So I have a scene in here that I can’t get a grip on. I firmly believe that every scene needs a protagonist and an antagonist. Without that tension, you get a lot of information transfer with no story. But I have a scene where the protagonist/antagonist tension is, uh, iffy. The premise is that Liz gets stuck in her hometown just at the moment that her old high school boyfriend is about to get married to the most beautiful woman in Burney, Ohio, and since all of his friends dislike the bride, they’re hoping Liz will do something that will stop the wedding. Liz is not interested and just wants to get out of town. Her cousin and best friend, Molly, is at the bride’s house for a bridesmaid’s dress fitting, and Liz goes to pick her up. She meets the bride, Lavender, at the door and has a very short conversation with her in which she tells Lavender that she has no interest in breaking up her wedding. Lavender is polite about it and takes Liz to the dining room. Which is where the story falls apart. Long scene ahead:
We went into an oval-shaped dining room with big windows that looked out onto the drive where the Porter’s truck was still sitting front and center. Patsy knew how to park to annoy. There were three women and a little girl at the end of the long table. One was Patsy, looking flushed and angry. The second looked like she was still a teenager, twenty tops, her thick dark hair falling in her hot dark eyes, the raw kind of beauty that comes with too much youth and too much libido, with a strong little chin that looked like it did a lot of leading. She had to be the disliked younger sister Skye. The other woman looked to be in her late twenties, baby-faced, pretty, sad, and a little vague looking over the drink she was clutching for dear life, so I pegged her for Margot, the pregnant schoolgirl/widow. The thin little dark-haired ten-year-old leaning on her leg and glaring at me with the famous Blue violet eyes pretty much cinched that guess since she had to be Navy’s daughter, Peri, except that she was alive where her mother was sad, sharp where her mother looked fuzzy, alert where her mother seemed not to know exactly where she was.
The kid scowled at me. “Who are you?”
They all turned to look at me, and I remembered that everybody had probably already heard about the plan to bring me in as a wedding destroyer.
“I’m Liz, and I’m not staying,” I said to the room in general. “Leaving tomorrow. Just in town to drop off a bear, then I’m out of here. Will not be at the wedding. Best wishes to all. Where’s Molly?”
“A bear?” Peri said. “You brought a bear?”
“Oh, no, you should stay,” Skye said, her smile curling like a cat’s. “I bet Cash would love to see you again.” She lifted her glass and toasted me, and I realized she was high. Not reeling, but definitely loose.
“What bear?” Peri said again.
I started to answer her but then Lavender said from behind me, “Have a seat. Molly’s in the library getting her dress fitted.”
I took a step forward and hit something soft. I heard a tiny yipe and looked down and saw a kind of blonde floor mop, shaking next to my foot as it slunk under the table. “What’s that?”
Peri went down on the floor on her knees. “That’s Veronica,” she said, giving me a look that said, You’re an idiot. “She’s a dachshund.” She made kissing noises, and I crouched down to look under the table. In the shadows, I saw a long narrow nose separating two tragic close-set dark eyes flanked by long fur-stole ears.
“They make blonde dachshunds?” I said.
Veronica shook harder.
“What’s wrong with her?”
“She’s just nervous.” Peri made more kissing noises, and I looked at Veronica again.
Okay, here’s a secret: I like dogs. I can’t have one because I’m always on the road, but I love them—all sizes, all shapes, all breeds—and of all the dogs I’d ever seen, this one was the most miserable. So I bent down and pulled her out from under the table and picked her up, and the poor thing almost had a coronary right there in my arms. “Shhh,” I said, patting her, and her eyes peeled back until they were like little black golf balls. I switched from patting to stroking, trying to soothe her. She had a tight little dog body under all the platinum fur, the softest dog I’d ever touched and evidently the most neurotic, too. I wondered if that was from inbreeding or the tension in the room, but I didn’t much care. I just wanted out of there, and I was pretty sure Veronica felt the same way. Kinship.
The fitter came in, Sharon Ways, a harried little woman I remember from the sewing machine shop in town because she’d given me so much advice when I was a teenager trying to learn to sew. She had four hangers in one hand, holding them up so the purple skirts of the dresses on them weren’t touching the floor. One of the dresses was a little girl’s party dress with a big lavender bubble skirt, but the other three were long and looked to be empire, probably chosen when Margot was pregnant, and they weren’t awful except for the clusters of lavender flowers that were sewn over the bodice. Behind her was Faye Blue, Fay Banky that was, looking like her daughter would if Lavender spend the next twenty years drinking too much and laughing too little, an assumption helped along by the fact that she had a drink in each hand and a folder under her arm. And behind her came Molly, thank you, God, so we could go.
“Was the dress as awful as I thought?” Skye said to Molly.
Faye turned on her. “You just shut up. It’s because of me you’re the goddamned maid of honor.”
“Picture me thrilled,” Skye said.
“It was fine,” Molly said, and the way she said it made me pretty sure it was as awful as Skye had thought.
Margot ignored them all and drained her glass. Faye put a fresh drink in front of her, and she grabbed onto it like salvation.
Peri watched her mother slam back a third of that glass with flat eyes.
Don’t drink in front of your kid, I thought, and definitely don’t drink before you drive her home.
Margot looked up and saw me watching her and flushed, and then she glared at me, so obviously I’d now alienated somebody else in Burney, but once your drunken mother has driven you into a tree, it’s really hard to look at any woman drinking in front of her kid without scowling.
Lavender spoke up from behind me, startling me because I’d forgotten she was back there. “Take Peri next, Sharon.”
