Feisty Francesca

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#43 Wedding dress

Panting, I help Yord carry his drum set into the backyard of the house Aston and Annabel are in the process of buying. We’re here early to set up and practice a few songs before every arrives. Aston is at work, so it’s up to me and Shaughna to take care of most of the decorating – exactly the way it would have been had he been able to be here. No way Aston would be hanging fairy lights in the garden. No fucking way.

“You picked a great moment to have a sprained ankle,” I tell Joshua when the drum set is on the small stage in the corner of the backyard. I stretch my arms with a grunt, already feeling my muscles ache. “I really need to work out more.”

“That’s why I’m making you do the heavy lifting, baby,” Joshua says with a grin, leaning on his crutches while he watches me grab the guitars from my car. “To give you a much-needed workout.”

“Plus, feminism and shit,” Yord adds, adjusting something on his drum set, nodding to himself.

“The day you start forming full sentences is the day hell freezes over,” Marcia comments dryly, giving Yord one of that looks that says that although she thinks he’s annoying, she finds it inexplicably charming at the same time. It’s so cute watching them look at each other like that, completely unaware that the other feels the same way. They just need a little push. When I find the right moment for it, I will certainly make sure to push them. Hard.

“A little help?” Shaughna calls, holding up a string of fairy lights so knotted and twisted that it will be a miracle if we ever get them untangled.

“That sounds like a job for the guy that can’t walk,” I decide, grabbing a chair for Joshua to sit down on. “You sit and fix this mess.” I’ve got an ulterior motive for making him want to sit down. He’s insisting on standing when we play later tonight, and I’m worried about the strain on his ankle, so the more I get him to sit down and rest, the better I will feel about him putting weight on his leg later.

Joshua rolls his eyes, knowing exactly what I’m doing. “Fine, I’ll sit down.”

I grab another chair and grab a blanket that I keep in my car, rolling it into a ball to put on the chair, creating a comfortable place for Joshua to elevate his ankle.

“I don’t need nurse Berger to fuss over me,” he tells me with a grin. “Chill, Franny, I’m fine.”

I put the chair in front of him and grab his leg, pulling it up so he has no choice but to rest it on top of the blanket. He shifts a little to make himself more comfortable, and we smile at each other. Things are still a little weird after what happened, but when I don’t get all up in my head, it almost feels like we’re back to normal.

Except for the fact that I’m noticing all these little things about him that I never did before. For example… his eyes aren’t a hundred percent blue. They’re have a hint of grey in them as well, depending on how the light hits them. And his hair has three different shades of blonde, thanks to being in the sun so much during the summer. The natural highlights that make his curls look even softer than they already did. And when he’s concentrating real hard, like he is doing right now untangling the lights, he puts his tongue between his teeth, sticking it out of his mouth just a little, flicking it over his lips to wet them every few minutes. It’s a subconscious movement that has me staring at those luscious lips of his, wondering what it would feel like to-

Stop it, Franny.

“Oh God, he’s hot,” Marcia breathes next to me.

“Yes,” I agree without thinking about it. “He really is.”

“Wait – what?” she asks, turning to stare at me. “What are you – oh, you’re talking about Josh.” She pauses, and then she pulls me further away from Joshua, her eyes wide. “Oh. My. God. Did you really just say Joshua is hot?”

“N-no,” I stammer, feeling stupid. “Of course not. I was just agreeing with you about…” I look in the direction she was staring at earlier and see Yord with his shirt off, changing into another one that doesn’t have stains all over it. “Ah, finally, you’re admitting you’re into Yord.”

“I’m not admitting anything.” She looks at me defiantly. “Unless, of course, you’re saying you think Josh it hot. If you do, I might admit that Yord is a goddamn sex god that I’d love to take back to my place if only he were interested.”

“I have a boyfriend,” I remind her.

“Right, James.” She rolls her eyes. “Fine. Don’t admit it. But you were totally just staring at Joshy boy. Just like I was staring at Yord.”

“You’ve been doing that a lot lately.” I nudge her with a smile. “Why don’t you make a move?”

She grunts. “I tried to a few weeks ago, but he either isn’t interested or he’s even dumber than he looks.”

“Probably the latter.” I laugh at her sullen expression. “What did you do?”

“I said I was cold so he’d put his arm around me, but he just told me to go put on a sweater.” She runs a hand through her short blue hair. “We’ve been friends for three years, maybe even four, so if anything was going to happen, it would have already.”

