The chicken was a little dry, but the alfredo sauce was spot on. Poor Susan was bone tired, what with making food and bossing people around and loading cars that would set out to the beach on the morning of the wedding with all the preparations.
Even now she was dying Harriet’s mom’s hair over the kitchen sink (all the bathrooms were full of cousins waxing and plucking and shaving). Her own hair was growing just past her ear lobes, sun bleached blonde and deadly straight. It would be ready for donating in another year probably, and then back to the neon scarves Harriet loved so much.
“You should eat,” Andrew said when he caught Harriet starring out the darkened window. “It’s our last dinner together before the execution.”
“I’m scared that if I eat too much the dress won’t fit.”
Andrew laughed almost ironically and swirled some noodles around his fork. “I can share that worry.”
Harriet looked up quizzically. “What?”
Andrew shook his head. “Nothing. So you and Quinn dissected a raccoon?”
“We did indeed,” Harriet laughed. “We failed to clean it up before my mom got home. Again. What mom?”
Harriet’s mom pulled her head out from under the stream of water. “I SAID are you sure you want to marry a doctor Andrew?”
Harriet turned back to Andrew, raising her brows. She wanted to laugh as he pursed his lips and squinted his eyes at her, so instead she just smiled sweetly.
“I think I’ll risk it.”
Harriet’s mom just stuck her head back under the sink. Harriet made herself take another bite and looked around the room.
The house hadn’t changed much since Harriet had moved away all those years ago. Paper Boy was looking a little grey these days, but he still sat patiently at her dad’s feet where he was sitting in the family room, coffee in hand, reading some medical journal. The China cabinet full of her old art and science project had gained some things—her graduation cap from UCLA, the miniature solar system she and Quinn had made from gum wrappers one of his first weeks at Marie’s, a postcard she and Andrew had sent from Paris. And Everett’s sonogram picture, the one with him sucking his thumb. Or at least that’s how Harriet saw it.
She remembered that day. It had been done when she was fifteen weeks, right after they had gone back to Long Island after Quinn had gone to the hospital the first time. Jacob had done the ultrasound himself and when he’d said it was a boy, she and Andrew had laughed and cried away the pain of the last few weeks. Everett was in breech position, but it was so early-on that no one had been especially worried.
It had been a bit over a year since she’d woken in the middle of the night feeling like something was wrong. A whole year and then some and still…and still the pain lingered. It was manageable now, but not gone. Perhaps it would never be gone. And with Everett’s passing, the loss of the first baby hurt worse than when it had first happened.
She had only told Andrew about that after they lost Everett. He’d been mad of course, maybe the maddest she had ever seen him. Not that it happened he told her later, but that she hadn’t told him. She hadn’t cared at the time though. She had hoped he’d be mad, mad enough to leave. To leave her alone or to leave forever, she didn’t know but all she knew was that she hadn’t wanted him there.
“Harriet.” Andrew said in a little sing-songy voice, trying to get her attention.
She looked at him. “Hmm?”
Andrew laughed quietly. “You’re staring out the window again.”
And so she was. Through the trees in the backyard, Harriet could make out a single twinkling star in the smoggy sky. As a kid, her father would always make absolutely sure she knew wishing on stars had no meaning, that our future’s weren’t determined by burning balls of gas millions of miles away. Most of them are probably dead anyway, he would tell her. And then they’d go sit out on the wooden swings hanging from the tree in the backyard and make wishes until Susan called them in for dinner, him on the left swing, her on the right. His right-hand girl, he always said.
“What are you wishing for?” Andrew asked, reading her mind.
That someday I might have someone to be my right-hand girl—or boy “That the wedding goes according to plan.”
“Doubtful.” Her mother said as she dried her freshly died hair, turning the towel a dark brown color.
“As close as can be then.”
Her mom smiled at that and hugged Harriet tight around the shoulders. “Better. I’m off to bed. I love you so, so much little hugga-buga.”
Andrew stuck out his lip in protest. “Wha-bout me?”
