Keep It Together - By Lissa Matthews
Six months earlier…
“What do you mean he’s not here?” Chrissie asked. The calm inquiry belied how she really felt, but they were in a church, and it was her wedding day, and her mother would flip her shit if Chrissie lost her cool. Not that her mother would ever cop to the phrase flip her shit, but Chrissie knew that was the best wording for the fit her mother would throw if Chrissie threw one.
Hers would consist of screaming, hollering, and making threats of bodily harm. Not her body. His. Russell’s. Her wayward groom.
Only she wasn’t surprised that he wasn’t there. Not really. She understood that she should’ve been. He was her fiancé, and they were supposed to be getting married, right now, but something about him not showing up didn’t affect her the way it should have. She was pissed off, she was hurt, and she’d even go so far as to say she was heartbroken, but shouldn’t she be devastated? Shouldn’t her world be coming to an end? But she didn’t feel those things, and that set the warning bells off in her head. That she’d expected this, on whatever subconscious level, was what pissed her off the most.
Amber, the messenger bridesmaid and the groom’s half sister, lowered her gaze to the floor. She was also shifting her weight from one foot to the other. Gone for a moment was the brilliant, put-together businesswoman. That wasn’t a good sign. Russ’s opinion of Amber was that she was unshakable, at least in the boardroom. Maybe when dealing with personal matters she wasn’t as calm. Chrissie could relate.
“He…” Amber hesitated for a moment, but then shook her head and looked Chrissie in the eyes. “Colt is looking for him.”
Colt was Russell’s older half brother. Chrissie had only met him a handful of times, but he didn’t seem to be anywhere close to irresponsible, so losing Russ was likely not what happened at all. “Wasn’t he with Colt last night? How could one brother lose another?”
“I don’t know. I’m sure he’ll show up. He probably just slept late. He—”
Chrissie nodded and patted Amber’s hand, more because she needed to do something with her own hand than for Amber’s reassurance. Chrissie felt a little brittle and figured that if she reached out to someone else who was having trouble with this, she’d be able to hold herself together for a while longer. “I’m sure he didn’t just sleep late, but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.” She didn’t even try to muster up a smile. She didn’t feel like smiling. She didn’t feel like being reassured, and she didn’t feel like doing the reassuring. She didn’t know Amber all that well but from the few times they’d met had gotten the impression the woman was a straight shooter. “Even though he should have been here an hour ago.”
Amber nodded. “I know.”
Chrissie stood from the vanity chair and took her new friend and almost sister-in-law into her arms. Amber hadn’t done anything wrong. She’d just had the unfortunate job of going in search of her brothers and having to return with the not-so-great news. “I’m not mad. Not at you, at least. Russ is another story.”
The decisive sound of her mother’s voice forced Chrissie’s spine straight, and her heart filled with dread. She let go of Amber and turned toward the door of the bridal suite.
The First Baptist Church was the largest in town and not only had a bridal suite, but also a groom’s suite. The old chapel where weddings were held had been completely renovated to accommodate any size wedding party. The church even employed a full wedding planning staff. It was incredible. Expensive but incredible.
When she and Russ had announced their engagement, her mother had insisted the wedding be held at the First Baptist Church. Once that had been agreed upon, even under duress, her mother and the wedding planning committee had taken over.
To be honest, that had been fine with Chrissie. She wasn’t much for pomp and circumstance, for big shows for society, for being the center of a lot of attention. She wasn’t much for frills, ruffles, lace, or anything even remotely close to feminine.
Yet there she was, standing in the bridal suite, in a beautiful gown of lace and satin, looking across the room at her mother’s stern, unsmiling face. “Yes, Mama?” she responded as contritely and demurely as she could. She didn’t feel either way, but she made her best attempt to at least give