Valcourt, Avonia, United Kingdom
The secret to the perfect life is to always have a plan. That and really great hair. The hair will cost you (in my case, a lot, due to the many products needed to tame my bright red curls), but the plan is free of charge and will definitely change your life. In my opinion, the old adage ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail’ is 100% true. And if there’s anything I refuse to be, it’s a failure.
That sounded harsh, didn’t it? Failure is such a bleak word. It sounds so…final and loser-ish. But in my case, I’ve had to outrun the possibility of turning into a total failure my entire life because it’s the very word that describes the woman who gave birth to me.
For the bulk of my formative years, I was keenly aware of the fact that everyone who knew me was watching and waiting to see how far the apple would land from the tree. My mother, Penny Dewitt, could best be described as someone who never finishes what she starts, whether it’s a pottery class, washing up the pasta pot after supper, or raising a child.
Penny was twenty-one when I was born, and she never seemed to feel shy about telling people she had no idea who my father was. Instead, she seemed to find it hilarious that I was the end result of a three-day folk festival in Edinburgh.
As a little girl, I didn’t know any better than to think the world of her. I was certain she was the most beautiful, most fun person on the planet. One of my earliest memories is of her grinning down at me with a gleam in her eye, saying, “I’m bored. Let’s do something incredible.”
We didn't have what you would call a conventional lifestyle, but rather drifted from place to place, overstaying our welcome at her friends’ houses before we’d leave and land on someone else’s doorstep. In my first five years of life, I lived in over twelve different countries as far as Bali, Australia, and even Brazil for a while. Somehow, Penny managed to scrape up money for flights. (I now suspect it was given to her by people who were happy to see us go. There's only so long even the most patient person will put up with a hippie and her daughter who rarely bathe, sleep on your couch, and eat your food but don't bother to help with the cooking or the dishes).
Sometimes I wonder how long we would have gone on living like nomads if my great-grandmother hadn’t passed away just before my sixth birthday. My grandparents paid for us to fly home, all the way from Rio to Valcourt, so their daughter could make an appearance, and I imagine so they could see their granddaughter for the second time. I remember not liking them at all. For some reason, they wouldn’t call me by my real name, Breeze, and instead called me Libby (which is the short form of my middle name, Liberty). I couldn't understand why they were so angry with my wonderfully perfect mom. We were there for weeks, and the tension was so thick, I ached to get out of their house.
Clearly so did Penny, because that’s exactly what she did. Except this time, she left without me. They must've convinced her that I would be better off with them. Either that, or she grew tired of me just like she grows tired of everything else. I suppose I should have felt lucky that she kept me around as long as she did. Instead, I was utterly paralyzed with grief to discover that my mum, my best friend, who I'd slept with every night since I was born, could just abandon me. I remember her smiling back at me as she got in a yellow cab. She gave me a little wave and said, "Have fun, Mini-Me!"
Have fun? How the hell was I supposed to have fun without her?
Those first few weeks, I was so sure my mum would show up and whisk me away from this strange life of regular bedtimes, eating peas, and going to school. I’d sit at the front room window, watching for a cab to pull up. (Not constantly — that would be ridiculous. Just each night after supper, when I missed her the most.) But when a month went by, and she hadn’t come back for me, I decided to give her a secret deadline. Ten more days, then I’d give up on her.
Ten days came and went. Then it was fifty, which turned into one hundred, which turned into a full year. Then, when I was seven, I promised myself to give up forever after five hundred days. The disappointment on day five hundred was so overwhelming, I was sure I’d never recover from the pain of it. I sobbed every bit as hard that night as I had the first night she left.
But the next morning, I resolved to grow up to be her complete opposite. For every irresponsible thing she’d ever done, I’d do double the responsible things. I’d never rely on others for money or a home but would make my own way. I’d accomplish big things in my life and settle down with the right man, not go from fling to fling.
When I was ten, my grandparents asked if I wanted to legally change my name to Liberty Dawn from Breeze Liberty. I said yes, without hesitation.
