I finally understand the Matchbox car code. Please see me. The real me.
“You know what I honestly think? You’d still be amazing, even if you looked like Mr. Bexley.”
“You’ve been drinking the Kool-Aid, Shortcake.”
He’s smiling a little as he keeps ironing. I’m almost shaking with the need to make him understand something that I don’t fully know myself yet. All I know is, it hurts me to think he feels bad about such a fundamental aspect of himself. I resolve to objectify him less, and turn away until he puts on his shirt. It’s robin’s-egg blue.
“I love that color shirt. It matches what I’m going to wear, um, obviously.” I cringe at my dress again. I go to my handbag and dig in it, finding my lipstick.
“Can I see something?” He’s got his tie flapping loose as he takes the tube from me and reads the bottom.
“Flamethrower. How appropriate.”
“Do you want me to tone it down?” I rattle my handbag, searching.
“I fucking love your red.” He kisses my mouth before I start to apply. He watches me applying the lipstick, blotting, reapplying, and by the time I’m done he looks like he’s endured something.
“I can barely take it when you do that,” he manages to say.
“Hair up or down?”
He looks pained. He gathers it up, and says “Up.”
He lets it fall and scoops it in his hands like snow. “Down.”
“Half up, half down it is. Quit fidgeting, you’re making me nervous. Why don’t you go and have a drink at the bar downstairs? Liquid courage. I can drive us to the church.”
“Be down in, like, fifteen minutes okay?”
Once he’s gone and the silence fills the hotel room like a swelling balloon I sit on the end of the bed and look at myself. My hair falls around my shoulders, and my mouth is a little red heart. I look like I’m losing my mind. I strip down, put on my support underwear to smooth out any lumps, hook my stockings up and look at my dress.
I was going to buy something in a muted navy, something I could wear again, but when I saw the robin’s-egg-blue dress I knew I had to have it. I couldn’t have color matched it better to his bedroom walls if I tried.
The sales assistant had assured me it suited me perfectly, but the way Josh rubbed his hand over his face was like he’d realized he’s dealing with a total psycho. It’s undeniably true. I’m practically painting myself in his bedroom blue. I manage to zip myself up with some contortionist movements.
I decide to take the huge sweeping spiral staircase down instead of the elevator. How many opportunities will I ever have? Life has started to feel like one big chance to make each new little memory. I walk in downward circles toward the gorgeous man in the suit and pale blue shirt at the bar.
He raises his eyes, and the look in his eyes makes me so shy I can barely put one foot in front of the other. Psycho, psycho, I whisper to myself as I plant myself in front of him and rest my elbow on the bar.
“How You Doing?” I manage, but he only stares at me.
“I know, what a psycho, dressed in the same color as your bedroom walls.” I self-consciously smooth down the dress. It’s a retro prom-dress style, the neckline dipping and the waist pulled tight. I catch a whiff of lunch being served in the hotel restaurant and my stomach makes a pitiful little whimper.
He shakes his head like I’m an idiot. “You’re beautiful. You’re always beautiful.”
As the pleasure of those three words light up inside my chest, I remember my manners.
“Thank you for the roses. I never did say thank you, did I? I loved them. I’ve never had flowers sent to me before.”
“Lipstick red. Flamethrower red. I have never felt like such a piece of shit as I did then.”
“I forgave you, remember?” I step in between his knees and pick up his glass. I sniff.
“Wow, that’s one strong Kool-Aid.”
“I need it.” He swallows it without a blink. “I’ve never gotten flowers either.”
“All these stupid women who don’t know how to treat a man right.”
I’m still agitated about his earlier revelation. Sure, he’s an argumentative, calculating, territorial asshole 40 percent of the time, but the other 60 percent is so filled with humor and sweetness and vulnerability.
It seems I’ve drunk all the Kool-Aid.
“Let’s go.” We wait for the valet to bring the car. I look up at the sky.
“Well, they say rain on your wedding day is good luck.”
I press my hand on his jiggling knee after we drive a few minutes.
“Please relax. I don’t get why this is a big deal.” He won’t reply.
The little church is about ten minutes from the hotel. The parking lot is filled with cold-looking women in pastels, hugging themselves and trying to wrangle male companions and children.
I’m about to start hugging myself against the cold as well when he gathers me to his side and swoops inside, saying, Hello, talk to you later to several relatives who greet him in tones of surprise before flicking their eyes to me.
