Thirty minutes later, she was ready to go, re-dressed in yesterday’s clothes—a white Dolce & Gabbana blouse, a pair of low-rise Marc Jacobs jeans, and a wide brown belt with a silver circle buckle.
She quickly picked up the bathroom, made her bed, and left the house.
Outside, the sun shone brightly on the well-tended yard. It was late June, a glorious time of year in the Northwest. So much was in bloom. There was color everywhere in the yard, all of it backed and bordered by glossy green bushes and a thicket of trees. At the far end, looking almost close enough to touch, the granite triangle of Formidable Peak pushed up toward a high layer of clouds.
Meghann tossed her purse onto the passenger seat of her Porsche and got inside. The engine growled to life. She drove toward the resort slowly, careful not to stir up too much dust on the gravel road. It was a short distance, maybe five hundred yards between the house and the registration office, but her high-heeled sandals couldn’t handle the loose stone.
Finally, she pulled up in front of the registration building and parked. Choosing a careful path through the dewy grass, she went into the building.
It was empty.
She went to the desk and found the Hayden phone book, then flipped to Wedding Consultants. There was one listing. Royal Event Planning. In fine print it read: Pretend you’ll only get married once.
Meghann couldn’t help smiling at that. A cynic with humor. Who better to help Meghann plan a wedding? She wrote down the number and put it in her purse.
She found Claire in the campground’s rest room, plunging a backed-up toilet. At Meghann’s horrified expression, Claire laughed. “Go on outside, hotshot. I’ll be out in a sec.”
Meghann backed out and stood on the edge of the grass.
True to her word, Claire was out in no time. “I’ll wash up and we’ll go.” She looked at the Boxster. “You drove over here?” Laughing, she walked away.
Meghann got in the car and started it up. The stereo immediately came on, too loud. “Hotel California.” She put the convertible top down and waited.
Finally Claire reappeared, wearing a pair of jeans and a River’s Edge Resort T-shirt. She tossed her canvas handbag behind the seat and climbed in. “Now, this is going to town in style.”
Meghann didn’t know if Claire intended that remark as a put-down or not, so she kept silent. Actually, that was her new mantra: Shut up and smile.
“You sure slept late,” Claire said, turning down the music. “I thought you usually got to the office by seven.”
“I had trouble sleeping last night.”
“Please don’t worry about me, Meg. Please.”
Meghann was trapped by that quiet please. She couldn’t let her sister think the insomnia was because of the wedding. “It’s not the wedding. I never sleep.”
“I guess it started in college. Cramming all night for exams. You know how it is.”
“No, I don’t.”
Meghann had been trying to protect Claire, to hide the fact that the insomnia had started when their family fell apart, but college had been the wrong tack. To Claire, it was another reminder of everything between them, one more instance of Meghann lording it over her sister. Over the years, Claire had made dozens of remarks about her brainiac older sister who started college early. It was a touchy subject. “From what I hear, motherhood causes a few all-nighters, too.”
“You know something about babies. Mama said I was colicky. A real pain in the ass.”
“Yeah, like Mama would know. You didn’t have colic. You had ear infections. When you were sick, you wailed like a banshee. I used to carry you, screaming, down to the Laundromat. If I sat on top of the dryer, holding you, you’d finally fall asleep. Mama always wondered what happened to all her quarters.”
Meghann felt Claire’s gaze on her. She tried to think of something to say, a way to change the conversation, but she came up empty.
Claire finally laughed, but the sound was brittle. “No wonder I don’t mind doing the laundry. Turn here.”
They were on safe land once again, she and Claire; each standing on her separate shore.
“This is it.” Claire pointed to an old Victorian house, painted Pepto-Bismol pink with lavender trim. A gravel walkway cut through a perfectly shorn lawn. On either side were bright red roses in full bloom. The white picket fence bore a hand-painted sign that read: Miss Abigail’s Drawers. Come on in.
Meghann looked up at the ridiculously cute house. “We could zip down to Escada or Nordstrom. . . .”
“Don’t be yourself, Meg.”
“Okay.” She sighed. “I’ll be Tammy Faye. Or better yet, Small-Town Sally. Lead on. I’ll shut my mouth.”
They walked up the rickety stairs and entered the store. There was merchandise everywhere—plastic flowers and seashell picture frames, and Christmas ornaments made of painted dough. The fireplace screen was alight with votive candles.
“Hello!” Claire called out.
There was an immediate response. A gaggle of women’s voices, then a herd of running footsteps.
A large, older woman barreled around the corner, her gray sausage-curled hair bobbing like Cindy’s on The Brady Bunch. She wore a floral muumuu and white pom-pomed mule slippers. “Claire Cavenaugh. I’m so glad to finally be able to show you the second floor.”
“Wedding dresses are on the second floor,” Claire said to Meghann. “Abby had given up on me.”
