I Always Cry at Weddings

by Sara Goff

Ava Larson is going to bring all the other brides to tears.

Engaged to a wealthy NYC socialite’s son, Ava is ready to set the city abuzz with her glamorous wedding. At least until she realizes her relationship isn’t what it should be. Then, in a move as daring as a red satin dress, she does the unthinkable–she calls it all off and makes a promise to God that from now on, she’ll save sex for marriage.

She’s convinced the future is hers for the taking, especially when an undercover cop promises a new romance…and an unexpected friendship with the homeless guy under her stoop brightens her days.

But when her carefully balanced life teeters out of control, weddings aren’t the only thing to make her cry. Ava has to figure out what life she really wants to live…and what in the world love really means.

Chapter 1

Ava stood on the steps of City Hall under a bright sun. The white lilies she had picked up at the florist glowed, full of promise. It was a gorgeous day for a wedding. She checked the time on her phone. Strange. Wouldn’t Courtney and Brad be on time to get married? She tried Courtney’s cell. No answer.

Josh must’ve gotten caught up at work, which meant he’d arrive in a bad mood. She wiped her forehead with the back of her hand.

Courtney had said they couldn’t be bothered with the general nuisance of a formal ceremony. Couldn’t care less what their parents’ friends thought or how many tabloids they made it into. They loved each other too much to wait another day.

Ava held tighter to the lilies. It’s a matter of personal style. They’re from the unbridled passion party; we’re from the cautious side of the aisle.

Josh flew out of a cab with a bottle of champagne. “What a nightmare!” He met her on the steps. “Where are they?”

She accepted a perfunctory kiss on her cheek. “Can you believe they’re not here yet?”

“And I rescheduled a client meeting.” He pulled at his tie. “This is unbelievable.”

“I’m sure they’ll arrive soon. Let’s see, I’ve got flowers and a pocket full of birdseed, and you’ve got the bubbly…is there anything we’re missing?”

“Are we supposed to have a gift?” His cheeks flushed red; just the thought of a social faux pas embarrassed him. “We only got the invite yesterday.”

“Oh, I have a little present for them, something I wrote.”

“Just what they need.” He checked his watch. “I’m giving them five more minutes, and then I’m going inside. Why’d they insist we wait out here? I’m dying in this heat.”

“Please don’t die on me.” She touched his shirt, feeling his firm chest beneath designer fabric.

Do I Have to Give Up Me to Be Loved By You? The title of her latest self-help book had a haunting effect. Reading relationship books at this point was like cramming for an exam. After five years of dating—since sophomore year at NYU—how could she not be prepared? In a way, it seemed she’d been preparing since childhood. Every penny in every fountain went toward one wish: a husband who would love her more than anything else in the world.

Josh was quiet.

“Your mother is going berserk trying to get us featured in The Times.”

“Why?” He looked out over a river of yellow taxis. “Where are they?”

“Because of our wedding, dummy. The Vows column in the Sunday Style section. She had some editor come by work this morning to hear the story of how we met. I think Phoebe bribed her.” Ava smiled at his mother’s knack for sneakiness.

“How’d we meet again?” He shielded his steel-blue eyes from the sun, keeping watch for the bride and groom.

“You’re kidding me.”

“I know my mother had something to do with it—but where’d she find you? On a street corner?”

“Very funny, Josh. At Bergdorf, on the Beauty Level. An embarrassing story to publicize in The Times, if you ask me.” Ava sat down on the hard concrete steps. “It’s muggy out, like August in June.”

Josh slouched down beside her. “This is such a waste of time.”

“I remember the day I met your mom like it was yesterday.” Ava rested her chin in her hands. “She was dressed in Chanel, no surprise, a pink and coral sleeveless dress with yellow pumps that somehow complemented the dress perfectly. She was buying state-of-the-art age-defying face cream, while I was spending my student loan money on a bottle of Allure to get the free gift bag.”

“What are you rambling on about?” Josh’s expression read physical pain.

“The first time I met your mother. I’m trying to pass the time. If you’d rather sit here in silence, then fine.”

“Talk away.” He stared out at the congested sidewalk.

