Late on the night before her wedding Carrie was drunk and had three cigarettes left. She slipped one of these from the pack. Since the rehearsal dinner, she and Alison—long leaned-on, long necessary—had been having drinks. But most of their group had left, and outside the wooden bar they could cool off. Carrie jabbed the filtered end against her tongue, having some trouble lighting it in the wind.
She told Alison she wouldn’t mind if it stormed the next day when she would marry Drew. The forecast was for rain.
“It’ll be silvery in the rain,” she said. “I can picture it.”
Tonight the wind bent the moon and seemed to terrify the palms. It pushed the water high on the tide, and Carrie watched the white beach getting pulled into the black Gulf.
“Don’t think in terms of pictures,” Alison said. “Pictures are for looking back.”
“The guy in the pictures would be Cass,” Carrie said. “If I was looking back.”
“Yeah?” Alison said, wanting a cigarette. She snapped her fingers for the pack and stuck one cigarette between her lips and the other behind her ear.
“So we’re talking about Cass,” Alison said. She lit her cigarette and took a big exaggerated draw.
“Not for five years,” Carrie said. She had spent her twenties happy, fucking, and crying. She stared at Alison’s deep-socketed face.
Alison pulled up her dress and tucked the hem into her underwear so the skirt billowed like a cushion. She bunched it and sat on the banister, waving her legs in front of her, her feet near Carrie’s face.
“I’m saying this because I’m drunk,” Alison said. “I wish you and Drew fucked more often.”
“I can see that,” Carrie said. “I can see why you think that….” She felt tender and protective of him. “You have to consider all sides,” Carrie said.
Beth, Drew’s sister who lived in Boston, swung through the screened door. She’d been dancing around the jukebox. She had a plastic flower drooping behind her ear, and her dress was almost slipping off her cute, flat chest. Drew pretended he was from Chicago, Beth pretended she was from Boston. Like Carrie and Alison, they were from Grand Rapids. Beth had been married a little over a year to a man she had been with since college.
“Today’s your day,” Beth said.
It must be midnight, Carrie thought. Or past that.
Beth put one foot behind the other, extended her right leg, and lifted herself up on the toes of her left. Carrie and Alison watched. Beth was thin and strong and balanced on smooth calves. Alison looked out toward the water.
Beth sat down and asked for a cigarette. Alison plucked the one behind her ear and lit it for her.
“I didn’t know you smoked,” Carrie said.
Beth smiled at Alison. “Socially. Sometimes.”
Carrie wanted to stretch out on the pavement but knew it was the wrong thing to do. She was afraid of Beth, who was always generous with gifts and thoughtful words. Something behind Beth’s eyes closed off when they talked.
“We grew up two miles from each other,” Beth said to Alison. “And now we meet.”
“Two miles is something,” Alison said.
Carrie sensed Alison turning distant. Lately Alison looked at Carrie like she was a stranger. They had known each other since they were five and almost split up in high school. Carrie had been tall, blond, and busy, while Alison was small, thin, and, for a long time, too poetic and sour.
“You’re in Seattle now,” Beth said to Alison.
“Yeah,” Alison said, killing her cigarette.
Alison had a small tattoo on her left calf, a black sketch of a thin man casting a line. Carrie had always liked tattoos on men. Drew didn’t have any. He wasn’t the type. He’d told her once how all his high school friends had decided to commemorate a buddy who died with identical tattoos of his initials, and how he hadn’t done it with them. She had liked that. She had liked that Drew said, why get a tattoo for something that happened in high school when it would last his whole life. Carrie didn’t like tattoos on women. Alison had gotten this one when she was twenty-one, naming it “Big Two-Hearted River.” She no longer called it that. Recently, Carrie noticed, she’d gotten a Maori symbol inked in green on the nape of her neck.
“I can’t remember—are you with anyone now?” said Beth to Alison. “I mean dating.”
“Actually I’ve been with someone for a while now,” Alison said. “But I didn’t bring her to the wedding. I’m with a woman, actually.”
Carrie felt very dark and leaned closer to Alison. She dropped into a quick, strange solitude. Alison seemed removed. Carrie heard Alison tell Beth that she had initially thought she’d be sorry about the situation, knowing after her first time sleeping with this particular girl that she might not get a real penis into her mouth again, at least for the time being. “Believe it or not, I thought I’d miss that,” she said.
“So, you just came out,” Beth said. She looked at Carrie. Carrie didn’t want to look at her.
“Not necessarily,” Alison said. “I’m not saying I’m out. But I’m with a woman now. It hasn’t been that long,” she said to Carrie. “Anyway, I’m drunk.”
“How long?” Carrie said, hearing anger in her voice. “Is it like this?” she said. She felt dim and kissed Alison’s lips. Alison kept her mouth closed. Carrie wanted to cry. Alison could still hurt her. She knew Alison had never really understood that.
Alison pushed her off. “You’re drunk,” she said.
