Four weeks later in San Diego
“And so tonight, I raise a glass to the most beautiful girl in the world—my daughter, Chloe Patterson. And to her intended, I say: take care of her. Because I know people.”
I could feel my blush rise as my father toasted me and my fiancé—the “intended” he’d just threatened in front of the fifty people attending our rehearsal dinner. Threatened in a perfectly acceptable way, of course, like a father of the bride would tease the man who’s going to take away his little girl forever. And everyone laughed along with me, raising their glasses in our direction.
My intended, Charles Preston Sappington, rose to his feet, shaking my father’s hand and clapping him on the back good-naturedly. Was the clap a little harder than necessary? Yes. Was the threat as affable as my father made it sound? No.
I caught my dad’s eye and he winked. I giggled loudly, earning an eye roll from my mother, who had the most audible eye roll in the room. In any room. And particularly any room my father was in.
Relieved that I could get back to my dinner, I felt Charles’ hand on the back of my neck. He leaned over me, pressing an absentminded kiss onto the top of my head. “Going to go say hello to the Nickersons; I’ll be right back,” he whispered.
I kissed the air behind him as he sped off to press some more flesh, and turned to see my mother watching us.
“Don’t you think you should go with him, dear?” she asked, watching as my fiancé schmoozed. Our rehearsal dinner, and he was schmoozing.
“Not particularly. Did you try the artichoke soufflé? It’s delicious,” I answered, forking up another bite.
“Don’t you think you’ve had enough, dear? That wedding dress barely fits as it is.” She signaled for a waiter to remove my plate.
I smiled resignedly, setting down my fork with a clatter that earned me an eyebrow raise. “Sorry,” I mumbled, patting at my lips delicately with my napkin, which I refolded and placed squarely in the center of my lap.
“Oh, leave her alone, Marjorie, she’s getting married! She should enjoy this night! You know, before the Big Fade,” Dad teased.
A snort escaped me, and my mother’s neck turned three shades of red.
“Honestly, Thomas, I hardly think it’s appropriate to tease her like that, the night before she gets married. And what was that toast? You know people? For goodness’ sake, who are these alleged people? Accountants? Pencil pushers?”
“Oh, lighten up! It was a joke, that’s all,” my father protested, clearly loving this.
Divorced for the last six years after twenty-two years of bickering, my father loved nothing in the world more than to get my mother’s back up. And she never failed to take the bait.
But tonight, she surprised us both by pushing back from the table. “Chloe, go stand with Charles. He shouldn’t have to chat up all these guests by himself,” she chided, not giving my father a second glance as she sailed away. Tall and regal and every inch the mother of the bride, she slipped seamlessly into the background, making sure that the waiters were circling and everyone had everything they needed. She was the hostess with the mostest, a job that I supposed I should be doing. Truth? I wanted more of that sinful artichoke soufflé.
I glanced at my father’s plate and he grinned, shoving it across the table toward me. I grinned back, then quickly ate the soufflé.
“So, you ready for tomorrow?” he asked as we watched the room.
Pleasantries, mingling, restrained and dignified laughter spilling around the room. Fifty of our very very closest friends and family. And this was only the rehearsal. Four hundred (four hundred!) people from all over Southern California had been invited to the wedding tomorrow, being held at one of San Diego’s toniest country clubs. We’d been members for years, and when my parents’ divorce was final, my mother made it clear that it was now her territory alone. But my father was required to pay the membership dues every year. Alimony.
“I suppose,” I said, and sighed, wondering not for the first time why I sighed every time someone asked me about the wedding.
My father noticed. “Kiddo?” he asked, concern crossing his handsome face.
“I’d better go chat with the Nickersons,” I answered, having just gotten the stink eye from my mother from across the room. She meant well. And it was my rehearsal dinner, after all; I should be enjoying hearing everyone’s congratulations. I reminded myself of this several times in the time it took me to make my way from the corner table to the center of the restaurant, where my intended held his hand out for me. I pasted on the look of happiness and sincerity that had won me Miss Golden State nearly two years ago. Charles, the most handsome man I’d ever known, smiled down at me, my smile taking its cue from his as he slipped his arm around me and brought me effortlessly into the conversation.
