This is a loooooong Epilogue lol and yes sorry it took me so long.
“Hold that pose!” The photographer commanded from behind the camera lens, then clicked. He stepped back from the camera showing off a satisfied grin and gave her a thumbs-up. “Perfect! You are a star Candy.”
Candes smirked at him. “Tell me something that I don’t know sweetheart.” The on-going photo session was for her yet another big-shot modelling assignment that she had bagged, and evidently one could tell how keyed up she was about it. However, today her mind was elsewhere... while she wanted to finish off the photo-shoot today, she also had somewhere important to be. She clicked her tongue to show disinterest when the photographer asked her to strike another pose. “Can we call it an end for today, Ted?”
Ted looked at her in disbelief. “You know we can’t do that. We have to end this photo shoot today and we are far from done.”
“Please Teddy ... please, please, please?” She begged, batting her long eyelashes.
“Candy, I hate to say no to you, you know that.” Ted said. “But you are the new face of ‘Panache’ darling. You have signed a contract with them when you agreed to be their brand ambassador. They don’t tolerate such unprofessionalism.”
Candes rolled her eyes. “I know all that. But I know you can explain it to them ... just this once, Teddy. Please.” She pouted like a baby and knew her photographer friend wouldn’t resist that look. “I have an important wedding to attend and I can’t miss it. Even if I have to put my career at stake, I would do so... it’s that important to me.”
“You are making it sound like Brad and Angelina are getting married, and you are to attend their wedding.” He snorted.
“Oh believe me, they are nowhere near as romantic as the couple I know of... and they are finally getting married today.”
How could he say no? Teddy sighed. “Fine, I will try.” He said rolling his eyes. “But I am not promising the Panache guys are going to understand.”
Candes grinned wide. “I trust you.” She caught the sides of her frilly gown by the tip of her fingers and held it up while walking towards him to hug him excitedly. “You are such a sweet heart Teddy. I owe you big time.”
“Yeah, don’t forget you said something like that.” Ted teased. Candes laughed and shook her head before kissing his cheek. “Have fun at the wedding.”
“I will. Goodbye!” She quickly said and left for the makeup room. Rosie, her manager, who was in her late thirties, followed her with hurried steps.
“Candes, you shouldn’t behave so unprofessionally.” She advised in her stern voice. “You have been in the modelling world for the last three years now and I have never seen you act like that. I used to think everything else came after your career.” Rosie helped her unzip the red gown she wore while Candes was busy removing the dark make up she had on.
She stopped her actions and frowned at Rosie. “Everything else comes after my career, except this.”
“But the ...”
“Rosie, I know what you are concerned for. But chill; Ted is going to talk to the ‘Panache’ people, and I don’t think they are going to give him a hard time.”
“They are strictly professional, Candes. I am afraid they won’t tolerate this. They haven’t excused such behaviour from their previous models.” Rosie reminded.
Candes however, smirked confidently. “If they haven’t, they will make an exception this time.” She said going back to removing her makeup. “After all, I don’t think they can afford to lose the popular face they’ve got. And anyway, I have reached the top after struggling for years now and people know Candes McGraw as the diva. If it’s not Panache for me, it’ll be something else. Opportunities never die when you are at the top.”
Rosie gave it a thought before her stern face showed the slightest smile. “Hmm ... I think it is okay to act a bit unprofessional sometimes... for a change.” She winked at her and went to get a dress for Candes to change into.
Candes giggled. She took the designer dress from Rosie and said, “Listen, I need you to book a private jet for me in an hour, if that’s possible. I have to get back to Oakdale before 1PM.”
“I can arrange that.” Rosie nodded. ‘Panache’ gave such privileges to their ambassadors, so it was no big deal. “Is this wedding that you were talking about in Oakdale?”
“Oh no! It’s in New York. But I have to get to Oakdale first, meet up with my friends and family and then leave for New York with them.”
Rosie chuckled. “Okay, but may I at least ask who is getting married today? You have been talking so much about it, it makes me curious.”
Candes gave her smile before saying, “One of the most romantic and cute couples I have known.”
‘I think my water just broke’ Candes closed her eyes sitting comfortably inside the cab, reminiscing about the time she was about to give birth. Coming back to the streets of Oakdale always reminded her of the good and bad memories of the past. It had been six years, but so many things happened during that time which changed all their lives. While she became a mother of a healthy baby boy at the tender age of 17, she also lost the love of her life.
Candes swallowed the lump forming in her throat. She had promised herself not to think about the past. But damn ... every time she came to Oakdale, the memories would do this to her, which is why she had moved to California. She only visited Oakdale twice every year; one time on Thanksgiving, and the other time on Christmas. Nonetheless, both days were hard, especially because she spent them with the Riveras and Brannans, as per her promise to Dafna and Marie before she left.
She reached her destination in no time and paid the cab driver. Standing outside the door, she could hear a lot of noise from inside and knew exactly who the creator of the chaos was. It made her grin and she knocked on the door carefully. Everything went silent inside and then a childish squeal was heard.
“Mommy!” The door had opened and a little boy hugged her legs elatedly looking up at her.
“Hey Logan.” She smiled down at him and picked him up. “Oh boy! You are getting heavy, aren’t you?”
“Dada says I am getting strong like Superman!” He corrected her making her laugh. She knew who he was talking about and as if his ears were ringing, the boy’s dada came to the door.
“Ohmygod Joe!” Candes began to laugh, “I almost didn’t recognize you. Look at all that facial hair you have grown!”
Joe looked older from how she remembered him. He had grown quite a few muscles during the years and now as Candes noticed, a sexy moustache too. He shrugged smilingly, “Gust says I look kinda hot with a moustache so now I flaunt my hotness.” Joe teased and laughed. “Come on in.”
“You definitely look handsome.” She said giving him a hug once they were inside, careful of the boy she was holding, who was now busy playing with the big beads on her necklace. “The last time I saw you was like a year ago... you weren’t here when I visited you guys this past Christmas.”
