The wedding was less than a week away. The bride called Brooke several times that week to talk over the little details of the wedding, the catering, the cake order, the flower order. Brooke listened to all of her worries and concerns and gave her reassurances that everything was going to work out fine. She knew Julie was nervous, not only about the wedding, but about the commitment to marriage.
“Are you getting cold feet?” Brooke asked.
“I don’t know. What if I’m not making the right choice?”
“You love Lance, Julie. More than anything else. And he loves you, he treasures you, I know he is ready to make this commitment to you.”
When Brooke arrived at the hotel on Friday night with her mom and Brinley, Julie met her in the hotel room. She was a basket case of nerves and tears. By the time the hour came for rehearsal, she’d calmed down, but her eyes were puffy in spite of the makeup she’d put on.
Brooke could see that Lance was concerned. She wondered if he was doubting Julie’s commitment to him.
Brooke pulled Julie aside. “What is really going on with you, Julie?”
“I don’t know. What if something awful happens to Lance, like it did with Carl? I don’t want to lose him.”
“We can’t predict the future, Julie. Anything could happen to any one of us,” Brooke’s words were spoken in a soothing tone. “But I’m glad I had the time with Carl that I did. I loved him, and I wouldn’t have traded those years of our marriage for anything. I’m thankful for the time we had together, the love that we shared.”
Julie breathed in deeply and let out her breath in a sigh. “I love Lance with my whole heart,” she said.
“I know you do. And he knows you do. But your tears and fears are casting doubt on him, and he needs the reassurance that you’re ready to walk down the aisle and say your vows with him.”
Julie stood up, dried her tears, and straightened her shoulders. “I’m ready,” she said, and walked back into the church. The bridal march was played, and when Julie walked down the aisle on her father’s arm, her confidence back. Lance saw that she was settled, and his smile when she stood beside him made Brooke’s eyes fill with tears.
The rest of the rehearsal went smoothly. Brinley had performed the part of flower girl perfectly, but it was hard to get her to settle down in the hotel room and go to sleep.
And it was hard for Brooke to sleep, also. Julie’s fears had transferred to her. She was in love with Chase, and she knew he had deep feelings for her. What if he did ask her to marry him, and something happened to him down the road, like it had with Carl? Could she survive another loss of someone she cared so much about?
The wedding morning passed by in a flurry of activity as the women had their hair styled and makeup put on by some professionals that Julie’s mom had hired. The makeup was a little thicker than Brooke was used to, but the updo was perfect.
“Did you bring the necklace?” Julie asked.
“I did. Are you sure you don’t want to wear it for something borrowed?”
“You know I’m wearing something old, with my grandmother’s pearls. But I want you to wear the necklace Carl gave you. It will be like having a part of him here.”
Brooke’s eyes teared up.
“Oh, don’t cry. We don’t want our makeup to run.”
“They told us the makeup was waterproof,” Brooke reminded the bride.
“I’m not sure I believe them.”
Brooke allowed Julie to fasten the diamond necklace around her throat. Then she slipped into the rose-colored bridesmaid dress. It had spaghetti straps, and a ruffle across a straight bodice. Nothing too revealing, because Julie had wanted it that way. The bodice was fitted, and the skirt flared out and then narrowed at the calves, but not so narrow that they couldn’t dance in it.
Brooke’s cell phone beeped a few minutes before two o’clock.
She looked at it, and turned to Julie.
“Chase is here, and he is dressed and ready for the wedding.”
“Oh, have him come up here,” Julie said. “I want to meet him.”
“No one is going to see you before the wedding,” Julie’s mom insisted.
Julie was just as insistent. “I can take a peek out the door.”
Are you ready to meet my friends?
As ready as I will ever be.
How does the suit feel?
Like five hundred bucks.
Ha-ha. I bet it looks great.
You can see for yourself. I’m outside the door.
Brooke opened the door and slipped out into the hallway. There was Chase, looking like a million bucks in the classic cut black suit and gray shirt, with a tie in muted shades. He’d kept his beard for the occasion but trimmed it close. He looked absolutely fabulous. She walked up to him.
Chase saw that Brooke was beaming at him as she walked over to him. He reached out his hand and she grasped it with both hands.
“I can’t kiss you, right?” he asked, taking in the makeup. It was heavy handed, but on her it looked good.
“No, I’m afraid I can’t get my makeup messed up.”