“Have you liked him that whole time?” I ask, feeling a little sorry for her.

“No way,” she says, chuckling. “I used to think of him as my annoying brother, but a few months ago we went skinny dipping with a bunch of others who live in the old warehouse and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about his hot naked body ever since.” She sighs. “It’s never going to happen. He thinks of me as his annoying sister or something.”

“I doubt that. I think he likes you too.”

“Please, you won’t even admit out loud that you like Joshua.”

“I don’t like Joshua.”

“See, you’re proving my point.”

We glare at each other but are soon laughing again. I want to say something else about her and Yord, but Shaughna calls out to us to stop goofing around and help set up for the party, so we rush over. Dshawn is helping Yord with the speakers for the music tonight, and Joshua is still busy with the fairy lights, his tongue running over his lips again.

Stop looking at him, I tell myself sternly and I grab my phone to text James and ask him if he’ll be able to stop by tonight. He’s got work, but he was trying to get someone to cover for him so he could come see the band play.

Sorry baby, he shoots back a few seconds later. I’ve got one more buddy to call for a favor, but if he says no as well, my hands are tied.

I guess this city can’t handle a few hours without their superhero cop, huh? I text him, a little disappointed that he won’t be here tonight. Be safe.

Always, he replies instantly. Love you, honey.

Love you too.

I put away my phone and hold the ladder while Shaughna climbs up, tying the lights to the tree and throwing the other end to Dshawn, who catches it without trouble and secures it to the swing set the previous owners left here. The place is starting to look great. Annabel is going to love her surprise party for sure.

***

The garden is filling up with people when we do a soundcheck and play the chorus of a few songs to get in the groove. No one is really paying attention us yet, which works out great for me, because it gives me a moment to get used to the fact that I’m on a stage, ready to sing in front of other people. It’s just a small stage at a birthday party for Annabel’s family and friends, but it still feels daunting to me.

“You’ll be great,” Joshua assures me, putting his arm around my shoulders and squeezing gently. “And remember…” He looks into my eyes, smiling sweetly. “…if you have to puke, do it to your left, because I will be standing on your right.”

I give him a playful shove, a little less hard than I normally would because he still needs to be careful not to twist his ankle again. He’s walking around like nothing’s wrong, but I at least got him to let me put on a compression wrap so it won’t swell up again.

“Stop being so careful with me,” Josh grumbles, knowing that I’d normally push him off the goddamn stage for his cheesy vomit joke.

“Stop being a clumsy fuck-up,” I bite back, sticking out my tongue.

“Stop flirting and get ready to rock,” Yord comments dryly from behind his drums.

“We’re not flirting,” we say in unison.

“Sure,” Marcia says, giving me a pointed look. “Whatever makes you sleep at night.”

Feeling guilty for standing here with Joshua’s arm around me, I lie that I need to go to the bathroom and rush off to text James again. We’ve been going alright the past few days, getting past the weirdness of knowing he proposed to twelve girls. I’ve been having more trouble moving past that than I thought I would, not feeling special anymore when he tells me sweet things or strokes my hair or something. I keep wondering if he said those things to all these other girls too, if he looked at them with such love in his eyes, if he kissed them just as tenderly.

It’s making me go a little crazy, to be honest.

James is being extremely patient, and he hasn’t brought up anything even remotely related to marriage so far, so I guess I don’t have to be scared he’ll be dropping to one knee anytime soon. Which is good, because I’d have to tell him no. There is no way we’re ready for that. Not yet.

“Are you okay, Fran?” Shaughna asks, seeing me standing in the hallway staring down at my phone.

“Yeah,” I lie, taking a deep breath.

She doesn’t buy it, not even for a second. “Come on,” she says, pulling me upstairs with her. “I know what will cheer you up.” She ushers me into what will most likely be Aston’s and Annabel’s master bedroom soon, and she’s set the whole place up as a sort of dressing room, with dresses and a suit hanging on a clothing rack, make-up on a folding table in the corner, a blow-dryer lying on the floor… And there’s a wedding dress hanging on a second clothing rack. A big, poofy pure white gown, covered in beading.

“Oh wow,” I breathe, walking over to it and touching the intricate handywork of the seamstress that made this piece of beauty. “It’s gorgeous. Does this mean that this isn’t just a birthday party, but also a wedding?”

