when i awoke, the click of a ceiling fan was joined by the sound of rubber tires.
i sat up. peered through the window. saw Milo and Laura hopping from their rental.
without thinking, i peeled down to my underwear and posed on the couch. ready for them to walk in, catch me lounging with a seductive smile on my face. imagining the comedic implications.
then decided that probably wouldn’t be very fair to their eyeballs.
last time i had thrown on clothes with such swiftness, the prior activities had been far more satisfying. the cost of being caught far more significant. no matter. my past trials had done me good. 12 seconds, tops, and i was out the door.
Milo Blue and i had known each other since 3rd grade. lost track ‘round about 7th. rekindled in the 10th. stayed true through college. had a serious falling out soon after. we found our way back, eventually. now settled as friends who hardly spoke, but that 2nd hand seemed to wash the other well.
and throughout the years, for whatever reason, we had never abandoned our predilection for swearing like motherfucking sailors.
i trotted down the steps, yawning.
Milo was a 5’2” powerhouse. a Caucasian-Mexican mix with perfect skin, and a sly grin of crooked teeth. thick hair of an anime warrior. grew up poor as fuck, street-smart as anyone I had ever known.
time was, we had a lot to teach each other.
nowadays, we made do with comparing notes.
Milo flashed a tiny smile. “hey, bones.”
“hey, bones.” i gave him a hug. gave the patch beneath his lip a bit of a tug. “so you finally trimmed that horrible piece of shit, did you?”
“that was a test…” he said. “i thought to myself, fuck it. i’m going to grow this out, out, out. eventually, i figured my real friends would do me the favor of telling me, no, fuck you. get rid of that horrible piece of shit.”
“the only people who passed the test were Laura, Chet, my brother, and you.”
“no need to thank me.”
my fist met his with a tiny bump. “dimples.”
“dimples and forest help.”
it was exactly, but not really, like old times.
Laura threw her arms around me, kissed my cheek. “hey, Lucky.”
“correct, as always.”
Laura was undoubtedly the best thing to happen to Milo in a thousand years. the 2 of them had been together for less than 3, but math was never my strong suit. she reigned supreme as a consummate shape-shifter. joyous anomaly. all within one same instant, she was a beauty queen, plain Jane, a wallflower, an upstart. tense and vulnerable, then, in just 2 blinks, every bit the Tae Kwon Do black belt.
“are any of the others here?” she asked.
“they’re attending some travesty dubbed The People’s Olympics.”
Milo blinked. “the fuck?”
“come inside, and i’ll tell you all about it.” i took Laura’s bag. “anybody want to see the giant confederate flag in the basement?”
“no,” Laura said.
“no,” Milo said.
no, they did not.
felt as though they had somehow passed a test all their own.
Milo and Laura had driven in from New York City. cameo appearance for the wedding, the dinner, then plans to make tracks for Newark and catch a flight to Mexico.
“how’s the restaurant business?” i asked.
“you learn to hate a little less with every passing day…” Milo sat on the couch. rubbed his eyes, and squinted at the television. “are you watching the SOAP channel?”
“yes. and now, so are you, so fuck off.”
Milo pointed in my direction. ”yes.”
Laura shot up from touching her toes, ponytail flying. “so the wedding is when?”
“don’t quote me on this one, because on this one, i’m quoting Nicky, but… 5:30 PM seems to be the going rate.”
Milo and Laura checked their phones.
it was 1:45.
“ever seen one of these fuckers?” Milo asked, shaking his iPhone in my face. “they’ve been all the rage for the past millennium.”
“my current location is Skytop, Pennsylvania. kittens are adorable. and somebody’s brunch, somewhere, was tastetacular. there, i just saved myself several hundred dollars. hashtag, fuck you.”
“boys…” Laura stepped over the coffee table and squeezed between us. “can we have a plan?’
“i have to be at the lodge at 3:30 for reasons i’d rather not say…”
“so what do we want to do until then?”
“threesome?” i suggested.
we all decided that was a terrible idea, and settled on leaving the resort to see what life had to offer outside the gilded cage.
long before love, money and professional implosion had left me stranded in Verona for 8 or so years, my travels had impressed upon me a single golden rule: if a local tender don’t serve you at least one drink, don’t bother telling anyone you were ever there in the first place.
as we pulled up, Milo nodded. “any town, city, or principality worth its salt has at least one bar called The Pour House.”
no arguments there.
our shoes crunched along the gravel, and we went from light to darkness. it was a quiet affair. restaurant with muted colors, oaken booths, and a horseshoe bar at the far end.
our bartender was a pleasant, pear-shaped teenager. brown hair, glowing face. mustard stain on her shirt. she asked what our pleasure was.
i ordered a gin and tonic.
