I’m working, on the second book Until Death, and making adjustments to the 2 Groomsmen as I go. I’ve made a few changes to Chapter One, which is what follows.
End of December, Friday afternoon
Wes Rhymes could use some sleep, at home in his bed would be his first choice, a dark hotel room would be his second. Instead he was headed to Vegas for the night, an obligation to fulfill –a quick turnaround trip returning early tomorrow morning. Tired down to the bone was his companion of late, mostly from his musical commitments. The ones that brought in boatloads of money, and gave him private planes in which to travel, but kept him in a state of perpetual exhaustion. He needed a break, and he would give himself one. One more year on tour and he was taking at least a year off for a long-term breather. But in the mean-time he was headed to a shorter break in his schedule, another commitment this time for someone other than himself.
Two things he loved in this world, his music, and his younger brother. So, there was no way would he miss his brother’s tying of the knot wedding-ceremony, however hastily arranged-last-minute-dash-to-the-alter out of the blue it was. Schedule or no, he would be present, to support always, that’s what brothers did, but more importantly he wanted to lay eyes on the woman who had talked the second most confirmed bachelor into marriage. He removed his phone from his pocket, it was vibrating and of course it was his brother, Noah, calling him. Again. A morning full of calls, had been his brother this morning. “Hey.” Wes said.
“You can’t be late picking up Angie.” Noah said.
“Who says I’m late. I’m at the airport, walking to the plane as we speak?”
“Have you spoken to her, tell her you’re running late.”
“I’m not running late and Hailey’s talked to her, right Hailey?” Wes said, meeting his assistants gaze.
“Yes sir,” the young woman said. No nonsense and on top of his life was his assistant, keeping up with him stride for stride as they cleared the back door of the small waiting room for outgoing flights. She was tall like him, white like him, a head full of dark bouncy hair he always admired and on the skinny side, or thin as she labeled it. They were walking across the tarmac now, headed to the plane.
“See, Hailey has it handled.”
“You bringing her with you?”
“Nope, she only going as far as the airplane.” he said.
“I wasn’t sure you’d come, last minute and all.” Noah said.
“The tour I can manage, It’s the short notice that was harder to work around.”
“My apologies, it couldn’t be helped.”
“So, who are you marrying? And why haven’t I met her before today?” He said, serious now.
“You’re too busy to meet anyone. The last two years, have been crazy for you.”
“Not that crazy. I would have made time.”
“It’s okay, you’re meeting her today.”
“I thought you, we didn’t believe in marriage.”
“People change big brother.” Noah said, chuckling, interrupting him before he got started with all the reasons marriage wasn’t for the Rhymes men diatribe. “I met someone that made me want to change.” Which was also true, and not true at the same time.
“How can you be sure. You have a lot to lose if this goes south. I hope you know what you’re doing.” He said, stopping just outside the door to the waiting area. He waved for Hailey to continue on to the plane. He wanted a little privacy for this part.
“I do. It’s not going to go south.”
“You run it by the brother’s W?” Walden and Walden were the law firm that represented he and his brother, in all legal matters. Two brothers, that Wes met early in his career and bonded over beer and love of the blues. The brothers continued on their lawyerly journey and hooked up with Wes as his career grew. They’d helped guide him and eventually Noah when his song writing career took off.
“That’s something at least.”
“Don’t worry so much about me.”
“Too late, I’ve been at it all my life, couldn’t stop now if I tried.”
“Tell me something I don’t know. Stardust is picking you and Angie up from the airport.”
“The other groomsman, what does she think about Stardust? That’s an interesting name to by the way.”
“It’s a stage name and no Angie hasn’t met her.”
“What kind of stage?”
“She wants to be an actress.”
“Your best bud hasn’t met her. I thought she met everybody.”
“I’ll meet up with you and Angie afterward, at the hotel for my mini-bachelor party. Since you have to be back tomorrow morning, we’re doing everything tonight.” Noah said, choosing the path of ignoring his brother’s words.
“I hope you know what you’re doing?”
“This is the last thing I’m going to say on the subject, since you’ve worked it out with the brothers W. I’m a less worried that you’ve lost your brains. You’re an adult and whether or not I understand your reasoning, I’m always with you.”
“I know this.”
“You need anything else from me before I head out?”
“Don’t think so.”
“Okay then, I’m turning off my phone to try and get some sleep.” Wes said.
