Read Never a Bride: A Short Story Online

Authors: Traci Hall

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Romantic Comedy, #90 Minutes (44-64 Pages), #Contemporary Fiction, #Short Stories

Never a Bride: A Short Story (3 page)

BOOK: Never a Bride: A Short Story
6.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“Jared.” His dad smacked his hand against the table like a black jack dealer. “You know why a man gets married?”

“I have no damn clue. There’s no reason for it. Especially in this century. Women make their own money, buy their own stuff. Honestly, Sheena spent her own money on that dress. But it made me so mad. I mean, five grand!”

“Getting married isn’t about
, son. It is about the woman that you are marrying. Your best friend. Your soul mate. The mother of your future children, if you choose to have any. Just saying? I’d make a damn fine grandpa.”

It was true. He’d be getting that grandchild from Mike and Lisa, not Jared and Sheena. Jared took a big drink of water, but it didn’t ease the ache in his throat. “I know I was being selfish. What if that means I wasn’t ready to be married?”

“Jared, I can’t claim to understand why you let self doubt get the best of you. You’ve always had trouble accepting you were good enough. I know you love that girl. And I can see that she loves you. I’m not saying it would be easy, but it just might be worth fighting for, a love like that.”

He exhaled through his nose. “Impossible.”

“For you? You create magic for a living. Sprinkle some of that in your personal life, and just maybe Sheena will come around.”

“Magic isn’t real. I trusted that what Sheena and I had was solid. And then she brought home frosting samples.”

His dad sighed. “Jared, you spent enough time in the mountains to figure out what you really want.” Locking gazes, his dad asked, “What is it?”

“It’s always been Sheena,” Jared answered without hesitation. “Nobody else will do.”

“Then you got some crow to be eating, son. Tastes better with a little salt, if I remember correctly. Marriage, a relationship, is compromise.”

Jared ate dinner, going through the motions for his brother’s sake. He loved Mike, trusted that what his brother and Lisa were building had every chance of lasting.

So why couldn’t he believe that for himself? He and Sheena were seated on the same side of the table, and it killed him that he couldn’t see her. He felt her energy, her presence, and he wanted to pick her up and toss her over his shoulder. Take her to Alaska and the condo he’d been hiding out in.

Keep her there until she forgave him for being an ass. Finally dessert was over and he got up to see Sheena for himself.

Her seat was empty, her chocolate raspberry cake untouched.

Lisa noticed him, and shook her head. “She left after dinner. Didn’t feel well, she said.”

Jared’s throat clogged and he sat back down. Then jumped back up as if the seat had a spring. “I’ve got to go.”

Chapter Three



The entire drive to Sheena’s apartment Jared told himself he was being a fool. She’d made it very clear she wanted nothing to do with him. For good reason. Just because he still loved her didn’t mean she had to do what he said. What he wanted.

She’d been right, calling him chicken shit.

He’d been afraid he’d lose her, somehow. So he’d done what? Pushed her away? “I’m an idiot.”

Jared pulled into the apartment complex. Parked. Sat for five minutes contemplating all of the ways this could go so wrong.

He forced himself to get out of his car before he changed his mind. The honorable thing to do would be to give Sheena the opportunity to call him out on his moronic behavior. Maybe then she could somehow forgive him.

He’d imagined his life without Sheena in it, and it wasn’t so great. The last three months had been filled with regret and self-recrimination.

Jared locked the rental car and headed to the second floor. The codes were the same, so he had no problem reaching her apartment. He knocked once, hesitating before giving the door another rap of his knuckles.

“Who is it?”

Her voice, husky and low, held a note of apprehension and Jared realized it was dark, late and she wasn’t expecting company.

He should have brought flowers or wine. Some sort of bribery to get in the door. “It’s me. Jared.”

A long silence stretched out into painful uncertainty. Would she even answer him?

He heard the sound of the chain being pulled back, then the click of the lock. How many times had he asked her to move into his place, a gated community with safety features and recycling? She preferred her older apartment with a view of Mt. Rainier. They’d mostly stayed here.

Sheena pulled the door back. “What do you want?”

His heart thumped, off rhythm at the sight of her pale face. Blotchy cheeks. Eyes rimmed red from crying. His fault, her pain. “You left without saying good-bye.”

