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Mar 31, 2021

Holiday Fiction Romance

Bill grabbed his older brother, Neil, by the elbow and pulled him out of the busy kitchen, onto the driveway outside.

“I have to talk to you, man,” Bill said.

“What’s up?” Neil asked. “Why do we have to go outside? Will this take long?”

“I’m sorry to tell you this, bro,” Bill began. He swallowed hard and looked down at the ground. “I can’t find Carla’s ring.”

“What? What did you say?”

Before Bill could answer, the brothers had to pause their talk. A gaggle of bridesmaids arrived by car and emerged, holding their long lavender dresses high off the ground on hangers and running toward the house. For a moment, they reminded Bill of clowns getting out of a tiny car at the circus. It seemed there would be no end to them.

One of Bill’s former girlfriends, Jasmine, was among them. As it turned out, the bride-to-be, Carla, was also one of Bill’s ex-girlfriends. And this is how that worked:

Carla and Jasmine had been friends since elementary school. As adults, Jasmine met Bill at a Hearts and Hammers fundraiser, where each of them had performed an amateur magic act to raise money for the cause.

Soon, Bill and Jasmine were an item. Then, it was Jasmine who had introduced Bill to Carla, her lifelong friend. Bill summarily dumped Jasmine for Carla. Then Bill introduced Carla to Neil, his older brother. Carla and Neil fell for each other, and that was the end of the Bill + Carla story.

On a scorecard, it might look like this:

Bill + Jasmine

+ Carla = Bill – Jasmine + Carla

+ Neil = Carla – Bill + Neil

Got that?

Bill’s breakup with Jasmine had been rather rushed and rude. He had his eye on another prize. As Bill’s childhood teachers used to say about him, transitions were never his strong point.

Now, Jasmine nearly tripped over her dress and each man reached out to catch her by an arm.

“Hey, Neil!” Jasmine squealed, and threw her arms around the groom’s neck. “Almost congratulations!”

“Thanks.”

“Why so serious? Just a bad case of pre-wedding jitters?” Jasmine asked.

“Yeah, I guess that’s it,” Neil answered.

“You’ll do fine,” she reassured Neil. “Hi, Bill,” she added with a polite smile, before leaving to enter the house to dress for the wedding.

“You can’t find Carla’s ring?!” Neil gasped at his younger brother. “Where could you have lost it?”

“I like to think of it as simply ‘misplaced’,” Bill replied.

“Then go ‘un-misplace’ it!”

“I’ve looked everywhere, Neil. The guest room, the car, the pockets of the suit I wore last night.”

“Did you have it when we came back from the rehearsal dinner?”

“I think so.”

“You’ve got to find it! Go check again! Carla and I had that ring custom designed. You know that! Find it!”

Bill went off to again search the pockets of his suit from the night before. Or so he told Neil.

Neil ran his hand through his hair and tried to collect himself so that he could re-enter the bustling house. A thought occurred to him. Bill had always had a penchant for pranking. A lifetime of tricks, pranks and plain stupidity on the part of his little brother ran through his memory. Bill passing him salt, instead of sugar, to put in his breakfast cereal. Bill letting the air out of his tires when Neil had a big date, Bill short-sheeting his bed. Childish stuff like that.

Look at me, big brother! I’m smarter than you! Look at me! Look at me! Bill seemed to be saying. Neil was sometimes annoyed with his little bother’s pranks, and he was always disdainful of them. That never helped.

Bill was always careful to space out his pranks over enough time so that Neil would never expect the next one. There was no rhythm to them. Bill could go years, or couldn’t go ten minutes, between pranks.

Pranking was the only area in which Bill had any sense of timing. And his timing was finely tuned in response to the fact that his older brother was about to marry a woman Bill had first picked out for himself. Although Bill would not have gone so far as to marry her.

Lately, when Neil thought about all of Bill’s childhood pranks, which was not often, he decided that Bill must have finally grown up. It had been a long while since a real prank. Neil shook his head, trying to shake off the thought of any wedding-day betrayal by his brother. Surely, he was too grown up for that now.

Fat chance.

Now, instead of searching frantically, Bill was sitting serenely on his bed in the guest room, enjoying a quiet cup of coffee, feeling very pleased with himself. He had been planning this for a year, ever since Neil had asked him to be his best man. Neil had thought this would be a great way to cement an adult relationship with his little brother. The best man! Custodian of the bride’s ring. Bill knew he was adding just the right touch to the day, the detail the couple would remember all their lives, how the bride’s ring had gone missing the day of their wedding, April 1.

Really, weren’t they begging for a colossal wedding day prank by setting the date for April 1? Of course, Neil and Carla had set the date so that they could take advantage of off-season prices in Jamaica for their honeymoon, and still hope to have reasonably warm weather.

Bill patted his right front pants pocket, confirming that the ring, in its box, was still there. Then he went out into the hallway, nearly knocking Neil over on his way out. The brothers fell to whispering together about the problem at hand.

