Gee. What reassuring words. My future sister-in-law stands in front of me, surveying the situation with a critical eye. She frowns and steps towards me, reaching out to adjust the giant bow on the side of the dress. Her frown deepens.
I want to suggest that she remove the bow from the dress. Or me from the wedding. While I’m touched that Stacey asked me to be in the wedding, truth be told I’d rather just be serving punch or something. Especially if it would get me out of this dress. I’ve been in my fair share of weddings and I’ve worn some hideous bridesmaids dresses in my time, but this is by far the worst. It’s tee-length and red with cap sleeves that hit my arms in just the right spot to make them look fat. The rest of Stacey’s bridesmaids are tall, willowy, waif-like girls who can pull off tee-length; at five foot two, I am not. Whereas it might make them look chic, it just makes me look frumpy. Plus the color classes with my own red hair.
“I look lopsided.” I try to pat the bow down and make it less poufy, to no avail, while the rest of the bridesmaids snicker.
“Just a little,” Stacey agrees. She turns to the saleslady. “Can we get the bows removed?”
The saleslady gives her a scathing look.
“Guess we’re stuck with the bows,” I mumble. “Can I go change now?”
Stacey gives me the go ahead and I scramble off to get out of this $200 dollar monstrosity. Seriously, why are bridesmaids dresses so expensive?
We part ways with the rest of the wedding party as soon as we leave the store. Thank God. There’s only so much grown-up sorority girl gossip a woman can take.
Unfortunately, my relief is short lived. Almost as soon as her friends are out of earshot Stacey starts in on me. She’s droning on and on about the caterer, her cake, my brother’s tuxedo...and I’m nodding and cooing accordingly. Really, I’m only halfway listening. I think I’m doing a pretty good job of acting like she’s got my full attention though. At least until she stops in the middle of the sidewalk and says, “Inez. Are you hearing anything I’m saying?”
Maybe I’m not as sneaky as I think. “Yes!”
She raises her eyebrows in skepticism.
“You were telling me about the caterer,” I venture, sounding more certain than I am.
“I was asking you if you had a plus one,” she says lowly. When I don’t answer immediately, she sighs heavily. “So that’s a ‘no’ then.”
Personally, I don’t see what the big fuss is about. So I don’t have a date. Big whoop. Why does it matter? After all, it’s not MY wedding; having a partner isn’t exactly a prerequisite.
But one look at Stacey’s face tells me she wouldn’t find that excuse valid or funny.
“I’ll try and find a date,” I say, fully intending to just bring Meg. “If it’s really that important for me to have a plus one...” I grit my teeth and give in. “You can go ahead and write me down for that.”
I almost had a wedding once.
That’s what I’m thinking about as I walk Rook through Forsyth Park later in the afternoon. In my head I can perfectly picture the slinky ivory dress I had was fitted for, the navy colored bridesmaids dresses I’d finally decided on, and the first day of the rest of the perfect life I had envisioned for myself.
Then I see it all come crashing down, like an airplane making an unexpected landing. Mark was the pilot and my parachute was defective.
We come upon a bench in front of the fountain—the same one Forrest Gump tells his story from in the movie—and I sink down onto it with a sigh. Rook hops up beside me and whines, almost like he can sense my glum mood. Then he licks my face.
“I might not have gotten a wedding, but I got you!” I laugh and tell him as slobber goes everywhere. “You’re the best thing to come out of that relationship, Rooky-Boy.”
Granted, he wasn’t exactly a product of the relationship per se, but those are small details. Plus, he’s a dog; I’m betting Rook could care less about the small details of how he came into my life. I bought him as a consolation gift to myself exactly a week after I was supposed to have gotten married. Everyone thought I was delusional.
Rook grins and hops down from the bench, tail wagging. I reach into my purse and find a ratty tennis ball and throw it as far as I can, which admittedly isn’t very far. He runs off after it. Too bad people aren’t as easy to please as dogs. Maybe then Mark could have kept it in his pants.
After a few rounds of catch Rook is exhausted. I try to wipe off most of the slobber on my pants before throwing the ball back into my purse. While I’m digging around in there I grab my phone, figuring I should go ahead and call Meg and begin warming her to the idea of being my wedding date. That plan is tossed aside pretty quickly though when I turn my phone on and see a text message from Max.
Butterflies fill my stomach as I read:
Finished work a little early today, and I would love nothing more than to take you to dinner later.
I re-read the message three times and in my excitement forget to respond until an hour later.
Three hours later, after a shower and a very frustrating battle between my curly hair and my flat iron, I’m driving towards the southside of Savannah. The south end of the city is one of those areas where development rapidly began…and then just as rapidly ended. The end result of the boom and bust was a kitschy residential area interspersed with a lot of unoccupied mid-rise commercial buildings. It gives the neighborhood this up-and-coming feeling, but driving down the streets makes you wonder when exactly it’ll arrive.
Nevertheless, the southside is one of my favorite parts of the city. It’s at once gritty and eccentric and has a charismatic charm that’s full of character and stories. There are neat shops (if you can avoid the tourist traps) and a few restaurants that are practically hidden gems. Plus, parking is always really easy to find.
One of those hidden gem restaurants is Sweet Spice—the place that I’m supposed to be meeting Max at in five minutes. I slide into a street parking spot across the block from the entrance and then start making way there. To my surprise, I see that Max has already snagged us a table on the front patio and is waiting on me. He’s wearing khakis with a lightweight mint green polo. Casual and cool. His hair is pulled back loosely and looks slightly damp, almost as if he just hopped out of the shower. I notice his two aluminum crutches leaning against the wall behind him. I give him a little wave as I approach and he smiles widely at me.
He leans over to pull the seat beside him out from the table but otherwise remains seated. The patio area is small and cramped, so our seats are already close. As I slide into the seat, he leans over as much as he can and drapes his arm across the back of my chair.
“There she is,” he says in his deep baritone voice, barely above a whisper. I’m beginning to think that’s his signature greeting, and even though it’s simple it makes me feel like a million bucks. A second later leans in even closer, and lightly he kisses me on the cheek.
“Hi,” I breathe back. It was only a cheek kiss but it has me thinking back to the real kiss we shared in the break room on Thursday. Suddenly there’s heat rising to my face...and other areas as well.
Max smirks as I blush. It’s like he knows exactly what I’m thinking. Hell, maybe he does. Maybe he’s even thinking the same thing. A girl can only hope.
“So you asked if I would be up for a ‘palate experiment’, huh?” he says, straightening back up in his chair and pulling my mind out of the gutter. He picks up a menu and glances at it. “How experimental are we talking about here?”
I roll my eyes. “It’s fish with pickled and marinated vegetables.”
“Sounds...pungent.” He wrinkles his nose.
“Don’t worry, I brought after dinner mints.”
“Oh? And what do those after dinner mints go with?”
“After dinner activities,” I tell him with an innocent smile, and suddenly we’re back to flirting. He raises his eyebrows at me disbelievingly and I only grin in response. I don’t know what’s gotten into me. I’m not usually this forward. Yet here I am, throwing myself at this almost stranger. An almost stranger who is slowly becoming familiar. Mentally shrugging, I urge myself to just go with it. “No one likes a garlicky kiss.”
“We better get another garlic-free one in while we can then,” Max shoots back with a roguish grin, and suddenly he’s leaning towards me again. I scoot to the edge of my chair and close the distance between us. His lips press against mine, feeling soft and passionate and hungry all at the same time.