After peeking through Andrew’s peephole to make sure the hallway is clear, I quickly dash across the hall and into my room. I set the small bottles on the table with the hotel stationary and room service menu. My head is a bit fuzzy still, but I can’t quite figure out where the buzz from the alcohol stops and the intoxication of being so close to Andrew starts. This is completely unexpected.
I’ve been around Andrew before, years ago when I was dating Evan, but never had his voice settled so low in my gut and his touch cause goose bumps to climb up my limbs. Maybe it’s just the alcohol, but there was definitely something different about the way his eyes were looking at me. I felt like he was suddenly everywhere, his presence a welcomed warmth on my skin.
My mind flashes back to all the innocent encounters I had with him over the years. We had been at the same parties, shared many of the same friends and yet this is the first time I felt like he truly connected with me as someone other than my boyfriend’s best friend. I like it. Maybe I shouldn’t, but tonight it felt good to have him here with me. Lots of people in the wedding party know my history with the groom, but Andrew seems to understand how hard coming here was even if I’m trying to pretend like it isn’t the hardest thing I’ve ever had to endure.
Closing my eyes and blowing out a deep breath, I lie back on the bed and let the sleep I had been putting off finally take me. I know I’m destined to have nightmares about my time with Evan like I had for a full year after we broke up. I’m pleasantly surprised when there are no nightmares and instead dreams of Andrew fill my mind. I let his hands touch me and feel the heat from his skin on mine until I think I can’t take the increasing tension building between us. Instead of reaching that moment I so desperately need where he finally puts his strong lips to mine, I awake to the sound of my cell alarm ringing from beside me on the bed.
With a groan and a hard pounding inside my skull, I open one scratchy eye to see it’s time to get ready for the brunch I need to be at in an hour. A hot shower does little to make me relax as the thought of seeing Rachel and all of the women that know our history makes my stomach flip and roll. I lather my skin in my favorite vanilla and gardenia lotion I brought to remind myself that California is only a few days away. Of course that takes no time at all compared to how long it takes to blow dry my hair.
When I finally have my make-up on, I take a step back and long look in the mirror. I tell myself I can do this. I decide my lack of sleep and the red in the whites of my eyes makes me appear a little harsh, so I opt to curl my hair in an attempt to soften my look. By the time I slip my short lavender dress on I’m almost late. I tug the hem down after pulling on my wedges and grab my purse.
I hesitate for just a second before hitting the bright button to call the elevator. I still have time to back out of this. I know it would make me a royal bitch to ditch my friend and abandon my duties as her bride’s maid, but maybe I never needed to really come back here anyway. The sound of the elevator doors opening startles me and my eyes race up to see who it’s delivering to my floor. If it’s someone from the wedding then my last chance to slip away from this whole thing is gone.
His eyes meet mine and his face softens as he steps out of the elevator. He smiles slightly, but then I guess the panic on my face has him second-guessing his initial reaction. “Good morning, Sophie.” Andrew stands in front of me as I try to stop the spinning of thoughts through my mind.
Before I can stop myself I blurt out softly, “I’m trying to decide if I want to do this.” His eyes stay trained on mine and he nods his head slowly as the doors to the elevator close behind him and it leaves to pick up another rider. I realize what I’ve shared and laugh without humor, pressing my palm to my forehead and looking away from him. His hand reaches out and takes my wrist, pulling my hand back down to my side.
“I’ll never tell anyone you were here.” He is so close to me now I can smell his cologne and the scent of the soap he used this morning. It’s all mixing together into a delicious fragrance that seems to be slipping past my panic and planting itself firmly in my mind. He releases my wrist and leans in a little close to me, “You don’t have to do this.”
“I know,” I say, but it sounds as defeated as I feel. “I don’t know what I want anymore. I thought this would be what I needed to let the whole thing go, but now I just want to run again. What if I can’t do this? What if I want to leave but I’m trapped at a table with those women? I might lose it in front of all of them.”
He smiles at me again and I feel his soft laugh rush over me like a wave of heat. “Not the Sophie I know.” His head shakes slowly side-to-side. “The Sophie I know wouldn’t let catty women run her out of anywhere. I don’t know what happened to that confidence, but it used to be in there.”
I can’t help but smile at his words. He’s right. I used to be so confident. When Evan left me, he took that piece of me with him and I hadn’t been able to get it back yet. Maybe that’s why I hadn’t dated anyone else since him. “I haven’t been that girl in a really long time,” I admit, my shoulders slumping a little at the realization.
“Give me your phone.” I don’t question him. I unlocked my cell and hand it over as the lights above the elevator began to climb in our direction. He calls his cell and lifts it up so I can see. “You have my number now. Whatever you decide we’re in it together. You bail and I deny ever seeing you. You stay, and I will be here if you need me—anytime and for anything.” I nod my head as the doors open and a couple steps off, forcing Andrew and I to move aside into the small corner of the hallway.
I’d like to say I don’t notice the way his hand touches my hip, guiding me as we step away from the opening doors, or the way he uses his body to shield my identity from the mysterious couple until their unfamiliar language tells us they are not apart of the wedding. I let out the breath I’d been holding and I look up into his piercing green eyes.
I know I need to do this because I can’t live another minute of my life afraid of starting something new with someone. I need to let all of the hurt from my past go so I can have a shot at happiness with someone else. “I need to do this.” I expect some sort of judgment in his eyes, but what I find there instead is admiration. He’s looking at me like I’m doing something far more amazing than just attending the wedding of an ex-boyfriend.
