She was my only real friend in New York and aside from Kate, the best one I’d ever had. But I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone about the Preston situation yet. I couldn’t tell them about the contract, which meant despite all my “good reasons,” I’d be lying to everyone when I broke the news that I was engaged.
I walked through my room, stuffing clothes into my suitcase, then got all my toiletries from the bathroom. My forehead was hot and my head was pounding. I used to get “stress-sick” back when I was in college. Low-grade fevers and achiness. Splashing some cool water on my face, I looked up and caught my reflection in the mirror and I practiced my “happily-ever-after face.”
“So I spoke with Preston earlier and he said you wanted the wedding at his hotel.”
Jill Castor was the best wedding planner in New York City, and every other city for that matter. She planned events for the wealthy and famous, and Preston was insistent that she plan ours.
We sat at The Strauss Hotel Bar. She sipped her cranberry juice and I just stared at my Diet Coke, which I hadn’t touched. My head was pounding and I could tell that I was still running a fever. “Fabulous choice, and convenient,” she said, flipping through a massive portfolio.
Attempting to ignore the throbbing pain radiating from my ear to my skull, a clear sign that I had a full-blown ear infection, I focused on Jill. Her tight gray bun was fastened to the top of her head and her brown eyes had a nice quality. She had to be in her early fifties, and she was petite and dressed in a cream pantsuit with a chunky gold necklace lining her throat.
“You know it can take years, if ever, to get on the list to have a wedding at The Strauss Hotel.”
“Yeah well, that’s what sleeping with the boss will get you—bumped up the list.”
She laughed and I took a sip of my drink. It was funny because it was true.
“Either way, it will be beautiful. Now, I have a lot of ideas. I think that we should tackle the engagement party first since you two are moving right along. I think Friday the fifteenth for the party then have the wedding Saturday evening. We’ll block off a few floors of rooms for your guests, and have a two-day celebration. A celebrity couple did it and it was fabulous. However, we won’t be outside.” She shuddered a little bit and her thin mouth turned down with distaste when uttering the word “outside.”
“Okay.” My quick response seemed to surprise her. If only she knew I was bound to be the easiest fake bride in the world to please. Plus, her idea made the most sense. My dad wouldn’t do well traveling once to New York for an engagement party then back a few weeks later for the wedding.
“I’ll take care of the announcement in the Times and the Post.” She flipped to another page. “Now,” she folded her hands and looked at me, “tell me what you’re thinking.”
“I was actually thinking this should be spiked.” I jiggled my glass of Diet Coke.
She smiled. “No, I mean, what do you want for your wedding?”
“Um…” I looked down. “I guess I haven’t really thought about it. It’s all happened so fast.”
“Oh, sweetie, every girl has thought about it. Tell me that vision you have. The one you’ve been dreaming about since you were little. I find that if I can get to the root of my client’s childhood fantasy, it gives me a sense of your expectations and makes for smooth sailing.”
Her words sunk in and I recalled the days when I used to be optimistic about love and the future. I guess I had thought about it a long time ago. Not in so much detail. I focused more on the idea of being in love and walking down the aisle seeing “the one” for the first time. In my dream I had been ridiculously in love, my parents were stable and my father was mentally healthy. Everyone was just…
“Happy,” I whispered.
“What, sweetie? I didn’t hear you?” Jill leaned over the table slightly.
I straightened my shoulders and looked at her. “I guess I’ve always wanted to just be happy.”
She nodded. “And do you see that in more of a ball gown or mermaid dress?”
I smiled. How did you put a feeling into a dress? “I guess more simple. Elegant.”
She nodded and pulled out another book. Running her eyes over me, she licked her fingers and began spastically flipping through the book.
“You’re tall, lean with some shape,” she paused to wink at me, “Ah, here! Look at this.”
She placed the book of dresses before me, opened to the middle. I about lost my breath. It was the most beautiful dress I’d ever seen. Strapless and fitted with just a slight feathering flare past the hips that made it look like it had tiny pieces of clouds woven into it. A tear stung my eye.
“Well, I’d say that’s a good start.” She patted my hand. “Now call up your girls and go dress shopping. But if this is close to what you have in mind, I can build the wedding theme around that.”
I nodded and ran a fingertip under my eye.
“I’m sorry, this is silly. I don’t know why I’m so emotional.”
“Oh sweetie, I love working with first-time brides, everything is still so magical.”
I laughed a little because I could see how wedding number three may not be as romantic as the first. As I sat there, getting questions fired at me about my dream wedding, I realized that the little hollow part in my stomach started feeling a little less…hollow. Not because of the wedding or money or even the planning. But because every time I thought about what would come two months from now, I thought of Preston. Thought of him standing at the altar. Thought of me walking toward him. And that made my heart pound a little faster and my skin heat, which, despite my fever, would have been a good thing.
Jill pulled out a color palette. “Now, let’s talk about accent colors.”
“I brought Chinese food,” Preston said, coming through the door. He set it down on the coffee table and looked at me balled up on the couch. “What’s the matter?”
“Not feeling so great.”
He frowned. “Why didn’t you call?”
Lifting my head from the armrest, I clutched the afghan tighter. “You were working. There’s nothing you can really do—”
The back of his fingers gently brushed over my brow before I could finish my sentence.
“You have a fever.” He walked into the kitchen. After rustling with what sounded like pills, and the faucet turning on and off, he came back with Tylenol and a glass of water.