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Believe Me, There's a Better Frankenstein For You To Bride

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It really is a little bit like rain on her wedding day, and the thought only deepens her scowl. She's already having a shitty morning; she doesn't need Alanis Morissette stuck in her head on top of that. It's just rubbing salt in the wound.

"When's the worst time to get left at the altar?" she asks.

Bellamy is under the sink, doing some sort of house stuff. She doesn't really know what Bellamy does most of the time, but by all appearances, he's good at it. "I think there's really only one time you can get left at the altar," he points out. "It's two weeks before your wedding, that doesn't count as at the altar. It's right there in the name."

"Okay, but at the altar might have been an improvement."

"Yeah?" he asks. "Didn't you actually leave him? That seems better to me. Dumping the asshole is always better than getting dumped by the asshole." He pauses. "Is it too soon to call him an asshole? Should I pretend he's not?"

"No, hes an asshole. Say it all you want." She sighs. "If I got left at the altar, I'd at least get sympathy. Dumping my fiance because he's cheating on me two weeks before the wedding is just bad for business."

"Huh. Is that what we're calling it now?"

He slides out from under the sink, which is convenient, because Clarke can glare at him. Bellamy is the closest things she has to a friend here, which is both weird and a little sad. But at least she has someone to talk to. And she does like him.

"Imagine how it would be if you were building a house for someone and it just spontaneously collapsed two weeks before it was supposed to be done. That would be really bad for your reputation as a--whatever you call yourself."

"Bellamy," he supplies, and she snorts in spite of herself.

"Thanks."

"Any time." He hops up to sit next to her on the counter. "If one of my houses fell apart, it would be a sign of major structural and architectural issues. Just because someone's cheating on you doesn't mean--"

"Would you get relationship advice from someone who dumped their fiance for cheating on them a week before their wedding?"

"I wouldn't ever pay for relationship advice," he counters. "Total waste of money. No offense."

"None taken. You're so charming, how could you ever need the help?"

He grins, and she does feel a little better. She and Finn had this whole plan: get married on the Cape, and then move into a brand new house here. It felt like a new start, something decisive. The shutting of one chapter and the beginning of a new one. Perfect.

Now, she's sitting in the half-completed house, teasing her contractor, because her fiance was already engaged to someone else and never bothered to tell her, and because she doesn't really have anyone else here to talk to. She could call someone, but honestly? She's not ready. Talking to Bellamy is helping, and she's not convinced anything else would.

"That's what I'm saying," Bellamy says. "So, what's the plan now?"

"God, I don't know. Canceling the wedding is going to be such a shitshow. I don't even know how to tell my mom."

"I meant for me."

"For you?" she asks.

He gestures to the shell of a kitchen. "You're building a house for you and your new husband. What are you doing without the husband? Do you even want the house?"

"Of course I want the house. And I could still get a husband," she snaps.

He raises his eyebrows. "Like, at the store? Oh, sorry, you're rich. There's probably a trophy groom website you can use."

She tries not to smile and fails. "Shut up. That's not what I meant."

"Sorry I misinterpreted I could still get a husband."

"I'm just saying, I publicized that I was engaged, not the groom's name. No one would ever have to know."

"I'm not a relationship professional like some people, but I've been to a couple weddings. Usually the groom's name comes up on invitations and stuff. Does the rich-person website also let you rename them? Is it like making a Sim?"

"Why are you poking holes in this?"

"Poking holes in what? You don't have a plan, you're just saying you could still get married. And yeah, you could, but why?"

"Did you not get the thing about the collapsing house?"

"Not how you wanted me to, apparently. Is not getting married worse than getting divorced?"

"I could make the marriage work," Clarke says, and he raises his eyebrows. "What?"

"If you could make it work, why'd you dump Finn?"

"Because I didn't want to make it work with him. You need a basic level of trust. As long as you've got that, you can make it work with anyone."

"Holy fuck, people pay you to say this stuff? I'm in the wrong business."

"Everyone gets caught up in details," she says. "Attraction and sex and finances, and those are important, but it means you're asking the wrong questions."

"So what are the right questions?"

"Do I trust this person with my money, do I trust this person with my family, do I trust this person with my body, and do I trust this person with my heart?"

"Huh."

"I've had a lot of relationships that failed one of those, and even when--it always ends up being a deal breaker, even when I think it shouldn't be."

"So which one did Finn fail?"

"After what he did? All of them."

"Yeah, I guess. But you trusted him before?"

Clarke considers. "What time is it?"

"Uh, like two?" He checks his watch. "Two-ten."

"You want to get drunk anyway?"

"Wow, is it really that bad?" he asks, mild.

"I broke up with my fiance two weeks before my wedding and so far the only person I've told is you. How bad do you think that is?"

"Yeah, okay. Are we drinking here or going somewhere?"

"I've got booze in my hotel room."

"You think my boss is going to be pissed I'm neglecting working on her house to get wasted?"

"Yeah, she's a real hardass. You're definitely gonna get fired."

He flashes her a grin. "That's cool. I didn't like working for her anyway."

Clarke's hotel is actually called an inn, but she feels unspeakably pretentious calling it that, because--well, who says they're staying at an inn? She's upset enough that the only place she could stay was an inn. But the bed is comfortable and there's booze, which is all she really wants right now. Booze and complaining to Bellamy. After that day she's had, that sounds perfect.

"How do you live here?" she asks him, once they've each had a shot of the cheap vodka she bought to get through planning her wedding. Which feels like another warning sign she was ignoring, in retrospect.

"The same way anyone lives anywhere," he says. "I found a place, I pay for it using my salary. Not everyone is independently wealthy, but I figured you understood the basics."

"I meant--how do you live here? Don't you want to murder everyone?"

"I'd want to do that wherever I lived," he says. She pours him another shot and they both drink. "It helps that I live in the next town. Way cheaper. Cooler people. But I get all my business here. This town put my sister through college."

Clarke smiles. "I'm glad someone's benefiting from all the rich assholes."

"Me too." He tilts his head at her. "So is this when we talk shit about your ex? Because I thought you were too good for him."

"You don't even like me that much," she teases. They're kind of friends, she's pretty sure, but he's never going to say it.

"Yeah, so imagine how much I must not have liked him."

Clarke pours a shot into an actual glass and mixes it with cranberry juice; she offers it to Bellamy and has to smile when he takes it without question. Some guys have issues with mixed drinks and masculinity, but she was pretty sure he wouldn't. She makes one for herself and raises it to him, and he clinks his glass against hers.

"I couldn't come up with a good reason not to trust him," she says. "Logically. There wasn't anything."

"Trust isn't really about logic."

"I know." She gives him a wry smile. "Relationship counselor who can't take her own advice. Total cliche."

"I wasn't gonna say it. I'm seriously questioning your life choices, but I was already doing that, so it's not new."

"It's a good system," Clarke protests. "It's just really hard to really--do it."

"Four kinds of trust, right?" he asks. He sounds like he's calculating something.

"Money, family, body, heart."

"And that's it."

"I know it doesn't sound like a lot, but--that's everything. That's it."

"So you think you could just marry someone and get that?"

"Not just anyone," she protests. "Just someone--someone like you."

"Someone like me?" he asks, voice unreadable.

"Yeah. You're smart and responsible and honest. That's a good basis for trust."

"And I guess you're already trusting me with your money. Sort of. You stopped making me tell you every time I get something for the house."

"Exactly."

He takes a long drink. "So am I gonna get a ring, or is this it for the proposal? You could at least get down on one knee."

Clarke blinks, trying to catch up, and then does all at once. "Oh, no, I didn't mean--" she starts, but, honestly, she could marry worse people. He's smart, he has a good job, he's attractive. He's male, which doesn't matter to her generally, but gender is one of the few things she confirmed about Finn on her website. And he is--solid. She doesn't know him well, but he's the kind of person who feels dependable and honest, almost to a fault. She doesn't trust him yet, but she thinks he's trustworthy.

He raises his eyebrows. "You didn't mean what?"

"Well, would you?" she asks.

Even though he's the one who brought it up, he chokes on his drink. "Seriously?"

"Why not?" Before he can answer, she adds, "Okay, I know there are like a billion good responses to why you wouldn't do it, feel free to just say no. But I don't see why I wouldn't ask."

"I'm pretty sure you would if you weren't drinking with your employee at two p.m. on a Wednesday because you dumped your fiance and your life is fucked up."

"I'll ask tomorrow if it makes you feel better."

He laughs and finishes his drink. "Go for it. In the meantime, do you have a TV or something? Or ice cream? Apparently I'm on breakup duty. We should watch a movie so you don't call anyone you're going to regret calling."

