I smoothed out the flowy material of my dress and glanced around self-consciously.
"I'm really not sure we should be doing this," I whispered to Savannah, trying to act as natural as possible. We were about thirty feet from and fast approaching a large group of people, and as uncomfortable as I felt approaching them, I didn't want to draw any needless attention.
"Oh, please, it's fine. What we're doing is hardly illegal," Savannah replied, and I swallowed down my objections. This clearly was Savannah's idea of fun.
My idea of fun was more along the lines of having a bonfire in the backyard and making smores, or going to the movie theater. Savannah was clearly my opposite, and sometimes I wondered if we were the epitome of "opposites attract." She was always pushing me to go out and do a little more. Why don't we take a different route home? Why don't we see that movie instead? Why don't we try eating at this restaurant?
I liked tried and true methods. She wanted the novel and fantastic.
Savannah grabbed my arm. "Autumn, stop looking so guilty. We need to at least look like we belong here."
"But we don't!" I whispered, my voice sharp, as we wove our way through clusters of people standing around. "We shouldn't be doing this."
"I know what I'm doing," Savannah soothed. "I watched a documentary on this once."
I glared at her. "That wasn't a documentary, it was a crappy movie made by Hollywood that you never even finished!"
"I wasn't talking about Wedding Crashers," Savannah rolled her eyes. "I was talking about Oprah."
I almost stopped walking in my shock. "Oprah?"
Savannah nodded, clearly only giving me half her attention as she scoped out the scene, probably trying to determine where we would stand amidst all the people.
"Yeah, Oprah and Gayle went on that road trip a couple years ago, remember? And they crashed this one person's wedding in, like, Mississippi or something."
At this, I really did stop walking. Did Savannah ever take time to think before she planned these things? Did she take time to wonder why it would be appropriate for someone like Oprah to crash weddings, but not, oh, say, us?
Savannah turned around when she realized that I was missing. "Oh, Autumn, come on! It wasn't that big of a deal when they did it."
"Yeah, because they're Oprah and Gayle," I ground out, my jaw clenched. I glanced nervously around us, hoping beyond hope that no one would notice the two imposters standing around.
Because that's what we were. Savannah and Autumn. Imposters. Gate crashers. No, worse.
Why did I even try to deny it anymore? I agreed to go along with this crazy plan, and while I knew that I'd hardly get toted off to jail for it (at least as far as I knew -- with my luck, these people would have high profile security looking for wedding invitations and photo idea, and there would be some sort of fine for trespassing), it wasn't exactly socially acceptable to show up at someone's wedding if you didn't even know them.
I'd raised all the objections I could, but somehow, Savannah seemed to plan ahead for all of them. When I told her that they would have seating charts, she'd told me that it was more of an open wedding, with people walking in and out, and there would be tables and chairs lying about but no required seating. When I said that there wouldn't be food, she'd said it was going to be a limitless buffet and it was unlikely that they'd run out.
As much as I hated this plan, I did have to admit that Savannah at least did her research. Maybe that was a little creepy, but it put me a bit more at ease to know that we wouldn't ruin every last bit of this couple's happy day.
Savannah grabbed my hands. "Look, just calm down. It's really not as big of a deal as you're making it. This is hardly a felony and we just want to celebrate this day with these people."
"And get free food," I mumbled, and Savannah grinned.
"Clearly. And if we can get some guys out of this, too, then all the better for us."
I just sighed and refused to say anything more. That might not have been the best course of action, as that's what got me into the mess in the first place, just shutting up and giving Savannah what she wanted, but often times, that was how I dealt with my best friend.
Actually, that's probably how most people dealt with her.
"Now, let's just have fun," Savannah continued. "We'll dance, we'll sing, we'll catch a bouquet--"
I started at that, because there was no way I was catching a bouquet and drawing more attention to myself.
"We'll eat some food," she continued, overriding my objections, "and then we'll go home. No one will be any worse for the wear."
She made it sound so simple, like she didn't even have any guilt over what was about to happen, and really, I suppose she didn't. I probably shouldn't have felt guilty, either, but it just felt wrong to barge in on a day that belonged to two people, a day that was so personal. And I was also considering becoming a Worst Case Scenario professional, as my mind could come up with any number of incidents that weren't altogether likely to happen, but could.
For this situation, my mind already played out a fine, jail time, having to call my parents with my one phone call and ask them to bail me out. I pictured the bride and groom walking around, stopping in front of me, saying, "You don't belong here!" and kicking me out. I saw bouncers refusing me entrance to the buffet table. I thought about running into someone I actually knew and having them ask me why I was at a wedding for people I didn't even know.
I was once told that I acted like a seventy year old woman with the way I worry about things, and it probably wasn't far from the truth. I knew enough to recognize that I was (probably) overreacting, but that was kind of my dynamic. It came too easily to me to picture the worst case scenario, just to prepare myself.
"And what am I supposed to say if someone asks how I know the bride and groom?" I asked Savannah, my mind playing out a scenario of a friendly chit-chatter hitting me up in the buffet line, asking all sorts of intrusive… and, well, innocent and commonplace wedding-reception questions.
