Can a runaway bride find love with a jilted groom? Read Chapter One of Perfectly Played now! Here!
I hate wearing heels.
Sometimes I think I’m the only woman alive who doesn’t appreciate the sleek sexiness of a nice Manolo Blahnik, or doesn’t melt a bit when I catch sight of the red sole of a Louboutin pump. But a wedding does seem like the place where heels are in order, so I got myself a pair. Nude, patent leather, with a peep toe and four-inch heels. Not stilettos but skinny enough.
Wearing these heels, I take four steps down the aisle of the tiny chapel and stumble. I will later say a loose thread from the well-worn carpet tripped me but at the time I know it’s because I can’t wear heels.
I do catch myself in time, giving a quick glance to see M.K. clap her hand over her mouth in horror. Ruthie, of course, laughs because she spends her days laughing. But Thomas…
Thomas looks annoyed. Peeved. Irritated.
I take hesitant step and then another, wishing I had something to hang onto. A father’s arm would be best, but Dad is long gone. I’d even settle for one of my brothers to walk me down the aisle, but eloping to Las Vegas, not to mention the giant split between us, kind of puts a damper on that idea.
I could have had a lovely bouquet to hang on to, like the arrangement of creamy- white calla lilies and blue orchids I put together last month, but Thomas insisted he would look after the flowers.
“You work with the things every day,” he had said in his soothing voice, the one he uses when he thinks I’m stressing about something. “Let me do this.”
Now I’m walking down the aisle with a green leaf that M.K. pulled off a plant in the lobby scrunched in my hand. I’m a florist and my fiancé can’t remember to buy me flowers.
I take another step and another. I’m within arm’s reach, and it would be so nice if Thomas steps forward to meet me halfway. At least reach out a hand.
But he stands there with an expression of annoyance on his face. Why have I never noticed that Thomas loses his looks when he frowns? When the furrow between his eyes deepens, he becomes an old man. Or what he would look like when he was older. Older than me. Quite a bit older than me.
When I make the full stop, the expression of annoyance deepens to pissed off.
“Flora,” Thomas hisses, probably thinking I’ve stopped to say something. I used to be prone to stopping in the middle of the sidewalk or in Loblaws grocery store to loudly announce ideas or plans to everything in my vicinity. I have three brothers and I’m used to making myself heard.
But I haven’t done that in years, not since Thomas shushed me on the subway platform when I announced that I needed to go see The Lion King.
Thomas shushes me a lot.
M.K. and Ruthie stare at me from where they stand at the end of the aisle. Neither one of them hold out their hand to me either, although M.K. gives me an expectant nod. But I can’t move. I stand there not three feet from the place I’m supposed be in to say “I do” to the love of my life.
He didn’t buy me flowers.
He knows I wanted flowers at my wedding. I love flowers.
He’s never bought me flowers.
Suddenly the words are in my mouth like that little bit of bring-up I get when Thomas makes me drink a smoothie. “I can’t marry you.”
The words are drowned out by the “Wedding March” so I say it louder. “I can’t marry you.” This time the couple in the lobby can hear me.
“Flora, stop it.” There is no doubt that Thomas is frustrated. Annoyed, irritated, aggravated—there’s no sense going through the thesaurus because all the words are the same.
He is pissed.
And suddenly I don’t care.
“Flora.” The way he says my name is a warning, a clear indication he’s angry. I’ve spent the past eight years doing all I can to avoid his anger.
I’m done now.
“I can’t do this,” I say. “I don’t want to marry you, Thomas. I thought I did, but I don’t. Not now. Not…ever.”
Thomas shakes his head, looking a bit like a wet dog forced to come in from the rain. “You wanted this. I was perfectly happy with how things were, but you wanted more. You always want more.”
“I deserve more.” I hold out my leaf, which left a green smear on my hand. “I deserve flowers.”
“This is because I didn’t get you flowers?”
“Oh, god, don’t start with the flowers with her,” Ruthie says under her breath.
Thankfully, Thomas ignores her. “Stop being a child, Flora.”
“I’m twenty-nine and have my own business. You’re the only one who thinks I’m a child.”
Someone finally moves and it’s the justice of peace, still holding his prayer book with both hands. “If the blessed event isn’t going to take place, I do have others that need the space.” He looks down his nose at me like this is a prank gone wrong.
“I can’t marry him,” I repeat. “I’m sorry, but I can’t. I thought I could; I thought it was what I wanted but now that I’m here and you’re standing there looking so annoyed with me and I don’t have any flowers that I—”
“Yes, we know, Flora,” M.K. says, stepping forward to take my hand. M.K. is always patient and calm except for when she isn’t. “You’re not going to marry him. We need to get out of here, then.”
“I don’t believe you!” Thomas erupts. “That’s it?”
The words I should say dry up in my mouth. “I can’t. I don’t know what else to say.”
“You’ve ruined everything.”
“No, I think that was you,” Ruthie says, reaching for my other hand.
With a final look of disgust, Thomas storms past us like I’m a nothing more than a slow-moving pedestrian in his rush to get to work. “Jackass,” Ruthie says loudly. “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.”
The three of us turn and watch Thomas disappear into the lobby. Then he’s gone.
“That’s it?” Ruthie asks.
“He’s gone,” M.K. marvels. I’m not imagining the relief in her voice.
“Ladies.” A glance over my shoulder shows the justice of the peace with a thunderous expression that no man of God should ever wear.
“Has he been paid yet?” Ruthie mutters.
M.K. squeezes my hand. “Let’s get out of here.”
Suddenly I have the urge to run, run away from the chapel and the justice of the peace and what is undoubtedly going to be on the top ten list of all-time worst days. Hiking up the dress I bought off the rack at Nordstrom for forty percent off, I run down the aisle to the lobby, with M.K. and Ruthie hot on my heels.
And then the toe of my shoe really does catch on a loose thread on the carpet, sending me careening right into a man standing in the doorway of the chapel.
“Jesus!” My face smashes into a broad back and I grab on to him to keep from falling.
“What the—?” He looks over his shoulder, yet another man annoyed with me. I get a glimpse of bright blue eyes and a well-trimmed beard the colour of fall leaves before I push away.
“Flora, come on! How could you not see him?” Ruthie is laughing as she rushes up, blonde braids dancing like crazed snakes. “He’s like the size of a tree.”
The man turns, towering over me by almost a foot. Tree indeed. “Are you all right?”
He looks nice, I think irrationally. Cute, especially with the beard.
Like it has a mind of its own, my hand reaches up and touches his cheek. My fingers trace his jaw line, the wiry, reddish hair softer than it looks.
His eyes widen. “What—?”
I gasp and drop my hand. “Get out of my way” I demand. “I have to get out of here.”
He steps aside and I run down the street, with Ruthie and M.K. chasing after me.