Chapter One

Posted: September 1, 2013 in Chapters, Love in the ZA
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Day One

     Staring at herself in the mirror, Maddie Striker could hardly believe the day had arrived. She’d made it through tears (her mother’s), shouting (her mother-in-law’s), rehab (her sister’s) and a breakdown (collective, and terrifying for all involved). She’d put up with a vegan cake maker, a last minute hunt for a photographer after the first one had quit and a florist she was 80% sure was 100% insane. She’d invested in a night-guard, after a year of grinding her teeth had necessitated a root canal. She was $5000 in debt. But she was finally here.

     Today, she was getting married.

     “Can you believe this? This is so wonderful. I can’t believe it! Can you?” Her mother, Grace, sat dabbing her eyes and repeating the same nonsense she’d been saying since she’d woken up that morning. Grace Striker was good at two things: crying, and fretting. Maddie was grateful Grace had chosen the former for the day; she’d had her fill of the latter in the fourteen months it had taken to plan this damn thing. She was all fretted out.

     Normally Maddie would have rolled her eyes at her mother’s emotional display, but truth be told, she felt a little like crying herself. In two hours, she thought, I’ll be Mrs. Madelyn Cooper. A warm thrill shot through her.

     Patting her upswept hair, she smiled at her reflection. She knew she wasn’t a beautiful woman – had lamented that fact in front of hundreds of mirrors before this one – but the team she’d given two months’ worth of paychecks to do her hair and make-up had gone a long way toward disguising that fact. Her eyes, her lips, her cheeks that looked, my god, like she had model-worthy cheekbones (“A little highlighter, love, and nobody knows the difference!”) – everything was perfect. She couldn’t wait for Jack to see.

     Sweet, handsome Jack. He thought she was gorgeous even without 3 hours in an artist’s chair, a fact that still, after years, never failed to surprise her. He’d had his pick of the girls at their high school, and later at his prestigious college, but in the end he’d chosen her. She carried that with her, like a treasure in her pocket, to be taken out and admired when she was down and alone: anyone he’d wanted, and he’d picked her to be his wife.

     I’ll make him happy, she thought fiercely. I’ve done it for this long; I can do it forever. I don’t care what she says.

     She was Jack’s mother. Marion Elizabeth Conrad K Cooper, a woman with as many names as she had sticks up her ass. She swore the K stood for Kennedy, that they were distant cousins, but Maddie had her doubts; she suspected Marion had added it when she’d married Jack’s father. If he’d ever known the truth, her husband wasn’t telling – he’d died when Jack was 2. Probably to get away from her. Jack was her only child, and she was fiercely protective of him. Very little was good enough for her Jack. Especially not Maddie.

     One good thing had come out of these long months of planning: Maddie had taken a perverse, petty pleasure in doing the exact opposite of what Marion had wanted, as often as she could.

     The first shot fired had been the wedding cake, hence the need for a vegan baker. Marion had insisted they use an incredibly expensive, snooty friend of hers who operated a “baking boutique”, where the cakes started at 2k and every single decorative flower came with its own additional fee. Maddie had thoroughly enjoyed introducing her to the tie-dye clad hippy who owned the simply named Val’s Cakes; the pop-eyed look of horror on Marion’s face had provided enough euphoria to get Maddie through writing the check for Val’s services. Which, as it had turned out, weren’t all that much cheaper than the boutique’s. Specialty ingredients meant specialty prices, after all.

     The dress, though. The dress had been the coup de grace.

     Thinking of it now, she went to where it hung, on the outside of the rectory’s closet. Carefully, reverently, she removed the plastic bag that had protected it for the last six months. She caught her breath, as she always did, when she saw it in all of its uncovered glory.

     I’m getting married in this dress. She shivered. She couldn’t, even now, quite believe it.

     It was exquisite. Floor-length organza with a chapel train and delicate beadwork that covered the bodice, dainty lace straps and a belted satin waist that created the illusion that she was smaller than she truly was – it was a dress fit for a princess.

