The private drive was long and winding with trees and brush draped over its paved surface. Each of us looked around in wonder under the protection of the Benz, wandering deeper and deeper down the road of the unknown, a path that grew denser and darker the further we drove. Minutes passed and questions over our progress rose, for the path had no guarantee of sanctuary, if there was ever an end in existence. We continued however, having faith in Beth’s directions, hoping they wouldn’t turn us into another horror story statistic.
As quickly as we had been encompassed by darkness, a bright light overcame our despair, one sourced from the sky, a friendly presence that was thought to have departed long ago. A great, acre-long lawn surrounded a mansion, and beyond it laid home to a lake hidden just within the limits of Muskeego, WI, the backdrop for Beth and Blake’s wedding. We parked the car near a basketball court and made our way through the grand residence in search of our soon-to-be-wed friends, passing through an expansive deck area consisting of a large gathering of adults, swimming pool, and a custom built table with a gas fed fire pit in the center, the solid flame rising from an even spread of black pebbles similar to the fire pit seen at the Surly Brewery.
Through the mansion we went, passing a state of the art kitchen and the mansion’s foyer that housed a giant crystal chandelier, making our way down to the basement where an arcade machine and full-sized wet bar lay, a welcoming home for our hefty procurement of booze. With beers in hand, we made the trek through the vast lawn and down towards a group of bikini clad babes and topless hunks sitting at the edge of a dock, accompanied by a set of wave runners, a jet boat, and a water trampoline shining under the golden rays of summer. Our faith in Beth had been rewarded. As it turned out, her family was loaded.
“What’s up guys?” greeted a dripping wet Blake having just come off a fresh ride on the wave runner. “Beth and everybody else are hanging out on the dock. C’mon back and take the waver runners for a spin!” We took the first part of his advice and made our advance onto the dock to reunite with Beth, whose eyes grew with delight upon our arrival.
“Oh my God! Zack! Bill! And… oh… Gretch…” welcomed Beth, eventually making her way over with hugs.
“HEY!” said Anna who was sunbathing on the dock, her voice heightened, being that we had just snuck up on her. “Sorry that my butt’s all sticking out.”
“Oh that’s ok. I don’t really mind,” I replied. It was true. For some reason, I actually didn’t mind at all!
“What’s up Coti? Whoa, Maggie! What’s goin’ on? Hey dude’s, my name’s Zack…” I made the obligatory rounds that are required upon one’s arrival, saying hello to some familiar faces and introducing myself to some unfamiliar ones. There was Coti, a member of the wedding party and certified babe, and Maggie the maid of honor, who was also a babe; in fact, one that’s considered to be among the most respected from the Lewis-Clark Valley! And honestly, I don’t think anybody has ever had a single bad thing to say about her, ever! Not even from Gretch (and that’s really saying something)! I can’t even remember how many times I’ve asked Gretch to stop talking trash behind Meagan Mills’ back (a subject matter that’s really been upsetting me as of late, and I really wish she’d stop). And don’t even think about getting her started on the subject of Ben Woodward unless you have a couple of punch cards you’re trying to get rid of…
There was Wes, who turned out to be a pretty awesome dude, and Sean who really liked to party, and who also knew my sister somehow, of whom was later able to convince him to slap me in the face (not cool Emily). There were peeps from Minnesota, visitors from Idaho, and a couple of natives of Wisconsin, everybody from all around our favorite states!
And then… there was Billy…
Billy was a groomsman, an admirable position at any wedding, and our acquaint relationship seemed to start off on good footing… that is, until I used “Kanye West” and “Musical Genius” in the same sentence. Tension immediately came to a head at the mention of the rappers name, and it didn’t let up as I expanded on his cultural significance and the idea that he was the artist of our generation. The sullen look on his face and the sour tone of his voice gave me the impression that his disagreement on the issue was quite ostensible. Unfortunately, it was to be a prolonged feud, lasting all throughout the wedding weekend, much longer than anticipated.
