by Jessica Knoll
"You put Carolyn Bessette to shame," Biz sighed, half-wistful, half-annoyed.
I lifted my arms and the seamstress pinched a piece of fabric between her fingers. "Lost weight," she clucked, accusingly.
"From where?" Biz snorted.
But she was right. I was always thin, too thin, some might say (some people don't live in New York). As the wedding drew nearer, I'd lost my appetite completely. Just normal wedding jitters, I'd reassured myself. I was doing the right thing. Peter was the guy you marry, not Campbell.
"Mom?" I asked, looking at her behind me in the three sided mirror. From where I stood, there were three of her too. Plus three wheelchairs, three beautiful faces gone slack on the left side. My mother could still walk, it just took her three minutes to cover the distance you or I could have covered in thirty seconds. When Maria, her new caretaker (the other one had quit. "You have to start being nicer to them!" I'd scolded her when I found out.), told her she would need to get into her wheelchair for the trip to Carolina Herrera, for my first fitting, she had thrown a fit.
"Fine, mom," I'd said. I helped her to her feet and slid her walker across the room. "We'll walk."
We made it down the hallway, to the elevator, and east one avenue before my mother collapsed on someone's front stoop. Maria had to run back to the apartment, retrieve the wheelchair, and come to her rescue (cursing us under her breath the whole way, I'm sure). My mother couldn't really pout anymore, and oh, could she pout in her day, she had my father wrapped around her manicured little finger, and I could tell she was dying to pout when we helped fold her jelly limbs into her chair.
But I couldn't ever stay mad at her. Because when you get right down to it, I was responsible for all this. If I had just been good, if I hadn't gotten into all that trouble in college, if I hadn't killed someone for Chrissakes, my parents wouldn't have had anything to fight about. And if my parents didn't have anything to fight about, and if my mother wasn't so stressed out because of me all the time, then she wouldn't have had a stroke. She wouldn't be a divorced fifty-two year cripple living in a starter building for New York City's next generation of finance tycoons. I only had myself to blame, and it was why I could never stay mad at her, no matter how difficult a bitch she could be.
Now I waited for her response, eagerly. My mother has always been my harshest critic. The right side of lips twitched up. "So Beau-full," she managed. "Beau-full. Beau-full," she repeated, over and over.
I smiled, a little shy. I wasn't used to high praise from her.
"Gorgeous, Miss Elizabeth," Maria chimed in.
"Thanks, Maria," I said to her in the mirror.
"I only wish I look half as good at my wedding," Izzy said.
"I only wish I have a wedding," Biz grumbled. She had been on and off with her boyfriend for the last three years. Right now they were off.
I yelped when I felt a sharp prick. I looked down, the seamstress at my waist, and saw a small bead of bright red blood beneath her fingers. She had gotten me with her pin. I was about to read her the riot act, but the raw fear on her face snatched the furor out of my chest. "We get it out, we get it out," she promised. "I'm so sorry. So sorry." She looked near tears.
"It's okay," I told her, suddenly feeling near tears myself. Blood on my custom Carolina Herrera wedding dress, that had to be a bad omen.
- - -
I said goodbye to Biz and Izzy outside the store. It was the middle of the day, and they had to go back to work. I didn't even know what that meant. To have responsibilities, to earn a living. I yearned for it in theory. I liked the idea of having a reason to wake up early, of happy hours with my co-workers, bitching about Bob, the pervy tech guy, of spending my own money for once, but I had no idea where to start. Who would hire me? I was a twenty-five year old trust fund murderess with no real life experience and a bachelor's degree in screwing my professors for passing grades. What a résumé!
I walked the idea off on the way back to my mother's place. When we got to her lobby, I leaned down to give her a kiss on the cheek and she lifted her arms and sort of flopped them over my back. "Happy," she whispered in my ear. I found her hand and squeezed it. "I know, mom," I said. "Me too." I just couldn't quit it with my lies.
It was Thursday, two in the afternoon, and I had nowhere to be and nothing to do. I didn't feel like shopping. I didn't need a manicure. I realized I wasn't far from Peter's office (and consequently, my father's office). Maybe I would pop in and say hello. I'd done it a few times before, mostly to savor the way all his co-workers spun in their seats to watch me walk by. I loved imagining what they said to him when I left. "You are a lucky man," or, "If you guys ever break up, can I be the first to know?"
Recalling this now brightened my mood, and I set off in the direction of midtown. It was a twenty block walk, a few avenues over, and even though it was February and cold, the sky was summer blue and clear. It was the perfect day for a walk.
By the time I reached the lobby of Peter's building, I was in a manically good mood. Endorphins, I realized, from my walk. Maybe I should start going to the gym? I quickly dismissed the thought. Going to the gym was an affront to whatever God had blessed me with an elementary schooler's metabolism.
Security knew me, and they swiped me in. I rode the elevator to the 78th floor, taking advantage of the long ride to apply a little lip gloss. Maybe I could convince him to cut out early. We could go to that cute little wine bar around the corner. Most New Yorkers despised midtown, what with its crush of tourists, heartless architecture, and flurry of suit-wearing stress messes, rushing to Grand Central to catch the 5:41 to Bronxville or Darien, whatever tony suburb they'd landed in.
But I liked being around the 9-5ers, loved seeing everyone hook their blazers underneath the bar and order an after-work cocktail. Well-deserved after a long hard day of hard work. Maybe I hoped that through some sort of osmosis, that relief would bloom in me as well. As it was I was always on edge, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. It didn't seem right I could have wreaked havoc on so many people and just get away with it, marry Peter and live happily every after. I'd pay a price, one day.
The elevator door slid open and I stepped onto Peter's floor. I made my way to his desk, nodding hellos to the people brave enough to acknowledge me. Most were too afraid to even look the wrong way at the boss' daughter.
Whatever balloon I'd been carrying around popped as soon as I saw Peter's desk was empty, his computer screen blank. You might think that someone at Peter's level would have an office, but my father believed in an open floor plan. The few execs who had offices weren't even allowed to have doors on them. My father had a door, of course.
The guy at the desk next to Peter's noticed me. "He had a meeting and was just going to head home after that."
I gave him a tight smile. "Thanks."
"Your father's here though!" he called after me when I turned to go. I pretended I didn't hear him. I didn't feel like seeing my father at that moment.
Back on the street, I contemplated my options. I could go home, maybe start on a few wedding related tasks I'd been putting off. That's what I'll do, I decided. Something productive. I rounded the corner and spotted the wine bar I had imagined Peter and I at just a few minutes earlier and changed my mind.
In the winter, a lot of restaurants in New York install makeshift vestibules around their entrances. There are so many people coming in and out, and the spaces are usually so small, that even with the heat cranked all the way up, it does no good. This little vestibule blunts the exposure to the outside.
I paused when I entered the wine bar's first entrance way, squinting through the glass door to see if it was crowded. I was only going to stay if I could get a seat. Thankfully, the place was nearly deserted.
Well, nearly. My hand stilled on the door's handle when I spotted Peter inside. He wasn't sitting, even though he could have been, there were plenty of open seats. Instead, he was standing, facing me, facing a girl with a long blond ponytail sitting on a barstool, a martini by her elbow. Her legs were open, and Peter was nestled snugly between her inner thighs.
I ripped the door open, the wind announcing my arrival with a ghostly howl. Peter looked up, saw me, and I haven't seen fear like that on anyone's face—the pin-happy seamstress from earlier didn't even come close—since I pushed Bridget. She had hovered at the top of the stairs for just a moment, her arms windmilling frantically, and her eyes had bulged when she realized I wasn't going to help her. When she realized she was a goner.