“Bridal showers serve actual food and not just appetizers, right?” I ask my sister, Izzie, as we walk across the narrow, residential street to the two-story, light blue house. My stomach is praying the answer is yes.
According to Ma, this is the bride-to-be’s niece’s home. If that’s not confusing enough, my sister and I don’t know who the bride is because Ma won’t tell us. It might be a huge, delicious secret and Ma wants to see our delighted expressions, although I can’t imagine who it could be that would excite us. We’re not exactly close with Ma’s friends. Or Ma’s simply forcing us to attend because she doesn’t want to go alone. I can’t imagine the latter either, though. Ma is a social person. She loves a good cookout, holidays are like candy to her, and she’s never said no to a party.
Izzie smirks. She can probably see the ravenousness in my eyes. “I’m sure there will be.”
Thank goodness. I’m not sure I can survive an afternoon of chips, salsa, and crustless cucumber sandwiches.
Ma, who leads us to the front walkway, stops and turns around. She’s holding a large, pink-wrapped box. She won’t tell us what’s inside. It’s an afternoon of mystery, and Ma is the ringleader.
She’s only told us that the bride-to-be is an old friend of hers. They were friendly years ago and drifted apart. Recently, the woman started coming into our family owned deli, and they reconnected. I don’t recall seeing Ma chitchatting with any customer more than usual lately. Maybe this bride comes in the early morning, before I get to work. Ma received an invite a couple of days ago. It was last minute, but due to their recent relationship renewal, it’s acceptable. Normally, Ma would’ve declined because of the short notice. She’s a stickler for etiquette. Tonight, after the shower, she’ll go home and handwrite a thank you note and send it by snail mail. There’s nothing wrong with that. Most people prefer email these days.
“This is going to be fun,” Ma says. “I promise you.”
“I’m not complaining,” I say. This isn’t my first choice of Saturday afternoon activities, especially since I doubt I’ll know anyone attending. But I have my sister, who is safely in the second trimester of her pregnancy, which means she’s no longer grumpy. And it’s not like I lead a riveting life. Well, I did help solve a couple of murders recently, and I do see ghosts and help them move on. But it’s been dead for a while. Pun intended.
Ma holds up her hand and cuts off my train of thought. “I know it’s last minute, and while I’m glad I’m here, my mind is also on all of the food that still needs to be prepped and prepared for tomorrow.”
Sunday dinner is a holy event at Ma’s house. She and Pop prepare more food than any one family can consume, and the men mostly watch TV while the women cook and clean, which annoys me to no end. But it’s mandatory. If you have Mancini blood running through your veins or if you’re married to one of us, you have to be there. On time. But it’s also a day that I get to spend with both of my siblings together, as well as our parents, and it always makes me feel loved.
Ma takes a deep breath. “Let’s put on our smiles and wish my friend a happy marriage. Capisci?”
Izzie and I obediently nod. We understand.
Ma fluffs the side of her dark hair. She must’ve teased it out, because it looks fuller than normal. Not like 80s dramatic but enough to slim down the fullness of her heart-shaped face. Like me, she has some girth to her, but she’s still considered average sized. I, however, edged into plus-size some years ago. What can I say? I like to eat, and I’m not ashamed of it.
“What are you grinning at?” Ma asks.
My smile grows. “You. You look pretty.”
She’s wearing that red lipstick that brightens her face, blush, and mascara that opens her eyes. And underneath her black, knee-length coat is a royal blue, figure-hugging dress. She’s always been a looker, but most of the time, I only see Ma. The woman who keeps nudging me to settle down with my taking-it-slow boyfriend, or who still reminds me to make regular dental appointments because clean teeth means good health.
A corner of her mouth lifts, and she waves away my words. “I have two beautiful daughters. You both look stunning.”
I can tell by the spark in her eye that she appreciates the compliment, but she gets flustered and likes to direct the attention elsewhere. She grins at her eldest. “I’m glad you bought that dress, Izzie. The cranberry color makes you glow.”
I consider pointing out that it’s the pregnancy that makes my sister sparkle, but it took some convincing to get Izzie to buy maternity clothes. Despite this being her second child, she wanted to buy clothes in a bigger size. I don’t know why. Maternity has some adorable pieces these days.
Izzie is a lot like Ma with the whole compliment thing, so she turns to me and points to my feet.
