My One and Only
Author:Kristan Higgins

chapter NINE


“OKAY FOLKS, GATHER round for the latest killer martini—Crillas, in honor of the happy couple!” My voice was bright and chipper—damned if I was going to let Nick know just how much he’d gotten under my skin. “This little number has Kahlúa, to represent our dark and handsome groom…”

“So handsome!” Willa said, kissing her man.

“…and pineapple juice, for the sweet bride.” I smiled, getting an “aw” from the crowd. “Now maybe it doesn’t sound like those two ingredients go together…” I winked at my sister…“but when you try them, you’ll see. Crillas are fantastic! So go ahead, gang!”

This wedding reception was eternal. Faking good cheer was definitely not a specialty of mine, but Nick and I seemed engaged in a war as to who could ignore the other the most effectively. It seemed to be a draw. Here I was, behind the bar—I’d bartended through college, as well as during my brief stint in New York, and was now playing merry maid of honor. Nick, for his part, had claimed the role of available bachelor/uber best man, and had danced with every woman present from Emily to BeverLee to an elderly woman from Wisconsin who wasn’t a wedding guest but wasn’t complaining, either. Every woman but one, of course. He laughed and flirted and seemed as happy and good-natured as humanly possible, and I’d be damned if I was going to let on that my knees still buzzed from that kiss.

I’d been spared, that was it. In a moment of weakness, of useless, pointless sentimentality, I might’ve let things go further with Nick, and then I’d be swamped with regret and guilt. It was bad enough…Dennis hadn’t even crossed my mind during that kiss, and what the hell did that say, so thank the Lord nothing went any further. There was a reason Nick and I hadn’t worked, and it would serve me well to remember that.

As I went to the bar for my third Crilla, Jason Cruise approached, doing that side-to-side swagger so that the friction between his chubby thighs wouldn’t cause a fire. “Harper, wanna dance? Old time’s sake or whatever?” He adjusted his Wayfarers sunglasses. Wayfarers. Honestly. So 1980s.

“Bite me, Jason,” I said.

“Whoa. You don’t have to be such a bitch.”

“And you don’t have to breathe, Jason, yet you continue to do so. Frustrating.”

“Why do you hate me?” he asked. “What did I ever do to you?”

For a second, I wasn’t going to answer. Jason had, in point of fact, never done anything to me. But letting things go wasn’t exactly my forte. “I don’t hate you, Jason. You’re not important enough to hate. But I dislike you intensely.”

“Why?”

“Because I know about you, Jason,” I hissed. “How you treated Nick when you were kids, broke his toys, rubbed your life in his face and shot him in the chest with an arrow. Add to this the fact that you’re a shallow, irritating twit, and there you have it.”

“So? I thought you hated Nick.”

I opened my mouth to protest, reconsidered (I did rather hate Nick, at the moment, anyway). “Whatever.”

Jason lifted his Wayfarers to better ogle my breasts. “So how about that dance, Harper?”

Men. A friend of mine from law school had just gone the sperm-bank route. She was first in our class, okay? Clearly a brilliant woman.

I was saved from further interaction with Jason in the form of Firefighter Costello, all six foot two of him. “This guy bothering you, Harp?” he asked, looking down at Jason.

“Yes, Dennis. Please beat him to a pulp.”

Dennis gave me a startled glance. “Seriously?”

“Dude, I just asked her to dance,” Jason babbled, backing up rapidly. “She used to be family or something. That’s all. I wasn’t trying to, uh…you know. Whatever.”

I shot the little toad a lethal glance. “Shoo, Jason. Go back to your swamp.” He slumped away, bumping into one of the posts that held up the ceiling, since he’d put the stupid sunglasses back on, and went off to bore more people with his recitation of Tom Cruise’s biggest box-office hits.

“Wanna dance, babe?” Dennis asked.

“Definitely,” I answered, and so we did, my guilt over kissing Nick causing me to snuggle up against Dennis’s broad shoulder. Den smiled and copped a feel, since he was not a man to resist a breast, especially two so obviously offered as were mine.

