Chapter 1 - Josie
I drop against the cool wood counter of the bar. “Give me two of the strongest liquor you have.”
“You okay there, champ?” The bartender asks as he puts two shot glasses on top of the bar in front of me. He reaches for a bottle of tequila and then pours it into the glasses. “I thought your speech was excellent.”
I take the first glass and throw it back, feeling the liquid burn my throat. “Whew, thanks. I just need this to take the edge off, then no more, got it?”
He finishes pouring and then holds up his hands. “You’re the boss. I’m just a guy behind the bar.”
I shoot the second shot and then drop it on the bar. I slouch against the counter. “I hate talking in front of crowds. I didn’t stutter, did I?”
The bartender observes me and then shakes his head. “No, really, you were perfect. I thought it was the best speech of the night.”
“You have to say that, Guy Behind the Bar. You’re paid to make people feel better.”
“It’s Josh,” He states, chuckling. “And no, I’m paid to pour drinks. The free therapy is an added bonus.”
I let my eyes wander over Josh: The Guy Behind the Bar. He really is quite handsome. He has that light-colored shaggy brown hair barely draping over his eyebrows and warm chocolate eyes that remind me of a puppy dog. Josh is wearing the classic all-black attire that the event staff is dressed in.
“They’re an adorable couple,” He says as he pours me a glass of water. He nods his head over to where my friends, Ryan and Izabel, who just got hitched today, are still doing their first dance. Izabel says something to her new husband that has him throwing his head back in laughter.
“They are,” I respond, taking the glass of water and taking a big sip of it.
“That’s like goals, you know?” He comments. “Finding someone who makes you smile like that.”
I turn and look at Josh and narrow my eyes. “What if it’s not just one someone, though? What if I have many someones who could make me smile or laugh?”
He shrugs and leans on the bar. “Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but don’t you think that there’s one person made for you out there? Who just sees you and understands everything you’re made of?”
“No,” I reply coldly. Then I quickly backtrack when he recoils from me. “I mean, I don’t know. I’m sorry, weddings always have me feeling some certain type of way.”
Josh nods his head and watches me. “It’s okay.”
“Do you have to work the whole night? Or do you get to switch with someone?” I ask him.
He offers me a polite smile. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I think I know where this is going, so I’ll just call it here. I have a girlfriend.”
I press my lips together and then smile. “Of course you do. Why wouldn’t you have a girlfriend? I’ll just go light myself on fire now. Josh, it was great talking to you.”
I grab my glass of water just as Josh starts to protest, “Wait, I didn’t mean—we can still talk if you want.”
“No, I actually just remembered that I have a date with a bucket of gasoline and a match, so I’ll have to take a raincheck. Bye, Josh.”
I saunter back towards the bridal table and collapse in my chair. Juliet, Izabel’s maid of honor, is sitting two chairs down from me. She looks at me with a perfectly manicured eyebrow raised.
“You okay? I saw you chatting with that cute bartender.”
“Oh yeah, you mean making a total fool of myself? He’s got a girlfriend,” I say, shaking my head and chuckling. “Can’t say I’m surprised though, he’s charming.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t bring a date, weren’t you talking about bringing that doctor you worked with?” Jules asks.
“Chris? Oh gosh, he’s not dating material. I went with him to a gala a few months ago, and the guy could not stop talking about himself,” I explain. “It was all, oh, I’ve done this, and I’ve done that. I think he told me about one time when he went to Africa and had to deliver a baby zebra probably about ten times in one night.”
“Oh my God, you’re talking about Chris Bruno? Dr. Chris Bruno?” Juliet asks, looking surprised. “Girl, you dodged a bullet with that one. He’s a complete tool.”
I sometimes forget that Juliet is a doctor. Shes always so chill that I can’t picture her strutting around in a white coat. She would definitely have run across him a few different times in her practice.
“Well, good, I’m glad it wasn’t just me,” I laugh.
Out on the dance floor, Ryan and Izabel have finished their first dance together and are halfway through their parents’ dances. Ryan’s mom is smiling broadly at her son. Izabel and her father look like they’re deep in conversation.
“Where’d Liam go?” I ask Juliet. She looks at me and then motions over to the door. “He took Ashton to go to the bathroom. They’ll probably be back soon, though I think we might bounce after they cut the cake.”
“Life as parents, huh?”
Jules laughs. “No, kidding. They’re fun, but you can pretty much kiss any type of social life goodbye. Be thankful you still have your freedom while you can.”
I feel the unintended stab deep in my gut. I force a half-hearted laugh and look back out at the dance floor. Ryan and Izabel are the only two out of our immediate friend group who know my history with that matter. I can’t hold the comment against Jules; she doesn’t know anything about my painful past.
If my life hadn’t turned upside down that night all those years ago, my baby would have been almost ten years old by now. I wonder if she’d be like Ryan’s little sister, Thalia. Would she be as rambunctious like me? Or would she have unbounded confidence like her father?
