THE WEDDING PRESENT
(A Dark Fairy Tale)
by Kristine J. Trudeau
"And I want you to be my maid-of-honor."
Jennifer finished in a rush that left her breathless.
Savannah stared at her.
Jennifer's face grew hot under her best friend's scrutiny. To avoid Savannah's eyes, Jennifer looked at the wall and picked a piece of imaginary lint off her sleeve. Would Savannah never answer?
What a mess! How was she to know Steve had been Savannah's lover three years ago? She and Savannah were complete opposites in appearance as well as likes and dislikes. It never occurred to her that they could fall in love with the same man.
Savannah was on her way to becoming a top model. She had the look of a Mediterranean beauty and moved with the seductive carriage of a gypsy. She was tall and willowy with long, naturally-wavy, black hair, blue-green cat-eyes and a dark-flawless complexion. The day Jennifer teasingly asked Savannah, "Do all runaway Mediterranean princesses live on lettuce, yogurt and bottled water?" was the day she discovered Savannah had no sense of humor and could carry a grudge. Savannah didn't talk to her for a week.
Jennifer was a petite strawberry-blonde with hazel eyes in a porcelain face. She envied Savannah's 5'10" height in comparison to her own 5'3" that showed every potato chip she even thought about eating. Her weight was a constant battle, so she decided the best thing for her to choose as a career was to become a personal trainer. That was how she met Steve. Jennifer enjoyed life, looked for the good in people, and would never knowingly hurt anyone's feelings.
Jennifer had only known Savannah for two years, and because Savannah was a private person who never talked about her lovers, past or present, Jennifer had no way of knowing Savannah had never stopped loving Steve.
It was shock to all three of them when Jennifer brought Steve home to meet Savannah, who was her roommate at the time.
Jennifer looked up when she heard Savannah shift in her chair. "Of course, I'll be your maid-of-honor." Savannah then smiled sweetly. A peculiar glow flickered in the depths of her green eyes then receded. Jennifer wasn't sure if she'd really seen it. "And I have the perfect wedding present already picked out for the two of you."
The wedding came off with only one hitch, Jennifer and Steve forgot to arrange transport of the gifts to their new apartment. Savannah overheard the couple discussing their predicament as they prepared to leave for the airport.
"I'll take your presents to the apartment," Savannah said.
The look Steve shot Jennifer gave voice to her feelings--Should we?
"It will give me a chance to deliver your present," she continued. "It was too big to bring to the reception. When you get back, you can open it at your new place."
There was no good choice - give her the key or miss their flight.
"Don't worry about a thing," Savannah said as she placed their key in her purse. "Everything will be waiting for your return."
Upon their return from their honeymoon, Jennifer and Steve found the living room full of opened presents. A beautifully-wrapped, long rectangular box was sitting in the midst of them.
The newlyweds sat in the floor of the living room and stared at the intricately-carved antique mirror. It was the most unusual mirror Jennifer had ever seen. Vines and bugle-shaped flowers were carved into its frame. The top of the frame was a circle. More vines and flowers were enclosed in the circle and the face of a gargoyle peeked out of the vines in the center of it.
Jennifer looked up from the mirror. Steve's eyes had darkened to a cobalt-blue.
"You hate it, don't you?"
"No, I despise it, but I love you," he said and pulled her close to reassure her of that fact.
Jennifer wrapped her arms around Steve's neck and gave him a long kiss.
How I love him, she thought. I love his blue-black hair, his dreamy blue eyes that change color with his mood. I love his high cheekbones and I love the way his muscles are defined in everything he wears. But the thing I love the most about him is that he makes me feel like the most beautiful and completely cherished person on earth.
Jennifer pulled back, looked into his eyes and smiled seductively.
"How about the bedroom?" she asked.
"You or the mirror?"
"Both," she said, when she could stop laughing.
Jennifer's laugh always made Steve feel as if he were wading in a refreshing stream. The two things he loved the most about her were her humor and the way she made him feel when she looked at him. Steve wasn't tall, only 5'8", but Jen made him feel twice that. It was her unconditional love and open adoration that caused him to feel something he had never felt before-complete.
The first few days after Jennifer and Steve setup house were happy ones, but as the days progressed, Jennifer noticed, each day, she was more tired than the day before. Her monthly cycle started, so she knew she wasn't pregnant and by the time it arrived, other symptoms had appeared.
She was rapidly aging.
Jennifer feared telling Steve what was happening to her. She didn't know if their love could stand an onslaught to her health and beauty. She was able to hide some of the changes with makeup and hair color, but her clever tactics didn't work. Steve noticed the changes to her. To Jennifer's relief, he approached her first and insisted she consult with a doctor.
