In case you missed it earlier, Leaning Into the Look is LIVE now on Amazon! Woohoo! It’s been a very busy few days so Matt and Aaron have been patiently waiting for me to get my act together. LOL. Here’s the next installment!
Happy Reading! Lane xoBetter Than Wedding- Part 4
“Steph. Yes, of course. How are you?” I smiled and held out my hand. It was probably a clumsy gesture but I wasn’t clear about the protocol for bumping into an ex’s friend. Especially one I hadn’t seen in years.
“I’m great.” She beamed and ignored my hand, pulling me in for an impromptu embrace before pointing at the riot of flowers on the table under the crystal chandelier. “It’s so good to see you! I just popped by with my mom to check on the table arrangements. She’s very particular about the details. I am too, but not like her. Vic has been such a godsend. He’s super patient and he has great taste. I trust him to make everything perfect. But Mom insisted and—oh my gosh, I’m sorry. I’m talking too much. It’s just—today is my wedding day!”
“Wow. Congratulations. That’s fantastic. Vic was telling us about the big wedding here this afternoon,” I commented before stepping sideways to get a better look at Aaron.
He was engaged in an animated conversation with Vic and a woman I assumed was Steph’s mother on the other end of the room. She had short blonde hair and was dressed like her daughter in chic casual clothing that in no way downplayed her aristocratic bearing. She certainly looked like a politician’s wife. I couldn’t remember if I knew Steph’s father was a senator. Five years was a long time and truthfully, we’d never been more than acquaintances.
“Yes! That’s me. And Philip. We’ve been together for four years but I think you and Kristen had already broken up so you probably never met him.”
“Probably not,” I agreed.
“She’s one of my bridesmaids,” she added with a look I had a feeling was meant to double as a message.
I stuffed my hands in my pockets and smiled. “That’s nice. How is she?”
Fuck. Why did I ask? The last thing I needed was for my polite inquiry to be misconstrued.
“She’s good. She lives in Virginia but she’s talking about moving back to DC for a job. Did you know she’s single? I mean… you may not be, but—”
“I’m not,” I responded quickly.
“Right. I figured that unless my mother added you to the guest list at the last second and you got the time wrong, there was a good chance you might be here with your significant other.”
“Yeah, I’m here with my fiancé. We’re getting married here in October.”
“Oh. That’s wonderful. Really. I’m not sure I’ll tell Kristen though. I get the impression you were ‘the one who got away’,” she said wistfully.
I had no idea how to respond to that and when I spotted Aaron waving at me then turning to join me, I knew I had less than twenty seconds to think of something.
I gave a flustered half-laugh and settled for, “That was a long time ago.”
“True. A lot has changed. I actually heard you were—”
“Hello! You must be the bride. Congrats! Everything looks stunning,” Aaron gushed. “Vic is going to give us a sneak peek of the ballroom then we’ll head out the garden and be on our way. I’m Aaron, by the way.”
“It’s nice to meet you. I’m Stephanie. Are you working with Vic?” she asked as she shook his hand.
“Yes. Well…on our wedding,” Aaron replied with a shy smile.
“You and Vic are getting married? Gosh, he never mentioned it.” She cast a curious glance between Aaron and Vic who was still deep in conversation with her mother. “Congratulations. I’ll have to give him a hard time for keeping his news to himself!”
Aaron chuckled then linked his arm with mine and shook his head. “Thank you, but wrong guy. Vic’s a doll but he’s not my type. Even if he was…my fiancé wouldn’t approve. Would you, Matty?”
I flung my arm over Aaron’s shoulder and kissed his temple. “Definitely not.”
“Oh. You’re— oh, right.” She opened and closed her mouth twice before continuing. “I—that’s awesome. Good for you! Um…so how long have you been… a couple?”
“Five years. Or close enough,” I answered.
“That was when you and Kristen split up.” Her pensive tone reminded me of a private investigator on a Netflix series trying to establish a timeline and crack a mystery. I didn’t detect any malice. Just curiosity.
“Roughly, yes.” I squeezed Aaron’s arm then pulled back slightly and slipped my hand in his. “We should go. We’ll take a quick look around and then get out of the way. Congratulations, Steph. It was nice to see you.”
“Yes, congrats! Everything looks lovely. It’s going to be a perfect day,” Aaron enthused.
“Thank you,” she said distractedly as Aaron and I stepped away.
We made it three feet before she called my name again. Aaron glanced at me then at Vic who was frantically motioning us to join him.
“I better go see Vic. Hurry, before we get kicked out,” he whispered.
I watched him for a moment then turned back to Steph. She gave me a sheepish smile that instantly put me on guard…which was crazy. There was nothing more to say here. We had one significant person and a handful of acquaintances in common, but those connections ended years ago.
“Matt, I hope this doesn’t sound completely awkward but I’m wondering if— would you be willing to talk to Kristen?” Her words came out in a jumbled rush.
She had the grace to look flustered by her question but when she didn’t attempt to retract or laugh it off, I felt obliged to respond. I was proud of myself for curbing my initial “what the fuck?” reply and settling on something simpler.
“Kristen was crazy about you, Matt. I wasn’t kidding when I said you’re ‘the one who got away’ for her. She’s been in a couple of nowhere relationships since you guys broke up and I can’t help thinking she has unresolved guilt or maybe fear that keeps her from really giving of herself in a relationship. Talking with you might help her let go. I don’t mean to put you on the spot. Think about it. We can get ahold of each other through Vic. Oh! I should get going. It was great to see you and—”
“Hang on.” I blocked her path before she could walk away. “It’s been five years, Steph. That’s a long time. A lot has happened in between then and now. I’m engaged to someone else and—” I huffed in exasperation, unsure how to nicely tell her I thought her request was distasteful and completely out of line. When nothing came to mind, I blurted, “What makes you think she’d want to talk to me anyway?”
