Coffee and Cigarettes

Leah

Chapter Fourteen

Sitting in the backseat beside Paul as Kim navigated her beat up old Ford Explored toward the marina, sadness lingered in my belly. After our conversation last night, I realized how much I didn't want him to go. Even though I'd resigned myself to taking what I could get, I wasn't so sure our situation was resolved. That bothered me. He was leaving for four weeks, in three weeks I would be heading back to Seattle for the dreaded wedding, and then we would be right back where we started.

I took a deep breath as ship's masts came into view, their dingy beams piercing the dull gray sky, and put on a smile that didn't quite reach my eyes. Kim slowed the car to a stop, shifted it into park, and shut the engine off. The four of us climbed from the warm interior. I stood clutching my arms around my middle in an effort to keep the lingering warmth inside my body. Paul walked around the back of the SUV and wrapped his arms around me, his hands rubbing my back.

"Are you sure-"

I looked at him sharply, cutting him off wordlessly before he had the chance to finish his question. "I'm sure," I said firmly. "Everything will be fine. Go do your job and I'll see you soon."

He nodded, dropping a kiss onto my forehead. "I'm going to miss you. You know that right?"

"I know," I said softly. "I'll miss you too."

"Come on man, its cold as hell out here. Let's go get this done and over with," Jared called from the marina.

I swear, he and Kim said the shortest goodbyes on the planet. I sighed, my breath coloring the breeze white and thick. Paul leaned down and pressed his cold lips to mine in a brief kiss. "Be back before you know it," he said in his typical goodbye.

"Not likely," I called. "I miss you already."

He raised a hand and waved goodbye the disappeared onto the ugly boat moored at the marina. Kim called to me from the driver's side of the car, and I hurried to climb back inside the cab where it was warm.

"Ready?" she asked fiddling with the heat controls.

I nodded and turned to stare out the window, watching as a light snow began to fall just beyond the thin pane of glass.

000

Three weeks later, I found myself staring down that seemingly endless stretch of highway that led from Capeside to Seattle. It was the loneliest journey a person could make, all alone in the car with nothing but blurred trees and staticky music that seemed to fade out when the best songs were played.

I gripped the steering wheel lightly as the heat blew gently through the vents and tiny snowflakes clung to the windshield. On the radio, Michael Bublé was crooning about a woman he had yet to meet. A thousand emotions swirled in the pit of my stomach, growing teeth with each passing mile and gnawing away at the soft tissue there within. What would it be like when I saw Sam again, would he smile at me and say how foolish he had been, that he missed me? Did I even care? Would I be the one to break, to bend, and snap under the enormous strain, would I weep and beg him to come back to me?

It seemed unlikely, but people always do stupid shit at weddings. It's inevitable, like spilling wine on your favorite white dress. Again, and what seemed like for the millionth time since leaving Capeside, I wished that Paul had backed out of his trip and come with me. I'd convinced myself this was something I needed to do alone, but suddenly I was beginning to doubt myself. Why did I have to be so strong; so damn stubborn?

Seeing the exit for Seattle ahead, I signaled and changed lanes, slowing down as I directed the car onto the connecting ramp. Rush hour traffic clogged the city streets, and I realized that I did not miss living in the city one bit. I tapped my fingers to the beat of the music coming out of the radio and slowly inched the car forward, clearing the intersection just as the light turned red.

An hour after entering the city, I pulled into the hotel parking lot where all the out of town wedding guests were staying, pulled up to the entrance and a kid in a dark blue polo opened the door. "Evening ma'am," he said.

"Hello," I replied putting the car into park and stepping out.

"Do you have luggage with you?"

"It's in the trunk," I told him stepping out of the way so he could get into the car. He slid behind the wheel easily and pulled the trunk release. Another boy in a matching blue polo retrieved my single suitcase and set it on the curb.

"Do you need someone to carry your case inside?" the second boy asked.

