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Angel pulled the card out from under the skull and crossbones fridge magnet that had suspended it in place for months and held it between her fingers, hesitant open it. Why she was even looking at the damned thing again, she couldn’t say. She’d long since memorized the words on the card’s interior, and each syllable was written on her mind like a regrettable tattoo:
You’re cordially invited to the wedding of
Linda Ramsey and Gahan Johnson
March 15th at 12 noon
The Dobson Arms,
Fingering the dog-eared corners for what seemed the two thousandth time since she’d first set eyes on the cursed piece of parchment, Angel stared at its cover: two birds grasping what looked like a snaking vine in their small talons, no doubt meant to represent the intertwining tendrils of love. But either through the fault of the artist or the printer, the vines came off instead as the disembodied limbs of some bizarre and menacingly tentacled sea creature.
The invitation was elegant in its way, of course, as was anything that her sister touched: thick, and most likely expensive, ivory paper, raised gold lettering in some sort of overly ornate cursive font that would make any normal human’s teeth ache. So much opulence and sweetness, it was like sucking on raw sugar through a diamond straw.
And underlying the design was the massive anal retentiveness that oozed from the woman who’d picked them out. Linda would no doubt lay a demanding finger on every single aspect of the ceremony and reception while her helpless groom looked on, nodding his head silently in submission as he committed all his remaining years to a life sentence with a completely bat-shit crazy woman.
Linda had chosen the March date herself, a year earlier. She’d ignored her fiancé Gahan’s pleas to wait until summer to marry—no doubt he was hoping to find a way out of the whole thing, and needed time to plan his escape. But Linda had refused, controlling the wedding’s timing just as she controlled everything and everyone around her.
Well, everyone but her sister, who had managed to avoid her for most of their adult lives. Angel remembered their last conversation well:
“You do realize that you picked the Ides of March for your wedding, right?” she’d asked when she’d learned of the date, suppressing a chuckle. It wasn’t, historically speaking, the happiest day of the year.
“What are you talking about?” Linda’s brows had met in an angry scrunch, her face more irked than perplexed.
“Well, you’re getting married on the anniversary of Julius Caesar’s murder. But I guess there’s an upside. You could have a theme wedding. Maybe to commemorate your special day, there should be figures of the bride and groom wielding giant daggers on top of the cake.”
“The cake is going to be covered in white roses,” Linda had assured her in a tone devoid of irony. Roses, it seemed, cancelled out stabbings. You simply couldn’t have both.
“Okay, but watch out when you’re leaving for your honeymoon. Some guy called Brutus might try to kill your brand new husband on the way out of the reception.”
“We aren’t inviting anyone called Brutus, Angel. Jesus.”
“Oh. Well, you’ll be fine then,” her younger sibling had replied, surrendering.
Damn it, Linda was no fun at all.
And they hadn’t talked in person since; not once. Weren’t events like a wedding supposed to bring sisters together? This one had seemed to serve only to split them further apart. The Grand Canyon of occasions.
But there was something else, too: as Angel now stood in her kitchen, the invitation mesmerizing her, she felt as though the world was sadistically reminding of her many shortcomings. In the eyes of their family, Linda was succeeding by snagging a man where she’d failed to do so, and the wedding was proof. And of course, that failure was only one of many atrocities that Angel had committed. There was a laundry list:
• She’d purchased a small, cozy country home, instead of moving to a giant mansion in the suburbs with wall to wall carpeting and a big-screen TV, a walk-in closet and/or a shower large enough to hold a small army.
• Failure to dress in pencil skirts, pant suits, or to spend money on manicures once a week and then lose her shit when a tiny fragment of nail polish chipped off, resulting in all the veins in her forehead threatening to explode in a sickening display of blood and gore.
• Failure to earn a billion dollars a year, or even any sort of salary much above the poverty line. Although she was working her way towards this one; in another millenium or so she might even come close. It was a little unlikely that she’d live to be 1029 years old, but damn it, she’d give it the old college try.
“Why can’t you be more like your sister?” It was a mantra that she’d heard all through her youth and well into adulthood. Under her breath, the stock answer had always been, “I don’t know. Maybe because I don’t have a red hot iron rod crammed up my ass?”
