Every day was a holiday, or so it seemed. You didn’t need decorated trees, fireworks, cakes and candles, or paper hats to celebrate special days, Marty thought. Marty loved her lazy Sunday mornings perched on a high stool in her galley kitchen, eating stacks of buckwheat pancakes dripping in amber syrup, lovingly cooked just the way she liked ’em, crispy brown on the outside and fluffy golden yellow on the inside. Her dad had promised that Sundays were their own special days together and no one would ever interfere. She loved her dad for that and for the myriad of special days he had devoted to her. She savored every one of them. She loved regular Friday-night barbecues on the geranium-lined terrace just as much as the sailing vacations on Martha’s Vineyard that only came each windswept August along with the humidity.
Of all her favorite days, her most favorite ones weren’t vacation holidays at all, but ordinary afternoons figure skating at the Frog Pond across from their Beacon Hill brownstone on late wintry afternoons, just as the sun was sinking. The magenta-and- plum sky, reflecting in the shimmering raspberry-blue ice, mixed together like oil pastels to create magical vistas. With the row of cupolas standing guard on the hill, just beyond the iron fence surrounding the Common, the Boston skyline was right out of a medieval fairy-tale picture book. She had become a princess, and her dad her knight in shining armor. With him protecting her heart she felt safe in a world that had slung more than a few arrows at her.
Until Jessica arrived. After Mom died, it had been just the two of them. That was nine years ago. She had been almost four years old, then. Dad always said no one could take Mom’s place and Marty knew deep down that she could believe him; he was trustworthy. No one could possibly ever take Mom’s place. Marty still had fuzzy memories of her broad cheerful smile, and floral scent, her sparkly eyes and the polonaises she loved playing on the baby grand. There were signs of her everywhere in the apartment. Dad kept their wedding photo on display on the Steinway in the great room and a bottle of her favorite gardenia scent on his dresser. But Jessica now seemed like a constant interloper. She just showed up one day and never left, sort of like Marmalade, the orangey-red striped tabby who arrived on their doorstep in a blizzard and adopted the modest-sized family on the spot. She had unabashedly come knocking at the door in need of a cozy home and constant scratching behind her ear, and Marty had been overly eager to pamper her. Now she owned the place. Jessica in a similar way had wedged herself in. Jessica had been sent over by her dad’s publisher. He was an experienced writer and she a young aspiring editor who wanted to throw herself into her work—and Marty’s world, brimming with rainbows.
* * *
Marty looked down at the carefully scripted aqua “J” intertwined with “S” for Sinclair on the back of the envelope that held the engraved wedding invitation. It sat royally now on the mahogany sideboard biding its time. Sinclair Roberts. Ever since she could remember, she envisioned that one day she would grow up and leave the nest first, not the other way around.
Marty Roberts. Although everyone mistook her for a boy, with her short cropped fiery red hair, and a uniform of cutoffs and perennial rocker T-shirts, she thought she would be the one to break up the pair eventually as she sped off to an all-girls’ college or maybe even—marriage to her own Prince Charming. Never in her wildest fantasies did she think her dad would be the one to break up the duo. But Jessica had other plans and dreams for herself, which selfishly included Dad. Marty gasped for air. Suddenly, she felt all her memories and her future slipping out from under her like quicksand. Her happiest days were behind her for certain.
“Honey, come in here.” It was Dad, chirping from the living room with all the brightness of a spring robin. “We need you!”
I wonder, Marty pondered skeptically. When Marty entered the large sunlit brick front room with the sheer muslin curtains, Dad and Jessie were hand-in-hand on their favorite spots on the couch. Marmalade was spread out across Dad’s lap, licking one paw, enjoying a mid-morning bath. Why was it Marmalade had no trouble staking her rightful claim to him, when she had so much difficulty? Marty smiled at the placid feline, which resembled a carefree dust rag in an indulgent pose. She wasn’t going to be displaced from her castle—by anyone. Marmalade purred contentedly.
“Marty, which of these party favors do you like best?” Jessica pointed to a glossy brochure, one of several opened before the blissful couple. “Your dad likes these miniature porcelain swans filled with pastel butter mints. But they seem so old-fashioned to me. I need your help. I like these Belgian-chocolate swans in colorful tinfoil.” Both looked hideous to Marty.
Marty searched for a diplomatic answer. She would prefer neither. She would prefer that Jessica go away and that there would be no wedding, but that wasn’t a choice the pair of entangled arms and hearts had given her. Marty could see why her dad liked Jessica. She wasn’t a stunning beauty. She was more the “girl next door.” Pretty and nice enough. Jessica continued to carry on a dialogue to fill the void.