“Sure no problem. I’ll call Angie and let her know you’re on your way, and make sure she has Hailey’s number in case of an emergency?”
“That’ll work.” Wes said, sliding the phone into his pocket, moving to the plane. He loved his brother. They only had each other, had only ever had each other, and although the front end of their lives hadn’t started out well, the back half was way more than either of them had imagined. They had lots to be thankful for. The last two years had been a blur of concerts and tours and festivals and raking in the money. With his singing career and his brother’s song writing ability they’d survived their childhoods. No more money worries for either of them, at least the once brought on by scarcity.
There were always worries in life—the new fiancé, and making sure that was kosher was the first of his immediate worries, and although he believed Noah’s life was his own, old habits of watching out for his baby brother were hard to relinquish. Running it past the brother’s W, went along way to assuage his fears, still there was a reason Noah hadn’t introduced her or mentioned her for that matter before his call last week, asking him to be a groomsman. He wasn’t any closer to understanding how and when that had happened. He seen Noah as recently as Thanksgiving and not a word about any woman besides Angie, his brother’s best bud in the world, more sister if you asked him, and sometimes mom, as his brother often complained about.
Maybe the other groomsman could help, he thought shaking his head at his brother’s assigning the role of a groomsmen to a woman. Hard to believe the famous Angela Johnson had not met the fiancé either. No idea why that was so, `cept that it couldn’t be good. Angie and his brother went back fifteen or so years, he thought, doing the math in his head. The summer before the start of high school, after the death of their dad, was when he’d dropped Noah at the home of his father’s only sister. Angie lived down the street with a foster family that was raising her, while his aunt did the same for Noah, with his help. Financially she was limited to a small pension and a small social security, and thus his life became one of working, odd jobs and grinding out money to send to his aunt, mixed in with grinding to make his music. He hadn’t seen a whole lot of Noah during that period, or Angie.
They’d become fast friends, two nerdy musically inclined misfits, according to Noah. High school and on to college with Angie leading the charge, dragging Noah along with her. Her marriage this past last year, had been the only break in their otherwise friendship that he knew of. Noah swore by his Angie, and that left him hopeful. That and she’d hadn’t, at least not so far, tried to look him up, reach out to him using her connection to his brother as most did. So maybe she was as his brother said, one of the best friends a dude could have.
The knowledge that Noah had of Angie on his side, had left him a little hope toward at least one woman on the planet. Make that two, his aunt he would be forever grateful to, rest her soul. Yeah, he had lots of scars with women that he wasn’t even going to try to fix.
Noah’s college graduation was the last time he’d actually seen her. She and Noah’s making their way across the stage. He’d been so proud of his brother, succeeding beyond what he’d expected or imagine after the death his pops. It was dinner immediately following the ceremony with he, Noah and his aunt to dinner. Angie had plans to dine with her foster parents, so he’d missed seeing her. He was out after dinner, back on the road. That was his life then, not much different than now, except for the pay.
A few steps more and he’d be at the plane’s steps, and he’d see, what if anything Angie Johnson was about. He watched, as he always done knowing that people, particularly women, would always show you who they were. One just had to believe them when they did.
He hoped Angie hadn’t grown up to be chatty or clingy or the worst outcome in his mind, interested in him or the holder of some crush, he’d have to somehow fend off. And since he was hoping, he hoped he didn’t fall asleep and wake up to find her sitting beside him, or in front of him, staring at him, while he slept. He’d awaken many times to find women watching him, pretending they hadn’t been, Creepy as fuck that was. It had happened, too many times to count, friends of his band members and their girlfriend, or their girlfriends, girlfriends and it always irritated.
He sighed, ran his hand over his face. If he were truly lucky he’d sleep the entire trip and deal with the women later. Nah, not really, but really, he though chuckling, amazed how cynical and distrusting he grown to be. He smiled, cause life.
Angie Johnson checked the GPS again against the scene outside her window. She was quite possibly lost on the way to some bum fuck Egypt airport out in the middle of who knows where town to catch a ride with the rich, famous, and handsome brother to her best friend, Wes Rhymes. Austin Bergstrom Airport while excellent enough for most folk, was not apparently sufficient for the likes of him. No, he needed the one that required her to drive an hour out of her way, to a place, surrounded by nothing and in the middle of nothing. Yeah, yeah, she was being uncharitable, looking a gift horse in the mouth still.