Milo and Laura did the same.
as they perused the menu, i helped myself to the surroundings. stout, multicolored Christmas lights hung from the walls. 3 flat screen TV’s shone from above. Country Music Television turned way up; Willie Nelson happily drowning out the Golf Channel and Fox pundits. from beyond the kitchen window, i caught a line cook sending a text.
our drinks arrived. we asked the bartender for another 5 minutes.
Laura nudged Milo. “what are you thinking, babe?”
“call me a crazy asshole, but i’m really thinking Reuben right now.”
“yeah, there’s a southwestern wrap that’s kind of trying to have sex with me.”
“i saw that. it looks pretty fucking good.”
“you getting fries?”
“don’t know. i’m particular about fries…”
i hunched over my menu. trying to filter out the easy banter of solid coupling. made myself invisible. squeezed a little lime, took a sip of juniper and quinine.
Laura leaned across the bar. “Lucky? what are you thinking?”
i hemmed. “when did everything become bacon?”
“you still doing that vegetarian thing?” Milo asked.
“i’m a 34-year-old alcoholic. kale, blueberries and exercise are the only things holding this piece of shit body together.”
“no meat at all?” Laura asked.
“no such thing as true commitment,” i said. “someone serves me an unsolicited meal, i eat what i’m lucky enough to have been given. and once a year, i help myself to a steak. and i mean, a real earth-shattering orgasm of a steak. medium-rare.”
“to remind myself that i am just another hypocrite, and my dedication is in no way, shape or form a reflection of character… besides, from what i know of the scriptures, there will be plenty of meat in hell.”
i glanced up. our bartender was standing before us. had probably been for quite some time. eyes hesitant, mouth in mid-offering. pen hovering just above her notepad.
“i will have the fruit salad,” i told her, handing over my menu. “hold the bacon.”
Milo and Laura proceeded to order something they actually wanted.
my life had certainly become less interesting over the years. couldn’t speak on behalf of Milo, and Laura was a fresh face in my gradually contracting world. whatever the reason, i found the massive gaps in our conversation to be draining. a pause became a stretch.
became a vortex.
i played with my straw, ordered another drink.
maybe we were all just tired this time.
our food arrived along with 3 waters.
“i’m glad we got a chance to do this,” Milo said between shreds of pastrami and sauerkraut. “from what you’ve told us, the whole thing’s been kind of a whirlwind. nonstop.”
“guess that’s the cardinal rule for weddings. location, location, location.”
“that’s real estate.”
Laura plunged into her 2nd gin and tonic. “i’m actually really looking forward to the wedding. i like weddings.”
“me too,” i said. “it’s the marriage what fucks it all up.”
Milo smiled, held up a fry. “i can see your speech at the banquet is going to be a real barn-burner.”
“that conversation already happened. and despite the fact that I know more divorced people my age than married people, this don’t apply to Nicky.”
“how you figure?”
“Nicky is Mr. Family. when we were kids, if he couldn’t come out because of some prior with his parents, his brother… he never bitched. as many times as all of us, at one point or another, had to say, i can’t, i’m doing something with my family… he never sounded annoyed. bothered. i don’t think he ever once rolled his eyes the way the rest of us would. it was never a sacrifice for him. Nicky has thought about this, i really think he has. i think he believes in it. i think Republicans in the early ‘90s are, at this very moment, building a time machine to bring him back to help wage war on behalf of family values…” i raised my glass. “let there be no mistake, though… i’m sure they’d very much regret it once they actually met him.” went ahead and downed my drink. “but then again, most of us already do…”
Laura raised her own glass. “now that’s the speech you give at a wedding.”
“yes. just not this one.”
“is they?” Milo asked.
“huh…?” i blinked through a sour patch of lime. “what’s wrong with you?”
“um…” the bartender was once again trapped in our gravitational pull. “you all want this check together?”
I dug into my pocket. “did i tell you i’m moving to New Orleans?”
“no,” Milo said.
“no,” Laura said.
“i’m moving to New Orleans.”
“seems like a good a place as any to die.”
“when?” Milo asked.
“on my birthday.”
“so you’re not moving until February 16th?”
“oh…” i bit down on my straw. “thought we were talking about something else. no. far as moving goes…thinking late September.”
“September, all over again,” Milo mused. “but, for real, why now?”
“you know what happened back in ‘05.”
Laura leaned forward. “what happened back in ‘05?”
the check arrived. “long story.”
Laura shrugged. “i’m going to get you to dance, Lucky.”
“that’s an even longer story.”
Milo crunched the numbers. “i got this.”
i pulled out a 10-spot. “here.”
“take the money, asshole.”
“what am i going to do with it?”
“what am i going to do with it?” i slurped on the remaining ice cubes. “you can’t take it with you.”
