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Love slipped beyond your reaches (and I couldn't give a reason)

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“Harper, the wedding is in a week. I can’t keep having arguments like this” 

With that outburst, Abby is sure she’s raised her voice more in the last month than in the entire two and a half years they’ve been together. Getting married really should not be this big of an argument-inducing, stress-ridden, waiting-to-be-a-disaster, event. 

“I know, but my mom wants to change the floral arrangements and needs our input.”

Abby sighs. “I didn’t know I was marrying your mother, Harper. This isn’t her wedding! It’s ours!”

“Abs, please,” Harper begs, “It’s just easier to let her have her way. Plus, they’re paying for it! Please?”

Hands thrown up in defeat, Abby relents just as they both knew she would. It doesn’t escape her that this is happening a lot, and not just about wedding-related things. Her pale skin is already dreading their Hawaiian honeymoon when all she really wanted to do was take Harper to Europe instead. In fact, she doesn’t even know what to expect for her own wedding. She sighs heavily as she grabs her backpack. “I have to go get to campus for office hours. Just...text me if your mother changes anything else in our wedding.”

There’s no kiss goodbye and she doesn’t wait for a response. As soon as she’s out the door, the familiar contact is already pressed and the phone is ringing. When the Hey Abs, what Tipperism has Tipper done now? comes through the phone she feels her stress fade away into the background.

“Riley, I don’t even know who’s wedding I’m going to anymore! She’s changing the flowers. Who changes the flowers a week before the wedding?!”

“Someone who has a death wish?” Riley’s husky voice teases, “Really Abs, just say the word. I know people.” 

Abby can’t help but chuckle. “She’s totally joking, FBI Agent Friend. Seriously though, I thought my wedding was supposed to be the best day of my life. This just feels like it’s going to be a disaster.”

The line is silent for a few minutes before Riley clears her throat. “Um, so about your wedding...”

“Riley, please tell me you got the time off work! I literally cannot do this without you.”

The doctor’s voice is soft when she replies. “Of course I have the time off. I put in the request the day after you set the date. I wouldn’t miss your big day, Abs, but Tipper mentioned to my mom it might be best if I’m not there. Or, at the least, if I do come, I shouldn’t bring a plus-one.”

At this, the usually-calm blonde loses it. “I can’t believe her! In what world does she think that is acceptable?! Riley, you have to come. It’s my wedding and you are my best friend. I need you and John there.”

“Does...does Harper know I’m your best friend?”

The question makes Abby pause mid-step as the words sink in. She knows Harper is aware she texts Riley; the writer has seen the doctor’s name pop up on a notification on more than one occasion and obviously she’s aware the brunette is on the guest list (Harper wouldn’t agree to her being in the wedding party, and Abby’s still a little bitter about that). But she’s not certain Harper knows of the countless hours they’ve talked on the phone, or if Riley is literally the only person that can talk her out of disowning her soon-to-be mother-in-law. But the bottom line is, Riley is her person and no, her fiance does not know this. 

“I guess she doesn’t,” Abby finally admits as she unlocks the door to her office, “We really don’t talk much anymore. We just argue over what Tipper wants in the wedding.”

Riley sighs heavily, “If you want me there, I’ll be there. I meant what I said; I won’t miss your big day.”

“I’ll call Tipper myself and make sure you’re still on the guest list. I can’t believe this is even an issue. I’m sorry, Riley. I really cannot believe that woman.”

“Mom asked her if she realized her daughter was marrying another woman, since she seemed so afraid my gayness was going to rub off on everyone. She said Tipper didn’t really know what to say to that.” 

Abby laughs. “Oh man, I love your mom. I can only imagine Tipper’s face. God, why can’t she be more like Helen? I’d love to have your mom as my in-law. Tipper just scares me.” 

While Riley’s chest might tighten at that implication, her voice doesn’t convey it. “Tipper scares everyone, but my mother isn’t perfect by any means. But um, about the other part…”

“You’re still bringing Sarah, right? I’ll make sure Tipper knows it’s non-negotiable.”

“Yeah about that,” Riley takes a deep breath, “We broke up last night. Or rather, she broke up with me.”

Abby presses her fingers against her temple, feeling the migraine already forming. “Oh fuck. Riley, I’m sorry. What happened? I thought you two were really getting on well.” 

“The usual. I work too much. I’m an emotional black hole. I won’t talk about my feelings. I’m invested in someone else, the list goes on.” Riley chuckles, “She’s not wrong on a few of those.”

“I never understand why women always say you don’t talk about your feelings while I get a running dialogue from the Open Book of Riley. It makes no sense to me; do they even try to get to know you?”

Riley’s voice falls quiet again. “You know me better than anyone. Women don't like that, Abs, and Harper won’t like it either. I should go though. My shift is in an hour. I’ll be busy over the next week since I took a week off so I may not be as chatty. But you have to call me if Tipper does anything else.” 

They say goodbye after Abby promises to fill the brunette in on any and all Tipperisms, but the phone call leaves her unsettled. She knows another argument is on the horizon when she gets home and honestly, she’s exhausted. Her daily conversions with the goofy doctor are the only thing keeping her sane and she doesn’t even want to ponder how Harper is going to react to that revelation. Thankfully a knock on the door from one of her students pulls her from the spiral into stress-and-doom and redirects her to the world of Art History for the next hour.

Six hours later she walks through the door to find Harper sitting at the kitchen counter surrounded by seating arrangements. She resists the urge to turn around and walk out the door she just entered. 

“Do I even want to ask what you are doing?”

Harper shrugs, “Probably not. Mom wants to move Connor and his date to the table next to ours.”

Abby doesn’t reply as she walks to the liquor cabinet and pulls out the bottle of top-shelf bourbon Riley had sent her for an engagement present. Snagging a glass as well, she pours a healthy drink and downs it before turning to face her fiance. “That table is full. Who exactly is he replacing?”

“Riley isn’t coming,” Harper responds, “Mom said her mother said she can’t get off work.”

The glass clinks loudly against the counter top as Abby pours a second drink. “That’s bullshit. I just talked to Riley this morning. Your mother told Helen that Riley shouldn’t come or, if she did, she shouldn’t bring her now-ex. Riley has every intention of being there; she will be there. For me.” 

“Mom wouldn’t make this up. Maybe Riley’s schedule changed after you talked to her?”

“Harper, let me be clear,” the blonde begins slowly, “Riley will be there. This is non-negotiable. So either you tell your mother that, or I will.” 

Harper stares at her, a look of uncertainty on her face. “Are you okay? You seem really tense babe. I don’t think Riley is worth us arguing with my mother over.”

“Of course you don’t,” Abby mutters before taking a seat across from the taller woman. “Harper, look. Riley and I are best friends; we talk all the time. I would know if she couldn’t make our wedding. But babe, your mother is taking over our wedding. I don’t even know what I’m walking into next week anymore and I don’t like it. I’ve gone along with everything else to keep the peace, but Riley is the one thing I won’t compromise on. She will be there and frankly, Tipper should be grateful I don’t insist she’s sitting at our table or that I didn’t insist on her being in the wedding party.”

She watches as her words hit home and calmly sips her bourbon. Harper looks confused instead of angry, but Abby knows it’s just a matter of time.

“Riley means that much to you?”

“She does.”

Harper frowns. “The only strong opinion you’ve had over our wedding is her being there. You didn’t even stand up to my mother about me wanting to pick my wedding dress, yet you’re ready to go to war for Riley’s mere presence.”

When it’s framed like that, Abby realizes it sounds bad, but Riley is just her best friend and she’s emotionally tapped out for the day. Desperate to escape the situation, she motions towards the living room. “I have some papers to grade before we leave tomorrow but Harper, you’re always going to go along with whatever your mother wants. Me defending your dress desires would be a waste of time. John and Riley are my family; unless your mother plans on uninviting Sloane and Connor, tell her not to mention Riley not attending again.”

t-5 days

Abby slams Harper’s car door shut and reaches for her phone. Her hands are trembling as she presses number three on her speed dial and she barely resists the urge to scream when Riley’s voicemail comes through the speaker. Her phone is harshly dropped into the passenger seat, but the instant chime makes her pick it back up immediately.

I’m in a meeting. What’s up?

It’s something, even if it’s not the doctor’s steady voice talking her down. But Abby? Abby is on the verge of tears. She’s been a good future daughter-in-law. She’s let Tipper and Ted control nearly every aspect of the wedding. But Tipper’s request that she change her wedding attire five days before the wedding? Abby is pretty sure she’s reached the end of her sanity. Her fingers shake as she types out her reply. I’m not sure I can do this. The wedding. I think I’m making a mistake.

She sees the dots showing the other woman replying, but they disappear just as quick. A few minutes later her phone rings with a video call. She accepts, but before she can even greet the doctor, Riley is speaking.

“Abs, listen to me. You love Harper. You asked her to marry you and she said yes. You have five days of Tipperisms left before you’re happily married and living your happily ever after. What could be so bad today that you’re doubting marrying Harper?”

Abby’s eyes burn with unshed tears and she stares at Riley’s face, willing the other woman to say something, anything, to make her laugh or feel even a tiny bit of joy. Instead, it’s obvious the brunette is waiting on answers. 

“I’ve had my suit picked out for months. Tipper and Harper both know I plan to wear a suit and never said a word. Until this morning. Tipper wants me to reconsider and Harper...Harper just agreed with her. She actually told me she doesn’t want me to wear a suit; in the nearly-three years we’ve been together, I have never worn a dress. Why in the hell would she think I’d get married in one?”

The look on Riley’s face is indescribable as it cycles through bewilderment, disbelief and anger. She shakes her head. “I’m not actually sure I have a reply other than ‘what the fuck?’ to that. Even if you were agreeable to it, which you absolutely shouldn’t be if you don’t want to be, there is no way you could find a dress in basically three days.”

