Jenny's eyes, usually with a certain twinkle that even she herself noticed, now stared back at her blandly, corpse-like, bloodshot. Puffy. "Crybaby," she said to the other Jenny, who only scowled back unappreciatively, a reminder that she didn't have much time. Full of dread, she cast her eyes towards the door. IT was hanging there, limply, apparently non-threatening but truly the most menacing object Jenny had laid eyes on in awhile; a dark, in some descriptions "burnt", orange formal gown. It wasn't the color that made it so, Aimee had actually been quite considerate in chosing a scheme that would flatter both bridesmaids and maid-of-honor. And groomsmen, actually. Yes. Well. Time to get going. Jenny glanced back at her two-dimensional twin and grimaced. She felt a weight around her neck and fingers. If I can't move, I can't possibly walk down the aisle, now can I?
The digital clock hanging next to the lightswitch blinked a harsh reminder. Church in one hour. Then another hazardous hour of prep. Aimee, in her dress, looking young and so enchanting, almost too bright to be marrying off like this. They all said she was too young, as a matter of fact, only 18 and off to marry an air man, off to Alaska for almost forever. Oh sure, she'd be back someday and Richard would be a dentist, but after how many lifetimes? How many more weddings? How many more Conners? Aimee was probably texting Jenny's phone right now. Shit. Where did that thing go, anyway? She hadn't left it in Conner's car, right? Dang, I hope not. Oh well. Aimee'd be fine, Jenny nodded to herself, and opened the nearest drawer for some bobby pins. Aimee was always losing bobby pins. Jenny was going to buy them in bulk for her and send them as a care package one day. Alaska, snow, and Richard, with a lifetime supply of bobby pins. Who could ever ask for more? Oh, no no no no don't cry about it. Enough of that. Oh well, there it goes, there's no stopping it now. Just get your makeup together, get your makeup together. Yes, ok, maybelline, cover girl, how many more of them do I have around here? A bazillion lipsticks, eyeliners, blush compacts and eyeshadows and not a single effing headache pill. Just some Tylenol, that's gotta make it just a little bit better. If not valium. Yeah, Jenny'd totally settle for some valium.
Best to put the dress on BEFORE I get there, I guess. With tremendous effort she dragged her weighted hands upward to reach for the hanger and let the dress slide off, into her arms, and held its cool satin against her chest for a moment until her own body heat warmed it. Well, this was it. What a sense of duty I have, I wonder why I never managed to keep a job? Well. I know what's important, I guess. How ironic, this whole thing. Slothfully but with a grace that she couldn't keep at bay if she tried, Jenny pulled her sweater over her neck and elbow with one arm and tossed it- the sweater, not the arm- to the corner, then held the dress out before her for one last examination. Dreadful thing. Oh well. She glanced at herself under the lights once more, this time sweaterless with a bright-colored bra that clashed miserably with her pale skin. Ugh. I've lost more weight. That can't be good. Her elbows seemed to protrude from her arms even when they weren't bent, and even though everyone told her it was totally enviable to be this skinny, when Jenny observed the lines of her ribcage she decided a size four might be more desirable than a size two, and maybe when you're this "thin" it's more fun to be a shorty than a five-foot-eight. Healthier. A fleeting thought appeared- being thirteen- being called anorexic, even though she ate mashed potatoes every day and never could resist the sweets, so much that her fat friends couldn't bear to eat around her. They all really were fat, compared to Jenny. Guys were always telling her she was "so small" and "so tiny" and therefore desirable, but she never felt tiny. She felt obvious, almost guilty, and awkward for her spindly fingers and puny waist, the fact that she could wear child-sized pajamas even though she was nineteen effing years old. She didn't feel small in Conner's arms, she felt small in his eyes.
The dress was on now, even though Jenny had not adhered to proper underwear-matching procedure. Thank heaven the color was dark enough that her undergarments would not be too obvious. She had no energy to find the ones she had bought to match the occasion. Who really gave that much of a damn about the bridesmaids anyway? She touched her hand to her cheek. Good. Dry. Dang. Too dry. Damn skin. She peered a little closer at the mirror- damn. Looking a bit textured today, Jules? Yes, yes, of course. Well, it's not like it's your big day. What a joke. So much for the valium.
The new chapel was all agog, and Jenny didn't even know what agog meant, except that she was pleased that the bride had her own preparation room. Of course, all six bridesmaids and their mothers were hustling and bustling about within it, but most of them were too excited to take note of the maid of honor and her bloodshot eyes. The only one that did, Aimee's little sister June, merely gazed on sympathetically from across the room and seemed pacified when Jenny sent her a friendly wave and made dramatic charades to signify "swiping" the bouquet, a joke between them. As she turned back to the book of bridal pictures and listened absentmindedly to the women fixing their gowns and fawning over Aimee's veil- amidst Aimee's adorable nervous giggles- Jenny cursed to herself. Guilt followed, being in a church after all, and she tried to step into her role of pride but she just couldn't swallow it- too big of a pill, and Jenny felt herself too selfish to try.
