It’s a summer evening in Rochester, NY. I’m sitting on the stairs of my backyard, drinking my Dom Perignon, smoking a Marlboro Light, and watching the last bit of sun leaving the day. I smell the sea. The water seems serene tonight. Such a beautiful scene. I hear the leaves moving in the palm trees just before a breeze pushes my hair into my eyes. I wonder if I should go back inside and rejoin the others for all the fun, but it’s so peaceful out here. I’ll stay five more minutes.
Memories of my childhood come to mind. Just like this summer evening, I’d sit on my grandparent’s porch steps in a tiny town in the south of Italy. The talks about life with Grandma Anna while watching the sunset I’ll cherish forever. I remember wondering where I’d be in ten, twenty years. Will I be married? Will I have kids?
Twenty years later—at age thirty-two—How did I get here?
Before I can finish my glass of champagne, a voice behind me brings me back to reality. “Madelyn, here you are. Ready for the cake?”
Two years earlier, just like every other morning, I dropped Lauren off at school, then drove to my office in my new Mercedes Benz SUV. Taking the elevator up four floors, I was eager to greet my assistant, Sofia.
“Someone looks happy today,” I said. “Did Mr. Wilson get back to us on that offer? Please tell me he did.”
“You will not believe this! Not only did he accept the offer and wants to sign the contract later, but he also wants to add more features to the event. It may be the biggest contract WedLux has ever closed! And oh, my God, he’s so handsome,” she said. Then, as she brushed her hair with her fingers, she whispered, “such a shame he’s marrying that bitch!”
“I’m sorry I have to bring you back to reality, but we’re planning his luxurious wedding. Keep any romantic thoughts out of your mind,” I said. “But I agree with you, she is a bitch!”
Sofia was not just a simple employee, she was more like family to me. She’d been by my side through the very first WedLux’s steps, now a world-famous wedding planning company. Sofia was the type to always say what was on her mind. She was stubborn and rarely admitted her faults, but she was the most trustworthy, loyal and respectful person I had ever met. After her husband died three years ago, she became a bit of a loner—just like me—and dedicated all of her time to working. Hard-working was the first adjective I’d think of every time I saw her.
Rochester’s WedLux location—the one where I usually worked at—was the first one I opened. After some time, it became the busiest office compared to the five more I eventually brought to life: New York City, Lancaster, Buffalo, Tucson, and West Palm Beach.
After asking Sofia for my usual morning routine—coffee, newspaper, and chocolate chip cookies—I walked into my office at the end of the hall. I placed my Louis Vuitton bag, the one that Steven bought me for our fifth wedding anniversary, on the sapphire velvet stool beside my desk as I checked my mail. A letter from the Manhattan Bridal Association caught my attention.
Dear Ms. Serio,
I hope this letter finds you well.
On behalf of the Manhattan Bridal Association, I am pleased and honored to invite you to our Annual Award Nomination Grand Gala scheduled for Saturday, April 6th, at The Lotte Hotel in New York City. We have nominated you in the following category:
We hope you will honor us with your presence. Should you have questions, please contact Mr. John Ridley, care of our association.
Please Rsvp by March 30.
We look forward to your acceptance and enjoying a great evening with you.
Manhattan Bridal Association
My day, no, my year couldn’t have gotten any better. Manhattan Bridal Association—it was my dream come true. Receiving an invitation to that event alone was something that every wedding planning company owner wished for. Being nominated? A completely different story. I pinched myself, and when I realized it was real, my body trembled in excitement.
I called Sofia into my office to tell her the amazing news.
“Are you kidding me? You’ll be attending the biggest wedding event in the world. I wish I could go with you. What are you going to wear? You will be on a red carpet. Your pictures will be all over the most famous websites, blogs, and social media sites.”
I stared at her in front of me with wide eyes. “That’s an excellent question! I have no idea, and I have little time to plan. Please, contact Joshua and see what he comes up with. He never disappoints.”
During lunchtime, I took a break and went to my favorite Italian restaurant a few blocks away from the office. The day was sunny; I didn’t mind the walk at all. I was texting Sofia to check if she had gotten in touch with Joshua when I received a call from Mr. Wilson.
“Hello, Mr. Wilson, this is Madelyn.”
“Hello Madelyn, how are you? I was just at the office signing the contract with Sofia when she told me the big news. I wanted to congratulate you in person, but she told me you were out.”
“Please, call me Dylan.”
“Dylan. Thank you so much for the call. Yes, we’re thrilled about the nomination, but not as excited as we are about working with you and your lovely fiancé on your wedding.”
“Well,” he said, “it was an easy decision for us. We couldn’t have chosen a better team to plan our special day. I’m looking forward to more planning together and again, congratulations on your invitation. I guess I’ll see you there next?”
