They invited her to the wedding.
They invited her to the wedding. Not him anymore. Not Seth Huntington, the man she’d loved literally half of her life. No, now Seth was part of Seth and Chelsea, a two-person entity that precluded who he had been before and that was speeding him joyfully to the altar. Everything Seth did from now on would include Chelsea, for better, for worse.
So they had invited her to the wedding.
Rachel couldn’t figure out why. Well, she had a few guesses. For starters, her brother, Grant, was the best man. Her best friend, Abby, was Seth’s sister-in-law. And, oh yeah, she’d spent all of her time, energy, and attention on Seth Huntington, on loving him, on caring about him, on wanting to be with him, ever since she was fourteen years old.
She thought about this as she drove to work. She thought back to the day her parents had packed up the mini-van with all of Grant’s stuff, piled in themselves, and headed in the direction of the small university where her father was the academic dean for the honors program. Yeah, Grant could have lived at home, but he had reasoned with them that since they weren’t paying for his education, they could at least afford to put him up in the dorm so he could still get the experience, even if it didn’t include the distance.
Rachel didn’t care if he felt like he was getting the experience. She was just glad to be getting his room. As soon as they dropped him off, she planned on going back home and moving his furniture out, moving her furniture in, and embracing the life of an only child.
“Grant, do you know anything about your roommate?” their mother asked from the front seat, where she was already wiping away tears with a tissue.
“Nope,” he said, reaching out and pushing Rachel over in the seat once again, for old time’s sake. “Didn’t even get his name until yesterday.”
“And that name is…?” their mother asked.
“Seth Huntington,” he said.
“I recognize that name,” their father responded. “He’s in the honors program, too. Freshman… biology major, I think.”
“Sounds boring,” Rachel said, but with her braces and rubber bands everywhere, it sounded more like, soundzzz boringzzz. Oh, well. The spider web of neon pink rubber bands and metal sure beat the headgear she’d been wearing for the past three years, even if it made her sound like she had a lisp. It just matched the rest of her, frankly. She was a foot taller than all the boys her age and half the weight of most of them. All elbows and knees and frizzy hair and (yes) acne, she was pretty sure she’d always be the poster child for “awkward stage.” Which meant it wouldn’t be a stage at all but life.
Oh, well. Again.
“Annnnnddd,” their dad trilled dramatically. “We’re here!”
Sure enough, they were at the university. Yes, they lived that close. Yet their mother continued dabbing her eyes as though they were dropping Grant off halfway around the moon.
“Awesome,” Grant said. “We need to head to the student center first to pick up my keys, and –”
“Already done,” their father responded, holding up the brass keys.
“An advantage to having a father on the faculty,” their mother said.
“Thanks,” Grant laughed. “Room 310… third floor, then.”
They all got out, loaded up with boxes, and started heading that way. Rachel got stuck behind and was moving slowly enough that soon, they all three were in the building without her… which meant that they didn’t see her trip over her own feet and land, as ungracefully as possible, right on her face.
“Hey!” she heard from behind her. “Are you okay?”
Humiliated and already sore, she picked herself up, looked at the mess of video games spread out before her, and turned to face –
Oh. Him. The most handsome stranger she’d ever seen.
He was taller than her. Finally, a boy who was taller than her. He watched her with soft blue eyes and a confused expression, as she continued staring at him.
“Wow, you fell really hard! Are you okay?” he asked again.
She blinked at him. “Oh, yeah,” she said, embarrassed, putting her hands to her mess of hair, then looking over to Grant’s mess, all over the ground. “I just tripped. But I’m fine.”
“Here,” he said, “let me help you.” And he bent down next to her and began repacking the box. “I love this game,” he smiled, holding up Grant’s favorite.
“Me, too,” Rachel lied. She’d never even played that stupid game once, and –
“You need help getting the box in? I only have this left,” he said, holding up his backpack. “Already moved in.”
She nodded wordlessly and let him pick up the box for her.
“This building?” he asked, pointing to the one her family had already disappeared into.
“Yeah,” she said quietly. “Third floor.”
“Hey,” he smiled. “Me, too.”
And they made their way into the building and up the stairs, as he held open doors for her and carried Grant’s things, telling her all the while about the campus, about the town, about the church he’d already visited that weekend, telling her that she should check it out because they had a great college department.
It was her church. Hallelujah. She would see him again… maybe. Because she was in the youth department, and he was –
“Good grief, Rachel,” Grant said, stepping in front of her. “Did you get lost or something?”
Lost in his dreamy, dreamy blue eyes…
Rachel pulled her attention from the stranger’s eyes and stuttered, “Uh, no, just… fell down.”
“That sounds right,” he said. Then, he noticed the stranger and looked back and forth between the two of them, a confused expression on his face.
“Um, this… guy… helped me,” she offered.
“Thanks, man,” Grant said, taking the box from him. “Should’ve known my little sister couldn’t make it in here on her own two feet without some assistance.”
She felt her face blush at this, even as the stranger grinned. “Oh,” he said, looking over at her. “Are you moving in or just… helping out your brother here?”
