Second OpinionWhoever said that time heals all wounds is full of shit.
© 2014 Lisa Suzanne
© 2014 Lisa Suzanne
Some wounds cut deep enough that time can never fully heal them and we’re left with scars that remind us every single day of what we endured.
I had one of those scars, and it was a wound that hadn’t healed in the four years since the final cut. It was a laceration from a knife that had started its incision fourteen years earlier.
I glanced at the people milling around the kitchen. I’ll admit I was feeling a little sorry for myself, but I was happy for my best friend. He’d found everything he had ever wanted, and he found it with my bossy little sister.
I stopped and stared down at the counter filled with veggie trays, chips and salsa, and a variety of appetizers I honestly couldn’t name. Something looked like it had bacon around it, so I popped one into my mouth. Anything with bacon on it was fine by me.
Quinn and Reed had just bought their house about a month earlier, and we still had about two months to go until their wedding. I spotted a framed picture of the two of them. It was clear from the picture they were laughing, and I could see the joy emanating from both of them. I loved how happy he made her. My sister was a pain in the ass ninety percent of the time, but I loved her. Reed was a good guy, one of the best, so of course I knew he would take care of Quinn for the rest of their lives together. I was honored when he asked me to be his best man.
Their four bedroom, three bathroom house was filled with friends and family, and we were there to celebrate both a housewarming and their engagement.
It was one of those moments where I felt very alone in the crowd.
I wasn’t interested in finding something serious, but I was interested in finding someone for the night. It was nice seeing how happy Reed was now that he’d found “the one” for him. I had that once when I’d found my “one.”
Turns out I wasn’t her “one,” though.
I glanced across the room at my sister’s friends. Quinn had decided she wanted a small bridal party, so she had just two bridesmaids and her matron of honor. All three women were gorgeous, and I had met all three of them several times since Quinn had been working at Central Valley High School.
I saw Veronica, Quinn’s matron of honor, laugh at something her husband, Jesse, said. I looked at Reese next. She was pretty, and she was sweet. Probably too sweet for me.
And then my eyes landed on Avery.
I already knew what a bad idea it was. I stopped the idea before I even started it.
But I couldn’t help when the idea flickered in my mind again as her eyes met mine across the room.
What is it about women and weddings? Weddings make women horny. This is a proven fact. And apparently engagement parties also do.
The way she’d been eyeing me all night led me to believe she wanted me, but hooking up with her would be a big mistake. It wasn’t that she was outright obvious, but it was the little glances, the way she looked in my direction when she said something funny or interesting to check my reaction. Those types of things tipped me off to the fact that she wanted me, and in my semi-drunken state, I was warming up to the idea of the two of us ending up in bed together.
I loved the game of flirtation. I loved meeting a woman and following through until we hooked up. And I loved sex.
But sex with my little sister’s friend? It was taboo. Off limits.
I kind of liked taboo most of the time, but I couldn’t do that to my sister.
I’d known Avery for years. She’d been working with Quinn for a while, and I’d always thought she was attractive, but I had never considered actually hooking up with her. I thought back to when I had first met her. Quinn had brought her to one of our family weekend brunches. Avery was a new teacher in the English department at Central Valley High School, and Quinn was her mentor. They’d become fast friends, and I was in the throes of heartache after what my ex, Rachelle, had done to me. I’d never really given Avery the time of day because I was at a point in my life where I couldn’t get involved.
And on top of that, I’d already done the whole “hooking up with one of my sister’s friends” thing. Let’s just say it hadn’t ended well, and it wasn’t something my sister ever let me forget.
But Avery was wearing red heels with a black dress. It wasn’t the first time I had checked her out in the years my sister had known her—not by a longshot—but it was the first time I had really noticed her.
The people in our lives really fit into two categories: The “Inner Circle” and the “Periphery.” Avery was in my sister’s inner circle, but she was in my periphery. My inner circle consisted of my family, Reed, a couple of buddies I played ball with in college, and a handful of coworkers.
As her eyes darted up to meet mine from across the room, I suddenly wondered if she’d be interested in the way I did things. She seemed like the kind of girl who liked having fun.
I couldn’t help but think maybe it would be worth a shot. I grinned at her and raised one eyebrow in her direction. Her lips stretched into a smile, and the random thought of her lips on my body—anywhere—raced through my mind. I glanced away first. It was a habit, a way to hook them in and leave them wanting more. But even as I did it, I knew it was wrong.
She made her way over to me.