     And it was blue.

     Marion had been furious. “You cannot get married in a blue dress,” she’d declared when Maddie had shown her.

     “Why the hell not? Lots of brides are choosing non-traditional colors these days. It’s actually very trendy.”

     “I don’t care what’s trendy, Madelyn. It’s not proper. Brides wear white.”

     Maddie had grinned at her, unable to resist poking the bear. “I’ve been with your son for six years, Marion. I don’t think anybody expects me to wear white.”

     “My mother will be there,” Marion had hissed.

     “I don’t think she could wear white either,” Maddie had snapped back.

     Gasps. Offense. Outrage. Maddie had been appropriately contrite, but later she and Jack had laughed about it, laughed until they’d collapsed onto the bed in tears. When they were calm again he’d rolled over and placed a hand on her breast, teasing the nipple through the fabric. “I like blue,” he’d whispered in her ear, his hot breath giving her goose bumps. “But the wedding is so far away. By the time it gets here, you might have to wear red.”

     “Are you calling me a whore?!” she’d asked.

     He’d grinned. “Do you want me to?” Then he’d brought his mouth down to where his hand was, and everything else had been forgotten.


     The sound of the door opening behind her broke Madelyn from her thoughts. She turned, a word of greeting on her lips that became a gasp.

     “What in the hell did you do?!”

     “Ohh Jessie,” her mother moaned, turning her face away. “Oh no.”

     Maddie’s sister ignored them both, crossing the small room to preen before the mirror Maddie had just vacated. She adjusted the bodice of her dress, blew herself a kiss and twirled; Maddie noted that she lost her balance at the end and staggered just a bit before righting herself.

     “You don’t like it?” Jessie grinned. “I think I look fab!”

     Maddie saw dark spots dance across her vision. Don’t pass out. You’ll ruin your hair. Don’t pass out.

     “You look…” She groped for words. “You look like a hooker!”

     Their mother winced, but Maddie knew it was the truth. Jessie’s hair was teased and shellacked with at least a can of hair spray; her make-up, it appeared, had been applied with a trowel. She’d poured herself into a little black dress, cut so low at the top and high at the bottom that Maddie was certain she couldn’t bend over without exposing herself from both directions. And her skin…what was on her skin?

     “Are you wearing body glitter?” Maddie asked, incredulous.

     Jessie nodded, still smiling. “It’s silver! It matches your dress!”

     “Her dress is blue,” Grace said, as if that would undo what she was seeing.

     “Yeah, I know, but…but the sparkly bits…” Jessie trailed off, her face falling into a pout. “You don’t like it.”

     “Are you insane?” Watching her sister totter back across the room, seeking refuge in the chair beside their mother, realization hit. “Oh my god. You’re drunk.”

     “I am not!” Jessie slumped in the chair. “Mom, tell her I’m not.”

     Grace very carefully averted her eyes. “I’m not getting involved.”

     “Are you kidding me with this?” Maddie glared at her mother. “You were supposed to watch her!”

     “I’ve been with you most of the morning, how was I supposed to do that? I thought she’d be okay!”

     “I don’t need somebody to watch me,” Jessie interrupted.

     “Really?” Maddie looked her up and down. “Because all of this says otherwise.”

     Jessie rolled her eyes. “Fine. I had one drink.”

     “Bullshit! And it’s not even noon.”

     “I was nervous!” She gestured at Grace, who kept her gaze trained on the far wall. “Mom said she invited a guy she wanted me to meet. You know I get shy.”

     Maddie pressed her fingers to her temples and closed her eyes. “What. Guy?” she ground out.

     Grace answered reluctantly. “Bobby and Carol’s son. He just got back from overseas, and Bobby couldn’t make it, so I thought-”

     Maddie cut her off with a gesture. “Forget it; I don’t care. We need to fix this.” She eyed her sister’s dress. “Maybe we can find a coat, something long so we can’t see your ass.”

