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Authors: Susan Meissner

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Blue Heart Blessed

BOOK: Blue Heart Blessed
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Contents

A Novel

BLUE HEART BLESSED

By Susan Meissner

Epigraph

There are three things that are too amazing for me,

four that I do not understand:

the way of an eagle in the sky,

the way of a snake on a rock,

the way of a ship on the high seas,

and the way of a man with a maiden.

Proverbs 30:18,19 (NIV)

One

S
he is absolutely stunning, the woman standing in front of me wearing my wedding dress.

Her name is Vanessa and she is drop dead gorgeous like all Vanessas are. Shining hair, copper skin and mocha-brown eyes. Teeth to put dentists out on the street. Soothing voice. A well-placed mole on one cheek.

The dress made for me hangs on her like art. Like it was painted on her perfectly formed body by a master of the canvas.

To make matters worse, I’m certain she knows it. Posing before the three-paneled mirror in my boutique, Vanessa is amazed at what she sees in the glass. She looks like Cinderella seconds after a fairy godmother’s wand has waved away the stained muslin and the mistreated heroine realizes there will never be another dress like this one, this one that will change her life.

Vanessa’s mother, Lucille Something, stands next to her daughter, smirking. She’s the one who yanked my dress off its mannequin at the back of my shop after Vanessa had walked right past it, insisting that her daughter try it on. The MOTB now opens her mouth. “Ooooh, Vanessa!” she gushes. “It’s lovely. Just perfect.”

Of course it’s perfect. I curl my lips into a thin line. Words are forming in my head. Words of protest.

The bride-to-be begins to giggle and flashes us her Miss America smile. She swishes my dress and it still whispers my name.

Daisy. Daisy.

It’s one of the many things I loved about that dress, the way the tulle and chiffon became a duet that spoke my name when rustled.

“Oh, Mom! It is gorgeous, isn’t it?” Vanessa twirls to face her mother.

Daisy.

I feel a surge of adrenaline shoot through my body and in my mind I tell my beautiful dress to please, please stop saying that. I can’t think straight.

Daisy.

“You know, Vanessa, I really didn’t think you’d find anything in a used wedding dress shop. I mean,
really
.” Lucille speaks as if the owner of this sorry establishment—that would be me—is deaf or gone or Vulcan. “I was going to try to talk you out of coming here. But just look at you. You look divine. Who would’ve guessed?”

“See? I told you this was a one-of-a-kind place.” Vanessa catches my eye in the mirror’s reflection of me as she turns back to face the mirrors. She smiles a conciliatory grin that says;
Pay no attention to my mother. She can be rude sometimes.
Vanessa’s eyes fall back on the dress. “It really is perfect, isn’t it?”

This is usually when I say something like,
“That’s the dress for you, Vanessa.” Emily. Kate. Tasha. Whomever. “Shall we see if there’s a veil you like?”

But that’s not what comes out of my mouth.

“Well, I don’t know,” I mumble instead.

Three heads swivel in my direction. Vanessa’s. Lucille’s. And my mother’s. Out of the corner of my eye I can see my mom at the cash register, shaking her head ever so slightly. She thinks I can’t see her.

No, she probably knows I can.

“What do you mean, ‘I don’t know,’” Lucille replies. The little laugh in her throat suggests she can take a joke.

That I am joking.

“The thing is, I don’t know that I can actually sell you that dress.” I inject a modicum of lament into my tone. Like,
Golly, I wish I could sell you that dress, but I just can’t.

“Oh, no!” Vanessa’s perfect face droops with disappointment. “Is it being held for someone else?”

“You could say that,” my mother mumbles.

I toss my mother a look across the store but she’s marking a new shipment of earrings. Her head is down and all I see of her is her silvery-gray hair and a lime-green neck scarf.

“Why didn’t you say so before she tried it on?” Lucille says to me. Like her daughter, Lucille’s facial expression has also morphed. But I wouldn’t say it’s oozing disappointment. She is mad.

