Authors: Abby Brooks
© 2016 by Abby Brooks
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No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
. My Bliss.
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my wedding day since I was a little girl. Too young to understand love, but hooked on Disney princesses and all the dreams of happily ever after that come along with Cinderella and Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.
I wanted a beautiful dress, all white and wonderful. A veil with a tiara that sparkled on my head and made the thousands of people watching me walk down the aisle gasp and hold their hands to their heart and wipe tears of joy from their gleaming eyes. I dreamed of my prince, so handsome in his tuxedo, smiling at me as I floated towards him, carried by singing birds, or fluffy clouds, or some other ridiculous nonsense.
Turns out, real weddings aren’t like that.
Not at all.
I was under the impression that my wedding was going to be about Max and me, proclaiming our love for each other in front of the people who cared about us the most. And I thought planning it would be simple. We decide what we want and everyone is happy for us because it’s our day.
We want to get married on a beach, so everyone in our family says:
Oh, what a wonderful idea!
We want to keep things small and intimate and so everyone in our family says:
Of course! How lovely!
Is that even remotely the way things are going?
You really should get married in a church,
Formal weddings are so much more respectable.
Destination weddings are expensive
, says Dad.
It’s very selfish of you to expect us to take time off from work to travel. And pulling Charlie out of school…?
Are you dieting? You’ve got a dress and a bikini to fit into. I’d be dieting if I were you.
At least you don’t have to worry about being an old maid anymore.
What about your great aunt Sally? I know you haven’t seen her since you were six, but she’s going to be so offended if you don’t invite her…
It’s no wonder I’m a nervous wreck.
But, on the upside, all the barbed remarks from my parents have proven just exactly why Max is everything I have ever needed. For every doubt someone else plants in my head, he gives me a reason to trust my instincts and feel better about myself.
He loved the simplicity of a beach wedding and after I suggested it, we spent one whole week scouring maps of the coastal states and Googling favorite tourist destinations. Max was the one who found the town we eventually settled on. I wasn’t sold on it at first, but after hearing his explanations, I couldn’t be more excited about where we chose to get married.
It’s a small town in South Carolina. So small it barely exists. I can’t imagine there’s much to do there, which is why I kind of put up a fight when he first suggested it. But then Max explained why he loved it so much.
“First of all,” he said that night, pulling the phone with the million open search tabs of possible wedding locations out of my hands and kneeling in front of me. “Look at the name.”
“Bliss?” I remember wrinkling my nose and shrugging my shoulders.
“Yes. Bliss. Can you think of a better place to get married than a town called Bliss?” I remember the way he smiled and I remember the way he looked at me.
Warm. His bullet blue eyes didn’t look like weapons that night while he kneeled in front of me. There was too much love in them to look even remotely dangerous.
“Well, when you put it that way, it’s actually really poetic.”
He had smiled and nodded before continuing. “But you know what else, Chelsea? Don’t you think the very fact that there’s nothing to do but lounge on the beach and drink and fuck makes this the most perfect place for us to get married? You need some down time. You
to unwind. You push way too hard, baby. I mean look at you, your shoulders are so tense they look like they’ll break if I touch you.”
And of course, everything he said was true. So true that tears stung my eyes. I remember just nodding, my voice caught in the emotion locked in my throat. Leave it to Max to plan something for the way I need it to be done, not the way I think it should be done.
When I asked him when he wanted to get married, he didn’t hesitate while he came up with an answer. He already knew.
“October,” he said. “That’s when I first met you, and that’s when I want to make you mine.”
It had all seemed so perfect at the time. I cried and hugged him and we planned the whole thing out the way we wanted it, my parents be damned. And in the months leading up to it all, I couldn’t have been more pleased with myself.
Of course, now that we’re here, none of it seems right.
“My parents are going to hate this,” I say as Max navigates us through the one street of shops and buildings that makes up downtown Bliss, South Carolina.
“This isn’t about your parents.” Max smiles and peers through the windshield to get a better view of our surroundings.
