Jilted at the altar when his best man ran off with his fiancée, Craydon “Cray” Wright trades in his Mexico honeymoon for a vacation in Aruba. When godlike Stone Ferris walks onto the plane, sits next to Cray, and makes his interest known, Cray decides to act on desires he's felt since high school but ignored.
He agrees to let Stone show him the island, but what starts as fun-filled and casual turns earth-shattering for Cray. When his time in Aruba ends, Cray realizes his feelings for Stone have grown beyond fun, but he worries that it might not translate to real life in LA. Can he convince himself and Stone their love can be paradise at home?
Chapter 1: Falling Without a Net
THE organ stopped playing, and Craydon Wright wrenched his eyes away from the back of the church, where there still was no lineup of bridesmaids with ushers, or even a bride ready to walk down the aisle with her father. Cray could see the bridesmaids and ushers clustered in gossiping groups, looking pretty confused as well. Where the hell was Maria? And where the fuck was Tony, his best man? He glanced at his watch and noticed that it was now fourteen minutes after the hour. The church was full of the 150-plus guests rustling around and leaning over to whisper to each other, no doubt wondering the same thing. Dread was building up in his stomach, as well as a faint feeling of nausea. Oh shit no, please. Don't let this be another fiasco. I thought the rehearsal dinner was bad enough; I don't know if I can take any more. If it's going to end, let it be fast, please God!
Cray closed his eyes as he heard his father's voice in the quiet, and realized he was talking to the organist as Cray heard her murmur a reply. His father, Michael, obviously finished his message, although Cray couldn't hear what was being said, because a Bach fugue started playing softly. It was not the processional. The rest of the church went silent as his father walked up behind him and touched his arm. Cray looked up reluctantly to his father's face, knowing immediately that it was the worst possible news. He was being jilted, in front of 150 people, by his fucking fiancée and best man.
His father tugged his arm and Cray followed him out of the church, ignoring the rising waves of talk he could hear behind him. Cray felt as if he were in a dream, or rather a nightmare, as he found himself and his dad in the hall just outside the nave, where the choir usually lined up before processing in for a service. He knew the area well, having sung here with both Tony and Maria since grade school. Cray couldn't bring himself to look around to see if anyone else was there to watch his humiliation.
"I'm so sorry, son. Maria just called her mother and told her that she and Tony are in Las Vegas. They eloped and got married early this morning."
"Oh my God. What the fuck am I going to do with all those people? Especially with the story from last night no doubt going around?" He swiped his hand down his face in despair. "Dad, tell me what to do." He dreaded going back out there, certain everyone knew how humiliated he already was because of the stunt Tony had pulled last night. Why would Tony grab Maria to dance and then kiss her right there, in the middle of the dance floor, in front of everyone? It wasn't a friendly peck, either. Oh, no. It was a long, passionate kiss, and Maria hadn't pulled away until her mother started walking over there, yelling her name and asking Tony what he thought he was doing. The night before his and Maria's wedding? Cray hadn't been able to move, he was so stunned. The rest of the evening was a blur, although the extra wine didn't help, probably. Staying up most of the night had at least allowed him to sober up so that he wasn't hungover today.
Maybe he should have guessed Tony would talk Maria into doing something like this, but frankly, he was surprised Tony had it in him. It had been quite unlike Tony to be so public with his affections; maybe it was his last-gasp move on Maria before she made what Tony would consider to be the mistake of her life.
Michael Wright pulled Cray into his arms in a sudden hug.
"Don't worry about it, Cray. Here are the keys to my car; just get home and into the house before everyone starts leaving here. Your brother and sister can give your mom and me a ride home after I tell the guests what's going on. I'm to send them on to the hotel. Your mom and Heidi are already calling the caterers and telling them what happened, so they'll be ready to serve appetizers and then dinner when everyone gets there, rather than waiting for the bride and groom. Well, your mom is calling; Heidi is so fucking angry right now that I'm not even sure she can speak. Not to mention Derrick. Both of them are so furious at Maria and Tony that I'm not surprised Maria escaped to somewhere far away before calling. Her parents are going to kill her."
