Marley was always told as a child that she was stuffed like a teddy bear, pillowy in all of the right places and permanently warm. She grew into her curves and hollowed out in certain places; she even had a symmetrical face and healthy, copper hair. That was the extent of her beauty, as reminded by her sister, Mackenzie.
She never dwelled on her lack of beauty and refused to let it hinder her future in fashion. From a young age, Marley was obsessed with beauty and aesthetic, constantly dressing her sister, Mackenzie, in clothes and taking photos of her. She asked for a polaroid camera at eight years old and pretended to be a fashion photographer. One day, she learned the power of writing and began to review clothes and their designers. All day long she would sit on her computer and brush her fingers across the screen, pretending that the photos of expensive fabric were slipping between her fingers.
It turned out that all of those years of obsessing and admiring fashion did two things:
1 Marley became a popular blogger and ultimately was hired as a fashion journalist for a prestigious magazine that she grew up reading.
2 Mack had grown to adore being dressed up and used her beauty to become a model.
Symptomatic was the magazine that hired Marley and featured Mack almost monthly, forcing Marley into writing articles about her older sister. It was not that she didn’t love her sister, but more that she had a strictly professional relationship with her. Even as children they would criticize and review each other instead of compliments or playing toys. The two girls were far better off being acquaintances rather than sisters.
Because of their lacklustre bond, it was no surprise to Marley when an article appeared in Symptomatic announcing the wedding date of Mackenzie Greenwald. To read of her own sister’s secret engagement was neither disappointing or offending, instead a mildly pleasant surprise.
Good for her, Marley had thought absentmindedly, her lips twisting in a frown as she tried not to criticize the fonts used in the article. She always wanted to fall in love.
Unlike her romantic sister, Marley had always been passive about the idea of falling in love. She never dreamed of wedding dresses, churches or bouquets. In fact, she had never even considered who she would marry; a man or woman? She figured that surely anyone ready for falling in love would have considered those factors first.
Therefore Marley was happily confined in a life of a fonts, cats and ripped jeans. To her, that was a default life, because surely there were other options and better things. But being confined and safely surrounded by a protective border like the page of a magazine was far more comfortable than anything exciting and broad.
There would never be anything or anyone else that could push her or pull her into something that she did not want to do.
“She wanted three photographers, not two,” Marley retorted to the blonde wedding planner who had just announced that the photographers had arrived. The blonde just looked at Marley lamely with her pert, upturned nose seeming to mock Marley. “Do you not recall her specifically addressing the fact that she wanted a fashion photographer, a location photographer and one that specializes in polaroids?”
It seemed like Melinda Dame, who looked more like an escort than a wedding planner, had absolutely no recollection of this request. Marley had absolutely no idea how a professional could have messed up one of the most important parts of her sister’s wedding. Ever since she was a little girl, she had listened to Mack tirelessly rave about how amazing her future wedding would be. But it all relied on location and the memories that would come from the photos.
Nothing was more important than the photos that Mack would surely use to forever rub her happiness in the faces of others. And of course to include in the many articles that would be written about the aftermath of the wedding. Marley had already been assigned to write a short article about it, even though she had profusely begged to have another journalist take on the project.
“Do you think anyone already here could do it?” Melinda wobbled a little and Marley gasped, realizing the God awful professional was tipsy. The wedding hadn’t even begun and the woman was already drinking.
“Listen, you obviously don’t know too much about my sister. Now I’m going to have to do it and waste my film on this God damn wedding instead of myself. This is your last mistake if you want to keep your job. I’m afraid that if you can’t remember to hire a photographer for the polaroids, then you’re probably going to mess up again,” Marley hissed, gripping the woman’s wrist with just enough pressure to stop the blood flow.
Melinda cowered away from Marley as she released her wrist and nodded with a hint of fear in her eyes. Marley wasn’t specifically intimidating but a threat to her career was all it took to scare her off.
