Amelia’s whine filled my ears and I squeezed my eyes shut. I huffed out a sigh and flopped back against her overstuffed couch.
“Not again, Amelia. Please?”
“I just-,” she paused as she set her wine glass down on the coffee table and threw herself down next to me. “I don’t understand why you’re still going through with this. You know it’s ridiculous. Arranged marriages just don’t happen anymore.”
“It’s a good match. He’s a good man. He’s got a great body, he’s a good business man, my parents are dead set on this…” I trailed off and leaned my head back against the sofa. I rolled my head to the side to stare at my best friend. “I just have to come to terms with it. That’s all.”
“Do you even hear yourself? That’s all well and good, but sweetie…you don’t love him. You should marry someone you love.”
I sighed again. I couldn’t dispute what she said. I’d always dreamed of the man I’d marry. I never really cared much about the wedding; I just wanted the perfect man. And I always dreamed that we’d be madly in love. But those dreams had gone the way of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny long ago.
“I know that look Sookie. You’re resigned. Why do you put up with them? Just because they’re your parents doesn’t mean you owe them anything,” Amelia said sadly. “Just think about it.”
So I grabbed my wine glass and took a hefty swig. Problem was, all I’d been doing since this whole fucktastic situation started was think about it. And every time I’d voiced any opinion…well, let’s just say I’d been shown the errors of my ways.
Alcide was a great guy, no doubt about it. I’d known him since we were in diapers together and I loved him-as a brother. This whole sham of a relationship was never more than wishful thinking on either of our parts, despite the protestations of our parents. I knew Alcide didn’t have any clue what was happening on my end, which Amelia was constantly telling me was a mistake.
“Amelia-you know why I can’t back out. I just-I can’t,” my hands clasped together without my brain’s consent and my fingers intertwined restlessly.
“Sook,” she laid her hand on my arm, “I’d help you. We’d all help you-Alcide especially! He doesn’t want to marry you anymore than you want to marry him. Hell, he doesn’t want to get married at all. You just have to say the word and you’ll be free.”
Her eyes were so hopeful. I almost believed her. I imagined my life if this whole circus just went away. And that image came crashing down as I imagined the look on my parents’ faces; their reaction if I decided to put a stop to this circus.
I sighed again. “It’s not that simple, Amelia. Just face it. I’m getting married tomorrow. Come on, this is supposed to be my last night of freedom. Get me drunk bitch!”
I forced a giggle as she poured me a shot of some bright teal liquor. I threw it back and nearly gagged at the sickeningly sweet aftertaste.
Amelia regarded me carefully before she shrugged and poured another shot for each of us.
x . x . x . x . x
My palms were sweating as I gripped the garish bouquet of roses; my nose twitching as I tried not to sneeze. Of all the flowers my mother could have picked, it had to be roses. Not only did I hate them, but I’m highly allergic. But apparently the tulips I wanted weren’t ‘wedding-y’ enough, so I was overruled. Just like the dress I chose wasn’t regal enough; the foods I chose weren’t classy enough; the drinks I chose were too low rent…the list was endless. After awhile, I just sat there quietly with my hands folded in my lap and let her and Mrs. Herveaux make all the decisions. Those two were thick as thieves and had an opinion about absolutely everything. Made for some interesting gossip among the wedding vendors, or so I’m told.
So I stood in the alcove at the front of the Baptist church…trying not to inhale the damned fumes from these stupid fucking roses as my mother fussed around the massive train of my dress that made me feel like I was lugging a small Volkswagen behind me. Amelia shot me a look from behind my father’s back.
“Are you ready darling? Time to do your duty for your family,” my mother’s nasal whine reached my ears as she appeared in front of me. My father quietly grunted and fidgeted nervously.
“Funny how Jason never had to do any family duty…” Amelia’s mutter made my father choke and my mother glare. I’m fairly positive that they’d be completely ecstatic if I never talked to Amelia again. However, they’d decided that battle was one they wouldn’t win and gave up, much to my relief.
“Alright, let’s get going. Everyone is expecting it to begin any moment.” My mother sniffed haughtily and slipped through the door to the church to take her seat. Quinn, Alcide’s best man, appeared out of nowhere and Amelia flounced over to take his arm.
