I glanced at myself in the mirror. Courtney had been applying my signature shade of red. Maybe it did look a little too goth for a wedding. I reached for a tissue and wiped it off, pointing to a rose colored tube instead. “Let’s try that one.”
My mother watched in satisfaction as the new lipstick was applied. “Everyone is almost here. This is going to be the most impressive wedding of the year, I can guarantee you that.”
“And the most beautiful bride,” my sister said, brushing blush across my cheeks.
“And the sexiest groom,” Katine threw over her shoulder.
I giggled, grateful for their support.
“Yes, well, let’s hope she can hold onto him this time,” my mother said. Katine dropped her mascara wand.
“Mother!” Courtney snapped. “So inappropriate. Can you lay off the bitch mode? ”
I’d never get away with saying something like that. My mother frowned at her favorite daughter. I could sense a rising argument.
I put a hand on Courtney’s arm. I didn’t want there to be fighting today. I wanted everything to be perfect. I swallowed my hurt and smiled at my mother.
“We love each other,” I said confidently. “I don’t need to hold onto anything. He’s mine.”
She raised her perfect eyebrows at me, her lips pulling tight. “There’s always something they love more,” she said. “Be it a woman or a car or...”
Her words dropped off, but I finished them in my head — or another daughter...
Courtney, oblivious to our father’s favoritism, swept more blush over my cheekbones. “You’re so morbid, Mother. Not every man is like that.”
My mother smiled indulgently at her younger daughter and swept a hand across her cheek. “No, my love,” she said, “not for you.”
I heard the implication. Courtney did not. I eyed her hand on my sister’s cheek, and I hurt. She never touched me unless she had to. Even when I was little, I was lucky to get a hug on my birthday. Turning away from them, I thought of Caleb and immediately felt better. We were starting our own family today. I would never, ever treat my child the way they treated me. No matter what the situation. Caleb was going to be the best dad. I would be able to look back at my old life with sadness, as I glowed in the rosy haze of my new one. Caleb.
I had him. Maybe no one else, but he was enough for me.
Five minutes before things were scheduled to start, there was a knock on the door. My mother had already left and only Katine and Courtney were with me.
Courtney ran to see who it was, while Katine helped me into my shoes.
She came back half smiling. “It’s Caleb. He wants to speak to you.”
Katine shook her head. “Hell, no! He can’t see her yet. I’m divorced, and you know what? I let the as**ole see me before we got married.” She said it matter-of-factly, like that was the sole reason her marriage had fallen apart.
I looked at the door, my heart rate spiking. I didn’t mind. “You two go downstairs. I’ll see you in a minute.”
Katine folded her arms across her chest like she wasn’t going anywhere.
“Katine,” I said, “Brian left you because you slept with his brother, not because he saw you in your wedding dress. Now get out.”
Courtney grabbed Katine’s arm before she could retort, and dragged her from the room.
I smoothed my dress, glancing quickly in the mirror before heading to the door. What could he want to speak to me about? Suddenly, I felt sick. What if he wanted to call things off? Was there ever a good reason a groom demanded to speak to the bride before he married her?
I cracked it open.
“You’re not supposed to see me,” I said.
He laughed, which immediately set me at ease. A laughing man didn’t come to break up with his fiancée.
“Turn around,” he said. “And I’ll back in.”
I turned my back to the door and took a few steps away. I heard Caleb shuffle in. He came to stand with his back pressed against my back. He reached for my hands, and we stood there like that for a good minute before he spoke.
“I’m gonna turn around…” he said.
He started laughing, and I knew he was teasing.
I squeezed his hands. He squeezed back.
“Leah,” his voice touched my name in a way that made me close my eyes. Everything that rolled off his tongue sounded beautiful but especially my name.
“Yes?” I said softly.
“Do you love me, or the idea of me?”
I stiffened, and he stroked the tops of my fingers with his thumbs.
I tried to pull my hands away because I wanted to see his face, but he held them firmly, not letting me go.
“Just answer the question, love.”
“I love you,” I said with certainty. “Do you … do you not feel the same?”
Oh God. He was going to call off the wedding.
I felt my throat constricting. I dropped my head, pulling deep breaths.
“I love you, Leah. I wouldn’t have asked you to marry me if I didn’t.”
Then why are we having this conversation?
“Then why are we having this conversation?” I had sounded surer in my head. My voice quivered.
“Love isn’t always enough. I just want to make sure…”
His voice trailed off. Was he talking about Olivia? I wanted to scream. She was here with us on our wedding day. I wanted to tell him that she was gone! She’d moved on. She was … she was … a worthless bitch that didn’t deserve him.
Did I love him?
I lifted my chin. Yes, I did — more than she did, anyway. If he needed me to talk him through this, I would.
“Caleb,” I said, my voice soft. “There is something I’ve never told you. It’s about my family.”
I took a breath and allowed the truth to seep from my lips. It was now or never. My words were laced with shame and hurt. Caleb, sensing something, gripped me tighter.
He made to spin around, but I held him in place. I couldn’t look at him just yet. I just needed to get this out. Any minute they were going to come looking for us, and I needed to finish before they did. “Just, don’t turn around, okay. Just … listen.”
“Okay,” he said.
“After my parents got married, they tried for three years to have a baby. Doctors told my mother that she couldn’t have children, so they reluctantly decided to adopt. My father is Greek, Caleb. He needed a son. They decided not to wait for a domestic adoption, which would have taken years. My father had connections in the Russian embassy.
My heart almost caved at the sound of his voice. “Just shut up,” I said. “This is really hard, just let me say it.”
