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Thursday, October 30, 2014

INVITATION TO A WEDDING -- Excerpt #15

"Oh, Kat would be with Marco for the rest of her life if it was up to her," Bekka said. "It's Marco. I think he's getting cold feet or the usual guy immaturity panic, and he's been pulling back lately. Missing lunches, forgetting to call when he said he would, things like that."
"Usual panic? Is Shane putting you through that?"
"Shane?" Bekka's smile changed utterly, and Stacy felt a cold, sharp stab of pure jealousy, seeing the security and happiness and the little bit of amazement that always lit Bekka's eyes when she talked about her fiancé. "No. I might expect him to get a little nervous when the date gets closer, but... solid." She sighed and headed for the kitchen. "Very solid."
"Speaking of the date, when are you going to start looking at dresses and menus and all that junk?" She followed her into the little kitchen, where the smells emerging from the oven and the covered pots on the stove were truly amazing, just as Bekka had promised.
"We have the fellowship hall at church and the sanctuary reserved. Late October. Keep your schedule clear, okay? Pastor Dave and Pastor Glenn are sharing the service. We've talked to Mr. Rick at the bakery about the cake. We're just having a punch and cake reception, and Kat's mom said she'd handle the flowers for us. It's January, and we're getting married in October." Bekka shrugged. "Plenty of time."
"But what about the dress? And the invitations. And decorations. And registering for presents and..." Stacy shrugged, lifting her arms wide to encompass all the multitudes of fine details that went into a splendid wedding.
All the things she had planned on helping Dinah with someday, and Dinah helping her with. And all the things Gretchen was taking care of now.
           Suddenly, she wasn't so hungry. The incredible, rich aromas of the dinner waiting to be eaten seemed to choke her and fill her stomach with lead instead of making her feel empty and weak.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

INVITATION TO A WEDDING -- Excerpt #14

"Did you invite Stacy for dinner?" Mrs. Ashcroft smiled. "I wish I'd thought of that."
"You didn't?" He paused, his hand reaching for the swinging door panel. "Dinah, didn't you say--"
"I think you brought it up, Dad. When we were talking about what time Drake was getting home." Dinah shook her head. "I haven't talked with Stacy since I got home. But I plan on it tonight. Since she's coming to dinner, that sort of solves everything." She smiled and reached for the silverware drawer.
"How do you know she's coming, Dad?" Drake asked. He felt like a slug, just sitting there while his mother and sister worked, but something was off in this whole conversation, something missing, and he had to sit still to focus, or he'd miss it.
"Oh, I mentioned dinner tonight, and her meeting Troy. Where is he, by the way?"
"His plane got delayed again, and he's not arriving until eleven," Dinah said with a sigh. "He called about an hour ago, and we were trying to decide if he should just rent a car and drive the rest of the way. But you invited her for dinner, right?"
"Not exactly, I just assumed..." Mr. Ashcroft's smile faded completely. "I mentioned her coming for dinner, and then Rance Holwood stepped in, and honestly, Stacy never confirmed or denied it."
"Oh, dear," Mrs. Ashcroft said. "That poor girl."
           "What do you mean, poor girl? Stacy's like family. I'm sure she'll understand and laugh. It isn't like we haven't had communications mix-ups before." He stopped halfway through the swinging door and gestured at the telephone. "Call her before she starts making dinner." He winked at his son. "Do I have to think of everything for you people?" With a return of his grin, he headed out the door.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