"See? Excellent husband material."

"Yeah. Keep telling yourself."

*

The next morning, she gets a call from an unknown number, and when she picks up, the person on the other end says, "You're the other woman?"

It takes her a second, less because she's hungover and more because that's a new way to identify herself. "Probably, yeah."

"You dumped his ass?"

"Yeah."

"Thought so. I did too. He says he wants you back, so I guess you're winning, maybe."

"That's what it feels like, yeah." She rubs her face. "You know, we haven't even been introduced."

"No. I'm Raven."

"Nice to meet you, I guess. I'm Clarke. Sorry I didn't know Finn was already engaged."

"Probably better to find out now, right? For both of us." She pauses. "I guess it's probably worse for you with PR shit."

It's just after nine, so Bellamy is probably already at the house. He has a work ethic like she's never seen.

"Maybe," she agrees, vague. "But I don't think we need to keep having a contest about who got screwed over more. He's a dick either way, who cares?" There's an awkward pause, and Clarke rubs her face again, trying to wake herself up. It's too early for this. "Sorry, was there a reason you were calling?"

"I'm still in Boston for my conference. Thought you might want to get dinner and talk shit about Finn."

"That does sound good," she admits. She hasn't figured out how to tell any of her own friends about the whole thing yet, aside from Bellamy.

And she'll have someone to tell the funny story about proposing to her contractor. Which she'll definitely need. Raven is most likely to get it; Wells and Monty are just going to be horrified.

They set up a time and place to meet and Clarke showers, picks up coffee, and goes to the house. Miller, Bellamy's partner, is working on the yard, which means Bellamy will be inside, tinkering with something.

"Where is he?" she asks.

"Master bedroom," says Miller, and she gives him one of the coffees for his trouble.

Bellamy's working on putting the bed together, but when Clarke comes in he stands and brushes himself off to accept the coffee. "How hungover are you?"

"I was sober by the time I went to bed, so not at all. You?"

"Same. But I figured you might have kept on drinking without me."

"Nope." She worries her lip. "So, I'm sober, and I still think you should marry me."

"Huh," he says, and takes a careful sip of his coffee. "Really?"

"No, I guess that's not true. I still want you to marry me. I'm not convinced it's a good idea for you."

"I'm your main concern here?"

"I need to get married, you don't. There's less of a reason for you to agree to this than there is for me."

"You don't need to get married, Clarke," he says. "Seriously. Screw anyone who thinks this means you can't do your job. They're idiots. Getting married just to prove you're good at relationships is a fucking shitty idea."

"I am good at relationships," she grumbles. "I'm just better at other people's relationships."

"Everyone is."

"Yeah, but I'm really good at other people's relationships."

"Good for you. So say that and don't get married to some random stranger just because you think it'll lose you business."

"Or I could marry someone."

"If you want to make shitty decisions, yeah." He regards her. "What's your backup plan?"

"My backup plan?"

"If I don't agree to this fucking stupid idea, what are you going to do?"

"Call my mother, probably."

"And tell her it's canceled?"

She snorts. "She's even more invested in this wedding than I am, so no. She'll come up with her own list of names and I'll pick which one I like best."

Bellamy rubs his face. "You're really serious about this, aren't you? And don't say anything about how this is like if I built a house that collapsed, because there is nothing like marrying someone in my job description."

"Fine. But it's a big deal, and I--"

"If I haven't convinced you this is a shitty idea in the next two weeks, I'll marry you," he says.

"Are you betting me I won't want to marry you after I get to know you better?"

"I'm betting I can convince you that getting married just to protect your career is stupid."

"And if you can't, you'll marry me anyway?"

"Well, if at the end of two weeks you still want to get married, it would be pretty shitty of me to make you find someone else. So, yeah. I'll do it."

"Deal," says Clarke, and offers her hand. "I still have to call my mother. Damage control."

"Damage control?"

"This wedding is a PR event," she says, with a tight smile. "And spin is what my mother does best."

*

She makes the call in the kitchen, while Bellamy works on installing the stove, so he'll know what he's in for too. Clarke loves her mother, but in a distant way, the way you can love looking at pictures of sunrise over a mountain without wanting to wake up early and actually go hiking. But Abby Griffin does press for the actual president, so if anyone can make this situation work, it's her.

"Finn was--I dumped him," she says, by way of greeting.

"Dumped him? Why?"

"Because he was cheating on me. Or with me. I was actually the other woman."

"I don't think you're the other woman if you're engaged to him," says Abby, like she thinks this will make Clarke feel better.

"He was engaged to both of us," she says.

"I'm so sorry, honey." Clarke counts in her head, doesn't even get to three before her mother says, "You can't cancel the wedding. It would be a disaster. The press already knows about your engagement and--"

"I know," she says. "I've got another groom lined up."

There's a pause. "You do?"

"Yeah."

"It's not Monty, is it?"

"What's wrong with Monty?"

"His criminal record."

"He got caught with pot in high school. Everyone got caught with pot in high school."

"What?" asks Bellamy, brow furrowed.

"Not you," she assures him.

Abby huffs. "I don't think Monty would be a good choice."

"Monty would be fine. But it's not Monty." She covers the speaker on the phone. "Have you ever been arrested?"

"No."

"He doesn't have a criminal record."

"Who?"

"Bellamy Blake."

This time, the pause is longer. "The contractor building the house."

"Yeah."

"Why him?"

"I like him," Clarke says. Bellamy jerks up and hits his head on the top of the oven, which just makes Clarke like him more. He's such a dork. "And he said yes."

"Of course he said yes," says Abby, at the same time Bellamy says, "I didn't say yes."

"You did. Just with conditions."

"He's a glorified construction worker," Abby says. Clarke hired Bellamy on her recommendation, after he refurbished Marcus Kane's house, so Clarke assumes her mother is panicking that she enabled this. "I'm sure he thinks this is his big break."

"It's nothing like that."

"I assume I'm not going to talk you out of this," Abby finally says.

"You probably aren't," she agrees. She likes Bellamy's odds a lot better than Abby's; if anyone's going to talk her out of it, it's him.

"We'll need to control the story. Keep anyone from saying what really happened."

"None of my friends will," Clarke says. "Finn said he'd tell his family, and I assume they don't really want to spread around that I dumped him because he was a cheating asshole. So make sure our family is on board and we're set."

"I'm changing my flight," says Abby. "I'll be down tomorrow. I want to meet him."

"It's my wedding, I pick the groom."

"You picked the wrong one once, I don't see why you wouldn't again."

"Thanks, Mom." She sighs. "Send me your new flight."

"I'm doing a background check."

"Knock yourself out." She hangs up and turns to find Bellamy already watching her. "Anything bad in your background check?"

"I don't even know what's in a background check. I think I'm fine. No arrests for me. A few for my mom, one for my sister, but my mom's dead and my sister's the guy didn't press charges." He cocks his head. "Your mom isn't happy?"

"She would have liked to give me a list."

"Which is why you wanted to come up with your own list first?"

"If I had any good candidates, yeah."

"Thanks, I think." He crosses his arms over his chest and raises his chin, slightly defiant. "What am I getting myself into here?"

"Two weeks of wedding planning. My mother interrogating you. My friends laughing at me."

"Awesome."

"How old is your sister?"

He frowns at the change of subject, but doesn't object. "Twenty-four."

"What does she do?"

"She's going to be the first female Navy Seal."

Clarke blinks, taken off guard. "Did I read about her?"

"Probably. It's a big deal."

"You don't sound thrilled."

"I'm proud of her, but it's not like I really want my baby sister in a combat situation. I'd be good if she became a vet like she wanted to when she was a kid."

"Well, once she leaves service, she'll be a vet, so--"

He snorts. "Anyone ever tell you your sense of humor sucks?"

"All the time."

"What about you? Siblings?"

"No, just me and my mom. My dad died when I was sixteen."

"And your mom is--"

"She works for the president."

"Yeah, I thought I remembered that."

"I love her, but we don't agree on a lot of stuff. She said I was throwing my life away with the relationship adviser stuff, until I started getting popular, and then she acted like she'd always supported me."

"You know your life sounds miserable when you talk about it, right?"

"Yeah. But it's not."

"Whatever you say. Imagine how much better it would be with someone you could talk to about all the bad shit. Like a real boyfriend. Or girlfriend."

"I'm talking to you, aren't I?"

"Yeah, but I don't really care."

"Sure you don't. Should I send our itinerary to your work email or do you have a personal one you want to use?"

"It's genuinely weird to be this upbeat about marrying a stranger, you know that, right?"

"You're not a stranger," Clarke says. "We've been talking almost every day for months. I know you have a sister."

