Jane ran through the movie she’d watched last night in her mind as she sat at the table. Who was that actor who played the love interest? All those types of characters seem to blend into one man. They all have lethally sharp cheekbones, luscious brown curls, and swoon-worthy smiles. Jane, however, didn’t consider their smirks swoon-worthy. It was like they had a muscle defect that didn’t allow them to smile properly.
“Have you decided on the flowers for the wedding yet?” Monica, Jane’s soon-to-be mother-in-law, asked.
Jane looked down at her salad, trying to get a crouton and a piece of lettuce on her fork simultaneously. “No, I haven’t.”
She went to the florist a week ago, but her lips turned down at every flower. Every inch of the room had romantic red, elegant pink, and beautiful purple flowers. To Jane, all those flowers looked like frauds. Each petal represented an emotion they didn’t intend to pursue.
Jane had walked out of the shop that day before even talking to the florist.
“Well, when you do, you mustn’t choose peonies,” Monica advised.
“Mom, if Jane wants peonies, then we’ll have peonies,” Danny said from beside Jane, smiling thinly.
Jane’s memorized all of Danny’s smiles. This one was his “you’re unpleasant, and I’m holding back from banging my forehead against the wall” smile that he gave to annoying customers at his café.
“Flowers set the stage for weddings,” Monica said, lowering her glass. “Peonies are easily bruised, a rather un-sturdy flower. You don’t want to start your marriage on the wrong foot, do you?”
“Of course not. But I hardly think that the flowers are going to doom our marriage.”
Monica sighed deeply. “Maybe peonies would suit you better. You don’t seem like you could be a rose, standing tall in a glass.”
Jane refrained from flinching, letting the insult roll off of her. However, her hand was a bit shaky as she raised her glass of water to her lips.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Danny asked.
Monica waved her hand through the air. “I just mean that not everyone’s cut out for an extravagant wedding—that’s all.”
Danny’s face was turning red. Jane reached under the table, placing a hand on his knee.
“It’s not worth it,” she communicated with a tap of her hand.
But Danny, who grew up as a red-haired mutt in a pure-bred Pomeranian family, didn’t listen. He’s the youngest of three brothers who all went to Dartmouth and had jobs that were as easy to brag about at the golf court. If Danny wanted to get heard, he had to speak loudly.
“Having a big wedding full of bullshit decorations doesn’t prove anything, mom.”
“But having a bride standing at the altar full of bullshit does,” Monica sniped.
Jane leaned back in her chair, getting comfortable as Danny and Monica entered one of their bickering matches. The caterer soon appeared, taking all their plates away without even blinking.
How did any couple manage to get past the planning stage of a wedding? Right now, Jane wished to be away from all this pretentious food. She craved over-salted fries and a juicy burger. Jane planned out her order in her head, wanting to get everything on Monica’s food allergy list crammed inside one bun.
Except for onions, Danny was allergic to those.
She currently sat at her desk at the public defender’s office. When Jane heard a knock on her door, she told them to come inside. Her shoulders slumped when she saw that it was Karen.
Karen was a divorced mother who worked in the room right next to Jane’s. She sometimes heard the voices of Karen’s children through the walls. Jane brought headphones with her on those afternoons.
“What can I do for you?” Jane asked.
“I was wondering if you had the transcripts for the Ellen Keller phone call.”
Jane nodded and opened her desk drawer to get the files. As she handed over the folder, Karen’s mouth fell open.
“You have an engagement ring,” Karen said, her voice strikingly higher than before as she pointed at Jane’s finger. “When did this happen?”
“Oh, a few months ago,” Jane shrugged, pushing the file into Karen’s hands.
Karen grabbed the chair on the other side of the desk and moved it next to her. Jane could see the bags under Karen’s eyes up close and a smear of blue paint on the elbow of her blazer. It probably was from one of her children prodding her with a paintbrush.
“When’s the wedding?” Karen asked.
