Authors: Alice Clayton
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Women, #Humorous, #General
Terrance shot a stifled grin my way, snagged a cinnamon twist of his own, and went where he was told.
I was alone with my mother.
“Now, Chloe, I’m sure you didn’t mean to be as rude as you just were. What must our wedding planner think? A gorgeous bride, stuffing her face just hours before she’ll be sewn into the wedding gown we’ve spent months preparing your body for. As it is, we’ll be lucky if the buttons don’t pop.”
I let out a tiny but defiant burp.
My mother sighed and looked at the counter. And as she did, I realized it was the single most reliable expression she had on her face when it came to me.
She was always sighing, if she wasn’t pushing. She was always sighing, if she wasn’t shushing. She was always sighing, if she wasn’t detailing exactly what I had done wrong.
I loved my mother, but it sure was hard to like her sometimes.
“Chloe?” I heard, and I realized the sighing was over.
“Is that how a young lady responds to a question from her mother?”
I straightened up automatically, tummy in, chest up and out, head balanced on a tiny cloud floating on top of my spine. Good posture is the calling card of good breeding, after all. “Mother, I’m sorry I was rude. I’m sure I’ll fit into my beautiful gown.”
She studied me carefully, her pretty face carefully composed, her pretty hair carefully composed, and finally nodded once. “Now go apologize to Terrance, dear, and please don’t eat another thing until your new husband offers you some wedding cake. This is going to be a beautiful day—I’m so happy for you.” As she turned to head outside, where the gardener was once again positively ruining her prize begonias, she called over her shoulder, “I’ll put a water pill on your bedside table, dear; let’s see what we can do about that puffiness around your ankles.”
It took everything I had not to kick something with my allegedly puffy ankles. If I could manage to lift my giant elephant legs off the floor. I relaxed my posture, licked a traitorous bit of sugar from the corner of my mouth, and headed in to see Terrance and the rest of the “help.”
ou know,” Terrance said, “I have seen it
. Mothers of the bride getting in screaming matches with the mothers of the groom. Grooms getting drunk at the reception and falling into the wedding cake. Once I even saw a father of the bride trying to make out with a groomsman.”
The glam squad was going full throttle. I had someone curling my hair, someone painting my nails, someone applying my makeup, and someone touching up my pedicure. In the background, happy music played and happy bridesmaids danced while sipping mimosas. The entire house was Happy Wedding Central, bursting with feminine giggles. Yet I, the one the frivolity was revolving around, was ready to burst into tears. Something that seemed to have escaped everyone’s attention. My bridesmaids had been my friends for years—friends I once had something in common with, but from whom I’d been feeling more and more distant in the last few months as I was marched toward this wedding cliff. As I looked around at their perfect faces, I realized I didn’t care a whit about any of them. No one was noticing my dark mood except my wedding planner.
“And I’ve seen my share of nervous brides and cold feet,” Terrance continued, leaning down in front of me, between two nail techs and a makeup artist. “So you wanna tell me what’s going on?”
Terrance was six feet six inches of fabulous stuffed into five feet two inches of tiny shoes. Which I was pretty sure were stacked. Caramel skin, tiny dreadlocks, and an enormous personality, he’d planned the weddings of every major socialite and debutante in Southern California for the last ten years. He alone had listened to what I wanted for my wedding, and even though I eventually gave in to what my mother wanted, he had fought for me all along. And seemed to see things that others didn’t—or chose not to. And now he saw that the tears that were building in my eyes were not, in fact, due to the false lashes recently applied, as I had tried to spin it.
Since I’d gotten out of bed this morning, a ball of awful had been kicking in my stomach. And it wasn’t nerves. I’d been in pageants since I was four years old and I knew how to deal
with butterflies in my tummy. As each hour passed, that ball of awful was getting bigger and bigger, and it was starting to affect the rest of my body. There was a ringing in my ears. My fingers and toes felt buzzy. My tongue felt thick. And my eyes kept filling with tears. My pulse was racing, my hands were clammy, and words were thundering up my throat, literally begging to get out.
