by Lynn Townsend
A short story, in parts...
... some years later.
Beau stared at the fancy office, decorated with elaborate mock-ups and pictures from previous events. There were brochures for floral arrangers, for cake bakers, for caterers, for destinations.
"No." He stopped dead in his tracks. "Absolutely, no."
"Yes, Beau," Vin said, tugging on Beau's arm with a resigned expression on his face. "You asked, I said yes, and now things actually have to get... planned. And trust me, that's heartache you just don't want. So... we hire a wedding planner."
"Cain't we just stand up in front of a judge?"
"No. Absolutely, no," Vin said, precisely echoing Beau's inflections. "We absolutely cannot do that. We need a ceremony. We need to celebrate our joy in front of everyone we know and care about. We need to have a big party and dance and have cake and get rice thrown at us and drive away in a car with greasepaint on the windows and cans tied on to the bumper."
"People still do that?"
"Maybe not," Vin admitted. "But we can. Seriously, have you never thought about..."
"Good afternoon, Mr. Reyes," the polished until she glowed receptionist came out of the back of the room to greet them. "It's an honor to be working with you. I'm Cathy, your hostess. We've got you set up in the silver parlor, with drinks and a light lunch, while you meet with Aglaia, who'll be your planner. She's got a few ideas from your talk over the phone."
Cathy didn't swish and her skirt was not clingy or tight; the wedding planners did, after all, cater mostly to heterosexual couples and having the potential groom ogling the help was probably bad for business. Beau sighed. "This wasn't accidental, you didn't just pick her out of the phone book, did you?"
"Of course I didn't," Vin said. "Aglaia's one of my clients. I sold her some -- well, you'll see it, she told me she was going to put the painting in one of her parlors, and it would be silly of her not to take advantage by seating us in a different room. We were talking, at the last show, about what she did, and I rather liked her. I'm sure you will, too. You just have to relax a bit."
"You know I don't like it when you make a fuss," Beau said.
Vin pursed his lips and blew his bangs off his forehead; Beau still wasn't sure Vin was comfortable with the new style. It seemed Vin was always tucking his hair behind his ears or puffing at the fringe, but Beau had to admit that it did suit his features, and looked oddly both artsy and professional, the look Vin was trying hard to capture.
"Beau. Honey," Vin said in his most persuasive voice, the one he trotted out for special occasions, usually employed against Beau in situations which it might not be best to think too much in detail while in public. "This is my wedding, too. Don't you think a little bit of fussing is in order?"
Cathy showed them into the parlor -- better described really as a swanky sort of office. There was a round mahogany table in the middle of the room, set for lunch, and an offside lounge area with a few comfy looking couches clustered in one corner.
The planner had set out a few glossy pamphlets with suggestions for venues for them to look over while they got settled in. Lunch was crystal glasses filled with lemonade and tiny little sandwiches cut into triangles with no crusts. "Fancy," Beau muttered, which did not keep him from shoving a few sandwichettes into his mouth. The most annoying thing, he had discovered, about growing older was that he wasn't any less hungry than he'd ever been, he just had to work harder to keep those extra Snickers' bars from ending up around his waist. On the plus side, his job included rather a lot of bare-knuckled boxing, both as a coach and for the occasional demo, so it wasn't like keeping the weight off was truly a hardship. Not like it was for Vin, who rather mournfully watched Beau wolf down most of his own plate before eyeing Vin's sandwiches covetously.
Vin took up one sandwich and then shoved the rest of them at Beau without commenting.
"Hello gentlemen," the wedding planner said, coming into the room. Aglaia was a dark skinned woman of mixed heritage, gloriously rubenesque with her hair done in a mix of braids and loose twists, dyed in various shades of henna red. "It's a pleasure to see you again, Mr. Reyes, and of course, I've heard all about you, Mr. Watkins. Now, let's sit down and I'll get a few of the basic questions out of the way, before we plunge into the meat of what your vision of the perfect wedding is."
The basic questions, Vin knew, were going to be the things that he and Beau were most likely to fight about. It was always that way; Beau had this Southern Manly-man hangup about Vin spending money. Like, what the hell else was money good for? Investing, spending, and lighting cigarettes, amiright? He'd already done all the investing -- in his future, in Beau's future. Both businesses were running well; truth be told, Beau's mixed martial arts gym often cleared a better profit than the art gallery.
