It was the most important day in my mother’s life, but all I could think about was how I couldn’t breathe in my dress.
I shuffled forward slowly in my seat so I could move my cramped abdominal muscles, concentrated on my breathing and tried not to look like I would collapse at any given moment. It wasn’t working. The silk of my navy blue dress cooled my ever growing warm skin, however, the tightness of the material around my barely there bust was causing me to not even enjoy my own mother’s engagement party.
It was no surprise when my mother refused to let me wear something a little bit more comfortable by claiming rather implacably that I needed a dress which gave my body some shape. She rejected my pleas with a pointed look which I knew had an underlying meaning – all eyes would be on me and I had to flip my hair and look pretty so all the gossip would die down. This was my mother’s sixth engagement. Yes, lucky number three doubled for much needed extra luck. It seemed she got engaged the same way the seasons changed – a natural progression onto something different after a short period of contentment. It was inevitable. And along with that the speculation as to how messed up I was also followed with every passing possible husband.
It was during the speeches where John, husband contender number 6, was thanking people for coming out to celebrate the big day, obviously this one didn’t have the smarts since most people now just turned out for the free food and an excuse to have a good old knees up, that I turned to my best friend, Anna, to roll my eyes. It was bad enough I was perched uncomfortably on a pink ribbon tied chair while surrounded by a throng of people who were dressed like Malibu Barbie in their peplum dresses without the knowledge that I was, secretly, Buffy the Barbie Slayer, but to know I had to endure bass-heavy music from a Billy Joel tribute act was almost too much for me to bear.
My mother was never short of a plethora of men lining up to give her what her heart seemed to crave, especially if you counted my father who she had married after knowing only a couple of months. When I was 13 and still somewhat curious about my father, the man who chose to run off with another woman instead of being with his family, I hesitantly asked my mother why they got married and she smiled fondly while saying, “Grace, my dear, it was just…love. It felt like the only thing in the world which mattered.” Even after all these years, all the forgotten men and stories, I still don’t know what she was talking about. It was like I was the only one not in on this super special secret and I was fine with that.
At least I had some small insight into love from watching The OC, listening to Taylor Swift sing about how over she boys by talking about them all the time, and the looks of hope all the guests would get at my mother’s many engagement parties as if they truly believed that this time it was the real deal and that it wouldn’t end before she set foot on the altar. It was as if it gave them something to hold onto that love really did exist no matter how times you messed up, there was something out there for all of us.
“To think your mum only met him when she went to the hospital to drop off one of her paintings,” Anna sniggered. “Most people only go in to visit someone but your mum comes out with fiancé number six.”
It was of a great amusement to all my friends that my mother met John, the doctor on call who was in charge of manning the reception, while she had dropped in to hand in a painting which was requested to update the dull look of the hospital. When she arrived at home later that day it soon became obvious to me that it was happening again because all the signs were there – the goofy smile, languished sighs of undiscovered desire and her steel bound concentration while painting. It was an unspoken truth that her art, which she worked over night and day, would always be the greatest love in her life which no man, no matter how hard they tried, could ever triumph over…it allowed her to create a perfect little world of messiness which could be praised unlike our lives.
“I think it’s rather sweet how her mum found love while sharing her other great love with people,” Meredith piped up. She was sitting with us on the back table in the reception hall because that’s where we discovered we didn’t have to interact with others that much. People found it intimidating approaching sullen looking teenage girls in the darkness of the room when they would much rather be throwing down moves to the Macarena. “You know, it’s like love can happen anywhere.”
“Mere, you’ve been watching The Notebook again, haven’t you?” I asked, pulling some of the material around the bust of my dress out in an attempt to breathe.
When she turned to look my way after staring in admiration at the happy couple a long braid smacked against her dark skin as she regarded at me with resignation. Anna nodded in agreement with me before taking a sip of her vodka and coke, our not so sophisticated drink of choice because it was cheap and easy for 17 year olds to get their hands on.
“It was Anna who wanted to put it on,” she defended herself while turning her attention to the chocolate dessert in front of her before taking a big spoonful of it and devouring it with a blissful smile on her carefree face. To say Meredith had a sweet tooth was an understatement, she was the only person I knew who could finish an entire box of chocolate fingers and still want more.