INVITATION TO A WEDDING -- Excerpt #13

"So, what did Stacy give you?" Drake asked, when he came downstairs, his head slightly aching from the dregs of his nap and from reading until the light dimmed in his office.
"Stacy?" Dinah paused in chopping celery for the salad.
"Yeah, she dropped off a present this morning. I found it on the back step when I came in." He glanced over at their mother, who had come up from the downstairs pantry with a jar of artichoke hearts and one of olives. "Didn't you tell her?"
"The girls just left, and you can't get in a word edgewise when they're around." Mrs. Ashcroft held out both jars to him.
Drake grinned and stepped over to open the jars.
"Now why would I open a present before the party?" Dinah said. Something in her light tone made him pause in wrestling with the tight lid and really look at her.
"Are you two fighting about something?"
"We'd have to be talking to fight." Dinah lifted the cutting board and scraped the celery off it into the bowl. "She hasn't come by, hasn't called, since I got home."
"Maybe she didn't know when you got home, and she's been waiting for you to call?"
"She has a point, dear," Mrs. Ashcroft said.
"Gretchen left messages for her." Dinah shrugged and reached for the tomato and concentrated on coring it before slicing. Drake knew it didn't take that much effort to take out the area where the stem attached. Something bothered his sister.
         Still, he couldn't help snapping at her. "You left it up to Gretchen to tell Stacy you were home? Mom, what's wrong with this picture?"

Friday, October 24, 2014

INVITATION TO A WEDDING -- Excerpt #12

"Hey, what's really bothering you?" Bekka asked, looping her arm through Stacy's.
"Huh? No--" Stacy blinked and realized they had walked three whole blocks while her mind was lost in her painful memories.
"You have been alone way too much. Come on home for dinner with us, okay? Kat's having dinner with her folks, so it's just Rene and me. She made all this incredible food because Hannah and Xander were supposed to come over, but Hannah's new niece decided to make an early entrance so they're all camping at the hospital. Shane has a class, so he's not coming over at all. You gotta come." She tugged harder on Stacy's arm, as if she would pull her across the tree lawn and into the street.
"Bully." Stacy managed a credible laugh.
Bekka was right, she decided a moment later. She was alone too much. She skipped too many Singles group activities at church and took more opportunities to put in extra time at work, so she didn't have to go home to her empty house until she was so tired she ate a bowl of soup and went right to bed.
The cure for loneliness, her grandmother had always said, was to find people who were lonely and be their friend. If she felt sorry for herself, she had to find people with worse troubles, and help them.
        Stacy resolved to find more places to volunteer and get involved, and get out of her silent, too-big house. After she spent a fun evening with friends she didn't know nearly as well as she would like.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

INVITATION TO A WEDDING -- Excerpt #11

Stacy looked down the street, blinking away sudden tears as she pretended to check for traffic that was practically non-existent at this time of the day. It was a one-way street and all traffic turned out of the parking lot headed in the other direction. She remembered clearly those silly summer evenings spent scouring different home goods stores with Dinah, looking for the perfect dehydrator for her to take to Virginia with her when she moved for her nursing job. They had made plans for Stacy to come visit in the summer, when BWU shut down for a few weeks between terms. They had made plans for Dinah to come home in the winter and visit the Metroparks toboggan chutes. They had emailed regularly at least once a week for the first three months. Then it was every ten days, then twice a month. Then Drake introduced Dinah to Troy and Stacy had understood completely when her good friend had practically no time for her.
Then Harmony and Susan had cornered her at Heinke's, by the salad bar, and made sure she knew all the sordid details of Gretchen's new PR job which had resulted in her meeting up with Dinah and renewing their friendship. They had a message from Gretchen specifically for Stacy -- a bit of advice: stop pestering Dinah with her pitiful emails. They didn't even make her laugh anymore, although Gretchen found them rather amusing, especially where Stacy asked if she wanted her to send some of her grandmother's lemon mince bars for Christmas, since Dinah couldn't come home for the holidays that year.
That little detail had told Stacy all she needed to know. Dinah and Gretchen were close enough that Dinah let Gretchen read her emails.

Gretchen finally had what she wanted -- she was Dinah Ashcroft's best friend, and Stacy Belmont had finally been discarded, once and for all. It wasn't like it had been in elementary and middle school, when Dinah would drift away for a week or two and then come running back, apologetic over letting Gretchen and her crowd tempt her away. There was more to life than makeup and gossip magazines and boy bands, after all. This time, the change was permanent.

