The solution to Lisa’s problem glowed neon in the fading light. She pulled into the parking lot under the sign with blinking words, “Free Groom Half Price Ring Bearer w/ Every Wedding Gown”.
Inside, the boutique was softly lit. No crass racks of squashed satin dresses here. Elegant confections of lace, pearl, and silk each stood center spotlight in a setting of varying vistas.
One gown, a simple silk design, was advertised as the best for a beach wedding. The price for beach and horses thoughtfully included on the price tag. Another gown looked like the work of a deranged fairy godmother with some magpie in her ancestry, and was touted as ideal for a themed Cinderella wedding.
Lisa browsed until she caught the clerk’s attention.
“I’m so sorry you had to wait, Miss. I was just seeing to another happy customer. Now, what dress were you looking at?”
“I rather like the beach dress – “
“A favorite theme. Very chic this season.”
“Yes, but the train doesn’t quite suit me.”
“If you can describe what you want, I can point you in the direction of several lovely gowns. Or I can show you some of our recent arrivals.”
“Something figure hugging, but not trashy.” Lisa sketched an hourglass shape in the air with her hands. “I want to go for understated taste and old-world elegance. Maybe a few pearls or a touch of crystal. Nothing ostentatious though.”
“Would you prefer a pure white or an ivory?”
“Pure white. This is my first wedding, I want to do it properly.”
“Of course. Don’t we all?” The clerk had pulled out a pad of paper and took notes with a quick glide of her pen. “What kind of sleeve were you looking for?”
“Sleeveless, perfect for a summer wedding.”
The clerk nodded. “Something drapey, long, and sleeveless. You know, I think I have just the gown. It might be your size too. It’s an Elyia, and we were only able to get three of her gowns this year. A little pricey…”
There was a judicious pause.
“Money is not an issue,” Lisa assured her.
“Perfect.” The clerk beamed happily. “The gown is pure silk, a mermaid silhouette, you know. It hugs and then flares below the knee. Very artistic. No embellishments, but I know it will be perfect for you.”
And it was.
Lisa twirled in front of the three-way mirror. Cool silk swirled around her ankles. Curves she didn’t know she had popped into proper place and gave her the kind of figure you usually paid surgeons big money for.
“I’ll take it!”
She changed in the dressing room and handed the gown over to a hovering underling. The clerk hummed a happy tune as she made more notes. Lisa smiled. “Now, about the groom…“
“Right this way, please.” Still humming, the clerk led Lisa past fantasy wedding settings, prices discreetly listed, past rows of hothouse flowers set in stasis and perfect for everything from boutonnieres to bouquets, and into a back room.
The clerk flicked on a light.
Rows of grooms hung awkwardly with coat hooks down the back of their tuxedos. Some were so short their feet dangled several inches above the floor, others were so tall that they sat folded up. To one side, the plus-sized grooms circled slowly on a rack like a herd of tethered balloons.
“Ignore the tuxedos,” the clerk said, straightening the tie on a short groom propped on a display rack. His feet kicked a few inches above the ground as he snuffled in his sleep.
“Clothes are interchangeable. So are shoes.” The clerk turned. “Did you have something already in mind? Off the rack, maybe? Or do you want a custom groom?”
Lisa clicked her tongue in thought, recovering quickly. “I really don’t know. I’ve never been groom shopping before. What do you advise?”
“Why don’t you have a look around and check the tags while I get you some refreshments? You’ve already been in the store over an hour. Shopping makes one hungry.”
“Tea and biscuits?”
“Don’t be silly! For groom shopping we have chocolate dipped strawberries and champagne.”
“That sounds delightful.”
While the clerk bustled out in search of a light repast Lisa browsed the aisles of grooms. Most the men slept. A few mumbled to each other, one winked at her in a coquettish manner.
She checked the tag on one of the folded grooms as he snored with a cute snuffle.
