Jilted Groom

By: Mia Carson

Chapter 1

String music filled the old church. Edmund Eastwood tugged at his bowtie as he prepared to start the rest of his miserable life with a woman he didn’t want to marry. The soft music drowned out his pounding heart but did nothing to dry his sweaty palms. His best bud since they were kids, standing next to him in dress greens as the best man, nudged him with an elbow.

“What?” Edmund hissed out of the side of his mouth to Tommy.

“You look ready to keel over,” Tommy observed with a grin. “I have the keys to the car. You want them?”

“Not funny, man,” Edmund replied as a nervous laugh escaped him. The priest shot them both a frown, and he mouthed an apology. “We’re supposed to be serious right now.”

“Hey, you’re lucky I even made it.”

Edmund turned and held out his hand. “I know, and I don’t think I had a chance to thank you this morning, for everything.” They shook hands like brothers, and Edmund pulled him into a quick one-armed hug.

“Thanks, Ed, really,” Tommy said then choked on a laugh. “Your mom’s glaring at me.”

“Good,” he muttered. “Let her glare. This is all her fault anyway.”

“You could’ve joined up when I did,” Tommy reminded him.

“If I could’ve, I would’ve,” he agreed. At the time of Tommy’s enlistment, though, Edward, Edmund’s dad, was sick—too sick to work, and his mom, Sarah, was beside herself. Edmund ran the family businesses until his dad was back on his feet, almost six months later, and by that time, Tommy was gone. Now, he was trapped in a life his parents had planned for him since the second he popped out and said hello to the world.

The music changed tune, and the doors at the rear of the church creaked open. Edmund refused to force anyone else he knew to be in his wedding, so the seven bridesmaids walked down the aisle single file, alone. Jenny, his wife-to-be, had argued until she was blue in the face, but Edmund stood his ground. He didn’t like any of her friends, and the glares they shot him led him to believe the feeling was mutual. They reached the steps to the altar and walked to the left side, lining up as they were instructed. Jenny’s niece stepped through the door next in a frilly white dress, carrying a small basket of red rose petals. She ran more than walked down the aisle and reached her parents as she upended her basket at the end of the aisle. Edmund laughed with everyone else then straightened as the music changed again.

“This is it, man, last chance,” Tommy urged, but Edmund couldn’t back out.

The music played on, but Jenny didn’t appear at the rear of the church. He shifted on his feet and tugged at his bowtie as the seconds ticked by, then minutes. Sarah stood and, giving the church apologetic smiles, rushed towards the back with Jenny’s mom. The people murmured to each other in the pews, shooting Edmund pitying glances, and he plastered a confident smile on his face. With everyone staring at him, he fought the desire to haul ass out of the church and take off. Being the center of attention might be something his parents enjoyed, but he despised it. His goal was to not be suckered into the gossip of their white-collar world. Today, however, he was the main topic.

“I sense trouble,” Tommy said and stepped down from the altar as Sarah marched towards them. She held a piece of paper in her hand, and if looks could kill, half the church would be on the floor. Tommy stepped out of her path as she reached Edmund and thrust the paper at him.

“Here,” she snapped. “It appears we were wrong about your sweet Jenny.”

Edmund read the words on the note, and his heart lifted in relief as he sat down hard on the steps. “‘I’m saving us both. Go live. Jenny,’” he read aloud for Tommy. “She’s gone, then?”

“Took off ten minutes ago in her daddy’s Porsche,” Sarah huffed. “That insolent little girl! She thinks she can just take off and ruin our big day!”

“Maybe she wasn’t ready,” Edmund suggested as he folded the note and tucked it away.

Sarah’s eyes narrowed, and suddenly, she burst into tears, lunging forward to hug her son as if he was a toddler who had scraped his knee. “My poor baby boy! She broke your heart, didn’t she? I’m so sorry she ran off. I know how much you cared about her.”

Tommy smirked behind her shoulder, and Edmund patted his mom on the back, pursing his lips at Tommy to make him stop before he lost it and laughed. “It’s fine, Mom. I’ll be fine, given time,” he told her, hoping his sadness sounded sincere. “Life will go on, really.”

