Undeniably You


by Jewel E. Ann

PROLOGUE

June 22, 2013

THE WEDDING

A gazillion layers of tulle engulf my five foot five, one hundred and fifteen pound body. I wonder how many grooms go MIA on their wedding night searching for their new bride in her Cinderella ball gown. My breasts and ribs protest as the weight of this strapless beast demands their full support for the next five or more hours. Long, dark ringlets pinned to one side cascade down my shoulder. Sweet floral aromas mingle in the air from my light pink rose bouquet and the lavender body spray still fresh on my skin.

A knock at the door startles me from my despondent appraisal of the reflection in the mirror.

“Come in,” I call.

“Oh, Sam, you look amazing.” My sister’s hand rests against her chest as her gaping-mouth envy seeps into my conscience reprimanding it with a firm slap of guilt.

This is every girl’s dream: the dress, the handsome groom, the center of attention. There are those few unique females who are genetically missing the fairytale-dream gene. That’s the rare and exclusive group to which I belong.

“Thanks, Avery,” I murmur, meeting her watery blue gaze in the mirror.

“I wish Mom were here to see you.” Her mouth sags in a frown.

Avery’s words take me back thirteen years. It’s not that those same words haven’t drifted through my mind today, but Avery says it all the time. “I wish Mom were watching this movie with us. I wish Mom could taste this amazing soup. I wish Mom could hear this song.”

I get it. I really do. Avery is two years younger than I am, but it feels like ten. Even today, she still reminds me of the broken eight-year-old lost without her mom—our mom. The fragile memories of feeling dependent on my mom are specks of sand fading from an hourglass in my mind. Taking the emotional leap from ten to fourteen in a matter of weeks to fill that “mother” gap does that.

Grabbing two fists full of tulle, I lift my dress and turn toward her.

“She is here. I’m looking at her now.” Avery’s long blonde Barbie locks and faded blue eyes hold such a ghostly resemblance to our mom it warms my heart and pulls my lips into a smile.

“Oh, Sydney!” As tears swell in her eyes, she comes at me with open arms and child-like fragility.

Crap! Avery only calls me by my given name when she wants to be coddled.

“Uh, uh, uh…” I hold my palms up blocking her approach “…white dress, white veil … back away from the bride.”

Avery comes to an abrupt stop. Her bereaved face melts into a soft smile as she dabs the corners of her eyes with the pads of her fingers.

“Sorry. You just always know how to say the right thing at the right time,” she says while fiddling with her diamond tear-drop earrings.

Offering my hand, she looks at it for a moment before taking it. Squeezing, I look at those blue eyes, full lips, and blonde hair pinned up with a few stray spiral curls elegantly framing her face. I won’t say it aloud, but I’m thinking it, too. God, I miss you Mom.

“You look beautiful, baby sister,” I whisper.

Her exuberant full-teeth smile captures her eyes. “Thanks, I love my dress.” Releasing my hand, she twirls around in her pale purple taffeta mermaid-style dress.

“You should, since you picked it out,” I murmur with no response from her.

“Flower girl?” I ask with raised brows.

“Chasing the ring bearer behind the church … or maybe it’s the other way around,” Avery dismisses with a shrug.

Shifting myself back toward the mirror, I take a deep breath and exhale a slow release.

“I’m going to check on your groom.” Avery opens the door but pauses and turns with a reassuring smile. “He’s the one, Sam. Handsome, kind … and God, he loves you so much. It’s fate.”

The door clicks shut. Fate. The word echoes in the air. Is there such a thing as fate?

CHAPTER ONE

June 3rd, 2010

PALO ALTO

Shit! It’s everywhere and I’ve only been here for three hours. Thank God it’s contained to the hardwood floors. I scramble to find a trash bag in the pantry as my phone chimes. Sliding it out from the back pocket of my short denim shorts, I swipe my finger across the screen.

“Hello?”

“Sydney?” An unfamiliar woman’s voice sounds.

“Yes,” I confirm with the phone pinched between my ear and shoulder as I peel open the trash bag.

“It’s Kimberly from Dr. Abbott’s office returning your phone call.”

As I walk past the glass French doors to the patio, I’m met with two blue-grey eyes on the other side following my every move. Squinting and seething with contempt, I continue to the first steaming pile of shit.

“Oh, yes, thank you for calling me back. I’m house and dog sitting for my uncle and aunt, Trevor and Elizabeth Worthington. Their dog … uh—”

“Swarley.”

“Yes, Swarley has been shi—I mean pooping everywhere since they left early this morning.”

“He might be nervous or apprehensive about them leaving. Dogs sense more than we realize. They’re much smarter than we give them credit for being.”

Yeah, this dog is real freaking smart!

“Anyway, Dr. Abbott has an opening at one o’clock if you’d like to bring Swarley in just to make sure it’s nothing serious.”

The ripe sewer stench wafting near my nose forces me to hold my breath as I rush to glove my hand in paper towels and wipe up the mess.

“One, thanks. See you then.” The mordacious smell steals my voice.

*

House sitting is a great interim job, especially for someone with a bachelor’s degree in art history. Pet sitting … not so glamorous, but it comes with the territory. My dream of becoming a museum curator is going to be a long journey. It’s virtually impossible to get an offer without a master’s degree, and really, a PhD is preferred—especially among the larger, more prestigious museums. Feeling broke and drowning in debt since graduation, I’ve decided to work a few years before completing my schooling. However, if I continue to get into this sort of “shit,” I may decide to sell my body instead of my time.

The first few jobs I took were in the Midwest, within driving distance from where I grew up in Rock Island, Illinois. After I banked some cash, I got my passport and applied for house sitting positions abroad. Over the past year I’ve traveled to Rio De Janeiro, Qatar, Ireland, Australia, and the UK. I visit every museum I can and dream of someday being the lucky person in charge of overseeing everything. It’s a long shot at best, but a girl can hope.