Dinner arrives—quail with blackberries for you, a steak drowned in useless sauce for me—and I don't think about my birthday. I don't think about the secret smile that skips over your lips, the smile you try to hide behind a glass of wine.

I definitely don't think about prison movies, about men in carefully personalized uniforms. Torn sleeves. Tattoos. Men doing push-ups to chase away the weeks and months. I definitely don't think about my father.

I don't think.

My hands move, machine-like, and I wonder why anyone would mix brandy and shallots in the first place. I don't think I want to consider where they would get the notion of pouring them over an otherwise lovely filet.

Far away, some other part of me is smiling and enjoying the wine. That girl steals blackberries from your plate and flips her hair when she catches you looking. That girl sheds a few feminine tears when, over the chocolate Frangelica custard, a small black box appears, quick as a magic trick, from your pocket.

The days melt together in a whirl of invitation templates, gift registries, and recipes as I struggle with blackened fish and sautéed mushrooms. My hands tremble as I touch the skillet and I don't think about flank steaks and camping trips, about floundering in the snow despite the wide swath cut by my father's larger form. After six months on the wagon, I'm desperate for a cigarette.

I don't think about trading candy bars for smokes or catcalls that ring off steel bars. You look up from the table and smile, thumb securing your place in another book on economics, and I don't think about how I cannot belong here in this house, how silver patterns and crystal are as alien to me as walks on Mars.

I don't think about the pile of unanswered letters hidden behind the glossy pages of bridal magazines, or about how my father will never meet you. That other part of me, the one busy pretending she is an adult, offers to refill your glass. The bottle of pinot grigio is slick and cool against my skin, and I don't think about why the condensation looks like tears.

The faces of your family's friends fill the church with a burning sense of accomplishment when your father, a stand-in, leads me toward you, smiling still in a tailored black tuxedo. The lights from the chandelier glint off jewels as cameras flash, and I won't even consider fainting. I won't think about my father's rough hands clutching fading photos or the embossed announcement I finally sent.

That other part of me steps in when your father wraps your hand around mine and I fight her off before I can sink away forever into a sea of denial and regret. The ceremony goes on around me, my lips shaping expected words and finally I think about how you're marrying me, not my past or my family, but me and my still-yellow fingers from sneaking cigarettes, my hopeless hair, my love of those cheap fantasy novels that look so small and unimportant on your bookshelves. And when you kiss me, it's both of us, the automaton and my secret self, and I think about my father's voice on the phone, coarse and sad when he wished me the best. I think about unity, about two halves connecting. I think about losing myself in the comfort of your arms.

About the author:

Alisha Karabinus is twenty-five, newly married, and enslaved by her two spoiled cats. She divides her time between working, writing, and ranting on her blog, Sudden Nothing, and her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Spoiled Ink and NFG.