On the other hand, Vin thought, eyeing the painting he'd sold Aglaia Sachdeva, when he did make sales, they were fairly robust. Maybe he should contact that artist again, host an event just to showcase her work, which was sensual without edging into indecent...
"I'm sorry, what?" Vin came back to the conversation with an abrupt jerk.
"He gets that way," Beau said, by way of apology. "He was probably mentally redecorating. Artists, you know."
Aglaia beamed at them, "Not to worry, gentlemen. This is all about your special day, and I am right here to make sure you get every little thing your hearts desire."
Beau snorted. "You're an optimist," he said.
"Honey," Aglaia said, taking Beau's hand and patting it like he was some sort of half-tamed beast, "I am surrounded by happy couples all day long. I do believe in the Happily Ever After. This is what I do. Of course I'm an optimist."
"You'll have your work cut out for you," Vin said. "He's all for elopement. I'd like something big and festive."
"Don't worry," she said. "I'll find something that will make both of you happy."
"Or both of us equally miserable," Beau said.
"That's a form of compromise, yes, but not preferred."
As expected, Vin's proposed budget nearly sent Beau into a lower Earth orbit. One might even think, listening to him carry on, that he wanted two attendants, a judge, minimal flowers, and a cake, and that was all. For forty guests. This was not going to fly; not even a little bit. No wings under that idea.
"You are not spending half a million dollars on our wedding," Beau protested.
"Yes, actually, I am," Vin said. He crossed his arms over his chest and glowered. "Look, we have well over two hundred friends who will want to come. And that's not including all our various clients and vendors with whom we have enough of a relationship to invite. We're successful business men. It would look tacky if we didn't pull out at least some of the stops."
Beau muttered something that probably had to do with the differences between what Vin considered successful and what normal people considered successful.
"Besides, if you say half a million, that sounds like a huge amount, but it's really not. Five hundred thousand dollars. You paid off the loan for your gym in less than three years and that was, what, just under?"
"The original loan was not quite seventy thousand," Beau continued to mutter. "The improvements, however, after the roof sagged..."
"Whatever. I'm just saying."
"Vin, I ain't got even half of half a million."
"But I do," Vin said. He cast an apologetic look at the wedding planner, who was very good naturedly not quite watching them argue."Look, if it makes you feel better, we can have Gerald put together a nice, legally-binding pre-nup that will limit how much of my personal fortune you're allowed to steal when we get divorced."
Beau gasped, shocked and hurt. "We ain't gettin' a divorce," he stated, absolute and firm.
"Of course not, darling," Vin said. "So here's a thing you're going to need to come to grips with, and that right soon. Once we get married, my money and your money becomes this strange, hybrid creature called our money. And you know, that means we get to spend it however we like. I'm not going to give you an allowance like you're a child, and I'm not going to do some weird economy thing where we live in a crappy house so that you can pay half the rent. We're going to invest in your business and grow it, like any other company, and we're going to both benefit from everything that both of us bring to this relationship. That's the whole idea of marriage, right? Two people, sharing a life?"
"So," Aglaia said, choosing that moment to look up from her tablet. "Five hundred thousand, for a budget, with a conservative estimate of five hundred guests? We can work with that. Let's talk about how you want the ceremony to look, and then we can see what venues I have that will work with your vision."
"Vin, no," Beau said. This was becoming almost annoying, and Beau suspected that once it had finished being annoying, it might come around to being funny. But it wasn't funny just yet.
"Beau, yes, you absolutely have to. It's a moral imperative."
Beau looked back down at the glossy page, full of lovely young women all wearing horrible, pink, flouncy lacy dresses. Truth, they probably fell right out of a bad remake of Gone with the Wind. The Bollywood version.
"No. I really, really don't. And even if I did have to, she would never in a million years agree to something like that."
"You could convince her, Beau," Vin said in his best wheedling tones. "She'd do it, if you asked her to."
"Ann-Marie is my very best friend in the whole world," Beau said, firmly. He knew Vin was right. If Beau asked, Ann-Marie would say yes. She'd also punch him about forty times in the arm and complain the entire time that he was making her hit him, but she would wear the ugliest dress known to man. If he wanted her to. The point, however, was that she was his very best friend precisely because he would never, ever do such a thing. "She can wear a nice pant-suit that matches with the cumberbunds. And if Mila wants to wear a dress, we can have one of those, made, too. There is absolutely no reason to make everyone unhappy."
Vin grumbled for a moment, then conceded the point. "Well, can I at least threaten her with the picture?"
