“Put on the Hat, Macy.”
I sighed heavily and gave one last puppy dog stare at my parents. My mom didn’t look even a little bit chagrined as she plopped the giant purple sombrero unceremoniously on my head.
“Can’t we stop with this stupid hat?” My face burned with embarrassment, and I hadn’t even set foot outside of the house.
My mother gasped. “It’s a family tradition!”
I looked to my dad, but he was no help either. “A family tradition,” he echoed with a half-hearted shrug.
“Yeah, but I’m too old for it.”
“You know the rules, honey,” Mom said. She stepped closer and put her hand on my shoulder. “If you don’t have a husband, you are in rotation to wear the Spouse Summoning Hat.”
She interrupted and insisted we leave immediately or we’d be late for dinner with my older sister and her family. There was no escape, and I knew it, and she knew I knew it.
We arrived at Thrill Burger about 15 minutes later, and I had to psych myself up to leave the car. The worst part about the Hat was the blatant staring, and I could tell the restaurant was already crowded.
Dad gave me a quick look of sympathy. “Best to get it over with. You know your mother always wins when it comes to the Summoning Hat.”
I grimaced, but I got out of the car anyway. Once the dinner was over, I could pass the Hat to my niece Olivia and be done with it for a while.
A group of businessmen exited the restaurant as we were walking up. One held the door for us and winked at me as we walked in. “Nice hat,” he commented.
“It’s working!” my mom whispered, digging her sharp elbow into my side.
Before I could respond, my sister saw us and called us over to the table. Not that you could miss us given the spectacle of the Hat.
Olivia smirked as I sat down between her and my mom. “You look like an idiot,” she said.
“Yeah, well, you’re next in line for the Hat.” I shook my head at her to make the little bell on top jingle.
She looked horrified. “What? I’m only 17, and I don’t want to get married.”
“I’m 38, and I don’t want to get married either. But here I am, wearing the Hat.”
Olivia lowered her voice conspiratorially. “You should start dating someone and act like you’re planning to marry them. Then you won’t have to wear the hat, right?”
I whispered back. “I tried that a few years ago. You are in Hat rotation until you are officially married.”
“Ugh!” Olivia flung herself back in her chair. “Who decided the Spouse Summoning Hat was a good idea anyway?”
“It’s a family tradition,” my mom piped in. “It dates back many generations starting with my maternal great-great grandmother Evelyn Bursley.”
Olivia reached up to pick at the ribbon curls dangling from the brim. “I heard it was originally the Husband Summoning Hat, but Auntie Ginny was more interested in summoning a wife.”
“It’s worked almost every time, too,” my mom said with a pointed look at me. “But even the Hat can’t fix a bad personality.”
I threw my hands up. “Thanks for the support, Mom.”
She shrugged off my annoyance. “Maybe if you had kept dating Brad, you two would be married by now.”
“Ugh, I didn’t want to marry Brad.” I looked at my sister and her husband for support.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Hannah said. “I put in my time with the Hat, and I can vouch for its efficacy.”
Her husband Dan smiled dotingly at her. “What can I say? You just look good in purple.”
Mom reached over to pat my hand. “You look good in purple, too, dear.” She paused for a moment then asked, “Are you sure about Brad? I think you should give him another chance.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yes, I’m sure abo- wait, why are you asking?” The cold fingers of suspicion traced my spine.
I caught Hannah’s look of horror as I slowly turned in my chair.
I had to tilt the Summoning Hat back so I could fully see his face, that unfairly gorgeous face and those amazing lips I had spent plenty of time kissing. He was still handsome, and I hated him for it.
And, at that moment, I hated my mom for inviting him.
“Brad, dear!” she exclaimed merrily as if this wasn’t a face-meltingly awkward moment for me. Mom stood up and threw her arms around him. “Here, sit. You can have my spot.”
“What are you doing here?” I hissed at him as he sat down.
“I just had to see you in that stupid hat,” he said, poking my nose.
