"How's wedding plans coming?"
I was in the middle of performing a root canal on a poor seventy-year old guy that looked like Droopy Dog, but I couldn't help but smile at the thought of the wedding. In three months, I'd be Jillian Littrell. I looked across at Stephanie, my dental assignment. "Besides the ongoing trouble with Cole and his son Baylee, great. We're doing a midnight blue and silver, under the stars, concept."
"Sounds beautiful," she said. "His son still refusing to go to the wedding?"
I nodded. "Yeah, he's determined to make his weekend visits absolute misery. Unfortunately, it's been working. Cole hates his guts. Our only hope is Tibby. No matter what, Tibby being her ridiculous self can usually get him to smile."
She gave me a reassuring look. "Then all hope's not lost. He'll come around."
I didn't answer; we were at the part of the root canal where if I drilled too low it would mean even more hurt than the procedure already produced. I hit my target and Stephanie was ready with the root canal files.
The next hour was spent extracting bacteria filled pulp, dead nerve tissue, and other debris.
I was thankful my husband-to-be had beautiful, healthy teeth. And great lips. And an oh so amazing tongue...
He had the whole package.
"You picked some awesome colors for these braces Lori," I said as I worked at threading the lime green wire through each bracket. The 12-year old squirmed uncomfortably, the lip stretcher making her look like a horror movie victim.
Stephanie hovered by the door. "Someone's in the lobby to see you."
I smiled. "Tell Brian I'm in the middle of a brace setting."
"It's not Brian. It's a guy. He didn't give me his name, but he said it's urgent."
I stopped and looked up. Stephanie looked flushed. "He's handsome."
I rolled my eyes. "Ask him if his name's Josh. If he says yes, tell him to wait. It's my brother."
"Okay," she said. I turned back to the squirmy pre-teen in my chair and continued the wiring.
Minutes later, Stephanie was back.
"He says he's not Josh, but he won't give me his name. He said if you don't come out he's coming in here."
"Was that a threat?"
Stephanie looked conflicted. "No, he looked...I dunno. Maybe you should just come out. He just seems determined, not mean."
My curiosity was peaked. I patted Lori's shoulder. "Just a second, sweetie."
I headed down the hall to the waiting room. Stephanie was right on my heels.
"Do you want me to stay by the phone just in case--"
I stopped in my tracks. The guy was tall, his shoulders wide. A smile lit up his face.
"Paul." His name came out a ghost of a whisper. I couldn't comprehend what I was seeing. It was truly a visit from the dead, except he looked very much alive. A decade older and very much alive. I grabbed the reception desk; my legs had become jello. "How--"
The look in his eyes that Stephanie couldn't explain flooded his irises in full force. "A special forces unit finally tracked me and three others down two weeks ago. I've spent the last ten years in a P.O.W. camp."
I shook my head. "It can't be. They said you were involved in a roadside bombing. They found your ID. We had--We had a funeral--"
"Without a body," he whispered. He stepped forward and suddenly he was right there in arms length.
"I called my mom and dad first. They told me where Cole was," he took my hand and held it limply at first. He had grown a mustache and there was lingering stubble all along his jawline. His jeans were slightly too big. "Cole told them you were getting remarried," he said. He applied slightly pressure on my hand, finally squeezing it.
"I got here as fast as I could," he continued. "Your traveling soldier's come home."
"Paul," my voice sounded ridiculously high and strangled. "I--"
"You're my wife and I'm not going to let anything steal my chance at having my family with me." His face was resolute.
"Jilly, I brought you lun--"
I glanced over Paul's shoulder. Brian stopped inside the doorway, holding a large brown bag. He eyed Paul, focusing on our hands.
"What the hell's going on?" he asked quietly.
"This is my wife," Paul said. "What's it to you?"
Brian looked at me. I felt like I was in one of those horrible dreams where no matter what I did, I couldn't move.
"I'm her fiancee," Brian said, an angry edge to his voice.
"And I'd suggest you let go of her."