She hesitated, suddenly uncomfortable with the sound of her own voice. “So, anyway…Phoebe pointed to the perfume in my hand and said something like, ‘Oh, that’s a perfectly sweet scent,’ and then in the same breath, ‘Say, are you single?’ Now here we are.”

“Here we are.” Josh checked his watch. Again.

“Oh, I almost forgot.” Ava sat upright. “We have a potential wedding disaster. Table Twelve. According to your mother, it’s ‘dangerously mismatched.’ Do you think she’s obsessing?”

“It gives her something to do.” He let out a long breath, as if deflating. “I thought this was only supposed to take an hour.”

“We can’t leave. I promised Courtney we’d be here.” Ava looked at Josh, noticing—not for the first time—how much he looked like his mother, from their light-blue eyes and flawless skin, a shade of pale olive, to their regal noses and high-angled jawline. The only prominent difference between them, beside Phoebe’s ever-bouncy spirit, was the color of their hair, his tar black and hers constantly changing. “Did you know that for the wedding your mother is thinking of dyeing her hair amber with violet highlights? To complement the flowers on the chuppah.”

“You gotta love her.”

“You really do.”

The chuppah. It symbolized the future home they would share, but it was hard to imagine standing under one, being Catholic. Thank God for Father Luke. Most priests wouldn’t do an interfaith ceremony. Of course, it would’ve helped if she belonged to a church.

The steps of City Hall grew harder. “Do you think they’re having second thoughts?” she asked.

“That or they forgot they made the appointment. It’s not like this required a lot of planning. Think of what we’ve been through the past twelve months.”

She tried not to think about that and looked out at the Brooklyn Bridge—its gothic towers shooting up from the glistening water. “Hey, remember that time we decided to walk across the bridge in the middle of the night?”

Josh smiled, and everything felt right again. “That was a great night,” he said.

She touched his hairline at the base of his neck. “Seemed like the city belonged to us. A perfect night with the sky full of stars and no one else around—”

Little bells clinking and the clip-clop cadence of shod hooves on pavement interrupted the memory. Parting traffic, the bridal couple arrived in a horse and buggy.

“Oh!” Ava jumped up with the lilies in one hand and swiping long brown strands of hair out of her eyes with the other. “Okay, remember, they’re getting married. Be happy for them.”

Josh stood and squinted as if they were hard to spot. “I’d give anything to be at The Whiskey Bar…”

She ignored the comment.

“Hello! Hello!” Courtney caroled pure joy, waving as she and Brad stepped down from the carriage. Her playful kiss on Brad’s cheek turned into a moment of passion, right there in front of City Hall. Ava watched with envy…strangling the lilies.

“Thank you so much for coming,” Courtney said when the kiss was finally done.

“We wouldn’t want to be anywhere else!” Ava gave her a hug. “We’re so happy for you.” She stepped back so Josh would know it was his turn to congratulate the bride. He kissed Courtney’s cheeks in his typical fashion, simultaneously avoiding physical contact.

Ava handed her the lilies, such as they were. “It’s so hot out that—”

“They’re gorgeous!” Courtney took the flowers and threw herself on Ava with another hug. “I’ll press them…to keep forever.”

Ava gave a hopeful smile and exchanged a glance with Josh. The last couple they expected to go simple and cheap was Courtney and Brad. They had the money to throw a knockout wedding, like theirs would be. Plus they had a vow of chastity to wrap up. Wouldn’t that be all the more reason to go big? In a church, or under a chuppah? What about God’s blessing? Instead, they opted for a public building with fluorescent lighting and stale air. A room where couples and their witnesses waited in long, grim lines to get their licenses signed, stamped or whatever. How unromantic. How could they?

Ava looked down at her skirt and blouse, her long legs in red opaque tights, and then to Courtney, who had on a pair of low-cut jeans and a pink T-shirt, both on the clingy side. Brad wasn’t dressed any better in grass-stained khakis and an old yellow polo shirt. Here they lost her completely. A bride wore a white dress of some kind. White wasn’t just tradition. It symbolized the innocence of a new beginning and the purity of commitment. Without white, it wasn’t a wedding.

“I guess we overdressed.” Ava blushed as it became obvious that she was staring.

