I turned at the sound of my name, the familiar clicking of heels on the wood floor.
“Kristin,” I said. “We were just on our way out.”
“The clothes,” she said, nodding toward the key ring in my hand.
“Is there something I can do for you?”
“Ahhh,” she started, and gave me the most pained smile I’d ever seen. My stomach dropped on instinct. “There’s a slight issue.”
“Small,” she assured me with a smile. “Insignificant.”
“Here we go,” I heard Will say.
We followed her out a back door, across a patio, and down to the lawn where they were currently setting up for the wedding. Or trying to. My shoe sank into the grass with a sickening squelch on the first step.
“Oh, God,” I said, looking around. “Fuuuuck.” The entire area was flooded. Chairs were knocked over, tables askew with legs sinking into the swampy grass, workers rushing around in a panic.
“A sprinkler line broke during the night,” she said, apologetically. “They’ve stopped the water but as you can see . . .”
“Wow,” Will said, poking at a puddle with the tip of his sneaker.
I scrubbed my face with my hands and felt Max grip my shoulder, squeezing.
“They can fix it though, yeah?” he said, realizing I was two seconds from losing it and stepping in front of me.
“Oh, definitely,” Kristin was saying, though I couldn’t be sure through the sound of blood whooshing in my ears.
My phone buzzed in my pocket and I pulled it out, panicked that Chloe had seen this and was freaking out.
But it was only my mother: Honey, do you happen to know if your father packed his black dress shoes? I can’t find them in our room but he says he did.
I shoved the phone back in my pocket, tuning in as Kristin was saying, “They’ve fixed the line, now we’ll work on getting this area dried up or move everything a bit farther down the beach.”
Max turned to me, charming smile in place. “See? Nothing to worry about, mate. We’ll pick up the dresses, get you some food . . . or maybe some alcohol, judging by your expression, and everything will be fine when we return. And if it’s all the same to you, I’ll just be taking these.” He plucked the keys from my hand.
“What are you doing?” I asked, reaching for them.
“Sorry, Ben, best for everyone, I’m afraid. You’re likely to mow down pedestrians in your state of mind and that would put a definite wrinkle in the wedding festivities.”
“I can drive, Max. Give me the goddamn keys.”
“Have you seen yourself? Got that vein thing happening,” he said, reaching up to tap my forehead before I smacked his hand away.
Will snorted behind me and I turned, leveling him with a glare. He held his hands out in front of him. “The man has a point,” he said, backing away.
I spun to Max again. “Do you even know how to drive?”
He waved me off. “Left side, right side. How different can it be?”Max guided us back through the hotel and out to valet. We argued the entire way, me calling Max a bossy asshole, and Max asking me where I’d left my purse. Will trailed behind, half asleep on his feet.
An attendant approached us immediately, ignoring our bickering as he matched the keys to a list pinned to a clipboard. We followed him to a white cargo van parked at the curb, cool in the shade of a grouping of palms. I waved off his offer of directions, placed a few dollars in his hand, and turned my back as he walked away.
“So, the plan. Will,” Max said, waiting a beat before reaching out and smacking Will across the cheek.
“Well, have some coffee and snap out of it,” Max said. “You’ll ride with us to the cleaners, then take a cab from there to pick up the rings.”
“What, am I your little sidekick now? Why can’t Henry help with any of this?”
“Because Henry talks too much and you’re much prettier,” Max said. “Who knows? We may need to sweet talk a feisty old bird at the dry cleaners, and who is better than you at seducing cougars?” He patted Will’s cheek, cooing, “No one, Blossom. No one.”
Will yawned, clearly too tired to argue, and waved him off. “Yeah, whatever.”
Max walked around the van, stopping just beside the passenger door. “Ben, your chariot awaits.”
“Fuck you,” I said, slugging him in the shoulder as I climbed into the seat.
But I could hear him laughing as he rounded the front and got in, asking, “All right back there, William?”
“Yeah, yeah,” came the mumbled reply. “You’re both assholes.”
Max put the keys in the ignition and the engine roared to life. After grinning proudly at me he turned back and his face grew puzzled when he attempted to put the van in gear, only to be met with a horrible grinding noise.
“Would you stop being such a twat and relax? I’ve got this.”
The van lurched forward and I made a dramatic point about fastening my seat belt. The tires screeched as we took the first turn and I reached blindly for the dash, anything to hold on to. Will wasn’t as lucky, and the sound of him tumbling around in the cargo area could be heard from the front seat.
“When was the last time you actually drove a car?” I asked, bracing myself as we prepared to take another turn.
He pursed his lips as he considered this. “Vegas,” he said with a nod, completely unfazed by the trail of blaring horns in our wake.
“Vegas? I don’t remember you driving anywhere in Vegas.”
He checked the directions on his phone, blazed through a yellow light at the very last minute, and nearly rear-ended a car at a stop sign. “It’s possible I borrowed a car while you boys were occupied.”
“Yeah. And actually . . . to be fair, it was a limo, not a car. But that’s not the point. I got there safe and sound in the end.”
“And did you notice anything unusual? Maybe a few rude hand gestures aimed in your direction? Police sirens?”
After several near-misses with much smaller cars—
because you could practically see the Brit working to flip left and right around in his mind—we pulled up in front of the cleaners. Max glared at me as he put the van in park.
“Oh, God, somebody let me out,” Will groaned. I climbed down and opened the back door, watching as Will stumbled from the cargo area, and immediately moved to throw up in the bushes. Apparently, my point had been made.
