"You think he’s going to back out at the last moment?”
Till shot Ollie a glance through his bangs, pushing them back with a sigh. The band’s lanky bass player was leaning against a wall outside the ballroom of the manor house that Richard and Christoph’s wedding was to be held in. Dressed alike in sharp black suits, crisp, white button-down shirts and black ties, Till and Ollie all but blended into the shadows of the hallway save for the matte gleam of Ollie’s bald head. They’d been watching guests come and go for the past half hour, speaking to some, smiling at others. Flake and Paul were with the grooms-to-be, partially for moral support and maybe to keep one of them from fleeing, screaming into the afternoon, terrified of the commitment they were about to make to one another.
Till didn’t have to ask Ollie “who” he meant; he’d been on the phone with Richard several nights earlier, letting his long-time friend unload all his fears about marrying again. He was convinced that Christoph was going into the marriage with blinders on as to who Richard was under the public mask he kept up, that he wasn’t going to be able to be all that Christoph wanted in a husband, among other things. Till hadn’t said a word, he’d let Richard talk until he was hoarse, and said, “If you weren’t the one Christoph wanted, he’d have left you by now. You’ve always been too hard on yourself, Scholle. Christoph loves you more than anything in the world and if you left him, he’d fall to pieces. Do that to him and I’ll hunt you down and kill you where you stand. He’s one of my best friends too, if you haven’t noticed.”
Before Till could answer Ollie, Paul came puttering up the hallway, a bright smile on his face and hands full of tiny ivory and red rosebuds. He held one each out to Till and Ollie, saying, “You’d better put these on yourselves, I’ve stuck my fingers I don’t know how many times getting these stupid flowers on Doomie and Reesh’s coats.” Till took his boutonniere and snugged it to his left lapel while Ollie sniffed at the flowers before doing the same. “I’m glad your wife was able to find these with it being winter and all,” he commented to Paul, who reached up and flicked a stray drop of water from where it had landed on his shoulder.
“Arielle is a wonder, isn’t she? You should see some of the stuff she’s come up with at the last moment for different jobs she’s been on,” Paul replied, carefully straightening his own boutonniere, then quickly running his hands over his sleek cap of dark brown hair. Flake poked his head out of the room that Richard and Christoph were getting ready in and said, “They’re ready, or as ever as they’re going to be.”
Following Paul into the ballroom, Ollie and Till found their seats at the front of the room and were soon joined by Flake, who was smiling slightly. Ollie poked him in the ribs; Flake covered his mouth with a hand and whispered, “I think they “indulged in the agriculture” a bit, if you know what I mean. They’re back there giggling like little girls, and Christoph’s got hiccups. And before you go yelling, neither Paul nor myself were responsible for the weed. I think that might have been a last-minute present to the grooms to be from Joey Letz.” Ollie’s snort-laugh was barely enough to be heard by the people around them, but Paul and Till did and soon they were trying to hide their own giggles.
“I don’t know what’s so funny but if you don’t tell me I’m gonna be really cross at you,” came Khira Li’s hissed comment from behind Paul’s shoulder. He turned around, still giggling and said, “Your dad and Doomie are a bit high, and Doomie’s got hiccups.” Khira Li sighed dramatically and rolled her eyes, saying, “Why am I not surprised? Oh, and Constance wants to know if their parents are here.”
Till growled softly in his chest and muttered, “Nope. I’m not embarrassed to say if they showed up I’d gladly pitch them into the fish pond.”
“You and me both,” Ollie said, voice hard and brittle, which was surprising for him. He was normally very soft-spoken and easygoing; for him to speak as he had spoken volumes for how much he cared for Christoph. “I’ll hold them down till they quit wiggling and the bubbles stop coming up.”
Constance Schneider, Christoph’s little sister, came hurrying up the grey-carpeted aisle, her ankle length, blue and gold silk dress
shimmering in the warm overhead lights. She tapped Khira Li on the shoulder and said, “It’s time.” Khira Li nodded, smiled at the others, and followed the blonde-haired woman out, her scarlet and silver silk dress exactly like Khira Li’s in cut and length, her dark hair pulled into a loose bun that had tiny silver stars sprinkled through it. Khira Li’s hair was in the same type of style, only her hair sported blue stars. The doors were pulled partially shut behind them, and the ballroom lights were lowered a touch more, the lights taking on a rose-gold hue. The air was heavy with various perfumes, the scent of tea roses, hairspray, and a hint of cold air from outside through a tiny crack in one of the large windows that overlooked the wide expanse of snow-covered white lawn outside. All but a few trees were wrapped in bright white lights that gleamed on the snow, looking like stars had fallen from the dimming sky and nestled in the snow.
The officiant was an old friend of Christoph’s from his stint in the Army. Karl had been surprised and very pleased that Christoph had asked him to officiate over his marriage to Richard. He’d kept up with his old squad-mate’s career and hadn’t been the least surprised as to Christoph had ended up with. Besides promising to keep the ceremony short and religion free, he’d been given free reign as to what he was going to say, and he’d stayed up late several nights trying to design something that would be dignified and funny in the appropriate spots.
