“Are you done yet?!” A wave of steam hit me as I threw open the bathroom door.
“Does it look like I’m done?” It did not.
“Hurry up! I need to be at work in less than thirty minutes and it’s going to take me fifteen just to get there!” I wiped the mirror with my sleeve to assess my hair. Nope. Skipping the wash would not be an option.
Suddenly the shower curtain flew back.
“You could always join me.” Any other day the sight of Tyler standing there with water droplets pearling on his perfectly smooth skin, light dancing in the dew as he flexed his muscles, would have been a welcome image. Today, I just found it annoying.
“That is it! From now on, you can’t sleep over anymore,” I yelled as I stormed from the bathroom.
I was barely two feet back into my bedroom when I nearly tripped over Tyler’s shoes. I picked them up and hurled them into the nearest corner. “And pick up you stuff! A girl could get killed in here!”
Tyler and I had been dating for nearly a year now, and up until recently, things had been amazing. Then, out of the blue, he had decided it was time to take our relationship to the next level. So, before I knew it, he had brought over a box of his things and I had been forced to vacate a drawer for them.
If you knew me, and I mean, knew me at all, you would know that there are two things I cannot stand. One, being late and two, someone messing with my stuff.
Blame it on the fact that I’m an only child. Blame it on me being a total control freak. I don’t care. Either way, I was not fond of the idea of having to move all of my belongings over, which now suddenly had nowhere to go, just so he could have a place to keep his underwear and spare phone charger. To make matters worse, one drawer never seemed quite enough.
All of a sudden, he was adding shoes to my closet. Hanging extra towels on my towel rack. It was like he was freaking moving in.
“It’s all you.” He stood there, dripping water on my hardwood floors. It was all I could do not to choke the living daylights out of him. Instead, I closed my eyes and silently counted to ten.
“Listen. This isn’t working. I realize this is a total cliché, but - It’s me. Not you. I can’t take it. I’m just not cut out for a real relationship. It’s making me crazy. And what’s worse, it’s making me hate you.”
I handed him a towel while he stood there completely dumbstruck. “Do me a favor and wipe up the floor. I really need to get in the shower.”
By the time I got back out, Tyler was gone. So was all of his crap.
I got to work twenty minutes late. I barely had enough time to stop in my office to grab the sketches I needed and then run all the way to the presentation room in the back where the meeting had already started without me.
I was about to knock and let myself in, when my assistant Stephanie came at me, outstretched hand yielding a hot and delicious coffee.
“Oh my God, Steph. I love you,” I whispered. Now her I would let move in, in a heartbeat.
I took one quick sip and then braced myself for what was waiting on the other side of the door.
“Good morning, Calista Joy. So nice of you to join us.” Even at my age, you knew you were in trouble when your mother used your middle name.
“So sorry I’m late. I had an unforeseen circumstance. Either way, I apologize for keeping you all waiting.”
This was our fourth meeting this week with the bride-to-be and today she had brought along a whole new slew of people. The wedding itself was only three months away and nothing had been finalized as of yet. Not even the dress. I’d provided her with seven sketches in the last six months and she had found a problem with all of them. I had two more for her today. After this, I was making an appointment for her at Kleinfeld’s.
These issues weren’t uncommon for brides with limitless funds. I think it’s the feeling of knowing the sky’s the limit and worrying they’ll miss out on something even better than what they’ve already seen that overwhelms them. Regardless, it was annoying, not to mention stressful. But I kept my mouth shut.
At twenty-three I was the youngest dress designer in the city. I’m sure most people assumed that my extensive client list stemmed solely from working in the confines of my mother’s shadow, but the truth was, I had talent.
Sure, my mother’s connections had granted me opportunities early on that most designers only dreamed of. Starting at sixteen I was spending my summers doing internships with all the big names in bridal wear. At eighteen, I even ventured off to France for a bit before coming home to start school at Parson’s.
Once I graduated it seemed stupid not to take my mother up on her offer to set up shop in her shop. I was in need of a job and she had been wanting for some time to add ‘custom bridal dresses’ to her list of services. It was a win/win.
Except on days like today, where it felt like we were all losing.
