“We are now boarding all first class travelers from LAX to JFK.” I look to Tina and the other smiling, excited faces around me, my friends, my family, and we all stand, tickets at the ready, as we head to the counter. I was nervous about checking our dresses, but ultimately, there just wasn’t a choice. We had to check everything since we’ll be leaving for Italy straight from Long Island, and thus, had to pack accordingly. Two weeks in Verona with my wife…sigh…my wife…no doubt in my mind or room for maneuvering this time. We will both soon be Bette and Tina Porter-Kennard. It’s a bit of a mouthful, but it’s quite possibly one of the sweetest phrases that will ever grace my ears. Well, that and Tina’s warm voice saying, ‘I do.’ I’ll confirm that truth soon enough.
I can’t help the bright smile on my face as the attendant checks our tickets and we make our way down the boarding ramp. Alice is just ahead of me and I can tell that she’s struggling not to run. She’s almost as excited as we are. She’s just more outwardly demonstrative. While I keep mine more to myself, closer to my heart, no one could be as elated as I am.
God Alice. I shake my head. I thought she was going to give the bag check attendant a heart attack. She literally threatened the poor woman if anything happened to her dress. That dress. All of our friends are wearing almost identical shell gray satin. They’re off the shoulder, sleek, and understatedly sexy. Dylan, Shane, and Ricky will be wearing suits of the same colors and fabrics. That’s not what everyone thought they would be wearing though. I laugh as I stow our purses and Tina looks up to me from her window seat with that wonderful raised eyebrow. I laugh a little more as I sit down next to her and she shakes her head as she straps in and gets comfortable. It’s her fault I’m laughing.
“Hello and welcome to JLM Couture. How can I assist you?”
I smiled politely at the older, impeccably dressed woman behind the counter. “Yes, I’m Bette Porter…” I looked to Tina. “…and this is my fiancée, Tina Kennard. We have a two hour appointment with Miranda, one of your bridal consultants.”
She smiled warmly at us and stepped out from the counter to properly greet us. “Ah yes. Welcome. My name is Lenore. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” We both shook her hand. “If you’ll come with me, we have a room prepared for you.” She turned and we all followed her into the open, bright white room with a wall of curved mirrors lining the back of a raised dais. Tina and I took the white, low backed love seat and got comfortably snuggled as we prepared to critique what our bridal party would be wearing.
We had decided to stay as traditional as possible, with our own twist thrown in. For starters, we would walk the isle together. Alice, Dana, Helena, Dylan, Carmen, Shane, Ricky, and Kit would be our bridal party, and this appointment was entirely about them. Tina made all the arrangements, and while we knew our color scheme, white and pale gray, we had decided that we would not see the other’s dress until we meet to walk down the aisle. “I’ll inform Miranda you’re here. She and her attendants will be with you shortly with complimentary champagne and strawberries. If you need anything at all, please don’t hesitate to ask. Enjoy your time here and congratulations.”
Tina and I both chorused, “Thank you,” and she left through the door that we entered through. I looked to Tina and rested my arm along the back of the loveseat. We both crossed our legs at the knees and she leaned in to me. “Wow, this place is fucking incredi…oops! Can I say…” Alice mouthed the word ‘fuck.’ “…in here?” Tina and I both shook our heads and we all laughed.
“Alice, it’s a dress fitting, not a church. I think it’s safe to be yourself.” She glared at me just as the door on the other side of the room opened. An older woman entered with two younger ones trailing behind her, each carrying either chilled champagne and glasses or strawberries. They placed them on the table at the side of the dais as the older woman approached me and Tina.
She reached her hand out to me with a smile on her face. “I’m Miranda Church. It’s a pleasure to meet you…” She turned to Tina. “…both of you.”
I heard Alice snicker at the name Church and smiled at Miranda as I shook her hand. “Bette Porter.”
Tina took her hand as well. “Tina Kennard. It’s a pleasure to meet you as well Miranda.”
“The pleasure is mine, truly. So…” She took a seat in a nearby chair and crossed her ankles, sitting with impeccable posture. She was stately, very well dressed, but had a studious appearance given by her low pony tail, medium thick glasses, and flowing open knit sweater. “…Tina, since our discussion by phone, I have put together what I think will fit your requirements beautifully. I thought we might start by showing you what I think matches your needs the best, and then you both can make suggestions and we can work from there.” She turned to the bridesmaids who all nodded their agreement. “Can I offer any of you a glass of champagne or fresh fruit before we start?”
“I’d love some champagne. Bette?” I smiled and nodded my head at Tina. Just as I was about to stand up, one of the attendants had already brought two glasses over for us. Tina and I both chorused, “Thank you.”