Her doctor ran a series of tests, but could find no cause for her deterioration. Experts were consulted and ruled out ataxia-telangiectasia, or Werner Syndrome-premature aging disease.
No medications helped and she was admitted to the hospital. Two weeks and what seemed like hundreds of tests later, Jennifer's condition stabilized for no apparent reason. She was sent home.
Steve had postponed a much needed business trip during Jennifer's hospitalization. When she returned home, Jennifer insisted he take the trip. Steve reminded his new bride to rest "Doctor's order," kissed her at the door, and suitcase in hand, walked down the steps to their car.
Jennifer watched Steve from the door and noticed that it took him several minutes before he started the car. She suspected he was having second thought about leaving. When he turned and looked back at her, her thoughts were confirmed.
"Go!" she mouthed at him, knowing he could not hear if she yelled.
She watched him drive away, then closed the door when he was out of sight.
Jennifer began to hate the mirror; it was a constant reminder of her illness. She could see her reflection as she lay in bed.
The second morning of Steve's absence, Jennifer threw a sheet over the mirror and went back to bed. The sheet was lying on the floor the next morning. She avoided looking in the mirror as she crawled out of bed, but her eyes were drawn to her reflection when she bent over to pick the sheet up off the floor. She let out a gasp of alarm. Was that her?
Despair engulfed her like a tidal wave. She couldn't run from it, she could only drown in it. Her hands shook uncontrollably, but she managed to re-hang the sheet and went back to bed.
Jennifer wasn't sure what awakened her this time, perhaps it was the burning in her joints. Judging from the light filtering through the curtains, she guessed it was late afternoon. The mirror didn't reflect in this light. She was glad because the sheet was, again, lying on the floor. The pain she suffered made the task of getting out of bed an ordeal. She shuffled over to the mirror and attempted to lift it off the wall, but couldn't.
"This is silly," she chastised herself. "It took Steve and me, to hang this thing!"
She sighed as much from frustration as exhaustion, and with great difficulty made her way back to bed. The moment she pulled the cover back over her shoulders, she remembered she hadn't eaten for two days. Now, she was too tired and weak to reach the kitchen. She dozed off thinking about pizza, but in her dreams she remembered she had failed to cover the mirror.
The sound of a key turning in the front door jolted Jennifer awake. She listened for any sound that would tell her she wasn't dreaming that Steve was really home. She tried to call out to him, "Steve?" but her voice was reduced to a whisper.
Footsteps in the hallway did not sound familiar. Each step was unhurried and purposeful and there was no attempt to keep her from hearing them.
Jennifer began to be afraid.
With each step she heard, more fear coiled around Jennifer like an anaconda, squeezing until her heart pounded so hard she could feel the pressure in her ears.
Slowly, the bedroom door swung open. Jennifer screamed, but she was too terrified to make a sound.
Savannah stepped through the doorway.
Jennifer's sigh of relief was short-lived.
"The mirror worked faster than I expected," Savannah said as she pitched the apartment key on the dresser. "It's a good thing you gave me your key on your wedding day or I would have missed the show."
Savannah sashayed across the floor and ran her fingers lovingly over the carved surface of the mirror's frame.
Jennifer's face blanched. "Mirror?" she whispered.
"I can't hear you," Savannah teased viciously.
She fondled the mirror like a lover.
"I found this beauty in an antique shop. I bet you're dying to know its history." Savannah laughed at her own joke and didn't wait for Jennifer's answer.
"A witch's lover had been stolen by another woman. This...," she pointed at the mirror with an upturned hand, "was her instrument of revenge. She placed a curse on the mirror and gave it to the happy couple as a wedding gift. Their mistake was in accepting the gift."
Savannah slithered over to the bed a brought her face close to Jennifer's, so close Jennifer could smell Savannah's cologne, a birthday gift from Jennifer, "Black Magic." Jennifer couldn't help thinking-I had no idea how it would suit her. Momentarily distracted by her own thoughts, Jennifer jerked back to reality when Savannah's next statement.
"The mirror sucked the life-force out of the bride."
Savannah stood, pulled Jennifer's blanket back with a flourish and ran her eyes triumphantly over the new bride's emaciated form.
Jennifer shivered more from the revulsion of being under Savannah's hateful scrutiny than from the afternoon chill of the room.
Savannah continued her terrifying tale, "The bridegroom became disgusted with her when her skin wrinkled."
Jennifer turned her face away as a tear trickled down her cheek and followed a wrinkled path to pool in her ear.
Savannah's laugh was cruel.
"He left her when her teeth and hair began to fall out. She died shortly after he left.
"The bride's family came to claim her body. They divided her things. When they came to the mirror, they noticed it no longer had a reflection, so they propped it up beside the trash intending to burn it the next day, but when they returned, the mirror was gone.