Scary words. Like
seriously stop this
But it was just wedding nerves, right? The cold feet I’d been phantom feeling for a month or so? Not so phantom now. They were blocks of foot ice. But normal, right? It wasn’t like my entire body was turning in on itself for protection, trying to manifest real doubt into some kind of action . . . right?
“I just need a little quiet time, I think,” I managed to get out past the other words fighting to follow, fighting desperately for breath.
Choke. Breathe. Choke. Breathe.
breathe. And . . . Crumple.
Terrance took one more look at me and told the glam squad to scram. Bridesmaids whooshed out in a wave of orange juice and champagne, my curls were quickly pinned to my head, and then I was all alone.
I put my head into my hands and just sobbed. As you do on your wedding day, right? Oh, so wrong. This
wrong, all of this, just felt so very wrong. I was beyond nerves; I was into panic. Panic that needed space to move and give voice to what was raging inside.
My mother entered the room and asked, “Care to tell me why there are five bridesmaids, two nail technicians, and a makeup artist drinking mimosas on the patio right now?”
And as I sat there, surrounded by tufted crinoline and pretty,
I finally threw up the words that had been cooking all day. “I don’t want to marry Charles.” Oh.
Have you ever had those moments when words just seem to hang in the air? I could literally hear them echoing back to me in the stark silence. I lifted my head to see peep-toe pumps, one of them now tapping furiously against the dark teak wooden floor. I saw tanned and toned legs, knees that were
beginning to wrinkle, an off-white linen afternoon skirt, a peach silk wraparound blouse, a ruby, an emerald, a diamond, Chanel lipstick (Rouge Coco Shine, thank you very much), and wide green eyes accented by more than a touch of irritation.
“Pardon me, young lady?” she asked, concern crossing her features for the first time.
Concern over how I was feeling? Or concern that I might unravel her perfect day? I know which horse I was betting on.
“I don’t want to marry Charles Preston Sappington.” Oh, that felt pretty good.
Sigh. “Chloe, do you mind telling me what’s going on?” she asked.
So I told her once more, with feeling: “I
want to marry Charles Preston Sappington! Not today. Not any day.” My body had an immediate reaction to saying those words out loud. My spine straightened as if a weight had been lifted, and my head was floating on a tiny string twelve inches above my body.
If I’d been in a factory, I’d have written it on a piece of cardboard and climbed on top of a table to wave it around Norma Rae style.
“Okay. I don’t know exactly what has gotten into you today, but I’m beginning to get a little peeved.”
Peeved? Here’s some word vomit to go with your peeve.
want to marry Charles Preston Sappington. Not today. Not
Fudge me, I was starting to feel
. My head was now floating a full two feet in the air, light as a feather. And oh boy, now I was smiling? Small, but it was there. Smiling.
The same could not be said for my mother. “Explain yourself,” she commanded, and when my mouth opened she said, “and if you say that one more time I’ll—”
I laughed out loud. With a saucy Latin rhythm I repeated, “
don’t want to
day,” finishing with a hip bump that shook my pinned-up curls.
“I’ve had just about enough of this nonsense!” my mother snapped. “Now straighten up and get it together. We’ve got a house full of people and I won’t have them witnessing a breakdown.”
“Breakdown?” I laughed again. “I think maybe I’d better go get some air. Yeah—air is good.” I hiccup-giggled, my smile now wrapping across my entire face. “Bye, Mother.” I whirled for the kitchen and grabbed my purse and the keys to my convertible. Convertibles were good for one thing only, something I needed desperately right now. Built in air. Let’s go.
“You’ll do no such thing, Chloe. Chloe, you listen to me!” she yelled after me as I raced out the front door, cackling. Wow, breakdowns happened fast. I slid behind the wheel of my BMW, turned the ignition, and was out of the driveway before she made it to the front door.
“I’m calling Charles!” she yelled as I waved madly at my glam squad peeking over the backyard gate.
“I’m not marrying Charles Preston Sappington. Not today. Not any day!” I yelled once more, this time in full opera voice to the tune of
Ode to Joy
I sped out of my neighborhood, took a few crazy turns, and headed out onto the highway, top down, music at full blast. Still in my nightgown and pinned curls.
