My sister's getting married to this old guy. Her head doctor said it has something to do with "Daddy Issues," but Jeannie says it's because she thinks he's cute. And that when you think someone's cute, you don't see age. I don't think Arthur's cute. I just think he's old.
Arthur. Even his name sounds elderly. He's at least a decade older than she is and she's twenty. Which makes him over thirty. See? Ancient. But as she likes to point out, I am not even a teenager yet, having just turned twelve, and I have so much to learn. That's true, but he's still old.
Arthur does old-fashioned stuff like smoke cigars and read the newspaper on his front porch. He tries to get me to sit with him, but I don't like to. He carries a cane even though he doesn't have to and calls his cell phone "the telephone" which is just ignorant, if you ask me. He has his own house where he lives all by himself. Well, soon Jeannie will live there with him, I suppose. Then they'll turn into old fogeys together, rocking in the swing chair out back and reminiscing about the good ole days. She'll probably start calling me "Pumpkin" like he does, which I hate, by the way.
Jeannie thinks Arthur's distinguished and finds the outdated stuff he does to be charming. She actually used that word, "charming." She said, "You wouldn't understand, Aster. Arthur's a man. Boys are selfish and immature, but Arthur's charming." She said something about him being distinguished too; but that conversation was so goopy I don't even want to repeat it. It makes me gag just thinking about it.
Today we're going to Mira's Bridal to get our dresses fitted. I'm a bridesmaid so I get to wear a special dress that makes me look older than twelve, though not as old as thirty, thank goodness. In my dress, I'm dazzling. The material is gauzy with layers and layers of fabric, so much so that it feels like I'm perched on a cloud when I sit down. The color is called Rustic Pewter, which is a new hue for bridal wear, the saleslady said. It's very contemporary although the color reminds me of what's left of the wrought iron fence that leans on the outside edges of our property. It's tangled in vines and corroded with brownish-gray flakes. I like when nature takes things like lawnmowers and old cars and reclaims them for herself. I also love when it rains—and it rains a lot in Washington. Being in this dress reminds me of that feeling when I'm shimmery wet from a mid-day deluge and I can smell the Earth around me. Jeannie doesn't know any of this. She only knows I like the color and am happy to be a bridesmaid. Mostly, she's concerned with what she looks like in her gown.
Jeannie's dress is off-white. The lady who helped her pick it out said white dresses weren't voguish anymore. Jeannie wants everything to feel modern and new, so she took the bridal lady's advice and only considered off-white gowns.
"I'd like it to be a little more fitted," Jeannie says, twisting side to side in the mirror looking at her dress, the skirt, fluffy and full, trailing for miles past her feet.
"It fits well for the cut," the seamstress says.
"It's not tight enough." Jeannie grabs the fabric around her waist, pulling it in.
"Empire waist is timeless," the lady says, adding, "and flexible with waistlines."
Jeannie gives the woman a dirty look. The woman smiles, although she seems nervous, probably because it looks as if Jeannie might start crying. I have to agree with the seamstress, although I'd never breathe a word of it to my sister. But Jeannie's dress can't be too tight or else there won't be any room for the baby—fresh and new—growing inside her.
Arthur's age isn't the only reason I dislike him. I know it's awful to loathe someone just because they're old. They can't help that they have gray hair and wrinkles and drive really slow and wear their pants cinched around their waist. Although Arthur doesn't have wrinkles or gray hair or do any of those things, I'm just being mean. But I still don't like him and I can never tell Jeannie the reason. She loves her "distinguished" and "charming" old guy.
I used to think Arthur was cool. But then there was that day about a year ago when he and I were waiting for Jeannie to finish fussing with her hair so we could go to the zoo and see the lemurs. He kept poking my mid-section and saying, "Why ya so touchy, Pumpkin?"
"Stop it, Arthur," I said, not in the mood to be annoyed. And honestly, he was really making me feel uncomfortable. I just wanted to get in the car, go to the zoo, watch the red ruffed lemurs eat kale with their hands, and forget that Arthur was giving me the heebie-jeebies.
But he wouldn't quit.
"Can't I touch you?" he asked.
"No, you can't," I said. I pulled my shirt down so it overlapped the top of my jeans, serving as my protective armor.
"You don't really like me, do you?"
"I like you," I said, feeling bad. He was, after all, a pretty nice guy. He was polite, didn't treat me like a baby, and he'd never made me feel weird before this.
"Then why are you being so mean to me?"
"I just don't like being poked, that's all."
He leaned in, as if he was going to say something top secret and very important. His eyes narrowed and his face was so close to mine that the bristles of his unshaven beard brazed my cheek. I shivered, overwhelmed by bad vibes. He smelled like Old Spice. It was uncomfortable. And musky. I leaned away, rubbing the goose bumps out of my skin.
"See," he said, moving out of my personal space, "you don't like me."
"I like you," I said, though not liking him one bit right then. "But I don't like this game."
Arthur didn't seem to hear me. He swooped in and planted his lips on mine. They were crackly and dry and it felt like I was kissing the rusted part of our wrought iron fence. The force of his kiss made my stomach lurch and I almost vomited in his mouth, which would've served him right if I had.
I wished I had. I wanted to.
"Arthur," I said, pushing him away and wiping his sandpaper kiss out of my mouth with the backside of my hand. "You can't just go around stealing kisses from people."
I wanted a scrub brush. One that could expunge this memory.
He smiled. His eyes returned to their usual sparkle. "My dear Aster, I didn't steal your kiss, I borrowed it. I'll return it later if you'd like."
After the wedding ceremony, after the "I do's," after Jeannie tosses the bouquet and Arthur throws the garter, after they both feed each other cake; Jeannie waves me over to stand by her.
Smoothing my hair, she presses her soft, full lips to my forehead. "I'm a wife now," she says.
"How does it feel?" I ask, thinking surely this must be the biggest rite of passage in a girl's life outside of getting her period. Both of which I’ve yet to experience.
"No different," she says. "A little different," she adds. "Like I'm old now, a grown-up."
That seems like what she wanted all along—to be an adult. I know I can't wait to fill in the cup of my bra, wear tampons, and shave under my arms.
Outside, everyone forms a line. Handfuls of rose petals wait to be tossed on the happy couple as they depart for their honeymoon. I look up at the cobalt sky, wide and clear. The few clouds floating above my head look as gauzy and fluffy as my bridesmaid's dress. I stare at the endless blue and think about how nature takes over everything, turning it more beautiful in its own way, unlike people. Unlike old guys who steal kisses and turn happy memories into heavy, dark ones.
Jeannie and Arthur run out to cheers of well-wishers and flying rose petals. Jeannie grabs my hand before ducking into the awaiting car. "It's going to be a boy," she says, her hand squeezing around mine then releasing.
The car door closes and they drive away as I ponder this. I am going to be an aunt. I am going to have a baby nephew. I will have to buy him a blanket or booties or a sweater or a pillow. I’m not sure what exactly, but it will be something blue.
Stefanie Lyons received her MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is an advertising copywriter by day, writing her great American novel by night. Her work has also been published in Burningword Literary. She resides in Chicago.