“M-U-N-C-H-E-R…double letter M, double word, bonus for using all seven letters…seventy-seven points!”
“No way, muncher is not a word,” grumbled Sam, his grey eyes narrowing as he glared at the Scrabble board.
“Oh? Is that a challenge, sir?” Leaning forward and cocking my head slightly to the right, I leveled my eyes to his and smirked.
With a sigh, he leaned back in his chair and folded his long fingers across the fabric of his light blue polo shirt, flattening it against his taut abdomen. “Devon, in all the years we’ve played this game, I’ve never challenged you. You’ve always managed to come up with words that a mere pianist could not hope to have in their vocabulary. Why start now and risk losing the challenge? I’d rather just concede the game, seeing as you now have me by almost one hundred points.”
“Aww, such a poor sport. One of these days you’re going to have to try the challenge. Besides, jumping in the closest body of water is not that bad.” Comfortable with my assured success at the game, I sat back on the wicker sofa and propped my feet up on the blue wood of the coffee table. “Besides, the waves look pretty gentle today,” I added, nodding towards the blue-grey ocean.
“Ha! Yea, right,” he scoffed, standing up from his chair to lean on the porch railing, facing the waterfront. A low rumble from up the coast caught my attention, and I noticed the dark thunderheads rolling towards us from the north. Picking up my mug of tea, I settled back on the couch and let my thoughts wander to the schedule of activities.
“Dev, you know, there’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about,” Sam said, turning around and resting his hands behind him on the smooth white rail.
“Devon! Sam! What’re you two doing out here? The wedding rehearsal is in half an hour and Jen’ll kill us if we’re late!” The silence that had followed Sam’s sentence was shattered as eight of our closest friends burst through the French doors onto the veranda. The group was led by my oldest sister, Marie, who was giggling and clinging to the shoulder of her fiancé, Jim. “Sorry, Dev, are we interrupting something? Lover’s quarrel?” Still laughing, she leaned into Jim, who stood swaying in place while several of the others who had followed in behind her erupted into laughter.
“No, ‘Ree,” I replied, standing and evaluating their sobriety. “Sam was just contemplating a challenge to my last move.” I turned my head and raised my eyebrows at him.
“Ohh, that’s a daring move, Sam,” declared my future brother-in-law. “The last time I lost a challenge in Scrabble, I was jumping half-naked into the hot tub at the MaGee house. You remember that, babe?”
“Yup, I sure do! That was great! You have such a cute butt; I loved watching you run across pool deck!” Giggling even louder, Marie threw her arms around Jim’s neck and he swung her around into an unsteady dip for a dramatic kiss. Shaking my head at their antics, I bent and swept the Scrabble letters off the board.
“Alright, let’s go, troops,” I said to the group, waving my arms towards them to shuffle the group along the veranda and back into the living room of the inn. Turning back to Sam, I held out my hand to him and added, “c’mone, we’ll talk more later. Can’t keep the masses waiting!”
Reluctantly he pushed forward from the rail and linked his arm in mine as we made our way inside behind the throng of our unsteady friends.
The rehearsal dinner was set in the restaurant of the Harbor View Hotel & Resort, where a group of fifty plus relatives and friends were staying for the wedding of my college roommate, Jen Pitts, to her college sweetheart, Philip Morton. The wedding was scheduled the next evening in the gazebo with a black-tie reception to follow in one of the massive ballrooms at the immaculate hotel.
Taking a breather from the crowd at the rehearsal dinner, my best girl friend Misty and I snuck down the halls towards the Edgartown Room, curious to view the magnificence we had heard about for the last several months. Assured that the room was empty by the darkness that greeted us, we slipped into the room and I began fumbling for a light switch.
“Dev? Where’d you go?” I could hear Misty trying to contain her giggles and groping in the darkness behind me before knocking over several chairs. The loud clatter echoed, shattering the still in the large, dark room. “Oops!” was all she could get out before being overtaken by laughter.
“Misty, shh! You’re going to get us caught!”
“Shh! Right, sneaky, sneaky! Oops!” A thump and the rustling of fabric followed, just as I found the switch on the wall. Illuminating the room were several giant chandeliers, and lying on the floor in a mess of her chiffon dress and chair dressings was Misty. She was struggling to get her foot out from the rungs of one the chairs she had knocked over when I turned on the lights, which caused her to stop and gaze around, leg still intertwined with the chair rungs.
“Holy shit, Dev, look at this place! Jen wasn’t kidding when she said it was amazing!” Misty continued to struggle to untangle her leg and 3-inch heel from the chair as I made my way to the center of the room where a wooden dance floor was set under the largest of the chandeliers. Tiered ceilings and crown molding drew the eyes towards the series of chandeliers while tall windows lined either side of the French doors, leading to the gazebo and veranda.
