The sun was shining bright, the men were all in their suits, and Tommy pinned a white flower to John’s lapel as John stood staring at him in dread of whatever that steel-eyed fucker was going to say.
“Smile, John,” Tommy said. “It's a wedding.”
John looked like a spooked horse about to bolt. “Whose bloody wedding?”
“Now if we'd told you, you wouldn't have come. There's a girl from the Lee family who's going a bit wild, and she needs marrying off.”
“You have no bloody right, Tommy!”
“Listen to me. Listen to me. A girl who needs a husband. A man who needs a wife.”
“Tommy, it can’t fucking happen—”
“Shh, John boy, come on. Listen, I’ve already betrothed you.”
“There’s something you—”
“If you back out now there's going to be one fucking mighty war breaking out here that's going to make the Somme—”
“It's going to make the Somme look like a fucking tea party. But if you marry her, our family and the Lee family will be united forever, and this war will be over. It's up to you, John. War, or—”
“Will you shut the fuck up?”
That startled them all, Tommy included, into a split second of perfect silence, into which John said: “You lied to me about Lizzie.”
“John, that’s not—”
“She’s not seeing other men any more.”
“ —fucking relevant—”
“You lied about Lizzie to me, so I lied to you about Lizzie too.”
“Lied about what?”
Tommy’s disbelief lasted all of fifteen seconds. “Jesus.”
“What do you want me to do? Do you want me to leave a bastard in the world, and just fuck off with my life, make Lizzie handle it on her own?”
“Do you not know what a rubber is? Did I not fucking show you when you were all of fucking thirteen?”
“I’m going to be a father, Tommy! Do you want me to leave her? Do you want me to be like Dad?”
“Tommy! Arthur!” Johnny Dogs, evidently unable to wait any longer, strode down the lane with an anxious smile on his face. “And John, there you are. You’ll do. You’ll do nicely, eh?” He clapped John on the shoulder.
Arthur and John just looked back at him, stricken. Johnny looked at Tommy, who looked at John and then back again. He rubbed his face and came to some kind of a decision, motioning Johnny aside and speaking quietly. “Listen, ah…” He cleared his throat. “John can’t make the wedding.”
“What do you mean? It’s his wedding! He’s right there.” Behind all of his good humor, there was a bit of a strain.
“He can’t make it.”
Johnny Dogs deflated like a cut balloon. He seemed more dismayed than angry, really. “What happened, Tom? You said we had a deal.”
“And I’ve got all the family waiting up there, and we killed a deer for this, and there’s music and all the kids are dressed in their best. All ready for a wedding.“
“I know, but Lizzie’s pregnant.”
“She’s—it doesn’t matter. John’s going to be a father.”
“I thought he already was.”
“He is. He’s just going to have another child.”
“Well, Jesus, Tom, this is all very complicated.”
“That it is, Johnny. That it is.”
They both stood in unpleasant silence, Johnny chewing on a toothpick, Tommy leaning on a tree looking ill at ease.
“Well, what are we gonna tell them, Tom? Of course John boy can’t marry her now, but they’ll see this as an insult. You’re breaking your word. Not to mention placing this Letty woman above their own kin.”
“Tommy?” That was Arthur speaking, and even though Tommy didn’t look over, he was tempted. He was so, so fucking tempted. But Arthur wasn’t a man you’d push on any woman. Not in his current state, with the nightmares, and the snow, and having just beat a boy to death without realizing it.
“Too bad Ada can’t marry her.” Tommy half-smiled. “I don’t have any other—“ Oh shit. Shit.
He reached in his pocket.
“What is it, Tommy?”
Tommy took out a cigarette and lit it up, resolve crystallizing in his blue eyes. “Tell them we’ll be up in a minute.”
“What am I going to say?”
“You don’t need to say anything, Johnny. I’ve just found the bridegroom.”
Tommy took one last, long drag, then dropped the cigarette and ground it into the dirt with his heel.