Smile. Nod. Laugh. Smile. Nod. Laugh. Smile. Nod. Sigh.
I stole a moment later in the evening, after the coffee had been served and the endless toasts completed (how in the world would anyone have anything to say tomorrow if they blew their toast wad at the rehearsal dinner?), and guests were beginning to edge toward the door. My mother mingled like a pro, smiling and nodding at each one as they complimented her on what a lovely daughter, what a lovely couple, what a lovely evening . . . arghh. Smiling and nodding was what she did best.
It was a grace I didn’t possess naturally, although I could fake it with the best of them. Case in point: my earlier smile and nod when a twenty-minute discussion was waged over which was the best lawn service in town. Have to keep those lawns as green as possible, even when there was a drought, you know. Or my smile and nod when Mrs. Snodgrass went on and on about a racy book that everyone was talking about but no one would admit to reading, when in fact I know every woman there had read it. I even smiled and nodded when Mr. Peterson lectured us about illegal immigration, when I knew for a fact that his nanny was undocumented. Honestly, I felt like a bobblehead at times. But that pageant training kicked in, and I could smile and nod for hours on end, always looking interested, always looking pleasant, always looking pretty.
But inside my head wasn’t pretty. Inside my head, I was wondering what would happen if I jumped onto a table and started screaming. What would the reaction be? Startlement? Horror? Amusement? How quickly would someone usher me off the table, and how quickly would everyone else go back to their coffee?
I was saved from my mental screaming by my mother, who was making a second pass around the restaurant. “Dear, the Snodgrasses are leaving. Be a good girl and go thank them for coming.”
“Yes, Mother.” I smiled and nodded. In particular at my handsome fiancé, who had already beaten me to the Mr. and Mrs. Snodgrass.
Finally, Charles and I found ourselves alone in front of the restaurant. Before Cinderella was packed off into her stretch limo coach, she was to say good night to her handsome prince.
“Are you excited about tomorrow?” he asked, encircling me with his strong arms. Arms he kept strong, along with every other part of his body, with hours of tennis, racquetball, swimming, jogging, and, of course, golf. Avid golfer. I’d been encouraged to take up the sport, so I did. Of course I did. Sigh.
“I’m very excited for tomorrow,” I murmured into his chest, catching the scent of his cologne. Heady.
“I mentioned to Nancy Nickerson that you’d be interested in volunteering some time when we get back in town. She’s chairing the committee for the new pediatric wing at the hospital. I signed you up.”
“Well, okay. But I’m not sure how much time I’m going to have. They just got two new therapy dogs at the hospital, and they need some help with—”
“Chloe. Baby. We talked about this before. Working with your pageant platform is one thing; the therapy dog charity was great. But you’re not doing pageants anymore, and we agreed it’s time to start moving on, taking on some new projects, right?”
“But, Charles, I’ve worked with this organization since high school; it was never just because I was in pageants. They always need help, and I think that—”
“Um. What?” I asked, crinkling my nose and looking up at him.
Charles Preston Sappington was tall. Dark. Handsome. Perfect. My mother, who traded in perfect, had introduced us. He was an attorney. He argued for a living, which is why I never bothered to argue with him. Hard to go toe-to-toe with the toughest litigator in all of Southern California. I know this because he had it on a plaque above his desk. So I rarely bothered. However . . .
“Did you just tell me no?”
“Can you explain to me why?” I asked, pushing against his chest a bit when he tried to hold me tighter.
“Not right now.”
“Baby, it’s late. We’ve got plenty of time to talk about stuff like this. But for now? Just concentrate on getting some sleep tonight so you can be beautiful for me tomorrow.” His voice sounded soothing. “You know I can’t wait for tomorrow, right? But then after that? The honeymoon, baby—the best part.”
His hands slid up my back and succeeded in pulling me into him. I sighed, bit back my remark, and concentrated on the band that was tightening around my chest. His arms, I mean.
“Two weeks in Tahiti. Private bungalow. Bikini. Maybe even no bikini,” he whispered, hands sliding down and giving my bum a grab.