"Yeah, wow, I can't believe I fucked that up," he says. "You don't even know how old I am."

"How old are you?"

"Twenty-nine. You?"

"Twenty-seven. How did you get started doing house stuff?"

"That is the official name for it, yeah. Bellamy Blake: Professional House Stuff." He shrugs. "My mom died when I was eighteen, and I got custody of my sister. I was working for a construction company, and I was pretty good at it. So I kept doing it, ended up opening up starting my own firm. How did you start giving relationship advice?"

"I was really judgmental about all my friends' relationships in college, but then they admitted I was right when things went wrong. I started doing a blog about it, and then it just kind of took off."

"I've actually read some of the blog," he says, surprising her.

"Yeah?"

He flashes her a grin. "One of my friends linked me to your So You're Dating a Fuckboy article because he thought I'd appreciate it. And it got my sister to dump her dick boyfriend, so thanks."

It makes her feel surprisingly warm and fuzzy, that Bellamy knows about her blog. She's proud of her blog. It doesn't make her living, not like the actual official relationship counseling does, but she honestly prefers it. She likes helping out people who can't or won't pay for her services too. People who really need it.

"So, if someone wrote in and said they were marrying an employee because their fiance cheated on them, what would you say?" Bellamy asks, and Clarke lets out a surprised laugh.

"You're not really an employee. You're working for me for a few more weeks, and then you'll work for someone else."

"Okay, marrying some guy."

"It's an advanced technique," she says. "Only for professionals."

He snorts. "So how come I can do it?"

"You're a natural."

"Thanks. But that's not really an answer to the question. What if someone wrote you that letter?"

"It would depend on what they wrote," Clarke says, careful. He raises his eyebrows, clearly dubious, and she shrugs. "I mean it. Honestly, a lot of the job is reading people. If I was writing to myself, that's already a pretty big thing. Anyone who's writing to me is worried enough they want a second opinion. I'm not that worried."

"Huh," says Bellamy. And then he grins. "You're so full of shit."

"If you want to write in and ask if you should marry me, I can tell you why you shouldn't."

"Dear Hermione, My fiancee asked me to marry her because her previous fiancee dumped her and she's too stubborn to just not get married," he dictates. "Now we're both trying to convince the other that they don't want to get married. What the fuck? Sincerely, Marriage Chicken."

Clarke wants to tease him back, but the work part of her brain, the part that can't help breaking down letters as soon as she reads them, fitting the pieces together. And Bellamy's letter--everything Bellamy has said about this, honestly--has one obvious thing missing: what he thinks about getting married. He thinks she shouldn't, but he agreed to it anyway. And she thinks he shouldn't, but she wants to anyway.

That's kind of comforting.

"I assume you know the submission email," she says, with a sunny smile. "Knock yourself out."

She has errands to run in the afternoon, and it's a little surreal, doing the normal wedding stuff she's been doing for months, but with a different groom. And no one else even knows. It's her own strange little secret, and she's almost giddy with it.

By the time she's getting ready for dinner with Raven, she's realized how--unfortunate it is, that the first time she's been really excited about her own wedding is when the previous groom isn't involved anymore. Marrying Finn felt like doing a paint-by-numbers kit: they were getting married now because it was time to get married, getting married here because it was the place to get married. They picked the right flowers and the right decorations and got all the things they were supposed to have. It would have been a storybook wedding, but the story was a bestseller than everyone had read. Generic and cliched.

Bellamy being the groom doesn't change that part of the wedding, but it means there's something interesting happening, at least. And Finn was actually excited about all the boring stuff they were doing, which made her feel even farther away from him. Whereas when she texts Bellamy pictures of flowers, he just replies, Did you want the flowers to look like vaginas or is it just a coincidence? It's just so much better than actual enthusiasm.

The real problem is that she's too stubborn to ever ask someone like herself if she's in a bad relationship. Monty's tried to get her to talk about it, but it was easy to say the right things, because the right things were all true. Everything about her relationship with Finn worked so well on paper, and it was hard to accept that paper wasn't translating to real life.

And then, she was trying to check the weather and found his phone before hers, so she opened it up to a text-message conversation with someone named Raven, whom Finn was calling babe, saying he couldn't wait to see her.

The fallout had been fast and terrible, Finn accusing Clarke of snooping and not trusting him, like this was worse than what he was doing, explaining that he didn't want to break up with Raven in person, begging her to just trust him, and throwing everything she'd ever said about healthy relationships back in her face, like this made her a hypocrite. It had the opposite effect to what he'd wanted, though, just reminding Clarke of all the uneasy feelings she'd been trying to ignore.

Within twenty-four hours, she was single and Finn was gone, and she was sitting on her kitchen counter telling Bellamy Blake how much her life sucked, before she'd told her mother or Monty or Wells or anyone else. And that has to mean something, right? If this whole stupid experience has taught her anything, it's that she has good instincts, and she should follow them.

So she's going to get dinner with Raven Reyes tonight, and she's going to marry Bellamy Blake in two weeks. It's a good plan.

Raven is gorgeous, so gorgeous Clarke has a moment of total disbelief that Finn somehow decided he wanted to cheat on this woman with her. With anyone. Cheating never makes sense to her, but she has even more trouble figuring out why anyone would cheat on someone like Raven.

Once they get a tipsy, Clarke brings it up herself, and Raven snorts.

"I'm not shiny and new."

"Who cares?"

"Look, me and Finn? We've known each other since we were kids. For as long as I can remember. Me, I liked that. It's romantic, and--I like knowing everything about him. But he didn't like that I was the only person he'd ever be with."

"He's an idiot."

"You don't seem too broken up about it," Raven says, giving her an assessing look.

"No. Sorry."

She snorts. "What are you apologizing to me for now?"

"I figure you'd feel better if I was heartbroken."

"Nah." She shrugs. "I don't want him ruining either of our lives."

"Mine's fine. How's yours?"

"I'm still awesome. Seriously, what's this doing for your whole--" She waves her hand. "Dating guru thing? You got a plan?"

"I'm going to marry the guy who's building my house," she says, and, when Raven just stares at her, adds, "He's a good guy!"

"Wow. Were you two--"

"No. Of course not. I could never--I wouldn't do that."

"So you're just--honestly, that would be less weird if you had been sleeping with him."

Clarke knocks back the last of her drink. "It gets weirder. He's still trying to talk me out of it."

"Talk you out of what?"

"Marrying him."

"Was it his idea?"

"No, mine."

"And he's trying to talk you out of it."

"I told him if he didn't do it I'd find someone else so I guess he's, like--he still thinks I shouldn't just get married to some random guy, but if he doesn't convince me that's a bad idea he's willing to be the random guy. He doesn't want to leave me in the lurch."

"You know the more you talk about this, the less real it sounds, right?"

She sighs. "Yeah, I know. But--I need to get married. And he's a good person to marry."

"If you needed to get married that badly, you could have just married Finn," Raven points out.

"No, I couldn't. Not after what he did."

"So you're just marrying some guy. You can do that."

"Yeah, I can do that."

Raven pauses, but then nods. "If you can do it, good for you. Just don't let Finn ruin your life, okay? And that includes not marrying a random guy just to prove Finn didn't screw you over."

"I won't," she says, and smiles. "He still has two weeks to talk me out of it. And he is pretty persuasive."

Raven snorts. "So, you're a mess, cool. We're gonna be friends."

"Awesome," Clarke agrees. "You want another drink?"

*

"This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me," Bellamy says.

"Is it? You have an awesome life."

He snorts, and Clarke bumps her shoulder against his. Part of her agrees; they're doing last-minute flower stuff, and it's boring and exhausting and she has trouble imagining a world where she cares about this.

At the same time, Bellamy is grumbling and rolling his eyes and making sarcastic comments under his breath, and that's honestly pretty fun. She does like spending time with him; it's nice to have a reason to do it more often.

"Okay, not the worst," he says. "But it might be the stupidest rich-person shit I've seen."

"Nope, you make houses for rich people. We've asked you for some really stupid stuff. I call bullshit."

"I once had to make a miniature, to-scale, identical mansion for this woman's cats. So, second after that, yeah."

"What scale?"

"One sixth. It was huge. The plumbing was functional."

"Wow."

"It was nicer than my apartment, honestly."

"That's really the only weird thing?"

"No way. Just the only thing worse than planning this wedding." He huffs. "You can't tell me this is what you want. All this giant, fancy wedding shit."

"It's a strategic decision," Clarke says.

"Strategic."

"I don't let my job dictate most of my life. Really, I don't. I love my job and I'm good at it, but I'm not going to pretend to be someone I'm not."