Cray took in his father's words, glad his face was hidden in his shoulder. He couldn't stop the tears from coming, although he wasn't sure it was from hurt or humiliation or just plain relief. Shit, I don't have to marry Maria. It was finally starting to hit him that, just maybe, he had escaped his worst nightmare, too. There was the small matter of cleaning everything up after this crazy ending, but at least he was the victim here. That would help keep everyone's opinion on his side for a change. It was about time that he appeared in more positive light than Maria, who had been the perfect daughter and the perfect student, and who was going to be the perfect bride, even if it killed Heidi.
"Go, Cray. Now, while you can still get clear. The car's in the middle of the lot in the third or fourth row. I can't remember which, but you won't be able to miss the bright yellow." Cray pulled out of his father's embrace and grabbed the keys, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. Michael pulled out a handkerchief and handed it to his son so that he could blow his nose and clear his face.
"Thanks, Dad. Will I see you there later?"
"Of course, son. Mom and I will be there as soon as humanly possible with Sherry and Shawn." His dad patted his shoulder in reassurance as Cray nodded, blowing his nose and making sure his face was dry. "Don't worry; we won't go to the reception."
"Okay, good. See you then." Pocketing the used hanky, Cray ran out to his dad's car, a 2012 yellow Ford Mustang convertible, which he could see a few rows back in the parking lot. Dad was right - it was hard to miss. Jumping into the driver's seat, he took a minute to admire the interior, since his dad hadn't allowed any of his kids to drive it before. Cray couldn't believe his dad was permitting him to touch it, much less drive it home. Thinking maybe being in this snazzy car was a sign that things were looking up, he raced home as fast as he legally could, parking in the garage so that no one would know he was there.
What the hell am I going to do now? I have to get away! I can't stay around here and see everyone's looks of sympathy for the next month. I'll go mad.... And I sure as hell don't want to go to Mexico. I hate Mexico.
Cray walked into the kitchen and immediately shed his tuxedo jacket, tie, and cummerbund, unbuttoning the top button of his shirt and sighing in relief. He headed for the liquor cabinet and pulled out the gin. This called for lots of G&Ts. He couldn't face this without some liquid courage.... He had downed two and was considering a third by the time his family walked into the door. His mom, Petra, raced right over to him still in his chair, and gave him a big hug, rocking him back and forth as if he were a child.
"How are you, honey? I'm so sorry, Cray."
"I'm not sure, Mom. I'm a little numb right now."
"What a mess they've left behind. Did you have any idea, honey?"
"No! Of course not! You think I'd just stand in front of the church looking like an idiot if I did?"
"Cray...," his dad warned.
"Shit, sorry, Mom. God damn Maria. And Tony! I can't believe he'd do this to me! What an asshole. They must have been planning this for a while."
"Well, at least since last night," his younger sister noted with her dry sense of humor. Petra glared at Sherry, who was leaning against the kitchen doorframe.
Cray shook his head in disgust, still not quite believing this day. "I guess I shouldn't be so surprised after Tony made his move last night. Why did they wait until the last minute, though? And why the hell didn't Tony just say something to me? He knew I wasn't so sure this was the right thing - " He stopped himself from going further, looked over at his parents to see their reaction to his slip. Hoping they had missed it, he realized he wasn't that lucky. His mom jumped right on it.
"What do you mean, you weren't sure? Not the right thing? You were supposed to be married by now, Cray." His mom looked at him in disbelief, her voice rising and getting louder as she finished the sentence. Shit, shit, shit. You idiot. Can't keep your mouth shut about anything, can you? God, where's the gin? I need many, many more drinks before I can get through the rest of this crappy day. Sighing, Cray shook his head again. Now what.... Oh, what the hell. Go with the truth.
"Sorry, Mom. But I guess I've been having some doubts lately about whether this was the right thing for me, and I think that maybe Maria was having second thoughts too. Oh. Well, obviously, she was, since she's not here facing all this, and I am. But she never said anything, and by the time I realized that maybe I was doing the wrong thing, it was so close to the actual wedding date that I decided to talk to Tony a little about it after the bachelor party last weekend. He thought I was just getting cold feet and talked me into going through with it. Can you believe that? And then the fucking asshole runs off with my fiancée! How could he do that to me? Good thing he's not here or I'd punch his face out and kick him into next week." Cray rose from the kitchen chair and grabbed the gin bottle off the counter while waving his empty glass in the air to emphasize his point.
