A Story: Seeing But Not Observing
I wrote Seeing But Not Observing as a part of Andi Cumbo’s online short story class, and thought I would share part of it with you today. I hope you enjoy it, and when I properly finish it up (I ran out of steam near the end and it shows) I may post it under Featured Fiction. = = = = = = = = = = =
I can’t believe I let myself be talked into this. But, when one’s best friend is getting married in two short weeks and you’re the maid of honor, well . . . sacrifices are to be expected.
I huffed out a breath, giving my reflection another once-over in the full-length mirror in my dressing room at the back of the women’s clothing store. It was a nice dress I had on – bordering on pretty, even – and I was surprised to find I still liked it after having it on for thirty seconds. (Let’s just say I’m truly a blue jeans kind of a girl.) The ruby red material did bring some color to my doughy-white skin, and my black hair matched any color, really (duh – it’s black). The hemline fell just above my knees, and the wrap-around style made me look like I had a proper figure. I could wear this for one day. And yet I wondered if people would see boring old me, trying to pretend I was something more by wearing a fancy dress. Maybe I should have declined when Missy – the aforementioned best friend (to me) and soon-to-be bride (to a sweet guy named Richard) – had asked me to be her maid of honor. But even as that thought budged to the front of my mind I immediately dismissed it. Missy was my oldest and best friend. How could I say no?
The only hope I had was that Missy would hate the dress. I crossed my fingers as I offered up a silent prayer that she would do just that before I exited the dressing room. As I made my way to the large full-length mirror kitty-corner to my change room, Missy tucked her phone into her purse before setting it under the chair she was perched on beside the mirror.
"I don't know," I said, biting my lower lip as I picked at the cuffs of dress’s long fitted sleeves. I stood so I was facing Missy. "It's a beautiful dress . . . but . . . " I tugged at the sleeves before turning my attention to my reflection. It was a nice dress, I tried to convince myself, but again the thought that I was trying to be something I was not sprung up in my mind.
I hated clothes shopping. I hated dresses. And, more specifically, I hated me in dresses. I hadn’t worn one since I was at least thirteen years old, even opting to wear a tuxedo to my high school graduation seven years ago. Yet still you agreed to be in Missy’s wedding . . . in a dress, mocked my inner voice. I was an idiot.
I tried to keep my body from contorting like my insides currently were intent on doing as I continued to sneak glances at the dress, at myself in the dress. "It's just not me," I finished at last. "It's, it's too pretentious."
Missy rolled her eyes as she stood up and came to stand behind me. "Allison,” she said, “that dress was made for you -- made for you. And there is nothing pretentious about it, either, including the price. It's 40% off, for crying out loud!" She folded her arms in front of her chest, shifting her stance so her left hip jutted out slightly – her silent way of indicating she would never, if ever, be convinced otherwise on a matter. Like a dog with a bone, I thought as an image of a ferocious poodle with hair the color of Missy's blonde ringlets popped up in my mind. It almost made me smile.
It was easy for Missy to find the right clothes, had been since we were girls. She had managed to keep the strong-but-slim athletic build she developed in high school while playing rugby. I, who had never been into sports and was only now tentatively getting into running, was a little more . . . squishy in comparison. And I was on the shorter side, too, in a constant limbo between shopping in petites and the regular clothing section. Nothing really looked good on me. But Missy never believed me when I tried to point such things out to her, so I decided to switch tactics.
"Yes," I said, turning to face her properly once more, "but just because something is on sale doesn't mean I have to buy it. I might as well get eighty dollars in cash and burn it, for all I would actually wear this dress."
Missy's stance relaxed slightly as she looked to be considering my statement. The woman was a thrift-store guru who always found the cutest outfits at the most amazing prices. "Waste not, want not" was her mantra, and if I could get her to focus on how wasteful it would be for me to buy this dress, that would be a victory for me. An image popped into my head of Poodle Missy and myself in my doggy form – a pudgy mutt with wild black hair – fighting over a bone. This time I had to work a bit to suppress a smile. I focused again on Missy. Her stance was still marginally relaxed, and she was carefully eyeing me (though more likely, eyeing the dress – it was lovely).
