Chapter 1 | Sample
“Here come the bride and groom to be!”
The excited voice on the speaker and the cinematic music in the background didn’t evoke happiness in me. In fact, it added more fuel to my mental agony. My grip tightened around the glass of champagne, and I watched the bubbles settle down––tempting. When the waiter passed by, I swapped it for a glass of water. A deep breath expanded my lungs. Tonight I had to be in control of my emotions.
The engaged couple descended the decorated stairs, hand in hand and with face-splitting grins. She looked gorgeous in her custom-made gown. Midnight blue suited her well. He wore a matching suit, looking handsome as ever.
I watched as his hand came around my sister’s waist. He laughed at something she said, his eyes crinkling with amusement. How could he smile with so much ease? Pain spread across my chest, and I blinked away my tears.
What made it harder was watching her with him.
Why couldn’t it be someone else? Watching her was like looking at myself in the mirror. Alana, my twin, threw her head back, laughing. I could tell it wasn’t genuine. Her blonde curls bounced over her shoulders.
The speaker boomed again. The voice of the party organizer was distant, and the surroundings faded. All I could see was them as they posed for the photos—pressing cheek to cheek, laughing and hugging. My eyes watered again when Brian dipped her, pecking her lips. The kiss garnered a round of applause.
Too dramatic? Yeah.
They announced the wedding date to the press and the guests. Brian and Alana would be married in three weeks. Their friends cheered around us. Our dad was full of praise for the young couple, especially the groom. He went on and on about how fortunate he was.
And here I was, wallowing and withering in my misery. How am I supposed to rejoice when I know it should’ve been me sitting beside him? What did I ever do to deserve this?
Am I not good?
No. He would’ve chosen me if I were good.
It was their engagement party. It should’ve been mine. Ours.
Both the Swanson and Schultz families beamed with pride and joy as they posed for photos. The news would make the headlines of tomorrow’s business magazines. After all, this brought together two of the most influential business ventures in Linnesse.
Dinner was announced, and I moved robotically. The enormous banquet hall was another reason I never felt like I belonged here. When they built this mansion, they constructed the hall large enough to accommodate a hundred people when they hosted parties like this. And there was a party at least once every other month.
The people in my parents’ elite circle loved these gatherings. They celebrated everything and anything.
Seeing my name beside one of her friends at the main table, I couldn’t help but scoff. They didn’t care to include me in any of their photos, but I had a seat at the main table. It could be the party planner. They didn’t know how things worked here. Why did I even bother to attend this?
My breath hitched when they came in to the sound of more cheers. His hand stayed on her lower back, and he pulled the chair for her to sit. I felt a pang in my heart. The simple action reminded me of the times he’d done the same thing when we dated. It warmed my heart, and I’d thought how sweet he was.
Brian’s gaze never strayed from her face. He looked at her with so much adoration. I remembered those same green eyes used to look at me like that once. They now twinkled with joy in contrast to the pain in mine. They appeared to be so much in love. He kept touching her. How did this happen? I took a deep breath and stared down at my plate, trying to hold in my tears. Even the food was to her liking. The Alfredo sauce was too cheesy for my taste. Honestly, I preferred plain pasta over this any day.
Her bridesmaids were laughing and chatting in high-pitched tones. I am not one of them. She didn’t ask me, and no one ever asked why I wasn’t on the list.
My throat clogged, and I forced my eyes down to not look at them and succeeded for a whole minute. However, my gaze had different plans because it went to the engaged couple again. My heart broke into million pieces when he kissed her sparkling ring. It’s too much.
My gaze locked with Brian’s for a brief moment, and he turned to my sister casually, ignoring me.
“Excuse me.” I stood to leave, and all eyes turned to me for a second. Not that they cared. After all, I was not their precious child. It’s always her. Who’d choose a rebellious kid over a Disney princess, anyway?
The table was filled with laughter as I tried to escape with the little dignity I had left. No one tried to stop me as I rushed out of the crowded banquet hall.
