What Could Go Wrong

By Amanda Eyre Ward

Guests arrived from far and wide for the wedding of Phillip Grant and Catherine Pipa.  There was Daniels, Phillip’s friend from Exeter, who took a plane from Istanbul to JFK to Denver, a bus to Grand Junction, and then stood by Highway 39 with his thumb out until some hippie drove him and his Louis Vuitton suitcase into town.  There were the Polcaris, from the North End of Boston, who packed cowboy hats and suede jackets to wear to the “Wild West Wedding” and complained mightily about their pizza lunch in the Montrose regional airport.  (Cat hadn’t wanted to invite them to the wedding at all, but every night when she worked her shift at Regina Pizzeria, Mrs. Polcari hinted and pushed until finally Cat handed her an invitation.  Who would have thought they’d come?)

Cat’s entire band, the Angry Townies, boarded a rented RV in Cambridge and drove west, playing gigs along the way to defray gas costs.  Trick, the bassist, toasted Cat in the middle of every show by hoisting a PBR can and yelling, “This girl is fucking getting married!”  He kissed her sloppily (and inappropriately), then spent the second half of the show acting morose, as if his toast to Cat’s nuptials took everything out of him and left him depleted, sunk deep into martyrdom. 

Phillip’s mother, Ellen, looked over the flowers and finalized the menu.  (The bride had said, in a queer, hoarse voice on the phone, “I’m not really into floral arrangements and, like, party food.  Anything is totally fine with me.”  This was what happened when your eldest married a Catholic orphan, and a punk-rock singer at that.  Ellen just prayed the girl didn’t have a tattoo.  For all she knew, her own son could have a tattoo.  Gone were the days when she knew every inch of his skin.)

Phillip’s father, George, stood in front of the bathroom mirror and studied his visage.  He remembered his own wedding day, thirty-some-odd years before.  He’d snuck outside the church for a quick smoke and had seen a headstone with his name on it.  He’d almost taken off, right then and there, sprinting past the graveyard and into town.  Now, as he began to make a rich lather in his shaving bowl, he was glad he had not run.  He was not looking forward to retirement, to being alone with Ellen all day, but he was deeply satisfied with his life.  He was fairly certain that this wedding of Phillip Junior’s was one of those “starter marriages” he’d read about in Newsweek.  Phillip was part of “The Hook-up Generation.”  No matter, the world had changed.  Phillip’s fiancée had great legs — Phillip had sent a photo of her in the paper, and though her swinging hair obscured her face, her skirt was short.  The pre-nup was ready for her signature.

Phillip had taken the Amtrak Silver Glider from Boston to Denver.  Three nights in a sleeping car: it cost more than a plane, but Phillip needed experience, he knew.  The main character of his novel-in-progress (Farraday) would be a train conductor, Phillip had decided, and so the trip was research — and therefore, tax deductible.  After trying and failing to work up the courage to approach the actual conductor, to ask him about his long days and lonely nights, Phillip drank gin in the bar car and smoked Tarrytons, narrowing his eyes, on the lookout for details he could use to create his phantom protagonist.  Farraday didn’t have to be a conductor, Phillip consoled himself.  What mattered (his famous creative writing professor, Dr. Glenfari, had told him) was watching and waiting.  The novel would all come together, of course, though Phillip did wish he knew how and more importantly when.

*   *   *

A weekend of events was planned.  There was the rehearsal dinner, which Phillip’s Aunt Marcy was throwing at her ranch, the Bar None.  The wedding ceremony would be held on the top of Mount Sneffles, one of the Colorado thirteeners, followed by a bash at the Hotel Columbia.  Cat and Phillip would end the night in the bunkhouse behind the Grant’s vacation home (Phillip’s friends had promised to “pimp it out”) and then board an early morning flight to New York City for their honeymoon.  (Phillip’s parents had offered to send them anywhere for a week; Cat had chosen the Hotel Chelsea.) 

*   *   *

And at the New York Times, cementing the importance of the event, a young assistant named Suzanne lifted a sheet of paper from her desk.  “Look at this one,” she said.  “Lead singer of the Angry Townies?  Winner of the Le Baron Russell Briggs Fiction Prize at Harvard?  Atop Mount Sneffles?”  Suzanne peered at the photo of a girl wearing a black mask over her eyes and a boy who looked a bit like Bill Gates.

“Give me that,” said her boss, putting down her turkey-on-wheat.  “Don’t I know the name Grant?” 