He shrugged off Amelia’s arm, as he turned toward me. His face set in what was probably supposed to be an encouraging expression. He just kinda looked constipated though. But I was deeply grateful for the small kiss he pressed to my forehead and the small squeeze right above my elbow.
“Yo! Mr. Clean! Got a wedding here? Or did you forget?” Amelia’s soft screech echoed around us, drawing sardonic looks from Quinn and my father.
I scowled at her as Quinn stepped back, reluctantly taking her arm. They wheeled around to face the doors as the muted piano music began tinkling through the alcove. I mistakenly took a deep breath to steady myself…only to choke on the damn rose fumes. Stupid fucking flowers.
A man in a headset and grey suit tugged the doors open from inside, gesturing wildly for Quinn and Amelia to begin. They slowly made their way down the aisle, timing their steps perfectly to whatever slow processional my mother had chosen. I hung my head and slumped my shoulders as I tried to find my will to continue this charade.
My father suddenly spun me to face him and looked me over with tears misting his eyes. I was extremely confused when he sniffed a bit and leaned down to place a gentle kiss on my cheek. My father had never been what you’d call affectionate. He’d actually barely interacted with me at all for as long as I could remember. So this odd display of emotion was unsettling.
“I love you Sookie. I’m sorry.” The sadness in his eyes made me feel even fainter than I already was. I gulped in huge breaths, trying to shore up my courage.
For a moment I just stared at him in shock. My internal voice was screaming ‘what the hell?!?’ but nothing came out as my mouth open and closed like a fish. I cleared my throat and steadied my nerves once again. “It’s fine.” I steadied my nerves and faced the doors again. “Let’s just-let’s just go.”
My father faced the door and tightened his grip on my arm. “I love you, Sookie.”
I felt the tears welling as I choked on whatever reply I may have attempted to make as the wedding march blared out from the pipes of the massive organ in the front of the church. With slow measured steps, we made our way toward the front of the church where my groom-to-be was shifting nervously from foot to foot. I studiously avoided looking at my maid of honor who was currently miming towards the side door-the current motion du jour for fleeing brides everywhere, I take it. My jaw tensed and I gave a small shake of my head, trying to reel her in. Alcide and Quinn stifled a chuckle as they watched our impromptu mime.
The ‘harrumph’ from both of our mothers was in stereo, glaringly obvious in the silence of the massive chapel and made the grins slide right off our faces. The funeral-like atmosphere descended once again and made the other 400 wedding guests crammed into the church pews shift restlessly. At least it wasn’t only me that was uncomfortable.
The aisle seemed to stretch on for a mile…and I felt like I was walking towards my executioner. Maybe Amelia had a point. I don’t think the trek through a church sanctuary should equate to a trip to the gallows. But whatever. I made my bed and now I was surely going to drown in it…or some other convoluted metaphor that my rapidly firing brain was trying to mix up.
But then we were there-somehow warp speeding our way to the end. We were in front of the minister and my father was shifting my hand into Alcide’s outstretched palm. I noticed our hands were coated in what seemed to be a matching layer of sweat. Beautiful.
“Who gives this woman to this man in holy matrimony?”
All eyes shifted to my father who looked like he’d swallowed a bug. A stink bug if the screwed up expression on his face was accurate. His mouth gaped for a moment as he seemingly floundered for something to say.
After a few grunts and throat clearings, he finally managed to choke out the rehearsed lines. “Her mother and I, Michelle and Corbett Stackhouse, give our daughter to this man in holy matrimony.”
I noticed a tremor in his hand as he turned to retreat from the altar. His shoulders slumped like the weight of the world rested there. I saw my mother scowl at his apparently less than stellar performance in her eyes; I closed my eyes as I rolled them back into my head. I really didn’t have the mental capacity to worry about whatever drama was unfolding there; I had enough on my plate with this sham of a wedding.
Once all eyes were back on Minister Johnson, he opened his unneeded Bible and began speaking. I had no idea what he happened to be saying, although it was probably lovely judging by the “awww’s” coming from the people behind me. I was too busy concentrating on not passing out from this fucking corset dress my mother had forced me into. That and you know-the fact that I was throwing my life away with someone I didn’t love and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. Alcide lightly squeezed my hand when he noticed my rather bountiful bosom heaving more and more as Minister Johnson got further and further into his readings.