Joe nodded. “I was on a business trip.”
“Aha, you have definitely grown to be a busy man, Mr. CFO.”
“Not as busy as you, Miss Supermodel. The only place I get to see you is on banners and magazines.”
“We saw you on TV last week mommy. I told all of my friends about it.” Her little one said to her, grinning from ear to ear.
“Oh did you?” Candes felt good to hear the pride in her son’s voice.
Joe laughed. “We were actually watching your launch show as the new face of ‘Panache’. I can’t tell you how proud Gust and I were feeling watching you.”
“Thanks.” She blushed putting Logan down. The little boy was getting edgy stuck in one place, so when his mommy let him free, he sprinted off disappearing somewhere. “Speaking of who, where is your boyfriend hiding?”
“He’s upstairs, getting ready.”
“I’m here!” Gust yelled, climbing down the stairs and came to hug Candes. She threw her arms around her best friend. “Oh Candes! It’s always a treat to see you.”
“Mmm... It’s good to see you too.” Candes whispered near his ear, then stepped back taking in the sight of her best friend. He hadn’t changed a bit; at the age of 24, he still had that boyish charm and it made him look younger than he was. However, his sense of fashion had definitely evolved from tight t-shirts and jeans to stuffed shirts and dress pants now. She couldn’t help but giggle.
“What?” Gust looked lost.
“Nothing.” She giggled again. “You look good ... Mr. Stuffed-shirt.”
Gust rolled his eyes but giggled along with her, “Yeah, yeah ... go on and tease me, but you gotta admit it ... I look sexy.”
“That you do, honey.” Joe snaked his hands around his waist from behind. Gust smiled looking at him over his shoulders and met his lips for a sensuous kiss.
“Ugh ... get a room you two.” She said taking a seat by the couch, but kept the smile on her face to show she was kidding. She actually loved to see both of them, still so strong in their relationship and so much in love. Of course, they had their share of ups and downs in their lives. Candes knew because Gust would always talk to her about things that were going on; he trusted her with all his secrets. And sometimes, things had gotten so bad that it looked as if their relationship wouldn’t survive. But like some magic had happened, one fine day, things would get back to normal and it would feel like nothing had happened at all. Candes liked to term this magic as their love for each other. They just knew each other so well that they had accepted the other along with their flaws.
Gust broke the kiss and stared in Joe’s eyes for a moment. He turned to her, “I am glad you could make it here. I almost thought you weren’t coming. You did say it was hard to explain it to your bosses.”
“Oh, I managed to convince them somehow.” She smiled secretively.
“Mommy...” Logan yelled pushing the kitchen door open while carrying a big plate in his hand. “I brought-ed cake for you.” He grinned triumphantly. Candes had to stifle her laughter when she looked at her little one’s face up close. He had the icing of the cake all around his mouth, with crumbs of it sticking on his lips also.
Joe was ticked off. “Logan Matthew Rivera! You did not eat the cake, did you?” He sternly asked. The boy only shyly smiled at him.
“Only little, promise! I was bringing it for mommy.” He said timidly. He almost shoved the plate in Candes’ hand and scurried away from the reach of his dada.
“You sneaky little devil.” Joe laughed and ran behind him. “I am going to catch you this time.”
Logan laughed and yelped for his “Poppy!” for help.
Candes and Gust laughed as both Joe and Logan ran out of the living room. “Your little sunshine is getting naughtier day by day.” Gust complained teasingly.
“Ah! So he is my little sunshine when he does something mischievous huh?” Candes teased back. “Never mind, I am proud of my boy ... he brought me chocolate cake!” She lifted the plate, grinning and began to feast on the piece like she hadn’t had food in days. “Mmm... God! I swear I forgot what cake tastes like. My manager never allows me to eat any junk food at all. I sometimes feel like knocking her out cold so she’ll stop controlling my life.”
Gust chortled. “You do look very skinny.” He pointed out. “But perfect for a model, I think. Seriously, you have grown to be so very beautiful, Candy.” Candes blushed and began to hog more cake. Gust watched her eating and took a seat on the chair beside the couch. He let a few minutes pass in silence before he asked, “How are things with Troy?”
Candes mindlessly blurted out. “Troy who?” She was too busy eating to concentrate on the subject.
Gust raised his brows in surprise, “The guy you told me about ... you said you went out with him a couple of times.”
Her head jerked back in realization of her blunder and she began to cover up, “Oh yes... Troy, right! You just caught me off guard, sorry.” She laughed nervously.
Gust looked at her with suspicion. “Hmm... how is it going with him?”
“It’s good. He is a nice guy, but he doesn’t want a serious relationship as of yet, and I’m okay with that.” Candes looked down in her plate only to find it empty. ‘Damn it’
“Okay.” He said, observing her awkward actions. “You guys met at some party you said, right? Tell me more; I want to hear it all.” He plastered a huge smile on his face.
“Um ... yeah, we met at a party. It was ... uh ... my assistant’s birthday party – who also happens to be his friend.” Candes began to stammer, but faked some excitement while narrating, “And we met there... uhm ... we talked, he bought me a drink and I was totally taken ...”
Gust sighed, interrupting her. “I know you’re lying to me, so cut the crap already. I know you never met any such guy at any party OR at any photo shoot. You told me over the phone last month that he was your co-model.”
Candes was flushed. She didn’t know what to say and snapped. “Alright, you got me. I lied to you.”
“But why Candy?” He asked with sorrow in his eyes.
“You ask me why?” Candes shook her head in disbelief, “You kept bugging me to go out, find a guy, date someone, and I just wanted you to drop it.”
“I was only looking out for you.”
“I’m a grown up girl, Gust. I can look out for myself, thank you very much.” She was pissed.
“I’m sorry; it’s just ...” He took her hand in his and whispered, “I want to see you happy, that’s all.”
