Thursday, September 29, 2011

Chapter 20

They built you a cage of diamonds and gold
most beautiful place for you to grow old
They brought you the moon and served you the lie
and all that you wanted was freedom to fly

Harness your rage, take a leap of faith
to claim back your soul before it's too late
Show them no fear, sing them goodbye
Leave all but your heart and you're free to fly

(lyrics from “Heavy” by Laurie Ylönen)

“You know it’s supposed to be bad luck to be together the night before the wedding.” Her hand was pressed to the center of his chest and her back was pressed to the front door. She looked up into Jimmy’s blazing blue eyes and did her best to smile and look flirtatious when what she was really feeling was more akin to nauseous.

“This born again blushing maiden thing is cute, but you’re about to be my wife,” he told her, his grip on her wrist a little too tight. Chelsea could feel the beginning of pins and needles in her hand. 

“It’s traditional to spend the night before the wedding separately,” she told him, forcing herself to relax the hand she had pressed against his chest and to toy with the buttons on his shirt instead and felt him ease up as she went up on tip toe to press her lips against his. She closed her eyes and waited, as she had every night when he’d kissed her goodnight, for the butterflies to erupt in her stomach. Tonight, as they had every night, those butterflies stayed dormant.

“Alright,” he agreed with a smile, his hand lifting her hair up and over her shoulder, “but tomorrow night,” he began, leaning in to press another kiss to her lips. 

“Yeah, I know,” she agreed knowing that she was dreading it and trying to hide the annoyance of being reminded, again. “You get the old place all painted?” He’d been working on the house in the high meadow for years. He’d been working on it in earnest over the last year. He’d been putting the last lick of paint on it this week. 

“Might still smell of wet paint tomorrow,” he smiled, wrapping one of her curls around his finger, “but our little house is all ready for the honeymoon,” he added, leaning in to whisper in her ear.”I even put a fresh coat of paint in the nursery.” Chelsea took a deep breath and fought the urge to shudder. This was part of the choice she had made. Jimmy wanted children and lots of them. He’d always been clear on that and she was just as clear that it was how he’d tie her here and of course he would want to start right away. “What should we have first?” he continued, sliding his other hand down over her stomach, “a boy or a girl?” 

“I...I don’t think we get to decide that,” she mumbled, wriggling uncomfortably like a fish on a hook out of water. She knew her father was inside and she genuinely wished that he would flash the porch light on and off as a warning, just as he had done when she was younger. Back then she’d been mortified. Right now it would be a relief.

“Is my little firecracker getting nervous?” she heard him ask playfully, his lips brushing the curve of her neck. “Big day tomorrow,” he reminded her again. As if she needed reminding. 

“Yeah, you’d better let me get some sleep so I don’t have a snooze at the altar.” She reached for the door handle behind her, twisted it and felt it give. “See you tomorrow,” she said, blowing a kiss as she ducked into the house and slammed the door behind her. 

“If you don’t want to go through with it, all you have to do is say the word darlin’.” Chelsea froze. It took her a moment to realize that the voice she’d heard wasn’t Jimmy’s, but her grandfather’s. The old man sat at the table staring down at the cards he’d lined up as he slowly tapped his fingers on the rest of the deck with only the light of an old kerosene lamp to see by. The hiss the lamp made as it burned the fuel brought back so many memories and made her want to crawl in his lap the way she’d done when she was small, and help him pick out the mates to the cards in his hand. Hanging her head and pushing off from the door, she made her way slowly to the table and dropped heavily into the chair opposite him. 

“I’m pretty sure it’s just nerves,” she told him, or was it herself, as she overlooked his cards and then tapped on an open ten of spades.

“Are you sure about that?” he asked her, putting the nine of hearts up but not looking up at her, “because you’ve been biting everyone’s head off for the last couple of days,” he added and that’s when he looked up at her, one bushy eyebrow raised.  

“Mmmm, yeah,” she mumbled, reaching for one of the Oreo cookies he had on a plate, pulling it apart and rolling the gooey white filling into a ball which she then popped into her mouth and chewed thoughtfully. 

