The Two Groomsmen

Chapter One

 

First weekend in January, Friday afternoon

Wes Rhymes could use some sleep. Tired down to the bone was his permanent companion this year, his musical commitments the cause. Commitments that brought in boatloads of money, and afforded him access to private planes, and the lifestyle that went with it, but also kept him in a state of perpetual exhaustion. Outside of the mini break he scheduled in the middle of the year, he was all forward motion to the end. One more year on tour and he was taking some serious time off, a year or two, at least. In the mean-time he was flying to Vegas for the night, an unexpected obligation to fulfill for his only and younger brother, Noah.

There were two things he loved in this world, his music, and Noah. The latter had called him last week with a request to be a groomsman in his wedding. To say it surprised him would be an understatement. He was floored. He’d been living under the belief, illusion, that he and his brother weren’t at all interested in long term with women and marriage was as long term as one could get.

Of course it didn’t mean he’d say no to his groomsmen duty for this hastily arranged-last-minute-dash-to-the-alter out of the blue wedding. Hell yeah, he would attend. He would always support his brother, schedule or no to work around. It’s what brothers did for each other. He took his big brother duties seriously. Old habits of watching out for his baby brother were hard to relinquish and more importantly, he wanted to lay eyes on the bride, a woman who had put an end to their no marriage vow. A woman named Stardust, who Noah hadn’t mentioned. Ever. Someone had to make sure she was on the up and up and not just in it for the money, his or his brother’s.

He removed his phone from his pocket; it was Noah calling him again. A morning full of calls had been his brother. “Hey,” Wes said.

“You’re going to be late picking up Angie,” Noah said.

“I am not. I’m at the airport, walking to the plane as we speak.”

“Have you told her you’re running late.”

“I’m not running late and Hailey’s talked to her, right Hailey?” Wes said, meeting his assistant’s gaze.

“Yes, sir,” the young woman said. No nonsense and on top of his life was his, tall and reed thin, brunette, alabaster colored skin, ever efficient assistant beside him, keeping up with him stride for stride as they cleared the back door of the small waiting room for outbound flights. They were walking across the tarmac now, headed to the plane.

“See, Hailey has it handled.”

“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.”

“It couldn’t be helped.”

Sure it could. People plan weddings in advance all the time, he thought. He said instead. “Why haven’t I met her before today?”

“You’re busy with the tour and all.” Noah said.

“I would have made time and since when do you 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 Rhyme’s men diatribe. “I met someone that made me want to change.”

“I hope you know what you’re doing. You have a lot to lose.” He said, stopping just outside the door to the waiting area. He wanted a little privacy. “You run it by the brother’s W?” he asked. The brother’s W, short for Walden, was the law firm that represented him and Noah in all things legal. 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 after his songwriting career took off.

“Yes.”

“That’s something at least.”

“I told you not to worry about me.”

“Too late, I’ve been at it all my life, couldn’t stop now if I tried.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. Anyway, Stardust is picking you and Angie up from the airport. I’ll meet up with you two at the hotel afterward for my mini-bachelor party. Since you have to be back tomorrow morning, we’re doing everything tonight.”

Angie, a woman, was to be the other groomsman, his brother’s best bud since middle school. “What does the other groomsman think about all of this?” he said, shaking his head at the notion of a woman being a groomsman, not a bridesmaid with a dress, nope but a groomsman outfitted in a tux same as he. “What does she think about Stardust? That’s an interesting name too by the way. What does Stardust do?”

“She wants to be an actress. It’s a stage name. Angie hasn’t met her either.”

“That’s a surprise,” Wes said.

“It’s as I told you before, so many times, there wasn’t much time.”

“And why is that again?”

“I’m not doing this again with you.”

“Fine, then. This will be the last thing I’ll say on the subject, since you have the good sense to consult with the brothers, puts my mind slightly more at ease.”

“Can I get that in writing?”

Wes ignored the comment. “You’re an adult and whether I understand your reasoning, I’m always with you.” He said.

“I know this.”

“You need anything else from me before I board?”

“Don’t think so.”

“Okay then, I’m turning off my phone to get some sleep.” Wes said.

“Sure, no problem. I’ll call Angie and let her know you’re on your way.”

