~ One ~
It wasn’t butterflies dancing the salsa in her stomach; it was birds. Hummingbirds, if the rate of her pulse was anything to go by. She leaned over at the waist, put her hands on her bare legs and tried to suck in a full breath.
How on earth could she be so nervous about something she wanted more than anything? Something she’d dreamed of even on nights where she hardly got any sleep.
“You okay?” Her brother’s fiancée, who happened to be one of her close friends and her bridesmaid, asked Ellie Wexly, placing a hand on her lower back.
“I am. I don’t know what’s wrong.” Ellie straightened as she pressed her knuckles to the center of her chest, trying to loosen the pressure lodged there.
“You’re getting married!” Becky threw her arms around Ellie and hugged her close.
“But I want to get married. I’m excited and thrilled and can’t wait to be Cooper’s wife so why does it feel like I swallowed a swarm of bees?”
Becky pulled back and took Ellie’s face in her hands, meeting her gaze directly. The warmth she saw in her friend’s eyes settled some of the unrest.
“They’re happy nerves, hon. It’s thrilling but it’s also terrifying. It’s going to be amazing and wonderful but of course you’re nervous.”
Ellie nodded, her breath coming a bit easier. She gripped her friend’s wrists and smiled. “You’re right. Okay. I’ve got this.”
Becky grinned and stepped back. “As much as Cooper’s going to swallow his tongue when he sees that outfit, I think we should get you in your gown.” Becky swept her hand up and down in the air in Ellie’s direction.
Laughing, Ellie glanced in the mirror. Yeah, Coop was going to love the white, satiny lace undergarments she’d bought for their wedding night. Thinking of how she’d shown up in something quite similar, in black, for her birthday last year, she cringed. She’d donned a trench coat and gone to his apartment with the intention of seducing him. Only to find out he’d planned a family gathering as a surprise.
Well, tonight we won’t have any interruptions. Becky stood behind Ellie, meeting her gaze in the mirror.
“Your hair and make-up are flawless,” she said.
Ellie reached up to touch brown hair. It was pulled back loosely because she planned on enjoying every second of her wedding and nothing gave her a headache faster than a too-tight ponytail. The twist at the back was an intricate weaving of strands and loose tendrils touched her cheeks. Not usually one for make-up, she’d asked the artist to keep it as natural as possible while playing up her dark eyes. She, of course, wore waterproof mascara.
“You ready?” Becky whispered.
“I really am.”
The dress hung on the back of the door. They were getting married in an adorable ski lodge just outside of Naperville, Illinois. With the early December snow, outside looked like an icy fairy land. Inside had been transformed into an elegant but cozy atmosphere with strand after strand of twinkle lights shining through shimmering organza which was looped between the high beams. A massive stone fireplace drew the eye and Ellie and Cooper planned to exchange their vows in front of it. She’d done a final walk through just before coming up to one of the guest rooms that they’d set aside as a bridal prep room. It would be small, particularly on her side as she didn’t have a big family. Neither did Cooper, but he had his guys from the firehouse.
Becky brought the dress over to her and helped her step in. Ellie pulled it up over her hips, the silk sliding against her skin, making her smile. It was her wedding day. As a thirteen-year old girl with a crush the size of Texas on her brother’s best friend, Cooper Walsh, she’d never imagined she’d be in this moment now. Even after they accidentally ran into each other—thanks to Ellie’s hopelessness with a stove and a fire extinguisher—she hadn’t thought it would lead to this. At least not so soon. But they were both so sure.
Ellie breathed slowly, her head dipped, as she waited for her friend to do up the dozen buttons that went up her back. The dress hugged her shoulders, drawing focus to her collarbone where a simple white gold chain with a heart pendant hung. A gift from Cooper. And the white gold matched her gorgeous engagement ring.
A soft knock at the door turned both of their heads. Becky went to the door, letting Ellie’s parents into the room.
Her parents came directly to her as Ellie turned carefully to give them the full view of the gown. Her mother had already seen it; she’d come shopping for it with her and Becky. That experience was so much different than this one. This was the real thing. This is why they call it the ‘big day’.
“Oh, honey. You look amazing.” Her father held his arms out wide.
“You look like a princess,” her mother commented as Ellie gave her dad a tight hug.
“My little girl,” he whispered in her ear before letting her go. Waterproof mascara was going to be the hero of the day.
“Can I help you with your veil?” Her mother picked it up off of the double bed in the corner of the room and brought it to Ellie.
“Why don’t I give you a couple minutes. I’ll go check on your groom and his gorgeous best man,” Becky said.
Ellie and her parents laughed. Becky and Tommy had gotten engaged before Cooper and Ellie but they’d decided on summer destination wedding. Which meant two tropical vacations within seven months. She and Coop were heading to Hawaii in two days where they’d spend a whole week.
The door shut behind her friend and Ellie looked at her parents, trying to swallow down the lump in her throat.
“I just want to say thank you for all the support and love you guys have given me. I also want to thank you for showing me everything that a loving marriage can be.”
“Oh, sweetie. We’re so proud of who you are and so happy you’ve found your forever and always.” Her mother hugged her. Hard.
“Who would have thought it’d be with little Cooper Walsh?” Her dad laughed.
Cooper was not so little anymore. Over six feet with wide shoulders, muscular arms and a calendar-worthy chest, he had the kind of hair that begged for a woman to run her fingers through it. Not just any woman. You. For the rest of your lives. You belong to each other. There was nothing she’d wanted more.
Her mother helped her put her veil on with her father taking more pictures than necessary. The photographer would be back in a few moments. She’d gone to take a few pictures of the lodge and the groom as well as arriving guests.
“Show time, Eleanor,” her father said. His voice was so thick with emotion that she didn’t even correct his use of her full name.
When the door opened, she thought the photographer had returned, but it was Becky. That would have been fine except her friend’s face had turned an ashen color. She looked like she might be sick.
Ellie rushed forward. “Becky? What’s wrong? Is everyone okay?”
Becky nodded, her eyes darting back and forth between her parents and Ellie. “Everyone is fine. But I…”
“You what? You’re scaring us,” her mother cut in.
“I was about to go into the room the boys were using and even pushed the door open. I heard Cooper tell Tommy that he absolutely cannot marry Ellie today.”
Her stomach dropped away as the floor seemed to shift under her satin, white high heels. This couldn’t happen. They were each others’ always. Why would Cooper say such a thing? Did he have cold feet?
Little dots danced in her vision.
“Ellie? Ellie, come on, honey. You need to sit down.” Her mother led her to the bed and she sank onto it. Her legs were wet spaghetti and her heart and stomach weren’t much better.
“I’m so sorry, Ellie,” Becky said, sitting beside her and wrapping an arm around her shoulders.
Ellie didn’t know what to say. She didn’t know what to do. There were no words.