Walking back to his dressing room, Alston’s hands were still wet from the cheap paper towel the bathroom supplied. He wiped them lightly against his suit not wanting to dampen the material and leave a mark. This was a very important day, he did not want to mess anything up even if it was just a water stain. 

As Alston approached the creamy white door he reached out for the knob and felt his hand go icy as his fingertips grazed the metal. At that moment he realized just how much sweat had accumulated on his palm and quite likely his forehead too. He tried to wipe it away as he opened the door to a hot room full of his brothers and best friends. They cheered and hollered at him as soon as they noticed him enter the room. Alston’s face lit up with a toothy smile sitting down on the black leather chair under the window. 

"So how does it feel, Al?" Said a tall blonde haired man with a squeaky voice slouched on a bench on the opposite side of the room. "In about an hour you'll be tied down to one woman for the rest of your life."

"Well," He responded after a short pause. "Its an intimidating idea but I love Vanessa and I know that she's the only one for me." Unlike most twenty-eight year olds, Alston had always known that he wanted to be married. His brothers had always found it strange how much Alston could be like them, star pitcher for their little league team, captain of the football team in high school, and went to almost every party he got invited to which was pretty much all of them but somehow also have this deep yearning for a connection with one woman that would last a lifetime. He would always remain an anomaly among his family.

“I’m glad you found someone.” His brother replied with genuine happiness at the corners of his smile. 

“I’m sure you’ll find someone too, Johnson.” said Alston.

“Thanks.” Johnson spoke in almost a whisper as he got up off of the hard wooden bench. “We’ll leave you alone for awhile. I’m sure you’ve had enough of our obnoxiousness.” He let out a chuckle as he led the four other similarly dressed men out of the room.

Following the slam of the door, Alston moved over to the cushioned chair sat in front of a makeshift vanity that consisted of a dark brown stained desk with a mirror screwed to the wall above it. It was quite noticeable now why they had saved so much money booking this church.

Alston stared at himself in the mirror and let out a sigh. His gaze drifted down to the one white rose pinned to his chest. White roses were Vanessa's favorite, she would be walking down the aisle holding a bouquet of them. He smiled as he always did when he saw them then tore his focus away after a few moments. Studying the details on his face and the blonde hair swooped neatly on his head he was violently interrupted by an abrupt knock on the door.

“Come in.” He answered immediately as though the words were forced out of his mouth. At the sound of his invitation the door opened and closed letting in a short, dark haired, girl in a navy bridesmaid dress. He could see her standing in the right side of the mirror. It was Vanessa’s younger sister by about six years.

“Hey, Alston.” Her voice was calm and business like. “I just came to drop this by.” She stepped over to the vanity and placed a white envelope sealed with clear scotch tape in front of him. His eyebrows furrowed as he turned to her.

“What is this, Lizzy?” 

“The rest of the money I owed you for helping me get my place.” She spoke as if it was obvious.

“Oh,” He looked back at the envelope and picked it up feeling the cash and coins shift in his grasp. “well thanks but did you really have to give this to me now?”

“I was gonna do it yesterday but I forgot that I already had plans with my boyfriend.”

Alston sighed, there was no use trying to argue. A leopard never changes its spots. “Thanks, Lizzy.”

“No problem.” She gave him a little pat on the shoulder and turned to leave. Her black heels tapped against the tough carpet as she exited the room. The door slammed shut and it was silent once again. 

Alston stared at the envelope and wondered exactly how much money was in there. Lizzy wasn’t exactly the most reliable person and had a tendency to “forget” to pay people back. He picked at the tape and peeled enough away to open it. Reaching inside he felt a bundle of cash and a collection of coins at the bottom. He pulled out the bills and counted out two hundred then turned the envelope upside down and let the coins spill out clanking against the stained wood. There was only two hundred and forty nine dollars.

“Five hundred short.” He whispered to himself disappointed but not surprised. He wiped his hands over his oily and sweaty face then put it all back inside the tiny package. He then sat up from the chair, holding the envelope in his hand, and turned to the door. In the back of his mind he knew that he should just leave it alone until after the wedding but Alston was never one to put things off. It would only take a couple of minutes and he had plenty of time until he had to make his way down the aisle. Today was still going to be perfect.

He shut the door behind him and wandered the halls in an attempt to find Lizzy. Turning around the third corner, after about eight minutes of walking, he could feel the steam coming out of his ears. How dare Lizzy wait until now to pay him back only to come up short and leave him stressed and searching for her on what should have been the happiest day of his life. Just then, as he was passing the front doors again, he saw Lizzy walking out the door. As confused as he was he followed her without question.

The cool August breeze was refreshing but didn’t cool his temper in the slightest. He stood on the last concrete step and wondered if it was even worth it to try and catch her before the ceremony. After a long pause he rolled his eyes and began to walk back up the steps. He would see her at the reception and would confront her then. If he went back into the church and just set the envelope aside today would still be a perfect day. Alston reached out for the long black door handle when he felt someone grip his left arm firmly then his right. His heartbeat quickened and for just a moment he stopped breathing. Looking back he saw two burly men with stern faces, and oddly nice grey suits almost like the one he was wearing, each holding one of his arms. He opened his mouth to say something but was too stunned to make a sound.

“Let’s go!” Said the man on his right demandingly yet quietly not wanting to make a scene.

“What?” That was the only word Alston managed to get out.