Savannah nodded and moved to a spot where less people were gathered. "Don't worry, I've got this all figured out, too."
I stopped myself from rolling my eyes, because, of course she thought this through, too. Sometimes I wondered about my best friend. I just wondered.
"We're both going to say that we know the bride. And that's not totally a lie!" Savannah quickly said when I opened my mouth to object. "The only reason I heard about this wedding is because my coworker's cousin's friend told me about it. So I sort of know who she is."
I stared at her. "You have no idea who she is."
"That doesn't matter," Savannah flicked her hand in the air. "Point is, we're here for the bride."
"And what do I say if someone asks how I know her?" I demanded, interrupting before Savannah could move onto her next point.
She shook her head. "Autumn, I am giving you artistic license for that story. Make up whatever you want."
That made my stomach churn. I would rather have had Savannah give me something, anything, to go off of.
"And your name is no longer Autumn. It's Dorothy," Savannah declared, smiling at me like she hadn't said anything abnormal.
"Dorothy?" I asked lightly after a bit of a pause. "Do I… look like a Dorothy?"
Savannah shrugged. "Close enough, sure."
I just looked at her some more. Fake names? What if they really did have super security and the security wanted to see ID? If I used my real name, I would look like an authentic guest. There would probably be problems if I said, "Oh, yes, I'm Dorothy. Forget that my license says Autumn."
"Are these fake names really necessary?" I put my hands on my hips, emphasizing my displeasure, but Savannah just smiled and nodded.
Savannah grinned. "That's me!" When my face didn't change she rolled her eyes. "Oh, honestly, Dorothy, the whole point of fake names is to make them a little ridiculous, to be a name that you don't think you would ever be called."
I shook my head. I seriously had no idea where I found this girl or how she entered my life, but sometimes I wondered if I should just sever our connections altogether.
"Oh, Dorothy, it's so wonderful to be here celebrating this wedding!" Savannah cried, throwing her arms in the air, acting like some sort of Southern belle, and then gathering me in a full-fledged hug. I just had to laugh and hug her back. Just when I thought I might be crazy to be friends with her, Savannah did something silly to remind me that, despite all of this stuff that she dragged me into (and that I bit back my objections for), I loved her.
The longer we spent standing around, waiting for the wedding party to actually arrive, the more comfortable I felt. It was a beautiful day for a wedding. One of those bride in June, bride forever bits, and the reception was held outside in the glorious sunshine. The day was warm and maybe would have bordered on hot if not for the breeze. The sky was a pure blue with a few wispy clouds here and there. The grass was green and a lake sparkled in the sunlight, almost blinding me, but in that good, summer way.
Several large tents were up. One had tables of food already set up, and there were a few people, mostly hungry kids, picking at the desserts. Another tent had a stage with instruments set up, clearly for the band, and a couple other tents had tables and chairs. There were people milling about all over, generally chatting and laughing and having a good time.
"They got so lucky with this weather," I said to Savannah, glancing around when I didn't hear a reply. My eyes widened when I saw her talking to a group of women, laughing it up. I hesitated, feeling a little squeamish at the thought of actually talking to people at the wedding, but then decided that I felt more foolish being alone.
I made my way over to the group and Savannah's eyes lit up.
"Dorothy! Dor!" She cried, waving an arm, as if I couldn't see her and wasn't headed straight toward her. "Over here!"
I plastered a smile on my face and passed around greetings to everyone in the group, and for a moment, we were all overwhelmed by various greetings-- lots of "Hi!", "How are you?", "Good to see you!". I thought it was kind of funny that some of the women greeted me as though they hadn't seen me in years when reality was that they hadn't seen me ever.
"This is my friend Dorothy," Savannah introduced grandly, loving this part that she was playing. "She didn't see me walk off. She was over there admiring how beautiful it is out here."
At this, all of us looked around just to confirm that, yes, it still was absolutely gorgeous.
"Couldn't have asked for a better day," one of the women said, and we all "mhm"ed in agreement.
"Or a better month," another woman laughed. "A bride in June, a bride forever," she quoted and then smiled at Savannah and me. "You two will be in line to catch that bouquet, surely?"
I immediately wanted to deny it, but Savannah gasped, sounding almost offended that the woman would even ask. I decided to let her take the reigns on this one and explain that the two of us were independent women, living single lives, not seeking to marry just yet.
"No one else stands a chance!" Savannah declared, laughing grandly. I frowned. So much for that. "I fully intend to catch that bouquet," she announced, but another lady clucked her tongue and shook her head.
"You'll have to compete with me." The woman said it with a smile on her face, but part of me thought that she sounded pretty intense.
The first woman rolled her eyes. "Alice, you had a chance to be a bride."
"Three times," the second lady added. "Give someone else a turn!"
"Clearly my June marriages aren't all that long-lasting," Alice said, and even though I was worried it was a sore subject, she laughed. "No one is perfect. But maybe if I catch a bouquet this time it'll fix things."
