“I see one micro penis straw, and I’m out of here. Out. Of. Here. They can’t make me stay.” I’m not complaining. I’m establishing my boundaries ahead of time. Although, I have been talking about plastic phalluses the entire drive up the winding back road into Snowmass, instead of enjoying the view. Gold leaves on a few aspen trees hint at the end of summer right around the corner.
“Are there usually penis straws at bridal showers? I thought those were banished to the drunken hours of shame and regret during the bachelorette party.” Zoe’s dark brows crease with worry. “I’m here for the cake. Obviously.”
“Not even cake can fix this disaster. I can’t be around my mother trying to suck on a tiny penis with a straight face.” Not enough therapy in the world could help erase that memory.
Zoe’s face falls at my dire vision for my cousin’s bridal shower. “That can’t happen. When we get there, we’ll do some reconnaissance. If we find a bag of plastic dicks, we’ll steal them. I’m pretty sure the Snowmass Mountain Club frowns upon a room full of women stirring their drinks with dicks. We’d probably all get banned.”
She’s right. Some things aren’t done at the club. The whole place screams wealth but using a restrained indoor voice. This isn’t the typical pearls and cardigans uniform of the country club crowd. In the mountains, we prefer everything to be more rugged and outdoorsy—both our men and our clubs. Mounted elk heads mix with diamonds and tennis in the summer; furs and skiing in the winter.
I park in the lot near the year-round tennis courts. My vintage yellow VW Bug stands out in the crowd of Porsche SUVs, Teslas, and Land Rovers. We step out of the car and put on our game faces.
“Ready?” I roll back my shoulders and shake out my wrists. Bouncing in my wedge sandals, I throw a few punches along with some bobbing and weaving.
“Okay, Million Dollar Baby.” Zoe ducks out of the way. “No need to cause physical harm. Let’s assume the best. This could be a lovely afternoon filled with champagne and cake.”
I stop pretending to be a boxer and give her a look. “You can’t be serious. Have you met my family?”
“I am serious. Positive thinking. Visualize the best possible outcome.” In her boho floral dress and booties, she’s a lovely earth goddess with her dark hair in a messy braided bun.
“Which would be? I mean, other than turning around and leaving now.” I twirl my keys around my finger, hoping she’ll give in and agree with me.
Like her, I’m wearing a floral dress, but mine is mostly black with the occasional red rose. Zoe made me change out of the all black outfit I’d picked out, saying it was more suited for a funeral or a goth club. Either of those options sounds like a better choice than sitting through a bridal shower with my pretentious extended family.
Undeterred by my grumpy attitude, Zoe continues, “I barely know the bride, so I have zero emotional investment in today. I’m hoping for several options for cake and more cake in the goodie bag.”
“You’re obsessed. You and Justin should get married. Then you can do a cake tasting. Or several.”
Her dark lashes flutter as she thinks about this option. “I like your thinking, but a wedding is an expensive way to get cake when I can buy one any time I want. Lifetime commitment in exchange for buttercream is a little extreme, even for me.”
I’m about to ask her if she and her cowboy have discussed marriage, when Sage’s vintage, wood-sided Wrangler swings through the lot and parks a few spaces down the row. For someone who could afford any car in this lot, I love my friend even more for driving her old Jeep.
“Sorry I’m late.” Sage jumps down from the driver’s seat and then jogs over to us, her flowy, light blue maxi dress billowing behind her. Her face switches from apology to confusion, a line forming between her brows. “Why are you hanging around the parking lot? Are we sneaking edibles before we go inside?”
“Why? Do you have some?” I ask her, curious. “I could use a little help from a special gummy bear.”
“No, I don’t have edibles.” She frowns at me.
“We should’ve planned ahead.” I’m not upset at her. I’ve failed myself.
Sage nods in sympathy. “So, if you’re not tailgating by the cars, what are you doing out here?”
“Mae was warming up with some boxing moves before we go inside,” Zoe answers.
Sage dips her chin and studies me.
“Stop with the look. My family isn’t normal. Everyone will ask about my dating life and click their tongues about me still being single. Then give my mother pitiful looks of sympathy for having a spinster daughter. I’m older than dear cousin Twyla by four years. We’re too young to imagine the horrors of having a spinster daughter. How will my mother ever recover from the shame?” I hold out my hands in a pleading gesture. “How?”
Sage gives me a side hug and Zoe joins us, closing the circle, both of them enveloping me with their arms.
“That’s why we’re here for you. None of us are married. We’ll be sure to flaunt our naked left ring fingers whenever possible.” Sage shows off her ringless hand. Zoe puts hers over it and bumps my hip to encourage me to add mine to the pile.
