There are a couple of things they don’t tell you about weddings. One, that it can be a messy, messy business. Two, there’s planning, but there’s not really a way of knowing how things are going to turn out. And last (my eldest aunt taught me this one) three things can’t be kept, the sun, the moon, and the truth. And truth in a wedding is bound to bring drama.
Then I guess everyone loves a good dramatic wedding. That is if you’re not the one in white. Two years ago, a client of my tía’s candle shop invited her to her wedding as an extra thank you for the candles my aunt had made for the table decorations. Roses and Anise. When you think about it, it might not sound like a pleasant aroma, but the place smelled delightful. This woman, Rebecca, she invited my tía Aurora and a plus one, me.
For the most part the part went beautiful, but when the bride threw the bouquet of white peonies, one of the bridesmaids grabbed it or rather took it from the other bridesmaid. They both were quite drunk, so they started pushing each other and grabbing each other’s perfectly arranged hair. And in the right specific moment in which we were all entranced in the show they were creating, one screamed, ‘You don’t need this, you’re already fucking Toby.’
Toby as in Rebecca’s groom. Damn.
It was a mess, and my jaw stayed dropped until we returned home.
It’s a funny memory to tell, but if you think for a second or two, you realize you’re laughing at poor Rebecca’s heartbroken wedding failure. Not nice.
So I have one responsibility that I cannot fail in… well, actually, I have a lot of responsibilities, but this one is big. I cannot let anyone ruin my mother’s wedding.
And I guess it sounds like a pretty simple task because not every wedding is like Rebecca’s wedding, and issues within the organization of the event will happen whether I want it or not. Like everything going according to plan but the best man forgetting his shoes, or the groom ripping a part of his suit, or a great-uncle getting too drunk. I don’t know, I’ve never been part of a wedding organisation before, only as a guest. Does that happen? I imagine it happens.
What I do mind is people playing dirty and being exposed in the middle of my mother’s most happiest day of her life — she’ll say it’s the second since, according to her, the first one was when I was born. But look at it this way: Having a kid pop out of your vagina while you are on the verge of passing out from so much pain you are going through or getting legally and spiritually unified to your soulmate? ... It doesn’t look like I’m on the winning side.
It’s not like I’m in charge of organizing the whole thing. I wouldn’t even know where to begin, and end up collapsing after three panic attacks. No, my mother got a wedding planner for that. A tall, lanky man named Declan Brooks. He’s stern, ruthless, and believes that because I’m the maid of honor, that means I’m his assistant or something. And because I don’t really know how to say no, I’m here in my mother’s new impeccable and vast kitchen grabbing the mini cheese quiches to take outside.
“Drop that trey, nobody’s paying you to do that,” my tía scolds me as soon as she sees me come out of the house. Adriana and Ronald’s engagement party is at their ginormous back garden.
They moved to Ronald’s property in Scarsdale, New York, as soon as they got engaged and this place… it actually takes my breath away with only thinking about it. It’s one of those mansions you see paparazzi take pictures of with a random celebrity walking naked around the swimming pool area.
Nobody’s naked today, and the backyard has a very talented instrumental band playing Frank Sinatra’s hits. My favorite. Fairy lights adorn the tree trunks and branches, and white flowers are planted surrounding the house. We’re in the travertine floor area with the pool on the side, and everyone’s smiling and laughing in that way wealthy new yorkers tend to do. Like you don’t even know what they find funny, but you gotta laugh, so you don’t seem rude.
“It’s okay, I don’t mind,” I tell Aurora. Not that she cares, she’ll find something else to complain about. She hates all these ′payasada.′ Clownery. It doesn’t really have to do with the event itself, though. It’s more about my mother. They don’t get along so well, so I decide to keep an eye on Aurora and her bitter remarks, just in case she finds herself in the mood to pick an argument with someone.
I look for a waitress or a waiter with an empty tray I can exchange with, and my mother’s eyes catch mine from the far side of the party’s perimeters. She’s encircled by some people I recognize well enough, and she excitedly waves her hand for me to go their way. Great.
