Ten months later
Katie stepped up to the podium and glanced over the crowd. Several hundred students gazed at her expectantly. With a great amount of resolve, Katie took a deep breath and began speaking. “We all experience difficult times in our lives. We lose loved ones, face great emotional stress, and even have mental breakdowns. This is especially true around finals.” She smiled as the group let out a small chuckle. “That being said, some of us have experienced something far more painful; something invasive and soul crushing. That is what I am here to speak about today.” Katie glanced over to the wings and Brandon gave her a smile of encouragement.
“As I’m sure you all know, I was raped my freshman year of college. I did not report it because I feared the impact it would have on my life. Being a newspaper reporter, I knew how rape investigations went, especially on a college campus. Over and over again women are told how to avoid being raped: don’t go out alone, don’t dress provocatively, don’t drink at parties. We all know the arguments. Rarely does anyone say maybe we should teach men not to rape. Not that that’s something that should have to be taught. Everyone knows rape is wrong. So why are women shamed for being victims? Why are women the only ones who are judged? All of these things went through my mind as I sat on a bench considering if I should tell or not. In the end, I decided to keep quiet and force myself to move on. I never did forget it. At the time I believed I had moved on. However, that was not the case. At the time I had no idea how my silence would not only affect me, but others as well.” Katie shifted her weight ever so slightly, took a deep breath, and continued.
“Rape is not easy to talk about. It’s been over thirteen years since it happened to me and I still struggle with it today. Yes, my experience was a bit different from others—mostly because of horrendous acts that were committed by others after the case—but the pain I want to talk about is the anguish I felt after my rape. I blamed myself for what happened, true, but I also felt angry at society for shaming me to be silent. We live in a world where someone is put in prison for decades merely because they possessed a small amount of pot, but a person who steals your humanity is punished with a slap on the wrist and a few months of probation in many cases. And, just to be clear, rape is theft. Yes, what you steal is not tangible; it cannot be held up in court, but something is taken from you. For me, my newly found self- confidence was ripped away. My ability to see myself as worth something was taken from me. In the end, the few minutes of forced sex were far less painful than the aftermath which would last for years.” Katie wiped away a tear then continued her speech.
Two hours later, Katie wearily left Jesse Hall and headed to her car. Her hand ached from the hundreds of books she had signed. She had struggled at first with the idea of writing a book about her experience. It was so personal and she still felt emotionally raw, but, she had pushed through the fear and the ache and told her story. She could only hope it would finally make a difference.
Brandon leaned casually against her brand new Mini Cooper. He held a cup of coffee in his hand. The car had been a welcome home present from Brandon.
“I’m proud of you,” he said as he wrapped his arms around her.
“Thanks,” she said. “You would think that each time I speak about it the less painful it would be.”
“If it still hurts, maybe you should stop,” Brandon replied. “You don’t owe this to anyone. You’ve done enough.”
“No. These things need to be said. People need to start listening. My case was high profile because of the murders. As horrible as that is, I should take advantage of it. Maybe this time someone will listen.” She unlocked her car.
“Well, the worst of your day is over.” He smiled. “Yeah, now I get to play dress up for a few hours.” She laughed.
“Well I brought something to fortify you.” He grinned and handed her the cup.
The day was a busy one for Katie, that was for sure. Now that she had finished her speech, she and Rebecca were grabbing lunch then going dress shopping. The past few months had been eventful to say the least. After Brandon’s romantic proposal, they had hit the ground running. They decided to move out of the house they were renting and finally get their own. Brandon had made it clear that they needed a fresh start and she had wholeheartedly agreed.
Katie also began planning their wedding. The location was easy enough to pick; it was being held at a cozy yet classy hotel near the winery. They set a date for the end of May. After that, they had searched for homes, which had been frustrating and unsuccessful until the week after Thanksgiving. The house they found was perfect for them both now and in the future. It was a four bedroom, three bath Bungalow with a large backyard and deck. They had moved in just a few weeks ago.
In all the rush and excitement, Katie had not even thought about finding a dress for the wedding. She knew she was cutting it close with the shopping, but somehow everything would work out. It always did.
“What did you get me?”
“The same thing I spilled all over your shirt the first time we met.” He chuckled.