When I rest my palm on Zoe’s hand, Sage says, “To the unmarrieds! Long may we live in sin!”
I laugh, but I really want to point out that while they’re unmarried, they’re not single. Like me.
“Let’s do this.” Sage links her arm with mine and then Zoe’s. She may be petite, but her dancer’s body is disturbingly strong.
River stone decorates the grand entrance, which sits under a huge portico held up by giant logs and thick beams. Obviously, size matters at the Mountain Club. The interior of the club is a mix of hunter green and tasteful plaid with more wood and flattering light cast from antler chandeliers and wall sconces. Somehow it manages to be both rustic and elegant.
The afternoon is warm enough that all of the French doors lining the far wall of the banquet room are open to the terrace facing the ski mountain and Mount Daly. Clear sunshine pools on the thick carpet and sparkles off of champagne flutes on the table.
Three tables are stacked high with pastel-wrapped gifts for the new couple. I drop off the small box with a gift card to La Belle Femme creperie near the top of the pile. Couples love crepes and it’s one of the most romantic restaurants in Aspen. I might be biased since I work there.
Sage adds an envelope and winks at me. “Gift card from Cheeks. No way am I picking out lingerie for your cousin.”
Equally tasteful women cluster together in small groups like flocks of colorful birds. Conversations and laughter are kept to a respectful murmur. An occasional burst of giggles elevates the general subdued feel. We linger near the door and I glance down the hall to the main bar, thinking if I’m in the building it should count as attending the bridal shower.
Subtly, I take a step back, shifting my weight to that foot to pivot in the direction of freedom.
“Uh huh. No escaping,” Sage whispers. “Smile. We’re all delighted to be here. Fake it if you have to.”
Parting my lips, I show her my teeth.
“You look like you’re thinking about eating me. Less menacing and more happy.” She grins at me, leading me into the room.
Off balance, I stumble forward before catching my footing. When I glance up, my mother is shaking her head in disbelief and disproval.
Resigned, I tap Sage’s arm. “I’ve been spotted. Suppose I should go say hello to my mom.”
“We’ll get you a drink.” Zoe gives my hand a squeeze before releasing me.
Inhaling, I straighten my spine and pretend I have a stack of books on my head. Posture matters to these people. Slouching is considered a personal insult in my family. I believe my grandmother once told me that if you can’t be bothered to keep your head up and your shoulders back, you must not have an ounce of respect for yourself or your parents.
I greet my mother with a kiss to her cheek and plaster on a reserved smile. “Hi, Mom.”
“Mae. You look lovely.” She touches my shoulder and covertly tucks my bra strap under the fabric of my dress.
“So do you. As always.”
She brushes a hand over her perfectly tailored blue dress—simple, but obviously designer. Her hair has the same rich brown waves as mine, even if hers is colored to hide her grays. Once she joked she stole a lock of my hair to give to her stylist. I totally believe she’d do it.
“Mae and Margaret.” A woman with a neat, blond bob air-kisses my mother in the general vicinity of her cheek. “I swear you two could be sisters.”
“Oh, Gwendolyn. You’re so good for my ego.” Mom giggles.
I’m not sure Gwen is good for mine.
“Mae, you remember Gwendolyn Roberts. We’ve known her and her husband for longer than you’ve been alive. I believe you and her son were in school together.”
For a moment I blink in silence at both women as they stare expectedly at me. Roberts.
“Landon Roberts?” I squawk, my voice a little too loud for polite company.
Sage appears next to me with a mimosa in each hand. “Ugh, that tool. Who is he screwing over now?”
The three of us still, like Sage is “It” in a game of Freeze Tag. I’m not sure my mother is breathing.
Unaware of the foot sticking out of her mouth, Sage scans the room. “I should warn the poor girl and give her a coupon for some self-esteem raising therapy.”
My mother reaches for a strand of imaginary pearls at her neck. Not finding anything to clutch, she presses her hand over her heart.
I can’t even look at Mrs. Roberts.
“Sage, this is Gwendolyn Roberts.” I emphasize the last name to clue her in.
Zoe chokes on her drink. I didn’t see her join us. Coughing to clear her throat, she asks, “You’re Landon’s mother?”
Gwendolyn’s attention bounces from my mother to me to Zoe, avoiding Sage alltogether. I can’t look anyone in the eye, especially not my friends. The awkward tension is so off the charts I might burst out laughing.
Sipping my drink and scanning the room, I wait for someone to say something to dig us out of this social faux pas pit. After my earlier freakout, I’m both relieved and disappointed not to see anyone sipping their drinks with a pink phallus. We could use a dick distraction.
Sage pulls out her good breeding and extends her hand to Mrs. Roberts. “It’s lovely to meet you. I’m Sage Blum, and I apologize for my sense of humor. It’s because I’m from Chicago.”