Clumsy feet stumbled over the stairs, and I steadied myself. No one was here. Loud chatters echoed from the dining room below as I approached my sanctuary. Did he not feel any remorse for leading me on like that? I choked on my tears, locking the door behind me. Loud sobs broke out of my chest as if they’d waited for me to be alone. My knees gave up.
The day I met Brian was still fresh in my memory. It was a rough day, and I had just had another incident with my sister’s friends. I was running to my car when I stumbled onto a stranger with sparkling green eyes. The black t-shirt he wore hugged his chiseled body like a second skin.
There was something about his smile. Yes, that was what drew me in. I couldn’t look away when his face lit up like a Christmas tree. Damn those dimples. I could fall over and over again gazing at them, and I wouldn’t mind.
Who knew it’d lead to my downfall?
I’d thought about my short-lived relationship with Brian too many times to count. Did I misunderstand his polite gesture? I did not misinterpret his attention. The words were clear. “Arianna, will you go out with me tonight?” Those were his words.
It wasn’t her name he spoke. It was mine. What changed?
I’d never know. It looked like five months wasn’t enough to understand a person. In the end, the time we spent together didn’t matter. She was all that mattered to him. A perfect wife for his socialite life.
All those times we spent together, he never uttered her name, except for one day when I finally realized I had no place in his heart. I breathed through my mouth as the pain became unbearable. What could I do to take this pain away? I couldn’t breathe and wanted to scream my lungs out.
My thoughts were in disarray. I couldn’t focus on one thing. I was a mess. His laugh, soft touch, his eyes occupied my mind. Did he know how I felt when he got on one knee? For her. Two months ago when my parents hosted that masquerade party, I didn’t know I was in for a surprise. The kind that turned one’s life upside down.
My thoughts pulled me back to the day my life came apart.
I was excited to meet Brian after his longest business trip. It was hard to miss his tall and handsome figure in the crowd. I spotted him with his sister, Kaylee.
Accepting one of the random dance requests, I stepped on to the dancefloor. The lights glittered around us, filling me with an unknown joy.
While I wasn’t fond of my parents’ themed parties, being in the same place as Brian made it magical. The mask I wore covered my face, and I was curious to find out if Brian would recognize me. Perhaps we could get away from the crowd.
The eighties music filled the air as the floor lit up with multi-colored lights. My legs moved in rhythm as I watched Brian share the dancefloor with Kaylee.
Dancing around, I slowly made my way toward them, wondering if he was looking for me. He acted as if he was in no hurry as he talked with Kaylee. Maybe it’s because his family is here, I told myself. They weren’t fond of me.
Brian always kept his distance from me in the presence of his parents. That didn’t sit well with me. I did my best to win them over, but it wasn’t my fault they didn’t see me for what I was. I longed to be by his side, for him to make our relationship public. When I’d found out he was a Schultz, the knowledge wasn’t pleasant since his mom had disliked me from childhood. Alana was her favorite.
Debating whether I should just cut in, I decided against it, seeing his mom approaching them. As the time went on, I went to take a seat at the table, looking around the guests. Then I noticed my sister, Alana, making her way toward Brian. His mother hugged her, chatting excitedly.
Foreboding set in the pit of my stomach as their eyes met. Something changed. My eyes didn’t want to believe what they were seeing. The change in Brian’s attitude was too obvious. When their dance began, Brian’s hands were all over her body. The sound of my heart became too much for my own ears.
No. Just stay calm. It’s just a dance.
But was it? He never looked at her that way before.
Brian had met her twice, and he knew how I felt about her.
Keep calm, Arianna. You’re just jealous.
However, deep down, I knew my worst fear was becoming a reality.
Wobbling on my legs, I rushed to the bathroom. My dress was suddenly choking the life out of me. Peeling off the velvet mini dress, I climbed into the cold shower, feeling numb when the water hit my body. All I could see and feel were Brian and Alana in each other’s arms.
My life had become a living hell after their engagement. Brian didn’t even have the decency to break up with me before proposing to my sister. Alana—she was a lost cause.
