The Wedding Day
By Elizabeth Smith
The Pensieve Editor's Note: This is a continuation of the Classified series.
Gloria knelt and buttoned her granddaughter’s lacey dress.
“Are you excited, little flower girl?”
“Yup,” Annabel answered as she opened the flap in her pop-up storybook.
Gloria took a large comb out of the top drawer of the dresser. At the touch of the plastic teeth on her wispy hair, Annabel swatted her grandmother’s hand.
“Now, Annie. You ought to look nice today.”
“No.” The girl whined.
Gloria tried touching Annabel’s hair again, but the little one leaped to the opposite side of the room, where she scaled the white crib against the wall.
“Sweetie,” Gloria said. “We don’t have much time. Be a good girl and let Grandma braid your hair.”
Annabel smashed her forehead into the corner of the crib and covered her blonde head with her arms.
“If you let me, you can eat any dessert you want tonight.”
The child’s face rubbed the sheets as she shook her head. Gloria stood for a moment, her hand on her hip. Then she headed down the hallway to the master bedroom, where she found Brett tying a necktie in front of a mirror.
“Annabel still won’t let me do her hair.”
Brett looked at his former mother-in-law’s reflection.
“OK,” he sighed.
“How long has this been such a struggle?”
Brett pushed the silky knot into his collar. “Long enough.”
They walked together back down the hall. At the doorway, Brett breathed deeply and entered the room. He placed his hand over his eyebrows.
“Where could Annabel be?” He said in a sing-song voice, his daughter giggling into the mattress. “Oh, Mr. Elephant, have you seen her? Lief’s bed, you say?”
Brett approached the crib, which would soon be his stepson’s. Gloria remained in the doorway.
“I’m here!” Annabel exclaimed as she lifted her head. Brett hoisted her over the bars and set her on the carpet. He knelt.
“It’s time to brush your hair.”
At that, Annabel pouted.
“Come on, Annie.”
The child stared at the ceiling and groaned.
Brett blinked. “What’s up?”
“Why the frowny face? I thought you were excited for today, because today is…” He paused.
Annabel grinned. “A special day.”
Gloria shifted her weight. The little girl quickly returned to her pout. “No hair, please.”
Brett grunted. “You haven’t liked brushing your hair for a long time. Can you tell me what’s bothering you?”
Annabel hung her head and turned away. Brett glanced at his watch. He took two square cufflinks out of his pocket and fastened them into his shirt.
“Maybe you could show me?”
Annabel shuffled to her dresser, her thick tights dragging through the carpet. She grabbed a metal picture frame and handed it to her father. He stared at the photo. A thinner Brett and a pudgier Annabel smiled up at him, as well as a woman with tremendous golden hair cascading to her hip. His photographed daughter wore two tidy braids with synthetic flowers pinned on the tips.
Brett bit his cheek and motioned for his daughter to sit with him on her low bed. Gloria widened her eyes, creating a dam that might break in a single blink. She sat at Annabel’s other side. Brett placed his arm around the little one, his mind groping for an adequate response. The child leaned against her father and squeezed her grandmother’s hand. The muted light of an overcast spring shone through the window as the three looked at the picture.
“It’s OK to feel sad today too.” As the words finally left his mouth, Brett sensed they were also directed toward himself.
“Jade is not going to replace her.” Gloria trembled as she touched Annabel’s thigh. “Your mommy is always your mommy.”
Annabel stroked the frame.
“She’s pretty,” Annabel said.
Brett hugged her gently from the side. “If you look close, you’ll see her in you. And you in her.”
“Your mom’s hair was blonde. And your hair is…”
“Your mom was petite—”
“What’s that mean?”
“Small, Annie. So, your mom was small, and you are…”
“Your mom’s big tooth is crooked. And your big tooth is…”
“Crooked!” Annabel giggled.
She stroked the frame again with her soft fingers.
Gloria cleared her throat. “How about I do your hair the way she liked it when she was your age?”
Annabel straightened and sat at her grandmother’s feet. Gloria pulled out the comb again, and as she began, Annabel looked up.
“Will there be brownies?”