7. Leaving Los Angeles, A Novella in Three Parts
Part 3 — The Tenth Floor
This is the last title in my serialization of my collection Stories from The Last Basin currently available on Amazon. Due to shared characters across stories, they are best read in the order of Table Contents:
7. LEAVING LOS ANGELES, A NOVELLA IN THREE PARTS
7. Leaving Los Angeles, A Novella in Three Parts
Part 2 — Coda (for Mrs. Glassman)
PART 3 — THE TENTH FLOOR
I knew I would ultimately have to combine the last three stories into a short novella of approximately 22,500 words. I also trust that the reader who has made it this far in my collection will appreciate that rather than break the three stories that comprise this literary triptych I have left each of the three stories whole, rather than to serialize them further. All comments are welcome but I would particularly like to hear what you think of this editorial decision.
Part 3 — The Tenth Floor
by John Anthony, 2021, revised 2022
The plague years passed and life returned slowly and inevitably to a version of normal. Normal enough for most. Sandra Anderson, Janie and Aiden’s daughter, graduated summa cum laude from Boston University with a degree in environmental science, and in a surprise to no one, announced her engagement to Brian Cheney, a transfer student whom she had met in her junior year, and with whom she had become inseparable from that moment onward. That he had transferred from the Colorado School of Mining and was destined to return to his family’s very successful oil and gas extraction business may have appeared ironic to Janie and Aiden given Sandy’s major (which also mirrored her social position about extractive industries), but love is mysterious in many ways, and Brian was kind and funny, smart as a whip yet easy-going, athletic (as was Sandy) and of course tall, handsome, and engaging, and perhaps, given that introduction, surprisingly humble. Neither Janie nor Aiden attempted to point out the elephant in the room, and Sandy loved both her parents even more for not trying. Love, when it is love, is more often right than wrong, and for Sandy, she could think of no one else she’d rather be with and raise a family with, than this particular young man.
Lee, Sandy’s brother and Aiden and Janie’s other child, was graduating from Columbia the same month of the wedding — June — but expressed no displeasure at being upstaged. For him, school was just beginning, as he had been accepted into Yale Law and he was happy for his sister and even enjoyed his future brother-in-law’s company. It was win-win for him as far as he was concerned, his sole disappointment being the Cheneys that Brian was derived from had no relation to the more famous Cheneys of Wyoming. Still, he figured there was an angle there he could work and someday he’d work it.
Aiden had found himself summarily dismissed from the industry he knew so well and was at first embittered. With the divorce finalized and Janie drastically moving on with her East Coast life he suddenly found out how alone he really was. No one cares about a loser in Hollywood, and the number of unanswered phone calls hammered home that message. There was one thing that kept him sane, and that was Janie whether she was aware of it or not. He took stock of what he knew, and with the proliferation of new studios and their subscriber-based video streaming models demanding ever more new content, he understood better than most how to refine a pitch so that it was razor-blade sharp and there were few who could resist that kind of pitch from piercing their go-to defense of “No!” and finding that fleshy soft spot of “Maybe . . .” or even “Yes!” So Aiden started a consulting practice and he was its sole practitioner. He worked with development producers preparing for their first meeting and screenwriters looking for development producers. He worked with them until he was sold, and then told his clients they were ready. One thing he never did was to step foot back on a studio lot. He was paid for the work he did, and never asked for points or other backend compensation. He wasn’t getting rich that way, but he was doing okay and he felt good that he could use his knowledge to help others. Most of all he just wanted Janie to respect him for being able to take his dramatic failure and turn it around, taking care of himself and contributing to their children’s needs emotionally and materially. Sandy getting married was a financial shock, but nothing he couldn’t handle given a little more belt-tightening. But Brian and Sandy not only kept the wedding plans small (or smaller than might be expected), but Brian’s family insisted on covering half the cost. Aiden was silently grateful, as Janie was the primary conduit of communication among the parties, and he was more like a satellite slowly circling the earth and out of range when on the far side.
* * * * *
“Daddy?” Aiden’s phone told him it was Sandy calling, not so rare but rare enough to be considered semi-precious by Aiden.
“Hi, Sweetheart. How are things?”
“Things are great. What about you?”
“I’m getting by. I like my new gig. Much less pressure and I make my own hours.”
“It seems to be helping you. I was so worried when you lost your job,” she said which caused Aiden’s heart to sink for a moment, he had never wanted his troubles to be felt by his children. “Now I think it was the best thing that could have happened to you.”
“Thanks, Sweetie. I absolutely agree with you.” Aiden admired how mature she now was, far more than he was at twenty-three. His heart was now lifted.
“I need to ask you something and it sounds so lame. I feel kind of embarrassed.”
“You know you can ask me anything,” Aiden said, with his newly lifted heart.
“Will you give me away at my wedding?” That Sandy simply hadn’t assumed that would be the case caused his heart to sink a little again. He accepted this tug of emotions as being his fault. It was he that had been a part-time parent.
“Will I have to wear a tux?” he asked, trying to lighten his own mood with a joke.
“Daddy!” Sandy exclaimed, and he realized he had read things wrong once again, this wasn’t about him it should have been all about his daughter.
“Of course I’ll be there with you, Sandy, and I’ll happily wear a tux. You know that. I’m still your daddy. Nothing will ever change that.” Aiden could hear Sandy softly crying through the phone. He didn’t want to hear her try to answer through the tears, so he continued talking. “I think you found a wonderful young man in Brian and the two of you will have a beautiful life together. It’s going to be my honor to walk with you down that aisle and entrust Brian with the responsibility of being your husband. I haven’t a single doubt or regret. Truly, Lovebug.”
“Thanks, Daddy,” Sandy said sniffling a little. “That means a lot to me, and to Brian.”
“I love you, Sandy.”
“I love you too, Daddy.”
The phone call ended and he felt like he’d failed again. This was the pattern ever repeated he told himself. He treated his children as though they were colleagues in the business of growing up. Support them when he felt they needed support, tease them a little when they were in error. He believed he had been a terrible father.
* * * * *
As the wedding day approached Aiden found himself staying at the Vermont farm of David and Luna Sanscroft. David had optioned one of his novels and the producer wanted him to participate in crafting the 500-page work into a 120-page screenplay. In the past, David had let others do this “nasty work,” as he called it, but he agreed this time because this was one of his favorite novels and it had won a National Book award, and most importantly the female lead was transparently Luna, and she was to be protected at all costs.
He had called Aiden and asked him to come and help while enjoying spring in Vermont. When David listed the necessities for enjoying a Vermont spring (long johns, mud boots, a rain parka, a down vest, wool socks, hiking boots he may have to abandon, light gloves, and enough muscle to split firewood), Aiden realized “enjoying” was going to be subjective and dutifully went out and bought the aforementioned accessories, wondering if they might be legitimate business expenses.
