Irreplaceable Chapter 32

The drunken chatteraround her was giving her a headache. Looking at the clock on the wall, she decided to give it one more hour and then head home. This year, there had been too many bachelorette parties, too many weddings, and Mia was over them. But at least this one was the last.

Ruth was the only one not married, or so everyone thought. It seemed like she wasn’t going to get married again, and if she did, Mia wasn’t going. At all. It had been months since they had said a civil word to each other.

Which was why next week at book club, she was going to resign. She was tired of it. She hoped to remain friends with everyone but Ruth. She would understand if they slowly drifted apart. That was what happened when your friends got married anyway, and Mia had it happen over and over again. Every time one of them asked her to be a personal attendant, she knew she was sending another friend out of her life. Tomorrow would be her cousin, Mandy.

And with her, they would all be married, though nobody knew she was. Nobody would ever know that secret.

“So, Anderson came home today and said Rafferty is moving to Grand Forks. Just like that. Rafferty’s contacting Anderson’s dad and getting a transfer to the office down there,” Ruth told everyone from across the living room, but her eyes were on Mia.

“Really? Why?” Mandy asked, her eyes also darting to Mia.

“Anderson didn’t say, but he knows. I just have to get him to tell me,” Ruth said with a smile.

Mia looked at her drink and tried not to cry. He was leaving. She was supposed to leave, not him. It had been months since she had thought she would leave this town, before the new year, in fact. But it didn’t hurt any less that he was the one leaving. Leaving her here alone. And soon to be friendless.

“Had you heard that, Mia?” Ruth said from across the room still, so everyone was looking at her.

Mia hated that she was hearing it from Ruth and not Rafferty. All she wanted was to rush to his house and demand he tell her why he was leaving her, but she knew she wouldn’t. She had no control over him, and he was over her. He was leaving her.

“It’s good that someone is getting out of this town.” Trying to sound cheery and she hoped she had succeeded. It helped that most of the people there had no clue she was hung up on Rafferty.

“Are you still thinking about leaving?” Hazel asked, turning her attention to Mia. Now she wished she hadn’t been so vocal about leaving for so long, because the failure hurt even more when everyone knew about it.

“No, I’m stuck here, I guess. Forever.” Again, faking a cheeriness she didn’t feel.

“I’m glad, I love you here.” Natalie leaned over and bumped her with her shoulder.

“At least someone does,” Mia said into her whiskey and drank it in one gulp, suddenly wanting to be drunk tonight. If only she could drink enough to forget about this entire conversation.

As the conversation turned to local gossip, she looked around the room at her friends who had changed during the last eighteen months. All were married or going to be tomorrow. Natalie and Hazel were friends again, as they had been able to get past that tragic day so many years before. It would always be on their minds, but it wasn’t the only thing they had anymore. They were back to being close like when they were young.

Tess and Mandy were now sisters-in-law and were so close. With each having a baby, they had so much in common, and they had married best friends, so they would always be closer than the rest.

Ruth had probably changed the most. She had gone from a near hermit to an outgoing member of society. This year, she had even gotten onto the city board and was making improvements to the entire town. Nobody had said a thing about her being there for years and not contributing until now.

Only Mia was stuck in the same groove she was always in: waitress and soon to be divorced. Rafferty would start the paperwork if he was in Grand Forks. It was supposed to have been her, but now it will be him. She had to just let him go.

“So, I have an announcement,” Ruth said above the small conversations happening around them. “Anderson and I have asked Tess and Math to be godparents once the baby is born. And they have said yes.” Again, she was looking straight at Mia when she said it.

This announcement was at least expected. No way was she being asked. No way would Rafferty be asked either. Ruth had said months ago she wanted a married couple, and Tess and Math were that. At the time, she had told her friend she would be married by this time. And she was, Ruth just didn’t know about it. Hopefully, she never would.

But what Ruth was really saying with her choice of Tess and Math was that she was rejecting Rafferty. As a friend and as a brother. There was nothing the man could do to get past her bitterness at him.

Everybody congratulated Tess, even Mia. She was happy for her friend. She remembered Tess when book club started, and she wasn’t the most popular member of the group, but look at her now.

