|Rowena’s Page, Rowena Gets Married.||Rowena Gets Ready, Part 11|
Rowena put her hand over her eyes. “Mom,” she began, knowing it was futile. Why did she still let her mother into her apartment just because she'd knocked?
“Rowena, this is the biggest decision of your life! You're going to need help. You can't possibly go to the bridal shop without your mother.”
Rowena, anticipating this, had gone to great lengths to hide from her mother the name and location of the bridal shop she'd chosen, as well as the date and time of her appointment. “Mom, it's a dress. Just a dress. Okay? I—”
Her mother gasped audibly. “Just a dress?” she demanded. “Just a dress?”
Rowena took her hand away from her eyes and looked at the ceiling. She should know by now, she thought, that trying to end a discussion with her mother by downplaying whatever her mother was excited about didn't work, but she didn't seem able to help herself. Even now. “Okay,” she said, “it's just a gown. Happy?”
“It's your wedding gown, and I wish you would take it seriously. Honestly, Rowena, I don't see how you—you're so young. They'll dazzle you in there, they'll push you around—”
“Really?” asked Rowena, in a tone that she'd meant to sound deadpan but which had come out a bit sarcastic.
“All those lovely dresses!” her mother said. “All calling out to you, saying ‘Take me! Take me! I'm the one for you!’” Rowena looked at her; she appeared as though she might levitate at any moment. Rowena's mother often got excited—very often, in fact—but this seemed a little different. “And the salesladies acting so nice. You need your mother there to keep you grounded.”
Grounded, Rowena thought. Right. Aloud she said, “Mother—”
“All those dresses!” her mother cried again. “A girl could go distracted! How will you ever find the right one?”
Rowena reflected that her mother had seemed much less concerned about whether she had found the right husband. But the right dress, that she could get worked up about. Rowena did feel that the right dress was out there; she only had to find it. And the less her mother was involved, the more likely this was to happen. “I asked Terese to come with me,” she said aloud, which was true enough. The fact that Terese had had to cancel was just something Rowena's mother didn't really have to know.
“Terese!” cried her mother.
“Yes, Terese. In her capacity as my best friend and my Maid of Honor.”
“Rowena, I know you like Terese, but for this you—you need your mother's advice!”
“What are you afraid of, Mom? What? That I'll get married in a red minidress, or—or in my pajamas, maybe? Are you afraid it'll go on my Permanent Record and blight my life forever?”
Her mother stiffened. “There are certain things a mother wants,” she began.
“I understand,” Rowena began, “but—”
“And one of those things is the right wedding dress. We'll get the most expensive one your father can afford: white satin, lace, seed pearls—”
“Ruffles, a full-length veil with so many layers it'll be completely opaque.”
“Such a wonderful dress you won't be able to walk in it! My daughter will be a pillar of white, and—”
“How about,” Rowena said, “a bride in ivory who can see where she's going?”
Rowena hadn't thought this would be an issue. “Ivory is perfectly acceptable,” she said. “It's basically a shade of white. To all intents and purposes it is white, except that ivory looks good on me and white does not.”
“Doesn't look good on you? Of course it'll look good on you; it's your wedding dress. There you'll be—”
“Mom, white does not look good on me. It just doesn't. Remember that sundress? Remember all those white blouses I had to wear for—”
“Blouses!” said her mother. “This is—”
“Mother, I don't look good in white. It's been tried. I'm too—”
“How can you let a little thing like that stand in your way? This is your wedding.”
“Mother. I thought at least half the point of spending all this time and energy and money on a dress was—”
“I want my daughter to be beautiful!” her mother wailed. “Whether she looks good or not!”
“So that's where I stand,” Rowena told Sammy. “Not that I'm surprised.” She took the teacup he had just filled for her, smiling her thanks. She had already been worried about the gown-shopping, worried that she'd feel too pressured and anxious to make the right choice, and, as usual, her mother had only made things worse.
“She'll come around,” Sammy said. He sat down, reached over and patted her hand. “You know how to handle her, whether you believe it or not, and anyway you are getting married. She's not in much of a position to argue about that.”