“What time do you have to leave tomorrow?” I asked.

He grimaced. “My flight’s at seven,” he said. “Which means I have to catch the five-thirty shuttle.”

“You know what? Take the rental car,” I offered. “I’ll grab the shuttle later on.”

Dennis’s face lit up. “That’d be great, dude. Thanks.”

When I first asked him if he’d wanted to come to this wedding, Dennis hadn’t committed right away. The result was that he’d had to book a much less civilized flight than my afternoon departure. Dad and BeverLee were driving to Salt Lake City—I guess BeverLee had some third cousins there she hadn’t seen in years—then flying home from there, and so I’d be all alone on my journey back East. That was more than fine with me.

“Gotta hit the head,” Dennis said. “Catch you later.”

“Roger,” I answered.

As soon as he left, BeverLee came over, her Cinnabar so thick that I nearly choked.

“Have you had a chance for a sit-down with your daddy?” BeverLee asked, automatically reaching out to plump up my hair.

“BeverLee, I thought we agreed that I wasn’t the best one to interrogate Dad about…you know,” I said, resecuring my hair in its twist.

“Well. Sure, now. That’s fine and all.” She sat there, looking like a large, ungainly chick with that butter-colored hair and blue-mascaraed eyes.

“But I’ll…I’ll say something to him. Sure.” How’s that for a random act of kindness, Father Bruce? That should hold me for a month.

“Oh, thank you, sweet knees! That’s just so…! Oh! Thanks, darlin’! He’s right over there. No time like the present!”

“Okay.” I sighed, patted Bev’s freckled shoulder, then made my way through the dancing crowd. There was my ever-elusive father, handsome and solitary, sitting at a small table with a beer. “So, Dad,” I said.

“Harper.” He gave me a half nod.

“Having fun?”

“Sure. You?”

“Oh, yeah.”

It was turning into one of our longer conversations. After my mother had left, he’d ask such searching questions as “You okay?” to which I’d answer (in a sullen, resentful tone), “No,” which would fail to elicit further conversation and served only to make us both feel worse.

I sighed. “So, Dad, how are things with BeverLee these days?”

He slid his eyes over to me. “Why’d you ask?”

“Um…just because?”

He took another sip of his drink. “Actually, I think we may be…heading our separate ways.”

“Really?” A prickle of alarm ran up my spine. “Why’s that?”

“Just…growing apart.”

I sat rigidly. “Does that mean you’ve found someone else?” It often did, let me assure you.

“Oh, no. No, there’s no one else. I’m not the cheating type. We just…you know.” I didn’t know. BeverLee and Dad had been together for twenty years. Dad was sixty-two. Not that older people didn’t divorce. Still, I couldn’t help feeling…weird. With a sigh, I asked my dad if there was anything I could do.

“Maybe you could handle the divorce when it rolls around,” he suggested quietly.

“Absolutely not, Dad.”

“I’ll take care of her, don’t worry.”

“I’ll recommend someone for both of you. It doesn’t have to get ugly.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

We sat in silence for a few minutes. My father finished his beer. “Dad,” I said eventually, “have you talked to BeverLee about this? I don’t get the impression that she knows you’re thinking divorce.”

He glanced at me and looked away. “I will. Soon.”

I started to say something else, then reconsidered. If a person thought he wanted a divorce, well, it wasn’t my place to convince him otherwise. Besides conversations about emotions and feelings and love were not something I ever had with my father. Willa and he had always had a much easier time…she’d plop herself down on his lap and tease him and make him laugh. Much more normal than the Mexican standoff I myself had with dear old Dad. After all, I’d always been Mommy’s girl. Right up until she left.

I thought again of the envelope, sitting like a tumor in my suitcase.

BeverLee was looking at me anxiously. I gave her a shrug and a smile—Men, who knows?—and she nodded back. Sadly. Ah, poor Bev. She loved my father, though I did have to wonder if she really knew him, even after all their time together. According to her, the man practically invented air. Maybe that was the problem. The guy she had in her head bore little resemblance to the person who actually existed. It was a common enough problem.

