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Chapter One

“You look like a prostitute.”

Lydia frowned at her best friend. “Brad likes my legs.”

Kevin admired the long, shapely legs in front of him from where he was sprawled on her living room couch. “Won’t you be cold if you show so much of them?”

“It’s September, not the middle of January. It’s still warm out.” Aggrieved she patted her hem. “Besides, the skirt reaches the end of my fingertips.”

“Your elbows are bent.”

“That rule shouldn’t apply to me, I have long fingers.”

Kevin cocked a brow. “You wouldn’t wear that to church.”

“We’re not going to church.”  Lydia shot him an impish grin. “Besides, there are a couple of guys there who wouldn’t usually give me the time of day…maybe if I wore this, I’d get their attention.”

“More than likely.” Kevin shook his head. “Where are you going? You never did say.”

“Dinner downtown, then to a club, in Georgetown I think.”

“Bridge club?”

Lydia snickered. “Dance.  But then you knew that. And before you ask, no, I don’t know which club. But,” she lifted a red-tipped finger to forestall his comment, “since it’s Brad, it’ll be either swing or salsa.”

Kevin frowned. “Everyone is going to see your underwear in that skirt.”

Lydia rolled her eyes.

Kevin started to speak several times before rubbing his forehead.  “I’m just trying to look out for you, kiddo.”

“Thanks, Mom.”

“Didn’t you just finish complaining that Brad treats you like an object?” At her grudging nod he continued. “You think it might have something to do with clothing choices?”

Lydia crossed her arms. “I should be able to wear anything I want and still be treated with respect.”

“Sure, in a perfect world. But seriously, Lyd, that outfit…” He paused and considered the short skirt too-snug top and shook his head. “It doesn’t scream ‘Respect me’.”

Pouting, she pushed his feet out of the way and flopped onto the couch beside him. “I appreciate your concern.”

Kevin snorted.

“No, I really do.” She smiled and patted his knee. “You’re like the brother I never had.”

He winced.

“Still, a date with your almost fiancé is surely a reason to dress up, right?” Lydia gestured to a conservative black jacket draped on the arm of the sofa. “Or did you want me to wear something like that?”

“What’s wrong with it?”

“That’s for work. This is a date.  You don’t wear work clothes on a date.”

Kevin stood, glancing at his watch, “Whatever, Lydia. I drove into McLean to see if you were free tonight, not to be a stand-in for a girlfriend. Or a brother. You look great and you know it.” A brief, wistful look flashed across his features. “I’m sure Brad will agree.” His hand on the knob of her apartment door, he turned and added with a resigned sigh, “You know where to find me when you get home and need to complain about how he spent the evening undressing you with his eyes.”

“That’s not fair, Kevin.”

“Tell me about it,” he muttered, slamming the apartment door behind him.


Lydia plopped into the pew beside Kevin as the organist began the prelude. He glanced up from his perusal of the bulletin and arched his brow. “Late night?”

Groaning quietly she nodded and rested her head briefly on his shoulder, muffling a yawn. “Why is it that Sunday morning always comes so soon after Saturday night?”

Kevin patted her head and nudged her off his shoulder. “Ah, the price of the partier. I, you’ll notice, am well rested and was here early enough to mingle and get coffee.” He grinned broadly. “Are those dark circles under your eyes or were you in a fight?”

Lydia stuck out her tongue and rummaged through her purse, emerging with her compact. “Idiot,” she hissed at Kevin as the pastor welcomed everyone.

Kevin chuckled quietly and raised a finger to his lips, turning his attention to the service.

All through the worship music, Lydia tried surreptitiously to find Brad in the sanctuary. Periodically Kevin would elbow her and she’d attend to the music more, singing the actual words instead of mouthing “watermelon”. As the final song drew to a close and the music minister began to pray, her phone buzzed quietly in her purse. Hoping to appear unobtrusive she peeked at the readout. The corners of her mouth quirked upward when she saw it was a text message from Brad. Guessing that he was letting her know he wouldn’t be at the service, Lydia tried to return her full focus to the service. At least now she wouldn’t have to wonder where he was sitting.

She flipped her Bible to follow along as the pastor read aloud. After several verses she glanced at Kevin and decided to risk his censure to see what Brad had to say. Maybe they’d be able to meet up for lunch.

Babe, had a blast last night. 2 bad U wanted an early night—ran into Staci leaving UR bldg. We’re hitting brunch now. Call U l8r –B

Lydia fumed as she re-read the message. It figured that Staci was lying in wait. Probably had the hallway staked out just in case he didn’t stay the whole night. She considered several choice words to describe Staci’s character. Who are you to talk? The thought was unbidden and she struggled to tamp it down. After all, she hadn’t stolen Brad from anyone and now he was basically her fiancé. He’d all but said a proposal was coming—he just wanted everything to be perfect. That had to mean snow and Christmas lights. I’m nothing like Staci. She studied her left hand and pictured it with the one and a half carat oval diamond in a simple but elegant platinum band. She’d pointed out the ring casually one day when they’d been doing some window shopping. Two more months to go. Then she’d be one more step away from the “single and disappointing” label she suspected her parents and sisters always applied to her behind her back. Well, at least she’d be rid of the “single” part of it. And Staci would have to back off. Lydia bit back a sigh. She could last two more months.

