It was ten minutes until midnight on New Year’s Eve night, and my mouth was full of wedding cake.
Not my wedding cake, obviously, since I was in my favorite pair of pj pants, a comfy old sweatshirt from high school, and a fabulously tacky pair of leopard print slippers. This cake was our New Year cake, from a vendor who catered most of the weddings I worked and who always had a “sample” available for me once a year. “Because I just love you like that, Emily,” he would wink at me as he passed the box across the counter and refused my money. His wife would pat me on the arm and tell me, “You tell all of your brides how wonderful this is!”
And it always was. Tonight’s specialty was my favorite – white chocolate with strawberry cream filling, covered with cascading chocolate-dipped strawberries, some of which were decorated to look like little men in tuxedos.
“Exquisite,” Sara had said when I lifted it out of the box.
“Kinda creepy,” Melissa had noted, pointing to a tuxedo strawberry that looked more headless than his brothers.
“Just wait,” I told her. “This will be better than last year’s. As if that’s even possible.”
The three of us were having a party – a party just for us. We had been having these every New Year’s Eve since we were ten. Our friendship had started long before then, back when we were the only three babies in attendance at Grace Community Church twenty-eight years ago when my father began his pastorate there. The church had been very small then, but we were blissfully unaware in our crèche department, chewing on the same plastic toys, being diapered by the same volunteers, and babbling incoherent ramblings to one another each and every Sunday morning. As the church grew, we transitioned from the crèche to the preschool, from the preschool to the elementary age wing, from the elementary age wing to the Junior High youth, and from the Junior High youth to the High School group. Along the way there were other friends who came in and out of our lives, but for the most part, it remained the three of us, running to class to meet up and tell one another some silly story during our younger days, coolly meeting up after the service when we were angst-ridden teens who were mortified by our parents, and now, post-college and nearing our thirtieth birthdays, finding time in our busy schedules and lives to continue our friendship.
This New Year’s Eve tradition had served us well, even during college. We were fortunate that even though we chose three different universities in different parts of the state, we were all home for the same holidays and could still do our annual countdown of the year.
“This,” Sara said, pointing her fork at the layers of strawberry goo wedged so delicately in the cake, “is what I’m getting for my wedding. Think he’ll cut me a deal?”
Sara had been planning a wedding for quite a while. Years, in fact. She had met Jon during her last year of college, and although he seemed as committed and focused as she was back then, the six years since had gone on with no move towards marriage. Sara had started working as a kindergarten teacher in Fort Worth after graduation, and Jon had started work on his MBA. Two years later, he took a position with an investment firm in San Antonio, although he had offers nearer to home. If you know your Texas geography, you know that Fort Worth and San Antonio aren’t exactly in the same neighborhood, and since Jon, two years into the relationship was still no closer to a ring and a date, we all thought it was the beginning of the end. Sara didn’t, though. She loved him beyond any valid reason we could see and continued to plan her life with him even though he made no move towards any kind of commitment.
That was Sara, though. Kind and sweet, optimistic and hopeful, perhaps to a fault at times.
Melissa eyed me questioningly for a moment. I gave a slight shake of my head, imperceptible to Sara, or so I thought.
“No, Melissa,” she said in a sing-song voice. “He hasn’t proposed yet. But there’s always Valentine’s Day, you know.”
“Ugh, Valentine’s Day,” Melissa groaned. “Hate it, hate it, hate it…” She speared a bite of cake and popped it in her mouth. “This is good,” she told me. “And you know I’d tell you if it wasn’t.”
I knew that she would. Melissa’s best trait was her brutal honesty… although at times, it was also her worst trait. I had, on more than one occasion during high school, seen some poor unfortunate and unsuspecting guy shyly ask her out, only to have her look at him dubiously and say, “Me? But you’re way too dumb for me.” When I would express some amazement about this after the wounded boys would retreat, she’d say, “What?! It’s true!” And it was. Melissa was smarter than all of them. She would eventually show some remorse for her harsh treatment of the male gender, saying that perhaps some kindness and tact would have been more honoring to the Lord. But she never apologized for being smart. After racing through a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree with high marks, she was now the only female engineer on staff at a secure government location that we couldn’t know too much about, even as her closest and oldest friends. “It has to do with missiles,” she told us once, very simply, and never spoke another word about it. (I remember Sara’s response to this had been to treat her with increased care and gentleness, as she was quite sure Melissa had become a domestic terrorist of some sort.) Melissa’s life was her job, and she spent even most of her free time working towards higher achievements there.