I shook my head no and said, "I think I can manage, but thank you." I grabbed the handle and pulled the suitcase, dragging it behind me into the lobby of the hotel. People milled about, checking in and out, heading into the restaurant and bar to the left of the lobby, as the door opened, I could hear the din of conversation and Journey telling diners to don't stop believing.

I headed toward the check in desk and stood behind a woman with three small children clustered around her. A little girl with pigtails turned to stare at me. I smiled at her and she quickly turned away. I waited as the mother collected her room key and children and moved off toward the bank of elevators.

I stepped up to the desk and gave the clerk my name and credit card. He moved effienciently checking me in and handing me my room key and sent me on my way, calling, "Enjoy the wedding!" as I went.

Up in my room, away from the hustle and bustle of activity below, I sank down onto the bed closest to the bathroom and sighed. I didn't want to be here. I wanted to go home to my own house and my own bed, curl up in the covers with Zeus, and read a good book.

I sighed, thinking of Zeus and wondering if he was okay with Kim. Of course he was, I told myself. She was completely capable of taking care of a dog. I lay back on the bed, staring up at the spackled ceiling and closed my eyes. Five minutes, I told myself, a five-minute power nap, then I have to get up, shower, and get ready to suffer through the rehearsal dinner.

I lay on the bed for a few more minutes, then finally got up and entered the bathroom, showered and changed into a simple black cocktail dress. Butterflies flitted in my stomach as I applied the finishing touches to my makeup and shut off the bathroom light. I immediately turned it back on and dropped to my knees in front of the toilet and dry heaved into the bowl, my stomach clenching tightly as it fought to force up content that was not there.

I stayed on the floor longer than I should have, breathing in through my nose and out of my parted lips trying to calm the frenzy of nerves wreaking havoc. "Get it together," I told myself after my head stopped spinning. "It's just a goddamn dinner, not the end of the world."

Pushing back the hairs that had slipped loose, I stood up, went to the sink and filled one of the disposable plastic cups with water and rinsed my mouth, spit, then took a long swallow. My reflection was pale as I dumped the remaining water out. I leaned forward and smoothed my skin, rubbing away a black trickle of ruined mascara.

I retouched the offending eye and stared at my reflection. Far from perfect, but it would do. I shut the light off again and left the bathroom. Sitting on the dresser was my purse. I grabbed it, slipped my room key inside and left the room.

As I rode the elevator down, I felt the nausea swirling in my stomach again. I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. I could do this. Chances were, I wouldn't have to talk to either of them. Between the two of us, Emily and I, we had a huge family who would no doubt occupy both of our time with idle chitchat.

The elevator doors opened and I stepped into the lobby, crossing the marbled floor to the restaurant where the dinner was being held. The maitre'd greeted me as I entered.

"I'm here for the rehearsal dinner," I told him, trying to sound as confident as possible. My words came out sounding weak and somewhat slow to my own ears.

"Ahh," he said, "Right this way. Follow me, please."

He wound his way through the crowded dining room, toward the back of the restaurant where the sections for events such as this was located. "Here we are. Enjoy your function, if you need anything, anything at all, please don't hesitate to ask." His eyes lingered on mine for a moment too long, then I smiled and thanked him, turning away abruptly and walking right into the chest of my father.

"Leah!" he proclaimed loudly. "You made it."

"Of course I did," I muttered weakly.

"It's so good to see you," he said jovially and crushed me against him in a tight hug. "I've missed you. Tell me, when are you planning on moving back to Seattle?"

"Never," I said.

He frowned at me. "Never ever?"

The sentiment hit me like a fist in the stomach. When I was a girl and something would make me mad, something like my mother, he would say to me, "When are you going to learn to get along with her?" I would always reply, "Never," and his response would always be, "Never ever?"

"Never, ever, ever," I said. "I like Capeside. It's idyllic, quaint; whatever antiquated phrase you wish to use to describe it. It's my home now."

"Where your family is, is where your home is," he said sagely.

