by Jessica Van den Ancker
Jane did not want to go. In fact, the idea of trading her cozy reading spot for her Bronco’s bucket seat and a perilous drive through a volley of wind and rain made her want to padlock herself inside the serenity of her shotgun shack. The thought brought a fleeting smile, temporarily easing tension that had etched twin lines between her brows.
Her mind shifted to her destination. A wave of nausea crashed over her, sinking her stomach down to her toes and slathering her palms and soles with clamminess. She eyed her wrist. Her watch confirmed her suspicion—she had procrastinated to the point of near tardiness. She snapped shut her latest adventure and pried herself out of the affectionate hug of her well-worn, overstuffed armchair. On her way to the front door, she snatched a set of keys, a petite, paisley-printed toiletry tote, and a king-size garment bag.
Balancing the tote and garment bag with one hand, Jane careened through the front door and locked it behind her. Except for the occasional gust, the awning kept her sheltered from the spurting sky. She turned to face her fate and realized the absence of an umbrella. Considering her lack of a third hand, it was a lame excuse to go back inside, but she was going to take it. She draped the garment bag over a high-backed, weathered rocking chair, one of the porch’s sparse adornments. After placing the tote in the rocker’s seat, she unlatched the door and disappeared behind it.
Five minutes of ferreting later, Jane, umbrella in hand, rushed back onto the porch. Now, she would definitely be late. Nerves flared, causing fumbling fingers and a series of key drops as she locked up. With the house secured for a second time, she collected the bag and tote from the rocker, freed a hand to pop open the umbrella, and exited the relative safety of the porch. Rain licked her lower half as she hastily loaded the car. Cargo stowed, she slid behind the wheel, and with a swift turn of her wrist, the old Bronco roared to life.
The church was roughly fifteen minutes away. Jane focused on carving a safe path through the torrents, which provided a welcome distraction as she navigated the hilly, winding road. She rounded the last turn, and uneasiness prickled along her skin like a scratchy sweater.
By the time she pulled into the church’s parking lot, there was little time to spare. While she stabled the Bronco, her mother, Wendy—newspaper canopy clasped overhead—rushed to greet her.
“Momma, you’re gonna ruin your dress in this rain,” said Jane.
“Child,” said Wendy, twang thicker than school glue, “this dress is the least of my worries right now. You’d best get in there and get ready. The groom and his family are already here.”
A grapefruit-sized lump formed in Jane’s stomach. She had known Bud Adkins for most of her life, and for most of his life, Bud had chased after Jane. Two years ago, on the night of her twenty-first birthday, she had finally caved to his advances. It had been her first time.
Despite tequila’s role in the matter, Jane’s moral barometer mandated that her carnal transgression mustn’t be construed as a one-time thing. Naturally, dating Bud was the answer. Yet her girlfriend status somehow intensified his pursuit—only this time, he wanted forever.
Honestly, she was amazed by how long he had endured a virtual girlfriend. Up until her move six months ago, Jane availed herself for dinners, bowling, and the occasional movie, but cited parents, work, or studies as excuses for cutting evenings short. With her own place, avoidance had become nearly impossible. And as much as she’d wanted to deny certain needs, Bud was kind, funny, handsome enough, and had the right equipment.
So, here she was.
“Yes, Momma.” Jane cracked open her door and handed her mother the umbrella.
Despite the church’s diminutive stature, it housed a bride-readying room, complete with vanity, full-length, trifold mirrors, and outlets to spare. Jane sat at the vanity, delicate face accentuated by a glowing row of track lighting on either side. Wendy fussed with Jane’s hair while Jane’s sister, Judy, rifled through Jane’s toiletry bag in search of suitable makeup.
“Jane,” said Judy, “you ain’t got nothin’ good in here.”
“Well, that’s all there is, so you’d better make do.”
Judy huffed and continued hunting until, finally, she gave up and grabbed her shoulder bag, from which she extracted a sizable makeup pouch.
Wendy finished Jane’s updo and instructed her to don the dress. Compliant, Jane stepped to the door, where the garment bag hung from a tarnished brass hook. As she unzipped the bag, white ruffles expanded like decompressed marshmallows, spilling out into the open air. She extracted the dress and wrestled it on. Afterward, Judy ordered her to sit for a proper shellacking.
A few minutes later, Jane stood before the trifold mirror. She admired Judy’s handiwork, which was surprisingly tasteful given her sister’s proclivity for nightclub readiness at all times.
Wendy and Judy stood behind Jane. Wendy’s eyes welled with tears.
“My beautiful baby girl,” said Wendy.
Smirk on her face, Judy said, “She does clean up nice…for a bookworm.”
A rap on the door startled all three women. Wendy scrambled to the door and cracked it open to find Jane’s father, Shane.
“I guess it must be that time,” said Wendy, who took Judy by the hand and exited the room, leaving Jane alone with her father.
“You look beautiful, hon,” said Shane. “Ready to stroll down an aisle with your dear ole daddy?”
Anxiety roared to life, squeezing Jane’s rib cage as if wringing her dry. “Can I have a minute?” she asked, voice breathless and hand instinctively clutching her chest.
Shane’s face pinched with worry. “You okay, hon?”
Jane took a deep breath and smoothed her dress. “I’m fine, Daddy.”
Shane hesitated but ambled toward the door. Before moving through, he turned to face his daughter.
“You know,” said Shane, “The Adkins family is good people, stand-up farming folks, pillars of this community.” His eyes and voice softened. “But I always imagined my Janie living a life of adventure.”
Mouth agape, Jane stood in the doorway, watching her father until he disappeared down the corridor. She turned back into the room, catching a glimpse of herself in the trifold mirror.
“What am I doing?”
Without hesitation, she seized her keys and scurried toward the nearest exit. A few seconds later, she was outside. Heart pounding and water soaking her dress as she bolted for the Bronco, she was sure her adventure had just begun.
Category: Short Story