Returning to Shore
by Corinne Demas

Chapter 1

The white balloons were released from behind the privet hedge at the exact moment that Clare’s mother kissed her new husband. Clare watched them rise. They were snatched by an errant wind and blown stage left, free now, and undisciplined. Clare kept her eyes on the balloons until they were out of the scene entirely. Then she turned her eyes back on the small platform where her mother and Tertio, as Clare called Ian, her mother’s husband number three, beamed out at the invited guests.
     “I hope this one lasts longer than the last one,” said Eva, Clare’s aunt, who was seated at her left. She was a short, overweight woman, and she was taking up more than her allotted space on her white folding chair. Clare shifted a little so she wouldn’t feel the pressure of Eva’s silk-clad hip next to hers.
Clare hadn’t wanted to think about Peter, but it was impossible not to.
    “Hey, you’ll always be my girl, no matter what,” he had said. But now he was living with someone and Clare didn’t see him very often. It was she who had told Peter about Tertio, when she’d met him for lunch a few months before. They were sitting in one of the booths by the windows, in the cafe where Peter worked on his novel.
    “I’m happy for Vera,” said Peter.
    “How can you say that?” she had asked him. “I thought you loved her!”
    “I did love her,” said Peter, and Clare had noted the past tense, “but it didn’t work out. What can I tell you? People have to move on with their lives.”
    “That’s a pile of shit,” Clare had said, and though Peter’s eyebrows expressed his surprise he didn’t say anything, just shrugged.
    Tertio was a decade older than Vera, two decades older than Peter. His grown children were seated at the main table with Clare at the reception. Vera had wanted to have Clare and them stand on the platform during the ceremony, but Tertio’s daughter had refused, so the idea was scrapped. Clare had been relieved. The daughter was an artist who worked with aluminum, and she was wearing a dress that was cut low in back to reveal an elaborate tattoo that must have hurt like hell when it was done. She kept ducking out to smoke. Tertio’s son was tall and bony and was in college someplace. He didn’t talk at all, and Clare wasn’t sure if he was a snob or just painfully shy. Eva was doing her best to try to bring him out, with no results whatsoever. Tertio kept gazing at Vera with stupid rapture and did not notice the shortcomings of either of his children. Vera looked more relieved than in raptures, but then again she was not a woman who was given to rapture. Even at the triumphant conclusion of a case she had litigated for weeks on end she expressed little more than a touch of satisfaction.
    Clare’s dress was a flower print that Vera had picked out at Lord & Taylor that looked like it was designed for a ten year old. It had a little matching jacket that Clare didn’t wear, even though her arms were chilly. Vera had actually selected three dresses and let Clare choose, but the other two were even worse. Vera had taken Clare with her to the hairdresser’s in the morning and Clare’s hair had been done up in a chignon. When Clare got home and caught a glimpse of herself in her bedroom mirror, the hairdo looked like it belonged on someone else’s head. She’d pulled out the hairpins and shaken her hair free so she looked like herself again. When Vera had seen her she’d given one of her dramatic sighs. Vera had dark, luxurious hair that looked good no matter how she wore it. It was the one thing Clare wished she’d inherited from her mother; her own hair was wispy and a color that even her friends called “dirty blond.”
    When the many courses of dinner were finally over, Vera and Tertio cut the wedding cake, and waiters scurried around delivering a slice to every guest. The wedding cake was extravagant, butter cream, that had cost hundreds of dollars. Clare hadn’t felt like eating any of it and had left her piece on her plate.
    “You have to take that with you,” said Eva. “You put some under your pillow tonight, and the man you dream of will be the man you marry.”
    Right. Butter cream mushed under her pillow. And whom did she have to dream of? There weren’t any boys she knew that she could imagine growing up into someone she might want to marry. Besides she wasn’t planning on ever getting married. Her mother had been married now three times. Clare had been the flower girl at the wedding to Peter, a beautiful wedding in a meadow beside a river, with all the guests barefoot and people playing guitars and everyone singing. . . and look what became of that.

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