When I made my way downstairs the next morning, Cam was already awake. Dressed in a simple black t-shirt and dark gray jogging pants, he sat on the couch in the living room gaze was fixed on the wall. The two of us were together in his house, but he seemed far away. He looked like a man who had a lot on his mind.
I whirled around, intending to go back upstairs and leave him alone. But the bottom step had other plans, letting out a loud, jarring creak. Without missing a beat, Cam blinked as he returned to our reality. The moment he saw me, he smiled, looking past my awkward grimace.
“Nonon, you’re awake,” he began. “When did you come down?”
“I just got here.” This whole experience tells me that I would never be a good ninja or assassin. “I thought I’d come down and see how you I start getting ready, but looked like you had a lot on your mind, so I didn’t want to bother you…”
“Aww, that’s sweet of you. Come here.” Cam reached out his hand, beckoning me to come over. I hesitated for a moment before sitting beside him on the couch. “So…today’s the big day.”
“That it is.” He didn’t need to tell me. The butterflies in my stomach were a strong reminder. “What time will the officiant be here again?”
“I asked him to be here at 3:30. That way, we can chat with him before we start the ceremony. I’ve also asked my Chief Operating Officer to come by a little earlier as well so you can meet him.”
“Your…Chief Operating Officer?” I knew that as the CEO of his own company, Cam had many people, maybe even hundreds working for him. Still, to know that he had a Chief Operating Officer surprised me. “You have one of those?”
“Of course, I do. I can’t do everything on my own, even though I’d like to think that I can. Plus, Alex is an amazing guy. My company would be in shambles if he was there making sure everything was running smoothly. I can’t think of a better person to be a witness at my wedding.”
“Ah…” My lips rounded to form words, ready to point out that a member of his family would be a better witness to all of this, especially since they’d want to know about this sudden wedding. But the words never came out. Instead, I shut my mouth, unwilling to stir a pot that could very well be a powder keg. There’s a reason I don’t know much about his family. For all I know, they could be just as messed up as mine. “It’ll be nice to meet him.”
“He’s a serious type, but don’t let that get to you. He’s really a nice person. He just prefers to be stoic rather than emotional. I try to get him to loosen up, but he won’t budge.”
Lovely. Now, I was nervous about getting married AND meeting someone who is important to Cam. My legs threatened to give out at any moment. “Sounds like quite a character.”
Cam and I enjoyed toast and coffee before splitting up to get ready for the wedding. It all went by in a blur. As I put on my dress, put my hair in a neat bun, and put on my face, a little voice in my head reminded me that I could make a run for it at any time. I never took it seriously. I laughed it, unable to hide my nervousness, but my feet were like concrete, stuck to the ground. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a choice. I was choosing to go through with this marriage. I just couldn’t shake the fear that I was making a mistake.
It’s so funny. When we were in college, spending time together, I wanted nothing more than to spend all my time with him. Whenever we were together, all my problems would just melt away. Dazzled by his loving smile and playfulness, my heart couldn’t help but fall for him. That was a common thing with Cam – he had plenty of girls fawning all over him, all jockeying for position as the eternal keeper of his heart. I never allowed my heart to long for him like so many other girls did. When I watched him date others, I always hoped that the lucky girl would give him all the love and care I believed he deserved.
But deep inside, within the center of my heart, I wished that girl could be me. But I could never bring myself to make it so. I feared losing him, yes, but I also feared corrupting him with my terrible influence. I was nothing like him. My family was poor. My mother was a cruel and careless bully. I was college educated but I had no prospects, no potential, no future. Who was I to drag Cam into my own personal hell called my daily life? Even as I ached for him to continue being the bright light of my life, I just couldn’t bring myself to cross that line.
Now that we were getting married, I should have been happy to be the woman he could count on. But I continued to worry.
There was no turning back now. I hope that somehow, I wouldn’t corrupt him with my unworthiness. That I could be the girl I always felt I could be if I ever had the chance with him. I wouldn’t force him to love him. I didn’t know how to truly love. I didn’t have an idea of how to love with conditions, selfishness, and cruelty. That was the only kind of love my family taught to me. But I would try my best. God knows I would try like I’ve never tried before.
Til…whatever do us part.
It was almost time.
Cam’s right-hand man showed up at the same as the justice of the peace. I could hear the commotion downstairs, the muffled voices as Cam greeted our guests inside his living room. I sat on my bed, quiet, all dressed up in my updo, my wedding dress, and my natural make-up, a look I picked up from a tutorial on the internet. I stared at my reflection at the mirror, unable to recognize myself. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that the woman in the mirror was a blushing bride, understandably nervous about her nuptials.
…my mother. If she were a normal mother, she’d be here with me, cooing over my looks and my pretty dress, wishing me a happy and peaceful married life. But she wasn’t a normal mother. She didn’t even know that I was getting married. I could imagine her cursing my name to my aunts and uncles, wondering where I was hiding. How funny that I never had ideas about weddings or marriage, but it felt very bittersweet, knowing that I would never share this big moment in my life with her.
If only she’d loved me. All she had to do was love me. That’s all.
A gentle knock on the bedroom door broke me from my reverie. I grabbed a nearby tissue, dabbing away the tears forming in my eyes. I didn’t want to ruin my make-up after spending more than two hours doing it properly. “Nicola…can I come in? Are you decent?”
I took a deep breath. It was show time. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. But not completely. “Decent? Me? Never. But you can come in.”
I stood up as Cam opened the door. He took one small step before being frozen in place, his eyes wide in wonder as he took a good look at me. Wordless, he reached out, taking my hands. “Oh Nicola…you’re so beautiful. I knew you’d look amazing.”
Tears blurred in my eyes once more.
The ceremony was quick and painless.
Without hesitation, Cam took me as his lawfully wedding wife, to have and to hold from that day forward. He spoke all of two words, but there was no denying the excitement behind them.“I do!”
And I took Cam as my lawfully wedded husband, who would love, honor, and cherish him from that day forward. However, my reaction was a bit more subdued. “I do.”
We exchanged rings, the beautiful rings from that high class jeweler that I wasn’t so sure about. Cam’s ring was a little grumpy going over the knuckle, but it fit and it didn’t look like we’d have to cut it off of his finger later. As Cam slid the ring on my finger, I was caught up in how beautifully simple it was. As soon as it was on, Cam reached over and place a small kiss on my finger.
I fought off the urge to swoon.
With a jubilant voice, the officiant pronounced us husband and wife. Before the relief of it all being over could wash over me, he said the six words I never thought to consider when Cam proposed to me. “You may now kiss your bride.”
The sentence was a kick to the gut. Right – the couple share a kiss to start their new marriage? How on earth did I forget that? I looked over at Cam, terrified. We had to kiss? We couldn’t do that? What were we supposed to do now?
Cam knew what to do. I watched, astonished as he leaned forward, pressing a light kiss on my lips. It was an innocent kiss – just something to appease the people around us. But for one moment, even if it meant nothing to him, that kiss meant everything to me.
Alex, the right-hand man, clapped for us. The officiant, thrilled for our marriage, patted us both on the back. “Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Cameron Hawthorne! May the two of you be happy forever and for always.”
Cam hugged me tight. “We did it, Nicola. You and me. We’re going to be so happy together. Just you wait and see.”
I let go of the tears I’d been holding onto all day. “Yeah. We will be.”
And just like that, we were married.
Today was the day I married my best friend.
The man I have always admired.
The man I have always loved.
END OF VOLUME ONE