“How do I look?”
The excited cry startled him out of his thought. He turned to look at her. She looked breathtaking, like a mermaid princess dressed in a flowing, shimmering white gown.
Then he saw it. Like a flash in his mind’s eyes—him in a sky blue suit with tails and she in her mermaid princess flowing white dress, walking down the aisle of a magnificent church, arm-in-arm. Soft, soulful music played in the background. The guests were all standing, applauding, hailing, delighted… for them. They were married. They were husband and wife.
“Kolbe, I said how do I look?”
This time he jolted at the faint impatience in her voice. He blinked and stared clearly at her. “You look beautiful.” Kolbe said softly.
“I do?” Marlene let out a delighted shriek and whirled around to gaze into the oak full-length mirror. “Oh Kol, I don’t just want to look beautiful. I want to look exquisite, breathtakingly, unbelievably gorgeous. I want to be the most beautiful bride.”
“And so you are… so you’ll be.” Kolbe’s heart thrummed with heaviness as his eyes drank her in.
Flawless, fair skin. Peculiar grey eyes—so un-African in the oval, barbie-doll lovely face. She was slim and small, like a Barbie doll herself. Her fair floated down her back, framed her face. Reddish brown waves of thick tresses, a natural mane as un-African as her eyes.
Many would call her a near miss albino. He simply called her, beautiful.
“Do you think Max would find me beautiful in this dress?” Marlene asked, touching the shrill lacy edges.
Again his heart thrummed. Max… her fiancé. Soon-to-be husband. “Of course, he would.” He blinked, smiled at her glowing image in the mirror. She wanted reassurance, he was here to give it—as her best friend. “Is he blind that he cannot see how divine you look?” He came closer, touched her hand because he could not help it. “You’re going to be the most beautiful bride ever. You are not just beautiful, you dazzle like a rare gem.”
Marlene tilted up her head to look at him, there was an soft affectionate gleam in her eyes. “You always had a way with words, Kol. You have the sweetest words for a lady… I’m always puzzled as to why you don’t have a girlfriend yet.”
He didn’t want her soft, kindly, affectionate stare. He wanted intensity, passion… love. But it never could be. “Words mean nothing until they’re said to the right person and comprehended rightly for what they are.” He said mysteriously, bending to pick the lace veil on the stool. He clipped it to her hair, completing her bride image. “Now you’re a ready to be my bride.” He whispered, standing a foot above her and staring at the resplendent image she made in the mirror.
“Hmm?” The perfectly trimmed brows arched.
He recollected himself. “My best friend and the loveliest bride-to-be.” He amended, stepping back again and away from her seductive perfume. “Max is going to be the luckiest groom ever.”
“He will be, won’t he?” The faint puzzle cleared and her eyes shone. “I will be too. I am marrying the love of my life and having a dream wedding. Everything is so perfect, so splendid. I’m blessed that my best friend is an events coordinator… not to talk, knowledgeable in women’s fashion.” She swept around to smile sweetly at him. “What will I have done without you? What will I do without you?”
Nothing. Which is why you should be marrying me. Aloud, he said. “What are best friends for?” And winked.
She let out a delighted laugh and threw herself into his arms. “Oh, I am so lucky to have you. I love you dearly.”
His heart broke. His eyes filled. “I love you too.” He murmured, speaking of a different kind of love.
“Hmm, you’re the best ever.” Marlene sighed and slipped from his arms. “I shall now go undress and meet you in the reception room.”
He watched her glide into the adjoining dressing room and then turned on a sigh and walked out. In the small reception room, he sat on a high-back bench and tried to will back his thoughts to sanity.
“Faint heart never won fair lady.”
He whirled around at the smoky whisper. It was Raina—Marlene’s friend. Well, his too, only he couldn’t abide her snootiness and ever-present wryness.
“What the heck are you blabbing about now?” He asked insultingly, irritated by her mocking half smile.
“Blabbing is for toddlers.” Raina taunted. “You couldn’t tell her you loved her, could you?”
“Tell who I loved her?” He knew who and he hated that she knew of his feelings. Had always hated that she did.
“Dear, sweet, lovely Marlene… who else?” Raina smirked. She saw the flicker of annoyance in his eyes and smiled. “You eat your heart out for her every single day for the last two years and yet, you have not the courage to tell her.”
She not only knew his feelings, she knew when they came to life. They had all been friends from the University and there had always been easy affection between them—at least, between him and Marlene. Raina, he’d always found annoying. But two years ago, upon her return from a two year study absence in Canada, he’d taken one look at Marlene at the airport and his heart had given a skid. That skid had turned into a leap and then a lurch when she’d announced she’d met the love of her life.
It had been devastating. There he was, falling in love with her and she was already in love with another.
