We will be having a little party on the afternoon of Saturday August 1st, at 26 Bridge BK Venues, to celebrate our marriage (to take place in an even littler ceremony beforehand, with which we won't be boring anybody but immediate family). You're very welcome to come to the party if you'd like to, with any guests you want to bring. If you do come, please wear whatever you want.
Loads of love,
Chita & Dennis xxx <3
Almost everyone whose name appeared after the "Dear" read their copy of this note with some degree of amusement, and only a very few with old-fashioned disapproval. Many of them set to work composing formal, paper replies; one (of several) who did not do this was Oscar Venkman. When he read the note in his Los Angeles home, he realised two things: firstly, that a formal letter would not be in keeping with the spirit of the invitation and secondly, that he had, without knowing it, been waiting years for this.
Now when, Oscar wondered, had he found Conchita chuckling over a response to the fictional Anne Shirley's engagement in one of the Green Gables sequels? Either she must have been a far more precocious reader than he remembered, or he must have found a rare moment for such things back when Mood Slime, his band, was at the height of its career. The latter seemed more likely, Oscar thought; perhaps that was why it had stuck in his memory, though it was only a little thing. Not that he could remember the name of the specific Anne book, nor even more than two or three words of the quote he wanted, but he went to the small trouble of finding out online. The result was a text message over which Conchita guffawed and Dennis puzzled. It began, in the words of L.M. Montgomery (only substituting her spinster sisters' plural with Oscar's singular):
Then it finished, in Oscar's own words:
"This is huge!" said Garrett, waving a copy of the invitation that was addressed to Garrett, Jo and Max. "I mean, she must be more excited than this makes her seem."
"Of course," said Kylie. "She's super excited."
"But she's keeping a lid on it," added Eduardo.
"Don't you think Dennis is excited too?" said Kylie.
"Well, that's a given," said Garrett. "We're all sick of saying that we hope Dennis knows how lucky he is. He didn't have anything to do with wording this invite, though, did he?"
"Probably not," Kylie admitted.
"I think it's great," said Roland. "Leave it to Chita to show that it's not just a choice between begging people to be there, and doing it under the radar to keep them away."
"Right," said Eduardo. "It's a huge deal to her, and anybody else who wants it to be, without any pressure. She doesn't believe in making people feel like crap if they don't happen to want to go to your wedding."
"She doesn't believe in making people feel like crap for any reason," Roland pointed out.
"True," said Eduardo.
"That's why she alphabetised the names on the family invites," said Kylie. "So no one would think she was prioritising anybody over anybody else."
Garrett held his own invitation still at last, and looked at it. "She did?"
"Yes," said Kylie. "Garrett, Jo, Max. G, J, M."
"Oh," said Garrett. "I didn't notice. I mean, everything from people who knew me first is addressed like that. Y'know, because I was there, then Jo came along, and then Max."
"We noticed it," said Roland.
"You would," Garrett said defensively. "What must yours say? Adam... Grace... Lucy, Natalie and Roland." The last three came easily. "That's obvious. Unless Nat got a separate one," he added, for Roland's stepdaughter had been living independently for some years now.
"She did," said Kylie. "Chita was a little afraid it would hurt her feelings... like she wasn't being included in the family or something. But in the end she decided on a strict rule of one invitation per household. One rule for everyone, no hurt feelings, she said."
"These things were never gonna hurt anyone's feelings, Ky," said Garrett, putting his invitation down on the coffee table. "Anyway, Rolster, your alphabetised one is still more obvious than ours."
"Okay, Gar," said Roland. He really didn't want to argue the point, and so he was quite relieved when the front door could be heard to open, followed by the sound of energetic young footsteps.
"Hi, guys!" said Max, making his way through the living room and into the kitchenette, damp and breathless from running. He stooped to take a brightly-coloured energy drink from the fridge, then bounced up and down on the balls of his feet between sips. The older generation, sitting on the three-piece suite, felt suddenly tired just looking at him.
"Hi, Max," they all said pleasantly. Then Roland added, "How are you?"
"I'm cool," said Max. "Great news about Chita," he added, grinning broadly at Eduardo and Kylie.
"Yeah, she's really happy," said Kylie.
"Cool," said Max. "She deserves to be. Okay if I grab a shower?"
"No," Garrett said flippantly.
Max smiled indulgently at him, saying, "I mean, does anyone need to use the bathroom first?"
No one had felt that they needed to use the bathroom until that moment; now, suddenly, they all did. Max waited for them with a good-natured smile on his face, still bouncing all the while, stopping only to do a few stretches every now and then. The last person (Kylie) was just out of the bathroom when Jo arrived home with her arms full of grocery bags.
"Hey, Mom," said Max, taking two of the bags from her. "I'm about to take a shower. Do you want to use the bathroom first?"
"Um... yeah, I will," said Jo, as she and Max deposited the groceries in the kitchenette. "Hey, I'll wash that stuff for you if you put it straight in the machine, honey."
"You don't have to do that," said Max.
"No, it's fine," said Jo. "I was thinking of putting a load through the machine anyway."
"Okay," Max said amiably; then, quite unembarrassed, he stripped to his underwear and stuffed his running gear into the washing machine.
Jo went to the bathroom, as promised. When she came back, she said to Max, "I bought you a ton of Snickers bars, hon. They were on special."
"Thanks, Mom," said Max, going off for his shower at last. "Give some to these guys – I don't think I could eat a ton!"
"Don't get your hopes up, guys," Garrett said quietly, as Max disappeared into the bathroom. "I don't think we're going to be allowed any of Max's Snickers bars."
"Well... I could probably spare four," said Jo, who then proceeded to empty an entire bag of Snickers onto the worktop. The others all burst out laughing.
"Jo," said Garrett, "were they really on special?"
"Of course!" Jo was indignant. "If they weren't, I probably would've just gotten him two or three... or so. But this way I'm hoping they'll last... you know," and she shot Garrett a loaded look.
