Authors: Melanie Shawn
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary
Katie maneuvered herself until she was standing in front of the door. “Um, hello, it IS a big deal! And of course I’m gonna worry about it, are you kidding me?”
There was a loud knock on the door and the girls looked up to see Aunt Wendy tapping on her watch indicating that it was time for Katie to go. She didn't look happy.
“You see?” Chelle said, “Seriously Katie, go. I’m fine. Really.”
Katie shook her head and waved off her Aunt, indicating she wasn’t leaving yet. When she turned back to Chelle, she wore an earnest expression, and she said, “What are you going to do, Chelle?”
Chelle wanted to laugh. Katie asked ‘what are you going to do?’ as if she assumed that Chelle had formulated some sort of a plan. Honestly, Chelle thought Katie was giving her more credit than she deserved.
Chelle felt the hysteria bubbling back up, “Umm...get a hotel, I guess?”
Katie looked taken aback, “Get a hotel? You mean while he clears his stuff out?”
Chelle shook her head, “Oh, no. He has no intention of leaving. He's given me five days to get out. The skank's gonna change my locks.”
Katie's eyebrows raised and her voice became deadly calm as she said, “Yeah, that's not gonna happen. It's forty different kinds of illegal, and I'm going to make sure he's aware of that fact.”
Chelle shook her head, “Katie, it's your honeymoon. You should just be having fun.”
“Believe me,” she replied grimly, “The conversation that he and I are going to have will be a LOT of fun. For one of us. Quick hint – it's not going to be him.”
Chelle shook her head, “Oh, Katie. I'm just sorry this whole thing happened on your wedding day.”
Katie wrapped her up in a warm embrace, “Seriously, don't give that a second thought. Besides, it's not like you chose the timing. But, honestly, sweetie...what's the plan? I can't just fly off to paradise not knowing what you're gonna do!”
“I’m not sure, but I’ll be fine. Really,” Chelle did her best to sound convincing, “How did you find out anyway?”
Katie’s arms flew up as she animatedly explained, “Well! Jason and Eddie both cornered Alex because they thought he was trying to hook up with you all day today, and they were pissed. Eddie because, well, you know how he is about his baby sis. And Jason just because he thought that it was super tactless to be trying to score with you at his wedding reception. Alex cracked under the pressure, or maybe they gave him a wedgie? I'm not totally clear on that part. At any rate, he spilled. I’m not sure exactly how it came down, but the end result was that he sang like a canary. Of course, he told
Jason not to tell me, but, come on, please. Jason knew I would have
him if – make that
– I found out that he knew what happened and waited until we got to our honeymoon to tell me.”
Panic swept from the top of Chelle’s head to her tippy-toes. “Oh, no! I have to get in there! If Eddie sees David he might actually kill him.”
Katie shook her head and remained standing in front of the glass door, “Don't worry, DFF. Jason and Alex have Eddie in the back room and David already left.”
Chelle felt her shoulders slump as she sighed in relief, “Oh, good.”
“But for the record, I think he deserves to get his ass kicked,” Katie crossed her arms.
Chelle shook her head, “Sure, but not at your wedding reception!”
Katie barked out a bitter little laugh, “Please! That would have been the Best. Wedding Gift. Ever! In fact, I'm actually kind of pissed that you deprived me of it.”
Chelle laughed regretfully, closing her eyes as she let the reality of the situation – and the fact that most of the people who were important to her in the world now knew about it – sink in just a little further.
Katie, however, was not done discussing. “When did you find out? How did you find out? Have you confronted the little home wrecking ho? Is she really only 18?!” Katie’s voice was getting louder and more strident with each question, so Chelle decided she'd better jump in and try to bring it down a notch before a passersby decided to come over to the glass door and eavesdrop.
Chelle answered the inquiries one by one, ticking them off on her fingers,” I found out right before I got to the church this morning. David told me. No, I haven’t talked to Kayla. Yes she is 18.”
This marked only the second time that Chelle had actually spoken the words aloud, and it didn’t feel any less surreal than the first.
Katie took a deep breath, shaking her head back and forth, her face a mask of disbelief. Then, a look of determination crossed her face, indicating that her mind was made up. Chelle recognized that expression from many exchanges with Katie, starting way back in the second grade. It was a “Katie Classic.”