I sighed, leaning back in my chair. I shouldn’t have been too surprised that it was Anna who stuck on a movie about a man with a morbid obsession with his ex who was unable to move on. Okay, it may have sucked not being with someone you love but if you thought they were over you then why would you pine your life away? Get over it. I loathed movies like that. Meredith wasn’t a big fan either but you could always see the moments she got caught up in the idea of undying love when she sniffled at the screen when Noah and Allie reunited. But Anna always insisted we watch them whenever we had movie night even though she read all about love in those romantic novels of hers with a sickly sweet couple on the cover who both happen to be conventionally good-looking while stuck in some abandoned place.
She’s been my best friend since year 7 when we both told off Luke O’Brien, a lanky year 9 kid who refused to wear deodorant, for cutting in front of us on the bus line while making it abundantly clear that our odour senses had been attacked. Considering our rebellion against male privilege started early, it was pretty much guaranteed we’d be best mates. She was the one who balanced out my cynicism with her perkiness – the Kim to my Kanye. At the end of the day Anna was the only person I would ever turn to in my time of need.
“Come on,” Anna said, tucking a strand of her blonde hair behind her ear. “Meredith is right, love can happen anywhere. Even at a wedding of someone’s mother –“
“No,” I interrupted in a flat tone.
“Calm down, Miss No Fun,” she shook her drink around in the glass as the ice slowly became slosh in the very little drink that was left. “I didn’t work all those late shifts to buy this very dress and not get any of the local talent to swoon over me.”
“Yeah, she wants to taste the local cuisine,” Meredith laughed. “Alas I forget though,” she theatrically grabbed my hand, “how dare hot boys distract our Grace from her brooding and bitching over this engagement.”
Anna grinned and said, “She’s just mad that she hasn’t got any action since she dumped that William guy last month.”
“The only thing she’s pulled is a muscle running after the bus,” Meredith joked while retreating her hand once I shot her an unimpressed look.
“You guys are just too funny, aren’t you?” I shook my head, not surprised by their teasing of my failed relationships.
Oh My Lady Gaga, there was never any confusion in my relationships because we both knew that it wasn’t a forever thing, only something which would continue until it met its expiration date. Anna, on the other hand, only ever had one boyfriend who she was still friends with so she couldn’t sprout off about experience, and Meredith didn’t date at all despite always getting attention from guys because she was crushing on Finley Best. My relationships may never have lasted long but at least I got what I wanted out of them without wasting my time and crying about it later, my friends really couldn’t say the same.
“Just think though in a week we’ll be second years at sixth form and nearly free from this shithole,” Anna blissfully sighed, downing whatever was left of her drink.
“First let us get through A-Levels,” I said sarcastically.
“The next year at college is going to be stress anyway with applying for university so let me dream of what life holds for me beyond that,” Anna shot back. “And it gives you an excuse to think about getting away from the loved up couple who are going to be going through their honeymoon stage, ya feel me?”
“I still can’t believe that this time next year we will all be in different parts of the country,” Meredith sighed. “I just don’t want us to say good-bye, who else is going to try and sneak past Alex Turner’s bodyguard with me to make a run for his dressing room?”
“Well, I’m sure other people would be willing to get banned from the V Festival,” I chuckled. “And we’ll always have reunions at all my mother’s other engagements.”
“I don’t know, I think John may be the one,” Meredith wrinkled her nose.
“They’re all the one until they’re not,” I informed her as Anna rolled her eyes. “Whichever Beyoncé song reminds you of a guy sums up your relationship and I’m yet to meet a guy who makes me think of Blow. See, Beyoncé is forever looking out for us. ”
“I once made eye contact with a boy and Beyonce’s Irreplaceable, which was my ringtone, started playing so I decided never to do that again,” Meredith contributed helpfully.
Before Anna could reply back to Meredith’s very wise observation a deep voice interrupted her. I turned my head to see a guy wearing a slightly too big suit with dark blonde hair, a bit older than me, standing next to our table with a smile And just like that I was annoyed. I was annoyed because I knew exactly what this guy wanted, I just didn’t know who yet.
“Sorry to disturb you,” he smirked not looking sorry at all before turning his gaze to Meredith.