Zoe’s eyes widen with shock. “We’re both from Chicago. What does that have to do with anything? It isn’t like we were raised by the mob or feral cats on the shores of Lake Michigan.”
My mother sighs with exaggerated disappointment. “Sage is one of the Chicago Blums. Of Bloom and Board.”
Mrs. Roberts catches on to Mom’s name-dropping, her scowl transforming into surprise as she takes Sage’s hand. Nothing like millions in the bank to smooth over an awkward moment. “Oh, of course. I believe I met your parents at the Caribou Club several years ago.”
“It’s possible.” Sage loosens her grip, but Mrs. Roberts holds tight like she finally has a lively one on her fishing rod.
“Didn’t you date Landon?” my mother asks Sage, ignoring my not-so-subtle glare.
“Date is a strong word. We know each other. Aspen’s a small town.” She finally escapes Mrs. Roberts’ hold.
“Sage’s boyfriend is captain of the rugby team. They’re living together. Cohabiting in the same condo. In sin.” I don’t want to leave any doubt they’re more than roommates. I might as well announce they’re having sex. “She’s spoken for. Although Lee needs to put a ring on it, she’s no single lady.”
Four sets of eyes widen while words keep pouring out of my mouth.
“I think we get it, Margaret.” My mother presses her hand on my forearm.
“Okay, didn’t want there to be any confusion.” I nod and try to sip from my empty flute. Where’d my mimosa go?
Zoe hands me her glass and I finish it.
“Are you dating anyone?” Mrs. Roberts asks me, sounding only vaguely interested.
“Uh, that would be a negative. It’s the end of summer and the dating pool has dried up more than the snowmelt. By late August, we’re left with ‘been there, done that’ and the ‘still not desperate enough to touch that’s’ of single people.” I follow this up with a shudder.
“Mae,” my mother hisses under her breath. To the mother of one of the untouchables, she says, “She’s kidding.”
“I wish,” I say drily, taking another sip of my mimosa.
“Then you’re bringing a date for the wedding?” My mother’s hand reaches for her imaginary pearls again. “You can’t show up alone.”
“I won’t be alone. There are over three hundred invites to this shindig. I’ll have my tribe with me, and I assume we’ll all be sitting at the same table. No one will notice if I’m unchaperoned.”
Mom and Mrs. Roberts exchange looks of horror. Mom lowers her voice to a whisper in case anyone is eavesdropping. “This isn’t a night of debauchery at that tavern in Woody Creek, Margaret.”
At the use of my proper name, I shoot Sage and Zoe a silent SOS.
“Isn’t bringing a random guy to a wedding kind of weird? Watching two people pledge their undying love to each other is a lot of pressure on a date. I know weddings make people horny, but there are less awkward ways to get laid.” I stare at my friends for confirmation.
With their eyebrows lifted, they manage to nod, but I’m not sure they agree.
Inside of my mother’s brain, tiny blood vessels are exploding with every word that comes out of my mouth. Her face remains perfectly passive, but I can tell she’s starting to simmer over this whole exchange. A small twitch appears beneath her left eye.
“There’s a simple solution to this issue,” Mrs. Roberts speaks up.
Clearly, I misjudged her. She’s on my side and is going to tell my mother how silly the notion of a wedding date still is. After all, she’s Landon’s mother. She raised him. There’s no way even she thinks he’s dating or marriage material. Unless she’s delusional, which is a possibility.
When she opens her mouth to continue, I hold my breath and prepare to mentally high five her. “Landon’s single, too. He can be your date.”
In my head, I hear the sound of tires screeching on asphalt as they try to avoid the impending impact. I imagine someone screaming and time slips into slow motion.
“No,” I whisper at the same exact moment my mother gleefully says, “Oh, that’s a wonderful idea.”
“Then it’s settled. I’ll let Landon know when we have dinner tomorrow.” Gwendolyn, my new least favorite person, smiles and takes a dainty swallow of her champagne. “How perfect,” she says, delighted.
No, not perfect. The opposite of perfect. The word she’s looking for is disaster or nightmare.
“I can’t—” I try to decline, but my mother cuts me off.
“Wait. Mae can’t wait. It’s going to be the wedding of the year. Let’s hope the aspen leaves don’t drop early. Wouldn’t it be perfect if they were at the height of their golden glory for the wedding? So divine.”
The woman has clearly lost her mind. Never once in my twenty-seven years of life have I ever been excited about a wedding. It’s like we’ve never met. How can she not know me at all?
“I—” Clearing my throat, I try again. “I’m not sure—”
This time Mrs. Roberts speaks over me. “Oh, wouldn’t it be lovely if we get a light dusting of snow? All that gold and white everywhere? Do you know the wedding colors?” She directs her questions to my mother. “We should go find the bride and ask her.”
