“This is bad. This is so bad.”
“It’s okay, we can . . . wow, it really got everywhere, didn’t it?” I said.
“This is bad. This is so bad,” Sophia repeated.
“Just get me some paper towels, I can try and wash this off . . . Christ, that’s disgusting.”
“This is bad. This is so bad.”
I stomped my feet in protest. “Will you stop saying that? We have to fix this before—shit.”
Mimi had just arrived.
“What the hell is on my wedding dress?”
The fastest way to get demoted from bridesmaid to dishonored guest is to vomit on the bride’s wedding gown. But if you do ever vomit on a wedding gown, make sure the bride is the perfect mix of anal-retentive, hyper planner, and fairy-tale whimsical.
Mimi was a type A personality with a side of Disney. Which meant she couldn’t decide on one wedding gown, so she had two. Custom made. One for the ceremony, one for the reception. So when one was defiled by semidigested corn flakes, and I mean defiled, she went into crisis-averting mode and immediately pronounced herself a genius for having the foresight to purchase two gowns. Reception gown became main event gown, and all was peaceful in the land of tulle and lace.
Until we realized that there were also semidigested corn flakes splattered across her Jimmy Choo bridal shoes. And maybe a flake or two inside as well . . .
In the end, it was Sophia’s belly that saved her from being banished from the church. I held Mimi back, but barely. She was strong for only being ninety-eight pounds.
“You ruined my Choos!”
“I didn’t mean to! You know I can’t help it. I’m like a fountain anymore, it just comes spewing out. I’m too hot, I throw up. I’m too cold, I throw up. I get a whiff of perfume—which smells lovely by the way, great choice—I throw up. You should see how many ties of Neil’s I’ve ruined. It’s disgusting.” She clutched her rounded belly. “But I’m pregnant. You wouldn’t hold the miracle of life against me now, would you?”
“Oh boy,” I muttered, rolling my eyes. Sophia made the most stunning pregnant woman ever created. We were all in agreement on this. Her skin glowed, her hair was luxurious, her eyes sparkled, and her tits were even more fantastic. Stunning. Except for five or six times a day when her skin would turn green, her forehead would speckle with perspiration, and she’d projectile vomit the entire contents of her stomach everywhere if she couldn’t make it to a bathroom in time. Or a garbage can. Or a potted plant. Or the gutter outside her apartment—I was present for that one. But within moments, she’d return to her perfect, shining example of premotherhood, complete with delicate hands placed gently on her bump of baby. Left hand arranged over right, not an accident. She took every opportunity to show off her new engagement ring. As well she should; it was incredible. Rumor has it Neil needed a crane to lift it and get it on her finger . . .
She had currently assumed this defensive position, complete with wide eyes and innocent expression, and blingy bling, as I wrestled with the bride, who was envisioning her carefully orchestrated wedding crashing down around her ears. Which were flaming red; she was really steamed.
“Backup dress, I have. Backup Choos? I don’t! What the hell am I going to wear on my feet?”
“Can we clean them?” I asked, tugging her back as she lunged once more at Sophia. Who was currently auditioning to play the part of Mary, before they got to the inn.
“They’re not going to be clean in time! Besides, I’m not walking around on my wedding day with feet that smell like stomach lining!” Mimi cried.
“Okay, now I’m getting a little nauseous. Can we stop all the vomit talk?” I asked, swallowing thickly. “You can wear my shoes; I’ll go barefoot.”
“You have giant Anglo feet! I’d be flopping around like a clown all day in those gunboats!” Mimi shouted.
By the way? I only wear a size seven.
“I can’t wear anyone else’s shoes unless you can find someone with size-five feet and exquisite taste in twenty minutes!” Her lower lip started to tremble.
I looked frantically at Sophia, who I knew already felt terrible about what she’d done. As I was mentally calculating how fast I could get to the closest high-end department store, there was a knock on the door.
“Mimi?” Ryan’s voice. “Mimi, you in there?”
“Ryan? Ryan, you can’t be here, you can’t see me!” Mimi freed herself from my arms and ran to hide behind the door, clad only in white satin panties, a white lace corset, and a blue ribboned garter. Had I forgotten to mention that? “Seriously, it’s bad luck to see the bride before the—”
“Hush, you silly girl. I’d never mess with tradition like that,” he soothed. “I just wanted to tell you something—you know, before the whole walk-down-the-aisle thing.”