I see Penny every few years when she pops back into Avonia, usually looking for an infusion of cash from anyone willing and able to provide it. Each time, she's with a new boyfriend, and as she gets older, they seem to be getting younger. I'm pretty sure by the time she’s seventy, she’ll be dating a sperm sample. I can just imagine it now: “This is sample 15428Q, from a Norwegian pediatric surgeon. He’s a champion swimmer, and he just loves to ram his head against things…"
When she shows up, it serves as a reminder of how far I’ve come and how lucky I am that she let me go before I turned into someone like her. Instead, I’m a highly successful, highly organized person. Each year on New Year’s Day, I sketch out my next twelve months, including a breakdown of goals and projected timelines. Sunday mornings are spent developing my schedule for the week so each day when I wake, I know exactly what the day holds. Some may find that boring, but to me, there’s nothing dull about life going off without a hitch.
Take today, for example. I’m about to have the perfect wedding, and I could not be more thrilled. I have just gotten into the back of the limo with my cousin and best friend, Alice, who is my one and only bridesmaid. In an effort to avoid drama, I’ve elected to go with one attendant for myself and one for my husband-to-be, Richard (his useless brother, Tom). This eliminated potential conflicts surrounding dress styles, shower planning, and any cattiness caused by jostling for top position as the bride’s BFF. On the groom’s side, it avoids the ‘let’s get wasted’ pack mentality that crops up when a group of horny young men get together in a place where everyone’s looking their best.
My mum won’t be at the wedding, by the way. I didn't invite her because having her appear would create more drama than nine bridesmaids in a limo. Her presence would be an utter disaster, especially around Richard's very posh, ultra-conservative, and slightly disapproving family.
Anyway, Alice and I are finally on our way from the salon to the church where I will become Mrs. Libby Tomy. Oh, did that sound really old-fashioned? I hope not. I’m just a little excited. Taking Richard’s last name will make things so much easier when we have children. I briefly considered hyphenating our names but quickly realized it wasn’t a good idea. If you say Dewitt-Tomy out loud, you’ll hear the problem. Tomy is pronounced “to me,” which means my name would be Libby Do It To Me. Since I’d rather not have people snickering every time I introduce myself, I’m just going with Tomy.
Richard and I are perfect for each other — we’re both professionals with busy work lives. I'm a business analyst in mergers and acquisitions at the world’s largest luxury hotel chain, GlobalLux Inc., and Richard is a corporate tax lawyer at Avonia’s largest law firm, McDougall, Grammit, and Fitzpatrick. We've been together since university. After surviving the chaos of campus life, we then spent the next five years climbing our respective corporate ladders. We’re both go-getters who thrive on routine and a healthy lifestyle, although on Saturday mornings, we do have a bit of a lie-in while we catch up on the news via the weekend edition of the Financial Times. Don't tell anyone, but Richard loves to read the comics (which I find adorable).
While I’m sharing secrets, I have my own guilty pleasure, too. It’s a shame to have to keep this one, because it smacks of kowtowing to elitist literary snobs, but I absolutely love all things romance. Romantic movies, television shows, and books are what I secretly devour when no one is looking. I know it’s a total juxtaposition to be a very organized, logical, professional woman and to also turn to mush over a predictable-yet-heartwarming tale, but I just can’t seem to help myself. I’ve loved a good hero ever since Mr. Darcy admitted to Elizabeth Bennet how ardently he admired and loved her. Sigh…
But that’s fiction. This is the real world where romance is just a phase at the beginning of a relationship. Richard and I had our time like that, but after several years together, we’ve now settled into a comfortable routine we both find quite pleasing. Hmm, when I really think about it, I’m not sure we ever had a wildly passionate phase in which we had spectacular rows, only to make up all night. Not that that matters.