“Holy Mol—Kassie, I haven’t seen you in ages! I didn’t know you were going to be here!” I said, rushing across the deck to greet her. Any debate involving Kanye’s generational influence could wait, as I was much too eager to catch up.
“Hey, how the heck are ya?” she asked. “I moved back to Wisconsin… I’m a farmer now!”
“No way! Wisconsin? That’s like, my favorite state! So what kind of farmer are you? Dairy and stuff?”
“Hey, that’s pretty cool. I can dig that!” Through my peripherals, I noticed Bill rolling his eyes. The reason, I couldn’t say. Maybe he had something against farm girls, who knows? It was no matter, for I was able to ignore it for the time being.
Kassie and I conversed for a while longer, talking about the organic farm and hitting up the important Wisconsin issues of the day, a subject matter that always led to the current state of affairs surrounding the Green Bay Packers. “Yea, I gotta make my way out to a game at Lambeau this year. It’d be really awesome if I could make it out to their home opener and watch them exact revenge on the Seattle Shi—“
“Me and Gretch are going out on a wave runner,” interrupted Bill. “You wanna take the other one out?” His question seemed to come out of nowhere, but the wave runners did look enticing, and I’m never one to say no to a friend.
“You’ll have to excuse me Kassie, but we’ll have to catch up a little later,” I regretfully told her, for fun was calling my name. I jumped up, grabbed a life jacket, and hopped on the wave runner opposite of the two siblings.
“I thought you said you hated organic food?” asked Bill, sending a little sassiness my direction.
“I don’t know, I’ve been thinking about it, and really, it’s not all that bad. Heck, it may even be good for me in the end!”
“Yea, I’m sure,” he replied, shaking his head while starting the wave runner. I did the same, unsure why he was being so sassy, but then again, if I had to ride on a wave runner with Gretch, I guess I’d be a little sassy too (I mean, talk about a boring ride…). The motors gave a nice kick and we blasted off across the lake, our wakes breaking the shine off the water from the setting July sun.
Something had gone awry, the observation coming after a couple cruises around the lake, where I had been preoccupied with performing all sorts of cool waver runner tricks for everybody: cookies, driving between boats and jumping off their wake—the whole bit! It looked as though Bill and Gretch were stalled in the middle of the lake. “You guys alright?” I asked from a distance, as I was rightfully concerned. I focused in on Gretch, who seemed to have this stupid grin growing across her face. “Strange… Why would she be grinning if they’re stalled—what the?” Two closed fists shot towards my direction, followed by a raised middle finger on each one. “Flipping me off—are you kidding me?”
Bill suddenly gunned the throttle, and a dumbfounded look of panic was released, sending Gretch’s brush of disrespect to an abrupt end. With her eyes wide, jaw opened, and arms a flailing, her ill-mannered gesture had turned into a disgraceful attempt to combat a sudden acceleration, one that would ultimately prevent her from staying dry. Serves her right!
I whipped my wave runner around to scope the scene. “You guys need some help—oops!” The curving motion of my wave runner’s sent a giant wave right into Gretch’s face. “Gee, didn’t mean to splash ya, heheh. C’mon Bill, let’s ditch this lame pool part and shoot some hoops! Look out Gretch—whoops, not again, heheh…”
“What’s wrong?” asked Maggie upon our return from the basketball court. It was a slow and hesitant walk across the dock, my lowered head a dead giveaway of gloom—a precursor to the humiliation that was about to be on full display…
The court was smoldering, for Bill and I couldn’t help but sink in shot after shot, unable to miss a single basket even if we tried—and it was supposed to be an easy in. “Alley Oop,” I cried out to Bill standing at the apex of the three-point line. I took a couple of lunges forward, gaining momentum as to meet his pass midway in the air. His trajectory was high… too high. With all my might, using every muscle in my leg, from the calf all the way up to the gluteus maximus, I lifted off the ground. Every effort used to project my body into the air seemed to be constricted by my water soaked, skinny jeans. But suddenly, there was freedom, a full body spread as an orange sphere fell into the palm of my hand. My legs scissored and I thrust the ball back into the air, watching it settle into the basket before my return to the ground—success.