I could hear my mom whispering, “Aren’t they so cute?” to my dad while she slipped casually into the seat next to him. I tried to glare at her, but the effect I was going for was surely lost under the stupid purple hat.
Brad kept glancing over at me and grinning, probably relying on the power of his smile to melt me like it had in the past. He might have been successful if he weren’t also a scoundrel. I focused my attention on Olivia until the server came to take our order. At least a delicious Thrill Burger would make the evening better.
“Sorry, folks,” the server began as he approached our table. “We’ve just run out of hamburger meat.”
Brad nudged me hard enough that one of the brightly colored feathers stuck in the hat’s band fell out and fluttered to the table. “You might just want to get a salad anyway, or that hat won’t summon anything.” He winked as though that might take the edge off his comment. It did not.
I ordered a tuna melt which just felt wrong to order in a burger place and, looking Brad straight in the eye, also ordered a double chocolate milkshake. With caramel sauce.
While we were waiting for our food, Mom clinked her fork against her water glass to get our attention. She got the attention of nearby tables, too, and I’m sure she did it in hopes that a single man might notice me. “I have a quick family announcement.”
I raised an eyebrow at Brad. “That means you should leave.”
He ignored my words and tried to put his hand on mine. I jerked my hand away.
Mom continued. “My sister Abigail’s husband is very sick, and he’s not likely to live through the year.”
“Geez, Mom,” Hannah said. “That’s a horrible thing to say at dinner.”
Mom gestured towards me with the fork. “I figured Macy would be happy since it means Abigail will be back in the Hat rotation.”
I felt sick. “That’s disgusting, Mom.”
“I dunno,” Brad chimed in. “Maybe seeing someone else in the Hat will inspire you to start dating again.”
My lip curled in disgust. “The last thing on Aunt Abby’s mind will be getting a new husband.” I looked at my dad for support, but he didn’t look at me. Not even Hannah or her husband would meet my eyes.
Olivia stood up abruptly, breaking the table’s awkward silence. “Well, I think the Hat is stupid.”
“It’s tradition!” Mom whispered, aghast.
Olivia whipped the Summoning Hat off my head with a flourish. “Not anymore. I’m going to burn it.” She looked around for a source of flame and, not seeing one nearby, started towards the Thrill Burger kitchen.
“Get back here, young lady!” Hannah called after her.
I could feel the hope surging in my veins, but Mom was sputtering with fury. “The perfect man for you might come in right now, Macy. And you won’t have the Hat, and he won’t notice you at all!”
“Mom, the Hat isn’t-”
Brad put his finger on my lips to interrupt me. “Maybe the perfect man is already here.”
“Ew, Brad, no. You make my skin crawl. I don’t know why Mom even invited you.”
A diner at the table next to us gave me a thumbs up. I could feel so many eyes on us, and I didn’t even have time to be grateful that no one was staring because of the Hat this time.
“Don’t make a scene, Macy.”
The server chose that moment to deliver my milkshake. I thanked him and took a long, slow sip from the straw, savoring the chocolate and caramel flavors.
“The Hat was making a scene before you ever set foot in this restaurant,” I said slowly. “So all I can do is escalate.”
I dumped the remaining milkshake directly on Brad’s head. I could hear laughter from other tables, but my family was struck silent until my mom started wailing.
To his credit, Brad did not say anything. He stood up, wiped some of the milkshake from his face, and turned away to leave.
My mom continued wailing as she watched Brad leave. “You’ll never find a husband now!”
As Brad stormed out of the restaurant, a commotion rose from the kitchen. A blushing Olivia was ushered out by a laughing young man in an apron. And she was wearing the Hat.
She sat back down at the table and took the hat off. “So I just met Jackson,” she said, spinning the hat thoughtfully on her hand. “He’s really cute, and he gave me his number.” Olivia looked at me with an apologetic smile. “So you know what? I think it might work after all.”
She held the Hat out to me, its curling ribbons bouncing gently in the air. “Put on the Hat, Macy.”