By Marie Anderson
Gina wanted to be a beautiful bride for Chet. And she wanted to make his mother happy by wearing the same wedding gown his mother and grandmother had worn.
The problem was that her future mother-in-law had been—and still was—petite and slim.
Gina was not slim. She was more like her late parents, short and plump.
“Sometimes I think eloping is the way to go,” Chet said during Gina’s birthday dinner at his mother’s club. They’d been discussing all the tasks they needed to accomplish before the wedding.
Diane Willow set down her glass of chardonnay. “Chet Henderson Willow!” she exclaimed. “Our little Gina deserves a four-star wedding. Poor thing has no immediate family of her own. So it’s all on us! And we Willows never do anything halfway!”
Gina felt her face blush. Halfway was fine with her. Halfway was all she could afford on her teacher’s salary. She longed to reach for another bread roll. The three tiny crab cakes over six crisp chapoo leaves had been lovely, but they had not satisfied her the way her usual Sunday suppers did: deep dish pizza she made from scratch for her and Chet.
But today was her 27th birthday, and Mrs. Willow was treating them to dinner at her club.
“Aw, Mama-girl,” Chet said. “Of course we’ll do our wedding right.”
“Now Gina,” Mrs. Willow said. “I’m delighted you won’t mind wearing the Willow gown.
You’re such a determined little thing. I have every confidence you’ll lose what you need to lose to do the gown proud.”
Mrs. Willow sipped her wine. “Fortunately, the wedding’s still over a year away.” She sighed. “So much can happen in a year.”
Just then a black-haired beauty with bare arms toned and tan approached their table. She was thin as a Popsicle stick, Gina thought, and was looking at Mrs. Willow with eyes as green as frozen peas.
“Mimi!” Mrs. Willow exclaimed. “How wonderful to see you! Gina, this is Mimi Callaway, Chet’s dear friend since preschool. We silly mamas always thought that Chet and Mimi . . . Oh well. C’est la vie.”
“Mimi,” Chet said. “Nice to see you.”
Gina watched Chet’s face flush and his hand tremble as he reached for his wine glass.
“Can you join us for a bit?” Mrs. Willow asked.
“Sure!” Mimi grabbed a chair from a nearby table and squeezed herself between Gina and Chet.
“So I understand you’re in education,” Mimi said to Gina.
“Second graders,” Gina replied, surprised that Mimi knew. “I teach—”
“Gina’s a brave one,” Mrs. Willow interrupted. “She teaches at a public school in (her voice fell to a whisper) the inner city.”
“Teaching is a noble profession,” Mimi said, smiling at Gina. “Easy to do poorly, I’ve always thought, but hard to do well.”
“Like parenting,” Mrs. Willow said. She sighed. “Now Mimi, I golfed with your mother last week, and she said you were snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef in Australia!”
“Wow,” Gina murmured. She’d only learned to swim in college and, despite a powerful frog kick, was still uncomfortable if she couldn’t touch bottom.
“Yep,” Mimi said. “I just got back a few days ago. My law firm sent all us overworked associates down there after we won a huge verdict for our biggest client.”
“Wow,” Gina murmured. So Mimi was a lawyer. Like Chet.
“Spill the beans, guys.” Mimi glanced at Chet. “How’d you two meet?”
“Oh, don’t go there!” Mrs. Willow exclaimed.
“We met last year at a Hold ‘Em charity poker tournament,” Chet said. “Gina and I made it to the final table. She won $10,000 for her school. She—”
“Chet was playing for our club,” Mrs. Willow interrupted. “Every year we fundraise to send a group of our young people to Cancun, where they teach golf and bridge to the impoverished.”
Gina is the best poker player I’ve ever seen,” Chet said. “Just like that Kenny Rogers’ song says, she knows when to hold ’em, and knows when to fold ’em.”
“Ah, Kenny Rogers,” Mrs. Willow said. “My favorite phrase from that song is you gotta’ know when to walk away.”
Mimi smiled at Mrs. Willow. “That’s a good thing to know, for sure.” She looked at her watch. “Can I steal Chet for just a bit? I have a boring little legal issue I want to run by him.”
“Of course!” Mrs. Willow exclaimed. “Gina and I have loads of wedding nonsense to discuss.”
As Mrs. Willow chattered, Gina watched Chet and Mimi disappear into the bar. She stood. “Would you excuse me, Mrs. Willow? I just need to use the restroom.”
“Certainly, dear.” Mrs. Willow smiled. “Your nose could use a little powdering.”
