Reed Callaway (Part 8)

 If you need to get caught up, here are the links for Parts 1-7: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7. 

I’ve been here under ten minutes and have already downed two glasses of champagne.  Have you seen the size of a champagne flute?  And then they don’t even fill it to the top. 

All around me, women adorned in chic cocktail attire share stories of their recent honeymoon or affectionately pat pregnant stomachs.  

I have died and gone to hell, otherwise known as an engagement party. 

Watching Aubrey across the room, I remind myself to be on my best behavior.  She’s so happy she’s literally glowing, her porcelain skin fit for a Neutrogena ad.  I only had a few minutes with her before the crowds descended upon the large corner of the Atlanta Botanical Gardens reserved for the party.  She was the happiest I’ve ever seen her.  

She’s the only person in this world that tolerates me on a daily basis, so it’s the least I can do to observe this horrid ritual, dateless. 

Chris still hadn’t called, and one look around the room tells me I won’t be meeting Prince Charming here.  Although the crowd is full of men, they’re all dutifully standing by their woman’s side, no doubt as miserable here as I am. 

As I swipe another glass of champagne from a tray floating by, perched on a tuxedoed waiter’s hand, Miss Delilah frightens me from behind. 

“Reed, darling, don’t you think you should pace yourself?”  Her voice is straight out of Gone with the Wind; although she would have been horrified to be told anything about her resembled the movie she considered to have ruined the rest of the country’s view of the South. 

Continuing to hold the glass, but not daring take a sip, I reply, “Have you been watching me, Miss Delilah?  I know you must be worried that I’ve come without a proper date in tow.” 

“Well of course I’m worried dear.  You are getting to be that age. . . .”  She let her voice trail off at the end, as if Armageddon came next. 

“Aubrey found happiness at the ripe old age of 25.  I’m sure I will too.”  I don’t believe it, and the look on her face tells me she doesn’t either. 

“Yes, dear, well when was the last time you went out on a proper date?”  She eyes me skeptically, as if she couldn’t imagine what sort of men I would go out with on a date. 

Nervously shifting the champagne flute from one hand to the other, I consider my response.  I’m not sure going out with someone I met online qualifies as a “proper date” with Miss Delilah.  Not wanting to risk her fainting at the idea that I would meet a man off the internet, I reply, “I’m just picky, Miss Delilah.  You taught me to be so discerning, I’m afraid none of the lazy boys I meet lives up to my expectations.” 

“You know,” Miss Delilah said, taking my elbow and turning me towards the open bar at the other end of the garden, “I believe a couple of Nate’s friends have come without dates.  And look, they enjoy a good bar.  You’ll have something in common.” 

The shot at my drinking habits stung a little.  At least she hadn’t taken away my glass of champagne yet. 

“I’ll be sure and meet them,” I say, hoping to appease her.  Nate already dispelled any hopes I had of hitting it off with any of his stock broker buddies.  One of them has a wife at home with a newborn.  Another has a girlfriend who lived in New York, and the other is going through a nasty divorce.  

“I’m going to see that the bride doesn’t need anything,” she says, patting my hand.  I watch her move across the garden, stopping to greet each guest in her path.  No one can work a crowd like Miss Delilah. 

At a statuesque 5’10”, Miss Delilah is an imposing figure.  Her perfect posture and tendency to lecture make her feel more like an etiquette instructor than your best friend’s mother.  Her flawless skin, inherited by Aubrey, and impeccable taste in clothing make her seem timeless, as if she has stopped aging.  

I feel like I am fifteen again every time I am around the woman.  I love her, but she scares shit out of me. 

Remembering the champagne in my hand, I down it.  Time to go in. 

I’ve decided I can’t be antisocial and alone all evening, so I join a nearby circle of people Aubrey and I went to grade school with.  I wouldn’t consider any of them friends, but Aubrey is better at keeping in touch with people than I am. 

“Reed,” a petite brunette named Charlotte coos as I approach, “how are you?” 

“I’m just fabulous,” I say, plastering on my biggest smile, “and how are you?  Pregnant I see.” 

“Yes, she’s due next month,” Charlotte says, putting one hand on her protruding belly and the other on the shoulder of a tall sandy-haired man standing next to her.  “Bill and I just couldn’t be more thrilled.” 

Oh yeah, stretch marks and 3 a.m. feedings just sounded like the best thing that could ever happen to a person.  I grit my teeth, willing myself to continue to smile.  “Well, congratulations.” 

“Thank you,” Charlotte says, still rubbing her belly.  

I’ve never understood why pregnant women have this compulsive need to caress their stomachs.  It’s not going anywhere; no need to constantly check to see if it’s still there. 