“Well that sounds definitive,” he replied, a sarcastic lilt to his voice as he added an eight of clubs to the line of cards in front of him. “You sure you weren’t happier when you were seeing that other young man?” he asked, again without looking up at her. He shuffled through his cards and began again. Chelsea licked her lips reached for another cookie but her grandfather pulled the plate just out of her reach. “Chelsea Abigail Dobryak, do you want to marry Jim tomorrow or don’t you?” The same leaf green eyes she’d inherited stared back at her and she knew she could lie to herself, that she could lie to Jimmy and even Mike, but she could never, ever lie to this man.

“No Gramps. No, I don’t.” 


Mike lay staring at the ceiling of his bedroom. He couldn’t sleep. Not knowing that tomorrow he was going to lose any chance at getting her back. 

When he’d taken Nicky and Brooks to the airport both of them had encouraged him to buy a ticket and get on the plane with them. He’d been tempted but in the end even the thought of all the short skirts in the windy streets of D.C. couldn’t entice him to leave, yet. 

He’d expected at least Brooks to have a good laugh at his expense when he’d told them his plans but both men had surprised him by offering to stay and back him up. He’d turned them down. This was something he needed to do on his own. 

Not that he knew what he was going to say. He thought he’d already said everything he could and she’d made it pretty clear that she’d made her choice and it wasn’t him. 

But there was one more thing he could say and as he lay on his back in the dark, he was amazed that the thought of saying it didn’t make him sick to his stomach and send him running for the Pepto Bismol. A brief few weeks ago he had been happy to have a different girl every night and he knew that Mike, the old Mike, would have laughed at the very idea of carrying out the plan that had formed in his head. But that Mike hadn’t known Chelsea and new Mike didn’t want to imagine going back to D.C. without her. 

“I am so fucked,” he told himself, not for the first time since he’d met her. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do if his plan didn’t work. When Brooks had asked him what plan B was he’d had to admit that he didn’t have one. Plan B was coming back next summer and probably seeing her at Stampede with a kid in her arms watching Alan Jackson chasing baby cows around and that thought did make him want to pray to the porcelain god. 

Reaching blindly Mike felt around his bedside table for the family heirloom he’d astonished his mother by asking for. It had been his grandmother’s. It wasn’t anything fancy. It was just a thin gold band with a tiny diamond and it was nothing like the one she was wearing now, but this one meant something. It would mean the world if she’d agree to wear it.  

Mike turned it over in his hand and then held it up to the catch the light of the moon. It was tiny but it sparkled. It reminded him of Chelsea’s eyes. 


“Can I just say I am so going to enjoy telling him to suck it?” Chelsea didn’t even look up from stuffing her clothes into the almost full suitcase that was open on her bed but she did allow herself a quiet chuckle at her friend’s enthusiasm.

“I know you will,” she snorted as she shoved a handful of panties down one side and then reached for another handful. 

“He is gonna be so pissed,” Shan added, sounding pleased with the idea and Chelsea had to admit to herself that she was no longer worried about upsetting Jimmy. It seemed pretty amazing the difference a few hours had made. 

“Well just make sure my dad and Gramps are standing behind you when you tell him,” she instructed. Not that she was worried Jimmy would take a swing, not in front of God and everyone, but it she knew that their presence would not only add proof that what Shan would be telling him was the truth, but it would discourage him from making a scene. 

“How’s your Gran taking it?” Shan asked, stilling Chelsea’s frantic packing by closing her fingers around her arm. The two women’s eyes met and the only thing that had stopped her from leaving in the middle of the night brought tears to her eyes now. 

“She’s disappointed,” Chelsea admitted. 

“It’s this place, right?” Shan asked and Chelsea nodded. “It’s not like you won’t come back, right?” her friend added with a look that said she too was asking the question and Chelsea smiled and rolled her eyes. 

Always, of course I will and even if...if things do actually work in’s not like I won’t be back but it’s not the same.” It hadn’t been the same since her mother’s death. Everyone knew it and no more so than the woman who’d been running the ranch ever since. Her father couldn’t bear to enter the stables and now the only other blood relative she had would be gone. 

“No, I guess not,” Shan sighed, sitting on the edge of the bed reaching out to slide her fingers over the satin of the dress that hung on the back of the door and it would stay hanging there. “And I guess she’ll have to get a new hand. But, on the bright side, at least the next time you’re back he won’t be here and hey, maybe you guys will wanna rent the house in the upper meadow?” 

