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Author: Winter Renshaw


You’d think Laurel just won Publisher’s Clearing House the way she’s acting.

Mascara-stained tears streak her porcelain cheeks and her hands cup my brother’s face, her giant diamond glistening in response to the romantic candlelight that fills the Briardale Country Club tonight.

My brother kisses his future bride-to-be and she throws her arms around his shoulders, rising on her toes and all but squeezing the life out of him.

I’m happy for them. I am.

But I’m also a little bit wistful because it’s the end of an era, a bittersweet farewell of sorts because things will never be the same after this.

They’ll marry next year, likely move somewhere else because they both work in the medical industry and can find jobs anywhere in the country without a problem. Laurel has made no bones about the fact that she wants kids, like, yesterday, so nature will likely take its course sometime shortly after the honeymoon. After that, I’ll be lucky to see my brother on days that aren’t Christmas or Easter or Thanksgiving.

But still. His eyes glint like flawless diamonds and I’ve never seen him smile so big.

He loves her.

She loves him.

It might be the end of an era, but it’s the beginning of an entire lifetime together and I couldn’t be happier for them.

I lift my champagne glass, ignoring the way my parents watch me from the corners of their eyes. This is officially the first time I’ve had an ounce of alcohol in front of my family.

Someone clinks their knife against a crystal wine glass and my father stands, proposing a toast and welcoming Laurel’s family into ours.

My brother, Graeme, sits to my right, and I watch as he takes his wife, Cara’s, hand in his and lifts it to his lips for a small kiss. The two of them flew in from Manhattan earlier this afternoon. Tomorrow they’ll fly back. He just opened an otolaryngology practice in Midtown, which has consumed their entire lives as of late. It’s also the reason Graeme opted not to do Doctors Without Borders this summer.

Eben and Laurel share another kiss and the other patrons dining in the club offer a congratulatory round of applause.

Laurel’s parents rise from their seats, hugging their daughter and shaking my brother’s hand.

“Let’s see that ring!” my mother says, joining them.

From across the table, I watch them fawn, ooh-ing and aah-ing as it glimmers in the light.

I wonder if Eben will ever tell her that I chose that ring for her. Not that it matters. It’s a classic princess-cut. Three carats. A scarf of diamonds around the side and down the band for a little something extra.

Laurel is very much a traditional kind of woman. She dresses like a British royal when she’s not running around in scrubs at the pediatric hospital where she met my brother. She wants two kids and a dog and a house in the suburbs, and she wants it yesterday. Not that she’s explicitly stated that. With some women, you can just see it in their eyes. They want that next thing. They want to level up. Like life’s a game. One achievement after the next.

College? Check.

Fiancé? Check.

Marriage? Next.

Babies? Soon.

“All right, let’s see it,” Cara says, joining the herd.

Cara and Laurel have only met a handful of times over the past couple of years, but I’ve yet to determine if the two of them like each other or if they’re just doing that thing where you’re trying to keep the peace and impress your in-laws and saving your true opinions for later, when you can vent to your friends about how you really feel.

The two of them couldn’t be more different.

Laurel grew up in privilege, the daughter of Apple and Microsoft executives. She attended Brown and summered in Europe all throughout her childhood. Cara is from Pennsylvania, the daughter of a factory worker and a schoolteacher. She put herself through college and met my brother when she was working as a drug rep, pitching a prescription nasal spray that had recently hit the pharmaceutical market. Cara’s a hustler. Laurel is not. But so far, they're cordial and that’s all anyone could ask for, really.

In a way, I’m kind of jealous of her.

At least she knows what she wants.

And she has options.

For me, dating was never allowed and not going to med school was never an option. It was an implied requirement, and given my chemistry and biology GPA, it’s like I was bred to do this. Minus the passion and actually wanting to do it.

My mother returns to my other side, her gaze immediately falling to the near-empty champagne flute in my hands.

“Sweetheart, you might want to pace yourself,” she says. “We don’t want you making yourself sick.”