Holding my arms out wide and spinning in a circle, I called to Misty, “hurry up and get out of that chair! This place is amazing. Come dance with me!” Unable to contain my own giddiness any longer, I stopped spinning and staggered a few steps, dizzy from the circles and wine we had at dinner. Collapsing to the ground in a dramatic fashion, I laid there, staring up at the lights twinkling off the crystal.
A blur of crimson red fabric flew over my sprawled figure and crashed down onto the floor beside me. “Man, am I drunk,” Misty stated, propping herself up on one elbow to peer down at me. “How ‘bout you?” Her wide grin and sparkling blue eyes lit up her face as she added, “I just can’t believe Jen is finally getting married tomorrow! And I thought for sure you and Sam would have gotten it together by now.”
The last comment was enough for me to snap my head up off the ground, causing her to lean back, seemingly startled by my abrupt movement. “Whaddya mean, gotten it together by now,” I questioned, my stomach doing flip-flops. “We’re friends. Always have been, always will be.” Even as I said the words, I felt my stomach knot in a familiar way but forced myself to focus on Misty.
“Oh, come on, Devon! I know you love that guy, and I’m pretty sure he feels the same,” was Misty’s response. “I just don’t get why you two never dated, especially now. You guys go out like every other week at home on what most people would consider dates. And I mean really, you are each other’s dates to a wedding for your college roommate and his best friend. But you’re still singing the just friends tune? ”
“Oh, Misty, not this again. Yes, we go out. We eat dinner, we talk, and we go home, alone. Besides, it’s complicated…I mean, I love him, sure, but as my best friend, you know?” As the words came out, I felt my heart rate pick up and I had to look away from Misty’s intense gaze.
“I thought I was your best friend!” She playfully nudged my shoulder, prompting me to look back up at her.
“Misty, you’re my best girl friend, but I’ve known Sam longer. Anyway, he’s with Carrie now, so what does it matter? Besides, I don’t even know if I’m in love with him…and it’s not worth wrecking a friendship over, you know? If it was right, it would happen. And, things with Kevin are going really well. I really like him…” I trailed off as Misty pursed her lips in disbelief. I turned my head back to the ceiling, trying desperately not to blush and avoiding her unimpressed stare.
A long, dramatic sigh from Misty accompanied by rolling of her eyes prompted me to fall back to the floor. She followed my movements by sitting up further and leaning over me, staring me in the eyes as she said, “Do you remember the summer after grad school? Before he met Carrie? Look, I’m telling you, that guy is in love with you and you are a fool if you don’t – ”
“There you are! Jim! They’re in here,” Marie called out into the hall before turning back to the room and weaving her way through the tables to the dance floor. “What’re you guys doing in here?” Her attention was immediately drawn to the elaborate china place settings and crystal stemware that adorned the tables. “Oh, wow! Are these the place settings for tomorrow? Damn, honey, look at the gold inlay!” She lifted the salad plate and fingered the design before precariously waving the plate in our direction and calling out, “did you guys see this?”
“Marie! Be careful with that thing!” Jim burst into the room, followed by Sam and Misty’s boyfriend of three years, Travis, who had his arm slung over Sam’s shoulders. The three guys came staggering into the dining room, their ties loosened and the top buttons of their shirts undone.
“Hey, babe, whatcha doin’?” Sam strolled over and flopped down on the floor next to me, propping himself up on his side with his elbow. I turned to face him, noticing that the way the top two buttons of his pale pink shirt were undone his collar fell open, revealing the outline of his chiseled chest muscles. With one finger he swept a stray lock of my red hair off my cheek and tucked it behind my ear. “You wanna take a walk?”
“Sure,” I replied, losing myself in the softness of his gaze.
“C’mone,” he said, pushing himself up from the floor and taking my hands in his. “Let’s go, then.” He pulled me to standing, the satin of my blue gown falling around my ankles and my hair falling down from its previously swept up arrangement. “Did I mention how beautiful you look tonight,” Sam asked, pushing back the curly locks of hair that had fallen forward.
“Hey there, you two! Get a room,” Jim bellowed from across the room, causing us both to turn to him.
“Excuse me! Excuse me, what are you doing in here?” A voice from the door caused everyone to freeze. Standing in the doorway was a small woman in a dark suit, who I recognized as the resort event planner, shaking one finger at me, Sam, Misty and Travis. “You can’t be in here; this room is reserved for a reception tomorrow. And you,” she said, turning to Marie, who was still fawning over the place settings with Jim, “please be careful with that. Those settings are very expensive.”
Sam and I snuck out the doors to the veranda as the rest of the group stood and, with their heads ducked, slinked from the room. Looking back over my shoulder, I saw the event planner making a pass through the room, straightening the place settings and resetting the chairs Misty had bowled over in our dramatic entrance.
As we stepped out onto the veranda and were greeted by a cool ocean breeze that caused me to shiver. In one smooth movement, Sam removed his suit coat and draped it around my shoulders.
“Better,” he asked.