“I, uh, I’m sorry. I was only paying attention to what Vanessa was taking into the dressing room. I really didn’t realize this one had been taken off its mannequin.”

I sense that my mother has lifted her head again.

A mother always knows when her child is lying.

“Well, for heaven’s sake! Why is it out here with the rest of the gowns?” Lucille growls. She places a manicured hand on her hip for emphasis. Just in case I wasn’t getting the idea that she’s ticked. “It’s not marked that it’s being held!”

A new thought occurs to me. “It’s actually not marked at all.”

The gray head at the front of the store goes back down. I’m not lying about that. There is no price tag on my dress.

Lucille purses her lips together but says nothing.

“Is the other person sure she wants it?” Vanessa’s voice is so hopeful. I study her face for a few moments just to be able to drink in the look and taste of that kind of expectation.

“Not entirely.” My voice sounds funny. Lucille is too mad to notice. Vanessa, too disappointed. My mother has surely picked up on it but she says nothing.

“Well, can you let me know the minute she decides she doesn’t want it?” Vanessa has turned back to the glass, to the image of herself in the perfect wedding gown.

“Of course I can. And I’ve lots of other dresses for you to try on. That first one you picked out was worn by a woman who married a classmate from kindergarten. They hadn’t seen each other in over twenty years and then one day they met up again at a grocery store.”

Vanessa just stares at my dress on her body.

I try again. “One of the others you have was worn by a woman who waited four years for her fiancée to awaken from a coma. They were married last spring in Rome.”

Vanessa sighs. “What’s the story on this dress?” She strokes my dress longingly, practically pouting.

I stiffen just a tad. “It’s not that great a story.”

Vanessa motions for her mother to tackle the zipper and as she does so, I see the tiny, blue satin heart that is blessed and sewn into the backs of all the used wedding dresses I sell at Something Blue
.
My little way of recommissioning these gowns of wonder. And removing any mental link to a past sometimes best forgotten.

Vanessa steps down off the mirrored platform, lifting the fairy-like skirt. “Why? What happened? Did the couple get divorced?”

“No,” I answer. “They didn’t get married.”

“Why not?”

I lick my lips. I’ve told this story many times over the past year, but that doesn’t mean it gets any easier. I shrug as if to suggest I really don’t know all the reasons why Daniel called off our wedding ten days before we were to say “I do.”

“Well, the couple just decided they weren’t right for each other.”

“Why didn’t the woman just take the dress back to the store where she bought it?” Lucille too, has been pulled into the tale of woe. “She hadn’t worn it.”

Oh, Lucille. I had worn it. Many times in my bedroom in the weeks leading up to what was supposed to have been my wedding day. But I know what Lucille means. The dress Vanessa is wearing is technically a new, never-been-worn garment that’s usually worth more than the truly used items in a resale shop.

“She had the dress custom-made, actually.”

“Well, surely the seamstress could’ve found another buyer. A gown as beautiful as
that
.”

I clear my throat. “Um, the girl kind of held on to it for a while.”

“Ah, so it was the guy who dumped
her
.” Lucille nods her head. Like she understands everything.

I feel bile in my throat. After all these months. I still feel it.

“That’s so sad.” Vanessa’s beautiful features are crisscrossed with empathy.

“Better to find out those things before the ceremony than after.” Lucille’s tone is thick with matronly self-assurance.

“Do you know this girl? Is she okay?” Vanessa is too good to be true. Hopeful. Kind. Compassionate. Beautiful even when she pouts. I should let her have the dress. I should just give it to her. I hear the Voice of Reason within me, my alter ego to whom I journal every night, poking me, prodding me.
Give her the dress. Give her the dress.

I cough. “She’s all right,” I toss my head slightly to shake away the words I don’t want to hear. “She knows there’s someone else out there who’s going to sweep her off her feet. Someday.”