“Oh?” she asked, leaning against the door.
“Yeah. I just wanted to say . . . well, I’m so lucky. I’m the luckiest guy I know, getting to marry the girl of my dreams.”
“Oh,” she whispered, pressing her hand against the wood.
“Ohhh,” Sophia and I mouthed to each other, linking arms and listening.
“And I can’t wait to marry you—like, I literally can’t wait. I know it’s happening in an hour, but it’s too long, you know?”
“I know,” she sighed, and relaxed against the door. Gown? Forgotten. Choos? Forgotten. “I love you so much.”
“I love you too, sweet girl,” he whispered, and Sophia and I sighed together. “I also can’t wait for our honeymoon. I’m going to throw you down on that bed and peel that dress off of you as fast as I can. I can’t wait to fuck my wife.”
“Uh, sweetie? The girls are in here.”
“Hi, Ryan,” Sophia and I said, once more in unison.
“Shit,” he said again.
“But, wow, does that sound good,” Mimi said softly.
Ryan chuckled on the other side of the door. “Okay, I’ll let you get back to your bride stuff. I just, wanted to tell you that.”
“See you in there,” Mimi smiled, and we could hear him walking away. She turned back to us, her eyes bright. “I’m going to marry that man barefoot. Because who the hell cares.”
She ran at us, a tiny, happy torpedo, and hugged us both tight. And just like that, Sophia was back in the wedding party.
Crisis averted, the wedding went off without a hitch. No more vomit, lots of laughter, and lots of tears. And one pair of perfectly pedicured feet dancing down the aisle toward the groom. Mimi’s gown was tea length, sculptured satin crafted on a 1950s pattern. The fact that she was barefoot? Charming. Her smile? Evident from outer space. Matched only by the one on her husband-to-be’s face as he watched her approach.
The ceremony was brief by Roman Catholic standards, and beautiful. And speaking of beautiful . . .
I would never get tired of looking at Simon Parker in a tuxedo. Especially at the end of an aisle. Not going to lie, it gave me thoughts. Especially when during the ceremony he caught my eye more than once. Sometimes we simply grinned, enjoying the moment with our friends. Sometimes he looked thoughtful, as weddings tend to make everyone think about the future and the past. And once, those sapphire eyes burned into mine, hinting at what he’d rather be doing than standing at an altar. And what he’d rather be doing was me.
In case that was in any way unclear.
As the happy couple made their way down the aisle to applause and well-wishers, Neil followed with his very pregnant girlfriend, Sophia. Then Simon stepped down the few altar steps, slipped my hand into his arm, and walked me down the aisle as well. “Beautiful.”
“It was a beautiful ceremony.”
“Wasn’t talking about the ceremony,” he whispered, his gaze dropping down my body, down past the russet silk, the palest tea-colored shantung, the perfectly dyed peep-toe pumps, and back up again to settle on my cleavage. Amply displayed. Mimi liked a low-cut dress on her ladies in waiting.
“That’s very sweet.”
“Those are very sweet,” he murmured, still gazing at the girls.
“Eyes up here, Mr. Parker,” I instructed, squeezing his forearm. And as I did, I was reminded once more of the innate strength of this man—my man. Long and lean, tall and impossibly good looking with his dark hair and his blue eyes, and his powerful hands holding me steady as he thrust into me from . . . wait. What?
“Where’d you just go?” he asked, his eyes curious.
“Someplace naughty,” I teased, a blush warming my cheeks.
Sweeping a piece of my blond hair back behind my ear, he leaned closer and dropped a kiss on my neck, just below my ear.
“I knew I should have changed your name from Nightie Girl to Naughty Girl.”
“Quiet, Wallbanger; we’ve got a receiving line to get through. Then pictures. Then cocktail hour. Then dinner. Then dancing. We’ll be lucky to have any naughty times before tomorrow.”
“Quickie in the coatroom?”
“Nope, that concept was ruined for me by those two.” I laughed, pointing at Sophia and Neil.
His hand was firmly on Sophia’s bottom, church be damned. Since announcing their pregnancy a few months ago, Sophia had put on about thirty pounds, and they all went to her boobs and her butt. Neil could literally not get enough.
“Doggie style. All day. All night. That’s all he wants. He can’t stop looking at it, touching it, kissing it, rubbing it. It’s like I’m just one giant ass, there for his enjoyment,” Sophia had told Mimi and me one day at lunch, to the immense pleasure of our waiter, who was hovering extremely close that day. My water glass never dipped below two-thirds full.
