After the Dress:
“Everybody out,” Burg said. The apartment went quiet and everyone looked at me.
“She is my sister. I am staying for this,” Bliss said. “She is back in Springfield and can’t talk for herself.”
“You’re gonna leave and you’re gonna leave now,” Bell said. “We gotta talk to our Droog.”
Everyone huffed and scoffed and whispered under their breath, but when they looked at me and I nodded, they all filed for the door. When everyone was gone, Burg reached over and locked the door.
“Say that again,” Bell said.
“Saturday afternoon me and Bekah, we went to Rolla with her parents and—”
“And you bought her a wedding dress,” Burg said.
“Her parents found one they liked.”
“Start from the beginning,” Bell said. “Sit, you’re only making yourself nervous standing.”
I sat on the floor and crossed my legs. I took my knees in my hands and started rocking back and forth. It was a thing I had done all my life, rocking to soothe myself. This was nothing new. This was not a sign of anything. Except on this occasion it really was.
“We were talking, and I told her I was done looking for lovers and that I only wanted her for the rest of my life.”
“And is that true, or were you caught up in the moment?” Burg said. “We all know you tend to get caught up in the moment.” He looked at Bell. “Especially around this girl.”
“I wasn’t caught up in the moment. We had just had sex and I had, I had—”
“What, man, you had what?” Bell said.
“I had looked into the face of God.”
Neither of them laughed.
“I swear, man, the most spiritual experience of my life was making love to this girl. I knew myself in ways that I never have before. Guys, this is it, I am done looking. I want to marry Bekah.”
They looked at each other again. There was no telling what they were saying when they did that.
“How long have you been dating?” Burg said.
“A month and a week.”
“Yeah, man, that is too soon,” Bell said. “You know that, right? We all know you are a romantic and we love you for it, but a month and a week is too soon. You don’t even know this girl.”
“I know what I need to know to tell me that I want to be with her for the rest of my life.”
“Maybe,” Bell said. “We will get back to that.” He lit a cigarette and took a drag. “What did you mean by, her parents found a dress?”
“Her mother was out all week driving around all over Missouri looking at wedding dresses,” Shadow said. “It is fucking weird, right?”
To this point they had been talking to Artist. Now Shadow had stepped forward.
“What do you mean by all over Missouri?” Burg said.
Shadow stood. “Well, this is what I mean. The woman took the week off of teaching school so she could drive to Columbia, Rolla, Lebanon, Springfield, and Jefferson City. She went to all of their bridal shops and she looked at all of their dresses. We went to see her favorite on Saturday and we fucking bought it.”
“That is crazy, right?” Burg said. “You can look at that and see that it is crazy?”
“Yeah, it is fucking nuts!” Shadow said.
“Well, okay, ’cause a minute ago you were talking like this whole thing was a normal, everyday kind of thing,” Bell said.
“No, it freaked me out. Her mom is kinda crazy. Who does that?”
“So why did you let them buy the dress?” Burg asked.
“Because I want to keep her as a girlfriend. I love this chick. I don’t want to lose her. And her mother kinda put me on the spot.”
“How?” Bell asked.
“Her dad mentioned that I had not, well, you know, proposed to her yet and her mom turned to me and snapped. ‘You’re going to propose to my daughter, aren’t you?’”
“Tell me you didn’t propose because her mom told you to,” Burg said.
“No. God, no, and fuck no. No, I told her that I would one day propose.” Shadow pointed at them. “Which is true.”
“Thank God you didn’t propose to her in front of her parents after they told you to,” Bell said. “That would have been bad.”
“No, this is not out of control. I have this under control. In the end, I have to buy the ring before any vows are exchanged. I have to pop the question. I get to choose when I do that. For now, I have let them know that, as far as I know, she is the one. They have bought a dress. The rest is on my timetable. I am still in control.”
“Okay, I’ll let you say that because it seems like you really need to hear it, but it is not that simple,” Bell said. “If you do not propose soon, she will freak out. She is going to expect it any day and if you make her wait too long, it will get out of hand.”
“She is going to get really jumpy and things will change the longer you wait. This is so bad. You just can’t see it yet,” Burg said.
“They did what?” Rose screamed. She looked at Mumble who looked up from his cribbage board and shook his head.