Charlie pipes up from the back seat. “Even I know that. He’s had to say it enough.”
Max drives slowly down the street and my back is so straight as I study the town we’ve chosen to get married in that I must look like a meerkat, especially given the way my head is swiveling from side to side as I try to take in everything all at once.
The shops look appealing, and there’s something very quaint and welcoming about the store fronts. There are a handful of restaurants and cafes, all locally owned, nothing commercial anywhere. People are out on the sidewalks, waving at each other as they pass and stopping for conversation. We get more than our fair share of curious looks as we drive by with our unfamiliar faces and Ohio plates.
“So, here’s the question that really matters,” Max says as we leave the populated part of Bliss and head out to our rental house on the beach. “What do
I take a minute to process my response. The ocean is off to our right, completely visible during our entire trip through town. I’m struck by how vast and open it is. I don’t know if anything could have prepared me for the simple beauty of water meeting sky. Combine that with the inviting shops and restaurants and I think I might be in love with Bliss, South Carolina.
“Honestly?” I ask, propping my elbow on the back of my seat so I can rub the back of Max’s neck. “It’s adorable and I love it and I can’t think of a better place to get married.” I consciously force myself to relax into my seat. If I stop worrying about pleasing my parents, I find these moments where I’m so totally happy I can’t help but grin. I love my fiancé so much. I love Charlie so much. I am so ready to make us a real family and am so glad to do it our way.
“What do you think, bud?” Max looks through the rearview mirror at Charlie.
“It’s pretty cool,” he says, eyeing the water. “You think there’s sharks out there?”
Charlie’s been adapting really well, but he still approaches almost everything from a place of fear. He’s so wary. His eyes look like they belong to a hardened adult rather than a ten-year-old boy. Although, there are times—sweet and wonderful times—when that look fades away and he just looks plain old happy. The way a kid should look. Those are the times I wait and work for.
Max shrugs his shoulders and meets Charlie’s eyes through the rearview. “Sure. Sharks live in the ocean, don’t they?”
Charlie nods and stares out at the water, studying it like he would a potential enemy. Max understands that Charlie needs facts and information to help him through his fears. My instinct is to gloss over it all. I would have brushed off his question and then given him some bullshit answer, but that doesn’t work for a kid who’s already dealt with his fair share of monsters in his short little life. A kid who knows firsthand that danger can be hiding anywhere, in anyone and anything.
“Why don’t we look up all the stuff we can find about what kind of sharks live here when we get to the house?” Max glances at Charlie again. “We can learn where they like to hunt and what kind of signs we can look out for and then we know what to avoid when we’re in the water. Sound good?”
Charlie nods. “Yep. Knowledge is power,” he says, parroting the phrase Max says every time we run into a situation like this.
Max is such a beautiful person, so strong and smart. So protective and deeply loyal. Who would have thought he had all that goodness hiding under his scowling face and rough exterior? And Charlie? I think he’s got the same kind of soul. I’m so glad we found him when we did, even if we have had to fight through some difficult transitions.
In this moment, the anxiety I’ve been living with almost constantly for the last few months has faded from view and I feel pretty damn wonderful. And then we arrive at the house we rented and it all comes zooming back and my shoulders clench and my stomach rolls with worry. I mean, I love the house. Really love it.
It’s this stately thing with a wraparound porch and all these windows that look out onto our own private beach. Palm trees line the driveway and they sway in the light breeze coming off the ocean as if to welcome us home. It’s all so beautiful I could just pop with happiness.
The house isn’t the problem. The problem is that I suddenly realize we’re all going to be crammed into this gorgeous house together.
All of us.
My whole entire family will be sharing one space for the next few days. My sisters are fine. They love me. They love Max. We’ll have fun together, no doubt about it.
But my parents?
Oh. My. Fucking. God.
I can’t do this.
Max and Charlie have dealt with enough of my whining already, so I put on a huge smile and wipe my sweaty palms on the back of my shorts as we climb out of the car. A man and a woman—the owners of the property I assume—stand up out of the white wicker recliners on the porch and come down to greet us.