Jane rolled her chair back. “I haven’t picked a date yet. We’re both busy with work, and are waiting until things calm down.”
“Believe me, things aren’t going to calm down from now on,” Karen chuckled. “Everything will keep speeding up once you’re married.”
“I’m sure you’re right,” Jane said curtly.
Karen stared at her expectantly, making Jane nervous. Was she supposed to say something? Should she giggle along with Karen? Should she talk about her marriage as if she was ordering a package, one that came with two kids, a house with a fence, and a photogenic dog?
“So, how did he propose?” Karen asked, bouncing a little in her seat.
The proposal had been exciting yet unceremonious. Jane and Danny had been eating takeout and watching trashy television when he pulled out the ring. Jane smiled and said yes, and that had been that. Afterward, she hadn’t squealed on the phone or posted a picture of the ring online. Jane never could react the way it seemed like she was supposed to when it came to things like this.
“It was just at our apartment,” Jane said simply.
Karen leaned across Jane’s desk, her expression similar to when she changed tactics cross-examining a witness.
“So, who’s going to be a part of your wedding party?”
Jane stared at her blankly, making Karen’s smile falter.
“You know, the bridesmaids and your maid of honor,” Karen explained.
Jane hadn’t thought about it much. She didn’t have many friends that lived nearby. She didn’t have any siblings to ask either, except for ones that might not even recognize her.
Jane bit her lip. “I haven’t decided yet.”
“Oh, that’s alright. You have plenty of time.”
After a few ticks of the clock on the wall passed, Karen stood up awkwardly. She began to walk to the door. When Karen opened it, she turned back around towards Jane.
“You know, if you ever need any help—I’m here,” Karen said. “I’ve been to plenty of weddings and had one myself. You could come to drinks sometime, and we could swap ideas.”
Jane went to after-work drinks at the bar with her co-workers a few times, but she never stayed long. While others hated small talk, Jane enjoyed it. It led to conversations about stuff that didn’t matter, making it easier to walk away.
While a no was forming on her lips, the surprisingly earnest look on Karen’s face made her pause. Jane instead responded to Karen with a single nod. It wasn’t a promise, but it was a possibility.
After Karen left, Jane stared down at her ring, suddenly feeling as if it was heavier than before.
The woman leading them around the hotel named Kimberley had a dress with polka dots and a bright headband that helped show off her perfect Zooey Deschanel bangs. She looked like she belonged in a kindergarten classroom with a puppet in her hand, talking about the water cycle.
“So, here is the library,” Kimberley said as they entered the room. “Many people like having their reception in here. It’s a bit different than a traditional venue.”
“It’s nice,” Jane said, eyeing the oak shelf crammed with novels.
“And, it has an open bar.”
Danny walked over to the bar, situated in front of the history section. “I like those even more than books.”
“Me too,” Jane said.
“Aw, now I see why your soul mates.” Kimberly clapped her hands together. “Alright, I’ll go find the manager. She loves talking to potential clients.”
Jane sat down at a table after Kimberly left the library. She mindlessly touched a book on the table, her fingers running along its spine. It felt well-used, and the paperboard underneath the cloth cover was exposed.
Danny eyed her worriedly., sitting beside her. “What’s wrong?”
Jane moved the loose binding of the book back and forth. “Nothing—I’m just tired.”
“So am I.”
She snapped the book closed, but the sound was more pathetic than impressive due to its weathered state.
“Are you trying to compete with me for who’s the most exhausted?”
“No, I’m not. Are you trying to compete for the most irritable?” Danny said with a new edge in his voice.
They stared at each other for a few seconds before Danny looked away, sighing.
“What’s been up with you?” he asked. “You’ve been off since we went registry shopping this morning.”
Jane opened her mouth to respond, but her words never came as Kimberly walked back into the room with an older woman at her side. As she saw who it was, her eyes went wide.
Kimberly gestured to her. “Jane and Danny, this is—.”
“Carol,” Jane muttered, her voice barely above a whisper.
