I have to get out of here. My father is standing up and I think it's almost time for the father-daughter dance. The thought of getting up in front of all these people and dancing with my father here makes me want to cry.
Someone asks if I’m okay and I don’t answer. I stumble past the people at their tables, guests I know had to have read the article and are watching me for a reaction.
I’m not going to cry. I’m not going to cry.
I’m crying before I even get out of the room. I can feel the tears overflow, landing on my cheeks. Outside of the reception area, Caulter grabs my hand and I whirl around.
“Shit, Kate,” he says. “What the fuck -- holy shit, are you crying?”
I yank my hand away from him, aware that we’re not even alone out here. From the corner of my eye, I see an older couple walk past us and back into the reception hall. I slap Caulter across the face, and he grabs my wrist, pulling it up.
“What the ever-loving fuck is your problem?” he asks.
“Brighton Bingo,” I say. My voice is too loud. I tell myself to be quiet. I shouldn’t be having this conversation here. We need to go someplace else. All of those rational thoughts run through my head, spinning around and around in circles and being completely overwritten by the fact that Caulter sees me as some kind of prize in a fuck game.
And everyone knows.
His face goes white, and that’s all the answer I need. “That is not me, Kate,” he says.
“Not you?” I say, my voice louder. “Fucking me bareback is five hundred points, Caulter. No wonder you were so quick to throw yourself on that grenade, huh? Has this all been a game the whole time?”
“Yeah, Kate, it’s all been a game. My goal the entire time has been to bang my step-sister without a condom,” he says, his hand still on my wrist. I try to jerk away, but he pulls me closer, his face contorted in anger. “You've figured me out. That’s my fucking kink. Are you crazy?”
“You’re disgusting.” With my free hand, I slap him across the face. I just don't believe him. “Let go of my arm before I kick you in the nuts.”
“I’m being sarcastic,” he says. But he lets go of me and I step back. “Jesus Christ, get a grip on yourself.
“I fucking hate you.”
“Yeah?” he asks, his voice louder. “Well, I fucking love you.”
The words reverberate through the space between us, and it’s like everything stands still. I stand there while he looks at me, his hands at his side, palms outstretched.
It takes someone’s hand on my shoulder to jolt me out of my haze, and I whirl around. Someone has opened the door to the reception hall, and people are staring at us. I look at them, their faces turning away as they pretend not to notice the spectacle.
And then I turn back to see Caulter still standing there, frozen in position. He looks the same way I must right now-- like someone punched me in the stomach.
Everything is over.
ONE YEAR LATER
“Soda?” The flight attendant lays a cocktail napkin on the tray in front of me. “Peanuts?”
I nod, and then lean my head back against the seat and close my eyes, drowning out the hum of voices around me.
It’s time to rejoin the real world.
Those were the words my mother had used in her email to me a month ago. I checked it at the internet cafe in Luang Prabang in Laos. I’d been there for the past month, the end of a year spent in southeast Asia -- Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, India, and Cambodia.
Some people might see it as fucked up, the way I just up and left. They wouldn't understand why I did what I did.
The wedding reception changed everything.
Even on the other side of the world, I couldn’t stop thinking about what happened. For the next few months, when I closed my eyes at night, it replayed in my head, the same scene stuck on a loop. Katherine standing in front of me, tears running down her cheeks as she told me she hated me for what she thought I’d done.
I told her I loved her. I meant it. It was the only time I’d ever spoken the words to anyone.
She didn't say it back.
I left because I was running, but this year ended up being exactly what I needed. I would say I've been finding myself, but it sounds like such hokey bullshit. That's the best way I can describe it, though.
I tried to talk to her after the reception, but she wouldn't even look at me.
“I don’t give a shit about anything else, Kate,” I’d said. “I don’t care who knows, and I don’t care what they think. And you know that Brighton Bingo thing was Chase, not me. He’s the asshole who leaked that to the press.”