The glare the blonde is sending her almost makes her rethink her response but instead she sees Abby’s shoulders fall. “Tipper already has one. Ri, this already isn’t the wedding I wanted. I refuse to wear something I’m not going to be comfortable in for it.”

“Rightfully so,” Riley replies, “But Abs, you’re nearing the finish line. Only five more days to go. You can resist Tipper for a few more days. I’m sure John and I can run interference until the wedding, but in the event it’s unsuccessful, do you happen to know how he feels about shovels and a little mild digging?”

“I’m pretty sure he would murder you and not think twice about it for making him dig a hole,” Abby replies. “When do you get here?”

“Tomorrow night. Traffic should be light since it’s Tuesday and I should be there around 7.”

Abby bites her lip, “Can we do dinner? Maybe go to the Oxwood? I really need to get away from all this for a few hours and I really miss you. John will be here too.”

Nodding, Riley can’t help but smile at the admission. “Sure thing, we’ll call it your bachelorette party. I have a hotel room at the Hilton this time instead of staying with my parents; Sarah didn’t feel comfortable staying at their place when she was coming. We could plan to meet there after I drop my things off?”

For the first time Abby actually smiles. “I can’t wait. John and I are staying there too so we’ll plan accordingly. Tipper’s stupid archaic rule of Harper and I not staying together before the wedding may pay off after all. Who knew?”

“Sounds like Tipper. But perfect. I’ll make sure to stock the mini-fridge with alcohol for the three of us. But hey, I should go. I have a stack of charts to finish before I can leave tonight.” 

“Of course, go save lives,” Abby knows she should say goodbye but instead finds herself needing to say more, “And Ri? I can’t wait to see you again.” 

Riley swallows hard. “Same. I’ll let you know when I leave here tomorrow. Though I’m sure I’ll talk to you before then. So, talk to you later.”

The screen fades to black and Abby rests her forehead against the steering wheel. The closer time ticks towards wedding, the less certain she is that she’s doing the right thing. In a time they should be growing closer, the only thing the wedding has done is drive them further apart. She’s acutely aware she should be looking forward to Saturday, the happiest day of her life. Instead, the only thing she’s looking forward to is Riley’s arrival.

The realization terrifies her.

t-4 days

When Harper looks up from the list of things she’s been assigned to do, Abby knows whatever she says next is going to end in an argument but hopes there’s some way to minimize the fight. But  Harper crosses her arms and all she can do is resign herself to the fall-out and sink down into her chair.

“What do you mean you’re going out with Riley tonight?”

Abby resists the urge to beat her head against the countertop and sends an apologetic look Jane’s way before taking a calming breath. “Harper, I told you yesterday Riley gets into town tonight and the two of us and John are going to go out to dinner. It’ll probably be around 7:30 or so, but since we’re at the same hotel, we’re going to meet there.”

“It’s four days before our wedding and you’re going to hang out with friends. I can’t believe you!” 

Jane frowns. “Harper, all you’re doing tonight is hanging out with Mom and Dad. It’s not like Abby can spend the night, so why shouldn’t she hang out with friends?”

Harper sends a withering glare her way. “Stay out of this, Jane!” 

“Harper! Do not yell at your sister like that!” Tipper scolds as she enters the room. “I could hear the three of you from the living room! What on Earth is going on in here?”

“Instead of sitting in an empty hotel room tonight, Abby wants to go out with John and Riley. Harper has issues with it,” Jane summarizes helpfully.

Tipper blinks. “Thank you, Jane. Well okay then. Harper, there is no reason that Abby cannot go out with her friends. Although Abby, are you sure hanging out with Riley Bennett is a wise idea?”

The look Harper gives her is pleading her to play nice with Tipper, but Abby is rather tired of playing nice. Instead she frowns and questions the older woman, “Why would hanging out with Riley not be a wise idea?”

“You know,” Tipper begins to explain, “With her lifestyle…"

Abby scoffs. “Her lifestyle? Tipper, Riley is gay. The same as Harper and myself. By all means, please explain to us what is wrong with her lifestyle?”

“Abby please,” Harper pleads, “I don’t think Mom--”

“Understands what the word ‘gay’ means?” Abby supplies before standing and picking up her phone, “Look, I’m going out tonight. Maybe by the time I’m allowed back here in the morning you can explain to everyone that Riley’s lifestyle is the same as our own and everyone should just fucking get over this high school ‘gang up on Riley’ bullshit already. Until then, if anyone needs me I’ll be somewhere with my friends. And that includes Riley.”

Harper looks like she’s about to cry, though Abby isn’t sure if it’s out of anger, frustration or something entirely different altogether. Jane looks like she’s in full support of Abby’s statement and Tipper? Tipper looks downright scandalized. 

Abby counts it as a win.

This time, she makes it to her hotel room before calling the doctor. It’s only a little past five, but she knows the other woman tends to run early. As she stretches out across the bed, she puts the phone on speakerphone and closes her eyes as it rings. 

“Hey Abs,” comes the sure, husky voice, “I was wondering when you’d call.” 

“Hey...I know it’s early but I was worried you’d forget.”

At this, Riley laughs. “Forget the biggest event outside of the Caldwell’s Christmas party? Never!”

“This feels like the days leading up to that party,” the weariness is noticeable in the blonde’s voice. “Where are you?”

There’s a thud and a “Sorry I dropped the phone” at the same time there’s a knock on the door. Abby contemplates ignoring it but knows whomever it is will just keep knocking. 

“It’s okay. There’s someone knocking on the door, give me a sec.” Abby opens the door intent on getting the person to move along as quickly as possible but a true grin spreads quickly across her face. “Oh my god, Riley! You’re here early!”

Riley smiles and barely has time to brace herself before Abby flings herself into the doctor’s arms, hugging her tightly. “Abs...Abs, I can’t breathe…”

“Oops, sorry,” Abby loosens her grip, but only barely. “I can’t believe you’re here. How are you here so early?”

“I traded shifts and worked last night, then got a solid six hours of sleep before driving. I’m all yours for the next four days, and well rested for shenanigans tonight!”

There’s a whole lot of somethings in that innocent statement that makes Abby’s head spin and her stomach do funny things. Instead of dwelling on it, she attributes it to not seeing the other woman in about a year and laughs. “How about we grab John now and go eat? If it’s not too early.”

“It’s never too early to drink! I mean eat. Actually,” she admits sheepishly, “I skipped lunch to get here sooner so I’m starving.” 

Abby shuts the door behind them and leads the brunette towards John’s room. He’s just as excited to see Riley, who immediately begins telling him about her new co-worker he would just love as they make the short trek to the diner. 

It’s not until they’re seated and halfway through the first round of drinks that he pins Riley with a curious gaze. “I thought you were bringing Sarah? It’s been what, almost a year? I wanted to see how well she fit in with our band of misfits!” 

Abby kicks him under the table, but Riley just shrugs. “We broke up a few days ago. Between my crazy hours and my aversion to discussing feelings or the future, she’d had enough.” 

“I see,” he replies sympathetically, but there’s a distinct tone of ‘I’m about to call you on your bullshit’ laced through his words. “And are those the reasons she gave or are those the reasons you’re sharing with us?”

“According to her, if you look up ‘emotional black hole,’ you’ll see my picture,” Riley responds, “and if you look up the definition of a bad girlfriend, you’ll find me as well. She felt I wasn’t giving her the attention I should give to my partner.” 

He hums thoughtfully. “We’ll come back to this later after a few more drinks. Particularly that last part.”

Dinner is spent discussing everything but the wedding. If Riley or John brings it up, Abby successfully manages to deflect and change the subject. By the time they make it to the Oxwood, all three are sufficiently tipsy enough to bust through the doors laughing, Harper and the upcoming nuptials the last thing on their minds.

Riley, though, is just sober enough to notice John watching her interactions with the blonde carefully. It’s unnerving, but she knows how protective he is of Abby so she pushes it to the back of her mind to be processed carefully once she’s back in her hotel room. She successfully manages to escape his interrogation until later but the moment Abby slips away to go to the bathroom, he corners her in a dimly lit corner off of the dance floor. 

“You’re in love with her.” 

Riley looks away. It’s not an accusation. It’s not even a question, and even if it were, she sees no sense in responding. They both know the truth and this, Abby , is the one thing she refuses to lie about. 

“She has no idea,” he tells her, as though she isn’t already acutely aware of that fact. As if that very fact hasn’t haunted her every waking moment for months now. “And I think she should know before she walks down that aisle. She deserves to know there are other options.”

“Not a chance. I have zero plans to tell her and John, you can’t tell her about this conversation either.” There’s only a hint of a threat in her voice. “She’s happy with Harper. Abby deserves happiness. I need her to be happy.” 

“Do you honestly think she’s happy with Tipper 2.0?”

Riley shakes her head. “I have to. That’s the only way I can make myself feel better about this situation.” 

John looks at her sadly. “Is that why Sarah ended things? Because she realized you were in love with someone else?”

“Yep,” Riley takes a drink of her beer, “She got tired of being third on the priority list. I can’t blame her, really. But Abby...Abby always comes first. She is the only thing I put before my job, and everyone realizes that but her. She’ll always be first, but in the end, it’ll mean absolutely nothing.”

John looks torn but in the end, he can’t keep the words to himself. “She’s in love with you too. She just doesn’t realize it yet.”

“John, don’t go there please,” she warns, “Abby is going to marry Harper and they’ll live happily ever after. I’m not coming between them. Promise me you won’t tell her any of this conversation.” 

