The Wedding…and the Reception, in Three Acts
Paul and Angela had finally made it to the altar, to have and to hold, for richer and for $35,000 poorer. They had been together for three years, after both of them had cycled through the friend group. Angela had gone out with Matt a few times and with Dan for about four months. And Paul and Zoë – well, they had dated for over a year (expectant, Matt had called them, grinning).
Later – was it Megan? Yes, who else? – Megan had called Angela Paul’s rebound. They all razzed her about it incessantly when Paul and Angela found a sunny sublet together three months later.
But today, the whole group was there. Paul, looking unusually somber, placed the ring on Angela’s finger, as she stood, radiant, with her sister Heidi and then the friends – Nora, Zoë, and Megan – beside her. Paul and Angela kissed, and the priest proclaimed them husband and wife.
I. Paul was circling the same bleach spot on the floor, holding Angela, as the others looked on. She was wonderful tonight, alight from within. Paul was wondering whether the stories were true – about the (much-maligned) groom who had supposedly gotten abhorrently drunk, retched, and then declared his love for the bride’s brother, in this very hall. What an act of bravery that must have been. His eyes sought out Zoë. The rose-colored bridesmaid’s dress didn’t suit her coloring at all, but her beauty transcended it – Paul drank in, as ever, those clear hazel eyes with their long tickling lashes and knowing look. Zoë, who called him on his bullshit and could beat him at both poker and Scrabble.
He whispered into the top of Angela’s head, “We need to talk.”
II. Zoë wished she had thought to bring a dress to change into, like Megan had – Megan was now sporting an LBD that left little but details to the imagination. And she knew from experience that there were limits to how sexy one could be in a potato-chip-bag’s worth of ruffles.
She tried to catch Scott’s eye. He had put on Eric Clapton at Angela’s request, but she knew he was itching to play something else – anything but the “Celebration”/“Electric Slide”/“Your Song” parade. Etta James’ “At Last” would have been preferable. Scott looked down at her, smiled, and mouthed, sarcastically, Macarena? She grinned. But then her smile dissolved as Scott’s gaze shifted to Heidi, and he put on, “I Only Have Eyes for You”.
Zoë looked at her watch.
III. Heidi was on her sixth glass of wine. There was an infinite circle of Noras swaying distantly around her. Ninety minutes previously, as they gathered their street shoes from the day nursery-cum-changing room at the church, their months of veiled allusions and repartee compressed into one dazzling moment…
Megan, who had accidentally left her Converse behind, cried, “Are you kissing?”
Then Nora sputtered, “I’m not…” as she gathered up her things and piled into the last seat in Dan’s reception-bound car.
Now hordes of Megans put scandalmongering lips to the ears of legions of Matts; it was too much. She stumbled toward the dance floor, hoping for her sister’s sympathetic shoulder…but became tangled in her own feet…lurched…and with parabolic precision, vomited on the bleach spot.
The mess spattered the bride and groom, who immediately hustled her (and themselves) into a unisex bathroom to put themselves to rights. Zoë appeared and offered to drive Heidi home; Angela thanked her, kissed her sister’s forehead, and said, “I think that would be best.”
When the newlyweds were alone in the bathroom, Angela sponged Paul’s shirt front with a paper towel. “What did you want to talk to me about?”
Scott had put on a new song. Paul caught the opening strains of “Stand By Me.”
“I was just going to warn you that Heidi was drinking too much,” he said.
My one open eye lights on my cup of sludge and my chipping lavender nail polish: it seemed like an exuberant one-finger salute to 2017 last night, but in the January morning resembles trodden confetti and crushed party hats. Fortunately, my navy-and-mustard balaclava, which Mom and Howard brought me after their impromptu honeymoon in Cancún, hides the mascara stains well enough.
Atelier Lucía is closed, today. So Lucía will be at her son’s house, joyfully submerged beneath a wriggling mass of grandchildren, and not at the studio, serenely divining the future in the clay’s caramel striations. I should have listened when she summoned whispers of rupture.
I had even gotten reservations for two at Sunset. But then Henry heard about the party.
Henry and I were subsumed by the freezing mass on the Orlowskis’ lawn (What arctic blast? This was the Upper Midwest). Red Solo cups of Lakefront lagers materialized, as did half the class of ’09. The aerial Christmas lights were kind to Justin, whose acne they diminished; and to Amanda, whose generous proportions became seasonably festive.
“We should go in and say hi to Elise,” I said.
We entered and shed our parkas; my little black dress was an incongruous note in the woolen twinset symphony. And there – on the stairs – was Elise, with her angelic white blouse and siren’s fingernails, a Claddagh ring reminding aspirational partygoers that theirs might be the hands to capture her ingénue’s heart.
“Henry,” she said, borrowing Ingrid Bergman’s languorous murmur. Six years in Paris had smoothed over her exclamation points and heightened her production values. I, and every other woman there, simultaneously discovered that we were merely People, whereas she was Cosmopolitan. “And…?”
She doesn’t, or won’t, remember, her birthday party in Chicago, during that brief eighth-grade moment when I played a nymph to her Diana. “Leah,” I said, a shade loudly.
“Of course,” she said, graceful in error, or perhaps indifferent. She asked Henry if he still painted. He began detailing his latest œuvre, and the lights kissed his complexion.
“Leah!” Amanda, not having spotted me earlier, barreled into me like a runaway keg at a frat party. “It’s been – what – three years?”
Six, actually; sixty would have been unobjectionable. We had been friends in third grade, until she discovered Tina-with-twice-pierced-ears.
I industriously de-Amanda’d and returned to Henry, enthusiastic as a new subscriber, talking of Literature and Art and God with the centerfold herself. Then the snow fell thick and fast:
“I’d love to see your work.”
“My father knows a dealer in Chicago.”
“You could come around for dinner next week.”
“I’d love to,” breathed Henry.
“Excuse me,” I said, unwelcome as the thirtieth subscription renewal notice.
In a weary replay of any climactic high school house party, we stepped into the bathroom for a quiet but furious scene. It ended with my accusing him (with supplemental adverbs) of succumbing to Allure, and Henry asking for his ring back.
I fucking hurled it at him.
Pardon my French.
Linda McMullen‘s short stories appeared in December 2017/January 2018 in Burningword (‘Aurora’), Typishly (‘The Announcement’), Panoply (‘Flavia’) and Open: Journal of Arts and Letters (‘Elaine’s Idyll’). Her short story ‘Diplomatic Rupture’ has been accepted by Palaver for its May 2018 issue. Linda is also a wife, mother, and U.S. diplomat, currently home on a domestic rotation, but most often found in Africa or Southeast Asia.