Standing up, he says, “I should finish getting ready. We’ll have to leave soon.”
I suppress a groan and leave the room.
We get to the venue where the wedding will take place. It’s a hotel, but not like any hotel I’ve ever seen. It looks more like a castle. The wedding will happen on the back lawn which is stunning. The grass is perfectly manicured with an incredible view of the ocean. Surrounding the area where the guests will sit is a botanical garden. Everyone will be bathed in the floral scents of tea roses, gardenias, and canna lily. In the middle of the garden is a long staircase that makes a slight decline from the reception hall down to a circular path that wraps around a large cherub fountain.
With all the twinkling lights sprinkled over every shrub and sugar maple tree, it’s like a fairytale. If this were real, if it were truly my wedding, it would be a dream come true. But it’s not. Someday, when Heath finds the woman he wants to marry, this will be her reality.
I glance at him and find that he’s watching me. Looking at him, I feel a profound sadness and I’m on the verge of tears.
“What’s wrong?” he asks.
I shake my head and swallow the thickness in my throat. “Nothing. It’s just all so beautiful it’s overwhelming.
“You look sad,” he says.
I hate lying to him, but what am I supposed to say? That I’m falling in love with him and I wish all of this were real? He’d probably fire me on the spot. No, I can’t tell him how I really feel. It would ruin everything.
So instead I tell him, “Not sad, just nervous.” Which, the last part is true.
He looks almost disappointed, like he wanted me to admit I was sad.
Everyone starts to show up. I don’t know who any of these people are. I wish Mandi were here so I would at least know one person. She’s been avoiding me. I know she is, but I can’t figure out why. I’ve even tried to ambush her in front of the apartment, but it’s as if she can sense me and ends up not showing up.
People seem to be suspicious that I don’t have any family in the wedding party or friends in the crowd. I don’t really have any friends outside of Mandi, and there’s no way I could tell my parents about my fake marriage. They wouldn’t play along. They’re always worried about me not having any money and they would see this job as me getting desperate. They would want me to come home. And while they would never come right out and call me a failure, I would feel like one. Before leaving home they begged me not to move away, but I insisted I could make it on my own. I want to prove that I can. Which is why I can’t tell them anything about this fake wedding. I start to wonder if there’s also a service that provides fake families along with fake brides. There should be. I’ll have to pitch the idea to Mandi if I ever see her again.
Once everyone is in place, the rehearsal begins. It’s strange walking down the aisle. Though I’ve been married before, the ceremony wasn’t anything like this. My ex and I had gone to Reno and stayed in a circus-themed motel for two nights, which was considered our honeymoon. The chapel we were married in was called the Church-O-Love, and had a line going out the door with other couples waiting to make the worst decisions of their lives in front of an Elvis impersonating officiant. We even ordered the deluxe package which included a limo ride from the chapel to our motel. The limo itself was a nineteen-seventy something Chrysler with cracked vinyl seats and some ominous mystery stains splattered across the velvet ceiling. Not sure who in their right mind would ever consider any of it romantic. My ex and I laughed the whole time. It was all a big, funny joke. Until it wasn’t.
When reality finally settled in and I realized I was stuck with the man I’d married, the joke quickly turned into a nightmare.
I feel sick to my stomach as I walk down the aisle and people are watching me. This is the first time in my life I’ve ever felt like a complete fraud. I’m ready to run. I just want to get out of here. That is until I lock eyes with Heath. He smiles at me. More than encouraging, it feels genuine. I smile back and as long as I look at him, I know I can do this.
When I finally make it to him, he holds out his hand and I take it. The warmth and firmness of his grip calms my frayed nerves. While we’re standing in front of each other, the officiant goes over the rest of the details with the wedding party and the planner, and Heath and I are left in our own little world under a flower-draped altar.