Carter opened the doors to the lounge. The carpet in the casino was a deep, plush burgundy. Everything was inlaid with gold scrollwork, rococo vines creeping along the baseboards. Staying in the hotel was a strange, surreal experience.
Martin sat at the bar, his tuxedo ruffled, and his collar open. His back was to Carter. A lone barman stood to the side, wiping out a glass. In between the double doors and the bar, there were several tables with china place settings. To the left was a parquet dance floor, a small stage, large black speakers against each wall.
The only sound was a ceiling fan, creaking slightly as it turned.
Carter closed the doors, and made his way through the thicket of tables. Martin didn’t turn, but continued drinking.
Carter laid his jacket across a stool and sat down. He motioned for the bartender. Martin had another gin and tonic; Carter had a Manhattan.“Where’s the bachelor party?”
Martin smirked. “You’re looking at it.”
“What about your friends?” Carter asked.
“Oh, Carter, you know I hate my friends.”
Carter hated Martin’s friends too. They slapped waitresses on the ass, drove expensive sports cars, and complained to the manager. They were dicks.
“They’re at some strip club, I told them I had the chucks.” He pantomimed vomiting on the barstool next to him. Carter chuckled a little.
Martin took another sip from his cocktail. “Where’s the wife?”
“The bachelorette party.”
“What’s he doing there?”
“Probably stuffing fives down some stripper cop’s bike shorts.” Carter fished a cigarette case out of his jacket. “He wanted to spend time with you, but he said your friends gave him the chucks.”
“I didn’t even know Aubrey invited him.”
Carter lit his cigarette. “I asked her to. I had an idea that I might rescue you from some seedy den of iniquity, and we might end up getting plastered in some dive bar.”
Martin toasted the air. “You read my mind.”
They finished their drinks, and the bartender ambled over. He didn’t wear a name tag, and this felt premeditated to Carter, like Martin might have asked him not to wear one. Carter had a Whisky Sour, Martin had a Martini.
They sat for several minutes in a comfortable silence. They had not seen each other in months, since a layover in Boston. They were each too full of pride to make any real effort to keep in touch, so in the years since college, they saw each other roughly once a year.
“So, we get into the hotel, unpack our bags, and I’m lying on the bed, trying to find something to watch, right?”
“Because I drove to the airport, right after I got off work, and I’m tired, because I couldn’t sleep on the plane, because he was jabbering about something or other, and there is no aisle space left on planes.” He saw Martin smile.
“Yeah, I know you don’t have to fly commercial anymore, but the rest of the peasants are getting cramped. At any rate, I’m dozing off, when he shakes me. He hands me the phone, and he is upset. So I think, oh god, who died?”
“ Wait wait wait, I know how this ends. He spilled something on his shoes, or cracked his sunglasses, or got a stain on a blazer, right? That is the standard Blaine travel story, right?”
“No! Are you kidding, we were on DefCon 1 here. He had lost his bag… the one he keeps all his gel, and mousse, and bathroom crap in. He wants me to call the airline, kick up a fuss, because he knows he had it. I tell him we didn’t check it in at the airport, he swears up and down that we did.”
“So I offer to let him use my toiletries kit-“
“You have a toiletries kit?”
“Hell, no. I put toothpaste, a brush, and gel in a plastic bag. Sometimes I bring sunscreen.”
“Where was it?”
“I’m getting to it. So, I spend thirty minutes talking to a rep from the airline, but before I do, I call Richard and ask him to pop over to our place and look for the bag.” Richard was Carter’s brother. “He’s mailing it to us. It should be here tomorrow.”
Martin laughed, and his sullen mood seemed to lift. He was feeling morose, and Carter had seen all of it before, knew the pattern of depression that would manifest before any major decision.
Carter told another story. Usually it would take two or three of these anecdotes before Martin would come out with what he wanted to say. Until then, he was silent.
After another order, a White Russian for Martin and a Jack and Coke for Carter, Martin got down to brass tacks.
“What don’t you like about Aubrey?” He asked, staring Carter in the eyes. Carter tried to stall, but Martin was impatient. “Come on, what’s wrong with her?”
“Who said I didn’t like Aubrey?”
“You did. I knew it as soon as you met her. I just want to know why.”
Carter looked away, off to the bank of mirrors that lined the far wall. These situations with Martin could go south, very quickly. In college they had had a fight that had lasted a calendar year, with each of them refusing to speak to the other.
They had never been quite the same.
Carter and Martin had met in primary school. Carter had been drawn to Martin’s obscurity, his opaque quality. All of the other children were fairly transparent. Carter found in Martin someone vastly different from himself, which intrigued him.
