Abigail Fitzgerald (now Burns) was married in front of a sizable assemblage, even for a Catholic, at the Willows Lodge in Woodinville, about a half-hour north of Seattle. Of all the weddings Gina Merrick had attended in the past decade — the flurry of wedlock that began for her at twenty-five, she thought this one was fine. She didn’t rank weddings, preferring instead to classify them, as she did everything else, as either “good” or “bad,” and much like “right” and “wrong,” there was more diversity in what she included in the latter group.
Gina, stirring a spoon in her coffee cup that contained no cream or sugar, sat next to a vacant space at Table Six where a pearl-finish place card bearing the name “Sara Richter” rested like a headstone above an untouched plate of food. Surrounding her were her friends Brenda Waylen, Margaret Ashe, and Pauline Goodman. Their husbands had all been excused after behaving well during the speeches and champagne toasts and had gathered in the garden with beers to wait out the reception.
“‘This Time I Know It’s For Real’ is a curious choice for a wedding song,’” Gina said suddenly. She’d sipped her coffee in silence for several minutes now. “It implies a checkered past.”
“Yeah, right, yeah,” Brenda said, nodding. This did not indicate actual agreement or even that she was actually listening, but it was a method of conversation that had gotten her through college and assorted book clubs.
“Don’t you think it was really super fun for a first dance?” Margaret phrased all her statements in the form of questions, like a Jeopardy! contestant.
“No,” Gina said, “I thought it was really ‘At Last’ desperate.”
Margaret flashed an apologetic half smile, as she did whenever she disagreed with someone, and flung a lock of coal-black hair, flecked with white, over her shoulder, which she did whenever she was about to be disagreeable. “Not everyone’s lucky enough to marry their college boyfriend, after all.”
Gina tapped her spoon sharply against the saucer. “Luck had nothing to do with it,” she said. “I knew what I wanted, so I didn’t waste my twenties dating bike messengers and struggling bipolar writers.” These weren’t hypotheticals but references to Abby’s previous romantic entanglements.
Across the table, Pauline Goodman nudged a bite-sized piece of beef tenderloin onto her fork. She was a painfully slow eater who always complained midway through a meal that her food was cold. The three women were in the same college sorority with Gina, but Pauline, with her vague hairstyle and first-day-in-heels posture, was the one Gina’s mother couldn’t accept as a member of her beloved Gamma Phi. At the University of Georgia — or “Ugh!” as Gina grew up calling it — Ellen Payton and her sisters would never have blackballed someone like Pauline because she would’ve known better than to bother rushing at all.
Pauline looked over at Gina through cloudy, gray eyes. Her voice was dreary and musty.
“I was still single at twenty-seven,” she said, as if measuring the age by the standards of the Tudor era. “I prayed and prayed. A month later, I met Walter.”
“I’m sure you took some action,” Gina insisted.
“No, I just prayed. What I realized later was that all along I was praying for him.”
“Yes, you mentioned that at your reception.” The overcooked buffet chicken and the bride making a toast at her own wedding had landed Pauline’s big day in Gina’s “bad” column. “But I don’t think the Good Lord runs a welfare office. Nothing in life comes without effort and planning.”
— from The Wrong Questions