On each bed we sat, staring and basking in the stagnation between us, neither one of us courageous enough to break the silence, a curse looking to be broken in order to restart time. Our eyes swirled, a captivating effect around each pupil, millions of cells around a spiral galaxy. The air conditioner, augmenting the molecular make-up of air particles had turned off, and I rose to my feet and walked to the mini-fridge near the doorway, careful not to trip over suitcases or step on the piles of clothes strewn about the floor. Inside was a Styrofoam box filled with Applebee’s leftovers. Next to it was an ice-cold can of Rockstar, a possession that was logically mine. I snatched it from the fridge and climbed back over to the clothes to my original spot opposite of Bill. A loud crack rang through the room followed by an aroma of citrus, a pungent sting of soda released in through the crackle of fizz. Bill took a breath, neither long nor short, neither heavy nor light, but a most notable breath regardless.
“I don’t have anything against farm girls,” he said after a short pause. There was no sign of emotion in his face or voice. Our eyes remained fixed, and I pressed the can of Rockstar to my lips, allowing the liquid mixture of carbonated water, condensed sucrose, and energy producing chemicals to pour down my throat, each swallow amplified through the cool and dense air, along with every other proceeding sound effect. I cautiously set the Rockstar on the nightstand next to Bill’s iPad, where a small shockwave reverberated through the room after contact. I waited another beat.
“The stairs. We blew it. Missed a golden opportunity,” I replied, affording him the same emotion he showed me a minute before. Bill wetted his lips, pressed them together, and then hesitated.
“Forget it. It’s the Fourth of July.”
We studied each other for another minute. In a synchronous manner, we turned our heads to the corner of Bill’s bed. Gretch laid, sprawled out across it, one side of her face buried deep within the pillow with one closed eyelid and a half-open mouth exposed. She was to remain in a heavily sedated state for at least another hour or two, unless excessive intervention was to be involved. We both turned our heads back to face one another, our straight faces sustained, as though we were competing in a laughing contest of which no jokes were being told.
“Get dressed. We’re going to the mall.”
It was a surprisingly efficient outing at the mall, as a sense of purpose propelled our feet back and forth across the tile, dead set on a mission to look good… damn good. We breezed through the crappy jewelry and cell phone case stands at each intersection, ignoring the calls from salesmen hoping to con us in for a quick buck—it wouldn’t work, not with this amount of focus. Bill stopped in his tracks and peered to his right. A bright red sign burned bright in his line of vision, and out of the corner of my eye, plastered what seemed to be four letters in close proximity—HELL. I turned, only discover it was much worse—H&M.
“Don’t do it—Bill!”
“Gretch said I could probably exchange some of the clothes if I found something I liked,” he said as he walked slowly towards the entrance, his eyes fixated as if he was under a hypnotic trance, inching closer into the store.
“Let’s go Bill, you have to look nice for the wedding today,” said Gretch, nudging him closer and closer into the departmental abyss.
“Screw this, I’m going to Macy’s.”
10 minutes later, I came out of Macy’s with a flat green shirt to match my yellow tie, truly appropriate colors for the present geography, foregoing another living nightmare with Bill and Gretch, and all for less than 10 bucks! There was still time to kill however, as I knew there would be, and there was no way I was spending it in that God-forsaken store! Across the way was an Old Navy, a great place to score some 4th of July apparel. Although it wasn’t the premium time to buy (the day after the 4th, you can walk out with an awesome American Flag T-shirt for under 4 bucks), it was still worth a glance.
“Hey, what’s this,” I asked myself, my attention quickly diverting towards a rack of shirts with a color scheme consisting of red and blue. “Wisconsin Badgers? Milwaukee Brewers? I didn’t even know Old Navy made sports shirts… Oh man, they even have a couple green shirts in here too. What’s this say, Green Ba—GREEN BAY PACKERS?!?!” I dug through the pile in search of a shirt in my size and ripped it out of the stack—size large, thin cotton, and solid green with the words “Green Bay Packers” spread across in yellow. It was perfect. Perhaps it was too perfect…
I felt a presence behind me, breathing down my neck, a Golem like figure lurking behind the scenes. I moved my head nice and slow as not to make any sudden moves that would startle the mysterious figure behind me. What could they want? My wallet? My life? Or worse… my shirt… Suddenly, a fight or flight instinct rose within me; make my move or become another victim of this sadistic stalker closing in. I spun backwards to confront the culprit, only to see a streak of blond hair fly behind a clothes rack. A loud bang and crash sounded through the store followed by a number of gasps. I darted my head, seeing a flash of a crouched body, zipping through the store with its head down, using its shoulders to hide its face from detection. It was pitiful attempt, for I could recognize that sneak from miles away.
“Gretch! What are you doing? I know that’s you! Get out of here, and quit creeping on my style! You hear me? GRETCH!”
I walked out of Old Navy, a bit disturbed, a bit violated, but at least with a new shirt. Across the way was the big bright sign—H&M, a symbol of despair, a time trap, a psychological torture chamber I unwillingly braced myself for. What a fool Bill was for walking in there, and what a fool I was for not stopping him! If it wasn’t for Gretch… Gretch! The source of all my misery! We’ll never make it to the wedding in time, the reason for this whole trip! We’re doomed! We’ve been doom the moment we left Idaho, and it’s all her fault. It’s been her goal this entire trip! Gretch… Gretch! I curse that name! GRETCH—
My eyes settled on the entrance, my thoughts frozen at its sight. In front stood a man holding up a bag in each arm with a growing smirk on his face. I slowly approached him, his appearance coming into full focus while a girl came up from behind and stood beside him sharing the same smirk. “I have my outfit,” said Bill, lifting the bags shoulder length as if he were shrugging. I couldn’t believe it. I looked over at Gretch, her smirk ever growing, waiting for the respect she demanded, and quite possibly deserved.
“Gretch… son of a B. You pulled it off.”
“And we still have time to change,” said Bill, checking the time on his phone.
I placed my designer sunglasses over my eyes, fitting between my ears and the America Flag Bandana over my head. “Well then, let’s do this.”
Bill and I sat at opposite sides of each other at the end of the paired beds in our room as to give each other a quick inspection before show time. Our hair was gelled and parted to perfection, our ties straight and our suits fitted. We looked good… damn good, noted by a single nod of approval provided by both of us. The bathroom door rattled. Bill and I turned in observance, and out walked Gretch in her dress for the wedding. I gotta hand it to her… the girl cleans up pretty nicely.
“What?” she blurted, unfamiliar with the inspection routine. “You guys ready or what?”
We both shot her a single nod of approval. “Let’s get this show on the road boys and girls,” I answered, putting a pair of sunglasses over my head for the second time that day.
Many impressive looks were sent our direction during our strut through the lobby of the La Quinta Inn, acting as if we were a couple of secret service agents whose mission was unknown, but understood to be important nonetheless. We couldn’t help but build a harmonious sense of confidence among us as we entered my Black Mercedes-Benz E350, a confidence that would nullify the chilling effects felt during our first dark and dreary drive to the mansion. We knew where this path would lead and what we were about to be a part of. The turning of a V6 engine came to a roar and Third Eye Blind’s “The Red Summer Sun” blasted through the car speakers. Engulfed by the music and the blanket of light spread across the Wisconsin plains, we sped out of the La Quinta Inn parking lot and towards our destination, the wedding of the summer. The climax of our trip was just around the corner. Beth… Blake… We’re comin’ for ya!