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Drama Fiction Friendship

“We have all the time in the world.”

Without a word, she revolves in place with hands on hips, elbows jutting and lips puckering. As her eyes glare down at our bodies adorned with lingerie and filigree, I imagine her brain firing up all over again.

The blasé comment is a fatal mistake, offered up by the trust fund teenager, in a moment far from optimistic. If the teenager had taken a second to read the room, she would understand that the fire - her cousin - is already smoking and doesn’t need any more poking. The careless comment is another catalyst, another spark to re-ignite the rage. From the corner of my vision, I catch a few of the others flinch. She is triggered, that’s for sure. Her body is soft and plump, but her stance is solid like a stake and all we can do is watch her face begin to flush, rippling with red. We watch and wait for an impending explosion to assault our ears…

Someone hammers on the closed suite door. The fire snaps her head sideways, startled by the disruption.

“Makeup’s here,” the cry from the other side of the door redirects the attention away from us and douses the atmosphere with relief.

Nobody moves for a second, unsure if the heated moment has truly passed, terrified that any rash movements will set her off again. But she looks back at us and instructs the nearest party member to, “Answer it, goddamn it”, confirming the end of temper tantrum no. 6. 

It is only 9:27am. With just under two and a half hours to go, we do indeed have plenty of time. But even the truth is highly offensive to my Spanish best friend on the one day of her life where she has to be the centre of everyone’s world whether they liked it or not. Period.

The makeup artists descend into the suite, wheeling trunks of silverware cases and every kind of lighting known to man. The arrival of the calvary brings a new kind of buzz to the room and I am grateful for a moment where my obligations as an honourable maid are suspended whilst my bestie plops down in a chair to have her face beat. She’s had a close eye on me, even with her gaze on her own half-naked reflection, commentating miserably on how her dodgy fake tan highlights all her “lumps”. 

I’ve been keeping my distance all morning, busying myself with odd jobs; anything to keep her fire neutralised. I’ve known Valentina long enough to know how to keep her sweet. We’ve been friends for years and nobody in this room knows Valentina like I do – not even the teenage cousin who has already committed several cardinal sins.

As the professionals replace our makeup stations with their own, I notice the cousin has made a stealthy move, hidden by the dazzling lights and extra bodies, towards the drinks cart in the corner. No one is to touch the drinks, not until Valentina has had her first glass of champagne anyway. And as maid of honour, I’ve been assigned the responsibility to make sure Valentina’s wishes are respected by enforcing the law.

“I wouldn’t if I were you.”

The cousin doesn’t see me coming. But she picks up a glass anyway.

“Says who,” she retorts and her piggy nose flares with an air of entitlement as she looks me up and down.

We haven’t really spoken. We were introduced at Valentina’s bridal shower, a few weeks before.

“I wanted her sister,” Valentina whispered into my ear at the shower, “but she’s having a damn baby. Can you believe it? Of all the years to get impregnated! I can’t have her belly outshining me in the photos, no way Hosea.” And then she muttered bitterly, “Even her big pregnant belly looks better than me in my dress…”

“It's not even 10 yet,” I hiss at the cousin, although I suspect nobody can hear our little dispute. Valentina is occupied, shouting in Spanish on the phone to the well-wisher on the other line And you heard what Valentina said…”

The teenager scowls, rolling her dark eyes. She has the same blonde hair as her auntie and perhaps the attitude runs in the family too. I pull on the glass, but she holds firm.

“This whole thing is a joke,” she huffs, shaking her head furiously. No kidding: I think, but don’t give her the satisfaction.

I tell her to get a grip and she gapes at me. I’m not afraid of her. She’s a spoilt brat and needs to be put in her place.

She tells me to go to hell.

Charming.

We glare at each other. I try twisting the glass out of her hand, but she is stronger than I expect. Her face is set, she seems determined to get past me to purposefully create drama and inflict further aggravation on the day. I can’t tell if she’s just mad at being forced to be a stand-in for her sister or at me too, for inhibiting her from drowning her sorrows with spirits.

“Let it go,” I warn her steadily. I want to be reasonable, take hold of the situation and diffuse it quickly. Valentina is already saying her goodbyes. She doesn’t need to see this.

Just do your job, I tell myself. Just keep the peace and get through today.

“Make me,” my opponent jabs the glass towards me, as though we are jousting, thrusting it into my ribs. She doesn’t even know me and yet she wants me to suffer.

One of the other bridesmaids suddenly slides into view, waddling in her dress that won’t go past her thighs. She spots me and immediately stops short. She is another family member, but not Valentina’s. Apparently, she’s the groom’s adoptive sister, but everyone thinks we are related. Yes of course we must be related because we’re the only black chicks in this whole celebration (!)…

“I really need to talk to you,” my “sister” flaps at me. Her eyes are half done – gold eyeshadow, no lashes or liner, “I really need your help. Like right now….”