Savannah went to add her two cents in when we heard a loud burst of noise off to the side and saw that the wedding party had finally arrived from the church.
"That's them!" Alice gushed, and the women scampered off to see in the bridge and groom. I grabbed Savannah's arm before she could get much further.
"Savannah," I shook my head, "what did you tell those women?"
Savannah didn't answer. In fact, she wasn't even looking at me, her attention turned totally toward the guests of honor.
"Savannah," I tried again. "Savannah."
After a few seconds of silence, I had an epiphany. I sighed. "Oh, Shelley?"
Savannah turned to me with a smile. "Yes, Dorothy?"
I raised my eyebrows but Savannah didn't seem to want to cotton onto my question.
"Don't you just love weddings?" she gushed.
I clasped my hands to my chest. "I'd love them so much more if I knew just what you were telling people about us!" I gushed back.
"Exactly what I told you! We're friends of the bride. I'm just making it up from there. Most people don't want to know about you, anyway. Just keep the subject to the wedding or the bride or to them and it'll be okay. Even the weather." Savannah patted my hand. "You can do it."
And with that, she moved to get closer to the crowd. I sighed but followed. What else was I going to do?
I managed to hang around Savannah most of the time, putting in little comments when she struck up random conversation. If she hadn't been gifted with anything else, Savannah at least had the ability to talk about anything and fit in anywhere with anyone. She was an everybody kind of person.
Much to my surprise, I started to loosen up and even enjoy myself. I ate some delicious finger food and an amazing piece of cheesecake, and couldn't stop myself from hanging around the dessert table. Neither could Savannah.
The sky was starting to grow dark and I could see lightening bugs flashing all around and thought I could hear some crickets. Talk about a fairy tale perfect wedding.
I was about to ask Savannah if the two of us were ready to leave when another dessert caught my eye.
"Hey, be subtle about it, but look to your right at the boy with the red hair," Savannah whispered in my ear as I leaned over the table to grab a vanilla cupcake covered with peanut butter icing. "He's been looking at you all night."
I kind of froze in the middle of getting my cupcake and tried to calm my heart. Savannah probably didn't know what she was talking about anyway. She liked to make bigger deals about these things than they really were. She was one of those no-apologies-matchmaker types.
But I figured I'd turn around and look anyway. Because what could the harm be? After all, I wasn't even me. I was Dorothy. Maybe Dorothy would stare down a guy if she caught him looking at her.
Never mind that Autumn never would.
Trying to be casual, I turned and searched for the boy with red hair. Turns out, he wasn't all that hard to find. He was pretty tall and had this kind of short but still floppy red hair. To be honest, it kind of reminded me of some 90s boy band cut, but he was able to work it. He was wearing a suit, just a nice black and white getup.
And he was definitely looking at us. Actually, he wasn't just looking. His entire body was turned in our direction. He was holding a cup in his left hand, his right hand shoved in his pocket. And he was gazing straight at us.
Whether he was looking at me or Savannah, I couldn't be sure, but as soon as the two of us looked over in his direction, he turned away. And not just looked away. He completely turned his body in the other direction. I actually giggled a little at that.
He was cute and clearly a little awkward. That was endearing.
"He's literally been looking at you all night," Savannah repeated, not so much in my ear, but still close to my head, trying to be heard above the band, which was currently playing a rousing rendition of a wedding classic, Shout.
I turned to Savannah. "How do you know?"
She smiled. "Well, I've had my eye on him ever since we were socializing while we ate our food. We were in a group and he was in it. He didn't say all that much, but I noticed that he kept glancing at you."
I made a face. There's no way he would have been that obvious about it.
"It wasn't super obvious," Savannah said, reading my thoughts. "It wasn't like he looked at the ground or at you or stared at you intensely. He was pretty into the conversation, but his gaze would move to you and he would keep it there for a while before realizing what he was doing. Then he'd make eye contact with everyone else to cover his tracks."
I stared at Savannah. This was another one of those moments where I wondered.
She held up her hands. "I notice things. I'm a people person. It's what I do."
I had to admit, she was right. She noticed everything. Even the littlest things. There might have actually been some truth to her statement.
"Shame," I said, nodding. "He's pretty cute."
"Exactly. Which is why you should dance with him or something."
I shook my head. "You know I don't…" I trailed off and Savannah turned to me, eyebrows raised.
"You don't what?" She popped out her hip and gave me a look. "You don't take advantage of the opportunity to dance with a cute boy when he's clearly been staring at you all night?"
I blinked. "Exactly." I started to nibble on a chocolate chip cookie, but Savannah shook her head.
"Dorothy, this will not do. Here's the thing," she said, grabbing the cookie from my hand and taking my plate of sweets away from me. She threw them in the nearest trash can and turned back to me. "The redhead has a cute friend that was part of the group we talked to earlier. We promised each other a dance, and I plan to cash in on that." She wove my arm through hers and pulled me closer to the dance floor. "So you are more than welcome to ask your man to dance, but I will be busy for a little while."
Unfortunately, I did not want to ask someone to dance, and I told Savannah as much.
