Adam could still taste the vomit in his mouth despite the mint he had eaten right before the ceremony. He was relieved to have been able to throw up before the wedding started, lest it all come out on stage. That was one less thing he would have to worry about at least.
The people were all in their seats now, happily chatting away, and he knew that he had now reached the point of no return. Every ounce of energy was focused on trying to remain calm. He kept his palms turned inward for fear that everyone would be able to see the sweat forming on the inside of them and hoped that the sweat forming under his arms would not soak all the way through his tux. Suddenly he realized that in all the commotion of the day he had completely forgotten to take his pills that morning.
Twenty minutes, he kept telling himself. Just twenty minutes and you'll be through it.
He scanned the faces in the pews as he clenched his fists to try to stop his palms from sweating. Every face had that same sinister grin and all he could hear was the sound of their muffled laughter which he imagined being the result of endless jokes and insults at his expense. The sweat must be visibly soaking right through his tux by now, he thought. He spotted Gretchen's mother again out of the corner of his eye but avoided making eye contact. He could hear the distinct sound of laughter coming from every direction getting louder and louder to the point where it began to hurt his ears and he tried to imagine what the source of such gleefulness might be. Whatever it was, everybody seemed to be in on it now.
Everything quieted down as the music started, and he tried to focus his attention on the reason that he was forcing himself to go through with this. There she was, walking down the aisle, all dressed in white, with a smile that showed that she was completely oblivious to the jokes that were being told at Adam's expense only moments ago. Surely for her he could make himself forget what was happening around him. After all the things he had been through to make this day possible, certainly a mere twenty-minute ceremony filled with quiet scoffing and ridicule would not be enough to separate him from the woman he loved. He thought about how he had quit smoking at her request almost two years ago, and given up his Vikings season tickets and dropped out of his fantasy football league because none of these things mattered to him any more now that he had her. He did his best to dwell on these thoughts and forget the laughter and the sinister smiling faces all about him and just focus on her.
But then as a bead of sweat rolled down his cheek he glanced at her father next to her, with an equally oblivious-looking smile on his face, and he wondered if she wasn't in on the whole thing after all. Perhaps she even cooked up the whole idea two years ago when they first started dating, along with her parents, as they hashed out the plan over dinner one night.
"We'll get the whole family to play along right up until the wedding day. We'll even get his friends and family in on it too. Then we'll spring it on him right before we say our 'I do's.' It'll be so funny!"
"And we can videotape the whole thing and send it into one of those funny video shows so the whole country can watch it and laugh at him!"
"He'll never suspect a thing!"
"I'm so proud of you, honey, to have come up with this idea all on your own! We love you!"
"I love you too, mom and dad!"
Suddenly it all became clear. He tried to force a smile. He didn't want to let on that he had figured out what was up. He would just play along until he saw his opportunity.
Gretchen had made her way to the alter now and was standing directly in front of him, completely oblivious to the fact that Adam had figured out her plan. His smile came easier now as he looked into her eyes and wondered what the look on her face would be when she realized that her plot had been foiled.
Adam tried to appear as normal as possible as the minister began the ceremony, but he knew he was going to have to make his move soon. He felt a sudden hatred for this minister, realizing that everything he said was directed toward this big prank that would soon be thwarted. He watched his mouth move but didn't hear a word. He just smiled and went along with it.
He could feel the sweat accumulating under his tux now and he realized that they had turned the heat up inside the church on purpose just to make him squirm even more. He became even more furious and determined to end this thing right now once he realized what great lengths they had gone in setting it up. He couldn't stand it any longer now. The preacher asked for the rings as Adam unclenched his fists and took one last look at Gretchen.
A collective gasp went up from the congregation as the minister hit the floor with a thud. Adam turned and looked at Gretchen again whose mouth was gaping wide open in shocked disbelief.
"You didn't think I had any idea, did you?" he shouted. "How long were you going to wait to spring it on me? Were you going to keep it up until I tried to put your ring on? Ha!"
