Wedding Favors

Margaret Wilkerson Sexton

Considering the holiday, it feels appropriate to share a story from the Family Issue. We think you’ll enjoy Margaret Wilkerson Sexton’s “Wedding Favors”; it’s also available to read alongside other family-themed work with a purchase of Issue 121.

Liana turned the radio up and signed into the Lyft app. Some  drivers kept the music flat, classical or Top 40, out of respect  for the passengers’ preferences, but this was her car, goddamnit,  and she played whatever she woke up feeling: Big KRIT got her out the  bed most Mondays, Ms. Aretha Franklin three weeks straight after her last birthday, and now, she was on that Dwayne Carter:

You had a lot of crooks 

Trying to steal your heart 

Never really had luck 

Couldn’t never figure out how to love 

She felt that shit. 

Liana wasn’t stupid. She wasn’t surprised that though she was four  years older, though she had been the one to tell her cousin Octavia it  was a boy who took you to the movies and it was a man who paid for  the ticket, though she’d slipped the girl her first tampon, instructed her  how to glide it in, though she practiced how to make a man cum with  her mouth closed over peeled bananas, Octavia was getting married  and she wasn’t. Everything always worked out for Octavia. Liana had  even stopped being bitter about it, she had. 

Of course, there had been that summer when Octavia was studying  for the bar and maybe Liana had sabotaged it, showing up at her place with drinks every night, initiating arguments with her days before the  test. She had told herself she was just rekindling their connection after  years of separation. She had told herself she was just pointing out that  Octavia’s boyfriend was a douchebag to be helpful. She was in such  an angry place then. Eric had already started drifting, she was fifty  pounds overweight, she was still in college with no degree in sight, and  her embarrassment was so sharp she needed to share it. What would  happen if somebody else had something to be ashamed of for a change?  Would witnessing another failure divide the feeling in two? She could  handle half. It was the full amount that was killing her. 

Now she pulled up to the corner of St. Charles and Soniat, and a  white girl got into the car, limp brown hair full of highlights and a cute  figure if you liked them flat chested. Uptown New Orleans had always  been the hotbed for that sort of person and now they had devoured  it. Sometimes she ignored the transplants when they talked to her;  sometimes when they asked her questions she lied about the answers  to entertain herself. They were never any the wiser. Today the girl was  dressed in pumps and a business suit like she was off to work, though it  was 11 A.M. She got on her cell phone first thing. Some drivers thought  that was rude, but that was Liana’s favorite actually. She appreciated  honesty if anything. She played a game with herself, to see if she could  figure out who they were talking to by the time she dropped them off.  It was all ten-minute traffic this time of day, nothing like a Friday  night, but it kept her busy and she’d been laid off anyway, not fired, as  she’d told her mother who had grumbled back, “They never let go of  the stars, do they?” 

The woman this time was hard to decipher, though she had moved  the conversation to speaker. 

“There wasn’t a heartbeat,” she lightweight whispered. 

“People are freezing their eggs now though, right?” the other woman asked. “Didn’t your best friend just…?” 

“I can’t just come up with 20,000 on the spot,” the woman snapped,  then her voice lowered. She started to step her anger back. 

“Thank you, thank you, I’m feeling a bit better now.” 

“You’re right, you’re absolutely right,” but Liana could see through  the rearview that her face was red, and she used the back of her hand  to wipe her eyes. 

Finally, she hung up and that seemed to grant her relief. Liana  thought about saying something. She’d had a miscarriage, too, with Eric,  but she hadn’t been upset, she’d already been considering an abortion.  She didn’t think it was right to bring a baby into her life the way it had  unfolded, but she could speak on how the pain never left her, not even  today as she spoke, and how she learned to move around that pain like  a pothole on the street of her childhood home. She might say it gets  better, she might say it would work out, but the lady didn’t even look  up at her, acted like the car was driving itself, like there was nothing  else animate in sight. 

And shit, the lady would figure it out her damn self. Likely, she’d  even find the 20K. It was a different world, the one those people lived in.  Liana had never held onto more than five hundred at one time. It was  why she was driving. She’d only been laid off two weeks but she’d never  not lived check to check; she had severance coming in and that took  care of the major bills, but she didn’t know how long she’d be looking. 