I hide my smirk in another sip. She must truly believe this is my first time.

“You worry too much,” I say. “I’ll be fine.”

She hesitates, lingering as she watches me take another drink.

Eben meets my gaze from across the table and gives me a wink when he sees the concern baking into our mother’s expression.

He knows.

In fact, while I’m close with my brothers, I’m closest with him. I’ve always told him everything. And he’s always kept my secrets like the good, loyal brother he is.

Laurel links her arm in his and steals his attention as his future father-in-law speaks to them. Beside me, Graeme and Cara are still holding hands, but now her forehead rests against his shoulder. They’re as inseparable as they’ve always been. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them go longer than a minute without touching in some capacity.

My mother returns to my father’s side and he slips his hand around the small of her Versace-clad waist.

Everyone has someone but me.

Everyone has a life—or at least a future—but me.

I’m not going to sit here and feel sorry for myself. I don’t believe in pity parties. But seeing everyone so happy while I’m stuck treading water rustles something deep inside of me, unsettling the muck and mire I’ve been ignoring my whole life.

In an instant, I find it difficult to breathe. It doesn’t matter how deep of a breath I take, it’s not enough. The room grows hotter by the second and warmth intensifies beneath the surface of my skin.

Placing my flute in front of my plate, I gather my clutch and excuse myself to find a restroom. I need a breather. I need a second to myself.

As I pass between tables and patrons, I conclude that everyone here is stuffy and conservative and boring. Everything is blush and beige and silver and everyone is humble bragging and one-upping each other under the guise of having an actual conversation.

On my way to the ladies’ room, I pass an open door by the kitchen and catch a glimpse of a few of the tuxedo-clad staff members horsing around.

They laugh, leaning against a counter casually. While I only see them for a handful of seconds, I pick up on an easiness about them, a kind I’ve never experienced.

I want that.

I want to know what it’s like to be unburdened by my last name, by societal and familial expectations, even if only for a moment.

Skipping the ladies’ room, I make a beeline for the front door and stand outside the entrance until my lungs fill with the tepid summer evening air.

Taking a seat on a nearby marble bench surrounded by red peony bushes, I watch as Bentleys and Aston-Martins and Rolls-Royces pull up to the valet stand, and couples dressed to the nines step out and head inside to make their dinner reservations.

I'm sure there are some who only dream of a life like this.

But I’m not one of them.

I cross my legs and adjust the hem of my Oscar de la Renta tea-length dress. The bodice is covered in shimmery gold sequins and the skirt consists of layers of peach-colored tulle. I don’t care what my mother says, I absolutely upstaged Laurel in her navy-blue Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress.

Burying my head in my hands, I laugh at the absurdity of what my life has become. This fall, I’m set to start med school back at Rothschild, and the mere thought of it makes me want to both vomit and cry.

I’ve never dreaded anything so much in my life.

“Hey, Bird.”

I follow the voice and turn my attention to the right, where Eben stands with his hands in the pockets of his slacks.

“You okay?” he asks.

“Of course,” I lie. I’m not going to ruin his night with my silly little First World Problems.

“You sure? Because you seem out of it.” He takes a seat beside me, and I scoot over to make more room. “What’s on your mind?”

I shrug. He’s not going to let me out of this that easily, so I might as well play along. “Just thinking about the future, I guess.” Before he can say anything, I add, “Congratulations, by the way.”

“Thanks.” His sandy blond hair ruffles in the wind. “All of this have you thinking about what comes next for you?”

“A little.” I exhale. “Just seeing everyone so happy tonight made me realize ...”

I stop. Thinking these thoughts is one thing. Saying them out loud isn’t quite as simple.

“What?” he asks. “Made you realize what, Bird?”

I hiccup, blaming the champagne. “I feel like everyone has something to look forward to except for me.”

“That’s ridiculous. You have tons to look forward to.”


“For one, you start med school in a few months. That’ll be fun.”

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