“You’re coming with us.” Replied the man on the left. “Don’t make this difficult.”

They pulled him back down the steps and practically dragged him down the sidewalk and around the corner. They came to a halt in a back alley beside the church and pulled Alston’s wrists together wrapping a zip tie around them.

“What the hell is going on!” Alston shouted as the man on his right ripped the envelope from his hands.

“Don’t play dumb, you know exactly what you did.'' The man with the envelope walked over to a black, beat up, car parked on the other side of the road and set it in the console but when he opened the door he noticed a woman in a beautiful navy dress sitting in the passenger side. That couldn’t be Lizzy, could it? But before he could think about it he saw a large fist coming straight towards his face then everything went dark.

When Alston regained consciousness he was laying down on his side in a dark box but it couldn’t be a box, the ground was fuzzy like a tennis ball and he was moving. His wrists were sore and still tied tightly together and could feel blood dripping from his nose. He tried rolling onto his stomach and getting up on his knees but ended up hitting his back on the roof and fell back down as they rolled over what he hoped was a speed bump. After a couple more tries to get up off the terribly smelling ground that he prayed was just rotting fruit he gave up and laid there until they stopped moving and let him out.

After what felt like an hour Alston was blinded by the bright sun shining into the trunk when the hatch opened. One of the pristinely dressed men had unlocked it and ripped him out of the vehicle setting him on his feet in an open field. At that moment no one was gripping his arm forcing him to stay but he didn’t dare move. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the passenger door swing open revealing the woman he saw earlier. She had long brunette waves and a small figure. As she turned around his heart sank, it was Lizzy. Her green eyes were red and puffy and her arm trembled as she shut the car door.

“Where's the rest of it!” The man yelled at Alston as he shoved him backwards with an extreme amount of force.

“I...I don’t know what you're talking about.” His lips quivered, barely able to get out the helpless words. The big man pushed him again, knocking him off balance, onto the dry grass with rage stinging through the man's face. Alston’s back tingled as it contacted the ground and immediately tried to cover his stomach expecting to be kicked but looked up to find the man turned to Lizzy.

“You said he knew!”

“He...he does.” Lizzy’s eyes were streaming with tears as she tried to convince him. “He told me he’d bring it to me by the end of the day.” 

Alston was stunned. He couldn’t believe his ears. He knew that Lizzy wasn’t very fond of him but throwing him under the bus like this was insane. This guy standing in front of him was furious and looked like he was going to kill him over something he had no part in. He couldn’t believe that Lizzy would blame him like this.

The man stepped closer to Alston and bent down to his level. His breath smelt of strong alcohol and cheap breath mints. “Where is the rest of my money?” He held up the envelope as if trying to jog his memory.

“I don’t know anything about your money.” his eyes were closed as he tried to pretend that he was anywhere but here. “Lizzy gave that envelope to me. It’s money she owed me. I helped her with the downpayment on her new house.” the man stood up at the sound of his answer and sighed. He calmly walked over to Lizzy and shoved her into the side of the car watching her slide to the ground in defeat. She covered her face with her scrawny hands as tears rolled off of her cheeks and onto the really expensive dress Vanessa had her wear.

“Lizzy!” Alston’s breath quickened and his eyes shot open. He fixed his gaze upon the man turning around unfazed by his violent actions.

The man bent down and gripped the collar of Alston’s suit and pulled him quickly to his feet. He reached around himself with his free hand and revealed a gun.

“You don’t have to do this!” He spoke fast as a reflex to the sight of the weapon. Within seconds he could feel the cold circle pressed against his forehead.

“Where is the money?” His ocean blue eyes were glued to Alston's. “Where is it?!”

“I...I...I-” There was nothing he could say. He knew this was the end. He shed a tear at the thought of never being able to marry Vanessa. If he died here would she find him?

Alston’s breathing slowed to a steady pace when he heard the ear shattering sound of the gun going off. He tensed and felt the weapon fall off of his forehead as the man in front of him dropped like a sack of flour. He opened his eyes and found a gorgeous woman draped in a white lace gown holding a gun right in front of him. It was Vanessa. She lowered the gun and moved closer to Alston wrapping her thin arms around his blood splattered suit and pressing her cheek against his silky black tie.

“I’m so sorry.” Her tone was frighteningly sincere. 

“What the hell just happened?” Alston spoke, still gripping her body tightly. “How did you know I was here?”

“Lizzy has been involved with these guys for a few years.” She untangled herself from Alston and tilted her head up to look into his eyes. “I told her this would happen eventually but she didn’t listen.” She gently brushed away her tears trying not to wreck her makeup. “I’m so sorry you got dragged into this.”

“Let’s just go back to the church and try to forget this although I don’t think I will.” His eyes were focused on the rolling hills in the distance still in shock.

“Actually everyone left when I told them that you were missing.” She stared down at her hand and twisted around her sparkling engagement ring. “When I saw that car leave I knew what had happened and thought it would be a waste of their time to make them stay.”

Alston grabbed her hand and interlocked their fingers. “Today is still our wedding day. No matter what happened just then it doesn’t change the fact that I want to be with you forever.” He turned his head to face her and slid his fingertips under her chin pulling her attention away from her hand. “I love you Vee, more than anything. We are going to go back to that church and get married. Nobody gets to stand in the way of this moment with you. Life is crazy but the craziest thing of all would be not spending it with you.”

July 30, 2020 23:38

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