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The Light to My Darkness by Ivy Smoak (1)

Chapter 1

Friday

I wrestled with the fabric until I was able to pull it down over my large pregnant belly. Even after the alterations, the dress pinched me uncomfortably on the sides. I blew a strand of hair out of my face and placed my hands on my stomach. In two months, my little baby boy would be born. But Bee and Mason's wedding was next week. I stared at my reflection in the mirror. And I was going to look like an elephant in their pictures. I sighed and stepped out of the changing room.

"Oh, it's perfect," Bee said.

I laughed. "You have a strange definition of perfection."

"The gray doesn't take away from your beautiful pregnancy glow at all."

It just makes me look like a huge zoo animal. "Why does everyone else get to wear blue again?" Not that it mattered. The blue would make me look like a whale instead.

"Because you're my matron of honor and I love you." She smiled at me. "Are you alright, Penny? You look a little pale."

I waved my hand through the air. "I'm fine. You'll see soon enough. Being pregnant is the freaking worst." I collapsed in the chair beside her.

Bee laughed. "Just a few weeks ago you wouldn't stop talking about how it was the best thing ever. The miracle of birth. All that jazz."

"Well, a few weeks ago it wasn't 90 degrees outside. What possessed you to get married in the middle of summer anyway?"

"If I recall, you had a wedding in June. It was hot that day too. And I love summers in the city. It always seems less crowded."

"That's because everyone leaves since it's literally hell here."

"Oh come on." She lightly tapped my arm. "Stop letting your pregnancy hormones win."

I pressed my lips together. I hated that she was right. It was like I had no control over my emotions at all recently. "It has nothing to do with hormones," I lied. "It's just so hot, Bee. How am I going to last two more months?"

"How about you go change and I'll take you out for ice cream?"

I glared at her. "Are you practicing weird parenting techniques on me or something?"

"Maybe?" She raised both eyebrows.

"Fine. You win. But water ice, not ice cream. Or else I won't be able to fit into this dress next week." I slowly stood up.

Bee laughed. "You're being too hard on yourself, Penny. You really do have that whole pregnancy glow thing going on."

Pregnancy glow my ass, I thought as I closed the dressing room door behind me. I wrestled the dress back off over my head and hung it on the hanger. I pulled on the comfortable dress I had worn in. It was stretchy and cotton, and the only thing I ever wanted to wear anymore. I glanced back in the mirror. The pregnancy glow thing really was just a myth. If anything, I looked pale like Bee had mentioned earlier. It was probably just because my makeup had melted off in the sweltering heat. After getting water ice I would need to spend the rest of the day sitting down in the air-conditioning.

"Mason is swinging by tonight to grab all of them," Bee said and took the hanger out of my hand as I exited the dressing room.

"I'm pretty sure that's the matron of honor's job," I said. "I can handle carrying a dress." Bee had slowly been taking responsibilities away from me for the past few weeks. I was starting to feel like the most useless matron of honor in the history of the title.

"No, actually the matron of honor doesn't have to do anything like that. Usually maids of honor handle it because they're never pregnant. You know...because they're maids. But you're technically my matron of honor. And matrons of honor have less tasks, especially if they're pregnant.”

I laughed. "Fair enough." I watched her hand the dress back to the sales associate.

"Now, come on, big momma. Water ice time!" She linked her arm in mine.

"Please don't start calling me that."

"That's actually how we had the programs printed. They say Matron of Honor - Big Momma, all in bold."

"That's exactly what I feared," I said with a laugh. The wave of heat seemed to hit me like a brick wall when we stepped outside. "Is it possibly even hotter?" I could already feel beads of sweat on the back of my neck.

"How about we just get you home. We can stop somewhere on the way and get water ice to-go. Then we can eat it at your place." She dropped my arm and walked over to the town car parked alongside the curb.

I glanced down the sidewalk at the water ice place. "Bee, it's just a block away." I pointed at the sign. "I can manage." I walked past her before I heard her response. First the pale comment. And now she didn't think I could walk a few feet? I bit the inside of my lip.

Ow, don't kick me. I placed my hand on my stomach and tried to steady my breathing. I wasn't an idiot. Obviously James told her. He promised he wouldn't tell anyone. The baby kicked again. Don't go agreeing with your father. You're supposed to be on my side.

"Whoa, wait up," Bee said. "Now you're a pregnant sprinter? It's not a race. Seriously, slow down, Penny."

"He told you, didn't he?" I asked as I grabbed the door handle of the water ice place.

"Who told me what?"

