Always a Bridesmaid

Not everyone enjoys being in a wedding party.  Can Claire’s night be redeemed?

Claire tried very hard not to wrinkle her nose at the bouquet of artificial flowers the short, plump woman handed her. The arrangement contained roughly ten shades of purple with a lot of pointy things sticking up out of it. For the sake of her best friend, she would tough it out. At least Carole had the good sense to choose simpler decorations for the rest of the church, even if the bridesmaids had to submit to the hideous floral concoctions.

The plump woman introduced herself as Marcia Boorland. She seemed to feel that her name was enough information for everyone, because she immediately launched into a long explanation of what they were expected to do. Claire only kept half her mind on the instructions. She’d been through this sort of affair three times before (including a previous ill-advised time with Carole that had barely made it past the honeymoon). There was never anything new. Wear an ugly dress, hold a bunch of froufy flowers, and keep in step with the organ; let a bunch of elderly relatives kiss and congratulate you on being related to the bride (or remind you that your turn was next); sit through an overly loud DJ’s introduction of the happy couple and a best man’s drunken toast; dance, avoid overdoing the champagne, and go home.

It wasn’t that Claire didn’t like weddings. In fact, she loved them—as long as she wasn’t in the wedding party. Being a guest without responsibilities was quite fun. Even when the old ladies pinched her cheeks and told her she would eventually find “the one,” it was somehow different from being among the Chosen Few to stand with the bride. There was something immeasurably more menacing about the meaningful stares and pitying pats on the shoulder.

Claire was never going to put her friends though such hell; she would elope.

Marcia Boorland had determined that she needed to whisk the bride and groom away for a few moments to go over some key details before the rehearsal could begin. She left behind an assorted crew of wedding party participants who stood around in awkward muteness for the approximate length of a pop radio ballad. During the silence, Claire glanced around at the others, most of whom were shifting uncomfortably and avoiding eye contact. Her gaze rested on one of the other women, a slender woman with honey blond hair. She turned slightly in Claire’s direction as though she felt the stare. She smiled hesitantly, then rolled her eyes and smirked, tilting her head in the direction Marcia Boorland and the Happy Couple had gone. Claire put her fingers to her lips in an attempt to muffle the amused snort that threatened to escape.

After the rehearsal, which was every bit as dull and oddly disorganized as Claire had expected, her fellow bridesmaid caught up with her.

“You seem about as thrilled as I am to be here,” she remarked.

Twisting around to make sure no one was listening in, Claire said, “I’ve done this before. It’s pretty much the same story every time.”

The other woman nodded. “I’m Lindsay,” she said. “You must be from the bride’s side of the family.”

“Yes. Claire,” she replied, extending her hand. Lindsay’s fingers were cool against her own. “Carole’s my best friend.”

“Ah. I think I was the token ‘we need another bridesmaid’ selection. I’m Nate’s cousin.”

“Nice to meet you.” Claire glanced at the clock on the wall. “Guess I’d better get home. Early day tomorrow.”

“Sure. See you then.” Lindsay walked toward her car, turning around halfway to smile at Claire. Claire grinned back and waved.

*

Somehow, Claire survived the formal dress, the flowers, and the old ladies. She watched as Carole and Nate sealed their happily ever after with a magical kiss, then suffered through what felt like endless photographs. Her only consolation was that Lindsay was having a similarly uninteresting time—they were allies in enemy country. Claire had to resist looking at Lindsay, because every time they caught each other’s eye inappropriate giggles tried to worm their way out.

The reception was exactly what Claire had expected. The anteroom where the wedding party awaited the introductions was over-crowded and hot. It was a relief to be called forward and shunted to the long head table. To her delight, she found herself seated next to Lindsay. At least her misery had company. The kept each other entertained through the strained prayers and predictable best man’s speech. Claire was pleased to note that the best man was sober, but disappointed that he had nothing particularly original to say.

At long last the formal part of the festivities were over. Once Carole and Nate had completed the customary Opening Ceremonies, guests were free to join in and dance. Claire had hoped that she might now have the chance to talk to Lindsay, but she had been swept up in various party dances and introductions to random distant relatives. She suspected that Carole had something to do with the latter; she was forever trying to fix Claire up with people. Claire found herself having a reasonably good time, though she had long since lost track of Lindsay’s whereabouts.

