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WORTH THE FIGHT – Chapter 1

Your best life comes from surviving your worst experiences. I’m not sure who told me that, but I brushed it off at the time. Didn’t give it a second thought.

Why would I?

I was happy. Surrounded by the greatest friends and family a girl could ask for. In love. About to marry my high school sweetheart. I had just finished my first year of teaching at my former elementary school. Molding young minds. Encouraging them to be the best version of themselves. 

My life was everything I dreamed it would be. Everything I ever wanted and more.

Until today.

What was supposed to be the happiest day of my life.

And now I can’t seem to catch my breath. Even hours later, I’m on the verge of hyperventilating. The brown paper bag Liam gave me is sitting precariously in my lap as I stare off into space, the moment my life was forever altered on replay.

“Cass, you need to stop thinking about it and try to calm down,” I hear him say. He’s sitting next to me, rubbing his hand up and down my back, yet I barely feel his hand against my exposed skin.

Skin that was sprayed a golden-brown yesterday. 

Picking up the bag, Liam places it in my hand. “Just breathe.”

Doing as he asks, I place the opening of the bag over my mouth, close my eyes, and breathe deeply. Once, twice, three times. It does nothing to calm my racing heart. To stop the heartache in my chest or the tears that continue to stream down my cheeks.

“What can I do? Please tell me,” he pleads. “I’ll do anything I can to help, but you have to tell me what you need.”

Liam’s been there for me since the day I was born. Two months older than me, we grew up together. Our fathers have been friends since college. That automatically meant we were destined to be friends. The kind of friends you consider family. You celebrate holidays together. Take vacations together. 

Your life is their life. 

You would do anything for each other at the drop of a hat.

I’m lucky to have Liam in my life. Especially right now.

Removing the bag from my lips and releasing it, watching as it floats to the hardwoods below, I think about what I want. What I need. “Alcohol.”

One word. That’s all I can bring myself to say. And it’s the one word I never thought would cross my lips.

“That’s not a good idea.” The concern in his voice is sweet, but he said he would do anything, and this is the one thing I need him to do for me.

“You’re right. It’s not a good idea,” I say, turning to face him. His brow is wrinkled, and his eyes are filled with sorrow. “You know what else isn’t a good idea? Cheating on your fiancée on your wedding day with her maid of honor.”

Liam sucks in a deep breath and holds it.

“So,” I continue as he stares at me in shock, “if you don’t mind, I’d like a drink. Something strong. And I want out of this dress.”

Standing, I turn my back to him. Knowing what he needs to do, I patiently wait as he slowly unzips my wedding dress and it falls to the floor. Stepping out of the center of the pile, I kick it with the toe of my bright-white satin heel. It barely moves, the weight of the material no match for my shoe.

Moving to kick it again, Liam wraps his arms around me and holds me tightly against his body.

In only my corset, garter, and matching white boy shorts, I should feel uncomfortable pressed against Liam’s body. I don’t. In fact, I don’t feel anything right now. I’m numb, inside and out. 

“You’re going to survive this. Just like you survive everything else life throws at you. And you don’t have to do it alone. I’m right here.”

My body begins to convulse, his words spurring on the tears.

“I don’t know if I can,” I say between sobs, my body sagging against his. My legs feel like they’re about to give out just as he lifts me off the floor, carrying me into his bedroom.

“You can. You will. Never doubt how strong you are Cassidy,” he states, setting me on the edge of his bed and taking a seat next to me. “Now, about the alcohol.”

“I can handle a few drinks, Liam. I deserve them. I’m not driving. You’re stuck with me at least for the night. It’s not like I can go home.”

I don’t have a home to go home to anymore. 

“Fine, but you at least need to put clothes on. I can’t have you walking around my apartment in nothing but lingerie and heels. You’ll start giving me ideas,” he jokes, nudging my shoulder with his.

“Fat chance of that,” I retort, pushing back against him before standing and twirling. “You don’t want any of this. I’m not your type.”

When I spin back around to face Liam, his eyes are focused on the floor between his feet, his hands clasped together between his legs. Legs that are bouncing up and down.

I’ve pissed him off, and he won’t even look in my direction. He hates it when I talk negatively about myself. Today I don’t give a shit. I’ve earned the right to be self-deprecating if I want to be.

