"Please come, Jo. Please.” They were sitting at their usual lunch table before the boys arrived. If Becca’s whining hadn’t been so annoying, Jolie might have been tempted to agree to go to the Grolund family barbecue. After all, they were friends. But the event was a week away. Jolie didn’t think she’d be living in the state by then. She didn’t want to say that, though. Rebecca was lousy at keeping secrets. If Jolie told her anything, it would be all over school in a flash, and she hadn’t decided if she would tell her friends or not. She hated the whole goodbye thing. Sometimes, it was just cleaner to move and send a text afterward saying goodbye. She could always blame the suddenness on Jessie. Usually, ducking out this way didn’t bother her, but this time it felt cowardly. What was going to happen to Remy after she left? Who would look after him? Bodhi? Was Bodhi ready for that? Had he understood what Jolie was asking him to do when she charged him with the task that night out at Rose’s or had he just dismissed the whole incident as more of her confused ravings?
I can’t leave. I just can’t. Jolie felt like a stone weight in her belly was ripping her insides apart.
“I just don’t think I can make it, Becca,” she tried to beg off.
“Why? Oh, come on, please. You’re practically the only friend I have. What is it, your mom? I thought you said she was going to be okay?”
“She is. I mean she’s getting better, but she still needs a lot of help.”
“So you’re worried that she’ll need you home that night?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. Right now everything is up in the air. They let Mom go at work and we haven’t figured out our next step,” Jolie admitted.
“Oh my God,” Rebecca figured it out. “You think she’s going to make you move.”
“No, I don’t. Well, maybe.” Jolie was conflicted. On the one hand, she didn’t want anyone to know, and on the other, she longed to share the burden of her situation. Rebecca would not have been her first choice, but there was no going back. She had already said too much.
“But she can’t make you leave now, Jo,” Rebecca insisted. “It’s practically the end of the year.”
“Tell me about it. Please, don’t say anything to anyone, Becca. Nothing’s been decided for sure and there’s no sense stirring things up.”
“I don’t know what I’d do if you left. I’d be completely lost,” Becca insisted, ignoring anything Jolie said.
“Nothing would change that much,” Jolie argued, wishing she’d kept her mouth shut.
“But we’re like sisters. I know that we’ve had our differences, but no one understands me like you do, and no one else understands you like I do, Jo.”
Jolie wasn’t entirely sure those statements were true, but she appreciated that Rebecca believed them.
“We can text, and see each other, and stuff,” she offered lamely, knowing that it would never equal face to face time: talking, laughing, and sharing. “If Mom loses the apartment, we have to move. What can I do, Becca?”
“I’m not accepting defeat,” Rebecca announced, gamely. “There has to be something we can do.” She began texting on her phone.
“Hey, guys,” Remy and Bodhi joined the table. “So what time do you want me to pick you up for the wedding, Jo?”
“I told you, Rem. I have to be there early because I’m a bridesmaid. They want to dress me up, and do some stuff with my hair.”
“You mean they don’t trust you to do your own hair? Imagine that.” Bodhi flicked the rag wrapped mess Jolie had scrunched on top of her head.
“It’s some girly thing they do for weddings, I don’t know. Just meet me there, okay, Remy?”
“Do you have a ride?” Jolie didn’t answer because the answer was no. Remy raised an eyebrow. “Then let me take you, Jo. I won’t be in the way. I have a phone, I can entertain myself.”
“Fine,” Jolie gave in. “Pick me up at nine.”
“Yes, AM. They’re not getting married at one o’clock in the morning, dork.”
“The wedding is at one o’clock, but I’m picking you up at nine?”
“Forget it. I’ll walk.” Jolie got up to leave.
“Stop. I was just teasing. Why are you being so sensitive?”
“I’m not.” She tried to keep her face neutral.
Remy studied her. “You’re lying, but okay, if you don’t want to tell me right now, I’ll wait. Nine o’clock is fine.
“He’ll be late,” Bodhi added.
Remy punched his arm, playfully. “Bodhi, stop trying to cause me problems.”
“Who, me?” Bodhi did his innocent look.
“‘Who, me?’ You have a face like a puppy, Bodhi.” Jolie tried to imitate his “it wasn’t me” face.
“Sorry, Jo. It’s just not the same,” Remy shook his head.
Jolie’s relationship with Bodhi had changed since the night Jessie Lynn was shot. They might never be close, but a truce had been called.
I should tell them. Jolie felt her conscience gnawing at her like a colony of starving rats. She wanted to tell them she was moving; she just didn’t want to be there when they found out.