I shook my head. She didn't get to play innocent. I didn't want anyone else to know. My medical history wasn't anyone else's business. I stormed into the shop.

"Really, I have no idea what you're talking about," Bee said from behind me.

I ignored her and ordered a small lemon water ice. I continued giving her the silent treatment until she sat down across from me with that sad look on her face.

"I'm sorry," we both said at the exact same time.

Bee smiled. "Just for the record, James didn't tell me. He told Mason because he was worried about you. Then Mason told me. You know how these things go."

"I know. It's fine. But there really isn't anything to worry about."

"James said it makes the pregnancy more dangerous."

"It's just a heart murmur. Two percent of the population has one or something like that." Repeating facts that the doctor told me made me feel better about it. It wasn't like mitral valve regurgitation was some uncommon thing. Tons of people had it.

"Still. James is all worried. And now he's got me worried too."

"I'm fine. Really." I ate a huge spoonful of my water ice. God is that good. "See." I gestured to my water ice. "I'm doing normal pregnancy things. Everything is normal."

"You said normal too many times for me to believe you."

"Miss Cowan, soon to be Mrs. Caldwell, you should be focusing on your wedding. Not me." I gave her what I hoped was an encouraging smile.

"Well, that's the thing. I know you're supposed to be on bed rest, Penny. Technically you shouldn't even be coming to my wedding."

James didn't seriously tell Mason that. I was going to kill him when I got home. We had talked about this. I could do the whole bed rest thing after Bee's wedding. She needed me right now. I wasn't going to leave her in the lurch like Melissa had done to me. I was taking my role as matron of honor very seriously.

And I felt fine. Besides, the doctor recommended bed rest. He didn't demand it. The baby kicked me again. Ow. Traitor. "Bed rest is just a general term for taking it easy. I think relaxing and eating water ice counts."

"You're sure you feel okay? I don't want to be the reason that something happens to the baby."

I shook my head. "Nothing is going to happen. Everything is normal."

She winced at my use of the word normal again.

"Can we please just have a conversation that doesn't have to do with the fact that I'm pregnant? Let's focus on the wedding. Have you written your vows yet?"

"Ugh. No. I can't properly express how I feel in words. I so badly want them to be perfect, you know?"

"Well, what do you have so far?"

"Um...nothing, really. I'm too in my head. Everyone's going to be staring at me and I don't know what's going to come out of my mouth. I do presentations and pitches all the time, but this is way more intimidating."

"Think about the positives, though. You could spill red wine down the front of your wedding gown and still look smoking hot next to me. I secretly think you picked me to be your matron of honor because you knew I'd be a blimp."

Bee laughed. "You're right. It has nothing to do with the fact that you're my best friend."

I swallowed hard. I had been so flattered when Bee asked me to be her matron of honor. She had made friends in the city before meeting me. But we hung out all the time now. James and Mason being best friends basically forced us to be best friends too. And I was so happy that it did. I reached for a napkin.

"Are you crying?" she asked.

I blotted the napkin under my eyes. "I can't control my emotions. I'm a mess."

"Let's get you home. I have a wedding to focus on. James can take care of you for the rest of the day."

I laughed. "I don't need a babysitter."

"You sprinted here when you're supposed to be on bed rest. You absolutely need a babysitter."

"What I need is for him to stop kicking me." I placed my hand on my stomach. Calm down.

"Still convinced it's going to be a boy?"

"It feels like a boy. I can't explain it. But I know it is."

"Yeah, that makes no sense to me at all."

"That's because you've never been pregnant before," I said.

"Whenever I do get pregnant, I'm going to find out the sex of the baby immediately. I don't know how you can bear not knowing when you could literally pick up the phone and find out."

"I already know. It's definitely a boy."

Bee rolled her eyes. "Come on, big momma. Let's get your crazy ass home."

"Bee!"

We both laughed as she helped me to my feet. Before we stepped out into the scorching heat I turned and gave her a hug. With all of our jokes, I could still tell she was worried. I truly did believe that there was nothing to worry about. She should be spending the next week in pre-wedding bliss, not studying my pale face.

"You can worry about me after you get back from the honeymoon. But not before, okay?"

She squeezed me back. "It's a little hard to just turn off an emotion, Penny. I do need to focus on my vows, though. Or else the whole wedding will be a disaster."

I held her at arm's length. "A disaster? As long as no one gets shot, I think we're good."

"It's still too soon to joke." But she smiled anyway. "Besides, last time I checked, Mason didn't have any crazy exes."

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