Everyone Else’s Girl
Meredith McKay has gone to a lot of trouble to create the picture-perfect life for herself—far away from her troublesome family, thank you. When her father’s car accident forces her back to her hometown, however, she soon discovers that there’s no running away from family issues—there’s only delaying the inevitable.
Can anyone sort out a lifetime of family drama in one hot summer?
Throw in a hot guy from back in high school with an axe to grind, a best-friend turned enemy turned soon-to-be-sister-in-law, and, of course, the sometimes irritating/sometimes delightful members of her own family, and Meredith is on her way to figuring out that sometimes a little trip through the past is the best way to move forward.
Everyone Else’s Girl
I would rather parade naked through the streets than find myself in the backseat of a tacky stretch Hummer, cruising from bar to bar in bright banana-yellow splendor. Unfortunately, no one had offered me this choice.
It was just a bachelorette party. I would survive it.
Not that I was out of options entirely. I could always throw myself under the wheels of the eyesore we were riding in. Suicide by Hummer, however, seemed like it would only add insult to injury at this point. Besides which, Washington Street in Hoboken was not really the ideal place to stage my death. Entirely too many drunken frat boys for any kind of emotional resonance.
It wasn’t that bad, I told myself philosophically, trying to rally. I looked down the narrow interior of the Hummer toward Jeannie Gillespie, my former best friend from high school and, more recently, my brother Christian’s fiancée. Jeannie was waving around a bottle of champagne and looked to be having a blast. She met my gaze from down the long, long interior and grinned.
“Come on, Meredith!” she cried, lurching forward with the champagne bottle in her hand.
She misjudged the distance between the plush leather seat and the console, and ended up crumpled face down on the floor in a tangle of expensive sandals. Being Jeannie, she merely shook with laughter and ordered the legs out of her way. The other bridesmaids let out ear-splitting cackles and turned up the radio, the better to rock out to some Eighties anthem. They also moved out of Jeannie’s way.
I wasn’t too proud to admit my own foot was tapping along. After all, everybody had to cut footloose. It was practically hardwired into my generation.
Jeannie laughed up at me as she fought her way through the tangle of legs, and then handed me the bottle when she reached my feet.
“Drink, for god’s sake,” she said, struggling to her knees. “You’ve got that Killjoy face on again.”
“I am not a Killjoy,” I retorted immediately, extending my hands automatically for both the lukewarm champagne bottle and Jeannie’s arm. Together, we hauled her from her knees to the seat beside me.
She flopped into place and heaved a sigh like she’d just conquered Everest. Given the amount of jello shots she’d consumed at Bahama Mama’s, our previous stop along the bachelorette Trail of Tears, getting from the floor to a seat really was an incredible achievement.
“I can’t believe you came all the way up here from Atlanta to be the Queen of Killjoys,” Jeannie told me, leaning close.
“Hey—” I’d come all the way up from Atlanta because I had been informed in no uncertain terms by various members of my family that my presence at Jeannie’s party was non-negotiable. And to be honest, I kind of agreed, and had left the comfort and safety of my usual weekend plans with my boyfriend Travis to travel north and take my place in the ceremonial Hummer.
Which made my sister Hope’s absence all the more offensive, but I wasn’t going to think about that. Not with Jeannie tipsily pontificating three inches from my right ear.
“Meredith,” Jeannie intoned, ignoring my attempt to speak entirely, “this is a sacred ritual. It is up to me to make an ass out of myself without actually crossing any lines that might endanger my relationship with your brother. I have accepted this challenge.” She swept a dramatic hand over herself, inviting me to look.
Jeannie had the requisite tatty veil pinned to the back of her head and was wearing the expected sexually explicit t-shirt. She was even sporting a headband festooned with wobbly pink penises, which had made two of her sorority sisters spit out mouthfuls of their apple martinis at the very sight of such naughtiness.
“That’s right,” she said now. “I’m wearing a penis headband. I’m allowing myself to be photographed while wearing a penis headband.”
I felt my mouth twitching, but tried to control it.
She saw it, though—I could tell from that glimmer in her eye.
“And why, you ask?” Jeannie leveled a look at me. “Do you think I like parading around the streets of Hoboken, making a spectacle of myself?”
I tilted my head at that one and opened my mouth to respond.