Shaughna nods, a huge smile on her face. “Romantic, isn’t it? Annabel has no idea. So… I sure hope your band can play a wedding march.”

“Yeah, we can, but…” I shake my head in wonder. “Who picked out this dress if Annabel has no idea she’s getting married tonight?”

“Her sister Chloe.” Shaughna rolls her eyes. “That woman is a real piece of work, but even I have to admit this dress is beautiful. So… do you want to try it on?”

I let out a startled laugh. “Me? Try on Annabel’s wedding gown? Are you insane?”

“She’ll never know.” My friend nudges me. “Come on, you know you want to…”

She’s right, I do want to. I am nowhere near ready to walk down the aisle anytime soon, but this dress is pretty much the gown of my dreams. When I watch Say yes to the dress, this is the one I always think the bride should pick. It’s what I’d want to wear on my big day.

Way, way, way into the future.

“Okay,” I decide, my heart racing.

Fifteen minutes later, Shaughna has laced up the back of the dress, and my boobs are smushed together, more than even in my most intense push-up bra.

“Beautiful,” Shaughna tells me with a fond smile. She moves away from me and turns around the mirror that was standing against the wall, finally showing me how I look.

And damn, I look good.

I’m like a sexy angel, all innocent and pure in white, but also with a body made for sin because of the way the corset pushes my boobs together.

“Wow,” I breathe, turning around to look at the back of the dress. “Can you take a picture of me?”

Shaughna grabs her phone and starts taking pictures of me from every possible angle. I know it’s just make-belief, but a really small part of me is already imagining walking down the aisle someday. When I imagine the groom, though, that spot is empty. I can see the suit I’d like the man to wear, and I can envision the folding chairs, the flower arrangements, the whole thing, but I don’t see the face of the man I’m going to marry.

And that’s not good, is it? Shouldn’t that be James?

“Get me out of this,” I say, suddenly feeling like the dress is choking me. “Right now.”

“Sure,” Shaughna says, rushing to help me out of it.

When the dress is off and I’m standing there putting my bra back on, the door flies open and Joshua’s wide blue eyes come into view, raking my half-naked body with his mouth wide open.

“Erm – erm – I came to – erm – ask you if…” He trails off, his gaze on my breasts that I’m trying to cover by pushing the cups of my bra against it. I didn’t even get a chance to close the damn thing!

“Joshua, turn the fuck around!” Shaughna orders, sounding a little amused.

“Right,” he breathes, turning his back to me. “Sorry, I just… I came to ask Fran if she saw Yord’s red drumsticks, because apparently they’re his lucky ones and he’s freaking out.”

“Probably in my car,” I tell him while I pull my own dress back on, my cheeks flushed and my heart beating out of my chest. “I’ll go look for them now.”

I want to rush out, but Joshua is still in the doorway with his back to me.

“Can you let me through?” I ask, sounding breathless even to my own ears.

I try to push past at the same time that he takes a step to the side – but it’s in the wrong direction, so I crash into his back so hard that I almost fall backwards, but Joshua turns around just quick enough to steady me, his arms coming around my waist.

His mouth is a lot closer to mine than it should be.

Way, way, way too close.

I jerk away from him, causing him to stagger into the doorframe, wincing when his ankle twists a little.

“Sorry,” I say, finally making my way out of the room and into the hallway. “I’m so sorry. Are you okay?”

“Just go look for those fucking drumsticks,” he grunts, bending over to rub his ankle. “I’m fine.”

“Fran?” Shaughna runs after me while I make my way downstairs, leaving Joshua in the master bedroom where he just – oh God, he just basically saw me naked. “Franny!”

I don’t stop until I’m in the kitchen, leaning back against the counter with my eyes closed. Shaughna’s arms come around me and she pulls me to her, stroking my back. I don’t realize I’m crying until she pulls back and wipes away my tears with her fingers.

“Hey,” she says softly. “Do you want to talk about it?”

I shake my head and push her away. I really, really don’t want to discuss this right now. And definitely not with her. I already know whose side she’ll be on. She has been wanting to push me into Joshua’s arms from the start. I dry my tears, straighten my dress and waltz back outside to find Yord’s drumsticks. Tonight is about Annabel and Aston. I’m just here to sing. Surely I can get through this night without fucking up even more.

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