WEDNESDAY: Bridal Veil


Copyright is held by the author.

IT WAS too late to back out now. Claire had to go through with it. The caterer had shopped her menu choices for the reception. Her dress was fitted. Her tiger mom wasn’t getting any younger and she’s already requested grandchildren ASAP, preferably one boy and one girl, preferably a year apart. It wouldn’t be a huge wedding, yet big enough that a cancellation would cut deeply into her dad’s meager savings. Still, it felt like a mistake, it was a mistake, and the gnawing in her belly wouldn’t go away, no matter how many TUMS chewies she devoured.

These were her last few days as a single woman. She and her best friend, Layla, were going to spend them at the beach, against the wishes of Adam, her fiancé, and with her mother’s usual histrionics. She and Layla went back a long time, attended the same preschool, and they’d been friends ever since. Claire always felt closer to Layla than to anyone else in the world, and she was the most important person in her life next to Adam. No, even more important than Adam, as the two women had more history, more ups and downs, and seemed to be almost able to read each other’s minds.

Adam showed up a little later in her life, in middle school. Claire was always a daring take-charge tomboy and he treated her like one of the guys . . . until he noticed she wasn’t. They dated off and on in high school, but it was more like hanging out and usually involved more than just the two of them, even though he told Claire he wanted to spend more alone time with her. She relented now and then, even awkwardly giving up her virginity to him in the back of his vintage Prius one rainy afternoon and then acting like nothing had ever happened. At best, they stayed close pals until they graduated. Then they went their own ways for college, Adam to New England, Claire and Layla down South.

He came back with a law degree and a broken heart and told her only she could repair the latter. She was flattered, and they began dating, more seriously this time. Real dates. Just the two of them. Doing grownup things. The sex was better than their previous entanglement; they’d both had more interim experience. She’d kind of missed him and wasn’t dating anyone else so, surprise, they got engaged.

Adam thought “engaged” meant one thing, Mrs. Feng another.

“When is the wedding?” she asked her daughter when Claire ran into the kitchen that afternoon, showing off a wide platinum band with an emerald cut diamond in the centre. “Looks like a man’s ring. Clunky,” she said.

“Mother! I love it. It’s from Tiffany’s. It must have cost Adam a small fortune. Stop being so critical all the time.”

 “And I didn’t know he spoke to your father already,” she said, ignoring Claire’s comments and turning to her husband. “Why didn’t you mention it to me, Nicholas?”

Mr. Feng shrugged. “Nothing to mention. Never asked, so I never said.”

Adam laughed when Claire relayed her parents’ remarks to him over the phone. “I knew your folks were old-fashioned, old-country in their ways, but I thought they’d seen what was going on around them, the ways relationships are different these days. I wasn’t planning on jumping into marriage right away. Were you?”

“No. You sprung the ring on me so fast, I haven’t thought about plans. But I’m sure my mom’s had this on her mind since the day I was born. We’d better come up with some things to tell her and my dad before she nags me to death.”

Claire enjoyed being Adam’s co-conspirator in assuaging her parents. They were buddies again, like back in their youthful school days. But their current ends required more serious moves: finding a starter house (Adam’s parents were giving them a down payment as a wedding gift), working through a wedding party to-do list (with his and her mother), deciding when and where and how much to please themselves instead of others (church vs. secular service, local vs. destination event, honeymoon later vs. now), and so much more.

“I love you, Claire,” Adam assured her every day as they worked through their plans.

“We can do this . . . together,” she’d reply.

That was five months ago. This was now. The bridal shower behind her, a week before the wedding, it was raining at the beach, raining hard, so the two best friends put on their fluffy snugglies and lazed in the cozy bed and breakfast suite they’d booked. The owners, a youngish Irish couple, gifted them with a homemade chicken casserole and a bottle of chilled white wine, and the women were finishing off the remnants of both.

“You’re going to freak out when I tell you this,” Claire finally got up enough courage to blurt out as she slid her plate aside. “I can’t believe I held it back from you. But there’s no one else who will understand, Layla. I don’t want to go through with this wedding.”

Layla’s fork clattered onto her plate and she sat back, a demure grin warming her face.

“Oh, I . . . I probably will,” Claire resumed, her voice trembling now, “but I don’t want to. I got all caught up in it, the planning and the gifts and the congratulations, and now it’s too late to call a halt.”

“Oh honey, I’m not freaking out. I’m not even slightly surprised. You treat your fiancé like shit . . .”

“I don’t mean to. But the more I do, the more he lets me. He says he likes the making-up part. I boss him around. I flirt in front of him. I never let him pick where we go and what we do. I even told him I lost my engagement ring, which I didn’t by the way. He said he’d help me look for it, and if we couldn’t find it he’d get me another one.”

“So why are you treating him like this?”

“I don’t know. I guess I want him to be the one to break it off. Then I don’t have to admit he caught me off guard and that I made a mistake in agreeing to get engaged. Does that sound stupid?”

Layla’s face broke into a broad smile. “No. It sounds like you. Like someone who never wants to let anyone down, or to admit failure. Who ignores what’s right in front of her nose.”

Claire laughed. “Ya think?” She sniffled and poured them both a last half glass of wine.

“Yeah. Like how you’d stay up all night studying and then skip class because you still didn’t understand the material that lousy math teacher assigned. Or the time I sent you a love poem on your thirteenth birthday and you gave it back to me the next day with question marks all over it but refused to talk to me about it.”

