Miriam claims she’s annoyed, but when the server asks if we’d care for anything else, round two gets ordered before I have the chance to say we’re fine.
Our server, Jade, smiles and says she’ll be right back.
I smile too, although I’m worried the red wine will wake me up in the middle of the night, as it sometimes does. Tonight, I want to get a good night’s sleep.
“Are you doing a cake at least?” she asks. Her eyebrows are up. She looks a little mad at me, and perhaps she should be. I’ve sprung this on her, I know. But I also think she must have seen it coming.
“I don’t think so,” I say. “Our reservation is for twelve afterward at Bella Vita’s. I’m sure they have a dessert menu.”
“You’re hanging the success of your second marriage on a hope that there’s a dessert menu?”
I laugh, take a sip of the Merlot. In truth, I’d rather have ordered a beer, but I don’t want to risk feeling bloated tomorrow in the dress I grabbed at Nordstrom Rack a week ago—a lovely ivory lace dress with short sleeves and a hemline that falls right above the knee. Miriam told me it needed alterations—to be taken in at the waist—but there is not time for that. Besides, I’d told Miriam, Stan isn’t marrying me for my waistline.
“You are coming to the dinner, right—you and Paul?”
Miriam nods. “Of course. Wouldn’t miss it. You only get married twice one.”
“Har har,” I say. Jade has come back with two glasses of wine, and I whisper to her that we’re ready for the check whenever she gets a chance.
“Come on,” she says. “This is your bachelorette party!”
I shake my head. I can’t drink the way I used to—we can’t drink the way we used to. But something about being around Miriam makes me want to try.
When I look at her sometimes, I want to tell her she’s like my diary come alive—the one person who knows all my secrets, everything I’ve been through. It’s a privilege and a catastrophe to have someone walking around on the surface of Earth who knows my worst mistakes, my darkest features. But we call it friendship and keep doing it decade after decade.
To everyone else drinking and eating on the patio of the downtown bar Miriam picked for this Thursday in August, we look like two moms enjoying of wine together.
“You remember your first bachelorette party?” she asks, grinning. “Remember that guy?”
“The guy who hit on you?” I tease. “Tall guy?”
“Yeah. What was his name?”
“I have no idea,” I say.
“I remember he gave me his email address!” Miriam giggles. “God. That was smooth.”
“I think his name was Kurt. Or Burt.”
“Maybe it was Dirt,” I joke.
Miriam snort-laughs as she sets down her wine.
“Your bachelorette party was way better,” I say.
“Oh God,” Miriam says. “Mine—I barely remember anything about mine.”
“I know,” I say. I smile conspiratorially at her.
I am her walking diary, too.
Miriam sits up a little. “Don’t change the subject. So, it’s me and Paul. Who else?”
“Ethan and Eliza are coming,” I say first. “Joey and Shawn, too.”
“Are they bringing dates?” Miriam jokes.
“No,” I grin. “I don’t think so. Too young to get a plus-one.”
“But Ethan and Eliza—they’re getting serious, huh?”
“Maybe,” I muse. “They have been dating a few months. Six? You never know.”
I say this to Miriam knowing she is the queen of you never know. Her own husband, Paul—they were off and on for two years until they eloped one Spring. It was for that reason I thought Miriam would understand a short engagement from me and Stan.
We were in our mid-fifties. Both of us had been married before; both of us had kids. We’d already been living together for a year. There was no desire for a big, fussy wedding. I called the courthouse, and they had a few slots available that Friday afternoon, and so why not? We didn’t want a wedding party; we didn’t want anything fancy.
We were just ready to be married.
That was something I thought Miriam would understand. And perhaps she did. Perhaps the real injury—not the fact that I didn’t consult her on the dress I selected or the simple set of matching gold bands I’d picked up that week from the jeweler—was that I had waited a few days before telling her Stan and I were getting married, and if she was free Friday, could she come to the courthouse and then to a dinner afterward?
There had been no specific reason, no intention to keep Miriam out of the loop; rather, I’d sincerely been so busy, it had taken me a full day to call her. My first call had been to Ethan to make sure he could come, my subsequent calls to a few restaurants who would take a reservation for our large party at seven p.m.
“So,” Miriam says, picking up her second glass. “What about a photographer? A videographer?”
I chuckle. “I’m sure we’ll take pictures,” I shrug. “Someone will.”
“Someone will,” Miriam parrots. “You’re just assuming the universe will offer you a perfect picture of your wedding to Stan—just like you’re assuming there will be amazing dessert waiting for you.”
Her disdain is funny, but I admit to myself I’m beginning to feel tired. I am thinking about the back-to-back appointments in the morning to get my nails done and my hair done. How I’d like to also take a long bath, too.
“It’s going to be fine,” I say, smiling. “How’s your wine?”
“Better than the first one,” she says. “Just like your husband.”
I grin at her dig at my ex. Then I ask, “Are you actually mad at me?”
She sets down her glass. She’s thinking. A few feet away from us, a waitress sets down a big platter of empty glasses and I watch as they almost get toppled over when a large man bumps into her. She makes the save at the last second.
“I just—are you sure this is what you want? I mean, what’s the rush? The courthouse? Downtown? I mean… Are you pregnant?”
This makes me laugh hard. Miriam was the one I’d given my copy of The Silent Passage to last year.
