#62 Don’t slip away, Caroline
I smile when Marcus walks into Giovanni’s, opening the door for his girlfriend Bee. He is trying to be the perfect gentleman, just like his big brother. I walk over to greet them, winking at Marcus. He grins, putting his arm around Bee, who is looking around the restaurant with bright eyes. This is probably her first real date as well. They both look like they’re so excited to play grown-ups for one evening.
“Let me take you to our most romantic table,” I say, steering them to the corner booth where I put a vase of red roses – I may not like flowers, but as long as they’re not white lilies, I can tolerate them – and two candles. “Your boyfriend is very sweet,” I tell Bee. “He called ahead and told us to pull out all the stops.”
Marcus throws me a grateful smile. He didn’t call, of course, but she doesn’t need to know that. I hand them their menus, take their drink orders and leave them alone for a bit, smiling at how cute this whole thing is. I sneak a quick picture, breaking my own no cellphones rule for this special occasion. I send it so Asia and Dshawn, and to Caroline as well, knowing that she is one of the only other people who gets this moment. Who gets how important it is for me to be supportive of Dshawn’s entire family, including his siblings, because I never had that growing up.
I spend the whole evening making sure that everything runs smoothly in the restaurant, yelling at Kieran good-naturedly and taking calls for reservations, but I keep a close eye on the two lovebirds, who are being very awkward in that sweet way only kids their age can pull off.
At the end of the night, I leave work a little early to drive Marcus and Bee back home. Asia gave him a choice: get dropped off by an adult or not go out at all. He agreed, but only if he could pick who drove them. I ended up as his top pick, probably because he wouldn’t be able to kiss his girlfriend goodnight if his parents were the ones to drive them. Plus, I already saw them kiss once, and had to spy on them all evening, so picking me means not bringing another member of the family into his date. I feel happy to have his trust, glad to be a part of a family for once in my life, even if they’re not my own.
When I get back home, Dshawn is waiting for me with a glass of wine and some cheese union chips, even though he hates the smell of them. If that’s not real love, I don’t know what is.
I flop down next to him and give him a kiss. “Did you have a good day at work?”
He nods, smiling. “I’m in charge of two new customers, actually. The boss was impressed with my last project, so I’m getting to head up two new teams. Danny will be working for me.” He grins. “I get to order him around. That will be a lot of fun. How was your day?”
We chat for a while, but get interrupted by a text from Asia to the both of us: Thank you for taking such great care of Marcus today. You’re both angels. Of course, Nia is now insisting that she should get to go out on a date as well, so maybe you should go to hell after all.
I laugh. “Oh, Nia on a date… What would that even look like?”
Dshawn grunts. “She’s 10, for crying out loud. Who would she even go on a date with?”
“Maybe Terryl could take her?” I suggest.
“Terryl?” Dshawn asks, dumbfounded. “He’s her father!”
“Yeah, I know, I read this article a while back about a father taking his daughter out on a date once a month, just to have some bonding time. And he wanted to show her how a true gentleman should treat a woman. It’s not a romantic date. Just a father dressing up with his daughter and taking her out to a restaurant, making her feel all mature and special.” I smile, remembering how cute the girl looked in the picture. “I think it’s pretty sweet.”
Dshawn nods, looking like he’s deep in thought. “Hmm… Do you think… maybe I could…?”
“Yes!” I reply excitedly. “Oh yes, take you little sister on a date! Oh, she’d love that! And you’ve been wanting to reach out to the other kids anyway, now that Marcus is comfortable with you. This is perfect for Nia and you!”
He seems a little unsure, but calls his mother anyway, asking her if she’d be okay with that. I can hear Asia’s loud shrieks of happiness without her even being on speaker, so I guess she’s okay with it. Dshawn talks to his mother for a little while, and I kill the time by replying to some texts from Aston, Franny and Caroline. By the time Dshawn hangs up the phone, he is grinning from ear to ear.
“Mom says thanks,” he tells me. “She knew immediately that this was your idea.”
“Please,” I scoff. “I just remembered an article. You’re the one who thought of taking her yourself instead of suggesting it to your dad.”
Dshawn kisses me, wincing when he tastes the cheese union chips on my lips. “Ugh, you taste vile. And you smell horrible as well. You better brush your teeth before getting in bed with me tonight. You’re not getting a kiss goodnight with breath like this.”
I exhale forcefully into his face, grinning at his pained expression. “True love knows no smell.”
“Then why does it smell like death?” he asks, scrunching up his nose. “I love you, but you’re disgusting.”