“Don’t answer that,” Jeannie snickered. She took the bottle back from me, and took a swig, then returned it. She glared at me until I surrendered and tilted the bottle up to my lips. Warm and bubbly liquid filled my mouth. I choked on it, but drank.
I wasn’t too proud to drink, either. Bachelorette “events” made me suspicious, true, but really I just didn’t like jello shots, which had been hard to convey in a dark, deafening bar in the middle of a screaming pack of bridesmaids. It was a texture thing.
But I could make up for that now, I figured, no matter how unpleasant cheap champagne was when warm. And it got notably less unpleasant with every sip I took.
“I’m doing this because it is the Girl Code,” Jeannie was saying in that same serious tone. She could have been delivering a sermon to the troops. “It is my responsibility to prance around like an idiot, making single women sneer and then weep over my engagement ring, wondering how anyone would want to marry a drunk loser like me. This is my duty, Meredith.”
“You’re a giver, Jeannie,” I agreed solemnly. I took another gulp. Or three.
“I’m happy to sacrifice my dignity for the amusement of others,” Jeannie said. “It’s the least I can do.” She pointed at me again. “In turn, however, you have to do your part. I can’t allow any slacking.”
“After all, the bachelorette party is really nothing more than a pre-emptive strike,” I drawled, sinking back against the pink seats.
We’d discussed this before, years ago when we were closer than close and even more recently, when the topic of Annoying Weddings was one of the few we could navigate without stepping on any of the private landmines that littered our relationship.
But I wasn’t thinking about any of that tonight, I reminded myself. Sternly. I took a hefty, restorative pull from the champagne bottle.
“It’s the bridesmaids’ only revenge for ugly dresses and uncomfortable shoes,” I continued instead. “Not to mention the horrible posed pictures that will hang on the happy couple’s wall for the rest of their lives.”
“Ashley Mueller made us wear petticoats,” Jeannie told me in a whisper. “And hats. All of it very, very green.”
Ashley Mueller herself— she of the pinched mouth and ruthlessly blown-out blonde hair— had a new last name that I couldn’t be bothered to learn and was perched at the other end of the limo, clutching a checklist of humiliating and sexually-charged activities for Jeannie to perform in the bars. Ashley Mueller took her Maid of Honor duties entirely too seriously. She was exactly the sort of person who would obscure the relative attractiveness of her bridal attendants in butt-ugly petticoats with matching hats. Moreover, she would do it for that very reason. Not because she had some green petticoat fetish, but because she, by comparison, would look like a supermodel angel in white.
I’d never been happier that she hated me— a sentiment I had returned since sometime in the seventh grade— and had thus excluded me entirely from her wedding drama sometime last summer.
“I don’t believe you,” I told Jeannie with a shudder. Although I definitely, gleefully did. I took another swig. It was amazing how the rush of warm bubbles against the tongue got less and less repellent.
“Remind me to show you the tragic photographic evidence,” Jeannie murmured. “I cry over it once a month when the PMS gets really bad. But the point is, I was forced to retaliate, and that is why Ashley was required to wear a strap-on throughout her bachelorette event. A big, hairy, revolting strap-on. Picture that.”
The image penetrated even the champagne.
“You’re lucky Christian is so hot!” one of Jeannie’s sorority sisters brayed at her suddenly, jerking both Jeannie and me out of an appalled contemplation of Ashley Mueller and a strap-on dildo. We both choked back laughter.
“He’s pretty damn hot,” Jeannie agreed lasciviously, and toasted my absent brother with my champagne bottle. I eyed her as she drank a big gulp, and then swiped the bottle.
“Hell yeah!” shouted another. “You won’t even want to stray, with him around!”
“You guys have big mouths,” yet another one admonished them in a stage whisper they could probably hear across the Hudson River in downtown Manhattan. She pointed down the long interior of the car at me. Her arm wobbled dramatically, but they all looked at me anyway. “One of his sisters is right there!”
“Let’s definitely not talk any more about how hot he is,” I agreed hurriedly.
That sort of thing had been bad enough in high school, when Christian and I— at ten months apart and often confused for twins— had been in the same grade and I’d had girls falling all over me in attempts to get near him. All these years later, he was still too cute for his own good, but he and I weren’t as close as we’d been. No one would bother trying to get to him through me, not anymore.
