The Happiest Day of Your Life

Carl says I won’t marry him because he’s fat. This isn’t true. Well, not the fat part. Carl is on the hefty side, weighing in at about 230 pounds although he is only 5’6”. But I can live with that. I have lived with that for the past 12 years. I’m not a shallow person. And I know a good investment when I see one.

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I was almost late for an appointment with the Morenos on a Tuesday afternoon. I was meeting them at Jackie’s Fish Shack, and although I knew my business suit was a little over the top for the setting, I was a professional. Carl blocked my view of the mirror.

“Tobias was sick yesterday. He’s sick today. I don’t think he should go to school.”

“Tobias is not sick, Carl,” I said, carefully choosing a pair of shoes from the rack on the door. “He probably had a math quiz or something and wanted to get out of it.”

“He was complaining of a sharp pain in his stomach.” He stared at me with mournful eyes. “I think it’s appendicitis.”

“Oh really, Carl? That’s interesting because I just saw him about 15 minutes ago and he was using that sled to go down the stairs again.”

“You don’t even care. Your son is seriously ill and you don’t even care!”

“When I was 10 and had appendicitis I had a hard time breathing, never mind coming up with new ways to annoy the hell out of my parents.” I pulled a tissue from the box and blotted my lip gloss. There was a crash from the downstairs hall.

“Come on Carl, the kid’s fine. He’s probably been on the WebMD site again.” I carefully smoothed my hair. “I probably won’t be home for dinner. I’ve got to see about some additional wedding decorations.”

Carl flopped on the bed, causing a substantial wave. “Berta, he hates me. I know it. It’s because I’m not his real father.”

“But you are his real father.”

He shoved his face into a pillow. “Not on paper I’m not. That kid is a bastard and he knows it!” The bed started to shake as Carl began to sob. “Why do you all hate me so much?”

“We don’t hate you, Carl.” I rummaged through my briefcase, making sure I had all the paperwork. “Did I leave my portfolio downstairs?”

“I’m worthless.” He beat at the pillow and suddenly a much larger crash resounded from downstairs, followed by the gentle sound of liquid spilling on something valuable.

I sucked in a breath and did my relaxation exercise. I imagined my stress as a leech, sucking me dry of creative force and energy. I imagined myself pulling off that leech and squeezing it until all of my creativity and energy pulsed out of it. And then I imagined throwing the disgusting carcass far away.

Now relaxed, I patted the shaking hulk of Carl and slipped downstairs to make Tobias feel bad for provoking another fight between us.

When Carl wasn’t busy blaming his glandular problems on our lack of a wedding, he blamed my job. According to Carl, I’ve witnessed too many weddings for my own good. And maybe there’s a little truth there. I see so many happy couples slide down the aisle, and then a month later I find out they’re divorced. I deal with these people so much, see how excited they are before the marriage, that I start to think that maybe it’s the marriage that’s actually going to cause the problems.

However, I don’t share this with anyone. Who would commission a wedding consultant who doesn’t believe in matrimony?

Section break

“Now you’re sure the band is going to play the love theme from The Empire Strikes Back, and not Return of the Jedi, right? I mean, it’s an easy mistake, but I don’t want to get this screwed up.” Trey Moreno patted his fiancée’s hand and looked at her with enough love to make a unicorn cry. “God, could you imagine how stupid that would be?"

Audrey soon-to-be Moreno stopped looking at whatever wall had caught her attention and gave Trey a half-smile.

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My aura of professionalism and maturity didn‘t even falter. “Of course, Trey. I made it explicitly clear to the band we’ve hired, and you yourself went over the sheet music.” The undersea decor of Jackie’s Fish Shack was making me seasick, but it was the only place we could meet. Audrey’s break only lasted 45 minutes and we had to get these details out of the way. “Now, have you given any thought to the cake?” I pulled out a catalogue. “I know a bakery that can make an exact replica of Saturn out of Black Forest cake.”

