By Anita Haas
Ping. Pam, hair wrapped cold and wet on her head, fumbled in her bag for the cell phone. It was not an easy task. She was sitting in the salon where she came to get her hair done every Wednesday before meeting Ted.
It was a message and friend request from someone called “the best man.”
Hi Pam. Stewart Wallace, here. You may remember me from one of Ted’s parties. I suppose you know he is marrying Noreen, our boss’s daughter. He asked me to be his best man. As Ted and I have not worked together long, I thought I’d ask some of his old friends for anecdotes or funny stories I could incorporate into my speech. It’s my first time as best man! I ask that you keep this a secret, as I want this to be a surprise for Ted. Thanks in advance for any assistance.
Shock waves washed through Pam’s body. Ted marrying Noreen? He hadn’t told her that. They met every Wednesday, and the whole time he had his own plans!
Should she not go? Should she confront him?
“Pam …” the hairdresser’s sing-song voice called her back to the present.
“Oh, sorry, Romi, Yeah, go ahead, do it the usual way. Looks great.”
Forty minutes later, Pam was in her white sports car, the one her husband Curtis had given her for her last birthday, just after she had started asking him about a certain woman named Rita. She checked her make-up in the mirror and drove off to the law firm where Ted worked. He never wanted to meet there, insisting on a restaurant or his place. Now she understood why; his fiancée Noreen worked there too.
Shaking, she waited a moment. She imagined herself storming into his office. He would just laugh at her angry face. Maybe she should act cold and dignified. He would see through that, too.
“What’s all this about?” he asked, irritated as she presented herself at his door. “I thought I told you not to come here. We were meeting at Clanetti’s for lunch.”
Pam felt her willpower failing, but she had to go on. “What’s this about you getting married?”
“Oh, you got the invitation already? Noreen just sent them out yesterday. That was quick.”
“You never mentioned it to me.”
He was reclining in his chair, his long, lean body stretched out, and chuckled, “Well, a man doesn’t talk about certain things when he’s … are you sure I never mentioned it?”
Pam collapsed on the chair opposite him. Her anger had lost its steam. How did other women do it? The ones who marched around demanding explanations?
“It’s just that I thought maybe someday we’d ….”
“Come now. You’re perfectly fine married to Curtis. He’s too busy with work to notice. He buys you everything you want, and you have the time and money to stay beautiful. And you are beautiful.” He stood up and strode around the desk. He placed his hands on her shoulders, pulled her long tresses back and started kissing her neck. “We can go on as we are. I’m only marrying Noreen so that one day the company will be mine. Oliver Wendell likes me. He thinks his daughter is too naive to run the business, even though she is a lawyer too. He has her working here as a receptionist because he doesn’t trust her!” Ted chuckled. “That’s where yours truly comes in.”
Pam squirmed, making a timid show at pushing him away. He insisted. “Well, since you’re here now, we can get to the good stuff before lunch.”
This had happened before; in fact, every time, they disagreed. He just had to touch her, and she would give in.
She gasped as his hands slid down into her bra and cupped her breasts. He pulled her up gently and guided her towards the table.
“Out for lunch.” She leaned forward over the table. He held her down with his left hand and undid his belt with his right.
Pam was still furious, but she would think about that later. For the moment, she pushed her new lace thong down and arched her back.
He smacked her butt and groaned. “Knew you wouldn’t stay mad for long. Wish all women were so easy to tame.”
When they finished, he sent her off, saying he didn’t have time for lunch in the end, too much work. “I wonder if Curtis knows what a slut he has for a wife.”
Pam shivered. She pulled her sweater closed and turned her face away when he tried to kiss her goodbye. He smirked. “Okay. Go be dignified. See you next week.”
That night Curtis came home late, as usual. He was surprised not to find Pam watching TV and keeping dinner warm. She was at her computer instead, clad in a tracksuit, no make-up, hair in a ponytail and glasses on. Her dog, Midgy, given to her when she started talking about kids, snoozed on her lap.
“What’s this?” he barked. “You look like crap.”
“Oh,” she removed her glasses and turned to him. “Sorry. What time is it?”
“Ten o’clock. Who’ve you been chatting to?”
“Just Romi. She’s having problems at work.”
“Well, tell her you to have to sign off. Your husband is home. God, next thing I know, you’ll be fat and wearing huge flowered house-dresses with your hair in a bun.”