Despite us being twins, we were anything but similar. While she was the good one, I turned out to be the bad one. We were opposites then and grew apart. Our socialite parents never had time for us.
I knew why Brian chose her. Alana went on to become a business graduate, while I, the rebellious runt of the family, chose journalism, much to their chagrin. They weren’t pleased because they wanted me to follow in their footsteps. An involuntary shiver ran through me, and I looked down to notice my pruned skin.
The conversation aftermath of their engagement came at me with a full force.
“Why did you do it? You bastard, you led me on and made me believe we were a real thing. How could you do this?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Arianna. I’ve always loved your sister.” Brian’s act of innocence stirred my anger.
“Liar! Why take me on a date, then? Why would you kiss me?”
“I kissed you because I thought you were Alana. Nothing more.” His voice held no remorse as he spoke. In my peripheral vision, I saw a shadow, and my spine stiffened. Even without looking, I could tell who it was.
“You knew exactly who I was. Stop this nonsense now.”
Brian exhaled as his eyes locked with mine. The pale green irises held no emotion. “That was before I met her.”
I stiffened at his words. “You didn’t even have the decency to break up with me before proposing to my sister.”
“I hate to break it to you, Arianna, but we were never a thing.”
I ground my teeth and balled my fists. The shadow—Alana—stood unmoving in her spot. Knowing her, she probably had a hand in this too.
“Alana was the girl I was supposed to meet that day. Meeting you was an accident. Look, I thought we were good. But things changed.”
I felt used. How did I not see this?
Just as I opened my mouth to respond, Alana intervened. “He doesn’t have to answer all your questions. If you are done talking with my fiancé, we’re heading to bed.”
“I won’t cry again,” I mumbled as I dried myself. It hurt. Crying didn’t make it feel any better. It didn’t take away the pain. I had to move on. I had to get out of this wretched place that had been my home for years. Except it never felt like home. It never will.
Why did I have to run? Why couldn’t I stay and fight it? But wasn’t running the first thing that came into everyone’s mind? To run away and hide from all the problems.
Looking at the mirror, I barely recognized the woman staring back. She didn’t sport that confident, flirty smile every time she got ready for a date. This wasn’t the woman who spent hours to straighten her unruly hair and set it with hairspray.
This one was broken with red, puffy eyes and a runny nose. There was nothing sexy about this look. The dark circles beneath her eyes were more prominent, and the hazel eyes once twinkled with mischief now appeared hollow. The girl who once thought crying was for the weak now did nothing but crying.
Why does it have to hurt so much?
“He doesn’t care for you,” I yelled at her. Angry tears streamed down my cheeks. “He doesn’t give a flying fuck about you. You saw how he kissed her tonight. He fucking doesn’t deserve your tears. Just move on already.”
Half an hour and another breakdown later, I found my clothes scattered around the floor of my room, a few hanging on the ceiling fan. “I’m stronger than this.” These words came out of my mind, while otherwise I felt like shit. I didn’t feel like sleeping. I didn’t want to go out either.
I had two months to get over him, but tonight proved I had a long way to go. I just didn’t know how to erase the memory of us. Perhaps I’d trusted him too much.
Argh! What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just get over him and do my thing?
A distant vibration caught my attention, and I crawled toward my bed where I had dropped my cell phone earlier. Mike?
“Hey.” My voice was somewhat bold, but I knew he’d read between the lines without trouble.
“Should you be always this stubborn?” His worried voice filled my ears.
A genuine smile made it to my lips on hearing his voice. That was what friends did, right? Good friends always brought a smile to your lips. “It wasn’t a big deal.”
“I’m not going to cry over him, Mike.”
“Yeah, and I just rode home on my unicorn.”
“Mike…” My voice rang out in warning. I wasn’t in a mood to banter. It was already past midnight.
“You need a break. Accept it.”
“I need a break.”
“Good. I’m coming over tomorrow, and we’re leaving for a trip.”
“But I have to be here for the wedding in three weeks.”
When he disconnected the call, a deep sigh left my lips, wondering what was on his mind.