Everyone else was delivered a glass a well and I held mine up. “To well-dressed family and formal affairs!” I clinked my glass with Tina’s and we all took a sip of the refreshingly cold and sweetly dry bubbly. It was good, very good. Miranda clapped her hands and the attendants left the room, returning quickly with a rack of the first of the dresses that fit Tina’s requests. Everyone in the room turned deathly quiet as they saw the first two taken from the rack.
They were hideous. I’d have called the color orange but it was worse than that. It had too much yellow. It was almost pumpkin, and the dress had billowy gatherings of material layered throughout the skirt as well as one giant ruffling bow on the one shoulder strap. Ricky’s suit wasn’t much better, with rippling pumpkin tipped ruffles gathered at the throat and cuffs.
I turned to Tina, my eyes wide. She didn’t meet my gaze but took another leisurely sip of her champagne. “Ricky, since you’re the only male, I have set up an area there…” Miranda pointed to screened enclosure in the corner. “…for you to put on your clothes.” Ricky stood in a daze and walked over to the atrocity being held out to him. He put one hand on his hip and the other over his mouth, and for a moment I thought he might weep at the horrid abuse of so many yards of innocent fabric. He finally pulled himself together and sleepwalked to the screened in enclosure with the abomination of nature in his disbelieving hands.
One of the attendants said Alice’s name but Alice didn’t respond. She looked in the opposite direction and took a sip of her champagne. Dana nudged her and hesitantly stood when her name was called as well. I took a sip of my champagne. Tina couldn’t be serious. This was…there weren’t words for this. Alice finally stood at the third beckoning and stomped up to the attendant, nearly tearing the dress from her hands.
Shane’s name was called and she approached hesitantly, only to have her worst fears confirmed. We had agreed that she could wear a suit and even her Chuck Taylor All Stars. What the attendant was holding out to her was not a suit. The attendant made it worse when she held out the orange heels with a large matching bow at the toe. Shane just stood there holding the ensemble, probably more confused with what to do with it than what it looked like. I had to clamp a hand over my mouth not to burst out laughing.
Carmen took her dress and started putting it on like a pro. God bless the Mexican nation. Nothing fazes them. I did hear a mumbled, “por el amor de todo lo sagrado,” but she soldiered on. I found myself liking her more and more every day.
Helena and Dylan heard their names and both downed their champagne before standing and taking a deep breath. Somehow, even when facing something so horrific, Helena managed to hold her head high and bear this indignation with confidence, poise, and at least some of her self-respect.
Eventually, everyone was getting dressed in stunned and mortified silence. I buried my face in Tina’s shoulder, trying my best to keep the fits of giggles at bay and whispered, “You are wicked…you know that?” She took another sip of her champagne and didn’t respond, but I could swear I felt a tremble of subdued laughter roll through her.
Once everyone, even Ricky, was standing with slumped shoulders and terrified looks on their faces in front of us, Shane’s the most devastatingly hilarious, the love of my life added insult to injury. “Wow, you guys look…beautiful!” She played it off so genuine that I could have sworn I saw tears well in her smiling eyes. “Especially you, Shane. It’s just…so beautiful…” Wow, too many hours on the movie lot had taught her a thing or two. She wiped at her eyes and gestured for them to scoot in together. “Get close together…I want to see all of you at once.” Her timbre lowered a bit as she reached for her purse and pulled out a tissue to wipe at her happy tears. She even sniffed appropriately. “That’s it…just beautiful…” She quickly pulled out a small digital camera and took several pictures before anyone could respond.
That was it, I lost it. I started laughing so hard that I was in tears and my sides were aching. Even Miranda, all poise and grace, was broken up in her own subdued version of side-splitting laughter. Tina leaned back and joined us in the guffaws and it was several long minutes before we could pull ourselves together. Their faces were extremely sour, and from the look on Alice’s, we had just started a war.
Finally, Tina was able to get control of herself enough to take pity on them. “Okay you guys. I’d say I’m sorry…but I’m just…not. However…” Miranda clapped her hands again and the real rack with the shell gray suits and dresses that were brought in. “…those are what you’ll all really be wearing.”
There was a collective sigh of relief from the group and Shane started stripping, even while Ricky was still standing there. We started laughing again and Alice turned to us, glared, and pointed. “This is war Porter-Kennard. War! You’ll pay for this…” Tina held out her hands and shook them and we laughed even harder together.
I leaned over her and grabbed the camera, and as everyone started to change, we looked through the photos she had snapped, crying with tears of happy hilarity.