Pam got up and slipped past him into the kitchen. She avoided his eyes but could not avoid the reek of whisky. She opened the fridge, “There’s some leftover chicken. Or a frozen pizza?”
“Should have picked something up somewhere. Yeah, okay, chicken.”
The kitchen chair creaked as Curtis sank into it and started leafing through the mail.
“Hey, guess what? Ted’s getting married again.”
Pam, her back to him, opened the micro-wave and shoved in the chicken. “Oh?”
“Yeah, and what a guy! Didn’t even tell me himself. I got this weird message from … do you remember that dude we met at a party once? I think that’s him. Someone Ted works with named Stewart. Says he’s going to be the best man.”
“Strange he didn’t ask you again. You are his best friend.”
“Naw, I don’t care about that stuff. Better this other guy.”
Pam heard the waver in his voice. Why did he have to put on the act? And for her?
“What does this Stewart guy want?”
The microwave dinged, and she withdrew the dish.
“Something about funny stories. You know how the best man has to make a funny speech.” He hooted too loud. “That’s probably why Ted doesn’t want me to be the best man again. Remember the last time?”
She did remember. It had been pathetic. Curtis had been so nervous he got pissed drunk beforehand and then embarked on a slew of dirty jokes and tall tales.
She brought the steaming plate over to the table. “So, I guess he’s marrying that girl from the party too. What was her name?”
“Can’t remember. Not much to look at. Then again, neither was Paula. Ted sure has bad taste in women. Not like me.” He leaned forward and tweaked her cheek. “Hey, sorry about what I said before, kid. You will never get fat.”
Her plate was empty, as usual. She watched him eat dutifully.
Pam remembered how they used to laugh about Paula. Dark, short, tubby, with heavy eyebrows and a faint moustache, while Ted was so tall and attractive. Now, she wasn’t sure there was so much to laugh about. Paula had recovered from the divorce, she was a success in her job, and the last time Pam ran into her in the mall, she looked radiant. Maybe not tall, tanned and gym-toned like herself, but radiant.
“What are you going to tell him?”
“The truth, of course!” Curtis snorted, his mouth full. “Going to tell him what a bastard his new friend is!” He raised his beer glass to her, “Hey, aren’t you eating?”
“Not hungry.” She hadn’t eaten since breakfast.
“Better. Nothing worse than a fat wife.”
What would you like me to tell you? she had asked Stewart on chat earlier that evening.
Tell me how you met.
Here at Somerleigh University. Ted and my husband were best friends. Well, best friends and worst enemies.
You know, rivalry. Both are tall, good-looking, smart, competitive. Both are successful in their careers.
I’m younger than they are. They played basketball. My girlfriends and I would go and cheer them on. God, how silly that sounds now.
Before she knew it, Pam was telling Stewart intimate details she hadn’t even shared with her closest friend. She told him about her marriage and about her various failed attempts at developing her own interests; the shoe boutique, the design studio, even a stint at selling cosmetics.
She was on the point of disclosing her affair with Ted when Curtis arrived. She was grateful for the interruption. It cooled her head. How could she possibly tell a perfect stranger about that? But when she heard Curtis snore, she felt drawn to the computer. Would Stewart still be there? There was something in his distant yet understanding way of “listening” to her …
The next night Curtis lingered at his desk. It was past quitting time, and he had had a gruelling day. He considered going for a drink but was too exhausted, and at home, he would have to chat with Pam.
He thought about writing this Stewart guy to reminisce about the good old days. It was strange writing personal things to someone you didn’t know. It reminded him of something that had happened in his office a while back; he and a couple of other guys on the floor had played a joke on Russell, a shy, nerdy type, by inventing a girlfriend for him on Facebook.
But this was different. This was a real person, and he’d actually met him at least once. But it seemed a bit unmasculine to hide behind a social media page. Couldn’t he just call? Or better yet, meet for a few beers?
He opened the chat.
Hello Stewart? You wrote me yesterday about Ted.
Hi Curtis. Thanks for responding. Hate to bother you. It’s just, I’d like to know some odd things about Ted. Nothing too serious or personal. Maybe just tell me how you met.
Curtis had poured himself a whiskey.
We met during the first year of university. Both top of the class, good at sports, good with the girls. LOL.
LOL. I can believe that!
But I was better at that last one than he was.
Interesting! Tell me more!