Trey ran a hand through his spiky hair. “I don‘t know. That sounds kind of ‘grade school science project’.” He leaned forward. “Are you absolutely sure that there’s no way to incorporate a moonwalk into the reception hall? I mean, that would just be the tops.”

I silently counted to ten. Audrey let out a huge gush of air, picked up the spoon in front of her, and used it to look at her reflection. “Treeeeyyy... I thought we said no to the moonwalk.”

“But baby, it would be so cool. Could you imagine it? We’d be able to soar into the room as husband and wife for the very first time. How many other people can say that?”

Audrey was still unimpressed. It was a little hard to tell with her. A sea sponge probably had more facial expressions.

Trey grabbed her hand. “I just feel like we’re obligated to make this really special. I mean, this is the only wedding we’re both going to get, right?”

For a second I caught a shiver of fear in Audrey’s eyes as she looked at Trey and really considered that this could be her final decision in matters of the heart.

I cleared my throat. “Can I please say something?” They looked at me, Trey pale and skinny, Audrey beautiful and working at a back molar with her tongue. “You two are pretty young. And some people might say that you’re too young to know what you want. But I don’t agree with that. I look at you two and I see a couple that really loves each other. Trey, Audrey’s told me about how much you used to like her in high school, how persistent you were, even when she rejected you again and again.” Trey shrugged and buried a smile in his chest. “And Audrey, a girl as lovely and perceptive as you are should have been able to see how much Trey loved you, right? I mean, a blind giraffe would’ve come around in that amount of time,” Audrey looked puzzled at this. “Well, I’m glad that you finally did. All I’m saying is that no matter what kind of day you decide to make this, it’s going to be special because of one thing.” They stared. “Your love.”

Trey gave Audrey a peck on the cheek and she squeezed his hand before turning her attention to the clock on the wall.

Trey flashed his crooked teeth at me. “And Robie the robotic servant! He comes with his own tray!”

Geek weddings. I’m glad I don’t get too many of them. Their wedding plans have not been the easiest to visualize, but they’ve been far from the worst I’ve had to deal with. When you’re consulting astrological charts in order to plan a black wedding exactly when Venus is in the equinox, you start to wonder if you’re in the right job field. But I am one of the best wedding consultants in Mavis County, and for a predominantly suburban state, that’s pretty good. It’s something to be proud of. I didn’t even finish technical school.

Section break

A couple of days later, that electrician‘s degree didn’t look so bad.

Tobias had talked Carl and me into watching a horrible documentary about medicinal practices of the 19th century, so I was actually relieved when the kitchen phone rang.

I answered, “Your Happiest Day Wedding Consultants.”

“Berta,” the voice whispered, “I’m going to kill myself.”

I twirled the phone cord. “Who may I ask is calling?”

The voice paused and then said hesitantly, “Trey Moreno.”

“Oh, hello Trey.” I watched Carl come into the kitchen and remove a box of peanut butter crackers from the cabinet. “How are things?”

“I’m going to kill myself.”

“I don’t think you should do that.”

“Why not?”

“Because you have too many things to live for?”

“Like what?”

Carl gave me a look and then went to the fridge and took out a tub of vanilla ice cream.

“Like your beautiful fiancée, for one.”

“There isn’t going to be a wedding.”

That made me pay attention. I was depending on this commission. We could finally send Tobias to private school. A very private school.

“What are you talking about?”

“Audrey’s mom. She...” his voice faded and I heard the phone on his side shake, “she wants...” he took another breath, “a traditional wedding.”

Carl scowled at me and mouthed the words “family time.” I turned my back to him and faced the message board next to the phone.

“I don’t know what to do...”

“Don’t worry about it, Trey. We’ll have a very simple wedding. I have this really lovely Grecian paradise theme. Lots of billowing white clothes, some pillars, a couple of naiads, all outside...”

“No, her mother said traditional... like a church... and suits... and a priest...” his voice gave out again, “no costumes!”

I sighed, “I don’t know about you Trey, but I see a traditional wedding and I just think ‘forced’?”

“She says she won’t come if it’s not like that.”

