Out of Tune (Wynter Wild #2)

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The Bridesmaid

Bridesmaids gathered up their skirts, groomsmen yanked them out of the way, and the bride swore loudly. Then she became very concerned for her new husband, who was violently shaking his head.

“Can’t do it, can’t do it,” he said, over and over.

Rumbles of concern spread through the assembled guests. No one knew what to do. It soon became clear Harry was not going to sign on the dotted line and was, in fact, attempting to make an escape, and Charmaine was hysterical and her mother was worse.

Jesse finally got up and helped the best man escort Harry to the house and into the bathroom to clean him up.

“Why’d you let me go ahead with it?” Harry moaned, batting away the damp towel Jesse was using to wipe vomit off his father’s sleeve. “After I sat listening to that music, that music your mother used to love. Fuck, you’re useless.”

Jesse felt dead inside. Whatever humor he might have found in the situation instantly soured. Harry was being Harry. Jesse shoved the towel at the best man and returned to the garden, where one of the groomsmen was doing a fair job rallying everyone to the marquee so the food wouldn’t go to waste.

“Am I married? Am I?” Charmaine sobbed, mascara all over her cheeks and eyelids as she sat at her reserved spot while bridesmaids plied her with alcohol and cake.

Jesse swiped a glass of champagne from a tray on the buffet table. Patricia told him someone had driven Harry home to Everett. She was doing the hostess thing, even though she was a guest, because she was, professionally, a hostess. Jesse got himself a refill and went inside to find the gifts. The record was where he’d left it.

“What a disaster,” said the unaccompanied bridesmaid. She’d followed him in. “They even sent the photographer home. You’re not stealing that, I hope?” She spoke playfully, but of course it would look suspicious if she didn’t know who he was.

“The vomiting groom’s my dad and this belongs to him,” he said. “I guess he’s not a groom anymore. I think they both have to sign the license to make it valid.”

She followed him down the hallway, to the bedroom where all the coats were dumped. “You’re probably wondering why I didn’t have a groomsman.”

He wasn’t wondering that, at all. Nor was he ashamed of his earlier lurid thoughts concerning her and her blue dress. There are no thought crimes, Caleb always said. Only actions matter.

She threw herself on the bed as though the walk down the aisle had exhausted her. Twisting a lock of her stiffly sprayed hair around her finger, she went on, “My boyfriend was supposed to partner me, but he backed out and went to Fiji. We booked the holiday last year. I’m flying out tonight and I think he’s going to propose to me.”

“Hey, congratulations in advance. Uh, are you gonna say yes?”

“How could anyone say no to a marriage proposal in Fiji?”

Stupidest reason to say yes, but it wasn’t his life.

“I wanted to go to Bellingham. I can’t actually afford Fiji. Fortunately, I was sent a new credit card last month. Two thousand dollars! It’s like free money. They’ve already given me twenty-three thousand dollars between them, those credit card companies.”

Jesse’s jaw dropped. “How old are you?”

“Twenty four.”

“You’re twenty-three thousand dollars in debt at age twenty-four?”

“I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. Anyway, the new card saved my life.”

“Well, have a great vacation.”

He waded through the coats on the far side of the bed to find his backpack. He should take a photo of this disaster of a room. Behind-the-scenes photos were always more interesting than—

Click. The bridesmaid had locked the door. He turned to see her standing a few feet away, her eyes wide, her lips pursed into an “O”, her fingers fluttering out to the side, and he got the distinct impression she was trying to stop from rubbing her hands together in glee. They faced each other in silence for a few seconds. He was dumbfounded, and she was pretty much the same, like she couldn’t believe her own audacity.

Then she rushed over, darting around the bed. He backed up but he was cornered. She pushed him onto the bed. The record should have gone flying, but for some reason his instincts decided the priority was to save the damn thing and it remained firmly in his grasp.

“I’m dying to have a last fling,” the bridesmaid gushed. “I won’t get another chance.”

“Uh…”

“I saw you watching me.”

She climbed on top of him. Woozy from the champagne and overwhelmed by the fact his fantasy was sort of coming true, Jesse did not resist. The room was messy enough to be a barn, with afternoon light filtering through the blinds that could be mistaken for slats of wood. He stretched his arm to place the record carefully on the nightstand, and let the bridesmaid straddle him and undo his shirt buttons and belt and zipper. She paused to ruffle his curls.