Her phone buzzed again with another text message but before she could read it, Kevin grabbed her phone with a scowl. Heat stole across her cheeks. Fighting humiliation, she stiffened her spine and forced herself to attend to the last few minutes of the sermon.

When the organ postlude began, Lydia stuck out her hand. “Point made.”

“Touchy.” Kevin pulled the phone from his shirt pocket and handed it to her. “Must’ve been some date.”

Lydia pushed thoughts of Staci from her mind. “You know, you could try to be happy for me. You’ve been my best friend for as long as I can remember and I’m basically engaged to Brad.”

Kevin flinched. “You know why I can’t be happy about that. But,” he held up his hand to stop her interruption, “I did promise to stop mentioning that I love you.” He managed a wry smile. “You might try and remember that best friends is not the ending I want for our relationship … and consider the situation from my perspective sometime. See you in class?” He made his way down to the opposite aisle without waiting for a response.

Lydia watched him go and wondered for the thousandth time what it would take for him to realize that she wasn’t ever going to see him that way. At a light touch on her shoulder she turned, smiled broadly, and dropped the phone into her pocket. “Hi, Daddy.”

The pastor grinned and pulled Lydia into a tight hug. “Lyd. I didn’t expect you to make it this morning when I didn’t see you for coffee time.”

“Daddy, I make better coffee at home, you know that. Why do you think I would subject myself to the stuff you make by the gallon here?”

“I don’t know, ten minutes with your dad and mom?”

“So you can grill me about my Saturday night date? I don’t think so. Have a little faith, Daddy, you raised me right.” Her phone buzzed and she leaned up to kiss his cheek. “I should go and see if that’s work related before heading to class.”

“Will we see you for lunch?”

“Probably not today, but I’ll let you know if that changes.” Lydia squeezed past him and hurried from the sanctuary.

Pushing her way through the throngs gathering in the foyer for coffee, Lydia offered falsely bright smiles to those who called her name and mimed that she’d be right back. She finally made it to the restrooms and locked herself in one of the stalls. Closing the toilet lid, she perched on it and scrolled to the latest new text. With a frown at the unrecognized number Lydia opened the message and her screen filled with a picture of Staci and Brad in a lip lock. She fought against the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. A new message buzzed, this one from Brad.

Not what it looks like. Call U l8r.

She snorted and snapped her phone shut. She knew that it was probably only the beginning of what it looked like. Hands shaking and mind reeling, she stood, flushed the toilet for appearance’s sake, and made her way to the sink to wash her hands. Despite vigorous scrubbing, she couldn’t get the illusion of a diamond ring off her left hand. Staci had been after Brad since they met, but he’d chosen her, hadn’t he?

“Engaged to be engaged,” she muttered. She paused to chat briefly with several clumps of people as she made her way to the large room where the singles met for fellowship and enough Bible study to get by. At the door, Lydia pushed the text message from her mind and fixed a smile on her face. It didn’t matter that her carefully constructed plans were disintegrating; she would do what she could to keep up a perfect front.


Lydia’s phone rang as she exited through the church’s front doors.

“How’s my timing?” Brad’s voice was relaxed and cheerful.

Even though she was angry, Lydia’s heart sped up at the sound of his voice. “Not bad at all. I’m heading to my car. Where should I meet you?”

There was a long enough pause that Lydia glanced at the screen of her phone to make sure the call was still connected. “I’m, uh, kind of beat today actually.”

Lydia frowned and leaned against the door of her car. “Are you coming down with something? I could bring you some soup.”

“Don’t trouble yourself, babe. I think I need to rest.” There was a muffled giggle in the background. Brad hissed.

Though she hadn’t caught the words, Lydia couldn’t miss the meaning and her voice dripped icicles, “I see. Well. I’ll just leave you to recover.” She ended the call, furious, though she couldn’t decide if she was angrier with him or with herself. She knew he’d cheated on her before. Usually with another girl in the single’s group who couldn’t wait to rub her nose in it, so this was certainly consistent with his pattern. Except things had changed, hadn’t they? She’d given him what he wanted and they were on their way toward being engaged. Lydia closed her eyes and lowered her forehead to the roof of her car and she finally grasped how easily she’d been played. Shame washed over her. What now?

“Honey, are you all right?” Lydia’s mother gently patted her arm and peered at her with concern. “I figured you’d be off on a date by now…Your father mentioned that you wouldn’t be making it for lunch, was he wrong?”

Lydia opened her eyes to look at her mother and imagined that she saw a vision of the future: blond hair gone ashy, sparkling blue eyes now peeking from behind small wire framed lenses, the same peaches and cream complexion that glowed in her own mirror every morning and an extra twenty pounds that somehow managed to look comforting. She shook her head, forcing a bright smile. “I’ll be fine.” She glanced at her watch. “But you’re right, I am running late. Sorry about lunch. Maybe next week.”

Her mother’s shoulders sagged minutely but she nodded and leaned forward to brush a light kiss on her daughter’s cheek. “All right then. Maybe next week.”

Lydia watched her mother cross the parking lot to the car where her father waited. Drained, thoughts whirling, she slid behind the wheel and headed home.

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