Suzanne pecked at her computer, then muttered, “VP at some company in Houston.  Enron?”

“Never heard of it,” said Suzanne’s boss.  She paused, then said, “What the hell?  Let’s do it.  Enough with the investment bankers marrying second-grade teachers.”

“Are you going to eat that sandwich?” asked Suzanne.

“Have at it,” said her boss.

*   *   *

“This is going to end, isn’t it?” said Trick, resting his close-cropped head in his hand, placing his other palm on Cat’s bare stomach.

“What?” said Cat.

“This, Cat!  Us!”  He shook his head, muttering, “Jesus.”

“Of course it’s going to end,” said Cat, not even opening her eyes.

“Well then it might as well end right now,” said Trick, climbing from bed and pulling on his boxer shorts.

“Suit yourself,” said Cat, rolling over and falling back asleep — or at least feigning sleep, and pretty damn well.  Trick stared at the neon sign outside the window, blinking on and off: VACANCY.

Part Two

Phillip’s train pulled into Denver at 9:43.  As promised, Cat was waiting on the platform.  She wore dark lipstick and mascara.  She was thin — Phillip knew they ate mainly cereal on the road, and the smoking kept her from having much of an appetite.  Dark, short hair framed her pale face.  In her hand was a copy of The Diaries of Zelda Fitzgerald.

“Cat,” he said.

“It’s me,” she replied.

She took his hand, not meeting his gaze, and pulled him back into the station, down a staircase, into the men’s bathroom and a stall.  She locked the stall door and turned to face him.

“Well,” said Phillip, smiling broadly now.

“Well,” said Cat.  She lifted her shirt and pulled it over her head, then unzipped her skirt and stepped out of it. 

“My God,” said Phillip, pulling her to him, kissing her mouth, her throat, her large breasts.  She unzipped his pants.  “What have I done to deserve you?” he said, as he pressed into her.  She tightened her arms around his neck.

“Did you come?” he whispered, afterward.

“Yes,” she said, but he thought she might be lying.

He turned her around and moved his hand down, into her, slowly bringing her to orgasm with his fingers, kissing the back of her neck.  “I love you,” he said.

“Hmm,” said Cat.

“Are you hungry?”

“Yes,” said Cat. 

Phillip pulled up his pants and sat on the toilet.  “Come here,” he said.

“You ripped my underpants,” said Cat, sitting on his lap.

“Smoke?” said Phillip.

Cat took cigarettes from her purse and they lit them.  Someone came into the bathroom and began to urinate.  He finished, zipped, said, “You can’t smoke in here, buddy,” and left.

“Buddy,” said Phillip.

“We should go,” said Cat.

“You’re right,” said Phillip.  “We have a wedding to attend.”

“Why don’t we elope?” said Cat.

“Why don’t we?” said Phillip.

“Your mother would never like me, if we eloped,” said Cat pensively.

Phillip took her hand and touched the giant diamond on her ring finger.  It had been his grandmother’s.  “Nana,” he said.  “I miss her.  I wish you two had met.”  He added, not unkindly, “My mother’s not going to like you no matter what you do.”

“Really?” said Cat.  “Oh.”

Phillip was taken aback — Cat sounded truly hurt.  “I was joking,” he lied.

“I would love a cheeseburger,” said Cat.

“McDonald’s it is,” said Phillip.  “Let’s grab the rental car and go.”

Cat reapplied her lipstick in the bathroom mirror, not flinching when a man came in and stared.  She pressed her lips together, and turned to her fiancé, who was waiting by the doorway with his hands in his pockets, his glasses back on.  He looked his age, which was twenty-three, his hair already little thin over the pate, his eyes a startling blue, the color of Windex. 

“You’re beautiful.” said Phillip.

“Is this the men’s room?” asked the interloper, his eyes darting from Cat to Phillip.

“It is,” said Phillip.  He held open the door, made a sort of bow, gesturing to the exit with a sweeping arm.

“How was the train ride?” asked Cat, as they waited on line for a rental car.  “Was it inspirational?”

“I guess,” said Phillip.  In truth, he hadn’t written much since winning the prize for his short story, “Causeway.”  In the story, he’d written about Cat, except he’d named her Kerrie and given her a heroin habit.  The protagonist of “Causeway,” (a young medical student) is ruined by Kerrie; in the final scene, he gives a male drug dealer a blow job to earn drugs for his girlfriend while Kerrie watches, quaking.

