Onus Angelorum

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Venue

We took a small plane into LaGuardia and a car to Rockefeller Plaza. Endless hours waiting in my father’s Manhattan office as a child made the city feel flat. The Plaza felt alive now like this secret carnival world was hidden underneath the dull business façade I experienced before.

Henry’s mother was almost in tears when we arrived. The bride’s parents were unaccounted for.

“What’s going on?” I whispered. “This is your aunt’s wedding?”

“Two brides, Aunt Chick’s parents are stuck at the airport. Sounds like my father and brother went to get them. Let me introduce you to my mother, maybe calm her down.”

“Mom,” Henry said. “Mom,” he said again with increased volume.

“Henry, what a disaster. We need to get the ceremony started, or the whole timetable falls apart.”

“Mom, this is my friend Alerie Ganas. Al, my mother, Sally Rhodes.”

“Thank you for convincing my son to join us. I understand we have you to thank for his change of heart.” Sally was trying to focus her attention, but she was shaking, and her eyes were darting back and forth. Either she was a coke addict, or the woman was about to have a full-blown panic attack.

“Thank you for arranging this gorgeous dress on such short notice, Mrs. Rhodes. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever worn.”

“Well, it looks as if it was made for you.” Sally ran her fingertips across the fur wrap. “Stunning.”

“Thank you.”

“I need to send a picture to the designer—once we are at the reception. The view from the garden is unbelievable. My sister does find the most spectacular places.”

“Is there anything I can do?”

“Take a long stroll to your seats. Give the guests something to talk about besides the delay. We are seating people slowly, but the ceremony can’t start until Chick’s parents arrive—thirty minutes from now at best,” Sally lamented, looking at her phone.

“My mother’s a florist. Few weddings go as planned. Something is missed or forgotten every time. Breathe in for a count of five and breath out for a count of five, and don’t forget to smile.” Sally patted me on the shoulders and took in a deep breath. I could hear her counting as Henry and I walked toward the line of guests waiting to be seated.

Several people stared at Henry. He wore his sunglasses but tucked his segmented cane in his jacket pocket. He held onto my arm. I patted him lightly. The silent responsibility of keeping him from walking into something kept me overly alert.

“How many people do you know at this wedding?”

Henry scoffed,” Why are they staring at us?”

“Yeah, and unless my dress is tucked into my underwear, I don’t understand why.” Henry ran his hand down my back and over my spanks-encased butt, causing my dress to flutter in protest.

“Nope, you’re safe. No underwear issues. They are looking at me.”

“Why?”

“You don’t have the monopoly on family scandals.” Henry grabbed my arm lightly as he laughed. I got the impression public scrutiny was his least favorite thing and his most favorite all at the same time.

“Really?” I whispered. “What could you have possibly done?”

“Oh, that’s a second date question.” Henry patted my arm and smiled. “Just don’t let me trip over the edge of the building or some old person who’s not paying attention.”

“There will be no issues on my watch,” I promised, looking around for dangers.

Our seats were at the front of the long ceremony room. Henry’s grandmother smiled as we approached and quickly introduced herself as Erma. We stopped for pictures in the crowded aisle. The small, frail-looking woman wore her silver-white hair swept into a neat bun. Erma’s dark purple, heavily beaded suit was accented with huge purple stone accessories.

Henry was her person. Erma’s face lit up when she saw him. The wedding was an opportunity for her to see Henry and watch her eldest daughter marry her lifelong partner. Erma’s reaction was the only reason I would have needed to accompany him. I wondered if Henry knew how much the woman loved him.

Erma seated me next to her leaving Henry on the aisle. She asked me the typical questions like how we met and what I did for a living. Our conversation was being monitored by several great aunts and older family friends who casually edged closer to hear us better.

Henry pressed his mouth to my neck. “Bet you’re having second thoughts now.”

My hand touched his thigh as I leaned into his ear. “No, just wondering how I could help your mother.” Henry curled his fingers around mine tightly before raising my hand to his face to kiss it. He relaxed back into his seat and smiled.

After what seemed like an unusually long session of questions and answers, I learned Erma once lived in Milton. She and her late husband both attended Curry college. She seemed particularly pleased I was graduating from her alma mater soon.

A stressed elderly couple walked to the front of the ceremony room. “The missing parents arrived,” I whispered.

“Thank God, this is getting ridiculous.”

Sally rushed into the room from a side door, followed by her husband and two young men. I made eye contact with her.

I whispered into Henry’s ear. “Your mother and crew just sat down. The ceremony is about to start.” Henry’s father whispered to Sally, and then so did the two young men.

The music changed from a casual piano garden party to the traditional wedding march played by a quartet of young musicians. Everyone stood for the brides.

The first bride down the aisle was a striking-looking woman with deep dark-colored skin in a beautiful candlelight chiffon gown reminiscent of the early twenties. The heavy silver and white beading hugged one side of her shapely waist. She stopped and touched Henry’s hand. He nodded and smiled at her.

The second bride wore a white silk dress with white and light pink embellishments. The classic sheath shape showed off her slight build, pearly pink skin, and delicate facial features. She, too, stopped to acknowledge Henry with a quick touch before moving down the aisle.