“Charles! Someone could see!” I protested, looking around. He laughed, thinking this particular squall was over. After all, I was getting married tomorrow. Sigh.
“Baby, go to sleep. And then tomorrow, I’ll be waiting at the end of that aisle. You’ll be gorgeous. We’ll say some words, slip on some rings, and then you’re all mine. Sound good?” he crooned as he spun me around, then set me down to open the limo door.
“Mm-hmm,” I managed, a bit dizzy from all the spinning.
“There you two are! Now, Charles, scoot. She’s all yours tomorrow, but she’s still mine tonight,” my mother cried, appearing at my side with a grand smile.
“Yes, Mother Patterson,” Charles replied, knowing how much she hated when he called her that.
I giggled in spite of myself, and my mother frowned at me.
“Say good night to Charles,” she said primly, keeping any comments about Mother Patterson to herself for a change.
“Good night, Charles,” I echoed, leaning in for a kiss on the forehead.
“Night, ladies. See you tomorrow,” Charles said, packing us into the limo in a swish of silk and satin.
Sitting next to my mother, I listened to her chatter as we pulled away from the restaurant and headed toward our home. Where I’d lived since college.
Parents’ house. Sorority house. Parents’ house. Husband’s house? Sigh.
An hour later, I was in the bedroom I’d been sleeping in since I was seven. Canopy bed. Pom-poms. Tiaras. Sashes. Trophies. Pageant girl, remember? Elbow elbow wrist wrist.
Curled up on top of the covers, I was hot, my heart beating faster than normal. Nervous about tomorrow, I suppose. Marrying Charles. Becoming a Sappington and everything that meant.
I looked at the picture of us on my nightstand, taken the evening he’d proposed. The ring shone as brightly in the photo as it shone on my hand now. It was the largest diamond I’d ever seen, almost embarrassingly so. I slipped it off, setting next to the picture.
I’d met Charles eleven months ago. We were engaged five months to the day after we met. Whirlwind to say the least, and Charles was the most perfectly put-together whirlwind you’ve ever seen. Never a hair out of place, never a spot of food on his tie, or a piece of spinach in his teeth. The spinach would never dare.
But any piece of spinach would love to get the chance to lodge there. Charles Preston Sappington was the man about town, the bachelor every woman from San Diego to Santa Barbara had been trying to land for years. Any piece of spinach would count herself extremely lucky to be trapped between his pedigreed teeth; it was the dream tiny spinaches were told by their spinach mothers. Tall. Handsome. Rich. Good family. And if you do as you’re told, you too can go for the brass ring.
I was Miss Golden State. He was my final tiara after a lifetime of pretty and prancing. Now I could go quietly into that beautifully manicured good night, my wedding veil firmly in place. And a silent scream in the back of my throat.
With that comforting thought—and if by comforting, I mean abject terror—I turned out my light.
Toss. Turn. Toss. Turn. Toss. Turn. Tears.
Looking back, I wish I could tell you there was one particular thing that tipped the scales and made me run away from my wedding. But all I know was that from the moment I set my feet on the floor that morning, I knew something was off. And not just my stomach, although that had been burbling and gurgling since 3 A.M. Too much artichoke soufflé? I’ll never tell.
I ate oatmeal practically every morning of my life. Steel-cut oats, the slightest sprinkling of Splenda, fresh fruit (blueberries were my mother’s preferred choice—antioxidants are our friends), with a splash of nonfat milk. But today when I shuffled into the kitchen, I saw something I had never seen there before.
Actual. Beautiful. Sugary. Fatty. Gorgeous. Donuts.
Like, with the sugar and the fat.
I looked around to make sure that, yes, I was still in my own house. My oatmeal bowl was set out, place mat and utensils laid with care, as it was every day. Slow cooker was plugged in, with my preportioned amount piping hot and ready for eating. The small pitcher of nonfat milk sat by my place setting, holding exactly a half cup of gray, watery, not-so-much milk.
But . . . did I mention there were donuts?
On reflection, I was wrong when I said I didn’t know what tipped the scales that morning. Donuts were where I went off the rails.