Milo gave me a look. snatched the money with an angry snap of his wrist. “no i don’t suppose you can.” he signed for the meal. “we’re not done.”
“no, i don’t suppose we ever are…”
Laura watched us with guarded curiosity. kept it to herself.
a master black belt.
while Laura busied herself in the bathroom, Milo and i leaned against the car.
he pulled out his phone and checked his email.
i pulled out my smokes and had myself a drag.
the world had gone gray in our absence.
“how’s the book going?” Milo asked.
“i’m a millionaire,” i told him. “didn’t want to bring it up, this being Nicky’s day and all.”
“yeah, well. you go it alone, you take your chances.”
i nodded. watched a truck rumble past.
“you seem different,” Milo said.
“we all are.”
“no. you’re up to something.”
“i’m up to my eyeballs in shit.”
“what are you going to do in New Orleans?”
she must have been buried deep. took Milo a full minute, before: “real skinny? metal shit in her snout?”
“septum piercing, yeah.”
“yeah. junior year, right?”
“you’d know better than me.”
“what about her?”
i took a drag. grimaced as my mouth went dry. felt the empty road tender a little time, grow wider. pine trees sharp against a featureless sky.
“i think i may be in hell.”
Laura came skipping out to meet us, beautiful smile making up for lost minutes.
“another time,” i said.
Milo rolled his eyes. “yeah. we got lots of those left.”
Laura planted a long, luxurious kiss on Milo’s lips.
whatever it was we all had left, Milo had all that he needed.
i slid into the driver’s seat.
Korben was standing proud upon the deck, far above it all. enjoying a cigarette pilfered from my bookbag.
not a particularly spectacular reunion for this trio of New York mainstays.
“from what i understand,” Laura said, “or think i understand, there was some kind of People’s Olympics?”
“yeah.” Korben took a triumphant drag. “North Carolina killed it.”
Milo grinned. “hell, yeah, they did.” he gave Korben’s shoulder a smack and went inside along with his lady.
“you shoulda been there,” Korben told me.
“had to see a house about a bag,” i said. “as for the here and now, i’ve got to meet Nicky at 3:30.”
“oh… you didn’t check your phone?”
“no. left it in the house. where it belongs.”
“yeah, there was a change of plans –”
“Chet said that Nicky said you’d say that.”
“well, tell Chet to tell Nicky that i said –”
“Chet’s already gone.”
Korben finished his smoke. “groomsmen are meeting at the lodge at 3.”
i bolted into the house. swung through the kitchen, dining room. gunning for the stairs.
i tripped over my bookbag. torpedoed my knee directly into the 2nd step.
florescent pain spiraled along my leg.
Laura asked if i was OK.
Milo laughed at me.
a hanging portrait of General Lee didn’t seem to have an opinion on the matter.
never one to learn my lesson, i went careening up the steps.
slammed my other knee against the landing, hand against the wall, and my pride against the jarring sounds of Milo’s laughter.
and this time, Laura couldn’t be blamed for joining in.
5 minutes to shower.
5 more for fresh digs. jeans and a navy shirt reading I HAVE CANDY in ominous, pink caps.
i ran back down the stairs. subconsciously hoping to finish the job, maybe.
backed out of the driveway.
wasn’t more than 20 yards down the road, when i spotted Chester’s car headed my way. i slowed, pulled to the shoulder. rolled down the window.
Chester did the same. Nick Reckless in the front seat. James Reckless in the back, along with the brother of the bride, and a pair of strangers.
“Lucky!” Nick called out cheerfully.
“hey,” i replied. “was on my way to meet a bunch of weird assholes for a 3:30 rendezvous, taking place at 3 o’clock… those assholes look a lot like you assholes.”
Chester sighed. “looks like Milo made it in all right.”
“everyone’s coming here to change for the photographer,” Nick said.
“you want it in writing?’
“i’d put it in writing myself, but if i did, none of my friends would read it.”
“fuck you, Lucky,” Chester said. rolled up his window and eased his rental into the driveway.
i remained on the shoulder. engine idling. knees throbbing. watched a family of ducks waddle by.
“well, i thought it was funny,” i told them.
let a couple of minutes pass to make certain that Nick wasn’t looking to make god laugh one last time…
went on back to get my picture taken.
i had just slid into the lower half of my tuxedo, when the nausea hit, coupled with violent shakes.
i coughed. retched. took a few breaths, leaned against the wall. with the initial headache out of the way, phase 2 of my hangover began to spread. bloodstream infused with only trace amounts of alcohol, racing, begging for more.
those G&T’s hadn’t quite done the trick.
it was either wait and dry heave my way through the ceremony, or take immediate steps to balance the equation.
i eased on down the steps, tucking my undershirt as i went.
the living room had become backstage to an off-Broadway production. men slipping into their formalwear. women floating across the color spectrum in slips, dresses; testing their earrings and digging through makeup kits.
i breezed past Nick. he gave me a nervous grin. i replied with a spastic, inconsistent smile.
yanked the Goose from the freezer. double shot into a highball glass. filled it up to 4/5 with water. on my way to the living room, when Nick got hold of me.