The lunch hour picked up again then she went back home to eat,  nap, and gear up for the night. They’d asked on her application if she  smoked weed and she’d said no but the truth was she’d maintained an  even buzz for years. She didn’t get high the way the idiots in the car  who’d had too much would, and she’d never forget the guy she had to  escort out after he told her there were demons in her trunk. Rather, weed  kept her from cursing those entitled bitches out. When she picked up the next passenger, she was in a good place. Two guys and they talked  to each other and Liana could tell from the conversation that one was  the older brother and one was the younger, and they were meeting up  with their father and one was nervous and one was excited and she  could glimpse the reason for the difference from the rearview, the extra  weight settling on one brother’s lap, his red hair thinning, and the other  one whistling like the whole world should be privy to his personal song.  They were those do-gooder types, both of them, even the frail one, and  they asked her questions as she drove and she decided to ham it up  for them: she’d grown up in the Magnolia Projects, she had a baby at  home and rent was due. The frail one was practically teary-eyed, the  strong one was putting on like he had a heart and perhaps he did have  some guilt he needed to atone for because it was his account, and he  was the one to leave the twenty-dollar tip. 

On the way home she stopped by Popeyes. She wasn’t supposed to  be eating out but she woke up craving their red beans and rice and, shit,  it was cheaper than Copeland’s. She was scooping the brown sauce out  of the container with a biscuit when Octavia called. 

In true Octavia fashion, she faked like she was just checking in. “How are you? How’s work?” 

Liana just grunted. 

“And Eric?” 

Liana shrugged like she could see her. She hadn’t been with him  in a full year; it was a testament to how out of the loop Octavia was,  and yet Liana was up on her cousin’s life: she’d had to be. There was  the save the date with the red wine imprint, the invitation that looked  like it’d been sprayed with gold, not to mention the family calling every  other day, all, Did you get the dress? Octavia sure did snag a good white  man. His family on his mama’s side got buildings springing up all over  Maryland. Her mother had once said, She should have asked you to be a bridesmaid, Liana. Y’all grew up like sisters, and Liana had said she  was glad she hadn’t asked. She didn’t have $200 to be burning on no  ugly ass dress, but as distant as she and her mother were, the woman  could always see right through her. 

“That nigga ain’t shit,” Liana said now about Eric. 

And Octavia just breezed over the comment like Liana hadn’t said  a word, barreled head first into her own bullshit. 

They were 50,000 overbudget, she’d thought people were going to  skip out but everyone had said yes. Everyone. She had been planning to  buy pralines from Southern Charm, two pieces stacked in a crisp white  box as wedding favors, but she couldn’t afford it since her father had  insisted on paying for everything. She didn’t want to embarrass him. And  she and her mother were still estranged—Octavia had even invited her  to try on the dress with her and she had refused. Then a pause, a long  one. She knew Auntie Betty had taught Liana to cook pralines. Could  she make them for the wedding favors? She could find somebody else  to box them up, put a ribbon on them, but could she actually— 

Liana cut her off. 

Absolutely, she could. 

“God bless you,” Octavia said. 

“You’re welcome,” Liana said back. 

Then neither of them said a word. There was a quiet sweetness  budding between them now where it had once been tense. Liana rushed  her goodbye and hung up, but as she cradled the phone to her chest,  the tenderness was still there. 

Always get the last word.

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No question Liana could make the candy—all the recipe called for  was evaporated milk, butter, sugar and nuts—and buy tiny boxes from  the dollar store, tie them up with a ribbon. She would make them look  pretty, just like the outfits she put together from Ross and TJ Maxx— people started gushing as soon as she stepped out of her house, and you couldn’t say she didn’t look like Saks Fifth Avenue in her getup, not  to mention her scarcely toasted skin, waist tight relative to her plump  ass, and her hair laid down her back so silky it could have been Remy  33, easy. It wasn’t often she was in a position to help her cousin, or  anybody really, and with something that came so natural to her. Liana  couldn’t have called anyone else for this particular favor. 

She conducted practice runs the rest of the month. Her mother had  taught her on FaceTime one night. Eric had woken up with a craving  and that was back when she would have done anything to satisfy him.  He was good to her too at first; it always went that way. She had learned  to track it now, ninety days went by as sweet as could be, and then she  started noticing omissions, missed calls, more frequent solo trips away.  She still didn’t know if, the first three months, she was just blinded by  hope, or if the men grew tired of her and started shifting, or if her mind  turned on itself, little by little, inventing nuggets of division that may  or may not have been there; one way or another, the pattern uncoiled  itself, and one morning she’d wake up, invariably, alone. 

