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"I am a typed director. If I made Cinderella, the audience would immediately be looking for a body in the coach."
Lightning flashed through the window when Marilee Davidson read this quote to us seven years ago. Earlier that evening she'd heard the thunder and written the words out on a piece of paper in her office down the hall from our meeting room. She smiled when she shared the quote with us, saying she just had to bring itthe night inspired thoughts of Hitchcock with every gust of the stormy wind.
Even back then, the Sisterhood of the Dropped Stitches started each meeting with a quote, and we loved this one. We could hardly knit at all that night, not with the thunder and then a discussion of perfectly ordinary things like shower curtains and birds that turned deadly. Hitchcock always could take something innocent and twist it around until shivers of fright raced down our spines. It was the first time in months that we talked about something besides cancer.
And then we realized our cancers were like a Hitchcock movie; all four of us had been caught unawares by them. One minute our bodies were perfectly ordinary teenage-girl ones, and the next minutezapthey had turned against us. Just like those birds with their pointy beaks.
I had no sooner realized that fact than I took a smooth stone out of my pocket and began to rub it. Whenever I was nervous in those days, I'd rub my Lizzie stone. We all had things that comforted us back then. Marilee had those baseball caps she wore. Becca Snyder had her list of things to do (she was convinced she would get well if she just did everything she was supposed to do). Even Carly Winston had her flawless makeup; she believed that if she made herself look healthy, she would be healthy.
No wonder our counselor, Rose, had wanted us to meet together weekly. We might not have been able to speak all of our fears aloud, but we felt stronger simply by being together. In the end, it didn't matter if all we did was knit and brace ourselves against the next crash of thunder; we had each other.
I'm Lizabett MacDonald, and I refuse to shiver in the dark anymore, not even for Hitchcock. If I'm going to watch a movie, it's got to be a happy one.
It's Thursday evening and I'm walking down the street to meet the others for our weekly Sisterhood meeting. One thing Hitchcock knew was how to set the stage for momentous announcements, and I plan to make a big one tonight. I need to give my news some buildup, some atmospheresome pizzazz. I can't just blurt everything out like it's nothing more than my order for a ginger-spiced caffe latte.
Right now, the sidewalks of Old Town Pasadena are dark except for the streetlamps and what little light shines out from the open stores. Fat drops of March rain are falling, and I see some distant lightning. I walk past the historic brick fire station, the upscale Italian restaurant and the gelato place with its fresh fruit toppings. I take careful steps and am carrying an umbrella, but my canvas shoes have become a little squishy.
I stop under the curved awning that hangs over the front door of the Pews diner. This is where I'm headed. I take a moment to listen, and I hear the rain beating down harder than I expectedstill I'm sure I'll be able to hear a clap of thunder even if I'm inside the diner. And when I do hear the sound, I'll know it's my cue to tell everyone my plans. Very Hitchcockian.
I lower my umbrella and walk through the main part of the Pews until I reach the French doors that lead to the back room where the Sisterhood has met for years. My sweater and jeans are slightly damp from the rain, but I'm feeling good about myself.
I square my shoulders and throw open the doors. Everyone looks up, and I say hello. Nothing more. I'm going to wait for my signal before I make my announcement. I shake the raindrops off of my umbrella and walk over to the large oak table, where I pull out a chair and sit down with everyone else.
The others are knitting quietly, something that we do at the beginning of every meeting. It's our thinking time. I lower my knitting bag to the floor and pull out some needles and yarn to begin work on the ivory af-ghan I'm making for my mother.
I feel like my news is almost bursting out of me. The sisters are going to be so excited. What's happening is that this coming Sundayat church when the pastor asks if anyone wants to commit their life to JesusI'm going to stand right up. Which means I'll be saying yes. For me, this is an earth-shaking decision; I've been debating the whole thing for a few months. Finally, I decided to stop fretting and just go with what my heart tells me to do.
So, here I am waiting to announce my decision to my best friends.
The click of needles is all that I hear. I stop knitting for a minute. The air is moist from the rain, and I smell Uncle Lou's signature coffee brewing out front.
I'll be the last of the sisters to become a Christian, and I'm still a little new to the wonder of the whole idea. None of the others even know I've been meeting individually with the pastor, so they won't be expecting anything like this. After I tell them, the sisters will be stunned for a split second and then they'll explode with joy. Hugs and chaos are a given.
That's part of the reason why I want a ta-da moment before I tell everyone about it. I want to show that I realize it's a sacred moment and worthy of some ceremony. The other half of the reason is purely selfish; I get too chatty when I'm worriedor too silent. It's one or the other.
I have tried for years now to overcome my worried state of mind. But I keep noticing that things never seem as likely to go bad as when my life is good, which means I'm constantly on edgeunless I'm utterly miserable. I know it sounds nuts. When people look at me, they see this bright smile plastered on my face, but inside my mind is waiting for the other shoe to drop. It seems there's always a payback for the good timesat least that's the way it happens in my life.
The sisters know I worry, but not many other people do. Even now, I try not to think about how scary-good everything is as I look around.
Marilee's Uncle Lou owns this diner, and he set this room aside for us years ago when he found out we were meeting in some depressing hospital room with nothing but nutrition charts on the walls. No one else uses this room, and we have a couple of shelves behind the table loaded with our books. Of course, the row of self-help psychology books is mine.