Adam felt a little dizzy now from the adrenaline rush, but it felt good. He looked out at the rest of the congregation. Nobody had moved, nobody knew what to do. Finally, for the first time today he was the one in control while everybody else had to squirm. He stood there with an ear-to-ear grin on his face savoring the moment for a few seconds and then looked back over at Gretchen again who was now sobbing uncontrollably. "I hope you're proud of yourself," he said to her as he turned and walked out the side door, got in his car, and left, feeling a sense of accomplishment like he hadn't felt since his high school football days.
It began to rain as Adam got onto the interstate and headed west. He was having a little trouble focusing on the road which reminded him that he hadn't taken any of his pills yet today. He grabbed the bottle from the glove box and took an extra dose to make up for the two that he had skipped. He cranked up the radio and accelerated to 80 mph, still glowing from his victory that afternoon. As the sun began to set and the pills started to kick in, he slowly came down from his adrenaline rush and started to get tired. He pulled off into a rest area just outside of St. Cloud and quickly dozed off in the front seat of his car.
When he woke up the ground was still wet from the rain the night before. Adam hobbled out of his car and went searching for a men's room. About halfway there he stopped dead in his tracks and his heart sank into his stomach as he realized what had just happened. He fell to the ground in a heap and buried his head in his hands.
As he began to recall the events of the day before, he started going over the possible scenarios in his mind of what to expect when he went back home. If he went back home that is. How could he explain this? He had told her everything -- every secret he had except for one. Did he really think he was going to keep it hidden forever?
But what were his options? He could just keep driving and never look back. Start a new life with a new family in a new city. Meet a new girl and hope that this time he would be more careful. That seemed like the best option right now. There was certainly no use in going back and trying to explain himself now.
But then there was Gretchen. How could she not forgive him if he just told the truth? But was it worth revealing the one secret he had promised himself he would take to his grave? He realized he would have to now if he ever wanted to see Gretchen again. He would need to make up his mind quickly now. He shuddered as he imagined what the conversations were like back at home today. He decided to head into St. Cloud for some breakfast before he made up his mind.
Adam spotted a little diner down the road and pulled into the parking lot. He grabbed a seat up at the counter and ordered a coffee. An old man with a big bushy mustache grabbed the stool next him and sat down and ordered some pancakes and bacon. There was a TV on up in the corner. It was tuned to ESPN and Chris Berman and Tom Jackson were discussing today's game between the Vikings and the Bears while Adam sipped his coffee. The old man pulled out a pack of Chesterfields and caught Adam glancing at them.
"You want one?" he asked.
Adam had to think about it for a second. It had been almost two years since his last cigarette, but as anyone who's been there knows, smoking isn't something you quit, it's just something you stop doing.
"Sure, I'll take one." he said, aware that a cigarette would pretty much signify the end of any hopes of trying to go back home again, but unaware that his acceptance of the old man's offer also meant he would have to engage in conversation with him until his breakfast was finished.
"So what do you think about our chances against the Bears today?" he asked.
"Well, if we can just keep from turning it over again in the fourth quarter we should have a pretty good shot," said Adam.
"Yeah, those turnovers are really killing us this year, especially the one last week," he said. "We should be in first place right now if we could just figure out a way to hold on to the ball."
Both of them had their eyes fixed on the TV now watching the highlights from last week's game as the conversation progressed.
"Tell me about it," said Adam as he took another drag off his Chesterfield. "We're a better team than our record indicates, that's for sure. We just need to be able to hold a lead at the end of the game."
"Naw, I don't buy that -- that a team is ever better than their record indicates," he said through his thick Minnesota accent which indicated that his insights came from years of frustration. "You are what you are. You either win or you lose. Period. They don't let you into the playoffs because you think you're better than what your record says you are."
"Yeah, I guess you're right," said Adam, nodding his head in agreement.
"It's just like back in '98," he continued with his eyes back on the TV. "Best offense in NFL history. But they couldn't get it done when it counted. There's no trophy for should've-won. No sir. You just are what you are and that's all there is to it."
The old man glanced over at Adam again hoping for another nod of approval but all he saw was an empty stool. And a half-smoked Chesterfield still burning in the ashtray.