The Carmichaels have spared no expense. I’m sure they have invited all of Illinois’ most influential and affluent dignitaries, politicians, and socialites. It’s a who’s who of potential leads and allies that will help advance Bo’s career, or so I’ve been told. I won’t know most of my guests with the exception of a few old friends.
It’s a glorious September afternoon. I’m standing in front of the large, ornate mirror that leans against the wall in the bridal party suite of the Waldorf Astoria. I don’t recognize the girl staring back.
I’m glad I went with the strapless, lace vintage dress. Vintage always feels so familiar. All my work at the gym has really paid off. I slimmed down and the silhouette of the dress flatters my new shape. I achieved my goal of getting down to a size six—well, Bo wanted me to be a size six. The diamond-embellished belt that’s tied around my waist is the perfect finish. I look so tiny, and the dress falls elegantly down my hips, snug in all the right spots.
My hair is in loose tendrils down my back, pulled up on one side with a pin and adorned with a delicate cluster of stephanotis flowers. My makeup is light and natural looking, as usual. Too much, Bo says, makes me look like one of those “girls” that hang out on the north side of town, not a future Governor’s wife. I give myself one final look over and can’t help but smile. Yes, Bo will be delighted when he sees me.
Finally—finally—this day is here. We’ve been engaged three very long years. Bo’s father was adamant that he needed to establish himself on the political scene before he got married, even though the Carmichaels have a historic political lineage. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the story about how it all started with Lord Carmichael who served under King George II. From birth Bo was groomed to carry on his family legacy. The right clothes, the perfect connections, acceptable behavior ingrained into his every thought, motion, into his very public being.
Natalie bursts through the door in her usual bull-in-a-china-shop fashion, snapping me out of my reverie. “All right, as much as it pains me to say this, let’s get you married, bitch!” She really needs to work on her graces.
Natalie Spencer is my oldest and dearest friend. We’ve been inseparable since elementary school, even though we’re polar opposites. In high school, I was the smart, studious one and she ran with the Emo crowd. The only thing we had in common back then was that we’d both grown up without a dad. Somehow, it was enough for us. We knew we would have a life-long connection.
Natalie is tall and naturally slim, with ridiculous curves she doesn’t even have to work for. The kind of woman who could make a garbage bag look trendy, she keeps her short, dark brown hair a perfect rock-n-roll mess on top of her head. Anytime of the day or night that hair is ready to party.
Nothing makes her happier than booze, blow, boys, and boobs. She makes no excuses and never apologies for her chosen lifestyle. Natalie has accomplished so much in her life, and I secretly admire her. I would never tell her, but I suspect she knows.
She is openly bisexual. Her words: Love is love, regardless of what’s below the belt.
We tried to fool around once a few years back, after too many glasses of Pinot Grigio, but halfway through I started giggling and couldn’t stop. I like cock too much to ever be a lesbian, according to Nat’s crude theory. I never told Bo. He was raised in a conservative and religious household. It’s easy to turn a blind eye on his miniscule faults because deep down he’s just a big softy, and he’s drop-dead gorgeous, which I don’t mind one bit.
“Izabel Jones, aren’t you a vision of the oppression of women, all dressed in white.”
“Nice, Nat! How many mimosas have you had already?” I try to sound offended, but it’s impossible in the face of her joie de vivre.
“Come on, Jones. It’s your wedding day. Let’s have some fun. Look, I’m even wearing a bra for you.” She flashes me her lace-covered boob with her free hand. The other is occupied by two glasses of champagne and orange juice. She gestures for me to take one of the long-stemmed flutes from her.
“Nat, you know Bo’s not keen on me drinking.”
“Bo, Shmo…he’s so boring…you never have fun anymore.” She pushes out her lower lip in a pout and thrusts a glass at me.
“One drink, Nat, and that’s it.”
She raises hers, and with her worst, uppity British accent, she toasts, “To the future Mrs. Bo Carmichael. May all your champagne wishes and caviar dreams come true.”
“Robin Leach, really!” I giggle, we clink glasses, and take a long sip.
My mother walks in the room and eyes us suspiciously. “You two look like you’re up to no good.”
In the twenty years we’ve been friends, Natalie has never become my mother’s favorite person, but she tolerates her. My mom has always wanted the best for me. She was a single parent working too many hours, determined I would get more out of life than she did. She always said I deserved to marry a rich man to take care of me so I wouldn’t have to work as hard as she did and miss out on the grand privileges of life. Natalie, of course, would never let a man take care of her, so to my mother, Nat was always just an obstacle in her chosen path for me.
“Izabel, you look beautiful. Bo is going to be so pleased!” She gives me a loose hug so as to not pull at my dress. When Mom lets go she holds me at arm’s length, scanning me from head to toe before giving me an approving smile. “Oh, honey, I’m so happy for you. You are going to have a wonderful life. You’ll never have to worry about anything.”
Natalie looks at me and rolls her eyes, and I give her the don’t-start stare.
“Okay, sweetheart.” Mom’s voice is a sing-song testament to her happiness. “Let’s get you married!”