“Well I’m not leaving you,” Katie declared, “There's just no way in hell that's happening. I’ll see if we can get a later flight. Let me just go tell Jason, I’ll be right back.”
Chelle caught Katie’s arm as she was turning to head back inside, “No Katie, don’t.” Chelle didn't want to be the cause of Katie's plans getting derailed. That would only make her feel 50 times more miserable than she already did. But Katie was in “determined mode” - Chelle needed to think of something...and fast!
“Look, I was already planning on taking off an entire month for my wedding. Since I won’t be needing to do that, I think I'll just see if I can get my shifts covered and take the time now. Maybe I'll head out of town for a while. You know...just take some time for myself and figure all this out, far away from the mass of prying eyes and gossipy talk that is Harper’s Crossing.”
Katie still looked slightly skeptical, “O
kay, well. That does sound like a decent plan. After my conversation with Douchebag David, I guarantee you won't have to worry about him touching your stuff while you're gone, or changing the locks. Where will you go?”
“Um, I’m not sure. I haven’t thought that far ahead,” Chelle answered honestly.
Katie thought for a moment before her expression filled with excitement, “Well, I have the perfect solution. My lease isn’t up for another two months, so my apartment is just sitting there. It’s still furnished, and you’ve been saying you always wanted to see San Francisco.”
Tears started forming in Chelle’s eyes again, this time springing from sheer love and appreciation for her friend. “Thank you, Katie. That sounds perfect. You are the best friend a girl could ever have.”
“Diamond friends,” Katie began.
“Forever!” They finished in unison.
Riley was a free man. He had just left Camp Pendleton, the San Diego Marine base where he received his discharge papers. It was a little bizarre looking down at his DD214 - the paperwork that said he was no longer the property of the U.S. Marines Corp. He was really out.
Damn. It was a strange feeling.
He had served his country for the last twelve years, and had served it well. But now he was free to do what he wanted. He could go where he wanted, when he wanted. There was no one to report to, no one to check in with, and no one’s life was depending on him.
He took a deep breath, reveling in the smell of the salty ocean air as he drove up PCH. He didn’t have a care in the world. He felt lighter and happier than he had in years. Hell, maybe ever. He was ready for the next chapter in his life.
Riley had invested in a bar with some guys from his division who had gotten out a couple years earlier. They had presented him with an investment opportunity that he just couldn’t pass up.
They were opening a bar in New Orleans and he had put up one-third of the start-up capital. Up until now, he had been a silent partner, letting the other two completely control the day to day operations and merely reaping the financial rewards. The strategy had paid off. They had made the bar, Freedom, extremely successful, and Riley had already doubled his initial investment.
Landon and Dax, his business partners, had been sending him monthly reports, and Riley knew they were doing great – but, he couldn't help it, he was itching to be a more hands on part of the business. He had been studying marketing online and had some great ideas he wanted to implement.
He turned on the Pandora feature that came with his rental car and was in the process of searching for a station that sounded good when his phone vibrated loudly in the console beside him. He wanted so badly to ignore it. To just drive without interruption. To take this well-deserved slice of time just for himself and to shelve any intrusions.
But Riley was who he was, and when duty called (literally), he couldn’t bring himself to dismiss it.
Checking the screen of his phone, he saw his brother Jason’s number. With a wide smile, he answered, “Hey Bro, if you are taking time out of your honeymoon to call me, then obviously you're not doing something right.”
“Where are you?” His brother did not sound amused.
Riley narrowed his eyes, thinking maybe the sun, sand, and sex had drained Jason's mental capacity. He repeated slowly, “In California...”
in California, numb nuts?”
kay, that was more like the Jason that Riley knew and loved.
“On PCH headed up to Oakland. I’m going to see a buddy of mine who just had a baby, then I’m flying home. Why, what’s up?”
He heard his brother say, “He’s headed that way baby, don't worry. It’s all going to be okay.”
“What’s going to be
okay?” Riley asked, clearly not following.
He heard Jason clear his throat, “Look, can you do me…”
“And me!” He heard Katie chime in in the background.
“...and Katie, a favor?” Jason asked.