Don’t get me started, LOL! My wife, for one. We both ogled her. He started going out with her, but she dropped him like a hat when she met me! LOL, That really pissed him off.
I’m sure it did!
Curtis took a sip of whiskey.
So, he started going out with this ugly chick named Paula. What a dog! Smart though, gotta hand it to her. Maybe too smart for Ted.
Curtis took a swig this time.
You know. Both lawyers. She got better grades, got a job before he did.
What happened to her?
They got married around the time we did.
Curtis reached for his glass, realized it was empty and poured some more.
But that isn’t funny anecdotes. Wait till I tell you about the camping trip!
Curtis took another swig and paused as his eyes readjusted to the screen. He was feeling a bit foggy.
We used to go camping.
LOL, you know how us guys are!
I’ve been on my share of camping trips, yes.
’Course you have. There was that time when …
Curtis paused. His face was red and sweating.
Curtis, still there?
Yup, still here.
The camping trip?
There were these girls.
Just some girls. Came along in a canoe. We were partying with some other guys.
Curtis paused again, glanced at his empty glass, and rubbed his eyes. He wondered if he should continue. It had been so long since he had thought about that trip. Maybe he had never really thought about it at all. Why was he telling this to some complete stranger when he had never confided it to anyone, not even his wife? In fact, he and Ted had never mentioned it again. Why hadn’t they? It would spoil the fun. He felt the sudden need to share it now. He looked at the whiskey bottle but didn’t pour himself another glass.
We were too drunk to think straight. Young. 19, 20, can’t remember.
Yes? Yes? What are you, a psychiatrist? Didn’t you say you’d been on your share of camping trips? Can’t you imagine what happened?
You raped one of the girls.
Curtis stared at the screen. The words imprinted themselves on his retina.
Is that what happened, Curtis?
Curtis suddenly remembered he was chatting with a lawyer. How could he have been so stupid? What had come over him? He decided to change his tune. He poured more whiskey for assistance and forced a big belly laugh, all alone in his empty office.
Oh, now, I wouldn’t call it rape! Those girls came in their boat knowing what they were getting into. They were looking for a good time!
Were they drunk?
Drunk and high. We had a good supply with us.
Who went first?
Ted. It was his idea.
You held her arms and covered her mouth.
Ted covered her mouth.
And, when it was your turn?
Curtis stared at the screen. He had done it again. Damn lawyers! Well, this one had no proof, no names, nothing.
Look, what are you fishing for? Do you plan to use this in your speech?
No, sorry. Didn’t mean to pry. Just seemed like you wanted to get it off your chest.
My chest is fine. And I have said enough!
More from Goat’s Milk Magazine
Gabriel headed to the ChitChat Café at 8a.m., as usual. Wendy and her mom arrived earlier to start baking and get the coffee perking. Some students would already be there.
Lately, his role in the business was taking a backseat, although he had been the one who opened it years ago, barely out of university.
Gabriel was a Spanish immigrant on a student visa then. It would have been difficult for him to start a business with no one to back him. Still, his friends, Ted and Nick, were geniuses in acquiring money and getting around the law. Both were too slimy for his liking, and now he was married to an honest, hard-working girl who would be shocked if she discovered the tricks he had been involved in.
Ted and Nick needed Gabriel’s computer skills, creating an army of false identities to promote their businesses, cloning sites, hacking, email scams, industrial espionage and more. He had helped reluctantly but dutifully, knowing he owed them. Nick was already in jail, and he wouldn’t be surprised if Ted would soon be on his way. Gabriel wanted to have as little to do with either of these characters as possible.
When he opened the cyber-café, it was at the heyday of computer technology. Students came to write their essays and make long-distance calls. Now, everyone had tablets and called home using Skype, Messenger or FaceTime. The only customers he had lately were older people who came to his workshops in the backroom to learn how to use their devices.
Thankfully, his resourceful wife had turned the place into one of the trendiest cafés in town. Soft music played, and coffee brewed as the warming smell of cookies, muffins, and squares wafted from the tiny kitchen. Patrons sat in comfy wicker chairs, either in the reading corner, surrounded by magazines racks and small potted trees, or out on the sidewalk, under the big awning which stretched all the way to the street. Sheers flitted in the breeze, and the walls were always decorated with the exhibitions of some local artist or other, who would celebrate their openings there. Every day of the week was booked; a writer’s group, a book club, language exchanges, children’s hour, even a knitting circle.