“Oh, will you be at the Gala?”
“I forgot to mention, my future father-in-law is the Executive Manager of the event. He is who suggested we have WedLux organize our wedding—said you are the best in the field. I would love to introduce you to him in person.”
“Absolutely. How exciting! I will see you then, thank you again for the call. Have a splendid day.”
Everyone knew Dylan in town. He was the gorgeous multimillionaire who owned half of Rochester. Everywhere he went, people greeted him. Everything he did, people knew about it. He could easily compete with the major. Women drooled all over him every time he walked in the room. And I could totally see why.
“Why do I have to go to Scottsville this weekend?” Lauren said while we were getting ready for bed. Four years old, eyes of a sad puppy. “I want to stay with you, Mommy!”
“Because Mommy has work stuff to do this weekend and Daddy wants to spend time with you. Don’t worry, it’ll be a lot of fun. He told me he has a nice surprise for your birthday.”
“I don’t want to go. Daddy makes me sleep with Sara. She kicks. I hate it.”
“I know, Munchkin, but you’ll be okay. Plus, that’s what big sisters are for, right?”
She looked at me and knew she didn’t have any other choice than to spend the weekend with her dad, his girlfriend, Monique, and their one-year-old girl, Sara—Lauren’s half-sister.
It was Saturday, the big day, and I’d booked a 3 p.m. flight for New York City. Joshua, my personal stylist, and I picked the perfect dress, shoes, bag, and jewelry, and we discussed my makeup and hairstyle. I put Lauren’s stuff together for the weekend at her father’s and made sure everything in the house looked clean and organized. The bell rang.
“Come on, Munchkin. Daddy is here.”
I heard her shout from down the hall. “I’m coming!”
I brought Lauren’s stuff near the entrance.
I opened the door. “Hey, Steve!”
“Thank you for having her stay with me for her birthday weekend, it means a lot.”
“No problem. I’m going away for work anyway, so no need to thank me.”
“Bye, Mommy, love you,” Lauren said. I watched her and the man who broke my heart walk toward the car in the driveway.
“Bye, Munchkin, have fun! I will see you soon and then we will celebrate together. Be good.” I shouted in the distance and closed the door.
Lauren looked a lot like Steve but had my personality traits. She was extremely attached to me and suffered that I worked a lot. Every single night, as I put her to bed, I’d run my fingers through her innocent golden curls, and remind her my business efforts would give her a better future, that one day I would’ve slowed down to give her all of my attention.
Twenty minutes later I called for an Uber to the airport. My legs went numb thinking about that red carpet and my heart was pounding in anticipation of the possibility to walk on that stage. The thought of texting Sofia passed through my mind, but I knew I could count on her when I wasn’t present at the office.
Arrived in New York, my room at The Lotte was a luxurious mini apartment overlooking Rockefeller Center from the 16th floor. The entrance brought me directly into the living room where a beige sofa, two loveseats, and an oak coffee table with the latest newspapers on the market were displayed. On the other side of the room was a fifty-five-inch HD television and, my favorite part, a mini-fridge stocked with complimentary snacks and drinks, including wine and beer. Two sliding doors opened into the master bedroom with a king-size bed and fabulous bath. A double sink surrounded by Italian marble perfectly matched the jacuzzi which sat directly in front of a rainfall shower. On the bed, a welcome kit laid including a bunch of unordinary goods and a brochure describing hotel amenities and places to visit in New York City.
The room caused me a feeling of loneliness. I would’ve loved to share a room this romantic with someone I cared for. It’d been a while since I felt romantic feelings for a man, especially after Steve. Also, I’d been so focused on my career I had no time to date. I reached for my phone in the bag and looked through photos of Steve and I when we first got married. We looked so happy. For a second, I thought of texting him, but what would I say to him? Our co-parenting relationship was great, but the last time I tried to talk to him about a matter that didn’t involve Lauren, he had no intention to hear. I scrolled back through the photos and saw an email’s screenshot dated two years earlier. I didn’t even remember he sent it to me.
I realize that it’s hard for us to communicate both over the phone or in person. We end up arguing and we can never express our feelings fully; that is why I sent you an email.
We have been separated for a few months now, but I want you to know that I still care about you deeply, and this will never change. I know that losing the baby was hard for you, and I am sorry about cheating on you with Monique and the way you found out, but your feelings for me had already changed.
You and I didn’t have a marital life anymore, and as much as I wanted to stay at home to keep the family together, I just couldn’t do it.
As you may already know, Monique and I are living together, and for the first time in a long time I’m happy. Maybe the attempt of having another baby wasn’t the right decision for us, or maybe I’m just not the one for you. For everyone’s sake, we should keep our communication strictly about Lauren.
I will never forget our moments together and I hope we both find what we want. Please, take care and give an enormous hug to Lauren for me.
