CHAPTER TWO

Hayden


As I look at the suit hanging on the back of my bathroom door, dread rushes through me. I can’t remember the last time I wore it, but just thinking about putting it on makes me anxious. Truthfully, it’s because there will be a lot of people at this wedding that I haven’t seen in years even though I never left my hometown. I met the bride in high school and she befriended most of our class, which wasn’t hard for her considering how sweet and kind she was to everyone, even the outcast kids. She was even elected Class President and voted Homecoming Queen. If you lived here, you knew Lena Rochester.

My mind wanders for a bit as I remove the suit from the hanger and slip into my slacks and dress shirt.

Maybe I’ll even see her.

Savannah.

It’s been years since we broke up—rather since sheleft—but I still think about her from time to time. It’s hard not to when so many of the places in town have memories of the two of us as teenagers.

I’ve dated other women since then, but there’s something about first love that’s unforgettable. She was different and as much as it hurts to say it, the one who got away. I knew what we shared was real and raw and sure we were kids, but to me our relationship was timeless. I knew when we were thirteen she was the woman I wanted to marry. The thought makes me laugh now considering she’s thousands of miles away now, and I haven’t seen her in ten years.

Just as I finish buttoning my shirt and adjusting my tie, a knock sounds on the door. As soon as I open it, I see my little brother, Hunter who agreed to be my sidekick for the evening or rather my buffer.

“You look like you’re going to prom. All you need is one of those cheesy boutonnieres. Maybe your date will give you one.” He steps past me, chuckling.

I roll my eyes. “She’s not my date. We’re going as friends and that’s it. Technically, you’re my date tonight.”

Hunter snorts. “Don’t expect me to put out now. I have standards.”

I groan. “I’m already regretting this whole disaster.”

Hunter chuckles as he sits on the couch and puts his feet up on the coffee table.

Instantly I change the subject. “Speaking of disasters, how’s the new roommate situation going with you and Brandon?”

Brandon’s his best friend. They pledged the same fraternity in college and decided to become roommates soon after. Hunter would do anything for him, even put up with his girlfriend, Lennon.

His face contorts and he narrows his eyes at me. Triggered—it’s the only way I can explain his reaction.

“Where do I even begin?” Hunter grunts, clearly fired up just thinking about it. “Her shit is spread around everywhere in our apartment like an explosion went off. Tampons and her hair crap are stuffed in the cabinet under the sink that was already packed full. She leaves her makeup all over the bathroom counter and doesn’t care about the powder residue everywhere. She’s even added stupid girly touches to our bachelor pad that I can’t stand like gross smelling candles, fluffy area rugs, and photos of her and Brandon on the walls.” He groans, seriously annoyed by Brandon’s girlfriend who recently moved in with them.

Part of me finds it hilarious, but I also feel bad for him since I know the real reason why he hates her being there though he won't admit it.

“There’s no room for a third person, but she’s surely wedged her way in, and stuffed all her shit in the empty space we did have. Brandon had to get rid of his college comforter and now sleeps with a duvet. A mother fuckin’ duvet—whatever the hell that is—but it sounds girly as fuck.” He grimaces, shaking his head.

“I’m sure it’s not that bad. It's just going to take some getting used to is all. Plus, I have a feeling you're being dramatic…considering,” I tell him as I walk into the kitchen and grab a bottle of water. “So Brandon’s taking the adjustment well?”

“He's so pussy whipped. If she says jump, he asks how high. He's wrapped around her ring finger, and she knows it,” he adds, crossing his arms over his chest, almost pouting about it.

“Sounds like you’re jealous.” I grin, purposely working him up. “You’d be surprised what a man will do for his woman, especially as hot as her.”

He turns his head and glares at me. “You know what? I don't wanna talk about it anymore. Or her. I'm already over it, and it's barely been two weeks.” His lips move into a firm line, and I know he’s done talking about the whole situation though it’s always fun to see him get pissed.

“Fine,” I say, letting him sulk. My phone vibrates in my pocket, and I already know who it is before I even check.

 Veronica: Hey, babe! I’m ready now so you can head over.

 I glance at Hunter.

“Let me guess. She asked you to come over now, right?” He waits for my answer with a shit-eating grin across his face.

“How’d you know?” I ask, not immediately texting her back.

“Because she wants to jump your bones and you’re just playing hard to get.” Hunter stands and walks to the kitchen. “Where’s the booze? I need something to help prevent any pain and suffering I’m going to experience at this wedding tonight.” He starts looking around my cabinets and the top of my fridge.