Sitting there silently for another few minutes, she decided to make her excuses. Nobody argued with her leaving. They let her go. Just like that, she saw the end of her participation in book club. She didn’t think she would even attend the next meeting. There was no reason to.

The next dayfound her sitting on her usual table as she waited for the bride to come back after bre*st feeding her son. How much straightening would have to be performed after that?

Today, she was alone in the room. Tess was running late because her daughter was teething and in the middle of a much-needed nap. The other three members of the book club were up in the sanctuary still since it was just under an hour until the ceremony.

Mia looked around the little room that had held so many events over the last year. Ruth was the only one who hadn’t gotten married in this church, and if she had another ceremony, she wouldn’t have it here. Mia had always wanted her wedding here, but that wouldn’t happen now. Her heart was moving to Grand Forks without her.

It had taken her over a decade to get over Rafferty the first time. And she didn’t think she had it in her to do it again. She would love him forever. Even after he was long gone. Again.

Don’t cry, she demanded of herself. She had cried most of the night and had to put on so much makeup today that she looked like a clown. The tears were for her relationship with Rafferty and how she had messed that one up, and they were for the end of book club. She still loved it but couldn’t go anymore. She didn’t belong anymore. Everyone was moving into a new phase of their lives as wives and mothers. Something she would never be.

Mandy rushed into the room with no baby. Shutting the door she stopped and looked Mia up and down in her peach dress and said, “Look at you all lonely.”

“I’m here with all my friends,” Mia said, feeling the truth in it.

“Then it’s a good thing I came.” Mandy jumped up beside her.

“Get down. You’ll wrinkle your dress,” Mia stated sternly. It seemed the older the bride, the more relaxed they were.

“I don’t care, let it be wrinkled. I’m sitting with my favorite cousin.” Mandy put her arm around her.

Mia smiled. “At least we’ll always be cousins.”

“Does that mean that we won’t have lunch once a week when we’re old?” Like their moms did, Mandy didn’t add.

“Probably not. You’ll get together with Kit and never have enough grandkids to beat her.” Mia laughed.

Mandy’s sister had five kids already, and no matter how close in age Mandy’s were, five was a lot. And now that Kit had found love again, Mia wasn’t entirely sure the couple wouldn’t have a few kids together. Even if Kit was adamantly against it.

“Kit wins all day long. I’ll stick with you. We’ll talk about our mom hips and have a competition to see who has more grandkids.” Again, like their moms.

“You’ll win. No kids means no grand kids.” Mia sighed. It was the truth. She would have to focus her attention on others’ kids. Just like she had before.

“There’s always Rafferty,” Mandy said with a wink.

“No, that’s over. Whatever it was,” Mia admitted, wishing she could at least say they had a relationship. Instead, she was left with not knowing what they had.

“Well, then there’s someone out there for you.”

“No, he was the one. Ever since high school, he was the one.”

“High school?”

“Yup.”

“Why are you giving up so easy, then?” Mandy demanded.

“Because he’s done with me he’s moving,” she reminded her cousin. They had just talked about it the night before. Only now she had to give up on the dream of her being a mom someday.

Mandy put her arm around Mia. “Maybe you can follow him. Finally get to Grand Forks. You always wanted out of this little town.”

“No, I’m a Tiger. I’ll die here.” Leaning into her cousin, Mia hung her head.

“Boy, aren’t you the morbid one today? On my wedding day.” Mandy pulled her even closer.

“Just a little depressed. Sorry, it’s your wedding day, too.” Mia slammed a hand to her mouth. She should not have said that. Not to the bride.

“I know how you’re feeling, you know. It hasn’t always been me getting married. I’ve been to my share of weddings that I wanted to be happy about but couldn’t,” Mandy admitted. She had been single for five years after her divorce.

“It’s hard,” Mia said.

“I know, but look at it this way Maybe you can beat Ruth to the altar. She’s in no hurry,” Mandy said with a laugh at her friend. She was no longer Mia’s anymore.

“Yeah, at least I beat Ruth,” she admitted on a sigh.

“Could beat,” Mandy corrected.

“Yeah, that’s what I meant,” Mia said quickly. Only then realizing her mistake.

Mandy slid off the table and turned to Mia, and demanded, “You’re not telling me something.”

“Mandy, we have no secrets.”

