The caterer hadn’t arrived at the venue, and Selene was stressed.
She ran down the decorated hallways, aesthetic exposed brickwork and fake flower garlands whizzing by her peripheral vision. The backs of her pumps chafed her bare heels, and she once again regretted the decision to go without tights or stockings during her wedding. Back then, in June, it had seemed so appealing. The bridal store had been sweltering, and any more layers under the already-poofy skirt had seemed like torture. But now it was December, and the chilly air bit through the tulle and chiffon like a box cutter through cardboard. The added discomfort of blossoming blisters did nothing to help.
“Selene!” A familiar voice called her name. Selene halted in the middle of the hallway, her dress taking a second longer to stop its motion.
“Hallie!” Selene rushed to meet her maid of honor. “Have you seen the caterers?”
“No,” replied Hallie. “Also, you’ve got a little something—”
Like a magnet, Selene’s hands drifted towards her face. “Is it gone?”
Hallie reached out, brushing away something underneath Selene’s right eye. “Now it is.”
Selene didn’t even bother asking what ‘it’ was; she had other things on her mind.
“Has anyone seen the caterers?” Her voice was reaching higher and higher octaves out of stress.
Hallie placed a hand on her shoulder, which had been brushed with glitter an hour before. The makeup artist (also known as Selene’s younger sister, Candace) had said that it would make her look radiant. To Selene, it just felt tacky, but she had let Candace brush and plump and swipe to her heart’s content. She told herself her negative thoughts were just nerves, and that she looked radiant, not tacky.
After Candace was done, everyone had said she looked beautiful. Selene was certain she could feel beautiful, too… but not until the caterers were here.
“Lene, calm down,” Hallie said, employing Selene’s college nickname. “I’m sure your mother or Candace can take care of the caterers.”
“Candace is probably already at the bar,” Selene muttered, getting ready to sprint down the hallway again in search of a phone to call the catering company with. “And I have no clue where my mother is.”
“Then how about I go find her, while you relax?” Hallie gave a furtive glance at the elegant watch she’d purchased just for the wedding; its silver face read four thirty-five. “It’s your wedding day, after all. You’re supposed to be walking down the aisle in twenty or so minutes.”
Selene looked at Hallie, eyes wide. She let out a frantic breath of air. “That soon? But— the caterers, they’re—”
“Don’t worry about the caterers,” Hallie said, her voice gentle. “Here. Let’s get you back to your room.” She placed a hand on Selene’s sequined waist, leading her in the opposite direction.
Selene took a deep breath. Hallie was right. She needed to calm down. “You’re right. I— you go call the caterers. I’ll go upstairs, then come down at five till.”
Hallie smiled. “Gotcha.”
Selene wandered back the way she had come. Now, her priority was finding bandages for her raw heels. At this rate, the tears she shed at the altar would be from pain rather than emotion.
She decided to strip off her pumps for the time being. Her dress covered her feet, and she couldn’t handle the stinging rub that came with every step any more. The carpet was cool and springy beneath her bare feet. She tried not to think about the years of germs that were probably pressed into the fibers.
The hallways were nearly empty. She would occasionally see the odd staff member from the venue, but other than that, no one was here to see her. Most of the guests were gathered downstairs in Ballroom… C, if she remembered correctly. Either that, or B.
No, she recalled, definitely C. She remembered picking it out. She’d asked her fiancé which ballroom he’d wanted, and he replied with C.
C for Charlie, he said (he’d always been fond of associating his name with things). C for Selene.
She’d laughed at his joke, before explaining that ‘Selene’ didn’t start with a C. He’d then swept her off the desk chair into his lap before planting a kiss on her neck.
Thinking of Charlie brought a smile to her face. He probably wasn’t stressed. He was probably in his room, all his best friends dressed in varying degrees of formality, joking about how they were losing Charlie to her.
She took another deep breath. She could be calm. She could be beautiful. For Charlie, she reminded herself. For Charlie.
Selene was nearly at her room when she heard voices coming from an adjacent hallway. They sounded tense, like they were arguing about something.
“Just cause you’re the oldest doesn’t mean you’re the most responsible—”
“I’m just saying, who made you in charge?”
