By Susan Finch
As bachelorettes, we solemnly promise the next forty-eight hours will include three brunches, two happy hours, fifteen moderate disagreements, one unfor- gettable fight, eight matching t-shirts, one bar crawl, one pedal tavern, one sprained wrist, three twisted ankles, sixteen hangovers, too many tearful prom- ises to count, and one sober regret. We are the bachelorettes and we insist.
We must begin with brunch, and in order to fit three brunches into forty-eight hours, we will congregate Friday morning. After all, brunch is the most important meal of the day. We can eat French Toast and French fries, and getting tipsy or “emotional,” (i.e. Lydia has too many feelings after bottomless mimosas) is not frowned upon. Not every restaurant serves brunch on Friday, so we must select carefully, find a place that has an all-day breakfast menu, and really, why shouldn’t a restaurant serve breakfast food all day. It’s not so hard to whip up a couple of poached eggs, is it? We will reserve the table at 10:30; the proper time to eat brunch is 11, but we already know that some of our bachelorettes will be late—particularly Tara, the bride’s sister, she’s a musician and runs on her own schedule, and of course, Felicia. She hasn’t been able to get anywhere on time since the new baby.
Event attire is outlined in the invitation—brunches are for sundresses or rompers paired with cute cowboy boots or wedge sandals. We do not do flats—flats are for business casual events or maybe if you’re trying to let someone down easy. Matching t-shirts will be provided for the pedal tavern that begins promptly at four. The shirts may be knotted at your hip or tucked in with a cute belt, but please do not leave your shirt untucked. Eveningwear will have two themes: Friday red and Saturday sparkle, and the bride, of course, will wear white. No one else should plan to wear white or anything white adjacent—no cream, no ivory, no pearl, no silver, no soft greys, no misty light blues or sugary beige. Don’t pack it. Don’t even think about it. We don’t want anyone to steal the bride’s thunder. After all, we are the bachelorettes, and it is our job to insist.
My brain has melted. I’m almost sure it’s been reduced to goo. If I had a working brain, I might be more certain. My sweet baby’s face nestles into my breast, and I watch as she slowly extracts my intellect, youth, and beauty with the insistent tug of her mouth—suck, suck, suck. Monica is my last child, my last baby, and I try to convince myself to appreciate this quiet bonding time, nursing in the morning, mid-morning, afternoon, evening, after-dinner, mid- night, in the pitch darkness of three a.m., and then the wee hours of daybreak, and then again and again and again, suck, suck, suck, over and over and over. Bonding is overrated. Hurry up and take what you need, you tiny tyrant.
The milk lets down in my chest, tingling as it falls through the ducts like invisible lightning. On the nightstand, my phone buzzes with messages from the bachelorettes who have descended into Nashville ready to party and looking to share Ubers from the airport. I’m not sure why I’m included on this group text as I’m basically my best friend’s plus one. Tara’s little sister is getting married while Tara is going through a divorce. She needs “back up,” moral support, a wing woman, whatever you want to call it, Tara will not sit though these damn bachelorette shenanigans without me. For a group of women I barely know, I will resurrect my old, pre-baby self. So I’ve packed high heels and tight jeans and sundresses and I’ve promised to celebrate Savannah’s marriage to the local weatherman, Skylar Storm.
This will be good for me. I need to be away from my children for forty-eight hours to remember why I don’t want to be away from my children. A line of milk slips from my daughter’s lips and rolls down the mound of her cheek. I touch my own face as if I might wipe it away—sometimes I forget I am not two people anymore, I am only one.
A quality poached egg is the healthiest way to eat an egg, eliminating the extra calories of butter or oil, but of course, at a bachelorette brunch, calories do not exist, except for the bride, who must calculate all of the calories of the weekend, and fast in advance and juice cleanse after, so she can fit into her wedding dress. We recommend the eggs benedict: no English muffin with sauce on the side.
Any bridal magazine worth its salt can guide us to the best cocktails to drink while getting fit. Highlighted facts: champagne has fewer calories than white or red wine, and a bloody mary can include many healthy vitamins (maybe we can even count that as a meal!), and seltzer is of course the secret, the bub- bles fill you up, and if we mix in a good tequila and a squeeze of lime, we can almost imagine it’s a margarita. Beer is an absolute no-no, but we will allow shots. Vodka comes in all sorts of flavors these days—peach, pear, and passion- fruit. Shots are a party requirement. Otherwise, how will we ever be inebriated enough to walk around in public with mardi gras necklaces fringed with tiny plastic penises. We are adults after all.