Martin enjoyed Carter’s wit, his fearlessness, and his bluntness. If they hadn’t been best friends, they would have been nemeses. Up until the incident sophomore year, their trust of one another had been a continuous, unbroken chain.
“It’s not that I don’t like her, Marty, I don’t even fuckin’ know her.” Carter tossed in the expletive to appear casual, rather than nervous. “I mean, I see you in Boston, what, a year ago, and your shacking up with some big-haired bimbo from the projects, and now, boom, this new girl? You wait until the wedding for the best friend test?”
“I don’t care how well you know her. You don’t like her. Already.”
They had had dinner, the four of them. Blaine, Aubrey, Carter, and Martin. Blaine had ordered the wine, suggested entrees, told amusing dinner stories. Carter had engaged Blaine in good natured ridicule, the innocuous, facile brand of jesting appropriate for restaurants and supermarkets. Martin was cajoled into telling a story or two, and Aubrey was silent. She wasn’t simply silent, she deferred to her fiancée on everything: what to order, when certain things had taken place. She used him like a person uses a compact mirror.
During coffee, after Carter had made up his mind about her, he waited for a moment when Blaine and Martin were otherwise engaged. He caught Aubrey’s attention, narrowed his eyes to slits, and gave her a hateful look. She crumbled, and looked to Martin, who was laughing about something or other. She avoided his gaze for the rest of the evening.
Life would crush this woman.
“She doesn’t seem like much of a challenge, Martin. She seems like a naive little girl. She won’t inspire you, or fight with you.”
“She fought with me last night, after we got back to the room. She said you hated her. I said she was crazy.”
“She is crazy.”
“Then she told me you gave her the evil eye. And I remember that is exactly what Genevieve said about you. You gave her a nasty look.”
Carter thought about how much of his hand he wanted to show.
“The difference is, Genevieve gave me one right back. She was a strong person. This girl is a lap dog.”
“You know absolutely shit about women.”
“I could say the same about you.” Carter said, pissed off. They sat there for a while, ordered again. Vodka Tonic for Martin, Long Island for Carter.
Carter lit another cigarette. He rolled the filter between his thumb and forefinger, and stared at the burning tip.
“Martin, this may be the love of your life. She may be an iceberg, with hidden depths and complexity. Maybe I’m reading her wrong.” He took a drag, and exhaled, slowly. “I mean, I know better than anyone about being with someone that no one thinks is right for you. I mean, I love Blaine, but he is shallow, and stupid, and he spends way too much money-.“ Another drag. “But we work. And that may be the way it is for you two.”
Martin was silent. It was his nature to wait until the end to comment.
“But if she isn’t the one, bail now. And I mean now. Think about what would have happened if I had ended up with Pedro? Can you just imagine? We’d be living in a box on the side of the freeway.” He paused, before delivering his last salvo.
“Its up to you.”
“She’s the one. I know it.” Martin said. He didn’t sound quite sure, but it sounded as if he had decided to act as if he were. They told a few more stories, drank a few more drinks, and their friendship picked up where it had left off. Finally, Carter excused himself.
He and Martin hugged.
“I love you, brother.” Carter said.
He stumbled out of the lounge, through the lobby, and out the front doors.
Blaine was waiting for him, smoking against the building.
“Enjoy your evening?” Carter asked, taking the cigarette to light his own.
“You mean stuffing fives down a stripper cop’s shorts? I’ll pass.”
“It was really that bad?”
“They tried to give me highlights. No bueno.” Blaine looked at Carter. “Those pills work?”
“Must have, I don’t even feel tipsy.”
“Well, the evening started off with boring, pathetic party games. Pin the tail on the bland, ring around the stupid. Ugh. Straight women.”
Carter didn’t know what to make of them either.
“Then comes a knock on the door, and its this guy in a uniform.”
Blaine deepened his voice, and did an imitation.
“’Is Aubrey here, we have a warrant for her arrest, you’ve been a bad girl.’ You know, Cheesy stripper routine. I left just as he was asking me if I deserved a spanking.”
“Well that’s a yes.”
“How did your evening go?”
“He’s going to marry her, Lord help him.” Carter seemed pleased.
“Well, you got what you wanted.”
Yeah.” Carter told him the story about the missing bag.
“Yet another reason for him to treat me like a child.”
“It’s a means to an end. I prefer him to think you’re an idiot. It makes these little intrigues go more smoothly.” Carter had planned the entire weekend with one goal: allowing Martin to make the wrong decision. All he needed to do was give him a little push.
“So is this it? After this, you and him will be even?” Blane said.
“Maybe. Perhaps. I don’t know.” He stared up at the night sky.
"Let’s go inside”.