Suddenly exhausted, I decided to call it a day. My sister and Christopher were locked together on the dance floor, playing tonsil hockey by the looks of it. I went over, tapped Willa on the shoulder and slapped on a smile. “I’m beat, guys,” I said. “See you tomorrow at breakfast, right?”

“Actually, we’re leaving early,” Chris said. “Heading up to Two Medicine for some camping.”

I looked at Willa, and my chest tightened. “Well, call me when you can. When do you think you’ll be heading back East?”

The happy couple exchanged a glance. “We’re kind of playing it by ear, Harper,” my sister said.

Great. That always worked out, especially when traipsing around the wilderness with grizzlies and wolves and potential snowstorms. But I held my tongue, and Willa gave me a huge hug. “Thanks for everything, Harper,” she said, smooching my cheek.

“Oh, sure,” I murmured. Not that I’d done anything other than voice doubt, of course. “Mazel tov, okay?” Lame. “Listen…I hope you’ll be very happy.” Still lame, but better. I hugged Willa back, always a little awkward where physical affection was concerned. I nodded to my new brother-in-law then headed to my room. Just before I started up the stairs, someone said my name.

“Hey.” It was Chris. “Listen, Harper. I know this must’ve been awkward, seeing Nick and all, me marrying your sister, and I know you don’t really approve. I just wanted to say thanks for coming out here. It meant a lot to your sister. And to me, too.” He smiled. Not without his brother’s charm, this guy.

“Well,” I said. “Just be careful, Chris. Marriage is hard. I want you guys to make it, I do.”

“I really love her,” he said earnestly. “I haven’t known her all that long, I realize that, Harper, but I do love her.”

“Well, you better. You’re married now. All the days of your life.” I patted his shoulder. “Good luck. Really.”

As I climbed the stairs, I imagined I felt Nick looking at me, but when I turned, I didn’t see him.

Though I’d checked on Coco numerous times throughout the day and Dennis had taken her for a couple of walks, she was in full Chihuahua orphan mode, huge eyes, still body, not raising her head from her tragic little paws, looking at me as if I’d just locked her in Michael Vick’s basement. Her bunny was on the floor (I was sure this was deliberate), reinforcing the fact I hadn’t visited poor little Coco in nearly two hours.

I picked her up and kissed her funny little head. “I’m very sorry,” I told her. “Please forgive me. Pretty please.”

She acquiesced, morphing back into Jack Russell territory, and gave a wriggle of delight, then licked my chin, letting me know I was forgiven.

“Hey, you’re here,” Dennis said, emerging from the bathroom, his shaving kit in his hands. On the bed, his suitcase was open, clothes stuffed in haphazardly. I released Coco and began refolding his stuff so it wouldn’t wrinkle so much.

“Did you have a good time?” Dennis asked.

I gave him a look. “Not really, Den.” Putting his shoes at the bottom of the suitcase so they wouldn’t squish anything else, I took a deep breath. “Den, maybe we should talk, what do you think?”

“Um…okay.” He sat down on my bed; I sat on his, and we looked at each other—me the principal, Dennis the naughty child. I sighed. It was tiring, always being the one to take charge. But someone had to do it.

“So, Dennis.” I took his big hands in mine. “Listen. I asked you to marry me two weeks ago, and you haven’t said boo about it since. That probably gives me an answer, don’t you think?”

He grimaced but didn’t contradict me.

“It’s okay. I’m not mad.” Oddly enough, I wasn’t.

Dennis sighed. “It’s just…I guess I’m not really sure this is the way to go, you know?” He looked at me sheepishly. So handsome. His voice had a hopeful note, and this, more than anything, was what hurt me…as though Dennis had been a good-natured prisoner without much hope of reprieve, and I was his longtime jailer, just coming in with news of a gubernatorial pardon. “It’s like, if I’m not wicked psyched at the idea, maybe it’s not the right thing to do.”

