The Affair of the Dress

Alexis stepped into the violet confection of taffeta and pulled it up; she carefully zipped it and watched in horror as the ruffled top sagged down, down into a crumpled mess just above her hips. Her breasts peaked out of the material like two frightened eyes.


            “Oh shit,” she said.


            Six weeks ago the dressmaker had clucked around her at the final fitting and pronounced her finished. Alexis thought she looked like a weird flower. She hated ruffles and frills and the stupid hats all the attendants had to wear. Worst, as maid of honor, her dress was the brightest, most ruffled dress of all.


            “You look beautiful,” Jen said and hugged her.


            Alexis knew perfectly well that she look frightful, and Jen only picked the dresses because they were designed by Miranda Palmer, Jen’s sister-in-law to be.


            “Did she have to make them so frilly?”


            “Oh, Alex, you know you couldn’t show up in a business suit. Anyway your waist looks tiny.” Jen was always diplomatic.


            Today, however, diplomacy wasn’t going to help shrink the dress.


            Alexis held the dress over her breasts and walked down the hall to Jen’s room where people buzzed about her. She walked in without knocking.


            “Jen, I have a problem with the dress,” she said and let it go.


            Jen squealed, “Oh my God.”


            “Oh my goodness, what happened here?” Jen’s mom Ruth came over to Alexis and surveyed her. “Well, you can’t go up the aisle in that, dear. No good flashing the guests. It would be in bad taste. We have two hours. I’m calling Arnold. He’ll find you something.”


            Alexis just nodded. Ruth dragged her out of the room and pulled out her phone. Arnold seemed to be on speed dial.


            “Arnold, darling, It’s Ruth. I’ve got a problem. Yes, it’s this damn wedding.” She glanced at Alexis again. “It seems that one of our bridesmaid gowns has come in the wrong size. No, darling, it’s huge. She’s just a little thing. You saw those awful purple gowns. I need something purple. She’s the maid-of-honor. What can you bring me? Coloring? Oh, yes. Green eyes, very dark hair with a touch of red. I’d call it mahogany. No more than five two.” She put her hand over the phone. “What size do you wear, dear?”


            Alexis felt her cheeks turn pink. “Six or eight,” she mumbled, feeling hefty.


            “She says six or eight, but how about I measure her and text you? Yes, she’ll need shoes to match and some kind of hat. Well, you saw those idiot hats, didn’t you? Just find me something, dearest, and try to be here in a half hour. Kisses.”


            Ruth pushed Alexis into her room. “Strip,” she said. “I’ll be back with a tape measure.


            Alexis was used to Ruth. She ran the house like she did everything else, as if she were the queen of the universe. No body said no to Ruth Foster Granger. It just wasn’t done. This wedding was scheduled for three, and it would happen at three. The sun would shine; the lawn of the house where the reception was to be held would be perfectly manicured; the imported flowers would be perfectly placed; and the light would sparkle beautifully over the Atlantic Ocean behind the house. All would go as planned. Nothing so petty as a dress would spoil Ruth Foster Granger’s daughter’s very special day. Alexis was surprised that she allowed the purple dresses in the first place.


            As they waited for Arnold, Ruth paced the room.


            “If you’d rather be with Jen, it’s fine. I don’t mind waiting,” Alexis said. “I’m sure if they send Arnold up here, we can figure it out.”


            “You’ve lost quite a lot of weight, Alex,” Ruth said as if Alexis hadn’t spoken. “How did you do that?”


            “I didn’t plan it. I just work long hours at Fleming Price. I don’t have much time for long lunches and most nights, it’s tuna and carrots before I fall asleep on the couch.” Alexis smiled. “I love it though. I like being busy. It feels good to pay off those college debts.”


            “You always did have a lot of initiative,” Ruth said. “Jen never really knew what she wanted to do.”


            “Some people just figure it out faster than others,” Alexis said.


            “You mean some people have to figure it out faster than others.”


            Alexis shook her head. “No, Jen’s always been great. She’s kind and generous. She could run a charity or work with kids. She’s smart; she could do anything.”


            “And she’s my daughter, so she will get the chance,” Ruth said. Her face softened for a moment, and she touched Alexis’s cheek. “You’ve always been Jen’s rock. I don’t know about this idiot she’s marrying except he’s stinking rich with new money. Be there for her, won’t you?”


