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I’m LYING IN A PUDDLE of my own sweat. My clothes are drenched from head to toe and my lungs are on fire. My trainer looks at me with a grin.
“Stop laughing,” I say between breaths. “You’re horrible.”
“Then I’ve done my job,” he grins.
“I prefer it when we just do weights and I barely break a sweat.”
“This is your last session before the wedding. We needed to mark the occasion somehow.”
I peel myself off the ground and crawl up to my feet. With my hands on my hips, I look at him and shake my head. He puts his hand up and I give him a lackluster high-five.
“That was weak.”
“I’m weak, Tyson.”
“You were weak six months ago, but not anymore.” He puts his hand up again and I smack it harder. My trainer nods in approval.
My body has transformed. When Liam proposed, I did the very cliché thing and started working out. It may be vain, but I just want to look good in my wedding photos.
I haven’t lost that much weight, but my body looks like a million bucks. I’m toned and muscular, but still feminine. Liam has been appreciating the perkiness of my ass for weeks now.
Tyson chuckles again. “Congratulations. Enjoy your weekend.”
He gives me a big, sweaty hug, and I take a deep breath. “I guess I’ll see you next week and we can do it all over again.”
“Atta girl,” he grins. He nods at me and I make my way back to the change rooms. Stella jumps off the treadmill and joins me.
“That looked intense.”
“You should do a couple sessions with me—Tyson’s really good. You’d see way more progress than just walking on the treadmill for an hour.”
She bites her lip. “I’m kind of scared.”
“I was too,” I laugh. “Still am, a bit. But look at these baby biceps!” I flex for my sister and she laughs. We shower and change. When we step outside, Stella smiles at me.
“Come grab a coffee with me, I have something to give you.”
My eyebrows arch. “Something to give me?”
She taps the side of her nose and nods towards the cafe on the corner. We order, wait for our drinks, and finally sit down. The whole while, Stella has a mischievous expression on her face and I’m absolutely dying to find out what she has for me.
“So are you all ready for your honeymoon?” She sips her coffee and smiles.
“Stella. Stop torturing me. That’s what I hired Tyson for, not you.”
She laughs. “Fine. Here.” She reaches into her gym bag and pulls out a little box. She slides it across the table, biting her lip. Her eyes are shining and she nods at me to open it.
I take the box and shake it gently.
“Careful!” She exclaims.
I frown, smiling. I flip the top of the box open and gasp. “Mom’s hairpin!”
The beautiful piece of jewelry glitters with little sapphires and diamonds in the shape of a dragonfly. Our mother used to wear it with pride to every important event we ever went to. Stella loved it, and my mother gave it to her before she passed.
Stella’s eyes are brimming with tears. “That should cover the ‘something blue’ and ‘something old’. I want you to have it.”
I shake my head. My whole chest is squeezing the air out of me. “It’s ‘something borrowed’, too.”
“I’ve got nowhere to wear it, Ash,” she laughs. “It’s yours.”
“Nope.” We’re both crying. “I’ll wear it and then I’ll give it right back to you on your wedding day if you won’t let me say I’m just borrowing it.”
“Fine. No chance of that happening anytime soon,” she laughs. My sister wraps me in a big hug and we cry on each other’s shoulders.
After a minute, we pull apart and dab our eyes with scratchy brown napkins. I take a deep breath. “I miss them.”
Stella smiles sadly. “Me too.”
“I wish Dad was here to walk me down the aisle.”
“He’ll be right there beside you.”
I play with the dragonfly hairpin between my fingers, watching how it catches the light. The weight of Stella’s gift is huge. My mother passed away first after a long fight with ovarian cancer. My father was only a couple months later, and I think he died of a broken heart.
I take a deep breath. “I never thought anyone would love me as much as Dad loved Mom,” I say. Stella squeezes my forearm and takes a deep breath.
“Well, you found him. And he’s marrying your new, hot body tomorrow.”
I laugh through my tears and then wrap my sister in a hug again. I did find him. Liam Maguire is the love of my life, and I can’t wait to call myself his wife.
I’M MORE NERVOUS than I expected. Red, Claire, Becky and Nicole are wearing bridesmaid’s dresses. Stella, my maid of honor, puts her hands on my shoulders and squeezes.
“I don’t want to hug you because I might mess up your hair.”
“I don’t care.”
“But I do,” she smiles. “Liam is going to shit his pants. You look so good.” She touches the hairpin in my hair and smiles with teary eyes.
I take a deep breath. We decided to have a small ceremony at a church near our house. Liam’s still not on speaking terms with his family, so it’s just our close friends that are here to celebrate with us. In a way, it’s better like this.
We’re not having a big day just for the sake of it. We’re not celebrating for anyone else, only for each other. We’re getting married exactly how we live—simply, lovingly, and happily.