I raised an eyebrow while exchanging a brief sceptical look with Anna. It was no surprise that the guy was going to hit on Meredith since, well, she had boobs. And a pretty face. And looked the least scary out of all three of us with her sweet disposition. However, Meredith was the one who avoided the whole boy issue by not dating all since she felt it was too much drama and always felt uncomfortable having to reject someone. She was too polite sometimes. Anna was the one who after dating one guy had decided she was a female temptress. I, on the other hand, had built in radar which could detect jerks from miles away so I had limited choices as well a thing called standards.
“Listen, I couldn’t help but notice you from across the room,” Mr I Need a Tailor continued with what he probably thought was an endearing smile as his gaze flitted to me. “And I guess I just wanted to come introduce myself. So, um, I’m Isaac.”
I glared at him but on the inside I was torn between laughing and whacking him around the head as Meredith squirmed uncomfortably in her seat, thinking of polite ways to tell the guy to go away, while Grace painted a smile on her face. I was surprised that he was talking to me given that guys thought that the words ‘bitch’ and ‘high powered woman’ were interchangeable synonyms when referring to me and that was how I liked it – they saw me how I wanted them to.
“I’ve undergone a hip replacement recently and it’s been advised not to grind against guys with lame chat up lines. What can you do, huh?” I said cheerfully.
I expected his face to drop, for his mouth to hang agape in shock at my obvious wit, and for him to runaway crying his virgin boy tears which I would bathe in later. Instead he got this goofy grin on his face as he titled his head to the side like I had just said something cute which was doing nothing for my anger because this guy was making my day a whole lot worse.
“So, yeah,” he carried on swiftly, “I just felt this urge to come talk to you, almost as if there was an invisible pull which dragged me all the way over here. You just looked so pretty sitting here yet it was more than that, you know, it was as if I didn’t come over then the words ‘what if’ would come together to haunt me for a very long time.”
“Oh my,” Grace sighed at his words as I rolled my eyes.
“But the thing is my mother has told me since I was little that putting small things in my mouth is a potential choking hazard so don’t even think there’s a ‘what if’ involving us,” I said evenly.
His shoulders shook from laughter and his eyes blue beady eyes lit up with humour as if I wasn’t deadly serious about making sure the way he would have a wet dick would be when I threw my drink on him.
“Brains, beauty and the ability to put a guy in his place? You’re a triple threat though I am glad it was my ego you bruised instead of my heart. Look, I get how weird it is coming over but I believe it’s the little moments which define life and letting this one filled with the potential to go from nothing into something would have been foolish. It was like the only possible thing in the world that made sense was to speak to you, that if I didn’t at least try then I would regret it.”
“And do you?” I challenged.
“Not for one second,” he didn’t skip a beat.
Meredith’s mouth hung open in shock at the undoubted certainty behind his tone which revealed that he actually believed whatever he was saying. It was in the way he looked right at me, unflinching when I set my dagger eyes at him, as if he was trying to see me, really see me, even though I was in front of him. It was in how he smiled as if my digs hadn’t damaged his confidence but provided him with something to probably wistfully remember later on while writing in his diary because he totally looked nerdy enough to keep something like that. It exposed itself in how he was foolishly still stood there without a care in the world as we just challenged each other with our stare…
My eyes trailed off behind him to where my mother and John, along with other guests, were gathering by the door indicating it was time for them to leave. I took a deep breath as I tried to awkwardly move in my dress so that I could make my way over to say bye but not before imparting wisdom onto Casanova.
“I suggest you go out onto the dance floor and have a boogie to Kylie so you’re not here by the time I get back,” I said, smoothing out my dress.
Before he could reply I was already pushing my way through the hordes of people lined up to bid the happy couple farewell on their quick weekend away. Well, actually they were spending a couple of days in a hotel up North because my mother wanted to be here to sort things out for my first week back at college and partly because John had patients to tend to so he couldn’t get much leave.
As I made my way up to them it struck me just how happy she looked, the little secret smile she always got whenever she looked at any of my stepfathers, and her beauty really shone through as stood up there basking in the attention in her loose fitting just off white dress because she wasn’t a first time bride anymore and this was the closest she was ever going to get to a wedding ever again. Her dark, faintly greying hair, was up in a tight up bun though a strand had fallen out as her eyes searched for something in the crowd until they landed on me and she called me over.
