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“Wait,” I said. “I thought we could just do the paperwork.”

The woman looked down at me through her thick glasses in a manner that made me feel like I was nine years old. “Miss, the ceremony is less than a minute long, and in the state of Florida, a ceremony needs to be preformed to make the marriage legal, and since you checked the box that you’d like to file the license today…shall I continue?”

“Yeah,” I said.

Tanner grabbed my hand and squeezed it. I was tired of him needing to feel like he had to reassure me. I didn’t want reassurance; I wanted to stop having to go through things that required it. I nodded and the woman started back up. She was right, the ceremony was short. Just under a minute.

“Do you take Tanner to be your lawfully wedded husband…” They weren’t romantic words, but nonetheless they were promises. Promises spoken out loud in front of the clerk and whatever God might be up there listening. I robotically recited my vows, lying to Tanner with each false promise I spoke. In order to push down the need to flee, and make it through without running screaming down the courthouse steps, I imagined playing with King’s daughter. Pushing her on a swing set. Building her a treehouse. Running through the sprinklers with her. Then the picture shifted, and I was exactly where I was standing, in the courthouse reciting vows, but only it wasn’t Tanner I was making promises to. It was King. And they weren’t lies at all, they were real. My heart soared and I smiled, happily imagining that I was promising to love King in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, until the end of our days.

When the officiant said “You may kiss the bride,” I’d gone as far as leaning in, before I came back down from my day dream, turning my head at the very last second so that Tanner only caught the edge of my mouth. When he pulled back, despite my obvious aversion to his kiss, he was smiling as if I really was his wife.

Then it hit me.

I really was.

I must have looked like I was about to have the stroke I was almost positive was about to happen, because the officiant kept asking me if I was okay. “Mrs. Redmond, are you alright?” I nodded and smiled the best I could manage. Tanner paid the forty-two dollar fee for the license and filing. I didn’t speak again. I couldn’t. Because if I’d answered her question, if I’d opened my mouth to speak at all, I was afraid the truth would have come tumbling out of my mouth. So, I kept quiet and Tanner and I walked in silence from the courthouse and remained silent during the entire drive home. I didn’t even say good-bye when he’d dropped me off at my house.

I didn’t speak again until I was alone on my bed in a room I didn’t remember, in a life I didn’t want, in a family that was built on a foundation of lies. I rolled over and pressed my face into the pillow.

And just like millions of other brides before me, I cried on my wedding day.

Chapter Eighteen

Doe

I’d thrown up three times since that morning and was still queasy, threatening to expel whatever contents remained in my stomach, if any. I had no doubt that what I was experiencing was a full body rejection of my current circumstances.

The party, or fundraiser, was being held in the Tanner family’s backyard, and it was the last place I wanted to be.

The senator was in his element, shaking hands and recalling the names and occupations of each and every guest at the party as if he were a best friends to every person in attendance. The Olympic-sized pool had been covered with plexiglass to create the illusion of walking on water.

How appropriate, I thought as I saw my father cross over the pool.

My mother held court by the bar with several women wearing varying shades of the same style sundress and the same chunky jewelry and French twist hairstyle. They weren’t doing half as good of a job pretending to be sober as she was. And as my father was, acting every bit the practiced and perfected politician. I was learning that my mother was every bit as equally practiced in the art of public intoxication.

My ninth birthday. My mother stumbling into the backyard wearing a low-cut tight blue dress and gold heels. She has a glass of wine in one hand and knocks over a table full of my birthday gifts in front of my friends from school. Nadine cuts my cake and my mother tells everyone that we shouldn’t eat cake at all because it is high in calories and will make our asses fat and men don’t like fat asses. Her wine sloshes over her glass and the magician Nadine hired has to grab her by the elbow to save her from crashing into the pool when her heel catches on the pavement.

Miraculously, she manages to catch her falling wine glass. “I saved it!” she shouts, holding it up to our little group like it’s a trophy. “Totally saved it,” she says again, before walking back into the house without another word.

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