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Christmas Day Mood Fic: Happy


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Merry Christmas to everyone who celebrates it, and a pleasant December 25th to those who don't!


Carl and I had been dating for eight months when he got the wedding invitation. I was sitting at his kitchen table with a glass of iced tea when I saw him lift up the envelope, a wide grin breaking out on his face. “What is it?” I joked, “Did you win the lottery?”

“I wish,” he answered, opening up the envelope and quickly scanning the contents, “But this is still pretty good. Ken’s finally getting married!”

“Oh yeah?” I said, grinning myself, “To his long-term girlfriend, I presume?”

“Marisol,” Carl confirmed with a nod, “This is great! They really deserve each other.”

“You’d know better than I would, but I’m sure you’re right. You’ll have to tell me just how sappy it got when you get back from the wedding. When is it?”

“In mid-September, at the museum-botanical garden combo in their town. But that’s not the best part.”

“Oh? What is, then?”

He sat down across from me and slid over the invitation. “It’s addressed to the both of us.”

Stunned, I picked up the invitation (a pretty greenish-blue card with gold lettering and covered in pictures of tiger lilies) and took a look. Sure enough, the invitation was addressed to Carl Marliss and Gemma Balfour. “But why?” I said, “They’ve never even met me! And I only know what they look like because you’ve shown me pictures!”

“Ken knows you’re important to me,” Carl said, reaching out and laying his hand on mine, “So why not ask me to bring along my significant other on one of the happiest days of his life? Besides, I’ve talked about you enough in my e-mails that I’m sure he really wants to meet you.”

“I…I’m flattered,” I said, finally setting the invitation down, “Both that he invited me and that you’ve been hyping me up.”

He smiled. “It’s a pleasure. So, are you interested in going? I’ll definitely be attending, but if it’s too weird for you or you’re busy, I’m sure they’d understand.”

“Are you kidding?” I said, grabbing for my purse, “After a gesture like that, I have to go. Let me just check my schedule, and then you can send back the RSVP this afternoon.”

I couldn’t see Carl’s face as I rooted in my bag for my phone, but the warm tone in his voice was unmistakable as he said “He’ll be delighted. In fact, I’m pretty sure everyone will be.”

Once we’d confirmed that we’d be coming to the wedding, we (or at least I) tried not to spend too much time thinking about it. That’s not to say that we didn’t care, but the wedding was two months away, and we had our own lives to think about. Still, we were slowly making our arrangements; buying tickets (the wedding was two states over), arranging for time off work, figuring out what we’d need to pack, picking out a wedding gift, and so on and so forth. And while I tried not to overdo it, I would ask Carl questions every so often about Ken and Marisol, just so I wouldn’t feel like an outsider at the reception. Carl seemed to understand, because he’d just shake his head affectionately and answer my questions as best he could.

We flew out two days before the wedding, both to make absolutely sure we would get there on time (both of us have literally had nightmares about being late for important events) and so Carl could catch up with his other family members. “Plus, it’ll be a chance for me to introduce you to the extended family,” he said, “That way, you won’t be bombarded with questions during the wedding and have a few more familiar faces around in case I get called away.” I appreciated the gesture, even if it didn’t help my nerves.

We landed in Ohio at Two PM, and were at the hotel by 2:45. While I started unpacking, Carl called his aunt Erica to see if we’d be able to meet up with them that day. I was just hanging up my dress for the wedding when I heard him say “Oh, no, really?” and immediately spun around to see what was going on. Carl listened for a minute, then said “Is that going to be a problem for the wedding?” Another pause, and then he nodded and smiled slightly. “Good. But I take it it would be better if we didn’t come over?…No, it’s ok, I understand, and Gemma will too…Don’t worry about it, Aunt Erica, really. You’ve got more important things to worry about. Just give me a call if you need me for anything, ok?…Ok, bye then.”

“What’s wrong?” I said, as soon as he hung up the phone. I wouldn’t say I was worried, per se, more like slightly tense. Carl must have seen it in my body language or my expression, because he gave me a reassuring smile.

“It’s nothing serious, just some bad luck. Ken and Marisol both managed to get sick, that’s all.”