Anyway, her mother hadn’t learned by recipe so she’d shout out  instructions, “add a little butter.” How much? Her mother couldn’t say.  Liana got the feeling she reached inside herself for the amount, that her  own ancestors whispered to her from Heaven, turn the burner up higher,  or don’t you dare stop stirring. But nobody whispered secrets to Liana,  and for that reason, no batch was exactly the same as the one before it. 

Having said that, most of the time the pralines came out almost  perfect, not too soft but not too hard either, creamy, crunchy in spurts.  Once she’d moved them from the pot too soon, so soon they barely  firmed on the pan, and she’d left them overnight assuming they’d be  wasted, but she came to them in the morning and found they’d spread  to the perfect fist-sized shape, that they were soft as the butter that  made them, and she ate every one of them over the next week. She couldn’t stop even when her pants stopped stretching at her waist and  hard cysts dotted her jawline—she wasn’t supposed to eat all that dairy.  After that, she tried every day to replicate them but it was like her one  instance of perfection had been an illusion, never possible in the first  place, just a trick she dreamed up to goad her into a chronic feeling of dissatisfaction. 

Octavia called every day. At first it was cool to catch up but the  more it happened the more it irritated Liana. She’d start out asking  vague, corny questions and would pause at the appropriate times during  Liana’s answers, or she’d go on about her own trials, white people  problems. The mother-in-law thought because she had helped them  find the venue that she could direct everything: she didn’t want them  dancing to rap music in the first dance, thought the garter search was  tacky, said flat out there were too many bridesmaids, and Liana would  listen, but it always circled back to the candy. 

“What color are the boxes?” 

“I can bring over the ribbon.” 

“It’s been so long since I’ve actually tried them. Maybe I can swing  by for a sample.” 

And Liana would invent some excuse because the more Octavia called,  the worse the candy came out. One morning she used a different brand  of evaporated milk and browned the mass too soon, and she wound up  with gunk she needed to taste with a spoon. Then they were too sticky  off the burner, like taffy, or more brittle than pralines, cracking instead  of easing apart. She was still running Uber or Lyft depending on the  day but she spent less time on it, pulled in less money, and all her tips  were going to organic pecans, whatever the fuck that was. Every day  she’d make three batches of candy—she gave some of it away and put  a tin in her car for her passengers—but she still hadn’t found a batch  she could present. 

Two days before the wedding, she had nothing to box up. She went  out for a drive; it was a slow night, and she headed toward the Garden  District. A Black man pulled the door open. He was an older gentleman,  heavy set with a full spread of wispy gray hair. He called her darling  when he sat, asked if she was wearing her seat belt the way her own  father might have if he had driven her places, and she felt herself tear  up. It had been a long week. 

The man said he couldn’t drive anymore, but he’d played bid whist  with his cousin in the East every Thursday night for the last thirty  years. He lived with his elderly mother. They’d bought the house in  the ’90s and every five years watched its value rise. Then Katrina hit  and he knew he was sitting on gold. Still, where would he go if he sold?  He’d be right back at square one. His mother had come here from St.  Francisville in the ’30s with nothing. Her dream had been to buy a  house and he wouldn’t be able to replace this one once it was gone  and still retire. While he talked, he ate. Pralines were his favorite, and  these were the best he’d had. Could he take some to his buddies inside?  Maybe he would save some for his mother too. She had the sugar, but  she was getting older and she deserved a treat. Life was merciless to  the elderly. One night just last week, there was a hit and run. A drunk  man ran into her old Volkswagen in the middle of the night; nobody  even drove it anymore, but he’d thrown on his pants and run outside  halfway down the block, though the man was gone. He walked back  inside and his mother was shaking. If he hadn’t been there, she would  have had a heart attack, he was sure of that. 

When Liana dropped him off, she signed out of the app and headed  to the grocery store. Six more cans of milk, three pounds of butter,  vanilla, and a sack of sugar. The secret was to prep everything first, to  slice the butter into pats a tablespoon thick, to lay the pans out. Only  then would she pour the milk and the sugar into the pot and stir until the mixture was brown; then it was time to add the butter, next the  vanilla. When the stirring started aching her shoulder blade, she spooned  a tab of the scarcely liquid candy onto a plate where it hardened like  some magic only she knew. Then she turned off the fire, plopped it on  the trays she’d laid out and watched it spread. She didn’t have to taste  them to know, she could tell by the way they lay, that they were the ones. 