Candes calmed herself and looked him in the eye. “Gust, I am happy. Really. I would tell you if it was otherwise, don’t you think? To tell you the truth, I haven’t dated any guys after Matt because I am not interested in anyone at all. I seriously believe I am down on my luck as far as my love life is concerned. Love is not made for me.”
“Come on Candes. You are being too hard on yourself.”
“Maybe, but I dunno ... I want to focus on my career now.” Candes shrugged. “I’m not ready for anything else yet. I might be in the future, but not now.”
“I hope it’s not too late then.” Gust smiled sadly.
She tousled his made up hair, getting a frown from him and laughed. “Gustaf Rivera, stop worrying about me so much.”
Gust smiled at her. Joe came back into the living room, carrying Logan on his hip. “If you guys are done gossiping about me behind my back, can we leave?”
“Oh don’t flatter yourself, honey; there are more interesting people than you to gossip about.” Gust teased.
“Are you implying that I am boring, Mr. Rivera?” Joe narrowed his eyes playfully.
Gust shrugged, “Well what is there about you to talk about? You work and work and work ... Boring!”
“Hmm...” Joe faked a look of thoughtfulness. “If I remember correctly, that was definitely not one the words you called me in bed last night.”
Gust turned beet red and gazed at Joe with his mouth agape. “What did poppy called you last night dada?” Logan asked innocently.
Candes laughed hysterically. This was too funny; especially the look on Gust’s face was hilarious. Joe snickered too. “Why don’t you ask your poppy about it?” He replied looking amusedly at his partner.
If looks could kill, he would have been dead right now. Gust shot an angry glare at him, then turned to his son smiling, “Logan, why don’t you go and put on your new clothes? Poppy will be upstairs in a minute, okay?”
“Yes!” the kid’s eyes twinkled. “Poppy got me a suit mommy.” He told Candes excitedly.
“That’s so cool, sunshine! Why don’t you go put it on and show me? I want to see how handsome my baby looks in his new suit.” Candes said.
Logan nodded vigorously then wiggled in Joe’s arms gesturing for him to let go. Once his dada had put him down, he quickly ran up to his room. Gust narrowed his eyes at Joe. “I am gonna get you for this mister.”
“That sounds like a helluva sexy plan sweetheart!” Joe grinned and claimed his possession over Gust’s lips feverishly.
The blonde tittered, breaking the kiss. “It’s a universal fact now – your mind is always swimming in the gutter.”
“That’s where it met yours I think.” Joe laughed.
“That is so corny.” Candes scrunched her nose and laughed with the duo.
Gust stood up letting Joe slip in his place over the couch. “I better go and see what the kid is doing. He probably messed up half his room looking for his clothes.”
Candes followed him, “I need to freshen up too. Might as well do some touch up before we leave.” She said fluttering her long lashes.
Both boys rolled their eyes. “Girls!”
“There you are!” Lily breathed out a sigh of relief seeing the group arrive. “I was wondering when you all were coming.”
“Sorry, Mrs. Snyder” Candes apologized, “I am to blame for this.”
“But we’re here now.” Gust smiled.
Lily smiled back. “Luke has been asking for you, so you better go see him first.” She told him which room he would find him and turned to Joe, “Can you check to see if Noah needs anything? I think Casey and Tracey are there with him, but I don’t know if I can rely on Casey.”
“They’re here?” Candes’s face lit up. If someone had mentioned them while she was in school, she would have been like – whatever. But these past six years they have grown closer to her. Once while on an outdoor photo shoot, she had to stay six months in Chicago, and these two had moved to Chicago after they got married. They insisted she stay with them. It was awkward since she didn’t know them that well, but the moment she stepped into their luxurious apartment, she felt like she was part of their family. During her stay, Tracey was twenty weeks along with her firstborn, and Candes got to experience the feeling of being pregnant all over again. She was living the moments with Tracey, who suddenly became the best female friend she had yearned for. Since then, they shared their deepest secrets with each other.
Candes was even there when Tracey had given birth to her firstborn; a cute daughter who was named Eva, which was Casey’s request. It was hard when she had to leave Chicago, leave her best friend and her funny hubby and mostly it was hard to leave that tiny infant who she had grown so close to in a span of a few days. It was no different from the feeling she experienced when she had to leave Logan.
Tracey made a promise to stay in touch and she did keep it. She would call her every week or they would Skype sometimes. Eva loved talking to her Aunt Candy over the phone. The latest she had heard was Tracey had given birth to twins – both boys, and now knowing they were all here, she was eager to see them.
“I made sure each of Luke’s friends makes it to the wedding, and Casey and Tracey are special to them, so they had to be here.” Lily said, then looking down at Logan she lovingly pinched his cheek. “The ring bearer is looking nice.”
“Poppy got me this new suit!” Logan grinned proudly. “It has six pockets.” He said showing the number on his fingers.
Lily laughed. “I love it sweetie. Why don’t you come with me?” She leaned down and whispered. “I have some chocolates kept aside especially for you.”
“For me?” Logan smiled wide. Lily nodded and took him by his arms leading him to the party hall. “Candes, are you coming with us?” She asked over her shoulders.
“No, I think I’ll go meet Luke and then the others too.” Candes replied.
“Okay, but we have to leave for the venue in an hour, so make sure everyone is ready to go by then.”
When Candes reached Luke’s room, she had to hold back her laugh seeing the scene in front of her. Luke and Gust were ransacking the whole room in search of something. “What the hell is going on in here?” She asked with an amused look.
Luke stopped and looked at her in shock, then rolled his eyes, “Just great! I think I am going to be a person to laugh at on my own wedding day!”
Gust snickered quietly and kept looking around everywhere. Candes pursed her lips, controlling the bubble of laughter forming in her, “Hey, I’m not laughing, am I?” Luke narrowed his brown eyes at her and she couldn’t hold it back anymore, “And why are you wearing a suit without any pants?”
