Always the Bridesmaid by Lindsey Kelk
My Bridesmaid Journal
Name: Maddie Fraser
Age: Thirty-one but I definitely don’t look it, honest
My bride’s name is: Lauren Hobbs-Miller
My bride is: My alleged best friend
I have known my bride for: 12 years
How we met: We were flatmates at university
My other bridesmaids’ names are: Sarah Hempel, Jessica Hobbs-Miller-Joyce
Three words that describe my bride: Tyrannical control freak Generous, loving, blonde
Three words that describe the groom: Potentially on drugs
The date of the big day is: Too soon for me to lose weight
How I feel about being a bridesmaid: Like I’d rather pull my womb out with a rusty coat hanger and parade up and down Brighton seafront wearing it as a hat Blessed.
You have been asked to join your bride on this most important journey, one of lasting love and a lifetime of memories. A bridesmaid is not someone who follows her bride down the aisle but stands besides her in life. Yesterday you may have been a friend, a sister, a cousin, but from today until forever, you are so much more.
This journal allows you to chart every step of your adventure together, from the day your bride bestows this great honour upon you, up until the day you say goodbye to the fiancée she is today and welcome a wife into your life.
Record every moment, write down every feeling and thought and reflection, for this is one of the most special and beautiful privileges in a woman’s life.
You are no longer just the person you were when you woke up today.
You are a bridesmaid.
Thursday May 14th
Today I feel: Exhausted.
Today I am thankful for: Taxis that can find you with an app.
It is an undisputed truth of the modern age that there are now only two kinds of people in the world: people who call and people who text.
Obviously there are a lot of weirdoes knocking around on social media: that girl from your old job who likes everything you put on Facebook, the boy you hung out with during the first week of university and then ignored for three years but who still added you on LinkedIn, and, most worrying of all, anyone who tries to have extended conversations on Twitter direct messages, but, when it comes to genuine, honest to God, help-you-hide-the-body-without-asking-questions best buds in the whole wide world, there are only texters and callers.
My best friend Lauren is a caller. As annoying as I find it, Lauren can’t help but pick up the phone, regardless of what it is she has to say. In my humble texter’s opinion, we don’t need to actually talk about who has been eliminated on Bake Off; selected gifs and the odd emoji can express all of our emotions quite adequately. But Lauren loves to call, and that is why I knew something was up when she sent a text message asking me and Sarah to meet her for dinner.
‘What do you think she wants?’ Sarah asked as we trotted dutifully down the street, right on time. ‘Why did we have to come out tonight?’
By the time I got on the Tube I’d run through every possible scenario, and had settled on a kidnapping. Instead of finding her in the restaurant, there would be a sinister man with a random scar, stroking his beard at the bar and demanding a million pounds by midnight, otherwise he would start chopping off her fingers and sending them through the post. Maybe he would FedEx them; the post was a bit unreliable.
‘No idea,’ I replied. No need to worry Sarah about the kidnapping until it was confirmed. ‘It’ll be nice to have dinner together, though. I feel like I haven’t seen you in weeks.’
Which was a really polite way of saying, ‘I haven’t bloody well seen you in weeks, you massive bastard − aren’t you supposed to be one of my best friends?’
‘I’ve been busy,’ she said. Not even an attempt to make up a lie. I’d half expected her to show up with a baby bump, but I was relieved to see she was as rail-thin as ever. Well, not relieved, obviously. No one is ever ‘relieved’ to see their skinny friend is still skinny, are they? And the worst part was, she still had massive boobs. Explain to me how that’s fair. ‘Work’s been shit. I need a new job. Your place is advertising for a PR manager, you know.’
‘Are we?’ I replied, knowing full well that we were.
Sarah unfastened and refastened the top button of her shirt, pulling the collar tight around her throat, muttering to herself.
‘I don’t know why she couldn’t just say let’s get dinner?’ she said, changing the subject again, still burning up about The Message. ‘Why all the drama?’
Because you’d cancel like you have every time for the last month and a half, I replied silently.
‘Because she’s American?’ I suggested out loud.
‘She moved here ten years ago,’ Sarah argued. ‘She does not get to use “because I’m American” as an excuse any more. I’m officially cutting her off.’