“Food poisoning?”

He shook his head. “A cold. According to Aunt Erica, they aren’t sure if it’s from stress or if they picked it up from someone they’ve been working with. They honestly aren’t even sure which one gave it to the other; both of them started feeling crappy around the same time.”

“But I take it the wedding’s still a go.”

“They’re not about to inconvenience their out-of-town guests. Fortunately, they’d already completed most of the preparations before they got sick, and what little hasn’t been done can be handled by other people. They’re just resting and trying to recover as much as they can before the wedding day. As long as they don’t overdo it, everything should still go smoothly, and they won’t spend their honeymoon feeling miserable. Plus, Aunt Erica’s making sure the museum has a lot of hand sanitizers available, just to make absolutely sure that no one else gets sick.”

“That’s all really nice of them,” I said, “Sounds like you were right; Marisol hasn’t gone full Bridezilla.”

“I wouldn’t have expected her to, given what Ken’s told me,” Carl said with a fond smile, before going back to business, “Unfortunately, due to getting everything together and not wanting to inadvertently give us anything, we’re probably not going to be seeing my family until the wedding.”

“Damn,” I said, sighing and returning to unpacking, “So much for reducing my ‘meet the family’ jitters.”

“It’ll be fine,” Carl said, unzipping his own suitcase, “They’re pretty much all as easy-going as me. Besides, let’s be honest, most of their attention will be on Ken and Marisol, not us.”

“I hope you’re right,” I said, as I started gathering up my toiletries, “I just don’t want to be memorable for all the wrong reasons, you know?”

“I know,” Carl said, bumping against my shoulder affectionately, “But don’t worry too much. If anything is going to mess up this wedding, it’s germs, not Gemma.”

Thanks to our allegrophobia, Carl and I arrived at the museum two hours before the ceremony was supposed to start. That was far from a problem, though; the grounds were open for us to walk through to pass the time, and if we were lucky, some of Carl’s relatives would show up early as well, so I could get through the introductions phase before the reception. They say it’s impossible to upstage a bride on her wedding day, but I didn’t want to take the chance.

Bit by bit, other guests started trickling in, and Carl and I made the rounds. I think I met three cousins, two uncles, and a set of grandparents in the space of five minutes. They all seemed nice, and since no one was giving me odd looks, I assumed they felt the same way about me. That was reassuring, as was the pleased greeting I got from Carl’s parents when they arrived. I wouldn’t say I felt like “one of the family”, but at least I didn’t feel like an outsider either. Carl’s arm constantly finding itself around my waist helped too.

We were talking about Carl’s latest project with his parents when we heard a bell ringing, summoning us to the ceremony location. “Right on time,” Carl said, checking his watch, “Looks like we’re not the only ones who hate to be late.”

“We take it to extremes,” I responded, taking his arm as we started walking towards the sound, “If this were us, we’d probably have started the ceremony fifteen minutes early, regardless of who was present.”

Carl laughed. “I’d like to think we’re better than that.”

“Who knows? Maybe you’ll get the opportunity to find out!” Carl’s mother said, and I was glad we were in front of her, because then she couldn’t see me blush. Sure, the wedding and the location was putting me in a romantic mood, but the point of today wasn’t my relationship, now was it?

Arriving at the courtyard, an usher gestured us to a row of chairs six rows from the front on the groom’s side. Carl looked at the people sitting in front of us and changed position with me so I’d be able to see what was going on, but we otherwise were seated without incident. Just as we’d finished getting settled, four men emerged from a side gate and took their places at the front. I didn’t need to ask Carl which one was Ken, the groom; besides the posture that radiated excited nervousness, the fact that he bent forward with an inaudible but obvious sneeze shortly after arriving was a dead giveaway. I winced sympathetically. “Looks like he didn’t quite get that cold out of his system.”

“I managed to talk to Aunt Erica on the drive up,” Carl’s mother said, “She assured me that both Ken and Marisol are feeling much better, even if they don’t sound it.”

“That’s good, at least.” I said.

“Very good.” Carl agreed with a smile, “They deserve to enjoy their wedding day, as well as their honeymoon. Especially their honeymoon.” I poked him in the side, and he just chuckled and rested his hand on mine.

