Today's Reading


The Stockton Hotel
Washington, DC
Three Years Ago


My phone's text tone chirps like a robin—which fails to prepare me for the clusterfuck on the screen.

ANDREW: Everything you said last night made sense, M. Thanks to you, I can see the truth now. I can't marry Lina. Need you to break the news. Don't worry, she'll handle it with class. Going to disappear for a few days while I get my head straight. Tell Mom and Dad I'll call them soon.

I'm too young and hungover for this shit.

Using the few brain cells that survived the effects of yesterday's bar crawl, I try to synthesize the limited information in my possession. One, my older brother, Andrew, the quintessential people pleaser and a man who does everything according to plan, is due to get married this morning. Two, he's not in our hotel suite, which means he fled the premises after I crashed last night. And three, he never jokes about anything; the stick permanently lodged up his ass prevents him from experiencing fun. No matter how I move them, the pieces of this puzzle refuse to fit together.

Could this be a case of Andrew's dormant (and terrible) sense of humor suddenly waking up? God, I sure hope so.

I fight my way out of the bedsheet twisted around my torso, sit up, and type a quick reply.

ME: This isn't funny. Call me. Right now.

He doesn't respond, so I ring his cell. When the call goes straight to voicemail, I accept that Andrew doesn't want to be reached and wish him a speedy trip straight to hell.

Don't worry? She'll handle it with class? My brother's a bonehead if he thinks Lina won't flip out when she discovers he isn't showing up today. Easily imagining the bride's devastated reaction, I focus on the two sentences in Andrew's text that make me especially queasy: Everything you said last night made sense, M. Thanks to you, I can see the truth now. Problem is, I can't remember much about the prior evening—an entire bottle of Patrón tends to affect a person's short-term memory—let alone recall what bulls hit I may have said to my brother during his final hours of bachelorhood. If I had to guess, though, I probably claimed that remaining single was preferable to getting married and acted as if I'd thoroughly beaten him in the game of life.

I'm twenty-five. He's my brother. This is what we do.

Christ. I flop back onto the mattress and contemplate my next move. Someone needs to clue in the bride. My mother's not an option. She's tactless. At my parents' twentieth-anniversary celebration, she told my grandmother Nola—and a roomful of their guests—that her only hesitation in marrying my father had been a concern that he was a mama's boy, an affliction my mother attributed to the extended period Grandma Nola had let him drink from her tit. Direct quote. My father, for his part, would throw on his investigative reporter hat and engage in an invasive truth-finding mission, all in service to discovering why my brother had bailed on his fiancée. Dad's heavy-handed behavior will only aggravate the situation. I know this firsthand—it's one of the reasons my parents divorced a year ago. Since my big mouth is partly responsible for triggering this unfortunate chain of events, I'm the obvious choice. But damn, I don't want to be.

Massaging my throbbing temples, I drag myself out of bed and limp my way to the bathroom. Minutes later, as I'm brushing my teeth and ignoring my scruffy, red-eyed reflection in the mirror, the phone chirps again. Andrew. I spit out a capful of mouthwash, dart back into the bedroom, and swipe my phone off the nightstand—only to be disappointed by my father's message.

DAD: Get your asses down here. Your brother's going to be late for his own wedding if he's not here in five.

Everything inside me freezes: atoms, blood flow, the whole shebang. I might even be clinically dead. Because on top of everything else, I overslept, effectively destroying my chance to divert the guests before they arrive and adding another layer to this shit cake of a day.

The blare of the hotel's digital alarm clock yanks me out of my stupor and pummels my skull. I slam a hand down on the off button and squint at the tiny snooze icon mocking me in the corner of the display. You know what? I'm never drinking again. No, wait. That's an empty promise if ever there was one. Special occasions. Yes, that'll work. Going forward, I'll only drink on special occasions. Does informing a bride that her groom won't be showing up for the wedding qualify as one such occasion? Probably not. Do I want it to? Absofuckinlutely.

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