The classically executed ceremony contained all the expected moments. To the officiant’s credit, the ritual was short and to the point. Once the vows were exchanged, the happy brides exited the ceremony room for the rooftop reception.

When it was time for our row to exit to the aisle, I brushed closely in front of Henry, took his hand, and led him out of the room.

I could feel someone tug on his shoulder as we waited for the elevator. Looking behind me, several sets of eyes stared back. I smiled at the group and continued watching the numbers descend on the elevator panel.

“Al, you didn’t tell me you were related to Max Ganas, or it would look like I kidnapped a runway model.” Henry slid his arm around my waist, pushing my fur wrap into my face.

“Pfft.” I blew the fur out of my mouth and tugged the wrap back into place. “Did my father liquidate a company your family owns?”

“No, but you are financial sector royalty, for fuck sake.”

“My father sure, but me not so much. And what idiot thinks a blind man kidnaps anybody?”

Henry choked back a laugh. “True.”

The richly decorated reception level sparkled in jewel-toned purple and light golden fabrics, dark exotic flowers, and golden floating lights.

The view of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral from the roof was breathtaking. The venue and the presentation were magical and yet tragic because Henry couldn’t see it.

A tall, happy-looking man with glasses and a silver mustache introduced himself as Henry’s father, Kevin. He pulled out a chair for me at the reception table. Name cards on each plate gave wandering guests focus while the catering staff finished prepping.

Sally stood across the venue, talking with a vendor. Her animated arms showed the stress of a woman who desperately needed a break. Henry’s brothers stared at me as if I walked in naked.

“Okay, I can see your questions, hit me,” I advertised.

“I’m Richard, Henry’s older brother. Can you get me an interview with your father?” The young man looked very serious.

“Sorry. My father doesn’t listen to me about business matters. Next question.” I set my gaze on Henry’s younger brother.

“Umm, do you have sisters? And I can’t stress this enough, why are you with my brother?”

I took Henry’s arm. “Will?”

“Charming, isn’t he?”

“Yes, one sister. Your brother makes me feel like I deserve to be happy.” It was an odd revelation to admit to strangers, but I feel limitless and uncategorized with Henry.

“So, this sister. What’s her deal?” I rolled my eyes and pulled my phone out of my clutch. I scrolled to the last picture Lila sent me and showed him my phone.

“She’s a ranch hand?”

“She’s a first-grade teacher, but our ranch staff is short-handed for a few weeks. She’s cleaning the stables to help out. I’ve chosen to live apart from the compound and can’t be counted on,” I confessed, again sharing too much.

“Ouch, harsh. Do you mind giving me your sister’s number,” Will pressed?

“She will eat you for sport. I don’t want to be responsible for your mental breakdown,” I laughed, but it was the truth.

“I don’t mind being eaten, and you will not be named in any lawsuits.” Will nodded appreciatively. I looked him over and decided to play along.

“You’re her favorite type of plaything. But when you are crying your eyes out with a bottle of whiskey in hand, remember I warned you.” I brought up my sister’s contact info and showed Will her cell number.

“Thanks, Sis. Welcome to the family. I’m going to get a drink.” Everyone laughed as Will left the table.

I sent a quick text to my sister. “Gave your number to my new friend’s brother Will.”

“The boyfriend no one’s seen?”

“Maybe”

“Is he cute?”

“Terribly

Sally returned to our table with a tall mixed drink in hand. “Officially done for the evening,” she announced. “The toasts, first dance, and cake cutting shift to the other Maid of Honor.”

Everyone at the nearby tables clapped in appreciation.

“You did a wonderful job—everything looks magical. The huge arrangements and fabric swaths it must have taken a small army to set up in one day,” I said, looking around at all the beautiful vignettes available for pictures.

“Thank you, the venue was buzzing all day. Alerie, did you meet my husband, Kevin?” Sally asked with a shocked tone to her voice. “I hope the boys introduced themselves.”

Kevin put his fork down. “Yes, Dear, we managed.”

“Mr. Rhodes Henry mentioned you are a lawyer. What’s your area of expertise?”

“Mostly white-collar crime. I get the occasional garden variety case. My wife is the one with an interesting career. She’s a pediatric surgeon.” Kevin’s smile beamed with pride. Sally looked at Henry and took a big swig off her drink.

Henry leaned toward me. “What did they bring us to eat? It doesn’t smell like anything?” He hovered over his plate and tried to smell the contents.

“The tiniest medallion of steak, four carrots, and several roasted potatoes with what looks a sticky demi-glaze sauce. This plate is an excellent snack—hard-core girly food.”

“Wonderful,” Henry whispered sarcastically.

I put my arm across his shoulders. “Steak straight-up twelve o’clock, potatoes at six and carrots dead center. Once your father lets loose of the rolls, I’ll grab you one.”

Richard recounted a recent vacation. Kevin shared a few tidbits of his new case, but Sally just stared at Henry with a death grip on her high-ball glass. Kevin patted her leg often, reminding her to sit back and relax. There was quite the banter of non-verbal conversation going on between them.

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