My mental musings came to a screeching halt as Amelia’s voice penetrated my thoughts.
“Oh-uh…” I looked up quickly to see the minister staring at me expectantly. “Sorry.”
I could almost feel the heat from my mother’s glare burning a hole into the back of the lavish lace veil that set her back $900.
“As I was saying,” the minister cleared his throat, “do you Sookie Adele Stackhouse take this man, Alcide Jackson Herveaux, in the eyes of God and these witness to be your lawfully wedded husband? To obey him in all things, through sickness and in health, for as long as you both shall live?”
My heart started racing. Well, more than it had been already. I swallowed thickly as I tried to force the words past my lips.
“I-uh…I…I-” Black spots were beginning to swim in front of my eyes and I felt Alcide’s hand under my elbow, supporting more and more of my weight.
I felt the weight of everyone’s stares abruptly shift away from me, allowing me to suck in great gulps of oxygen. Amelia shuffled closer to me and wrapped her arm around my waist, taking some of the pressure off Alcide.
“Is this the-” the man who’d interrupted glanced down at a folder in his hands before his eyes snapped back up to rest on us once more, “Stackhouse and Herveaux wedding?”
The guests’ eyes were ping ponging back and forth between the mysterious stranger, who I’d finally turned around to survey, and our small wedding party at the altar.
“It is. And just who do you think you are, coming in here and disrupting everything?”
Leave it to my mother to take the reins in absolutely everything.
“I have some urgent business to discuss with Miss Stackhouse and Mr. Herveaux. If you could just follow me please?”
He stood waiting, holding the back door to the sanctuary open. Alcide glanced at me and raised his eyebrow. My answering shrug seemed to be good enough for him.
“Please, just give us a few moments. We really do appreciate it,” Alcide’s deep voice rolled over the assembled masses, seeming to calm some of the twittering floating amongst the ‘society ladies’ our mothers had insisted on inviting.
My feet felt like lead as I caught the glare coming from my mother. No doubt about it, I’d be paying for this. Didn’t matter if it was my fault or not. One way or another, she’d make me pay.
Of course, once Agent Masters (the Secret Service wannabe, it turns out) had explained why exactly he’d interrupted our lovely nuptials…I realized how truly fucked I was.
And not in a good way.
“Already married?!?” This was roughly the tenth time my mother had screeched the same two words.
“How can she already be married?!” Mrs. Herveaux finally decided to chime in with her equally shrill voice. Seriously they could rival those monkeys that you see in the zoo, shrieking over each other in order to be the loudest.
“It’s all very simple. I’ve already explained it to-”
Poor Agent Masters didn’t seem to be having any more luck the second time around explaining it to our parents.
My eyes finally focused on the unfolding spectacle in front of me as our mother’s stood glaring at the unfortunate government employee. I noticed our fathers perched on a bench off to the side, seeming to be relieved to be out from under the thumbs of their respective wives. Jason was conspicuously absent from our “family meeting”, though I’m fairly certain my mother wanted it that way. Amelia and Alcide were whispering back and forth a few steps above the one I hurriedly sank down to after the great reveal, but I didn’t bother to even try to listen.
“How long before they start trying to rip that paperwork up?” I smiled. God bless Amelia and her horribly timed comedy. “I got twenty on Mrs. S. She’s vicious.”
We all giggled as they sank onto the step on either side of me before sobering up at the death glare both mothers were shooting our way.
“I should have known you weren’t good enough for my boy! Stupid backwoods, hillbilly tramp, no offense to you of course Michelle. We all know where it comes from.”Mrs. Herveaux spat, glancing quickly over at my father as she stalked towards me.
I choked on whatever saliva had been my mouth as Alcide jumped up, placing himself in front of me. I couldn’t help but notice my mother seemed to be agreeing with her, instead of defending me. Gee-thanks.
“Okay, enough!” Alcide’s deep voice resonated in the small alcove, ricocheting off the paneled walls and increasing the pounding at my temples. “I’m done with this shit!”
My mother rushed forward, twittering ineffectively and trying to shush him. Not because we were in a House of God-no. But because someone might hear. After all, appearances are everything.