Of course, she’d never said the words out loud. She’d simply shrugged, suggested that she’d been switched at birth with the baby of some drug-addled prostitute with a penchant for oil painting, and called it a day. The truth was that she simply wasn’t like Linda. At all. She wasn’t like anyone, as far as she knew. And while that should have been a point of pride, somehow it ended up feeling like a massive character flaw. Her parents, of course, had chosen to name her Angel, a moniker that hinted at pristine perfection rather than…well, whatever she was. Maybe those five letters were simply too damned much to live up to.
* * *
Good lord, why does the wedding have to be in March? Angel muttered, fingering the invitation again as she plopped herself down at her kitchen table. That time of year was typically soggy, grey and dull. Essentially the month was a 31-day waiting period filled with grumpy people grasping onto a faint hope that spring’s flowers, sunshine and bliss would one day show up. All the while, they resisted careening into a vast abyss of depression.
But in truth, what bothered her wasn’t so much her sister’s strange taste in dates as the fact that the wedding was fast approaching, and she was—still—single. Not to mention unlikely to find a boyfriend over the course of the following few weeks.
Inside the invitation Linda had glued a note, hand-written in her perfect cursive. As she reread it, Angel could almost hear the voice dictating the words as though a period had been percussively placed between each syllable. Robotic, demanding and abrasive; the only way that Linda knew how to speak to her. A rough order thrown at a clearly incompetent younger sister:
Angel—Tell me right away if you’re bringing someone. We need to let the caterers know about every single plate. And please don’t invite one of your vegetarian hippie friends. We’re having steak.
That is all.
The underlining had been penned with such violent strokes that the writing implement had nearly worked its way through the paper, no doubt leaving angry marks behind on the desk as Linda had drafted the note.
Angel had replied in the form of an email, stating that yes, she would bring a date and that by the way, he would be a magnificent specimen. The whole family would be blown away at his handsome, successful, perfect self. And he—whoever this wondrous man was—would devour the steak with all the frenzied passion of a school of piranhas going at a cow in the wild.
She’d lied, of course.
No man was lined up. There was, in fact, nothing male in her life at all; not even a goldfish. But in her mind a plan had been percolating for some weeks. She was an attractive woman, after all. Leggy, curvy, blond, feminine, intelligent. Surely she could find some unfortunate soul who’d be willing to accompany her on her day of sheer, prolonged hell if she sold it correctly.
But how the fuck did you convince a guy to spend a day of his life being scrutinized and asked utterly stupid questions like, “Tell me, have you seen the boobies yet?” That one was a favourite query of drunk Uncle Neil’s. (He wasn’t actually an uncle. He was, however, in a near-constant state of inebriation and his breath smelled like corn chips, old socks and cheap hookers).
And even so, the Ramsey family wondered why Angel remained perpetually single.
Of course, it would probably be best if she simply didn’t inform a potential date that he was in for a fate worse than death. It was only a matter of finding him and going on a few pleasant evenings out—enough to convince him to stick around for a few weeks. Then they could go their separate ways, satisfied sexually (hopefully), and free as birds once again.
Turning to the calendar on the wall, Angel held back a gasp. Was it really the end of February already? Oh, man. Two weeks. She basically had two weeks to meet someone, to secure a date who could convincingly pass himself off as her boyfriend.
As she stood staring at the numbered squares in front of her, a rap sounded at the screen door that led from the kitchen out to the back field. Angel turned to see that her neighbour and friend, Renée, was watching her, an amused grin on her face.
“You’re a million miles away, aren’t you?” she observed, cracking the back door open. Angel had a habit of leaving it unlocked, a symptom of life in the countryside.
“More or less,” Angel laughed. “Just pondering my failings. Come on in.”
“You have no failings, silly girl.” Renée stepped inside. “But what’s going on in that head of yours?”
“Oh, let’s see: that the only thing my sister and I have in common, other than DNA, is a common set of chromosomes. She’s uptight, works in an office and hates everything I love.”
“And you’re an artist and have a great life. You paint, you sculpt…”
“Sometimes even for money. And don’t forget that I also pose nude for the occasional drawing class, which drives my family into serious conniption fits.” Angel made a mental note to add this to her list of crimes against humanity.
