Chapter 7 – Alyssa
Yes, that’s me sitting on the very end of the sixth row, right next to my lawyer, Holden.
I hadn’t planned on coming to Ted and Jordan’s wedding after what happened with Julian. After all, my ex-boyfriend is the one walking his brother down the aisle, their identical suits and flowers making the two brothers look more alike than they ever have before. Except Julian looks younger, of course. Ted’s reaching forty, and he’s gone a little gray already. Julian, on the other hand, barely looks older than thirty, with a full head of dark hair.
They both shoot me steel-cool looks. But it’s Julian’s mouth that drops the moment he realizes it’s me.
“Don’t worry, Alyssa,” Holden says with his usual legal bravado. “If he tries anything, I’m here to slap a restraining order against him.” Really? Is that appropriate talk for a wedding?
It’s sort of a long story how I’ve come to be at this wedding – and I definitely did not intend to sit on the end of the aisle. But I still had the dress hanging in my closet. What would I do with it, anyway? It was too tailor-made to sell anywhere. Too nice to simply throw out. I suppose it’s fate that kept me holding on to it, even though it was delivered long after I walked away from Julian. Because a few days ago?
Ted called me. Ted Marcus, not Jordan, of all people!
“Look, Alyssa,” he said, “I don’t know what my little brother did, but I believe you when you say he royally fucked up. Give him one more chance. At my wedding. It will be poetic.”
I said no about three times. After all, why the hell would I want to go to Ted’s wedding? Not that I have anything against Ted, although I can totally see why he has a reputation as a notorious flirt who is liable to start pissing people off with his devil-may-care attitude… and Jordan had been nothing but kind and understanding with me… but…
Julian. He would be here. He would see me.
And both certainly happened no fewer than ten minutes after Holden and I sat down.
I made the mistake of telling Holden, the younger of my two lawyers assigned to my lawsuit, that I planned to still come to this wedding. Not only did he totally object to me doing it, but after I made the decision to still come, he invited himself as my +1 to “protect my interests.”
I dare someone to insult me by implying I don’t see that Holden has a crush on me. He’s been hovering around me ever since he was assigned my case. At first, I thought it was nice, because what young woman doesn’t like having a younger lawyer who can better explain things to her? But after it became apparent that he was mostly interested in my assets, I learned to grin and bear the foolishness until the settlement is finalized and I can wash my hands of him. No, I’m not going out with him. No, I’m not even leading him on or flirting with him. Honestly, I shouldn’t have even let him come with me. I should have come with one of my friends. But I was so thrown off by his insistence that I didn’t know what else to say other than okay.
Now here I am, wishing I could hide under some ladies’ hats if it means I don’t have to face Julian a final time.
He’s so shocked by my appearance that he almost trips his brother in the middle of the aisle. Ted grabs hold of his arm and hisses something into his ear. “Get a grip, Jules,” I imagine him saying. “This is my damn wedding you’re making a fool of yourself at.”
The ceremony continues. Jordan flashes me a smile on his way by, but doesn’t wave. He saves the waves for his friends and family.
That could be me one day, I suppose. Walking down the aisle in a wedding dress that costs more than my college education. Paid for by my magnanimous husband Julian Marcus. You know, assuming I’m assed to take him back.
Even though I want to.
Even though I look at him and instantly hold back the urge to run up to him and cry that I’m so sorry, that I forgive him, that we can hurry up and get married once his brother’s done.
I want it so badly.
But I must be strong. I came here to support Ted and Jordan, a couple I barely know. I came here to give Julian his final chance. No script. No preparation. He’ll either win me back (unlikely,) or drive me away forever (more than likely.)
The fact that today might be the last time I ever see him like this…
My heart skips a beat. For a single moment, I allow myself to fantasize that this is my wedding day, and that tonight Julian will slowly strip my white wedding dress away from my body and make me his wife.
The moment is over way too soon. So is the ceremony.