"Whoa, wait a minute," said Roland. "What is this? Is Max okay?"
"He seems just as chirpy as ever," added Kylie.
"He is just as chirpy as ever," said Jo. "But he won't be. In the summer," she added significantly.
Eduardo and Roland both looked utterly baffled, but Kylie exclaimed, "Oh! Those girls are about to graduate college!" Then she thumped Eduardo on the knee and said, with an air of relief, "That must be what's worrying Rose."
"Oh, yeah," said Eduardo. "That makes sense."
Roland raised his eyebrows. "Something's worrying Rose?"
"She says she's fine," said Kylie. "And I guess she is. Of course, it's Max she's worried about!"
"We all are," said Garrett, "Jo, honey, come over here, sit down, have a Snickers bar," for Jo had begun sorting a second load of laundry, which he could see consisted entirely of items belonging to Max. "Clean clothes now won't mend a broken heart in six weeks' time."
Jo sighed, abandoned the laundry and came to sit down with the others, bringing five Snickers bars with her. She tore hers open and bit into it straight away, then said miserably through a mouthful of chocolate, peanut and nougat, "I just want to help him."
"You know, guys," said Roland, "he doesn't seem like a guy who's about to break his heart. I mean, he must know Clodagh's going home soon. Maybe he's... you know... okay with it... kind of?"
Jo shook her head. "You know how Max is: when he's happy, he's really happy; when he's sad, he's absolutely miserable. There's no in between. As soon as she's gone..." Then she stopped, as though the thought were too terrible to speak aloud.
"We don't know that, babe," said Garrett. "I can see why you'd think that, but let's just wait and see, shall we? I mean, second-guessing people's feelings... that's kind of annoying, isn't it?"
"That's why I don't do it to his face," said Jo.
"He's probably noticed the way you are, Jo," Kylie said gently. "You know... with the Snickers and the impromptu laundry and everything."
"It'd bug the hell out of me," said Eduardo.
Garrett gave him a hard look. "My boy is nothing like you, Eddie."
It was on the tip of Eduardo's tongue to suggest that, in this particular instance, the only difference between him and Max lay in how they responded to the people who were bugging the hell out of them. But then he realised it wasn't really any of his business, so he shrugged and said nothing.
"How are your kids, Roland?" asked Kylie, thinking it was time to change the subject.
"Oh, fine," said Roland. "Lucy's very interested in her YouTube channel, and Adam's started dating a girl he knows from the school debate club."
"Yeah?" said Garrett. "Is that anything like the debate club Ky and Eddie used to have?"
"No," said Roland. "They always take the same side."
"That sounds nice and safe," said Jo, gazing over at the pile of Snickers bars in the kitchenette.
"This girl may break Adam's heart yet," said Kylie. "Like, maybe she'll want to go to Stanford when he wants to go to Yale, or something."
"California isn't Ireland," Jo said with a sigh.
"You're right," said Eduardo. "Ireland's closer."
Jo turned her head to look at him, her face utterly emotionless, as she tried to work out what to make of this remark.
One of her favourite things in the park was the Alice in Wonderland sculpture; C.S Lewis's crazy story, and its famous illustrations by John Tenniel, had inspired Clodagh's own artwork since childhood. It was on a still, pleasant evening in early May that she persuaded Max (without difficulty, it must be said) to sit on the toadstool beside the Mad Hatter while she walked around the sculpture, observing and sketching from all angles, enchanting him with the movement of her hair as she bent her head over her sketchbook, looked up, held his gaze, then looked down again.
"Take someone like Rose or Anna, now," she said to him as she worked. "If someone who... you know... hasn't been to art college, says your picture reminds them of a children's illustration, they mean it as a compliment. But people like them, and most of the other students... serious artists, I mean... that's the last thing they want to hear."
Max furrowed his brow. "Why?"
"Because it's year one stuff, I guess," Clodagh said with a shrug. "Kids' stories are associated with simplicity: clear lines that any child can understand and bright, un-scary colours. Not challenging. By year two, they're looking for something deeper... less commercial, you know?"
"I... guess," said Max, though he didn't sound too sure. "But you're a serious artist."
She laughed at that. "I am! But that doesn't mean I have to agree with the rest of them."
He laughed with her, although he couldn't see the joke. She possessed the clichéd "infectious laugh", or at least, it was infectious to Max. For him, everything about Clodagh MacAuley was moreish. She was certainly striking with her soft, lilting voice, her bright hazel eyes, and buoyant copper curls framing an interesting face. Max had been charmed to find that she had a personality to match all this and then, several weeks into their relationship, her introduction to the musical Barrett/Venkman/Wallance clan had revealed an ability to sing Irish ballads so beautifully as to bring him near tears.
Max knew that what he felt for Clodagh was generally thought to be infatuation. He had a sort of feeling (though he could not have put it into words) that those who worried most about the coming summer saw her as somehow otherworldly; they seemed to think that when she left, she would disappear forever into some inaccessible fairy land. They felt this, and took it for granted that Max felt it too. But he knew better. He saw and, indeed, loved her for the human being that she was.
"There now," she said, walking towards Max and turning her sketchbook towards him. "Amn't I as deep as our mutual friends?"
She had drawn Max with the Wonderland folk in a style clearly influenced by John Tenniel, and yet very much her own (as, indeed, José de Creeft had done with the sculpture that inspired her). He was depicted not as one from Alice's overworld, but as a whimsical and cheerful water sprite.
"See?" Clodagh added, with a little laugh. "I noticed that you like to swim."
"I think there's more to it than that." Max admired the picture for a few moments more, then stood up when he realised the slanted bronze toadstool was actually very uncomfortable. "I love it."
"You can have it." Clodagh tore the page out of her sketchbook and handed it to him.
"Thank you." He folded the page in half, dimly remembering that he had seen something like this in a movie or on TV, and ought really to tuck the picture away in a large pocket next to his heart... but he simply didn't have one. He was, as always, wearing a T-shirt and sweatpants.
