A/N: I can't say how much I appreciated all the positive feedback from the last chapter. As real life returns to "normal" and things get busy, it's harder to find time to write. Every tweet, DM, and review asking for more is just the motivation I need! So please, keep it coming! A huge shout out to my amazing betas and friends, Steph and Jo. You are the
Donna pushes her way through the bathroom door in the hotel lobby. Her parents checked into their room this morning and she and Stephen are meeting them for brunch. She should be giddy with excitement and nursing a stomach full of butterflies, but instead, she's fighting off the early signs of a migraine and a nagging feeling that has her guts tied in knots.
She and Stephen don't fight. Not really. There had been a disagreement or misunderstanding here and there, but what happened a few moments earlier was much more in the fight category than anything they'd had in the past. What perfect timing.
Donna had agreed to pick Stephen up since she'd be needing her car to transport flowers after brunch anyway. Not only was he not ready on time, but he was in a foul mood.
Donna finally decides to just call Stephen after three unanswered texts. She's been sitting outside his building with the car running for over ten minutes.
"I can't talk on the phone and get ready at the same time, Donna. I'll be down in a minute."
His tone is curt and borderline rude. It immediately rubs Donna the wrong way.
"Well, maybe if you'd replied to even one of my texts I wouldn't have had to call."
"Donna." He sighs condescendingly. "I feel like a bag of shite, and I'm doing my best. If you're in such a bloody hurry, just go on without me and I'll catch a cab."
Donna isn't feeling too peachy either, and every word Stephen mutters seems to annoy her far more than usual.
"You do remember this brunch was your idea, right?" She matches his nasty tone. "I'll tell you what. Take your damn time and get there when you get there."
She disconnects the call and peels her tires as she pulls away from the curb.
When Donna returns to the table, Stephen has arrived and is seated with her parents. She stands at a distance and just takes the scene in. There is no sign of all the piss and vinegar he dished out just thirty minutes before. It's all smiles, laughter, and charm. And why now, the day before her wedding to him, does this contradiction suddenly strike Donna as concerning?
She makes her way across the room and is greeted by Stephen with a kiss to both cheeks and a squeeze of her hands. It makes her stomach turn.
"I was just apologizing to your parents about being late. I had a few errands to run this morning and it put me a tad behind schedule." His smile is so easy and natural. Just like the lies that roll off of his tongue. "So much to do and so little time, right my love?"
Donna doesn't respond except for a quick nod and a forced smile.
Brunch from that point on is uneventful. At least on the surface. Her parents have met Stephen before, of course, and the conversation flows between them with ease and comfort. They discuss work, the honeymoon, and Jim's recovery from hip surgery. The entire time, Donna feels as if she's floating just above her own shoulder. Listening and watching through a new lens. One without a rose-colored tint. And with every laugh, smile, and witty comment he makes, the knot in her stomach tightens.
Rachel is caught off guard by the knocking on her door. She isn't expecting anyone, and with the acute concentration needed to operate the glue gun she's using for centerpieces, she's relieved she doesn't glue her fingers together.
"Mike!" Her tone shoots up in surprise when she finds him on the other side of the door. "I wasn't expecting you." Rachel absently puts her hand in her tousled hair and then yanks it down when she remembers the glue on her fingers.
"Yeah, sorry about that," Mike says, trying not to stare. He's never seen Rachel like… this, and it knocks the wind from his lungs.
"We need to talk."
Harvey is dreading seeing his parents. He knows that makes him a terrible son, but it also makes him honest.
His dad has always seen right through him. As a child, as a teen, as a grown fucking man, and it drives him insane. As a kid, it meant never being able to get away with a lie. Gordon would just tilt his head, or lay a firm hand on his shoulder, and Harvey would cave. It was embarrassing. As a teen, it meant no sneaking out in the middle of the night, no siphoning liquor from the wet bar, and no having sex with a girl. At least, not without his father figuring it out with one look at his pitiful face. And as an adult, it meant knowing full well that his son was in love with his best friend. Hopelessly, madly, and deeply in love with her. No matter how many times he denied it, no matter how many arguments it caused, his father knew. And it makes him the last person Harvey needs to see right now.
