The Best Man


Page 18


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"That's ridiculous. You both would've been trapped."
"You can shut up now." Her jaw ached from clenching.
"Someday, you'll be glad you didn't marry him."
"I'm thinking about kicking you in the nuts, Levi. Shut. Up."
Finally, he did. Her eyes stung from tears, and more tears kept flowing. The paper towel she'd used to wipe her face was smeared with makeup.
Soon, she'd be away. She'd be away from horrible Levi, away from the town where everyone was talking about her, away from Jeremy and his beautiful eyes and happy face.
She wasn't sure when she fell asleep, was only aware that her eyes were burning, her head heavy. At some point, she slid down in the chair, and there was something under her cheek. A hand on her shoulder.
She woke groggily. Someone was shaking her gently. "Time to go, Faith," a voice said.
Levi. Right. Her head was in his lap. She sat up, wincing. Felt as if she'd been beaten with a golf club. Blue was on his feet, tail wagging. "I took him out about an hour ago," Levi added.
"Passengers in first class may begin boarding," the airline person was saying. "This is American Airlines flight 1523, direct to San Francisco. First-class passengers, please begin boarding."
Thank God. She stood up, adjusted her shirt and ran a hand over her head. She'd forgotten to take her hair down; it was still in the complicated and beautiful twist from this morning.
Levi stood as well, and she managed to look as far as his chin. "Tell him I'm doing all right, okay?" she said, then tightened her grip on the dog's leash.
"Lie, you mean?" he said, with a small flash of a grin.
She didn't return it. "Yeah." She took the handle of her suitcase and started over to the gate.
"Faith?"
She looked back at him.
His brows were drawn, his face serious. "I'm sorry things didn't work out the way you wanted."
Said the man who ruined her wedding. "Take care of yourself, Levi," she said wearily. "Don't get hurt over there."
And with that, she and her dog boarded the plane.
CHAPTER ELEVEN
FAITH STOPPED OUTSIDE of Hugo's and did a quick pass of her hair, licked her dry lips and tried to ignore the stomach cramps that had been knifing through her since she woke up at four this morning.
There he was. She could see him through the restaurant's glass door, standing by the maître d's desk, waiting for her. His hair was shiny as a crow's wing, like his mom's, his back to her, as he was talking to someone. Oh, crap, it was Jessica Dunn. Great. No one made her feel less attractive than Jessica, who probably had never even heard of Microfiber Slim-Nation undergarments.
Faith had dressed for the occasion, oh, yes. One does not meet one's g*y ex-fiancé without looking fantastic. Her cutest San Francisco dress, a bright yellow confection with good seaming and tulle flowers bunched along the hem. In SF, it had seemed like sunshine itself; now, seeing Jessica dressed in black skinny jeans and a black V-neck sweater, Faith felt like a giant kindergartener. Well. At least she had on slutty shoes.
Now or never, Faith, her brain instructed, sounding like Mrs. Linqvest, who'd often whipped out stories of Eve's pain in childbirth to better terrorize the kids. Faith opened the door, the handle cold in her damp palm.
Jeremy turned around, and his eyes went soft. "Hey," he breathed.
"Hi there, stranger," she said, her voice sounding false. Then she hugged him, and oh, crikey, he felt so good. Three and a half years apart, and she remembered everything about him, how they fit together, her cheek against his shoulder, the hard, smooth muscles of his back, the soft brush of his hair against her cheek, the smell of Old Spice (again...how could he be g*y and wear Old Spice? Or had that been a clue?).
She'd loved him so much. The best man she knew...and the man who'd lied to her for years. Who'd allowed her to think they'd have everything.
Faith pulled back and gave him a smile, which shook a little at the corners. Jeremy's eyes were wet, too.
"You got even more beautiful," he said a little unsteadily.
The words caused the lump in her throat to swell. "And you haven't changed a bit." But he had, a little. There was a sadness around his eyes, and a few very appealing crow's-feet had sprung up, making him even more handsome.