A chime from his cell phone told him that it was time to get going, so he stepped out of the small powder room he’d taken over to wait in and walked into the ballroom, not even trying to hide the smile that bloomed across his face. He nodded to the two men who stood near the doors; the ballroom doors swung open slowly, letting a flower filled breeze gust through the room. The attendants stood and turned, all eyes locked on the little group standing in the doorway.
Khira Li held her father’s arm, a wide smile on her face, while Constance held her brother’s arm, her bright blue eyes twinkling even though the shimmer of tears were on her lashes. Both men wore black suits and ties like the rest of the band, while their boutonnieres were larger white rosebuds edged in gold and the ribbons that tied the flowers matched Constance and Khira Li’s dresses. The little group came slowly up the maroon carpet runner, allowing the band’s photographer, Olaf Heine, to snap as many pictures as he liked. Richard and Christoph were outwardly as sober as judges but those who knew them well could see the squashed giggles in their eyes and the occasional twitch of Richard’s lower lip. Once they were at the end of the runner and in front of Karl, Khira Li and Constance let go of Richard and Christoph’s arms, gave them each a hug and kiss, and found their seats in the audience. Constance let out a soft sniffle and took the tissues Paul’s wife handed her, while Khira Li grabbed Till’s hand and let him snuggle her to his side. Tears ran down her pretty face and she let them, uncaring that anyone saw her cry. Flake’s daughter, Anne, leaned over to pat her shoulder, her own smile wide and slightly tear filled.
Karl smiled broadly at the two men in front of him, noting with an inward laugh that Christoph was having a very hard time not laughing. He bit his lip, nodded at Karl, turned and took Richard’s hand as Karl cleared his throat to get everyone’s attention. As silence fell, Christoph and Richard’s pot-induced humor faded away as the solemnity of the moment came over them.
As promised, Karl kept his word about the length of the ceremony and what was said. Neither Richard nor Christoph could remember what was said if they’d been asked until much later; they were too wrapped up in each other. When Karl asked for the rings, Till slid out of his seat and walked up to the couple, handing the shining gold bands out to them, stopping long enough to hug them both, hard, quickly dashing tears out of his eyes as he went back to his seat. More words were said, rings slipped onto sweat and tear-damp fingers, and Karl said, “May you be happy, healthy and in love forever, Christoph, Richard.”
“I guess I have to kiss you now, Doomie,” Richard said in his best stage whisper. Christoph’s sputtering half-laugh, half-sob was broken off by the kiss, and the sound of applause covered his sniffles and Richard’s as well. Pressing their foreheads together, Christoph whispered, “Thank you, Richard, for everything. Thank you for loving me.”
“Back at you, sweetheart. Back at you.”
The reception went late into the night. By the time the last guest had wished the newlyweds well, Christoph was half-asleep, snuggled up to Richard on the velvet couch they’d taken over as theirs. The cushions were soft and squishy and had almost swallowed Paul up when he’d sat down next to Richard early in the evening, much to his chagrin. Ties hanging loosely around their necks and the top buttons of their shirts undone, the couple basked in the warm glow of ample wine and food. Richard was idly admiring the way the nearby candlelight shone on the surface of the wineglass he was holding, his other arm slung around Christoph’s shoulders. He yawned hugely, drank off the last of his wine and set the glass on a nearby table. Gently, he shook Christoph awake, murmuring, “Hey sweetheart, it’s almost three in the morning. Everyone’s cleared out but us and my ass is asleep.”
Christoph came around with a yawn just as wide as Richard’s, stretching his arms up until the joints in his shoulders popped and cracked. “It’s almost three? How long have I been out?”
“Well, you haven’t started snoring, but you’ve been pretty quiet the last hour or so. Let’s get out of here so the cleaning staff can get started on this mess,” Richard replied, slowly standing up so he wouldn’t throw himself off balance. The high from the small joint he’d shared with Christoph earlier had worn off long ago, but he’d had a bit more wine than he should, so he wasn’t going to move too fast until he was sure he was stable. Christoph slid an arm around his waist, leaning in to nuzzle Richard’s hair as he did so. “So glad we’re staying here a couple of days,” he sighed. “Don’t wanna go anywhere except to bed right now.”
“Agreed,” Richard replied as they left the reception hall, nodding at the front desk attendant as they went up the wide staircase to their room. The hallway was dimly lit and quiet, the carpeting thick enough to muffle the sound of their footsteps. Richard unlocked the door to their suite and said, “Flip a coin to see who gets to carry who over the threshold?”
“Get your pretty ass in there before I throw you over the threshold,” Christoph snorted, giving Richard’s behind a sharp smack, and shoving him into the room. Taking a second to hang the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the doorknob, he shut the door and locked it as he said, “We can flip a coin?”
“To hell with that. Married or not, I’m going to sleep. We’ll flip a coin in the morning,” Richard snort-laughed. “After we’ve had breakfast, that is.”