Monday, December 14, 2009

Hope is a yellow dump truck

Of all the toys that I got for Christmas, my favorite has to be the yellow dump truck. I was 8 years old, and it was the first time that my mother actually had us pick out what we wanted for Christmas. Before then, we used to ask and beg for what we wanted, and we hoped that our parents would get it for us. Of course, we didn't always get what we wanted, but what we did get was still awesome. What kid doesn't like getting toys for Christmas? Any toy is way better than getting socks and underwear--you can get clothes any time of the year, no special occasion required.

I remember being so excited going to the store. It was a rare treat. It's not often that my mother would take us to the stores. The few times we did go to the stores, my two brothers and I were pretty rowdy and often ran around in the stores. Even though we knew we'd get a spanking for being rambunctious in the stores, we just couldn't resist acting wild. There were just too many shiny objects grabbing our attention and so many racks of clothes that tempted us to play and hide seek under them. And when you're just a young boy full of energy, you just want to play and have fun exploring new places.

I was really excited and happy about going to the store. We knew we were going to pick out presents. Our mother had told us so, and she also expected us to be on our best behavior if we wanted our presents. It was really hard for the three of us to keep still and not run around. But we did, because it was getting near Christmas and we so wanted to pick our gifts. As we rode the bus into town, we had smiles plastered on our faces and kept laughing every time we looked at each other. My mother smiled at us every now and then. I remember thinking, Wow, this is such a great day. I was just so happy to be doing something fun with the people that I luved.

When we got off the bus, we all held hands and crossed the parking lot and headed into the large store. It was full of people doing their shopping. I remember the store decorations--bright red and yellow bows with green wreaths and garlands in the windows and on the walls. A large Christmas tree--decked out with tinsel and shining, colorful ornaments and twinkling lights--stood tall and pretty by the front counter. Cheerful holiday songs were playing in the store.

My mother walked us down to the toy aisle and told us to go down the aisle and pick out what we wanted. It felt like a dream! My brothers and I were giddy with happiness as we took our time walking down the aisle. There were just so many great toys! And they all looked fun. But we could only pick out one toy that we really wanted. So we needed to take our time and really think hard about what toy we wanted for Christmas.

Halfway down the aisle, I stopped as my brothers kept moving on, looking at all the wonderful toys. There, on the bottom shelf, I saw it. It was a yellow dump truck, with battery operated flashing sirens. I was drawn to it. It shone so bright and I reached out to touch its box, imagining myself playing with it, filling it with rocks and stuff that I could push around before dumping them. I felt my heart beat faster at the excitement of finding such a great toy. It seemed so amazing and special.

I confess though, that a small part of me wanted to keep looking down the aisle to see what other great toys I could find. So I reluctantly followed my brothers and checked out the rest of the toys in the aisle. My brothers were excited at finding remote controlled cars. And they were pretty cool and fun, and I wanted one, too. But I was still drawn to that yellow dump truck. So I went back to it to see if I still wanted that or get a remote controlled car. That yellow dump truck still shone bright for me, and it made me feel happy just to look at it. I knew for sure then that this is what I wanted for Christmas.

We picked out our toys and showed our mother. She smiled and led us to the counter, where she paid for them and had them gift wrapped. My brothers and I couldn't stop smiling gleefully at each other and thanked our Mom, hugged her real tight before we left the store. We spent the day going clothes shopping; we managed to behave ourselves as we tried on different clothes and shoes. We stopped for ice cream before we took the bus home, each of us holding a shopping bag. And when we got home, we put the presents under the Christmas tree. It was such a wonderful day, just pure joy.

When Christmas came, my brothers and I were just so excited and eager to finally open our presents and play with our toys. It was more fun than we had imagined. I remember my brothers laughing as they raced their remote controlled cars. I laughed when that yellow dump truck's sirens went off and the lights flashed as it drove on the floor. I remember being amazed when at the push of a button, it stopped moving and started lifting its back, dumping the contents that I had piled in the cargo bed. I remember the content smile on my mother's face. She looked so happy. We were all happy that day.

Over the next few years, I played with that yellow dump truck. I spent many hours imagining myself working on some site, carrying and emptying cargo. Even without batteries for the sirens and flashing lights, I still luved pushing that yellow dump truck around, emptying its bed. I took very good care of it. I kept it clean and made sure to put it away when I was done playing with it.

And when I got older and stopped playing with children's toys, I put that dump truck on a high shelf in my room. By the time I was in high school, I couldn't remember the last time I played with it. Yet I still cherished it. It still had magic for me. When I looked at it, it still shined brightly for me, and it still made me happy, still made me smile fondly. That yellow dump truck was special. Whenever I'd feel sad or frustrated or lost, I just had to touch that yellow dump truck, hold it in my hands, and I'd remember that feeling of happiness I got when I first played with it. And somehow, I knew that things were going to be all right; that I'd get through somehow, someway, and I was going to be okay.

The Christmas I got that yellow dump truck was the first Christmas without my Dad. He had passed away that year, and it was such a terrible and sad time for me and my family. I remember crying at night, when everyone else was asleep, because I really missed my dad. I remember catching my Mom crying a few times when she thought she was the only one awake; that only made me cry more. I did not think that I would be happy again, and I was angry at just how unfair life was. I hated feeling that way, and I hated knowing that there was nothing I could do to change it.

So the day my mother took us to the store to pick our Christmas presents was one of the happiest days of my life. It was the first time that I did not think of my Dad and feel sad. It was the first time in a long time that I actually felt really good and happy. And that Christmas, when I played with that yellow dump truck, I remember feeling so alive, so thankful, and so happy. Seeing my mother smile and happy made me feel good and truly joyful. It gave me hope that things were going to be all right. And that yellow dump truck was the symbol of that hope, that no matter how tough things had become, we'd find a way to go on, to survive, to be happy again.

That was also the last Christmas that I was truly a child. The death of my father had made me more aware of life--its fragility, its brevity, and its preciousness. That was the last Christmas that I looked forward to getting presents with childhood wonder and excitement. I became more interested in giving presents, making others feel happy. I stopped expecting presents, because it was truly more fun for me to do nice things for others. I still got some wonderful presents after that Christmas, but none of them gave me quite the same happiness that I felt when I got that yellow dump truck.

When I left home to live on my own, that yellow dump truck was still perched on the shelf. I thought about taking it with me, but I sheepishly realized that it would seem kind of childish. But I also thought that it somehow just belonged on that shelf in my room. It was part of my life for so long, it just felt right leaving it at home. My last night home, in a lull before the excitement of leaving, I remember taking that yellow dump truck down and holding it one more time. It still had its magic; still made me smile; still made me feel happy. And I realized then that as scared (and excited) as I was to start a new life, to venture into the unknown future, I would be okay. I would be fine.

Years later, my mother and I were talking on the phone when she mentioned that one of my nephews was asking about the yellow dump truck. I was surprised. I hadn't thought about that yellow dump truck in some time. But thinking about it immediately made me smile, made me feel warm and joyful inside. I recalled my nieces and nephews would often come into my room and just stare at the yellow dump truck sitting on the shelf. Most times, I was nice and brought it down to let them play with it. But I just couldn't part with it. Not then. I needed it and I cherished it because it meant so much to me, more than I could explain. It wasn't just a toy--it was my hope, my happiness, my childhood wonder.

But as I talked with my Mom, I realized that maybe it was time to let that yellow dump truck go. I was pretty sure it would make my nephew happy. And it had given me so much joy over the years that it almost felt selfish to keep it on that shelf, rather than letting someone else enjoy it. So I told my mother to go ahead and give it to my nephew. She was surprised that I wanted to give it away; she'd always known that I was really fond of that yellow dump truck. But I told her that I was sure; I told her that the yellow dump truck brought me so much happiness, and perhaps it's time someone else got to feel some of that happiness.

I never saw that yellow dump truck again. Truth be told, I do miss it sometimes. When I went home to spend some time with my mother in her last days, I stayed in my old room. I remember not being able to sleep that first night, just laid awake in bed, just as I did many years ago when I was younger, listening music while a gentle breeze blew through the open window. I looked at the shelf and I suddenly realized that the yellow dump truck wasn't there anymore. For a second, I felt sad, missing its comfort and the joy it brought me. I thought, I could really use it now.

But then I realized that I still had those happy memories of that Christmas with me, memories that the yellow dump truck held for me. And thinking about those memories made me smile, made me happy, made feel like I was going to be all right. I knew that my mother would be passing on soon, and it would be a terrible and sad ordeal. It was going to be a painful experience. Yet, I knew that I would survive; I would go on; I would be fine. I had those happy memories to give me hope, to make me smile again, to know that I would be okay, live to find happiness again.

