Chapter 2: Her Master's Wedding, Part 2, The Best Man's Speech

1391 Words
JAMES I slam my pen down on the desk. Fuck! I'm educated, intelligent and usually articulate. I have no difficulties expressing my thoughts. So, how difficult can it be to write a five-minute Best Man's Speech? I rose early, wanting a little peace and quiet so I could get on with the most classic of a Best Man's duties. I'd assumed it would be easy and I would run the job off in twenty or thirty minutes. An hour later, the paper in front of me remains stubbornly blank. And my eyes ache. Surely I don't need another eye test? It goes with middle-age I suppose.... There's no upside to getting older.... I need coffee.... Leaning back against the counter, sipping at my drink, my mind wanders, travelling back in time to my first marriage.... No.... My marriage.... For this wedding, it's Michael who is marrying her. But it doesn't feel like that. It feels like my wedding too. And I'll get it right this time.... This is my true marriage. Even though it will be Michael who says the words.... Memories.... My wife, Marlene, with her screeching complaints. Never happy. Always complaining there wasn't enough money, even though I was working as hard as I knew how. I never asked her to work. I wanted her to be a mother to our daughter. Where are you now, Georgie? I slip the wallet from my back pocket where I keep her photo. I'd like to have it on my desk, but I'm never sure if it would upset Charlotte. She looks out at me. Georgie. Seventeen years old. Beautiful. Becoming a woman. Holding up her exam certificate to show me. Beaming brightly because she'd made it to university. I was so proud of you.... Am still proud of you... More memories.... Only a few weeks later: Georgie has flown the nest to her university and the sick realisation settles on me that my marriage, such as it was, is over. Marlene, screaming for money.... Screaming for possession of everything. As though she'd earned it all. Marlene.... and the growing recognition that she had someone else.... Was she seeing him before the divorce? Who cares... Bitch. Walking away from her: I gave her the house. The car. The f*****g lot. I simply wanted out. An end to it. And the final blow: as it dawned on me that Georgie would no longer talk to me, was refusing to see me.... .... That my ex-wife had poisoned her against me. My little girl, the apple of my eye, would no longer acknowledge me as her father. Your mother lied to you, Georgie. I may not have been the perfect husband, but I never did the things Marlene said. And I didn't leave her without money. It's hardly my fault she had no control over her spending. I've not seen Georgie for years. And the last time I heard from her was when her university fees needed paying.... Glumly, I stare into my mug, what-ifs and might-have-beens churning. I hear movement from above, then chuckle as the depression settling on me disperses. There's no problem with Charlotte's spending. I've never known anyone so careful with money, even now when she has plenty of it. Tighter than a duck's arse.... Count your blessings.... And these days, I have so many of them: my closest friend and the woman I love soon to be wed, in the marriage I engineered to ensure the future of our Triad. My work is interesting, fulfilling and earns me more money than I ever dreamed of in those earlier years married to the Wicked Witch of the East. And I have powerful friends.... Richard.... ... How to make the best of that friendship?. Something hovers at the back of my mind, but the thoughts don't coalesce. Don't think about it.... It'll come when the time's right.... I knock back the last of the coffee. Time to get on with that speech. Tucking the photo safely back in my wallet, in much more cheerful mood, I return to my desk. Since my mind is a blank, I search the internet for inspiration, trying to find the right words. Quotes about marriage.... ".... A happy marriage is the work of two people...." Not exactly appropriate.... ".... A perfect marriage is just two imperfect people who refuse to give up on each other...." Nope... Not that either.... And I chuckle at Wodehouse. "And she's got brains enough for two, which is the exact quantity the girl who marries you will need." But hardly appropriate either. Michael is nobody's fool.... And then I find it. "The real act of marriage takes place in the heart...." I keep reading. After a minute or so, I open the top drawer of my desk, taking out the small box I'm keeping in there.... .... Just for the moment.... Opening it, I look at the ring, turning it in my fingers, thinking of what it represents.... To all of us.... And now I know what I want to say. Smiling, I pick up my pen and start to write. ***** "You look thoughtful." Michael twists the wine glass between his fingers, not drinking, simply turning it around and around. "Mmmm. Yes." "Is there any more of that wine?" He reaches to a nearby shelf, takes a bottle, passes it across to me. As I pour myself a glass, "Problem? Something you want to share?" "I think we should go visit Klempner." I hover in mid-pour, meeting his eyes then, without saying anything, finish pouring. Seating myself in the armchair opposite, "Why would you want to go see Klempner?" "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer?" he muses. "Not that I disagree with that, but the man's a psychopath." "Yes, but he's a complicated psychopath and he's not stupid." "Is that the only reason you want to see him?" He swipes a hand through his hair, then scratches at his nose before, finally, gulping at his wine. I wait. "Well, in the first place," he begins, "Klempner offered a kind of deal. He doesn't make any trouble for Charlotte on condition that she visits him." "And you think it was a genuine offer?" "No. But... Who can tell? A visit would at least show good faith." "I'm not comfortable with this, with him seeing her. I know you spoke with the man, but I didn't and...." "I know and that's why, for the first visit, I'd like to talk to him without Charlotte, but with you." "Me? You want me to come? Why?" "Because Klempner was interested in us. You and I. In Charlotte's relationship with us. It's something to do with her mother's connection with Klempner and Conners. And...." He shrugs. Sighs... "... you're naturally more suspicious than I am. Less likely to see the er...." ".... The better angels of his nature?" He chuckles, flashing brows at me. "Quite. We'll have two different views on the man. If Charlotte is going to visit him, I think you should weigh him up too. First." "Alright. I'll come too." ***** Michael takes the driver's seat and fires up the engine. I move more slowly as I ease my stiff leg into position, pushing the seat back so as to stretch out as far as I can. Michael watches with no signs of impatience. "Mind if I make a suggestion?" "Sure. What?" Reaching into the glove compartment, he rummages until he finds a small bottle, pushing it into my hand. "Just in case, half an hour or so before we go in, take a couple of painkillers. We don't want that bastard to see you limping." "Mmmm... Yes." I slip the bottle in a pocket. Driving, Michael glances down at my outstretched leg, seems about to speak, then swallows his words and looks back onto the road. "What?" "Um, nothing." "What? You were going to say something." He looks to me, looks away, then back at me. "When we get back tonight, would you like me to massage the leg? Loosen up the muscles a bit... Or... would that be weird?" I consider this. "I'd say it's about an eight or nine out of ten on the weirdometer." "Mmmm.... Yes." He chews on a lip, then, "Would you like me to show Charlotte how to do it?" "Excellent idea."
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