Timing(8)

By: Mary Calmes


He liked me. It was there in his twinkling eyes and the firmness of the handshake. He liked that I appreciated his wife’s beauty and that his son was already important to me.

“Tell me all about yourself. What is it you do, Stefan?”

Before I could open my mouth to speak, Charlotte answered for me.

“Stef’s an acquisitions manager at Chaney and Putnam. It’s a real estate holding firm.”

“Oh.” Mr. Cantwell chuckled. “Well then… maybe I can talk to you about some land I’m thinking of purchasing, get your thoughts.”

“Absolutely,” I assured him.

He nodded, then let out a deep breath before turning to his right. “Let me introduce the rest of my family.”

I met Ben’s sister, Renee, and her husband, Stuart, and was then taken outside on the enormous patio and introduced to her grandparents and all her extended family. Aunts, uncles, cousins—I met everyone, Ben’s mother Linda never relinquishing my hand, Charlotte never leaving me either, her body molded to my side. When the music started, I took the bride-to-be to the dance floor and into my arms. When she started to cry, I scooped her up and spun her around until she started laughing.

“Oh God,” she groaned suddenly a few minutes later.

“What?”

“Look, it’s the angel of death.”

I followed her gaze and saw Ben standing with Nick and Clarissa Towne.

“You know, I seriously thought about not marrying the man because of his best friend.”

“Why?”

“Are you kidding?” She shot me a look. “You know why. The guy’s an idiot.”

“Well, Ben’s probably not thrilled that your best friend is gay.”

“Ben couldn’t care less. You know why?”

“I’m afraid to ask.”

“You are not a total pig like Nick Towne.”

“He’s not that bad.”

She gave me a look.

“I hesitate to even ask.”

“He asked Ben if he had to marry me. Had to marry me, Stef, had to.”

I just smiled at her.

“Like the only way I can get Ben Cantwell is if he knocks me up.”

“Well, his family is very rich.”

She smacked me really hard.

“Shit,” I groaned, rubbing my arm.

“He’s an ass.”

“Stop,” I teased.

“And his wife,” she moaned. “My God, my desk at work is more animated than she is.”

“God, you’re a bitch,” I said, grabbing her hand and dragging her after me off the dance floor.

I raised a hand, and Clarissa saw me. Instantly, her head tilted to the side as her smile made her eyes sparkle.

“Holy shit,” Charlotte breathed out.

“See,” I said over my shoulder. “She shines.”

“Only when she sees you, Stef. Just like everybody else.”

I let go of Charlotte’s hand as I reached Clarissa, and she leaped at me. We hugged tightly, and she buried her face in my shoulder.

“It’s so good to see you,” she said, inhaling me.

“You, too, sweetheart.” I smiled into her hair.

I let her hold me until she was ready to let go. When she did, I held out my hand to her husband and Ben’s best man, Nick Towne, and he pulled me into the guy clench and patted my back hard. His face showed his ease in my presence.

“Hey.”

I turned to Ben. “What?”

He just looked at me.

“What?”

“Nothin’.” He smiled at me after a minute. “Look,” he said as he raised his chin.

I heard my name before I even had time to turn. Charlotte’s mother, May Holloway, was crossing the room, looking very uncomfortable until I waved. She stopped, and I went to her. There were arms held out waiting for me. A half an hour later, as I took a break from dancing, flopping down in the seat beside Ben at the end of the long table, I felt a hand trailing through my hair. When I lifted my head, I found Charlotte. She was looking at me oddly.

“What?”

“You’re amazing, you know.”

I arched an eyebrow for her, and she snorted out a laugh.

“Classy,” Ben teased her.

“I just… you made Ben’s mom say yes to altering my dress, you made me see a totally different side of Nick and our parents… I mean, look at them over there,” she said, staring across the room. “You’d think they were old friends instead of meeting today for the very first time. It’s all working out.”