“You’re going to be a writer,” Cat had said, when she first read it.  He liked the way this sounded — her pride in him.  But now he wasn’t so sure.

*   *  *

In the rental car, they drove out of Denver.  The road cut through the mountains, just straight through.  They stopped for gas in a town called Fairplay.  Phillip watched as Cat wandered the aisles of the market, looking at trucker hats and postcards.  She opened a refrigerated case and gathered two cans of Coke.  Phillip approached her by the register.  “Look,” he said.  He held a small cardboard box; she opened it.  Inside were two tiny moccasins.

“For our someday baby,” said Phillip.

“Oh,” said Cat.  “I don’t know, Phillip.”

“I know you don’t know,” said Phillip.  “It’s okay.”  He put the lid on the box, and placed it in the wrong shelf, next to the bags of chips.  He took a candy bar instead, a Snickers.

 *   *   *

They arrived in Telluride by early evening.  The town had an electric air — all Phillip’s friends were there, or should have been.  

“I guess I should go to my parents’,” said Phillip, as they sat in the idling car outside the Elkhorn Lodge, where Cat would be staying until the wedding.  “I really don’t want to.  The rehearsal dinner starts in a half-hour.”

“Should I go with you?”

“I don’t know,” said Phillip.  He wanted to tell her that she should take a shower first, put on something less…less angry.  For some reason, though part of the attraction to Cat must have been that his parents would hate her, now that they were all in the same place, he wanted them to understand Cat’s allure, to approve.  He was seduced by her, completely, but he also saw a little girl in her, and wanted to provide for that girl.  He feared that she would fool his parents, that they wouldn’t look hard enough to see beyond her tough façade.

“I’ll go see about Stephie,” said Cat.  “Fir Street is that way?”

“Take a right and walk three blocks.”

“I’ll see you soon.”

“Maybe…,” said Phillip.

“Maybe what?”  There was a hardness to her voice, as if she knew what he wanted to say: Maybe you could put on a dress.  Maybe you could take off the boots. 

“Nothing,” said Phillip.  He touched her face, and remembered the previous Christmas.  His high school sweetheart, Imogene, had broken his heart the year before, falling in love with a French guy while studying abroad.  After months of misery and one-night stands, he’d met Cat, who was completely unlike Imogene — dark where she had been fair; wild, while Imogene had been reserved.  He and Cat had spent a month together, and then he’d gone to Colorado for Christmas with his family.  After a boozy goose dinner, Phillip had taken the cordless phone outside the house and called Cat in Boston.

Cat’s voice had been full, just a bit slurry.  He hadn’t known her long enough to ask what she was on.  He was almost three years younger than her, still in school.  Her band was famous, at least around Cambridge.  “Merry Christmas,” he said.

“I’m so glad it’s you,” said Cat.  “Tell me what you’re doing.”

Standing in the snow, Phillip gazed through a large window into the living room: an orange-tinged family tableau.  His father was reading, his feet on the dog.  Ellen rested on the couch, her eyes closed.  It was a perfect scene, but it was bullshit.  His mother was smug; his father insufferable.  They talked about nothing in his house, platitudes.  Crap they wanted to eat or buy.  The Grants: they were their own gated community.  Imogene had been inside the gates, but Cat was another world.  “I’m not doing anything,” said Phillip.

“I’m eating dumplings,” said Cat.  “I bought myself Chinese, and I rented The Terminator.  It’s the best Christmas ever.”

Phillip could see her cramped room on Summer Street, with the chair she’d found on the street and cleaned with care.  She had a trunk with a tablecloth over it, a black-and-white TV with no cable.  Her apartment was always too hot, the air metallic and close.  She wore underpants and a T-shirt, when she was home, but put jeans on to sleep.  She was incomprehensible — fascinating.  “I wish I were there,” said Phillip.

“No, you don’t!” she said, laughing.  “Do you even like dumplings?”

“Yes,” said Phillip.  “Pork ones and the shrimp.”

He heard a snapping sound, as she lit a cigarette.  Phillip watched his sleepy family, and realized he wanted to escape.  He was happiest away from them, in the snow.  He wanted to order in on Christmas, share dumplings with Cat.

*   *   *

And he had done it, he realized now — he had won her.  In one day, she would be his wife.  With her encouragement, he had jettisoned his med school applications and moved his few things into Cat’s apartment.  She was going to keep waitressing and playing with her band.  Cat would support them, until his novel sold.  (Cat and his ample trust fund.)  Phillip was going to be a novelist.

