July 4th

KATHERINE

“You sure do throw the best parties,” Natalie O’Brien says from behind me.

I don’t look away from the window, too taken by the lit scene in front of me: one hundred chairs covered in white organdy; round tables set with red, white & blue sprays of gypsy flower, arrowhead, and lupine; the silver moonlight flashing off the dark lake, the perfect backdrop behind it all.

Everything turned out exactly as I planned for this Fourth of July. Right down to the weather, which has decided to hold off. Good thing, too, because I’m one party tent short for the number of guests who rsvp’d. If it had decided to rain… I can’t even.

“And now for the grand finale,” I murmur to myself.

“You keep pulling off show stoppers like this,” Natalie continues, “and your party planning business is going to do so well you’re going to get celebrity clients.”

This gets her a smile, and I tear myself away from the window. All the preparations are complete. There’s nothing more for me to do, or even worry about.

“Great dress, Nat.” I can’t help but admire how amazing she looks in yellow. No one should be able to pull that off, but her red hair, which has recently lost the blue streaks, and tanned skin set it off perfectly.

“Thanks. I know it’s off your color scheme. You don’t mind?”

“Of course not. You look perfect.”

You do, too,” she says, breathing out a sigh of relief.

“What? This ol’ thing?” I ask, gesturing down the length of my body.

Natalie shakes her head at the age-old joke, and my gaze jumps to some movement just beyond her shoulder. The door creaks open and a face leans in. It’s a face I haven’t seen enough of in the year since I moved to Little Bear Island, and then only in video calls when I’m at my newly constructed office on the mainland.

“Macie! You made it!” I exclaim. I didn’t realize that this is where my last bit of anxiety was coming from. Now that my best girlfriend from home is here, everything is perfect.

“Just barely.” She opens the door more fully and, before she closes it again, I catch a glimpse of a handsome man, tall and built, waiting for her outside. It must be her date, but ever since Macie dropped out of college and moved to Hollywood (or sometimes New York or London) she’s been super mysterious about her love life. I don’t trust what I read in the tabloids. I want to hear it from her.

As soon as dinner is over, I’ll make her spill. Or maybe I’ll go straight to the source.

“I know you’ve got last minute stuff to do,” Macie says stepping quickly into the room, “but I had to say hi as soon as I got here.” She wraps her arms around me, and I hold on tight. We’ve both moved away, but Macie will always be that little bit of home that anchors me to the earth. Andrew, too, who has reconciled all past hurts and is here, sitting out there next to my mom.

Macie releases me first. “This party is going to be amazing, girl. Please tell me you had help.”

“Ah, yes. Mace, this is my friend Natalie. She helped a ton. I couldn’t have done it without her.”

“Hey,” Natalie says, her eyes wide. Natalie and I went to see Macie’s first movie on opening night. Natalie’s been geeking out for weeks, ever since I told her Macie’d rsvp’d as a “yes.”

They shake hands, then Macie gives me one more hug before quickly heading back for the door. “I’ll let you two finish up then I’ll see you outside. This will be the best show of all time and, trust me, I know of what I speak.” She glances toward the window, and her eyes go wide. “Oh, crap. Everyone’s finding seats, and I want the front row.”

As Macie whips opens the door, I hear the music starting. Andrew steps into the room, passing Macie in the doorway. He’s dressed in a navy blue tux, and he looks divine. He always did. He always will.

“Oh, hey, Andy,” Macie says, pushing that button of his that she loves so well.

Andrew narrows his eyes at her in a playful way, then turns toward me saying, “Show time!”

He holds out his arm, and I take it. Natalie hands me my flowers. They’re a mix of all-white wildflowers, but the stems are wrapped in thin red and blue ribbons.

The three of us step out of the bride’s room and into the warm night air. It’s ten o’clock––probably the latest wedding of all time––but it had to be dark because I’ve got something special planned for the end.

“In the past,” Andrew says, “when I thought about walking you down the aisle, this isn’t exactly what I expected.”

I give his white lie a closed-lip smile. If Andrew had ever actually thought about walking me down the aisle, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be where I am right now. And I’m exactly where I want to be.

The guests turn and stand as we take our first steps onto the walkway that’s strewn with more red gypsy flowers. There are so many candles lighting our way that I have no trouble seeing Bennet at the end of the path.

He’s also in a navy tux with a crisp white shirt. The top two buttons are undone. He’s effortlessly sexy. Somehow simultaneously pulling off wedding formal and island casual. He lifts his head when he senses us coming and when our eyes lock, his lips part in both surprise and relief.

That look. It’s everything.

Andrew’s bicep tightens under my fingers, then relaxes. We walk slowly, on pace with the music. Even with all my planning, the reality of it is completely surreal. When I get to the front, I don’t even know how I got here. Andrew unthreads my arm from his and passes my hand to Bennet.

Bennet’s other hand slides behind my neck, and he pulls me to him, kissing me long and hard before the minister even starts his introduction.

Our guests start clapping.

Mooshy Moran, who’s out on the launch barge three hundred feet from shore, must assume it’s his signal. There’s a tiny flash of light, a hiss, and then a high pitched pfffffffffffft before a massive explosion goes off in the sky above us.

Bennet breaks away from our kiss, and we both tip our heads up. Reds and blues, whites and golds, stream out of the sky like a bouquet of light. I laugh at the unexpected deviation from my carefully choreographed plans.

Bennet pulls me back against his body. He leans his head toward mine and whispers in my ear. “Poor Mooshy’s never going to hear the end of it, is he.”

I shake my head, then lean back so I can see Bennet’s face. I take in every detail––the chestnut hair now more carefully arranged than I’ve ever seen it; the swimming pool blue eyes; the knife-straight nose––and I blink away happy tears. “I lost all control of my plans the moment I first laid eyes on you.”

Bennet’s head jerks, a little surprised by my confession, but when he sees the look on my face, he kisses the moisture off the tops of my cheeks then touches his lips once more to mine.

The minister clears his throat, and another quiet round of amused laughter runs through the crowd. Bennet turns us both to face front. All business now, except for the way his thumb strokes against the side of my hand. A promise of what is to come.

That’s my man.

 

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