Some of the grooms’ relatives stayed at the Georgetown Inn on Wisconsin Avenue so they could be close to the townhouse, even though the wedding and reception were being held elsewhere. With the ceremony scheduled to begin at eleven, all guests were asked to be at the Watergate Hotel—where other out-of-towners were lodged—no later than ten o’clock. Buses would transport everyone to the National Mall and back to the famous Washington hostelry for the luncheon and party.
CJ could not sleep as late as he wanted. Adrenaline flooded his bloodstream and he could not lay still. Leaving his slumbering fiancé in the apartment, he went for a run.On the way back, he stopped at Georgetown Cupcakes. Since the store was still closed, he walked around to the service entrance and knocked. He wanted to ensure everything was on track. Eschewing a traditional wedding cake, the grooms agreed on cupcakes instead.
“Coming to check up on us?” The smirking baker who opened the door ran a hand through his beard leaving it flecked with flour.
“Yep! How are you, Vaughn? I couldn’t sleep so I went for a run. Heading back home now to shower and figured I’d stop by to make sure everything was cool.”
“We’re all ready. Come on in and take a look? The bosses are on their way and they’ll take the tower over to the hotel.” The man stood aside, allowing CJ to enter, and pointed towards a metal cart near the center of the room. CJ grinned seeing the tiered arrangement of cupcakes crowned with not one but two of them.
“Wow! It looks fantastic. How many? I don’t have enough fingers to count.”
The baker chuckled at the silly comment. “One hundred seventy on display. We have an extra three dozen or so we’ll keep boxed in case they’re needed.”
“Perfect. Do me a favor? Let me take four of the extra ones with me now. Someone told me we’re supposed to freeze a piece of the cake to eat on our first anniversary. We’ll do it with two of these and Ozzie and I can have one each with breakfast. I’ve heard horror stories about grooms not getting a chance to eat at their own reception. I wanna make sure we at least get to have our cake and eat it too.” In high spirits, the one-liners poured out with ease.
The shower was running when CJ returned to their place; he stripped and joined Owen in the glass-walled enclosure. They refrained from any long play since they had appointments downstairs. Although CJ knew his fathers would prefer him to be clean-shaven for the big event, after an initial comment they had not pursued the matter.
It was a different story with his grandmothers. Both implored him to get rid of the facial hair. The nagging was relentless but he refused. Owen sided with him, approving the decision to pare the ever-present beard down to fashionable scruff. Neither one wanted to look at pictures in the future and see someone who shaved just for the occasion. They wanted to see themselves as they really were.
“Good morning, habibi.”The Arabic term of endearment made both CJ and Owen smile. “Are you ready for the big day?” Ali Suliman owned The Polished Man with his father and after they leased one of the ground floor retail spots in the repurposed Georgetown Theatre, he began cutting the family’s hair. The establishment was an upscale, old-fashioned, full-service barbershop selling grooming products in front. In back, there were antique barber chairs at each station.
“Ready as we’ll ever be. I just want to get on with it. The past few weeks have been crammed with prep and now I’m ready to enjoy the day.” Owen followed the proprietor as he headed towards the rear portion of the shop.
“I remember how nervous I was the day I got married. Couldn’t wait ’til it was over. So which one of you goes first?”
“Go ahead and do Ozzie. He’s the easy one since all you have to do’s scrape the blonde fuzz off his chin.” CJ reached for a magazine from the stack atop a high table in the middle of the room. “I’ll just sit in one of the empty chairs and wait.”
An hour or so later, the grooms accompanied by Spencer Liston, who walked the two blocks from the Georgetown Inn to their place, boarded a large motor home carrying garment bags with their wedding attire.
“Good morning, gentlemen.” The chauffer hired to ferry the wedding party around was a young man in his mid-twenties with a friendly rotund face and a pleasant smile.
“Morning, mate. I’m Owen, one of the grooms.”
“G’day. I’m Spencer, his brother.”
“How the heck are you, Warren?” CJ, the last to climb aboard, had met the driver when he arranged for the vehicle’s rental. “And why the hell are you wearing a coat and tie? I told you to dress in something comfortable.”
