she thought. It’s been a while since I did a dress with buttons. Yes, I’ll have buttons all the way down the back. Maybe a train, just to keep things interesting …
She was hoping the mental chatter would keep her mind off the fact that yet another wedding was on its way and it wasn’t her own. For a while, as she lay there in the dark, it worked. But when she finally drifted off to sleep, the last thing on her mind was her left hand, nails bitten down to the quick, and not a wedding ring in sight.
Cassandra heard a knock on the door of her
closet-sized office at the back of Cass’s Bridal Boutique. ‘Come in,’ she called, without looking up from the pattern book she was flipping through. She had holed herself in there since arriving at work that morning, determined to find a pattern that Sindiswa would be willing to try.
Her assistant, Amanda Li, stepped inside and cleared her throat. Cassandra raised her head. For a moment she was distracted by the bright yellow and purple dress Amanda had thrown over a pair of ripped – no, shredded – black jeans. Her short spiky black hair was held in place by copious amounts of gel and her slanted eyes were rimmed with purple liner. The first time Cassandra had met Amanda, she had wondered if she hadn’t been specific enough in the job advert. It soon turned out that, despite her quirky clothes, the petite young woman was a genius with fabric, and could sew faster than anyone Cassandra knew. short mother of the bride dresses
Amanda’s face was marred by a scowl. ‘It’s happened,’ she announced. ‘Bridezilla has officially become our worst customer.’
‘Eish …’ Cassandra cringed. ‘She doesn’t like the dress.’
Amanda let out one of her mirthless peals of laughter. ‘Not today! She wants to change the design. Again!’
Cassandra got to her feet. ‘What’s wrong this time?’
‘Oh, nothing,’ Amanda said, her voice rising. ‘It fits perfectly and looks spectacular. She just changed her mind!’
‘Deep breaths, Amanda,’ said Cassandra, leading her assistant out of the office and back into the sewing room that took up most of the shop’s space. The last thing she needed was for Amanda to lose her temper in front of a customer. ‘What’s our motto?’
‘Kill Bridezilla,’ Amanda whispered, through gritted teeth.
Cassandra sighed. ‘Our other motto.’
Amanda groaned, then relented. ‘Give the bride what she wants.’
‘Exactly.’ Cassandra eyed the young woman standing in front of the full-length mirror in a sweeping silk gown, and lowered her voice. ‘You go and call Patricia about her final fitting. I’ll handle Bridezi – Thembi.’
Amanda shrugged and vanished into the reception area. Cassandra took a deep breath as she approached the mirror.
Thembi Khumalo was her biggest customer to date. The daughter of a wealthy businessman, Thembi was a part-time model who insisted on calling herself an actress – although her stint on a local soapie had only lasted a few weeks. She was the quintessential ‘girl with everything’, including a pretty face and perfect hourglass figure. Amanda was right – even in its unfinished state the dress looked incredible, but Thembi was already removing it.
‘This isn’t going to work,’ she announced in a haughty voice.
Cassandra kept her voice calm. ‘What’s the matter?’
‘The dress is fine,’ Thembi told her, squeezing back into her skinny jeans. ‘I’ve just decided I want a different look. The thing with all the folds, you know, the dresses that look like robes.’
‘You want a Grecian-style dress?’ asked Cassandra, incredulous. ‘You mean ... a whole new gown?’
‘That’s what I said.’ Thembi tossed her head, sending the curls of her weave flying over her shoulder. ‘Gold. With clips on one shoulder and a major slit. And flowers … somewhere. Figure it out; you’re the designer.’ She grabbed her handbag and popped her sunglasses back on. ‘I’ll be back tomorrow to see what you’ve done. Later!’
And she was gone, the bell above the door serenading her exit. Cassandra stood still for a minute, digesting Thembi’s latest demand. Amanda returned and glanced over her shoulder with a theatrical shiver.
‘What does she want now? A dress made entirely of tanzanite and diamonds?’
‘She wants a whole new dress. In gold,’
Cassandra spat out. ‘Tell me, Amanda, how a spoiled wannabe actress can get a millionaire to marry her, while a nice girl like me is still single?’ She marched to the full-length mirror and studied her reflection. She had inherited her mother’s flawless skin, the colour of rich coffee, and full lips, but her big, wide-set eyes and button nose must have come from her absentee father.
She turned to the side and scrutinised her tall, slender figure, now clad in faded blue jeans and a fitted purple shirt. ‘I’m not Halle Berry, but I’m okay-looking,’ she declared. ‘So what am I doing wrong?’
‘Poor Cass.’ Amanda shook her head in mock sympathy and picked Thembi’s dress off the floor. ‘You need to sell yourself, babes. Take out an ad or something. Single black female, hopeless romantic, seeks doting, rich, gorgeous husband. Oh, and you can mention all the Cosmo quizzes you’ve done as proof that you’re definitely ready to settle down.’ She chuckled. ‘Maybe you can add specifications of the ring you want. Three carats, white gold. Offer expires in three months.’