His friends had told him he was moving too fast, but Phillip knew that decisiveness was the key to happiness.  Ironically, it was his father who had taught him this.  His father had married his mother within a month of meeting her; the story was legend.  Pouncing on opportunities in the energy market had made the Grants rich beyond imagining.  “Come meet my parents,” he said now.

“Let me change,” said Cat.

“I’ll wait,” said Phillip.

He lit a cigarette, and remembered the first night he had met her.  He had been wandering around Cambridge with friends.  Beers at The Druid had led to shots at Z: it was that kind of a cold, aimless night.  Late February, wool scarves, dirty snow banked high at the edge of parking lots.  None of them had a car.  They’d stumbled into Causeway Lounge and heard loud music, an angry shrieking.  Phillip best friend, Daniels, winced, Phillip remembered, baring his teeth and squeezing one eye shut.  Phillip laughed and looked up, at the stage, and it was — it honestly was — love at first sight.  Cat’s hair was long, black, plastered to her face with sweat.  She wore a child’s T-shirt and red jeans.  With the microphone in one hand, she’d leaned back, extending her other arm out, her mouth open wide, a primal sound.  In his entire life, surrounded by good-humored parents and arch-but-wealthy peers like Daniels and Imogene, he had never seen anything so true.

“Look at her,” he’d said.

“Trouble, my friend,” said Daniels.

“Yes.”

“The Angry Townies,” said Daniels, reading off the poster taped to the bar.  “How apt.”

Phillip laughed, shook his head.  “What’s her name?” he asked the bartender.

“Don’t go there, college boy,” he said.

“I’m not an asshole,” said Phillip.  He met the bartender’s eyes.  “Really,” he said. 

“Her name is Cat,” said the bartender.  “But don’t fuck with her, man.  I’m serious.”

“She looks psychotic,” said Daniels, taken aback by another of Cat’s yowls.

“Watch it,” said Phillips, “That’s my future wife.”

“The Angry Townie and Ellen Grant,” said Daniels, slipping out of his coat, assuming they would stay a while.  “I hope I’ll be a guest at that dinner party.”

Part Three

Now, on the day before his wedding, Cat came into the lobby holding hands with her sister, Stephie.  Cat wore an ill-fitting red dress and white ballet flats.  Phillip was pierced with love and sadness — thinking of her choosing this outfit in a Goodwill somewhere, Cat trying to imagine Ellen, and what she might like.  She liked slacks from L. L.Bean and Talbot’s sweaters.  When they wandered into a vintage shop in Cambridge once, Ellen wrinkled her nose and whispered, “Phillip!  These are used clothes!”

They walked from the Elkhorn Lodge to the Grant’s home on Fir Street.  It was a shingled house, built in 1812 and lovingly renovated over the years to add a second story and bunkhouse in the back.  The yard was lush with hydrangea.

The screen door banged open, and Phillip’s father said, “Where is she?”

“Hi, Dad,” said Phillip, approaching his father.  “This is Catherine,” he said.  Why did I say Catherine?

“You can call me Cat,” she said, stepping forward shyly.  Phillip didn’t think he had ever seen Cat looking shy before.  The again, he had never seen her around a father.

Phillip’s father’s jaw jumped; Phillip saw it.  The tattoo on her upper arm, the boy clothes, the fucking horrible hair.  For an instant, Phillip wondered if he was making a mistake.  “I’m happy to meet you, Mr. Grant,” said Cat.  She put her shoulders back, ready to be rejected.  In that gesture, she won Phillip all over again.  She blinked quickly (was she about to cry?) and Phillip went to her, stood behind her with his arms around her shoulders.  He kissed the top of her head, smelled smoke and perfume.

“I’m glad to meet you,” said Phillip’s father.  He nodded and smiled distantly, as if he were thinking of something more interesting than meeting his son’s fiancée.  A pipeline somewhere, a power plant.

Phillip’s mother came out on the porch, beautiful in the evening light.  Her graying-blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and she wore jeans.  Her shirt was pale pink, button-down.  At her throat and in her ears, the ever-present pearls.  Ellen wore pearls even when riding her horse, even when hunting.  Ellen looked at Cat, taking her in.  Her gaze was troubled.

“Mom,” said Phillip, squeezing Cat and then going to his mother, wrapping his arms around her small frame. 

“Little bug,” said Ellen, against her son’s chest.  Then she pulled away and smiled.  She walked to Cat, paused for an awkward moment, and then grasped Cat’s shoulders and kissed her forehead.  “Welcome,” she said.