“I want half a dozen children with hair like yours.”

It was the unsexiest thing a girl had ever said to him, given the circumstances. Jesse lifted his hips, pressing against her crotch, which got her excited, but his intention was only to extract his wallet from his back pocket. He found a condom to ensure there would be no curly-headed offspring in the works. Her hands worked frantically under her skirts as she wiggled out of her underwear, and then she proceeded to do most of the work. Every time he tried to sit up and change position, she pushed him down and kept going. He gave up and committed himself to enjoying it.

His phone buzzed for a split second, vibrating against his thigh. Incoming message. Uh, not now, Wyn… Was there a wedding rule that covered this?

The door handle rattled.

The bridesmaid giggled and bounced faster.

Two voices mumbled outside, the gist of the conversation being confusion and then annoyance at finding the door locked when they wanted to get their coats and go home.

Jesse responded to the urgency of the matter and he let himself go.

“We need to open the door,” he whispered as the bridesmaid climbed off him and he buttoned and zipped himself up.

“I’m gonna take a shower. Charmaine said I could—I have to get straight to the airport. She’s my cousin. She’s like a big sister to me.”

“Drop this in the trash in there,” he said.

“Ew, gross!” Charmaine’s cousin found her bag and disappeared into the adjoining bathroom, leaving Jesse with a knotted condom dangling his fingers.

Jesse stuffed the damp condom into his pocket, which was surely more gross than putting it in the trash. He straightened the quilt and opened the door, knowing he must look flushed.

“Jeez, sorry, guys, I was taking a nap.”

He went to see where the party was at, wishing he’d had the chance to remove that girl’s blue silk dress. He didn’t even get a kiss, not that he’d wanted to kiss that pancake photo-ready makeup. After living like a monk for one hundred forty-seven days, unsatisfactory sex was better than nothing.

>> Send me a picture of the cake! was the message Wynter had sent in the middle of his sexual encounter.

> Wedding Rule #4: Next time, remind me to take a picture of the cake before the feast, not after.

Still, he sent her a photo of the smeared pile of gooey buttercream and crushed sugar flowers. He helped move a few chairs, halfheartedly. Most of the guests had gone. Those who remained were the ones least bothered by the events of the day and they were having a blast, guzzling the alcohol and dancing to the boombox.

He remembered Wynter wanted photos of the wedding. He went out to the marquee but all that was left were plates of half-eaten fancy food and a dismantled wedding arch. He helped move a few chairs, halfheartedly. Most of the guests had gone. Those who remained were the ones least bothered by the events of the day and they were having a blast, guzzling the alcohol and dancing to the boombox.

Patricia found him digging out the toaster from the gifts in the front room. About half the gifts had been taken home by the gift-givers, which was only fair.

“Have you spoken to Harry?” she asked him.

“No. I don’t think he needs to speak to me.”

“He might appreciate a quick call, to let him know you care.”

“But I don’t care,” Jesse said, rather bluntly. His eyes felt hot all of a sudden and he busied himself rearranging the gifts on the table. “I do feel kinda sorry for Charmaine.”

“Come up to Cougar Mountain. I’ll give you a proper meal.” Her manner was so kind, so motherly, Jesse felt even closer to crying. A fine ending to this happiest of days.

“Thanks, I might do that,” he mumbled. He wasn’t going to do that. He was going to eat leftovers and watch The Right Stuff so he could properly explain things for Wynter when they watched it together.

He carried the toaster into the bedroom, shoved it into his backpack along with the record on the nightstand, and rode home. He unwrapped and unboxed the toaster and made himself four slices of whole wheat toast at the same time. What a treat, as Harry might say. The fourth was cold by the time he got around to it, but still, the principle was sound. He taped up the Miles Davis LP in its box. He’d ride over to Harry’s tomorrow and leave it behind the flyscreen door. He downloaded a hi-def copy of The Right Stuff from his favorite pirate site, and ethically justified it by purchasing a four-dollar DVD of the movie from eBay. Wynter need never know about the illegal download.

Then he realized he had no idea where that envelope full of Indio’s cash was.

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