When Susan Met Becca
Even in her kitten heels, Susan O’Leary swayed softly like the couples on the dance floor, as Etta James’s “At Last” blared from the sound system. She walked across the lawn from the dessert station, holding a tiny napkin with the hashtag #BeccaBecomesABradshaw and two mini red velvet cupcakes, her manicure smeared with cream cheese frosting. With each step her feet sunk further into the grass, making her wobbliness even more pronounced.
“Where was Rebecca anyway?” Susan wondered, looking around at the sea of guests in their “garden formal” attire – whatever the fuck that meant. “And who the fuck were all these people?”
“I only know ten God damn people at my own daughter’s wedding,” Susan seethed, scanning the crowd for her daughter’s perfectly made-up face. Or the face of anyone she knew for that matter. Anyone except for them. Obviously.
“This is bullshit,” she muttered, loud enough for two girls who went to Dartmouth with Rebecca to look up from their iPhones as they were filtering photos.
Susan smiled at them tightly, realizing she must have spoken louder than she intended and then continued her march towards the bar. There was a martini with her name on it over there, and she had instructed the bartender Bobby earlier how she liked her drink mixed.
“I want Dorothy Hammel to be able to ice skate around the rim, do you understand me? She should be able to do a triple salchow.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the young black man with close cropped hair and shockingly white teeth nodded hours earlier when the reception first got under way.
She had slipped him a hundred-dollar bill to let him know she meant business. She shouldn’t have had to. Being the mother of the bride, you’d think she would get some sort of special VIP treatment. But she was taking no chances. Given how much she was wishing this night would be over already, the drinks couldn’t come fast enough. And she damn well wouldn’t be waiting in line behind some frat boy that Zack went to Boston College with or the second cousin of his mother’s best friend, who somehow received an invitation.
“I’m back, Bobby! That last one was just perfect. I’ll take another!” Susan exclaimed to the bartender, cutting in front of several people who were already waiting to be served.
“You got it, Mrs. O’Leary,” Bobby replied, as he quickly started on her cocktail, giving an apologetic glance to those in line.
Moments later he handed her the glass and she took a large gulp. She didn’t want to risk spilling any gin as she maneuvered through the mass of strangers.
“Delicious! You’re a doll, Bobby!” she winked at him. “I’ll see you again later.”
Now that the important matter of getting a drink had been resolved, Susan resumed the search for her daughter.
The dance floor, illuminated only by strings of twinkle lights and the moon, was small and crowded. You’d think she’d be able to spot the one woman in a giant white dress, but no, her daughter remained elusive. Even in that God-awful cupcake gown, Susan couldn’t find her.
She hated that dress. She told Rebecca so, too. Why her daughter wanted to look like a pastry on her wedding day was beyond her. Especially when she had such a lovely figure. But that’s Rebecca, Susan thought. “Always going against my advice, my guidance, my words of wisdom.”
“She’ll regret it one day,” Susan mused, thinking about Rebecca looking at photos from tonight and cringing just how Susan did every time she looked at the images of herself in her wedding gown, in all its 1980s glory. Shoulder pads. Puffy sleeves. And that ridiculous headdress with the single large jewel hanging down on her forehead as if she were a blonde-haired Arabian princess to top it all off. “But she’ll regret more than just the dress though…”
Susan had made her way to a high-top table and set her already half-empty martini down. Her eyes were still searching the crowd for Rebecca’s strawberry blonde hair, but really, nothing in her surroundings registered anymore. Now, all she could see in her mind’s eye was her wedding day to Rebecca’s father almost 35 years ago.
“Susie, you look absolutely perfect!” her younger sister Lisa squealed as she fluffed the dress’s massive train. “Michael will just die when he sees you!”
Though she’d never admit it, Susan agreed. “It’s true,” she thought to herself, looking in the mirror. “I’ve never felt more beautiful. This is exactly how I want to look when I marry the love of my life.”
She adored her dress, with all its volume and embellishments and her incredibly chic headdress, instead of a boring, traditional veil.
When the moment came to walk down the aisle, Michael’s face told her that she and Lisa were right. She was perfect. He beamed at her as if she were Helen of Troy, his brown eyes growing wide and then sparkling with a bit of moisture. In the nine months since they had met, she had never seen Michael cry. She really must look amazing to get him misty-eyed.
