Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride

I am in a living hell. This past week has been nothing but an endless barrage of tacky, expensive cliches. First, the bachelorette party, where Evie downed shot after shot in a too-short sequined dress and cowboy boots, dancing away her cares. Then, the rehearsal dinner, which I’ve never understood the excitement around. And at the end of it all lies today’s ceremony, where I can watch my best friend be eternally and legally bound to some faceless man I never saw any reason she’d be interested in. I’ve been the endlessly supportive spectator through months of planning, floods of tears, and countless false smiles. I don’t know how many more I can fake.

As much as I can’t stand the perfectly-groomed…everything, all the negative emotions are washed out like the tide by seeing Evie’s smile; it’s bright, warm, and beautiful, like her. She’s the kind of picture-perfect bride you only see in movies and magazines, with a venue and guests that can only hope to match her immaculate splendor. Anyone not close to her would think she’s a model or an esthetician, given how put together she always looks. She’s a tastefully tanned woman whose golden blonde hair is somehow always in the kind of beach waves most people spend hours trying to achieve. If you get near enough, she truly looks like a peach (in a cute, sweet, maybe fruity way), with her soft rosy cheeks and heart-shaped face decorated with light fuzz and freckles. I’ve spent over a decade and a half by her side memorizing every detail. The beautiful bride-to-be is currently having a crisis over her shoes.

“What do you think about these? I’m starting to wish I’d gone with the platform sandals instead of the heels,” Evie pauses from frantically checking her foot in front of the floor-length mirror to turn and receive my approval.

“I think you should pick whatever you’ll be comfier in. You’ll look gorgeous regardless,” I say in earnest.

“Are the rhinestones giving dazzly bride or tacky DIY mom?”

“They’re giving whatever your heart desires.”

“Ximena! This is serious! I can’t be staring at my wedding photos twenty years down the line and regretting my shoe choice. This is an irreversible decision that will be documented in a coffee table photobook and a wedding video that will be sent out to all the extended family members on Facebook that couldn’t be bothered to come. It’s gotta be the right one!”

“Fine,” I finally sigh, “go with the heels. You got the dress tailored for the added height anyways, right?”

I don’t even need to hear the response, I already know the answer is yes; she tends to make a million “plan B’s” and then always chooses “plan A” in the end anyways. Her dress is intricately adorned with floral appliques and is in a bodycon style that perfectly drapes her curves. The just-long-enough train and veil cascade behind her like perfectly piped buttercream frosting. Sweet, bright, and perfect, just like her.

Evie and I have been tied at the hip ever since middle school. We even lived together at university, so this shoe debacle is just the newest event to add to her list of minor crises I’ve been internally documenting for years. Underneath all those layers of perfection and people-pleasing nonsense is the messy, audacious Evie I’ve known and adored forever. And now I’m going to lose her to some bland douchebag named Derek.

“I can’t believe it, Xime. In less than twenty-four hours, the Evie Murphy you know will die,” she dramatically makes a comical face and slumps down beside me on the couch in her dressing room, “then I’ll rise from my metaphorical phoenix grave and become Evelyn Pritchet, resident married woman.”

Suddenly, this satin green bridesmaid dress feels even more like a straight jacket and I swear that the pearls on my neck are squeezing me like a boa constrictor. I fear that the beads of sweat dripping down my head will dampen the long coily hair I worked so hard to tame to fit nicely into her photos with the other exquisitely refined bridesmaids. I purse my lips and try not to grit my teeth in a sorry attempt at a smile as I let out a noncommittal hum of acknowledgment. She must’ve noticed my poor show because suddenly all the joking laughter is gone and she’s sitting up beside me.

“Hey, you. What’s wrong?” she asks tenderly.

“It’s nothing,” I say, trying to keep my cool.

“Bullshit, spill,” she replies flatly.


“Why?” Evie asks as she takes my hands into her own.

I hate that I love how she’s holding me right now and not him. I hate how her touch still sends an excited spark from my hands to my heart faster than the speed of light. I hate the fact that I can’t bring myself to be happy because I’m gonna lose this in less than twenty-four hours. God damn it, Derek.

“We’re still gonna be X and E, two besties in a tree. Doin’ our crimes without servin’ time. You know that, right?”

“Yeah…” I say, still unable to tell her after all these years that I’ve been dying to be kissing in the tree instead. I’ve always hated that stupid playground teasing rhyme, and I’ve only grown to hate it more as I’ve grown up and felt the dream of love, marriage, and a baby in the baby carriage with the girl that was always five feet away from me slip away.