But there wasn’t any time to nurse the pain on that one, because the Hummer was pulling up in front of yet another Hoboken club. I upended the remains of the bottle down my throat, and climbed out of the limo. It took a group effort to dislodge Jeannie, but eventually we had her upright and past the surly bouncers. Sometimes it was actually useful to be part of a group of scantily-clad sorority girls. I made a mental note.
Inside the club, dance music was pumping and immensely-breasted women in gravity-defying bikini tops circled through the crowd dispensing bright colored liquid from little boxes that hung around their necks. Everything seemed particularly blurry and frenzied—or, possibly, the champagne had gone to my head. Our group staked out a position near one of the three bars and Ashley commenced ticking off the items on Jeannie’s checklist.
Which she kept brandishing around ostentatiously, in case anyone forgot for five seconds that she was In Charge.
I reminded myself that I had to deal with her only tonight, and then at the wedding, and then, if there was a god, never again.
“Don’t look at me like that,” she snarled at me when I accidentally ventured too close to her.
“Was I looking at you?” But it was Jeannie’s party, so that came out nicer than I meant it to. A little more warm champagne and that wouldn’t be a problem.
“You have no idea what Jeannie put me through at my bachelorette party,” Ashley barked at me. I looked at her mean little eyes and thought about dildos, which made whatever other nonsense she was spouting more than okay in my book. I only realized I was smiling when she smiled back. “Jeannie has to follow the rules,” she told me.
Jeannie herself had been swept up in the giggling arms of some of her sorority sisters, and was even now leaning in and whispering in various ears. Hopefully about Ashley and her strap-on.
“It’s time for body shots!” Ashley commanded, loud enough to perk the interest of several eavesdropping gentlemen. The shortest and— not coincidentally— the loudest of the group stepped up and offered his services in an accent straight from The Sopranos.
Jeannie caught my eye briefly, and waggled her brows at me.
She was right, I thought. This was about duty.
And I was nothing if not capable of doing my duty.
So I ordered myself a margarita, and dove in.
Some time later, I was reclining in a plush booth, just barely keeping my head above the table. Not because I was drunk— although let’s not kid around, I was pretty drunk— but because Jeannie was singing.
Normally, Jeannie didn’t sing, thank the gods. She was tone deaf and music-dumb, and made the Cameron Diaz character in My Best Friend’s Wedding sound like Whitney Houston. Usually, Jeannie used her singing voice as the weapon it was: she would sing along in car rides to the worst songs, thereby ensuring that the driver would play only her favorite tunes.
But this was a bachelorette party. More than that, it was Battle of the Brides.
The freaky emcee at the karaoke place had been delighted when we all trooped in, none of us particularly steady on our feet.
“You’re the second bride tonight,” he smarmed at Jeannie. Luckily for him, she was too wasted to reply in her usual fashion.
The first bride was draped in tulle and had clearly had a recent mishap at the hairdresser’s. Either that, or she preferred to have bright orange Ronald McDonald hair. She watched our party approach with the light of battle in her eyes and a pitcher of margaritas in one fist.
“You and me, sweetheart!” she bawled at Jeannie.
“You and who?” Jeannie asked, blinking at her.
“Winner takes the happily ever after!” Tulle Bride shouted. With that, she took to the stage and began belting out "Love Lift Us Up Where We Belong"— the extended version. Her bridesmaids hooted and hollered like she was winning the Superbowl.
“No way is some clown-haired bitch taking my happily ever after!” Jeannie slurred, and broke for the stage.
It was maybe inevitable that she chose to sing "I Will Always Love You," shattering glasses and eardrums with every syllable she sang.
Or, more precisely, yowled.
There was absolutely no sign of my brother Christian’s trademark grin when he swung the door open sometime after three a.m. He squinted at me, and then sighed when he took in his fiancee’s condition.
“This is your idea of keeping an eye on Jeannie?”
We both swiveled to look at her.
Jeannie was more or less unconscious, emphasis on more. She had one arm slung across my shoulders and most of her body propped up against mine. She kept mumbling vowel sounds. Her hair was matted and though I had had the presence of mind to remove the t-shirt with the risqué inscriptions, it was putting it mildly to say she looked the worse for wear. At least she was upright.
Mostly upright, anyway.
“She’s not face down in a gutter,” I pointed out in the sweetest voice I could muster at that hour, and staggered a little bit when Jeannie flopped hard to the left for absolutely no reason.