“Um, guys, maybe we shouldn’t—”
“Oh, shut up, Keith, no one cares.”
“Well, OK, Maya. Maybe I should turn into a publisher. Maybe you’d listen to me then. Of course, all I’d say is ‘we’re sorry, Ms. Ka, we’re not looking for manuscripts right now—’”
“That’s a low blow, Keith.”
“Oh, so now you’re on my side, Devin? Could have used that help earlier.”
There was definitely a woman’s voice, but Selene couldn’t tell if there was one man or two. All she knew was that they were getting closer, and that they would soon cross paths. Seeing as she was barefooted in a wedding dress, and that they were arguing about something that sounded personal, Selene wasn’t in the mood to meet whoever the voices belonged to. It would probably be easier to avoid them entirely, but she wasn’t sure what she should try to do to avoid them. There was a bathroom right by; maybe she could duck in there?
“We need to find Ballroom… C? Was it C?” The agitated woman spoke again as she emerged from around the corner, followed by two men that were both taller than her. So there were two men. They were all dressed in formal attire, the woman sporting a knee-length floral patterned dress, the two men in button-ups, blazers, and khakis. All three of them had curly brown hair at varying lengths and darknesses.
Selene froze. It was too late to go to the bathroom; they might hear her. Her next best option was to remain still and hope they walked right by.
The woman opened her mouth to speak. “Keith, did you lose—”
“Maya, look,” the shorter man said.
Three pairs of eyes turned to Selene.
“Mom,” the woman (who Selene assumed to be Maya) said.
Selene frowned, then realized she must look unfriendly. She straightened her brows and attempted a wavering smile. “Did you just call me Mom?”
The woman’s smile became static, like she was thinking on the spot.
“Sorry about that,” she eventually said. “I— you look a lot like my mother. Slip of the tongue.”
A knowing look passed between the three strangers.
“Oh,” Selene said. “Well. Can I help you with anything?”
“Um…” The woman looked at her two companions. “Yes, actually.”
The taller man looked concerned, and placed a hand on the woman’s shoulder. “Maya, we shouldn’t—”
“Shut up, Keith,” the woman hissed. She grabbed three slips of paper out of his hand and studied them. “We’re looking for Ballroom C,” she then continued, addressing Selene. “We’re attending the wedding of Charlie and Selene Ka?”
They’re here… for my wedding? “Well, it’s Selene Piper. Until this afternoon, that is,” Selene said, correcting the mistake out of habit. She’d still been getting used to the idea of writing a whole new last name on official documents and credit card receipts. She assumed it would be like writing the date wrong in January, except rather than having her current last name for 365 days, she’d had it for 27 years.
“Right. Selene… Piper.” The woman smiled. There was something familiar about it, Selene decided. Something in the way her mouth curved to form dimples in her smooth, brown skin, the way her eyes sparkled like she knew a secret no one else did. “Can you help us get there? Only if you know where it is.”
“We’d really appreciate it,” the shorter man added.
Selene gazed at them. “That’s— you’re attending my wedding.”
“We know,” the taller man muttered, before being elbowed by the woman.
“We are?” the woman said, sounding overly surprised.
“Are you related to Charlie?” Selene asked. She glanced over them suspiciously, when it finally occurred to her where she’d seen the woman’s smile before. It was the same one she’d fallen for. The one she woke up to every morning and fell asleep to every night. It was Charlie’s smile.
“Uh…” The woman glanced at her two companions. “Yes?”
“Yeah,” the taller man confirmed. “We’re his… cousins.”
“Yep. Cousins. The word was on the tip of my tongue.” The woman gave a nervous chuckle. “So. Anyways. Could you perhaps direct us to the ballroom?”
“It’s down the hall and on the floor below this one,” said Selene.
“Thank you, really,” said the woman. “We’ll just get going then. Congratulations, by the way.”
“Thanks,” Selene said. She watched them go down the hallway before speaking up. “Wait. I didn’t get your names! I’d love to tell Charlie I met you.”
The woman laughed, a forced sound that made Selene uneasy. “You’ll see us at the reception, so really there’s no need—”
“I’m Keith,” the taller man interrupted. “And this is my brother Devin”—he gestured to the shorter man—“and my sister Maya.” He clapped the woman on the shoulder. She shot him a dirty look.