Taking one more look around to make sure no one was there to witness this culinary mortal sin, I walked over toward the platter. And regarded the donuts, piled high and arranged with attention toward making a beautifully delicious display. These confectionary wonders, these puffy delights, these sugary and fatty diet cheats—I chose one toward the back, sticky with chocolate glaze and full of spite toward every diet I’d ever been put on.
I was a slim girl; genetics plus a Southern California lifestyle had made me so. Part of the reason I won Miss Golden State is due to the fact that I look exactly like every picture of the “Wish they all could be” variety of a California Girl. Long blond hair. Tan. Tall; not so much curves as there were hills and valleys; strong from running, tennis, Pilates, yoga, you name it. I’d nevertheless had it drilled into me from a young age that skinny was better, and to enforce that, nary a donut was ever brought into this home. Of course, I’d had them at friends’ slumber parties occasionally. And when I turned sixteen, and realized that a driver’s license and a little bit of baby-sitting money allowed me the freedom to eat anything and everything—which, to be fair, resulted in a weight gain of eleven pounds and a very stern lecture by my mother on health and wellness, and a ban on baby-sitting—I’d indulged occasionally when my mouth wasn’t under supervision.
But again: never in my life had I seen a donut in my own home. And then in my hand. And then in my mouth. And then . . . perhaps a second?
Somewhere around the third donut, my mother walked in with my wedding planner, Terrance. By the screech that came out of her mouth, you’d have thought she’d found me holding a bloody knife, not an innocent cinnamon twist.
Then she said quietly, “Those donuts are for the help today, Chloe.”
Frankly, I preferred the screech. Her quiet meant danger. She also failed to notice that Terrance flinched when she said “the help,” but in that moment, I didn’t care. It was every man for himself. Or herself.
Normal, chastised Chloe would have nodded, put down the donut in an apologetic fashion, and exited the room quietly, knowing that this indiscretion would be mentally catalogued and trotted out sometime in the future, typically when I least expected it. I was a twenty-four-year-old woman who still got a “talking to” when my mother thought it necessary. As the years went on I’d tolerated them with a sense of almost bemusement, but lately the control she exerted over my life—which I’d frankly allowed her to have—had worn thin.
I knew there’d be a critical remark later today, when I’d need to take a bigger-than-normal breath to be sewn into my wedding dress. And for whatever reason, I decided to draw a line in the sand—with my big, luscious donut.
I crammed four inches of heaven into my mouth, chewed, breathed through my nose, and took the other four inches, then grinned, calories and twenty-four years of silent “go fudge yourself, Mother” rioting through my bloodstream. It was a heady mix. Swallowing, I calmly licked my fingertips, never taking my eyes off my mother.
True to form, she remained cool. “Terrance, I wonder if you’d be so good as to set up in the living room? I imagine the hairdresser will be here any moment, and I want to make sure everything is as it should be,” she said with a regal dip of her head.
Terrance shot a stifled grin my way, snagged a cinnamon twist of his own, and went where he was told.
I was alone with my mother.
“Now, Chloe, I’m sure you didn’t mean to be as rude as you just were. What must our wedding planner think? A gorgeous bride, stuffing her face just hours before she’ll be sewn into the wedding gown we’ve spent months preparing your body for. As it is, we’ll be lucky if the buttons don’t pop.”
I let out a tiny but defiant burp.
My mother sighed and looked at the counter. And as she did, I realized it was the single most reliable expression she had on her face when it came to me. She was always sighing, if she wasn’t pushing. She was always sighing, if she wasn’t shushing. She was always sighing, if she wasn’t detailing exactly what I had done wrong.
I loved my mother, but it sure was hard to like her sometimes.
“Chloe?” I heard, and I realized the sighing was over.
“Is that how a young lady responds to a question from her mother?”
I straightened up automatically, tummy in, chest up and out, head balanced on a tiny cloud floating on top of my spine. Good posture is the calling card of good breeding, after all. “Mother, I’m sorry I was rude. I’m sure I’ll fit into my beautiful gown.”
