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THERE’S JUST ONE HITCH

 

     Lilly Merriweather was sitting on the floor in her apartment, surrounded by lists and receipts and magazines and fabric swatches, when there was a knock at the front door. She stood and opened it to find her older brother, Bill, standing in the falling snow.  

     “Come on in.” Shivering, she held the door and he stepped into her sorry excuse for a great room. “All this snow and it’s only mid-October. I love it.” 

     “You didn’t even look through the peephole to make sure it was me, did you?” he asked, ignoring her comment. 

     “No. I knew it would be you.” 

     “You can’t assume stuff like that. What if I were a serial killer?” 

     Lilly sighed. Bill was a cop, recently out of the police academy, and he found danger in every situation.  

 

     “You sigh now, but it might save your life someday. Never open the door without looking through the peephole.” 

     “Okay, I won’t.” Lilly eyed the paper bag in his hand and changed the subject. “Is that from Mom?” 

     “Yup. Pot roast with vegetables and gravy. And a slice of pecan pie.” 

     “Yum. Thanks for bringing it over.” 

     Bill set the bag on the card table against the back wall of the room and removed his coat. Lilly gestured for him to sit on the sofa while she sat in a straight-backed chair at the table. It was already set with a plate, napkin, utensils, and a tall glass of water. “Mind if I eat while we talk?” 

     “Go ahead. I already ate. Mom invited me for dinner when she called to see if I could bring food to you after work.” 

     Lilly popped the plastic top off the square container. Steam rose from the hot food. “Mm. This smells so good.” She speared a piece of beef with her fork. 

     “What’s going on in here? It looks like a bomb went off.” Bill leaned back against the sofa cushions and gestured toward the detritus on the floor. 

     “Wedding stuff. I’m doing the seating chart and going through the RSVPs. I told Mom I would microwave something, but she insisted on sending dinner over.” 

     “Why isn’t Beau helping? Shouldn’t he be doing half the work?”

 

     Lilly pointed a fork at Bill while she chewed. “I’m going to ignore that. Beau’s working tonight, otherwise I’m sure he’d be here helping.” 

     “You’re sure, huh? That makes one of us.” 

     “Stop it. Beau’s a good guy.” 

     “If you say so.” 

     “No, really. He is. Just this morning he brought me coffee at work.” 

 

     Bill nodded. “What a prince.” 

     “It was nice of him. And tomorrow he’s taking me to lunch.” 

     “Cool. Where?” 

     Lilly hesitated for a brief moment. “The ski lodge.” 

     “The ski lodge where he works? So, in other words, you have to drive all the way out there to have lunch with him because he won’t come into Juniper Junction to have lunch closer to your job.”  

     “You make it sound bad. I don’t mind driving there. Besides, I have to go out that way to pick up place cards from the wedding calligrapher.” 

     “I see.” 

     “No, you don’t.” 

     “Lilly, as long as you’re happy, I’m happy.” 

     “I am happy.” 

     Bill gave her a long look, then put his hands on his knees and rose slowly. “Good. I need to get home.

I’ve got an early shift tomorrow.” 

     “Okay. Thanks again for bringing dinner over.” She opened the door for him. 

     “All in a day’s work.” 

     Bill kissed her cheek and had one foot on the second step when he turned back to her. “It’s not too late to back out, you know.” 

     “Back out of the wedding? Did you hear anything I said?” 

     “I heard. I just want to make sure you’ve thought this through. After next Saturday there’s no easy exit.” 

     Lilly sighed. “Bill, I know you don’t like Beau.” She held up her hand when Bill opened his mouth to speak. “No, let me finish. I know you’re worried. I don’t know if it’s because I’m your little sister or because Dad isn’t here to say all these things or if it’s just that you’re scared of me making some huge mistake. But that’s just the point. It’s my life and I have to be the one making the mistakes. Not that I think I’m making one. If I didn’t love Beau, I wouldn’t be marrying him.” 

     “How is he going to support you? He’s a ski instructor, for God’s sake.” 

     “What is this, 1952? I don’t need someone to support me. I have a job and I make my own money. Not a job I like, but being an administrative assistant has its perks, like … Well, anyway, when you really think about it, not much is changing. Beau and I will probably buy a house outside town, so I’ll be a few miles away. And I’ll wear a wedding band. But that’s it—I’ll still be the same person I am today.” 

     It was Bill’s turn to sigh. “I just want you to know I care about what happens to you. You’re only twenty-two. I think you can do better.” 

     “I know you care about me. I also know I love Beau. And plenty of people get married when they’re twenty-two and it lasts a lifetime. So no more talk about calling off the wedding, okay?” 