The church had been decorated with inspiration from Cinderella. A white carpet was draped down the aisle and frosted crystal balls hung from the high ceiling with a mini glass slipper twinkling inside each one. Soft blue ribbon was hung from the walls with suspiciously realistic looking bluebirds pinned to look as though they were lifting the ribbon. It was a beautiful scene to look to describe in her article, yet all Marley could do was stare at all of the faces that she could not recognize.
The wedding wasn’t to begin for another two hours but Mack had requested an early presence with the promise of music from a world famous violinist. Marley couldn’t stand the violin but she had to admit that once she tuned most of it out, it almost sounded pretty in the back of her mind.
She didn’t know anyone in the pews except for her mother, who sat stiffly in her wheelchair with a smile on her face in the front row. Marley’s mother was a peaceful and lovely woman who lived for nothing but her daughters. Marley had often felt guilty that she wouldn’t be getting married, or at least in time for her mother to be there for it, but now that her sister was getting married everything would be a lot better. Her mother could settle for one glorious wedding and die a happy woman.
“Excuse me, but may I ask a slightly personal question?” a voice asked tentatively behind her. Marley whipped around with a scowl, expecting another issue to be brought to her attention by another person her sister had hired.
Instead, a slim man with light brown curls that gleamed with sweat and flushed skin stood before her, tugging at the neck of his collared shirt. He was smiling worriedly and his eyes were deliriously bright but he didn’t quite appear to be drunk. Marley let her eyes run down his tall frame and admire the high fashion suit that had to of cost him a fortune.
Who wears a suit like that to a wedding? Is he trying to upstage the groom? The question still plagued her mind even as she responded, unintentionally cool and slightly bitter.
“I’m not sure what kind of personal question could be particularly appropriate right now.”
She noted that the tip of his nose twitched slightly when his smile grew and his fingers loosened on the collar of his shirt. Marley also couldn’t help but take note of the small scars that covered his right hand like he had gotten it stuck in a blender. She couldn’t imagine what else could have left so many marks as deep as those.
“Well, I’m in a bit of a situation right now. You see, there is this girl I love and I’m starting to second guess how far I’d like our relationship to go. If you were a man who was caught between having the most beautiful girl in the entire world and absolutely nothing but being sure of himself, what would you choose?”
He smiled through his entire rant but the light in his eyes dulled slightly, making his cheerful tone seem more shaky and unsure than it had before. Marley had a strong desire to lay her hand on top of his and tell him to calm down, to assure him that he was alright, but she didn’t know what kind of person he’d think she was if she had.
“How much time do you have to decide? Can it wait until after the wedding?” She supposed that it came out a little harsher than she had expected but it seemed to give him the answer he was looking for.
“I think I know what to do, thank you,” he said softly, his eyes darkening but his expression almost steadier, his emotions more balanced. Had she really helped him, or made it worse?
“Would you like me to find you a place to sit for a moment, alone?” He nodded a little too quickly and Marley pursed her lips, confused as to why she felt so worried for a foolish stranger. Was it because he was handsome? Or maybe because he looked simply harmless and kind?
She gently placed a hand on his elbow and guided him to a small room at the back of church, next to the one where her sister was preparing herself with her bridesmaids. Marley knew that the room would be empty because she had told everyone to stay out of it in case she had needed it herself. The decision to go to the wedding at all, let alone by herself, came with many complications. She knew that having a panic attack before the wedding even began was surely frowned upon.
The man took a seat in the nearly empty room and leaned back, looking up at the ceiling with tired eyes. Marley felt intrusive for watching him so carefully but found it hard to tear her eyes away. She wished that she had her camera to take photos of his conflicted expression, his fingers fiddling with his cufflinks and maybe the beautiful lily pinned over his heart.
“Are you excited for the wedding?”
Marley grimaced and tugged at a lock of hair, searching for the right words to explain how she felt about the wedding. How could she say that she wanted happiness for her sister-- but only to make herself happy? How could she say that she loved her sister-- but only because they were bound by blood? How could she possibly explain without sounding completely void of emotion, that she hated weddings more than anything in the entire world?