“You know everyone’s secrets. Spill.”

“You were pregnant.”

“Nope.

“Natalie has a secret mom.”

“No.”

“Hazel had s*x with Ruston at a party over the summer.”

Mandy’s eyes went wide in surprise. “Last summer. Really?”

So maybe not everyone in the group knew that one already. “Yes.”

“What’s Ruth’s secret?” Mandy whispered and looked around the room, as if someone else was there.

“I can’t tell you.” She shook her head.

“I won’t say, ever.” Mandy made an X over her heart with a finger.

“Rafferty and her share a father. Howard Brooks is Ruth’s dad also,” she said and felt a weight lift off her chest. One she hadn’t even known was there.

“What?” Mandy whispered even louder.

Mia put her hand over Mandy’s mouth. “You can’t tell anyone ever. Ruth blames Rafferty for Howard treating her bad.”

“How long have you known?” Mandy pulled off the hand and asked.

Mia shrugged. “Since Howard died.”

“Is that what you two are fighting about? You and Ruth?” Mandy asked, and Mia realized that maybe some in the group noticed the tension. But wondered why nobody said anything about it?

“Yes. I just want her to be nicer to Rafferty. But she can’t forgive him for something he can’t change.” She knew she was about to cry.

Mandy hugged her to her. “How long have you and Rafferty been a thing?”

“On and off since New Year’s, maybe before,” she said into her cousin’s shoulder, hating how much Mandy was helping her by just talking to her. Mia should be able to handle it on her own.

“Maybe before?” Mandy questioned, patting her back.

Not pulling away, she admitted, “Well, sometimes the entire year before, we would hook up for s*x when drunk.”

Chuckling, Mandy pushed her away so that she could look into her eyes. “And you never said?”

Smirking, she asked, “Would you admit that? I don’t even remember most of it.”

“Why isn’t Ruth interested in getting married? She’s definitely one I thought would push for it, especially now that she’s going to have a baby?” Mandy pressed.

Mia looked at the door behind her and whimpered. “No.”

How Mandy knew that there was a secret there, Mia didn’t know. But based on her cousin’s blue glare, she knew Mia knew something.

Mandy held her gaze. “Mia?”

“They got married in Las Vegas the weekend before Hazel got married,” Mia said quickly and shut her eyes. “Don’t tell. Ever. The Rafferty thing either.”

“How?” Mandy demanded.

“We went on a Thursday afternoon and came back on Saturday. They got married that Friday.” Her eyes were still shut, so she didn’t have to look into her cousin’s.

“Who are we?”

“Rafferty and I went as witnesses.”

“And?” Mandy pressed.

“Nothing else.” Mia opened her eyes and saw her cousin’s blue ones piercing hers. She slammed them shut again.

“And?” Mandy poked her in the boob.

“Ouch.” She grabbed it into her hand, more to protect it from another poke than that it actually hurt.

“And?” Mandy pressed again.

Shutting her eyes, she sighed before admitting, “And Rafferty and I drunkenly got married Thursday night. Don’t tell anyone, ever. Ever. Ever.”

“You’re married? For months?” Mandy exclaimed.

“Ever, not even Hue. You have to promise me. Nobody can know,” she begged her cousin.

Mandy just grinned at her before touching her cheek. “You were married first, but everyone thinks you’re the last holdout. You are the best secret-keeper in this town, Mia Lawson.”

“Ever. We are getting a divorce. Sometime.” She didn’t think Mandy was even listening to her anymore.

“I don’t even know what to say.” Mandy suddenly giggled. “You and Rafferty are so cute together, and now you’re married.”

“Don’t say anything. Like book club, only you can’t tell them either.” It was dawning on her that she might have told her secrets to the wrong person.

“So, you’re in love with him, and you’re married to him? I don’t see what the big deal is,” Mandy said, more to herself then to Mia.

“So, you can’t tell. Not even my mom. Definitely not my mom! Do not ever tell my mom! My mom can never know about this!” She grabbed her cousin’s hand to try to get through to her.

“I was so busy keeping my pregnancy a secret I never noticed. I wonder if anyone else noticed? Does Ruth know?”

“No, we went out on the town by ourselves. Nobody knows.”

