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Queen of Babble Gets Hitched qob-3, Page 2

Meg Cabot

  “Whoa,” Luke says after I fling open the heavy metal door. “You look—”

  “Like a bride-to-be?” I ask, holding out the three layers—one chiffon, one net, and one nylon—of my full skirt and giving him a playful curtsy.

  “I was going to say hot,” Luke says. He triumphantly holds up a Starbucks bag… and a six-pack of Diet Coke for me. “Look what I scored. I only had to walk eleven blocks to find a place that was open on New Year’s Day.”

  “Oh, Luke! You remembered!”

  Except, of course, it was Chaz who told Luke how much I love Diet Coke in the first place. That’s the only reason Luke bought it for me that day in the village back in France last summer. Because Chaz told him that Diet Coke was the way to my heart.

  But that doesn’t mean I’m in love with Chaz, does it?

  Of course not! How could I think anything so silly?

  My eyes fill with tears. Really, Luke’s the most thoughtful fiancé in the whole world. Also the handsomest, standing there in his Hugo Boss overcoat, with his long dark eyelashes curling so perfectly… and without the help of a Shu Uemura eyelash curler, even. He’d looked so cute when he’d been kneeling there in that exact spot in the slush a half hour ago, so hopeful and nervous. How could I have said anything but yes when he’d proposed?

  Not that saying anything but yes had even occurred to me. Well, except for a few seconds, maybe. To punish him for that whole “I don’t know if I see you in my future” thing.

  “I just want to let you know that when I look into my future, I see nothing but you.” That’s what Chaz had whispered in my ear at some point during the wedding last night.

  Then he’d whispered, “And you’re not even wearing Spanx.”

  I shake my head. Why do I keep thinking about Chaz? He wears University of Michigan baseball caps nearly all the time.

  In public.

  Luke’s face falls. “What?” he asks. “What’d I do? You don’t drink Diet Coke anymore. Is that it? I can get something else. What do you want? Diet Dr Pepper?”

  “No!” I try to laugh breezily. Oh God. What’s wrong with me? “Of course I still drink Diet Coke. I’m sorry. Wow, it’s really cold out here. Come in.” I move out of the doorway so he can do just that.

  “I thought you’d never ask.” Luke gives me one of those grins that still cause my insides to go weak. He stops in the doorway just long enough to brush my cheek with his lips, letting them linger for a moment in my hair.

  “It’s good to be home,” he murmurs before moving past me. “Which is wherever you are. I know that now.”

  Oh! How sweet!

  And how could Chaz ever accuse Luke of not knowing what he wants? He knows exactly what he wants. Me!

  It just took him a little while to realize it. He needed a gentle nudge. In the form of my breaking up with him and moving out of the apartment we were sharing.

  “So this is the new place, huh?” Luke is looking around at the somewhat dingy and exceptionally narrow hallway.

  “It gets better,” I say.

  “No,” Luke says, his tone apologetic. “I like it. It has character.”

  It isn’t, I tell myself as I follow Luke, Chaz’s fault. Not really. He’s just never known happiness—true, romantic happiness—as great as what Luke and I share. So of course when he sees it, he looks on it with suspicion. Of course he doubts our chances of success.

  But when he sees us together—how happy we are, now that we’re really and truly committed to each other—he’ll change his mind. He’ll come around. He’ll see how wrong he was to say all those horrible things.

  And someday Chaz will find a girl—the right girl for him—who’ll make him as happy as I know I make Luke… and he’ll make her as happy as Luke makes me.

  And then everything will be all right.

  Wait and see. Just wait and see.

  “Here we are,” I say when we reach the door to my new apartment, which I fling open. “Home sweet home.”

  “It’s great,” Luke says enthusiastically as he follows me inside.

  I smile at him. “You don’t have to pretend to like it. I know it’s horrible. But it’s mine. And as soon as I get the time—and some extra money—I’m going to fix it up.”

  “No, Lizzie, it really is great.” Luke sets down the Starbucks bag and the Diet Coke and puts his arms around me. “It’s like you. Completely whimsical and totally charming.”

  “I hope it’s not like me,” I say with a laugh. “I hope I’m not covered in big blobby rose wallpaper with slopey floors and cracks in my ceiling.”

