***Sebida Methodist Church***
Lizzie checked the time on her phone again. It was only two minutes since the last time. He wasn’t even late. Adam had another five before they had agreed. Two-fifty-five. Yes, five minutes before the wedding was cutting things close. She should have probably thought about that.
She had always been a bit of a control freak. The little girl who never had to be told to clean her room. Her dolls were neatly lined up on the shelves. Her books in order by subject first, then alphabetical by author. Her bed always made, laundry always folded and put away. Uptight is what Mercy called it.
But these past few years, that organization was the only thing that had gotten her through. Them through it all. It was not easy, barely twenty and the guardian of a young child. Add to that a business to run and Gareth’s injuries, many people would break under pressure. Her systems, schedules, and routines kept her going through the rough times. She was just too busy to let any of it get to her.
Which was also why she had told Adam not to arrive until just before the wedding began. She knew this was going to be a big deal in town. Lizzie was just hoping that there was so much to talk about in Sebida that her first date in a decade was far down the list.
And the gossip mill at Sybil May’s beauty shop was going wild. The little blue-haired betties were in there almost every day just to stay in the loop. Someone should tell them about social media. Although she was confident, the phone lines were busy too.
Between Laura’s mysterious soldier becoming the new sheriff, Mercy and that ‘black’ man, although Lizzie was pretty sure those women used other terms. Even old shit with their mother kept being dredged up. No one had known her ‘husband’s’ connection to a drug cartel, but that too was whispered about unkindly.
Maybe this wasn’t a good idea? Of course, those women would gossip about Adam’s ‘drinking problem.’ Then talk would get around to whatever was a ‘sensible young woman’ like her doing with a drunk, you’d think that after her family’s ‘tragedy’ she’d know better.
Lizzie was pacing the gravel parking lot when she heard giggling. She stopped when she turned. Abby. She thought she knew that sound. Lizzie was only slightly surprised to see Jack Greywolf’s arms around her friend.
She felt her throat tighten and fought the moisture that threatened to overflow her eyes. Abby glowed. There was no other description for her friend. From the hickie on Abby’s neck, it was almost inevitable that she was the sole remaining vestal virgin.
She was happy for her friend. Her friends. Truly she was. She had known this day would come eventually. She had assumed that Abby would be first, as long as she had been engaged to that jerk. But seeing her friend with the man she knew Abby had always loved seemed almost like a miracle.
She was not jealous. Didn’t envy make the top ten list of sins? If you weren’t supposed to covet your neighbor’s ass, then surely their happiness made that list? Lizzie supposed it was about time, too. They weren’t getting any younger.
Maybe it was just that Mercy and Abby had found their forevers so closely together? Two months ago, only Abby was dating anyone, and that was not going so well even then. Now, Mercy was getting married, and Abby was glowing.
And she was waiting on her fake date. She smiled at Abby and Jack as they approached. “Sorry, we’re late,” her friend giggled as Jack drew Abby closer to him.
“You’ve got a few more minutes before they start. Go on in and find a seat.”
Abby nodded as they put on their masks. “Aren’t you coming?”
She shook her head, “Not just yet.” Why was she so reluctant to tell her friend that she was waiting for someone? Was she afraid that Adam might not show up? Perhaps he wouldn’t. Maybe he was having second thoughts about this ridiculous idea?
“Hey, am I late?”
Lizzie was glad that she was already wearing her mask. It hid the broad grin at his appearance. She glanced quickly at her phone and grin even wider, “No, you’re right on time. Adam, have you met my friends Abigail Monroe and Jack Greywolf?” Was it her imagination, or did Jack seem to bristle at the introduction?
Her ‘date’ held out his hand, “Hello, Jack.”
Jack shook Adam’s hand quickly, “Nice to meet you.” He turned to Abby, “We should head inside and find a seat, baby girl. Perhaps we’ll see you both after the wedding?”
Before Lizzie could question her friend about anything, Jack had pulled Abby inside the church. “They seem like a nice couple. Monroe? Which branch of the family? Even in Bryan, I heard that Joe had died. That’s his grandson?”
She turned to Adam; his questions gave her an excuse to focus on something else. “Yes, Jack is Joe’s grandson. He left the Army and came home after his grandfather’s death to run the casino. Abby is Miss Myrtle’s granddaughter. She died a couple of months before Joe did.”
Sometimes she forgot that things did change, even in Sebida. Had it really been almost two years since…. “We should probably go inside too.”
He nodded and held out his arm, “Shall we, Miss Lizzie?”
She could almost see him smile behind his mask at the quaint, old-fashioned usage of her name. Of course, he had no way of knowing that it triggered all her fears. Miss Lizzie, over at the diner, the crazzy cat lady of Sebida, the last of the vestal virgins. She could almost hear the sing-song rhythm of the words, whispered in pity by the children. But from the looks of things, she might as well get used to it.
She took the arm he offered. Thankful that at least this one day, she would not face that future alone. And if that was more fodder for the blue-haired betties, then so be it. At least, they would not be whispering their pity for ‘poor little Lizzie Patterson’ at Sybil May’s beauty shop tomorrow morning.
At least she was walking into the church on the arms of a handsome man. This might not be as tough a day as that night the hospital had called to tell her that her family had been in an accident. Or waiting through all Gareth’s surgeries. Or those first few months at the diner when she wasn’t sure if they would make it. But today would rank somewhere on the list. The day she became the last vestal virgin.
They found seats about halfway up the aisle, just behind Abby and Jack, as the music began to play. But it was not the traditional wedding march as everyone turned to the back of the church to see Mercy on one side of Stacey Reynolds and Laura on the other. “I ain’t no high class broad. I’m just a product of my raising. I say, ‘hey ya’ll’ and ‘yee-haw.’”
She shook her head; she should have known better than to expect ‘normal’ from Mercy. But her other friend was glowing too as the three women two-stepped down the aisle to the men waiting for them at the altar. If her heart was a bit heavy and torn, well, she was not going to let that stop her from being happy for her friends. She’d cry into her pillow later.
So, why did the gentle squeeze to her shoulder feel so good? No matter what, she was glad that she had invited him. “Thank you,” she whispered as they took their seats. Jack’s hand was not halfway up Abby’s thigh? Not in the middle of church? Heaven help them if any of the blue-haired betties saw that.