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Only Skin Deep
By Cathleen Galitz
SilhouetteCopyright © 2005 Cathleen Galitz
All right reserved.
Lauren Hewett felt an eerie connection to the imaginary person playing the piano in the corner of the room. Like him, she too was invisible. Actually, the ghost pianist had the advantage over her. He could at least make himself heard, if not seen -- something Lauren hadn't been able to manage since shortly after her thirty-fifth birthday. She wasn't sure exactly what caused this phe-nomenon, only that one day she woke up and found herself of an age when no one bothered to ask her opinion on matters of importance anymore, or treat her as anything other than an oddity.
As the background music ground to a halt, she gave the antique player piano another crank and reached inside herself for a smile. Smiling vacuously was, after all, one of a maid of honor's many duties -- especially when she was the daughter of the bride. Still, Lauren couldn't help but heave a little sigh of regret when a figure clad in ivory lace made her way up the gleaming spiral staircase in the foyer. The bride was the focal point of a room tastefully bedecked with the very floral combination Lauren always envisioned for her own wedding: pink roses, miniature white carnations and baby's breath.
"Always the bridesmaid, never the bride," she muttered under her breath.
Fighting back a wave of melancholy, Lauren focused her attention on a montage of framed pictures hanging on the wall behind her. In her favorite, a little girl with wide green eyes and dark pigtails sat upon her father's lap, blissfully unaware that he would pass out of this world before his only daughter would receive her high school diploma. The woman standing behind the two of them with a hand lovingly draped on her husband's shoulder was a younger version of the smiling bride who was at the moment addressing her guests from halfway up the stairs.
Lauren touched a finger to her own lips before plac-ing it to her father's as if to prevent him from saying anything to ruin the moment.
"Don't worry, Daddy. You'd like him. He makes Mom happy."
Across the crowded room, she caught a glimpse of Travis Banks, looking just as bored as she felt. At six-three he stood a good head taller than anyone else in the room. In a tailored black Western suit, he looked even better than she remembered -- a feat she hardly thought possible. Lauren was surprised to see him in attendance. It was widely believed that the county's most eligible bachelor avoided all weddings for fear of contracting a highly contagious disease that he was fond of comparing to the plague: nuptialitis.
"Hurry up, everybody," a voice called out. "Barbara's about to toss the bouquet."
Younger, prettier and far more visible bachelorettes pressed to the front of the crowd for a chance to catch the flowers that by tradition signaled the end of their single status. Too old and jaded for such nonsense, Lauren faded even more deliberately into the wallpaper and continued to covertly study the man she'd had a crush on since high school. She had been a lowly freshman when, as the senior quarterback for the Wranglers, Travis carried her heart -- along with every other girl's in good old Pinedale High over the goal line.
Not that he'd been able to see her back then either....
Lauren decided that time had only improved Travis's boyish good looks. There was no sign of gray in his sandy blond hair, and the weight he'd put on looked to be mostly muscle. Although Lauren had little interest in catching a bouquet, she secretly fantasized about catching him. Unfortunately, she doubted she'd be lucky enough to claim a single dance with him all evening.
Certainly not when I look like a cupcake whose frosting runneth over in this hideous pastel gown, she thought to herself. How can it be possible that my own mother can be married twice when I've yet to so much as be engaged? And all these years I thought I was the one doing Mom a favor by being there for her. Turns out that I'm the one who's been holding her back....
Determinedly Lauren steered her thoughts away from self-pity to more practical matters. Like where she was going to live now that Cupid's heat-seeking missile had found the target painted on the roof of her house. Not that her mother was kicking her out or anything so melodramatic. It went without saying that she was always welcome here. But while it was one thing to rationalize living at home when she had the excuse of taking care of an aging mother, it was quite another sharing a home with a pair of honeymooners. That they were in their sixties was inconsequential to the fact that Lauren's mother was getting more action than she was...
Lauren spun around at the sound of her mother's voice. She barely had time to shield her face from a projectile hurtling across the room at her. Barbara Aberdeen should have played high school football herself for all the precision and accuracy of her throw. The crowd cheered -- and laughed -- as a red-faced Lauren displayed her ill-gotten prize: one bridal bouquet compliments of a well-meaning, if not openly desperate, mother.
Later at the punch bowl, Lauren overheard a disappointed and tipsy Sylvia Porter describe the event as "A pity pass if I ever saw one."
Lauren wouldn't have thought such a petty remark would have the power to sting at her age. But it did.
Maybe even more today than years ago when she and her girlfriends had labored under the misconception that popularity really mattered and dating the right guy was a one-way ticket to happily ever after. The raw wistfulness in Sylvia's voice kept Lauren from confronting the nasty little witch who was so obviously distraught at the thought of ending up as ancient and alone as the day's maid of honor.
Excerpted from Only Skin Deep by Cathleen Galitz Copyright © 2005 by Cathleen Galitz. Excerpted by permission.
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