‘Maybe she’s moving back,’ I said, hoping it wasn’t true. There had been a lot of talk about her poorly mum and pregnant sister lately. And who would want to spend another miserable summer in the UK when you could be drinking cocktails at your beach house in the Hamptons and bothering your sister’s new baby? ‘She was quite insistent that we had to meet tonight.’
In truth, I was a little bit giddy. I never went out on a week night. Ever. And yes, I know, that sounds really sad, but I work a lot and all my best friends are completely coupled up. What’s the point of going out when you could be at home with a bottle of wine, making fajitas and laughing uproariously with your boyfriend/girlfriend/blow-up doll? It’s fine, I get it, I do the same with my significant other, a great big bottle of gin. And yes, we’re very happy together, thank you.
Sarah, on the other hand, did not look giddy. She looked downright miserable.
‘She’s always so insistent,’ she said, tightening her ever-present topknot. Sarah had a look. Sarah always wore her hair up. Sarah always wore perfectly applied black eyeliner and Sarah always wore shirts buttoned up to the throat. And yet, against all odds, Sarah always looks amazing. But regardless, I hated that topknot. I wanted to lop it off with garden shears. But I didn’t, because I’m a Good Friend. ‘Nothing is ever optional with her. I really didn’t want to be out tonight − I just wanted to go home.’
‘I’m not sure what you’re trying to tell me,’ I replied, ‘but I’ve got this weird feeling you’re not really in the mood for dinner.’
She scowled. I smiled.
‘Well, your make-up looks nice,’ I said, threading my arm through her elbow whether she liked it or not. ‘So that’s something.’
When in doubt, always compliment a woman’s eyeliner application.
Sarah let go of my arm to avoid a pack of terrifying pre-teens hurtling down the middle of the street. ‘I just don’t want to be out all night,’ she said, dodging the kids like a pro. ‘I’m not in the mood. Who wants to be out in London on a Thursday night? No one. It’s full of wankers.’
I caught a glimpse of my overexcited expression in a blacked-out shop window and tried to suppress it before she looked up and slapped it off my face. Wankers and me! If someone wanted to be a full Grumpasaurus Rex, that was up to her. I wasn’t going to let it ruin my evening. Probably.
‘There you are!’
Lauren was squeezed into a tiny space at the busy bar when we arrived, Tweedleglee and Tweedleglum. Sarah allowed herself to be hugged briefly before ordering a double gin and tonic, while I took on the squeezing of a lifetime. Lauren is deceptively strong. Lauren goes to the gym. I believe these two factors are related but have done no research of my own to back that theory up.
‘What’s going on?’ I asked, dancing around from foot to foot and combing my hands wildly through my hair. It had looked fine when I left the office, well, brown and clean but now, surrounded by so many pretty people, not to mention my two blonde best friends, I was certain it was tangled and greasy and needed to be shaved bald. Or possibly tied back in a ponytail. Definitely, one or the other.
‘I’m not telling you until we’ve sat down,’ Lauren said, shaking her very good hair out of her face and into mine. ‘I’ve got a table, and I’ve ordered champagne − you don’t need to get a drink, Sarah.’
Sarah gave her a dark look, slapped a five-pound note on the bar and necked her G&T in two gulps.
‘Champagne?’ I said. ‘What are we celebrating?’
‘God, Maddie.’ Lauren’s eyes sparkled. It actually looked as though someone had already been on the champs. ‘Wait, like, ten seconds.’
Despite Sarah’s less than chipper attitude, Lauren was still smiling when we got to the table. To her face, we always joked that she was so much better put together than we were because she was American, and behind her back (in a nice way, of course), we reassured ourselves that it was because she’d never had a proper job in her life, but tonight she looked extra shiny.
‘So, how are you guys doing?’ she asked, allowing the waiter to pull out her seat. ‘It’s been forever since I saw you.’
‘Standard,’ I replied. Why hadn’t I done something with my hair? Lauren’s blonde mane always curled delicately at the bottom, like a fairy had come along and kissed it. ‘Shona got called in for a mammogram, but she’d heard they hurt so she made me go and get one first.’
‘Your boss made you go for a mammogram?’ Sarah’s eyes widened into saucers.
‘How does someone make you get a mammogram?’ Lauren asked, poking me in the left boob. ‘Jesus, Maddie.’