The dry cleaner was a small, nondescript business nestled between a Chinese food restaurant and a comic book store in the center of a strip mall. Max motioned for me to lead the way and we paused at the front door, gazing up at a neon sign reading Satisfaction Guaranteed buzzing overhead.
Thank God the clothes were ready. We opened each bag to make sure everything was accounted for—six dresses, eight tuxedos—and proceeded to carry them out to the van. Max made sure to keep his promise to my mother, and kept me far from Chloe’s wedding gown.
“There’s no way you’re driving us back,” I said to Max once the last bag had been loaded.
“You still going on about that?” he asked
“Did you see yourself out there? After he puked, Will was practically kissing the ground.” I reached for the keys, managing to snag them from his hand.
“Like you could do any better? My gran’s a better driver than you. She’s eighty-two and has glaucoma.”
“I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you over the sound of the police helicopter and the warrant for your arrest,” I said, and swore as Max grabbed the keys back from me.
Will stepped between us, snagging the key ring and rubbing his temples. “Will you two just shut the f**k up? If I have to go back to the hotel and run from those women all night, I am not putting up with your bullshit, too. Ben? You drive,” he said, pushing the keys into my hand again. “Max? Play nice and wait your turn. My cab is here. I’ll pick up the rings and meet you back there.” He looked between us, waiting for some sort of protest.
“Good. Now try not to kill each other on the way back.”I entered the address for the Del into my phone and waited for the directions to appear. Max sat silently in the seat next to me.
“Thanks,” I said, and started the engine. Although we’d barely made it to the dry cleaner’s alive, Max had handled the entire morning with his trademark calm and optimism. I had to admit I’d be drunk and firing employees that weren’t even mine in the hotel lobby if he hadn’t stepped in and taken charge.
“You’re a dick,” he said back. I smiled as I pulled out of the parking lot.
Saturday afternoon in San Diego meant traffic, a lot of it. We’d been lucky enough on the way in, but it had definitely picked up by the time we pulled on the freeway. Max was insisting I was going the wrong way when his phone rang.
“Yeah, Will,” he said, and then paused before putting it on speaker. “Go ahead.”
“Which one of you two idiots was supposed to close the van door?”
“What?” I asked, and then looked up to the rearview mirror. Sure enough, one of them had been left open and was swinging back and forth on its hinges.
“Fuck!” I shouted, and it was as if the world suddenly shifted into high speed. Cars appeared out of nowhere, veering, honking, tires squealing past us as I tried to make my way to the side of the road. In the rearview mirror I saw the breeze catch the edge of one of the bags, curling it like it weighed no more than a candy wrapper. Up and back down. Up and back down. Max fumbled with his seat belt before vaulting to the back, arms outstretched as he reached for the endangered garment. But it was too late. We hit a small bump and it was just enough for the wind to lift the entire stack, letting them hover in midair before they were gone, sliding like dominoes out the door and onto the asphalt below.
It was pandemonium. I swore. I cut off a huge truck as I veered into the far right lane and came to a skidding stop at the side of the freeway. I wrenched open my door, shouting for Max as we both jumped out, watching in horror as cars flew down the two-lane highway, the garment bags scattered along it.
“Over there!” I yelled, spotting the larger of the bags near the median, the one that contained Chloe’s dress.
Will’s cab came to a screeching halt just behind us and we split up, each of us moving in opposite directions, sprinting and dodging through traffic to scoop up the dresses one by one and drag them back to the side of the road.
Cars honked all around us and the air filled with the pungent scent of tires skidding on asphalt. Above it all my pulse hammered in my ears, and my only thought was to get to Chloe’s dress and bring it back. I tried to avoid thinking about what failure would mean.
I ignored a particularly angry string of curse words shouted at me from a Benz and managed to make it to the median in one piece. I looked at Chloe’s bag, frantically searching the exterior for any damage. It seemed fine, intact except for a small rip on the bottom edge.
I made it back to the van and pushed it into Max’s arms. “Check her dress,” I said, bending at the knees and filling my lungs with oxygen, praying to God that her wedding gown was okay.
“It’s fine,” Max said, the relief in his voice clear even above the roar of passing traffic. “Perfect.”
I let out a breath. “Thank fuck. Do we have them all?” I walked over to the van to see how many remained inside.
Will looked down to the garments in his arms. “Four,” he said.
“There’s four back here,” I said. “How many were there again?”
“Fourteen. All of us, Henry, the ring bearer, your dad, Chloe’s dad, Chloe, the girls, George, your mom, and the flower girl. Right?” Will asked, counting down on his fingers, still hunched on the asphalt.
I nodded. “Let’s get the f**k out of here.”
This time, nobody fought over who got to drive.I felt like I’d run a marathon by the time we got back to the hotel. We pulled up to valet and Kristin met us at the curb, ready to take over from there. She assured me that the worst of the water had been dealt with, and asked if I wanted to see how the preparations were coming. I declined, wanting nothing more than a shower, a nap, and for it to be time to meet Chloe at the altar. I looked down at my watch: three hours to go.
Will pulled up as we stood there, paid his driver, and stepped out of the cab. He held up his arm to show us the bright blue bag swinging from his fingertips.
“The rings are here,” Max said, bumping my shoulder with his. “Makes it feel a bit more official, wouldn’t you agree?”
I nodded, too relieved to even mock Will for his stupid swagger.
“Well, look who’s the only one that hasn’t f**ked anything up today—” he said just as his toe caught a crack in the concrete and he pitched forward, crashing to the ground. The bag flew from his hands, the boxes flew from the bag, and of course, my newly polished ring tumbled out and onto the driveway.