She shrugged. "Then let him ask you. Or don't dance. Doesn't matter. But I plan to do some dancing, get a phone number, maybe pull a kiss or two…" she trailed off as we got to the dance tent. Then she turned to me and smiled. "It appears as though our boys are friends, so this is just all the more convenient for us."
My stomach was starting to roll. I wasn't the most articulate with strangers, or with boys, although generally I could hold my own. But I wasn't sure that I could hold my own when my breath smelled a little like garlic from some of the hors d'oeuvres and my lips were sticky from all the iced treats I'd consumed.
"Dorothy," Savannah started, clearly sensing my hesitance, but I interrupted her. There was only so much of this name game that I could take.
I stared at her and rolled my eyes. Savannah took this as her cue to continue with what she was saying.
"Dorothy, just have some fun. It's what tonight's all about."
I nodded, because I understood. And I was having fun. After I got over my initial fear that I would be jailed (there wasn't even security here, get that), life had become a lot easier.
Savannah walked ahead of me to go meet the guy she was talking about. He was cute, too. Just as tall as the red head, but this one had light brown hair and tan skin. He was also wearing a suit and looked just as cute in it.
I watched as Savannah sashayed over, her dress swishing around her legs, a sweet smile on her face. Her target looked down at her and smiled back, running a hand over his short hair before nodding. The two of them stepped onto the dance floor and immediately started to electric slide. I had to laugh, because I hadn't ever seen anything as cute as they were.
"Sick, right?" a voice said, close to my ear. I turned around, surprised, and saw the red head from earlier. Almost immediately, all my thoughts disappeared from my head. I blinked, trying to think of anything to say, and kind of hoped that my breath didn't smell too badly.
He smiled at me and nodded in the direction of Savannah and her guy. "The two of them. Disgusting. He's my best friend. I tried to tell him that she was too pretty for him, but then she walked over and I'm pretty sure his ego hit the roof."
I glanced over at the pair and smiled. "Well, Sav--" I cut myself off, silently cursing my inability to take on a secret identity. "Shelley usually takes whatever she thinks she's entitled to. And tonight," I looked over at him. "She decided it was your friend."
I wanted to raised my hands and praise God that I actually had comprehensible words flowing from my mouth. It felt like a miracle.
"Gotta admire that, I guess," he laughed, and I had to agree. Most people noticed that Savannah got what she wanted most of the time. She had no fear.
"Hey," the boy said, turning to me and holding out a hand. "I'm really sorry, but I totally forgot your name from introductions earlier." I looked at him, paused with his hand stretched in front of him, for some reason frozen in what I was doing. "I know, it's really embarrassing," he rambled on, before I finally snapped out of it and took his hand.
"No, no don't worry about it. I'm--" I started, and then cut off quickly, my mind working in overdrive.
I couldn't remember. I couldn't remember my name. Not my name, of course, I remembered that, but those stupid code names that Savannah came up with. I searched my brain for what it was, anything-- God, I could remember Savannah's code name. I could remember that I knew the bride. But what was my name?
And then it came to me. I heard it floating through the air. The DJ who had taken over for the band several songs ago changed the tune from the electric slide to Crazy. More specifically, You Drive Me Crazy.
"Britney," I managed to get out. I shook his hand firmly, forcing my face into a smile. The key here, I realized, was to act natural.
The boy's eyebrows scrunched together for a moment, and I thought that he was actually going to question me on whether that was my name, but he just pumped my hand and said, "Nice to meet you, Britney. I'm Justin."
He had a smile on his face and I appreciated the beautiful coincidence of pop culture in our lives. We dropped each other's hand and stood there awkwardly for a moment.
"So who are you here for?" he asked as we both meandered over to two empty chairs.
I crossed my leg and prepared myself for this conversation. Savannah had done it for me all night, but now it was my turn. My stomach churned as I reminded myself to keep things as simple as possible so that I didn't cross any of my facts. I had no idea how Savannah was a such a natural.
"Friend of the bride," I told him.
Justin smiled. "Sarah. She's a great girl."
I nodded in agreement because, even though I'd only known Sarah for several hours, she seemed like a beautiful, gracious, humble woman who was happy to be with her kind of awkward but still adorable man. I could jump on board the Sarah bandwagon.
"How do you know her?" Justin asked, and I quickly racked my brain for any legitimate excuse. I wished I had a drink so that I could take a sip and stall.
"Work," I managed to work out without too much of a pause. I'd managed to make a show of coughing to give myself a minute to think.
Justin's eyebrows shot up. "You work together?"
He looked so surprised that I wondered if I should revise my answer. "Not directly," I said. "We work for the same company and we've gotten to know each other a bit." I paused for a moment before deciding that maybe I could add lib a little more. "You know Sarah. She's so sweet that she makes quick friends, and as soon as you're a friend of Sarah's--"
"You're family," Justin cut in with a grin. "Yeah, that's been my experience with her, too."
"Are you here for Sarah, then?"
Justin made a so-so face. "I'm here for the both of them, but mostly for Carl."
