Editor’s Note: this is the first chapter in a working novel. All material belongs to the author and may not be republished or copied without written consent. Should you want to publish this story, well please let us know by emailing editor(at)prettysouthern.com
My Christian name is Vivienne Grace Cunningham but for my whole life, I’ve always gone by Grace. Literally y’all, since Day One, I’ve never once gone by my first name. According to my daddy, I was laying there in my crib at the hospital’s nursery, and he had his video camera – you know, one of those monstrosities that you needed a VHS tape to record anything. Daddy was trying to capture my first moments of life on camera. He kept saying, “Vivienne, Vivienne, look over here Vivienne,” yet I wouldn’t acknowledge his presence. So he tries, “Vivienne Grace. Grace. Grace…my Angel Baby, look over here.” At that, I smiled at my daddy.
If you ask doctors, they say newborns don’t smile. My daddy took it as a sign. He goes back to my mama’s room and says, “We can’t call the baby Vivienne.” Mama protested because that was her grandmother’s name, and questioned my father’s intentions. Daddy declared, “Well she wants to be called Grace.” That was it. Even as an infant, I had such gumption that I picked my own name. Mama just smiled, and from then on out I was Grace. However, I know I’m in trouble whenever Mama hollers, “Vivienne Grace!” But I’m rarely on her rotten side. My middle sister Kate has got that covered.
To this day, Daddy still calls me his “Angel Baby.” I suppose it’s a fitting nickname because, as Mama says I, “have the childlike disposition of a cherub”. Waves of pecan-colored curls, belonging to my daddy, caress my heart-shaped face. Thank God I’ve got a pimple-free complexion, sprinkled with freckles from laying poolside beneath Atlanta’s sun, shimmering on me from head to toe. My golden skin gives way to bright blue eyes like my father’s. Above those sapphire peepers are thick lashes passed down from Daddy’s Cherokee ancestry, while my dainty nose and high cheeks belong to Mama’s French heritage.
For having such a big name like Vivienne Grace, I’m pretty darn short. Most folks fail to realize this because when I put on an extra-tall pair of high heels I look like a model despite being barely five-foot-flat. I get complimented a lot. Even from perfect strangers, I hear words like “adorable”, “cute,” and “pretty.” When people talk about my oldest sister Macy, that’s when adjectives such as “gorgeous, “stunnin’,” and “hot” come out. Lord help our middle sister, Kate, because she just gets called smart.
In case y’all can’t tell, this is a story about my family – the whole Cunningham crew. You’ll get to know us pretty well, because I’m not going to leave anything out. I could drag y’all through the lovely details of my childhood but it’s neither here nor there. I’m choosing to begin this story on the week that changed my life forever: when Macy married the son of Georgia’s governor. I was almost eighteen years old. It was a Thursday in early July and the start of Macy’s wedding weekend. On this particular morning, we were getting ready to depart from our big ole house in Atlanta. The temperature at sunrise was already eighty-degrees-and-rising. At least all I had to do that day was sit in an air-conditioned car for the five hour drive to St. Simons Island on the coast of Georgia.
It was so hot outside and I just wasn’t ready to get out of bed. My petite frame lazed on the fluffy white comforter on my queen-size mattress. The dawn cast a rosy glow on the pink walls of my childhood bedroom. Pictures of my friends, Mama, Daddy and my two sisters smiled at me from frames reflecting bright rays. Overhead a ceiling fan whirled blowing cool wind to combat the heat. The whole point of the summer break was to enjoy the luxury of sleeping in. Today — Mama wasn’t havin’ it.
“Vivienne Grace!” she called on the intercom. “Are you up? You better be ‘cause we gotta get on the road!”
“Pish posh,” I said to myself climbing out of bed. My feet with their pink-painted toenails padded across the white Berber carpet of my bedroom. I flung open my door to face the intercom unit in the hallway and punched the “Kitchen” button with my French-tipped fingers.
“I’m UP!” I hollered back.
“Good.” Mama declared. “Are your bags packed?”
“Even better, now go make sure your sisters are ready to roll too. Then get your cute butt downstairs ‘cause your eggs are already cold.”
“Yes Mama.” I sighed and started down the hall. I caught my reflection in the mirror hanging in between our bedrooms. My light brown curls were wild from bedhead. Across my chest sagged a bright red, oversized, University of Georgia t-shirt. On my bony hips rested black cotton shorts, wrinkled from tossing in my sleep. I padded down the hallway, passing dozens of family photos dotting the walls in gilded frames. I was still half in dreamland when I knocked on Kate’s door.
“Kaaaa-te,” I moaned. “You up?”