"On her deathbed, the witch gleefully confessed what she had done to the bride and groom. She laughed till she gasped her last breath. The mirror was discovered wrapped in a soiled wedding dress under her bed."
Savannah walked back to the mirror to admire her reflection.
"I rescued it from the backroom of an antique shop where it sat untouched for three generations. It wasn't for sale, but I can be very persuasive. I just threatened to make a scene.
"The dealer asked me why I wanted it. I told him, 'Revenge, pur and simple.'
"The fool told me, 'Revenge is never pure and carrying it out is hardly ever simple.'"
Savannah gloated. "But it was simple"
Jennifer couldn't believe what she was hearing.
Savannah's smile was warm but her eyes were cold with a peculiar glow in their depths. Where had she seen that look before? Then she remembered, her eyes widened in recognition-the day she asked Savannah to be her maid-of-honor.
"I can see what you're thinking. You walked right in to it."
Her smile faded and was replaced with a look of hatred so consuming, Jennifer wondered how Savannah had been able to hide it from her.
"You took and took," Savannah said through clenched teeth.
"You took my friendship.
"You took the man I love.
"You took my pride and made me part of your wedding, then you took my wedding gift."
She added a look of triumph to her hatred.
"Now, I'm taking some things.
"I've taken your beauty.
"I'm taking your life."
The next words were like a slap: "And when you're gone, I'll be there to soothe the grieving widower. I'm taking Steve."
She walked to the bedroom door and turned on the light.
"Can't get a reflection without light, now can we?
Savannah walked out the door.
Jennifer could hear her maniacal laugh until the front door slammed shut.
Jennifer's condition worsened. She alternated between wakeful hallucinations and unconsciousness. She wasn't sure if he was real until Steve pulled her into his arms and said her name over and over.
She was dying.
Her last thought and her last word were the same.
Guilt and love pierced the very core of Steve's being. Even though he had cut his trip short to come back to Jennifer, he berated himself for leaving her. His shoulders shook as he clutched her to his chest. His silent cry turned into a gut-wrenching wail.
When he was able to part with her, he lay her back on the pillows and caressed her age-ravaged face.
It didn't matter what she looked like, he loved her.
He kissed her cold wrinkled lips.
"I love you, Jen," he whispered, stepped back from her and moved to the door.
Suddenly, a light flashed behind him. Steve spun around to see a wide beam of light shoot out of the mirror and engulf Jennifer's body. With it, came a strange hissing noise, then the mirror fell off the wall and landed unbroken on the floor. The light disappeared as suddenly as it appeared. Steve approached the mirror cautiously. He stopped when he heard movement behind him.
"Welcome home, Darling."
It couldn't be, but it looked like an exact replica of the mirror she had given Jennifer and Steve. Savannah had finished her modeling assignment early and decided to end the day shopping. What luck, to find an object symbolizing the time of her greatest triumph. Here it was, just across town from where she had purchased its twin.
She bought the mirror and hung it as a trophy in her bedroom.
It was only a few days before she began to feel weak and had dark circles under her eyes. She decided to postpone her plans for dropping in on Steve. She wanted him to see her at her best and seeing her when she was coming down with the flu just wouldn't do.
She wondered why there had been no message on her answering machine about Jennifer's death, but decided Steve had forgotten to call her in his grief.
"Grief." The word felt good on her lips. She wet her lips with her tongue. "Mmmm, it tastes good," she said out loud, then giggled.
Savannah daydreamed about the act she would perform as the grief-stricken best-friend who was there to comfort the widower then she walked over to the mirror and smiled at her reflection; her smile froze then turned to a frown. Were those grey hairs?
The morning Savannah discovered her hairbrush full of long dark hair was the morning she became suspicious of what she had hanging in her bedroom. She called the antique dealer where she had purchased the mirror. He told her he had purchased it from a trash man. The mirror had been discarded near a dumpster.
"How long ago?" she asked.
"About two weeks before you bought it," the dealer answered.
Savannah was terrified.
She called the dealer where she had originally purchased the mirror.
"Mr. Dennison, did you tell me the whole story about the mirror?"
"Why do you ask?"
"I need to know!"
"Where is the mirror?"
Her silence was his answer.
"I see," he said. "The curse could be broken if the bridegroom continued to love the bride unto death. If the curse is broken by the newly-wed's, the curse reverts back to the previous owner and neither the curse, nor the mirror can be removed or broken."
"NO!" Savannah wailed.
"Revenge is never pure and carrying it out is hardly ever simple," he said.
The antique dealer could hear her screams as he hung up the phone.
*Copyright 1997, edited February 14, 2009 K.J. Trudeau