Monday, October 20, 2014

INVITATION TO A WEDDING -- Excerpt #10

          "Stace?" Bekka Sanderson's voice came as a welcome relief and distraction when Stacy approached the massive arched sandstone entrance of the administration building at quitting time that evening.
Mr. Ashcroft chatted with several men at the landing midway between the first and second floors. His voice was distinctive, especially that rumbling, infectious laughter that hadn't been heard nearly enough since he fell ill last fall. Despite him being busy, Stacy just knew he would see her as she passed by the base of the stairs on her way to the door. There was no other way out of her part of the administration building. The last thing she wanted was for him to call her name -- she would have to stop and wait for him, and then he would link his arm through hers and make her walk out to the car and get in and come home with him, assuming that she was free and planning on coming to a nice, cozy family dinner.
The sad thing was, she was definitely free, but nothing in the world could be more painful than to walk in the door of the Ashcroft house as if nothing had changed. As if she hadn't been ignored by Dinah for the last two years, since she moved to Virginia and Retchin' Gretchen latched onto her to become best buddies. Finally. As if she hadn't lost sight of Drake. As if she hadn't been forgotten like worn out linens since her grandmother died. It was easy to see she had only been included in the Ashcroft family because of her grandmother, and not because they actually wanted her and loved her as if she were one of their own.
"Hey, you okay?" Bekka said, catching hold of Stacy's arm. She glanced up the stairs, where the four men were still chatting, their voices echoing up the massive vaulted entryway to the fourth floor and back down.
           "Huh? Oh -- sorry. Spaced out." Stacy tried to laugh. "Too much time staring at my monitor, I guess. You spend too long untangling coding, you start thinking and seeing codes. What's up?" She stepped out into the entryway, putting Bekka between her and the stairs.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

INVITATION TO A WEDDING -- Excerpt #9

"What's wrong?" his mother said, coming in with the third and last tray, full of coffee and punch cups. She tipped her head at the bowl of stroganoff, still steaming from a visit to the microwave. By this time, Drake had settled down at the counter on a stool with his food. But he wasn't eating. "You didn't catch something on that drive home, did you?" She immediately stepped up to him and pressed her cool, smooth hand against his forehead.
"I'm fine, Mom." Drake caught hold of her hand when she would have withdrawn it. "Just a lot of memories. I keep wishing Mrs. B was here."
"Oh, so do I. She'd be so delighted with Dinah and Troy. I miss not being able to share the whole celebration with her." His mother settled down on the other stool. "But it's more than missing her funeral, isn't it?"
"There was a present on the back step when I came in. From Stacy."
"Stacy? Now why would she leave it by the back door? And why didn't she come in with it? As far as I know, she still has a key to the house." His mother's frown deepened and she sat back, withdrawing her hand.
"How come Stacy wasn't here, in the middle of things with Dinah?"
"I don't -- I don't know." She shook her head. "It's been such a whirlwind since Dinah got home, I guess I didn't even think about it. I guess I just assumed that she had to work today. And your sister didn't say anything."
"What, Mom?" Drake didn't like that deeper wrinkle in between his mother's eyebrows, that frown and flicker of sadness, maybe even hurt in her crystalline gray eyes, which he had inherited.
"She didn't RSVP for Friday. I expected her to stop by and tell us, but she hasn't called or returned the card from the invitation."
Muffled giggles startled Drake, and he looked up to see Gretchen and another girl who was vaguely familiar, standing in the swinging door from the kitchen.
"You know how that Belmont girl always used to be, when we were kids. So disorganized. She probably lost the invitation or she threw away the RSVP. She probably doesn't even know what RSVP means," Gretchen said. She punctuated that with a toss of her platinum curls as she stepped into the kitchen.