I watch my brother’s face as Stacey walks down the aisle. Greg is smiling, beaming really, and his eyes grow wider the closer she gets. It’s as if he can’t believe that finally, after eight years of dating, this day is here.
“Just wait until tomorrow,” I mouth at him across the aisle. “She’s going to look beautiful in her dress.”
He grins and whispers back. “She already does.”
Greg extends his hand to his fiancee and together they face the priest. Father Hemi smiles warmly at the couple and proceeds to read through ceremony, skipping the part where he announces the couple as man and wife. When that part is finished, the bride and groom go back down the aisle, followed by the wedding party. Everything goes off without a hitch, and I can only pray that it goes as smoothly tomorrow as it has today.
While my parents invite everyone in attendance to dinner at a nearby restaurant, I quietly sneak out of the church. I sink down onto the steps of the Gothic Revival building, grateful to be able to sit and relishing a quiet moment. Then I call Meg.
“I plan on being too hungover on Sunday to function,” I tell her without preamble when she answers on the third ring. “Instead of our usual brunch do you want to meet me at Mrs. Wilkes Restaurant in fifteen minutes?”
Meg laughs. “Where’s your lover?”
“He’s working, and he is not my lover,” I hiss. “We’ve hardly gone farther than kissing.”
I won’t say it while I’m perched on the steps of my church and within earshot of my parents, but I am physically aching to go farther than kissing. Much farther. Every time that Max kisses me it sends electricity coursing through my body; every kiss makes me pulse. Even though we haven’t know each other that long--only a couple of weeks really--I’m ready. But every time I try to move things along, Max stops me.
It frustrates me. But mostly it confuses me. Max acts like he’s attracted to me. Every time I see him--which has been almost every night since our date with the porpoises--his eyes light up. He makes me feel like seeing me is the best thing to happen to him that day. But like clockwork, as soon as things begin to heat up, he quickly douses the moment with a bucket of ice water.
I’m not a shy or bashful woman. It’s taken me thirty-plus years, but I’m finally comfortable and confident with who I am. That’s true for pretty much all areas of my life...except maybe the dating arena. And honestly, Max isn’t doing much to help in that regard. I mean, a girl's self-esteem can only take so many hits, no matter how sweetly or softly the rejection is uttered.
The day of Greg and Stacey’s wedding starts early. Way too early.
“It’s not even daylight yet,” I hear one of her bridesmaids grumble as we file into the salon to get our hair and makeup done. “The ceremony doesn’t start for another eleven hours.”
And for the first time ever I feel a kinship with Stacey’s annoying friends.
The actual wedding might not start until 5:00 this evening, but it soon becomes pretty clear why we’re up and at ‘em so early. The salon is moving at a glacial pace. An hour goes by and only one of the bridesmaids has finished. I do some quick mental math. Including Stacey, her mom, my mom, myself, and the rest of the bridesmaids, at this rate we’re going to be here for another six hours.
Which is basically forever.
As I wait (and sulk) my mind wanders to Max. That’s really the only place it wanders these days. I’m excited to see him tonight. But a small part of me is anxious too. No one has asked me about my date, so I’m pretty sure as far as my family is concerned, they think I’m bringing Meg. Hmm. I wonder how well showing up with Max is going to go.
I glance over at Mom. She’s in the chair getting her makeup done, but every time the stylist looks down or turns her back, she sneaks a quick sip of her mimosa. She catches me catching her and grins guiltily. My mom is not a heavy drinker. In fact, she rarely drinks at all, save for a glass of wine here and there. At the rate that she’s going though, she’s going to be so sloshed she probably won’t notice the crutches or wheelchair or whatever mode Max chooses today. At least, that’s what I’m hoping.
By the time we’re finished it’s almost noon. The wedding coordinator, who has been hovering annoyingly all morning annouces that we have less than an hour before pictures begin. Luckily, the salon is only four blocks from the church and Stacey’s father is idling in a Suburban out front ready to play bus driver. We pile in and try to keep our makeup from smudging and our hairspray-laden hairdos from falling.