"Except for this."

She ghosts her fingers over the petals of a lily. "It's not like I mind having a big wedding. But, yeah, that's part of the image. It's more like--if I don't care, I might as well do what's best for my career, right?"

"Yeah, still no. What about Finn?"

"What about Finn?"

"What did he think about the giant, expensive wedding?"

"He thought it was romantic."

"He sucked at romance."

"Okay, so--your ideal wedding. What does it look like?"

There's a pause as he pokes at a large leaf, like he's wondering if it's going to bite him. "I think it should depend on who you're marrying. It shouldn't just be about what I want. But I'd want to marry someone who wanted something quiet. Spending a ton of money on all this--it's one day. And I know it's supposed to be the best day of my life or whatever, but I'm really hoping it's not."

"Really?"

He smirks. "If it's the best day of my life, then my relationship with the person I'm marrying is all downhill from when we officially start to spend our lives together. That would suck. I'd rather save the money for a house or kids or--anything that lasts more than a single fucking day."

"Yeah, you're right. I'm hoping the nice, big wedding will bring in more business. You have to spend money to make money. And I'm mostly spending my mother's money."

"That's something." He shrugs. "Obviously it's your life. And if you don't care about the wedding, using it as a job thing makes sense. It's just not what I'd do."

"It's what you're doing."

"What, I'm not selling you on canceling and doing a private ceremony on a beach somewhere?"

"That does sound a lot better." She bites her lip. "That reminds me, I know you--is there anyone you want to come? Invitations?"

"I'm not sure I really want to publicize this. Not when I can surprise all my friends and family when they see it in--" He makes a face. "Are you famous enough to be in tabloids?"

"Not really."

"Well, my sister reads your website, so that might do it." He runs the back of his neck. "She's in New York, so if we really do this, she can come on short notice. But--seriously, are you telling your friends?"

She has to smile. "I told Finn's other girlfriend."

To her delight, he barks out a short, delighted laugh. "Jesus, you're full of surprises. Are you guys friends now? How did that happen? You should sell the rights to Lifetime. That's a fucking inspirational story."

"Only if we get married."

"You and Finn's other ex? Yeah, you definitely should. I support that."

"Not for Lifetime. For Lifetime, you and me get married. Lifetime movies love rich, career women realizing that they should get together with small-town guys who can give them the traditional life they're missing out on by caring about--anything other than marriage and babies, basically."

"Is that what I'm giving you?"

"It would be in the Lifetime movie."

"I like kids," he says, making eye contact with a display of roses instead of her. "I figured I'd have some someday."

"Me too." She smiles at him. "I just thought I'd have a career and kids. But that's a good thing to talk about."

"What?"

"Compatibility stuff. How many kids do you want?"

He chokes on the air. "Really?"

"What?"

"We're having kids now?"

"Not right this minute. Just--generally. That's something people talk about before they get married."

"Yeah, uh, there's a lot of stuff people talk about before they get married that we skipped," he says, amused. "Like, you know. The entire relationship."

She loops her arm in his. "Which is why we're making up for it now. So, kids?"

"Two? I don't know. Maybe three. Having a sister is so important to me, I wouldn't know what to do with just one kid."

"Yeah, I'd want at least two. I always wanted a brother or a sister. I wrote an essay about why I would be a great older sister when I was seven."

He laughs. "Really?"

"It was pretty well-reasoned, I couldn't figure out why it made my mom cry." At his alarmed look, she smiles faintly. "They tried for a while, when I was younger. Mom found out she couldn't have any more kids, so--finding out I really wanted a sibling was hard for her."

Bellamy squeezes her arm, quick and warm. "I'm sorry."

"My dad explained, I apologized. But, yeah. I want a couple kids."

"Awesome. Glad we agree about the kids we're not having, because marrying your contractor is a terrible idea and you're going to notice that in a couple days."

"When are you going to notice?"

"I already did. Do you listen when I talk?"

"As little as possible. But you agreed to marry me. Even though it's a terrible idea."

"It is. But you're really into it, so I don't want some asshole taking advantage of that. You're rebounding and--I don't even know what." He looks down, biting the corner of his mouth. "I think you shouldn't get married like this, but if you found some random guy to do it, I'd probably end up punching him, so--I'm doing it."

"Punching him?"

"This is fucked up. When you figure it out, you need someone who know that too. Anyone who doesn't, yeah. I'd punch them."

"I don't want to support violence, but--that's sweet."

"Shut up," he grumbles, without heat. "Like I said, just tell me when you realize this is stupid."

"Why does it have to be stupid? It's like--an arranged marriage. People getting married like we do now is a pretty recent thing."

"That is not seriously your argument," he says.

"We could be happy, I bet. I like you."

To her surprise, he tenses. But all he says is, "Yeah, I know. But this is a shitty way to start a relationship, and you know it. You just don't want to admit you fucked up yet."

Clarke bristles, and she wonders if it was his way of taking revenge for--what? She said she liked him. It's not a bad thing.

"I didn't fuck up."

"Okay, you didn't," he agrees. "I think you did the right thing with Finn. He's the one who fuck that up. But the rest? You're spiraling, and I'm not going to let you destroy your life."

"Why not?"

He raises his eyebrows. "What?"

"What do you care if I ruin my life?"

"I like you too," he says, gruff. "And if your life explodes badly enough, I probably don't get paid."

"You're a good guy, Bellamy Blake."

"I wouldn't go that far. But I'm trying to help, yeah."

"You are helping."

"At least there's that." He clears his throat. "So, when's your mom showing up?"

It's the least subtle change of subject she's ever heard, but she can't really blame him for feeling awkward. He basically said he was marrying her because he was fretting she'd find someone worse; it's probably a weird thing to tell someone. Even if she appreciates the sentiment.

"Not until eight. You can meet her tomorrow."

"Awesome, can't wait."

"I'm pretty sure she's on your side, if it helps."

"No, she's not." Clarke raises her eyebrows, and he smiles. "I don't think you should get married, but if you do, you should marry me. She thinks you should get married, but not to me. So we're on totally different sides. I'm definitely gonna fight your mom."

She laughs. "Cool. I'll send you a schedule for tomorrow."

"You're really fucking lucky you're the one who's paying me, or I'd never be able to take this much time off work."

"I meant for dinner. You still have to work for a living. And so do I."

"You're seriously going to give relationship advice right now? What are you going to say? When your relationship goes down in flames, just keep going down?"

"I was thinking I'm more like a phoenix, rising from the flames." She bites her lip. "I've always done a lot better telling other people what to do."

"You do love that." She can see his throat bob when he swallows. "Just--you don't have to be okay, Clarke. No one would expect you to be. I don't care if you didn't love him, or if you think you shouldn't have. You were going to marry a guy, and he screwed you over. If that happened to me, I'd be pissed. I'd turn it into an article for my website about how to deal when your fiance turns out to be a lying, cheating asshole two weeks before your wedding."

"And the answer isn't marrying your contractor?"

"Pretty sure no."

"I'm gonna wait and see how this goes," she decides. "Because if that is the answer, people definitely deserve to know. Ultimate life hack."

"Sure it is."

"Clarke! Bellamy!" the florist is rushing back in, looking excited. "We do have the calla lilies! Did you still want them? We have a variety of colors--"

"I hate you," Bellamy says, low, and Clarke pecks him on the cheek while he's close.

"I can't wait to marry you either."

*

Most days, going through the inbox for her website is one of her favorite activities. Some of them are definitely fake, but most are at least fake in a creative way, and she thinks she can generally tell the difference. And even if she can't, by this point she knows how to pick the right ones to respond to publicly, the right ones to respond to via email, and the right ones to ignore. Not to brag, but Clarke's pretty good at her job. And this is her favorite part of it, just--feeling like she's helping. And she doesn't always, she knows. She's fucked up before, and she will again.

But she does good too.

So it's really annoying that what Bellamy said actually does fuck her up.

She doesn't actually think what happened with Finn destroyed her ability to do her job; she made a bad decision in her own personal life, and she ignored some--not warning signs, but she decided she needed a good reason to not be with Finn, when really she needed a good reason to stay with him.

It should be a learning experience, something that she can use when she's talking to other people. It should help. She's dealing with her issues in a mature way. Kind of.

"Dear Hermione," she mutters. "I found out my fiance is cheating on me so now I'm planning to marry my contractor. He's hot and we get along really well, but we've never been on a date and he thinks it's a terrible idea, he just doesn't want anyone else to actually marry me in my vulnerable state. Obviously he's a great guy, so I should lock that down and figure out the relationship part later, right?"