That was purely her mind complaining, her heart and body were all a flutter, at the prospect of seeing the Wes Rhymes. It been six or seven years ago, graduation since she’d seem him live and in person. The covers of magazines, or, on YouTube, was the closest she came to him now. He was what you expect a famous musician would be, handsome, sexy, and totally unavailable. He didn’t trust women, which was fine by her. She was so over men with attachment disorders for whatever reasons, which used to include Noah until about a week ago, or longer, she had no idea. Him getting married she’d yet to wrap her head around.
Her phone rang. It was Noah, of course it was. “Hey.” She said.
“Where are you?”
“Lost I think,” she said, scanning the area outside her windows, of mostly trees, hills, grass, and all totally unfamiliar.
“Just kidding. I’m not lost, haha, nah, I’m halfway to the airport I think?”
“I just hung up with Wes. He’s on the way to the plane. You’re his first stop.”
“I know. His assistant just sent me a text.”
“She loves my brother.”
“So do a lot of people I’ve read.”
“He has to leave Saturday morning early, so I booked you on the regular airline. Sorry it’s not the private jet round-trip.”
“I know. Hailey told me that too. No worries. When did I need a private jet to travel?”
“Still nothing. Now, on to the important stuff like who is this woman you’re marrying? It’s quick this getting hitched to someone. You know this, right?” Yes she agreed to his request, even it was last minute and she’d had to ask off after starting her old job again. For nobody but him would she rearrange her life on such short notice, a life she was settling into again.
“It’s not that quick.”
“Long enough to know.”
“What happened to no way with anyone?”
“Did Stardust happen to Gabby too.”
“We weren’t like that.”
“You were too something.”
“Do you trust me?”
“What kind of question is that. Of course I do.”
“Then trust me.”
Angie sighed. “So this woman Stardust? Is that her name for real?” She said, scanning the horizon for what might be the airport? Her GPS said she was point two miles away.
“It’s her stage name. She wants to be an actress.”
“Does she live in Houston, too? Is that where you two met?” she asked, making the next left, a road that looked like someone’s driveway.
“No more questions. An ant at a picnic after food has nothing on your tenacity.” He said.
She heard irritation in his voice, not that it deterred her any. “Someone’s got to ask the tough questions,” she said again, coming to the end of the road, that was in fact the entrance to the airport. “Is your brother okay with this?”
“He trust me?”
“Whatever, that’s not what this is about,” She said, pulling into of the empty stops in the parking lot, or what she hoped was the parking lot. It was a small airport, so there were plenty spots to park in. “Gosh, you’re sure this plane is safe. Somehow I can’t see it. Give me a big as 747 any day of the week.” She said, hoping it was safe to leave her car here, scanning the area again. It wasn’t sketchy so much as vacant looking.
“You sure it’s safe to leave my car here?”
“Right. So back to my question. “Is Wes behind this marriage of yours?”
“As much as he can. You know how he is about women and settling down.”
“So that would be a no.”
“You know him, slow to trust people, particularly women.”
“May I remind you that you two used to be the same.”
“People change Ang.”
“Usually they have a reason for changing?”
“I’m happy. You want me to be happy?” He asked.
“What kind of question is that. You know I do. You can see it’s sudden, right and you’re not very forthcoming about any of it. To go for never marriage to Vegas in a hurry. It’s strange and sudden. It kinda makes it all suspect. You can see that, right.”
“So was yours, I hate to remind you and I told you Lewis was for shit. But you married him anyway.”
“And now I’m divorcing him. I don’t want that for you.”
“It won’t be. Your story is not my story.”
“So what is your story exactly?”
Noah laughed. “Let it go. It’s my life, my mistakes to make. Just as yours was.”
“You love her?”
“You don’t sound sure.”
“Let it go Angie. I would love to have you here, sharing this special occasion with me, but you don’t have to be.”
“A threat huh.” She said, chuckling. “She must be something.”
“It’s not a threat. I just want you to trust me and to let it go.”
“You see the Brother’s Walden?”
“Good, `cause you got lots to lose,” she said.
“I know this. I’m no dummy.”
“Okay, fine. I’m let it go, only because you’ve seen the brother W. It makes me feel better about all of this. You are protecting yourself at least.” She said, staring out the window at the empty stretch of runway. “Where’s the plane?”
“It’ll be there soon.”