“Oh, let’s!” Mom’s voice is giddy. Margaret London doesn’t do giddy. I’m now convinced this woman who appears to be my mother is actually a cyborg sent from the future to ruin my life.
Watching the two of them stroll across the room together like best friends, my stomach sinks and the bitter aftertaste of defeat coats my tongue.
“What just happened?” Zoe takes my glass and hands me another fresh mimosa. I don’t know how she keeps them coming, but if she’s bribed the waiter, I salute her.
Sage links her arm with mine and says in a low, somber voice, “I think Mae was set up on a date with Landon.”
I’m too stunned to speak. My fingertips are cold. I might be going into shock.
Zoe’s face falls at this possibility. “She doesn’t have to go through with it, does she? We’re adult women. No way are you obligated to be Landon’s date because your moms decided this was a good idea. Your families don’t believe in arranged marriages, do they?” All her questions jumble together.
“No, we don’t have arranged marriages. I totally got played by my mother and Gwendolyn Roberts.” I sigh and drink more mimosa.
“How is this even a thing?” Zoe asks. “You can’t be forced to take that walking STD to your cousin’s wedding.”
“No one is going to make Mae do anything,” Sage reassures me. “The wedding is six weeks away. You can find a real date between now and then.”
“Easley would probably go with you.” Zoe offers.
“He’s the better alternative?” I ask, completely defeated. “Do they make suits large enough for gorillas? Why can’t I be the sad spinster cousin who sits at the kids’ table? I’ll happily eat chicken nuggets and mac ’n’ cheese.”
My mother strolls over to our group with a satisfied feline smile on her face. Pressing her hand against my shoulder blade, she lowers her voice, careful to not be overheard. “Dear, it’s one evening. The Roberts are a good family and it will make your grandparents happy to see you with a date. Sometimes we do things in life that don’t thrill us but turn out to be worth the discomfort. Like thirty-four hours of labor to deliver a beautiful daughter.”
She’s serious if she dropped the labor and delivery guilt. Margaret London only pulls that story out when she means business. And she added in my grandparents, which is the cherry on top of this hot mess sundae.
“Fine, if he agrees, I’ll do it. But I’m not going to beg him to be my date. I have some self-respect.” I jut out my chin and meet her eyes.
“Wonderful,” Mom exclaims happily, completely ignoring my reluctance. “Now that’s settled, we can all enjoy this lovely party.”
When she’s gone, I turn to my friends. “Why do I think this was an ambush between Mrs. Roberts and my mother? I think they’re in cahoots.”
“Do we know if he’s a momma’s boy? Maybe Landon will refuse to obey his mother,” Zoe asks, optimistically. “Sage?”
“How would I know?” Sage holds up her hands in defense.
“You slept with him. Did he call you Mommy or anything weird like that?” I feel bile rise in my throat.
Thankfully, Sage says, “Uh, no. He was more the kind of guy to ask for feedback every ten seconds on how awesome he was making me feel. It was exhausting and totally ruined my focus.”
We all make the same frown.
“You don’t have to sleep with him. Make sure you put that clause in the dating contract.” Zoe laughs until she sees my face. “Too soon?”
“Didn’t Mara go out with him when she first moved here?” Sage asks. “She survived.”
“She was new and didn’t know better. He ditched her halfway through the meal after flirting with me. He’s the worst. I should know since I grew up with the guy. I have decades of bad Landon stories,” I add.
“At least you never slept with him.” Zoe hands me a fresh cocktail.
I peer around her, looking for a tray of mimosas. Seriously, how is she doing this? Her purse is too small to hide even a half bottle of champagne let alone a carafe of juice.
“Thanks, bestie.” Sage wrinkles her nose like she’s smelled something horrible.
“You were going through a crazy phase. There was no discouraging you. And you ended up with the right guy. Maybe Mae will meet the man of her dreams by doing this? Stranger things have happened.” Zoe gives me a sympathetic frown. “I fell in love with a rodeo cowboy. Never saw that coming.”
Zoe and Justin are a new thing and at the height of the disgustingly happy phase of falling in love. Her ex was a horrible khaki-wearing tool and she deserves so much better. Thanks to me and my advice of getting back on the horse after her last relationship ended, she met Justin. I guess she took me literally, and not only rode the horse, but the cowboy, too. Can’t blame her. Justin wearing a pair of chaps does cause spontaneous ovulation.
Unlike Landon Roberts who could cause a yeast infection with one touch.
If I’m going to be his date for this shindig, we’re going to need to implement some ground rules.
Wedding date rule number one: no touching.