Valley of the Sun
Chapter Two: Preparation
I turned to look in the mirror - the actual mirror, not the face of my crazy six-minutes-younger sister - and smiled. Renee had invoked the right of bride's choice on the bridesmaid dresses, and I had privately been horrified at the possibilities, but she had chosen surprisingly well. The bridesmaid dresses were a sedate, chocolate brown satin, in a shade that perfectly matched our eyes. They were comfortingly conservative, with a simple V-shaped neckline in the front that barely went far enough to show any cleavage at all, and a deeper, draped cutaway down the spine. The dresses had a semi-fitted waistline and then fell to a mid-calf-length skirt. They were, however, sadly cursed with big puffy shoulders over three-quarter-length sleeves. Well, you couldn't have everything, and they were
rented dresses - Renee was gambling that we'd grow before the next time we needed a formal dress, and I heartily hoped she was correct. Actually, I planned to never wear one again.
The identical dresses, provided with matching clutch bags and shoeboxes - of course
Grace and I had the same size feet, and thankfully, Renee had requested flats - had apparently been quite a story. According to Renee, the store staff - aside from the clerk who had done our original measurements - had refused to believe that both
of her bridesmaids wore identically sized shoes and identically sized dresses, and had called her repeatedly to say that we needed to come back in for re-measurement, because there had to be some mistake... at which time Renee had gone in herself, hauled out her wallet, and showed them half-a-dozen pictures of her sixteen-year-old identical twin daughters. And then
the clearinghouse that handled the rentals had sent back the order because the identical sizing was obviously
a mistake, and the pictures had been faxed to them as well.
Taking a deep breath - mostly to make sure I could, in this dress - I smiled again. "It's perfect. Except for the puffy shoulders."
Grace nodded. "Here I was worried Renee had picked moss green."
I groaned. "Don't even suggest
that." Then I checked the wall clock, and frowned. "We've got to get out of here... Charlie's plane should be getting in any minute, and I don't want him getting to the hotel before we do."
Fortunately, it wouldn't cause a big scene, either way. Renee was off with Phil again; they had claimed to be making last-minute arrangements for the honeymoon, but since I
had done most of the wedding planning and knew that their suite at the Colorado Belle in Laughlin was already booked and their suitcases already packed, the excuse was pretty paper-thin. The truth of the matter was that he'd been released from his minor-league-baseball committments a week earlier than we'd expected, due to a minor injury - just a sprained wrist - sustained in last Sunday's game against the Fresno Grizzlies. With the end of the season so close, the team had simply told him to head home for the winter a week early, shortstop's glove in hand... since he wasn't under contract for the following year.
Renee's paper-thin excuse, however, had left us with her car. Grace had insisted on driving - I would have preferred to do it myself, but she was competent at it, and had a better sense of direction than I did, so she usually drove when Renee didn't - but at least we wouldn't have to wait for a cab to get to the hotel.
We did have to get out of these dresses, though.
"I have a reservation for Charlie Swan." I heard that familiar voice as we both breezed through the hotel's automatic doors into the thankfully air-conditioned lobby. Don't get me wrong; I love Phoenix. But the reason we put up walls and a roof in these parts is because shade and cool air is nice sometimes, too.
Suddenly, I realized that this was a sight I'd never seen before. Charlie had never
come to Phoenix before, just as Renee never went to Forks. Every one of the few times they'd been in the same place, that I could remember, was on neutral ground. Every time we'd gone to see Charlie in the last four and a half years - since Southwest Airlines had deemed us old enough to fly without an adult - Renee had simply seen us off at the airport at one end, and Charlie had met us at the other, and vice versa. Before that, Renee had always flown with us, then turned right around and flown back to Phoenix without even leaving the terminal.
Phil had been the one who insisted on inviting Charlie to the wedding, actually. He'd sat both of us down, one of the rare times we'd been in a room with him without
Renee, and explained his reasoning - although Renee and Charlie didn't get along, and hadn't been married for nearly fifteen years, Phil felt strongly that he was still family enough to be invited. Let Charlie
decide if he wanted to come... don't make the choice to exclude him.
I knew there was a few
reasons to like Phil.
Grace and I were mostly to blame for this
, though. We were the ones who had called Charlie repeatedly, insisting that it wasn't just a courtesy invitation, that he was truly wanted
. We'd even gotten Phil to get on the phone with Charlie once. He'd told Charlie, "I was the one who insisted on inviting you. Renee didn't want to make you feel obligated in any way. But I know that, if my ex was getting remarried and if my daughters were the bridesmaids, I would have wanted the choice. They're great girls, Charlie, and you should
have the choice. You're welcome to come, and I'm sure the girls will want you to, whatever Renee says."That
had about sent Charlie through the roof. We hadn't told him we were
Renee's bridesmaids. And that was the part that sealed the deal, I think. Charlie had insisted that whatever
else, a father didn't miss his daughters being bridesmaids for the first time.
An incessant tugging at my hand brought me back to reality, and I blinked to find Grace dragging me across the lobby. "Welcome to Arizona, Dad!" Grace called out, a little too loudly for the space.
Charlie turned, smiling. Charlie hardly ever
smiled, except when he was meeting us at whatever airport. "Grace! Bella!" He flung out both arms wide, and we scrunched together for a group hug. What can I say? It was a family tradition.
As, it seemed, were the staring hotel employees. Holy crow, you'd think people had never seen identical twins before!
The lady at the check-in desk coughed, and Charlie let us both go. "You caught me in the middle of checking in."
Grace and I both stepped back and nodded, gesturing vaguely at the counter with our right hands. The lady at the desk started to laugh, then shook her head, as if dismissing the weirdness. If she'd asked, or said anything, I'd just have...
Grace shrugged, and said, "It's a twin thing. Isn't that right, Dad?"
Charlie just nodded, and the hotel clerk looked down at her computer screen. "Your reservation is for one
, Mr. Swan."
I nodded, stepping up beside him. "We're not staying. Grace and me, I mean." I gestured at Charlie. "He is. Mom has custody, and she's getting remarried in your ballroom on Saturday. Dad came down from Washington for moral support."
"Oh." That deflated the clerk's objection, and she turned to Charlie. "I'll need to see your ID and your credit card."