The day was surreal, for many reasons. My husband-to-be had intentionally removed himself from it, until I was to see him standing at the altar in all his dark glory. It seemed a gargantuan sacrifice for him to be making, all in the interest of giving us the luckiest possible start for a marriage that was probably being rushed into. Things were rocky, but so passionate I couldn’t quite bring myself to doubt him. I was addicted to him, ridiculously in love with him and completely incapable of saying no to him. Self-righteous, over-protective control-freak he may have been but he was mine and I didn’t want it any other way. I could picture him, at Jake’s: pacing, running his hand through his hair, making last minute phone calls to the overpaid wedding planner, putting together the final touches to a ceremony I could only imagine would be meticulously perfect down to the smallest detail. I missed him on an aching, profound level that seemed to tug at the roots of my soul. I couldn’t wait to get started.
But the hours until then were to be enjoyed, Alexander had made sure of that. He might have even paid off the weather gods; the sky was as blue as I’d ever seen it, even the wispiest clouds banished as though by a hired team of specialists. The sun, outside the wall of windows so clean we might have been standing in the open air, was a muted glowing October orb of promise. The bustle of the city far below looked inviting and colorful.
And the limo driver’s voice came over the intercom. “Your car is ready, Miss Carmichael.”
Eva was buzzing. Our night had been festive and fun. Jake had been upbeat, although distracted by the hostess and her soft-spoken appeal. I’d never seen Jake eat so much. I think I finally know what Jake’s type is: dark-eyed, strawberry-blond and sporting the slightest hint of a bruise around her eye. I have a feeling we’ll see her again.
Once it was clear to all that Eva wasn’t going to score with him, she relaxed into her evening. She was seeing someone anyway – a guy from the law firm she worked for – even though it wasn’t serious. I was relieved. It meant there would be no regrets this morning, no insta-lust hangovers or awkwardness at the reception.
They’d walked us back to Alexander’s apartment, the night all glittery and charmed, like a fifties double date. He’d kissed me, whispered I love you and watched from the street as the double doors of his building clicked closed, sealing us inside. Even then, his brigade of bodyguards had been on duty, shielding us from our own pasts.
And now, we were to be swept away to a day spa with a view of the ocean.
It was all a little over the top. The chauffeur driver offered us mimosas from a tray he held with one hand as he opened the door with the other. Inside, a little table had been set up with platters of fruit, caviar, chocolate and warm, buttery croissants.
Once we were sealed into our chariot, sipping our bubbly refreshments, Eva burst out laughing. “You are the luckiest girl in the world, Lila. I mean, look at all this! Look at your life.”
“Yeah,” I said. Look at my life. My perfect, gilded life. Could such a thing last? Could anything really be as spectacular and flawless as this opulent landscape that was my future? I admit there was something daunting about it all: I could and did savor every detail but still, the heights were dizzying at times when you realized the only way to go from here was down.
But I’m no pessimist. I laughed with her and clinked my glass against hers. I marvelled at the luxury of the salon, where we were massaged, groomed, styled and given more champagne as we talked and laughed and commented on the view.
“So whatever happened with the supermodel ex-girlfriend?” Eva asked. I’d filled her in on my run-in with Shawna.
“She’s been calling a lot. But Alexander won’t answer her calls anymore. According to him, he’s said everything he can possibly say.”
“Wow. I guess he’s not the kind of guy you’d let go of without a fight.”
“No,” I agreed.
To be honest, I felt a little uneasy about the entire topic. Alexander’s phone had been sitting on the table at dinner last night, on mute, but I couldn’t help noticing that the calls from ‘S.B.’ lit up the screen every five or ten minutes. He’d finally turned his phone off and put it in his pocket.
Apparently Eva had noticed it too. “What else could she possibly have to say to him? She must be a total glutton for punishment.”
I’d wondered the same thing. How many times did she need to be told no?
“It’s not like she even needs the money,” Eva commented, which I admit, riled me just a little. Alexander’s money was the least interesting thing about him.
And then it was time.
The limo took us to Alexander’s palatial ‘summer’ house. It was majestic – huge and rustic but at the same time immaculately modernized – standing on its very own sand dune like it ruled Long Island and everything beyond.