If she didn't still think it was a good idea, it would probably be easier. But some part of her feels like this is right. She feels better about it than she's felt about anything in a long time.

Which is fine for her personal life, but she can't help feeling her professional judgement might be out of whack.

She skims letters for a while, unable to really concentrate, until she gives up and texts Bellamy. He's at the house, working, and she almost wishes she'd gone in there. At least she'd have company. But she can't help feeling a little like he's a crutch right now, this person she has who keeps her from thinking about the reality of her life.

It's not healthy, and it's not fair to him. But texting is probably fine.

Me: You broke me

Bellamy: Yeah I get that a lot
How's your mom?

Me: Working in her hotel until after lunch. Are you excited for dinner?

Bellamy: Like you wouldn't believe
She sounds great
I'm making a friendship bracelet right now

Me: You're going to nail this

Bellamy: I try
So how did I break you?

Me: I'm reading my Hermione email and every one I just hear what I think you'd say to them

Bellamy: Shit
That is bad
I would suck at your job
One time I gave this kid advice about picking electives in middle school
And she ended up getting arrested for shoplifting

Me: Wow
How does that even happen???
Can you really blame yourself?

Bellamy: She explained how it was my fault
So yeah
I try not to give advice anymore

Me: You give me advice all the time

Bellamy: No, I tell you you're wrong
Big difference

Me: Yeah I guess that's true
But tells-you-you're-wrong columnist doesn't sound nearly as good as advice columnist

Bellamy: I'm saying
Bonus points for using hyphens in text message, though
Impressive dedication to grammar, princess

Me: Thanks, I think
How's the house?

Bellamy: Hasn't fallen down yet, but I'm still here for four more hours, so anything could happen

Me: Yeah, you're right
I should probably come over and make sure you don't break anything

Bellamy: I can't be trusted alone
Bring coffee

She does feel better once she's at the house, sitting cross-legged on the marble counter top of the kitchen, reading questions aloud to Bellamy while he works on installing the dishwasher. There's a part of her that feels guilty about it, the part that won't stop reminding her how awful she's being. But it's not like she didn't like him before the whole Finn thing. She came over to hang out and shoot the shit and argue about her house on a nearly daily basis. It's not even that different from how it was, except now he makes sarcastic comments about her impending marriage to him instead of her impending marriage to Finn.

And she's happier, which is still fucked up.

Her mother calls a little after three.

"It's your favorite person."

"That's a hotly contested position," he says. "But I assume you mean your mother."

"I do. You don't mind doing dinner?"

"Is she paying?"

"Definitely."

"Somewhere nice then. I'm not a cheap date."

Clarke gives him an impulsive peck on the cheek. "Thanks, Bellamy. I really appreciate--whatever you're doing."

"I'm going to write a tell-all book," he says, but his voice is a little off. "Reveal that you're secretly a fucking mess."

"I think you already have enough material for that," she says, and picks up the call before it goes to voicemail. "Hi, Mom. Work go okay?"

"It did. How are you?"

"Good. Working on the house with Bellamy." He snorts, and she pokes her foot into his side. "Shut up, I'm helping. I brought coffee."

"Uh huh," he agrees. "We couldn't do it without you."

"I know."

Abby clears her throat, and Clarke realizes she got distracted. "When will you two be done?"

"Whenever we feel like it, I guess. I figured we'd just get dinner with you."

"Don't you have something to do for the wedding?" Abby asks. "It's only two weeks away, I know there's still plenty left to do."

"It's a work day," she says. "I was doing stuff for the website. The wedding is on track, Mom."

"Take a second and think about how fucked up that is," Bellamy murmurs, and Clarke nudges him with her foot again. At the same time, he's not wrong. Her own mother shouldn't be prioritizing her still getting married over everything else. It's fucking weird. Bellamy's more concerned about her state of mind than Abby is.

"Thanks," she mutters.

Abby doesn't hear. "I know. And you seem--happy. With your new fiance."

"We're doing okay, yeah. We want you to buy us dinner."

"I don't think this is a good idea," she says, and Clarke sighs.

"To clarify, your issue is that I'm marrying the wrong guy, not that I'm still getting married. I shouldn't cancel the wedding, just let you pick the new groom."

"I didn't say that."

"Am I wrong?"

"I thought we agreed about this, Clarke," she says. "It would be--you don't want the attention a canceled wedding would bring you. A public wedding, a quiet divorce, that would be the best. And I think once you're tied down to--well, why would he divorce you?"

Clarke rolls her eyes, even though her mother can't see. "We could pay him."

"You're already paying me," Bellamy says. "Pay me for what?"

"Quiet, quickie divorce once the buzz has died down."

"I think I'd make more money staying married to you."

"That's what she's worried about."

"Clarke," says Abby, voice tired. "I'm on your side. I'm telling you what I think is best. Someone like Wells or--"

"I'm not marrying Wells," she says. "That would be weird."

"And marrying a stranger isn't? What about Lexa?"

"She's my ex for a reason, Mom. What do you think I'm going to do? Call her up and say, I know we crashed and burned, but my fiance cheated on me and I still want to get married, what are you doing next week? I don't think she's even in the country right now. And just--no." She rubs her face, not looking at Bellamy. "I'm not even sure I'm going through with it."

There's a long pause, and then Abby says, "We could spin it if you don't," with a slow hesitance Clarke takes to mean that not getting married would be bad, but possibly better than marrying Bellamy.

"Let's start with dinner."

"With--Bellamy."

"Yeah, with Bellamy. We can pick you up at seven?"

"That late?"

"We have to have tons of athletic sex on my new counter top," she says, and bites back on her grin when she hears both Bellamy and her mother choke.

"Clarke," she says, and Clarke smiles.

"See you at seven."

She's not sure which part she's expecting Bellamy to comment on, but she's not actually surprised when he settles on, "You might not get married, huh?"

"You've got two weeks to convince me you'd be a terrible husband, right? I think you've got a real shot."

"Thanks for believing in me." He clears his throat. "So, uh, what are we really doing for the next four hours?"

"You don't want to have sex?" she asks, keeping her voice mild.

"I think Miller might need to come in here, so not right now, no," he says, just as even. "I was going to go pick up furniture and arrange the living room. You want to come?"

She brightens. "Sounds fun. I'll be all sweaty for dinner. Mom will definitely think we were fucking."

"There's something wrong with you," he says, but he's amused, and maybe even a little impressed. "Come on, you can have shotgun."

*

The dinner is, somehow, almost exactly like Clarke would have expected and not nearly as bad as she thought it would be. Abby and Bellamy are both polite and short with each other, and when Clarke makes awkward comments, Abby winces in the most polite way possible and Bellamy hides his smile in his wine glass.

The most surprising thing is actually how easy it feels; when she and Finn went out with Abby, the two of them got along, Finn effortlessly charming and Abby actually happy with Clarke's choices for once, and she felt superfluous to the conversation. Once Bellamy figures out how to interact, she could see it being kind of fun. A united front or something. Non-stop trolling.

The thought it actually alarming, so when she gets home, she panics and calls Monty.

"I'm not doing well," she tells him, and it feels like a lie.

"Cold feet?" he asks, and she realizes she hasn't even told him about Finn yet.

"I wish it was that simple."

"Oh," says Monty. "I should get a drink, huh? It's going to be that kind of conversation."

"Definitely. Finn was cheating on me, but I'm still planning to get married."

There's a long pause, and then she hears him drinking what sounds like a shot; Monty is the best. "To Finn?"

"No."

"I guess that's something. Is this about your professional reputation?"

"Yeah."

"I think that's stupid, but I assume you already knew that. Who's the lucky guy or gal?"

"The guy who's building my house."

"So do you want me to talk you out of it or tell you you're making the right decision? What's my line?"

"Honestly, I don't know." She pauses. "Bellamy--the guy--he says he's just going along with it because he doesn't want me to rebound into a worse relationship with someone who will take advantage of me."

"Noble."

"Is it bad that I believe him?"

Monty pauses. "I don't know how to answer that question."

Clarke flops back on the couch, closes her eyes. "He says he wants to talk me out of it."

"I'm not drunk enough for this conversation," he says. "Do you want me to come down? Have you told Wells?"

"No."

"About Finn?"

"No."

"So how'd you get engaged?"

She swallows, because this is the hard part. "As soon as I heard, I went and told Bellamy. And then I proposed."

"Okay." There's a pause, and then he says, "Tell me about him."

"Who, Bellamy?"

"No, the other guy I've never heard about who you're planning to marry."

