“Nice shot,” Jess said to Lissa. “Great arc.”
“Thanks,” Lissa said. “Chloe’s was good too. Did you see that impact?”
“It’s all in the wrist,” Chloe said, shrugging.
Then we just sat there. I could hear the buzz of the Quik Zip sign overhead, that constant hum of fluorescence, and for a minute I lost myself in it, remembering Dexter standing in this same place not too long before, waving after me. Arms open. Calling me back, or saying good-bye. Or maybe a little bit of both.
He’d always had that fearless optimism that made cynics like me squirm. I wondered if it was enough for both of us. I would never know from here, though. And time was passing. Crucial minutes and seconds, each one capable of changing everything.
I drove off, with my friends watching me go, all of them grouped on Lissa’s hood. As I pulled onto the road, I glanced into the rearview and saw them: they were waving, hands moving through the air, their voices loud, calling out after me. The square of that mirror was like a frame, holding this picture of them saying good-bye, pushing me forward, before shifting gently out of sight, inch by fluid inch, as I turned away.
I knew from experience that there were nine decent reception halls in town. At the fifth one, I found Truth Squad.
I saw the white van as soon as I pulled into the parking lot of the Hanover Inn. It was parked around back, by the service entrance, next to a catering van. As I got out of my car, I could hear music, the faint beat of bass guitar. Through the long windows that broke up the building, I saw people dancing. The bride was in the center, a blur of white, trailing tulle, leading a conga line around in a wide, lopsided circle.
In the lobby, I passed some girls in hideous baby blue bridesmaids dresses, complete with big bows on the back, as well as someone wheeling a big ice sculpture depicting wedding bells. The sign next to the door said MEADOWS-DOYLE reception, and I slipped in the far door and moved along the back wall, trying to stay hidden.
The band was onstage, in their G Flats garb. Dexter was singing an old Motown song, which I recognized as one of their regular covers, and behind him Ted was strumming his guitar with a bored, irritated expression, as if just standing there was paining him.
The song ended with a flourish, provided by John Miller, who then stood up for applause. It came, but barely, and he sat back down again with a sigh.
“Hello everyone,” Dexter said into the microphone in his game show host voice. “Let’s give another big congratulations to Janine and Robert, the Doyles!”
Now, a big cheer as the bride beamed, blowing kisses at everyone.
“This next song is a special one from the bride to her groom,” Dexter went on, glancing at Lucas, who nodded. “But the rest of you, feel free to sing along.”
The band launched into the opening chords of a song I barely recognized as one from a recent blockbuster movie. It was a power ballad, totally schmaltzy, and even Dexter, who was usually the best sport of the bunch, seemed to deflate when he had to deliver a line about loving you till the stars are gone / and the heart I have just turns to stone… Around the second chorus, Ted actually started gagging, stopping only when he had to concentrate hard on the guitar solo that wound up the final verse. The bride and groom, however, seemed oblivious to this, staring into each other’s eyes as they danced, their bodies pressed together so closely they were hardly moving.
The song finished and everyone clapped. The bride was crying, her new husband reaching up to wipe her eyes while everyone made ain’t-it-sweet noises. Truth Squad left the stage squabbling, Ted and Lucas already at each other, with Dexter and John Miller lagging behind. They all disappeared out a side door as the canned music came on and the staff wheeled the cake, four tiered and covered with roses, onto the dance floor.
As the door shut behind them I moved to follow, but something stopped me, and I took a step back, pressing myself against the wall and closing my eyes. God, it was one thing to come over here on a wave of post-Don soakage euphoria, but another thing entirely to actually do this crazy thing. It was like driving on the wrong side of the road, or letting my gas gauge get down to flat empty before refilling, something that went completely against my nature and everything I had, up until this point, believed in.
But what had that gotten me so far, anyway? A string of boyfriends. A reputation as a cold, bitter bitch. And a secure bubble that I’d drawn so tightly around myself that no one, not even someone with the best of intentions, could get in, even if I wanted them to. The only way to truly reach me was to sneak up, crash in, bust past the barricades on the equivalent of a kamikaze mission, end result unknown.
That night at the Quik Zip he’d told me, so angrily, that everything he’d said to me, from the first day, was true. Then, I had blanked, not remembering anything. But now, as I pressed my back into the wall, it came to me.
I just thought to myself, all of a sudden, that we had something in common, he’d said. A natural chemistry, if you will.
That had been right after he’d crashed into me. My arm had been still buzzing at the funny bone.
And I just had a feeling that something big was going to happen.
I remembered, suddenly, how ridiculous this had sounded. A car dealership soothsayer, telling my fortune.
To both of us. That we were, in fact, meant to be together.
Meant to be. He hadn’t known me at all. Just seen me from across a room.
You didn’t feel it?
Not then. Or maybe, deep in some hidden, misplaced spot, I had. And when I couldn’t find it later, it came looking for me.
“They’re about to cut the cake!” some woman in a green, shimmery dress was calling out as I pushed away from the wall, headed to that side door. Halfway there I got lost in a mass of people, all depositing their empty drinks on tables and pressing toward the dance floor. I navigated through them, past suits and tuxedos, crinkly dresses and a thick cloud of mixed perfumes before finally coming out on the other side. The door to the parking lot was open now, and as I stepped through it I saw the band had disappeared, with only a few tangerine peels remaining, scattered around the curb.
From behind me, I heard a drum roll, followed by a crash of cymbals, and the best man was at the microphone, holding his glass aloft. John Miller was behind his drum set, picking at his teeth, while Lucas snuck some more beer into a cup off to the side of the stage. Ted was standing glumly next to his amp, as if he’d lost a bet. I craned my neck, looking for Dexter, but then a large woman in a pink dress stepped in front of the door, blocking my view. And suddenly I just knew I was too late.