by Shirozubon Saruko (城図凡然る子)
Jill took a deep breath, and set her shoulders. In three more hours, this would all be over. She could get through it. She’d be fine.
The Jill in the mirror looked less confident about the prospect – but then, you kind of couldn’t blame her, once you took a good look at the whole picture. First of all, and most unavoidably, there was The Dress. Ah, The Dress. Its day had finally come at last, after six months of dread. Done up in a peachy-pink that was exactly the right shade to make her skin look almost greenishly sallow, it sat in a lank V across her chest that made her small breasts appear nonexistent and her shoulders look plain weird. The arms were cut out in a cascade of chiffon ruffles that plumed over her wiry biceps and continued down the sides, like fish fins, only to stop awkwardly at the waist. Add to that another faux-layered ruffle around the hip, a mega-clingy waist that couldn’t wait to spotlight every last bump, roll, and divot in her belly, and a hemline that stopped high enough that she’d had to spend thirty cursing minutes re-learning how to shave her damn thighs, and you had a hell of a picture. Not even to mention the white satin pumps that already hurt like a bastard and were definitely going to kill her. Todd’s mom had even picked those out, plus the dainty little pearl earrings she’d had to put converter plugs in her gauges to be able to wear. There had been nothing Todd’s mom could do about her sidecut, though, so at least that remained intact, although Jill was pretty sure the woman would’ve stuck a wig on her too if she could’ve gotten away with it. She’d certainly caught enough wrinkle-nosed looks in the mirror this morning while the makeup artist was going after her with too-pale foundation and all the wrong shades of coral and blue.
This mirror, meanwhile, was full-length and free-standing, and had a scrolled white frame that looked like it belonged in a Disney castle, like most everything in the estate house. It was all floor-to-ceiling Victorian furniture and mid-century chintz, porcelain angels peering down from over-molded mantels over bricked-up fireplaces, climbing floral wallpaper and unnecessary chandeliers. Jill had dutifully oohed and aahed over it with everybody else when they came in to claim this study and the adjoining library as the bridal party suite, and helped rope off the double doors with white tulle with the other bridesmaids, but she hadn’t been able to keep from glancing over her shoulder at Liz now and then, just to check in, to see what she could see. She’d been disappointed every time, though. Every time she looked, Liz had looked a million miles away – nothing in her face that Jill could read at all.
They’d been unlikely best friends since they’d started high school: Jill a stubborn, moody debater and field hockey goalie with acne and unfortunate bangs, Liz a painfully shy, sweet, forgettable honor student with braces and a badly kept blonde braid. They had stuck together through all their radical teenaged metamorphoses: Jill’s discovery of drama club and leather jackets and having a social life, Liz’s gradual blossoming into one of the prettiest, smartest, and most popular girls in school. They’d gone on to separate colleges but never fallen out of touch, and ended up moving back to their hometown and reconnecting in their twenties, when Jill was bouncing around lighting and stagehand gigs, and Liz was just getting started in advertising. Jill’d actually stayed in the spare room of Liz and Todd’s apartment for a summer while she was in between things, before getting a place of her own. She didn’t know the other bridesmaids very well, or any of Liz’s other friends these days really, but they seemed nice. Fine. Ordinary. Not to have very much in common with Liz at all, but who was she to say?
And then, of course, there was Todd.
She had been determined to like Todd from the very beginning: when at their first lunch to celebrate her coming back to town, she had faux-casually asked whether Liz was seeing anyone, and gotten that sweet smile and “yes, just the greatest guy.” As soon as her blood unfroze and her tongue unstuck, while Liz went on about the greatest guy, she had made a pact with herself right on the spot that no matter what, she was going to love this Todd guy for Liz’s sake, and not hold any of it against him. It wasn’t his fault; he hadn’t been there senior year when Liz had called Jill the night before prom sobbing that her boyfriend had cheated on her, and Jill had immediately dropped the drama club boy she’d been trying to get interested in so she could take Liz to prom instead. He hadn’t been there when they’d laughed and surreptitiously drank their way through the whole evening, and then finally slow-danced together at the end with Liz’s arms around Jill’s neck, and her lips had been just inches away, inches that would have been so easy to close…. He wasn’t to blame for it, nobody was to blame except Jill’s own cowardice, and she wouldn’t take any of it out on him. If Liz loved him and he made her happy, she would love him for Liz, and that was that.
