“Not everything. But we’re not stupid, dude. You have misery and lovesick pain written all over your face.”
“I acted normal, though, right?” God knew, he didn’t want anyone to recognize that his relationship with Taylor was a mess during this important wedding.
“Yeah, no one would know but us. Come on, I’ll buy,” Gabe said.
They walked to Barefoot and settled at the corner of the bar, tucked a bit away from the partying crowd. “Tell us what happened,” Carter said.
Pierce rubbed his face. “Man, I don’t want this to be about me and Taylz. This is your time.”
“You’re one of my best friends,” Carter said simply. “When one of us is fucked-up, we all feel it. It’s not about separating someone’s happiness from misery—that’s not what people who care about each other do.”
Gabe looked alarmed. “Um, can we fart or do something manly, please? This is getting way too emotionally intense.”
Pierce took a long swallow of beer, then let out a satisfying burp. The guys looked a tad relieved, and then they all started laughing. Already, the sense of heaviness in his chest had lifted.
“Seriously, consider your confession my wedding gift,” Carter said. “You can’t fuck up my day by keeping a secret like this—I’ll worry.”
This time, no one tried to make a joke. And then he told them everything. He went back to the beginning, to the lies they’d spun to their family, friends, and each other. He opened up about his time in Paris, his plan to move and be with Taylor, and how she’d sold the painting and sent him away. When he was done, the beer was gone, and his friends remained silent.
Carter slowly shook his head. “Well, fuckity fuck.”
It was the perfect answer.
“Dude, that’s brutal.”
“I know.” He tugged at his ear. “What really sucks is I’m mad at her, but I’m also not. How can I be for not wanting me as badly as I want her?”
Carter tapped his chin thoughtfully. “That’s what’s weird about this whole thing. Taylor has a really hard time opening up—she’s always been the most difficult of the Sunshine sisters to crack. But when she’s with you, she lights up from the inside. Are you sure she just didn’t get spooked? Maybe she sold that painting because she was terrified of taking that final leap?”
“I don’t know. But she’s so damn stuck on me not wanting the same things as her. Kids, a home here, a steady gig. As long as I have her, I have everything I could possibly want. She’s all I need.”
The guys nodded in unison, and Pierce finally felt understood. They sat for a while, listening to the revelry of the crowd, just processing everything he’d dumped in the ancient way guys communicated.
Beer and sympathetic silence.
“You’re gonna be okay, man,” Gabe finally said. “And maybe in time, you’ll be able to circle back. Maybe she needs to live on her own for a little while, in order to come back.”
“Maybe. But I need to move forward. I just booked another piece with Traveler magazine’s website, so I’ll be heading out for a while.”
“Best thing for you,” Carter said.
“We got your back, dude,” Gabe said.
Emotion filled him up, but he just nodded and let the comfort of his friends soothe the jagged edges.
The soaring church music fell silent, and Avery stepped up to Carter, her hands shaking a bit as she reached out to take his offered hand. Bella fussed with her train, then slipped back into line. Taylor glanced at Zoe, who was a showstopper in her mini bridal dress, holding tight to her basket of rose petals, her young face shining with excitement and awe.
Lucy remained perfectly quiet and well behaved in Ally’s arms, her big brown gaze trained on her people. The dog wore her usual pink glittery collar but had been fitted in a pink shirt sequined with the words BEST CANINE. Her stroll down the aisle had elicited almost as much buzz as Zoe’s.
The service passed by in a blur with various readings and a stirring speech by the priest regarding love. And then it was time.
“To have and to hold . . .”
“From this day forward . . .”
“For better, for worse . . .”
“For richer, for poorer . . .”
“In sickness and in health . . .”
“Till death do us part.”
Taylor watched her sister radiate a glow that was almost otherworldly. Avery gazed at Carter with tear-filled eyes, her face beaming with the type of love Taylor had never truly believed existed. The kind that made you want to be better for the other person. The kind that broke your heart in the same way it filled you up, because it was consuming and raw and beautiful and real. Watching them together, the rings sliding over their fingers, she finally came to a new truth she’d always refused to see.
A love like this was possible.
She’d watched endless couples recite their vows, but deep inside, she’d always questioned if it wasn’t just for show. A way to explain passion and lust, gain security in a scary world, and dazzle society with a fancy party to distract from the likelihood the relationship would break apart at the first sign of a true challenge.
Not anymore. Her sisters had shown her another path. Love seemed to be an adventure all on its own, full of ups and downs but also happy endings.
Or, in this case, happy beginnings.
Avery and Carter were pronounced man and wife.
They kissed. Carter whispered something in Avery’s ear, and she threw back her head and laughed with delight. Taylor’s gaze landed on Pierce, who turned a fiery glare at the photographer, as if he was itching to have been the one to grab the shot instead of the guy Avery had insisted on hiring so Pierce could be a groomsman at the wedding.
The couple walked up the aisle, and Bella ushered Zoe to the front, her toothy grin gaining oohs and aahs from the guests as she smiled broadly and threw the rest of her flower petals down the aisle. Taylor watched Ally walk with Lucy still tucked in her arms, then Bella and Gabe; and finally she stood next to Pierce, temporarily stalled from the backlog of getting into the proper line.
She stiffened beside him, trying not to turn her head and stare. He was perfection. The sleek black Tom Ford tuxedo molded to his body, emphasizing his muscles and broad shoulders. His hair was caught in a black tie at the nape of his neck, accenting his angled jaw and sharp cheekbones. Had he lost weight? He smelled of spice and soap and the whiskey they’d been sipping on the way over for an early celebration toast.