“You know me,” I continued, “I wore a tuxedo to our high school grad. I barely tolerate a low heel on my shoes. Please, please, please – let’s keep looking. I’m sure there is something that will look great for your wedding, and that I can pass onto Goodwill without feeling like I robbed myself after the fact.” I mirrored Missy’s stance as she briefly focused on something over my right shoulder before returning her attention to me.
“You work hard,” she said, “and you squirrel your money away for a rainy day that has yet to come. So I say, buy this dress. For one thing, I can’t think of one that would be nicer for the wedding, and secondly, it’s high time you bought something pretty for yourself, something fun. Live a little, Ally!” I opened my mouth to protest, but she quickly continued. “It’s for my wedding. Surely that is worth spending some money on. And I’m not making you wear a “one time only” dress – this is something you can easily wear again, and you know it.” Missy looked at me, her forehead creased in a frown, her eyes oddly bright. “Allison,” she said, stilling my still-fidgeting hands with her own, “you look beautiful. I would love for you to wear this dress for my wedding.”
My tongue suddenly felt heavy in my mouth, so I only nodded in response. I would buy the stupid dress and wear it for my best friend.
The days leading up to Missy and Richard’s wedding passed in a frenzy of activity. For a small and simple affair involving only immediate family and close friends that was to be followed by a simple luncheon at the home of Missy’s parents, there was still a lot to do.
I had volunteered to help Mrs. Hubert – Missy’s mom – with the food for the luncheon. I loved working with her, chattering about this and that as we worked in her kitchen. Some people, Missy included, would call the Huberts' kitchen old and outdated, but to me it was the warmest and coziest room in the house with its dark brown cabinetry and white Formica countertops. It spoke of me of many fun meals and lively conversations shared as I had possibly spent as much time at their house growing up as at my own.
But yes – the wedding preparations – it took us two days to get the assortment of finger sandwiches, cold cuts, buns, squares, fruit trays, and veggie platters together. The Friday before the Saturday nuptials found Mr. Hubert attempting to sneak in for a nibble “that would never be missed” while Mrs. Hubert and I tried to sort out exactly what we needed for beverages. While Mr. Hubert “stealthily” tiptoed away with three finger sandwiches and two lemon squares (Mrs. Hubert always made more than needed for such things, long-familiar with her husband’s snacking ways), we settled on a final tally for coffee, tea, and punch after deciding everyone could drink water if we ran out of any one thing. (The wedding was to be a “dry” affair out of respect for the groom’s father, a recovering alcoholic.) Once the drinks were all sorted and Mr. Hubert was dispatched to get the necessary items we still needed to make the punch, Mrs. Hubert and I took a breather at the round kitchen table, each enjoying a glass of water along with the cool spring breeze coming in through the open windows.
I could tell Mrs. Hubert was working up to asking me something of a serious nature even as a comfortable silence settled between us. Like her daughter, she would worry her bottom lip between her teeth as she went through various arguments in her mind, flashing a bright smile and feigning nonchalance any time eye contact was made. I knew from experience it was better not to force the matter, so I decided to help myself to the day’s paper Mr. Hubert had in its customary spot on his kitchen chair as Mrs. Hubert sorted out her thoughts. I had made my way through the weekend’s movie reviews when at last she spoke.
“Allison,” she said, her hands cradling her water glass, “are you ready for tomorrow?”
I folded up the newspaper with a frown as I looked at the older woman. “Yes. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“The dress,” was all she said in reply before taking a drink of water.
“What? Why? I bought the dress. It fits, Missy likes it, it looks all right and it’s all good!” I said with a quick smile. “It’ll all be good,” my mouth added for good measure as my brain tried to get me to shut up.
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Thanks for reading! If you would like to see how things are eventually resolved, please let me know in the comments section or via my Facebook page. :-)