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Leigh made a nest in the rumpled sheets of her hotel room bed, arranging a napkin, spoon and peanut butter jar before her. She unscrewed the lid and set it aside, plunging the spoon deep to coat its back. As she savored the first taste, her anxiety dulled, worries temporarily forgotten.
She looked at the television, where two nattering entertainment anchors discussed the latest Hollywood wedding.
"The big question, of course, is the dress. After that taffeta fiasco at the Golden Globes, I know we 're all holding our breath."
The anchors disappeared, replaced by a still of the se-quined dress in question. Leigh frowned. She liked that dress. She jabbed her spoon back into the jar, barely tasting the next hundred calories' worth of comfort as she licked it clean.
"Then again, that Grammy dress was a solid A," one host said.
"Absolutely," his perky colleague agreed. "When she gets it right, she nails it."
Leigh watched the footage of the demure young woman on the red carpet pausing for photos, looking so calm and happy. Makeup flawless, styled hair bouncing, golden highlights glinting with each camera flash. Must be nice to be the girl on TV.
Stretching her legs in front of her, Leigh wondered what the media would make of her pajamas' holly-and-ivy pattern in April. Then she looked to the jar in her hand and realized she probably had worse faux pas to worry about.
"Now, Leigh Bailey might be Hollywood's last good girl, but what do we think? White dress?"
Simpering laughter. "She may be scandal-proof, but she is marrying a musician, let's not forget that."
Across the room, Leigh's phone chimed, her mom's ring tone triggering a fresh stab of panic that broke the peanut butter's spell. She scrambled from the tangle of covers, gooey spoon landing on the white duvet. "Crap." But this was L.A. The housekeeping staff had surely seen far worse.
She padded to the bureau and hit Talk. "Hi, Ma."
"Leigh, where are you?"
"I'm eating peanut butter in bed, watching tabloid shows."
"Honey." A sigh, equal parts fond and frustrated; her mother to a tee. "The fitter's already here in the suite. It's nine-thirty."
"I know what time it is."
"And she's the best in town, but you shouldn't eat that garbage hours before you're going to be seen in a fitted satin sheath by half the city. People will say you're pregnant."
It was Leigh's turn to sigh. She turned to the TV in time to catch footage of herself in a bikini.
"Those shots from Maui," the anchor was saying.
"She's never looked better," his partner concurred.
Leigh smiled drily. Lovely. Two weeks with the violent stomach bug that exiled her to the bathroom for most of her vacation but she'd never looked better! She glanced longingly at the jar on her bed.
"I need to shower. Twenty minutes?"
"Twenty minutes, but twenty minutes. Not thirty, not an hour. We need the fitting done by eleven, before the makeup and hair people arrive. Then the photographers"
"I'll be there."
"This isn't some premiere, Leigh Bailey. It's your wedding day." Ah, the patented maternal use of the full name. The big guns were coming out.
"The day I should be in flip-flops and a sundress, in Grandma's backyard," Leigh said, frustration making her sound bitter. Making her sound distinctly like her mother. "I wanted a barbecue. I wanted you and Dad and Cody there, and Dan's family. I didn't want eight hundred people I barely even know, at some gigantic estate." Funny how the guests had multiplied, the locale shifted and the budget exploded as Leigh's day had morphed from a cookout to a circus, in six months flat.
The ringmaster went on. "It doesn't work that way when you're a star, honey."
"I'm not a star, Ma. I'm just some girl who's always in the magazines. I haven't been in a movie in two years."
"That's not what it's about these days. What channel are you watching?"
"Us, too. And who's the main story?"
"Me." Glancing again to the bedspread, she wondered idly if it was possible to OD on peanut butter. She imagined a team of burly EMTs crashing through the door to find her slumped with a spoon dangling from her mouth, TV droning, bed and carpet littered with empty jars.
"Following an apparent cry-for-help binge, Leigh Bailey was found unconscious the morning of her weddingfrom an alleged peanut butter overdose. Doctors administered grape jelly intravenously, and the actress is now listed in stable condition. The wedding has been postponed until further notice."
Her mother burst through the daydream. "Leigh?"
"I said you are a star, honey. And I know you wanted to keep things simple, but think about Dan. Dan wants all this."
"He didn't before." A queasy gurgle soured Leigh's stomach. Dan did want all this, the circus. She sometimes wondered which woman her fiance saw her asthe one on TV having her clothes and waistline critiqued, or the one in her pj's. Dan used to be her anchor, keeping her grounded amid the chaos, but small changes over two years had added up. A new apartment, wardrobe, a new collection of opinions about which restaurants they could or couldn't go to. Just like the mutant wedding, their relationship had changed, its modifications too incremental to spot without hindsight.