"Thanks for sitting down so long," said Clodagh. "You probably want to stretch your legs."
"I wouldn't mind," said Max.
"Let's go to the Shakespeare Garden. Here, I'll carry that for you," and she took back her sketch so as to put it in her bag, along with the book from which it came.
They held hands and walked in silence until they reached the garden. Max knew that it claimed to be populated with plants mentioned in Shakespeare's plays, and he took its word for that, having no knowledge of his own against which to judge. He was no patron of the arts, while Clodagh was no athlete. When they were surrounded by greenery, she squeezed his hand and said, "You want to run, don't you?"
"How did you know?" said Max.
"Because I know you," said Clodagh.
Max smiled. "And you want to sit and reflect, right?"
"I do!" She smiled back "I'll wait for you on that pixies' bench over there."
The bench she indicated wasn't anything like pixie-sized, but it was made from wood that had clearly had very little done to it between its life as a tree and its afterlife as a bench. Max knew that Clodagh liked that kind of thing, as she herself had produced similar (though much smaller) items when studying sculpture. She went to the bench, and Max joined her there after a heart-waking, head-clearing run. He didn't sit down, though; he went through his warm-down routine as usual.
"Feel better?" asked Clodagh.
"Yeah," Max answered breathlessly.
"I'm sorry – I think I chose the worst toadstool on that thing."
"What? Oh, that." He shook his head. "It wasn't that. Clodagh... there's something we're not talking about, isn't there?"
Clodagh nodded, her laughing eyes suddenly serious. "An elephant in the room, as they say."
Some people may have said that but Max, while not averse to the odd figure of speech, was for the most part no more figurative than he was artistic. He came right out and said what he meant: "I don't want you to go."
"You don't?" said Clodagh.
"No. Because I love you."
"Well, I love you too."
Max was standing with his legs apart, his body bent double and his hands wrapped around his ankles. At these words, left unspoken for a year and a half, he looked up but couldn't seem to straighten his body.
"You know I have to go, don't you?" Clodagh said gently. "Because of paperwork and stuff."
"Yeah." Max managed to straighten up at last. "I know."
"And then, you know... one or both of us might find out... it's not what we thought."
"No!" Max was almost never angry, but that nearly did it. If Clodagh of all people thought he was no more than infatuated, it would be too much. "Not me."
"That's how I feel too," she hastened to assure him. "It was just a thought. It'd be less complicated if it were true, wouldn't it?"
"Yeah, well... what's so wrong with complicated?"
She smiled at that. "The course of true love never did run smooth. That's what you mean."
"Maybe. I'm no Shakespeare." Then he frowned. "That... was Shakespeare, wasn't it?"
Clodagh nodded. "A Midsummer Night's Dream. My favourite."
"I don't know it," said Max. "And I don't know anything about art, either. Or music."
"So what?" said Clodagh. "Anyway, you do know something about art because you're sensitive. Y'know, when you and I crossed paths at Anna's party, I was excited to meet a nice guy who was tall and athletic and just a little bit away with the fairies. I didn't dare hope you'd be anything much more than that. But you are, Max... so much more."
"Really?" said Max, puzzled. He honestly couldn't think of anything else. "I always kinda prided myself on being uncomplicated."
"Well," said Clodagh, smiling, "you just admitted that your love life's not uncomplicated. I have to go home. I want to go home. I don't want to leave you, honey, but there's other people back there I'd like to see, you know?"
"Oh, yes," said Max.
"But I can come back and visit you," Clodagh went on. "And maybe, before that, you can come to Galway to visit me. Have you ever been to Ireland?"
"Well, then. And we can see how things go... and then maybe, down the line, we can work out what's best to be done. All right?"
"Yeah, okay," said Max, feeling a lot better now. "Good plan."
"That's agreed, then," Clodagh said brightly. "Now, will you sit? I know you're not a sitting down kind of guy, my angel, but you at least like to kiss sitting down, don't you?"
Max grinned. "I like to kiss you anywhere, anyhow, Clodagh – you know that." And then, almost until the park closed at midnight, they kissed sitting down.
Oscar recognised the story, and was impressed by Danny's interpretation of it. He could no more have put the idea into such words than Max could, yet here was Danny having heard it third-hand (or maybe even more), and he'd turned it into a sad, poignant little metaphor. Almost.
"You never used to show me anything with blanks." Oscar was sitting on an armchair with his acoustic guitar across his lap and Danny's notebook beside him, hoping to be inspired. "Even if you weren't sure, you always had some kind of lyric."
Danny, sprawled across Oscar's couch, shrugged and said, "That was completely pointless; I don't know why I gave you words that I knew weren't right. That line'll come when we have a melody."
"Mmm... But are there really any melodies left to compose?"
"Oh, God! That is not what I want to hear from you, man."
"Seriously," said Oscar. "When was the last time you heard a new tune that you liked? Apart from mine," he added quickly, and Danny closed his mouth into a wry smile. "The new groups... Ella's girls, and all the rest of them... they're always coming up with new sounds. But that's all they are: sounds. Not music." Then, hearing himself, he added, "Jesus!"
Danny laughed, so Oscar laughed too.
"But we're still musicians, right?" said Danny.
"Yes!" said Oscar. Then, with less conviction, "I hope so. It used to come so easily, didn't it?"
"That's not the way I remember it," said Danny. "We used to stay up half the night going nuts trying to come up with stuff, but it worked. We were hungry back then, I guess, and now..."
Oscar smiled. "Now we're kinda full."
Danny laughed at that. Then suddenly he sat up straight and slapped his thighs, saying briskly, "Come on, let me see you try. Strum something."
Oscar frowned over Danny's lyrics for a moment, then strummed a sorry-sounding little tune that he was pretty sure had been composed long ago. He stopped, silencing the strings with the flat of his hand.
"This is about poor little Max Miller and that girl who sings ballads," he said, if only to deflect from his lack of ideas. "Have I been talking about my other friends too much?"