Later, when she rested her head on Michael’s shoulder while Lionel Richie and Diana Ross sang about “Endless Love” during their first dance, he whispered to her that he was luckiest man in the world.
“And I’m the luckiest woman,” she replied, believing it with all her heart.
“Yep, just like Rebecca today,” she thought cynically as she plucked an olive out of her glass and popped it into her mouth. Who knew that ten years after that night, Susan and Michael would be battling over who got the house, the Dalmatian, and days of the week with Rebecca, while he settled into a condo across town with his paralegal, Tammy. “I bet Rebecca and this schmuck don’t even make it that long,” Susan thought bitterly.
She hoped she was wrong about Zack. She really did. But she saw so much of Michael in him, it was hard to ignore. Perhaps that’s what drew Rebecca to him in the first place. She always had been a daddy’s girl. It was easy to see why Rebecca had fallen for Zack. He was handsome, successful, charismatic and charming. Too charming in fact. Just like Michael, Susan could sense Zack could talk his way out of anything. It’s what made him a great lawyer, just like Rebecca’s father. “Men like that, though,” Susan shook her head, though she was still standing completely alone. “They get away with too much. Just look at Bill Clinton.”
It was a red flag to say the least.
Not to mention how quick it has all been, even in comparison to her and Michael’s accelerated courtship. Six months and they’d been engaged. “Honestly,” Susan thought, “I’ve had loofas longer than they’ve known each other.” The bottom line was, she just didn’t trust Zack with her only child’s heart.
And then she was snapped out of her spiraling thoughts and memories of her wedding, back into the present by the sound of her daughter’s unmistakable shriek.
Rebecca trilled with delight loud enough that everyone in the luxurious New England courtyard heard her and turned towards the dance floor. Some were amused, some were puzzled, and some were maybe even concerned. But Susan knew that was Rebecca’s noise for pure, unadulterated joy. She made the same exact sound when she was a toddler and she got her Fisher Price toy phone to light up by banging its buttons. Just then, Whitney Houston started to sing Rebecca’s all-time favorite song.
How will I know if he really loves me?
I say a prayer with every heartbeat
I fall in love whenever we meet
Rebecca was belting out the lyrics, her face flushed with joy and her fingers intertwined with Zack’s.
Susan looked on from her table, martini in hand, amazed at how genuinely happy Rebecca appeared. Glancing down, she realized it was almost time to go see Bobby again. It occurred to her then that she had seen that young man more than her daughter since the evening started. She watched on, nursing the last precious sips of her cocktail, observing from a safe distance as Rebecca twirled around with Zack and hopped up and down with some Kappas from her Dartmouth years.
After a few more songs, Susan went back to visit Bobby, but kept turning around to make sure she had eyes on Rebecca. She didn’t want to lose her in the crowd like she had earlier. She was going to get a word alone with her. She had to. But first, priorities: she had to get another drink.
“Bobby, sweetheart! Did you miss me? I’m ready for another!”
“Coming right up,” he called, grabbing the bottle of Hendrick’s and getting to work.
Then the stars seemed to align for Susan. Right when Bobby handed her the cocktail, Rebecca walked off the dance floor smiling, evidently needing a breather from all the revelry. Her sorority sisters stayed on the dance floor, as did Zack, now encircled by his groomsmen chanting some idiotic song about getting knocked down and getting back up again.
Realizing this was the opening she’d been waiting for, Susan beelined to her daughter, splashing a bit of gin onto the grass despite her best efforts.
“Rebecca dear!” Susan exclaimed, hoping she appeared like a normal, beaming mother of the bride.
“Oh, hi, Mom,” her daughter answered, her voice neutral. “Having a good time?”
“Of course. Everything is perfect – just beautiful. Almost as beautiful as you. My little girl,” Susan’s voice catching in her throat unexpectedly.
“I thought you said I looked like the Michelin Man in my dress?”
“I said a cupcake, dear. Don’t over dramatize. Anywho, do you think we could have a quick word? In private?”