Rowena laughed. “No,” she said, “considering that marrying off her daughters is her life's work.”
“See? You've got nothing to worry about,” Sammy said. “When are you going?”
“Tomorrow at two.”
Sammy nodded. “And she doesn't know where or when?”
“Nope. And Olivia—the woman I spoke to on the phone—has been sworn to secrecy.”
He nodded again, smiling. “I would say, ‘good luck,’ but you're not going to need it. You will find a dress you love and I will have an incredibly beautiful bride.” He lifted her hand and kissed it. “Right?”
Rowena laughed. “If you say so.” She hoped she didn't sound as nervous as she felt.
“I know so.” He kissed her hand again, then got out of his chair to kiss her properly. And for a moment, Rowena did not worry at all.
Her mother called a couple of times that evening, but Sammy picked up the phone each time and managed, somehow, to get rid of her without putting Rowena on. The third time he answered his eyebrows went up and he said, “Hello, Maralynne.” He looked questioningly over at Rowena, who shrugged and then nodded. Whatever this was about, she found her sister easier to deal with than her mother. Usually. “She's right here,” Sammy said, and handed the phone over.
“Hi, Maralynne,” Rowena said. “What's up?”
“Mom wanted me to call you,” Maralynne said. “I'm supposed to bug you about your stupid dress.”
Rowena had known the battle wasn't over until the dress was ordered at least, or perhaps had been consigned to storage for ten or twenty years. But she hadn't expected her sister to harass her—at least, she hadn't expected it consciously. Already Rowena felt a need to switch the phone to her other ear. “What about my stupid dress?” she asked.
“Mom says to get a white one. A real fancy white one. She says you're being stubborn and unreasonable and radical and stuff.”
“I hardly think an ivory wedding gown is radical,” Rowena said. “Mom—”
“Ivory? You want ivory?” Rowena took a deep breath but before she could speak her sister said, “Here I thought you were showing some style for once, or gumption, at least. Ivory!”
Rowena closed her eyes and held the phone with both hands. “Maralynne—”
“I bet you want a long one, with no slits or anything. You'll probably even get something you can afford. Shit!”
“I should have known. You're hopeless. I'm not even talking to you about your . . . dress.”
“Imagine my disappointment,” Rowena said, and waited.
“So let's talk about something I can help you with. This is great; this is . . . incredible!”
Rowena braced herself. Again. “I'm all ears,” she said.
“I can make the arrangements for you,” her sister said. “I have the phone number and everything.”
“What arrangements?” Rowena asked, cautiously.
“For the catering! For your wedding! All you have to do is tell me—”
“Let me guess,” Rowena said. “You want me to have my wedding reception catered by Joe and Harry. Right?”
“Of course!” said Maralynne. “Who else?”
“Well, I appreciate the—your concern, but I already have a caterer. So—”
“So change. You could have Joe and Harry! In person, maybe!”
“Maralynne. We've been over this before.”
“A real live celebrity banquet. Joe and Harry!”
“Maralynne. This ‘guy food’ thing they do. I . . . not everyone is a guy.”
“Well . . . yeah.”
“And . . . not everyone is into Joe and Harry food.”
Rowena made her voice as gentle as she could, without losing too much firmness. “I don't really want hot dogs and Sloppy Joes with beer sauce at my reception. It's just not . . . wedding.”
“But it's Joe and Harry!”
“I know. Some other time, Maralynne.”
“Some other time.”
“First an ivory dress,” Maralynne said. “And now this.”
“Listen,” Rowena told her, “the next time you get a part you can throw a big party and have Joe and Harry right there in your apartment, okay? They can give you a private lesson, maybe, just for you.”
“You could really get to know them. I'm sure at a wedding reception—all those guests, all the food and everything, they wouldn't really have time to talk or . . . anything. It would hardly be any fun. And you'd have to stay at your seat and—”
“All right, all right. They can do your bachelorette party.”
Rowena felt a brief, sickening lurch in the time it took her to realize that she was protected from this. “Terese is doing the bachelorette party,” she said. “You'd have to talk to her.”