"Just enough to inspire me," said Danny. "I was thinking about that weird wedding invite, too. You know: being desperately, painfully in love but not wanting to bore anybody else with it."
"You mean like by recording and distributing a song about it?"
"Well, that was mean!"
"No, no, it was only supposed to be a joke," said Oscar, not sure whether Danny was genuinely hurt or not. "Seriously, it's an idea. We're getting kinda sentimental in our old age, aren't we?"
"Yeah, well." Danny shrugged. "Dirty lyrics don't interest me any more. It seems sort of... I don't know, juvenile, I guess. And you're out of fast, crazy rock tunes to go with them, right?"
"Maybe," said Oscar. "I might find a couple more, though... I'll have to, for the album. The lyrics don't have to be dirty. Being excited about being in love but keeping a lid on it... that'd probably work better as a fast one, come to think of it."
"Cool," said Danny. "I'll bear that in mind. Actually..."
He leaned over, retrieved his notebook from Oscar, produced a pen from somewhere about his person and scribbled something down. Oscar watched, his heart sinking. How did Danny do it?
"Here." He tossed Oscar the notebook. He had written:
Oscar found himself singing the lines in his head to melodies that had already been composed years, even decades ago, but he didn't let on.
"That's good," he said.
Danny shrugged again. "It's okay."
"It's pretty amazing for ten seconds' work."
"It's only a few lines, and it might have to change."
Oscar decided to change the subject. "I kind of feel like I want to ask their permission to sing about this stuff before we get much further. This wedding party thing's in a few weeks, so I'm gonna go over in a couple of days and spend some time with my nephews. And their parents, and mine."
"He added as an afterthought," said Danny. "You've been going to New York twice as much – more, even – since you became an uncle. Why don't you move back there?"
"Why don't you?" said Oscar. "Your family's there too, and you didn't even grow up here."
"Well... maybe I will. If you do."
"If I do?"
"You're what's keeping me here, Oscar," said Danny. "What's keeping you here?"
"Um." Oscar felt suddenly confused. "You, I guess."
Danny smiled. "If only it were true."
Oscar didn't know what to say.
"So," Danny went on after a pause, "if I'm keeping you here, and you're keeping me here... hey, maybe there's a song in that too. Like a what-a-pair-of-idiots kind of song, you know?"
"Do you need this back?" Oscar held up the notebook.
Danny shook his head. "I have a hundred more at home. You keep that one and at least try to compose a few bars, okay?"
"I'll try," said Oscar. "Does that mean you're leaving?"
"I guess so. I think we're done working, aren't we?"
"Yeah, but... we were talking, too. As friends. You could stay for dinner and stuff. We don't do that kind of thing much any more, do we?"
Danny cocked an eyebrow. "Are you asking me to stay for dinner, Oscar?"
"Yes, Danny, I am," said Oscar. "Will you?"
"Okay, sure. What are we having?"
"Um... oh, crap."
It wasn't simply that Oscar had been caught unprepared; Danny was difficult to feed at the best of times, as he had been a vegan since, as he termed it, "before it was cool". But it was funny anyway, and they laughed heartily together.
"Oh, thank you!" said Conchita, laughing and very nearly crying as she pulled the streamers out of her hair and brushed them off her dress (which was simple, pink and calf-length). "You really didn't have to, but thank you!"
From here, she and Dennis found themselves thanking scores of relatives, friends and co-workers who wanted to congratulate them individually, in far greater quantity than Conchita had anticipated when wording her no-pressure invitation. She went first to Emma, the eight-year-old daughter of her cousin Kevin, and gave a great many words to assuring the child of how boring the ceremony had been. Dennis, meanwhile, had to endure an if-you-don't-take-care-of-my-niece talk from Carl Rivera, and apologetic looks from Beth, Kevin and Kevin's wife Rachel.
There were too many others to name, but notable among them were: Sergeant Hunt and counsellor Debbie Green, both NYPD veterans who firmly believed they had been instrumental in getting the couple together; Kylie's parents, Steve and Jill Griffin; Jill's elusive nephew, Matt Davies (though not his even more elusive mother); Adela Gaspar, the last of the oldest generation on Eduardo's side of the family; and every Ghostbuster of the first two generations, plus their offspring.
Roland became sentimental when Conchita offered him a hug; embarrassingly so, in the opinion of his thirteen-year-old daughter, who saw no need for any fuss on a day like this. Lucy Jackson had taken the party invitation at its word: among a plethora of people wearing "whatever" they wanted, she succeeded in being the most informally dressed one there in a batwing T-shirt, distressed jeans and a bright pink baseball cap, with her mini-braided hair threaded through the hole in the back.
"I'm so happy you're here!" Conchita said to her, very aware (even without the clue of her clothing) that this was one of the people who disliked traditional weddings.
"Yeah, well," said Lucy, as they hugged, "I like you, and I like a good party."
"You too, Grace," said Conchita, moving her hug over to the next member of the group. "And Adam, you brought a guest! You have to introduce me."
It was true: Adam, too, had taken the invitation at its word and brought along Amanda Hope, the girl from the debate club he had been going out with. Conchita was utterly delighted to meet Amanda, as someone who made a friend of hers happy, and she talked to the young couple for much longer than Dennis managed to carry on a conversation with Roland and Grace.
When Oscar's turn came, Conchita embraced him warmly and said, "Your message was so funny!"
"Just a moment of inspiration," said Oscar, smiling. Then, looking past her shoulder, "Hi, Dennis."
"Hello again," said Dennis, who had met Oscar only once before, and found he had little to say to him.
"Ooh, Dennis, go get Karen!" Conchita said over her shoulder. "Dennis's sister," she explained, turning back to Oscar. "She's a big fan of yours."
"Oh, cool," said Oscar. "That's actually really great to hear. Adam's girlfriend hadn't heard of Mood Slime."
Conchita's jaw dropped. "No way!"
