Chapter 13: The Reception
The banquet hall slowly filled as the first slew of family and friends showed up. I sat at a table with Kieran, Jeannie, Neil, Sue and Violet, all of us mere steps away from those at the head table. My mother and father sat near us, Alanna on the complete opposite end, stationed next to Ken and Colleen. Brian and Gail sat dead center, both already drunk, ready for round two. We all patiently waited through the bullshit.
First the sporadic gorging. We stood in line with catered china, getting served massive helpings of food most likely full of enough carbohydrates to cure all our eventual hangovers. After getting my plate back to home base, I walked over to the bar and waited in line, taking full advantage of Ken’s pocket book. Alanna sneaked away from the head table long enough to catch me waiting with the rest of the AA members in both our families. It was a long line of about five or six people, all of which we barely knew. Nobody seemed to be turning down invitations to such a debauched extravaganza. People made the drive for it, and some would eventually have their wives drive them back home, a lonely highway with kids attempting to sleep against the back windows. Satisfied customers.
“Hey, how’s it looking down on all of us?”
“Surprisingly better than you think.”
“Yeah, I bet.”
“Ya know, I didn’t even have to leave the table. I could have had one of the guys from the bar fix me a drink. That’s the kind of privileges we get.”
“What a bunch of bullshit.”
“You have no idea.”
“I feel like I got picked last for gym class.”
“I wouldn’t let it get to you.”
“I don’t think I’m going to, but uh… Don’t you think they’re gonna notice you escaping from on up high to come talk to me?”
“I think we’ll be alright Noah.”
“So I really got drunk on the ride over here. I mean, I didn’t expect to, but there we so many bottles of champagne and nobody seemed to give a shit.”
“Just keep on rubbing it in.”
“Sorry. What are you gonna get?”
“I don’t know. Beer probably. I figure I’ll start slow.”
“There’s no real fun in that, plus you’re gonna have to get booze for Kieran too.”
“I’m thinking I’ll cut the little bastard off, let him fend for himself tonight.”
“Well if you don’t, then Neil probably will anyway.”
“It’s weird that you know them that well already.”
“I know. I suppose it doesn’t really take that long to get to know anybody anymore.”
“Yeah, I guess not.” I turned away from her at that point, ordering a white Russian, and patiently waited for an escape. I didn’t want to think about the possible backlash from all of it happening. The wedding was a chance for us to get to know all of them, and yet we decided against it from the very start. It was like a selective process. Only certain people passed; the others being those we wouldn’t necessarily send Christmas cards to. The return address would be something that fluctuated on a regular basis.
I walked away from her ordering her drink and sat back down with the family, all of them readily stuffing their faces. Neil looked over at me with a drunken grin on his face the second I sat down and took a sip.
“Ya didn’t think to ask if I wanted one of those?”
“I was in front of you in the food line. It’s not like we were engaging in any such conversation.”
“You’re such a little shit, ya know that Noah?”
“Yeah, I know Neil.”
“If you were only twenty-one son.” Neil said to Kieran, before standing up, a man somewhat defeated, having to wait in the expanding beer line, despite his close branch on the family tree. I smiled and began to pick away at my meal, eventually going for seconds, and letting a beer settle my stomach. Alanna looked dead in her seat by that point, zoning out completely during the best man’s speech. It wasn’t a Pulitzer Prize winning endeavor. The made of honor, Gail’s single mom new Chicago best friend Penelope, who worked with her at the lab, and yet couldn’t quite come up with a reason why she was asked to fill such an cherished position, rambled on for minutes on end about moments that seemed almost completely fictional.
I walked towards the bathroom during the start of Ken’s speech, figuring it would be the most of appropriate “fuck-you’s” after the highly publicized dinner execution two nights before. I didn’t think she would follow me out, the cherished head table position seeming like one of twelve apostles in the Last Supper. She had to sit eternally and wait for all the passersby to finish their winded toasts to the sky and occasional gawked at blurry objects from across the room. I suppose her choice of leaving for the bathroom at that moment meant something more to her as well. It was what had been building up, waiting for the right time to make it all an even bigger scene.
I stepped out of the bathroom to her standing in the carpeted hotel hallway, leaning against the wall. I looked both ways like I was crossing the street and went right for her, the two of us no longer needing to say anything to speed up the process. It wasn’t just the alcohol or the descending Americanized display taking place behind and around us the whole evening. It was so much more than that. We understood that it had to be one certain way. The escapes from civilization, the occasional ride into the unknown. We needed our main characters to seem more real than us, and to let them live their highly damaged and yet still somewhat hopeful lives the way they always intended, seeing it all in simplicity, and letting the other one help them forget.