Tina nudges me and I turn to her incredulous face, wiping my eyes. God, it’s still too funny even in memory. She laughs with me, though she has no idea why before saying, “Bette…are you okay? You’ve been sitting there laughing for several minutes…”
I collect myself and gaze into her beautiful eyes. “Yes, sorry, I was just thinking about the fitting…” She starts to laugh as well and several of our friends and other passengers look at us as if we’re about to start licking the windows at any moment.
We start to calm down as the ‘Seatbelts’ sign lights ups and the attendant at the front of the plane starts her spiel. I lift the armrest between us, and link my fingers of my left hand with Tina’s right. She starts to play with my ring and I rest my head on the back of the seat as I gaze at her. She’s completely unaware and I can’t help but wonder if she’s nervous. “T?” She turns her head and mirrors my posture, still playing with the ring. “I know you were just teasing last night, but are you nervous?”
She lowers her gaze to our linked hands and I watch her face as she considers my question critically. For a moment, I get nervous, but it quickly fades as I see a charming smile light her face and she raises her eyes. They’re open and honest and I don’t doubt her sincerity for a moment when she says, “No, actually…not at all. I can’t wait to spend my life with you. Who wouldn’t? You’re everything I hoped I’d have in a lover, confidant, and best friend. I feel…honored.”
I feel the first shudders of take-off; the force of the engines pushes us further into our seats and I reach over with my other hand to caress her pale face. My throat is tight with barely contained emotion, but I manage to say, “Thank you. You have no idea how much that means to me, how much you mean to me.”
She smiles brightly with that enchanting raised eyebrow and says, “No, I think I do…” I squeeze her hand and she smiles as she turns to look out the window. The ‘Seatbelt’ sign turns off and I see the clouds stretched out like an infinite blanket below the newly born sun. A feeling of peace and happiness settles over me. It’s a new day, it’s a new life, a fresh start, and I don’t deserve it but I grab it and wrap it around me, finding peace in its warmth.
I turn and look at all the faces of our friends, our family sitting in various stages of happiness around us. Dana and Alice are in the seats across from us. Dana’s by the window, her head resting against the hull. Like me and Tina, the arm rest is up and Alice is sound asleep against her shoulder. Dana turns and kisses Alice’s hairline and takes a deep breath before she looks up and meets my eyes. We smile at each other and I realize how privileged I am to have these amazing people in my life. It’s almost overwhelming. These are my closest friends, my family, my wedding party. Neither Tina nor I could think of better people to share this joyous occasion with…
I looked up from the modest stack of invitations that I was tucking away in envelopes and saw Tina across from me at our dining table, labeling those that I have already stuffed. Her hands were confident and sure as she used her feminine, delicate script to personally fill out the address information. How I love her hands…how I love her. I took a moment to let the truth of the journey we’re about to embark on sink in. I’m about to marry Tina, really marry her, even after everything, she’s mine. I didn’t earn her, that’s wasn’t possible. She was purely a gift, the best gift I could ever receive, and I received it on Christmas no less.
She set down her pen and lifted the small sealer to swipe it across the adhesive, shutting the envelope firmly and placing it in a small box where eleven other envelopes were already resting. It was the one she was sending her father. She had already filled out one to her brother and sister. Her mother died right after she graduated college. She reached up to run her hands through her hair and rested her elbows on the table with a deep sigh. I reached across to her and took one of her precious hands in mine.
She smiled as she gazed at our hands and flipped them over to stroke my palm. She finally looked up and met my eyes, resting her cheek in the palm of her other hand. This was so hard for her to decide and she was adamant that it would lead nowhere, but she felt compelled to at least try. I was firmly for it until she told me one of the other reasons the rift between she and her family was so vast.
She had always told me that I was her first. She told everyone that, but that wasn’t true. When she was twelve or thirteen, her older sister…well…she didn’t realize what was happening. She said that they would roll play. She was always the boy. She thought it was what all kids did and it went on for about three years. They don’t speak anymore. Her sister moved to Texas and became born again. She thinks Tina is going straight to hell and won’t have anything to do with her because she’s a lesbian.
The irony of that information was as disturbing as it was absurd. She exiled Tina because she was a lesbian, but she was just fucking fine being a rapist and a pedophile, a lesbian rapist, pedophile no less. I won’t want to meet this woman, especially not at our wedding. It would ruin the honeymoon if I had to spend it in jail for premeditated murder. But Tina, the forgiving soul that she is, had still sent an invitation. And I found that I must honor that request, for no one and nothing else but her.
