At My Boyfriend's Brother's Wedding
At my boyfriend's brother's wedding I am sitting at a round table covered in metallic candy hearts, my yawning form hidden behind a tall bouquet of white flowers. On the other side of the table, my boyfriend's brother's cousin sits chatting, hunched over conspiratorially, with an old family friend. They are watching a young lady on the dance floor, about my age. She is dancing with her father.
The cousin says, "But have you seen Jessica? She's grown up a lot, huh?" He is a young man with a large square jaw and a slim, dark beard that follows borders of his face. His hair is greased in a meticulous wave. Beneath the table, between his feet, rests a brown leather bag. Inside live all the necessary amenities for a fairly thorough shower. The cousin is nuts for being clean. He says, "I mean she looks at least twenty-five."
Maybe the old family friend has been nodding his head. I have had too much cake and traditional dancing to peek around the vase of flowers and see.
"And the way she's dyed her hair," the cousin continues, "it makes a really big difference." My boyfriend's brother's cousin is also the kind of man who picks up dates online. Don't get me wrong—he's a handsome fellow. But he's picky. He's been through all the real women in the world. Now all that's left are the virtual ones. And the cousins.
The family friend pipes up. "Hey, Jessica's your cousin, right?"
"Yeah, yeah" says the cousin, as he watches the movement of her form. Her father is kissing her on the cheek, brushing away a tendril of her cherry red hair. She is wearing a long, silver dress with folds sewn in to give curves to her slim figure. The shimmer of the color reflects of her chestnut California tan. Earlier in the night, a grandmother exclaimed, "Oh! What lovely things the sun has done for you!" My mother assures me my own skin is the color of cream. Against the black of this formal gown it looks to me more like cottage cheese.
"How old is Jessica? Isn't she like eighteen?" The family friend is speaking in between spoonfuls of wedding cake. I have always wondered what they do with the little cake ornaments on top—the bride and groom. Are they made out of solid sugar, like cake letters? If so, who gets to eat them? The bride and groom maybe. I suppose they'd be too hard to bite; you'd probably have to suck on them. So do the bride and groom get to suck on their own candy figurines? If so, isn't that a little bit masturbatory? Wouldn't it be better if they switched figurines? That could be kinky. Though my stomach is full of cake, a sugar bride does sound rather tasty. I am thinking that they should stop all the confusion and just give those figures to me.
Across the table, the well-groomed cousin is saying, "Yeah, I guess she's eighteen."
Mouth still full of cake: "And aren't you like twenty-eight?"
"So what?" He is reaching into his bag for some moisturizing lotion. "It's not like I'm gonna hit on her or something."
"Fine, fine," the family friend thumps the motion into his back with a big, flat hand. Not that I can see, but I assume he is grinning, maybe offering a sideways wink. He's in his early thirties, with a pretty little wife who's off chatting with the bride; he has a toddler daughter of his own. I am thinking that he should be thinking that someday that little girl could be someone else's cousin. He had better protect her good.
Out on the floor, the dance has ended. Jessica's father whispers something to her. I can't hear it of course, but I can only assume it's, "You're my little beautiful darling," because I have been privy to that comment eleven times so far today. What Jessica's father doesn't know is that she's his little beautiful darling who experiments with hallucinogenic drugs and dates L.A. millionaires and hopes to have a little baby real soon just like her friends. But, granted, she's always home before ten.
"I just think you should know," my boyfriend's brother's cousin is saying, and from the sound of his voice I think he has sat up straighter, "I heard on the radio a couple weeks ago that really, like scientifically, there's nothing wrong with having cousins marry. It's not like I'm interested or anything. But that's just a big stigma."
"Come on man," says the family friend. His hand creeps out from behind the mound of white flowers and I watch it grab a half-eaten plate of cake. "That's just nasty. I mean, maybe really distant cousins or something. But I thought you and Jessica were like first cousins."
"I told you, I'm not into Jessica."
"Fine, whatever, but you are first cousins, right?"
"Does that count?"
"What do you mean, does that count? Of course it counts."
"But wouldn't your babies still be mutants and stuff?"
"Shut up, no one said anything about babies."
The family friend laughs, returning the now empty cake plate to the absent guest's place. "Calm down. There must be someone else here you can check out."
The cousin sounds momentarily frantic; Jessica is coming off the dance floor and back to her seat at the table. He says, "Let's talk about something else, okay?"
Jessica's long, slender legs bring her over fast enough that she catches the second half of his sentence. She asks, "Something else besides what?"
"Nothing," says the cousin, pulling out a chair for her to sit down. "How was the dance?"
A woman drifts by in a tube dress and high-heels. After long enough, she has received the epithet of "Cousin with the Inappropriate Dress." She has one for every occasion. I could spot her in the crowd before I had even been introduced.
My boyfriend is off in the bathroom, locked in a stall, sweating through his tux, as he practices his congratulations toast for his brother—today's lucky fellow. "The dance was fine," Jessica says, and picks up her fork in hopes of using it to daintily nibble at wedding cake. Finding her cake has already been eaten, she waves a graceful hand to a man with a tray and orders a coffee instead. She does this with a certain flair that says—normally I would be ordering a wine, but tonight it is best to remain clear headed. Don't we all agree? Reaching out to take the tall mug of coffee from the tray, Jessica spots me on the other side of the table, hidden from view by the flowers. She says, "Hi. How are you? I didn't see you before. Are you having a good time?" I pretend to be asleep with my face down on the table cloth.
At the next table my boyfriend's parent's friend sits facing away from me with her daughter, who will be going off to college in a month or two. Mother and daughter are wearing identical low-cut halter dresses. Their hair is the same pitch black. From the back I can't tell which is which. One of them sways back and forth, three empty glasses of rum and coke lined up in front of her. She is waving her hands around, letting them rest lightly every so often on the shoulder of another family friend whose children have already left college and attempted lives. He tries to hold her steady and she laughs. Leaning her face in close to his, she is trying to steal sips of his martini, and missing, comes close to contacting his lips. After numerous attempts, he holds the drink out to her, seemingly offering her a taste. When she bends over seductively to drink, he pours the full martini into her lap. In a shot she's up, martini spilling to the floor, as she blots at her dress with a cloth napkin and sobs. Now I can see her face; it is the daughter.
Back at my table, Jessica has been chatting with the cousin and the old family friend. Bored by this gin-soaked daughter's tears, I turn my ear toward their conversation. If I position a napkin over my face I can watch Jessica speak without her knowing. I am very clever.
She is saying, "Oh, I really love it out in California. It's so different than the East Coast. You never get nice weather here." In between every sentence she smiles. When she speaks with her lips down over her teeth she is a gorgeous Barbie doll; even I can't help but melt. But when she opens her mouth she's a child, transformed. Her teeth seem not have grown in all the way—there are large stretches of gum between each one. It is like she has lost every other tooth, but has waited ten years or so for the tooth fairy and hasn't since replaced them. The look of it changes her entire face. And her bouncy, child-like words don't help. If her lips are open she is a little girl.
Perhaps this is the first time my boyfriend's brother's cousin has really noticed. He stops mid-sentence, while complimenting her shoes, his mouth open, staring. Then some sort of excitement drops from his eyes and he looks down at his drink, feeling silly. He stands suddenly and reaches out to shake her hand. When she returns the gesture, he says, "It was nice talking to you Jessica. You know, you haven't changed a bit."
I pull my head out from under the dinner napkin, offering commendations with my eyes as he walks out to brave the swirling wedding crowd.
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