Annie wanted to run.
No – scratch that… she wanted to run and hide, then cry. This had to be the worst thing that could happen today, and the one thing she had not been prepared for. Zach Grey Fox, the love of her life, standing at the altar in a tuxedo and with an all too legal set of documents in hand. Had she gone run off to Atlantic City with him one night in a drunken haze and ended up married without remembering it?
“I love you.” Those mesmerizing grey eyes caught and held her gaze. The lips that had kissed hers so many times before were finally uttering the words she had always wanted to hear from him. But why now?
Now he was standing with her – her and David and the minister – in front of the whimsically decorated arch, holding the papers out to her.
“I know that I’ve used you, Annie. I’ve abused the love you had for me.” He turned to her, taking her shaking hands in his free one. “I took all of your dreams and shattered them, broke your heart so badly you never thought anyone or anything could put it back together. I don’t deserve another chance, because you’ve given me far too many, but I’m asking anyway. Annie – will you please give me another chance?”
Annie closed her eyes, breaking off eye contact because she knew what his eyes would do to her – the same thing they’d always done. Convince her to take him back – again. To walk out on David and this wedding and all the stability she’d fought so hard for. And she couldn’t… not for just pleading eyes and pretty words.
“I know you don’t believe me,” Zach went on, his hands squeezing hers again. “Which is why you need to open your eyes and read this.”
One second his hand was holding hers, and the next all she felt was thick, folded papers. She looked up to see him striding away… again. Only this time was different. This time, she saw him do it.
A vivid pink caught the corner of her eye. Carefully, Annie peeled the sticky note off the papers. It simply said:
4 PM. I’ll be waiting.
And as Annie looked around the room, she knew what she had to do.
The swimming hole. It was the place where all of this had started, fifteen years ago. Something had been born here, out of grief and despair - something Zach had tried to reject, but no longer. Annie was his life.
He leaned against the tree, seeking its shade to protect himself from the sun’s burning rays, and waited. Casually, as if he had all the time in the world, he lifted his wrist to check the time.
3:59. No sign of her.
Images of Annie’s wedding reception raced through his mind. The first dance. Cutting the wedding cake. Tossing the bouquet. In all of them, Annie was smiling radiantly, her eyes for her husband alone. The man he should have been.
Zach’s stomach churned as he stared out across the pond, knowing what he had thrown away in his stupidity. David had seen it, and he hadn’t blown it.
He raised his hand to check his watch again.
4:02. Annie wasn’t coming.
Still, Zach stayed. 4:10 crept by, and by the time 4:15 rolled around, it was all he could do to stand on his own two feet. 4:20 came, and his knees started to buckle. He latched weakly onto the tree with eyes closed, refusing to give up even though he already knew the answer.
Zach’s heart was beating so loudly in his ears he never realized anyone was there until he felt the gentle brush of fingers against his cheek. Slowly, his eyes fluttered open, and the sweetest sight he ever saw knelt beside him in a pure white wedding dress, save the splash of dark red ribbon at its waistline.
“Annie…” he whispered, forcing strength into his voice and into his legs so he could stand.
“I’m sorry I’m late, but I forgot how slow my mother can be at alterations.” Her voice was like music to his ears as she pressed a bottle of water into one hand, and a folded mass of papers into the other. “Does that cancel the contract, or will you let twenty minutes slide?”
“Always, Annie” he whispered, his arms wrapping around her, forgetting everything else. “Always.”
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