If anything, my bridesmaid dress looked even worse on the day of Shauna’s wedding than it did when I first tried it on. It was as if it somehow got uglier and more purple within the box. I wished the weather were colder, so I could have put a great big coat over it, but there was honestly nothing that could have truly hid its awfulness.
I tested my hair in both the up and down position. Usually, I wear my hair in a bun for work, because my hair + any kind of weather is a bad combination. But the weather was nice today and I was having an amazingly good hair day, so I decided to wear it down. One day out of 365 ain’t bad.
After I was fully dressed and made up, I spotted the piece of paper with Alex’s phone number written on it, lying innocently on my dresser, next to my wallet and keys. My hand hovered over the paper as I debated if I should take it with me. I knew I should. I wasn’t honestly going to call him from the wedding, was I? Yet…
Charlie showed up promptly, wearing a white shirt with a black suit. He actually looked pretty good—for him. No stains on his clothing, his shirt was ironed, etc. He looked quite presentable.
For a moment, as I looked at Charlie, I imagined standing behind the altar with him. Do you, Rachel, take Charlie to be your lawfully wedded husband…
“Rachel, do you…” Charlie began. I looked up sharply. “Do you want to get on the road?”
I swallowed and nodded.
I haven’t been behind the wheel of a car in over ten years, a fact that doesn’t bother me at all. I drove a few times in Manhattan and I just couldn’t handle it. The taxis were what did me in, weaving in and out of traffic like the lanes didn’t even exist. Even if I had a car, there was nowhere to park it, so it made sense to just rely on the subway.
Charlie drove fast but carefully and we made fantastic time. He got off the Long Island Expressway, and although he had written down directions for himself, he barely glanced at them as he navigated the roads to the hotel where my sister was getting married.
“You really know your way around Long Island,” I commented, mildly impressed. Although I’m not sure if being an expert about the island was something to be proud of.
He grinned at me. “Well, I’m from here.”
“You are?” Boy, we really hadn’t talked much. “What part?”
“Ronkonkoma,” he said.
“I’m from Great Neck,” I said.
He knew? He the hell did he know that? I wanted to ask him but I was afraid we’d had a whole conversation about this and I’d simply forgotten it. Still, I felt a little closer to Charlie, knowing he was a native Long Islander like me. Meant I didn’t have to feel quite so mortified that I used to live here. That was something I liked about Alex too.
Alex, whose phone number was tucked away in my bra.
An hour later, I was marching down the aisle next to a man who was, for all intents and purposes, a midget. All right, he wasn’t exactly a midget. But he was quite short. Charlie was looking better and better every second.
I caught Charlie’s eye as I passed him. He smiled at me and gave me thumbs up.
As far as I could tell, everything in the ceremony was going according to plan, which I’m sure Shauna was very happy about. Most importantly, Ted hadn’t taken off. He was standing at the altar, completely accounted for. I know it sounds crazy, but I think Shauna was a little worried.
I spent a moment looking at Ted as I lined up behind Shauna’s other friends. I had to admit, Ted was a good looking guy. He had black hair, intense black eyes, and a strong jaw line. And although you couldn’t tell when he was wearing his tuxedo, his chest was pretty ripped. A few years ago, I saw him in a swimsuit and I was embarrassed by my stereotypically girly reaction to a man with hard pecs and a six pack. I could see why Shauna liked him, and there were days when I felt a little envious that she was going to have such an attractive husband. But as good as Ted looked, I don’t think it was nearly as good as he thought he looked.
Shauna appeared next to Ted in front of the judge. Although both of them were Jewish, they had agreed to a completely secular ceremony. As Ted said, they didn’t want to do “that whole stupid stepping on a glass bit.” I think it was mainly Ted’s decision and Shauna had agreed because he had gone along with the most extravagant wedding of the decade.
I watched as Shauna and Ted took each other’s hands and faced each other. For a moment, I thought about the commitment they were making to each other. They were vowing to not be with another person for the rest of their lives. It was almost amazing if you thought about it.
“Do you, Edward, take Shauna to be your lawfully wedded wife, to live together in the Holy Estate of Matrimony, to love, honor and comfort her and keep her in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, keep you only unto her as long as you both shall live?”
