TWELVE WEEKS BEFORE THE WEDDING
The phone rang.
Wendy jumped, cursing herself for forgetting to turn it off before her meeting. Her client, Mr. Frederick Brecht, jumped, too, his solemn tale of woe interrupted by the highly unprofessional “Who Let the Dogs Out” ringtone Wendy’s best friend Jane had set for herself on Wendy’s phone.
“My apologies.” Wendy fumbled to silence the phone and sneaked a glance at the time. It was late Friday afternoon, and Mr. Brecht was. . . thorough.
She eyed the now silent but still ringing phone. Historically, her heart had always done a happy little bleat when she saw the name Jane Denning on her call display. Wendy and Jane had been friends since the first day of fifth grade. Wendy still thanked her lucky stars that Jane had marched up to her in the cafeteria that first day and said, “Sit with me.” Jane had made Wendy’s first day at a new school bet ter. Just like she’d made every day since better. Because Jane was all the things a best friend should be: a good listener, a straight talker, and a hell of a lot of fun. That phrase, “like a sister”? It wasn’t enough to describe how close they were.
Lately, though, her best friend was also one other thing: a bride-to-be. To be fair—and fairness was Wendy’s stock in trade—Wendy couldn’t accuse Jane of being a bridezilla. She wasn’t making her bridesmaids do any bullshit crafts or anything. They all, Jane included, still had bridesmaid PTSD from their friend Elise’s wedding last summer. As a result, all Jane had instructed was that they wear the black dress of their choice to her wedding. So in a letter of-the-law sense, a person couldn’t accuse Jane of being a bridezilla.
But . . . spirit of the law. Even though Jane wasn’t obsessed with the perfect wedding, she was sort of fixated, paradoxically, on the idea that she wasn’t obsessed. She was constantly talking about how her wedding, which would be held at an amusement park she and her fiancé loved, was going to be “low-key.”
It turned out that being “low-key” actually required a shit-ton of mental energy.
The phone’s display continued to show Jane calling. Mr. Brecht pulled out a diagram of his apartment on which he’d marked—and annotated—every instance of rodent infestation that had occurred over his five-year battle with his landlord.
Wendy looked at the clock again.
She weighed her options, then mouthed a prayer of forgiveness. Because right up there with fairness, Wendy valued honesty.
“Excuse me for a moment, Mr. Brecht; I have to take this.”
She braced herself and answered the call.
“Wendy! I thought you were never going to pick up!”
“Good afternoon, Ms. Denning,” Wendy said in her best professional voice. “Could you hold for a moment, please?”
Jane giggled. “Of course, counselor.”
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Brecht. Something has come up with another client.” Wendy made a show of looking at her watch, though she already knew it was 4:58 p.m. “And given that the day is almost over, might I suggest that we pick this up next week?” She stood, ushering him out as she spoke. “We’re all ready to go for your appearance before the board.”
Wendy felt guilty about shuffling Mr. Brecht off—what he needed more than a lawyer was someone to listen to him—but not guilty enough to endure another hour of rats when it was 4:58 p.m. on a Friday and her best friend was on the phone. She was going to get Mr. Brecht’s eviction overturned. She was good at her job—no, she was great at her job—and the fact that a rat had appeared under his sink at precisely 7:43 a.m. last Tuesday would have no bearing on the outcome of his hearing.
Once he was gone, she slammed her door behind her and sank into her office sofa, letting that lovely Friday feeling overtake her. “Hi!” she said, hoping that she was going to get Friend Jane and not Bride Jane. “I need you to send me your bio.”
“My bio?” Wendy tried to ask in a way that masked her real question, which was: What the hell are you talking about?
“For the website?”
Wendy did a lot of pro bono defense work—witness Mr. Brecht and his rats—but she was also an associate at one of Toronto’s most prestigious criminal law firms. In that capacity, she had a bio on the firm’s website—an impressive bio if she did say so herself. But she was pretty sure Jane didn’t care that Wendy was a top-notch criminal litigator with special expertise in the Extradition Act.
“Your bio for the wedding website?” Jane asked.