  “You know what I mean,” Luke says, nuzzling my neck. “It’s unique. Like you. It already smells like you. God, I can’t believe how much I missed you. And we were apart for only, what? A week?”

  “Is that what you want? A guy who comes running back to you and proposes just because he’s so scared of being alone, he’d rather be with a girl he knows isn’t right for him than be by himself?”

  God! Get out of my head, Chaz Pendergast!

  “Something like that,” I say. Luke’s nuzzling is getting more serious. Or at least closer to the bateau neckline of my dress.

  I jump away and reach for one of the Diet Cokes.

  “So who should we call first?” I ask brightly.

  “Call?” Luke’s eyes, which tend to have a dreamy look about them even when he’s wide awake, are heavy-lidded with a combination of jet lag and, well… sex. Sexual desire, anyway. “I wasn’t thinking about calling anyone, to tell you the truth. I was actually thinking about trying out that bed I see over there. And I was hoping you’d get out of that dress and join me… ”

  “Luke,” I say after I’ve chugged down a mouthful of restorative caffeine and potassium benzoate. “We have to call people and tell them the good news. I mean, we’re engaged.”

  “Oh.” Luke looks longingly back at the bed. “I guess. I mean… Yeah. You’re probably right.”

  “Here.” I dig into the Starbucks bag and pull out the coffee he’d ordered for himself, along with two muffins. “Drink this. Let’s make a list. We should call your parents, of course.”

  “Of course,” Luke says, taking a sip of his coffee.

  “And mine. And my sisters. Well, they’ll be at my parents for New Year’s Day brunch with Gran, so we’ll be able to reach them all with one call.” I grab a notepad I’ve left on the tiny yellow kitchen table, while Luke peels off his coat and sinks onto one of the table’s matching yellow chairs. “And I have to call Shari, of course. And you should… you should probably call Chaz.”

  Luke has his cell phone out and is punching numbers into it. An overseas number. Too many numbers for him to be calling Chaz.

  “What are you doing?” I ask.

  “I’m calling my parents,” he says. “Like you said to.”

  I reach out and close his flip phone.

  “Hey,” he says, looking confused. “What’d you do that for?”

  “I think you should call Chaz first,” I say. “Don’t you?”

  “Chaz?” Luke looks at me as if I’d suggested he mainline heroin and then shoot his mother. “Why would I call Chaz first?”

  “Because he’s your best friend,” I say, sliding onto the chair opposite his. “And aren’t you going to ask him to be your best man?”

  “I don’t know,” Luke says, still looking confused. He must be much more jet-lagged than I thought. “I guess.”

  “He’d be so hurt if you didn’t tell him first,” I say. “You know, he was so kind to me this past week, while you and I were… apart. He helped me move in here and everything. And last night he even went with me to the Higgins-MacDowell wedding.”

  Luke looks touched. “He did? That was nice of him. He must be feeling better. You know, after the whole thing with Shari turning out to like girls.”

  “Uh,” I say. “Yeah. It was. Nice of him, I mean. That’s why I think you should call him first. And thank him. For being such a good friend. And tell him how
much his friendship means to you. I really think he just needs to hear your voice.”

  “Okay,” Luke says, opening his flip phone and dialing. “I think you’re right.”

  A second later, as I’m squeezing my fingers together and praying that Chaz is still in the subway and won’t pick up, Luke says, “Chaz? Hey, it’s me. I’ve got some news, man. Are you sitting down?”

  I jump from my chair, convinced I’m going to throw up what little Diet Coke I’ve downed so far, and run to clutch the edge of the sink.

  This is it, I think. Chaz is going to tell him. Chaz is going to tell Luke that just twelve hours ago, his hand was down my bra.

  And the engagement is going to be off.

  Probably I’m not going to get to keep the ring.

  “What? Yeah, I’m back. I’m at Lizzie’s. I got back this morning.”

  What is Chaz doing? He knows Luke is back. I told him Luke’s back. Oh God. Just do it already, so we can get this over with.

  “Okay. So you’re sitting down? In a cab? Where are you going in a cab on New Year’s morning? You were? You did? Who was she?”

  I grab the edge of the sink. This is it. I’m going to hurl.

