"He doesn't love you!" Clay yells for the fifth time in twenty minutes.
"I don't care!" I yell back.
"I do! I won't stand here and watch you make the biggest mistake of your life! Brent doesn't give a s**t about you. Getting married to him will cause you nothing but heartache!"
"And how do you know that? Did Brent himself tell you that he's going to make my life a living hell?"
"Call off the wedding."
"I can't. The wedding is tomorrow. If I call it off, I'm f****d! Have you forgotten who his parents are? They'll kill me!"
"And you're just getting married to a guy whose parents would kill you for calling off a wedding?"
"I didn't mean that they would literally kill me. That was a metaphor!"
"Call off the damn wedding!"
He stomps his foot.
"You are not a stupid girl, Cami. Don't make such a stupid mistake."
"Why are you so worked up about this anyway?"
"Why am I so worked up? Lemme think. You're my f*****g best friend. I've known you all my life. My whole f*****g life, Cami. You're the closest person I'd call a sister and you know what brothers do when their sisters make dumb decisions? They get pissed off."
"Then they get over it."
"Or not. Don't marry that guy. Please. He's an asshole."
"An asshole? You don't even know him!"
"I know him well enough. He used to be my friend back in college, remember?"
"And now you don't want him close to me because you two are not friends anymore? That's not selfish at all!"
"Cami, he's horrible."
"I don't know what your problem is. If you think that Brent is horrible, that's your problem, not mine. Who made you judge, jury and executioner anyway?"
"I'm trying to protect you."
"You've been protecting me all my life. You've always been there for me and I appreciate that. But," I walk slowly to him, and I take his face between my hands. "You can trust me on this one. I'm getting married, so I'll have to spend the rest of my life with that man. I think in that case, my life partner should be my choice, not my best friend's choice. I'm the one who will have to live with that man, so lemme decide what I want."
"But that's where you're wrong. Brent is not your choice. Why do you keep forgetting that this is an arranged marriage?"
"I know that our parents arranged this, but I said yes. No one coerced me into it. I want to do it."
He shakes his head.
"Are you sure that what you feel for Brent is enough to sustain a marriage?"
"I've known him all through college. I loved him the first time I met him, and when I saw him a week ago, I knew that I still felt the same way."
"Whoa, wait, you loved Brent back in college? You never said anything about that!"
"You know he barely acknowledged me. He was friends with you, not me."
"You should have said something back then."
"To what end? He had this hot guy thing going on and he was busy being a hoe, so he never noticed me."
"And then he appears with a marriage proposal and you just say yes?"
"His parents and my parents.."
He cuts me off.
"Are sort of business partners. I get it. That guy is a cliché."
"What are you talking about?"
"A rich, good looking man in an arranged marriage? I've heard that one before, and I can easily predict the ending. You two will end up falling in love and boom! Happy ending."
"If I didn't know you better, I'd say that you have something against him."
"Hell yeah I have something against him. You want a list of reasons why I can't stand him anymore? I can get you one before tomorrow."
"He can't be that bad."
He rolls his eyes.
"Oh, for f**k's sake. You don't even know him, so stop defending him."
"Clay, I'm getting married to a guy I've had a crush on since college days. I have no idea why Brent Miller even wants to marry me, so I'm not letting that opportunity slip. It's too good not to take a shot."
Clay narrows his eyes at me.
"How much are the millers paying your family for this?"
"Why? Their son is good looking and he's young. You mean he can't get a girl without mommy and daddy paying for it?"
"He's wild. His parents want someone to tame him. I think they're blackmailing him into this."
"Cliché. And you think that you're worth a few million bucks? You are priceless, Cami. You shouldn't be sold off like an asset to the highest bidder."
"Well, my parents are bankrupt and they have bills to pay and kids to take of. Sam is in college, Noah is in high school, and Brandon is still in middle school. Do you know what that means? This family needs a lot of money to stay on it's feet. My parent's textile company is going down, Clay. The Millers are getting it back on it's feet in exchange for me marrying their son."
"So your parents are selling you off to get the necessary funds."
"That's not how I would say it. Can't you see it, Clay? I'll get married to the guy I've been crushing on for six years and still help my parents out. I'm hitting two birds with the same stone. Can't you just be happy for me?"
"I just don't want you to get hurt."
"If Brent hurts me, I'll get a divorce the following day."
"Then his parents will bribe the judge and the lawyers, or on the worst case scenario, they'll hire someone to kill you."
"They're influential not insane. Clay, I can't do this if you don't believe in me. I need you to trust me. I desperately need your trust."
He sighs heavily before he flops on my bed.
"If Brent hurts you, I'll do it the old fashioned way. I'll waylay him, then I'll beat the crap out of him."
I smile at him.
"You're so cute when you're jealous."
