(written for the Friday Fiction “A Failed Proposal” prompt)
“I’d like to propose a toast,” said Greg as he watched the reception attendees stepping and twirling their way around the dance floor.
“You?” said Julie, barely suppressing the spit take that seemed to have a life of its own within her. Swallowing hard to prevent the whisky sour from being wasted on the dress of the bridesmaid that had shimmied in front of her, she repeated herself, this time without a mouthful of Wedding Kool-aid. “You want to propose a toast?”
“Yeah,” said Greg, looking at her with a confused gaze. “Why is that such a surprise? I’ve known them for a long time, longer than they’ve known each other, really.”
“That’s exactly why you probably shouldn’t do it, Greg,” replied Julie. “I mean, all that history, all the things you’ve experienced or heard from them over the years… all your history. Did you prepare something?”
“Ah, no,” said Greg. “Of course not. You know I’m a lot better when I ad-lib it.”
“Right,” said Julie, rolling her eyes behind the glass she raised up to get the bartender’s attention. Continuing, she spoke while not taking her eyes off the bartender in order to ensure that he wasn’t watering down her drink, “Well, Greg, I clearly can’t stop you, but I think you should leave the toasts to the professionals, or at least to the best man and maid of honor.”
The bartender delivered her new drink which she accepted with a smile and then looked up to where Greg had been standing to find only an empty spot next to her by the bar. It was not empty for long as a man who appeared to have come straight out of a 70s disco movie slid into the spot Greg had occupied a moment earlier. Leaning against the bar in his white leisure suit with the shirt unbuttoned down to just above his navel, the man said in a deeper than natural voice, “Hiya babe. How’s about you and me start a conga line?” He winked and flashed a smile that made Julie wish she had asked for something stronger than a whiskey sour. As she tried to think up a solid excuse to remove herself from the man’s sweat radius, her thoughts were interrupted by the squeal of the microphone and the clanging of a spoon on a glass coming through the speakers. She looked up to the stage to see her boyfriend, Greg, standing there, clearing his throat into the microphone and she didn’t know whether it was worse to stand next to the sweaty disco man or to acknowledge that she knew the guy who was about to make a fool of himself. Her path to the exit blocked by dancers, she downed the drink she had just received in one giant gulp and gestured wildly to the bartender for a refill before returning her gaze to the podium and the man at the microphone.
“Excuse me,” said Greg awkwardly into the microphone. “Attention, please. If you could all quiet down for a minute, please. Yes, thank you. Yes, sir, you, too. Thank you.” As the room quieted down and the 180 guests at the wedding stopped dancing and talking and eating and drinking to look at the man who was interrupting them, Greg cleared his throat and continued.
“I’d like to propose a toast!” he exclaimed. “To Steve and Mindy! My two best friends in the whole world!” A smattering of applause worked its way through the room, nearly drowned out by the old ladies at table 13 saying “Aww, isn’t that sweet?” Greg waited for the quiet to return before continuing.
“Steve and Mindy,” he repeated, just slightly too loudly, into the microphone. “My two best friends. My two oldest friends. Getting married, how weird is that, huh? Yeah,” he laughed awkwardly in a way that sounded more like a cough. “Yeah. Married. Marriage. What a great choice for them, huh? I mean, if you’re into that sort of thing. It’s not for me, of course. I mean, not really. Not now. No offense, Julie, I’m just talking. Just saying, really. I tried it once. I mean, I tried to try it once, you know what I’m saying? Yeah? Mindy knows what I’m saying, see her smile? That’s what I’ve always liked about you, Mindy, you always got me. Well, mostly, right? Right?”
He paused to take a drink as a low mumble crossed the room. Julie tried to hide and she turned away to her left, nearly brushing her face against the disco man who was still leaning against the bar and smiling at her. He nodded and smiled as she quickly turned back to face the stage, still trying to figure out her best escape route.
“Well,” continued Greg with a nervous laugh, “I just wanted to come up here and give some nice words to the happy couple. I mean, you know, I’ve been around them for longer than they’ve been around each other. Yeah. It’s been great. Well, mostly great. I mean great. That is until Steve, my best friend, horned in on my girlfriend, you know, my almost fiancée and weaseled her away. You know what I’m saying? I mean, it’s all good, you know, it’s a guy thing, you girls over there at table six wouldn’t understand it. But it’s cool. The guy code is different from the chick code. No, really, it is. It’s totally cool for a guy to steal another guys chick, right Steve? Right? Right. Well, remember that time when we were at the ballgame, you and me and Mindy and who was that girl you were with? Mandy? Mellissa? No, um, Marissa, that’s it. So, this is a funny story. Steve and me and Mindy and this girl Marissa were all at the ballgame and we were hanging out and watching the game and talking and eating hot dogs and popcorn and then Marissa says that she’s actually not really into the game and wouldn’t it be better if we all just went to the movies? Yeah, so we left the game and went to watch a movie. Yeah, that was great stuff. Whatever happened to Marissa, Steve? You were so into her. Did she ever get that rash taken care of?”