She hadn’t anticipated how nice the scene at the rehearsal dinner  would be. An old plantation house a few hours west of the city. The  food was just so-so, white people shit—chicken without a carb and a  dry salad with something called quinoa. She was going to have to stop  at Rally’s for a chili dog on the way home but the venue couldn’t have  been more beautiful. Gold-rimmed chairs, a blue and gold mingling  of flowers on every table, and you couldn’t take a sip of wine without  a waiter refilling your glass. If she looked up from her plate, she could  see the lights on the Mississippi River sparkling through the window  beside her. 

After cocktail hour, Octavia’s father-in-law asked people to toast  the bride and groom. He mostly went on about Octavia—how regal she  was, and how kind and compassionate, how intelligent, how devoted she  would be to his son. He opened the floor up to anyone who wanted to  say a few words, and Liana hadn’t planned anything but nobody from  their side of the family stood so she volunteered. She didn’t know what  she would say walking over, but she had never had an ounce of stage  fright, 250 people, half of whom she didn’t know, staring back at her or  not. Then it came to her. When she was younger, she and Octavia had  formed a singing group, Cousin Cuisine. It was just the two of them  and they never recorded anything but they turned classics into jokes  of themselves. She remembered one of their “hits,” and she stood up  and belted it out—Whitney Houston’s “He Filled Me Up,” replaced  with lyrics about a beautician who burned her client’s edges. 

The room erupted into laughter. Sometimes Liana thought she  had missed her mark in life. Times like these when she was the center  of attention in a room of people, she felt like she didn’t need a man or  a steady income. She walked back to her seat, listened to more people  drone on about how great Octavia was, and she held onto the story  she’d just told and the people who laughed for her. 

After the toasts she hurried to the bar where her mom and Octavia’s  were gossiping. The two women weren’t sisters—Octavia’s dad and  Liana’s mom were blood relatives—but they could have been. Liana’s  mom never liked her own brother, and it seemed like she had become  closer with Aunt Patty once the woman left Uncle Paul and they could  claim a common enemy. 

Even now, they leaned into each other, hovering over their drinks  and their private conversation like if they just boxed out the rest of the  room, they might guard themselves from harm. 

“You would have looked mighty good on his arm tonight, Patty,”  Liana’s mom didn’t bother to whisper, referencing Uncle Paul’s new  wife. “That white bitch ain’t got nothing on you,” Liana’s mom repeated  now, louder than the last time, and Liana grabbed her mother’s drink  and finished it for her in one swoop. 

That was when she saw the guy. He had toasted the couple too,  Terrell his name was. He had gone to high school with Octavia, and  Liana had to wonder if anything had ever happened between them. If  not, why? Sure, he talked like Carlton Banks, probably danced like  him too, but she wasn’t looking for a dance partner as much as she  was, well you know. Besides, there weren’t any other Black men at the  wedding that weren’t family, and he was chocolate, tall, and built. That  was her type but, then again, she was starting to think her type might  not be a good thing. Nobody fitting that description had led anywhere. Anyway, she sure would appreciate some company tonight so she made sure to catch his eye real fast then look away. She blinked twice,  looked back again, crossed her legs, then gave a little glance down, like  something between them might be his business. She didn’t even have  to smile for him to take the bait, all, “What can I get you?” 

“I don’t know yet,” Liana said. “I still don’t know.” 

She put her mother to bed before she invited him back to her room.  It was mediocre sex—it turned out dancing did translate to the bedroom.  Lately she’d been over that part anyway. Nobody could make her cum  better than she could. It wasn’t about that, it was about that feeling  she got right when it was beginning when there was still so much hope,  when they were bound to each other so tight nobody else in the world  existed for them, when they found their way onto the same slight chord  of life and they rode it up and down, up and down, until they drained it  of all of its raw matter. That was when all the pain she carried felt dug  out. She didn’t know what it was that did it. It couldn’t have been love,  she didn’t know half the people she fucked, but maybe it was stepping  outside of herself, maybe it was giving way, maybe it was the charge of  making a new thing. Regardless, it was everything at a time like this.  She didn’t know why she had thought she could make it through this weekend without it. 