            “Of course.”


            “Promise me. Always.” Ruth produced a folder. “Look this over when you get the chance. It’s their pre-nup. I had it drawn up. It’s a good one. I want you to make sure there aren’t any gaps, and if anything goes wrong, you handle it.”


            “Ruth, you know that’s not my area of expertise.” Alexis felt as if the envelope weighed a hundred pounds when Ruth handed it to her.


            “But you’ll take care of it anyway.”


            “Of course, but do you think?”


            “I think a woman needs insurance, especially someone as naïve as Jen. Promise.”


            Alexis nodded. “I promise.”


            A tentative knock on the door sounded.


            “Enter,” Ruth shouted.


            A thin man in a bright blue suit entered. He wore a white shirt with white stripes and a hot pink tie and carried garment bags and assorted other bags with him.


            “Arnold,” Ruth said. “This is Alex. Do your magic. I’ve got to see to my daughter.”


            Arnold smiled. “Just so. It will be an honor. Now away with this monstrosity, and I will make you a queen.”


            “Give me what you’ve got,” Alexis said”


            By three o’clock, Arnold and his team had re-done her hair, pulling it into a soft twist and decorating it with a cascade of purple flowers, and he had dressed her in a Valentino gown of deep violet silk. It was simple and tightly fitted around her body with a small keyhole opening in the top to give a chaste glimpse of her breasts. The purple Jimmy Choos made her four inches taller.


            “You’re the maid of honor. You don’t wear a hat,” Arnold said.


            Alexis saw the envious glances of the other bridesmaids as she sailed down the stairs and waited for Jenny. Miranda Palmer hissed, “Where’s your real dress?”


            “It didn’t fit,” Alexis said. “Ruth got me a new one.”


            The mention of Ruth’s name was enough to make Miranda back away, her face screwed in a tight frown.


            Jen looked radiant, and squeezed Alexis’s hand. “Thank you for this,” she said.


            Alexis grinned. “Hey. What are friends for?”


            “We’ll always be friends, won’t we?”


            “You’re stuck with me,” Alexis said.


            Alexis could hear the music starting, and Jen’s father came over to take her arm. “Look of the pair of you,” he said. “The most beautiful girls here.”


            The doors opened and the procession started.


            On that Saturday afternoon, the wedding ceremony went without a hitch, the weather was perfect, and the bride and groom danced their first dance to “You Stepped Out of Dream”. Alexis sat back in her chair having slipped out of the Jimmy Choos and sipped on a mimosa and enjoyed the seabreeze wafting over her. It was cool but not too cool. Tomorrow she’d drive home and get back to reality, but tonight she was happy to bask in the glow of the joy of the evening. She didn’t want to think about the manilla envelope sitting in her room. Weddings were about celebrating joy; the ugly aftermath came later. She didn’t want to think about it on this evening. She was wearing her first designer dress and wanted to enjoy the evening.


            A man approached her. Parker Howe Blackwood the twenty-second or some such nonsense; he was one of those tall, good-looking rowing gods who never gave her a second glance in high school. Of course, she wasn’t in high school any more.


            “Alexis, right?” he said, white teeth flashing against his perfect tan, and she thought it was unfair that he should be rich, athletic, and good looking. No one should have that many aces.


            “And you’re Parker.” She watched him carefully. Smart or smarmy?


            “That’s right. Jen said you work at Fleming Price, and I’d better pray I don’t come up against you.”


            “I’m in property law. I don’t go to court.”


            “Thank God. Maybe you’d like to dance?”


            Alexis gave him a smile. At least he didn’t seem smarmy. Overall, it had been a good day. “Well, Parker, I would love to dance.”




Alice Causes A Problem

            The book club met every third Thursday of the month, usually to discuss literary fiction. Suggestions were tossed about and discussed until one book was chosen; it used to be that the whole club came up with choices, but that had ended long ago.


            Ellen Grace Sweetbriar held forth on the finer points of the opus for this month’s book club. Ellen Grace appointed herself head of the book club, selector of books, and final arbitrator of membership, though no one could quite remember how that happened. Somehow she just took charge. In the beginning, the book club members were happy to have someone choose the book and moderate the discussions. After all, it saved time and Ellen Grace was so good at ferreting out books, but it was beginning to grow tedious, especially since nobody liked Ellen Grace all that much. It wasn’t that they minded her selections, but she just wouldn’t shut up about them. She talked and lectured until the book club members wanted to lock her in a closet and commence with the important matters of drinking wine and dishing gossip.


