Juanita is the most beautiful woman I personally know. She looks ethereal. Especially today. We sit side by side, holding hands, in the second to last row of pews in the church. One day Colin might even be a minister here, but today it's a more personal occasion. It is his wedding day. His bride, Felicia, looks frumpy. I've only met her for the first time two days ago, and plenty prejudiced, I didn't like her. I especially didn't like the entitled gleam of triumph in her small dark imperious eyes. It makes me sad that he has to marry the ugliest of his girlfriends. Being seven months pregnant probably doesn't help her in the looks department. I suspect though that, even not pregnant, she's not exactly on the glamorous side with her flat overly wide nose. I wonder what it costs his soul to lose the beautiful Juanita.
Juanita and I started holding hands in the summer when she was Colin's lady. We were on a youth choir trip to Mexico. I had gone hoping to reestablish something with Colin. He wasn't the most attractive of the guys, but he sure was the most seductive, and I thought he had been interested in me. Once we were in our little hotel by the beach, though, it turned out that his chosen companion for the two weeks was Juanita. They didn't officially share a room. Etiquette required some subterfuge. In fact, she was supposed to be my roommate, but she was absent every night. His own official roommate had apparently found alternate accommodations. Juanita wasn't a member of our choir, but somehow she was there, and everybody was okay with it, including me. Once I saw them together, I wasn't even jealous. They clearly adored each other, and she had the kind of mythical quality that made you want to protect her instead of wanting to compete with her. At least she affected me that way. I adored her for her beauty, and also for being loved the way I imagined nobody would likely ever love me. I couldn't help but wish her the very best, though the whole situation felt strange in a mysterious way.
She seemed sad much of the time, and I started taking long walks with her by the ocean hoping to cheer her up. I admired her beautiful long red hair. When I questioned the authenticity of gorgeous long red wavy tresses on a Mexican, she explained to me with a little smirk that indeed, there were Mexicans with gorgeous red hair, but she wasn't Mexican, she was American, and, yes, her hair color was genuine. Soon she started telling me about her life. Her mother had committed suicide two years ago. These days, when not on this rare vacation, she was pretty much taking care of her younger brother and sister, besides having a job as a cosmetics counselor of an elegant department store. The thing she was most proud of was that at least once a week she baked large batches of cakes for her siblings, plum or apple or whatever fruit was in season. It was cheap, she told me. Just a basic yeast dough, not too sweet, with fruit piled on top and then sprinkled liberally with sugar. But it made them feel special when their school mates had to make do with Twinkies or Kind Bars.
"No wonder you always seem a little sad," I said. "That's a lot of responsibility for you."
She looked out over the rippling water, whitecaps sparkling with sunlight. The breeze lifted her hair and played with it, and when strands of hair floated into her face, she didn't move to brush them away. After several minutes, she turned and looked at me with her large gray eyes. "I'm sad because of Colin. I love him so much. After these two weeks here, I have to give him up."
"Huh? He loves you too. Everybody can see that. Why would you give him up?"
"Yes, he does love me. But he's going to marry someone else in September. So of course, once we're all back home, I can't be with him anymore. She's pregnant. It's definitely his."
"Oh, come on. This is the twenty-first century. If he loves you --"
"And he wants to be a minister. It's what he's wanted and prepared for all his life. And it means he can't have a scandalous illegitimate kid. So, after these last two weeks together, that's it for us."
And this isn't scandalous? I wanted to ask. Having a two-week last fling with the most beautiful woman in the world before he marries someone else? I wondered if anybody else on the trip knew. I, for one, felt like a fool. Naive. Later that night, she brushed my hair for a while before leaving for Colin's room.
I felt so sad for them, then and ever since. They so seemed to belong to one another. I kept thinking there had to be something someone could do to put things right, especially for her. But no miracle occurred. And here we sit in church. In my mind I keep hearing his voice as he used to call out to her. "Nita." Stretching both syllables with a caress in his voice.
"I aborted his baby two weeks ago," Juanita whispers into my ear. There are tears in her eyes. "I didn't tell him. He doesn't need to know. He already has enough on his mind. I'm sure she would have made trouble. I did it to save him. I felt so lonely, though."
In front of the altar Colin and Felicia are exchanging rings and the officiating minister is giving Colin permission to kiss the bride. Beside me Juanita takes quick stuttering breaths. I put my left arm around her shoulders, and she leans against me. I don't tell her my own secret. She doesn't need to know. How relieved I am, though, that he pulled out successfully the time he had sex with me on the youth choir ski trip up in the straw beds in the chalet last winter.