Katie recalled their first meeting. It had been during fall midterms of her first year of grad school. She had been studying for hours at the University Library. At around one o’clock in the morning, Katie decided she needed a caffeine jolt, so she went down to the library coffee shop and purchased a coffee. She was about to head up the stairs and back to her study spot when Brandon, who was not paying attention, came dashing down the stairs and ran straight into her, spilling the hot coffee all over her shirt. Needless to say, she was not a happy camper. But Brandon had made up for it immediately. He bought her a brand-new coffee and even gave her a spare shirt from his backpack. A week later, they went on their first date. “Amaretto latte with a triple shot?”
“Yes, your favorite, right?”
Katie nodded. “I knew there was a reason I loved you.” “What? Because I get your coffee orders right?” He smiled. “Among other things.” She winked then looked at her watch. “I have to go. I’ll see you later.” Katie gave him a quick kiss then hopped into her car.
Four months later Katie was walking down the outdoor aisle on the arm of her father. She was wearing a stunning off white A-line, strapless lace dress. The top part of the dress had a sweetheart neckline that was complemented by detailed lace work. The skirt was a lovely off white satin with a sheer overlay. There was a thin, sparkly belt around the waist. A short train flowed to the ground. A long veil held by an antique comb finished the outfit. The sun was beginning its descent into the sky. Its luminous rays were filtered perfectly through the copse of trees.
Katie smiled at Bella, who had come all the way from New York to be their flower girl. She looked gorgeous in a floor length baby blue gown. Her auburn curls were pulled half up by a simple barrette. The dress had a sheer overlay that covered the worst of her burns. Bella gave her a radiant smile in return.
After what felt like an eternity, Katie finally reached Brandon. He looked magnificent in his formal tuxedo, which clung to his body in all the right places. His sandy blond hair was combed to the side, just the way she liked it. His lightly tanned skin made his mesmerizing blue eyes pop. He gave her a wide smile which made her insides melt.
“You look beautiful,” he whispered as he gently took her hand from her father
“Thank you,” she replied.
The minister began the ceremony, which passed by far too fast. Katie was so wrapped up in savoring the moment that she barely remembered saying her vows. One minute she was admiring Brandon’s sharp black tuxedo and the glimmer in his eyes, the next he was kissing her then leading her down the aisle.
“Wait. We’re done?” She asked as he guided her inside. Brandon laughed. “Yes, love. We’re married now.” “Wow, time flies.” She chuckled.
“So, you want to do pictures or sneak off and mess around?”
“Are you being serious?” “Absolutely.” He winked.
Before she could make up her mind, the photographer came and dragged them off for a long series of photos. By the time they were done the sky was dark and Katie wanted nothing more than to take off her shoes and sit for a while.
Unfortunately, rest would have to wait. The night passed by in a blur of cake cutting, the first dance, father/ daughter dance, and everything in between. Katie smiled when Brandon was gracious enough to have a short dance with Bella. The little girl stepped up onto his feet then held on tight while Brandon expertly twirled her around. She even managed to take a picture of the sweet moment. She only hoped that one day he would be doing that with one of their girls; that is, if they were blessed enough to have girls. It wasn’t until the end of the night that Katie finally was able to enjoy the company of her new husband.
“Hey, you look familiar. Do I know you?” Katie laughed. Brandon chuckled. “Yes, I believe we’re married.” “Seriously though, I didn’t think we’d ever have a moment to ourselves,” she muttered.
“Well the dance floor is in full groove right now. Care to sneak away for a moment?” He asked.
Brandon led her out of the reception area and into the peaceful starry night. Katie shivered a bit. Brandon removed his jacket and wrapped it around her shoulders. “This feels wonderful. It’s so warm.” She sighed.
“Well, you know, when you’re a hottie like me…” He winked.
Katie rolled her eyes. “And you lecture me about my ego.”
Brandon laughed then pulled her close. “You look beautiful tonight,” he repeated his statement from earlier.
“I know. You already told me that. But I still appreciate the compliment.” She smiled.
“Have you had a good time?”
“Of course. Although it went by much faster than I was expecting. And quite honestly we really been able to spend a quiet moment together until now. I thought weddings were supposed to be all about love, relaxation, and the bride and groom. Turns out I was epically wrong. But hey, at least we only have to do this once.”
Brandon laughed. “I have a theory about why the bride and groom are constantly occupied during weddings.”
