Today's Reading

LINA

Pity. That's what I see in Max's whiskey-brown eyes. In his dejected stance. In the way he's struggling to conceal a pout.

I motion him inside the dressing suite. "What's going on?"

My tone of voice is exactly as it should be: calm and even. In truth, I regularly monitor my daily emotional output the way some people track their daily caloric intake, and since my mother and I just shared a few teary-eyed minutes together, I'm either fresh out of feelings or close to exceeding today's quota.

After striding to the center of the room, Max turns around slowly, one of his hands fussing with the collar of his button-down. That's the biggest sign that something's amiss: He isn't wearing the light gray suit Andrew selected for his attendants.

I prod him with a different question. "Is Andrew okay?"

It can't be that bad if Max is here. I don't know him well—he lives in New York and hasn't been around for most of the pre-wedding festivities. Still, he's Andrew's only sibling, and if something awful has happened, he'd be with his older brother, right? Well, given that Max was Andrew's third choice for best man (after choices one and two politely declined), perhaps that isn't a safe assumption.

Max scrunches his brows, the resulting lines in his forehead reminding me of ripples in water. "No, no, Andrew's fine. It's nothing like that."

I press a hand to my belly and let out a shaky breath. "All right, good. Then what's going on?"

He swallows. Hard. "He's not coming. To the wedding. Says he can't go through with it."

For several seconds, I just blink and process. Blink, blink, blink, and process. God. All the planning. The people. The family that traveled from near and far to be here. I envision the fallout and cringe. My mother and aunts will be livid on my behalf. Before this day is over, they'll organize a search party so they can find Andrew and kick him in the balls with the agility and precision of the Rockettes. And considering their entrepreneurial spirit, I wouldn't be surprised if they sold tickets to the show and titled it The Nutcracker.

Max clears his throat. The staccato sound disrupts my stream of consciousness, and the significance of the situation truly hits me.

I'm not getting married today.

My throat constricts and my chest tightens. Oh, no, no, no. Hold it together, Lina. You're a pro at this. I wrestle with my tears and body slam them back into their ducts.

Max inches forward. "What can I do? Do you need a hug? A shoulder to cry on?"

"I don't know what I need," I say hoarsely, unable to pull off the unruffled demeanor I'd hoped to convey.

His sad eyes meet mine and he opens his arms. I step into his embrace, desperate to connect with someone so I'll feel less...adrift. He holds me with a light touch, and somehow I know he's restraining himself, as though he wants to keep me afloat rather than pull me under. Through the fog, I notice Max is damp, fresh from a shower possibly, and I'm struck by the absence of any detectible fragrance on his skin. I wonder briefly if my scent will cling to him when he leaves, then wonder just as briefly whether my brain's short-circuiting.

"Are you okay?" he asks in a whisper-soft tone.

I don't move as I consider his question. Maybe remaining still will help me assess the damage. By all rights, I should be hurt, angry, ready to rail against the injustice of what Andrew's done to me. But I'm none of those things. Not yet. The truth is, I'm numb—and more than a little confused.

Andrew's supposed to be "the one." For two years, we've shared interesting conversations, satisfying sex, and stability. Most important, he's never pushed my buttons—not even once—and I can't imagine a better choice for a lifelong partner than someone who doesn't trigger my worst impulses. Until this morning, Andrew and I seemed to be on the same page about the mutual benefits of this union. Today he's apparently in a different book altogether—and I have no idea why.
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