“Oh. Do you guys know each other?” Kimberly asked.
Jane looked into Carol’s eyes, begging them to recognize her own. But there was nothing—no echo of detection of who Jane was in them. Jane felt a sinking feeling reside in her stomach and shook her head.
Carol brushed off the odd exchange with a bright smile. “Well, I’d love to show you two around. My daughter got married here last month.”
“Daughter?” Jane asked, eyes growing wide.
“Do you think that I look too young to have a twenty-three-year-old daughter? Oh, you’re too kind.”
Danny mouthed “Are you alright?” to Jane when she remained silent.
Jane didn’t respond to this as she didn’t know if he said it out loud or not. Her ears were ringing.
“Will you excuse me?” Jane asked, taking a step back. “I need some fresh air.”
Jane rushed out of the room before anyone could respond.
She walked through the halls of the hotel and out the back door. It led out to a small lake. She made her way to the dock and sat down. Once she did, she pulled her knees to her chest and sat her chin on top of them.
Jane didn’t know how long had passed when Danny appeared. He sat down next to her, looking out at the water.
“I prefer lakes over oceans. My family drove out to the beach and went sailing, but I was never too fond of going. I didn’t like the saltwater and how it would sting my cuts,” Danny said lowly. “My dad would tell me to embrace the pain. But he never seemed to be in pain. He always seemed untouchable.”
Jane frowned. While Danny was an open book to her, she often forgot about the torn pages among the faultless ones.
“I’d sneak off with some friends and go to the lake on the other side of town instead of the beach,” Danny continued. “I’d wade my feet in the water, trying to make myself sit still even though I wanted to get up and go.”
“I don’t know,” he shrugged. “Just go.”
After a few seconds passed, Jane started to laugh.
“What’s so funny?”
“You spend your childhood trying to run away from your family, and I kept trying to run towards one,” Jane explained. “It’s ironic.”
“In a bad way?”
Jane shook her head. She splayed out her legs, so they hovered just above the water. “I’m sorry for what happened in there.”
“You want to tell me about it?”
Near the edge of the lake, a few white-water lilies floated in the water. The flowers looked at home on top of the leaves as if they all belonged there. When she plucks a flower out, it was surprising how easy it was released—the plant’s roots connected to the leaves instead of the flower itself. Jane frowned at the flower that now sat limply in her hands. She began plucking out petals and throwing them into the lake.
“I know Carol—or I knew her. She was one of my foster parents growing up.”
He grimaced. “Was she the one who—?”
“No,” Jane said, cutting off his train of thoughts that led somewhere she didn’t want to return. “I liked Carol. I stayed with her the longest. She taught me how to braid my hair, brought a new pair of pants to school when I got my first period, and she got me this beautiful doll. I thought it meant something when Carol gave it to me, you know? But she kept it when I got sent somewhere else. I guess she wanted to give it to her own daughter.”
Jane shook her head, picking out the flower’s last petal. “It doesn’t matter. Love isn’t something you can hold onto anyway. It’s like all that stuff at the registry store; the towels, dinner plates, and that goddamn newlywed cookie jar. They are all just things. You buy them, they break, you throw them away, and you get something else.”
Danny scooted closer to her. “I’m not going to want to get something else.”
“You think that now, but at that store, you were scanning stuff like none of it mattered,” Jane said while dropping the last flower petal into the lake. “Like everything was interchangeable.”
“I was scanning what mattered, what I wanted,” Danny insisted.
Jane didn’t look at him, watching the pink petals slowly sink underneath the water.
“We should go back inside,” Jane said after a while.
She tried to stand, but Danny grabbed her elbow.
“I love you,” he said, his words firm. “I say that enough, right?”
“You do. It’s just—you say it so easily.”
Danny studied her momentarily, trying to understand the issue that Jane herself found hard to comprehend. His hand on her arm drifted down to grip her hand. “Let’s go home.”
