“I can’t believe this,” Aileen said, to her son and to her own wedding invitation, propped up with a twine-wrapped baby food jar, sporting a mockingly pastoral Seven-Brides-for-Seven-Brothers scene even as the droplets splattering her window at 220 bpm threatened an ambience closer to that Alanis Morissette song. Aileen, having enough writing skill points to recognize misuse of its eponymous adjective, hated that song.
“Aw, Mom, the sky’s so happy you’re getting married, it’s crying.” Shu had been his mother’s sole confidant for a decade after his father jumped ship and married a dead painter. (It was a whole thing.) He’d since moved out, but still dropped everything and showed up at 8 A.M. today to arbitrate her happiness.
“Then tell the sky to get my vows laminated at the print shop. This is a logistical nightmare.”
“Look, your job today is to enjoy yourself. Leave the worrying to me, and I’ll make sure your wedding with Matt goes off without a hitch.”
“I wish I could believe that. It’s too late to do anything.”
“Mom, nothing is too much for me today. Above and beyond is SOP. I’ll make it work.” Shu couldn’t talk without flailing around like an inflatable tube man. Grand gestures were his specialty.
Her son was already texting his handiest friend and Simsterest-junkie girlfriend, the latter of whose wedding binder was on his head when he woke up.
The door closed, leaving Aileen alone to contemplate the differences between her own experience and the perpetually smiling couple on the front of her invitations. They’d stay in rosy-cheeked stasis even if she ripped it down the center. Marriage was more of a new beginning than a happy ending, she wanted to scream at the greeting card manufacturer, and she understood as well as anyone how heartbreaking its real ending could be.
Aileen regarded her pre-nuptial reflection like a thalassophobe at the beach. Her formalwear, contacts and extensions and itchy lace and all, felt more ingenuine than special. That, and flimsy enough to fall apart without a tacky clear plastic poncho.
“Guess whommmm?” Based on the drawn-out correction of one of her pet peeves, someone who would stand in the doorway with an open umbrella to avoid dripping on the floor or exposing his borrowed tux to the downpour for even a second.
“Just sit down, Shu, I’ll deal with the puddles later.”
“Whatever the bride wants.” Aileen stepped into the foyer just as Shu finished de-puddling the floor with a microfiber cloth. He did a double-take at her presence and scrambled for the doorknob. “You look stunning as usual. Vámonos?”
Shu guarded the threshold with his umbrella as Aileen gathered her train above the knees, revealing her galoshes. “Still Myshuno Meadows?”
“Yeah, it’s too late to change the location. But just trust me.”
Ascending M.M.’s stairs with the sub-knee portion of the dress draped over her forearm, Aileen raised an eyebrow at the state of the park. “Ok, so the fact that there’s no wedding arch or seating doesn’t inspire confidence.”
“Well, it should,” Shu replied, holding open the door to the visitor’s center.
It usually looked like it smelled like mothballs, but had been slapped over with the design sense that made Aileen the butt of many an E.L. James joke: sharp, clean, and desaturated, with hints of silver, charcoal, gunmetal, slate grey, stone grey, good old regular grey itself. Aileen caught a whiff of chlorine from waterfalls glittering in cold light like the sky above.
“See? Now the rain looks totally intentional. Besides, it’s more ‘you’ now.” He gestured in roughly the direction of Newcrest. “It matches, y’know, your entire house and everything you own.”
That’s when Aileen’s June wedding fantasy started to fall as flat as the card it was printed on. The bride was just a prop stuck in a generic setting with no one who truly understood her. And here Aileen stood, mortal and flawed and special to someone, ideal marriage or not.
“Thank you, Shu. This is far better than what I was thinking.”
She held back the saltwater building in her eyes enough to make out Matt’s figure at the altar. She remembered how loved she was, letting it wash over her, overflowing with joy. The saltwater came down in torrents.
“Look, Mom, it wasn’t gonna be perfect anyway.” Shu offered his arm. “You got this. As long as you love Matt, everything will be fine.”
Aileen took a deep belly inhale. “You know what? Fine is all I could hope for.”
She pictured the rain carrying her doubt, her inhibitions, her past, her dread, her expectations, good and bad, leading them into the gutter with the other sewage, back into the earth, dissolving everything it touched until there was only her fiancé, the path forward, and her son walking her down the aisle.