Time stood still. Until the clock’s numbers changed to 2:22 and Jazz inhaled deeply.
“Oh.” She pulled her hands back, his grip slackened further when she distanced herself. Wiped her hands on her nightgown.
“I’m so sorry, it wasn’t planned, it just-”
His stream of words were cut off by her raised hand. Jazz got up, like a mechanical doll she moved through the bedroom.
“I need – time to think.”
“Jazz, don’t go now. Let me explain.” Slumped on the bed he watched her shake her head softly. In her nightgown she only grabbed a coat and her purse, closed the door behind her.
Only in the cab that took her to a hotel nearby she noticed that she was still wearing slippers.
A few hours later Jazz sat at her desk again, dressed in her emergency dress and some cheap heels she had bought on her way to work. Japanese people were too polite to point out someone was going out in sleepwear. Besides, Jazz had other problems. She had blocked Subaru’s number on her phone, had told everyone in the office to tell him she wasn’t in if he called. Excused it with a surprise she was planning for him.
Her autopilot worked well enough to get some tasks done. Easy ones, like sending bills and comparing offers.
“Good morning!” Liana’s smile slipped when she looked at Jazz, still in the doorway of her office. “Are you sick?”
“No, just had a rough night.” And no makeup to cover the dark circles under her eyes.
“Should I go and get us some coffee? Cooling gel for your eyes? Concealer?”
“You spend too much time with Miho. You start sounding like her.”
Liana rummaged in her bag, just shrugged off Jazz’s quip and let out a triumphant ‘A-ha’ when she found a small tube.
“Might not be your color, but neither is what you’re sporting today. So, about that coffee…”
“Yes to coffee, thanks. And afterwards I want to hole up in my office.” For the rest of the day. For the rest of her life.
“You mean until noon?” Liana asked and checked her phone.
“The appointment in the bridal store with Miss Osmond? We agreed on it weeks ago.”
Jazz’s eyes flitted to her planner. There it was, black ink on paper, in her own messy handwriting.
“Shit.” Jazz dropped her head on the desk, the cool wood hit her forehead with just enough force to leave a reddening spot. She sat up again, ran her hands over her face.
“Okay, yeah. I forgot about it, but no problem. Coffee first, afterwards I have to make some calls. At at noon we will meet Miss Osmond and will pick out her dress. Great. Yeah.”
“You are rambling, you know that?” Under Liana’s scrutiny Jazz calmed down, forced the restless energy back. The need to move, to stay occupied so she didn’t have to think.
“Sorry. I had a crazy night.”
“Did you drink?”
Her eyes were still red and with the sloppily styled hair, only a hint of make-up, she was surprised no one had asked sooner.
“I wish I had. But no, I was just – I didn’t sleep much. Migraine.” She made a face and rubbed her temples; it wasn’t even a lie. Her head felt as if her skull would burst any second now, thumbing in time with her heartbeat.
“Give me half an hour and I will look more human again.” If she could keep herself from crying for so long. Jazz closed her eyes, took a long breath. When she opened her eyes again she smiled. ”But coffee first. I go and get us some of the good stuff.”
She grabbed her purse, rushed out of the office and down the stairs. Kept moving. Standing still meant she had time to think and thinking led to wondering, to fretting. To crying.
On her way to the coffee shop she picked up some make-up, even considered getting some booze but scrapped the idea again. It was only 10 am, not the time to drink now. Subaru had taken too much from her already, she wouldn’t let him ruin her professionalism.
Caffeine helped and so did company. In front of Liana Jazz put on her polite smile and her work personality which left no room for insecurity and brooding.
Eyedrops, concealer and mascara did a good job in covering the effects of last night and when their appointment came around Jazz greeted Miss Osmond – “Please, call me Coline” – with a smile and heartfelt congratulations.
“This is not the biggest store for wedding apparel, but the best if you ask me. From traditional kimonos to princess bridal gowns you can get everything you want here.” A shop assistant was waiting for them, another round of greetings and congratulations later they browsed the shop on their own for a first impression.
“I always dreamed of a classical bridal gown. A huge puffy skirt and a tight lace up bodice. It’s still a dream from when I was a kid” Coline laughed, ran her fingertips over the beaded embroidery on a cream colored dress. “Not sure if that’s the best look for me, though.” She was slim, didn’t have that many curves to show off.
“A traditional kimono would look fantastic on you, but I imagine that a more fitted bridal gown would also be lovely.” Jazz pulled an off-white strapless lace gown from a rack, looked at it from all sides. “A nice belt, a veil, a pair of heels and your groom won’t know what hit him.”
