“Your total is two thousand forty-eight dollars,” I tell the beaming bride-to-be who’s nearly blinding me with her over-the-top white teeth. She’s like Ross Geller from that one episode of Friends.
I used to dream of being just like her—hopeful, excited, no visible baby bump while planning my impending nuptials. Unfortunately, life has kicked me in the teeth often enough that I’m slowly stepping away from that fantasy. Instead, I’m focusing on the fact that women like her are probably more stressed out than your average sky diver during a tornado. Will he say yes? Does his mother hate me as much as I think she does? Should we really be spending this kind of money on one party? And the most important—Does he know I was serious when I said I don’t clean toilets? The list goes on and on.
“You’re the best, Melissa!” the petite blonde with the unnatural orange tan gushes. She says this like I just brought her bail money at two in the morning. As she hands me her credit card, she adds, “You must love owning a bridal shop! I mean, could there be a better job?”
I didn’t think so ten years ago when I became my mom’s partner at Bride’s Paradise. I had recently graduated from college and was so full of hope and anticipation about my own wedding I couldn’t imagine anything better. Not that I was engaged or even dating anyone at the time, but I was raised on television shows like Say Yes to the Dress, Bridezilla, and David Tutera’s My Fair Wedding. I’d fantasized about my big day for over a decade at that point.
For a generation that is meant to believe there’s more to life than marriage, we sure spend a lot of time dreaming about it. Being fed a constant visual diet of what our big day is supposed to look like wreaks havoc with expectations. Somehow a wedding has become more about the show and what we wear than about true love.
Had I only gotten hooked on Law and Order or Dr. Who, I might have become a lawyer or even a Time Lord. Note to self: investigate the kind of credentials needed to become a Time Lord.
I hand the credit card back to Brooklyn as her wedding party circles around her. Her maid of honor squeals—loudly—“Oh, my GOD, Brook! This is it!! You said yes to the dress!” We’ve already taken pictures with the requisite signage and hashtags to ensure that everyone the bride has ever met will know where she bought her gown. Hashtags are the backbone of my business. #BridesParadise #ElkLakeWisconsinWeddings #LoveIsInTheAir #ImSoSickOfMyJobICouldSpit
Jamie turns around and lowers his legs through the opening in the floor. Once his head disappears, I make my move to join him. “Give me a minute,” he calls out, causing me to halt. After a few seconds he adds, “Okay, come on down.”
I scoot through the opening and situate my feet on the ladder. I quickly descend three steps before pushing back to jump down like we used to do when we were kids. Unfortunately, Jamie is standing so close to the ladder that when I jump, I land right on top of him. We go down like a demolished building.
After the inevitable crash, I demand, “Why were you standing so close to the ladder?”
“I was holding it for you so that it didn’t tip over on you.” He sounds as annoyed as I am.
“It can’t fall,” I tell him. “It’s attached to hooks in the concrete.”
“How was I supposed to know that?”
“I don’t know, by using your eyes?” I shift to push myself up onto my elbows. Jamie does not make for the softest landing. As my body moves across his, he releases a pained groan. “Are you hurt?” I’m guessing a hundred and forty pounds dropping on anyone could cause some serious damage.
“I’m … um… not really hurt.”
If he’s not hurt, what is he carrying on about? And that’s when the shock of my current position hits me like a punch in the gut. I’m lying on top of Jamie!
I hurry to move my knee to the ground so I can slide off him, but I miss the mark—and wind up kneeing him right in the fellas.
“Stop!” he yells. “You’re going to turn me into a eunuch.”
“I’m trying to get off of you.”
But instead of pushing me away to facilitate our separation, he pulls me closer so that I’m lying along his entire length. He puts one arm around me and rolls us both so that I’m under him. Sweet Peter at the pearly gates, my entire body wakes up with an electric awareness. This is a delicious torture.
“Jamie …” His name escapes my mouth like the last gasp of air before I shed my mortal coil for more heavenly pursuits. Although if there are more heavenly pursuits than this, I can’t imagine them.
“Shh …” He doesn’t move to get up, he just lies on me, wreaking havoc with my senses.
I move my gaze to his face. He looks like he’s in pure agony. “Jamie,” I try again.
“My God, woman, can’t you be quiet for a minute?”
Suddenly my bones feel like they’re starting to melt. Why is he so mad? Then the truth hits me. Jamie is turned on by our current situation and he’s trying to calm himself down. Which of course ignites a fire in me.
The most gorgeous man I’ve probably ever seen is lying on top of me, and he’s totally affected by the situation. I squirm underneath him which causes him to groan again. “Please stop moving.”
“Why?” I practically purr. “Are you uncomfortable?”
“I’m currently in a world of agony,” he growls.
I don’t know what comes over me, but I take that as an invitation. I move my arms up along his sides until they’re free. Then I cup either side of his face and raise my mouth to meet his.
The feeling of our lips touching defies description. It’s pure pleasure, it’s torment, it’s a coming home like I’ve never experienced before. Every nerve ending in my body is alive and tingling. My heart is beating in overdrive. I have not kissed a man in nearly a year, and I do not remember it being anything like this all-consuming inferno.
He’s definitely kissing me back, which makes it even more surprising when he rolls off me and demands, “What was that all about?”
“I’m afraid I didn’t enjoy our kiss,” Jamie says. Well, that’s rude. “But that’s probably only because my knee was hurting so badly.” Oh.
“I don’t throw myself at men as a rule,” I tell him sheepishly.
“Then why was I so lucky?” I can’t tell if he’s serious or teasing me. I try to take a step back, but Jamie won’t release me. “Oh no, Melissa,” he says. “You aren’t going to get away before you know what it’s like to really kiss me.”
I forget to breathe as his mouth descends upon mine. Our lips reunite in a burst of longing. Jamie quickly turns me so that my back is up against the wall. He takes a step closer until there’s no space between us. As his hands begin to move along my sides, he deepens the kiss and once again groans like he’s hurt.
I suppress the urge to keep kissing him long enough to ask, “Is it your knee again?”
“Not my knee … It’s you … You are doing this to me.” He stops talking and takes our kiss to a new level of torture.
I don’t know how long we’re connected, five minutes, an hour, three months? All I know is that it’s the most spectacular thing that has ever happened to me. It’s romance-novel satisfying, which suddenly makes me question every other kiss I’ve ever had.
I’m about to declare these feelings out loud, when Jamie suddenly stops. He steps backward, severing all connection between us.
“What are you doing?” I feel like a child who’s had her ice cream taken away.
“I was showing you what it’s like to kiss me when I’m not in excruciating pain.” Yet his expression clearly indicates he’s still hurting.
I’m not sure how to respond. “Thank you?”
“You’re welcome. Now let’s see what the rest of this passageway looks like.” He walks away without turning back.
What just happened? Did Jamie declare romantic intentions toward me? Was he just kissing me because I kissed him? Are we going to start dating? I have absolutely no clue what’s going on. All I know is that I’m not done kissing Sammy’s dad.