For Greg, the second run-through was much different from the first. He tried to forget about the anonymous call, but couldn’t help wondering if he really knew the beautiful woman who was reciting vows to him.
“I, Cynthia, take you Greg to be my husband, my partner in life and my one true love. I will cherish our union…”
As he looked into her deep blue eyes, his fears began to melt away. The sincerity of her voice was mesmerizing. Nothing could harm him. Nothing else mattered.
Then he noticed the necklace. Why hadn’t he seen it before? It looked expensive. He had not given it to her, and he wondered who had. Could it have been a gift from an ex-boyfriend—some guy she had hypnotized like Greg.
Some women like to treat a man like a piece of bubble gum. The poor sap thinks everything’s fine. And it is—until the taste runs out. Then she’ll just spit him out the car window of her life and never look back.
So, what was the worst-case scenario? He would marry her, and then go off to Orlando and enjoy the rides and shows at Disney World. Every night they would make love. Maybe some days they would take a midday nap after some midday sex. Wow! His body ached for her. Whoa. Not a good time to get aroused though.
The wedding would be in two days, on Saturday. They would drive to Dallas, spend their first night together in the Marriott near DFW Airport, and then catch their flight to Orlando the next morning.
Greg decided to forget about the stupid caller.
It was about 7:00 PM, and pitch black. As far as Larry could tell, there was no moonlight at all. The gas pole lamp provided just enough illumination for nighttime barbecuing. But now that his eyes had adjusted to it, he could barely see anything else. His only real point of reference was the light coming from the cabin windows. Without it, he could imagine himself getting lost and walking right into Lake Texoma.
He figured the temperature to be around 50 degrees. Probably about average for late February, he thought. He wasn’t wearing a jacket, but felt plenty of warmth from the hot barbecue pit.
“Catch any big ones?” A deep voice boomed from somewhere out in the darkness.
The man’s voice was approaching. “Me and my boys pulled in quite a haul today. I caught me an 8 lb. largemouth bass.”
Larry strained to see the man, but couldn’t. For all he could tell, it could have been a ghost, floating around in the darkness.
“Something smells good.”
A big plaid shirt materialized at his side, and Larry jumped. Then he saw the jeans and the boots, and looked up to see the face. The guy was huge.
“Hi. My name is Jim.” He grabbed Larry’s hand and gave it a bone-crushing shake. “Me and Barb brought my three boys up for a long weekend of fishing. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: shouldn’t them boys be in school? Nope. Cause I sent a note to their principal explaining how this is a part of the boys’ education. Know what I mean, Guy?”
“Well, the principal didn’t like it. He didn’t like it one bit, and he got all huffy with me. But I told him I didn’t give a durn what he thought. Sure, they gotta learn their three R’s: reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. Everybody knows that. But you gotta have some balance in life. Know what I mean? Gotta have your three F’s, too. You know what the three F’s are?”
Larry could only imagine. “No, I don’t.”
“Fun, fishin’ and fryin.’” He laughed. “Yeah, I made that up. Pretty good, ain’t it? The fun and the fishing go without saying. But you gotta have the frying, ‘cause that’s what we do, Guy. It’s a family tradition. We don’t broil ‘em like you do.” He glanced at the barbecue pit. “But there nothing wrong with broiling, I guess—if that’s what you like.”
Larry had nodded along with everything, hoping the big redneck would soon run out of things to say and leave him alone.
“But that ain’t fish, is it, Guy? I’m sorry—I don’t believe I got your name. That’s just rude of me to keep calling you ‘Guy’.”
“Larry. And no, it’s not fish. It’s…uh…”
“That’s okay. No need to be embarrassed. You must be one of them fellas that likes to fish, but doesn’t like to eat ‘em. You’d rather have a big juicy steak, right?”
“Uh…yeah, that’s right.”
“Probably one of them expensive cuts. Mind if I have a look-see?”