I have received so many wonderful Christmas presents over the years. But I still remember that yellow dump truck. It was a very special gift, because it meant so much to me. I miss it, and there are times when I wish I still had it. But I know that the truly important thing is that I still have those precious, happy memories of that Christmas when I got that yellow dump truck. They are what make me smile, make me feel joy, and make me think fondly of those I luv. So long as I remember them, I'll never lose them, I'll always have hope. And maybe in a way, I'll always have that yellow dump truck, because sometimes, hope is a yellow dump truck that brings happiness and love.

 Related Links:
Holiday Dismay
Are you there, Santa? It's me
It's the Most Stressful Time of the Year
The thing about fathers
Best Laid Plans
Veterans Day Reflection
A good jacket keeps you warm and dry
The Boys of Summer
Brothers and Sisters

Friday, December 4, 2009

It's the Most Stressful Time of the Year

Ah, the holidays. It's that time of year again when single people everywhere are assaulted by society and capitalism. Apparently, being single is some sort of affliction that needs an immediate cure.

It starts with Thanksgiving, when you sit down to a nice turkey dinner with your relatives and friends. You know there's going to be drama--with all the unsolicited advice and criticism from various relatives, the petty feuds, and being surrounded by irritating and annoying people. But you go anyway out of obligation and for the free food.

I'd like to eat your pumpkin pie and stuff your turkey!

In between helpings of roasted turkey and pumpkin pie, you're interrogated by people who want to know if you're seeing anyone special. And if not, what's wrong with you? And of course, they start talking about their children like they're some sort of trophies, and you're missing out so much by not having any children of your own.

Right, like cleaning up after screaming, rambunctious rugrats and losing sleep is really such a great prize. No thanks. I'd rather stay out late and sleep in and not worry about anyone but myself. I like going where I want to go, and doing what I want to do. I mean, I like kids, but I love my life the way it is now. It's so nice to have a place to myself, where eating cereal with beer because I've run out of milk is perfectly acceptable.

It's bad enough that family and friends start pressuring you to find somebody at Thanksgiving. It only gets worse at Christmas. That's when the damn merchants start advertising their wares and sending out messages that if you're not buying stuff for someone special, then there's something wrong with you. Really, it's all about making money. This is the time of year that stores make the majority of their profits. If you have a spouse and kids, then you have to spend lots of money buying all sorts of crap for them.

Of course, all the holiday tv shows and specials and movies churn out the same theme of family togetherness and spending the holidays with a significant other--because being single and happy is impossible, if not insane. Perhaps there's something in the eggnog that triggers a hormonal (and mental) imbalance in well meaning married friends who make attempts to set you up with other single people they know, the goal being to get you settled down by next year. It's like being single is an offense to their married sensibilities.

By the time New Year's Eve rolls around, you're ready for a night out drinking and away from the meddling people who're getting on your nerves. You venture out to celebrate New Year's Eve, only to find that what was once a simple night out to get drunk and party has become a little complicated. Now, instead of just counting down to midnight, you're pressured into kissing someone at midnight. But it's not just a kiss anymore. Now you worry whether your one night stand is going to turn into a nightmare with some desperate, deranged individual whose New Year resolution is to settle down and get married.

New Year's Eve is not just for party people anymore. Nowadays you've got to deal with people who have been brainwashed by the advertising campaigns to find someone to love. Why? Because in 6 weeks, the merchants have one last chance to cash in on the holiday season: Valentine's Day, the day when you're supposed to buy a loved one chocolates and flowers and jewelry and expensive dinner and wine.

Don't cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?
Don't cha wish your girlfriend was a freak like me?

Don't cha?

If someone snags you on New Year's Eve, then they've got six weeks to go on at least four dates with you before it's required that you take them out on Valentine's Day. And a date on Valentine's Day means you're officially in a relationship!

Thankfully, when Valentine's Day is over, single people everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief because the holiday season is done. It's no wonder then that Mardi Gras and Spring Break and St Patrick's Day are so popular with single people. It's a celebration of all the fun things single people can do. It's all about getting drunk and having a good time, staying out late and sleeping in. It's not like single people have kids or spouses to worry about.

 Related Links:
Hope is a yellow dump truck
Holiday Dismay
Are you there, Santa? It's me
The thing about fathers
Best Laid Plans
Veterans Day Reflection

Thursday, November 26, 2009


It's Thanksgiving this Thursday and Friday. It's a holiday tradition that began hundreds of years ago when some American Indians took pity on the starving and dying European immigrants and taught them how to grow food and survive in the New World. To thank the Indians for their help, the Pilgrims invited them to a feast, and thus, the American Thanksgiving tradition was born.

If only those Indians had known that in a few years, those Europeans would start centuries of warfare to eliminate the Native Americans and take over the New World. No good deed goes unpunished.

To celebrate Thanksgiving, you're supposed to spend time with your family, eat turkey and pie, and give thanks for all the good things in your life. The last time I spent Thanksgiving with my family was my last year in high school. After that, I've been spending the holiday with friends or working on the holiday. I don't mind working on Thanksgiving; I get paid the holiday rate, and it's nice to see a hardworking coworker spend time with their family.

When I was younger, I luved Thanksgiving. My favorite part of Thanksgiving was being off from school for two days. I luved the 4 day weekends! All that extra time to sleep in and play and do whatever I wanted! It was fun, hanging out with friends, playing with cousins I hadn't seen in a while, no real worries. The food was always great: roasted turkey, sweet potatoes, ham, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and so many other delicious, rich foods. Of course, in my house, we also had fried chicken and pork chops and chili in addition to the usual Thanksgiving fare. When I started living on my own, Chinese food became one of my favorite add ons to the traditional Thanksgiving meal.

My first Thanksgiving on my own, some friends and I got together and sat down for a meal in a small apt with second hand furniture and mismatched plates. Seeing as none of us fellas knew how to roast a turkey, we had Chinese food and pizza and chicken wings for dinner. It was just the six of us, far away from home, yet we were our own little family. We laughed, we talked, we teased and toasted each other during our Thanksgiving meal. It felt good to be around good friends, being on our own, the world just seemed so full of possibilities.

Since then, every Thanksgiving, we'd have Chinese food on the menu. It was our tradition. Even now, many years later and with us living far apart from each other, we keep the tradition going. Whether we are by ourselves or in the company of others, having Chinese food on Thanksgiving means that we are never alone, because the memory and the spirit of that first Thanksgiving is alive and well with us. It reminds us of when we first started out, so young, having nothing but our friendship and sense of adventure that gave us the courage to be on our own, to seek out something more, to find ourselves.

So for Thanksgiving, I'm having some Chinese food. I want to remember the good friends I have in life, to celebrate the gift of friendship, to be thankful for all the good things that have happened to me. However you spend the holiday, I hope you spend it doing something you love, if not with the people you love. Thank you for all your support. Thank you for your friendship.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Out of all my senses, my vision is the strongest. I can see farther in the daylight and much more in the dark than most people. This has a significant impact on how I do things, whether it be giving directions or describing objects. Growing up in a small town also affected my perception and processing of the world around me. If I were asked to give directions, I'd tell you visual cues more than length measurements; I'd tell you what places to look out for more than I would say the distance.

For example, I'm more likely to tell you to keep driving til you see the yellow two story house on the left; take a left at the intersection and go past the cornfields, then take a right on the dirt road and keep going straight til you see the white farmhouse with the red barn. I use landmarks. It's sort of helpful (at least to me), especially when trying to find a place in a small town or a crowded neighborhood when you can't make out the building numbers. Of course, once I started living in the big cities and had to do long drives, my directions started including time; now I say things like how many hours a drive is supposed to be in addition to using landmarks.

It's not that I don't have a sense of distance. The thing is, I can tell how long a mile is a lot better by running than walking. It's not a problem if I'm going for a jog; but it is inconvenient when I'm required to be someplace where being sweaty is not a viable (or an attractive) option. It's just easier for me to rely on landmarks. I have a very good sense of direction. I can read a map with no problems, even in foreign countries. It doesn't even have to have a scale for me to figure out where to go, so long as I can recognize the landmarks on the map.

I don't mind getting lost--I eventually find my way, once I get oriented in the right direction, and so long as I have the sun and stars, I'll find my way. I could've been a sailor or a caravan merchant on the Silk Route. I've found some really fun and interesting things when going off the beaten path. But I've learned that some people don't like getting lost. So when I give directions, I try to keep them simple and tell them people what to look for and how long the drive should be.

Of course, this baffles some people when I end up giving them landmarks instead of miles. I suppose they think I ought to know distance since I'm really good at reading maps. But then I wonder, can anyone really tell how long a mile is without using their car's odometer or a pedometer? Or without a GPS for that matter?

Recently, a friend's husband asked me for directions to a place that I've been to a few times. It's a few hours away from me in the big city and I've driven there before. I had a hard time trying to explain to him what to look for. I told him that I just followed the road signs and head downtown. As I was giving him landmarks to look out for, he kept sighing and finally interrupted, saying that he wanted to know how many miles it would take. Okay, seeing as how he lived in a completely different city from me, I told him I had no clue. He got upset at that. I told him, Dude! I don't live where you are and I'm not a road atlas! He wanted to know how I got to this place the first time. So I told him, I got a map and I followed the road signs. Dude just started bitching and whining. Finally, I just told him to print out map and directions from the internet.

