(As always if you are new to the book here are links to the earlier chapters, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3 , Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9 and Chapter 10).
Byron awoke to see a bright light shining ahead of him. He would have assumed he was dead except for the paramedic standing behind it.
“Oh good, you’re not dead. I thought I was going to be the world's fastest widow.” Came the voice of Julie standing behind the paramedic.
“I don’t know, I’ve seen some pretty fast widows.” said Byron with a weak smile.
“Glad to see that the trauma of our wedding didn’t damage your sense of humor.”
The paramedic had him sit up and gave him a drink. “You feel okay?” he asked.
“I think I’ll be okay. I am feeling much better now.”
“I think he’ll be fine.” The parametric said to Julie. “Give him plenty of fluids and no strenuous activity for the next day or two.” He winked during the last statement. “You’d be amazed how many weddings we get called out to.” Then whispering to Julie, “always the groom.”
The paramedic picked up his bag and then left. Julie was now alone with Byron.
“So, what happened out there?” Julie asked.
“I felt really sick.”
“I figured out that much.”
“I guess I was more nervous than I expected.”
“Is marrying me, even though you won’t have to see me, really that scary?”
“It wasn’t you. It just sort of hit me.” He wanted to tell her more. Share about how the idea of their marriage kind of tore him apart. And that as he went to actually go forward with it he felt this was a serious commitment that he wasn’t taking seriously. But the trust needed for that conversation was not there yet between them, even if they were husband and wife, and Julie was not the person. After all, she didn’t have any issue, saying he wasn’t taking it seriously enough would only be insinuating that she wasn’t either. He had no desire to implicate her.
“I wonder what everyone thought.”
“I’ll tell you what they thought. My Aunt Maybell said, ‘He must sure know how to throw a good bachelor party.’”
“Oh great, they think I’m a drunk.”
“Don’t worry about them. Most of them are my family, so you will never have to see them again. I’m just glad you are feeling better.” This was said with more sincerity than Byron expected for someone's who’s wedding day he had just ruined. Perhaps she really did care about him. And speaking of their wedding day, Byron had to ask, “So, are we married?”
“I think they are going to let us slip under the bar. Or at least I got this. “Julie held up their wedding certificate. “Father Young said the only part we didn’t get to before you baptized him in stomach acid was the kiss. Which, no offense, I wasn’t looking forward to. Given the circumstances, I mean. “
Byron wasn’t sure if she meant the fact that they didn’t love each other or that he had just vomited, so despite being a bit wounded said, “I understand.”
“Someone noted I might get a chance to give you mouth to mouth instead but I had seen what just came out of you, and I also noticed you were still breathing.
Byron wasn’t sure he liked the order she noted those two items and almost asked what she would have done if he hadn’t been breathing, but decided he better not ask questions he didn’t want the answer to.
“Where is everyone else?”
Most people went home, only ones left are your secretary, my friend Becky, and our parents.”
“So, what’s the plan from here?” Byron asked.
“What do you mean?”
Fear ran through Julie, did this guy just trick her into a real marriage by pretending they’d live separately and now that it was official change the plan.
“What do you mean. You go your way, and I go mine.”
“Yeah” Byron was now confused. “But how, we can’t go out in the parking lot and walk into our separate cars and wave goodbye to our parents and each other at the same time. Might not go over to well.”
With the realization that he meant short term and not long term Julie sighed. “I have that all planned. I thought we talked about it.”
“If you did, it left my mind as completely as my breakfast left my stomach.”
“Well we walk out and convince everyone you’re okay. That part is new. My Mom will cry, we hug and then walk. We ignore Father Young scrubbing the carpet at the front of the church, probably also crying. Head out the front steps, they toss rice as we walk down to your car, which no doubt is covered in Oreos, stringers, silly string and a just married sign in the back window.”
“Don’t interrupt, it will wash off. Then you will drive me across town to the Hampton Inn, that I have a reservation at. See, my parents will be at my home for one more night. They are driving my car home. You drive off. Is your Dad staying in town tonight?”
“No, he flys out this afternoon.”
“Okay, then you drive around, do some shopping or whatever you want until your Dad leaves and you go home. I get a great night's sleep, take a Uber home in the morning and we both go back to our separate lives.”
And so it was. Well, mostly. Julie forgot to mention a few points. First, after everyone was assumed Byron was truly okay, sensing this may be the last time he would see Byron for a while, his Father held him close, and then pulled him away and while still bracing his shoulders looked at him. It was a look Byron had never really seen in his Father. It was contentment and pride, honor, love and esteem. It was a look every boy instinctively hopes to see in the eyes of their father. It expressed fulfillment of expectations for both Father and Son. More clearly, then the limitations of words could express. It said, “Son, you are now a man.”
