Authors: Jackie Wang
ou look drop-dead gorgeous
“Thanks, Mom,” I said, giving my mother a hug. I was wearing something Rob had picked out for me: a conservative but eye-catching navy blue dress. I continued greeting other guests as they piled into the banquet hall. There were thirty-five guests in total, all family. Twenty-five of them were Rob's immediate and extended family. My parents came with my teenage brother, Chris, my aunts, uncles, cousins and my grandparents from both sides. Everyone took turns squeezing me and fussing over how gorgeous I looked.
I hadn't seen most of my relatives in person for almost ten years because they lived in Hong Kong. They'd made the thirteen-hour flight across the ocean just for me. And that was no easy feat, considering my dad's parents were over eighty-five years old. I saw my parents and Chris every six months because they lived in Portland, which was only a two-hour flight. I should've felt touched and grateful that they were all here, but in reality, I was on the verge of a panic attack. Too many relatives crammed in the same room roused an all too familiar anxiety inside me.
Sixty-three, sixty, seventy-seven, seventy-four, seventy-one, sixty-eight…
Huh, no wait, I messed up.
Shit, even counting down wasn’t helping. I’d learned to count down by threes ever since I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder at thirteen. That, along with positive visualization and controlled breathing kept my anxiety in check on most days. Today felt like one of those days I’d lose control.
“I can't believe little Ting Ting is getting married,” Auntie Xiang said, pinching my cheek. I hated that God-awful nickname. “Your uncle and I have prepared a huge red envelope for you.”
“That's very kind of you, Auntie, thank you,” I said. It was tradition for Chinese relatives to give thick red envelopes full of cash as wedding gifts. But of course, I felt terrible, since my parents shouldered the cost of the wedding, and Rob and I were getting paid for it (well, sort of).
So far, I'd smiled and talked so much the corners of my mouth were cracking. My throat was parched and I needed some bubbly to soothe my nerves. My thumbnail left crescent-shaped indents against my palm over and over. It was a nervous habit I'd picked up as a child. That and picking my lips. Always a bundle of nerves, as Mom would say. And this was just the rehearsal dinner.
“You picked a good one,” my other aunt, Linda said. “Rob is so handsome and he has such a good, stable job! The perfect husband.”
“Thanks Auntie Linda,” I said. I glanced over at my fiancé. Rob was wearing a bespoke Armani suit and his hair was gelled back and parted to the left. His spindly frame wove in and out of the crowd like a squirrel on crack. He was greeting his relatives, the ones who'd flown in from Shenzhen and Beijing, and conversing with them in fluent Mandarin.
Rob's family came from old money. I swear, he once told me he descended from some Shang Dynasty emperor. His family manufactured industrial-grade plastics in Beijing and the Li empire had a combined net worth of over fifty million US dollars. A large portion of which Rob stood to inherit because he was the elite scion everyone put on a gilded pedestal. I had no doubt some of his relatives thought I was a gold digger.
My family wasn’t poor. We were upper middle class. My mom was a nurse and my dad, a Chemistry professor. We grew up living a normal, but comfortable life. When I met Rob during my final year of university, he changed my life. He swept me off my feet with his lavish gestures and romantic getaways. I felt shallow for indulging in these superficial delights, but everyone told me to just have fun, so I went along with it. Somehow, six years flew by. I should've counted myself lucky. My entire family thought so. But as I looked at Rob, I couldn't help but feel apprehensive about our upcoming wedding. It wasn't that I didn't want to get married. I mean, I'd wanted him to pop the question for years now. It was just...
I suddenly realized why I was feeling so nervous.
Somewhere in the back of my head, I was still hung up on him and his words and his spicy scent. His dark gray eyes and that unreadable face. He was an enigma I never had the chance to solve. A wildcard I’d never see again. A thousand-piece puzzle I unwrapped, but never got the chance to assemble.
I felt a hand on the small of my back and flinched.
“Relax, baby,” Rob said, guiding me towards the table. “You look nervous. Deep breaths, Rach.”
We walked to the head of the table and Rob tapped his champagne glass. All eyes flew to him.
As Rob delivered his welcome speech, I felt myself sweating from all the attention. Thirty-five pairs of eyes were trained on us. Thirty-five pairs of judgmental, unblinking eyes. What if I had lipstick between my teeth? Or crumbs on my face?
