Because of Savannah
“Oh, Amber Lee, you look beautiful,” I cooed, smiling at her gorgeousness, pleasantly surprised her billowing gown didn't dwarf her petite frame. Atop her loose strawberry-blonde hair, a delicate floral wreath was perfectly placed. “You truly look like a fairy tale princess.”
She spoke to my reflection in the cheval mirror. “Thank you, Dakota. And thank you so much for offering me your mother’s wedding veil as my ‘something borrowed.’”
“You’re very welcome. My mom would be happy you’re wearing it. She would’ve loved you.”
Feeling sentimental, Amber Lee dabbed at the corners of her eyes with a tissue before any tear could smudge her mascara.
Our tender moment was interrupted by a knock at the door, followed by a jovial voice.
“Is my beautiful daughter ready yet to have her daddy walk her down the aisle?”
“Dad, you can come in,” Amber Lee answered. “I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”
“Dear Lord. Aren’t you a vision. You’re as beautiful as your mother was forty years ago.”
Amber Lee smiled.
“You have her face . . . and frame. But your mother didn’t show as much cleavage. Can you pull it up?” he said as he mimicked the act on himself. “They’re bustin’ out!”
“DAD!” Amber Lee blushed. “That isn’t what a father asks his daughter . . . ’specially on her wedding day!”
Amber Lee looked mortified as she was pulling up the bustier and then pushing down on her bosoms as if this would flatten it. I was laughing, also surprised Mr. Brickman actually said that, but it was true. Amber Lee was ending her first trimester so, naturally, her breasts were filling out. As for her belly—she wore a girdle that hid it. When she asked me to be her maid of honor she confided she was pregnant, but I knew. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out why a bride was getting married within three months of getting engaged.
“Oh, not to worry—the veil will hide it. Now turn around,” I told her as I gently placed the front of the long, sheer headdress over her face and chest. “Beautiful—can’t see a thing. But my brother will blush once he lifts it to kiss his new wife!”
“All right ladies,” Mr. Brickman said as he gestured to his daughter for her to take hold of his crooked arm, “Shall we?”
We could hear the music had begun. I opened the doors of our prep room and led us to the church’s foyer to the opened door of the chapel. The fanfare began. The ring bearer and flower girl began their walk, looking adorable. As the first strains of “The Wedding March” began, I followed slowly. Each pew was delicately embellished with fragrant sprigs of Lily of the Valley.
All heads turned to see Amber Lee come down the aisle. All but my boyfriend, who was giving me a lurid invitation—his sensual gaze raking mercilessly over my figure. He stood beside my best friend, who was holding hands with her boyfriend, who secretly confessed he loved me not too long ago. Naturally, I was taken aback and brushed it off, thinking he was confusing our commonalities—our having lost both our parents—and feeling vulnerable after the accident that neither of us could wrap our heads around.
I stood at the altar, trying to pay attention, but couldn’t help thinking what was going to happen when my boyfriend left for med school in Connecticut—two thousand miles from Texas. Coincidentally, my best friend was also headed to Yale, for undergrad. I’d be left behind in Houston studying at Rice University, which wasn’t far from where Gloria’s boyfriend lived. Would he pop by . . . and repeat those three words to me? Would I be able to suppress my true feelings?
The guests made their way to the large veranda, where champagne and hors d’oeuvres were served. I steered to the slate patio where two bars were on either end, and planted myself on one of the barstools, letting my high heels fall off.
I was holding my right foot, trying to massage the soreness out of it, when Dr. Cavanaugh approached.
“What seems to be the trouble, Dakota?” he asked, in an aristocratic voice that made me cringe every time he spoke.
What the heck does it look like, idiot? My foot hurts! was what I really felt like saying, but instead I answered, “My horse stepped on it.” Then I decided to get his goat and added, “Besides, don’t sore feet come with pregnancy?”
Dr. Cavanaugh looked like I had punched him in the gut. It was the most outright look of surprise I’d ever seen on his face. It took him a minute to gather himself enough to say, “I’m sorry, Dakota.”
I was not expecting Dr. Cavanaugh to apologize—a grown man admitting to a teenager he was wrong. Back in January, when I found out Hubbell was going to Yale Medical School, I was hurt, but only because it was kept from me. I found out through Gloria because she had overheard Dr. Cavanaugh bragging about his son going to his alma mater. So when Hubbell and I got into our first fight he went home teary-eyed, and his over-protective, self-righteous dad phoned me to explain, but instead, warned me not to do anything that would jeopardize his son’s future, like trap him with a baby, which I would never, ever do.
“Huh?” I said with furrowed brow. “You’re actually apologizing? So you know how out of line you were?”
