(Mermaid Note: If you haven’t already, please read Memory Garden (Part One) first.)
Drew watched as all the color drained from Lilah’s face. Damn, he didn’t want to hurt her again. She started to walk away but he grabbed her arm and spun her to him.
“No, you have to listen to me.”
“I don’t have to listen to anything. Let go of me.”
He dropped his hand immediately and watched her storm out a set of side doors. He ran a hand over his face. This wasn’t going how he had hoped at all.
And couldn’t she have looked a little less gorgeous for this?
Without thinking, he ran after her. Following a path lined with cherry blossom trees, he turned to find her in a garden, decorated with twinkle lights.
She turned when she heard his footsteps on the path. He berated himself when he saw the tears in her eyes. They hadn’t started to fall yet so he stepped toward her and drew her into his arms.
She didn’t hug him back. She stood stiff and unmoving. But he continued to embrace her. She smelled just as he remembered, like flowers and rain. Or maybe that was just how a garden smelled. After all, flowers always reminded him of Lilah – they had spent so much time in the garden at the club.
“I’m sorry, Lilah,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry.”
She pushed away but didn’t run from him. Swiping a hand at her eyes, she said in a calm voice, “How could you?” Then she looked away and said more to herself, “But of course you did.”
He stepped toward her and she held her ground. “Where is she tonight?”
And then he realized, Lilah didn’t understand.
“I don’t know. We divorced two years ago.”
Her head snapped up. “Oh.” She played with a delicate necklace around her neck, moving it back and forth. The gesture reminded him of her so much, his heart hurt.
“Did you love her?”
Drew should have been ready for that question but he wasn’t. The truth of his marriage shamed him. But he also knew he had to tell her the truth.
“No, I didn’t love her. I thought we were right for each other.” At her big green eyes, he swore and pushed a hand through his hair. “Christ, Lilah, I was so young. I knew Cecilia my entire life. And my father wanted us to form a union.”
She scrunched up her nose. “Form a union?”
The gesture looked so cute, he actually chuckled. “Lame, I know it. At least, I know it now. I didn’t back then. I just wanted to please him so badly.”
“So you went to law school and became a lawyer, just like he wanted?”
“And you married someone just because he wanted you to?”
“Yes. I’m not proud of it. I’m not proud of a lot. Things didn’t work out between me and Cecelia practically from the beginning. She loved the country club life. I started to look down on it.”
He took her hand and she let him. Progress.
“Cecelia wanted my money and my family’s name. That’s it. She has no idea who I am as a person.”
She opened her mouth, but his cousin’s fiancée burst outside with a string of high-pitched squeals. Lilah appeared to understand them.
“I’m sorry.” She removed her hand from his. “I’m not a guest here. I have to go back to work.”
The sentence held much more weight than he would have liked.
Lilah managed to get through the next couple of weeks. Not only did she see to the final touches for Chrissy’s wedding, but she figured out how to avoid Drew for the most part.
They had talked a couple times. To be honest, he did seem different. He had grown up. And he could still make her laugh.
But every time they started to have a real moment, she pulled back. How could she not? He had been the one person she trusted. He knew her insecurities and when those fears were realized he abandoned her.
But she put all of that out of her mind the day of the wedding. Thank God the weather remained sunny and comfortable. The ceremony went off without a hitch. Lilah stayed in the background seeing to every detail she could think of.
She ran around during photographs and made sure the cocktail hour flowed smoothly. By the time the reception began in the large tented area the Botanical Gardens set up, she was ready for a hot bubble bath and very large glass of wine.
Instead, she ran into Perry in a makeshift waiter station behind the stage where the band played.
“Lilah, you did an amazing job. Today is beautiful. And even if you can’t tell, Chrissy really loves everything.”
She laughed. “Thanks, Perry, I appreciate it.”
“Listen,” he said, lowering his voice. “It’s kinda obvious that you and Drew have some kind of history. I don’t know anything about it but Drew’s a really decent guy. You should give him a chance.”
She wanted to tell him no, that she had given him a chance over a decade ago. And he ruined it. But she tried to go for light humor instead.
“Well, I don’t really go for the lawyer type. Too formal for me.”
Perry looked at her questioningly. “Drew isn’t a lawyer, Lilah. He left his father’s firm two years ago.”
“What? He couldn’t have. His father wouldn’t have let him.”
Perry chuckled. “Drew is thirty-two years old. It took him awhile but he finally grew a pair and stood up to his dad. Oh sorry,” he said embarrassed.
“If he doesn’t work for his dad, what does he do?”
“Why don’t you ask him yourself?” Drew stood in the doorway, looking as yummy as ever.
Perry must have picked up on the tension between them, so he let out a little cough. “I think I’ll just go find the wife. I’m sure there are more pictures we could be taking.”
“You’re not a lawyer anymore?”
“No.” He closed the gap between them. “I hated every second of that life, Lilah. Every damn second of it. From the time I was a small child until I stood up to my father two years ago, I felt miserable.”
He took her face in his hands. “I was only happy that summer with you.” With that, he pulled her to him and kissed her.
She didn’t want to give in but her body had a different idea. Their lips melded together as if they had never been apart. His taste, his touch, it all felt familiar. It felt like home.
Her arms snuck up his body and wrapped around his neck as his framed her face. Tilting her head, she allowed him to deepen the kiss as their tongues found each other.
“I’ve missed you so much,” he said on a ragged breath when they broke apart.