“Tereeeese!” cried Maralynne, more terrified than dismayed.
“She's the Maid of Honor,” Rowena reminded her.
When Rowena hung up the phone it was with a vast sense of relief, tempered only slightly by the realization, which she had been trying to avoid, that she was going to have a bachelorette party and that her sister would have to attend. At least, would have to be allowed to attend. She shook her head, pushed the thought out—again—as best she could. Later, she told herself. Worry about that later.
Right now she had to worry about her dress.
Rowena had allowed an extra half-hour to get to the bridal shop, just in case, but the first twenty minutes were eaten by a meeting that ran over time, and then she'd hit heavy traffic.
Heavy traffic with a high idiot content. Someone swooped over in front of her from the lane to her right and nearly clipped her bumper. Rowena braked and the driver behind her leaned on his horn. The driver who'd passed her carried on, apparently oblivious; of course he hadn't signaled when he passed Rowena, and he didn't signal when he did the same thing to somebody else a few seconds later. Then somebody to her left tried to merge in on top of her, and then she was sitting bumper-to-bumper, moving just a few feet at a time, and the clock on her dashboard said she had seven minutes to get to her appointment. Then six, then five . . .
Finally, finally, at one minute before two, Rowena pulled into the parking lot that the bridal shop shared with three other businesses, only to find, on circling around it, that it was full. The entire block was full, as were the next two she tried. At last she managed to find a place for her car, to take care of the meter, and to set off for the shop on foot, late already, of course . . . through a surging mob of fellow pedestrians, most of them going the other way. The noise, the exhaust from the passing cars and buses . . . By the time Rowena reached the shop she felt entirely frazzled. She took a deep breath and reached for the door.
But the door opened before she touched it, opened to discharge an obviously pregnant teenager and, apparently, her mother and younger sister. “I just hope you're happy,” the mother was saying, grimly. Rowena stepped aside to let them pass; only the younger sister actually looked at her. Twelve years old; fourteen at the most. Rowena took the door and the three of them filed past, leaving Rowena there with the bridal shop before her.
She went in . . . into quiet. Quiet and . . . something almost fragrant. Silk and satin and lace and—Rowena took a deep, slow breath.
“Hello there,” said a smiling dark-haired woman. “Can I help you?”
She was kind, obviously kind and patient, and she was Olivia, the woman Rowena had spoken to on the phone. She congratulated Rowena on her upcoming marriage; her eyes appraised Rowena kindly and she nodded thoughtfully and said, “I see what you mean” when Rowena mentioned her reservations about pure white. No argument, no pressure. She guided Rowena to a rack of gowns.
“These here are A-line styles, but perhaps you would prefer something more fitted?” she began, walking past the first group of gowns and stopping with her hand on a lacy shoulder. She turned back to look at Rowena, and waited.
“Yes,” Rowena said. “Something more fitted.”
Olivia smiled as though she'd known Rowena would say this, and approved. “Well, then,” she said, “let's have a look.”
And what was left of Rowena's nervousness ebbed away.
Lovely, lovely dresses. A little fitting room with a standard three-way mirror and a sort of staging area with a platform and bigger mirrors. Olivia advised her to try on styles she might not have thought about as well as those she had, and this Rowena did. Rowena tried on slinky sheaths and ballroom skirts; she tried on satin, silk, and chiffon; lace, illusion, and seed pearls. She tried on square necklines and Queen Anne necklines and sweetheart necklines and spaghetti straps and no straps. Olivia commented, advised, held excess fabric behind her and reminded her that her gown would be fitted to her, altered for her, made perfect. Sometimes Rowena marveled at Olivia's patience; other times she caught a faint twinkle in her eyes that suggested a deep love of dress-up. Dress after dress, and Rowena began to feel almost dizzy. She had two or three that she liked better than the others, and Olivia had set them aside for her, but mostly the gowns began to blur together in her mind. “See any others?” Olivia kept saying, or, “Try this one.” And Rowena would go back once more into her fitting room, the gown she was already wearing rustling around her.
And then she pulled the umpteenth dress over her head and lifted her hair free of it and closed up the back as best she could and looked into her fitting-room mirror and said, “Oh!”
