Zach tipped a bag of chips so that the crumbs tumbled into his mouth. Beside him on the couch, Abby watched as small, orange crumbs slipped through a gap and made a mess on the cushion. She shook her head and took a sip of steaming tea. She chose black tea, even though it was past her bedtime. She had a feeling she was going to need a boost tonight.
On the coffee table in front of them, the laptop sat open. A nudge on the mouse every minute or so kept the screen saver from coming on while the couple waited for midnight. They were still divided on the authenticity of the “Love, Abby” file, but they were determined to catch its update as soon as it appeared. Abby had agreed to attend the firm’s Christmas party next week, but would that be enough to alter the file’s contents once again? Deep down she believed that it would. She gave Zach a sidelong glance and wondered if he would follow through with his end of the bargain. If she was right and the files did change, then she would be a married woman in less than twenty-four hours. The thought stirred butterflies in her stomach. She quickly took a sip of tea to hide any panic that may have broken through her calm façade.
Zach crumpled the bag of chips just as the hall clock began its midnight chime. He paused and looked at Abby, only to find she had stopped mid drink and was looking at him. He shrugged and continued crumpling the bag as she sighed nervously. Zach bounced on the couch as he tossed the crumpled bag into the kitchen, hoping to make it into the trashcan. Abby rolled her eyes when she heard it crinkle as it hit the floor. Zach never was any good at basketball.
Despite their best efforts, the laptop screen went black as the last chime sounded. Seconds later, the fan started back up, and the start up animation appeared on the screen. “Hmph,” Zach apparently didn’t expect his computer to randomly reboot. The few minutes required for his machine to start up ticked by slowly, each second feeling more and more tense. Abby’s butterflies once again tried to take flight and, despite the steam rising from her cup, Abby gulped the rest of the liquid down.
Finally the reboot was complete. Zach navigated through his files quickly. The folder was exactly where he expected and he opened it with a swift double click. The contents loaded slowly, but Zach had already opened the first item. A front page scan bellowed “1 DEAD, 17 INJURED; NO SUSPECTS YET.” Abby knew from just that first article that the contents had changed in her favor. She swallowed as another file opened, this one containing just a still from a security camera. She recognized the pictured parking lot as the very same one she parked in every day. In fact, she could see her car in the picture. The time stamp claimed the picture was taken at 3:45 pm, December 18, 2015.
“That’s taken only fifteen minutes before the party is scheduled to begin,” she said quietly. “I wonder what they’re looking for in this image?”
“A person of interest, probably,” Zach replied without taking his eyes off the picture. “Someone leaving before the big kaboom.” He smiled at his joke, but one look at Abby’s disapproving face wiped his smirk away immediately. She sighed.
“Well, I don’t see anything in this picture except cars in a parking lot. Let’s check the next item.”
He closed the picture and clicked on the third item. A scan of a handwritten note loaded quickly. It had only a name on it. “Rhonda Davis?” Zach shook his head as he glanced at Abby. “Who’s that?”
Abby’s mouth was agape and her eyes narrowed. “It’s Hughes’s new secretary; she started this past Monday. I’ve been showing her the ropes at work while Hughes isn’t in meetings.” Her forehead wrinkled in confusion as she mumbled to herself, “I don’t understand.”
To: General List at PP&H
From: Abigail Barnes
Subject: You’re All Invited!
Dear fellow employees of Piper, Parker, and Hughes,
As some of you know, I am engaged to be married to Zach Dresden of the local Chronicle. Since our engagement is still relatively new, and we’ve both been very busy in our separate professions, we have not set a date or begun any preparations. Late last night, we received news that my Aunt Margie’s brain cancer has become extremely aggressive; the doctors predict she will die before Christmas. It is her dying wish to see me walk down the aisle. So, Zach and I are eloping and you’re invited! Meet us downtown at the courthouse this afternoon at 3:30pm and follow us to the Riverfront for a nice grill out! BYOB! We hope to see you there!
Abigail Barnes and Zach Dresden
From: Abigail Barnes
Subject: Please Don’t Be Mad…
But Zach and I are eloping this afternoon. We’re meeting at the courthouse at 3:30. Please come?
PS: Could you ask your crazy neighbor lady to come also? Her name was Margie, right? Tell her I’ll pay her $100 and a few bottles of wine.
PPS: You’re not mad, are you? I know I’m your only child, and you were hoping for a big wedding, but we decided that something small and now worked better for us than large and next year.
PPPS: Do you think Margie would walk me down the aisle if I gave her another $100?
To: Abigail Barnes
Subject: Re: Please Don’t Be Mad…
Abby, I’m not mad. Disappointed, yes, but your father predicted this would happen. In fact, I owe him $20 now. I should know better than to bet against him. What on Earth would you want with Margie? Your father reserves the right to walk you down the aisle- he will defend that right to the death. Oh, that just gave me an idea for some pre-wedding entertainment!