The next day, now that was different. He had let her cuddle all  night and she appreciated that, even though it only made it harder  when it was time for him to go. When she heard the door close, she sat  on the edge of her bed and cried. That had started when she turned  twenty-one. It wasn’t about a specific person—though she liked him,  and that night he had even asked her where in the city she lived and  had put her number in his phone—but something about a man’s back  and the click of the door made her weep each time. 

The pralines were waiting in Tupperware. She had put off packing the boxes to the last minute, and she needed to get up for them, but  she was so tired. She climbed back in the bed and rolled over on her  side. Her head was pounding, she knew she should get up and pop an  Advil but she didn’t have the legs for it. The wedding didn’t start until  six. It would be okay if she rested for a minute. 

She woke up with a headache even worse than the morning’s and  a feeling in her gut like she had missed something major. It was noon.  She was supposed to have the candy to the planner by two. She reached  for her phone. The guy from last night hadn’t texted. She tried to push  through the way that made her feel. She searched through her purse  for her schedule. There had been a breakfast that morning but she  guessed it wasn’t a big deal. She laid the boxes out, then the ribbons,  opened the lids of the Tupperware and aired the candy. Her hands  were shaking as she laid them out and damn if several didn’t break  before they made it into the cardboard boxes. She glanced at the clock  every few minutes willing it to stop. She almost called Patty when she  reached the forty-five-minute mark, but she only had ten to go and  she could do it. When she finished, she stepped back and marveled at  them on the table. They looked even better than the pictures she’d seen  on Pinterest. She was good at this. There were twenty minutes left to  shower and do something to her hair. She ran through that, slipped the  candy to the lady with the headset, and joined her mother at the front. 

It wasn’t long before an orchestra started playing one of those sappy  wedding songs. She could glimpse a line of family standing just beyond  what used to be the big house to their right, shrouded in oaks. Aunt  Patty walked out first, past the fountain in the center of the courtyard,  to the front row. Uncle Paul’s new wife was next, looking like she wanted  to veer over onto Octavia’s new husband’s white side of the aisle, and  Liana could have sworn she was wearing Aunt Patty’s dress, but no, there was a ruffle on her sleeve that Aunt Patty wouldn’t have been  caught dead in. 

Then there was the bridal party: skinny little bridesmaids, and what  would Liana have looked like walking in behind them? The flower girls  giggled in, sprinkling hydrangeas as they crashed into chairs. It was  Octavia’s turn now. Liana hadn’t seen her yet but she could imagine  how she’d slay. Professional makeup, hair, her dress alone must have  cost thousands. Not only that, the girl had always been stunning, even  when she was dark skinned in the ’80s with greased up pigtails and  puffy edges; even when she’d started to wear the Coke-bottle glasses  in the second grade, Liana could recognize a great beauty lurking. Now  Liana could see her dress swaying between gaps in the trees. Everyone  stood and Liana joined them, peering forward for a glimpse. Finally she  was there, holding Uncle Paul’s hand, draped in white except for her  shoulders, which were bare, her hair a sea of crinkled dreadlocks, her  red fingernails clutching a blue bouquet, her blushed out cheeks—she  might as well have been an angel. Tears sprang to Liana’s eyes, she didn’t  know why, and she found herself nodding along with the sorority sister  reading 1′ Corinthians 13, smiling with genuine glee when the vows  were announced. She was happy for Octavia, her cousin deserved it,  regardless of what that said about herself. 

After the ceremony, she found her Uncle Ralph and walked out to  the parking lot for a smoke. 

“OG Kush,” he said. Had she had it before? 

“No,” but it was obvious how it got the name. 

Her high wore off during cocktails, though. She went to powder her  nose, hoist her boobs up into her strapless V-neck Macy’s number, and  she looked alright if she could say so herself. Turning the corner of the  bathroom, she bumped into Terrell. She had been looking for him all  night, practicing what she was going to do when she did see him, make some flirty vague reference to what had happened last night perhaps,  letting on that it was more pleasurable than it had been because guys  liked that kind of thing, and the sad truth was, having him around was  the most pleasure she’d known in some time. Seeing him, though, was  a whole ’nother matter; she got nervous staring at him head-on and she  had to shift her gaze around the room and back, and when she landed on  him again, finally ready, she saw for the first time that he was holding  someone else’s hand. The girl could have been any of the bridesmaids,  caramel-toned and fit in a frantic way like she’d probably spent the  morning at the gym on the sixth floor, but she was his, and he kept his  neck craned in the opposite direction until Liana had passed him. He  wasn’t even acting like he hadn’t met her before. It was like he’d met  her, known her, and deemed something ill-fitting. 