After brunch, we will go to the DryBar to get blowouts. This is not a color or a cut or even a trim. Instead, our hair will be washed and dried. We will pay fifty dollars for the pleasure. Hairstyle options include: Old Fashioned, Cosmopolitan, Mai Tai, and Dirty Martini. Everyone chooses the Old Fashioned—soft, Hollywood curls, as if we are about to attend the Golden Globes, except Tara. She gets a Dirty Martini. It’s just like Savannah’s sister to be different. She doesn’t seem to understand that the best part of being a brides- maid is working as a team. She should consider our matching shirts as part of a uniform, our synchronized laughter as a kind of chant, our ability to converse about shoes and makeup and nail salons as us passing the ball down the field, whipping it with lightning speed from one field hockey stick to the next, and if she is not careful, she may get smacked. For the moment, we let it slide. Tara is the matron of honor, technically, though we remind ourselves that she’s getting divorced and will be demoted to a maid in the next few weeks. We decide to be patient and magnanimous. Instead, we joke that at the end of the night our hair will be Whiskey Sours or Dark and Stormies.
I am playing my part—I packed my bag accordingly, let my hair be fluffed and curled, and tried my best not to talk about my babies—but I can see that after only few hours, Tara may not be so cooperative. We are staying in a five bed- room condo, all eight of us, in the Gulch, a trendy neighborhood in Nashville that is accessible to loud bars full of single millennials, home to several of the best restaurants in town, and allows quick rideshares to Lower Broad, the gate- way to the all-important Honky Tonks.
Huge walls of windows in almost every room provide a magnificent view of the downtown skyline, but if I squint in the right direction, I see green hills in the distance, my house settled somewhere among them. I can’t really see my house from the condo, but I can see enormous angel wings painted on a wall of a building a couple blocks away. After the blowouts, we waited in line for half an hour to pose in front of the thirty-foot mural. One of the bachelorettes considers herself a budding Instagram influencer, and she’s been documenting the whole day, #NashBash, #NashVegas, #Nashlorette, #SmashedVille. She coached me, arranging my stance, pushing my hips forward, tucking my chin. This is a must-do, Felicia, she claimed, snapping my photo with the soundless touch of a screen. Only your smile is optional.
The wings, delicately painted white on a black background, allowed the bachelorettes to one by one, stand in the middle, pose with just the right hip tilt and create the illusion of wings sprouting from their lower backs. The group insisted I position myself between the lacy looking appendages, arms splayed in the air, and in the end, the picture is kind of cool.
Now, back in the comfort of the condo, Tara and I sit on twin beds, scroll- ing through our phones. I forward the photo to my husband. He responds by texting back with a picture of a dirty diaper labeled: Look what our little angel did. I laugh and send back a kissyface.
Tara tilts her head in my direction as if asking what’s so funny. When I share the diaper picture, Tara grimaces. “If that’s funny, motherhood has made you weirder than I thought.”
I force a smile. I will not let Tara ruin the only weekend I’ve had away from the kids in god knows how long. She has freedom to burn, days to while away on a tour bus, hours to kill before and after each show. My hours are limited by work and daycare and naps and time spent trying to get kids to nap and chopping lunches into childcare-approved bite-size pieces and making dinners that get shoved away with tiny obstinate palms. I will not waste this weekend.
Tara’s been in a mood since we met this morning. She complained about the restaurant, sent her bacon back because it was too crispy, and instead of a fun, fruity drink, she ordered bourbon, straight up. When we are alone in our shared room at the condo, Tara rants about the other women incessantly, Candace is too bossy, Amira is uppity, Jennifer is boring, and Savannah has no idea what she’s getting into. Skylar Storm is as fake as his fake name, she tells me.
No one is safe. “What would you say about me if I wasn’t here?” I try to make a joke of it. “That I’m just a milk-machine? A suburban cliche?” I wave my breastpump pieces in the air. My nipples are tingling, and I’m about to leak all over my sundress.
