The Future Mrs. Brightside
by Fiona J.R. Titchenell Genre: Women's Fiction
After a year of making beautiful music together, Chloe Hatherly thinks she’s more than ready to make the age-old promise to her bandmate, Jon. In sickness and in health, for better or worse. When the sudden death of Jon’s father forces the couple to postpone their wedding in favor of a funeral, however, their relationship veers rapidly off course from the ever after they’d both envisioned. Now living in her intended father-in-law’s memory-steeped house and acting as round-the-clock caregiver for her fiancé’s worsening depression, Chloe finds herself afflicted with a songwriter’s block for which she’s only ever known one cure: leaving and writing a killer breakup song. Unlike the subjects of her past lyrical rants, Chloe can’t picture her life without Jon in it, and she begins to wonder if there’s a way to save the music she loves while keeping the vows she never had the chance to make — or if she and Jon have already been irrevocably parted by death, albeit not their own.
The Future Mrs. Brightside is an uncomfortably honest, sometimes hilarious, fiercely romantic prose ballad to the hideous beauty of love in good times and bad.
“So, the reality is that we’re not getting married next Saturday, right?”
There was no way to broach this subject without causing additional pain, but the plan had to be discussed at some point before they were due to walk down the aisle, and the opportunities had been slim. With all the people coming and going from the house, bringing condolences and unsolicited advice and food that Jon wouldn’t eat, Chloe felt like she was seeing less of the real him than she did when she was working all day and rehearsing at night.
She’d phrased the question the way she had for the purpose of keeping the pressure low, maybe even removing pressure that was already simmering, so Jon wouldn’t panic and claim he could go through with it, thinking it would make her happy.
He was always trying to make this easier on someone other than him.
The panic came anyway, but the claims were mostly kept at bay.
“I’m so sorry, love,” he said. “Is that okay?”
“Yeah, I just wanted to run something by you,” Chloe plowed her way into the next terribly practical point of discussion. “I called the hotel, and they’re definitely not going to refund our reservation.”
“Oh god,” Jon sat down across from her at Roger’s dining room table, where she’d spread out her laptop and a stack of bills to work her way through. He put his head in his hands. “Of course they’re not. Okay. Maybe we can still make it work. If I start getting in the right headspace now, and we just keep reminding everyone that it’s what he would have wanted—”
“Jon. No,” Chloe stopped him. “I may not be a drummer, but I know when my timing’s off. No. I was just thinking, the hall at the botanical gardens didn’t have any openings until April, right?”
“April twenty-seventh,” Jon muttered into his hands.
“And we already have a rose garden and a reception hall reserved for next week, whether we want them or not. Most of the same people who’d be going already have the date saved…”
Jon arched his back, palms flat on the table in front of him, envisioning this possibility in a space somewhere beyond the dining room wet bar.
“Shit, that’s horrible. It’s genius. It’s horrible, but it’s genius.”
Beyond wanting to be cremated and scattered on the beach, Roger had left very few specifications for his funeral, other than using the words “fun” and “minimalist” a lot. If it had truly been up to him, everyone interested in paying their respects probably would have met up at Sam’s Subs to swap stories about him and call dibs on his ’70s celebrity memorabilia. But there were too many interested people to fit inside Sam’s, and most of them hadn’t known him well enough to understand how appropriate an independent local sandwich shop get-together would be.
Altogether, in spite of the Millers’ sparse blood family, there were close to two hundred friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and assorted hangers-on all expecting a formal service. Some of them had started calling every few days to ask if there was any way they could help with it, which was less helpful than it was a transparent way of checking that they hadn’t missed their invitations.
If Chloe and Jon could salvage some of the work from another set of plans that they were going to have to scrap anyway, it would make the task considerably less insurmountable.
“Will they let us do that?” Jon asked.
“I checked that too,” said Chloe. “Since we’re not bringing an actual body or any of those kinds of complications, it doesn’t make much difference to them if we use the space for a ceremony and reception or a service and wake. For an extra hundred dollars, they’ll switch out all the linens and table runners and stuff from red to black and get rid of the cake table. We’ll just have to let the DJ know separately to change the repertoire, see if the florist can tone back any of the colors last minute, and go to FedEx for a big glossy photo and a stand to put it on.”
“I think Dad had one of those stands somewhere around here,” said Jon.
“Just the photo itself, then.”
“Wait, you said a hundred dollars to get rid of the cake table?”
“And change the linens.”
“That’s so stupid.”
“Less stupid than paying them the cost of a lightly used car to do nothing at all, and then the same to someone else to do it all over again?”
“Yeah, less stupid than that,” Jon sighed. “And don’t they know it. Can we keep the cake table if we want?”
“Dad wouldn’t deny anyone perfectly good prepaid cake. Let’s just tell the bakery to leave off the decorations and the little couple on top, and if they say it’s already too late for that, tell them we’re not paying for week-and-a-half-old cake.”
Chloe was taking notes to herself too fast to laugh.
“Do you want me to see if they can put something else on it instead?” she asked.
