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I’ve been stabbed in the chest. Literally. My eyes dart down to my bridesmaid dress, but somehow, it’s inexplicably blood-free. It’s also about four sizes too big, engulfing me in swaths of loose fabric.
“Sorry about that, honey.” Deb, the seamstress, puts a pin between her teeth and talks around it. “We just need it a little tighter up here.” She pulls at the minty green and pale blue fabric that wraps across my chest, pinching until it feels like it may slice me in half.
My boyfriend Zander’s mom, Trudy, gives me a sympathetic glance from her perch on a kitchen stool. “The first fitting is the worst. Next time will just be little tweaks.” She looks at the seamstress, who is now crouched down at my feet. “Right, Deb?”
Deb nods as she slides another pin into the dress.
It feels like I’ve been trapped in this dress for a short eternity, even though the clock claims it’s only been twenty minutes since I stripped down and traded my clothes for the eclectic floral confection that now drapes over me. Eclectic. That’s what the bride, Becca, called it when Trudy pulled it from the bag and presented it to me, one hand under it, like I was setting my eyes on a great award and not something that looks like an old watercolor painting in dress form. When Trudy slides a magazine across the counter and begins thumbing through it, I worry that maybe this is going to take a lot longer than the “quick second” she promised.
I take a deep breath and remind myself that this is what I wanted. To be in the wedding. Being in Becca’s wedding is the epitome of acceptance into Zander’s family. Wedding pictures are forever. It wasn’t a huge surprise though. Sure, Zander and I are only juniors—almost seniors—but I’m not a regular girlfriend. The kind you meet on the first day of math class and start dating on a whim when you get partnered up for a project. The one you break up with before the first school dance rolls around. No, I’m the opposite. I’m the friend-turned-girlfriend, the one his mom has been begging him to date since way before it was even appropriate. I’m the pseudo daughter-in-law. The girlfriend who no longer gets asked to dances or out on dates, because we just know.
The door slams and I tear my eyes away from Deb—who I was hoping wouldn’t poke me while I was actually watching her—to see Becca coming through the kitchen with a small black tote bag slung over her shoulder. Zander’s sister looks like a younger version of his mom, with sandy blond hair that is always in soft curls at her shoulders and blue eyes that are soft and kind. Even when she’s curled up on the couch watching a movie with her fiancé Chad, Becca looks like she has somewhere to go.
“Oh Liv, you look so beautiful,” she gushes when she sees me. Like her mother, Becca has the ability to say that sort of thing without sounding as if she felt obligated to.
“It’s a really gorgeous dress,” I say, and for the first time I feel like it’s true.
She shakes her head as she sits down on a stool next to her mother. “It’s a really gorgeous you.” She sets the black bag on the counter and dumps out the contents, sending little squares of fabric sliding across the granite breakfast bar.
Trudy claps her hands. “Wow,” she says, fingering a few swatches. “Madeline sent all of these?” Madeline is Becca’s wedding planner, but I’ve never met her, because she lives in Indianapolis where Becca and Chad live, and where the wedding will take place in one of the loft spaces downtown on Labor Day weekend.
Becca nods. “We’re supposed to pick our top five. I’m thinking something darker for the table”—she grabs a shiny taupe fabric and sets it aside—“and lighter for the napkins. And something with some sparkle for the cocktail tables.” She holds a sequin beige square in the air and shakes it in my direction. “What do you think about this? I sort of love this one.”
“Are there going to be any colors?” I ask.
Trudy laughs. “These are colors. Neutrals are elegant.” She pats Becca’s hand on the counter. “It’s going to be so beautiful.” Trudy pushes a curl behind Becca’s shoulder, and leaves her hand there, and my heart aches for how sweet it is. I so want that to be me someday, sitting with Trudy and Becca, obsessing over fabric swatches and appetizer choices and the guest list.
“Liv.” Zander’s voice comes up the stairs just as he does, and pulls me out of my thoughts. “We gotta go.”
I look down at Deb, who shoves a pin along my hem before sitting back on her knees. “You’re good,” she says. “I’ll see you in a few months for the final.”
I look up at Zander, who is striding over to his mother and sister. He picks up a piece of fabric. “Why are they all brown?”
Becca lets out a dramatic gasp. “It’s not brown,” she says, scrunching her nose up in mock disgust. “It’s cappuccino.”
“Whatever you say.” Zander puts his hands up in surrender. “Your wedding, your poop-brown napkins.”
Becca comes at Zander with an open hand that lands across his bicep, and he breaks out into laughter. “I’m just kidding! Jeez!”
“Leave your sister alone.” Trudy’s voice is sugar, like it always is with her youngest. “I didn’t hear you come in.”
“I snuck in the back. Liv and I have to go to a … thing. Okay if I steal her?”
I don’t move, because I know how this routine goes when I’m in the midst of wedding prep. Trudy and Becca can spend hours talking over every detail of this wedding, and Zander and I have been putting on this show for months. He insists we leave. I act like I just can’t, I have to help. He insists, I give in (because Ugh, what can you do? Guys.). And then, finally, I’m free. Tonight’s performance is no different. After a few groans from Becca about needing a tie-breaker vote, the door slams behind us and we practically leap onto the back porch. And no one can be mad at me.
Zander grabs my hand and leads me down the steps toward his car. “I am a human pincushion.” I sigh dramatically, like there was a chance I wasn’t going to make it through my fitting unscathed. “I could kiss you for rescuing me.”
“You could.” Zander is smiling when he pulls me toward him, his blue eyes locked on mine, his cropped blond hair shining in the sun. His arms wrap behind me as he walks me back, until my butt bumps into the car door. Zander’s lips are warm and soft, and so sweet when they meet mine. I sometimes still think about how surreal it is that I kiss him now. That after years of thinking about it—and okay, I’ll admit it, obsessing about it—I finally get to do it. I grope around for the handle behind me and slide away from Zander before our driveway PDA gets out of hand. I’m not making out with him in front of his house, not with all of the Peeping-Tom neighbors at their windows. I drop myself into the front seat and he does the same. As we back out of the driveway, I don’t even know where we’re going, but I don’t care. I’d go anywhere with Zander.
* * *
As we’re pulling out of his subdivision, Zander turns the music down. “Don’t be mad, but I can’t hang out tonight,” he says.
“But you just said—” What was that whole song and dance at his house for?
“I didn’t want you to be stuck with my family on a Friday night.”
“Thanks. I guess…” Instead I’m going to be stuck by myself on a Friday night, because there’s no chance my best friend, Emma, hasn’t already been scooped up by her new boyfriend, Mani. “Why can’t we hang out?”
“Peterson has a thing at his house.”
Tim Peterson is a senior on the baseball team—one of Zander’s teammates.
Copyright © 2019 by Jessica Pennington