What Wendy said in response was, “Riiiight.” What she meant was, damn it all to hell. The wedding website was part of Jane’s “everything about this wedding is super fun and low-key” philosophy. She thought if she had a website with all the pertinent details, it would ease logistical challenges for the guests. Not sure about parking? Check the website! Want to see some funny pictures of the bridal couple that demonstrate how fun and low-key they are in a way that looks effortless and un-curated but is actually the result of several hours with a professional photographer? Check the website!
Wendy hadn’t realized, apparently, that the wedding website was also supposed to include bios of the wedding party.
“And you’re coming to the website photo shoot tomorrow morning, right? That’s why I’m nagging you about the bio. I want to give the bios to the photographer in advance so she can get to know the members of the wedding party a little before she shoots you.”
Whoa. Bios and, apparently, portraits.
Wendy wanted to ask if there was any way the photographer could actually shoot her. Because at this point, a quick and painless death would probably be less excruciating than what Jane was suggesting. Wendy could not imagine anything worse than spending a beautiful spring morning sitting for wedding portraits.
“I was going to get some bagels and cream cheese for people to snack on while they wait their turn with the photographer,” Jane went on, “but do you think I should have something more solidly brunchy catered in? I’m not good at this stuff like Elise was. Will people expect, like, eggy things?”
Stifling a sigh, Wendy hoisted herself off the sofa and went to her computer to check her calendar for anything that looked remotely like “photo shoot/brunch/eggy things” listed for tomorrow. She was guilty of maybe not totally paying one hundred percent attention to everything wedding related. But in her defense (pun intended), she was pretty sure she had taken note of all the major events that required her presence, if only because she was determined not to appear to be the disgruntled bridesmaid she actually was.
She found an entry that said “Ten a.m.—Jane’s.” Vague enough that it could have meant anything, including, she supposed, “photo shoot/brunch/eggy things.”
Wendy wanted to ask if she could skip it—she was training for a half marathon and had been planning a long run tomorrow. Could she send a selfie or her law firm portrait and be done with it?
But no. Of course not. She needed to up her game here. Yes, she wasn’t into all this wedding bullshit. But the bigger issue was that in her heart of hearts, she wasn’t into the wedding itself. She was, selfishly, sad that Jane was getting married. She had nothing against Cameron, Jane’s fiancé. Well, nothing that would stand up in court. He had started out as kind of a jerk, and what Jane saw in him remained a mystery to Wendy, but anyone with a brain could see how happy he’d made Jane.
It was just that it had always been Wendy and Jane against the world. The Lost Girls, they used to call themselves. The Dead Dads Club. They were a duo.
And now they were going to be . . . not that.
But that train had left the station, so Wendy put on her court face, even though Jane couldn’t see her. Wendy’s court face was like a poker face, but a lot more badass. “Sorry the bio is late. I’ll send it within the hour. And, no, I don’t think people will expect eggy things. Why don’t I bring the bagels?”
“You don’t need to bring anything except the questionnaire.”
“The questionnaire is different from the bio?”
Her question was met with silence. There were messages encoded in that silence, though. Messages that only two-plus decades of best-friendship could interpret. Wendy had failed Jane. She wasn’t quite sure how, yet, but the disappointment in Jane’s silence was unmistakable.
“Right, yes, the questionnaire,” she lied, typing “questionnaire + Jane” into the search field in her email and coming up with a message from two weeks ago about how each member of the wedding party was supposed to answer a few “fun, low-key” questions. The answers would be posted next to their bios on the wedding website. The bio that Wendy had forgotten all about.
Wendy sharpened her court face. “Of course the questionnaire and bio are totally different things. I’m sorry; I just got confused for a moment. It’s been a really long week.”
Mollified, Jane made a sympathetic clucking noise. “When is your next trip?”
Wendy sighed. She could feel herself getting itchy. “Nothing until the big one.”
“Wow,” Jane said. “That’s like four months away. Have you ever stayed put for that long?”
It was a fair question. The wanderlust was strong in Wendy, and it hadn’t been indulged for a long time. But in the fall, she was taking a six-month sabbatical and traveling around the world.
She. Could. Not. Wait.
But it also meant that she had a shit-ton of work to get done before she hit the road. “I have to be in court starting next week, and I think it will be a long trial. Plus I have this side thing I’m doing that’s going before the Landlord and Tenant Board on Wednesday, so I’m already going to have to clone myself somehow. So, alas, no trips for me until the big one.”