I looked over at Carl who was still inventorying the shelves.

“She says any other way is a disgrace to God. And Audrey says she won’t get married if her mom isn’t there.”

I thought about the preparations already made. About the space cadet suits Trey was having specially fitted for his best men. About the freakin’ Saturn cake.

“Oh god,” he said again, “All I want is to show Audrey how much she means to me! Why is everyone always trying to tear us apart?” He started to cry.

“Jesus, calm down. You love Audrey, don’t you?”

I could hear him nod his head.

“Why can’t you make a deal with her? Traditional wedding for mom, and then you kids go someplace crazy for the honeymoon.” I twisted the cord. “I don’t know. Someplace like... Space Camp or something.” Honeymoons were usually out of my jurisdiction. But for the right price, who knew? “I mean, those moon trips can’t be that expensive, right?”

He was quiet, and I thought I was going to get off easy. “I already told Audrey it’s intergalactic wedding or nothing.” Trey sniffed. “She moved back to her mom’s house!”

I fought not to scream into the phone. Luckily, Tobias started screeching in the next room. Carl immediately dropped the tub of ice cream and ran in.

“I have to call you back later, Trey. I’m sure we’ll think of something.”

“All I want — " I cut him off.

When I made it into the living room, I expected Tobias to be struggling on the floor with a severed artery. Instead, he informed Carl and me that the practice of anesthesia had not been introduced into the medical profession until 1846. Carl congratulated him on learning the new fact, and I wandered into the bathroom, wishing we had some anesthesia of our own.

Section break

The next day I went to Jackie’s Fish Shack to give Audrey a talk. I wore gloves in case it got messy. I waited for her to get off her shift in the parking lot, and then quickly walked up behind her.

I tapped the shoulder of her greasy sea wench uniform. “We need to talk.”

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She jumped and spun around. “Jeez, just scare the crap out of me, why don’t ya?”

I guided her over to my car and popped the door. She hesitated a second then sat in the passenger seat. I walked to the driver’s side and got in.

“Trey tells me the wedding is off.”

She rubbed her eyes. “God, can I like not have one second to myself?” She scratched her forehead then opened her purse and rummaged around in it. The smell of hush puppies was almost overpowering.

“Is this true?”

She closed her eyes. “I don’t know. Yes. I don’t know.” She brushed hair out of her eyes. "I never wanted the stupid space wedding. That was Trey.”

I gritted my teeth. “You know, a warning would have been nice, Audrey.”

“I don’t know. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t care. A wedding’s a wedding.” Audrey yanked the ponytail holder out of her hair. “It’s my mom. She’s... old.” She twisted a broken strand thoughtfully. “Not old like you... but like old... um, conservative. She wants me to have the whole white wedding dress thing.” She laughed. “Haha, off-white.”

“So why didn’t you tell Trey this?”

“I did tell Trey! But he was too gone on the whole space idea. God, I knew he was a geek, but this is unbelievable.” She found a cigarette and lit up. I debated about telling her this car was non-smoking. “I don’t know. He’s got the money. He can do what he wants.”

Trey had invented a type of software that allowed role-playing game players to share the adventure online. It wasn’t until he showed me the insert of him in a video game magazine that I realized my services were needed and could be afforded.

“So what are you going to do?”

“Listen, I like Trey. He’s alright. But my mom... my mom will like get my brother Stephen to kill me if I do this.” She picked out a compact and squinted at her reflection. She ran a tongue over her white teeth and wiped away the mascara smudges on her upper lids. Even after a nine-hour shift in a fast-food leviathan like Jackie’s, Audrey still looked amazing. She flared her nostrils and then clipped the case shut. “I just can’t do that to her.”

“So you’re not going to marry Trey?”

Audrey gave me a look like I was on display at the Myron County Fair. “Of course I’m going to marry Trey. You know what he’s worth. Once Trey really gets that I’m gone, he’ll re-consider the wedding. We’ll do it traditional and that’s it.”

I thought of my initial interpretation of her as a sea sponge, and wondered if any of the sea creatures were carnivorous.