“We bought a wedding dress on Saturday,” Servant said. He was beginning to panic. He did not want this girl, let alone this wedding. But he seemed powerless to stop it. Every time he came out there was more Bekah in his life and every time he pulled back she stepped closer. This was freaking him out and he ran to the one that had always told him what to do in the past. He ran home.
“You are going to marry this Lynch Girl?” Rose spoke the words as if she were spitting out a bone or a piece of gristle.
Out came Shadow, fired and ready. “Gonna marry her. Gonna make her my own.”
Rose turned away. She composed herself. “Do you have any idea if she is a Christian or not?” Rose asked. “Is she saved?”
“She is from a church that worships Christ,” Shadow said. He was fuzzy on the details. Had only been around for a moment when the issue of religion was raised.
“What does that mean? Is she Catholic?” Rose said. Again, the sensation of spitting out a thing unusable filled the air with the word Catholic. There was nothing my mother hated more than a Catholic. Or at least we thought that at the time.
Out came Servant who had been listening aptly when Hymnal had been talking about her church.
“They are Reorganized Church of Latter-Day Saints,” Servant said.
“Mormon,” Rose stammered. “You’re going to be Mormon?”
“Her parents are Reorganized Church of Latter-Day Saints. It is not Mormon. As it was explained to me the Mormon church broke apart when most of them moved to Utah. The Utah Mormons are crazy. The Reorganized Church of Latter-Day Saints are just Christians.”
“Doesn’t sound Christian to me!” Rose shouted. “Doesn’t sound Christian at all. Sounds like they worship Joseph Smith and his Plates. Sounds like they are cultists. Maybe that is why they have so much money. Maybe it is Mormon Money. Those Mormons are rich. They have the world’s biggest bank and they control most of Hollywood and the Democrats with that Mormon Money.”
“There is no Mormon money,” Guardian said. “They are not Mormon, or Vigil would have six wives. They are a branch off of that tree. You have never studied their beliefs any more than you have studied how to smith a sword. I will not stand here and talk about this when neither of us know what we are talking about.” He hugged her and headed for the door.
“Where are you going?” Rose asked.
“I have to work. I am on my way to Best Western.”
“Let me drive you. We can talk in the car,” Rose said.
“I already called a cab; they will be here in a half an hour. I need to shower, then I’m gone.”
“Why did you call a cab?” Rose said.
“Because you made it clear that you would not be driving me to work and I needed to find my own way,” Guardian said. “I love you. Goodbye.”
After the Church:
“I have to jump in the shower then Bell is going to take me to work. While I am at work can you go to my mom’s house and switch the clothes from the washer into the dryer for me?”
“No,” Bekah said. “I’m not doing that.”
“That’s funny. Just don’t mind my mom when you go over there. She is not going to mind you, and it will only take a minute.” I took off my shirt and Bekah shook her head.
“I’m not doing it. I’m not going to her house and I am not changing over the clothes. I’m not doing your chores. I’m not your wife yet. If I start doing all of your chores, you will never marry me,” she said.
The house went quiet. I heard Bell cuss.
“You’re kidding, right?” I asked.
“Not at all.” She kissed me and smiled at me. “Not your housewife. Not yet.” She walked out with Bliss and was gone.
“You have got to be fucking kidding me!” Bell said.
Burg locked the door. “Tell me what you are going to do about that,” he said. “That shit right there.”
Guardian came out and grunted. “Nothing. She is not my wife. It is not her job to do my laundry.”
“She can live at your house, though. You can buy her food and every other damn thing she wants,” Bell said.
“I don’t have time.”
“Go get in the shower. But we are not done here,” Burg said.
“I can’t take my shower.” I pulled on my work shirt and ran my fingers through my hair. It was oily but I had no time. I raked it in the best shape I could, and I pulled my hat on. “I gotta run to my mom’s house real quick, then I can go.”
“Dammit,” Burg said.
I went to my mother’s house and she met me at the door. “Well, my son is back. Come to switch out the loads?”
“Yeah, I am in a hurry,” Guardian said.
“You said that she would be by to do this, where is she?” Rose said.
“Out worshiping Joseph Smith, I guess,” Guardian snapped.
