“Dani, I need this story covered. I’ve got the initial details here, but I need you to go and get the rest of the info in person. Saturday event, three o’clock. I know it’s last minute, but—”
“But I’m your last-minute queen,” I broke in, parroting words I’d heard my editor say a thousand times—always, of course, when she needed me to pull off some magic in a very, very short amount of time.
Susan grinned widely. “Exactly. I knew you’d understand,” she said, placing a memo on my desk and turning on her heel to leave my cubicle. “They’re expecting your call. You’re the best!” She tossed the words over her shoulder as she walked, not giving me any time to protest. Or even flash her a dirty look for pulling this on me yet again.
“You could have just emailed this to me, you know!” I called at her retreating back. I rolled my eyes and sighed. Oh, well. Before she’d come in, I had been staring holes in my computer screen, trying to figure out the opening sentence for an article about the resurgence of neon colors in fashion. As absolutely enthralled as I was about disseminating the history of neon and its unfortunate resurrection, I was having problems. I needed a dynamic line, something that would make people want to read instead of just flipping the page. But I was stuck.
I swiveled in my chair and picked up the note Susan had so unceremoniously dropped on my desk, hoping that maybe concentrating on anything else would shake something loose for the neon article. I glanced over the words she’d scribbled on the paper, admittedly uninterested once I saw the word “wedding” float across my eyes. As many times as I’d written them, I’d become somewhat jaded about the whole wedding thing. So many of these couples spent reckless amounts of money for this one day, and statistically more than half of them would still be paying off wedding debts and divorce lawyers at the same time.
Not that I didn’t have my own personal reasons for my cynicism. I’d been married once—very, very briefly and very, very badly. So, while I wished them the best, I couldn’t help but log mental wagers on whether they’d still be married in six months or not.
My eyes skimmed the meet-cute story and tried to find the perfect opener for this wedding I would apparently be attending in…two days. And then I saw it: a name I recognized as well as my own—one that I had, once upon a time, believed would be the one I was speaking at my own wedding. And then our three-year relationship had crumbled. He wasn’t ready for something more and began pushing me away. My heart had never fully recovered from that, and I’d been at a particularly vulnerable place when someone who was ready for a march down the aisle came along, promising things he had no intention of giving me.
I could hear my heartbeat pound in my ears. Seth. Seth Andrews. My Seth.
Seth was getting married. To someone who wasn’t me.
I closed my eyes against the spinning room and tried to slow my racing heart. Breathe, Dani.
I opened my eyes and turned back to my computer, clicking the Facebook icon and typing his name in the search bar. And there he was, tagged in a photo posted by his fiancée. They looked happy, facing each other with her arm outstretched toward the camera to show off a stunning princess-cut diamond inset in a border of smaller, round diamonds. She was pretty but not overly so, and he—well, he was him. Seth. My Seth. Older since I’d seen him last, so many years ago. Older since the last time I’d looked at this page before realizing that I was only keeping myself from moving on, only hurting myself more every time I checked to see where he was or whether he was still single.
And clearly, he was not.
I picked up my phone and hit the number for Susan’s extension.
“Yeah,” she said distractedly.
“Susan, I know I’m your wedding writer, but this one…” I struggled for the words to explain without making me sound unprofessional. Or as though I couldn’t handle myself like an adult. “This one is a little too close to home,” I finished. Maybe she hadn’t forgotten.
“Close to home how?” she asked.
Clearly, she had forgotten.
“The groom. Did you see the name of the groom?”
“Seth Andrews. Yes, I saw.” She paused, and I could almost hear the wheels spinning in her head. “Dani, I don’t have anyone else who can cover this. And the bride’s family are big advertisers, so I can’t give them excuses that we’re too close to deadline to get the wedding into this issue. They’d still want someone to cover the wedding and just use it in next month’s issue. It’s an extremely high-profile wedding. I’m sorry, there’s really nothing I can do.”
I took a deep breath. “I understand,” I said, though all I wanted to do was yell into the phone that she was going to have to find something that she could do, because I just couldn’t do this. Not this one. Not for this couple.
“You’re the best,” Susan said, already moving onto something else in her mind. And then she was gone.
I returned the receiver to its cradle and sunk back into my chair, trying to fight off the tears that I could feel burning my eyes. I was going to have to sit through the ceremony and watch someone I’d never truly gotten over pledge his love to someone else, and listen to him say words I’d always wanted him to say to me. How was I supposed to get through that?
“I’ll go with you for emotional support if you need someone, Dani.”
I shot a dubious look at my friend Marcus, who hated doing anything that required a dress code more formal than cargo shorts and a tee-shirt. I’d known him almost ten years and had only seen him wear a shirt with buttons twice. Both times, I almost hadn’t recognized him.
“You don’t need to do that,” I replied, reaching to toss another piece of wood on the fire. We were sitting in my backyard by the firepit, watching the blaze we’d started with a bunch of papers that needed shredding and throwing wood scraps on every now and again to keep it from going out.
“I know I don’t need to, but I know how hard this is going to be for you,” he said, looking seriously at me. “I wasn’t here when you went through everything with Seth, but I know you’re still not completely over it. Or him.”
I felt tears sting my eyes again and an involuntary bark of bitter laughter escaped. “No, for some reason, I have a pattern.” I shook my head. “I invest my heart in someone who can’t or won’t love me the way that I love them. And Seth is part of that pattern. Even knowing that, I can’t seem to completely move on from him.”
Marcus cocked his head and gave me a sad smile. “Sometimes our hearts have minds of their own,” he said. “But…maybe you just haven’t opened your heart to someone else who would actually be good for you.”
“Maybe,” I allowed. But I wasn’t so sure.
I stared at myself in the mirror and took a deep breath.
I could do this.
I had to do this.
I adjusted the straps on the bodice of the midnight blue tulle gown I was wearing and steeled myself to leave the ladies’ bathroom where I’d come to hide out and gather my nerves. I pulled open the door and stepped into the entryway of the old cathedral where Seth and his fiancée were going to exchange vows in just a few minutes, hoping no one could see how much I didn’t want to be here.
“You can do this,” I heard a familiar voice say behind me.
Surprisingly, I turned and saw Marcus, handsome, standing tall in a tux, smiling reassuringly at me. And in that moment, I felt all the fear retreat, all my doubt and insecurity scurrying from the light of his smile.
He held out his hand. “Ready?”
I returned his smile and took his hand. “I am now.”