How do other people find their way around? Do they use miles or landmarks when giving out directions? I'm not sure how other people find their way around or give directions. But for me, landmarks work best when I need to find my way. I'm never sure how many miles my journey is going to take, but I do know when it's over, because I've arrived at the right place.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Oceans 3, 4, 5

I was watching the news and there was a report of a widening rift in Africa, specifically in Ethiopia, that would someday in the future become an ocean. While I generally find science interesting, I was stumped when the news report mentioned that there were currently five oceans. Five? What the...? When did that happen? Did a major continental shift occur while I was sleeping?

It's like the time I found out about the food pyramid. I was in college when this girl started talking about the food pyramid. And I was thinking to myself, food pyramid? Is she talking about Egyptian foods? When the hell did they change the four food groups? Imagine my surprise when I did a little research and learned that the US Dept of Agriculture was pushing this idea of a food pyramid, instead of the four food groups.

I remember the four basic food groups--fruits and vegetables; meat and poultry and fish; grains; and dairy. Sure it wasn't perfect, I mean, I wondered why beans and nuts were in the meat group, when they really came from plants. I suppose it would've made more sense to rename the meat group as the protein group. But as imperfect as the four food groups was, I still use it. Besides, this whole food pyramid thing is still being sorted out by the government. Now they've added a set of steps and rainbow colors to the food pyramid! So until they figure out a better way to classify foods, I'm sticking with the four food groups.

I needed to find out more about these five oceans the news report mentioned. A quick google search for ocean led me to discover that the consensus is that there really is just one ocean. However, some organizations say that there are four oceans, while others say five! Other agencies still say three, which I know are the Pacific ocean, the Atlantic ocean, and the Indian ocean.

National Geographic, the magazine that publishes fotos of topless native women and nekkid people in the interests of science, says that there is a fourth ocean. It's called the Arctic ocean! Has climate change all ready melted all the ice at the top of the world?

Meanwhile, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the government weather and marine agency that tracks and names hurricanes for the US, says that there are five oceans! The fifth Ocean is the Southern Ocean. Apparently, the International Hydrographic Organization decided to draw a line around the southern parts of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans and called that region around Antarctica the Southern Ocean.

But the hilarious thing is, while all agree that there are 3 main oceans, the traditional Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans, they cannot agree on whether the Arctic and Southern oceans really are oceans! I still think that there are only 3 main oceans. The other two were just made up by some group who thinks that they speak for the rest of us! It got me thinking, who the hell put these people in charge of renaming oceans? And what gives them the right to rename these oceans?

It's like Pluto all over again. Remember when some geniuses decided to downgrade Pluto from a planet? What the hell was that all about? I mean, seriously, who said that these few jackasses can reclassify planets for the rest of us? Moreover, the majority of astronomers and planetary scientists still consider Pluto a planet, and so do I! Don't these jackasses realize the chaos they've caused by trying to deplanetize Pluto? Pluto is the ruling planet for Scorpios! It is necessary for great transformation and rebirth! Not to mention, Pluto is the god of wealth! And given the fragile state of the economy, we need all the help Pluto can give us!

Friday, October 30, 2009

How to survive a Haunted House

So you want to know how to survive a haunted house. And I'm not talking about those staged ones with the actors and props. I'm talking about a real haunted house, complete with either supernatural or superpscycho killers. Given my few experiences with the otherworldly and with research from watching plenty of horror films and tv shows, I've decided to share some tips on how you can survive a haunted house.

The first and most important tip of surviving a haunted house is Do Not Go into the Haunted House! Seriously, especially on Halloween night! That's when all the ghosts and psychos come out and start killing people.

If some old person, some gypsy, some psychic, or even some animal gives you a warning about the haunted house, then you better pay attention and not go in the damn haunted house! And don't go inside for some stupid reason like on a dare or to win some prize! Because you can't gloat to your friends or spend that prize money when you're as dead as the the presidents on them dollars! And if you went in the haunted house to satisfy some morbid curiosity or to try and prove the existence of ghosts, well then it's your own stupid fault when the monsters come after you and chop you into little pieces.

The second tip of surviving a haunted house is Be Prepared! That means you need to arm yourself!

If you're not a slayer nor a hunter of the supernatural, then you best get yourself a gun and learn how to use it! The more guns, the better. If you don't have a gun, then take some knives. They're good for cutting through ropes when the sociopath leaves you tied up and goes to prepare his tools to take off your skin and wear it like a dress. A sharp silver knife can kill a psycho, a werewolf, and other preternatural creatures when stabbed directly into the heart or brain. A sharp pointy stick to the heart can kill any crazy person and vampires trying to suck you dry. And take some salt! Salt repels evil spirits. And you can use it to blind the psycho killer coming after you with a buzz saw! It'll buy you some time to get away. Anything can be a weapon, even a wire hanger.

The third tip is Don't Let Your Guard Down! You're not safe in a haunted house! Anything can happen.

If by chance you do manage to kill the psycho or creature, don't just stop and rest, thinking it's all over! You need to make sure that mofo is dead! You need to stab him in the heart and cut off his head! Those evil mofos tend to jump back to life and try to kill you as soon as you turn your back or start crying like a little baby! It's not over til you're out of the haunted house and far beyond the reach of evil! Even then, you need to stay ready because sometimes, they come back and you have to do some serious ass kicking all over again!

And finally, Never Go Alone! There's strength in numbers. Do not get separated from the group! That's how the killers and the evil spirits start picking off people, one by one!

If you're the one putting together the group, remember, no chicks allowed! Girls, especially big boobed blond ones in tight clothing, always get killed! Unless you're taking Xena Warrior Princess or Lara Croft with you, don't take any girls in your group! And for f*ck's sake! Do not, I repeat, Do not have sex in the haunted house! That guarantees your death! You'll be too tired to run for your life when the ghosts or the killers come after you! Evil spirits and deranged killers always spy on the couple who had sex and then kill them!

Remember, don't get separated from the group! If for some godforsaken reason you do get split up, then there are some things you need to remember. Big boobed blonds always get killed first, especially when they're wearing heels. You can't run in heels! You'll trip and fall and that's how the monster catches you! Minorities always get killed when they're by themselves. If you are a minority, you're best bet is to stick with the busty blond bimbo in the group. That way, when the killer comes after you, chances are gravity and bad choice of footwear will cause the blonde to trip, break an ankle, and distract the killer while you get away! Don't look back! Just keep on running!

I hope you remember these survival tips when you're out trick or treating...or just turning tricks.

Feel free to share any helpful haunted house survival tips with us!

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

For whom the Belles Toll, the conclusion

For whom the Belles Toll, Part 5

A bell is no bell 'til you ring it

--Oscar Hammerstein

The loud sound of the tv woke me up rudely. I groaned inwardly and peeked at the bedside clock. It was only 7 in the morning. I could hear Teacher making noise as she moved about the room. Then she went into the bathroom and closed the door loudly. Damned morning respect or consideration for those of us who don't get up with the sun. I heard the shower go on as I curled myself under the blankets and tried to go back to sleep. I was still tired. I fell asleep for a few minutes until the loud roar of the hair dryer through the opened bathroom door woke me up again. I had this suspicion that either Teacher was oblivious to the racket she was making, or she was trying to wake me up. There was also a very distinct possibility that she was just getting back at me after I told her off last night.

Then I thought to myself, Nah, she wouldn't act so childish. I didn't think that she was being vindictive. Until she opened the blinds and let the bright lights in! Okay, now she was being a bitch. I just turned the other way and buried my head under the covers and tried to ignore all the noise she was making. She even turned up the tv volume at one point. Luckily, I've been known to fall asleep in front of the tv a few times. In fact, I often turn on the tv and radio and set the sleep timer to turn them off in an hour. The noise from the tv and radio often puts me to sleep. I think it's because I grew up in such a big household, that there was always some sort of noise going on in the background--people laughing, shouting, talking, or just moving about. I found it very comforting at times when I'm having trouble sleeping. It's probably why I fall asleep faster on the sofa in front of the tv than I do when I'm just lying in bed. I was dozing off again when I heard the door slamming shut. I'm pretty sure Teacher went off somewhere, but by then, I was drifting off to sweet unconscious sleep, so I really didn't care.

The next time I woke up, the tv was still on. I looked at the clock and it was about noon. I stretched and turned on my back. I looked to my left and saw Teacher sitting there, remote in hand, giving me a puzzling look, like she was pondering a decision. I just grunted acknowledgment and sat up. I stood up, stretched, and grabbed my gear and some clothes and headed into the bathroom. That cool shower felt refreshing. Today was the big day. In a few hours, Bride would get married, and suddenly I was more awake. It was hard to believe that she was getting married, today, and I felt my chest tightening a bit with that realization. It was a big change, a life changing event that I wasn't sure if I was ready to embrace. But she seemed happy about it, and that's all that really mattered. If she was happy, then I'd be happy for her.

