“Did you see how nice they were to us today?”
“Yeah, Jake held the door for me. How weird is that? You know, I’ll bet they’re up to something.”
Beth groaned. “God, Eddie, don’t you think after over ten years of knowing us he’s just being nice?”
“This is the Hatford boys,” reminded Eddie. “They’re never ‘just nice.’ At least, not Jake. No, they’re definitely planning something.”
Caroline didn’t care whether or not the Hatford brothers were planning something. She was excited because as long as Eddie thought they were, that meant they, the Malloy sisters, were going to plan something in response.
Oh, it would be just like old times again!
“So what’re we gonna do?” Caroline asked, bouncing on her two feet.
“Well,” said Eddie, smiling her scheming smile, “how about a little surprise for the bachelor party…”
“I don’t know,” said Josh, looking dubious. “A strip club…”
“Look, this is what they do at bachelor parties! And I’m your best man, remember? You have to do what I tell you to,” said Jake.
“Yeah, man, it’ll be fun,” grinned Tony.
But Josh looked at Wally. Of course he looked at Wally. “Are you going?”
“Wally, shut up, you’re coming,” yelled Jake.
"You're old enough, aren't you?" asked Steve.
"He turned twenty-one in January," Peter answered for Wally. Wally glared at him. "What? It's true!"
"There you go. You're coming with us, Wally. No choice!"
When did he ever have a choice? Wally wondered.
Wally volunteered to be the designated driver. However, soon he started to regret it, because you know what’s more awkward than going to a strip club? Being sober in a strip club.
He decided to go outside when everyone else seemed sufficiently drunk to miss him. The night air was fresh and cool and more importantly, quiet.
He headed for where he parked the car. Yeah, he could kick back in the front seat, turn on the music, open a can of pop and just stare at nothing, think about things…
Wally stopped. His jaw dropped.
Pink wrapping paper, frilly ribbons, lace and sparkles covered the car. Over the windshield, someone had used window markers to draw a pattern of daisies.
Screech. Wally turned, just in time to see a blue Audi peel away, its passengers throwing their heads back, laughing.
“Oh,” said Jake the next morning, “we’ll get them back. Just wait and see.”
Wally pushed his plate aside and banged his head on the table.
“Can I have your eggs?” Peter asked him.
Caroline twirled in her bridesmaid dress, loving how it cinched her waist and drifted over her legs so prettily. She felt like a fairy. Or a princess. A—
“Caroline, hurry. We don’t want to be late for the rehearsal dinner,” called Mother.
Regretfully, Caroline took off the bridesmaid dress and changed into the appropriate one for tonight. She wished today was the wedding so she could wear that gorgeous dress already. But what’s more, she thought to herself as she brushed out her hair, was she wished she was the bride. Not that she wanted to marry Josh Hatford, of course. Not that she wanted to steal Beth’s thunder. But… well, it was just that no matter how pretty the bridesmaid dress was, there would be three other bridesmaids, and only one bride… And the bride was always the most beautiful.
Caroline pouted. Yes, she just wished this was her wedding. She wouldn’t have a small one like Beth. She’d make it grand! Two hundred guests, and hold it in the biggest church! A Gothic one, preferably.
“One minute,” shouted Caroline, jumping around, fastening her earrings. She was about to rush out when she remembered: perfume! Famous actresses often had a signature scent, and Caroline had her favorite. She grabbed the bottle from her dressing table and gave herself a spritz.
Mother and Father were waiting downstairs. Eddie and Beth had already gone ahead.
“Well, let’s go,” said Caroline, noticing Mother and Father not moving, just staring at her.
“Caroline, what have you been eating?” said Mother, wrinkling her nose.
Caroline frowned. What…
Then, she sniffed. She held up one arm and sniffed. Then, the other arm.
“That is some strong cheese,” said Father, coughing.
Eddie, whose hair had been turned cornflower blue (“They put food coloring in my shampoo, those pricks”) reassured Caroline that oh, just wait and see. “We’ll—”
“—get them back,” finished Caroline.
First it was ketchup on the Hatfords’ seats. Then it was salt sprinkled onto the Malloys’ cakes. Then it was Eddie getting the mike and letting everyone know, sweetly, that Jake would like to sing a song in tribute to the lovely couple. Then it was Jake saying just as sweetly that Eddie will be doing the girl part of the duet.
Then, in the middle of the crooning, Wally looked across the table at Caroline, Caroline looked across the table at Wally, and they both burst out laughing.
The next day was the big day.
Beth was freaking out, Mother was freaking out even more, and Caroline was not pleased because no attention was on her. Well, her acting teacher did say Caroline had to learn to be more of an observer… But observing could be so boring.
She looked over at Wally, who was leaning against the wall, hands in his suit pockets. Not doing anything, just looking.
Why, Wally had always been an observer, hadn’t he?
She wandered over to him. “What are you looking at?”
Wally shrugged one shoulder. “Nothing.”
She crossed her arms, rolling her eyes, but she didn’t leave. She leaned against the wall too and didn’t say anything, just looked.
