Haunted by a past Max can’t seem to escape, he invests everything he is into Hayley. He pampers her and shows her a love she never knew she could experience. His entire life revolves around making her happy and eventually protecting her from his demons. Even if that means hurting her in the process.
While Max tries to pick up the pieces of his broken past, Hayley protects her own heart the best way she knows how – through laughter and mayhem.
But when secrets unravel, both must decide what is most important. Feeling more vulnerable than ever before, they must fight for each other and for themselves.
**This is an interconnected standalone for Love, Always. **
“Why are we doing this again?” Dee asks when I park my car.
“Because you’re my best friend.”
“Pulling the best friend card again?”
“And because you love me,” I remind her with a smirk.
“I can’t stand you,” she corrects.
With my hand tucked in Dee’s arm, we walk together into a bridal store. I lean my head on her shoulder and wait for a sales associate to approach us.
“I already have my dress,” Dee whispers for the hundredth time today.
“But I don’t and I want to be a bride for the day.” More so, I want a day of fun and silliness. I want to forget the troubles life has thrown at me and just have a few hours of pure ridiculousness.
“Ladies,” a sales associate says, getting our attention. “How can I help you?”
Dee looks back at me nervously so I pinch her arm so she’ll stay quiet. I’m going to be a bride and she’s not going to ruin my fun.
“We’re getting married,” I tell the lady, who smiles back at me. “We both want to wear dresses, but I think only one of us should wear a princess type gown. I mean, how cheesy would we look if we wore similar dresses. And lets face it, babe, I’m more of a princess than you,” I tell Dee who is attempting first degree murder with her eyes.
“Oh,” the sales associate says. “You two are… together?”
“Yes.” I beam back at her while I hold on to Dee’s arm so she doesn’t leave me before I have the chance to try on a single dress.
“Fantastic.” She claps her hands together in the same way Josie does.
“See,” I tell Dee, “fantastic!”
“My name is Rosa, and I’m sure we can find you both dresses you can agree on. Just go to the back of the showroom and I’ll take back different styles of dresses so you can choose which ones to try on.”
“I think a short dress for my bride would be good.” I wink at Dee, who bites her bottom lip.
“She has a thing for my long legs,” Dee tells Rosa and I’m so happy Dee is finally playing along that I throw myself into her arms.
Dee and I walk to the dressing room together, our steps light and carefree—it’s hard to believe there’s a war waging inside of me.
It’s been a very strained eleven days since Max told me about his parents’ involvement in Hannah’s death and he still acts as if he’s the one that forced the pills down my sister’s throat. We’ve tried to move forward with our relationship but there are several layers of discomfort between us that is making it difficult.
At least we’re living together again and sleeping in the same bed. It’s a shame that all we’re doing in our bed is sleeping though.
I miss Max. I see him every day, talk to him countless times a day, but I still miss him. He can be right next to me but still be so far away. I just can’t get to him.
I want to beg him to silence his mind and listen to his heart so that he can find peace. The heart knows how to heal itself—it’s the mind that makes the task so difficult. And Max’s mind never shuts off.
I wish I could have chosen who I’d fall in love with. He’d have all the same qualities as Max, but with a mind that came with an off switch. But you don’t get to choose. Instead you’re stuck in love with a man that is all wrong for you, but you can’t breathe without, because he’s also perfect for you.
“Earth to Hayley.” Dee snaps her fingers in front of my face, bringing me back to the fitting room where I just removed my top and jeans.
“Have you talked to Max, yet?” Dee asks me as she undoes the buttons on her jeans.
“Not yet.” I take the dress in Rosa’s outstretched hand and with Dee’s help, get into the crinoline and then the big puffy dress.
After Dee ties the corset in the back, I step out of the dressing room and look at myself in three full length mirrors. The dress is beautiful, but far too intricate. I want something a bit simpler. Maybe with an open back, I think as I pick my hair up in a messy bun and try to look at my back. I bite my lower lip as I examine myself from every angle and as much as I like the dress, it doesn’t scream out Hayley.
“Beautiful, but not you,” Dee says, confirming my thoughts. “A little less shininess,” she tells Rosa.
“And an open back.” Dee nods in agreement while I look at her in a short white strapless dress.
She looks good, but Dee could make a mu-mu look good. Of course, her actual wedding dress is stunning, putting anything she tries on today to shame.
“Tall strappy heels,” I tell her and she nods enthusiastically.
“And a hat,” she shouts and I look back at her confused. “You know, one of those old fashion hats with a short veil over your face.”
“Wrong dress for that, love.”
Dee looks at Rosa who agrees with me and her expression quickly turns to disappointment until Rosa runs off promising to come back with a dress we’ll both love. While we wait for her, I try on another dress that isn’t quite to my liking.
“When are you gonna talk to him?” Dee asks, continuing our earlier conversation.