“Well, I hate to tell you this, but the woman is already second-guessing the wedding. I think she’s finally seeing Harper will always be the scared little girl seeking her parents approval. You are the only thing Abby talks about with a smile on her face. I can’t tell you what Harper did last week, but I can tell you what happened on your shift yesterday if you’d like a recap. That woman is more excited about tonight than her own wedding. And that? I’m no expert on women but I’m certain that is not usual gal pal behaviour.” 

She knows he’s right, hates that he’s right, actually. But before she can reply, the blonde reappears in front of them. 

“Why do the two of you look like they just ran out of alcohol?” she questions suspiciously.

“No reason,” John replies smoothly, “There’s a woman over there checking Riley out and I was trying to get her to go dance with her.” 

Riley chokes on her beer but looks in the direction he’s indicating. Sure enough, there’s a blonde looking her way. “John! I just got dumped. Can I have a little time to grieve my failed relationship?”

“No,” the man replies stubbornly, “you may not.” 

“Leave her alone, John. Riley won’t get involved with anyone from her hometown in any form. Even I know that.”

John blinks slowly as he stares at the blonde. “Do tell, Abby, is there anything you don’t know about Riley?”

“Okay who wants another drink?” Riley interrupts.

Abby gives her a questioning look. “Ri, we literally just got drinks. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Riley replies, “And you know what? I’m going to go talk to that girl now.”

She has no intentions of actually approaching the woman John was referring to, but their discussion has left her rattled and she needs an escape. Abby knows her too well for her to keep up the facade that nothing is wrong. She disappears into the crowd leaving John to watch Abby staring at her retreating back. Sure enough, the blonde stranger wastes no time in approaching her. 

John says nothing as Abby frowns at the interaction, but when she gulps her drink down and moves towards the bar and orders whiskey, he quickly realizes the situation has all the makings to spiral quickly out of control. 

“Um, would you like to explain to me what is going on here?” he asks, reaching to remove the glass from her hand after she downs the first and immediately orders a second. “You’re drinking like the bar is about to run out of cheap-ass whiskey.” 

“That’s not cheap whiskey. Riley introduced me to it last time we were here.” 

“Right. So why are you drinking it like they’re about to run out of it?”

Abby tries to speak, but nothing comes out. She looks towards the dance floor and quickly locates the brunette who has progressed to dancing with the blonde. Shaking her head she drunkenly admits, “I don’t know what’s going on, but that.”

John waits, hoping she’ll explain further but when nothing is forthcoming he gestures wildly. “What about that, exactly?”

“I don’t know. I don’t like it. None of this makes sense,” she replies, frustration clear in her tone.

“Abs, is it possible that you might actually be jealous?”

“No,” Abby immediately replies, “Riley is my best friend. I’m marrying Harper. I have nothing to be jealous of.” 

Abby may not realize it, but John knows her well enough to detect the defensiveness in her voice. He watches her expressions carefully, waiting to see if the proverbial lightbulb comes on, but quickly realizes the blonde literally has no clue. So they sit in silence as he curses the notion of ‘useless lesbians’ and Abby quickly heads towards getting absolutely plastered until Riley reappears some time later.

“Hey, I need another drink. You guys want anything?”

John shakes his head frantically, “I think I’m good. And Abby is…”

“Abby is right here,” the blonde replies, her words coming a bit slower, “Where’d your date go Ri?”

Riley’s eyes widen and she glances to John questioningly when she realizes how drunk Abby is. John shrugs in reply. “Abs, maybe we should head back to the hotel.”

“You have your own room, you can take whomever you want back to your hotel.” Abby replies, motioning to the bartender for another drink. Riley quickly waves him off. 

“Yeah, I think you’re cut off for the night. You’re going to have a killer hangover in the morning and Harper is going to kill us for letting you get this wasted. John, I’ll settle our tab if you work on getting her outside?”

He nods, but John isn’t naive enough to think this situation is going to be pretty. Sure enough, he’s barely managed to maneuver a completely-wasted Abby outside to lean against the side of the building when she breaks.

“I can’t believe she’s taking someone home tonight.”

It’s quiet, so quiet John has to take a second look to make sure her lips are actually moving. He sighs. “Riley is paying our tab and going back to the hotel with us. I doubt she even knows what that girl’s name is.” 

“I’m going to lose her.”

That gets John’s attention and his eyebrows shoot halfway up his forehead. “Lose who, exactly?”

“Riley.” Abby’s eyes grow glassy with unshed tears. “Things are going to change and I can’t stop it. She was good with Sarah but I knew she was still there.”

The poor man does not know what to make of any of the rapidly deteriorating conversation and relief shows on his face when the doctor exits the bar. She takes one look at Abby, and his expression, and practically runs over. “What’s going on? Abs, you okay?”

Abby doesn’t say anything, but wraps her arm around Riley’s waist, leans heavily against her, and lays her head on her chest. In any other situation, John would laugh at the comical look of absolute fear on the brunette’s face. But like anything, Riley recovers quickly and pats the shorter woman on the back.

“Abs, we need to get you back to the hotel so you can sleep this off.”

“Can I go home with you?” It’s an innocent question, but Riley is sure her jaw is somewhere on the floor. From the look of it, John isn’t faring much better. 

“We’re taking you to your hotel room, but if you want, we’ll stay with you until you fall asleep.” Riley looks at John for confirmation, “See? John is up for a night cap too.” 

Somehow they get her back to her hotel room, but once the blonde is seated on the bed drinking a glass of water, she makes no effort to release Riley from her grasp. John leaves long enough to get ice, and the moment he’s out the door, Riley turns to Abby, concern obvious in her voice. “Abs, what brought this on? I’ve never seen you drunk like this before.” 

“I don’t want you to go.”

Riley’s confused but entertains the blonde’s drunken reply. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m here until Sunday, and by the time I head back to Baltimore, you’ll be on a plane to Hawaii, remember?”

“I don’t want to go to Hawaii,” Abby rests her head against the brunette’s shoulder. “I want to go back to Baltimore with you.’

The sound of the ice bucket clattering to the ground would shock Riley if she wasn’t already shocked into silence by Abby’s bombshell of an admission. She stares at John, willing him to say something, anything, to break the silence. 

“I’ll just….go get more ice?”

“John!” she hisses, “We don’t need more ice. Get in here and do something.”

“I don’t know what to do!” He all but shrieks, “They don’t teach this in ‘How to be Best Friends with a Useless Lesbian for Dummies!’”

If looks could kill, Riley is certain he’d be dead on the floor by the time he finished the sentence. Before she can reply though, Abby’s quiet voice breaks in. “Ri? I think I need to lay down.”

“Okay, that we can do,” Riley replies gently, extracting herself from Abby’s grip long enough to maneuver the other woman so she can lay down against the pillows. What she didn’t account for, however, was drunken-Abby insisting she lay next to her. “Abs, no. I can’t lay down with you. I need to go back to my own room.”

The pout that forms on the blonde’s face should be criminal, outlawed in all fifty states, Riley decides, as she looks to John for help. He just sighs and runs his hand over his chin. “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. Abby, you’re going to let Riley go back to her room. Then you and I are going to binge-watch RuPaul until we fall asleep.”

“I am absolutely not going to do that,” Abby replies stubbornly and with such a conviction John actually takes a step back. “Riley is staying here.”

He looks at the brunette apologetically. “I guess you’re staying here tonight then.”

“Thanks John,” Riley replies dryly as she lets Abby pull her down to sit on the bed, “So helpful as always.” 

She resigns herself to the fact she has little say in this situation and leans back against the headboard. Abby’s hand soon grasps the edge of her shirt and she stiffens, hoping the blonde doesn’t move closer. Glancing down at the smaller women, she lets out a sigh of relief when she realizes Abby has passed out. 

“John,” she whispers carefully, not wanting to disturb the sleeping woman, “What in the absolute fuck is happening?”

John shrugs helplessly. “All I know is she wasn’t happy about you and the blonde at the bar. She was already tipsy, but it was like a switch had flipped. We’ve had some wild nights, but I’ve never seen her drink hard liquor so quickly before.” 

“We both know I can’t stay here tonight. Even innocent, if I did Harper would kill both of us if she found out. I’ll stay another half hour or so and make sure she’s not going to wake up, but will you promise me you’ll spend the night here to make sure she’s okay? And if she wakes up, make sure she drinks more water.”

“I will, but do you think it’s a good idea for her to wake up and you not be here?”

Riley sighs, “At this point, the best thing we can do is hope she doesn’t remember any of this tomorrow morning.”

“Or you could grow a pair, as they say, and actually talk to her about everything she said tonight.”

“No,” she replies, an air of finality in her voice, “None of this gets talked about. Tomorrow morning she’ll wake up, not remember a word of this, and you’ll be here like nothing is amiss. I’m going to go to visit my parents like I had planned and pretend this didn’t happen.” 

He doesn’t say anything else, but she can see the disapproval in his gaze when she sneaks out of Abby’s grasp and slips out of the room an hour later. She barely manages to make it to her room before the tears begin to fall. 

t-3 days

Somehow Riley manages to wake up before seven and, rather than taking the risk of running into Abby or John, decides to head to her parents early. Her mother makes an excellent breakfast and she hasn’t been home in months to enjoy it, she rationalizes. It’s not until she’s inside the warmth of her family home and giving her father a hug that she feels she can finally relax.

“Hey kiddo. We didn’t expect you until later.”

“I know, I thought I’d sleep in after being out with Abby and John last night, but doctor’s hours and all. Here I am.” It’s enough of an explanation that they don’t question it and she breathes a sigh of relief. 

Her mother wastes no time grabbing a third plate and coffee cup. “Do you want chocolate chip or blueberry pancakes?” 