He jumps in alarm.
"You're jealous because I'm getting married. You'll miss me."
He laughs nervously.
"I'm not jealous."
"Yes, you are. I would be jealous too if you had someone to love and pay attention to all the time. I'm just so lucky that you never had a girlfriend. I know I sound real douchy but I'm the jealous type."
"He never had a girlfriend because he has been in love with you ever since he knew you in first grade." Sam laughs from the doorway. "Poor Clay. He has been single for twenty four years waiting to marry you, then he has to watch you getting married to an i***t. I mean, I know that the i***t is the only reason I'll be able to go back to college, but that doesn't make Brent Miller any less of an idiot."
I slowly release my breath.
"Sam, lock the door on your way out."
"The truth stings, doesn't it?"
He laughs haughtily, running a hand through his unruly hair.
"I have a date with Krystal. I thought you'd be in the mood to help me pick a shirt. What do girls like? White or black?"
"You're going on a date? It's my wedding eve!"
"Your wedding, not mine. Cami, I've been trying to get this girl's attention for two years now. She finally agreed to go out with me, so I'm going. I don't care if a house burns to the ground."
"Can't you postpone?"
"Tell Kristine that I said you can't stay out late tonight."
"It's Krystal. And for the record, she's coming to the wedding tomorrow."
"I don't care. Go."
I wait until he's gone before I walk to my closet. I change into an oversized sweatshirt, aware of Clay staring at me with mild interest, then I walk to the bed and lie down beside him.
I've been changing clothes in his presence since time immemorial. Even after puberty hit me hard and I grew from a shy little girl to a confident young woman, the habit never stopped.
And he's never complained.
"Clay, I'm so sorry." I whisper, slinging an arm over his hip. "If what Sam said is true..."
"It's not." He cuts me off. "I don't want you to feel like you owe me anything, so go and get married to that guy."
"It's okay, Cami. I promise."
"Will you come to the wedding?"
"Of course. I wouldn't miss that for anything."
He laces our fingers together then he lifts them to his lips and grazes my knuckles with a feathery kiss.
"I love you."
"I love you, Clay. Always will."
I rest my head on his shoulder then I close my eyes. I love him just like I love Sam, Noah and Brandon. As far as I'm concerned, he's family, and I would literally take a bullet for him.
As I sink to sleep, all I can think about is not the nice smelling man in whose arms I'm lying in.
I'm thinking about the one that I'll be spending the rest of my life with.
I wake up in the middle of the night.
Clay is lying very still beside me, his arm wrapped protectively around me. I carefully disengage myself from him and I walk stealthily across the room to my closet. I wrap a white dressing gown around myself then I walk out of the room, closing the door softly behind me.
I tiptoe downstairs to the kitchen, and I get a bottle of white table wine from the fridge. I have a lot to ponder on, so I'll just have a glass as I think.
I walk out of the house then I round the building to the swimming pool, and I sit on a rocking chair facing the swirling water.
I will miss this place. There are twenty three years worth of memories in here so it'll be very hard to forget home sweet home.
I close my eyes with a sigh.
Tomorrow, my surname will change to Miller.
I think it has a nice ring to it.
"Cami? Are you okay, honey?"
"Mom, go away."
"What are you doing out here? Aren't you supposed to be getting your beauty sleep?"
"I don't need sleep to be beautiful." I smile at her. "You gave me enough beauty, Mom."
"At least we can agree on something."
She sits down beside me and we silently watch the reflection of the lights in the swimming pool.
"I'll miss you, Mom." I say quietly after a moment of silence.
"I'll miss you too, baby. You'll just be a phonecall away, and that makes me feel so much better. Cami, I just want to be sure that you're okay with this arrangement."
"Don't you think it's a bit too late to be having this talk? The wedding is only a few hours away."
"I just don't want you to feel like you're pressured into doing this. You are more important to me than anything that the Millers have to offer."
"You're not forcing me into anything. I want to get married to Brent."
"Okay then. Please take care of yourself and remember, you always have a home here."
I rest my head on her shoulder and I close my eyes as I take a deep, tired breath
"I know, Mom."
"How is Clay taking it?"
"He'll be fine."
"I think he's in love with you. Once you get married, he'll find a girl for himself. You have clouded his mind for way too long."
"I don't want to hurt him."
"Sweetheart, this world is unfair and getting pure love like the one you share with Clay is rare. But, he has to understand that life goes on. This planet will never pause on it's axis to wait for anyone, and all we have to is move on." She clutches my hand as the chair rocks us. "He is a good boy, and he'll get a good girl who will give him all the love in this world. Believe me."
"I do. I hope he will still be my friend after all this."
"He will be. I know him, and I know you. Nothing can stop you two from being friends."
"Not even Brent Miller?"
"Not even Brent Miller."