Country Love - Page 44

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Chapter Twenty-Five

Sanniyah

At 3:24AM, the doctor came out and spoke to my mother. She sagged against the wall and nodded several times, then turned to me. "Yahya, go home honey. He's okay."

I headed home and tossed and turned for a few hours before getting up again. Hungover with both grief and alcohol, I now regard the wreck of my reflection in my warped bathroom mirror.

I look sallow, with dull, swollen eyes. I quickly down two glasses of water, feeling them roil through my tenuous belly, then step into the shower and let the hot water rain about my shoulders.

Otis is okay, but it is the degree of "okay" that has me still in shock. When I saw him in his hospital room, he was sleeping, but the pronounced droop of the left side of his mouth made it clear that he was not the same. "He's lost the left side of his body," the nurse explained. "He's going to have to work hard to get it back."

My mother's words ring through my memory. "He's been working so hard for so long...."

Mentally I shake myself. I have an appointment at ten this morning to help Camilla with her wedding dress. She texted out of the blue at six in the morning to confirm, which struck me as rather odd, but I jumped to reply. After the debacle with Carter, I am surprised she hasn't fired me yet. But if anything, Camilla seems even more eager to see me than I am to see her.

"Sanniyah!" She greets me with a hug that startles me, and almost sets me to crying again. She is so warm and genuine, and I feel as fragile as an egg.

"It's so good to see you again," I tell her, feeling truly touched by her reaction.

"I'm happy to see you too," she smiles. "I need some expert guidance here. I'm not used to fancy."

"To be honest, neither am I." I look at her and widen my eyes in mock horror. "Whoops, probably shouldn't have told you that."

She laughed, then spreads her hands in mock submission. "Okay, let's do this."

Kaufman's is the most exclusive bridal salon in the downtown area, and I figured that, despite Camilla's protests to the contrary, it would most fit with her budget and tastes.

The entryway is through a heavy wooden door, more fitting for a ski lodge than a storefront. But once I'm inside, I can see why the owners chose to wall themselves off from the dirty streetscape below. The interior is all soft tones of blue, with tinkling spa music played in through hidden speakers. Black clad salespeople swish silently passed us, ferrying armloads of white dresses to the private dressing rooms, where, presumably, eager brides are receiving treatment that would fit royalty.

I sneak a quick look at Camilla, who is standing stock still, a fearful smile frozen across her face, her arms held stiffly at her sides. She looked terrified.

"May I help you?" The receptionist's voice is barely above a murmur, so it takes me a moment to register that she is speaking to us.

"Easton," I step in smoothly, when Camilla shows no sign of answering. "We have an appointment at ten."

"Yes, of course," the receptionist eyes are sparkling, and I know the Easton name means something to her. "I've put you with Veronica, one of our most experienced associates. Can I get you anything to drink, some champagne maybe?"

I look back at Camilla, who still resembles a deer in the headlights. "Yes, champagne might be exactly what we both need." Hair of the dog that bit you I think silently, Lord knows it can't make the pounding in my head any worse.

The receptionist ushers us back to an expansive private dressing room, tricked out with a lavish three-way mirror under a spotlight, with a wooden platform set in the center where the bride can stand to show off for her assembled audience. There is an elegantly carved armchair in the corner, and along the back wall sits a tufted loveseat. Camilla and I sit down on that; Camilla perched at the edge like she's ready to run.

She needs a distraction, I think to myself. "So we haven't talked about this," I start. "I know it's an island wedding, destination. When I went to visit the… " I couldn't bring myself to say Carter's name, "Wedding site… I was picturing a beach wedding. Is this what you're thinking too?"

Camilla nods, still wide-eyed. Her eyes are bright and shiny, like she is close to tears. Hurriedly, I change the subject.

"Well, I don't know why they're making us wait like this." I stand up in stride to the door, poking my head out. "Excuse me," I flag down a dress-laden associate. "We are waiting for Veronica?"