“Why, you wanna move into it?” Chelsea asked, pausing as she stared down at the diaphanous white gown her grandmother had bought her to wear on her wedding night. She thought about leaving it in the drawer, and then decided against to bring it with her. 

“I dunno,” Shan replied, lifting her eyebrow as she watched Chelsea fold the gown carefully onto the top of the pile of clothes in the suitcase. “Maybe when you come back next summer Mike can bring his friends again and I can have my own harem up there. Whaddya think?” The two women looked at each, both trying to keep straight faces, and then both lost the fight and they fell apart into a fit of giggles. 

When the giggles had subsided, their gazes met and Chelsea saw tears glimmering in her friend’s eyes.
“You’ll come visit,” she told her seriously. 

“You bet. When are the Pens playing in Washington?” They both smiled, but they were smiles tinged with sadness. 

“Now you’re sure Nicky said they’d all gone to the airport?” Chelsea asked, changing the subject, or rather bringing them back to the subject at hand. 

“Yeah, that’s what he texted last night,” Shan replied, digging out her phone to show her friend the evidence. Chelsea stared at the text and felt those butterflies stirring in her stomach at last.

“Am I stupid for doing this?” she asked. Shan just grinned and shook her head.

Mike stared at the raised up four by four pick up with the streamers and rosettes taped to it parked in front of the church and rolled his eyes. There was just no way she could marry that yokel and yet he hadn’t been able to make himself open the door of his car to climb out and do something about that; at least not yet. 

He’d watched the guests going in, wearing their best summer dresses and light weight summer suits and every time he’d watched a couple walking up the steps he’d told himself he would go in right after them, or after the next couple, or the next couple for sure. And yet he was still in his car with a death grip on the steering wheel, listening to Kanye and trying to work up the courage. 

He needed a drink. 

No, he needed to grow a pair. He could hear the guys in his head. They’d be laughing at him and calling him a pussy and probably, no, definitely, worse. He didn’t need to actually have them here to know that they’d be taunting him. Well it was easy for them, he decided as he watched another car pull up and yet another young couple get out and walk up those stairs and into those doors. It was easy to talk the talk but he knew from walking out on to the ice during the play offs that it was an entirely different thing to actually walk the walk. 

It was the old Rolls Royce with the streamers tied to the hood ornament that stirred him to action. That would be her, he knew, or at the very least her grandparents, which meant she wouldn’t be far behind. 

Now or never Greener’, he told himself as he pulled the keys out of the ignition, pocketing them and pulling the ring out. 

“Here goes fucking nothin’”, he muttered under his breath as he stepped out onto the sidewalk and started to head towards the car as it pulled up to the curb. His heart hammered hard against his chest and all he could think was ‘what the fuck am I gonna do if she says no?


His heart leaped in his chest but he knew, even before he turned around that it wasn’t her voice he’d just heard. He did know the face of the woman with all the dark curls in the burgundy halter dress though and he was glad she didn’t look pissed that he was here. That was something anyway.

“Ummm Shannon right?” he said, palming the ring and trying to look cool and calm. He was sweating like a pig in his best, most slick silver suit but he’d been told by a lot of women that he was pretty irresistible in it and if there was a time he needed to be that, it was now.

“What are you doing here?” Okay, so maybe she wasn’t happy to see him, Mike thought as he looked around at the quickly emptying sidewalk. He obviously wasn’t the only one that sensed that the bride’s arrival was, if not already at hand, at least close by. He wondered what she was going to look like. She’d be beautiful, of course, but then she always was but... “Hello? Earth to Mike...what you are you doing here?” 

“Oh...yeah, well I know it’s like...weird or something but...I just have to talk to her y’know?” he began, that tiny rock in his pocket suddenly weighed about a ton. ‘Get a grip Greener’, he thought as he realized that there was a really good chance he was about to totally bottle it. 

“Yeah, you two definitely need to talk but not here,” her friend hissed at him, grabbing him by the arm and pulling him out of earshot of her grandparents who were getting out of the Rolls. Her grandmother sent him an evil glare. That woman really did not like him. 