He knew he was fortunate with his in-laws too. Wendy, being an only child, her well-off parents had accepted her marrying a dirt-poor foreign student, investing both time and money in the business.
Gabriel’s duties were limited to the technical side. He had to ensure the phones, computers and photocopier were working, and give his classes.
He hadn’t thought about Nick or Ted in a while, but this morning on his way to work, he heard the Messenger ping on his phone. It was a message and friend request from someone named Stewart, explaining that he was going to be Ted’s best man. Gabriel shook his head. Ted getting married again after what he had done to that poor girl, Paula. Stewart said he wanted some funny stories to use in his speech.
After several hours in the backroom doctoring a sick laptop, he wandered to the counter where Wendy and his mother-in-law, Joanne, were attending the regulars.
“Can I help?”
“No!” They answered in unison. Joanne stuffed a peanut butter cookie in his mouth and shooed him away, “This is woman’s work.” But he knew better. It was because he was a clutz; he kept dropping things, spilling coffee on customers … it was embarrassing.
There were no workshops today, so he thought he’d busy himself by looking up some new programs, but he’d quickly check his email and social media accounts. He saw Stewart’s message again. Well, it wouldn’t be polite not to answer. May as well get it out of the way. But what funny anecdotes could he tell?
Stewart? Gabriel here. Got your message this morning. I don’t know how much of a help I can be.
Gabriel! Thanks for responding. Maybe just tell me how you and Ted met.
Well, I’m from Madrid. I came to study Computer Science here in Ontario. I met Ted and his friend Nick through some Spanish students here. Nick was going out with one of them.
Gabriel hesitated. There were so few good things he could say about Ted.
Ted was going out with a girl named Paula.
Yes, I know, but …
You know Ted better than you say you do! LOL Yes, he was seeing one … at least one … of the Spanish girls, too.
How had he let that loose? He could feel the anger well up again after all these years. A mixture of jealousy and protectiveness. He thought of Angeles. It’s not that he had wanted to go out with her exactly, but he envied the awe Ted inspired in women, especially because he knew how he treated them.
LOL, Good ole Ted. I wouldn’t have expected any less of him☺
It was so long ago, and we haven’t kept in touch.
Ted mentioned you run an internet café.
Yes. With my wife.
You and Ted must have given each other a hand sometimes. Professionally, I mean.
This question seemed a bit impertinent to Gabriel.
Occasionally. I thought you wanted anecdotes. Do you intend to talk about work stuff at the wedding?
You’re right. Sorry for prying. If you can think of anything else …
Suddenly Gabriel felt a rush of remorse.
Ted helped me a lot. I am very grateful for what he and his contacts did when I needed help starting my business.
There. That was the manly thing to do, wasn’t it? Credit where credit was due, even if to a bastard.
“Mommy! Mommy!” Five-year-old Adéle hopped up and down to get Paula’s attention. “Remember you have to pick me up from ballet today!”
“Yes, sweetie. Don’t worry. And if I can’t, Daddy will be there.” Paula glanced up at Justin to be sure he was okay with it.
Justin smiled back at her. Everything was okay with him, but she liked him to know she wasn’t just taking it for granted.
“Okay, we gotta go now, princess.” he was saying, as Paula heard a ping in her phone, “Don’t wanna be late.”
Maybe it was Jan from the office. A bit early for messages. She would check after Justin took Adéle to school.
She kissed them both goodbye. Paula had some meetings today, so she was going into the office a bit later. She pulled out her phone. It was a message from Stewart. She remembered him. He worked with her ex-husband, Ted.
As she read, old emotions flooded back. Ted was getting married again. She couldn’t care less. The divorce was the best thing that had happened to her. She was a million times happier with Justin. How could two men be so different? She was so lucky not to have fallen into the same trap as so many others, repeating negative relationship patterns. It hadn’t been easy, of course. She had needed two years of therapy.
Stewart wanted funny anecdotes to tell at the wedding!
That poor girl he was marrying, so shy and naive. Ted would eat her alive!
She would think about it later. As she moved through her day, Paula’s mind kept pulling back to the request. That had always been her problem; putting other people’s needs first, never being able to say no. An unanswered email would nag at her until she sat down and answered it, even if it was only to say she would get back to them later.