“I have a question for you, Mr. Carpenter.”
“What can I do for you, Bridesmaid Number One?”
“I have a name.”
“I know. It’s easier for me to remember that you stand next to the Matron of Honor if I call you BNO.”
“Bridesmaid Number One.” I said it as if the answer was obvious.
She rolled her gorgeous brown eyes at me. They were mischievous and sexy at the same time.
I threw my hands up in mock confusion. “So what was your question?”
“Are you planning the bachelor party?”
“Isn’t that the best man’s job?”
She nodded. “Yes. Could we exchange numbers so we can figure out details? Quinn wants to have her bachelorette party the same weekend.”
It wasn’t a bad idea to get this girl’s number anyway. I was sure I’d find a way to use that to my advantage. I tried reminding myself it was a bad idea to hook up with her, but I just couldn’t remember why it was a bad idea. We exchanged numbers, and I saved her contact as “Avery Peterson.”
“So you do know my name.”
“Like I could forget it. I’ve known you a long time, Avery.” I knew I was flirting myself right into dangerous territory, but the beer I’d consumed took away my ability to care.
“Well, Grant,” she said, lowering her voice so only I could hear. “I’m glad you know it.”
“Oh yeah?” I raised my eyebrows and automatically found myself leaning in toward her.
“Yeah. That way you’ll know what name to yell out once I finally get my shot with you.”
She laughed and winked at me before she turned and walked away, leaving me an awkward shithead rendered idiotically wordless. I’m pretty sure my mouth hung open in surprise as I stood there, rolling her words over in my mind.
Was she joking?
She had to be joking.
Of course she was joking.
This was Avery, not some random girl I was going to hook up with.
I drained the rest of my beer, grabbed another one, and made my way over to Reed to start planning the bachelor party, doing my best to avoid eye contact with the woman who’d left me speechless.
I ran into Jesse, the matron of honor’s husband, in the kitchen. He was gathering some of those bacon-wrapped things onto a plate. I’d known him as an acquaintance for a couple of years, and I was always able to talk football with him.
“Save some for the rest of us,” I said, watching him pile his plate high.
“Have you tried these?”
I chuckled. “I had one earlier.”
“How did you stop at one?”
I shrugged. “Willpower.” I had plenty of willpower when it came to food.
It was women that were my weakness.
It was about two beers later when I decided to head outside. Quinn and Reed had designed a fire pit, and I hadn’t checked it out yet. Apparently everyone had been roasting marshmallows earlier when I’d been deep in conversation with Jesse about which preseason football team looked to have the best defense. It may have seemed odd to light the fire pit on an Arizona August evening, but it was a cool eighty degrees at night in the desert. It sounded hot to just about everyone except people who lived in the desert.
A lone figure stood by the fire pit when I made my way outside. I knew who it was the moment I exited the patio doors, and I knew I should stay away. In fact, I was very aware that I should stay far, far away, particularly after her little comment about what name I was going to be yelling out. This was all sorts of wrong. I couldn’t get mixed up with my sister’s friend.
But like a moth drawn to the proverbial flame, I stepped my way closer and closer to her.
The heat from the fire intensified as I drew nearer to her. Or was it just our attraction? I’d felt the heat passing between us all night, so it was hard to tell.
“Hey, Avery,” I murmured.
She jumped as if she hadn’t heard me approaching. She stared straight ahead into the fire and stiffened as I stood next to her. “Hey.”
I heard her sniffle, and I saw her hand rush up to her face. Was she wiping away tears?
“What’s wrong?” I asked, my voice laced with the concern I suddenly felt. I stared at her, a little dumbfounded. For one thing, she’d been fine an hour earlier. She’d said that line about me calling out her name. She smiled at me. She winked, for God’s sake. Women didn’t just wink and then head outside for a cry.
I didn’t really know what to do when women cried. It was awkward and weird. I didn’t know what to say or if I should give her a hug or if I should leave her alone. Part of me wanted to back out slowly the way I’d come.
But another part of me—a part I didn’t fully understand—wanted to pull her into my arms, wanted to comfort her and listen to her and make her feel better.
And that part scared the shit out of me. It wasn’t who I was.
She sniffed again and I did what felt natural. I stepped a little closer to her and put my arm around her shoulder.
“Are you okay?” I asked softly, trying to be soothing when it really wasn’t in my nature to be.
She turned in toward my chest as she cried quietly against me. I wrapped my other arm around her.
She smelled like a summer breeze.
