Authors: Sheila Bradley
I want to thank you and congratulate you for downloading the book
“Our Song Returns: Falling in Love at the Wrong Time.”
What would you do if you ran into your high school sweetheart – on the day of his wedding? That is what happens to Maggie Brennan, a wedding singer from Boston. Read on to find out what happens when she realizes that she has to sing their song at his wedding to another woman.
Thanks again for downloading this book, I hope you enjoy it!
Copyright © 2016 by Sheila Bradley
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Maggie Brennan hurried up the stairs of Park Street station toward Boston Common. It was early December, and snow floated lazily down from the overcast sky. Dusk was falling, and the trees on the Common were already lit up in red, green, yellow and blue. She could hear the faint sound of Christmas carols coming from a nearby restaurant. She broke into a trot, she was late for rehearsal. She could have stayed on the train for one more stop, but the Green Line had been moving so slowly that she had decided to get off and walk across the Common to the Park Plaza Hotel. She rushed past the Frog Pond where kids of all ages skated around in circles, and breathed a sigh of relief when she crossed Boylston Street and opened the door that led to the hotel lobby.
Her pianist, Patrick, was waiting for her with a pained expression on his face. He hated it when she was late. She grimaced an apology in his direction, and he rolled his eyes and tapped his wrist.
“You’re not even wearing a watch! How do you know I’m late?”
He smirked at her. “You’re always late. It’s one of your least endearing characteristics.”
She feigned hurt. “Oh, really? Pray tell, what other non-endearing characteristics are you keeping track of?”
He brushed her cold cheek with his lips and tucked her hand into the crook of his arm so he could lead her across the lobby to the ballroom where they would be performing the next day. “Let’s see. You can’t tell a joke to save your life, your cooking is atrocious, and it’s impossible to stay angry at you.”
She laughed and patted his arm. “We have that last trait in common.” and looked up at him fondly.
She and Patrick had been friends since their college days, and when she had started playing weddings, he was the first accompanist she had called. They had been performing together for nine years now, and had an easy rapport that made a job that could have been disheartening (always the wedding singer, never the bride) and turned it into a genuinely good time.
They headed toward the largest ballroom. The pair had played this hotel dozens, maybe even hundreds of times over the years, but Maggie could not suppress a gasp of wonder when they walked into the place. The hotel staff had transformed the room into a winter wonderland, complete with sparkling trees and snow. They were testing the lights as twinkling snowflakes danced across the walls and ceiling. It was breathtaking. She had known this was a spare-no-expenses wedding because of the location, but this surpassed any other event she had played with its sheer elegance. She wondered who the bride and groom were.
Maggie and Patrick crossed to the platform where the grand piano sat waiting for them. Patrick pulled out the set list, which included standards as well as some special requests from the wedding party. Patrick said, “I checked our email right before you got here; we’ve got an additional request. Apparently the wedding planner left the couple’s song off of the set list.”
“Okay, is it something we know? The wedding’s tomorrow, I hope we don’t need to pull sheet music for it.”
“It’s ‘Just the Way You Are’, we haven’t played it in a while, but I remember it. Do you need me to print up the lyrics? I can do it in the business center.”
She shook her head. “I know them. It’s one of my favorites.” Her mind drifted back to high school; the classic Billy Joel song had been hers and Bill’s song. Bill used to say that he had picked it because ‘We Williams have to stick together,” but the song had meant something to them. She still got a little choked up when she heard it, it brought back a lot of bittersweet memories.
Maggie and Bill had met their freshman year of high school. She had grown up in Massachusetts, but he had moved there from New York the summer before high school. He had a hard time at school at first because he walked in the first day wearing a New York Yankees cap, a big mistake in Boston Red Sox territory. He stubbornly refused to ditch the cap, so by lunch period that first day he had been a little battle scarred. He walked into the cafeteria to a chorus of “Yankees suck” from the other students, but he left the cap on. He got his food and sat down at her table. He had assumed she would not talk to him, but he was so cute that she had not been able to resist.
From that day on, they were inseparable. They dated for all four years of high school, and somehow his charm had won over even the most die-hard Red Sox fans. He never gave up his love for the Yankees, and it turned out that his stubbornness was what made him popular. Red Sox fans are nothing if not loyal, and eventually his refusal to give in to peer pressure had earned him begrudging, and then genuine, respect from his classmates. He loved Billy Joel. Maggie knew a little of his music because her parents played it, but for Bill being a fan of Billy Joel was a badge of honor as a New Yorker for his love of the Yankees. He had gotten her hooked, and “Just the Way You Are” had become their song.