“Just helping Grant,” she said softly. “I’m not in college. I’m only fourteen, and –”
But he’d moved on, like she’d suddenly become invisible. “Grant?” he said, grinning broadly. “Room 310?”
“Yeah,” Grant nodded, smiling.
“I’m your roommate, Seth.”
And she’d gotten to know him twice removed… but she’d still gotten to know him that day. And she took every word to heart, every single thing he said, every moment, with unabashed infatuation and youthful adoration.
After they left Grant, she pulled out her phone in her corner of the mini-van and texted Abby…
I just met the boy I’m going to marry.
Back in her car, half a lifetime later, Rachel sighed at the memory and the very thought of marriage to Seth Huntington.
“Well,” she sighed unsteadily, talking to herself, “you certainly tried your best to marry him, Rachel.”
And she had. She really had.
She became a normal fixture at the university over the years. Grant humored her, thinking her presence meant she missed him, and because she always showed up with something their mother had cooked, both he and Seth welcomed her. In time, she grew out of the awkward stage. The braces disappeared, the acne was gone, and she figured out how to make the thick hair work to her advantage. Instead of stumbling out of the house in the morning, all knees and elbows, she grew into the body that was doing her a whole lot of favors, moving with a gracefulness and poise that belied her innocence. Grant suddenly became the most popular guy in the dorm when Rachel came by to visit, and there were always several sets of eyes that followed her coming and going as she followed Seth.
Over the years, as Grant and Seth’s friendship transcended college and followed them into adulthood, Rachel continued on as part of their group, falling more and more in love with Seth all the while. He was godly, he was kind, he was responsible, and he was, by her estimation, what every man should aspire to be. She held onto hope that he would see her as more than Grant’s kid sister and that he would finally realize that he was meant to be with her.
It had seemed hopeless until that morning, just a few years ago, when he had kissed her, when he seemed to finally want her like she wanted him, when it seemed like all of her dreams were about to come true…
… and then, nothing. Absolutely nothing.
But she hadn’t given up. Even when Chelsea started working for him. Even when he started dating Chelsea. Even when it became clear that Seth and Chelsea were pretty serious.
Even now, with the wedding invite in the stack of junk mail that sat on her passenger seat. She’d kept it in here for weeks now, convinced that if she didn’t take it in and put it on her fridge with all the other wedding invites (she was just that age, unfortunately), that it wasn’t really happening.
She hit gridlock traffic and sighed. Looking at the invitation again, with its delicate edging and fancy embossing wouldn’t help.
What would help would be looking up their wedding registry on her phone and making judgments on their success at marriage based on their choice of flatware and china.
You could tell a lot from flatware and china, after all.
Traffic began creeping along slowly just as Rachel found their names, clicked on them and began browsing. Towels, dishes, gift cards, a universal television remote…
And just as she was crinkling her nose at that stupid item, she hit the truck in front of her.
His greatest concern was Joy.
“You okay?” he said, looking over at her and laying a hand on her leg reassuringly as soon as the car hit them from behind.
Joy had her seatbelt on, like always. She was something of a seatbelt Nazi with everyone who got in the car, and Micah was grateful for it now. Her hands still held onto the book she was reading. A children’s classic. One of those that librarians would recommend, of course.
He had smiled to see her with it when he picked her up that morning and she’d climbed in next to him, put her pink purse by her feet, and leaned over to kiss his cheek, her lips still a little sticky with maple syrup.
He was pretty sure no brother had ever loved his sister as much as he loved Joy.
“Joy,” he said softly, as she looked up at him with wide eyes. “Are you okay?”
“Micah,” she whispered. “Was that my fault?”
And like that, he was transported back to elementary school, his last year there, Joy’s first. She had been walking with her small kindergarten class from the building reserved just for students like her to the cafeteria, and she’d seen Micah on his way to PE. She didn’t dare leave the straight line she was walking so quietly and orderly while the students around her wandered and chattered louder than most children their age… but she couldn’t stop herself from grinning at him, waving, and whispering, in a very loud whisper, “I love you, Micah!”
“That your girlfriend, Micah?” some idiot whose name Micah couldn’t even recall had asked.
“That’s my sister,” Micah had said. Then, in a loud whisper of his own, “I love you, too, Joy.”
“You’ve got a sister in special ed?” the kid kept on. “Hey, did you hear that? Micah’s sister is a ret –”
And he didn’t get the word out of his mouth before Micah, who had always been a calm, mild-mannered, and polite child, stopped every word with his fist, knocking a couple of the kid’s teeth loose in the process. Joy hadn’t missed the scene, as the PE teachers came out to drag him off the nameless boy, and as he’d been marched to the principal’s office. His parents were called, and when they’d picked him up that evening and sat him down in the kitchen for a talk, he’d told them why he’d done it, that he’d do it again, and that he wasn’t sorry at all.
Their father had patted him on the back without a word, their mother had wiped her eyes and gone to their room, and Joy… five year old Joy had come into the kitchen with her favorite teddy bear in her arms and tears rolling down her cheeks.
“Micah,” she’d sobbed, “was that my fault?”
Goodness, no. Not then, not since, and surely not now, sitting there in all that traffic.
