Friend of the Bride

My collar was already drenched with sweat from the Florida heat, and I hadn’t even gotten into the church yet.  Who has a wedding on a miserable, hot day like today, anyway?

The usher led my date to a seat.  Does anyone know why some schmuck’s cousin from Keokuk has to suit up in a rented tuxedo to do for my date the one thing that I’m there to do, to escort her?  Weddings are dumb.

“Friends of the bride,” my date had told Mr. Keokuk in his black and white.  “Friend.” The word still had a bitter ring to it.

There was a time when I had most certainly not considered myself a friend of the bride.  Yes, we had a history between us, but one of us wanted to end up friends.  You know how it is.

The invitation had arrived weeks ago.  I knew before I saw the pretty, hand-lettered return address who it was from and what it was for.  The other shoe had finally dropped.  Why someone would waste all that effort to pretty up an invitation to a hot Florida wedding is beyond me.  Who likes a sweat-stained envelope any better just because it has little curly squiggles on the letters?

My date had seen the invitation, and said we should go.  I hadn’t planned to ask her.  She was secretly delighted that this would close forever a chapter of my life.

I was talking to my best friend Mark Fisher about not wanting to go, about wanting to get the hell out of the state.  Mark and I had been friends through high school.  He had even gone to college, which meant that he was a lot smarter than me.

“You should totally go,” he told me.

“Are you stupid?” I challenged.

“No, listen.  You should go and wait until that part where they ask if anyone objects, and then you should jump up and put a stop to it.  That would be totally awesome.”

It was a dumb idea.

“You don’t get it! Girls love that romantic shit.  You’ll sweep her off her feet.”

I considered the possibilities.  No, I couldn’t do that.

“Sure you could.  What’s stopping you?”

“Well, I’m her, uh …”  That word was always bitter.  “I’m her friend for one.  That’d ruin that.”

“Oh.  I see.  So your ‘friend’ is going to have you come hang out with her and her husband for tea?  Wake up man!  There ain’t no friendship between you; you know that.  Does she even call you now, when she’s NOT already married to some other guy?  And you don’t want to go hang out with him anyway, even if she did.”

He had a point.

“Look.  It’s over for you two.  She likes some other guy.  This is your last option.  What’s the worst that can happen?  They throw you out and don’t talk to you again?  Man, after you get a thank you card from them after the honeymoon, that’s the last you’ll ever hear from her.  Ever.”

It was a ridiculous idea, but I grinned at the prospects.

Mark saw me thinking it through, and he let me savor it just a bit.  “Man, this is your last shot.”

“I can’t do this.  It’s crazy.  What would I say, anyway?”

“You just stand up and say you object.  They have to stop the wedding if someone objects.”

I wasn’t sure that was true.  “That’s it? Just ‘I object’?”

“No, assface.  You stand up and object, and then you tell her how this is the wrong guy for her and how you’re the right guy and you want to have her babies and romantic stuff like that.  Nobody expects that, and she’ll love it.  Look, women like take-charge men.  Take charge.”

He had me there.  I knew that was true because I’d seen girls fall for the bolder guys a million times.

It was really a dumb idea.  Still, I had to admit he was right; it was all I had.  What could I lose?

I looked around the church, a huge, ornate sanctuary big enough to be an indoor ballpark for a little league team.  I was sitting behind what would be the pitcher’s mound, on the first-base side.  People were filing in, and I recognized several faces from our past.  I was nervous.

The music started.  Keokuk and his buddies awkwardly tripped down the aisle with lady family members, while their men, looking useless, ambled along behind.  There was her mother, radiant and proud, but I couldn’t make eye contact, not with what I planned to do.  I took a deep breath.

The groom and preacher appeared, followed by a set of penguins with acne.  I watched the floor.

The bridesmaids came next, and her sister looked right at me as she passed by.  She had never liked me.  I think she knew what I was planning.  The sweat from my armpits trickled down underneath my starched shirt and soaked into my waistband.

And then the congregation stood and turned around.  My heat stopped.  She was stunning.  Even through the veil, I could read her emotion.  Her smile was all-consuming and it drew me in; her eyes, like stars, sparkled with joy.  She knew she was beautiful.  She looked only at her groom, oblivious to the rest of us.

“She looks pretty,” my date whispered, “but that dress is a little too ornate.  I would pick one much simpler.”

I ignored the hint.