Ted, gazing into Shauna’s eyes, said, “That’s not long enough.”
The judge apparently accepted Ted’s answer as an “I do” and continued with the ceremony. I wanted to point out the fact that Ted had been dragged to the altar kicking and screaming, but I guessed that wouldn’t go over well.
“By the power vested in me by the state of New York, I now pronounce you Husband and Wife.”
Shauna and Ted kissed, an affair with tongue that was a little more than what was probably appropriate for a kiss in front of a room full of people. As I watched them, I was shocked and embarrassed by the tears welling up in my eyes. I didn’t even know why I was crying. It wasn’t like Shauna’s marriage was something so beautiful that it brought tears to my eyes. And it wasn’t like I was that sad that I wasn’t the one getting married.
So why was I crying? Maybe I didn’t need to analyze it so much. People cry at weddings. No big deal.
I had regained my composure by the time of the reception. I was at the family table with my parents, Ted’s parents, Ted’s brother and his girlfriend, and Ted’s sister and her husband. And of course, Charlie. I couldn’t help but feel intensely grateful to Charlie for keeping me from being the only single person at the entire table.
My mother wouldn’t leave poor Charlie alone. She positioned herself next to him and I saw her giving him a once-over. I could tell that he met with her approval. Charlie may not have been handsome, but he looked like a nice guy. He looked like the kind of guy you settle down with. Maybe my mother was right—maybe I was too picky.
“So Charlie,” Mom said. “Your mother has such wonderful things to say about you. She said you recently got a promotion.”
“Uh huh,” Charlie said, ever the master of small talk.
“It’s a wonderful career you have,” she went on.
Charlie nodded politely.
“It really supports having a family,” she said. “If that’s the sort of thing you want.”
I gasped. I couldn’t believe she just said that. Actually, I could believe it, but it didn’t make me any less mortified. Charlie seemed at a loss for words.
My father was listening in to the conversation and flashing my mother warning looks that apparently only I could see. “Janet,” he said to her finally. “Why don’t we get up and dance?”
“But I’m talking to Charlie…” Mom protested, as my father, bless his heart, literally pulled her away from the table and onto the dance floor.
I breathed a sigh of relief when my mother was safely about 50 feet away. I flashed Charlie an apologetic look, although he seemed to be largely oblivious. I looked down and noticed that his leg was sort of touching mine. I could feel the fabric of his slacks through my stocking. We were inches away from playing footsie. I could have initiated something flirtatious under the table, but instead I withdrew my leg completely.
Immediately, I felt guilty. Charlie was a good guy. Why was I having so much trouble liking him?
“So,” Ted’s sister Rebecca said brightly. “Are you two engaged?”
“No,” Charlie replied, seemingly unperturbed.
Rebecca giggled. “Oh, well, watch it. Weddings are known to give women ideas.”
Okay, that was quite enough. “Excuse me,” I said, rising to my feet. “I need to… um, yeah. I’ll be back.”
I stumbled over my chair in my haste to get away from the table. I felt guilty about leaving Charlie alone to explain to everyone why we weren’t engaged yet on our third date, although not that guilty. I hurried out of the reception hall and located the ladies room, but it was packed with Shauna’s friends, all gossiping and checking their make-up. I backed out of there and located a quiet little room where a bunch of people had hung up their jackets. When I was safely nestled within the jackets, I reached into my bra.
Prior to leaving my apartment, I had wrapped up a Valium in tissue paper and stuffed it in there, afraid I’d be in a situation where I’d need it but my purse would be inaccessible. I unwrapped the pill with shaking hands, knowing that I was going to take it even if I somehow dropped it on the carpet. I swallowed it without water.
As I stood huddled in the coatroom like a crazy person, I noticed something else had fallen out of my bra and was lying on the floor. It was a little scrap of paper: Alex’s phone number. I leaned forward and picked it up, examining the ten digits he had scrawled on the newspaper.
The Valium didn’t work instantly and I wasn’t about to go back in there before it took effect. Calling Alex would kill some time. Keep me from sitting in the coat room alone like a lunatic. Anyway, he probably wouldn’t even answer. He was probably eating dinner or something.