“Chocolate chip? And can you…”

“Make them in the shape of a smiley face? Yes. I know how you like your pancakes, Riley. I only raised you for 18 years.” Her mother playfully scolds. 

Riley says nothing as she listens to her parent’s small talk and drinks her coffee. She’s quiet throughout breakfast, the events of the prior night weighing heavily on her mind despite trying to erase them from her memory. It’s not until her dad excuses himself and her mom refills her coffee cup up again that she realizes just how out of touch she’s been during breakfast.

“How was your night out with John and Abby?” her mother asks and while Riley can tell she’s not being nosey, the simple question makes her feel like she’s in the hot seat.

“Fine. Breakfast was as good as I remember.” She tries to change the topic but realizes her error when the motherly look her mother sends her way clearly says she isn’t buying what her daughter is trying to sell.

“Riley, you know I’m not one to pry,” Helen notices her daughter’s raised eyebrow and quickly continues, “ much , but Tipper doesn’t seem to want you at the wedding. You’re not friends with Harper and the only thing you ever talk about on the phone is Abby. You hardly mentioned Sarah, and I can’t get you to come home to visit at all, yet you took this week off the moment you found out she was getting married. But I’m also your mother and know very well that you had been crying when you called me that day and now you’re acting very cagey about last night. So I have to ask, do you and Abby have something going on behind Harper’s back?”

“No! God no! How could you even think I’d do that to someone or ask Abby to do that to Harper?”

“I didn’t think so.” Helen reaches across the table and covers Riley’s hand with her own, “Which leads to my next question. You’re in love with Abby, aren’t you?”

Riley stares at her coffee cup, willing herself not to tear up. Finally she scoffs bitterly. “Am I that obvious? Does everyone know?”

“Oh honey,” Helen moves to wrap Riley in a tight hug, “not everyone knows. I’m your mother, I just know these things.”

Wrapped in her mother’s safe embrace, Riley lets the tears fall. Her mother rubs her back until the tears subside and she pulls back and thanks the make-up gods for waterproof mascara. “She was something to me from the first time I met her. She was so easy to open up to and I felt like she really saw me. For the first time someone actually understood me and seemed to like what they saw. I didn’t think I’d hear from her again after that Christmas but we started talking and couldn’t stop.”

“And along the way, you fell for her.”

“Yep,” Riley confirms, “It was impossible not to and I thought it was all in my head. She's never led me on or done anything wrong; she’s totally in love with Harper.”

“But?” Helen prompts.

Riley’s eyes fall to her coffee once again. “Abby’s having doubts about the wedding. And before you ask, no, I have no part in this. I’ve been encouraging her to see this wedding through and not kill Tipper in the process. Last night at dinner John and I were talking and he called me out on being in love with her. Flash forward to the bar, and I was dancing with this random woman that showed interest. Abby got completely wasted and informed us she didn’t want to go on her honeymoon but instead wanted to go back to Baltimore with me. That was followed-up with her demanding I stay in her room-- which I didn’t. I left her with John and then came here this morning.” 

The silence that comes after is unnerving and Riley debates for just a second before continuing. “John told me last night he thinks Abby is in love with me but she doesn’t realize it. I thought he was full of it, but her reaction last night makes me think there may have been some truth in his words.” 

“Oh wow. I had my suspicions, but this is so much more complicated than I thought,” Helen admits. 

“It doesn’t matter. She was so drunk she won’t remember last night. Saturday, I’ll watch her promise forever to Harper and then I’ll go back to Baltimore and get on with my life.” 

Her mother raises her eyebrow. “And then in a few years when Abby realizes she made a mistake what are you going to do? Take her to the Oxwood and let her drown her sorrows when you could have stopped it from happening to begin with?”

“She made her decision, Mom. She proposed to Harper. I was never in the equation for her.”

“You keep telling yourself that,” her mother pats her hand, “but I don’t buy it for a minute. You are a variable in this equation whether you like it or not. I just hope that you know what you’re doing, and I hope Abby does the right thing.”

She feels her eyes burning again and shakes her head. “Mom, can we please talk about something else?”

For once, her mother doesn’t argue and changes the topic to discuss local happenings until Riley’s phone beeps with two messages right after one another. She frowns as she fishes the device out of her pocket. The first text, She doesn’t remember anything from last night, is from John and she isn’t sure if she’s disappointed or relieved. 

The second text, Brunch at 11? Sloane and Harper are coming too. is obviously from Abby and she quickly replies to let her know she can’t make it. She follows it up with an explanation that she’s with her parents and leaves it at that. 

Across town, Abby and John are at the diner waiting for Harper and Sloane to arrive. Rubbing her temples, Abby looks pleadingly at John. “Are you sure I didn’t do anything stupid last night? Why did you let me drink that much?!” 

“I tried to stop you!” He protests. “You weren’t having it. Riley finally had to tell the bartender to cut you off.”

“Why didn’t Riley stop me before I got to that point?” Abby whines.

“Because the hot doctor had a female friend keeping her company on the dance floor.” It might be a baited statement, but John watches her reaction carefully. The furrowed brow highlights her confusion, but the frown tells even more.

“Riley met someone? Is that why she didn’t hang out with us last night in my room? I guess it would explain why she’s too busy for brunch this morning.”

John watches her work through the rationale in her head before putting her out of her misery. “She didn’t take her back to the hotel. Abby, you look like someone kicked your puppy. You know I love you and want to see you happy, but hon, you have to stop focusing on this wedding long enough to consider yourself and what you want.” 

Before Abby can question what he means, Harper and Sloane arrive. Sloane has her ever-present “I’m bored” look on her face, but she takes a seat next to John and starts up a conversation of small talk and pleasantries. It’s a weird alliance that formed over the months of wedding planning and the blonde learned quickly not to question it. Abby stands up to greet her fiance with a quick kiss, but Harper leans away. 

“Late night? You look like you haven’t gotten any sleep.”

Abby shrugs. “Actually I got plenty of sleep. I just had plenty of alcohol too.” 

Harper rolls her eyes as she pulls out a chair. “And now you’re hungover and in a foul mood. Did you decide on the wedding dress?” 

“Harper, I very much doubt Riley is to blame for your adult fiance getting drunk last night,” Sloane replies, rolling her eyes. “Nor do I think the entire restaurant needs to hear your argument.” 

Ignoring Sloane despite agreeing with her on both points, Abby can feel her patience slipping and mentally counts to ten before replying. “Harper, I told you and Tipper already, I have my suit and that’s what I’m wearing. I don’t want to keep discussing this.” 

“Of course you don’t!” Harper retorts, “You’d rather stay out half the night with my ex.” 

“What is your issue with my friendship with Riley?! We’re getting married in three days, Harper. THREE DAYS. You either trust me to hang out with my friends, or you don’t. It’s that simple.” She grabs a few bills from her pocket and throws them on the table. “For the last time, if we’re getting married, I’m wearing the suit I bought months ago. If you need me, text me. But now? I’m going to the Bennett’s to say hi to Helen and Rich and to hang out with Riley.”

With that, Abby flees the diner, Harper following soon after. Sloane and John watch them continue their argument in the parking lot through the glass window. 

“Do you think they realize yet that this wedding absolutely should not happen?” Sloane finally asks as she steals a french fry from John’s plate and pops it in her mouth. 

John rests his chin on his palm. “I wish. I honestly don’t know if I should just kidnap Abby and refuse to let her show up for the wedding, or mentally prepare to peel her off a bar floor when they divorce in five years.” 

“Five years is very optimistic. I give them two. Take it from someone who’s divorced, kidnap her. As much as I love my kids, I wish someone had done that for me years ago,” Sloane declares. “But I have no idea how to stop my sister from making the same mistake I did.” 

“Abby won’t call off the wedding. In her mind, Harper is still the one.” 

Sloane reaches across the table to steal another fry. “Harper won’t call it off because she’s terrified my mother will kill her. Which honestly? She might and I’m a corporate lawyer, not a defense attorney so I don’t think I’d be much help in that situation. Speaking of which, before you leave, can I talk to you about the contract for Jane’s next book?”

“Sure. Why not discuss it now instead of debating the countless ways Saturday’s festivities could rival Christmas 2020?”

“Well,” Sloane replies thoughtfully, “As long as I don’t have a painting of Jesus smashed over my head, I wouldn’t mind a little drama.”

The conversation shifts to contracts and negotiations as they ignore the two women still arguing in the parking lot. The argument finally ends when Harper storms off towards Sloane’s car. Abby doesn’t hesitate before pulling out her phone and is only mildly thankful Harper didn’t demand her car keys back.

Are you still at your parents? Can I come say hi?

The reply, as always, is nearly immediate. Of course. Mom says she has a cheesecake in the fridge with your name on it. 

It makes the blonde smile that Riley’s mom is so thoughtful. I love your mom. I’ll be there in 15. 

When Abby finally makes it to Bennett's, the argument with Harper is nearly forgotten. Her friendship with the doctor’s parents is an odd one; the second Caldwell Family Christmas she attended was nearly as awkward as the first with her watching from the sidelines, but the Bennett’s went out of their way to make sure she was never by herself too long. After that, she’s known for sending Helen random trinkets she finds around Pittsburgh and Helen sends her homemade cookies made from family recipes in return. Now, she’s barely made it to the front door before it’s opened and she’s pulled into a hug from the older woman.

“Abby! I haven’t seen you since Christmas!” 

“I know! I thought I’d have a chance to swing by before now, but it’s been a busy week,” she admits, smiling at Riley over her mother’s shoulder. “Hey Ri.”

Helen ushers her into the kitchen and steers her to the seat next to her daughter. “Let me get the cheesecake! I have vanilla ice cream for you too. Riley, do you want a slice of cheesecake too?” 