Soon as I got ready and put on some clothes, I came out of the bathroom. Teacher was still watching tv. When I asked her if she was hungry, she snapped at me that she all ready had breakfast. Okay, fine. She was being bitchy. I didn't care. I had other things on my mind. So I sat on the bed and put on my shoes. I told her that I was going out for lunch then. When I grabbed my keys, she suddenly asked me where should we go for lunch. I told her that there was a restaurant next to the hotel or maybe we'd go riding around and find a place to eat. We found a restaurant we both agreed on and got a table by the window. Our conversation was mostly polite, talking about the weather and the menu and what we felt like ordering. We were talking about everything else instead of dealing with the blowout from the night before. But I've all ready said my piece, and I don't regret it, even if it came out harsh. I figured we'd keep to the polite talk while we sort our feelings and digest what was said. I figured wrong.

When we started in on the chips and queso appetizers, Teacher revealed that Boytoy texted her last night. His girlfriend was pregnant. Whoa! I told her that was big. I didn't know how to proceed. This revelation was just more proof that Boytoy was even more attached to his live in girlfriend. I was pretty sure that Teacher must've been devastated at the news, and that probably explained why she was such a bitch the night before--and maybe this morning, too. But that was just my guess. I asked her how she was feeling. She told me that she was fine, and it wasn't like she and Boytoy were serious. She was just having fun.

I didn't believe her at all. She wasn't having fun. Her moody behavior told me that she still had feelings for this jerk. But I wasn't going to push her any further. Whatever happens next would be up to her. I didn't know what else to say, so I changed the subject. I told her that Deceiver was coming to the wedding. That got her attention. She was just as shocked as I had been yesterday when Bride told me the news. I just shrugged and told her that Bride's mom felt sorry for Deceiver, seeing as how Bride and Deceiver used to be friends.

Teacher laughed and said, Deceiver used to be our friend, too! I couldn't help but laugh, and told Teacher that I said the same thing yesterday to Bride! For now, our shared aversion of Deceiver helped to reduce the tension that had been growing between us since last night. Lunch was good; we laughed a little easier and shared jokes and memories. Then we went walking around town, looking into a few shops til it was time to get back to the hotel and get ready for the wedding. I put on my suit and helped Teacher zip up her dress.

We arrived at the church almost an hour ahead of time; we wanted to get good seats. The wedding designer was putting up the last of the flowers and decorations. Half an hour before the wedding, the wedding party arrived, along with a few guests. The photographer started taking wedding pictures. I still hadn't seen Bride yet, and I was anxious to see her and the rest of the wedding party. In the meantime, I started chatting up some of the other guests. Teacher was back to her sullen mood, remaining silent and giving off this cold vibe. Moody, much?

I spotted Bride's friends, the Blond and the Brunette, from the night before and I smiled and waved at them. They smiled back, seemingly relieved to recognize someone friendly in the crowd of strangers. They sat in the pew behind me and we started talking. I have to confess that while I was partly motivated to make them feel welcomed, a small part of me still held out hope that maybe things would head into a fruitful direction, in spite of last night's bust. I was talking to the girls when my partner in crime from last night, Fix, showed up. He greeted the girls, then said that one of the ushers for the wedding was feeling sick (still hung over!). He wanted to know if I could fill in, seeing as I was wearing my black suit and white shirt, I said, Sure! Fix said that Bride would be relieved. So I got up and excused myself and headed over to the church foyer with Fix to meet the wedding planner and the one other usher.

The wedding planner explained that the usher's job was to make sure that the wedding guests would be seated according to whether they were here as the groom's or the bride's guests. Bride's guests on the left, Groom's on the right. Immediate family members were seated at the very front pews reserved for them. Simple enough. So I put on my smile, greeted the guests as they came into the church, and sat them accordingly. The music started playing and the church started filling up. Soon enough, the Groom was at the front and the wedding party started marching in. When the last pair went in, I closed the door behind them and turned to see Bride standing behind me. I felt my heart flutter when I met her eyes and she smiled. She looked stunning, absolutely breathtaking in her white gown and pearls. I told her that she was gorgeous, an absolute goddess. She smiled and said thank you. Then we heard the wedding march and she nodded. Together, the other usher and I counted to three and opened the doors again, revealing Bride in her all her enchanting glory.

I watched her glide gracefully down the aisle, past the standing guests who looked at her with wonder and joy. It was like watching a dream as she moved further away, step by step. The ceremony proceeded smoothly and before I knew it, it was time to exchange vows and rings. I was surprised at how fast this moment had come. It seemed unreal to witness Bride and Groom saying their vows. I was witnessing something intimate and monumental, something sacred. And when the priest asked if anyone had any objections to this union, I wondered, Well, if anyone did object, would they really stop the wedding? Time seemed to stop for a moment, and all I saw was Bride, looking so nervous and happy and absolutely lovely.

Then it was done. They were married. With the ceremony was over, I stood back up and resumed my usher duties, opening the doors to let the wedding party exit. And when Bride passed by, I saw her joy. I felt my heart stop again as I returned her radiant smile. I wanted to freeze this moment in time. I wondered if all brides were this happy, this beautiful on their wedding day.

Teacher and I headed back to the hotel, where the wedding reception would take place. When we entered the reception hall, we dropped off our gifts then found our table. Our table was next to the wedding party table at the front. Fix was there along with the Blond and the Brunette. Fix and I exchanged that look again, and I thought, Why not? So we started our game plan again, turning on the charm for the Blond and the Brunette. Teacher kept to herself while Fix and I were laughing and bantering with Bride's friends. All was going well. Then Teacher gasped, grabbed my arm and said, Deceiver is here! Fix and I turned to look. And it was true! The Deceiver had arrived.

We quickly looked away before she made eye contact. And when we surreptitiously looked again, she was seated at the far end of the hall, right next to the kiddie table! We laughed at that. The Blond and the Brunette were curious as to why we were behaving this way. So Fix told them that we just spotted someone we knew from school. They seemed confused, so I told them that it was a person who was not very nice to us in college. That seemed to answers some of their questions, but I wasn't going to tell them anymore. I didn't want to ruin the good mood Fix and I had created; we had enough problems keeping up a fun, cheery atmosphere with Teacher looking all morose and snippy. But as much as I tried to ignore Deceiver, it was hard not to think about her now that she was here.

For whom the Belles Toll, Part 6

Ring out the old, ring in the new... Ring out the false, ring in the true
--Alfred Tennyson

We weren't always enemies. There was a time when Deceiver was a friend. I remember the first time that I met her. It was the first day of class. She seemed so meek and lonely, especially when the professor had us break into groups to do an exercise. No one had asked her to join their group. I felt bad for her, so I asked her to join our group. She was quiet then, not really saying anything during our class exercise. I thought that maybe she was shy. I was wrong. She wasn't shy. She was merely trying to figure us out. When I met Fix and Bride, they told me that Deceiver was someone they knew of from the old neighborhood. Bride was always friendly to her, as was Teacher. Fix was just polite.

As time went on, Deceiver started hanging around us when we went to the beach or out to lunch. She'd look for us when we were hanging out under a tree or around a table. A few times, she came to parties with us. She was speaking up more, and she often called us to go to the beach or hang out. And when we didn't want to go, she'd whined and complained til we gave in. I didn't mind it too much at first. Then she started making disparaging remarks about people who dressed different or looked different. I'm not sure why she felt the need to put other people down. I suspected her attitude had much to do with her home life. I met her parents once, and once was enough. Her dad was such a jerk, saying demeaning things about people he considered beneath him. Her mother drank heavily and just agreed with her father.

Deceiver started pursuing a guy who was an engineering major. I called him Tesla. Tesla seemed like a nice guy, and he was really smart. He was also one of Fix's fraternity brothers, so I'd often run into him at parties that Fix and I attended. For some reason, Deceiver was under the impression that she and Tesla were in a relationship. She hounded him, and joined all the clubs that he was in, just so she'd spend time with him. It was obvious to everyone that Tesla was just being nice to her, treating her the same way he treated other people. Deceiver was having a relationship with her imagination.

Then Tesla came out. He was gay. And while that wasn't anything too shocking to the rest of us, Deceiver took it particularly hard. She started badmouthing him, talking about how she was misled by him. We ignored her at first, but that just made her complain even more. We weren't sympathetic to her. For one thing, they never had a relationship! And we still hung out with Tesla; his orientation made no difference to us. He was still the same guy. But Deceiver couldn't let it go. It was like she was craving attention, and when we didn't give it to her, she sought it out from a student Christian group. She even tricked me once by telling me that she was going to a prayer group to pray for one of our classmates who died in a car accident. I agreed to go with her, thinking that I was doing something nice to honor someone's memory.