"Only if you want to die before the wedding," Beau cautioned him. "You know how she feels about those sorts of things. And she would not entirely suspect you were joking."
"That's because I wouldn't be," Vin said. He turned the page, then stretched his legs out under the table, groaning. Vin's knee injury still pained him, especially if he sat in the same position for too long.
"Let's take a break, gentlemen," the wedding planner said. "Walk down and get a cup of coffee?" There was a very nice coffee shop on the ground floor of the business center; they'd walked by it on their way up to the office.
"You said the magic word," Beau said, as Vin nearly knocked over his chair in his enthusiasm. Beau'd never really gotten into coffee, himself. And the tea they served in Chicago was so unlike home's "sweet tea" that they might only be loosely related beverages. But he thought he'd seen a deli on the first floor as well, and there was no reason why he couldn't snag a Pepsi.
"So, Mila and Ann-Marie," Vin said. "Who else are we actually asking to be in the wedding?"
"I ain't asking Lee," Beau said. He scuffed his toe on the carpet. His brother had finally apologized, and Beau had accepted. Family peace had been declared, sort of. But it would never be the same, and while having one's brothers stand up at the wedding, Beau thought he'd just go ahead and dispense with that tradition. Aside from that, Gerald was still on speaking terms with Lee. Ginny and Lee actually attending the wedding might make things strained for his brother without adding an actual role in the proceedings.
"No? I thought I might ask my dad, though. Since it seems silly to have him give away the groom and all, maybe he'd like to be part of the ceremony."
"Yeah, Jonah would get a kick out of that," Beau said. "That's a good idea."
Vin suggested LeShelle Ross, one of the artists he worked with and had formed a strange bestgirlfriends sort of relationship with. She frequently called Vin her obligatory gay friend, with annoyed Beau, but didn't seem to bother Vin in the slightest. To match numbers, Beau paired her up with Kate, his cousin.
"And I'd like to ask Lloyd," Vin said, as they stepped into the line at the coffee bar. It might take a while to get drinks, based on the length of the queue. Beau chewed his lip for a moment, debating whether or not to continue this conversation at a later time. He hated when people stared at Vin and him as a couple. Hated it. He'd hold hands with his boyfriend and imagine every little snigger was directed at them. Even when he knew it wasn't. Even when he knew he was being oversensitive and stupid. But sometimes, he'd see someone stare and see the loathing and disgust on their face and he'd be right back in the parking lot that cold, brutal night, and he'd see Chris's leg coming for his ribs and not a damn thing he could do about it.
Sometimes, it was easier to just pretend he was straight.
I shouldn't have to, he thought, sudden and angry. He twined his fingers with Vin's and gave his fiancee his best grin. "That sounds great. Do you think David would stand up with me, if I asked him?"
David was Vin's bodyguard and driver. He'd been working for the Reyeses as a man-Friday since Vin crashed two cars inside of two months. Vin and David weren't friends; Vin thought of his driver as an employee -- and sometimes a nuisance. David thought of Vin as his boss -- and usually an idiot. But both of them would have taken a bullet for Beau without hesitation, and that bond kept them working together long after Vin outgrew the need for a babysitter.
Vin looked over from studying the chalkboard full of elaborate coffee-flavored drinks. "I can't imagine that he'd say no. And he does look smart in a tux."
Vin was quite convinced that he gained fifteen pounds just walking in the door at Ty & Knots's Cake and Bakery. The air was absolutely pungent with sugar and chocolate, cream frosting and fondant. And then -- oh, dear God in Heaven -- Aglaia led them over to the tasting station. The owners, Tyler Shaw and Sonya Knots, were on top of their game. Two full tables were loaded with tiny cake squares, each labeled, and then dozens of tiny dishes of frosting samples with itty bitty spatulas to spread each kind of icing on whichever sort of cake.
Find your perfect flavor, a banner read, hanging over the samples. As Vin understood it, the wait for a Ty & Knots cake, off the street, was over nine months, but Aglaia held special commissions open for her clients. Because of course she did.
After they tried every possible combination -- and a few of them more than once, and oh, sweet lord, was Vin going to have to work out, later. His knee ached just thinking about it. But worth it, oh, so worth it -- they came to the mutual conclusion that neither of them was going to speak to the other ever again in their entire lives.
Because they couldn't decide between salted caramel and chocolate or pumpkin walnut with cream cheese.
"It's astonishin' to me," Beau said in Vin's ear, "how we've managed t' live together for near on six years an' I never realized what an ornery cuss you was."