“I love how I’m her actual child here and I’m an afterthought.” Riley complains playfully. 

“If you ever decide you don’t want your mom, I’ll adopt her,” Abby teases, leaning over to bump her shoulder against the brunette’s. Riley just rolls her eyes.

“I’m not giving up her chocolate chip pancakes, sorry.”

“Girls, I have enough baked goods and cooking skills for you to share,” Helen replies as she slides two plates in front of the women. “But Abby, tell us how the wedding festivities are going! Are you ready for Saturday?”

Abby bites her lip and the Bennett women can see her walls going up. Finally she shrugs. “Not really? I mean, I want to marry Harper obviously. I just wish the wedding felt more like ours. Like I actually had a say in it.” 

“Ah, Tipper controlling everything?” 

“As expected,” Abby replies, but there’s a sadness in her voice that she can’t hide. “I don’t even know what the reception playlist is anymore, much less what food we’re serving at the rehearsal dinner. I guess I always thought my wedding would be different. I knew after my parents died I’d never have that dream wedding, but isn’t that part of getting married? Their family becomes your family?”

“Knowing Tipper? You’re eating steak and lobster, I’m sure,” Riley interjects, pushing her cheesecake around her plate.

Helen gives her daughter a scolding look, “Riley, why don’t you take your dad a piece of cheesecake and cup of coffee? He’s in his office.”

Once her daughter is out of the room, the older woman takes a seat across from Abby. “I got married seven years after my mother passed away when I was 28. I understand what it’s like to not have your mother there on your big day, and I’m sure watching your soon-to-be wife celebrate that with Tipper is especially hard.”

“It is,” Abby admits, “I don’t hold it against Harper, obviously. But I wish at some point they’d at least include me in my own wedding? I’m pretty sure in Tipper’s mind my only role is to be at the church at ten o’clock on Saturday morning.”

“Forgive me if I’m overstepping, but you really don’t seem excited about your wedding,” Helen says gently, “and I’m not saying you should be doing cartwheels in the street. But honey, the only excitement I’ve seen from you today is when you saw that cheesecake and when you saw my daughter.”

There’s a nagging feeling in the back of Abby’s brain that tells her she’s missing something. Like it’s right in front of her, but still just slightly out of reach. She frowns, but recovers quickly. “I’ve never had cheesecake like yours in all my life! Everyone should be so happy when they have it in front of them!”

Helen recognizes the deflection and lets it go. “If you need anything Abby, wedding related or otherwise, I want you to know you can reach out to me. I don’t mind at all.” 

“You don’t mind what?” Riley quizzes as she walks back into the room, “Dad says next time don’t skimp on his ice cream, by the way.” 

“Of course he did. Abby, do you have plans today?”

“Not unless Harper decides something needs to be changed.”

“Riley, why don’t you take Abby to the mall for a little retail therapy? It might be good to get her mind off wedding stuff for a while,” Helen suggests. 

Riley swallows, knowing she has no reasonable explanation to disobey her mother’s request. “What do you say, Abs? Want to spend the day with me shopping, or do you have things you need to do?”

“Will you protect me from mall cops?” Abby teases. 

“Obviously. Why else do I pay for a gym membership?” It’s dry and comes with an eye roll, but it makes the blonde smile just the same. 

“Let’s do it. I need to try to find a necklace or something anyways, according to Tipper.” 

As they say goodbye to Helen and pile into Riley’s car, it’s not lost on either of them that three days out from the wedding, they’re spending all the time they can together.

 

t-2 days

When Abby wakes up on Thursday morning, it’s not from her phone ringing, or car horns in the hotel parking lot, or even loud guests in the hallway. Instead, she’s woken by an anxiety-ridden dream she can’t quite remember that leaves her shaken. The nagging in the back of her brain is louder now and she reaches for her phone. But as her finger hovers over Riley’s name, she hesitates. 

The recognition that she’s getting married in two days hits her and she drops her phone back to the bed. She realizes she’s been unfair to Riley. Riley, who had a girlfriend up until a few days ago. Riley, who’s going through a breakup, yet still makes time to listen to whatever rant Abby has about Tipper, Harper or the wedding. Riley, who has been Abby’s rock for the last year and a half and provided the emotional support Harper hasn’t. Riley, who’s been the person for her that Harper should have been. 

That realization leaves her gasping for breath. Suddenly, the questions and need for answers becomes too much and she’s falling out of bed and into the first presentable clothes she can find. A few minutes later, she’s banging on Riley’s hotel room door, uncaring that it’s only a little after eight and the older woman is likely still asleep. When Riley answers the door in short pajama shorts and a very thin t-shirt, hair sticking out in different directions, Abby pauses only long enough to rethink this decision. 

But the need for answers is too much and she pushes past the confused brunette and into the room. 

“Abs? Is something wrong?”

“Why did Sarah break up with you?” she asks without preamble, her gaze pinning Riley in place.

Riley swallows. “I told you. She was tired of me putting other things ahead of her. She said I wasn’t emotionally available and that I wasn’t a good girlfriend. What is this about, Abs?”

“No,” Abby replies, shaking her head, “Before, you said she told you you were invested in someone else. Who is it?”

“Abby, it’s barely eight in the morning. Can’t we talk about this-”

“Riley. Who is it?”

The doctor is keenly aware it’s unhealthy for her heart to be beating at the pace it is and knows a panic attack is on the horizon if she doesn’t get it under control. Closing her eyes, she mentally counts to ten. She’s about to try for twenty when Abby’s quiet voice breaks through her thoughts.

“It’s me, isn’t it?”     

Squeezing her eyes closed, she briefly considers lying. But this is Abby and that option is discarded as quickly as it appeared. Finally, she opens her eyes and locks eyes with the blonde. “It’s always been you. You are the one person I prioritize over literally everything. But Abby, it doesn’t matter.” 

“What? Of course it matters,” Abby replies disbelievingly, “I had no idea, Ri.”

Riley shakes her head. “You weren’t meant to know. We shouldn’t even be having this conversation. You’re getting married in two days. You are going to stand at the front of the church and Harper is going to walk down the aisle to you in her probably-over-the-top white dress and the two of you will say ‘I do’ and you’ll live happily ever after.”

“And what about you? What about your happiness?” Abby questions softly.

“I’ll go back to Baltimore and keep on saving lives. Over time, our calls will become shorter and shorter. Eventually, maybe we remember to send a Christmas card or run into each other at the Caldwell’s Christmas party. In a few years, I’ll transfer to a new hospital, maybe on the West Coast. Maybe along the way I’ll meet someone or maybe I end up getting a cat instead. Maybe my happiness doesn’t include settling down. Maybe my job is enough for me.”

“By marrying Harper, I’m going to lose you.” 

“No, Abby,” Riley sighs, “You’re not going to lose me. I’m always going to be there for you when you need me. But things will change. You’ll turn to Harper more; it’s natural. It’s to be expected that you turn to your wife rather than me.” 

“I don’t want things to change,” Abby admits quietly.

“Abs, you’re getting married. And with that, knowing you’re happy and got what you wanted in life, maybe...maybe I can move on.”

When Abby looks at Riley, really looks at her, she realizes just how much those words pain the brunette. She realizes she’s looking at a side of Riley very few has ever been allowed to see. That it’s highly probable she’s the only person ever allowed to see this vulnerable, heartbroken side of the doctor. And then it hits her that this isn’t just a crush on the other woman’s part and she’d swear her heart skipped a beat.

“You’re in love with me.” 

The sadness surrounds Riley like a blanket and now Abby can see the unshed tears in her eyes. “I’ll be there Saturday for your big day like I promised you I would, if you still want me there. Or I’ll leave today and go back to Baltimore. I’ll do anything else you ask of me. But Abby, I’m begging you, please, please don’t make me say it.”

“Riley, I am so, so sorry.” Abby is so overwhelmed with confusion and emotion she isn’t even sure what she’s apologizing for. It could be for being oblivious all this time. It could be because she can’t return the feelings the doctor so plainly has for her. Or, it could be just the general state of chaos they’ve suddenly found themselves in. Whatever it is, she can’t put a name to it yet but it leaves her reeling. 

“You should probably go,” Riley says carefully, “I’m sure you have a list of things Tipper needs you to do today.” 

It’s a subtle request, bordering on short, but the one thing Riley refuses to do is break down in front of the blonde. She’s well aware that between the feeling of her heart shattering in her chest and the knowledge that their friendship is irrevocably damaged now that her secret is out, she’s about to fall apart. Abby can’t be present for that; it would simply destroy the doctor.

“Riley..”

“Abby, please. I need time. Please.”

The blonde looks like she wants to protest, but at the last minute she walks past the taller woman. When she looks at Riley one last time, the brunette pretends not to notice the unshed tears. Before she allows herself to fall apart, she sends a quick text to John. 

Abby knows. Take care of her please. 

She’s surprised when his response is a simple, Are you okay?, but she doesn’t reply. She’s not sure what he would do if she were honest and told him no. Besides, Abby needs him more anyways. Turning her phone on silent, she curls up on the bed and lets the tears fall.

Abby, unsettled as she is, spends the day brooding at the Caldwell’s home. If Harper notices something is amiss, she doesn’t mention it and Abby isn’t sure if she’s grateful or annoyed by that. John tiptoes around her like she’s a volcano waiting to explode, and even Tipper steers clear. Finally, it’s Sloane of all people that calls it out.

“Abby, for someone who’s getting married soon, you don’t seem happy. Neither of you do.”

Harper scoffs, “What is that supposed to mean?”

“Just what I said,” Sloane doesn’t back down. “The week before my wedding, Eric and I were on cloud nine. The two of you hardly talk to each other. You both look like your dog just died which says a lot since neither of you have a dog. Do the two of you even want to get married?”