I went up to pull her in for a hug and told her for the millionth time that day she looked beautiful, though this time wasn’t for reassurance. “Oh, how I wish your grandfather had lived long enough to see this,” she whispered as I pulled back to give her a kiss on the cheek to stop the reminder that he knew how this went. “Now, Grace, we’re only going to be gone a couple of days so don’t cause any trouble at home and if you need anything then just call.”
“Mum, I can take of myself,” I pointed out before turning to John. “Welcome to the family, once again, John,” I repeated exhausted sentiments and actions which held the same amount of importance for the last guy.
“Thanks,” he laughed as I took in his ageing face, which had lines etched around it, and greying hair before awkwardly giving him a quick hug.
“It’s no big deal,” I smiled as my mother squeezed my hand in excitement at our little family before her and John waved good-bye to their audience and left for their mini honeymoon type holiday by running out hand in hand as I stood watching.
It seemed that while the crowd separated to go off into the different parts of the room, I just stood there at the side of the dance floor staring at the door. It seemed that my mother never hesitated stepping into another world with a different man while I waited patiently at the side lines for her return which just painted me in a completely poetically tortured and self-righteous light. Sometimes a small part of me wished a Richard Gere would come along and slam that door shut forever, perhaps even bolt it up and throw away the key.
I turned back to where my friends were sitting as I noticed that the Isaac guy had pulled up a chair onto the table as he theatrically spoke to my friends with his hands flying in all directions, but the weird thing was that they just looked amused by it all. Anna was smirking at him like she couldn’t believe he was for real while Meredith sat there laughing at something he said – they were acting as if it was easy for them to open up to this random guy with his crazy assertions that there could possibly ever be anything between us. Forget Drunk in Love, it seemed they were Drunk on Crazy for even giving time of day to that fool. It was once said a woman’s heart was as deep as the ocean, my feelings were as shallow as an inflatable kiddies pool so there was never any chance of me drowning, metaphorically, of course.
My gaze took in his rumpled suit, obviously he was from John’s side, and how his small smile never once left his pouty lips as he rambled on about something. He ran a hand through his messy, blonde hair which I assumed he did whenever he was nervous because he shyly looked down when my friends burst out laughing and for a moment he looked passably cute with the dim light capturing his carefree attitude.
And it was right there and then, standing alone at my mother’s millionth engagement party, that I couldn’t explain it for the life of me because it was happening quick and fast and out of no-where – I was feeling something close to butterflies swirling in my stomach that it was unnerving. Perhaps it was this pull like he said, which was magnified because for some reason he still hadn’t runaway, or maybe it was the same thing which drew my mother to all these men: an unexplainable biological reaction in which you felt hot all over and wanted their chapped lips against yours for briefest of moments. Or the only viable alternative was that I was losing the plot.
I did the only thing I knew how, the one thing I learnt from my father, and turned around to walk out of the back exit so that I was far away from him as possible. I was leaving in a year and so close to getting out of here that I didn’t need or want drama because that’s what it would be. Love was something I knew nothing of and the idea of something so permanent seemed suffocating. Isaac may have been the love of my life or possibly could have been just another guy on my list, but I wasn’t sticking around to find out. I was the one leaving now.
The door to my heart was closed as certain darkness engulfed it. And there was a pathetic safety to it which accompanied me everywhere as well as the words ‘what if’ which kept me awake at night. My feet were carrying me to safety when out of no-where a suited man with a terse expression stepped in front of me, my way was blocked, there was no-where to escape from the dark corner which held the solace that I craved.
The man stared at me with no expression whatsoever betraying his dark eyes as I raised an eyebrow, clearly annoyed by this disruption. He looked like he was in his 30s, the distinguished lines around his downward mouth and serious orbs gave him away, so I had no idea why he thought making the moves on a teenage girl was wise. There was just something about him, the all dark look he was rocking was inherently menacing, which caused me to stare warily since, well, when a strange man usually propositions you then you’re kind of on high alert, perhaps even higher than Snoop Dogg visiting Amsterdam.
“Isaac seemed quite taken with you,” he spoke in a gravel tone, “You had built such a connection in a short amount of time, it’s really quite fascinating.”
I scowled at him, unamused at constantly being harassed so I could play with something other than a boy’s heart. “Let me guess, you’re his wingman. Dude, aren’t you like 50? Actually, this is fascinating for when I go to the police.”