"Careful, babe," Vin said, "your dixie's showing."
"You know," Sonya suggested, "you don't have to have just one cake. It's very popular these days, especially when we're talking about a reception of your size, to have several smaller cakes. You can have one largish cake, for the cutting ceremony, and then smaller, themed cakes scattered around at set-ups all around the room. And we'll put one of each of your favorites on the sides of your main display cake, so neither of you feels the lack?"
"So what do we put as the main cake?" Beau asked. He had a smut of raspberry white chocolate filling on the side of his mouth and Vin was resisting the urge to lick it off. Not that Sonya probably hadn't seen that behavior before. Vin was just trying to adult. Look at him, adulting all over the place today. Responsible, respectable business owner. That was him. He was reminded suddenly of the couple he'd spotted boning up against the back of one of his art displays, the late end of a show that hadn't done particularly well, and smirked. He hadn't interrupted them because he was just nice like that. But he had watched them, because he wasn't that nice.
"Second favorite?" Sonya suggested.
Vin eyed the plates of cake cubes and groaned. He wasn't sure he could go through another round of tasting.
"Don't worry," Aglaia said, pulling up her tablet. "I wrote them all down while you were tasting the first time. I think I got your general preferences."
"You're a genius and I love you," Vin said, expressively.
"No, no, you love him," Aglaia said. "You merely worship me."
"And we should get one that's red velvet and cream cheese," Beau added, loftily ignoring this display of adoration and life-long devotion between his fiancee and his wedding planner.
"Why?" Vin made a face. "Red velvet is old-lady cake."
Beau snorted. "Because it's Ann-Marie's favorite, and she has put up with God knows how much shit from both of us for the last several years and we owe her. Also, because I love you, I won't tell her you said that."
Vin made a face and decided not to argue, because if he did argue, and lord knows he was tempted to, it might become general knowledge that he had no freaking clue what Mila's favorite kind of cake was. He wasn't as good with the people thing as Beau was; he probably never would be. Note to self, he thought, ask Mila what kind of cake she likes. Because it was Aglaia, and it was Ty & Knots's Cake, and he could always call one or the other on the sly, later, and have an extra ordered for his sister. Because, of course he could.
"Are you happy?" Vin asked.
Beau threw himself face down on the bed and groaned.
"Take it that's a no," Vin muttered. He sat down and unlaced his Diciannoveventitre shoes -- as he recalled, Beau had merely shaken his head and commented that Vin spent entirely too much money on a pair of shoes that looked like he'd bought them second, or even third, hand. They were a pale green, English style derby, and Vin loved them. Beau, on the other hand, still wore Nike trainers. At least, Vin decided, they tended to be new, rather than falling apart. Beau rarely dressed with an eye toward fashion; these days he was most often in workout gear and had his hands wrapped for fighting. From time to time, Vin managed to cajole him into something resembling stylish for an evening out, but he did acknowledge that his lover was just not sartorially inclined.
"I'm plum exhausted, is what I am," Beau said. He rolled over and laced his fingers behind his head. "An' we ain't even made any actual decisions yet."
"Pah." Vin waved his hand dismissively. "Aglaia's getting an idea of our taste. Pretty soon, she'll just bring us the important questions and we can leave the rest of it in her very capable hands."
Beau sighed. "Cain't believe we're leavin' most of the planning to someone else. When my brother got married, Ginny was up to her eyeballs in plans for months. An' that with my mom and her mom and Becky and her other girlfriends all helpin' her out."
"Your brother got married in the back yard of your parent's farm. That's a whole different sort of planning. And people make more of it than they need to. We can trust Aglaia. At the end of the day, the most important thing is, we'll be married. The rest is just show," Vin said.
"Are you sure you should be runnin' an art gallery and not actin' as the ringleader of a circus, instead?" Beau asked. He scrubbed at his face with both hands and groaned, ending the stretch with a shake of his curly hair, which pulled it loose from its hair tie. The shoulder length mop hung in his face, adorable and appealing.
Vin snuggled against Beau's side, running his fingers through the tangle of hair, stretching the curls out and letting them spring back. "I think you wouldn't like the amount of travel that such a job entailed."
"Did you wait on purpose?" Beau asked, suddenly. His voice was low and intent and filled with a strange sort of pain that Vin had trouble identifying.
"Wait for what, on purpose?"