"Way," said Oscar, feeling very old indeed as he heard himself using nineties slang. "But she was very polite about it. Y'know, I would've met Dennis's sister before, if you'd asked me."
"Oh, I know," said Conchita. "I offered to introduce you, but she kept saying she was too shy. I think she'll come over now, though – it'd be so silly not to, and she's not silly."
Karen did come over, and she was not silly at all, nor indeed shy. Once her big brother was out of earshot, accepting hugs and congratulations from other people, she was suddenly inspired with a boldness that made Oscar wonder if he had merely imagined what Conchita had told him.
After Max had offered up his congratulations and hug, he found himself wishing everyone would act as normally around him as Conchita and Dennis had done (he was one of Conchita's friends whom Dennis really could talk to, specifically about health and fitness). Late into the afternoon, he found himself sitting at a table with Rose's girlfriend, Anna Rodriguez, while Rose herself had been commandeered by some obscure relative whom neither of them knew. It occurred to Max that, most probably, Anna was reluctant to leave his side simply because she felt most comfortable with him in a room full of virtual strangers, actual strangers and her girlfriend's extended family. All the same, he was pretty sure she was still feeling sorry for him. Then he knew it for certain when she suddenly abandoned their conversation about the food on offer to say, "I'll bet you're missing Clodagh today, aren't you?"
"No more than usual," said Max.
"Aww, hon," said Anna, giving his upper arm a supportive rub. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine."
"She misses you too, you know. She told me on Twitter."
"Oh." Max didn't know what else to say.
"Did you know she got a job doing theatre sets?" asked Anna.
"Yeah, she showed me the place when I was over there. They were doing a musical and she sang in the chorus, too. But she doesn't get paid for that."
"That's too bad," said Anna. "Most artists could use some kind of supplemental income. Y'know, I told her she could do stuff for our Etsy store if she wanted. I think it'd sell. All those whimsical fairies and stuff that she does... they're kind of commercial, don't you think?"
"I really don't know," said Max.
"Right, I forgot," said Anna. "You can't talk about art, and I can't talk about sports. All you and I can talk about in depth is girls."
Max laughed at that. "We don't talk about girls!"
"We probably should, though, since we seem to go for the same ones." She didn't say "type", because Clodagh and Rose were not similar, either in looks or personality. This sometimes struck Anna as odd, until she remembered that both she and Max had, quite simply, been wrong in their first idea.
"Oh, yeah," he said, "Clodagh mentioned that you asked her out once. I can't even remember now why I thought it'd be a good idea to try dating Rose."
Anna cocked an eyebrow. "You want me to tell you?"
"No, I mean why I thought it'd be a good idea to try dating my best friend," said Max. "Anyway, it doesn't matter now. You should go get her – the dance floor's filling."
"Is that a polite way of getting rid of me?"
"No. I really think she wants to dance with you."
"Will you be okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine."
"That was a really annoying question, wasn't it?" said Anna, smiling sheepishly. "You should show it when you get annoyed, Max – it's bad for you to keep it inside."
"I don't get annoyed with people who mean well," said Max.
Anna laughed at that. "They're the worst. Okay, I'll leave you alone now. I get the feeling Oscar wants to talk to you, anyway. Hey," she addressed the said Oscar as she got up to go.
"Hi," said Oscar, who knew Rose's significant other little better than he knew Conchita's. He sat in the chair she had vacated and said to Max, "She's right: there's something I want to show you."
"Show me?" said Max. "I can't imagine what that could be."
"It's some lyrics," said Oscar.
"Oh God," said Max, his eyes widening.
Oscar couldn't help laughing. "Not the reaction I wanted!"
"I don't know anything about music," said Max. "Or lyrics."
"Well, you inspired these," said Oscar, handing Max his smartphone, the display showing a photograph of some scribbled words. "I just wanted you to know we're writing a song about you. And I want you to be okay with it, too."
Max scrolled through Danny's scribbled handwriting, feeling increasingly confused. "This isn't about me."
"Danny got the idea from hearing about you and your Clodagh."
"Why did he even want to know about me and Clodagh? He doesn't know me, never mind her."
"Maybe he didn't want to know," said Oscar, "but I told him anyway because I found her interesting. You remember: you brought her to meet us one day when I was here, and we all ended up singing Danny Boy around the piano. It was nice," he added wistfully.
"Most of you sang Danny Boy," Max corrected him. "Me and your dad just sat there wondering what the rest of you were doing with a couple of tone deaf guys like us." Even toddling little Tom, Oscar's older (and, at that time, only) nephew, had hummed tunefully along. Max smiled at the memory as he read a few more of the lyrics, then went on, "But this isn't about that – it's about magic and fairies and quests and stuff. I guess this part about swimming through oceans and running through deserts is kind of like me..." Then suddenly, for the first time in his life, Max was hit right between the eyes by a metaphor. He looked up. "But y'know, I only had to get on a plane to go to Galway. Well... and a train," he admitted.
"Is this not okay with you?" Oscar asked, worried. "We didn't mean..."
"It's fine," said Max, smiling reassuringly as he handed back the phone. "Really. I don't feel that way, but I'm happy to've inspired Danny to write those lyrics. They look great to me, but I really don't know about that kind of thing."
"Why are you always saying stuff like that?" Quite suddenly, Eric Stantz had appeared and occupied one of the vacant seats around the table. "You don't know about art, you don't know about music, you don't know about lyrics..."
"Well," said Max, "I don't."
"Hey, man," said Oscar, giving Eric a punch on the arm. "Sorry I didn't get to you yet, but here you are. It's good to see you."
"You too," said Eric. "So, Max inspired a song? What's it about?"
"Breaking your heart over some kind of fairy girl disappearing into a magical land," said Max.
"That never happened to him," Oscar said wryly. "But he gave Danny the idea anyway. And it's not just that, Max: meeting Clodagh's inspired me to take some Irish influence for the melody."
