"I just...I just don't like all the, uh, fanfare that goes with weddings. There's so much planning and stressing about little details. I'd rather just sit back in the audience and watch you go down the aisle." Well, actually, that was one of the last things I wanted to do.
"Really?" Maddie frowned, but thankfully, it was more out of surprise than disappointment. "You're always so good at planning and little details. I thought you were into that."
That was a fair point. It was why I made such a good manager. "Yeah, kind of...but I mean, at the receptions, drunk guys always hit on the bridesmaids, you know? They think we're desperate because we're the ones not getting married." Also not entirely far from the truth in my case.
Maddie's smile returned. "Those are some pretty lame excuses."
They were indeed, but she said nothing more as we drove.
After Maddie's initial failure with picking flattering wedding dresses, she now threw her faith completely into me to lead her to fashion success. It wasn't the first time this had happened, and I found myself slipping into style-advisor role pretty easily. In fact, if I was able to preoccupy myself with the objective parts of this process - flattering fit, color, etc. - it was easy to block out the big picture of her and Seth.
The saleswomen working at the stores soon learned who was in charge here and backed off with their recommendations, simply fetching the dresses I indictated. I studied each one Maddie tried on, keeping my standards high. With so many stores to choose from, we could afford to be picky.
"That one's good," I said at our third store. It was corseted, narrowing her waist, and had a skirt that didn't flare. Those puffy ones always made the hips look bigger, though no one ever seemed to realize that. You had to be tall and thin to get away with that, not short and buxom like Maddie.
She admired herself in the mirror, a look of pleasant surprise on her face. She was still drawn to ones that I didn't think were good choices, and this was the first of my picks that she really liked. The eager saleswoman jotted down the style number, and then Maddie started to turn around and try on the rest waiting in her dressing room. As she did, a dress on a mannequin caught her eye.
"Oh, Georgina, I know what you said, but you have to try that on," Maddie begged.
I followed her gaze. The dress was slinky and sexy, floor-length violet charmeuse with straps that tied around the neck. You were wearing that color the first time we met.
I averted my eyes. "Not ugly enough to be a bridesmaid dress."
"It'd look great on you. Everything looks great on you," she added with a shake of her head. "Besides, you could wear that to other things. Parties and stuff."
It was true. It didn't scream bridesmaid. Not taffeta or bright orange. Before I could protest further, the saleswoman had already fetched one from the rack, guessing my size with that uncanny ability her kind had.
So, reluctantly, I tried the dress on while Maddie went to her next option. The size wasn't perfect, but a little shape-shifting neatened it up where it needed to be. Maddie was right. It did look good on me, and when I stepped out, she took it as a done deal that I'd buy it - no, she offered to buy it - and would be in her wedding. The saleswoman, seeing an opportunity, and possibly getting back at me for my tyrannical attitude, had "helpfully" fetched two more dresses for me to try while I waited for Maddie. Maddie claimed she couldn't stand the thought of me waiting around with nothing to do, so I reluctantly took them into the dressing room. They too looked good, but not as good as the violet.
I was returning them to the saleswoman when my eye caught something. It was a bridal dress. It was made of ivory duchess satin, the fabric wrapping around the waist and halter top. The skirt was draped, pulled into little tiers. I stared. It would have been a disaster on Maddie, but on me...
"Want to try it?" asked the saleswoman slyly. Something told me that bridesmaids covertly trying on brides' dresses wasn't a rare phenomenon around here. The desperate and mournful not-getting-married attitude in action.
Before I knew it, I was back in the dressing room, wearing the ivory dress. You were wearing that color the first time we met. Seth had been wrong about that and corrected himself, but for some reason, the words came to me yet again. And the dress looked great. Really great. I wasn't overly tall but was slim enough that it didn't matter - and I filled out the top beautifully. I stared at myself in a way I hadn't with the other dresses, trying to imagine myself as a bride. There was something about brides and weddings that instinctively spoke to so many women, and I shared the impulse as well, jaded succubus or no. The grim statistics didn't matter: the divorce rates, the infidelity I'd witnessed so often...
Yes, there was something magical about brides, an image fixed into the collective subconscious. I could see myself with flowers in my hands and a veil on my head. There'd be well-wishers and joy, the giddy faith and hope of a beautiful life together. I'd been a bride once, so long ago. I'd had those dreams, and they'd blown away.
I sighed and took the dress off, afraid I might start crying. There would be no wedding for me. No bridal hopes. Not with Seth, not with anyone. Those things were lost to me forever. There was only an eternity alone, no lifelong lovers, only those I shared a night with....
Unsurprisingly, I was kind of depressed for the rest of the day.
Maddie bought the violet dress for me, and I was too glum to protest - which she read as acceptance of my bridesmaid fate. We made it through the rest of our dress stops but didn't get to the bakeries. By the end of it all, we had four candidates for her dress, which I regarded as good progress.
My mood didn't abate at work. I holed up in my office as much as I could, seeking solitude and my own dark thoughts. When I finally made it home after that eternity-long day, I found the condo empty and was astonished at how much that hurt me. I wished with all my heart that Roman was around, and it wasn't even to talk about Simone or other immortal mysteries. I just wanted his company. I just wanted to talk to him and not be alone. He was an infuriating part of my life, but he was also turning into a fixed infuriating part of my life. With a gloomy eternity ahead, that meant something.
I knew better than to wait up for him...but found myself doing it anyway. I lounged on the couch with Grey Goose and the cats, taking some small sweetness from those warm, furry creatures that loved me. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was on, which didn't cheer me up any. Like the masochist I was, I watched it anyway.
At least, I thought I was. Because suddenly, the loud shriek of a car horn blasted into my ears. I blinked and jerked my head around. I wasn't on the couch. There were no cats, no vodka. I sat on the railing of my balcony, precariously positioned. The horn had come from below, on the street. One car had nearly swiped another, and the near-victim had honked in his outrage.
I didn't exactly remember the trip out here. I did, however, remember the force that had drawn me - largely because it was still there. The light and the music - that feeling of comfort and rightness that was so hard to articulate hovered before me, off in the air. It was like a tunnel. No, it was like an embrace, arms waiting to welcome me home.
Come here, come here. Everything will be all right. You are safe. You are loved.
In spite of myself, one of my legs shifted on the railing. How easy would it be to step over, to walk into that sweet comfort? Would I fall? Would I simply hit the hard sidewalk below? It wouldn't kill me if I did. But maybe I wouldn't fall. Maybe I'd step into that light, into the bliss that could block out the pain that always seemed to surround me lately....
"Are you out of your f**king mind?"
The driver that had nearly been hit had gotten out of his car and was yelling at the other. That driver got out and returned the insults, and a loud tirade began. One of my neighbors on the floor below opened his patio and shouted for them all to shut up.
The argument, that jarring noise, brought me back to myself. Once more, the siren song faded away, and for the first time, I almost felt...regret. Carefully, I climbed off the rail and back to the solidity of the balcony. A fall might not kill me, but good God, it would hurt.
I walked back into the condo, finding everything exactly as I'd left it. Even the cats hadn't moved, though they looked up at my arrival. I sat between them, absentmindedly petting Aubrey. I was scared again, scared and eerily attracted to what had just happened - and that scared me more.
Despite the vodka tonight, my last encounter had proven alcohol wasn't to blame. No connection. Yet...it occurred to me there had been a common link all three times. My mood. Each time, I'd been down...sad about my lot in life, seeking reassurance that wasn't to be found. And that's when this phenomenon would happen, offering a solution and the comfort I thought was beyond me.