“What?! Of course they do!” Tipper interjects, but Sloane isn’t a talented, in-demand lawyer for nothing.

“Mother, I’m not talking to you,” comes her sharp, court-room voice, “Harper, Abby. Do the two of you even want to get married this weekend?”

“Fucking finally,” John mutters, but the glare Tipper levels on him sends him scrambling behind Sloane for protection. 

“Of course we want to get married!” Harper screeches, “What kind of question is that?”

Sloane ignores her and faces Abby. “Abby? Your answer please.”

All Abby can think of is the look on Riley’s face as she begged her not to make her admit she was in love with her. She thinks back to the very first time it felt like she melted into the doctor’s side like she was born to fit there, how it had never quite felt the same when she did the same with Harper. But seeing Sloane’s expectant gaze, waiting on an answer? All she can do is shake her head.

“I don’t know.”

“Oh.” Sloane softens at the admission. “Alright, that’s perfectly okay too.”

“No it is not!” Tipper exclaims, “Abby, do you know how many people are flying in for this wedding? How much time and mo--”

“Mother, enough!” Sloane’s sharp voice breaks through again, “You’re not going to bully anyone into getting married. Wasn’t one divorce for this family enough?”

Abby looks helplessly at Harper, who looks absolutely lost. Her voice is small and it makes the blonde feel even worse. “You don’t want to marry me?”

“Harper, this week has been a confusing mess. This entire wedding planning experience has been a mess. I think I just need a little break from all the planning.”

“Okay,” Tipper concedes, “We can work with this. Abby, I can understand this all might be a little overwhelming. Why don’t you and John go do something this afternoon and we’ll see you tomorrow around four to get ready for the rehearsal dinner? There’s really not much else for you to do around here anyways.” 

Abby isn’t sure that’s going to fix anything and from the look on Sloane’s face, she doesn’t either. Nonetheless, Abby agrees and soon finds herself sitting alongside John in his car. 

“Do you want to call Riley and see if she’s free?” he questions, “We have plenty of time to drink today.”

“No, can we go to that lake she took us to last year for July 4th weekend?”

John types into his phone and soon the automated voice is guiding them to their destination. Once the car is parked and they’re sitting next to the water, Abby breaks the silence.

“Riley is in love with me.”

“What? She is?” John swallows and pretends to be shocked. “Did she tell you that?”

Judging by Abby’s eye roll, he knows he didn’t fool her. Her tone shows she isn’t angry with him, but she sounds just as broken as she looks. “How long have you known?”

“I found out the night we went to the bar. You weren’t meant to know.”

“I can’t believe I never noticed,” Abby admits, “We’re so close and yet I missed something so huge.”

John shifts so he’s facing her. “Do you remember anything from that night at the bar?”

“Honestly no. I remember us arriving and a drink or two, but then the next thing I remember is waking up feeling alone. Like I had fallen asleep next to someone but they left overnight.” 

“You fell asleep holding onto Riley’s shirt,” he explains gently. “Prior to that, you got extremely drunk off expensive whiskey that Riley once introduced you to because you were unhappy she was dancing with another woman. In the middle of those two events, you told her you didn’t want to go on your honeymoon to Hawaii with Harper and wanted to go home with her to Baltimore instead.” 

Abby is silent as she processes the words. “I don’t know what to do. I’ve dreamed about marrying Harper for so long and now that it’s within my grasp, I’m not sure I want it anymore. We’ve changed so much and I’m not sure we’re the same people. I’m not sure we’re good for each other. God, I don’t even fit in with her family.”

“Do you love her?”

She doesn’t answer until John nudges her. She stares out across the water. “Which her?”

“Oh honey, the fact you even have to ask that question should tell you all you need to know.” 

They sit in silence until Abby’s stomach growls and she checks the time. “What do you say to going back to the hotel, ordering pizza and watching mindless TV?”

They do exactly that, but without Riley, watching RuPaul isn't the same. Neither comments on it, but it’s obvious Abby is miles away lost in her own mind until she finally falls asleep. 

 

t-1 day

The next day is much of the same; John makes sure she eats and has everything ready for the rehearsal dinner, but it’s obvious her heart isn’t into and she’s simply going through the motions. Her calls with Harper are brief and after one in particular in which she asked the other woman if they could meet up and talk before the dinner, she turns to him with an odd look on her face.

“You know, I can’t remember the last time Harper prioritized me.” 

He frowns, “What do you mean?"

“Just what I said. Something is always more important; her mother, her work, something she wants to do. Even when she says I have her attention, I really don’t. This is the week before our wedding and I really thought at some point she would have at least tried to sneak out and come to my hotel. But she’s too afraid of not doing what her mother wants her to. That, keeping up appearances, is more important than me. It’s just something that hit me I guess.” 

They arrive at the dinner on time per Tipper’s schedule and she quickly finds Harper. Her hand falls to her fiance’s waist and she leans in for a kiss but once again, Harper rebuffs her effort. 

“Abby, we have so much we have to do before people get here. Can you check with Jane to see if the caterers have everything they need?”

“Can you not take two seconds to give me a kiss?” It’s meant to be a question, but it comes out as an accusation. Harper, however, is already across the room. 

“If you want to call the wedding off, I’ll sneak you out the back door,” Sloane’s voice comes from behind her.

Abby bristles, “I’m not calling the wedding off. Harper and I are getting married tomorrow. I’m sorry your marriage didn’t work out, Sloane, but ours will.”

As she stomps off in the direction of the kitchen, she’s not sure who she’s upset with anymore. At this point, she just wants the wedding to be over with so she can get back to her normal life with Harper and zero expectations from Tipper Caldwell. 

The evening turns out to be pretty non-eventful. Abby gets out of her head long enough to play the happy bride and Harper plays the perfect fiance and daughter. If Abby finds herself wishing Riley was around for perfectly timed comedic relief, she doesn’t mention it to anyone. She doesn’t look at her phone until the last guest leaves, and if she’s disappointed not to have a waiting text from the brunette, she tries not to let it show.

Back at the hotel, John drops her off at her room and she rejects his offers to hang around for more mindless television. She plays the evening, the week even, through her mind on a repeat loop until she’s numb and her eyes are heavy. But when the sun begins to shine through the window, she realizes she’s getting married in approximately five hours and has gotten exactly zero sleep. 

In a moment of clarity (or weakness, depending on how she chooses to look at it), she sends a quick text to Riley.

If I asked you to meet me for breakfast, would you?

As always, the reply is immediate. Anything for you. Though nothing is open at the moment and I look like shit so maybe we could aim for 7 instead of 5 in the morning.

She doesn’t reply and Riley doesn’t follow up. She does, however, close her eyes and manage to get a couple of hours of sleep.

 

t-0

John makes sure she’s awake by eight, has breakfast by nine, and out the door and on the way to the church within a reasonable amount of time. Once there, she changes into her suit and makes smalltalk with John. A knock at the door interrupts their conversation, and John opens it to reveal a smiling Helen who greets him with a hug before moving into the room.

“Abby! You look dashing!” She compliments her right before she pulls her into a hug as well. “I’m sorry to interrupt. I figured you’d rather see Riley, but I couldn’t get her to bring this to you.”

“Riley’s here?”

Helen laughs, “Of course she’s here. I hope I didn’t overstep here, but all brides should have a little something on their wedding day. I assumed Tipper and the Caldwell’s wouldn’t take you into consideration, so I took the liberty, if it’s okay with you.”

“Aww,” John can’t help but interrupt, “That is so sweet!”

Abby’s hands cover her mouth. “Helen, you didn’t have to.”

“Nonsense, we wanted to,” the older woman replies as she opens her purse and pulls out a thin jewelry box. “Riley mentioned you couldn’t find a necklace the other day at the mall so we checked out another smaller store downtown. Riley had input, so hopefully you like it.”

Her hands are shaking as Abby carefully takes the box and opens it. On the plush velvet lies a white gold, delicate chain with a stone-encrusted circle pendant dangling from it. She gasps and runs her fingers over the chain. 

“I love this, but it’s too much,” she begins, only to be shushed by the other woman.

“Nonsense. We care about you, Abby, and we hope even after the wedding you stay in touch and remember our door is always open to you. Now, if you’ll turn around, I’ll fasten it and get out of your hair so you can finish getting ready.”

Abby does as told and lingers when she embraces the older woman. Before she leaves though, Abby can’t help but inquire. “Helen? Why didn’t Riley come with you?”

Helen gives her a small, sad smile. “I think we both know why, dear.” 

She’s left staring after the other woman with her hand covering the necklace when John breaks the silence. “The Bennett family thinks a lot of you.”

“I think I’ve made a mistake.”

Fucking finally! John celebrates in his head but schools his expression to one of neutral confusion. “What mistake would that be?”

“I don’t know if I can marry Harper.” 

“Normally I’d congratulate you for finally realizing what Sloane and I have been trying to get you to realize for awhile now, but you couldn’t have realized this, oh I don’t know, at some point before you’re due to stand in the front of a church in five minutes?”

Before she can reply there’s a knock on the door and they’re both pulled into wedding festivities. She’s still processing what she should do when John steers her to the appropriate spot at the front of the audience. She glances across the room to where she knows the Bennett’s are seated. Helen and Rich both smile at her and she relishes in the fact that at least she has a few people in the audience she considers family. 

But then she sees Riley. The doctor is in her usual pants and blazer attire, but the sheer black lace shirt she’s wearing under the jacket gives her the usual edge she carries when she’s in her hometown. She’s smiling, but when their eyes meet Abby can see the pain she’s trying so desperately to hide.