His eyes darkened at the end of my sentence, clearly unamused by my threat, but I didn’t care since all I wanted to do was go home and rip off this awful dress, rid myself of any reminder of a terrible day. There’s nothing scarier than a teenage girl ticked off, except maybe like serial killers and the finales of Shonda Rhimes shows. I was going to give this guy a chance to move out of my way before I unleashed upon the vitriol which had been building ever since I had to encounter his stupid friend at this stupid engagement party at the stupid expensive venue which I have had to visit six bloody times.
“Well,” I said. “I have just loved talking to you, but my cab is here now so I have to leave.”
He didn’t move. Not even at the blatant message in my words: move the fuck out of my way. There was almost something unnerving about his stare, as if he was under the assumption that this conversation was happening on his terms, because it kind of was considering that he had cornered me away from everybody else. He had me where he wanted me. And suddenly I had a sinking feeling that I made a mistake by leaving my friends, my anti-social nature was finally catching up with me.
“Isaac isn’t like other boys…he’s special,” he said, in an amused tone which was ticking me off even more.
“Oh,” I smiled mockingly, probably not wise. “Are you a couple? That’s just so sweet that you’re so proud of your boyfriend, you sugar daddy, you. Though, as I said, I have to leave…”
The creepy man just looked at me dead in the eyes, unflinching in the face of my grimace, and said, “I came to give you something…it’s something so special that the entire world is waiting on it. This was just a little experiment in anticipation for the big day, a final trial run, if you will. Tomorrow shall change how we perceive life, some obviously more cynically than others, and only then will you realise that you’re the one to be mocked.”
I wish I could tell you that when he uttered those words, I was calm and cool about a deranged man threatening me under a veil of words I did not get. I wish I could say that after enduring countless of the same conversation with step-father to be after step-father to be, and having listened to some pretty ridiculous wedding ideas from my mother which once included a Cliff Richard look-a-like, that I was completely composed in the face of this man’s obvious breakdown. But I wasn’t. I just burst out laughing even as the action made in hard to breathe in my dress.
“I’m here telling you about how I’m giving you the opportunity to have something so incredibly advanced that it took years upon years to perfect every single aspect, that people died dreaming of this day, and you’re laughing?” he barked out stiffly as the faint beats of Kylie in distance did nothing for my giggles.
“Here!” He took a small object out of his black jacket, which went wonderfully with the dark shirt, trousers, shoes and soul, and I instinctively caught it as if it were a bouquet of flowers heading my way. Amazing how I couldn’t catch a ball for the five years I did Physical Education, but the moment a strange man throws me what could be a harmful device then I’m all over it.
It was a plug. He had given me an electrical plug with nothing attached to it. Not even a hair-straightener to keep down my ever growing mane. I stared at it with suspicion, as if something disastrous was going to happen, turning it around in my hand as I examined the dark exterior. There was no cut anywhere on it to suggest that it had been linked to another object previously, it only had three silver thick spikes coming out of it. Some girls get doughnuts, Grace gets a plug.
“What the hell is this?” I asked, evidently irritated now. “What…what do you want?”
He was now the one who was cracking up, and I looked around in the hopes that someone was near to help me get away from this nutter. “In your hands is something very special, you brat. Honestly, I’m wondering why I’m even bothering to give such an unappreciative bitch a gateway to the future, but you’re exactly the type of person who needs this. You don’t even realise how right you are for it and that’s what makes this all the more amusing.”
The guy was putting the cry in cryptic. “You just gave me a plug. Forgive me if I’m not tweeting about this amazing discovery. Hate to break it to you, but I think someone already invented the plug. You’re like 50 or, you know, 100 something years late.”
“Tomorrow everything shall be clearer,” he said, sounding bored while he checked his watch. “I have to go now, it’s been interesting speaking to you, but I have others of a higher calibre who wish to entertain me.”
I stared back down at the object in my hand, torn between throwing it in his aged face or whacking it across the room at that Isaac bloke’s head, my physical coordination was improving this evening so anything was seemingly possible. It was incomprehensible why a man, who looked as sophisticated and suave as he did with his put together look, would carry around an electrical item to give to a teenage girl he didn’t even know. Nothing about this encounter made sense. Nothing about this man was easy to understand.