I reached into my purse and pulled out my cell phone. Before I knew what was happening, I had punched in Alex’s number it was ringing on the other line. All at once, I was filled with panic. What the hell am I doing? He’s my freaking patient! It was completely inappropriate to be calling him, and moreover, it was a little embarrassing. I quickly hung up before he could answer.
As I sat, contemplating going back to the reception, my phone suddenly started vibrating. I gasped, then realized he obviously must have noticed that someone called and hung up. Now he was going to not only know that I called, but he was also going to know that I chickened out. Nice job, Rachel.
I considered not answering for a second, but I knew it would go right to my voicemail, which had my name on it. I had to pick up.
“Hello?” I said, pushing away the sinking feeling in my stomach. I needed the Valium to kick in right this second.
“Hi.” It was Alex’s voice. “Um, who is this?”
Wrong number, I considered saying. “It’s… Rachel Miller.”
“Who?” Alex said.
I almost crawled under the coats and died. “Um, you know… Dr. Miller.”
Alex chuckled. “I know who you are, Rachel. I was just messing with you. You know, because you hung up on me… for some reason…”
“Right,” I mumbled. “I, uh, thought I was going to have to go, but… I guess I don’t.”
“I see,” he said, thankfully not questioning me any further on my lame excuse. “So are you having fun at the wedding?”
“You must be pretty bored,” he observed. “If you resorted to calling me.”
“Oh,” I said. “Well, I’m kind of bored. No offense.”
“None taken,” he said. “I’m just glad you called.”
There was a tense pause. I felt my heart thumping in my chest and I gripped the phone till my knuckles turned white.
“So,” Alex said. “What are you wearing?”
“What am I wearing?”
“Well, you said you’re a bridesmaid,” he said. “And it’s been my experience that bridesmaids at Long Island weddings tend to wear outfits that would put a clown to shame. Am I right?”
I looked down at my costume. “It’s purple and has a lot of ruffles.”
“I knew it,” Alex laughed. “I wish I could see.”
“You want to witness my humiliation?”
“Yes, very much so.” I could almost hear him smiling. “I bet you look cute in it.”
“I look like a doily.”
“A cute doily.”
I felt myself blushing and was glad Alex couldn’t see me. This wasn’t the first time he’d flirted with me, but he’d stepped it up a notch. And the truth was, I liked it. I kept picturing his face and his gray eyes and my pulse quickened. He also had a really sexy voice.
“So,” I said, clearing my throat to break the silence. “Are you enjoying your day off from therapy?”
“Oh, definitely,” he said. “I’m having a blast.”
“Playing computer games where you’re a wizard rescuing a princess?”
“Hey, this is like therapy,” Alex retorted. “It’s improving my… um, hand-eye coordination.”
I laughed. “It’s amazing the kind of excuses a guy will concoct in order to justify playing video games.”
“You should play with me sometime.”
“Yeah, you can be the princess.”
“That’s pretty sexist.”
“Fine, you can be the wizard,” he said. “I’ll be the princess. You can rescue me.”
“I’ll think about it,” I said, smiling.
There was a pause on the other line. I thought about the two of us playing a game together on his computer. Sitting together, feeling his hot breath on my shoulder. Maybe his hand on mine, guiding me as I used the mouse. I gripped the phone a little tighter.
“Hey, Rachel,” he said in a slow, thoughtful voice. “I was thinking since I’ve got you alone, we could do a little quid pro quo.”
“Quid pro quo?”
“Well,” he began. “A few days ago, I kind of laid it all down for you. I told you that I used to like you in sixth grade. Hell, my mom told you that you were my first crush, totally humiliating me.” He paused. “But you never told me how you felt about me.”
“I hated your guts,” I reminded him.
“Right, so you said,” he sighed. “But you knew me for at least a couple of months before I turned on the old Connors charm. You must have had some thoughts about me, right?”
I hesitated. I didn’t want to tell Alex the truth, that I had been completely in love with him before he turned on me. I felt like I had the upper hand right now and I didn’t want to lose it. But he wasn’t letting it go so fast.