She studied me carefully, her pretty face carefully composed, her pretty hair carefully composed, and finally nodded once. “Now go apologize to Terrance, dear, and please don’t eat another thing until your new husband offers you some wedding cake. This is going to be a beautiful day—I’m so happy for you.” As she turned to head outside, where the gardener was once again positively ruining her prize begonias, she called over her shoulder, “I’ll put a water pill on your bedside table, dear; let’s see what we can do about that puffiness around your ankles.”
It took everything I had not to kick something with my allegedly puffy ankles. If I could manage to lift my giant elephant legs off the floor. I relaxed my posture, licked a traitorous bit of sugar from the corner of my mouth, and headed in to see Terrance and the rest of the “help.”
“You know,” Terrance said, “I have seen it all. Mothers of the bride getting in screaming matches with the mothers of the groom. Grooms getting drunk at the reception and falling into the wedding cake. Once I even saw a father of the bride trying to make out with a groomsman.”
The glam squad was going full throttle. I had someone curling my hair, someone painting my nails, someone applying my makeup, and someone touching up my pedicure. In the background, happy music played and happy bridesmaids danced while sipping mimosas. The entire house was Happy Wedding Central, bursting with feminine giggles. Yet I, the one the frivolity was revolving around, was ready to burst into tears. Something that seemed to have escaped everyone’s attention. My bridesmaids had been my friends for years—friends I once had something in common with, but from whom I’d been feeling more and more distant in the last few months as I was marched toward this wedding cliff. As I looked around at their perfect faces, I realized I didn’t care a whit about any of them. No one was noticing my dark mood except my wedding planner.
“And I’ve seen my share of nervous brides and cold feet,” Terrance continued, leaning down in front of me, between two nail techs and a makeup artist. “So you wanna tell me what’s going on?”
Terrance was six feet six inches of fabulous stuffed into five feet two inches of tiny shoes. Which I was pretty sure were stacked. Caramel skin, tiny dreadlocks, and an enormous personality, he’d planned the weddings of every major socialite and debutante in Southern California for the last ten years. He alone had listened to what I wanted for my wedding, and even though I eventually gave in to what my mother wanted, he had fought for me all along. And seemed to see things that others didn’t—or chose not to. And now he saw that the tears that were building in my eyes were not, in fact, due to the false lashes recently applied, as I had tried to spin it.
Since I’d gotten out of bed this morning, a ball of awful had been kicking in my stomach. And it wasn’t nerves. I’d been in pageants since I was four years old and I knew how to deal with butterflies in my tummy. As each hour passed, that ball of awful was getting bigger and bigger, and it was starting to affect the rest of my body. There was a ringing in my ears. My fingers and toes felt buzzy. My tongue felt thick. And my eyes kept filling with tears. My pulse was racing, my hands were clammy, and words were thundering up my throat, literally begging to get out.
Scary words. Like no. And stop. And seriously stop this.
But it was just wedding nerves, right? The cold feet I’d been phantom feeling for a month or so? Not so phantom now. They were blocks of foot ice. But normal, right? It wasn’t like my entire body was turning in on itself for protection, trying to manifest real doubt into some kind of action . . . right?
“I just need a little quiet time, I think,” I managed to get out past the other words fighting to follow, fighting desperately for breath.
Choke. Breathe. Choke. Breathe. Please breathe. And . . . Crumple.
Terrance took one more look at me and told the glam squad to scram. Bridesmaids whooshed out in a wave of orange juice and champagne, my curls were quickly pinned to my head, and then I was all alone.
I put my head into my hands and just sobbed. As you do on your wedding day, right? Oh, so wrong. This felt wrong, all of this, just felt so very wrong. I was beyond nerves; I was into panic. Panic that needed space to move and give voice to what was raging inside.
My mother entered the room and asked, “Care to tell me why there are five bridesmaids, two nail technicians, and a makeup artist drinking mimosas on the patio right now?”
And as I sat there, surrounded by tufted crinoline and pretty, I finally threw up the words that had been cooking all day. “I don’t want to marry Charles.” Oh. Oh.
