I can just…go.
Excitement is building in my chest. I’m really doing this. I should be terrified, but knots are loosening inside me instead. I’m not getting married today. I’m making this choice.
With a shaky swallow, I swish toward the secretary in the corner and scribble out a note with a trembling hand. I’m sorry, Elijah. I couldn’t do it.
I hesitate before penning the next part. Am I going to completely sever ties with my fiancé? Yes. And no. I need to give Elijah his freedom. It’s only fair after what I’m about to do. I can’t ask him to wait while I figure myself out. That wouldn’t be fair. But I know I could search this entire world and not find a more decent man. So while I’m going to break off our betrothal? In my heart…I’m going to keep hope alive that we’ll find our way back to each other. If we’re meant to be, he’ll forgive me one day, won’t he?
I didn’t want it to end this way, but it’s for the best.
Those final words blur together as I stare down at them, until the clock drags my attention away. I’m now ten minutes late for my own wedding. Unheard of. My mother is probably on the way—no, those are her footsteps coming up the stairs now. I have to move.
I shove the folded note into Harper’s hands. “I’m sorry to do this to you, sweetheart, but I need you to give this to Elijah.” She starts to shake her head. “You’ve been a good friend, Harper. I wish I had more time to explain, but right now, I need you to stall my mother while I escape down the back staircase.”
“But why?” Harper breathes, fanning herself with the note. “Elijah is just so handsome.”
There’s no time to answer, though, and I turn from my wide-eyed friend, snatch up my purse and jog toward the staircase door. Not an easy feat in my crystal-embellished pumps I had designed to match Cinderella’s slippers—which, heavens, seems so trite and cliché now. It’s dark on the way down to street level, making it feel like a dream. Or a mistake. I’m not supposed to be in the dark, I’m supposed to be walking down the aisle adorned in refracted stained-glass lighting. We tested several different positions of the sun before deeming three o’clock the optimal aisle time. I can already hear my mother grinding her molars. We’re losing the sun.
Who cares? I laugh as I throw myself through the exit door and click quickly through the parking lot, purse in one hand, the hem of my wedding dress in the other. There isn’t a soul around. No one wants to miss the upper-crust betrothal of the town hero and his trophy wife, do they?
While that harsh thought stings like an angry bee, it makes me move even faster toward my white Range Rover, parked in the valet section. I want to be more than someone’s blonde Stepford Wife. I want to be…more like Addison. More like the black sheep cousin who walked with her chin up into a church full of people who dislike her. I want to be brave like that. Before that can happen, I need a reason to be brave. I need to see and learn and do.
Go back, says a voice in the back of my head. You can’t really be doing this.
You don’t have what it takes to survive.
That might be true. But I am doing this, regardless.
I’m a runaway bride.
Within moments, I’m peeling out of the parking lot and gunning it toward the freeway, my veil blowing in the wind. Before I take the on-ramp, though, I pull over and map a sensible route to Florida on my voice-guided navigator.
One ditched wedding does not a spontaneous woman make.
After that, though, I’m on my way.
I guess I’ll find out.
Did anyone hear about the runaway bride in Charleston?
Did she run away or is foul play involved?
Theories welcome (nothing outlandish please).
Has anyone checked the dressing room for alien substances?
No, of course not. Apparently, the truth is TOO REAL for some people.
Around the time I hit Jacksonville, I realize several things. All at once. Like a cold bucket of water thrown in my face. One, I have to use the ladies’ room—desperately. Two, I’m still wearing my wedding dress, which is going to make relieving myself at a gas station awkward to say the least. Three, I have no marketable skills.
That last one is a doozy.
To my credit, I have a degree in Women’s Studies from Clemson. But apart from the annual car wash I ran with my sorority sisters, I’ve never actually had a job. Holding a sign, showing a little leg and giving my best smile to passing motorists doesn’t really count, I’m assuming. Which stings a little, because I was prouder of the nine hundred and fifty-eight dollars we made senior year than I am about most of my accomplishments.