Six weeks later on November 14, 1937, Zach was whistling Puttin’ on the Ritz while tying his bow tie in his bedroom mirror. He looked sharp in his tuxedo with his hair slicked back.
Suddenly he felt a pain on his right side below his ribcage. The pain was sharp and caused him to doubled over. He clinched the area where his liver was as he tried to catch his breath, but the pain was too overpowering. He crawled on the floor to his bed. Oh no, not now, not yet! Please Lord, can’t this wait?
Charlie walked down the stairs looking handsome as a groom should look on his wedding day. He was wearing a freshly pressed black single-breasted tuxedo and white wing collar shirt. He entered the living room and checked his watch against the grandfather clock in the hallway. “Zach, ya ready?” He waited for a response, but there was only silence. He gazed down the hallway and became concerned. He crept closer to Zach’s room. “Zach?” he called out again, this time with a lump in his throat. “Zach, are you okay?” His heart began to race. He could feel his heart pounding against his breastbone. Each beat was faster and harder.
Zach finally appeared on his crutches. “These damn bow ties are a royal pain in the ass.” He didn’t say anything to Charlie about the horrific pain he just experienced. He didn’t want to ruin Charlie and Betty’s big day.
Charlie exhaled letting his anxiety escape him. He was relieved to see that Zach was okay. However, something about him looked strange. Charlie couldn’t put his finger on it. He brushed it off, thinking perhaps it was his new slicked back hairstyle. “I know, can you help me with my bow tie again?”
“Sure,” Zach said, “but we’ll have to hurry. We don’t want to be late for your own wedding.”
They went back into Zach’s room. Charlie helped Zach onto his bed and then he sat on the edge while he worked his magic.
“Remember the last time we did this?” Zach asked. “You were asking me for advice about Betty and dating, and now you’re marrying her. Isn’t that something? Are ya nervous?”
“Nah, I ain’t nervous,” Charlie said.
“Okay, now I’m nervous,” Charlie said to Zach as they stood with the Minister waiting for Betty to arrive.
Charlie and Betty’s wedding location was carefully planned. They decided to have their wedding ceremony at Eagle’s Point, off the Coastal Trail in Lands End, San Francisco. It offered a breath-taking view of the rocky coastal cliffs stretching from China Beach towards the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a popular spot for outdoor weddings.
Charlie’s stomach was beginning to turn. He began to feel ill until he saw Betty in the distance with her parents. Her father looked handsome and proud, and her mother greeted all their family and friends. Charlie thought that Betty looked like an angel.
The Minister stood behind Charlie and when he nodded the wedding began. Betty and her father slowly made their way toward the Minister and Charlie. Everyone gazed at Betty thinking she looked absolutely gorgeous. When they reached Charlie, her father lifted her veil and kissed her cheek. He turned to Charlie and shook his hand.
Betty’s father, Darin Washington, always liked Charlie, and thought he would make a good husband and father. He left Betty’s side and stood next to his wife, Julia, who was patting her eyes with a handkerchief.
Betty stood beside Charlie wearing a beautiful white wedding gown that she designed and labored over for months. Her sister, Vanessa was her maid of honor and stood to her left. She was wearing a beautiful burgundy gown that Betty made for her. Zach stood on Charlie’s right. Behind them were boats in the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge standing majestically as ever.
After the brief ceremony, the wedding party and family posed for photos. Zach sounded like a movie director, encouraging the photographer to take more pictures than he already was.
It was a glorious day, and the weather was perfect. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Life was good.
The wedding reception was held at the Cliff House. It was a popular restaurant perched on the headland above the cliffs just north of Ocean Beach, on the western side of San Francisco. Everyone at the reception celebrated for hours with delicious food, open bar, and live music.
After the reception, Zach entered the house first. He turned on the lights and wobbled on his crutches as he held the door open for the newlyweds. “Careful now, don’t drop her.” He was feeling buzzed from all the cocktails that he drank.