I stare into Evie’s piercing blue eyes, wishing that she could extract the feelings from my heart and absorb them into her own. If it were that easy, she would’ve been mine long ago. I’m searching her face for any shred of doubt about the ceremony, but there is nothing but joyful sincerity radiating from her soft smile.

Her honest pearly whites take me back to one of the first memories we made together—I remember it clear as day. We were sitting outside the principal’s office. The tiny plastic blue chairs we’d outgrown at this point were pulling the hair out the back of my head as I shook the woodchips from my curls.

“I’m Ximena, thanks for standing up for me out there,” I introduced myself, “ I wish I had the guts to do it myself like you. You’re pretty cool.”

She struck out a fist, prime for bumping, “I’m Evie, and thanks.”

“You didn’t have to kick them that hard… especially, you know… down there,” I said bashfully.

“If they stopped being dicks and calling you burrito girl, maybe I would’ve held back. But they had it coming,” Evie said, cracking her knuckles.

“EVELYN!” the teacher monitoring us in the hall scolded. “That’ll be another hour of detention for cussing.”

We both couldn’t contain our laughter. Teachers. As we awaited a thorough scolding from an out-of-touch principal who would attempt to explain how violence was not the answer, we exchanged home phone numbers, favorite TV shows, and endless remarks about the ugly neon shorts trend that was sweeping the school.

“I’ve never had a detention before… I’m a little scared,” I admitted as our laughter died down.

“Don’t worry, I’ve done it twice already. It’s mostly boring. My parents get kinda mad, but I’m still cute enough to where they let me off the hook for most stuff. And besides,” she said, flashing an ardent, crooked smile “I foresee us getting into plenty more trouble together.”

I’ve been hooked ever since.

The hard pill to swallow is that I can do nothing to stop today unless I become a God with the power to slow time—I’ll have to wash that pill down with the bottomless booze being offered at the reception later. And as I take one last survey of Evie’s glowing face and squeeze her hands, I know that I could never take this moment away from her. The nasty, jealous being attempting to take hold twists an invisible knife in my gut. And just like that, the moment is over.

“I’m just convinced that I’ll do something wrong and ruin your whole perfect day,” I say, not entirely a lie.

“All you have to do is walk down the aisle with one of Derek’s brothers and look gorgeous standing up there right next to me,” Evie responds in a characteristic effort to boost my confidence.

“You know I’m terrible in heels. Remember the freshman musical? They gave me those character shoes and twenty minutes into rehearsal I’d broken my ankle and was out of the show since I physically couldn’t dance anymore. I’m a moving disaster.”

She manages a chuckle. I hope I’m covering my tracks well and that she can’t see the hurt pouring off me in waves.

“Even though you have two left feet, you were the best impromptu spotlight technician ever,” Evie pauses to gently boop my nose with her perfectly manicured finger, “and you are the best personal cheerleader a friend could ask for.”

Friend. The word echoes around in the chasm of my head; it cuts deeper than it should. I know that’s all I can ever be to her. Even in the “best” variety of friends, I’m still just a cheerleader. A spectator. A spectator to this beautiful life she’s about to start with a person who isn’t me.

“Just breathe and try not to think too hard about it. You’re gonna do great, Ximena. I know you wouldn’t ever let me down,” Evie says as she gives my bicep a quick squeeze of comfort. “I need to go find the live wedding painter to make sure he’s all set up to get the reference shots he needs for the night. I’ll catch you before the ceremony starts if I can, okay?”

“Okay.” I don’t get to ask her what she would think of me if I did let her down.

An hour and a half later, guests that aren’t a part of the bride or groom’s party are arriving. The line of old friends that I haven’t seen in years and extended family members seemingly never ends as they continue filing into the venue’s garden space. Despite being outside and not making any sense, it feels like the amount of breathable air is getting smaller and smaller.

Seemingly out of nowhere, my mom emerges from the bustling commotion by the entrance and makes her way over to me. I offer a light hug and sigh into the umber brown curls that match my own. Today is not the sort of day where I want to be tiptoeing around the next bombshell that will inevitably be dropped from her mouth.

“Oh, mija. Don’t the flowers look so pretty? I love the palette they picked out, it complements them both very well. I already spoke to Evie’s mother. It was so good to catch up with her, it feels like I haven’t seen her since you two stopped having sleepovers and started partying on weekends instead.”