I’m wearing a new pair of boots. I have a mild obsession with chunky-heeled boots and a strong distaste for high heels. I can appreciate a wedge, but those spiky heels are uncomfortable and make me wobble. They’re gorgeous but deadly. Chunky-heeled boots, however, offer height, which helps my five-foot-two frame, and comfort. Plus, they’re adorable. I own at least ten pairs. More like a dozen. Okay, maybe two. Mild obsession may not be the right word. Perhaps severe is best.
The pair I’m wearing today are knee-highs, and the hem of my black dress meets them. If I stand still, it almost looks like my outfit is part skirt and part footie pajamas. I don’t own many fancy dresses. I’m more of a leggings kind of girl. You can dress them down or up. And while I probably look like I’m going to either a cocktail party or a funeral, I thought it better than wearing the only clean pair of leggings in my closet. The ones with the baby lambs on them. I had considered it though. Suffice to say, I seriously need to do laundry.
Ma nods. “They’re a wonderful choice. Like I said, two beautiful daughters. Now let’s do this.”
Izzie and I follow her up the walkway.
The front door opens, and a light brunette woman in a green blouse and black pencil skirt greets us. I stare at her face with my jaw hung open. Oh my God, that’s Raina Stone. The actress. She’s starred in three of my favorite movies. She’s not super famous but enough that I expect to see paparazzi hanging outside. At least one gossip rag photographer.
“Little Kelly Harper, is that you all grown-up?” Ma says with the enthusiasm of a high school cheerleader. Except her perky tone isn’t fake and over-the-top.
Kelly Harper? Does Ma need glasses?
My brain pulls up some long buried information that I read online about Raina Stone back when I saw and fell in love with her first movie. Raina Stone was born Lorraine Bliss, and she has an identical twin, Kelly. Oh wow. I’m glad I remembered that before rushing forward and asking for an autograph. And now that I pull myself away from fangirling, I realize they don’t look exactly the same. Raina is a platinum blonde.
“Mrs. Mancini.” Little Kelly Harper, who’s in her late thirties and no longer little, embraces Ma in a quick hug with the gift pressed between them.
“I’m glad you came. I know it was short notice. I’m sorry for that. Lorraine’s schedule was last minute.”
So Raina’s here too? My excitement builds. This is the best surprise ever. I quickly glance to Izzie, who doesn’t appear fazed in the least. She’s not a Raina groupie, but how is this not a big deal? She has to see the resemblance. She watched Raina’s movies alongside me a couple of times.
“No, no, it’s fine. We’re happy to be here. You probably don’t remember my daughters, Izzie and Gianna. Thank you for inviting them too.”
Kelly looks over Ma’s shoulder and smiles at us. It’s obvious she doesn’t know who we are, but she’s polite enough not to show it. “It’s great to see all of you. Come inside. It’s cold.”
She’s right. We had such a mild season so far, but I took out my thick, hooded, black cape this morning. The air is crisp, and it smells like we may get snow soon. And the cape makes me feel like a superhero.
We enter the warm house and take off our coats. The foyer is small and cramped. The house smells of garlic, onions, and other scents that mesh so well I can’t make them out individually. But my stomach growls, and I’m super excited. That’s not the scent of cucumbers.
“You’re married, right? And have a daughter?” Ma asks Kelly.
Kelly’s smile is so soft it’s almost absent. “Yes, married ten years. Our daughter is almost two.”
“Oh, that’s such a precious age.” Ma looks to us. “I clearly remember you two at that age. Always curious and mischievous.”
I glance to my sister. “I was curious. You were the mischievous one. Still are.” Izzie and Kelly chuckle. Then Kelly takes our coats and the gift and walks into the room to our right.
I look to our left to where the voices are coming from and see a living room that’s been decorated with white, silver, and light blue balloons. A large, professionally printed banner across the fireplace mantel says Congratulations Wilma and Fred!
I nudge Izzie and jut my chin toward the sign. It takes her a moment to figure out what I want her to see, and then her eyes widen, and she holds back a chuckle.
What are the chances a woman named Wilma meets and falls in love with a man named Fred and they aren’t cartoon characters? And why does the name Wilma sound familiar? Aside from being a famous redhead who wears bones.
Kelly returns and leads us into the crowd of chatting women. “Aunt Wilma, Mrs. Mancini and her daughters are here.”