"Hi, Faith," Jessica said, a tinge of impatience in her voice, like she'd had enough of the reunion.
"Hi, Jess. Nice to see you."
Jess cocked an eyebrow. Really, she and Levi had been the perfect couple. Maybe they could go into business. Condescending Looks, LLC. "Come on, I have your old table for you." She led them through Hugo's to the table by the window. Jeremy held her chair, just like old times. Jess handed them menus like she was giving out Oscars, then asked if they knew what they wanted to drink.
"How about a bottle of the Fulkerson dry Riesling?" Jeremy said. "Got any left?"
"We do."
Jeremy smiled at Faith. "They beat us out of the platinum last year. Don't tell my parents I ordered it. They'll kill me."
A twinge of nervous irritation zipped through her. The man had left her on the altar; now he wanted to joke about wine like they were old chums. Out on the lake, boat lights winked and bobbed. The hum of the restaurant patrons made the silence between them a little less awkward.
Her lessons on dressing well seemed to have stuck with Jeremy; he looked like a model for Ralph Lauren now, a red V-neck sweater over a cream-colored button down, dark washed jeans. His hair was a little shorter than it used to be, and it suited him.
"So Levi told me he's seen you a couple times," he said.
"Yes. Good old Levi," Faith said, managing to keep the snark out of her voice. "You two are still close?"
"Oh, yeah." Jeremy put the napkin in his lap, then took a deep breath. "I've been really nervous about seeing you," he admitted. "I woke up at four this morning."
So they'd been awake at the same time. Funny, that.
"It's been a while," she said, surreptitiously wiping her damp hands on her napkin.
Jeremy pressed his lips together. "I guess I was a little worried about how you'd feel. If you'd slap my face or throw your drink at me."
"Hi, Dr. Lyon!" called a plump woman with pinkish hair. "My knee is so much better! It should be, with all the fluid you drained out of it!"
"Oh, good, Dolores. Glad to hear it."
"Two hundred cc's! I think I hold a record!" the woman said gleefully.
"Could be." He glanced at Faith. "Sorry. Where were we?"
"Drink-throwing and slaps," she said. "Thanks for the ideas."
Jeremy gave a crooked smile and rubbed his chin. "Can we get that out of the way? Do you hate me?"
"No, Jeremy. Of course not. I told you that, right after the wedding. A few times. More than a few."
"Yeah, you did," he said. "But that was in the early days. I thought maybe as time went on, you'd get...I don't know. Angry. You never wanted to see me when you were back in town, so..."
There was a long pause. "I needed to get over you," she said as quietly as she could. "It wasn't because I hated you. It was because I loved you."
His eyes filled again, and he nodded.
"Hey, Doc!" someone called. "Oh, lord, you're with Faith! Hi, Faith, honey!"
"Hi," Faith said. Clearly, meeting in public had been a bad idea. "I have no idea who that is," she murmured.
"Joan Pepitone," Jeremy murmured. "Big Frankie's mom."
"Are you two getting back together?" Frankie's mother asked.
"No, Mrs. Pepitone," he said. "Just having dinner."
"Okay, then," she whispered. "I'll leave you two kids alone."
"Anyway," Faith said. "It wasn't anything but-"
"Here we go!" Jessica announced, sticking the bottle in Jeremy's face so he could see the label.
Jeremy nodded, and Jess began uncorking the bottle.
There were times when Faith really hated all the rituals that went along with wine. Jeremy picked up the cork; it wasn't crumbly. Jessica poured him an ounce; he swirled and smelled it, then nodded. Jess poured Faith a glass, then Jeremy, then started reciting the specials.
"Jess, if you don't mind, we'll let you know when we're ready, okay?" Jeremy said, smiling up at her.
"Sure, pal," she said. "Take all the time you want." She gave Faith a look that wasn't nearly as warm as the one she'd just leveled at Jeremy and finally left. Couldn't have been more than a size four, just in case she wasn't already a pain in the butt.
Faith straightened out her cutlery, then took a sip of wine, smiling awkwardly at Jeremy. He smiled back. All smiles, all the time.
