Generation 3, Chapter 8
"What changes will be made to company policy to prevent this from happening again?"
"We're looking into that now," I said, for at least the fourth time. I shot my assistant a glare but she was absorbed with her tablet as usual. "As I stated at the beginning, SimAm is committed to providing all our passengers the best, and safest, possible flight experience. Flight 807 was delayed due to a passenger refusing to comply with the flight crew's instructions during take off. Company policy is, and has always been, written to insure everyone's safety. Thank you, no more questions."
The questions, mostly repeats from the last twenty minutes, fired at me as I stepped away from the podium. Aubrie looked away from her screen long enough to shoot me a thumbs up signal. "Well done Ms. Dust," she said, her eyes back on the device as we evaded a few persistent reporters.
I rolled my eyes, and started to protest the address but she wouldn't have heard me, or listened anyway. After a year on the ground, stuck behind that insipid podium for countless press conferences, I'd begun to hate my job at SimAm. Felix had managed to keep flying of course, he was a pilot after all, but the corporate office had offered to accept my resignation or reassign me to Media Relations following the epic reveal of our secret romance. When I'd accepted the reassignment, I told myself it was temporary - that I would be back on a crew in no time. But SimAm realized my Dust name and the occasional tabloid story was a media gold mine - one they intended to tap until it ran dry. "I hate my job," I muttered, just short of the airport doors.
"Ma'am?" Aubrie looked up again as I shuttered. She blushed and stammered out an apology, "sorry ma'am... I mean, I thought you said something...."
I shook my head, "is my car outside? I was supposed to be at the church twenty minutes ago." As if to punctuate my tardiness, a shrill ring blasted from my pocket. Claret probably, or Sapphy. Each, no doubt, wondering where their bride was. Aubrie nodded eagerly, pointing out the glass doors toward my car, which was parked illegally in a passenger drop off zone. "if there's another ticket from Ginger..." I trailed off as Aubrie's face visibly paled. "Nevermind, I'll see you in a few weeks Aubrie."
"Goodbye Ms. Dust! Enjoy your honeymoon!"
Safely on the other side of the door, I waved at her. "I'm twenty-three years old, I'm not a ma'am," I said, to no one in particular, before climbing into the driver's seat.
"Where have you been?!" Sapphy exclaimed, rushing toward me as I entered the dressing room at the church. On first glance, I suspected it was usually used by little old ladies doing handicrafts when not being occupied by brides.
"I had to do a press conference. A plane sat on deck for two hours while the crew tried to calm and control an irate passenger - other passengers took to social media to groan and then there were calls..." Behind my sister, Claret was nodding knowingly. She understood how Flight 807 had led to a crisis on my wedding day but Sapphy didn't. Still, she didn't press the matter, instead choosing to focus on getting me into my wedding dress as quickly as possible. Claret stepped in beside her and went to work on my hair while I remained quiet and let them turn me into their live-action, wedding day Barbie doll.
"I can't believe you're getting married today!" Sapphy gushed, twirling a strand of her own hair absently. "How excited are you?"
"So excited," I lied, offering a demure smile. Sapphy didn't notice, as few young girls would, but Claret's brow furrowed. She started to open her mouth, but I held up my hand to stall her. "Thank you both for doing this for me," I said, reaching out for their hands. "I never would have found my dress if you hadn't found it in Paris Claret!" In truth, while I loved the dress, I'd been so jealous of my old crew's layover in France, I spent two weeks trying to talk myself out of wearing it. I crafted many excellent lies, and some not so excellent. Cobalt had been the one to point out how perfectly the blue matched my eyes and the delicate purple broach that reminded me of Mom. This dress hadn't been a 'lucky find', as Claret claimed, she'd had it specially made for me.
"It was meant to find you," Claret said, a sly smile on her face.
