Best and Honor

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Chapter 9

Sophie

My hand is aching from writing down each gift she is given as she opens them. There are so many women here at her bridal shower that I’m beginning to think I might still be here tomorrow finishing this list and then trying to unbury her from the pile of wrapping paper that is building up around her feet. I smile up at her when I hand her the next one, taking a minute to stretch my cramping fingers.

She looks beautiful in her long coral colored maxi dress. I’m sure she picked it out with today in mind. She’s always been like that. She throws her hair over her shoulder and begins to read the card out loud. I watch her face light up as she lets us known that this one is from her grandmother. With a small wave she thanks her and then begins to slide the ribbon from the package.

It takes her two hours to slowly open and display each gift that was brought here for her today. By the time I stand up from the hard chair I’ve been sitting on, my back is aching and my toes are numb. I pull my navy dress down a little, fixing my belt that lifted when I stretched my arms up above my head. Rachel is handed another champagne and she starts to make her way around the room thanking everyone for coming as the cake is cut and served by the staff at the hotel. I take this moment to grab my purse and head for the bathroom.

A few women are already inside so I smile as they look at me through the mirror while washing their hands. Finally I shut the door of the stall and turn my feet so it would appear that I’m using the facilities. Instead, I reach into my purse and pull out my phone. I’m hoping there is a text from Andrew, but when I pull up my messages I only find a few from my roommates and of course one from my mother who just watched me flee the front of the room. She’s worried about me and I know she thinks I’m going to crack at any moment.

Maybe if I hadn’t run into Andrew I would be closer to falling apart than I am right now. It’s hard to sit up there knowing that most people in the room know the story of Rachel and Evan, including my embarrassing dismissal from our relationship. I hear my mom call out my name above the stalls and have to bite my lip not to yell at her to go back to the party and leave me to pee in private.

“I’m in the middle stall mom. I’m fine and I’ll be out in a minute.” I pull out the seat cover from over the toilet. I can see her feet outside the door when I finally sit down. “Mom, really. Please go back to the party.”

“I’m going to wait out here for you.” Her feet don’t move and I give up on the idea that maybe I could stay in here for a little while before heading back out with my plastered on fake smile. When I’m finished I make sure I’m smiling as I emerge from the stall and head to the sink. I can see my mother searching my face for any signs of a crack.

“Ok. Let’s get back out there.” I march past my mom and grab a paper towel, wiping my hands and tossing it into the trash before swinging open the bathroom door and waiting for my mother to catch up. She says nothing even though I can see she has a million questions for me. This morning I ran to my parent’s house to say hello to her and my father. She tried to ask a few questions then, but my father had told her to leave me alone.

“Are you sure you’re alright?” She finally asks as I stop next to her nearly empty table.

“I’m great mom. I’m going to get back to Rachel. Make sure you come give me a hug before you leave.” Reluctantly she nods and I excuse myself to go find my friend. The rest of the shower I spend helping to make sure the hotel staff knows where to put the gifts and making the trip out to the parking lot to open her mother’s car so they can be loaded.

My mom finds me on the way back from my last trip out to the hot, sticky parking lot. She opens her arms and pulls me in for a big hug. In my ear she whispers, “I’m so proud of you for doing this. I know how much it has to be hurting even if you’re not going to admit it. I was young once too and had my heart broken. I couldn’t have done what you’re doing.” She places a kiss on my cheek and I close my eyes when I feel my chest constrict with the love I feel in her arms.

With a final nod she’s on her way out, calling over her shoulder that she’ll see me Friday evening for the big event. Just hearing that makes my stomach roll, reminding me how grateful I am I hadn’t had a chance to eat anything during the shower. When the gifts are all secure and the guests have left, I find Rachel sitting in a chair sipping some ice water and talking with one of the bride’s maids.

“Do you need me to do anything else?”

“Yes, come sit by me!” She pats the chair beside her and I fold myself into it. “Thanks so much for all your work today. I can’t believe how many things I got. I’ll never finish the thank you cards.”

“You’re welcome. I bet you got most of the stuff on your registry. I saw a few things twice,” I tell her and she nods her head again.

“It was definitely a great shower. A few of the girls and I are going to head over to my moms house to help organize it all and separate out the stuff I’m going to have to return. We leave the morning after the ceremony for our honeymoon and I don’t want my mom’s house to look like a storage locker.”

“Sure. Let me run up to my room and change and then I can help.” I move to stand but she shakes her head.

