My hollow, aching heart that never quite recovered from losing her.
I felt my resolve chipping, one crack at a time, until finally, the layer of ice I’d coated myself with when I’d let Chase into my apartment fell with a soundless clank, like a warrior ridding themselves of their armor. He remembered our conversation all those months ago, when I’d told him my mother had died in the same month my father had filed for bankruptcy for their business, Iris’s Golden Blooms, and I’d failed a semester. She’d left the world worried and anxious for her loved ones.
The fact she hadn’t gone peacefully still gnawed at me every single night.
It didn’t matter that I’d ended up graduating from high school with honors and even gotten a partial scholarship for college, or that Dad had gotten back on his feet and our flower shop had thrived afterward. It always felt like Iris Goldbloom was stuck in the limbo of that hellish period in our lives, forever waiting to see if we’d pull through.
As much as I loathed Chase Black for what he’d done to me, I wasn’t going to force another calamity on his family in the form of a canceled engagement party. But I wasn’t going to play by his rules either.
“Where did your family think I was for the past six months? Wasn’t it weird to them that I haven’t been around?”
Chase shrugged, unfazed. “I’m running a company that’s richer than some countries. I told them we were seeing each other on evenings.”
“And they bought it?”
He flashed me a sinister grin. Of course they had. Chase had the uncanny ability to sell anxiety to a new bride.
I grumbled. “Fine. What happens when we finally break up?”
“Leave it to me.”
“Are you sure you’ve thought this through?” It sounded like a horrible plan. Straight-to-cable rom-com material. But I knew Chase to be a serious guy. He nodded.
“My mother and sister would be disappointed but not crushed. Dad wants me happy. Moreover—I want him to be happy. At any cost.”
I couldn’t argue with that logic, and frankly, it was the one thing Chase had over me. My sympathy to his situation.
“I’ll go this weekend, but that’s where it ends.” I lifted my index finger in warning. “One weekend, Chase. Then you can tell them I’m busy. And whatever happens, this engagement mumbo jumbo will be kept top secret. I don’t want it to come biting me in the ass at work. Speaking of work—after we cancel our so-called engagement, I get to keep my job.”
“Scout’s honor.” But he only raised one finger. Specifically, the middle one.
“You’ve never been in the Scouts.” I narrowed my eyes at him.
“And you haven’t been bitten in the ass. It’s a figure of speech. No, wait.” A slow-spreading grin tugged across his face. “Yes, you have.”
Pointing at the door, I felt my neck and face burning with a blush as I recalled the time that I had in fact been bitten in the ass. “Out.”
Chase shoved his hand into his back pocket. Dread curled around my throat like a tight scarf as he pulled out a small Black & Co. Jewelry velvet box and threw it into my hands. “I’ll pick you up Friday at six. Hiking attire mandatory. Sensible clothes optional but fucking appreciated nonetheless.”
“I hate you,” I said quietly, the words scorching their way up my throat as my fingers shook around the plush box with the gold lettering. I did. I really, truly did. But I was doing it for Ronan, Lori, and Katie, not him. That made my decision more bearable somehow.
He smiled at me pityingly. “You’re a good kid, Mad.”
Kid. Forever condescending. Screw him.
Chase stalked to the door, stopping a few inches from me. He frowned at the discarded soda can at my feet.
“You may want to clean that up.” He motioned to the sprayed Coke on my wall. He lifted his arm and rubbed his thumb over my forehead, exactly on the spot Ethan had kissed, erasing his touch from my body. “Scruff is not a good look, especially on Chase Black’s fiancée.”
August 10, 2002
Fun fact: The flower lily of the valley has a biblical meaning. It sprang from Eve’s eyes when she was exiled from the Garden of Eden. It is considered to be one of the most gorgeous and elusive flowers in nature, a true favorite among royal brides!
It is also deadly poisonous.
Not all beautiful things are good for you. I’m sorry you and Ryan broke up. For what it’s worth, he was never the one. You deserve the world. Never settle for less.
Love (and a little relieved),
I’d been planning my wedding day ever since I was five.
My dad loved to tell the story of how the day before first grade, I’d been seen running after Jacob Kelly along our cul-de-sac, clutching a bunch of backyard flowers, roots and mud intact, yelling at him to come back and wed me. I got my way in the end, after much bribing. Jacob looked appalled, with both himself and me, as my friends, Layla and Tara, dutifully performed the ceremony. He refused to kiss his bride—which was more than fine by me—and chose to spend our honeymoon hurling pine cones at squirrels running across my backyard fence and complaining there was no more of my mom’s famous cherry pie.
I didn’t stop at marrying Jacob Kelly. By the time I was eleven, I’d been wed to Taylor Kirschner, Milo Lopez, Aston Giudice, Josh Payne, and Luis Hough. All of them still lived in the same town I’d grown up in in Pennsylvania and still sent me Christmas cards taunting me for being blissfully single.
It wasn’t about the romance. My interest in boys was saved for morbid curiosity as to what made them dirty, rude, and prone to fart jokes. It was the wedding part I absolutely loved. The butterflies in your stomach, the festiveness, the guests, the cake, the flowers. And above all—the dress.
Fake-marrying boys gave me a reason to wear the white puffy dress my cousin Coraline had gifted me when she got married. I was her flower girl. I squeezed into that thing for five consecutive years, until it was clear the dress couldn’t fit a preteen, even one as comically short as me.
I had been obsessed with wedding dresses ever since. Rabid, more like. I’d begged my parents to take me to weddings. Even went as far as sneaking into strangers’ ceremonies at the local church just so I could admire the dresses. To make my obsession worse, my mother was a florist and would oftentimes allow me to tag along when she delivered wedding flowers to plush, beautiful venues.