“Thank you,” I said, shaking her hand once.
She and Jack turned to give their drink orders.
I leaned into Thomas’s ear. “She looks so much like your mother. If I hadn’t read up on it before, I would have been very confused. You and Shepley could be brothers.”
“It throws people off all the time,” he said. “She’s right, by the way. You’re stunning. I didn’t get a chance to tell you, but when you walked around the corner, I had to force myself to stay in the gazebo.”
Abby and Travis walked in, and the hostess announced their arrival over the PA system. A rock ballad came over the speakers, and Travis pulled Abby out to dance.
“They are so sweet,” Deana said, her bottom lip trembling. “I wish Diane could have been here to see it.”
“We all do, baby,” Jack said, curling his arm around his wife’s shoulder and squeezing her to his side.
I looked over at Jim. He was sitting and chatting with Trenton and Camille. When Jim watched Travis and Abby dancing, he had that same sentimental smile on his face. I knew he was thinking about Diane, too.
The sun fizzled into the ocean while the not-so-new newlyweds danced to their song. When they finished, we all clapped, and the first course was brought out.
We ate and laughed as the brothers teased each other and told stories from their tables.
After dessert, Shepley stood up and tapped his glass with his fork. “I’ve had a year to write this speech, and I wrote it last night.”
“As the best man and the best friend, it’s my duty to both honor and embarrass Travis. Starting with a story from our childhood, there was one time when I set my bean burrito on the bench, and Travis chose that moment to see if he could jump over the back and sit beside me.”
“Travis isn’t just my cousin. He’s also my best friend and my brother. I’m convinced that, without his guiding hand while we were growing up, I would have been half the man I am today…with half as many enemies.”
The brothers all covered their mouths with their fists and guffawed.
“This time should be spent musing over how he met Abby, and I can do that because I was present when it happened. Even though I might not have always been their biggest cheerleader, Travis didn’t need me to be. From the beginning, he knew that he belonged to Abby and that she belonged to him. Their marriage has reinforced what I’ve always thought and lived by—that stalking, harassment, and inflicting general misery on a woman will eventually pay off.”
“I’m not going to use this time for any of that. Instead, I’ll just raise my glass to Mr. and Mrs. Maddox. From the beginning and through all their highs and lows and through the last year while everyone told them that they were crazy and that it wouldn’t work, they loved each other. That has always been the constant, and I know it always will be. To the bride and groom.”
We raised our drinks as we chanted the same and then clapped while Travis and Abby kissed. He looked into her eyes with such affection. It was a familiar affection—the same way Thomas looked at me.
I rested my chin on my palm, watching the sky bruise with pinks and purples. The lights hanging from the edges of the white canvas ceiling were blowing in the gentle breeze.
After America gave her speech, the music began to play. At first, no one danced, but after the third round of drinks, almost everyone was on the dance floor. The brothers, including Thomas, were teasing Travis with their own Travis-like dance moves, and I was giggling so hard that tears were streaming down my face.
Abby strolled across the room and sat next to me, watching the boys from her new seat. “Wow,” she said. “I think they’re trying to scare poor Cami off.”
“I don’t think that’s possible,” I said, wiping my cheeks.
Abby watched me until I looked at her. “She’s going to be my sister-in-law soon, I hear.”
“Yes. The proposal was quite entertaining.”
She turned her head to the side a bit and clicked her tongue. “Trent always is. So, you were there?”
“I was.” I wished Thomas had never warned me about how smart she was. Her calculating eyes made me want to sink back into my seat.
“For most of it. Travis was the first to leave.”
“Dear Jesus,” she said, shaking her head.
After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, I spoke up, “It was a beautiful ceremony. Congratulations.”
I nodded. “Liis Lindy. Nice to finally meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you. Poker phenom? So impressive,” I said without an ounce of condescension.
“What else did Thomas tell you?” she asked.
“He told me about the fire.”
Abby looked down and then to her husband. “A year ago today.” Her mind drifted off to somewhere unpleasant, and then she snapped back to reality. “We weren’t there, thank God. We were in Vegas. Obviously. Getting married.”
Abby laughed. “He was! He was. We were married in the Graceland Chapel. It was perfect.”
“You’ve got family out there, right?”
Abby’s shoulders relaxed. She was as cool as ice. I wondered if even Val could get a read on her.
“So, I guess he didn’t go to the wedding.”
“Really? I thought Trent and Cami knew. But that can’t be right because he was at the fight that night, right? Christ, that’s scary. We’re lucky we’re looking at him making an ass of himself right now.”
Abby nodded. “We weren’t there. People say”—she chuckled—“that we ran off to Vegas to get married to give Travis an alibi. I mean, how ridiculous.”
“I know,” I said, trying to sound disinterested. “That would be crazy. And you obviously love him.”
“I do,” she said with conviction. “They say that I married him for something other than love. Even if it were true—and it’s not—that’s just…well, it’s fucking moronic. If I had whisked him off to Vegas to marry him for an alibi, it would have been out of love, right? Wouldn’t that have been the goddamn point? Wouldn’t that have been the ultimate act of love for someone? To go against your own rules because you love that person too much?”
The more she talked, the angrier she became.
“If I did save him, it was because I loved him. There is no other reason to do that for someone, is there?”
“I don’t know of any,” I said.
“But I wasn’t saving him from the fire. We weren’t even there. That’s what pisses me off the most.”
“No, I totally get it. Don’t let them ruin your night. If they want to hate on everything, let them. You get to determine how this plays out. This isn’t their story to tell.”