“Well it’s kinda gotta be here ‘cuz she can’t marry him,” Mike tried to explain, wondering if maybe it was the shades. Was he trying to go for too cool for school instead of desperate? He went to pull them off but when he turned back to her friend, his hand just sort of stayed there, mid air, while she shook her head and laughed. “Wha..what? What’s so funny?” he asked, while she held onto her stomach and bit her lip; her full, ripe red bottom lip. No wonder Nicky had been sneaking her into his house in the middle of the night, Mike thought as he waited for her to gather some semblance of control. She was definitely doable in the ‘I would pick her out at a bar and take her home’ kind of way. Not that he should be thinking about women that way with a ring in his pocket, Mike scolded himself. 

“It’s just... well, she’s there and you’re here,” Shannon smirked and shook her head again. 

“There?” Mike looked up at the church. 

“No, dummy,” Shannon made a grab for his pocket and pulled out his iPhone. The ring fell on the ground. They both stared at the ring and then stared at one another and then she really started to laugh. 


There was no answer. Chelsea tried the buzzer again, and waited, but there was still no answer. 

“Great,” she moaned, and went back to sit on her suitcase. She’d come all this way, came straight here from the airport even though she felt like she needed a shower, just to surprise him and he wasn’t even home. “He’s probably out with some floozie,” she mumbled, pulling out her phone, not for the first time, and considering whether or not to text him that she was here. It would ruin the element of surprise, for certain, but it sure as hell beat the pants off of sitting outside looking like she was begging for spare change. 

She had just slid the unlock bar from left to right on her phone when a text appeared. 

Nicky’s on his way with a key

Chelsea’s free hand flew up to cover her mouth as she let out a happy little squeal. 

Stay there, don’t move the next text said simply, I’m on the next flight. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Chapter 19

'Cause if one day you wake up and find that you're missing me
And your heart starts to wonder where on this earth I could be
Thinkin maybe you'll come back here to the place that we'd meet
And you'll see me waiting for you on the corner of the street
So I'm not moving, I'm not moving
People talk about the guy that's waiting on a girl
There are no holes in his shoes but a big hole in his world

Maybe I'll get famous as the man who can't be moved
Maybe you won't mean to but you'll see me on the news
And you'll come running to the corner
'Cause you'll know it's just for you
I'm the man who can't be moved

(lyrics from “The Man Who Can’t Be Moved” from the Script)

“Your mother would be so happy.” 

It was her thought too as Chelsea cautiously lifted the dress from the cedar chest that had sat, unopened, at the foot of her parents bed ever since she could remember. She felt the heavy white satin slip through her fingers as she gingerly held the dress up in front of her. She’d only seen this dress in pictures. She’d known where it was, but her mother, with her shining eyes, would only shake her head when her daughter would ask to see it. 

One day’ she’d say, and then cup her daughter’s cheek and smile. Chelsea wished she could lean into that hand now. She felt her mother’s loss now more than ever. 

“It’s huge,” she breathed, looking down at the spill of heavy satin and lace at her feet. 

“Yeah, something about Princess Diana,” her father mused quietly behind her. Chelsea looked over at her shoulder at him. His gaze was blurred with tears she knew he wouldn’t shed. Not now. Not in front of her. “They all had to have the big dresses after that,” he added, reaching out to gingerly brush his fingers over the marshmallow puff shoulders. “I’m sure you can work with it. You and your Gran, some scissors and you’ll have something that doesn’t scream early eighties,” he added as he kissed the top of her head. 

Cut it up? It seemed like sacrilege she thought as she ran her hand over the light lavender ribbons on the boned bodice, but the sleeves were a bit much. She hadn’t even looked at the headpiece but she knew she’d never wear the thing that, in all of the pictures she knew by heart, looked like a crown made out of ice and toile. Even her mother had laughed, later when her daughter would ask about it. ‘That was just they style baby’ her mother had told her and then she would grin and say ‘your mother was stylin’.’

Yes, the sleeves would have to go and she didn’t think she had the ego to get away with the eight foot train either, Chelsea thought as she slid her foot under it and kicked it out along the carpet. Not in a little country church. 

“Let’s get the pins.” Chelsea looked up to see her grandparents standing in the doorway, the morning light shining behind them and she felt her tears overflow. The gentle light shining in made it feel like her mother was there, wearing the same expression her grandparents were, that said ‘isn’t she so pretty?’ “We’ll go in the front room,” her Gran added, with a wink. “The light’s better there.” 