“Well. Of course there is,” Vanessa chirps, and she turns toward the dressing rooms.

“I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” Lucille mutters.

“But I still want this dress.” Vanessa begins to walk away. “If the other gal doesn’t want it, I do. I don’t care about its first life. Besides I believe in those little blue hearts you sew into the dresses. And I
don’t
think it’s possible for a dress to be bad luck. So I want you to call me if she changes her mind. Okay?”

What else can I do but nod my head. “Certainly.”

And as Vanessa walks away, the dress swishes and sways. I hear my name in every step.

Two

W
hen I was little I used to wonder why all little girls weren’t named after flowers. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to be called Daisy, to share the name of something known across the entire planet as being cheerful and lovely. I remember feeling a sense of pity for Allison, my best friend in first grade, whose name meant nothing. Her name conjured no happy mental images. My room was wallpapered with daisies. Hers, with mermaids. Absolutely no connection whatsoever. Poor thing.

It wasn’t until I was in junior high that I realized my name was not only synonymous with merry, white petaled-flowers but also with Donald Duck’s love interest as well as all things bovine. It was hard to be twelve and be Daisy. The popular girls in my rural Minnesota school tended to ignore me; the rest displayed a strange kind of compassionate pity for the girl with a name that evoked images of Holsteins. The boys? Well, most of them had watched enough reruns of
Dukes of Hazzard
to be able to properly remind me that life is not always fair. And people named Daisy often don’t get much respect.

I never let on to my father that the lovely name he chose for me didn’t have the same cultural appeal as Jessica, Heather and Natalie. The fact that my parents had a baby girl
to
name was actually remarkable in and of itself. Statistically speaking, I shouldn’t have been conceived at all. I was born to a historically infertile couple who’d given up on producing a child more than a decade earlier. They adopted my older brother Kellen from Korea after years of failed attempts to conceive.

My parents were both forty-four years old when I was born and Kellen was in his senior year of high school. Do the math and you’ll see that when I was twelve and wrestling with the merits of my name, my parents were both fifty-six years old. They were grandparents already.

It should come as no surprise then that my self-esteem suffered in those pre-teen years. I wanted to love my name. I wanted to be proud of my parents. I wanted to brag that I had been an aunt since I was eight. But all of those things made me different. Not special. And being different in junior high did not seem like a good thing. Fitting in would have been nicer. And that was something I couldn’t do.

There was really only one time in those awful, awkward years when I felt uniquely preferred by someone my own age. I would end up comparing every boyfriend—even Daniel—to the boy I met the summer I turned thirteen.

His name was Skip Holdeman and he and his parents and little brother were staying with a family from our church while on furlough from the mission field. Skip and his family were missionaries to Thailand. He was a year older than me, had settled into his man voice already and was boyishly handsome. When he started hanging around me at church and talking to me at softball games and ice cream socials, I chalked it up to him being new and not knowing any better. But the more he tagged after me the more I came to realize Skip was fully aware that I was named Daisy, that my parents were born during the Depression and that I was an aunt.

Maybe it was because I wasn’t a flirt and he liked that. Maybe it was because I was actually interested in his life as a missionary kid. Maybe it was because he had a fondness for dimples—I have two. I don’t really know why Skip took a liking to me. But I’ve never forgotten that he did or what it felt like. I think that’s why I fell so hard for Daniel fourteen years later. To be chosen over anyone else in the world is a pretty heady feeling.

When Skip left that summer to go back to Thailand we agreed to exchange addresses and he handed me his on half an index card. When I reached out to take it from him he seemed to lean forward a little. Like he was going to kiss me. I was scared to death that he would and scared to death that he wouldn’t. His lovely blue eyes were tight on mine and he seemed to be at war over whether he should or shouldn’t. I doubt he had ever kissed anyone before. I certainly hadn’t. Nor had I ever been kissed. And I was too astonished to properly encourage him. I just stood there, transfixed by the notion that a boy wanted to kiss me.