“Ahwww she looks so cute,” Caroline tells me, looking at the picture of Nia in her pretty pink dress, looking into the camera with those big brown eyes that all the Davis’ kids have.
I swipe to the right and show her the picture of Dshawn holding open the door of his car for Nia, who is holding up her skirt so she can get in. Asia took hundreds of pictures just of the two of them leaving. There’s only one picture of them on their actual date. It’s a selfie Dshawn took of him and Nia, holding up their milkshakes. Their date was at McDonald’s, per Nia’s request. A weird place for an adult man in a suit and his little sister in a gown, but oh well. It was her night.
“He’s trying so hard to het a better relationship with his siblings,” I say, smiling just thinking about Dshawn and all the kids, fighting for his attention now that he’s in their lives for more than just the occasional visit.
Caroline smiles and puts an arm around me, squeezing my shoulder. “You’re such a good girlfriend. He’s so lucky you decided to give up your slutty ways for him.”
I grin mischievously. “Who says I gave up my slutty ways? Just last night we-”
Right when I’m about to say something dirty about a finger up his asshole while we fucked in a public bathroom at a night club, 8-year-old Rose Storm comes out of the dressing room, twirling around in the most godawful dress I’ve ever seen. We’re shopping for dresses today: one for the flower girl, one for the maid of honor and one for the bride. Tiffany and Hillary are joining us later today so all three of us can find a dress together, but right now it’s time for Rose’s dress. For some reason, Nathan and Caroline are letting her pick her own dress, and it turns out Rose has no taste. At all.
“I love it!” the 8-year-old shrieks as she looks at herself in the mirror. Even the saleswoman who helped her into the dress looks surprised at that. “It’s everything I’ve ever wanted!”
The goddamn thing is orange and pink, and like that’s not bad enough, it has a glittery belt and comes with matching pink glitter shoes. Who the fuck designed that piece of shit? Maybe I should get into fashion. I could make up crazy stuff like that with my eyes closed and my hands tied behind my back.
“Is it the one?” Caroline asks Rose with a fond smile. She looks and sounds so motherly when she’s around this little girl. I can just imagine her having a whole house full of kids, chasing them around and buying ugly dresses for them. “Are you saying yes to the dress?”
“Yes!” Rose exclaims, putting her hands on her hips and grinning at us. “I am!”
“Jesus fucking Christ,” I mumble softly. “My eyes are bleeding.”
I take out my phone to snap a few pictures, sending one of them to Dshawn. His reply is instant: What the fuck is that monstrosity doing on that cute little girl? I laugh and while Rose gets back into her own jeans and T-shirt, I show the text to Caroline.
“Don’t be mean,” she says in her stern teacher voice, with that creepy stare that makes kids do her bidding. “She’s got the right to choose whatever dress she wants.”
“Normally, the bride gets to decide everything,” I remind her. “You should really turn into a bridezilla. It will be so funny to see Nathan’s face when he realizes that he’s created a monster.”
She rolls her eyes. “You know I don’t care about the color of Rose’s dress or the decorations or any of the other stuff. I just want to be Nathan’s wife.” Caroline is letting her soon to be sister-in-law handle the transformation of the backyard, and she even made the mistake of putting Nathan in charge of the food and the music. Honestly, all Caroline has to do is find a dress today and walk down the aisle on her wedding day.
Laziest bride ever.
We head to the section of the store with all the wedding dresses, and Rose runs around in a frenzy. I make it my job to make sure she doesn’t turn the whole place upside down, while Caroline looks around to find a dress. A few minutes later, Caroline’s mother arrives, followed by Tiffany and Hillary, who are holding hands and looking cute as fuck.
“Oh baby,” Caroline’s mother Magda says, hugging her daughter tightly. “I can’t believe you’re getting married so soon! And to little Nate… Oh…” She sniffles and wipes at her eyes.
“Don’t start crying now, Magda!” I yell at her, grabbing Rose so she won’t take the expensive diamond tiara from the display. “She’s not even in a wedding dress yet!”
“Shaughna! Come here, girl!” Magda rushes over to pull me in for a hug as well. I’ve known Magda and Caroline’s father Neil since I was a little girl, and they’ve always been good to me. When I got into fights with my parents after the divorce, I stayed with Caroline sometimes, and her parents always made me feel like I belonged there. Honestly, I like her better than I like my own mother, as horrible as that may sound.
Magda takes a moment to chat to Rose as well and even pretends to love the shockingly appalling dress that Rose just got. The saleslady comes over to take Caroline with her, and we all take a seat on the chairs in front of the large mirror. It’s not exactly Say yes to the dress, but it does feel a little like I’m on a TV show. I’m only 25, for crying out loud! I’m too damn young my best friend to get married! Although, of course, Caroline has always been the most mature one of the two of us, the one our high school classmates voted most likely to have ten kids, and the one who falls in love like it’s no big deal. Maybe I should have known this day would come this sooner rather than later.