I kept looking at the clock, expecting it to tell me how much longer this thing should last.  There was a song, and then another, and then the preacher began to speak.  Why do preachers think that they have to give words of wisdom at a wedding?  No one is listening to them, and does anyone remember what they say long enough to discuss it over dry chicken at the reception?

My heart began to beat in deep, slow, dry beats, pounding against my chest.  I could feel it in my cheeks, hear it in my ears.  I was dizzy.  As the preacher droned on, I went over my plan in my head.

“If there be anyone here …”

“I object!”

Striding down the aisle, one finger pointing high, I shout again.  “I object!”

My date faints.

“I object!”

The groom is livid.  His whirls around to see who is causing the commotion, his face getting red as he locks his gaze onto me, redder, first in the cheeks, then the forehead, and right up into his prematurely receding hair line.

One of the grandmothers, I’m not sure which one, is short and round and struggles to turn and see, her little feet kicking above the floor.

The groomsmen are surprised, but not too smart.  They don’t remember this from the rehearsal, but they hadn’t been paying very good attention to that anyway. They remain still, waiting on their cue to escort the bridesmaids back out.

There are gasps.  “Oh my Lor-r-r-d,” someone drawls out.  Chaos reigns in the pews.

The groom reaches out to grab me, beating the best man to the punch, quite literally.  I duck his reach and drive my right forearm hard into his lower abdomen.  “Oopf,” is the only sound he makes as he goes down to the floor, face first.

The groom’s brother (maybe it is his best friend, I don’t really care) tries to tackle me.  He gets his arms around me, but I spin and break the hold, and as he goes down to the ground as well, I step on his back to get past him.

The pastor appeals for calm.  No one listens.

Her father has reached me, but I raise my hand in a motion for him to stop.  He does.  “Son, what the hell are you doing?!”

I turn to her, my hand still holding back her father, for the moment.   “Listen to me,” I tell her, and for the first time our eyes meet.  She is surprised by the wild man she sees, flitting between anger and fear.

“What are you doin’?! Have you gone crazy?”  She is embarrassed, I can see, something I hadn’t considered until now.

“Jenny, I love you,” I say.  “I guess I am crazy – crazy over you.  This is a mistake.  This is wrong.  You can’t marry him.  You and I are meant to be together.”

The groom finally begins to get back up with the help of his brother, still holding his gut.  “Stay right there sport,” I tell him, and he doesn’t move.  He is seething.

My words carry some weight.  Her head is tilted and her mouth open, with a barely perceptible hint of a smile, as she contemplates what to say.  I can’t let her think too long.

“Look at us, Jenny.”  I motion between the groom and myself.  “Look at who loves you.  Now I might be a fool for ruining your wedding day, but this guy could ruin your life.  He can’t protect you, and I won’t let all of these people here stop me from saving you.  You’re making the biggest mistake of your life.  Don’t make that mistake, honey.”

“Are you serious?”  She casts a furtive glance down toward her groom, but quickly looks back at me.

“Yes, I’m serious.  I can’t live without you.  Can you look me in the eye and say that you don’t really love me, too?”  She glances at her feet, and I know that she can’t.

“I can’t just walk out on my wedding.”

“Come with me,” I plead.  I reach out my hand.  She tentatively, ever so timidly takes it.

I pull her close and we embrace.  I kiss her hard, to more gasps from the pews.

“Now wait just a damn minute,” the groom sputters, but no one pays attention.

I sweep her up in my arms, and begin to carry her out of the church, but not before she can pull off the veil and toss it to her sister.  “I’m sorry, Daddy,” she says.  “I’m sorry everybody.”

“I’m sorry, Jimmy” she calls out to him, almost an afterthought.

We get outside, and the closing doors block out the sound of the now raucous crowd behind us.  I look deep into her eyes and she giggles at me.  “I can’t believe you just did that.  I can’t believe WE just did that.  Now what do we do?”

“The first thing we’ve got to do is get you out of that dress,” I say.  “Let’s go.”

She grabs my arm, kicks off her heels, and we begin to run into the city, just as the doors behind us break open.

“I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU MAN AND WIFE,” the preacher bellowed.  “YOU MAY KISS THE BRIDE.”  The organ blared a celebratory tune, and the congregation stood, bringing me out of my trance.

There she stood, my Jenny and her groom, the wedding over.  She looked happier than I’d ever seen her.  My date beside me dabbed away tears of joy.  Jimmy grinned with pride.  The organ continued to roar as the happy couple paraded up the aisle and out of the church.

I just stared down at the floor as I loosened my tie.

 

(Originally written August, 1989.)

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