David and Luna were both pushing seventy now and still going strong. Their fiftieth wedding anniversary was adjacent to Sandy’s wedding date, and despite the plans their children and grandchildren had for the anniversary celebration, they pushed Aiden to add them to Sandy’s guest list. Aiden, unable to help himself, had Sandy send him an invite and then responded that he would be attending, plus two. He knew Janie was managing the RSVPs and thought that might cause her a little wonder, smiling to himself.
David wore a black eye patch and Luna wore a chestnut cowrie on a thin leather strand around her neck. Nothing had changed since he had met them in the Nineties when he was young and they were reaching middle age. They were older now, obviously, but possessed a well of energy Aiden could only envy. He had wondered from the first time they had met, was it the path they chose or was the path chosen for them. Over the years, he had hinted and hunted looking for an answer, but both of them knew his intention and neither of them seemed in a rush to reveal any secrets.
Aiden was finishing his morning cup of coffee when David passed through the kitchen. “Put your cup in the sink. We need to split some wood this morning. There’s snow on the way.”
Aiden did as he was told but protested, “Snow? It’s May for God’s sake!”
“Quit your whining and pull on your mud boots. This is Vermont,” he said, explaining everything. Aiden had come to realize “This is Vermont” would have been more apt then the official state motto of “Freedom and Unity.”
When they reached the wood pile David handed Aiden the axe. “Being a cyclops and all, my depth perception isn’t as good as it should be. Let’s see you take a couple of swings.” The wood had been seasoned for a year and Aiden figured he had a decent chance of splitting a ten-inch-wide by sixteen-inch-tall section of a young birch trunk. He set it on the chopping block, lined up the axe, and took a mighty swing. The axe blade imbedded itself about an inch into the wood and that was all.
“You definitely wounded it,” David said, “not that it ever stood a chance of running away. However, cleaving is what we are after.” Aiden started to try and pry the axe loose, but David stopped him. “Hang on Aiden. Just leave it there and hold onto the handle.” Then he picked up a twelve-pound sledgehammer and swung it with pinpoint accuracy, striking the back of the axe causing the axe-head to split the wood. “Everything’s better with teamwork,” and from then on they worked as a team. Aiden set the axe as a wedge, and David drove the wedge through the heart of the wood. Aiden lost track of the time, but noticed the split wood was beginning to form a decent pile. Dark clouds were forming in the northwest, a reminder snow was approaching.
Luna quietly appeared out of the short trail from the house, carrying a handful of parsnips, their greens looking wilted. Following her was one of their goats, Aiden wasn’t sure which one. Luna sat on a bench that was conveniently placed to watch the splitting of wood.
“I’ve been sorting through the root cellar,” she said as simply as someone might say I stopped by the market. The goat caught up to her and stood quietly next to her. “The parsnips are done. The turnips will be next,” and she handed a parsnip to the goat, who happily ate it.
“Are we growing too many?” David asked.
“No,” Luna answered. “Look at how Jenny loves them,” handing the goat another parsnip. Aiden knew about Jenny. Jenny had lived at a nearby farm that crafted goat cheese that was famous in most of Vermont and eastern New York state. But Jenny got old and couldn’t produce anymore and was going to be sold off to a butcher, so David and Luna had bought her. Most of their goats were acquired that way. The goats kept the open fields trimmed and had a strange affinity for poison ivy which they happily consumed and drove back beyond the tree line. Jenny happily took another parsnip from Luna.
“You’re going to spoil that goat,” David said.
“Nonsense,” Luna answered. “She came to us spoiled. I’m just making sure when she passes she’s as happy as she ever was.” Aiden thought if Luna and David had an official motto, just as all the states do, theirs would be something like Ita et nos relinquit, ut sicut beatus semper (So we leave as happy as ever). “As for you two, there are sandwiches for you up in the kitchen. You split enough wood for a week.”
“Aw, Luna,” David said, “I was just teaching Aiden a bit about tactical approaches to difficult problems.”
“Aiden may need a more subtle approach than a sledgehammer and a wedge. But we’d better go eat our lunch before the dogs realize there’s food on the table and nobody’s keeping an eye on it.” Luna left the rest of the parsnips she had been holding on the bench for Jenny to eat, and all three of them walked back to the house. Aiden wasn’t sure exactly which of his problems David and Luna had been discussing but given the preternatural intuition they had repeatedly demonstrated over the years he had known them, it was quite possible David had detected some new, yet to be revealed obstacle that would require an axe to resolve, and that was worrisome.
* * * * *
The days passed and sometime around Memorial Day Aiden felt spring had finally arrived, with buds sprouting on the trees and Luna’s extensive garden starting to show shoots of greenery. They worked every day, some days harder than others, mostly on farm chores and a little on David’s adaptation of his novel. David was clear on how he wanted to condense it, and adept at choosing the key story elements, reducing the number of characters to just the essential ones, and basically shrinking the novel to a short story that could be usefully re-worked into a screenplay. Aiden’s main role was to read the drafts and agree with the direction. He often wondered aloud if David had hired him as a writing consultant or a farmhand. David would just laugh and tell him he was doing a fine job and try not to overthink things. He wasn’t the first person from whom Aiden had heard that suggestion.
One evening after dinner, when the plates had been cleared, washed, and put away, the three of them sat at the dining table sipping a California Pinot Noir. Looking at the bottle, Aiden asked, “Do you miss California?”
Luna shook her head, “Our children and grandchildren live here, there’s nothing to miss.” David was more expansive.
“You’re familiar with Wallace Stegner I assume?” Aiden nodded. “He built his reputation as a writer of the West, not that he necessarily enjoyed being considered regional, but he was born there, raised there, ended up teaching a generation of writers there, writers that went on to influence me. Oddly to some, he had his ashes spread in a fern grove in Greensboro, Vermont. He has explained his rationale in his own words, which are worth reading, so I won’t do him the injustice of trying to summarize it for you. However, when Luna and I read the reason for his decision, it resonated with us, resonated in a way we couldn’t ignore. California is transient; it’s split down the center by the San Andreas fault and half of it is sliding away. Its great primeval forests could have lasted centuries longer, they flourished during periods of micro-climates that are unlikely to reappear and when we cut them down we turned them into transients. The cities are filled with transient residents, many of them suffering from what I call hysterical dissociation, they live in a giant horrible mess of traffic and overcrowding, of pavement and car-lined streets, their grown children scatter because housing is unaffordable, they are, or have become, rootless. Yet they sense none of this because what they see is an illusion of paradise. It doesn’t take any work to live there, so nothing truly lasting is built. It was Stegner that did this to us. In his last act he pointed to a rejection of that kind of life. In Vermont you have to work to live. I’m sure you understand that now since spending some time here. And what you build from your work are roots. And we brought our children and they discovered the joy of working to build roots, and their teaching it to their children — it’s been thirty years now.
