Just Getting Started? Click Here

Chapter Two

“No! This is a joke right?”

I had barely made it through the door and the flurry of hugs when Lindsay grabbed my arm and pulled me through the foyer and up the stairs of their two-story farmhouse. I stumbled behind her into their bedroom where she stopped, then stepped to the side, sweeping her arms out Vanna White style to present the dress hanging on the closet door.

It wasn’t just pink. It was hot pink. I almost threw up a little, just being in the same room with it. Hot pink taffeta. The shiny kind with puffed sleeves and a ruffled skirt. I had died and come back in a John Hughes movie. “Seriously, Lindsay. Please tell me your bridesmaids are not walking down the aisle dressed like that.”

Her quivering lip threw me off guard, and then she crumpled into sobs on to the floor. The horrible realization that I had made my friend cry, in her own home, about her wedding just a few minutes after stepping through the door, was a punch to the gut. I desperately wanted to reel my words back in. “Lindsay. I’m so sorry. I’m just tired. No excuse. Of course, I love it,” I said, with no idea what to do next. I walked up to the dress and tried not to cringe as I removed it from the door. “Let me go try it on.”

The bedroom door crashed open startling me to the point I crushed the dress to my chest for protection as Mark stormed in. “What is going on in here? You’ve been her ten minutes, and you already made her cry? What the hell, Grace?”

Taken aback, both by Lindsay’s sobbing and Mark’s yelling, I immediately regretted my decision to accept the invitation and no longer felt like this was an adventure I wanted any part of. I was without words. None formed in my brain. None came out of my mouth. I just glanced between the two of them. Back and forth, until it sunk it that what I was hearing from Lindsay’s balled up body was not sobs, but laughter. My eyes snapped to Mark, who was no failing miserably at maintaining his look of rage.

“This is a joke, isn’t it?” I asked, waffling between mortified and murderous.

In answer, they both burst out laughing.

“You should have seen your face! It was hilarious!” Mark said.

Lindsay looked up, tears streaming down her cheeks, her words coming out in short bursts between laughs. “I’m sorry! Mark made me do it.”

I so wanted to be angry but hearing them laugh made it impossible as my own laughter bubbled up. The harder they laughed, the harder I laughed, until all three of us were doubled over, gasping for air. The boys appeared in the doorway; all three wearing looks of horror and confusion. While we paused when they appeared, the bursts of laughter that erupted again sent them scurrying from the room. Which just made us laugh harder.

“I don’t think it was really this funny,” Mark said, trying to calm his laughs.

Lindsay and I both took deep breaths, trying to stop our fits, but made the mistake of looking at each other. We started all over again, which kickstarted Mark.

“Okay. Stop. Stop,” I finally yelled. “My sides hurt.”

“Mine do, too,” Lindsay agreed as she sucked in deep breaths to try to calm herself.

We all breathed, avoiding eye contact with each other. Then I looked at Lindsay, and she spat a laugh, which made me laugh, which made Mark laugh, and we were back it again. Finally, Mark threw his hands up and walked from the room, and our laughs finally started to dissipate into occasional giggles and then finally silence.

Lindsay stood up, then pulled me to my feet, and embraced me. I hugged her back. “We’re glad you’re here,” she said, giving me a squeeze.

“I am too,” I said honestly. “Now, anyway.”

“Are you hungry?”

“Starving,” I said, breaking the embrace.

“Then let’s go get you something to eat.”

She started to walk toward the door, and I looked up at the dress. “So? You’re not making me wear pink then?”

Lindsay stopped, turned, and grinned. Then proceeded to leave the room, ignoring me as I yelled her name. I looked at the dress again, groaned, and followed after her.

Chairs scooted and plates and silverware jangled against the wood table as the boys set the table as Mark plated a pot roast and potatoes from the crock pot, and Lindsay made salads. I’d been told in no uncertain terms that my help was not needed and to have a seat.

“Excuse me, Aunt Grace,” their oldest, Henry, said as he put a plate and bowl in front of me. Then his arm wrapped around my shoulders, and he gave me a brief hug that melted my heart, before he headed off to put the plates at the other seats. At 13, Henry looked so much like Mark it was almost like seeing his twin from the past. But unlike Mark, he was quieter and more reserved.

Bryan appeared next with silverware. “I’m in first grade now, Aunt Grace!”

“I know. I heard,” I said and kissed him on the forehead, which he promptly wiped off.

“Can I read to you later?” he asked.

“Sure can. I’d love for you to read to me.”

“Bryan, move,” Thomas ordered from behind him, carrying glasses with ice in each hand. Then he realized he was being rude in front of a guest, and said, “Sorry, Aunt Grace.”

Bryan did as his big brother directed and scurried to the other side of the table while Thomas put an empty glass in front of me. “I hear you’re playing the trumpet now,” I said to Thomas.

Thomas blushed and nodded.

“That’s great. Will you play something for me later?”

“Sure!” he said excitedly then moved to the next place setting.

It felt like it had been way too long since I spent any time with the boys. In truth, it probably had been way too long. The last year had been crazy and while I typically tried to get to Ohio a few times a year, it hadn’t happened this year. While I was excited to spend time with Lindsay and Mark, I couldn’t wait to catch up with the boys and vowed to be a better Aunt Grace once I figured out what was next. They were growing up way faster than I realized they would.

