“Welcome, Miss Knox. The ladies are expecting you. Just go straight up.”
“Thanks Robert,” answered Carlene.
She loved the building’s entrance. Neither she nor Heath lived in doorman buildings. It seemed luxurious to walk in and have someone hand you packages. Carlene’s mother had an Hour Shower in her hometown of Hadlock Harbor, Maine, a few weeks prior. The Turndot family and friends of the groom, all invited, politely declined, and Ruby and Bits Turndot, the future sisters-in-law of Carlene Knox offered to have one at their apartment in New York. The doorman entrance and Ruby and Bits “shabby chic, everything is chipped” décor struck Carlene as somewhat in opposition, but she wanted to make a good impression so complimented the sisters' taste.
BITS: Carlene, this is so great you are letting us do this. Cannot wait. Lots of fun.
CARLENE: I appreciate being so welcomed to the family.
Texts were the frequent modicum of communication, and often left Carlene in a state of ambiguity as to how to interpret messages pinged by her fiancée’s sisters. Heath told her she was paranoid if she asked for his input in how to respond, and she found no matter what she responded, it probably would be wrong. When the sisters offered to host a shower, she immediately said yes, letting them guide the process. Carlene and Heath spent hours at Bergdorf’s china department examining, inspecting, debating and finally choosing items to remain in their possession for life. Before Ruby and Bits sent out the invitations, they texted Carlene about registering elsewhere.
RUBY: Carlene, it’s so sweet that you registered for such lovely items. You really should register
at Macy’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Target and Home Depot.
CARLENE: Yes, of course. What a great idea.
Carlene waited before responding, considered showing it to Heath, but decided he would side with Ruby. After work, three weeks before the shower, Carlene chose towels, a shower curtain and various everyday items like a blender and toaster oven at Macy’s. Heath and Home Depot did not fit together in one sentence, and the other two box stores of home goods seemed even less personal than Macy’s. She dreamt of items coming in big-bowed boxes imprinted with a scoll-style B. When Carlene checked the Macy’s register on Friday afternoon, the day before the shower, no items showed checkmarks next to them. Carlene’s response to the shower gnawed at her, but she felt a gracious front maintained calm and peace between her and Heath, and her and her husband-to-be’s family.
Carlene and Heath moved to the City, along with most of their friends from Colby, the summer after graduation. Carlene’s friends from earlier in life remained primarily in Maine, and Heath’s from Choate either came from the tri-state area or were enamored with the vibe of New York. The apartment on 96th between Amsterdam and Columbus did not close until a week after their wedding, hence the need to stay in their respective apartments with their roommates for now. In reality, they spent more time at Carlene’s place, as the girls kept it much cleaner than Heath’s.
Both came from two-parent working families, but with jobs in banking and seven years post-college, saved a good-sized nest egg. To their families, it appeared they lived the high life, and money did not affect many of their joint decisions. While partially true, they did as those around them. Their parents helped with small amounts towards the wedding, but the bulk came from Carlene and Heath including a rehearsal dinner at Momofuku Noodle Bar and a sit-down wedding dinner at La Grenouille. What struck their families as showy, made them feel part of the NY scene. Most of their friends, other than one of Carlene’s roommates, who still waited tables while awaiting discovery for her acting and singing talents, took weekend jaunts, rented ski houses together in Vermont, and beach houses in the Hamptons for the summer.
From the outside, Ruby who worked at a publishing house, and Bitsy as a buyer at Bloomingdales, saw Heath as someone going places, and Carlene riding on his coattails despite the fact she worked as many hours as he did. To them, she wore a scarlet GD for Gold Digger emblazoned on her forehead. Carlene, an only child, other than some close cousins, had nothing to compare familial interactions to and did not entirely comprehend the attitude of Heath’s sisters towards her. When invited to dinners out at places like Picholine, Café des Artistes, and Le Cirque, the answers from the Ruby and Bits ricocheted with a resounding affirmative. And when invited for a glass of wine and hanging out to watch a football game at Carlene’s, the negative response came back even faster. They had no interest in accepting Heath’s apartment invites, but anything that involved an invite to a place where someone else paid, they showed up, always a bit overdressed.
HEATH: How’d it go? Need me to help carry loot?
CARLENE: No guests. No loot.
HEATH: Joke, right?
CARLENE: No guests. No loot.
HEATH: What do you mean?
CARLENE: In cab. Meet my apartment in 30.
Tears rained silently inside of Carlene until she closed the door of the cab. Crying, unless she sent an emoji, impossible to convey through text, but when Heath saw the red eyes and puffy face, she knew he would understand immediately. Thirty minutes did not go by quickly enough. She had given him a key, so Carlene did not need to get up to buzz him in. Her roommates were fine with the key, as long as Heath cooked in rotation and bought decent wine.
“What happened?” said Heath, his innocence endearing. He looked down at the small piles of crumpled tissues on and under the glass coffee table. She burst into full body heaving sobs again. The wine glass, freshly filled, sat next to the Kleenex box and the half empty bottle on the other side, After about ten minutes of hugging, comforting and wiping her nose and tears across Heath’s shoulder, Carlene took a double gulp of wine, and inhaled a very wet sniffle, finally ready to attempt to answer his question.
“Got there,” she gasped and blew her nose again. “All looked good, in your sister’s type of decorating way.”
Heath released his arms that were wrapped around her, loosely enough for them to look at one another, but not closely enough for Carlene to use his shirt as a tissue again.
“My sisters were very gracious to invite my mother’s friends and family, plus a few of my friends, to your shower.”
“Wait, can I tell you what happened?” she asked. Heath sat further back and folded his arms across his chest, still facing Carlene. “Oh, they invited people. TWO DAYS AGO.” Carlene managed to get it out without any gasps or gulps. Their eyes locked as her voice raised.
Heath scratched his head. Huh, showed on his face, and Carlene added, “so the shower, THE SHOWER, was me, Ruby and Bits. No one else, no anything to bring home.” She reached for a Kleenex and gave a loud honk. Carlene got up and walked over to the table by the door. A small white bag with a gold bow sat on its side. Tossed on the table as Carlene came through the door, the contents remained inside. Removing the candle and frame from the bag, she held them up for Heath to see.
“Where are Margie and Janine?” Heath asked looking around at the closed doors.
“Working some catering gig for Margie’s boss, so not here, why?” asked Carlene. They came to the shower in Maine, so Carlene left them off the New York list.
“Just wondered, the doors are all closed,” he said. “Bottle of wine alone? Must be bad.”
“I already texted them. They know.” Carlene regarded her friend’s support as more important than Heath’s when it came to his sisters.
“No one came?” Heath asked again for clarification.
Carlene explained that she got there early as planned, brought scented candles as hostess gifts for each of his sisters. No one showed up, they ate some dried-crust sandwiches, drank some bad wine, and she returned home carrying the equivalent number of gifts that she arrived with, but only one a scented candle and the other a Hallmark silver plated picture frame in a box with dented corners.
Heath sat quietly, his arms still folded against his chest. Carlene went to the bathroom and splashed cold water on her face. She returned with splotches on her shirt.
Deciding it best to say nothing to Ruby and Bits, thus avoiding a family blow-up right before the wedding, they decided to cancel the rehearsal dinner at Momofuko’s, employ Margie and Janine for the catering, and to hold it at Carlene’s instead. Carlene pulled another glass from the cabinet, pushed the Kleenex box to the other side of the table, and poured a glass of wine for Heath. They waited about thirty minutes between each answer from Heath’s sisters.
HEATH: Rehearsal dinner changed to Carlene’s apartment.
RUBY: OMG, we can’t make it. See you at the wedding.