The reception hall, with its neoclassical columns and gold flake decor, was booked to impress his father’s business partners: a gaggle of indistinct, middle-aged men in expensively understated suits accompanied by well-maintained women in extravagant dresses, who commented without fail on how better-looking Francesca was than he. Servers with red cummerbunds and trays of champagne and hors d’oeuvres navigated between guests. A string quartet playing softly at the back of the room made the opulence complete.
Leon was at the bar, ordering a gin and tonic. Francesca was across the room, embracing another long lost cousin with feigned and wearying enthusiasm. Her dress was pale muslin, ethereal, making her a ghost, the type that floated through walls into hidden catacombs.
“A pretty good gift to a son for his wedding, wouldn’t you say?”
The jovial pat on the shoulder came down softly, the pride abashedly displayed for all those around to note its modesty.
“Regal,” Leon acknowledged, noting how the chair covers and table clothes matched the delicate orchid displays at their centre.
His father chuckled mirthfully.
“Well you know what they say: happy wife, happy life.”
The cocktail in Leon’s hand was faintly luminescent from the bar light shining on its surface.
“Your mother sure could make my life hell sometimes.”
His father’s suit, thin silver pinstripes on a gun-grey background, was custom fitted by Vincenzo, his long-standing tailor at Arbuckle & MacAlistair. At the top of the left lapel, a fleck of salmon mousse stuck persistently to the fabric.
“Was that why you were so eager for this wedding?”
“Of course. Your mother wants grandchildren.” With a twirl of his two fingers a bartender came with a bottle of Oban 25 to refill his drink.
“To you, my boy. To your future.”
Clinking his father’s offered glass, he savoured the delicate balance of sharp citrus, sweet tonic, and stiff gin.
Leon squished the blueberry down with his fork, watching the delicate pastry flake into pieces and filling ooze out across the plate.
In the toast to the groom, Richard had reminisced about Leon’s acne problems in school, about how he had always come in last at track and field, and was always nervous around girls – but was still a great guy, and a good friend, someone who was there when you needed them, someone who asked for little in return. Good old Richard, he thought.
About to eat a gooseberry from the garnish, he was finally called, and grabbed his champagne on the way to the microphone.
“Well, as you all know, it now falls upon me to thank you all for celebrating this event, and tell you how much it means for you all to be here.”
Amongst the crowd, the jaundiced pallor of his Great Aunt Agatha became prominent. In a mauve dress that had stagnated for decades in some closet, and a matching pillbox hat, she scowled at him, an unwavering glare, maliciously locked onto Leon as he stood at the podium.
“And some of you have no doubt been wondering about the envelopes…”
Her senility prevented her from concealing disdain, and her dementia presented any number of possibilities for its cause. He looked to Francesca next to him, waiting her turn to speak, to both their parents and siblings, looking on with smiles amidst the splendour of the head table. Even Richard was smiling.
“If one of you at each table would care to do the honours.”
The seals were torn open and the photographs emerged, gasps erupted, heads snapped up in disbelief and darted from him, to Francesca, to Richard, and back again. Leon held out his champagne in toast, emptied the glass, and dropped it onto the floor. He took a martini and headed for the exit, walking slowly through the tables, his eyes focused on the door.
In the photograph, through a pair of poorly drawn curtains, Francesca was naked on her knees, her back arched and her head thrown back. Behind her, bare-chested, Richard looked down, his bottom lip dumbly jutting out in concentration. The date stamp in the bottom corner read May 12, two weeks before the wedding.
He did not know how long it had gone on for, nor how it had happened, but the evidence gathered by the private investigator was conclusive, from meeting places to phone conversations, the details of the affair carefully documented at Leon’s expense.
In the limo, Leon took one of the plastic champagne glasses from its holder, dropped it on the floor, and replaced it with his martini.
In his other hand, he still held the gooseberry from dessert, its paper-lantern skin peeled back to reveal the bright yellow fruit. It made him realize his plan did not punish Richard enough. He would have to prevent his livelihood somehow, or burn down his house. There was time though. The honeymoon tickets would be traded in for a flight to Thailand. The presentation cards had been neatly packed in the trunk by his mother.
Rob Ross lives in Fredericton where he occasionally takes care of cats and lives with a poet. He once wrote a review for Numerocinq and got a story published in Nod magazine. Recently he was the arts editor for Qwerty magazine. One day he will have a PhD.