Beth stood and said she would get cups of water for all of them. She opened the door and let it slam and rattle behind her. The music inside sounded tinny and far away. Beyond the rim of lamplight, the ocean seemed to be heaving itself up the sand. The waves sounded close.
“We should go swim,” Carrie said.
“You OK?” Alison said.
“I don’t know,” Carrie said. She was half sick sitting here with Alison on the stoop.
“Remember Homeless Guy?” she said.
“Yeah,” Alison said. “I’ve told that story myself.”
“It’s my story,” Carrie said. “If you tell it to people they won’t know the right one.”
“It’s a good story,” Alison said, and Carrie said Maybe, and laid her head on Alison’s shoulder and her hands on Alison’s crossed, fuzzy wrists. What she saw in her drunkest secrets was visionary about love. But she hadn’t told Alison the whole story, at least not the worst part of it. There she was in Key West one winter with her grandparents, taking care of her grandmother who was sick, getting phoned every couple of days by her aunt warning her not to spend too much of their money. And she had a few cocktail hours with the two gay men next door—good friends with each other, not lovers. They were maybe 50, both bronzed and tough-skinned with big, dry pores, coming down through Florida every winter from South Carolina. One of them was tawny and tendony, and the other fat. Carrie took Ecstasy with them a few times. The men invited Homeless Guy after meeting him in Old Town since they both liked him, straight as he was. He was young and not hopelessly homeless, just dirty and finding new places to get on his mind, he told Carrie. When she was tripping she floated around the room, touching all their faces, and let Homeless Guy fuck her against the house when they went outside for air. What she hadn’t told Alison was that she was mad about it the next day and had to go to the doctor to check on whether his semen had done any damage inside. That was the most real part of the story, too, and she told it now to Alison; and Alison smacked Carrie’s head off her shoulder so she stopped talking. Carrie grew to realize this was because Beth was standing behind them. Beth and Alison made her drink water.
The rest of the night had a blinking rhythm of sleep, wakefulness, and dreams.
Carrie couldn’t recall much of the walk home from the bar, except she said something about her grandmother that maybe she shouldn’t have, that her grandmother might have been gay, as she petted Alison’s hair. But she couldn’t remember whether she did this while they were walking or just standing around outside the condo complex. She didn’t know when she fell asleep. She first woke up when it was still dark and began going in and out of sleep with the air conditioner.
She felt she had known for some time that it was light outside when she jerked herself awake. She sat up, believing it was so late that she was missing her wedding preparations, and that no one would notice she wasn’t there until it was all over. The clock beside her bed said eight-fifteen, and so she lay back in the pillows. Her dress from last night was folded on the edge of the bed. She was sweating in her blue silk slip.
Alison knocked on the door and came in, braless in a big t-shirt and glasses. She jumped on the bed and lay snug against Carrie, her friendly hands on Carrie’s stomach.
“It’s not going to rain,” she said. “I’ll get you a Bloody Mary. If I have to raise heaven and earth.”
Carrie left her and went to the bathroom to vomit.
“Hair of the dog and a swim in the ocean,” Alison said.
“No,” Carrie said.
She felt better after the drink. Alison mixed it from the best man’s wet bar. They walked down to the beach together and said nothing. The sky was so bright, Carrie knew it wouldn’t rain. She knew Florida well. Years ago, she had lived here unemployed with her grandparents all through the time her grandmother was sick. She’d helped her grandmother into a foie gras habit and her grandmother had paid for her weed.
She and Alison were both polite to each other with a strange, quiet feeling between them. After the swim, she washed the salt out of her hair before the stylist arrived at her room, and then her mother and Beth came over to get dressed. Her mother had dieted for six months before the wedding and Carrie thought she looked young. Her mother made sly, proud remarks about her loose clothes. Alison said she would style her own hair and worked a long time with the curling iron. She wore it down in the back, covering her new tattoo. Carrie didn’t expect it to look good, and it didn’t; she didn’t say anything about that when Beth kept staring at Alison with hard and hinting eyes.
The photographer said they were lucky with the weather. She took pictures of Carrie in her tank top, as her hair got pinned. She took pictures of them painting on eyeliner. Carrie said she wanted everything in pictures. The photographer called Drew’s condo and said it was time for the reveal. She led Carrie out alone to the verandah, around the Adirondack chairs, where they met Drew. His eyes drooped at the corners. When he had his first virgin bride sight, he said he’d hoped she would look this good. They kissed.
“I’m sorry about the lipstick,” she said.
It stuck on his mouth and he wiped it off with her fingers. The photographer snapped all of this up.
They drove to the country club in a big van with their attendants and the wedding coördinator, Carrie careful and erect with Drew’s friends betting him to crumple her dress and him laughing and getting a bright expression like he did want to dig into her. Alison smiled, quiet in the corner with Beth as Carrie watched them. At the club, the coördinator locked the bridal party into the second-floor dressing room walled with mirrors. They all bundled in on one another in these mirrors, bunched faces and colors, with Carrie being the big white figure reflecting more than the rest. Carrie said she felt she was closing in on herself.