So, by the time Adéle was in bed that evening, and Justin was busy grading papers, she sat at her computer and stared at the message. Snippets of memory had been snaking through her thoughts all day.
She began typing.
Hi Stewart! Nice to hear from you. Of course, I remember you. Love to help, but as you know, haha, Ted and I divorced. Not sure there are many funny things I can tell you. And I don’t want to be a bore and rant like a disgruntled ex-wife. LOL.
There was an immediate answer.
Thanks for responding, Paula. I suppose it is strange to ask the ex-wife for info. LOL. But you know him better than anyone! Maybe just tell me how you met.
In kindergarten! We are both from a tiny farming village in Northern Ontario.
No! What was Ted like as a kid?
LOL, you won’t believe it. He was the shyest kid in the class.
Yes! I felt sorry for him. I adopted him like a little brother. The other boys wouldn’t play with him, and he was really hurt by that.
I would never have imagined.
He doesn’t want anyone to know that, so please don’t mention it.
No, no. I’m glad you are showing me a different side of him. His family?
God, horrible! Father was a brute. Belonged to some weird sect. Super-strict. Mother left, but Ted stayed with dad and grandmother, who was just like the father. They turned him against his mother. When she tried to get him back, he wouldn’t go. Now he tells everyone she was a whore and abandoned him.
Yes, I think I heard him say something like that once.
Came to our house a lot. Better atmosphere.
Is he in touch with his family now?
The grandmother died, the father is in a home with Alzheimer’s, won’t talk about his mother. Flew into a rage if I mentioned her.
Wow. So, you were sweethearts as kids already!
Oh, no! I always took care of him, sure. But later, he got more confident. That loud, tyrannical confidence his father had. He grew tall, smart, good-looking. Soon, girls noticed him, and boys respected him. I was like a sister. In university, he was with pretty Pam. Don’t know if he was in love or if it was a status thing. All the guys envied him.
Pam? The woman married to his friend Curtis?
Right. Ted and Curtis met in first year. They became great friends, well, you know. Who said that “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer”? That kind of friendship. LOL
Suddenly Paula realized she was revealing a lot of personal information. She certainly didn’t owe Ted any loyalty, but what if he found out and retaliated?
Stewart, I shouldn’t be telling you this.
No. Sorry. I just wanted to know how you met.
Paula felt terrible. It was true. He had only asked her that. What was it about this Stewart that made her feel she could trust him so?
No, I’m sorry. You weren’t nosy. See, Ted was kind of the leader among his friends. They admired and hated him. Pam ended up with Curtis. I think that was the most courageous thing she has ever done because of abandoning Ted … but the poor thing went from the frying pan to the fire because Curtis is cut from the same cloth.
What is Pam like?
She’s changed. When I first met her, she was a typical empty-headed bimbo, only thinking about make-up, clothes and marrying money.
She still worries about those things, but I think she realizes she has missed out. But she’s not sure on what or how to find it. I saw her a while ago in the mall. She seemed drained. Beautiful, thin and perfectly made-up with great hair, but sad. I felt sorry for her for the first time.
So, how did you and Ted end up getting married?
I guess you could say I fell for it.
I always loved Ted. Somehow, I always thought we would end up together. It would just take time. I kept him in line, helped him study, was the one he confided in. I even wrote his papers for him. God, what an idiot I was! Of course, I am not the kind of girl who attracts those kinds of guys. After Pam left him, he came to me. Told me he always loved me, how blind he had been, etc. Later I realized it was because I had a job, could help him, and also Curtis and Pam had announced their wedding. Imagine! Ted being upstaged like that! Of course, he acted like he didn’t care. He sang my praises to everyone, and I must admit, I loved it. He insisted we get married the week before they did. Just because. I was thrilled. I didn’t want to see reality. Tell you the truth, I think Curtis only snatched Pam away to show off. So, there we were, LOL, two happily married couples!
She had gone and done it again. Why was it that once you were on a roll, it was so hard to stop? Was that what confession was like?
How long were you married?
Two years. I got him a job where I worked, but that backfired immediately.
Ted has these underhanded ways. I told him I didn’t want trouble. My first job as a lawyer, and I wanted to make a good start. He got us both fired.
But he had other deals going on. Wanted to get me involved, and at first, to avoid fights, I did.