*** 

     Eight days later, the morning of Lilly’s wedding dawned clear and crisp. The sky was a perfect robin’s egg blue and there was a fresh layer of snow on the ground, just the way Lilly liked it. The mountains surrounding Juniper Junction, Colorado, stood majestically in the sunshine. Lavender shadows marked glens and gorges on the mountainsides. To Lilly’s surprise, she had slept soundly the previous night—she had always imagined she’d be too excited to sleep the night before her wedding. 

     Her mother, Bev, called before her first cup of coffee. “Are you excited?” 

     “Yes, very.” 

     “So am I, dear. What time is our appointment at the hairdresser?” 

   

     “One o’clock.” 

     “Okay, I’ll pick you up at twelve-thirty. What time are the bridesmaids getting to my house?” 

 

     “I told them to be there by three. I’m sure we’ll be done at the hairdresser by then. Is my dress hanging up in my old room?” 

     “Yes. I already steamed it for you.” 

     “Thanks, Mom.” 

  

     After Lilly hung up with Bev, she phoned Beau.  

     “Hello?” 

     The gravelly sound of his voice gave Lilly goosebumps. “I can’t believe the day is finally here!” she squealed. 

     “Not so loud,” Beau moaned.  

     “Oh. Sorry.” 

     Beau chuckled and said in a hoarse voice, “I drank too much last night. What are you doing this morning?” 

     “Just some last-minute stuff. I’m getting my hair done right after lunch, then the girls are meeting me at Mom’s house and we’ll all get dressed and go to the church together. What are you doing?” 

     “Nursing a hangover. Tomato juice usually works. One of the guys from work is getting me some at the store right now.” 

     “Sounds like you had a rough night.” 

     “You have no idea.” 

     What’s that supposed to mean? “I’m sure you’ll feel better in time for the ceremony. Right?” 

     “I hope so.” 

     Lilly frowned as her shoulders slumped just a little. She was practically itching to tell him he shouldn’t have had so much to drink, but she refused to be that fiancée. “Well, I hope you feel better. Call me later.” 

     “I will.” Beau hung up. 

     Lilly stood at her kitchen counter for a long moment, looking out the window at the tree limbs with their lacy covering of snow glittering in the sunshine. She couldn’t have asked for a nicer wedding day.

 

*** 

     That afternoon the hairdresser wasn’t in the salon when Lilly and Bev arrived. “Is Sarah at lunch?” Lilly asked the receptionist. 

     “No. Her son stuck his hand in a hot oven and she had to take him to the ER. She asked me to get someone else to cover her shift.” 

     “So she won’t be back?” 

     “Not unless it’s the fastest ER visit in history.” 

     Lilly counted to ten in her head. “Okay. Who’s the other person?” Not that it mattered—Lilly didn’t know anyone else who worked at the salon. She always went to Sarah.  

     “Genevieve. You know her?” 

     “No.” 

     “You don’t have much of a choice, unless you can find another salon with a ninety-minute open slot to do wedding hair.” 

     Lilly suppressed a grimace. “That’s fine. We’ll just tell Genevieve what we want done.” 

     After Genevieve finished styling Bev’s hair, Lilly explained that she wanted an updo. 

     Genevieve yanked and teased Lilly’s medium-length hair into an epic updo using the better part of a whole canister of hairspray and about a thousand bobby pins. Lilly gazed at herself in the mirror while Bev beamed. The hairdresser had left small hanks of hair hanging on each side of Lilly’s head, then curled them to within an inch of their lives.   

     On the ride back to Bev’s house Lilly couldn’t keep the glum note out of her voice. “Remind me never to go to Genevieve again. I look like I have a worm coming out of each ear.” 

     “You look beautiful. That updo is perfect for that chestnut hair of yours,” Bev said. She was driving, but she glanced at Lilly out of the corner of her eye.  

     “Right.” 

     “No one’s wedding day is perfect, dear. The mistakes are part of what makes the day so memorable. Your father and I hired a deaf organist for our wedding. We auditioned him and he was terrible, but we didn’t want him to feel bad so we hired him anyway. We figured he’d practice and get better. Turned out he didn’t.” 

     “Didn’t practice or didn’t get better?” 

     “He definitely didn’t get better. Whether he practiced or not is anyone’s guess. But your father and I laughed about that until the day he died. It was memorable. I’m sure our guests laughed about it, too.” 

     Lilly smiled. “I wish Dad could be here.” 

     “So do I, honey.” Bev’s face took on a faraway look and Lilly didn’t say anything else.  

     She watched the quaint homes and shops of Juniper Junction pass by the car window until Bev came to a red light. Glancing over at the café on the corner, Lilly did a double take when she saw the people in the booth next to the large front window. 

     Beau sat across the table from a blonde woman with a pretty face and a décolletage ample enough to be visible from the car. Beau held the woman’s hands as he stared at her, speaking in what looked like an earnest manner. The light turned green and Bev accelerated, leaving the café behind. Lilly wanted to ask Bev if she had seen Beau, too, but if she had, surely she would have said something.  