Eva gasped. “Holy shit.”
It was like a dream, all of it.
We were greeted by the wedding planner, a no-nonsense woman who introduced herself as Bianca. She led us up to the master bedroom, which looked like something straight out of a seaside dream homes magazine spread. My dress had been draped over the super-king-sized bed. Double French doors were open and afforded a view of the balcony and the sea. Bianca and her brigade of assistants fawned and fussed, served us more champagne. They poured me into the silk and lace extravaganza that was my dress.
No wonder I felt like I was dreaming; I was half-drunk. I was living in this world of such extreme luxury it was like a dream. All these killer views and decorated interiors and people doing things for you.
“Oh, Lila. Look at you.”
I looked in the mirror, to see what Eva was freaking out about this time. Me.
And I did: I looked like someone else.
Someone exquisite and wealthy and privileged and pink-cheeked from champagne and love. The very-fleeting uneasiness surfaced but quickly passed: there were so many imperfect, unexquisite, unwealthy, unprivileged layers to me, buried and dirty and simmering away unseen. Alexander knew about all that. And I couldn’t wait to see him. I couldn’t wait. The urge felt unbearable. It had been more than twelve hours since I’d seen him and I felt the ache of this distance in my heart and in my throat. I didn’t care about all these extras. I just wanted him.
“Are you ready?” It was Bianca and her team, standing around me, handing me my bridal bouquet: an elegant yet simple cluster of barely-opened pink peonies. They were so beautiful they didn’t look real.
I floated down the curved staircase. There were flowers everywhere: a sea of pink peonies, artfully placed. Live music gently wafted through the gentle sea breeze. Jake was at the bottom of the stairs to greet me and I remembered we’d agreed that he would walk me down the aisle. He looked handsome in his tux.
“You scrub up pretty good,” I told him.
“So do you,” he smiled, offering me a crooked arm. “Let’s get on with this, shall we? My brother has been unbearable all day. Chomping on the bit, you could say.” His fitted bracelet was glinting in the afternoon sun.
“I like your new accessory.”
He glanced at it, then at my three-carat diamond ring. “Cost even more than your new accessory,” he said in that sardonic tough-guy drawl that was pure Jake.
Someone must have signalled the band because that was when they began to play it: the wedding march. Eva went first. And Jake led me out of the roomy, marble-floored and out onto the massive patio area.
Guests were gathered there, the blue sea behind and the puffed pink of the thousand flowers. I barely noticed any of it.
There he was.
Strapping and dark and virile as hell in his black tux: without a doubt, the most beautiful thing in the universe.
As we walked closer I could see something else there in his gaze: amazement, love, a careful, contained happiness. His eyes never left me. His concentration was so riveted, we might have been the only people there.
Eva took her place to the left. And Jake raised my veil and kissed my cheek, then placed my hand in Alexander’s.
Alexander looked starstruck. He leaned to kiss me, a light, erotic touch of his lips to mine. “Angel, you are stunning,” he whispered.
And then we took our places and the celebrant began to speak. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today to –”
A commotion caused the celebrant to look up.
People were parting to allow someone through.
Someone who was irate and loud and storming her way to the front of the crowd.
Oh, no. No. Please, no.
It was Shawna.
She rushed up to us, windblown and red-faced and undone-looking, like she’d been crying. Like she was on the verge of some sort of breakdown.
“Alexander!” she said, the shrill sound of her voice popping the bubble of this perfect day, this perfect place. The band had stopped playing. “I wanted to talk to you! You don’t answer my calls and now I find out your getting married today? Why didn’t you tellme?”
Bianca appeared and attempted to guide Shawna quietly away. But it was too late to restore anything resembling peace, and Shawna wouldn’t have a bar of it.
“Get off me!” she shrieked.
Alexander said nothing. It was Jake who spoke. “Shawna, this isn’t the time –”
Shawna cut him off, speaking only to Alexander. “If you’d just bothered to answer my calls, I could have told you this privately. But I guess it’s too late for that.”
The next three words Shawna spoke would shatter everything. They would break the pure beauty of what we had. They would bring everything to a screeching, heart-breaking halt.
“Alexander, I’m pregnant.”