Her mom looked down her narrow nose at Andrew in a play-mocking. “You? You’re lucky I haven’t stuck your head on a pike yet for the mailman to find.”
Andrew blinked at her medieval talk. “Well alrighty then.”
“Oh we love you too Andrew.” She said and blew him a kiss from across the table.
Harriet rolled her eyes once, then a second one when she heard a shout come from upstairs amongst the married-in cousins who were preening in her bathroom as she and Andrew ate a late dinner. Something about hair curlers gone missing.
“What was that you said about execution?”
Andrew snorted and then reached for his cell phone as it began to ring. He clicked the button three times before the stubborn thing deigned to accept the call. “Hello?”
Harriet continued to eat, though she didn’t really taste it, as Andrew spoke to who she assumed was Em. Andrew glanced at her a few times over his glasses and began to fiddle with his fork. She wondered if a child of his might have to wear glasses. She hoped not, but he and Quinn and their father all wore them and, though she swore she didn’t, it was obvious their mom needed some too.
Harriet jerked, startled by his sudden attention. She’d been staring out the window again. “What?”
Did you hear what I said?"
Andrew smirked. “I said that Em’s car broke down somewhere downtown and he doesn’t have enough for a cab. Can I borrow your car?”
Harriet became immediately suspicious—at Em, not Andrew who just looked vaguely irritated. She nodded and he wiped his mouth on a napkin and put his empty dish into the sink. He turned around to kiss her once and then went on his way, off to go “save” the damsel in distress.
Aunt Phyl came in a little while later, startling Harriet out of a half-sleep. Aunt Phyl dropped the paper bags full, full of what, Harriet’s tired mind didn’t know, and came and sat by her.
“Where’d Andrew go?”
“He went to go get Em. His car broke down.”
Aunt Phyl raised an eyebrow “How are you feeling?”
“Tired.” But Aunt Phyl just sat there, waiting for a real answer. Harriet sat up a little straighter on the floral patterned sofa and looked at the older woman that was to be her maid of honor. “Nervous, though I’m not exactly sure why. Like I’m going to puke, only I haven’t even eaten enough to get anything out.”
“You’ll want to puke right before too.” She said matter-of-factly. “Maybe even right after. Look, I won’t tell you not to be nervous or any of that *****.”
Harriet raised her brows. “*****?”
“A lady shouldn’t swear. So we make loop holes.” Aunt Phyl grabbed Harriet and bundled her up close like she used to when Harriet was tiny. “I had to hum the Bohemian Rhapsody as I went down the aisle for my wedding.”
Harriet laughed and then turned her head up to look at her stern-faced, soft-hearted aunt. “Really? Why the Bohemian Rhapsody?”
She shrugged. “It was the first song that popped into my head. For me, getting married was like having an eighteenth birthday; you spend your whole life thinking it’s going to change everything, only you wake up the next day to find it feels just like the day before. I loved George before and I loved him after, a big dress and a piece of paper didn’t make me love him any more or less.”
“On my eighteenth birthday, I was graduating from Berkeley.”
“And you lived through that just fine. I think that must be harder than walking down a beach and saying a few words to a man you already love. But what do I know, I’m just a choir teacher.”
Harriet rolled her eyes and her aunt’s familiar attitude Harriet loved so much. “You’re not JUST anything.”
“You know, you were too young to be the flower girl at my wedding, but that didn’t stop you from stepping out into the aisle and trying to eat the petals off the ground.”
Harriet smiled widely. “Did I?”
“Oh, you were smart Hattie, very smart. But that didn’t mean you weren’t stupid too. You almost choked on those damn things in the middle of my wedding. Nothing ever goes according to plan, know that. If you can even see some part of the plan through all the mess, you’re lucky.”
Harriet rested her head against her aunt’s chest, listening to her heart beat. “From sleeping in a dog bed stuffed in a laundry basket to a princess wedding of the beach.”
Aunt Phyl hugged her tighter. “Like Cinderella. Only this maiden made her own way through life.”