He gave a pursed smile, took out his tortoise-rimmed glasses from the inner breast pocket of his pinstriped suit, and put them on. He then took my hurt foot with a light touch of his hands to examine it. I felt a warmth to my heart. It was at that moment I could see where Hubbell inherited his tenderness.
“Glad it isn’t the injured leg,” he said.
I was surprised he remembered which leg of mine was in a cast a month ago. He kept his head tilted down as his dark eyes looked up at me. Through the edge of his spectacles, which were now resting lower on his nose, he gave his diagnosis, with sincerity in his voice.
“Looks a bit swollen, Dakota, and there’s definitely a bruise forming. I don’t think there’s a break, but if it gets worse you should get it x-rayed—there could be what’s called a hairline fracture. “Again, when did this happen?”
“Three days ago. I wanted to get a ride in before we had to leave for Atlanta, I was sandwiched between Christmas and his stall’s opening.”
Dr. Brickman interrupted, “Let me guess, it was Christmas when you got this horse?”
I ignored his factitiousness and continued, “When I was steering Christmas and patting his rump, telling him what a good boy he was—he stepped on it.”
“Hmm. I’ve never been into horses . . . any animal for that matter. I don’t understand the fascination some people have with them.”
I didn’t respond to such a ludicrous statement. The thought of my Hubbell growing up without a pet made me sad. “It didn’t hurt then as much as it does now. I’m sure the three-inch heels aren’t helping any.”
“No, they aren’t. The shoes are making it worse—don’t wear them. Your dress will cover your cute little toes,” he remarked playfully, wiggling a toe of mine.
I thought he was going to start, ‘this little piggy went to the market.’ Thank God he didn’t—that would’ve been weird and embarrassing. He eased my foot back down. I was grateful for his unsolicited expertise, but I still didn’t trust him. And I found him to be very moody. As Dr. Cavanaugh returned his eyeglasses to his breast pocket he pulled out an envelope. “Oh, I almost forgot. Do Luke and Amber Lee have a money box—you know where guests can slip in cards with the wedding moola?” he asked without looking at me.
He waved the envelope to get the bartender’s attention who was pouring champagne into a dozen fluted glasses on a silver tray as the server patiently waited.
“Be right with you, sir,” the bartender said with a smile, looking up for a split second before filling the next glass, but Dr. Cavanaugh called out anyway, “Two Whiskey Sours” without saying please. I quickly shook my head no. “Just one please.” It sounded like a gross cocktail.
“Huh?” Dr. Cavanaugh said, giving me a puzzled look that made me feel like I was stupid. “It’s not for you, Dakota. It’s for the missus.”
The bartender shot me a look, inferring, ‘This guy’s a jerk.’ Then with a forced smile, he said, “Two Whiskey Sours coming up, sir.”
“I saw a gift table in the foyer,” I answered, then, with a hint of sass, added “Where you can stuff it.”
Again he didn’t say thank you to the bartender or even a simple goodbye to me as he got up and walked away, carrying a tumbler in each hand and calling out what sounded like, “Be good!”
“There you are,” Hubbell said as he moved closer, kissed me, then positioned himself on the vacant barstool—still warm from his father. The bartender asked him what he’d like.
He answered with his usual, “Vodka tonic with an olive.”
Hubbell always fed me the olive, whispering, “olive you.” He then eyed my bare feet.
“Your dad said I could get away with it. What do you think?”
“What, no shoes?” he replied playfully.
“Yeah. They kill.”
“Go barefoot. No one will care.”
When the bartender served Hubbell his drink, he looked at me and said, “And for the lady?”
Hubbell answered for me. “She’ll have the same.”
But what I really wanted was . . .
“May I get two Bud Lights please?” Cooper interrupted.
That! I really wanted a cold beer. And at that instant a tinge of jealously overcame me—I knew Cooper was ordering the second Bud Light for Gloria.
Hubbell and I both turned.
Gloria glided in. “Wasn’t that the most beautiful ceremony ever? Their vows were so romantic—makes me want to get married just so I could hear those words.”
Gloria exaggerated often.
“I liked The Letter To The Hebrews the best,” Cooper said, and winked at me. But deep down I knew Cooper meant it as a genuine compliment. From the few books I read on coping with grief, a person who experiences tragedy either forfeits their belief in God or embraces it. And since Cooper lost both his parents when he was a teenager, he felt he needed the Lord more than ever.
The four of us clinked our glasses as I toasted, “To my incredible brother and his equally incredible wife.”
“And to Yale!” Hubbell added, and Gloria agreed, “Yes. To Yale!”