“Lucky, can you help me out?” his eyes were wide. overwhelmed shades against the contours of a calm and capable face.
“whatever you need,” i said.
he handed me a set of cuff links. “can you make these work? i can’t quite figure out how these work.”
i set my vodka down.
Nick held out his arm. i wrapped my fingers around his wrist. took a breath. looking to match the holes in his cuffs. muddled around with the tiny clips. my hands were shaking. so were his.
difference was, one of us was about to step soundly into the rest of his life.
i looked up. smiled reassuringly. “real smart, Nicky. nervous groom gets the lush to perform tuxedo surgery.”
Nick laughed. “that is pretty stupid of me.”
i flashed back to my high school graduation. heading home after the party. Chloe was driving. something was said. maybe inferred. maybe it was the first time it hit Nicky that i was going away, off to New York. he rolled down the window, face twisted, howling miserably. doing whatever he could to get the moon’s attention. lashing out against the tides, winds, and the slow countdown to what was in store for all of us.
there was once a time when that had mattered.
even if it was all illusion, and even if the sun had set far too many times to count.
“you good?” i asked.
“i know. everyone here knows it, too.”
“you’ll think me a liar, but this is exactly what i thought i’d be doing 16 years out of high school.”
“yeah…” i fastened the first of the oversized, golden thumbtacks. “you look aces, Nicky.’
“you look like a man who’s ready.”
Korben, who had been reading a travel brochure at the dining room table, coughed politely. “you’re doing that wrong, Lucky.”
“that’s not how you fasten cuffs. you have to press the insides of both buttonholes to meet each other.”
i closed my eyes with a pained sigh… “i don’t even understand what that – goddammit…” i motioned for Korben to get up. “take care of this, would you? i’m going to step over there, see if i can’t fuck something else up.”
i gave Nick’s ass a light smack, and moved to the living room.
dug into my bookbag. pulled out a packet of Emergen-C. tore it open and shook the pink powder into my glass. stirred with my finger. watched the liquid turn the color of dead flamingos.
“watcha got there, sailor?” Milo asked from the couch. checking Wikipedia. utterly at home in his tux.
“Emergen-C and vodka.”
Laura snapped a picture with her phone. “that’s brilliant.”
“had to happen sometime.” i leveled the cloudy solution in 3 large gulps. “there. that should keep the angels away.”
Chester breezed through the room, adjusting his bowtie. “should we do some shots, Lucky? can we do some shots? of your vodka?”
“always,” i said, heading up the stairs. “set `em up, set `em up, and we’ll knock `em on down.”
i took the steps with a light trot. blood bubbling along, and the shakes were gone.
for the moment.
i buttoned my jacket and took a long look in the mirror.
god help me, i liked what i saw.
“well, we’re going to work on that,” i told my reflection. “so don’t get too comfortable.”
adjusted my tie and headed back downstairs.
i was greeted with trivia.
as Chester set up a series of antique shot glasses from what was once a locked china cabinet, Milo nudged Korben and waved. “hey, Lucky!” he double checked his iPhone. “did you know that Robert Guillaume was in Saved by the Bell?”
“technically, Saved by the Bell: The College Years,” i said. “he played Zack’s ethics professor. let a fake answer key for the midterm fall out of his satchel, and all the main characters naturally, had to decide whether or not to cheat, and then it turns out that test of character was the ethics midterm, and, oh, shit, this is why i can’t remember how to multiply fractions…”
Chester had already filled 15 or so glasses to capacity. “can we drink now?”
i helped with distribution. the motorcade’s hectic engine had shut down, replaced with an unforeseen silence. i handed drinks to a few newcomers. saved the introductions. stood back, and let the circle form. the rhythmic click of a ceiling fan gave us the count.
under no other conditions would any of these individuals have found themselves together under one roof.
i raised my glass. “to Nicky and Kayla.”
seconded by all.
down went the goose, and i swallowed mine with a lazy smile on my face.
the groom’s bench had finally come together.
James Reckless. Chester Springs. myself. Kayla’s colossal little brother, Brian Dumas. Zhang and Brennan.
Chester already knew Zhang and Brennan from the bachelor party some 2 weeks previous. up in New York City. i had been unable to gather the scratch to attend, and was given a hasty overture.
all i knew about the pair was that they had met Nick in China. what the circumstances might have been was a mystery. probably not too difficult to imagine, though. people didn’t meet Nick; they collided with him. every so often, origins were best left back where they belonged.
