Authors: Jessica Katoff
“Austin—” Harper’s eyes have welled with tears and she knows that if they fall, she’ll never hear the end of it from Clare. She heaves out a sigh and steadies herself, but they flow freely over her cheeks anyway. “Austin, I do love you. I hope you know that.”
“I know.” He nods and reaches up under her veil to swipe her tears with his thumbs. “But you love him more.”
“Not more—differently.” She closes her eyes and leans into his hands, kisses the heel of one palm. “I’ll always love you, and I’ll always be thankful for you—for being there for me when he wasn’t, for giving me space when I needed it, for forgiving me and supporting me when I was ready to be with him again, for allowing him back into your life, for being his best man and our best friend.”
He cries, silent and moved, as she reaches over to wipe his tears much in the same way he did for her. “I hope you know that my heart isn’t whole, that you’ll always have a piece of it, and a piece of yours will forever be in mine—that’s what we leave behind.”
“I do.” Her throat tightens at the words, at all of the meaning that they hold, and it takes everything in her to let him go. He kisses her cheek again as the music queues the processional to start and with the most heartfelt smile he can give her, he says, “It’s time”
Austin walks her to the back door where Hilary awaits her and Gemma awaits him. He kisses Gemma on the cheek—Gemma, who has been so understanding—and she rubs a hand over his back, knowing how he aches, before she begins her walk down the aisle with Dylan. He and Clare are next, and he knows that the next time he’ll see Harper, she’ll be walking down the aisle and not toward him. He won’t object and he won’t cry. He will stand witness as she begins her life with the man she loves and he will be thankful to be by their side.
Clare appears beside him after quickly touching up Harper’s makeup for the last time and links her arm through his. She asks if he’s okay and he isn’t, but he won’t tell her that. He knows Harper is listening, watching. He knows Harper would know he’s lying. He looks over at her, at the way she looks at him, and gives her one last smile and a firm and final nod, before he escorts Clare out the door.
“You’re sure?” Hilary asks when it’s just the two of them.
She offers an arm to Harper. “I can always take one of ‘em out, if you still can’t decide.”
“You’d really like to use that damn knife already, huh?”
Hilary laughs, but doesn’t deny it.
“No, I’m sure. I love Liam. I’ve always loved Liam. I wouldn’t have said yes, otherwise. I wouldn’t do that to him, or to Austin—be with someone I don’t love, someone that I’m not certain of. Not after all we went through.”
The doors to the yard open and the decision is made for the last time. Harper solidifies it as she steps onto the lawn, her heels sinking into the grass. She staggers against Hilary’s side, but she’s there for her, as she always is, and she steadies her, puts her on the right path. She looks to the altar then, to Liam, and nearly loses her breath.
“I told you the boy could pick a tux,” Hilary mumbles under her breath as they approach the end of the aisle, the beginning of the next chapter in her life. She lifts her veil and kisses her cheek, and as simply as that, she’s given away completely, her hand placed in Liam’s. She’s his for the taking. “Go get him, Harp.”
The ceremony begins, but for Harper, it’s a blur. She loses it all in Liam’s eyes, in the way they won’t leave hers, the way they shed tears at her beauty, and are so full of love. He’s spent years staring at her, awed by how she was able to love him again, that she hasn’t stopped. He tells her this as he begins his vows.
“Harper, I am so incredibly blessed that you love me. I haven’t always deserved your love, but this fact alone has made me want to fight for it more. And I will continue to fight for you, for us every single day. I’ll do it in small ways and grand gestures, and I will hold your heart so delicately in my hands for as long as you will let me, for eternity, if I’m able. And I will give you mine, my heart, fully and wholly. I am yours and I will love you, Harper, until death do us part.”
Harper sobs openly through his words and takes a moment to compose herself, before beginning her own.
“Liam, ours is a story for the ages. Years of loving and laughing and trying times and learning and forgiving and trusting have lead us to this point today. I look forward to building upon that every single day with you. I look forward to fiercely loving you and fighting with you and experiencing everything life has to offer with you. Through it all, the ups and downs, no matter how high or low they are, you’re the one I want by my side. You’re the one I love and my heart is yours.”
She can’t help it. Her eyes slide so briefly to Austin’s, knowing she’s giving away a piece of his heart when she promises her own to Liam. Liam sees it and he lets it go. That’s what he has to do. That’s the penance he still feels the need to pay—to both of them. There will always be something there, something that bloomed in his absence, and he’ll never hold that against them.
Austin comes forward then, their rings in his upturned palm, and Liam tries to convey everything he feels he needs to say, every apology he can muster, through his stare. Austin shakes his head and smiles as tears glisten in his eyes. Liam knows he will spend the rest of his life vowing to fight for him, too, and he crushes him in a hug, so thankful, before he takes the rings.
“Liam, do you take Harper to be your lawfully wedded wife?”
Without an ounce of hesitation, Liam answers, “I do.”
“Harper, do you take Liam to be your lawfully wedded husband?”
“I—” Behind Liam, Austin nods firmly at her. She feels more loved in that moment—by both of them—than she ever dared to hope for. Everything is finally in its right place, and no one’s heart is broken.
Her own feels entirely too full, and as it pumps out Austin,
, she listens to what it whispers in her ear as she says, “I do.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
is a boring CEO by day and a New Adult/Chick Lit/Whatever-You-Want-to-Call-It author by night. When she isn’t pretending to be a professional or staring hopelessly at the blinking cursor on her laptop screen, Jessica loves to marvel at the beauty of live music, not wear pants, bake tasty things, binge watch television shows, drink whiskey, and sleep—not all at once. Jessica hates ignorance, people who talk during movies or with their mouth full, lima beans, and the word “ooze.” A southern Florida native and current resident, she plans on relocating to Tennessee with her two very fluffy pooches as soon as possible, and is currently accepting applications for a devastatingly perfect husband in the greater Nashville area.
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