Ouch. But he was correct—one should be wicked psyched at the thought of death do us part. Look at my own history. “Right. It’s a good point.”

“Not that I don’t, uh…you know, Harp. Love you. I do.”

I had to smile. “Wow. As declarations go, that was pretty lame.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

“Really?”

“Sure.” I squeezed his hands and then let them go. “Just for the record, I think you’re really great. You have a very big heart, we had a lot of happy times, and…well, I wish you all the best.” And you thought his declaration was lame.

He smiled broadly. “Same here, dude.”

Well, I wouldn’t miss being called dude, that was for sure. But I would miss Dennis. He was like a security blanket, but it was time to put him away, and just because I knew it didn’t make it easy. No strapping, blue-eyed children running around, none of the easy, taken-for-granted security in having an amiable companion day in and day out. No uncomplicated contentment. My throat tightened, and I swallowed—and for me, that was the equivalent of a weekend sobbing in bed.

Dennis took my hand and kissed it, an unexpectedly courtly gesture. I reached out and touched his hair. Good old Den.

“Wanna fool around?” he asked, looking up. “A farewell f—uh, fling?”

I choked on a laugh. “Oh, I think…I should pass, Den. Not that it wouldn’t be fun. Just probably ill-advised.”

“Had to give it a shot,” he said amicably. “I’ll take Coco out, then. Wanna go for a walk, Coco-Buns?” he asked, and my dog sprang to life as if electrocuted, leaping straight into the air at the W word, then grabbing her bunny in her mouth and shaking it exuberantly. “Back in a few,” he said, clipping on her pink leash. The door closed behind them.

With a sigh that started in the soles of my feet, I flopped back on the bed and stared at the ceiling. The Plan to Marry Dennis was over. Already, the thought of the big lug’s absence echoed around my heart. I had a lot of good things back on the Vineyard, but Dennis had filled a big hole in my life. A big one. Now the thought of my future stretched out ahead of me. Alone again.

Buck up, I told myself. You have Coco. You have Ben & Jerry. A job you’re great at, friends, a deck and a view. You can still have a kid…adoption, sperm donor, new relationship, whatever.

But I’d miss Dennis. It wasn’t the yawning, bottomless panic I’d felt when Nick and I had imploded, but crap. It hurt anyway.



THE NEXT MORNING I WOKE abruptly and squinted over at the clock. 8:47. The room was empty; apparently I’d slept through Dennis’s departure. Indeed, if his flight left at seven, he’d be well on his way home by now. Lucky man. I hauled myself out of bed, the three martinis from yesterday making themselves felt. Coco raised her head from her bunny, affirmed that yes, I looked like utter crap, and rolled onto her back, legs in the air, and feigned roadkill. On the dresser, there was a note from Dennis.

Harp, I took Coco out for a quick walk. See you back home, I’m sure. Thanks for everything. - Den.

Well. That was…nice. With a sigh, I checked my phone for messages—blick. Lots. I listened dutifully—six from Tommy, two of them work-related, four of them personal, detailing his roller-coaster feelings about his slutty wife, who, though she had promised to stop seeing FedEx as of Friday, had in fact sneaked off to meet him on Saturday, and Tommy wasn’t sure if he should put his foot down. Two messages from Theo, wondering why I hadn’t been to work on Friday—the man had a memory like a sieve. A message from earlier this morning from BeverLee; she and Dad were on their way to Salt Lake City and wondered if I’d come to dinner on Friday to relive Willa’s wedding. A text from Kim, just checking in. It was nice to have a girlfriend…most of my other female friends were from college or law school, not the day-to-day types. I figured I’d call her back from Denver, where I had a two-hour layover and would have time to chat. And a text from Father Bruce. Call me when you get back. Hope all is well. Don’t forget your RAoKs…your immortal soul can use all the help it can get. As can we all.

RAoKs. Random acts of kindness. That made me smile. I typed him back a quick answer and hit send. Then, after a moment’s hesitation, I texted Willa. Hope you have a great honeymoon. Here’s my credit card number, just in case you need anything. Call me soon.

