This is dedicated to Vermilion, for the inspiration that her upcoming wedding gave me.
Fortunately, my college roommate and the ditz that he's marrying are "like, so totally sexually compatible" as to invite comparisons with the great romantic couples of history, real and otherwise. That's Kendra's take, anyway. She's the ditz. Among the couples she lists: Romeo and Juliet, Brad and Angelina, and Fred and Wilma. And as I say, I consider that a good thing. Without that sexual compatibility, or "seck-shool" compatibility, as Kendra puts it, my money would be on this relationship blowing up before the end of the year.
We're sitting in a bar, listening to Kendra — big surprise there — describe in minute detail the meeting that she and Dave just left with the minister who will perform their wedding in less than a month.
"And then he reads the part about speaking now or forever holding your peace? And I'm, like, what is that all about? And he explains it has something to do with marriage banns? And I'm, like, marriage banns? And he starts to explain about this tradition thing, but then he gets this phone call about one of his parishioners dying or something, so he has to leave. And meanwhile I'm thinking, look, I want to have the most traditional wedding possible. I mean, I'll be arriving at the church in a horse and carriage. I'm even promising to obey my husband."
Yeah. I could see that happening.
"So don't you guys think we should do these marriage banns?"
"You're the historian, Val," Dave says. "What do you think?"
Kendra turns on Dave with a fierce look.
"I am a historian as well, David."
"Art history," Val mutters out of the corner of her mouth. I stifle a laugh. I'm really starting to like Kendra's maid of honor.
This is the first time I've met Kendra, let alone Val. Dave and I went to school at Cal-San Luis Obispo. I stayed to do post-grad work in computers and artificial intelligence, while he took a flyer on a start-up here in the Boston area. That's where he met Kendra, who had gone to school with Val at one of what they call the "Seven Sisters." Val had since gotten a master's in history, and is about to start an assistant curatorship at the Boston Museum of History. Kendra taught elementary school for a while, but has apparently spent the last year planning her wedding to Dave.
"I definitely do," Val interrupts her former roommate's glaring. "You guys should definitely do the banns."
"So what do we do?" Kendra asks, her voice quivering with excitement at the thought of adding yet another element to her wedding.
"There are traditionally four banns," Val explains. "Three weeks before the wedding, you're completely banned from all sexual contact. With each other."
"But not with anyone else?" Dave asks in all stupid innocence.
"You've been banned from that since we met, sweetie."
Kendra's voice has taken on the tone of a glass-cutter.
Val snorts and continues.
"Two weeks out, you're banned from all romantic contact. Kissing, romantic touching, you know. Things like that."
Dave and Kendra nod sagely. I, on the other hand, was raised a Catholic, and all I really want to know at this point is how long Val can keep this up with a straight face.
"And one week before the wedding?" Kendra asks.
"No touching at all," she says. "In fact, either the maid of honor or the best man has to move into your apartment to watch you."
"You're kidding!" Kendra's eyes widen in surprise.
"No, Val insists. "It all goes back to the droits de seigneur."
"I've heard of that," Dave says. No doubt in the one humanities class he couldn't avoid taking in college.
"That's the right of the feudal lord to sleep with the bride on her wedding night," Val continues, nodding at Dave. "The banns were designed to re-purify her, in effect, for her lord's use."
"You mean I have to let someone else... ?" The very thought of it horrifies poor Kendra.
"No, no, no," Val assures her. "That part is long dead. But the banns continued, as a way of, um..."
"Ensuring that the happy couple truly loved one another," I join in. "And were willing to endure a symbolic separation. Absence makes the heart grown fonder and all that."
"Exactly," Val agrees, giving me a big smile. "The fourth bann, which is part of the ceremony, basically gives anyone a chance to object to the marriage on the grounds that the couple did not properly obey the earlier banns."
"Well, then, we should definitely do it," Kendra says. "Don't you think so, David?"
David's expression suggests that he thinks just the opposite. Three weeks without sex?
The return of the ice maiden. David smiles gently at his fiancée.
"Of course, Kendra honey. I just want you to be happy."
She smiles back and they turn back to us.