The rest of the house was bursting with not only family and bridesmaids, but with all sorts of hired help, preparing for the ceremony and reception. Things were not going smoothly. There was a problem in the back yard. The florist and the caterer were arguing with the tent rental crew about the proper positioning of the tent. The back yard was not perfectly level and there seemed to be a conflict between finding a stable position for the tent and finding stable positions for the caterer’s serving tables and the florists’ arrangements. It seemed the tent crew had had about enough and was about to leave the tent set-up to the florist and the caterer. The bride’s father went outside to attempt to mediate.

In the dining room, the hair and make-up stylists had arranged nine chairs around the dining room table, facing out, with chair backs against the table, draped in sheets. Six bridesmaids, the bride and her mother, and her future mother-in-law were sitting, or not, in the chairs. Those sitting were being attended to by the hair and make-up stylists. A cloud of lavender in the form of the bridesmaid’s dresses was hanging against one of the longer walls. Those who were not sitting were flitting, yes, definitely flitting. To the kitchen for coffee, to the bathroom, to the back yard. The bride’s mother was standing over her seated daughter and was nervously chatting away, with the groom’s mother and the bride, in an attempt to keep her daughter from becoming aware of the kerfuffle in the back yard.

Jasmine was one of the more restless of the group. She kept saying she would take one of the last turns in the makeup chairs. She stood, she sat, she got more coffee.

“What’s up, honey?” one of the other girls asked Jasmine. “You look so serious. You uncomfortable because Bill is here?”

“Huh? Oh, no, no. I’m over him.”

“He sure acted like a jerk to you. Nearly cost you your friendship with Carla.”

“Oh, I know! But we sorted that out a long time ago.”

Jasmine drifted out into the hallway, where she saw Neil and Bill involved in a whisper-argument.

“… the ring!” Neil hissed at Bill, before the two men looked up and, once more, stopped their conversation.

“Oh hi, guys! I promise I’m not stalking you! Just excuse me here. I need to go get something from the car.” Jasmine left the scene.

The bride’s father entered the hall from the kitchen and, seeing Neil and Bill, said “The tent crew left and the other contractors say the tent is in the wrong position. They’re being real prima donnas out there. C’mon guys, I need your help. We have to reposition the tent.

The father of the groom was also recruited to the project. He thought the best way to accomplish the task at hand was to subject the other men to a speech on the structural dynamics of the tent before moving it. The bride’s father yelled instructions to Neil and Bill right over the lecture.

Soon, all were covered with sweat and dirt, but the tent was repositioned so that one end was uphill and the other downhill.

The caterer and the florist approved. For a moment, all was fine. Then one corner of the tent gave way to the pull from its opposite corner, and collapsed into the center.

No one spoke. The four men simply started over.

Half an hour later, they had succeeded in righting and stabilizing the tent, with a good bit of extra bracing at the corners.

“Now we all have to clean up, pronto! There are two showers. Which two will go first?” The father of the groom and Bill volunteered.

In the kitchen, the caterer told the bride’s father, “I’m not sure we’ll be ready on time for the reception. That tent thing cost a lot of time.”

The bride’s father said nothing. He pulled out his wallet and stuffed two hundred-dollar bills into the caterer’s hand, then said, “Be ready.” This was not the first time he had married off a daughter, and he came to this day prepared, with plenty of cash on hand.

Neil trailed down the hall toward the guest suite after Bill. “Find the ring now! What am I going to do? How could you possibly lose it?” Neil restrained himself from shaking his brother by the shoulder, or worse.

“I don’t know if I can find it! I’ve looked in my suit, my bags, the car… I may not be able to find it!”

“I can’t believe you, man! Neil said. “How could you let this happen? Carla is going to be so disappointed?”

“Wait until she figures out who she married,” Bill thought, while trying to appear suitably concerned and guilty.

“Go shower,” he told Neil. “I’ll go look again.”

Bill headed toward the driveway outside, ostensibly to look through his car again. On the way, he encountered Jasmine yet again, still in jeans, but in full bridesmaid’s hair and make-up. He was about to put his head down and hurry past her when…

Jasmine stepped up to him and gave him a warm hug, surprising him.

“Hey, what’s this?” Bill exclaimed.

“Oh, nothing. It’s such a beautiful day. I thought we should let bygones be bygones and enjoy Neil and Carla’s happiness. No hard feelings over the past, you know.”

“I agree!” Bill declaimed. Bill, who, in a rare moment of discretion, had thought it best to go to his brother’s wedding without a date, since two of his ex-girlfriends would be there, wondered to himself if he still had a chance with Jasmine.

Then she grabbed him by the hips and gave him a playful grind.

“For old time’s sake,” she said lightly, and gave him a smile before walking away.

Bill stood outside by himself for a minute, bemused and enjoying his own bemusement.

