First place winning entry: Prompted by a photo of a woman standing on a pier.
Standing on the pier, she imagined the wedding of her dreams playing out on the beach below:
Barefoot in the sand, the bride and groom stand before the small gathering. Her simple eyelet sundress dances around her legs in the warm wind coming off the ocean. His white button down shirt is open and waltzing harmoniously with the hem of her dress. She is holding a bouquet of daisies. Someone releases a pair of white doves that take flight in a sweeping arc toward open water…
Her cell phone rang, tearing her from her reverie. The caller’s number displayed on the phone read ‘Ashley’. The Wedding Planner.
“Brooke?! It’s Ashley. How are we today?” She emphasized the ‘we’.
Brooke paused. “I’m fine. What’s up?”
“Well. Don’t freak out, but there’s been a change in the flower order. I got a call this morning from Les Fleurs. Thought you’d want a heads up.”
Brooke took a deep breath, bracing herself for what was coming. “What’s been changed?”
Ashley’s voice was apologetic. “Julia went to see them. At first she just inquired about the orchids.” Brooke closed her eyes. Ashley went on. “Apparently she couldn’t believe how inexpensive they were. She went on and on about how passing up a noble flower at a price like that would be foolish. She told them to cancel the daisies, and go with the orchids. Chantelle at Les Fleurs said Julia had a check in hand for the whole order, so they processed it. I’m sorry! I know you had your heart set on daisies,” she added weakly.
Brooke thanked Ashley for letting her know, and hung up. She leaned against the pier’s wooden railing. Damn you, Julia she thought, staring into the choppy waves. The turbulent ocean mirrored the emotions roiling in her heart. The flames of anticipation once stoked by the thrill of marrying Craig had been gradually snuffed out in the vacuum of his mother’s overbearing presence.
Initially, Craig’s courtship of Brooke had all the hallmarks of a Harlequin Romance novel. He'd wined and dined her in fancy restaurants and they'd hit the hottest clubs. He'd arranged romantic trips, taking her hiking, hot air ballooning and sail boating. She had felt perpetually intoxicated from the sweet champagne of his affection.
Only three months after their affaire d’amour began, Craig left on a business trip. Brooke picked him up at the airport. When she spotted him in baggage claim he didn’t come to her, he just waved her over. As she approached he moved aside the briefcase at his feet, revealing rose petals scattered on the floor. Dropping to one knee he pulled a small box out of his blazer pocket. Before she had a chance to say anything, bystanders were applauding. She looked down at her ring now, searching her heart for a glimmer of the joy she’d felt that day.
Sea gulls circled overhead seeking sustenance. Brooke breathed in the salty air. She had always loved the beach yet hated the salt water. You have to tolerate one in order to enjoy the other. Her thoughts drifted to Julia. She’d been intimidated by Craig’s mother from the beginning. Julia emitted an air of superiority that wafted around her like an expensive perfume. At first Brooke had pined for her future mother-in-law’s affection, but her efforts went unrewarded. There was room for only one queen bee in the family hive.
Julia had graciously offered to help with the wedding plans. She had impeccable taste, according to her. After listening politely to Brooke’s ideas for the wedding, she had proceeded to plan the wedding of her own dreams. Brooke realized she was being steamrolled from the beginning, but the need for Julia’s approval left her reticent. So, the ballroom at the country club was booked, the ornate Vera Wang gown was in alterations, and now centerpieces of orchids were ordered. Snobby orchids. Her vision blurred with frustrated tears. This was too much grief for one day. Another rush of pain from the blow-out she’d had with Craig an hour ago washed over her heart. They’d fought about Julia again. This time, he’d made his allegiance with his mother crystal clear.
Suddenly, a large sea gull alighted onto the pier post just feet from where Brooke stood, startling her. It faced her, commanding her attention. Like an animal trapped in the headlights of an oncoming car, Brooke stared into the unblinking eyes of the bird. Abruptly, the gull flapped its wings and lifted a few inches off the pier. Never breaking eye contact, it hovered there beating its wings. Then, as if satisfied that its message had been delivered, the gull flew off in a sweeping arc in the direction of open water.
She was watching the gull disappear on the horizon when the phone rang again. The caller ID read ‘Julia’ .
Brooke let it ring twice more before closing her eyes and answering. She said, “Hello, Julia.”
“Brooke, darling, glad I caught you.” Without waiting for a response she went on, “We’re expecting you at the Garden Club meeting tomorrow afternoon. Five o’clock. Don’t be late, dear.”
Brooke hesitated. The exhibit of her original oil paintings which she’d labored over for months was opening tomorrow. “I’m sorry, I’ll be at the gallery, remember?”
“You are being introduced as our newest member, you simply mustn’t disappoint! How would it look?” Julia’s voice took on a hard edge, “Besides, there’ll be plenty of time for hobbies once you’re… established.”
Brooke began to argue but Julia cut her off, “Sorry, darling, that’s my other line. Ciao.”
As the line went dead, the final flame was extinguished in Brooke’s heart. She stared soberly at the pier post where the sea gull had been. In its place, she lay down her cell phone. She slowly twisted the ring off her finger and placed it next to it. Tears of defeat falling silently, she turned and began her walk away.
Word Count: 992