A slight dig at my late high school and early college lifestyle is nothing I can’t handle. I’m a tad bit proud that my mom hasn’t completely added kerosene to my negative flames; the nasty, judgemental side of her is at bay—for the moment.

“I’m so glad Evie found such a well-put-together young man to marry. Maybe once you get your head out of the sand and end this phase, you’ll be just as lucky,” the bomb drops off of my mom’s tongue and explodes in my face as I try to stay relaxed. At least she wasn’t overtly horrific (by the standards she’s set for herself). The word “phase” still knocks the wind out of my sails.

Suddenly it feels like I’m fifteen all over again. I’ve just opened up to my mom that I think I like girls, and instead of the warm embrace I desperately craved, I got the enraged, confused screams I had feared. I couldn’t handle the rage, so I ran. I ran to the person I felt safest with—Evie.

I choose not to remember the gritty details of that night, but I know that past the chaos of my newly-shattered household, Evie just hugged me and let me cry oceans into the crook of her neck.

“She said she wouldn’t believe me, that I can’t be the daughter that she raised, and that it’s just a phase. I-I…I knew she wouldn’t understand,” I quivered, “You don’t think…you don’t think that it’s…bad do you?”

Evie pushed me away by the shoulders so I could look her in the eyes, “of course not. And I’m gonna be here for you no matter what your mom says or thinks about it, I promise. As long as you are happy, I’m gonna be happy for you. I hope you feel the same.”

I squeezed her tightly, which she reciprocated. Even then, I would’ve given everything to keep us just like that. And even then, in that truthful, tranquil moment among the storm, I shied away from my biggest truth—the bursting feelings for her that she still couldn’t see.

After all these years and all the time my mom had to accept me for who I am, she still can’t bring herself to do it. The sons of her coworkers that she tried to set me up with to “fix me” clearly didn’t work. Neither did the therapy or the endless scare tactics. I can’t help it, I love women. A woman: Evie Murphy. And in a little over an hour, she’ll be happily smashing cake into her new spouse’s face.

“You know what, Mom? I’ve spent so long trying to please you, but that clearly will never happen. Just don’t make a scene, okay?” I ask, quietly seething.

“Me? You’re the one who insists on going against what’s right. You’re the one who’s bound to make a scene with that crazy, reactive head of yours that makes you think you have the ability to get in the way of what is good and right. You just being here is a bad omen for the bride and groom. I’m sure you’re probably trying to turn her into a lesbian too and ruin her life like you’re ruining your own!” she snaps back.

“Today is about Evie and Derek.” I state. “I’m going to do whatever Evie needs me to do in order to make her day perfect and wonderful and everything that she’s ever imagined, and I’m not going to let your bitchiness get in my way!”

I recoil a bit hearing myself call my mom a bitch, but I can’t help myself. My emotions are like a surging tidal wave already, the last thing I need is to be dealing with a woman who’s gonna burst my dam and make me cause a scene. I whip my head around to ensure that our stupid argument wasn’t overheard. I will not let myself ruin this day for Evie. I cannot let myself ruin this day for Evie. I want her to be happy and shine like the sun, and if I’m not a factor in that equation… I just have to smile and bear it, like the perfect, best friend cheerleader she needs me to be. What other option do I have?

The hour slogs by, and we are ushered to the end of the aisle to begin the big show. I’m steadying my heart and mind by dissociating from the moment and breathing deeply. A cacophony of warring thoughts is overtaking my ability to think; one side of me knows that Derek isn’t a bad guy, especially if Evie loves him enough to marry him, and that as her best friend and maid of honor, I should be ecstatic for this to be happening, but the other side of me threatening to bubble to the surface is screaming and crying for all of this to end. It’s screaming for me to gain some courage and finally do something after all this time. But the nasty, vulnerable creature clawing away inside is shunned to the back folds of my mind; the soft entrance melodies of the piano begin to play. The groomsmen link arms with the women in dresses identical to mine as they begin proceeding down the elegantly laid trail of petals toward the altar. One of Derek’s brothers, the best man, links his arm with mine; it feels like a thousand-pound ball and chain. It’s happening. I can’t breathe.

