Excerpt: The Wedding Sisters

 
 


Eight Months Before the Wedding

Chapter One


 

    It was an all hands on deck kind of night. At least that’s how it felt to Meryl.  Unfortunately, judging by everyone else in her family, she would be doing the heavy lifting alone.

It was only noon, but in her nervous excitement, Meryl couldn’t wait to put out the good dishes. She hated to put too much pressure on this dinner, but she felt an overwhelming sense that everything had to be absolutely perfect. She couldn’t help but fuss.

    “Remember, honey, it’s not about you,” Hugh said on his way out the door earlier that morning, a comment that both rankled her and served as useful caution.

    “I’m doing this for Meg,” she said in a huff. He kissed her on the forehead with a knowing smile, squeezing her hand.

    They were finally meeting the parents of the man her daughter was going to marry. Meryl had read up on them in The New York Times and Vanity Fair, even seen them on CNN, but that had only served to put her ill at ease. They’re just people, she reminded herself. And we’re going to be family.

    She dialed her mother’s cell phone despite knowing she wouldn’t answer. At eighty-six, her mother did not embrace technology and had yet to ever answer – and she made no apologies for it. Still, Meryl felt more comfortable knowing she had one, though in that particular moment it served only to increase her frustration.

    “Mother, it’s me. I just want to make sure you’ll be ready for me to pick you up at three for the dinner tonight? Please. It’s important to us.”

    She hesitated, wondering if she should sign off with “I love you” or “Looking forward to seeing you.” But that’s not how they spoke to one another, and it would seem odd to tack it on now – desperate. Like Meryl needed her there tonight. Except, she did. Meryl hoped beyond hope that, for just one night, they could seem like a normal family. If not for her own sake, then for her daughter’s.

    That was the thing about weddings: they forced family members to deal with one another, like it or not.

     Meryl drew back the dining room curtains and gazed out at the East River. The view was the best thing about their apartment, her favorite part of her home of the past twenty years. She always found it so calming. Meryl couldn’t imagine living anywhere in Manhattan without a view of the water. But then, there had been a time when she couldn’t imagine the girls being grown up and gone from the nest. And now it was normal not to see them for weeks at a time. More and more lately, it was as if Meryl needed an excuse to see them – to tear them away from their very busy lives.  

    She missed them.

    Meg, Amy, and Jo. Named for the heroines of their father’s favorite Louisa May Alcott novel, the much-cherished novel that had set the course for his entire professional career – and their romantic life, if she was being honest.

    Carrying the names of literature’s most beloved sisters was a lot to live up to, but Meryl felt that her girls did the originals justice. They had equally as distinct personalities – Meg, the easy daughter. Amy, endlessly dissatisfied. And Jo, the rebel and tomboy with the world’s biggest heart.

    Meryl found it infinitely fascinating to watch them clash with and complement one another as they grew up, in a constant primal dance of love and hate, envy and unconditional love. Meryl was an only child, and she took immense joy in bearing witness to the sister relationship. She had often felt lonely as a child, much the way she did now.

If only it wasn’t so difficult these days to get them all in one damn place.

    She used to be able to rely on Amy to show up regularly. Amy, who still craved Meryl’s undivided attention. But even that was coming to an end; a few weeks ago, when Meryl invited Amy and her boyfriend to their standing Sunday night dinner, Amy begged off, saying she and Andy were staying an extra night in East Hampton. They never rescheduled.

    Amy’s boyfriend was the son of fashion designer Jeffrey Bruce, and Amy was living what – at least to Meryl – seemed to be a very glamorous life working for the company and traveling the world for industry events. Despite all of it, Meryl knew Amy was still playing catch-up to her older sister, Meg.

    Meg, Amy felt, was the favorite, the perfect daughter, the one for whom everything came too easily. At the same time, Amy secretly worshipped her. It was a dynamic Meryl had hoped would change when Amy grew older and more confident — when she created an identity for herself outside of being one of the Becker sisters. But so far, no such luck.

    Lately, Meryl felt something close to panic. She knew it was irrational, but she felt motherhood slipping away from her. And what was she if not a mother? Was this how it would be from now on? An occasional phone call. Seeing the girls here and there, a family dinner maybe once a year?. And unfortunately, she made the tactical error of expressing her disappointment to Amy one night, to which Amy scoffed and said, “Oh please, Mom. It’s not like you even really cook.”

    This wounded Meryl deeply in ways she couldn’t fully pinpoint. True, she didn’t cook – but wasn’t it about spending time together?

    Her cell phone rang. Meg.

    “Hi Mom! Where are you?”

    “Home, sweetheart. Where are you?”

    “Just got into the city.”

    “I thought you couldn’t leave D.C. until late this morning?”

    A pause. “We didn’t. But instead of driving, Stowe’s dad brought us in the helicopter.”

    “Well. That’s one way to beat the GW bridge traffic!” Meryl laughed, trying to make light of it, but the truth was, she was uncomfortable with the prominence and extraordinary wealth of her soon-to-be in-laws.  

Meg’s fiancé, Stowe Campion, was the scion of a Philadelphia steel dynasty. And his billionaire father, Reed, was a Republican senator in Pennsylvania. Republican!

    “Reed has a last minute work event tonight,” Meg added sheepishly. “Tippy wants to meet up with him after dinner. Is it okay if we come little early?”

    “Wait – Reed isn’t coming tonight?”  These people were unbelievable. A work event was more important than meeting the parents of their future daughter-in-law? They had a wedding to discuss, for god’s sake.  It was bad enough that the Campions had rebuffed every overture Meryl had made during the last year. She understood they were busy. But this? Well, it was what her mother would call “insult to injury.” And for once her mother would be right.

“I’m sorry, Mom! I am. He feels really badly and we’ll definitely see him another time. But for tonight, a little earlier… okay?”

“No problem,” Meryl said, trying to sound nonchalant. Her timeline was now officially screwed up.

    And she still had to pick up her mother – never an easy feat.