Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Coral Wedding

Amie traded her soft white t-shirt for a long white dress: capped sleeves, layers of fabric the texture of seafoam for the skirt, and a sash tied round her in an elaborate knot people called a bow. She was about to do the most disrespectful thing of her life, upsetting the small town world that had been her home all her days. In her mind there had never been any question about the marriage. And if it took until the actual ceremony for her parents to understand how serious she was, Amie’s will was enough to go through with it.

Bekah piled ringlets of Amie’s soft brown hair onto the crown of her head, letting a few representative rebel-curls take their independence down the side of her friend’s cheek. Maid of honor, Bekah was already dressed in the rich coral counterpart to Amie’s gown. The dresses were identical except for the length of their skirts and the color. A surreal scene met them in the mirror, neither girl excited or nervous, just going through the next step in the act that was set for them.

As down payment on the agreement they had made, Amie had possession of the groom’s keys, and they clinked in her hands. She criticized the reflection’s posture, and dared it to make eye contact with the world – a world that didn’t know what was coming, but ought, if it would only look anyone in the eye. Marriages in their little community were arranged. Nobody questioned it, and few worried about it. Theirs was not one of the customs of gross abuse, of marrying children to old men, or of beating wives who were unsatisfactory. Some cultures chose partners for their children from among the strangers in the wide world, but this town’s choices were mostly limited to the miniature metropolis of the few nearby villages and farms. Generally the couple had grown up together, and some had connived to be matched with their favorites.

Today was Amie’s wedding: the 13th of August. The groom was a good man, with strong attractive features, and a respected job sufficient to provide for a family. Named for his grandfather, Nicolas had been friends with Amie as long as he could remember. She went her own way, picking wild flowers in the morning and changing the oil in the family car during the afternoon. Her hair darted in curls behind her ears and over her shoulders. He’d grown enough in the last two years to be taller than her by two inches, and teased her about his new-gained height incessantly, repayment for years when she called him ‘shrimp’ and ‘dwarf.’ Once he had been ashamed to know that she disdained him. Today he was glad, and smiled to himself in the mirror.

Nick’s part of the arrangement was to book a hotel for after the wedding, a fact the whole town would have discussed by the commencement of the ceremony: which room, how expensive, how many nights. Only at that thought did a sigh escape him. Was it from the dent the terms put in his wallet, or from just a bit of wistfulness? Amie owed him. Even if all their childhood scores were erased, she would owe him for playing his part today. What a culture of obligation they lived in!

A church sanctuary filled with the couple’s neighbors, and Nick’s closest friends stood along one side of him, watching as each bridesmaid paced the aisle to the front. Finally Nick caught sight of Bekah, and his heart betrayed him. Amie was just behind her, a fairy likely to disappear with any sudden breath. Music Amie had picked for the occasion sang through the room. Bekah moved more quickly than normal, but Nick had expected that. He didn’t know exactly how Amie had planned the next part. “Line!” he yelled in a panic to his guys, who wore dress shirts a lighter peach counterpart to the bridesmaids. Nick pointed at the door behind the bride. The runaway turned her head to see them moving as one pale orange wall to bar the exit. Another door opened at the side of the chapel, one of the caterers there for the event holding it at the ready. Amie was much nearer the door than Nick, and Bekah had all her wits about her, leading her friend – who seemed almost to be holding the bridesmaid’s sash – to the door.

Those assembled gasped and began to cry out for something to be done, but it was too late. Nick ran out through the kitchen, after the girls, who were in his car, exactly as planned. He thought he saw Bekah wink from behind the wheel. As soon as they were gone, Amie’s father arrived at Nick’s back, a heavy balding man whose panting gave the younger man some concern. Offering his arm, the two turned back inside and sat at one of the tables clothed in apricot linen for the reception.

“Sorry,” Nick said first, and the patriarch eyed the boy with suspicion.

“She took your car.”

Nick nodded, realizing how obvious his guilt would be. The getaway was only possible because the girl had his keys. Still, no one would take better care of his car, he reassured himself.

Closer relatives handled the dismissal of the guests and helped with the clean-up. Untying bows wound about the aisle seats gave Nick time to think. Madness had overtaken him. Even if he’d changed his mind, there was no way locking Amie in the sanctuary would change hers. He should have pulled her aside and told her he really wanted to go through with the wedding, that he liked her well enough to spend an exciting lifetime together. Exciting. It would have been. He shook his head. The bigger madness was considering asking her back. Nick didn’t want to marry Amie any more than she was ready to marry him, and he was ashamed that he had almost cowed under the pressure of expectations.

Groomsmen and bridesmaids alike gave him pitying farewell glances. Hours after most of the guests had gone home, Nick set the box of haphazardly piled decorations in a chair and sat down beside them. People must have though he needed to be alone, because the room was empty.

Soft jingling came from his right, from the door by the kitchen. Had she jingled on the way out, too? Amie was back in her jeans and white T-shirt, hair still piled on her head, but drooping into the secondary style that told a story of adventure. Her head tilted as she extended the keys arm’s length towards him, still a bit out of reach. “Thanks,” Nick said, and sat up to grab them.

“Filled her up,” she replied. They looked at each other for a while, not needing any words to ascertain that the ordeal hadn’t been too bad yet, and that neither one had any lasting regrets.

Nick nodded. “You want to come over tonight?” he asked in his old friendly way. The question was symbolic. Nothing had changed, and there were no hard feelings.

In a step Amie was at his knees, tracing his arm towards the keys at his fingertips. Her mesmerizing eyes held his. “To your hotel?”

Nick arched his back to pull his face away from hers, and blushed. “That’s not what I…”

Amie laughed, standing erect. “After today, I don’t think it would be a good idea.”