Then Gloria kissed Cooper and Hubbell leaned in to kiss me. I was taken aback and turned my head so his lips grazed my cheek. My sweet moment and selfless toast got bulldozed. I didn’t toast to Rice University, so why should he toast to Yale? It was the first time he didn’t feed me his olive, and I pretended not to notice when he ate it. Suddenly, music and a catchy song blared across the lawn. It was obvious the band wanted to get everyone on the dance floor.
Gloria shrieked, “I love this song. Let’s dance!”
Cooper, lifting his glass to his mouth, responded, “Let me finish my beer first.” Hubbell downed his drink and practically shouted, “I’ll dance with you!”
“Awesome!” Gloria yelled as she took hold of Hubbell’s hand, and the two of them shimmied to the dance floor.
“He can be such an idiot,” Cooper commented.
“Yeah? How so?” I asked, trying to sound like I didn’t know what he meant.
“You know, Dakota,” he said, with a flatness in his voice, as he stealthily took the miniature plastic sword from my vodka tonic and fed me the olive.
Without hesitation, I opened my mouth as if I were some pathetic, stray kitten he was feeding a morsel of salmon to. I stared into his gorgeous eyes and as gingerly as I could, slid the olive off with my tongue.
“You were toasting to your family,” he continued, “and Hubbell wanted it to be about him. Like always.”
I remained speechless as he placed the empty sword on my cocktail napkin. For a moment I imagined fencing like a game of thumb wars with these tiny swords. Cooper took a sip of his beer, swallowed and turned to me, with gazing, serious eyes, “You deserve better, Dakota.”
“Like you. I deserve you. That’s really what you’re trying to say . . . isn’t it, Cooper?” I didn’t let him answer. I finished my drink, said thank you again to the bartender, and hastily brushed past Cooper. He grasped my arm and said, “Yes,” not letting me go. I froze. I wanted us to be alone like we were in my old home. I wanted us to kiss . . . like we had in my old home. We just stared into each other’s eyes, which felt like an eternity until my name was loudly being called. The lead singer of the band was announcing me—the maid of honor. It was time for me to make my speech.
For a brief moment I had forgotten where I put my speech, and tried not to panic. The giddy feeling a first cocktail can bring without having any food in my belly was running through my blood. I felt like a balloon free of its string. I took the microphone the DJ handed me then miraculously I remembered. With quick assurance, and not acting the least bit embarrassed, I slipped the little piece of paper from my bra, which caused everyone to laugh. I needed two hands to unfold it, so I slipped the mic into my armpit. More laughter. I smiled. “Okay, I’m ready!” I joked. The photographer snapped at least ten shots. I had decided to keep my speech short and simple.
“Quoting the renowned French author, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, ‘Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking together in the same direction.’” I looked towards where Amber Lee and Luke were seated. A large round table draped in cream colored linen with a crystal candelabra in the center surrounded by a plethora of bud vases filled with blooming pink roses. “To my incredible brother Luke and his beautiful bride, Amber Lee, who is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside.” Amber Lee’s eyes were glossy. “May your life together be as full as the love that binds you at this moment, and may every day be as special as you two are to me. I love you both so much.”
Cheers broke out as Luke and Amber Lee lifted their champagne flutes simultaneously and Luke cooed, “We love you, too, baby.” Then it was Uncle Travis’ turn to give his speech as best man.
“I’m not sure if y’all know how Luke and I met,” he started, pausing for a second, searching for words he was going to say next.
He didn’t have a cheat sheet like I had, and it sounded as if he was winging it.
“It was tragic,” he blurted, shaking his head. “Devastating, actually.”
It grew quiet, quickly, and I prayed my uncle was going somewhere positive with this—very soon!
He continued. “It was unbelievable, but at the same time, spiritual. See, his father and I were best friends—more like brothers, really. And we told each other everything but neither one of us knew Luke existed.”
There was uncomfortable laughter. Guests shifted in their seats, grabbed their glasses for a sip, coughed and cleared their throats.
“If Jethro knew he had a son, I don’t think he could have done a better job raising him.”
The guests cooed at this very sweet reference to Luke’s late mother, Geraldine. Someone my uncle knew and didn’t like, but still acknowledged in the end—she did well bringing up Luke.
“In so many ways, Luke is like his father.” Then pausing, added, “It’s damn frightening.”
The room filled with laughter.
“I may have lost my best friend, but I gained a new one . . . his son.”
Then Uncle Travis lifted his old-fashioned glass. “May Luke and Amber Lee have an incredible life together, and make a dozen babies.”
The guests cheered and the band played another popular dance song, slowly elevating the volume. Within seconds guests pushed back their chairs and flooded the dance floor. The flower girl, Savannah, charged at Uncle Travis and me, grabbing our hands, and we swung her around, laughing. No matter how conflicting my feelings for Hubbell and Cooper were, I wasn’t going to let it ruin my having fun at my brother’s wedding.