He didn’t, though.

But I took some comfort in the knowledge that he appeared to be angry with himself for having passed up the opportunity. He was moody the rest of the day.

We wrote to each other a few times after he left. At some point during that first year after I met him, Skip stopped returning my letters. My mother, who had been told nothing but had yet sensed everything, told me it’s hard to maintain a relationship when you are young and so far away from each other.

What she said made sense, but I didn’t want to talk with her about my wounded heart. And yet I wanted very much to be able to vent to someone. That’s when I invented Harriet.

I decided I needed someone like Dear Abby or Ann Landers to whom I could pour my heart out and who could then write back and give me good advice. Writing to Harriet was easy. I just bought a notebook and started journaling to Dear Harriet.

Getting good advice back from her, however, meant traipsing into the territory of the absurd because in the end I wrote
myself
back. I became Harriet. I wrote all of Harriet’s responses to my troubles. And to be honest, I still do. I still like to dump on my alter ego and then advise myself of what I should do. Yes, it sounds ridiculous. Yes, it’s odd. But really, it’s no more peculiar than talking things over with yourself, which we all do. Besides, usually when I’m in crisis I know what I should do, I just need affirmation. Or a kick in the pants.

Honestly, I really don’t care what others might think of Harriet. I got through the distress of losing Skip by ranting to her and reading back to myself her answers, which began with
Boys are pigs
and morphed into
You barely knew him. He lives on the other side of the world. The chances of you seeing him again are pretty slim. You need to open your heart up to other people. People you can see.

This was actually pretty good advice.

It took awhile, but I finally allowed myself the luxury of falling in love again. The second time it was with a fellow high school classmate named Ryan. We dated through our junior year and into our senior year, but we conveniently got bored with each other at the same time, hallelujah, which meant when we broke up, I didn’t feel like I’d been sliced in two. My journal entry to Harriet the day Ryan and I called it quits was something like this:
It’s over with Ryan and me. We agreed we’re just not meant for each other. I hope I haven’t totally ruined my life. I hope he wasn’t the one God picked out to be my life partner, ‘cause I’ve totally messed it up if I’m supposed to marry him.
And Harriet wrote back:
Are you kidding? You’ve been wanting to break up with him for weeks. He’s not the one and you know it. Go eat some chocolate. You’ll feel better
.

I dated a few guys during my college years. No one particularly special. No one who Harriet really liked, if you know what I mean. And I was kind of counting on meeting a nice Christian guy at college. When you spend the money my parents did for an education at a private Christian college, you tend to expect it. Anyone who doesn’t is not being completely truthful, as Harriet would say. Actually she would say they were lying.

But I graduated with my marketing and graphic design degree without a ring on my finger. I was a bridesmaid three times over that summer. I pretended this did not bother me but Harriet knew better. After one of the weddings I wrote in my journal
: I feel all mixed up inside. I mean, I’m happy for Lindsey. And she looked so beautiful today. I loved her dress. But something’s keeping me from being completely happy for her. It’s like I wanted her to trip down the aisle or wake up with pink eye this morning. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

And Harriet wrote back

Yes, you do. You’re jealous.

Tell me I didn’t already know that.

My Harriet is no different than the voice you have inside of you, telling you the truth even when it hurts.

And oh, how it does hurt. I have three whole notebooks on loving Daniel and losing him. Writing them killed me. And kept me alive.

I’m halfway through the fourth.

I will write in it tonight after my mom and I have closed up Something Blue. After she chides me for lying to Lucille about not seeing her take my dress off its mannequin. After I’ve watched a cheesy chick flick. After I’ve called my best friend Shelby, who is also my ex-maid of honor.

I will crawl into bed with a cup of tea and I will tell Harriet that I had a chance to sell my wedding dress today and blew it.

And she will write back…
So what else is new?

BOOK: Blue Heart Blessed
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