As the evening progressed, Claire’s head began to ache from the heat of so many bodies and the buzz of the constant music and chatter. She longed to escape into the early summer night and spend the rest of the reception lying on the cool grass looking up at the stars. Just as she was about to sit down at the table and fantasize about doing just that, she felt a hand on her shoulder.

“Want to get out of here? I don’t think I can take another round of the Funky Chicken, and I’m pretty sure it’s not really all about the Hokey Pokey.”

Claire looked up to see Lindsay grinning at her, and she smiled back. “Absolutely.”

They wriggled their way through the mass of slightly tipsy dancers toward the door of the reception hall. On their way out, they passed three middle-aged men talking about perfecting their golf swings; several smokers mutually enjoying their fix; and a couple who clearly didn’t want to wait until they left the reception to celebrate the romantic atmosphere. When they reached the edge of the sidewalk, Lindsay grabbed Claire’s hand.

“Come with me,” she said.

They wound their way around the building to the back of the reception hall. There was a wide, stone terrace at the back, doors flung wide and people moving in and out of the building. Claire realized this must be the other ballroom. She chuckled a little when she heard the music; someone else was having a wedding, and there were obviously only so many songs people played at receptions.

Lindsay led Claire past the terrace and into the wide field beyond. It was now late enough that stars were beginning to pop out in the darkening sky. The June breeze felt cool against Claire’s skin, and she inhaled deeply. She didn’t even realize she’d closed her eyes until she heard a soft laugh next to her. She opened her eyes and looked over at Lindsay.

“Feels good to be out here, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah. It was getting to be a bit much in there,” Claire agreed.

“I like weddings, but I don’t think I like being in the wedding party.”

“I hear you. Seriously, I think it’s an excuse for people to ask nosy questions about my love life.”

“Oh, you too? Because ‘always a bridesmaid, never a bride’ is so original.” She laughed. “If I get married, I think I’m going to skip all this crap.”

“Me too!” Claire exclaimed. Then she frowned. “But I think I know why people do it. I guess I’m just not sure I want to.”

“A party to celebrate would be nice, though. Just not like this.”

“Maybe I’ll just throw a good party and skip making my friends buy dresses they’ll never wear again.”

Without planning it, they had linked their hands together and were now standing there gazing up at the stars as they talked. Claire glanced over. Lindsay looked beautiful, she thought, in her simple calf-length dress with its rounded neckline and lace overlay. Whatever else Carole had done, allowing them to choose their dress styles had been brilliant. Claire loved her own full-length empire-waist dress; the heart-shaped top and spaghetti straps made her feel pleased with the way she looked, even if it was only for one night. She smiled, and Lindsay returned it.

They turned toward each other, and Claire took Lindsay’s other hand in her own. They were about the same height, she noticed for the first time. The light breeze stirred their hair, and there was something intangible between them—a kind of warmth that no longer had to do with the dancing or the champagne or the crowded room. They could still hear the music drifting from the terrace ballroom; it had turned soft and slow.

“Do you want to dance?” Lindsay whispered, because anything louder would have broken the spell.

“All right.”

Lindsay gently laid her hands on Claire’s shoulders, and Claire put hers on Lindsay’s hips. They swayed with the rhythm, drifting closer to one another. Claire leaned down and put her lips by Lindsay’s ear.

“May I kiss you?”

Lindsay pulled back just a little so that Claire had a clear view of her sparkling brown eyes. “Yes,” she replied, and when their lips met, Claire was certain that the kiss Carole and Nate had shared earlier had nothing on this one.

When they parted, Lindsay smirked at Claire.  “Come on.  Let’s go back in,” she suggested.  “Carole’s probably about ready to throw that monstrosity of a bouquet.”

Still holding hands, they dashed back across the field toward the reception hall, where they slipped back in among the guests.  Maybe, Claire decided, it wasn’t so bad being in the wedding party after all.

© March 1, 2013 ABMitchell
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