Zach’s not sure who or what he’d been expecting when he agreed to go with Victoria to meet their wedding planner, but this man and his assistants aren’t close to who he’d been picturing. They’re not even in the same vicinity.
He had been envisioning an older, matronly woman like the ladies from temple that his mom has brunch with on the weekends, or someone stately and composed, like Tim Gunn. He hadn’t been expecting anyone like—Zach steals a glance down at the cream cardstock dangling from his fingers, the man’s name embossed in gold-leaf—Frankie Marchione.
Frankie is a splash of vibrant color on a gray canvas.
No, Zach had definitely not been expecting this preening peacock of a man with his impossibly tall, pink-tipped hair and bronzed skin dusted lightly with what Zach is pretty sure is glitter. His assistants—Joey and Paola—are mirrors of their boss, reflecting his sunny personality, fascinating clothing choices, and interesting hair color. Joey’s pixie cut is tinted blue-green, while Paola’s rocking an unnatural, brassy shade of blonde.
Zach steals a glance at Victoria, his fiancée; her nails are digging into the upholstery and she’s wearing that familiar, sickly half-smile Zach knows isn’t sincere. She looks absolutely terrified. Zach reaches out and touches her bare shoulder; Victoria laughs awkwardly and wriggles out from under his fingertips to twist her long black braid around her fingers. Zach lets his hand drop back into his lap.
Even Frankie’s office seems like a reflection of the man, glittery and shiny and sunny. He has framed, signed posters of Ariana Grande, the pop singer, all over his walls. There’s a gilt-framed photograph on Frankie’s desk of the two of them hugging and kissing. Zach wonders if there’s a relationship there.
“So, Ms. Rafaeli, I was thinking we could go with mauve for the table cloths.” Frankie holds up a bolt of fabric—it looks like nothing more than a dull shade of purple to Zach—and lets Victoria inspect it.
Victoria leans forward in her seat and runs a hand over the sleek, shiny material. “That’s fine,” she says, sitting back and flicking that nervous smile at him. Frankie doesn’t seem to notice her lack of enthusiasm about the mauve or whatever the fuck color that is.
Joey brings out a bolt of white fabric and holds it next to the mauve so that Victoria can compare. “We’ll do mauve and white for the table cloths. They’ll match the centerpieces nicely.”
Victoria nods, casting a quick glance Zach’s way. She reaches out and lays her hand over his knee, effectively stilling his jittery, bouncing leg. He hadn’t even realized he’d been doing that.
“What d’you think, ahuvi?”
Zach feels the back of his neck flush with warmth. He’s not sure why it embarrasses him that Victoria whipped out her pet name for him in front of Frankie and his assistants, but it kind of does. She usually gets so weirded out by public displays of affection like that from other couples, like it’s inappropriate or something to be ashamed of. It’s almost like she wants to put on a show for Frankie and his assistants. It makes him feel kind of squirrelly, itchy under his skin.
Zach squirms a little bit and resists the urge to slide his knee out from under her touch. “Sounds good to me, nesikha.” He offers her a smile with just a little bit of teeth.
“You two are absolutely adorable,” Frankie exclaims, drawing Zach’s attention away from Victoria like a magpie to a shiny object. He claps his hands enthusiastically and bounces on the balls of his feet. “This is gonna be the best wedding ever.”
Sunlight filters in through gauzy curtains, and when Zach hones in on the bright light, he can see dust particles floating like millions of tiny, barely-formed stars in an interstellar gas cloud.
Victoria laughs, reeling Zach’s attention back to her. It’s loud, rapid-fire, and oh-so-very fake. “It better be, or else,” she jokes, shaking a finger at Frankie, still smiling that fake smile. Zach wonders if Frankie notices that it doesn’t quite reach her eyes.
“I’ll go order more bolts of this cloth,” Frankie says obliviously, gesturing to the mauve fabric, “and we can schedule another appointment to talk about entertainment, seating arrangements, et cetera. All that good stuff.”
“Awesome,” Zach intones.
Frankie turns his brilliant, sun-bright smile on him and Zach feels suffused with warmth, like he finally did something right. “Excellent. Glad to hear that, Mr. Rance. I’ll be right back.” Frankie picks up the fabric and exits stage left, trailed by his two assistants.
Once they’re gone, Victoria lets out her breath in a long, heavy, put-upon sigh.
“Jesus,” Zach mutters under his breath, reaching up to massage his temples. “I thought you were for sure gonna give us away.”
“I’m sorry,” Victoria sneers in the exact tone that lets him know she isn’t the least bit sorry. She tugs at one of the straps of her hot pink tank top and snaps open her purse, pulling out a tube of lipstick and her heart-shaped compact mirror. “I just got nervous.”
“You looked like you were going to puke,” Zach says, turning on her and glaring. He can feel the beginnings of a smile tugging the corners of his mouth up anyway. “Is the idea of marrying me really that offensive?”
Victoria rolls her eyes and flips open the compact. She dabs at her lips with her lipstick. “I think I should be asking you that question,” she says airily.
“Ugh.” Zach tugs his hands through his hair. “I should’ve known this would be a terrible idea.”
Victoria drops her compact and lipstick back in her purse and tosses her braid behind her back. “It’s a terrific idea,” she insists, crossing her legs and leaning back in her chair to scrutinize Zach. “You get a sham wedding to keep your parents off your back, at least until our very real divorce, and I get to keep all the gifts. It’s totally a win-win in my book.”
Zach sighs. “I didn’t think actually getting sham married would be this much work.”
Victoria rolls her eyes at him again. “You’re so cute, nasich. It’s too bad you’re gay,” she teases, batting her eyelashes at him, “or else I’d be all over that like white on rice.”
Zach doesn't bother correcting her; instead, he lifts his hand and flips her off with a smile. Of course, Frankie conveniently chooses that exact moment to walk back into his office. Zach quickly drops his arm and both he and Victoria paste on phony smiles.
Frankie raises his eyebrows and glances from Victoria to Zach and back again. “Oh my god, am I interrupting something? Are you guys fighting? Is the wedding still on?”
“The wedding is still on, unfortunately,” Zach says, laughing. He thinks it sounds a little too big and loud in his own ears, but Frankie doesn’t seem to sense anything’s amiss. “This one’s stuck with me.” He reaches out and chucks Victoria gently on the chin.
She gives him a look that could peel the paint off the walls before turning back to Frankie and flashing him a brilliant, winning smile. She clamps a perfectly manicured hand on Zach's arm and squeezes. “Stronger than ever.”
Frankie gives Zach a strange look that he tries not to turn over in his mind too much. "Amber will be handling your invoice up front. You can schedule your follow-up appointment with her," he says. "See you guys soon!"
Frankie leans in and gives Victoria a chaste hug and air-kisses both her cheeks; Victoria seems charmed, blushing and smiling, twisting the end of her braid between her index finger and thumb.
Frankie is probably the kind of person who has you eating out of his hand after ten minutes of alone time, Zach muses, as he watches them embrace. Then, Frankie turns the bright, warming spotlight of his attention on Zach and grasps his hand in both of his—more of a handhold than a handshake—before slipping away.
Zach reels from the contact, hastily shoves his hands into his pockets to forget the strength of Frankie's fingers wrapping firmly around his. He tries—very, very hard—not to track the sway of Frankie's hips, the way he moves about the room with a dancer's grace. He can practically feel Victoria's eyes burning holes in the back of his neck but he refuses to turn around and face her, refuses to give her the satisfaction.
As the door shuts gently behind Frankie with a quiet click, Zach can kind of see how that—ending up wrapped around Frankie's little finger like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole—might happen.