What I didn’t point out was that we were all equally lucky that I was not in a similar condition. After all, I’d had several margaritas. And the better part of a bottle of champagne. It was just that when the other girls had opted for wacky drinks involving colored liquors and naughty titles to drown the pain of the karaoke, I’d opted for water and diet Coke.
Hence my ability to speak in complete sentences.
Christian held out his arms— despite the dubious look on his face— and we transferred Jeannie’s body from me to him with only minimal fuss. He moved inside the apartment and deposited Jeannie in a heap on the couch. She moaned slightly, and muttered a few words toward the sofa cushions before lapsing into silence.
Or a coma, call it what you will.
“She’ll be up and puking within the hour,” Christian said, frowning at his wife-to-be— probably because he’d finally gotten a whiff of her brewery breath. Although, I reflected, it could also be the prospect of the night he had ahead of him. That would be enough to make anyone frown.
“Anything I should know about?” He gazed at me expectantly, and then his eyes crinkled up in the corners. “This isn’t Vegas. What happens here needs to be shared.”
I gazed back. “There’s nothing to share.”
Because of the Girl Code and because let’s face it, he didn’t really want to know. He should count himself lucky he hadn’t had those Alpha Beta Whatever girls screeching in his ear all night. I might be permanently deafened.
In any event, there had been no sex, no kissing, and no stripping. That pretty much covered the bases. Why fill in the blanks? What fiance wanted to know about the dancing, or the body shots, or the lewd commentary?
“I’m trusting you on this, Meredith,” Christian said, laughter in his voice. “I don’t want to turn into an Urban Legend, with some bozo passing out photographs on my wedding day.”
“Everyone was on their best behavior,” I assured him.
Given the assortment of people present, this was undoubtedly true.
“I’m trusting you,” he said again. Significantly, as if he really did trust me, which I doubted. “And don’t slam the door behind you. I’m hoping she’ll just sleep it off.”
“Yeah right,” I muttered, but I still didn’t slam the door when I left.
When I tip-toed into my parents’ house later on that night, re-enacting whole years of my adolescence in ways I was too tired to analyze, I stopped in amazement when I heard the sound of the television from the family room. Peeking inside, I saw my younger sister Hope crashed out across the couch. She had just graduated from college and had nothing to do with her life, as far as I knew. Yet she had been “too busy” to attend our soon-to-be sister-in-law’s bachelorette party.
I goggled at her prone form. She didn’t look particularly busy. In fact, if the junk food littered around her was any indication, she’d been in that same position all night.
“Oh hey,” she said when she saw me. “Check it out, there’s a teen movie festival on.”
“I thought you had other things to do tonight,” I said, and I could hear a little too much Snotty Big Sister in my voice.
Hope sighed. “How bad was it?”
“It was fine,” I told her. “It would have been better if you were there.”
“I really doubt it.” Hope looked at me. “You want to watch the rest of this movie with me?”
“I have to get to bed,” I responded. Hope was like an alien to me. I didn’t understand the things she did or said, and it always seemed to require way too much energy on my part to make the effort to bridge the six years between us.
I left the room without looking back.
But upstairs in my narrow twin bed, the one I’d slept in throughout my youth, I was suddenly wide awake. I felt tired, but more than that, the strange kind of loneliness that seemed to go hand in hand with being awake when the world was sleeping all around me. Maybe I missed Travis. Maybe it was just late. Or maybe it was a perfectly normal reaction to spending a whole evening in my past.
Once upon a time, Jeannie and I were best friends, and Christian really was like my twin. The three of us did everything together. Whatever boyfriends Jeannie or I had, or whatever girlfriends Christian had, what mattered was the three of us. We’d been that way since Christian and I had met Jeannie when all of us were toddlers. And we’d continued that way until the summer after my freshman year of college, when Jeannie’s and my friendship fell apart. I’d never expected to talk to her again until she’d started dating Christian the summer after we all graduated from college.
Fast forward almost eight years and they were getting married, I was a stranger to them, and we all pretended things were exactly the same as they’d been in high school. I smiled and kept my thoughts to myself, Christian grinned and looked adorable, and Jeannie made us all laugh. We did the same dance every holiday I came home, and we would do it this weekend too.
Sometimes I forgot that everything was different, and just relaxed in the familiarity of it all. And then sometimes I wondered what would happen if we were forced to deal with each other for longer than the odd weekend here and there. Would everything explode? Or would we decide it wasn’t worth dredging up the past?
Happily, I wasn’t ever likely to find out.