Simon leaned in once more, just before we got to the end of the pews. “What if I told you I know a place perfectly suited for a quickie, guaranteed no one will find out?” His breath warmed my skin, and some other parts.
“You’re like the devil,” I whispered back, shivering deliciously.
“Caroline. Please. We’re in church,” he chided with a twinkle in his eye. Ungh. Loved this guy.
We had now reached the front steps. And as we all spilled out onto the sidewalk below, we watched Ryan swing his new bride around in a circle, her feet kicked up in the air, arms tight around his neck as she laughed and laughed. The crowd oohed and aahed appropriately, and my friends and I gathered to watch and smile as the first of our crew made it official.
“How long are you going to make Neil wait until he gets to be the one swinging you around like that?” I asked Sophia, who stood in front of her baby daddy.
“Six months, post baby. That should be enough time to get this weight off and make sure I look positively killer in my wedding dress,” she answered, not-so-subtly rubbing her bum back and forth a bit against Neil. Who groaned and started not-so-subtly thrusting against her backside.
“Whoa, whoa! Can’t. Unsee.” I shielded my eyes.
“Can’t help it. Have you seen her ass? Sweetie, turn around and show them your ass,” Neil encouraged, as Simon laughed, clapping him on the back and steering him away from the group.
“I’m gonna take Ass Man here over to congratulate the new Mr. Mimi. You two stay out of trouble,” Simon said with a chuckle. And as they walked away, Sophia and I watched them go.
“Speaking of great asses . . .” Sophia said.
“No kidding. And good lord, is it me, or are they both insanely good-looking in their tuxedos?”
“Sort of makes you wonder, doesn’t it?” Sophia mused, watching her perfect Ass Man now swing Ryan around in a perfect re-creation.
“Wonder what? When to get married? When we should all make it official? When we all become Mrs. So-and-So?” I asked, my heart leaping into my throat at the idea of becoming Mrs. Parker.
“No.” She shook her head, looking at me with a funny expression. “Wonder if Neil’s wearing boxer shorts under those tight pants. I don’t see a line at all.”
“Ah. Well. That’s something entirely different,” I replied, letting out a little chuckle.
She put her arm around me and squeezed. “Caroline Reynolds, look at you blush.”
“All excited about the prospect of getting married, making Simon your mister?”
“You think because you’re pregnant I won’t stomp on your foot?”
“Come on, let’s go congratulate our friend Shoeless Joe over there,” she said with a smirk, pointing at Mimi, who was surrounded by family and positively beaming.
Ninety minutes later we were drinking champagne under one of the most iconic San Francisco monuments, the Palace of Fine Arts. Mimi had consulted the sun charts, not in an astrological way, but in a perfectly backlit way. So not only was the sun streaming in through the church windows to exactly highlight her skin tone, she had also designed her reception around sunset, capturing that perfect moment when the sun was setting behind the rotunda. And as the lights came on and the candles glowed, the gorgeous old landmark was reflected perfectly in the pond below. Shades of burnished gold from the structure, deep indigo from the water, buttery yellows from the candlelight, and the kaleidoscope of magenta, orange, and fuchsia from the setting sun painted the backdrop of this lovely evening.
It was perfection, as only a professional organizer could ensure. Simon and I mingled with the guests, sipping our bubbly and chatting with strangers, acquaintances, and finally, friends. Up for the wedding after becoming friends with Mimi during her renovation in Mendocino, Viv Franklin was in the house. With her very dashing fiancé, Clark Barrow.
“I can’t believe you’re pregnant again. William isn’t even six months old!” I exclaimed as she told me the news.
“I know, I know! But Clark’s got, like, superman sperm or something. I can’t explain it. I just enjoy it.”
“Vivian!” Clark admonished, his cheeks turning pink as he shook his head at her. “One can share news without sharing everything.”
“One can share anything she likes, when she’s the one with bun in her very pretty oven,” Viv quipped, patting her just-beginning-to show tummy, and effectively shutting down the conversation as Clark now blushed even deeper.
Simon and I had gone up to visit them after the birth of their son, a beautiful little boy. The new parents were ecstatic at their good fortune. They’d been planning their own wedding to be a few months after he was born, but it looked like those plans were on hold for now.