Sherry and her twin, Shawn, had slipped into seats at the table by this point to listen. Sherry jumped up, though, when she saw Cray trying to open the freezer to get more ice without letting go of the bottle, and grabbed the liquor before it went flying. "Here, Cray, let me do it. Sit down so you can talk to Mom and Dad."
"Thanks, Sherry, but I don't know if I can keep sitting. I'm just so goddamned angry right now." He looked over at his parents, standing next to the sink with Petra held close by Michael's arm around her shoulder, and both looking so unhappy for Cray. "Oh shit, Mom and Dad, how did it go at the church?"
"Not bad, son. Everyone obviously knew something was up, so I just told them that the wedding had been cancelled, Maria had eloped with Tony, and that they would hear more later this week from Heidi and Derrick. And if they went to the hotel, they would be fed. I walked out without telling them anything else, after indicating that they should speak to Maria's parents with any questions."
"So why'd you have to do it and not Derrick?" Shawn asked.
"Derrick was too busy holding up Heidi and trying to calm her down," Michael replied, shaking his head at the mess this whole morning had been. Cray sighed, sipping his refreshed gin and tonic he had taken from his sister a couple of minutes ago. SOOOO glad I don't have to deal with them today.
"Thanks, Dad. What the hell am I supposed to do now?" Cray asked. "I can't hang around here feeling sorry for myself. I don't want to see anyone, either; well, 'cept for you guys, of course."
"Why don't you go to Mexico anyway?" Shawn asked. "You can stay somewhere else and just relax on the beach. Hell, I'll even go with you."
"Sorry, Squirt, but I'm going alone, wherever I go. And no, I don't want to go to Mexico. Thanks anyway, but I've never really been that excited about it. That was Maria's idea of a great honeymoon spot, definitely not mine. I wanted to go to Aruba."
"Don't call me Squirt," Shawn responded automatically, grinning slightly at his older brother, hoping to cheer him up a bit with their usual banter.
"So go to Aruba, Cray. Trade in the two tickets and go for a longer time than ten days. You've got the time off," his father said, interrupting the oncoming argument. "After all, it looks like you won't be moving in to your new apartment."
"But that will leave you with all the cleanup. And shit, what am I going to do about the apartment? I don't have anywhere to live now. I just can't believe this." Cray slumped heavily against the back of the kitchen chair when the realization started to hit him of what all this actually meant to him and his plans; everything was now kaput and he'd have to start from square one. He figured that Tony and Maria would move in to that apartment, and they could deal with getting him off the lease. He'd have Dad make sure that they paid him back for his share of the down payment immediately, since he'd need that money to put down on something else. Gawd, I hate apartment hunting, and now I have to do it all over again, alone.
Cray could probably find something pretty quick, but it dawned on him that he wasn't actually stuck staying in LA now that he would be finding his own place. Novelists could write anywhere. That opened up all kinds of opportunities, although he didn't think he wanted to be too far from his family. Do I want to leave LA? Hell, I have no clue what I want to do. Why couldn't this have ended civilly? Then we could have solved all these problems before it got out of hand, and I wouldn't be stuck like this. FU-U-UCK! Cray came back to the present as he heard his mom talking.
"The cleanup is all in Heidi's and Derrick's lap, not ours, honey. We're just the groom's family, remember? Let them deal with the mess, since it was their daughter who walked out on you."
He couldn't help smiling a little at the notion that Maria's parents would have to handle the aftermath. He shared a look with his parents, knowing they were thinking the same thing. His mom's slight grin at the corner of her mouth showed her enjoyment of their predicament. Heidi especially had been difficult to deal with throughout the planning, wanting everything to be perfect for their only daughter, and rarely taking Cray's or his family's requests into consideration.
"That's so true." Wonder what they think of their perfect little daughter now? He was going to stay out of Heidi's and Derrick's sight, that was for sure. He dreaded that meeting and was chicken enough to let his parents deal with them if he could, at least for the next few weeks.
