The wedding ceremony of Thomas Pope and Haley Howard just concluded. Everyone agreed it was a lovely wedding. Jack Wells escorted Mrs. Wilson, a nice lady in a big hat, to the shuttle for the reception. Thomas and Haley were college friends of Jack's. Thomas was once a close friend, but there had been a serious falling out and this was the first time they'd seen each other in two years. Haley was never a friend exactly; a one (or two) time romantic interest, whom he once (unsuccessfully) attempted to seduce. She later (successfully) attempted to seduce him.
So he was understandably surprised when, several months ago, he received an invitation to their July wedding outside of Chicago. He understood his function as symbolic, a link with a certain past that no other friend, acquaintance, or relative could quite provide. He was flattered, in a strange way, that he was still prominent enough in one or both of their minds to warrant inclusion
Initially, he wasn't going to go. He even sent in his “decline with regret” card. But as a connoisseur of ironic and amusing situations, he found this hard to pass up and sent Thomas a hasty e-mail two weeks ago. Jack decided to drive out and make a mini-vacation of it.
There was something about seeing these conduits to an earlier time that was appealing to Jack; a sort of poignant quality. They were over six years out of college and Jack, working at a small magazine in Brooklyn, had few ties to that era.
The reception was at the Blue Valley Country Club. Jack had a hazy recollection of Haley working summers there as a lifeguard. A young man in a white tuxedo jacket opened the double doors for him and Mrs. Wilson.
A quintet was playing mellow jazz as they walked into a large wood floored room strung with white lights. There was a large T&H made out of ice.
“I need to sit down, dear.” Jack led Mrs. Wilson to a table. “Thank you.”
Jack wiped his forehead. “I'm parched. Would you like anything to drink, Mrs. W?”
“Oh well, I really shouldn't, but...” She put a gloved finger to her lips. “Vodka and grapefruit juice,” she whispered.
“I'll keep it on the D.L.,” he replied with a conspiratorial wink and made his way over to the small, seemingly inadequate bar. A slender boy with floppy hair who didn't look old enough to be serving or drinking alcohol clasped his hands and said, “What can I get for you, sir?”
“Well, you can not call me sir, please. It's Jack. Could I get a greyhound, a glass of ice water, and please tell me you have scotch?”
The boy looked a little apprehensive. “Okay, no problemo on the water and the grey, the grey...”
“Right on. Let me check my list on the scotch.” He pulled out a laminated, typed sheet and scanned it slowly. “We have scotch!” he said cheerfully. “What would you like?”
“Do you have Glenfiddich?”
“Um, nope. Sorry.”
“Swell pants. Glenlivet then, no ice.”
“Remind me what's in a greyhound?”
“Vodka and grapefruit juice.”
He efficiently poured the drinks and handed them to Jack. “Anything else, sir?”
“That'll do it...” He peered at the green on white name tag. “Bryce. Thanks.” He stuck a five in Bryce's pocket.
Jack dropped off Mrs. Wilson's drink and then went out to the large balcony, which overlooked a small pond. He leaned against the railing, sipped his scotch, and patted his pockets, realizing to his horror that he had no cigarettes.
“Hell.” He drained his scotch and went back inside. The room was filling up and the music had picked up slightly. The song sounded like “Fever” by Otis Blackwell.
By his third visit to the bar, Bryce knew his name and his drink.
“Glenlivet neat, Jack?”
“You're doing a hell of a job, Bryce.”
Back on the balcony, there was an older man in a blue pinstriped suit, alternating between a cigar and a cocktail weenie drenched in red sauce.
“Used to be ducks here on the pond. But they crapped everywhere. Members didn't like it. You don't pay $12,000 in dues every year to step in duck crap.”
“How'd they get rid of the ducks?” Jack asked.
“Groundskeepers started shooting them with pellet guns. Caught hell from some animal rights folks. Camped on the lawn for a bit until the groundskeepers came after them with pellet guns.”
“Wow.” There was the sound of sprinklers coming on. “Hey, where'd you get that weenie?”
“Gal inside with a tray of them.”
“Cool. See you later.”
Jack tracked down the weenie girl and got a plateful.
“I love these things,” he told her. “I'm sure you hear that all the time. Somehow they taste better at weddings, don't you think?”
Halfway through the plate, he felt something on the back of his upper arm. He wiped his mouth and turned to see a raven-haired college acquaintance, Betsy Farmer, in a form fitting sleeveless dress with a small star design.
“Jack fuckin' Wells. Didn't think I'd see you again.”
He set his plate down and they embraced.
“It's good to see you, Bets.”
She stood arms akimbo and glared at him. “I can't believe you've never called or written.”
“What? I didn't even know what state you were in. Besides, we never wrote in each others' yearbooks, ‘Stay in touch, best friends forever.'”
She punched him rather hard in the arm. “Jaded bastard. I'm mad at you now.” She walked away in an exaggerated huff.