Point: mother-fudging Chloe.
y mother called my phone. Seventeen times in a row. Then Charles called. Fourteen times in a row. Then my father called. Once. I let them all go to voice mail. My text box was filling up by the minute. I didn’t look once. After driving for a while, I ended up at the beach. I sat on the sand, picked the pins out of my hair, and let the sun shine down through my thin cotton nightgown. I ran my fingers through my curled hair, not caring that there was sand clinging to my fingertips.
I watched as a family of four headed down toward the water. Mom and Dad, Junior and Girl Junior. They splashed and played, Mom looked amazing in a bikini, and Dad was good looking too. They kissed once while the kids were busy building a sand castle. Dad’s hand migrated south, grabbing a handful of buns and squeezing, making Mom laugh and pretend to slap his hand away. The kids saw them kissing and made a great show of pretending to be disgusted, but laughed the entire time. Then Mom and Dad grabbed the kidlets, and into the water they all went once more.
Good-looking couple. Good-looking kids. Happy family. Pretty didn’t
to mean fake. It just did where I was concerned. My family had been pretty, and bickery. I knew full well how something could look pretty on the outside and be wasp-nasty on the inside. After my parents’ divorce, the energy my mother had put into bickering with my father was channeled toward me, and making sure I was always on top of my game. Stage mother, not technically. But pushy, yes. Determined, yes.
She never remarried, she never even dated, and bitter she became. It didn’t happen overnight, but it happened.
And a life with Charles would have become a Day in the Life of the Bickersons. Oh, not right away. First would be the pretty. I saw my life line up in front of my eyes as if it had already happened. Marriage to Charles would give me everything I’d been brought up to want. A handsome husband. A beautiful home. A new car every two years. A membership to the right country club. A position on all the correct social committees. Three children spaced exactly two years apart. Then the obligatory “mommy job” where I went in for my tummy tuck and boob lift to keep everything exactly the way it was “supposed” to be. With vacations every summer, Christmas, and spring break, who could ask for anything more?
But I wanted
. I wanted so very much less. And while there were tiny bubbles of “is this what you really want?” all along, I was in denial about it until about forty-five minutes ago. Pretty led to bicker, bicker led to divorce, and divorce led to bitter. I didn’t want pretty, then separated. I didn’t want bitter; I wanted forever. I wanted swoony, sparky, maddening, sexy love. And if we were going to fight, we’d fight, not bicker. Bickering’s the worst.
My phone rang again. Charles. I stood up, dusted myself off, walked down to the water’s edge, and heaved my phone as far into the Pacific as I could.
Then I got back in my car and drove to my father’s house.
hen my parents divorced, I was a freshman in college. I was old enough that I didn’t have to pick a side. But in the small ways, which become bigger over time, I unofficially picked my father. Easygoing, nonpushy, quick to bear hug and even quicker
to laugh—when I was with my dad, I was a different daughter.
Stop slouching, stand up straight, don’t you think the fruit cup is a better option—
those were all statements my mother would murmur without a thought. With Dad I was more likely to hear:
you looked great up there, you’ll get ’em next time, tiger; you can eat prunes when you’re old—go ahead and get that Big Mac now
My dad loved me—and that was it. So in the middle of a breakdown and in need of a safe haven? Where else would I go?
He wasn’t home when I arrived, so I pulled my car around back, then curled up in the hammock on the back porch, keeping my mind away from anything too major. I heard his car pull into the driveway, stopping short at the sight of my car.
He walked toward the porch with a concerned look on his face. And after taking in the nightgown and the sand still clinging to my bare feet, he quickly understood more than even I knew at that point.
“Oh, Chloe,” he said quietly.
“Yeah,” I answered, then gave a kick to get the hammock moving again.
He stood there for a moment, watching me swing. “Okay,” he finally said, and took out his phone. I listened as he told my mother that yes, he’d found me, yes, I was fine, and no, I wasn’t getting married that day. And that he’d bring me home when I was ready. And no, she couldn’t come over right now. When I heard her screech about sending Charles over to collect me, he told her exactly what he thought about that idea. It may have involved an ass and a kick. Then he disappeared into the house, came back with two beers, and we sat next to each other in silence.