“Just make sure that you look really hot for the wedding, okay, Rem?” she kept her poker face on. “I want all the other girls to be jealous.”
“Don’t forget the boys,” Bodhi joked. Remy glared at his friend.
“I’ll get Madison to take me shopping,” he promised.
Bodhi rolled his eyes. “Oh my God, he’ll look like a Mormon girl’s wet dream.”
“Justin Bieber,” Becca suggested, still carrying on her marathon texting session. “And by the way, good Mormon girls don’t have those kind of dreams.”
“Then how do they get such big families?” Bodhi teased.
“If you show up looking like Justin Bieber, I’ll pretend that I don’t know you,” Jolie warned Remy. Maybe after the wedding, she would tell Remy that she was leaving, like when he dropped her off. Then they could have a nice private goodbye.
The bell announced the end of lunch, everyone hefted their backpacks and headed off to their afternoon classes.
“Boom!” Rebecca punched the air. “Problem solved,” she announced, triumphantly. “And you ‘can’ come to my barbecue now, because you’ll be living with me.”
“If your mom moves, my parent’s just agreed that you could move in with me,” Rebecca repeated.
“But your parents don’t even like me,” Jolie protested.
“Sure they do, and I like you. That’s what’s important. So, problem solved.”
“Problem solved,” Jolie echoed, wondering why she didn’t feel more relieved.
By Saturday, everything would be settled. Brett would load the moving van and drive Jessie Lynn and their meager belongings up to Tecopa. Jolie would go to the wedding, then come back to the apartment, clean it, turn in the keys, and move in with the Grolund’s so that she could finish out the year at Chaparral.
Jolie caught a glimpse of herself in one of the huge gold framed mirrors that hung like wallpaper around the casino’s wedding area. She would have liked to believe, when they placed full length mirrors every six feet along both walls, the intention was to show blushing brides how beautiful they were as they walked toward their blissful futures. But they were just as likely a cruel joke on the unfortunate bridesmaids forced to look at themselves over and over again, all the way down the hall, every time they went to take a leak.
To Tru’s credit, she had made an effort to get around the demeaning tradition, refusing to wear a white gown set off by a complimentary bouquet of friends in pastel frocks. The flaming redhead had opted for a deep green gown for herself with her bridesmaids in classic little black cocktail dresses.
“Maybe, I could use it as a Halloween costume,” Jolie muttered under her breath, examining the effects of her transformation under the spell of the black sheath dress, stilt-high heels, glamour photo makeup, and Texas beauty queen hair.
“It’s like Rocky Horror meets Cinderella,” Jolie complained. It had taken hours to put it all together. It would take twice as long to undo it and she would come home from the wedding dressed like Magenta from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, take off her stilettos, and go straight to cleaning the apartment. Jessie Lynn, Bret, and the little U-Haul with their meager possessions would already be gone, along with everything but the few clothes that Jolie would need between now and the end of school.
One more night of freedom, and then she’d be living with the Grolunds.
“Her dream: my nightmare,” Marty entered the hallway from the groom’s dressing room with a sigh. “I thought we’d just have some friends over, say how much we love each other, then the band could play, and we’d have a party. It was such a simple plan in the beginning.”
“What happened?” Jolie asked.
“Tru’s mother, that’s what.” Marty rolled his eyes. “Her folks insisted their little girl should have the wedding of her dreams.” He looked at Jolie and did a double take. “Whoa, Jo!” He blinked. “That’s a change.”
“When I told Tru I’d do this, I had no idea what I was getting into,” Jolie tugged at the hem of her dress, trying to wriggle it closer to her knees.
Marty let go a belly laugh, completely at odds with the rented tux.
“Welcome to the club. None of us did, but you clean up nice.” He pulled at the stiff white collar circling his neck. “I feel like a trussed turkey. I can hardly breathe.”
“You and me both,” Jolie commiserated, trying to fill her lungs against the restriction of the dress’s plastic stays.
Marty held up a patent leather clad foot.
“If you look down, you can see your reflection in my shoes.”
“Don’t let Tru know about that. If she figures out that you can see up some girl’s dress just by standing next to her, you’re going to end up one dead bride’s groom.”
“Jolie Figg, you have a truly perverted mind.” Marty gave her a devilish grin. “I love it.”
“Don’t pretend you hadn’t thought about that. It’s my duty as a bride’s maid to keep an eye on you.”
“Hey, I’m an almost married man.” Marty held his hands up in a gesture of surrender.