‘I don’t know,’ I said, slapping her hand away. ‘It was in my diary − I didn’t really think about it until afterwards. I thought everyone was doing it. And don’t poke my boobs in public.’
‘As if that’s even the worst thing she’s done,’ Sarah said, tapping her fingers on the table and watching like a hawk as the waiter peeled the foil off the champagne cork. ‘I think providing hospice care for her incontinent dog was more of an ask.’
I considered this for a moment.
‘He was a lovely dog when he wasn’t shitting everywhere,’ I replied.
‘But he was always shitting everywhere,’ Sarah countered.
‘Did it hurt?’ Lauren asked, wrinkling her little nose at the dog-shit banter. ‘The mammogram?’
I wrapped my hands around my chest and nodded. ‘Even thinking about it hurts. But, you know, they’re important.’
‘They are,’ Sarah agreed. ‘When you need them. You’re a thirty-one-year-old woman with no family history of breast cancer who spent the afternoon with her tit in a vice to appease her boss. That’s different. Is she at least going to get one now?’
‘I’ve scheduled her in for an MRI,’ I said in the kind of quiet voice an embarrassed mouse might use. ‘She didn’t fancy it after she read my report.’
Sarah gave me the look.
‘I don’t know why you don’t just quit,’ Lauren cut in before Sarah could explode. ‘You’ve been her assistant for, like, ten years, Maddie. You could be an assistant anywhere. Wait, don’t open that yet,’ she ordered the waiter as he gripped the champagne cork. ‘I want to make a toast.’
‘Jesus, in that case can I have a Hendrick’s and tonic, please?’ Sarah asked. ‘A double.’
‘Me too,’ I said, raising my hand. ‘Thank you.’
‘You guys …’ Lauren’s voice had a tendency to get a bit whiny when she wasn’t getting her own way. Oddly enough, that didn’t happen often. ‘I don’t want you to get wasted.’
‘We won’t get wasted,’ I promised. ‘Just delightfully tipsy. And you know it’s not as easy as walking out of the door and into another job. Things are difficult everywhere right now.’
‘There are quite a lot of event assistant jobs,’ Sarah pointed out. ‘Have you even looked?’
‘I’m not going to leave one shitty job for another shitty job, am I? And, you know, it’s not always awful,’ I said, preparing to launch into my well-rehearsed ‘Why I Don’t Leave My Horrible Job’ speech. ‘I only tell you the worst parts. It’s interesting. I get to do a lot of different stuff, the rest of the company is nice, it’s only Shona who can be difficult. And I get to meet a lot of people—’
‘Difficult? Can you even hear yourself?’ Sarah replied, unconvinced. ‘Next you’ll be turning up with a black eye and telling us “she only hits me because she loves me”. You stay because you’re scared to leave. I’ve known you too long, Mads. You’ve lived in the same flat for ten years, you’ve had the same job for ten years—’
‘I’ve had the same best friends for ten years,’ I broke in with what I hoped she would take as a threat. ‘Maybe I should make some changes.’
‘I guess you do get to go to a bunch of awesome parties,’ Lauren offered. Lovely, peace-making Lauren. ‘And you always get a ton of free cake.’
‘I do always get free cake,’ I said, looking pointedly at Sarah, who had so often been the grateful recipient. ‘Thank you, Lauren.’
‘But,’ she continued with one of her sweet smiles, ‘if you left, you might be happier. And we might actually get to see you more often.’
Lauren, the two-faced, backstabbing cow.
‘How are you, Sarah?’ she asked, ignoring the look on my face. ‘What’s going on with you?’
‘Nothing,’ Sarah replied as her G&T was set down in front of her. ‘Busy, tired, whatever.’
‘Tough day at work?’
‘They’re all tough,’ she said. ‘Maddie isn’t the only one who needs a new job.’
Lauren cast me a quick glance, which I replied to with wide, nonplussed eyes. When Sarah was in a bad mood, there was very little point trying to force her out of it.
‘Let’s open the champagne,’ Lauren said brightly, beckoning the waiter over with the bottle. ‘Before we start talking about mammograms and dog shit again.’
I smiled broadly. ‘Just your average Thursday night.’
‘This isn’t really how I had planned this,’ she said, reaching under the table into her tote bag and pulling out two elaborately wrapped pink presents. There was a lot of curly ribbon involved. I mean, a lot. ‘But I have some news and I wanted to share it with you right away.’