She arched her blonde brow in wordless Sheena sarcasm.

As an ad exec, he was a wizard with words - but not when it came to Sheena. He could spin anything, yet with her things had always been real. She was real. Solid. Until she watched back to back episodes of Guess the Dress and spouted marriage statistics, looking at him as if he would be the only reason they’d ever get divorced.

She’d been right, he supposed. He’d crumbled under the pressure.

“It’s late.” She held the door steady. Open two inches, no more.

“Too late. I know.”

Tears shimmered but she blinked them away. “So why are you here?”

“I owe you an apology. An explanation.”

“You owe me?” She considered all aspects of his statement, as if checking for loopholes. “I suppose you do.”

Jared cleared his throat. “Can I come in?”

“No, Jared. You can’t.”

“Fine.” He sucked it up, knowing he had to try. “I am truly sorry for not staying. For leaving you on the most important day of our lives.”

“You’re really going to do this? Here? Now?” She exhaled and stepped back, opening the door. “You’ll give Mrs. Weinbach an ear full.”

Relieved, Jared went inside Sheena’s apartment. It felt like coming home. Except that all of the pictures she’d had of the two of them on the walls were gone, replaced with inexpensive prints he didn’t recognize. It was a reminder of how quickly she’d cut him from her life.

“Love the new pictures,” he said, heading toward the bright orange couch. The afghan her grandmother crocheted was folded over the arm, two blue and yellow fluffy pillows on either side. She liked the left, so he took the right.

Instead of joining him, however, she stood with her arms crossed and stared at him. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a messy ponytail, her feet bare, her toes painted a peachy color. Probably for the wedding, since she normally didn’t wear nail polish.

“Out with the old,” she said. “In with the new.”

“You’re dating?” The idea made him sick.

“You have no right to ask me that. Unless you want to tell me about your adventures in Alaska?”

“No adventures,” Jared said. “Moping, definitely. Working around the clock. Maybe there was some wallowing.”

She dropped her arms, then blushed. “Hang on.” Sheena disappeared, returning within moments dressed now in jeans and a sweatshirt instead of braless in a tank top and shorts.

Jared wanted to scoop her close and breathe in her scent.

Her blue eyes clouded. “You were wallowing,” she prompted from her stance by the kitchen wall.

“Right. Sheena, there is no good reason for me to have left you the day of our wedding.”

She curled her toes into the beige carpet. “Agreed.”

“I’d like to explain what happened.”

“It changes nothing. We won’t be friends, Jared. You broke my heart.”

He swallowed over the pain in his throat. “Understood. This is more for me, then. I don’t want you to hate me.”

She didn’t deny it, or crack a smile, so he forged onward.

“I spent the last three months trying to figure out why I would sabotage the best thing in my life. Tried to tell myself that we weren’t ready for a commitment so big. Marriage is bondage. We loved each other without a piece of paper just fine. I heard you talk statistics, and yeah. Chances were we might get divorced. Why bother?”

Sheena’s jaw tightened and Jared knew he wasn’t winning any points. But he had to continue. At least she was listening.

“And every time I tried to talk to you about how I was feeling, you got defensive.”

She dropped her arms to her sides. “You sounded like you wanted out!”

“I wanted, hell, reassurance that you and I would be different.” Happy. Forever.

Her chin inched up, eyes narrowed. “When I asked you if you had changed your mind, you told me you loved me more than the moon and stars. I offered you a chance to back out, but you swore to me that you wanted to go through with the ceremony.”

“What else could I say?” Jared looked at Sheena, who met his gaze without flinching. “I knew how bad you wanted to be married.”

“I’ll tell you what I wanted so badly.” She hugged her middle, her head tilted to the right. “You. Just you, Jared.”

His gut coiled. “Then why didn’t you listen when I was telling you I didn’t want a showy wedding with circus clowns and balloon animals? You were turning our vows into a freaking event.”

“The “freaking event” was a pretty big deal to me. Loving you, starting a life together as a family – you and me – that was a pretty big deal. Without circus clowns, Jared. I was thinking of having a friend do face painting for the little kids, that’s all.”

“Things just kept getting bigger and bigger.” He shot his arms outward. “Out of control.”

