Was I asked to be a bridesmaid because Ashley Menzer valued our friendship, cared deeply for me, and wanted to cement our bond permanently as part of her and her fiancé’s lifelong commitment to one another? Or did she ask me with an ulterior motive already in her mind?
No real way to know for sure, given that I am not the sort of person who is comfortable with a confrontation. When meeting Ashley Menzer for coffee late in the afternoon of a weekday, I am the sort of person who takes a sip of Ashley’s “amazing” chai latte, even after I’ve already protested weakly that I don’t really care for chai. I’m the sort of person who acquiesces that yes, the chai is tasty even when I don’t actually think so, and who feigns polite interest in the wedding Pinterest board and pretends to have an opinion about the difference between Asiatic lilies and Cala lilies.
Though all I could muster was a vague memory of passing him a platter of bacon at breakfast the morning after I spent the night at his home over Thanksgiving break our sophomore year in college. He took six pieces, his wife made him put four back.
Her father drank, Ashley explained between airy sips of chai, he had always drunk, but since her parents’ divorce a few years earlier it seemed to have gotten much worse. She was afraid he would embarrass her at the reception, make some kind of a scene. Could I keep an eye on him for her, make sure he didn’t drink too much, engage him in conversation to help keep him distracted? He liked me, she said. Which I doubted was true.
I felt bad. I felt bad for Ashley, and for the former Mrs. Menzer, who was having to navigate the pitfalls of hosting her only daughter’s wedding with her ex-husband at her side and her new boyfriend waiting in the wings. I felt bad for Mr. Menzer, living by himself in a 55-and-over community that allowed only cats for pets and (according to Ashley) had walls as porous as old loofahs. I didn’t want him to cause any kind of a scene, of course I didn’t. But then, it also seemed to me that Mr. Menzer should be able to drink as much as he wanted to in order to make it through the night, any night really, but most especially this one.
I didn’t think much about the conversation again until the day of the wedding. The bridesmaids were all gathered at Ashley’s grandmother’s, the original Mrs. Menzer, flitting about one another and around the bride and Ashley’s aunts like giggling butterflies squeezed into shapewear. The limousine driver had taken a wrong turn and was running late. Ashley had an old pool towel with a Camel cigarette logo spread across her lap and was choking down half an English muffin smeared with peanut butter. She kept yanking at the yoke of her strapless gown and it made me want to swat at her hand. Instead I watched Mr. Menzer out in the driveway, chain-smoking as he scanned the street for the limousine. His hair was grayer than I remembered, his face shiny and scraped smooth of stubble.
I’d been about to go outside and reacquaint myself with him when the limo finally pulled up to the curb and everyone scrambled to be ready to leave.
I didn’t get the chance to interact with him until after the bridal party photos. After we had posed as a group, and with the bride together, and with the bride individually, and with the couple, and with the flower girl and ring bearer, and then posed for a couple of silly ones “just for fun”, and after my high heels had sunk into the lawn of the Dunegrass Golf Club more times than I could possibly count—I was starving. I was searching around for someone in a uniform who could toss me some miniature foodstuffs and tell me where to find the bathroom and instead I found Mr. Menzer, lurking around a gazebo as the staff broke down the rows of folding chairs.
I told him I was looking for pigs in a blanket. He smiled and said he thought they were serving dinner soon anyway, so that was good, and he wanted to know did I have a cigarette. I didn’t.
He gestured toward the spot where the nuptials had just taken place, the thing that wasn’t technically a chuppa but I didn’t know the real name for. Arch? Arbor? That thing. He said when he had married Mrs. Menzer she was pregnant for Ashley and had such bad morning sickness she had to throw up in the churchyard beforehand. Feels like a long time ago now, he said. Of course it was a long time ago but it seemed like he meant it in a different way than the measure of years.
Then, of course, the thing I was on high alert for came to be. He looked up at the sky and he sighed and tried to sound casual and said well, he didn’t know about me, but he could use a drink.
But he couldn’t even fit a wallet into this monkey suit, Mr. Menzer said. Maybe the bartender would stead him a couple of pops on account of him being the father of the bride. I mean I do have the outfit, he joked, indicating his satin apricot pocket square. They’d believe me. He’d heard there were drink tickets for the bar but no one had given him any and he wasn’t sure there were any left anyway. Probably there weren’t.
What do we owe one another in this world? That’s what I was thinking while Mr. Menzer was talking. Maybe the answer changes. Maybe it shifts, maybe it’s different depending on the view from where you are, whatever gazebo you happen to find yourself in. I’m the sort of person who never really seems to know for sure.
Here, I said, reaching into my custom-dyed matching apricot wristlet for the three white parchment tickets I’d stashed there. You can have mine.