“No,” he said. “No. It was –” He looked in his rearview mirror at the young woman now climbing out of her car. “It was her fault.” He glanced over at Joy. “You sit tight, okay?”
“I’m going to be late to work,” she said.
“No, you won’t,” he said. “And even if you are, I’ll go in and explain things, okay?”
She nodded, biting her lip.
She’d gotten the job through the center she attended most week days, for adults with Down’s. The local library had offered her the position after the teachers had recommended her for just exactly the filing and shelving work she’d be doing, based on how methodical and analytical she was. Micah had celebrated the job with great enthusiasm, telling her he’d always pegged her for the quiet, shy librarian type, ever since she was a little girl and would spend hours letting him read her stories. She’d been working at the library since her eighteenth birthday, three years ago, and she took great pride in the work she did.
He was so proud of her… and so aware of how important being on time was to her.
“It’ll just take a minute for me to get this lady’s insurance information. Wait for me, and –”
The lady was already at his window, tapping.
He rolled it down with a bit of a grimace, having hoped to meet her outside and spare Joy the drama, and…
The statuesque brunette who stood outside his truck didn’t seem to realize that she was probably stopping traffic both coming and going with the way she was leaning over like that, up next to his truck, all of her beautiful curves on display as she threw her long hair over her shoulder and batted her eyes at him. Not in a flirty way. Just in a freakishly yet totally natural, beautiful way.
“I’m so sorry! Are you okay?”
As she watched him, biting her lip, blinking those gorgeous eyes… well, he felt better than okay.
He felt fan-freakin’-tastic, actually.
“Micah,” Joy prompted, as he continued staring at the fender-bender offender.
He blinked a couple of times himself. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he managed. “How about you?”
She breathed out. “As fine as I can be after I just rear-ended you.” Then she leaned down even further, looking across him to Joy. “Sweetheart,” she said in a softer, even kinder voice, “are you okay?”
Joy nodded shyly, cradling her book to her chest.
“I’m a nurse,” the woman continued. “Are you sure you’re okay? Your neck feel okay? Your shoulders?”
Joy swallowed. “I didn’t get hurt,” she said quietly. “Thank you.”
Micah reached out to pat her hand again. “Stay here, all right?” She nodded as he motioned to the door, prompting the brunette to step back.
As soon as he was out, he moved to the back to inspect the damage.
“I was on my phone,” the woman groaned, only a step behind him. “I probably shouldn’t tell you that. But I was on my phone.”
He bent down to look at his bumper. No visible damage.
“You should probably stay off the phone while you’re driving, huh?” he said.
“Couldn’t even really be called driving, could it?” she said, as a few cars honked at them. “I mean, we were hardly driving at all in this traffic.”
“Hope the text was worth it,” he said.
“Wasn’t a text,” she said. “I was looking up a gift registry for a dumb wedding I have to go to. They asked for a universal remote. A remote control! I mean, he could have picked a lot better than that. But I guess that goes without saying since he should have picked me instead of her.”
Micah glanced up at her, his eyebrows raised. “Okay.”
“Bad day,” she sighed. “And I don’t know why I’m telling you this.” Another car honked at her. “And we need to get our cars out of the road. I can get you my insurance information if you –”
“No need,” he said. “I don’t see enough damage here to warrant it, honestly.”
“Yeah,” he said. “I’ve got to take my sister to work then get on to work myself. So, see? This is actually your lucky day. No hike in insurance premiums.”
“And no ticket,” she sighed. “Thanks. And I’ll stay off the phone. But wait a sec, okay?”
He waited while she ran back to her car and leaned in, prompting another few honks as she bent over and raised one dainty little foot up. Even in scrubs and sneakers, she was still stopping traffic, and –
“Here,” she said, slipping him a card. It was for a pediatric clinic and had the name Rachel Finn, RN splashed across the middle. “If your sister has any problems, and I mean any problems, call me.”
“What about me?” he asked, looking at her.
“What about you?” she asked, making a face at him.
“I was in the accident, too,” he said, gesturing towards his neck.
“Oh, well,” she said, flustered. “You, too, of course. Or even your truck. I just… just wanted to make sure your sister was okay, you know.”
Micah did know. Not many people would have been as knowledgeable or as concerned about Joy as… well, as Rachel Finn was.
It struck a chord with Micah.
“She’s healthy,” he said quietly. “Wonderfully healthy.”
Rachel breathed out a sigh, relief in the sound. “Good. I’m glad. I just… didn’t know. And I would’ve felt awful if…”
If she had other health problems, problems that Micah couldn’t protect her from, just like he’d protected her from everything else her entire life. But she didn’t. All praise to God. Even as Rachel glanced over at his truck, where Joy was turned around in her seat, watching them both, Micah’s heart sent out another thankful prayer that she was, as he’d said, wonderfully healthy.
“Well, thanks,” he said, giving Rachel a small wave. “Drive safe, okay?”
“I will,” she said, turning back to her car without a second glance his way.
He climbed in next to Joy again and looked over to her. “See? Going to get you to the library right on time, just like I said I would.”
But Joy wasn’t listening to him. “She seemed nice, Micah.”
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