Well, as you can see “Sis”, I’m kinda in the middle of something…

But Sister doesn’t notice the hostility of the situation she’s just barged in on. She’s too busy trying to stay hidden, presumably from Valentina. Her unwanted presence does, however, distract the teenager long enough for me to gain the upper hand, yank the glass away from my body and disarm my opponent. My chest burns - the flimsy bedazzled lilac satin gown we were all ordered to wear whilst we got ready, has done nothing to protect me. Miraculously the glass is still intact and hasn’t cut any flesh or spilled any blood. I take a deep breath, set the glass back down, flex my wrist and smile slowly at the girls in front of me.

“We’re all finished here,” I tell them. The teenager pouts, but she refuses to move, so neither do I. Instead, I lean against the cart, arms out behind me and stick my branded chest in Teenager’s face until she gets the message.

Nobody is getting past me. No, not today.

Without another word, the brat turns on her shoeless heel towards the door and thrusts it open to exit. I let her go, grabbing the door handle to slow the closing until it clicks shut softly. No noise, no commotion. Everything is just fine. I have it all under control.

“Help a sister out?”

“Excuse me?” I turn around and am assaulted again - this time with the other bridesmaid’s perfume.

She gestures at the burgundy pool of lace, now piling around her ankles like a toppled wedding cake. The same pool of lace that was custom-designed, fitted and hand-sewn seven months ago at a specialist boutique in Madrid. The same pool of lace that each maid received by courier mail inside a box with a matching bow, wrapped in more crepe than an art project, with strict instructions to keep it stored in a moist-free place until the big day.

My head starts to swim. I can see the tiny but distinctive evidence of illegal tampering - a confetti of dressmakers’ pins. I don’t want to hear what happened.

Without looking back up at Sister, I can already imagine that she may feel safer just disintegrating on the spot rather than facing Valentina and the inevitable backlash. I feel sorry for her - but only slightly. She’s clearly not only deluded, in believing that this is the right day or moment to announce such a tragedy, but also incredibly irresponsible for not owning her mess and dealing with it weeks ago.

Sure, I’m the maid of honour. But I’m certainly not a fairy godmother. Or the damn seamstress.

But I am Valentina’s right-hand girl, I remind myself. And I made a vow to get through the morning, keep my best friend happy and put out all the little fires competing with her own…

*

I spend the next half hour in the bathroom, covering for Sister whilst she squats like an African auntie pounding yams, and goes to meticulous work, fumbling and praying over the dress stitches with a stolen pair of eyelash scissors.

We made an agreement. I will keep watch for her only if pays for all my drinks later at the reception. I informed her she’ll need a credit card because, by the time I’m done, she’ll be maxed out. After this morning is over, I’ll need some sweet relief.

“Are you Jordan? Maid of Honour?” A man I haven’t noticed before asks, whilst almost colliding with me as he backs up with a camera pressed to his eye. He peers into the bathroom over my shoulder and starts aiming his lens as though wanting to take a shot. Don’t you dare...

I block the shot with my palm and with the other hand, slam the door on Sister’s shame. No one needs to see photographic evidence of the mess that is this bridal party. I start to wonder what I have done wrong to deserve such a disastrous appointment.

“Yes, I am,” I reply, though silently wishing I no longer hold the honour.

The photographer takes a sneaky photograph of my unimpressed pout instead and then glowers down at his handiwork.

“You’re being summoned,” he tells the screen, thumbing back in the direction where Valentina is re-establishing her dominion over her subordinates.

“Move your suitcase,” we hear my best friend bark over the whirling of hairdryers and a playlist of lively Latino music, “it’s blocking my set-up.”

Geesh.

I step out of the sheltered comfort of the shadows and re-join the party, where the hot spotlights halo the soon-to-be bride’s freshly curled head of thick dark hair. Valentina is still seated, perfectly poised, but she has her manicured foot on someone’s suitcase. 

The suitcase belongs to the most glamorous and arguably most difficult bridesmaid – the daughter of Valentina’s father’s business partner.

Valentina and Bianca used to be tight, like sisters. They took French class together in nursery school and violin class together in primary school; they were inseparable. 

But then, according to Valentina, the childhood friendship soured.  Spoilt by Bianca’s “vain” mother, who made an “obnoxious” comment about Valentina’s weight when she failed to get into the gymnastics class alongside her petite friend.