Her aunt, a willowy brunette in a light blue blouse and ivory-colored trousers stands when she sees Ma. A huge smile takes over the woman’s face, and they hug like best friends. The bride’s excitement makes me grin along with them.
Wilma is a few inches taller than Ma, so she looks over her shoulder to Izzie and me. She pulls herself from their embrace. “Oh my goodness. Isabella and Gianna? You two are beautiful.”
I smile. How can I not? Who doesn’t love a compliment? And I take them graciously. No need to direct the attention elsewhere. But the feeling of déjà vu ebbs and flows until I feel almost dizzy. Why is this woman familiar?
Wilma hugs us both at the same time. Then she points to me. “Gianna, right? I’d remember those big brown eyes anywhere. As a child, you took everything in. You were so curious.”
I give Izzie an I-told-you-so smirk. “Congratulations on your upcoming wedding.” Izzie offers the same sentiment.
A few of the seated women cheer. They must all be Wilma’s friends as they’re all in their mid-fifties like Ma.
Wilma’s smile never ends. She looks like she’s glowing from the inside out.
The doorbell rings, and right before Wilma turns to greet her latest guests, she whispers to me, “He’s looking forward to seeing you.”
I frown. What is she talking about? I glance to Ma.
She winks at me and then turns to one of the other women.
What’s going on here?
Izzie tugs my arm and whispers, “I need to find a bathroom.”
I nod and lead the way back through the living room, past women discussing
Activia yogurt, bran, and other ways of staying “regular,” and into the foyer. Whatever Ma and Wilma have cooked up will reveal itself soon enough, so there’s no reason to worry. Who am I kidding? I’m not patient. I want to know now. Once Izzie’s done with the bathroom, she and I will put on our sleuth hats and figure it out. This must be the reason for Ma’s secrecy.
Kelly is taking the coat of a woman wearing a hat with feathers. The woman smiles at us as she passes and waves to one of the guests.
Kelly retreats from the coatroom, and I ask, “Where’s your restroom?” The doorbell rings again.
“There’s one upstairs at the end of the hall and a half one off the kitchen.” She points down the small corridor beside the stairs while reaching for the door.
Izzie heads off toward the kitchen. I run up behind her.
The kitchen is a nice size with enough room for a table and chairs and a china cabinet. The counters are covered with trays of scrumptious looking food. Deviled eggs, mini quiche, veggie and fruit platters, meatballs, and…
Izzie taps my shoulder.
I reluctantly face her.
She rolls her eyes with a smirk. She knows me. It’s hard to concentrate on anything when there’s food around, and I didn’t eat breakfast. “I’ll be right out.”
I nod and turn back to the deliciousness. There are two people working, both tall and slender, but one is a woman with her dark hair pulled up into a bun, and the other is a man. Both of them have their backs to me.
The woman is at the kitchen table. Her body is blocking me from seeing what she’s doing. She’s dressed in a navy skirt and cream-colored blouse. Her chin-length, dark, wavy hair is lightened in an ombré effect. She keeps switching her weight from one three-inch, black pump to another, as if her feet hurt and she’s trying to relieve the pressure.
See. Stilettos are evil.
The woman turns. A deep frown covers her brow. “Where are the frosting bags?” The man is putting a tray of something into the oven. He’s dressed in steel gray trousers and a white button-down. He isn’t wearing an apron, so I doubt he’s a caterer. But there don’t seem to be any other male guests here. Maybe they’re both caterers?
The man turns to the woman, but I still can’t make out his face. He places his palms on the counter and leans toward her. “This will be fine. Just breathe.”
“But…” The woman glances over and sees me.
I suddenly feel like an intruder, spying on their conversation. In a way, I am, but I haven’t been hiding. They’ve been too busy to notice me.
I smile and try to look less curious, less nosy, less hungry. “Hi. I’m waiting for my sister. She’s in the bathroom. Pregnant.”
The woman nods slowly as if she thinks I’m crazy. I sometimes have that affect on people.
The man turns toward me. A wide smile sits on his face. A face that makes my thoughts slow down. I know those blue eyes, that asymmetrical nose, and square-shaped chin. A lock of his brown hair falls into his eyes, and it hits me.
“Gianna,” he whispers.
Oh my God, it’s Micky Sheridan. My kindergarten husband and high school crush.