After a moment Wally said, “Everyone seems happy.”
Caroline glanced at him, then back at the scene. Mother, Father, Mr. and Mrs. Hatford were grouping together for a photo. Little kids ran around, almost crashing into waiters maneuvering with their trays. Peter was flirting with one of Caroline’s cousins by the bar.
“Malloys and Hatfords, huh?” said Caroline. “Who’d have thought?”
“Not me,” said Wally.
“Smile!” a voice said suddenly, and Caroline had barely time to register before the camera flashed.
“Thanks,” said the photographer, winking and moving on.
Caroline and Wally stared at one another. “That can’t have turned out well,” said Wally. Caroline laughed.
She was laughing with Wally the second time in two days. Who’d have thought?
When Beth came down the aisle, Caroline had to dab at her eyes. It was true. The bride was always the most beautiful, but it wasn’t because of her dress. It was because of how happy she was.
For once, Caroline found herself not minding the lack of attention. Her sister was the center of spotlight today, and Caroline couldn’t be happier.
When it was time for Beth and Josh to say their lines, everyone got a little surprise.
“I do, Annabelle,” said Josh.
“I do, Elmer,” said Beth.
Caroline looked at the wedding guests. Many looked shocked and confused. Caroline’s grandmother even looked close to fainting. Then Caroline looked at Eddie, and over on the other side, at Jake, Wally, and Peter.
This time, they all burst out laughing.
“Wanna dance?” asked Caroline.
“I don’t dance,” said Wally.
“Oh, come on, just a little. It’s a good song!”
Wally didn’t know what it was - maybe just the festive air, and maybe it was the laugh he had shared with Caroline, maybe it was the sight of even Eddie and Jake dancing - but he allowed Caroline to pull him to his feet.
“Do you know what this means?” Caroline shouted over the music.
“What?” Wally shouted back.
“We’re in-laws now!”
“So, from now on we’ll be spending every Thanksgiving, every Christmas, every July 4th…”
“Together,” finished Wally.
“Yeah! How do you like that?”
Wally thought about this. Every major holiday, spent with the Malloys. And every time, Jake and Eddie would be arguing (like they were doing now); Josh and Beth would be making moon eyes at each other (like they were doing now); Peter would be happy because he was Peter; and Caroline - dear God, Caroline - would always be her theatrical, arms-gesticulating-never-shutting-up-self, forever in the corner of his eye.
Wally thought about it, and sighed.
“Okay,” he said.
“Okay?” said Caroline, lifting an eyebrow.
Wally shrugged one shoulder.
“You’re a weird one, Wally.”
“You’re weird yourself.”
Wally had made Caroline Malloy laugh twice in one day. Who’d have thought?
By the time the reception wound down, everyone was feeling tired and sleepy and/or tipsy. Eddie and Jake were drunkenly arguing over who had the better college degree, biology or communications. Tony and Steve were singing loudly and horribly the same song Eddie and Jake had sung last night; Peter was flirting with now two of Caroline’s cousins; Mr. Hatford, Mr. Malloy, and Mr. Benson were discussing politics; Mrs. Hatford, Mrs. Malloy, and Mrs. Benson were exchanging recipes. Josh and Beth had disappeared a long time ago.
Caroline found herself sitting with Wally again, resting her feet on an empty chair, having kicked off her heels.
“Remember that time you trapped me in the bookstore cellar?”
“Remember that time you painted the ladder to trap us in the loft?”
“Remember that time you tried to catch the abaguchie, and caught me instead?”
“Remember that time you were the abaguchie?”
They both smiled.
“We had some fun times,” said Caroline.
“We did,” agreed Wally.
They looked at each other in that moment and it was as if they read each other’s minds.
“Let’s,” said Wally, grinning.
That night, every guest who went out the door got a faceful of confetti and a shout of, “The Hatfords and Malloys wish you a good night!”
Two weeks later, Caroline was sifting through the mail while eating an apple. There was a postcard from Josh and Beth from their honeymoon; a letter for Father from the university; utility bills; grocery store coupons for Mother; an issue of Scientific American for Eddie, and…
Caroline gasped with delight, putting down her apple. “The wedding photos!”
“Oh, wonderful,” said Mother from the kitchen, where she was busy making dinner. “How do they look?”
“They look nice,” replied Caroline, carefully leafing through them. The photographer had done a good job. There were shots of laughing wedding guests, blushing Beth in her beautiful dress, shots of the sisters linking arms, the groom and his party doing funny poses…
Caroline paused at one photo.
In it, a young man and a young woman were standing side by side. They both wore an expression of mild surprise, like two people caught off guard. The girl had been caught midway through her smile; her lips were tilting upwards, her eyes held the desire to laugh. The boy simply looked content, his face relaxed, his shoulders angled towards the girl ever so slightly.
Caroline smiled to herself, holding up the photo at arm’s length.
“It turned out quite well, actually,” she said.
“What’s that, Caroline?” Mother called from the kitchen.
“Nothing, Mom,” Caroline called back. She looked back down at the photo. “Oh, nothing at all,” she said lightly.