Byron didn’t know this existed and yet knew he had always wanted it. And while a rush of joy began to flow it was quickly tempered with inadequacy. For he knew what led his father to look at him with this look was all falsehoods. The moment was beautiful, but it was built on lies. And poor foundations didn’t discriminate based on the beauty of the edifice they held, and Byron knew it.
The next departure between Julie's carefully crafted future and reality was the next Father. Pelham embraced Byron as he went through the line and whispered in his ear. “She’s yours now, remember your promise and vows and you’ll do fine.” Instantly, the nausea had found its way back home. But with nothing left in his stomach to churn and expel, it did not last.
From that point, Julie's tell got back on track, the crying Mother, the rice, the decorated car and ultimately Byron found himself parked below the archway marking the entrance to the Hampton Inn across town.
Throwing the car into park, he said, “I’ll get the door.” As he hopped out and began to help Julie out of the passenger seat. Her outfit was much more traditional than his and the poof of her wedding dress did not make exit from the vehicle easy. Once standing up right her bag was retrieved from the back seat and the two stood awkwardly for a minute.
“Well, I guess this is…”
Byron paused, “good bye.” He couldn’t think of a better word but hated it once it came out. They both did. It seemed too cold, too final, and while they didn’t like it neither could contradict it.
“I’ll send you your first check to the routing number you gave me, first of the month,” Byron continued.
“You know, I feel kind of bad taking the money.” Julie responded. “After all, this will benefit me too.”
“No, a deal is a deal, and I always stand by my word.”
Another long pause.
“Well, I better go. “ Julie reluctantly said.
“Okay” Byron reluctantly agreed.
They looked at each other and both leaned in for a hug. It was more than a goodbye, it was nice to meet you hug. It expressed, friendship, an honest gladness for having known one another, and most importantly desire. Not a desire for passion, but a desire for this to be more, more than goodbye, more than a short lived friendship that ended in a long, distant marriage of convenience, and in the emotion of the hug Julie turned her head and gave Byron a small peck on the cheek.
Shocked Byron instantly let go, and just as instantly said, “Thank you.”
“Thank you?” Julie asked, “for what?”
The honest answer was, “the kiss” but Byron instincts had stopped and while Julie would have loved the honest answer, and may have replied with, “if you liked that, try this on for size.” But we will never know, for Byron, in an effort to cover his instinctive reply, to what he now saw as a kindly, no more than one would give to an Aunt when saying hello in many cultures kiss said, “for being willing to marry me and go on this journey. Not everyone would be willing to marry someone they would never see again.”
The reminder of the words, “never see,” was sufficient to end whatever moment they had.
“Well, thank you, I think it will work well for us both. Have a good one.” and with that Julie headed toward the doors that slid open and then shut behind her. Byron shortly thereafter pulled out, leaving his bride to approach a front desk clerk who, given his view of their last exchange had a very confused look on his face.
As Julie had predicted Byron did a little shopping to ensure there was no chance encounter with his father, grabbed a bite to eat and then headed home. Early evening found him sitting wondering what he did with his nights before they had been filled with nightly calls to Julie, to go over wedding plans. It was only six weeks ago and yet it felt an earlier, distant life. And as much as the past without her seemed distant, a future without her seemed impossible. He wasn't in love, or at least that is what he kept saying to himself. He simply liked her company. And he began to think of an excuse to call, as he stared down at her contact information on his cell phone.
Julie too was not enjoying the relaxing evening at the hotel she had envisioned. Six weeks ago, when things were on her mind she’d always call Becky, but she had worked so hard to avoid her over the past 6 weeks. She didn’t want all the piercing questions about Byron, and how they met, and how could it be happening so fast and what if she had asked, “isn’t that guy from the newspaper. Is it?” So, she had limited her contact with Becky. Wedding plans with Byron had more than filled the void, but with no plans the void was very apparent. And she couldn’t exactly restart calling Becky tonight. “I’m just sitting around on the first night of my honeymoon, thought I’d give you a call.” Probably wasn't the right way to restart their relationship, especially if she hoped to avoid questions about her marriage. The other option was Byron. She really didn’t have a reason to call but she always enjoyed talking to him. Maybe, she should just call.
So, both sat looking at each others contact information on their cell phones. But Byron and Julie had agreed that after marriage, no contact, and unfortunately for both, they had married someone who were true to their words. So, while phones were stared at a plenty, neither rang.