I chuckled, allowing her to keep her fib, before turning toward Sapphy. "And you have spun such fanciful lies to keep the reporters away, it'll be a small miracle if all the invited guests find us," I said with a laugh. After finding the little church on the edge of town, Sapphy had spent the last six months bragging about her famous sister's big city wedding at school. And teenagers are the best gossips on the internet. After a small school paper article from my alma mater hit the web, it was retweeted by everyone who ever knew me and then some. Soon, every entertainment blog in the world was reporting on Mirage Kashmir's daughter's Berrywood wedding for the stars. As if he were part of my life!
A knock on the door broke the dark train of thought. "Is it safe to come in?" Cobalt called, cracking the door slightly but waiting for permission. Sapphy jogged over and threw herself into his arms as only a little sister can. Even though she'd grown into a tall pre-teen, she still giggled like the toddler I'd once babysat. Cobalt twirled hr around the room once before setting her down and turning his attention toward me. "You look beautiful ZuZu," he said, pulling me into a hug.
"The hair!" Sapphy cried, at the same time Claret groaned about makeup.
Cobalt jumped back, his eyes wide. "I'm sure it's fine," I exclaimed, trying to reassure them all. After a moment of calm, I looked at my wrist, expecting to find my watch, and laughed. "Is it time? Are they playing my song?"
"No, I... well," Cobalt hedged, glancing down at his feet as he tried to find the words.
"What is it? What's wrong?" Sapphy demanded, drawing his attention. "Is the photographer not here? Don't worry ZuZu," she said, reaching out for me.
Though the word photographer had caught his ear, I knew immediately that wasn't the real problem. The noise from outside, which I'd tuned out before, finally reached my ears.
The rapid click of a dozen different cameras.
The crunch of large vehicles driving up the gravel drive.
The shrill whine of his annoying, new wife.
"No, no, it's not possible!" One peak out the window confirmed my suspicions. Paparazzi lined the gravel drive, many pressing their way toward the church doors, trying to catch that one shot of their prey. "What the hell is he doing here?!" I demanded, rounding on Cobalt.
"I swear I didn't call him ZuZu!" One look at his face and I knew it wasn't his doing. Claret was a mix of confused and heartbroken and Sapphy was spitting mad - ready to throw him out with her tiny, eleven year old hands.
"Mirage Kashmir is not going to ruin another important moment," I said, narrowing my eyes. I was already thundering toward the door, my wedding party trailing helplessly behind me, before any of them could think to try to stop me.
As the doors to the hall were thrown open, everyone seated in the pews turned toward the crash in shock. Cell phones whipped out the moment they saw the bride, perhaps assuming they'd missed the queue that the wedding was beginning. Unseen, a pianist awkwardly began to play, desperately trying to keep pace and giving up as I came to a halt beside Mirage. "Go," I hissed, trying to tune out the annoying clicks of cell phone cameras. Somewhere behind me, I heard Felix calling for me to calm down while simultaneously muttering something about not seeing the bride before the wedding. "You are not welcome here," I said, keeping my voice low – though I'm sure everyone still heard.
"Zuli, calm down," Mirage said, slowly getting to his feet. Beside him, his wife had puffed out her surgically enhanced chest and glared at me.
"No," I said with a smirk. "It's my wedding day – I don't have to calm down. You, however, have to leave. Now. I don't want you here - I don't want you in my life. You don't belong in this family so just go!" Though I wasn't yelling, I'd given up the charade of civility and my words echoed around the small church. A few of my guests lowered their eyes, pretending not to be enthralled by the drama. Others openly stared. I knew at least one would be recording this exchange. It would be on every trashy entertainment blog by midnight. The paparazzi, who were attempting to peer through the windows on every side, would be cursing themselves for being outdone by an amateur with a cell phone. "You have ruined enough of my life! I'm done. So just go and never come back..."
"Zuli I really think..." Mirage started to interrupt, his eyes narrowed
"I don't care what you think!" I shouted. "Don't you see that? I don't want you here. I don't want you in my life. I don't want you to be the person my children call grandpa – even if you're the only grandfather they have alive. I don't want them to ever meet you or hear your name. You are not part of my life! You never have been, and you never will be." Seeing the tears pooling in my eyes, Claret extended a handkerchief with out words. "And yet, you're still here – screwing it up! You showed up at my mother's funeral, as if you belonged there. And you ruined the day I got engaged but just being on that damn plane and I lost a job that I loved because of you!"