“What, like, ‘Wish You Weren’t Dead’? Sorry.” Jon shook himself and put his hand on Chloe’s knee, to avoid disturbing her scribbling hand. “I’m sorry. Thank you for helping me with this. Let’s just… let’s leave it blank. Sorry.”
“Never.” He squeezed her kneecap before folding his hands back on the table. “God, this sucks.”
“Yeah, I think the sucking is non-negotiable.”
“I still want to marry you.”
“I still can’t wait to marry you.”
“I can,” said Chloe. “Until I can see you grinning with delirious, unadulterated joy across the altar from me.”
Jon quirked an eyebrow. “Altar?”
“Across the dead January rose garden gazebo from me. Across the novelty Elvis chapel in Vegas from me. Across the county clerk’s desk from me, at that other window where you can hire witnesses for twenty dollars apiece. It’s the grin of delirious, unadulterated joy I’m set on.”
Jon managed a sad smile.
“As soon as all this settles down,” he said. “I promise.”
FIONA J.R. TITCHENELL is an author of young adult, sci-fi, and horror fiction, including Pinnacle City: A Superhero Noir, The Prospero Chronicles, and the Summer 2018 Feminist Book of the Month, Out of the Pocket. The Future Mrs. Brightside is her first foray into contemporary women’s fiction. She graduated with a B.A. in English from Cal State University Los Angeles in 2009 at the age of twenty. She currently lives in San Gabriel, California, with her husband and fellow author, Matt Carter, and has also published under the initials F.J.R. Titchenell. Find out more about her and her books at http://www.fjrtitchenell.weebly.com.
What made you want to write Contemporary Women’s Fiction?
I’ve been asking myself some version of this question throughout the process of writing and publishing The Future Mrs. Brightside.
I’m primarily an author of Horror and Sci-Fi, and while I love bending and breaking genre boundaries, if you’d asked me five years ago what shelves of the bookstore I could imagine my work being sorted onto someday, Contemporary Women’s Fiction wouldn’t have been anywhere near my first thought.
That’s partly because I’ve always been uncomfortable with the whole concept of the “Women’s Fiction” section — not with the content by any means, just with the categorization. Segregating female-focused narratives that way can easily play into the harmful idea that male experiences are normal and of interest to everyone, while female experiences are extranormal, niche, and of interest only to other women.
Then again, the world most definitely treats men and women differently, so many of women’s experiences are uniquely ours, and they tend to happen more quietly and with less fanfare than men’s. That doesn’t mean men can’t or shouldn’t take an interest in learning about them, but given how much less attention women’s experiences get in general, it makes a certain kind of sense to try to make representations of them easy to find, for those who care to look.
When I was writing The Future Mrs. Brightside, I had categorized it in my head as a “Literary Romance.” In other words, it’s a story that centers around a romantic relationship but doesn’t quite fit within the formula parameters for “Commercial Romance.” I didn’t find out until I started preparing for publication that “Literary Romance” is more of a theoretical concept for English majors like myself to debate each other over, rather than an actual classification for actual books on actual shelves. Most of the titles we might name as examples of Literary Romance in such debates would be categorized as Women’s Fiction in practice.
So, Women’s Fiction it is. If The Future Mrs. Brightside were a work of Horror, Sci-Fi, or other genre fiction that someone wanted to lump in with “Women’s Fiction” simply because it’s openly by and about a woman, I’d have something to object to, but it’s not. And our society still labors under the delusion that only women can enjoy romance, so calling it “Romance” would only cause confusion without doing anything to bridge gender gaps. “Women’s Fiction” really is the most accurate label of the accepted options, and it puts The Future Mrs. Brightside in good company where it fits in well.
But none of that explains why I decided to write a “Contemporary” story at all. I’m a strong believer in the value of genre fiction, including its power to explore human emotion, to comment on the real world, to tell stories that matter. So why not let it tell this one? Why didn’t I set this story of grief and love against a speculative backdrop, encode it in metaphor, draw out the characters’ true selves with the kinds of hypothetical dilemmas that only genre fiction can provide?
I chose a contemporary setting because The Future Mrs. Brightside is about the particular feeling of being trapped in an utterly unmagical situation. There’s nothing mysterious or special about Roger’s death, or about the fallout Chloe and Jon are left with, and there’s no mysterious or special way to make things better. In fact, knowing that what they’re going through is normal, even mundane, actually makes it more difficult for them to face, not easier. It makes every emotional challenge they meet feel like the bare minimum that’s expected of them, rather than the colossal feat of fortitude that it is.
Of course, just because a character lives in a world that contains magic or incomprehensibly advanced technology doesn’t mean it will necessarily offer solutions to all their problems, or that they can’t experience all the same emotions as a character in the real world, including ennui. One person’s exotic is another person’s mundane. But speculative worlds do create a sense of novelty for the audience, if not for the characters. In many cases, that novelty adds clarity, but in the case of The Future Mrs. Brightside, it would only have added distance between the reader’s experience and Chloe’s.
Chloe is a woman of present-day planet earth, struggling to bear the weight of an invisible emotional workload and fighting to save her engagement and her career, and that’s exactly what her story demands that she be.
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