A shoulder nudge. “Rach?”
Rob smiled. “Would you like to say something?”
“Oh right,” I said, reaching for my purse. I unfolded my crinkled speech. “Rob and I would like to sincerely thank you all for coming here tonight…” I read the entire thing without looking up at the audience once. I only paused to catch my breath twice, and by the end of it, I was literally gasping for air. My knees knocked together, and my ankles felt weak. If I had the jitters this bad now, what would happen on the actual wedding day? This audience was just family...while the real wedding included strangers I'd never met before. What would I do then?
After we found our seats, Rob wrapped his hand around mine. “Are you okay, Rach? You seem pale.”
“Just overwhelmed by all of it. Sorry—”
“You don't need to apologize,” Rob said, squeezing my hand. “I'm a bit overwhelmed too. But we'll get through this together. Promise.”
“Smile!” Mom said, holding out her smartphone.
I plastered a smile on my face and leaned in closer to Rob. “Thanks for understanding, baby.”
“What are husbands for?” Rob kissed me on the cheek and I heard Mom giggle. Mom slipped her phone back into her purse and said, “You two are just adorable.” Tonight, she’d curled her shoulder length hair and put on too much perfume. I didn’t like it.
Dad and my future in-laws joined us moments later. My parents, Chris, and Rob's parents sat at our table. Rob’s parents, Lisa and Hang, were immaculate in their expensive, matching outfits. Teardrop diamond earrings hung from Lisa’s earlobes while Hang’s wrist sported a flashy Rolex. They were not ones to be modest about their wealth.
“Excellent speech,” Hang said, beaming. “I can’t wait to call you my daughter.”
“Thanks…” I paused. Should I start calling him “Dad”, or did I have to wait until after the wedding? I wasn’t sure. It was clearly rude to call him by his first name, so I just didn’t call him anything. “I really appreciate you saying that.”
“So Hang…” Dad said. He proceeded to launch into an animated conversation with Hang about the stock market. Rob joined in. Mom began chastising Chris for using the wrong fork. Rob's mom, Lisa, turned and smiled at me. “It’s nice to see you again, Rachelle. You look wonderful.” She had a thick Chinese accent, and she was smiling so much her eyes were puffy slits. Her over-powdered face also did nothing to hide the deep grooves along her forehead.
“Thanks. You too,” I said, faking a smile.
“Robert, you look handsome as well.”
“Thanks, Mom,” Rob said before turning his focus back on the stock market conversation.
Lisa’s cold fingers brushed against mine. “Are all the wedding arrangements complete?” she asked. “Do you still need help with anything?”
I nodded and forced my shoulders to relax. “Yes. No, we’re finished. All set.” Did my smile seem fake? All these people oozing money and status made my head swim. I wasn’t one of them.
I could almost hear someone calling me out on it.
I wasn’t one of them.
“Good. There will be three-hundred of our closest friends and colleagues there. It has to go off without a hitch.” Her terse tone sounded borderline abrasive.
She didn't have to remind me of that. I knew what the stakes were.
“Don't worry, Mrs. Li, everything will be perfect,” I said, forcing my lips to pull up into another smile. It
to be perfect. Reputations were at stake: not just mine and Rob's, but our families' reputations. The Lis were famous for their over-the-top weddings. In China, they spent a million renminbi (approximately $200,000 US) on Rob’s
wedding. Weddings were no fucking joke in China. It was all one big pissing contest, and the Li family cared about ‘face’ more than anyone else I knew. Now it was Rob’s turn and his American wedding needed to blow Cousin Mickey’s out of the water.
“Mom,” Rob suddenly interrupted, “People will be talking about this wedding for years. It'll blow their minds.” His hand found mine and squeezed it under the table. I shot Rob a small smile.
After dinner, the dance floor opened up and Rob invited me to dance, but I refused. I said I had cramps, but in reality, I was just trying my best not to think about the way Kieran ground up against me the other night. Rob was a great dancer, but he didn’t have Kieran’s savage, animal edge. Rob was just a safe and boring dentist, after all. Kieran? Kieran was half gentleman, half
Rob decided to dance with his grandma instead and I stayed in the dining area, nursing a glass of champagne. I sipped my drink slowly, watching everyone else have fun and berating myself for not enjoying the occasion. My moodiness was raining on everyone’s parade, even if they didn’t tell me outright.