“Company policy, Mr. Abelló. I―”
“Stop right there. It’s CJ. If you call me Mr. Abelló again I’ll kick your ass out of that seat and drive this thing myself. You got me?”
The man chuckled. “I hear you loud and clear. CJ it is. After all, you are the one paying for my services. Where’s our first stop?”
The motor home ambled north on Wisconsin, turned left twice, and headed towards the river. CJ directed Warren to stop in front of Georgetown University’s main entrance. Carson, alerted by a text message and wearing a tank top, gym shorts, and flip-flops, waited for them with his own garment bag slung over his shoulders.
One more turn at the end of the street and Warren double-parked in front of CJ’s fathers’ house. Ritchie and Silas left the apartment while CJ was out for his morning run and he was glad to see his brother did not appear to suffer from a hangover. With Ritchie, Bradley, and Patrick aboard, they made a handful more stops to pick up the remainder of their group. Each time a new man climbed aboard, the motor home became more raucous.
Harley brought out a joint. Warren drove around a bit as asked to, and by the time they arrived at the Watergate Hotel the smokers in the group were not quite stoned but were grinning. CJ planned for this. As soon as the chief stoner came aboard, he slid windows open and lit the Cire Trudon Enesto candles they received as presents even before his friend fired up the doobie. A few minutes after calling Adriano, he and Margarita knocked on the door and delivered Emmanuel and Gabriella to the grooms. By then, the fumes had dissipated and the interior of the vehicle smelled like leather and tobacco.
The ten-year-olds’ attire echoed what the rest of the wedding party would be wearing: brown deck shoes, white shorts with black braces, and white shirts. The grooms had real bowties for the kids they knotted as the motor home made its way towards the National Mall.
“You or Ozzie gotta do mine too, CJ.” Ritchie was first to amble towards the curtained rear section and change. He held his bowtie in hand and looked at his brother and brother-in-law.
“Bro, you’ve been to enough black tie things you should be able to do this blindfolded. Get over here.”
The driver slowed the motor home when they reached East Basin Drive, turning at the access road for the monument. The wedding party had a permit to park near the ceremony. To keep the kids entertained, CJ handed each a phone to play games while the rest of the men finished getting dressed.
The grooms arranged for double-deck buses to collect guests outside the Watergate Hotel, and return them to the world-famous property for the reception afterward. Once the red behemoths arrived at the National Mall, and guests strolled towards the chairs set up on the lawn, CJ and Ozzie gave the signal. The wedding party readied to make their appearance.
Bright morning sunlight had scorched the dew off the grass but the temperature had yet to climb enough to make guests uncomfortable. Wispy clouds floated above the Tidal Basin without obscuring the sun. The small, white-covered, raised platform in front of the expanse of seats stood empty but for a single folding chair and two microphone stands―one low and one almost twice as tall.
Frank Lloyd Wright could have designed the Arts and Craft style columns on each corner crowned with tropical arrangements full of orchids, kangaroo paws, and ginger blooms. CJ jumped at the opportunity of using the latter when he first saw them in the catalogue. The delicate, white, butterfly ginger was the national flower of Cuba and grew profusely in South Florida. Their inclusion was a nod to CJ’s grandparents; both sets had the plant in their back yards while he was growing up. A soft breeze carried their exquisite perfume and the murmur of conversation from waiting guests.The moment Chipper walked down the aisle between the audience carrying an acoustic guitar, all chattering ended.
CJ and Owen watched through the motor home’s front windshield as their friend turned his head around for a moment and winked at them. His smile was dazzling enough to blind those not wearing sunglasses. His attire was appropriate for a late spring day in Washington: a crisp, powder-blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows, ironed, maize, linen walking shorts with black suspenders, brown deck shoes without socks, a yellow bow tie with white polka dots, and an ivory, straw Panama hat. He sat on the chair, looked over the crowd, and began to strum his instrument.