Dan used to talk about his music, where the band was going. The band hadn't practiced in months, and his enthusiasm for songwriting had been replaced with talk of producing, investing in a label, opening a club. More driven by cachet than creativity. Sometimes Leigh worried he'd bought in to the myth of that girl on the screen. Sometimes she bought in to it herself, though not lately. Not since the impending wedding had grown to such epic proportions.
"Do you think he still loves me?" Leigh asked her mother.
"Of course Dan loves you. You two are perfect together."
As if on cue, footage of her and Dan from early in their coupledom appeared on the TV. She really did look happy. She looked like herself, recognizable, Dan so at ease in his own scruffy skin, back when he'd been a happy and passionate nobody. She hadn't seen him smile at her that way in months. He smiled through her these days, like a man focused on something beyond his grasp, something behind her.
"Every bride gets wedding-day jitters. If you didn't feel nervous, we'd have something to worry about." There was jingling behind her mom's words, the sound ofjewelry being adjusted.
"Now get in that shower, young lady."
They hung up and Leigh shuffled to her suite's gorgeous bathroom, all polished marble and glass. After a shampoo and scrub, she slicked lotion on her waxed legs, toweled her hair and brushed her teeth, so freshly bleached they ached. "You, only better," as her mother said of such enhancements. But weren't moms supposed to love you exactly the way you were?
Leigh wiped the steam from the mirror and stared at her naked reflection, glad she'd never let herself be talked into changing anything majorbigger boobs would look ridiculous on her frame, and would be a liability if she ever started dancing again. She was already admired for her pale, creamy complexion, so tanning was mercifully off the table. She looked at her nails, shaped and buffed by a manicurist, but fundamentally hers.
Her engagement ring sparkled under the bulbs circling the mirror. So pretty. And she'd fought so hard to keep it, against her mother's protests that it was too small, too simple, too anybody's. But like the boobs, Leigh thought small-and-understated suited her fine. She polished the solitaire with a tissue, feeling better as she dressed to face the drama surely swirling in her mother's suite. The bridal suite, sans bride.
She walked down the long hall to the opposite corner of the hotel's twenty-first floor and knocked. Her mother answered at once, already styled, as though a wedding were a tornado that might touch down at any moment and must be vigilantly prepared for. She had her cell clamped to her ear, and her tone made Leigh's chest tighten. It could only be her father on the other end.
"You are kidding me. Jesus, Jim. It's like you get off on not listening to No, I never said that. Not only do you not listen, you just make up whatever it is you want me to be saying." She glanced at Leigh. "Your daughter is here. The one who's getting married, or will be if you can manage to get your act together. Right. We'll talk about this later."
Unseen, Leigh rolled her eyes. No, you won't. They'd fight later, turning yet another non-issue into a marriage referendum as they'd been doing for as long as Leigh could remember. All those years ago she'd thrown herself into dancing, ballet at first, then modern, any and all kinds, whatever got her out of the house and the endless two-way badgering. When she'd landed her first movie role her parents had magically stopped bickering, united in their new projectLeigh's career. Of course, the peace hadn't lasted, but here she was ten years later, still desperate to be the good girl, successful and respectable, her naive inner kid thinking she could somehow fix them, if only she worked hard enough.
Her mom clicked the phone off and shook her head, her frosted bob too shellacked with products to budge. She sighed in exasperation, then changed modes, quick as a flipped switch. She smiled warmly and pulled Leigh into a hug. "Oh, honey. Your big day." She stepped back to stare at her daughter's face. "It's finally here, isn't it?"
Leigh nodded, returning her mom's grin as best she could.
"Twenty-seven. When on earth did that happen?"
When, indeed. And twenty-seven was far too old to still be living for parental approval. Leigh pictured the plane ticket in her purse. When she landed back in the States in a couple weeks, she'd put her foot down. Her parents had their own lives to lead, and so did Leigh. If only she knew what she wanted that life to look like
Her mother turned to the action elsewhere in the room, the wedding planner on his phone, the fitter standing patiently beside the ivory halter gown.
That dress. The battle Leigh had forfeited in favor of winning the war on her ring. The ring she'd wear for the rest of her life, the gown just a day. But it was a lovely dress. More sophisticated than the playful one Leigh had fallen hard for, but compromises had to be made to keep mothers happy or at least shut them up.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" her mom said.
"Yeah, it is."
"Glad you let me talk you into it now? It's just perfect for the venue."
Leigh nodded, so sick of certain wordsvenue, entrance, presentation.