            Ellen Grace sat now in a red velvet chair that looked like a throne with its gold gilding and ornate wooden carving talking about the theme of this magnificent, outstanding work of art. “It’s a masterpiece,” Ellen Grace said. “The way she weaves together the mystic and natural, the light and dark. She calls upon the chthonic forces in all of us.”


            She was positively quivering, and her face glowed as she looked around the room. She pressed her thighs together as if some chthonic forces were having their way with her right then.


            “I thought it was a lot of trash,” said Alice Ross. She sat next to Callie on the sofa and picked at the cheese tray. “Porn. I mean, if we’re reading porn, why not read something like Delta of Venus? Anyone remember that goodie from way back when?”


            There were plenty of titters all around. Alice said whatever she pleased. This was her house, and she generally hosted book club. Ellen Grace wanted so much to be Alice’s friend, but except for these nights Alice avoided her as if she were a bit of horse manure stuck to her shoe.


            Alice rode every day; she hosted charity events; she didn’t have time for hangers on. She only participated in this group because her daughter Lisle had talked her into it. Alice liked to shake up this group of silly hens by making obnoxious comments. The hell with what Ellen Grace thought.


            Ellen Grace colored. “Well, of course, it’s not for everyone,” she said. “I know we usually read more intensely literary titles but I thought it would be a nice break. Everyone seemed to agree.”


            “Intensely literary. Intensely pretentious, you mean. You don’t need a book club to read. You pick up a book.” Alice looked at Callie Barnes who shrank back in her seat a little. “What about you? Did you like it? Did you want to read it?”


            Callie felt her cheeks turn hot. She hated being put on the spot. She had only been allowed to join because she was friendly with Alice’s daughter Lisle. It was all so entangled. Some nights she dreaded book club. She always felt like she had to paste on her best school mom face and put on her best clothes and try to drag out some literate nuggets so she didn’t sound like a complete moron. She loved to read; why did this club feel like such an ordeal?


            Everyone was staring at her in anticipation, and Callie could see the relief on their faces. They hadn’t been singled out. Lisle mouthed, “Sorry.”


            Callie glanced at Ellen Grace. Her face was pink. Callie knew that her future in the book club might rest on her answer. In or out? She looked at Alice who was oblivious to the whole thing. “I didn’t have time to read it,” she said.


            Alice started to laugh. “You didn’t have time, but did you want to make time?”


            Callie felt the weight of Ellen Grace’s disapproval, and she took a breath. “No. No, I didn’t. I didn’t think I’d like it, so I didn’t make the time.”


            Alice turned red laughing. She thumped Cassie on the back. “Good for you. At least you’re honest. Not like the rest of these frightened cows.”


            “Oh, Mother,” Lisle said. “Really.” Secretly Lisle was delighted. She hated Ellen Grace. She hated the prim way she sat with her thick ankles crossed so primly. She was a little nobody who had wormed her way into the club and now ruled it like a dictator. And Judy Reiff, who’d brought her, had long since dropped out because she said she was too busy. Getting drunk, no doubt.


            Every woman in the room looked tense.


            Alice stood and glared at Ellen Grace who perched on her throne, her face the color of an eggplant. “You’re just a petty dictator over this, a silly book club.” She turned back to Callie. “Do you ride?”


            Callie shook her head. “My daughter rides.”


            “She rides with my Megan,” Lisle said.


            “Come around sometime with your daughter,” Alice said. “I’ve had enough of this crap for tonight. Lisle, dear, you finish up. Let the queen finish her pronouncements. I’m going to bed and reading a good mystery. Nothing pretentious about that!”


            Callie listened to Alice’s shuffling footsteps make their way upstairs. Alice was still chuckling. Lisle cleared her throat and said in her most chipper voice, “All right then, does any one else have any thoughts on the book tonight?”


            Maya Reiff said, “I think I could use a glass of wine.”


            Lisle smiled delighted. “Maya, darling, you read my mind. Let’s drink and talk trash.”


            The women got up and went to the buffet table to refill their glasses. Nobody noticed that Ellen Grace had collected her things and slipped out the door.