What really counts is building a relationship on the solid foundation of shared values and goals. We both want the same things — a four-bedroom house in Hanover (considered by most to be the best neighbourhood in Valcourt), a small but roomy yacht, and two to three children (depending on how it goes once we have the second child). In addition to yachting, each of us will develop two hobbies to be enjoyed individually and one together during our retirement, which will happen at age fifty-five based on our annual income, investment savings, and projected inflation rates.
So, I guess you could say we’ve already charted our course and the waters are calm. Yes, it’ll be smooth sailing for Mr. and Mrs. Richard and Libby Tomy.
Then why do I have that nagging feeling like something is wrong?
I stare out the window as the limo smoothly makes its way through traffic. We’re five minutes ahead of schedule, every detail has been taken care of, and it's a beautiful, sunny autumn day. There’s really no reason for me to feel worried at all.
I glance at Alice, who is on the phone with her husband, Jack. Alice’s father and my mother are siblings. After being dumped at my grandparents’, Alice and I were together so much, we might as well have been sisters, except to look at us, you’d never guess we’re even related. She’s a tall, willowy woman whose skin turns a lovely bronze in the summer, whereas I’m curvy, short, and can get a sunburn if I even think of going out without a hat. Alice also got lucky when it comes to hair. I inherited our gran’s wildly curly red hair, while Alice has beautiful, straight raven-black hair she got from her mother.
I’ve always envied Alice, and not just because of her supermodel looks — she’s also utterly confident and commands respect wherever she goes. She has a loving, normal family, including two parents who dote on her and a brother who drives her nuts but would do anything for her. Alice was a surgical nurse before she had children. Now she’s what I call a Pinterest Mum. You know the type — she could whip up a festive table centerpiece fit for the royal family out of some toothpicks, a handful of cotton balls, and some homemade beet dye, all the while breastfeeding a newborn and making a Béarnaise sauce. Please don’t hold that against her, though, because she’s also ridiculously nice.
But I don’t have to wish I were Alice anymore because now I’m one step closer to having a perfect life like hers.
Six years ago, she married Jack McTavish (her boss at the time), who, although a very competent oral surgeon, seems to have no clue how to look after their three-year-old son, Colby, and their six-month-old baby, Maisie. Every time Alice leaves the house, she can expect a barrage of texts and phone calls from her bewildered husband. But you can hardly blame him — she leaves a large void of perfection when she glides out the door.
Alice nods while she listens, then says, “The frilly part goes in the back." Pause. "I don't know why, maybe it's for extra padding." Pause. "I promise her nappy will fit under the tights.”
Knowing she’ll be a while, I sneak my mobile out of my white pearl-encrusted clutch and decide to answer a few work emails. Alice glances over at me, rolls her eyes, then notices what I'm doing and swats my arm, giving me a rather irritated look. She made me promise I wouldn't do any work today, and yes, I agreed to it, but I mean, seriously, she's busy on the phone and it just makes sense to turn this downtime into something productive.
She hangs up the phone and sighs. "Honestly, I love Jack dearly, but when it comes to the children, he's absolutely useless. And you…" she says, fixing a steely gaze in my direction, "…promised not to work today. It's bad enough you've turned your honeymoon into a business trip. Don't do the same with your wedding day."
She's referring to the fact that Richard and I will be spending three weeks at a resort my company is looking at taking over. But really, why not have your boss pay for your honeymoon? It's rather brilliant, if you ask me, because it allows us to have a holiday and get one month closer to the down payment on our dream house. And honestly, how much lounging around beside a pool can a person do? “If it doesn’t bother Richard, I don’t see why you’re so offended by it. Besides, I'm not going to work that much while we’re there.”
"Well, be glad you're marrying Richard and not me. I would've killed Jack if he suggested turning our honeymoon into a business trip." Alice glances at the window and gasps. “Is that a cloud? On the great Libby Dewitt’s wedding day?"
I crouch down a little so I can look out her window. "Oh, I told the weatherman I would allow the white, fluffy ones." I give her a wry smile, then notice the limo is no longer moving. Glancing around, I realize that the traffic has come to a standstill. "What the hell? Why aren’t we moving?"