From: Abigail Barnes
Subject: I’m glad you’re not mad, but…
Please hold off on the pre-wedding entertainment. Zach’s parents are not happy about this, and I fear that any gladiator-style combat between Dad and his insane neighbor might make things worse. Just ask Margie to act herself, except that she’s my aunt today. Easy money.
PS: You bet money on my wedding? Do I get a cut?
To: Abigail Barnes
Subject: Ask your father
You know how stingy he is with money. I imagine he has already buried his new $20 bill in the backyard somewhere. We’ll behave at the wedding, I promise. Why do we have to pretend Margie is related to us?
From: Abigail Barnes
Subject: It’s ok, just say she is Dad’s sister
I told the people at work that my Aunt Margie is dying from a brain tumor and her last wish is to see me walk down the aisle. Hence, a rushed wedding.
To: Abigail Barnes
Subject: Where did I go wrong in raising you?
Abby smoothed the front of her dress for the twentieth time. She paced in front of the large mirror over the sinks in the women’s restroom on the first floor of the courthouse. She checked her watch: 3:18 p.m. Everyone would be wandering where she had run off to. She paced across the bathroom and checked her watch again, but it hadn’t changed. She frowned. Watches were not considered formal wear, so should she take it off for her wedding? Shaking her head, she unclasped the wristband and stuffed the timepiece into her purse. Then again, it’s not like this was a glamorous wedding. She was getting married at the courthouse in her favorite sundress even though it was December. She groaned and retrieved the watch from her purse.
Her hands shook nervously as she tried to reattach the clasp. Just as it snapped into place, the door swung open and her mother peeked into the restroom. “There you are!” She entered and, after letting the door close on its own, leaned against it, barring any more intrusions. “I would ask if you’re getting cold feet, but you’re wearing flip-flops in December, so I think I already know the answer.” Her mother smiled and waited patiently for a reply. Abby was slow in giving one.
“I know this isn’t what you and Dad wanted for me,” Abby stared at her feet, refusing to meet her mother’s eyes.
“Is this what you want?”
Abby thought for a moment. “Yes.”
“Then this is exactly what we wanted.”
“I’m wearing flip flops to my own wedding,” Abby groaned to herself.
“I can’t wait to see the look on Zach’s mother’s face when she sees. She is out there discussing with her husband how long she thinks your veil will be!” Abby’s mom chuckled, then laughed outright when she saw Abby roll her eyes. “I could help you stuff long pieces of toilet paper in your hair if it would please the woman any.” She laughed again as Abby gasped. The mental picture was too much, though, and Abby couldn’t help but laugh at her mother’s comment. Her future mother-in-law was a hard person to please, but openly insulting her before the wedding had even taken place would make the next couple decades more difficult.
Abby shook her head as she banished the thought of a toilet paper veil. “Maybe when we renew our vows,” she winked at her mother and the two laughed again, the sounds echoing off the tiled walls.
A light tap on the door interrupted the moment. “It’s your father,” said Abby’s mother after a quick peek, “he says it’s time.” She produced a bouquet of flowers from behind the door and shoved them into Abby’s hands, then pulled her into the hallway.
The room wasn’t particularly small but, much to Abby’s surprise, it was full of people. Some she recognized from work, but most she assumed were Zach’s co-workers. An occasional random friend appeared in the crowd, only to disappear behind someone else. Abby stood in the doorway and waited as the crowd quieted and slowly shuffled to form a path to the front of the room. As she made her way down the aisle, she waved at her friends and coworkers and smiled at everyone else. Just as she reached the front where Zach and the officiant stood, she was thinking this must have been the most attended wedding to ever take place at the courthouse. A quick glance behind her showed that the crowd had filled the makeshift aisle, effectively cutting off her escape should she try to run. Zach waited patiently next to the officiant, a middle aged woman who glanced wide-eyed around the room. She looked just as surprised as Abby did. Zach watched Abby with a smirk plastered firmly on his face. She once said she dreamed of a large wedding, and he called in a few favors in order to give her the biggest wedding possible on such short notice. Next to Zach stood his best friend from high school, Bret. She stared at Bret until she finally understood: he was the best man. Abby gasped; she didn’t have a maid of honor.
“Of all things to forget!” she murmured frantically, spinning around and scanning the crowd. Almost immediately she saw Rhonda Davis squished between two burly sports writers in the front row. “Rhonda!” Abby exclaimed, and gestured to the shy woman to join her up front. “I need a maid of honor,” she said to Rhonda, “would you mind helping me out?” Rhonda smiled excitedly and nodded her head. Abby hugged her in thanks and handed Rhonda her bouquet before spinning around and facing her future husband.
Zach’s smirk was replaced with an enormous grin. “Good save!” He winked and took Abby’s hands in his, letting the officiant begin the ceremony.