We were desperately, madly, obsessively happy; the sort of delirious happiness that rises and falls in the pit of your stomach and then makes you move the silence with a scream.
We were sitting still in the front two seats of a 1979 Chevrolet Camaro, speeding along at 80 miles an hour on Route 99 between Bakersfield and Los Angeles, jerkily rushing down the coastline on that glorious day.
Valerie was sitting in the driving seat, looking devilish in her white wedding gown, a shot of blonde hair and her silk veil whipping in the wind against her face, hiding her coquettish smile. From her sweet candy mouth came a laugh like acid, piercing my eardrums with its pitch. The radio played the riff to “Bridge Over Troubled Water” as all of the bridges behind us – her family, my family, her friends, my friends, her groom, my best friend Andy – tore asunder into ashes and dust.
“Did you see his face? How can someone so sweet be so sickening?” she said with admiring revulsion. “And to think we nearly lost everything!”
As I watched her sit with perfect stillness with the scenery from the window racing by in a blur, I thought back on that beautiful, peaceful, doomed morning in the chapel.
My brother Jack and I were the first to arrive, then Mum and Dad, then the Wolfes, then her family. A steady stream of bride-side guests and groom-side guests trickled in, until as one the great avalanche of guests flooded the main hall.
I walked through the crowd finding their seats, past the lectern and into the waiting area behind. The door to the bride’s dressing room was slightly ajar, giving me a little view of the high drama inside and letting me in on a big secret that was meant to stay hidden forever. From that tiny gap, I could see the bride’s sister, Olivia, pleading innocence to cover up her guilt, with big, gloopy teardrops making her beautiful face look wizen and scorned.
Valerie too was crying, her tears wetting the lace on her wedding dress. She clasped her ears as if trying to force the words out from her brain but the words just kept on coming in. She closed her eyes and focused on the darkness of her inner eyelids, knowing that everything she had worked towards was coming crumbling down.
Breathe, breathe, breathe, she told herself, struggling for air.
Olivia explained herself in incoherent mumbling. She was crying so hard now that each perfect sentence was slurred into gibberish.
“But you were so u-u-unhappy,” she said, “and you two had b-b-broken u-up. If I had kn-kn-known you were going to get back toge-.“ Olivia bent over and ran her clammy hands through her perfectly coiffured hair. Olivia knew that Valerie couldn’t go through with the wedding now, Valerie knew it too.
Pushing back her locks over her left ear, Olivia could see me staring out of the corner of her eye. She bolted upright in shock and stared back at me in horror, both inquisitive and scared. If only she knew the true story.
I had only gone there to tell Valerie that I couldn’t go through with it, that I had changed my mind, that it was a stupid plan and we’d get caught, when I realized that my plans had already changed thanks to Olivia’s news.
The whole wedding was a sham that was turning into a farce. Valerie and I knew that her marrying Andy for divorce money was terribly vulgar, but poor Andy is such an easy mark, being as he is a trust fund baby, so how could we resist? Years of sneaking around in secret and laughing behind Andy’s back had come down to this one moment and this one moment was coming to naught. As it turns out, Andy and Olivia had been sneaking around behind Valerie’s back too. So if Valerie went ahead now, it would be too obvious. What were we to do?
Olivia slammed the door, shutting me out, breaking the unnerving silence of the chapel waiting room with a loud bang. Even the guests inside heard it, waiting a second in silence before going back to chattering.
Thinking quickly as my world slowed around me, hatching a plot to salvage the prize money that was slipping away, I opened the door to the groom’s dressing room and saw Andy standing in his best with his two doting brothers by his side.
“Andy, we need to talk.” I said, “in private.” The brothers both made their way past me and out into the waiting area, closing the door behind them.
His face turned from delirium into dismay.
“What does she know? What are you talking about?”
“She knows. She’s with Olivia now.”
Andy’s bright, youthful face darkened and sank. He stared blankly into the mirror at the family lapel on his breast pocket, as if that one familiarity would guide him through his next uncertain steps.
“How does she know? What did she say?” Andy said.
“It’s over. Today is not your wedding day.”
Andy hunched forward and started to spit acidy phlegm on the floor between his shoes. He knew that in this life, the rain only falls downwards, it never goes back up, and that his time in the shimmering sun with Valerie would never return. He imagined his proud parents, looking ashamedly at their son, and the now admiring guests staring at him with contempt. He couldn’t tell them. He didn’t know the words.
“You can’t save her,” I said, “but you might be able to save yourself. Offer her money, hush money, leave money, money to say that it’s her fault. Save your reputation, Andy, use your savings.”
Andy looked at me, shaken and plotting, “how much do you think it will take?”
So now I’m sitting in the car with Valerie, speeding away from the slow-motion car crash that was her wedding.
“Sail on by. Your time has come to shine, all your dreams are on their way.” Simon and Garfunkel sang on the radio.