Anticipation swirled about the church. No one remembered the last time it had filled to capacity. This would be no ordinary wedding, if there ever is such a thing.
Not merely a gathering of family and friends, this was a major social event for the town and the state. People came from all over. Half the church contained people hoping to see the celebrities, whom they had never met. Local news trucks had parked outside.
Two hometown luminaries were planning to wed. Tommy Carlson, the groom, was this year’s L.A. Dodgers’ number one draft pick. He had come home to marry Heather Birdsong, his high school sweetheart. Heather was on hiatus from her starring role in the hit cable drama, ‘Ondine’s Island.’
Grayson Miller arrived with his ‘date,’ Cecilia Dolorosa. They both taught in the drama department at the local community college. Grayson specialized in history and theory while Cecilia concentrated on developing public performance skills. Heather studied under them before venturing to Hollywood.
Cecilia always ensured everyone knew she and Grayson had only work in common. Their attending a social event together exceeded her usual strict boundaries. But their having taught Heather made their attendance mandatory.
They squeezed into a pew near the rear of the church. Though he preferred the front row, Grayson took the demotion in stride. He always insisted everyone has the best seats. And he knew these weren’t the usual comped seats he expected and got.
Grayson understood the popular belief that all weddings had a religious subtext. The public declaration of a covenant between two people certainly had mystical underpinnings. But he also saw weddings as a rarified form of religious theater. Its origins were hidden deep in the tangled roots of myth and history. Grayson often fell into passionate theoretical discourses on this. These drove Cecilia to cover her ears whenever Grayson broached the subject.
He turned to Cecilia. “How many goats do you think she has in her dowry?”
Cecilia punched his arm, not very affectionately. “You agreed to keep your bizarre sense of humor safely locked away, Grayson.”
“Who was joking?” he laughed.
He scanned the crowd jostling for seating. ‘How can they not see it as theater?’ he wondered.
Weddings were particular favorites of Grayson’s. Of course, everyone knew the vows, ‘Do you take?’ the ‘I do’s’ and the climactic kiss. That rigid structure made some people think every wedding is the same.
But behind that veil, conflicts and barely concealed emotions roil amongst the participants. Grayson knew parent’s hopes for their children’s futures, financial concerns, and the embers of old flames weighed on each one. How many dramas unfold within a confined space over the course of a ritual lasting barely a quarter-hour?
Personally, Grayson enjoyed weddings immensely. So much so, he’d been married eight times, to six different women. Winners and losers aside, each wedding had been different, and he cherished each one. Grayson joked that in addition to photographers, he should also have hired score-keepers.
Not currently married, Grayson was less fond of marriage per se. He often said he would prefer any institution to that one. His friends never mentioned the awful marriages which chased the heels of his enchanting weddings. ‘Just desserts are best served cold’ was his favorite misquote.
A student of his once erred by quoting Tolstoy’s statement about happy vs. unhappy families. Grayson’s marriages were all unhappy for the same reason – he was in them.
The pastor looked at his watch. Joining in a different ritual, the congregation, in unison, now checked theirs.
The bride was late.
The best man whispered to the groom, who nodded.
Hushed conversations ebbed and flowed with sprinkles of laughter and speculative spice.
Grayson said, “Happens all the time.”
Cecilia pulled her shawl around her shoulders. “I’m not surprised there’s not more cold feet in this climate.”
The groom straightened his tie. His best man re-straightened it. The groom said something. The best man rolled his eyes and showed the ring to the groom. He said something and they both laughed. The groom checked his watch again. The best man kept the groom from walking to the back of the church.
A remark from the pastor caused the groom and best man to laugh hilariously. Their laughter drew everyone’s attention.
A commotion outside turned heads. Word spread, the bride had arrived.
She stood with her father just outside. Bride’s maids paired off with the groomsmen. Heather’s father signaled thumbs-up to the pastor who nodded.
The best man told the string quartet. “Start the music.”
As the procession began, Heather and her father hung back and faced off angrily. Gesticulating wildly, she tried adjusting her veil with jerky motions. Her father intervened to straighten it. Facing forward, he offered his hand. Arm firmly in arm, her father escorted Heather down the aisle.
As they passed, Grayson saw her glistening eyes glance at him. She looked so different. Her veil hid tears, but what else? Mindful of her makeup, she dabbed her nose under the veil and wrung the handkerchief into knots.