     Right? 

     Lilly swallowed hard. She looked down at the small diamond on her left ring finger. Beau loved her. She was sure of that.  

     So who was the woman? And why was Beau holding her hands? Why was he meeting with some big-boobed blonde just hours before his wedding? And if it wasn’t a secret, why hadn’t he told Lilly about it? 

She had to call him. She was going to be that fiancée after all, and henpeck him until she got a satisfactory answer. 

     But Beau didn’t pick up the phone that afternoon and Lilly couldn’t go to his apartment because she was surrounded by tulle-clad bridesmaids who only wanted to chatter about the reception and the honeymoon. 

*** 

     Lilly, Bev, and the bridesmaids arrived at the church in plenty of time. Lilly could think of nothing but the woman in the café holding hands with Beau.  

     She had to talk to him before the ceremony. 

     She went in search of the room where Beau and his groomsmen were gathered. When she found it, the door was ajar. One of the groomsmen spotted her and whistled. “You here to see Beau? You know it’s bad luck to see the groom before the wedding, right?” 

     Worse luck than what she had seen earlier at the café? 

     Lilly did her best to smile. “Is he in there? I just want to see him for a few minutes.” 

     The groomsman opened the door a little more. Beau sat on a sofa watching a football game on television. 

     “Your bride is here, Beau. Guys, let’s give them a little privacy.” The groomsmen all filed out of the room, winking and grinning. She rolled her eyes. What did they think she and Beau were going to do, completely dressed and in a church? 

     “Hi.” Beau smiled. “I didn’t expect to see you until the ceremony.” 

     “I have to talk to you about something.” 

     He tilted his head and his smile disappeared. “What is it?” 

     She had been wondering how to broach the subject and decided to just dive in. “I saw you this afternoon holding hands with a woman in the café on Main Street.” She let her words hang in the air. 

     His color paled a bit as he swallowed. It looked as if his Adam’s apple were trapped under the collar of his tuxedo. He looked down as he pressed his hands together between his knees. “It’s nothing. She’s a ... she’s a friend.” 

     “Why haven’t I ever met her?” 

     “I work with her. She and I don’t hang out.” 

     “You were hanging out today. Do you always hold hands with your friends?” 

     “Lilly, you don’t need to worry about her. I swear.” 

     “You sure about that? Because it’s not too late to call off the wedding.” Lilly couldn’t believe she was echoing Bill’s sentiments. 

     Beau’s eyes widened. “I’m sure. I promise. I love you, Lilly.” 

     Lilly managed a smile. “I love you, too.” 

     “You get back to your girlfriends. I’ll see you at the altar.” He touched her hand and she left. 

*** 

     The little church was packed. When everyone was seated, Beau’s parents walked down the aisle to their seats, arm in arm. Bill escorted Bev to her seat, then returned to the narthex. One by one, the bridesmaids walked sedately down the aisle. Lilly stood out of sight, scanning the guests on Beau’s side. She hadn’t met most of them. Any of them, in fact, except for the best man and Beau’s parents. The blonde wasn’t there.  

     “You ready?” Bill touched Lilly on the shoulder and she jumped. He laughed. “Sorry about that. I didn’t mean to startle you. Jitters?” 

     Lilly let out a nervous laugh. “I guess.” 

     “I’m sorry for the things I said about Beau. I should have kept my big mouth shut.” Bill looked down at her. He looked terrific in his tuxedo. Lilly wished with all her heart that her father could have walked her down the aisle, but Bill was a pretty amazing substitute.  

     “It’s okay.” Lilly gazed fondly at her brother. “Beau loves me. He’s not perfect, but neither am I. And I love him.” 

     “That’s all that counts.” 

     The first organ notes of Pachelbel’s Canon in D swelled softly through the sanctuary. Lilly took a deep breath as Bill held out his arm for her. “Ready?” he asked with a nod. 

     “I’m ready.” 

     Everyone in the church stood and turned around, ready for Lilly to step from the narthex into the sanctuary. Beau stood at the altar, his normally-windblown hair slicked back. He looked so handsome. Lilly took Bill’s arm firmly and stepped onto the red carpet that would lead her to the altar. She wanted to smile at all the people watching her, but she was afraid she would throw up if she moved a facial muscle. Her throat tightened. 

     What was she getting herself into? Did she believe what Beau told her about that blonde? Did she really have nothing to worry about? Come to think of it, he hadn’t told her the woman’s name or why they were together or anything. And he certainly hadn’t told her why they were holding hands.  

     He couldn’t be seeing another woman. Not on his own wedding day. This was one of those things her mom had talked about earlier—something they would laugh about in years to come. 

     Right? 

***

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