An hour later, I was showered, packed and ready to go. I clipped on Coco’s leash and went downstairs. My shuttle left at eleven; plenty of time for breakfast. Though the lodge served brunch, no one from the wedding seemed to be afoot. Glacier’s season was winding down; another week and snow could easily shut down Going to the Sun Road. Strange that back home, it’d still be summer.

Home sweet home, where I’d be safe and sound. And single, I added with a small dart of self-pity. Soon, no doubt, I’d be seeing Dennis with someone else. Sighing, I assessed my mood. Melancholy…but not ruined, certainly. When Nick and I had gone down in flames…well. No point in revisiting that memory. One didn’t really enjoy remembering the time when one had been a quivering, raw, pathetic mess. Surely, simply feeling blue was a sign of maturity. Or something.

I ate on the patio, reading the local paper, occasionally granting Coco bits of toast and an occasional strip of bacon, which she snapped up with sound-barrier speed before she resumed her intent staring. Glancing at my watch, I realized it was time to get moving. The shuttle was due in a few minutes.

I’d miss Montana, I realized with a small shock. Lake McDonald was dark blue and choppy today. On the far side, the craggy mountain loomed, the white of the glacier ruthlessly bright. My heart squeezed. Chances were, I’d never make it back here. For some reason, things felt…unfinished, somehow.

“Oh, well, Coco-Butter,” I said to my dog. “Time to go home.”

The line for the shuttle was rather long…looked as if everyone was leaving today. I was glad I’d made a reservation last night. The young mother whose baby had dropped the pacifier came up behind me and said good morning, and I nodded back. The shuttle driver took tickets and checked our names off his list. “And twelve,” he said, checking my name off the list. “Okay, that’s it. Sorry, ma’am,” he told the young mother. “Can’t take any walk-ons today. These folks all had a reservation. You’ll have to wait for the next shuttle at noon.”

“Oh, no! Shoot. Do you think I’ll make my flight?” she asked him. “It’s at twelve-thirty.”

“Probably not,” the driver said.

Should’ve thought of that before, I thought, picking up Coco and grabbing the handle of my suitcase. But then I stopped. Glanced at my watch. It took about forty-five minutes to get to the airport; the shuttle left hourly. I had plenty of time.

“You can have my spot,” I said magnanimously. “My flight’s not till one forty-five.”

The young mother’s face lit up. “Really? Are you sure?” But she was already hoisting the diaper bag and grabbing the handle of the baby’s car seat.

“Sure. Go ahead.” The child stared at me solemnly. Destiny, as I recalled. Quite a name. She certainly was a beautiful child…flawless skin and a rosebud mouth, giant, wise blue eyes.

“Thank you so much! You’re a lifesaver!” the mom exclaimed. “Have a great day! Safe home!”

“You too,” I said. There. Random act done, and it was a significant act at that. I couldn’t wait to tell Father Bruce. Feeling rather holy, I waved to the mother and child, then got another cuppa joe.

Fresh mug of coffee steaming, I went back out on the patio to read a little more.

There was Nick, sitting at the table I’d vacated not ten minutes earlier, staring out at the lake. I jerked to a stop—damn, it was still a shock to see him—then kept going.

“Nick,” I said as I passed.

“Harper,” he answered, flicking his eyes to me for the briefest instant.

I sat at another table, not too far away. Didn’t want to seem like I couldn’t stand the very sight of him.

I’d have to accept that should Willa and Christopher stay together, I’d be seeing Nick once in a while. The occasional holiday or birthday or whatnot. And that would be fine. We had a turbulent past, we’d always have some feelings for each other, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum. He was simply a mistake from my youth. Everyone has her heart broken at least once. Didn’t mean the heart didn’t mend and indeed, grow stronger.