The thought leaves a sour taste in my mouth, and I take a big gulp of my water to try and wash it away. No matter how many years go by, the wound still stings. I do my best to put up a good front, pretending that I’m invincible.
But frequently, I find myself thinking about the life I could’ve had. I usually try to nip the thoughts in the bud before they can grow into anything substantial. That life will not happen for me, so why go through the pain of entertaining it?
Thankfully, the man of the hour comes by after his dance with his mom. Ryan holds out a hand to me, asking me to dance with him. I shoot him a sly smile and take his hand, letting him lead me out onto the dance floor. He pulls me around until we’re facing each other. One of his hands rests on my lower back, and his other holds my right hand out to the side. I put my left hand on his shoulder, and we start dancing.
“Where’s your beautiful bride?” I ask my friend.
“She went to go check on Amelia,” he explains. Their six-month-old baby is just an absolute joy. I love her sweet chubby cheeks and those greenish eyes that get more vibrant each time I see her.
Amelia Miller will definitely be breaking some hearts and taking some names when she’s older.
“So how’s it going? Was today everything you hoped and dreamed and more?”
Ryan looks off to the side as his lips pull up in a boyish grin. “More, it was definitely more. It all still feels like a dream.” I let the hand resting on his shoulder fall down to his arm. Then I pinch the fleshy part of his bicep through his suit jacket. He startles and then shoots me a glare. “Ow! What the hell was that for?”
“Just wanted to prove that this is definitely not a dream. Or I guess it’s your dream come true, but it’s reality. I’m so proud and happy of you, Ryan,” I tell him.
Ryan’s eyes trace my face, and he gives me a soft smile. “I know I’ve said it a few times already, but I hope you know how grateful I am that you’re my friend. I don’t think I could have pulled through like I did without you.”
I wave him off. “You would have. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that you always get what you want because you work hard and you put in the time. Good things come to people who make an effort, Ryno. And I’ve never seen anyone fight for a person like you’ve fought for Izabel. You deserve this happy ending.”
He beams at me. “Thank you.”
“Thank you. I’m just glad I got to witness it. You two really are goals,” I say, repeating what Josh: The Guy Behind the Bar noted earlier.
Ryan chuckles, and then the song finishes. His eyes trace the outer edge of the room until he spots his bride. Then he turns back to me and gives me a hug before heading off in her direction while I go back to my seat.
The rest of the evening goes smoothly. Ryan and Izabel cut into their cake together, each taking a big glob and stuffing it in the other’s face. Izabel squeals with delight when Ryan smears frosting all over her face then leans forward to lick it off.
The DJ announces that the bride and groom are about to do their bouquet and garter toss. Izabel goes first, and all the single ladies in attendance gather onto the dance floor, myself included. I find this whole tradition to be silly, but I participate anyway. Izabel stands a few feet in front of us, her back turned. Then she lifts her bouquet over her head, giving it two swings before releasing it into the air.
The girls around me shuffle to try and get in the landing zone. I stand by and watch. If it comes to me, I’ll catch it, but I’m not going out of my way. I don’t need any black eyes today from determined wedding guests.
The bouquet soars through the air, the flowers bending with the air resistance. As it starts to fall, I see hands going up all around me, trying to get ahold of the arrangement before it hits the ground. In its last final airborne moments, a form darts across the line of fire, soaring through the air and capturing the flowers.
I look down and am pleasantly surprised to see the winner is Ryan’s little sister, Thalia. She holds up the bouquet proudly and cheers. The women around me clap and praise in amusement. Izabel runs over and wraps her new sister-in-law in a big hug before allowing the photographers to take a few pictures of them.
I leave the group and wander over to the side where Ryan has his arms crossed, shaking his head. “She better not be thinking about getting married anytime soon. I’ll kick his ass.”
“You know I’ve heard a lot about this, Tyler, fellow,” I tease him. “Maybe they’ll have a playground wedding!”
He groans and rubs his face with his hand. “Thanks, Jos, I really needed that visual.”
“Always looking out,” I laugh as I pat his shoulder. “I think it’s your turn, though.”
Ryan grumbles a little more but then walks out onto the dance floor, where Izabel is now standing next to a chair. The DJ requests all the single guys to head out to the floor for the garter toss. Izabel is blushing bright red as she settles into the chair.
The DJ throws on some sensual music, and the guys standing around the floor all cheer. Ryan is now blushing just as hard as Izabel but gets to work, making a whole show of it. He wiggles around the dance floor, trying to keep time to the beat of the music but failing miserably.
I have to cover my mouth to keep myself from bursting into laughter. Ryan was absolutely not meant to be a male entertainer in this lifetime.
He finally gets around to lifting Izabel’s fluffy skirts, making a show of draping them around his shoulders like he’s going spelunking. Izabel throws her head back in laughter as Ryan continues the display.