I wanted to pretend like it all wasn’t happening while I kissed her in that tacky white and green painted hallway. I wanted to let it fall apart like so many things had before it. The late nights with the more than dependable assholes, always circling at the wrong time, my temporary infatuations shattered in the same breaths, all the reliable ones deciding to branch off towards already locked and closed doors. I could wander hallways looking for the right answer for why things were or weren’t, pacing back and forth around all of them, knowing that despite our time spent walking in the wrong direction, we weren’t going to change. The little ticks would still exist even after substantial time spent away from one another.
I didn’t see such a truly compromising possibility happening between Alanna and I at that moment. It was strange that I just knew this would all somehow work out. Maybe it was the songs I listened to intently or an offshoot of my failed experience with the Catholic faith, my sister’s wedding having been the last time I ever was in church. In any case, I couldn’t decide to just walk away, just let all the pieces fall apart only to temporarily feel some sort of new relief the second the two of us spoke again. It was like that with Alanna. We couldn’t write each other out of our lives, not if we were planning on going anywhere.
In that way it made more sense to come to such a decision, spur of the moment. I had thought of the possibilities, but hadn’t allowed myself the will to tell her any kind of definite yes or no. I suppose we’re all controlled in some way by the prices put on our heads at birth. We forget that there is such a thing as free will, the choice to choose the wrong, or at least what they say is wrong. I couldn’t necessarily distinguish between any such moral standing at that point, though. I understood and knew that none of it really mattered.
She pulled away from me abruptly, having noticed out of the corner of her eyes, an unknown guest walking in our general direction. It was Violet, choosing to drone out the sound of Ken’s vocal masturbation with fresh air. She stepped out the side door and lit a cigarette alone. I smiled and shook my head as Alanna sighed relieved.
“Man, sorry. We should wait to do this.”
“I mean, I don’t think people are nearly as drunk as they should be.”
“So do you think your grandmother just saw us?”
“Even if she did, it’s not like it matters. She already kind of knows.”
“What do you mean?”
“She mentioned it to me. It was weird. I mean, she’s senile, but she can still tell what’s going on. I mean, everyone kind of knows, and you deciding to walk out right there and come here has probably got them all talking.”
“I don’t really care, do you?”
“No. I’m just saying Violet’s the least of our worries.”
“And we have worries all of a sudden?”
“Well, I think we do. I mean, you’re leaving tomorrow, then I see no reason why I shouldn’t go with you, despite the fact that it’s probably the worst idea ever.”
“I know. I mean, I’m not sure who I’m going to be afterward, but I have a plan, or at least a general outline. We should be okay for awhile.”
“How long is awhile?”
“Well uh… Do you feel like you’re throwing a lot away?”
“No. Not really. I mean, this here is probably the peak of it Noah. This is as good as it gets.”
“God damnit…” I couldn’t think of a more appropriate response. She understood. While I was more so used to doubting every minor urge I had, thinking that all of them would subsequently lead to my eventual turn in hell; she was perfecting sin. It didn’t matter where we were from, though, how we were raised, or where we followed the same pointed fingers to the eventual apocalypse together; I couldn’t simply avoid it. We needed to trust each other in such a way. It wasn’t like there was some other partial solution.
“Don’t worry about it so much. Everything will be okay.”
“Do you have any idea how much I try to tell myself that?”
“Yeah, well me too. It’s just part of the way things are, though. We’re like this for a reason Noah.”
“Yeah, you’re right.”
“But we should get back. I’ll just say I had to pee.”
“I’m going to go talk to Violet.”
“About whatever she brings up.”
“Alright, I guess I’ll see ya in a few.”
“Yeah, I’ll see ya.” It was a casual parting. They all felt the same at that point. It would never seem like good-bye. I walked out the side door, and over towards Violet, halfway done with her drag. I didn’t know what to say, how to bring any of it up. I wasn’t looking for advice or the clear and present answer. I just wanted to remember what the wedding was like the next morning. It was a memory that would have to indefinitely last for awhile.
“Ya know, it’s a lot nicer out here,” she said, exhaling a soft cloud.
“Yeah, it really is.”
We both walked in to catch all of Fred’s speech. He was drunker than I thought, rambling on about The Brinker’s hospitality before spouting off about the flashiness of it. It was beautiful. I couldn’t refrain from smiling the entire time, and the whole crowd even the reliable prudes, loved it. They thought he was casually joking, pulling everyone’s chain, but those who knew and understood were all attempting to refrain from showing any kind of emotion. Ken couldn’t handle the thought of everyone against him. It would be far too Shakespearean. My mother slowly sipped her glass of wine and waited for the onset of drunkenness. None of us were planning on driving home that night. That’s why we had those same reliable jockeys around.