“California is an interesting place to write about, the characters create themselves, but we don’t miss living there at all, he said, pausing. “We still enjoy the wine, though,” David said, lifting his glass. Aiden chuckled and lifted his and Luna completed the impromptu toast.
“Are you sure it wasn’t just Los Angeles that drove you away?” Aiden asked.
“You’re probably right. I like to believe there was a higher reason, but there are times, when I think of the geography of the west, once you’re past the Rocky Mountains the whole landscape is stretching — plate tectonics at work. Giant chunks of earth shatter and tilt, creating basins and mountain ranges. The mountains fill the basins with wasting debris and runoff from the snow, the basins collect the waste and runoff. This pattern repeats until the last range creates the last basin, the Los Angeles basin, and there it sits, collecting waste and runoff and a pile of people it could never naturally support. It’s hard for me to shake that image, true or not.”
“David’s the storyteller,” Luna said, “and so it’s often hard to get a word in, so if you’ll excuse me my love, I’ll steal the limelight for a moment. David is never tiresome, but often more literary than literal,” Luna said, smiling at her husband. “The truth is, we had two goals. First we wanted a healthy place to raise our children. We enjoyed a good childhood in Santa Monica, but change is constant, and when young we were free to enjoy the beaches, ride our bikes to Malibu to hike the footpaths the Chumash used, dig fossils from the hillsides, get lost in the tall and inviting mustard plants, these treasures became lost to our children, so we sought a place we could live where our children could experience being children. Second, we were gifted with David’s talent, a talent he could exercise anywhere. There were many choices, too many actually. Had we not read Stegner’s reasons for choosing to rest in peace in Vermont, we may still be sitting in a little bungalow in Los Angeles trying to decide where to move with our by-then-grown children. Stegner was simply a tie breaker is all, and it makes a good story for David to tell.”
“She reveals my secrets yet I still love her.”
“That’s worth another toast,” Aiden said, and they all touched their glasses smiling at each other.
“One more story before bedtime,” David said, and they all agreed. “I’ve never told you how I lost my eye, have I?”
“You haven’t, I guessed you might not want to talk about it.”
“It’s one of those things that was either fortunate or unfortunate. In our case, Luna’s and my case, we consider it fortunate. I was body surfing off Santa Monica beach, barely sixteen, and I was stung in the eye by a piece of jellyfish tentacle. My eye was burning like hell when I got out of the water . . .”
“I thought he had pink eye, which was alarming because I had plans for him that evening,” Luna said.
“She certainly did have plans and she didn’t try to hide her revulsion at the thought I might be contagious. I explained to her what happened and expected the pain to subside as any jellyfish sting might. My dear Luna went ahead with her plans, but I ruined them by becoming extremely ill. My eye became terribly infected. I’m told my fever was so high that I lost consciousness and my parents had to take me to the hospital. I apparently began to talk nonsense non-stop. The doctors decided the only course of action was to remove my eye. It saved my life, but it left me a bitter young man. Luna would have nothing to do with my bitterness. She literally saved me from myself.”
“That’s all you’re going to tell Aiden?” Luna asked.
“That’s quite a story. It’s hard to believe there’s more,” Aiden said.
“Well, that’s the story I’ve been told, but not necessarily the one I believe. What I believe is I came face to face with a god, and one doesn’t do that without losing part of himself. Consider all the myths and legends of mortals and gods meeting, don’t they all end with the mortal having to give up something in order to return to his or her earthly home?”
“I suppose,” Aiden said, a little bewildered.
“I may be exaggerating a little, but believe me Aiden, when confronted with the alternative, I accepted what was necessary to get back to my Luna. Should a similar situation arise for you, don’t hesitate, sacrifice what is asked for, and get your life back.”
“You’re so dramatic, David. Leave poor Aiden alone,” Luna said.
“I don’t expect to run into any gods, so I suspect I’m not going to have an opportunity to heed your advice,” Aiden chuckled.
“Yes. That’s likely true. And it’s late. There’s work to do in the morning.” They said their goodnights and Aiden retired to his guest room. He enjoyed David’s stories but the last one seemed to be overly directed at him. David knew that he had already lost most everything. Aiden’s children still loved him, but he was hardly a part of their lives as much as Janie. And they were getting older and moving on. Sandy was getting married in a few weeks — he was, in the arcane language of the western marriage ritual, giving her away. If that didn’t signify some kind of loss, he wasn’t sure what would. Lee was his own man already and Aiden knew he’d be lucky if he got to visit with him a couple of times a year. And Janie? The divorce had been uncontested and quick, and she had left for New York and her new life. What more could the gods take from him?
* * * * *
Wedding week arrived and Aiden said good-bye to Luna and David. They would drive to Boston the afternoon before the wedding and leave for the farm after the reception. Even that short of a trip made David nervous about being away from the animals, or so he claimed. In truth the cats, dogs, goats, and chickens would be well taken care of by their eldest daughter and her husband and David simply didn’t like being away from his sanctuary and his well-tended roots.
Aiden had been dreading this week in Boston. Not the wedding; he was very happy for Sandy and Brian, but everything leading up to it was torture for him to think about. He was the odd man out and he knew how things would unfold.
The hotel where they were staying and where the reception would be held was the first cut of the thousand that might actually kill him. Sandy had vacated the apartment she shared with Brian for the week leading up to the wedding and taken up adjacent rooms with her mother on the tenth floor. This was the command center. Sprawling up and down the hallway were rooms reserved for each of the bridesmaids, Janie’s mother, Janie’s sister Caroline and her family, Janie’s college friend Colleen (divorced), a room for Lee and his current girlfriend (still nameless and both currently absent), and a hospitality suite kept stocked with food and drink provided by the beneficence of the Cheney family. Aiden was on the seventh floor, which, by a quirk of fate, was reached by one bank of elevators, while floors ten and above had a separate bank, requiring a trip down and up if Aiden wanted to visit the bridal floor, his daughter’s floor. Janie insisted it wasn’t purposeful and made a show of speaking to management about moving Aiden, but the hotel had three weddings that weekend (it was June, after all) and there was little likelihood arrangements could be made but he was dutifully put on a list.
Janie appeared sympathetic and accepted blame but did mention that she warned him about making reservations early. Of course he hadn’t, as he was balancing credit card payments with late arriving receipts from his consulting work, but he wasn’t going to tell Janie that.