“I’m not sure how I feel about this neckline. I thought I would like it better this way, but now that I’m seeing it with the full skirt, it just doesn’t look right.” Madison, our bride, was scrunching up her nose like a piglet. Her rosy cheeks and strawberry blonde hair were doing nothing to offset the visual. Nor was it helping that I kind of wanted her to look like a pig at that point. Or a cow. Really, any farm animal would have done the trick.
I watched as she flipped back and forth between the two new sketches, shaking her head and distorting her face in a variety of expressions, one more unsightly than the next while the women sitting to either side of her mimicked her every move.
“I’m sorry, I’m just not feeling like these are for me, you know? I mean, they always say, when you finally find the right dress you just know.” She handed the sketches over across the table where I carelessly slid them back into my folder. I had known they were hideous all along. Pretty sure I had told her they would be when we discussed the changes she wanted me to make.
“Completely understandable, Madison. And that’s absolutely true. Finding your wedding dress is always love at first sight. When you see it, you always know.” I reached down into my bag and pulled out another sketch. It was a ballsy move, but I had nothing to lose at this point.
“I may have one more for you. It’s a design I was saving for my collection. I was actually considering planning the entire line around it, so I probably shouldn’t even show it to you…” The moment I placed it in front of her, Madison’s eyes lit up.
“OMG! This is it. This is my dress,” she squealed loudly, eagerly showing the image to all of her friends.
It was the first sketch I’d ever drawn for her. She had shot it down in two seconds flat two months ago, but now, it was the one.
Once the whole dress debacle was finally over, my mother was able to finalize all of her plans as well. Suddenly, Madison had no problems making any decisions. Everything my mother suggested sounded perfect to her and all she did anymore was nod and smile, all the while never even taking her eyes from the sketch of her dream gown.
In spite of how annoyed I’d been with her these past months, there was no escaping the high that followed anytime a bride fell in love with a dress that I’d created for her. There was something absolutely amazing about knowing that I’d played a part in bringing someone’s childhood fantasy to life. And let’s face it, that’s basically what weddings are. A childhood fantasy. Only unlike the ones we had about jumping off of rooftops and soaring through the air like Superman, we’re actually dumb enough to pursue this one.
In case you hadn’t noticed, I had extremely mixed feelings when it came to marriage. On the one hand, I’d clearly dedicated my life to love and the elusive, possibly imaginary, happily ever after. On the other, I was a jaded, love hating cynic who wasn’t about to fall for any of that crap herself.
“So, what was the unforeseen circumstance today?” My mother was standing in the open doorway to my office, casually sipping what I could only assume was some plain organic tea of one flavor or another. More than likely it was green or chamomile. I made a face just thinking about it.
“Tyler. But not to worry. It won’t happen again.” I reached for my coffee, my second cup of the day. God bless Steph. She’d had it sitting on my desk waiting for me as soon as I walked in after that torturous meeting.
Her curiosity piqued, my mother came all the way in and had a seat on the sofa along the back wall. “And why exactly are you so sure it won’t happen again?”
“Because I broke up with him.” I made sure to sound as casual as possible. As of yet, no unpleasant feelings regarding the sudden break up had surfaced and I was hoping to keep it that way for as long as possible.
My mother just shook her head. “What was it this time, Cal?”
“You were there, you already know. He’s the reason I was late.” If that wasn’t reason enough, I didn’t know what was.
“You, my darling daughter, have commitment issues.” She laughed at me as she stood up and began to leave.
“Oh, this coming from the woman who hasn’t been in a relationship in seven years.” Maybe even longer. As far as I knew, there had been no one since the divorce.
“That’s because I’m perfectly happy being committed to myself.” She smiled that ‘I’m your mother and I know everything’ smile and then walked out.
She was barely out of the room when my phone started blowing up. Tori. She and I’d been friends since first grade. More importantly, Tyler was her boyfriend Kyle’s older brother. She’d set us up herself and had no doubt been planning our double weddings and baby showers ever since. I didn’t have to read a single one of her text messages to know what they were about.
Seven jingles later and I bypassed reading and simply hit call.
“You don’t break off a year-long relationship with someone while they’re standing there completely naked. It’s not fair. It makes the dumpee vulnerable and it’s just bad manners, Cal!”
