The panes inside the French-cased windows quivered with the rumble, and a discharge of electricity crackled. Lamps flickered, on and off, before the flashing struck. On the horizon, lavender and lime hues surrounded somber, nimbus clouds. Another bolt zapped, and sizable droplets pattered against the stained-glass, soaking the dry soil.
The weather should’ve pained my soul, or made me feel gloom. Instead, the earthy, petrichor scent carried long-forgotten mementos and memories of him. The edges of my mouth lifted jauntily. Two came to mind; balmy nights and steamy days--
The pulse in my veins quickened and my caged heart thumped against my ribs. Why had Alex contacted me three weeks ago, after all these years? Why had he said he missed me?
Clenching my jaw, I turned to look at the time. The mahogany, grandfather clock warned I had thirty-five minutes to spare. A wintry chill starting at my head slithered down my body and my throat dried. The edges of my eyes swelled and I dabbed them with feather fingertips, keeping my makeup intact.
Why can’t I focus?
With sunken feelings, I stared down at the judgy reflection in the mirror. The image returned a snide smile, but I see through her. It’s your wedding, show me those pearly whites, it beckoned. But instead, I creased my brow and glared.
I’d been having doubts having nothing to do with Alex nor the fact he wrote out of the blue to reminisce about the past ... It had everything to do with Richard, the last forty-five days, and his shifty-weird behavior.
Drafting a whoop of air, I drew a lip and flattened obstinate, runaway hairs carefully-placed under the comb of the Swarovsky tiara. Glossed eyes followed my thumb down the delicate embroidery, and baroque pearls bordering the neckline on the ivory gown. A floor-length beauty straight out of a fairy tale book.
The scent of wisteria wafted in with my youngest cousin, Roberta. The fringe of her deep-purple dress dampened and wrapped around an elbow. Platinum strands of frizzy hair flew above her head, unpinned. A manicured hand flew to her mouth and her orbs grew, “You look gorgeous!”
Pink stained my cheeks. “Thanks, love ... You--” my eyes fidget. “You--don’t. What the hell happened?”
Twisting her head around the room for a chair, she opted to stand. Clothes scattered atop a compact desk, us, and a partition was all that could fit. With an eye roll, she folded her arms across her bosoms, hesitating.
“Thanks!” A noisy breath left her lungs, “I hate to be the one to break it to you, but--we need to talk.”
I knew why she stood before me. Frowning, I gaped at her tall, lanky figure. “Tsk!” Turning one-eighty I met her gaze. “Fudge, no! Not today,” I grumbled before she had the opportunity to open her lips.
“Don’t get your knickers in a twist, a storm’s coming, but we’re handling it.”
I trapped a scarlet-painted nail between my teeth. “Ugg!”
“Believe me,” she continued. “I don’t want to ruin your al fresco nuptials, but everyone got inside before the heavy downpour.”
“My wedding’s ruined.”
The dryness in my throat caused a coughing fit and my eyelids blinked the sting of tears. Running four fingers across my forehead I felt the vein at my temple peaking its ugly head.
“I’ll get some water--”
Shaking my head, I lifted a hand to stop her. “No-no, nothing else we can do, right?” I swallowed and released the hot air confined in my windpipes. “It’s fine.” The turmoil inside my chest matched the brewing storm.
Tapping my fingers on the desk, I sensed something was amiss. As much as I needed to believe the problem was the thundershowers, I couldn’t ignore the cartwheels in my belly.
My gut twisted. I knew it!
“... Can’t find Richard, he’s MIA.”
“Oh?” My eyes narrowed.
Lifting her dainty shoulders, Roberta shrugged, they almost touched her ears. “Yeah, we thought you might know where he went?”
Scouring my mind I recalled the few times we’d been at the church to meet Pastor Grange. “I think I know where he might be. I’ll get him.”
“What?! But you can’t, he can’t see you before the ceremony, it’s bad luck! I’ll go.”
Flickering a hand I dismissed her concerns. “Ha-ha, Nonsense! It's ruined already. What else could go wrong? I’ll be back in a jiffy, make sure everyone’s seated.”
From the doorway, she tapped on her watch, “Less than twenty-three minutes to find him, Cuz. Tick-tock,” she winked giving a dimpled smile.
My brow bowed, “Is that a challenge? I’ll find him. Don’t forget to bring the flowers in!”
“Yes, we got most of the arrangements. There were a few more, but your mom’s on it.”
“Perfect.” I gave a weak smile.
The clacking heels rattled against the hardwood, floor planks. The quartet’s pitch-perfect piece entertained awaiting, hungry guests, and a fine-tuned violin resounded a bewitching melody into my ears. For a few seconds, I allowed the music to flow, ignoring the fact I had twenty minutes to spare.