The blonde groaned in displeasure and went back to his searching. “He happened to misplace his pants. Can you imagine? On his wedding day?!” Gust exclaimed between his laughter, rolling on the bed holding his belly.
“Oh my God!” Candes let her laughter subside, watching a flushed Luke. “Seriously Luke, didn’t you check to see if everything was there before you put on the shirt and jacket? I mean ... that is so weird.” She broke into another fit of laughter.
“I know right...” Luke snorted sarcastically. “I just thought it must be in my wardrobe, so I put on everything else before looking for it, but it’s nowhere to be found.” He told. “Now if you are done poking fun at my helplessness, would you please come help us find it? I swear I am going crazy thinking how weird it would be if I had to actually walk down the aisle without any pants.”
Candes guffawed and got an angry glare in return, “Okay okay... sorry. Who got your wedding suit ready?”
“My mom got it from some designer ... don’t know his name.”
“So your mom brought the clothes to you?” Luke nodded. “Then maybe you should ask her, if she had checked if it was initially there.”
“Why didn’t I think of this before?” Luke shook his head. “I better call her up and ...”
A knock on the door interrupted them and a stressed-out looking Lily dashed inside the room. “Luke, sweetie ...” She was halfway in when she stopped and looked her son up and down with utter hilarity. “WOW! You are almost ready, I see. Anything missing darling?”
Both ladies giggled and Luke rolled his eyes yet again. Then he spotted something in his mother’s hand and asked pointing at it, “What’s that?”
“These are your pants, honey. The designer forgot to put them with your suit, so he sent them now.” She explained.
“Geez, how grateful I am that he turned them in before the wedding.” Luke snatched it from her hands and uncovered the pants hurriedly.
Lily watched him as he hastily struggled to get into the pair of pants she brought. “Luke, calm down... there’s still lot of time before the wedding. What’s the hurry?”
Luke exhaled heavily after putting on his pants and confessed, “I don’t know why, but I am freaking out right now.”
“I am so freaking out!” Noah exclaimed, banging his head on the dresser as Joe walked into the room.
“Uhm... hi to you too, Noah.” He looked at Casey, who only shook his head laughing quietly. He looked at Tracey, who was busy lulling her little twins to sleep and just smiled at him. “Hi!” He waved at her. She winked in reply. “Why are you freaking out Noah? Are you nervous?” Joe asked turning to him. Whatever else the six years had done to their individual lives, it definitely had broken the ice between the group, and Noah and he were no more student and teacher. They were now friends.
“Nervous? Yes, yes I am so nervous.” Noah answered looking up through the mirror. “My stomach is doing flips like every second.”
Joe chuckled, “Nervousness is good ... I think.” He told. “But think about this ... you are finally getting married to the love of your life.”
Noah smiled and whispered, “Yeah.” Then turned worried again, “But this whole marriage thing makes me feel giddy.”
“Don’t worry about that. It’s no different from what you have been doing all these years.” Joe assured. “It’s actually going to be a much better experience.”
“How do you know that? You’re not even married.”
“Okay fine, I might not know anything about it, but you can ask Casey.” Joe said and turned to Casey with much hope of help. “Tell him Case.”
The blond guy looked between the two of them. “Uhm yeah; nervousness is good.” Casey said after much thought.
“Tell him how our married life is, honey!” Tracey encouraged from across the room.
“Uh ... hectic?” Casey could only think of that.
Tracey couldn’t believe her ears. “What do you mean by hectic?”
Casey stammered, “Oh, I meant it is wild with all the excitement, don’t you think so honey?” He smiled an angelic smile.
Noah stood up and the first thing Joe noticed was, “Hey you didn’t shave today?”
“Damn it! I am tired of answering that again and again.” Noah grumbled. “Luke likes my stubble look. So I left it like that today.”
“Oops. Sorry.” Joe ducked his head then smiled. “It looks nice.”
Noah was left alone in the room when the others decided it was time for them to head to the wedding venue. He would have to leave later with Luke’s family, so he stayed back waiting for his call.
He stood in front of the mirror nervously straightening his suit and checking his image to make sure he looked okay. Suddenly, he realized there was something missing in his wedding attire. A tie. “Shit! Where did I put it?” He hurriedly began to look around for it. “Oh yeah,” He remembered placing it in one of the drawers and went to get it.
Finding it there, he quickly put it around his neck and began to tie it. “Fuck! Why is this so hard?” He fumbled with the tie, finding it difficult to figure out how exactly to tie the knot. “Dammit,” he muttered under his breath.
“Need some help bubby?”
Noah turned around and grinned at Luke standing crossed-arms by the door, leaning on the side of the frame. He had that charming smile on his face “Hey! What are you doing here?”
“I get this weird feeling when my fiancé is in trouble, you know?” Luke teased. “Like now ... you were about to strangle yourself with your own tie. You should have just told me if you didn’t want to marry me.”
Noah chuckled and saw his handsome fiancé approaching him. Luke was beyond a doubt looking so charming in the black tuxedo he wore. He had a red shirt beneath his black coat, which he knew Luke had worn with the intent to charm him.
Luke stepped closer and Noah’s breath hitched. At that moment, they were so close that their faces were just few inches apart and their eyes locked in a dreamy stare. The blonde took the tie in his hands. “Let me...” he whispered and Noah gladly handed it over to his lover.
Luke broke the stare and concentrated on getting the tie right. He seemed to be in deep thought and Noah wondered about it. He was about to ask when his lover suddenly spoke, with a slight smile playing on his face, “It is funny how we ended up at this stage of our relationship, huh? Our journey up until now has been ...fascinating.”
Noah chortled. “I couldn’t agree more. Who would have thought a teacher and a student could ever get hitched?”
“It was definitely not a walk in the park though. Your resistance to our relationship from the time of the court case drama and our eloping ... it was one hell of a roller-coaster ride.”