I fought the tears. I wouldn’t sacrifice my makeup for this.
“My real mother was sixteen and she worked in a brothel. I wasn’t the boy they wanted, but they brought me back with them. I was six weeks old. A month later, my mother found out she was pregnant. She had a miscarriage … I guess it was a boy. My father blamed the stress of the miscarriage on me. I was apparently very difficult, colicky and whatnot. She got pregnant with Courtney a few months later, but my father had lost his boy. I guess he’s hated me ever since. I went from the baby they wanted to the baby that killed the wanted baby … to the inconvenience — a prostitute’s baby.”
There was a loud rapping on the door. “A few more minutes,” I called out. I spun around and made Caleb face me. He took me in his arms, his eyebrows drawn. I felt his warmth seeping into me. He was quiet for a long time.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“God, Caleb. It’s my family’s dirty little secret. I was ashamed.” I had to bend my head all the way back to look into his face. He made me feel small and protected.
“You have nothing to be ashamed of. It’s them — I can’t even imagine.”
He shook his head. “Is that why your father won’t walk you down the aisle today?” He narrowed his eyes, and I blushed. I’d told him that my father’s gout was acting up. No holds barred. I nodded. My father had told me a week earlier that he would not be escorting me down the aisle. I hadn’t really expected him to.
Caleb swore. He hardly ever swore in front of me. I could see how angry he was. “That’s why he gave you the job.” It wasn’t a question. He was piecing things together. I nodded. He looked so enraged; I knew my plan was working.
“Caleb … don’t leave me,” my lip quivered. “Please … I love you.”
He grabbed me almost roughly and pulled me into his arms. I clutched him, not caring about my makeup or my hair. This was the way into his heart. I played his compassion, and I played his need to protect things that were broken and lost.
The knocking on the door resumed. Caleb held me at arm’s length and looked at me. Something had transitioned in his eyes. I’d become something else to him in the moment I’d shared my secret. Had I known that would happen? Had I intentionally held off on telling him the truth in case something like this ever happened?
He lightly ran a finger from my hairline, straight down my forehead across my nose, over my lips and down my neck.
“You’re stunning,” he said. “Can I walk you down the aisle?”
My heart skipped, skidded, flew … did a f**king happy dance. He was going to marry me.
“I won’t hurt you. I’ll take care of you. Do you believe me?”
“Yes,” I lied.
She looks the same. Raven hair hanging wildly to her waist. She looks almost gypsy-like in her teal linen pants and a cream sheath shirt that hangs casually off one defined shoulder. I eye her gold hoop earrings, which are big enough to fit my entire hand through. They make her look exotic and slightly dangerous. She has always made me feel plain.
Her eyes rove over the handful of occupants in the diner, searching for a face she recognizes: an old man, a couple who share the same side of a booth, two servers folding silverware into napkins … and me.
I see the shock overcome her features — the parting of her lips, the slight spreading of white around her irises. Suddenly, she stiffens. Her eyes chase to the four corners of the room, and I know she is looking for him. I shake my head to tell her he’s not here. I take a sip of my coffee and I wait.
She moves with purpose toward my table. When she reaches where I am sitting, she doesn’t sit but stares at me expectantly.
“An old client?” She says dryly.
“Well, I am, aren’t I?” I motion for her to sit. I’d sent an anonymous message to her office, claiming I was an old client in desperate legal trouble. I’d asked her to meet me at a diner named Tiffany’s. I had no idea if she’d come or not, but it was better than showing up at her office.
She slides cautiously into the seat across from me, never taking her eyes from my face.
“Well, what the f**k do you want?”
I flinch. Louboutins or not, she’s still the same crass piece of white trash she used to be.
“I thought maybe you could look over this document for me.” I reach into my purse and pull out the papers I’d stolen from Caleb’s filing cabinet. Placing them on the table, I slide them toward her.
“What is this?” she asks. She eyes me distastefully. How dare she look at me that way? She has singlehandedly ruined my life. I’d have everything if it weren’t for her devious, overreaching hands.
I’d probably also be in prison. I push that thought away. Now is not the time for gratitude. Now is the time for answers. I poke the document in front of her.
“Take a look. See for yourself.”
Without moving her head, she looks at the papers then back to me. It’s a smooth, hard, impressive piece of intimidation. The art of her body language is something to be admired.
“Why would I want to do that?” she says.
She’s making me feel chilled. I get a flashback of being on the witness stand, and my heart rate spikes. I practice to see if I can do it too.
“It’s Caleb’s,” I say, only moving my lips.
I don’t know whether it’s the mention of his name or if my imitation of her body language is working, but she tenses.
A server approaches our table. Olivia reaches for the papers.
“Get her a coffee, two creamers.” I say, waving him away. He hurries off. Olivia, who is reading, briefly glances up at me. I spent almost every day with her for nine months. I know what she likes.
I sip my coffee as she reads, watching her face.
Her coffee arrives. Without looking up, she pulls the lids from the creamers and dumps them into her cup.
She lifts the mug to her lips, but halfway there her hand freezes. Coffee spills onto the table as she slams the mug down. Abruptly, she stands up.
“Where did you get that?”
She is backing away from the table, shaking her head. “Why is my name on there?”
I run my tongue across my teeth. “I was hoping you could tell me that?”
She bolts for the door. I stand up, tossing a twenty on the table and go after her.
I follow her into the parking lot and corner her by the newspaper stand. “You are not getting out of explaining why your name is on this deed along with my husband’s!”
Her face is washed of color. She shakes her head. “I don’t know, Leah. He never — I don’t know.”