Renée laughed. “Yeah, well, no offense, but they should maybe get over themselves. You’re awesome. You bought this house yourself, didn’t you? What sort of a failure manages something like that?”
It was true; Angel had somehow managed to scrape enough of her earnings together to purchase the country house and its huge plot of land. The wooden house, built in the fifties, was falling apart, of course, which was the only reason she’d been able to afford it. But it was hers, and a great source of quiet pride.
“Yeah, I did. I’m just tired of the scrutiny. Linda was always the successful sister. The star. I was a rebellious, free spirited ne’er do well. I value grass and trees above money and husbands, and for that I’ve been ostracized from the Ramsey clan.”
“You’re a ne’er do well who does well. So you should be happy about it. Don’t worry about what your family thinks. Free spirits aren’t supposed to give a crap about those things.”
Angel sighed. “I’m a failure at not giving a crap, too. You know her wedding’s coming up, and that it’s stuck in my mind for months like a weight bearing down on my soul.”
“Yes, though I’m not sure you’ve put it so dramatically before. You did tell me you were thinking of acquiring a man for the occasion. What’s happening with that?”
“Nothing, more or less. Mostly less.” Angel let out a moan. “Normally, I wouldn’t give a monkey’s butt about going solo to a wedding, you know. If it were anyone but my judgmental, scolding, ‘You’ve sucked all your life’ older sister, I’d just show up and hope to make out with a groomsman in the bathroom. Well, at least I can be grateful that she didn’t ask me to be a bridesmaid.”
Renée chortled. “Yeah, how’d you get out of that one?”
“She made some lame excuse that it’s not really within my comfort zone, like she was doing me a favour—which she was, really. I can’t imagine organizing flowers and bachelorette parties, not to mention wearing a toothpaste-coloured faux-taffeta dress. I’d sooner jab forks into my eyes.”
“Ouch. You know, for a woman who’s super laid back and chill, you’re sometimes borderline psychotic.”
“Well, I like to keep things interesting. Anyhow, I wouldn’t be useful to Linda. My idea of a wedding is carrying a handful of wildflowers across a field to the love of my life—who, by the way, is dressed in jeans and a t-shirt for the occasion. We’d party all night under the stars. But her idea of a ceremony is being cooped up in some stuffy, windowless ballroom with fluorescent lighting and polyester tablecloths.”
“Linda would faint at the notion of an outdoor party.”
“Linda would faint at the notion of any party. I think her wedding will be more like a funeral, to be honest. Which is fitting—it’s essentially the end of Gahan’s life as he knows it. All the guests will probably stand around telling him how sorry they are for his loss.”
“You’re so harsh,” chuckled Renée. “Is she really so bad?”
“I’m not harsh, I’m honest. And yes, she’s been terrible, grumpy, negative and moody for years. Her groom’s never going to breathe, let alone smile, again. He may as well show up to the ceremony in a coffin. As for me, I’m going to wear a black dress and veil. And bring an inflatable doll for a date.”
Renée eased herself into a chair opposite her friend, a business card in hand, which she handed to Angel.
“Well, you were talking the other day about your lack of a date for the wedding. I thought this could help. It’s the number for a matchmaker—her name’s Miri, and she works out of her apartment downtown. They say she’d amazing. And not only that, but she specializes in pairing up shifters.”
“Well, as you know, I’m not a shifter,” Angel protested before even entertaining the idea. “She probably wouldn’t even take me on as a client.”
“She told a friend of mine that she’d consider it for certain people, if she liked them. There are some shifters who are interested in human women.”
The thought of such a man was more than a little appealing—Angel had never once dated one, but she’d admired a few from afar. They’d always made her think of gods who walked among insects; big, strong and sexy. The sorts of men who made ordinary males feel small and insignificant in comparison.
“I’ve got to admit that the idea appeals—they’re attractive, to say the least.”
“And they’re also very, shall we say, sexual.”
“I think a shifter might kill me in the sack,” Angel protested, only half-heartedly. “They’re so…big.”
“Oh yeah. It would be just terrible for you to have a man who’s too big end up in your bed. You hear so many women complain about that sort of thing.”
Angel gave in with a chuckle before snatching the card from between Renée’s fingers. It read:
Miri: Plenty of Shift. 555-8769.