“You guys have seen these outfits before.” Courtney winked. “The Bridgehampton Polo Club, a year ago today…”

“When Josh and I introduced you, of course!” They had gone divot stomping at halftime, Courtney and Brad competing and hitting it off at once. “That’s so cute you’re wearing the same clothes. Wow, our first date was so long ago…” She turned to Josh. “Remember? I wore a vintage bubblegum-colored dress with pleats down the front. Ugh! I was going through a ‘Carrie Bradshaw’ phase, on a budget.” She pictured the elegant French restaurant, Daniel, and her meal of goat cheese stuffed escargot and peppered filet mignon…warm and buttery madeleines…a taste of champagne.

“I remember you got a little tipsy.” Josh smirked.

She laughed, as if it were a silly mistake. After dinner, she had naively gone back to his apartment. In a dream-like moment, which she could barely recall, she had given up her virginity. Gone. She felt the sting of regret now, thinking that their first time could’ve meant something if they had waited until marriage, until they knew and loved each other, like Courtney and Brad.

“You look beautiful,” Ava said, softly, almost to herself. Courtney didn’t need the white dress, the veil. She still had that special glow.

“Thanks, but bridal magazines are going to want you on their covers!” Courtney touched Ava’s hair. “You’ll look stunning in Vera Wang, without a doubt.”

“Thanks.” As if that were her ultimate goal. The happy-bride smile Ava had been rehearsing came naturally now—but would she glow with love on her wedding day?

“Lose the tie, Buddy.” Brad slapped Josh’s back. “What do you think this is? A funeral?” He took out a DVCAM.

“Give me that.” Ava snatched it from him, suddenly overtaken by a restive energy. “It’s your day, not ours.”

Through the lens, Courtney and Brad hugged and kissed, really kissed. How long had it been since Josh kissed her like that?

“Ahem.” Josh cleared his throat. “My guess is that you two are ready to get this ceremony over with.”

“Josh!” Ava slapped his arm, rather violently. “You’re supposed to encourage wedding couples to kiss, not break them up.”

“No, he’s right.” Brad took Courtney’s hand. “You guys need to witness more than us making out. Come on.”

Josh gave the bottle of Dom to the carriage driver to hold until after the ceremony, and they all went inside the cool gray building.

On the second floor of City Hall, they found a room marked by a piece of paper that read, Marriage Licenses. The manila-painted room with crooked rows of chairs had the ambiance of an under-funded public school classroom. An old chalkboard stood forsaken at the rear. It was like being a student again, but in the wrong class.

She and Josh took seats in the back, while Courtney and Brad waited in line to sign in. Josh was brooding, probably hating the wait. Or it was the room, clearly beneath him.

He shot up from his chair. “I’m gonna find the john,” he mumbled and took off.

She was left alone among the various couples, some whispering sweet dreams, others staring nervously off into space.

By the time Courtney and Brad were at the front of the line, Josh returned with parts of yesterday’s New York Times.

“Hey,”—she leaned over, keeping her voice low—“isn’t it cool that they’ve waited for marriage?”

He looked at her with a blank expression.

“For sex,” she whispered. “Just think of the night ahead of them!”

Josh set aside the paper, leaned over, and gave her a gentle kiss on the crease of her mouth. “Before marriage or afterward, Ava, it’s all the same.”

The honeymoon phase of marriage generally starts with the engagement and lasts up to a year after the wedding. She’d read it in one of her books. Relish this remarkable stage of matrimony, the longing for togetherness and the irrepressible desire to make love, because it will, you can be sure, fade. Their honeymoon phase had ended long before Josh finally uttered, “I love you,” as if, for them, saying it and showing it were exclusive to each other.

Courtney and Brad appeared. “It’s time!”

Chapter 2

Josh glanced at Ava as if to say save me! They filed into the chapel, which must have been a walk-in closet or storage room in a former life. Courtney and Brad beamed as if they had entered the Sistine Chapel.

“Here we go,” Courtney whispered, and then giggled.