I spend the next hour between the ceremony outside and the reception inside the vineyard’s main building avoiding Julian. Not hard to do when there are five hundred other people clamoring to shake the newlyweds’ hands and regale them with tales of their weddings. Holden and I are able to slip into the reception undetected, although I’m sure Julian is losing his mind trying to find me while still upholding his best man duties. It’s his job to stand with his parents beside Ted and shake hands as people enter the reception area. Their father is already making a fool of himself, while their mother can only curtly nod and thank people for coming to “the spectacle.” Holden and I bypass it entirely. I’ll give Ted and Jordan my love later.
The Marcuses did not hold back on the expenses for this reception. Everything, from the dishes to the silverware to the vases holding whole bouquets of fresh, exotic flowers is made of either pure crystal or gold. The tablecloths are handstitched with gold thread. A live jazz band flown in from LA performs for most of the night, taking turns between upbeat instrumentals to slow, achingly sweet love ballads as sung by the talented female lead. Every guest is decked out in either designer ware or tailor-made garments. Everyone smells good. Everyone has perfect manners. Everyone takes happy selfies and professional shots with photographers. This kind of wedding doesn’t keep disposable cameras on the tables for the guests to fill up. Instead, there are three professional photographers making the rounds, and Holden and I are one of the first to be asked for a “casual pose.” Holden, of course, puts his arm on the back of my chair and makes it look like we’re a couple.
I know that Julian is only a few feet away before he even sees me.
It’s not because I can see him through a small throng of people laughing and carrying on about their trips to Milan and Tahiti. It’s because my ex-boyfriend’s presence is so strong, so intimidating, that there could be a concrete wall erected between us and I will still know that he’s there, looking for me. Perhaps he’s been making his way toward me this whole time.
“Going to get some punch,” I say to Holden. When he moves to accompany me, I hold out a gentle hand and jerk my head toward the ladies’ room. Punch is code, dude.
“Be careful,” he says before sitting back down.
I want to get away from Julian’s overwhelming presence. If it means crossing the room full of people dancing to live jazz music, then I’ll do it. Give me some peace for a while, please.
Of course, I’m not allowed any peace. The moment I reach the other side of the dancefloor, I feel that presence again, like I did back at the Bradley & Marcus building, and like I did at that park in Northwest Portland.
His voice is so hushed that it’s a wonder I can hear him over the happy rabble of wedding attendees. My hands grab the purple tulle on my skirt. Because with Julian right next to me like this, I’m nothing but a bundle of nerves.
What is he going to say? What is going to do? How will I react? This is it. He’s using up his third chance to get me back. I knew this moment would come, but I wasn’t prepared for possibly never seeing him again.
“I love you.”
Wait. Did I hear that right?
I fully turn my body toward him, my head cocked to one side. “What was that?”
He takes a step closer to me. This powerful businessman, who almost never wears his heart on his bespoke sleeve, is prepared to show me his whole heart right now. “I love you, Lyssa. I’m sorry I never told you sooner. I foolishly assumed I would have all the time in the world to tell you how I really feel.”
“You… you love me…” I shake my head. “You think that’s enough to get me back?”
I take a step back. “Excuse me?”
He holds his hand out to me as a new song begins to play. “I haven’t danced with anyone tonight. Please let me have the chance to show you how I feel instead of telling you.” He chuckles. “You know better than almost anyone else that I am not always the best with words.”
As if I am possessed, I tentatively take his hand and am led to the dance floor, where other well-to-do couples canoodle and network. While half the couples here are heterosexual, there are quite a few male pairs snuggling up and laughing with their friends.
They all cease to exist the moment I’m in Julian’s arms.
Don’t I remember what this is like? How much I loved being in his hold like this? In the beginning, I couldn’t believe that it was true. That someone like Julian Marcus could possibly want me to be his girlfriend… and later on, when he talked about us being together for years… I knew it was too good to be true. That’s why finding out the truth about why we first hooked up hurt me more than anything else.
