Unqualified

“Guess what?” Morgan said, her hand entering the room before she did.

Rebecca’s scream of joy made my stomach turn. They gathered around her like crows over a shiny bauble, cradling her hand and squealing like young women do over diamonds in a gold setting. I hoped I was smiling. Was I? I put the glass of wine to my lips and let the warm tannins spill over my tongue. You’re happy for her, I told myself. You’re happy.

The ring was stunning, the facets capturing soft rays of light from above. I couldn’t help but notice the way she held her hand differently, fanned out like a peacock with its spray of plumage. I traced my thumb under the fourth finger of my left hand, remembering what it felt like to have gold around my finger. My diamond was significantly smaller than hers, but that was what I asked for. Dillon found a band that had an intricate etched design that you couldn’t see from a distance, a little message of love just for me.

She blushed as they asked her all the same questions they asked me. How did he propose? What did he say? What did you say? The questions got gradually more future-focused. What kind of wedding did she want? Spring, summer, or fall? There was a cringe inducing amount of cooing when she said winter.

“How romantic!” Rebecca said. “Those weddings are so beautiful.”

Jen, the party planner, called everyone over for a toast. “To Morgan!” she said.

“To Morgan,” I mumbled as I rose my glass and tapped it to the others.

We had been talking about work before Morgan came in and changed the course of the conversation and I knew where the night would lead. Several hours from now, we would be talking about place cards and guest lists and first dance songs. And I would sit in silence and gulp down my wine while putting on an act. Pretending it didn’t hurt.

Morgan’s gauzy glow over her recent engagement shouldn’t cause me any pain. She had every right to indulge in this exciting and beautiful time in her life. But when I looked at her, I couldn’t help but connect to that feeling of dizzying, heart pounding happiness and associate it with an ending. People treat jealousy like a third-rate emotion you should never acknowledge, as if there’s a proper way to ignore that little pang that explodes like mini firecracker inside your chest.

The conversation moved to potential venues, and my mind drifted to ours. We scouted the perfect location, snagging the last Saturday in the summer as if the stars aligned so we could have it. I had recurring nightmares about calling that same venue and canceling our reservation, the argument Dillon and I had over who was responsible for eating the cost of the deposit.

Morgan showed us her dream wedding boards on Pinterest, the color schemes and table favors and all the unnecessary minutia of a twenty-first century wedding. I had one of those, too. It’s been sitting there collecting internet dust for six months. I thought about deleting it, but removing it would remove my last connection to Dillon like that stupid digital board was tethered to my heart. I wanted to advise Morgan to book the big stuff first and focus on the minor details later, but I felt as if I wasn’t qualified to talk about it anymore.

Her sister was already planning a shower, she said. The color drained from my face when I thought of my obligatory attendance at all the special events this one expensive day would require. I peered into the future and saw myself sitting at a table draped with white linen, surrounded by women in flowy summer dresses. Those women in the periphery disintegrated, and it was just me holding a plate of cake and drowning in forced merriment over place settings and a wok they’d only use once.

Their words blended together as I slipped my cell phone out of my wristlet and determined how soon I could weasel out of this gathering, hoping a natural opportunity would present itself to solidify my alibi. The halo of warmth around my head was a bad sign that I needed to extend my time and sober up. I was panic drinking. Dillon hated that.

Every five minutes, I checked my phone, forcing myself to endure cutesy wedding chatter for half the turn of the clock. Waiting was hell. Lying about it was worse. They all knew what happened to me. They told me they were there for me if I needed anything as I picked up the broken shambles of my life. I didn’t want to be the vacuum that sucked all the pleasantness out of the room, and I certainly didn’t want to harm Morgan’s feelings. So I collected the agony. And I buried it deep.

At a natural break in conversation, I said, “I really need to go. Early morning tomorrow.” It was a lie. I was sure they knew it, too.

I hugged Morgan and congratulated her again, trying to be sincere, hurting all the same. Once in my car, I let out the breath I’d been holding for what felt like an eternity. I drew down the mirror and dabbed the tears beading on my lashes to keep them from spreading my mascara. I hated myself for my failed engagement and I hated Dillon for breaking it off and I hated them for moving on like it didn’t matter. Like I didn’t matter.

“You’re happy for her,” I told my reflection. “Happy.”

And then my reflection said, “You’re not a good liar.”

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