The first time Jill had met Todd, he’d been playing Call of Duty co-op on the apartment couch with his headset on, and hadn’t taken it off or so much as looked up at being introduced to “Jill Pham, my best friend from high school, remember I told you about her?” Liz cooked him dinner every night after she came home from work, and had confided to Jill how much time she spent looking for recipes that would disguise vegetables, since he wouldn’t eat them otherwise. The apartment was in Liz’s name, and in the entire time Jill stayed with them, Todd never had a job; he was so “creative,” to hear Liz tell it, he’d felt “stifled” in his 9-to-5 job, he was looking for something really “meaningful,” although whatever looking he was doing wasn’t happening where Jill could see it. What he seemed to like to do best was play video games and pick fights that he called “intellectual debates” or “just playing devil’s advocate,” like when he had told Jill there was no such thing as systemic racism and movie studios were just casting the best people, and she just couldn’t be objective about the issue because she was Vietnamese, or when he had argued with Liz that the wage gap was a myth that lots of people on the internet had already debunked.
“He’s hopeless,” was all Liz would say doing the dishes in the kitchen later, after Jill had been infuriated to the point of shouting or Liz had been frustrated nearly to tears and Todd had accused them of being emotionally manipulative instead of wanting to have a serious conversation, and she even said it with a faint little smile like Todd had fucking tripped over his shoelaces or something. But she never seemed to understand that she could mean it, and Jill had bitten her tongue hard every time while Liz went back under Todd’s arm to watch a movie, and they nuzzled and cooed to each other. Until she’d met Todd, Jill had never actually quite believed that there really were such things as Todds out in the wild, and any of them were capable of human relationships and not completely shunned by all civilized society; but she had told herself, and told herself, and told herself, that at the end of the day, it didn’t matter what she thought, and it didn’t matter if she didn’t understand. What mattered was that little smile coming back to Liz’s face each time, whatever the reason. Anything that put that smile there, anything at all, could be endured.
She had kept telling herself that through staying with them, kept telling herself it when she’d moved out and gotten her own place and still got invited over for dinner, told herself it as hard as she could the time they were all four boilermakers deep in the kitchen and Todd, right in front of Liz as he handed Jill her next one, grinning, had said, “You know we’re going to end up sleeping together eventually, right?” And she had told herself the hardest of all, the most firmly, with no possibility of argument, the morning Liz had come to brunch radiant and beaming, and first shown off the new diamond engagement ring on her finger.
Of course, that had all been before Todd’s mother had swept in from the rich side of town his parents apparently supported him from, and insisted they pay for the wedding. Liz’s parents weren’t exactly poor, but they were both older and retired and had never been on anything like the stratum of Todd’s, and the arrangement must have come as an understandable relief for them; and that was how Todd’s mom had swiftly and steadily taken control of every single aspect of the wedding, from the rented gingerbread-house estate to the design on the placecards to a systematic campaign of bullying and needling Liz until she finally broke and agreed to take Todd’s name, which she had been adamantly against from the start. No sooner had Liz given that inch, too, than she took the mile of having the wedding invitations made out as from “the soon-to-be Mr. and Mrs. Todd Avery.” But every time Jill got outraged on her behalf, Liz placated, said she was fine with it, really, Carol was just trying to help and they had come to a compromise, please don’t be angry. And if as the months went by, Liz seemed to withdraw more and more from Jill and from everybody, whenever Jill asked about it or how she was doing, she would just smile that bright smile and say it was just she was so excited, she couldn’t think about anything else.
