by Anita Mae Draper
Tiny pins pressed into Emma's heart, numbing her better than any acupuncturist could. Jenny’s hesitance at becoming her maid of honor, Thad’s reluctance of driving her to the airport, it all fell into place. Emma had known he was suffering from a broken heart when she met him, but he’d never breathed a name and over the years, she’d forgotten, safe in a cocoon of his attention and growing love. And he did love her. She was sure of it. With the grace born of a long line of Southern gentility Emma forced a smile on her face. “Well, I’m glad that’s out in the open. Did you check any baggage, sis?”
Yet something was missing. Not once did Thad look her in the eye. And other than ask if everything was ready, Jenny flitted from one relative to another.
Of course everything was ready. Right down to the twenty-four little mints in each peach-colored tulle bag tied with a cream gossamer ribbon which would greet the guests as they sat down to dinner.
At nine o’clock, Thad’s groomsmen began to push him toward the door.
“Wait!” She rushed after them.
The best man turned. “He’s ours tonight, Emma. You can have what’s left of him tomorrow.”
Thad raised his arm and waved as they whisked him away amid a raucous chorus.
She was happy he had friends. Really, she was. Her lower lip trembled and she bit down hard to keep it still.
“Come on, Emma, party time.” Jenny nudged her forward.
She accompanied her bridesmaids to her bachelorette party and put on a performance worthy of an Oscar. Because no matter what had happened in the past, tomorrow was going to be the best day of her life. Nothing would mar her perfect wedding. Not even the groom himself.
* * *
Thad paced the length of the hotel room they would share on their wedding night. He stopped before the bureau mirror and stood at attention. “I do.” Why did his voice sound so girly today of all days? He cleared his throat and tried again.
The black splotch beneath his eye looked painful and felt worse. He covered it with his hand, turned to the side. His profile didn’t look too bad when he looked at it that way. Hopefully, Emma would be too excited about the big day to care about a little ol’ black eye.
Someone rapped on his door. “Thad, can I come in?”
“Jenny.” He opened the door. She winced when she saw his face but hurried past him. He shot a quick glance down the empty hall before closing the door and turning to her. “What are you doing here?”
“What did you tell Emma about us?”
He shoved his hands in the front pockets of his trousers. “I didn’t tell her anything. She knew I’d been in a relationship and it ended badly.”
“And you didn’t say it was me.”
“She never asked.”
“Now she’s going to wonder what we’re hiding.”
He jerked back as if she’d struck him. “We’re not hiding anything.” His gut wrenched as he remembered his furtive look down the hall.
“You have to tell her.” They said together.
“There’s nothing to tell,” he added. “Look, just leave it alone, all right? We both know it was over years ago when you decided to stay in that third world orphanage instead of coming back as my wife. I can't blame you for chosing God's work over me. And we have nothing to be guilty about. I didn’t even know her then. If we act like everything is fine, it will be.” He moved to the door, dropped his hand to the knob.
“I don’t know,” she said at his elbow. “You really should say something.”
“I will if she asks.” He opened the door.
She crossed the threshold and turned back. “I’m very happy for both of you.” Her sincerity didn't hide the shimmer in her eyes.
She’d once been his everything. With a groan, he pulled her into his arms for one last hug to last a lifetime.
* * *
Emma reached the fifteenth floor stairwell. Thank goodness her cardio training was paying off. She shouldn’t be sneaking in to see Thad just hours before their wedding but she needed to see him. To reassure herself everything was perfect after yesterday’s surprise.
She peered through the small window, her hand on the metal handle. About ten feet away, a door opened and Jenny stepped into the hallway, then turned back. Emma stared, open-mouthed, as Thad leaned out and embraced her.
What would you do in this situation? Run? Stride in and confront them? Sit on the floor and cry?
Come back tomorrow for the exciting conclusion to A Month of Expectation.