They huddled in a pinched circle, the bride in her reception dress, face shiny and red with everything, and the bridesmaid who had asked, the only one who didn’t know the How We Met story, face to face in the middle of the matching rest of them.
“I can’t remember what we talked about,” the bride was saying. “But he was pretty interesting. Not good looking or anything, but–there was something.”
They encouraged her with words and sounds. A sustained informal group interaction was happening for the first time since the limo. There had been less than half a dozen of these not just this weekend but the entire year. The rest of the Wedding Time, while great, had been a whirlwind, an impressionistic hyperspacing between shiny red beloved faces–for days, weeks, or months, depending on how close you wanted to get to the eye of the wedding planners, who were, wonderfully, the bride and groom. Between the cake table and the pre-dancing couple–the bride’s uncle and his wife–the pink dresses, which weren’t bad at all except for how they fit a few of them, walled off Non-Party Others, walled off Wedding Time itself.
They saw the bride seeing it, holding her breath before releasing the pictures in it. This whole day has been watching her hold that breath, and it’s been wonderful, the Maid of Honor thought. She’s really coming together. And has a good guy to do it with.
“I order his food, he pays, I give him change, no one’s behind him, we keep talking,” the bride said. “He’s a bit of a space case, like he maybe doesn’t quite know if he should sit down or wait at the counter? La la la. People do wait at the counter sometimes, so… Maybe he’s sensitive about norms–”
“Norms!” several of the bridesmaids called out in synch. It was a joke between them from where they worked.
After granting them a smile for “Norms,” which reinforced this as a story for the whole bridal party, not just the bridesmaid who asked (though not for the rest of the flanked-off room), while excusing the bride to recalibrate her continuation point should she choose to do so, the bride continued, “So I give the guy his change, we keep talking until his food comes, he sits down and eats. Finally, I look at the cook like, “What?” because he’s been gawking, and covering the gawkin’ with a smirk.”
“Gawkin,” the bridesmaid who’d asked for the story said in an unintentional echo as the usage struck her. Like a real echo, it was at a lower volume than the bride’s talk, and seemed to fade under that talk as the talk strode unmusically across the musical register. She and the bride both had gawk-attracting figures, more so than the rest of the bridal party. That hadn’t not instigated a certain level of competitiveness over relative hotness, but this occasion seemed to suggest a separation into entirely different markets. A passing, arguably belated, of the Single Hottie baton.
The Maid of Honor told herself that she wondered what was happening. But she understood that for the bride, this was a graduation speech, a concession, a fare-well, a cha-ching, and a toast to her girls. Maybe it was a new old routine.
“And the cook goes, ‘You just gave him change twice.’ And just looks at me.
“I try to think it through, and realize he might be right. The guy is sitting facing me, eating; I’m trying to re-go through how our conversation went.”
“Re-go through,” the baton-receiving bridesmaid echoed.
The other bridesmaids around them now looked like a church chorus singing “Amen”s.
“‘Did he just con me?’ I asked the cook,” the bride said.
“‘Did he just con me?'” the chorus sang.
“What did the cook say?” the Maid of Honor soloed.
Baton girl laughed.
“Who just goes, ‘He was too stoned to notice. You went up in an accidental battle of wits against a stoner and are out eight bucks.’
Allelujah: The bride was blonde.
“‘You made me nervous listening in,’ I say,” the bride said. “‘You freak me out.’
They laugh at Wiles; they believe in those and Love both.
“‘That’s because I’ve got the goods on you already, and I barely know you,’ he says. She was doing three voices: his, and hers then and now. All rang familiar to more than just the Maid of Honor. To the Maid of Honor, though, the voices mixed with everything that was so freshly happening to create something like a bouquet of emotions. She shivered from a private tingle and was glad of her pure singlehood, the freedom from having to look around the room for her man, though she missed that, also.
Everything but her empty glass was perfect.
“I kept thinking about it, and finally I was like, ‘You know what? His forgetting made me forget. He stood there, and I thought, He doesn’t know if I gave him change. Didn’t I give him change? I must not have, if he’s wondering? Who would wonder that after you gave them change? So I just gave it to him. Then he acted like he was expecting it, so—you know what I’m saying?’ I totally remembered and broke it down.”