It’s complicated. Real estate gimmicks, false companies they got people to invest in. Terrible. And other things. Stopped telling me about them. I finally got a job in an NGO, the kind of thing I love. Still there. He laughed at me, called me a martyr, a goody-two-shoes, all that. Haha! Maybe you can use that in your speech! But he knew how to wiggle his way out. He and his friends Nick and Curtis. Then Curtis got a job in a company. Good for him. Pretty above-board now, more out of fear than honesty. Not as reckless as Ted. And Nick is in jail. Ted should be there with him. Now, he has this Wendell family fooled. I wish I could warn them.
Thanks for writing. And sorry if it stirred up bad memories.
I am happy now. What bothers me is the memory of that vulnerable little boy. How I took care of him. Always did. Until we divorced. My question will always be; Was he a good little boy who turned bad because of his hurtful circumstances, or was he always a bad little boy, afraid to show it until he had the confidence to?
Oliver and Cecilia Wendell forced smiles as the guests’ cars meandered up their long driveway. Oliver glanced at his watch. “What the hell is going on?” he grumbled to his wife without losing his smile.
“Don’t know.” Her smile was as stiff as her golden hair.
“Well, I know she wanted a small wedding, but this is ridiculous!”
It was almost four o’clock, and so far, the dozen or so guests present were his employees and some friends of his daughter. Where were his business associates?
He peered at his wife. “Did you send out all the invitations?” Cecilia had been known to show vengefulness over the years, but this would be going too far.
“Noreen insisted on sending them.” Cecilia waved to an incoming vehicle. “Look, here come the Wallaces. Jake! Fiona! Stewart! Hello!” Then, she murmured, “Fiona told me Stewart has been kind of depressed lately. Hope he gives a nice speech!”
“Send them herself? How could you trust her with a responsibility like that? It’s a good thing I found her a husband who will take care of things.” He was annoyed that his wife was taking this all too lightly. “Stewart depressed? He has been a bit quiet lately. To think that before Ted came along, I thought that he and Noreen might … well, thank God Ted came along!” He spotted his daughter greeting some musicians pulling instruments out of their trunk.
His irritation softened at the sight of her. Tiny and thin with wispy light brown hair and pale, freckled skin, she was his nymph, his fairy. More like airy-fairy! She was wearing a satin wedding dress and a delicate wreathe of lilies.
Although she had been a good student, he did not intend for her to work as a lawyer. She should be a lady, like her mother, taken care of by a strong man, while she occupied herself with things like home decoration and entertaining. Although she hadn’t done so well in that department this time around! His irritation returned, “Noreen!”
She waved to him, “Not now, Dad! I’m getting the musicians organized.”
Oliver’s jaw set. Not now, Dad? Who did she think she was?
Cecilia slipped her arm through his, “Come on, dear. It’s time.” No more cars snaked up the drive. They followed the flagstone path to the back garden with resigned smiles, where several rows of folding chairs had been set up near the swimming pool, facing a podium under Cecilia’s rose arbour. A violinist and solo singer squeezed in between the arbour and a hedge.
Oliver and Cecilia looked around. Everything was lovely, but very small scale. Noreen skipped towards them with a young minister. “Mom, Dad. I know you must be surprised. But you’ll understand later. I really couldn’t have a big, showy wedding.”
“My little girl.” Oliver touched his daughter’s hair. He had lost the irritation again. “You know you are going to have to overcome this shyness of yours sometime. I was hoping that would be today.” How could she ever have considered being a lawyer if she couldn’t bear being the centre of attention?
“Oh, Dad. Forgive me. Let me celebrate this day my way. Mom, Dad. This is Reverend Beasley.”
“But Reverend Carlson has always officiated at the services in this family!”
“I’m afraid he is not feeling well today.”
“We’ll see about that! I’m going to call him right ….”
“Oliver!” Cecilia took his arm. “Let’s not make a scene. Thank you for coming in his place, Reverend Beasley.”
Noreen flitted off to greet Ted, who had just arrived. Ted looked as perplexed at the attendance as Oliver, but Noreen ushered him to his place. “Quickly, now, Reverend Beasely has a funeral in an hour!”
The ceremony took exactly fifteen minutes, after which Noreen shooed everyone to the other side of the house, where some tables had been arranged around a make-shift dance floor. A three-piece band had just finished setting up.
Oliver felt faint and leaned on his wife for support, “A finger-food buffet!” he wheezed as he observed the table offering potato chips, olives and other scant snacks.