“Uh, no. I mean, yes, I do mind. The uh, particular way I cook my steak…you have to keep the lid closed until right when it’s done. Yeah, because if you don’t, it’ll get tough.”
“I see. Never heard of that. But you might oughta take a look at that thing soon, Larry. Smells like it’s starting to burn.”
“Yeah. Well, I was just about to check it. Thanks for dropping by. See you around, Jim.”
“Yep. We’ll probably see you out on the lake tomorrow.” Jim started walking away, then stopped and looked back and said, “But if you catch some you don’t want, no need to throw ‘em back. I’ll take ‘em.” He chuckled.
“Okay, Jim. Thanks.”
Jim started whistling as he walked back toward his cabin. Larry recognized it as the theme to the Andy Griffith Show. He wondered how Jim could see his way back to his cabin. He half expected to hear him yell when he tripped over some stump or armadillo.
Larry watched in satisfaction as the smoke drifted upward, beyond the soft glow of the lamp, into the night. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, he thought. This was one steak that would never cheat on him again.
He had never felt so alive. Putting that sleazy tramp in her place and taking control of his life had cranked up the engine of his dark soul. And now, thanks to the close call with Jim, he was drenched in sweaty fear, pedal to the metal, fuel-injectors kicking in hard. What a rush!
Greg, Cynthia and Beverly had decided to catch a ride with Sandy from the church to the rehearsal dinner at Coreyville Pasta House.
As Greg was getting into the front seat with Sandy, he said, “By the way, Baby, that’s a beautiful necklace you’re wearing tonight. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before.”
“Thanks, Honey. Mom gave me this necklace.”
“I did?” said Beverly.
“Yeah. Remember, it was Aunt Judy’s.”
“Yeah. You gave it to me three or four years ago.”
“Oh. That’s right. Now I remember.”
Greg wondered if Cynthia had winked at her mom to get her to go along with the story.
“I could eat a cow,” said Sandy.
“Would you settle for spaghetti?” said Beverly.
“Sure, that’ll work. As long as they have plenty of that good bread.”
Cynthia was sitting behind Sandy. “So, Greg told you all about the bread, huh? I’m not surprised. The man loves a great loaf of bread.” She put her hand on Greg’s left shoulder. “That reminds me, Sweetie. You told them you’d call when we were on our way.”
“Oh, that’s right.” Greg took out his phone, flipped it open and noticed that he had missed a call. He keyed in the number for the restaurant. “Hi. This is Greg Tenorly and I have reservations…that’s right—the wedding party…we’ll be there in five minutes…okay. Thanks.”
Just before Greg closed his phone, he saw that he had a message, so he hit the voicemail button.
You’re not gonna take my advice, are you? You’re gonna marry her anyway. But you’ll be sorry, Man. So sorry.
“Who was the message from?” said Cynthia.
“Nobody. I mean, it was a wrong number.”
“I hate that,” said Sandy. “A couple of weeks ago I had this message from some guy saying his flight had not been delayed after all, and could I please be at the airport by midnight.”
“So, you had to call him back and tell he had the wrong number?” said Beverly.
“I couldn’t—it was an anonymous call.”
“Serves him right for blocking his number,” said Cynthia.
“Yeah,” said Greg. “I want to know who’s calling me.”
“When they do that, I just want to ignore the call,” said Sandy.
I wish I had, thought Greg.
“But then sometimes it’s important,” said Sandy. “So, what can you do? You really can’t take the chance.”
“Just let it go to voicemail every time,” said Cynthia. “That’s what I do.”
“But then you still end up listening to what they have to say,” said Greg. “You’re not likely to just delete the message without listening to the doggone thing.”
“Are you okay, Sweetie?” said Cynthia. “You seem kind of upset.”
Greg changed his tone. “No, uh, I just hope they have the tables set up right.”
“You worry too much, Man,” said Sandy. “Chill.”
Greg wished he could chill. He wished he could enjoy what should have been one of the best nights of his life.
He wished he could rewind the evening and start over.
Without his cell phone.