The Wedding Necklace
Sheila Thompson smiled at her reflection, admiring the diamond encrusted heart of her new necklace as it lay upon her honey-brown skin. She had chosen it especially for today. Her best friend Grace was getting married and at their middle age that was something to celebrate.
“Mamma,” her college-age daughter Pam called. “Are you awake? I made breakfast.”
“Come in, baby,” she said. She glanced at Pam’s reflection in the mirror. “How do you like my new necklace? Is it snazzy enough for the maid of honor to wear?” She laughed.
“It’s beautiful, Mamma.”
“You don’t sound too impressed. What is the matter with you? Ever since you came in yesterday you’ve been moping around like you lost your best friend.”
Pam spread her slim, ebony body across Mamma’s bed. “I don’t feel right about this wedding.”
“Auntie Grace shouldn’t be marrying Lamont.”
“Baby girl, what are you talking about? They love each other, which is all that matters.”
“Um-Hum, right.” Pam got up. “I’ll be in the kitchen.”
Sheila shook her head and went back to the necklace, but Pam’s words haunted her. Grace’s man Lamont Grier had always been a fixture around her house, doing handy work and such ever since Pam was small. He even babysat sometimes when she had to work long hours at the office. He was there when Pam graduated from kindergarten, sixth grade, eighth grade and finally high school. He cheered her on when she wanted to do boys football and even though she wasn’t allowed to play, he kept her positive and said she might get the chance someday. He was the only decent black man Pam had ever known.
“She ought to be happy for Lamont instead of saying things like that,” she said to her reflection. “I am.”
But even as the words slipped from her mouth, Sheila felt a strong check in her heart. A gray shroud rose up inside and made even the gold and diamond heart seem dull and lifeless. She knew the truth. Lamont was her man and she let him go. Other things had become more important. She touched the necklace.
“Mama, Auntie Grace and the limo are here,” Pam called from the porch an hour later.
“I’m coming,” Sheila shouted from behind her bedroom door. She zipped her lavender and gold bridesmaid dress in a suit bag and picked up the hat box. She looked in the door length mirror. Her honey-brown face was smooth, her lips full but not fat. She turned a few times to catch a glimpse of her slender, fit body.
“Well alright, you go girl,” she said aloud and laughed.
“Mama, hurry up.”
“I’m coming.” She gave Pam a kiss as she flew by her. “I’ll see you later, baby.”
“Wait,” Pam said.
Sheila turned at the door and looked into her daughter’s serious face. “What is it, Pam? I have to go.”
Pam’s brows wrinkled. “He’s marrying the wrong woman. You know it.”
“Stop it, girl.”
“Lamont loves you. And you know good and well you love him. How could you let this happen?”
Sheila turned away. She felt the shroud pull tighter around her spirit as she went to the car where Grace was smiling from ear-to-ear, her head filled with rollers.
Grace did a little screech as she hugged her. “It’s finally happening, girl,” she said. “I’m marrying the most wonderful black man on earth.”
“Oh, really? What about Denzel?”
“He’s a close second. Although he’s got money, so maybe I ought to put him up a notch.” She giggled. “I’m just playing.”
She settled back into the deep cushioned seats as Grace talked on and on about the ceremony and celebration. She smiled and nodded, trying to feel the pure happiness she saw in Grace’s face. But all she could feel was her daughter’s words. She wished Pam was not so straight forward and that she’d learn to keep some things to herself. She gazed out the car window, watching her city fly by. They even passed the bank where she’d worked for ten years. Her blood, sweat and tears covered the hallways and offices, from the mailroom to the executive suites on the sixth floor. She could see the whole city from her office and often felt like she owned it. What a victory getting that office was. But there she’d begun to lose her life in steady drops and when she realized what had happened, it was too late.
“Sheila,” Grace said.
Sheila jumped. “What?”
“We’re here. Where have you been for the past ten minutes?”
She smiled and followed her friend into the church dressing rooms. She couldn’t let Grace know how she was feeling. She had never seen her friend so happy.
The bridal party, Grace’s mamma and other assorted relatives were already there. Sheila gave a shout to the whole group at once.
Grace’s mother, Georgia Tucker, came up to her. “How you feeling today, Sheila?” she asked. She put an arm around her shoulders.
“Fine,” Sheila said and tried to move away but Georgia tightened her hold and carried her to a quiet corner of the dressing room.
“I want today to be perfect for Grace. She’s waited a long time for this and she’s got a good man. Don’t spoil it for her.”
“Why would I? Grace is my girl.”
“I’m just saying. I know how close you’ve been to Lamont and I know how hard it must be to let him go. He belongs to Grace now so you just have to accept that. Don’t cause any trouble, hear?”
Georgia’s wide, toothy smile and squeeze sent chills through her body. As she prepared her hair and put on her make-up, she felt the ominous warning under Georgia’s words. She bristled at her unspoken accusation. She didn’t have to be told Lamont belonged to Grace. She would never make that kind of trouble for her.
