"Basically, it comes down to this," he says, like he is making a decision, once and for all. "Cammy is my baby sister. She should have a normal, happy wedding, with our father walking her proudly down the aisle. But she can't have that."
I swallow. The crash. I didn't put together what it meant for Carter, what it meant for Camilla, until just now.
I am saved from having to murmur something apologetic and awkward by the fervor in Carter's voice as he continues. "She's getting married, to a good man. She's found happiness, and deserves to have that celebrated. And I can make that happen. I can afford to give her that, give her the wedding of her dreams...fuck, I can afford that a million times over. It's not going to make up for our parents not being there, but it's the best I can do."
The silence after his speech hangs heavily in the air. I can feel all of my assumptions about Carter Easton sliding slowly sideways. This isn't what I was expecting...at all.
I slip my hand quietly into his. "I can help you do that," I tell him. "It's my job. And I'm really good at it."
Carter looks up, and bursts out laughing. "Thank you," he says. "I think I'm going to need the help."
I shift on the log. This is more my speed. Dolphins, birds, walks on the beach...Carter himself...they all had me feeling off kilter, but planning a spectacular wedding? That I understand. "Why don't you tell me what you have planned," I start.
Carter runs his fingers through his hair again, the wild, trapped look fading from his eyes. It is replaced with a boyish, rueful grin. I can see Cammy's shyness, there underneath the gorgeous, studied cool of his exterior. "If we're going to be...working...together, Ms. Jones."
"You can call me Sanniyah," I interject quickly, blushing slightly.
"Okay Sanniyah," he grins wider, showing a dimple deep in his left cheek. "You need to know that...I don't really...plan. That's not how I work, not how I've ever worked, honestly." He slides his hand out of mine and for a moment I miss its warmth. The faraway look I first saw on his face when I arrived, returns. "The more I try to control things, the more they slip away from me." He spreads his hands wide. "So I just learned to let it all...go."
There is a sadness to his voice that gives me pause. I want to touch him and suddenly I do, running my hand up his forearm. He closes his eyes and lets his head drop back. Then suddenly he rises to his feet, lifting us both. His hand is on my waist and we are walking in silence, just touching.
I should be working. I should be talking about the wedding, my client's needs. I should be planning, doing my job.
But I am only walking next to him.
I don't want to break the spell I am under where this is completely okay.
My dreams are filled with the sound of the ocean in my ears, the memory of Carter's fingertips on my skin as indelible as ink. I really don't want to wake up and have that memory fade away.
We just walked, nothing more, but that walk was more intimate than if I had torn off his clothes and kissed every inch of his body.
And while every cell in my body yearned for him to kiss me, he did nothing more than squeeze my hand when we said goodbye. The pressure of his hand on mine still heated my skin the morning after.
It is torturing me that I didn't kiss him. I lift my phone to stare at his number. Then, feeling like a complete idiot, I press my lips to the cold screen.
Since when did I revert into a teenager around guys? It didn’t matter. Carter was no ordinary man…
It will have to suffice. For now. Because right now I really have to return to reality and get to work. I wasn’t here to play matchmaker for myself. I was here to plan a wedding.
My home office is the same as it always is, but for some reason, today it feels...lonely. I blaze through my emails like I am trying to set land speed records. I am keyed up, rushing for some reason.
You know the reason.
Carter's phone number is in my phone. Taunting me. Like the cookies in the pantry that I am deliberately avoiding, that phone number calls to me all damn morning. My gaze keeps dropping down to my Iphone. I want to pick it up, text him. "No, Sanniyah Rose," I told myself out loud. "Stop it."
The morning goes by in fits and starts. It's Saturday and I have a wedding scheduled for this evening, but until then I have plenty of time to get my emails and pitches done.
Instead, I fritter away my time looking at pictures of Carter on the internet.
I need a distraction and luckily one lives right next door to my apartment.
Tricia has been my best friend since I was a nervous and traumatized fourteen-year-old girl. The first day my mother and I moved into Otis' house, Tricia hailed me from her driveway. "Oh, you're the new kid? Thank god you seem normal," she had shouted.
I certainly didn't feel normal back then. Moving to the big house on the corner from the tiny studio apartment my mother and I had shared was making me feel as conspicuous as if I had a horn growing out of my forehead. My mother had just married Otis, down at the courthouse, and all of our possessions were crammed into plastic bags, in the back seat of his car. Everything I knew had just been turned upside down, but Tricia said I looked normal.
I never forgot that.
We went through school together, the Asian and the black girl a united front. And when we both moved to the city after college, we made a pact to live in the same neighborhood again. The universe had done us one better and let us be next door neighbors once more.
I love having her so close. Especially this morning when I need to talk and only face to face will do.
I knock on her door, inhaling the scent of cooking smells that emanate from within her apartment.
Her gorgeous wife Rita answers the door, spatula in hand. "Hey Yahya, you eat lunch yet?"
I smile. Rita likes to feed me and I don't ever object. "Even if I had, that smells too delicious to pass up."
"Come on in," she steps aside. "Babe? It's Yahya."
Tricia pads out of the bedroom, still in her pajamas. "You've embraced the weekend completely, I see," I laugh, hugging her.
"Nah, I'm not even drunk yet!" she protests, then sniffs her armpit. "Do I stink?"
I lean in and adopt a critical expression. "You smell like sloth and decay."
Tricia nods. "Good." She plops down on the couch. "Sit down, you're making me nervous. How's your mom holding up?"
I freeze, mid-sit. Guilt washes over me in waves. It has been a week, no wait, more than a week now. Aside from a few hasty texts, I haven't been to the house on the corner since last Sunday. Before Camilla and certainly before Carter.
Flopping back on the beat-up brown sofa, I try to smile breezily. "You talk to my mom more than I do, I figured you'd know already."
Tricia cocks her head, the hair flopping away from her face. Her eyes are narrowed. "I know. I was wondering if you did."
I plop on to the couch, picking at the edge of the afghan Rita had painstakingly crocheted for months on end before abandoning it all together. It's narrow and oddly shaped, but I love it. I yank it on to my lap like a literal security blanket. "I've texted her," I tell Tricia defensively.
Actually talking to my mom, hearing the sadness in her voice? It's too damn hard.
It's the same heavy anguish creeping back that I thought had been banished forever when she met Otis Johnson.
No. My Dad.
"Well that's good, I guess." Tricia says, though she sounds disappointed.
"She wishes you were her daughter instead," I smile. It's a
joke I've made forever. Tricia has a sappy, emotional side that clicks a lot better with my mother's sensitive rawness. They understand each other; speak the same language. I feel like a robot whenever I am in the same room with the two of them. I'm too buttoned up, too rational to understand them. I can not handle the full force of my mother's emotions. Especially not her grief. "You guys can do all the mother, daughter stuff I suck at, like gabbing on the phone for hours on end and making dates for brunch. She'd adopt you in a heartbeat, I'm sure."