"Well then maybe you should consider moving to Capeside," I replied tersely.

"Don't be angry Leah," he said to me. "We miss you, that's all."

"I know Dad. I'm not angry, it's just that I can think of about five hundred other things I'd rather be doing right now."

My father nodded his eyes downcast and sad. "I can imagine. This has to be hard for you."

"You don't even know the half of it."

"Of course I don't. It's your pain, not mine. If you don't think you can do this, you don't have to stay; no one will think any less of you if you turn around right now and leave."

"I can do this," I said raising my chin defiantly. "I don't give a rip what the two of them do. If they want to pop out six hundred kids and go all Octomom, whatever. It's their life. I don't care."

"Okay," he said, conceding the argument. "Enough of all that heaviness, tell me how you've been. What have you been up to down there in Capeside?"

"A whole lot of nothing. Just working, really."

"Are you seeing anyone?"

"Dad if we're going to have this conversation then I need a drink and a seat."

"Well then let's go get us a drink; we'll pull up a seat and talk."

"Lead the way."

I followed my father to a small bar that had been set up in the back corner of the room and asked for a martini, very, very dirty. My father raised an eyebrow and ordered a scotch and soda. We collected our drinks and sat down at an empty table closest to the bar.

"So," he said after he settled himself into the chair opposite me, "I believe were discussing your love life."

"Yes, Leah's infamous love life. To answer the question, yes, I am seeing someone."

"And where is this mysterious someone? Is he here?" Harry scanned the room for my absent boyfriend.

"No, he wasn't able to get off of work to come with me."

"What kind of work does he do?"

"Well right now he is helping his uncle with his fishing business, but before that he was a photographer here in Seattle."

"That was a very generous thing for him to do."

"He's a very generous man," I replied.

"I see. Does he have a name or are we going to refer to him as 'he' all evening."

"His name is Paul. His uncle is a commercial angler, Paul is a photographer, he's from Seattle, moved to Capeside after me, lives next door, and has a dog that could be a horse for a munchkin. Any other questions?"

"Does he treat you well?"

"Better than Sam ever did," I replied promptly.

Harry took a long swallow of his drink and set it down on the table. "Leah," he said rubbing the rim of the glass with his forefinger. "You are still so bitter."

"No, I'm not. I'm just not going to sit here and pretend that I'm okay with this. I don't know who put them up to sending me the invitation, but it goes without saying it was unnecessary. I didn't need to be invited, didn't want to be invited and yet here I am, basically being forced to re-tangle myself up in this whole Sam-Emily-Leah love triangle mess."

"Why did you even come then?"

I sighed. How could I explain this to my father, hell, anyone, without it sounding absolutely pathetic. I couldn't, that's how. So I just said it. "I had to prove to them, to you and Mom, hell, Dad, to everyone, that I was fine. I walked through the fire and came out relatively unscathed." I held out my arms. "See, no scars."

"None that anyone can see," he said softly.

"I had to prove to myself as well that I was fine, that I was over it, that I am over it. And I am. I'm here aren't I, and I haven't gone berserk and tried to kill anyone."

"Yet."

An irrational anger seethed, pulsing behind my eyes. I pushed the martini glass away from me and stood up. "Excuse me," I said, "I need to use the restroom."

I had to get the hell out of here. Who was I trying to kid. I couldn't do this. I could not sit in this room with all these people and have the exact same conversation with each of them that I just had with my father. I could feel them all staring at me as I made my way to the bathroom, their eyes boring into me, waiting, wondering if I was going to snap and make a scene.

As I rushed through the dining room, I bypassed the bathroom and headed into the lobby. I would not give anyone the satisfaction of seeing just how much this was upsetting me. I crossed the lobby, pushed the call button for the elevator, and watched the numbers illuminate as the car descended.

When it opened in the lobby, I stepped inside and pressed the round button marked 14. The doors closed and soft instrumental music played overhead as the elevator ascended toward the fourteenth floor.