“First of all, he was not naked he was wearing a towel, and second of all, don’t even get me started on bad manners. I can assure you, when it comes to practicing proper etiquette, Tyler does a sub-par job at best. I have two stains on my hardwood floor the shape of his feet caused by water damage this morning to prove it.” I didn’t know why I was even bothering. I’d never win this one anyway.
“What if he was the one, Cal? What if he was the one and you threw him out because he got your floor wet?” This was ridiculous.
“He wasn’t the one, Tor.” I rolled my eyes knowing she wouldn’t be able to see it and reached for my coffee. It was cold. Between my mother and her, a perfectly innocent cup of heavenly brew had gone to waste. I shook my head in disgust at their recklessness.
Meanwhile, Tori ranted on, “How do you know? How do you know he wasn’t the one? He could have been.”
“No Tor, he couldn’t have been.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because if he had been the one he would have known better than to hog the shower. He wasn’t the one.”
I could hear her grumbling things to herself. I didn’t have to be able to make out the words to get the gist of it. This was hardly my first lecture. For as long as I could remember, Tori had been obsessed with one thing and one thing only – falling in love. From the time we were eleven I had spent every Sunday evening planted on her sofa, watching some ridiculous Hallmark movie or another. Then when we turned thirteen, things got a little more intense as she added boy bands and that guy from the OC to the mix. It’s fairly safe to say, Tori has been boy crazy since before she was old enough to appreciate the benefits of having one.
I, on the other hand, was always a bit more reserved in this area. Maybe because I grew up in a home where love was a convenience and not a passion. Or maybe just because Tori had the whole thing covered already for the both of us. Either way, while she was busy fantasizing about the way Kyle might propose to her one day, the only weddings on my mind were those of my clients.
“Do you still need me on the line for this or can I get back to work?” I had two more meetings to prepare for and I wasn’t remotely ready. I was already going to have to work straight through lunch as it was.
“Why can’t you just be a normal girl for once in your life, Cal? What is so wrong with falling in love and living happily ever after? Do you really want to be alone forever?”
I dropped the stack of files I had pulled from my drawer onto my desk, making a loud clapping sound in the process.
“Who said I was going to be alone forever? I’m twenty-three, Tor. And this is the twenty-first century. It’s fine if you want to get married and settle down. But don’t act like it’s insane for me to be single right now. I’ve got shit to do and I’m not wasting my time on some asshole who’s going to hold me back. Even if it is just by making me late for a meeting.”
I could hear her sigh loudly on the other end. A clear sign of surrender. Except I knew it was only temporary.
“Fine. Go do you.”
“No one else does it better.”
“See you Sunday?”
“Of course.” As I said it, I made a little note reminding me to check the TV listings for this weekend’s movie. Over the years I’d learned that most of them fell into three basic categories – single mom meets troubled stranger and falls in love, work-a-holic/ jaded woman falls for the silent but strong country guy, and last, but certainly not least, the sweet innocent girl meets sweet innocent boy, but due to massive miscommunications and odd misunderstandings, they don’t actually wind up together until three minutes before the movie ends. This category tended to always come equipped with some sweet senior doling out advice to the innocent ones, which somehow made it more bearable than the other two. Those in turn required a great deal more chocolate to endure and I wanted to be prepared.
When I finally got Tori off the phone, I dove right into sketching. Aside from Steph popping in to drop off a veggie and hummus platter from the deli downstairs, I didn’t see or speak to anyone until I was done, at which point I found myself having to make another run for it down the hall as I was showing up late for my second meeting of the day. Stupid Tyler.
“Hey Burke, you wanted to see me?” I was standing in my boss’s office.
“Yeah. How long have you been workin’ here now, you think? Seven, eight years?”
It was nine. “Something like that. What’s up?”
“Emerson, how old do you think I am?”
It was an odd question and I sure as shit didn’t want to answer it. But I did. “Old, Burke. You’re goddamn old.”
He laughed. “Hell yes, I am. So, how much longer you think you’re going to need before you can start takin’ over so I can get some rest?”
I frowned. “You thinkin’ about retirin’?”
“No, I’m not thinkin’ about it. I’m doin’ it. Already talked it over with everyone, and we all agree, there’s no one better than you.” Burke stood up from behind his desk and held out his hand. “You’ve got six months kid. Then it’ll be all you.”
Speechless, I met his hand with mine, and we shook on it. I was six months from having it all.