The four of us continued to chat as the rest of the guests got seated. Then some classical music started playing, and the whole group fell silent and turned towards the back of the courtyard, waiting for the bridal party. As the music hit a certain beat, two women in pale purple dresses (same color, different styles) made their way down the aisle, carrying small bouquets of orange flowers. Once they’d gone halfway up the aisle, two more bridesmaids began their walk. Then, as they reached the halfway point and the music swelled dramatically, the bride and her father appeared, and the guests all rose to their feet, craning their necks to get a good look.

Carl was right; Marisol had great taste. Her dress was relatively simple, something that could be worn again for formal occasions, but had enough trailing fabric in the back that in the here and now, there was no doubt that it was meant to be a wedding dress. It was also perfectly accessorized with a flowing white wrap instead of a train, white kid gloves, and a small veil held in place by a silver fascinator. Her orange and purple bouquet was the only pop of color, but it was the only color she needed. I kind of gasped appreciatively, but I wasn’t embarrassed about it; just a quick glance around at my fellow guests told me a lot of them were feeling the same way.

It was only when Marisol and her father were one row away from us that any sort of flaw could be discovered. Even from where I was standing, I could see a pinkish tint to her nose that apparently couldn’t have been disguised by makeup. But that flaw had been turned into a strength of sorts, because her lipstick and blush had been applied to complement it, allowing her to look, for lack of a better word, “rosy-cheeked” and innocent. You could tell she was sick if you knew what to look for, but at a glance, it just added to the effect.

Marisol passed us, her eyes focused on the front, completely captivated by the groom. Turning to follow her gaze, I could see Ken looking at her appreciatively. Then I saw a little flash of purple, and I realized that he’d waved his pocket handkerchief (which had been repurposed as an actual handkerchief) at her. It was such a charming little gesture that I said “Aww…” aloud. Carl must have spotted it too, because he laughed softly and squeezed my hip. I bumped shoulders with him and kept watching.

After another minute, Marisol arrived at the front, the music ending a few seconds later, and the officiant told us to sit down. From there, things proceeded the way you see them in movies. The officiant said some cheesy but nonetheless heartfelt things about marriage and love, Marisol’s father gave her away, and all the women in the audience (myself included) got teary-eyed. Then came the moment for the vows and exchanging of rings. I was expecting the usual “For richer or poorer” spiel, but instead, Ken took Marisol’s hand, sliding the ring onto it, and began;

“Marisol Rudo, I promise to give you the best of myself, and to ask of you no more than you can give. I promise to accept you the way you are. I fell in love with you for the unique qualities and abilities you have, and won’t try to reshape you in a different image. I promise to respect you as a person with your own interests, desires, and needs, and to realize that those are sometimes different, but no less important than my own. I promise to keep myself open to you, to share my innermost fears, feelings, secrets, and…”

His voice had been getting increasingly shaky as he’d been delivering this speech, which I think all of us had chalked up to emotion. But then he took his hand off Marisol’s, the ring only halfway down her finger, and yanked the purple handkerchief back out of his breast pocket. “Deshhhh!”

I think the audience all winced simultaneously. To their credit, both Marisol and Ken seemed unfazed by what had happened. Marisol didn’t even flinch, and Ken sniffed, stuffed the handkerchief back into place, and resumed his vows, though his voice was much more congested now. We could still pick up enough of the words to get the point, though, and there was enough love in the words that it was obvious he was being sincere.

Once he had finished, it was Marisol’s turn. She tucked her bouquet in the crook of her arm, took Ken’s hand, and started to slide on his ring as she said;

“I take you, Kenneth Asher, to be my wedded husband. I pledge that I will love you and tenderly care for you in sickness and in health.” She smiled, and there was an impishness in it I could spot even from six rows back. “In fact, I’ll prove it.”

