The invitation has got to be a cry for help. Five years of practically no communication down the road, it’s the only plausible explanation. Eduardo might as well have written on the back, Mark I still hate you but I don’t want to marry this girl my father picked out for me and maybe if you show up shit might end differently for me somehow I don’t know just come. Which, okay, he didn’t write that, but Mark is – he’s pretty sure that’s what it’s saying. At any rate, he RSVPs ‘yes,’ refusing point-blank to answer any of the questions he gets from Dustin when he asks him what flight he’s taking to Miami.
It’s a smallish ceremony, a lot of beautiful older people in expensive clothing and not many of their friends, and it’s the first time Mark’s been in a temple since his grandfather’s funeral during college. He always feels out of place in the muted quiet of a synagogue, like he’s doing some wrong by being there. Though that might have more to do with the occasion than the building, this time.
They file into a middle pew, Chris clutching a tissue and Dustin fidgeting to his left, and Mark sits quite still in his suit as the procession trails in, a little Brazilian cousin scattering flowers in the aisle, and then the rabbi starts his ministrations over Eduardo and the bride, Jordana. Eduardo is the epitome of sad, young wealth and an adulthood commenced too quickly, his long legs and thin torso a wispy black inkstroke in his tux, and Mark thinks of nothing other than the fact that it’s the first time he’s seen him since the end of the depositions. He looks worse now, if possible, than he did sitting all dead-eyed and slump-shouldered in the harsh light of that conference room. His expression is the opposite of split-open and soul-wrecked as it was then. It’s as though he’s barely here at all.
He looks into his bride’s obscured eyes and smiles, low and soft-eyed, and Mark’s heart breaks so unexpectedly in his chest that he actually has to stifle the urge to clutch at it.
Beneath the short, delicately sheer veil spilling over her face, it’s obvious that Jordana is pretty, like, pretty enough that it makes Mark feel really sad. She suits Eduardo, of course she does, and she looks at him with the unselfish affection of one who knows this isn’t love and has come to terms with it. She’s a head shorter than her husband-to-be, mahogany-colored hair tumbling in loose waves over the openwork shoulders of her long white dress. The lace spreads over her shoulderblades and down her arms like pale lichen moss.
Mark’s gaze slides back to Eduardo and all he sees is misery, even if it is not, perhaps, all that’s really there – but he looks as though he’s wearing his own life like a skin to mask his unhappiness, hollowed out and defeated in that way Mark always associated, a spark of anger flickering in his stomach, with Eduardo’s father.
At some point he realizes that he’s waiting for the rabbi to say it: If anyone can show just cause why these two should not be legally wed, speak now, or forever hold your peace. He doesn’t even know if they do say it at Jewish weddings. And – he also doesn’t know what he thinks is going to happen if it does get said. That he’ll stand up, sudden and stiff-limbed with Chris hissing his name at his elbow – that he’ll make some kind of hastily improvised yet perfect and heartfelt proclamation about how Wardo should be marrying for love and for himself and, what, they’ll call the whole thing off? and then: the happy ending Mark always knew Eduardo was hoping for, the two of them rich and successful and happy and together forever. Maybe not married, but…something. Something like it.
He tries to imagine Eduardo actually happy at his own wedding, but the image that his mind conjures up is patently absurd one, because Mark is in it too, and that is not the point. The point is – it doesn’t matter about Mark. Because Eduardo looks so glowingly, burstingly happy in this mental picture that Mark aches with it, a siren song, and he wonders what it would be like if it was real.
“I do,” he hears Eduardo say – the first time he’s heard his voice – there were no vows by the couple, just Eduardo looking into her veiled face and saying it somewhat robotically, his smile barely reaching his eyes, as though he’s rehearsed doing this in a way where his voice doesn’t break.
Mark’s only realizing that the objections line isn’t going to get said, his stilted little fantasy crumbling into smoke around him, when the rabbi says warmly, “You may kiss the bride,” and Eduardo lifts her veil and leans in and presses his mouth to her lightly smiling lips, his hand coming up to the side of her face, thumbing at the delicate wisps of hair by her ear, her tremulous, blushing cheeks.