Taking pictures takes almost as long as getting our hair and makeup done did. Greg and Stacey aren’t uber-traditional, so they’re going ahead and taking all of the pictures before the ceremony. Thank God, because after two and a half hours of constant forced smiling, my jaw aches. And it probably shows in the last several pictures too; by the end, I’m pretty sure I was grimacing more than smiling. Except for the moment when Greg saw Stacey for the first time. That smile was genuine.
After all, how can you not genuinely smile when it’s so clear to see the awe and love and respect on someone else's face for the person they love? Watching my little brother’s face light up as he sees his bride for the first time makes my heart seize with emotions: immense happiness and an aching envy.
Because there is a pesky little voice in the back of my head reminding how close I once was to having this day myself--and how I’m old enough that I might never get the chance again.
Needless to say, I’m feeling melancholy by the time pictures are finished. In the brief break we have before the ceremony starts, I sneak back into the dressing room where the bridesmaids have set up headquarters and make myself a classy little mimosa shot. Nothing cheers you up like some OJ and bubbly.
As I’m trying to sneak unseen back out into the annex where the full bridal party is supposed be waiting, I pass a door that leads into the narthex of the church. It’s only slightly cracked, but it’s open wide enough that I can easily spot a few familiar faces. Standing just inside the door of the church, are the DeVinns chatting with an impeccably dressed man leaning on a pair of forearm crutches.
My heart speeds up and I can’t help but smile widely as I take in the site of Max. I don’t know how he managed to find a tuxedo that fits him perfectly on only a week's worth of notice, but he did.
His broad shoulders fill the jacket and the pants are well-fitted. Max stands straight and tall, and I get the idea that despite his usual laidback, if not preppy, appearance, he is no stranger to formalwear. He practically exudes comfort and confidence. Even from where I’m hiding in the narthex, I can see women of all ages side-eying him, and I can tell it isn’t just because he’s a young stranger using forearm crutches.
Suddenly, the crowd begins to shift and people start moving towards the doors to the sanctuary. But at the last minute, just as I’m turning to leave--after all, I’m pretty sure the wedding is starting in like two minutes--I catch Max’s eye. He smiles broadly at me, a tender expression on his face that stops my heart. Suddenly, for the first time ever, I don’t feel frumpy in my hideous bridesmaids dress. I don’t feel envious of the innumerable affectionate looks I’ve caught my brother and future sister-in-law shooting each other all day.
Instead, I feel a warm fluttery feeling inside my chest as I smile back, and then scurry off to take my place.
The ceremony is brief. The bridal party files in, Greg and Stacey take their vows, then the entire party files out. By 5:30 I have a new sister-in-law.
But I’ve got something else on my mind.
Instead of following the rest of the bridal party to the limousine that is waiting in front of the church to take us to the reception that is being held in the ballroom of the Sheraton on River Street, overlooking the river, I hang back in the lobby. It’s hard to stand in one place because the lobby is so packed with people all trying to get out, but I manage.
Eventually, the crowd thins out and I see Max lumbering slowly towards me. As I watch him move my heart does a little flip-flop. I love Meg, don’t get me wrong, but I know already that bringing Max as my date to wedding was the best idea I’ve had in a long time.
“You clean up well.” I leave my spot by the church doors and meet him in the middle of the lobby. Standing on my tiptoes, I give him a small kiss on the lips. The brevity does nothing to quell any of my desires. Then I wrap my arms around him, gently, so as not to throw his balance.
I feel him kiss the top of my hair. “And your dress doesn’t look nearly as hideous as I expected. Though the bow is a little poofy.”
I laugh as I pull away. “Thanks for coming.”
“Weddings aren't usually my thing, but I figured I'd make an exception this once,” he admits with a sheepish grin as he shifts on his crutches. Before I can delve too much into that statement, he continues. “What’s next?”