“Landlord and Tenant Board?” Jane echoed in a skeptical tone—the Landlord and Tenant Board was not Wendy’s usual scene, and Jane knew it. Wendy was a high-powered defense lawyer, but she frequently volunteered her services in other, less glamorous contexts. “Who’s your latest downtrodden?”
“My hairdresser’s uncle. His apartment is infested with rats.”
Jane cracked up. “You’re a superhero, you know? Getting white-collar criminals off by day, de-ratting the city by night.”
Wendy’s friends found her pro bono work amusingly incongruous. Elise had even suggested she did it to balance out the karmic scales. But that wasn’t it at all. Wendy believed that everyone—everyone—had the right to a rigorous defense. And, sure, she did her pro bono work because it wasn’t fair that rich people could afford better defense than poor people. But the essential act of advocating for someone—defending them—was the same no matter the circumstances. Still, she’d long since stopped trying to make her friends see that logic when they launched into their speeches about how “cute” it was that she made two hundred grand a year and still signed up for volunteer shifts at Legal Aid clinics.
“Dang, I love you.” Jane’s voice had gone all moony, almost like she was talking about her fiancé rather than Wendy.
“I love you, too.” It was the truth. It was why she was so torn up about this wedding. Inexplicably, her eyes filled with tears. Which was mortifying. Wendy was not a crier.
“You know who else I love?” Jane sniffed. The impulse to cry must have been contagious.
You and me both.
Okay, that wasn’t true. Not anymore, anyway. Not since she was fifteen. And that hadn’t been anything more than a girlish crush. Still, adrenaline surged through Wendy as it did every time Noah Denning’s name was mentioned.
“I wish he could come to the photo shoot,” Jane said.
Right, so Wendy had to correct a previous thought. It turned out she could imagine something worse than spending a beautiful spring morning sitting for wedding portraits: spending a beautiful spring morning sitting for wedding portraits with Jane’s brother.
“But of course he’s coming to the wedding itself, and that’s what matters,” Jane said, sniffles transformed into glee.
Noah Denning: one more huge-ass reason Wendy was not looking forward to Jane’s wedding. Usually, when Jane’s brother came to visit, Wendy managed to be off on one of her trips. When she couldn’t avoid seeing him—he was her best friend’s brother after all, and she had practically lived at the Dennings’ house when she was a kid—she had to armor herself so extensively that it was exhausting. And that was just for short encounters—a dinner, a brunch, church with Wendy’s aunt Mary.
A week, though?
How was she going to survive?
“I’ll let you get back to your rats, Wendy Defendy,” Jane said, using the nickname she thought was so hilarious.
Wendy Defendy had to take a couple deep breaths to get her shit together.
“Okay,” she said once she had succeeded. “I should get a bit more done before I knock off for the night.”
Wendy defended people. It was just what she did.
Too bad she didn’t know how to defend her heart.
Oh my God, you totally saved the day,” Jane whisper-yelled when Wendy arrived for the photo shoot the next morning bearing not just bagels but several bottles of prosecco and a gallon of fresh-squeezed orange juice. “Everyone is standing around waiting for the photographer to finish setting up her equipment, and I knew I should have done more with catering.”
“Nah.” Wendy flashed Jane a smile. “We’ll just get ’em drunk. Much more efficient.”
Elise approached and gave Wendy a quick hug before relieving her of her bags.
“Is Gia in town?” Wendy looked around for the fourth member of their close-knit group.
“She’s at a Givenchy shoot in Rio,” Elise said.
“But she sent a picture!” Jane pulled out her phone. “She asked me for specs on how these shots were going to be done, and she had Steven Meisel shoot one of her in the same vein. Like, in an off moment during the shoot. Can you imagine?”
“I really can’t.” Wendy took the phone to better see the photo and refrained from asking the obvious question: Who is Steven Meisel? And also from wondering why she hadn’t thought to fake an international high-fashion photo shoot this morning. That was probably the only thing that would have gotten her off the hook today.
“Hi, Wendy.” Jane’s fiancé Cameron approached.
Wendy tried not to stiffen as he leaned down to peck her cheek. Cameron was such a guy. He was a former soldier with all the tattoos and muscles that stereotypically went with the gig. Now he was working construction. He was also in university part-time, though, which Wendy had to respect.