“Thanks,” said Cat.

“You’re even better than I’d hoped,” said Ellen.  For all Phillip could tell, it might have even been the truth.

“Thanks,” repeated Cat.  There was no doubt this time; Phillip saw tears in her eyes.

*   *   *

At the Bar None, while friends from Houston and Cambridge ate tamales and drank margaritas, George told Phillip he needed to speak with him.  Phillip’s chest grew warm.  His father would tell him something, some secret.  They went for a walk, both smoking.  A sky full of stars ended abruptly at the jagged mountain peaks.  The air was chilly, now that the sun had set.  “This is the one,” said George, a statement.  “This Catherine.”

“Yes,” said Phillip.

“You’re very young,” said George.  Phillip didn’t answer.  George had supervised the building of entire natural gas lines before he was Phillip’s age.  He’d grown up an only child in Baytown, Texas; his father made peanuts working in the refinery.  George had made the family rich, devoted his life to his work so that Phillip didn’t have to consider money.  Ever since Philip had announced he was switching from Pre-med to Creative Writing, George had wondered if he had made a miscalculation, if his devotion to the almighty dollar had been a mistake.  “I don’t begrudge you a year to find yourself,” said George.  “Sometimes, I wish I had done some time off myself.”

“We’re not asking you for money,” said Phillip. 

“And you can always apply to medical school next year,” said George.

“I don’t want to be a doctor, Dad,” said Phillip.  “I want to be a writer.  I want a different kind of life.”  Even as he spoke with conviction, a small part of Phillip wondered if he was telling the truth.  He actually hated sitting still and trying to come up with ideas.  He wanted to be a writer, yes, but the actual writing kind of sucked.

“I want you to have Catherine sign these papers,” said George, holding out a thick envelope.

Phillip laughed bitterly.  “A pre-nup?  I should have known,” he said.

*   *   *

“Do you think they liked me?” said Cat the next morning.  It had been a late night; after they’d closed down Smuggler’s Brewpub, Cat had slept like a baby in the cabin she shared with her sister.

“Of course!” said Stephie, from the bathroom.

“Who cares anyway, right?” said Cat.  She sat down at the dressing table in the hotel room and picked up a comb.  “I wish I hadn’t torched my hair,” she said.

Stephie came out of the bathroom, wearing a towel turban and a wrap made of pink terrycloth.  Her limbs were stout, her skin freckled.  She took after their father, Leo, who had died of Multiple Sclerosis when Stephie was only ten.  “What do you mean, torched?” she said.

“What are you wearing?”

“Aunt Jeanine ordered it from the Home Shopping Network,” said Stephie.  They both called Stephie’s adopted mother “Aunt Jeanine” in defiance of Jeanine’s wishes that Stephie call her “Mom.”

“It’s called a Wrappie.  Look, Velcro.”

“A Wrappie,” said Cat.

Stephie shrugged.  “Tell me what happened to your hair,” she said.

“I’d done it up, in like a beehive,” said Cat, “and in the middle of the show, Fourth of July, Trick was throwing fireworks….”

“Whoa,” said Stephie.

“All the hairspray,” said Cat.  “My head became a Roman Candle.”

“Jeez.”

“Somebody found a fire extinguisher, some bartender,” said Cat.  “Did you know those things shoot foam?  It was crazytown.”  Cat shook her head, the short hair flat against her skull.

“I brought Mom’s veil,” said Stephie carefully.

“Ha!” said Cat.

 “I thought you might want it,” said Stephie, her face simple and resolute, her plump hand flat against the top of her terrycloth Wrappie. 

“Oh, Steph,” said Cat, rising and pulling on a striped minidress, then boots.  “You can take Mom’s veil and shove it up your ass.”

“Yikes, language,” said Stephie.

“You sound like her,” said Cat.

“I do?” said Stephie. 

“It’s not a compliment,” said Cat, going into the bathroom and closing the door.

*   *   *

Stephie sighed, and sat at the dressing table, touching her face.  She didn’t know what to make of Phillip.  He was better-looking that Cat’s usual parade of punks, with the Mohawks and the piercings.  But he was cold — there was something unreachable in him.  He was smitten with Cat, but Stephie wondered if her sister were a prize for Phillip, a cooler-than-thou accoutrement, the ultimate fuck you.  Stephie wished for Cat what she wished for herself—a kind man, who liked lasagna.  Someone like their father, whom she had filled out in her imagination.  Phillip was the opposite of Leo (or imaginary-Leo, anyway), but maybe that was the point.

