I hold the office phone away from my ear as my mother coughs a little too enthusiastically on the other end. “You have to take over the wedding,” she says. “I’m sick.”
“No, you’re not.” I can’t take over for my mother. I can’t.
She coughs some more, for good measure, I’m pretty sure.
“You promised,” I say. And she did. She promised up and down that I would not have anything whatsoever to do with the wedding of my ex.
I repeat, of my ex.
“That was before,” she says. “This is now, when I’m sick. It’s that awful flu.”
“You want Glenda to take over the wedding? She can’t even remember to put her shoes on right, and you want her to take over?”
“I fired her last week.”
“She forgot to pick up the wedding cake. What kind of wedding planner forgets to pick up the wedding cake?”
“Doesn’t matter. You’re not sick. Get in here.”
“Get yourself out of your cave of an office.”
“Accountants belong in caves. We’re comfortable in caves.”
“And go handle the wedding.”
“You promised I could sit this one out entirely. You promised.” I realize I’m sounding about four years old now, but I don’t care.
My mother coughs some more. “Weddings do not run themselves.”
“Mother.” I pinch the bridge of my nose to release the tension.
“You can ignore the groom to your heart’s content.”
“I don’t care about Fabio.”
“Heart’s content, except, of course, when proper hospitality protocol requires you to talk to him. They’ll only be here three days. That’s all you have to put up with. You can ignore him, and he won’t even care.”
“My ex won’t care if I ignore him? You make me feel so special.”
She coughs. “He’ll only have eyes for his bride. He won’t be thinking about his exes. Therefore, he won’t be thinking about you.”
“You promised.” My voice gets whinier. “And I have that report to turn in—”
“Report shmeport,” she says between coughs. “Get over him.”
“I’m over him.”
And she hangs up. I put my face in my hands and try to imagine that what just happened didn’t happen, which I won’t be able to do for long. The wedding party with assorted family members and close friends will be arriving at the dock—I look at my watch—any minute now. I face my computer screen, where the forum I’m a part of is open. It’s called Rando_DataGeek, a place for statisticians to congregate. Because while, yes, I am a an accountant by profession, I am a statistician by passion. Saturday at midnight, in three day’s time, is the deadline for Rando_DataGeek’s yearly Inner Ring contest. The winner will become part of the coveted inner circle, a huge honor, and this year I believe I have a strong enough submission to win.
The only thing I’m missing is some data I’ve been trying to get from one of the other members. I know I can get him to cave. I just need time.
And time has suddenly become much more scarce now that I have to take over for my mother at Fabio’s wedding.
Do I need to remind you that he is my ex? I think not.
I glance at my watch again. I think I can squeeze in one more plea to my forum contact. I type:
Juliet Romero: Situation critical. Please give me divorce documents from Vital Records.
I wait for a response. Nanoseconds drag by. Come on, come on, I think. I don’t have time. Finally, three little dots start their sine wave motion, letting me know my contact is typing.
Siri_no de Bergerac: More critical than five minutes ago?
I don’t know why he calls himself Siri_no de Bergerac, except that it’s a reference to the play, Cyrano de Bergerac, and apparently, he finds it amusing. In my mind, I think of him as Sirino since Siri_no de Bergerac is kind of clunky. He’s also at the ninety-eighth percentile in terms of height and has really broad shoulders.
But that’s just in my mind, obviously.
That’s not relevant now.
Juliet Romero: Please? I’m begging. I’m finally begging.
Any second now, the bride’s father will phone my mother and bark at her because no one is out to greet the wedding party. And then she’ll call and bark-cough at me. Thankfully, Sirino is typing a response.
Siri_no de Bergerac: I’ve never seen you beg. I like it.
Juliet Romero: I have to take over for my mother at work, which means I have even less time to work on my submission. Please?
Siri_no de Bergerac: Waiting till the last minute to do your work, Miss Romero?
Despite myself, I smile. The guy is such a tease.
Juliet Romero: You know full well that’s not true.
Siri_no de Bergerac: Here you are, trying to prove the inevitability of divorce. It’s so cynical, and I don’t do cynical.
Juliet Romero: Why do you care?
Siri_no de Bergerac: I am a romantic.
Juliet Romero: Please cave.
Siri_no de Bergerac: One day, when you’re at your wedding saying, “I do,” I’ll be sure to say, “I told you so.”
I’m about to tell him that even if I were deluded enough to get married, I wouldn’t invite him, but then the phone buzzes. It’s a text from my mother, letting me know the boat with the wedding party has arrived. The “cough” she tacks on at the end is a nice touch. I can’t avoid human contact any longer.
I type my final salvo, about how my report isn’t cynical, it’s data-based and isn’t this forum supposed to be an information-sharing haven? The cell phone rings. It’s my mother again. I jump up and head out of my office, which is at the back of the building. I start down the long hallway and wait till I’m sufficiently winded, so my mother knows I’m not still hiding out in my office, to answer. “I’m almost there,” I say.
There’s an expulsion of what is supposed to sound like phlegm. “Get your keister outside. For one day, just one day, I ask you to be the face of the company, to go outside, to be with real humans for a change.”
“Oh, and Mr. Joules’ high-end, imported photographer he insisted on hiring, well, surprise (hack, hack), he canceled. Vinny’s filling in.”
“Vinny’s a handful.”
“Good thing too. If he weren’t, he wouldn’t be available in a pinch. Make sure he behaves.”
