We have always just been friends.
Emily Rhey has been my best friend since tin-can lunches in the first grade. We have seen each other through everything; the ‘firsts’, the ‘seconds, the ‘always,’ but most importantly when everyone left, she was still there.
She’s smart, beautiful, witty–the perfect woman for any man.
Even someone like me; heir to my father’s empire, as handsome as I am rich.
Over the years, plenty have questioned us–my brothers, even my mother; but we have never crossed that line.
I never thought about it, and as far as I’m concerned, neither has she.
When grief draws us together, very close together, it changes everything…
I tell myself we are only friends…until I can decide if it is still true.
“I bet you a hundred bucks, you’re going to break your neck.”
“Only a hundred? Come on, is my life not worth more than that?”
“Less… I bet ten.” Dylan. Such a prick. Always has been. Always will be.
“No one is going to die. It’s only a ten-foot drop. Easy,” Fletcher adds in.
“Yeah, but add that with the icy cold water and the angle—”
“Shut up, doc,” Grayson snipes at Jeffrey, who makes a face but accepts that we are the last people to accept his MD.
“Just get down from there, Carson,” Holden adds his pseudo patriarch voice to the conversation.
I turn to him and laugh, shaking my head at him. The motion makes me a little wobbly on the edge of the boat. I slip and catch myself with my bare feet, my jeans are the only thing protecting my body from the cold wharf air. I mock exactly what Holden says, and he makes a face, holding his hands up, one with beer and the other empty.
“Do you really want to die the night of my wedding?” Brant finally chimes in.
He has been quiet and brooding the whole time, and we haven’t even left the dock yet. All of us flocked here for his wedding this weekend to the super-hot lawyer he met only seven months ago. They swear it isn’t only for the kid she is about to have, I believe him—but I’m not a fan of insta-love. Or love in general.
“That question begs the fact that I might die, but I won’t. Are your video cameras out?” I stare down at the water calmly thrashing against the edge of the boat.
I guess I shouldn’t call a hundred-foot yacht a boat. It’s more of a small house, our own little city. It has been in the family since I was little and looked at it like a small city. Now it’s yet another thing I have grown used to in this fine life we live. Thanks for all the hard work, Dad.
“Open the bay back doors for when I get back.” I shout to my brothers. All here except Isaac, maybe I am jumping toward him. Or is that way too touchy?
I’d like to think it is, but we are all thinking the same thing. There is a reason why we drink so much when we all get together. But I haven’t had enough to make me wobbly, or regret jumping out into the water, adding a flip. The water hits me cold, and I surface back up to find my brothers looking on.
All with video cameras.
* * *
“I look like a pompous ass.” Fletcher keeps picking at his suit like it was put on unwillingly. Maybe it was.
We are all laughing at him eyeing himself in the wide mirror like he doesn’t know who he is. I get it, big football guy wearing a suit. Not comfortable.
“You look like the rest of us.” Dylan stands behind him to fix his tie. At least Cora only wanted a simple wedding. But telling my mom she can go ahead and plan everything? None of them are prepared for what she did to the house for this party.
“Yeah, unfortunately we share genes. Alec on the other hand…”
“Fuck off,” Alec chimes in from his spot in the corner of the room. He is already dressed, the calmest of us all. Not just because he has always been a silent brooder, but because he has done this before and has a first-class ticket to chill out.
“You only have to wear it for the ceremony. And nine thousand pictures,” Grayson says. He looks older every time I see him, but he is only twenty-one. It’s probably from being away at the war and all. Or are we actually fighting?
“Right. Where is Brant?” Fletcher asks.
We all laugh.
Brant never freaks out about anything. He is always cool and chill. I crack the jokes to make the awkward moments go away.
“Not like he has anything to worry about.” I tilt my neck up to fix my tie. “Rich, famous, already knocked her up. She isn’t going anywhere.”
Holden highly disagrees with a scoff. “Yeah right, have you met Cora? She wouldn’t think twice about it if she had to. That chick is the definition of spitfire.”
“She reminds you of Elizabeth?” I ask Holden. He gives me a hard glare that still gets even me to shut up. I’m not allowed to talk about the woman he makes eyes with at work. But oh, he can bother me about any and every woman I hook up with. Just because he is older, he takes the hierarchy thing too seriously.
“Look, we all need to hurry up and get to Brant’s room.” Jeffrey brings us all back to the present.
We have turned the media room into our hangout spot while chaos ensues in the rest of the house—caterers, planners, whoever it is that brings the flowers and chairs. We don’t keep many friends. Just family friends, and actual family. Mom has a bunch of siblings, nieces and nephews—our cousins. But we didn’t make nice with each and every person we came in contact with because most of the time they only wanted something from us. Wanted in on the most successful family the tri-state area has ever seen.
But I’m not butt hurt about it or anything. I have friends, my brothers and—
“Where is Emily?” Evan asks.
I make a face at him as I walk over to the wet bar for a bottle of water. Fletcher makes a signal he wants one, so I toss it to him.
“Uh, out with Mom helping set up, I think.”
“Mom really likes her. More than Mia,” Alec says.
“Not possible, Mom loves Mia. And Emily has been in the family for a long time…” I guzzle down the water suddenly thirsty as hell.
“I know.” Alec chuckles. “But is she?”
