Here Comes the Bride
By A. P. Joye
My father introduces me into the wild of the aisle. I wanted my mother to be beside me too, but she’s dead and my father didn’t think it’d be becoming for a corpse to be the other half of my escort. My feet ache already, which is a mistake my fiancé anticipated me making when he raised his eyebrows at the thought of high heels for the whole day. I’ll probably throw them off before the reception. My white gown is swallowing me, so I could probably kick my heels off at the altar and no one would be the wiser.
We take a step together and we’re on the island, the long, white piece of cheap carpet they put down to light my way to my future husband. The people have all graciously stood, no doubt wondering why they ought to stand for this being that my makeup artist made me into. I don’t smile at any of them because princesses don’t show their weakness. Luke, my fiancé, fortunately, is misty-eyed and sniffling. I taught him well.
We pass the first pew and my dress swishes, disrupting my gait. I’m grateful for the lotion my sister had me apply while I was getting dressed. Now, I walk static-free. Somehow, the lacey feeling against my legs doesn’t offend me and I simply swish it back the other way, reveling in the lace again. Next to us on the left, Pastor Craig. A kind man who has never done any wrong except for crying too much during his sermons. Seriously, Craig, no one cries that much. When I introduced him to my fiance, a move my father insisted on, he told Luke that he had a strong handshake then asked if he was a godly man. Luckily, Craig wasn’t offended when Luke got awkward and gave me the “get me out of here” eyes.
To our right, some coworkers. Janise, Marie, and Justin. Janise and Marie are married, met on the job with Luke, who loves to gush about their love story. I don’t find it all that special, but I don’t tell that to him because he lights up every time he talks about watching them fall in love. I wonder if it’s the same way he lights up when he talks about our origin story.
Dad uses his left arm to wave at Mom’s parents. They got demoted from second-rowers when she died and Dad remarried. They smiled at the two of us, but I’m pretty sure I saw them were trying (not trying) to hide a cringe. Dad really didn’t want them to come—after seventeen years of marriage—because it’d be unfair to his new wife. I say new wife because I don’t like her, not because they haven’t been married for six years. I wanted to tell my grandparents that their son-in-law of seventeen years has grown out of them, but my fiance, the better man, talked me out of it. He comes from a complete home with a mother and father who haven’t stopped pretending to love each other yet; he’s an only child and still idealistic.
Another step and I feel my right ankle, the one that’s leading, wobble just enough to make the knuckles wrapped around my father’s arm turn white. He notices and stops waving at people, so that he can grip me even tighter. I imagine the skin of my ankle turning an odd mix of white and red as I curl my toes. Why the fuck did I wear heels on the one damn day I could say no. I suck air into my lungs and grit my teeth to avoid the grimace that wants to contort my cheeks; I swallow hard and return my gaze to the people around me. Give them a show because this is the only day people will let you do it without becoming a bitch. Speaking of bitch, to my left on the next pew is Claire, my fiance’s ex Claire. He asked if he could invite her because they’re best friends, even though his only best friend for the rest of his life is supposed to be me, and I told him yes because I’m the best damn friend he’ll ever have and I’ll be damned if she can do better than let her fiance bring his ex to their wedding. I tilt my head with the kind of smile that I’ve practiced in the mirror and take another step to get her out of my line of sight.
“Almost there, kiddo,” my father whispers in the corner of his mouth like no one else can hear that. It’s endearing, I guess and giggle the tiniest fucking giggle. I’ll be the person that does the “tee-hee” unironically for one day in my life. When I turn from him to the altar in front of me, I realize that he’s lying. My sister, who told me not to look at her until I got to the altar, gives me an encouraging nod, probably regretting her advice for me to say “fuck it” and wear the high heels. She’s white-knuckling her bouquet the same way I’m white-knuckling Dad’s arm.
A few of my fiance’s friends wave at me. They’re all single men from his bachelor days, the ones who used to get him drunk and dancing till 4am then eat Denny’s before going to work by 8am. Luke refuses to tell me about most of the nights (likely because there were quite a few blackouts), so I often fantasize about being one of the women he bumps up against in the club and eventually leaves with. We stumble through the streets, both laughing hysterically because of nerves and getting 1am chocolate gelato—I, of course, spill this all over my black, sequin dress. I stop there because I don’t want to think about whether the women consented or not. I smile at Luke’s friends because I can’t let go of my bouquet or father’s arm.
Finally, we’re reaching the people I actually care about. The first- and second-rowers who made the cut and are not invited to fill out the guest list when the preferred guests declined. We did this cute thing where my mother’s chair was left empty; Pastor Craig said her spirit is probably sitting there. That or God, and I figure it works out either way—Luke cringes when I say this.
Linda and Andy—Luke’s mom and dad—are blubbering, the poor things. I wonder if I’m fucked up for not crying but remember that my face is too expensive to mess up when I still have pictures to take. Linda tries to mouth something; snot gets in the way and she shrinks into her handkerchief. I hope she’s crying out of happiness and not relief or something shitty like that. Maybe she’s sad he picked me, or that he likes me more than her. It’s not my fault I finally showed him the love she never did; Luke hates when I say that and says she shows her love in different ways. “The world isn’t black and white,” he tells me. I want to tell him that he doesn’t need to defend the value of a woman who has never defended his. Andy rubs his wife’s back softly and gives me a smile that fills me up with warmth. While I don’t remember as much about my mother as I used to, I do think she was the only person whose smile could make me feel like that. I make jokes about my mother sitting in that empty space, but I hope it’s her there instead of God.
A tear edges its way to the corner of my eye and I throw my head back to coax it behind my eye; I do this before thinking about how fucking weird it must look and I poise myself again as the princess that I get to be for the day.
My fiance stands a few feet in front of me practically vibrating. He almost looks like he’s about to vibrate right off the altar. A few more steps. That’s it. My father leads me to the end of the pews, pats my hand, tries to ask me in an understatedly obvious way if I’ve got it from here. I nod with a smile that probably fills him up on the inside and he lets go. My sister teases the bouquet out of my hand and I laugh, forgetting how hard I was gripping it.
I pick up my dress to ascend and drop it once I’m standing across from my fiance. My sister runs to extend my veil and train as far as they can go. I hear her sniffling and it makes me smirk because I know that means she loves me and we don’t really say that to each other very often. Beautiful, he mouths. He didn’t have to say it from the way he can’t stop unsuccessfully smearing a mixture of saliva, tears, and snot off his face. Like mother, like son.
“You two ready?” Caleb asks. He’s my future brother-in-law and insisted on getting his virtual ordination rather than have us get married by an actual pastor (sorry, Pastor Craig).
“I was born ready,” my fiance says. People laugh. I shake my head. He’s always a kid, even on our wedding day. I can never resist his smile, though, so I’m laughing, too.
Caleb starts the monologue he worked out with Luke. I whisper to Luke out of the side of my mouth, “Looks like my mom’s a no-show.” I can’t help but grin at my wit. Luke, accustomed to my dead-mom jokes, says “No.” I stop smiling, worried I’ve finally gone too far.
“She’d never miss this.” He winks and the flutter in my stomach reminds me why I love this man.