My contribution to Flash Fiction Friday
The cool June breeze was filled with the fragrance of magnolias. James paced in front of the church. He wiped his brow.
“How do I look?” Jim said.
“Like you did five minutes ago.”
“Are you sure?
“All right, you look like a hobbit,” Richard said. He was taller, and thinner, than James and although the same age, looked twenty years older.
“On steroids. Maybe with acromegaly.”
Richard leaned forward and adjusted James’s bow tie.
“Acromegaly. Pituitary tumor.”
“Growth hormone. Think Andre the Giant.”
“I look like a hobbit with a tumor?”
“The cummerbund helps.”
“Dresses you up. Draws the eyes away from the hobbit look.”
“I don’t think the soon to be Mrs. Tugwell would appreciate that.” He reached out and adjusted the tie again. “I don’t think she’d want you all worn out before the big night. So, save it for later.”
“If there is a later.”
Richard looked at his watch. He just had to hang on for another fifteen minutes. Get James into the church, to the alter, say the words, and it was done.
“There will be a later,” Richard said. “That’s the deal.”
“Maybe I don’t want the deal.”
“Trust me, it’s the only way out.”
James stood at the alter and listened to the pastor. He wondered why people came to weddings. There were only so many ways to marry people, so many things to say about marriage, commitment, round rings, eternity together, to death do you part. Everyone knew the outcome, unless it was The Graduate. And a wedding used up the whole day. Or at least it had used up his whole day, but then again he had a good seat. He looked at the bride, his bride, standing across from him, the veil hiding her face from him and the pastor. He thought that she was supposed to pull it off her face sometime, but she had not done it. Richard coughed behind him. He coughed again. Then he called his name, softly. James scrunched his face as if he smelled burning sulfur, and Richard stepped behind him, and put his lips to James’s ear.
“He’s talking to you,” he said and squeezed his arm.
James looked at the pastor. The pastor stared at him, the joyous face replaced by a frown. They just looked at each other for a few more moments. James heard coughs and murmurs from the observers.
“James,” the pastor said, louder this time, raising his voice an octave on the last part of his name. “Do you take Emily …”
James looked at Emily. What the heck was he doing here? With her. Now. What had Richard gotten him into this time? How long would it …
Richard grabbed him by the neck and pulled his ear to his lips again.
“Say ‘I will’ now,” he said, his warm moist breath hitting James’s ear. “Now. Say it.”
“I will,” he said, his voice lacking conviction.
The pastor turned toward Emily and went through the questions and in what seemed like an instant, Emily pushed back her veil and leaned forward and kissed him. The observers clapped politely.
The reception hall was dimly lit, like a hobbit’s cave, James thought. He held Emily’s hand as they walked between the DJ’s console and a group of teenagers dancing like a frenetic giraffe on crack. One of the teenage boys ran up to Emily, she was just a few years older than he was, he took her hand and led her to the rest of his group and, dressed in the long white gown, she looked like a fairy princess with her minions flowing around her.
James swirled the Wild turkey around in the glass, splashing the thin amber liquid over and around the ice cubes, and swallowed it without stopping. The burn brought a tear to his eye. He put the glass down, and signaled the waiter to pour another. A man he did not know wrapped his arm around his shoulder and pulled him tight.
“We’re brothers now, you and me. Take care of her.” The man looked around the room, his face shifted from face to face, and he leaned to James’s ear. “Or else.” He squeezed James’s shoulder, tight, the pain shot to his elbow, and the man walked away.
James picked up the glass, swirled the bourbon and tossed it back.
“Slow down big fella,” Richard said as he walked up to him. “You’ve got a big night ahead of you.”
James looked over to the crowd of dancers, even larger than before. Emily was in the center, holding up the train of the dress, her head tossed back, a joyous smile on her face as the group pulsed around her. He smiled, drank his third double in ten minutes.
“I’m done. Find someone else.” He put the glass down, threw a five into the tip jar and walked away.
“That wasn’t the deal.”
“Deal? What deal Richard? Deals are negotiations, everyone gets something, a trade. I’m the one losing his shirt in ‘the deal’, and the rest of you wash their hands. Find someone else.”
The room wobbled a little as James stepped forward. He shook his head and looked at the ceiling light to right himself. His steps were deliberate as he walked to Emily. She turned toward him and smiled. She reached out with her hands, the corsage was twisted on her wrist.
He spoke to her, but the music was loud and the crowd muffled his words. She stepped closer. He leaned to her ear.
“You have a good life.” He stepped away and walked to toward the door.
“James?” she said, the voice soft, buried in her throat. “James?”
He opened the door and the still June air rushed in and the smell of magnolias travelled like a stream through the crowd and swirled around Emily as the lights began to pulse.