Almost Lover

By: Steph Campbell & Liz Reinhardt

Jordan presses her hands together like she’s in the middle of fervent prayer, but I know her, and I know she’s just overthinking things. Like always. She’s talking herself out of this. Out of us.

She touches her fingertips to her lips, her eyes closed.

For one stupid, fleeting second I feel like I’ve got a shot at fixing this. That I can reset the clock. That I won’t end up thirty years from now explaining to my grandkids how I let the love of my life walk away. I hate that I’m good at the things I don’t give a shit about, but I’m terrible at the things I care the most about. I hate that I’m terrible at us.

“Jordan—” I start.

“No. Let me talk, Enzo.” she says. “Let me talk because we both know that there’s nothing you can say to change what is so just...please don’t try. You can’t pull me into the wine cellar and kiss away all of the things that stand in our way, no matter how much we both want that to be true.” I guess this is irony. I left my hometown with a broken heart, only to show up here and break one. Nice job, Enzo.

“Maybe.” Her lip gives the tiniest quiver, and it takes every ounce of strength I have in me not to grab her and pull her in—pull that lip into my mouth and shut all this down. “Maybe in some alternate universe we could have been something. Maybe in some other time.” She links her fingers together and stares down at them. Then does the most Jordan thing she can, and tries to make a joke. “But there’s no shortage of girls, Enzo, you’ll bounce back.”

“Don’t do that,” I say. I take one step closer to her. I couldn’t give a shit less about any other girl. I’m terrified that I’m letting the right one slip through my fingers right now and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.

“Hey,” she gives a half-hearted attempt at a smile and a small shrug of her shoulder, like this is casual.

Like this is nothing.

Like this is over.

“We almost were, right? That’s got to count for something.”

This entire wedding would make my mother snort with disdain. It’s like I can hear her murmuring in my ear all those things that make me cringe whenever she voices them in public—too loudly and without giving a crap who overhears—because my mom thinks being unfailingly honest is way more important than being socially polite.

Roses? Red roses? I’d make a joke about how generic they are, but the joke would be a cliché. Sort of like your father’s child bride. By the way, did she peruse her collection of Bob Mackie Barbie dolls for wedding dress ideas? She looks like a background dancer for some Vegas wedding magic show.

“Jordan?” Dad puts his arm around me, and I nestle into the solid weight of it, elbowing Mom’s snark out of my brain for the moment. “You have no idea how much this means to Jennifer. She’s over the moon about this.”

“Of course.” I smile, this particular, practiced smile that’s all teeth and squinty eyes. I always hope it’ll be bright enough to trick anyone who isn’t looking closely into thinking I’m actually happy. And it usually works. “Jennifer with her. So. Here I am.”

I choke around the word that’s so silly I’m embarrassed to have said it. Because—as cordial as my father’s fiancée and I manage to be to each other—there’s no way I consider her family. Not by any stretch. Though I go out of my way to be nice. Maybe to combat how intensely mean my mother is about her. Plus, she’s kind of undeniably pathetic.

Poor Jennifer, the near-orphan with a heart of gold and a thousand and one sob stories that never quite add up. My gut feeling is that my dad’s pretty young wife is only slightly shady behind those wide anime eyes and all that damn wavy blonde hair.

She looks like a mermaid.

Or a cartoon.

Or a mermaid cartoon who’s trying to pull the wool over your eyes all the time. But I think all her weird lies about nefarious or tragically dead relatives are just a cover for the fact that her people are most likely Bud-drinking, Nascar-watching West Virginians she doesn’t want my dad or any of his rich, cultured friends to meet. Hence, she planned a slightly tacky, completely flamboyant wedding all on her own, and here I am, standing as a bridesmaid because I’m “the only real family she has to stand with her.”

In a strapless scarlet dress that droops off my non-curves and a pair of elbow-high white gloves that are over-the-top humiliating. I refused to let my mother even lay eyes on the dress, because I was going to have a hard enough time wearing it for the few hours I had to, never mind having my mother cackle about how ridiculous I would look in it for weeks before.

“How’s your mother?” Dad’s entire frame goes stiff and his mouth twitches to one side.

I ignore the look and skirt the question. “She’s great. Don’t you have to be somewhere? Jennifer was freaking out about getting this started on time.”

But Dad is persistent when he wants information, and even though he’s marrying Jennifer today—there’s still a piece of him that needs to know what Mom’s doing at all times.

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