by Lashanta Charles
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Jayce Cranston has somehow let himself be bamboozled. One minute he’s enjoying his quiet existence in his home in the outskirts of Buffalo, NY and the next he’s dealing with a beautiful alcoholic and her penchant for trouble. And with his business manager out of the office, he has to actually . . . deal with people. Surprisingly, the little ball of clumsiness is making that task so much easier to handle.
Neither of them could have guessed that Calista’s past would decide it wants to be her future and will stop at nothing to make that a reality. Could she accept that maybe her carefully laid plans weren’t as careful as she thought? Will Jayce be able to show her that he’s worth a chance and, together, their oddities can be perfect?
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A toddler wobbles past me, blonde pigtails bouncing as plump legs struggling to support the carefree attempt to run, and stepping aside, I smile down at her as she chants “uh-oh.” How freaking cute is that? I bet she gets into all sorts of shenanigans. A woman, with identical blonde curls and green eyes, rushes after her and scoops her up before giggling ensues. She plants a smacking kiss on the child’s chubby cheeks before pointing and encouraging the child to say “da-da.” A smiling man with unnaturally white teeth approaches with his arms stretched out and the child squeals and squirms as she nearly jumps from the woman’s arms. You can’t witness such a scene and not smile. Two more years and that’ll be me with my own family—number three on my list of priorities. My phone vibrates, startling me out of staring at the trio. Relief envelops me like a warm blanket when I see the picture of Cameron on the screen.
“Where are you? They’re boarding everyone now. I’ll go ahead and let them know we’ll make it,” I answer, my phone cradled between my shoulder and ear.
“I’m not coming,” he says.
I pause in making my way to the attendant station. Surely, I heard him wrong.
“Hang on a sec, let me ask them how long we have before they can no longer wait. If you’re here already it shouldn’t be a problem. You’ll need to hurry. Like, sprint through the airport or maybe get one of those guys on the carts to give you a ride somehow.”
The attendant flashes a smile at me and holds her hand out for my boarding pass. Her two front teeth are chipped and it makes me think of the time Cameron chipped his tooth while playing basketball last year. He got it fixed immediately, so I wonder why she’s chosen to leave hers like that. I move to give her the passes, but hear Cameron speaking again.
“Cali, you’re not listening. I’m not there. I’m not coming either.”
Pulling my boarding pass away from the chipped tooth attendant, I force a smile and step away for privacy. “What are you talking about, Cameron? I’m here waiting for you.” As if he doesn’t know that. He helped me load our luggage into the car before I left this morning. Is this some sick joke he’s pulling right now?
“Didn’t you hear me, Cali? I said I’m not coming,” Cameron repeats, his voice harsh and grating.
I stare numbly at the ‘now boarding’ screen above the attendant. I heard him the first two times. It makes as much sense now as it did then—none.
“I don’t understand. You can’t not come, we’re getting married. I can see if they’ll schedule us for a different flight. I’m sure it’s not too late. We’re getting there early enough one day won’t really matter,” I tell him.
He lets out an exasperated sigh. He’s annoyed? We’re four weeks away from our wedding and I’m at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia, sans fiancé. I woke up at some ungodly hour, battled an hour and a half of bumper to bumper traffic to get here and get us both checked in two hours early, lugged all our suitcases—overweight, I might add—only for him to call when it’s time to board the flight to New York and tell me he’s not coming. Yet, he’s the one who’s annoyed?
“I don’t know what else to say, Cali. I’m trying to do right by you here. We both knew this wouldn’t end well. This was a mistake. A huge mistake and you’re only making it harder. I can’t do this right now. For once, let something go.”
I don’t even know how to respond to that. A mistake? What part of this is the mistake? One of the biggest occasions in my life—number one on the list—is a huge mistake for him? Try as I might, I can no longer speak. ‘We’ didn’t know this wouldn’t end in anything but a marriage. ‘Do right by me?’ How is standing me up for our wedding doing right by me? I didn’t ask to marry myself. I didn’t insist on us having a short engagement or me moving in with him.
I watch as the attendant lifts a phone to her mouth and smiles. A few seconds later I hear her disembodied voice over the PA system.
“This serves as a final boarding call for Delta Flight 1762 with service to Buffalo New York. All ticketed and confirmed passengers should report to Gate C23 for immediate departure."
“Look, I can hear them in the background. You shouldn’t be at the airport alone. Go back to your parents’ place and we’ll talk more about this later. I have to get back to work,” Cameron says.
My parents’ place? He’s kicking me out? And why is he at work? We’re supposed to be leaving. Like, right now! I open my mouth to speak, not entirely sure what I’ll say, but I’m cut off by someone roughly bumping my shoulder. Silently, I watch as my phone crashes to the ground and bounces once before landing, screen up. It didn’t shatter, but the screen is dark. Cameron probably thinks I hung up on him. It’s much less than he deserves at this point.
“Sorry, didn’t see you there.”
Story of my freaking life. Destined to fade into the background where no one sees me. Number two on the list—stand out more. This guy’s apology definitely didn’t sound sincere. I look up to see a startling shade of blue staring down at me. Cold. I don’t like it. Blue is my favorite color, but I like warm blues. Blues that make you think of a tropical oasis. Definitely not blue like this stranger’s eyes. This shade of blue makes me anxious and . . . sad? Scared? Why the hell am I thinking about shades of blue when my life has just ended? Stupid stranger not looking where he’s going. He’s a jerk, like all men in the universe.
“I’ll get it,” he declares, grabbing my phone from the floor.
Before I can tell him to leave me alone, I hear the attendant speaking again.
“Ms. Brenner?” she pauses and looks expectantly at the bearded man standing next to me.
“Gilmore,” he supplies as he takes a step away from her.
We both turn to give her our attention, although I really don’t want to. I want to stand here and wallow in my misery. I want to reach out and pull this guy’s thick beard, cause him a little pain so I don’t suffer alone. What the hell does Cameron mean by ‘I can’t do this right now’? Was I just . . . dumped? Is Cameron breaking up with me or does he just not want to marry me? Is there really a difference at this point in our relationship? Can we really stay together if he basically rescinds his proposal?
I’m a cliché of epic proportions. I want the fairytale wedding with a princess gown and a horse-drawn carriage. I want a wedding that will resemble a forest at dusk with stars twinkling in the sky and a sensual melody playing in the background. I stop my train of thoughts when the attendant speaks again.
“We need you to board now if this is your flight. We really need to close the gate now.”
“Our apologies for being late,” Mr. Gilmore grumbles before turning to me and gesturing toward the gate. “After you.”
I’m slightly pleased his apology to her seemed even less sincere. There was also much more annoyance in his voice. I think. Plus, I wasn’t even late. I was very much so on time. I was where I was supposed to be and checked in like I should have. Just . . . not with whom I’m supposed to be with. Tears well in my eyes fall quicker than I can blink them away. The attendant clears her throat nervously and a horrified look crosses Mr. Gilmore’s face.
“Ma’am, we really need to close the gate now,” chipped tooth says.
I’m not only crying, but I’ve given them no response this entire time and I’m holding up the flight. Cameron and I were supposed to be going on this trip to New York as a vacation—and pseudo-honeymoon since it came before the ceremony, and end it with our wedding. Except now, he’s not here and he’s not coming.
“Allergies,” I lie with a forced smile. I hand over my boarding pass and soon enough, I’m on my way to La Bonne Chance Casino Resort, solo.
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