The mention of having a home to go to gave her the strength to stand.
They walked a few steps before she stopped, and said, “I love you too.”
Danny gently tugged at her hand. “Then let me take you home.”
Jane walked beside him off the dock. She spared a glance behind her, seeing a few white petals still floating in the water. When she turned back around, she hoped that at least one would stay afloat.
Jane and Danny’s hands swung together as they walked through the church’s sanctuary. Every square inch of the place was white. There weren’t many other colors in the room. The walls seemed to stretch on and on. She wondered if they’d ever been able to get a balloon down from the ceiling if one drifted up there.
Jane sat down on one of the benches, gazing at the altar. Danny sat next to her, joining her staring contest with the stage.
She blew a breath out of her cheeks. “Well, this is very big.”
“Tell me about it. I used to come in when no one was here and scream. The acoustics would make my voice echo, almost like something was yelling back at me.”
She raised an eyebrow. “You’d come into the church and scream?”
“Yeah,” he nodded, drumming his hands on the pew in front of them. Danny was always jittery. Jane liked that about him; he was continually brewing with energy. It probably had to do with all the coffee and tea that he drank for his job, but she also thought it was just the way he was. Like he needed to be ready to take action at a moment’s notice. “I’d do it when I was frustrated or when something bad happened.”
“Why would you scream in here?”
“The priest always spoke about taking your feelings to God. I figured that screaming here would make me feel less alone while I was doing it.”
She looked up at the stained-glass window above them, watching the sunlight bleed through the sanctuary. There, she saw more of a Holy Spirit than anyway else in the room. She felt warmed by its light. As she looked around, seeing the endless number of pews, she shivered.
“I don’t think I could fill up more than a handful of pews for the ceremony,” Jane said, whispering as if something would smite her for saying it. “Some friends from law school and a couple of teachers I’ve had over the years. But that’s about it.”
Danny turned to her, his eyes soft and expression completely open.
When they first met, this unguarded look frightened her. She was used to seeing walls in front of people. Her foster parents had walls of bricks, looking at her as a temporary addition until they could get a kid of their own. Kids she stayed with at different homes had concrete walls, building them to protect themselves.
Her boyfriends over the years had walls in front of them too. Every time someone told her that they would stay or that they wouldn’t do it again or were the only ones who loved her, they put another stone onto their wall. It made her fingers bleed from trying to beat through them.
But the wall in front of Danny was made of glass—allowing her to see through to him.
He’d also made her wall lose some blocks. When they fell, she’d hold it in her hand and only then realize how much weight she’d been carrying around.
“Where would you feel more comfortable?” Danny asked.
“I don’t know. A place as large as this makes me feel claustrophobic.”
“That might not make much sense, but it’s true. I’d rather get married in some place the size of your café.”
“Then let’s do it.”
She blinked in confusion. “Do what?”
“Get married in the café.”
“Why not? We could push back the tables, get married behind the cash register, keep the food in the kitchen. It would be nice.”
Jane felt another block fall off her wall.
“Yeah,” she said. “It would be nice.”
Jane isn’t particularly fond of the color yellow. The shade is abrasive on most things. The sun in the corner of a child’s drawing looks overly golden, lemons make her lips pucker from the sight of them alone, and the highlighted lines in her law textbooks made her eyes burn.
When Jane went back to the florist to choose the flowers to make up her wedding bouquet, she discovered yellow flowers in the shop in the corner of the room. She liked the daffodils, lilies, and marigolds the most. When she saw them, she felt like someone had just pinched her, reminding her she was awake.
The yellow flowers looked genuine as they got tied together by the florist, embodying feelings without embellishment. Their color reminded Jane of the dandelions that sprouted in her backyard—the ones she could rely on growing no matter the season.
She picked the yellow flowers to be in her bouquet. Danny grinned, grabbing a stem of one and placing it behind his ear with a smile.
Uncertainty cloaked decisions about the wedding, but the choice of flowers was a simple one.