Worst Best Man
Part Six, Beheaded
I had a planning tree in my mind, branches off of branches and secret branches to spare. Tucker was gently pushing my plan off the outermost branches.
Before his bachelor party, there had been three times in my life when I'd gotten black-out drunk. My body had stayed awake - or so I'd heard - but my thinking self had flunked the brain chemistry exam of basic human existence. My body couldn't form long-term memories, just a scattering of brief images. Even the images felt separated from me emotionally, as if they'd happened to someone else.
As the evening wore on, Tucker and Adam kept handing me drinks. In retrospect, I didn't have to accept them. I did, though. I was 23 and I pretty much kept going with whatever my friends wanted to do until there was an emergency. My friends asked me to drink, so that's what I did. What I can remember from the late night portion is:
1. Dancing at a bar with a short, curly-haired woman who kept leaning in toward me. She wore a purple dress, plain cloth, nothing fancy. Her smile and her cleavage at the top of the dress looked great. I had the sense this was our third or fourth dance.
2. Standing in a dark corner, wood paneling visible in front of me. A woman's voice whispering in my ear, "You're not going to remember this."
3. Sitting at a table surrounded by members of the bachelor party and bottles of beer. To my right, the lights were bright and out of focus. Someone laughing.
4. Riding in the limousine. Tucker complaining about something. Everyone sympathizing.
5. Arriving at The Brickskeller, a beer house in Georgetown, DC. The fresh air was feeling really good as we walked from the limo to the door. For a moment, I was starting to get sober.
6. A wall of beer bottles and cans, probably in The Brickskeller.
7. Adam asking, "How do you feel?" as I was realizing that I felt pretty sick. "You keep mixing whiskey and beer."
"I hate beer." Sounding drunk even to myself.
"That's why I asked how you feel."
7. Feeling surprised that it was eleven at night and Tucker was still awake. Getting irritated that I'd miscalculated. He was proving to be way more into the drinking than I'd imagined. I'd thought we could meet his midnight curfew easily but it was going to be hard if he stayed awake.
8. Feeling even more ill. Tucker looking wobbly. Him laughing about it.
9. Standing in a line outside somewhere with other men, next to a six or seventh bar, and someone saying, "Fuck it, let's go home." There was no breeze where we were standing. It smelled like an alley in the city. "Yeah, that's a wrap."
I hadn't planned enough about one aspect of the evening and that is how I mostly got dances just for Tucker. A few times, I snagged dance partners for other men in the bachelor party but mostly, I didn't bother. I figured the others would fend for themselves. They should have. But the hitch was: they didn't want to. Not everyone is comfortable with asking women to dance.
In parties at Amherst College, Smith College, and around the Northampton area, I had friends who demanded that I be their wingman. It was a role I sort of understood. Did I always make things work out the way my friends wanted? No. But I knew how it was supposed to go in a rough fashion.
1) Let your friend show you his crush.
2) Pick out another girl from her group and take her onto the dance floor.
3) Now your friend can romance his prospect onto the dance floor with a better chance of acceptance.
There was more to it sometimes but that was the basic scheme. You had to expose yourself to some embarrassment and that's part of why it failed for the bachelor party. Some of Tucker's friends didn't want to dance. Some didn't want to get turned down. Generally, they seemed to want to go drink together at a place that specialized in beer. They bought me whiskey and I got too drunk to argue against their plan. Also, maybe no argument would have worked. Tucker really wanted to drink.
On top of everything, a couple friends in the bachelor party weren't invited to the wedding. That seemed odd. We were hanging out with folks who Tucker had explicitly uninvited. Really. Tucker's father or his fiance, either one, didn't like those friends. Bad feelings about those decisions came out in the beer. We spent too much of the evening bitching about our lives.
We returned Tucker to his fiance an hour late, at one in the morning.
A clergyman dressed mostly in black whispered to Tucker. Both of them smiled, so it must have been a joke. Then the clergyman stood taller. In a louder voice, he recapped the plans we had heard during rehearsal. He indicated with his left hand that I should stand closer to Tucker. After we had stepped through our script, he leaned close to Tuck to ask about his health. Then he took him by the elbow and directed him to stand in the wing of the chapel. I followed.
He gave Tucker a remonstrative glance as he closed the doors on us. Tucker sighed.
We stood alone in an off-white room. Tucker folded his hands in front of him. After a moment of rest, he straightened the lapel of his pearly tuxedo. I was surprised by how good he looked. His blondeness shouldn't have looked so smart with such a bright color next to it. But for him it didn't matter. He wore clothes well. Only his face betrayed a slight sense of his drunkenness.
None of our mutual friends seemed to be on the guest list. We were the groom and best man, alone, waiting for the ceremony to happen around us and sweating in the ninety-degree heat. We had no allies. We had arrived home after his midnight curfew and his family had greeted Tucker with a shouting match. He didn't seem bothered about it. I was. He eyed the solitary window as if considering whether to open it. He gave me a reassuring smile.