“Not without help.” Harriet said, thinking of her dad and mom and Aunt Phyl and Uncle George and Susan and her cousins and everyone else. “A lot of help. Thank you Aunt Phyl. For pretty much everything good in my life.”
“There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you, you know that.” She said and her grey eyes watered up until she was blinking away tears. When she got a hold of herself she smiled deviously down at Harriet. “You do realize Em’s car is fine, right?”
Harriet cackled in a very witchy way. “Oh, I know.”
“You brought me to a strip club?! The night before my wedding?!”
“I brought you to a strip bar. And you’re wedding not until the day after tomorrow.” Em gripped his friend’s shoulder and gazed happily at the scene in front of him. “I’m not stupid enough to have you be hung over for your wedding.”
“Yet you were stupid enough to bring me to a strip club.”
“Whatever.” Andrew cried. “I’m getting married Elias. Did your brief engagement teach you nothing about loyalty? I can’t be at a strip club—bar—whatever it is. A place with naked women.”
Em smiled as a group of half-drunk men stumbled toward them. Andrew recognized some former Octet members and old friends from high school and even a few cousins.
“I’m not entirely stupid Andrew,” Em shouted as another blaring song started pumping through the speakers. “Drinks and shots, yes. Embarrassing stories about you, yes. Scantily clad women, definitely. But no stripping. I already talked to the manager and he promised no nudity.”
“Then why are we here?” Andrew shouted. The music was so loud it was rearranging her heart beat.
“Aesthetic.” Em laughed again as someone started walking toward them with two full shot glasses in his hands, raised up toward the flashing lights in the ceiling. “The boys were disappointed, but I wasn’t about to get you in trouble right before your wedding. Thanks man.”
Em grabbed the shots from him and handed one to Andrew. “Then again, after this shot goes down, I’m no longer responsible for what happens here. As I said all those however many years ago; marry her before I do. You’re a luck *******.”
Andrew couldn’t help but smile as he took the shot glass. “I am.”
He looked around to all the expectant guys waiting for him to take the drink. He hadn’t realized he knew so many people. He let the music and the drunken laughter fill him and he raised his shot glass. “L’chaim!”
“L’chaim!” They all shouted back and followed Andrew’s lead, tossing the burning shot to the back of his throat
“That’s what you get for sneaking off to a bachelor’s party.” Harriet told him with a hint of humor in her voice.
He wanted to tell her he hadn’t snuck off so much as he got tricked, but his gag reflex was ready to spring again if he so much as breathed wrong. He crouched over the toilet with his mouth slightly open, spit and vomit dripping into the toilet.
He couldn’t really recall getting back to Harriet’s or who had driven him there, but he knew it wasn’t him or Em. Hopefully whoever it was hadn’t been $hitfaced. But whoever it was, he was home now in a disgusting half-drunk, half-hung-over state with his soon-to-be wife laughing at him. He hoped she hadn’t told her parents. Or worse, HIS parents. He wasn’t even especially drunk, but whatever it was he HAD drunken…
His body lurched as it gagged again and more of his innards came out. It was like a dragon’s burrito diarrhea. What the hell had he drunken? Was Em puking fire puke into a porcelain bowl too? He hoped so. However much fun he’d had, Andrew wasn’t sure it was worth this. If Quinn had been there he’d be running around screaming just at the sound of gagging.
It came out in three bursts, the second one particularly long. Why had he gone into that damn bar? True to his word, there was no nudity, at least as far as he saw, but the whole thing was about as raunchy as you could get. Andrew would be lying if he said he wasn’t staring after the girls just as much as Em.
Harriet handed him a wad of toilet paper and he wiped his mouth out. Then he took the cup of water she handed him and swished his mouth a few times and spit it into the toilet before taking a long drink. It didn’t fix his fuzzy tongue, but at least it cooled his throat.
He pulled away from the toilet and slumped himself up against the wall across from it. He didn’t want to venture out into Harriet’s room if only because he knew he’d puke again before the night was over.
“What did you drink?” Harriet asked as she flushed the toilet for him.
