“You bastard,” I said. “This wasn’t supposed to a public display or a political tool.” I was surprised, although I knew I shouldn’t have been. The senator cared about the campaign first, campaign funding second, and campaign supporters third.
“It’s all a political tool. All of it,” the senator said. “You. Me. Tanner. Samuel. Your mother. It’s all for the greater good.” I honestly think he believed that crap. He released me and pulled Tanner into a hug of his own. Unlike the scowl I was wearing, Tanner was smiling from ear to ear and genuinely looked like he was enjoying himself, accepting the congratulations as if the marriage were real.
I’m so fucking stupid.
Suddenly I was so angry I couldn’t breathe. I was angry at myself, at the senator, at King for leaving me, at Tanner for no reasonable explanation.
My hands shook as I saw red.
The senator waved to the crowd. Nadine came to the stage and took Sammy who was wiggling in my mother’s unfamiliar arms and motioned to me that she was going to take him back to the house. I nodded. Nadine had a great sense of when shit was about to hit the fan and I was glad for it.
Because shit was about to hit the fan.
I stepped up in between where my father and Tanner were waving to the crowd and I added a wave of my own. The senator looked at me suspiciously and Tanner was still smiling like he’d just won the lottery and was accepting his giant check. “It’s hot out here, isn’t it?” I said, leaning toward my father who furrowed his brow and then corrected himself when he realized he made a negative facial expression in public.
“It’s Florida, during the summer. It’s always hot,” Tanner said before his eyes went wide and the realization set in. “Don’t,” he warned, but I didn’t listen.
“If you want to put me on display, you are going to have to put all of me on display.” I made a show of fanning myself and then I unbuttoned my cardigan and took it off. My father didn’t find anything unusual about me taking off my cardigan. He was right. It was Florida, during the summer. It was hot. But he didn’t know what was underneath the cardigan. He’d yet to see it. I held my sweater in my hands and heard a gasp from behind me that I assumed came from my mother.
“Don’t,” Tanner repeated, and this time he sounded angry. I spotted a chair and turned to my father. “Can I rest my sweater on that?” I asked him.
“What are you up to, Ramie?” he asked, looking worried.
“Nothing at all, daddy,” I said. I turned my back to the crowd and bent over to place my cardigan on the chair.
The tattoo King had given me was on full display for the crowd.
There was nothing anyone could do. My father could rush to cover me up but that would make it look like he didn’t approve. He could address it, but that would make it worse. I turned and shot them both a look that told them that I was not one to be fucked with. With one last wave to the crowd, who was now gossiping amongst themselves in loud whispers like a pack of rabid mean girls, I left the stage.
I walked along the property line to the back of the house, not wanting to deal with any of the party-goers that might have been lingering on the walkway from the back patio to the house.
“What the heck was that?” Tanner asked, jogging to catch up to me as I passed the treehouse oak. “What was that, Ray?” he repeated.
I stopped and turned around to face him. “That was me not being stepped on! You said I could have time. The look on your face in front of those people said you already think this is real. But it’s not real Tanner. Not to me. I’m not ready. And I may have loved you once, actually I know I loved you once, but I don’t even know if it was romantic love. I love that you are kind to our son and I respect the hell out of you for everything you’ve been through, and I hate that I’ve hurt you. But I don’t want to be with you like that right now. Not when my heart still belongs elsewhere.”
“What do you expect from me, Ray? To be sorry that I’m happy to be your husband? Because I’m not. I’m not sorry I married you, whatever the reason. You are the love of my life for Christ’s sake! Always have been. We were always meant to be together. So, of course I jumped at the chance to announce it to the world, because it was always meant to happen.” Tanner’s eyes softened and he took a step toward me, folding his hand around my wrist.
“No, Tanner,” I said, pulling out of his reach. “Don’t.”
Tanner ignored me and reached around my neck to pull me toward him. He softly pressed his lips against mine, and I just stood there and let it happen. His lips were soft and warm, his breath cool against my skin. I imagined that Tanner really was the one who I wanted, but instead of recalling feelings for him, King’s angry face kept flashing in my mind. Tanner opened his mouth and I reluctantly followed his lead, his tongue dancing on mine. In a way I wished for the memories to come flooding back. For me to feel what it was he wanted me to feel. But as we continued to kiss and his hands slid from my neck to my waist, the only thing I felt…was wrong. Beyond wrong.