“I want to get married back home, where all my brothers got married,” Viv said. “You remember St. Gabriel, don’t you, Simon?”
“The church on Seventh Street, right?” he asked. They’d grown up together back east in Pennsylvania.
“That’s the one, marrying Franklins off left and right. But Catholics are funny about sin. They’ll forgive anything, but they don’t like to see it right in their face, know what I mean? My mother would die a thousand deaths if she had a pregnant daughter walking down the aisle,” she said with a laugh.
“So we’ll wait until after this one is born, and get married sometime next year,” Clark finished, wrapping an arm around Viv’s shoulders and pulling her in close. “Our own kids will be there when we get hitched. How great is that?”
“Pretty great,” Viv agreed, and grinned up at him. Then she turned to me. “And speaking of pretty great, you should see the last few paintings I did. It’s a series of how the light changes over the ocean, at different points during the day. They’re pretty good, if I do say so myself.”
“I’d love to see them. You know I never have any trouble selling your stuff to my clients,” I said, thinking of when I might be able to make a trip north. Things were booming at Jillian Designs, and my schedule was full, but not overly so. I had an almost perfect balance now between work and home, and it was pretty freaking great.
I was hired by Jillian after interning here my senior year in college, and she’d become more than a boss, sounding board, and mentor. She’d become a close friend.
In the last year or so, our working relationship had changed. When she first told me she and Benjamin were moving to Amsterdam for six months of each year, I thought my work at her interior design firm was going to change drastically. I’d spent the previous several months running the show while they were on an extended honeymoon, so I was honored when Jillian offered me a partnership. And scared to death. And even more scared to death to turn it down, something most young designers would never do. But my Creative Caroline side had found that the administrative side of running a business wasn’t my cuppa. When you’re handed the keys to a kingdom, though, you don’t walk away.
I didn’t walk away, but I didn’t snatch the keys either. Jillian and I were able to work out a new arrangement that allowed me to continue to primarily work with clients, and supervise things in a very general sense while she was abroad. We agreed that I’d stay in a mostly creative role, and we brought in a wonderful office manager who helped make sure the lights stayed on and the payroll checks were cut on time.
But things were busy, no mistake. After helping Viv do a renovation on her inherited Victorian home in Mendocino, I’d been retained to work on several restoration jobs around the area, expanding the reach of Jillian Designs beyond the Bay Area. I’d worked jobs all over Northern California, and as far south as Santa Barbara. I still worked primarily in San Francisco, but the regional work was fun and satisfying. And I was helping to raise the profile of the design firm, which was already fairly well known, even higher.
But as busy as I was, I’d always carve out time for a quick overnight to Mendocino to take a peek at whatever Viv was working on. Sometimes with Simon, sometimes without; it was an easy drive to a lovely location. Viv had converted her attic into a working studio where she started painting the most incredible pieces, all inspired by her recently adopted home of Mendocino. I sold a few to some clients, and word was beginning to spread. Some of her work was featured in a few stores in her area, and she even had a showing at a local art fair here in San Francisco. New pieces? I’d make it work.
“Let me look at my calendar on Monday, see when I might be able to get up there?”
“Sounds good. Simon, how about you coming this time too? We just got two new kayaks,” Viv offered, hopeful her adventure partner would come along.
“We’ll see. I’ve got a big trip coming up soon; lots to plan between now and then,” Simon said. But I could see his eyes dancing at the thought of kayaking.
“Oh fuck it, you’re coming up too, and that’s that. Now, I need another root beer. Let’s roll, Clark,” Viv said, making the decision for him.
“Impossible woman,” Clark muttered under his breath, but followed her across the room toward the bar. With a wide grin on his face.
“Those two aren’t wasting any time, are they?” Simon said.
“Speaking of not wasting any time . . .” I pointed toward the head table, where Mimi and Ryan were engaging in some pre–wedding night foreplay.
“It’s going to be a long night, isn’t it?”
“I’ll keep you entertained,” I murmured, sliding my hand down his back and giving his magnificent buns a quick squeeze.
“Naughty Girl,” he said, slipping his hands into my hair and pulling me in for a long, slow kiss. I let him; I didn’t care. Surrounded by people at a wedding reception? I kissed him back, his sweet lips opening and his even sweeter tongue tangling with mine. My breath came quickly, my skin heated, and I was ready to take him up on his quickie offer. Until I heard the beginning of the toasts starting over the microphone, signaling it was time for us to return to the head table and be upstanding and proper members of the wedding party.