“No, I will not ‘shush’! Apparently I’ve been kept in the dark for way too long,” I shot Amelia a glare. I knew I should have been listening to whatever they were whispering about. Alcide’s back was ramrod straight as he stepped in front of me, and his finger wagged in my mother’s face. “You’ve forced Sookie into this? What is this, the dark ages? And not only did you threaten her if she didn’t follow through, but once she acquiesced to every single demand you put on her, you wouldn’t even let her have a say in her own wedding? I sure hope that you had no clue this was happening Mother, although the way you two scheme together I doubt it.” His glare was unwavering as he stared my mother down, demanding the answers he’d probably never get.
Alcide’s mother huffed and crossed her arms, jutting her hip out to the side, making it perfectly clear that she thought her son was just throwing some little tantrum. My mother tried to mirror her pose, but her slightly larger physique (her sausage casing was just a bit too tight, if you catch my drift) couldn’t quite pull off the effortless grace of my intended’s mother.
Alcide’s jaw dropped and his father’s eyes bugged out of his head. Well, at least one parent wasn’t in on it. My father just sunk down lower into the bench, trying to make himself invisible.
“I knew it! I knew something was fishy about this whole thing, but I went along with this because I thought Sookie was a willing participant. But this? Fuck this! I never wanted to get married in the first place!” he snarled in the direction of our mothers, before turning to look at me. “So no more.” His face softened immediately and he smiled that sheepish smile that I loved. He took my face in his huge hands and softly said, “I love you, Sookie.”
I choked and stared at him with wide, shocked eyes.
“As a friend.”
The breath whooshed out of me faster than was probably polite, but I think I deserved a pass. I was happily relieved and knew that I mirrored his sentiments exactly.
Alcide turned back to our mothers, anger shining in his eyes once again. “She’s one of my oldest and closest friends and I’ve never felt more than a brotherly affection for her. And I know she feels the same. God! Why did I ever go along with this?!” His hands fisted in his hair and he took a deep breath, his arms and shoulder dropping on the exhale. “So yeah, I’m calling this off. If it’s purely about business, then we can find some other way to go about it. But we’re done being your pawns.” His eyes darkened menacingly as he stalked forward and loomed over my mother. “And if I hear one word or see one bruise on her, you will be sorry. I’m done with your shit. And so is she. You have a problem with this, you deal with me. Do you understand me?”
My mother’s muddy brown eyes were wide and scared as she gulped and nodded frantically. Mrs. Herveaux just glared at her son disdainfully, clearing unimpressed with his ultimatum.
His hand reached out to grasp mine and he pulled me to my feet and into a massive hug. “I’ll always be here for you, Sook. Call me when you find him.” I wrapped both my arms around him and hugged as tightly as I could. I was so thankful for what he’d just done-and then his words finally sunk in.
I sputtered as he leaned forward to plant a kiss on my forehead. “Find who?”
“Your husband, of course,” Alcide’s cheeky grin and hearty laugh followed him as he retreated back into the church proper to address the guests.
“Well then dollface-seems like we have some digging to do,” Amelia wound her arms around my shoulders and began steering me back towards the bridal dressing room.
Only we were blocked by Bitch #1 and Bitch #2.
“Oh no, missy. You are going to find this so called husband of yours and fix this! Then we can plan another date for you and my baby boy,” Mrs. Herveaux’s red lacquered talon wagged in my face.
“How did you even manage to bag yourself a husband, anyway? We had to negotiate forever just to find someone to take you. Thank the good Lord the Herveauxs are such dear friends!” How my mother managed to spit her words in one breath and simper in the next I’ll never know.
Okay that one hurt. Amelia sensed the tears welling and pushed past the Demon twins and somehow managed to get us safely inside the dressing room relatively unmolested.
I sank into the hideous rose patterned chair and covered my face with my hands.
Amelia’s giggle brought me back to reality. “Why, Sookie Stackhouse! I don’t think I’ve ever heard you utter such a word!”
I smiled in spite of myself. “Oh shut it! You know perfectly well I’ve said that and worse a time or two before. And if any situation calls for it, I’m sure this one does. How the fuck did this even happen?”