seen yet. He left after me, but the ceremony is due to start soon.
It’s not hard to find him.
Tall, dark, and handsome, Jack sticks out like a sore thumb.
He’s sitting in the fourth pew across the aisle all by himself, staring straight ahead, jaw locked tight. He’s focusing on the altar like he’s deep in thought. All the while, life continues on around him—chatter and laughter among the adults, ringing giggles from the little kids. He’s separated from it all, a black cloud sitting in the middle of that church. He doesn’t turn to greet anyone, and in turn, everyone gives him a wide berth. They’ve completely written him off. Even Edith has abandoned him, opting instead to sit with her reading club friends on the other side of the church.
I surreptitiously study him while Tucker talks to his friends. His broad shoulders are clad in a black suit jacket—the one I imagined him wearing the day I organized his closet. His dark hair is tamed and sexy, and his strong jaw is clean-shaven. He could be so popular, so beloved, if only he’d let it happen.
I’m focused as if I’m going to try to paint him from memory later when his eyes cut to me, like he’s known I was there all along. A cascade of goose bumps roll down my body and I jerk my attention back to the altar. My heart pounds. My breathing is erratic. Luckily, I can just pretend to be emotional about the holy matrimony about to take place before me.
Jack’s loner status doesn’t go unnoticed. One of Tucker’s friends mentions it.
“Think someone ought to go save the poor guy? I feel kind of bad.”
Tucker sneers. “He does it to himself with that damn attitude.”
They chuckle and agree, and I’m left sitting there biting my tongue. My gut instinct is to defend Jack, but how? By admitting that he’s treated me poorly too? By confirming that he’s as mean as everyone thinks he is?
“Don’t you agree, Meredith?”
His actions might be indefensible, but I won’t pile on him with everyone else.
I shake my head. “He’s fine.”