So, who are my mother and his fiancé talking to? Eric Bryant, my boss at The Kingston Journal and no other than Charlie Young, part-time photographer for the journal and get this, Ronald’s godson.
The presence of Charlie Young has my heart raising with every step I’m taking into their direction. Besides being Ron’s godson and my co-worker at the Journal, he’s my endless fountain of meaningless daydreaming. He’s someone with a very determined photographic shot, and despite that, I always see him entering the Kingston office like he’s lost. Even if he’s been there countless times.
On any other working day, I would see him in one of his usual plain t-shirts under a sweater or his brown corduroy jacket. He’d carry his usual bag, holding cameras and other things I usually spend my work time thinking about. Books? Clothes? Papers? Maybe a computer or more cameras.
By now, I think it’s pretty obvious I have some sort of platonic crush with him. It’s impossible not to with his high cheekbones, chocolate hair and hazel eyes, the way he always rolls up his sleeves, or how, when he passes through my working desk, he leaves a barely-there scent of cologne and bonfire smoke. I might be fantasizing that one a bit much.
I know what my mother’s doing. She’s calling me in, probably going to ask me something like ‘look who I found!’— which it’s not a surprise to find them here. Eric Bryant is one of Ronald Crawford’s closest friends. Their connection is actually how I got my job at the newspaper in the first place. Charlie also got his job there because of it, since his father is the third character in the three musketeers charade Ron, Eric, and Charlie’s dad seem to carry.
Me and Charlie, we kind of know each other but not really at all. Eric introduced us once in the office. I was too struck by love to pay attention to the actual introduction, and Charlie was in an I-don’t-really-care-who-this-is mode. He’s not mean, though. I don’t think so. He’s just shy…or something. He always seems so distant, very kept to himself.
Charlie Young is my mother’s perfect excuse to bring up dating. She’s constantly hinting he’s single and broke up with his girlfriend a while ago. She knows because she asked, she says. I don’t want to imagine Charlie having dinner or lunch with Ron and my mother every week like she says they do, but it’s a reality. It happens. Ron is really fond of him. He loves him like a son, mom says.
As I stand in front of them, I don’t notice I’m still carrying a giant tray of cheese quiches until I see their gazes on it. Right.
“Uh, I was supposed to leave this with someone,” I smile awkwardly. It’s not funny, but Eric chuckles, and my mother laughs like I’m one of those stand-up comedians she and Ron love to see in New York. Charlie looks down, very much uninterested, and Ronald calls a waiter’s attention to pick my tray. As soon as he takes it I profess a low ‘thank you’ and turn my attention back to my mother.
“Look who I found!” She tells me very over the top, making me smile like I’m keeping some sort of private joke with myself. Told ya.
“Hi, Mr. Bryant,” I greet him first. Eric is like an old golden retriever. We work at a newspaper that is probably gonna end up closing its offices at the end of the year, but he’s still positive he’ll find a way to work everything out. I don’t think about that now, though. I tend to ignore the idea of losing my job for my own mental health.
“Millie, how are you doing? You look fantastic!” He greets enthusiastically. My cheeks and ears color the same way they always do when someone compliments me, and I smile at him. He’s a great boss. I’d be really sad if I had to lose him as such. Really gotta stop thinking about it.
“Thanks, Mr. Bryant, you too. Love the color of your tie,” I express, signaling to his burgundy tie.
“Ah, Carey chose it for me, she’s an amazing color picker,” he informs, passing his palm through the front of his dark grey suit. My eyes linger on the crowd behind the small group I’m in, distractingly searching for Carey Bryant until I find her along with Mrs. Young and some more ladies.
Mrs. Bryant is my mother’s newfound best friend. When she and Ron started dating, mom started moving in his circles like a complete natural. Like she didn’t come from a whole opposite side. The night she met Carey, they organized a whole trip to Cancun. That’s how well they got with each other. Then there’s Mrs. Young, Charlie’s mother, who I sometimes believe is too sweet and formal for my mother and Carey’s schemes.
