I’m kneeling in front of Frosty the Snowman’s lesser-known and more flamboyant cousin, Fluffy the Sparkle Monster. Buried inside Fluffy is a very slim, very non-fluffy bride-to-be. Her name is Karen, but she prefers to go by Kay-Kay. Her long brown hair is poker straight. Her narrow features are pinched into an expression of mild but palpable dissatisfaction. She pats down the organza ruffles that spill out from her waist. They bounce back into place as if determined to display their full glory.
“It’s huge.” A reedy girl in double topknots shakes her head in wonder. I think her name’s Hallie. She’s the bride’s younger sister. She’s wearing a navy spandex mini-dress and a skintight bolero. Every piece of clothing probably seems huge to her.
The bride’s mother steps back, tapping a finger to her lips.
“Is it supposed to be so . . . white?” she asks.
The bride shoots her a glare. “What should it be? Scarlet? Puce? Puke green?”
A trio of the bride’s friends chimes in, all offering cheerful but bland support on how Kay-Kay would look beautiful in anything. The bride pouts, her mother scolds her, her sister offers a biting retort, a bridesmaid snaps back, and soon everyone is squabbling. I wait until the noise dims. Then I ask the bride to make a quarter turn to her left so I can continue pinning her hem. It’s a glamorous task. No doubt I’m the envy of all my peers.
My mom enters from the back room, carrying a tray of fruit and cheese. Her sleek dark hair rises in a tidy twist, the perfect match for her equally sleek black suit. We all wear black at Beneath the Veil, not because it’s timeless and chic, but because we’re not supposed to be seen. All eyes should be on the bride. My mom smiles as she sets the tray down next to several flutes of sparkling cider. Her smile looks warm and genuine, honed from years of practice. I’ve tried to mimic it, but I don’t have it in me. I can push out a bland compliment here and there, but the wedding industry irritates the crap out of me. It advertises a beautiful, blissful fairy tale. What happens in this shop is anything but.
I keep pinning the hem while my mom checks the fit of Kay-Kay’s bodice. It has so many beads, I’m not sure how she finds the seams.
“I can give you another half an inch on the sides,” she offers.
The bride whips toward her, sweeping a swath of ruffles across my face. “I don’t need half an inch. Why do you think I need half an inch? I don’t need any halves of any inches!” Her voice is practically manic. Her fingers tense and curl like claws.
My mom takes a step back, renewing her smile. “Of course. My error.” She doesn’t look my way, but she flashes me two fingers behind her back. We’re not letting out the dress half an inch. We’re going for the full inch. That way the bride will not only fit, she’ll think she lost more weight than she planned. The happier she is, the better her review will be, and the more likely my mom’s business will stay afloat another year.
The bride tears up, blubbering about the cookie she shouldn’t have eaten last night. One of her friends finds the tissue box we keep handy near the cluster of faux baroque sofas and chairs at the center of the store. The other girls coo and coddle, patting Kay-Kay’s hair and rubbing her back.
“I’ll lose the last ten,” she sputters through her tears. “I can do it, right?”
Her friends all chime in on cue.
“You’ll look perfect.”
I grit my teeth around the end of a safety pin. If the bride loses ten pounds, she’ll disappear. The groom will have to marry the dress. I hope they’ll be very happy together.
My mom and I spend two hours with the bride. We could do the fitting in less than half that time, but we pad the appointments to allow for the preening and bickering. Sure enough, by the time I hang the dress on its padded hanger, Kay-Kay’s friends and family have argued about the dress, the shoes, the hair, the venue, the food, the flowers, the table decorations, and everyone’s all-time favorite: the guest list. No one has mentioned the word love. They haven’t mentioned the groom, either. He appears to be less important than gluten-free crostini. Like usual. After working in this store from the time I was old enough to thread a sewing needle or tally a spreadsheet, it’s hard to believe weddings have anything to do with love. Frankly, it’s hard to believe in love at all.
Pippa enters the shop as we’re finishing with Kay-Kay’s bridal party. She greets everyone before scheduling the bride’s final fitting and the bridesmaids’ dress alterations. Thank god we’re not building them all from scratch. And thank god for Pippa. She’s not only brilliant with scheduling and handling the calls, she can smile through anything. And her smiles aren’t even fake. She’s happy by nature, infectiously so. She credits her unrelenting cheerfulness to her many freckles. Apparently when she was little, her mom told her freckles resulted from fairy giggles. With all that mirth and magic stamped onto Pippa’s skin, how could she not be happy?
With a few artfully delivered compliments, my mom ushers Kay-Kay’s group out, causing the jingle bells on the door to ring. That sound is my cue to relax. I sink onto the green velvet chaise at the center of the room, surrounded by tossed-aside veils, unboxed satin pumps, and several padded hangers with the store’s scrolling gold-print logo. Pippa joins me, collecting scattered shoes and pairing them up in their boxes.
“How you holding up, Harper?” she asks me.
“Need coffee. And anti-bride spray.”
She rolls her eyes, unimpressed with my snark, as usual.
“Let me guess,” she says. “They wanted everything to be perfect.”
“That word should have a trigger warning.”
“Going to make it through three more fittings today?”
“As long as they’re ‘perfect.’” I fall sideways onto the chaise, wishing school was still in session so I wasn’t working here basically all the time. “Saturdays are the worst. Especially in June. Is the entire state of Pennsylvania getting married this summer?”
“Get that attitude out of your system now,” my mom scolds from the fitting room,