True Love? (Story ADay Challenge #9)




            Gillian is running late by the time she picks up Katie and Olivia from school. On Fridays soccer practice is supposed to end at four, but it’s nearly four fifteen before she can get the girls off the field and into the car, and that’s only because she begged Coach Resnick to let them go early.


            “The team was sloppy today,” the coach says. “They’re supposed to run twenty sprints before they go. Olivia still has eleven to go.”


            “I know, Coach Resnick, but she has a riding lesson at five, and I have to get Katie and her all the way out to Malvern. I’ll make her run this weekend. Scout’s honor.”


            The coach sighs. “I’ll let them go this time, Mrs. Evans, for you. But I can’t make a habit of it. You understand.” Gillian and Coach Resnick both understand that Gillian and her husband are major donors to the school, though Gillian would never use that for leverage.


            “I do,” Gillian says with all the sincerity she can muster. Some days she hates being the appointed cheerleader, groveler, chauffeur, school-volunteer mom. On those days, Gillian feels that she’s beginning to lose her identity. She’s Olivia or Katie’s mom. She’s John’s wife. She knows she has an easy life in so many ways, but when Gillian thinks about herself, she barely remembers the dreams she had and the things she wanted to achieve.


            She volunteers at the abused women’s shelter and the hospital and the senior center. She is a homeroom mom for Katie’s class and serves on the parents’ board of the school, but lately Gillian feels more and more unsure of herself. So many of the young mothers she knows are executives and lawyers. They have purpose.


            John tells her she has a purpose: to be a mother and wife.


            “You don’t have to work, darling.”


            “I know, but—“


            “The girls and I need you just like you are.”


            Somehow this doesn’t make Gillian feel better.


            Katie runs up, sweating and gasping.“Third in,” she says. “Whoa, that was rugged.”


            The coach gives her a dour look. “It was meant to be, Katie. Get your sister. You’re dismissed.”


            Katie looks at Gillian in amazement, her blue eyes turning dark. She opens her mouth, and Gillian knows she’s about to say, “That’s not fair.”


            Gillian points to the field. As usual, Olivia is bringing up the rear. “Get her now please if you want to go to riding,” Gillian says, and Katie shuffles off. Riding always trumps fairness.


            No one would guess that Katie is two years younger than Olivia. Though only in sixth grade, Katie is tall and athletic; she plays soccer, basketball and lacrosse. Olivia is petite and hates sports, preferring books and dreaming.


            Gillian often wonders how she gave birth to such different children. John always suggests they have a third just to see what comes out. After two miscarriages Gillian does not want to try for a third child. She’s already forty-two, and John’s pushing fifty-six. She uses an IUD, but hasn’t told John because she knows he wants a son. She’s just gotten her body back in shape and doesn’t want to start over. Gillian doesn’t argue, and John presses the baby issue less and less these days.


            “Can we get Starbucks?” Katie asks once they piled into the car. It’s a five-minute detour Gillian doesn’t want to make, but both girls look exhausted and the water and grapes she packed for them didn’t perk them up. Plus the thought of a latte before she spends the next hour standing at the barn watching the girls ride in circles is tempting. Thank God, riding is something Olivia likes to do.


            “Fine, but make up your minds now. We don’t have time to linger.”


            “Vanilla Bean,” the girls say together.


            “Cookies,” Katie adds.


            “You have grapes. They’re better than cookies.”


            “I hate red grapes,” Katie says. “Why do you always buy red grapes?”


            “Daddy likes them,” Gillian says.


            Olivia says, “You have to do what Daddy wants, or he’ll get mad. Grrrrrr.” She makes a face.


            Gillian frowns. “That’s not true. Daddy works hard. I think we can cut him some slack on grapes.”


            They pull into the parking lot near the Starbucks, and Gillian hustles the girls from the car. They hurry into the Starbucks and she greets Amanda who’s working the cash register today.


            Gillian orders two Vanilla Beans and a skim milk latte and makes small talk about school. She knows Amanda is going to nearby Bryn Mawr because she graduated from Olivia and Katie’s school last year.


            “Do you love it there?” she asks.


            “It’s great,” Amanda says. “I’m working hard, but it’s fun. Mom says I should live at home, but it is so great living on campus.”


            “I know. Olivia already told me she wants to go to school in California.”


