"Oh," she said, and looked confused.
"I've never seen Ted nude, so I missed that one."
There was a derisive snort, half laugh and half just rude noise, from the other side of the dress rack. Dixie, one of Donna's oldest friends and a bridesmaid, came into view. "That's such bullshit," she said, and her voice was as bitter as the look on her face. Dixie might actually have been an attractive woman, but she so seldom smiled or did anything pleasant that she came off as unattractive. Who wanted to be around a constant stream of negativity? No one, that's who. I had no idea what Donna saw in her as a friend except for the fact that they'd been friends since high school and they were now in their forties; well, duration counted, I guess.
"Don't start again, Dixie," Donna said.
"It's bullshit that Anita has never seen Ted nude."
"Why, because we work together?" I asked.
"No, not just because of your jobs, though that does give you the perfect cover story."
"I don't know how it works at your job, Dixie, but at mine we don't see our coworkers nude all that often."
"Is there a reason you came to find us, Dixie?" Donna asked, stepping closer to the other woman and blocking our view of each other, as if she were stepping between two kids on the playground about to fight.
"The tailor has another client in an hour that needs major alterations, so she needs Anita and the dress right now." Dixie put her hands on her hips, scowling at both of us.
I gathered up more of the voluminous skirt and said, "Let's get this over with, then."
"No, you don't have to wear the dress," Donna said, voice soft.
"You're finally kicking her out of the wedding; fabulous," Dixie said. She sounded happy, pleased with the world. She was even smiling, though her eyes stayed mean, almost predatory, like she smelled blood in the water.
"No, of course not. I'm just not going to make her wear a dress that's identical to Denny's. There's no reason the maids of honor have to match exactly; they just need to wear something that sets them apart from the rest of the wedding party."
"Thanks, Donna, I appreciate that, a lot."
She looked at me, touching my arm. "The tailor said that there was no way to fit your curves in this dress anyway." She laughed a little. "But I wouldn't make you appear in such a public venue with all your scars on display like this. I wouldn't do that to anyone."
"Why are you being nice to her?" Dixie demanded.
"She's my friend, Dixie."
"The fact that you're both sleeping with the same man doesn't make you friends, Donna. It makes her a whore and you stupid."
"Donna," I said, because I'd just about had enough of Dixie, and I wasn't sure how to ask permission to punch her friend in the face.
"Ted and Anita are not sleeping together. They are just partners and best friends; that's all," Donna said.
"You're the one that told me they were having an affair!" Dixie said, raising her voice a little. I was pretty sure it was on purpose. If she was going to embarrass us, she wanted an audience.
"I was wrong. I just didn't understand Ted being so close with another woman. Our therapist has helped us work through all that."
"Your therapist believed they were screwing each other, Donna!"
"Because I told her they were, and she only had my version."
"Ted admitted it!"
"Only because I told him that I wouldn't marry him unless he admitted they were having an affair."
"He lied to you!"
"Only because I wouldn't believe the truth."
Dixie pointed at me. "She admitted it to you, too."
"Ted asked her to lie, if I asked her directly."
"That's ridiculous! Who the hell would lie about something like that if it wasn't true?" Dixie said.
"It was ridiculous," I said.
Dixie looked at me in triumph. "See, she admits it!"
"No, Ted and I are not now, and never have been, lovers, but the fact that he asked me to back up his lie about it was ridiculous. I still can't believe that he asked me to compromise us both like that. I didn't think Ted would ever let anyone emotionally blackmail him into anything so stupid, and then ask me to back him in it."
"He was buying time so he could explain the truth in therapy to me and our therapist," Donna said, and she was smiling now, her face filled with that radiant glow t
hat only true love can give you.
"That is the most insane thing I've ever heard. You wouldn't marry him until he told you the truth, so he told you the truth, but then he manipulated you and your therapist into believing that he's innocent and Anita isn't his slut on the side."
"Are you trying to pick a fight with me, Dixie?"
"No, just calling a spade a spade."
"Glad to hear you're not trying to pick a fight, but if you call me a whore or a slut again, it will be a fight, just to be clear."
"Anita is going to be Ted's best man in our wedding, Dixie, and that's that. You need to find a way to deal with that."
"I am dealing with it."
"With more grace than this, Dixie. I mean it."
"Grace, grace . . ." She looked astonished, shocked. "How can you ask me to be okay with this, Donna? Once a cheater, always a cheater. Don't start your marriage with his mistress in the wedding party."
Mistress was a step up from slut and whore, damn it. I was almost disappointed that I couldn't at least scare Dixie into leaving me the fuck alone. "I am no one's mistress, but least of all Ted's."
"I know you're not his mistress, but you got mad at me calling you what you are." She gave me that mean look again. I just knew Dixie had been one of those mean girls in school who made other girls' lives hell. Some people never grow up; they just grow older.
I took a step forward.
"Anita, no, please, she doesn't understand that you won't fight like a girl," Donna said.
"I can take care of myself, Donna," Dixie said.
Donna put a hand on her arm. "No, Dixie, you can't, not with Anita."
"Why do you keep defending her? She's fucking your husband-to-be!" She started toward me, pushing against Donna's hand.
Donna put a hand on each of her arms and pushed back, not letting her get closer to me. I noticed for the first time that there were muscles under Donna's tanned skin. I knew she had been working out for the wedding but hadn't realized how much until that moment. Good for her. Dixie didn't have muscle to push back, but she tried. I realized in that moment that she was one of those people who wanted to take her bad mood out on someone, anyone. I understood anger issues, but she'd picked the wrong woman to start a fight with.
"I'm not protecting Anita. I'm protecting you."