“She technically called me a fatty,” Valentina recalled when she finally told me the whole story at her bridal show. I noticed her attitude shift and her body stiffen, tensing in the beautiful emerald gown she’d selected for the special night, “She called me “una gordota” and Bianca - Bianca just stood there and laughed at me…”

I held up my hand to stop my friend from creating a catalyst. I tried to intervene and remind Valentina, with a mischievous laugh, that her fiancé doted on her, and her curvy body. But Valentina hadn’t seemed to hear me. Her eyes just stared straight through me, distant with the memory of that horrible comment and her rejected childhood self…

Valentina gives the initialled suitcase, balancing precariously on a footstool, a little nudge with her foot and locks eyes with her ex-friend. 

It was Valentina’s father’s idea to include Bianca in the wedding party - To patch up old wounds and let bygones be bygones. But Bianca strutted around the intimate shower event, ignorant of the privilege she held as a bridesmaid, in a purposefully super-fitted dress. It wasn’t lost on me that Valentina, my beautiful full-figured best friend, who was every inch the red-bloodied Spaniard, fought with her emotions as she watched Bianca all night. At the sight of her, Valentina snatched a bottle of champagne, muttered an inaudible curse under her breath and shut herself in the ladies' bathroom.

Valentina doesn’t even greet me as I approach the illuminated stage from the sidelines, narrowly avoiding electrical cables and a series of mini bulldog clips cluttering the cream carpet. She simply tests Bianca’s nerve again, threatening to topple the suitcase if the bridesmaid doesn't get rid of it. Immediately.

In comparison, Bianca’s response is cool and condescending.

“Pipe down Valentina,” she smirks and throws her loose hair over her shoulder, just in time for the videographer who is recording everything. Gorgeous; the videographer says appealing to Bianca’s vanity, and she knowingly gives him more of what he wants for his reel.

As soon as Valentina’s face starts to redden at the sight of Bianca and the power and attention she exploits with her beauty, I recognise the classic cocktail of jealousy and anger beginning to brew and decide I need to intervene. But Valentina knows me as well as I know her. And she chooses violence. She makes her move before I do and with a short sharp thrust of her heel, she manages to sock Bianca’s case

*

Valentina’s mother arrives, an hour later, expecting to get her own makeup done and find her only daughter dressed. But instead of an excited bride, she turns the corner of the hotel corridor in her limited-edition Manolo heels and walks straight into a frenzy.

“Where’s my daughter,” she demands with alarm and looms over our dishevelled figures.

We are all on the floor. Outside of the suite. On the wrong side of the door and the passionate bride.

No one speaks. Instead, everyone - the makeup artists, the videographers and one remaining bridesmaid (not counting Sister, who is still hidden in the bathroom, unbeknown to Valentina) - look straight at me.

But I have no more words and no more strength to bear another heatwave.

I have failed as the maid of honour.

I set myself the task of keeping the peace. I accepted Valentina’s invitation to be her maid of honour believing I was the only one who could handle her and her antics. We are best friends, but the truth is, I am her only friend. 

It dawns on me, as the irate gazes hold me accountable for the humiliating turn of events, that no one in the wedding party (sans relatives) is invested in this day and in Valentina the way I am. No one is here by choice

The half-dressed, emotionally exhausted strangers pacing up and down the corridor are a crowd of hired hands and they are all on the verge of packing up and leaving. 

The wedding is fraying at the seams because I allowed Valentina to sabotage her own big day and literally alienate the people she needs most to make it happen.

Bianca and Valentina fought so hard after the suitcase saga that blood was drawn. The party came to an official end when security was notified of the disturbance and came swarming in to separate the two. Sister’s mess of a dress is nothing in comparison to what is left of the other dresses and the set-up both girls somehow managed to destroy with their own thrashing hands and sparring bodies.

I couldn’t stop it. I sensed Valentina’s temper coming, but I was helpless to stop it – that was a struggle I couldn’t douse.

I may know Valentina better than anyone. But I didn’t know her when she was that fourteen-year-old girl.  I wasn’t there the moment her confidence went up in flames and her whole world – Bianca – just stood back with her mean mother and watched it burn. 

A fire, that I realise now as I crouch outside the locked door of the suite, has been smouldering for years. A fire slowly gaining momentum until it found an outlet, the tiniest insignificant trigger, on the most meaningful and emotionally charged morning of Valentina’s entire life. Was it really a surprise that it had ended like this?

Valentina’s mother asks me for the time. She has removed her shoes and her face is clammy with sweat and fear.

We’ve been hammering on the locked door for over half an hour, begging Valentina to let us in. But she is done.

After security removed the catalyst from the room, Valentina snatched a bottle of champagne, cursed us all and locked us out of the suite.

“It’s eleven minutes past twelve,” I announce. And shivering in the flimsy gown, I grieve for my best friend. Her mother swears.

“She was never going to make it anyway,” someone behind us, admits bluntly.

No kidding: I think sadly, but I don’t give them the satisfaction.

January 20, 2024 16:18

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