It was time for dinner. In the tent Liana found her table and glanced  down at the favors: they were beautiful, everyone around her said so,  but she couldn’t take the compliments. She told herself not to glance  in Terrell’s direction, but she couldn’t help it, and each time he was  focused elsewhere, on the bride or the groom or the woman beside  him, her elbow fixed on his lap. Liana downed her own wine and the  glass next to hers. 

During the soup, corn chowder, Uncle Paul stood up for another  goddamn speech. Liana had reached her limit, though she had to admit  Uncle Paul was a natural; it seemed like he stood up to talk in front  of a group that size every day. In one sentence he had the audience  both laughing and crying. He told stories about Octavia from when  she was a girl, some Liana remembered, some she didn’t. And it was  funny, Octavia had always complained about her father, that he wasn’t  around enough to begin with, and then when he did start showing up  she had to share his attention with his wife. But he was there more  than Liana’s own dad had been, lifetimes more. She wondered what her old man would say if, God willing, he ever had to give a toast of  this nature, and she came up blank. 

Then the dances started, father-daughter, mother-son. The Electric  Slide, the Cupid Shuffle, Natalie Cole’s “This Will Be.” Terrell and  his boo didn’t sit still for the rest of the night, and he didn’t seem to  notice or care that she danced like she was having a seizure. He had  brought her here. He had fucked Liana and, for whatever reason, she  had been enough for one act but not the other. Receptions were the  reason Liana attended weddings in the first place, there was nothing  like the moment the DJ opened the floor to anybody in the room, but  now she only mouthed along to all her songs, tapped her feet, patted  her knee with the palm of her hand, all from her seat. 

The noise died down and Octavia and her husband parted from  a sea of people to make their way onto the stage. They thanked their  parents, their bridal party, their planner, and everyone who had traveled  near and far. 

“And last but not least my cousin, who made the beautiful favors  on the tables before you. More than that, she’s always been there for  me when I need her. No matter our differences, she’s who I call when  I need a hand, she’s the one I know I can count on no matter what’s  going on in her own life.” 

Octavia beckoned for her to join her onstage, and Liana held out for  a while, she did. But Octavia called for her again so she stood. Walking  over, she didn’t know what she was going to say. She felt herself sway  and had to reach out for the edge of a table along the way. 

When she arrived, the faces in front of her all seemed to blur,  even Octavia’s, even her new husband’s. In a way, she felt like she  was elsewhere, like she was set apart from the others, like the festivity  had escaped her somehow. 

“That’s not true,” she said when the microphone was settled in her palm. People were sprawled out all over the venue, but Liana felt like  all two-hundred dull, vague heads had swung back at her. 

“I was happy to do the favors but that’s not true. You called me  when you needed something but I wasn’t up there walking with you.  Before this wedding, you hadn’t dialed my number in years.” Her own  voice sounded steady on the microphone though she imagined it would  be shaking. “We don’t sit on the stoop braiding each other’s hair. We  don’t call each other girl. We don’t laugh at the same jokes. You know  that’s not true,” she repeated. Liana knew she should do something  but she didn’t know what. She wanted to stop talking but she felt she  could make it right if she kept on, not right like what she said hadn’t  come out, but right like the people would see she had been justified.  She turned around and looked at Octavia. It was like the girl was frozen. 

“See, I’m happy for her,” she went on. “I’m so happy for her. If  anybody deserves it it’s her. I’m not saying she doesn’t. Seeing her up  there so happy, it warms my heart but I just didn’t like what she said  about relying on me, cause that’s not true. I wish it was,” she felt her  voice weaken, “but it’s not.” 

There was silence for a while as she stood there scanning the room,  their reaction nothing like the night before. Then Liana’s mother walked  over, reached for her hand, and sat her down. 

Later, Liana found Octavia downstairs in the dressing room. Liana’s  mother was hugging her while she cried. 