When it stopped, I stepped into the quiet hallway and made my way to my room, fishing through the contents of my purse for my room key. As I approached the door, I slid the card into the reader then let myself into the room. The bed had been turned down in my absence, a square green foil sat atop both pillows.

Something about the presence of a piece of chocolate made me smile. I kicked off my heels and reached around, unzipping the back of my dress, shimmying out it, then I pounced on the candy like a cheetah on a gazelle.

With the taste of hazelnut crème still on my tongue, I called Kim in Capeside to check on Zeus. She answered the phone on the third ring. "I didn't expect to hear from you so early. Is the dinner over already?"

"It is for me," I told her. "I couldn't do it. All of my family, sitting in there, staring at me like I was a leper come to infect them all, my father asking all these questions, trying to make me feel guilty for not wanting to move back to Seattle, then he wanted to know about Paul…it was just too much so I left. I think I'm just going to head back to Capeside in the morning; just skip the wedding and the reception and come home. I don't belong here."

"I'm sorry it was so bad for you, I wish there was something I could do to make it easier for you."

"Know any good fairy godmothers? I could sure use one to bibbidy bobbidy boo Paul here for me."

Kim laughed, "Girl, you have no idea how much I wish that were true."

"I know. It's nice to dream though. I would even settle for the chance to just talk to him."

"Well, hang in there. Let me know what you decide to do."

"I will. How is Zeus?"

"He's fine. He's curled up at my feet snoring away."

"Good. Alright, well, I think I'm going to take advantage of this mini bar and the giant bathtub and then call it a night."

"Talk to you later."

I hung up the phone and skipped the mini bar, skipped the bathtub. I opened my suitcase and pulled out a pair of baggy sweatpants and one of Paul's tee shirts. The scent of his cologne flooded my senses as I pulled it over my head. I slipped into my sweats and climbed into the bed, pulling the covers up and snuggling down into them. Cocooned in the warmth of the bed, I inhaled. Longing ran through me. I missed Paul, I missed him a lot, and the funny thing was I never realized how much I missed him until I was lying in bed at night. I could be asleep and I would roll over and catch a whiff of his cologne on the pillow, or still clinging to the shirt of his, I was wearing and it would hit me all at once.

Tonight was no different. I closed my eyes and lay there, breathing in the smell of him until I fell asleep.

000

The following morning, I awoke with a start, completely disoriented by my current surroundings. For a second I forgot where I was and what I was doing there. I looked around for Zeus before I realized I was in Seattle and Zeus was with Kim back in Capeside. I exhaled loudly and looked around the room, my hands flat on the bed on either side of my legs. Still here, I told myself and immediately regretted not getting in my car last night and hauling ass back to Capeside.

I shifted in the bed, glancing at the alarm clock resting on the nightstand to my right. The glowing red numbers informed me that the time was 9:42 in the morning. I groaned and kicked the covers off. The wedding was at eleven and I was in no shape, form, or fashion ready for it.

Padding to the bathroom, I flicked on the water and let it run hot before stepping into the scalding shower. I winced and let the spray assault my skin, hoping that it would hurt like hell therefore forcing me to focus on the possible first-degree burn I got from a shower instead of the dull ache in my chest.

Don't think about it, I told myself. Hell, detach yourself, act as if you don't even know them, because let's face it, you really don't. Go and sit in the church, suffer silently through the ceremony, make a brief appearance at the reception then high tail it the hell out of here. No one will ever know the difference.

I shut the water off and pulled a fluffy white towel from the rack, wrapping it around my body and stepping out of the tub. Applying last night's same pains, I dressed carefully in the dress Claire had bought me earlier this summer and applied more make up than a Barnum & Bailey clown. Satisfied with the look, I took the elevator down and waited for the valet to return with my car then headed to a small church about twelve blocks from the hotel.

I was one of the last guests to arrive and I slipped silently into the church taking a seat in a pew at the back of the building. Just as I sat, the first strains of the wedding march rang through the sanctuary and the ruffle of clothing and footsteps sounded as two hundred – or so it seemed – people stood.