She opened the door. “Trey’ll probably call you in a week to tell you he’s changed his mind. You might as well get the jump on him now.” She made a face. “My mom’s gonna want a polka band. She’s Polish. And we’ll probably have to re-fit the bridesmaids’ dresses to look less...” she rolled her eyes, “...weird.” She hopped out of the car and threw her cigarette on the pavement. “And I wouldn’t worry too much about getting the money to fix it.”

Before I could say anything, she slammed the door and strolled over to her car. Traditional weddings were just not my style. But when I thought about all the joy this commission could bring, was I wrong to think a little compromise could provide a happier tomorrow?

Section break

As foretold, Trey called me back the next week. He had decided that Audrey meant too much to him for such a small disagreement to disrupt their love. These were his actual words. I could almost hear Audrey’s claws sinking further into him. Now I only had a few weeks to pull everything together. I needed complete concentration.

“I’m thinking of taking Tobias on a hunting trip.”

Carl told me this as I looked over my spread of pre-nuptial paperwork on the kitchen table.

“You really think that’s a good idea, Carl? Tobias and guns?”

“We will not be using guns. Actually, it won’t be so much of a hunting trip as a nature trip.”

I continued to study the planned menu. The wedding party was originally supposed to be supping on “flank of Alterian beast,” whatever that was. The caterers hadn’t been too clear. I wondered if there was a way to turn that into Filet Mignon. Or perhaps a choice? Alterian beef flank or chicken?

“We might go fishing. I think we could handle that.”

“Sounds good, Carl.”

“I mean, I don’t necessarily think you need to kill something in order to have a hunting trip, right?” I didn’t look up. “Right?” He said with a touch more hysteria. I looked up to see his lip shaking, his whole body swaying.

I sighed. “Can’t this wait? Just until after dinner?”

Carl slumped in the chair opposite me. “Tobias called me a faggot yesterday.”

“Did you wash his mouth out?”

“No, physical punishment never gets us anywhere.”

“Carl, he probably picked it up from one of his friends. Or TV. He probably doesn’t even know what a faggot is.”

“He said a faggot is a man who lets another man have sex with him.”

“Well, I guess he does know what it means.”

Carl’s lip started shaking again. “Do you think it’s because I don’t have a job? He’s always talking about how Kevin McGinely’s father is a bartender, or how Josh Freeman’s father is a police officer. Maybe I need to get a job.”

This raised my eyebrows. “Really? You mean it?”

Carl paused for a second and then burst out, “No! My place is here! In the home!”

I knew it would take more than some homosexual slamming to get Carl out of the house. “So that’s why you’re going on a nature trip.”

“I’m going to show Tobias that his father isn’t a faggot. Then maybe he’ll respect me.”

“Come on, how many times do I have to tell you, he’s our kid. He doesn’t have to respect us.” I made a note to re-schedule the wedding photos. No need to take them so early if it wasn’t necessary to rent the Lazer Gun packs. “Whatever. I’m sure you guys’ll have a great time. Build up that testosterone.”

“Actually I was hoping you could come. To provide emotional support.”

I looked up. “You’ve gotta be kidding.”

“We’re going April 12th.”

“Sorry. That’s when the wedding is now taking place.”

“But won’t your job be done by then?”

“I still have to go and oversee everything. Last minute hang-ups could kill this thing, Carl.”

He lumbered into a standing position. “You see, Berta? This is why Tobias hates me. You never support anything I do.”

“It’s a goddamn hunting trip, Carl, not a major life change!”

“It’s a nature trip!”

The front door slammed and Tobias tramped into the kitchen. He pushed up his smeary glasses, dropped his book bag in the middle of the floor, headed for the fridge, and howled, “I’m starving!”

Carl gave me a cold glance, then turned to Tobias as he slurped a juice box. “Honey, I was just talking to your mom about the hunt/nature trip. Don’t you think it’d be a good idea if she went?”

Tobias looked at me with buggy eyes and shrugged. “I don’t know. Can Mark P. come?”