She’s also keenly aware she would do anything to take that pain away. Even if it hurts Harper in the process.

Deep down, she knows Riley would never ask her not to go through with the wedding. She knows the brunette would rather, and is planning to, sit back and watch her promise someone else forever and not say a damn word. That, once again, she’s made Abby her priority, even over her own self-interests and desires. Suddenly, even as the wedding music begins to play, everything is crystal clear. 

“John, I really can’t do this.” 

“What?!” He tries to keep his voice to a whisper, “The wedding just started and now you realized you actually can't go through with it?!”

Harper and Ted come into view and Abby can’t help but glance back at Riley. She shakes her head, “That is exactly what I am saying. I’ve fucked up big time.” 

“Oh honey, I think that’s about to be an understatement.” 

By now Harper and Ted have made it to the front and John’s eyes are wide as he shoots Sloane, who looks like she’d rather be anywhere else, a frantic look. 

“Abs?” Harper whispers, “Is everything okay? You look like you’re going to pass out.” 

“I can’t do this.”

“What do you mean you can’t do this?” Ted’s deep voice booms across the room just as the music ends.

“Harper, I’m sorry. We shouldn’t get married.”

“Abby! What in the world?” Tipper’s voice increases with each word as she arrives at the front of the church. “This is your wedding! Now is not the time for this.”

“Actually, Mother. This is the perfect time for this, if you overlook all the times I tried to tell everyone this damn wedding was a horrible idea before we got to this point,” Sloane interjects. 

John shifts away from Abby and towards Sloane, fully aware that’s likely the safest place to be should Tipper decide to completely lose it.    

“Sloane! Who’s side are you on here?” Tipper questions.

Sloane crosses her arms. “My own, actually. Because I do not want my little sister going through a divorce like I did. Nor do I want to have to be the one handling said divorce.”

Abby ignores them and looks sadly at Harper. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize it until five minutes before we walked out here. I love you, but I’m not in love with you. And if you’re honest with yourself, you’re not in love with me either. Not the way we should be to go through with this wedding.”

Harper knows she’s right. She knows Sloane is right, though it would pain her to admit that to her sister, but her voice is soft with sadness just the same. “What changed this morning?”

“I didn’t realize...I’ve never…” frustration bleeds into her voice as she tries to formulate her thoughts, but in the split second she glances over at Riley, Harper catches her gaze and shakes her head. 

“I’ve never been your best friend.” Harper gives an understanding smile, “And you’re in love with your best friend.”

She knows she could easily deny it. Probably should in the name of keeping peace and not hurting Harper, or infuriating Tipper, further. But she watches as a triad of hurt, hope and fear play across the doctor’s face for a moment before turning back to face Harper. “I swear, Harper, nothing has happened. I didn’t even realize it until this morning. But Riley…”

There’s a collective gasp in the room and Abby watches as Riley’s hand comes up to cover her mouth. She knows it’s cruel to put the brunette through being in the middle of a public spectacle in her hometown again, and can only pray the other woman will forgive her when she mouths I’m sorry to her.

“You know,” Riley’s shaky voice betrays her as she stands, “I’m just gonna go...” 

“I told you that woman was bad news!” Tipper exclaims, throwing her hands up, “And now she’s ruined a wedding!”

“Oh Mother, shut up!” Sloane scolds, rolling her eyes as usual. “God, do I have to do everything in this family? Abby, what are you waiting for?”

“What am I waiting for?” Abby questions.

“You just stopped your wedding to Harper for the woman who just walked out of the church to probably leave town and never return if she has even so much as half a brain. Go after her, you idiot.”  

She glances at John who shrugs. “I’d do what she says, actually.”

“Go after her, Abby.” This time, it’s Harper who lays her hand on Abby’s arm and nods. “Sloane’s right. You are right. We love each other, but we’re not in love and it’s neither of our faults. And, for the record, I don’t blame you or think you did anything wrong.”

She feels guilty for leaving John behind in probably-dangerous Tipper territory, but it doesn’t stop her from walking outside the church and looking around for Riley’s car. It’s nowhere to be found and she mentally curses her luck. The Oxwood- always the safe bet to find Riley and within walking distance- is closed, and John had driven them to the church and she doesn’t have his car keys. Something tells her the doctor wouldn’t go back to the hotel, also within walking distance, but nothing is certain at the moment.

“She’s probably up at the lake,” Rich’s voice comes from behind her. His arm is wrapped around Helen’s shoulders and just the sight of them makes Abby feel a bit calmer. “She likes to go there when she’s upset or the world gets too much.”

Abby nods her thanks, but when she doesn’t leave Helen gives her a questioning look. “I don’t have Harper’s car and I really don’t want to go back in there to get John’s keys.”

“Oh,” Helen replies understandingly, “Come on then. We’ll give you a ride. Riley has her car so you can ride back with her.”     

“That’s assuming she wants me anywhere near her after what I just did,” Abby mutters. “I can’t imagine she’ll be thrilled at me turning her into another pillar in the hometown gossip mill.”

“You didn’t make her watch the woman she loves marry someone else,” Helen counters. “I think you might find that will give you more points with her.”

She’s quiet until Rich pulls into the parking lot next to Riley’s car. After thanks and goodbyes are exchanged, she starts down the path that will lead her to the doctor. 

Outside in the summer heat, Riley has shed her blazer in favour of the sleeveless shirt underneath and Abby, still unnoticed, can’t help but pause to enjoy the sight of the brunette’s tan, toned arms. The doctor’s heels have been discarded and she’s sitting in the sand staring out across the water.

“You’re probably ruining your outfit,” she calls out as she approaches the brunette. 

Riley doesn’t look her way but her husky voice carries across the short distance. “It’ll wash.”

Ignoring her own suit, Abby takes a seat next to her in the sand. “I have so much I need to say, but I’m not even sure where to begin.”

“Will you just tell me why?” Riley whispers. “There is no way Tipper will ever forgive you for that.”

“I don’t care if Tipper forgives me or not. I care if you forgive me for putting our business out there in front of nearly the entire town.”

“You forget I’m used to being the talk of the town,” Riley’s voice is resigned. “Never quite expected to be the reason why the town’s one and only lesbian wedding fell apart though.”

Abby takes a deep breath. “That’s not on you. Harper and I fell out of love and neither of us realized it.”

“You left her at the altar because of me.”

“Actually I think we left each other at the altar. I was just the one to speak up first. God, Riley. I don’t even know where to begin to apologize to you.”

The doctor turns to look at her for the first time, a look of confusion on her face. “Why would you apologize to me?”

“For so many things. I’m sorry for not realizing sooner that what we have is stronger than friendship; between Harper and Sarah I never once let myself even consider the possibility we could be something more than friends. I’m sorry for not realizing you were always prioritizing me even when it was hurting you. You are the only person who has ever put me first and I didn’t even realize it. And Riley, I am so, so sorry for putting you through watching me nearly marry Harper before I realized it’s you I’m in love with.” 

Riley closes her eyes and tries to remember how to breathe. Finally she takes a shuddery breath and finds the courage to look at the blonde. “I didn’t realize it until Sarah brought it up a few months after we started dating. Sure, I knew we were close but I don’t exactly have a lot of close lesbian friendships to compare us to. Once she brought it up, I was afraid you’d figure it out and everything would shatter. I thought I was good about hiding it, but both my mother and John figured it out.” 

“Would you have ever told me?”

“No,” Riley says with finality. “There is absolutely zero chance that would have happened. I want you to be happy.” 

Abby stares out across the water, the ebb and flow of the water calming her nerves slightly. “John told me what happened Tuesday night at the bar and my room. I didn’t remember any of it. I just knew I woke up Wednesday morning feeling incredibly alone, but I didn’t know why until he told me I fell asleep next to you.” 

Riley doesn’t know what to do with the admission, but she does know she’s emotionally exhausted. Her heart feels like it’s in a vice and she’s not quite sure her emotions and sanity can take another round on this rollercoaster of their own creation. She wraps her arms around her knees and lays her head against them before focusing her gaze on the blonde. “Please Abs, just tell me what you want from me? Tell me what you want me to do. You know by now I’ll do it.”

“I need time to clean up this mess with Harper,” Abby admits, “Not that we’ll be getting back together, but there are discussions to be had and a household to separate. But at the end of this mess, during this mess, I want you.”

“Do you really mean that?” Riley whispers, logic and experience telling her not to get her hopes up.

“John told me that when I was drunk I told you I wanted to go back to Baltimore with you.”

It’s not a question, but Riley nods just the same. “You did. Right after you asked if you could go home with me.”

Abby bites her lip. “Can I?”

“Can you what?”

“I have two weeks off work. Can I go back to Baltimore with you for a week, then go back to Pittsburgh to figure out everything with Harper and find a new place? You can say no, and I know you have to work and won’t be around to babysit me. But we also have a lot we need to work through and honestly Ri, I just want to be near you any way I can right now.”

“You do remember I’m in love with you, right? And that I have a one-bedroom apartment and a couch that isn’t comfortable to sleep on?” the brunette questions softly.

Abby lays a hesitant hand on the doctor’s. “Harper knows I’m in love with you too and knows I came after you. And she knows we’re over. I can’t make any promises that you’ll get anything other than spooning out of it, but I have no objections to sleeping next to you.”

Riley knows they’re probably breaking every rule in the chapter that covers break-ups, exes, and failed marriage attempts in the ‘Lesbian Code of Conduct,’ but also figures it wasn’t written with situations such as this in mind. Finally, she nods. “Okay.”

“Yeah?” Abby double-checks, nearly fearful the older woman will change her mind. “When you leave for Baltimore tomorrow morning, I can come too?”

