Ballybeg, County Cork, Ireland
If an evil fairy conjured Fiona’s personal hell, it would be this wedding.
“Isn’t your dress gorgeous?” The evil fairy of the moment, Fiona’s cousin, Muireann, displayed dazzling white teeth set in a saccharine smile. “Since you’re my maid of honor, I wanted you to wear something special.”
Fiona tongued her lip ring and squinted at the satin monstrosity hanging in her cousin’s walk-in wardrobe. No, she wasn’t hallucinating. Muireann wanted her to wear snot green.
“You’re in the chartreuse.” Muireann’s smirk widened. She took down the hanger and held the dress against Fiona. “Maroon is so draining on brunettes, don’t you think?”
Fiona grimaced. Who the feck chose chartreuse and maroon for their wedding colors? And what in the bejaysus was that thing at the end of the dress? “Is that a fin?” She poked at the stiff fabric. With a bit of luck, it was detachable. She’d “lose” it somewhere between here and the church.
“It’s a mermaid bottom. I thought the design particularly well suited to someone with your physique.”
My physique. Riiight.
In other words, she knew the dress would draw attention to Fiona’s childbearing hips and thunder thighs. What better way for Muireann to emphasize her own petite figure than to contrast it with her heifer of a cousin?
A lot had changed in the eight years since Fiona left Ballybeg, but her cousin had not. And neither, it seemed, had Fiona’s reactions to Muireann’s jibes. Over the years in Dublin, she’d shed her body-image issues and learned to embrace her curves. Half an hour back in Ballybeg and Muireann’s company, and all her old insecurities had come flooding back.
“Plus,” continued Muireann, “the long sleeves will cover your tattoos.”
Fiona shifted her weight from one lace-up boot to the other. “If you find my appearance offensive, why did you ask me to be your maid of honor?”
“Mummy insisted. But she doesn’t feel it’s proper to show tattoos in church.”
“In that case, I guess your groom will be wearing a high-necked collar.”
Her cousin’s eyes narrowed to slits. “What do you know about Gavin’s tattoos?”
Feck! Curse her for a fool for speaking without thinking. She cleared her throat. “The one on his neck’s pretty obvious.”
“Gavin’s a man,” Muireann said with a sniff. “Tattoos aren’t ladylike.”
But being a total bitch was? Fiona gave a mental headshake. Why had she let Bridie talk her into participating in this farce? She’d bloody well known Muireann would do something to humiliate her.
Muireann draped the dress across the queen-sized bed and pivoted on her heels. “I’ll leave you to get ready. Claudette, my designer, needs to check the fit. Such a shame you couldn’t make it to Cork to attend the earlier fittings. Claudette was most distressed.”
“I had to work. I was teaching summer school up until yesterday. It’s hardly my fault you scheduled the fittings for weekdays.” Fiona fingered the hooks at the back of the dress. “Am I going to manage to do it up myself?”
Her cousin waved one French-manicured hand in a dismissive gesture, the other already turning the crystal doorknob. “I’ll send Olivia in to help. Be quick about it, will you? Claudette doesn’t have all day.”
The door half closed, leaving Fiona to contemplate fish tails and dresses the color of infected sinuses.
Muireann’s head popped round the door again. “By the way, Fiona?”
“Lose the boots.”
The door clicked closed.
Fiona slumped onto the four-poster bed. Three days. Three days until freedom and white sandy beaches. Three days until she embarked on the trip of a lifetime. The catch was surviving the next seventy-two hours.
Someone tapped on the door, making her sit bolt upright.
“Are you decent?” Olivia, her best friend and only ally at this infernal shindig, slipped into the room. She wore a simple maroon bridesmaid’s gown that complemented her auburn hair and slim figure. She held a bottle in one hand and two champagne flutes in the other.
Fiona leaped to her feet and enveloped her in a bear hug. “Liv!”
“If you’re initiating physical contact, it’s got to be bad.” Olivia spied the dress draped across the bed and recoiled. “Oh, my gawd! The color’s hideous.”