“No, you’ve done enough. Go enjoy your day. I’m sure your mom would love to spend some time with you while you’re home. I’ll see you at the rehearsal tonight.” I don’t argue with her because I think a break from wedding festivities before tonight is a great idea. They have it set up for this evening so tomorrow night we can do the bachelor/bachelorette party. I have a few hours before I have to report for duty again.

After saying a quick goodbye, I head back to my room. My phone chimes in my purse and I check my messages as I close the door behind myself and I enter my room.

Andrew: I shot him a few extra times for you. Rehearsal dinner is in three hours. Want to grab an appetizer and some drinks?

I feel my smile burning my cheeks. My heart picks up the pace as I type out a reply.

Me: Sounds great! I’m ready now.

Andrew: Come over to my room.

I cross the hall and knock on his door. When it swings open I feel the air escape from my lungs. He’s wet from the shower and his bare chest is still covered in perfect beads of water. His towel is wrapped around his hips and I can smell the fresh scent of men’s soap on his moist skin.

“Hey. Let me throw on some clothes and then we can head out.” I listen to his words as I watch his eyes slide down my body, taking in my cleavage and the short length of my dress before roaming down to the small window where my painted toes are peeping out from my high heels.

“OK.” I step into his room and study his tattoo that stretches from his upper chest around to cover his back. I follow the black ink as he turns from me and I love the way it seems to move with the muscles of his back. I suddenly feel warm as a rush of heat surges from the tips of my toes to the top of my head. I’m grateful his back is to me so he can’t see the way my body has tuned into his, heating and flushing with a need to touch him.

I stay near the small closet as he steps around the corner and out of my view. I can hear him grabbing things from his bag and the sound of a zipper closing. When he steps back into my sight again, his dark jeans are hanging deliciously from his hips and he has on a tight t-shirt that pulls at his muscles. I feel my mouth go dry when he smiles at me.

“Let’s head out of the area so we don’t run into anyone.” His voice is as smooth as expensive coffee and I soak up every line of his body as I form my answer.

“Sure.” I know. It’s not the most eloquent thing I’ve ever said, but I’m staring at perfection for goodness sakes. We make it out to his car without seeing anyone from the wedding party. He opens the door to his white Tesla and I sit down into the soft beige and black leather passenger seat.

We drive a few miles down the coastline until he pulls into the parking lot of a small restaurant. Although it looks like it’s been here for a long time, I’ve never seen it and I grew up just a few miles from this location. The hostess seats us at a table near a large window that over looks the beach. We glance at the cocktail menu and decide on an appetizer.

“So, how was the shower?” He leans in close and rests his folded arms on the table. I can see his face is tanner from his day in the sun. I love the way the deepening color makes his bright eyes stand out even more than they did yesterday.

“It was good. She got tons of stuff. They should be all set.” I absently rub at the growing angry red bump on my middle finger where my pen has been perched all day. His hand grabs mine and he runs the pad of his thumb over the bump.

“War wound?” He lets it go as the waiter appears at the edge of our table and takes our order. When he leaves, I wait for Andrew to take my hand again but he doesn’t. Instead he leans back and stretches an arm out across the back of the booth.

“It’ll heal. How about you, any welts?” I feel my cheeks turn red the second the words leave my mouth. If he has welts, I didn’t see them. It would mean that they are on a part of his anatomy previously covered by his towel. His smile is warm and knowing as he chuckles at my embarrassment.

“No. I’m all clear.” The waiter returns with our drinks and I quickly suck some of mine down. Andrew does the same and when I look up to his face, I find him staring out at the ocean deep in thought. My stomach churns with the sudden realization that he isn’t happy. Something’s wrong, I can feel it in the air between us. It’s almost as if he could sense my sudden panic because his eyes snap to mine and he lets his arm fall next to his body.

“What’s the matter?” I ask, not really sure I want to hear his answer.

“I have to tell you something that could completely change the way this wedding is going to go down. I’m trying to figure out how to do it in a way that will minimize the collateral damage, but I’m not sure that’s even possible.” His features sink into a sad expression causing my heart to ache and pound erratically in my tightening chest.

“What is it?” In an attempt to lighten the mood I add, “It can’t be any worse than finding out your best friend is dating your ex boyfriend. No wait, I guess finding out that they’re going to get married and you’re going to have to stand right next to them as the maid of honor when it happens is far worse.” I chuckle but he doesn’t even crack a smile.

I keep my eyes locked on his as he takes a deep breath. He looks away from me and down to his drink for just a second and I imagine he is trying to find the courage to share with me what’s on his mind. Finally he lets his eyes drift back up to mine. “How about finding out that your ex boyfriend is having second thoughts about marrying your best friend because he thinks he’s still in love with you?”

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