Mandy was about to say something else when the door burst open, and Tess rushed in. Shutting the door behind her, she said, “Did I miss anything?”

“We all missed so much,” Mandy said to Mia and winked, and then turned to Tess. “Nothing big. Did you get the baby to sleep?”

Mia sighed with relief. Mandy was going to keep her secrets. At least for now. Hopefully, she can keep her mouth shut forever.

Before Tess could finish her story about how the baby was still sleeping with her dad, Natalie, Hazel, and Ruth showed up. Book club was assembled, drinks were handed out, and a toast was made to Mandy. Mandy, who was looking at Mia the entire time.

An hour after the toast was made, Mandy was a married woman, and everyone was in the church basement enjoying a meal. This wedding was just family and close friends, so the crowd was smaller. But most were her relatives. And those who weren’t were people Mia knew, but she wasn’t interested in talking to anyone. Most of them she had just seen a month and a half ago at Math’s wedding, so she didn’t need to speak to any of them.

Or maybe it was because Rafferty was in attendance in the small crowd, and she had to avoid him because she couldn’t talk to him with people around. And she wasn’t ready to talk to him anyway.

Since Mandy and Hue weren’t having a wedding dance, the festivities would be over after the reception. Looking at the wall clock, she gave herself an hour before she would leave. She could make an hour.

Turning to go sit by her sisters, her way was blocked by a hard body. “Excuse me.”

“Mia, we have to talk,” Rafferty said in the same husky voice that made her knees weak.

“No, we don’t.” She looked around. Did anyone notice?

“Mia, I know you know I’m leaving.” He pulled her closer to him.

“I heard that. Good luck.” She pushed away from him, but he grabbed on to her.

“I want you to come with me,” he said into her ear.

Trying to push him away, she gasped, “What?”

Holding fast, he repeated, “I want you to come with me. Let’s try being married away from here.”

“I can’t. I have the restaurant, my apartment. I have things here.” She shook her head in defeat.

“I’m not saying you have to leave tonight,” he assured her.

“People are watching.” Looking away from him, she saw eyes were on her. Too many eyes. They were causing a scene.

“I don’t care. Let the town see us; I want them to see us,” he said, louder than before.

With everything in her, she pushed him away. People were watching. Her family was watching. Didn’t he understand? He was leaving her behind, and her only saving grace was that nobody knew about it. If she stayed in his arms, everyone would know.

Turning from him, she almost ran into Ruth on the way to the door. The woman was standing in her way on the stairs, her arms crossed, two steps above her. “You told Mandy?”

Mia looked up at her, taking another step so they were more even. “What?”

“Mandy’s hinting about Vegas. What did you tell her?” Ruth stated.

Shrugging, Mia admitted that she had broken her promise. “The truth. I’m sorry. I can’t keep everyone’s secrets anymore.”

“This means we can no longer be friends,” Ruth stated as Mia stepped up to the same step she was on.

Mia looked her former friend up and down in surprise. “We haven’t been friends for a while, Ruth. You of all people should know that. You can’t treat Rafferty like garbage and expect me to remain your friend!”

Mia was done with Ruth and Rafferty and headed for the doors to leave. She needed to get away from everyone right now. She was going to lose control of her emotions, and she wasn’t doing that in public.

“Why, Mia? Why the loyalty to Rafferty? You don’t even like him,” Ruth demanded, following her up the stairs.

“Because, Ruth Kennedy, I love him. I have loved him for a long time. But now I can say it out loud.” She pushed out the doors of the church and into the sunshine.

“He’s not worth it, Mia. Rafferty is Rafferty. There’s no future with him.” Ruth was still following her as she spoke. As if Mia needed to be told something she already knew.

Stopping, she turned and looked at her former friend. “That may be so, Ruth, but for right now, I’m your secret brother’s secret wife. And I’m tired of keeping everyone’s secrets. From here on out, I’m not keeping any for anyone!”

Turning, she saw more eyes on her as she practically ran to her Jeep in the parking lot. Now she had told two people, or more. By tomorrow, the entire town will know everything. Speeding out of the parking lot, she saw the entire book club standing outside the door of the church. Who knows how many heard what she said, but right now, she didn’t care. She had to get out of there. Her secrets were coming out and she couldn’t seem to stop them.

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