Few things in this world agitated me more than that period of time between a plane touching down and when the door finally opened to let us all out. Of course it wasn’t all that long—ten or fifteen minutes at the very most—but knowing that door was the last obstacle between Elliott and me after a transoceanic flight, I was always a restless, foot-tapping mess once the plane landed. It was like, I’d already endured hours of boredom. Now that we were here, let me out, damn it.
I drummed my fingers on my armrest. We were on the ground. Now the plane just had to finish its slow taxi from the runway to the gate so we could wait an inordinately long time for the door to open.
Thank God I wouldn’t be returning to Maui without Elliott this time. We’d been engaged for four months now, during which we hadn’t been able to see each other as much as I would’ve liked, but at the end of this trip? I’d be leaving Seattle with a ring on my finger and Elliott sitting next to me.
I chuckled to myself.
Me. Getting married. Who’d have thought? I could only imagine how many of my friends and family had lost bets the day I called to tell them I was engaged. Wasn’t like any of them knew I was just a little on the promiscuous side, but they hadn’t even heard me utter the word “boyfriend” in years, never mind anything that involved more commitment than a weekend vacation. Much to my mother’s dismay, the only vow I’d ever taken was becoming a perma-bachelor.
The plane came to a gentle stop outside the gate. Seatbelts clattered and people jumped to their feet to open overhead bins and take out their suitcases. I unbuckled my own seatbelt and got up, but I wasn’t in too much of a hurry. It would still be a short while before they opened the door, and it wasn’t like I had to fight for elbow or aisle space. First class was totally the way to go.
Laptop case over my shoulder and carry-on bag at my feet, I rested my hip against my seat and waited. It occurred to me that Elliott was right about one thing: it was a good idea to take care of his move and the wedding in the same trip. It meant more headache for him all at once instead of spread out over time, but it also meant only one flight. Round trip for me, one-way for him. Had we decided to just move him to Maui, then come back to get married, that would be one more trip. One more period of standing here grinding my teeth and tapping my foot waiting for them to open. That. Door.
On the other hand, if he’d already moved in with me, he’d be standing here next to me instead of waiting in the terminal. Not that he would have been much of a conversationalist on the plane. The one time we’d flown together, he’d fallen asleep, leaving me to try to focus on a video game and thoughts of all the things I wanted to do to him as soon as we were alone in my bedroom. Then again, I hadn’t let him sleep much the night before, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise he’d knocked out shortly after the plane was in the air.
Whatever the case, he was here now, waiting for me by baggage claim. I had no doubt he was already here. He’d probably been in the airport for a good hour or so before my plane even landed. Even if it meant coughing up more money for parking, he preferred that to being late any day of the week.
The door finally opened. I adjusted my laptop case on my shoulder and pulled up the handle on my suitcase, then joined the other passengers in the slow shuffle up the aisle. At least that didn’t take long. This was definitely one of the perks of first class: closer to the door, which meant getting off the plane faster.
Off the plane and out in the concourse, I followed the stampede of people and suitcases along the dingy laminate, my heart fluttering with every step. I didn’t even need to look at the signs anymore. Between traveling for business and coming here to see Elliott, I knew Sea-Tac like I knew my own garage.
When I reached the escalator, I couldn’t help smiling. Fortunately, the escalator wasn’t all that crowded, so I was able to make some headway walking up the moving steps, because I didn’t want to waste another second before I reached the top and—
There he was.
His smile weakened my knees, just like it did every time, but I convinced my legs to work long enough to get me off the escalator and across the small expanse of floor. We both grinned, and he threw his arms around me and kissed me. We used to keep this short and sweet, but not anymore. After that first half a year of only seeing each other once a month or so, he’d decided it wasn’t too much for him to ask the rest of the world to indulge us a public kiss just like any other couple reuniting in the airport.
When he broke the kiss, he didn’t pull away. “You know, I might actually miss this part.”
“Nah.” I ran my fingers through his hair. “We’ll still get to do it every time I come back from a business trip.”
“Hmm, good point.” He shrugged and pulled away. “In that case, let’s get out of here.”
I rolled my eyes and grabbed his arm. “Oh, whatever. Get over here.”
Laughing, he let me pull him into another embrace, and I kissed him again.
Then we separated, and I slipped my hand into his as we walked toward baggage claim.
“I think they said your flight is unloading on one of the carousels on the other end.” He gestured down the concourse to our right.
I shook my head. “Just carry-on this time.”
“Really?” He glanced at my small suitcase. “That’s all you need?”
I nodded. “I figured you might need to bring a few extra things with you on the way back, so if I checked one of your suitcases as mine, it’d be less headache.”
“Good idea. Especially now that they’re charging an arm and a leg for luggage.”
“Fascists,” I growled. We looked at each other and laughed.
We continued through baggage claim to another escalator, which took us up to one of the sky bridges leading from the airport to short-term parking.
“So how was your flight?” he asked as we walked across the garage.