“Come on, Dad!” Noreen bounced towards him as the band started up, “Let’s waltz!” She already had a champagne glass in her hand. Ted led Cecilia onto the floor to the cheers of the guests toasting glasses. No one had ever seen Noreen so lively.
After two waltzes, the musicians fell silent, and the bridal couple took their places at the head table. The moment for speeches had arrived.
The guests took their seats and eyed each other nervously. Pam recognized Gabriel and Wendy, the couple from the cyber-café. She also recognized Rita Clanetti and her new husband, Eddie. And there was Paula and her husband! Did Noreen and Ted have no other friends?
Pam’s stomach twitched when Stewart got to his feet. What if he mentioned something she had said? What if he alluded to her? Curtis poured himself another glass of champagne and began clearing his throat. She knew he was nervous. She glanced over at Gabriel. He was shifting in his seat. Rita Clanetti stared fixedly at Stewart’s face, and Paula didn’t stop fanning herself and wiping her brow.
But Stewart’s speech was nothing more than a mundane list of office anecdotes – poking fun at Ted for little foibles like using the ladies’ room the first day at work and having mistaken his own future bride for a cleaning lady, followed by a tribute to Noreen’s virtues, “I will close now by congratulating my rival (haha), Ted, and by asking him to please care for her and honour her as she deserves. You are a lucky man!”
The guests burst into a round of applause and cheers, as much for the touching speech as for the great wave of relief that washed over them. As Oliver stood up to sing his son-in-law’s praises, Pam could feel the collective release of tension.
Then Ted stood up to praise his father-in-law, and by the time Noreen opened her mouth, everyone was chatting and checking their cell phones.
But people started paying attention when they heard their names mentioned.
“I would like to say thank you to everyone here for helping me put my speech together.” She raised her champagne glass. “Pam, Curtis, Gabriel, Paula, Rita …”
The chatter stopped, and the phones were put aside. What was she talking about?
Noreen felt scared. Noreen almost always felt scared. When she met new people, she was afraid they would find her boring or stupid. Before some new challenge, she lay awake at night, fearing the worst.
She had been scared in university, always feeling like an imposter.
And at work, where colleagues waited for the boss’s daughter to screw up.
And with men. Especially Ted. After he discovered she was not the cleaner, Ted’s attitude toward her took a dramatic turn. It acquired an intensity that both flattered and terrified her.
The giggly airhead mask had served her as a child when a wide-eyed smile pacified an impatient father and from behind which, she could observe others, like Ted, in the moments when his own mask slipped. She often wished she could exchange it for another, but this was the one she believed she was stuck with.
And today, Noreen was so spectacularly scared she felt giddy. Risking everything gave her a heady liberation. She found herself in that wonderful moment when you realize it is too late to stop what you have started, like jumping off a cliff. Just close your eyes and hope you land in a better place than where you jumped from.
Noreen had always allowed herself to be pushed into corners. This time, she had literally smiled and giggled herself into one. It seemed easier to go along with things than to fight back, and there was always the chance that people would stop pushing. But the more she surrendered, the more was demanded until she feared for her own breath. This particular corner – marriage to Ted – was worse than being disowned, ridiculed, or left to fend for herself.
But what could she do? Couldn’t just run away or stand at the altar and cry!
But crying was just what she had been doing that day not long ago, right here in this very garden, when her mother found her …
Noreen giggled at the surprised faces. “You see, I haven’t known my husband long, and I wanted to find out more about him before I took the plunge.” The group was silent. She had their attention. This had never happened before. It was seductive.
And that day in the garden, Noreen confided her terror to Cecilia.
“My father wanted me to marry Ted because he was sure I wasn’t capable of running the firm.” She was sure of it too, but where had that certainty come from? Every day at the office, she was relieved when colleagues were entrusted with tasks she found overwhelming. And yet, they floundered too. Often, she would timidly point out a problem or offer a solution, but when she took Oliver or Ted aside to propose her ideas, they hardly listened. Now they all were! She spoke rapidly, so they wouldn’t lose interest and pull out their phones again.
And that day in the garden, she and her mother came up with a plan. Some daring ideas popped into Noreen’s head. And as Oliver well knew, his wife was known to be vengeful at times.
“Well, Dad, I have done some investigating. You shall be the judge!”
Oliver stood up, “Noreen! You’ve had too much champagne!”
Ted tried to lead her into the house. The guests shifted and murmured.
