No matter how plump, plain, or poor a woman is, the right wedding gown will make her feel more beautiful than any fairy-tale princess.
Right about now, I’m thinking Cinderella can kiss my beautiful ass.
My heart pounding, I step out from behind the dressing room door in an extravagant cloud of silk and lace that took me three months to make, and wait for Jenner’s reaction.
It’s even better than I hoped.
“Winston Churchill’s hairy balls!”
He jolts to his feet from the ugly chintz divan he’s been lounging on while I’ve been getting ready for the ceremony. Sleek as a seal in his perfectly tailored Armani tuxedo, he looks me up and down slowly. “You’re an angel! A vision! A fucking goddess!”
That makes me blush. I take compliments about as comfortably as enemas. “Thank you.”
Pursing his lips, he frowns and folds his arms over his chest. “Would it be very wrong if I got an erection? Things are getting a bit heavy downstairs.”
He waves a hand in the air, imperious as the queen. “Twirl, darling. We need to see this dress in action.”
I pick up the hem of my dress and spin around in a ballerina’s twirl. My veil floats around my shoulders like the finest of halos, spun from pure clouds. When I stop and face Jenner again, he’s pretending to be misty-eyed, covering his mouth with a fist.
“My little girl’s all grown-up.”
I sigh, looking at the ceiling. “Oh my God. You’re one month older than me.”
“I’m being metaphorical!” Hands out, he strides toward me with his elegant gait and takes me in his arms, careful not to wrinkle my dress or smudge my makeup when he kisses my cheeks. “Now, I admit I didn’t always have faith that Brad would marry you—”
“You literally told me, and I quote, ‘That shitstick will never marry you.’”
He groans. “Mary Poppins, you’ve got a memory like an elephant! As I was saying, I didn’t always have faith, but I’m so happy to be proven wrong. For your sake.”
He pulls away and grasps me gently by my shoulders. Because he gets twitchy when things aren’t just so, he tucks a rogue curl that’s escaped from its updo behind my ear. When his voice hardens, his British accent becomes even more clipped. “But if he does a single thing that makes you unhappy, if he so much as makes you frown, I’ll neuter that shitstick with a rusty butter knife.”
Gazing at Jenner’s stern face, I smile. I say softly, “I love you, too.”
“You’re disgustingly sentimental.”
He says that dismissively, but I see how his lower lip quivers. “I’m gonna throw that right back at you when you’re weeping into your hankie as I take my vows, girlfriend.”
I’ve been waiting for this moment for three years. Since the second I laid eyes on Bradley Hamilton Wingate III, I’ve been madly in love with him. This is the happiest day of my life. The only thing that would make it more perfect is if my father were walking me down the aisle, but since his intense claustrophobia makes a transatlantic flight impossible, my handsome, elegant Jenner will do the job almost as well.
Still thoughtfully toying with my veil, Jenner says, “I’ve got the Jag right outside, you know. We could be in wine country getting massages and ogling the pool boys at Meadowood in under two hours.”
I glare at him. “I know Brad’s not your favorite person, but if you ruin my wedding day by talking shit about my husband, I’ll light your collection of vintage Gucci scarves on fire.”
He quirks his mouth into a wry pucker. “Don’t get your knickers in a twist, Bridezilla. My lips are henceforth sealed.” He pretends to turn a lock and throw away the key, then pauses. “But I want to be on the record as saying that you could do so much better—”
He takes in my clenched jaw and fists, my bulging eyes. “You’re right,” he says softly. “My bad. I just want what’s best for you, that’s all.”
He leaves unspoken all the times I cried on his shoulder after one of my fights with Brad about how emotionally unavailable he was, all the teary phone calls when I agonized over why he wouldn’t commit and get me a ring, all the soul-searching over mimosas about what I might be lacking.
But all that’s over now. We were just going through what we needed to go through to get to our happily ever after, where we were supposed to be all along.
I’m just about to tell Jenner that when the wedding coordinator bursts into the room in a flurry of flailing hands and breathless gasps, her dark hair frizzing in the August humidity.
