Mai Tai'd Up Page 2

“So, you ready for tomorrow?” he asked as we watched the room.

Pleasantries, mingling, restrained and dignified laughter spilling around the room. Fifty of our very very closest friends and family. And this was only the rehearsal. Four hundred (four hundred!) people from all over Southern California had been invited to the wedding tomorrow, being held at one of San Diego’s toniest country clubs. We’d been members for years, and when my parents’ divorce was final, my mother made it clear that it was now her territory alone. But my father was required to pay the membership dues every year. Alimony.

“I suppose,” I said, and sighed, wondering not for the first time why I sighed every time someone asked me about the wedding.

My father noticed. “Kiddo?” he asked, concern crossing his handsome face.

“I’d better go chat with the Nickersons,” I answered, having just gotten the stink eye from my mother from across the room. She meant well. And it was my rehearsal dinner, after all; I should be enjoying hearing everyone’s congratulations. I reminded myself of this several times in the time it took me to make my way from the corner table to the center of the restaurant, where my intended held his hand out for me. I pasted on the look of happiness and sincerity that had won me Miss Golden State nearly two years ago. Charles, the most handsome man I’d ever known, smiled down at me, my smile taking its cue from his as he slipped his arm around me and brought me effortlessly into the conversation.

Smile. Nod. Laugh. Smile. Nod. Laugh. Smile. Nod. Sigh.

I stole a moment later in the evening, after the coffee had been served and the endless toasts completed (how in the world would anyone have anything to say tomorrow if they blew their toast wad at the rehearsal dinner?), and guests were beginning to edge toward the door. My mother mingled like a pro, smiling and nodding at each one as they complimented her on what a lovely daughter, what a lovely couple, what a lovely evening . . . arghh. Smiling and nodding was what she did best.

It was a grace I didn’t possess naturally, although I could fake it with the best of them. Case in point: my earlier smile and nod when a twenty-minute discussion was waged over which was the best lawn service in town. Have to keep those lawns as green as possible, even when there was a drought, you know. Or my smile and nod when Mrs. Snodgrass went on and on about a racy book that everyone was talking about but no one would admit to reading, when in fact I know every woman there had read it. I even smiled and nodded when Mr. Peterson lectured us about illegal immigration, when I knew for a fact that his nanny was undocumented. Honestly, I felt like a bobblehead at times. But that pageant training kicked in, and I could smile and nod for hours on end, always looking interested, always looking pleasant, always looking pretty.

But inside my head wasn’t pretty. Inside my head, I was wondering what would happen if I jumped onto a table and started screaming. What would the reaction be? Startlement? Horror? Amusement? How quickly would someone usher me off the table, and how quickly would everyone else go back to their coffee?

I was saved from my mental screaming by my mother, who was making a second pass around the restaurant. “Dear, the Snodgrasses are leaving. Be a good girl and go thank them for coming.”

“Yes, Mother.” I smiled and nodded. In particular at my handsome fiancé, who had already beaten me to the Mr. and Mrs. Snodgrass.

Finally, Charles and I found ourselves alone in front of the restaurant. Before Cinderella was packed off into her stretch limo coach, she was to say good night to her handsome prince.

“Are you excited about tomorrow?” he asked, encircling me with his strong arms. Arms he kept strong, along with every other part of his body, with hours of tennis, racquetball, swimming, jogging, and, of course, golf. Avid golfer. I’d been encouraged to take up the sport, so I did. Of course I did. Sigh.

“I’m very excited for tomorrow,” I murmured into his chest, catching the scent of his cologne. Heady.

“I mentioned to Nancy Nickerson that you’d be interested in volunteering some time when we get back in town. She’s chairing the committee for the new pediatric wing at the hospital. I signed you up.”

“Well, okay. But I’m not sure how much time I’m going to have. They just got two new therapy dogs at the hospital, and they need some help with—”

“Chloe. Baby. We talked about this before. Working with your pageant platform is one thing; the therapy dog charity was great. But you’re not doing pageants anymore, and we agreed it’s time to start moving on, taking on some new projects, right?”

“But, Charles, I’ve worked with this organization since high school; it was never just because I was in pageants. They always need help, and I think that—”


“Um. What?” I asked, crinkling my nose and looking up at him.

Charles Preston Sappington was tall. Dark. Handsome. Perfect. My mother, who traded in perfect, had introduced us. He was an attorney. He argued for a living, which is why I never bothered to argue with him. Hard to go toe-to-toe with the toughest litigator in all of Southern California. I know this because he had it on a plaque above his desk. So I rarely bothered. However . . .

“Did you just tell me no?”


“Can you explain to me why?” I asked, pushing against his chest a bit when he tried to hold me tighter.

“Not right now.”


“Baby, it’s late. We’ve got plenty of time to talk about stuff like this. But for now? Just concentrate on getting some sleep tonight so you can be beautiful for me tomorrow.” His voice sounded soothing. “You know I can’t wait for tomorrow, right? But then after that? The honeymoon, baby—the best part.”

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