“You’re the worst of all,” Tara says, tossing a heart-shaped throw pillow my way. “Happily married.”
The divorce is Tara’s fault. She was the one who had the affair. She is still sleeping with the guitarist she met on her latest tour, and yet, Tara never thought her husband would find the courage to leave her. She expected him to live up to his side of the vows like a loyal hound, even when she couldn’t. Tara seems to feel she’s the victim, instead of the bad guy, but I’m pretty certain that now is not the time to straighten her out.
Bachelorette gift bags should be presented on Friday, after we have changed for the evening, but before we catch our dinner reservations. Swag bags in- clude: mini-champagne bottles, heart-shaped sunglasses, koozies that say “Bride Tribe,” and Hangover Kits—aspirin, tums, mints, and bottles of water.
It is the Maid of Honor’s duty to organize and select gift bag items, but since Tara is going through a rough patch, we decide to take things into our own hands. We give her the task of ordering cute matching shirts, and we are not impressed by her selection. The bride’s shirt reads, “Drunk in Love,” and ours say, “Just Drunk.” This will not provide the cutesy photo-op we had hoped for, but Savannah seems pleased so we smile politely.
Tara takes her shirt’s message to heart and insists on a round of shots for the group. She steers clear of the whipped cream vodka and instead distributes eight shots of Jack Daniel’s. Amira politely requests cinnamon whiskey and Tara gives her a cold look and pours her portion to the top of the rim. She holds the glass out like a challenge. We swear Amira’s fingers tremble a little as she takes it. Tara steps to the middle of the room to raise a toast. A good toast should be concise, sweet, not include too many inside jokes, and end with a sincere wish for the bride’s happiness. Tara breaks three of these rules and instead keeps referring to this as Savannah’s first wedding.
“My only wedding,” Savannah corrects her sister.
“We’ll see.” Tara pours herself another shot. She doesn’t even shiver as the whiskey slides down her throat, so we collectively shudder for her.
“My first and only wedding,” Savannah asserts again. She puts her shot glass down on the countertop and it makes a loud retort.
“You never know.” Tara shrugs, and we can see Savannah is weighing the options of laughing it off or smacking her sister.
Tara takes a third slug of whiskey, and Felicia tries to remove the bottle.
Tara pushes her friend’s hand away. “It’s not necessarily a bad thing. You just can’t predict what will happen or what you might do. You can try your best and still screw it all up.” Her words run together. “Trust me,” she points at Savannah, “It seems nice now, but you might not want to be Savannah Storm forever.” Tara shakes her head. “Savannah Storm,” she spits the name out again. “You sound like a hurricane.”
We know this is a stupid name—like a superhero or the headliner at a strip club. We know Skylar Storm is even worse, and it is especially difficult to accept when he swears up and down that it’s on his birth certificate. His goofy face is plastered over half the bus benches in town with his too-white smile and slick flip of hair. He’s not even a real meteorologist, but he’s hoping the weatherman gig might propel him into the anchor’s chair. We are not sure we even like Skylar Storm, but Savannah looks as if she might cry. We know one thing for certain, the bride should never cry at her bachelorette party, even if she is marrying a cheesy local news celeb with a silly name. She should not cry. Unless it’s happy tears. These are not happy tears.
Felicia steps in and we are relieved. “To weathering the storm together. Hurricane Savannah!”
We all laugh too hard, and raise a glass, this time filled with a sip of some- thing sweet and pink Amira concocted. It might be cranberry juice. We don’t care. We’re just glad it isn’t whiskey.
We are pretty sure the bride’s sister is having a nervous breakdown. We un- derstand that weddings can be stressful. This is not our first bachelorette party, however. Tara needs to take a Xanex or something. She continues to drink whiskey in the kitchen by herself, and we all politely ignore her. Even Felicia lets Tara sulk on her own and instead lets us update her make-up game with some contouring and highlighting tips. We listen to music, take pictures in our new heart-shaped sunglasses, and slowly get ready for dinner, tightlining our eyes, bronzing our cheekbones, and overlining our lips. We will have a good time tonight. We will make memories and curate them with all the best filters and captions. We will resurrect this party.