Life would go on, and a new life awaited him, unexplored. Getting out of this church and away from the prying eyes of his parents was the first order of business. Most of the guests lingered, waiting to see if any more drama developed, but he did not want to be here if Jenny decided to come back. This was his out, and he was going to take it. Quickly. He widened his eyes at Tommy, making a leaving motion with his hand behind Sarah’s back. Tommy winked, straightened his jacket, and cleared his throat.

“Mrs. Eastwood, why don’t I take Edmund out for a drink, to help sooth his sadness over this horrible tragedy?”

Edmund rolled his eyes, but Sarah leaned back and rested her hand against his cheek. “I need to get out of here,” he told her quietly. “Please? Give me some time to collect myself?”

She sucked in a shuddering breath as Edward strolled over and laid a heavy hand on his son’s shoulder. “Let him go with Tommy, Sarah. He doesn’t need to be hounded by everyone right now.”

“Alright.” Sarah sighed. “But don’t get drunk. She’s not worth it, and the last thing I want to hear about is my son wasted at some bar and having sex with some piece of no-good, white trash.” She stood and smoothed her hands down her skirt and jacket. “We’ll deal with the guests. Go with Tommy.”

He kissed her cheek, thanked his dad, and followed Tommy down the aisle and out of the church. “You're a lifesaver, as always,” Edmund said as they slipped into Tommy’s truck. His old Mustang was parked behind the church, but he’d fetch it later. “Where to, Lieutenant?”

Tommy floored it out of the lot and took off towards the interstate. “Somewhere no one knows you, that’s where.”

“Great,” Edmund agreed and undid his bowtie. He rolled down the window and the rush of air ripped it from his fingers. “Freedom, man, complete freedom.”

“Until your parents find another woman,” Tommy grunted.

“Are you trying to kill my mood?”

“Trying to be realistic,” he said. “Maybe you need to do something drastic.”

“Oh yeah? What do you have in mind?”

Tommy tapped his fingers on the steering wheel until his eyes lit up and he laughed. “You know, you could just run away.”

Edmund’s eyes slid to his friend. “Run away? I’m not a kid.”

“Exactly, you’re an adult, and you, my friend, can do whatever the fuck you want,” Tommy informed him. “That’s what being an adult means. Get away from your crazy, controlling parents for a few days—hell, a few weeks! Go see what’s out there in that big old world.”

“What, just hop on a plane?”

Tommy shook his head. “No, you gotta do this right. Get in your car and just drive.”

Edmund stared out the window. “And where would I go?”

“That’s the point. You don’t pick a place, you just go and see where the wind takes you. Think about it, that’s all I’m saying.”

They drove for another twenty minutes before Tommy exited the interstate and parked the truck in the lot of a bar lit up with neon signs advertising pool tables, beer, and on occasion, hot chicks. Edmund ditched his tux jacket in the truck and followed his friend inside. Country music played overhead, and because it was early evening, the bar wasn’t too busy yet. Tommy grabbed them beers as Edmund set up a table for a game of pool. His cell vibrated in his pocket, but he ignored it as he racked the balls and held a pool cue out while Tommy set their beers on a nearby high top.

Edmund shot first, scattering balls across the table and landing a solid in the corner pocket. “You really think it’d be that easy to disappear?” he mused as he lined up his second shot.

Tommy nodded as he sipped his bottle of Bud. “You just have to do it.”

Edmund bit his lip as he took the shot and cursed when he missed. “Mom would kill me.”

“When you got back, probably, but you don’t have to tell anyone you’re leaving. Wait ‘til you’re already gone,” he said as he leaned over the pool table. “Then, bam! Call them and give them the news.” The balls cracked together, and two stripes managed to glide easily into their holes. “What are they going to do? Send the cops after you?”

“You’ve met the Eastwoods, right? The crazy parents who planned my life from birth.”

Tommy planted his cue stick on the floor. “Listen, I know you’re loyal to your family. I get it, but there comes a time when you have to figure out who you are without them guiding your every move.”

“I’ve made some decisions for myself,” he argued.

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