“I’m sorry,” she finally said on another sniffle.
“For what?” I still held her in my arms. Her hands were both on my chest, her face buried between them. She was embarrassed for crying in front of me, but I didn’t care about that. I was more concerned about the reason why she was crying.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“It’s so stupid,” she started, taking a shaky breath. She backed away, and I felt the loss as she stood beside me rather than in my arms.
My first thought was that it had something to do with the whole “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” cliché. But Avery didn’t strike me as the type who would go outside for a quick cry in the middle of her friend’s engagement party for a reason like that.
“It’s just ten things at once, you know? I just needed a minute, so I came out here to collect myself.”
“Well what are the ten things? Can I help?”
She shook her head sadly. “It was just a really shitty day. We’re already a couple of weeks into the school year, but I’m overwhelmed. I’m teaching all new classes and I just feel stressed.”
I was trying unsuccessfully to find some way to express some sympathy, but I couldn’t think of anything to say.
“Then I was on my way home, and this light came on in my dashboard.”
“I can take a look at it,” I offered.
“Thank you. That’s nice. You don’t have to.”
“I’m sorry about your work.” I stared ahead into the fire with her.
She sniffed again, and I could tell she was trying to hold back her tears.
“Is that everything?”
“Do tell,” I said. She glanced over at me, and I offered a smile.
She took a deep breath and looked back at the fire. “I shouldn’t be admitting all of this to you.”
“Do it anyway.”
“I’ve got rent due in two weeks, and I’ve got this light in my car, and I don’t know where the hell I’m going to come up with the money to pay for everything. And I just found out how much I’m going to have to pay for my bridesmaid dress.”
“I can help with the car and the dress. Don’t let those things stress you out.”
“I’m not going to take your money. Don’t be ridiculous.”
I got a little smile in response.
“You’re not the first person who has told me that.”
“I’m sure I won’t be the last, either,” I laughed, and I put my arm around her shoulder again. “Come here,” I instructed, and she folded herself against me again.
It felt good.
I crushed her body to mine as I looked down at her. Her brown eyes met mine, and my eyes flicked down to her lips and then back to her eyes.
My lips involuntarily moved toward hers, the anticipation sending waves of nerves coursing through my veins. Holding her and wanting to comfort her felt natural. Leaning my lips down toward hers felt natural, too. She gazed up at me, her eyes starting to close as we moved in toward each other.
“Oh GOD, no. Please tell me this isn’t happening.” My sister’s nasally voice cut through the quiet night, and Avery jumped back from me guiltily.
I shot a look over at Avery.
“Tell you what isn’t happening?” I asked innocently.
“The two of you.” She snorted in disgust and I chuckled.
It wasn’t happening—yet—but it had potential.
“What if it is happening, Quinn? Would that really be so bad?”
She stared at us for a moment. She looked irritated. “Yeah, it would be. It’s not a good idea.”
“What difference does it make to you?” I pressed. My sister had some nerve.
She was accusing me of hooking up with her friend when she was engaged to my friend?
Granted, she hadn’t met Reed through me, exactly. But it was a little hypocritical of her to judge something she knew nothing about.
“I can’t deal with another Kaylee situation,” she warned.
Of course she would bring up Kaylee.
I’d hooked up with one of Quinn’s roommates a few years earlier, and when I didn’t call her back, she’d taken it out on my sister. Let’s just say Kaylee and Quinn were no longer friends, and I knew Quinn blamed me. It really wasn’t my fault. Kaylee was a little bit crazy and quite a clinger.
“There’s nothing going on,” Avery clarified. “I was upset and Grant was just making me feel better.”
“Thank God,” Quinn said. “I mean, you’re my brother.” She said the word like it was gross. I guess I could see her point; I didn’t exactly enjoy spending my time thinking about the fact that she shared a bed with my best friend.
“And you’re Avery. I know what you do in your spare time.” She laughed after she said it like it was a joke, but it was a little bit of a cheap shot at her friend.
And it also made me wonder what exactly it was Avery did in her spare time.
The slightest hint of anger flashed through my blood at Quinn’s insinuation.
Where the hell did that come from? Why did I feel the need to defend my sister’s friend?
I’d known Avery for a long time, but for the very first time, I saw Avery as an individual, separate from the friendship she and Quinn shared. Her flirtations all night hooked my interest, but it was the tender moment we shared in front of the fire when I comforted her in my arms that kept it.
And it was that moment that lingered in my mind over the next couple of weeks.
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