“Bill, did you see that—“ I paused as my hand brushed past my leg, feeling a gap between the continuity of jean fabric. I tilted my head slowly towards the problem area. “Oh… no…”
I spread my left leg, exposing the giant gash in my favorite pair of cut-offs, a special pair that had honorably served through two tours of the Sasquatch Music Festival. It had been the second favorite pair of pants that I had ripped in recent years, the first also from playing basketball at a wedding, coincidentally.
Gretch immediately released a giant giggle, a nearly perfect rendition of the kid brother in the Christmas Story after he sees Ralphie in the bunny suit. “Shut up Getch,” I snarled, but it was no use. Her uncontrollable laugh continued to reverberate across the lake, no matter if it were as equally embarrassing as my exposed undies. The shame however, was not universally felt.
“It’s ok,” said Kassie. “You’re in Wisconsin. Nobody really cares about that kind of stuff.” It was a voice I could trust, being that it came from one who was well versed with the culture and customs of the land. “Besides, you’ll forget all about it by the time you eat a few burgers and brats.”
“Hey, we had burgers and brats yesterday!” Bill and I looked at each other like we had just scored a date with a Victoria’s Secret Model, even against Gretch’s foolish giggling that was still going strong. “Well what are we waiting for?” I said, sensing the seductive aroma of beef product through my nostrils.
Beth, the bride to be and I chillin’. Go Pack Go!
“You know, this isn’t the first time I’ve ripped my pants playing basketball within a day of a wedding,” I explained to the group sitting around the table with the fire pit in the middle, each of us in satisfaction with an influx of burger and brat inside our stomachs. “I ripped a nice pair of leather pants sinking in a lay in against Collin Morlock during a game of one-on-one right after Jill’s wedding!”
“So why were you playing basketball in leather pants?” I knew the question would come up. It always does every time I tell the story (something I’m starting to find quite annoying as a matter of fact).
“I was just wearing them at the time, I don’t know! Ever since I saw that 2Chainz video with Kanye wearing them, I’ve always wanted a pair of my own, and so when Collin and Joey Carter asked me to play basketball out of the blue one day, I—“
“Kanye!?!?” burst a voice out of nowhere, its rapid response catching me off guard. I looked straight across from me to its source. It was Billy, and he was giving me the ol’ stare down. Not again.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t lie. The guy’s a musical genius. There’s no other way to put it.”
“No he’s not—are you crazy?”
“Dude… My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the single greatest album since Thriller, and Yeezus??? That album will literally blow your mind.” The intake of information was so enormous and mind-blowing, that he was literally rendered speechless, much like the first time I had read an Ayn Rand novel. Before he had a chance to speak again however, I took a different approach.
“Hey, everybody has their different takes on style, and that’s ok. You don’t have to like him, and I can respect that. But you can’t deny that the man’s an artist. There’s nobody else like him out there, just sayin’.”
Billy wasn’t amused, and the Kanye insults continued to fly, and of course, I continued to defend. “…Oh yea, well what about the Cold War Kids? Do you like them,” he asked. I hadn’t heard that band’s name in a long time, so his choice to use them as an example caught me a little of guard. Regardless of their current popularity though, anything short of a favorable answer would end in catastrophe. Lucky for us (although not a huge fan), I had nothing against the Cold War Kids.
“…I can rock with them,” I said back to him with a nod of agreement, not the exact answer he was looking for, but enough of an answer to ease the tension. “I’ve been to a concert or two of theirs, and they put on a good show. And I kind of like that one song about the hospital beds!” He sent me back a nod of approval. “Good, we’re making progress,” I thought to myself. “Just keep this going, and don’t say anything stupid...“
“Of course, he’s no Kanye West,” I said with a shrug of the shoulders and a turn of the head. “But hey, nobody’s perfect…” Whoops—slip of the tongue!