I nodded, interested. Maybe I could actually learn about the wedding party. I could buy them a gift and send it anonymously or something. "How do you know Carl?"
"Friend, mostly of the family, but Carl by extension. I was a neighbor, closer to his younger brothers than Carl himself, but still there."
I smiled. "So really you're here because they couldn't disinvite you."
"Something like that," Justin agreed with a laugh. He glanced out to the dance floor and stood up, holding a hand down to me. "Care to dance?"
Without even thinking I agreed. I had more time to think about my quick decision as we walked out to the dance floor, but realized that I didn't even have to think about it. I felt okay. My stomach wasn't churning like it had been. Justin was sweet and made me feel comfortable.
On the dance floor, I somehow, amidst all the other people out there, caught Savannah's eye. Her eyebrows rose when she saw me there and when her date was turned she gave me a thumbs up. I stifled a laugh and tried not to roll my eyes.
"Hey, I never asked," I suddenly said to Justin, and he nodded to encourage me to finish. "But what's your friend's name?"
"Kevin," Justin told me, and by the grin on his face, I realized that he also noticed our bizarre pop culture names. Well, mine was fake, but it still brought the piece together. Too bad Savannah hadn't chosen a boring old normal name like Christina.
"Bizarre," I said through a smile, and Justin nodded.
"Little bit, yeah." The DJ started a slower song and Justin held out his arms. Without thinking (partly telling myself not to think), I stepped into his arms. One of his hands settled on my waist, and I thought I could swoon when he didn't put his other hand on my waist like they used to do in high school, but grabbed my hand and held them. I managed not to swoon but couldn't stop a grin. I put one of my hands on his shoulder and we started to sway to the Bublé song.
"So what do you do in Sarah's company?" Justin asked, stumbling a little. He wasn't a bad dancer, but maybe wasn't the best at talking and dancing at the same time. But I appreciated that he wanted to keep us from awkward, bumbling silence for the next three minutes.
I nearly stumbled when he asked the question. I considered pretending that I couldn't hear him, but I had to think of something. What did Sarah even do?
"I work in human resources," I finally said, content with that answer. Every company had a human resources department, even if it wasn't called that. And it wasn't like that was so far from the truth. I did secretarial work in a company and had contact with the HR department all the time. And I was even considering getting going to grad school to eventually work in high level HR positions.
Justin didn't seem to think anything was weird about my answer. "Yeah, I guess even lawyers need to treat people like humans sometimes, huh?" he laughed.
I smiled and shrugged, but was really interested. So Sarah was a lawyer. I wondered what Carl did for a living. I figured I could at least try to find out.
"What does Carl do?"
Justin looked surprised. "Sarah doesn't talk about him?"
Interestingly, I was learning that the more I did this fake story telling, the easier it got. "Oh, she talks about him," I said. "But it's always about how sweet he is, and how kind and caring, and then about wedding plans. Never about his job."
"Ah, makes sense," Justin said. "Carl's actually a history professor over at the university."
My eyebrows shot up. Huh. I was truly impressed. "Wow. That's pretty prestigious."
"Don't tell him that," Justin told me, shaking his head. "The poor guy'll turn red and just laugh it off, like it's no big deal."
The Michael Bublé song ended, but an even slower song came on, and Justin and I just stayed in our position but slowed our pace.
"So why'd you get into human resources?" Justin asked, and I was surprised by the question, although I probably shouldn't have been, considering we were still dancing and learning about each other. That was the basis for a conversation, after all.
I lifted a shoulder in a half-shrug. "I like people." Fact. Moving with the truth for as long as possible. "I like the law." Also fact. "I just sort of fell into it." Half fact. I did just sort of fall into this wedding and story, so it could almost be counted as true.
"Do you enjoy it?"
"Love it," I replied, and I tried to put some earnest emotion into my voice. I would probably love human relations if that were actually my job. "I wouldn't trade it for the world."
Justin looked impressed. "Gotta do what you love, right?"
"Absolutely." Glancing up at him, I suddenly realized I hadn't learned a thing about him besides his name and relation to the wedding. "So what do you do, Justin?" I asked, and he grinned.
"My day job involves a lot of handy-man fix-it stuff," he said, "and every now and then I get a night gig or two making food at a restaurant."
He hesitated for a moment before replying, "Hooters."
I rolled my eyes, I couldn't help it. Of course a guy would be working at Hooters. What should I have expected, McDonald's?
"The benefits are great," he continued, and I had to force myself not to make a face. That would be rude. But maybe I could afford to be rude. Maybe Britney was a rude girl. Autumn would hold back, but who was I tonight? Apparently, I was having a hard time deciding what face I should make because Justin laughed out loud. "And by benefits," he clarified, "I mean the fact that by company policy, I am entitled to a percentage of the tips and that I'm still paid over minimum wage. I hit the jackpot with this." He paused a moment and suddenly grinned, "Plus I get a discount on wings."
At that, I gave a little chuckle. I had no doubts that he wasn't enjoying other perks of his job, but that actually did sound like a jackpot.
"Do handy-man fix-it types not get paid all that well?"