And that was how they had landed here: with Jill squished into The Dress and lingering in the bridal party suite to steel herself, while all the other bridesmaids went with Liz to help with the final assembly of the approximately 1,000 pieces of her totally un-Liz-like, fairytale-princess gown. She hoped Liz wouldn’t be hurt by her absence for a little while, she just… needed a minute. To breathe, and get steady, and be ready to be as strong and supportive and happy as she could possibly be.
She was just doing a last scrunch at her hair and trying to wipe a little of the clashing blush off her cheekbones, though, getting ready to finally get out there and face the rest of the day, when she heard footsteps coming down the hall outside the study. It didn’t really register at first; people had been back and forth past the doors all day, Todd’s mom or Liz’s mom with safety pins and bobby pins and stray ribbons, caterers or estate staff needing to get to some closet under the stairs just past them. But it only took a second for the oddity to sink in: where all of those passing steps had been brisk and clicking on the marbled floors, these were muted, and – running?
Running fast enough that by the time Jill had turned toward the double doors frowning, they had already been thrown open by some massive floaty white shape like a grounded cloud, hard enough to rip the tulle that blocked the doorway right in half and send it skirling to the floor. The shape thrust the doors shut behind it almost as hard, and by then against their dark wood it was able to resolve itself into – Liz? Draped in too many fluttering white off-shoulder layers of damasked white fabric to count, exploding out from her waist and out behind her like an endless meringue, with a gauzy veil that came down to mid-back depending from a jeweled tiara atop the perfect gold nest of her hair – and with her face about the color of her dress, her eye makeup all run into wild oily smudges down her cheeks.
“Liz?” was all Jill could manage, and only that after a second to really take this apparition in. “What’s-”
“Shut up,” Liz cut her off, suddenly and fiercely, and then seemed to draw back into herself with her eyes wide and lips folding inward. She shook once, with what looked like fresh tears spilling over, and then added softer: “Sorry. I’m sorry. I–”
And then she stopped, staring at Jill wild-eyed, and then she was running again, yanking white fabric out of the way (to reveal bare feet; that must have been why her footsteps had been so odd) to hurl herself straight at Jill. Still numb with total surprise, Jill was at least ready to catch her in a hug – but not as much so for Liz’s mouth to clash into hers in a ferocious, needy kiss, salt-tasting and half teeth and all desperation.
There were a few seconds where there was nothing at all she could do. Nothing made sense, nothing was real, and nothing was possible; all she could do was stand riveted exactly where she was, her hands frozen on the satin at Liz’s back, letting herself be kissed. Finally, after what seemed like endless bewildered years, Liz raised her hands to cup Jill’s face in their trembling palms and fingers, mouthing at Jill’s lips, and even her paralysis couldn’t seem to survive that much. She found herself moving, slowly, tentatively, to press them closer, to answer Liz’s mouth with the slow shy question of her own, to wrap her arms around Liz’s waist and hold it like she would never let it go.
They drew apart after some span of time that was impossible to count, to just inches of separation, Liz leaning down the few inches it took to press her forehead into Jill’s. More of those little spasms shook her even in Jill’s tight arms as she spoke, her voice hitching and catching and running jagged all over the octave: “I can’t do it. I can’t, I can’t – I thought I could, it’d be okay, but I was just standing there, looking in the mirror, and I thought I’m going to scream, I’m going to throw up, I can’t do this, and I just, I started–”
Jill’s whole head seemed to be going reeling off her body; she shut her eyes, breathed deep, tried to stumble back up to the moment and what was happening now. The dry, awful thudding dread of cold feet, just jitters, that’s all, nothing else going all the while deep under her breastbone. “Shh, it’s okay. It’s okay, you’re going to be fine.” Rubbing Liz’s back without thinking about it, not knowing what else to do with her hands or arms or any of herself. “Did something happen?”