“Don’t get a tone with me, mister. I am still The Mom.”
I opened the washer door and snatched up a fist full of wet clothes before Rose grabbed my arm. “That right there in your hand, what is that?” Rose asked.
I looked at it. It was a tee shirt. It had the eye of Horus on it. It was not mine.
“It’s a tee shirt, mom.”
“Who does it belong to?”
“It is Bekah’s tee shirt.”
“Where is she? Why does this Lynch girl have my son, my working-man son, doing her laundry for her?”
“She was called away on an emergency,” I lied.
“That right there is ridiculous,” Rose said. “The girl has you doing her laundry. What is so important that she can’t take time to change a load of laundry?”
“I really have to go. Can I just do this?” Guardian said.
“June 6th huh? That is when you are going to marry this college girl? And when are you going to be cleaning her floors and washing her car?”
I grabbed handfuls of clothing and every fist full had at least one of her items in it. Every weekend she brought her clothes home, and I did her laundry. Every week. And now this.
“What happened?” Bubbly said as I stomped into Pizza Hut.
“Not gonna talk about it.” I stomped my way to the back and clocked in.
“What else do we have to do? Court has the kitchen and he doesn’t need your help. You’re prep tonight so you don’t even have to wash dishes. You have to make a few sauces and fold a hundred boxes then you are back at it.”
I placed my hands on the desk and my head sagged.
“I love her.”
“I know. I love her, too. You two are perfect for each other.”
“No, really, thank you. Everyone out there has an opinion. We are moving too fast; she is not a Christian. ‘She is going to have you cleaning her house,’ from my mom. ‘Dude, are you going to take that? Can you just hold it a second man and look at what is happening around you?’ from the Droogs. Her parents are all pressure. Her sister watches me like every move I make is about to betray her. Everyone is working against us. And now I am getting pressure from her.”
Bubbly grabbed my shoulders and squeezed. “You two are perfect for each other because you can talk to each other. Sit her down. Tell her what is going on.”
I pulled back and scoffed. “Can’t.”
“And why not?”
“She is fragile.”
“Any time the topic of how fast things are going is breeched she gets defensive. She starts crying, saying I don’t want her. Saying I’m going to break up with her.” Guardian grabbed his head; he could feel it all slipping away. He closed his eyes to summon up Bekah’s face and saw her crying. “I can’t talk to her about this. I have to defend her from what they are saying. She can’t know this is coming down on me.”
“I’m just a divorced Pizza Hut manager, but even I know that marriage doesn’t work that way. You can’t protect her from the things going on in her life. That is not your job. And who is protecting you?”
“Oh, let’s not start on that list. My mother. My uncles. My Droogs. My stepfather. Grandparents, aunts, friends. Everyone is lining up around the block to protect me.”
“From the one person I don’t want to be protected from.” Guardian looked at her. Bubbly was like a big sister to him. He hugged her and she rubbed his back.
“You’re going to be fine. Don’t protect her from what is going on. She is a big girl.”
“I gotta fold these boxes. I need to get out of here as soon as possible,” Guardian said.
“She is with her mother planning our wedding until I call her for a ride.”
Bubbly laughed. “Then hurry. Fold like the wind.”
Guardian began folding.
Bubbly turned back. “What the hell is a Droog?”
“It’s just the name of our crew. The Droogies. It’s from a movie, Clockwork Orange. The name of the main character’s gang is the Droogies. I think it’s Russian.”
When I got home, Bekah was folding the laundry. She was crying and apologizing. I knew she had to have gone to face my mother to get those clothes. I had no idea why she even went over there. When she saw me, she ran to me.
She wrapped me in a hug and wept.
“Hey, hey, what’s wrong?” I said.
“They are my clothes, too. I just realized that you are also doing my laundry. They are my clothes too and I was rude and horrible to you and—” She sobbed, and her breath hitched. “And now you are never gonna want to marry me.”
I kissed her and I soothed her. And I wished for it all to go away. Give me Bekah Kay Day. Give me a vase with three roses. Anything but this. I wanted out. I wanted to start all over again.
I was trapped in a relationship with the girl I loved the most. Suffering in the only place I wanted to be.
And everyone had an opinion.