“Shan’s coming to get me, we were going shopping for a dress,” she told them, surrendering the dress to her smaller, slighter grandmother who draped it over both of her arms. 

“Well you don’t have to shop now,” her Grandfather told her as he took her in his arms and held her against the barrel of his chest. “Besides, it’ll be nice having her bend over and help pin,” he added, just barely dancing out the way when her grandmother aimed a swat at him. 

“Watch it old man,” her grandmother shook her head at him but her grandfather just grinned and turned to lead their group out of the darkened room and down the hall. 


“Hey, watch it! That’s heavy.” 

Mike stared down at where Brooks was lying on the floor, struggling to get up from under an enormous medicine ball. He wanted to feel sorry for him but he didn’t. He was actually kind of sorry that his teammate wasn’t bleeding. 

“It’s your fault,” Mike growled, not for the first time. Brooks rolled his blue eyes, pushed the heavy ball off of his abdomen and held out his hand. Mike grudgingly helped him up. He thought about pulling him hard enough to send him stumbling head first into the rack of free weights behind him but decided against it at the last minute. 

“You’re not good enough for that little filly anyway,” Brooks snorted, giving Mike a playful push. Mike didn’t sway even an inch. 

“I love her…loved…whatever,” he hissed, glancing around to see if any of the other athletes might have overheard. 

“Well if you loooovvvve her so fucking much why are you here and not on your knees begging for forgiveness?” Brooks asked, reaching for his water bottle and tipping it up to his lips. That was a question that Mike had been asking himself and he gave his teammate the same answer he’d been giving himself since Chelsea had walked away from him in the parking lot of Cowboys. 

“If she wants to marry that…fuckface, I’m not gonna stop her.” His top lip curled when he said it but as satisfying as it felt to say it, he didn’t believe it any more now when he said it out loud than when he said it to himself. 

“Like I said, waaay too good for you,” Brooks laughed, wiping the sweat off of his forehead with the back of his arm and then upending the remnants of his bottle over Mike’s head. “Look, fuckface,” he began, ducking Mike’s half hearted swing at his head, “if you lurve her like you seem to then you don’t let her marry that guy. Fucking grow a pair and go get her Greener.” Mike shook his head. He’d tried. She wanted nothing to do with him and he could understand that because Brooks was right, he was a fucking loser and he didn’t deserve her.

“Fuck let’s go get faced,” he grumbled, ripping his shirt over his head and heading for the showers. 

“Yeah, cuz that’s gonna help,” Brooks called after him. 

“It will if it makes me barf on you,” Mike called back over his shoulder and his friend’s laughter followed him down the hall.


“I think I could make some sort of bra out of these,” Shannon pondered the two pieces of puffy white fabric they’d just cut carefully from the dress as Chelsea slipped into the dress for a second time.

“Why? Are you trying to go for some kind of second time around virgin thing?” Chelsea asked her friend as she held the front of the dress up and waited to be laced in, “because no one would believe you.” 

“Ugh, who’d want to go through that again?” Chelsea’s friend made a face but dropped the two pieces of fabric and picked up the laces to the bodice of the dress. “You know, this looks so much better without those sleeves.” Chelsea looked down at the white satin bustier with its purple ribbon accents and the now plain floor length skirt. It was simple but pretty. The essence of the original dress was still there without the frills and gaudy lace edging that had aged it. 

“Do you think he’ll like it?” she asked, letting her hands slip over the smooth cool fabric now that the laces seemed to be holding the dress up instead of her hands. She heard the disgusted sound Shan made in her throat and tried to ignore it. 

“Course I will.” 

Chelsea’s hands flew up to her chest as if she’d been caught naked and her grandmother tipped over sewing kit, sending pins and buttons all over the floor as she jumped in front of her, both trying to cover the dress from his prying eyes. Jimmy leaned in the doorframe, filling it, his grin and shining eyes making it obvious he did like what he saw. 

“You’re not supposed to see the dress,” her grandmother hissed at him like she was trying to put a hex on him. 