“Yeah, what do you need?” Oh well, Riley thought, this short reprieve of no one needing anything and not having to answer to anyone seems to have ended quite abruptly.
“Chelle, Eddie’s sister, is in San Francisco, staying in Katie’s apartment. She hasn’t answered her phone in a couple of days, and now it’s just going straight to her voicemail.”
Riley felt like his heart stopped beating in his chest, “Shit! I won’t be able to get there for hours! Why aren’t you calling the police?”
“No, no, it’s not like that. We know nothing has happened to her. Katie’s landlord, Randall, said he saw her last night when a pizza was delivered.”
“Then, if you know she’s fine, why did you call me?” Riley snapped at his brother. He didn’t mean for his voice to come out sounding so harsh, but he was a bit taken aback by the out-of-control sensation he had just experienced at the thought that something may have happened to Chelle.
Truth be told, he never liked any of the feelings he had
experienced which related to Chelle. They all seemed a little out of control. He didn’t appreciate them being brought to the surface, not today. Today was supposed to be carefree and happy, not intense.
“Look, do you remember David Price?” Jason asked.
“Yeah, that douchebag from school,” Riley stated dismissively. He had never liked David, even before he and Chelle had started dating in high school, and he had
not liked the little prick after that.
Jason laughed a little, “You always were a good judge of character. Well, David and Chelle were engaged, in fact, they were supposed to get married next month.”
Riley felt like someone punched him in his gut. He had seen that Chelle was engaged to David when he had checked out her Facebook profile a few months back. And even though he had tried not to, he had been checking it fairly frequently since then. He had not seen any posts that indicated that the wedding was that damn soon!
“Then a week ago,” Jason continued, “on the morning of our wedding, as a matter of fact – thank you, Douchebag David – he tells her that he’s been cheating on her with his secretary Kayla, who is eighteen and pregnant.”
Now he didn’t feel like someone had punched him. Now he just wanted to punch - no scratch that -
“She needed to get out of town, and Katie still had the apartment, so she went to San Francisco to stay in it. Katie's been calling her every day to check on her, and she seemed to be doing
okay until a few days ago. That's when she stopped picking up her phone when Katie would call, she would just text back that she was fine. Now she’s not even texting back and when we call her phone, it's going straight to voicemail.
“Eddie was going to head out to California and bring her home, but Emily came down with the chicken pox and so he had to stay with her. Katie wants to catch the next flight out of here to go make sure she’s alright, but I remembered you were gonna be in California. So, I thought if you could go and check on her, then maybe I can convince my wife to stay in paradise with me just a little longer.”
Riley heard Katie in the background saying that of course she wanted to stay with Jason, but she was just worried about her friend. He smiled. He had always liked Katie, and he knew his brother had been head over heels for her all his life. He was glad that things had finally worked out for them.
Riley, truth be told, was still having a hard time wrapping his mind around the fact that Jason and Bobby were both married. When he had left for the Marines, Jason was 16 and Bobby was 12. Now they were grown men - married men. And he had missed both of their weddings. Jason’s by only a few days. He had a lot of time to make up for in this new phase, he knew.
“Yeah, no problem. Tell Katie not to worry, she can stay in paradise. I’m only about four hours from San Francisco. I’ll stop by before my flight out of Oakland tonight.”
“Great, I’ll text you the address. Thanks Riley.”
The phone line went dead and Riley couldn’t quite put his finger on what he was feeling about this unexpected detour. He no longer felt light and carefree. He felt tense, on edge, anxious. Partly because he now
have someone he had to check in with. But mainly because he knew that he was a few hours away from seeing the only person he had ever let in, ever let see behind the curtain.
He didn’t know what it was about Chelle that made her so easy to talk to, so easy to open up to. What he did know was that every time they had spent any amount of time alone together he had ended up spilling his guts.
Other girls in high school had tried to get close to him, unsuccessfully. And then, in his adult, life he’d had a couple of fairly serious relationships. The women he had been involved with had done everything they could to break down, climb over, go around, or even walk right through the high walls he had put up around his inner life. But none had even come close to breaching that front.
None except for Rachelle Thomas, his best friend Eddie’s little sister. The good girl. The one girl that someone like him should stay as far away from as possible.