Eventually, Ryan emerges and holds up the silky garter like a trophy. The guys around him all cheer and then pile out onto the floor. Ryan holds up the garter and pulls one end back like a slingshot before releasing the intimate article into the collection of dudes. A guy I don’t know catches the garter and dramatically accepts all the praise for the triumph.
The evening starts to wind down after that. There’s still plenty of dancing and drinking going on, but the main events of the night are over. I hang out with Ryan and Izabel for a while before they have to disappear to talk with their guests.
I avoid the bar like the plague. I don’t want to embarrass myself again in front of Josh: The Guy Behind the Bar. Instead, I mingle with our friends and the families.
Before too long, Ryan and Izabel make their departure. All the remaining guests gather outside the venue holding lit sparklers and waving them around. It makes an enchanted scene, watching Izabel and Ryan run through the tunnel of sparks to get to their limo. When they reach the curb, Ryan pulls Izabel into his arms and kisses her feverishly. Everyone cheers and he pulls away with a victorious grin.
They both wave before disappearing into the limo and driving off to their future together as husband and wife.
After that, the guests start dispersing. I hang around for a while, making sure nothing is left behind. Then I give one last look at the event hall and head on my way too.
After driving home, I pull my car into the driveway and grab my things. Clicking the doors shut behind me, I stroll up the few steps to the porch and unlock the front door. The neighborhood is quiet, just like it always is. A few other cars are on the road, but pretty much everyone is asleep already.
When I throw open the front door, I immediately know something’s off. I’m not sure if it’s a sixth sense or what, but I can feel in my bones that something is not right. I peer inside the dark house, straining my ears to hear if anyone’s inside. I hang my purse up on the hanger and reach for the wooden baseball bat I keep next to the door.
Carefully I walk into the house, trying not to make too much noise. I have the bat at the ready over my shoulder as I tiptoe down the front hallway. When I get to the living room, something crunches underneath my feet. I look down and see shards of glass littered all over my floor. My eyes dart to the front window, which has a giant hole in it. The sheer curtains that hang above it float in the wind.
I scan the room, gripping the bat tightly in my hands. I hear a groan across the room, and I stare at the source. A man is passed out on his couch. His face is turned to the side, mouth open and now snoring like a chainsaw. A dribble of drool slips past his lips and falls to the ground. A bottle of Jack lays on its side, the contents spilled all over my white rug.
As I observe the man, I let the bat fall, immediately recognizing the figure as my poor excuse of a twin brother. As drunk as ever. I take a few steps closer and then extend the bat towards him. I nudge his shoulder with the end, but he doesn’t budge. I nudge harder.
“Alex,” I hiss at him, hoping he’ll wake up. But again, no luck. Surprise, surprise.
Glaring at my waste of space of a brother, I pull out my phone and consider calling the police. He technically did break into my house, they’d be able to lock him up for tonight, but then he’d probably just be at it again tomorrow.
Generally, in a situation like this, Ryan would be my go-to. But obviously, he’s not an option tonight. He’s probably busy ravishing his new bride, and frankly, I don’t want to interrupt that. I’m sure he’d appreciate me more for it.
Alex is too big for me to move around. The utter weight of him would crush me. Even though he’s ultimately the male counterpart of myself, I am still much smaller than him. Alex isn’t overweight by any means, but he’s tall. He’s like our dad. I need someone big enough to manhandle him.
My thoughts flash to Dr. Chris Bruno, but I quickly squash that idea. Chris is good in bed in a pinch, but I don’t find him to be the reliable type. And if I have to hear that zebra story again, I don’t think I’ll survive.
I sigh as I stare at my brother. There’s only one logical person to call. But I really don’t want to. He makes the most sense because he knows Alex so well, and he knew me so well.
I bite the inside of my cheek as I scroll through my phone, searching for his number. There it is. I haven’t talked to him in five years; what if this isn’t even his number? What if it’s some creepy pizza guy or an ax murderer or something.
Stop being a wimp and just call him.
This is really a terrible idea. Calling him will be like pouring salt into a fresh wound. But I don’t see any other options here.
I press the green call button before I can talk myself out of it anymore. I put the phone up to my ear and settle down in an armchair, where I can keep an eye on my brother. My heart is thundering in my chest as I wait for his deep voice to pick up on the other end of the line—the phone rings and rings.
I’m about to hang up and just call the cops when finally I hear the click, a pause, and then a low incredulous voice that has my skin breaking out in goosebumps. “Hello?”
“Hey, Ace,” I squeak. “Uh, it’s me. I need a favor.”
A/N: Welcome to "Just Josie I'm excited for you to get to know our girl a little better. She has quite the story to tell. As with "Liberating Bells," Josie's story will deal with some sensitive material. I do my best to tell the story in the most respectful way possible but do read with discretion.
I'll be keeping with my regular updating schedule: Every Tuesday and Saturday throughout this story.
Let me know what you think in the comments below, and I'll see you Tuesday!