“Dinner is served,” Mark announced as he set the platter of pot roast, potatoes, and carrots in the middle of the table and then took his seat, while Lindsay followed with a large serving bowl of salad, several salad dressings, and a bread and butter.

There was slight chaos while the boys all took their seats. Thomas and Henry sat down at the two chairs to my right and Bryan sat down next to me. Mark and Lindsay took the two chairs at either end of the table.

“Who wants to say grace?” Mark asked and all three boys chuckled at the use of my name out of context.

“A prayer,” Lindsay said to them, and their chuckles quieted. “Bryan?”

Bryan nodded and they all bowed their heads. Out of respect, I did the same. “Dear Lord. Thank you for grandma, grandpa, mom, dad, and even Thomas and Henry. Also, for Aunt Grace. Can you make her stay a little longer?”

Not going to lie. Hearing that both stung and felt good all at the same time.

“Also, thank you for the food. Even though I don’t like pot roast, I’ll still eat it.”

I held back the chuckle as Mark said, “Wrap it up, son.”

“Anyway, thank you for everything. Amen.”

“Amen,” everyone said in unison. I looked up to find Lindsay smiling and me, and I smiled back. And then everyone started filling their plates, while I watched them, the old wound of what I’d missed as a child opening slightly, while also feeling grateful to be a part of this little family. Even if it was peripheral.

By the time we’d finished eating and after the turmoil of multiple people talking at once all around me, I was exhausted and ready for bed.

Mark picked up on me fading and shooed the kids to their rooms, who each gave me a hug before following their father’s command.

Lindsay showed me to my room, which was a basement turned into an extra family room. “We never use it, unless we have a bunch of friends over for something. It’s all yours while you’re here. Make yourself at home and get some rest. I’ll try to keep the boys at bay as long as possible tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Lindsay. Don’t worry about the boys. I’ve missed them.” Dropping my bag on the bed, I scanned the room. “You sure this isn’t a problem? I can get a hotel room, you know.”

She rolled her eyes and let out a frustrated sigh. “No, it’s not a problem, and no, you’re not staying in a hotel.” Then she eyed my bag. “Is that all you brought? That one bag?”

“And my backpack,” I said turning to show her. “I meant to ask, can I use your Wi-Fi?”

“Yes. It’s ‘home.’ And the password is on the router. Seriously? That’s all you brought?” Now she was shaking her head, as if somehow my packing skills were a disgrace.

“Yes. This is all I brought. I didn’t want to check luggage.”

With a final shake of her head, she said goodnight and ascended the stairs. I could feel her brain operating in overtime from a floor above. She didn’t say it out loud, but I could almost hear her brain scream, “Project!” It was going to be a week.

Alone, I finally took a breath and scoped out my temporary home. It was hard to believe they only used it on occasion. It was a perfect hide-out space, complete with a sectional that turned into a bed, a small bathroom with a corner shower, and a large flat screen TV with surround sound encased in a beautiful wooden entertainment center containing row upon row of DVDs. Upon closer inspection, I found two game systems also attached. Off in the corner was a small, fully stocked bar, mini fridge and microwave.

A knock sounded on the upstairs door, then Mark’s voice drifted down. “You decent?”

“Yes. Come on down.”

He descended the stairs and stood at the bottom, leaning on the banister. “Just checking in. Need anything?”

“No. I’m good. Just going to do some job hunting for a bit, then crash,” I said, unpacking my computer and placing it on the bed.

“I’m headed to bed, then.”

I nodded, looked around the room. “Man cave, right?”

He grinned and put his finger to his lips. “Shhh. I’m not supposed to say anything. Settle in. It’s yours as long as you want it. I lost my man card for the man cave years ago, anyway,” he said with a chuckle and a wink.

“You’re an idiot,” I said with a laugh.

“But you love me anyway.” He blew a kiss in my direction. Thrust back in time to when we had been carefree college students, I grinned, caught it, and planted it on my cheek. “By the way,” he said as he started up the stairs. “Trevor is my best man, and he’ll be here tomorrow.” Then he bounded up the stairs before I could say anything.

“Chicken!” I yelled, hoping he heard me. At the mention of Trevor’s name, every muscle in my body had clenched. I should have known he’d be Mark’s best man.

Whatever. It was just a week. I could do a week. Pushing Trevor out of my mind, I changed into yoga pants and a t-shirt, then climbed into bed and opened my laptop. Once I was connected, I immediately typed in the magazine’s website and clicked through to the staff listing. Sure enough, I had been removed. The guy who’d died three years ago was still listed, but my name and bio had been stricken from the record. I did a quick search of my name and found a multitude of articles either written by me or including me. I settled in, clicking on them one by one, copying the content and pasting it into a document, wishing I had listened to my professor all those years ago and kept an updated portfolio. Thank goodness for the internet.


Michelle’s Newsletter

If you want to be notified when new chapters are published, check the “Before It’s Published” box and you will be signed-up for both those notifications and Michelle’s regular newsletter.

To just receive the regular newsletter, click the “Just the regular newsletter please!” box.

Thank you!

You successfully signed up!