The doors opened and Emily, relying heavily on the arm of her father, appeared. The guests let out a collective sigh and she made her procession down the aisle. The yards of lace and tulle did little to cover her swollen stomach as she made her way about as gracefully as a hippo toward the front of the church and her husband to be.

I watched as they exchanged vows with a sort of detached indifference. As the priest or minister or whatever he was declared them husband and wife and they rushed from the church I thought, well, that wasn't so bad, was it?

It wasn't that bad, not really. I followed the swell of the crowd out of the church, slid behind the wheel of my car, and made my way to the reception hall. I didn't dwell as I drove, I turned the radio up and belted along to the radio at the top of my lungs.

I found the reception hall and turned into the parking lot, pulling into a spot between a brand new Cadillac SUV and an older model Buick. I shut the car off, effectively silencing Natasha Beddingfield who claimed she had a pocket full of sunshine, and stepped out of the car.

As I entered the hall, the din of voices greeted me. I made my way past relatives I hadn't seen in years, people I didn't know, and friends I hadn't talked to since the split. They all gave me wide berth, whispering behind my back as I passed. I held my head high and wished upon wished that I'd given in and told Paul to skip the trip and come with me.

Ignoring the whispers that seemed to follow me through the reception hall, I found my table and sat down beside my younger brother.

"Sis!" he exclaimed enthusiastically as I settled into my chair. "How are you?"

I shrugged. "I'm here, I guess that's about as good as it gets."

Seth laughed and nodded. "I'm surprised you came. I told mom that it was a bad idea to invite you. I thought you'd freak out and go all Carrie on everybody; you know, set the reception hall on fore or something."

"Don't get your hopes up Seth," I said. "It's not that serious."

"Sure it's not big sister, it's just our cousin and your ex getting married."

"I'm already well aware of what's going on here," I said stiffly. "I just don't care anymore."

Seth rolled his eyes and gazed around the room. "If you say so."

"I say so," I told him firmly. "How have you been?"

"Fine," he said. "Mom and Dad are the biggest pains in the asses. They want me to go to college, that's all they keep talking about. "What college are you planning on applying to, where do you want to go?" I keep telling them college is for the freaking birds, they, however, refuse to listen."

"What do you want to do?"

Seth shrugged, his shaggy hair falling forward into his face. "Bang my girlfriend, maybe join the Army. I dunno. I'm eighteen. Why do I have to decide everything right now? Why can't I just chill for a few years and then decide what to do?"

"I don't know. You know Mom and Dad though; they're control freaks. Do what you want to do; you're only young once."

"Your brother is giving you the "woe is me, Mom and Dad want me to grow up and be mature speech" I see," my mother said from behind me.

I turned in my chair and glanced up at her. Her pale pink suit was too light for her skin tone and her dark hair was twisted loosely into a knot at the back of her head. "Hello Mother," I said coolly.

"Leah," she replied. "So nice to see that you could drag yourself out of your self-imposed exile to join us for the day's excitements."

"Well, I was invited."

Sue looked around, scanning the table and the empty seats around me. "No date?" she asked curiously.

"No," I said. "I'm sure dad told you I was seeing someone."

"He did. So where is this mysterious man you're canoodling with?"

"Working, like the responsible adult you're so keen on forcing Seth to become."

Sue rolled her eyes and gently patted the side of her, fixing an invisible mistake. "Still dramatic as ever, I see," she scoffed lightly. "Your father and I just want what's best for your bother. I'm sorry if our expectations are too much. Life in this world is not easy, especially for one that does not hold a college degree. We are just trying to ensure he has a good life."

It was my turn to roll my eyes. I turned away from her, not wanting to hear anymore of her ridiculous ideas. Sue stood awkwardly at my elbow for a few moments longer before turning away and heading in the opposite direction. I glanced up at Seth and said, "Don't listen to anything she says, do what you want. If they get to be too much, you can always come down to Capeside. You know, stay with me for a few days or a few weeks, whatever you want."