Turning my attention away from Charlotte, I say hello to Mitzi and Karin, who were talking to Charlotte and Bill before I interrupted. 

“I was just asking Charlotte if she’s chosen a name,” Mitzi says, filling me in on the conversation. 

Looking to her husband and back, as if silently asking permission to reveal the big secret, Charlotte replies, “Madison Rose, but we’re going to call her Rose.  It was Bill’s grandmother’s name.” 

Calling kids by their middle name.  Add that to the list of things I don’t understand.  If you liked the name so much, why not make it the kid’s first name?  Instead, the poor child will have to explain to her teacher and fellow students each and every year when roll is called for the first time that she goes by her middle name. 

Mitzi and Karin are busy oohing and ahhing over the name.  

“You know, we named Ava after Adam’s grandmother as well.  I just love family names,” Karin says.  

I mentally check out of the baby name session and grab another champagne flute as a waiter passes by.  I don’t notice that the conversation has turned to me. 

“Reed. . .” 

“Oh, sorry.  I got distracted by the bubbly for a moment.  What were you saying?” 

“Charlotte was asking what happened with Matt.  We noticed you’re not wearing a ring.” 

I hadn’t been prepared for this.  Matt was my college sweetheart.  He had proposed senior year, but when I wanted to move away for law school, he couldn’t understand.  I gave the ring back and got a law degree instead.  

“That didn’t work out,” I said, leaving out that it was none of their business.  They already knew, of course.  They were simply engaging in a friendly game of my-life-is-better-than-yours at my expense.  The joke is on them though.  I don’t have a baby screaming in the middle of the night, and I can still sleep with random strangers just for the hell of it. 

“In that case, Mitch works with someone I just have to set you up with,” Mitzi said.  

Is everyone trying to marry me off tonight?  “As much fun as a blind date sounds like, I think I’ll pass.”  I see the injured look on Mitzi’s face, so I continue, “I work all the time.  I really don’t have time to date right now.” 

Karin chimes in first.  “I think it’s just super you’re so career-driven, but don’t you want to get married and have kids one day?” 

Honesty is not always the best policy.  Honesty will get me strange looks and will probably lead me to say something that will hurt the feelings of all three ladies.  Normally, I wouldn’t care, but for Aubrey’s sake I’m trying to behave tonight. 

“It’s just not a priority for me right now.  I’m still young.  I see myself getting married one day.” 

“Just don’t wait too long,” Charlotte says with a smile, “that clock will start ticking.” 

I knew what clock she meant.  The biological one.  The one all women are supposed to be born with that counts down to when they’re old and dried up and incapable of reproduction.  Mine’s either missing or on mute. 

I smile back as if I know exactly what she means.  No need to tell her that I prefer being able to hop on a flight to Bali tomorrow without arranging a sitter or flying with an unruly infant.  

The sound of metal on glass saves me from the conversation, and I look over to see Miss Delilah clinking her glass, ready to give a toast. 

“Everyone if I can please have your attention.”  She glances around the room, daring anyone to speak while she is commanding an audience.  “First, I want to thank you all so very much for coming.  My late husband, Gerald, rest his soul, would be so happy to see you all here tonight, celebrating the union of our beautiful daughter Aubrey to a fine young man like Nathaniel.” 

I nearly let out a giggle.  Nate hates being called Nathaniel.  Not a chance he’ll ever correct Miss Delilah though. 

“Next, I’d like to welcome Nathaniel to our family.  I’m so glad you chose my little girl to fall in love with.  But, what man could resist?” 

Laughter filled the room as everyone nodded in agreement.  Aubrey is the perfect catch for an up-and-coming stock broker from a ridiculously wealthy family.  

“To Aubrey and Nathaniel,” Miss Delilah said, raising her glass to the room. 

I drained my glass and excused myself from the group.  No more talk of weddings and babies.  

Thankfully the crowd has swollen to what appears to be a couple of hundred of guests.  I don’t recognize the majority of them, but then they’re not really Aubrey’s friends.  They’re Atlanta’s elite, men and women Miss Delilah knows from the dozen boards on which she sits.  She generously donates her late husband’s fortune to their various causes, and they show up with engagement presents from Tiffany’s. 

Having them here allows me to make an early escape while Aubrey and Miss Delilah aren’t looking.  I’ll blame it on work if I’m caught.  

I ditch my empty champagne flute and dart around the edge of the garden and out of sight.  

I’ve survived the engagement party.  Only four bridal showers, a bachelorette party, rehearsal dinner and wedding left to go before I’m done playing nice and wearing panty hose.

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