"That sounds different," said Eric. "Might it upset some of your hardcore fans? Remember how people reacted to Jar Jar Binks."
Oscar looked horrified. "If what we're doing is in any way the music equivalent of Jar Jar Binks..."
"I didn't mean that," Eric said hastily. "I just mean that fans don't really like change, do they?"
"Yeah, well... maybe not," said Oscar. "But we're really running out of the kind of stuff they're used to. Anyway, I like it, and so do the others."
He spoke truthfully. Having finally composed a new melody he could be proud of, and even got as far as starting to arrange the song with the other band members, Oscar was feeling very positive about it. The same could not be said, however, of the one that Conchita had inspired, which had the working title Keeping the Lid On. Oscar had not broached the subject with her, using the excuse of her wedding day to justify it to himself, but really it was down to a feeling that the words would ring rather hollow if he sang them on stage in front of thousands of people.
"Hey, Adam!" Eric was suddenly calling out and beckoning. Adam came and sat down, prompting both Oscar and Max to look around for Amanda, who surely didn't know many people there; they saw her with Lucy, collecting all the streamers and any empty bottles they found for recycling.
"Oscar needs new material," Eric said in answer to Adam's enquiring gaze. "You got anything for him? I met her in the debate club... doo, doo-doo..."
Oscar, Adam and Max all laughed at that, though Oscar, as a professional musician in genuine need of inspiration, found it less funny than the other two did. Eric basked in the glow of his successful joke for a moment, then spotted somebody else and called out, "Hey, JC, get over here! You're one of us – you're getting left out."
"Of what?" asked John Spengler, as he joined the four guys at the table.
"Absolutely nothing," said Oscar. "Eric thinks it's funny to give me dumb ideas for new songs."
Eric was struck with fresh inspiration. "She's short and she's British, And she's also kinda skittish...'
"Now, that," said Oscar, "is what Danny would call a 'forced rhyme'."
"You need to cut that out, Eric," said John. "The man's an expert on this stuff. It's like if he tried to give us ideas about unparticle physics or something."
Oscar shrugged. "Danny's the lyricist, not me. But talk to me anyway, and I'll talk to him; he gets ideas from me talking about my friends. And if he gets ideas, I get ideas. Well... sometimes I do."
"Really?" said Eric. "You don't just need each other to be inspired any more?"
Oscar furrowed his brow. "I'm not sure we ever did."
"Sure you did," John said with certainty, quick to support Eric's point. "That first album you did: that's all about Danny having a thing for you, isn't it?"
Oscar stared at him. "Dude, you were like... eight!"
"I was way younger than that," said Max, "and I knew Danny had a thing for you."
"I'm sorry, Max," said Oscar, "but I don't believe you're remembering that right. When you were a little kid, you were kind of... oh, what's the word?"
"Away with the fairies?" Max suggested, smiling at the phrase.
Oscar looked doubtful. "I don't think so. Kate Wallance has a sister who's away with the fairies. 'Aunt Jools is away with the bloody fairies', Hayden says."
"I am away with the fairies." Max was adamant. "Just not the bloody fairies. Nice ones. Anyway, I did know Danny had a thing for you."
"It was pretty easy to pick up on, Oscar," said Eric. "For one thing, everyone who was into guys had a thing for you."
"Not everyone," Oscar said modestly. "I'm not everyone's type."
"But I wasn't sure," Eric went on, in more cautious tones, "if you had a thing for him."
"Couldn't have," said Adam, finally feeling able to join in with the conversation. "He was dating my Aunt Amy back then."
"Not by the time the album came out," said Oscar.
"No," said Adam, "but when you and Danny were first writing songs and stuff... that's right, isn't it?" He looked around at the others for confirmation.
"Yeah, that's right," said John. "Danny had a thing for him, and he was dating AJ."
Adam made a face. "AJ!"
"They don't call her that anymore, huh?" said Oscar, smiling nostalgically. "Next time you see her, Adam, will you tell her I said hi?"
"Sure," said Adam, but he didn't sound too happy about it. "Should I also tell her you had a thing for Danny Hart when you were with her?"
"No, thank you," said Oscar, smiling in an attempt to make a joke of the whole thing.
"But did you?" Adam persisted.
"No," said Oscar. "I had a thing for Amy."
"You could have a thing for two people at once," Eric said unhelpfully. "And, y'know, one of them might've just been the easier option."
"Easier option!" Adam sat up straight, bristling with indignation.
"Dude, chill," Max said soothingly. "This all happened way before you were born."
Adam took Max's advice and chilled. Then a different thought occurred to him, and he said to Oscar, "I didn't know you were into guys."
"Not guys; a guy," said Oscar. "Well... maybe."
"Oh?" said Max. "Are you still into him? Why don't you go for it?"
Oscar, wondering how on earth the conversation had led him here, said, "You can't turn someone down and then tell them you've changed your mind twenty years later."
"Yes, you can," said John.
Oscar gave him a look. "Even by your parents' standards, twenty years is stretching it. And I was rounding down. Danny and I have been friends for... Jesus, twenty-four years!"
"Dude, calm down," said Max. "Is that why you guys've never tried anything – because you're friends? Y'know, when people won't go out with each other because they 'don't want to jeopardise the friendship'..." But he couldn't put the rest of the thought into words, or at least, not polite ones.
Eric took over. "We all know why Max doesn't think much of that, and neither do I. I had a thing for a friend too, remember, and now... I don't know, it doesn't seem to matter. So, Oscar, what I think we're saying is: it'll be okay if it doesn't work out that way."
"But sometimes it does work out that way," said Adam, eager to add his own wisdom to the discussion. "You won't know if you don't try. Me and Amanda were friends for so long before we went out on a date."
"Yeah?" said Oscar, trying to keep the scepticism out of his voice. "How long is so long?"
"Oh..." said Adam, the concentration showing on his face. "Months!"
Oscar didn't know what he could possibly say to that, so he went back to the previous point. "I know you guys are right about not jeopardising the friendship; I was never afraid of that. But... I think I was afraid of jeopardising the band."
