It was one o’clock on a Thursday afternoon when the bride came in for her final fitting. Violet had brought her mother, Opal, her sister, Sydney, and her maid of honor, Mei, and the four of them were now squeezed into a stall at the back of Ivy’s Bridals, waiting for the dress to appear, and sipping the champagne provided by the management. Violet began to undress for the fitting.
“You know,” said Mei, “You never told us who you got.”
“She didn’t?” Syd rolled her eyes. “That’s all she’s been able to talk about.”
Violet placed her carefully folded clothes on a chair in the corner. “Henleigh Asherton. Mei, hand me my shoes?”
Mei put down her champagne flute and retrieved the jeweled flats from the box under her arm. Violet slipped her feet into the flats and looked at them in the mirror.
“I’m sorry, but that’s amazing! How did you get Henleigh?”
Sydney answered. “You remember Charice, who was at the shower?” Violet was beginning to shiver in the air conditioning. She peeked around the curtain.
“Her cousin used Henleigh for her wedding.”
Violet drew back into the stall. “I heard it was amazing. Okay, here we go, everyone!” The seamstress appeared at the curtain, bearing the gown over one arm. Opal helped her lift the piles of cream silk organza over Violet’s head. Once the zipper was drawn, the seamstress began her last-minute pinning while the wedding party stroked the fine cloth and marveled over the gem decoration.
Mei pulled back from the dress and let out a sigh. “And Henleigh did for Rosalind Smythe when she married Ryder Channing in Ibiza. Remember the pictures?”
Syd helped herself to Violet’s untouched champagne. “I remember it set back production on that movie. She couldn’t walk for a month.”
“But Violet, she’s a celebrity! She must be costing you an arm and a leg!” At this, every woman in the room froze, for just a moment, before dissolving into giggles. Even Violet laughed until she was poked by a stray pin. At her daughter’s yelp, Opal muttered, “She costs less than the dress.”
“Mom, don’t start!”
“What?” Opal took an innocent sip of her champagne. “That makes her a bargain. And I still like the A-line.”
“It’s my wedding, Mother. So I get the dress I want.”
The seamstress took the momentary pause to demonstrate the bustle, leading Mei through the complicated sequence of hooks and eyes twice. Coming to Violet’s side, the seamstress looked the dress over one more time. Violet stared into her reflection, her brow furrowed. “I know it looks a little lopsided,” the seamstress assured her, “but this will make it so much easier to navigate with your cane. Oh, you must be so excited!”
Violet seemed to wince. “Right,” she said, softly.
The seamstress blinked at this muted response to her cheerleading. She picked up her pincushion and excused herself, instructing everyone to hang the dress in its bag before leaving. Sydney flicked a fingernail against her empty flute and let the sound hang in the air for a second before saying, “Okay, so let’s talk about Sam.” Violet looked up at the sound of her groom’s name, right into Syd’s wicked grin. “How big do you think his is going to be?”
“Sydney!” Opal gasped.
“God, shut up!” Violet scowled, willing the tears back into her eyes. “What is wrong with you?”
“Okay, girls, that’s enough,” said Opal, briskly unzipping the dress. “Syd, why don’t you and Mei go pick up my mother at the airport? Mei, you drive. And you, Violet? Let’s have a talk.” Mei and Syd left the stall, Mei handing Opal the box for the shoes on her way out.
Violet sank gratefully onto the cushion in the corner. Her mother swiftly nicked the box of tissues, standard in every fitting room, and caught the single tear before it had a chance to land on the gown. The bride silently allowed herself to be dabbed.
“Sweetie, the dress is perfect. It’s going to be all right.”
Violet took a shuddering breath. “What if it’s not enough?”
“Me!” Another tissue. “What if what I’m offering isn’t enough?”
Her mother nodded at this question, then turned her attention to her daughter’s shoes. Wordlessly she removed them and placed them gently in their box. Cradling Violet’s foot, like when she was a girl, Opal asked, “Is it that you want to change your mind? Do it somewhere else?”
“What, and never wear a bathing suit again?” The blow was unintended, but it landed all the same. Opal took a tissue for herself from the box. “Mom, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…”
“I made certain choices when I married your father. We both made sacrifices, though. That’s how marriage works. Each person gives something. Something precious. Something that can’t be taken back. And the bond that’s made, it’s forever.