My brothers all stop what they’re doing to make the room comically silent and stare me down until I answer. I hate them all. Of course, not literally. But every chance they get, they want to irritate me about this whole ‘best friend’ thing. Guys can have female best friends, and it doesn’t mean anything other than having a person, someone besides my idiot brothers.
I smile and laugh without humor.
“Don’t we have a wedding to get to?”
With more protests and denials, we pile out to find Brant in the pool house where he is supposed to be. He looks good, his bridal suit kind of matches ours, made more fancy by the tail end. I honestly never took him for the marriage type—maybe it is the rock-star thing. But now that I see it, I don’t question it, not since I saw him with Cora for the first time. It was the same with Alec and Mia, something about them is different…
“Imagining it’s you up there?”
I turn to Emily. She has her sneaky smile on. She’s got many smiles. I guess I would know since she is my best friend. What I didn’t know is how well she could clean up. Maybe it’s just been a while, but… she does look amazing.
“Hell no,” I whisper back.
She giggles softly and leans away from my ear. I would be up there with all my other brothers, but just like last time, we can’t all fit. Besides, Brant already decided on it. He doesn’t want anyone messing up the photo so it’s just him and his best man, good ol’ Holden.
“She is so pretty.” Emily sighs and leans her head on my shoulder.
The minister hasn’t been going that long, but I can tell it might get wordy. Brant likes that kind of stuff, and Cora humors him after she argues enough. It’s their thing.
“And she doesn’t even look pregnant. Well, that’s how I look after a meal of spaghetti.”
I chuckle softly at her, no one notices we are entertaining ourselves.
“You look great,” I whisper back. I feel her shrug like ‘okay.’
But I mean it. She has this tan dress on, side straps and a V-neckline low enough to remind me how sexy she really is. Sometimes I forget, especially when we spent our teen years together and saw each other through acne and braces. It’s long, I don’t see her legs crossed under the layered fabric of it. I know that’s how she sits though, always has.
“You look dapper.”
“You see me wear a suit every day.” I smirk down at her.
We work together at my dad’s company. I still call it that even though it has been almost a year since his passing, and Holden is well past running it on his own. Emily is an executive associate in international relations which just means she is one step away from running the whole team. Me, I’m COO because I know how to keep things in check—also studied business management at Yale with Emily. I went to college as a showpiece because I hated it, and when Dad passed, I officially took over as COO, and Evan moved to CTO so he wouldn’t have to manage both roles himself. We’re better at each position, respectively.
“Not like this.”
“You have the hots for me?” I lean down to whisper in her ear. Then she flashes me her goofy smile that I return.
“Shut up. Watch your brother get married.”
“It’s no different from the last time,” I murmur.
But I get my camera out when they start to exchange rings. I have an obligation to keep everyone updated.
“No way,” I say to myself when Brant starts crying at the end.
I look at Fletcher, and he frowns because he owes me some money since we bet on it. I bet he would cry, he said no way. How about that?
The lot of us hound Brant at the end. We are all super happy for him and Cora. Plus, the little one on the way. Alec has had his own share of it too, with Mia about the same amount of time along with their kid. Cora’s brother, Damien, is quite the socialite, talking up a few of our younger cousins. I guess they’re around his age. It’s nice to know that all facets of our family easily mesh together.
All but two now. Dad would be proud, and I don’t know if Isaac could care less.
“Let’s dance.” Emily stands and tugs me with her.
“I would rather eat these samplers.” I pick at one of my quiches.
But then she makes her face—the ‘please’ face. That face made me take a Pilates class with her, and I still have a wedgie.
“Ugh, fine. None of the Milly Rock stuff, though.” I follow her out to the designated dance area.
“Just because you can’t do it doesn’t mean you can knock it.” She laughs.
Most of the kids have found their own corner, the adults in another. Mom is sitting with Mia who is nursing her small belly. Mom is ecstatic about all the grandkids coming along. I’m sure she has plans in her head already.
The music is too slow for anything but goofy swaying. Our hands interlocked, moving back and forth while Emily laughs. She loves laughing at everything, and it is just part of who she is. Happy, loving, carefree, my twelfth favorite person in the entire world—right after my brothers and Mom.
“You learned new moves,” I shout to her.
Brant has taken the night off—no singing from him. But he did mention something about serenading Cora, and that would be the only singing he does over his honeymoon. Nothing like the heart-tugging first dance between them.
“I club a lot.” She giggles.
I shake my head at her and wrestle her into a dramatic dip. Her laugh shoots through my ears and makes me follow suit.
“How many more can you take?” I ask her as she doesn’t let me leave once again.
“What? You tired?” She comes closer and grabs my arms trying to make me hit the whip.
I smile down at her taking in the light of her dark green eyes and glowing sheen all over her dancing body. Was she always this pretty? I guess that isn’t the question at hand. Emily has a senseless beauty that grew like a flower, morphed with her soul in a fast, blinding moment. The soft roundness of her eyes frames her face over her button nose and small, set lips, her rounded face matches the rest of her sinuous body. I blink, she asked me something…
“Hell yeah, I’m tired.”
“Keep up with me, and I’ll buy you a milkshake after.”
“Can’t we ditch the wedding now?” I whine.
“We haven’t had cake yet. I never leave without cake.”