Zhang was around my height. wasn’t sure whether he was originally from China, or first generation American. no discernible tells to give it away. roundish face. a smile that came and went at odd intervals. his eyes never really met mine. he seemed focused, inwardly haggard. running on the residual adrenaline of a 14-hour work day.
Brennan was 20, looked to be 6’2”. wide shoulders. wore his tux with superb elegance. pale face, thick lips, lengthy features. haircut that could run for congress. his eyes were mischievous and quick, though unevenly terse, as though accustomed to sizing up competition. i felt inclined to dislike him, but something in the way he carried himself gave me pause.
and during that pause, he promptly walked away without so much as another word.
i was suddenly far less inclined to dislike him.
beyond firm handshakes, Zhang and Brennan shared other core similarities. a sense of purpose. confidence not just in their reality, but in their reasons. this seemed to be the common thread linking those from the other side of Nick’s looking glass. all of us who had come before his flight to China were floaters. not physically unmoored, but with minds that drifted through an existence where decisions were opiates. on par with a fistful of lottery tickets.
no guarantees, though. for all i knew, these cats were every bit as displaced and unhinged as the rest of us. still, there was also no doubt they had done something with their lives.
in one form or another, they had all been to China.
then again, so had Chester.
Analysis crumbling around my scuffed dress shoes, so I poured myself another shot.
Brennan popped his head into the house. “photographer’s here, guys. let’s move.”
Nick circulated the boutonnières. tiny roses impaled upon pearl-topped pins.
no more clouds, and we scuttled out into the heat. struggling with our lapels. alternately asking one another for help, then going it alone.
“having a little trouble there, fellas?” the photographer asked.
he was a lanky, late-thirties conduit of positive emotions. trimmed beard protecting his interminable smile. floating in a bubble where all records were meant to bear the brand of perfect moments. no past, no future. only the eternal optimist’s now; exemplified by a dangling mane of thin braids, gradually giving in to a brutally receding hairline.
Nick leaned in close, whispered in my ear: “i think it’s sweet that his hair and the top of his head still hang out, even though they stopped seeing each other years ago.”
i punched his boutonnière, let the pins drive into his chest.
Nick hissed, grinning madly. “i deserve that.”
“let the depressing man do his job.”
the photographer was joined by a pink, overweight, androgynous man. face shiny as his black silk shirt. hanging back, documenting the event with a compact, digital camera. chubby smile suggesting the bridesmaids had made for better subjects.
we finally managed to settle the flower situation.
the photographer instructed us to stand on the stairs. 3 rows worth of impassive penguins. he tried to stack us, snapping pictures even as we struggled to get organized.
James and I flanked Nick on the first step.
behind us, Zhang and Brennan did their best to position themselves in front of Chester and Brian.
the photographer pointed in some kind of direction. “sir? 2nd row? if you could maybe move closer to the right?”
Brennan glanced around. “who, me?”
Nick raised his hand. “should we tell you our names to make it easier?”
“better still,” Zhang called out. “could you just refer to us by our ethnicities?”
“yeah,” Brennan agreed. “who moves, the whitey or the chink?”
the photographer didn’t have an answer for that.
Zhang and Brennan moved closer together, and that seemed to do the trick.
i glanced over my shoulder.
saw Chester on the top step. face an alarming beet-red, slathered in a thick membrane of sweat.
“good thing you’re a brilliant musician with a 9-inch dick,” i told him.
Chester blinked. “huh?”
“ok, let’s see some smiles!” the photographer sang.
in another moment of cross-cultural unity, none of us were able to comply.
a series of uncomfortable group pictures followed.
“now, cut loose!” the photographer encouraged. “look like you’re having a good time!”
i turned and licked Nick’s face.
“um…” the photographer hesitated. “i mean, that’s fine, and all…”
“ugh,” i wiped my tongue against a padded shoulder. “you taste like a sexual predator.”
“that’s Ralph Lauren,” Nick informed me. then added, “so yes. i do.”
Korben stepped onto the deck for a cigarette. “Lucky, i stole another one of your smokes. is that – ”
“yeah, it’s fine!” i called over my shoulder. “could you send a belt of vodka down my way?”
the photographer smiled, maintaining happiness on our behalf. “ok, now how about a few shots of the groom with each one of his groomsmen?”
Korben returned with my drink.
he stood alongside me, in the driveway, as the rest lined up to take their mug shots.
“how’s it going?”
“i licked Nicky’s face, and now the devil won’t stop fondling my crotch.”
i took my shot. Korben offered me one of my cigarettes. i accepted.
“what are the new guys like?”
“Zhang and Brennan?”
i had a puff, let my lungs cry foul. “only know that Nick loves them. though i have noticed…”
“neither side of China seems that interested in talking to each other… we’re both either very protective of our history with Nicky, or we’re absolutely at peace with the other’s influence on his own history.”
