This was proving more difficult than anticipated. Harriet checked the clock on the bedside table — forty-three minutes before she had to meet the other bridesmaids — and let her head fall back onto the pillow. That morning had been a dizzying slide of champagne and hairspray, watching the bride get her hair and makeup done while the bridesmaids ate water crackers and chocolate-dipped strawberries and reminisced. Harriet had hoped that the stories would reveal some uglier side of the bride, but they mostly revolved around the speaker’s college or high school antics. She smiled at the punchlines as though she too had been there, and drank more champagne.
Harriet and the bride had grown up next door to each other, and were best friends in an almost perfunctory way throughout childhood, despite going to different schools and having parents who moved in different social strata. They lost touch during college and reconnected afterwards, when the bride moved back to the city. It was a tepid friendship, satisfied by brunch or drinks every few months, but a lifetime of familiarity had built such a stable foundation that it was nearly impossible to dismantle. Harriet suspected her bridesmaid elevation was the result of some complex algorithm that rewarded longevity over current value as well as the presence of at least one non-white face in the bridal party, except that this was not how the bride thought. This was how Harriet thought.
The other bridesmaids were more recent friends: high school, college, the law firm where the bride worked, and the groom’s two sisters. One had children, two were pregnant, five were married, and one was engaged. When Harriet smiled tightly and said that she was focusing on her career right now, several of the bridesmaids quoted statistics from Four Weddings and a Funeral about the percentage of couples who meet at other people’s weddings.
Two bottles of champagne later, one of the college friends leaned in and giggled something about men and pheromones. “When I was single, guys wouldn’t even look at me,” she said. “As soon as I started getting it regular, guys would be handing out their number on the subway.” She bit into a strawberry and wiggled her eyebrows. “Why do you think men love pregnant women? It’s all those hormones.”
Harriet didn’t believe that women needed a man to be fulfilled any more than she believed in armchair science. And yet when she stumbled back to her hotel room during the allotted hour-long break before the wedding, she couldn’t stop thinking about the reception and its likely outcome: hors d’oeuvres in one hand and watered-down drink in the other, stationed against the wall like some thorny nighttime flower. Superimposed over this was an image of her slinking across the room, loose-limbed with endorphins, leaving a trail of tantalizing pheromones in her wake. She had nothing to prove. But in a stony corner of her heart, she wanted the bride to look at her and see something that she herself didn’t have.
Thirty-seven minutes now. She licked her finger — she hadn’t thought to bring any supplies — and got back to work, fixing her mind determinedly on her goal.