“Yep and the bachelor party is over.”
Marty sat on one of the velvet covered love seats and took off one of the offending shoes. “I thought I rented a tux, not a torture chamber.”
“Quit being a wimp. I’ve got it much worse than you.” Jolie stuck out a high heel so tall, she was literally walking on the tips of her toes.
“I don’t think so. I’m wearing a corset, and you, clearly are not,” Marty one-upped her.
The door at the end of the hallway opened and Sean’s on again off again girlfriend, Adrianna stepped in. She was wearing a conservative sun dress that could have been on the June cover of Good Housekeeping magazine, her hair braided into one tasteful French braid down the back.
“I think the bathrooms must be in here somewhere, Sean.” She caught sight of Jolie. “It’s okay, honey, I found it. You just wait for me there.” She tried to keep Sean from coming any further, but it was too late.
Sean saw Jolie and stopped halfway through the door, his mouth hanging open like a wide mouthed bass.
“Hi, Sean,” Jolie replied coolly. “Adrianna.”
“I was just looking for the ladies room.” Adrianna gave Jolie the once over. As much as Jolie hated being put on display like a department store manikin, she could not deny a little surge of pleasure watching Sean’s girlfriend’s face. Jolie had never shown up on Adrianna’s “watch out for this one” meter but she was reassessing that dismissal now.
Sean was too. The Jolie standing in front of him was no kid.
“I’ll be right back, honey.” Adrianna gave Sean a kiss, that doubled as a declaration of territory, before exiting into the lady’s room.
“Wow, Jo, I almost didn’t recognize you.” Sean didn’t seem to know what to do with his face, smile, frown, gape. “Did you do something new with your hair?”
“No. Someone else did. Tru said to do something retro and out came the highlight foils, the rat tail combs, and cans of hairspray. It’s guaranteed if I disappear my hair will stand here all by itself.”
Sean chuckled. “Well, you look good kid--damn good.”
Jolie noted the inclusion of “kid” in that sentence. Sean was trying to remind himself that he was an adult and she was not. Adrianna reappeared.
“Well, we’d better get back, honey,” she took Sean’s arm possessively and pulled him back through the carved double doors at the end of the hall.
“Meow,” Marty made cat claws with his hands. “I wouldn’t trade places with that dude right now, even to get out of these size eleven nightmares.”
“If he’s not happy, he’s got no one to blame but himself,” Jolie pointed out. “He already broke up with her once.”
Marty shrugged. “Some guys are slow learners. Look, Jolie, I know I’m not your dad or anything, but would you do me a favor tonight?”
“You know I will, Marty.”
“Just be careful. Tru’s parents have spared no expense on this shindig and the alcohol will flow freely. I wouldn’t worry if it were just the band and our friends, but there are people here that Tru’s parents invited that she hasn’t seen in twenty years. We don’t really know them.”
“What are you trying to say, Marty?”
“People get a little crazy at wedding receptions, and right now, you don’t look like anybody’s idea of a sixteen-year-old, but you’re every guy’s idea of hot. So just keep your head about you, okay?”
Remy entered through the door that Sean and Adrianna just went out.
“Don’t worry, Marty. You have your best man, and I have mine.” Jolie tucked herself under Remy’s arm. Marty offered a hand to Remy and they shook hands.
“’Nice to see you again, Remy.”
“Nice to see you, too, Sir. Congratulations on your wedding, and thanks again for your help the other night.” Remy’s sincerity and charm teased Marty into a relaxed smile.
“No problem. It seems like everything worked out okay.” He glanced at Jolie.
“I’m fine.” Jolie raised her hand like she was giving an oath in court. “I promise not to foam at the mouth or let my head turn around backward. Come on, Remy, let’s go get this chump married.” She smiled as she linked Marty’s arm in her other arm.
The wedding ceremony was what Jolie expected from watching movies: full of sentimental mush and weeping relatives, but this time it was her friends saying the words. Maybe she was more vulnerable because of everything that had been going on. It felt strange that Jessie Lynn was moving away without her, kind of like she was being abandoned, and even though she thought she had wanted to stay, moving in with strangers seemed like the separation before a divorce.
The cliché of crying at a wedding was old and tired, but here she was, listening to her friends promise to love each other forever, and pretending there was something in her eye.
There was so much naked truth in Tru and Marty’s promises to each other, that it made Jolie’s chest ache. Would she ever find a Marty to love her? If she did, would she recognize his feelings as real and be able to hang onto him, or had all the years in her mother’s shadow made her so jaded, that she would never be able to accept something so inexplicably naive and hopeful as love?
