“Where’s your date?” The older lady next to me bumps her shoulder into mine, whispering the question playfully as she glances around the banquet hall.
“I don’t have one-” I start, but she sees right through me. I sigh and point to the tall male making the lengthy speech. She spews out her wine over the tablecloth suddenly, and I jump. The other guests glare at us with ill-concealed disgust.
“The groom?!” She hisses, and I want to smack my forehead. I shake my head quickly.
“Jonathon, you know…” I trail off as I speak, hoping that the guests’ laughter drowns out my mumbles. The lady buys it.
“I’m Kate. The groom’s father’s brother’s divorced wife. I don’t know how I got invited, but they know I am rich.” Kate takes a long sip of a different wine glass, narrowing her eyes at the overflowing flower centerpiece. “I guess that counts for something.”
I’m not quite sure I understand, but I nod. The groom makes another cringe-worthy joke, and there are a few, polite chuckles from the audience. He hands off the microphone to an older, bearded version of himself, except this man is wearing a dark gray suit and has a knitted brow.
“The groom’s father, Clarence. His parents were old money… until they got caught embezzling money or something. Sent off to jail,” Kate murmurs, twitching her finger to a waiter for another drink. “Absolute pity.” I could detect her sarcasm from a mile away.
I knew this already, but I pretend to be surprised. For my part, I do manage a good dumb blond face. I even drop half the mushroom crostini on my napkin. Clumsy, dumb blond.
“You haven’t told me your name yet…”
“Jessica.” It just rolls off the tongue. The groom’s father surveys the audience with a frown after a clipped toast. While the audience shifts uncomfortably in their seats, I pretend to drop my fork. The man retires his search, continuing on to elaborate about Calvin’s studies or something.
“What do you think of the groom?” I cough, leaning over to Kate. She smells like licorice and wine and something I can’t quite place my finger on. It is comforting in a way, but I don’t linger too long.
“Bit of a bore, I’ve heard.” Suddenly, Kate smiles, dismissing her conspiratorial tone. “But hell in bed.”
“What?!” I almost shriek, and the man next to me coughs distinctly, throwing knives my way. I try again.
“My friend, friend of a friend.” Kate waves her hand dismissively, and I shove the rest of my Caprese puff in my mouth. Damn. The bride chose well.
“What about the bride?” Finally, the father finishes, turning off the microphone and setting it on the podium. There is a small smattering of clapping, and a red-haired lady in a suit begins to dismiss tables to the buffet line.
“I believe so.” I try to look inconspicuous, but by this point, I’m too curious to care.
“Well,” Kate laughs, dabbing her napkin at a drop of wine that has formed on the corner of her lips. “She chose a buffet, so how good can she be?”
“You all can go next!” The suited lady waves her hand at us, and the guests around us quickly stand up, throwing pointed glares our direction.
“I’m only joking, dear, don’t look too concerned.” I must have made a grimace because Kate frowns. “The bride is fine, but she has married twice already!”
“The first one was a bit of an ass, really!” I insist vehemently, again drawing the other’s guests attention. Kate throws a sideways glance at me.
“How did you say you were related to the groom?” I am saved by the waiter, who is pointing to steak or chicken. I opt for the steak.
I am ushered through the line, and as I approach our table, I make a half-assed excuse about finding a relative, take my plate, and head in the direction of the small children’s table, where chicken nuggets are being served with a side de pois verts. I smile.
“Cassidy, long time no see!” I sit down next to a small girl with bangs, try to squeeze into one of the knee-high chairs that the reception has scrounge up.
The girl beams and offers me a chicken nugget. I snatch it up and make to grab more when I see the groom’s father walking briskly to our table out of my periphery. Shit.
“I’m going to go to the potty!” I exclaim somewhat shrill and make a beeline for the women’s restroom. He increases his pace, but I dive into the small stall soon before he catches me.
I pant against the tiled wall, ignoring the red-faced reflection in the mirror. I walk over to the sink, wash my hands, and grab a small cloth towel.
“Are you okay, miss?” I haven’t caught the restroom attendant, and she is staring at me with a cocked eyebrow. I nod and tuck a five into her tip jar. I believe I’ve lost him, and I swing open the door, and-
“Jesse,” he growls and grabs my upper arm firmly, steering me away from the restrooms. I try to worm my way out of my grasp, but he lets go fairly quickly. Unfortunately, I cannot escape the groom.
“Jesse! Where the hell were you?” I dodge his inquiring eyes, opting to stare at the thick maroon carpet instead. He grabs my chin softly and forces me to meet his eye.
“Sorry?” I try.
“Sorry? Jesse, I get that this is your third marriage-” I bristle. “But you have to stop pretending to be my cousin or friend or sister?! Really? Mary? She is my cousin! You cannot convince my cousin that you are my niece.”
“And mixing with Kate?” He gestures towards Kate furiously, but I am genuinely confused now.
“What?” She is now talking up another young woman, and I can see Clarence hovering near her table, looking genuinely nervous.
“My father’s ex-wife sneaks in here, and you are mingling with her, out of all the guests!” I don’t hear another word.
Kate turns her head slowly, as if reading our thoughts.
Seeing my dropped jaw, my raised eyebrows, and wide eyes, she smirks.
Then, she winks.
If only my fiance’s ex-step-mother could make these functions less bearable.
I roll my eyes.
Please note that this happened to my close friend, not me.