"I'd probably get paid better if I were full time," he shrugged, "but I can't work full time and put all my effort into finishing a degree, so I've got to trade off."
Finish his degree? "What's your degree?" I asked him, and I found that I was extremely curious.
"Chemical engineering," he answered, and I winced. Anything focused so heavily in science and math sounded like torture to me, and I couldn't even imagine it. It brought me pain imagining him pouring over textbooks and homework. "It's not that bad," he smiled and I shrugged.
"Just sounds… overwhelming," I decided, and Justin couldn't disagree with that.
"Sometimes. But it's what I like. Kind of like you and human resources."
I nodded, but looked away from him. I forced my eyes not to bug out because that comment brought it all back to me. The fact that I was at a wedding for people I didn't know, talking to a cute boy and learning his life story, all the while acting out a lie. Something about this situation didn't feel right.
Suddenly I realized that the two of us were still slowly moving in a circle and the song was much, much faster. Some of the people were even doing some nasty grinding in front of us and I realized how out of place we must have looked.
I took a deep breath and took a step back. "I'm going to get a little rest," I announce, and Justin nodded, letting me go easily.
"Yeah, I'm going to find Kevin and make sure he's being a good boy," he winked and I laughed. He headed into the crowd and I looked for an empty seat, my eyes scanning around the tents. There was still a ton of people around, rowdier than they all were earlier that day, but that's what happened when the drinks started to flow and the sun went down.
My eyes passed over the lake and I figured that it was the best place to be. Far enough away from people and noise to relax. Plus, if I was feeling daring, I could soak my feet in the pond. And it would be nice to be under the stars.
I made my way over, took off my shoes, and sat down, not particularly caring that I was bound to have grass and mud stains on my new dress. Hopefully they would come out, but I was just getting too tired to care. I wondered where Savannah was, and if she was with Kevin, but I didn't have to wonder a moment longer because she came flying toward me, her dress fanning out as she twirled around in the dusk.
"Isn't this a ball?" she cried, throwing herself beside me on the ground.
I had to laugh at her. She really was the life of the party-- and this party wasn't even hers.
"It has been pretty fun," I had to admit, and the grin on her face said everything she didn't need to say.
"I told you so," she sang, drawing her voice out. Her grin might have said it, but as per Savannah's style, she said it anyway.
I stretched my legs out in front of me, glancing up into the night sky, admiring the stars. "Are we heading out soon?"
Savannah stretched out too and yawned. "Yeah, I must admit, I'm getting a bit tired."
"Yeah, I saw you dancing with Kevin. It looked like you were having a blast."
She glanced at me and made a face. "Kevin? I spent most of my time with Jordan."
Huh. Poor Kevin. I had to admit, I didn't see the two of them after that first moment on the floor, when Savannah had given me the thumbs up, so she must have dumped him off somewhere. I wondered if he had been distraught when Justin had found him.
That might be an overreaction, but then again, Savannah had that kind of intense after-effect.
"And what about you?" Savannah pressed, nudging me. "I saw you dancing. How was it?"
I laughed. "It was…" I spread my arms out and looked at her. "Fun."
She waggled her eyebrows. "Get his number?"
"Did Autumn get his number? No. Did Britney get his number? Nope." I shrugged and pulled my knees into my chest, locking my arms around them.
Savannah wasn't giving up. She stared at me a moment and slowly said, "Did Dorothy get his number?"
I laughed aloud, partly at the idea I would get Justin's number and partly in victory. Dorothy! That was my code name!
"No, Dorothy didn't get his number, either."
"Does she want his number?" A voice asked behind us. Both Savannah and I quickly turned and I was actually shocked to see Justin standing there, hands in pockets, a grin on his face.
I wasn't sure what to say, and even if I knew what my answer would be, I didn't know how to say it. Automatically, I looked to Savannah for guidance, but she misinterpreted my look, probably on purpose, and stood up, dusting off the bottom of her dress.
"Well, I'll just leave you two to talk, shall I?"
"Jordan's looking for you," Justin told her.
She nodded and smiled at the both of us, then flounced off, even as I opened my mouth to object. I snapped it shut and glared at her as she turned to look at me one last time and winked. She mouthed something at me, probably "Have fun."
Justin was still standing there, smiling down at me. All I could think to do was smile back up at him, which he took as his cue to sit down beside me on the grass. He bent his knees and set his elbows on them, arms hanging in front of him.
"So," he said, twisting to face me. "Did you want my number?"
I stared at him, smile still frozen in place. Eventually, it slid down my face and I bit my lip. "Look, Justin," I finally managed, swallowing over the sudden lump in my throat. "There's something I've got to tell you."
Well, this would be the hardest part of the evening. My stomach started to roll again and I wasn't quite sure how to approach the fact that I completely fabricated a life to this really nice guy. And my fear reflex was working it's way to the forefront of my mind. Clearly, he wouldn't be happy. In the best case scenario, he would scowl and walk away silently but angrily. In the worst case scenario, he would drown me in the lake.
I felt sick.