“Yeah, jackass,” Shan appeared in front of her, shaking her head and making shooing motions at him. Jimmy just grinned, took off his hat and mopped his brown with the back of his hand. 

“You’re puttin’ somethin’ on top of that right? Don’t need to be showin’ off the girls to everybody. That’s for me, not the general public,” he added, wiping his hands down along his thighs and then staring down at them like he was trying to decide if they were clean enough for him to come any nearer and then he frowned, like he’d decided against it. “You can put some lace up there, cover some of that up,” he suggested, waving his hands at her chest but looking at her Gran. Chelsea looked down at what she thought was a conservative amount of cleavage and frowned.

“I don’t think this is too much,” she mumbled, thinking about some of the dresses she had up in her closet that she’d worn at balls and banquets in Washington. 

“Maybe for fancy dress for a single gal,” Jimmy grinned and winked, “but not for my wife.”

“You want her to look nice right?” Shannon asked, her arms still outstretched to block his view of a dress he’d obviously already got an eyeful of. 

“Sure, just not too nice.” He winked at Chelsea again and then put his hat back on as he turned to go back outside. He paused, just as Shan and her Gran were letting down their guards. Both women jumped back in front of her like they were trying to stop a bullet. “You be ready for rehearsal dinner. Don’t want to be late for that,” he added, tipping his hat and then disappearing from view.  

Chelsea waited until she heard the screen door swing shut and then cursed, loudly. Shan whistled low and long. 

“Seriously? Did he just fucking seriously tell you he wanted you to wear a burqa to the wedding?” Chelsea shook her head but didn’t actually disagree. 

“He’s just...very traditional, old fashioned.” She winced as she defended him and her friend didn’t miss that. 

“He’s just a big fuckface,” Shan sniffed and then held up her hand before Chelsea could argue. “No, I know, he’s very dependable or whatever other anti romantic Mister Darcy bullshit you want to call it. I know, Mike would love that dress.” Chelsea looked down at the boned bustier and sighed. She could imagine him whistling at the end of the aisle and breaking into that big boyish grin of his. The thought made her smile. 

“Maybe he would,” she agreed quietly, “but I’m not marrying Mike. Gran, is there a shrug or something we could make? Maybe lace? Something I could take off at the reception?” 

“Oh you have to be kidding,” Shan grumbled and then turned to pick up the sleeves they’d cut off the dress. “Why don’t we just sew these back on?” 


“I just wanted to go to a bar,” Mike complained as he handed the waiter back the menu. 

“Yeah but this way you get food in your system,” Nicky pointed out. Mike rolled his eyes. 

“Yeah and then it just takes longer for me to get faced and that wasn’t the point.” Nicky looked at him disapprovingly and Mike just rolled his eyes and reached for his rum and coke. The liquid felt cool and smooth as it slid down his throat and then it just sort of stopped there.

“Oh fuckity hell,” Brooks hissed following the direction of Mike’s gaze to the group that was just being seated near them. Mike agreed with the sentiment but couldn’t say anything. His mouth wouldn’t move and his heart was warring with the liquid still stuck in his throat as they tried to pass each other.

“We should go,” Nicky said quietly, putting his napkin back on the table.

“No,” Mike managed to squeak, just, and pushed his friend back down. After that night at Cowboys he’d never thought he’d actually see her again. If he could just look now, if he could just watch her, he wanted to do that. 

She looked beautiful with all those red waves cascading around her shoulders in a simple dark emerald green sheath dress. He couldn’t see from where he was sitting but he knew that her eyes would be shining like jewels. 

“Oh jeeeezus,” Brooks groaned as he looked at the table where she sat with her family and a couple of friends and then back at Mike. “Don’t do this man. What, are you just gonna sit here and torture yourself?” he asked. Mike nodded. 

“Yeah,” he said quietly, reaching for his drink and downing it. “Now get me another.” 

“You should try to talk to her again,” Nicky encouraged him quietly. Mike didn’t take his eyes off of her but shook his head.

“Talked to her. She doesn’t wanna hear it. Got nothin’ else to say.” He mumbled, watching as Jimmy pulled her chair out for her, feeling his stomach turn over as she looked up at him and as he smiled down at her. 

“It might be your last chance,” Nicky prodded. Mike glanced at his friend and then back at her. Jesus his chest hurt. 