*   *   *

 “Who is this girl?” said Ellen, later that night, when they’d made sure friends and family members had made it back to their hotels and cottages.  Ellen put her book down, her brow furrowed.  “Where does she come from?”

“Phillip told us,” said George.  “She grew up in an orphanage.  I suppose her parents died.  I don’t know.”

“I’m afraid for him,” said Ellen.  “I don’t think he knows what he’s getting into.”

“Neither did we,” said George, smiling at his wife.

“Something’s wrong with her,” said Ellen.  “She’s shifty.” 

“Don’t worry,” said George.  “You always worry.”

“You’re right,” said Ellen, putting her hand over her husband’s.  He settled next to her, his arms around her waist.  She continued to pretend to read.  She continued to worry.

Part Four

The morning of the wedding was bright and hot.  Cat had claimed she “really didn’t care” about any of the wedding details, so Ellen, who damn well did care what her son’s wedding looked like, handled everything.  As usual.  Ellen wasn’t bitter, she was just…resigned.  Maybe a little bitter.

Ellen knew how do get things done better than most; while she’d have liked Philip’s tattooed bride to feign interest, Ellen was quite happy doing it all without interference.

Ellen’s two best friends, Rose Marie and Clayton, had come from Houston to help Ellen with the details.  Phillip had dated Clayton’s daughter, Imogene, on and off for years.  As Clayton shared pictures of her lovely daughter, spending the summer back in France, Ellen couldn’t help but feel a bit bereft.  Maybe Imogene would re-appear in Phillip’s life someday. 

They had shopped all week, spending the evenings on the front porch, sipping tea and reading.  They all liked the same books — faintly edgy family stories.  Stories in which the dull bondage of family was rendered precious by an invader — a burglar or child in peril, a drug addiction, an affair. 

Her friends agreed that this Catherine Pipa, three years Phillip’s senior and a high-school dropout, an orphan and a smoker, was a threat.  Thus, they were thrilled by her arrival, and whispered hotly that she was gamine, she was broken, hoping that if they could surround her with kindness, she would be rendered harmless.  She was a motherless girl, after all!  And hadn’t Ellen always wanted a daughter?

She’d thought she had, but when confronted with the reality of this hard girl, Ellen realized that she’d been lucky, all along, to have a son.  Sure, boys went through stages, but their love was physical, direct.  Even grand.  Phillip’s girl seemed complicated, wily.  Ellen hoped for joy for her Phillip.  That was all — she wished him joy.  And she wanted a place in his life, however small.  He was planning to move into Cat’s apartment, where he would write a novel.  Where was Ellen’s place in this life?

To the wedding, Ellen wore a dress of lilac silk.  She had no idea what Cat Pipa planned to wear to walk down the aisle.  Ellen wondered if the black leather boots would be part of the ensemble.  She sighed.  She’d sent the announcement to the New York Times just in case.

Phillip had wanted to be married on Mount Sneffles, the first thirteener he’d climbed.  Ellen had convinced him to accept being married at the golf club overlooking Mount Sneffles.  She’d ordered rows of folding chairs, a large wildflower arrangement to be placed next to the giant wooden cross that marked the death of a snowplow operator.  (The cross could not be removed — Ellen had asked.)  A string quartet would play Beethoven while the guests arrived.  After the ceremony, the quartet would depart.  Cat had said that her band might play a few sets, but then again, she’d said, they might not.

Hors d’oerves and champagne would be served atop the mountain, followed by a three-course dinner at the Columbia.  After dinner, Ellen planned on a hot bath and a good night’s sleep.  She knew her husband might stay late, drinking Scotch and smoking cigars.  That was fine with her.  She’d bought expensive bath salts in town, and a box of After Eight mints for late-night savoring.

*   *   *

In her cabin, Cat fingered the ivory gown she’d found in Chinatown.  It was simple, and she hoped it was elegant.  Stephie had gone to check out the Continental Breakfast in the lobby.  The room smelled like beer and strawberry lotion.  Quietly, Cat opened Stephie’s bag and rummaged around until she found the lace veil.  In the mirror above the dressing table, she placed the veil on her head, let it cascade over her shoulders.  She stared at herself.