I licked my lips and glanced at Justin. He still had a nice smile on his face but he had a weird look on his face, like he wasn't quite sure what to expect.
"Yeah?" he encouraged, and I took a deep breath.
"Okay," I said, drawing out the word. "Here's the thing. I haven't been totally honest with you tonight."
I couldn't make myself look at him. He was silent for a minute before he cleared his throat and said, "Your name isn't really Britney, is it?"
My heart leapt to my throat and my eyes widened. Oh my gosh. He knew. He probably knew the entire time. I made a fool out of myself. Did he know that I didn't belong at this wedding reception? Was he actually hidden security, about to kick me out?
I forced myself to look at him and shook my head. "No." I couldn't get my voice much above a whisper, but he heard me anyway.
"And I'm guessing it's not… Dorothy."
At that, I choked out a laugh. "No, not Dorothy, either." We were both quiet for a minute before I got the courage to ask, "How did you know?"
"I knew something was a little weird when you told me your name, before we started dancing," he revealed, and I noticed that he sounded relaxed and not as upset as I imagined. At least not yet. "I couldn't remember your name from before, but Britney didn't sound right either." Just as I was getting impressed with my acting skills, he added, "And you hesitated a while before giving me your name. I thought that you were choking on air or something, but you seemed like you actually forgot."
My face flushed. "Yeah… that's because I did forget."
Justin laughed. "And then I walked over here and heard you talking about three different people, and I realized that something was probably wrong."
I glanced at him and he was still sitting there, slouched, smiling. My stomach unclenched a little.
"And your friend?" Justin asked. "Not Shelley?"
"Not at all," I laughed. "That's Savannah."
Justin nodded, quiet for a moment. "And all that stuff you told me about your job…" he trailed off and I picked up obediently.
"Not even close." I sighed and picked at the grass, feeling ashamed as my story unfurled. "I'm still a student, actually. I go to the university. But I do work closely with a human resources department."
He raised his eyebrows. "In a law firm?"
"Nope, that was a lie," I admitted. I bit my lip, waiting for the question that I was dreading most. Justin didn't disappoint.
"Do you even know Sarah?" He sounded a little accusing, but not overly upset. If anything, he seemed curious.
I figured I actually had to look at him while I admitted this one. It didn't seem fair otherwise.
"No," I said, looking at his face, but not in his eyes. I couldn't bring myself to do that. My stomach was clenched painfully and I felt like tears would start to pour from the shame of it all. Who had I let myself become tonight? I wasn't a liar. I was an honest person. My parents raised me better than to be a girl who led a boy on with giggles and sweet nothings. "No, I don't know Sarah. Neither does Savannah," I added, but not as an accusation, merely as a clarification.
The two of us were silent before I managed to whisper, "I'm sorry."
He looked surprised. "No, don't apologize." His voice sounded light, almost amused. "I was just thinking… there's something I should be honest about with you, too," he sighed.
My heart pounded in my chest, speeding up to several times the speed it was before. Suddenly it was hard to breathe, too. I wasn't sure what Justin was about to tell me, but something in me knew that it couldn't be good. At best, he would tell me that he was security here to quietly haul me off. At worst, he was a sociopath who came to wedding receptions to hunt down and kill women.
"My name isn't Justin," he said, looking me fully, honestly in the eye. I tried to swallow, but my throat was dry and there was a lump in it that I was having trouble getting around. My heart was still pounding. I couldn't formulate a sentence. "My name's Charlie." He paused, waiting for me to react. I felt frozen. "I lied," he clarified, and that helped snap me out of my funk.
"Why?" I managed.
He shrugged. "Same reason you lied, I guess."
I nodded, trying to clear my head. So his name wasn't Justin. It was… Charlie. He lied. I felt irritated. I probably had no room for feeling that way, considering that I lied too, and I was probably more embarrassed that I had been so easily fooled while he hadn't been fooled by my act at all. And the more I thought about it, the angrier I got.
"So all that stuff you told me? All lies?" I kept my voice level, but it was stronger than it was before.
"Most of it," he admitted. He said it easily, like it hadn't bothered him at all to lie straight to my face. The least he could do was show some shame and regret. Didn't he have a conscious?
I took a deep breath, recalling all the information he'd told me. "Not a handy man?"
"Not a chemical engineer?"
"Close. I'm a mechanical engineer."
Huh. So he had done half-truths, just like I had, only his were a little closer to the mark. "Hooters?" I then asked, and he grinned.
"Nope, that part was true," he told me. "And I wasn't lying about all the benefits. Best job I've ever had."
I rolled my eyes but had to grin at his candidness. At the very least, it seemed like he wasn't hiding anything from me anymore. Part of me wondered if I was just dealing with a compulsive liar, but his face was pretty open. And, after all, I'd lied to him, too.
Suddenly, I realized another thing that had slipped my attention. "So your friend," I said slowly, and Charlie rubbed the back of his neck.
"Yeah, that one was a lie, too. His name's not Kevin. It's Jordan."
Then it all clicked. Savannah spending time with Jordan, not Kevin. Charlie's comment that Jordan wanted to talk to her.