“And what makes you think I’m going to keep this thing till tomorrow?” I pointed out, you know, just to vex the deluded man. “Perhaps you should give this to one of those girls you’re about to hit on of higher calibre, of course, who are unaware that you’re comparing the quality of women, so they can use the pointy things to hit you in the eye. An eye-patch would totally complete your whole villainous look, all you’d need to do then would be get a cat to stroke since that’s the only pussy you’ll be coming near. Yes! I like that idea, go with that one, please!”
“Throw it away,” he shrugged. “You’ll only come to regret it. You’re intrigued, I can tell, otherwise you would not have stayed here for so long. And it’s that very curiosity which is going to be the revelation of everything tomorrow.”
Bastard. The only reason why I stayed was because he made sure I had no-where else to go to, it was like he was a predator and I was the prey he wanted to make dance to his tune. We just stood staring at each other, he wasn’t half bad-looking once you got over the whole trying to possibly give me something which may kill me thing, and my grip tightened around the object to stop my slightly shaking hands. I hated not being in control, I hated the uncertainty. It was the way which he spoke with such conviction, he believed every single word he uttered, which was making me uneasy because it meant that I was missing a big part of this baffling puzzle.
“Who are you?” I demanded. “Did something happen to Sacha Baron Cohen that you’d thought you’d try your hand at some unbelievable pranks?”
“I’m a family acquaintance,” he settled after a minute of silence.
His stare was unmoving as his mouth slowly transformed that look of indifference into something which resembled a smile. The fool was actually enjoying this. But a small part of me felt that, behind his dark brown eyes, there was something lingering…he was almost wanting me to question him more. He wanted me to, as if I was in awe on his supposed life-changing discovery of a plug, to get into his mind so he could play with mine. Too bad for him, I was still annoyed. Why on Earth was a grown man behaving like such a child? He could go get his Oedipus tendencies tended to by someone else.
“You were leaving,” I reminded him cheerfully. “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”
“Tomorrow,” his tone was one of supressed excitement.
Before I could call him out on his messed up mind, he had turned around to walk with exaggerated movements to the exit as if he was putting on a show for me. He just faded into the darkness of the night as only the light from the lamppost outside showed his foreboding silhouette, and then he was just gone when the door slammed shut. He may have been gone, but I was left with a million questions. The main being about how did two weirdoes like him and Isaac got in, my mother’s engagement parties were usually filled with the same people, and I was sure John, the prim and proper doctor, wouldn’t keep such questionable company.
My eyes looked around the room to where my friends were sitting as I was prepared to go over and give Isaac a piece of my mind and follow through with my promise of getting him kicked out – power was a good friend of mine. Only sat there at the table were just my friends, boy wonder was no longer there. Anna and Meredith were looking at something with great eagerness on their phones but Isaac wasn’t in sight even as my gaze trailed all over the room, I couldn’t spot a lanky boy wearing a suit too big for him. Okay, I could, but none of them were sporting the same messy blonde mop as him or hitting on girls since, you know, they were either twelve or John’s anaemic 71 year old dad.
Of course, both creepy guys would disappear at the same time, idiots hung out together and all that. They were probably laughing about this whole thing right now, thinking they had got to me, however, the only they were going to get was the middle finger from me if I ever saw them again. Oh, I was seething with the anger of a thousand men somewhere shouting ‘…not all men!’ This was not fine; ruining my entire night was not acceptable, even if I had been having a shitty time anyway.
I was so caught up cursing them that, as I took my phone out to call a cab, I threw the stupid plug in my purse because there was no-where near I could dispose of it. It was one of those things I didn’t think about, I just so far into my anger to think properly. All I wanted to do was go home and forget everything about this draining day. I just needed to get away from it all, to shut my eyes and find some peace, and I would have gladly chucked that stupid plug gladly if it had not been for guests coming up to bid me farewell. No, they don’t come when I’m being harassed by a man, but then a horde of then descend on me when I’m trying to sneak out so I don’t have to speak or look at them.
I just wanted to be left with my only companion, my one comfort: the serenity of the night. All I wanted to do was shut the world out and lay thinking of anything but the future. The only certainty was that tomorrow would come, that was inevitable.