“What kind of dress did you wear for your wedding?” Coline asked and nodded towards the dress. “I’ll try this.”
With a tight smile Jazz handed the dress over; a sales assistant took it to the changing rooms.
“I had a classical A-line gown. A bit of beading at the bodice, a couple of layers of chiffon over thick satin. Not too poofy, rather fitted with a flared skirt. If you can get a lace-up bodice, just in case your weight fluctuates a bit before the wedding. I had no train, I wanted it to be easy to dance in.” She swallowed thickly. “Sorry, I need a sip of water. The air’s so dry in here.” The pounding of her head increased with every minute and she had no painkillers in her purse. Rookie mistake.
“How about a glass of champagne?” the helpful sales assistant asked and rushed off after Coline nodded enthusiastically. The champagne was too tart, almost sharp to Jazz’s palate so she set her glass down after and conveniently forgot about it while the bride kept fretting over the countless options.
Liana stayed in the background mostly, it was her first dress shopping appointment and she watched and learned. Not that there was much to learn, the taste of the bride was the decisive factor in the end. A good wedding planner had just to make sure the bride stayed focused and on track, didn’t get lost in the sea of bling and ruffles. So Jazz steered Coline back to the dresses whenever she strayed and stared at shoes or accessories. After they had picked out six different dresses Coline vanished in the changing room, her chatter and laughter still audible outside where Jazz and Liana sat on a couch and waited for the fashion show.
“You are looking a bit better already.”
Jazz shrugged, forced her smile to stay light. “It’s like a hangover, only without drinking first. Distraction helps, as does the coffee. And hey, what could be better to cheer a girl up than a shopping trip?”
Shoes and dresses, a trusty combination to brighten her mood, only this time they failed to excite her. There was no running from what she had to accept, not even in brand new strappy heels.
“Yeah, great shopping trip.” Liana sighed and let her gaze wander over the rows and rows of wedding dresses. “A bride, a married woman and a divorced one go into a bridal salon… sounds like the beginning of a joke.”
“And not a funny one,” Jazz agreed.
The curtain moved, and in a vision of lace and organza Coline swaned out of the changing room.
“Now that’s a great start.” Nonetheless Jazz got up, draped a part of the skirt around the beaming bride and stepped back again.
“First of all, how do you feel?”
After a tiny shimmy Coline cocked her head to the side, exhaled deeply.
“It’s beautiful, but heavy. Like, dragging me down. Too many layers for me.”
A princess gown, a huge skirt with a fitted bodice, was the perfect dress to start with; from there the bride could see if she wanted more, up to a majestic Cinderella dress, or less.
“What about the color? Pure white or a bit of a darker shade?”
“As long as it’s not pink I can imagine a bit of color. But definitely less – of all of this.” Ruffles rustled when Coline picked up the skirt a few inches and let it drop again. “Oh, but a train would be nice. Not too much, just something extra.”
“How about that mermaid dress we found earlier?” Liana suggested. “The one with the rose embroidery.”
“Sure.” After a last glance into the huge mirror Coline disappeared behind the curtain, left Jazz and Liana to evaluate the first dress.
“She’s drowning in it.” Jazz plopped down on the couch, tipped her head back and rested it against the wall. “With such a small frame she needs something delicate. Light and classy.”
“Silk. One single layer of lining max. Did we choose something like that?”
“We did. Let her try it after the mermaid one.” Liana checked her notes and nodded. “Should I go and look for some more simple dresses?”
Jazz hummed, eyes closed. The light and the sea of white dresses hurt her eyes, stabbed directly into her brain.
“Try to find one with sleeves. I think we don’t have a sleeved one.” Her brows were knitted tightly together, she breathed against a wave of dizziness.
“Jazz? You don’t look too well…” Liana’s voice traveled to her like through water. Jazz opened her eyes just in time to see Coline dance out of the changing room, small steps taking her closer to the small pedestal in front of the mirror.
“So much better,” she beamed, turned here and there before she stopped and watched her reflection. “What do you say?”
It was a mistake to sit up. The headache, the lack of sleep and the dizzy spell teamed up to drag Jazz down into an abyss of utter embarrassment. The bit of coffee she had for breakfast – and any other meal this day – churned in her stomach. She only managed to cover her mouth with a hand in time to jump up and flee towards the restrooms; throwing up in a bridal store was an expensive act, and one to kill a career.
“Okay, I guess she didn’t like it,” Coline mumbled, looked at Liana for clarification and maybe a feedback.
