Mr. William Keller and Ms. Leslie Smythe request the honor of your presence at the wedding of their daughter, Lily Keller, to Peter Black.
I didn't mind sitting with Alan Gray at the wedding. I’ve always been proud of how easy it is for me to stay friends with my exes, and besides, it'd been almost ten years since we broke up.
It was June, and the air outside was so scorchingly hot and humid that it permeated through the walls of Stoneybrook First Lutheran, despite the air conditioning going full blast. The purple and white flowers—they were the colors of Stoneybrook U, where the bride and groom had met in the chemistry lab—were already starting to wilt, and some of the other guests were using their programs as hand-fans. Me, I was busy worrying about my eyeshadow melting off and staining my sundress with ugly blue tears.
"Ugh, why couldn't Pete wait for cool weather?" I whispered to Alan as I tried to discreetly check whether my armpits were staining. (Class, thy name is Claudia.) I thought it was a fair question—SU graduation had only been a week ago, and I couldn't imagine planning a wedding during the chaos of finals. "Like, say, a nice Christmas wedding?"
Alan smiled. "Well, he and Lily decided to wait for marriage, so they..." He trailed off, letting the words wanted to do it like crazy go unsaid.
For a fleeting moment, I was actually pleased that gay marriage hadn't been legal when I figured out I liked women. I couldn't be judged for losing my virginity before marriage if it hadn't been an option, right?
Right then a hush fell over the church as Pete took his place at the front of the aisle. The organist struck the first few chords, and the ceremony started.
It was a nice wedding, I think. Lily was glowing in a way that had nothing to do with sweat and heat, and the bridesmaids’ dresses were gorgeous. But still, I couldn't stop staring at Pete Black and thinking, Oh my lord, I've known him since kindergarten and I'm watching him get married.
I was still thinking about it at the reception. "You know, I haven't dated anybody seriously since Jasmine," I told Alan as I watched Pete and Lily dance and look stupidly in love.
"Uh...sorry?" Alan said. He looked distracted, trying to cut into a piece of overcooked catering chicken.
"No, not sorry," I corrected. "It's just weird, being single for almost two years and watching one of your oldest friends get married. It kind of makes you think, you know?"
Alan looked at me sympathetically, but his expression quickly turned into a double-take. "Um, heads up," he said, staring over my shoulder.
I raised my eyebrows at him and turned to look. Coming straight toward us was the one ex I hadn't stayed friends with.
My ex-best friend.
I'd seen her around town every once in a while during visits home from college, but now I couldn't duck into the Argo and pretend I hadn't seen her. Her cornflower-blue eyes locked with mine, and I was trapped in my chair.
"Claudia!" she said, smiling. Her sleeveless black dress shouldn’t have looked right for a summer wedding, I found myself thinking, but of course it worked on Stacey. "And Alan! How are you?"
"Great," I said, forcing enthusiasm. "How are you? I see your mom sometimes."
"I'm good too...we're both good." She paused, and the awkwardness between us was too thick to cut with a knife. Maybe you could use a sword or something. "It was a gorgeous wedding, huh?"
"Totally," I said, and Alan hummed in agreement with me.
"Well, um, I better go. See you around, okay?" I nodded, and with that, Stacey retreated back to her table, waving to a few people she knew as she went.
"What did you guys fight about again?” Alan asked as soon as she was out of earshot.
“A boy,” I said. “Stupid, right?”
Janine Marie Kishi and Samuel Patrick Thomas cordially invite you to join in the celebration of their marriage.
I'd spent over an hour on my sister's makeup. She claimed that she didn't trust anyone else to do it for her, but that still didn't stop her from worrying I was about to tart her up like a Las Vegas hooker.
"Not too much," Janine kept saying every two seconds, staring at herself worriedly in the mirror. "I really prefer to look like myself."
"This is just enough to even out your skin tone and make you look your best for the photos," I promised, and I was right. Janine looked totally natural as she walked down the aisle--just like she and Sam liked her.
But midway through the ceremony, I realized we shouldn't have been worrying about her makeup—we should have been worrying about mine! Janine looked so radiant and confident as she said her vows that I couldn't help but start to cry. By the time the justice of the peace declared them husband and wife, I looked like a blotchy, red-nosed raccoon.
I made a mental note to invest in some waterproof mascara.
