From the moment she stepped into the salon, Harper felt like a bride. A floral scent floated around the room, not cloyingly sweet but more fresh and springlike. Rows of gorgeous white gowns were lined up against an exposed redbrick wall, each one promising to make its bride a princess for a day. The boutique salon had achieved that delicate balance between elegant chic and charming lowcountry. Exactly what Harper had hoped she would achieve with her wedding. She felt her spirits rise as her sisters made cooing noises and immediately headed toward the gowns and began sorting through them.
Then Harper looked toward the far wall where the finished gowns were waiting to be united with their owners, tailored exactly to each bride’s specifications. Gowns that were slim-fitted, looking almost doll-like on their padded hangers. And very, very unforgiving in the waistlines.
Suddenly that toast and avocado from Magnolias wasn’t sitting so well. “Excuse me,” she asked the pretty salesclerk urgently, quietly. “Is the bathroom unlocked?”
The pretty saleslady took one look at Harper and, eyes widening slightly, nodded and turned on her heel to quickly lead Harper to the bathroom.
“I’m Lauren. Let me know if there’s anything you need,” the saleswoman said as she discreetly closed the door.
Harper clung to the rim of the sink and took deep breaths, stilling both her roiling stomach and her racing heart. She was nervous her dress wouldn’t fit. And even if by some miracle it did, what if they didn’t like it? She’d bought the dress on an impulse when she’d come in alone one afternoon in the first flush of wedding plans. Putting her hand on her baby bump, she thought how much had changed since that afternoon several months ago.
Harper ran a hand towel under the cool water from the marble faucet and patted her cheeks, breathing slowly. Then she stared at herself in the mirror. She was paler than usual and her blue eyes were rimmed with smudges of fatigue.
There was a soft knock on the door. She heard Granny James’s voice. “Harper? Are you all right?”
“Yes. Fine. I’ll be out in a minute.”
There was a long pause, then: “Very well. I’ll wait for you with the rest of the girls.”
Harper took several more deep breaths, rearranged her hair, and left the bathroom. Lauren was waiting for her and guided her to a large dressing room with white chairs and heavy, white-framed floor-to-ceiling mirrors. She immediately saw her gown hanging on a hook, waiting for her. Her breath caught on a sigh as she hurried to the dress and tentatively reached out to touch the embroidered bodice.
“It’s as lovely as I remember,” she said softly.
“Of course it is,” Lauren said cheerfully. “It’s one of my favorites. Feeling better?”
Harper turned to face her and shook her head. “I don’t think I’ll be feeling better for several more weeks.” She smiled. “I’m pregnant.”
Understanding flashed across Lauren’s face, swiftly followed by concern. “How far along are you?”
“Second trimester. Near four months.”
“And the wedding date is when, remind me?”
“The end of May.”
Lauren began counting on her fingers. “Well,” she said in a long, tentative drawl, “by then you’ll have a baby bump.” She glanced at the gown. “With some gowns, like an A-line or Empire style, we can make alterations to the dress quite easily. But with the gown you selected, I fear it will be difficult.” Lauren grimaced. “The bodice is intricately constructed with embroidery, and the waist is so tight.”
Tears stung Harper’s eyes. “I know,” she said softly. “I’ve been worried about that.”
“Oh, don’t cry.” Lauren rushed for a tissue. She strove for optimism. “Let’s try it on, shall we? You’re so small, perhaps we can make it work. We won’t know until we see what we have to work with, right? I’ll put you in the dress, then I’ll call for our alterations head. Alva is a miracle worker.”
Lauren was efficient at smoothly slipping Harper into the gorgeous gown, but Harper could already feel the gown pulling at the waist, where months before the folds had fallen across her frame in perfect harmony. Harper sucked in her breath, but it didn’t make any difference. Her baby bump was barely visible yet, but it did make the small waistline of the gown feel extremely tight. Nonetheless, Lauren managed to fasten all the buttons. Harper could barely breathe. She turned to face the mirror.
It was a moment she’d never forget. Her heart melted at seeing herself in the luminous gown. The sweetheart, strapless neckline featured a heavily embroidered bodice in old-world guipure. The bodice was corseted to fit tightly, accentuating her small waist before exploding in tulle. Little girls, herself included, dreamed of seeing themselves in a gown such as this. Yet seeing it again, Harper didn’t quite remember its being so . . . so the dress of a Disney princess.
“Shall we show your family?”
Harper nodded, lifting the folds of fabric as she followed Lauren into the waiting area, imagining how she would possibly move in this dress on her wedding day. The dress was heavy and constricting, especially at her waist where the stays dug into her skin.
Great shafts of light flowed into the room through the large front windows. With the brick walls, the wood floors, and bouquets of fresh flowers, Harper felt as if she were a deer walking into an open meadow. Carson, Dora, Mamaw, and Granny James were sitting waiting for her in the plush chairs, arms and legs crossed. Harper pasted a wide smile on her face and walked with studied grace onto the small platform set before a wall of mirrors. She pirouetted daintily, then dropped the fabric from her hands and looked at her entourage expectantly. Carson’s brow was raised with indecision. Mamaw’s head was tilted in thought. Granny James’s face was a classic study of the old British stiff upper lip. Only Dora wore a broad smile on her face.
“Well?” Harper asked breathlessly. “What do you think?”
“I love it!” Dora exclaimed with unbridled enthusiasm. “It’s so beautiful. You look just like a princess!”
Harper smiled tremulously. That was just the comment she’d been hoping not to hear. She looked to Carson.
Carson said thoughtfully, “It is a beautiful gown.” She paused and her brows furrowed. “But . . . a princess gown? Tulle? You always wear very minimalist, chic styles. I don’t know, Sis, it just doesn’t seem like you.”