“Everything’s happening!” Liz choked out, and shuddered with a sob Jill could feel through her chest. “This stupid wedding, Todd, fucking Carol – she wants grandkids! I can’t have a baby with Todd, I’ll have two kids!” Jill let her sob that one out too for a second, before she could seem to get control of herself again. “I kept trying and trying to talk to him, he doesn’t care, he never cares – he was like, ‘just let her have her way or she’ll never leave you alone,’ but he won’t talk to her, he won’t stand up for me, he doesn’t care what I want, he never has, god, I–” Liz took a deep sighing breath, shuddering all through her. “I just feel so stupid. I loved him so much and I’m marrying him and for him I’m just… there. He’s just used to me. I don’t know, I… I just can’t go through with this. I can’t. I’m not ready and I don’t think I want to be, and I. I’m just. I’m sorry, I’m sorry for everything.”
“Oh, honey, it’s okay–” Jill rubbed her back again, tucking her closer to lean the side of her head on Liz’s – trying to ignore the wild, swooping rush starting to make its way all through her own body. “It’s okay! All I want is for you to be happy. I didn’t want to say anything, but… if this isn’t making you happy, if he isn’t making you happy, then god, fuck it. Fuck all of it. You don’t have anything to be sorry for.”
“I do, though,” Liz muttered, miserably, into her hair. “We’re here, and I did this, and… I knew. I’m so sorry, I always knew how you felt, I just – tried to pretend I didn’t. I was so stupid, I was so scared. But you were always there, and you were always so wonderful, and I…” Her breath hitched again, and then it turned into almost a laugh, the edge of a smile pressed to Jill’s cheek as she tilted their heads even closer together. “…Remember prom?”
It was hard to remember much else right now, and Jill took two deep, hard breaths before trying to draw herself back a little, her hands sliding up to squeeze bracingly at Liz’s shoulders. “Liz… slow down, okay? This is… kind of a lot to manage, for you, right now. I’m not sure this is what you want.”
“It’s all I want,” Liz said, with a new low fierceness that startled Jill’s gaze back to her eyes. They were drier now, if no less smudged, steadier and more sure. “I think about that all the time. I think about you all the time. I thought I was just imagining it, it was just a kid thing, it wasn’t really what I wanted, but… this is what I don’t really want. It always should have been you.”
And while Jill held herself perfectly still, unable to move or even breathe, Liz leaned in and kissed her again: surely, and slowly, and deliberately, one hand again cupped around the corner of her jaw with the most delicate touch.
It didn’t stay delicate for long. In seconds Liz was swarming into her arms and sending her reeling backwards, to bump her hips into the massive oak table that dominated the part of the room not taken up by elaborate, uncomfortable armchairs. She kept pushing forward, even hitching up one leg inside the frothy white mess of her skirts, until Jill finally pushed up and sat on it, and then climbed over her to press her back on her elbows, kissing and kissing. Liz’s tongue slid into her mouth as the kiss deepened and opened, turning hotter and wetter and messier, gradually more and more filthy. At some point Liz’s hand landed in the middle of the awkward V at the front of Jill’s dress, slipping in and under one side without her really noticing it until Liz’s soft fingertips brushed her nipple and made her squeak and jump in surprise. That got Liz giggling, which set Jill off, and once they’d started they couldn’t seem to stop, just shaking with laughter on and off as they roamed hands over each other and slid sloppy and slick between their mouths.
Jill was flat on her back on the stupid antique table by the time Liz’s hands slid down over her hips, then grabbed double handfuls of peach chiffon and started yanking the skirt of The Dress up, first one side and then the other. “Ugh, god, I’m so sorry about this,” Liz muttered ticklish into the skin of Jill’s throat, as Jill squirmed her hips up to try to help, mostly helping Liz rip a big satisfying gash in one ruffled side. “This dress is so horrible, I hate it.”
“I hate it too!” Jill hissed back, gleefully enough that it set them both off laughing again. Liz kissed her hard before returning to wrangling the skirt, drying the laughter at last in Jill’s throat as she managed to thrust her hand underneath and snag the leg of Jill’s boyshorts. She tugged them down and then sat half up to shove them off Jill’s legs, to dangle precariously from one pump-escaped foot before dropping on the floor who knew where.