Have you ever had those moments when words just seem to hang in the air? I could literally hear them echoing back to me in the stark silence. I lifted my head to see peep-toe pumps, one of them now tapping furiously against the dark teak wooden floor. I saw tanned and toned legs, knees that were just beginning to wrinkle, an off-white linen afternoon skirt, a peach silk wraparound blouse, a ruby, an emerald, a diamond, Chanel lipstick (Rouge Coco Shine, thank you very much), and wide green eyes accented by more than a touch of irritation.
“Pardon me, young lady?” she asked, concern crossing her features for the first time.
Concern over how I was feeling? Or concern that I might unravel her perfect day? I know which horse I was betting on.
“I don’t want to marry Charles Preston Sappington.” Oh, that felt pretty good.
Sigh. “Chloe, do you mind telling me what’s going on?” she asked.
So I told her once more, with feeling: “I don’t want to marry Charles Preston Sappington! Not today. Not any day.” My body had an immediate reaction to saying those words out loud. My spine straightened as if a weight had been lifted, and my head was floating on a tiny string twelve inches above my body.
If I’d been in a factory, I’d have written it on a piece of cardboard and climbed on top of a table to wave it around Norma Rae style.
“Okay. I don’t know exactly what has gotten into you today, but I’m beginning to get a little peeved.”
Peeved? Here’s some word vomit to go with your peeve.
“I don’t want to marry Charles Preston Sappington. Not today. Not any day.”
Fudge me, I was starting to feel good. My head was now floating a full two feet in the air, light as a feather. And oh boy, now I was smiling? Small, but it was there. Smiling.
The same could not be said for my mother. “Explain yourself,” she commanded, and when my mouth opened she said, “and if you say that one more time I’ll—”
I laughed out loud. With a saucy Latin rhythm I repeated, “I don’t want to marry. Charles Preston Sappington. Not today, not any day,” finishing with a hip bump that shook my pinned-up curls.
“I’ve had just about enough of this nonsense!” my mother snapped. “Now straighten up and get it together. We’ve got a house full of people and I won’t have them witnessing a breakdown.”
“Breakdown?” I laughed again. “I think maybe I’d better go get some air. Yeah—air is good.” I hiccup-giggled, my smile now wrapping across my entire face. “Bye, Mother.” I whirled for the kitchen and grabbed my purse and the keys to my convertible. Convertibles were good for one thing only, something I needed desperately right now. Built in air. Let’s go.
“You’ll do no such thing, Chloe. Chloe, you listen to me!” she yelled after me as I raced out the front door, cackling. Wow, breakdowns happened fast. I slid behind the wheel of my BMW, turned the ignition, and was out of the driveway before she made it to the front door.
“I’m calling Charles!” she yelled as I waved madly at my glam squad peeking over the backyard gate.
“I’m not marrying Charles Preston Sappington. Not today. Not any day!” I yelled once more, this time in full opera voice to the tune of Ode to Joy.
I sped out of my neighborhood, took a few crazy turns, and headed out onto the highway, top down, music at full blast. Still in my nightgown and pinned curls.
Point: mother-fudging Chloe.
My mother called my phone. Seventeen times in a row. Then Charles called. Fourteen times in a row. Then my father called. Once. I let them all go to voice mail. My text box was filling up by the minute. I didn’t look once. After driving for a while, I ended up at the beach. I sat on the sand, picked the pins out of my hair, and let the sun shine down through my thin cotton nightgown. I ran my fingers through my curled hair, not caring that there was sand clinging to my fingertips.
I watched as a family of four headed down toward the water. Mom and Dad, Junior and Girl Junior. They splashed and played, Mom looked amazing in a bikini, and Dad was good looking too. They kissed once while the kids were busy building a sand castle. Dad’s hand migrated south, grabbing a handful of buns and squeezing, making Mom laugh and pretend to slap his hand away. The kids saw them kissing and made a great show of pretending to be disgusted, but laughed the entire time. Then Mom and Dad grabbed the kidlets, and into the water they all went once more.
Good-looking couple. Good-looking kids. Happy family. Pretty didn’t have to mean fake. It just did where I was concerned. My family had been pretty, and bickery. I knew full well how something could look pretty on the outside and be wasp-nasty on the inside. After my parents’ divorce, the energy my mother had put into bickering with my father was channeled toward me, and making sure I was always on top of my game. Stage mother, not technically. But pushy, yes. Determined, yes. She never remarried, she never even dated, and bitter she became. It didn’t happen overnight, but it happened.