“She loved you, Matt. I think she still does.” Steph set her hand on my elbow and smiled wanly before heading toward her mother.
Okay, that was… annoying. And weird. And totally uncomfortable.
I scratched the back of my neck and searched for Aaron. He was standing with Vic in the doorway leading to the grand ballroom. His hands were all over the place. No doubt he was in the middle of a detailed description of how he wanted everything to look at our wedding. I knew him too well. He might solicit my opinion and insist it was important that I have a say, but the truth was he knew exactly what he wanted.
Some days I still couldn’t believe he wanted me.
Aaron looked up abruptly as though he sensed my stare and grinned. And fuck, I was so damn grateful he did.
I moved quickly to his side and put my arm around his waist. “Are we ready?” I asked.
“Yes. Follow me this way, gentlemen!” Vic instructed, ushering us into the adjoining room.
Aaron pulled at my shirt and waited for Vic to move out of hearing distance before whispering, “Are you okay?”
I lifted his hand to my lips and kissed his knuckles. “Yes. Come on, we should go—”
“But what did she want?”
I sighed and shook my head irritably. “I’ll tell you later. It’s not a big deal.”
“Hmm. She was your ex’s roomie, huh? I want to hate her for no good reason but she has impeccable taste. Or her mother does. It just seems weird to run into her.”
“It is weird,” I agreed with a huff.
Aaron laced his fingers in mine and tugged my hand. “You can tell me all about it later. Check out the pink long stem roses on the tables. Aren’t they incredible?”
I nodded absently and followed him into the ballroom. We listened to Vic’s spiel regarding the design elements he used for the wedding taking place in a few hours and his suggestions for our own reception. Flowers, cake, centerpieces, food stations versus sit-down dinner. It didn’t take long for my attention to wander and my mind to travel back in time to when the concept of being stuck to someone for the rest of my life was my personal version of hell.
What bothered me about the conversation was that I knew I’d never loved Kristen. At all. It was hard to believe that after five years, she thought twice about me. I didn’t want that. I wished her the best. But I’d moved on. And after all this time I figured she had too.
Vic left us on a bench in the garden under a weeping willow tree after we’d walked through the indoor and outdoor areas. He encouraged us to take our time and soak up the ambience. He also said something about channeling our romantic feelings into ideas for the ceremony but I wasn’t sure what that meant so I kept quiet and let Aaron do the talking until Vic tapped his watch and gestured toward the mansion.
“I must go. You have another hour before I’ll need the area clear. Call me this week, Aaron. Au revoir!” Vic blew us kisses then turned on his heels and speed-walked up the pathway.
Aaron leaned against my shoulder and sighed dreamily. “Isn’t this amazing?”
“It is.” I kissed his forehead. “Want to get married under this tree?”
Aaron’s grin split his handsome face in two. “How about on hillside overlooking the river? Fewer bugs, I think.”
I snickered. “True. I’m glad we aren’t having a summer wedding. The mosquitos are brutal this year.”
“Hmm. I think that’s why the senator’s daughter isn’t using the garden today as much as we will.” He sat up and lowered his sunglasses. “So… what did she say to you in there? And don’t tell me it was nothing. Something is bugging you. Time to come clean, Matty.”
I brushed his hair from his eyes and shrugged uncomfortably. “She asked me if I’d be willing to talk to Kristen.”
Aaron dropped his jaw comically and shook his head. “You must be fucking kidding me.”
“So what did you say? Are you going to call her?” he asked indignantly.
I turned to face him and hiked my knee on the bench between us. “Are you nuts? No, of course not!”
He pursed his lips like he was trying to contain a smile. “Why not? I mean… I trust you. I know you aren’t going to run away with the ex. You love me too much.”
I grinned. “I do love you too much. Or maybe it’s just the right amount of too much. But I’m still not going to call an ex-girlfriend and counsel her about her blasé love life. She and I weren’t friends. Not like that anyway. Whatever we had ended five years ago and it probably should have ended before then. She wasn’t the love of my life. You are.”
“You’re mine too. But… what if you really were hers? Do you think that’s possible? Does true love have to be a two-way thing or—”
“Yes, it does,” I said emphatically. “It absolutely does. Look, I’m not the world’s most intuitive guy when it comes to stuff like this but here’s what I do know… it always takes two people. I’m not talking about sex. I’m talking about commitment and growth and wanting the same things. And communication. Kristen and I were companions for a short time years ago. Maybe she wanted something more but I didn’t. Not until I met you.”
“Did you know you wanted to marry me some day?” he asked in a bashful tone.
“I was too afraid to know what I wanted in the beginning. You scared me. Or maybe it was how you made me feel that freaked me out.”
“I’m five eight when I stand up straight, Matty. How could I possibly have scared you?”
“You’re doing it right now,” I said, brushing my thumb over his lower lip.
“What am I doing?”
“You’re making it hard to breathe. You’re perfectly the other part of me, Aar, and it’s kind of magical and awe-inspiring and yeah… scary too. But I know you feel the same way about me and that’s when I realize I’m one lucky fucker.”
Aaron threw his head back and laughed. “Me too.”
“And as much as I wish everyone could feel this awesome, I know my limitations. I’m not Kristen’s ‘the one’. I never was. There’s no point in dragging up the past when you’re about to embark on your future.”
“And I’m your future,” he replied matter-of-factly.
“Exactly.” I leaned in and kissed him, resting my forehead against his. “Are we done running errands?”
“Well, we were gonna go to the bakery.” Aaron hummed then licked my lips. “Unless you’d rather go home.”
I pushed my tongue inside his mouth and glided it alongside his then pulled back and bit his chin.
To be continued…