*   *   *

On his wedding day, Phillip woke naked in the bunkhouse, his head pounding.  He rolled over, thinking of Cat.  He wanted to call her, to be near her.  Next to Cat, he felt like the self he’d always wanted to be: an artist, someone who cared little for convention, brawny, courageous, strong.  He was her savior!  Cat appreciated his strength, whereas Imogene had called him “stodgy dodgy,” whatever the hell that meant.  He hated Imogene, so much that he thought about killing her sometimes, throwing her down a staircase.  He wished she were here, to see him completely in love with someone else, and a punk singer at that.  Imogene would never get a tattoo of a hawk on her arm!  Phillip sat up, trying to shake Imogene’s smug face out of his brain.  He thought about Cat, her body, the men’s room at Union Station.  Soon, he was calm and hungry.

In the kitchen, Ellen scrambled eggs.  Phillip entered in his pajama bottoms, straddled a stool.  “Sausage?” said Ellen.

“You know it,” said Phillip.

Ellen brought him a plate.  She’d scrambled the eggs with squares of cream cheese and sliced red peppers.  She put the plate down and cupped her hand around the back of his head.  “I’m still here, too,” she said.

Phillip clasped her fingers, kissed the palm of her hand.  “Cream cheese,” he said, appreciatively.

“There’s coffee in the pot,” said Ellen, leaving the room to wake her husband.

Phillip had spent every summer of his childhood in this kitchen.  When the school year would end in Houston, Ellen would pack Phillip and assorted pets (Magnolia, the dog; Nibbles, the gerbil; a ferret named Fat Albert) into the station wagon and drive to Colorado.  George flew in and out over the course of the summers, but it was Ellen and Phillip, for the most part.  She took him on overnight backpacking trips; she took him to the library.  Phillip hoped Cat would grow to love it here, too.  He imagined Cat, scrambling eggs.  It was an absurd concept — she not only couldn’t cook but refused to.  No matter — he could make the eggs.  His mom could make the eggs!

The day grew hot, with storm clouds hovering.  At the golf club, Phillip and his groomsmen — Daniels and four other friends from boarding school, Harvard and Sunset Boulevard — watched baseball in the bar and tried to wrangle their bow ties into submission.

Phillip was the first of his crew to get married; the whole morning felt like a play they were putting on: The Day We Acted Like Our Parents.  They were used to being boys who shot BB guns and stole liquor while the adults socialized.  Now they were the adults, and they tamped down this unsettling knowledge with beer.   

The Angry Townies drove the RV up the road to the wedding site.  Trick was stoned and sullen.  The other Townies were slightly buzzed, ready for a good time.  Cat had told them they could play at the reception; it would be their last gig with their lead singer until August.  “She’s going to crush that preppie fucker,” said Jimbo, the drummer.

“Ain’t it the truth,” sighed the keyboardist.

Part Five

Cat was serene and sober as she waited in the ladies’ locker room for her cue.  Stephie sat next to her, chattering nervously.  It was a paltry entourage: just Cat and her sister, who had picked out a Laura Ashley maid-of-honor dress that looked as if it belonged at a middle-school prom.  “Are you nervous?” said Stephie.

“I’m not,” said Cat. 

“I am,” said Stephie, giggling.

“I believe in him,” said Cat quietly.

Stephie blinked.  Cat had always been full of fury, liable to say or do anything.  She’d lit a bed on fire at the orphanage.  She’d stabbed a guy in juvie who tried to hurt her (Cat had never told Stephie the whole story).  She showed up at Aunt Jeanine’s drunk for Thanksgiving; she’d given Stephie a stolen diamond tiara for her eighteenth birthday; she’d crashed cars and jumped out of windows for fun and she’d always called back when Stephie needed her.  But in all her life, Stephie had never seen her sister look calm.

“You do?” Stephie stammered.

“I do,” said Cat.

“Then so do I,” said Stephie, leaning in to hug her sister.

When an employee with a ponytail knocked on the door, Cat gave Stephie a last squeeze and stood.  “Wow, you look beautiful!” said the girl.  “It’s time, they’re ready for you.”  Cat smiled, and followed the girl down a dim hallway, out a glass door into the sunshine.  “Beautiful day,” said the girl.  “Let’s hope it don’t rain.”

“Doesn’t rain,” said Stephie.

“What?”

“Nothing,” said Cat.  She took a deep breath.  “Here we go,” she said, to her sister.

“I love you, Cat,” said Stephie.  “You really do look amazing.”

“Thanks.”

“It’s OK that you don’t want Mom’s veil,” said Stephie.  “I understand.”

