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“Don’t kid yourself. No one ever sends something to you in the mail because they care. They always want something from you. Remember that.”
Nina pauses, hands frozen in a strange cradling formation which holds the day’s mail together. She’s had a hard day, I can tell by the way her shoulders were hunched over when she walked through our front door just a few minutes ago, and I almost feel bad for making it worse.
“That’s awful, Bree,” she finally says, dropping both her smile and the coupon circular which elicited it.
“How’s it awful?” I ask, even though I know the answer. I can be such a jerk sometimes.
“Because it just is.”
“All right, then.” I wrap my arms around the throw pillow centered on my lap and clasp my hands together, eyebrow raised. “If you can show me one thing from that stack that proves me wrong, I will personally go find a crow to cook for dinner.”
Nina turns back to the mail and skips over the first few envelopes quickly—all bills. “Aha!” she says, holding up a postcard in triumph.
“An appointment reminder from my dentist. See? She wants me to have healthy teeth!”
“Yeah, right,” I say with a snicker that I know is entirely too judgmental. Seriously. Why am I such a jerk?
She groans. “What now?”
“She doesn’t care about your teeth! She knows you’ve been paying your insurance premiums and she wants to make sure she gets a piece of the pie.”
“Whatever.” She sets the postcard aside, mumbling, “I don’t even have dental insurance.”
“Next,” I say, burrowing deeper into the couch. Already, I am bored, and a little tired of myself. I hate this compulsion to point out the nastiness in others. I only indulge in it because for a moment—a single, heat-shimmered moment—it takes my mind off the nastiness in myself.
Nina finds a smaller envelope buried between two sales papers, the right size and shape for a greeting card. She rips the flap open, unfolds the card, and after scanning over the content briefly, flashes a triumphant grin my way.
“What’s it say?” I ask.
“Dear Nina,” she says, her voice morphing into a slightly affected, almost British accent, “Thanks so much for celebrating our wedding with us. We loved your gift of a silver gravy boat—it was so thoughtful of you to get it engraved! We can’t wait to use it in November when we host our first holiday meal as a married couple. Hugs and kisses, Dexter and Michelle.”
She raises an eyebrow. “See?” she asks, her voice back to normal now. “They just wanted to say thanks.”
“You bought Dex and Shell a gravy boat?” I ask.
Nina sticks her tongue out at me and hurls a pillow in my direction. I laugh when it strikes my head.
“What’s wrong with a gravy boat?” she asks.
“Nothing, if it’s 1932.”
“Seriously, Bree,” she says, holding the card up for inspection. “What’s wrong with this?”
“Nothing’s wrong with it,” I say. “But they weren’t just writing to say thanks. They wanted to make themselves feel better about trying to exchange your gravy boat.”
Her mouth dropped open. “They wouldn’t try to exchange it!”
“Of course they would! And they did. They would only know about the engraving if they took it out of the box, and since it’s only been three weeks since the wedding, and November is ages away, the logical conclusion is that they tried to exchange it but the clerk wouldn’t let them. Because of the engraving.”
Nina looks crestfallen. She slumps in her chair, letting stray bits of unkempt hair fall in front of her eyes. “Why did they register for it if they didn’t want it?” she whispers.
God, I am such a jerk.
I try to assuage my guilt by reminding myself that I’m doing a good deed here, no matter how crappy it makes me feel. I have successfully added another chink in the armor of Nina’s willing naïveté. But each time, the victory feels a little hollower, a little more incomplete.
Nina shoves an envelope into my hand without meeting my eyes. “For you,” she mutters.
I raise the envelope to eye level, examining it with suspicion. The linen paper and the elegant curlicue script dancing out my name on the front tell me this letter is important. Someone must want something extra big from me.
Flipping the envelope over, I notice the back flap is secured with a blot of sealing wax, an abstract design pressed into its center. I stifle a laugh, even as my anxiety over the contents increases. Who uses sealing wax in the twenty-first century? Where would you buy it, anyway—some party store in the middle of a Renaissance fair? They probably have a special deal, buy two packages of sealing wax, get a signet ring for half off.
But enough stalling.
The insides are much what I expect, although I am surprised by the parties involved. The parents of Victor Michael Smith and Sophia Elizabeth Carpenter are requesting my presence at the wedding of their children on Wednesday, June 1 at the Morris Arboretum at 7:00 p.m. Drinks, dinner, and dancing to follow. I can bring a guest if I wish. No children allowed. R.S.V.P. by March 20.
“Friend of yours getting married?” Nina asks, slowly beginning to emerge from her cave of self-pity.
“Um, yeah. Sort of.”
Not really. Sophia and I were tangential friends in college, always moving in opposite ends of the same circles. She was my college roommate’s sorority sister’s leftover high school friend, not exactly a relationship worthy of a wedding invitation. She was mousy and regular, always standing in the shadows cast by the rest of us. We always found it strange that Vic, the hottest guy in our class at Brown, gravitated toward her. I never expected that relationship to last.
Maybe that’s why I did what I did.
The memory comes back to me now, the one that makes this envelope heat my fingertips like coal, makes my throat dry like a heavy desert heat. Pretty flashing lights, one too many shots of absinthe, and a drunken stumble to an alley filled with dumpsters and regret.
The taste of unsmoked cigarettes on my tongue and unfamiliar hands sliding up my waist were only a prelude to my worst mistake, the night I borrowed without asking.
I am such a jerk.
Vic never told Sophia that he slept with me, and I sure as hell didn’t either, but she knew. Somehow, she knew. Ever since that night, her large, pale, glassy eyes looked right through me, haunting me with their omniscient silence. And now they are getting married.
This invitation means she wants something from me, but what exactly is she after? A nice gift, maybe, like all the others? Or one more person to witness her parents blow their decadent credit card limit?
But maybe it is simpler than that. Maybe Sophia wants one more memory of the three of us together, one in which all eyes are on her, for a change. One in which everyone, even me, has to acknowledge that Vic is hers, until death do them part.
“Are you going to go?”
I open my mouth to say no, that I haven’t seen Sophia in five years, that only the most inconsiderate idiot in the world would have a big fancy out-of-state wedding on a Wednesday, that marriage in our modern society is a sham.
But I don’t say any of those things. Instead, I pick up the R.S.V.P. card and examine it, letting the rest of the contents flutter to the floor. Whatever Sophia wants from me, I’ll gladly give it to her if it means this paranoid guilt will stop trailing behind me like a shadowy curse. I will give her my humiliation, my silent apology, my eternal jerkiness, on a silver freaking platter if it means I can have my life back.
“Yeah,” I say slowly, pen hovering over the entrée choices. “Yeah, maybe I will.”