As for me, I was also working my dream job, a position that I ironically referred to as “Dream Destroyer.” That wasn’t the official nomenclature on the door of my office, though, as the truth would have likely scared any and all clients away. The friendlier title assigned to me was Assistant to the Bridal Events Coordinator.
I had applied fresh from college with little hope of getting the position, stepping into the regal downtown hotel for my interview and feeling as though I had shrunk three feet by being in the very presence of such elegance. Surely, I thought to myself, only THE most talented and experienced coordinator could get a job here! I hadn’t counted on being the last of twelve girls hired that year alone, thanks to the gruesome nature of the job.
Unbeknownst to me that day, they were fully booked for the season, were in desperate need of some naïve help, and were ready to take just about anyone. My boss, THE Bridal Events Coordinator, greeted me that day in a full pink suit, fresh corsage on her lapel, spike heels on her feet, and hands full of bling. Big, huge, gigantic bling. Her hair was exquisite, her makeup flawless, and her smile so warm and tender.
She had me fooled.
“Dear Miss Fisher,” she said, holding out a hand to me delicately. “I’m Evelyn Primrose.”
I must confess, I didn’t know whether to shake her hand, kiss her 3-carat emerald cut engagement ring, or curtsy. I managed to firmly shake her hand in my own, then on her invitation, followed her to her office, a feminine space dominated by floral furniture and her own amazing bridal portraits. Evelyn had been stunning even then as a debutante set to wed the mysterious Mr. Primrose, whom I had never met. (And whom I suspected was actually a Mr. Butts or Mr. Snarflehock, names that Evelyn would have traded in during office hours for the impossibly feminine and genteel Primrose.) On that fateful day that I interviewed, stars in my eyes, she laid the job out for me with a genuine smile – assist brides in planning their dream weddings, walk alongside the wedding couple as they made decisions for the reception, act as the middle man between vendors and brides, and (she said this with a flourish) exude elegance that befits such a fine venue.
It was perfect. Perfect, perfect, perfect. I would have told Evelyn anything she wanted to hear. Do I know every kind of flower type ever seen under the sun? Absolutely, Mrs. Primrose. Can I sew up twenty layers of silk and tulle in ten minutes? Most certainly, Mrs. Primrose. Was I willing to be a team player in this bridal machine we were running? Without a doubt, Mrs. Primrose!
And so I began, quickly discovering that it was Evelyn’s job to dream big with the brides, to suggest the vendors, to show them how extravagant their big day could be, and to fill their heads with impossible fantasies…. before sending them to the face of hard-cash reality, yours truly. I had only wanted to have the fun of planning a wedding without the work of a marriage. What I got was akin to couples’ therapy as I broke the news to dazed brides and grooms that while, yes, those peonies that grow naturally in Bali (and nowhere else in known civilization) were exquisite, they did nevertheless cost a fortune. And while, yes, the dance floor we could offer looked like something your Uncle Bubba could set up for you with no problem at all, we would require that our people do it and that it would cost you $300 for set up, $300 for tear down, and, my sincerest apologies, $300 for repair work later at the very least. (Even if you didn’t do anything to it!) Oh, and our most efficient meal (Evelyn frowned on my more honest word “cheap”) would still cost $50 a head, even though it likely only cost us $2 a plate to make. I was the number cruncher, the business end of the deal, and many times, the great consoler of all manner of hysterical brides.
My dream job was a big nightmare most days. It paid the bills, though, and paid them well enough that I had paid off all of my student loans in record time. With that monkey off my back, I was saving up for a real home… if my little clunker car would just live a little bit longer. I anticipated being the Dream Destroyer for many, many more years, as it was a good job with the opportunity for advancement, for one day being THE Bridal Events Coordinator. And hiring some other poor schmuck to do my job.
It didn’t take me long at my job to realize that no one expected me to last very long. All of the other assistants had quit within a month of taking the position, but six years later, I was still there. Evelyn liked my tenacity, and God bless her, I liked Evelyn for just having the guts to be Evelyn. It couldn’t have been easy to send the wolves to me every day, but she did it without reservation, noting that even the unpleasant parts of wedding planning were crucial to a truly successful event. When things got really rough for me, she was a shrewd businesswoman who could come to my defense when it looked like I was going to literally be in the middle of a knockdown drag-out between brides and grooms. “Savages!” she told me once, after a particularly belligerent bride had attempted negotiating with me by screaming in my face. “As if they could ever have their hootenanny of a wedding here!” If for no other reason, I loved her for being able to wear a Chanel suit and Jimmy Choos while saying the word “hootenanny.”