“Why not settle into your room and have a little rest? I’ll meet you in the hospitality suite at 3:00pm and we can catch up. It’s been too long since we’ve see each other,” Janie said, smiling, then kissed Aiden on the cheek. His heart melted as he knew it would and he agreed and they retreated to their separate elevator banks.
Judging the odds were bad that somehow being on a list would magically amend the room situation, Aiden unpacked, hung up his tuxedo along with a dress suit and several shirts, decided he should probably have the lot of them pressed, then emptied the rest of his suitcase into the dresser. He kicked off his shoes and lay down on the bed on top of the covers. He reached into his pocket and took out his phone. It told him that he had no messages except the one intrinsic message in the phone’s otherwise blank display, the one said that he had two hours before he had an appointment to meet Janie, the woman he had lived with for twenty years and raised two children with, one of whom was getting married this week, and that he was a reckless jerk for causing the dissolution of his family, but he was just sane enough to recognize it wasn’t his phone telling him all of that. No worries, he thought. He had a full week to really lose his mind.
* * * * *
At 2:55pm Aiden left his room on the seventh floor and took the elevator down to the lobby. He walked over to the other elevator bank, pushed the up button and waited a moment. A small family, the same size as his family but younger, joined him. He smiled at them and they smiled back. There was a quiet ding as one of the elevators arrived and he allowed them to enter first. The husband swiped his keycard across a pad and pushed the fourteenth-floor button and it lighted. Aiden swiped his room card and pushed the tenth-floor button, but it failed to light. He tried it again with the same result. “Must be something wrong with my card key,” he said with a smile and the family smiled back as he stepped out of the elevator slightly embarrassed. He went to the front desk and explained the situation to the desk clerk. The clerk took his card key swiped it, competently typed in a few keystrokes and handed him back his key. “You’re on the seventh floor,” she patiently explained. “You don’t have access to any floor above the ninth.” Another little cut.
“But my whole family is on the tenth floor,” Aiden started to explain, but the clerk interjected. “Just call one of them and have them come down to get you.” Another little cut. Aiden walked away and sat down in one of the lobby chairs. He felt his energy draining from him. He had been excited about seeing Janie again. That magic trick of never changing was still in force, she was still the girl he had married, the woman he loved. Not seeing her had allowed him to suppress this power she held over him, but it had all flooded back since briefly meeting her earlier. How much more symbolism did he need before he heard the message that he was not a part of this family anymore? The answer crystalized faster than a time-lapse film of water freezing: Just make it through the reception with minimum expectations, then move on. It would be easy, better for him, better for them. His phone rang. It was Janie.
“Aiden, where are you?”
“Sitting in the lobby.”
“I thought we were meeting in the hospitality suite?”
“My card won’t take me past the ninth floor.”
“Seriously? Did you speak to someone?”
“Of course I did. I spoke to the front desk clerk. She suggested I call you and have you come down to escort me.”
“But you didn’t.”
“. . .”
“Oh, Aiden. Don’t move. I’ll be down in a minute,” Janie instructed him and then hung up. Perhaps that easy plan of minimum expectations and then moving on wasn’t going to be all that easy, he thought.
* * * * *
A couple of minutes later Janie appeared, reached down and took Aiden’s hand and led him into the bar lounge. They seated themselves in low pleather chairs with an end table designed for drinks situated between them.
“This is pleasant,” Aiden said.
“Is it?” Janie asked seriously.
“No. It isn’t.”
“Why might that be?”
“Do I really have to explain?” Aiden asked, then went ahead and answered her. “Since I’ve arrived every moment that passes makes me feel more and more distant from this family and Sandy’s wedding.”
“You’re overthinking, again. I warned you to make your reservation right away. Had you, you could have been on the tenth floor with the rest of us.”
“You often accuse me of overthinking, believe me, I merely think.”
“Maybe you think too much, then.” The bartender came out from behind the bar and asked if he could bring them something. Janie ordered a pinot grigio, Aiden requested bourbon and ice.
“Janie, I . . .” Aiden hesitated.
“When you told me about making a reservation I was in a bind. My credit cards were topped off and my clients were slow to remit payment. It was just a temporary thing. I made the reservation as soon as I could afford to.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Janie asked. “You know I would have helped out.”
“I didn’t want you to know, I didn’t want the kids to know. None of this has been easy for me.”
“It hasn’t been easy for me either, Aiden, believe it or not. And you not being honest with me doesn’t make it easier.”
“I didn’t lie to you. I just had to wait for a few checks to arrive. But I guess my honesty is still an issue.” The bartender returned with their drinks. Janie took a sip of hers, Aiden a swallow of his.
“No,” Janie said. “Your honesty is not an issue. That was a bad choice of words. It’s all an unfortunate misunderstanding.”
“I thought you weren’t taking Sandy’s wedding seriously enough and as the floor filled up, I purposely didn’t call to warn you.”
“I suppose I wanted to punish you for not being attentive to Sandy . . . and to me.” Aiden took another swallow of his drink.
“I thought we were beyond punishing each other,” Aiden said. It was Janie’s turn to take a large swallow of her drink.
“Well, there’s punishing and there’s punishing.”
“I see,” Aiden said.
“It’s a fine distinction.”
“Not quite. It’s discernible to the discerning eye,” Janie said
“I’m getting old. My eyes aren’t as sharp as they used to be,” Aiden said, and pulling a pair of reading glasses from his pocket he said, “Look. Reading glasses.” Janie laughed for the first time since he arrived.
“I have a pair too. I hate getting old.”
“You’re not old,” Aiden said. Janie didn’t object, instead she brightened.
“I have an idea! Check out of your room and come stay in mine.” Aiden couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Sandy and I both have king beds. I can sleep in her room.” Now he believed it. He smiled.
“Janie the problem solver. I wouldn’t want to spoil all the fun you girls have planned. I’ll be fine where I am. No more misunderstandings, okay?”
“As long as you promise not to have any either.”
Aiden leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. “I promise.”
“Want to go up and say hello to Sandy? She’s dying to see you.”
“Dying to see me? Maybe we should have agreed to no misunderstandings and no exaggerations,” Aiden said laughing as he got up to sign for their drinks at the bar. Then, together, they walked to the tenth-floor elevator bank, Janie explaining to Aiden everything that still had to be finalized before Saturday.
