Home > The Next Best Day(2)

The Next Best Day(2)
Author: Sharon Sala

   Lila’s eyes were wide with unshed tears, and she kept staring at Katie, waiting for the explanation.

   Katie looked up. “Mark married his boss’s daughter last night. They eloped to Vegas. Our Vegas. Will you help me up? I have to tell the guests.”

   Lila reached for Katie with both arms and pulled her up and then hugged her so hard.

   “I’m so sorry, Katie. I’m stunned. I can’t believe he just—”

   Katie pushed Lila away and took a deep breath.

   “I should have known. I should have known. I have never been enough,” she mumbled. “God give me strength.”

   Then she tore off the veil, tossed it aside, yanked up the front of her skirt with both hands so she wouldn’t trip, and strode out of the dressing room.

   Gordy had just received the same phone call from Mark and was coming to look for Katie when he saw her storming up the hall toward the sanctuary with Lila running behind her, trying to catch up.

   “Katie, I don’t know what to—”

   She just shook her head and kept walking, unaware Gordy and Lila were behind her. They stopped at the door to the sanctuary, but Katie kept walking down the aisle before stopping at the pulpit and turning around to face the guests.

   Her eyes were red and tear-filled, and the splotches on her cheeks were obvious signs she’d been crying. Total humiliation was imminent, but she lifted her chin and met their gaze.

   “I have just been informed there will be no wedding today. I’m not getting married. Mark eloped with his boss’s daughter last night. They got married in Vegas. Thank you for coming. Please take your gifts home with you when you leave. The wedding food will be going to a homeless shelter.”

   The communal gasp was so loud Katie felt like it sucked the air from the room, and then the buzzing undertone of shocked whispers began.

   She went back up the aisle with her chin up and her head back.

   “Worst day of my life,” she muttered, and walked back to the dressing room and changed into the clothes she’d arrived in. She left the wedding dress and shoes in a pile on the floor, leaving Lila to contact the caterers to have them pack up the food and take it to a shelter.

   Lila kept telling her not to worry, she’d take care of everything and call her tonight, but all Katie could do was thank her and hug her.

   She couldn’t face the pity.

   She couldn’t face herself.

   She wasn’t enough.

   She drove home in a daze.

   ***

   Meanwhile, Mark Roman was alternating between being a happy bridegroom and feeling like an asshole, which was fair because he qualified in both categories. When he’d told Megan he had to make the call to Katie and needed some privacy, she’d been more than understanding.

   “I totally understand, darling. I have some things to take care of anyway. I’ll be back later,” she said.

   So now he’d made the dreaded call and Megan was still gone, and he was too rattled to go looking for her, which, as it turned out, was for the best because Megan was only two floors down in one of the suites reserved for the big spenders the casinos called whales.

   And this particular whale, who went by the name of Craig Buttoni, didn’t just gamble with money. He was in the drug game up to his eyeballs, and Megan and her father, Walt, were, in a sense, his employees.

   Walt Lanier used his CPA business as a front, while he controlled the flow of cocaine coming in and going out of New Mexico. From time to time, Megan had her own little part in the business, and she’d just fucked it up by getting married to an outsider.

   Craig Buttoni was pissed, and when he found out she was honeymooning in Vegas, he sent her a text she couldn’t refuse, demanding her presence in his suite.

   The moment she knocked on his door, he opened it, grabbed her hand long enough to look at the size of the ring on her finger, rolled his eyes, and then pulled her into his suite and locked the door.

   “Is he making payments on that thing?”

   Megan glared. Buttoni was in his late forties, with a bulldog underbite and diamonds in his ears. His eyes were always at half-squint, and she was just a little bit scared of him. She didn’t like the comment or the tone of his voice, and snatched her hand back.

   “I didn’t see you offering anything better,” she snapped. “I’m happy. Be happy for me.”

   Craig liked it when she got feisty, but business was business.

   “He’s not in the loop. He could cause us trouble,” Craig said.

   Megan shouted, “You keep your hands off him. If I think he’s dangerous to us, I’ll just dump him. I got married in Vegas. I can get unmarried here if the need arises.”

   Craig held up his hands and took a step backward.

   “There’s a lot riding on your itch for sex. Just making sure we understand each other,” he said.

   “I can scratch my own itch,” Megan said. “I married him because I love him.”

   Craig threw back his head and laughed. “Okay. But you’re the one with the most to lose. He can’t suspect anything. If you fuck up, you know my rule for fuckups.”

   “Yes. You eliminate them,” Megan muttered. “I’m leaving now. Happy roll of the dice,” she said, and let herself out.

   When Megan got back to the honeymoon suite and saw the look on Mark’s face, she knew what she had to do, and it all revolved around getting naked.

   ***

   Katie holed up in her apartment for the entire week that would have been her honeymoon. She slept away the shock, then ate away the rage, and ignored the phone calls from everyone but Lila. Those she took, only to reassure her best friend that she was still kicking. By the time she was ready to go back to Saguaro Elementary, she had her game face on.

   It took that week of solitude to remind herself that, in the grand scheme of things, her heart had been broken, but nobody died. She was tougher than some man’s lies. She didn’t need a man to take care of her. She didn’t need anyone. Ever again.

   It was time to go back to work. Some would talk behind her back. And some would not. But her first-grade students would not know the depth of her heartbreak. She’d been Miss Katie before and she was still Miss Katie. She would keep their little world safe and secure, and they would know they were loved.

   For Katie, it was enough.

   ***

   Six weeks later

   Katie was getting ready to walk her class down to the cafeteria for lunch.

   “Boys and girls, if you brought your lunch, get it out of your backpack and get in line,” she said, and then took a deep breath when two of her six-year-olds suddenly lost their minds, launched at each other, and began wrestling on the floor. “Oh no! Alejandro! Kieran! I’m so sorry, but you forgot the rules. Get up and go to the back of the line.”

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