The first few dresses aren’t quite right, and I honestly start feeling like wedding dresses are just awful ugly white beaded sacks of fabric. That is, until Caroline walks out in a strapless gown with a sweetheart neckline, her face lit up and her cheeks flushed. Tiffany gasps beside me and Magda starts bawling like a little baby. Yeah, this is the one.
I snap a few pictures knowing that Caroline will want to remember this moment. I even make a little video when the lady who runs the store asks her that toe-curling cheesy question: Are you saying yes to the dress? Admittedly, Caroline looks beautiful, and more importantly: she looks happy. Plus, her boobs look smoking hot in that gown and she’s got curves so sexy that I’m sure Nathan will get a boner the moment she walks down the aisle. That should make for an interesting wedding.
“Caroline?” Rose asks when everyone is done crying and yelling ahhhwww and oooooh. “Are you going to be my stepmom now?”
Caroline carefully lowers herself unto her knees, not caring that she’s in a wedding dress. When she’s on eyelevel with Rose, she responds: “Yes, Rose, I will be. But you don’t have to call me Mom, and nothing will change at home. I’ll still live with you like I do now, and your Mom and Dad are still the boss of you.”
“Please,” Rose scoffs. “Daddy is not the boss of me. You’re stricter than he is!”
Caroline laughs. “He’s a total push-over, that’s true. Don’t tell him I said that, though.”
“I think you will be a good stepmom,” Rose says very seriously, making Magda sniffle again. “Mommy says you’re a horrible bitch, but I don’t think that’s true.”
I barely manage to stop myself from laughing. Oh, the things kids say without thinking twice about it… From what I’ve heard about Nathan’s ex-wife Elise, it’s a miracle she hasn’t said way worse about Caroline. That woman… how did a man like Nathan end up with someone like that? He should have just waited for Caroline.
“I’m glad you’re okay with me marrying your dad,” Caroline said, a little misty-eyed as she gets back up, leaning on the saleswoman for support in her tight dress. “You’re going to be such a cute flower girl.”
I know that Caroline was a little worried about getting Rose a dress, after all the tantrums and the horrible things Trevor did to her, but it seems that ugly clashing colors and glitter and more important to Rose than the urge to wear pants. Just in care, I’ve already made sure to get her some tight shorts for underneath the dress, in case she freaks out on the day itself. I’m the maid of honor, after all, and my job is to make sure Caroline doesn’t have to deal with any stress on the day she marries the love of her life.
Okay, I’m getting a little teary-eyed myself, even though I don’t like weddings. If you have to wear a dress, Caroline’s is definitely the one to go with. And she just looks so damn happy.
“Are you crying?” Tiffany asks, nudging me so I’ll look at her. “Wow, I thought you were the anti-wedding girl? Caroline said that you don’t even believe in marriage.”
I shrug. “I may not believe that getting married is important, but I do believe in Caroline and Nathan. My best friend if about to become a wife and a stepmom. I’m allowed to cry!”
Tiffany puts an arm around me, rubbing my arm. “Of course you are.”
Caroline and I lock eyes, and we both smile through our tears. I can’t help but feel like everything is going to change now. Her life already changed so much the past year, ever since she moved out here and got involved with Nathan. And then I followed suit, falling in love for the first time since Melchior. I love it, I love that we’re both moving onto new phases of our lives, but I also feel like we’re losing something. It’s no longer Shaughna and Caroline against the world. It’s Caroline and Nathan. Shaughna and Dshawn.
Things will never be like they were before. That’s not a bad thing, but I just hope that we’ll continue calling each other when big things happen, to text each other silly pictures, to share our lives with one another, even though from this moment on, our lives will rapidly change and move away from each other. She’s going to be a stepmom, and I’m sure she’ll have kids of her own soon. Meanwhile Dshawn and I are slowly working towards our dream of opening a night club of our own, the possibility of kids not in the near future at all.
I don’t want to lose my best friend. That’s why I’m crying. Not because of some stupid white dress or the veil the saleswoman is pinning in her light brown hair – which I won’t allow her to wear, by the way, because it takes the attention away from her beautiful face.
Caroline is the closest thing I have to a sister. I can’t lose her, not even to Nathan. I vow right here and now to always make an effort with her, to be there, to babysit her future kids, to tag along to stupid married-people-stuff, whatever that may be. I won’t let her slip away. Never.