“It’s a shade I associate more with sinus infections than weddings.” Fiona scrunched her nose. “What the hell was Muireann smoking?”
“It’s odd. She’s got a good reputation as an interior designer.”
“Obviously her good taste in color schemes doesn’t extend to clothing.”
Olivia cast another look at the offending garment and gave an exaggerated shudder. “I’m so glad I nicked the champagne. You’re going to need it if you’re to model that dress before your aunt Deirdre and the evil twins.”
“The twins are here, too?” Fiona groaned. “In that case, bring it on.”
Olivia popped the cork and poured. She handed a glass to Fiona. “Get that down you. If there’s a silver lining to this wedding, it’s the Cristal.”
The bubbly liquid coated Fiona’s tongue like a caress. “Delicious. Uncle Bernard’s wine cellar can’t compensate for the fugly dress, but it certainly helps.”
Olivia peered at Fiona over the brim of her champagne flute. “Jokes aside, how are you coping? This can’t be easy, especially after the breakup with Philip.”
Fiona swallowed hard. The concern in her friend’s gaze almost persuaded her to succumb to her inner blub fest. “I’m grand,” she said, ignoring the quaver in her voice.
Olivia reached out to squeeze her hand. “You’re a crap liar. You always were.”
She gave a wry laugh. “That’s why we sent you to buy alcohol when we were teenagers.”
“Ah, Fee. Queen of the witty diversion.” Olivia wagged a finger. “You won’t distract me that easily.”
“Consider it a deferred conversation.” Fiona took another sip of champagne before placing her glass on the bedside table. “Are you going to help me into this crime against fashion or what?”
Olivia cast her a knowing glance. “I’m only letting you change the subject because Muireann will do her nut if we don’t hurry up.”
“Not to mention Claudette.” Fiona grinned, slipping off her jeans and T-shirt. “Is she as terrifying as Muireann makes out?”
“Worse. Even Deirdre quakes in her Jimmy Choo’s when Claudette’s around.”
Fiona removed the dress from its hanger. “It looks kind of tight.”
“There’s not much give in the material, but never fear. I’ll wrestle you into it.”
Fiona groaned. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“Ah, it’s your own fault. You should have told Muireann to feck off.”
“She didn’t ask me to be her maid of honor. It was Aunt Deirdre’s idea, and I let Aunt Bridie guilt me into agreeing. She said it would be healthy to bury the hatchet.”
“Where? In Muireann’s back? How’s making you her maid of honor supposed to compensate for years of bullying?”
“Given the state of the maid of honor’s dress,” Fiona said morosely, “I suspect my role is to lumber down the aisle behind her looking like a luminous green sausage. How did you get roped into being a bridesmaid, anyway? You and Muireann aren’t exactly besties.”
“Aidan’s in cahoots with your uncle Bernard.” Olivia rolled her eyes. “Long story short, he’s got a stake in the new shopping center Bernard’s building, and Bernard’s got a stake in his political career.”
“Aidan’s serious about running for the town council?” Fiona was tempted to add something disparaging about sleazy lawyers and politicians and had to bite her tongue in time. Aidan was odious, but he was Olivia’s husband, even if Fiona couldn’t fathom what she saw in the man.
“Town council? Sweetheart, you’re behind the times. Aidan’s already on the council, and he won’t stop there. He wants to be mayor of Ballybeg when O’Shaughnessy retires next year.”
Fiona gave an internal shudder. The thought of Aidan Gant wielding so much power was terrifying. “I’m sorry you have to suffer through this with me, Liv, but I won’t lie—I’m damn glad you’re here.”
“At least it’ll be over in a couple of days.” Olivia tossed her rich red hair over her shoulder. “Then I’ll return to my exciting existence as a lady who lunches, and you’ll be off gallivanting around the world. You lucky sod. I wish I were a teacher and could take a year off work.”
