Friday, December 02, 2005

EXCERPT: Perfect Wedding

Perfect Wedding - Alice Wootson
"That’s was so beautiful." Dana sighed as she stared at the final scene of the latest episode of a new reality show. She leaned back and sighed again. "So perfect. So ideal."

On the television screen, the newlyweds were still pressed together in a kiss that promised happily ever after. As if that wasn’t perfect enough, Hawaiian music, played sweetly on a steel guitar, swelled in the background. As wonderful as if was, the whole scenario failed to make Dana forget that she was living in Philadelphia trying to survive another hard, cold winter. She shivered as if Hawaii’s warm climate made the Philadelphia temperature drop another fifteen degrees. Usually her imagination was great. Right now it was failing her. She stared at the television screen as if hoping to find it hiding there.

The camera pulled back a bit and the credits rolled as if the words were overdue for an appointment a long way off. Still the couple remained locked in a kiss. Dana sighed yet again. A wistful look filled her face.

"Just look at that. They get a beautiful wedding, including the dress for the bride and the bride’s maids, at no cost to them. Most of all, they get an all-expense paid honeymoon in Hawaii. Two weeks in Hawaii. In the winter, no less, if that’s when the winning couple wants to go. Who wouldn’t want to go to Hawaii in the winter? Actually, who wouldn’t want to go to Hawaii any time?" She pushed the off button of the remote and turned to Cathy, her best friend. "Why can’t I have that? What’s wrong with me that I can’t have that?"

"You can have that," Cathy said. "If you win the contest for the next ‘Perfect Wedding’." She stared at Dana. "Of course, there’s the teensy matter of finding a husband-to-be. I’d say the lack of one is what’s wrong with you. At least in this case. We’ll deal with your other faults at another time."

"The word is fiancé, not groom-to-be." Dana glared at her long-time best friend.

"Girlfriend, there’s a huge distance between knowing what he’s called and having one." Cathy dodged the throw pillow that Dana decided to have live up to its name.

"Do you know that I have always wanted to go to Hawaii?"

"No." Cathy showed mock surprise. "How could I possibly know that? Let’s see; maybe it could be the fact that you have made me watch every single documentary and each and every movie ever made in the history of the movie industry that mentioned our fiftieth state? Or was I supposed to get a clue from the fact that every month or so you bring home a handful of brochures with pictures of pineapples, exotic flowers and spectacular sunsets over perfect beaches. The last time you even had a whole pineapple and a honest-to-goodness coconut still in the shell. Each time, the next thing you do is start counting your change and bank account? Is that how I should know?"

"Not only sarcasm from you, but caustic sarcasm. I don’t know why I put up with you."

"Well, let’s see:" Cathy held up her hand and folded one finger down. "a) I put up with you, b)we’ve been friends since kindergarten, c) nobody else will understand your craziness, d) nobody else will listen to your lame-brained plans, e) …."

"Okay, okay." Dana held up her hands. "Don’t go teacher on me. That was a rhetorical statement."

"I can’t help but go ‘teacher’. Not only is it in my blood, it’s also the reason for my paycheck. Besides, I’m good at what I do. Ask my students." Cathy, a smug look on her face, set her nearly empty bowl of popcorn on the coffee table and crossed her arms across her chest.

"They’re second graders. They don’t know any better. Now, if you had sixth graders like I do, you’d have to prove yourself every period of everyday as you try to get through their ‘teach me’ challenges." Dana ate one final handful of popcorn and placed her bowl beside Cathy’s. She sighed. "You think maybe we can get second jobs?"

"What I think is that it takes all of my energy to get through the one job I already have. Those little kids wear you out. I’m sure the big kids do the same to you." Cathy stood. "Hey, look. I like Hawaii, too, and I’d love to go there some day, but I’m not obsessing over it the way some people I know are."

"You talking about me?"

"If the shoes fit I hope they match one on my outfits so I can borrow them." She grinned. "I’d better go. I have those math papers to grade. I want to see how good I am at what I do." She laughed as she took her bowl and glass to the kitchen and rinsed them. Dana followed her. She leaned against the counter and sighed.

"Cathy, when we were young, did you ever think that this would be it when we grew up? Usually in bed every weekday night, including Friday, right after the eleven o’clock news? Did you dream that your big excitement on the weekend would be staying up until after midnight to watch a movie on tape?"

"Uh, uh." Cathy shook her head. "I expected my own version of Prince Charming to have found me by now, put that beautiful glass slipper on my foot and carried me off to his castle where we’d live happily ever after. The problem is that there’s never a prince around when you need one." She grinned and shook her head. "Ain’t that just like a man anyway? He’s probably somewhere watching some sports game on television and lost track of time." They walked toward the door.