“Yea, thanks,” I said, pulling the coat together at the front and taking in the comforting smell of Sam’s familiar cologne. Stepping closer to him and glancing up into his eyes, I took a deep breath to calm the butterflies in my stomach. “So, what was that thing you wanted to tell me about earlier,” I asked quietly.
“Well,” he said, glancing around, “here, let’s sit.” We settled into a pair of Adirondack chairs angled toward each other that sat facing the ocean, the sound of the waves slapping the beach from a distance and the thick salty air the only indications we were close to the waterfront.
“So,” he started, “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, and really wanted to talk to you about this before I did anything. You’ve always helped me with tough decisions, so I want your honest opinion.”
“Okay,” I said, my mind racing with curiosity and stomach tight in anticipation, “so, what is it then?” I could still see Misty’s face as she leaned over me, declaring Sam’s love for me and mine for him. Does he? Do I? And what about…
“…and was thinking about asking Carrie to move in with me.” Sam’s words jarred me from my thoughts. I shook my head, almost unsure of what I had heard and said, “I’m sorry, would you repeat that?”
Taking my hands in his, Sam looked at me with his eyes full of hope and repeated, “I have been looking at buying a townhouse, and I’m thinking about asking Carrie to move in with me.”
The look on my face must have alarmed him, because his grip tightened on my hands and he continued urgently. “I mean, we have been dating now for almost two years, and let’s face it, Dev, we’re not getting any younger. We’ll be thirty next year. Besides, most of our friends have married or are engaged, and I think it’s time to take the next step, you know? I mean, I’m not ready to get married or anything, but if it’s right, it will happen. What do you think?”
His words caused my heart to stand still. If it’s right, it will happen. Wasn’t that what I was just telling Misty?
“Dev? Hello?” Sam leaned forward and with one hand touched my cheek, an electric current passing through as his skin touched mine and set my heart into a brief flutter.
“I’m sorry, Sam,” I began, “it just caught me by surprise. I didn’t even know you were looking at buying a place.”
“Yea, well, the market is great right now for buyers; good interest rates if you have good credit, and houses are going for way less than they were just a few years ago. Besides, I have been teaching for a few years now and am making a decent salary. You know Carrie’s dad is in real estate, so he took us went out one day last week. I wanted you to come, but it was so last minute I never even had a chance to call. Besides, you’ve been so busy lately with your pieces, I wasn’t even sure you were still going to make it up here.”
“I know I’ve been busy…it’s been hard to get any free time lately. My boss has been keeping my assignment load heavy and I have had to do a lot of traveling for interviews and whatnot. I’m sorry I missed house hunting with you…I would have loved to have gone. Have you found a place?” As the words tumbled out I feared his answer and struggled against a pressure in my chest that made my breath short.
“No, nothing yet. We weren’t out long, just looked at a couple of neighborhoods while Carrie was on her lunch break.”
Carrie. Inwardly, I snarled as he said her name and turned toward the sound of the waves on the shoreline.
“Dev? What’s with you?”
“I’m sorry, Sam, I was just thinking…” I trailed off again, trying to cleanse my thoughts about Carrie and lessen the fullness in my chest by taking in a deep breath.
“Yea? Thinking what?”
Releasing my breath I continued, “I was just thinking I haven’t called Kevin yet today. You know, we got so carried away with the tennis this morning, Scrabble this afternoon, the rehearsal, the wedding errands and dinner, I completely forgot to call him.”
“Oh,” was Sam’s response. “Yea, how’re things going with him?” His voice took a clipped tone and expression tightened as he asked.
I evaluated the way Sam’s jaw twitched a little at the corner, like he had clenched his teeth at the mention of Kevin. “They’re fine,” I responded, trying to sound casual but feeling taken aback by his tone and change in demeanor. “You know, I’m not really sure where things are going, but I really like him and the feeling seems mutual. ”
“Well, good. The last guy was no good for you. I was glad to see him go. So Kevin treats you right?”
“Yea, Sam, he’s a good guy. ” I leaned forward in the chair, glancing downward and pulling one of my hands free to pat his gently. Unsure of what I might find, I willed myself to peer up into his eyes, fighting the clenching sensation in my stomach. “I think I should turn in for the night. We have an early wake-up tomorrow with Jen for the day of bridal party festivities.”
Standing slowly, I leaned forward to kiss him in the cheek, lingering for a second in the aroma of his after-shave. I looked down at him as I stood and tried to jokingly ask, “What will I do when the day comes you are off, settled and married and I’m alone with no one to be my date to events like this?”
Sam rose from his chair and pulled me close, resting his chin on the top of my head as he enveloped me in his strong arms. “You’ll always have me, babe.”
We’ll see, I thought, inhaling a mix of salty, ocean air and Sam’s cologne. After one more deep breath, I pulled from the hug. Slipping off his suit coat and handing it back, I glanced up at him once more before turning to head inside and up to the suite I was sharing with Misty. The wistful expression on his face followed me as I walked to the French doors and went upstairs.