I took out a pen, turned to the crossword puzzle and settled Coco on my lap (she liked to help). Coffee, delicious. Crossword, challenging. Dog, adorable. Ex-husband, invisible, thanks to a senior citizen tour group, which had descended from a motor coach. A veritable sea of white heads prevented me from catching even the slightest glimpse of Nick, and I was grateful.

A short while later, my random act of kindness bit me in the ass.

“What? How can it be shut down?” I asked.

“Ma’am, all I know is what they told me at the airport. The last flight left an hour ago, but since then, the whole fleet’s been grounded. Something about a problem with a software upgrade in the navigation system. Nobody can take off, nobody can come in.”

“That can’t be.”

“All they told me is that until this is fixed, no planes are leaving Kalispell City Airport, none are coming in.”

“None is coming. It’s singular.” He rolled his eyes and sighed. “Sorry. Um, well, what about the other airports near here?”

“All three of the regional airports have the same problem.”

“Are you kidding me?” I yelped.

“No, ma’am.” He stared at me, resigned patience clearly running thin.

“When will they be flying again?”

“The controller at the airport said two days, minimum.”

“Two days?” I screeched. Coco barked, voicing her own indignation. “Seriously, are you kidding me?”

“No, ma’am.” I sensed he was about to kick me.

I took a breath. “Okay. Can you take me to the nearest unaffected airport?”

“That would be either Yakima, Washington, or Salt Lake City. And no, ma’am, I can’t take you there.”

“Crotch.” I thought a second. “Well. How about a rental car? Can you take me to Avis? My boyfriend just returned our car this morning. I’ll pick it up again and just drive myself to wherever.”

“Well, when we got the news, a bunch of folks asked me to take them to the same place, but sure, I’ll take you there. You might want to call first and see if they have any cars available.”

They didn’t. Ten minutes later, I’d tried the other two rental car companies in the area. The surly driver was right. Oh, this was maddening! Apparently, when the fleet had been grounded, the people already at or en route to the airport (and I would’ve been among them, had I not done my stupid random act of kindness) had been bused to the rental places and snapped up the rather few cars in stock. I was stuck here.

Well. That would be okay. I could stay a day or two. I had my laptop, of course. I could work from my room…let’s see, I didn’t have court this week, so that was good…I had a meeting with opposing counsel on a case, but I could conference-call that one. And maybe I could even see a little more of the park, and that unfinished feeling would fade.

I wheeled my luggage, Coco in tow, over to the desk clerk. “Hi,” I said in my warmest tone, the one I used on Judge McMurtry’s clerk when I needed an extension. “Listen, I have a little problem. I don’t have a way of getting home, so I’ll need to keep my room for another day or so.”

“Oh, that’s too bad,” the girl said. “Sorry to say, we’re booked.”

“Booked?” I blurted.

She smiled sweetly. “This Elderhostel group has all the rooms. I’m really sorry. Do you want me to try somewhere else in the park?”

“Yes, please,” I said, a trickle of panic flowing up my spine. The girl began typing…and typing…and typing. “Anything?” I asked tightly.

“I’m super sorry,” she said after typing seven or eight more pages. “A lot of the park is already closed, and it looks like Elderhostel kind of owns the rest of the rooms we do have this next week.”

“Well, what am I supposed to do?” I asked.

“We have tent rentals available,” she suggested.

“I’m not sleeping in a tent!” I protested, my voice a tad shrill. “Do I look like the camping type? Plus, I was already almost eaten by a grizzly bear! And I’d freeze to death! It was thirty-four degrees last night!”

“Harper.”

Super. Insult to injury. I turned around. “I’m a little busy, Nick.”

His face was neutral. “You can come with me.”

My mouth dropped open. “You.”

“Yes. I’m driving East. I can get you to an airport along the way.”

“You’re driving?”

“Yep.” He folded his arms across his chest.

“How far?”

“All the way to New York.”

A prickle started in my stomach, reminding me of something before my brain caught on. Oh. right. There it was. My face flushed.

“Take it or leave it, Harper,” Nick said, glancing at his watch. “I’m leaving in fifteen minutes.”