“Come in,” she called back. I opened the door to see my sibling seated on her bed. Our rooms were identical except hers had light blue walls and her view overlooked the large swimming pool in our backyard. A stack of blue-patterned Vera Bradley duffle bags waited to be taken downstairs. CNN was on the flat screen TV facing her bed. A talking head remarked about the record temperatures in Atlanta for July. Kate was watching the news, brushing her blonde hair cropped at her narrow shoulders. We looked very much like sisters with the same petite frame and deep blue eyes. Although, Kate had white blonde hair like our mama and Macy. Plus she was a lot paler because she was a recluse. Kate would hole up in her room for hours reading. While all that study was advantageous to a young lady heading for Yale Law, her time of the sun left her skin quite fair. Her white, bony arms cradled the brush as she wrapped a rubber band from her wrist around her hair. She was wearing a simple royal blue sundress matching our sapphire eyes. Kate’s dress wrapped in a halter ‘round her neck revealing her flat, bony chest. None of us Cunningham girls were blessed with much of a bosom. We had Mama to thank for that.
Kate stopped brushing her hair to take in the disheveled appearance of me — her baby sister.
“Grace, did you just roll out of bed?”
“Can you tell?”
Kate shrugged and looked back to CNN.
“Aw, heck…I look like a hot mess.”
“Screw it,” Kate said. “You can shower after the car ride. No one from that far south in Georgia knows you anyway.”
“Thank God for that. Did you hear Mama on the intercom?”
“Yeah, I’m ready. And unlike you, I already had my breakfast.”
“Pish posh! Why didn’t anyone wake me up until now?”
“We all know you like your sleep. Macy was up before sunrise to go running and when I heard her rummaging around, I just woke up too so I could start reading.”
“How many books are you bringing with you?”
“Only that one,” she pointed to a large volume of tort law lying open next to her. “But let’s face it. I’ll be lucky if I get any time to myself this weekend.”
“So the bride was up and at ‘em early?” I asked flopping down beside her on the bed. “I just want to go back to sleep.”
“You can nap in the car. I’ll go make sure Macy’s ready. You better get downstairs.” Kate nudged me in the thigh to scoot off her mattress. “I think there’s still some coffee left if you’re lucky.”
“Forget coffee. I only want sleep.”
“Now, now, sister, that’s no way for a lady to talk.” Kate mimicked in a high-pitched voice. “We can’t have Governor Brayden or any of Macy’s future in-laws hearing that kind of language.”
“Kate, I have to be on my best behavior this weekend, and it’s gonna be nuts. Is it too much for a girl to ask for a little shut eye?”
“Meh,” Kate grumbled. “I’m trying to train myself to only need five hours of sleep so I’m ready for Yale.”
“I still can’t believe you’re going to a Yankee school. Couldn’t you have stayed at UGA at least another year to wait on me?”
“Oh please. I had my fill of Athens for four years. Besides, you should get to experience the magical world of college on your own.”
I sighed and rolled off the bed. “Want me to help you take those bags down?”
“Do you mind?”
“Not at all,” I replied and pecked my older sister on the cheek.
As I padded across Kate’s room to the luggage, I looked out to the backyard. Our usually pristine swimming pool had tons of crap floating on the surface. Even from our third floor view I could make out large cicadas, beetles, and other insects which had dive bombed into the water, along with pine needles and leaves from the tall trees around the property.
“Ew…Kate, have you seen the pool?”
“No. Why? You know I never go out there.”
“It just looks disgusting. Like, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it that nasty before.”
“Guess they forgot to come clean it this week. And it is summer, so the bugs are awful.”
“Yeah, it just doesn’t seem like Mama or Daddy to not say something to the lawn guys.”
“Who knows? Mom’s been solely focused on this wedding. I wouldn’t say anything to her now. You wouldn’t want to incur the wrath of the Mother of Bridezilla.”
“Oh come on Kate! You know I hate it when you call Macy a Bridezilla. She’s really not that bad.”
“Not to you anyways,” Kate sighed.
I wasn’t about to go down that path with her. I grabbed one of her largest duffle bags and headed back into the hallway. Kate exited behind me to go make sure the bride-to-be was ready. She started down the hallway toward Macy’s bedroom calling, “Maaaa-cyyyy! Future Mrs. Brayden! Let’s go!”
“I’m COM-IN’! Jesus, Kate!” Macy screamed from her boudoir. She flung open her door to face Kate. She was wearing a white silk bathrobe, gaped open to reveal half of her left breast. Her blonde hair, highlighted in honey and gold shades, was tucked up in rollers. Her lean, muscular body was bronzed from the airbrushed tan she received the day before.