"Of course of course," she smiles unctuously at me, and gestures over her shoulder to a closed room. "Veronica is just finishing up with another client."

I narrow my eyes. "But we have an appointment," I say crisply.

The associate shrinks back from my glare. "I'll go tell her you are waiting," she says hurriedly, then turns on her heel to trot over to the far off dressing room.

I turn back with an exasperated huff, only to find Camilla watching me with a strange smile on her face. "Was I too harsh?" I ask her.

"No," she shakes her head vigorously. "In fact, I was just wondering if I could hire you to get other things done in my life."

I laugh and shake my head; "Wedding planning really is the only part of my life where I am this effective."

She cocks her head and gives me a sly look." Really?"

"Really," I say definitively, sagging back into the loveseat. "Everything else is kind of in a shambles right now."

Camilla is interrupted from answering by a soft knock on the door. "Camilla Easton?" The associate has finally shows up. I sigh with relief, but Camilla only looks more frightened. Veronica moves like a ballet dancer, all loose-limbed and lithe, her dark brown hair caught up in the severe bun at the crown of her head. Her perfect complexion is as pale as a ghost, with only a slight wing of eyeliner at the corner of each eye. The effect makes her look unnervingly like a cat.

Since Camilla isn't moving, I rise to my feet. "Veronica, thank you for seeing us. My name is Sanniyah Jones. I'm Miss Easton's wedding planner."

Veronica slides her hand into mine without shaking it, as if she expects me to kiss it instead. I instantly dislike her. "Miss Easton is planning a beach wedding for early October. We'd like to try on a few styles to start - strapless, A-line would be best I am thinking, but we are open to your input."

Veronica blinks slowly, fixing Camilla with a laserlike stare that, if Camilla wasn't nervous before, would have definitely set her on edge. The way she scans her up and down puts me in mind of a robot. Her eyes are just as dead.

Finally she seems to blink to life. "I have some ideas in mind," she says coolly. "Make yourselves comfortable. Did you get your drink?"

"Actually no," I tell her, equally as cool. "The receptionist said she would bring it and never did."

"I'll see that you get it."

"Please do." I don't know why I am feeling so angry with this perfect stranger. Maybe it's because she seems hell-bent on deliberately intimidating my sensitive client. But I am ready to pull her hair.

When Veronica closes the door, Camilla lets out a huge exhale and that is the last straw. "We don't have to stay here," I remind her. "If you are uncomfortable, then we can just leave."

Camilla twists her wedding ring around and around her finger. "No, no we made the appointment, we should stay." But her voice is wavering, the slight tremor in the back of her throat telling me that she's lying.

"Okay, I hear you," I tell her. "I'll be the bad guy here."

I throw open the door and march to the back of the store, ignoring the wide-eyed protests of the receptionist. "Veronica? Yoo hoo, Veronica?"

Veronica slides out from the rack of dresses she is leafing through and raises a perfectly arched eyebrow.

"Veronica, I am so sorry, but Miss Easton has been called away. We have to go."

"Oh well, I am sorry to hear that!" It's startling how quickly Veronica veers from icy cool to overly sweet. "Let me get my appointment book and we'll definitely reschedule you for as soon as it's convenient."

I know this trick. "If Miss Easton wants to come back, I will call and make the appointment

at that time. Thank you." I swivel on my heel and head straight back to Camilla who is sitting stock still in the dressing room.

"We can go, honey," I tell her.

Her eyes shine wetly for a moment, and then she bursts into tears. I stand for a moment, shocked at her reaction, and then I sit down next to her. I don't know what to do with my hands, so I settle on patting her knee quietly as she blots at her eyes with a tissue.

"I'm, suh...sorry," she quietly gasps. "This...this is harder than I thought." She takes a deep breath and collects herself. "My mother," she whispers. "It's not that I don't appreciate you being here with me..."

It clicks into place. "But I'm not the one you envisioned doing this with."


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