The memory made me smile as the seconds ticked by to midnight.
“What?” Melissa asked.
“Oh,” I told her, shaking my head and swallowing the last bite of heaven, “just thinking about the perks of the job.”
“Amen!” Sara said. “I love cake.”
Melissa licked her fork clean and looked at my plate. “Are you done with that?”
I nodded and passed it into her waiting hands. Sara did the same, adding, “Thank you for letting us have our party here.”
Melissa waved her away as she walked to her kitchen. “No problem,” she said. “I’m still trying to figure out my way around here.”
She had bought the house about a month ago, and she still had moving boxes everywhere. The house was, for all intents and purposes, my dream house. Brand new, three bedroom, two baths, extra-spacious kitchen, large living room, and a two car garage. We normally had our sleepover in either Sara’s or my cramped little apartments, so this was a treat.
“I would love a house like this some day,” I told her. “Just exactly like this.”
Sara smiled at me, tucking her legs underneath her on the couch. “What neighborhood would you have it in? Close to work?”
“Oh, if only I could afford something closer to work,” I sighed. “Real estate over there is rather astronomical.”
“Tell me about it,” Melissa said. “It’s just better value for your money to buy something or have something built out here in the suburbs rather than right near the heart of the city.” She loaded the dishwasher as she spoke, glancing up at us through the open bar window above her sink. “Trust me – the city is growing out, so that by the time I sell this house, it WILL be in the city and will have tripled in value.”
“Sell it?” Sara asked incredulously. “You just bought it!”
“Well, I’m not saying that I’ll sell it tomorrow,” she shrugged. “But I’m just starting out in my career. Plenty of opportunities to move on up, especially at our age. We’re not getting any younger, girls. Time we start pursuing the bigger things at work.”
Sara winced a tiny bit at the mention of “our age.” I’m a firm believer that you can tell a lot about a person based on the way they look at hitting milestone ages. Take us, for example. With our thirtieth birthdays looming on the horizon, Melissa was ecstatic, eager for the added leverage and prestige that being thirty-something would give her in her career. She had confided to us on more than one occasion that she worked with nothing but men in their fifties who not only looked down on her for being a woman but also for being a “kid.” The older she got, the better it got, as she reached greater seniority and was getting farther and farther away from the applied assumptions that went with being a twenty-something fresh out of grad school.
Sara, on the other hand, was dreading the leap to thirty. Though she didn’t dwell on it with us, it was clear whenever we’d get another wedding invitation in the mail from someone in our singles group or when a young married couple from the church would be back in worship that first Sunday after welcoming home a new baby that Sara wasn’t happy with where she was at twenty-eight. Sara’s best case scenario was married with children, and with no sign of Jon moving her toward that destination, she wasn’t looking forward to aging.
I didn’t really care either way. I knew I’d have to be in my forties (or fifties!) before Evelyn retired and promoted me to her position. She was only in what I assumed to be her forties, and with no children, she had plenty of energy and time to devote to many years of working. I didn’t really anticipate marriage in my future, so I wasn’t worried about my chances becoming more and more slim in that area. Birthdays were just another opportunity to get together with family, blow out some candles, and have leftover cake for breakfast for a week.
Speaking of cake, Melissa was poised with a fork in hand over the tiny sliver left in the cake box. “Can’t let this go to waste,” she mumbled to me when I looked at her questioningly.
“Well, no, of course not.”
Sara, obviously stressed by our mention of age, ran to the kitchen to grab herself a fork.
“Em, you want one?” she asked.
“Sure, why not?”
She came back, handed mine to me, and plunged her own into the edge side, taking most of the frosting.
“Hey, hey! That’s the best part!” Melissa protested.
“I know,” Sara moaned. “I really shouldn’t. I’m going to gain so much weight because of this.”
“Please,” Melissa snorted, and she was right. Sara never seemed to gain or lose weight either way, always effortlessly staying the same size – slim, but not too slim, tall, but not too tall. Just perfect, actually. She made me look like a giant in all of my 5’11 glory. Melissa was only a few inches shorter than me but carried a few extra pounds, so Sara’s random mentions of weight while we ate always solicited ungracious comments.
Sara shook her head. “Just watching my waist line,” she glared at Melissa, “you know, since we’re all getting OLD.”
“Well, we’re not getting younger. Can’t get younger, scientifically speaking,” Melissa said. Then, considering the cake, “This probably is a bad idea, though. How many calories?”
I squinted a bit. “Do you want the answer I would give a weight-conscious bride?”
