Three Weeks Later
Something is wrong.
Sunlight filters in through the blinds, piercing my closed lids. Plenty of light, more than there should be. But why is the excessive brightness an issue? I’m between jobs, which means I can sleep in even if it’s Monday.
Still, I can’t shake the feeling something is amiss.
I blink awake, already alert, taking in the entirety of my rented studio apartment in one eye-sweep. The house seems in order. No signs of a break-in, or a fire, or a gas leak. Nothing wrong there.
Next to me, a redhead stirs. Brittany, Tiffany, I can’t remember her name from last night. We met in a bar as opponents in a game of beer pong. And I don’t recall who won, only that we decided to move the celebrations to my place.
I peek under the sheets.
Yep! We’re both naked.
Definitely nothing wrong with that!
Why hasn’t the nagging stopped, then? The sensation I should be doing something else—be somewhere else —stays put.
I shake my head, dog-coming-out-of-water style, trying to clear my brain. I’m too old to play beer pong and still expect to wake up fresh as a rose the next morning.
Careful not to disturb Brittany/Tiffany, I slither out of bed and hop into the shower. No better way to regroup.
When I come out of the bathroom fifteen minutes later, wearing sweatpants and a clean T-shirt, the lady is still sleeping.
Mmm. How to wake her without being unpleasant?
I settle on making coffee; the grinder is loud enough to raise an elephant. The beans’ capsule is running low, so I open a new pack, top the container, and switch my beauty on. Fancy coffee is a luxury I treat myself to, at least when I’m in a civilized place. The drip coffee maker with a built-in grinder was expensive, but worth its while. Nothing better than a pot of freshly ground java to start the day, whatever the hour. I make sure the water tank is full, turn the machine on, and wait for the magic to happen.
As predicted, the noise is enough for Brittany/Tiffany to stir awake. She rolls over in bed, blinking, and asks, “Is that coffee I smell?”
“Yep,” I say. “It’ll be ready in a minute.”
She pulls herself up on her elbows, using the sheets to cover herself. “Mind if I use your bathroom in the meantime?”
“Absolutely,” I say, and to give her some privacy, I turn my back to the bed, pretending I’m busy checking the machine.
I follow her movements around the apartment with my ears. The rustling of fabric, the padding of feet on the hardwood floor, and at last, the click of the bathroom door closing.
When Brittany/Tiffany comes back out—already dressed, I note with pleasure—I’ve just taken the first delicious sip of my superior Crema Arabica blend.
“Want a cup?” I ask.
“Sure,” she says, sitting on a stool at the kitchen bar.
As I turn to grab her a clean mug, my eyes land on the couch and the half-packed bag laying open in its middle.
I check the date on my watch, which confirms that, yeah, I’m screwed.
Logan’s wedding is today. Well, not the actual ceremony, or I’d be a dead man. Thanks to my lucky star, the schedule only includes one meeting today. Starting tomorrow, the week will get busier and busier until the main event on Saturday. Guests will arrive between today and the next few days. But as best man, I’m supposed to get in the trenches with the first wave. And I have to report to the wedding planning Marshall at four for a comprehensive debrief on all my best man duties for the week. A destiny I share with the other wedding party recruits.
I stare at my watch again. Half past two.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
I make a quick mental calculation. From Berkeley to Napa it’ll take forty-five minutes on the bike. An hour tops if traffic is bad. If I hurry and skip breakfast or lunch—whatever my next meal would’ve been—I could still make it on time. But I have to finish packing and get rid of Brittany/Tiffany first.
“Hey,” I say. “Actually, would you mind if I made that coffee to go? Sorry, but I just remembered I was supposed to be somewhere else like five minutes ago.”
Brittany/Tiffany shrugs. “No problem.”
“You need me to call you a cab or something?” I say, opening the cupboard above the sink to pick up a paper cup.
I fill the cup with steaming coffee from the pot, asking, “Sugar? Cream?”
“Black is fine,” she says.
Great, she’s making the goodbyes easy on me. I cover the cup with one of the plastic lids piled above the coffee machine and offer it to Brittany/Tiffany.
She takes it with a raised eyebrow, probably assessing the fact that I keep a stash of morning-after, to-go paper cups in my kitchen. Oh, crap. Is this going to turn into one of those mornings after? With shouting and accusations being thrown around?
But, stoic, Brittany/Tiffany raises her cup at me in a cheers gesture and takes a sip. Guess we were both clear last night wasn’t about forever and ever.
“Sorry,” I apologize again. “I really don’t mean to rush you, but I’m running super late. Do you need me to call you a cab?” I repeat my offer.
She takes her phone out of her jeans pocket and unlocks it. “No need, I already called an Uber.” She checks the screen. “It should get here any minute. I’ll be out of your hair right away.”
I round the kitchen bar and walk her to the door, where we both stop, undecided how to say goodbye. Should we hug, kiss? We land on an awkward sideway hug, and Brittany/Tiffany is gone. Out of the house and out of my life.
I shut the door and rush back to the living room, running around the apartment like a Tasmanian devil, mentally compiling a list of everything I have to bring with me:
Best man speech—hilarious, charming, and with a few tear-jerking passages for the ladies in the audience to swoon over—check.
Rented tux. Will pick up at the location, will check off later.
Enough clothes for a week and a mix of casual and formal occasions? Nuh-uh.
Last night I only went as far as packing socks and underwear. A quick fix. I yank shirts at random from my closet, doing the best I can to fold them quickly but decently enough they won’t get too wrinkled. I don’t have time to make a conscious selection, so I overpack and have to struggle to pull up the zipper on my duffle bag.
