By Michael D Griffiths
“Once you are up there in front of everyone, would you rather be facing me or each other?”
“Whatever he wants.” A huge grin covered Sarah’s baby-doll face and wrinkled the sides of her pert, upturned nose as she ran a hand through her long blond hair.
“We should be facing each other.” Sarah’s fiancée Vincent Dohelly while he straightened one gold cuff-link and brushed an invisible speck of dust from his jacket.
This guy’s old enough to be her grandfather! David made a quick note on a piece of paper. I wonder how much time he spent getting that hair to lay so perfectly this morning? He cleared his throat, made a few more notes then looked back at his clients. “Very well, facing each other it is.”
David McDonald was not a minister nor did he consider himself one. Getting a certificate online for a hundred and fifty dollars did not a minister make. An efficient was the title he used for himself and he had a full dozen weddings to his name.
It had started when Nate, the guy who usually hosted their poker games, told David that he was the only person he wanted to marry him to his new bride. The rest of the players called David the wizard and had a lot of respect for him, because he would often be able to guess what card was coming next. David did not make a big deal about it, but somehow he ended up being the one that his friends went to for advice. Without meaning to, he had become a spiritual guide or at least a counselor.
Whatever the case, he had the license now. Between doing the occasional wedding and his poker winnings, he was able to spice up his weekends when he wanted to.
David went on describing a few things he would be doing then asked, “Are there any rituals you would like to have in your ceremony?”
“Whatever he wants.” Sarah’s face was beaming so bright that David wanted to put his shades back on.
Vincent shifted in his chair, his smile more forced. “I was thinking about having a unity candle.”
“Those are wonderful,” David said. Like always, he tried to keep things very upbeat. This was their special day and he figured he should be treating these people the way he would want to be treated.
“Okay, what about the vows? Do you two want to write your own vows for each other?”
“Whatever he wants.”
David spoke towards the bride, “you sure are easy to please.”
“Everything Vincent does pleases me.”
Looking over at Vincent, the man failed to meet his eyes. David had played enough poker to be able to tell the man was on tilt. Could there be something going on under the surface. He doubted Sarah was being abused, he did not sense that vibe at all. There could have been something else though and the odd meeting would linger in his thoughts through the following weeks.
* * *
Over a month had passed before it was time for the rehearsal dinner. David liked these. He always sounded like he knew what he was talking about and usually got an upscale dinner for free. For a man on his spotty budget, a whole weekend of free eating was a true boon.
It took place at a restaurant chain specializing in seafood. Scenes ofNew Englandmixed with broken lobster traps and vintage boating gear. The mood was far from relaxed, as he began to go through the outline of ‘their big day.’ Vincent strangely had no relatives and only one of his friends was present. This man was one Ed by name, a short, rather heavyset young man of perhaps thirty. His hair was greased back, like some ill attempted Bela Lugosi.
As for the bride’s family, most of them seemed to be stewing, especially Sarah’s mother and two older sisters. One of these was Fran. She was married and her husband Peter appeared to be no fan of Vincent either. Amy was the middle sister and much to David’s liking. She had made eye contact and thrown a few smiles his way, but like the rest, winced when Sarah bent to any of Vincent’s needs.
Stranger was how this was all ignored by Sarah’s father Travis, who was fawning over both Vincent and his boorish friend.
“Whatever he wants,” snapped him out of his introspection.
“Okay, good,” he said with a slow pause. Turning towards Vincent he saw the man watching Sarah’s family with a nervous twitch in his left eye. “So Vincent I guess the decision is on you. Do you want to say your vows first?”
“Honey this is your special day,” Sarah’s mother said, leaning forward and patting her daughter’s hand. “It really should be the bride’s choice.”
Almost snarling, Peter added, “yeah I’m not sure someone’s making any wise choices at all.’
Vincent’s eyes grew wide with alarm and he quickly turned towards Ed. David saw Ed nod and then her father’s voice began to thunder across the table. “Huh. Voices. Choices. They are enough to make my little girl’s head spin. What’s proper David?”
“Usually the man goes first.” David was not focusing on his words. There was something similar between Sarah and Travis. At first he had thought that Sarah had inherited her dizzy nature from her father, but now he saw it went beyond that. They both had a glazed look over their eyes. Vincent was almost always staring at Sarah, which of course was not odd. But why with all of these young women to look at, was Ed always staring at Travis?
It made no sense.
Something was off here. He was not the only one who was on edge. Sarah’s whole family was barely holding it together and if it was not for the fact that their patriarch was completely in favor of the marriage, they looked like they might have grabbed Sarah and run. The dinner continued with more sly comments, stress, and odd behavior. Many times it was again Travis whose loud voice was the only thing that kept the family under control.
Later, while Travis was paying the bill, David happened to catch Ed outside alone. The ‘best man’ was wearing a loose trench coat and standing out in the rain, while he smoked a cigarette. Smoke mixed with the drizzling rain, as the shorter man stared out into the black parking lot. Beyond him the taillights of motorists glowed red through the haze.
“Hopefully this will be over before tomorrow,” David said, as he came up behind him.
Ed jumped, turning around quickly. “What? Oh revered. I ah… didn’t see you there.”
“I’m not a revered. I was just saying I hope the rain stops before their big day.”
“What, oh, oh yeah.”
Why was this guy so jumpy, he wondered? “So, how do you know Vincent?”
“I ah, we work together.”
“What are you working on?”
“What? What do you mean?”
Thinking that this was a strange response, he decided to check something out. He was not sure why he should bother, but something made him ask, “So had you met Travis before tonight?”
“We met a few times.” The toadish man’s eyes squinted into thin slits. “What makes you ask?”
