The Man of My Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld

Part I

1

June 1991

JULIA ROBERTS IS getting married. It’s true: Her dress will be an eight-thousand-dollar custom-made two-piece gown from the Tyler Trafficante West Hollywood salon, and at the reception following the ceremony, she’ll be able to pull off the train and the long part of the skirt to dance. The bridesmaids’ dresses will be seafoam green, and their shoes (Manolo Blahnik, $425 a pair) will be dyed to match. The bridesmaids themselves will be Julia’s agents (she has two), her makeup artist, and a friend who’s also an actress, though no one has ever heard of her. The cake will be four-tiered, with violets and seafoam ribbons of icing.

“What I want to know is where’s our invitation?” Elizabeth says. “Did it get lost in the mail?” Elizabeth—Hannah’s aunt—is standing by the bed folding laundry while Hannah sits on the floor, reading aloud from the magazine. “And who’s her fiancé again?”

“Kiefer Sutherland,” Hannah says. “They met on the set of Flat-liners.”

“Is he cute?”

“He’s okay.” Actually, he is cute—he has blond stubble and, even better, one blue eye and one green eye—but Hannah is reluctant to reveal her taste; maybe it’s bad.

“Let’s see him,” Elizabeth says, and Hannah holds up the magazine. “Ehh,” Elizabeth says. “He’s adequate.” This makes Hannah think of Darrach. Hannah arrived in Pittsburgh a week ago, while Darrach—he is Elizabeth’s husband, Hannah’s uncle—was on the road. The evening Darrach got home, after Hannah set the table for dinner and prepared the salad, Darrach said, “You must stay with us forever, Hannah.” Also that night, Darrach yelled from the second-floor bathroom, “Elizabeth, this place is a bloody disaster. Hannah will think we’re barn animals.” He proceeded to get on his knees and start scrubbing. Yes, the tub was grimy, but Hannah couldn’t believe it. She has never seen her own father wipe a counter, change a sheet, or take out trash. And here was Darrach on the floor after he’d just returned from seventeen hours of driving. But the thing about Darrach is—he’s ugly. He’s really ugly. His teeth are brownish and angled in all directions, and he has wild eyebrows, long and wiry and as wayward as his teeth, and he has a tiny ponytail. He’s tall and lanky and his accent is nice—he’s from Ireland—but still. If Elizabeth considers Kiefer Sutherland only adequate, what does she think of her own husband?

“You know what let’s do?” Elizabeth says. She is holding up two socks, both white but clearly different lengths. She shrugs, seemingly to herself, then rolls the socks into a ball and tosses them toward the folded pile. “Let’s have a party for Julia. Wedding cake, cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off. We’ll toast to her happiness. Sparkling cider for all.”

Hannah watches Elizabeth.

“What?” Elizabeth says. “You don’t like the idea? I know Julia herself won’t show up.”

“Oh,” Hannah says. “Okay.”

When Elizabeth laughs, she opens her mouth so wide that the fillings in her molars are visible. “Hannah,” she says, “I’m not nuts. I realize a celebrity won’t come to my house just because I invited her.”

“I didn’t think that,” Hannah says. “I knew what you meant.” But this is not entirely true; Hannah cannot completely read her aunt. Elizabeth has always been a presence in Hannah’s life—Hannah has a memory of herself at age six, riding in the backseat of Elizabeth’s car as Elizabeth sang “You’re So Vain” quite loudly and enthusiastically along with the radio—but for the most part, Elizabeth has been a distant presence. Though Hannah’s father and Elizabeth are each other’s only siblings, their two families have not gotten together in years. Staying now in Elizabeth’s house, Hannah realizes how little she knows of her aunt. The primary information she has always associated with Elizabeth was acquired so long ago she cannot even remember learning it: that once, soon after Elizabeth became a nurse, a patient left her a great deal of money and Elizabeth squandered it. She spent it on an enormous party, though there was no occasion, not even her birthday. And she’s been struggling to make ends meet ever since. (Hannah has been surprised to find, however, that her aunt orders takeout, usually Chinese, on the nights Darrach is gone, which is at least half the time. They don’t exactly act like they’re struggling to make ends meet.) It didn’t help, financially speaking, that Elizabeth married a truck driver: the Irish hippie, as Hannah’s father calls him. When she was nine, Hannah asked her mother what hippie meant, and her mother said, “It’s someone fond of the counterculture.” When Hannah asked her sister—Allison is three years older—she said, “It means Darrach doesn’t take showers,” which Hannah has observed to be untrue.