While everyone else left for the reception dinner at Chez Maurice, I made a beeline for the closest bathroom. No way was I going to toast my sister looking like Alice Cooper had given me makeup advice. I turned on the cold water—better to reduce redness—and leaned in close to the mirror as I scrubbed, making sure I didn't miss a speck of smudged mascara. I was just digging into my clutch for emergency cosmetics when the door opened and shut softly behind me. I looked up and just about fell over in surprise.
It had been a small wedding (as small as a wedding featuring all nine hundred thousand members of the Thomas-Brewer family could be); I didn't know how I could have missed her. I hadn't even known she was invited.
"Stacey," I gulped. She looked gorgeous, of course, in an entirely different little black dress than the one she'd worn to Pete's wedding. Silk, with a deep V-neck, and longer sleeves for the cooler autumn weather. It made her blonde hair blonder, blue eyes bluer. Staring at her while wearing a simple, Janine-approved burgundy sateen bridesmaid dress and not a speck of makeup, I must have looked all of thirteen years old.
"You looked like you could maybe use some help." There was enough hesitance in her voice that I took pity on her.
"I think I've got this," I said, giving her a small smile. "But you can keep me company, if you want."
Stacey nodded and leaned against the sink, crossing her arms. All she really needed was a Trapper Keeper and some glitter nail polish and I'd have felt like I’d been transported back to middle school, primping and gabbing before home room. That was before we started fighting over a boy—God, what was his name? I couldn't even remember. We made up eventually, but it was never the same after that, always a little awkward and tense. So we just kind of drifted apart.
"So...Sam and Janine," she said after a beat of silence, her tone wry. I couldn't help but laugh a little.
"Yeah," I said, "who'd have thunk it?" They'd bumped into each other at (what else?) a mutual friend's wedding a few years back, and the rest was history.
"What do they even talk about?"
"Oh, I don't know." I touched up my makeup as we talked, glancing at her via the mirror. "Maybe they go to stand-up shows and Janine works out the mathematical reasons why it's funny."
Stacey grinned at me, growing prettier by the second. "Or prank-calling astrophysics labs. 'Is your telescope running?'"
"Or figuring out the chemistry of boogers." At that, Stacey burst out laughing, and suddenly I sort of remembered what it had felt like to be best friends with her. The chemistry of it. The pang of wistfulness was so strong that I felt desperate to change the subject.
"I guess you two still keep in touch?" I asked. Sam and Stacey had dated off and on for a little while in middle and high school. They finally broke up for good around the time I was figuring out how much I liked feeling up Grace Blume in the backseat of her Honda Civic.
She nodded. "Yeah, emails and Facebook, mostly."
"I guess it was good you could come in from the city." I'd heard she went to NYU for college. No surprises there.
"Huh? Oh, no, I'm getting my Masters at UConn. Just started a couple weeks ago. I'm living with my mom again." Her tone went wry again. "Tres grown-up, right?"
"A lot of people do that," I said. I didn't want to judge, especially since I was a fifth year senior at a small art college upstate. An art school, and I still couldn't quite hack it.
"Yeah, but still." She paused again before saying, "Um, did you come with someone?"
"What?" It was so out of left field (thanks for the baseball metaphor, new brother-in-law) that it just confused me.
Stacey hesitated before saying, "Alan told me that you...um." She blushed faintly, and I slowly started to get it.
"And you wanted the scoop, right?" I could feel my expression growing colder as I started packing up makeup. "Yup, your former BFF is a big ol' lesbian. Bet that'll be fun to tell all your Facebook friends, huh?"
"Claudia, that's not what it's like at all—"
"Yeah, sure." I turned to face her for the first time, and only then so I could slip past her and out the door. "My sister needs me. Enjoy the wedding."
"Claudia!" she called after me, but by then I was already halfway down the hall.
We hope you join us for our annual New Years Eve Party. This year, we have something extra to celebrate...we're renewing our vows! — Peggy and Bruce Johannson
The fact that the Johannsons’ New Years Eve party was the highlight of my neighborhood's social season probably said a lot about my hometown, but I didn't care. My vacation wasn't even over, but I was already stir-crazy, stuck at home all day. I was just relieved to have something to do other than watch Investigation Discovery with my dad.
I was really the wrong age for this crowd. Most of the adults were older, friends of Dr. and Mr. Johannson, while the younger ones were generally friends of Charlotte, who had just turned eighteen. A few of them had been BSC charges back in the day. I knew I'd have fun teasing some with old, embarrassing stories and marveling at how different they looked. One of the Pike triplets—I wasn't sure which one—actually tried to get my number last year; I couldn't decide whether I should feel flattered or totally grossed out.