His hand on my hip pulls me a little closer to him until I feel his hard chest against mine. His cheek brushes my cheek and his lips hover just inches from my ear. I close my eyes and take it all in, the way my heart races and my breath speeds up, the dizzy feeling in my head and of course the heat where his hand is resting on my hip. “You’re far more beautiful than she is. You face those women with the grace that you’ve always carried and know not one of them has ever come close to holding a candle to you.”
My knees feel weak and I know I tremble when his hand presses against my hip enough to put some space between us. I take a minute to gather my thoughts before I look up to his face again. When I finally do, every ounce of doubt I have been feeling about being able to survive this brunch flees and the only thing I can think about is how I have never noticed the small scar on his chin and the way his hair falls so imperfectly perfect against his forehead.
When the doors begin to close again he steps away from me and holds them open. “It’s up to you Sophie,” he says with a small shrug. I push my shoulders back and step into the empty elevator. I stand facing him after pressing the lobby button. He moves his hand into his pocket and smiles at me, standing right in my line of sight until the doors finally closed between us. The drop of the elevator is nothing compared to the drop of my stomach as I replay his encouraging words in my head. By the time I step into the lobby, I’m sure my face is flushed from his compliment and the blood that’s pounding through my system with the fluttering beat of my heart in my chest.
I see Rachel before she sees me as I enter the large restaurant in the lobby. She’s wearing a pale yellow dress and I watch as she laughs with the woman beside her. When I move to the space on her other side, the voices at the table seem to extinguish like the flame of a blown out candle. She stands quickly and wraps her arms tightly around me. For a minute I hold her back, missing the way this used to feel so natural instead of forced and awkward.
I think the thing that stings the most is having almost lost them both. Clearly Evan was no longer mine, but if I hadn’t been OK, or pretended to be OK with them dating, our friendship would’ve been over too because dating Evan was more important to her than all of the years we had invested in our friendship. For the first time in a long time it hits me how true that is. My heart clenches with the pain that our friendship means more to me than it ever meant to her.
“You look so pretty,” I tell her when we finally pull apart. She smiles at me and turns us to the large table full of watching women.
“You all remember Sophie!” Her voice is cheerful as she wraps an arm over my shoulder and pulls me against her. “Here, I saved you the seat beside me.” That feels nice. Knowing she had faith in me to show up enough to save the seat beside her gives me a little relief. I sit down and smile at the women who quickly turn back to their conversations. Rachel leans in and whispers, “I’ve missed you, Sophie.” I want so badly to believe it’s true so I turn to her and pulled her into another hug.
The brunch seems to pass easier than I had thought it would, but I find myself disinterested in the conversations around me. I feel the vibration of my phone in my purse and discretely check the incoming text.
Andrew: How’s it going?
Sophie: OK I guess.
Andrew: Good. I was just checking because I found some more of your friends in my room. Guess they know the maid.
Sophie: Things are looking up. Now if this brunch could just wrap up. I want to hit the beach before the bar tonight.
Andrew: Need me to save you?
I don’t get to answer him before my phone is ringing in my hands. Now that it isn’t in my purse, the melody rings out as it vibrates against my palm. I see Andrew’s name on the screen and can’t help the smile that crosses my face. A few of the women give me disapproving looks, but I just answer the call and put it to my ear with an innocent, “Hello, this is Sophie Richards.” I never answer my phone like that unless it’s a work call, but no one at the table knows that.
“Sophie Richards, nice touch,” he tells me. “Say ‘Well I’m at a very important event.’” I fight the smile I feel tugging on my lips again. Instead I try on a serious face.
“Well I’m at a very important event.” I look in Rachel’s direction and notice her attention is right on me. I mouth, “Sorry.”
“Good, now say ‘Hang on, I’ll need to check my book.’”
I glance around again trying to decide if I am really going to do this. Who am I kidding? “Hang on, I’ll need to check my book.” My heart begins to race and I meet Rachel’s eyes again. She gives me an understanding look and motions for me not to worry. A few of the conversations at the table begin once more and I notice my phone call is falling into the background amongst the various voices fighting for their moment at this estrogen heavy table.
Andrew’s voice slips into my ear again and I wonder if he can hear the way my breath has sped up with his entrancing voice and the lies we’re now in on together. I glance into the lobby and catch a glimpse of him as he stands near the front desk. This time I know my lips curve up and I look away before I totally blow this chance to get away. “Now,” he says calmly, “say ‘Damn, I left it in my room.’”
“Damn, I left it in my room,” I repeat. Rachel looks to me again and I shrug a shoulder. She motions for me to go ahead, whispering that we were almost through anyway. I nod my head and stand.
“See, I gotcha.” He sounds so confident I can’t help but laugh as I leave the restaurant and head in his direction. “One more thing,” I can see his face from across the lobby but I’m not close enough to hear him yet. I tip my head to the side and raise my brows. His smile is as smooth as butter as he lifts a vodka bottle, “Your friends invited me to the beach. Hope that’s cool.” I smile so much bigger now and pull the phone from my ear as I pass him and step into the open elevator.
As if we don’t know each other, he steps in beside me and we both look straight forward as the doors close. When we feel the small hiccup as the elevator begins its ride up we’re finally free to laugh. I feel the relief of getting the whole moment with Rachel and the women over wash off of me as his rich laughter seems to move over my skin and sink in some place deeper. When the doors open, I step out and turn to face him in the small hallway.
“Meet me at the beach entrance with my friends in twenty minutes.” I turn towards my room and walk the few steps to my destination. I slide my key into the door, telling myself not to turn around even though I feel the heat of his stare on my back. He watches me until the door of my room shuts with a click. I have no idea what I’m doing, but it sure feels better than watching my best friend glow with the excitement of marrying the man I thought I would spend forever with.