Cassandra had stopped listening after
single black female. A personal advert … online, where millions of eligible men could see it. ‘That’s a great idea,’ she whispered. ‘Online dating!’
Amanda stared at her. ‘Um … I was joking.’
‘Why not?’ Cassandra spun around to face her. ‘People place personal ads all the time. Why can’t I?’
‘Are you listening to yourself?’
‘I’ll call myself Wannabe Mrs .’ Cassandra grinned, scripting her profile in her head. It would be short and sassy, brazen yet beguiling. ‘Clever, neh ?’
Amanda snorted. ‘Brilliant.’
‘I’ll include my email address, but not my phone number – I don’t want strange people calling me at all hours of the day – and if I like them I’ll set up a date.’ Cassandra’s excitement increased with each word. Why hadn’t she thought of it before? It was so simple! There had to be countless men out there looking for a wife but afraid to bring it up for fear of being politically incorrect. She was the answer to their problems.
‘Cassandra!’ Amanda sounded exasperated. ‘You can’t find a husband online. You should certainly not be giving men the idea that they can find wives there, either!’
‘Why not? People find everything else there. I need a husband, and someone out there needs a wife. It’s perfect!’ She clapped her hands together in glee, her heart racing at the thought of the handsome stranger who would walk into her life thanks to her online profile. They would talk and fall in love in cyberspace, then set up a candle-lit dinner; their eyes would meet across the table and they would know that this was it, the real thing, the forever factor …
‘Ugh!’ Amanda slammed her palm against her forehead. ‘Me and my big mouth. Now you have that dreamy, faraway look in your eyes – the same look you got when you tried to make your last boyfriend propose by acting like his mother … remember that?’
Cassandra glared at Amanda. That particular episode in her life was one she’d rather forget. In fact, all her relationships were best left in the past. There was Tebogo, her first real boyfriend, who dumped her after three months despite her constant hints about weddings and babies. Then there was Patrick, whose name was still carved into a heart on her headboard at home. He was followed by Lungile, whom she had tricked into accompanying her whenever she was asked to babysit relatives’ children. It had seemed, at the time, like the best way to determine his skills as a father. He only lasted five weeks.
‘Men are subconsciously attracted to women who are like their mothers,’ she snapped.
‘Everyone knows that.’
‘Ja .’ Amanda sniggered. ‘And it really worked for you, didn’t it? Oh, wait – you’re single again, so maybe not.’
The jibe stung. Cassandra raised her eyebrows. ‘Thanks for rubbing it in, Amanda. I can always count on you to make me feel better.’ She pushed past her and marched back into her office.
Amanda followed, unapologetic as always. ‘Really, Cassandra, you need to stop reading all those stupid books and magazine articles. You can’t make someone fall in love with you, and you can’t expect to find a decent man online.’
‘It happens all the time,’ said Cassandra,
lowering herself into her chair and turning to her computer. ‘People meet their soulmates online every day.’
‘Another idea you need to lose; soulmates,’ said Amanda, rolling her eyes.
Cassandra shook her head. ‘You have absolutely no imagination. How do you live?’
‘By inhaling oxygen. Cass, I’m serious. This is a stupid idea. You got it from one of my jokes – it has to be stupid.’
Cassandra gave her one of her best ‘serious boss’ faces. ‘Maybe we need to talk about employer-employee boundaries.’
‘I’m also your friend,’ Amanda reminded her. ‘And I’m trying to save you from heartbreak.’
Cassandra was no longer paying attention. She was trying to think of a classy synonym for ‘rich’. She tuned Amanda out for the next few minutes as she created profiles on Flirtbox, Matchmaker, Go Dating and Social City. Then she added her most flattering photo. By the time she looked up again, Amanda was gone.
Cassandra had just finished her take-away supper when Sindiswa arrived for their first design meeting.
Sindiswa turned around to find a place to put her handbag and banged her leg on the edge of the coffee table. ‘Sweetie, you need to get a bigger place,’ she groaned. ‘There’s a reason this is called a bachelor flat.’
Cassandra took the handbag and put it on the kitchen counter. ‘I’m a struggling businesswoman, Sindi, not a corporate executive like you. I can’t afford anything bigger yet. Hurry up – I want to show you my ideas.’
Sindiswa sank onto the sofa and kicked off her heels. ‘I’m warning you – no taffeta, no train and no sequins.’
‘Ao , Sindi, you haven’t even seen them yet!’ Cassandra protested, reaching for the sketchpad on the coffee table and plonking herself beside her cousin. ‘Here’s the first one. Look at the detail in the bodice. I was thinking …’
Cassandra stared at her. ‘Well, the second one …’
‘No.’ Sindiswa took the sketchpad and flipped through it, barely glancing at the four designs. ‘Cassandra, I said simple.’
‘These are simple! That skirt doesn’t have a