Boy, was I wrong! Instead of praying for the deceased, the junior pastor started lecturing us about the righteous path. The next thing I knew, Deceiver started telling this sob story about how she had been misled and betrayed by a man who used her and then told her that he was gay. I couldn't believe that crap! And when the others in the prayer group started to speak ill of Tesla, I was dumbfounded! Then they turned to me, expecting me to join them in condemning Tesla for being a sinner. That's when I lost it! I snapped at them that maybe they ought to pray for themselves first before condemning others as sinners. I quoted them a Bible verse about casting the first stone if they themselves were without sin.

The stupefied look on their faces with their mouths wide open was my reward for the evening. But I was still pissed off and before I got up to leave, the junior pastor started quoting Bible verses on homosexuality being a sin. His smug and self righteous attitude made me mad! This idiot was trying to lord his Biblical knowledge over me. Big mistake! I come from preacher people. Going back to my great grandparents, there have always been pastors, preachers, and missionaries of various Christian denominations in my family. My mother read the whole Bible with each and every one of us when we became teenagers. It was a rite of passage. And when I started questioning different religions in high school, I started researching and attending various religions, learning all I could about them. So when this smug jackass started quoting catchphrases from the Old Testament, I had to smack his ass down with great vengeance!

So I started quoting him the Old Testament. I countered that it also says that eating pork and eating shellfish was a sin! So if he's ever eaten bacon or shrimp, he has sinned. Blood transfusion are also a sin. That part of the Bible also says that it's okay to own slaves and women were the property of their fathers until they married, and then they became property of their husbands. The junior pastor seemed stunned that I wasn't some idiot off the streets when it came to the Bible. Then I told him to read the New Testament and learn what Jesus said about loving thy neighbor. Then I quoted that Jesus warned of false prophets who preach in his name, act on his behalf, claiming to do his work. When the time comes and they stand before Jesus for acknowledgment, Jesus will tell them to get away from him, because he does not know them!

When the junior pastor flipped to the table of contents trying to find the right book to check on my last quote, I couldn't help but make fun of him. I told him, Oh, my gawd! You can't find a simple book in the New Testament? Even my 9 year old niece knows all the Bible books by heart! What kind of pastor doesn't know the Bible books by memory? I admit, it was petty and low handed, but it served its purpose! The look of embarrassment and shame on the red faced junior pastor and the dumb expressions on the prayer group's faces was so worth it. These mofos wanted to smear someone and they failed miserably. It felt good to kick dirt in their faces while they were down.

I ignored Deceiver for a while after that. Eventually, I revealed to the others what had happened after much prodding and cajoling (and threats!) from them. Fix was particularly pissed that Deceiver was spreading lies about Tesla. We stopped hanging out with Deceiver that semester. And it wasn't until she tearfully apologized the following semester about her actions did we tolerate her presence. I heard that her Christian group had disbanded. I suspected that without any friends, she came crawling back to us. But if the others were willing to accept her back, then I supposed I could, too. All was forgiven. And things were fine for rest of the year. The next year, however, was a totally different story.

Our classes were getting harder and more intense. To get ready for midterms, we started a study group for the classes that we had in common. During our study sessions, Deceiver kept interrupting our progress, wanting to take numerous breaks, go for an ice cream or a snack run. We ignored her and went back to studying. Then as the midterms were a week away, she became even more disruptive. She wanted us to stop studying and go to the movies. When we ignored her, she suddenly grabbed our notes and tossed them in the air! Then she stomped around the living room and said that we were so boring and we should go to the beach. The rest of us exchanged looks that said, What The F*ck? That bitch has gone crazy! The next few days, we avoided Deceiver and ignored her calls while we studied together. She was just too distracting and destructive. When our midterms were over, our hard work paid off. We aced our tests. Deceiver flunked! She'd have to ace the finals just to get a barely passing grade. She was sulking and bitchy that we had done well, but we ignored her. Hell, we had a party to celebrate that midterms were over!

During the rest of the semester, Deceiver apologized for her disruptive actions and we decided that the stress probably made her act crazy. We started to let her hang out with us again, and things were going smoothly, until it was time for finals. One of our class finals had two parts. The first part was a term paper; the second part was a cumulative test on the material. The term paper was a group project due the week before the test. Bride and I teamed up together. A few weeks before finals, we started meeting with the professor and her teaching assistant regarding our project. We were looking for input and emailed them our working paper for critiques. Two weeks before finals, the professor wanted rough drafts to see how the groups were progressing. Suddenly, Bride and I were approached by Deceiver, desperate to join our group. She was having problems with her other partners; she said they weren't doing any of the work and were ignoring her.

Bride and I weren't sure, as we had all ready started working on our final draft. The rough draft we were submitting was the similar to the one we had discussed in our recent meeting with the professor. We kind of felt bad for her, because if she didn't ace the final, she'd flunk the entire course. The professor gave us the okay to work together. And so we started finalizing our paper. We saved our work on a disc, but our data and revisions were copied on my laptop as well. Two days before the paper was due, Deceiver told us that she wanted to type up the paper, seeing as how Bride and I had done most of the research. So we let her take the disc. The plan was that the next day, we'd go over the paper and make any final changes before submitting it.

When the next day came, however, Deceiver was no where to be found. She missed our meeting and didn't return our calls. When we went by her apt, she didn't answer. Bride and I were getting agitated. She had our disc, and we had this sinking feeling that she hadn't typed up anything like she had agreed. Luckily for us, we still had a copy saved on my laptop, and we spent all night working on our final copy. And when we were done typing it, we took off Deceiver's name and emailed our professor and her teaching assistant, informing them of what had happened. The next morning when the paper was due, Deceiver called Bride's phone. She had this sob story about how she had lost the disc and had spent the entire day looking for it. When Bride asked her why didn't she just tell us so we'd start working on the paper ourselves, Deceiver's excuse was that she didn't want us to get mad at her for losing the disc. Bullshit! We knew that she was lying. And when she asked us what we were going to do, Bride told her that we'd work something out with the professor.

We didn't even ask Deceiver to join us for our study group the week before finals. After our written exam, the professor asked Bride and I to meet her at her office. There, we had a revealing discussion. Apparently, Bride had told the professor that she had done most of the work on the paper, and we had pushed her out of the group! We couldn't believe that she had lied so blatantly! Unfortunately for Deceiver, the professor was familiar with our work and knew that Deceiver was lying. Not only did Deceiver flunk the course, but the professor reported her for misconduct. Deceiver was placed on academic probation and had to repeat the course and earn higher grades or get kicked out of college.

The fallout didn't stop there. We had another party to celebrate that finals were over. The next few days, we'd find out our grades. Then we got emails from the Dean of Student Affairs wanting to speak to us. I was the first one to meet her. I couldn't imagine why the Dean wanted to talk to me. When I did meet her, I was shocked! She said that someone had reported that during the party we recently had at my apt, there was a lot underage drinking and drug use. I was blindsided by that! I mean, sure we had drinks at the party, but no one was driving anywhere and most spent the night at my place. But I wasn't going to tell the Dean that! And besides, there were no drugs at the party!

I called upon all of my acting skills and righteous indignation to defend myself. I told the Dean that I was insulted that someone was making these false accusations. I demanded to know the name of my accuser and I wanted to press charges for slander! I worked up a furious anger and started talking about a lawsuit! That got the Dean's attention and she told me that she was just investigating a report. She tried to calm me down. She assured me that no action was going to be taken against me at this point, and that she'd contact me the next day once she ended her inquiry.

I called my friends and told them what went down and what to expect. Everyone was stunned but we decided to stick to the story I started. Everyone was nervous. But quite unexpectedly, everyone else's meeting with the Dean was canceled. The next day, I met the Dean and she said that the complaint had been dismissed. And when I asked her who made the complaint, she revealed that it was Deceiver! I couldn't believe it! That backstabbing, lying bitch!!! When I told the Dean that Deceiver wasn't even at the party, the Dean said that's what her investigation found out. And that in talking to the professors, she learned that Deceiver had a history of lying and misconduct. Forget academic probation. This latest stunt got her kicked out for a whole academic year, and there was no guarantee the university would take her back after that.

When I told the others what had happened, they were shocked at first, then they were really angry. That bitch tried to burn us! And then she had the nerve to send us an apologetic email, asking us for forgiveness! She claimed that she felt like we were leaving her behind as she was failing class, but she didn't want us to move on with out her. That's why she did the things she did. That bitch was just crazy. The girls wanted to kick her ass, but she was all ready gone by the time she sent her pathetic email. Besides, it felt good to know that the university had kicked her out! Karma's a bitch!

