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Blind Reality
Heidi McLaughlin

Thirteen bulbs shine brightly, adding a certain glow that I can’t define. The unlucky number is supposed to create a romantic ambience or give the person looking back in the mirror the confidence they need to push through what’s coming next. They do neither for me.

This is not how I pictured my wedding day to be. The strapless gown I’m wearing is gorgeous and something I never saw myself in. The smooth satin gathers at my waist and is held there with a diamond-encrusted pin provided by none other than Neil Lane. My blonde hair is side swept and cascading down my shoulder, and my make-up is flawless. I look like the bride I’ve always envisioned I would be, but I would’ve never been able to achieve this vision, until now.

As I look around the small dressing room it becomes harder to breathe and I close my eyes, wanting to cry. I want to run. I want to strangle my mother and ask her what the hell she was thinking. But I’ve come this far, and it would be foolish to back out now. There was a time in my life when I used to believe in true love. Used to.

Imaginary lint is brushed off my shoulder and my curls are flipped forward one more time. I want to tell my mom to stop touching me, but there’s a look of pride in her eyes and I don’t want to ruin this moment for her.

“Smile, Joey.”

“I have nothing to smile about.”

My mom stands tall behind me, creating a picture perfect moment. If this were any other day, any other wedding, I’d want to capture us like this with maybe my hand on top of hers as she rests it on my shoulder. Even with my fake wedding looming, she seems happy and probably thankful that her daughter is finally getting married.

“You’ve been moping for a year. It’s time to put that behind you and take a chance on something new.”

“I’ll get a cat.”

She moves to my side, sitting on a sliver of the bench that I’m currently using. She doesn’t ask me to move, nor do I slide a little to the side to give her more room.

“Joey—”

“Don’t you get it, Mom? Every time I see a man, I’m going to wonder if he’s looking for the next me to come into his life. My new husband will be walking on eggshells, fighting a battle that he probably doesn’t deserve because I walked into my ex-future husband’s apartment to find him in a situation that should’ve never come about. Tell me, how is that fair to that man standing out there?”

“Your father and I think this will do you some good. You can take the time away to reflect, grow, and work on your communication skills.”

I sigh with defeat, accepting the fact that once my mom’s mind is set, there’s no changing it regardless of how much I try and convince her otherwise.

“I know, Mom,” I sigh, taking a deep breath to fight off the tears. I’m probably not in the place my parents expected me to be, especially after we spent so much time planning my wedding earlier. I can’t imagine what my parents went through when I called everything off.

My thoughts are interrupted by a soft knock on the door signaling that my new maid of honor is ready for me, except she won’t be standing by my side and holding my bouquet. That job will be left up to some model being paid to stand on stage and look pretty for the television audience. With one last look in the mirror, I say good-bye to any sanity I may have left. The next moments in my life are going to be shrouded in darkness.

A production assistant greets me with a smile, though I can’t seem to match her enthusiasm. She has on a headset and has a clipboard in her hand. She hands me the blindfold and tells me to put it on. I do and think about how the hairdresser just spent an hour on my hair for it to be messed up by a stupid piece of cloth. What will my new husband think?

Husband.

I can’t even begin to comprehend I’m about to get married to a complete stranger, sight unseen. I should’ve run when my mother burst through my bedroom door and told me she had submitted my profile for the show Married Blind and I’d been chosen. I’m twenty-six; this isn’t how my future is supposed to be. It should be filled with family and friends. I should be devoting my life to someone I’m in love with, not someone who is trying to win his share of one million dollars. I want to marry a man who rocks my world, who makes my palms sweat and can look at me with smoldering eyes, knowing that the moment he touches me I’m his.

I’ve read the rules in the contract I had to sign. We’ll be allowed an annulment at the end of the show if we haven’t consummated our relationship, which won’t be a problem. As husband and wife, we’ll compete for ‘household’ prizes against other couples who are also getting married today. The last couple standing at the end of three months and voted on by TV viewers will win the money.

How can you have a dream home with someone you don’t know?

I run my fingers over the black silk. It’s shiny, smooth. In all my fantasies where I’m blindfolded, I never thought it would be for something like this. I sigh and slip the fabric over my eyes, tying it tightly in the back. The production assistant takes my hand and pulls gently, making my feet move forward. Faintly, over the clack of my heels, I can hear the announcer talking. The audience laughs and while the laughter should ease my tension, it doesn’t.

With each step closer, my heart races faster. I get that I’m the bride that found her fiancé cheating with her best friend and that I’ve been moping around my parents’ house for the past year, but this isn’t right. A mother should never want her daughter to experience her wedding this way. It’d be one thing if I signed up for the show; I’d be prepared mentally. Right now, the only thing I’m prepared for is to lose my bladder from nerves.

“And here comes our bride.”

I fumble over my own feet when I hear the announcer say those words. My hand tightens around the assistant’s as she walks me on stage. The bright lights burn my skin, making me sweat.

Attractive.

I’m handed off to another arm, one that’s clad in a coat of some kind. In my mind, it’s my dad, and he’s in a tuxedo walking me toward the man of my dreams.

“You look lovely, sweetheart.”

My throat swells, and I try to fight off the tears. The last thing I want is for the groom to see me with mascara dripping down my face because my dad just spoke to me.

“Dad, what are you doing here?”

“I couldn’t let you get married without walking my baby girl down the aisle, or in this case on the stage.”

I shake my head. “Daddy, this is so stupid. I don’t think I can do this.”

He leans in and whispers, “You have a microphone pinned to your dress, and everyone can hear you. It’s only three months. Think of it as an adventure.”

All my life, my dad has supported every harebrained idea my mom has come up with. From the time I was going to be a figure skater to pageant queen, from soccer star to head cheerleader, my dad’s support has never wavered.

“Don’t leave my side, okay?”

“Never,” he says before placing a kiss on my cheek.

The Wedding March starts, and the crowd hushes. I’m curious to know if there are illuminated signs telling the audience when to laugh or to be quiet. Will they be prompted to say ooh and ahh when we say our vows? Are there hecklers out there? So many unknowns face me right now, but the biggest one on my mind, the one that I’m trying not to think about, is my groom good-looking? I know it’s vain, but damn it, if I have to spend three months with this guy I at least want some man candy. Someone who looks like Joshua Wilson would be nice.

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