I shake my head at him but smile. “Hey. You owe me for helping you get out of that horrible date, so I don’t feel bad for you. Also—for the record—I’m not playing hard to get. I’m just not interested in her like that. We’re acquaintances—old high school friends. We've had drinks. Reminisced about our past over lunch a couple times. That's it. Nothing serious. As soon as she got the invite to the wedding, she messaged me to go with her, and I felt bad saying no since I knew she’d be going alone if I didn’t take her. Plus, it’s not like I had anyone to take either.”

That causes him to turn and laugh in my face before he pulls some tequila from the freezer, unscrews the top, and drinks straight from the bottle as if it’s nothing. Truthfully, I don't even know how long that bottle has been in there. Hunter's five years younger than me and likes to have a good time, but sometimes his antics are a little too much, or maybe I'm just getting old. Though I doubt twenty-eight is really considered old. Hunter just acts like he never left college and parties like he has nine lives.

“You mean handsy?” He snickers. “You’re gonna have to spell out that you’re not interested in her regardless of how damn nice you are. If you don’t, she’ll think there’s the potential of something happening between you two,” he tells me then takes another drink. He places the bottle on the counter, though he doesn’t take his hand off it.

“Hunter—my younger brother—the dating expert.” I deadpan.

He takes another shot then places the bottle back into the freezer. I look at my watch then grab my keys. As if he reads my mind, he follows me through the house as I walk toward the door.

“You should learn to live a little,” Hunter tells me as we step outside. “Wake up in a woman’s bed whose name you don’t remember. Experience a few one-night stands. Vacation Fling. Fuck in a bar bathroom. I could make you a sex bucket list if you want.” He chuckles as if he’s proud of the knowledge, but I know he’s not joking. Hunter probably has his own list he’s fucking his way through.

I glare at him. “That’s how you get jock rot.”

Hunter shrugs as we walk down the sidewalk toward the truck. “I’ve done pretty well so far and have had zero STDs so…” Hunter lingers as if he’s actually going to convince me.

Releasing a short breath through my nose, I turn and give him a look. “Wow, you’re so wise.”

He scoffs. “All I’m saying is Veronica’s a pretty girl. Has the potential to be a level ten clinger, but hey, you gotta pick your battles. Either way, you should give her a chance at least. But you won't. I know you won't,” he says matter-of-factly.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I narrow my eyes at his accusation.

“You never give anyone a chance. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you’re still stuck on the one ‘that shall not be named.’” He shoves his hands in his front pockets as I unlock the truck.

“Voldemort?” I smirk at him.

“You know who.”

I do, but I pretend to be ignorant about it because I’m trying not to think about her.

Once we’re in the truck, I pull my phone from my pocket and tell Hunter to text Veronica for me. I mentioned my little brother was attending, but I don’t think she fully understood he’d be our third wheel. As long as Hunter is my buffer, I know nothing will happen between us. He's the greatest reverse wingman ever and always has my best interest in mind, so I know he'll just randomly ruin the moment if there are any moments to be interrupted.

Let’s pray there aren’t.

 I take the long way across town so I don’t arrive at her house too early. Once I show up, I have Hunter get in the back seat then go and meet her at the door. She eyes me up and down like I’m the most delicious piece of cake she’s ever seen. I take it as a compliment.

“Babe. That suit looks good on you, or rather you make that suit look good,” she says smoothly, lifting her eyebrows as she checks me out.

I smile at her. “You look great too. I love that color on you,” I tell her honestly. Veronica’s a beautiful woman with big blue eyes and thick blonde hair that falls right above her waist. In high school, she was the captain of the cheerleading squad, voted most flirty, and played the lead character in many of the football player’s fantasies. But I never went there, because I was taken and not attracted to her in that way. She came off as a mean girl, and that wasn't appealing to me at all. Time has passed though, and she's not like that at all now—though I'm sure some people would disagree.

As soon as I open the passenger side door for her, she steps up and notices Hunter sitting in the back. He leans over and gives her his signature charming grin because that's how he is—number one flirt—and the ladies love it. 

“Hey, Hunter,” she greets, studying him. “Didn’t realize you were riding with us too.”

His grin doesn’t falter. “I asked Hayden to pick me up on the way in case I drank too much.”

She lets out a light laugh. “Smells like you already got started.”

I shut the door and walk to the driver’s side. I hold back a laugh because Hunter is always two steps ahead of the game. Pretty sure he could write a rule book about women. It dawns on me that he drank that tequila so she wouldn’t question anything. When I get inside the truck, I smile because he’s a little shit. Guy is smart as a whip, no denying that.

