Short story: The gift

TheGift_Azcarraga_Weekender
Alvaro Azcarraga/Staff

She’s putting on her fourth coat of lipstick when she really starts to wonder.

 

She can feel the air’s clammy hands clawing at her tight, lacy white dress, as the lights in the room dim slightly with exhaustion. She stares at herself in the mirror for the hundredth time, making sure — once again — that everything is in place. Her eyeliner wings are like perfect permanent black tattoos, and she can feel her eye shadow heavily coating her eyelids. Every strand of platinum blonde hair is flattened back, moussed and slicked down, denied its freedom. The deep pink blush makes her pale-as-death face look more alive than ever before.

Everything is ready. So where is he?

You know, the voice inside her head mocks her.

She huffs, carefully sliding onto the couch to avoid disturbing her dress or makeup, and crosses one waxed leg over the other.

Thomas knows she doesn’t like to wait.

She taps her blood red, high-heel-shoed foot impatiently in the air. She can feel her ankles swelling under the strong hold of her stiletto straps, but she makes no effort to take them off or even loosen them. Her toes are suffocating, squashed in such a tight space. Her knee aches under the heavy weight of her leg, and she is sure that by the time she stands, she will have a large red mark on her thigh, but she still doesn’t move.

A shrieking horn crashes through the silence of the room. She looks at the table, where her sleek white phone jumps up and down erratically, screeching for her attention. Her fifth alarm. 10:25.

Fear seeps through her skin, creeping into her bones, settling inside herself. Everyone is waiting for her. They’ve been planning this for more than a year. It took forever to book St. Michael’s, but she was insistent that this was the place because its majestic high arches, intricate details and looming structure fit the Gothic style she had wanted. It’s the most famous church in the city — and she deserves the best, obviously. Her mother says so herself, and Laurel Fitzgerald is Eliza in 30 years — the same pale skin, grey eyes, sharp face and quick wit — who gives her daughter everything she herself thirsted for but never received.

The howl of the horn bursts through the empty room yet again. The sixth. 10:35.

They’re late.

“Eliza?”

She looks up to glare at the person who dares to speak to her at such a time, only to be met with the terrified gaze of the minister.

“Yes,” she replies coolly. “Is there a problem?”

The minister bites his lip, small beads of sweat dripping down his face. Normally, she would have laughed at the sight of the bloated man, his face red and sweat seeping out of his white robes. But this time, she’s not the slightest bit amused. In fact, if anything, it only increases her impatience and her temper. And those two things are a horrible combination for her.

“Well?” she snaps. “What is it?”

The minster swallows hard. She can practically feel the heat radiating off of him, even from her distance.

“T-there is a s-situation,” he manages to mumble.

She rubs the bridge of her nose with her index finger and thumb, closing her eyes as she does so, hoping to ease the pain of having to deal with such an incompetent fool.

“What?” she hisses, forcing herself to meet his gaze with a glare. “Can’t you see I’m busy?” Her fingers pluck at her lace dress, sure she already knows his response.

“Uh, your … Thomas … he was with … an old friend earlier? Well, he, um … for some unknown reason … departed from the church with her,” he manages to stammer.

She sucks in her breath. For months, she had thought he was acting differently, thought his behavior was rather off. And now, here lies the truth.

“I see,” is the only thing that she replies with.

“Um, I apologize for intruding during such a, uh, difficult time, Eliza,” the minster mumbles. “But — I apologize for sounding blunt, but — should I tell the guests to … be on their way?”

She wants to say no. She wants Thomas to come out from behind the door and peck her cheek, telling her that it was just another one of his ridiculous jokes. She wants him to be waiting for at the other end of the hall, she wants his eyes to fill with love as she walks toward him. She wants her fairytale to come true.

So she waits.

For five seconds.

Ten.

Twenty.

Thirty.

Forty —

“Eliza?” the minister’s voice rings out.