Sara nodded, her mouth full of cake. “Yes.”
“Then, nothing at all!”
Melissa considered her fork carefully. “I need to work out more. And more than what I do now would be…. well, anything.”
Sara put her own fork down with a sigh. “Is that one of your resolutions?”
“I don’t have any resolutions,” she said. “How about you?”
She shrugged. “I probably should have some. I just can’t ever think of anything good.”
“You know,” I told them, taking the rest of the cake back to the couch with me, “we should think of some together.”
Melissa looked at me questioningly. “Resolutions?”
“Yeah!” Sara said. “If we have some resolutions together, we can help each other! Like having a friend do a diet with you. Accountability, all of that.”
“Diet?! Who said anything about a diet?! I was just talking about a little exercise!”
I sat forward, a list already starting to form in my head. “Well, no, they don’t all have to be about diet and exercise. Maybe some about… travel? Um… career?”
“Ooooh, I like it,” Sara said. “And new hobbies! Getting involved in new ways at church!”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Melissa said. “You’re making it sound really complicated. That’s too much to even remember.”
“It could be really easy,” I told them. “One resolution a month. Just ten months. Starting in February, and ending in November, before December when everything –”
“Gets crazy,” they both finished for me. Seems our careers weren’t all that different after all.
“Yeah, Melissa,” Sara said. “I think Emily’s onto something. Are you in?”
After a pause, Melissa shrugged. “I guess.” Then, pointing her finger at each one of us, slowly. “But you’re not going to go all Nazi on me with this, are you? Just for fun?”
“Of course, of course,” Sara said. “Just for fun.”
I pulled my planner out of my purse, turned to a blank page, and asked, “So, what should be on the list?”
We missed the countdown entirely as we threw ourselves into the task and threw out ideas, vetoing some, okaying others, chatting back and forth about what might work for each, and inevitably, arguing over resolutions we had no desire to honor.
“’Amp up my love life?’” Melissa repeated Sara’s suggestion, annoyed. “What does that even mean?”
“It means,” she began patiently, “that the two of you haven’t been on a date since… well, never.”
I began to beg to differ, remembering a few guys in college who I went out with a couple of times each and then… well, never went out with again. Maybe she had a point.
Melissa was unwavering. “I’m not going to go out and start dating some doofus guys just because you think I need to.”
“They don’t have to be doofus guys, Melissa,” Sara said in the sweet voice I’m sure she used with her kindergarten students. “There are plenty of nice, normal men out there who you might enjoy getting to know.”
Melissa was baffled. “And just how do you propose that I go about meeting them?” She looked to me. “Emily, speak up! How are you going to check this one off your list?”
I shrugged. “I’m sure there’s some guy Nick knows that Jessica’s been waiting to introduce me to.” This was true enough. My sister, Jessica, was always looking out for “potentials” as she called them. Her husband, Nick, ran his own construction business and had a whole crew full of them.
“A blind date?” Melissa asked. “For real? You would really do this?”
I nodded. “I guess. It’s not like I have to marry the guy or anything.”
“Ridiculous!” Melissa exclaimed, irritated by my lack of opposition to the idea and what it meant for her.
“Well, look,” Sara said. “Some of these are going to get me out of my comfort zone, too. Like ‘go somewhere exotic.’ First of all, I have no money to go somewhere exotic, and second of all, I’ve never even left the country. If I can do this, you can surely go on one date.”
Melissa started to say something, then bit her lip. “Fine,” she spat out. “Whatever.” She bent her head down over my planner and began scrawling another resolution, while Sara gave me the thumbs up over her. “I see that!” Mel yelled.
Finally, after much discussion, we had it narrowed down to ten resolutions…
February – Get in shape
March – Amp up your love life
April –Volunteer somewhere new in church
May – Go somewhere exotic
June – Begin attending a weekly Bible study
July – Help someone who is truly in need
August – Improve your home
September – Start a new hobby
October – Move forward in your career
November – Improve your social life
“That all sounds great!” Sara said, clapping her hands enthusiastically. “This is going to be so much fun!”
Melissa shook her head. “I don’t much like that last one. I love our social life! Occasional outings and dinners with the singles group, our New Year party every year…. I don’t know that I want anything to change!”
“Mmm,” I said with a smile. “I wonder what next year will be like… will we all be together again, eating cake?”
“I hope so,” Sara said.
“Me, too,” Melissa agreed.
“To us,” I said, as we all three tapped our Diet Cokes together in a toast.
Want to read more? You can find Resolutions here!