See you soon,
I shook my head and looked around the luxurious room again. Better here alone than with someone who makes me miserable, I thought. I decided not to text him; I didn’t want to spoil my special night and thinking about the baby and the end of our marriage was a wound that needed more healing. I had some Chateaux Margaux from the minibar and took a quick shower before getting ready for the red carpet.
Standing in front of the mirror, it impressed me how my long, burgundy Ralph Lauren dress fit on my willowy figure. It showcased a cascading, ruffled shirt and an off-the-shoulder neckline that revealed my delicate nape. My shiny black patent leather Louboutin heels with red soles and pointed toes, together with MK black Swarovski clutch, matched perfectly with my dress. My long, wavy russet hair put together in a half up/half down style with disobedient waves blended very well with my rosy-pale complexion. My makeup accentuated my almond, auburn eyes, and my plump lips. I was finishing up by putting on my diamond flower stud earrings when someone knocked.
I opened the door.
“Ms. Serio?” the hotel concierge asked. He was holding a gorgeous arrangement of red roses.
“Yes, how can I help you?” I asked.
“I was instructed to deliver this arrangement personally to you. It’s by Venus Et Fleur. Please enjoy it!” He handed me the beautiful roses and closed the door before I could tip him.
Who would send me such a beautiful thing?
I opened the little envelope and read the enclosed message.
“So pleased to see you accomplishing great things. You deserve the world.”
It was not signed. I kind of liked that.
After spraying my favorite perfume, Versace Crystal Noir, on my wrists and neck, I headed out to the elevator to walk on the red carpet downstairs. I still couldn’t believe I was sharing this historical moment with the industry’s greatest from all over the world: Jane Clive, Marina Acord, Kathryn Marks, and John Stewart, to name a few. When I entered the Award Nomination Grand Gala’s principal room, my body felt heavy and my heart started pounding again.
The room decorations coordinated perfectly with the colors of the carpet: yellow, red, and blue. There were luxurious crystal columns around the room. The center of the ceiling showcased a steel hoop that brought twelve sheer panels together and created an elegant atmosphere. The tables were decorated with beautiful, fresh flower bouquets. In the middle of the room stood “the pinnacle”—a stage littered with sparkling crystal bowls: The Gala Awards.
I’d seen a lot of crowds—good at estimating. About two thousand people, I thought. Suddenly, I panicked: If I win, what am I going to say? I’d been so busy planning everything else, that I didn’t even prepare a speech. I found my table and had a glass of Chardonnay to calm my nerves. Almost everyone sitting at my table had a date or was a married couple, but I didn’t mind much being there alone. Galas were business, everyone was there to network, and coming with someone might slow down some business opportunities—or maybe that was just my excuse to feel better about my loneliness.
Someone whispered in my ear. “Enjoying your night?”
I turned around. Dylan was standing behind me. I couldn’t figure out why he intimidated me. If my brain could scream, the word would’ve been: “Wow!” His frame was slim, muscular, and defined. He was wearing a classic black tuxedo with a bowtie, and his medium-length hair swept up and back. His English heritage showed in his features. He had an almost perfectly symmetrical face. His hazel eyes had the depth you could get lost in. Dylan seemed a private guy, so you couldn’t tell much about him at first impression, but everyone seemed to love him; they were drawn into him. I saw it in the way they reciprocated his smile so quickly and hung on his words. They wanted to be close to him just like I did. He could have anyone he wanted. Being around this man was dangerous; he sparked a fire inside of me.
“Hello, Dylan. I couldn’t picture tonight being any more perfect. Where is your stunning fiancé?” I tried not to gawk at his gorgeous face.
“Unfortunately, Olivia couldn’t be here tonight. She had business meetings to attend this weekend.”
“Oh, such a shame!” I don’t mind at all... “I was looking forward to seeing her again. She must be so thrilled about the wedding coming up. Only six months to go!”
“Yes, she is,” he continued. “Her dream has always been to have a big, fancy wedding, but I’d have preferred something small with the people I love. You know her, she always gets what she wants. But hey, this allowed me to work with you.”
She is such a spoiled brat! I didn’t say that out loud, did I?
“I completely understand, marriage is about compromise, isn’t it?” I asked. “She’s very lucky. Anyhow, you should probably get back to your table. The speeches are starting soon.”
“Absolutely. Maybe I’ll see you after dinner for a drink at the bar?”
“For sure. See you around.”
The awards were about to start, and I had a choking feeling. I couldn’t breathe. I’m sure Dylan had something to do with it. I knew I might walk on that stage at any moment, and the anticipation was making me shake like a kid on Christmas day. The last award was about to be announced.
“Best Decor award goes to…” Please, please, please… “WedLux! Madely Serio, please join us on stage.”