* * * * *
Aiden felt relieved after that first, anxious arrival, and the week passed as smoothly as possibly given the myriad of wedding-related issues being thrown at Sandy, Janie, and the wedding planner a far-too-young woman named Chloe who was a native of Quincy and was revealed to be hard as nails when she let her South Boston origins emerge as she assertively spoke to a recalcitrant caterer or florist on her ever-present iPhone. Chloe was born to her vocation. Aiden mostly stayed out of the way of the wedding details and fell naturally into the role of lunches and dinners with arriving guests, friends and relatives, some he knew and some with whom he was newly introduced. After a career in Hollywood, he was filled with the kinds of stories that could keep most people over thirty years of age entertained, but he was less successful with Sandy’s cohort. In this case, the late arriving Lee the Enchanter, with the sharp and witty Danielle the Girlfriend in tow, stepped in to fill his father’s shoes, both to his relief and admiration. This made Aiden happy; Yale law would be a waypoint, a mark of his ambition, but not his endpoint. Lee would be successful at whatever he pursued.
It wasn’t until Friday that Aiden’s official duties presented themselves. A short block away was the Episcopal Church where the wedding would take place. Friday was the evening of the church rehearsal and followed by the traditional dinner. Friday was also the day that the Cheney’s arrived en masse from Denver aboard a chartered Gulfstream. They caravanned from the airport in several large, black Cadillac Escalades, which would have created a bit of riot had Chloe not warned the hôtelier to make sure plenty of bellhops were required to be on-hand.
Quite a crowd formed in the lobby and Aiden decided to memorize the names of only the significant ones, primarily Brian’s parents, William (call me Bill) Cheney and Theresa (Terry) Cheney. After about a half-hour of greetings and exclamations, Aiden found himself segregated off with the men in a cigar salon across from the hotel. Both Lee and Brian made excuses, and Aiden wished he could have, but in the middle of the shuffle of planning, David and Luna appeared. Luna took Janie’s arm and appeared to plan on staying there, and David joined Aiden, Bill, and the others and said, “Cigar? I wouldn’t pass up the chance with my Luna otherwise conveniently distracted.”
The men proceeded to cross the street and fill up a couple of sofas and some armchairs. Bill selected the type and brand of cigar, then graciously offered to snip the ends for those unpracticed in the art. Several lighters were circulated and the room soon filled with smoke. The group, which had been quite garrulous up until the cigars were lighted grew silent, studying the burning tips, ensuring the embers were established and even. David looked around, studying the room and settled on one man. “I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m David Sanscroft,” he said, extending his hand. The man shook it, exhaling smoke.
“Of course! I should have recognized you by the eye patch. I’ve read all your books. I’m Charles Cheney, Bill’s kid brother. Friends call me Chuck.”
“Isn’t that something,” David said. “I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone that has read all my books.” Aiden had, but he didn’t want to interrupt David’s trajectory. “Hopefully you didn’t borrow them from the local library.”
“Of course not. First editions all.”
“I see. An investor. My first novel was published in 1980 and you were what, Chuck, five?”
“Haha. I read that in college. I probably sacrificed lunch in lieu of buying the book. I have a rule; I only buy first editions of books I love and I never pay more than ten times their original selling price. That puts quite a few first editions out of my reach.”
“I’m sure it does. Can’t touch a Gutenberg Bible these days.” And they both laughed.
“So you’re here to celebrate the marriage of your nephew to Sandy Anderson?”
“Why else would I be here?”
“Just asking. Sometimes other motives can be surmised, even with one eye,” David chuckled. For some reason Bill chuckled too, which Aiden found strange. Bill kicked Chuck’s foot from across the divide. “Go ahead and tell him, Chuck.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about Bill,” Chuck replied.
“My brother is a widower. It’s been seven long years since he lost his beloved wife. When he saw a photo of Sandy’s mother Janie his eyes lit up as though he’d seen the Venus d’Milo.”
“Bill, please,” Chuck said.
“Chuck, have you had the opportunity to meet this gentleman?” David pointed to Aiden.
“This is Aiden, father of the bride and husband to Janie for about twenty years.” The room quieted again as the group began to politely examine just how well their cigars were burning.
Jesus, Aiden thought. Fucking David. How does he always know what scab to pick? He was forced to break the tension. “It’s nice to meet you, Chuck. Janie’s a beautiful soul, inside and out. We’ve been divorced for five years now. My old friend David is a bit possessive of his friendships, but there’s some evidence he’s slipping, you’re not the first person he’s met that’s read all of his novels: I have as well as has Janie, so has his wife Luna, and I’m sure his agent has, too. So take what he says with the proverbial grains of salt.”
“That’s true, Chuck. I just talk. A lot, I guess.”
* * * * *
Aiden and David walked back to the hotel together. Everyone was getting ready for the rehearsal dinner and Aiden didn’t want to be late.
“What the hell, David? This is Sandy’s wedding and you’re making it about me and Janie?”
“I’ve been trying to warn you for a month.”
“Warn me about what? That someone, someday might discover that Janie is incredible. Don’t you think I know that? That I’ve known that? That she’s attracted other men, that she’ll always attract other men? I don’t need to be reminded.”
“Well you do need to be reminded to fight, whatever the cost. She’s your Penelope.”
“Sure, and I’ve been lost at sea for five years.”
“Stop it. You’re making this an epic when it’s just life. Charles, Chuck, seems to be a nice enough guy. He’s literate. He likes your work. What do you have against him.”
“A suitor will say whatever it takes to win the prize.”
“I’m not turning this into a contest, David.”
“No, you wouldn’t but that could indicate something else. I don’t think you have to, though. Just remember, when you’re being judged by the gods, be prepared to give up part of yourself if you truly want to return to your home.”
* * * * *
The rehearsal went off as well as could be expected. There were enough mistakes to elicit laughter, there were few enough mistakes to elide rebuke by the jovial priest. When it was over, the whole gathering left in several black minibuses for dinner at an Italian restaurant in Boston’s North End that had been commandeered for the evening. The seating was pre-arranged, although Aiden was unsure by whom. The central focus was a long table occupied on one side by Terry, Bill, Janie, Chuck, and others in that order, and on the other by Brian, Sandy, Aiden, Lee, Danielle and others, in that order. David and Luna sat behind Aiden, but too far away for conversation in the now noisy restaurant.
Dinner was sponsored by Brian’s parents, so out of courtesy, they were given the duties of Masters of Ceremony (basically ensuring everyone spoke in the proper order). Aiden knew he was to be called upon to toast the groom, and was prepared, but beyond that he had no idea how the evening would unveil itself. After the last of the tiramisu had been poked and prodded by those longing to finish it but too full to fulfill their wish, the toasting began. First came the best man, an articulate and polished public speaker who knew how to make the audience laugh at the groom and worship the bride, then Terry toasted the Andersons, earnestly and lovingly, then Aiden toasted Brian, sincerely but with a touch of protectiveness over Sandy, as he would be expected to have. It was a show. The two had lived together for almost four years, there was no indication Sandy needed protection. Then Janie, as radiant as ever, toasted the Cheney family. She was practiced at this, as her career had been built on flattering the wealthy without making the wealthy feel gratuitously flattered. Lee’s turn came to toast his sister.