“Later,” he whispered. And promised. Mmm.
The reception went off without a hitch. We all danced, we drank, we danced some more, we definitely drank some more. Sophia and Viv, finally meeting and bonding over their ginger ales, swapped birthing stories and talked endlessly over some kind of sling you carry a baby in.
Whatever it was, they talked about it for hours, it seemed. But since Sophia was the first mommy in our little clan, I was glad she had a new friend who could relate to what she was going through.
By the time we said our good nights to Mimi and Ryan, on their way to spend a night at the Palace Hotel before leaving early the next morning for a honeymoon in Bora Bora, I was pleasantly sauced, and more than pleasantly horny for the man who’d been requesting Glenn Miller all night. But I still found a moment with my girl before she left.
“You were truly the most beautiful bride I’ve ever seen. Seriously, Mimi, it was an incredible day.”
“It was pretty great, wasn’t it?” She grinned, lifting up one foot to peer at the sole. “I’ve got soot foot.”
“They’re pretty filthy,” I agreed. “But you totally pulled it off.”
“I know!” She laughed, and fell into a hug.
“Indulging in the fairer sex already?” Sophia asked, appearing out of nowhere.
“Oh c’mere, you,” Mimi cried, pulling her into our Mushtown. “You girls are my best friends, you know that?”
“Best friends? Then how come your cousin was your maid of honor?” Sophia teased, and Mimi’s face crinkled.
“You know very well it wasn’t an option; my mother never would have let me get out of it. I had to have her, and—”
“Tiny. Slow your roll. I was kidding.” Sophia laughed, and kissed her on the forehead. “You looked amazing today. Shit, we all did. You threw a great party; congratulations.”
“Thank you! And thank you, God, that you didn’t fall for Ryan. And thank you, God, for not letting me fall for Neil. I mean, he’s super dreamy, and a great kisser, but—”
“Thank God we all ended up with the ones we did. How ‘bout we leave it at that?” I interrupted, chuckling as I remembered the weekend at Lake Tahoe when the four of them righted their dating wrongs. What could have ended badly had ended up here. Two of them married, two of them having a baby. We all looked across the dance floor at our three guys. Ties loosened, jackets abandoned, hair messy. Jesus Christ, they were handsome.
“I’m going to get my husband and take him to the honeymoon suite at the Palace,” Mimi said with a smile that was equally dreamy . . . and lascivious.
“I’m going to get Simon and let him do things to me in the back of the limo on the way back to Sausalito.”
“I’m going to get Neil, a few more pieces of that wedding cake to go, and let him eat me while I eat the cake.”
“Oh, for the love of—!”
“Good night, nurse!”
And we sent Mimi off on her honeymoon.
Ninety minutes later . . .
“Simon. Simon. Oh, Jesus, Simon, that’s so good, right there, right there, don’t stop . . .”
Ninety seconds later . . .
“I can’t believe you ate cake while I did that to you.”
“Don’t worry about it. You can eat cake while I do this to you . . .”
“Caroline, you naughty girl. In the back of a limo—oh, wow, that’s good. And this cake is terrific.”
Simon and Caroline are back for another round of baking, banging, and big life changes. Settling in, but never settling down, Caroline has finally struck a balance between the professional and the personal. As one of the top interior designers in San Francisco, she travels all over Northern California between nook time with Simon.
Perpetual globetrotter Simon has cut his frequent flyer miles in half over the last year, preferring to balance his professional and personal life, as well.
The next step in their lives seems preordained—toasts, veils, and the aisle of rose petals. But when an accident on a photo shoot in Southeast Asia brings Caroline the most terrifying phone call she could ever imagine, she has to ask whether “till death do us part” is a more realistic prospect than faces most couples.
It’s been a grand adventure, and Caroline and Simon wouldn’t go out without the best surprise ending ever. One part sexy, one part laughter, a dash of exotic locales, and one pink nightie, mixed with passion, and you’ve got Last Call. Served with a side of Clive.
XOXO After Dark: Girl Talk
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We're so excited to have Alice Clayton back on XOXO After Dark! Today, she's talking to us about her New Year's resolutions for this year. Speaking of, if you haven't already, you need tomake it your resolution to read every book Alice has ever...