“I fucking hate gwai los,” someone said behind me.
I furrowed my brows and turned around. “Excuse me?” The person speaking was none other than Micky, Rob's cousin and best man. The one who recently had a million dollar wedding. He was talking to Rob's other cousin and fellow groomsmen, Tian.
“Nothing, Rachelle. Just talking about this asshole I once knew,” Micky said.
“No need for racial slurs,” I admonished. “There are kids here.”
“They can't hear us,” Mickey said. He continued talking to Liam. “Anyway, you know what that fucking bastard did? Fucking broke my goddamn arm and dislocated my jaw!”
“No fucking way,” Liam replied.
“Yeah, it was fucked up man...”
I couldn’t believe how racist and immature Rob’s groomsmen were. Maybe it was the alcohol talking but…did they really need to use that kind of language at my rehearsal dinner? To think, these were the men Robert hung around with the most…Hardly a classy crowd.
I decided to relocate so I wouldn't have to hear them vomiting expletives. Their hyena laughter sliced through the air, pissing me off even more.
I set down my champagne flute and sat next to my mom again. She was nursing a glass of Prosecco and watching Dad make a fool of himself on the dance floor.
“How are you, Mom?”
“Rachelle, you should be dancing with Rob. He's a great dancer,” Mom said, eyes trained on her future son-in-law. “Look at those moves.”
Rob this, Rob that…
“I'm feeling a bit queasy and bloated,” I said, using the same excuse I'd given Rob.
“You're not going to get your period on your wedding day are you?” Mom asked, panicky. “Because that pretty white dress cost a fortune—”
“Relax, Mom, I have an IUD. I haven't even had a period for six months,” I said.
Mom gasped. “Rachelle! You know those things will kill you! It's unnatural to put foreign objects in your body! Besides, shouldn't you already have it removed so you can have a honeymoon baby?”
“Mom! We haven't even talked about when we want kids yet,” I said.
Why was she always so in-my-face about everything?
My mother had always been controlling of me when I was growing up, but most days I let it go. I just didn’t have the heart to stand up to her, and I didn’t want to upset the delicate equilibrium we’d achieved in the past few years.
“Rachelle, everyone wants—expects a grandchild by next year,” Mom stated. “We want—”
I cut Mom short, my chest growing tight. “What about what I want? What Rob wants?” I fumed. “We're going to be the ones raising the child. You and Dad live too far away and Rob's parents live on the other side of the world.”
Mom swallowed hard. “Just saying, Rachelle. Don't make us wait too long.”
“We'll discuss it when the time is right,” I finally said. I downed the rest of my champagne and sprang for the dance floor. Anything to avoid further discussions with my mom. After scouting my fiancé, I tapped his shoulder and asked for the next dance. His entire face lit up. “I knew you’d come around,” he murmured, pulling me up against him. After a few songs, I realized that Rob
a really good dancer. Better than I expected. But his touch didn’t set fire to my skin the way Kieran’s did. Not that I should be comparing…
Twenty minutes later, I could no longer keep up with Rob. “Let’s go home, babe. I’m exhausted,” I said.
Rob wrapped his arm around my waist and nodded. “Okay.” We made our farewells before driving home.
Later that night, while we were lying in bed, I asked Rob, “Do you want kids?” I couldn’t believe we were having this conversation now. It’d just never really come up. I was always on birth control, and Rob never mentioned trying to get pregnant. But with the wedding happening in five days, I needed to know we were on the same page.
Rob shifted towards me. I could feel his breath hot against my neck; it was oppressive and sticky. “Of course I do, baby. Imagine how cute our children would be.” Rob nuzzled my cheek with the tip of his nose and kissed me. “A baby with your gorgeous eyes and my handsome smile.”
“The sooner the better,” Rob said. “Everyone's been—”
“That's just it,” I said. “Do you think
ready? I mean, forget about what everyone else says. Do you think we're capable of raising a baby?”
Rob propped himself up on his elbow. “What do you mean, Rach? Of course we are. We have our own place, we're getting married and I’ve got a solid, well-paying job. We're young and well off. I don't see—”