"Ooh, slide the glass thingy down and ask Xavier what's going on." Alice looks suddenly gleeful, which I'm sure has nothing to do with the fact that our driver is stupidly handsome. She chatted him up while she was waiting for me to pay the salon bill. It turns out he used to be in the military and has recently moved to Avonia in hopes of getting a high-end security job. For now, he’s driving limos.
I find the privacy screen button and press it. "Excuse me, Xavier, do you know why the traffic is backed up?"
"They opened that Krispy Kreme Doughnuts this week." He shakes his head. "I have a bad feeling it's going to negatively affect both traffic and people's waistlines over the next several months."
Damn. Why didn’t I think of that? I vaguely remember hearing about it and realizing it would be right before the wedding, but I didn't anticipate the extra traffic. My gut tightens at the thought of being late. "How much of a delay do you think this will be?"
"According to the GPS, we’re looking at about a fourteen-minute wait."
"Crap. That's going to put us behind for the pre-wedding photo shoot. I should text the photographer."
"Better yet, let’s open the champagne!” Alice says.
"Oh, you won't want to do that," Xavier says over his shoulder. "If you start drinking now, you’re going to end up with a headache in about two and a half hours, so it's probably best to wait until dinner."
I’m just about to murmur to Alice that Xavier is a bit of a know-it-all, but the look of adoration she’s wearing says don’t bother. She asks him if he has an interest in health and fitness while I text Roland, the photographer, to let him know we’re delayed. As soon as I send it, my mind wanders back to feeling like I’ve forgotten something.
“Alice," I say suddenly. "Did you have a sense of foreboding the morning you married Jack?"
"Foreboding? That sounds ominous," Alice says jokingly.
My expression must tell her I’m not kidding because her face falls.
She looks at Xavier and says, “Sorry, Xavier, I think the bride needs a little girl talk.”
“Say no more,” Xavier replies. A second later the screen slides up.
Alice turns her body to face me. “I guess I felt nervous, like I needed to pee even though I knew I didn't really have to. Do you know what I mean?"
“I think so.”
"But I definitely didn't have a sense of doom or something. When did this start?"
“Just this morning.”
"Oh, hon, don't worry about that." Alice puts her hand on my forearm and gives it a slight squeeze. "It's just nerves. Totally normal."
I let out a long, slow breath, trying to steady my racing heartbeat. "And you and Jack, you're happy, right? Like, you know for sure he's it for you for the rest of your life?"
"Well, nobody can be sure every minute of every day. I mean, there are times when I wouldn't mind pushing him off his parents’ yacht and watching him disappear into the sea,” she says casually. "But that's usually when I’m short on sleep and haven’t had my Kombucha. The rest of the time, I'm totally sure."
I chew on my bottom lip for a second while I digest what she's just said, then I nod confidently. "I'm sure it's just nerves."
"Definitely. You and Richard are perfect for each other. Nothing's going to break you two up."
"Yes, you're right." I do a quick mental body scan, noting that I still feel rather tense.
"You know what? I'm pretty sure it's this traffic. We’re off schedule, which is bound to make you feel tense. You need to find a way to relax." With that, Alice grabs the bottle of champagne out of the cooler, opens the window, and holds it outside while she pops the cork off. It dings off the side of the van stopped next to us. Pulling it quickly back inside, Alice giggles as she does up the window.
“You’re such a badass,” I say as she hands me a flute. She pours me a drink that comes dangerously close to the brim, then does the same for herself. "A little Zen compliments of Dom Pérignon." Clinking her glass to mine, Alice says, "To happily ever after."
"Amen, sister." I tip the glass up, feeling the cool bubbles bounce across my tongue. Taking three big gulps, I smile, deciding to fully give in to Dom.
There really is nothing to worry about. Everything will be just fine as long as we can get to the bloody church on time…