“Sandy,” he said, “you have always led the way for me. Your love and loyalty to me has been repeatedly tested by my impetuous and downright self-absorbed personality. But know this: You are not simply my sister; you are my model for what I strive to be. May you and Brian live a long and prosperous life together.” Glasses clinked and cheers arose, but Lee wasn’t finished. “Not to upstage you on your evening, but Danielle today accepted my proposal — but not to worry about the wedding plans, she says I have to pass the bar before we set a date!” Aiden looked at Janie who looked back at Aiden with the same astonished expression, but everyone, including Sandy cheered so Aiden and Janie smiled and clapped along with the rest of them. Aiden glanced at Luna and David and David frowned and mouthed, “Not going to happen.”
Next up was Bill with a toast for Janie.
“Never have I met such a charming and intelligent woman, other than Terry, of course.”
“Of course,” Terry said a bit loudly.
“We welcome Janie to our family. And we have a tradition, likely not so special as surely others practice the same ritual. We’ve brought a gift for the bride’s mother.” Aiden was watching Janie and noticed her blush. Bill continued, “However, Chuck insisted on picking out the gift, so I thought it only appropriate that he present it to her.” Now it was Chuck’s turn to look embarrassed, or at least act embarrassed Aiden thought. Chuck reached into his jacket pocket and produced a jewelry case, handing it to Janie. Aiden had a hard time reading Janie’s reaction. She didn’t smile, yet she accepted the gift. Opening it, her face was first shocked, then slowly turned to a smile, her head shaking no. She lifted out two strings of perfectly matched natural pearls. “This is too much,” she said.
“Perhaps it is,” Chuck answered, “but at least let me see you wear them just once.” Janie started to protest, then gave in and held her hair back so Chuck could secure them around her neck. Janie let her hair fall and sat there with a silly smile on her face while the table applauded. Aiden watched as she momentarily touched Chuck’s jacket sleeve as she had touched Aiden’s arm a thousand times before. Aiden turned to David, but David just shrugged his shoulders and mouthed, “Told you.”
* * * * *
The dinner ended early as the next day was the wedding and much needed to be done before the church service. Aiden watched as Janie was surrounded by the Cheneys and led out to their waiting minibus. Sandy and Lee kissed Aiden good-night and quietly left as the rest of the restaurant emptied out. Aiden thought he was left alone when he heard Luna’s voice behind him.
“That was a bit of an ostentatious show. Courting Janie at a celebration of Sandy’s wedding. What an oaf.”
“I have no feeling left, Luna,” Aiden said without turning around. “I am empty.”
“Let’s get you back to the hotel and to bed,” David said. “We don’t have to ride in one of those Cheney-subsidized mass transit vehicles. We’ll take a taxi.”
They easily waved down a ride and all three climbed into the back seat. David told the driver their destination and Aiden felt his anxiety begin to grow again. “I don’t want to go back there,” he said.
“I understand,” Luna said, “but you really have no choice. It’s your daughter’s wedding tomorrow. It will all be over before you know it. Then perhaps it’s time you move on.”
“That was humiliating.”
“That doesn’t mean you have to ruin Sandy’s day,” Luna said quietly.
“Perhaps now that the gods have shown their hand it’s time to play yours,” David said.
“I don’t understand what you’re telling me, David. You want me to cut out an eye? Perhaps lob off a finger or a toe. How about an ear like Van Gogh? It’s not clear it helped him, at least not during his life.”
“For five years you’ve done what you believed Janie wanted you to do. You’ve left her alone. You’ve offered that sacrifice of not being with her.”
“That was her choice, not mine.”
“Was it? From what you told me you skipped right over the negotiation part. Maybe that was enough to convince her you didn’t care enough to fight for her love. We’re not all mind readers.”
“You apparently are,” Aiden said.
“I don’t really reach into minds. I study people, watch what they do, listen to what they say. With some care, I can fairly predict what they’re thinking.”
“So now what? I’ve sacrificed five years of Janie’s love. When does the magic happen?”
“I would guess when you admit that has been the biggest lie of your life. You claimed you did it for Janie, but it was always for you, because you’re kind of a lightweight, you never fight for anything. You wanted her to just love you as though you deserved to be loved, but love requires work by both parties. Isn’t that right, Luna?”
“Fucking absolutely,” Luna answered.
“So, you’ve had a five year pity party. Let it go. Surrender it. Sacrifice it. The gods will approve.”
“But will Janie?”
“There’s the rub. Janie is nothing if not her own woman. The gods may free you, but in the end it’s Janie’s decision.”
* * * * *
Back in his hotel room, Aiden lay awake. Thoughts crowded his head and they all seemed to be at cross currents to each other, there was no reconciling them. He had told himself when he arrived that he had a full week ahead of him in which to lose his mind, and right on schedule he was pretty sure that was happening.
While he had been a prince in the world of Hollywood, it was a false title, he could be stripped of it at any moment, along with its renumeration and suddenly defenestrated he realized how little control he had. Now surrounded by part of America’s true aristocracy, the gulf which once seemed so shallow and narrow proved wide and deep. A chartered Gulfstream and a $15,000 gift premised on a photo of his Janie, that kind of money, even if it had been in his reach once, was no longer even a fanciful dream. His career was dead in the water. He was old and living client to client. He had nothing to offer.
Janie was comfortable around these people. These were the people she cultivated as patrons for her New York City museum. She knew what interested them, how to subtly elevate them, how to dress like them, move among them, laugh with them, and in exchange they embraced her. They comprised the boards that hired her and depended on her to represent them, and she did it flawlessly. He had nothing to offer.
Sandy and Brian were deeply in love. How could they not be? They made each other happy. They would move to Denver, he would join the family business, join the country club, join the right church, and Sandy, who had modeled herself after her mother, would move through this world with grace and ease. He held nothing against the Cheneys. They seemed to be as down to earth as incredibly wealthy people could be. He had nothing to offer.
And then there was David’s accusation, for he did consider it an accusation. He had let Janie go because that was what she wanted and he loved her and would never try to stop her from what she wanted to do. But David said that he was lying — that he let her go because that was what he wanted to do. And it was what he wanted to do because he loved her and he would never try to stop her from what she wanted to do. It was so circular that it alone could drive him mad. There was a key that David had left out, forcing him to find it or Janie would be lost to him forever.