“Honey, I thought this was a family trip.”

I went back to the menu. “Mark P. can take my place.”

Tobias pushed up his glasses again. “Mark P. says that he has his own rifle. He shot a bear in the face once!”

Carl gave him a tight smile. “Sweetie, I think Mark P. was kidding with you.”

“No, he wasn’t. I saw the picture. He doesn’t lie like Angelo. Angelo’s a fag.”

I snapped down my binder. “Tobias, don’t use that word again.”

He shook his head at me and then went into the living room. The TV volume came on full blast.

I looked at Carl. “You know, foster care really can‘t be as bad as the news shows make it.“ I instantly regretted the comment. “Carl, let’s talk about this later.”

“It’s always later. When are you going to stop hiding behind your work and face your family?” He pointed at me, “You know, Berta, I think down the line, you’re going to look back and wonder what happened to Tobias’ childhood. Where you were in the big picture.” Then he stormed out of the kitchen.

I hollered into the living room, “Tobias, turn that off and do your homework.”

The television did not go off. And I swore I heard a voice answer back, “Faggot.”

Section break

The morning of the wedding, Carl woke me up at four a.m. as he stumbled around, trying to gather up nature gear. He had not allowed Mark P. on the trip, so Tobias was even more sullen than usual. Carl made one more plea to get me to go, but I pretended to be asleep. If I ran off on some nature hike, who’d be around to avert any matrimonial disasters?

“I can’t find Trey anywhere,” Simon, the best man, informed me as I was adjusting a floral arrangement in the foyer of the church.

I froze. “Did you check the bathrooms?”

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Simon stared off blankly for a second, then focused. “Yeah. I checked everywhere.”

The ceremony was supposed to start in 20 minutes. People were running out of small talk.

“Okay, just go stand at the front.”

I made a quick tour of the church and then checked the VFW hall next door where the reception would take place. I found Trey kicking stones in the parking lot.

“What’s the holdup?”

He looked up at me, startled, “What are you doing out here?”

“Looking for you. Come on, you gotta get married.”

He shrugged. “Yeah, I guess so.” He pulled stiffly at his tux. “But like this?”

“Just think of it as the beginning of a long series of compromises,” I dusted off his jacket, “but it’s better than being alone, right?”

“I’m not marrying her because I’m afraid of being alone. I’m marrying Audrey because I love her.”

“Sure, sure,” I said, taking his arm and leading him back to the church. “And I’m sure you’re going to keep loving her.”

He wriggled out of my hand. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

And now at this point, I can admit that I made a mistake. “Come on, Trey. How well do you really know Audrey? You went to high school together, so what?”

“But marriage is about getting to know someone completely and forever.”

I thought about Carl gargling mouthwash in his underwear as part of his morning ritual. How could I tell Trey that marriage might not be about true love? It might be about living with another person who had the capacity to deal with life just as badly as you did. I couldn’t say that to this kid. His spirit animal was a baby chick.

“Whatever. All I know is that if you do not show up at the church in the next five minutes, acting like the dutiful bridegroom you are, there’s going to be about 200 guests and a very angry mother-in-law for me to contend with. So can we hustle?”

He stood absolutely still. “Give me 15 minutes,” he said and darted off towards the cars.

Stalling a wedding is really not as dramatic as the movies make it. You just tell the bride that her future husband still needs to prepare, live through her scowls, and that’s it. Guests are not going to leave a wedding and the promise of free food and booze if someone is a little tardy.

True to his word, I saw Trey’s car pull up about 15 minutes later, and Trey book to the side entrance with a slim package under his arm. I could’ve sworn I saw someone else in the passenger side, but I was already smiling and informing Audrey that the ceremony could begin. When the organ started and she slipped down the aisle, I could see an out-of-breath Trey standing at his place, receiving death glances from Audrey’s mother. I sighed with relief and sank into a chair at the side of the church entryway.