After I turn the ignition over, the truck roars to life, and we make our way downtown to the hotel where the wedding and reception are held. Veronica moves as close as she possibly can to me and Hunter notices, but doesn't do or say anything. Instead, he sits in the back seat wearing a shit-eating grin and randomly meets my eyes in the rearview mirror. We hold a silent conversation and I know he's telling me to give her a chance, but I don't feel that way about her. Maybe I could? But if the chemistry isn't there from the get-go, why force it? 

“Are you excited about tonight?” Veronica asks, breaking the silence.

I frown. “Honestly? Not really. I mean, I'm happy for Lena, she deserves all the happiness. But weddings just aren't my cup of tea, but she's an old friend, so I didn't want to miss it either.”

“Aww. Well lucky for you, I'll be keeping you company tonight.” She dramatically pauses, but I don't take the bait and stay quiet. “I wonder whose all going to be there?”

“I’m sure our entire graduating class and half the high school was invited.” I chuckle. “At least the ones who are still around,” I add.

She tucks her lips into her mouth. “Maybe! I can’t wait to see everyone.”

I wish I felt the same.

Soon we're pulling up to valet and I step out, handing over my keys. As I walk around the truck, Veronica loops her arm through mine and from an outsider's perspective, by the way she's looking at me at this moment, they’d think we were a couple. Probably wasn’t the best idea coming with her considering that’s the last thing I want people assuming.

Hunter walks a few steps behind us, and when I turn and look at him, he gives me two big thumbs up. While I appreciate his encouragement, it’s not needed.

“You two should take a picture together,” Hunter suggests.

Veronica loves the idea, and I reluctantly hand my phone over to him. I place my arm around Veronica's shoulder, and we smile.

“You should totally post this to Facebook.” Before I can interfere, Hunter opens the app and immediately shares it to my wall and tags Veronica before handing my phone back. “Thought you needed some help,” he says just loud enough for me to hear. I’m two seconds from slapping the smirk off his face.

Before we walk into where the ceremony is, Veronica stops and looks over at me. “Ready?” She holds me a little tighter.

“Yep.” I smile and lead her inside. I'm halfway surprised to see the room is jam-packed with almost every seat taken, but the three of us manage to find an empty row in the back. Veronica sits first and I’m sandwiched between her and Hunter, who’s already busy flirting with a woman who’s sitting across the room.

“Do you know who she is?” he leans over and asks.

I shake my head. “No clue.”

“Hmm. Might need to get her number.”

Just as I open my mouth, I’m immediately pulled away when Veronica places her hand on my inner thigh. I turn and look at her and all she does is smirk at me and inch closer. It becomes crystal clear to her that we'll need to talk after tonight, so she knows where I stand. Luckily, Timothy, a guy from our high school notices me and walks over. I stand, thankful for the distraction and give him a handshake.

“Hey, man. Been so long,” I tell him.

“Yeah, it has been. You still living here?” Timothy asks. “Oh hey, Veronica.”

She smiles at him and gives a friendly wave, and I can see it in his eyes that he thinks we’re together. Before I can introduce her as my friend, the orchestra starts playing.

“Better get to my seat. We should catch up later,” Timothy says.

I nod and sit while he walks to his seat.

“I don’t remember him,” Veronica whispers, and I know it’s because he wasn’t a popular guy in school. She only knew those who ran in her social circle and had very little concern for anyone else.

I shrug. “He’s a super nice guy. I liked him a lot,” I tell her with a whisper because I notice the groom and best man standing at the altar. Soon the bridesmaids and groomsmen are walking down the aisle, and they're quickly followed by Lena and her father. Everyone stands as the Bridal Chorus plays and as she passes us, I find myself smiling. She's a stunning bride.

The ceremony passes by quickly, and I can tell by the way they look at each other how in love they are. It gives me hope that maybe one day I’ll find a love like that again.

After the pastor pronounces them man and wife and they kiss and skip down the aisle, the hoard of people all try to rush out of the room toward the ballroom where the reception is next door. I follow behind Hunter as he makes a path for us since cocktail hour is starting.

Veronica takes me by surprise when she grabs my hand and squeezes it in hers as if we’d been doing it for years. This whole situation is becoming more awkward with each passing minute. I carefully remove my hand from hers and hold the door open, hoping she takes the hint.

Soon Hunter finds us an empty bar top table and we walk toward it. “Would you like a drink?” I ask Veronica, spotting the bar.

“Sure. Red wine, please.”

I nod and look at Hunter.

“Tequila. Double. Thanks,” he orders, glancing around the room. I’m sure he’s searching for the brunette he was eye fucking during the ceremony.

The line for the cash bar is already long as hell, but I gladly wait, grab our drinks then deliver them back to our table. Hunter happily takes his and Veronica immediately sips her wine. I notice the appetizer table and decide to grab some finger foods before I start drinking. Plus, by the way Veronica keeps staring at me, I need the distance.

