Annie loves weddings.
She can pinpoint the moment, almost to the second. She's ten and her life is defined by court hearings and screaming matches over the phone and interviews with court-appointed therapists who smile too wide and smelle like Febreeze. It’s chaos and even at ten, there’s nothing Annie hates more than chaos.
So when her mom has too much Maneschewitz at Passover and starts crying into her Aunt Vi’s shoulder about how the glass her Daddy crushed hadn’t been a real one but a light bulb, which had cursed them right from the start, Annie latches her little fists onto it like a lifeline. Her parents weren’t splitting up because they didn’t love each other, or her, enough, or because her Daddy had run away with that blonde lady from his office. It was much more simple than that. Their wedding hadn’t been perfect.
The file starts the next week. She’s sitting in the waiting room while her parents and their lawyers talk to the therapist, and swinging her legs got boring ten minutes ago. She looks around the room and she sees it, sitting on the table in the corner mostly covered by a National Geographic and Martha Stewart Living, and nothing is that white and lacy but one thing.
She tugs it out of the pile with reverence, eyes widening a little bit more as acres of white silk and diamantes and satin sashing are revealed. The woman on the magazine cover is the most beautiful thing Annie has ever seen, blonde and glowing and happy, and there’s nothing Annie wants more than to be that woman. Someone who looked like that would have it all: the perfect wedding, the perfect husband, the perfect house with the perfect children and the perfect dog, and there would be no court dates or lawyers in that life.
When her mother drives them home, lips drawn thin and fingers tensing on the mini-van’s steering wheel, Annie clutches the magazine to her chest the whole way home, like if she can just hold it tight enough, it will sink into her skin and live inside her chest.
It’s ten years later, and Annie can see that day for what it was, but she can’t let go of the idea. Still, she’s grown enough not to have the hysterics when Britta surpasses her, because come on. Even Annie can see that Britta Perry, Wedding Planner Extraordinaire is a concept bizarre enough to be funny. Britta internalised something growing up, but she’s fighting it, just like Annie, if maybe from the opposite direction. Where Britta sees shackles hidden by white tulle and champagne, Annie sees the chance to be perfect, like she never is and certainly never has been.
But then Shirley and Andre aren’t either, and maybe that’s the point. Maybe Annie’s wrong, and Britta is, too, and nothing’s guaranteed no matter how thick the glass you shatter, whether it’s a ceiling or a lightbulb.
Annie’s having deep thoughts to go along with her cake, and she thinks that this, finally, is growing up.
“Penny for your thoughts?”
Jeff slumps down into the seat beside her, and he’s looking a little rough. That group dancing did look overly vigorous.
“I’m just considering my misspent youth,” she replies, setting down her cake on the bench between them. It helps if there’s a barrier, even something as simple as a paper plate with poundcake crumbs, because sometimes he looks at her and she’s right back where she started, and that’s no place to be. No place at all.
He cocks his head, looking disgusted. “Annie, you’re still in your youth. And I think that you are the last person who can be described as misspending it.”
She shrugs, watching Abed and Troy examine Jordan for evidence of Blorgon contamination. “Depends who you ask, I guess,” she says, and that was stupid, because she’s not morose by nature and he’s going to suspect and that’s not how today was going to go.
Thankfully he’s still a little drunk and the comment sails right past him. He just stares at Andre and Shirley, looking concerned. She waits for it, because that face means he’s questioning something pretty fundamental.
“You really believe in this stuff?” he asks quietly, and she would laugh if she could be bothered, because an hour and a glass of champagne ago, that would have been a much easier question to answer.
She settles for vague. “I believe that people make choices, and all this,” she gestures at Britta’s canopy and flowers and birds nests, “doesn’t change that. One way or the other.”
When she looks back at him, his look is unreadable, but it soon fades into a more normal smirk.
“Well, this is a party, and we haven’t danced yet.” He stands and sweeps a totally overdone bow, extending his hand and grinning up at her. “Milady?”
The part of Annie that still sighs a bit when she sees a ribboned limo driving down the street clenches, but most of Annie sees the fog in his eyes, smells the champagne on his breath, and knows this is what it is, nothing more. But she must be growing up, because she doesn’t mind, so she puts her hand in his. “Milord.”
Still, when he spins her before he pulls her in close, one hand fanned across her lower back, holding her other hand entirely in his palm, she really can’t help the goofy smile. She’s a girl with a dream clutched to her chest, and this time it’s not perfection, it’s just this.