Years later, after we had graduated and moved on with life, I heard through the grapevine that Deceiver had moved out of state to marry some divorced guy with three kids. I couldn't imagine her as a mother, and I laughed at how she'd have to compete with children to get the attention she craved. Then two months ago, I got an email out of the blue from her! It was a long apology letter, where she admitted she had wronged us, and she had been a terrible person. She was divorced now and moving back to the state. She also said that she was going into the hospital for surgery, and she wanted to settle her affairs in case the surgery was unsuccessful. Truthfully, I didn't give a damn about her email or her life. I couldn't believe that she even wrote me! So I blocked her email and tried to forget about her. And I haven't thought about her until now.

But whatever unpleasant thoughts I had were pushed aside when the wedding party made their entrance to loud applause and cheers. Seeing Bride's alluring smile made me think only of celebrating her happiness. And it was a fantastic reception. The food was great, the music was fun. We ate, we danced, and we laughed and groaned at some of the speeches. Once again, Worstman gave a horrible speech comparing Bride and Groom's union to a sentence in prison, but at least he wasn't revealing any more secrets about Groom. Fix and I were doing very well with the Blond and the Brunette. We danced with them when we weren't sitting at the table, laughing together. We all did some line dancing, some two stepping, and the wedding standards: The chicken dance, the electric slide, and the cha cha. Then it was just a bunch of mix of different songs to get our groove on. I convinced Teacher to dance one time, then she sat back down and started drinking, keeping herself separate from the rest of us. But by then, I was having too good of a time with Fix and the ladies.

Maybe it was the good spirits I was feeling (or the ones that I had been drinking) that left me in a very generous mood. On the way back from the bathroom, I ran into Deceiver. She said hello and I just looked at her, nodded and kept walking. By the time I made it back to the table, I thought to myself, Well, maybe it's time I just let my anger at her go. And I started feeling sorry for her, especially since her last email said that she had to undergo a serious operation. Maybe she did deserve some kind of acknowledgment as a human being. I almost convinced myself to talk to her when it was time to dance with the Bride. I pinned money on Bride's dress before we started dancing. I told her that she looked absolutely stunning, just beautiful. She laughed and told me that she could tell that I was having a good time. I agreed.

I told her that I was feeling sorry for Deceiver, especially since she had that serious operation. Bride raised an eyebrow and told me that Deceiver didn't have a serious operation. She got a boob job! I was like, Say what? Bride laughed and told me that Bride went in for a boob job two months ago! I couldn't believe it. Once again, I've fallen for that bitch's lies! Bride told me to just let it go and never ever talk to Deceiver again. I grunted my agreement, and finished dancing with Bride and she kissed me on the cheek when our dance ended. I tried to ignore my irritation for falling once again for Deceiver's lies. I thought she was dying, but it turns out, she just wanted to get bigger boobs! Gawd, I was an idiot! Maybe I have drunk too much.

I was watching Deceiver talk on her phone when I had an epiphany: As mad as I was at Deceiver for lying, I was even more mad at myself for not doing anything about it! I was wasting time being angry at her; I ought to get even. I saw two kids at the buffet table, so I went up to them. They were both 9 years old. I gave them each ten dollars, told them what to do when they went back to their table, next to Deceiver. I walked back to my table to watch what would happen, and I wasn't sure if it was going to work. The boys said some things to Deceiver. Then I saw the look of horror on Deceiver's face before she looked down at her dress. The boys went back to eating their food and ignored her as she put on her jacket. It wasn't cold in the hall, but she had her jacket all buttoned up. Even then she kept looking down, drawing her shoulders in. Within half an hour, she got up and left in a hurry. I started laughing then. When Fix asked me what was so funny, I told him it was nothing, but he knew that I had done something that I wasn't quite ready to share yet.

My plan had worked better than I expected. When I approached those boys earlier, I told them what to do. I wanted them to stare at Deceiver. And when she made eye contact, tell her that she looked pretty. Then tell her the top of her dress looked crooked. Tell her that one side seemed lower and bigger than the other. I wanted Deceiver to think that her boob job looked lopsided. Seeing her freak out and leave meant that my plan had succeeded. I almost felt bad for her. Almost. Payback's a bitch.

I was exhilarated and I had a sweet buzz from the alcohol. I was having fun with the Brunette. Fix and I had worked our way around the table so that we were sitting next to the girls instead of across from them. We were doing some flirting when Teacher interrupted us, saying that she had a headache. She gave me a dirty look and said that she wanted to go back to the room. Okay, now I knew that this bitch was trying to c*ckblock me! I was like, Oh hell no! You ain't ruining this like you did last night!

I told the Brunette that I wanted to make sure that Teacher reached the room safely, and I'd be back in a few minutes. I gave her hand a light squeeze before I got up and left with Teacher. Teacher just looked cross the whole time we were in the elevator. Soon as we got in the room, she stalked over to the bed and sat down. I asked her if she needed anything, but she refused, saying that she just wanted to lie down. So I told her to lie down. As I was getting ready to leave, she demanded some ice. So I grabbed the bucket and went to get some ice from the end of the hall. By the time I came back, she had passed out with her shoes still on.

I left the ice in the room, locked the door, and headed back down to to rejoin Fix and the girls. We stayed and enjoyed the reception til was just after midnight, when Bride and Groom were ready to leave. We said good night to Bride and Groom. They were spending the night in the hotel. In the morning when we'd all check out, I'd give them a ride to the airport where they'd catch their flight and embark on their honeymoon. Then we dispersed ourselves. Fix took the Blond to show her the room he was staying in. The Brunette wanted to show me the view from her room on the higher floors. And it was a very nice view from a very nice room.

The next morning I found Teacher still sleeping in her dress. Her shoes had come off at some point. I grabbed some clothes and took a shower. When I was done, I stepped out of the bathroom to find Teacher somewhat awake but groggy. I handed her a glass of water to drink. When she was done with her shower, we packed up most of our stuff, then went for breakfast. She was quiet and contemplative and we didn't say much at first. Then she surprised me by apologizing for her behavior. She was sorry that she had been such a bitch this whole weekend. I told her that she wasn't a bitch the whole weekend...just most of the weekend. That got a dry laugh out of her. She thanked me for being a friend and for putting up with her crap. She said that she slept well last night, knowing that I was watching over her. Well, she didn't need to know everything, so I just nodded.

We said good bye to Fix and the others before dropping off Bride and Groom at the airport. On the drive home, Teacher was quiet. I think she had some things on her mind. So did I. Eventually Teacher fell asleep. It started to rain after a while, and I started thinking about another rainy day so long ago, in a barn alone with a beautiful woman, being closer than we've ever been in our lives. And I thought about Bride and how happy she looked when we danced at her wedding and when we hugged at the airport. I thought about things that happened and what could've been; I thought about what was, and what is, and what if. And I couldn't help but sigh, thinking that her hair still smelled the same, that sweet scent of green apples that I remember so fondly.

Friday, October 23, 2009

For whom the Belles Toll, Part 4


The Widow led us into the big house, and I was reminded of why it was such a good place for holding social functions. It was a really big house! It was the unofficial social hall for the community. Christmas parties and fund raising dinners were held here. Once, I attended a party for the local 4H club; those kids were so excited about going to a conference. I heard that a few weddings had taken place on the ranch. Well, I could understand why. It was a very beautiful rustic setting.

Widow introduced us to some people who where sitting and drinking in the living room. Then she took us to the kitchen, the hub of activity, with people cooking, making drinks, and laughing. We met a few more people and Widow told us to help ourselves to some drinks and snacks. The rehearsal dinner would take place outside in a short while. Teacher grabbed a glass of wine while I took a bottle of water. We went out back to the yard where the rehearsal dinner would take place.

The back yard was huge and there were plenty of tables and chairs set up outside, arranged in rows. I could see strings of decorations and lights that hung between trees and over the tables. The rows of trees provided ample shade from the sun. Beyond the field was the red barn, magnificent against the blue skies and the green grass. It would be a few more hours til the sun set, but the air was cool and dry, a sure sign that autumn was here. The atmosphere was perfect.

Some people were sitting at unmarked tables. I recognized a few of them, so Teacher and I went over to say hello and chit chat for a bit. Then I excused myself to walk over to where several men were huddled around the grill. I knew a few of them as workers on the ranch and we exchanged pleasantries. The rehearsal dinner was done in true Texas style BBQ.

In this part of Texas, BBQ is seasoned meat that's been slow cooked and smoked with mesquite over hours, using indirect heat, causing the meat to be tender and juicy and full of flavor. You don't use any BBQ sauce. I knew that the BBQ meat and ribs were done--I smelled that sweet mesquite scent in the kitchen as the cooks were slicing and dicing that tender meat goodness. My mouth was watering while I was in the kitchen, but I resisted sampling a piece of the meat, preferring to wait til the actual dinner.

Grilling is different from BBQ. Grilling is cooking food like hamburgers and hot dogs and chicken legs and sausages directly over high heat. It was funny listening to the fellas exchange recipes and tips on how to grill, about using a dry rub or marinade; whether to start with the meat's fat side down or up on the grill; how to use beer as flavoring; how long to keep the meat on the grill before turning it. All the while, the griller just nodded and did what he wanted; everyone else just grunted their approval when the griller turned the meat. Grilling is a manly, bonding experience; trust me. It reached back to a time when the cavemen first discovered fire and learned how to cook meat over it; huddled together to share in the bounty of their hunt; trying to survive in a cold, harsh world.