“It’s time! It’s time! Is everyone ready?” She sees us, pulls up short, and puts a hand to her throat. “Holy Christmas, you look stunning.”
When she blinks and says, “Oh, uh—you, too!” I realize she was referring to Jenner.
He chuckles when he sees the sour look on my face. “Don’t worry, darling, I’ll slouch and pout as we go down the aisle so you’ll look even more glorious in comparison.”
I say drily, “Yeah, except slouching and pouting make you look prettier, not worse. I can’t believe I was dumb enough to ask a model to be my maid of honor. I rue the day I met you.”
“You’re lucky you met me. If I hadn’t pretended to be your boyfriend to save you from that Neanderthal slobbering all over you in the shoe department at Neiman’s ten years ago, you might still be there, trying to politely avoid his big, hairy hands.”
“Be quiet and give me the damn bouquet.”
He plucks it from a vase on the table beneath the window, his lip curled as he inspects it. “Calla lilies? Good God. They’re a funeral flower.”
I warn, “If you say anything even remotely close to How apropos, I’ll gut you like a fish.”
He regards me with cool disdain, which is the British version of affection. “Ah, more threats of violence. On the wedding day, no less. How very Don Corleone of you. Must be that Italian blood of yours.”
“You’re damn straight. Now let’s go make that aisle our bitch.” I turn back to the dressing room and holler, “Girls!”
Out come Brad’s sister, Ginny—a Grace Kelly look-alike—and my girlfriend since high school, Danielle, who flew out from Ohio for the wedding. Both are gorgeous in bespoke champagne chiffon gowns, though Danielle’s boobs are trying their hardest to escape from the bodice.
“You should’ve installed scaffolding for those things,” says Jenner, eyeing Danielle’s chest with alarm.
Danielle shakes her double Ds and blows Jenner a kiss. “She tried, but the girls need to be free. I made her take all the boning out.”
Jenner looks disturbed. “Is this a wedding or a cabaret?”
“It’s not only a wedding—it’s the wedding,” says Ginny, dabbing on a last-minute dollop of lip gloss. She caps the tube and sets it on a side table, then turns to Jenner with a smile. “Everyone who’s anyone in San Francisco is here. I can’t wait to see the coverage in the press!”
I shudder. “The press. God, don’t remind me.”
“I know those jerks from the tabloids have been following you around, but the people Daddy hired to cover the wedding are totally legit. It’ll be great for your company, Kimber.” Ginny smooths a hand down the waist of her gown. “These dresses are gorgeous, and you look like a princess. Once the pictures come out, your obscure little dress shop will be famous.”
“Please! Everyone, let’s move!” shouts a hyperventilating Miranda.
I take the bouquet from Jenner’s hands and inhale a deep breath to calm my screaming nerves. Not that it helps, but I have to try something. My antiperspirant is already failing, my stomach is in knots, and my hands are shaking so hard the callas look spastic.
Danielle and Ginny grab their bouquets and go ahead of us, then Jenner and I walk arm in arm from the room. “It’s showtime, darling,” Jenner murmurs as photographers swarm us and cameras start whirring. “Chin up. Back straight. Tits out.”
I lift my chin, square my shoulders, and try hard not to gulp air like a guppy. When we round the corner and enter the narthex through a pair of heavy wooden doors, the classical strains of Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” fill my ears. Miranda frantically motions us forward. Jenner squeezes my trembling hand. We take a few more steps and we’re in the nave.
It’s so beautiful, for a moment I’m overwhelmed. The flowers. The candles. The huge crowd of well-dressed guests, standing for my entrance.
And Brad, awaiting me at the altar, so tall and broad shouldered, wearing his tux with such ease it’s as if he were born in it.
When our eyes meet across the distance, my heart swells. All-American apple-pie perfection is what he is. The square jaw, the golden tan, the wavy blond hair gleaming under the lights. The proud bearing and ridiculous good looks.
My Prince Charming. He’s more beautiful than everything else put together, more perfect than my wildest dream.
Except for that look of abject terror on his face, which really clashes with his tux.
When my step falters, Jenner squeezes my hand again. “Steady, darling.”
