SISTERS & HUSBANDS
One Month Earlier
Exactly four more weeks before her wedding day
and Beverly couldn't believe how calm she felt. She stepped onto
the carpeted platform at Vanessa's Bridal Boutique on a balmy
Saturday afternoon in early June and was startled at what she
saw staring back from the three-way mirror'a svelte but healthylooking
woman, thanks to recent workouts at the gym, appearing
fabulous in a strapless beaded ivory-colored satin gown.
The dress was feminine but not frilly'she couldn't stand
frilliness'and youthful but not too young'she was, after all,
going to be a thirty-nine-year-old bride. It was a staggering transformation
from her usual self, dressed casually in blue jeans or
shorts, or a simple skirt and top for the offi ce at the newspaper
where she worked. At this moment, she was the picture of elegant
The same couldn't be said for her mother, standing just below,
arms folded rigidly across her gray linen suit jacket, eyes narrowed
tightly as she scrutinized every movement of the seamstress.
Mama looked perturbed enough for all three of them, and
she could be quite intimidating when she got in that state. It was
a wonder the seamstress hadn't swallowed the pins dangling from
'Shouldn't it be a little higher off the ground?' Mama asked
The seamstress, a petite Latina named Isabella who looked
to be in her late twenties, paused, stood up, and removed the
straight pins from her mouth. It was a small fi tting room at the
rear of the Baltimore bridal boutique, with just enough space for
the platform and three-way mirror, a couch, a coffee table piled
high with back issues of Brides magazine, and a rack of coralcolored
bridesmaid gowns. The air was fi lled with lint from fabrics
of all kinds'silk, satin, brocade, lace'and aligned along
one wall were a half-dozen pairs of well-worn white heels in various
sizes and heights.
'A lot of brides prefer their gowns just touching the ground,'
Isabella said with a slight accent and studied patience. 'For a
more graceful look.' She shrugged. 'But I can make it long or
short, whatever you wish.'
'I like it like this,' Beverly said fi rmly. 'It's perfect.'
Mama touched her chin thoughtfully. 'Are you sure? I worry
that the hemline will get dirty.'
'It's not like I'll be running down the street in the dress, Ma.'
'Hmm. Go ahead, then, if that's what you want.'
Isabella stuck the pins in her mouth and got back down to
'I still can't believe you're standing here for your fi rst fi tting only
a month before your wedding day,' Mama said for the third time
that afternoon. 'When your sisters got married they had''
'Ma, please. We're not having a gigantic over-the-top affair
like they did. It's just family and close friends. Now why
don't you sit down and relax?' She and Julian had agreed that
they didn't want one of those three-hundred-guest gazilliondollar
extravaganzas that left everyone in debt for years to come.
Instead, they would go for something more intimate, with around
a hundred people.
'I'm fi ne.' Mama smacked her lips, glanced at her watch,
peeked behind the curtain toward the entrance to the bridal
shop, and whipped her cell phone out of her purse practically all
at once, which told Beverly she was not fi ne. Not even close.
'Who are you calling, Ma?'
'Your sisters,' Mama said, dialing anxiously. 'They're already
fi fteen minutes late. I want to make sure everyone gets here for
their fi tting before I leave to go see the fl orist about the fl owers for
decorating the reception area.'
As if on cue, Beverly heard the front door of the boutique
squeak open, and a few seconds later, her oldest sister rushed
into the fi tting room looking slim and chic in a buttery yellow
pantsuit and a pair of cute black patent-leather sandals. Beverly
always found it hard to believe that Evelyn was forty-seven
years old. People often thought that Evelyn was younger than
their middle sister, Charmaine, who had just turned forty-fi ve.
Of course, being asked if she was the oldest always thoroughly
pissed Charmaine off.
Beverly suspected that Evelyn's youthful looks had to do with
the way she always managed to seem so calm and collected, so
sure of herself. Beverly liked to joke that a tornado could strike,
tossing and turning everything and everyone in its path, and
when it was over, Evelyn would be standing with her neat pixie
haircut and little designer suit perfectly in place. Even now, as
Evelyn darted into the fi tting room, she looked totally put together,
as if she were about to take a front-row seat near the runway
at a fashion show in New York or Paris.
'Sorry to be so late,' Evelyn said. 'Traffi c was backed up coming
into Baltimore like you wouldn't believe.' Evelyn eyed Beverly,
placed her hands on her hips, and smiled broadly. 'You look absolutely
stunning in that dress, girl. It's gorgeous.'
Beverly smiled. 'Thanks.'
'Uh, no name that you would recognize, Evelyn.'
Evelyn cocked her head to the side. 'Isn't it a little too long?'
Beverly threw her hands in the air.
'That's what I told her,' Mama said as she paced the fl oor and
dialed another number on her cell phone.
The seamstress paused again, looking bewildered.
'Just ignore them and continue, please,' Beverly said to Isabella.
'The length is fi ne,' she said with pointed fi nality to everyone
'If you say so,' Evelyn said, looking doubtful. 'Don't mind me,
then. Who are you calling, Ma?'
'Charmaine,' Mama said as she put the phone to her ear.