“You’re being so rude.” I smile at everyone we pass and try to dig my heels in a little.
His fingers smooth down the inside of my arm and he sighs. “Front row.”
He tows me up the aisle. I’m a little cloud in the slipstream of a fighter jet. The organist is making some tentative practice chords and it’s probably Josh’s expression that causes her to press several keys in a foghorn of fright. We approach the front pew. Josh’s hand is now a vise on mine.
“Hi.” He sounds so bored I think he’s worthy of an Oscar. “We’re here.”
“Josh!” His mother, presumably, springs to her feet for a hug. His hand falls away from mine and I watch his forearms link behind her. You’ve got to hand it to Josh. For a prickly pear, he commits completely to a hug.
“Hi,” he tells her, kissing her cheek. “You look nice.”
“Cutting it a bit close,” the seated man on the pew comments, but I don’t think Josh notices.
Josh’s mom is a little lady, fair hair, with a soft cheek-dimple that I’ve always wished for. Her pale gray eyes are misty when she pulls back to look up at her huge, gorgeous son.
“Oh! Well!” She beams at his compliment and she glances to me. “Is this . . . ?”
“Yes. This is Lucy Hutton. Lucy, this is my mother, Dr. Elaine Templeman.”
“Pleased to meet you, Dr. Templeman.” She’s roping me in for a hug before I can blink.
“Elaine, please. It’s Lucy at last!” she says into my hair. She pulls back and studies me. “Josh, she’s gorgeous!”
“Well, I’m going to keep you forever,” she tells me, and I can’t help but break into a dorky grin. The look Josh shoots me is like, see. He wipes his palms on his suit pants and almost has a crazy look in his eye. Maybe he has Churchphobia.
“I’m going to keep her in my pocket. What a doll! Come and sit up front with us here. This is Josh’s father. Anthony, look at this little thing. Anthony, this is Lucy.”
“Nice to meet you,” he replies gravely, and I blink in shock. It’s Joshua on time delay. Still ridiculously handsome, he’s a stately silver fox, gravely upholstered in heavy tailoring. We’re the same height and he’s seated, so he must be an absolute giant when standing. Elaine puts her hand on the side of his neck, and when he looks up at her the faintest smile catches at his lips.
Then he swings his terrifying laser-eyes to me. Genetics never cease to astonish me.
“Nice to meet you,” I return. We stare at each other. Perhaps I should try to charm him. It’s an ancient reflex and I press pause on it. I examine it. Then I decide against it.
“Hello, Joshua,” he says, redirecting his lasers. “Been a while.”
“Hi,” Josh says, and snags me by my wrist, pulling me in to sit between himself and his mother. A buffer. I remind myself to admonish him for it later.
Elaine steps between Anthony’s feet and strokes his hair into a neater formation. Beauty tamed this particular Beast. She sits down and I turn to her.
“You must be so excited. I met Patrick once, under less than pleasant circumstances.”
“Oh, yes, Patrick told me on one of our Sunday phone calls. You were quite unwell, he said. Food poisoning.”
“I think it was a virus,” Josh says, taking my hand and stroking it like an obsessive sorcerer. “And he shouldn’t discuss her symptoms with other people.”
His mother watches him, looks at our joined hands, and smiles.
“Well, whatever it was, I was completely steamrolled by it. He probably won’t even recognize me today. I hope. I was grateful to your sons for getting me through it.”
Elaine glances at Anthony. I’ve brought Josh too close to the big elephant in the room; his lack of a stethoscope.
“The flowers are lovely.” I point to the huge masses of pink lilies on the end of each pew.
Elaine drops her voice to a whisper. “Thank you for coming with him. This is hard for him.” She shoots Josh a worried look.
As mother of the groom, Elaine soon excuses herself to greet Mindy’s parents, and help several terrifyingly old people into their seats. The church is filling up; delighted cries of surprise and laughter filling the air as family and friends reunite.
Frankly, I don’t see what is so difficult about this situation. Everything seems fine. I can’t see anything amiss. Anthony nods to people. Elaine kisses and hugs and lights up everyone she speaks to.
I’m just a little lonely book in between two brooding bookends. Anthony is not the sort of man to appreciate small talk.
I let father and son sit in silence on a polished plank of wood, and I hold Josh’s hand and I have no idea if I’m being remotely useful until he catches my eye.
“Thanks for being here,” he says into my ear. “It’s already easier.”
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