“well…?” Korben shrugged. “which one is it?’
“i think, barring Kayla’s little brother, that Nick has simply compiled a group of totally self-absorbed bastards.”
“ain’t that the way it always is?”
the photographer called me over.
i put my arm around Nick. “looks like we got ourselves a lineup, here.”
the photographer took a series of shots.
the overweight cameraman continued to smile through the viewfinder.
“you should talk to Brennan and Zhang,” Nick said.
“is that what you told them? about me?”
“what’d they say?”
Nick batted the question aside. “Zhang used to run the Beijing offices for Random House.”
“so fucking what?”
“maybe Zhang agrees with you on that score.”
“i rather like Brennan.”
“interesting.” Nick unbuttoned his jacket for a more casual look. “most people can’t stand that guy when they first meet him.”
“you still got it in you, you know.”
“no idea what that means.”
“means i really do wish you’d realize certain things.”
“why are we having this conversation?”
“because after tomorrow, i’m not entirely sure i’ll have another chance to see you again before you die.”
in the distance, i thought i saw my dragonfly speed past.
the photographer changed cameras, crouched low. “now how about those smiles?”
Nick smiled. i stuck my tongue out.
“love you,” Nick said.
“well, we’re going to work on that,” i replied.
“and thanks for the toast.” Nick reached up and gave my neck a squeeze.
i did the same, praying to god the sun’s glare would keep that moment from ever being captured.
just under 24 hours had passed since rehearsal, and i was back on the crescent terrace overlooking the courtyard.
stashed my bookbag behind an orange cooler.
i tried to breath
the multitudes were gathering. some familiar. most, not so much.
resort staff setting up tables for drinks and food.
the women looked spectacular. the men, preoccupied.
to be fair, yes, the women also looked preoccupied.
long story short, the men all looked like each other.
didn’t want to know how i looked.
my tuxedo pressed against my chest. constrictive, duplicitous armament. the 2nd skin of an absolute fraud. metamorphosis complete. from Dean Martin, to Jerry Lewis.
i broke from the crowd. down the steps. out to the cobbled garden, where rows of foldout chairs had been set up for the ceremony. walked myself down the aisle. came to rest at the gates leading to the green. went through the rehearsal in my head.
came up with a scant 30 seconds worth of useful footage.
“i don’t know what the hell to do, either…” Chester was by my side. looking out onto the empty seats, awaiting the big production.
“want me to walk us through what i think i remember?” i asked.
we passed through the gate, around to the bushes. hit our marks, one by one. Chester had a thousand questions. positioning, timing, arrangement. as we stood to the left of an imaginary bride and groom, i gave him a light body check. “i think there’s something graciously endearing about it, Chet.”
“you’ve stood on stage, you and your guitar. in front of amphitheaters worth of screaming fans. and here you are, sweating the most minor details in a venue that seats less than a hundred.”
“yeah.” he smiled. sighed. “this is probably more important than anything i’ve ever done.”
“what’s it like?” i asked.
“when people listen. any words for it?’
Chester gave a chuckle. “no. no, i’ll leave the words to you.”
“we’re doomed.” i brought my hands together, clasped in front of me.
Chester did the same.
holding our pose, ensconced in orange radiance. awaiting the crush of the crowd.
we kept still for a while. preparing.
back on the balcony, the father of the bride brought us in for a huddle. distributed stacks of programs.
“gentlemen, it’s time,” Michael said. voice free of tension. smiling. pleased. “start leading people to their seats. groom on the right side, bride to the left. the first 2 rows are reserved for family, or close friends. we’re 10 minutes out from the start of the ceremony, so look lively.”
i took a handful of programs.
waded into the crowd. felt a doughy dread begin to rise. realized i hadn’t been paying any attention since i had arrived. not a clue as to who was there on behalf of which half. what was worse, i didn’t know who was family, never mind whatever constituted a close family friend.
to save myself the embarrassment, i approached only those who already had programs. got the friendly brush off each time, and nobody could say i hadn’t tried.
James Reckless darted past me. stiff gait leaving a trail of discombobulated grumbles.
i caught up to him as he approached his father.
Paul was all decked out in Harvard robes; his official digs for officiating.
“everything all right?” i asked.
“we’re having trouble locating the mother of the groom,” James said.
Paul shook his head. “ah. i think i know what this is about.”
“what’s going on?” i asked.
Paul tucked his notes away. “remember during rehearsal yesterday, when i said that Lacey would be reading from the I Ching?”
i doubted very much that he had. nodded anyway.
“i think she mentioned something about needing a translation in Chinese.”
James bobbed on his toes. “ok. great.”
“no worries,” i said. “let me sniff around, see if she isn’t just somewhere in the lobby. you know how she loves talking to strangers.”