     “Whatever. I think I look hot.” Jessie rolled her eyes again, a move that made Maddie long to slap her, then gave her sister a sly half-smile. “Besides, you won’t give a shit about me when you see what Marion is wearing.”

     Maddie froze. “What?”

     Jessie shrugged. “You’ll see. She was right behind me; she must have stopped to bitch at the photographer. Did you know he’s sick?”

     “Yes,” Maddie sighed. “He called me. She hounded the other guy until he quit, so now we’re stuck with this one. It’s just a cold.”

     “Whatever,” Jessie said again. “She sounded pissed, so I would-”

     She stopped as the woman in question entered the room, seeming to bring a gust of cold air with her. She greeted Jessie and Maddie with a chill smile and a regal nod; her hello to their mother held a touch more warmth. “Grace. You look lovely.”

     Grace plucked at her skirt, shooting a nervous glance at Maddie. “Oh. Thank you, Marion.” She paused a moment before adding, “So, ah…so do you.”

     Marion glanced down at her outfit – a beautiful white silk pantsuit that looked expensive and tailor-made – and then back up at Maddie, favoring her with another tight smile. “I know it’s gauche to wear white to a wedding. But I thought, since the bride wasn’t, it would be okay.”

     Oh you wretched bitch, Maddie thought. She opened her mouth to reply, but Jessie beat her to it.

     “I thought white at weddings was for virgins.” She cocked her head. “Did yours grow back?”

     “Jessica,” Grace hissed.

     “It’s all right,” Marion said, her voice dripping with scorn. She gave Jessie an once-over and wrinkled her nose. “I see that you started early today. I suppose it’s a good thing I declined to pay for an open bar.”

     She let the awkward silence hang for a moment before turning her attention back to Maddie. “Are you aware that the photographer is ill?”

     Maddie nodded. “I was saying before you got here, it’s just a cold.”

     “He could have the flu!”

     “I doubt it,” Maddie said. “If it was the flu he’d be in bed. Besides, he does baby pictures too, I’m sure he’s had the shot.”

     Marion made a moue of distaste. “Those shots make you sicker than the flu does.”

     “Well, either way, he’s what we have.” Maddie spread her hands helplessly. “He was all I could find on short notice; he wasn’t sick when I hired him.”

     “Yes. Well.” Marion sniffed. “Perhaps you should have taken my recommendation. Where did you even find him?”

     “Online. Uhm, Craigslist, actually.”

     Marion arched one perfectly groomed brow, but refrained from further comment. Glancing around the room, she asked, “Where are the other girls?”

     “Chrissy is with the organist, making sure she has everything,” Maddie said, referring to her bridesmaid. “Holly…” She checked her watch. “Holly is late.”

     “Holly is always late,” Jessie complained. “You should have made me your maid-of-honor.” She blushed under their combined glares. “At least I’m here!”

     Maddie frowned as she looked at the time again. It was true that Holly was always late, but this was a bit much, even for her. She’d promised to be there when Maddie got ready; she’d already missed the hair and make-up, and with the ceremony in an hour it was almost time to start dealing with the dress. Where the hell was she?

     Grace seemed to notice her daughter’s growing concern and hastened to reassure her. “I’m sure she’s on her way. Why don’t I go see if Chrissy has heard from her?”

     She started to rise, but Maddie waved her back down. “I’ll go,” she said. The room felt suddenly hot and stuffy; if she got stuck in here with Marion, Jessie and no mediator, she’d flip. “I need some air.”

     “Don’t let Jack see you!” Marion called as Maddie left. “It’s bad luck!”

     Not bothering to respond, Maddie shut the door and leaned against it for a moment. It was cool and quiet in the hall; she could hear the organist doing warm-ups in the chapel area but the sound was distant, muffled. Pressing her fingers again to her temples, she groaned. She could feel the beginning of a migraine pulsing behind her eyes.

     Bad luck, she thought.

     I think we’ve had enough of that today already.

  1. mxcoot says:

    Well written and witty. Colorful characters.

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