Cecilia’s sidelong glance warned Grayson.
Tommy smiled as she approached. Heather leaned into her father. He appeared to be holding her up.
Stepping back, her father presented Heather to Tommy. She wobbled. Tommy offered his hand. She didn’t take it. Tommy stepped down, took her hand and led her before the pastor. He put a supportive arm around her waist.
The pastor didn’t dawdle.
He nodded solemnly and began. “We are gathered here today to celebrate the joining of Tommy Carlson and Heather Birdsong in the bonds of holy matrimony.
“Should anyone present know any reason that this couple should not be joined in holy matrimony, speak now or forever hold your peace.”
A disturbance at the back of the church drew everyone’s attention. Tommy and Heather turned.
“I must…” Grayson sloughed off Cecilia’s attempts to pull him down.
She said, “You idiot! How dare you?”
Grayson’s hand shot up. “Stop the wedding!”
The crowd reacted in outrage. Shouts arose. People rushed Grayson. Others pushed back, threatening a melee.
People shouted, “Let him speak!”
Tommy pulled Heather close. They looked into each other’s eyes.
The pastor raised his hands and calmed the crowd. He addressed Grayson with authority. “Speak up sir. Why do you disrupt our service?”
Grayson shouted, “I know Heather. Look at her. Can’t you see she’s distraught? Her father practically had to carry her up there. Don’t force her into this.”
Cecilia hissed, “This isn’t one of your class projects…”
Tommy’s look implored Heather. She pulled him close and rested her head on his chest.
She said, “I want you, Tommy. Let’s do this.”
They turned to the pastor and nodded together. He smiled and raised his arms. “Tommy and Heather have affirmed their desire to continue the wedding.”
The crowd cheered. Grayson sat. Cecilia slid as far as possible from him.
The pastor said, “Our bride and groom have asked everyone to join with them in taking the vows —to pledge your support and love for them as they begin their new path of life together. After I’ve spoken these vows, please answer with ‘we do.’”
Accompanied by happy murmuring, the pastor went straight into the wedding vows.
Sustained cheering and applause accompanied their kiss. Tommy and Heather laughed and held hands almost running up the aisle to the exit. Congregants flooded the aisle to follow them out.
Grayson moved into the flow.
Grabbing his arm, Cecilia said, “Don’t you dare.”
“You will not go through the receiving line.”
“Why not? I want to congratulate the happy couple.”
“You stopped their wedding!”
Grayson held up his finger. “Correction: Tried to stop the wedding.”
“You can’t be serious. Must you always inject your drama into everyone else’s lives?”
“I merely answered a question from the pastor.”
“You’ve no right. You don’t even know them.”
“I know Heather. She was a good student. She invited me.”
Cecilia rolled her eyes.
Grayson persisted. “Come on. After seeing the word ‘bridle’ on the invitation…”
As if on cue, he held up the parchment card and pointed out the offending word.
“You stopped the wedding for a typo?”
“Freud would applaud me.”
“He wasn’t invited.” They entered the flow of guests moving toward the exit. “You get in that line, don’t complain if you get slapped.”
“Not only the line, but the reception. Ever know me to pass up a free meal?”
“I won’t sit with you. Don’t embarrass yourself further by sitting anywhere else.”
“Fine. I’ll eat standing in the corner. That won’t draw attention.”
They got to the tall double doors. Rice crunched under their feet. Heather’s father blocked their progress. He grabbed Grayson’s lapel.
“How dare you? I’ll have you disbarred.”
Grayson laughed. “Good luck with that. I’m not a lawyer.”
“Whatever. You had no right.”
Grayson held up his invitation like a lawyer presenting evidence. “I didn’t crash the party, sir. This is my entrée.”
“You are not welcome here.”
Cecilia gave him an ‘I told you so’ look.
He said, “I only did what was called for.”
She led him away from the crowd.
Grayson looked for the newlyweds. He spotted them surrounded by friends and family.
He caught Heather’s eye. She had been watching for him.
Heather held their connection for a long moment. She nodded to him, sadly, and looked down. Tommy followed her gaze and whispered to her. She shook her head. She didn’t look up again.
Grayson nodded grimly to Cecilia. “She made her choice. I wish them happiness. Enjoy the reception.”
He walked toward the parking lot. On the way, he kicked a stone from the path.