“Don’t you just love weddings?” Jess asked me, passing over another wad of wet paper towels, which I pressed against Lissa’s forehead as she stood up.
“I do,” Lissa wailed, missing the sarcasm. She patted the towels to her face. “I really, really, do.”
Jess rolled her eyes at me, but I just shook my head as I led Lissa out of the stall and to the sinks. She looked in the mirror at herself-smeared makeup, hair wild and curly, dress with a questionable brown stain on the sleeve-and sniffled. “This has to be the worst time of my life,” she moaned, blinking at herself.
“Now, now,” I told her, taking her hand, “you’ll feel better tomorrow.”
“No, you won’t,” Jess said, getting the door. “Tomorrow, you’ll have a wicked hangover and feel even worse.”
“Jess,” I said.
“But the next day,” she went on, patting Lissa’s shoulder, “the next day you’ll feel much better. You’ll see.”
So we were a bedraggled bunch as we made our way out into the lobby, with Lissa held up between us. It was one in the morning, my hair was flat, and my feet hurt. The end of a wedding reception is always so goddamn depressing, I thought to myself. And only the bride and groom are spared, jetting off into the sunset while the rest of us wake up the next morning to just another day.
“Where’s Chloe?” I asked Jess as we struggled through the revolving doors. Lissa was already falling asleep, even as her feet were moving.
“No idea. Last I saw her she was all over what’s-his-bucket back there by the piano.”
I glanced behind me into the lobby, but no Chloe. She always seemed to be elsewhere when anyone else was puking. It was like she had a sixth sense or something.
“She’s a big girl,” Jess told me. “She’ll be fine.”
We were hoisting Lissa into Jess’s front seat when there was a rattling noise, and the white van I now recognized as belonging to Dexter’s band pulled up in front of the hotel. The back doors popped open and out jumped Ringo, now without the clip-on tie, with the guitarist hopping out from the driver’s seat and following him. Then they disappeared inside, leaving the engine running.
“You need a ride?” Jess asked me.
“Nope. Chris is in there waiting for me.” I shut the door, closing Lissa in. “Thanks for this.”
“No problem.” She pulled her keys out of her pocket, jangling them. “It went okay, don’t you think?”
I shrugged. “It’s over,” I said. “That’s all that matters.”
As she drove off, beeping the horn once, I started back to the hotel to find my brother. When I passed the white van, Ringo and the keyboardist were coming back out, hauling equipment and bickering.
“Ted never helps,” the keyboardist said, hoisting some big speaker into the back of the van, where it landed with a crash. “This vanishing act is getting old, you know?”
“Let’s just get out of here,” Ringo replied. “Where’s Dexter?”
“They get five minutes,” the keyboardist said. “Then they can walk.” Then he reached in the open driver’s-side window and planted his palm on the horn, letting it blare out, loud, for a good five seconds.
“Oh, good,” Ringo said sarcastically. “ That’ll go over well.”
A few seconds later the guitarist-the elusive Ted-came out the revolving doors, looking irritated.
“Nice,” he yelled, coming around the van. “Real classy.”
“Get in or walk home,” the keyboardist snapped. “I mean it.”
Ted got in, the horn sounded one more time, and then they waited. No Dexter. Finally, after what seemed like a bit of bickering from the front seats, the van chugged away, taking a right onto the main road. The turn signal, of course, was busted.
Back in the hotel, the cleaning crew was at work on the reception hall, clearing glasses and pulling off tablecloths. My mother’s bouquet-eighty bucks of flowers-sat abandoned on a tray table, still as fresh as when she’d first picked it up at the church over nine hours earlier.
“They left you,” I heard someone say. I turned around. Dexter. God help me. He was sitting at a table next to the ice sculpture-two swans intertwined and quickly melting-a plate in front of him.
“Who did?” I asked.
“Chris and Jennifer Anne,” he replied, as if he’d known them forever. Then he picked up a fork, taking a bite of whatever he was having. It looked like wedding cake, from where I was.
“What?” I said. “They left?”
“They were tired.” He chewed for a second, then swallowed. “Jennifer Anne said she had to go because she had an early seminar tomorrow at the convention center. Something about achievement. She’s very bright, that girl. She thinks I might have a future in the corporate and private leisure activity sector. Whatever that means.”
I just looked at him.
“Anyway,” he went on, “I said it was fine, because when you showed up we’d just give you a ride.”
“We,” I repeated.
“Me and the guys.”
I considered this. And I’d been so close to being scot-free, home by now care of Jess. Great. “They’re gone too,” I said finally.
He looked up, his fork midway to his mouth. “They what?”
“They left,” I repeated slowly. “They beeped the horn first.”
“Oh, man, I thought I heard the horn,” he said, shaking his head. “Typical.”
I looked around the mostly empty room, as if a solution to this and all my other problems might be lurking behind, say, a potted plant. No luck. So I did what seemed, by now, inevitable. I walked over to the table where he was sitting, pulled out a chair, and sat down.
“Ah,” he said, with a smile. “Finally, she comes around.”
“Don’t get too excited,” I said, dropping my bag onto the table. I felt tired in every part of my body, as if I’d been stretched thin. “I’m just getting the energy up to call a cab.”
“You should try some of this cake first.” He pushed the plate at me. “Here.”
“I don’t want any cake.”
“It’s really good. It doesn’t taste chalky at all.”
“I’m sure it doesn’t,” I said, “but I’m fine.”
“You probably didn’t even get any, right?” He wiggled the fork at me. “Just try it.”