“That’s true but we overcame all the hurdles and stayed strong through thick and thin. And things did start looking up for us after we moved to Bloomfield.” Noah said remembering their blissful time in the place. Luke got his college degree from Ohio University majoring in literature, and also got employed as a columnist for the leading newspaper in the county. His experience over there paid off, and he was soon placed as an assistant-editor at the New York Times just that year. Then Noah got a job at NYU as a history professor and they both moved to New York together.
Luke pushed up the knot and straightened his tie. “Hmm ... I wonder if things would have been different if I gave up on you when you resisted me.”
“I highly doubt that.” Noah smiled and put his arms around Luke’s shoulders. “I would have still loved you the same and probably come back to you seeking your love.” It made his to-be husband grin like silly and they shared a quick kiss. Noah caressed Luke’s cheek with the back of his hand gently and whispered, “I am glad you didn’t give up on me though.”
“Me too.” Luke said and snuggled into Noah’s warm body.
The venue set for the wedding was beautiful. Candes couldn’t take her eyes off the beautiful arrangements that were made. The whole surrounding was washed in white – the white curtains, the white roses, the white table cloth spread out on the tables set out for the guests. The aisle was made of gorgeous white marble. It was no doubt the wedding was going to be so grand. After all, when Lily Snyder was taking all the responsibilities of the wedding preparations, Candes was sure she was in for a huge celebration.
She was standing with Luke and the others when her blonde friend had suddenly realized something was amiss. He looked around searching for someone then asked aloud, “Hey, has anyone seen Mercedes around?”
Everyone looked at each other puzzled. Nobody had a clue to her whereabouts except Tracey. “Luke, I called her half an hour ago and she said she was on her way here.”
Luke pouted. “I hope she makes it here on time. She should have been here earlier. I told her there was no marriage if she wasn’t here.”
“Don’t worry Luke. She will be here on time.” Candes said. “She lives the farthest of all of us. Maybe she got a later flight out of DC?”
But Luke was still grumbling. “I dunno ... she should have caught an earlier flight.” He reasoned.
“I was so wrong when I thought babies could even grow.” Everyone turned to the voice that came from behind and their faces lit up instantly on seeing Mercedes walking up to them. “Some babies don’t grow ever ... not even on their wedding day.”
She hugged each one of them, said hellos and then lastly coming to Luke she pinched his cheek.
Luke couldn’t help the silly grin come across his face seeing her. And she looked so different – she had visibly lost a lot of weight, looking mature and just gorgeous in the gown she wore. “Look at you – the hot black chick gets hotter.” He leaned down and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “But why were you so late? I swear I was about to call off the wedding.”
“Ugh ... my fiancé here is a total asshole. We got in on the wrong flight and oh the mess with the airport officials ... don’t ask!” She shook her head.
“Damn! Your fiancé sounds like a troublemaker to me.” Luke teased.
Mercedes smiled, “Yeah that he is, but I love him anyway.”
“Hey, I didn’t know you got engaged?” Candes asked her.
“I know right.” Gust said sarcastically, smiling at Mercedes. “She didn’t even tell anyone of us exclusively. And she has been hiding her mysterious fiancé since then.”
She rolled her eyes. “My God! Will you never stop giving me hard time? My boyfriend proposed to me just last month ... I didn’t even tell my parents until this week!”
“Alright... but, at least now would you reveal this mysterious fiancé? The curiosity is killing me.” Luke was dying to know.
“Oh, he is here ...” She turned and called, “Sweetheart?”
Candes looked in the direction where Mercedes was looking and caught a glimpse of a man with dark blond hair approaching them with a very cute smile on his face. He was tall and quite a looker, she thought.
Luke looked at him and had a similar puzzled look on his face, as Gust had all of a sudden, his features turned wearing a look of surprise.
The man came and stood beside Mercedes, who quickly hooked her hand into his while saying, “Guys, meet the man who made my life beautiful and miserable all at the same time.”
Gust and Candes laughed. “Hey, why do I get the feeling that I have seen you somewhere?”
The man began to open his mouth to reply but Luke beat him. “He’s Maxi ... Maximilliano?” He asked, in an unaffected voice.
Maxi nodded smiling at Luke. “That’s right. Good to know you still remember me, Luke.” He said.
Luke gave him a crooked smile, Candes wasn’t sure what to think of that and just shook her hand with Maxi. Gust was grinning with a surprised expression. “Maxi? Luke’s friend Maxi?” He couldn’t believe his eyes. “The man who you hated at first sight way back when? You are going to marry him?”
Maxi grinned and just shrugged. Mercedes looked up at him giving him a loving glance and said, “I did hate him when I first met him in Branson, but then we met again in DC and just fell in love.”
“Oh man! This is some news!” Gust laughed loudly and hugged him briefly before tugging him by his shoulders. “Come on, I gotta tell this to Joe too. He is so not going to believe this.”
Candes, Luke and Mercedes watched them go. As soon as they were out of sight, Luke quickly whispered down to Mercedes, “Are you sure you want to marry him? I mean ... you don’t know him. How can you make such a hasty decision?”
Mercedes frowned. “Dude! I have known him for four years now and we’ve been together for two years already. It’s enough time for me to know him.”
Luke fought with what he wanted to say. “He ... you don’t know him, Mercedes. He has made some huge mistakes in the past that you might not know of.”
“What do you mean by, ‘he has made some huge mistakes’?” Candes was clueless what was going on. “From what I have heard of Maxi, I thought he was your friend?”
“He was ... but not anymore.” Luke angrily looked away.
Mercedes sighed redirecting their attention back to her and said, “I know ok? He told me what happened between you two ...”
“Probably not” Luke scowled. “If it had been so, you would have been too pissed off at him to even look at his face.”
“I was... It disgusted me when he told me what he did. His actions... they were wrong I admit. But well, he wasn’t in his right mind. I didn’t talk to him for months after he told me this but ... I was already in love with him, and it did help that he himself came clean. He could have hidden it if he wanted to.” Mercedes countered.