Thiago followed Chipper wearing similar attire. Navy shorts topped with a muted pink shirt, the bow tie emulated the color of his shorts: dark blue with white polka dots. He bumped fists with his friend, stood next to him, and after mutual nods, the speakers in back of the cordoned-off area crackled alive.
This day and age we're living in Gives cause for apprehension With speed and new invention And things like fourth dimension.
Chipper strummed the guitar while Thiago sang the opening stanzas of “As Time Goes By.”The first time they played the song for the Squad during one of their frequent nights hanging out in the town house’s basement, they were surprised Owen sang along. The Aussie knew the lyrics by heart. They discovered the movie the song was featured in, Casablanca, was Pamela Liston’s favorite and her son had seen it countless times.
Yet we get a trifle weary With Mr. Einstein's theory. So we must get down to earth at times Relax relieve the tension.
Harley strolled towards the stage wearing pastel shades of mandarin orange while Chipper sang the following verse. CJ and Owen had approached their talented friend about singing the processional, recessional, and first dance at their wedding. While discussing choices for the processional, Chipper remembered Mrs. Liston’s affinity for the old Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman film. Later, during the ride to the reception, he would recall for his friends how happy he was when he glanced in her direction while singing and noticed the pleased surprise on her face.
And no matter what the progress Or what may yet be proved The simple facts of life are such They cannot be removed.
It became a duet as the two friends watched the remainder of the Squad strut in. Brad, in emerald, followed by his brother Patrick in chartreuse. These men were the original Squad members, having walked the halls of School Without Walls High School together. In quick succession, the remainder of the group followed; each wore a different color, all with the same shoes and their own distinctive sunglasses. Carson, Ethan, and Tank joined the others as they fanned out in front of the stage facing the crowd.
You must remember this A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh. The fundamental things apply As time goes by.
Ritchie and Spencer were the last to walk in and took position in the center of the line-ups, leaving enough space in the middle for two more people to fit in. The men up front could not see the audience’s faces since most guests stared towards the back, awaiting the next person to approach. CJ and Owen bumped fists when they noticed the seated guests smiling as much as those standing by the stage. Their eyes tracked Emmanuel and Gabriella Tomassi. The children strolled side by side. She held a miniature bouquet of orchids, kangaroo paws, and white ginger, while her brother carried a tiny pillow with two rings on it.
CJ choked up and Owen sobbed when the Australian’s parents spoke to them the day Geoff and Pamela arrived. Mrs. Liston returned the hand-painted, blue silk scarf CJ bought as a present for Liz while he traveled in Israel. However, it was not in the same condition as when purchased. Folded, cut, and sewn, it had become a small cushion. The wedding bands rested on it now.
Gabriella walked towards Ritchie when she reached the front, tuned to face the audience, and stood with CJ’s brother’s hands gently resting on her shoulders. Emmanuel mirrored his sister and wound up in front of Owen’s best man.
Few guests knew the story behind the pillow the boy held, but Spencer Liston did. The sunglasses he wore hid his eyes but the tilt of the head left no doubt where he was staring. Elizabeth Liston might have passed away but her spirit was with them, her scarf its physical representation.
And when two lovers woo They still say, "I love you." On that you can rely No matter what the future brings The world will always welcome lovers As time goes by.
The celebrant stepped on stage from the back while the wedding party entered. He took position between the two performers, facing the gathered relatives and friends of the grooms. The Jefferson Memorial glimmered in the background when CJ and Owen at last walked in holding hands. Whispered comments from audience members reached their ears as they neared the front while Chipper and Thiago finished the song.
Chipper rested the guitar against the chair and with Thiago, joined the others on either side of the grooms. CJ and Owen had wireless mikes clipped below their bowties, the transmitters attached to the back of their shorts hidden by the untucked shirts’ tails. Both wore khaki shorts but no suspenders; in homage to what his dads had worn at their wedding, CJ convinced Owen to don shirts from the same designer he purchased from for César and Brett’s ceremony.
