Josie came in to work on Monday morning, logged in to her workstation, and was going to go get herself a cup of coffee when she realized she was surrounded. By a small crowd of coworkers who all wore equally expectant looks, although none of them were saying anything. She sighed. Of course she was going to have to be the one to answer all the questions – Max and Blake were on their honeymoon, they wouldn’t be back for another week. And there was no way anybody was going to ask Elise.
“It was an insanely beautiful wedding,” she said. “Not too big, not too elaborate – except for the food, it all looked like it was made of art and tasted like heaven because there’s a perfectionistic pastry chef in the family and he has the kind of friends other chefs want to be when they grow up. Not to mention, they had it at Barbie’s Malibu Dream House and most of Blake’s family look like they should have the Mattel logo as a tramp stamp.”
“What happened to Blake, then?” someone stupid commented, getting a laugh.
Josie smiled. It was one she’d picked up from Elise, and she decided she liked the fear-reaction it produced in the people closest to her – something to keep in mind. She grabbed her phone and pulled up a picture, then handed it over. “Him too,” she said. “He doesn’t wear contacts most of the time because he says they make his eyes itch.” Her smile widened as the passed-around picture shut everyone up. Max and Blake had looked amazing, and they were so happy they’d just glowed. She also had pictures of the cake and some of the decorations, and of the jaw-dropping view of the ocean which had been the wedding’s backdrop, and a couple with Max’s sister in them; Elise had warned Josie before they’d even left the office to catch their flight to Malibu that she couldn’t take pictures of any of the guests because some members of the family were in law enforcement.
‘Law enforcement’, right. Like Josie hadn’t figured out the wedding was at Stark fucking Mansion and their gracious, elegant Barbie-doll hostess was Pepper Potts. Blake’s family weren’t the one percent, they were people who patted the one percent on the head and called them posers. His cousin Amanda was a programmer dating an older-model anatomically correct Ken doll, and once she’d started excitedly talking shop with Josie he’d kissed her on top of the head and then wandered off to play some kind of lawn-dart game – which he was apparently really good at if the groans from the people already playing it had been any indication. He was a consultant of some kind. Mr. Wong – the same Mr. Wong who had filled in at FindLove temporarily to fix their broken HR department –was apparently a close friend of the family and had been there with both of his lovers, a bouncy younger Ken doll who was in communications and a flamboyantly gay doctor named Stephen who Josie had actually talked fashion with for a little while and had ended up liking quite a bit. He’d introduced himself to her by looking her up and down, raising a saturnine eyebrow and declaring, “Don’t tell me, you asked a sorority girl for help deciding what to wear, didn’t you? Not that it doesn’t look nice, dear, you look lovely, but they all seem to shop at the same store.” Which had made Pepper Potts facepalm, Josie had seen it out of the corner of her eye, and she’d giggled and admitted it had been her sister-in-law and yes, she thought they did too. He’d also said he thought her current hairstyle was too severe for her ‘adorable little face’ and made her blush, and then Communications Ken – his name was actually Jake – had bounced over and it turned out he also did computers and…well, Max had been right, his wedding had been a lot more fun than her brother’s had been.
At least her parents had come to her brother’s wedding, though. His hadn’t. Max had just said they ‘couldn’t make it’ and agreed placidly with whoever had asked’s rote commiseration that that was a shame. His sister Cecily had confided to Josie a few glasses of champagne later that their parents had refused to come on religious grounds. They had accepted their son being gay, they were tolerant of him having boyfriends…but they were firm in their belief that marriage was between a man and a woman. Which was how Josie had found out that her two coworkers had not spent Christmas with Max’s family after all, because their post-Thanksgiving engagement announcement had resulted in them getting disinvited from the family’s celebration. “I told him he just should have lied,” Cecily had told her, rolling her eyes. “He had a point, though; he said they were already getting suspicious because he and Blake had been together for over a year, and he’d rather be disinvited while he was still in L.A. than get kicked out of the house in Anaheim and have to spend Christmas in a hotel. I don’t agree with it either,” she’d admitted, “but someone should be here. It would look weird if nobody from the bride’s side of the family showed up at his wedding.”