It’s then that Mark wonders, for the first time, whether he’s imagining the regret on Eduardo’s face, the resistance in the set of his shoulders, whether Eduardo is, in reality, happy, and it’s Mark who feels these things. Whether Eduardo asked him here to hurt him by showing him all this, not because it was Mark whom he really loved. The thought is so horrible that Mark feels a sick shock in his stomach, and he rejects it, summarily, because he so forcefully does not want it to be true that it just can’t be.
And the ceremony is over, anyway, so he doesn’t have to see it anymore.
He considers, strongly, getting very drunk at the reception afterwards as he watches Jordana dancing alone with her father, Eduardo standing to one side, watching with unreadable eyes and a small smile. He isn’t worried about embarrassing himself, but something in him feels the worst about the thought of ruining anything for her, and so he won’t do it.
The voice cuts in again, like it always does, later in the evening when people are scattered all over the little arboretum where this party is taking place. Mark turns, his second (only second!) glass of champagne clutched in his hand like a shield.
It’s Eduardo, still inscrutable, his eyes rather dark. He’s loosened his tie, and he looks into Mark’s face in a way appropriate for the length of time that’s passed since they last saw each other.
“You invited me,” Mark says flatly, shrugging and holding Eduardo’s gaze.
“Why?” Mark blurts.
Eduardo considers him for a moment, looking a little sad. “Why do you think?”
Mark frowns. “I thought at first it was because you hoped I’d stop it,” he says, honestly, because Eduardo did ask. “And then I thought it was because you wanted me to see it. Because – I don’t know why.” He shrugs again. “So, no idea, is what I’m saying.”
Eduardo laughs. “Interesting guesses,” he says, “but I think you’re reading in too much.”
“Is that so.”
“I invited you because I wanted you here, Mark,” Eduardo says, eyebrows knitting, and, oh. The simple honesty of it gets right into Mark like a sudden clenched fist. “It’s been years. I’m – married.” The word falls flat, like he isn’t used to the tense.
“Congratulations,” Mark says softly.
“You thought I was hoping you’d stop it?” Eduardo says a little incredulously. “Like, I object?”
Mark shrugs uncomfortably, and Eduardo laughs again, but it’s a sad little hiccup of a sound.
“The thing is –” he starts, and then he glances around and moves into Mark’s space a little. They’re surrounded by people Mark doesn’t recognize and nobody is paying them any mind. “I mean, you know what this is. Me and her.”
There’s a little duck to Eduardo’s mouth that makes Mark fingers itch irrationally, as though he could reach up and iron out the sadness from his face.
“But she’s,” Eduardo says, “she’s – lovely, she is, and she, you know, she understands.”
“That there’s someone else,” Eduardo murmurs, looking up at Mark through his lashes in a heavy, close kind of way, and the bottom drops out of Mark’s stomach before his brain has even caught up with the statement. “That…” he wets his lips, the words nervous like he’s trying to get them out quickly. “That there always was.”
“Wardo,” Mark says, voice catching on the nickname so long absent from his mouth.
“I invited you because I wanted you here,” Eduardo says again, quietly. “Because I wanted – because I’ve missed you, the whole time, and, and I – I think I’m ready to talk about it.”
“Now that you’re married,” Mark says. He’s just trying to make sure he understands. His heart thuds rapidly in his chest.
“Right,” Eduardo says, mouth twisting in a rueful smile as he glances down.
“Okay,” Mark says, a tripping heartbeat of a word, before he can change his mind. “I mean, I can talk. We – I mean, I’m here.” Eduardo’s still just this side of closer than he needs to be for normal conversation, and it feels so familiar that Mark hardly knows what to do with himself.
Eduardo reaches forward and takes Mark’s hand, just the tips of his fingers around the tips of Mark’s fingers. He looks at the point of contact as though his body is betraying him in some small way, but he doesn’t let go for a long moment.
Mark’s whole body is reeling, his mouth very dry. He had expected a lot of things, a lot of really dumb things, but he had never been so dumb as to expect this.
“I’ll find you later,” Eduardo murmurs, a low smile curving his mouth, and it’s genuine, so much more genuine than anything Mark had seen on his face at the ceremony.
Mark smiles back, and it’s genuine too. “Okay,” he says, meeting Eduardo’s eyes, and he nods once, certain, like a vow.