July, 2000

I’ve always looked at my daughter with a critical eye. Or rather, I’ve always regarded her with objectivity. A first impression can never be undone, I’ve told her more than once, to which she has always responded, Oh, Mom. Later, after she left for college, that changed to, Mother, please. But I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t bear to see some of the girls at her high school who dyed their hair jet black, who painted their faces with a thick, white foundation as if they were mimes performing at a circus. I actually held my hand to my mouth the first time I saw Elizabeth’s grade-school friend after the girls left for their respective universities; Corrine had traded in her colorful wardrobe for olive drab. She’d shaved her head! Bald as a cancer patient, and without a trace of makeup either. After that I held my breath every time Elizabeth announced a visit. I was terrified that I’d open the front door to find her wearing camouflage, or sporting a tattoo.

But all that worry was for naught. Elizabeth has gravitated toward a more feminine sense of fashion, and I gaze at her now with a poignant mixture of tenderness and pride. We settled on a Vera Wang, a chapel-length train and a delicate bodice strung with tiny, shimmering beads. Elizabeth wears her hair swept back, copper-colored tendrils framing her face, and as I watch she lifts one hand to her veil. She’s resplendent, the crown jewel among the other young ladies sitting alongside her: four bridesmaids and Corrine, her maid of honor, who in the years since she first shaved her head has come to her senses and grown back her hair, though she fought me this afternoon when I suggested that some color on her lips might make the photographer’s work a little easier.

I take another sip of champagne, my eyes sliding past the groom to the four young men sitting beside him, two of whom are my own sons. They’re getting drunk; I can tell by the way they’re slouching inward, toward each other and away from the groomsmen on either side of them. I stare in their direction until Charles, my youngest, senses my disapproval. John follows his brother’s gaze and they both sit up a little straighter. Hellions, both of them. If I can get them out of their mediocre colleges with one degree between them I’ll consider myself lucky.

The young man sitting next to Charles, the one at the end of the table, looks a bit lost. Why wouldn’t he, with no one to divert his attention? I cluck my tongue, then look to the groomsman on the other side of John. He’s no better off than his friend at the end of the table; John and Charles have fallen back into whatever sophomoric conversation they were having before they felt my frown, and this young man isn’t getting any help from the groom. This is precisely why we needed a best man, and I feel a wave of irritation both at the groom himself and Elizabeth, for backing up her husband-to-be when he insisted on leaving one space vacant.

I didn’t get the whole story, of course, just enough to concern me. A falling out, a reconciliation, and still this young man, Joel, refused to stand next to his best friend at his wedding! And yet he’s here today, sitting at a table with a last-minute date, a good-looking man who drapes an intimate arm around Joel’s shoulders with little regard to how that might appear to my guests.

Perhaps this is something I could mention to my daughter’s new husband. But no, I don’t think that would do any good. James can be quite stubborn, even belligerent, on the subject; otherwise, we’d have a best man. Even if I were to ask my husband to take care of the situation I have a feeling James would discover my involvement, and I don’t want to cause trouble for my daughter. Joel has already proven to be enough of an issue.

If I didn’t know any better I’d think Elizabeth was jealous.

The thought bubbles to my mind with the same effervescence as the glass of champagne I’m holding. Jealousy. But of what? My eyes fly to my son-in-law, then instantly relax when I see him lift Elizabeth’s hand to his lips. Together they admire the new rings gracing their fingers; whatever he says makes my daughter smile. They do make a charming couple.

Everything considered, I’d have to dub the celebration a success. And everything has been considered, from the raspberry-cream-filled bridal cake to the limousine waiting outside to take the newlyweds off on their honeymoon, and then into their lives together. A tear comes to my eye, and I hold a tissue with a trembling hand. I fear I’ve had a bit too much champagne, and yet I nod when a waiter approaches with a fresh bottle. There will be toasts soon, well-wishes, and I glance again at my beautiful daughter. Remarkable, how just yesterday she was a toddler, a kindergartener, a teenager laden with self-doubt. And now she sits before me like a queen on a throne, on the cusp of a new adventure. I watch her clink her champagne glass to her husband’s, smile as they both drink. They will be happy together, I think, but the thought suddenly seems less like a pronouncement and more like a plea.

I look again at Joel. He’s drinking from a glass of his own, talking with this man he’s brought, this man who leans in close to Joel’s ear and says something to make him laugh. I can already anticipate the comments I’ll have to field after tonight, and I give my head a little shake of perturbation, then glance in the direction of the head table. For the moment, Corrine claims my daughter’s attention, but it’s not Elizabeth who gives me pause.

I don’t have to follow his gaze to know where James is looking.

Copyright © 2010 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved

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