Project:Runaway Bride

By: Heidi Betts

One

Juliet Zaccaro stared down at the little plastic wand she was clutching between shaky, white-knuckled fingers.

It was one of those kits that promised 100 percent accuracy. No doubts. No second-guessing. And that was definitely a giant blue plus sign, glaring back at her like a flashing Broadway marquee.

She was pregnant.

Her stomach tightened; her lungs following suit. Knees growing weak, she took a single stumbling step sideways and sank onto the closed toilet lid in a cloud of gauzy white crepe and tulle.

A laugh verging on hysterical tickled its way up her throat, but she tamped it down. Pressed her lips together to keep it from spilling out, because she knew if she didn’t, she might never stop.

It was her wedding day. Here she was in the cramped bathroom off the small-but-serviceable room at the rear of the church where she’d been getting ready, and she was very unexpectedly, very this-is-not-good-news pregnant.

She should have taken the test days ago rather than waiting until her hair and makeup were done and she was trussed up in her one-of-a-kind fairy-princess gown designed and hand sewn by her sister Lily. Hadn’t she suspected for more than a week now that the dizziness, the headaches, the upset stomachs were more than simply prewedding jitters? But she’d been so afraid she was right, so afraid she might actually be pregnant that she couldn’t bear to find out for sure.

And then she’d looked at herself in the mirror, seen herself as a bride about to walk down the aisle and realized she wasn’t blushing, she was flushed. She wasn’t glowing with happiness; she was radiating dread. And that was just at the prospect of saying “I do.”

When she stopped to consider the fact that she might indeed be pregnant, all of her doubts, all of her fears, all of her second thoughts just grew louder and louder until they were a nearly deafening cacophony inside her head. That was when she knew she couldn’t wait any longer to take the test and find out for sure.

Now she knew...but she had no idea what to do about it. She couldn’t very well walk down the aisle and start a new life with a man who most likely wasn’t—most likely? Who was she kidding?—definitely wasn’t the father of her child.

Dear God, her child. A baby. She was really and truly pregnant. Which meant it wasn’t just about her anymore. She wasn’t going to be the only one affected by whatever decisions she made from this moment forward. She had to start thinking like a mother, putting her child’s safety and happiness ahead of her own.

A tap on the bathroom door startled her out of her deeply spiraling dark thoughts. She lifted her head as her sister’s muffled voice came from the other side.

“Juliet. We’re ready for you, sweetie,” Lily said. “It’s time to become Mrs. Paul Harris.”

Her words were happy, encouraging, meant to uplift. Instead, they made Juliet’s stomach drop.

She didn’t know if she could become Mrs. Paul Harris. Or even if she should.

Taking a deep, shuddering breath, she called out, “I’ll be right there. Just one more minute.”

“All right. We’ll be waiting in the vestibule.”

Juliet waited until her sister’s faint footsteps trailed off and the outer door closed. Then she pushed herself to her feet with the help of the porcelain vanity and glanced at her reflection in the mirror above the sink.

Not bad, as long as everyone waiting in the pews out front was expecting a Corpse Bride. Every ounce of color had leeched out of her skin, making the eye shadow, rouge and lipstick her sister Zoe had so carefully applied look like that of a practiced geisha.

Brushing a finger beneath each of her eyes, she wiped away any lingering trace of unshed tears and made sure her eyeliner and mascara were still intact. Then she fluffed out the diaphanous folds of her gown and dropped the plastic test stick into the small wicker wastebasket beside the sink. A second later, she leaned down and shook the basket so the wand fell to the very bottom. She certainly didn’t want someone accidentally finding a positive pregnancy test in the bridal staging area and taking the time to put two and two together.

As ready as she was ever going to be, she left the bathroom and crossed the main room, slowly turning the knob and opening the outer door only a crack. The hallway was empty, thank goodness. Another moment’s reprieve.

Opening the door the rest of the way, she stepped out. The muted whispers of her sisters and father reached her from where they were waiting only a few yards away.

Turn left and she would be at the start of the aisle, stepping her way into a new life to the strains of “The Wedding March.”

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