  “What do you mean, you’re not going to tell me?” Luke laughs. “Fine, you dog, you. All right. Well, here’s my news: I asked Lizzie to marry me. And she said yes. And I want you to be my best man at the wedding.”

  I close my eyes. This is the part where Chaz tells Luke that he can’t be his best man because he thinks he’s making the worst mistake of his entire life.

  And that, oh yeah, by the way, last night his tongue was down my throat.

  “Thanks!” Luke is saying into the phone in a cheerful voice. An entirely too cheerful voice for him to be responding to the news that last night his best friend and fiancée were making out in the back of a cab. “Yeah, I do too. What? Lizzie? Sure, you can talk to Lizzie. Hold on.”

  I turn around from the sink just in time to see Luke cross the kitchen to hand the phone to me.

  “He wants to talk to you,” he says. Luke is beaming. “I think he wants to extend his congratulations personally.”

  I take the phone, feeling sicker to my stomach than ever. “Hello?”

  “Hi, Lizzie.” Chaz’s deep voice rasps in my ear. “You were hoping I’d spill the truth to Luke about our illicit affair and he’d call the whole thing off, weren’t you? No such luck, I’m afraid. You got yourself into this mess, and you’re going to have to get yourself out of it. If you think I’m going to come sweeping in like some kind of prince on a milk-white charger to save your pretty little buns on this one, you’re high.”

  I let out a totally fake laugh. “Thank you!” I cry. “That is so nice of you to say!” Luke continues to beam at me from across the kitchen.

  “Yeah,” Chaz says. “You know, when you packed up all your stuff and left his ass high and dry, I thought, finally. A woman with some moral fiber. Little did I know that all he’d need to win you back was a big diamond ring and a few crocodile tears. I really expected bigger things from you, Lizzie. Tell me something. Are you going to wait until the invitations have actually gone out before you admit to yourself that Luke is the last guy you ought to be spending the rest of your life with? Or are you going to do the right thing and call it off now?”

  “Great, Chaz,” I say, with another fake laugh. “It was nice talking to you too.”

  “This is like watching a lamb being led to slaughter,” Chaz mutters. “Is getting married really that important to you? It’s just a goddamned piece of paper.”

  “Thanks, Chaz,” I say. I’m not sure how much longer I can keep up the fake laughing. Because I’m ready to start shedding real tears. “Thanks so much.”

  “Look, I… Just put him back on.”

  I hold the phone out to Luke. “He wants to talk to you,” I say.

  Luke takes the phone from me. “Hey, man. Yeah? Uh-huh.”

  I drift away, into the bedroom, unzipping my dress as I go. I can’t believe this… any of this. I have what I wanted… what it seems like I always wanted: The man of my dreams has proposed to me. I’m going to be married.

  I should be happy.

  Strike that. I am happy. I am.

  Maybe it just hasn’t sunk in yet.

  “What’s going on?”

  I look over to see Luke standing in the doorway, his cell phone closed in his hand.

  “What are you doing?” Luke wants to know. His gaze falls on my dress, lying in a pink puddle on the floor. “I thought we were going to call people and tell them we’re engaged.”

  “I changed my mind,” I say, flipping the bedclothes back to show him what I have on underneath them. Which is nothing. “I think I like your original idea better. Want to join me?”

  Luke tosses his cell phone over his shoulder. “I thought you’d never ask,” he says. And dives into bed with me.

  Luke and I are doing some postcoital spooning. It’s so nice to be in his arms—a place I seriously thought I’d never be again.

  “So I was talking to my uncle when I was in France this past week,” Luke is saying.

  “Umm-hmm?” I love the way he smells. Luke, I mean. I missed that smell so much. Being a strong, independent woman who stands up for herself and walks out on the man she feels has done her wrong is really empowering and everything.

  But it’s not easy. Or fun.

  It’s much nicer to hang out in bed with that man, completely naked.

  “You know, my uncle Gerald?” Luke goes on.

  “Uh-huh,” I say. “The one who lives in Houston. And offered you the job with his firm’s new branch in Paris.”

  “Right,” Luke says. “Thibodeaux, Davies, and Stern. It’s one of the most exclusive private client investment companies in the world.”