Aiden looked at the clock. It was 2:30am. He had to be dressed and at the church by 9:00am. He didn’t feel a bit like sleeping. He thought about his life. Was he happy? Not really, perhaps not at all, perhaps not ever. Years ago he had let Sheri Glassman convince him he was unhappy being married to Janie and that had led to even greater unhappiness. Why had he let Sheri do that? He had lied to himself that there was greater happiness elsewhere and she pointed the way. But now it was clear Sheri had been unhappy herself, jealous of Janie, but that wasn’t the lie David had been pointing to. Because after that awful, hurtful phase he believed he had worked hard to prove his love to Janie. Still, in the end, she had asked him to move out, and he did, leaving for a nearby furnished apartment. That wasn’t good enough, because she said she was leaving Los Angeles, and he didn’t fight for her. If that wasn’t crushing enough, his studio informed him that they released him from his contract, and he didn’t fight for himself. The only time he did fight, it was on Sheri’s behalf, and for twenty years he had dragged Janie to Sheri’s parties insisting she was their friend and she needed their support, but he simply didn’t want to admit to Janie that Sheri had not been a friend even though he knew she hadn’t: She had been a destructive force and he, rather than do the hard thing, had forced Janie to go along with his charade all those years. That was his lie; he never did the hard thing. He thought he knew what David had been speaking about, but he didn’t know, at this moment, what the hard thing was. This modest revelation did allow him to fall asleep for a short few hours before his alarm went off at 7:30am.
* * * * *
The hard thing, that was the thought he woke up to. Maybe it was as Luna suggested, just take his useless self and leave Janie alone. She still had so much going for her. But that seemed unsatisfactory and he had things to do and no time to sit and think. He ordered room service, coffee and a couple of scrambled eggs. He shaved and showered and then his order arrived. At 8:00am his room phone rang. It was Janie.
“Hi Aiden, I guess I missed you last night. Didn’t you come back with the rest of us?”
“David, Luna, and I started talking and we missed the bus, so we took a taxi.”
“Is everything okay?”
“Yes. Absolutely. I’m just finishing a little breakfast and I’ve already showered and shaved. Don’t worry, I’ll be at the church as instructed,” he tried to say the last part brightly, showing he was a team player.
“That’s not what I was worried about. How are you doing?”
“Maybe a little nervous about tripping when walking down the aisle, but otherwise okay.”
“I mean about last night.”
“Last night was great. Great for Sandy, great for you. The Cheneys seem like very nice people. Generous to a fault, almost. And the food was delicious.”
“You’re lying to me again.”
“Today you aren’t going to get me to admit to that. This is Sandy’s day. I’m not going to do anything to spoil it.”
“This is our day, for us, too. It’s our baby getting married. You wouldn’t spoil it for us, would you?”
“No. That I definitely wouldn’t do. Don’t worry about me, okay?”
“Okay, but something doesn’t feel right.”
“In what way?”
“Tell me what it is and I’ll fix it.”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s probably just nerves. Once this all gets started I’ll be fine.”
“See you at the church, then. I love you,” Janie said, catching Aiden off guard.
“I love you too,” he said in a rote kind of way. It wasn’t how he had wanted to tell her that he loved her, how he loved her. He laughed to himself. Took the easy way again.
He finished eating, then dressed. He had forgotten how much time it took to put on a tuxedo. But when he was done with all the special buttons and mastered the bowtie, he took a last swipe at his hair in the mirror. The grey looked like it had doubled overnight. At 8:45am he left for the church.
There actually wasn’t much for him to do there. Janie came out from where she and Sandy and the bridesmaids were tucked away with Terry assisting on last minute adjustments to bust lines, bra straps, and make-up, and walked up to Aiden and kissed him on the cheek then wiped off the lipstick with the heel of her hand.
“You look very handsome,” she said
“And you look as beautiful as the day we were married,” Aiden said.
“I don’t mind those kinds of lies,” Janie said, smiling.
“I’m not lying. No pearls?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Those have already been returned with a resolute no thank you.”
“They looked stunning on you.”
“Then you buy me a set!” Janie said with her beautiful smile and headed back to oversee the bride and her girls. I would buy you the world, Janie, but just now I couldn’t afford to buy you a St. Christopher’s medal on a stainless-steel chain he thought, and he knew she knew that, so why did she say that?
Suddenly, there was a flurry of activity. The priest came by and shook everyone’s hands, the groomsmen were assigned to their ushering posts, the guests started to arrive, and Chloe, iPhone in hand began to take charge. The photographers arrived and conferred with Chloe. Within moments everyone was seated, and the processional had begun. Chloe grabbed Aiden and stood him next to Sandy. It was the first time he had seen her in her gown and it literally brought tears to his eyes. “Daddy!” she whispered. “No tears. Not yet. Don’t be a wimp.” That made him laugh and his eyes cleared and before he knew it, he was escorting her down the aisle. He made it all the way without tripping, leaving her with Brian, who flashed a sincere smile at him. Then he took his seat next to Janie, who, perhaps instinctively slid close to him on the pew until they were touching and took his hand. He looked at her and she was already in tears. He pulled his handkerchief from his breast pocket and handed it to her, and she looked at him with the saddest happy face he’d ever seen.
* * * * *
After the wedding service, the guests left for the short walk back to the hotel. The next couple of hours was given over to the photographers and Chloe abandoned them to take charge of the reception service which was still being prepped. Aiden quickly caught on that he had to be easily found for when he was required for a particular shot but to otherwise stay out of the way. After a certain amount of family photos, it was time for just the bride and groom shots and everyone was dismissed, although Janie stayed behind to tend to Sandy’s gown and her slowly unraveling long blonde hair. Aiden walked back with Lee and Danielle.
“I didn’t get a chance to congratulate my future daughter-in-law on her engagement,” Aiden said.
“Only if he passes the bar, and he also left out that it has to be on the first try,” Danielle said matter-of-factly.
“I absolutely agree,” Aiden said. “You wouldn’t want to marry anyone starting out on the second string.”
“And if he doesn’t get a clerkship on at least the appellate level I may call the whole thing off anyway,” Danielle said and Lee laughed.
“It’s the most tenuous engagement ever!” he said, laughing again. “She actually has a whole list of termination clauses. I’m going to find a bookie to calculate the odds of it actually happening.”
“Wasn’t no gambling on the fate of the engagement clearly listed?” Danielle asked.
“Yes it was, sweetheart, but I didn’t say I was betting, I was just curious about the odds.”
“You two are really weird,” Aiden said. “Perfect for each other.”
“Dad,” Lee said, “Just to warn you, she’s included a threshold number for too many dad jokes.”