At the speech’s end, people started to wander off in opposite directions. The DJ set up the rest of his equipment; all bought through trendy magazines for sophisticated New York heroine addicts. His library of music was of radio quality, every song bought for the purpose of pleasing the general public, an establishment founded in fond irreverence. He was a community scholar, though. Slicked-back black hair, pulled into a pony-tail, a white dress shirt on, and no upper level purpose. He would have a slew of proms the next few weekends. Ken called in a favor to have him serve out his purpose that night. Alanna was beyond right. It wasn’t going to get any better.
I ordered another beer and sat down at the table with Kieran and Harriet, both looking bored to death. Their parents had ventured off to other corners of the banquet hall, figuring such a thing as parental guidance at a wedding, seemed all more than hypocritical. Their eyes lit up as I took a sip from the foamy clear plastic cup. It was a hint of addiction, further problematic experiences and morning-afters where both of them couldn’t remember or come to any sort of vague understanding of what happened the previous evening. I saw a doomed focus for their future, growing up and learning about all potential life-lessons from similar nights rather than from the clear bubble sheets and multiple-choice career outlines.
“So are you gonna get me any beer?” Kieran asked, leaning in like it was all some kind of a secret.
“I don’t know. It depends.”
“Whether or not you piss me off between now and when I actually feel like it.”
“So I just shouldn’t bring it up again?”
“Probably not. If you play your cards right it’ll be a pleasant surprise.”
“You’re a pretty shitty cousin, ya know that?”
“Of course I do Kieran.” I leaned back in my chair as he just sighed.
“We can probably get Alanna to sneak us booze, or my mom, either way works.” Harriet said, remedying another temporary episodic problem. For them it was all summed up in a forty-five minutes or so. There would be the occasional fading to black and the infamous white-stitched familiarity of a “To Be Continued,” but for the most part, none of it did matter. Managing to sneak alcohol or make-out in public without getting noticed seemed like minor feats in the large jack-in-the-box we were all waiting to pop out of.
Several people gathered around as Gail and Brian cut the cake. I sat silently sipping the foam, taking the time to notice those in a similar position around me. There was an unhealthy amount of lonely people at the reception, all of them hoping for some sort of contagious offshoot from those who were happy and had their lives on the right track. Of course, there could be problems: fights over selected names for children, temporary lay-offs, suburban gossip, the indulgence of trashy affairs with masked variables. Yet I didn’t foresee much of it happening with the newlyweds. They could be game show contestants, learning how to specifically smile for the camera from the Brinkers, not my side of the family. We all gave up on such an idea long before our formulaic drive to Chicago.
The DJ began to pound out standards as we all ate cake and waited for the initial drunken spark from someone we knew. It became far too planned, first the happy couple dancing, then the fathers and mothers, sometimes guests switching off, other times all of them being sure to stick together. The bridesmaids danced with their paired groomsmen, Alanna looking less than thrilled to once again be at Denny’s side. They didn’t realize what it was like for her to fake an interest. She wasn’t in the least bit used to it.
Around this initial revival on the dance floor, I began to sneak Kieran beers while I did a few shots with my uncle and father; their wives watching the random lights from beneath the floor changing colors. They started more and more conversations and let time pass slowly. Jeannie had no problem walking right up to the bar and getting whatever she asked for, despite her age, a mere five and a half months away from the initial turn to legal activity. It didn’t seem to be nearly as much fun, legitimately getting smashed. If anything, it seemed like even more of a crime, prices and mugs washed over and over again not offering as much of an adrenaline rush. Then again, I luckily had Alanna present for such needed shocks back to life.
Neither of us waited for the garter or bouquet. We started our pleasant escape the second she finished dancing with Denny and socializing with all the less than familiar faces. They would ask the obvious first question of whether or not she still remembered them, to which she would reply with a simplistic “yes” no matter how true it was. It seemed to be increasingly difficult, shaking hands with people who seemed to care more than the both of us. We spun around them on our way to the elevator; the both of us watching the steel doors come together right around the same time we did. She hit the top button as both of us went to the highest floor we could, before taking the stairs to the empty roof.
It was still the beginning of the night, the sky not quite black enough to show any of the stars. I took her hand as we once again danced to silence, kissing away our fears and feelings of indifference. She pushed me up against the small wall by the door and started to unzip and untuck various parts of my clothing. I quickly stopped her, giving her the quickest of serious looks.