“It’s okay,” she kept saying. “You’ll find if you let it go, you’ll hardly  miss it,” but it wasn’t helping anything. Liana’s mother had made her  down a cup of coffee and she’d started to feel terrible about what had  happened, she had. Octavia looked up. All the colors that had made up  her perfect face were smeared together. Liana’s guilt turned to anger  fast. Everything had been so perfect, and Octavia was going to let this  little thing ruin it. 

“It really wasn’t that bad, Octavia,” she said with too much edge  in her voice. Octavia started crying more. 

“Girl, you know the other guests didn’t even blink an eye,” she  softened her tone. That wasn’t all the way true, but people always lied  to other people on their wedding day. 

“I don’t care about the guests,” Octavia said. 

“Why you crying then?” 

“It’s you. It’s you. Don’t you get it? It’s always something with you.  You can’t even think about me and my feelings on today of all days.” She  paused. “I’m not even mad at you, I’m mad at myself. I never should  have called you up there.” 

“Oh,” Liana said. She didn’t know what to say. She understood.  She felt the same way about herself these days. Maybe she always had. The makeup artist walked in. “Touch up?” she asked, and Octavia  nodded. Liana’s mother stood and rubbed Octavia’s back on her way  back upstairs. Liana felt her phone vibrate in her purse. She pulled it  out. It was a text from Terrell. 

She felt a queasiness rise from her stomach to her chest. The makeup artist turned to her. “I could fix you up too?” she  asked. “Not that you need it, you’ve got that beautiful complexion.” Liana shook her head. Octavia had settled down and said she would  head back to the reception. “I’ll catch up with you later,” Liana called  over her shoulder but she knew she wouldn’t go back. She couldn’t. She started her app when she got in the car. It was good money  Saturday nights and it would keep her from Terrell’s message: Off  tonight? Can I swing by? We could just talk. 

A white girl got in the car, indistinguishable from the others. They  were in the Marigny now, but she was headed uptown. “How’s it going?” she asked. 

“Fine,” Liana said. 

“Where are you coming from? You’re all dressed up.” 

“A wedding,” she said. 

“A friend’s?” 

“She was a friend,” Liana said. “Once.” 

“Oh, well, I’m sorry to hear that.” 

“I’m sorry too.” 

Liana paused, turned left on Claiborne for I-10 West. 

“So, when did you start driving for Lyft?” 

“Just a few months ago, when I got laid off from my job. I was a  manager at Amazon but they had a shortage. My mom says they don’t  lay off the stars, but that’s not always true.” 

“No, it’s not. My brother was laid off, then a few weeks later he  found his dream job. Been there ever since.” 

“Is that right?” 

“Um-hmm.” 

“Well, maybe that will be me.” Liana turned off Napoleon onto  the girl’s street. There wasn’t much time left but for some reason she  didn’t want to lose her passenger. 

“Maybe that will be me,” she repeated, slowing herself down to  make it last. She didn’t know who would enter her car next, if they  would be able to see her. 

“Anyway, Lyft is just temporary, until I find my thing,” she said. “Any idea what that is?” 

Liana shook her head. 

“Me neither,” the woman said. “Me neither.” 

She pulled the car into the driveway. 

“Well, good luck with that,” the girl said as she opened the door. “Alright,” Liana said back. 

Terrell had texted again. 

Where you’d go off to? 

She stayed parked in the girl’s driveway for some time before she  responded. She scrolled through pictures of the wedding on Instagram.  Aunt Patty and Liana’s mother dancing with the flower girls. Uncle  Paul and his new wife leaning over the bar. Octavia and her husband,  with a caption in cursive below: “Mr. and Mrs.” 

Then she saw the girl’s living room lights flash out, and she scrolled  back to her text messages, opened the last one. There was still a dot next  to it, a beacon of sorts, maybe. She hovered over the blank bubble like  there was a chance she wouldn’t fill it. She had muted her phone for  the ceremony so she didn’t hear the ding when her message delivered.  She could imagine it all the same and reread the words she’d typed  before easing the car into reverse. 

I’ll be home in a minute. Come thru.  

Margaret Wilkerson Sexton is the author of the novels A Kind of Freedom, which was long-listed for  the National Book Award, and most recently, The Revisioners, winner of the 2020 Janet Heidinger  Kafka Prize. She lives in Oakland. 

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