"For Gerald t' die," Beau said. Beau never called his father anything other than Gerald, anymore, even after he died. Gerald had passed on, supposedly in his sleep from a massive coronary. That's what Beau's mother, Joanna, had told him.
Excepting, of course, that Joanna had insisted on describing the actual death to her best friend, Ada Bibb. Truth be told, Joanna was probably traumatized and needed someone to talk to about it -- and she was kind enough that that someone had not been her two sons. But Ada hadn't been able to resist the gossip, so she told her friends, Mrs. Perkins and Bobbi-Sue Holmes. And Bobbie-Sue had told Mrs. Wingfield, the mother of Beau's high school girlfriend, how Gerald had sat bolt upright in the middle of the night, clutching his chest, and then toppled out of bed, breaking the bedside lamp and cutting his face to ribbons on the way down. And Mrs. Wingfield had told her daughter, Donna about it.
Donna, who'd marred four years ago and had produced two daughters already and was already trying for a son, just had to write Beau a letter and tell him all about it. Beau, of course, hadn't gone to the funeral, and the whole thing had been a shut casket because the funeral director hadn't been able to make Mr. Watkins look peaceful, with his face split open from cheek to cheek. Donna probably meant it for the best. Joanna Watkins was terribly upset, not just from losing her husband, but the manner of his death had been extremely gruesome and personal -- she had, after all, immediately turned the farm over to Beau's older brother, Lee, and moved into a much smaller house in town -- and Donna thought Beau should know that his mother needed to be treated kindly and with extra consideration for a while.
Donna may have meant the best, but that hadn't kept Beau from grieving, and grieving hard, over a man he should have been able to hate, freely. Personally, Vin hated the entire lot of them. Except for Beau's aunt's widow, Erin, who was a "right old hoot of a dyke" as she described herself and a valued guest every time she came up to visit, which was at least twice a year.
Vin stared at his lover. "I'm utterly confused at this point. Why would I be waiting for your father to die? I don't, I never did, care anything about your father at all, except that he hurt you."
Beau made a meaningless, shapeless gesture. "To, I don't know, start planning. Did you wait for him to die, so that I didn't have to wonder and worry if I should invite m' family to our wedding?"
"Is that what's been bothering you, all day?" Vin asked. "You think I was eagerly awaiting your father's death so that I could make you my husband? Beauregard Jubal Watkins --" he took on Joanna's scolding, motherly tones "-- what kind of a fool are you?"
"Shhh," Vin said, placing one finger over Beau's lips. "I waited until your business was running smooth. I waited until you were feeling comfortable with your life. I know that my money still makes you nervous. And I never wanted you to feel like you were dependent on me. You know and I know that if something happened, and we split up, that you'd be okay on your own. That's what I was waiting for. I don't care about your dad. I never did. I'm glad he can't hurt you anymore, but honestly, I wouldn't have waited for that. If your dad was alive today, I'd still want to marry you, I'd still want to do it in the fall, and I'd still want to invite him, just so I could picture steam coming out of his ears. If he was still alive, I'd marry you in spite of him, despite him, and frankly, to fucking spite him. I'm marrying you because I love you. Because you're ready... and because I am so fucking ready for it. So are we clear about this?"
Beau stared at Vin, his eyes shining with emotion. He kissed the finger that Vin still held over Beau's lips, then wrapped a hand around the back of Vin's neck and drew Vin down for a more passionate kiss.
Tongue and teeth and heat and wetness, Vin lost himself in Beau's kiss. He rolled the two of them over until Beau was pinned underneath him. Vin slid a hand into Beau's hair, then down along his jaw, holding that silken mouth just where he wanted it. Beau had a tendency to kiss like other people punched, brutal, no holds barred, knock you on your fucking ass, ballistic kisses, but Vin wanted to draw out the moment, tender and sweet.
"I love you," Vin said.
"Of course you do," Beau replied, holding up one hand to keep Vin from punching him in the arm.
"You like my ass," Beau pointed out.
"No," Vin said, "no, honey. I love your ass."
Beau nipped at Vin's lip, light and playful. "Love you, too."
"So, you're going to marry me, and make an honest man of me?"
"No," Beau said. Vin's stomach plummeted through the floor and he laughed, nervous, waiting for the punchline. Beau kept him hanging just long enough for Vin to get truly concerned. "You already are an honest man, and I'm gonna to marry you so that I can put a ring on your finger and keep you forever."
"You've always had me forever, Beau," Vin said. "You just didn't know it."
"Yeah, well," Beau said, shrugging, "I'm a slow learner."