She has to smile. "Like I said, he's building the house. He and Finn never got along very well, so I always did most of the work with the house stuff. Which made Bellamy like him even less. He's kind of--" She pauses. "He doesn't like rich people. He likes me better because I got involved in the house, I think. I care about how stuff is, Finn just cared about how it looked."

"Yeah, that sounds like Finn," says Monty, making her stomach lurch. Finn never really fit in with her friends, in a different way than Lexa hadn't. Part of why she and Lexa didn't work out was that Lexa hadn't had any interest in being a part of Clarke's social circle. Finn hadn't disliked anyone, but he hadn't really ever felt like part of the group either.

"Finn did the wedding stuff and I did the house stuff and it worked out pretty well. Bellamy and I argued about shit and--he's cool. I like him."

"And he's hot?"

"Obviously," she says. It seems pointless to deny it; Bellamy is stupidly hot. Monty will see when he meets him.

"Finn wasn't my type, so I don't trust your judgement."

"You're going to think Bellamy's hot."

"Is this at your wedding?"

"I guess." She rubs her face. "I probably won't go through with it. But I'll still be living here. I assume we'll still be friends."

Monty is quiet for a while. "I'll be there next week. Call Wells and tell him what happened."

"I thought it would be a fun surprise for when he gets here."

"Sure you did. Call him."

"In the morning," Clarke wheedles. "I had a stressful night! Dinner with my mom and Bellamy."

"He already met your mom?"

"I had to tell her about Finn. She's still trying to come up with better person for me to marry."

There's another long pause. "Tell me when you tell Wells, okay? I need to call him up and gossip about every part of this."

"Thanks."

"You have to admit this is like five steps past regular weird."

"I admit it," she says. "I'll text you."

In the end, she ends up emailing Wells a summary of the situation the next morning and CC'ing Monty. Her excuse is that she has to go do wedding stuff with her mother, which is technically true, but she's mostly just done with long, awkward silences while her friends wonder how she survived to adulthood. She'd rather Wells had those by himself or with Monty; she doesn't need to be included.

"Are you really thinking of not going through with the wedding?" Abby asks. Clarke can't read her voice.

"Wouldn't anyone be? I lost my groom."

"You seem to get along with Bellamy."

"I do get along with him," she agrees. "But I think a rebound marriage isn't a great idea."

"That's why you should find someone who--it doesn't have to be real, Clarke."

And that's the thing, isn't it? It should just be a quickie marriage and a quiet divorce, and that would be fine. Not a big deal. She shouldn't feel bad about doing that, if Bellamy really doesn't mind. It's a good business decision.

But it doesn't feel like the right call.

"I know," she says, because there's no way she's discussing this with her mother, of all people. It's something to sort out with Bellamy, or Monty, or Wells. Even Raven would be an improvement, and she's talked to Raven once.

But Bellamy is her best bet, because, at the end of the day, she trusts him. And at the end of the day, that's still her best reason to marry anyone.

By the time she and her mother are done with the final dress fittings, it's almost five, she's missed three calls from Wells, and she's exhausted and irritable. She texts Bellamy, Do you want to get drunk?, and then calls Wells back, mostly because it really is cruel of her to just email him about her disaster of a life and go off the grid for the rest of the day.

"Seriously?" he asks, when he picks up.

"I know."

"But, really, seriously?"

"What's wrong with a quick fake marriage?"

"Everything."

"Other than that."

"Your groom isn't really on board."

"He's never said he doesn't want to marry me," Clarke says, because that's stupidly important to her. "Just that I shouldn't marry him on the rebound."

"Which is true. And counts as not being on board."

She feels the buzz of a notification against her ear; Bellamy has texted, Dropkick in half an hour?

She sends back a thumbs-up emoji and tells Wells, "Honestly, he's just looking out for me. He's--really protective of people."

"Have you thought about just asking him out?"

Clarke blinks. "I asked him to marry him. Doesn't that trump dating?"

"No, because it's stupid," says Wells. "Dating first, marriage second. If you're serious about this, go on some dates with him."

"You're not going to tell me not to do it?"

He snorts. "I've been your best friend since birth. I know how well telling you not to do things works."

"We're going to a bar tonight," she says, because there's no real way she can argue with him on that one. "Does that count as a date?"

"Are you guys going to make out?" Wells asks.

Clarke hasn't actually thought about kissing Bellamy, but of course she is now, because Wells brought it up. She knows Bellamy is attractive, of course, and he's got the kind of easy confidence that makes her think he's probably good in bed too, a kind of cockiness that comes from knowing what he's doing instead of from blind overconfidence.

And he's probably a great kisser. She can just imagine him trapping her up against the wall in the bar, capturing her mouth with his and making her melt. He's warm and firm and strong, and she can almost feel her fingers getting tangled in her hair while she gets lost in the feel of him.

It hasn't even been that long since she got laid; what the fuck.

"I don't plan my makeout sessions," Clarke says, pulling her mind away from Bellamy's mouth. "I'll play it by ear."

"You do plan your makeout sessions, you plan everything," Wells says. "Look, you don't have to get married. You might lose some business, but not enough that--you'll be fine."

"It would be better if I got married."

"Just for your job." He sighs. "Should I come down?"

"No. There might not even be a wedding."

"So just have a big party. Everyone's already paid for plane tickets or whatever. You can celebrate dumping a guy who was cheating on you."

"I bet Finn's family would love that."

"What did he tell them?"

"No idea. I assume he said he wasn't getting married, but I blocked his number. He can deal with it."

There's a pause, but it doesn't feel like a bad one. "I love you," he finally says. "I'm sorry this happened, but--I never thought he was great for you. So don't get married again without my blessing, okay? I have great taste."

"You do," Clarke agrees. She doesn't add that he'd like Bellamy, but she thinks he would. That would be nice.

For the few months they'd be married, obviously.

Instead, she says, "I better get going."

"Ask if it's a date."

"It's not. But--thanks for the advice. Sorry I didn't tell you right away. I didn't really want to--it sucks to say it."

"I know. It's cool. Don't worry about it. Just take care of yourself, okay?"

"I'll do my best."

Dropkick is a cheap dive bar in Bellamy's town, one that tourists don't tend to know about. She's been there with him and Miller a couple times, when Finn wasn't around and she was bored and asked them what there was to do around here.

The bartender on shift, Gina, is Bellamy's ex, and Clarke still doesn't examine how that makes her feel, this strange desire to assess her, to figure her out. To see what Bellamy likes, and compare herself to that.

It's not a new feeling, and that's what bothers her most.

"I hear you get your first drink on the house," Gina says, by way of greeting.

"I do?"

"Bellamy said you dumped your fiance."

She makes a face. "You guys gossip about me?"

"I don't think he thought he was gossiping. He was worried."

"That sounds more like him." Gina slides her a cider, her usual, and Clarke takes a long drink before she adds, "Did he say anything else?"

"That you're in a downward spiral and he might have to marry you."

"Does he think I have to be in a downward spiral to marry him?"

"Probably. This is Bellamy."

Clarke licks her lips. "What went wrong with you guys?"

"Nothing really has to go wrong," Gina says, with a shrug. It's kind of a new concept for Clarke, whose relationships always seem to actually explode when they end. "We like each other, but he didn't think he could marry me." Clarke winces, and Gina laughs. "I didn't think I could marry him either. And he was going through a crisis because his baby sister got engaged."

"Isn't she really young?" Clarke asks, frowning.

"She got engaged when she was twenty-two. It didn't work out, but it still freaked him out."

"Quarter-life crisis?"

"Something like that, yeah."

She knows she shouldn't ask, but she can't help it. "So, I should be flattered? That he said he'd marry me?"

Gina's smile is amused and a little patronizing. "Do you want the honest answer?"

She feels herself flush, sheepish. "Yes."

"You shouldn't do it," is what she says, to Clarke's surprise. "He will, because that's the kind of guy he is. But it wouldn't be fair to him."

"Oh." She swallows. "I know."

Gina nods. "Then sure. You can be flattered, if you want."

"I'm a mess, huh?" Clarke finally asks, and Gina smiles.

"Yeah. But I think you'll be fine."

Bellamy shows up about fifteen minutes later, when Clarke's most of the way through her cider. He slides in next to her and gives Gina a look that Clarke can't quite read, and then offers Clarke a smile.

"Rough day at the office?" She's tipsy enough that leaning into him seems natural; he smells clean and sharp, and his shoulder is warm, firm under her cheek. His soft laugh rumbles against her, and she closes her eyes. "That bad, huh?"

"I told my friends what happened."

"You hadn't yet?"

"I didn't know what to say."

"The same thing you said to me. Minus the marriage part."

"It's easier to talk to you."

"Anyone ever tell you that you have intimacy issues?"