“So what do you do now?” she smiled up at him.
“I’m a teacher.”
His hands slid up and down her back as they stayed close together. “I love it. I teach fourth grade. The kids are amazing and it’s so rewarding.”
She could see it. Lilah imagined him standing in front of a classroom talking about the Revolutionary War, fractions, the Bering Strait, or whatever they learned in fourth grade. Drew had always had patience in spades.
“That’s wonderful.” It’s wonderful to see that sparkle in his eyes. It had never been there when he used to complain about how he was required to go to law school.
“I started a nonprofit for kids as well, buying them books and school supplies. It’s actually one of the reasons why Cecelia and I broke up. She said I shouldn’t waste my money on other people. It was the final straw.
“My life is good now, Lilah. I love what I’m doing. I’m out of my family’s shadow. Now, I just need you and everything will be perfect.”
She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. It was all too good to be true. But more than anything, she was happy for Drew. That he had found his way.
She kissed him, hungrily, greedily. And Drew reciprocated by pulling her to him. He tore his lips from hers to move down her neck and along her jaw. She moaned as he found the sensitive spot near her ear.
He had been the one to discover it all those years ago, she remembered with a smile.
Then their hands were everywhere, tugging and pulling. He yanked the single strap of her evening gown down her arm, replacing it with his lips.
She began to tug his dress shirt out of the waistband of his pants. As her fingers grazed the skin just above his zipper, he gasped and lost his footing.
Lilah pushed him back against the wall, not caring. She tore his shirt open, buttons popping in every direction. She looked up to see a wicked grin on his face as he wove his hands through her hair and clamped down on her mouth, nipping and teasing before going in for a breathtaking kiss.
Then they were shaking and moving. It took a split second for her to realize they were actually falling. The wall she pushed him against wasn’t real. It had been set up to partition the tent area. And with their added weight it tumbled and the two of them spilled onto the stage of the reception tent.
Lilah heard the entire room gasp. She froze. Oh God. Sparing a glance in Drew’s direction, she saw he sat just as still.
Complete and utter silence descended on the room. Lilah took the opportunity to pull the strap of her dress back up.
“Omigod,” Chrissy shouted in her shrill voice. “It’s our wedding planner.”
“And my son.”
Without looking up, Lilah knew the owner of that deep, disapproving voice. Andrew Hamilton, III, rose from his chair in the middle of the room and walked slowly toward them.
She felt Drew grab her arm and help her to her feet. Every set of eyes continued to stare, riveted on this little soap opera.
When Drew’s father got closer he kept his voice low. “What the hell are you doing, son?”
Drew stayed quiet and her heart dropped. Flashbacks of the country club flooded her mind. It was happening all over again. A roomful of rich people staring and laughing. She spotted her boss at the head table. Surely she would be fired again, just like when she was eighteen.
The original silence of the room had been replaced by excited whispers.
“Lilah,” Chrissy whined. “What are you doing making out with my husband’s cousin? You’re supposed to be preparing the bubbles I requested.”
She would like to be inside a bubble floating away at this very minute.
“Well, Drew?” Mr. Hamilton pressed. “What are you doing rolling around on the floor with the help?”
She couldn’t take it. Not again. She straightened her shoulders and started to walk away.
But Drew’s voice stopped her.
“This is Lilah Adler and I’ve been in love with her for the last eleven years.”
“Ahhh,” Chrissy screeched at the same time as most of the women in the room sighed. Lilah would have joined them if she hadn’t been stunned speechless.
“Excuse me?” Drew’s father said.
Drew raised his voice. “I said that I love her. We met at our country club when we were in college. I fell in love with her then and I never stopped loving her.”
He turned to Lilah and took her hand in his. “You are the most loving, amazing, intelligent, wonderful woman I’ve ever met. And I didn’t treat you the way you deserved to be treated. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”
“Forgive him, forgive him,” an older woman shouted from table thirteen.
“This, wedding planner, was it?” Mr. Hamilton looked disgusted. “You have no business being with my son. He’s a Hamilton.”
Drew turned to his father. “Dad,” he said with a quiet restraint. “Shut up.”
Taking Lilah by the shoulders he pressed his lips to hers.
She couldn’t stop the smile from spreading. “Thank you. I forgive you.”
Applause erupted as Drew’s arms came around her. She didn’t know where his father stormed off and she didn’t care. People were on their feet, the band started playing again and somehow she found herself being hugged by Chrissy.
Her happiness was put on pause as she saw Chrissy’s father, her boss, walking toward her.
“Mr. Pendleton, I’m so sorry.”
There was a brief moment when she thought she would surely be fired. But shocking her, a big smile spread across his face.
“Ah, not to worry, my dear.” He leaned closer and gave her a conspiratorial nudge. “I’m an old romantic. Just ask my wife. Or mistress. She calls me Swagger.”
He gave her an awkward hug. “See you in the office on Monday. Great job today, Lilah. I won’t forget it.”
She sensed Drew behind her before she turned around. “Hey you.”
“You have a funny look on your face,” he said.
“I think my boss just told me he has a mistress and that she calls him Swagger. Ew! And you!” She laughed tugging at his torn dress shirt. You’re a mess.”
He took her in his arms. “I was a mess. But everything’s just right now.”
With that, he kissed her and they began the new chapter of their lives together.
Come back tomorrow to read the stories behind The Garden Party by Denny S. Bryce and Memory Garden by Kerri Carpenter.