“You’re telling me that you and Stan want to get married in the same building you both got divorced in? I mean to different people but—I don’t know, doesn’t that some pretty messed up karma?”
I hadn’t considered that. I roll my eyes and sigh.
“Don’t be annoyed,” I say gently. “I’m really happy. I can’t want to be married to Stan.”
“You know I love Stan,” Miriam says. “That’s not the issue. Obviously, he’s a big upgrade from what’s-his-name.”
I chuckle again, despite myself. He was my husband for a decade, the father of my son.
“I think you know his name.”
“Michael,” she quips. He was Mike, of course, but after he and I split up, Miriam only referred to him as Michael.
I supposed there were worse names she could have coined for him. Over the years, she had some less-than-flattering nicknames for a lot of the men I had dated. Hers, too.
“Well, are you planning on being mad at me tomorrow?”
“Do you even have flowers?” Miriam asks.
I shake my head. “That’s a good idea, though. I should swing by the grocery store and pick up a bouquet in the morning.”
“Oh my God,” Miriam moans—so loudly the couple sharing a charcuterie platter at the table next to us looks over for a moment. “You’re gonna swing by Costco when they open? Might as well pick up some toilet paper while you’re there!”
To tease her, I act like I’m making a mental note of her suggestion. “We are kind of low on TP.”
By now, Miriam’s face is in her hands, and I’m studying the top of her head. For the past few years, I’ve seen gray in her roots where she gets lazy about coloring.
“No offense, Jaime,” she says, “but you’re really bad at getting married.”
I laugh and take another gulp of wine. I think about Stan, sitting at home on our couch, probably having a beer, maybe putting away the dishes from our dinner. Half of me wishes I were home with him, watching something—a true crime drama, like we like to watch, or something on HBO.
“I did a really good job getting married the first time—remember?”
She nods. “Oh God, remember when Rich accidentally threw a bottle of beer?”
I laugh and shake my head again. “I still don’t know how that was an accident.”
She shrugs again and pushes her sunglasses on the table a few inches toward me. “He was dancing. You know how Rich loved to dance.”
“I do,” I say. For all the nicknames Miriam has given to her exes and mine over the years, Rich Hooper was the one former boyfriend to which she never gave a mean moniker. Neither did I. He was too much like her diary, too, I thought.
“At least the bottle was empty,” she adds.
“I don’t think he injured anyway,” I offer.
“Anyway,” she says, sighing. “I’m not trying to be a dick. I’m just—I just want to make sure this is what you really want.” She looks at me. “I want you to have a really nice wedding.”
I smile. “You’ll be there. Ethan will be there. Stan will be there. His boys are coming. Julianna. That’s everyone.”
She’s considering, and Jade is coming back with our bill. I pull out my credit card while wondering if I’ve done enough to convince her, but she’s snatched the black book before I can and shoots me her best how dare you look.
“I just don’t want you to look back and wish you had done a nicer wedding.” Her voice is gentler now as she puts her Visa into the black book’s slot.
“I won’t,” I tell her. “I promise I won’t. What I want—more than a nicer wedding—is a nicer husband.”
She smiles. “That’s the most you’ve trash-talked Michael in a while.”
I shrug. “What can I say. He and I are better these days, now that Ethan’s out of the house. Things are…
You know, easier. The more time passes.”
She nods. “Makes sense. What does Michael have to say about your shotgun wedding?”
I chuckle, finish my wine. “He says, Congratulations.”
Miriam acts like she’s thinking but I know she isn’t. “That’s nice of him.”
“So did you ever email him?” I ask.
She’s confused for a second, and I delight a little in still being able to pick up any old memory at any time, like it’s a record I can put on, lower the stylus. Play any melody I want.
“I think I did,” Miriam says. She stands up now, using the arms of her chair and smoothing out her skirt as she does. I follow suit, although my knees speak up in protest, a little stiff for sitting so long. “I don’t remember what I said though.”
“He ever write you back?” I ask. “Dirt?”
She chuckles. “Who remembers?”
We start walking to the patio’s swinging half-door, Miriam giving Jade a wink and wave as we pass her.
“Thanks for the drinks,” I say. “You know, this is the best bachelorette party anyone has ever thrown me.”
Miriam chuckles as she adjusts her purse strap on her shoulder. “I can do better. I think for your next one—let’s go to a rave.”
I laugh out loud. “Okay,” I say. “Deal.”
We’re about to part at our cars, and I look at her for another second. It’s my habit when we’re saying goodbye to make sure I have nothing else I want to tell her—no other nuggets from my day I’ve been storing up to tell her like a squirrel hoarding nuts. I can’t think of anything, though, and I know I’ll see her tomorrow. I know in twenty-four hours, I’ll be married to Stan and Miriam and I will be sharing champagne and some kind of dessert, laughing with our husbands and our kids. I’m so happy right then I feel two tears sting my eyes.
“You know,” she says as she takes her keys out of her purse. “I think he did write me back. Eventually. But I really couldn’t tell you what he said.
Colleen Alles is an award-winning writer living in West Michigan. The author of two novels and a collection of poetry, she is also a contributing editor for short fiction at Barren Magazine. She loves distance running, craft beer, her family, and her dog, Charlie. Please find her online at www.colleenalles.com.