Siblings. They were siblings. “It was lovely to meet you all,” Selene offered.
Maya gave a strained grin. “Uh, you too! We’ll see you at the ceremony! But we really have to get going, I mean— yeah. Well. Goodbye!” She looped an arm around both of her brothers’ waists and steered them down the hallway. Selene could catch snippets of their hissed conversation. They were arguing again, it seemed, but none of it made sense to her. Something about “goofed up with the names” and “you called her Mom.” She assumed they were talking about her, but she didn’t have time to think about it. It was her wedding soon. She took a deep breath and turned, only to smack right into Hallie.
“There you are!” Hallie said, breathless. “I’ve been looking for you. We have to go down to the ballroom, now. You’re due to walk the aisle in seven minutes!” Hallie checked her watch. “Scratch that. Six minutes.” She glanced up at Selene. “You ready?”
“I… yes.” Selene took Hallie’s hand. “Lead the way.”
The ceremony itself was a blur. Selene felt like she was half-conscious through all of it. She wasn’t exactly sure why; perhaps it was because it was her wedding, and felt unreal and too good to be true. Perhaps she was still shaken from the three strangers she’d encountered. Perhaps it was the stress from the caterers, who had eventually arrived, after several wrong addresses and mishaps.
The reception was infinitely better. It was louder, for one, and Selene liked that her every move wasn’t being watched. She was also able to get some semi-alone time with Charlie.
“I met your cousins,” she said after they broke apart from a kiss, prompted by the clink of forks against glasses of champagne from the partygoers.
“Oh?” Charlie licked his lips, chasing the remnants of her strawberry flavored lipstick off. “Which ones?”
Selene thought. She had a terrible memory for names.
“Maya,” she remembered. “I think. And Keith, and Devin.”
Charlie’s brow furrowed. “Who?”
Selene frowned. “You know, your cousins? They’re”—she searched the crowd, spotting them standing by the bar—“right there!”
Charlie followed her finger, squinting. “Who, those three?”
He shrugged. “I’ve never seen them before in my life.”
“Really? But they said…”
Charlie shrugged again. “Like I said. Don’t know ‘em.”
Selene frowned, confused. If Charlie didn’t know them, and she didn’t know them, then what were they doing at her wedding?
“Will you excuse me?” She placed a hand on Charlie’s shoulder. He glanced at her briefly and nodded, too preoccupied talking to other guests. Selene hiked up her poofy skirts, ready to make her way over to the bar and ask the three people just exactly who they were.
“Oh, if it isn’t the blushing bride!” A guest who Selene couldn’t remember the name of accosted her, blocking her path.
“Please, I have to get to the bar—” Selene started.
“Well, aren’t you a cheeky thing? I’m sure the drinks can wait. You know, I told Charlie when he first showed me a picture of you, I’m sure there’s something wrong with her. And then—”
Selene smiled frantically, nodding while trying to look over her shoulder to the bar as she was led away. She searched, but couldn’t seem to find the strangers. Her heart beat faster. Would she ever know who they were?
And then she saw them. They were by the door, coats on, ready to depart. She reached out a hand, yelling wait, no, don’t go, and—
The woman turned, and for the briefest moments, time seemed to slow. Selene couldn’t move, but the woman could. She smiled sadly. There was something still so familiar about that smile, and it wasn’t because of Charlie this time. It was the way the woman’s nose wrinkled, and her large, expressive
Selene gasped, realizing. The woman’s eyes looked so familiar because it was what Selene had been seeing all her life, every time she looked in a mirror.
The woman’s smile shifted then, and became happier, a knowing glint in her eye. She nodded. Selene wanted to cry out, to yell and say how and why? But she was stuck, and couldn’t move, no matter how hard she tried.
And then the moment was over. Selene blinked. The three people— no, thought Selene, Maya, Keith, and Devin—were gone. All Selene was left with was a whisper in her ear, in Maya’s voice, like she had been standing right behind her.
Selene shook out her head. Despite the fact that the three people she had originally been heading to see were gone, she continued towards the bar.
She was going to need a drink.