Candes didn’t dare ask what had happened. She understood it must be something too horrible that they weren’t explaining it. It didn’t help that lots of suspicions were growing in her head.
However, things didn’t seem to worsen because Luke’s face softened. “I don’t know what to say. I already told Maxi I can’t forget the past but well, I did forgive him back then ... and he is a good guy, so I guess, it’s nice to see you two happy together.”
“Oh God Luke! Thank you so much!” Mercedes almost cried and hugged her friend tightly. Candes couldn’t help but smile as they both interacted with happy tears.
Soon the priest arrived and Luke was sent to speak with him. Happily, the marriage began with Luke walking to the podium and then Noah arrived soon after.
Candes saw them staring at each other like they were in some kind of trance and she was in awe. Her gaze turned and she saw Gust and Joe engaged in a very playful conversation. Joe was carrying Logan in his arms and the kid was laughing at the love-filled banter his fathers were having. Casey and Tracey were in one corner, looking stressed. Casey was helping his wife to get one of their crying twins to stop. On the other side was Mercedes with Maxi. The duo was busy watching the beautiful couple that was about to get married. They weren’t speaking but they kept stealing glances at each other. One could tell there was a connection between them.
Nonetheless, watching the others made Candes miss what she didn’t have for so long. A lump formed in her throat as she was suddenly reminded of a particular dark-haired guy and she closed her eyes.
“Where is your best man, Noah?” Gust, who was Luke’s best man, had asked him.
“I am here!” The voice tickled her ear buds and Candes’s eyes flew open. “Sorry man, I am so late.”
There he was. The man of her dreams, the lost love from her past. “Broooo,” Gust complained, “Is this any time to arrive at your best friend’s wedding? You should have been here before anyone else.”
Matt scratched the back of his head and spoke embarrassedly. “I know bro and I am so very sorry for that. But you know how women are... they take an eternity to get ready.”
A girl suddenly came and stood by his side. “Blaming it all on me now, huh?” She slapped his bicep playfully. “I was not the one who had misplaced our car keys.”
“Hey, who is she?” Mercedes asked, not able to recognize her. The girl looked familiar though.
“Don’t you remember her? That’s Ashley.” Gust replied smilingly.
“Oh!” Mercedes eyes grew in recognition and she was intrigued to know why in the hell was she and Matt behaving like a couple? The thought itself horrified her.
“Aren’t you that fat chick from my Lit class who had slipped down the staircase once? Oh my God that was hilarious!” She began to giggle at the memory.
“And still a bitch.” Mercedes muttered under her breath and smiled crookedly at her.
Gust who was standing beside Matt coughed to avoid the sarcastic laugh and continued, “Ashley and Matt got engaged last month.”
‘What?!’ Her mind wanted to yell. She was in utter shock, so the only thing she could say is “Oh!” She stammered, “Congratulations.”
“Thanks” Ashley said and shared a loving smile with her fiancé.
Mercedes was looking at them weirdly because this was totally unbelievable. She couldn’t figure out what actually had happened ... all this time she thought Matt was in love with Candes but this ...
Mercedes realized suddenly that Candes was standing just beside her and she turned to look at her. The despair on her face was clear and her glassy eyes were screaming out the pain inside her silently.
Candes was looking at Matt longingly. Then, feeling eyes on her, she looked around and sympathetic looks were showered on her. She couldn’t hold back the tears... she didn’t want this to be. The girl excused herself and flew towards the washroom as soon as she could.
She remembered everything, every moment of it. The past that was her enemy, the past that had snatched her Matt away from her...
The first thing she had asked Matt’s mother after delivering her baby was what had happened to Matt, and to her delight she had gotten a positive reply, “He is fine, honey. He is fine. The surgery was successful.” No one can imagine how happy that had made her feel. It was like a treat for her. She had Matt and her baby. Lying in that hospital bed, she had woven several dreams of living her life with both of them... only to have all those dreams broken into million pieces.
Matt was struck with amnesia. He couldn’t remember a single thing and the doctors suspected that it would be permanent. Although Candes was prepared with the news, the words had pierced her heart sharply when Matt had asked her, “Who are you?” It was like the end of her world.
She remembered when she had to hush her crying baby that night while she herself couldn’t control her tears. But even that night, she wouldn’t let her hopes black out in the dark. What’s the big deal if Matt didn’t remember her? Matt was alive ... that was the biggest thing. And the beautiful moments that they shared together ... it was hard to know that they were forgotten just like that, yes. But she had a chance to weave more beautiful memories with Matt again.
And with that strong determination of not giving up on her love, she had gone back to the hospital the next morning. She had that big smile on her face which meant she was ready for a new start of her life. However, reaching Matt’s hospital room, her smile faltered.
Laughter was echoing inside the room. Standing by the door, she numbly watched Matt and Ashley talking and joking about things. It was a simple conversation but Candes could see the hidden agenda behind it all. Ashley was trying something ... trying very hard actually to get what she had yearned for – Matt.
Back when Candes was dating Gust, she remembered her talking about how she fantasized about the dark-haired barista working at Java. Later when she had grown close to Matt, a common friend of both of them had told her how she would bitch about Candes all the time, calling her names. She had ignored it, but now she couldn’t.
Her blood was boiling in anger and she felt like barging right in and throwing her out of the room. But she couldn’t because she looked at Matt ... and she saw that sparkle in his eyes – the one that she remembered he got when he used to look at her.
She remembered that morning when she had felt like a loser and broken, she had just run away. She kept running away from home, from Oakdale, from her friends, from everything that reminded her of Matt ... but she didn’t really succeed all the time. But it did help her to cope from her misery. She concentrated her attention on her career and it kept her mind off things.
She splashed water on her face and the flashbacks stopped troubling her. She rubbed her wet hands over the face, re-did her make-up and was just walking out of the washroom when she heard a hushed arguement. Curious, she followed the voices.