We start our trek down the aisle at the glacial pace we’ve been browbeaten during rehearsals by Miranda to adopt. One step—pause. Another step—pause. It heightens the drama, she said. She was certainly right, because with every step I take closer to him, Brad’s face drains of blood until he could handily pass for a corpse.
Under my breastbone, my heart does a credible impersonation of a dying fish and flops wildly around, gasping.
Through his manufactured smile, Jenner quietly observes, “Your spoiled little frat boy looks even more douchey than usual.”
My own smile is so wide it feels as if my face might crack. Two photographers lurk at the end of the aisle, snapping pictures, so I try not to move my lips when I answer. “He looks like he’s facing a firing squad. Is that normal?”
I’ll kill Jenner later. Right now it’s taking all my concentration to keep my smile alive.
By the time we make it to the end of the aisle, I can clearly see the sweat streaming down Brad’s temples, the wild, trapped-animal panic in his eyes, and his deathly pallor. Beside him, his best man, Trent, grins like a fool as he ogles Danielle’s chest.
So loudly I flinch, the priest says, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?”
“She gives herself,” replies Jenner smoothly, trashing his Miranda-approved answer of I do. Then he hands me off to Brad, who’s obviously struggling to remain conscious.
Stepping forward with a tremulous smile, I whisper, “Honey? Are you okay?”
Blinking like a baby bird, Brad swallows. He makes a froggy croaking noise that doesn’t sound anywhere close to a yes. I’ve seen victims of car crashes in better shape.
I shoot a desperate glance at his parents in the front row. Senator and Mrs. Wingate are dressed to the nines, like everyone else. Unlike everyone else, however, they appear almost as nervous as their son.
Something is terribly wrong.
Fear coils around my heart and squeezes.
The priest says something I can’t hear over the crashing of my heartbeat. It’s all words, words, words, a nonsensical soundtrack underscoring my choking sense of doom as I stare in rising horror at my intended, who so clearly is a breath away from vomiting or fainting.
The priest finishes whatever he was saying, then turns to Brad. “Bradley Hamilton Wingate, do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife? To have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part?”
A cavernous silence follows in which Brad stares at me with all the whites of his eyes showing. A vein throbs frantically in his neck. It’s so quiet the clicking and clacking of camera shutters sound like gunfire.
When the silence stretches uncomfortably long, the priest clears his throat. “Son?”
Brad’s mouth works, but no words are forthcoming.
The air goes electric. Whispers and rustling make their way through the guests. A cold bead of sweat trickles down between my shoulder blades. I throw a desperate glance over my shoulder at Jenner, who’s giving Brad a hard, dangerous stare.
Stout and red-faced in his tuxedo, Senator Wingate leans forward from the front row and hisses, “Bradley!”
It seems to break whatever spell Brad is under, because he finally speaks. “I . . . I . . .”
I nod frantically, my head bobbing like a doll’s. Desperation lends my voice a hysterical pitch. “Yes, honey?”
He drags in a huge breath, lets it out in a gust, and—like a dam bursting—starts to babble incoherently. “I can’t do it I just can’t I’m sorry this isn’t happening, Dad . . .” He turns to his father, who is already rising from the pew. “I can’t do it there’s no way I can marry her!”
With the bellow of an enraged bull, his father charges. He crashes on top of Brad. They go down in a tangle of arms and legs, hitting the marble floor of the altar with a boom that topples a brass candelabrum and draws gasps of astonishment from the crowd.
Three hundred people leap to their feet.
Brad’s mother lets out a pitiful wail.
Cameras click and whirr in glee.
Someone snickers and says under his breath, “So much for Brad’s inheritance.”
Then a piercing, anguished scream that seems to come from everywhere echoes painfully off the walls. It splinters into a thousand smaller screams as it bounces over hard marble surfaces, over and over again, conducted high into the rafters like a flock of shrieking birds startled into flight.
It’s an awful sound. I’ve never heard anything so terrible in my life.
It isn’t until Jenner grabs me and drags me off the altar steps that I realize that horrible scream is coming from me.