"It's kind of hot," he said.
"It's Maryland." We lived in a state that was moist and oppressive. Ninety-five degrees felt like one hundred twenty.
Tucker nodded. He peeked between the doors to study the guests as they took their seats. After a while, the organist started to play. Tucker backed away from the apse of the church.
He turned to me and said, "If I do this again, man, I'm having my ceremony in the winter."
I stared at him. My head hurt. My mouth ached. My body was slow to react. In contrast, Tucker had sarcasm. Or maybe he was being oblivious. A moment later, he burst into laughter.
"I shouldn't say that in the wings of the chapel." He nodded to himself. "Kind of terrible."
"It's okay." That meant it had just slipped out, I guessed.
"Nah. I should have a better attitude."
"Do you feel all right?" He looked better than I felt.
"I'm nervous. A little hung over, too, but mostly I'm hot. And nervous. Fuck, this suit is heavy."
We both chuckled. He complained about the heat for a minute more. We fell quiet. The organist stopped. We heard talking, a distant mumble. A minute later, the clergyman cracked open the door. He invited us to come forward. Tucker strode out into the front of the church with me beside him.
Next, we did all of the things we had been scripted to do. Among them, Tucker took his vows to be faithful forever.
My girlfriend and I followed a train of cars to the reception. It was a complicated route but I was accustomed to long caravans on rafting trips. I blasted through yellow lights. I kept my position in the line.
We ended on the grounds of a place that I realize in hindsight must have made its money from weddings, formal balls, and similar events. I'd never seen anything quite like it before. The private roads were paved but unpainted. Around us, we passed open, green fields of freshly cut grass, strands of trees in the distance, tan pavilions, white gazebos, and a series of parking lots, each a quarter to a third of a mile apart. Many of the mysterious but pretty buildings we passed had gentle paths and parking spots carved out next to them. I followed the cars in front of me and, in two minutes, came to a young man in a suit who gestured to a woman in suit who, when I reached her, showed me where to park.
Inside our destination building, there seemed to be multiple event halls. That was an extra complication I hadn't expected. My girlfriend and I had to follow directions there in order to find ourselves in the grand hall meant for Tucker's wedding reception.
"This place looks expensive," Andrea said. She bit her lower lip.
"I guess it is?" I squinted at it, not quite sure. Tucker had half-heartedly complained over the phone about Laura's preparations and the costs. I hadn't paid much attention. I hadn't understood, really, and he'd told me that it mostly didn't affect him. Laura's family had paid.
We wandered around as a couple. The walls were an odd shade of pink. The furniture seemed to be mostly polished stainless steel, although sometimes with a wood base, and nearly everything bore white cushions or white tablecloths. In the center, there was a dance floor of white tiles. Some of the tables had been placed on the dance area.
It was odd to find myself at a large gathering where I didn't know anyone. Tucker's family seemed too busy to talk except for his mother. She stopped to re-introduce herself to Andrea and ask how we were doing. It was a pleasant minute. She was busy, though, and moved on to other guests. After her, I had a hard time finding anyone who was willing to even look at us. Tucker had gone missing.
According to the seating charts, Andrea would not be sitting with me.
"This is horrible." Andrea said. She hardly glanced at her assigned table. Her gaze fell on the raised platform covered with a white tablecloth. That's where I had been assigned to sit a couple spots from Tucker. "Well, it's for Laura. I almost wish I hadn't been invited, though."
"I'm glad you were," I replied as I imagined a party of two hundred where no one at all wanted to talk to me.
Andrea and I drifted toward the serving trays that sat on the side row of tables in the back. The staff, though, motioned for us to back off. They brought out plates of finger food.
"Have you ever seen anything like this before?" I asked Andrea as I took something from a tray. I didn't know what it was but it smelled fine.
"I grew up in a really small town," she answered. I understood the answer was no, she hadn't. She peered suspiciously at a cracker and olive combination.
Finally, when I wasn't looking for him, Tucker appeared through a side door near us with his bride on his arm. She saw me and let him go. He eased the rest of his way across to us.
"What have you got planned for the toast?" he asked.
"What toast?" I actually looked around to see if there was bread.
"You know, the best man gives a toast. A speech."
"I'm supposed to give a speech?"
"Haven't you even thought about it?" He leaned back. It was the first time he'd seemed startled or even completely awake today.
"For weeks, two or three months now, really, I've been asking you what I should do." My voice got dark. I took a breath and kept calm. "I wanted to know all my best man duties. I asked for them. I asked twice a week. More. How many times? Seriously, how many times did I ask?"
Tucker paled slightly as he replayed the phone calls in his mind.
"It doesn't have to be a long speech," he said.
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