"Mom!" He feigns excitement as he brings her into a hug. He'd met his parents in the lobby to help them bring up their bags. "Dad." Harvey gives his father's hand a firm shake and then leans in for a one-armed hug, avoiding his dad's knowing glance at all costs.
"Harvey, my boy," Gordon says with a richness in his tone that sounds like home. "How are you?"
"I'm good, Dad." Harvey turns to grab Lily's bag. "Let's get these up to your room."
As Harvey turns around to head back to the elevator, he freezes. Through the lobby, he has a clear view of the restaurant.
"Harvey?" Gordon stops when he realizes his son isn't following. He tracks Harvey's gaze across the lobby and sighs. "So, that's Stephen?" he says softly as he lays a hand on his son's shoulder.
"Your mom mentioned needing to grade some assignments for her online classes and I could use a little exercise. Why don't we get her set up in the room and then take a walk? Central Park is only a few blocks away, right?"
Gordon's tone is full of empathy, and Harvey knows the suggestion has nothing to do with exercise. Accepting the invitation surely means a painful discussion about Donna, but somehow dodging it feels even more daunting.
"Yeah. Sure." Harvey watches Donna's father, Jim, laugh at something Stephen says, and it twists like a knife in his gut. Jim never seemed to care for him much.
Thirty minutes later Gordon and Harvey cross the busy intersection to Central Park.
"So, I have roughly a hundred questions I want to ask, but I think it would be more productive if I just listen." A father knows his son. And Gordon can see the weight on his son's shoulders as clear as if he was lugging around a two-by-four.
Harvey sighs. He's so tired. Tired of the denial. The deflection. The constant need to hide and pretend.
"I'm in love with her." His eyes are straight ahead. Like he's searching for something in the distance through the trees. "I think I have been since she tried to give me a tour of the campus in middle school."
Gordon can't suppress his chuckle at the memory. Donna had told him what a jerk Harvey had been the first couple of weeks after they'd moved into the area. He knew then exactly what Harvey was confessing now.
"Have you told her?" There is no judgment. Just a simple question.
"I tried, Dad. She doesn't want to hear it." Harvey clenches his jaw tightly when he feels the stinging in his eyes. There is no chance he's going to let a tear fall in front of his father. "It's not even about me," he continues after they walk in silence for a bit and he's sure his voice is steady enough. "I just want her to be happy. She deserves everything good in life. And this… guy, isn't the one to give that to her."
"I'm not sure you're exactly objective on that topic, son." Again, there is no sign of judgment. Just honesty.
Harvey actually laughs at the bold statement. "Well, I'd be lying if I didn't admit despising that jack-off immediately, so you have a point. But, trust me, Dad, he's not good enough for Donna. Not by a long shot."
"Listen, Harvey. All your life, you've been a fighter. From your troubled birth to the challenges of moving around to your baseball career ending too soon, to fighting your way to the top of one of the most prestigious companies in the country." He squeezes Harvey's shoulder lightly. "You have always known exactly what you wanted, and you've never been afraid to go after it." Gordon wets his lips, considering his words carefully. "But with Donna—"
"It's different," Harvey finishes.
They walk along the shaded side of the wide path in silence before Harvey finds the nerve to ask the question that's been plaguing him for months.
"What am I going to do, Dad?" His tone is unrecognizable, even to his own ears. "If I keep pushing… trying to make her see what's right in front of her eyes, I may end up pushing her away forever." He gulps to try and force down the lump forming in his throat. "But if I just sit by and watch her marry someone else… watch her marry him!" The lump resurfaces and his voice catches in the thickness of it.
"There's no easy answer here, Harvey." Gordon sighs at the impossible situation his son is in. There is no worse feeling than not knowing how to help your own child. "Here's what I do know. If you really think you're going to lose Donna either way… then, fuck it. It's better to lose her because you tried too hard, than not hard enough."
Donna walks into her apartment and shuts the door with more force than usual. She can't shake this bitchy feeling that surfaced this morning when she was waiting for Stephen and seemed to grow like a relentless fungus all through brunch. He offered to go along on the last-minute wedding errands, but she'd declined. For some reason, his presence was suddenly making her feel a bit suffocated and she needed the afternoon to herself.