The Justice of the Peace, a tall Hispanic woman with tangerine hair, stepped into the diminutive space and shut the door. Immediately, Josh went white. Claustrophobia. Ava took his clammy hand in hers, but he quickly recovered and pulled away. The letdown every time he distanced himself seemed palpable now. She looked down, fingering her engagement ring.

“Don’t be shy.” The Justice of the Peace smiled as she motioned for them all to step forward.

They shuffled up to the pale wood pulpit, which didn’t match the dark wall paneling. Behind the pulpit was a small stained-glass window. Ava glanced at Josh as he nervously shifted his weight. “I’ll do the filming,” she said, taking up the camcorder. She focused the lens and once again had herself an up-close look at love.

Courtney and Brad faced each other, smiling confidently with interlaced hands.

“Brad, I love you,” Courtney began.

“Even when I let you down?” Brad asked, gripping her hands.

“I’ll love you,” she replied. “I’ll encourage you. I’ll help you to be your best.”

“Will you always try to understand me, my dreams and desires?” he asked.

“I’ll listen. I’ll give you what I can. I won’t stand in your way. I’ll never desert you.”

Brad smiled and nodded. Now it was his turn. “Courtney, I love you…”

When the Do You Takes were said and done, they sealed their union with a kiss. Ava switched off the video and blinked away tears. Sincerity, she thought, caught in their moment. It was that simple. The afternoon light sprinkled the newlyweds with deep colors from the stained-glass window.

She looked over at Josh.

“What,” he said and then noticed her tears. “Oh, Ava.”

“I’m fine.”

“Why do you always cry at weddings?” he whispered, or rather, hissed.

“The anticipation…I don’t know.” Couldn’t he see that she needed more from him? That she was succumbing to doubt? Maybe he had cold feet, too, but wouldn’t admit it. He chose his emotions as carefully as he picked out his tie each night for the following day, always planning ahead. Now, emotions chosen, his fate was set.

After the marriage license was signed, the four of them left the chapel. Josh took a call on his cell, and she waited by the marble stairwell, while Courtney and Brad collected their papers. Our wedding won’t be big, she mused, but high-end, bordering on snobbish. There’d be her and Josh, her maid of honor, his best man, and seventy-five guests, with accommodations at The Surrey. Phoebe called it a “weekend event” and assured her that it would be the most wonderful and exhausting forty-eight hours of her life. But would it feel sincere? Ava gripped the railing, fighting vertigo.

“Let’s go, you two!” Courtney and Brad raced down the stairs to the door. Josh, one step behind them, slipped his phone into his pocket.

“Hey, wait!” Ava rushed after them, people getting in her way. “Wait, Josh!” She caught up to him at the bottom of the steps. “I have an idea. We should write our own vows.”

“Forget that. It’s time to uncork!” He flew through the open front doors and vanished into the sunlight.

She walked down the steps of City Hall, ready to fight for something in their relationship: a wedding that felt sincere.

The horse and buggy waited across the street beside a few trees and a patch of green.

“Oh, Ava!” Courtney said, grabbing her arm. “Say something poetic, please? I want it on tape, so say it loud and clear, okay?”

Say it loud and clear. Ava looked at the lilies in Courtney’s hands…flopped over as if in prayer. Mom used to tell her to speak out loud and clear when she was a little girl. Today it seemed she still needed Mom’s coaching.

“Well, actually, I wrote you guys a haiku.” She hesitated. “Do you want to hear it?”

“Yes!” Courtney exclaimed.

Brad laughed, putting his arm around Courtney’s waist. “That’s what we love about you two. You always come prepared.”

Ava took a deep breath and spoke out: “Love, Courtney and Brad / Blesses you as you declare / Dependence today.”

They stared at her as if expecting something more.

“Don’t rack your brains over it,” Josh said. “Ava obviously doesn’t have enough to do at work.”

“Thanks, Josh.” She glared at him, thinking of their vows. What would she write?

“I think ‘dependence’ says it all.” Courtney hugged Brad’s arm, and they were at it again—lovers, kissing.

The driver took up the DVCAM and started filming. Ava imagined the night ahead of them and threw the birdseed in one fistful without thinking. Josh seemed to be making up for the civil ceremony, spraying champagne as if Courtney and Brad were William and Kate leaving Westminster Abbey. Giddy, in love, the newlyweds climbed back into their carriage. The driver took his seat, gave a shake to the reins, and the horse was off at a swift clip.

