Authors: Leah Atwood
Modern Conveniences Two
Copyright © 2016 by Leah Atwood
Cover Design © Covers by Ramona
Cover Image © Depositphotos.com
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the HCSB®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. HCSB® is a federally registered trademark of Holman Bible Publishers.
. The two words that invoked dread in every unattached male and female of marriageable age.
Madison Nichols stared at the invitation in her hand. The ecru card stock with embossed gold foil taunted her. Another wedding. She flipped back the top page of her desktop calendar and penciled in the date, adding it to the other four social events for the upcoming months. Two of them required an RSVP by tomorrow, the remaining three by next week. She hadn’t entered them into her phone yet, the equivalent of writing them in ink.
The wedding. The vow-renewal. Her grandparents’ anniversary party. Her niece’s birthday party. Now a second wedding.
She would attend each event. The people who’d invited her were her friends and family, and she wouldn’t let them down. She’d even go as far as to say she wanted to participate in each celebration, but she held out on sending in her reservation until the last minute for all but the birthday party since that didn’t require information for a plus one.
Her single status didn’t bother her. Sure, she wanted to marry one day, preferably sooner rather than later, but the right man hadn’t come along. She’d be thirty next year, and one of the few remaining in her circle who wasn’t married or in a committed relationship. Nonetheless, she refused to marry for the sake of not being alone. Her parents had taught her that lesson well.
What did bother her was the implication she had to attend with a date as if being single would throw off the numbers. Even worse were the well-intentioned, but ill-timed and inappropriate, questions casually tossed her way with a laugh or a wink. Every comment cut into her confidence, weakened her resolve, made her wonder if she suffered a major character flaw that created a lack of interest from males.
She pursed her lips. One event she could handle stag, but five? She could always call Sean, her best friend for as long as she could remember. They had a standing agreement to be each other’s date as long as they both were single, and their system had worked well for years until people began assuming they were a couple. After she’d caught the bouquet at the last wedding, they’d attended together and the jokes flew, they’d mutually agreed to no more weddings for a while.
Placing the invitation at the top of the stack, she switched her focus to work. As the top sales representative at WEFH-FM, she prided herself on maintaining excellent client relationships, which is why she sat in her home office an hour after leaving the station. Franklin Furniture, the largest regional chain of its sort, had wavered on renewing their slots when she spoke to them earlier in the day.
We’re not seeing the return on investment
Tara, the marketing manager had said.
Madison would not lose their account. Determined to find a solution, she logged on to the station’s network and opened Franklin Furniture’s file. She reviewed the metrics from the past two years, then reviewed the station’s current demographics. Ideas began to take root, and she jotted down notes as she pored over the information,
By seven o’clock, she had a plan. Updated commercials, change of time slots and a bonus ad space on the station’s website as an extra incentive. Confident she’d crafted a deal Tara couldn’t refuse, Madison saved the proposal file and emailed a copy to Tony, her boss. If he sent his approval by morning, she could seal the deal by afternoon.
A boisterous growl rumbled from her stomach, reminding her that she’d worked through lunch and the granola bar she’d eaten for breakfast had long since metabolized. She exited the home office, leaving her high heels behind.
In the kitchen, she opened the refrigerator and peered inside. Nothing but five-day-old leftovers and a tub of butter. She glanced in the freezer, but the frozen portion-controlled sesame chicken did nothing to tempt her appetite. Neither did the bags of crinkle cut carrots or corn. She wanted pasta. A humongous bowl of carbohydrate-filled penne topped with a spicy arrabiata sauce and slices of Italian sausage. No counting calories for her tonight.
I’ll order takeout from Victorio’s. And call Sean first, see if he’s home and get this over with so I can send the RSVP
Drawing in a breath, she picked up her phone, hesitant to make the call. The last event they’d attended together had been six months ago. Enough time had passed, hadn’t it? She hated to call him for the sole purpose of asking a favor, especially when she hadn’t talked to him in three weeks because of their hectic schedules, but he’d understand. That was the kind of friendship they shared. She exhaled and tapped the call button.
Sean answered on the first ring. “Long time no talk, Mads. I was beginning to think you’d forgotten all about me.”
His cheerful tone calmed her and eased her into comfortable banter. “As if that’s possible, and the line goes both ways, buster.”
“You have me there, but in my defense, I just got in last night. I planned to call you tomorrow.”
“Convenient excuse.” Madison smiled and pictured him leaning against a wall with one arm casually crossed over his chest, supporting the hand holding the phone. “Where from this time?”
“Fancy.” Remembering her purpose of the call, she gripped her phone a little tighter. “Have any plans for tonight?”
“Grabbing a bite to eat, then recovering from jet lag.”
“Too tired for company?”
“Depends. Will the said company bring food to a weary traveler?”
She laughed at his attempt to sound pitiful. “How does Victorio’s sound?”
“Switch it up to baked ziti.” He yawned. “Are you heading over now?”
“As soon as I call it in.”
“I’ll take care of that and pay over the phone.” When she started to protest he cut her off. “You’re picking it up and delivering. It’s only right I should pay.”
She knew better than to argue, so she gave him her order and hung up. Before she left the house, she changed from her work clothes—a navy pencil skirt and yellow tailored blouse—into a pair of jeans and a Penn State sweatshirt.
At Victorio’s, she circled the full parking lot twice. On the third lap, she spied a car backing out of a space and grabbed the spot before anyone else could sneak in. The line for a table stretched beyond the doors, and Madison politely squeezed through the crowd and made her way to the takeout counter. Ten minutes later, she left the restaurant, a large brown bag in hand.