“I hate my dress too,” Liz confided as she stretched out again, over and along Jill’s disheveled body. “…God. I hate my wedding dress.” Jill tried to get her breath under control a little at that, to blink her dazed eyes up at Liz and reach up to push stray hair out of the wet mess of her beautiful face.
“It doesn’t have to be your wedding dress,” she said, as confidently as she could for how breathless she sounded. “It’s just a dress.”
Liz’s eyes went soft, and she bent in to kiss Jill again, her hand resting at Jill’s waist. “And I love you,” she whispered, against Jill’s lips, as she slid it down soft and low.
It might not have been in the same way, meant the same thing; but under the circumstances, Jill thought it was more than enough. “I love you too,” she whispered back, and let her eyes shut as Liz’s fingers pressed between her thighs, between her lips, finding everything wet and slick and opening up for her.
They were quiet then, breathlessly quiet, creating a little bubble of space between the two of them no one outside could touch. Beyond this room, in other parts of the house, Jill could hear people walking creakingly on the floor above, just barely catch muffled voices calling to each other and discussing over in the next wing, even pick up the faint sounds of activity and setting-up out on the front manor lawn, but here it was just them, just the two of them moving together, holding on to each other. The soft wet sounds of their mouths pressing and sliding against each other, kissing, the even softer and wetter sounds of Liz’s fingers dipping between her lips to soak themselves, then trailing along them, circling her clit, first just exploring and then finding a rhythm; the barely-there rustle of Liz’s fingers moving over chiffon to roll and tease her nipple under it. They kissed, and kissed, and Jill spread out her legs as far as they would go dangling off the table, then propped one foot up on the edge of it for good measure to give Liz room to work. And Liz worked: like she wasn’t new to it at all, like she’d been thinking about this, too, more than just kissing, maybe in bed while Todd put in whatever half-assed effort a guy like Todd would ever muster toward getting her off. Crooking her fingers into a tight wet bunch and rubbing them in tight, tiny circles over Jill’s clit, flicking it between them, sliding along its sides and then teasing it directly with just the firm light tip of a finger, until Jill was lost in the dark behind her eyes and nothing else mattered in the world–
And, finally, until she drew three gasping breaths, each faster and deeper than the last one, and a tremor went through her from her lips to her fingers to a buck of her hips and twitch in her thighs – and then came, sighing out a long heavy moan, her arched back flattening on the release of everything. Panting for her breath, twitching everywhere with the last aftershocks that Liz’s fingers kept pressing and questing and teasing for.
They just laid there like that for a moment, Liz sprawled over top of her with both hands tangled in Jill’s awful dress, Jill’s one hand tumbled to the side and the other clutching at Liz’s veil. Finally Jill blinked her eyes open, caught at her breath, and craned up to kiss Liz again – and then, still kissing her, surged up and pulled Liz into her lap, Liz yelping with surprise and both of them laughing again. Feeling dizzy and light-headed, Jill started digging at the endless confusion of Liz’s skirt, only for Liz’s hands to nudge hers aside and fish out an unsuspected bottom layer of lining, with which she was easily able to corral and shove up the rest above her hips. Jill honestly hadn’t been sure what to expect in the way of over-the-top lingerie might be going on underneath that disaster, and she was relieved to find that, at least, Carol’s influence didn’t seem to have been allowed to reach down quite that far; Liz’s panties might have been white and gorgeously, provocatively lacy, but they were easy enough to tug down to her thighs before she had to stand up and shimmy the rest of the way out of them.