Wendy sighed as Cameron placed his hand on Jane’s butt and Jane shot him a big, besotted smile.
Wendy needed to try to muster some genuine enthusiasm for this wedding. She couldn’t keep half-assing everything and forgetting shit or she was going to hurt her best friend. And Wendy could not afford to lose Jane. Since her mom had died a couple years ago, Wendy was an honest-to-God orphan. She could star in her own Charles Dickens novel.
So, even if everything was going to be different—and by “different,” Wendy meant “worse”—when Jane got married, Wendy needed Jane.
“Wendy, why don’t you go first with the photographer, being the maid of honor and all?” Jane’s gaze traveled up and down Wendy’s body. Wendy tried not to squirm—she’d done as instructed and shown up in jeans and a white top, but the bride’s silent appraisal made her feel like she’d made a mistake.
“What?” Wendy looked down at her white silk blouse. “Too dressy?” She probably should have just gone with a straight-up T-shirt. But the only actual T-shirts she owned were from the races she’d run, so she’d resorted to the only white top in her wardrobe, which was something she wore under her work suits.
“It’s fine.” Jane’s tone suggested that it was not, in fact, fine.
“If you have a spare shirt, I can change.” Jane would pretend not to be too invested in the photo shoot, but Wendy suspected her friend had a backup shirt or two stashed somewhere in the house.
“Well, I do have a couple.”
“Which I just got in case anyone spills orange juice or something on their shirt.”
Wendy refrained from pointing out that since she had surprised Jane with the orange juice, her logic was flawed. “Give me one. It’ll look better—more in tune with everyone else.”
Jane tilted her head. “You sure?” But she was already pulling a shirt out of an Old Navy bag sitting on the kitchen counter. “Elise is in the bathroom, I think. You can go change in my bedroom.”
Wendy glanced around. Everyone else had gone outside—Jane’s house was tiny, and it looked like the actual picture taking was happening in the backyard. “Nah, I’ll just quickly change here. Shield me.” She whipped off her offending garment and reached for the new shirt. “What size is this?” she asked as Jane turned around and put her arms out in an “airplane” stance in an attempt to provide privacy to Wendy’s presto-chango.
“Small. But if it’s too big we can pin— Oh my Gaaaawd!” Not only did Jane’s airplane arms crash, she ran away, leaving Wendy exposed as she struggled to turn the new shirt rightside out. Once she succeeded, she jammed her arms into the sleeves and lifted the shirt over her head, but he fabric was still twisted so she got stuck.
“Noah!” Jane shrieked. “I can’t believe you came!”
Danger! Danger! Wendy’s body screamed, reacting in such a clichéd way, she might as well have been a cartoon. She could feel her jaw drop, her eyes widen. All she needed was for her cartoon-heart to literally hammer its way out of her chest. And perhaps an anvil to fall on her head and put her out of her misery.
He wasn’t supposed to be here. Not yet. He wasn’t coming until the day before the wedding.
She peeked over the edge of the shirt. There he was, tall and handsome and freaking perfect, framed in the doorway of Jane’s kitchen like it was no big deal.
She was not prepared for this. She wasn’t wearing her armor. Hell, she didn’t even have a goddamned shirt on.
“Janie.” Noah’s voice was the same warm baritone it had always been. He had teased Wendy with that voice. Cheered her on at her softball games. Yelled, “Race you!” when they used to go running together. Wendy’s attempts to avoid Noah as much as possible in the seventeen years since he had left Toronto for New York had been largely successful. She’d only spent a handful of hours in his presence in all those years. But that voice was as familiar as ever. It made her feel, unnervingly, like no time had passed. Like she was still the nerdy, shy loser standing alone under a disco ball in the high school gym.
Wendy considered whether she could somehow run away. Her arms were caught in the T-shirt high above her head, so maybe he wouldn’t recognize her.
But no. She wasn’t that nerdy, shy girl anymore. She’d killed that girl off.
“Hey, Wendy.” His voice slid under her skin and diffused through her body like a drug.
Wendy had no protection against Noah Denning. She might as well have just handed him her renegade heart and said, Here’s my heart. Break it. Again.