She was sweet and funny. She was smart and had a good head on her shoulders. She always saw the good in people, no matter what others saw or said. Everyone liked her, and she liked everyone. Including him. Hell, maybe even
He had seen the looks she had given him. Had always felt that she might have had a crush on him. But he knew better than to ever pursue it.
He had tried to stay away from her, had intentionally treated her like Eddie did, like she was just an annoyance. But the problem was - he was always drawn to her. Chelle was one of the only people that didn’t look at him with disgust, or worse yet pity, whenever the subject of his family, or more specifically his Mom, had come up. She had never acted like she was afraid of him when he would get in stupid fights, or disappointed in him when he and Eddie would get in trouble with the law.
She had always talked to him like he was just…Riley. Not a mischievous trouble maker. Not a dangerous bad boy. Just Riley. Thinking back now, Riley thought that maybe the reason she didn’t treat him like he fit any of those stereotypes was because, around her, he didn't.
He had always felt like he could be himself around her. He never felt the need to be anything he wasn’t. He never felt like he had to prove, or disprove, anything to her.
On top of all of that, he had always been attracted to her. He had tried not to be, and he had obviously never acted on it. But, God...she was so beautiful. Her big brown almond shaped eyes, her long silky chestnut brown hair, her gorgeous olive-toned skin, her petite figure...they were all perfection. But all of those things, even put together, didn't begin to compare to her smile.
Her smile had always made his heart feel like it was going to explode. When Chelle smiled, it was the closest thing Riley ever felt to pure unadulterated love. When she smiled, everything was right in the world. He still dreamt about that smile.
He hadn’t seen her since the day he left for basic training, but he had seen some pictures that Eddie had tagged her in on Facebook, and, well...damn. From what he could tell, she had only gotten better with age. She was still thin, but had curves in all the right places. Just thinking of her curves now, Riley's jeans were getting a little snug.
Man, he really had to shut that kind of thinking down. Riley shouldn’t be letting his mind wander when it came to Chelle, that would only get him in trouble. He would be seeing her in just a few hours, and who knew what state she would be in? He just needed to make sure she was good, see if she needed anything, and be on his way.
Hell, she might not even be happy to see him. With everything she had just gone through, she probably just wanted some time alone. If anyone could understand that it was him.
He just needed to get visual and verbal confirmation of her well-being, report back to Jason, and get out of there as quickly as possible.
--- ~ ---
Riley made good time getting to San Francisco, partly due to the fact that he hadn’t hit much traffic. Also, he had cut over to Highway 5 instead of taking the scenic route so that he could cut about an hour off of the trip. Now, as he drove across the Bay Bridge, it barely even registered how amazing the city looked at sunset. All he could think about was that, in a few minutes, he would be seeing Chelle.
All of his extensive military training had apparently not prepared him for this mission. His mind was racing, his palms were sweaty, and he felt like his heart was going to pound out of his chest. Riley couldn’t believe he was having such a strong physical reaction to Chelle before he had even laid eyes on her.
Maybe, Riley reasoned, this was just the result of pent up anxiety, stemming from the fact that he had built her up in his mind as this “perfect creature” over the years. But, the truth was, he hadn’t seen her. Once he saw her, once the fantasy he had built up was disproven by reality, then he would be able to get past all of these overwhelming emotions.
That knowledge did not, however, change the fact that he was feeling like a nervous teenage boy, not a grown man.
He just needed to remain calm, stay focused and - with any luck - he would be on a plane tonight headed to Illinois, where he planned on staying for a few weeks before making his way to his new life in Louisiana.
Riley found the address that Jason had texted to him, and he had to circle the block ten times before he was able to find a parking space to squeeze the rental car into. By the time he climbed out of the car, he was exhausted from driving all day, annoyed from having to look so hard for a place to park, and cognizant of the fact that he needed to be in Oakland in a few hours if he was going to make his flight. And who knew what traffic would be like? All in all, he was ready to get this reunion over with! He had already called Tommy, the buddy he was supposed to meet up with, and had told him that something had come up, so that was off his plate. Now, all he had to do was a quick inspection and an even quicker report. After that, he was out of here.