"All kinds of issues." She wets her lips, doesn't move or look at him when he says, "I'm sorry."

"Yeah, you should be," he says, but his voice is mild. There's a moment of quiet, and then his hand tangles in her hair, rubbing gently. She hadn't even realized she had the start of a headache, but somehow Bellamy did. "Seriously, what happened?"

"I don't know what to do."

"Yeah, I got that. But it's not new."

"You know it's just--" She sighs. "Can we act like we're going to get married for a week? And then I'll--stop being like this. Deal with my life."

She feels the press of his lips against her hair, and it really isn't fair to him. She should have met him some other time, when she could be sure what she was feeling was real. It feels real, but it's too easy to compare him to Finn, and to think that the contrast is what she likes about him.

But with her eyes closed, she can still see the curve of his smile. That should mean something too.

"I can't believe you actually help people through crises. I know you're good at it, I've seen you."

"Those who can't do, teach," Clarke says, and he snorts.

"I always thought that was bullshit, but you're bringing me around." He gives her head a final rub and then slides his hand down to squeeze her shoulder and lets her go. "I'll do whatever you need. We can say we're getting married for as long as you want."

That's enough to make her stir off his shoulder so she can squint at him. She has a nice view of his neck and jaw from this angle; he's unfairly hot.

"Why?" she asks.

"Why what?" he retorts, flat, and she pokes him in the side. "I'm pretty sure you're not going to go through with it," he says, relenting. "And, seriously, anyone can see you need someone to--" He rethinks. "You could use a friend. And--we're friends, right?"

"We're friends."

"Friends who get married," he says, with a twist of his mouth. "It's not hard to go along with this for a few days, if it makes you feel better. The wedding stuff is kind of fun."

"I knew it," she says, grinning. "You love flowers."

"I love telling people they're wrong about flowers," he corrects, but he's smiling too. "Yours sucked, you're lucky I was here to help you get better ones."

"I am very lucky," she says, serious. "I really--you're right. I did need a friend."

"Because you won't talk to your actual friends, apparently." He nudges her off his shoulder. "Sit up. I want to play the stupid deer-hunting game."

"Really?"

He flashes her a grin. "I'm feeling lucky. It's definitely my night."

He shoots a doe before he manages to get a buck five times in a row, and Clarke can't remember the last time she's laughed harder. She might not be doing well, but she's definitely been doing a lot worse.

*

The next few days are easier. She lets herself think about possibilities, about telling her friends and family that the wedding is off, but if they still want to come out, they'll have a big party. She texts Raven about nothing, talks to Monty and Wells about her mother's stressing, and is in almost constant contact with Bellamy, which she tries not to think about. He's somewhere between friend and crutch, and she doesn't want to try to place him too exactly.

She has a deadline for when she needs to figure that out; that feels good too.

Her mother has come around on marriage to Bellamy, mostly, Clarke assumes, because she was so resistant to the idea of marrying anyone else. She thinks he's probably right, that she shouldn't marry anyone. But if she does marry, it's going to be him.

Another thing she's not thinking about yet.

The wedding is scheduled for a Saturday, so she figures the Saturday before is the time to really sit down and think about what she's going to do with her life. Getting married feels--easiest, and she knows that's an odd way to be. She's known Bellamy for all of six months, and hasn't been particularly close to him for most of that time. When they first met, she and Finn were still living in the city, more than an hour away, and while she drove out to the Cape fairly regularly to help with the house, since her job was more flexible than Finn's, and she's more anal about this stuff. They'd chat while he worked, and she likes him. She feels comfortable with him, and Clarke doesn't tend to be comfortable with people very often. She's prickly, and she knows it, the kind of person who's always looking for cracks and catches.

And Bellamy doesn't hide his, wears them on his sleeve. He's sarcastic and short-tempered and a little arrogant, with a chip on his shoulder and a healthy and warranted distrust for authority figures and rich people. Bellamy Blake is aggressively honest about who he is, and what fascinates Clarke is that he seems convinced that's no one good. That he thinks people will look at him and dislike him for it.

Clarke thinks he's great, honestly. She doesn't know anyone else like him, and the more time she spends with him, the more she wants to make sure he never leaves her life. And marriage is supposed to be a guarantee of that.

But it's also supposed to be something two people agree on because they love each other, not some weird career move. And Clarke doesn't mind it for herself, but Gina was right: it's not fair to Bellamy.

And, really, it's not like she has to marry him to keep spending time with him. She could just ask him out, like Wells said.

"I'm not getting married," she says, just to see how it tastes on her tongue. It feels--well, it feels weird, honestly. But it felt weird saying she was getting married for a long time too. It wasn't until people started congratulating her, until she started getting nice emails and her mother was telling her how great it would be, that something resembling excitement set in.

The problem is that she shouldn't have been getting married in the first place; choosing a more appealing groom doesn't actually resolve the issue.

"I'm not getting married next week," she says, and it feels better this time. "I'm not marrying a hot guy I've got a crush on to avoid an awkward situation."

Saying she has a crush on Bellamy is honestly almost as staggering as giving up on marriage; it's only been a week since she and Finn broke up, and even if she thinks, in hindsight, it should have happened a long time ago, it still feels like she's a bad person, actually liking him so soon. It was easier when she could tell herself it was a purely business decision.

Clarke's always been good at lying to herself; it might be a good idea to stop before her life gets any more off track.

Me: Do you want to not marry me?

Bellamy: I thought you'd never ask
You okay?

Me: I feel kind of stupid

Bellamy: Don't, seriously
When my sister and her ex-fiance broke up, she took a baseball bat to his headlights and I had to bail her out of jail
So you're doing fine
Do we need to get drunk?

Me: It's not even noon

Bellamy: And?

Clarke has to smile; she really does like him. And she thinks he--well, they're friends. Friends is a good first step.

Me: I need to tell my mom first. Give me a couple hours?

Bellamy: Shockingly, I have no plans today aside from reading and getting in fights on metafilter
Call me if you need anything

She calls Monty first, on the grounds that it's important to start small and then get worse and worse. That's how Clarke tries to live her life. Always in a downward spiral.

"So, I'm changing my wedding party to a non-wedding party. That cool?"

"You're not gonna marry the hot guy you found at the last minute?" he asks. "I can't believe that didn't work out."

"He still would, I think," Clarke says. "But if I'm going to marry him, I want to do it the old-fashioned way."

"No, you don't. Getting to know someone first is a lot less old-fashioned than it's been a week and I need to get married. Historically speaking. You want to do it the new-fashioned way, with dating and pre-marital sex."

"Thanks for clearing that up."

"So, I'm still coming?"

"You don't have to. You don't have a non-refundable flight or anything. But it will be an awkward party with a bunch of my relatives who were expecting me to get married. So if I were you, I wouldn't miss it."

"Is your contractor coming?"

"I hope so. And I'll probably invite his hot gay business partner too."

"I can't believe you didn't tell me about him before. I would have come earlier."

"I think I had enough witnesses for this part of my life, thanks."

Monty's quiet for a minute. "You're okay, though, right? Do you need anything?"

"I'm fine," she says, with a small smile. Not that he can see it. "It's the right choice, and I'm happy."

"How well adjusted are you right now? Like, on a scale from one to ten?"

"Why?"

"Because I'm going to tell you to do something you don't want to do. I want to see if it's a good idea first."

She sighs. "Just get it over with."

"You probably need to get in touch with Finn. Just to make sure he talked to his family and they're not going to show up expecting a wedding."

"That would be worse than just talking to him, you're right." She rubs her face. "I didn't know dumping a guy who cheated on me would be so complicated."

"So no one told you life was gonna be this way?"

"Shut up, Monty."

"Call Wells! We need to gossip."

"It's not normal to talk to your ex this much," she grumbles. Between Wells and Monty and Bellamy and Gina, she's starting to feel like she's the only person in the world this bad at breakups.

Except, apparently, Bellamy's little sister. They should clearly be friends.

"It's not normal for your life to be going this badly," Monty says. "Usually Wells and I only talk about you like twice a month."

"Always glad to help." She lets out a long breath. "At least Bellamy's getting drunk with me later. I'm going to need it."

"I mean it," he says. "I can be there in two hours if you want me. No questions asked."

"I know. But, like I said. I'm good. I'm not getting married, I like my new house, I'm happy I'm going to live out here. I'm probably doing better than I would be if I was going to marry Finn."

"I wasn't going to say anything, but yeah. Way better."

"Yeah. I'll call Wells, so you can gossip. And I'll see you next week."

The call with Wells is pretty much the same as the call with Monty, and she can't decide if she'd rather talk to her mother or Finn first. She knows they're both good, important calls to make, and they're both going to be awful and painful and she's going to want to get drunk after.