“Listen, I need to go okay? It’s my friend’s birthday and she is expecting me.” Candes found an anxious Ashley out there, arguing about something with Matt.
“But baby, this is more important. It’s my best friend’s wedding and it is going to be a special day for my brother too.” Matt tried to make her understand.
“I don’t fucking care alright!” She tried not to yell and kept her anger in check. “I don’t give a damn that those fags out there are getting married. It’s wrong and I feel disgusted being a part of it.”
Candes was stunned and so was Matt. She could see him speechless for some time before he whispered in disbelief, “What did you just call my brother?”
Ashley realized what a grave mistake she had made and she closed her eyes recovering her calm self. “Look, I am sorry baby. But I don’t approve of this; you know that.”
“Fine!” Matt yelled. “But who gave you the right to call my brother and my friends such horrible names?”
“I can’t do this right now okay? I only want to go ... Candes!” Ashley put on a fake smile as soon as she saw her standing by the corner. Candes smiled back, not sure what to say. She felt guilty eavesdropping like that, but what she heard was horrifying. “Oh my God, I have missed you so much.” Ashley walked up to her and gave her a hug. Matt plastered a smile as well looking at both of them, but Candes could see real emotions right through him. “Oh my best friend!” Candes had to try hard not to roll her eyes. “I only get to see you either on TV or on banners these days. You have grown to be so popular.” Jealousy dripped through each of her words, one could tell.
Candes coughed. “Thanks... well, we should be inside right now. The wedding is about to begin.”
“Oh, I am sorry I can’t join you all today.” Ashley put on a sad face. “Something came up so I have got to go. But you guys enjoy, alright?” She hugged her once again and said goodbye. She turned to quickly peck her fiancé and ran out of there.
Candes couldn’t really swallow down what she had seen, and she stared at Matt. For some reason, Matt kept staring back at her and time seemed to have stopped for them.
Luke and Noah were finally married and as they kissed, the crowd cheered. The minute the crowd had quieted down, Gust traded a quick look with Luke and Noah, and got an affirmative nod from both of them.
He handed Logan over to Candes standing on his left side and stepped forward attracting the crowd’s attention to himself. Joe was caught surprised by the sudden movement from his partner, and looked at him puzzled.
The moment he wanted to ask what was wrong with Gust, he was cut off by the look Gust laid on him. Gust grabbed Joe's hands standing in front of him pulling Joe onto the middle of the stage and just stood there for a minute in silence looking at Joe before he began to speak in a very gentle voice, “Joe you have been my partner, my friend, my lover and the love of my life. Today, we are gathered here with all the people who are close to us.”
And while Gust was speaking, Joe could see both of their parents from the corner of his eyes walking inside the room. Their mothers dressed in beautiful pastel gowns and their fathers wearing tuxedos. He felt overwhelmed. What was going on, he wondered, they were supposed to be celebrating Luke and Noah's wedding ... what was Gust doing getting the attention on them?
He couldn’t believe what happened next. He saw Gust dropping down on one knee and the next thing he heard Gust ask was, “Please Joe, the love of my life... Will you marry me right here and right now?”
Joe looked at the flushed face of the man he knew he would love till he would die, and for some reason he lost the feeling of worry which was making him think ‘was this ok?’ The attention should have been on Luke and Noah and not them. But he only saw that beautiful face and dropped to his knees himself. “Yes Gust, of course I will marry you darling!” They pulled each other up and Joe saw that Luke’s parents had left their spot from the front row to make room for his and Gust’s parents.
He let himself be pulled to the front spot and he noticed Noah and Luke together with Casey and Matt stepping aside to frame them. Logan and Candes were standing behind them when the preacher turned to face them and the ceremony began.
Joe looked around to all the people close to them he shared a quick glance with his mother so grateful for her presence there, winked at his dad, smiled to his in-laws and then traded glances with all his treasured friends who obviously were all involved in this little plan of his soon- to- be husband. They really needed to talk about that later but for now the world – scratch that - THEIR world seemed just perfect.
Matt sat his drained beer glass on the bar table with force. He was ticked off by his fiancée’s behaviour and was not able to forget her harsh words.
The whole group was partying there celebrating the double weddings of the day, but Matt couldn’t join them even if he wanted to. There were so many things on his mind now.
“It seems hard to believe that you are having a bad day.” Candes said, sitting on the stool beside him. “So, what’s wrong?”
Matt’s throat went dry and like it happened usually, he found it hard to breathe steady. The aroma of Candes’s girly perfume was hitting his nose and the weird feeling he got every time she was around – it was back. He cleared his throat and said, “Who said anything about a bad day?” He signalled the bartender to refill his glass. “I am fine... nothing’s wrong.” His tone was unaffected.
Candes eyed him with worry. “Look, I know what’s troubling you. I ... uhm ...” She sat up straight confessing, “I overheard your conversation with Ashley before. I didn’t mean to, I swear ... but ... is everything okay between you two?”
“Yes, yes... everything is fine, it was just ...” Matt looked up into her eyes and couldn’t lie further. He sighed and after a breathing pause he admitted, “She is being impossible.”
“Why do you say that?”
Matt shrugged and took a sip of beer from his refilled glass before answering, “She is acting so different these days. It’s like I don’t know her anymore... I mean I knew she had a problem with Gust’s sexuality and his relationship with Joe ... but I thought she eventually would come around.”
“But I see she hasn’t come close to accepting them at all.” Candes said sadly. She hesitated at first ... then moved her hand towards Matt’s that lay still on his lap and held it soothingly. Matt looked down at their held hands, startled but then began to enjoy the warmth of her palm. “I am supposed to say something in Ashley’s favour here, but I just can’t seem to because I can’t lie ... I can’t lie to you pup.”
Matt’s head jerked back and he looked at her flabbergasted. “Wh-what did you just call me?”
“Huh?” Candes was so lost in the emotions that she didn’t even realize what she had said.
“You ... you just called me ... pup?” He asked, not really sure if he heard right.