She didn’t speak much of her brother or father, only saying that her father was an extreme right wing republican politician who had extramarital affairs. I got the feeling that her entire family exiled her for being gay, not even seeing the depravity of their own lifestyles. Tina being a lesbian hurts no one. I just can’t understand it, and frankly I don’t want to. I couldn’t help but cry, cry for the emotional trauma that must have caused her and cry for the incredible woman she became anyway. I always thought she was the strongest woman I had ever met, but when she told me this, I knew without doubt that it was entirely true.
I gazed across the table at her and I could tell her thoughts were on the same path as my own. I wished so much at that moment that I could wipe it all away, and while I knew that I couldn’t, I also knew that it wouldn’t hurt to try. I could spend my life fighting to be sure that the happy moments so far outweighed the terrible, that the bad became nothing more than a pin dot all but swallowed up by the light of a loving and fulfilled life.
This, filling out these invitations for only our closest and respected friends and family, was only a small step in the right direction to providing that for her, but a small step is all you need to start walking and eventually start running.
I stood up from my chair, still holding her hand, and she watched me approach her, getting to knees in front of her, and taking her incredible face in my hands. I gazed deeply into her eyes and they spoke for me. No words were necessary. I saw the well of emotions collect on her lashes and spill onto her face before taking her in my arms and holding her with the promise that nothing even remotely close to that kind of pain would ever touch her while I was drawing breath.
“Babe…come on. We’re here…” I open my eyes to see the incredible woman I’m about to marry leaning in and stroking my face. She smiles the smile of an angel, and I can’t help but bask in the radiant warmth of it for a moment. I turn my face and kiss her palm as I feel the shudder of landing and deceleration. Or maybe it’s the shudder of my world righting itself, I’m not entirely sure.
I lean back and stretch while I yawn and look back to her. “Did you rest at all?”
She smirks at me. “I think I slept more soundly than you. You didn’t realize it, but you were an excellent pillow…”
I grin back at her. “I’m just sorry I missed it.”
“Oh, you didn’t. Even in your sleep you held me.”
I release a satisfied sigh. “Good…”
“This is your captain speaking. We are safely landed and right on schedule. It’s sixty seven degrees and the sun is shining. Welcome to New York. Enjoy your stay and thank you for traveling Atlantic Airlines.”
The plane comes to a stop and we see the loading gate start to extend through the small port window. Tina and I smile at each other as we wait for the more anxious passengers to exit the first class area. Once it’s cleared of all but our friends, we all stand and gather our carry-on’s, and make our way to the exit. Tina shoulders her purse and I do the same as we link our hands and walk down the tunnel. Once we reach the common area around the checked items carousel, I scan the crowd.
Eventually my eyes land on the short but darkly handsome Italian man that is approaching us. His casual, white, tailored suit is impeccably clean and starched and the pale pink of his cotton shirt and tie gleam brightly, intensifying the glossy black of his short, well styled hair. I wave to him and pull Tina with me. “Valentino!”
He takes me in his arms and gives me a kiss on each cheek. “Bette! It is delightful to see you again.” His smile is bright as he turns to Tina and gives her the same European greeting. “Ah, you must be Tina. It is an honor to finally meet you. Bette speaks of nothing else. You are truly lovelier than even she indicated.” He picks up her hand and kisses the back of it and Tina turns to me with an incredulously raised eyebrow. I grin back at her and wink to reaffirm her question with my eyes. Yes, he’s gay. He’s just a major flirt.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you Valentino. Thank you so much for agreeing to officiate the ceremony. Bette speaks very highly of you.”
He smiles a charming smile at her before looking at me reproachfully. “I still don’t understand why you won’t agree to stay with me in that lonely mansion on Cooper’s Beach…” He looks to the group waiting behind us. “…all of you.”
I turn to our friends. “You’re kind to offer but with this group, trust me, it’s better we stay at the Southampton Inn. Besides, I’ll be with you tomorrow night.” He smiles brightly and eyes me impatiently before looking to Ricky. Oh right… “Forgive me. Where are my manners…?” I turn and introduce everyone and they shake his hand as he flirts shamelessly. He lays it on extremely thick with Ricky and I smirk at Tina who just shakes her head. Ricky giggles, actually giggles, like a little girl. This could be an interesting trip for him.
Valentino turns and snaps his fingers imperiously at a porter who glares at him but starts to gather our luggage near the carousel. “Well, I have the limo waiting out front. Let’s get you settled for the evening and you’ll all join me at my home for dinner before you go gallivanting through Long Island, no?”
I look to Tina and she smiles. We both turn back to Valentino and chorus, “Of course.” He smiles back and I take Tina’s hand as we follow him out of the terminal, our friends and family in tow.