"Jeremy," she said quietly, looking down at her plate, "I think the hardest part of everything was that you let it go so far."
He was quiet for a minute, idly swirling the wine in his glass, staring at it like it was the Rosetta stone. "I'd never imagined a life that didn't have me as a straight guy," he said. "I loved you. How could I be g*y if that was true?" He sighed. "I should've talked to you. I just-and I recognize the irony here-I didn't want to hurt you. When I did let myself acknowledge that we didn't have a normal relationship-"
"By which I assume you're talking about Justin Timberlake?" she interjected. She now hated all JT songs on principle.
He had the grace to look ashamed. "Right. At those moments, I thought..." He sighed. "I thought, well, you seemed happy enough. It wouldn't matter if we just kept going on the way we had been."
Faith let that sink in. "So because I was too dumb to notice anything was wrong, it was okay to pretend to be straight." A burst of white-hot anger flared in her heart.
Jeremy's face changed. "No! Not like that, Faith. Just...if you were happy, then I was. Because I did love you. I still do. I hope you believe me."
The flare extinguished.
"I do," she said.
They sat for a few minutes. Funny, how she'd never felt uncomfortable with Jeremy before. Ever.
"Was it hard?" she asked. "Dealing with everyone's surprise?" she asked. They'd talked about it in those first few weeks, but he'd always shrugged it off, more concerned with her, both of them trying to assure the other they were fine.
"It was hard being without you," he said. "Every time something good happened, you were the one I wanted to tell. And every time something bad happened...well, a couple times, I was already calling you before I remembered we weren't together."
"Me, too," she said, her voice wobbling. Dang it. She dug in her purse for a tissue, but Jeremy was already handing her a handkerchief. "This is very sentimental, isn't it?" she asked in a shaky voice, and they both laughed a little. She wiped her eyes and tried not to look at him.
The murmur and hum of the diners around them filled the silence.
Faith's heart sat heavy in her chest. Like road kill, like a dead, stiff porcupine. Okay, that was a really pathetic image. Even now, the dead porcupine was resurrecting and giving her a reproachful look-I was just sleeping, dummy-but yeah, kind of. For eight unwavering years, she'd adored Jeremy Lyon. For the past three, the argument could be made (and made well) that he'd still been the most important man in her life.
It was really time for that to change. She'd kept a few secrets of her own, even from him. And maybe those were just as important as his had been.
"I realize how wrong it was for me to lie to you, Faith," Jeremy said, staring at the table. "I used you so I could be the person I wanted to be, not the person I was, if that makes any sense. I'm more sorry about that than anything."
"I might've done some of that, too," she admitted.
"But you never lied."
"Maybe not." Then again, maybe so.
He looked at her, his eyes solemn. "I have this fantasy," he said. "That you forgive me. That we become really close again. All the feelings I had for you, Faith...I wasn't faking that. I was crazy about you." His voice broke a little. "I've missed you so much."
Well, hell. She couldn't just leave him there, hanging. Faith reached over to grip his strong, smooth hands, bittersweet memories sliding through her like a river. His face as he saw her dressed for the prom, the way he always leaned forward a little when she was talking, as if he was afraid he'd miss a single word. The way he brought flowers to the airport when she came home from college, hugging her so hard he'd lift her right off the ground, the inevitable "aw" of a few onlookers.
"Of course we can be friends, Jeremy," she said. "Of course."
Maybe this was what she needed to get on with her life. For three and a half years, she hadn't been able to find a meaningful relationship. Maybe being here, being around Jeremy, was the final piece of the puzzle.
"You guys ready to order?" Jessica was back, and clearly no more conversation would be tolerated till their dinners had been chosen.
They ordered and ate, talking about ordinary things-Ted and Elaine spent most of the year in San Diego. Lyon's Den was run by a manager and had been featured in the Times. Jeremy's practice was bustling; he saw patients who were newborns, patients in their nineties, and, clearly, he was doing what he was meant to do. She brought him up-to-date on the Holland news, her plans for the barn and library.

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