With that, she let go of Ken’s hand and reached into her bouquet, plucking out one of the flowers. She tugged on something, then lifted the flower up and shook it out, transforming it into an orange cloth. Then she reached out and rubbed Ken’s nose with it. We all started laughing; even the officiant cracked a smile. Ken, who was also laughing, took the makeshift tissue from her and slipped it into the pocket of his trousers before kissing her fingers. Marisol, still grinning, waited until the laughter died down a little before continuing with her vows, which were shorter than Ken’s but no less heartfelt. Then, they turned towards the officiant, who wasted no time in pronouncing them man and wife. He was just beginning “You may kiss the bride.” when Ken flipped up Marisol’s veil and beat him to it. We laughed again and started applauding. Music started playing, and we stood up, watching as what was clearly a happy couple walked down the aisle. Carl put his arm around my shoulders and pecked my temple. I just grinned and rested my hand on his back.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please make your way to the reception area,” the officiant said after the bridal party had departed, “The bride and groom are going to be taking a few photos, but they should be done in half-an-hour. In the meantime, beverages and appetizers will be served. Please enjoy yourselves.”

“Oh, we intend to.” Carl said sotto voce, and I fully agreed with him. After seeing Ken and Marisol in action, I wasn’t too worried about making a good first impression on them. It seemed like they’d be seeing the funny side of everything today.

“Carl! There you are! So glad you could make it!”

Carl turned around and smiled broadly. “Ken! Great to see you!”

Ken clapped Carl on the shoulder, made equally enthusiastic greetings to Carl’s parents, and then turned to me. “And you’re Gemma, right?”

I nodded, holding out my hand. “Yep. Nice to meet you. I’ve enjoyed learning about you vicariously through Carl.”

Ken waved off my hand. “No handshakes. Nothing personal, but I’m trying to keep this to myself. You understand.” I was just nodding when he added, “But to show that it’s a pleasure to meet you…” and dipped into a bow. I laughed and curtseyed in return.

Beside me, Carl shook his head. “I see your cold hasn’t dulled your enthusiasm.”

“Only my energy, my voice, and my taste buds,” Ken confirmed, “Besides, I’ve just gotten married. How can I not be enthusiastic?”

Carl grinned. “May we all have the same optimism that you do. Is there any chance we can chat with Marisol? I’d like Gemma to meet her too.”

“Of course!” Ken said, “She’s just taking a rest. Standing up for the ceremony and the photos took a lot out of her.”

“Is she ok?” I asked, concerned, “We can wait until she’s feeling better.”

“It’s fine,” Ken assured us, leading us towards the head table, “If it wasn’t, she’d have gone somewhere more private. But she’s really enjoying herself. She’s just unlucky enough that this cold mostly makes her feel rundown, whereas I’m energetic, but congested and…well, you saw for yourself.”

“We did indeed,” Carl said, “That was a pretty clever ad-lib on Marisol’s part during the vows.”

“Well, when the opportunity presents itself, you might as well take advantage of it,” Ken said with a laugh, “We have that in common.”

“I liked that she pulled it out of the bouquet,” Carl added, “It was much more dramatic than just getting it from a pocket or something. Though it does raise the question of what it was doing in the bouquet in the first place.”

“Oh, that’s easy,” Ken said, “Marisol got creative with her bouquet. You’ll see what I mean in a second.”

We had just arrived at the head table, where Marisol was sitting, sipping at a glass of water and chatting with another guest. Ken waited until she had finished and the other woman had moved off before stepping into her line of sight. “Marisol?”

Marisol turned towards us, eyes lighting up immediately at the sound of Ken’s voice. “There you are! I haven’t seen you in five minutes! And you call yourself a devoted husband!”

Ken laughed and pecked her lips before gesturing over to us. “Marisol, this is my cousin Carl and his girlfriend Gemma.”

“Oh, of course!” Marisol said, smiling at us, “Nice to meet you at last. I’ve always gotten a kick out hearing Carl’s enthusiasm about you. It seems like humor and passion runs in Ken’s side of the family.”

“We spent a lot of time together as kids,” Carl said, “It’s not surprising we have similar reactions to things. Though I was just saying to Ken that you’ve got quite the sense of humor yourself.”

He gestured over to the bouquet, which was resting on the table. “In sickness and in health indeed.”

Marisol laughed. “I figured it killed two birds with one stone. It was sweet and it would keep things from feeling too serious. The whole point of a wedding is for everyone to enjoy themselves, after all.”

