"All this, for a third wedding?" Michael spat as he walked up to me in the hallway from the parking lot. The afternoon sun was flooding through a high arched window on the far end, framing his head in the warm orange light, like a long-suffering saint.
"It's only her first," I said, trying to sound light about it, like he was teasing, and I was taking the joke well, as the groom. The truth was that it was embarrassing to me, and he wasn't teasing.
"It's nice to see you though, Mike" I added. "How are... how have you been?"
Michael sneered in his glass of red wine in reply. I should have let it go, but I had been worried about him. He'd always been a pain the ass, but he was 'our' pain in the ass. Now he rarely returned my calls, and when he did the conversation was mostly to talk shit about California and wonder aloud how I could stand it. Then he would complain about Ohio in equal measure, and I'd wonder if there was anywhere that he'd be happy.
He was the only one of us that stayed in Columbus after school. I went straight to Silicon Valley doing Silicon Valley things, Alex meandered to LA eventually falling sideways into a real-estate empire. The twins, Dave and Danny, forced their way into Chicago finance eventually running their own little empire of sorts, with as little input from the outside world as possible. They went from a shared studio, to a two-bedroom overlooking the lake, to neighboring twin brick houses in the suburbs. They married twins and had kids. Danny even ended up with twin daughters. It was unsettling but made perfect sense if you didn't look directly at it. The one time I visited I couldn't tell any of the wives or kids apart.
“Where are the others?” he asked, as if he hoped there weren’t any others.
“The D’s (we called Danny and Dave the “D’s”) are in the dressing room down the hall. Alex is being Alex and assures me he’s just around the corner.” I told him, with raised eyebrows. Alex was always late, always getting away with it.
Michael darkened even further at the direct mention of Alex.
“He told me you two got dinner when you were in LA a few months ago?” I said, casually, breezily, light as a feather… Alex also told me Michael showed up drunk, talked shit, offended his girlfriend, and left early.
“Oh, you mean when Alex insisted we go to his favorite restaurant right near his house and nowhere near my hotel, showed up 45 minutes late, brought a date, then made a big show about paying for everything while telling charming stories about his charming younger-self during our charming high school days? Yeah, dinner was charming. And fuck LA, I really don’t know how you can stand to live there. Alex, I get, but I don’t get how you can stomach it.”
“Well, I don’t live there… I live in Los Gatos… in the Bay Area… It’s like 300 miles away,” I replied, annoyed and getting worried that he was starting the day off like this.
“Same shit, California is California,” he said dismissively.
I had thousands of insights to offer about how shitty Ohio is/was/will always be, but I bit my tongue. Hard.
At that moment the door behind him flew open and Alex rushed in, suit in a bag slung over his shoulder, dressed like he was boarding a yacht, but his eyes were wide, sheepish. Not very Alex. He took a big breath and headed straight for us.
“Hey, it’s the man of honor!” hey nearly shouted. It seemed forced, as he got closer I could tell he was tired, a bit ragged. “Big day… again… how many does this make it? Lucky number seven yet?” He laughed warmly, winked to let me know he was being playful.
“Three, and you know it, you’ve both been in every wedding. How are you?” I teased back, playing the mediator, as always.
“Oh, I’m great,” Alex said, then slower, “great.”
Michael was staring at him. Seeing Alex in this state was like watching a chimpanzee smoke a cigarette. Something about it was so unnerving, but at the same time it seemed to function just the same. It made you wonder if he was ever like this when we weren’t around, which was not something any of us had ever contemplated. Alex seemed to be avoiding his stare.
“Michael,” he said, with only the briefest flicker of eye contact.
“Something’s wrong,” said a voice behind my left shoulder. “Definitely,” said another almost identical voice behind my right. It was always discomforting when the D’s snuck up like that, I nearly jumped.
“What could be wrong?” scoffed Alex, standing awkwardly in the middle of a semi-circle of men dressed in identical shirts, pants, and shoes. “We’re at this gorgeous estate in Napa on a perfect 73 degree day to, once again, marry off our good friend to the love of his life!”
“Oh, is this the one and final love of your life?” Michael chimed in with a smirk. The mischief was creeping back into his eyes. It was good to see.
“Yes, thank you for your concern, Janet is the one.” I sighed back at him. “I married Janelle too young, and Jenny too soon after. Janet and I are really perfect for one another.”
“The Three J’s,” the twins intoned simultaneously.
“Of the apocalypse?” Michael asked in a mock-grave voice.
Alex laughed in a loud, forced burst. All our heads pivoted to look at him together.
“Alexanderrr?” Danny prodded, “What is going on?” Dave finished.
Alex’s façade broke. “My name is not Alexander, and you know it.” He tried to sound irritable, but even in this state he couldn’t pull it off.
“Alex,” I said, “tell us what is going on.” I was genuinely concerned now. I glanced around to see the D’s looking typically placid, but I could see the concern on Michael's face as well. Now I was really worried, Michael’s whole thing was not giving a shit. I could feel now how much he relied on the rest of us to play our roles so that he could play his.
Alex exhaled sharply, “damn, it is good to see you all. It has been too long.”
“Since the last time Brian got married,” Danny offered, “five years,” Dave added.
I turned to see them wearing the same shit eating grin. Michael was trying to hold back a smile too. They all erupted into laughter. “Fuck you,” I said at the twins, “and you” I flung at Michael. But I couldn’t hold it back and joined them. It felt like high school for a heartbeat.