“What are you doing?”
“What do you think? I mean, we have time for this now. No one’s gonna notice us being gone now.”
“I know. It’s just… Well is this how it always is, just random sex whenever we can find the time to do it?”
“Well no, not usually, but we’re at a wedding. This is totally acceptable Noah.”
“That’s the weird thing about it. How normal all of this feels.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“I keep trying not to, but uh… I don’t have any more condoms.”
“What, you didn’t talk to Kieran before the reception?”
“The thought hadn’t really occurred to me Alanna.”
“Well, lucky for you, I always think ahead.” She rummaged through her purse, which seemed a bit fuller than usual. As she pulled the small green package out, a few crisp envelopes poured out of her purse, onto the blacktop. I bent down to help her pick them up, not necessarily intending to notice where they were from, but soon figuring out her most elaborate of plans. The envelopes were stuffed with cash, from the box sitting directly next to the gifts. She had taken roughly fifteen or so: potential funding for our own exile. I looked at her, not necessarily knowing what to say, handing them back as she placed them in her purse and then soon felt the unsettling parts of my vacant stare.
“Shit… It’s not what you think, ya know? I mean, sure I realize it’s stealing, but not really if you think about it.”
“Well, I’ve only had about thirty seconds or so for the thought to enter my brain, so if you’d please just fill me in.”
“They don’t need this money Noah. I mean, sure, they need the toasters and the blenders, the picture frames, the books with baby names and all the other stupid shit that our parents got as wedding gifts before them, but they don’t really need this money.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because both my brother and your sister have their lives figured out. They have good jobs, enough capital, credit whatever the fuck you wanna call it, to buy a nice little house and settle with all the stupid familiar crap they’re used to.”
“Well, why do we need it?”
“Because we’re leaving it all behind us.”
“Yeah, but I thought maybe you knew what you were doing better than this. I mean, this is kind of juvenile Alanna.”
“No, it’s not. It is what it is. I mean, they won’t even notice at first, and we’ll be long gone before when eventually do.”
“But that’s the whole thing. Once we’re gone, we can’t come back.”
“You wanna come back all of a sudden?”
“Well not right away, but eventually, yes, maybe. I mean, I can see the both of us ending up somewhere somewhat stable.”
“Alright, well do you want me to put them back? Do you want me to do the respectable thing? I mean, there are other envelopes in that box, ones from my father’s friends at work and all the other assholes who don’t quite understand what it means to be human.”
“Well who are the ones you stole from?”
“I don’t know. I just sort of felt around for the thickest envelopes, the ones that were most definitely cash.”
“You’re a fucking horrible person, ya know that?”
“How bout you remind me again?” She threw me the condom and let her purse fall to the ground. I tried to tell myself that this wasn’t necessarily the only path to walk that we would be understood. They would at least try to understand where it was all going, what had happened. They could piece it all together. After all, they were the ones that raised us. Wasn’t it in some way their fault for what happened? I didn’t worry about it much after that. Sex on the roof seemed to be more thought provoking, and yet after we were about halfway through our ecstatic connection, I stopped and looked at her, the stars finally starting to sparkle off in the background.
“So what are the chances that we do it like normal people, ya know, inside, sometime soon?”
“I’d say better than you think Noah.”
We hadn’t wasted enough time on the roof for anyone to notice. She was right once again. We started walking back towards the hall, both of us with smug sexually satisfied grins on our faces. However, they quickly deteriorated as Everett rounded the corner, not nearly as drunk or disoriented as the both of us. He looked surprisingly well in his black pants and suit jacket, the tie untied and hanging desperately around his neck. We both stopped and attempted to act natural. Excuses were all we needed. Reasons for lying, stealing and doing. It wasn’t as easy this time. It wasn’t like the night before or the one before that. This time it was an unavoidable good-bye.
“Well, I was looking all over for you two.” Everett said as the two of us faked enthusiasm.
“Oh, well we were just mindlessly walking around the hotel,” Alanna said, managing to turn out an acceptable answer faster than I thought possible.
“Oh, cool.” I couldn’t think of much to say, deciding that the loud sounds from inside the hall were much more inviting. I walked in, leaving the two of them alone. It was a casual retreat from problems that I felt wouldn’t necessarily exist much longer.
The party was in full swing, the shined floor shaking with parades of white people dancing to 70’s soul music. I noticed similar interactions going on all around, the groom and his boss, the best man and his new temporary fling, and yet the bride was nowhere in sight. She managed to surprise me by the gift table, a more than appropriate location for our potential last conversation. I felt more than strange thinking about every encounter in such a way, as if I was suicidal or something, and yet it wasn’t just me this time. It was mostly all the surroundings. They were what kept the thought frantically alive.
