Neil stretched his long legs, and when his feet hit the foot board of his twin bed, he appreciated both his sunrise waking habit and his military training. The ability to function on less sleep meant his jet lag wouldn't put a damper on Danny Williams' wedding.
He'd been looking forward to this wedding for a long time. For one thing, his best friend had loved Charlie Ward forever and making it legal completed their decade-old relationship. For another, Charlie's friend, Meghan was a bridesmaid. Though it had been several years since their paths had crossed, Neil could hardly wait to get a glimpse of the gorgeous woman who had been the subject of more fantasies than he could count for thirteen years.
He ran on the trails behind his parents' house, along the route he'd taken since the age of twelve. The trees had grown in the nine years he'd been away, the path no longer daily trampled, but his father had maintained the trail. Light filtered through the summer leaves of the maples, oaks, ash and beech, a stark contrast to the more desert-like landscape that surrounded his current post, Ft. Irwin. He welcomed the shade and the cooler, damp, early-morning air, fragrant with the earthy scents of the Maine woods. Too bad his leave only lasted a week.
Slowing as he approached the house, Neil inhaled the aromas of his favorite breakfast: pancakes, bacon, eggs and coffee. He rarely had breakfast waiting when he got home, since he always ran with his roommate, Owen.
For a little while, he had Beth around. But her idea of breakfast didn't match his and she hated to cook. Neil had probably cooked more for her than she had for him. He'd caught Beth sleeping with one of the soldiers from her unit six months ago, and had promptly dumped her. Probably best, his mother soothed in her Irish accent, that Beth was stupid enough to cheat before ye got attached. No point in marryin' a girl who won't cook.
Nearly every night since he'd ditched Beth, Neil had dreamed of seeing Meghan on this day. He thought about it on the plane trip from California last night, as he drifted off to sleep, on his run, and in the shower while he jerked off this morning. Chances were good that all he'd ever do was think about Meghan Miles, because no other woman had intimidated the adult Neil Murphy the way she always had.
The last time he'd seen Meghan was at Danny's college graduation party. In high school, Meghan and her best friend, Emily – Charlie's oldest sister – were three years ahead of Neil. At the time of Danny's party, Meghan was starting her PhD program in psychology, which Neil found fascinating. He and Owen believed that combat was ninety percent psychological, nine percent physical training, and one percent shit luck. The philosophy made them good at their jobs, because they knew that winning any kind of battle started in your head.
As soon as Neil understood that concept, dating became easy. Once he knew he needed to get over himself, girls didn't scare him.
For some reason, no matter how confident he got, no matter how many girls he had dated or slept with, he couldn't find the nerve to talk to Meghan again.
Today might be his last shot, because in two weeks, his unit deployed to Afghanistan for nine months. Even when you led an elite team of soldiers with an M4, you got no guarantees from the Army that you'd come home still breathing.
At the sound of the alarm, Meg groaned. Why did the Wicked Witch insist we all have breakfast so damn early? She rolled toward the alarm clock at the side of her hotel bed and let her eyes adjust to the light while she listened to Pink's Raise Your Glass. By the time the song had finished, her head bobbed to the beat.
This would be a day for change. She'd greet the day in the right frame of mind and it would make a difference. Didn't she give this advice to her clients all the time? She needed to listen to herself.
She flicked off the alarm, jumped out of bed and bounced to the shower, the song still in her mind as she stepped into the steamy spray. Charlie's wedding could be the perfect place to meet a nice rebound guy, someone to clear stupid Justin from her head. Guys loved that stuff, right? No strings hookups at weddings? Wasn't that the whole point of Wedding Crashers? Then again, Vince Vaughn fell for one of his hookups, so maybe she needed to think about this more carefully.
No. Live for today. That had been a goal of her Thai retreat nine months ago, learning to appreciate the moment and embrace what it could bring.
Don't worry about the past or the future, reside in the now.
Given her past, and the fact that Bucksport High alumni would be attending, living in the now could make or break her enjoyment of this wedding. The alternative would be to get good and drunk.
Stick with living in the moment, she thought. Safer that way.
With her new-found attitude in mind, she embraced the day.
Later that morning, as she walked down the hall from her room on the way to the Bridal suite, she almost fell over. A few doors away, a muscular guy stood, struggling with his room key, a garment bag aloft and a duffle on his shoulder. His silhouette made her breath catch.
No, she thought. Shaved head, big muscles. Military. Too much like Toby. But then, as she got closer, she caught a glimpse of his backside and a grin spread across her face. Look at that ass. It can't possibly be the guy from LAX? That would be fate.
Grabbing the garment bag to help him, he turned and looked at her. Green eyes, freckles and the same shock of recognition.
Thank you, fate. This wedding might be great after all.
Live for the moment, indeed.