            “I think everyone says that, and almost no one does,” Amanda says as she rings up the sale. “Unless they go to Stanford or USC.”


            “That’s a relief.”


            Amanda leans close. “Anyway, I met someone.”


            “You did?” Where does he go to school?”


            “Haverford College. He’s from South Carolina. Oh my god, I think he’s the one. We’re going to meet his parents over spring break.”


            “That does sound serious.” Gillian laughs, but she feels a little pain in her chest. “It must be true love.”


            “It’s so romantic,” Amanda says. “Some nights we just lie out and stare up at the stars. You can’t see them so well here ‘cause we’re so close to the city.”


            “True. But that is romantic. I hope it works out for you.”


            She hands her money over and slips a two-dollar tip in the jar. Her wallet is bulging, and she pulls out a twenty folds it and palms it to Amanda. “You take care, honey. Good luck with your true love.”


            “Thanks, Mrs. Evans.” Amanda’s voice rises in surprise.


            Gillian smiles and join the girls who’ve picked up their drinks. She collects her latte. “We have to move girls so we can get to the barn before five. You’ll have to change in the car.”


            Olivia and Katie look at each other and smile. “Strip Tease!” they shout.


            Gillian laughs with them because they’re silly. “I don’t want to see any booties shaking out the window, ladies.”


            Katie says, “Pizza for dinner, Mom?”


            “You know your poor Dad doesn’t want to eat pizza every night, Miss Katie,” Gillian says. He wants a regular home-cooked dinner because he doesn’t think I do anything during the day.


            “But we won’t be done until after six, Mom.”


            Gillian bites her lip and tries to remember if she has any steaks she can throw on the grill. She says, “Let’s just move along, doll face.”


            Katie skips out the door followed more slowly by Olivia, and Gillian shifts the coat she slipped off when they were walking down the street. It’s warm enough here, but out at the barn it’ll be cold. She feels her phone vibrating and digs through her purse to retrieve it. There’s a curt text from John. “Crisis with Ashbury. Home late. Eat without me.”


            Gillian takes a breath. She’s not sure if she’s relieved or uneasy. There’ve been so many crises at John’s office lately. It’s not that she really thinks he’s having an affair; after all, she pays the bills. She sees his expenses. Not the office expenses, a little voice in her head says. Still she knows he’ll never leave her for any number of reasons: he’s always been possessive; he loves the girls; they have no pre-nuptial agreement; and her brother is one of the top five divorce lawyers in the state.


            But she’s being silly. John’s a consultant, and he specializes in crisis management. It’s made him a rich man. If he says he’s dealing with a crisis, he is. Over the years, she’s gotten used to his absences, even come to enjoy them. In truth, life is more relaxed when John isn’t home. Gillian doesn’t feel like she’s always being watched and measured. 


            She opens the door and follows the girls down the street. She supposes it’s the price of stability. She wanted a settled life. Once long ago, she’d been like Amanda, romantic and foolish, living for the moment and thinking that lying out under the stars at night was a grand thing.


            Gillian found out that romance dies fast when there isn’t enough money to put food on the table, and the man who says he loves you loves a whiskey bottle even more. She decided she wanted a stable life where she could have kids and not worry about how she’d take care of them from one moment to the next. She likes nice things, but she’d be just as happy with a Jeep as the big Mercedes John bought her. Their house is big and beautiful, but sometimes she feels lost in the magnificence, like if she leaves one thing out of place she’ll be thrown out for littering.


            Gillian knows she’s lucky. She just wishes she could figure out what she lost along the way to her stable, easy life.


            She wished Amanda luck with her true love. As she gets into the Mercedes, Gillian wonders if such a thing even exists. The man she thought was the love of her life turned out to be a two-timing bastard who drank too much and screwed every girl from Dallas to Austin. He was big on talk and bigger on letting her down. At least John has always been there for her–except when he has a business crisis. John is stable.


            “Seatbelts on, girls?” she asks.


            “Yes, Mom,” Olivia says. “We can follow directions, you know.”


            She hears them wiggling around in the back seat, trying to get into their riding clothes, and she starts the engine.


            True love, she thinks. It’s a nice dream, but she knows now that you lose something for every perk you get in life. Still, she hopes Amanda’s true love turns out better than hers. Gillian puts her latte in the cup holder and pulls out of the parking spot.