“Honey, I know you’re scared. But just try to remember that you’re not the first person to do this and not the last. We all survived, and you will, too. And your father and I, and everyone, we’ll always be there to help.”
The hug that followed was heartfelt and much-needed. As the bride dried her tears, she said, “We better go home. Maybe I can take a nap before my appointment with Henleigh.”
“Of course. Busy day tomorrow.”
The afternoon of the wedding finally arrived. The old church was done up tastefully with sprays of flowers and soft candlelight. A string quartet in the corner added the right sweep of romance and reverence to the ceremony.
The groom, Sam, stood before the altar. He was handsome, strong, and looked just a little peakèd. His party the night before had done its job, but then, everyone knew Sam’s father could always be counted on for that sort of thing. Despite the ordeal, the groom still radiated excitement for his bride, and all present smiled at the thought of all he would give her.
The quartet struck up a march and the congregation got to its feet with a gentle whoosh, which melted into “aww” as the flower girls, nieces of the groom, dropped clumps of rose petals on the path. Cameras clicked. Mei was next, greeted by the best man at the altar and escorted to her place. As any crowd at a wedding knows to do, all heads turned to see Violet. The bride processed slowly down the aisle, smothered in her cream gown and a delicious vanilla perfume. The cane that supported her had been decorated in another gathering the night before by the flower girls, and shed sugary glitter on the rug with every step. She carried it proudly, a badge of courage, and many of the married women, upon seeing it, thought of their own scars and smiled.
But there’s one at every wedding, isn’t there?
“I hear it was just a toe.”
“A toe!” The old woman glanced around for co-conspirators, shrugged at finding none. “A toe. Can you believe it? What is that even supposed to mean?”
“It’s like she doesn’t even want to get married.”
The quartet’s music faded as the wedding service began, its benign drone more than enough to disguise Gramma’s complaint. None other arose. Any objection to the union would have been voiced before. There was already a sort of permanence at work here. The church and the vows were just gravy.
The homily was mercifully short and contained nothing but fine sentiments for the couple, directly from God. The vows the couple recited were simple, beautiful, and to the point. They spoke of fidelity, devotion, and sacrifice. By the time the rings were produced, a scent had begun to waft from the kitchen into the chapel, making mouths water and feet shuffle with impatience. Married couples clasped hands a little tighter in anticipation.
It was time. Murmurs rose from the witnesses as the bride and groom were seated and two carts were rolled into position before them. Susurrations of speculation. The smell was wonderful and boded well. At a signal from the presider, the chapel went silent.
Violet swallowed nervously as she removed the cover and presented the tiny porcelain plate to Sam. Later he would swear to her that he noticed it matched her dress, but right now, all he could see was the morsel before him, the offering of his bride, prepared by none other than Dr. Henleigh Asherton.
Gramma was right; it was a toe. Specifically, it was the left pinky, lovingly braised and spiced, served on a toast square, with a little cream sauce for flavor and effect. Happy tears in his eyes, Sam stood—with some difficulty—and tipped the plate so all could see. Soft, approving noises spread through the crowd, to Violet’s visible relief. Sam ate the proffered food in a single bite. It had been small but was perfectly presented and wondrously good, just like he knew it would be. He took her hand and kissed her quickly on the cheek.
The smell from the other cart enticed. The congregation, on the edge of their seats, gasped as the best man handed Sam a knife and fork, which he, in turn, passed to Violet. The cover from the plate before him was removed, and the onlookers burst into applause at its contents.
An ounce! A full ounce, practically a slab, of seared meat! Violet’s eyes widened. Hands clapped the shoulders of Sam’s father in congratulations. Celebrity doctors were well and good, but everyone knew the old surgeon had the best hands in town. It was a testament to his skill that the boy could even stand!
Violet picked up the utensils and neatly divided the meat in two. One bite, then another, and it was gone. Thunderous applause, again, as the couple embraced. A perfect wedding, with beautiful offerings. There would be happiness, and love, and children.
“I now pronounce you husband and wife,” the presider said, unnecessarily. “You are one flesh.”
The quartet stuck up again as the families came forward to escort the new couple to their reception. They were supported, carried, for was that not what the community was for?
The reception followed immediately after the ceremony, as custom dictated. It was a wise tradition. Everyone was so hungry.