“No,” Faye said, “she’s going do Patsy next. Patsy has an early day at the garage tomorrow, so she should go next.”
I don’t think it was my imagination that she stressed “garage” with a sneer in her voice that didn’t bode well for the marriage. Cash wasn’t always faithful to the women in his life, but he’d go to the wall for his family every time. Lavender had a lot to learn about the guy she was marrying if she was going to let her mother treat the Porters like dirt.
Then Lavender said, “That’s enough, mother,” in a voice that could have cut glass, and Faye shut up. “Do you mind waiting, Patsy?” Lavender said, politely, and Patsy shook her head, refusing to meet Lavender’s eyes, her strong little chin set hard.
I was starting to think I might be Team Lavender after all.
At the end of the table, Margot drank again, and I watched Peri watch her, her little body still and tense, and I thought, Put that glass down, you’re driving that kid home.
Veronica whined in my arms and I patted faster, annoyed with everybody in the room.
Sharon the fitter said, “Peri?” and Margot stood up, taking her glass with her, and I thought seriously about grabbing it as she went past.
But then Lavender reached out and pulled the glass from her hand, patting her on the shoulder at the same time. “I’ll get you a Coke,” she said quietly, and Margot looked at the drink with longing and then followed Peri out of the room.
“Was that really necessary?” Faye said to Lavender when they were gone. “Margot isn’t a child.”
“Margot’s fine,” Lavender said. “Are those the seating charts?”
Faye looked at the folder under her arm as if she was surprised to see it there. “Oh. Yes. But don’t you worry, I fixed them.”
Lavender held out her hand, and her mother’s jaw tightened but she handed them over. Lavender sat down and opened the folder.
“We should get out of here,” I said to Molly, and she nodded and started to say good-bye to her hostess, good manners 24/7, but Faye was leaning over Lavender, haggard and insistent.
“Now listen,” Faye said. “I’ve been thinking, and we gotta have those little bags of rice. The bridesmaids can make them and tie them with little lavender ribbons.”
“We’re not going to have homemade bags of rice,” Lavender said, frowning at a seating chart in the folder. “We’re not going to have rice at all. It’s bad for the birds.”
“Oh, like you care about birds,” Faye said, listing a little.
“I care about the bad PR a bunch of birds dying at my wedding would cause. Cash is going to be a senator. The environmentalists would be all over him. We’re going to have rose petals.” She frowned down at the charts. “This isn’t right.”
“People can’t throw rose petals,” Faye said.
“We can leave now, right?” I said to Molly.
“Yep,” Molly said and picked up her purse.
“If you’d just listen to me,” Faye whined to Lavender. “Your mother knows best. Don’t you think?” she said, swinging around to look at Molly and me. “Shouldn’t she take her mother’s advice about something so important?”
Molly said, “We really have to go now, thank you for having us,” and I said. “No.”
“What?” Faye said, blinking at me.
Molly sighed beside me, but I’d been a victim of maternal micromanaging too damn often not to fight back.
“You had a big wedding, right? Well, that was your turn. It’s over. This is Lavender’s. If she doesn’t want bags of rice, she doesn’t want bags of rice.”
Faye’s eyes narrowed. “I am the one with experience.”
“Right. And now it’s Lavender’s turn to get some experience.”
Faye drew herself up. “Who do you think you are?”
“I think I’m one of the people you asked about Lavender taking your advice. I say no.” I looked at Molly. “How are you voting?”
“No,” Molly said.
“Well, I never.” Faye straightened with difficulty. “I’m just trying to be a good mother.”
“You’re trying to hijack my wedding,” Lavender said flatly. “You got your answer. It’s my wedding. Now go drink yourself unconscious.”
Faye looked at her with such absolute loathing that I was startled, but Lavender was oblivious, looking back at the seating charts now. “You’ve put Aunt Violet and Aunt M.L. at the same table.”
“So?” Faye said.
“They hate each other,” Lavender said. “They should be across the room from each other. These charts are going to have to be done over again.”
“Well, it’s your wedding,” Faye said, sounding sloppy and snotty at the same time, and then she toddled out, probably convinced that had been a snappy comeback.
Lavender sighed and picked up her pen. I put Veronica down—the ungrateful little beast immediately streaked under the table as if I’d been torturing her—said, “Best of luck on your marriage” to Lavender, and beat feet outside while Molly was still saying a polite good-bye.
I got in the van and watched Molly come out of the house, but I was thinking about Lavender, who’d ignored her sister’s snotty comment about her bridesmaid’s dresses, taken the drink away from Margot, and stood up to her mother without yelling. Clearly, there was good stuff there. Burney had it wrong again.
Molly got in the van. “Thank god we’re out of there. I need a drink.”
“Well, you know where to go,” I said, and we headed back down the hill.
So here’s the problem:
I think Lavender is the antagonist in that scene. I think Liz goes in expecting to dislike her and through observing Lavender’s actions decides she likes her after all. But Lavender is an unconscious antagonist–she doesn’t know she’s battling for Liz’s approval and wouldn’t do it if she realized it–and that makes her a weak antagonist because she can’t escalate the conflict. Plus there’s the stuff with Peri and Veronica that’s not linked in there yet. So I think this scene is a mess, but I’m not sure how to fix it. I THINK I have to make Lavender Liz’s doppelganger here, not wanting to like Liz, either, but I don’t want her to be hostile. So somehow, I’m going to have to rewrite this so neither Liz or Lavender wants to like the other but they’re drawn to each other just the same, while being polite, incorporating Peri and the dog. Which is a fairly major rewrite once I figure out how to do it. But it has to be done. This scene is too sloppy to publish as is.