“No point,” he said brusquely as the waiter showed up with their appetizer and took his empty glass. “Look at them, like they’re in fucking love or something,” he moaned but couldn’t take his eyes off of her. 

“Mmm, the wings at this place are so good,” Chelsea licked her lips as she looked at the pictures accompanying the menu. 

“Another time,” Jimmy whispered into her ear, sliding the menu out of her hand and putting it down on top of his on the table. 

“What?” she felt startled. She always had the wings when they came to this restaurant. They made her eyes water and her tongue was usually numb after but they were sooo good. 

“They’re so messy. You always get some on you,” he replied matter-of-factly as he gave her a half hug, pulling her against his body. “Not very lady like,” he added, kissing her temple and then turning back to the conversation he’d been having with her father but without removing his arm from where it possessively held her around her shoulders. 

Chelsea stared at the stacked menus.

“But I like the wings, they’re my favorite,” she reiterated. 

“I said another time,” he whispered, giving her shoulder a pat with his hand. 

“So now you’re ordering for me?” she snarled, still keeping her voice low but Shan and her Gran had both stopped talking and turned to look at them. She could feel Jimmy go still, feel him sit up straighter, his feather ruffled. But when he looked down at her, he was still smiling, though the smile wasn’t warm.

“I’m about to be your husband CeeCee, so yes, I am.” It wasn’t a suggestion. There was no thought at all. It was a statement of fact and the tone of his voice made it plain as day that there would be no discussion of the matter. This was just how it was.

Chelsea knew her mouth was hanging open, but she was so furious, so humiliated that she couldn’t think of a single retort.

“Well then I guess you don’t need me right now,” she whispered, pushing her chair back and getting to her feet.

“I’m right behind you,” she heard Shan say but she shook her head. Right now she was in no mood for smug ‘I told you so’s’ or more questions about why she was marrying him. Right now she wanted to just be alone.
Clutching her bag in both of her hands to stop herself from waving her hands in the air like a maniac as she muttered epithets under her breath, she stormed towards the bathrooms. As she weaved through the tables waiters and waitresses jumped out of her way. When she went to push the bathroom door open a woman coming out literally cringed as she looked at the expression on Chelsea’s face. 

By the time she stood at the counter staring back at her own countenance she was crying, fat bitter tears or self recrimination. 

Mike watched her storm away from the table and realized he was getting to his feet to go after her. He knew by the way her shoulders were hunched but her chin was up that her lanky cowboy had to have done or said something to upset her. That made him smile. He might not be good enough for her but Jimmy was a douche.
“What are you gonna say?” It was Nicky who tugged at Mike’s sleeve, stopping his forward momentum. Mike looked down into his friend’s round face and realized that he had no idea. He shrugged. 

“Dunno,” he admitted, “just have to try though right?” Nicky gave him an encouraging smile. 

“Good luck Greeny,” he said with a shake of his head. 

“Yeah, good luck Greener, you’re gonna need it,” Brooks muttered, lifting his glass to his lips, setting the ice in his glass clinking as he emptied the cheap scotch from it. 

“Thanks,” he replied and meant it. 

He took the long way around to the hallway she’d disappeared down. He didn’t want Jimmy or even her family seeing that he was following her. He didn’t know what she’d told them but he couldn’t imagine that it was very good. 

The hallway was empty and Mike found himself standing in front of the women’s bathroom wondering if he should wait, knock or just barge in. If he just went in, unannounced, she wouldn’t e able to say no which she could do if he knocked. But then again, if there was someone else in there, he could imagine the twitter feed now; ‘Pervert Mike Green peeks into women’s bathroom’. It would be all over the internet in an hour and he’d be getting a call from the club by morning. It was better to wait. 

He leaned against the opposing wall and tried to think of something else, something better to say when she came out. What he had to do was grovel, he knew that, but it wasn’t something he was used to doing. In fact, he didn’t think he’d done much grovelling, ever. He wasn’t sure where to start. 

He tried to think how guys did it in movies. He didn’t have a rose. There wasn’t a special song to play and he didn’t have a poem memorized. He was going to have to wing it. 

When she emerged her eyes were red rimmed and the tip of her nose was red and Mike’s hands curled into fists. He heard himself growl like an angry bear about to charge and she looked up from stuffing tissues back into her bag and stared at him, owl eyed. Her mouth formed his name but no sound came out. 