“Yeah, let’s do it. But I checked out of my hotel this morning with the intention of driving home the moment the wedding was over. I’ll stay at my parent’s tonight--” 

“Um, I don’t have a hotel room tonight either,” Abby cuts in, “We planned to leave after the wedding to go to Pittsburgh since we were scheduled to fly out early tomorrow.” 

Riley shouldn’t be surprised. Nothing about this situation was ever going to be easy. “Oh. We could stay with my parents? They have plenty of space and I’m sure they won’t mind.”

Abby thinks about the warmth the Bennett’s exude and nods. “Actually, I wouldn’t mind that. Your family has always been so welcoming to me. You don’t think things would be awkward though, do you?”

“Abby, my parents literally gave you a ride here, which I know my dad was the one who knew where to find me, after you walked out of your wedding after everyone found out we’re in love, while your ex-fiance-slash-my-ex-girlfriend watched. I honestly don’t think anything could make things awkward at this point.” 

“You may have a point there,” Abby concedes, “But do you mind calling just to double-check before I show up at their door with bags?”

Riley smiles softly and reaches for her phone, before a laugh escapes when she reads her texts. “Mom says to tell you she has another cheesecake with your name on it and she’s making enchiladas for dinner. Dinner is at five. And she wants to know if she should prepare the guest room?”

With that, Abby relaxes and leans against Riley. “Have I mentioned lately I love your mom?”

“That’s really good because I’m pretty sure my parents love you too.” For the first time, Riley allows herself to wrap her arm around Abby’s shoulders and pull the smaller woman into her side. “Um, what should I tell her about the guest room?” 

“Would you mind...do you think they’d mind or think less of me if I stayed in your room? If you were okay with it, of course.” Abby asks softly, “I don’t want them to think I ran out on Harper and directly into your bed, or that I’m trying to hook up with you in their house.”

Riley laughs and stands before reaching down for Abby’s hand and pulling her to her feet. “Let’s head back to the hotel and get your stuff and then go hang out with them for a while. We’ll worry about sleeping arrangements tonight. But Abs, I have brought women home before and I can guarantee you my parents are okay with it. My mother is also aware her adult daughter has sex. That’s uh, why Sarah didn’t want to stay there again, actually.”

Their hands stay intertwined as they follow the path back, but as they approach the doctor’s car, Abby pauses. “Wait. Did your mother walk in on you and Sarah having sex in her house?”

“Took ya long enough to put that one together,” Riley teases. “But yes. Mom came to wake us up for breakfast one morning and didn’t knock on the door. I also brought someone home from the Oxwood one ni--”

Abby surges forward and kisses the doctor, effectively ending her attempts to provide a detailed list of women her mother has apparently caught her with. Riley stumbles with the force of the smaller body against her own and her hands naturally fall to Abby’s waist to stabilize them both. When they pull apart, a slight smirk forms on the doctor’s face. “Between that and your reaction to the stranger at the bar Tuesday night, I do believe you have a bit of a jealous streak.” 

“Or maybe I just wanted to finally know what it was like to kiss you,” Abby teases. “Wait, you didn’t get the stranger at the bar’s phone number, did you?”

Riley hushes her with another kiss. “You can kiss me anytime you want, including in front of my parents or in a bar. But let’s get out of here before my parents send out a search party.”

 

t + 7 hours

If Abby expected dinner to be awkward, the Bennett’s once again prove her wrong. Helen gives her a hug with the welcome reassurance of We aren’t going to interrogate the two of you on what is happening here. Just relax. After a short conversation about returning the necklace, the morning’s events are never mentioned again. 

After dinner finds Abby and Riley awkwardly sitting on the couch watching movies with the older couple until the day’s events catch up with Abby and she leans into the taller woman’s side. Riley wraps her arms around her without a word until the movie ends and there’s no question left as to if the guest room will be needed for the night. They've agreed to take things slow, but when Riley is kissing her and whispers "I've wanted you for so long, Abby," Abby nearly abandons the plan altogether.

When Helen knocks on their door the next morning to let them know breakfast is ready and Riley makes a comment about Helen learning her lesson the last time, Abby shushes her with a kiss and quickly re-assures the older woman that they're perfectly presentable and she can open the door if she wishes. Later, when Helen catches them making out in the living room after breakfast, she gets the last laugh when both women turn bright red and Abby hides her face in Riley’s shoulder. 

But for all the teasing, the words not said, and the questions lingering, Abby knows she made the right decision when Helen pulls her into a hug and whispers Welcome to the family before they leave for Baltimore. 

 

t + 2.5 years

Two and a half years later, when she’s curled up in Riley’s arms watching some holiday wedding rom-com with her girlfriend’s parents and John four days before Christmas, she’s surprised to see the doctor has a serious look on her face by the end. She doesn’t question it, knowing the doctor likes to take her time thinking things through, but eventually Riley nudges her. “Hey Abs?”

“Yeah babe?”

“I know this is kinda crazy, but do you want to elope?”

She’s vaguely aware of Helen’s gasp, of Rich’s unsurprised smile, and of John’s barely contained excitement. She can literally feel Riley’s heart beating in her chest where she’s pressed against her and is surprised her own is calm. She knows without question her answer is, will always be, yes, but something gives her pause. “Ri, are you sure you don’t want the big wedding every girl dreams of?” 

“I’ve never wanted a big wedding. I want just us, our closest friends and family, and a small family dinner. And I want that with you.” 

“Could we even find someone to marry us so close to the holiday?” Abby questions.

John clears his throat. “I can do that actually. I mean, Abby, if I’m going to lose you to one of the most archaic institutions in the history of the human race, I might as well be the one to officiate it, right?”

Riley isn’t exactly sure what to make of that but before she can question it, Helen beats her to it. “Honey, are you even ordained to marry anyone?”

“Of course I am! I had to do it for one of my writers. Long story really, but I am perfectly qualified to legally marry anyone who makes the bizarre decision to marry someone!” 

Helen positively beams, “Oh this is wonderful! Riley you’ve never been big on church so we could have just a handful of people and not have to bother the Reverend!”

“Guys! You’re all forgetting one very key thing here!” Riley interjects.

“And what is that?” Helen asks.

“I haven’t said yes,” Abby replies quietly, her fingers nervously playing with the circle pendant necklace gifted to her at the failed wedding attempt two and half years earlier. “Are you serious? You really want to do this?”

“Of course I do! All I want is to marry you in a quiet, drama and stress-free ceremony.” When Abby doesn’t reply immediately, Riley backtracks, “I’m sorry Abs. I probably shouldn’t have sprung this on you in front of everyone. You know how impulsive I am sometimes.” 

Abby smiles softly at her. “Do you think we can find rings tomorrow and get married Christmas Eve morning?” 

“It depends. Is that a yes?” Riley asks hopefully.

“Of course it’s yes!”

The wedding planning turns out to be simple. Helen and Rich provide just enough support not to be overbearing and Abby quickly realizes how they view her as their second daughter even without the piece of paper to make it official. Thirty minutes in a jewelry store provides them with the rings they need and they both quickly agree they’re going the pantsuit and blazer route in the way of attire. The elder Bennett doesn’t bat an eye at this completely predictable decision and proceeds to make sure every article of clothing is lint-free and perfectly pressed.

They somehow manage to get a marriage licence in time, though both women are convinced Rich called in some favors on that one since the courthouse has been closed for a week. As a throwback to their first night together, Riley convinces her mom to make enchiladas for dinner the night before, and Helen takes it upon herself to make sure there is a cheesecake with a wedding topper waiting in the fridge for after the ceremony. 

The ceremony itself is so laid back and relaxed Abby keeps waiting for Tipper or Jane to bust through the door screaming about something. Riley, much to everyone’s amusement, is a nervous wreck that Abby is going to come to her senses and call the whole thing off. (Abby will tease her for years about the fact she paused halfway through her vows to double-check that yes, Abby in fact did want to marry her and hadn’t changed her mind since the last time she asked five minutes ago.) 

And all that comes after John had to convince her that no, Harper was not going to somehow find out about their plan and make a guest appearance to ruin their wedding the way the doctor figures she ruined hers. 

In the end though, promises are made, rings are slipped on fingers, and the deal is sealed with a kiss and very minimal tears. When John pronounces them married (he’s not crying, damnit, the air is just dry!), Riley would swear her father is about to cry as well. Her mother though, is downright giddy.

“Oh this is wonderful!” Helen explains, clutching her husband’s hand, “I get a second daughter for Christmas this year! I cannot wait to tell everyone at the Caldwell’s party!” 

“Mom!” 

“Actually, that’s a good point.” Abby concedes, “How are we going to share the news tonight?”

Helen beams. “Oh, you leave that to me dear. I’ve got this covered.” 

Abby and Riley share a concerned look, but in the end the blonde shrugs. After all, Tipper has certainly caused enough headaches for both of them over the years.

“Your mom and I got the two of you a wedding gift.” Rich hands Riley an envelope and motions for her to open it. Inside, she finds reservations for the honeymoon suite at the Hilton. From her place at Riley’s side, Abby looks at him questioningly. “As much as we love the two of you, we thought you’d prefer to stay in a fancy hotel tonight rather than being here.”

“Dad, you shouldn’t have,” Riley counters. “We’re going to the Caldwell’s party tonight and planned on coming back here afterwards for our Christmas Eve traditions.” 

Rich gives her a tight smile, “Please, use the hotel room. We really do not want a repeat of last year’s post-Oxwood festivities in the living room, now do we?”

Riley turns a rather unhealthy shade of red and Abby covers her face with her hands. John looks intrigued. “What happened last year?”

“I’ll give you a hint. We had to have the couch steam cleaned before we could sit on it again,” Helen replies. 

John vows to never ask another question again.