My brain is blaring the command to take the first damn step. The best man is awkwardly giving me little pushes forward from our linked arms. My vision is swirling and black spots grace the picture-perfect scene before me as I get my heeled foot to lift and plant itself. I want to look back at Evie, to search for the sun in my dark and blurry vision, but I know I can’t. The piano feels like it’s singing a death march as I slowly and methodically stalk down the aisle. Finally, I arrive at my place next to the hand-built and ornate, blossom-adorned arbor. My feet are superglued to the ground as I attempt to mask the dread seeping through my veins.

I wonder how wretched I must look; I’ve undoubtedly sweated stains into this dress and smeared the delicately applied makeup. I’m already ruining things for her, aren’t I? I don’t fit in with these other straight-haired, flawless bridesmaids who’ve been enjoying the day and excitedly waiting to play their parts. I can’t help but think that my mom is right, I can’t do anything right, even when it matters most.

Suddenly, I hear a symphony of creaking chairs as people turn their bodies to face the bride making her entrance. I hear gasps and sniffles begin as soft tears streak down peoples’ faces. I finally gain the courage to glance up, and my God, she is breathtaking. I feel a bit idiotic being so awestruck by this girl I’ve known forever doing something as simple as walking towards me in an outfit I’ve already seen that day, but I can’t bring myself to blink as she glides across the petaled aisle. I begin to tear up alongside Derek; we both can’t comprehend the stunning sunshine coming toward us. I force myself to only focus on the beauty of the bride as I cry, not allowing my deeper feelings to make an appearance in my waterworks.

The bride finally reaches her place beside me as her father sits down in the front row. Her back is turned to me, so I can’t see her face as she grabs Derek’s hands.

“You are the most magnificent woman I’ve ever had the pleasure of laying my eyes on. I love you,” Derek sighs with an enamored look coating his face.

My chest is burning as a soft giggle escapes the bride’s cherry-tinted lips. I want her.

As the last harmonic chord of the piano fades away, the officiant begins her speech.

“Friends and loved ones, we are gathered here today to celebrate the union of a wonderful couple. Although we have all come from different walks of life, we are all in this space to show our unconditional love and support for their marriage. Mr. Derek Monroe Pritchett and Ms. Evelyn Amara Murphy. Do the bride and groom have vows prepared for one another that they will be sharing with their adoring audience?”

Derek goes first. His words smear together as my lungs tighten. I can’t focus in on his profession of love and dedication to his bride—I’m blinded and deafened by my want to be in his place. The pining, mourning monster inside of me is trying to overcome my will to keep smiling for the photos I know are being snapped right now.

The bride begins her half of the vows. Her delicate speech rolls off her tongue like honey. She reciprocates his feelings. She placates his fears. She is everything he wants. She is everything I need. The picture-esque moment is occurring just like I know she’s dreamed about for so many months, but can’t she see what it’s doing to me?

The officiant continues, “Lovely words, don’t you all think? I think we are good to present the rings, as a physical symbol of your eternal love and the promises made on this day to one another. Derek, take this ring and place it on Evelyn’s finger. Evelyn, take this ring and place it on Derek’s finger. Before I pronounce these two as one, does anyone have any objections to the couple being joined in matrimony? Speak now or forever hold your peace.”

Forever. Do something. Do something. DO SOMETHING.

The overpriced, elegant bouquet falls out of my hands and drops down the stairs onto the bride’s dress trailing behind her. She turns to meet my gaze. I cannot read whether her emotions are furious, confused, or a mix of everything as tears pour from my eyes. A chorus of gasps arises from the crowd. I know my mother is staring daggers into my head, but I can’t stop myself as I begin to avow everything screaming inside me.

“Evelyn Amara Murphy. Evie, I’ve loved you for longer than I can tell. I love you more than you could ever begin to comprehend. Your compassion when my mom couldn’t accept me kept me alive. Your hope and your presence light up my world like no other. I want to be your lover, not just your best friend. I want to be your soulmate, not just your cheerleader. I want to raise a family with you, not just watch it happen from afar. I know you better than you know yourself, so I know how much it’s destroying you to have me ruin this perfect moment, but I couldn’t live with myself if I let you go without telling you that I want to be your bride, not just your bridesmaid. I’m sorry…I love you.”

I run from the altar and don’t look back.

Mei Macey is an undergraduate student studying Biomedical Sciences with a minor in Political Science. This piece was her final submission for her writing intensive course; she is incredibly proud of the ultimate product. Mei was inspired by the struggles of several queer friends and the intense emotions that can stem from seemingly forbidden infatuation.

Latin Lovers. University of Washington. Northwest Digital Heritage.