"Do you have your flowers, Jules?" Aimee called from her sitting position, an exalted chair in the center of the room positioned especially for the occasion. Bride with a capital B, of course. Sacrilgious? As Jenny admired Aimee's optimism she felt another wave of profound shame. "You're going to Alaska," she murmered, but Aimee heard her well enough. "I know!" Aimee grinned, "I'm going to see snow!" Jenny smiled back. "I'm just jealous." A flicker of concern crossed the eyes of the betrothed, but the photographer lept into the wavelength between the two friends and Aimee was once again surrounded by ceremony. Now's my chance, Jenny thought. I can run.
She practically flew for the door, abandoning her purse and bouquet and maybelline at the mirrors. They would just have to carry on without the MOH. Haha, the "MOH". Amusing.
The hallway was crowded and Jenny did not slip by unnoticed, but she didn't mind so much. They probably thought she was running a last minute errand, or delivering pre-marital love notes to the groom. Good, good. I just need some air, she'd tell them if they stopped her. I just need to keep running. If she did tell them what was wrong they'd just tell her it gets better anyway. Jenny had heard that enough. Nineteen years and fuck if it gets better. The hilarious thing, she thought as she passed four little boys with ties fighting over the water fountain –strange?, the hilarious thing was how she always thought HE was the desperate one, running away, coming back, making fun when there was an awkward silence. She reached the church doors and a random scene from the graduate passed before her eyes- the wedding rescue, the sacriligeious scene in which the guy used the wooden cross thing to block the doors. How funny would that be if she were locked in. She tested the handle. Nope, it was open. Had to be, of course, how could the presents come in? All the presents- shit. That's why she'd called Conner in the first place. That damn toaster. She'd always promised Aimee a toaster. She idly scratched at a bit of rust on the handle as if it were nail polish. When Conner was fooling around and Jenny would pretend to give him the silent treatment because he was being "immature" he'd reach over, take her chin between his thumb and forefinger and make a mimic-Jenny-voice. "I wuv you Conner, I wuv you so muuuuuch," he'd squawk, and she'd always laugh because it was too annoying not to be funny. Both hands on the handles now, Jenny breathed in deeply and tried not to think about the toaster but she felt terrible about it, forgetting it like that. And they'd be off to Alaska soon, the air man and his little wife. Aimee looked little in Richard's arms, Jenny thought. Silently, she counted how many times she had even told Conner, realistically, that she cared about him. Only twice. But he had to know.
Her hands slipped. She'd have to get a toaster between the wedding and the reception. As she floated back towards the bridesroom, she started to count the tiles that a single step in her heels would cover. Funny, she thought, even though she'd walked through this very church every Sunday for nineteen years she'd never noticed how the tile shrank and multiplied into even smaller, exquisite pieces. She'd never concentrated. What beautiful artist was responsible for this? Who- damn. She had airheadedly ran into an almost-elderly woman as she was admiring the tiles. "I'm so sorry-" she started, but she woman only smiled and patted her arm- once she was done teetering precariously- and reached her stickish fingers upward to straighten Jenny's nearly collapsed hairstyle. "You look lovely," she said quietly and matter-of-factly, then moved along into the crowd as it poured into the chapel. Jenny felt her textured skin and wanted to laugh, but she couldn't quite choke a chuckle from her throat. Hurriedly, she touched her forehead and tried to return to her last thought, but it escaped her even as she moved quickly back to her station of duty. What beautiful… what beautiful artist… as she turned the doorknob a flash of burnt something caught her eye and she glanced up distractedly at the mirror that happened to be directly beside the separated room. Jenny looked back at Jenny, wide-eyed, graceful, all fifty thousand exquisite pieces of her. She glanced towards the altar, being prepared in the background, and at the huge wooden cross- they must have upgraded since the Dustin Hoffman incident- hanging from the wall. Alright. Alright. I hear Ya, You don't have to be so clever about it, though, You know. Begrudgingly, Jenny shoved open the door, careful not to expose the bride to the guests, craning their necks for a gander at all the white within.
The ceremony seemed to breeze by, quickly but not clumsily, perfectly played out. The only hitch was a crying baby, Nancy the niece, undoubtedly captured forever by the videographer, but no one seemed to mind that much. Lucille, one of the bridesmaids, almost tripped on her way up the stairs, but Jenny supposed only the other bridesmaids noticed. Aimee was the most vibrant, hopeful wedded woman that anyone had ever seen, and Richard was the strongest groom, even pausing a moment to gather himself during the vows he had written with his own hand. It was only then that Jenny turned her eyes towards the seat beside her own parents, the empty one that had been set aside for Conner. A few salty ones escaped her eyes then, but only then, and it was alright. Let them think she was crying because it was just "so beautiful". It was beautiful, after all.
"I just don't think I could ever love you. Not in the end," he had said to her, meekly. Blandly. Suddenly.
Aimee and Richard were kissing already, transformed before everyone's eyes.
Revel, revel, Jenny said to herself, but she was already brushing the emotions away from her face and wondering if maybe a coffee maker would be preferable to a toaster- who ate toast anymore, anyway?