“Ken said your bouquet was creative. Could I see?”

“Of course,” Marisol said, picking it up and holding it out for us to take a look, “Better now than during the bouquet toss, when it’ll be crushed in the scramble.”

Peering at the bouquet, I saw that it seemed to be an even mix of actual flowers, plastic but realistic looking flowers, and origami flowers made out of cloth. “That’s so cool!” I said, “How did you come up with that?”

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” Marisol answered, setting the bouquet back down, “This way, I wouldn’t have to stress myself out trying to find orange and purple flowers. Besides, it was better for my allergies.”

“Allergies?” I said, startled.

Marisol nodded. “I wanted the bouquet, but not constant sneezing. This seemed like a reasonable solution.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but this wedding is taking place in a botanic garden, right?” Carl said, saying what I was thinking but managing to put a teasing tone on it.

“I know, I know,” Marisol said, grinning, “Why do you think we scheduled it for September? Fewer plants in bloom. And to answer the question, it’s because this is where Ken and I met. I was willing to accept the consequences if it allowed us to come full circle. Besides, I got lucky; my nose is blocked enough that I can’t detect any pollen. Or maybe the pollen grains and my cold germs are duking it out for dominance.”

Ken massaged her shoulders, chuckling. “I’m guessing the various medications you took before the ceremony help too.”

“You didn’t see me while I was getting dressed,” Marisol answered, “I’m lucky there were plenty of tissues available, otherwise I might have used most of those origami flowers on myself. I was seriously debating using my veil as a tissue at one point.”

“I bet you were a beautiful sight, anyway.” Ken said.

“Flatterer,” Marisol responded, batting at one of Ken’s hands before turning her attention back to us, “We’re going to have to meet up and really get to know each other. Maybe sometime around the holidays?”

“I’d like that,” I said, “I’m sure we can arrange something once you two have settled into married life.”

“Great!” she said, “We’ll e-mail Carl about it sometime after our honeymoon. Actually, maybe you can give us your e-mail as well; it’s better to talk ‘in person’, after all.”

“I’m not opposed,” I said, “But I don’t think I’ve got pen and paper on me.”

“Ah, yes, the curse of formal events and formal wear,” Marisol said, “Carl, send us her e-mail address when you respond to our e-mail.”

“Done,” Carl said, “And with that promise for further contact established, Gemma and I should let you get back to your guests. We’ve monopolized enough of your time.”

Marisol started to nod and smile, then held up one hand before turning away and sneezing into a handkerchief that she’d prudently set on the table. “Tchii! Chee! Ktshi!”

“Bless you.” Carl, Ken, and I said simultaneously. Marisol wiped her nose and grinned ruefully. “Looks like my body’s warning me I’ll need another dose of medicine. I don’t want to have a repeat of this morning. Though if I do, I’ve come prepared.”

Lifting up the tablecloth, she showed us the two boxes of Kleenex hidden there. Carl laughed. “Clearly. We’ll let you do what you need to do. Nice seeing you both, and enjoy the rest of the wedding.”

“The same to you, on all counts.” Ken said, Marisol nodding even as she reached down for something by the tissue boxes, no doubt the medication she’d mentioned. Carl and I waved and moved away from the table, discreetly taking advantage of the hand sanitizer dispenser right by the canopy. “I can see why you like them,” I said, “I bet they’re even more fun to be around in more casual settings.”

“You’ll just have to wait and find out.” Carl said, “Think you can hold out until November or December?”

“I think so,” I responded, “As long as I’ve got you to tide me over.”

“It’s a promise,” Carl said, running his hand down my back, “Now come on, let’s go find my parents.”

We spent the next hour or two chatting with people and doing a little exploring of the grounds, then assembled back at the main site for dinner. We’d been given three options for an entrée, and while Carl had picked the beef, I’d gone with the chicken, which arrived with a generous side of mashed potatoes and a delicious scent of spices. Before we could dig in, though, waiters came around and poured us all champagne (or sparkling cider for the non-drinkers and minors), and we stood up, knowing a toast was on the way.

