Shockingly, astonishingly wrong.
I don’t even know where I messed up. But when he opens the door to let me in and says, “You can take the bed,” I know this much.
There is no way I’m sleeping in the same room as him tonight.
I call on whatever scraps of self-respect I can muster. “I’m going back to the hot tub. Can you, um, hand me a towel?”
He turns around and trudges to the bathroom like he’s carrying a bag of bricks, then returns with a towel.
I take it wordlessly, dry off my hair, then head to the deck, far away from my friends, finding a lounge chair around the corner in the dark.
I pluck at the uncomfortable thong. Should have asked for some briefs too. But pride and all. I pull the suit off and toss it onto the deck, but leave the towel wrapped around me.
I don’t fall asleep though. I just lie there, hurting, staring at the stars, feeling like I’ve just struck out in every at-bat I’ve ever taken.
THE LAST WORD
A breeze rustles the summer air. The scent of lush grapes drifts by. The sun warms my face.
Two happy dudes walk together across the springy grass. We’re in a secluded park in Lucky Falls, next to a vineyard.
About fifty guests stand as the grooms walk down the makeshift aisle together, in matching khaki slacks and white linen shirts, hand in hand.
I don’t take my eyes off the couple. That’s just polite, but it’s also self-protection.
The guy who coldly rejected me is five feet away.
Wish he were a million miles from here. But nope, the same guys who went to dinner last night are squished together now too. Nate’s by my side, next to Hunter. Luke, AKA the dude who slept in a comfy king-size bed like a goddamn prince, is next to Zane and Gunnar, and entirely too close to me.
When Jason and Beck reach the beaming young officiant who stands under a canopy of trees, I turn to watch them but fight off a wince in my back.
My shoulder whines too. My neck screams next. My head feels like a stone. I’m thirty-three and feel like I’m one hundred today. And Luke’s the culprit.
I mean, a night of sleeping on a lounge chair on the deck is the culprit.
But really, it’s that guy’s fault.
The guy whose golden-blond hair is all sun-swept, whose smile is unfair.
I tear my gaze away from my buddy as the cheery blonde justice of the peace with pink streaks in her hair clears her throat. “Thanks so much for coming. It’s a great day to get married,” she says, peppy and upbeat.
That pisses me off. Why can’t she be stern? Dour? Or just efficient?
I huff out a harsh breath as I reach a hand to my neck, rubbing it roughly.
“It sure is,” Jason says.
“Gotta agree,” Beck chimes in, and the two of them grin happily at each other.
That’s annoying too.
Everyone’s so goddamn happy. I rub harder, trying to get the sharp ache to vacate my body.
“Let’s do this,” the woman says, then squares her shoulders and turns serious as she drones on about marriage, and partnership, and respect, but when she says, “And friendship is the basis of so many great loves,” I want to scoff.
No, lady, it is not.
It’s the basis of bullshit.
I stretch my neck from side to side, trying to work out the kinks when Nate catches my gaze. He mutters quietly, “You okay?”
“Then chill,” he whispers.
Oh, shit. Am I making a spectacle of myself? With my annoyed breaths and my stretching?
Yes. Yes, I am.
Chastened, I laser all my attention on the grooms, ignoring the ache in my neck, my shoulders, and my stupid heart too.
“And do you, Beck Cafferty, promise to love and cherish Jason McKay for the rest of your days?”
“I do,” Beck says solemnly.
“Then the grooms can kiss!”
Jason and Beck step closer and share their first kiss as married men, and I look down at my polished black shoes. It hurts too much to watch.
At the reception, I count the minutes. I’ve been counting them since we arrived at this outdoor party under a tent a few hundred feet from the bed-and-breakfast.
I’ve survived the toasts so far, including one from Carter, Beck’s teammate, who congratulated him on successfully avoiding the “contagion of dating and going straight to love.”
I survived Jason’s dad tearing up, saying he feels like he has two sons now. Then, Jason’s brother Nolan shouted, “Am I chopped liver?”
Nolan’s pregnant wife laughed and said, “A little, sweetie.”
But now Luke is standing at the long table, congratulating them on their wedding and, of course, their Super Bowl rings. “But I’ll take the latter please, thank you very much,” he says, then lifts his champagne flute.
Hardee har har.
Everyone laughs but me.
When Luke’s eyes scan the crowd, they briefly land on mine. He looks apologetic.