There was nothing more terrible than watching a couple bind themselves together while knowing that they wouldn’t last a year without beginning to despise each other. Marley had realized long ago that love was only true until marriage slowly tore it apart.
“Of course I’m excited,” she said unconvincingly. She cleared her throat and ignored the fact that the man seemed to expect that answer.
“I was never a big fan of weddings myself,” he mumbled, crossing his legs nervously and then uncrossing them. “I always wondered what the fuss was. Why isn’t love ever enough?”
“Because people aren’t happy with just love anymore. They strive for others to envy them, adore them, love the love that they have. They never realize that once you’ve rubbed it in the faces of others, people are bound to rub their love in your’s. And then it’s a competition, because you can’t just leave it at that. You have to have children, renew your vows, buy the most disgustingly expensive present for anniversaries. After marriage, all of those acts become another pathetic way to rub your love in the face of others.”
Marley took a long, deep breath and leaned back against the beige wall. She longed for a bottle of any sort of alcohol at that moment, imagining the burning sensation and the warmth in her belly. She would have done anything to float away in an abyss of alcohol instead of stand in a room with a handsome man that was bringing out the worst in her.
How was it that he could make her say the darnedest things?
Instead of bitterly agreeing with her or asking how she had become so cynical, the man began to laugh. It was the sort of laugh that came from deep within your chest, a rumbly noise that sounded both amazed and impressed. Marley didn’t quite take to people who laughed at her, but she felt as though the sound was more calming than alcohol would have been. He had a healing laugh that almost made her want to smile.
“You have a funny way of showing passion,” he mused with a wide grin, tapping the side of the chair with long, deft fingers.
Marley didn’t quite know what she meant, or why he found her so funny either. Had she sounded overly passionate while ranting about marriage? She hadn’t meant to, or wanted to for that matter. She did her best to ignore thoughts of marriage on a regular day.
“Why a lily? Who wears a funeral flower to a wedding?” Her question wasn’t just to change the subject; she was genuinely curious.She didn’t know much about weddings, having been to very few, but she also wondered how many people in the wedding party wore flowers. Was he a groomsman perhaps?
“It’s her favourite flower; she wanted to break the tradition of flowers being used for specific occasions. Hence lilies at her wedding,” he whispered after swallowing thickly.
He didn’t take his eyes of the ceiling and Marley didn’t take her eyes off of him. Yet she was sure that he must have seen the way her face crumbled when he answered, somehow. The way her hands shook slightly and her fingernails dug into her palms to hide it. The way her worst fears were coming true before her eyes.
“You’re Mads.” Horror fervently licked her like lethal flames and her heart pounded in her chest to an erratic beat. “You’re supposed to be marrying my sister,” she found herself blurting out frantically. Her nerves spiked like she had been given Speed or some other type of terribly dangerous drug.
This can’t be happening to me, she thought with an internal cry. This will ruin my entire life.
Marley’s happiness had always relied on Mack’s. Not just as children, but even as adults. If Mack was finding a hard time looking for work, then she would talk shit about Marley to potential clients to make herself feel better. If Mack was unhappy in a relationship, she would take Marley out for a drink and hit on every guy that Marley found remotely attractive. Her sister never meant harm by her actions, but she was a selfish creature by nature and couldn’t help but project her unhappiness on others.
How had Mack tricked a kind looking man like Mads into marrying her?
“You’re prettier than your sister likes to think,” he said lightly, tilting his head towards her and watching her carefully. Her features softened and she blushed in spite of the waves of stress running through her body. “I know the two of you aren’t very close, but I think she hated not being able to call you and be excited with you. This wedding means everything to her and sometimes I just wished she would have had the guts to share it with you.”
Marley could tell that he genuinely cared for Mack just by the way his voice changed when he spoke about her. Not only that, but the way he seemed to know Mack more than Marley did, which she supposed wasn’t a far reach. Almost everyone knew her more than Marley did.
“She could have called me, I don’t do much”
“Yes, but would you have wanted her to?”