“I remember you used to give me cookies every day,” he said. “I thought that was really nice. And I always kind of thought that… well, you know… you sort of liked me…”
“Interesting thought,” I commented.
“Come on, Rachel,” he said. “Quid pro quo.”
I bit my lip. Really, there was no harm in admitting I liked him back when I was eleven years old. “Okay,” I confessed. “I thought you were… sort of cute.”
“Sort of cute,” he repeated, sounding very pleased. “I knew it. Man, if my eleven year old self wasn’t such an idiot, I totally could have scored.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “You’ve gotten a lot better at flirting, that’s for sure.”
“No, I still suck at it,” he said. “But it’s easier on the phone, you know?”
I always preferred the phone to real life. In real life, I felt so self-conscious. But on the phone, there was just my voice. I didn’t have to worry about anyone critiquing my looks. I think my dates would have been way more successful if the two of us were seated on opposite sides of the restaurant, equipped with phones. But I had a hard time believing Alex had the same take on things.
“Why is it easier on the phone?” I asked.
“It just is.”
Alex sighed. “Are you serious? Do I have to spell it out for you?”
“I guess you do.”
“Come on, Rachel,” he said in a gruff voice. “You know how it is. I mean, when you come here to see me, there’s no… illusion. I’m just a computer programmer geek, which is not exactly something women fall all over themselves for. I’m not particularly handsome or anything. Plus I’m also in a freaking wheelchair now and half my body is paralyzed. So I’m thinking that when you look at me, you’re not thinking about me that way.”
My breath caught in my throat. What was he saying? That way? What did that mean? “What way?”
Alex mumbled, “Nothing. Never mind.”
“What?” I pushed him.
There was a long pause. I was pressing the phone against my ear so hard, it was starting to hurt. “I know it’s weird for me to say this,” he said in a low voice. “I mean, Eva just broke up with me after five years and it’s been a hell of a few weeks. But the truth is, ever since you told me who you were…” He took a deep breath. “I can’t stop thinking about you.”
I froze. I suddenly wished I had brought another Valium with me.
“Rachel?” he said. “You still there?” He sounded nervous.
“I’m still here,” I whispered.
“Okay,” he said.
“Okay,” I said.
There was another long pause that wasn’t awkward but was something else, something very different. I closed my eyes and imagined that instead of being here with Charlie, Alex was sitting next to me in this coatroom. I imagined him leaning forward, his lips grazing mine as I felt the stubble of his beard that he hadn’t managed to shave properly since he’d been in the hospital. As I listened to Alex’s soft breathing on the other line, I wondered if he was thinking the same thing.
For a second, I didn’t know where the voice was coming from or who it belonged to. But then I looked up and saw Charlie peering into the row of coats. He seemed a little shocked to see me nestled in there, sitting on the floor. I immediately turned red as a beet. “Oh, hi,” I said.
“What are you doing in there?” Charlie asked me, frowning in confusion.
I was about to brainstorm an excuse when I heard Alex’s voice from the phone: “Who is that?”
I cleared my throat and struggled into a standing position. My hair was practically standing up straight from the static of the coats. So much for my good hair day. I covered the phone so that Alex couldn’t hear. “What’s wrong?” I asked Charlie.
“They’re about to cut the cake,” he told me. “I thought you’d like to be there.”
He thought wrong. Clearly Charlie didn’t know me at all from our two prior dates. “Um, I’ll just be a second. Okay?”
Charlie flashed me a quizzical look, but obediently wandered off. I let out a breath and put the phone back to my ear. “I’ve got to go,” I said.
“Who was that?” Alex asked again.
“I thought your date ‘wasn’t that serious’?” he said in a tone that was joking but also sounded a little hurt.
“Yeah, well,” I mumbled. “Look, I’ve got to go.”
“If you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go,” he said.
“Okay, bye,” I said. I added, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I hung up the call and stood in the coat room for another minute, composing myself and smoothing out my mussed hair. My hands were trembling slightly and I couldn’t get the image of Alex out of my head. As I walked back to my table to squeeze into the seat next to Charlie just in time to see my sister feeding her new husband a slice of cake, I couldn’t help but think to myself that I was here with the wrong guy.