“I don’t eat my heart out for her everyday.” He snapped, unprepared to discuss his feelings with Raina. “I love her. She’s my best friend and…”
Raina’s derisive snort cut him off. “Oh please, save the pretence for gullible Marlene. She might choose not to see what’s before her eyes and you might be too cowardly to let her know… bit I know. I have eyes and I can see.” She slid down beside him, crossed her mile-long legs. “You’re a coward and a fool. Tomorrow, she’ll wed another and yet you torture yourself with emotions that will never be returned.”
“Raina…” He wanted to tell her to mind her business, to let him be.
She cut him off. “At least, be man enough to own your feelings. Be courageous enough to confess it, to face her.”
“And for what purpose? To what end?” Because indeed he was tormented, he growled. “She’s marrying Max tomorrow and that will be that.”
“Then if there’s no purpose, let it go!” Raina growled back. “If you can’t tell her how you feel, toss out the feelings and give yourself the chance to love again—to love truly.”
“I love truly! I love…”
“Who do you love truly?”
They both whirled around and gaped at a smiling Marlene. She had a huge paper bag with her wedding gown showing in it.
“You’re in love and you didn’t tell me, Kol?” There was a mild hurt in her eyes as she looked at him.
Kolbe swallowed. “Ah…”
“This is your chance, Kolbe… tell her.” Raina watched the love, the hesitation, the fear in his eyes and hardened her own eyes. “Tell her of your love… or forever, remain silent.”
Kolbe looked at her. The fury in her eyes surprised him. He expected the usual derision not anger.
“Why are you hiding your love from me, Kol? Are we not friends? Have we not always shared everything?” The hurt in Marlene’s eyes deepened. She dropped down into the bench. Her scent seduced him, tortured him. “Who is she, this woman you truly love?”
Kolbe looked into the soft grey eyes and his heartbeat skipped. He wanted to whisper his love, to take her in his arms and kiss her, forever.
“Are you guys done?” It was Maximilian’s deep toned voice.
“And the moment is gone… forever.” Raina murmured beside him.
No one heard her but him. The moment had been gone for two years now, he silently amended. He blinked and smiled faintly at the built man a foot away from the sofa. “Yes, we’re done, Max. Your bride is all set for you tomorrow.”
“No, we’re not.” Marlene refuted definitely. “You still haven’t told me, Kol. Don’t you want to tell me?”
“Tell you what?” Max wanted to know.
“Kol’s in love—truly in love.” Marlene said, still watching him.
“Wow, that’s great, dude. So, who’s the lucky girl?” Max grinned.
“Yes, Kolbe, tell us who the lucky girl is. We’d all like to know.” There was a light teasing note in Raina’s voice.
But he saw the mockery in her… behind the incomprehensible angry glint. He looked at the beautiful woman who’d always been his best friend and then his secret love. He looked at the man with the muscled build who’d become his friend simply because he was his best friend’s beau. And then, he looked at Raina, the friend he liked and hated at same time. Well, he didn’t hate her, not really. He just couldn’t stand her nosiness and superiority.
“It’s Raina. I’m in love with Raina.”
Raina’s mouth dropped open. A wave of shock swept over her face. He smirked at her with a devious satisfied eyes.
“Really?” Max and Marlene shrieked at the same time. Then Marlene grabbed onto his hand. “Oh my God, but why didn’t you guys tell me?” She demanded, then laughed. “Well, I’m not surprised. I mean with that potent tension between you two… I always guessed it was sexual tension. You two always had the knack of sparking each other off.” She laughed again and then drew him in for a quick hug. Then she sprang up and bent over to hug Raina. “I’m so happy for you, girl. I truly am. Imagine that, you two are in love…we’ll surely be planning your wedding soon.”
Raina has managed to tuck back her shock. “Yeah, imagine that.” She eyed Kolbe and her mouth curved with a wicked smile. “I’m glad you’re happy for us… ‘cause for a moment there, I feared you might be hurt… well, ‘cause you and Kolbe have always had this special bond.” She threw Max a reassuring smile. “As friends of course.”
“And that is all we’ve always been—the best of friends.” Marlene laughed. “In fact, more like brother and sister. All of us, friends and siblings bound by love. Oh, I’m so, so happy. Tomorrow, I’m marrying the love of my life and soon, my best friends will be doing the same. Isn’t life beautiful?” She looked adoringly at her husband-to-be.
“It is indeed.” Max said, reached out his hand, took hers and lifted her to her feet. “Let’s get going then. Still a bit to do before tomorrow.”
“Oh yes, let’s all go back to the house. Imagine everyone’s surprise when I tell them your splendid news.” She trilled, hooking her arm across Max’s and falling in step with him.
“Imagine that.” Raina whispered, linking her hand with Kolbe’s and tugging him along. “We’re in love and getting married soon. How deliciously surprising!” She tossed him a wink.
Kolbe caught the faint mockery in the twinkling smile but there was something else beneath. Something he couldn’t decipher. Too irritated to bother his head, he turned and stared at his heart’s beloved chattering amiably ahead and wished it was her soft hand in his.
If only he hadn’t always been so faint of heart.