“Now,” I do a little jig and immediately regret how dorky it looked. “It’s time to party.”
Since I missed the shuttle, Max drives us down to River Street. I direct him to the nearest parking deck, which luckily has an entrance that leads right into the Sheraton. Unfortunately, the ballroom is across the street, on the river side, and can only be accessed from the hotel through a sky bridge. A sky bridge that is currently undergoing some sort of maintenance.
What this means is that we’re going to have to cross River Street. What that means is we’ll have to navigate through the throngs of tourists milling about, watching the street performers and eating their pralines outside. Also, the Sheraton has the only public bathrooms on the entire length of River Street so the lobby is going to be packed.
“I hate River Street,” I grumble as we ride the elevator down. I mumble the words under my breath, but Max hears them easily. That’s because I’m pressed into his side like a sardine. Even the damn elevator is crowded.
Max chuckles, but it sounds uneasy. “Yeah, I’m not too big a fan either.”
For a second, I’m impressed. But then I realize he has a more legitimate reason fueling his dislike. That is, more legitimate than crowds and overpriced restaurants.
River Street is cobblestone.
As we slowly get across the lobby, Max mumbling “Excuse me,” every three feet, the glass doors of the Sheraton slowly open to expose an expansive view of the Savannah River, complete with a ship accompanied by two tugboats making its way slowly downriver. I soften a bit. As much as I hate the commerciality of River Street, I love its function. I’ve literally spent hours just sitting near the shore watching the ships come in and out.
But as soon as I hear Max groan I harden again. Moral support and all that.
It’s only a short walk across the street and down the block about twenty feet to the ballroom entrance. But from the second Max steps off of the curb and onto the cobblestone street, he’s tense.
He walks carefully, being sure to firmly plant his crutches in front of him before swinging his legs through. It’s going pretty smoothly, if not slowly, and I’m relieved to see that the curb and entrance to the ballroom is only two more steps away
And then Max trips.
It all happens so fast that at first, I’m not even sure what’s going on. One second we’re walking across the street; the next, a group of young guys, also in tuxes, push past us and race ahead into the ballroom. In their haste, one of them knocks Max’s left crutch out from under him without even realizing it.
I rush forward to help, but Max is prepared, and he braces himself on his right crutch. So instead I bend down and retrieve the fallen crutch, without even stopping to think if it’s the right thing to do or not. That’s when a second set of people, a couple walking three dogs, stop briefly to let their dog sniff around, that the disaster happens. Somehow one of the dogs leashes ends up getting tangled around Max’s remaining crutch. And when the unsuspecting owners tug the leash, beckoning their dog to move on, it quickly tugs the aluminum stick right along with it. Unsupported, Max sways unsteadily for just a second, and the falls, sprawling out on top of the sidewalk with a loudly yelled, “Fuck!”
The dog owners quickly rush off without a word. Meanwhile, I’m still standing in the street holding one of the crutches, suddenly looking like the cause of it all.
I grab the second crutch and rush over to Max. He’s not sprawled out anymore and has worked himself into a somewhat more dignified seated position. In front of him is an older couple, concernedly asking if he needs help. I see Max shake his head, his mouth set in a tight line.
Nevertheless, the couple lingers, no doubt trying to play good samaritan. That’s go to be annoying, I think to myself as I walk towards the trio.
But then I get closer and get a full view of the couple and my heart sinks.
When I finally reach the trio, I ignore the couple and squat down to be on the same level as Max. His face is impassive, unreadable; but when his eyes meet mine he just looks incredibly sad. I want more than anything to reach out to him, to give him a kiss or a hug, and tell him it’s okay, but I can sense that right now is not the time to do so. Instead, I offer a small smile as I hand the crutches over to him, and then I stand back up, and, taking a deep breath, turn to face the couple. This is going worse than I could ever have imagined.
“Mama, Daddy, I see you’ve met Max.”