Dirty Red

Page 39

“Hi, Mom,” I said, turning to smile at her.

“Why did you choose that shade, Leah? You look like a vampire.”

I glanced at myself in the mirror. Courtney had been applying my signature shade of red. Maybe it did look a little too goth for a wedding. I reached for a tissue and wiped it off, pointing to a rose colored tube instead. “Let’s try that one.”

My mother watched in satisfaction as the new lipstick was applied. “Everyone is almost here. This is going to be the most impressive wedding of the year, I can guarantee you that.”

I beamed.

“And the most beautiful bride,” my sister said, brushing blush across my cheeks.

“And the sexiest groom,” Katine threw over her shoulder.

I giggled, grateful for their support.

“Yes, well, let’s hope she can hold onto him this time,” my mother said. Katine dropped her mascara wand.

“Mother!” Courtney snapped. “So inappropriate. Can you lay off the bitch mode? ”

I’d never get away with saying something like that. My mother frowned at her favorite daughter. I could sense a rising argument.

I put a hand on Courtney’s arm. I didn’t want there to be fighting today. I wanted everything to be perfect. I swallowed my hurt and smiled at my mother.

“We love each other,” I said confidently. “I don’t need to hold onto anything. He’s mine.”

She raised her perfect eyebrows at me, her lips pulling tight. “There’s always something they love more,” she said. “Be it a woman or a car or...”

Her words dropped off, but I finished them in my head — or another daughter...

Courtney, oblivious to our father’s favoritism, swept more blush over my cheekbones. “You’re so morbid, Mother. Not every man is like that.”

My mother smiled indulgently at her younger daughter and swept a hand across her cheek. “No, my love,” she said, “not for you.”

I heard the implication. Courtney did not. I eyed her hand on my sister’s cheek, and I hurt. She never touched me unless she had to. Even when I was little, I was lucky to get a hug on my birthday. Turning away from them, I thought of Caleb and immediately felt better. We were starting our own family today. I would never, ever treat my child the way they treated me. No matter what the situation. Caleb was going to be the best dad. I would be able to look back at my old life with sadness, as I glowed in the rosy haze of my new one. Caleb.

I had him. Maybe no one else, but he was enough for me.

Five minutes before things were scheduled to start, there was a knock on the door. My mother had already left and only Katine and Courtney were with me.

Courtney ran to see who it was, while Katine helped me into my shoes.

She came back half smiling. “It’s Caleb. He wants to speak to you.”

Katine shook her head. “Hell, no! He can’t see her yet. I’m divorced, and you know what? I let the ass**le see me before we got married.” She said it matter-of-factly, like that was the sole reason her marriage had fallen apart.

I looked at the door, my heart rate spiking. I didn’t mind. “You two go downstairs. I’ll see you in a minute.”

Katine folded her arms across her chest like she wasn’t going anywhere.

“Katine,” I said, “Brian left you because you slept with his brother, not because he saw you in your wedding dress. Now get out.”

Courtney grabbed Katine’s arm before she could retort, and dragged her from the room.

I smoothed my dress, glancing quickly in the mirror before heading to the door. What could he want to speak to me about? Suddenly, I felt sick. What if he wanted to call things off? Was there ever a good reason a groom demanded to speak to the bride before he married her?

I cracked it open.

“You’re not supposed to see me,” I said.

He laughed, which immediately set me at ease. A laughing man didn’t come to break up with his fiancée.

“Turn around,” he said. “And I’ll back in.”

“All right.”

I turned my back to the door and took a few steps away. I heard Caleb shuffle in. He came to stand with his back pressed against my back. He reached for my hands, and we stood there like that for a good minute before he spoke.

“I’m gonna turn around…” he said.


He started laughing, and I knew he was teasing.

I squeezed his hands. He squeezed back.

“Leah,” his voice touched my name in a way that made me close my eyes. Everything that rolled off his tongue sounded beautiful but especially my name.

“Yes?” I said softly.

“Do you love me, or the idea of me?”

I stiffened, and he stroked the tops of my fingers with his thumbs.

I tried to pull my hands away because I wanted to see his face, but he held them firmly, not letting me go.

“Just answer the question, love.”

“I love you,” I said with certainty. “Do you … do you not feel the same?”

Oh God. He was going to call off the wedding.

I felt my throat constricting. I dropped my head, pulling deep breaths.

“I love you, Leah. I wouldn’t have asked you to marry me if I didn’t.”

Then why are we having this conversation?

“Then why are we having this conversation?” I had sounded surer in my head. My voice quivered.

“Love isn’t always enough. I just want to make sure…”

His voice trailed off. Was he talking about Olivia? I wanted to scream. She was here with us on our wedding day. I wanted to tell him that she was gone! She’d moved on. She was … she was … a worthless bitch that didn’t deserve him.

Did I love him?

I lifted my chin. Yes, I did — more than she did, anyway. If he needed me to talk him through this, I would.

“Caleb,” I said, my voice soft. “There is something I’ve never told you. It’s about my family.”

I took a breath and allowed the truth to seep from my lips. It was now or never. My words were laced with shame and hurt. Caleb, sensing something, gripped me tighter.

“I’m adopted.”

He made to spin around, but I held him in place. I couldn’t look at him just yet. I just needed to get this out. Any minute they were going to come looking for us, and I needed to finish before they did. “Just, don’t turn around, okay. Just … listen.”

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