There was no over-reaction to his order, no rising of his voice, just another cold, hard stare to press his softly spoken command. “You can leave…” The rest of the table joined in on an awkward silence, each with a shiver of unease shooting through there cold spines, as if they had sensed the rotten smell of death brewing in the air. I could see it in his eyes, the morose state of his face—he was serious, and there were no witty anecdotes to save me, not even one involving Gretch. I hadn’t the slightest clue of how I was going to get out of this one with my pride intact—
“Can I tell a fairy tale?” asked a soft voice at the end of the table. All eyes redirected towards it—a little girl with golden, curly hair holding a staff with a clubbed end that was twice her size.
“Why, I’d love to hear a story,” said Anna while she helped the little girl up onto a high stool, taking her rightful position as head of the table. For the moment, it seemed as though our feud had fallen into suspension, for neither Billy nor I had the gall to deny this adorable little girl from telling her story, thank God. With our undivided attention, she clasped the clubbed end of the staff and began the telling of her epic tale.
“Once upon a time, there was a princess, and she was very pretty. And she had a pony. One day, she met a prince, and then the prince asked her to marry her and she said yes. The prince and the princess got married and moved into a big castle with a beautiful garden and they lived happily ever after. The end.”
The story was met with thunderous applause, all of it well deserved. I feared however, that it meant the standoff between Billy and I was to resume. It certainly wasn’t out of the picture for Billy to garnish enough support behind him, for he was a groomsmen after all, and Kanye West isn’t always the most popular figure among certain crowds. I mean, neither was Jesus, but that didn’t stop him from being right. “Would you like to hear another story?” asked the soft-spoken little angel. How could we say no?
“Once upon a time, there was a pretty princess, and she lived in a pretty castle with lots of horses. One day a prince came to the castle and asked her…”
The stories went on and the day grew dim, and by nightfall our little princess had tuckered out, her final departure requiring the assistance of her parents—our signal that it was also time for us to conclude the day’s festivities, for the real party was just around the horizon, and believe me, we needed all the rest we could get. “Does somebody want to drive my car back to the hotel?” I asked, knowing I probably could’ve driven myself, but not wanting to take any chances since alcohol consumption was involved. Hey, we made it this far; ain’t no way I’m screwin’ this thing up now!
“Don yu eve werr bout it! I’ll drive bak to us the hotell…” slurred Gretch while stumbling towards the car.
“Thanks, Gretch, but I don’t know if that’s such a—“
“I don’t mind driving you guys,” said a voice from behind. “I haven’t had anything to drink all day.” I turned around to discover it was Kassie, thank God. “Anna will drive your car to the Holiday Inn where we’re staying since I’ll have to drive my car back there anyway. We’ll switch cars, and I’ll take you to the La Quinta where you can check in. We go up to the room, drop off the bags, change, then we drive back to our hotel to hot tub before calling it a night.” It was a full proof plan, and I liked it… I liked it a lot!
“Hey, this is one of my favorite David Bowie songs,” said Kassie as we pulled out of the Holiday Inn parking lot. The horn intro of “Young Americans” marked the beginning of a lengthy journey back to our hotel due to its non-intuitive location and the complex of roundabouts that sent us in multiple wrong directions.
“Hey, it’s one of my favorite’s too,” I said, my voice growing with excitement. “You should’ve seen me at karaoke the other night,” I went on, naturally leading into a brief recount of our road trip. Bill and Gretch remained relatively silent throughout the car ride. I guess they weren’t up for a little conversation, which I found odd. Usually I’m doing everything in my power to get those two to shut up!
“Where are you guys going after the wedding?” she asked.
“Those two are flying to Montana, and me… I—I have may have some family, but… gee, I guess I don’t quite know yet…”
“Well, if needed, there’s always room at the organic farm. Just let me know if you need a place to stay.”