“We’re talking about the same Vinny here?”
“And slather some SPF 500 on before you head outside. All that sun is going vaporize your vampire system.”
I hang up. I’m hardly a vampire, although as I step into the sun, I have to shield my eyes. It’s bright.
But not because I’m a vampire. Because the sun in the Florida Keys is always blinding.
I’m in the central courtyard of my mother’s all-inclusive wedding resort. I run around the inside edges of the structure, trying to stay in the shade. My mother designed the main building in a hexagonal shape. In her mind, anyway, it looks like the miniature Fort Jefferson on Dry Tortugas, another one of the Florida Keys that isn’t connected to the Overseas Highway. I like to remind her that Fort Jefferson served as a prison.
She hates that.
There’s barely any shade near the walls. It would be faster to go across the courtyard. I steel myself for the bright light and zigzag through the ridiculously decorated chairs. Did you know that the cost of wedding chairs is the single most reliable indicator a marriage will end in divorce? Once the ratio of number of guests to cost of chairs exceeds one to eight, the likelihood of divorce within three years skyrockets to eighty-seven percent.
The correlation is even evident after just one year of marriage. Normally, correlation doesn’t appear till the third year.
It’s more complicated than that, of course, and technically, my data set is based on qualitative evidence. That being said, my qualitative evidence is very reliable. My mother’s past clients love to keep in touch, given how gregarious she is. Even those on the brink of divorce reach out. Just last week, she got a tearful call from Patty, who was married just eighteen-and-a-half months ago. She’ll be in divorce court next week.
Cost of her reception chairs? One thousand six hundred and seventy-two dollars and sixty-five cents. In layman’s terms, that’s through the roof. That’s what my contest submission is about: the link between wedding costs and divorce rates. As you can imagine, I added Patty’s anecdotal account to my data set.
The problem is, although certain other members on Rando_DataGeek are satisfied basing their papers on qualitative evidence because, after all, Rando_DataGeek is “just” a forum, I don’t stoop that low. I need hard numbers. From Vital Records. Which I haven’t been able to acquire because my report for the forum isn’t technically official.
Sirino works in government. He has an in. I just need to convince him to cooperate.
So far, all I’ve gotten is no after no after no, like a bunch of n’s and o’s forming the Florida Keys of uncooperative negation.
Maybe that’s why he calls himself Siri_no and not Siri_yes.
As much as I’d like to think about this all day long, I have to get in a client mindset. I blink my eyes a few times, and data sets give way to the mahogany double doors that lead out of the main building. I shove my weight against them and trip into the walkway shaded by a cluster of coconut trees. I’ve barely left my office, and I’m already bathed in sweat.
The phone rings. It’s probably the bride’s father. “Dr. Joules, I’m on my way.”
It’s worse than Dr. Joules. It’s his daughter, Saffron. She’s the bride, and she talks really slowly, like she’s waiting for the echo to die down in her head. “It’s awful,” she says. “The e-e-emergency.” She punctuates her incomplete sentence with a tear-induced hiccup.
I run out into the full sunshine of the boardwalk. From here, I can see the boat bobbing at the pier. “What? Is someone dead?”
Like Fabio? Which would, of course, be awful. But on the other hand, I would feel vindicated. After all, Fabio broke up with me to be with Saffron. But before I can fully delight in the irony, Saffron’s father barks a reply. “No one is dead. Get out here.”
“Right,” I say under my breath. I take a moment to gather my nerves before marching towards the pier. I haven’t seen Fabio or Saffron since high school graduation. That was just weeks after Fabio left me, which in turn was just weeks after my father died in a car accident.
But that was, what, seven years ago? I’m over Fabio. No need to pity me.
A bunch of people are milling around the boat, taking photos of the sparkling blue water and of each other. Just as I’m about to step onto the weathered pier, a winded voice calls out to me.
I turn. It’s Vinny, the photographer. “You’re out of your office,” he says when he finally catches up. “Is the world ending?”
“Let’s get this over with.” I make to move, but he clutches onto my arm.
“I hear I’m replacing a high-end Italian photographer.” Only it sounds like he says, “I heah I’m replacing a high-end photographah,” because he’s from the Bronx.
“Don’t let that intimidate you. Just be yourself, only less—”
“Don’t worry. I have my approach.”
“What? No approaches, Vinny. I know your approaches.” But he’s already bustling up the pier, apparently ignoring me.
“Vinny!” I call out. “Vinny.”
“Cara mia!” he screams as he makes a beeline for Saffron.
I scamper after and hiss at him, “Vinny, Vinny! Do you even speak Italian?” But he keeps walking, and before I can catch up, he’s schmoozing with the bride and her father. My mother is going to kill me if I let Vinny make a mess of this contract. I watch from a few paces away, like when a train is heading right at you, and in your head, you’re screaming, “Run, run!!!” but you’re frozen to the spot.
That’s how it always is with Vinny and his approaches.
“Bellissima,” Vinny says as he takes Saffron’s hands in his. “My name is Georgio. Georgio Vinino, photographer to Madonna, George Soros, and the Pope. But you can call me Maestro Vinino. And this!” He holds Saffron at arm’s length. “This is la bella bride, no?”
I’ve got to get Vinny to cut it out, but before I have a chance, he appears on the deck of the ferry.
He, as in him, as in my ex.
As in Fabio.
* All authors of Harvey Flea Publishing House LTD respect the privacy of their fictional characters and do not distribute their phone numbers.