Fiona laughed. “No, you don’t. Teaching’s a bloody hard job these days. The kids are obnoxious, and the parents are worse. Yeah, the opportunity to take a sabbatical is fantastic, but I don’t get paid for the year I don’t work. However, I figure if I don’t go traveling now while I’m still relatively young and definitely single, I’ll never do it.”
“Where’s your first stop?”
“Singapore, home of the Singapore Sling, then on to Melbourne.” Fiona tugged the dress over her hips. “Gosh, this is tight.”
“The color is revolting.” Olivia shuddered, and topped up their champagne glasses. “It’s typical of Muireann to pick horrible bridesmaid dresses so none of us upstage her. She told you about the shoes, right?”
“That I’m to lose the Docs? Yeah, that was mentioned.”
“Ah. It gets worse.” She strode to the wardrobe and extracted a shoebox. “These are your wedding shoes.” Reaching into the box, she withdrew a pair of five-inch stilettos the same shade as Fiona’s dress.
Fiona’s stomach lurched, and the prickling sensation of panic climbed her spine. “Muireann remembers I have a limp, right? How does she expect me to walk in those?”
“You’ll practice,” Olivia said with determined cheer. “You’ve got until tomorrow. Besides, you hardly ever limp anymore.”
“If I have to stagger around in those heels all day, trust me, I’ll be limping.” Fiona groaned and reached for her glass. “I need more champagne.”
Olivia examined every inch of Fiona, pausing when she came to her backside.
Fiona drained her glass. “How bad does it look?”
“You can see your knickers through the fabric.”
“So you’ll have to go commando.”
“No effing way.”
“It’s only for this evening. You can get a thong to wear on the day.”
“I don’t do thongs.”
“Fee.” Olivia thrust her chest out. “Shut up and lose the knickers.”
“Some pal you are.” She struggled out of the offending garment.
“No more VPL,” Olivia said with triumph. “Much better.”
“I doubt anything could improve this dress.” Fiona had managed to squeeze herself into it, but breathing was a challenge. “Can you help me with the hooks at the back?”
Olivia yanked the back panels together. “Are you sure it wasn’t mislabeled? It’s meant to be formfitting, but this is awfully tight.”
“I don’t think so. I’m the only one wearing chartreuse.”
When her friend started lacing up the hooks, Fiona gasped.
Olivia tugged. “Breathe out.”
“I can’t. Breathe. At. All.”
“Okay, Fee. Let’s try this lying down.”
“Damn,” Fiona said, wheezing. “I sent Muireann my measurements. The dress should fit.”
She lay on her stomach. Olivia straddled her and pulled at the material with force.
“Ouch. You’re after digging a hook into my back.”
The bedroom door swung open. Aunt Deirdre stood in the frame, her lips forming an O. “Girls! What are you doing?”
“I’m trying to get Fiona into her dress,” snapped Olivia. “What does it look like?”
“I thought perhaps…” Deirdre trailed off, her bony hands aflutter. “Well, chop, chop. Claudette is waiting.”
“There’s a problem with the fit,” Fiona gasped from the bed.
“What?” Deirdre sounded like she’d been sucking on helium. “Then hurry up and come out.” She slammed the door behind her.
They lay frozen on the bed for a moment, then burst into simultaneous laughter.
“Did Deirdre think we were in a lesbian clinch?” Fiona asked. “Oh, damn. I shouldn’t have laughed. The hooks have burst.”
Olivia made a few more attempts to force the back of the dress to close. “Sorry, Fee. It’s hopeless.”
She climbed off Fiona and picked up the matching chartreuse shawl from the dressing table. “Chuck this around your shoulders, and let’s see what Claudette can do.”
Fiona struggled to her feet. “I’m not sure I can walk in this thing.” She eyed the mermaid bottom with suspicion. “Or in these shoes.”
“Can you shuffle?”
“I can try.”
“Give me your arm.”
Fiona took a deep breath and laced her arm through Olivia’s. “Let’s go face my demons.”
From Love and Shenanigans by Zara Keane, Copyright 2014