Gallows of Love

The DJ cut Rhianna off mid-sentence and announced that it was time for the first dance. Everybody in the large hall settled, twisting in their seats to see the dance floor or getting up to surround it, phones in hand and set to record. The bride, surrounded by the tufts of champagne lace he remembered helping her choose, smiled so deeply he thought he would melt. Arm in arm, the bride and groom stepped elegantly around the table and onto the glossy hardwood. An awkward pause, as the DJ made sure everything was set, bride and groom in the middle of a spotlight. And then a familiar song.

Up in the balcony, dark and empty, waves of shock and numbness ran the length of Ray’s body as he understood what he was hearing.

“The same song? Our song?” he muttered to himself, leaning on the railing. “Really, Brittany?”

“Who’s Brittany?”

He let out a squawk, gripping the gold railing to keep himself from launching himself over it and onto the flowery tables below. When he was finally sure he wouldn’t fly out of his skin, he turned.

Essie was there, just a few feet away. He’d been so entranced, watching, that he hadn’t heard her come up from behind.

“What are you doing here?” he hissed, glancing down to make sure no one had noticed. The room below was filled with a couple hundred people. All eyes were on the dancing couple.

“That’s what I was going to ask you,” Essie said. She leaned against the railing next to him, studying the scene below. “Cute couple. You know them?”

Ray shrugged, scratching the back of his neck. “No, of course not, why would I know them?”

Essie leveled her eyes at him. “You get that it’s way creepier if you’re watching a wedding from a dark balcony and don’t know anyone, right?”

After a few seconds of trying to come up with a retort, Ray slumped and cursed.

“The bride. Brittany. Well, actually, I know the groom, too. We used to work together. Greg, although we all called him by his nickname. Cuntface.”

Essie raised an eyebrow and stifled a giggle. Below, Brittany and Cu…Greg were still doing a slow waltz around the floor as Edwin McCain made promises he probably couldn’t keep.

“I’m going to guess you know Brittany better,” Essie said. “And liked her.”

Ray sighed. “I loved her. This was supposed to be my wedding. My life.”

“Ah,” was all Essie said. They stood together in silence for a while, watching the couple and the families and the DJ

“Have to say,” Essie said, “Doesn’t really seem like your style.”

“It is. Was. I wanted this. We used to talk about it all the time. Her dress. My suit. The venue. This song. All of it, just as we talked about.”

“Wait. All of this is how you planned it for your wedding? All of it?”

“Uh huh.”

Essie snorted, and Ray shot her a look.

“What?”

“Well, I mean…that’s fucking weird, right?”

“Look, just because you’d rather get married in…in a barn with string lights and a banjo player-”

“Stop being shitty. It’s not about the fact that we’re in an expensive hotel in the middle of the city or whatever. It’s about the fact that a wedding is supposed to be about two people, yeah? But you say this wedding is exactly what the two of you talked about.”

Ray shifted a little. “Not exactly. The flowers on the centerpieces aren’t the same colors.”

“Dude,” Essie said. “There should be more differences than just flowers. Unless you and Cuntface are exactly the same person.”

“Did you follow me here just to insult me?”

“I followed you because you fucked off without telling anyone where you were going and we all got worried,” she said. “Half of me thought I’d get to the end of your trail and find you dead in a gutter. What is with you?”

“I wanted to be alone.”

“‘Hey, guys, there’s something I need to check out, I’ll be back later.’ Bam. Done. Alone. Jesus fuck.”

Essie stalked off before Ray could decide if he wanted her to stay or not. It was a couple of minutes before he could even admit to himself she was right. About everything. If he had wanted to be alone tonight he should have just said something. None of the others were the type to pry or insist on coming.

And the wedding. The more he thought about it, the weirder it became. When he had come here, sneaking in through the back and hustling up a set of stairs to hide in the darkness of the balcony he knew they wouldn’t use, he had just wanted to see Brittany. Her wedding. For a few seconds, pretend the life he had was the one he had been promised.

But the things Essie said. They were true. The wedding he was staring at was exactly the way they had planned it. A few minor details were different, but everything else…the color scheme, the first dance song, the location. Hell, he had come up to the balcony with confidence because when they had planned their wedding they had thought using the balcony was tacky.

Everything was the same. Only the groom was different.

Ray examined the couple again as the song ended and they went back to their table. Brittany was glowing. Smiling at everyone. Almost everyone. She didn’t look at Greg once the song ended. Greg wasn’t trying to look at her, either. He was looking at one of the bridesmaids. Making eyes at her. Ray’s eyebrows climbed into the middle of his forehead as he had a realization.

This marriage was going to last a couple of years, tops.

He usually thought of the life he had lost, but what about Brittany and the life she lost? Ray had heard how fast she had jumped into Greg’s arms and thought that proved she had never loved him, at least not as much as he had loved her. But what if this was her way of mourning? What if she had forced whatever had happened with Greg so she could have the life she was supposed to have with Ray?

“No, wait. That’s fucked up, too.”

She didn’t love Ray. Not like he had loved her. He had gone along with all her ideas to make her happy. But she didn’t want Ray, specifically. She wanted to get married. To be married. To do all the things a woman in her standing was supposed to do.

She didn’t love Greg. The more he watched the more he could see it. Hopefully they divorced before kids came along.

Ray had come here to wallow in sadness, to allow himself to grieve for the life he had lost. He figured he’d watch the wedding, be melancholy, then go back to the others, get drunk, and cry himself to sleep.

Now, though…now, he couldn’t shake the idea that losing this bright life below him was a good thing. A bullet dodged. Now…now, he felt pretty good.

He slipped out of the hotel the same way he came in, heading for the closest liquor store to find an apology gift for Essie and the others.


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