On Second Thought(5)

By: Kristan Higgins

“Check this out,” I whispered to Ollie, showing him. He licked his chops, and I idly petted his silky little brindle head, staring at the ring.

My eyes were wet as I closed the lid and replaced the velvet box into the blue one, then put the package back under the boxers.

Finally. Finally.

Then I pumped a fist into the air and did a little end zone victory dance around the room, happy little squeaks coming out of my throat. Ollie joined me, whining with joy, as he himself was an accomplished dancer.

At last! I was getting married! And the ring was flippin’ gorgeous! And it was about time!

Eric was the love of my life. We’d been together since our senior year of college (eleven years ago, mind you). There’d never been anyone else. He’d been the third boy I kissed, the first boy I slept with and the only boy I’d ever loved.

And after the past year and a half, during the terror of his life-changing diagnosis, during the treatment and illness, I wanted to be married more than ever. No more partner, no more boyfriend, no more significant other. I wanted him to be my husband. The word was as solid and comforting as a bullmastiff.

In my heart, we already had a marriage-level commitment, but I wanted the whole package. You know how some people say, Heck, we don’t need a piece of paper to show our commitment! They’re lying. At least, I was lying and had been lying for, oh, ten years now.

The wait was over.

I glanced at my watch, then bolted into the bathroom. If I was going to be an engaged woman tonight, I was also going to get laid tonight, and I had to shave my legs. All the way up.

* * *

Two hours later, the party was in full swing. I wore a white dress (bridal, anyone?) and red heels, and I was nursing a glass of cabernet, feigning calm, though my palms were sweaty and my heart stuttered and sped. Ollie wandered around, greeting guests, sniffing shoes, wagging his tail, all shiny and sweet-smelling, since I’d given him a bath earlier that day.

This was Eric’s big night, and soon it would be our big night.

The house looked fantastic. It wasn’t as big or fabulous as my sister’s new place, but it wasn’t shabby, either. And unlike Kate’s home, my house was lovely because of my work. Kate had walked into a fully furnished showplace designed by her architect husband, filled with custom-made furniture and tasteful modern art paintings.

Our place was my doing. Since my former career in television imploded, Eric funded 90 percent of our lifestyle, being the Wall Street wizard he was, but home was my domain. Every piece of furniture, every photo, every throw pillow, every paint color had been my decision, making this house our home.

Was our relationship a little retro? You bet. I liked it that way. And while Kate and Nathan’s house was more impressive, I liked to think ours was a little more welcoming, warmer, more colorful. Kind of like Kate and me—her always a little reserved, me always trying too hard.

The caterers zipped around with trays of pretty food and bottles of wine (good wine, too; Eric had a man-crush on Nathan and asked for some recommendations, since Nathan had an actual wine cellar). There was a martini bar on the deck, and everyone was laughing and smiling with good reason. Eric had beaten cancer, and this party was his way of thanking everyone for their love and support since that awful day when he’d found the lump.

As if reading my thoughts, Eric glanced over at me and smiled, and my heart melted and pulled like warm taffy. His dark hair was still short—it used to be longer, but after he shaved his head in anticipation of hair loss, he liked the cropped look. His black-framed glasses made him look attractively dorky, but the truth was, he was gorgeous, and since the diagnosis and his organic macrobiotic diet and exercise plan, his body was smokin’.

There was a velvet box-sized shape in his front pocket.

My fiancé. My husband.

The very first time I saw Eric Fisher, I thought, That’s the man I’m going to marry. It had never been a question of if, just a question of when.

That question would be answered tonight.

“Ainsley, the house looks amazing!” said Beth, my across-the-street neighbor, who’d been wonderful about bringing food and leaving little bouquets of flowers from her garden when Eric was sick. “What a happy day!”

“Thank you, Beth! You’ve been so great. We can’t thank you enough. Get a martini, quick!” She smiled and obeyed.

So many friends were here—Eric’s fraternity brothers, his coworkers from Wall Street, Eric’s parents and grandparents. My friends, too, from town and college and the magazine, though no one from my old job at NBC had even RSVP’d. My brother and his wife hadn’t been able to make it, but their older two kids were here, not by choice. I had the impression Sean and Kiara left Sadie with a sitter, dropped the teens off here and sneaked out to dinner rather than come to the party.