His words pierced her skin in an unfamiliar way that made Marley both exposed and angered. How dare he claim to know her feelings or her thoughts? He probably didn’t know how cruel Mack could be when she wanted to, or how hard it was to love her when she left Marley to take care of her mother alone. Their loving, gracious mother who wanted nothing more than happy daughters with a strong relationship.
How dare he toss around the truth without knowing the weight of it.
“No,” she admitted coldly, not even bothering to hide the disdain in her voice. She was beginning to wonder if her first impression of Mads was even remotely correct. “All she knows how to do is try and destroy my life.”
Mads bit his lower lip and watched her curiously, almost as if he was trying to decipher her like she was made of clues to some answer. She wished she could have told him that she, nor her words, were that deep. Instead, almost everything about Marley was on the surface and clear. Some even went as far as to say that she should have been diagnosed with autism when she was young. Her inability to decipher sarcasm or bury her own thoughts was not deemed normal to everyone she met. Though, her mother was always too poor to have her evaluated and Marley never found the need to know.
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.” His voice was so low that Marley wondered if she had heard him correctly. He was visibly shaking, his hands gripping the sides of the chair so tightly that his knuckles went white. Marley took a step towards him and covered his hand with her own, brushing her thumb across his wrist.
He looked up at her and seemed positively entranced by the action, making her wonder if she should have touched him. Was it wrong for her to comfort him after he had declared not wanting to go through with his wedding. Her sister’s wedding. To Marley, the entire world would end if he didn’t go through with the wedding. But she knew that the universe would cease to exist for Mads. No one escaped her sister’s wrath once they crossed her, but leaving her on her wedding day would be an entirely worse occasion.
“You love her, you are enchanted by her beauty, and you want to marry her.” Her voice was barely above a whisper incase anyone happened to walk by, but still strong all the same. She felt as if she was commanding him but felt no shame in doing so.
How could she tell him that there was no other option?
His hand was warm and even soft despite the many scars that gave it texture. She ignored the fact that she may have even liked the way it felt to brush her thumb across the scars, or how much she had missed physical contact with someone other than her boss when they shook hands. It wasn’t anything sexual or corrupting, instead it seemed almost comforting. Despite having known Mads for only fifteen minutes, she felt an unexplainable desire to wrap her arms around him and cure him of his fears.
“I love her and I want to marry her,” he repeated smoothly.
He looked at Marley for just a split second and seemed utterly lost in a sea of thoughts but somehow focused on her. And when she responded with a small smile that wasn’t as forced as most of her smiles were, he seemed to have found what he was looking for.
She noticed the click that went off in his head as if she had heard it. It was quick and easy to miss but once she recognized it, she knew that there was no turning back. The determination was clear in the way he stood up and brushed off any invisible demons he had had a moment ago. Confidence was obvious in the way he smiled at Marley, though especially when he pumped her hand three times more formally than she had expected.
“Thank you,” he said charmingly, his hand gently grabbing the back of his head before placing he placed his lips on her forehead.
She was both startled and pleased by the gesture, despite not knowing how it didn’t upset her. Why wasn’t she angry at the stranger about to marry her sister? Why wasn’t she flustered or uncomfortable by his actions?
He let her go, leaving towards the door without another word. Marley’s tongue felt swollen and her throat felt as though it was full of gravel. Could she just watch him walk into an uncertain future and not feel a twinge of guilt? What kind of person did that make her? Marley didn’t know and she didn’t want to either. She just hoped that she would avoid speaking to Mads or Mack for a very long time.
“If you start to doubt yourself, you can always look to me. I’ll be in the front row, ready to cheer you on,” she blurted out in spite of every signal in her mind telling her to shut up.
He turned around with his hand still gripping the door handle and the same smile still plastered on his face. Marley glanced at him sadly and held her breath, praying that she had done the right thing. Maybe she should have grabbed him and ran out of the church, saving him from a fate that she didn’t wish on anyone. But before she could even entertain the idea, he spoke one last time.
“I worry that if I looked to you, I’d only feel more inclined to run.”
He was gone so quick that she didn’t have a single moment to decipher his words.