I was savagely cranky the morning I met my first single bride. My husband Bill had come home at three a.m. His job — he got paid for this — was to escort that day’s new talent around West Hollywood and Silverlake, making sure no paparazzo had the chance to snap her sitting alone or looking bored. Plastered, Bill had giggled when he tiptoed into the bedroom, knocking over the lamp and stepping on the cat’s tail, and when I snapped at him he informed me that the new talent didn’t whine. “I’ll bet she doesn’t,” I said, and locked my mouth tight. While Bill snored all over the bed, I sat rigid in the living room and watched CSI until it was time to go to work.
Seeing the girl waiting for me at the shop’s front door, I wasn’t as kind as I might have been. She wasn’t to blame for the broken lamp or the cat who was probably still under the bed, but when I said, “How can I help you?”, I made the question sound like what I really meant: What the fuck do you want? She looked puffy and bruised, not the kind of rose that usually came into Monica’s Bridal surrounded by a bouquet of cooing friends and cousins and mother, stepmother, grandmother, sister, neighbor, dog groomer, manicurist and spray-tan applier. This was L.A., and people liked to pile onto each other’s dreams.
“I want this.” She held up her phone and showed me a disaster of a dress, layers of frosting-white ruffles into which a disdainful model had been inserted. If the soft, terrified girl in front of me tried to put on this dress, she would dissolve into hyperglycemia.
“That’s special order. When is the wedding?”
“There isn’t a date yet.”
“How about a venue? This train is awfully formal.”
She shook her head. I tried for a joke: “You’ve got a groom, right?”
“He’s coming. An astrologer told me to be ready.”
For the second time in twelve hours, I closed my mouth before I could say anything more. The girl was trembling. We still hadn’t stepped past the front door. She said, “I’ve looked at a lot of dresses on line, and this is the one I want.”
“It’s important to see how a dress actually looks on you,” I said, sinking gratefully into the honed-smooth speech. Bridal shops attract the floridly crazy, and at least once a month we got a girl planning her wedding to Prince Harry, but this girl didn’t have a fake British accent or a smile she flashed for invisible photographers. Nevertheless, she looked wounded, and I blazed with quick fury at the careless men I imagined who had created this shaking child. “Would you let me show you some different styles, just so you can see them on? We can take as long as you want. I want you to have the chance to be surprised. Just like your husband will.”
“I already know what I want. But we can try on dresses if you don’t have anything better to do with your time.”
“We have all the time in the world,” I said gently. I hadn’t learned yet that the single brides don’t need special handling. No matter how much they tremble, they are bulletproof.
I thought that girl was a one-off, bearing her sad, unique brand of delusion, until the next one came in a few months later, and three more since her, girls wearing engagement rings they’ve bought themselves and carrying fabric swatches and dye charts in their purses. Weddings take planning. Venues are sometimes booked two years ahead. No sane girl is going to leave the most important day of her life to chance.
“Where are you going to live, after the wedding?” I asked another girl.
The single bride shrugged. “We’ll figure something out.” She savored we, a pronoun she didn’t yet have experience with.
Bill explains to me after every night he comes in late, which is every night, how nothing happened between him and the new talent. It’s his job to escort her and make sure her needs are tended to. It’s his job to make her look happy in the brilliant Hollywood light. “You wanted to move to L.A.,” he says. Sounding wounded is his long suit.
“That was my mistake. Now I want to move somewhere sane.”
“What would I do there?” Good question. L.A. fits him like an Italian suit. I’m the one with, he once told a laughing roomful, Midwestern values. I grew up in Ohio, like him, and went to a university there, unlike him. We got married in front of a judge, which my mother said wasn’t a wedding at all. I wanted to come to a city. Now Bill’s the happy one.
“I don’t want a June wedding,” my latest single bride tells me. Her tattoos peek colorfully through the lace across her shoulders. “June brides are a cliché. I don’t want to have to share my day.”
This one’s name is Isabel. Her cake will have musical notes made of lilac fondant. A backup singer, Isabel is looking for a groom who plays the drums, because drummers have great arms and are more trustworthy than guitarists.
“What will you do if you don’t find one?” I say around the pins in my mouth.
“I guess I could go to Nashville, but we’d have to come back here for the wedding. I put a deposit on the reception hall.”
“He might have his own ideas. There are reception halls in Nashville, too.”
“This is my special day, not his.”
For a moment, I think she’s showing a flash of humor, but she is studying her reflection, her mouth firm. “I grew up in Omaha. I didn’t come to L.A. to be like everybody else.”
“You sound amazingly like my husband.”
“Does he know any drummers? My psychic told me to ask everyone I meet.”
“What else did your psychic tell you?”
“Ask for what you want. Otherwise you’ll always be settling. There’s no reason not to have everything you dream of.” I’m kneeling at her feet, gazing up at her, my mouth full of pins. From this vantage she looks gigantic, a massive, frumpy goddess. “Can we let this out a little across the neck?” she says, and I nod and get to work.
That night Bill is actually home for dinner, a once-a-week event. When he comes in the door he looks tired, but in his pegged jeans and schoolboy blazer he also looks adorable, and about fourteen years old. I feel a hundred and eight. “We need to talk,” he says.
“Do you know any drummers?”
“I’m not even going to ask.”
“My client wants a drummer. She says she can have anything she wants if she asks for it.”
“Ha. A million bucks,” he says.
“Two million. And a Beemer.”
“Quit thinking so small. A Bentley. And the house to go with it.” He’s finally stepped away from the door and poured himself onto the couch. It isn’t the conversation he’d meant to have, but he’s always taken opportunities that present themselves. It’s why I asked him to marry me. I asked, and he did. “A plane,” he says.
“Where would we go?” I know my mistake as soon as the words are out of my mouth.
“Who said anything about ‘we’?” He smiles. The L.A. sunset floods the room in golden light.