He could at least laugh at my joke. Try to make a girl feel good about herself. Especially one that just left her cheating-ass fiancé at the altar.

Moving across the room, I open his dresser and pull out a t-shirt and shorts, slipping them on over my ‘lingerie’ so he doesn’t have to avoid looking at me the rest of the night. It’s not like he hasn’t seen me in underwear before. Hell, we used to take baths together when were younger. Before I grew boobs, of course.

“I’m going to go to the store unless you want to change your mind,” Liam says from behind me.

“Nope.” I keep my voice strong and steady. 

I hear the front door close behind him as I crawl under the covers and close my eyes. I have about ten minutes to get it all out before he returns. But I don’t want to cry anymore. 

Yes, my heart still aches.

Yes, I’m hurt and angry and confused.

More than anything, I feel like I’ve been slapped across the face. Blindsided. 

This couldn’t have been the first time they fucked each other. It had to have been going on for a while. How did I not see it? Unless I was at work, I was generally with one of them. Between wedding planning and social engagements, Garrett and I were busy. Kendra was right there with us, helping with the little details. Offering to take care of things for me when the end of the school year had me stressed out.

If they had been sneaking around, I would have seen the signs. Right?

Does it even matter now?

Watching her ride him was enough. There’s no doubt in my mind after seeing that. No matter when it started or how long it’s been going on, they can have each other now. I want nothing to do with either of them.

I should have called them out when I caught them. Instead, I ran. Right out the closest set of doors and into Liam’s firm chest. My face must have said it all. One look at me and he swooped me up in his arms and carried me away, leaving his date hollering after us.

My eyes were locked on the church as he drove past. My heart broke a little more when I spotted Liam’s father out front. Probably looking for me. Waiting to walk me down the aisle. 

I’ll have to apologize to him later. To explain why I disappeared. But not yet. I’m not ready. It was hard enough to get the words out when Liam finally asked what happened. At least with him, I didn’t have to sugarcoat things or watch my language.

I found Garrett fucking Kendra.

That was my answer. Plain and simple. And because he knows me better than anyone else, he knew not to push me any further. Not that I could have answered any questions if he had asked them. 

I don’t know what would possess my best friend to fuck my future husband. I don’t know what they were thinking. I’m not sure what I did to deserve their betrayal.

BANG. BANG. BANG.

Did Liam forget his key? Why the hell would he beat on the door like that?

“I know you’re in there, Cass. Open up please.”

Oh hell no.

Tossing back the covers and tiptoeing out the bedroom, I check the peephole to find a distraught looking Garrett on the other side of the door, pacing back and forth.

“Cassidy, we need to talk,” he calls, approaching the door and pressing his ear against the wood.

Holding my breath, I wait for him to back away. I don’t have to wait long before he’s pulled away from the door and tossed out of view. 

“What the hell are you doing here, Garrett?” I hear Liam ask, his voice laced with anger.

“What do you think? I’m looking for Cass. She left me at the altar, man.” Garrett brushes his hands down the front of his suit and straightens his shoulders as he speaks. There’s a note of confusion in his voice.

Liam must catch it too.

“And why do you think that is?”

“I have no fucking clue, and I can’t find her. I’m worried sick.”

“Really. No clue, huh?” Liam is challenging him to admit the truth. I’ve seen the two of them go back and forth like this once before. 

It didn’t end well for Garrett then, and I have a feeling it will be worse this time around. Liam was just a high school jock back then. He thought he knew it all, even if he had no clue. Now, after all his training, he knows how to get information out of people. Confessions are his specialty. With or without evidence present.

That’s probably why he’s one of the most sought-after private investigators in the state. He can read a person and tell if they’re lying.

“Look, man, I need to talk to her. Is she here?”

“Of course she is. That doesn’t mean she wants to talk to you, though. Not today, maybe not ever.” Liam steps up to Garrett, close enough for their chests to touch. It’s a warning, and Garrett knows it. Liam’s protecting me. He always has and always will. 

Garrett knows this. It took him months to accept it when we first started dating in high school. He never understood our relationship. How a guy and girl could be friends without there being a romantic element to the relationship. 

Maybe because he can’t just be friends with the opposite sex.

Judging by his recent indiscretions, I’m guessing that’s a big part of it.