The main doors into the foyer pushed open to let Amie escape. Every part of the plan was finished. Bekah had been dropped off at home, where Amie had changed back into street clothes. Nick had his keys, and the place was pretty much cleaned up. Next came the step Amie was still unsure about: facing her parents. When she found them at their car out front, Mom was still shocked – an entirely unreasonable response given the numerous times Amie had warned she would not go through with the wedding. Dad was angry, red-faced and huffing. Their family would have to drop out of society, maybe move away, for the shame of it. No other daughter in memory had run away from her own wedding.

It had been disrespectful, and desperate. Amie liked to add that the escape had been daring, right there in front of everyone. All it took was that one time; now she was free. No one would try to match their son with her again. Quite honestly, Nick was the most likely to succeed with her. When even he didn’t match up to Amie’s ideals, the line of suitors was down to none.

Dad told her to get in the car, and they drove home in silence. After unloading the car, still no words were offered to scold or to question. Mom closed herself in her room, and Dad sat on the couch, watching his daughter. Amie would have to begin the conversation. He would force her to start her explanation on her own.

Fishing for the shortest path to the end of the lecture, Amie began with reassurance, “Nick knew.”

“There’s plenty of blame to share.”

“He wanted to. He agreed.”

Eyebrows arched.

“This way isn’t for us…” Answers were harder to come by when the interrogator already knew them and still wasn’t satisfied. Several minutes more of quiet passed.

“You looked beautiful today,” the man choked. No anger could stem his sentimentality. Perhaps he, too, was relieved that custom had been breached.

Amie moved towards him, and sat, back to the couch. She leaned her head on his knee. “I’m sorry this is hard for you,” her words whispered against his slacks.

“Nick’s not a bad young man. I thought you might even have chosen him yourself, if that was our way.” Dad pulled his glasses by the bridge and wiped them on his tie. “You could have been happy.”

Breathing deeply against his knee was all she dared. Who could know better whether they would be happy? Nick had agreed with her, all along. Only for a moment at the peak of the excitement had he doubted, and afterwards he knew again that they’d both been right.

Had running been ignoble? Should she have slammed him with her bouquet at the altar, stood facing the crowd to tell all what she thought of their tradition? The option had been considered, and Nick had been rather against it. Bekah argued that was more confrontational than required, and would only make matters worse when facing her parents.

What now? Could she go back to life as normal, pretending there had been no wedding? Amie’s hometown was otherwise a beloved place. Leaving wouldn’t be her first choice. She had friends here, and though she wasn’t willing to marry him, she was reluctant to lose Nick’s friendship. A threat of destiny chilled through her heart, and a sob pulled itself from her chest. In the choices given her, Amie stood by the direction she’d gone. Lately the limited options had seemed to carry her. This, her most defiant move ever, was also the most constrained. Life was going where she would rather not.

Mom came into the living room and sat down beside Amie. She rested her hand on the young woman’s curls. Dad shifted his leg to bear the weight, and Amie realized she was still crying. No one said anything.

Days went by and still no one said anything. Mom and Dad were reconciled to what had happened. Not that they understood. Amie was bothered that they seemed content to not comprehend her choice. How would they help her move on? Were they punishing her? Was coping truly as difficult for them as it was for her?

Bekah met Amie for lunch, which turned out to be dessert only. When there’s no way out, chocolate makes the truth go down better. A few months younger, Bekah hadn’t been paired off yet, but she was ready. Her sweet temper and skill as a listener nearly guaranteed her happiness. Additionally, wearing the chiffon bridesmaid sash as a headband today set off the faintly freckled skin of her dimpled cheeks: a sight that was turning a few eyes for a second look. Amie fought against crying again when she realized that her best and dearest friend would in a few months be less accessible to her, even if Amie stayed in town. The married club tended toward exclusivity, being that everyone of a certain age for miles around was a member.

The girls watched each other, Bekah concerned for where Amie would go next and whether she would be happy there; Amie imagining Bekah as a housewife and momma. Moms were good around here. So were husbands. With a few exceptions, even the kids were pretty easy. Amie was always an exception.

Nick entered the small café, not the slightest hesitation in his step or expression before he was at their booth, chatting as the friend he’d always been. Already dreamy, it was a short leap for Amie to picture her two friends together. The idea startled her in its obvious positives. A moment more had her convinced such was the secret wish of each. Finally a few contemplative bites more of her pie allowed Amie to conclude that there was no conspiracy, no understanding or verbal confession. Nick was a good man, and would not have betrayed faith even on an engagement so temporary as his had been with Amie. Now?

Nick and Bekah sat side by side across from Amie, the guaranteed seed of a new way of doing things. The collaborators in Amie’s rebellion could be the first to reap the benefits. Love unfolded before her eyes. A man charming a woman was a rare sight in those parts, but Amie knew it. Nick stroked the soft tail of the scarf Bekah wore, and her fingers trembled against his on the table.

She ought to say something witty, a taunt to – to what? To bring herself back to the center of attention? To make less awkward the most natural thing in the world? To interrupt the developing happiness of two of her favorite people? Amie ate the rest of her pie in silence, seeing the world with new eyes. The sounds from the café stove and cars on the street harmonized with the reflections off forks casting shadows through the salt shaker.


Anonymous said...

Love this!
Hope there's more to come :)

Lisa of Longbourn said...

Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed my little story.

It is the nature of this blog, as frustrating for me as for any readers, that here are published the small snippets of story, the unfinished plots that come to mind in a fit of writer's compulsion.

Sadly, I think the only thing that may come of this story is that I may someday have a dress like the bridesmaids wore.

Feel free to subscribe for any future stories posted here, though.
To God be all glory,