“This one wasn’t bad, but, oh, God, the one from Maui?” I shuddered.
“No, a pilot with a bad sense of humor.”
Elliott chuckled. “Kanani? No way.”
I groaned. “Ugh, I swear to God, I have never been airsick in my life, but I was this close.” I held up my hand with my thumb and forefinger almost touching.
“Son of a bitch came up with some bullshit story about the Hawaiian gods putting a groom through a ‘trial’ before the wedding.”
He eyed me. “And you still went up in the plane with him?”
“We were already in the air,” I muttered.
“Dare I ask what the ‘trial’ was?”
“Barrel rolls.” I gritted my teeth as my stomach turned just thinking about that damned flight. “Several of them.”
Elliott shivered. “Tell me he won’t insist on putting the other groom through that.”
I shook my head and put my arm around his waist. “As far as he’s concerned, your trial is being married to me.”
“He does have a point.”
Elliott laughed. “Come on, admit it. You know it’s the truth.”
“Okay, maybe it is.” I dropped my voice to a stage whisper. “Just don’t tell anyone, all right?”
“Secret’s safe with me.” He pulled out his keys and clicked the button on the remote. A few spaces ahead of us, a burgundy SUV’s lights flashed.
“Since when do you drive something like this?” I asked.
“Since I’m borrowing it from my sister.”
“Oh, right.” I was used to seeing Elliott’s characteristically practical sedan, but I’d forgotten he’d sold it in the last week or so. It was, after all, cheaper to just buy a halfway decent used car on Maui than ship one over. Less headache, anyway.
He popped the trunk and pulled it open. After we’d deposited my minimal luggage, we got in the car.
As Elliott backed out of the parking space, I clasped my hands together and stretched my arms, groaning softly as my joints creaked and muscles protested.
“Getting too old to travel like this?” He shifted into drive.
“Shut up.” I laughed and rubbed some stiffness out of my neck. “Anyway, what’s on the agenda for the next few days?” I grinned. “I mean, I assume there is an agenda, right?”
He laughed. “I figured you’d need a day or so to recover from the jet lag.” Then he shrugged. “So I planned about forty-seven different things for this afternoon, followed by dinner with my mom and then coffee with my dad and stepmom across town. You’re game, right?”
I rolled my eyes. “Ha. Ha. Very funny.”
“Nah, don’t worry.” He put a hand on my leg and squeezed gently. “I figured you’d just want to kick back and relax today. And my sister’s kids are at their dad’s, so her place will be good and quiet.”
“Sweet.” I loved his niece and nephew like crazy, but the idea of a peaceful house for at least a few hours was more than a little appealing. By tomorrow, I’d be adjusted to this time zone, caught up on sleep, and good to go. “I suppose everything’s been easier for you, now that you’re unemployed?”
He shrugged again. “It’s not that bad either way, just a lot to do. It’s so weird, though. I keep waking up and thinking I should be going to work. Kind of bugs me not being on a schedule.”
I put my hand over his on my leg. “Well, you pretty much are on a schedule this week, right?”
“God, yes.” He glanced at me. “I’ll spare you the rundown while you’re still tired.”
“Nah, go ahead,” I said. “I can take it.”
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” He went down the list—which was probably bulleted, prioritized, and color-coded in his head—of everything from dealing with the moving company to squaring away deposits for the venue, photographer, caterer, and half a dozen other people, to picking up our rented tuxes.
“Wow,” I said when he’d finished. He’d kept me up to date on everything via phone and e-mail, but now that it was all actually happening—in the next few days, no less—it suddenly seemed like a hell of a lot.
“You really don’t mind doing this?” He glanced at me. “I mean, it would be simpler just to grab a couple of witnesses and go to City Hall.”
I squeezed his hand. “This is fine. Really. I just felt bad that you’ve had to handle all the arrangements and everything.”
“Derek.” He laughed. “This is me we’re talking about. Give me something to plan, and I’m happy.”
“Okay, I won’t argue with that,” I said. “Is there anything I can do at this point? Or do you have it all under control?”
“Of course I have it all under control.” He glanced at me again, and smiled. “All you have to do is show up.”
“I think I can manage that.” I ran my hand back and forth over his. “What else is on the agenda?”
He took a breath. “We’ve got dinner with my dad and stepmom tonight, my mom and stepdad tomorrow night, your family on Wednesday, and then we head down to Ocean Shores on Thursday. We’ve got Thursday to ourselves, my family will be there Friday, then there’s the party they’re throwing Friday night, and of course, Saturday.”
I furrowed my brow. “Wait, what’s happening Saturday again?”
He shot me a playful glare, and I laughed.
“And by the way,” he said. “I haven’t gotten any RSVPs from your family. I still have them on the list, of course, but if they’d tell me how many were coming, I could stop breathing into a paper bag.”
I chuckled. “I’ll ask them at dinner on Wednesday, but it’s a safe bet they’ll all be there. My mom is usually crap about RSVPs unless she’s letting you know someone won’t be there.”