Paul nodded. “could you?”
i ran a quick tour of the premises. blending best as a drunk in a tuxedo could ever hope to. heard an eruption of laughter from the dining room. sounded a lot like the reaction Lacey had garnered during her rehearsal speech. stood on my toes for no apparent reason and had myself a look.
a group of 12 were heading towards the stairs. all smiles and cross-promotional jokes.
because there he was again. taller than i remembered, but my blueprints were some 10 years out of date, and there was no telling what made those features so unmistakably his. a face in the crowd. ghost in the machine.
i took 4 confident strides, imagining what would have to come next.
ok, Bobby, seriously, take a good fist full of this rented tux and just hold on tight while you pummel my face. mess it up real good. i got a wedding in fewer minutes than i can count, but if my face has to be peeled off my skull for the occasion, then have at it, because –
i bumped into a pair of young honeymooners.
sent their suitcases crashing to the floor.
both kind enough to accept my apologies, but at the cost of another lost hallucination.
by the time we mended fences, there was nothing left to see.
Bobby’s improbable apparition had vanished.
with a few uncertain steps, i left certainty behind. felt the ceiling rise to its previous height. somehow positive that 2 sightings had to be proof that neither one had happened.
remembered my mission, and went looking for Lacey.
passed by the women’s restroom.
checked to see if the coast was clear.
awash with Deja vu.
i laid a cautious hand on the door and pushed.
stepped into forbidden territory.
cleared my throat. “Lacey?”
from one of the stalls, a voice called out. “yes?”
it didn’t sound like a match. “are you the Lacey whose son is getting married today?”
“no,” came the stern reply. “i’m the Lacey whose daughter is getting married today.”
all at once, i remembered that Nick and Kayla both had mothers named Lacey. just another one of those little quirks that had made this weekend seem no less than destined.
i coughed: “just wanted to say congratulations. peace out.”
stepped away from the bathroom door.
my face maintained anonymity, but it occurred to me i might have to spend the rest of the wedding either as a mute, or speaking with a British accent.
the wedding coordinator began to round up all first-born groomsmen.
i was talking to Korben. caught the cattle drive from the corner of my eye.
“it’s just so strange,” he was saying. “i’ve known you, Chet, Nicky for so long. and seeing you all standing in your tuxedos, here, or wherever we are… it’s just kind of wild. i keep projecting young faces on all of it, but when i do, it’s as though something shatters. like when your computer can’t figure out how to run a simple operation.”
“we’re old, Korben.”
“so unbelievably old,” he agreed.
“looks like this is actually going to happen. see you on the other side?”
i stepped into the circle of groomsmen. smiled, as was expected. listened to the coordinator; a short woman with a body built for arias, thankfully more interested in getting things done than sugarcoating her words.
we followed her into the lobby.
as we passed within 30 feet of the front doors, they swung open to reveal
long raven hair, making an entrance on 4 legs. 2 crutches, to be exact. sturdy right leg, the left cocooned in a cast, wrapped in gauze. wrapped in black gauze, matching her mascara, matching her dress. black dress, full specter at a white wedding. oval face, cheeks gone cherry bomb with the effort of ambulation. dark eyes, and a daring smile.
black gauze, once again. replaying. matching that black dress.
Brennan broke away from the entourage. raced over to greet her, his arms outstretched.
so at least this ephemeral vision had to be real.
my world whiplashed back its rushed surroundings.
craned my neck, watched her disappear behind a column. shook it off, marching once more towards our final frontier.
i followed the coordinator through a door, down a spiral stairway. through another door, leading to a path that hugged the garden’s outer hedges. pausing momentarily to let a golf cart play through. we walked past the open gate; quick glimpse of a full house as we arrived at our mark.
before i could wonder what became of the girl in black gauze, Brennan was back in our company. joined by Paul and James.
the 3 Reckless men gave their reports.
still no sign of groom-Lacey.
James strode through the gate on stilted legs. arms stiff at his sides. fists balled into pallid rocks.
Nick remained calm. turned to his father… “remember my graduation?”
“high school?” i asked.
“college,” Nick said. “my mom was so worried i wouldn’t show on time, that she ran over to my house to make sure i would. and as a result, she missed the whole thing.”
“too funny to make it a tradition.”
“too perfect. we can wait.”
and so we did. basking in the sun like diamondbacks. temporary setback giving us a chance to forget the upcoming nuptials.
“dewdrops in the garden,” i told Nick.
Nick agreed, and we settled on the order of appearance. i took the rear. with an uneven groom-to-bride ratio, Paul warned me i would have to take on 2 women for the recession.
we all made the obligatory jokes, and i had the obligatory fantasy about nothing that would ever happen to me.
was about to ask Nick about the girl in black gauze, when James returned. a little more slide to his stride. “good to go.”
we gathered in what felt like an abstract pentagram.