“Betsy, don't go. I can change.” He laughed. A little boy in short pants and a blazer stared at him.
The wedding party finally arrived. Somebody said the bride and groom came in a horse drawn carriage. Jack felt a bit like he was at a junior high dance; quietly nursing a drink, standing alone, recognizing people, but not knowing whom to talk with. Well, he thought, at least scotch is a big improvement over watered down red punch, I'm not wearing bleached jeans, and Def Leppard's not playing. And he didn't much mind that he was apart from the crowd.
Sally, one of Haley's bridesmaids was coming towards him. Earlier he had told her that he was a writer and that he wrote Everything is Illuminated .
“Hey Sally, you look nice.”
“Oh, the writer. How's your novel?”
“I don't write novels. Too long. I run out of words.”
“You're not clever, you know.”
“Yeah, I do.”
She shook her head and walked away.
“Thanks for letting me know, Sally. Thanks,” he called after her. He got a refill (this time with a little ice) and went out to the lobby to call his editor. When he returned, the music had stopped and the speeches had begun. Jack grabbed a flute of pink champagne from a passing waiter.
“...I think it's really beautiful what you have here. It's something we can all attain to, something that can inspire all of us. I mean, you don't see this kind of love, every day, am I right? Love doesn't always have a place in this crazy world...” The speaker started to tear up. “So please raise your glasses to the couple of the year, Thomas and Haley. God bless you two.” Everyone toasted.
“Not bloody likely,” Jack muttered.
“Pardon me,” asked a heavily made up woman in a bright red dress.
“Nothing. Cheers. Amour Vitrix.”
“Are you English?”
“French Canadian. Excuse me.” Jack set down his champagne and went to find Betsy.
She was out on the balcony smoking with a few others. She took a long drag on her cigarette, narrowed her eyes, and slowly exhaled.
“Hi Betsy, been a while. Man, it's hot.”
“Mmm.” She swirled her drink and set it down. “I hate these speeches.”
“Oh, I don't know. They're necessary. These things only happen once in a lifetime. A certain amount of sentimentality is expected. I think it's nice.”
Betsy laughed in her familiar deep, slightly contemptuous way. She threw her cigarette over her head and batted the end of his striped tie.
“I don't believe you. Since when did you like this crap? Did you send away in the mail for feelings?”
He pushed her shoulder lightly. “You're getting hostile.”
“Right. You've got a head start. Wanna fight?”
She smiled and picked up her drink. She stirred it with her finger and then put her finger in her mouth.
“So, are you sad to see Haley get married?”
Jack shrugged. “Why would I be?”
“I don't know. I thought you really fancied her at one point.”
“Water under the bridge. Do you have any more cigarettes?
“Oh, I might somewhere.” She dug around in a black leather handbag and brought out a silver cigarette case.
“Swellegant,” he said, taking two cigarettes, one of which he put in his mouth and the other behind his ear.
“The case was my great uncle's. I suppose you'll be needing a light, too?”
“If it's not too much trouble.”
“Anything for you, Jack.” With a silver Zippo, she lit his cigarette, holding his gaze across the flame. It was getting darker out. Somewhere in the distance a red light was blinking.
“So,” Jack said. “What are you doing with yourself these days?”
She rolled her eyes and snorted. “Oh God, Jack, is that the best you can do?”
“It's a simple question. I live in New York.” He swallowed some smoke and coughed a little. The band had started up again. It sounded like “Dream a Little Dream.”
They were silent for a minute. Jack put out the cigarette in his glass and leaned back on the railing. Without really thinking, he began to lightly stroke Betsy's upper arm. She moved closer and let him continue for a moment before turning swiftly to face him and pinning him against the railing.
She laughed softly and Jack thought they were going to kiss as she moved her face closer. But she swerved and whispered in his ear.
“Don't think I'm gonna let you get in my pants again, Jack. I'm not that drunk. See you later, babe.” She bit his ear gently and left him alone on the balcony.
“Well,” he said to himself. “Nothing like catching up.” He took the crumpled wedding program out of his jacket and wrote on it, “the decay of friendships and the artificial nostalgia of weddings and reunions.”
Then he jumped over the railing. The dark made the ground look closer than it was. Jack landed badly, twisting his ankle and crumpling into a heap. He groaned and realized there was blood coming out somewhere. Slowly sitting up, he saw a tear in his pants and a gash on his knee.
He got up and hobbled over to the pond. Carefully, he took off his jacket, shoes, socks, and then rolled up his pants legs and walked into the pond. When he got to about mid-shin, he stopped. Something made a splashing noise on the other side of the pond. It was a couple of ducks. Guess they didn't get them all, he thought.
From the club, he could faintly make out “The Way You Look Tonight.” The kid in short pants was looking at him from the balcony. Jack put his hands in his pockets and watched the ducks.