Jolie looked out over the congregation and locked eyes with Sean, remembering past lives when the two of them had been at the center of similar ceremonies.
Friends and neighbors shouted encouragement as bagpipes skirled in the background. Clasping hands, the Jolie and Sean of a different lifetime looked into each other’s eyes and jumped over a broomstick.
The scene switched. A man draped in a white toga took a younger Jolie’s slender hand into his.
“Go with him,” the little girl’s father commanded her, sternly. “Be a good girl and do what he tells you.”
Jolie looked up at the tall, muscular man beside her wearing his shiny breastplate and feathered helmet. He looked down at Jolie and smiled kindly: it was Sean.
“Would you like to see your new house?” he asked, as gently as if he were trying to tame a woodland fawn. Jolie nodded and followed him like a bee to honey. They had eight children in that life, Jolie remembered as the image faded.
But this time Sean would not be hers. Instead, Remy had stepped forward when she was in trouble. Remy, who needed her, and who had shown her a world where she was not an outcast.
Jolie turned her eyes from Sean and sought Remy’s face. When she glanced back at Sean, his expression was troubled. He might not want to admit that he remembered any life but this one, but he didn’t like the idea that someone else might have her heart.
He’s jealous. Jolie smiled, pleased by the prospect. She flashed Sean a provocative smile, feeling the kind of power that had nothing to do with making a deal with any demons other than her own natural desires.
Sean was moody the whole reception. Pushed outside Tru and Marty’s inner circle by his new relationship, he sat pouting, refusing to dance, so that Adrianna was completely isolated and bored.
Not my problem, Jolie reminded herself, watching the young woman struggle with her escort’s black mood.
Iris came by and hugged Jolie, reiterating her promise to help out. Jolie almost told her about Jessie Lynn’s move, and how she had to go live with the Grolunds, but Iris lived miles away from the school, and Jessie Lynn already had the papers granting the Grolund’s temporary guardianship. All Jolie had to do was make sure her mom signed them and deliver them to the school office.
Besides, it’s only for a few weeks, she told herself.
The new couple was about to drive off for their mini honeymoon when Marty turned and grabbed Jolie and bussed her right on the lips.
“I’m just so happy, Jo--so happy. I never thought she’d choose me.” His eyes shone.
The food was good, and the band was solid, even with the new bass guitarist sitting in for Marty, and everyone seemed to have a great time.
“Thank you for coming with me,” Jolie’s arms encircled Remy’s neck as they danced to the evening’s closing song.
“Thanks for asking me.”
Jolie glanced at the table where Sean and Adrianna were sitting. Sean was watching them. Jolie reached for Remy’s hand and moved it down to her butt. His body was so close to hers, all of their most vital bits were just inches apart, with only a few layers of fragile clothing separating them. She leaned into him, pressing her hips against his, her chest against his, looking deep into his eyes. It was a silent offer that would be hard to misunderstand.
Remy moved his hand back to her waist, his color rising, the look on his face confused as if she’d just sliced his heart open.
He is a tortured soul as well as a gentleman, Jolie told herself. She might not be able to do much about the tortured soul part, but she thought she could do something about the gentleman. Almost as tall as he was in her stiletto heels, she leaned forward and kissed him long and deep, drinking him in. When she was done, she stayed close, so that the silhouettes of their faces were interlocking jigsaw puzzle pieces ready to be pressed together into perfect union.
“I’d like you to take me home now,” Jolie whispered. It was her last night of freedom here in Las Vegas. Who knew if they’d ever have another chance to truly be together. So many times, she had thought about throwing away her virginity in a fit of anger. This was the first time she had thought to give it in love. The apartment would be empty except for her clothes and a sleeping bag, but they wouldn’t need more.
“What do you mean you can’t?” Jolie repeated Remy’s words, trying to make sense of them. “You mean it won’t work right now or something?” She looked down at his crotch, trying to see past the shadows cast by the street light. He had borrowed his folk’s car for the event, and they had pulled up into the parking lot at the apartments. Jolie leaned over and kissed Remy. “I don’t want to be alone.” She took his hand and began to slip it down the tube of her dress. This night would be special for them for the rest of their lives, no matter where their lives took them.
“No.” Remy said firmly, pulling away. “This isn’t right--not for us, Jo. I’m flattered and I do love you but-”
“But what? You’re not worthy? You’re not ready, you’re not interested? What? Go on finish the sentence.”
“I’m gay,” Remy blurted it out.