There were some friends there, though. I could see Mary Anne toward the back of the room, reading the cards on the congratulations flowers and getting misty-eyed. Nearby, Kristy was bouncing her brother Charlie's baby, Libby, on her hip. Mallory was talking animatedly to some guy (had we gone to school together? I couldn't tell) while Jessi, freshly twenty-one, was helping herself to champagne. Somewhere, I was sure I'd find Erica Blumberg and Alan Gray (probably with M&Ms squinched over his eyes for his "classic" Little Orphan Annie impression) and others too.
I knew that soon we'd all be gabbing away and catching up, but for a second I just stood there by the door, taking it all in. There were so many friends who weren't there at all, people who'd been at the center of my world. I only saw Dawn once or twice a year now, and Shannon had moved out of Stoneybrook years ago, when her parents divorced. Logan was in the Air Force, half a world away and with bigger things on his mind than old friends. I wasn't even really sure what had happened to Abby.
I hated that life worked that way. I hated losing friends. Even Stacey, who I knew was around here somewhere.
In her posh, structured little cocktail dress (black, of course), Stacey looked like she belonged at some fancy Manhattan party instead of little Stoneybrook. But I knew she was still close to the Johannsons; she wouldn't have missed this night for the world.
I was able to avoid Stacey for most of the party, drifting from friend to friend, snack table to booze table, kitchen to bathroom, whenever I saw her out of the corner of my eye. Kristy mouthed Soooo sophisticated at me when I abruptly ditched her to talk to Mrs. Newton when I spotted Stacey coming our way.
An hour before midnight, I got a break when all the guests gathered in the living room for the vow renewal. I had never seen Dr. Johannson look more radiant, and her husband's eyes were bright with tears. I couldn't help but feel a little misty myself when it was he read his vows, saying:
"The day we first met, I knew you were special. That you were going to be part of my life for as long as I lived, whether it was as my partner or my very dearest friend. Lucky for me, you became both."
Oh my Lord.
After the ceremony, it was almost midnight, so Charlotte turned on the TV so everyone could watch the ball drop. I'd hoped that even a glimpse of New York City would be enough to transfix Stacey into leaving me alone, but no luck. She spotted me in the hall and headed right my way.
Yikes. I looked left, right, but there were no interceptions in sight. As a last resort, I scurried into the bathroom, only to find her slipping in after me, frowning.
"Okay, we were never this close," I protested.
"Oh, grow up, Claudia," she said, crossing her arms. "Just let me talk to you."
"What do you even need to say? One, we're not friends anymore." I started ticking off the list on my fingers. "Two, you're a homophobe. Three, we're next to a toilet, which doesn't improve any conversation. Four—"
Stacey rolled her eyes and stepped over to me. In one smooth motion, she framed my face in her hands and kissed me, just as the party-goers in the living room cheered Happy New Year!. It was so achingly tender that I had no choice but to believe that it was genuine. When she pulled away, just an inch or two, my eyes were as big as Reeses Peanut Butter Cups.
"I am not a homophobe," she said, softly but firmly. "The opposite, actually."
"The opposite?" I squeaked.
Stacey smiled, but just then, there was a pounding at the door.
"It's an emergency!" a voice cried urgently. I was pretty sure it was Becca Ramsey. "Vanessa was sneaking bourbon and now she needs to puke!"
Saved by the barf. Head reeling, I broke away and flung the door open, and Vanessa Pike rushed in, stumbling toward the toilet. Stacey was already going pale; she hated it when people threw up.
"Um, I'll see you," I said, waving awkwardly as I made my getaway.
I did not know what to do with this.
Hello? Hello…Mary Anne? I—look, Mary Anne, I can’t understand what you’re saying if you keep…oh my Lord. No, I mean, yes, of course I’ll come. I’ll leave right now…
“We are here today to celebrate the life of Tigger Spier,” Kristy told the group of people, mostly former members of the Baby-sitters Club, standing around the small, fresh grave in the Spiers’ backyard.
“Tigger Spier-Retlin,” Mary Anne managed to choke out through her tears, twisting her engagement ring absently, and Cary put an arm around her.
Kristy ground her teeth—she was still convinced that their relationship was Cary’s ultimate prank against her—but for Mary Anne, she managed to keep it together. “Tigger Spier-Retlin. I remember the very first day Mary Anne brought him home from the shelter...”
I tried to pay attention, honestly. And I was sad, but it was hard to keep my mind on the impromptu service when my ex-best friend, who had laid one on me just a couple days ago, was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with me.