Sure enough, the officiant from the ceremony got up and stood between Ken and Marisol, raising his own glass. “To Kenneth and Marisol Asher. May their lives go as smoothly as today has, with only a few small bumps here and there.”

“Here here!” we said, and drank. Just as I lowered my glass, I saw Ken set his own glass down hard on the table and press the cloth Marisol had given him at the ceremony to his face, obviously sneezing. The officiant had noticed, too, because he said “Case in point…”

The crowd chuckled, and Ken lowered the makeshift handkerchief and pulled the microphone towards him. “Sorry. Champagne bubbles and colds apparently aren’t a good combination. Enjoy your dinners, everyone!”

We all obligingly sat down and started eating. My chicken was just as delicious as I’d expected, with just enough spice to make my tongue tingle but not overpower the flavor. The next fifteen minutes were spent eating, as Carl and I chatted with his parents and the two other people at our table (an aunt and uncle on Marisol’s side), enjoying the food, the company, and the ambience. Then Marisol’s aunt, Lucila, pointed up at the head table. “Poor Marisol. It looks like her illness is getting in the way of her enjoyment of the food as well.”

I glanced up at the table and saw that Marisol was holding her fork in one hand and a handkerchief in the other. Even as I watched, she took a bite of chicken, quickly chewed and swallowed, then put the handkerchief to her face, shoulders quivering faintly. Ken leaned over, no doubt blessing her, and she smiled faintly at him before cutting another piece, at which point the pattern repeated itself. “That has to suck,” I said, “Unable to enjoy dinner without sneezing getting in the way. I guess it was too late for her to change the catering to prevent this from happening.”

“Or she had no idea this was going to happen,” Lucila said, “After all, the chicken may have a little spice, but it’s not bothering any of the other guests as far as I can see. How was she to know they’d mix with her clogged nose like that?”

Carl laughed, which made all of us look at him in surprise. He shook his head, still chuckling. “Sorry. You just had an…interesting turn of phrase, that’s all.”

“I apologize if it made you lose your appetite.”

“No, no, it’s fine. It was just unexpected. Now then, you were telling us about your disastrous airline experience?”

Lucila happily resumed our previous topic of conversation, and I almost forgot about Carl’s response. That is, until the toasts started.

There were four toasts total; Marisol’s dad, Ken’s dad, the best man, and the maid of honor. All of them were heartfelt and included at least one humorous anecdote, and we all laughed and said “aww” by turns. At the end, each speaker lifted their glasses and gave a toast to the couple, all of us following suit. But after each sip, and in the lull between speakers, Carl would smile slightly and shake his head. No one else seemed to notice, but since I had to look past him to see the table, I couldn’t help but spot it. I had a feeling something was going on, but didn’t want to draw attention to it. I resolved to get it out of him once we were back in the hotel room.

After the toasts, we were served the wedding cake (which was just as delicious as the rest of the food) and watched the bouquet toss (or rather, Carl and his parents watched while I participated; unfortunately, the bouquet feinted left instead of right and I never even got close to it). Then Ken took the microphone.

“Ladies and gentlemen, normally this would be the point when we had our first dance. However, both Marisol and myself are feeling our energy flagging. We’re going to call it a night and go to bed, to try and avoid feeling totally wretched on our flight tomorrow. However, we’ve reserved the area until Ten PM, so feel free to stay and enjoy yourselves. Thank you so much for taking the time out to celebrate with us. We’re extremely grateful for all you’ve done.”

We all applauded and cheered them one last time, and Ken took Marisol’s hand and led her away, the two of them smiling and waving at us all as the DJ played what I’m guessing would have been their first dance song to see them off. As they passed by our table, Carl raised his glass in their direction, which Ken acknowledged with a nod and a smile. Soon enough, they vanished into the pathways of the garden, and people started getting up to dance. After finishing our drinks, Carl and I followed their example.

“Did you enjoy yourself?” Carl asked, as he hung up his jacket.

“Yes,” I said, kicking off my shoes before sitting down to remove my hose, “You’ve got a pretty neat family. I don’t know why I was so worried about meeting them in the first place.”

“Fear of the unknown,” Carl answered, “I’ll be the same way when I finally meet your extended family.”