“What did he say?” Mike asked. She blinked at him and frowned like she didn’t understand what he was saying, as if he was speaking another language. “What did Jim bob say to you that made you cry?” he hissed at her. She ducked her head to one side and shook her head so that her hair fell in front of her face. 

“Nothing,” she mumbled. “It’s just nerves, jitters, whatever.” He knew she was lying and it made him grind his teeth together. 

“I will take him outside and kick his fucking ass, just say the word,” he offered, his chest filling, puffing out as he thought about mashing his knuckles into that smug fucker’s face. She glanced up at him through the flaming waterfall of her hair and smiled. 

“I know you would Mike, but I don’t need you to, honest,” she added, taking a deep breath and squaring her shoulders. “What are...what are you doing here?” she asked, looking around as if it had just occurred to her that maybe he was here with a date, that maybe he was waiting her for his date to come out of the bathroom. 

“Just with Brooks and Nicky,” he told her quickly. “You look like you’re having a family thing,” he added, trying to keep her talking. 

“Um..well, yeah, kind of,” she admitted and then he saw her glance down at her hand. She spread the fingers of her left hand out and then curled them into a fist and put her hand down at her side. If she thought she’d been hiding the ring, it was too late for that. 

“Is this some kind of engagement party?” The word tasted like bitterest poison on his tongue. He kept his hands curled into fists at his side to stop himself from reaching out, grabbing her hand and ripping that ring off.

“Ummm, no, not exactly,” she mumbled, shifting from one foot uneasily to the other. “We just came from the rehearsal,” she added in hesitant tone as she stared at her feet. He opened his mouth to say something funny about choir practice and then his brain caught up and he swallowed the stupid words he’d almost spoken out loud. 

“, this weekend?” he asked, his pulse suddenly doubling, his blood rushing loud in his ears. He felt queasy and unsteady on his feet. He thought, just maybe, he was going to pass out.

“Saturday afternoon,” she told him, her words barely above a whisper.


Mike gaped at her like she’d said something truly unbelievable and suddenly Chelsea couldn’t look at him, as if she had been caught with her hand in the cookie jar. 

“Why the rush?” Mike asked, his cheeks filling before he blew out a breath as if he was trying to calm himself down. She noticed he’d stuffed his hands into jeans and that he was digging the toe of his shoe into the carpet like a little kid standing in the principal’s office. 

“It was going to be this weekend...before...,” her voice trailed away. ‘How do you say before you, before I went crazy and lost my mind’, she wondered as he looked up at her expectantly. “Anyway, it turns out Jimmy never cancelled the booking so...,” she shrugged. A few days ago it had seemed like fate, like Jimmy had had so much faith in her that he hadn’t given up. But now, suddenly things didn’t seem as clear cut.  

“So you’re just gonna marry him, even though he doesn’t make you happy? Even though just a little while ago you told me that you couldn’t see yourself living on the ranch forever?” Chelsea felt herself squirming as the focus of his pleading gaze. “Look, even if it’s not me… does it have to be him?” 

“You just don’t know him,” she muttered. She felt like she’d been saying that an awful lot. “God, that sounds like I’m defending him,” she added with a deep sigh. 

“It kinda does,” he replied, sounding a little weary. 

“I should get back.” She clutched her purse in both hands and shuffled her feet. She knew she shouldn’t be there, shouldn’t be talking to him, but somehow she was reluctant to leave. 

“Don’t do it.” The plea was uttered so quietly that she barely heard it but if she’d thought that she was imaging it, when she looked up at him, the plea was there in his dark eyes. “Please,” he added, as if it wasn’t clear that he was all but begging on his knees. 

“Mike I...I have to go back. They’ll be wondering where I am,” she whispered and turned to go. She’d only taken a step or two before she felt his hands on her shoulders. 

“If...if you change your strings or anything, but I’ll be there. You just have to call.” Chelsea closed her eyes and fought the urge to lean back against him, knowing he’d wrap his arms around her and knowing, if he did that, there would be no going back to the table and Jimmy.

“I have to go,” she whispered, and with a deep breath she squared her shoulders and walked away from him.