Stacey's head was bowed somberly, and it was hard to tell what she was wearing under her sleek black trench coat, but sapphires dangled from her ears. They sparkled each time she moved. She was beautiful, as always, and just thinking about kissing her again made my mouth go dry.
But that didn't mean I wasn't really, really confused too.
"Claudia?" Mallory said softly, interrupting my thoughts. "It's your turn to speak."
Glancing over at Mary Anne's red eyes and heartbroken expression, I felt so guilty for zoning out. But I kept my composure and said, "Tigger was the most fashionable cat I know. Stripes are always in, and gray goes with everything."
After the memorial, everyone decided to go inside for cocoa and hot tea. By some sort of unspoken agreement, Stacey and I walked a little more slowly than the others, lingering on the edge of the group until they were all in the kitchen. I quietly shut the door behind them and turned to Stacey, shifting my weight from one to the other nervously; the wooden boards of the porch creaked angrily in protest.
"So what was that about—"
"Sorry about the other—"
We spoke at the same time, then paused, waiting for the other to speak. Finally, I said, "So you're gay too?"
"Bi." A wry expression crossed her face. "Please don't say that just means I'm deluding myself."
"I would never say that!" I exclaimed, shocked.
"Some people have." She shrugged. "It was a big step for me to admit it to myself; it's kind of a new thing. So I don't really know how people tend to react to it."
"Well, as a lesbian, I think I'm required to show you our secret handshake, first off," I said.
Stacey laughed, then hesitated before saying, "You never told me about you."
"When I figured it out, we weren't really..." I trailed off.
"Right." She chewed on her bottom lip a little before continuing. "You know, I think a lot of my problems with...prioritizing boys had to do with how insecure I was about liking girls too. Like I was trying way too hard to prove myself."
"I know what you mean." I thought back to how desperate I felt about not having a steady boyfriend when I was thirteen, how it felt like everyone I knew was with a guy but me. But even my best date with a guy didn't feel as right as even my worst date with a girl.
"I'm sorry for how things turned out between us," Stacey said, her voice soft.
"We were both idiots," I told her. "I'm sorry too." She grinned, but I wasn't done. "So...what was your plan here? To stalk me at weddings until you could kiss me and announce that you're into women? Pretty dramatic, McGill."
Stacey laughed again and actually blushed. "No, I kissed you because you're gorgeous and I've always thought so."
Now it was my turn to blush. I'm such a sucker for a compliment. "Oh! Wow. I think so too...about you, I mean." I always had a way with words.
But Stacey understood. "Do you think you'd ever want to maybe, you know, get a cup of coffee sometime?"
Was she asking me out? I was too stunned to do anything but echo, "Coffee?"
"Well, coffee for me. Candy cane hot chocolate for you."
She had me there. But still, I hesitated. Even though I was all grown-up now, I still remembered how much it'd hurt when I'd lost Stacey as a real friend. How would I feel if it happened again? Especially if we were more than just best friends. But I could also remember that very first time we met, in seventh grade, and how I'd never before and never since felt so wrapped up in one person at first sight.
Finally, I asked, “Do you really think it could work between us?”
She smiled, bright and beautiful and Stacey. “I guess we’ll just have to see.”
Mr. and Mrs. Richard Spier and Mr. and Mrs. Grant Retlin are pleased to announce to marriage of their children, Mary Anne Spier and Cary Retlin.
Mary Anne and Cary may have been in love, but they were smart enough not to rush things. It was a full two years before they said their I Do's. It was a June wedding, of course, and Mr. Spier wept as he walked his daughter down the aisle, Kristy's head did not explode (I think the open bar helped), and Mary Anne displayed the ultimate sign of her commitment by agreeing to dance in public with her new husband.
All in all, it was the most perfect wedding I'd ever been to, and not just because I got to do some dancing of my own.
"Do you think we'll get married someday?" I asked Stacey as we slow-danced together to "Sea of Love," an oldie that was one of Mary Anne's favorites; I was letting Stacey lead.
"Depends. How big a diamond are you getting me?" she teased.
“Me?” I exclaimed. “I thought we decided you were going to become a big, powerful accountant to the stars and support me and my art.”
"Hmmm, I don't remember agreeing that that."
"Well, I can be very persuasive," I told her, and leaned in for a kiss.
It'd been a long time since the eighth grade, since our relationship had changed forever. And for the first time, dancing in her arms, surrounded by friends and love and happiness, I was glad it had happened.
Stacey wasn’t just my friend these days. She was someone I never had to worry about losing again.