Now that it was all final, I imagined a young Tobias learning how to be a human being at a prestigious boarding school. With my commission, we could probably afford to send him to one in the next state. I know that would make me feel better. And even if Carl wouldn’t admit it, I think it’d be a load off him too. I mean the teenage years weren’t even upon us yet, and that scared the hell out of me. Maybe now Carl and I could take a vacation that didn‘t involve a water slide.

I was so busy wondering when the best time to go to Palm Springs would be that I failed to notice the guy in the war-mongering space alien gear until it was too late.

“... if anyone should contest this couple’s marriage, speak now or forever hold your peace,” the priest said.

And then, of course, the ceremony erupted.

The alien strode forward, “This ceremony shall only be consecrated in the blood of my enemy, he I have chased through a thousand worlds!”

I could feel the chair melt out from under me. Audrey’s head whipped back and forth as she swung between the invader from space and her future husband.

Trey smirked, “So Klato, we meet again.” He pulled out a skillfully placed sword and suddenly the purpose of the slim package became all too obvious. “For the last time.”

“Prepare for death, earth scum!” The alien rushed at him.

But not before Audrey’s mother took Trey down. Three bridesmaids and most of the ushers had to pull the woman off him. They dragged her down the aisle and into the dressing room, right past me. She spat and cursed the whole way.

I looked back in time to see Audrey shake her head at Trey. “Why do you have to be such a ‘tard?” she hissed, loud enough for most of the congregation to hear, and then marched after her mother.

Trey stood up and nursed the scratch on his cheek, while the volume of the church exploded. The alien shrugged and looked uncomfortable. I walked to the front and averted a riot as only I knew how.

“Drinks and food will be served next door at the VFW Hall in exactly half an hour.”

Section break

“Wow, that was really something.” Trey told me at the bar as I sipped my third vodka tonic. I didn’t look at him, just slowly dropped salty peanuts in my drink and watched the bubbles fizz.

“Are you okay?”

“Sure, sure,” I murmured. “How about you get married tomorrow?”

He looked at me funny and I realized I was probably drunk. “Uh, okay. So I guess you’re not getting married tomorrow.”

Trey shrugged. “I might not get married at all now.” He sat next to me. “I don’t know. I just kept thinking about what you said, about how it’s going to be all about compromise.” He ate a peanut. “When I was in high school, all I did was compromise. It was sad.” He took another peanut. “I loved Audrey, but she was kind of a bitch. One time she stole my gym clothes and threw them in the cafeteria dumpster. And her old boyfriend peed on me at a football game once.” He shook his head. “But in the parking lot I realized something. The reason people didn’t respect me in high school was because there was nothing I could do to make them respect me.” He smiled, “But now, billions of role-players around the world think I’m a god. I could have people killed if I wanted. So why the hell should I compromise?”

A waitress came over and placed her order. She noticed Trey staring at her and gave him a smile. Then she squinted a little. “Hey, haven’t I seen you on TV or something?”

I got off my stool and wobbled away. In the back I could hear Trey faintly say, “You know you also remind of someone. Sort of a young Captain Janeway.”

Section break

I called a car service and got a ride home. I was already in the kitchen before I realized that all the house lights were on and the TV was blaring.

Carl lumbered in.

I squinted at him and tried to drop my purse on the table. “Aren’t you supposed to be ‘naturing’?”

“Tobias threw up in the car, so we came back. I’ll take him next weekend.” He opened the fridge and took out some fudge cookies. After a moment’s hesitation, he handed me one. “You know the invitation is still open.”

I took the cookie and shoved it into my mouth. What the hell? I could do with some naturing. I could do with a lobotomy, too. But one thing at a time.

Carl gave me a small smile. “I’m sorry I blew up. I know it’s been rough for you these last couple of weeks, but I think there’s something I need to say that might just make it better.” He struggled to get down on the floor. Then he struggled to look up at me. “Berta, how ‘bout we get married?”

From the other room I could hear the sound of something slowly collapsing, due to either a cement block or a 10-year-old boy sitting on it.

I looked at Carl’s meaty hand reaching out to me and sighed. “You’ve gotta be kidding.”

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