"Mine must be hanging out with him." Dana put her hand on her hip. "I sure hope their game doesn’t go into overtime. They’re taking too long as it is." Dana laughed as she opened the door to let Cathy out. "See you in the morning. My turn to drive."

"Same time, same station as today."

Dana stared at the closed door for a few seconds after Cathy left. Then she turned the television back on to watch the news. She was staring at the screen, but she wasn’t watching what was showing there. Downtown Philadelphia in January was on the news, but Dana was still seeing Hawaii in all its warm and beautiful tropical glory.

She pulled the knitted throw from the back of the sofa, wrapped it around her and listened as the weatherman, Dave Roberts, warned of a cold front coming from the north. Why does he have to be so cheerful about it? she thought. Maybe if we all go outside and push up really hard, we can make that weather stay up in Canada. She sighed. No matter what we do, nobody could mistake Philadelphia for Hawaii. She turned off the television and went into the kitchen.

As she made her lunch for the next day, the thought of next week and the week after following the same pattern as last week and the week before made her shake her head. She sighed and turned off the light.

"I’m too young to be set in my ways," she mumbled later as she looked through her closet for something to wear. No matter which of my clothes I look at, it seems as if I just wore it yesterday. She frowned as she shuffled through the clothes, pausing at something a few times then moving it aside. Then she started over again.

Finally she shook her head and took out a royal blue blouse and a navy blue skirt. She stared at them, then draped them over the chair in the corner as she always did the next day’s clothes. She frowned at them. They look like a uniform, she thought. She added at blue and white cardigan sweater to them. She stared at the clothes for a few more seconds, then sat on the edge of the bed.

"I definitely don’t want all of my weeks ahead to look like the ones past." She frowned. "To label them ‘boring’ would be kind. A rut wouldn’t describe this. Even a trench is too shallow."

As she got ready for bed, she replayed the conversation she had had with Cathy. They had kidded as they always did, but beneath the lightness was an ache. The television show didn’t have anything to do with the way she was feeling. She really wanted a special someone in her future. And really, really soon, please.

"All joking aside," she said. "Why shouldn’t I have the American woman’s dream? I’m a good person. I try to live right. I’m not mean to anybody. Why not me?"

She got ready for bed. By the time she slipped between the sheets they had been warmed by her electric blanket. When she turned out the light, she still hadn’t found an answer.

She sighed and rolled over into the empty space beside her, then rolled back far enough to turn the blanket up another notch.

Maybe this is just my biological clock ticking. She stared into the dark. I hope it decides to turn down the volume so I can try to ignore it.

She pulled the covers up further, tucked them around her shoulders and scrunched down further. After a slight adjustment of the blankets, only her face was exposed to the cool air. She thought of Hawaii and found sleep.

"Morning, Sunshine." Cathy greeted Dana in the parking lot of their apartment complex early the next morning.

"Yeah. Sure. Whatever."

"My, aren’t we chipper this morning?"

"I didn’t sleep well."

"Too much popcorn?"

"Uh-uh." She shook her head. "Nothing as mundane as that. It was those handsome, bronze, substantial Hawaiian hunks who kept me busy in my dreams." She sighed as she slipped into the driver’s seat and looked at the temperature gauge. She tapped it as if it was sleeping and she had to wake it up.

"O-k-a-y." Cathy dragged out the word as she turned to face Dana. "You didn’t bring me one back, did you? I thought you knew how to share."

"If I could have I would have. The guys chickened out and disappeared when I woke up."

"Just like a man. Toy with you, get what they want, then desert you." They laughed.

"I’m thinking that maybe we need to cut you off from your Hawaiian habit," Cathy said as she got into the car.

"Are you kidding? That’s the only fun I have." She shook her head. "That’s so sad, isn’t it? The only fun I have is when I’m dreaming." She frowned as she pulled onto the street. "You know, if I had just studied harder in high school, maybe I would have had scholarships instead of loans to finance my college education. Then I could afford a vacation to Hawaii. At least two glorious weeks. Maybe three."

"Yeah. And if fate was kind, the men of our dreams would be on their way as we speak." Cathy shifted her purse on her lap.

"Yeah." Dana nodded. "That would most definitely work. Then I could afford Hawaii. Actually, I could handle going alone, if I could afford it. After all, you don’t have to have a husband to visit Paradise."

"Absolutely not." Cathy grinned. "You could find one over there. After all, brothers vacation alone, too. If nothing else, you could enjoy the male scenery."

"Yeah. Oh, yeah. From the pictures I’ve seen, that view would be better than one of those perfect sunsets."

They rode the rest of the way to school in silence, but Dana’s mind was busy trying to find a plan to get her to Hawaii.

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