Then she was back in Jill’s lap, holding up her own skirt in handfuls out of the way, and deliberately straddled one of Jill’s thighs and rubbed herself against it, biting her lip, as she settled back in. It was all Jill could do to just stop staring at that sight – Liz on her lap, half-bared, squirming against her with color coming up in her face – and actually do something about it, lying back and pulling Liz with her to lean in an arc over her, so she could reach up a hand between Liz’s thighs. It was slick between them, and Liz gasped, her head dropping forward so the veil tumbled over her shoulders and draped over both of them; a little tremor went through her thighs, but she stayed where she was on hands and knees, spread over Jill like the sky. Jill slicked her fingers and worked them between Liz’s lips, gently over her clit, until Liz ground and bucked her hips down and she began to move a lot less gently. Except for her hand, all of her seemed frozen in place, able only to stare at the sight hanging over her: Liz pushed up on her hands above her, her skirts rucked up in a billow that covered Jill to her chin, writhing and working her hips with her lips parted and eyes almost closed. Her hair coming loose from its elaborate knot at the back of her head, her makeup run and every inch of her a mess, and the most perfect, most beautiful thing Jill could ever imagine seeing.
And then she was surging, her mouth shaking, a series of huffing little cries escaping her as Jill drove up against her again and again in just the right spot – and she was coming, her whole body moving with the force of it, and her beauty of a moment ago took an immediate second place to that. Jill stared into her face as long as she could, watching every shiver and hiss as she finished, until finally it was over and Liz had collapsed down to her chest, breathing hard and heavy into her shoulder.
They lay together, Liz’s fingers weakly stroking at Jill’s arm, Jill rubbing dazed circles on Liz’s back, just seeking out more places to be touching. When Liz finally pushed herself up her veil fell off completely, and Jill had to stretch out her leg that had cramped up and gone to sleep, and another tired little spate of giggles passed between them as they sorted themselves out and groped at the floor for underwear. They pulled them back on in silence, as Jill tried to figure out what to even say: What do you want to do? Do you want to leave? Should I get your mom? Do you want to talk to Todd? Do you want me to? None of it seemed right, all of it seemed thin and not enough and stupid. Where did you begin? This was Liz’s wedding day, and that didn’t really even cover it; it was Liz’s life.
Still, The Dress was now torn up beyond repair from the waist down, and she figured there was no getting around that, at least. She had just found her leggings and pulled them back on – and her boots for good measure, because seriously, fuck those shoes – when the sound came that froze both of them right where they were standing, and whipped their heads around to face each other.
A knock at the door.
“Jill, honey, are you still in there?” Carol’s voice – sickly-sweet and singsongy as ever, if muffled through the wood. “Have you seen Liz? She said she was just going to the ladies’ room, but we’re starting to get worried – she hasn’t been by here, has she?”
They stared at each other a second, speechless. Then Liz reached out her hand, without a word, and Jill reached out and took it. And as soundlessly as possible, Liz crossed to her, gripping her by the shoulder and whispering into her ear.
“Let’s go out the window.”
It took both of them to shove all of Liz’s skirts through the gap, shushing each other desperately all the while, so she could swing her bare feet over into the grass along the side of the house; and then Jill had clambered out behind her and they were free, running with clasped hands and rucked-up skirts down the slope of the lawn toward the circle drive out front. Ushers paused in the middle of setting up chairs to stare at them, caterers froze with armloads of napkins as they raced past, but they didn’t stop. Just tore down the hill as fast as they could, panting and laughing, to where Liz’s car was parked at the curb, waiting with windows soaped with JUST MARRIED!!!s and tin cans tied to the bumper. Liz shrieked something about an emergency at the terrified valet, who gave up the key in sheer alarm, and while she was squeezing her dress into the driver’s seat Jill yanked the cans off the bumper and sent them rattling away with a well-placed boot. Then she was tumbling into the passenger seat, shaking with nerves and silent out-of-breath laughter and Liz just the same beside her, and they were peeling out, roaring off down the dirt country road fast enough to plume dust behind them.
They were maybe a mile away when Jill reached across the gearshift with her open palm, and Liz put her hand in it and held it tight. And they were maybe two miles away when Liz took her hand away for just a minute, to yank the ring off her other one and chuck it out the open window, and bring it back open and warm and trembling with laughter and with joy.