When her phone buzzes on the kitchen counter, she ignores it. It is probably Stephen, saying something romantic or effusive. It's typical for him to pour it on thick when he senses he's in the dog house for one reason or another. Or maybe it's her mother, saying again how wonderful brunch was, and how happy she is that her daughter is finally tying the knot. Either way, she isn't in the mood.
She's not really mad at Stephen. In the grand scheme of things, this morning was not a big deal. So he was a bit worse for wear after his bachelor party? Late to breakfast with her parents and snippy when she'd complained? If she isn't prepared for scuffles like that, she shouldn't be entering into wedlock with any man.
If anything, the one she's pissed off at is herself. It's that damn feeling she's been battling all day. Well, longer than that if she's really honest with herself. She's been spending way too much time letting her mind drift to Harvey and his recent confessions. And when she's not thinking about that, it's Mike and his constant prodding, or Rachel and her knowing glances.
What she needs are some soft jazz and a hot bath. She isn't going to let today's events or this so-called fungus get the best of her. It is just cold feet and it is perfectly natural. She is getting married to a wonderful man. He's not perfect, but none of them are.
As Donna lowers herself in the tub, she lets the warmth of the water surround her. Envelope her. Consume her. She lays her head back as her heavy lashes drift closed. A soft sigh escapes her lips as the tension and anxiety she's been battling of late slowly seep from her pores.
As she gives herself over to the feeling, she slips into an almost dream-like state. In her mind's eye, she can see herself arm and arm with her father. Standing side by side with a long aisle ahead of them. Friends and family standing and eyeing them with anticipation and excitement.
Everyone she knows and loves is there. All of their eyes, glistening with tears of joy. Happiness emanates throughout the entire church.
She sees him on the altar. Waiting. Watching.
This is meant to be. She loves him. He loves her. They were destined for each other.
Donna lets herself become fully immersed in this fantasy for one last time. She allows herself to indulge as Jim walks her steadily down the aisle, and her soulmate gradually comes into focus. His deep brown eyes meet hers and her heart soars, so full, she fears it may burst before he ever takes her hands. And then he smiles... and the image fades.
The tears are slow but steady. There is a heaviness about them that is akin to the weight pressing on her chest. They drop one by one from her cheeks into the now cooling water that fills the tub. It is far beyond time to stop hanging onto a fantasy and to start living in reality.
Tomorrow she will marry Stephen Huntley. And from this moment on, she will not entertain a single thought to the contrary.
In the kitchen, her phone buzzes yet again. After leaving three voicemails, Rachel finally settles for a text message.
R: Donna, please pick up. We really need to talk.
Harvey reaches for the towel and runs it roughly over his face and hair before wrapping it around his waist. After his father's pep talk he'd had an excess of energy to burn and opted for the hotel gym. He ran a hard three miles and lifted a series of torturous sets until his biceps screamed for mercy.
With his body still gleaming with droplets of water he heads to the small bar in the corner of the room. A bottle of Evian the obvious choice, but he reaches for a tumbler instead. Filling it with a couple fingers of amber liquid, he knocks it back in a swift move. After pouring another serving, he takes the glass with him to the bed and sits with his back against the headboard. Staring intently at the beige wall across the room, he sips on the liquor thoughtfully. His father's words echoing loudly in his head.
You have always known exactly what you wanted, and you've never been afraid to go after it.
It's better to lose her because you tried too hard, than not hard enough.
He's right of course. He has always gone after what he wanted, and God knows he's never wanted anything more than he wants Donna. In every sense of the damn word. In fact, he can remember every detail of the one time he'd had the balls to take that plunge.
"You're an idiot." Donna smacks his shoulder as they stumble into his apartment laughing.
"What? I'm just being honest!" Harvey's words slightly slurred from one beer too many. "Tanner is into you. It's obvious."
"And, so what if he is…" She bats her long lashes at her friend and lays her hand on his chest, "are you jeallllousss?" Apparently, Harvey isn't the only one feeling a bit tipsy.
They flirt. It's who they are. It doesn't mean anything. They've been best friends since puberty, and there is nothing they enjoy more than teasing one another. But when Donna steps up close to him, her breath brushing his lips, he's no longer laughing.