“I don’t think it’s the dress.” Liana stared in the direction Jazz had vanished to. “I am so sorry, but Miss Mann wasn’t feeling well all day already. Must be-” She searched for a good excuse, but came up empty handed and finished her sentence with a helpless shrug.
“Morning sickness?” Coline asked, sympathy in her eyes and voice. “My cousin was suffering greatly under hers.”
“I really can’t say.” With apologetic tilt of her head Liana turned back to face the bride-to-be. “But this dress looks lovely on you. Not the perfect one yet, though. How about you try the silk one next? A simple cut, no ruffles and frills; a clean silhouette. It makes the bride shine more on her own.” She ushered Coline back into the dressing room before she rushed after Jazz.
“I’m okay.” Her head rested against the tiled wall, her eyes were closed when Liana found her. “I just wish I could die right now. There’s no way I can go back in there.”
“Miss Osmond is actually rather understanding. You just have to pretend you’re pregnant.” Liana’s brow furrowed, she sat down next to Jazz. “It would be pretend, wouldn’t it?”
“Oh god, not you, too! Miho said something along those lines the other day and I already told her, no, I’m not pregnant.” ‘At least not as far as I know,’ flashed through her mind. That would be the icing on the cake, a baby with the husband who had cheated on her. A baby.
“Help me up, please. I need a sip of water and a peppermint.”
A month ago, maybe, or even a week her only concern would have been to prevent gossip, but now a new worry hit her hard enough to stumble on the way to the sink. What if not she was pregnant? What if Subaru had knocked the other woman up? Did they use protection? Did he sleep with Jazz after sleeping with her? Should she get tested for an STD? All the questions she had banned before assaulted her now, in the tiny restroom, bounced off the walls of her mind like an echo bounced off the tiles.
“Hm? Oh yeah, I’m much better, don’t worry.” The mirror showed her a less optimistic picture. Her glassy eyes were rimmed with smudged mascara; throwing up always left her looking like a mess. A few wipes with wet tissue replaced the black with red; it would fade with time.
“Okay, let’s make sure our client gets the perfect dress and afterwards I’m calling it a day.” For the sake of the appointment Jazz forced herself to smile, apologized to Coline and the sales assistant. Asked them to keep it a secret from her bosses and made it sound as if she really was expecting without ever saying the words ‘pregnant’ or ‘baby’. She couldn’t afford rumours.
Solidarity between women was a blessing; in exchange Jazz didn’t rest until Coline stepped out of the changing room with a blinding smile and sparkling eyes.
“See? With such a simple dress it’s the bride that shines, not the designer or the bling on the robe.” Liana, visibly satisfied with the result of her latest search, nodded. “A veil?”
“No,” Coline objected, stared at her reflection. “This dress is perfect as it is.” Flowing silk, the top covered with delicate lace that formed sleeves down to her wrists and tapered out around her hips.
“Maybe some headband?” Jazz suggested, smiled at the sales assistant who fetched a small selection.
“Something floral and light.” She picked one with silver wires, small beads and flowers woven in created the illusion of a branch from a fairy tree. In contrast to Coline’s dark curls it shone in her hair, caught the light in the store and reflected it.
“That’s it,” Jazz concluded. “That’s your dress.”
“That’s my dress.” Light fingertips brushed over the fabric, smoothed it down until Coline was satisfied. “It has to get shortened a bit, but the train is exactly what I want.”
“Shoes and a purse and you’re good to go,” Liana agreed.
It took them some convincing for Coline to change back into her clothes and leave the dress behind for the alterations.
“Have you been this excited for your dress, too?” Jazz asked Liana on the way back to the office.
“Yes, I think so. Having the dress made it real. All the planning before felt so random, but the dress was when it sank in.”
Jazz hummed; she couldn’t remember at all. Not only her wedding preparations, all her happy memories seemed to have been wiped from her memories. Spending the day with a blissful bride only made the loss worse. The lack of joy, the lack of love.
“I’ll only get some documents from my office and leave afterwards,” she announced. Talking about trivial things gave her a reprieve, a moment she didn’t have to fake.
“Get some rest and get better.” They parted at the elevator; despite her weak condition Jazz opted for the stairs. The swaying of the elevator, the strange feeling of rising and pausing midair was too much of a challenge for her stomach. One step after the other she climbed the stairs, the physical strain clearing her mind of unwanted thoughts. Or any thoughts really.