“Hey there. You must be Max and Chelsea,” says a man with dark hair and kind eyes. He extends a hand to Max. “I’m Ian Moore and this here is my beautiful better half, Juliet.” He gestures to an adorable woman who nods in greeting while a little Yorkshire Terrier winds its way through her legs.
Charlie is instantly taken with the dog, which is surprising because he tends to look at all new animals like they might bite. “What’s his name?” he asks as he crouches down and holds out his hand.
“Oh,” says Ian, looking at his wife with a wicked gleam in his eyes. “That’s Chopper.”
Charlie looks up, surprised. “Chopper?” He regards the little dog, sizing it up and shaking his head.
Juliet laughs. “No, her name isn’t Chopper. Would you
stop telling people that?” She gives Ian a look that means trouble. “Her name is Lulu and she’s very nice. You want to play with her while we show your mom and dad the house?”
I cringe, waiting for Charlie’s stock answer of
they’re not my mom and dad.
There’s always a moment of awkwardness that follows something like that. Imagine my surprise when he doesn’t say it.
“Sure,” he says, shrugging. “She got a ball or anything?”
Juliet pulls a toy out of her purse and hands it to Charlie who runs off to play with the dog in the front yard.
“I bring her when I know visitors are arriving with kids who’ve been cramped in the car for more than a handful of hours.” Juliet gives me a knowing smile.
“Brilliant,” I say because it really is.
Ian wraps a strong arm around Juliet’s shoulders. “She’s really the brains of this operation. I’d be lost without her.”
They show us around the house and it’s everything I could possibly want. I was excited after seeing the pictures online, but it turns out the pictures didn’t do it justice. The master bedroom is downstairs and off to itself, so Max and I can have some much needed privacy. The king-sized bed is situated so the first thing we see in the morning will be the sun coming up over the ocean through the floor to ceiling windows that make up the entire east facing wall.
“We’ve stocked the bar for you,” says Ian as we walk out into the family room. He indicates a gorgeous wrap around bar with a marble top that Dakota is going to love. “It’s all free of charge. Our gift to you.”
“That’s incredibly kind.” I run my hands over the cool stone and see an array of liquors and wines arranged on the shelves.
Ian looks at Juliet with nothing but love in his eyes. “We kind of have a soft spot for people being in love here in Bliss.”
“Don’t let his tough exterior fool you,” she says. “He’s got a romantic streak a mile wide.”
We finish our tour of the house and get instructions on how to work the hot tub and who to call if there’s a problem with the pool. The more time we spend here, the happier I get. Max was right. This is the perfect spot to get married.
“So,” says Max as Ian hands him the keys. “We’re planning to be as relaxed as we can while we’re here. Just spend our days drunk and happy on the beach. But, in case we need out of the house, could you recommend anything in the area?”
“I took her skydiving when we first met,” Ian says, gesturing towards Juliet. “I swear it helped seal the deal.”
“Skydiving?” My heart speeds up just thinking about it. “Wasn’t that terrifying?” I ask Juliet as Charlie comes bounding back to the porch with Lulu.
“Utterly. But I’d highly recommend it anyway.”
Charlie’s eyes go wide. “Skydiving? Like jumping out of a plane? Can we
“I’m not making any promises,” says Max, but he gets the information from Ian anyway.
Great. And now my hands are sweating again.
“If skydiving isn’t your thing,” Ian continues. “There’s Fantastic Sam’s in downtown Bliss. They have live musicians almost every night and it’s a local favorite. I think the whole town shows up as soon as the sun goes down.”
Juliet glances at Charlie. “Although it’s a bar, so it’s not exactly kid friendly.”
“That’s true.” Ian shrugs. “Well, I was trying not to play up my family, but if you want coffee, there’s Good Beginnings. My brother and his fiancée own it and I highly recommend you pick up some of the house blend if you’re coffee fans. There’s also Moore Good Eats—”