The smell of roasted garlic tempted her stomach on the five-minute drive to Sean’s apartment. She entered the gate code for entry to the upscale apartment complex then parked by Sean’s building. Once at the door, she pressed the button for him to buzz her in. She climbed the flight of steps to the second floor and made a right down the hallway.
Sean waited at the door for her, wearing a pair of pressed khakis and a salmon-colored oxford shirt. His lips curled at one side when his gaze met greedily with the carryout bag. “It’s good to be back in the States.”
“I see where I stand.” She arched her brows, giving him a reproving stare matched with a droll smile.
He laughed and took the bag from her after giving her a brotherly hug. “You’re always at the top, Mads.”
“I’ve missed you,” she told him as they sat down at the table.
“Me too.” Plastic squeaked when Sean pried the top off the takeout container.
Nothing else had to be said as they ate their food. Her two-decade-old friendship with Sean was an anomaly. They’d always shared a completely platonic friendship. Even during the awkward teenage years, they’d never had a romantic attraction to each other, and despite their casual dates to weddings and other events, they’d never flirted with the idea of actually dating.
Their friendship was a comfortable place to be, she thought as she watched him stab the last bite of ziti with his plastic fork. In his presence, she couldn’t remember why she’d been afraid to ask him to be her date for the upcoming celebrations. This was Sean, her best friend. He would come through for her even though they’d agreed on a moratorium to their agreement.
“Why so serious all of a sudden?” Sean set down his fork in the empty black plastic bowl.
“I have a favor to ask.” She set aside her own bowl which still had half of her food remaining. Her stomach’s roar had been larger than its available space.
“What is it? You know I’ll help if I’m able.”
“Will you stand in as my date for a few upcoming events?”
His face fell. “I can’t.”
“Why not? I know we said we’d take a break from doing that, but it’s been six months.” She hated the whininess that crept into her tone, but his refusal had caught her off guard and desperation fueled her.
A smile changed his entire countenance. “Before you called, I’d planned to tell you tomorrow, but…I met someone.”
Happiness for her friend overshadowed her disappointment of losing a date. “What? Give me details.”
“I met her in Dubai. Her father is the VP of North American operations of the company I was doing consulting work for.” He loosely crossed his arms over his chest. “We were in several meetings together when I first got there, and we hit it off.”
“Wow.” She leaned back in her chair, absorbing the news. “What’s her name?”
“What’s she like?”
“Gorgeous, smart, and fun.” He pulled his phone from his pants pocket. “Want to see a picture?”
“You know I do.” She inched forward to see the screen when he slid it across the table.
In the picture, Sean had his arm draped around a young woman with the Mall of the Emirates in the background. Laurena appeared to be in her early twenties and had platinum blonde hair. Her body frame looked petite but because of her and Sean’s pose, Madison couldn’t tell her height. By all accounts, this new woman in Sean’s life was the picture of western beauty, yet something about her eyes raised the hairs on Madison’s neck.
Laurena’s icy blue eyes stared at the camera, not matching the smile on her face.
You’re being silly. The sun could have been in her eyes
. Still, she couldn’t shake the warning bells sounding in her mind, but it wasn’t her place to say anything to Sean who was obviously smitten. Besides, she could be completely wrong about Laurena. Sometimes a picture spoke a thousand words, but if one didn’t know the whole story, those words could be pure fiction.
On that note, she buried the negative thoughts and made herself be happy for Sean. “Is it serious?”
“The potential is there. We agreed to be exclusive.”
“Wow.” She sucked in her lips, intrigued by his revelation. Sean, the jet-setting, confirmed bachelor, was committed to a relationship with a girl he’d known for less than a month. “Where does she live?”
“Long distance, huh?”
Sean squirmed in his chair. “Actually…”
A sense of impending doom fell over her. “Don’t say it.”
“My lease is up in May, which gives me two months to find a place in New York and establish an office.”
“You’re moving three hundred miles away for a girl you just met?” She couldn’t hold the cynicism from her tone. This wasn’t the Sean she knew—the one who carefully deliberated every decision with exact precision and had contingency plans for contingency plans.
“New York has more opportunities for me. Regardless of Laurena, this move makes sense.”
With a single announcement, he’d turned her world upside down. What would she do without him? True, they could go weeks without talking, but they had always been able to pick up right where they left off. If he moved hundreds of miles away, the entire dynamic of their friendship would change. He’d have a new life outside of Maryville, would forget about his small town friends. It wasn’t that she didn’t have faith in him, but it was a natural course of events. She saw it happen all the time with other people.
“You’ve absolutely decided?”
He nodded. “What about you? Don’t you ever think of breaking out of here and going bigger?”
“I’m happy and content here.”
“But don’t you want more?” Leaning forward, he propped his arms on the table. “You’re at the top of your game. The larger markets could triple your pay if not more.”
“Money’s not everything.” She matched his gaze, insulted that he’d implied her life wasn’t enough. “The sooner you realize that, the happier you’ll be in life.”
“I am happy, but would be more so if my best friend supported my decision.” Disappointment flashed in his darkened blue eyes.
A long sigh preceded her answer. “Your news took me by surprise, but if that’s what you truly believe you’re supposed to do, then I support you.”
“Thank you.” Sean reached across the table and gave her hand a quick squeeze. “I’m sorry if I offended you earlier about your job. In truth, I admire you for knowing who you are and finding peace in any situation.”
“You must see something I don’t.”
Her self-deprecating chuckle met with a scowl from Sean, who knew the one area in which she struggled with contentment. “The right man will come along, Mads, but you have to be open to the possibilities.”