“Yea, you know, I’ve always had this fantasy about living on a farm…” I wasn’t lying when I said it either. I must’ve seen it in a movie one time, an old farm hunk and his old farm wife sitting on a bench swing at the end of the day, thinking about life and looking upon its sustenance during a sunset, giving thanks to God for the gifts that have been provided… you know, that kind of stuff. So I was pretty eager to grasp the whole organic farm experience if it indeed came into place.
We drove through the parking lot of a dilapidated strip mall, the once hopeful source of commercial capitalism nearly dwindled down to a ghostly remains. The heart of the strip mall, a 90’s Movieplex, served as its constant source of beating life, and even that was nearing an inevitable doom. “Are you sure we’re going the right way?” asked Kassie.
“That’s what Google Maps says. Follow this road a little farther maybe, passed this Applebee’s.”
A quarter mile later we rounded a corner to find the La Quinta Inn and Suites shinning in all of its neon glory, tucked into a corner next to the highway overpass. It was no Holiday Inn, but then again, it was no Motel 6 either—something we could live with. “Let’s check in and get this party started!”
“Room 421. Take a left and go down the hall. The elevator is to your right,” said the receptionist while handing us our keys.
“Thank you miss,” I replied. “You ready guys? Elevator’s this way I think.”
“Maybe we all should just take the stairs,” said Bill. I twerked my head and narrowed my eyebrows, a natural reaction to such a silly comment.
“Why would we take the stairs when we can just—“ Bill notioned over to an unsuspecting Gretch using an exaggerated tilt of the head and an obviated wink.
“You know, after what happened in Des Moines and all…”
“What do you mean Des Moines? I don’t remember anything—“ I took a quick look at Gretch, unable to control my grin. “OH YEA—uh, I mean, yea… I hear ya. Yes, I agree, let’s take the stairs. Me first!” I took running start to the staircase. “Oops, forgot my suitcase. Look out guys—“ I turned back. There, Kassie stood next to my suitcase with the same look of confusion I had given Bill a moment ago. “…You know, on second thought, maybe we should just take the elevator…” Bill stood in shock, his body positioned in a way that suggested he was using everything in his power not to strangle me. There was a strange vibration coming from his red-hot face, staring me down with a pair of eyes glowing with fury, acting like he had been delivered the ultimate betrayal, that a sacred vow of brotherhood had been broken between us… that he was staring at the reincarnation of Judas… “What?”
After dropping off our suitcases and making a quick change into my Speedo, we were back on the road, navigating through the maze of parking lots and roundabouts that separated the La Quinta from the Holiday Inn where Wes and Sean were out front waiting for our arrival. “What’s up guys?”
“The pool’s closed,” said Wes with a look of regret, sincerely bummed out and unable to fully lift his eyes from the ground. We felt his pain, for the same feeling of disappointment came over us as we drove past the dimly lit poolroom. His statement only confirmed that our hypothesis was correct. “…But we can still party…”
Wes led us up to the 4th floor and knocked on his door—no answer. He knocked again. “Don’t you have a key?” asked Gretch.
“Yea, but for some reason, it’s not working…” replied Wes, the knocks now turning to fist bangs with his lower lip tucked under his front teeth to gain leverage. “Wait a minute… this might not be our room…”
“Maybe we should bail,” whispered Kassie. I couldn’t help but agree, for the situation had devolved into every man for himself. We booked it down the hall, through the elevator and then to her and Maggie’s room, where I plopped on the couch with a giant sigh of relief—the coast was clear.
“Oh man, get this… so we came back and met up with Wes and Sean, and they were all ‘let’s go to my room and party,’ only it wasn’t his room, so we booked it, and I don’t know what happened to those guys, but Bill and Gre—wait… what happened to Bill and Gretch?” I whipped out my phone and texted Bill, my thumbs twitching across the screen in a frantic fashion.
“Is everything ok?” asked Maggie.