Before Meghann could respond, two other women hurried into the room. One was short and wore a baggy, waistless dress and white tennis shoes. The other was tall, perhaps too thin, and dressed flawlessly in beige silk.
Two of the Bluesers. Meg recognized the women but couldn’t have matched a name to a face for all the prize money in the world.
Waistless dress, she learned, was Gina, and beige silk was Charlotte.
“Karen couldn’t make it today,” Gina said, eyeing Meghann suspiciously. “Willie had an orthodontist appointment and Dottie sat on her glasses.”
“In other words,” Charlotte said, “an ordinary Karen day.”
They all started talking at once.
Meghann watched Claire fall in beside Charlotte and Abigail. They were talking about lace and beadwork and veils.
All Meg could think was: The perfect accessory is a prenup. It made her feel decades older than these women, and distinctly apart.
“So. Meghann. The last time I saw you, Alison was a newborn.” Gina stood beside a cast-iron statue of a crane. “Now you’re back for the wedding.”
Claire’s friends had always been good at the not-so-subtle reminder than Meghann didn’t belong here. “Hello, Gina. It’s nice to see you again.”
Gina looked at her. “I’m surprised you could get away from the office. I hear you’re the best divorce attorney in Seattle.”
“I wouldn’t miss Claire’s wedding.”
“I know a divorce attorney. She’s good at breaking up families.”
“That’s what we do.”
A look passed through Gina’s eyes. Her voice softened. “Do you ever put them back together?”
Gina’s face seemed to fall; it crumpled like an old paper bag, and Meghann understood. “You’re going through a divorce.”
Gina tried valiantly to smile. “Just finished it, actually. Tell me it’ll get better.”
“It will,” Meg said softly. “But it may take a while. There are several support groups that might help you.” She started to reach into her purse.
“I’ve got the Bluesers to cry with, but thank you. I appreciate the honesty. Now let’s go upstairs and find your sister the perfect wedding dress.”
Gina laughed at that and led Meg upstairs. By the time they got there, Claire was already wearing the first dress. It had huge leg-of-mutton sleeves, a sweetheart neckline, and a skirt that looked like an upside-down teacup. Meg sat down in an ornate white wicker chair. Gina stood behind her.
“Oh, my. That’s lovely,” Abigail said, “and it’s thirty-three percent off.”
Claire stood in front of a three-paneled full-length mirror, turning this way and that.
“It’s very princesslike,” Charlotte said.
Claire looked at Meg. “What do you think?”
Meghann wasn’t sure what was expected of her. Honesty or support. She took another look at the dress and knew support was impossible. “Of course the dress is on sale. It’s hideous.”
Claire climbed down from the platform and went in search of a different dress.
At her exit, Charlotte and Abigail looked at Meghann. Neither woman was smiling.
She’d been too honest—a common flaw—and now she was suspect. The outsider.
She would not comment on the next dress. She absolutely would not.
“What do you think?” Claire asked a few moments later.
Meg squirmed in her chair. Was this a joke? The dress looked like something you’d wear to a formal hoedown. Maybe the Country Music Awards. The only thing missing was a beaded milking pan. The dress was ugly. Period. And cheap-looking, to boot.
Claire studied herself in the mirror, again turning this way and that. Then she turned to look at Meghann. “You’re awfully quiet.”
“It’s the vomit backing up in my throat. I can’t talk.”
Claire’s smile froze. “I take it that’s a negative.”
“A cheap dress from the Bon Marché is a negative. That piece of lace-festooned shit is a get-me-the-hell-out-of-here-you’ve-lost-your-mind thing.”
“I think you’re being a bit harsh,” Abigail said, puffing up like a colorful blowfish.
“It’s her wedding,” Meg said. “Not a tryout for Little House on the Prairie.”
“My sister is always harsh,” Claire said quietly, walking back into the dressing room.
Meghann sighed. She’d screwed up again, wielded her opinion like a blunt instrument to the back of the head. She hunkered down in her chair and clamped her mouth shut.
The remainder of the afternoon was a mind-wrecking parade of cheap dresses. One after another, Claire zipped in, got opinions, and zipped out. She didn’t again ask for Meghann’s opinion, and Meghann knew better than to offer it. Instead, she leaned back in her chair and rested her head against the wall.
A jab in the rib cage woke her up. She blinked, leaned forward. Charlotte, Abigail, and Claire were walking away from her, talking animatedly until they disappeared into a room marked Hats and Veils.
Gina was staring at her. “I’d heard you could be a bitch, but falling asleep while your sister tries on wedding dresses is pretty rude.”
Meghann wiped her eyes. “It was the only way I could keep quiet. I’ve seen better-looking dresses on Denny’s waitresses. Believe me, I was doing her a favor. Did she find one?”
“I want to say thank God, but I’m afraid there’s another shop in town.” Meghann frowned suddenly. “What do you mean I’m a bitch? Is that what Claire says?”