Harvey swallows thickly, before stepping past her. He's been more and more aware of it lately. This... reaction he's been having to her. The stirring in his gut and the blood flow to his groin. It's unnerving.
"Oh my God, you ARE!" Donna follows him across the living room.
"You're drunk." He responds dryly, praying to God she doesn't put her hands on him again.
"Don't deflect. I am not drunk. Buzzed, definitely, but my spidey senses are intact, and… you— are— jealous." Each of her final three words is accompanied by a tap. The first two to his nose and the final one to his lips. Her finger lingers there while their eyes lock. She feels it too.
Something just snaps, maybe it's the liquid courage, or maybe, it's just been a long time coming. Harvey grabs her wrist and forces her hand behind her back. The small yelp that escapes her throat only seems to fuel whatever this is brewing inside of him. She'd been flirting with Tanner all night, and it bothered him a lot more than he wanted to admit.
They stand there, eye to eye, chest to chest, one hand pinned behind her back with their eyes searching. He's always been able to read her, and whatever is in her eyes right now, isn't asking him to stop.
With a swift move, he spins her toward the wall and pins the wrist he's still holding above her head. His eyes rake slowly up and down the length of her body before resting back on her dilated pupils. She wants this as much as he does.
The kiss is slow at first as if Harvey is desperately clinging to the last shred of his self-control. But once her tongue swirls around his and she moans his name as her core rides along his upper thigh, he comes completely undone. They both do.
Within a matter of seconds, he has her on his bed, all of their clothes shed except their underwear. He crawls over her. Slowly. Intently. Taking in every inch of her porcelain skin like she's the most beautiful thing he's ever laid eyes on. His eyes find hers and he can see the need, the desire, the lust. But there is something else. Something tentative and unsure. Fear?
He wants to ask her if she's okay. If she wants this the way he does. If she loves him the way he loves her. But he, too, is afraid. Not of taking this step with her, of crossing this line, but of the possibility of her rejection.
So he doesn't ask.
He slips his fingers through the lace straps on her hips and removes them with the utmost care. He reaches behind her arched back and unlatches her bra while she sighs heavily into his ear. And he makes love to her. Over and over and over. It's the most glorious night of his life.
And when Harvey wakes in the morning, she's gone.
When Harvey arrives at the church, he is a man on a mission. The combination of his father's urging and the walk down memory lane, followed by a second shower, has him all kinds of fired up.
His talk with Mike on the ride over only fanned the flame. Apparently, Mike had a long talk with Rachel about the bachelor party. She was livid to hear about Stephen's surprise guest and according to Mike, Rachel had been trying to get a hold of Donna all day.
Well, Donna can run but she can't hide. He is going to set the record straight once and for all. If she can't see what is right in front of her damn face, he's just going to have to make it crystal-fucking-clear!
He and Mike enter the back of the church and run right smack into Donna's mom.
"Oh. Harvey! I've just been dying to see you since we arrived." She wraps her arms around him and squeezes just a little too hard. It's a step up from the cheek squeezing of years past.
"Is that, right?" Harvey smiles softly as she steps back. "Well, you have my number, Clara."
"I asked Donna why she didn't invite you and your parents to brunch yesterday. It would have been lovely to catch up."
That one stings a bit. He almost asks what Donna's response was but he'd rather not know.
"Aren't you just so excited for our girl, Harvey? She's finally found the one for her, and everything is just… perfect. I can hardly wait for her big day!"
Harvey forces a tight smile as his ears begin to ring. A wave of nausea rolls over him as his rock-solid plan of sweeping Donna away from all this begins to crumble around him.
"Just look at them." Clara is gesturing toward the altar at the front of the church and Harvey's eyes follow her lead.
If his plan was crumbling around him before, now, in the span of a few seconds, it's buried him alive. A tightness settles in his chest and completely blocks his airway.
Her smile is radiant as she laughs and tilts her head back. Stephen is at her side with his hand on her lower back. The sound of her laughter bounces off the walls and slices through him like a cold and bitter wind.
She's happy. She's happy with him.
And just like that, he loses his resolve. It's not about fighting for what he wants or being willing to take the risk, or even about trying hard enough. It's about Donna being happy and it's damn time he accepts that may mean having to let her go.