With Mrs. C, I think mom met her match, a woman who likes to get a little too wild whenever her kids are with their grandparents. When they’re together, they’re like sixteen-year-old girls all over the place. Those two are mom’s bridesmaids. At least I can trust there won’t be drama with them.
“Millie, cielo, you already know Charlie,” mom tries to get us to acknowledge each other, which we haven’t yet. He doesn’t care. I’m too shy. We always dance around this sort of awkward fact that our families are close. Well, not my family, just my mother. And Ron. I keep forgetting he’s family too now, I guess. It’s complicated when we don’t really know each other or talk with one another, but we have this… association. And when I say complicated, I probably mean just me cause, like I said before, I don’t think Charlie gives a damn about our situation.
And I know how that sounds. It sucks. But it’s okay, I’m used to having one-sided crushes— I’ve been having them for like seventeen years now. Ever since I was six, and I used to really like a boy from my first-grade class. He liked my best friend from back then, though, and later changed schools.
I remember you, Luke.
And I remember you too, Betty.
“Yeah, um, right. Hi,” I smile at him, all shyly and red. He nods at me like a complete twenty-first-century prince charming, and I return my gaze to my mother.
They soon start talking about The Kingston Journal’s fate, and I have to look down and pretend my black block heels are the most entertaining thing of the evening. It’s either that or sweating about the fact that Charlie looks extremely handsome tonight with his grey sweater and his white shirt sticking out of his rolled-up sleeves. And again, it’s either that or getting a headache over being out of work by Christmas.
The Kingston Journal is a very old, small newspaper company. Its main target is elderly people, but even they are now updating to digitalized news. Nobody really buys our newspaper for the news we write, though. It’s more of a cultural journal for people in their golden years.
It’s a small job, and it doesn’t pay much — which is why I work at my aunt’s candle shop as well. Charlie, for example, works at Ron’s publishing company in NYC, he’s in the marketing area as a photographer. I guess he takes pictures of books? I couldn’t really take that much information from my mother without her noticing I was utterly interested in knowing.
“Are we having fun or what?” Mrs. Bryant shows up behind Charlie and me. Her hands at both of our shoulders and I see his eyes going down, his expression hard. Carey can sometimes be too much, but mom loves her, so I’m always willing to accept her too-muchness.
We didn’t really have many friends when we lived back in Soundview, so I’m glad at least one of us has worked that out.
“I’m gonna go talk to the Watsons,” Charlie informs us, getting out of Carey’s grip.
“Yes! Everything turned out so fantastic!” Mom answers Carey, all excited. Her eyes then turn to her soon-to-be-husband. “It’s fantastic, right?”
“Splendid,” he reassures her.
Ronald Crawford is a very chill fifty-five-year-old dude. He hit the fifties in a very suave sort of way. I believe I’d also be as happy-go-lucky as him if I made the same amount of money he does. Apart from all this, I never really thought he’d be my mother’s type. For once, he’s twelve years older than her, and she’s always been involved with younger men. She doesn’t have the best history with guys. In fact, I cannot point a good ex out. Then again, back when I still lived with her, everything was more… difficult.
Well, whatever, that really doesn’t matter now because she’s happy and she’s with Ron, and he loves her. He’s the perfect candidate, and she’s the ideal type of woman to keep a man like him on his toes… or something like that Mrs. Young told me, the first time we met.
I end up excusing myself from the circle to go back to my aunt. She’s on the other side, her acid glare traveling everywhere around, inspecting the guests. This is not our type of place, to be honest, so I don’t really blame her. I do wish she could ease up a bit.
“People are gonna start believing you’re cursing them or something,” I joke as I sit down on the iron stool near hers. They surround a little tall black table in which Aurora has her drink on.
“Who says I’m not?” she huffs.
My eyes widen. “You can’t do that today. You promised!”
Aurora frowns as she stares at me. “I did not such thing, niña. I said I wouldn’t read anyone’s cards, and I kept the promise. I didn’t even bring my deck.”