Eight minutes before five, she descended the grand staircase with Beth and Alison and the coördinator, all of them quiet and private, Carrie thought. Joining them there was her father. He looked her up and down and raised both arms to fake a pre-game stretch. He was a big man still from his long-ago days as an athlete, and he liked to make everything an athletic event.
“You’re looking good,” Carrie told him.
He liked that so much his eyes lit up. They followed Beth and Alison along the threadbare Persian rug past big lily vases. The queued music started from the string quartet behind all the white chairs. Together, Carrie and her father watched the other two head down the bright green grass to the arch where the Lutheran minister stood with Drew and the men.
The vows were comfortable to say. They had practiced them, and the words came out like any other words. Carrie found Drew’s voice hoarse, as if he would cry about her or maybe the two of them. His voice was often like this. When the minister turned them in the violet light to face the hundred-and-fifty guests, Carrie’s eyes settled right on her grandfather. He sat beside her aunt in his old tux, dusty in the fading sun, the man who had once called his wife a dyke. He tilted his head up and was looking at the sky instead of the wedding party, scratching his sleeve with his soft, spotted hands.
“Double fisting,” Alison said to her at the reception. Carrie held champagne in one hand and a Screwdriver in the other and swayed by herself on the parquet floor underneath strings of Japanese lanterns. For a few seconds, Carrie hadn’t had to talk to anyone. Drew had kissed her all through dinner. Now he was tipsy and making his friends laugh in the corner.
“Champion,” Alison said.
“I am,” Carrie said.
Alison raised her glass and drank. She said they would have a real chat, not about wedding things.
“We don’t leave until Monday,” Carrie said.
Almost everyone was dancing except her grandfather. The sky was much closer to black now—still not fully black—and the stars scattered around the thin moon. The lawn seemed to shrink in the warm, close night. Breezes bounced off the Japanese lanterns, just lightly. Drew danced with Carrie’s aunt, and he and his fraternity brothers and their women joined the circle of Carrie’s girlfriends and their men. The dancers broke into couples. Carrie saw Alison lurching by herself. Drew’s best man left his fiancée to partner with her.
Carrie fell back a step and her grandfather touched her elbow from behind. She turned to dance with him, a little mournful and drunk. The music changed to tenor saxophone blues they could swing to. Her grandfather shuffled into a two-step.
Carrie’s grandfather put one arm across her back and pressed her chin into his thin shaky chest so she could look out over everyone from the edge of the dark. She was tired and stared at her tiny second cousins, her aunts and fat uncles, Beth with her tall thin husband, Drew’s springy head, Alison’s little shoulders and shiny, wet-looking eyes. Carrie rested her cheek on her grandfather’s shoulders and smelled his sour neck. Alison had pulled her hair up and, when she turned on the dance floor, showed off her new tattoo. Carrie’s grandfather had whiskey breath, which used to make her nervous when he was younger and loud. Carrie remembered him one time staring off their weedy porch into the Gulf and saying his wife was a lesbian while she napped inside. That was how Carrie learned part of her grandmother’s story. She also remembered an older woman they’d all called Aunt Blanche even though she wasn’t related. Blanche came to birthdays and Christmases up in Michigan and gave Carrie’s grandmother special presents. They used to take long walks. When Blanche died, Carrie’s grandmother was upset for a long time and lost weight, then put too much on.
Carrie caught Alison’s eye once or twice from behind the best man’s shoulder. Carrie didn’t know if she had lost Alison or if she had another chance, or how many chances she had. She stayed dancing with her grandpa until the song ended, and as it started to die, and before the next one could change the whole feeling, she guided his arm to swing her into the corner where Drew stood with Beth and some others. Her grandfather released her and she pulled Drew’s hand. The breeze picked up again, lifting the lanterns. It had brought with it thin silver clouds to streak the sky.
When Drew pushed her into the dance floor she said: “You have to fuck me.”
She said it again in his ear because she liked how he touched her after the first time. He moved her to the edge of the parquet, to the spot where she’d two-stepped with her grandpa. Drew faced her away from the other dancers, so that pressed up against him she could look across the lawn. The club grounds seemed to grow lighter in all the soft wet haze. Carrie had the lonely feeling that, like her, Drew would lose many parts of his life; that he would forget all about them. Their new shared light on things would focus differently and obscure their pasts until they themselves looked altered. Carrie knew he would forsake his old parts and that she would forsake hers. Many things would recede and it seemed to her that the dark was opening for them.
Susannah Luthi grew up on California’s Central Coast and tries her best to make a living with words—through stints in journalism, freelancing, and marketing and public relations for arts nonprofits. She studied Classics at Hillsdale College in Michigan and lived briefly in Egypt and Cambodia before moving to Colorado for the mountains and San Francisco for the drama. She is completing her master’s in writing at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where she serves as co-editor of the Southern California Review. Along with a partner, she is preparing to launch Connu, a twist-on-traditional digital publishing platform to engage a broad audience with the best emerging contemporary fiction in the hopes of helping young writers gain indie musician status at least. She has just finished her first novel.