Ava stood beside Josh, waving farewell with the feeling of being left behind. The carriage rounded the corner and disappeared.

“Wow.”

Josh tossed the champagne bottle into a trash bin and started quickly down the sidewalk, as if he couldn’t get away from the wedding experience fast enough.

“I can’t believe they’re married.” Ava walked alongside him, her long legs in full-stride. “Just like that. Done.”

Spying a mailbox, she pulled a “get well” card out of her handbag and dropped it inside. She’d been sending one home every week for a year. Some were real cute, like the one that pictured a sick puppy with a thermostat in its mouth. The stick figure cards were just plain funny. This week, she’d picked out one with a cat that read, Heard you’re feline crummy!

“Now what?” Josh asked.

For a second, she’d forgotten about the wedding and Courtney and Brad. “They’re going to the airport and jumping on the first flight that grabs them. Hawaii, Paris, Amsterdam…so exciting. Don’t you think?”

“Sounds like coach seating, bad layovers, and booked hotels.” His eyes scanned the streets. “There are never any available taxis downtown. Anyway, that’s not what I meant. What are you doing now? My mother just called. She has an extra ticket to some show on Broadway. My dad must’ve bailed. Do you want to be her date?”

Going to the theater with Phoebe was always something special. They loved romances. “Remember Roxie Hart in Chicago?” she’d say, passing the Ambassador Theatre on 49th Street. The Broadway Theatre. The Marquis. The Palace. They’d gaze up at the gilt-edged billboards and relive the storylines: the drama, the passion, and sometimes the tragic endings.

Josh looked at her, waiting for an answer. Would she be his mother’s date tonight? It was the kind of mother-daughter evening she couldn’t have with her own mom. For now, chemo came first.

“I have to get back to Bergdorf and finish a style analysis. Sales are down, la, la, la. I feel bad disappointing her, but Bucksly will kill himself, or me, if it’s not done. Luxury handbags must go on!”

“My mother will live if she misses a show.” It would’ve made Phoebe’s year if he went, being her only child. But not Josh, not the theater.

“I’m sorry. If it weren’t for work…” Oh, the guilt. But Phoebe would sense her reservations about Josh like a dog senses fear, and then what? Phoebe was not the one to confide in; her happiness in life, her very raison d’être, depended on their wedding.

Josh consulted his watch. “Well, I think I deserve an hour at The Whiskey Bar.” He leaned in for a kiss, and her lips touched his before he pulled away.

“One second,” she said, touching his arm. “If I had asked you to wait until marriage…as in sex, what would you have said?” She thought of her old high school vow, strongly encouraged by Sister Ann and Sister Mary Joseph, God bless them. But they didn’t follow her to NYU.

“Like the two ding-a-lings we just witnessed recite poetry, or whatever that was? No.”

“I’m not kidding. What if I believed it was the only way to tie the knot? Or what if it was a spiritual thing for me, and I had made a promise to God?”

Josh feigned a pensive look. “Hmm…abstinence. If you had thrown a vow of chastity at me on our first date, I would’ve left you with the bill.”

“What does that say?”

“I like sex? Regardless, it’s too late now. Why are you even asking me?”

“I don’t know. We’ve been so caught up in the wedding…we barely talk anymore.”

Josh sighed. “Come here.” He put his arm around her shoulders. “You’re right. I’ve been kind of tuned out lately. I’m sorry.”

She liked the feel of his muscles, his flawless skin. His attention, though sparsely rationed. He held her face, his lips to hers, and the gap between them seemed to disappear. “I’d be an idiot to lose you, Ava.” His voice reached her like a gentle massage. “You’re beautiful, sincere, giving…without you, I wouldn’t know myself.”

“Me, too,” she whispered. Blame it on nerves. She could already hear the bell choir ringing, feel the patter of birdseed on her beaded silk organza gown. Of course, the reality of marriage was nothing like the fantasy of a wedding. Twenty-five years old, she knew that. And at least she was prepared for the post-honeymoon letdown.

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