Daring Brides

By: Ava Miles


“I’m not supposed to see you in your wedding dress,” he told her. “I looked up the rules.”

She rolled her eyes. “This had better be good.”

His brow arched, and his smile grew to a grin akin to the one sported by a certain Cheshire cat. “What faith you have in me. I worried you might panic and think I was calling things off. I’m in awe of you, Red.”

Her heart did swell a little at his praise. He was right. It was a big deal that her mind hadn’t instantly turned Negative Nancy at the sight of his SUV. “I believe in us. I know you do too. Finally.”

“I’ll ignore that crack about me being slow since it’s our wedding day.” He stepped forward and laid his hand on her belly. “But I have a slight correction. I believe in all of us. Now, take a ride with me.”

If not for the look in his eyes and the gentle touch he spared for the baby growing inside her, she might have shooed him off. But he had a purpose for being here—a sweet one, it seemed—and this was her day. Besides, wasn’t she known for being spontaneous?

“Ladies,” she called out, taking his hand. “Brian will see me to the church after we take a drive. I’ll meet you there.”

“Brian McConnell!” her mom called out. “If you are taking my daughter off for a pre-wedding quickie, I will box your ears.”

Few people could make a grown man blush like Linda Hale. “Jeez, Mrs. Hale, I’m not…cripes…I’d never.”

“Good,” her mom said. “And please call me Linda, dear. You’re not ten years old anymore.”

As they walked to his car, Jill leaned in to murmur, “No, you sure aren’t, thank God. I believe you’ve grown out in all the right areas.”

His thumb rubbed the back of her hand. “Yeah, I rather like being taller than you. For a few years there, you made me feel like a midget.”

“You should have experienced it from my perspective. I was fourteen and five ten while all of you boys topped out at five seven. It made school dances a true horror.”

“But I still danced with you anyway.” He opened the car door for her.

“Not that you could dance,” she said with a knowing wink, referring to the dance lessons she’d tried to give him.

“I’ll ignore that and finish my sentence. I was about to say that I always will. Dance with you, that is.”

“Ah,” she said, pretending to wipe a tear from her eye.

When he drove into town and pulled up in front of the cemetery, she didn’t have to pretend to wipe the tears running down her face. He helped her do that with a gentle finger as tears shined in his own Bengal-tiger-blue eyes.

“I thought we should have Jemma with us today since…” he said, trailing off to clear his throat.

Her eyes scanned across the graveyard to find her best friend’s grave. When Jemma had died nearly eight months ago of a heart murmur, her own heart had been yanked out and flattened by a fleet of tractor trailers on the highway.

“Since she couldn’t come,” she finished for him, her own voice as hoarse as his. “You really are the sweetest man alive. Have I told you that today?”

He wrapped her up in his arms. “No, but feel free to say it every day. I have a feeling we’re going to need some reminding. All right. Now, let’s go see our friend.”

When he came around to her car door and helped her out, he snagged a bouquet of pink roses from the back. Jill sniffed when she saw them and then reached for his hand. Pain pinching her heart, she walked with him through the gray markers of death.



***



Brian hadn’t expected to feel grief squeeze his chest on his wedding day, but he hadn’t stopped thinking about all the good old times he’d shared with Jill. Which had led him to think about their two best friends growing up: Jemma and Pete. As kids, they’d always been known as the Four Musketeers. They had bonded on the first day of kindergarten after toilet papering the schoolroom together because it was…well, impossible to resist the pink and blue toilet paper in the boys’ and girls’ bathrooms.

The school had switched to standard toilet paper soon after, but that had only been the start of a long career as practical jokers. The Four Musketeers went on to hang purple pens on pink ribbons from the florescent light fixtures in third grade. In seventh grade, they smuggled a dozen pink plastic flamingos into their classroom. And when they were sophomores in high school, they freed dozens of frogs destined for the cutting block in biology class after Jill and Jemma’s protests of animal cruelty were ignored by the administration.

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