Charlie carefully carried his new bride over the threshold. Charlie and Betty were overjoyed and kissed in the foyer before he set her down.
Zach closed the door behind them, and was making his way to the kitchen when Daisy greeted him wagging her tail. She was happy to see that everyone was finally home. Her bandages were off, and her ribs have completely healed. “I’ll let Daisy out,” Zach said with a slight slur. “You kids go enjoy yourselves. I got things under control down here.”
Charlie and Betty took Zach up on his offer and ran up the stairs like giggling teenagers.
It was around midnight when Charlie went into the kitchen. He usually came down during the night for a snack. He noticed Zach’s bedroom door was slightly ajar and the light on. He tapped on the door and poked his head in. “Ya still up?” Charlie asked. “Ya need anything?”
Zach was still awake, browsing through the pages of his photo album. “There’s the handsome groom.” He closed the album and adjusted his pillow against the headboard. “Come here for a second, I wanna talk to you about something.”
Charlie entered the room and sat on the edge of the bed. He noticed Zach’s skin had a yellow tint. He thought something was a little strange about him earlier in the day, but he wasn’t sure with all the distractions. Now it was more pronounced. “What’s up?” He tried to hide the fact that he had noticed Zach’s skin color, and let his emotions get to him.
“Charlie, sometimes when I look at you, I can see in your eyes that something’s bothering you and I think I know what it is.”
Charlie looked down, he didn’t expect a serious conversation. He became depressed as Zach continued to speak. “Don’t make the mistake of feeling guilty for what you did in the past. Those Klan men got what they deserved. They killed your family and your dog. Don’t start your new life with Betty carrying all that weight on your shoulders. You killing that man was justifiable. You’re a good man, Charlie. You now have a wonderful wife, and soon you’ll have lots of beautiful children ... almost as good looking as me.” He winked and then smiled at Charlie. “Seriously, you’re like my brother, and I love you. I want you to be happy, and I’ll always be there for you in case you ever need to talk. I just want you to know that.”
Charlie looked up with tears in his eyes. It wasn’t the Klan fighter that bothered him. He was thinking about what the doctor had told him and Betty at the hospital, and it’s been troubling him ever since. He wiped the tears from his eyes and nodded. “Nothing but sunny days for us, right, Zach?”
“Now that’s what I like to hear,” Zach said. “Now go upstairs and be with your beautiful wife.”
Charlie smiled. When he reached the door, he stopped and turned. “I love you, Zach.”
“I know. I love you too, Charlie.”
When Charlie entered the living room, he began to cry silently. He knew Zach’s time was drawing near. He knew the yellow tint to Zach’s complexion meant that he had jaundice and that his liver was failing.
He didn’t want to upset Betty with his crying, so he began reminiscing about the good times he and Zach shared together. He thought about how they met on the freight train in Mississippi, how they met Smitty and Mr. Graziano, and all the trips they made together. He was especially fond of their trips. Then he thought of how none of it would have been possible without Zach. If it weren’t for Zach wanting to go to the opera and both of them needing tuxedos, he never would have met Betty either. He wondered where he would be if it weren’t for Zach. He figured he’d probably still be on the run flipping trains like a Hobo.
Charlie didn’t want Zach to think that he was feeling sorry for him. He knew Zach didn’t like that. Zach’s life wasn’t easy. He had to deal with his dwarfism all of his life, and made the best of it. He remembered what Zach told him once. It is what it is, you just have to make the most of the hand you’re dealt with.
Suddenly an idea came to Charlie. I know, we’ll take a trip; one final trip. We need to make everyday count. During breakfast, I’ll suggest a honeymoon and a vacation in one. Somewhere with a warm ocean and lots of palm trees. We could even bring Daisy. Yeah, I’m sure they’ll love it!
The more Charlie thought about it, the more he loved the idea. Maybe Mexico ... Acapulco. Yeah, that’s it, it’s perfect! He was so excited that he couldn’t wait to share his idea with Zach and Betty at breakfast.