"You mean like because everybody was homophobic back then?" said Adam. "Oh my God – is that why you went out with Aunt Amy?"
"No!" said Oscar. "No, no, no. I liked her a lot, Adam, and I was really cut up when she ended it. Ask her. It's just that, looking back now... either side of when I had my thing for AJ, I mean... me and the rest of the band were gelling so well, it would've been too risky to change anything. It meant... God, too much. It doesn't seem so important these days, but... well, that's easy to say, now that we've been successful."
"So," said Eric, "I guess that means you did have a thing for Danny, and you still do."
Oscar furrowed his brow. "Did I say that? Look... why are we talking about me, anyway? This is Chita's wedding... party, thing! Isn't it great? Do you guys like Dennis? I don't really know him."
"Dennis is great," said Eric. "Of course, the question on everyone's lips is, does he appreciate how lucky he is?"
"Not my lips," said Max. "Chita's amazing, and that includes her judgement. She knows who deserves her and who doesn't."
John, impressed by the wisdom of this, nodded his agreement. "Good point, well made."
"What do you think of his sister?" asked Oscar, to everyone's surprise.
"Fine," said Eric.
"She seems nice," said Adam.
"Don't really know her," said John.
"Rose told me she just finished law school," said Max.
"A lawyer!" said Oscar. "Jesus..."
The other four stared at him in amazement. Oscar thought he had better explain.
"It's just... I met her today, and she asked me to sign her... someplace... so she could get it tattooed."
The others stared for a moment, then all burst out laughing. They had more than one question between them, not the least of which was what Oscar had meant by "someplace", but they were interrupted just as the laughter was dying down.
"So here you all are." Lucy was suddenly in their midst, her bag of recyclables in one hand and her smartphone, ready to record, in the other. "You're needed."
"What," said John, raising an eyebrow, "all five of us?"
"More or less," said Lucy. "You can all come along for moral support, at least. Some old ladies want Chita to throw a bouquet they brought, and she says she will if some dudes join in trying to catch it, and almost all the other guys here are either married or too insecure to do it."
"That," said Adam, jumping energetically to his feet, "is an awesome idea!"
Oscar's rise out of the chair was a little more reluctant than the others', and Max's especially (Clodagh had been right when she'd said he was "not a sitting down kind of guy"). It was polite of him to hang back and wait, Oscar thought, but a little embarrassing for his own bones and muscles. To draw attention away from this, if nothing else, he said to Max as they approached the gathering in the middle of the room, "You should totally go for it."
"So should you," said Max, giving Oscar a nudge and a grin that may or may not have meant he was joking.
The "old ladies" whom Lucy had referred to was a small but vocal group of extended family members belonging to both Conchita and Dennis. Three of them shuffled off at the sight of the approaching men, trying to look as if they'd had nothing to do with the idea, although Conchita said afterwards that it was Grandmother Wu who had put the bouquet of orchids (her lucky flower, according to the Chinese zodiac) into her hand. This left Jill Griffin, laughing and clapping her hands with delight (in a vain attempt to seem under seventy, Kylie thought), and Adela Gaspar, who had flown over from Cozumel and was determined not to miss anything.
Conchita, who had neither worn white, nor commissioned a three-tiered cake, nor been "given away" by her father (she had been brought up to think of the phrase in inverted commas), was quite happy to appease the traditionalists among her guests (to an extent), but a little embarrassed by all the eyes on her. She didn't think much of her own throwing skills, and if she messed up, the moment would be captured forever by Lucy Jackson's smartphone.
"Any tips?" Conchita asked, with a nervous laugh, as she turned her back towards the crowd.
Garrett called out, "Throw from the shoulders, not the elbows!"
This produced a titter among the guests; Conchita relaxed a little, bent her knees and threw the orchids (with the force from her shoulders) in what she hoped was the direction of the assembled unmarried guests. She then whipped round to see who caught it, liking Max's chances, as he was both very athletic and very much in love. Young Adam, despite his enthusiasm for the idea, had sidled to the backmost corner of the group, and Oscar looked determined to make light of the whole thing while secretly wondering whether it would do him good to catch the thing or not.
The orchids arced towards the ceiling (Garrett, Jo and Max were all very impressed with the throw), then sailed gracefully downwards. When they were about six feet from the ground, Anna – the woman who had made a success of selling rather obscure artwork online, and had more of a hand in organising this party than most people realised – stepped into their path and caught them deftly in both hands.
"Oh, yay!" cried Conchita, rushing to embrace her (as she firmly believed) soon-to-be sister-in-law.
Rose didn't know where or how to look, so it came as something of a relief when she, too, found herself being hugged, in this case by arms and a torso that absolutely dwarfed her.
"I'm so happy for you, RoRo!" said Max, squeezing her as tightly as he dared. "I know! You can go one better than Chita: I'll be a bridesmaid!"
"We haven't talked about it yet," said Rose, as best she could with her face smushed against Max's sternum.
"Y'know," said someone, and Rose turned her eyes to see Lucy's smartphone pointing right at her, "some guys seem to think it's funny to do, like, a theatrical running away if their girlfriend catches the bouquet. You see it all the time on TikTok."
Rose frowned (again, as best she could). "It's not funny."
"No, I know," said Lucy. "So, are you and Anna gonna get married next?"
"I don't want to answer that on camera," said Rose.
"Kinda private, Luce," added Max, with an apologetic smile.
"That's cool," said Lucy. "I'm done making my video anyways," and she walked off, not taking her eyes from her phone.
"Seriously, Ro," said Max, releasing her from his embrace at last. "You're okay, right? I mean... how awkward was that?"
"It's fine," said Rose. "I mean, it's kinda public, but... it's fine." She was smiling now, which made a nice greeting for Anna when Conchita finally released her and went to hug her parents.
"Isn't it exciting?" she said to them. "Rosy's getting married too!"