I spent some time chatting with the fellas before I turned back to the table where Teacher and I sat. She was looking at her phone, excluding herself from the group's conversation. She was probably texting Boytoy, again. I sighed and headed back to the table, trying to think of a way to get Teacher to hang up that stupid phone and stop making a fool of herself. She was pouting when I got there, and I really didn't feel like opening up a whole can of worms, especially here. I asked her quietly if she was all right. She said yes. I told her that she didn't look all right. That got her to say that she was texting Boytoy but he hadn't responded. So I told her not to text him anymore; I'm sure he would text back when he got the chance. That got her to pout even more, and she totally tuned me out, turning away from the table and going back to her phone. I was getting irritated by this. For a smart woman, she sure was acting stupid.

I ignored her and joined the group conversation at the table. It was small talk about what was going on the community--some gossip and some local events. I asked them what they could tell me about the Groom, since I didn't know who he was. Before they could answer, someone squeezed my shoulder from behind and surprised me. To my excitement, that someone was a friend of mine! I call him Fix, because he's an engineer. I hadn't seen Fix since he attended Rancher's funeral. Most of our college friends who could make it showed up to support our friend in her time of loss. We've kept in touch with the odd email and phone call over the years.

I actually met the Bride through Fix during college. Fix was in the Greek system and I met him through another friend who was in a fraternity. We often hung out at my place or at parties or the beach. Fix and I took a Statistics class and during a group project, he asked one of the girls to join us. That girl was the Bride. Fix and Bride were actually cousins. They shared the same fun, easy going personality that endeared them both to me. We spent a lot of time hanging out in college and going on road trips and having fun wherever we happened to end up. They grew up in this area, but were now living other cities. But I guess this part of the country was still home to them. Fix and I took some time to catch up with each other. Fix was fun to hang out with, because he was down for anything, and he had this mischievous glint in his eyes. Even Teacher came out of her sulky mood to greet Fix.

Fix proceeded to tell me a little about Groom. Groom worked as sous chef in one of the local restaurants. He and Bride met through mutual friends at a bowling party over a year and a half ago, and they've been together since. Fix said that Groom was a nice guy, but I couldn't help but have a small doubt about that. I guess I was just protective when it came to my friends. I mean, I haven't met the guy yet, so I suppose I'll make up my mind when I meet him.

I didn't have to wait long though, because I heard a commotion at the back door. The wedding party had arrived, and leading the pack was Bride. We got up and went to greet her. She looked so happy and excited to see us. She looked fantastic. And it felt good to hug her and share in her joy. I told her that she looked great, and she laughed and thanked me. She leaned in and whispered that she had some news she needed to tell me. I raised my eyebrow as she took my arm and led me a short distance away to whisper,"Don't be get mad, but Deceiver is invited to the wedding."

I felt a flare of anger at the mention of that cursed name! Well, her name wasn't actually Deceiver. I just call her that because she was a big fat liar and a backstabbing biatch! I had the urge to leave immediately before I lost my damn mind, but Bride had a firm grip on my arm.

She continued, "My mother said it would be just awful to not invite her, seeing as how we grew up together and used to be friends."

"Used to be friend is the operative phrase," I grumbled. But I took a deep breath and reeled my emotions in. I told Bride, "Don't worry, I won't throw a tantrum."

Bride laughed, "I know that! Throwing tantrums is Deceiver's thing."

And I laughed with her, because that was true. But I was worried about that and Bride noticed, "Don't worry. She won't act up. Not unless she wants to be completely ostracized. And I've made sure you two are on opposite ends of the seating arrangement."

I felt a little guilty that Bride would make arrangements based on my comfort level. This was her day, and she shouldn't have to worry about petty fights and drama on her wedding day. So I told her, "Thank you. But you didn't have to do that, ya know. I wouldn't have caused any problems, ya know?"

"I know," she said,"Just wanted to give you a heads up." Still holding my arm, she led me back to the main group and introduced me to the Groom.

I caught the surprised and wary look in the Groom's eyes as he gave a fleeting glance to Bride's arm wrapped around mine. He recovered quickly, smiled cautiously and reached out to shake hands and greet me. I returned his smile and we both did a quick body check of each other. We shook hands, a little too tightly, and exchanged, Howdys. I was taller than him by an inch and half, but that didn't stop him from straightening his back and pulling back his shoulders, trying to add to his height. I was still taller, and I tried not to smirk.

Bride had moved on to greet the other guests. Groom said that he's heard so much about me, and he was really glad to finally meet me. The slight uncertainty in his tone made me question the sincerity of his statement. But I was unfazed and replied that I was glad to meet him as well. Then I added, I wanted to meet the lucky man who was making Bride so happy these days. I could tell there was moment where he was probably pondering the truthfulness of my words. But he let it go and introduced me to his best man.

His best man was a tall, skinny, scruffy guy whose hair was unkempt and his eyes were bloodshot red. His clothes looked rumpled with some noticeable stains, some old and some new. He was loud and kept cussing. He liberally used muthf*ckin this and f*ckin that in his sentences. Now, I don't mind people cussing when the situation warrants it. But I find it uncouth in mixed company and in the presence of ladies, especially older ones at a social function. And in the corner of my eyes, I noticed the disapproving looks from some of the elderly ladies standing on the veranda.

Luckily, Fix stepped in and introduced me to various other wedding party members and guests. Then we joined the line to get our food and drinks and returned to our table. I found Teacher sitting there, sulking again at her phone. She didn't get herself a plate, so I told her that I'd get her one. I went back up to the line and got another plate for her. Fix and I started talking with the other people at our table. We met two new people, Bride's friends from work. Fix and I exchanged a quick look, and it was like we were back in college. I knew that look, and I was trying really hard to suppress a wicked smile. Fix used his left hand to rub his chin really quick. I got the message: He wanted the blond girl sitting on the left, the one facing him. That meant I would be go for the brunette on the right, sitting across from me. And so the game began.

We started by telling little jokes and getting the girls to relax. It helped that we had access to alcohol. We made small talk to find out bits of information about the girls--their interests, their hobbies, places they've traveled. And once we gleamed a little of that info, we used it to build each other up to our prospects. The Blond said she recently went to a music concert. So I told her that Fix was big music lover and goes to a lot of concerts. They started talking about their musical tastes and which artists had real talent and which were just hype. That progressed into a discussion of upcoming concerts and tentative plans to see those concerts together. It wasn't really about going to the concerts. Nope. The whole point of the exercise was to establish a rapport and build upon that. If she could envision going to concerts with Fix, then she was comfortable enough to receive his attentions.

The same thing with the Brunette when she mentioned she loved traveling. Fix told her that I had recently traveled to Europe. So the Brunette and I started comparing and contrasting our experiences with Europe, laughing over things that we found unexpected. We discussed food and wines and eateries. We kept laughing and talking and I made sure there was enough alcohol to keep the mood light and enjoyable. Things were progressing very nicely. It was only a matter of time before Fix and I would make a play for a win to end the game.

Our conversation was only stopped for a short while when the Bride and Groom stood up to say thank you to the members of the wedding party and gave them gifts. They also said how happy they were to have us share this joyous occasion with them. Then the parents of the engaged couple took turns speaking, telling little stories about their own marriages and how they were so happy for the engaged couple. A few people took the opportunity to tell their own little tales about what they knew about the engaged couple. Some were funny and heartwarming stories. Others were just light teasing. It was so cheesy and fuzzy but in good fun.

Then things took a wrong turn when the best man told the story of how he and Groom used to cut class so they could get high. Then he talked about the time he picked up Groom in his truck and went to the lake to get drunk. On the way back, he drove into a ditch and Groom got dirty while pushing the truck so they could get out of the ditch. He said they were lucky the cops weren't around since he could not keep the truck from going over the lines, even though he was driving very slowly. Everybody looked uncomfortable then. Groom had this WhatTheF*? look on his face; his parents looked stunned. I thought, Good gawd! That was a terrible story! Why the hell would you bring that stuff up now? Underage drinking, drugs, and drunk driving? What was wrong with him? That's the kind of secret that you take to the grave! That dude is the worst best man ever!

Groom's expression changed into embarrassment. Bride had put her hand over his, being supportive I suppose. There was an awkward tension in the air as the mood had changed from happy to uncomfortable. This was bad. I hadn't planned on speaking, but I couldn't leave things as they were. So I stood up and marched over to the head table where the wedding party was seated. I had no idea what I wanted to say. So I said the first thing that came to mind. I said that Bride has always been a wonderful friend, ready to lend a hand, whether it was to pull me up when I've fallen down or smack some sense into me when I was being an idiot. Smart, beautiful, funny, always kind and forgiving. In all the years that I've known Bride, she's spent a lot time making other people happy. So it's quite an honor and joy for me to see that this time, someone was making her happy. And any man who was truly lucky enough to make Bride happy is an honorable one, most worthy of sharing her love and happiness. I congratulated them both and wished them much joy and good fortune for a long and wonderful union. I said, Cheers! And the guests echoed my sentiments.