“I don’t get your point. My heart is already confused, and now you’re going after my mind and my memories. Why?”

“OK, here’s my point. You told me yours; I’ll tell you mine. Let me freak you out this time. Hmmm. . . I think for too long you’ve totally ignored the fact that you and I would be happier together than we could ever be with any less evolved man. We’re already a great couple. We have been for years.”

This time it was Claire’s turn to push back in her chair. “Come on Layla. I don’t know what to say to such a remark. I don’t swing that way.”

“How do you know? Have you ever tried?”

“Of course not. I would’ve told you for sure. Uh, have you? And how long have you felt this way.”

“One question at a time, please. Have I? No, I haven’t wanted to with anyone but you. You’re the only person in the whole world I feel totally safe with. How long? Since I learned to write your name next to mine in kindergarten. You have always, always been my favorite person.”

“But you’ve dated lots of guys . . .”

“Yeah, and they’re too much drama for me to deal with, too much testosterone, too much juxtaposing one of us against the other. It usually starts out nice and easy-peasy, but it always devolves, for me at least, into the same old pattern.”

“So, you date women now?”

“I just told you; I’ve always only cared about you. But I understand that you’re committed to someone else. Or I thought you were until now. Or you thought you were. I’m sorry, I’m confused now, too. But I know I want to be with you.”

There was a long pause between the two women. Then Claire spoke. “Listen Layla. I’m not ready to even think about what you’re saying, much less do anything about it. I’m supposed to be getting married next weekend.”

Layla threw up her hands. “So do it. Get married. See if I care. If it works out, fine. If it doesn’t, get a divorce.”

“Don’t get all snarky on me. I feel like you’re trying to push me into one corner so I don’t get into another one with Adam. But I already am.” Claire leaned forward and dropped her head on her folded arms. “This is not helping.”

Layla started to move toward her friend, then sat back again. “I’m sorry. You should do what you think is best for you. Never mind me. I’m just your best friend. Here to answer all your questions and solve all your problems.”

“Stop it! You’re being sarcastic again, but I do need your help, I need to sort through my feelings. How about this for a looming issue? What if I get pregnant? Adam jokingly asked me last week what names I’d pick for our children. He’s starting to act like my mother, planning my long-term life already.”

“Oh my God. Do not have a kid. It will tie you to him for the rest of your days, even if you get divorced.”

“And then my mom will be so disappointed.”

“Listen, that only becomes your problem if you take it on as your own, Claire. I know how your mother is. You just have to tell her, over and over, that it’s your life and she has to let you live it your way. Tell her if she doesn’t, you’ll break up with her, too.”

“Easy for you to say. She has her way of shovelling a ton of guilt on top of any love she sends my way.”

“OK. Let’s stop sparring. I want to help you with that, with all of this, if you’ll let me.”

“I find it hard to believe that anyone could do that.”

“Believe. Here’s what I think, what I’d like us to do. Let’s you and I keep our relationship the most important one we have, like it’s always been up until now. We can work on it together, make it be more, different, in good ways. We’re adults now, women. We’re done with playground stuff. A silly little marriage won’t get in our way. Let’s let our love grow in all directions, especially new ones . . .”

Claire dared a brief smile. Then she dropped her head into her hands again and began to tremble. Layla moved over next to her and put her arms around her friend.

“What if Adam finds out?” she said between small sobs. “Or my parents?”

“It doesn’t have to look all that different to them.” Layla lifted her friend’s chin with her hand. “They’re used to us being inseparable.”

“Adam’s going to have other expectations.”

“Let him. He’s used to putting up with your quirks, letting you have your way. As for me, I won’t put any pressure on you. Well, not too much. I love you, Clairey. I care about you. What happens between us will happen because we both want it to.”

Layla put out her hand and Claire took it in her own.

“I can’t remember the last time you called me that,” Claire said.

“I know. It’s been a while. I remember when you couldn’t say my whole name and you called me LaLa,” Layla replied. They both giggled like little girls.

“You’ve given me a lot to think about. We haven’t solved anything, but I feel better just going back and forth with you on this. Even on your own revelations. I’m not taking them lightly. I just wish you’d told me sooner about these feelings.”

“I tried, Claire. I tried. But I wasn’t brave enough until I thought I’d lose you.”

“You won’t lose me. You couldn’t if you tried.”

The two women hugged, kissed gently, tentatively, and stayed up talking into the night. They finally slept tangled in each other’s arms, not yet lovers, still the very best of friends.

The next weekend, Claire walked down the aisle at Glenside Methodist Church. Mrs. Feng wore a toothy smile on her wide face as she wiped her overflowing eyes with a lace hankie. She waved it to her daughter, like a white flag of truce, as she walked past on Mr. Feng’s arm, stepping slowly in time with the organ music. Almost at the altar, Claire turned her gaze to the side, winked at Layla, and gave her a thumbs-up. Later, at the reception, her new husband remarked what a sweet gesture of triumph Claire had given to her best friend.


Image of Patricia Ann Bowen

Patricia Ann Bowen is the author of a medical time travel series about a cure for Alzheimer’s, and Unintended Consequences, a collection of short stories about people in challenging circumstances. Her stories have appeared in the Table for Two and Stories of Southern Humor and Southern Crime anthologies, as well as in Mystery Tribune, and Chamber Magazine. She has taught short story writing, and she leads a critique group of short story writers for the Atlanta Writer’s Club. Reach her on Twitter @WoodsgalWrites.