“Are you OK with the wedding, Marty? Do you want us to wait until you graduate from eighth grade next summer? We can wait, you know. I realize it’s just been you and your dad for some time. If you need more time to get used to the idea, we can give you all the time you need.” Her voice had become steady and low, one might even say reassuring and understanding.
There she goes again, thought Marty. It’s true. As much as she resented her, Jessica was all right. She always said the right thing at just the right time. She knew why Dad had, OK, admit it, fallen in love with her and she knew why she was having so much trouble disliking her. Jessica was a kind person. She was smart and maybe even beautiful and she made it a point to spend as much time with her as she did with Dad. Marty remembered how she took her and two friends shopping and to lunch on Newbury Street to celebrate her twelfth birthday. When her dad was reluctant to buy her the expensive cell phone she wanted, Jessica went to bat and enumerated all the ways she was responsible.
“Marty does all her homework, is always where she says she is and has never given you any cause to worry about her. Of course she can handle a new cell phone. She needs it. She won’t lose it or allow it to get stolen. I have no doubt,” she had argued intelligently. Her dad appreciated logic and, as a best-selling author, recognized a plot when he heard one. Of course, the two had ganged up on him and had rehearsed it ahead of time. It was two against one. Now it was the other way around.
Marty pulled up a chair and decided to try to get used to the idea of her dad’s marriage to Jessica. Her world though seemed to be churning again, like the bottom of the ocean futilely trying to brace itself for a hurricane motoring up the coastline in full fury. She had enjoyed a few good years of stability, but now it seemed stormy days were eager to flood in again; the clouds were beginning to take shape overhead. Soon, Jessica and Dad would be on their honeymoon in Bermuda and she would be all alone, in search of a silver lining to all those clouds or, better yet, one last rainbow; at least Marmalade needed her. What would happen when Jessica became her stepmom? Would she suddenly sprout a wart at the tip of her nose, or turn out to be a twin to Cinderella’s wicked stepmother? That’s how the familiar story went.
* * *
One day tumbled into the next and soon the day that put her into a panic each time she thought about it had finally arrived. Marty was glad that this day had finally come. This was the climax to the story. This was the one part she was now ready for after so much contemplation. What she wasn’t certain about was its ending. In many well-loved fairy tales, Prince Charming rides in for the last few pages, but after all, I’m only twelve-and-a-half, thought Marty. “No, I’m afraid there isn’t going to be a fairy-tale ending for me,” sighed Marty with a heavy heart.
The picturesque whitewashed chapel with the pointy steeple came into view sooner than she had anticipated. Marty could hear the familiar organ march sailing out softly on a breeze as soft as butterfly wings. Outside the church, a wave of bridesmaids in frosted aqua blue, pink and lilac dresses, the color of beach glass, waited in attendance under a brilliant sky. But once inside, Marty felt the air still and turn stifling. The sea of navy and black suits, paisley ties and flowery dresses wearing oversized hats seemed to swallow up all the oxygen and she felt she was drowning.
She felt so uncomfortable and awkward in her cornflower-blue empire-waist gown, making her way down the aisle now, hoping someone would throw her a life jacket. Her thoughts floated away to earlier in the day when her grandmother had painstakingly tried to make a chignon out of her tuft of orange hair she had tried to grow out specifically for the wedding. But all her efforts seemed to be in vain as the wisps escaped the tightly pinned bun at the nape of her neck. Everything seemed to be falling apart. In front of her, now Jessica and Dad held hands. Marty hadn’t seen her Dad look this happy since— since she couldn’t remember when.
Marty tried to catch her breath. “I’ll just try to fade into the woodwork,” she whispered to herself, “or maybe melt into the pine floorboards and pretend to be invisible.” Her heart was shattering into a million pieces, by the reflective twinkle in Jessica’s eyes, lovingly gazing back at her father.
But just then, her dad and Jess dropped their hands and opened their circle, extending their arms out to her. “Martina,” her dad called to her in that rich, baritone, soothing voice she knew so well. Jessica then called out without hesitation, motioning to her, “Marty.” Marty didn’t know what to think. They both wanted her to join them at the foot of the altar.
“Marty, will you take us to be your new family?” her dad asked in earnest.
“Marty, will you accept me into your life as someone who loves you and cares about you?” questioned Jessica imploringly, with honest eyes, putting her arms tightly around her waist.
“Oh yes, yes!” Marty heard herself venture, but in only broken words in a cacophony of sound—because she was sobbing so loudly.
* * *
“You see, it wasn’t just your ordinary fairy-tale ending,” Marty suggested to the passenger sitting next to her, hanging on every word, racing toward pristine pink beaches and high-flying skies together. “It was so much better than that!”