“I don’t have quite the same numbers that you do. And it’ll probably be in a much more relaxed setting.”

“Hey, I’m trying to make you feel better here. Don’t bring logic into it.”

I laughed, which somehow reminded me of Carl’s odd behavior during the toasts. “Hey, what was so funny during the toasts? You looked like you were enjoying some sort of private joke.”

“Oh, you saw that?” Carl said, looking a little embarrassed, “I was hoping I was less overt than that.”

“If it’s any consolation, I don’t think anyone else noticed. Their attention was on the head table after all. Are you going to tell me or not?”

Carl looked down at the buttons on his cuffs, wrestling with them for a moment. Once they were undone, he looked back at me. “Can you keep a secret?”

“Of course,” I said, torn between being concerned and intrigued, “Especially if it’s important.”

“I don’t know if I’d go that far,” Carl said, “But it’s something that might embarrass Ken, and I’d rather not do that to him.”

“I’ll still keep quiet about it,” I promised, “Just tell me.”

Carl started unbuttoning the rest of his shirt. “Like I’ve mentioned before, Ken and I used to live about an hour’s drive from each other. Which meant we both were able to commiserate with each other over our various growing pains. Well, at one point, Ken asked me if I got aroused when people sneezed. When I said no, he turned red and changed the subject. I let the matter drop, because he’s my cousin and a friend, but I never forgot it. When I was in college, I did some research, and discovered that being turned on by sneezing is actually a thing, albeit a pretty uncommon thing.”

“Sneezing, huh?” I said, “I guess I’m not one to judge. So you were amused by the fact that a guy who enjoys sneezes was sick and sneezing on his wedding day?”

“More than that,” Carl said, “The thought hadn’t occurred to me until today, but I basically got handed proof on a silver platter. Marisol shares his interest.”

“Seriously?” I said, starting to feel amused myself, “How do you know?”

“It’s the little things. First off, the bride is generally the one making most of the wedding arrangements. Which meant she had to sign off on having the wedding at a location she was allergic to. Also, she had the chicken, which was described on the menu as “Pepper-encrusted”. She probably meant it as a private joke, but it wound up actually getting to her, as her Aunt Lucila said. Then there’s the way she talked about her illness, especially the sneezing fit she had before the ceremony. Above all, though, I saw how she was looking at Ken during the toasts.”

“What does that have to do with any…”

“Remember how Ken sneezed during the first toast and said it was due to the champagne?” When I nodded, Carl continued, “Well, despite knowing it made him sneeze and the fact that there was water available, he kept drinking the champagne and sneezing after each toast. And Marisol reached out and patted his hand every time, giving him this look that I could tell was more than just affectionate concern.”

“I can’t believe you were looking out for that.”

“My curiosity was piqued by that point,” Carl said with a shrug, “I was looking for more evidence to support my theory. Now, I’ll fully acknowledge that my theory could be wrong, but I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that’s what was going on. Which is one more reason why I’d rather you not mention it in any future interactions with them.”

“Scout’s honor,” I said, holding up a hand, “Though now it’s going to be hard not to smile a little if one or both of them sneeze in my presence.”

“How do you think I’ve felt all these years?” Carl said, chuckling, “At least I’ve got someone to share my pain with now.”

“I aim to please,” I said, finally getting off the bed and starting to remove my dress, “Now then, I’m going to take a shower. Care to join me? Maybe afterwards we can indulge in our ‘interest’.”

Carl’s eyes gleamed. “Certainly. We might as well follow Ken and Marisol’s example. Despite his little speech, I’m betting they didn’t go straight to bed from the reception. Or if they did, they didn’t go to sleep immediately. There’s no way they didn’t take advantage of their situation.”

“You’re terrible,” I said, even as I stroked his face, “But in all the best ways.”

“Which is why you started dating me,” Carl responded, tugging at my hair, “As today proves, birds of a feather really do flock together.”

I just waggled my eyebrows and dragged him towards the shower. If we were going to keep flirting, we might as well be productive about it.

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By the way (I didn't post this yesterday because my internet was slow and posting this story took long enough as it was), I can't take full credit for the wedding vows in the story. I got them from this website. I like to cite my sources, as they say.

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