Then suddenly Ed opened his eyes widely. The wind shifted and he could have sworn a small bank of fog came rolling between the two of them. When it passed, his temples were suddenly pounding with a fierce headache. He took a step back, uncertain, clutching his head.
Even through this unexplained pain, he heard Ed mumbling. “You will do everything in your power to see to it that this wedding happens and Vincent marries Sarah. You will do everything in your power to help convince her family that this is a good idea.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“What? Oh my.” Ed squealed sounding like a cat getting its tail stepped on. He muttered, “I have to go.” Speeding across the parking lot as quick as his stubby legs would take him, he did not stop until his car raced off into the wet night.
David wanted to speak with the others about this strange incident, but they never left the restaurant. After ten more minutes of waiting, his throbbing headache won out and he headed home.
* * *
Sleep did not come easy that night. David usually tried to get a good night sleep before he preformed a wedding, but that morning he had woken up feeling like he had a red wine hangover.
What had really happened last night? Thoughts of tricks like hypnotism came back to haunt him while he was getting ready and a silent shiver ran down his spine when he remembered the parking lot scene. He tried to dismiss such things as nonsense, but it would explain so much. Why else would Ed have talked to him in such a strange manor? Why would a father be happy to let his youngest and very beautiful daughter marry a man that was nearly his own age?
David trusted his instincts and knew how to read people. Something was wrong. Instead of rehearsing the ceremony, he headed to the Internet instead. He found a lot written about hypnotism and its history, but that was not what he was looking for. David wanted to find out how the spell, or whatever it was, could be broken.
There were a few different techniques for doing so discussed, but he kept cross-referencing until he found one method that was mentioned more than any other. It seemed that the best way to rid someone from hypnosis was something simple. Apparently, a sudden spray of cold water was usually enough to break the effect. Still, how could he pour a bucket of cold water on Sarah in the middle of the ceremony? Even if he did, her father might still be under a similar spell and who knew what he might end up doing?
This was all so insane and David could not believe he was actually filling a few flasks full of water and then putting them into the freezer. A bucket full of extra water went into his trunk. This done, he hurried to get dressed. Looking at the clock, he found himself running late. Cursing under his breath, David got ready like never before.
He only hoped that he would have enough time.
* * *
Luck had played against him. Traffic had been bad and he had only made it to the meadow ten minutes before the wedding was to begin. He received a few stern looks from some of the guests, but not the mother of the bride. If anything, disappointment ruled her face, like she had been hoping that he would not show.
The bride was nowhere in sight. To the left of the arch Vincent paced, looking ill at ease.
Travis was walking towards him, anger burning in his eyes. Moving back towards his car, he pretended to be searching for something. A flask was grabbed. Travis was heading closer, when a hand clamped down on his back. He shivered despite the warmth of the sunny day, “I think we need to get up there. Don’t you?” It was Ed’s voice and he did not sound pleased.
“Ah, yes,” David said, suddenly finding himself escorted by both the bride’s father and Best Man towards the ivy covered arch. Once there, Travis hurried off to gather his daughter. Meanwhile David waited, feeling the cold steel of his flask pressing against his ribs.
Vincent’s eyes were upon him. “I paid you for a service and only hired you because you were not a priest. Do not fool with things you don’t understand or your mother might have a strange desire to walk off a cliff.”
Normally he would have laid someone out right there, but a hundred eyes were upon him and Travis was already leading Sarah up the aisle.
He proceeded with the wedding as planned. Travis took a seat near his wife as happy as the rest of the family was miserable. Hollow sounding words escaped his lips as David blessed their union. Like always, Sarah looked overjoyed, perfect in her white dress.
There was a point near the end of the ceremony where Sarah’s oldest friend was to read a poem. David made a big deal about rearranging his notes while she spoke. During the process he slipped the frigid flask under the papers.
Sarah’s bright smile was suddenly dashed, when upon turning back towards David, a stream of icy water was splashed into her face.
She screamed and the whole ceremony was on their feet, wondering what was going on. The bride had blocked their view of David and most had not assumed he had done anything wrong until Travis shot to his feet yelling. “What has the minister done?”
Vincent had grabbed hold of Sarah. Holding her by the arms, he was trying to maintain his calm, despite the growing clamor.
“Look at me Sarah. Look at me. It’s okay, just look at me.”
“Leave me alone,” she said and there was a resounding slap as her hand connected with Vincent’s face. Vincent drew back and she took in her surrounding. “Wait, where am I? Why am I in this dress? Why is…. everyone I know here?”
“Sarah, baby,” her mother whimpered.
That was when Travis sucker punched David in the jaw.
* * *
David awoke a few minutes later.
A circle of strangers was around him. Only Sarah’s sister Amy looked familiar. Leaning over him, she looked down as the sun shone through her golden hair. He found her very pretty. She offered him a hand up.
“Sorry about my dad.”
Past her, he saw that Peter and a few other men were holding a very angry Travis at bay, for which David was quite glad. “He seems to have really lost it. Sarah has too, so maybe it runs in the family.” A cynical smile spread across her smooth face. “I take after my mom.”
“Splash some cold water in his face and he will be fine.”
“Trust me. I helped your sister didn’t I?” Rubbing his sore jaw he said, “Where is prince charming anyway?”
“Vincent and his little wormy friend took off while my dad was trying to kick your ass. Or should I say kicked your ass,” She was smiling wider now, enjoying her own joke.
Rubbing his jaw again, he said, “Good thing I get paid in advance.”
“Would you like to go get coffee or something?”
Looking into her eyes a moment, he said. “Whatever you want.”