When it came time for them to go to college, he headed back to New York to major in film at New York University, and she stayed in Boston to attend the Berklee School of Music. They tried to keep the relationship going long distance. For the first year they were in school, they had taken turns visiting each other using the $10 buses that ran from Chinatown in Boston to Chinatown in New York. In the end, the strain of trying to keep on track with school and maintain the relationship had been too much, and at the end of their freshman year, they broke up. She had not seen him since, but she had to admit that she thought about him all the time. Maggie dated quite a few men since then, but none of them had the same pull for her. She got bored, inevitably, and none of her relationships since then had lasted more than six months.
Patrick played the opening chords of the song, and she snapped out of her reverie. She launched into the song and found that to her surprise, her eyes were filling with tears. She had not listened to the song in ages, and the simplicity of the lyrics went straight to her heart. “Don’t go changing to try and please me…” She thought about how true those words had been of Bill. He had always been so true to who he was, even at an age when most kids were trying their hardest to conform. She always loved that about him.
She and Patrick played around with the song, adding some subtle embellishments that made it feel modern and a little jazzier than the original. Concentrating on the musical arrangement made it easier for her to stop thinking about Bill. She had not thought about him in so long, it was incredible what a powerful memory the song had produced.
They ran through the rest of their set list. There were quite a few wedding standards, love songs and party songs like “Twist and Shout” and “The Hokey Pokey.” She looked at her accompanist. “How many times do you think we’ve told wedding guests to put their left foot in?”
Patrick snorted. “I don’t know. Thousands? You would think that there would be at least one couple that wouldn’t request that song.”
“You’d think wrong.” She scanned down the rest of the list and saw a few other songs that they had not played in a while. That was always refreshing. They played at least one wedding every weekend. She loved her job, but the song choice could sometimes become a little stale. People did tend to choose the same tunes over and over again. They heard them at every wedding they attended growing up. She supposed it was normal for people to do that, but it was a relief to have some different choices. There was a couple of Christmas songs on the list too, not surprising given the proximity of the holiday. She and Patrick ran through the set list, stopping to rehearse the less common songs. An hour later, they were back in their coats and on the street, agreeing to meet back at the hotel an hour before the reception the next day to do a final sound check.
The next day Maggie was up early. The reception did not start until 5:00, but she had slept restlessly. She awakened from a dream at one point, and though Maggie had not felt like it was a nightmare, she had adrenaline coursing through her veins. It had taken her a while to get back to sleep, and then she had been startled awake by the beeping of a snow plow from outside. She went to the window and saw that several inches of fresh snow had fallen during the night.
She made a pot of coffee and went to her bookshelf. She intended to find a novel to read, but her high school yearbook caught her eye, and she pulled it out. She was not sure why it was not packed away, but her powerful memories the day before had put her in a nostalgic frame of mind. She curled up in an armchair with her mug and the book, and started to flip through its pages.
She looked at each page, smiling at the dated hairstyles and clothes. She found her own picture. She looked so young. She kept turning pages, forcing herself to peruse each one. She read inscriptions from her classmates, knowing that with every page she was getting closer to the one picture she wanted to see.
Finally, she got there, and Bill’s handsome face smiled up at her from the page. He wore his Yankee cap, and his face had the open, eager expression she always loved so much. She smiled back, unable to stop herself, and ran her finger over the line of x’s and o’s he had scrawled underneath his picture. He’d written a longer message on the back cover of the yearbook, but he had not been able to resist leaving a string of kisses and hugs next to his picture.
She flipped to the back and read his message to her. It was long, covering the entire inside cover. It was full of memories, private jokes and plans for the future and a few of them had come to fruition, like experiences they had in New York during their freshman year, but most of them had not.
After another ten minutes, she sighed and closed the yearbook. There was no point in crying over spilled milk or failed relationships. She hoped Bill was happy, wherever he was. It would be nice if she found someone who was as good a match for her. Maggie was not giving up hope on that, even though there were times she thought it would never happen.
When she strolled into the Park Plaza lobby later that day, she was dressed in a simple black cocktail dress. She smiled when she saw Patrick in his tuxedo. She knew they made a striking pair.
He feigned surprise, she was actually five minutes early, an almost unprecedented occurrence. “You look beautiful. And punctual. Will you marry me?”
She suppressed a giggle. “We wouldn’t last two seconds as a couple and you know it.”
He clapped his hands over his heart and put on a wounded expression. “Cruelty, thy name is woman.”
“Yes, that’s me. Cruella de Ville. Be careful, or I’ll skin your puppies.”