After dinner, our group descends on a local jazz club. Tara knows one of the players on stage tonight, she says, and it doesn’t surprise me that it’s Anthony, the guy who ruined her marriage. He gives us a nod and raises his drink from across the bar, and I have to admit, he is handsome in a gritty, unshowered kind of way. He looks like an actor playing the part of a musician—musicians are never as handsome as the people who play them in the movies.
The club has room for twenty tables or so, and the hostess positions us against a large grey stone wall, this combined with the low ceiling, makes me feel like we are in a cave. The waitresses are quick to get our orders, and the bachelorettes chirp away like a flock of flamingos. Expensive cocktails in hand, they have recovered their good mood and pose for dimly-lit selfies. My breasts already ache, tingling lightly around the nipples, despite having pumped before dinner. I’ve got about an hour before I’m engorged. The clock is ticking. Tara watches Anthony over my shoulder. He’s has yet to come say hello, but Tara plays it cool. She’s always been good at flirting. I never had the patience.
The music starts and the bachelorettes go quiet. The music is mostly slow, and there are no songs I recognize. The musicians are clearly highly skilled, but these jazzy meanderings belong in a hip coffee shop or maybe a high-end de- partment store dressing room. It doesn’t take long for the bachelorettes to titter and shift in their seats. Tara scolds them with a look over her shoulder, but the bachelorettes jibberjabber as oblivious as zoo animals.
This is the kind of place where people come to listen, not to talk, and it’s clear Tara has made a poor choice in bringing us here. More and more of the audience turns on the bachelorettes. They spin in their seats and stare aggressively and clear their throats. They take in our coordinated outfits, our matching hair, our bride—white veil sprouting from the top of her head like the spray of a whale’s blowhole. I try to give the bachelorettes a polite but firm smile like something I might use on my toddler. Even my three-year-old understands basic social cues. But the bachelorettes persist, their conversation gaining strength and volume, and Tara’s pulse throbs in a vein at her neck.
The bandleader introduces the players, and each one showcases their skills with a solo. Anthony riffs for a few minutes and Tara leans toward me, whis- pering, “I love the way he….” and explains some musician thing that I will never understand. I nod, but he’s part of her world, a world of artists and per- formers that I can’t access. Tara used to boast that someone should write a book about her life. Days on the road were full of drudgery or drama. Apparently, she prefers the drama. I used to be a little jealous. Sometimes I still am.
The band breaks for an intermission, and Anthony finally comes over to say hi. He’s younger than I expected. Tara pushes her hair back behind her ear and focuses on me as if we’ve been chatting the whole time. Her posture straightens and she’s awkward in a way I haven’t seen since college. She’s hardly taken her eyes off Anthony, and I can tell this affair means more to her than I thought it did. Anthony gives Tara a quick kiss on the cheek and we chat politely for a minute about the music. I don’t know if she’s nervous about him meeting the bachelorettes or vice versa. He doesn’t seem interested enough in Tara to be trying out for the role of a boyfriend, but he also keeps touching her in overly familiar ways. He puts an arm around the back of her chair and takes a sip of her beer without asking. He rests his fingers on the nape of her neck. He smiles at the bachelorettes but scans the room as if he’s looking for someone else to distract him.
The bachelorettes perk up at his arrival and lean in to join our conversation. They pepper Anthony with questions about what it’s like to be out on the road. He plays for the same guy Tara does, a guy who has been on the country scene for ages, but just released a greatest hits album, so he’s on a comeback tour. Tara rolls her eyes. Most of these questions she could have answered. She’s been playing with the same band for years. Anthony is a newbie. Tara knows musi- cians the bachelorettes would fawn over, but they never asked. The women take selfies with Anthony like he’s a celebrity. He’s eating up the attention and picks Savannah’s discarded veil off the table and wears it over his face coquettishly. Savannah frowns, but the bachelorettes giggle and pass their phones around to capture it all.
Anthony leans back in his chair. “Y’all should come to my show on Monday. We’re playing the Grand Old Opry.” He talks like he’s the star.
“I thought this was your first time out on the road?” I say.
Anthony swivels to face me. “I guess they needed some fresh blood.” “Actually,” Tara corrects him, “Mack will be back in August. And you’ll begone.” Her tone is teasing, testing him. Tara’s husband, Leo, always let her have the spotlight, always deferred to what she wanted. He never questioned her, and I see now that is part of her attraction to Anthony. Anthony is a challenge.