A simper brushed my lips, we did—o-kay, Richard and I ... Didn't we? But it was followed by a grimace when uncertainty slinked into my head.
An iridescent glow behind a cracked door caught my eye and lured me over.
Did the Grimm Reaper take me?! Or is this a prank?! I shouted in secrecy.
No longer on its axis, the world halted, then spun out of control. The sensation someone poured a bucket of ice water over my head, froze me in place and a clammy hand gripped my soul. Fragmented visions of my life came to my brain in flashes.
The feeling I was on a roller coaster ride nauseated me. Clenched fists rubbed at my sockets--one. Two. Three. They weren't a mirage, they were still there, in front of me. The palms of my hands scrubbed my face and the smokey, blended shadow on my lids tarnished my skin.
Before me, MY mother and fiance ...!
Skeptical, a short mirthless laugh erupted, “Huh?!”
My brain refused to acknowledge what my pupils understood to be true. A gasp sifted through my chest and my lower jaw opened and closed like a puppet’s. Shallow inhalation ensued and I saw colors. The deeper I breathed, the more strenuous it was to live.
The pair pawed at the contours of their bodies. Claws groped and roamed. Mm, oohs, and lapping noises rebounding off the white, sterile walls. Open mouths, pants, and a salad of fingers ablaze on their skin. The scene rolled, similar to a silent film in a meager theater. I didn’t want to watch, except a force greater than myself held me in place.
Shaky hands grasped the crystal coronet atop my chestnut curls and pulled. The two hundred dollar hairdo, down the toilet. My eyes dimmed and with them, the love I had for them.
Never would I forget the scent of lilac blossoms, primofiori lemons, and mesquite wood; they floated the dense atmosphere and crammed inside my nostrils. Forever tattooed in my skull.
Chills and the fear of passing out halted me. Unable to move, I gawked petrified. My feet, heavy, cement bricks refusing to lift.
One foot in front of the other! You can do this! Walk--away!
Aaah!!” A piercing shrill ripped the silence.
The unsuspecting couple turned. Monstrous eyes fixated on me. I knew they reflected the fright coursing through my veins. A shadow of worry crossed my mother and a wave of guilt settled over my ex-fiancé’s face.
Assholes, my first thought. I could kill them, second.
“Gladys!” My mother’s screeched.
“This is not--we’re ...!” Both stumbled over vowel sounds and grunts.
My spirit sank. How dare they lie? Bile clawed up my abdomen and crept through my windpipe. I spewed over Richard’s tux, but it didn’t make me feel better. Scalding pools settle in my eyes.
“What the actual fudge, Mother?!” I screamed. “Was there an emergency? Were you dying?”
With an eerie glower, I turned to him. To the stranger, I thought to know. “Were you?” Did you need to give her mouth-to-mouth?!”
“Don’t, honey, me never-ever--again” I whispered. “You’re both dead to me.”
Frantic I pivoted smashing into Ramona, nearly collapsing to the floor. The bouquet of sunflowers and marigolds she carried crumpled with the impact. I could feel the color draining from my face.
“What the hell is happening?!” Her brown eyes thick of make-up flickered in slow motion searching for answers. “What?!”
I couldn’t speak. Extending my arm I pointed towards the vestry. She reached for the knob and an air-rending cry came out of her.
Grabbing my hand she pulled, and I realize I’m back in the changing room taking my things.
“Do you have the keys to his car?”
I nodded halfway between reality and a dreamlike state. The bright, yellow convertible, his pride, and joy.
Thundering her fingers in front of my face she grabbed my attention. “I need you to stay with me, Gladys. Snap out of it!”
I agree with everything she asks. Gas? Uh-hum ... Plane tickets? Yep. Passport? Affirmative.
The warmth of her palm tugged at me again. This time, she took me out towards the parking lot. The cool rain trickled down my face and I strived to shield it with my hands.
My eyes narrowed but I spotted his car in an instant. She opened the passenger door, stuffed me and my princess dress inside before shutting it. Then, she came around and slid in the driver’s seat.
“Don’t worry, I got you.”
I couldn’t tell if I shivered from cold, fear, or anger unable to erase what I’d seen, but I was relieved. Pulling the visor I caught a glimpse of raccoon eyes and plastered hair, along with smudged red lips.
I saw Richard come out behind us. Realizing what we were about to do, he sprinted, but Roberta revved and gunned the accelerator leaving him behind alone and soaked in the distance.
Hysterical, I cackled. At nothing. At everything. And she laughed with me. Who better than to escape the greatest mistake of my life with, and fly to Hawaii, than your best friend and maid of honor?
I would worry about the consequences later. Much, much later.