This is my asshole moment. Forsaken by the woman I love. The infuriatingly beautiful girl I have no intention of living without.
The worst part is, I see how it all went wrong. Every mistake. Every terrible choice.
If I’d had the awareness to step back and evaluate the situation from the outside, none of this would’ve happened. But I was deep in the black hole—with only me, myself, and I for company.
My momma would say my chickens have come home to roost. It’s a fitting metaphor. Fowl possess a never-ending supply of shit that they proudly leave in their wake. So when they roost?
It just plain stinks.
Brent wipes his mouth with a napkin and stands. “In any case, it’s nine thirty—the wedding starts in two hours. I need a lift back to the hotel to get dressed. JD invited me last night—hell of a guy.”
I snort. “Yeah—Saint fucking JD.”
He smacks my arm. “Don’t worry, you’re still the coolest southerner I know.”
It’s only then that I notice how still the house is. This house is never still. “Where is everyone?”
Brent heads toward the back door, ticking off his fingers. “Your mother’s getting her hair done, your father’s taking a nap—which apparently he rarely gets to do. Carter is passed out on the living room couch, naked. And your little brother hasn’t come home yet.” Then he points at me. “Oh, and your sister, Mary? Scares the fuck out of me. If I go missing tonight, promise me her closet is the first place you’ll look.”
I laugh. And force myself to bury my feelings—the panic, the yearning—for Sofia. Swallow it down, suck it up. Because today . . . my girl’s getting married.
• • •
The church is filled to the brim. Miss Bea plays the “Bridal Chorus” on that old organ. Presley scatters rose petals down the aisle. And Jenny . . . Jenny is gorgeous, as I knew she would be. I watch JD’s face when she steps into the church—it’s filled with wonder and gratitude and so much love.
And it doesn’t make me want to punch him—not even a little. It doesn’t make me sad.
It just feels . . . like it’s something that’s supposed to be.
The reception is held outside, behind the church, in white tents with elegantly decorated picnic tables and padded folding chairs. The grass is as green as my daddy’s pastures, the sky almost as blue as my daughter’s eyes. The whole town is here—the people who’ve known me even before I was born. Brent chats with Pastor Thompson. Marshall leans against a tree, trying to look cool talking to a girl. Mary’s surrounded by a group of giggling females, all whispers and wide eyes. Carter holds court on the grass, preaching to a gaggle of worshipful-faced kids, who gaze at him like he’s Jesus Christ on the mount. My parents dance to the band’s music.
The only thing missing . . . is her.
I’ve tried calling a few times, but it goes to voice mail. I tell myself that she just forgot to turn it back on after the flight, but my powers of persuasion appear to be stronger with a jury than with my own fucking head.
“I saved a dance for you. Feel like cashin’ it in?”
Jenny stands next to me, hands folded, smiling. We head out onto the wooden makeshift dance floor. As we slowly rock I tell her, “You look stunning.”
She bats her lashes. “I know.”
We chuckle and then, cautiously, she asks, “Sofia went back to DC?”
I nod silently.
“I like her, Stanton. I hope you don’t plan on letting her get away.”
“I have no intention of letting her get away—she just doesn’t know that yet.”
I look down into Jenny’s baby blues, hold her in my arms—my dearest, sweetest friend.
“I’m glad you didn’t let JD get away. You deserve to be looked at the way he looks at you.”
She pushes my hair back from my forehead. “You deserve that too.” She glances over my shoulder for a moment, and then her gaze is back to me. “Remember the other day by the river? When you said that Presley and I are your family?”
Her eyes grow shiny with emotion. “We’ll always be your family.”
Warmth rises in my stomach—a comforting, tender sort of heat. Presley’s voice catches both our ears and at the same time, we look over at our beautiful, laughing baby girl.
“We did good though, didn’t we, Stanton? All things considered.”
My voice is rough, choked with feeling. “Ah, Jenn—we did great. Just look at her.”