The organ starts playing and the girls get in line. Stella squeezes my hand again, and I watch them walk through the doors one by one. The usher nods to me, and it’s my turn.
Butterflies are going nuts in my stomach, bouncing around my ribcage and guts like they want to burst through my bellybutton. The organ music rattles my bones, and my eyes start to mist up.
Then, I turn the corner.
Liam’s eyes meet mine, and the butterflies fall away. He’s standing with his hands clasped in front of him and he lets his arms fall to his side, his mouth dropping open as I take the first step.
My lip is trembling, and I know I’m going to cry. Happiness is filling me up so much I think I might burst at the seams.
My vision goes blurry for just a second, and my foot catches on the front of my dress. My heels are sinking into the carpeted aisle and I wobble on my feet. My other foot gets caught on my dress and my heart jumps into my throat.
No. No, no, no.
Not my wedding day.
Not my first step down the aisle.
But there it is, the ground coming rushing at my face as I tumble in a big, white, tulle and silk tangle. My arms and legs don’t belong to me anymore as I flail gracelessly on my way to the ground. I crush my bouquet underneath me and land with a loud unf.
Everyone gasps, and then goes silent for a beat. It’s the longest second of my life. My ears are burning, my cheeks are red, and my heart is going a million miles an hour.
I just tripped over myself walking down the aisle on my wedding day. No one moves. I lift my eyes up and see Liam biting his lips as his eyes dance.
I shake my head.
Don’t you dare.
But it’s too late. He’s laughing, which means I’m laughing. I’m on all fours, unable to move because all I can do is laugh. Everyone else giggles nervously, not quite sure how to react. Liam jumps down the dais and takes long strides towards me, picking me up and placing me gently on my feet.
Peals of laughter are still bubbling out of him. Every time I look at his face, I start giggling. I lean over and pick up my destroyed bouquet, and Liam laughs some more.
I can’t help it, and I start having another fit of laughter again. I think I pee my pants a little. I take a deep breath to control myself, and Liam puts his arm around my waist.
“Oh, Ash,” he sighs. “You are so perfect.”
“I’m glad you think so.”
My soon-to-be husband walks me the rest of the way down the aisle. I lean on him, metaphorically and literally, all the way down.
My dress is a mess. Stella should have hugged me after all, because my hair is in ruins. I laughed so hard that my tears ruined my makeup, and my bouquet is decidedly lopsided.
But Liam looks at me with a twinkle in his eye. He sweeps his arm around my waist and pulls me close to him. He inhales the scent of my hair, leans his forehead against mine and smiles.
“You should ask your trainer to give you some balance exercises,” he whispers as the priest starts his speech.
“I’m going to kill you,” I whisper back.
“And I’ll enjoy every second of it.”
Saying ‘I do’ is the easiest thing I’ve ever done. Liam wraps his arms around me and dips me down to kiss me before the priest even tells us we’re man and wife. The priest throws up his hands as Liam’s lips are locked on mine.
“Whatever. You’re man and wife. Congratulations!”
Our little group of friends clap and cheer for us. We have our reception in Liam’s backyard—well, my backyard too, I guess.
It’s the happiest day of my life.
That night, when we’re lying in bed, Liam wraps his arms around me and smiles. “I can’t wait to see the wedding video.”
I groan, slapping my palm over my forehead.
“Don’t remind me.”
“Didn’t I say that wearing white is a bad idea with your track record? It stains easily, and you’re not exactly coordinated.”
I smack his chest, laughing. I’m blushing and laughing at the same time. I hate that I tripped but it’s also kind of perfectly me—perfectly us, that I can’t be completely mad about it.
“Please, have mercy! No more mention of the walk down the aisle. Stop reminding me,” I giggle.
“Would you call it a ‘walk’ down the aisle?”
“Liam, I swear to—”
He silences me with a kiss. His whole body draws me in, and soon I’m straddling him with our arms and legs intertwined. My heart beats for him, with him, in him. I know that I’ve found the one man who can truly understand me.
He loves all my imperfections, my qualities and my faults, everything about me. He makes me feel so incredibly me that it makes my head spin. I don’t lose myself with him, and he doesn’t lose himself with me.
We make love tenderly, and then intensely. I feel like more of a woman than ever in his arms. When it’s over, I lay on his chest, feeling his heartbeat against my ear.
“I want to have a baby with you,” I whisper.
He growls, wrapping his arms around me. “I thought you were never going to say it.”
I glance up at him, my eyes shining. Liam’s face is beaming.
“You want a baby with me?”
“Ashley, I want everything with you.”
‘Love’ isn’t a strong enough word for what I feel for him. There are no words in the English language that come close to what’s in my heart.
So, we say nothing. We just hold each other close, and let our bodies and souls speak to each other. I trail my fingers across his chest and sigh in contentment.
With Liam, I’m whole.