“Seriously, Mom? Now?” Rebecca answered, clearly annoyed. Rebecca looked at her mother a moment longer and then sighed, “All right, fine. I’m going to go inside to pee, and I’ll need some help with my dress anyway. Come with me.”
“Ha!” Susan thought satisfied as she followed Rebecca through the garden and to the double doors of the Bradshaw’s estate. “Why would anyone buy a dress that requires you have a potty helper? It’s like she’s two again. Absolutely absurd.”
Rebecca weaved through the crowded kitchen, past caterers with trays of “late night snacks” – sliders, curly fries and mozzarella sticks – that were soon to make their way to the crowd in the garden, hopefully soaking up some of the booze that had been consumed. Susan followed her daughter through a door with a sign that read, “WEDDING PARTY ONLY PLEASE,” in calligraphy that would have been challenging for Susan to read, even if she had been stone sober. Finally, they reached the Bradshaw’s living room with the grand staircase. Picking up her gown, Rebecca started climbing, not checking to see if her mother was still behind her.
Susan paused briefly, looking around the living room of Rebecca’s new in-laws. “This is where she’ll open Christmas gifts,” Susan realized. “Or play Monopoly or Charades. And maybe someday, hunt for Easter eggs with kids of her own.”
She had to take the first few steps two-by-two to catch up to Rebecca, but her simple chiffon shift dress made her much nimbler than her daughter tonight – despite the martinis and the age difference. When they got to the bathroom, Susan waited for Rebecca to start gathering her skirt so she could see how she could best help, but instead, her daughter just looked at her – brown eyes sparkling, reminding Susan yet again of her own wedding night and a man she’d been trying to forget for years.
“So, what is it, Mom?” Rebecca asked matter of factly, turning to the mirror to reapply her nude lip gloss.
“Dear, don’t you have to go to the bathroom?” Susan replied, suddenly quite nervous and wanting to stall.
“Not really,” replied Rebecca, as she continued to fix her makeup in the mirror. “I just said that because I figured this would definitely be a private place for us to talk.”
“I see. Well, Rebecca,” Susan started shakily, her nerves getting the best of her despite the gin.
And then she was quickly cut off.
“Mom,” Rebecca turned from the mirror, looking Susan square in the eye, “We’ve been through this. Call me Becca like everyone else. Please.”
“But that’s not what I named you,” Susan thought sadly but didn’t say. And in that moment, she suddenly understood.
You’d think it would have been clear to her sooner. But it wasn’t. Not today when her daughter walked down an aisle in front of 200 people or five years ago when she received her diploma on stage at Dartmouth or ten years before that when she asked Susan to explain to her how to use a tampon. No, it wasn’t until this moment – probably the thousandth time she’d asked to be called Becca since she was an adolescent wearing Limited Too – did Susan truly understand: she’s her own person. And a woman now.
“Ok, Becca,” Susan finally replied, the name feeling alien in her mouth. “I guess,” she tried to continue, thrown by this newfound realization, unsure of what to say next. “I guess I just want you to know how much I love you. And how proud I am of you. I wouldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t tell you that today, and I didn’t know if I’d get the chance to down there with all those other people around.”
“Mom,” Becca said softly, trying to interrupt.
“And Zack,” Susan pressed on, over her daughter’s voice. “Zack seems good. Like a good man,” she finished, looking down at her hands while her mind swam in a pool of gin, images of Becca’s childhood and of her own marriage to Becca’s father.
“Mom, I love you,” Becca replied gently. “Listen to me,” she said, taking her mother’s hands, some frosting still stuck under the nails. “It means a lot to me that you said that. And being here this weekend. I know it’s not easy for you. To see Dad and Tammy. And I know,” Becca took a deep breath, “What you see. Who you see, when you look at Zack. But Mom, you have to understand,” Becca paused.
Then Susan looked her daughter in the eye, and they said in unison, “He’s not Dad.”
Becca wiped away the single tear that now moved slowly down Susan’s cheek.
Then she smiled at her mom, left the bathroom and rejoined her guests.
About the Author:
Carolyn Linck is an aspiring fiction writer, currently working on her first novel in her spare time. By day, she works in corporate communications for technology companies where she writes everything from press releases to product descriptions, blogs and ghostwriting executive op-eds. She lives in Chicago with her dog, Bailey.