Pam came into the dressing room as they were lining up and gave her a kiss. “Are you okay?” she whispered.
“I’m fine, baby. Go get your seat.” She glanced toward the doorway where Georgia was standing watching her. When their eyes met Georgia smiled and moved out of sight.
As the music and procession began, Sheila’s stomach became a thousand knots. The shimmering lavender dress she wore lightly brushed the carpet as she walked with slow steps down the aisle. The flowers she held yielded a sweet fragrance that made her nauseous. She barely glanced at all the faces of friends and relatives, afraid they would see what was written on her soul.
Lamont and his best man stood waiting and watching at the altar. He was not a tall man, but seemed to tower above everyone with his tux and tails, white shirt and a lavender tie. He even wore white gloves. Sheila felt a catch in her throat when she saw him. Something warm spread through her body like honey, filling every cell, muscle and limb with a sweetness that overwhelmed her. She held the flowers tighter, hoping to still the trembling of her hands. She had to make it stop before anyone saw her.
How could she hide what had always been there since the moment they met in Mrs. Gardner’s kindergarten class and that lay beneath the surface of her life until this moment? Her spot next to the bridesmaids seemed a thousand miles away and her shoes felt as though they were full of cement. Finally she stepped into position and turned to look as the bridal music ushered in Grace. Everyone stood. She tried to keep her gaze ahead, but something pulled it away. She dared to look towards the men and was rewarded with Lamont’s eyes locked upon her. For a split second they held, but it was long enough to declare their unspoken love.
Sheila tore her eyes away to watch Grace strolling down the aisle on her father’s arm. She forced her lips into a smile and didn’t look anywhere else except Grace’s glowing face.
The preacher began. Sheila listened to the words that would take Lamont away and bind him to another forever. She could walk over to him and claim his heart. She was certain he would come without hesitation. Another glance his direction bolstered her courage.
“If there is anyone who believes these two should not be joined in holy matrimony, speak now or forever hold your peace.” The preacher’s words thundered through the silent sanctuary. They hung suspended in seconds, waiting for a response.
Sheila opened her mouth and took in a breath. The words of love she needed to declare hesitated on her tongue. They were words that should have been uttered in gentle whispers between two lovers many years ago. But the single mother had to make good and get everything she wanted along the way. And she’d done it. She had won. She was the first black woman at the top of her game in the banking business in this town. She wore the badge proudly. Now she bit her tongue and bowed her head.
“I present to you Mr. and Mrs. Lamont Grier,” the preacher said.
The people stood and shouted “Amen” as the couple strolled down the middle path, grinning and shaking hands.
Sheila followed, her eyes pinned to Grace and Lamont’s arms locked together. She barely remembered the receiving line, the pictures and the ride over to the social hall where the reception was already in full swing. She danced and ate and drank until she was exhausted and sat down in the lobby area to cool her feet. She took her shoes off and began to rub them.
Pam sat down opposite her. “Mamma, are you okay?”
“No, I’m not.” She took the necklace off and handed it to her daughter. “Keep this.”
“You’re giving this to me? Why?” Pam’s eyes doubled in size as she slipped it around her neck.
“I don’t need it anymore, that’s all. Look, go back to the reception. I’m going to grab a cab home.”
“But the reception isn’t over yet.”
Sheila shook her head. “I’m not as young as I used to be, baby girl. I can’t dance all night.” She tried to laugh and gave Pam a hug.
“But Auntie Grace…”
“Auntie Grace is all right now. Go on, get back.”
Sheila turned away, flipped open her cell phone and called a cab. She was in the hotel lobby when she heard someone calling out to her. She turned and gasped. It was Lamont. He was the last person she needed to see and the only person she wanted to see. She wondered if Georgia saw him leave the party.
“Where are you going?” He asked, standing within inches of her.
“Home. I’m dead on my feet.” She looked away from him.
“Come on. Grace wants you back. She was looking for you.”
Sheila shook her head and started to turn away.
“Please, Sheila. Don’t go.”
The plea in his voice froze her in her tracks. When she met his eyes again, the pain in them mirrored her own. She looked around then pulled him aside.
“It’s over, Lamont,” she said. “I blew it.”
“We can still be friends.”
“No, we can’t.” In spite of the risk, Sheila placed a hand on his smooth cheek. “I’ll always love you, honey. But I waited too long. I’ve got my big job, my Jag, and any piece of jewelry I want. They’re going to have to keep me warm at night. Go back to your woman and give her a kiss for me, hear?”
Lamont grabbed her hand and pulled her into a hug. His warm lips touched her cheek lightly. When he pushed away, his eyes were pools of tears. Then he turned and walked back to the reception.
Sheila ran to the front of the hotel just as her cab pulled up to take her home.