Income: $56,750 annually
Lisa flipped the tag over to catch care details. Self-washing, cooked 70% of his meals, but required special weekend care in the form of regular poker nights out with the boys.
“Oh,” the clerk said, coming back with a little trolley. “You don’t want that one. Those models are best for second marriages and planned divorces. The seams tend to loosen up after a few years and they balloon. We have a strict No Return policy on grooms.”
“Right.” Lisa let the tag drop.
“What do you like?” the clerk asked.
“I’m leaning to the taller ones. Something to make me look not quite as tall.”
“Do you prefer athletic or thin, dear?” With a practiced eye the clerk started pulling grooms off the rack. She held up two specimens, one with the heavy muscled look common in football players and the other a reedy fellow with glasses slipping off his nose.
“Muscular, but not that bulky. I don’t want him to make me look fat.”
The clerk nodded. “I wouldn’t say anything, of course, but so many girls come in here and pick grooms that don’t suit their look at all. They forget a husband is an accessory you wear every day, and treat it like dress shopping. You need to take the long view. Your dress only has to look good once, but a groom needs to retain shape for months. Years in some extreme cases!
“Here, try this one.” The clerk held out a lithe man with good muscle tone, blond hair cut short, and a steady in-and-out type of snore.
Lisa checked the tag while the clerk unfolded the sleeping man. “Isn’t he a little long for me? The tag says six foot eight. I’m only five foot seven.”
“A little shorter than?”
She hesitated, scanning the tag. “I don’t know. Can you do alterations? Maybe take an inch or two off the legs?”
“Not with these ones. But we do have the custom fit grooms in the next room.” The clerk folded the unwanted groom up and placed him back on the rack. “All the grooms are free with the gown purchase. Custom is as cheap as off the rack today, so you might as well get what you like.”
“You’re right.” Lisa smiled. “Let’s go look at the custom designs.”
The clerk led her into a blue lit room filled with vats and situated her in a comfortable chair in front of a large screen with the trolley of food next to it.
Lisa sipped her champagne as the computer turned on the computer. Bubbles rippled through the vat nearest her making the lone leg turn in it’s nutrient broth.
“Now here,” the clerk said, “you can program in all the parameters. The basic hair and eye color are very easy to change later on if you want, but after the groom is altered we can’t change metabolism, personality, or height. So be very sure that you enter those correctly.”
The list wasn’t as endless as it first seemed. Lisa entered her preferences on the right of the screen and the computer displayed her potential groom on the left. She selected the advanced options and dithered over setting his income.
“If I give him a high income will he be gone too much do you think?”
The clerk shrugged. “It depends on what occupation you choose for him. That’s right down there, question twelve. You can set a very high income if you choose the right profession. And heirs are usually very indolent, always at home. But they also have the highest percentage of thefts in the nation. You don’t want someone to sneak in and steal your groom on the wedding night.”
Bitter memories twisted Lisa’s features. “No. I don’t.” She selected an income of $96,560 annually, more than enough when combined with her own salary, and a profession as a college professor. “Will I need to pay extra for his education?”
“Usually, but not with our current special. The wedding season is almost over and we honestly need to move these older models out. The ones I can’t sell will go to the government. At a discount, of course,” the clerk hastened to add lest she seem unpatriotic.
Lisa just nodded, not really listening. “The computer wants to know a percentage for fertility. How do I calculate that? Is it so many times out of ten we get pregnant or so many times out of ten we don’t?”
“The fertility percentage is per time. Women have a much lower fertility rate, usually not over twenty-five percent, so you want his correspondingly high. Eighty-five to ninety-five is the fashionable level at the moment. You could put it higher if you want more children or at zero if you aren’t interested in having them the old fashioned way. It won’t affect the groom’s performance at all.”
“Right.” She set the fertility percentage at ninety and moved on to a question about social skill sets. Did she want a pre-set personality or to mix and match her own?
The clerk refilled her glass. “Would you like a ring bearer today too? They’re half price!”