Bride hugged me and I shook Groom's hand; whatever silly issue we had between us was gone. The important thing was, the celebratory mood had returned. I went back to my table to find cheers and admiration from the group. Fix patted me on the shoulder and the Brunette was smiling at me. Things were heading in a very promising direction. By now the sun was setting and the strings of white light were turned on. The DJ started playing some music and some people started dancing. It added a wonderful ambiance to the yard. People were breaking up into groups, mingling, laughing, dancing, wandering from table to table.

We were done eating, and I offered to take away the plates from the table. After dropping off the plates, I turned to find Bride taking my hand and we danced for a little bit. It was good to see her smile.

I saw Groom talking to his best man at the table. Bride just rolled her eyes and I laughed and told her,"That dude is the worst best man ever! In fact, I'm calling him the Worstman!"

Bride laughed and told me, "He really is the worst best man ever. He didn't even set up a bachelor party for Groom, which is awful considering, when he got married, Groom set him up a bachelor party."

I couldn't believe it!, "That dude is married? Good gawd! What woman needed a green card that bad? And why the hell is the best man? It's the best man's job to set up the Groom's bachelor party! Seriously, why is he the best man?"

Bride laughed, "He's divorced now. But Groom was best man at his wedding, so now he's returning the honor. And they really do go back a long ways. I just think that he's a lazy, inconsiderate idiot. And it pisses me off that Groom has done so much for him, and he hasn't even thought about doing anything nice in return."

I could hear the disappointment in Bride's voice, and I felt bad for Groom, being stuck with an idiot and ingrate for a best man. Seriously, that dude needs to get new friends! When I walked back towards the table, I met a cheerful Teacher. That made me suspicious. Something sketchy was going on. She told me that Boytoy had finally responded with several messages after she sent him a pic. She seemed to gloat. She had sent him a picture of me on the bed and told him that we were sharing that bed. I was flabbergasted! She basically used me and misrepresented the situation in order to make Boytoy jealous! I was not happy about that. And it wasn't because I didn't like being used by a girl to make someone else jealous; hell, I've done that a few times with my friends when they wanted get someone's attention.

My problem was Boytoy! I was pissed at him for taking advantage of Teacher, but I was also getting ticked off at Teacher for being so stupid. She was just a booty call and that's the sad truth. That boy was not going to leave his girlfriend for her! And when we got back to the table, Teacher said that she wanted to go back to the hotel. It was only 8 p.m.! I wasn't ready to go to bed yet! I knew that she just wanted to back to the room so she could text and talk to Boytoy without so many people around. Oh, hell no! Then she wrapped her arm around mine, totally ruining my game with the Brunette, who was now giving me the raised eyebrow and not the coy smile! Even the Blond sensed the change in our dynamic and was starting to pull away from Fix, just so her friend wouldn't get left out. Sigh. So much for a winning play. Teacher's antics were getting on my nerves!

I looked out across the field and saw Groom sitting on the veranda, talking to his parents--I'm pretty sure it was an uncomfortable conversation, given how Worstman had revealed some of his youthful indiscretions. I felt really bad for the guy. I turned to Fix and asked him if he knew that Groom didn't have a bachelor party. Fix said that sucks, and I agreed. Then I thought, what the hell, I'm sure we can do something for him. Maybe go to a bar or something. I suddenly remembered what Fix told me about Groom meeting Bride that first time at a bowling alley. And I recalled that there was a bowling alley with cheap drinks and good food about a 40 minute drive from here. So I told Fix my idea, and he liked it. I told him that since he knew these guys better, maybe he could just tell a few of them to join us with Groom and go bowling. Keep it quiet and don't tell Groom. We agreed to tell them that we were all going to pay for ourselves and for Groom. I wasn't sure whether we should invite Worstman, but Fix laughed and said, well, we should since he is the best man. I grudgingly agreed and we set our plan in motion.

I told Teacher that I had to be somewhere and that I could drop her off at the hotel. I'd probably be back at the hotel late. Then I sought out Bride and told her that I wanted to take her husband out for a drink, but I needed her help. She told Groom that one of her relatives drove down for the wedding but was having car trouble. She asked him to go with me in my car to pick up that relative. Groom agreed. I went and talked to Fix, who said that he and few guys were leaving now, and they would arrive a few minutes before Groom and I did at the bowling alley. Fix laughed and told me that Worstman had wanted us to hire a stripper, but Fix shot him down. I was like, If that jackass wanted to hire strippers, he should've done that weeks ago! It is way too late in the game to be hiring strippers! You can't just call one out of the blue this late! You're likely to get ripped off! It's a very shady business full of shifty characters. If these were responsible and reputable people, they wouldn't be strippers in the first place!

Groom and I dropped Teacher off at the hotel, making sure she went past the lobby before I drove off. During the 40 minute drive, Groom and I made small talk--about childhood homes and schools and sports teams, a little bit about Bride. And when we turned into the bowling alley parking lot, a few people were waiting for us. Groom looked at me and I told him, Well, this is your bachelor party dude. I hear you like bowling. Groom looked surprised. The he laughed and we got out of the car.

We headed into the bowling alley and I paid for Groom's shoe rental. They were playing a mix of top 40 and rock hits in the bowling alley along with some one hit wonders, which put us in an upbeat mood. We got ourselves a lane and took turns buying rounds of cheap--but good--beer. I stuck with water. I don't bowl often, and I'm a sucky bowler, but I had a blast. I bowled a few gutter balls, but the funny thing was, I got three strikes when those gutter balls bounced back on the lane and knocked those pins down. I don't know how I did it, but it was fantastic! Groom was really good, even when he got tipsy towards the end. Some of the other guys were really good, too. We laughed and bantered and bowled. It was fun, and it was a lot less expensive than a bar. We stayed for hours, drinking and even snacking on the cheesy, delicious enchiladas and nachos til the place closed after midnight. By the time I dropped Groom off at his place, we'd become chummy with each other. He seemed really happy (could've been the alcohol), but he thanked me for a great time before entering his house.

It was almost 2:30 in the morning when I got back to the hotel. I just wanted to shower and then fall asleep til noon. The wedding wouldn't take place til four in the afternoon, plenty of time for me sleep and for Groom to sober up. But when I opened the door, I was surprised to find Teacher still awake, flipping through tv channels. I said a quick hello, but she didn't reply. I grabbed some stuff from my bag, hopped in the shower, and let that hot water wash over me. It felt so good and relaxing. And when I came out of the bathroom, I wore boxers and a T shirt--a lot more than what I usually wear to bed. I made my way to the unoccupied side of the bed and got under the covers. Teacher was still watching tv and just as I was about to fall asleep, she suddenly asked, "Where have you been?"

She sounded angry, so I rolled over and sure enough, she looked pissed, except she wasn't looking at me, just at the tv. I said, "Just went out with the guys."

She just hmph. I didn't know why she was so upset, so I asked her, "What wrong?"

She snapped back, "What do you think is wrong?"

Okay, that just made me irritated so I said,"I can't read minds so either tell me now or forget about it, because I'm tired and I'm going to sleep."

"You left me alone!," she accused,"and you didn't tell me how long you were going to be gone!"

"What?", now I was confused,"You wanted to come back early to the hotel and I told you that I was going out and I was coming back late."

She replied,"I just feel like you're not here for me."

That made me mad, so I told her, "You know what, I'm here for Bride's wedding, and I sure as hell have always been here for you!"

The conversation that I had been dreading was now taking place. But at this point, I was too pissed off and too tired to think of the right words, so I just told her, "I'm worried about you, because you're in a very bad situation. I don't want to see you get hurt. And when the sh*t hits the fan and all hell breaks loose, you better remember that no one, no one, ever sides with the other woman. They always sympathize with the wife or girlfriend. People will blame you! If that boy wanted to leave his girlfriend, he'd have done it a long time ago! That boy is playing the both of y'all. You're the puppet and he's pulling all the strings. You need to be careful. These things always end up badly, especially for the other woman. I would hate to see you get burned in all of this."

With my rant over, I suddenly felt so much lighter. The troubling thoughts that weighed heavily on my mind were gone, now that I had spoken them out loud. I took off my shirt and snuggled under the covers. I needed to be comfortable if I was ever going to get any sleep. I left Teacher to her thoughts. Maybe I had been too harsh with her, but at the moment, I didn't care. She needed to hear the truth. I was just tired--tired of her antics, tired of dealing with jackasses, and just tired from all the day's and night's activities. And in a few hours, I'd have to deal with so much more. I just wanted to close my eyes and go to sleep. And soon enough, I did.