She looks up at him, and all of a sudden, she feels too weak to even muster a glare. She can tell he’s both shocked and relieved that she hasn’t used this as an opportunity to scream and whip another vase at him — Lord knows that she did it just a few weeks ago, when he had simply tripped over the words of his sermon in their rehearsal. And now that he knows she won’t throw another tantrum, she can practically see his satisfaction is shining off him, celebrating in her misery. She knows what everyone thinks of her — cold, cruel, heartless. They probably all think that she deserves this, that she had this coming the whole time. That Thomas was lucky to get out before it was too late.

But when her phone rings — not the screeching wail she’s become accustomed, but the sweet melody of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” that she programmed especially for him — she’s so sure that her fairytale will finally come true.

She lunges for it, answering it and praying to God that he’ll tell her that he’s coming right back and they can pick up from where they left off.

“Thomas?” she whispers.

There’s a long pause on the line.

“Uh, no. This is Aimee.”

Silence.

“Um, I know that this is, like, a little weird.”

“Weird?” she blurts. “Weird? You think it’s weird for you to call me?”

A beat. “Look, I don’t know what I’m supposed to say.”

She bites her lip, desperately trying to keep the words in but they’re rolling back and forth in her mind and all she can think about is —

“Is he with you?” she blurts.

Pause. “Yeah.”

Silence.

“Did he really make you call me? He doesn’t want to speak with me at all?” The hurt is so vulnerable and bare that even she can hear it. She hates it. She sounds pathetic. Whiney and exposed. Naked.

“No!” Aimee, the Thief, cries. “He, well, he doesn’t actually know I’m calling.”

She can hear the shattering in her chest, can feel the icy shards stabbing her insides as they explode like sharp bits of shrapnel.

“What?” she breathes.

Aimee sighs. “Shit. I-I didn’t mean it like that.”

She doesn’t respond. What’s there to say?

The Thief sighs again. “He-he’s afraid to hurt you.”

She can’t help it — she feels it bubbling inside her and she can’t contain it and this is all a big mess and she spent months and thousands on this day she’s been looking forward to it since she could talk and now —

All Aimee hears on the other line is what sounds like a dried up squeal — a cross between wailing and laughing.

“I think that ship has sailed.”

If the situation were different, Eliza supposed Aimee might’ve actually laughed. Instead, Aimee sighs.

“He couldn’t face you. He…”

“He doesn’t think I deserve it,” she finishes the thought easily. She knows what they think of her. What everyone thinks of her — cold, cruel, heartless. It’s not like she’s ever done anything to quell that thought.

Silence. But the Thief doesn’t need to confirm it for her.

She bites her lip. She has to ask.

“Is he happy?”

A beat. “Yeah.”

“Happier?”

Immediately — “Yeah.”

Pause. “OK.”

And Eliza does the bravest, most selfless thing she’s ever done. She hangs up the phone.

The minister eyes her and she waves him away.

“I want to be alone,” she tells him. “Just — just tell everyone that everything is cancelled.”

He nods, and she swears she can see the subtle upturn of his lips — the smirk creeping its way on his face, waiting to be alone before it grows into a full-blown grin and burst of gleeful laughter. She knows everyone outside will be doing the same. They’ll probably celebrate anyway — enjoying the perfectly classic three-tiered wedding cake as they pop all the bottles of sparkling champagne to toast to Thomas’ freedom.

“Good for him to get out when he could!” they’ll shout. “That Eliza is a nasty little bitch — spoiled, selfish and downright heartless. She had it coming!”

The minister leaves the room and Eliza sits alone, on the couch, tapping her foot silently. Right where she started. Back at the beginning.

She slips her hand over her stomach, regretting fasting to fit into this tight dress. She shouldn’t diet. Not anymore. Can’t be good.

She stares at her phone, watching it rattle for her attention, listening to it shriek with irritation. The seventh. 10:45. But it doesn’t matter anymore. None of it really mattered, she surmises. Her relationship with Thomas, superficial. The wedding, a fake, as it turns out. Nothing really matters.

Except the bump on her stomach — the only wedding gift she’ll get to keep. And she won’t even have to share it.

 

Contact Chantelle Lee at [email protected]