"That one isn't on me," Mirage said quietly.
Inwardly, I knew he was right, his entourage of paparazzi may have broken the story but Felix and I had broken the rules with our romance. I wouldn't admit it though, not now. "You rejected us when we were born, you rejected us when we were grown – now I'm rejecting you Mirage. Stay away from me, stay away from my family – you are not welcome, you weren't invited."
"Actually, I was," he said, holding his head higher. His usually cocky attitude returned in a flash and I stumbled away from him. Cobalt and Sapphy looked as horrified as I did. Lotus and Claret had equal expressions of confusion mixed with intrigue as they scanned the room for the culprit. Felix's face fell as Mirage turned his gaze toward my groom. "Nevertheless, we'll go," he said, holding out his hand for his wife. She grudgingly got to her feet and opened her mouth to protest but a sharp glare from Mirage shut her up. "I'm not a bad guy Zuli – I'm not a great guy, but I'm not as terrible as you want me to be."
Without another word, the pair left the church to a flurry of clicks. I made a mental note to avoid the internet and supermarkets with tabloids for at least a week. Cobalt, hovering behind me, placed his hand on my shoulder. "He's gone now. It's over ZuZu," he whispered.
"Yeah, it's over," I muttered. Without turning to look at Felix, I raised my voice so that he, and everyone else, could hear me. "Why would you invite him?"
"I... I was trying to help..." Felix stammered. As I spun to face him, anger rising in my stomach, he stumbled backward slightly. "It's our wedding day Zuli – I thought you'd want your family here. I didn't... I didn't understand..."
"Then you should have asked!" I shouted. "You should have asked me, or Cobalt, or Lotus, or any of these people," I said, stabbing my finger at the forward pews. "These people are my family and they would know I would NEVER want him here." Flustered, he tried to respond but words failed him. "You can all go home – or to the reception for all I care. There won't be a wedding today," I said, glancing over my shoulder at the stunned guests. I watched as raised cell phones slowly dropped as their owners process my words. "Leave. All of you – just go. My brother was right, it's over," I said, turning back toward Cobalt as tears threatened to spill.
"Zuli, no!" Felix cried, rushing over. People were already getting up, awkwardly trying to leave without missing any more of the unfolding drama. "No, you all just wait! We're gonna talk and...."
I shook my head and swiped away another tear. "There's no reason for them to wait Felix."
"You're throwing this away? Because I invited your father to your wedding? I didn't know!" he insisted, grabbing me by the shoulders and spinning me toward him. "I didn't know Zuli – I mean I didn't realize..."
"You didn't know – I get that," I said calmly. "I get that... but you should have. It's not your fault – I should have told you. You don't really know much about me and we've been together for three years. Doesn't that say something about us?"
"We have our whole lives to learn about each other – to tell our stories Zuli," he persisted. Though I heard his words, and even agreed with them to some extent, I shook my head. "Zuli, please! I love you! This is not how this ends! It's not over."
"Felix," I said, reaching for his cheek and stroking it tenderly. "You're a good man. But this is done – I never should have said yes. I wouldn't have if..." I glanced back toward the church doors, where Mirage (and all my guests) had departed through. "I shouldn't have said yes. I knew then, I knew as you asked and I knew while a plane full of people watched. I knew I didn't want to marry you but I couldn't say no... not then. And then I couldn't stop the whirlwind of planning..."
Felix's desperation was replaced with anger as my words stung him. "You never wanted to marry me..." he nodded, maybe replaying the whole scene in his mind while searching for the clues. "Wow... class act Zuli. You could have just said no..."
I didn't try to stop him as he left the church as well, leaving me standing at the alter with Cobalt, Lotus, Sapphy and Claret. "That could have gone better," I muttered, before bursting into tears. Cobalt pulled me into a hug and held tight as I sobbed into his shoulder.