He smiled and tipped my chin up. “I will be making good use of this desk in the future, though. Rest assured.”
The sea rolled in with the tide. Warmth and the promise of change mingled with the ocean air. Turquoise and gray clouds slid across the autumn sky, revealing the clear blue above. A perfect day.
Someone called my name. Alli leaned over the Landon’s deck, waving me inside. The giddy smile that marked her features today hadn’t changed. The knot of anticipation in my belly grew, threatening to explode every few minutes.
Today was the day. Today I would become Blake’s wife. Today we would bind ourselves to one another, for always.
I joined Alli and the other girls. Caterers and family friends buzzed around Blake’s parents’ house. Alli pulled me into one of the large bedrooms where everyone was getting ready.
Fiona was already dressed, a picture of perfection in her strapless flowing lavender bridesmaid gown. Alli and Simone rotated between distracting me from being nervous and telling me what to do next. Makeup, hair, and smiling for the ever-present photographer capturing our casual moments.
We were light, champagne bubbling through us. Everything about today was surreal. Each moment moved in slow motion but slipped away too quickly. Blake’s mother fussed over us. Fiona rushed around after every detail, ensuring perfection for a day that she’d spent so much time helping to plan. Alli doted and directed me, making sure I was everywhere I needed to be. We laughed and fought tears. I wanted to tuck each moment away, so I could remember it forever.
Blake and the boys were nowhere to be found. No one wanted to fess up to where they were hiding out. I missed him, but I honored tradition and resolved to wait. We’d waited so long. I could wait a little longer.
Marie arrived before everything was about to begin. She was stunning, in a shimmery espresso dress that hugged her lithe figure. She came close and hugged me tightly.
“You look beautiful. Thank you for being here,” I whispered.
She smiled warmly, tears shimmering in her eyes. “So do you. And there’s no place I’d rather be than here with you, baby girl.”
“No crying!” Alli barked. “Her makeup is perfect. Hold it together, people.”
We both laughed, Alli’s order adding some levity to the moment. Marie and I had made our amends. We were both sorry, for our pride and for everything that had pushed us apart. She was still mourning Richard, still in shock that he’d not only betrayed her, but had also been ripped from her life so suddenly. She’d loved him, I had little doubt. The tears she fought each time we met since the shooting told me so.
He’d been at the wrong place at the wrong time, but so had I. I wanted to blame Daniel, but I could have easily blamed myself for naively bringing him into my life months ago, thrusting myself into his dangerous world and not knowing the consequences of my choice. Life had played out, but too much had happened to carry grudges. Richard had lost his life, and I’d almost lost mine. Marie was too important to me, and life had proven too short to put any more distance between us.
“You ready for all this?” she asked.
I laughed. “I think so, yeah.”
“I think so too.” She smiled. “You’re going to be beautiful, Erica. But I’m going to seriously lose it when I see you in your dress.”
“Hold that thought,” Alli said.
She’d emerged from the adjoining bathroom with a large garment bag containing my wedding dress. The well of happy tears surged behind my eyes again. I took breath after steadying breath, determined not to ruin the makeup she’d spent hours perfecting.
A few minutes later, I stepped into the dress and Marie carefully zipped up the back, sealing the fabric tightly around my chest. There wasn’t a spare inch anywhere. I couldn’t imagine how the dress could fit me any better. The gown was a light cream with a sweetheart neckline, a thousand tiny little beads embroidered into the lace that overlaid the layer of soft satin beneath. Elegant and understated. Delicate and feminine.
I would become Blake’s wife in this dress. I’d say our vows. Our vows… I closed my eyes, imagining all the things I wanted to say to Blake. How much he meant to me, and how that would never change.
Alli gave my shoulders a little squeeze. “I'm dying right now. I hope you realize that.”
I laughed. “Why?”
A warm smile lit her eyes. “Okay, I’m insanely jealous, but it all pales in comparison to how totally happy I am for you both. I just can’t believe this is really happening. I feel like this is the happiest day of my life, but it’s yours.”
I nodded quickly, my vision blurring with tears.
“It is a beautiful dress,” I admitted. The girl wearing it was a wreck though. Only another hour and I’d be in the clear.
“What can I say? I have awesome taste.”
I skimmed my hands down the delicate lace that hugged my waist and tapered off at my thighs. “You do. Thank God you came back to Boston. I’d be hopeless without you.”
A knock came at the door, jarring me. Fiona opened the door and frowned at a dapper looking Heath, dressed in a sharp tuxedo. “What are you doing here?”
Alli’s eyes lit up, as if he’d been the groom and this was the first they’d laid eyes on each other. I wanted to see that day, and I prayed Alli would have it. Heath circled around the door.
“A little gift, from the groom.” He winked and set a large flat box on my lap before disappearing out of the girl’s den.
Simone squealed a little and came closer as I opened it up. Inside, I uncoiled a decadent string of diamonds. Gasps and awes faded into the background.
“Holy shit,” Simone muttered under her breath. “Are those diamonds?”
I swallowed hard. “I’m pretty sure.” I couldn’t begin to fathom the price of the piece, but I’d never seen anything so beautiful.
I handed it to Simone who fastened the shimmering necklace around my neck. It was breathtakingly beautiful, and matched the other gifts—my ring and bracelets—in such a meaningful way.
A few more minutes of bustling and preparing and we started our way through the house. Beyond the windows facing the ocean and the sprawling yard, I could see the guests and wedding party waiting in the warm October sunshine. I trembled at the sight, excited but in disbelief.
I spun and Elliot approached. Beth was by his side, and Clara and Marissa too, in sweet matching white dresses.