“Great,” he muttered. “She’s not even my mother-in-law yet and she can already screw with my blood pressure.”
“Oh, just wait,” I said. “Holiday gatherings? I honestly don’t know how she gets it all together.”
Elliott shuddered and waved a hand. “I don’t even want to know.”
“I’ll save the stories for after we have all this stress and headache behind us.”
“Speaking of which, how is everything going with the move?”
He exhaled. “A royal pain in the ass, as is expected.” He paused to change lanes and let another car pass. “The movers are going in tomorrow to pack everything out of my storage unit, and all I have besides that are the suitcases I’m living out of right now.”
“Sounds like you have everything under control.”
Elliott shot me a sideways glance. “And you expected…?”
“Good point,” I said with a grin. “So how many people do you think will be there?”
“Forty or so,” he said. “Still haven’t heard back from maybe a dozen people, but at least thirty are definitely on the list.”
“Sounds like it’ll be a good-sized party.”
“It better be,” he said. “Only three people show up, I might have to go all groomzilla on someone.”
I laughed. “I’d pay to see that.”
“I’m sure you would.” He tried and failed not to laugh. “Oh, did I tell you? My mom keeps asking if one of us is going to change our name.”
“Well, we could,” I said. “Hyphenate it, or combine our names somehow.”
“Combine them?” He eyed me. “How the hell do we combine Windsor and Chandler? Put them together and call ourselves Windchime?”
I snickered. “Oh, yeah, that sounds like a plan.”
“It was a thought,” he said, chuckling.
Neither of us spoke for a minute or two as he pulled off the freeway and headed down the road toward his sister’s house.
Finally, Elliott broke the silence. “You really don’t mind a sort of big shindig for this?” He glanced at me, eyebrows up. “I mean, it’s—”
“Elliott.” I put my hand on his knee and ran my thumb back and forth along the seam of his jeans. “I dragged you up a mountain at three in the morning so I could propose. If I have to walk out on a beach and see you in a tux to marry you”—I touched the back of my other hand to my forehead and sighed dramatically—“oh, I suppose I’ll manage somehow.”
He laughed. “Okay, I just don’t want it to be too much of a headache for you.”
“A headache? You’ve done all the work, on top of getting ready to move. You said yourself all I have to do is show up.”
His laughter faded. I didn’t have to ask what was on his mind.
Squeezing his leg, I said, “I’m not Ben, Elliott. I’m here, we’re doing this, and there’s no way in hell I’m going to change my mind.” Running my thumb back and forth along the side of his leg, I said, “I’m here. I will be there.”
He smiled and glanced at me. “I know, I…” He trailed off and shook his head. “I wasn’t accusing you of anything. You know how it is.”
“Yeah, I do.” I brought his hand up to my lips and kissed the backs of his fingers. “But I’m afraid you’re stuck with me, so you might as well get used to it. And as for that idiot?” I shrugged. “Well, his loss is my gain, isn’t it?”
“I suppose it is.” Elliott grinned. “Maybe I should call him up and thank him. I mean, had it not been for him, we never would have met.”
“Hmm. Maybe I should call him.”
“Now, now, that would be gloating.”
“Oh, and it wouldn’t be if you called?”
He scoffed. “Not at all. I would merely be expressing genuine gratitude for the things he did that put into motion the series of events that led me to you.” I raised an eyebrow. He looked at me and shrugged. “What?”
“That wouldn’t be gloating?” I asked. “Not even a little?”
“Okay, maybe a little.”
We both laughed, and a few minutes later, he pulled up to his sister’s house. We unloaded what little luggage I had, and I followed him upstairs to the guest room where he’d been staying since he’d moved out of his apartment.
I set my laptop case down and sat on the edge of the bed, then paused to stretch again. “Man, you’d think I’d be used to making this trip by now.”
“Yeah, right,” he muttered. “It kicks my ass every damned time.” He nodded toward the bed. “You want to crash for a couple of hours? We don’t have to be anywhere for a while.”
“Actually,” I said. “I could really use a shower.”
He gestured down the hall. “Go right ahead. We don’t have anywhere to be any time soon.”
“Go right ahead?” I stood and playfully grabbed the front of his shirt. “You make it sound like you weren’t planning on joining me.”
In spite of swearing up and down he’s a bachelor forever, Derek Windsor is ready to settle down with Elliott Chandler. After a long distance relationship and a few months of wedding planning, it all comes down to this weekend: a wedding on the Washington coast, then they can start their life together on Maui.
But with the ceremony just days away, Derek’s family drops the bomb: they aren’t coming. They refuse to support or be a part of his marriage to another man. All his life, he’s ached for his parents’ approval, and their last-minute wedding snub leaves him reeling. Though he doesn’t question his love for Elliott, can Derek still go through with a wedding that could irreparably sever his relationship with his family?
This book was previously published, and is also available as part of the Changing Plans collection.