Now that I’m back in his arms, I almost feel that way again. But I can’t succumb to those feelings right now. Julian might want to show me his feelings, but I still need to use logic and reason right now. I can’t be that virgin who was summoned to his office based on a stupid bet. God! Literally anyone else would have been better than me. Lizzie, Cher… those girls could’ve handled being seduced by Mr. Marcus, let alone moving on from him the moment he stopped showing them affection. Maybe they would’ve been pissed if they found out the truth, but heartbroken? Hardly. Only me, young and naïve Alyssa, could have fallen into a hole like that.
“You are more beautiful than I thought you could be in that dress.”
It’s the first thing he’s said since bringing me to the dance floor. “I couldn’t let it go to waste,” I say.
“Good thing you didn’t. I was dying to see you in this lovely dress.”
My hand grows clammy in his. Am I nervous? Of course I am! This man is probably going to continue to confess his love to me, and I’m expected to walk away from him!
Don’t give in, Alyssa…
“You and that young lawyer of yours look awfully close.”
I tense. “Jealous, Julian?”
“Of course I am. Didn’t I tell you that you belong to me?”
My eyes furrow without me telling them to. Good to know he can still get this kind of rise out of me. “I left you, Julian. We’re not together anymore. I can date other men now.”
He sucks in his lower lip instead of telling me how he really feels. “So you are dating him, then?”
“Maybe. I haven’t decided yet. He certainly thinks he’s dating me, though.”
We almost bump into another, slightly drunk couple. Both men apologize before complimenting my dress and going back to their dance. At the large table at the head of the dance floor, Jordan and Ted keep a watchful eye on us. Damnit. They should be enjoying their wedding. They don’t need to be following our drama over here!
“Men like that only want to use you, Lyssa.”
“Is that advice from a man looking out for me, or from my jealous ex-boyfriend?”
“Consider it advice from a man who knows that type of guy well enough.”
Dancing with Julian was once a huge fantasy of mine. We had danced together before, at a couple of functions full of rich people wearing their best designer wear, but those were nothing compared to a wedding like this. Before we broke up… I don’t want to think about how many times I fantasized about dancing with a man like this. The rapture of it was going to be overwhelming. Me. Him. Twirling to live jazz music in his tuxedo and my gorgeous dress. People celebrating love and happiness around us. The cheerful jabs from friends that it was only a matter of time before we got hitched too.
The sense of ownership, of possession Julian knows how to broadcast to a whole room. I was going to revel in that today.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. He’s doing that. Right now.
But it’s not the same. Because I don’t belong to him anymore. I made sure of that.
This might be the last chance I ever have to be close to Julian like this. On one hand, I should be making the most of this. On the other, I left this man for a reason.
He ultimately made me feel too disposable to deal with.
I drop his hand and step away.
We’re awkwardly standing in the midst of these dancing couples. They politely look away and pretend that they don’t see us making fools of ourselves.
“I love you.”
My feet were ready to take me far away from this dancefloor. I’d run up and tell the newlyweds how happy I am for them, how I hope they have a wonderful life together… and then I’d run far, far away from Julian Marcus and the pain he leaves in my wake.
Then he said that. Suddenly, I can’t move.
“Lyssa…” Julian grabs my wrist. His touch is hot, sweaty. Did I do that to him? “Say something.”
I finally have my bearings together. Time to run away.
I don’t look back as I leave the dancefloor. I know he’s behind me. Julian Marcus is not going to relent until I tell him to back off, that he’s used up his third chance to get me back. He’s going to follow me as long as he can find me.
Do you know why I don’t tell him right here and right now that his three strikes are up?
Because I don’t believe this chance is up yet.
Here it is. The make it or break it moment for our relationship. He said those words. I love you. Did he mean them? Or did he say that in a last ditch effort to get me back?
I’m about to find out.