“Why are you making it sound like I did something wrong?” Garrett asks, taking a step back and out of view through the peephole.

“You tell me. Done anything lately that you’re not proud of? Anything that might make Cass want to leave you? Anything at all?”

“Of course not,” Garrett quickly answers before Liam’s even finished.

“Then I guess you have nothing to worry about. She’ll call you when she’s ready to talk.” Pushing past Garrett, Liam slides his key in the lock, forcing me to step away from the door.

“Wait,” Garrett says. “Can you at least tell her I’m sorry and that I love her?”

“That depends,” Liam counters as he steps inside the apartment, our eyes meeting briefly before his body shields me from Garrett. “Are you sorry it happened or sorry you were caught?”

Then he slams the door on Garrett’s answer.

Does he even realize I caught him? That I saw them fucking in the dressing room? Is he deluded enough to think that I would leave him for no good reason? 

We were happy and in love this morning. I kissed him goodbye before heading to the church to meet with my bridal party. It was our day. What was supposed to be the best day of my life. The beginning of our forever.

And now . . .

Now I’m wearing Liam’s clothes, hiding from the one man I thought was the future. I can’t go home because I have no home. Garrett will be there, waiting for me. It’s his house. The one he bought before I moved back home. The one he convinced me to move into with him after he remodeled the kitchen specifically so I would have my dream kitchen.

It was supposed to be the house we raised our children in. The house that we spent the rest of our lives in. It was the beginning of so many things and now I only view it as the end of everything.

It doesn’t matter what he’s sorry for, or that he’s sorry at all. I’m not willing to forgive him. I don’t want to. Not now and maybe not ever. 

Liam places his hands on my shoulders. “Are you okay?” 

“Yeah.”

“You don’t look okay. You look like shit, Cass.” There’s a smile on his face as he says it. Normally, I’d swat him in the abs, he’d pretend I hurt him, and we’d have a good laugh.

I’m not in the mood today.

“Next time you find the love of your life cheating on you, I’ll make sure to tell you how shitty you look,” I snip at him, immediately feeling guilty.

He’s done nothing but support me. Take care of me. Hold me while I cried. He rescued me from the church, brought me here, and now he’s trying to protect me from getting hurt any further.

I should at least be nice to him.

“No one would ever cheat on me. I’m a master between the sheets.”

And just like that, he’s brushed off my bitchy comment and tried to make me smile once again. Damn him for being such an amazing person. I’m the luckiest girl alive. I couldn’t ask for a better friend in life, especially right now.

I look around him for the bag I saw him carrying in the hall. “Alcohol?” 

“Yes, I brought you alcohol, but before I give you any, I want to make sure you really want to drink it. Not just because you’re sad and depressed. Not because you’re angry. Yes, it will help you forget for a minute, but it will not erase what happened. It’s a temporary fix, and you know it.”

“Thanks, Dad. I’ll take my drink now.” My irritation doesn’t seem to faze him. Letting out a sigh when he doesn’t reply, I try a different approach. “Look, I know it sounds irrational. I know I never drink, and for good reason. It’s not like I’ve never drank before. It was a vow I made years ago and one I’d like to break, if only for the night. I can handle it, promise. Plus, it’s not like I’m going anywhere. I won’t be driving, and no one will be here but you. I trust you, Liam, and I trust that you won’t let me lose control.”

Trust is not something I give easily. I make people earn it. For good reason. Sadly, some people don’t think much about trust and toss it in the trash when presented with something sinful. 

“I know. I just wanted to make sure you knew what you were doing. I know your head’s not screwed on right at the moment. It’s a mess up there. I can see it in your eyes. I’d hate for you to pile on anything else.”

Liam releases my shoulders, then disappears into the kitchen. I hear the sound of glasses clinking seconds later.

He has a point. 

All drinking is going to do is shove me further down the rabbit hole. Unfortunately, I’d rather think about the reason I don’t drink, while I’m drunk, than the reason I decided to drink today.

“What is it?” I sniff the drink but get nothing more than the scent of soda and fizz up my nose.

“My favorite. Spiced rum and coke.”

Raising his glass, Liam waits for me to follow suit before reciting the same words he did the last time I drank.

“To your mom and dad. May they rest in peace.”

A single tear escapes as I gulp down my entire drink. I hand my glass back to Liam. “I’ll take another.”

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