Thursday, May 3, 2012

Notebook: Don't Ever Settle

Don't Ever Settle
By Blake Tan

The lime green dress had an annoying tag determined to bother her all evening. Fidgeting in the wicker chair, Jessica tried to adjust it surreptitiously, but her other bother of the night just happened to return with the champagne.

“Beautiful reception, isn’t it?” Maxwell said, all smiles with his bleached teeth. “Therese looks gorgeous.”

Jessica glanced at the center table and she had to agree, Therese looked the picture of bridal bliss. The price of her shoes alone must have been obscene, not to mention her one-of-a-kind gown, the imported French champagne and caviar, and the ceremony at St. Luke’s Chapel by the beachfront. A girl could get the wedding of her dreams if she was marrying the CFO of one of Wall Street’s rising stars, even in this economy. 

Was she jealous? Maybe. What woman – who, as a girl who spent her naptime busily organizing a fairytale wedding between her Barbie and her older brother’s kidnapped Wolverine – wouldn’t have been?

She tugged the hem of her dress. Why did she choose her shortest one? It wasn’t to show off her pasty, milk-white legs in front of all of Therese’s new California girlfriends. If she had been told the blonde, bronze cast of Baywatch was attending the wedding, she’d have come in a habit.

“Hey,” Maxwell said gently, holding her arm. “You’re gorgeous too.”

Jessica wriggled loose, rolling her eyes. Predictable Maxwell, always assuming she needed his validation. You’re beautiful. You have the best smile. You’ve always been smarter than me. Enough compliments to drown a whale, but at least the last one was true.

Maxwell Mason Reed with his wide grin, sandy brown hair gelled up, and lime green tie he bought specifically to match her. He drove her crazy, and not in the good way Jamie always bragged about with her boyfriends. Maxwell clipped his toenails in the kitchen. He made up lyrics to songs on the radio when he didn’t know them. He insisted on being called Maxwell; if she accidentally referred to him as Max, he’d ignore her. Why did she even bring him as her plus one? They were dating, sort of, but she wondered if her roommate’s ex would have been a better choice. Ben hated her – she convinced Lisa to break up with him – but at least he didn’t insist on reading his poetry to her every night.

After the Regina Spektor song ended – Therese always said she’d play Regina at her wedding – Jessica decided to go to the bathroom. She didn’t actually have to go, but she hadn’t been to the ladies’ room in the past half hour and she was going to take every chance to be away from Maxwell as she could get.

“I’ll be right here when you get back, Jess,” he said, patting her empty seat.

Miraculously, there was nobody else in the restroom. No melodramatic, former flame preparing her “Tell-Me-You-Don’t-Love-Me-And-I’ll-Never-Bother-You-Again” speech, no overjoyed mother dabbing her cheeks with paper towels, or eager bridesmaid doing the dirty with one of the groomsmen in the stall. Jessica was totally alone.

She plopped down on the toilet seat, propping up her head in her hands. Look at the bright side, she told herself, at least she was in California. Another two days of sun and fun then back to the grind, grading undergrad essays and teaching intro English courses. Was this all $10k a year for four years had amounted to? When Jessica was a bright-eyed high school junior she told herself she’d do something big. At the time, she thought going to prom with Jimmy Mullins was big. Jessica choked back miserable laughter, shaking her head. Stupid, silly girl.

The bathroom door swung open. Jessica watched $700 shoes stride to the sink accompanied by stifled sobbing. She pushed the stall door open.

“Jess?” the bride asked, turning, her mascara bleeding. “I didn’t know if anybody else was in here.”

“Therese, what’s wrong?” Jessica asked.

She forgot everything. She forgot that they hadn’t seen each other since graduation. She forgot that Therese never answered any of her emails. She forgot the cold, heavy anger in the pit of her stomach when Therese told her she had moved to New York City – without her. She even forgot that she had received the wedding invitation a week later than Jamie. All that mattered was gathering her old friend into her arms.

“It’s stupid. This – all of this – it’s perfect,” Therese said as she held Jessica close. “What could be wrong?”

“Is it cold feet?”

“No! I love Phil. He’s sweet, funny, and I love him!” Therese sighed, and Jessica rubbed her shoulders like she did when midterm stress got the better of them. “It’s just – it’s just – I don’t even know...”

They hugged in the silence, the brass lamps humming above the mirror the only sound. Outside, the band started playing Springsteen.

“It all happened so fast,” Therese finally said, wiping her eyes. “Phil proposed. I said yes. His sister helped me plan the entire wedding. He told Dad he’d pay for the whole thing, but you know Dad, he insisted on at least paying for the catering.”

She sniffed. “But I’m only 26, Phil’s 32. We’re going to be living upstate, and then what? Kids? I’m not ready for kids, Jess.”

Jessica shook her head. “I don’t think anyone is ever ready for kids.”

“I thought I’d have more time to live, you know, travel, work,” Therese smiled slowly, meeting Jessica’s gaze, “live the single life with my best friend.”

“I wanted that too,” Jessica said, clutching her hands, “more than anything.”

“Now, I’m married and my whole life feels like I’m in the passenger seat of a car and I can’t get out,” Therese finished, closing her eyes, her tears resuming.

“You’re lucky, you know,” Jessica said. “You’re married to the love of your life. The rest of us, well...”

She plucked at the hem of her dress, the same lime green as Maxwell’s tie. “The rest of us have to settle.”

“Jess, you’re the smartest girl I’ve ever known! Don’t ever settle!”

Another defeated laugh escaped her lips. “I’m an English Ph.D. student, Therese. I’ve pretty much given up on a professional life. If I’m lucky, I’ll marry someone like Phil.”

“Or Maxwell could get a job,” Therese said, smiling. “Did he say he’s in the philosophy department?”

“Please, Therese, can we stop talking about how much my life sucks?”

Jessica was laughing though, and pretty soon they were both practically sweeping the bathroom floor with their dresses. When they caught their breath, they fixed their hair in the mirror, both feeling like they were in college together again.

“Jess,” Therese said, clipping her hair back beneath her veil, “I missed you.”

“I missed you too.”

1 comment:

  1. Blake. You rock! Haha, you have done two things in this that I have never ever been able to do (very well): introduce characters, and include dialogue. We get a sense of who these characters are, even Jamie who we haven't actually met yet. You give us good background information without taking us away from what's happening now. And the dialogue seems real! I got a clear picture in my head of both the scene with Maxwell and Therese. Also, I love the paragraph when Jessica first enters the bathroom, I think that's my favorite. On a side note, I like that you always have her name as Jessica, but her friends call her Jess.

    This is really great!!