“You don’t want it either,” said Cat.

“Well, who knows,” said Stephie.

“I do,” said Cat.  “I threw it in the town dumpster.”

Stephie’s jaw dropped.  But before she could respond, Cat was walking down the aisle.

Cat touched the pearls in her ears; they belonged to Ellen, who had sent them over to her cabin with a cinnamon bun wrapped in aluminum foil.  It was a nice gesture, but Cat was too careful to be won by small kindnesses.  In twenty years, maybe Cat would trust Ellen.  Probably not. 

*   *   *

Phillip stood next to a giant floral arrangement and a cross that marked the spot where some poor soul had driven a snowplow off the cliff.  He closed his eyes and said a quick prayer to the guy, hoping he was happy, up there in heaven or wherever.  Christ, maybe he was drunk.  He felt unmoored, frightened, and then he saw her.

Cat.  Her awful hair, a perfect dress.  He broke into a smile, his stomach unclenched.  Cat winked, and walked toward him.

*   *   *

After much champagne, a memorable set where Cat tore her dress and threw her guitar at the caterer, and more than a few toasts, Trick took the stage.  “Hold on, hold on,” he yelled, he slurred, while his band mates yelled for him to get down, time to go, “Hold on, I want to say something.  I wrote a song, it’s for tonight.”

Cat was sitting on Phillip’s lap.  Ellen had gone to bed, Daniels was flirting with a waiter, and the Angry Townies had taken bottles from the bar and begun to gulp from them.  George puffed a cigar and talked politics with Phillip’s more conservative classmates.  Trick hadn’t planned on sharing the song, but here he was.  He said, “Can somebody bring me a chair, guys?” 

Nervously, a Houston friend brought a chair to the stage, and Trick sank down.  “I’m not used to being the singer,” he said, “but here goes.”  He strummed a guitar, and opened his mouth.  A sweet, sad song came from him, floated over the remnants of the party.  Even Daniels stopped talking to listen, his head cocked.  The refrain was something about my heart done gone…and now I’m headed home. 

When Trick was done, he lay the guitar down.  He smiled sadly.  “Goodbye, girl,” he said, looking at Cat.  He held up his beer.

“Goodbye,” murmured Cat, not meeting his eyes.  She drained the remnants of her drink, then refilled her glass from the bourbon bottle on the table.

“Goodbye!” said Phillip amiably, his arms proprietarily around his bride’s waist.

In the back of the reception hall, tears ran down Stephie’s face.  She was tired, the champagne, it was the most beautiful song she’d ever heard.  She’d never noticed Trick before.  When he wasn’t thrashing his bass behind Vicky and the Angry Townies, he was actually kind of cute.  But he was way out of her league, Stephie knew.  A boy like that would never even notice someone like Stephie.  She watched his sad, gaunt face as he gathered his guitar and his beer, and slipped quietly off the stage.

By dawn, Cat was rambling on about Zelda Fitzgerald, how Scott and Zelda had jumped into the fountain at the Plaza Hotel on their wedding day.  There was a duck pond in front of the Hotel Columbia.  Surprising the few remaining guests, she ran down the stairs from the reception to the pond.  She took a silver fork to her glass of bourbon, banging away until all bleary eyes were upon her.  “I love you, Phillip Grant!” she cried.

“Love you, too!” he called, from the patio.

And then she dove into the murky pond, rising with seaweed in her hair.

“This is not going to age well,” said Daniels, to Phillip.

“Who said anything about aging?” Phillip replied.  Then he ran down the stairs and leaped into the pond, joining Cat in the mud.

*   *   * 

The bride and groom ended up in the bunkhouse, spent.  Phillip’s friends had hung condoms and porn magazines all over the room.  On the bunk where he’d spent his childhood summers, Phillip lay on his back, next to his naked wife.  She fed him raspberry cake.  “If anything ever goes wrong,” said Phillip, “let’s come back right here, to the bunkhouse.  We’ll make it right again.”

Cat kissed him long and slow.  She pressed her cheek to her husbands’.  Phillip would never tell her about the pre-nup his father had given him.  He’d sealed the papers, unsigned, in an envelope and handed them back to George.  He’d hear about it when his father checked the signature lines, but it was too late now.  The millions worth of Enron stock belonged to Cat now, too, for better or worse.

Moonlight made Cat’s face dreamy and soft.  She kissed him again and again — his cheeks, his nose, his mouth. 

“What could go wrong?” she asked.