“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. With his singing career and his brother’s songwriting ability, they’d survived their childhood. No more money worries for either of them, at least the ones brought on by scarcity. The last two years had been a blur of concerts and tours and festivals and raking in the money for him and Noah writing songs for him and others to bring in more.

There were always worries in life, and while they were no longer financial, they still required his attention—the new fiancé for one, and making sure she was kosher was the first of his immediate worries. There was a reason Noah hadn’t introduced Stardust or mentioned her before last week, and he meant to find the reason.

He could run his thoughts past the other second groomsmen or not. She was Noah’s best friend since the end of middle school, fifteen years give or take, he thought, doing the math in his head. He didn’t really know her either, hadn’t seen her since Noah’s college graduation and since skeptical was his SOP when it came to women, he might not get to know her now either. No woman or very few women, in his experience, could be all Noah claimed Angie to be.

The summer before the start of high school, after the death of their dad. He’d dropped Noah at the home of his father’s only sister, Winnie, unmarried and living alone, while he started his grind of working and sending money to supplement her pension and small social security check. His life had become one of work, odd jobs mixed in with grinding to make his music. It was his only choice. Living with their pop’s attempts at his music career, they’d seen first-hand that struggle, so he knew at least some of what was require to succeed, if he were lucky.

Angie, the same age and grade as Noah, lived down the street from his aunt. 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.

A few steps more and he’d be at the plane’s door, a few hundred miles, and he’d meet Angie and then Stardust, two important women in Noah’s life. He’d watch them both, as he always did, knowing that people, particularly women, would always show you who they were. One just had to believe them when they did. Yeah, he had lots of scars with women that he wasn’t even going to fix or pretend didn’t exist.

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 thought, chuckling, amazed how cynical and distrusting he’d grown to be. He smiled, cause life.

 

#

 

Angie Johnson checked the GPS again against the scene outside her window. She was 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 Wes Rhymes, the rich, famous, and handsome brother to her best friend, Noah.

A need for privacy and control of his schedule was the reason he didn’t do commercial, Noah said. She understood. Just wished it hadn’t required her to drive an hour out of her way to reach it, a place surrounded by nothing and in the middle of nowhere. Yeah, yeah, she was being uncharitable, looking a gift horse squarely in the mouth.

That was purely her mind complaining, her heart and body were all a flutter at the prospect of seeing the Wes Rhymes live and in person again. It been six or seven years ago, college graduation since she’d seen him in the flesh. Not sure if he even remembered. Permanently distracted, she thought of him at the time. She and her support system went one way, and he, Noah, and their aunt went another. He was beginning his assent to becoming this serious guitar player who now graced the covers of magazines, of videos, and acted in that one movie. He was handsome, as it always seemed to be the case, handsome, and successful, went together for some. He and Noah really could pass for twins, handsome, sexy, and totally unavailable. Well, only Wes was unavailable now.

Wes differed from Noah in personality, too. Reserved mostly to Noah’s outgoing and friendly, she’d heard from Noah who’d always been her source of Wes information. He particularly didn’t trust women, with good reason again Noah said, a tribe Noah had been a cheerful member of 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 for the fourth time today. “Hey,” she said.

“Where are you?”

“Lost I think,” scanning the area outside her windows, of mostly trees, hills, grass, and all totally unfamiliar.

“What?”

“Just kidding. I’m not lost, ha-ha the GPS tells me I’m almost there.”

“I just hung up with Wes. You’re his first stop.”

“I know. His assistant just sent me a text.”

“Hailey?”

“Yep. Her.”

“He has to leave Saturday morning early, so I booked you on the regular airline. Sorry it’s not the private jet round-trip.”

She said, half listening to the GPS.

“I know. Hailey told me that, too. No worries. When did I need a private plane to travel?”

“Still.”

“Still nothing. I’m much more concerned about the woman you’re attaching yourself to in this hastily arranged wedding than I am about air travel.”

“It wasn’t hastily arranged.”

“Yes, it was, but anyways. What happened to no way with anyone?” She said, scanning the horizon for what might be the airport? Her GPS said she was a half a mile out. Who knew?

“Stardust happened.”

“Right.”

“Do you trust me?”