My name next to ‘best’ sounded divine. I still couldn’t believe my years of hard work brought me there, right on that stage, holding a crystal-bowl award with my name on it.
“I would like to thank you all, sincerely, for the honor of being selected Best Decor of the prestigious Manhattan Bridal Association Award. My deepest appreciation goes to all of you for nominating me, and I shall forever remain grateful for the recognition. Allow me to point out that, although this is a very significant award, WedLux will keep striving to be better. And together, with my dedicated team, we will keep accomplishing outstanding things.” I took a big breath to collect my thoughts. “Growing up in my hometown of Brindisi, in southern Italy, I couldn’t have possibly imagined I would stand before the greatest in the business receiving this special award. I want to dedicate this moment to my grandparents for being such influential people in my life and career, and to my beautiful daughter, Lauren, who I love more than anything. Please enjoy the rest of your night!”
As I walked back to my table, I displayed happiness on every part of my body; from the major smile on my face to the way I pumped my fist in the air and proudly held the award in my hand.
The rest of the Gala was lovely. I talked to inspiring people who couldn’t stop congratulating me, drank the best wines, and looked repeatedly at my award. I felt so proud to be a part of such a magical night. The invitation alone was a gigantic success for me. Because I’d received my first award, I was finally part of something big and I’d be returning to amazing New York City every year.
I left the principal room to find the Ladies’ Room. I glanced at Dylan talking to some businessmen and I felt a flurry of butterflies in my stomach. I retouched my makeup, texted Sofia, and, satisfied with my appearance, I went back to where I’d seen Dylan. He was sitting at the bar.
“Madelyn, congratulations!” His voice bounced off the walls. “Please, join me for a drink. What would you like?”
“I’ll have a Tito’s and Club, thank you,” I said as I sat on the high chair next to him.
“Brilliant choice!” He ordered my drink. “I am sure your grandparents and Lauren will be so proud of you for your accomplishments,” he said while sipping his Old-Fashioned.
“You are too kind. Being here is already a great honor. It’ll push me to be better.” The bartender handed me my drink. “You said Olivia’s father is in charge. You guys have been together a while, so you’ve been here a bunch, I bet. Does it ever get old?” I asked.
“Oh, it’s his first year—and my first time. Thank God! All the wedding stuff is a lot to take in. Sparkly this, sparkly that.” He smiled. “Relax, I‘m messing with you.”
“Haha. Hilarious! Hey, not everyone can deal with all the fancy stuff!” I knew he was flirting. “It takes a special person to love this environment.”
“I guess you must be special, then.”
Stunned, I blinked, and his eyes locked onto mine. My brain forgot how to form words.
“You—you love this environment too, just admit it.” I felt like a ho-bag, but he was too damn hot not to flirt back.
Our conversations about passions, careers, and personal lives went on for almost two hours. He wasn’t as intimidating as I thought, after all. We had so much more in common than I’d imagined. Not only was he handsome, a gentleman, and a smart businessman, but he also made me laugh… and more.
As Dylan ordered another drink, the bartender spilled it unintentionally. “I’m so sorry, sir.”
“No worries at all. I’ll take care of it,” Dylan said and wiped the insignificant amount of liquor off his pants. He tried not to make the bartender feel embarrassed. From that gesture, I found Dylan to be humble and kind-hearted on top of all the other qualities.
“Well, thank you again for the drinks. I’m seeing two of you!” I said as I tried to balance myself by pushing the chair back. “It was nice seeing you. I’m sure we’ll meet again in Rochester.”
“I’m sure we will.” He looked at me the way you look at a new book—something fascinating and exciting. My palms were sweaty. I had trouble swallowing. Just when I thought something might happen, he said, “Good night, Madelyn. It’s been a pleasure.”
“Good night!” I grabbed my bag to head to the elevator.
I went to sleep wondering what that look meant.
The following morning check out was at 10 a.m. I had a massive headache: wine and vodka always gave me a hangover. I could still taste them in my mouth. I wanted to get downstairs in time for breakfast, but I only had one hour left to shower and pack. I got room service instead.
On my way to the airport, all I could think about was last night. I reminisced about what a great evening I’d experienced, but more vividly, I was thinking about my time at the bar with Dylan. I knew I shouldn’t have considered that path, but I found it very hard not to fantasize about it. Not only was Dylan about to get married, but he was also my client. Was I crossing a line?
To get these thoughts out of my head, I focused on my work for the week and opened my agenda—I’d almost forgotten about Lauren’s birthday celebration. Her birthday was on Tuesday and I still didn’t know what to do. I felt guilty; my career had been taking a lot of my time. She was turning five and I couldn’t believe how fast time had gone by. I pulled out the card I received from the stranger and I thought, who could it be?