She stood for some time, turning one way and then another, staring. When she met her eyes in the mirror she almost wanted to laugh. Finally she took a deep breath, gathered her skirt about her, and made her entrance.
Olivia lit up, beamed; clearly she saw something of what Rowena had seen. “Oh, my,” she said. “Yes. Well, let's get you up in front of the mirrors.”
Rowena gathered up her ivory ballroom skirt and mounted the platform. And there she was. Ivory satin and ivory lace; lacy Queen Anne neckline (deeper than some she'd tried on) and long lace sleeves. That ballroom skirt; how could she ever have wondered if such a thing would be too fancy? She turned a bit to the right, then turned back. She looked almost too good to be herself, and yet she was, she was.
Olivia was fastening the dress the rest of the way. “What do you think?” she asked, and their eyes met in the mirror.
She already knew what Rowena thought. They both already knew.
The rest of Rowena's visit passed in at least as much of a blur as the gown tryons. Veils: length, material, number of layers. After the veil, a headdress to hold it. Was the Juliet cap Rowena liked too informal—or maybe she meant minimal—for . . . The Dress? Advice on jewelry, shoes. And, finally, they had all the details of Rowena's wedding attire worked out. Just in time, too; she was exhausted. Exhausted and ready to go home.
“You'll be the star,” Olivia told her, as she prepared to return to her fitting room. “The princess.” And Rowena smiled and said “Thank you” once more. Tired as she was, she understood why Olivia loved her job.
“And your bridesmaids?” asked Olivia.
It was all Rowena could do not to cover her eyes and groan.
She left the bridal shop in a daze. She was absolutely exhausted, but—she had her dress! Her own, perfect dress. And she'd narrowed down the choices for her bridesmaids' dresses; she would let the bridesmaids themselves help with the final selection, and why not? She'd be pleased with any of the four . . . though not as pleased as she was about her own gown.
She was not perturbed this time by the crowds on the sidewalk. She got to her car and let herself in, then sat a while behind the wheel, half basking and half catching her breath. Yes, she thought. Yes!
But then, she thought, I still have to get my mother off my back.
She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, put her arms over the steering wheel, and set her head, just for a moment, to rest on them.
She would have to manage her mother somehow.
But—she had her dress.
She had her dress, her own dress she'd chosen herself, and that was that.
Sammy was pleased by her triumph, although Rowena didn't give him very many details on the dress—not that he'd have understood them all if she had. “So I get the most beautiful bride ever?” he asked. “Not that that was in any doubt.”
Rowena laughed. “Olivia said I'd be the star—the princess,” she said. “Even in an ivory dress.”
And then she stopped. “What's wrong?” asked Sammy.
“Nothing,” Rowena said. “Nothing at all. But I need to go online a minute.”
Sammy shrugged. “Help yourself,” he said.
“Oh, I'll do that,” Rowena said. “I'll definitely do that.” She gave him a kiss and went into their little office.
This time she actually invited her mother over. And this time she was prepared.
“I've ordered my gown, Mom,” she said.
“Is it—white?” asked her mother, distrustfully.
Her mother heaved a dramatic sigh. “Rowena, we do not do ivory wedding dresses. I was married in white, your grandmother was—”
Rowena plunked a sheaf of papers down on the coffee table in front of her. “What's this?” her mother asked.
“Wedding dresses,” Rowena said, very casually, “worn by movie stars, heiresses, and . . . other notable types.”
Her mother went through the first three or four printouts. “They're . . . ivory,” she said.
“Yup,” said Rowena. “All of 'em.”
“Rowena . . . actresses are . . .” She hesitated suddenly, frozen by a photo of someone she was known to admire. Rowena just sat, smiling sweetly.
When she got to the bottom of the pile, where Rowena had strategically placed the princess—the real live princess—her mother didn't say a word but just sat and stared.
“Would you like another cookie?” Rowena asked innocently, after a decent interval.
But her mother did not respond.
Volume III: Rowena Gets Married.
Book 8: Rowena Gets Ready.
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