“Oh! I hadn’t even looked. Really, I always thought I’d have a little flower girl. Do you sell those?”
“Only the dresses. But we do have an arrangement with the local modeling and acting agency. If you buy bridesmaid and flower girl dresses here they’ll give you seventy-five percent off the cost of renting a bridal party.”
“I might look into that.”
“If you choose one of their pre-posed parties I already have the sizes on file so you won’t need to come in and actually meet with the bridal party before the wedding. We find some brides prefer that.”
“Hmmm. I do have some real friends. I’ll have to talk to them and see if they’re interested in coming to the wedding. Everyone’s so busy lately, it’s hard to get people to take the time off of work.”
“Bring pictures to the modeling agency and let them find look-alikes for the wedding. That way your girlfriends can be there without actually wasting any of their own time.”
Lisa nodded and hit the last button. “There. That’s my groom!”
The clerk looked over her selections. “Oh! Isn’t he handsome? An excellent choice. You have exquisite taste. He’ll look fabulous next to you. Now, you do know that the custom made grooms aren’t ready to go today. It will take three weeks for the order to get in. You weren’t planning on having the wedding this week, were you?”
“No. I was thinking a summer wedding in a few months.”
“Good. Good. Did you want to pick the groom up beforehand or the day of? Remember, you can’t return him once he leaves the store. If you think you might get cold feet it’s best to leave him in our vault until the day of the wedding. You can always call us up and tell us you’ve changed your mind. We’ll put him out on the rack for a twenty-five dollar restocking fee.”
“That sounds good. I’ll pick him up the day of.”
“Excellent. Would you like to look over our ring bearer selection?”
The ring bearers were in a smaller room combining both racks of small boys and several smaller vats. All the ring bearers were sleeping fitfully.
“We have one of the largest selection of ring bearers in the city,” the clerk said. “You have your choice of ages, from toddler through teenager. And we have the Grow Your Own option. It’s very popular for people who choose Living in Sin before marriage. You can take both the prospective groom and the infant ring bearer home on the same day with a voucher. When the ring bearer has reached the size you want you just bring in the voucher and we’ll fit him to a little suit.”
Peering curiously into the vat where a pair of feet led their own private existence until needed Lisa asked, “Is that a popular choice?”
“Very popular. People love to have their own screaming brat carrying their ring down the aisle. It makes for such a cute video and, of course, the wedding reception fight always needs a good screaming brat.”
She shook her head. “I don’t know. I never really wanted a son.”
“Than why not consider our rental options.” The clerk motioned to a rack of freckle faced boys labeled six-year olds. “We call this the nephew option, although you don’t need to buy an Aunt or Uncle with them. We lease them to you for a twenty-four hour period and with the proper application of sugar they can be very good.”
“Well. I just…”
“Or maybe the teenage nephew?” The clerk bustled Lisa over to another rack where gawky teens hung in ill-fitted suits. “These models have the full range of sarcastic comments, insults, and eye-rolling. Although a well applied fifty will keep them from making hurting remarks or hitting on your maid of honor.”
“Gosh, I just don’t know.”
“There’s no rush,” the clerk assured her. “Our sale doesn’t end until Friday. That gives you plenty of time to plan out the details and coordinate with the wedding planner. Just bring the receipt for the gown in when you come back during our sale period and you can have whatever you like.”
“Perfect.” Lisa collected her gown and voucher for her new groom before driving home feeling perfectly vindicated.
As she wrote out the wedding invitations she wondered how her foremothers had handled all these messy complications. What did you do if you woke up one morning and wanted to marry before they invented bridal shops with everything you needed?
Probably relied on dating. As if that ever worked!
She took extra care in addressing the invitation to Michael and Janie. Let her ex and her ex-best friend see just how hurt she was by his dumping her: Not at all!
Janie could have the off-the-rack boyfriend with his part-time job. She was getting herself a real man.