In the end, she flips a coin to decide and unblocks Finn's number so she can call him. He picks up on the first ring and says, "Clarke, thank god! I've been trying to talk to you, I was about to drive down--"

"Don't."

"Look, I know I fucked up. I didn't know what to do. If you'll just--"

"This isn't a we're going to fix this call, Finn. I just wanted to see what you told your family. Make sure they knew the wedding's off."

"Clarke, I know this is--I know we can fix this."

"No, we can't," she says. "I don't want to. It's over. I just wanted to make sure you--I'm turning the wedding into a regular party. You can tell your relatives if they still want to come, I guess. I'd rather you didn't. We're paying for stuff, so I figure it's my call."

She can hear him starting to talk and then changing his mind a few times, and she goes to the bathroom to get some water while she waits. Finally, he says, "Clarke, listen. I know--I don't expect you to marry me right now. But--this doesn't have to be the end."

"Yeah, it does." She wets her lips, and there's no question at all in her mind. There hasn't been. In a way, it feels like she's been waiting for him to fuck up, and that's--maybe it makes her a bad person. But it doesn't change the facts. "We're over, Finn. There's no coming back from this. I'm not going to block your number again, in case--if there's anything important you need to tell me about the wedding or anything like that, you can call. But we're not getting back together. I don't want to see you again. I don't want to talk about it."

At least he stops arguing. "I'll let my family know. I--Clarke, I'm so sorry."

She isn't, but there's no reason to say that. "I forgive you," she says instead. "Goodbye, Finn."

It doesn't exactly feel like closure, because, if she's honest, she didn't feel like she needed closure. But she feels a little better for having talked to him again, to have made it clear that there was no chance of reconciliation. He needed to know that, apparently. So she was helping him out, at least.

Her impulse is to call Bellamy and get to drinking immediately, but she reins that in. Abby first, then Bellamy. He's a reward.

Me: Talked to my ex

Bellamy: Why?

Me: To make sure his family knows we aren't getting married

Bellamy: That would be the only good reason, yeah
Are we getting drunk yet?

Me: Still have to call my mom

Bellamy: Jfc
I'm never canceling a wedding
It sounds like a huge pain

Me: It really is
If you're going to get married just do it
Divorce might be easier

Bellamy: No, that's a pain too
Living in sin all the way
Do you exclusively drink cheap vodka or can I get a good drink?

Me: I drink anything

Bellamy: I knew I liked you for a reason
I'm buying some booze and going to hang out in the house
It's done enough for us to get drunk there
You could probably sleep there if you wanted
Objections?

Me: You're actually my favorite person in the world

Bellamy: You should meet more people
See you whenever you're ready

She takes a deep breath and then decides, well--she should do this in person, right? Arguments are already better in person. And then she can just keep driving to the house, and get drunk with Bellamy.

This is her life back on track. Or at least on it's way to back on track

"You're not getting married," Abby says, when she opens the door.

"No."

"What are you going to say?"

"Can I not just say I found out my fiance was cheating on me and dumped him? That's what anyone would do."

"And shouldn't you have an explanation for why you didn't realize?"

"No," she says. "People don't realize this shit. If anyone thinks I can't give relationship advice because I've had bad relationships, they're wrong. I use examples from my own life all the time."

"But you were serious enough about him to marry him," says Abby.

"And I was wrong. I thought I'd marry Lexa too." She sighs. "I'm not worried this is going to ruin me, okay? If I lose some clients, it's fine. I don't care. I'm not getting married to make it look like I didn't fuck up."

Abby pauses. "And Bellamy?"

"I'm gonna go get drunk with him after this," says Clarke. "We're friends." And then, for some reason, she's compelled to add, "I'll probably ask him out later. If things go right."

"I hope you're--I hope this is right for you."

That, at least, is easy. "It's right for me." She smiles. "Honestly, I feel better than I have in months."

*

The next week is awesome. She cancels anything she can, helps Bellamy get the house set up, goes to the bar and relaxes for a while. By Tuesday, the house is ready for human habitation, and she writes a post about how she's not getting married on Wednesday. There's a flood of supportive emails, as well as a few flames about how she's clearly a failure and isn't fit to give anyone advice. It's hard to care; if people don't want her advice, they don't have to come to her. As long as she's not fucking up anyone's life, she doesn't mind if some people dislike her.

"Yes, you do," Bellamy says, amused. "If you didn't care, you wouldn't be reading them aloud to me."

"I occasionally need validation. Sue me."

"I think you're as good at your bullshit job as you ever were," he says, and she shoves his shoulder.

They're basically the same as they were before, which is--a little worrying, honestly. She can't tell if he's still just hanging out with her because he thinks she still needs someone, or if he really likes her.

She's getting surer every day that she really likes him. That this could be something real. Assuming he really does like her too. Assuming he's not just like this, protective and still not sure she's okay.

"You're such a charmer."

"You wanted to marry me," he points out. "So I must be."

She swallows hard. "You do fulfill all the criteria."

He tilts his head, clearly confused. "I do?"

"I trust you. In all the ways I have to." She shifts a little closer. "You're great with money. You're--well, you're fine with my mom. As good as anyone is. And I'm looking forward to you meeting my friends. I know you'd never hurt me. Any of the ways you could. I trust you with everything, Bellamy."

He's quiet, and then he shifts in too, leaning his head against hers. "You're drunk and rebounding," he says. "Next time you ask me to marry you, be sober, be out of your last relationship for, uh, at least six months. And you should be dating me too. Which--also when you're sober. And after we get through your non-wedding." She feels his lips press against her hair. "Those are my criteria. So, let me know when you fulfill them."

"How long do I have to wait after my non-wedding?"

"I really don't want to be a rebound, okay?" He squeezes her shoulders. "If this happens, I want it to be real."

Her chest feels like it's made of sunlight. "Okay. I'll give it a couple weeks." She pauses, wraps her own arms around him. At least snuggling seems to be okay. "I'm proposing to you?"

"You're really good at it," he says. "I don't want to steal your thunder."

She dances with him at her non-wedding, introduces him to her friends and gets their approval, hangs out at the bar and schemes with him to set up Monty and Miller, and when she loses all self-control after three weeks and climbs into his lap for a kiss, he just laughs and kisses back.

"You good?" he asks.

"Great."

His hands slide up her sides, tugging her closer. "Just remember, six months before you propose."

"That's so long, though."

He kisses her again, just as good as she knew he'd be. "You don't want to cancel another wedding. It was a huge pain in your ass."

"Or we could just not cancel it."

"Or that," he says. "In six months."

He tugs her shirt off before she can respond again, and it seems pointless to argue. She's already getting exactly what she wants.

*

Dear Hermione,

My girlfriend and I have a pretty weird history. I met her about six months before she was supposed to get married to someone else, when I was working for her and her fiance, building their new house. I know, that sounds bad, but nothing happened between us while she was engaged. I liked her and thought she was making a mistake marrying the guy, but I barely knew her, so obviously I didn't say anything. Two weeks before the wedding, she found out he was cheating on her and broke it off.

This is where it gets really weird. She's a relationship adviser, so she went into a tailspin about having to tell people the relationship didn't work out. We got drunk, and she decided she'd rather just marry someone else. Then she said I was the kind of person she should be marrying. And then she proposed.

Honestly, I would have done it. But I didn't want to be a rebound, and I definitely didn't want her marrying me just to avoid an awkward situation. I still went with it, because I wanted to spend more time with her and I was worried, and I didn't want her marrying anyone else. We didn't end up getting married, but we started dating a few weeks after the wedding would have happened.

Before we started dating, I told her she had to wait at least six months before she proposed, since we had a weird history with it, and she agreed. But it's been a year now, and we joke about it all the time, but she hasn't said anything serious. Should I stop waiting for her and just propose myself? I know I want to spend the rest of my life with her, and I can't wait. But I don't want to steal her thunder.

Sincerely,

Marriage Chicken

 

Dear Chicken,

She probably just hasn't found a ring she likes yet. It's hard to buy rings for guys. If you've got one you like, I think you should go for it. I'm sure she'll say yes.

Good luck.

*

favorite-mistake
I don't want to be that guy, but the LW didn't use pronouns, so it seems kind of weird that Hermione assumed the issue was picking a ring for a man??? Even if it was a joke, it jumped out at me, idk.

 

Hermione
Don't worry about it, always be that guy here. I try to be really careful about assuming stuff like this when the LW doesn't specify. But, in this case, I know for a fact the LW is a guy.

Related, for those of you who asked, he proposed last night, and I said yes.