“I do.” She said, a consistent reply to his consistent trust me question. It was his go to answer of late.

“Then trust me,” he said.

She heard loads of irritation in his voice, not that it deterred her any. “Is your brother okay with this?” she asked at the end of the road now, which was in fact the entrance to the airport.

“He trusts me.”

“Right,” she said, pulling into the empty spot in the parking lot instead, or what she hoped was the parking lot. It was a small airport, with plenty of empty parking slots. Was that a sign, she wondered? “I don’t know about this. Are you sure this plane is safe? Somehow, I can’t see it. Give me a big ass 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. “And is it safe to leave my car here?”

“It’s safe.”

“Right. You can see it’s sudden, right, and you’re not very forthcoming about any details. To go from never marriage to Vegas in a hurry, makes it all suspect. You can see that, right?”

“So was yours need I remind you. I told you Lewis was for shit.”

She laughed. “And I married him anyway, and now I’m divorcing him. I should have listened to you and everyone else who tried to tell me he wasn’t the one. I don’t want that for you.”

“It won’t be.”

“Tell me you met with the Brother’s Walden at least?”

“Yes, mom.”

“That’s some good news then cause you got lots to lose.” she said.

“I know. I have everything under control. Why is that so hard for you to believe?”

“The suddenness of it I guess, is the first reason, but you know what. I’m letting it go. Only because you’ve seen the brothers W,” financial safety even if he might be hurt emotionally. Of the two, it was the harder to come back from she thought, staring out the window at the empty stretch of runway. “The plane will be here soon you said?”

“Yes. There a place for you to wait, a small building, can you see it?”

“I do.” It was back off the road a ways and maybe it was better to wait here, she thought, scanning the empty this place appeared to be. “So Wes, huh? It’s been a while since I’ve seen him.”

“You’ll like him and he’ll like you.”

“Right,” she said, not as sure. He and his distrust of women, which was fine. She didn’t trust men either, was over men with attachment disorders for whatever reasons, a club both Wes and Noah used to be a staunch members of.

“Stardust’s going to meet you two at the airport, ride with you to get fitted in your tuxedos. My appointment shouldn’t last more than an hour or two, so I’ll see you in the hotel room after you’re done and Angie?”

“Yes.”

“Love you,” he said.

“Love you too,” she said, smiling at her best friend’s happiness despite 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 the other girlfriends or not girlfriends over the years, none that had any real potential to break through the wall the Rhymes men had built to keep out women intruders.

She would admit that perhaps she didn’t know all there was to know about Noah’s life anymore. Not on the scale as before Lewis and her marriage days, when they lived two doors down from each other. Her marriage had interrupted that for sure, and for what? A waste of time, it had been.

Whatever, she thought, letting that go, too. The haste of Noah’s wedding or her lack of knowledge of the bride didn’t change her desire to show up for him. Nothing could. She and Noah had only ever been friends since forever, too. Whatever, if it had to do with Noah, she would be a part of. She would check out home girl fiancé and speak her mind if necessary. If this Stardust person didn’t meet the mark.

She would not be alone, either. Big brother, with his every woman is a suspect view, was the perfect person to put a stop to a woman looking to cause harm, or a wedding if need be. It was the one upside to riding with him today. Okay, there was more than one upside, but she was only focusing on the protectiveness he’d always had for Noah. He loved Noah as much as she did. She grabbed her purse, suitcase from the trunk and made her way to the small building to wait.

#

Angie was Hella impressed with the interior of the private aircraft belonging to one Wes Rhymes. A couple times on the standard issue airplane for the rest of humans had not prepared her for this, and well beyond her expectations of a prop plane. Smaller on the outside, but so much bigger inside, starting with the seats. Arranged differently—eight chairs in clusters of four facing each other, with leg room to stretch out. The possibility of someone bumping into our chair was not an issue. No storage above her head, so no slouched over to get into her seat. She could straight up stand her five feet seven inches tall.

A couch on a plane, opposite side of the first chair cluster and okay, that was a pleasant touch too, but nowhere near as nice as what was asleep in one of the first cluster of seats. Dude lay sprawled in his chair reclined as far as it could go. Dude was tired always, according to Noah as Mr. Rhymes was always on the go. Yes, she was a little disappointed that he was asleep.