  “Mmmm,” I say. I’m admiring the way Luke’s bicep, even when he’s totally relaxed, like he is now, is just so… big. And round. And satiny smooth. And the perfect place for me to rest my cheek. It’s impossible to think about anything else—or anyone else—when you’re resting your cheek on a hot guy’s naked bicep. “Except you don’t care about that. Because you’re working on your post-baccalaureate program so you can finish up the premed classes you didn’t take in college because you were getting an MBA, and when you’re done, you can start applying to medical schools.”

  “Yeah,” Luke says. “I know. That’s what’s so great about Gerald’s offer.”

  I have no choice but to reluctantly lift my head from the satiny pillow of Luke’s bicep.

  “Your uncle Gerald made you an offer?” I try to keep my voice even-sounding. Like I don’t care at all what we’re discussing. La la la, don’t care a bit about STUPID UNCLE GERALD BUTTING HIS NOSE INTO MY BOYFRIEND’S—excuse me, MY FIANCÉ’S—BUSINESS. “What kind of offer?”

  “That this summer I could work for him, helping to get the Paris branch of Thibodeaux, Davies, and Stern up and running.”

  “Oh.” I lay my head back down. “Instead of taking classes in your post-baccalaureate program?”

  But no sooner have I laid my head down than Luke sits up, jiggling my head to the pillow.

  “It’s a really fantastic offer,” he says excitedly. “Considering it’s for only three months. It’s about half a year’s salary of what I used to be making. It’s really generous of him.”

  “Wow,” I say, trying to plump my pillow up so it’s as comfy as his arm was. “That is generous.”

  “Not that it won’t be a lot of work,” Luke says. “I mean, it will be. Seventeen-, eighteen-hour days, most likely. But it’s a fantastic opportunity. And, of course, I can use the family apartment.”

  “Neat,” I say. Luke’s lucky his family happens to have all these places to live just randomly sitting around empty all over the world. Apartments in New York City and Paris, a house in Houston, a château in the south of France…

  “And I can make up the classes I’d miss,” Luke says, “in the fall. It’ll just be another
semester tacked on to what I’ve already got ahead of me.”

  “Oh,” I say.

  “And the best part,” Luke says, leaning over to drape one of those tanned, muscular arms across my waist, “is that you can come with me.”

  I blink at him. “What?”

  “Yeah,” Luke says, giving me a squeeze. “I’ve thought it all through. You can come with me, to Paris. It’ll be much easier to coordinate the wedding at Château Mirac from there than it would be from here… ”

  “Um,” I say. I can’t believe he’s serious. “I can’t just take the summer off and go to Paris, Luke.”

  “Sure you can,” Luke says. Apparently, he thinks I’m the one who’s kidding. “They’ll give you time off from the shop. They’ll have to. You’re getting married!”

  “Yeah,” I say. “Time off meaning two weeks… three, maybe. But not the whole summer.”

  “Lizzie.” Luke looks disappointed in me. “Don’t you know anything about the business world? Don’t let the Henris tell you how much vacation time you get. You tell them. If they really want to keep you, they’ll let you take off as much time as you want.”

  “Luke,” I say, trying to figure out how I can put this without offending him. “I don’t want to take the whole summer off. And I definitely don’t want to spend it with you in Paris.”

  But no sooner are the words out of my mouth than I realize that I’ve done it again. Put my foot in my mouth, I mean. God, no matter how hard I try to be tactful, I just never seem to be able to say the right thing around this guy.

  “Th-that didn’t come out the right way,” I stammer.

  Fortunately, Luke is chuckling.

  “I guess I never have to worry about your not being honest with me,” he says.

  “I’m sorry,” I hurry to say. “What I meant was—”

  “You don’t want to spend the summer in Paris,” he says. “And you don’t have to apologize. I understand. You love your job, and you want to be here for it. That’s okay. The thing is, Gerald’s offer is really too good for me to turn down. Especially with the wedding to pay for. Look, it’s all right. We can do the long-distance thing. We’re already going to be doing the separate-apartment thing”—he gives me a mischievous smile, because I’d already warned him, before I’d said yes to his proposal, that I wouldn’t be moving back in with him until after the wedding; it just seems like the wisest thing to do, under the circumstances—“so I guess living in separate countries for a couple of months over the summer shouldn’t be that big a deal.”