'Oh, I meant to tell you,' Evelyn said as she placed her Fendi
handbag on the coffee table. 'Charmaine called just before I left
the house. She's running late because Valerie called crying and
'Uh-oh,' Mama said. She snapped her cell phone shut.
'What happened?' Beverly asked.
'Valerie and Otis had a big blowup last night, and now Valerie's
too upset to come here today. She wants to be fi tted another time.'
Mama sighed loudly.
'That sounds serious,' Beverly said, frowning. 'Wonder why
she didn't call me.' Valerie was Beverly's somewhat kooky, motormouth,
astrology-loving best friend, and they told each other just
'She probably didn't want to upset you by talking about having
a big fi ght with her fi anc' on the day you're being fi tted for
your wedding dress,' Mama said. 'She's trying to be a good friend
And she might also be embarrassed, Beverly thought. Valerie
was forty-one years old and had been itching to get married again
ever since her fi rst marriage right after high school fi zzled within
two years. She and Valerie had both recently gotten engaged at
about the same time and had originally planned a double wedding.
Then about a week ago, Valerie changed her mind about
them getting married together, saying she thought the whole idea
was too corny for a couple of mature brides.
Beverly had suspected that Valerie was actually worried that
Beverly would call off her wedding at the last minute. Valerie's
decision not to have a double wedding had disappointed Beverly
at fi rst, but she got over it. How could she argue? She had broken
off no less than two previous engagements'one about fi ve
years ago, the other a year before she met Julian. So Beverly and
Valerie decided that Beverly would get married at the end of June,
and Valerie would walk down the aisle a few weeks later. Now
it looked as if Valerie's wedding might be the one called off, and
Valerie was too ashamed to tell her.
'I agree with Ma,' Evelyn said. 'She's trying to be considerate
Beverly nodded with understanding. 'She's probably crushed.
I'll have to call her as soon as we're done here.'
'Girls, my heart goes out to Valerie,' Mama said. 'But I don't
think this is the time or the place to dwell on that. This is Beverly's
moment. We should think happy, positive thoughts. And you
need to get into your dress, Evelyn. It's up there on the rack.'
The seamstress paused and stood to help Evelyn pick her gown
out from among the three coral satin bridesmaid gowns hanging
on a rack.
'Ma is so jittery,' Beverly said to Evelyn. 'I think she's afraid
I'll chicken out.'
'Can you blame her?' Evelyn asked, folding her dress over her
arm. 'You have commitment issues.'
Beverly's hands fl ew to her waist indignantly. 'I don't need you
to tell me that.'
'Anyone who's thirty-nine years old and never been married
has commitment issues,' Evelyn said. 'you're as bad as Julia
Roberts in Runaway Bride.'
'Did you hear me?' Beverly asked. 'I'm agreeing with you. At
least I'm doing something about it. I'm committing for real this
time. And I need to remind you, I never waited until days or
hours before the wedding to call it off.'
'No, only two weeks,' Evelyn said sarcastically, just before
ducking behind the curtain leading into the dressing room.
'The last one was eleven days before,' Mama added.
Beverly smiled guiltily. 'That's better than going through with
it if I'm not sure.'
Mama nodded. 'I agree. It's still nerve-racking. Not to mention
expensive. Be glad you have such a loving father.'
Now that made Beverly feel bad. Both times she had backed
out before, her parents lost a couple of thousand nonrefundable
dollars that they had put down on the reception hall. Beverly
had offered to reimburse them, but her father refused to take
her money, saying he'd rather lose a few bucks than have his
daughter marry the wrong man. Still, her folks were in their
mid-seventies and living on retirement plans. They didn't need
a confused daughter wasting their money. 'Sorry about that,
Ma, but you don't have to worry this time. Julian's a keeper.'
'It's not Julian I'm worried about,' Mama said, giving Beverly a
pointed look. 'I can see how much he loves you.'
'I'm defi nitely not going to change my mind this time. I think
I fi nally got it right. No, I know I did.'
'I sure hope so,' Mama said.
Isabella stepped back. 'All done. What do you think? Everything
Beverly twirled around slowly as her mother looked on
'It's beautiful,' Mama said.
'I'm defi nitely feeling this,' Beverly said as she admired the
dress. 'You do outstanding work, Isabella.'
'So how many more fi ttings today?' Isabella asked as Beverly
stepped down from the podium.
'We have her two sisters for the bridesmaid dresses,' Mama explained.
'Evelyn just went into the dressing room, and Charmaine
is on her way. Unfortunately the matron of honor won't be coming.
We'll have to reschedule her.'
Evelyn exited the dressing room in her bridesmaid gown and
stepped up onto the podium as Beverly went in to change. Beverly
walked out a few minutes later in jeans and a blue-and-whitestriped
top just as Charmaine parted the curtains and blew into
the fi tting room wearing a black form-hugging skirt slit up to the
Beverly always thought of Charmaine as a force of nature. One
didn't just see Charmaine or hear her talk. You felt her, breathed
her, experienced her. Beverly suspected that today would be
no exception as Charmaine placed her hands on her hips and
struck a pose in the entryway, ' la Dorothy Dandridge or Marilyn
'I'm here, ladies!'