But hey, packed bag—check.
I’m one step closer to making it to Napa in time.
I sling the bag over my shoulder, grab the keys of my bike from the nightstand, and stare at the apartment.
What else? What else? Am I forgetting something?
I don’t think so.
That’s when my gaze lands on the nightstand on the faraway side of the bed, and the red box laying on top of it half-open.
Damn, I can’t believe I almost left without bringing a pack. I dash to the bedside table and grab the box, shaking it. Two measly plastic squares fall out. Not going to cut it for a week. Good thing this is only the first box out of the family pack I picked up last night. But where did I stash the rest? Let’s see, I bought them at the CVS around the corner… I came home… dropped my keys in the hall…
I turn to check the small cabinet behind the door, and… Bingo.
I put all the remaining boxes in my bag—one might say I’m being optimistic, but a good chunk of the guests will be single gals, so—and I’m ready to go. I unhook my black leather jacket from the rack behind the door and exit the house.
The bike is parked askew in front of the garage on my half of the driveway of the single-story duplex where I live. Guess last night I was in too much of a hurry to bother to park it inside, or straight. I don’t own a car, so the garage is exclusive to the bike, whenever I take the trouble to store it indoors.
Almost never in the warm months. My neighborhood is located near the UCB campus, in Berkley, and if the area isn’t one hundred percent no-need-to-lock-your-doors safe, it gets pretty close.
I drop my leather duffle bag on the rear of the saddle and secure it in place with twin nylon straps. Then, I don my biker jacket and pick up my helmet, freeing it from where I’ve impaled it on one of the handles.
As I secure the clip beneath my chin, I can’t help thinking I’ve forgotten something else. Something important. What is with me today? Are a few beers really enough to make me woolly-headed for half a day?
I rack my brain another time, but nothing comes up. And anyway, if I really forgot something, I can always buy a replacement. Napa is not the desert; the worst I risk is being ripped off by the local tourist pricing.
Half an hour later, I’m about to cross the bay over Alfred Zampa Memorial Bridge when a giant billboard catches my attention. In the ad, a beautiful blonde is flipping her bare ring finger with an annoyed expression while the caption reads: She’s tired of waiting. In the lower right corner, a picture of a diamond engagement ring looms over the address and phone number of a local jewelry shop.
Something about the sign nags at me, but it’s gone past in a heartbeat.
I’m already halfway over the bridge when it hits me: the rings!
In a panic, I let go of one of the bike handles to pat the inside pocket of my jacket. The box isn’t there. Only one other place it could be: back at the house.
Shit! Shit! Shit!
I’m going to be so late. Even if I use the bike to dribble through most of the traffic, the round trip will still take me at least another hour. No chances of making it in time now.
Logan will kill me, but not before Tucker—my other best friend and also the wedding planner—has emasculated me.
I open the gas and speed up as I finish crossing the bridge, then take the first available exit, turn my bike around, and merge again onto I-80 in the opposite direction.
When I finally ride up my driveway, I’ve barely killed the engine before I’m vaulting off the saddle, removing my helmet, and racing for the door.
Inside, the apartment is a mess, as per last night’s activities and my hasty packing spree of this morning. Where the heck did I put the rings? I moved them around to be sure not to lose them, and now I can’t remember where I decided they’d be safe.
I open one, then the other.
I check my desk next. No red velvet boxes in sight on the desktop. And after a thorough search of all the drawers, I come up just as empty-handed.
A man on a mission, I proceed to systematically go through each drawer, cabinet, and container inside the entire apartment—bathroom and kitchen included—but I can’t find the damned box anywhere.
I’m a dead man.
If they were regular wedding rings, I could just re-buy them. With a rush order, a week would be enough for them to arrive on time. But my best friend, being the sentimental archeologist asshole he is, chose a pair of antique, engraved gold bands that are impossible to replace. Just my luck.
At this point I’m sweating, half from the panic, half from the heat inside the house—I turned off the air conditioning before leaving. Also, a skipped lunch and almost sleepless night are catching up with me, and I still have another forty-minute drive north to make.
Sweat drips down my forehead and pools under my armpits; this leather jacket is suffocating. I tear it off and, on impulse, I open the fridge to stick my head inside. This feels A-mazing.
As I pull my head out, five long minutes later, something red catches my gaze. There, innocently lying on the middle shelf, is the ring box. How and why it ended up in the fridge, I’ll never know, and I couldn’t care less. I take it out, kiss it, and stash it in the leather jacket inside pocket where it should’ve been from the start.
Domestic treasure hunt over, I check the time.
Ten to four.
So, I’ve found the rings, but I’m still neck-deep in trouble.
Even if I leave now, the meeting will be over by the time I arrive. No point in rushing. I might as well take another shower and eat before I go.
I fish my phone out of my pocket and compose a quick text to Tucker.
Sorry, man. Something came up and I’m not gonna make it in time
But I’ll get there by tonight, I promise
Tucker’s reply comes in the form of emojis. The first, a rolling-eyes yellow face, the second, a red pouting face with swearing symbols over the mouth. Guess I deserved that.
A second message chimes in.
Drive slow on the freeway
And a third.
And remember the rings
I type back.
My phone pings again.
Anyway, if you get here at a decent hour, we’ll be in the Magnolia meeting room
I don’t reply.
They booked a meeting room to have an informal meet-up between the groomsmen and bridesmaids? Are they nuts?
And how long does Tucker plan to have the session last?
Thank goodness I accidentally got myself out of it.
This is going to be a long week.