The bride’s party was now in the final stages of dressing. The groomsmen had arrived from their hotel in two cars and were milling around in the back yard, a cloud of black tuxedos against the colorful tent and flowers.

Neil was toweling off in the guest bathroom when Bill returned. “You’re going to have to figure this out, bro,” said Bill. “I’m sorry. I can’t find it.” He crossed his arms over his chest and made a slight bow, meant as an apology.

Neil silently threw on his tux, turned on his heel and left to call a conference with Carla and her parents and give them the bad news.

The bride’s father, now cleaned up and in his own tuxedo, could scarcely keep from yelling in front of his daughter.

“What!!!” He started to scream, but then caught himself. The single word “what” started loud and then trailed off quietly, giving a sort of reverse doppler effect.

“What, Neil?” asked the bride. “You mean your brother doesn’t have the ring we picked out? How can that be?”

“Where is your brother?” the bride’s father asked. He looked as if he was about to take off his jacket and roll up his sleeves again.

“Daddy, please don’t yell at Bill!”

“Please don’t,” said the bride’s mother. “What good would it do?” She reached into her sleeve and gave her daughter a kleenex to dab under her eyes. “Try not to cry, Carla. You’ll ruin all that glamorous make-up!”

“I’m so sorry, baby,” said Neil. If I had had any idea this could happen, I would have held onto the ring myself. We can use any ring for today and get the special ring replaced later.”

The bride’s father kept his thoughts to himself.

The bride’s mother now stepped toward the groom, twisting the ring finger of her left hand. “Here,” she said, giving Neil her wedding ring. “You can marry Carla with my ring. But don’t let your brother hold it for you! Now where is everyone? Let’s get everyone into position!”

The bride proved to be quite cool and collected after that. When lining up outside, behind the wedding party, she slipped away from her father’s side to give a special hug to Jasmine.

“I’m so glad our friendship survived Bill! I’m so glad you’re here! It wouldn’t be the same without you.”

During the ceremony, after her vows, Carla stepped down from the altar to give her mother a hug. The two women misted up.

Later, now legally married, Neil and Carla circulated in the tent, smiling and greeting their guests. Drinks flowed. Canapes were passed on elegant silver trays. Everyone was relaxed, ready to start the party. The band played low-key, sophisticated cocktail hour music.

Bill pulled his brother to one side and whispered something to him, while reaching into his pants pocket. Then he paused…

Suddenly, Neil’s furious voice could be heard yelling, “Well, do you have it or not?!”

Bill pulled his right front pants pocket inside out. There was no sign of either ring or box. Bill looked astonished, and he genuinely was.

“This is just too much! You jerk!” Neil yelled at his brother, and ran at him, shoving him into a bed of ground cover at the edge of the yard. Bill fell onto his back into the pachysandra, but Neil was kneeling on top of him before Bill could get up. Guests gathered around them. What they saw was a man, kneeling in a patch of vegetation. About two feet from the front of the man’s knees, another man’s head stuck out of the ground cover. His neck, all that was visible of his body besides his head, was strained, the veins bulging.

“Get off me! Please!” The head (Bill) yelled, sounding desperate.

Neil grunted and took a swing at his brother. He missed and nearly fell over himself.

Three groomsmen leapt into the pachysandra patch to pull Neil off the body that was attached to the head and neck.

Shaking off the groomsmen, Neil stared hatefully at his brother.

“Calm down, man,” one of the groomsmen said. “What did he say?”

“He said he had Carla’s ring! Then he didn’t have it. Jerk just can’t leave it alone!”

At the edge of the crowd, Bill dusted himself off. There was a look of true concern and puzzlement on his face.

Now in full bridesmaid splendor, which suited her perfectly, Jasmine came over to Bill and slipped her arm through his. “Come on. Let’s get you out of Neil’s sight. Let’s get a drink,” she whispered in his ear.

Shortly, they were seated on a garden bench, with fresh drinks.

Despite feeling beat-up, Bill began to feel that the day might not turn out so badly for him after all. Here was this angel at his side, ready to comfort him. She smelled of perfume and powder. And hadn’t she grabbed him suggestively just a few hours ago?

“I overheard you talking to Neil about the ring in the hallway this morning,” Jasmine told Bill. “Do you know where the ring actually is?”

“No, I don’t. I can’t understand it. Now it’s really lost…I mean…”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“I mean, I thought I knew where it was, but now I’ve really lost it!”

“You’ve really lost it?”

“What I’m trying to say is…”

“Be calm, baby,” Jasmine cooed. She stroked his hair. Bill wondered how long they would need to stay at the reception, before making a get-away.

“I know exactly what you’re trying to say,” Jasmine answered. She reached into her bridesmaid’s bouquet and pulled out the ring box (THE ring box!), opened it and displayed the ring to Bill.

“April Fools!” she said, smiled radiantly at him, and sashayed away to join the party.

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