(un) Loved by Charlotte Daniels

 

1

Mia

Ilove these two, but I swear to God, if they don’t pick a damn color, I’m going to murder them.

With my back against the couch, I take a long sip of wine as Katie and Ellie discuss color schemes and floral arrangements for their combined wedding. And I’m just here nursing a bottle of wine.

This year has been a crazy whirlwind of men, babies, and engagements. And as I stare at my two best friends, I can’t help but feel jealous of them. They have amazing jobs, incredible partners, and beautiful children. Their lives are practically perfect. Now, anyway.

But I shake off my jealousy and try to focus on the fabric swatches Ellie is presenting to me; they all look the same to me but are apparently various shades of white.

“Mia, what do you think?” Ellie asks.

I stare at them blankly for a second, pretending to scrutinize them, but really I’m just trying to tell the difference. Nope. No difference.

“They both look lovely,” I finally answer and sigh in relief as she bobs her head in agreement.

“That’s what I thought too. I just can’t decide,” she mutters as she holds them up to the light. I nod in interest, but my mind is on the amount of editing I have to do and all the school projects I need to help Jake with.

A deep chuckle pulls my attention to the kitchen where Nic and Garrett are discussing something so animatedly that their hands are flying around, their grins wide. Would Ellie or Katie mind if I borrowed one of them to help?

Or should I give in to those spam emails and find myself a nice Russian bride? Or groom… I rub at the frown pulling on my face and huff, the sound drawing the attention of my two best friends.

“Everything okay, Mia? You’re looking stressed,” Katie asks.

Stressed is an understatement. I’m a single mom, a business owner, and now the maid of honor. But I take another sip of wine, not wanting to burden my friends with my woes.

“Yeah, I’m just tired. Too bad you aren’t getting married in Vegas; it would make this planning stuff so much simpler.” I laugh, but Ellie and Katie share a look. I scramble to defend myself. “But I really don’t mind—”

“Baby!” Ellie calls, and Garrett pokes his head over the counter.

“Here!”

“Do you still want to get married in Vegas? Apparently, everyone thinks it’s a good idea.”

My jaw drops, and I shake my head. “No, no, that’s not what I meant. I know you guys are stressed with your kids, and work, and planning a double-wedding. I was just joking about Vegas…”

But Ellie shrugs and beams. “To be honest, I don’t want a regular wedding. Been there, done that.” Her eyes darken for half a second before she shakes her head and replaces the look with a bright smile. “And besides, where’s the fun in that? We’ve been joking that we should just elope and get hitched by an Elvis lookalike, so why not?”

“But… but what about all the magazine cutouts?” I say to Katie.

She shrugs as well. “I just like making collages. I really don’t want a traditional wedding. I would rather have something small and fun with you guys.”

I let out a quick, moaning shriek and look to the guys standing in the kitchen who don’t seem to mind their fiancé’s answers. “But you’ve been going over wedding stuff for weeks!”

“Yeah…” Nic drags out, “but wouldn’t it be more fun to go to Vegas, get married, and spend time with our friends?”

I groan. Of course, the ex-party boy and strip-club owner would think that is a great idea. “What happened to ‘I want a white wedding, blah blah blah’?” I direct my question back to the girls. What happens in ten years when they look back on their photos and blame me for bringing it up?

“At the end of the day, we were doing this more for everyone else,” Ellie replies, carelessly chucking the color swatches onto the coffee table. “Who cares where we get married. As long as I get to call myself the woman of Steele, I don’t really give a damn about the place.”

Nic and Garrett laugh, and I turn to Katie, who closes her scrapbook of white doom and flops it onto the table too. It falls with a surprisingly heavy bang, shaking the wine glasses standing nearby.

“All in favor of a double-Vegas wedding say, I,” she says.

I’s ring out around the room, and I drain the rest of my glass before wagging my finger at each of them. “Fine. But you can’t blame me when you decide it was a bad idea.”

Ellie’s lips curl, and she lifts her glass of orange juice. “Here’s to Vegas weddings, good friends, and no freaking planning!”

The guys hoot, Katie grins in relief, and I sink back against the couch, wondering how in the hell I’m meant to tell Paul and Betty that their girls aren’t having a traditional wedding anymore.

I don’t think this should be the role of the maid of honor.

* * *

The drive home is long, and by the time we pull up outside our three-story townhouse, I’m about ready to fall asleep. But that’s not happening any time soon with the Energizer Bunny in the back seat.

“Can you believe it, mom? My first baseball game is tomorrow!” he cheers.

Despite the weight pressing down on my lips, I force myself to smile as we get out of the car. Paul and Betty had been kind enough to watch him for the day, but judging by his current energy levels, I have a sneaking suspicion they let him loose in the bakery, unattended.

He continues to chatter about his teammates, and the coach, “And I’m going to be the fourth batter, because I’m the best.”

I chuckle. He’s cocky, just like his Uncle Nic. “Fourth is best?” I ask as I insert my jingling keys into the front door.

“Yes, Mom,” he drawls as if I just asked whether chickens lay eggs. “Coach says the fourth batter is the clean-up batter. It means I hit best, and I’m going to get a home run.”

He charges down the hall as I open the door, and I call after him, “I’m sure you will, buddy. Hey, take off your shoes!” But that last command dissolves into a yawn.

I step over the threshold, pull the door closed behind me, and collapse against it, doing everything in my willpower to not fall asleep. Forcing myself onward, I step over Jake’s shoes scattered about the hallway and follow him into the kitchen. I groan at the dishes in the sink. I knew I should have invested in a dishwasher.

I stare at the piles of dishes and around the kitchen and living room, weighing the pros and cons of cleaning up. I have to get Jake’s gear ready for tomorrow, I have a manuscript to finish editing and send off. I have covers to approve…

I draw in a deep, calming breath. “I can do this. I’m a successful business woman. I can juggle everything life throws at me.”

Even I hear the grain of doubt in my voice as I take in the mess that is my home. Jake’s toys are scattered throughout the living room, along with his homework.

“Jake, can you please clean up your toys before I donate them to someone who will actually pack them away,” I say as I remove a sock from between the couch cushions.

He groans and grumbles in response, but he does as I ask, so I turn to the sink and the mountain of dishes waiting for me.

After what feels like an eternity and a day, the dishes are drying, the counters are covered in piles of papers, rather than a mess of papers, and the floor no longer houses families of dust bunnies. But the rest of the vacuuming and cleaning can wait until Monday.

“Mom, I’m done,” Jake calls. His feet quickly pad over the floor, and he skids to a stop in the kitchen door with a bright smile. “Can we pack my baseball bag now?”

I moan quietly and stare at my laptop bag.

“Mom, you promised!” he whines and stamps his feet.

Closing my eyes, I breathe in deeply and nod. “Okay. Let’s pack your bag, get you showered, and if you’re good, you can watch TV while mommy works. Sound fair?”

He nods enthusiastically, and I yawn. My jaw pops and I have to blink my eyes a few times to focus. Coffee. Bags. Bath. Editing.

Coffee.

Bags.

Bath.

Editing.

I repeat the short to-do list over and over again until finally we’re on the couch, wrapped in blankets, watching the first children’s movie suggested by Netflix.

Jake snuggles beside me, and I kiss the top of his head as I open my laptop. The clock on the top right reads 8:00 pm, and from the little work I’ve completed, I know that it’s going to be a very long night.

It’s days like today when I wish that I had someone here to help; to help me clean, to get Jake ready, to cook a nice dinner, to just… be my family.

Maybe one day.