One Tiny Lie
We turn in unison to look at the stunningly beautiful couple as the photographer captures them with the sun setting in the background. Storm may be six months pregnant, but other than the cute, round bump on her abdomen and her gigantic br**sts-a product of raging hormones mixed with silicone implants-she looks exactly like she always has. A Barbie doll.
A Barbie doll who, along with her adorable little daughter, stumbled into our lives when we needed it most. It's funny how some relationships can be so accidently forged and yet so perfectly matched. When Kacey and I took off to Miami, we ended up in a run-down apartment building, living next door to a bartender/entertainer and struggling single mom to a five-year-old girl. Storm and Mia. They welcomed us both into their lives without reservation, without apprehension. Because of that, I've never thought of them as neighbors or friends.
In some strange way, they've always been family.
All of them are, I admit, looking at the small crowd gathered after the sunset beach wedding outside our house. It's the biggest mixed bag of people you could imagine-our old landlord, Tanner, as awkward as ever holding his date's arm while he scratches his belly absently; Cain, the owner of the strip club where Storm and Kacey used to work, sipping on a glass of liquor as he watches Storm and Dan, a strange, proud smile touching his lips; Ben, the former bouncer at Penny's who's become a close friend to all of us, arm-in-arm with a cute blond lawyer from his firm. I have to admit, that's a welcome sight, as he's been dropping not-so-discreet hints about wanting to date me since the day I turned eighteen.
"I wish you were staying longer," Kacey moans. "We've been so busy, we haven't had a chance to talk. I feel like I don't know what's going on in your life anymore."
That's because you don't, Kacey. I've told her nothing. It's status quo as far as she's concerned-school's great, I'm great. Everything's great. I'm not telling her the truth: that I'm just plain confused. I spent the plane ride down convincing myself that this will all blow over. I need to adjust, that's all. And while I'm adjusting, I'm not taking any attention away from Storm and Dan's day.
"Kacey!" Trent's hands are cupped around his mouth as he calls my sister.
"Oh, gotta go!" She squeezes my elbow, a devilish grin curling her lips. "Make sure you're back at the house in fifteen, for their first dance." I watch her as she takes off, skipping barefoot through the sand toward a stunning Trent in his fitted tux. The first few times I met him, I couldn't be in the same room as him without sweating profusely. But, at some point, he turned into nothing more than my sister's goofy soul mate. And right now, they're up to something. I'm not sure exactly what, but by the whispers I've caught, it involves a bottle of champagne, the silver stage hoop from Penny's that Storm used to use in her "act," and an embarrassing video montage of the happy couple.
Trent and Kacey are perfect together.
I hope I have that one day, too.
I turn back toward the setting sun. And I breathe. In and out, slowly. I breathe and I relish this beautiful moment, this wonderful day, pushing all my worries and fears away. I find that it's not hard to do. The sound of waves and Mia's laughter as Ben chases her around serve as an anchor to keep me grounded.
"How is college, Livie?"
The voice surprises me and sends prickles down my spine. Turning, I find those coffee-colored eyes staring out at the ocean next to me. "Hi, Cain. It's good." Family or not, I'm still not a hundred percent comfortable around my sister's old boss. He's never done anything to warrant my unease; in fact, he's one of the most respectable men I've ever met in my life. But he's an enigma of sorts. He has that timeless look to him, both youthful and wise beyond his years. When Kacey first met him, she thought he had to be in his early thirties, but a slip of his tongue one night told us he'd just hit twenty-nine. That means he opened his first adult club in his early twenties. No one knows where he got the money. No one knows anything about his family, his background. All we know is that he makes a lucrative living off the sex trade. But according to Kacey and Storm, all he seems to want is to help his employees get on their feet. He has never crossed the line.
Although most of the dancers wouldn't mind if he did. I'm not surprised. Cain is not only good-looking; he exudes masculine confidence-his well-cut suits, perfectly styled dark hair, and intimidating, reserved demeanor only add to his appeal. And underneath all that? Well, let's just say that the few times he's come over to enjoy the beach with us, I've noticed Dan and Trent stand a little closer to their women. Kacey says that Cain has a fighter's body. All I know is that, between the striking face, the hard muscles, and a multitude of interesting tattoos, I've been caught staring more than once.
"I'm glad. You know your sister is so proud of everything you've accomplished."
My gut tightens. Thanks for the reminder . . . I sense his eyes on my face now and I blush. Without looking, I know he's studying me. That's Cain. You feel as though he can look right through you.
"We all are, Livie. You've grown into one remarkable woman." He takes a sip of his drink-likely cognac, seeing as that's his alcohol of choice-and adds, "If you need any help, you know that you can call me, right? I gave you my number."
Now I do turn to look at him, to see his genuine smile. "I know, Cain. Thank you," I say politely. He said the same thing a month ago, at my farewell party. I was busy crying my eyes out alongside a hormonal Storm. I'll never take him up on it but I appreciate it, all the same.
"When do you head back?"
"Tomorrow afternoon," I say with a sigh. Not necessarily a happy sigh. The last time I left Miami, I was sad, but I had a ball of nervous excitement for college to help me get on the plane. Now, I don't have the same excitement.
At least, not for the classes part of college.
"Your dad throws this party every year?" I ask as Reagan pays for the cab with her credit card and we hop out. Either Princeton rowing coaches get paid very well or Reagan's family has money through other means, based on the two-story house we pulled up to. It's a mix of stone and brick, with steep roofs and a matching turret. English-style gardens break up a perfectly groomed lawn and the driveway forms a large loop at the front door. A dozen or so cars are already parked around the circle, including Connor's white Audi.
"Like clockwork. Kind of a 'welcome-back-slash-we're-gonna-win-the-big-race-slash-I'm-gonna-work-your-ass-over-the-winter' gathering." I trail her as we walk around the side of the house to an equally beautiful backyard. About fifty well-dressed people mingle with drinks in hand, accepting appetizers from the servers in tuxes floating around. The crowd is predominantly male, but there are some girls around. Girlfriends, Reagan confirms.
I instinctively smooth my gray pencil skirt. Reagan described the party as "dressy but modest." I didn't bring a lot of dressy clothing suitable for the still-warm temperature, so I'm limited to a fitted skirt and a violet-colored sleeveless silk blouse with a deep dip in the back that, unfortunately, shows off my new tattoo. Reagan assured me that her parents won't think any less of me if they see it. I kept my long black hair down, all the same.