Natalie watches me take a final sip of my drink and flashes me one of her signature smiles, leaving Mom and I alone for my last few single girl moments before we make our way down the hall to the chapel room.
With nerves of delight coursing through me, Mom and I stand arm in arm waiting for the doors to open. On cue, two impeccably dressed men in full tuxedos and white gloves open the double doors. The low buzz of several hundred guests murmuring among themselves greets us as we step into the room. The guests stand and Mom and I start our slow march to the altar where my future husband waits. I float down the aisle to the euphoric melody being played by the string quartet tucked away in the corner.
All I see is Bo’s sweet, genuine smile. He’s fiddling with the boutonniere on his lapel. He looks as nervous as I feel. Man, he is gorgeous. He’s wearing a tailored, charcoal pinstripe suit that drapes without flaw over his 6’3 frame. His blond hair is tousled to perfection. And he’s all mine.
In a blur, we move from being two single people to man and wife. With Reverend Wallace’s, “You may now kiss your bride,” Bo grabs me, dips me down low, and plants a long, deep kiss on my lips. The guests applaud and cheer around us. He stands me back up and steadies me, grabs my hand, and we walk toward the exit amidst smiles and congratulations. When the doors close on the guests behind us, Bo takes me in his arms and swings me around.
“Well hello, Mrs. Carmichael.” He flashes me his perfect smile.
“Hello yourself, Mr. Carmichael. Why don’t we take a quick detour to our room before the party starts?”
His smile fades. “Izabel, we have guests waiting for us.”
I pout and give him my biggest doe eyes. “You can deviate from your schedule just this once, Bo.”
He wraps his hand around my forearm, squeezes, and jerks me toward him. I gasp. “We can’t deviate from the schedule, Izabel. Do you understand?”
I look up at him, and he softens his grip then pulls me into an embrace. I tense up as he hugs me, and memories from our last fight haunt me.
“I’m sorry.” His whisper blows the loose tendrils of hair away from my ear. For a moment, he regards me, his face expressionless. “Come on, darling. Let’s go have a good night with our guests. I’ll make it up to you later.” And with the flash of his pearly whites, I melt a bit and let it go again.
Bo and I spend the rest of the night floating from table to table, greeting our guests, most of whom I’m meeting for the first time. For the most part, I listen in a daze, smiling and accepting their congratulations. I don’t have much to offer when it comes to politics. I guess I’ll have to work on that now that I’m the wife of the future Governor of Illinois.
A shriek jolts me to attention. “Are you kidding me?”
I whip my head around, recognizing Nat’s voice. Bo glares down at me with a get-her-the-fuck-out-of-here look. I excuse myself and rush over to where she is standing. She’s holding her champagne flute in one hand and gesticulating furiously with the other. I smile sweetly at the two elderly gentlemen Natalie has clearly outraged.
“What’s going on?” I whisper through clenched teeth and a fake smile.
“I’ll tell you what’s going on. These two fuckers have just informed me that homosexuality is a sin and any man or woman who decides to become gay will live in eternal damnation. What the fuck, Jones?”
“Nat!” I hiss at her. With a quick apology to the men, I grab Natalie by the arm and usher her toward the door. Without even looking at him, I can feel Bo’s angry glare on my back as we exit the room. I’ll have to deal with that later.
I get Natalie into the hallway and duck into a utility room off to the side.
“What the hell, Nat?”
“I’m sorry, Jones. I didn’t know your hubby invited neo-Nazis to the reception and I would be subjected to this bullshit.”
“Why can’t you just keep your opinions to yourself for, like, ten minutes?” Then, a bit softer, but still firmly, I say, “It’s my wedding day. Please don’t make Bo angry.”
She stares at me for a long while and opens her mouth to say something, but decides against it. She leans in, gives me a hug, and then kisses my cheek.
“Anything for you, Jones.” She holds out her hand. “Come on, let’s go party.”
I let out a big sigh in hopes I’ve just defused one of Bo’s blowups. Hand in hand, we walk back into the reception. I smile and laugh and make my rounds with an unsettling prickling on the back of my neck.
The evening continues in much the same way I imagine most girls dream their wedding will be. I’m sitting at a table with some college friends, giving my sore feet a much needed break. What made me think I could last eight hours in my mile-high Louboutins?
I watch Bo across the room, working his magic, wooing our most prominent guests. He looks the way a man should on his wedding night, overjoyed at the notion of spending endless days and nights with the love of his life. He sees me admiring him and starts the slow progression toward me, one handshake and bout of small talk at a time. When he reaches the table, he offers me his wide, flat hand. Even it is beautiful.
“Will you dance with me, Mrs. Carmichael?”
“I thought you’d never ask, Mr. Carmichael.”
He leads me to the dance floor and pulls me close. We start to sway to the sweet sound of Etta James, and he lip-syncs the lyrics: at last my love has come along…lonely days are over.
I’m suspended—just like that—in his arms, inches from the ground when he dips me low and brushes a feather-light kiss on my lips. Somewhere, seemingly so far from here, our guests applaud around us. He swoops me up, twirls me around the dance floor a few times. The applause grows louder. When I’m steadied back in his arms, I look up to meet his eyes, but he’s not looking at me at all.