Cray frowned, suddenly very depressed and wishing he was anywhere but at his parents' house. I've got to get out of here, far away, right now before I explode. Where can I go? I don't have my place anymore. My stuff is in storage, Tony and Maria are gone, and I have no one else I want to see. Tony's parents probably blame me for missing their son's wedding so I can't go to his place. Shit.
Feeling his throat tighten at the sudden realization that he was on his own, with no Tony and no Maria as best friends to lean on, he jumped up from his chair, not wanting to show how hurt he really was by breaking down in front of his family. It hit him that his entire support system was gone and he was alone. Well, his family was right there, but they weren't the same as his own wife, someone who would know him better than anyone else and was in his court no matter what. And he had just lost that. Twice, because Tony probably knew him the second best and they had been best friends for eons.
"I'll be right back." Glad his voice sounded mostly normal, he quickly walked to the downstairs powder room, wiping his eyes surreptitiously as he shut the door. Reveling in the sudden privacy, he let the tears go while he gripped the sink and leaned his head against the mirror. How could they do this to me? I thought I meant as much to them as they meant to me. For God's sake, I was about to marry Maria. Glancing at his watch, he rolled his eyes. We would have been married by now. Why did they think this would be the best solution? Tony knew how I felt and how many doubts I had. Why couldn't they have talked to me rather than just dump me and leave me this fucking mess to clean up? No word from them at all. They just up and leave me all alone.
Cray turned on the water to try to drown the sound of the sobs he was desperately trying to stifle, but had a feeling he was failing that too. He sank onto the closed toilet and let his face fall into his hands. He was so lost in his grief and trying to stop crying he didn't hear the light knock or the door open and shut. When his father's hand landed heavily on his shoulder, Cray stood up and went straight into his father's arms, where he felt them surround him with love and hold him tight.
"I was waiting for this to happen. Let it out, Cray." His dad's hand went to the back of his head and pressed Cray's face into his shoulder, slowly stroking his hand down from the crown of his head to his waist, again and again. "I know it's tough now, son, but you'll get through it. It'll take time, but there is happiness in your future, I just know it. No one deserves it more than you."
Cray tried to get himself under control and stop crying, raising his head and backing out from his father's embrace after a tight squeeze of thanks. He reached over and grabbed some toilet paper so he could blow his nose. Okay, I need to remember I'm twenty-six, not six; no more crying on my Daddy's shoulder. I can handle anything 'cause I'm a man now. Real men don't cry, or eat quiche, remember? He couldn't help smiling at himself under the tissue, although he couldn't remember the last time he had cried like this. Okay, I can still joke, so I'm not going to go all suicidal or anything, thank God.
Cray drew a shaky breath. "Why would Tony and Maria just dump me like that? I thought I meant something to them. Why would they think this would be the best solution?"
"Son, I doubt they were using any brains at all. It probably all just got to be too much, and Tony was finally able to bring Maria over to his way of thinking. Who knows how long he's been in love with her? It was then or never as far as he was concerned."
"But Tony knew how many doubts I had. Why would he have encouraged me to go on with the wedding if he was in love with her? Why wouldn't he have talked to me? I don't understand any of this...."
"Maybe he was trying to be your best man and do what was best for you, not him. Did you consider that? Maybe he was in as much pain then as you are now."
Cray stilled at that thought, realizing he had never thought about it from Tony's point of view. If Tony had been in love with Maria, it must have killed him to see the two of them together all the time, watching them and knowing he couldn't have the woman he loved. He must have been really good at hiding it, or else I was totally oblivious. I never noticed a thing.
"Shit, Dad. I never thought of that. I'm not sure which position is worse to be in - watching someone with the woman you love but can't have, or being dumped at the altar. But still, I'm not sure that I agree with their decision to abandon me and let me handle the fall-out."
"Yeah, I agree that they could have handled it a lot better, but that might have required having at least one brain between them. Who said they were thinking? They probably agreed after some arguing to run as fast and far as possible to get away from everyone and everything, and once that decision was made, they made a break for it. Would you have wanted to deal with her parents on the eve of the wedding, after all the trials and tribulations Heidi put everyone through getting it planned to the nth degree?"
