As the days ticked on, my stress began to grow, the thought of my family and friends across the table from bloodthirsty savages too much for my mind to take. And weddings in an Italian family were apparently some type of giant family reunion where everyone was invited and fully expected to rescheduled doctor’s appointments and cruises and murders, to drive the five or a hundred or a thousand miles to attend. My family made up twenty-two invitations. Brad’s? Ninety-six. On Brad’s mother’s side of the family, every single invite’s RSVP had been returned, all with the box ‘Will Attend’ firmly checked. On Brad’s father’s side—the Magiano dynasty—the only response had come from Maria’s family and twenty or thirty great aunts and uncles. Total silence from Brad’s father, brothers, and cousins. I had cut Rebecca off at that stage of the update, waving my hands wearily and dropping my head heavily on her desk.

“Why were they even invited?” I moaned. “Did Brad know this?”

She looked at me grimly. “Yeah. He said a lack of invitation would be a sign of disrespect. And mentioned something about them showing up out of spite if they weren’t invited.”

I closed my eyes. Yeah. Dom Magiano seemed to have a thing about being challenged. “So ... we have no idea if they are coming.”

“Right. And my ass isn’t calling them for a follow-up.” Her indignant tone broke through my anguish and caused a smile.

“What’s Mom think? About his family not RSVPing?”

She shrugged. “I’ve managed to distract her with other stuff. But just know that there’s a chance that six or seven of these gorgeous tables will be empty. Or full. I’m not sure which you’d rather.”

“Oh my God,” I moaned. “Please stop talking. Is it too late to call this entire thing off?”

She raised her eyebrows at me, pulling out a drawer and lifting a huge, three-ring binder, its seams busting, colored tabs happily dividing plastic sleeves. “And ruin all of my hard work? Puh-lease. This is going to be the event of the decade, and that beautiful man in there has already dropped a small fortune on satisfying me and your mother’s every whim.”

I propped my chin on the desk, looking past her OCD organization and staring into her eyes. “How are you still sane? My head would explode with the decisions, powder versus baby blue, crab cakes versus crab legs ...”

She interlaced her fingers and fixed me with a stare. “I’m thirty-two, dating a barely acceptable man who I will probably f**k for another year before I move on to someone marginally better. When, and if, I do ever find someone I want to spend the rest of my life chained to, I’ll slap together some crap-ass wedding with a budget that equals two pairs of your ridiculous shoes. I have the opportunity here to plan the wedding of my dreams, with someone else’s money, and while on the clock. Please, turn into Mariah Carey and have a vow renewal every year so I can make this my full time job.” She grinned at me and opened the binder. “Now, let’s discuss the seating chart.”

Seating. An geometry equation where we tried to keep Campbells from Magianos, Brad’s clients and our friends acting as referees via seating clusters, the constant threat of entire empty tables a likely eyesore. The unknowns stacked, like additional cards to an already fragile pyramid. I wanted it all to disappear. Brad’s family, even, at times, my own. I almost didn’t even want friends at this point, the struggle to please everyone exhausting in its requirement of effort. Olivia and I had, in some way, mended fences—if mending fences meant that we pretended our library argument had never occurred. But any interaction with the girls was still stressful, the pressure to provide a brochure-worthy show of ‘life is perfect’ just to ensure support of my future life. Support Becca readily gave. Support Olivia dribbled out depending on whoknewwhat. It had all seemed so much easier at Christmas. When the wedding was still so far out, and everyone, including Olivia, had been full of smiles and positivity.

“By the way, you need to go to Franco’s and pick out a dress. That should be easy for you, with your penance for shopping.”

At her words, I came back to Earth. A dress. I could handle that. “Sound good. Do I just stop by there one day after class?”

Dismay flooded her features. “No! You don’t just ‘stop into’ Franco’s; this is going to be a full day affair. They need to know your measurements before you arrive, and they will order the best designers and have a fitter there to make adjustments. I’ll let them know your favorite champagne and have—”

Nothing was easy anymore. “Oh my God,” I groaned. “Please. As few decisions as possible. I’d like to enjoy this. Please call and tell them how indecisive I am. Just have them pull five options, all designed for someone with small boobs. I don’t want sequins or beading, or something that looks like Cinderella Barbie would wear. No poufy stuff underneath, or crazy buttons, or glitter. And I don’t want to spend over a thousand dollars. I’m wearing this one time.” I finished the plea with one long breath outward, looking up to see a disappointed look on Rebecca’s face.

“You do realize that you are the worst bride ever. And cheap.” She said the word as if it was offensive.

I ignored the comment, sitting back in the chair.

“I don’t know if Franco even has dresses for less than a grand.”

“Then I’ll go to David’s Bridal.”

She wrinkled her nose like I had said a bad word. “Fine. I’ll call Franco’s. But you know Brad’s gonna freak on you if he thinks you are skimping.”

I stood, walking around the desk and giving her a hug. “I’ll handle the big guy. And I’ll go to Franco’s on Saturday, just text me whatever time they want me to come in.”

“Try to enjoy it. You’re living every woman’s fantasy.”

“I am enjoying it. Every bit except when it involves Brad’s family. And thank you, you freaking angel, for handling these details.” I grinned and headed for the door.

“Later. Oh, and Julia?”

“Yeah?” I turned, one hand on the doorframe, and looked at her.

“You know his birthday is Friday.”

My brain closed in a bit. Friday. I should have known this, realized—at some point—that a birthday hadn’t occurred, that his time clock would be turning one year over. We had been together ten months, I should have asked, should have thought of this by now. “Friday.”