Amanda rejected every dress because each was more vulgar than the next. So Chloe issued instructions to her dressmaker and told Amanda, “Don’t even look in the mirror because you don’t see yourself right.”
Except she loved the dress—simple, set-in sleeves, a fitted top to her waist, and a full skirt falling just above her knees.
Chloe recommended a push-up bra because the one Amanda was wearing showed above the square neckline. After that adjustment, what showed was the first rounded swell of Amanda’s breasts. But maybe that was all right—proof she was no longer a child.
At the airport, she rented a car and checked into the Omni Hotel instead of Keswick Hall where yesterday the wedding party had celebrated with “Martini Madness,” a wine tasting, and a dinner-barbecue in the Pavilion.
She was buckling the ankle-strap to her flat pink shoe when O phoned. Keith’s sisters drank too much and argued over the groomsman, whom they discovered went out with both of them. One sister threw a full martini at the other. Gin in her eyes but the glass had smashed against a mirror. They both left screaming, whereabouts still unknown. And Sterling was in a state because if ‘Lily’ didn’t arrive—no bridesmaid. “When are you coming?”
Ten minutes later, Amanda stood near a wall of beveled windows. Olivia wore a shimmering gown that clung to her generous curves. Her dark hair was piled high on her head. Seeing Amanda, she lunged and squealed, a glossy tendril falling from its pins. Luckily, a tipsy woman wearing vivid blue preoccupied Sterling. “That’s Keith’s mother,” O whispered. “And look, there’s Daddy.”
Moving through a small crowd, Walter saw Olivia—and next to her? Double take. He came to a confused halt before his smile broke into a laugh. “My God, Amanda! Is that you? Even in my dreams you didn’t grow up so—so beautiful.”
Handsomer than she could have imagined and silver-haired, Walter fixed his eyes on hers. He stood close and she recalled the smell of his skin and his breath. When she reached to touch his face, he stopped her fingers and took her in at arms’ length. His fingers on hers sent Amanda spinning.
A quartet began the wedding music. Walter gently swung her wrists before pressing her hands between his. “After the ceremony, we’ll make plans. So we can talk.”
The air gusted around a boxy, red-faced woman. Sterling. “What the hell are you doing here?
O said, “Mama, meet Lily.”
“No, Olivia! You’ve lost your mind. Her presence here is appalling.”
People in their seats whispered and wondered. Sterling’s red face grew even redder and she shoved a bouquet at Amanda. “Go on then!”
Feeling Walter and O behind her, Amanda rippled through light. Walter looked the same as in the Disney World photograph, except for his silver hair. She hadn’t realized how tall and strong he was. Stepping away from her, he’d grown quiet, his usual stance, determined but calm.
Only after he presented Olivia to Keith and took his seat did Amanda notice the groom. Dark haired and boyish, he presented a blasé front as if marrying were nothing new to him.
When the new husband and wife marched up the aisle to a Stevie Wonder song, Amanda drifted near the windows again. Walter tipped over a chair in his hurry to talk to her. As he approached she unwittingly stepped backward, preparing to—the memory shocked her!—leap into his arms.
Routinely, she had flung herself on him, wrapping her eleven-year-old legs around his waist. She had tormented Walter with a child’s relentless savagery for nearly a year. Climbing onto him and asking, did he love her, did he swear?
Against his protests, sometimes adamant, sometimes faint, she had laughed, and whenever possible, slid onto his lap (which he didn’t allow, but didn’t always stop.) She had only been half-aware and yet aware enough to be thrilled by the transformation and suppressed struggle before he said, “Amanda, please, get up.” The only time he sounded angry, or close to it, because if he had outright rebuffed her, she would have been crushed. Instead, Walter had suffered Amanda’s needy, precocious advances with unfaltering restraint.
“None of that, honey.” He took her hands again, and again laughed at how absurdly beautiful she’d become.
“So five years,” Sterling yanked Walter’s elbow, “wasn’t enough?”
“Don’t say that.”
Sterling thrust a finger at Amanda, “Get out!”
Lowering her eyes, she nonetheless caught Walter’s expression—he’d talk to her later.
No indication when, though. Not at any brunch tomorrow. Olivia hadn’t told him or anyone else Amanda would be at the wedding.
Sterling pushed her. “Leave before I scream!’”
Then Olivia materialized, her arms crossed. “It’s my wedding. Mine! Mom, you go shake peoples’ hands. Amanda and I are gonna do cartwheels.” O kicked off her shoes and hiked up her dress, whirled a bit and fell flat, giggling. “Amanda, you do them. Come on. Do some cartwheels for me.”
“Another time, O.” She bent down to say “Thank you, congratulations,” but Sterling grabbed her upper arm. “I said, get out!”
“Do you have a coat, Amanda? I’ll walk you to your car.” Walter offered his arm. But Sterling’s husband, Charles, pulled him away, needing a word.
Amanda ran down hallways and outside, where it was almost as cold as Chicago in February. Someday, not now, she’d beg his forgiveness. Because she should have been the one sent to jail!
Naked in her darkened room, disgraced and bereft, she writhed on the floor—the hotel bed was too soft—and stroked herself to that phase of suspension and compression, followed by a delectable squeezing through to earthshaking pleasure. She sobbed and banged her head on the floor even while her fingers worked their frenzy, sending her sensible mind away.