As the laughing subsided Alex blurted out “I got wrecked, taken completely for a ride.” His face became somber immediately.
“By who? What happened?” I asked him, trying to gauge the seriousness of the situation. Alex could be a bit dramatic at times.
“The woman I was dating, Jeanie. She robbed me blind.”
“Jeanie?!” Michael gasped, “you mean that bimbo you brought to dinner?”
Alex turned beat red at the memory. “Yeah, same one.” He said sheeplishly, eyes cast down.
“But she just seemed like some hot dummy you picked up at a bar!” Michael was honestly flabbergasted.
Alex didn’t say anything for a moment. “Yeah, well, I guess I’m the dummy. She hit me hard.”
“I’m really sorry, Alex,” I said, but I could tell it wasn’t time to be sorry yet.
“I met her at the country club, she was pretty new there, and everyone was trying to talk to her. Even a bunch of the old married guys were falling all over themselves. Well, she walked right up and started talking to me one night at dinner.” Alex ran a hand through his hair, “should have been a red flag” he chuckled. He was never great at self-deprecation, which somehow made it more endearing.
“I had only known her a week or so when I brought her to dinner with you Michael, I was trying to show her off everywhere before she woke up and dumped me.” Alex looked at him in the eyes, really for the first time. “I’m sorry for being an asshole that night, Mike. I was so sprung on this woman, I was acting like a teenager for months.”
Michael literally beamed. He had always sought Alex’s approval when we were young, apparently nothing really changes. He didn’t say anything, just patted Alex on the shoulder in a fatherly sort of way.
“Well,” Alex took a deep breath and went on, “she basically moved in after a few weeks. I never even saw her place, don’t know if she had one. But now she’s got special shampoo in my shower, and kale in my fridge, and every time I turn around she’s naked. It was like being run over by a truck and hoping it never ends. Well, it ended on Sunday. I left on a work thing over the weekend, when I got home she was gone.”
“Oh, I’m sorry man,” I told him but I realize we still haven’t gotten to the ‘oh, I’m sorry’ part yet.
Alex rocks on his feet for a second, “she’s gone, with my Rolex, half my furniture, the Mercedes, about $100k out of the safe, and another $300 drawn from my work account.”
Now it was our turn to be flabbergasted. We all waited in stunned silence for Alex to say something, hoping the bad part was over.
“Apparently she had buyers for all my stuff lined up to come collect the second I left the house… then she got a bunch of bank information from my business partner, Tim, by screwing him, in my office, on my chair.”
All of our jaws were on the floor.
“The cops are basically worthless because she immediately liquidated everything for cash under a bunch of different names. She could be in Mexico for all anyone knows. Now you can say sorry,” he added, head down, chuckling.
We spontaneously gathered around him and gave him an awkward group hug. He let out a ragged breath, rubbed his eyes and took a deep breath.
“Honestly though,” Michael finally said, “she was really hot.”
Alex burst out laughing.
“I mean, like an 11.”
“Right?!” Alex laughed.
“Her name was Jeanie?” Danny asked.
“Another J,” Dave added.
“Red flag,” they both said together.
As we all stood there laughing, with our arms around each other. Gradually the vague irony of the situation became earnest and slightly uncomfortable, but earnest none-the-less. We never would have done that when we were young, but still, it felt just like those days somehow.
As we peeled back one by one Michael’s wine sloshed over the rim, on my shoulder and down my back.
“Mike!” I yelled, jumping back. I could feel the wine blooming across the back of my white shirt. He looked genuinely mortified.
“Ahh, shit, I’m sorry,” he mumbled casting around the hallways for something to mop up the mess. “I just don’t really like chardonnay though,” he smirked.
“Give me that,” Alex grunted, snatching the glass out of his hand. “Good sirs, extend your right arm and kneel,” he suddenly bellowed in his best Sean Connery voice.
We hesitated, but he gave us a withering, imperious look that got us rolling our eyes and playing along. He winked at me playfully then dipped two fingers into the glass.
“Hey…” Michael began, but Alex cut him off.
“Before this occasion! The third marriage on the fourth day of the fifth month (the twins shot each other a smirk) of the two thousand and twenty third year, I do solemnly confer upon you, most noble of men, most loyal of friends, and most pure hearted of shit talkers; the Order of Knight. May you uphold and defend these qualities of character within yourself, and all around you… forever and ever… uhh, amen.” And here is flicked his wine-soaked fingers on all of our shoulders, little drops of red soaking into our white wedding shirts.
We all griped and scattered away, while he stood in the middle, laughing manically. He upended the rest of the glass down his throat.
“That’s pretty good, and you guys wear it so well,” he smiled his 1,000 watt smile. It was impossible not to smile back and be happy to be in on the joke with him. “Alright boys, let’s get dressed and send our man off in style.”
They all headed down the hall toward the dressing room, Alex explaining to the twins that it was tacky to wear white to a third marriage anyway, which got them roaring. Michael turned back when he reached the door and looked at me standing in the same spot.
“You ok, Brian?”
“Yeah,” I replied, “just remembering this for later.”
He rolled his eyes at me but was smiling as big as I’ve seen him smile in years.
Danny’s head appeared around the door frame, “is he backing out?” he said with faux-concern.
Dave’s followed, “is he upset about the wine?”
“Red wine…” Alex chimed in.
“Red flag!” they all said in unison, then roared with laughter again. We all did.