The white tops had navy blue contrasting fabric inside the neck and cuffs emulating the color of their bow ties. While the wedding party’s neckwear was the same white polka dots on differing background colors, theirs were a swirling design of red, white, and blue. Owen explained to his parents he and CJ chose them because the colors were the same as on the American and Australian flags, adding they were also the ones on the Cuban standard.
Faces beaming, the two men turned towards each other when they reached the front. CJ could not resist going off-script. “Hi, Ozzie. You look so damn handsome.” He glanced at their assembled guests, imminent mischief on his mind. “Screw tradition”―he said louder than before—“I wanna kiss you now.” Ignoring catcalls from the wedding party, and chuckles from most of the other guests, he leaned in and pressed his lips to Owen’s.
Reverend Chance Highbottom tried to cover his mouth while discretely coughing. The attempt to distract the grooms amplified by the microphone attached below his clerical collar, sent ripples of laughter and applause coursing through those in attendance. The grooms separated but appeared reluctant to do so. “Luv ya too, mate.” Owen winked at his husband-to-be and then glanced at the priest. “Sorry, Father.”
“That’s quite alright, but no more skipping ahead to the end.” The Episcopal priest raised his eyes and waited until the guests quieted. “Dear friends, we gather here today to celebrate the triumph of love. The love between these two young men ready to come together as one…”
The welcome and opening prayer were followed by Father Chance turning to Emmanuel and asking him to raise the pillow with the rings. He untied them from the ribbons holding them and offered a blessing.
CJ’s peripheral vision caught sight of several men wearing dark suits and sunglasses milling around behind the braided velvet cord enclosing the seating area. His initial concern disappeared when he noticed the former President and First Lady take seats in the last row. He motioned with his head for Owen to peek and was rewarded with a stunned expression on his fiancé’s face he was certain matched his own.
Barack and Michelle Obama had sent their regrets, explaining they did not want their presence―along with that of their Secret Service’s security detail—to create a circus-like atmosphere. They apparently decided a sneak appearance would disrupt the proceedings less than if their presence became known in advance.
“…do you, Owen Zachary Liston, accept this man as your husband?”
Owen appeared startled when Chance used his name. CJ was surprised at seeing the new arrivals and the distraction caused him to miss some of what the priest said. It seemed his boyfriend was caught in the same conundrum.
Taking the ring the priest offered, Owen’s eyes bored into the dark-haired man facing him, the blue orbs gleamed, and his smile reflected the bright sunshine. “I do. CJ, you’re my beginning and my end. My alpha and my omega. We’ve been here on these grounds so many times. Alone and with friends. This, our playground, will forever be part of us. We’ve enjoyed picnics amidst the cherry blossoms, their ephemeral nature reminding us how short our lives are. Reminding us to treasure each moment. That’s what I promise today. To cherish each day, each hour, each minute together. To always be at your side through whatever comes our way. For as long as I live.”
Chirping birds and a few sobs from the audience cut through the muffled sound of civilization. The two men held hands. CJ felt as if they were alone. The blonde farm boy from the Hunter Valley was all he cared about at the moment. Pockets of tourists gathered around the roped stanchions encircling the stage and seats, watching the ceremony in silence but smiling. Some had their phones out, capturing the event they had stumbled upon. “And do you, César Marcos Abelló, Jr., accept this man as your husband?”
“Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi. Bloody right I do.” Australians amongst the guests erupted in cheers and Spencer Liston placed a hand on his brother’s shoulder as he bent over at the waist laughing with gusto.
“Ooops, sorry. Got carried away there.” He did not think anyone would take his action as unscripted, but fuck them if they could not take a joke. It was his wedding and he was going to do it his way. “My dear, dear, Ozzie, I choose to be your friend. I choose to be your partner. I choose to be your husband. I choose so today, and I will choose so each and every day as time goes by. One thousand six hundred and forty-four days after we met, to you I pledge my wealth. To you, I pledge my soul. To you, I pledge my love. For as long as I live.”
“Then, by the power vested in me, I declare you married. May love always be at your side in your journey together. Now, you may kiss each other.”
Thank you, Mann Ramblings, Kitt, and Reader 1810 for your hard work.
This story would not be possible without your assistance.