“This is the happiest day of your life,” Martha says. Her cool hand cups my bare shoulder. “Don’t ruin it by having one of your freak-out moments.”
I force a smile. Martha isn’t just another woman who thinks I’m lucky to be marrying Marcus—she’s the founding member of the club. If I want any hope of a decent relationship with my mother-in-law, I need to stop acting like I’m terrified of what’s about to happen. “I’m fine.” I’m lying.
Everything is just as we planned it. I wanted an autumn wedding so I could say my vows against the backdrop of technicolor leaves. I wanted an outdoor ceremony and reception, so I chose a date after the Alabama summer humidity was supposed to have spared us for the season, but before the leaves fell and left the trees looking barren.
Choosing to hold the ceremony and reception outside was a gamble, and I’ve spent the last month and a half with nightmares about rain and thunderstorms. But today, we have soft blue skies and white clouds so fluffy they look like you could take a bite and they’d melt on your tongue like cotton candy. And instead of nightmares about thunderstorms, I had dreams about running.
I’ve been blaming my nerves on worries about wedding logistics—the weather, the caterer, the flowers. But now that it’s here and everything’s in order, I can’t blame this hitch in my belly on anything but the words Marcus may or may not have whispered into the phone.
Why didn’t I tell him what I heard? Why didn’t I demand an explanation?
“You okay?” Martha asks. “You look a little green around the gills.”
I loosen my grip on my bouquet. I’m going to crush the stems if I hold them any tighter. “I’m fine, Martha.” Too late, I realize she’s talking to Veronica, not me. And she’s right. My sister looks ill. Come to think of it, she wasn’t feeling well earlier this week either. I’ve been so preoccupied with my own anxieties that I didn’t consider she might be coming down with something.
“Must’ve eaten some bad catfish last night,” Veronica says.
I frown as I study her face. It’s like staring in the mirror. She has the same light brown hair, pert nose, and heart-shaped face. But today she’s pale under the blush Marcus’s cousin Raina applied. “Did you go out drinking with the boys?”
Marcus and his cousins hit the bars last night, and I know they invited the bridesmaids who are of legal age—and those close enough to pass. I didn’t get any such invitation, though, being Marcus’s “good girl” and all that. Who else did Marcus spend last night with?
“I can’t stop thinking about you.”
The pinch in my stomach grows tighter.
Everyone says, Trust your intuition, but I think maybe I was born without one of those. There’s no other explanation for my romantic history.
“I stayed in,” Veronica said.
“If she’d been drinking with us, she would have puked up the catfish by now,” Kate, the oldest cousin, says. “Jesus protects those who protect themselves.” She pops a couple of Tylenol into her mouth and takes a big slug from her water bottle. “Does anyone know how many shots of tequila I took?”
Marcus’s brother ends his song, and his aunt begins to play “Canon in D,” which everyone told me was quintessential wedding music. For some reason, it’s always made me think of funerals, but I agreed to include it in the processional because I didn’t want Marcus’s family to think I was a diva.
“Ready or not,” Kate says, smirking at me.
“Course she’s ready,” Martha says. “She’s marrying my Marcus. Half the girls in town would cut out their own eyes for this chance.”
That’s a disturbing image. The pinch in my stomach has morphed into a gnawing ache. Maybe I’m not nervous at all. Veronica’s sick. Maybe I’m coming down with whatever she has.
The girls pull mirrors from their purses and reapply their lipstick.
I thought my wedding day would be different. I thought I’d be more excited than scared. Maybe we should’ve waited. Maybe what Veronica said is true, and eight months isn’t enough to go from dating to married.
But Marcus said, “When you know, you know,” and I’ve been dreaming of this day since I was five. More, I’ve been dreaming of what comes after—making a home, making a family—and I’ve never been good at waiting for what I want.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Martha asks my sister.
“I’m fine,” Veronica says. She doesn’t sound fine.
“It’s probably nerves about that new job,” Kate says. “Who moves to a new state the day of her sister’s wedding?”
“Today?” I stare at my sister, who’s studying the ground as if she’s seriously contemplating lying down. “You’re leaving right after the reception?” I knew Veronica took a job in Michigan, but I assumed she’d be leaving sometime next week.