Paul glanced through the gate. raised his hand.
the sound of a string quartet came drifting through the air.
Paul turned back to us. smiled with a silvery pride. “i have to say… you are all without a doubt the best-looking group of men i have ever seen on the business end of a wedding. truly… you all look spectacular.”
it was time.
Brennan turned around, adjusted my lapels. “you look good, man.”
we walked through the gate. strident and unprepared, turning left at the microphones. spread ourselves in a straight line, company halt. i folded my hands. sized up the crowd. caught sight of Carolina memories in the mix. wondered why they weren’t smirking, or grinning, or at the very least shifting in their seats.
it’s because we’ve done a few of these at this point.
Nick took his place alongside his father.
down the aisle came a duo of miniature children, scattering rose petals.
i scanned the gathering. squinted towards the back, where a pair of mounted speakers had been placed on either side of the steps.
string quartet stationed on the left side of the terrace.
i wondered what secret hopes they held for their talents, someday.
they switched to Pachelbel, as Kayla and her father made their entrance. neither of them concerned with gravitas. beaming. not a trace of imperious intention as Michael shook Nick’s hand, embraced his daughter with the ease of excellent fortune.
Paul gave his opening remarks, effects of a soothing lullaby. emotion channeled into effortless words, proving the tree never grew far from the fruit. voice projecting to the farthest reaches, out to the back, where the staff took turns banging their palms against a malfunctioning speaker, all static and hiss.
bride-Lacey approached her microphone, read from Corinthians.
groom-Lacey, apparently satisfied with English as a first language, read from the I Ching.
12-hour shifts behind the counter of an adult store had served me well, feet holding up just fine. but the sun was starting to beat down on the front lines. sweat gathering at the base of my spine, a swampy tramp-stamp. undershirt, underwear, armpits dampening, as a threesome from Nick’s side stood to sing a trio of songs in the Shaker tradition. off key and out of sync. missing their harmonies by a mile, but maybe that was the point.
with god on their side, their pitch was perfect as it would ever need to be.
i caught myself staring at a passing ladybug.
blinked several times.
Paul stepped forward. took us all on a journey through the founding of Pennsylvania, marveling at the numerous cultures and individuals that had allowed us all to gather, join together in this eclectic, non-denominational recognition of Nick and Kayla’s union.
i was beginning to lose focus.
panicked that the heat would win the day, rob me of this moment.
taking control of my distraction, i pictured the audience in their underwear.
succeeded in picturing only the most attractive people in their underwear.
the spiral was inevitable, and soon my brain was swarming with porn stars.
and now, there were other biological functions to battle.
caught in a taut, psychological game of cat-and-more-cat. a game i would have surely lost were it not for a single, mental hangnail.
that did the trick, and i was able to pivot from what might be, to what was. shift my brain into neutral just in time to witness Kayla’s vows. written for the occasion. followed by Nick, volleying the same joyous sentiments. both so earnestly ignorant of the heat, the drone of insects, that for one brief moment, they simply disappeared, vanished, overloading the sad foundations of this splintered, incoherent existence.
i made a firm resolution that i would not be mentioning this to anyone.
The couple exchanged wedding bands, punctuated by distant gunshots… soundtrack from the bad old days in Verona finding its way right where it belonged.
with his vocal chords wound tight, Paul made it official.
Nick and Kayla were now husband and wife.
there was an electric pause as the pair of them stared into each other’s eyes with wild awareness.
“oh,” Paul wiped his eyes. “i guess kiss each other, if you want to…”
they cupped each other’s faces, pressed their lips close.
the crowd cheered, and finally, i had a chance to bring my clammy palms together and go for some serious catcalls.
a torrent of dried rice rained down as they made their way between the seats.
Paul began to motion towards either side of the event; we weren’t home yet.
groomsmen pairing with bridesmaids. linking arms and following the newlyweds.
when my time came, Paul held up 2 fingers in either direction.
i found myself flanked, arm in arm, with a pair of pretty little creatures.
“hey, check, this out,” one of them said.
“you get 2 of us,” the other gushed.
“yeah!” i replied, and felt my mouth about to add: every man dreams of taking 2 girls right up the aisle…
miraculously settling for the more ungainly proclamation: “neat!”
this hardly impressed, but it kept us on the yellow brick road, as my scuffed shoes guided their heels over uneven cobble stones, capping the ceremony without a single misstep.
i breathed a sigh of relief as the bridesmaids scrambled to get as far away from me as possible.
went looking for Chester, and the 2 of us settled into a firm, enduring embrace.
Nicky and Kayla had finally gotten married.
or for fucking free in digital
so long and thanks for all the pish.