Initially, I wasn't in favor of meeting here because my big brother, Quinn, is one of those coffee-drinking firemen from the station down the street. I was afraid he'd be hanging around the Pews all of the time, and, being fifteen when we started meeting, I wanted my own place. Quinn promised not to darken the door here without an invitation, though, and over the years that we've been meeting here this place has become a sanctuary.
Tonight, the sisters are all hereMarilee, Carly, Becca and me. Our counselor, Rose, still comes sometimes, but she isn't here now. She spends most of her time with teenagers who have cancer, and since all of us have been free of the Big C for over seven years, she only comes to see us when she needs encouragement.
Which is kind of nice: that we can give her that after all she's done for us.
I stop for a moment. For the first time, I know who besides Roseto thank for the fact that we all came through our cancer just fine. Thank you, Jesus.
My quick gasp at that discovery must have been louder than I thought because Marilee looks at me, then glances at her watch and sets her knitting down on the table. That means our fifteen minutes of silent knitting are over. We usually continue to knit, but we chat while we're doing it.
"So, what's up?" Marilee turns to me and asks. She has this expectant look on her face like she knows I've got something to say. She's the earth mother in our group, and she notices things like who's on edge and has something to share. She's the one who holds us all together when anyone gets upset or has a problem.
Marilee is beautiful inside and out. I like the way her short brown hair settles around her face these days. Those baseball caps she used to wear pushed her hair down and made it hard to see her eyes. Of course, the caps were as comforting to her as my Lizzie stone is to me, so I'm glad she still has them hanging on pegs in her office down the hall from here. She's done the diner's bookkeeping for years.
"Is something wrong?" Marilee asks, looking at me with sympathy in her eyes. "Or is it just the nervous thing?"
I don't know how Marilee knows. I try not to say anything when I'm worried, but it must seep out my pores. None of the other sisters look surprised at her question, which probably means it's obvious to all of them, too.
I shake my head. "Don't worry. It's good news really good newsbut I'll save it for later."
I put my needles down and reach into my knitting bag to pull out a dozen fabric swatches. "Right now, we need to look at these. What do you think?"
I'm not the only one with good news. Tonight we are going to pick out the fabric for our bridesmaid dresses for Marilee's wedding, becausewonder of wonders she is getting married to my dear brother, Quinn. They have already put in for their marriage license.
I can hardly contain myself. They told us all about it last month, and happiness bubbles up inside of me every time I think of them getting married. Which, of course, makes me half-afraid something is going to happen to ruin everything.
I try to keep these particular fears to myself, though. Quinn is so happy, and Marilee iswell, she looks at my brother with so much love in her eyes that I practically weep when I see it. They have both waited so long to find their own true love.
It reminds me of that idyllic summer I enjoyed before I found out about my cancer. I was floating along in a life that could have been an ad for one of those springtime soaps with all of the birds singing and the flowers blooming. And then whameverything took a Hitch-cockian twist so fast I couldn't quite grasp what was happening. My balmy summer was hit with nightmare storms. The flowers sprouted thorns. The birds sharpened their beaks. And something started destroying the muscles in my leg so fast I couldn't outrun it.
I hate to say it, but I know things could go that way for Marilee and Quinn, too. I try to push all of the nervous thoughts away, though. I don't want Marilee to see what's on my mind.
Instead, I focus on the good parts of the wedding.
I know just what Marilee wants on her day, too.
All four of us remember the long discussions we had about our dream weddings when we first battled cancer. Back then, Marilee always wore boy-cut jeans with men's flannel shirts and those baseball caps of hers. Underneath all of the tomboy stuff, though, she dreamed of having a wedding with a horse-drawn carriage and a princess dress that shimmered in the light of a thousand candles.
In one version, I think she was even wearing a tiara. Her cake was always a white confection that stood three feet tall and was served on little crystal plates while a full orchestra played in the background. Marilee used to get a dreamy expression in her eyes when she talked about her wedding back then. She even had a recipe for a special icing that gave the cake that lacy bridal look.
Of course, in the here and now, she's made a point of saying she doesn't really expect that kind of extravagance. She's resigned to reality. But that's not going to stop me. She doesn't know it, but I'm going to do everything I can to give her the fantasy wedding she used to talk about. After all, Cinderella didn't think she could go to the prince's ball, either, and she ended up there.
I should mention that Marilee and Quinn asked me to be their wedding planner. Only a youngest child can understand how big this is. It took years for Quinn to trust me to cross the street by myself. Now he's letting me plan his wedding to Marilee. It's one of the most significant days of his life, and I'll be in charge. I wonder if he's realized that yet.
I started my wedding crusade last week by emphatically vetoing Quinn's suggestion that they get married in the pastor's study. Hopefully, Quinn was joking, but I'm not sure. He backpedaled on his suggestion too soon for me to know if he was serious. I know Marilee wants to get married soon, too, but even she looked a little taken aback at the thought of an office.
"This looks nice," Marilee says as she picks up the sample swatch of shell-pink satin that I just put on the table. "It might be too cotton-candy sweet, though."
Needless to say, I want everything to be as close to perfect as possible. I want the right dress. The right cake. The right music. The right carriage (they do have a horse and buggy in Pasadena that I can rent). I owe Quinn and Marilee both so much for their support of me that I am hoping I can repay some of it by surprising them with the ultimate dream wedding.