A woman at table six stood and ran out of the room, whimpering. “Oh,” said Greg. “I didn’t know she was here. That’s got to be awkward, I mean, right? Awkward. But wow. She sure looks hot in that dress, eh Steve? Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. No second thoughts, though, right?” He laughed nervously and continued. “Oh, Mindy! You remember that time that we were down at the basketball game a few years ago? You know, the one on TV. I think it was the Lakers against the stupid New Jersey Nets or something. I never knew why you liked the Nets, really. Weird. Anyway, that was awesome, how we got seats right at courtside and we were able to talk to some of the players and some of the cameramen from ESPN. I had a great time. Well, mostly. It was a little embarrassing when you had to go to take a leak right before halftime and had to climb over that fat dude, you know, the judge guy? Remember? Yeah, you made him spill his beer on that kid. Oh the look on the kid’s face was priceless, remember? It was like he was trying to decide if he should jump or scream or cry to his momma or something. Man, he looked like a little baby who had wet his pants or something, it was so funny.”
“Anyway,” Greg continued, unfazed by the uneasy noises from the wedding guests, “you went to take your leak or freshen up or whatever it is you chicks do and while you were away, I got the dude from ESPN to get me onto the court. Yeah and when you came back they brought you out there, too, and that’s when I popped the question to you, in front of my God and my country, on national television. Remember? Yeah, it was so awesome. Well, mostly. I mean, it was weird to be there, at center court, on one knee, looking up at you. I remember thinking that you must have lied to me about freshening up because there was absolutely no color in your cheeks and you know, you used to wear so much makeup that you looked like a tramp or something. Um, yeah, you were so pale, it was funny. But you didn’t say anything, so I proposed again, this time louder. You just stood there. It was funny, you know? Well, until you stopped smiling, then it was just like, you know, weird. Your eyes got all shifty and you were looking around all crazy-like and then you ran! It was funny, you ran from one side to the other on the court but there were too many people and cameras and players were there and the fat dude and the kid with the wet pants and everyone. I remember when they interviewed you. Remember? Wasn’t it weird when they asked you point blank about why you tried to run off the court instead of happily kissing me and all that nonsense? Those reporters, they’re so good at being direct. I remember the headline in The Times the next day, something like ‘A Failed Proposal: There’s Finally Something Worse than the Nets.’ Remember? My fifteen minutes of fame, I guess. I can’t remember what your answer was. I mean to the reporter. Clearly we all know what your answer was to me, right? Right. Yeah. I think the actual question the reporter asked was why you said ‘no’ and your answer was that when I was proposing to you all you could imagine was jamming your fingers into my eyes while the whole world watched. Remember? Steve, dude, you’re lucky, man…. I’m sure Mindy has never wanted to jam her fingers into your eyes. I didn’t either, even though you stole her from me.“
“Don’t worry, though, Steve,” continued Greg after taking another sip of his drink. “I never told Mindy or anyone that secret. You know the one, right? Right. You know it. The one about your so-called trip to the so-called West Coast with a so-called colleague. Wink, wink. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, right? You know what I’m saying? Your secret is safe with me, man.”
Seeing the father of the bride approaching from one side of the stage and the best man from the other, Greg placed the microphone back into its cradle. “Well, all I wanted to say was good luck, Steve and Mindy. You’re the best friends a guy could hope for, which is why I proposed this toast. I think it’s gone far better than my last proposal, eh Mindy?”
Julie downed the last of her fifth drink of the hour and slowly walked to the front of the room to try to get Greg to leave the stage peacefully, before the two men converged on him. “Ah, there she is, the current light of my night and love of my life. What do you say, Jules? Wanna make your position as my ball and chain official? I mean, if you want to throw your life away and all and pay the marriage penalty taxes and all. But it’s up to you, babe, ‘cause I love you, you know?”
Julie stood there at the front of the reception hall, staring at the man who she had accompanied to the wedding, whom she had invested many months of her life in and in that instant decided that she’d prefer to be home alone than here with him. And with that she gestured to the disco man and proposed that he should fetch her a cab ride home. At least this one proposal was successful.