Curtis took a gulp of his drink and raised his hand. “Umm. Can I say something”
Noreen ignored him. “Our guests have obliged me well by confiding in our best man, Stewart.”
Stewart got to his feet, “What?”
“Thanks to Stewart’s emails, WhatsApp and chats, he discovered all sorts of fascinating information!”
“Noreen, I never … I don’t even like social media. How could I ….”
“Of course, you didn’t. I did! You don’t think they would tell me the truth, do you?” Stewart sat back down, his face a mix of admiration and fear.
Noreen reached into her handbag for a roll of paper tied with a white ribbon and handed it to her father.
Among other things, she had found Ted guilty of rape, wife abuse, and fraud. Once given the opportunity, everyone had spilled so much more information than she had hoped for, like they needed to cleanse themselves of everything Ted.
“Thank you all.” Was this how the rest of the world experienced life? No worries about offending others or sounding pompous? Like a euphoric actress after a performance, she smiled and curtseyed.
“I have found Theodore Falk to be guilty of a lot of things, but mainly just of being a jerk.”
“Noreen! You’re drunk.” Ted shouted, white-faced. “Do something, Oliver!”
But Oliver was squinting at the pages. He raised an eyebrow at Ted.
“Let me see that!” Ted got up and tried to snatch the pages from him.
“Oh no, you don’t! Stewart, my boy, come take a look at this.”
The tension among the guests buzzed. Noreen, delicate fairy gone mad, reassured them, “This is, of course, a kangaroo court, the purpose of which was to show my father that he had made two mistakes.” She looked over at Oliver, expecting his wrath. He looked up from the pages, expectant.
“One, about my husband’s credibility, and two, about my professional abilities.”
Oliver chuckled and shook his head. “I sure underestimated my little girl.” He handed the pages to Stewart and gazed at Ted.
Ted glared at Oliver, then at Noreen. “If all of this was a farce to implicate me, why did you marry me?”
Noreen giggled. “I didn’t! Beasley is no reverend. He is an actor friend of mine. Thanks, Bease!” she waved. Everyone turned. No one had noticed Beasley behind them, now dressed as a waiter. Beasley had been her confidant since university when she had tried theatre to overcome her shyness. Beasley and his boyfriend, Sheldon, the violinist and caterer, had assisted with all the arrangements.
Car doors slammed at the front of the house, and Bosco, the family dog, barked. Ted, Curtis, and several others tensed. “Oh!” Noreen trilled. “It’s five o’clock. That must be Reverend Carlson and the other wedding guests.”
The guests gasped and murmured.
Noreen had successfully shamed Ted. She had won the respect of her father. The last and most daring risk of the evening had arrived. If she screwed up here, all would be lost. But she had momentum on her side. That, and the encouraging smiles of Cecilia, Fiona, Beasley, Sheldon and Candy, her maid of honour. They had helped. With both weddings. The small one here in the side garden, and the larger one behind the pool.
There was one more close friend whose face she sought out.
Cecilia Wendell and Fiona Wallace had met in the ChitChat Café’s Thursday night book club. The two families soon became inseparable. They vacationed together, and Oliver had even given Stewart his first job. Noreen and Stewart acted like siblings. Although neither of them made a move, their parents wondered if the friendship might develop into romance. Of course, there had been one or two alcohol-induced indulgences the parents knew nothing about. Still, embarrassment caused the young people to feign forgetfulness.
All that changed when Ted appeared and blinded Oliver with his self-confidence. Who could compete with such charisma?
And just about the time that Noreen confided in her mother, Stewart confided in his. And so, the final, most important touch was added to their plan.
What a spectacular way to teach Oliver and Ted, those two puffed-up bull-frogs, a lesson!
Noreen took a deep breath, squeezed her eyes shut and blurted like a child on a dare, “Stewart Wallace, will you marry me?”
Anita Haas is a differently-abled Canadian writer and teacher based in Madrid, Spain. She has published books on film and music, two novelettes, a short story collection, articles, poems, and fiction in English and Spanish. Her fiction has appeared in some publications, including Falling Star Magazine, The Tulane Review, Literary Brushstrokes, The Zodiac Review, River Poets Journal, Scarlet Leaf Review, Terror House Magazine, Wink and Adelaide Magazine. She spends her free time watching films and enjoying tapas and flamenco with her writer husband and two cats.