He leaned forward and kissed her temple. “I can’t resist. You look movie-star perfect, you know.”
She blushed. “You look red-carpet ready.”
“Not me,” he said. “This is just an illusion.”
Brinley and Brooke’s mom walked out into the hallway. Brinley wore a ruffled white gown with satin roses and a sash in the same rose shade as Brooke’s dress.
“You look like a princess, Brinley,” Chase said, leaning down a little and grinning at her.
He was surprised when tears filled Brinley’s eyes. “My daddy used to call me his princess.”
Chase put his hand on top of her head and kissed her forehead. “Your daddy would be very proud of how you look today.”
That made her smile, and when he straightened and met Brooke’s eyes, he saw her tears.
“First her tears, now yours,” Chase said. “I’m not that great with women, I guess.”
The door opened, and the bride peeked out. “They won’t let me come out and say hi, Chase.” Her eyes widened as she took in his appearance. “But –oh, my, you’re even more handsome than your picture.”
He looked confused. Brooke had to confess. “Baylee sent a couple of the pictures from the bonfire to my email. I showed Julie and the girls the night of the bridal shower.”
“Showing me off?” he whispered.
She blushed. “Do you mind?”
He shook his head.
Julie’s sister and cousin popped into the doorway, their expressions admiring as they checked him out. He was conscious of being surrounded by women, and uncomfortable with all of the attention.
“Where should I wait for you?” he asked.
“I think we’re ready to leave now,” Brooke said. “We will see you at the church, Julie.”
“I’ll be there!” Julie’s excited voice called out.
Chase could hardly take his eyes off from Brooke during the ceremony. The bride herself was beautiful and so were the other bridesmaids, but Brooke was the one he was in love with, the only one he really saw. When the vows were said, and the groom kissed the bride, Brooke glanced back at him, and their eyes met. He knew in that moment, that she was feeling for him the way he felt for her.
The photo session in the church following the ceremony seemed to go on a long time. Chase stood near the back of the church, mostly watching Brooke as she posed for the camera. The bride was happy, and he could see that the groom was proud of his new wife. He knew Brooke and her first husband had set them up on a blind date. Her husband was no longer here, but she’d remained close to the bride, even after moving back home.
She looked like she belonged here, in this elegant setting, whereas he was sweating in his five-hundred-dollar suit and tie and wondering how he’d face all of these people at the reception.
He could see that Brinley was getting tired and a little cross before the final pictures were taken.
“This is so boring,” she said when she walked up to Chase and Brooke’s mom.
“You’re probably hungry, Brin,” Violet said. “I’m going to order room service, and you can get whatever you want to eat while we watch some movies.”
“Why can’t I go to the reception?”
It looked like Brooke had gone over this a few times already, from the exasperation he saw in her expression.
“It’s an adult only reception. I know that isn’t fair, but there will be a lot of people there, and I won’t have time to keep an eye on you.”
A little while later, as they walked into the elegant ballroom, Chase felt out of place, even in the suit that Brooke had chosen for him.
There was so much gold and glitter on the ceiling, the tables, and on the guests. Brooke looked like she belonged here. He was amazed at how comfortable she was in moving around and greeting people. She introduced him to a few of her former coworkers.
Then it was time for the bridal party to get seated. The bride came over to them and led Chase to the table where she seated him next to her brother.
The dinner was a buffet, and Chase put a few things on his plate, not wanting to overdo and knowing he’d have a hard time eating as it was.
“So Julie tells me you went to high school with Brooke,” Julie’s brother said when they were all seated at the table with their plates.
“Yes, I did. We graduated the same year.”
“Was she as pretty in high school as she is now?”
Chase didn’t hesitate. “Yes.”
The conversation drifted away from Chase. The pressure to socialize was off from him, and he contented himself with watching Brooke interact with the other members of the bridal party. The bridal party was all served champagne, and Brooke took her glass and held it up when the bride and groom were toasted. He noticed that she sipped it, then set it back down. He also noticed, as he looked at her often, that she didn’t seem to be drinking it otherwise. She had a glass of water and that was what she was drinking with her food.
It seemed ages before the servers started to clear away the dishes and the band began to play. There were the usual traditional dances, and since Brooke was in the bridal party, she danced with her groomsman counterpart. Chase felt a little jealousy as he watched them move around, and noticed that Brooke stumbled during part of the dance. She’d told him she wasn’t a good dancer, at the reunion. He recalled she’d stumbled then, but only once. He saw the groomsman’s grip on her tighten, as his had, and the jealousy grew.
