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We were, as it happened, Donald and I, deciding that evening on how we would have our wedding invitations printedEngraving? Thermography? Lithography?when Adrienne, Donald's ex-fiancée, called to share her good news: she was leaving New York to accept a job in Washington, where we lived, just after the first of the year.
It was late November.
We were planning an April wedding.
And until that instant when the phone rang and Donald ran to the Caller ID box by the desk and froze, I had been planning–perhaps naively, perhaps idiotically–on taking the high road when it came to Adrienne and her relentless pursuit of friendship with Donald. I had vowed, without any true understanding of just how deep-rooted and, well, virulent, my particular strain of jealousy was, I see now, to put an end to my obsession. My suspicion. My frenzied insecurity. I had vowed, as they say, at long last, to get a grip.
On my demons.
On my nemesis.
Clearly this was wishful thinking on my part; a momentary lapse of delusional optimism (quite common, I'd read, with most brides-to-be), for nothing of the sort–maturity, acceptance, suffering in silence–was in the cards.
Especially now that she–Adrienne–would be living, as it were, in our backyard.
We had been staring intently at three pieces of Crane's Ecruwhite Kid Finish stationery stock that I'd managed to sneak out of Neiman Marcus's sample book as "souvenirs"–the salesman, stout, balding, moist, had excused himself to take a phone call from an important customer: "And will this be a surprise celebration for the Chief Justice?" (This was, after all, Washington.) The three sample invitations were identical except for the method of printing (which is why I had lifted them: to better understand the hefty price differential) and the surely fictional inviters and betrotheds (Mr. and Mrs. Henry Stewart Evans request the honour of your presence at the marriage of their daughter Katherine Leigh to Mr. Brian Charles Jamison. . . . Mr. and Mrs. Wendell Fields, III, request the honour of your presence at the marriage of their daughter Tiffany Jane to Mr. Phinneas Welch. . . . Our joy will be more complete if you will share in the marriage of our daughter Blah blah blah to Mr. Blah blah blah.). Running our fingers slowly and carefully over the print on each card; holding them up to the light; sniffing them, even (my suggestion), yielded nothing. We were failures in the study and appreciation of fine printing techniques.
"Okay, I give up," Donald said, throwing the invitation he was holding down onto the table and leaning back in his chair until its joints creaked ominously. "Which is which?"
"Beats me." Neiman's had, I explained, not been kind enough to reward my little theft by providing me the answers on the back of each like a set of helpful flash cards.
Donald brought his chair abruptly forward, sat upright, and yawned passionately. He stretched his arms across the table, pushing the sample invitations aside as he did, and reached for my hands.
"Honey?" he said languidly.
"What?" I said flatly.
"May I speak frankly?"
Had he ever spoken any other way? Couldn't we, just once, I wondered, get through some task (eating dinner, washing dishes, having sex) without his need to speak frankly?
"Fine. Speak," I said, waving my hand, giving up. Relieved now to have license to speak his mind (a technicality: he spoke his mind quite freely without my permission, as you'll see), he smiled broadly, then brought his shoulders up in a fake cringe, as if to indicate that he felt just terrible about what he was going to say–even though, I knew, he didn't.
"I'm bored," he said, finally, his confession a guilty pleasure (he was a true Catholic, through and through). "I have to be honest, I'm having a hard time caring"–broad smile, shoulders up, fake cringe–"about how the invitations get printed. I mean, why are we doing this?"
I couldn't have been more bored myself, but I wouldn't have admitted it for the world. Instead, I let my mouth sag slightly into a sad pout.
"Doing what?" I asked. "Getting married or discussing the invitations?"
The phone rang.
"Discussing the invitations, of course," he said. He reached to give my hands a reassuring little squeeze but I withheld them for effect. "I want to get married."
The phone rang again.
"Because." I was about to explain how costly engraving was compared to the other options and how since we couldn't tell the difference anyway, we could, with a completely clear conscience, opt for the cheapest method of the three–lithography–but I was too distracted by the third ring of the telephone. On the beginning of the fourth ring he rose from the dining room table where we'd been sitting, took three steps over to the desk, leaned across it, turned back to look at me, and cringed–this time for real.