“Oh really? Please, do share this hypothesis of yours.” “Well, my theory is that people keep the newlyweds busy during the wedding since the bride and groom will spend so much time together during the honeymoon. It creates anticipation.”
Katie thought for a minute. It was actually not a bad theory. “Wow, Brandon, I had no idea you could be so cerebral. Usually hotties like you don’t have too much going on upstairs.” She giggled.
Brandon rolled his eyes and laughed. “Well, I guess I’m the exception to the rule.”
Katie leaned up against the outer wall. She pulled Brandon against her and gave him a long, steamy kiss. “I’ve been wanting to do that all night.”
“Anything else you want to do?” His voice was husky with desire.
“Plenty of things.” Katie winked. “But unfortunately, I think our absence would be noticed for that amount of time.”
“True,” Brandon said. “I was never a fan of fast and hard.” Katie playfully punched him on the arm. “I beg to disagree.
You’ve always gone fast and hard in the swimming pool.”
Brandon gave a slow laugh. “You know that’s not what I’m talking about.”
“I know.” She smiled. “So, how much time do you think we have left before we’re summoned in?”
“Not long, so let’s just enjoy the moment.”
Brandon grinned then leaned in and gave her a long, lazy kiss. They were still kissing when an irritating bird-like voice called out, “Oh my gosh! Katie, Brandon, time to knock that off. You’ll have plenty of time for that later!”
Brandon pulled away then frowned. “Do you mind, Mom? I’m enjoying a quiet moment with my wife. You know, the whole reason we’re here today?”
“Yes, I do mind. It’s time for your last dance and the bouquet toss,” she scolded.
“Ugh, it’s our wedding. Can’t we skip it?” Katie groaned. “Absolutely not. Now come inside.”
Brandon groaned. “Let’s get this done with. The faster we do it, the quicker we can get back to what we started,” he whispered in Katie’s ear.
“Okay,” she whispered back. Then hand in hand, they returned to the reception.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for Mr. and Mrs. Hughes’ last dance,” the DJ announced. “Katie and Brandon, if you could come here onto the dance floor. I have a special request for you.”
“Time for another show,” Brandon sighed then led Katie to the floor.
Katie chuckled as she walked into his arms. “Close your eyes and pretend it’s just us,” she suggested, snuggling up to his chest. Savage Garden’s Truly, Madly, Deeply filtered through the surround sound system. Katie was determined to savor this moment. She closed her eyes and just enjoyed the feeling of Brandon’s arms around her, the steady beat of his heart underneath his muscular chest, the scent of her favorite cologne.
“See, this isn’t so bad,” she whispered as she looked up at him.
“No, not at all.” He smiled.
“Once this song is done we can leave.” “What about the garter toss?”
“Screw the garter toss. I want to be with you.”
Brandon let out a full and deep laugh. “I knew there was a reason I loved you.”
Ten minutes later, they were nestled in the back of a vintage Mercedes, headed towards the hotel where they would spend the night. The next morning they would drive out to St. Louis and hop a plane to Bora Bora where they would spend the next two glorious weeks with only each other.
“What are you thinking about?” Brandon whispered. “Nothing in particular.”
“Did you have a good time tonight?” “From what I remember, yes.”
“Yes, it did pass rather quickly.” He chuckled. “But I promise the rest of the night will pass by much more slowly. As will the next two weeks. I plan on savoring every moment I have with you,” he whispered seductively into her ear. The statement sent a shiver down her spine.
They pulled up to the historic Tiger Hotel in downtown Columbia. Brandon quickly helped her out of the car then guided her up to the honeymoon suite. He hastily opened the door, hung the Do Not Disturb sign, then shut it behind them.
Katie chuckled as his fingers grappled with the buttons. “In a hurry?”
Brandon turned her around but did not reply. He was still fumbling with the buttons. She laughed even harder. “Brandon love,” she chuckled.
“This isn’t funny Katie. I’m dying here.”
“Brandon, the buttons are for decoration. There’s a zipper.” She laughed. Moments later she heard the faint sound of a zip. The dress fell delicately to the floor.
Katie spun around and kissed Brandon hungrily. “You know, this will work better if you take your clothes off too.” She whispered as she nibbled his ear.
He gave her a seductive smile then pulled off his coat. The rest of the night was theirs.
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