“Hey little brother. How’s it going?”
“Good, how bout you?”
“Yep… This is some good time.”
“You said it.”
“So where are you two going for your honeymoon again?”
“The Virgin Islands.”
“But, where were you? Mom and dad didn’t know, and I was looking for you, ya know, so we could have this conversation we’re having.”
“I was just in the bathroom.”
“Really? Did you have to puke or something?”
“Yeah, that’s it.”
“Well, I just wanted to say thanks for being here and ya know, perking up a little bit. You seem a lot happier than I’m used to.”
“Well, it’s probably the booze.”
“Most likely.” She was pulled off into another direction after that, all the proper asses waiting to be kissed improperly. I walked back over to the drink line, making sure to get another for Kieran who was sitting in a chair by the dance floor next to Harriet, both of them watching Fiona tear it up, mostly alone, a few groomsmen not sure how to handle her. It was a ridiculous display of fractured manners.
I sat down in the chair next to him, waiting for Alanna to eventually walk back inside and decide where we were going. Part of me wished I had stuck around, Everett seeming like a problem that would always somehow separate the two of us. Their conversations would become legendary question marks that I could never quite figure out. It was an arduous process trying to think about what others were discussing, and also wondering whether or not you were mentioned in vast abyss of potential topics.
I let more alcohol sink in, before eventually walking out of the hall again, and into the other sections of the hotel. My father stood outside with a cigar in hand, near the lobby doors, both of us missing the bridal dance at that very moment. I walked over next to him, my life an undecipherable mess. Like all other larger-than-life albeit highly trivial moments in the long twenty-two years of being my father, he didn’t really seem to notice or care.
“Since when do you smoke cigars?”
“Not often, but every once in awhile. You want a puff?”
“Sure.” He handed me the large stogy as I took a few quick puffs, coughed louder than expected and passed it back.
“It’ll get easier.”
“Yeah, I suppose.”
“So just some advice that you may or may not wanna listen to son.”
“Yeah, what is it dad?”
“Don’t get married, and if you do, possibly consider eloping.”
“I think I can do that.”
“Good.” He said, seeming to enjoy the contemplative alone time more than our conversation, which would most likely lead to the big quiet anyway. I turned back towards the doors, and started walking back towards the hall. I started to slowly wish I had chose the back door as Everett stepped into the lobby on his final retreat from the sun. It wasn’t nearly as forced or problematic as all the times before it. I suppose the realization of diminishing circumstance had finally hit him.
His boggled period of rehabilitation wouldn’t be pretty in the least bit, and yet all of us have to go through the polished spin occasionally, kindred spirits eventually turning away from one another and choosing to take it all in from a different angle. I started to feel the slow sink of my stomach as he stopped right in front of me. I was unable to make eye contact or say anything remotely oblivious. We both knew where she was off to, and who with, and yet his way of handling things seemed to be beyond troublesome. I didn’t think it was that way.
“I know I probably shouldn’t say anything. I mean, you get it, and I get it, but I think you should probably know something Noah.”
“What is it Everett?”
“She asked me the same thing a week ago, and I just didn’t see myself as somebody who could up and run away from it all.”
“Yeah, really, but we’re different people. We have a few things in common, but for the most part, we’re very different. So uh… Good luck man. I hope it all works out for you, the two of you, whatever the fuck you wanna call it.” He started walking off, his words seeming flushed with genuine sincerity.
“Take it easy.” My stomach wasn’t just offset by Everett’s presence, although his words turned all the tables over. There were shattered pieces of glass lining its innermost cavity. I slowly made my way towards the bathroom, rushing in past Ken at the urinal, and throwing up in the stall. It came out faster than it took Ken to relieve himself; my face washed of all color, as I stepped over to the sink, her father zipping up around the same time.
“So that didn’t sound good Noah.”
“Yeah, I know. I feel better now, though.”
“Well good. Maybe drink some water.”
“That’s what I’m gonna do sir.”
“Okay, but you don’t have to call me sir. I mean, we’re family now.” Ken washed his hands and walked out of the bathroom as I threw some water on my face and unbuttoned the top button of my shirt. There wasn’t enough air outside or time spent in dark reminiscent attics to remedy my own most recent affliction. I was officially on my way out, regardless of possible warnings and a shifted view of the one and only plan. I was going through with all of it. I couldn’t help myself. I was in love with the idea of not mentioning anything to anybody. A secret for the time being. An eventual downfall. I stepped back towards the banquet hall and searched for my single-note solution.