"She may be," said Kylie, standing on tiptoe, as was necessary to hug her older daughter. "But I don't know if I'm that excited to have both my girls growing away from me so fast."
"Not away from you," said Conchita, giving her an extra squeeze. "Not even physically – we're gonna be living right there. And y'know, Rosy and Anna have been practically married for years."
"No, sweetie, they were in student accommodation," said Kylie.
Conchita rolled her eyes. "Dad knows what I mean. Don't you, Daddy?" she said, as she gave Eduardo his hug.
"Aha," Eduardo managed. He had not been choked up at all until that second, when she had regressed to calling him "Daddy", and now he found himself unable to make his fine speech about how nobody really deserved her, but Dennis was surely the best on offer.
Meanwhile, Jodi Wu was not only choked up but actually crying on Dennis's shoulder, while her husband Michael looked on and manfully held back his tears.
"I'm coming back in two weeks," Dennis pointed out, a little awkwardly.
"Yes, yes, yes, I know," said Jodi. "But I worry about you. The things that can happen..."
"Oh, Mom, I wish you wouldn't," said Dennis, the man whose new wife was convinced he would have to be stopped from overprotecting their own children. "At least, not when I'm going on my honeymoon."
"Enjoy it," said Michael, taking his turn to hug his son. "And everything that comes after. I think she'll make you very happy."
"So do I," said Jodi, wiping away the last of her tears. "She's more than good enough for you. I didn't say anything at the time, honey, but when you told us about her, I was afraid she'd be more like her parents. When they were young, I mean. They're okay now."
"Jodi, come on, you met them twice," said Michael. "And they were perfectly civilised the second time, weren't they?"
"Okay," said Dennis, laughing, "if you're going to have that conversation again, I'm going. I'll see you guys soon, okay?"
He accepted one last kiss on the cheek from his mother, then sought out Conchita. She was hugging Adela now, and saying, "Adela, gracias por prestar tu casa!" This was a thank-you for the two-week loan of Adela's Cozumel house.
"De nada," said Adela. Then, as Dennis added his own thanks, she waved them away and said, "Really, it's nothing. I let everybody use it. Tu Abue y tu Yaya had their honeymoon there," she added, her eyes filling with tears as she looked at Conchita. "You know they're watching over you, don't you, queridita? Both of them."
It was a speech practically designed to produce tears, but Conchita managed to say through her emotion, "Well, I just hope they know when to stop watching!" Then, saved from crying by her own joke, she said one more whirlwind goodbye to her family, with a squeal that said you're next! when she stooped to hug Rose, while Jodi and Michael and Eduardo and Kylie implored the newlyweds to take care of each other, and they promised they would... and then they were gone.
"Oh my God," muttered Jodi, as her tears spilled over again, and Karen came to comfort her (with only half her mind on the wait for Oscar's answer regarding his autograph).
"I wonder," said Carl, who was standing close to Eduardo and Kylie, and had heard Adela's words, "if it's better... in a way... that Mom's not here to see her granddaughter marrying a cop."
Eduardo sucked in a breath. "Jesus, Carlos!"
"Oh, don't, don't!" cried Beth, who remembered all too well when Al Rivera was killed.
Carl looked sulky. "I was just saying..."
Adela, whose first cousin Alberto had been more like a brother to her, sighed and said, "You may be right, querido."
"Really, Adela?" said Kylie. "Because according to you, she did see it."
"Sí," said Adela, trying not to sound impatient, for she liked Kylie, "but from a better place. From there, you don't see the bad in such things."
"Excuse me," said Anna, who had been hanging back with Rose and both of Kylie's parents, "but there is no bad in this."
"She's right, you know," said Steve Griffin. "Kylie, what was it Grandma Rose used to say? Never trouble trouble 'til trouble troubles you?"
Kylie furrowed her brow. "She never said that to me."
"No?" said Steve. "She did to me. Well... somebody did, anyway. And they were right."
"It's kind of a mouthful," said Rose, that well-remembered lady's namesake. "Maybe she only said it once. Are you ever going to say it again, Gramps?"
"I might," Steve said airily.
Jill laughed and put her arm around Rose. "This one's very sharp. She reminds me of me."
"Yeah, well," said Rose, not much liking the sound of that, "I have you to thank for my height, too, don't I?"
"I'm so sorry, sweetie," said Jill, smiling at the joke, though it was at her own expense.
"You're the perfect height, honey," said Anna, claiming Rose back from her grandmother.
"I know, I know," said Rose, smiling, as they walked off to where some of the other guests had resumed the dancing. "I make you feel tall."
"Think they'll really get married next?" asked Jill.
"I don't see why not," said Eduardo, who felt about Anna very much as he did about Dennis.
"And honeymoon in Cozumel?" Jill added, turning her eyes onto Adela with a sudden sharpness.
"If you mean what I think you mean," Adela said loftily, "I am very enlightened, and so are my neighbours."
"Adela," said Beth, who had had her limit of emotion that day, and was determined to forestall any potential conflict, "do you want us to take you home yet?"
Adela accepted the invitation to leave with Beth and Carl, with whom she would be spending the next two weeks, protesting all the way that she was not tired, only unwilling to dance energetically with los jóvenes. In fact, the remaining "youngsters" ranged in age from under ten to over seventy, although the very oldest and the very youngest didn't stay for much longer after that. Many, however, kept on partying until Anna turned off the sound system and announced that their time in the hired venue had, strictly speaking, elapsed ten minutes ago.
Around that time, Conchita and Dennis were stepping off their plane after a six-hour flight, tired but happy, and little caring how easy it would be to get a taxi after eleven o'clock at night. If it proved to be difficult, that would be the worst thing that had happened in their relationship so far, for they at least had been floating smoothly along the course of true love.
Extreme Ghostbusters Created by Fil Barlow
Ghostbusters 202X Created by Fritz Baugh and OgreBBQ
Eric Stantz created by OgreBBQ.
Johnathan Spengler created by Fritz Baugh