He swatted the back of her head playfully, and she smirked at him as they headed for the ballroom.
The hotel staff had left them a copy of the program for the reception and the wedding planner was waiting for them. Tiffany Harkins was the top wedding planner in Boston, and they had worked with her dozens of times over the years. She ran her events like a drill sergeant, and she could be a little scary when things did not go as planned. Patrick had an enormous crush on her, but whenever Maggie encouraged him to ask her out, he balked. “She eats guys like me for a champagne brunch,” he would say with a shudder.
Maggie actually thought they would make a great couple. She narrowed her eyes speculatively as Tiffany approached, and the wedding planner stopped. “Why are you looking at me like that?
“Oh, just wondering why you’re not married. You’re such a great catch.”
Tiffany rolled her eyes. “Yeah. Well, maybe when I’m not planning someone else’s wedding every week I’ll have time to think about dating.” She handed a piece of paper to Maggie. “Here’s the information about the bridal party so you can announce them.”
Maggie said, “Any difficult names?”
“No, they’re all pretty straightforward.”
Maggie set the page aside. “Okay, I’ll read it through after we finish our sound check. Is there anything else I need to know?”
“Nope. You should be good. I’ll check back in later, okay?”
Maggie and Patrick finished their sound check. Everything sounded great, and Maggie sipped water as she picked up the list of names that she would be reading as the bridal party entered. She noted with interest that one of the groomsmen had the same name as Bill’s best friend from New York, but she did not think anything of it until she got to the names of the bride and groom.
William Nackley. Bill. This was Bill’s wedding.
She felt lightheaded. In a daze, she glanced at the bride’s name. Michelle Louise Del Vecchio. The name did not mean anything to her, not that she expected it to. She knew she had no right to feel shocked or betrayed, but she did. This was her Bill, marrying someone else. As the sickening knowledge hit her stomach and sat there like a stone, she was forced to admit that on some level, she always thought that they would end up together. She did not know how, since they had not seen each other in over a decade, but there was no denying the way she was feeling.
She could feel Patrick staring at her. She wondered idly if she looked as shocked as she felt, and glanced over at him.
“What’s the matter, honey? You look like you saw the worst ghost ever.”
She swallowed, wondering whether to tell him, then shrugged and decided to go ahead. The way she was feeling, she might need his moral support. She held out the paper to him and watched while he read the names. She had told him about Bill, but she could tell when he looked up he had not made the connection. He shot her an inquiring glance.
“That’s Bill. William Nackley. That’s
Bill. From high school.”
Patrick stood up and walked over to her, holding out his arms. She walked into them and buried her face in his shirt front. Maggie was grateful that she had chosen waterproof mascara today because she could not help crying. She knew it was silly, she had not seen him for close to 12 years, but that did not make it any easier. Maggie always held a place for him in her heart, and she never admitted how firmly embedded he was until she looked at his name.
She sobbed into Patrick’s chest almost at the time when the wedding party was going to arrive, which grew closer and closer. He rubbed her back comfortingly and her sobs slowed. She pulled away. “Am I a wreck? Tell me the truth. I look like hell, don’t I?”
“No, honey, you look fine. Maybe just go put a little powder on your nose and have some cold water, but hurry, we’ve only got five minutes.”
Two minutes later she rushed back into the ballroom; her makeup touched up, and her hair straightened. There was a little redness in the inside corners of her eyes, but nothing that would be noticeable from a distance. She climbed up onto the stage and took her mike. Guests were filtering in, eating passed appetizers and laughing. The snowflake lights twirled across the ceiling, and she saw Tiffany signaling her. The bridal party was here. She stepped to the microphone.
She announced each bridesmaid and groomsman, and they walked in pairs to loud applause and catcalls. Finally, she announced the bride and groom. “Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time, please welcome Mr. and Mrs. William Nackley!”
She looked toward the ballroom door and watched as the love of her life walked in; his arm wound tightly around the impossibly slender waist of his new bride. The crowd clapped and hooted, and she forced herself to look at Bill. He raised his eyes to her, and their gazes locked as she felt swarms of butterflies swirl in her stomach. His eyes had always had that effect on her. She forced a smile on to her lips, and he smiled back.
Five minutes later, she was singing “Just the Way You Are” as Bill and his wife glided across the dance floor. She struggled to keep her emotions in check, but her control shattered every time his gaze swept across the stage. She could not help thinking that he was looking at her a lot, shouldn’t he be staring into the eyes of his lovely bride? Not that she wanted that, but it was wreaking havoc on her emotions to see those intense blue eyes at such close range. She sang, and watched, and fell in love with him all over again.