Sarah stared at the presents, stared at Lauren, and took a sharp breath in before downing the rest of her second gin. ‘Oh no,’ she whispered.
‘What?’ I flicked my head back and forth between my friends so fast I’m almost certain I could have sued them for whiplash. ‘What?’
‘Michael asked me to marry him last night,’ Lauren announced, fiddling with her hand for a moment, then displaying a diamond ring so big it could only have come from Claire’s Accessories. There was no way that shit was real. ‘We’re engaged.’
I had never seen her look so happy, and Lauren was always happy. Lauren was happy, I was happy, the waiter was happy, and Sarah was … oh. Hmm. Sarah did not look happy. In case you were wondering, it takes exactly seven seconds to go from silent awe to awkward silence. Before I knew it, we were right in the middle of one of the most uncomfortable situations I had ever had the privilege to experience. Lauren’s smile began to freeze, and her giddy expression turned into tense confusion, while Sarah looked like she was getting a mammogram right there at the table.
‘Are you pregnant?’ I asked.
Apparently that was not the right thing to ask.
‘Jesus, Maddie, no!’ Lauren rolled her eyes and pouted. ‘I’m really hoping he asked because he loves me. It happens. Remember when Sarah did it? Big white dress, church, party, bridesmaids?’
‘Oh no,’ Sarah said again, this time in a whisper. Her face was ashen and she refused to make eye contact with either of us, even when I gave her a swift kick under the table.
‘And that’s why I asked you to come meet me tonight,’ Lauren went on, in a Keep Calm and Carry On voice. American born maybe, but that girl had the stiff upper lip of a Brit when it was needed. She could pretend something wasn’t happening like an absolute pro. ‘To ask if you would be my bridesmaids.’
‘Of course!’ I shouted. Bridesmaids! Lauren’s bridesmaids! Lauren was getting married! Argh! I mean, hurrah! ‘That’s amazing, Lauren − come here.’
Hugging seemed like the socially correct gesture, but in half a heartbeat I went from being ecstatically happy to realizing it would make me the spinster of the group. But still, I gave her a hug instead of stabbing her through the heart with my butter knife. I was raised properly.
‘Sarah, isn’t this amazing?’ I asked, widening my eyes at our other friend across the table while Lauren showed off her ring to the waiter, who politely pretended to care.
But Sarah didn’t reply. We should have been screeching and making neighbouring tables offer awkward congratulations, but instead of leaping to her feet and joining the hug, Sarah was staring at her knees with tears streaming down her face.
She held up a hand and tried to choke down the tears so that she could speak. Good old emotionally constipated Sarah had finally exploded. She was too overcome with happiness to leave her seat. It was impressive, really − Sarah never cries. When we went to her grandmother’s funeral, she was the one who elbowed me in the ribs and told me to keep it together. But our dear friend’s unexpected betrothal to a slightly dull man who thought cleaning products were an appropriate expression of love was finally the thing that got to her.
‘I think I’m going to be sick,’ she croaked.
It wasn’t really the response either of us had been expecting.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked. ‘Are you OK?’
She looked up, mascara running down her face, lips pursed tightly together, and shook her head, rubbing her hands together like a Topshop-clad Lady Macbeth.
‘These are bridesmaid journals,’ Lauren said, determinedly upbeat, taking her seat again and tossing the two pink packages across the table, ‘so you can write down all the happy memories, like the time I asked you to be my bridesmaids and showed you my engagement ring and Sarah said she wanted to throw up?’
And that was when I noticed Sarah’s left hand was entirely without diamond adornment. No engagement ring, no wedding ring.
‘Come on, you two, I’m getting married!’ Lauren said before I could react. She waved her newly accessorized hand in the air, too busy looking at her own ring to notice the lack of someone else’s. ‘What’s wrong? Be happy!’
‘Sorry, don’t meant to be rude,’ Sarah said, raising her champagne glass in a solo toast and then draining every last drop. ‘Steve asked me for a divorce at the weekend, but, you know, here’s to you. Cheers.’
And so, dear diary, on the upside, tonight I was given this lovely journal, but on the downside, I had to endure one of the most uncomfortable evenings of my entire life. On reflection, probably not worth it.
Released 7th May by HarperCollins. Click to get hold of your copy.