I sigh. I know she can’t really curse anyone… No, I better rephrase that. I’m not sure she’s not able to curse the guests, but I don’t think she’ll do it today. Aurora is very fair with her gifts, she always tells me. Tías are weird. My tía Lidia, back in Miami, says she can make poisons with natural elements. If that’s how she got her husband, Pablo, we don’t know, and it’s a secret she likes to keep to herself. Aurora says yes, though.
“Oh, I love this song,” I say out loud as I start to sway when I recognize the notes of You Make Me Feel so Young.
My eyes linger on the crowd and later stop on my mom and Ron. They’re alone now, and he takes her in his arms and makes her sway with him, even though it’s not a dancing type of event. He’s a Frank Sinatra fan just like me. I’m ashamed to confess I was okay with him as soon as he showed me his collection of Frank’s records. And jealous. So, so jealous.
He makes her giggle sort of loud, and a sharp emotion tugs at my heartstrings. I don’t know if it’s a happy feeling, which sobers me up, making me stop swaying to the instrumental tune.
“Typical of your mother not to pass one single Roberto Carlos song,” Aurora critics, making me roll my eyes.
“Well, she’s never been much for Roberto, tía. That’s you. Mom’s more of an Eric Carmen type of gal,” I comment to her with a knowing smile. She’s really finding the most absurd details to criticize.
“Ay, por favor,” she groans exasperated. “I almost raised your mother, you know. I remember perfectly how she used to dance to Detalles in the kitchen.”
If she raised her and has all these small pretty memories, I wonder why is she so pissed at her all the time? I know it all began when I moved with Aurora. I was fifteen, and it was a complicated situation for all of us, but I thought perhaps my mother hitting rock bottom would be enough for Aurora to have a bit of compassion. Instead, she got mad at her.
I don’t dwell much on it, it’s not the right moment or place. I soon feel the breezy chill of the night, and my sleeveless dress doesn’t really cover much, even though it’s one of those tea-length ones. I inform my aunt I’m going to go for my coat and she answers with a moody ‘hmph.’
I take a step inside the house, and I’m quickly stopped by a male voice. “Oh, there you’re. I’ve been looking everywhere for you,” Declan exclaims agitated. I stop on my heels and turn around to face him. “I hope you weren’t avoiding me. I got a little job for you.”
I wasn’t avoiding him, and I consider telling him I’m actually a guest here too, but I don’t. I keep my mouth shut and my smile big.
“I need you to help me find the extra boxes of champagne glasses the caterers brought. We’re about to be out of them, and the woman in charge says she left them in one of the rooms your mother showed her. You know what room inside this palace that is?”
I don’t know if he’s asking me to check the ten rooms this absurdly enormous place has, but I think that’s exactly what he’s implying. I sigh again like the air just can’t get out fully or something.
“I’ll go check,” I tell him, keeping up the fake smile.
He gives me one of his. “You’re a darling,” he tells me before disappearing outside.
I sure am.
I roll my eyes at myself. Stupid, stupid, Millie. Just say no for once in your life, I tell myself as I begin climbing the stairs to the first floor.
From all the rooms there, there are no boxes with champagne glasses around. By the time I reach the third floor, I’m positively drained. God, this is really not my job. But I do want to make sure everything goes in order.
Damn it. I leave the idea of telling Declan I didn’t find them and start opening the doors from the third floor.
After I inspected them almost all, I suppose they have to be in one of the last two doors, and I start asking myself, why would my mother tell the people from catering to leave their belongings so up and far from the kitchen? That’s definitely not convenient at all. I was able to reach this place cause I’ve been here before, but if a stranger were to be left alone in the house, they’d definitely find themselves lost within the first ten minutes of stepping inside it.
I open one of the last doors and find a bathroom with no boxes inside. Good to know, I didn’t remember that was there. Then I turn around and stand in front of the last one. The only choice left.
As soon as I open the door, though, I quickly realize the boxes are definitely not here. Because there are more adept rooms for the catering service to drop their belongings in. Not a room with a bed in the middle of the place where Carey Bryant, my bosses’ wife, is laid over with her legs wide open and Charlie Young in between them.