And a life with Charles would have become a Day in the Life of the Bickersons. Oh, not right away. First would be the pretty. I saw my life line up in front of my eyes as if it had already happened. Marriage to Charles would give me everything I’d been brought up to want. A handsome husband. A beautiful home. A new car every two years. A membership to the right country club. A position on all the correct social committees. Three children spaced exactly two years apart. Then the obligatory “mommy job” where I went in for my tummy tuck and boob lift to keep everything exactly the way it was “supposed” to be. With vacations every summer, Christmas, and spring break, who could ask for anything more?
But I wanted less. I wanted so very much less. And while there were tiny bubbles of “is this what you really want?” all along, I was in denial about it until about forty-five minutes ago. Pretty led to bicker, bicker led to divorce, and divorce led to bitter. I didn’t want pretty, then separated. I didn’t want bitter; I wanted forever. I wanted swoony, sparky, maddening, sexy love. And if we were going to fight, we’d fight, not bicker. Bickering’s the worst.
My phone rang again. Charles. I stood up, dusted myself off, walked down to the water’s edge, and heaved my phone as far into the Pacific as I could.
Then I got back in my car and drove to my father’s house.
When my parents divorced, I was a freshman in college. I was old enough that I didn’t have to pick a side. But in the small ways, which become bigger over time, I unofficially picked my father. Easygoing, nonpushy, quick to bear hug and even quicker to laugh—when I was with my dad, I was a different daughter. Stop slouching, stand up straight, don’t you think the fruit cup is a better option—those were all statements my mother would murmur without a thought. With Dad I was more likely to hear: you looked great up there, you’ll get ’em next time, tiger; you can eat prunes when you’re old—go ahead and get that Big Mac now.
My dad loved me—and that was it. So in the middle of a breakdown and in need of a safe haven? Where else would I go?
He wasn’t home when I arrived, so I pulled my car around back, then curled up in the hammock on the back porch, keeping my mind away from anything too major. I heard his car pull into the driveway, stopping short at the sight of my car.
He walked toward the porch with a concerned look on his face. And after taking in the nightgown and the sand still clinging to my bare feet, he quickly understood more than even I knew at that point.
“Oh, Chloe,” he said quietly.
“Yeah,” I answered, then gave a kick to get the hammock moving again.
He stood there for a moment, watching me swing. “Okay,” he finally said, and took out his phone. I listened as he told my mother that yes, he’d found me, yes, I was fine, and no, I wasn’t getting married that day. And that he’d bring me home when I was ready. And no, she couldn’t come over right now. When I heard her screech about sending Charles over to collect me, he told her exactly what he thought about that idea. It may have involved an ass and a kick. Then he disappeared into the house, came back with two beers, and we sat next to each other in silence.
And they weren’t even light beers. I seemed determined to ingest every calorie in California in one twenty-four-hour period.
Sounded pretty fudging great to me.
Mai Tai'd Up
The gossip mill in the seaside community of Monterey is churning about Chloe Patterson, the newcomer who is starting a sanctuary for rescued pit bulls. It’s rumored that she’s a former beauty queen (true) who ditched her fiancé the morning of their wedding (also true). And that while she’s not looking for a new man, the good-looking local veterinarian has his eye on her. Absolutely, positively true.
When Lucas Campbell isn’t at the family veterinary clinic, he’s paddle boarding in Monterey Bay. Recently single, he’s definitely not in the market for a new relationship, but he still can’t resist taking a second, third, and fourth look at the recent arrival of Miss Golden State.
Neither Lucas nor Chloe has any interest in being tied down. Being tied up, however—now there’s a thought. But are a few Mai Tais, a moonlit night, and the music of Frank Sinatra enough to allow them both to forget their past? Let’s hope Ol’ Blue Eyes knows what he’s doing.
Mix one part tiki, one part kinky, and a splash of old black magic matchmaking, and it’s time to be . . . Mai Tai’d Up.