"Oh fuck, no. Maybe one of the good things about this is that I won't ever have to deal with them ever again!" With a soggy chuckle, Cray figured he'd wallowed enough. "Thanks, Dad."
"Of course, Cray. Glad I could help a little. The rest of the family is probably outside the door, worried sick about you. Clean up and come on out when you're ready. I'm starving and we can grab something to eat while you think about what you want to do next."
After Michael left, Cray looked at himself in the mirror, and shook his head at the mess he could see gazing back. His nose was bright red, his eyes were all red and puffy, and he looked like shit. But he felt immensely better having gotten it all out, and his dad had given him some ideas he needed to consider. Later, once I get past Mom looking like this. She's going to love on me until I can't stand it. I cannot stay around here because she will be constantly trying to help me feel better. I'm going to go to Aruba and take some time for me for a change.
Cray was energized at the thought of having some alone time in a place he had always wanted to visit. He filled his hands with cold water and splashed his face several times to try to minimize the damage, full of determination once again. He dried off and ran his fingers through his hair, making it look less stiff and formal. He realized he was still in the rest of his wedding outfit and should change so it could be returned. As he expected, his mom was waiting for him outside the bathroom, and gave him a loving hug.
"Hey, sweetie. You okay for now?" she asked as they let go of each other and walked to the kitchen.
"Yeah, I'll live. It just all hit me suddenly, realizing that I don't have a place to live and my life is totally up in the air. And the three G&Ts probably didn't help, either."
"Drinking never solves anything, you know that. But now that the worst is over, the only way left is up. We love you and want to help as much as we can. So what do you want to do next?"
By this time, Cray was back seated at the table, and Petra had started pulling out sandwich fixings to make lunch. Sherry got up to help, and soon the food was all on the table. While the rest of the family made themselves sandwiches, Cray decided he wasn't very hungry.
"You know what? I think I am going to go to Aruba for a couple of weeks. I'm dying to see it and it seems like a perfect opportunity. But I need to take care of some stuff first before I can disappear. Dad, can you get my money from Tony for the apartment while I'm gone? I'm gonna need it to move somewhere else when I get back, and there's no way I can face them right now." Or maybe ever, I'm so fucking pissed.
"Of course your dad will get your money back for you. And you can stay right here until you figure out what you want to do after your trip," his mom piped in without consulting his father. "You know you're always welcome." Cray glanced at his father for his reaction, but Michael was nodding in agreement.
"Okay, I guess. Thanks, Mom and Dad. Listen, I'm already packed, so I think I'm going to head to the airport and see what I can do about those tickets before they're no good. If I can't get out today, I'm gonna stay overnight at the airport and get something out as soon as possible tomorrow. Okay? Much as I love you all, I just can't stay here right now." The ringing of the phone startled them all, and Shawn got up to get it. Cray knew that this was the start of the chaos he expected over the next couple of days, and rose to rinse his glass in the sink.
"Hey Mom, it's Judy."
"Tell her I'll call her back later, okay Shawn?" Petra looked at Michael and rolled her eyes. "Of course it's Judy." Michael smiled at her but didn't say anything; everyone in the family knew Petra might complain about Judy's penchant for gossiping, but that they were best friends and very tight.
"At least she had the decency to call instead of just showing up," Michael said. "George probably tied her to the couch." Everyone couldn't help laughing at the ridiculous idea of Judy's husband doing something so drastic, but Petra lightly slapped her husband's arm.
"Michael! Don't be rude about our friends."
"Sorry, honey, but you've got to admit she can be a little pushy," he replied. While the two continued talking, Cray put his glass in the dishwasher and went over to his parents. He put an arm around each, squeezing them and kissing his mom on the cheek, interrupting the escalating discussion.
"Thanks again, Mom and Dad. For everything. You've been really terrific today, and I love you both." He hugged his parents again, having to pull away from his mom's tight clutch on his hand. "Mom, I'll be fine. Don't worry."
"I'm your mother. Of course I worry. Are you sure you want to go somewhere alone?"
"Absolutely, Mom. It'll give me a chance to think some about what I want to do now, since my options seem to be wide open."