"So I could probably find more about this on the World Wide Spiderweb, couldn't I?" Kendra asks.
I blink at her a few times. Is she serious? Is there actually a twenty-four-year-old woman who thinks that the Internet is actually a giant spider web?
"Um, I tell you what," I tell her. "Why don't I do that tonight for you, and I'll just bring the printout to your house tomorrow evening? We're supposed to have dinner there, right?"
"Yes," Dave breathes a big sigh of relief.
"Are you okay, sweetie?" Kendra asks.
"Um, yeah, fine, honey."
"What's wrong, David?"
"Nothing," he insists.
"Sweetie, the wedding is three weeks from tomorrow. So if that first bann goes into effect tomorrow night, the last thing I want you doing is spending tonight on our computer."
Now it's Kendra's turn to blush.
"That's very true, David. Perhaps, if you guys don't mind, we'll just head on home right now."
They almost run out of the bar, David littering the table with twenty-dollar bills in his haste to leave.
Val and I nearly fall out of our chairs with laughter as soon the door closes behind them.
"Oh, my God," Val says after we recover. "How are we ever going to tell them the truth tomorrow?"
I'm busy counting the money that Dave left, more than enough to pay for dinner for the two of us.
"Tell them what?" I ask innocently. "You mean it's not true?"
"Well, I guess you'll find that out when you get on the World Wide Spiderweb," Val says as she starts laughing again.
"They're really just some sort of signs, right?"
"Yeah. Posted on the church door. Or more usually announcements they make in church."
"Still. Why spoil the fun? I'm sure I can produce a convincing web site printout in the next day."
"Oh, my God, are you serious?"
"Sure. I can put off my apartment hunt for a day. Now how about some dinner? Dave left us quite a pile here. I'm thinking of heading down the street to that seafood place I saw. Join me?"
"I'd like that," Val smiles.
It is hard for me to believe, as we work our way through clam chowder, salad, scrod, and strawberry cheesecake, that this girl doesn't have something better to do tonight than have dinner with me. It may be true that she doesn't have all of Kendra's advantages — the silky blond hair, the rail-thin figure with its obscenely out-of-proportion chest, the expensive, well-tailored wardrobe — but there's such life and wit behind those sparkling brown eyes that I can't help but wonder why it's not Val who's getting married.
"And so you're moving to Boston?" she asks.
"I have a post-grad fellowship."
Now it's my turn to blush.
"M.I.T." I whisper into my hand with a cough.
"What's that, Matt?" Val raises her voice. "I couldn't quite hear that. Did you say the South Hingham Institute of Technology?"
"The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, bitch." I say with a smile, taking the bait and spitting it back out.
She sits back in her chair and smiles.
"And so if you don't have an apartment where are you staying tonight?"
"Shit!" I look down at my watch. "I left my bag with the concierge and told him I'd be back there by now."
"Ooh, la-di-da, the concierge. At the Marriott? The Hilton?"
"Well, he's more of the guy behind the counter," I explain. "At the Motel Six."
"Come on," she stands and holds out her hand. I have broadband in my apartment. Let's put this thing together."
We hail a taxi, drop by the motel to pick up my stuff and leave a hefty tip, and finally arrive at her third-floor apartment in a working class neighborhood in the Boston 'burbs.
In addition to her sparkling brown eyes and her bouncy auburn hair, Valerie Jones has excellent taste in cheap wine. We start with a bottle of red, and by two o'clock in the morning have the outlines of a brilliant forgery. After we down half of the next bottle, a white, things become a little fuzzier, and we part with a chaste kiss, Val heading for the bedroom and me for her couch.
I awake the next morning to one of the best things in the world: the sound and smell of bacon sizzling in a pan.
"What time is it?" I ask groggily.
"Eleven. Come on, fella. We need to finish that website."
"Don't you have to work?" I ask.
"My job doesn't start for another month. So I'll be able to help when you move into Dave and Kendra's apartment."
"So how did you and Kendra, um... ?"
"What you're really asking is why are Kendra and I such good friends," she says with a laugh.
.... There is more of this story ...