After the first few traditional dances, Brooke walked his way, smiling. He stood up as she approached the table.
He held out his hand. “May I have this dance?” he asked.
She smiled, and he didn’t know if it was happiness or the reflection of the crystal chandelier that made her eyes shine so bright.
He took her hand and led her out onto the dance floor. “I thought this moment would never get here,” he said, sighing as he put his hand on her waist. They danced together well, he thought as the music played, despite a couple of stumbles from her at the beginning.
“That’s a beautiful necklace,” he said, glancing at the sparkling diamonds around her throat. “Was it a gift for a special anniversary?”
He kept his tone casual, hoping she didn’t think he was jealous. Although he was, a little.
“Carl bought it for me with the bonus he earned when he made partner. I wanted him to put the money towards the down payment for the house, but he insisted on the necklace. A status symbol, he used to call it.”
She said it as though it didn’t matter much to her, but it mattered to him. “You wore it for the reunion.”
“I did. I guess I wanted to show off.”
He gave a half grin. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“A little. I was proud of what Carl and I had accomplished, and I wanted people to know I’d made a successful life.” She blushed as her eyes met his. “I’m shameful, aren’t I?”
“You’re honest,” he said, making her smile. “You didn’t have to impress these people here tonight. I’m curious as to why you’re wearing it.”
“It fits the occasion. The wedding, the elegance, the formal dress. It seemed appropriate to wear the diamonds.”
“They remind you of your husband? And your dreams?”
She bit her lip and lost a step. “I don’t need to wear the diamonds tonight to be reminded of Carl. Everything about this reception reminds me of Carl.”
“Even me? Do I remind you of Carl?”
She shook her head. “No. Nothing about you reminds me of Carl.”
He winced. “Is that a good or bad thing?”
“I’d say it’s very good. I always thought Carl was a handsome man, but you—” Her palm slid from his shoulder to his bicep. “—in this amazing suit—”
She didn’t have to finish her sentence for him to understand what she was saying. The look of pure delight in her eyes stirred his senses. He stopped dancing.
“How much champagne did you drink?”
“You saw me. Just a couple of sips to share the toast. I’m not tipsy,” she said, smiling.
“Come with me,” he said, taking her hand and leading her off the dance floor. She was surprised when he continued on through the French doors into the hallway.
“Where are we going?”
He walked outside into the crisp autumn air. “That look in your eyes, you should be careful with it.”
“Why?” She seemed confused, proving that she didn’t recognize the seductive way she’d been looking at him.
“It’s dangerous,” he said, drawing her into his arms. “Do you suppose I could kiss you now that the photos are done?”
“Well, I think my lipstick is pretty well wore off anyway after I saw most of it on my glass, so yes, I think it’d be all right.”
He kissed her like he’d been longing to do all day.
She drew back after a few seconds, and gasped. “Oh, my goodness!”
“I told you that look was dangerous,” he said with a grin.
She stepped back. “I think we should go back in there.”
“Are you sure? You look like you’ve been ravaged.” He grinned as she blushed.
“Well, I have.” Then she looked serious. “I guess they can all tell what we ran off to do.”
“Probably. Do you mind? These are your husband’s former friends and coworkers.”
“No, I don’t mind. I’m very happy and proud to have you here with me today.”
“This isn’t just because you think I’m handsome in this suit, is it?”
“No, I didn’t need a well-dressed escort to make me feel important. I wanted you here with me, because, well, because you’re a part of my life now.” Her eyes held a question, and he leaned down and kissed her gently.
“I hope to be part of your life for a very long time.”
“There you are!” The bride’s sister, Janie walked out and lit up a cigarette. “Julie is asking where you went.”
Janie’s eyes narrowed as they took in the pink blush on Brooke’s face and the lips that looked like they’d recently been kissed.
“Ah, young love!” she said with an exaggerated sigh. “It’s all around me today.”
When Brooke and Chase walked by her, she said, “Save a dance for me, handsome.”
He decided to make a statement that she wouldn’t forget.
“Sorry. I’ve only got one name on my dance card tonight.”
She looked angry for a moment, then smiled.
“Brooke is a lucky girl.”
“I know I am,” Brooke said, slipping her hand into Chase’s.