“Theoretically yes, I mean… I think Bill will be fine,” I said while dialing his number, my patience reaching its threshold after not receiving an immediate text back. His number went straight to voicemail. “I mean, we traveled all the way across this country together, so what’s a little time apart? But Gretch… she’s in this strange city all alone, and I just don’t want to see her… I just hope she doesn’t… I guess I’m just a little worried about her, that’s all…” I paused, noticing I was surrounded by a slew of funny looks. “I mean, it’s not that I’m ‘worried’ worried—no, I’m not worried about—Well maybe—It’s just… I’m worried about her because I’m worried about me, ok? Look, if she’s out there getting in trouble and stuff, I’m automatically guilty by association, and I can’t have that! No way, not in Wisconsin… I just need to find them, that’s all I’m trying to say, and if I don’t—“
“Well how about we give her a call?” suggested Maggie in a clear and calm manner. Her wealth of common sense continues to astound me to this day.
“Ok, yes, let’s give her a call.” And just like that, Maggie found her number and gave her a call. I continued. “All I’m trying to say is that I have a reputation to uphold, and it’s my responsibility to make sure it stays intact. Therefore, I have to keep her in check, no matter what; you know what I’m saying? I won’t let her—“
“Her phone must have died, but it sounded like they were going to get some food last time I talked to them. Don’t they have an Applebee’s around here or something?”
“…Applebee’s??? Dear God… I’ve gotta go…”
The door opened with a slow creep before I slouched into our room at the La Quinta, expended of all energy for one day. It had been an hour since I’d seen their faces, searching high and low between the Holiday Inn and the La Quinta, including each of the hotels themselves, Applebee’s, and a couple unintentional trips around the roundabouts. Bill stood opposite of me, neither one of us uttering a word; his pissed off look a mirror image of mine. We walked passed each other and to our beds to act as a pair of dead corpses; no direct eye contact was given. Gretch shuffled over and turned off the lights without our input. Apparently, she was in a bad mood as well. A mutual agreement was met that we were to pass out that night with nothing less than a grumpy mood.
Bill clicked the roof of his mouth with his tongue like any annoying, pretentious speaker does, before making an annoying, pretentious statement; a very unprecedented move at the time, but I was all ears. “Did you have fun making out with the farm girl?”
That was it. He had pulled the last straw, and I wasn’t in the mood to take his facetious attitude. “Are you kidding me? Are you freaking kidding me?” I smacked him across the body with my pillow. “POP!”
“You do this every time… Every time!”
“Yea, well you deserve it. Every time!” I took another swing. “CRACK!” Bill began to chuckle. “Oh, you think that’s funny, do you? BAM, SMACK, BOOM!”
I beat him into the bed as an Alabama man would his children, using any excuse to give his kids an old-fashioned belt whippin’ after coming home in his drunken stupor. “What do you have against farm girls, huh? POP!” Gretch lay there like a slug—it was her only defense.
The beatings continued and the turning point, the fine line between a child’s laugh and his desperate cry had been reached… and surpassed. Bill lay in his bed howling in pain after each blow, unable to utter the word “stop” between his gasps for air and his constant screams of pain. I however, could not distinguish such a moment, for my mind had been too far obfuscated with anger to understand the meanings of right and wrong. The darkness further muddled my head, until there was nothing but my animal instinct, commanding me to pound Bill into a jelly of disgrace, a sorry excuse for a man, all so I could hear him beg for my everlasting, omnipotent mercy—only to tell him “No” after his submission and proceed with another round of blows, much more merciless than before.
Yea, I whipped him, so? I whipped him good! I popped him, and I beat him to feed my satisfaction, one that was no longer understood, one that could never be fulfilled, the fierce contact between his body and the swinging pillow only providing a glimmer of false hope, just enough to deliver the next blow, and the next… and the next…
They say by the time I was over, I could no longer lift my arms for I had swung so hard and so repeatedly. I had blacked out with rage, to which my body eventually shut down, forcing itself back into bed with a subconscious thought in limbo, a wonder if the actions taken were ground for terminating a friendship. I could only pray that the pain delivered to Bill’s body was enough to shut off the brain receptacles that retain memory. It was our only hope, and we still had a full day until the wedding…
God help us all…