“So Wes huh, it’s been a while since I’ve seen him.”
“Yes. Be nice to him.”
“Why wouldn’t I be nice.”
“You know why?”
“He has trust issues with women.”
“We’ll be fine. We’re the two groomsmen, who will make it work because we both love you. I know what he’s done for you.”
“Thank you. So on to what you need to know once you arrive. Stardust’s going to meet you and Wes at the airport. She’ll ride with you to get fitted in your tux. My appointment shouldn’t last more than an hour or two, so I see you in the hotel room after your done, and Angie?”
“I really do have it under control. You don’t have to worry.”
“Yeah. Yeah.” She said.
“I’m out. Love you.” He said.
“Love you too,” she said, smiling at her best friend’s happiness in spite of her reservations and she had plenty reservations. About Noah in general and then specifically about his upcoming nuptials to a woman she knew next to nothing about. She’d met all of the other girlfriends or not girlfriends before and by girlfriends she meant that lasted two weeks or longer. . . Gabby she thought the latest, six weeks was long for Noah. She’d kept tabs, and knew he was withholding information. Noah like women, but he didn’t do more than one at a time, so something was up, but apparently, she didn’t know all there was to know about his life anymore or she would know this Stardust wife to be by now as well as his feelings for Gabby.
It didn’t change her desire to show up for his wedding. Nothing could. She and Noah had only ever been friends, since forever too. She wasn’t surprised at all that he wanted her in his wedding. The capacity had shocked. She thought she’d been tucked in with the women folk on the bridesmaid side, but nope, she and the brother were to be groomsman. Whatever, if it had to do with Noah, she would now and forever be in. That didn’t mean she wouldn’t check home girl out and speak her mind if necessary.
She was also eager to talk to big brother Wes. She was grateful for the lift on his private place, yes, but more than anything, she was grateful for the opportunity to voice her concerns with the only person she knew loved Noah as much as she. The big brother with the not so good view of women, and the bucket full of tales she’d heard from Noah over the years, was the perfect person for the job, she hoped anyway.
“Hi Elise,” Hailey said, arriving to the plane’s door first, rolling Wes luggage behind her. Elise was Wes’ favorite stewardess.
“Hey. You’re with him this time.” Elise said.
“Nope, he’s going it alone.” Hailey said.
“That’s too bad huh,” Elise said. She was aware of Hailey’s feeling for her boss, although she was sure Wes had no idea. Not that she could see anyway.
Hailey shrugged, playing it off. “He’ll probably sleep the entire trip.”
“That’s normal for him.”
“Yep. You’re picking up another passenger, the other groomsman, a woman,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Angie Johnson. Noah’s longtime friend,” Hailey added.
“I didn’t know who.”
“She’s the who.”
Wes stood in the door, looking his usual tired self.” Elise thought, running her gaze over him. “Good Afternoon Mr. Rhymes.” Jeans, t-shirt under Henley styled shirt, boots, his normal attire was casual. He wore his black hair short, thick and little bit unruly. Beard, he wore trimmed close, came together in a nice package. The eyes were the thing that captured most women’s interest. Grey, smoldering and intense, behind black framed school boy glasses also a trademark, stared back at you like you were the only person in the world. He knew this, the effect on he had on women as well as when and how to deploy his charm. Elise noted.
“Hey.” He said, moving inside, heading straight for a chair. He feet were up, and he was settling in, reclining, seconds later.
“Your normal sir.”
“Yes. yep.” He said, that smoldering gaze on her, and the smile and why could she’ have him, she wondered and not for the first time.
“I’m out boss.” Hailey said.
“Yep.” He said, his gaze on Hailey now as she stood at the door staring back at him. “I’ll call you when I touch town.”
“Of course.” She said, wondering when or if he would ever settle down. It was easy with women, her, Elise, all interested parties. All he had to do was say the word. So far it was a no to either of them. He liked women, this she knew, just not for settling down. Work, music was his first love, Noah his second. He told her that there was no such woman, but most men said that. Eventually they found someone that change all of that and she expected the same for him, except that woman had not shown up in his life yet and honestly she doubted she would.
Hailey had hoped it would be her, wished on the daily that it would be her, worked to make herself an integral part of his life so it might be her, eventually, if she could hold on, is what she told herself. So far there wasn’t many signs that he saw her as anything other than his trusty and reliable assistant.