“What’s the rush?” Macy snipped, her green eyes blazing at Kate.
“Nothing, you still got time. Mom wanted to make sure we were all up-and-at-’em.”
“Well, I am. Can’t the bride have a moment to herself? It’s my wedding week.”
“Your wedding weekend, you mean?”
“No, it’s my week. Get it straight. Or my hand to God I will throw out all five hundred of those wedding programs where you’re listed as my Maid of Honor. And then, I’ll have new ones printed statin’ you’re out of the bridal party.”
“Christ, Macy. Give it a rest. Don’t get your panties in a wad.”
Macy’s emerald eyes widened with wrath towards Kate. “All I want is a few minutes to look my best in case a photographer is waitin’ outside. How about that?”
“Yes,” Kate groaned, rolling her eyes, “because the paparazzi are so concerned with your wedding to Campbell.”
“Well he is the son of the governor. Not like you ever had a boyfriend.”
I stopped before going downstairs. The last thing I wanted was for my sisters to be at each other. It would only make the five hours in the car an even longer trip. This weekend was going be a crazy enough in-and-of-itself with Mama stressed out over all the wedding details. I dropped Kate’s duffle with a loud thud to get Macy to notice me. She had such a short attention span I just needed to snap her out of Mad Macy Mode.
“Do I need to go roll my hair too?” I called down the hallway. “I haven’t even showered.”
Macy’s hard face softened at the sight of me: her baby sister. “Oh, Gracie. Sorry, good mornin’. No, no…you’re fine. It’s only me worryin’.” She shoved Kate aside to move down the hall to give me a big hug. “You always look so pretty, Gracie. I wish I could be seventeen again. There’s nothin’ better than to have youthful skin.”
“I told you to stay out of the tanning bed,” Kate scoffed. Macy dropped her arms from hugging me and started to move in towards Kate. Her mouth formed into an angry grimace then opened to open to hurl another insult when Mama called on the intercom.
“Girls, I can hear y’all! Everyone downstairs, now! Your daddy says we gotta beat the holiday traffic so let’s get a move on!”
I ran up behind Macy and flung my arms around my oldest sister’s waist. “Please, y’all don’t fight. I know everyone is stressed. I’m tired too, but can’t we just get along?”
Macy hugged me back. “We’re all good, Gracie” she simpered, patting my forearm with her French-manicured fingers, “at least for now. But Georgia Katherine Cunningham, I swear, you better act like my Maid of Honor for the next four days. I’ve got enough sorority sisters comin’ who are your size. I can stick one of them in your bridesmaid’s dress.”
“Go ahead.” Kate challenged. “I never looked good in that light yellow you chose. Who the hell picks ‘daffodils and daisies’ as their wedding colors?”
“Y’all!” I shouted with my arms still around Macy’s waist. “Kate, you stop. Macy, I’m not lettin’ you go until we get into your bedroom. Now march!”
“Who’s supposed to be the mature one here?” Kate quipped. “Whatever, it’s not my wedding. I didn’t ask to be your Maid of Honor. Mom made you ask me.”
“Mama didn’t make me do anything,” Macy spat as I her walked back into her room. “I thought it was a nice gesture to have you, and Grace, stand up there with me. I wanted y’all to be near Campbell as we made him part of our family. But if you don’t want to do it…”
“Macy!’ I cried. “Jesus! Please, just finish getting ready.” I unfurled her arms around Macy’s waist. My brown curls were even messier from wrangling with the bride-to-be. Macy turned to face me and ruffled my hair once more to show I was her favorite sister. Sometimes I think she acted this way only to piss Kate off.
“You’re too cute, Gracie. Maybe you should’ve been my Maid of Honor but Mama said you were too young for the bachelorette party.”
“Yeah, that woulda been pointless since I can’t even drink yet.”
“Maybe you can start this weekend,” she winked. “You are almost eighteen, and you’ll need training before you head to Athens. Kate, perhaps you should have one now. Maybe a cocktail would correct your bad attitude.” She stuck her tongue out at Kate before going inside her bedroom and slamming the door.
“Even at twenty-six she’s still a brat.” Kate remarked.
“And you should know better, Miss Yale Law.” I sighed. “Come on, Kate, you know she’s stressed. I would be too if I was marryin’ the son of Georgia’s governor.”
“What’s that saying of yours, Grace…pish posh?”
“Pish posh, indeed! Be made of honor this weekend. Ladies don’t lash out at each other the way you and Macy carry on. Perhaps some of those manners Grand Mere and Mama are always preaching about will help you in court.”
“God love you, Grace.” Kate said pecking me on the forehead. “Now you really better get downstairs before Mom hollers on that damn intercom again.”