“I don’t know, Dee. We’re still not doing all that great and I don’t want to build an even bigger wedge between us.” I step out of my dress and juggle Dee’s new breasts in my hands when Rosa opens the curtains and hands us our dresses to try on. Dee flushes along with Rosa, but seriously her breasts are probably her best investment yet. They’re not too big or too uncomfortable to look at, but voluptuous C-cups with a perfect lift. To think, she laughed at me when I told her she should get implants.
Dee smacks my hands away so she can try on the dress. “You have a right to talk to his parents,” she states firmly.
Of course I do, but I have to be careful how I approach the subject with Max. He loves me, I know he does and I know he’d do anything to make me happy, but he carries the guilt of his parents’ sin like a coat. I don’t want to push him too hard, too fast.
How cute are we, trying to protect one another from each other?
I slip on the new dress, having to tug a bit more than I’d like over my chest, but I immediately know I’ll love it. Even in its snugness, it feels right. I look back at Dee who is smiling so big you’d think I actually was a bride.
She pushes me to the mirrors and I let out a happy breath when I see myself. If I were actually getting married, this would be the dress I’d pick. There are some flashy pink beads on the bottom, but not much elsewhere aside from the train and the belt that hugs my waist. The back is open and while my breasts feel like they are about to pop out, the top half is just as stunning.
“This is it,” Dee whispers, her eyes filling with tears.
Rosa smiles at both of us, handing Dee a tissue which she obediently takes and blots her eyes with.
“If you’re sure, I can get your measurements to make sure we order you the right dress.”
Dee nods her head and I’m tempted to smack her. This is a dress for a pretend wedding for a pretend bride. Get a grip!
“We have an appointment at another store,” I tell Rosa, whose delight quickly sobers. “If we don’t find anything there, you’ll definitely hear back from us.”
“Of course, of course. You have to be one hundred percent sure.” Rosa nods and I almost feel bad. There goes her pretty commission.
Dee and I go back into our changing room where Dee continues to blot her eyes and I can’t help but roll mine at her. “Have you lost your mind?” I hiss at her and she smiles back at me sheepishly. “Quit crying, crazy, and help me out of this dress.”
“Fine,” she agrees reluctantly. “But let me take some pictures first. That way, when you do get married we can have a dress like this made.”
Yeah, when I get married. First, I have to find a guy that can stand the sight of me without running for the hills from guilt.
I lift my arms and am nearly pulled out of my own skin when the dress catches just below my breasts. I close my eyes and suck in a deep breath to make myself skinner when Dee pulls on the dress again to no avail.
“Dee,” I whisper when I hear her nervous giggles.
“Give me a minute,” she says as she pushes my left tit against my chest and pulls the dress over it. “Okay,” she grunts and does the same to my right tit. Only this time the dress doesn’t budge so she tries again.
“Try pulling it down,” I suggest and she does, but again nothing moves. “Holy shit! I’m stuck!”
“I’m gonna get Rosa.”
“Don’t you dare!” I grab at Dee blindly and feel my eyes widen. Have my breasts always been this big? Unless I’ve somehow gained weight thereby making my boobs bigger. It’s not like it’s even possible for me to be pregnant since I’m on the pill. No part of me wants to get on that damn scale in my apartment to check my weight. It’s just the dress. Of course, it’s just the dress, it’s too small, definitely not my size. “Don’t you leave me, Dee, or I swear I’ll kick your ass.”
“Okay, okay. I have scissors in my purse, maybe if I make a tiny slit-”
I hear her rummage through her purse while I stand helpless with my hands in the air. Suddenly the rummaging stops and I hear her begin to make little cuts into the dress. When Dee stops snipping at the dress and hisses in a breath, I hold in my own breath. Something’s happened.
“Shit,” she whispers and I freeze. “Shit, shit, shit.”
“Dee,” I say slowly.
“Don’t laugh,” Dee warns me and I wait. “I got chocolate on your dress.”
“How’d you get chocolate on the dress?” I whisper back, suppressing the laughter building inside of me. We’ve broken and stained my perfect wedding dress.
“Adam is anti-chocolate bars so I hide them in my purse, and, uh, they melted. I didn’t see it until I made a small cut in your dress. The good news is, I think the dress will come off.”
I hold my breath again and close my eyes while Dee slips the dress off. I give myself a moment to sigh in relief at my freedom, but then look for the chocolate smudge print.
“Fucking Adam,” I say, because this is obviously his fault. Him and his stupid healthy living.
Yessi Smith lives in South Florida with her husband, seven year old son and newborn baby. She is also owned by a neurotic Border Collie and “ferocious” Rottweiler.
She has a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management and a Master’s in Human Resource Management and has held several jobs, from picking up dog poop to upper management positions. And now she hopes to leave the business world behind so she can live full time in a world that does not exist until she places her fingers on a keyboard and brings them to fruition.