“I’m sorry you felt that way.” Her lips were a single tight seam in her face, and Jared knew she wasn’t budging on her Never Forgive Jared stance.

He’d hoped to make her see he wasn’t unredeemable. Instead he was stirring up old hurts. “I love you.” His throat tightened. “I never stopped.”

“Love like that? I don’t want it, Jared. I think it’s time for you to go.”

She stayed in her position, leaning against the wall as if she was the sole reason the apartment wasn’t falling down around their heads.

“I texted you that morning, knowing I couldn’t love you more. Terrified that I’d lost you, somehow. That you were changing. That you didn’t see me.” Jared tapped his chest. “That I’d become part of the marriage machine.”

“That is ridiculous.” She shifted her weight from one leg to the other.

“Yes. I know that. But I reacted emotionally, and I reached out for you, wanting you to tell me that it would be okay.” He didn’t let her look away, knowing he only had this one chance to speak his piece.

“You texted me saying we needed to talk – three hours before guests were arriving to watch us say our vows.”

Jared closed his eyes, feeling the hot drip of tears escape his lids. “You texted me back. Do you remember that?”

“It is forever etched on my brain, Jared.” Each syllable was an icicle stab to his pride.

“I could show up and talk, or kiss your Vera Wang ass.”

She flinched. “You weren’t the only one strung out on emotion, Jared. For a month you’d been moody. Staying at your apartment instead of coming here.”

“You’d turned this into a battle station.”

“I am sorry if planning our wedding, which you refused to take part in, saying you’d just show up – then you didn’t even manage that! Well, I’m sorry if it offended you. Obviously you weren’t ready to be married to
.” Her voice broke.

“I love you, Sheena.” Jared got to his feet.

“Stop saying that.” Sheena pushed off from the kitchen wall, heading toward the front door. “We just need to get through Mike and Lisa’s wedding tomorrow. Then I don’t want to talk to you again.”

“All I’m asking is that you listen.” Jared exhaled, angry now. “That’s all I ever asked, and you couldn’t find the time.”

“I’m listening! I’ve
listening.” She spread her arms, searching his face.

“You have your walls up – there was a time when you heard me without barriers.”

“If I’m guarded, it’s because you hurt me. The worst hurt I’ve ever felt.” Her lower lip trembled and she pinched the bridge of her nose. “I thought I was going to die, it hurt so bad. But I didn’t die, Jared. I crawled my ass out of bed, and returned phone calls. Gifts. I went to work and acted like it wasn’t killing me. You took off without a word to anyone. Your boss told me you’d taken an assignment in Alaska. Should be gone a week. Two at the most. When I didn’t hear from you in all that time, I changed my phone number because I couldn’t stand wondering when you’d call. If ever.”

Tears streamed down Sheena’s face in horrible anguish, and Jared’s stomach cramped. “I’m sorry, Sheena. I couldn’t come back. I was too ashamed. I waited, wallowed, came up with lame excuses for being an asshole. Hoping that you would call me. At the end of the day, I’d been an asshole. You took me off Facebook, changed your phone number. I spent three months telling myself you weren’t worth it. That I was better off without shackles. That it was better to never have tried than to fail.”

Sheena wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. “I’d say we were an epic failure. Self-fulfilling prophecy, Jared.”

“I realized that I was wrong. I wanted you so much I couldn’t stand the idea of being without you. You only cared about the wedding, or so it seemed. That morning, I was going to try and explain all of this, convoluted, sure, and fueled by Jack Daniels, but you, understandably so, didn’t give me a chance.”

Stiff-necked, Sheena walked to the door, opening it. “I hope you feel better, having explained yourself. I guess you’re right and I’m not a very good listener.”

“I never said that!”

“You did.” She jerked her thumb toward the walkway outside of her apartment.

He took her hand, demanding her full attention. “Did you hear me tell you that I love you?”

She pulled free, whispering, “Yes.”

Jared reached out and caught the tear teetering at the corner of her mouth. A jolt traveled through his body at the softness of her lip. He heard her intake of breath, saw the stir of something in her eyes.

Pushing his luck, Jared brought the tear to his mouth. “And do you love me, at all, Sheena?”

She closed her eyes, her body trembling as if she’d caught a chill. “I barely survived loving you.”

BOOK: Never a Bride: A Short Story
6.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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