From the restroom, Gina slipped into the bar. Chet and Mimi huddled at a corner table, their backs to Gina. Suddenly, Chet hugged Mimi and kissed her. On the lips. Mimi handed him an envelope.
Gina felt dizzy. She stumbled back to Mrs. Willow.
Chet returned without Mimi just as their waiter approached with dessert menus.
“Crème brulee,” Gina said. What the hell, she thought. I might as well get something sweet out of this evening.
“No!” Chet exclaimed.
“He’s right,” Mrs. Willow said, patting Gina’s hand. “That’s just empty calories. Now a nice black coffee—”
“It’s not that, Mom!” Chet scowled. “It’s just that I have an early meeting tomorrow. We have to get going now.”
“Now?” Gina scowled too. “Chet, I really—”
“Of course,” Mrs. Willow interrupted. “But you work too hard, Chet. And Gina, honey, once you start making progress on your weight-loss goals, you—”
Chet shot to his feet, pecked his mother on the cheek, and headed for the door.
Gina stuttered thanks and hurried after him, her face hot.
In the car, he sped along the darkening highway.
“Can’t wait to drop me off?” Gina asked. She slapped a tear off her face.
“It’s not that,” Chet said. “I’m nervous. And scared. I don’t know how to say this.”
“Just take me home,” Gina whispered.
“Here.” He pulled an envelope from his jacket and placed it in her lap.
“This is the envelope I saw Mimi give you in the bar? After you kissed?”
“You saw that?” Chet gripped the steering wheel, his knuckles blooming white. “You must think I’m a jerk. See, Gina, Mimi’s always been there for me. It’s no coincidence, her showing up tonight. She and I had a long talk yesterday.”
Gina stared at the envelope in her lap. “Say what you have to say, Chet.”
Chet took a deep breath. “Mimi’s uncle manages the Bellagio in Vegas. He has private jet waiting right now at the airport here. Mimi booked the honeymoon suite. And the wedding chapel.”
A tornado whirled through Gina’s gut. “You just missed the exit for my apartment, Chet.” She threw the envelope in his lap.
“There’s no time to pack!” Chet exclaimed.
“What? I’m supposed to go to Vegas with you and Mimi?”
“Mimi? No! Look, this must seem so cloak and dagger. But my mom—”
“She just needs time, Gina. And I didn’t want to make things harder for you. If you knew ahead of time, well, Mom might hold this deception against you.”
“Deception? What do you mean, Chet?”
He shook his head. A plane roared low overhead. Chet pulled into the airport lot and parked. He held up the envelope. “In here is our reservation for the Bellagio and the chapel. Will you marry me, Gina? Tonight? In Vegas?”
“Oh!” Gina gasped. “What about the big wedding? What about me wearing the Willow gown?”
“Is that what you want, Gina?”
“I thought that’s what you wanted, Chet.”
“I just want to be married. To you. I love you. Just the way you are.”
Gina started to cry.
Chet grabbed her hands. “What do you say, Gina. Will you do me the honor of eloping to Vegas?”
Gina pulled her hands from his grasp and shook her head.
“Gina!” Tears filled Chet’s eyes. “You’re bluffing, right?”
Gina kept shaking her head. Another plane roared overhead.
“I’m sorry, Gina. If you want the big wedding, that’s fine with me. I just got carried away, thinking this would be a romantic story we could tell our grandkids someday.”
“Grandkids?” Gina laughed. “I’d say you just went all in, Chet! I don’t know whether I should call or fold!”
“Gina,” Chet whispered. “Did I screw up? Am I mucked?”
Gina grabbed Chet’s hands. “Hey, I love you too, you know. Just the way you are. But please, next time, deal me in from the beginning. Anticipation is half the pleasure.”
Chet’s eyebrows trembled. “Next time?”
She laughed. “Next time we go to Vegas, we can book our own suite, OK?”
He nodded. “You bet, Gina.”
Another plane roared low overhead. Gina took a deep breath. “OK,” she said. “I’m all in, too.”
Marie Anderson is a Chicago-area married mother of three millennials. She is the founder and facilitator of her local public library’s writing critique group, going strong since 2009. Her short fiction has appeared in more than 50 publications, including Woman’s World, Sunlight Press, Lamplight, City.River.Tree, and After Dinner Conversation. Being retired and an empty nester, she has lots of time for reading, knitting, Scrabble, cooking, tidying, and TV. And now that she and her husband have received their second Moderna vax, maybe some road trips will soon join the mix!