“I don’t know.” Andrew moaned. “Something with chilies?”
“I’m not a drink expert, but that doesn’t sound pleasant.” She sat down next to him. “How do you feel? Besides the puking?”
“Head hurts, arms heart, tongue hurts. My toe also hurts, but that’s, I think someone might have stepped on it.” They had. It was a stripper in stilettoes who was as naked as you could get without being naked.
“Sounds like you had fun though.” Harriet smiled at him and he found his lips smiling back. “Who was there?”
“All kinds a guys. There was, um, Em. Mostly Em. Fu¢king ******* Em. And there was Seymour and his David. And there was Jimmy and Eric and Thomas and that one guy who looks like he has a lazy eye but doesn’t. And the one with the name that’s like with the thing in Italy that you go to—”
“Yeah, that’s the one. And—do you remember Thomas’s friend Cas and then had that cousin who liked that girl that we said would never be a thing? We were—was—are wrong. They got a kid now. He’s got a weird name, something with an M. Metick? Maten? Matoby? Somethin weird. That’s funny, huh, that we said they wouldn’t and now they do and we didn’t and we do. Do you remember them?”
“I have no idea who you’re talking about.”
“Remember on the roof and the violin? Or was it a harp? I don’t—” He closed his mouth as he felt his body beginning to revolt again. His nauseousness was coming in and out, just like his mind. “It’s gonna again.”
“Alright, I’ve got you.” Harriet said and helped him lean back over the toilet. “When you can hold food down, I’ll make you some eggs and toast, okay? I’m bring you up a few water bottles.”
“Dugs.” Andre said between heaving gags that weren’t bringing anything up.
“Yes, and some medicine too. That’s all I can do unless you want to go to the ER and get a detox.”
He wanted to say that he was scared of needles, but the vomit forced itself out like an explosion into the toilet.
A couple hours later Harriet was clearing away his half eaten eggs and bringing him an orange Gatorade that she claimed would help. He was feeling better, but tired, very, very tired. And sad. He watched Harriet fuss about through lidded, blurry eyes. Where were his glasses? Were they here or had he left them at the strip bar on some waitresses serving tray? Guilt threatened to take over his whole body.
“Harrie?” He grabbed her wrist on the second try as she put a bowl on the bedside table, just in case he wasn’t really done puking.
“Hmm?” She stroked his hair back from his face. That felt good. Her hands were always so soft and cool. She had the long, elegant fingers of a piano player, but with the strength only someone who spent hours with a scalpel in hand could ever attain.
“I’m sorry I went. I really thought Em’s car broke down.”
“I know you did.”
“But you know, didn’t you?”
She smiled softly and continued petting his hair. “I did.”
“Then why did you let me go?”
“I wanted you to have some fun. You’ve been so busy planning the wedding and I’ve hardly helped at all. And even before that, you hardly have any time for fun what with your business and making sure I’m not stressed. I just wanted you to have some times with your friends. I know you’ve missed Em.”
“Em got me in trouble.” He pouted. Stupid Em.
Harriet laughed. She had such a wonderful laugh. “You’re not in trouble Andrew. I’m glad you had fun.”
“I looked at girls.” He admitted softly. “Not at first, but then my head got all…”
“Did you touch any of these girls?”
“No.” At least, he didn’t think he did. No, no he hadn’t. He remembered one brushing up against him, but he’d brushed her off like a good husband should do.
“Then you’re fine. Here,” She handed him the Gatorade. “Drink this. The electrolytes will help.”
“Harrie?” He tried to grab her arm again, but missed. Where were his glasses again?
“Thank you.” He told her.
She smiled and squeezed his arm gently. “You took care of me when I was sick.”
He knew she wasn’t talking about any real illness, but he didn’t want to talk about Everett, so he just said. “No, I mean thank you for pretty much everything. Thank you for marrying me.”
She gripped his hand and brought it up to his lips where she kissed the back of it and squeezed it tight. “Thank you for offering. Drink, now.”
He raised the bottle in the air and tried to give her a smile. “Yes doctor.”