"Thanks Leah," Seth said. "I'll think about it."

The D.J. chose that moment to announce the arrival of the bride and groom. I turned in my seat to see Emily and Sam arrive, smiles plastered to their faces. I joined the other guests and applauded politely as they took their place in the middle of the dance floor.

As the first notes of piano filled the hall, Emily reached up and wrapped her arms around Sam's neck, tenderly running her fingers through the hair on the back of his head. He wrapped his long arms around her swollen middle and began swaying to an old Bob Dylan song. I watched with detached interest as two people who used to mean the world to me stared adoringly at one another.

I hummed along, tapping my foot on the floor and mentally patted myself on the back for not having a mental breakdown. When the song ended, another sappy slow song began and my good feeling began to disintegrate. In his seat beside me, Seth swiveled and surveyed the room. "Who's that dude?" he asked.

Curiously, I turned to see whom he was referring to. Through the crowd of people making their way to the dance floor, a figure at least a head taller than the other guests, began making his way toward the edge of the dance floor. "Oh my god," I murmured.

Seth stared at me. "You know him?" I nodded, dumbfounded. "Who is it?"

"That's my boyfriend," I said rising out of my chair. Paul's gaze locked on me and he smiled, his face breaking into a wide grin.

"Leah!" he called as I rushed toward him.

"What –" I paused, trying to force my brain to work, searching for the words lost in the joy. "What are you doing here?"

"We ported up in Alaska to offload some of our haul and I just couldn't get back on the boat the next morning. I hopped on the first flight out of Alaska and came straight here."

"What about your job? Evan?"

"Evan can kiss my ass, you're more important. I know you said you could handle it, but…I don't know. I just felt like you needed me to be here. So here am I."

I wrapped my arms around his waist and held him close. Under the dark green sweater he wore, I could hear his heart beating a steady tattoo. I closed my eyes and sighed as he slid his arms around my waist. "I'm so glad you came."

"You look amazing, by the way. How are you holding up?"

I pulled back and glanced up at him. "Surprisingly well. I just figured that they could do whatever they want. I have you and that's all I really need."

Behind me, Seth coughed noisily. I shot him a smile over my shoulder and turned back to Paul. "Come meet my brother." Taking his hand in mine, I led him to the table I was sharing with Seth. I sat down beside my brother and patted the seat on my other side.

"Who's the Sasquatch?" Seth asked.

I shot him a look that said, be nice. "This is Paul. Paul, this is my brother Seth."

"Nice to meet you," Paul said around me.

"I'd say the same, but I just found out you existed like twenty minutes ago."

"Will you please just be nice? Why do you have to act like Mom and Dad? Shake the man's hand and say, "It's nice to meet you." Jesus how hard is it?" I turned toward Paul. "This is why he's just heard of you twenty minutes ago. As you can probably see, I'm related to the definition of pain in the ass."

"Come on, Lee," Seth complained. To Paul he said, "It's not even like that. Some random guy shows up at my cousins wedding and Leah here damn near crapped her pants and then it's like, oh, this is my boyfriend. It's weird. She said you weren't coming."

"I wasn't," Paul said. "Well not originally. I had to work, but as you can see, I managed to get here."

"What do you do?"

"I'm, well I was, I doubt I still have a job after the stunt I pulled to get here, a photographer turned fisherman."

Seth wrinkled his nose. "Sounds glamorous."

Paul laughed and shook his head. "Oh totally. You should try it."

"Yeah, our parents would love that." Seth glanced up, his eyes narrowing slightly. "Speak of the devil."

I turned and glanced in the direction he was looking. Both Sue and Harry were approaching our table. I groaned and grabbed a hold of Paul's arm. "Prepare yourself for trouble."

My parents sat down in the seats across from where the three of us were sitting. "Well, well, who's this?" Sue asked eyeing Paul intently.