The rehearsal went off without a hitch. The wedding coordinator had everything planned down to the minute and things fell into place perfectly. Donna had kept her mind focused on the present and while things with Harvey were a bit awkward, they got through it without any yelling or tears. Felt like a win to her.
She'd know his voice anywhere. Especially that soft tone he saved just for her.
"Harvey." She turns from the pew where she was retrieving her purse. Her stomach somersaults.
"I… um, hope you understand..." He knows he's stuttering but he can't help it. "But, I'm going to skip the dinner tonight."
"What? Why?" Donna regrets the question the moment it leaves her lips. He's been rigid and distant all evening and she can see the anguish all over his face. She should have just let it go.
"I'm not feeling well. It's been coming on all day and the last thing I want to do is get anyone else sick." His eyes dart from her to the wall, to his feet shuffling beneath him. "I figure it's better to rest up and be ready for tomorrow." His jaw ticks before he looks back into her eyes. "It's your big day."
Her eyes well up despite her conscious effort to remain calm. She vowed to herself she would not let her feelings cloud reality. Yet, all she wants to do is reach for him.
"Good night, Donna."
She opens her mouth to stop him. To tell him to wait. To come back. But she remains silent as she watches him walk away.
Shit. Rachel. Busted.
"You can't just keep avoiding me, Donna." Rachel's voice is stern yet full of empathy. "I said we needed to talk and I meant it."
"I'm sorry, Rach. I wasn't avoiding you. It's just been super—"
"You can cut the crap, Donna. This is me you're talking to. You were one hundred percent avoiding me, and we both know why."
"I just can't talk about Harvey anymore, Rachel. The wedding is tomorrow."
"Well, then it's a good thing this isn't about Harvey." Rachel stands her ground. "And the wedding tomorrow is the exact reason we are going to have this conversation right now!
She doesn't raise her voice but the tone has an edge to it that makes the hair on Donna's neck stand up.
She tells her parents to head on over to the restaurant and that she will ride with Rachel. Stephen headed out with his best man a few minutes earlier so it was just the two of them left in the church parking lot.
"Okay, lay it on me. What is it that I need to hear?"
Rachel exhales a slow breath. Now that she finally has her friend's attention, she's not sure how to share the news.
"It's about last night. The bachelor party."
"Oh, Rachel. I'm really not concerned about—"
"She was there, Donna."
"Who was there?" Her throat closes as the eerie feeling from earlier today creeps up her spine. She tries to force the name from surfacing in her mind, but she knows the answer before Rachel ever responds.
The blood drains from Donna's face. Just the sound of her name makes her skin crawl.
"What do you mean she was there?"
"I mean she was there. At the party. And according to Mike, the two of them were…" Rachel hesitates when Donna visibly cringes, "...pretty handsy." Rachel hates to put Donna through this. Again. But she needs to know the truth before it's too late.
Donna reaches backward to steady herself on the hood of the car.
"He said they weren't even working together anymore." She's talking more to herself than Rachel. "He told me they hadn't spoken in months."
"Listen," Rachel steps forward and places her hand over her friend's, "I am so sorry to be telling you this, but I love you too much to just let this go, and so does Mike. You need to confront Stephen, Donna." She sighs before elaborating a bit more. "Mike said what he witnessed was not an interaction between coworkers."
"Did Harvey see it?" Her voice cracks as her eyes fill with tears.
"Did he?" She raises her voice just enough to stop any further protest.
"Yes." Rachel squeezes her hand. "And he confronted him."
Donna leans back against the car, needing the support for her wobbly legs.
"Donna, these details aren't important. You just need to talk to—"
"Tell me what he said, Rachel."
"Harvey asked him what the hell he was doing. Stephen brushed him off. He compared women to pieces of art. Said there's nothing wrong with enjoying pieces outside of your own home. Or something disgusting like that." Rachel sees the pain on Donna's face and it tears her apart. "I'm sorry, Donna," she says again.
"Get me to that damn restaurant, Rachel." Donna pushes off the car and opens the passenger door. "And I don't care what it takes, find a way to get rid of everyone. Dinner is canceled!"