"I should have figured," I told him. "That Britney, Justin, Kevin circle was just too convenient."
Charlie laughed. "I was going to use another name, but after you paused for so long and came out with Britney while that song was playing, I figured I could mess with that a little."
It was weird having a second conversation that night, about all the same information, just with the truth instead of lies. But the conversation flowed just as smoothly as the first time, and my stomach started to uncurl itself as Charlie answered the questions so simply and without any malice. He clearly wasn't mad that I lied to him, even if I couldn't stop my irritation at his lies. But the longer we sat there, dissecting the truth, the more my anger melted.
But I had to ask the last question, even if I knew the answer.
"You don't even know Carl, do you?" I was smiling at him, ready to laugh about this one just like all the others, but Charlie shook his head.
"Nope, I actually do know Carl."
My eyes widened and I sat up a little straighter. "I'm getting really confused here," I said, deciding to just be honest with it. I wasn't really sure what was true and what was false at that point.
"I know Carl. Kind of distantly," Charlie explained. "I have an older brother who works with him in the history department, and I've talked with him a couple of times. And because Carl and Sarah have the biggest hearts I've ever seen, they invited my family to their wedding."
My eyes widened even more and my jaw dropped a little. "So Jordan is your brother?"
Charlie just smiled and shook his head once more. "Nope. Friend. I was the only one from my family who could make it tonight and I decided to drag him along so that I didn't wander around alone."
"So the fake identity…"
"Was a lot of fun," Charlie shrugged. "Just a way to amuse ourselves. And your fake identities…"
"Were Savannah's doing," I said. I angled my arms behind me and on the ground and leaned back, looking up at the night sky. "We didn't have anything else to do today so she thought it would be fun to crash a wedding reception that she'd heard about through a friend of a friend or something. And then she made me take on this stupid identity. I couldn't even remember who I was supposed to be."
"As I noticed," Charlie winked.
I just shook my head. "I didn't even want to talk to anyone. And then she ran off to go dance with…" I trailed off and the two of us fell into an uneasy silence.
"Well," Charlie said, breaking the silence, but not the unease, "I'm glad that she ran off to dance with Jordan."
Turning to him, I raised my eyebrows. "Mm?" I mumbled, unable to say much else as my heart beat started to speed up even more.
"Dancing with you was the most fun I had all night," Charlie continued, and my throat dried up for what felt like the millionth time that night.
"I had fun, too," I managed to say, after clearing my throat twice.
He grinned, eyes crinkled, face relaxed. His red hair was still soft and floppy looking, mussed up atop his head. His tie was loose, sleeves rolled up, jacket long gone. His clothes were wrinkled and his white shirt was a little grass stained, from our time at the lake, I was guessing.
He was so cute. And he was grinning at me. He liked dancing with me.
I felt my insides turning to goo and my heart still speeding. It was nice to feel special.
"I was serious about my question earlier," Charlie said, and I racked my brain for whatever question he was talking about. "Did you want my number?"
Another one of those nervous lumps formed in my throat, and I wondered how Savannah would answer that question. Probably find a sharpie and write it on his arm or something. How would Dorothy handle something like that? I tried to figure it out, but I had no clue who Dorothy even was, I acted her part for so little that night. And then I tried to think through Britney's reaction, but in the end, I decided that I just had to be Autumn. The truth was out with Charlie anyway.
"Yeah," I said, and I managed a little smile that quickly spread widely over my face, as much as I tried to control it. I bit my lip and looked at him, and Charlie laughed, pulling out his phone.
"Here, give me your phone," he said, and we punched each other's names and numbers into the other's phone.
After we returned them, we sat there smiling for a minute, and the whole picture was romantic and perfect, until I got bitten by a mosquito and had to swat at my arm and a voice across the field called out, "Charlie, let's go!"
The spell was effectively broken, but that didn't stop my skin from tingling when our arms brushed against each other on the walk back to the tents.
It looked like the whole reception was winding down, and we'd clearly missed the tossing of the bouquet and the departing of the bride and groom. Some people were finishing off their drinks and others were picking at left overs while ushers went about tidying up.
Charlie and I found Savannah and Jordan, the four of us exchanging a quick greeting and official introduction before Charlie and Jordan walked off, Charlie giving a smile and a wink just for me right before he turned to go.
Savannah and I watched the two of them walk off. We stayed silent, and after we watched their car drive away, we glanced at each other and burst out laughing.
Without discussing it, we started walking to our car. As we buckled in and Savannah got behind the wheel, she glanced at me.
"Glad we came?"
I looked at her and smiled, opening my phone to see Charlie Anderson's name and number saved in my contacts. "Yeah," I told her, openly and honestly. "I am."
Author's Note: Don't you just love it when you write something and you enjoy it? I'd love to hear feedback on how I can improve this, what worked, what didn't. And also, just thought I'd share, listening to Sweet Disposition by The Temper Trap could enhance the last bit of the story, at least in my mind! As a disclaimer, I do not own (You Drive Me) Crazy by Britney Spears and I will in no way profit off of her song.