She handed her luggage to a woman, the flight attendant, a pretty blond, wondering if that was the proper name for them on private planes.

“Hi, welcome aboard. You must be Angie, the other groomsmen. I’m Elise, the hostess for the flight.”

“Yes, Hi Elsie.”

“Sit anywhere you’d like. It’s just you and Mr. Rhymes on the trip out.”

“Okay, thanks.” she said, scanning the plane again.

“Would you like anything to drink, eat?”

“Water would be good.”

“With or without ice.”

“With.”

“Make yourself at home. We have just about anything you need. I’ll point out the amenities, when I bring over your water,” she said.

“Thanks,” Angie said, and back to pondering where to sit. Behind him in the second cluster is where she decided to park it. Not too close, didn’t want him waking up to her staring like he was the first celebrity she’d seen up close. She knew lots of celebrities. The cat lady that lived a few blocks over, filming her menagerie’ of felines for the internet to see. Cats sleeping under a tree, cat caught in a tree, cat eating dinner, all manner of cat things she filmed for the amusement of whoever viewed her cat YouTube channel.

She quietly walked past him to the chairs behind him, studying him more. Dude was as fine up close as he was on TV. Curly black locks, he wore mid length, mused from sleep. The horn-rimmed glasses he wore, giving him a sexy smart vibe, or maybe that was her thing, rested on the table beside him. A five o’clock shadow that was most of the time present was now a close-cropped beard, and lips with just enough pillowy softness.

One of his hand rested across his chest, full and firm under his shirt as were the thighs, under his jeans and all not for her. One could appreciate the prize without having to want it for one’s self, she mused, thinking about ex, her first prize, packaged not that differently from this one.

Yeah, she had a type. Music men, were her weakness. Used to be her weakness, she thought, correcting herself. Hers had been brown in skin color, not quite as well-known as this one, a different genre of music.  He was the same handsome though, her ex had been, played a piano like he made love, single-minded and tenderly, or sometimes a little loud and rowdy, both styles she was down for, except she expected to be the only someone he shared those gifts with. Turns out he liked variety and yeah, it was something she couldn’t live with. So, as appetizing as Mr. Rhymes was, she didn’t want or need another musician in this lifetime and yeah; it was best to sit behind him; she thought again, settling her purse into the seat beside her.

“Here you go, Ms. Johnson,” Elise asked, at her shoulder, holding her glass of water in her hand. “Would you hit that button, on the inside of your seat.”

“Sure, please call me Angie, anything but Ms. Johnson. Reminds me of one of my old teachers.” Angie said, watching as a table unfolded itself from the wall. “Thanks,” Angie said.

“You excited?”

“I am. It’s not every day your best friend gets married, and in Vegas no less.”

“We’re excited for him, too. I’ve had the pleasure of accompanying Noah to events with his brother sometimes. He’s a nice young man.”

“I think so too,” Angie said, smiling.

“Have you met the fiancé?”

“No. Not yet. Everything’s a surprise, the wedding, and the bride, all of it.”

“I think it’s the same for Mr. Rhymes. She’s probably nice. I can’t see Noah marrying someone who’s not.”

“It’s what I hope,” Angie said.

“Now, onto the other amenities.” Elise said, manner matter of fact, running through the list, pulling an iPad from some hidden compartment on the table, equipped with all the streaming services she said, handing it to Angie, showing her where to charge it and any other of electronics. The bathroom was located at the back of the plane, and for any questions not covered, push the button and she was happy to return.

“Thank you,” Angie said again.

Elise smiled, moved up the aisle from which she came, a cursory glance at Wes before she moved back to the front, disappearing into her very own secret compartment, Angie thought.

What to do. She could follow Mr. Rhymes’ example and get a little shuteye. They would probably be out late with Noah and whatever wedding bachelor party stuff he had planned, followed by a wedding. One night to do everything and what was hurry, she wanted to know.

She hit the button on her seat as Elise had instructed, the smooth small sound of the recliner lowering her seat and yes, she could totally see the benefits of living like this. She reached for the tablet and her ear plugs and stuffed them into her ears, found a movie she hadn’t seen but wanted to, and settled into watch.

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