“You’ll miss having me around, won’t you?” He runs a finger under the strap of her tank top. “At least parts of you will.”
“Don’t be gross,” Savannah says and snatches the veil off Anthony’s head. “She’s still married.”
“I’m pretty sure that ship has sailed.” Tara laughs. “Let it go already.” Something clicks between the sisters, and the bachelorettes fall quiet, ready for the sisters to start throwing punches. Anthony senses it too and makes a quick excuse to get back to the stage. He takes Tara’s beer with him. “You left Leo for him?” Savannah huffs.
Tara tries to defend herself, “Leo left me.”
“After you slept with that piece of work.” Savannah clarifies.
The bachelorettes suck in one collective breath.
“You didn’t even give him a chance.” Tara shakes her head at her sister.
“You don’t know the first thing about relationships.”
“Don’t worry,” Savannah’s tone is biting. “I’m sure this will only be your first divorce.”
The bachelorettes cackle loudly. The sound reminds me of my kids, their strange, excited mania right before bedtime when they are too tired to think straight or even know why they are laughing. My breasts suddenly rush with milk at the thought of my family, and before I know it, I turn to hush the bachelorettes. A hard, mean-mom shush, and they respond, sitting up, lowering their voices, and looking around and maybe getting some sense of where they are as if they’ve suddenly woken from a long, afternoon nap. Tara looks like she might say something, but the music begins and she falls silent. We are all quiet as the music takes center stage.
I’m leaking and milk is wetting my bra. It wouldn’t take much to get a cab. At home I would find my two babies sleeping, drunk with dreaming, their faces slack and smooth and flawless. In the twilight hours, they look like life-size dolls, their skin perfect and unblemished. My husband would be in bed, the baby monitor on the side table buzzing with white noise as he flips through the sports channels. If there’s a game on somewhere, he’s sure to find it. No one’s going to write a book about my life, but I’m okay with that.
The bachelorettes pass someone’s phone around. I look at my own phone, searching our group’s hashtags and find a creepy selfie of Anthony with the girls all around him labeled #fatchance #notbradleycooper #wherehaveallthe- goodonesgone. I get it. Tara screwed up. We all know this, but she’s in pain all the same. How easy it is for them to forget my friend’s life is not a game. Her marriage is not some meme.
I’m about to announce I’m done, ready to head home, but Tara’s eyes are watery. She stares hard at the band in front of her, determined to set herself apart from these women, convincing herself that she’s not unhappy. My shirt is blotchy with dark stains, but I will not abandon her.
Not everyone succeeds as a bachelorette. It takes years of sorority func- tions and the careful cultivation of certain kinds of friends and social events. It requires someone who is fluent in both Etsy and Pintrest, someone who under- stands that fun is not fun until it’s documented on Instagram. A bachelorette has to be a good friend, but maybe more importantly, someone who wants to prove something—her party-planning skills or how easy-going she is—it’s all about her worth and self-esteem. Choose your bachelorettes carefully. In the end, the best choice may not be your oldest friends or even your relatives. Sisters are often the worst candidates—after all, they simply don’t have enough at stake. You have to love them.
We hate to say it, but Felicia and Tara just don’t meet our standards. They are old and grouchy and have too much drama in their lives. They shushed us during a bachelorette party where we are required to be giddy to be heard. They do not understand the importance of social media. They should be let go, but we do not know the protocol for firing a maid of honor. Maybe we can google it.
Felicia’s pump grumbles and moans through the wall of the condo. We hear the undercurrent of their conversation, and think, how weird it is to be a mother, how sad it is to be divorced, how strange it is to have such baggage in your life, and we are satisfied knowing that we are not bound by their histories.
We whisper about tomorrow’s plans. We conspire to make some changes. We hide the whiskey under the sink. Brunch will begin with Bellinis! We will go on a hayride through downtown! Wear cowboy boots and drink champagne out of mason jars! Tomorrow will be better, we assure the bride. We insist.
Susan Finch is an associate professor at Belmont University in Nashville. Her work has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Crab Orchard Review, Nimrod, Beloit Fiction Journal, and elsewhere. Currently, she is working on a novel and a story collection.