“You could run for office with a poker face like that.” Jacob laughs heartily. “You live on that property with him day in and day out. He’s probably chewed your head off more times than you can count.”
“Yeah, well, I’ve given it right back to him.” Now shut up.
Tucker chuckles and wraps his arm around my shoulder, jostling me. “That’s my girl.”
I chance another glance at Jack and if possible, he looks even more annoyed and grumpy than he did a minute ago. His brows are furrowed and his attention is once again on the altar up ahead, unwavering. I want to crack his skull like a clam and read his thoughts. Why are you all alone? Why’d you have to push me away?
The group of friends around me goes right on chatting, but I’m oblivious to their conversation. My attention is on Jack right up until Dotty walks up to his pew and asks if she can sit beside him. His brows arch in surprise and he scoots over, giving her the aisle seat.
“Why are you smiling?” Tucker says, following my gaze.
I blink and think quick, pointing to some floral arrangement a few feet beyond Jack’s pew. “I was just thinking those are some of the prettiest roses I’ve ever seen.”
He laughs and rubs his thumb along my shoulder. “You like roses that much? I’ll be sure to remember that.”
I strain my ears to try to catch a bit of Jack and Dotty’s conversation, but there are far too many people separating us. A few minutes later, I do catch his laugh though—deep and throaty—and my gut clenches tight.
Then the ceremony starts and we all stand to watch Leanna walk down the aisle. For the first time since I arrived, I have no trouble keeping my attention on someone other than Jack. She walks toward Daniel with the biggest smile on her face and happy tears slipping down her cheeks. Her gown is a whole lot of dress. She’s gone for the full princess look, and it’s paying off—she’s breathtaking. Daniel obviously agrees, the look of pure adoration in his eyes spawning more than a few tears in the audience.
It’s a heady experience to watch a marriage begin knowing my own is in the process of being dissolved. I think about that as Daniel and Leanna say their vows, staring into each other’s eyes and promising to stick together through thick and thin. I made those same vows, and a part of me feels guilty that I’m breaking them. Then I remind myself that Andrew was a different person when we got married, someone I trusted to take care of me and safeguard my heart. He chose to break our contract long before I did.
Maybe I should be cynical about marriage now, but I’m not. Not every man is like Andrew. There are Daniels floating around the world, you just have to keep an eye out for them. Oh yeah, Meredith? And what about the Jacks of the world? What do you do for them?
I glance over to see him fidgeting in his pew. He angles his head toward the back of the church then scans the crowd, hopping from person to person before landing back on me. Our gazes click into place like two puzzle pieces. This time, neither one of us looks away. His dark eyes are all I see.
The pastor speaks as Leanna and Daniel exchange rings: “May these rings be a visible symbol of the love that unites these two young hearts. May they serve as a daily reminder of the promises you made here today.”
I know the words aren’t meant for us. We aren’t the ones standing up on the altar, but I can’t look away, and he isn’t either.
“Meredith,” Tucker whispers. I jerk my gaze back to the altar like he’s just caught me red-handed. “Do you need a tissue?”
“Oh, no thank you.” I’m not crying. In fact, I’d forgotten about the wedding altogether.
I chance another quick peek and find that Jack is facing forward again.
While the bride and groom snap photos with their family members after the ceremony, most of us walk one block over to the reception. It’s in the middle of the town square, in the park surrounding the courthouse. Twinkle lights glow overhead, and all of the tables are covered in red and white gingham tablecloths. For centerpieces, mason jars are filled with sunflowers and white roses. Whiskey barrels serve as cocktail tables, and booze flows in every direction. Tucker goes to get me a glass of wine while I hang back with his friends. They really are nice, and even though they all grew up together, they don’t make me feel like an outsider. Jacob even promises he’ll teach me how to two-step after finding out I’ve never done it before. They all latch onto that, completely shocked that I could exist for twenty-eight years without ever having stepped foot in a “honky-tonk”.
“Here you are,” Tucker says, rejoining the group with a Corona for himself and a glass of white wine for me. “Sauvignon blanc, hope that’s okay.”
The wine is delicious, so crisp and refreshing. It’s been a while since I’ve tasted wine this good, and I make a mental note to pace myself or I’ll be acting a fool out on the dance floor later with Jacob and Tucker.
Once the bride and groom make their appearance, they open two buffet lines and everyone makes quick work of piling their plates with barbecue from Blue Stone’s restaurant. I’m carrying my plate back to our group’s table when I catch sight of Jack.
What is it about a handsome man sitting alone that makes your heart ache, even if you know the handsome man is sitting alone for a very good reason? He’s probably offended half the people in attendance and yet deep down, I know I shouldn’t give up on him.
I shake off the feeling.
I’m not about to march over there and save him. He made his bed, and now he can lie in it. I follow Tucker back to the table and start eating. I fork some potato salad into my gullet then nibble on some bread, but I have no appetite and just can’t handle the thought of Jack sitting by himself through the entire wedding reception.
God help me.
I turn to Tucker and offer up an easy smile. “I’ll be right back.”
Edith talked me into coming to this wedding. They aren’t really my thing. In fact, given the choice between attending a wedding and getting a root canal, I’d lean back and say, Ahhhh.
Daniel’s a good guy though, and he’s worked for me for years. I’m glad I’m here now, though I plan on leaving as soon as they cut the cake. I hate weddings; I do not hate cake. Maybe I can talk Edith into snagging me another piece on her way out. Unlike most old-timers who grumble about the lateness of the hour, she’ll be here until they shut the place down—except, she won’t agree to the cake idea. She’s not talking to me right now. She’s pissed about my fight with Meredith.
“You think she left that husband for the attention?! How thick is that skull of yours?”
Those were her exact words. Then, she called me an idiot and thumped me on the back of the head before walking right out of the room. Edith can scold with the best of them.
I wonder if I’m really that far off about Meredith. I thought I was the only person in Cedar Creek thinking clearly about this woman, but I suppose it’s possible that the opposite is true. Should I not have trusted Helen’s judgment of her own sister? The day she showed up, she fit the stereotype I’d been warned about to a T: gorgeous, dolled up, headstrong. She didn’t seem like a wounded bird to me. Hell, she pecked at me every chance she got.
I thought I’d finally pinned her down in my office the other day. I voiced every suspicion swirling in my head and then I watched, waiting for the fury, the anger, and the lies. I knew she’d deny it all, and she did, but something felt…off. I’ve never witnessed hurt like I saw in her eyes. My words weren’t just insulting, but deep affronts to her pride. I realized in that moment that my accusations might have been out of line.
I hate to admit a mistake, because I try so hard not to make them, but there’s a possibility I’m wrong. Okay, there’s more than a possibility. I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have stuck around this long if she were just trying to get a rise out of her husband. I was told she was entitled and spoiled, but other than the advance, she hasn’t asked for a single thing. She’s worked damn hard and then some. I never told her she had to bake cookies for the ranch hands or organize my closet. She puts in more hours than anyone else besides me, and I thanked her by—how did I put it? Ah yes, I accused her of being a spoiled, heartless flirt. Boy do I have a way with words.