For once there was no rush; after leaving the office she would have to go home without an idea where that should be. Telling Miho would make it real, like finding a dress made getting married real. But making it real would mean acknowledging and dealing with the situation. She didn’t have the strength for that. She had barely found the strength to talk to Subaru about his behavior and before she did, several days had passed while she fretted and pondered the right approach. Last night didn’t count as respite. Lying awake and crying wasn’t thinking after all. The next steps were clear. Finding a place to stay. Getting at least some of her clothes. Wallowing in self pity and ice cream. Adopting a bunch of cats and getting bitter.
“Drama queen,” she scolded herself on the last few stairs. After a couple of deep breaths she put on her smile again and made her way into her office. The receptionist waved at her; Jazz waved back and hurried towards her door. She wasn’t in the mood for a conversation or more work; whatever it was, it had to wait until she had least gotten rid of this splitting headache. Maybe she was actually sick? Terminally ill? A brain tumor, maybe. She would die within a short time and Subaru would be left behind, heartbroken he had treated his poor sick wife like this. Or maybe inwardly rejoicing because he could openly be with his new lover.
Deep in thought she opened her office door, stumbled inside and towards the couch.
“Do you have an idea how worried I was about you?”
Subaru’s voice made her jump, pressed all the buttons to make her feel guilty for his anger. He sat on the very couch she just wanted to rest on, his tie askew and his hair disheveled.
“What are you doing here?” she asked back and swallowed down the instinctive apology his question had triggered.
“I’m waiting for you. I called you over and over again, looked for you all over town.” He came closer, stopped right in front of her so Jazz had to look up a bit. Despite her heels he was taller; a fact she used to appreciate.
“I didn’t want to talk to you,” she cooly replied and sidestepped him on her way to her desk.
“You could at least have let me know you’re okay. I called the hospitals and police stations to see if you had gotten into an accident or-” He bit his tongue, let her fill in the rest.
“You think I would harm myself just because you had sex with another woman? I’m not that weak.” The desk was a barrier between them, one Jazz used to keep him away. She couldn’t think when he was close, her mask crumbled under his sad gaze.
“That’s not what I wanted to say. I was just worried about you. You went out in your pjs, didn’t answer your phone -”
“Did you call Miho?” she interrupted him, raised both eyebrows and jutted out her chin. A challenge he backed out from.
“No. I figured if you went to stay there and told her – well, told her why you were there, she wouldn’t give me a straight answer anyway. I asked Goto, though. If you were there or not.” He lingered on the other side of the desk, fingertips on the wood, turned halfway towards her and halfway facing the door. “So, where have you been?” He stared at his fingers, the contrast between his skin and the polished surface of the desk, scratched at a spot until he looked up and found her glaring at him.
“What? Are you afraid I paid you back in kind?” She snorted; this was not a conversation she felt up to. Not with her head in pain, and her heart heavy, still choking at the betrayal. “I would never do that to you. Never.”
Her bottom lip trembled, she bit down on it and looked up at the ceiling. “Can you just go now? Please?”
“Will you come home tonight?” His soft tone reminded her of whispered conversations, late at night, snuggled under one blanket. Of shared dreams and secrets.
“I can’t.” Short answers, the shorter the better. Less words she could trip over, less risk for a crying fit.
“I don’t mean you have to forgive me right on the spot, or at all. This isn’t about you coming back with me and we pretend it’s all okay. I just – Jazz, I want to know you are safe at least. You get the bedroom, and if you say I mustn’t bother you, I won’t. I promise. But last night-” He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “I was so scared something had happened to you.”
“I’m tired.” Jazz dropped her head and shook it slowly. “I try to think but I can’t. My head’s a mess, and all I want is my bed. My life back.” She lost the fight against the tears, allowed them to flow freely now. “Can you give me that? Can you give me back my peace? My happiness?”
When he wrapped his arms around her she didn’t struggle. His heartbeat was steady and familiar under her palm, her own fluttered like a bird trapped in a cage, strained against her ribcage and made her feel even sicker.
“Let’s go home,” he said once more. “And talk about it if you want. I would do anything to fix this, Jazz. Anything. I love you so much, I know I fucked up but I swear, if you let me, I will -”
She cried harder with each word he said, clung to him until his shirt was soaked and smudged with the rest of her makeup. Subaru held her until she ran out of tears, ran out of energy. He held her hand while he led her out of the office, towards their car – his car, she corrected herself – and helped her inside. He held her hand during the ride whenever he could, squeezed it at every red light. He only let go of her when she reached the bedroom door and closed it behind her.
Her bed was as she had left it, Jazz pulled the covers over head and fell asleep within seconds.