The Sweetheart Sham

By: Danielle Ellison

Daddy took her to the doctor, and that’s when they found it. A nonmalignant meningioma. It was about the size of a walnut tucked right there in her brain near her spinal cord. They removed it, but the real struggle was over the next few months. That’s how I became Momma’s right hand. I had to step up and help her. This wedding is the biggest thing she’s done since then.

And I am grateful.

I’m happy she’s here, healthy, and back to doing what she loves. Even if that means she’s gonna be testing my patience all summer and waking me up at the crack of dawn. I walk past the notecard and turn on my shower. Be grateful, Georgie.

I’m also a different kind of grateful for coffee and the smell that’s already seeping up the stairs into my room.

Downstairs, Daddy is reading the paper and I kiss his cheek. “Smells good.”

He teeters his hand. “Made a Uganda Arabica. Not as vibrant as last week’s.”

Daddy’s been obsessed with coffee lately. It started at Christmas when we watched a documentary, and now he’s trying coffee from around the world. He’s always liked to explore, experiment, adventure—which is totally different than Momma, whose idea of exploring, experimenting, and adventuring is a free makeover at a department store.

“I bet it’s still good,” I say and move toward the coffee.

Momma comes in the room and starts giving Daddy a list of things that he could do today instead of being in the house. He nods and keeps reading the paper. I don’t know why she goes on; Daddy will probably hide out in his workshop all day. He and Beau’s dad, Hank, sold half their company to some big investor, and now he holes up in that workshop in his free time, especially when Momma is in “Jessamyn Monroe, Event Planner” mode.

“Make sure you’re keeping track of the RSVPs as they come in.”

I nod at Momma. “I’m on it.”

“Good. One less thing for me to worry about.”

I take a sip of my coffee; it’s extra bitter going down. “I saw Miss Kerri RSVP’d. Do you know she’s coming?”

Momma sighs. Kerri Ann—the missing part of her life that turns my momma and Will’s mom, Madison, into the Trio. That’s what Daddy called them before Kerri left: the Trio. Best friends forever, sorority sisters, neighbors, partners in crime. They even swore they’d each name their daughter Ann, another common thread to keep them together. Little did they suspect only one of them would have a daughter. Lucky me.

I watch Momma over my mug as she eats a handful of almonds. What I’m really asking is when Beau is coming back, not that I’d ever tell Momma that. She has no idea—no one does—that I used to be something with Beau. No idea of our history, that he stood me up at the Sweetheart Dance that summer, that he didn’t even say good-bye, or that those weeks of “allergies” were really me crying over him. I swallow down a lump in my throat. I shouldn’t think about him; Beau Montgomery only leads to heartache.

“Not sure,” Momma answers before releasing her tension in a long sigh the way the doctor taught her. “I haven’t heard from Kerri Ann yet. Worst case, he can do groomsmen fittings from Atlanta, though you know it kills me to not see how that tux fits.” Momma has particulars for things like this.

Momma lingers at the window, twisting her pearls around in between her fingers. “I’m sure whatever happens there, it will be fine. This is the biggest event of the summer, and there’s only so much I can do about that one issue.”

This is the event of the summer. The whole town is invited to the wedding, and they’ll all come. Emma Claire wanted a certain date, one that just so happened to fall on the same day as the town’s annual Sweetheart Dance. It was canceled for the first time in Culler’s history, and in exchange the reception is in the town square so everyone can come. Even if that wasn’t so, Drew is the previous golden boy, so that settles that. It’s not every year a Montgomery gets married, and the whole town is sure to pester us all for the next eight weeks.

“Georgie, I may need to keep a few things in your room.”

I shoot my eyes up at Momma, who’s staring at her phone. The last time she used my room she turned it into a dressing room for clowns. Literally. I couldn’t sleep for a week with all the confetti and big red noses. “My room? Why my room?”

Momma puts a hand on her hip. “This wedding is important, and it would be really helpful to me if you would cooperate.”

Daddy looks at me over his paper with his sympathy face. Sure, it’s easy for him. He gets to hide in the workshop. Momma wouldn’t dare to borrow his space.

“Only a few things—and I get approval.”

She smiles and moves to kiss my cheek. “That’s my girl.”

My summer is officially doomed.

The doorbell rings and Momma races out of the kitchen. “That will be Emma Claire. Sam, clean that up!” she yells, running through the kitchen.

Daddy looks at the table, where it’s only a newspaper and his coffee. “Clean what up?”

I shrug, and even though I know he’s asleep, I text Will.

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