“I can’t believe you even remember all this,” the Maid of Honor said. “Back to the cook.”
“To the cook I was like, ‘Do not tell Rich.’ Rich the manager.” The bride, having jumped back to the cook by request, twinkled back at her Maid of Honor.
“What did he say?” the baton recipient asked, too quickly. Sometimes she tripped into silences. Just a touch socially high-strung, especially when buzzed, until the buzz crossed a certain point, at which point she gave up on trying and was generally nicer to be around if you didn’t need anything done. “It’s as if she doesn’t know how pretty she is,” her father sometimes used to say to her mother, who did know the value of silence.
The bride allowed an extra pause to reset the rhythm and responded: “‘You two make a nice pair,’ the cook said. ‘You should ask him out. Just take pictures on the date, so one of you remembers it.’
“’Ha ha,’ I said. But you know what? I did ask him out. Not that day, but the next time he came in.” The bride looked around smugly. “At first I didn’t remember him, but then I did.”
“And the rest is history,” the Maid of Honor joked.
“How’d the date go?” the curious, hot, eager bridesmaid asked, and the Maid of Honor, not quite behind that bridesmaid, silently raised her arms over her head. It was a gesture of triumph so deftly morphed into an empty glass-shake and finger tap, the non glass hand’s index finger curling upside down at a waiter whose eye she’d already caught right on beat with the bride’s storytelling, that the bridesmaid could barely find it bitchy. It might have just been encouraging.
The bridesmaid kind of got this vibe from the Maid of Honor that the Maid of Honor considered herself a gatekeeper between anybody and the bride because the Maid of Honor had known the bride forever–FOREVER!!!!!!–but that if you ever confronted her on that, she’d say she was being that way ironically. Then she might have been being ironic about being ironic, which aside from canceling itself out means it was a coin toss if she could or would ever be that loyal to anyone besides the bride.
“Fun, actually,” said the bride. “One of my lifetime top ten dates–I thought. He was a really interesting guy. I fucked him on a roof in The Mission, actually.”
Cheers and lesser reinforcement for the bride unapologetically having experienced this kind of behavior.
“Did you take a picture?” asked one of the others, who had gotten an abridged version her time around.
“I took a ton. Not of that. But that was half the fun of the night, taking phone pictures. Looking at them, posing, making faces, finding spots to pose in front of. They’re on flickr somewhere.
“I had to show the cook, too, of course. So anyway, yeah, that’s how it started. Me and Nick.”
“By you giving him money so he would date you?”
The rest of the bridal party laughed.
The Maid of Honor let the bride explain. Which, besides having known the bride forever, was why she was the bride’s Maid of Honor.
“That guy turned out to be dating someone already.”
The back-up singers expressed politely disharmonic notes.
“But no, Nick was the cook,” the bride concluded.
Nick the groom, the cook in the story, not the customer: the awareness clicked in the bridesmaid with great timing. They all enjoyed watching it the way people enjoy watching a good firework.
Talk turned to sharing the picture of a good date with one’s future husband. The story might have been over, or digesting. There was a silence. In the moment it occurred to her, the newly-informed bridesmaid jumped into it: “Well no offense, Cara, but if Nick saw himself as so much more aware than you, what got him to start being interested in you?”
The bride smiled at what the bridesmaid could take as either politeness or a permanent difference between them. “Obviously, he’s ugly,” she said.
It was obvious; it had been politeness. But it was interesting to hear that aloud, from the bride on her wedding day.
From halfway across the room, the photographer summoned the bride. Then the photographer arrived at the bride’s elbow to explain and insist. The groom and family members were waiting at the fountain.
“Make the transition,” the bridesmaid said. “You had to make the transition.” She said it soulfully, as if you could abbreviate it to “‘zisshin” without losing any meaning.
“I made the transition,” the bride echoed.
And she had.
“Hang on,” said the Maid of Honor, and got her own camera from her purse. She had the newly-informed bridesmaid take the shot of the rest of them. The cake was behind them. In their hands were empty champagne glasses. They leaned together and the bride’s hair poked the Maid of Honor in the eye. But you couldn’t tell from the picture, which was one of the occasion’s best “candids.”