That had made Josie’s eyebrows go up. “The bride?”
Cecily had snorted. “You have met my brother, right? I don’t have to ask to know which one of them’s the man in the relationship.”
Josie had kept her mouth from dropping open with an effort. She couldn’t believe this woman was Max’s little sister. It was no wonder he usually brushed off Josie’s own bouts of nastiness at the office; he was used to getting ten times worse at home! Luckily Stephen had swept up to them right after that and rescued Josie from starting a verbal slap-fight at her friend’s reception – Cecily had dropped the subject immediately, of course, because Stephen was just unapologetically flaming and he also had a presence about him that said…well, to Josie it said ‘law enforcement’ loud and clear, but she’d thought at the time – and still did – that to Cecily it had probably said something a little more dangerous and unpredictable than that.
The photos having been duly passed around and exclaimed over by multiple people because of both the cake and the view, Josie reclaimed her phone and went to get her coffee from the break room…where the stragglers who hadn’t made it into the first group were waiting to pounce on her for details about Max and Blake’s wedding. So she repeated it all for them practically verbatim, passing the photos on her phone around again while she got her coffee and then heading back to her desk so she could start the workday for real. Which she did, clearing the weekend’s detritus out of her inbox with her usual efficiency even though part of her mind was still looking at all of the pictures she hadn’t been able to take of the wedding. It had been like a whole different world – like being on Mount Olympus, high above the world of regular mortals, surrounded by gods and goddesses. Even the guy who’d accidentally crashed the party had been drop-dead gorgeous.
That was one picture she really wished she’d been able to take – although she might not have shared it even if she had. He’d appeared on the house’s back patio, not dressed for the wedding but still being pushed down into it by Pepper Potts while he protested that he’d just been dropping off a wedding present and hadn’t planned on crashing the party. And then Max and Blake had run over to greet him and drag him the rest of the way in so he could have cake, and he’d seemed to know just about everyone and they’d all been delighted to see him. He was pretty obviously related to Communications Ken because the family resemblance was just staggering – only Steve, which was the name they all kept calling him, was quite a bit bigger and blonder and not nearly as hyper. In fact, he’d seemed kind of shy and sweet, and Josie had even caught Elise – Elise! – giving him a fond look. Which he’d apparently seen, because he’d lit up and trotted right over to talk to her about a gun Blake had told him she had, wanting to know what she thought about the way it fired and how it compared to a Walther PK, whatever that was. Elise, consequently, had stayed happier than Josie had ever seen her for the rest of the reception. And then not too long after that Max and Blake had been saying goodbye to everyone and being whisked away in a limousine, and the party had started to break up. Josie had pitched in with Steve and some of the other guests to help clean up, which they’d managed to get away with for all of five minutes before Pepper had noticed and shooed them all off, and not long after that Josie and Elise were getting into Elise’s rental car to head back to the airport, and to Josie’s surprise Elise had offered to give Cecily a ride to the airport as well. Steve had preceded them down the road on his motorcycle, and Consultant Ken and his techie girlfriend had followed in a sporty little car with a blue-light logo thing set into the front end that was supposedly some new kind of hybrid prototype.
Josie had kept Cecily from talking during the trip by asking Elise what a Walther PK was, which helped in a different way too because after twenty minutes of Elise talking guns and ammunition and kill shots Cecily was patently terrified of her, which of course was when Elise had dropped the bomb. “I gave Max and Blake a matched pair of nickel-plated Brownings as their wedding gift,” she’d commented with seeming casualness. “I thought it was a good choice, since Blake likes heavier firepower and Max needs a larger grip to be comfortable.”
Cecily’s eyes had widened. “My brother can fire a gun?!”
“Of course,” Elise had drawled, glancing back in the rear-view mirror. “The idea that gay men are limp-wristed wimps is just a myth, surely you know that.”
“But he doesn’t…”
“Max got assaulted twice in the parking lot last year, once by a junkie with a knife and once by an asshole with a tire iron,” Josie had told her, using the same glance back Elise had. “He’s been taking self-defense lessons for a while now. He didn’t tell you?”
Cecily’s silence had spoken for itself. So had Elise’s smugly approving look.