She let herself be led to the fitter and dutifully stripped. The dress was slippery and cool as lake water as it slid down her bare skin, and she felt clad in something beyond satin. Adulthood, perhaps. Womanhood. Her mother tugged her from the thought.
"Oh, Leigh." She tapped a finger against Leigh's belly. And only in L.A. would it count as a belly. "You and that peanut butter."
Leigh smoothed the satin over her offense. "Girls should know it's normal to have a stomach."
"I agree, but it's not normal for a person to eat half a jar of that stuff by herself. It's very fattening, and you won't have that metabolism forever."
Leigh shrugged. "Tell me you'd prefer I take up smoking, then."
Her pack-a-day mother smiled grimly and dropped the subject. "Well, you look beautiful, belly and all."
Leigh turned to the cheval mirror at her side, and she had to admit the girl reflected back was pretty. Though once her hair and makeup were done, her snack digested and belly deflated, would there be anything of Leigh left?
She looked to her mom. "Do you remember what you promised me? My wedding gift? About quitting smoking once all this craziness is over?"
Leigh grinned hopefully. "So I'll get back from the island and you'll be all strung out and snappy?"
"I'll do better than that, honey, and finish the withdrawal while you're away."
Leigh smiled again. Though her mother promised to quit smoking nearly as often as she lit up. "There's other stuff that needs to change, once I'm back."
Her mother feigned ignorance, fussing with some invisible imperfection in the satin. "Oh?"
"About you and Dad? Maybe going on a trip of your own, away from all this?"
"I don't know, Leigh. I've got a hundred things going on, all that stuff with the charity ball coming up in June."
Leigh opened her mouth, then closed it, realizing she didn't have the stamina for this argument. But once she got back from her honeymoon she'd be putting her own marriage first, instead of acting like a smoke screen in theirs. Once today was behind her, she'd be in the clear. Marriage would render her blissfully boring to the press, and she couldn't wait to fade into obscurity for a year or two, maybe permanently. Fame had never been her dream. Just another role she'd stumbled into, trying to make people happy.
She stared out the huge window across the city. What would Dan be doing, right now? Probably sleeping in, after his bachelor party. Not that Dan was much for getting wasted and crazy. He was a pretty low-key guy. Or he used to be a pretty low-key guy. Who he was wasn't so clear anymore.
She missed his passion. Their hectic, high-profile engagement had done a number on their sex life, and Leigh suspected he was readjusting how he saw her, no longer his girlfriend, but his soon-to-be wife.
When the fitter got to her knees to fuss with the hem, Leigh leaned close to her mother's ear to whisper, "I don't think Dan and I have had sex in nearly a month."
"You're very busy people."
"No one's that busy. We're not even newlyweds yet. That can't be normal, can it?"
"You and Dan aren't normal people. And Dan is very ambitious. You're lucky to have such a driven man, Leigh, really. Not like your father"
"A lot of girls in your position have husbands who don't expect to do a thing after they get a nice tight grip on those celebrity coattails. Dan's not one of them. You're very, very lucky."
Leigh knew she ought to feel lucky. The man she was marrying was her best friend. Or had been. She prayed they'd get some of that back, being away from everyone for two weeks. No, they would get it back. She needed to think positive. Still, a bit of reassurance wouldn't hurt.
When the fitter excused herself to make a call, Leigh thought she ought to do the same. She padded back down the hall to her own room, shut the door and stood before the windows, holding down a button on her phone to speed-dial Dan.
He answered just as she was about to hang up, and his voice alone reminded her to breathe. "Hey, you. What's up?"
"Hey. I, um Oh God, I don't know." She laughed, already calming.
His tone was warm, but tight as well. "Everything okay? You sound kinda spastic, spazzy."
She smiled at his teasing. "I guess I've got jitters, but I wanted to hear your voice, before I saw you. You know, at the altar."
"You're sweet. I've got jitters, too. Goes with the territory, right? Especially with the audience we've got watching. You'll be fine."
Leigh waited a beat for something morean "I love you," perhaps. It didn't arrive, but Dan was stressed, same as her. And like her, he didn't really know what he was doing. No script, just two young people nervous before their vows. Normal. The thing Leigh ached most to be. She glanced at her ring, its diamond blinking in the morning sunlight.
"Okay," she said. "Thanks. I just needed to talk."
"Just breathe, and I'll see you before you know it. I better go. I've got my brother on the other line."
"Tell him hi. See you soon."
Leigh nearly hung up, but after a pause Dan added, "Babe?" He hadn't called her that in months, and the name flooded her with relief.