The wedding was off. Cancelled. Canned. Kaput.
Nina Cormier sat staring at herself in the church dressing room mirror and wondered why she couldn't seem to cry. She knew the pain was there, deep and terrible beneath the numbness, but she didn't feel it. Not yet. She could only sit dry-eyed, staring at her reflection. The picture-perfect image of a bride. Her veil floated in gossamer wisps about her face. The bodice of her ivory satin dress, embroidered with seed pearls, hung fetchingly off-shoulder. Her long black hair was gathered into a soft chignon. Everyone who'd seen her that morning in the dressing roomher mother, her sister Wendy, her stepmother Daniellahad declared her a beautiful bride.
And she would have been. Had the groom bothered to show up.
He didn't even have the courage to break the news to her in person. After six months of planning and dreaming, she'd received his note just twenty minutes before the ceremony. Via the best man, no less.
Nina, I need time to think about this. I'm sorry, I really am. I'm leaving town for a few days. I'll call you.
She forced herself to read the note again.
I need time
. I need time
How much time does a man need? she wondered.
A year ago, she'd moved in with Dr. Robert Bledsoe. It's the only way to know if we 're compatible, he'd told her. Marriage was such a major commitment, a permanent commitment, and he didn't want to make a mistake. At forty-one, Robert had known his share of disastrous relationships. He was determined not to make any more mistakes. He wanted to be sure that Nina was the one he'd been waiting for all his life.
She'd been certain Robert was the man she'd been waiting for. So certain that, on the very day he'd suggested they live together, she'd gone straight home and packed her bags
"Nina? Nina, open the door!" It was her sister Wendy, rattling the knob. "Please let me in."
Nina dropped her head in her hands. "I don't want to see anyone right now."
"You need to be with someone."
"I just want to be alone."
"Look, the guests have all gone home. The church is empty. It's just me out here."
"I don't want to talk to anyone. Just go home, will you? Please, just go."
There was a long silence outside the door. Then Wendy said, "If I leave now, how're you going to get home? You'll need a ride."
"Then I'll call a cab. Or Reverend Sullivan can drive me. I need some time to think."
"You're sure you don't want to talk?"
"I'm sure. I'll call you later, okay?"
"If that's what you really want." Wendy paused, then added, with a note of venom that penetrated even through the oak door, "Robert's a jerk, you know. I might as well tell you. I've always thought he was."
Nina didn't answer. She sat at the dressing table, her head in her hands, wanting to cry, but unable to squeeze out a single tear. She heard Wendy's footsteps fade away, then heard only the silence of the empty church. Still no tears would come. She couldn't think about Robert right now. Instead, her mind seemed to focus stubbornly on the practical aspects of a cancelled wedding. The catered reception and all that uneaten food. The gifts she had to return. The nonrefundable airline tickets to St. John Island. Maybe she should go on that honeymoon anyway and forget Dr. Robert Bledsoe. She'd go by herself, just her and her bikini. Out of this whole heartbreaking affair, at least she'd come out with a tan.
Slowly she raised her head and once again looked at her reflection in the mirror. Not such a beautiful bride after all, she thought. Her lipstick was smeared and her chignon was coming apart. She was turning into a wreck.
With sudden rage she reached up and yanked off the veil. Hairpins flew in every direction, releasing a rebellious tumble of black hair. To hell with the veil; she tossed it in the trash can. She snatched up her bouquet of white lilies and pink sweetheart roses and slam-dunked it into the trash can as well. That felt good. Her anger was like some new and potent fuel flooding her veins. It propelled her to her feet.
She walked out of the church dressing room, the train of her gown dragging behind her, and entered the nave.
The pews were deserted. Garlands of white carnations draped the aisles, and the altar was adorned with airy sprays of pink roses and baby's breath. The stage had been beautifully set for a wedding that would never take place. But the lovely results of the florist's hard work was scarcely noticed by Nina as she strode past the altar and started up the aisle. Her attention was focused straight ahead on the front door. On escape. Even the concerned voice of Reverend Sullivan calling to her didn't slow her down. She walked past all the floral reminders of the day's fiasco and pushed through the double doors.
There, on the church steps, she halted. The July sunshine glared in her eyes, and she was suddenly, painfully aware of how conspicuous she must be, a lone woman in a wedding gown, trying to wave down a taxi. Only then, as she stood trapped in the brightness of afternoon, did she feel the first sting of tears.