“And that’s number one,” Danielle said, then all three of them laughed. Aiden really liked the two of them together. He wondered if she used a spreadsheet to keep score. When they reached the hotel, he kissed Danielle on the cheek and gave Lee a hug, then walked over to join Bill and Chuck and some of the groomsmen at the bar. “What are you having?” Bill asked.
“Just a bourbon with ice,” Aiden answered.
“Ever have Pappy Van Winkle? I’ll buy you a pour.”
“It would be wasted on me, Bill. And what if it struck my palate in such a way that all other bourbons tasted like a fast-food restaurant’s dumpster? I’d end up a pauper. I’m told it’s bottled at the same distillery Buffalo Trace is made and that will be fine for me.” Bill ordered him a Buffalo Trace and ice. He seemed to have his own bartender because Aiden’s drink was handed to him almost immediately. “Here’s to the wedding,” Aiden said, and everyone touched glasses and took a sip. Then Aiden turned to Chuck. “That was a bold move last night.”
“It certainly was,” Chuck said a bit uncomfortably. “It’s not easy to find someone in our, ah, social circle with such a sterling reputation that was seemingly available. But I was soundly rejected. I even offered to hold it for her while we spent some time getting to know each other, she wasn’t interested. She’s a one-man woman, and I respect her for that.”
“Come again?” Aiden asked.
“I admit to being near sighted, but you must be blind,” Chuck said laughing. “She’s still in love with you and probably always will be.” Aiden was unsure how to respond. He had actually expected Chuck to be embarrassed or angered but not forthcoming and nice.
“Well, maybe . . .” was the best he could say.
“And dammit, man, you’re just as in love with her, so do something about it,” Chuck continued.
“My kid brother’s offering some good advice,” Bill said.
“I’ll give it serious consideration,” Aiden said, draining his glass. “But I’m just trying to get through this wedding with my sanity intact.” He guessed David’s tactical training with an axe and sledgehammer wasn’t going to be needed.
“Let me order you another one,” Bill offered.
“No. Thank you, Bill. I still have to make it through my dance with Sandy.” And smiling he excused himself.
Aiden walked into the reception and saw Luna and David sitting in their assigned seats. No one else was seated at their table so Aiden took a seat next to them. “How are you feeling today, Aiden?” Luna asked.
“I couldn’t describe today as any singular feeling. There’s been some unexpected exchanges, definitely a new perspective, joy at my daughter’s wedding, some real fun with my son’s quantum fiancé . . .”
“Sorry, Aiden,” David said, “I need to interrupt you right there and ask you to define what a quantum fiancé is.”
“That would best be described as a Charmed Quark whose actions are dictated by Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.”
“You’re saying you can’t pin her down.”
“I’m saying she doesn’t want to be pinned down,” Aiden said, smiling.
“A young woman, free as a summer breeze, willing to get engaged but unwilling to be pinned down,” Luna summarized. “She’s full of contradictions.”
“Which is why she’s so charming.”
“And delightfully unique,” Luna said. “However, since you can’t directly answer my first question, I’ll make it easier for you. How do you feel right now?”
“Nervous. Optimistic. Possessed of new knowledge that I likely knew all along but never thought hard enough about. I think I know what the gods want me to give up, but I’m worried I’m wrong.”
“That sounds absolutely perfect, doesn’t it David?”
“I see and hear nothing that is missed. Everything in life is a guess, Aiden. You only need to make the best guess.”
“Thank you, both of you. You’ve helped me more than I’ve helped you.”
“Nonsense, Aiden! I trust your literary judgment, although you’re still pretty much an apprentice farmhand.”
“My literary judgment? Seriously . . .”
“Listen to David. He always tells the truth,” Luna said. Aiden stopped protesting and instead kissed both of them and went to find his seat. Overseeing the dance floor was a long table with the chairs facing the room. This was where the bride and groom, best man, and maid of honor would sit. Table №1 was reserved for parents and close relatives. Aiden found his seat. On one side was Janie, on the other side was Janie’s sister Caroline with her husband next to her. In the other direction and next to Janie was Bill, then Terry, then a bunch of other Cheneys but surprisingly no Charles or Chuck. Slowly the room started to fill. Aiden knew Janie would be one of the last, before Sandy and Brian entered, and he was right. He had been busy saying hello to people he knew and shaking hands with those he newly met. Suddenly Janie was next to him and the Master of Ceremonies announced the entrance of Mr. and Mrs. Brian and Sandra Cheney. Sandy’s gown had somehow transformed into an evening dress and Brian had removed his tux’s bowtie. “They’re so beautiful.” Janie said to Aiden over the cheers and applause. When they reached the dance floor, the music started, the ballad they had chosen for their wedding song. Aiden wasn’t surprised he didn’t recognize it, perhaps it was Lady Gaga or Taylor Swift, he truly had no idea, but he enjoyed watching them dance. The next dance was reserved for Bill and Terry and Aiden and Janie. The music started and it was Boz Scaggs singing Harbor Lights and Janie grabbed Aiden’s hand and pulled him onto the dance floor. “Did you choose this song?” Aiden asked Janie.
“No! It must have been Terry and Bill. Look at them.” Aiden glanced over and saw the two of them slow dancing, staring into each other’s eyes, soft smiles on their lips. “That’s a crazy coincidence,” Aiden said as Janie pulled him closer. “There’s something I have to tell you.”
“Right now?” Janie asked.
“No better time,” Aiden answered. “If I want you back in my life, and I desperately do, I need to make a sacrifice to the gods that brought us together.”
“The gods? I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“No one survives a meeting with the gods without losing a part of himself. Someone told me that.”
“I can guess whom.”
“I’ve thought long and hard, and it seems so obvious, but nothing else I’ve said over the past twenty years has made a difference. I fight for the wrong things and not for the things that matter. I let myself get pushed around, used . . .”
“Finally you admit it. There’s no need to continue,” Janie said interrupting him. “How can the smartest man I know be so thick headed?” and then, dancing on her tip toes, she kissed him long and on the lips, for the first time in years.
“Wait. What does this mean?”
“I’ve been in New York for five years now. I’m a little tired of it and ready for something else — with you. I’m sort of a one-man woman.”
“I’ve heard that. But what . . .?”
“We can do anything we want. Remember when you gave me the money from the severance package? I never considered it mine, it was ours, we earned it together. Now it’s grown into do whatever the hell we want money.” Then she slipped a room cardkey into his shirt pocket.
“What’s that for?”
“I guess the gods are giving you access to the tenth floor.”
“Sweet Janie,” Aiden said, realizing he’d forgotten how beautifully alive her eyes could be, then he leaned down, held her close, and kissed her as though it was the first time in his life, neither of them noticing the song was over and everyone at the reception was staring at them with wonder, everyone except David and Luna, who were simply smiling.
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