I walk over to the tables against the wall and see a brunette piling shrimp high on her plate, and it makes me chuckle. By the looks of it, she's clearing the entire thing, which I find humorous.

Stepping beside her, I tell her how we must've had the same idea except she beat me to it. The moment she turns and looks up at me, my heart lodges into my throat, and the shock of seeing heragain is evident on my face. It's been ten years, and she’s never looked more beautiful.

“Oh my God. Savannah?” I say the first thing that pops into my head.

Her reaction is the same as mine when she looks into my eyes and realizes it’s me.

“Hi, Hayden.”

I haven’t heard her say my name in so long and yet, it sounds just as sweet as it always did coming from her lips. Blinking, I swallow and try to pull myself together. For years, I'd dreamt about seeing her again, and now that she's standing in front of me, it doesn't seem real.

My voice lowers. “I had no idea you’d be here.”

She lets out a small laugh as if she had the same thought. “It’s really good to see you. How have you been?” she asks so casually, it’s as if our past never happened.

“I’ve been good,” I say. I don’t want to have stupid small talk with her, but I know we can’t openly talk here. “You? I bet you’ve been pretty busy.”

“Oh yeah.” She nods. “Always something going on in my world. Not that I’d have it any other way,” she adds with a nervous laugh.

People are crowding around us, so I gesture for her to follow me off to the side with our plates in hand. I wish I could stand here and chat with her all night though a part of me hates that I want that considering how heartbroken she left me. We’ve lost so much time, so many years, and I find myself wanting to know about New York, about how she’s been since we’ve broken up.

She pushes hair from her face and tucks it behind her ear. I immediately notice there’s no ring on her left hand, which makes me smile inwardly, but I know that doesn’t mean there’s no one in her life.

Right as I open my mouth to say something, I feel an arm looping around mine. I glance over at Veronica, and I know this doesn’t look good given their history. Savannah eyes her then looks at me, and I remember how horrible she was to Savannah when we were teenagers.

“Babe, where'd you go?” she asks then looks at Savannah. “Oh, Savannah. Hi. I didn't realize you'd be here considering your profession all the way in the Big Apple!”

The passive aggressiveness isn’t lost on either of us. Savannah looks like she wants to slap the fake grin right off Veronica’s face.

“It wasn’t easy considering my rehearsal schedule, but I love Lena and I wanted to support my friend on her special day,” Savannah softly explains.

Veronica scoffs, and I realize how much of a mistake bringing her was as soon as Donny walks up. Hell, I haven't seen him in years and should've expected he'd be here with Savannah since they're best friends and even moved to New York together.

“Oh. My. God. Veronica? Veronica Miller? Is that you?” he asks, but he very well knows it's her. The sass is apparent. She looks almost the same as she did back then. “That is unless you're married now. How have you been, girl?” Donny looks her up and down, and I can tell he’s judging every inch of her.

“Not married, yet. Been holding out for the right one.” She glances at me with a smile. “But I’m doing very well, Donny. How about you?”

I swallow hard, holding a silent conversation with Savannah, wishing it was just the two of us.

“I’ve just been living my best life in NYC with my bestie. Sav and I are ruling the town with our talents, breaking hearts, and making waves. I’m sure you wouldn’t know anything about that though since you stayed in this little town.” The smile on his face doesn’t falter.

Burn.

“Are you going to eat all that?” Veronica swiftly changes the topic and looks at Savannah’s plate filled high with shrimp and other mini appetizers. Heat hits Savannah’s cheeks and she swallows hard.

Donny takes the plate from Savannah. “Actually these are for me. Would you like one?” He snags a shrimp from the plate and rips off the tail, chewing with his mouth open, being as obnoxious as possible on purpose. He’s always had Savannah’s back. I can tell that much hasn’t changed.

Veronica's annoyed, but she laughs before turning toward me and lowering her voice. “Ready to go, babe? We should find where we're sitting for dinner.” She eyes the plate in my hand, but pulls me closer as if she's claiming her territory.

I glance at Savannah and can tell she's not impressed by the way her mouth is in a firm line. There are so many things I want to say to her, but I know it's not the time or place.

“It was nice seeing you again, Savannah,” I get out just before Veronica pulls me away, and when I look over my shoulder, I notice Savannah's still looking at me—excerpt her gaze is without lust or old chemistry. It's full of bitterness and anger, and it's then I decide—I'll do anything to get her alone because we have a lot to discuss.

We hope you enjoyed this installment of Forever Mine!

Stay tuned next Friday for chapter three!