"No problem, son. You know we both love you too, and we're so sorry this has happened. Take some time and just relax; you certainly deserve it after this weekend. We'll handle everything here and you can make some major decisions when you get back, okay? There's nothing that can't wait. But please call us if you need anything," his dad added.
"I will. I just want to lie on the beach and think about nothing for a while." Cray looked over at Shawn, who had just hung up the phone, apparently having had trouble convincing Judy to wait for his mom's call back. It immediately started ringing again and Cray's parents got up to start clearing up lunch.
"Let it ring, kids. Voice mail will get it."
"Lord, it's starting already, Michael. Cray, you better get ready to head out before all hell breaks loose."
Cray watched as Michael pulled Petra into his arms, having her lean against his chest. Kissing her temple, Michael chided, "Don't worry, Petra. Cray'll be fine, and he can always call us if he needs anything. You know him; he needs some time alone to process all this." Cray could still hear them talking as he left the kitchen, and he paused to listen for a minute.
Sighing, Petra nodded. "I know it, sweetie, but what a disaster it is. I just can't believe Maria could be so thoughtless, after all this time, to dump Cray like that. It's so not like her. Either that, or we never really knew her. And Tony! He's no longer welcome here. I'm not sure I can ever forgive him for doing this to Cray. He's been like my third son." Her voice broke a little, and Cray bet she was crying as he could hear how hurt she was. I can't be here and think about this because I'll break down again. Chop, chop, time to get moving.
"He's been Cray's best friend since kindergarten, Petra. And we don't know their part of the story, so don't go making huge decisions right now when we're all so upset, okay, sweetheart?"
"I know you're right, but none of us are very...." Cray stopped listening as he took the stairs two at a time. He changed out of his formal clothes into comfortable jeans and a T-shirt, leaving the tux spread out on the bed for someone to return. He looked up and saw Shawn entering his room, Sherry just behind him.
"Hey Shawn, would you mind driving me to the airport?"
"Course not, Cray; that's why we're here. Sherry's going to keep me company on the way home."
"Shit, yes. It's going to be wild here for a while. We're better escaping while the gettin's good," agreed Sherry
"Cray, what do you need us to do before you can leave? We gotta get going so that you can cancel those tickets."
"I've got time, Shawn. We weren't supposed to leave until tonight since it's such a short flight, remember?"
He thought about what he had packed for Mexico, and decided that he didn't need to repack anything, but he would bring along his Mac. He had to find a hotel in addition to changing his tickets and cancelling his previous reservation, or there wouldn't be any trip to Aruba. But he could do all that at the airport, he was sure. Once he was certain he had everything, Sherry and Shawn grabbed Cray's bags from his room and pushed him down toward the front door.
"C'mon, the phone hasn't stopped ringing. People are going to start showing up soon. Let's get out of here," Sherry said as she ran down the stairs with his computer bag.
Cray followed empty-handed, smiling a little at their attempt to rush him out before it got any worse. God, he loved them sometimes. Other times, he could kill them. Both.
"I'm coming, I'm coming." Cray waved to his parents as he was pulled out the door by Sherry. "Bye, Mom and Dad. I'll let you know what my final plans are once I get a flight. See you in two weeks!"
"Good luck, honey, and I hope you have fun. Don't forget to call us when you get there."
Acknowledging the good wishes from both his parents, Cray slipped into the rear passenger seat. Shawn and Sherry were already seated, and the car headed out once Cray closed his door and struggled with the seat belt.
Leaning his head back and breathing a sigh of relief, Cray lost himself in thought, wondering idly what Maria and Tony were doing now. Are they sorry about what they did to me? Or are they so happy that they're just fucking each other and not thinking about the consequences? Sherry and Shawn were quiet, letting him relax a bit and think. They occasionally chatted softly between themselves but didn't bother Cray, who was starting to feel the lack of sleep from the previous night. He hadn't slept at all, being anxious about getting married, worried about whether he was doing the right thing, and going to bed very late after being out with some friends celebrating his last night as a single man. Boy, was that a joke. At least now I know why Tony hadn't shown up after volunteering to drop Maria off at her house; he was winging his way to Las Vegas with her. Fuck, that really pissed him off. The humiliation of the morning made his cheeks burn and he wondered if he'd ever be able to forgive them.