Candes was taken aback in realization. What a grave mistake she had done. “Um... Did I say pup?” She laughed nervously. “It must be slip of tongue or something... sorry.” She tried to deny it. But Matt was looking at her in disbelief.
All he could think was about the dreams he got every night of a striking blonde girl. He would get dreams as if they were flashes of some past memories. The dreams where he would be with Candes, lost in her amazing emerald eyes, the dreams where they would behave as if they were in love, the dreams where she would keep calling ‘pup’ out of her love for him...
The first time he saw her in the hospital, he had asked, “Who are you?” but in actuality, she seemed more familiar to him than anyone else. But she had introduced herself as his friend – Candes. However the way she was looking at him, her eyes seemed to speak more of their relationship.
Maybe he was wrong; maybe it was only his mind playing games with him because the next day he saw her carrying a baby in her hand and he knew she wasn’t his. Then Ashley had come along and her personality had stricken him with something else. Although he had some undeniable feelings for this girl Candes, he went for starting a relationship with Ashley. Later, things became clear when Gust told him everything with Candes’ pregnancy and all but it was too late then – Ashley was his girlfriend by then, and he had moved on. Still, the feelings remained hidden in some corner of his heart, blossoming up every time he got to see Candes on rare occasions, and he would never miss them.
An uncomfortable silence prevailed between them for a long time. Candes was playing with her fingers nervously while Matt tried hard to concentrate on finishing his drink.
Not able to bear the discomfort, Candes spoke up suddenly, “Why don’t you come dance with me?”
Matt stuttered, “I-I don’t think that’s a great idea. I am drunk and I don’t want to come off as a bad dancer in front of everyone.”
Candes giggled. “Don’t worry... you will be just fine. Come on.”
Matt gave in and let her lead him to where everyone was dancing. The rocking song changed to some soft music and couples began to sway romantically. ‘Uh-oh’ Candes got more nervous now and stared at Matt who had kind of the same reaction.
Awkwardly they moved closer and Candes placed her arm on his shoulder. Matt stared into her eyes and getting some courage from it, he snaked his hand around her waist pulling her closer. They began to dance, but never broke eye contact. Candes’s heart was beating fast as she could feel the warmth of Matt’s body after so long. It was the same feeling but so different. Her breasts were pressed onto his muscular chest and her face was just an inch closer to his. It was a heavenly feeling.
“Why are you staring at me like that?” She whispered.
Matt smiled softly. “You are just so beautiful. I can’t seem to take my eyes off you.” He began to lean forward.
But Candes pulled her head back in shock. “What are you doing?” She asked frightened. She wanted it but ...
“What do you think I’m doing?” He said, “I’m kissing you.” And without any further clarification, he closed the gap between their lips and as if it was meant to be. They fit into each other’s arms perfectly. Candes didn’t resist this time and gave into the slow yet passionate kiss.
She felt dizzy and backed away. “This isn’t right. You are engaged to Ashley.”
Matt was displeased that the kiss was broken but he could understand. He simply replied. “Yes I am engaged, but I don’t want to continue this damn engagement anymore... I don’t love Ashley as much as ...” He stopped.
“What?” Candes’ heart skipped a beat as she waited for him to finish the sentence.
Matt smiled sadly. “... I don’t love her as much as I love you.” He whispered. “I have been in love with you for a long time now, but I couldn’t get myself to tell you that. But I couldn’t resist today you know? Because today I saw that love in your eyes too... I mean it was there every time I saw you, but I wasn’t ever so sure as I am right now.”
“I don’t know what to say.” She turned away from him, not ready to open up her true feelings for him.
She heard him sigh in front of her, “Look Candes, I don’t want to force you into anything. But I told you how I feel about you. If you feel the same for me, please tell me. You need time to think? You have it ... but one thing is for sure; I am not going to continue with Ashley anymore. I don’t belong with her. I belong with you.” He said holding her by her shoulders. “Think about it, Candy... think about it ... and you have my whole life to think. I will be waiting for you.”
Her shoulders felt cold as he removed his hands from them and began to walk away. She turned quickly and watched him go. She wanted to stop him but the thoughts in her head wouldn’t let her do that. ‘No Candes! You can’t do this ... he is engaged to Ashley. She would be so heartbroken ... but why am I thinking about her? ... Because she is a girl in love like her, and I know how it feels to be hurt in love.’ It was a war of thoughts going inside her mind. ‘But it’s not about her, it’s about me and Matt... He said he belonged to me; we belonged together... then why this distance between us? He still loves me although he is taken ...’
Candes closed her eyes and a small tear escaped her eyes. ‘ But I can’t live without him.’
She opened her eyes again and saw him heading towards the exit. She had decided – she wanted Matt and she didn’t mind being selfish for the sake of getting the love of her life back. As she ran towards him, the song changed and her voice calling for him died down in the song that just came on...
Rah rah ah ah ah ... Roma Roma ma ... GaGa ooh la la ...
Caught in a Bad Romance!
A/N => With all your love and support, I am able to finish this story. I would like to thank each one of you for reading and/or commenting over this story. And I hope you really enjoyed this ride of Luke/Noah's, Gust/Joe's and Matt/Candes' dramatic roller coaster lol
Special thanks to the friends who have helped me many a times with this story. First of all, Essence - she was the one I started this story with. And she didn't want her name to be told so she opted to be called Essence. Unfortunately she couldn't continue. But she always supported me. Of course, this wasn't possible without LISA - my beta reader and editor!!! It's her efforts that the story is flawless on grammatical aspects and everything else. Then there's Daan, Elena, Josse, Sarah and many more... oh my god you guys are unbelievably amazing.
This epilogue... I don't know if I did justice with each couple but well I hope you like it. A special part in this one related to Gust and Joe is written by Danielle. Her love for that couple is something that makes me feel proud that I created them ^_^ So applause to her too..
Last but not the least ... enjoy! and take care :)