"Paul," I said brusquely, praying they wouldn't do or say anything to embarrass me.

"Leah's new boyfriend," my father said to my mother. She eyed Paul curiously, sizing him up, preparing to devour him whole.

"Nice of you to join us," she said.

"It's nice to be here," Paul replied, looking around at the overly decorated reception hall. "Quite a shindig you guys got going on here."

My mother fawned, preening under his compliment. If you didn't know any better you'd think she was the mother of bride or groom instead of just an aunt. "Well," she said, her hand fluttering to her chest. "We try."

I bit back the bubble of laughter forcing its way up my throat and turned away from the scene in front of me. Paul winked at me before turning back to face my mother. "I can see that," he replied, his voice oozing with charm and agreeableness. "You did an amazing job, I suspect the happy couple will remember this day for years to come."

My mother smiled, nodding her head in agreement. "I'm sure they will. You know, Leah was once engaged to groom."

"Mom-"

Sue waved her hand, dismissing me. "She was," she told Paul eagerly, anxious to gossip about me despite the fact I was sitting right in front of her. "about a year or so ago."

I didn't bother to tell her we'd never been engaged; it seemed irrelevant at this point. I glanced over my shoulder, away from her, watching a group of people do the electric slide.

"Yeah, she told me about that," Paul said softly. He placed his hand on my leg and squeezed it gently. "Personally, I think what he did to her was atrocious, cowardly even. Leah's a good person; it's a pity he was too stupid to see that. Now if you'll excuse me, I happen to like this song a lot and would like to dance with my girlfriend." Paul stood and held out his hand. "Care to dance?"

I nodded fervently and placed my hand in his, rising from my chair. "thank you," I said into his chest as he pulled me close to him.

"No worries. You're mother is a first class piece of work."

I sighed as he carried me across the dance floor to our own private corner. "Tell me about it. I'm ready to leave whenever you are."

"We'll finish our dance first then sneak out of here. are you planning on heading back to Capeside tonight?"

I shook my head no and laid it against his chest. "I was going to stay in the hotel tonight then head back in the morning. What are you planning? Are you going to try and meet back up with Evan?"

"Not now, okay? We can talk about all this later." Paul dropped a kiss on the top of my head and tightened his grip around me. "I missed you," he murmured softly.

"Missed you too," I said softly. "And I'm glad you're here."

The song ended and another one began. Neither Paul nor I made any moves to leave the dance floor, we kept swaying in that corner until the second song ended. As the final strains of guitar hung in the air, I pulled away and looked up at him. "Okay," I said. "Its time to get the hell out of here."

With our fingers wound together, we crossed the wooden dance floor and headed toward the table I'd shared with Seth. My younger brother was still sitting at the table, however, my parents were nowhere to be found. I grabbed my bag from the table and laid my hand on Seth's shoulder. "Son't forget what I said," I told him. "You have my phone number. You can call me, even if it's just to talk. And if you ever need anything just call, okay?"

Seth nodded and stood, unfolding his lanky frame from the chair. He leaned down and hugged me. "It was good to see you," he said. "Believe it or not, I've missed you."

"I've missed you too. Call me sometime, we'll catch up."

Seth dropped his arms and nodded. "I will. So, I guess I'll see you later?"

I nodded. "Yeah, I'm done with this. I showed my face, didn't ruin their day, and now I'm done. Take it easy, and don't listen to mom and dad. It's your life."

Seth nodded and I hugged him one more time before leading the way out of the reception hall. I grabbed my jacket and walked into the misty parking lot. It was done, I had faced down my demons and not fallen apart. I dug my keys out of my bag, clutching them in my hand. "Follow me back to the hotel?" I said to Paul who nodded.

As I got into the car, a wave of satisfaction washed over me. One chapter of my life had finally ended. Now it was time to start writing the next one.

Make You Feel My Love – Bob Dylan

Just A Kiss – Lady Antebellum

Fade Into Me – David Cook