I took a drag and then handed it to Tyler. He took a drag and handed it back.
Tyler took the beer out of my hand. “You were black-out drunk last night, and you’re drinking again. I thought you were going to quit? Do I need to quit with you?”
“I’ve just lost my sister. Not the best time to stop drinking.”
“There will never be a good time if you have to drink every time you’re upset. Shit happens. You have to learn to deal with it without alcohol. I love you no matter what, but you need to wake up, Ellie.”
My eyebrows pulled together as I stared at the wall. “I can’t wake up. This isn’t a dream.”
Glowing white lights hung from the ceiling, strung along the muslin looped loosely from the rafters. Fat candle votives were surrounded with elaborate green and white floral centerpieces on each table.
Abby and Travis were slow dancing in the center of the room, whispering and smiling, deliriously happy. I was lying on the floor, snapping pictures and looking for other angles. I’d already taken shots of the wedding party, the families, the couples, and the first dance. Next would be the cutting of the cake, but Travis and Abby didn’t seem to be in any hurry.
I pushed to my feet, feeling someone tap on my shoulder. Tyler stood behind me, clean-shaven and gorgeous in a tux, his top button undone and his bow tie hanging off kilter.
“I should probably stay focused. I’d hate to miss anything.”
He slid his hands into his pants pockets and nodded.
“Oh, go on!” Camille said, pulling up on my camera until the strap slipped over my head. “I’ll take your picture.”
“I prefer to be on the other side of the camera,” I said.
“Please?” Tyler said, tugging me toward the dance floor.
I followed, but Camille clicking my camera like paparazzi was maddening. Tyler and I smiled for a few pictures, and then Camille decided to try her photography skills on Shepley’s parents and Trenton.
Tyler stared at our hands while he swayed with me a few feet away from the not-so-newlyweds. He touched his smooth cheek to mine, breathing me in and savoring the moment.
“This is a good song,” he said. “I’ve heard it a hundred times and never thought I’d be in St. Thomas dancing with you to it.”
“It’s beautiful here. I’d forgotten. If I haven’t told you thank you yet … thank you.”
“If I hadn’t, America’s parents would have paid your way.”
“Maybe they would have gotten me my own room,” I said with a smirk.
“Doubtful. No one believes that we’re just friends, despite your insistence.”
I glanced at my glass of “ice water” I’d left at our table. Before the wedding, I’d emptied a water bottle and gone downstairs to fill it with vodka. Every sip I’d taken during the course of the day made me feel physically better and emotionally worse.
“The second they smash that cake in each other’s faces, I’m done. Fourteen hours is enough for one day. This is more stressful than being on the mountain at the head of a fire.”
Tyler’s mouth pulled up into a half-smile, and he kissed my temple. I didn’t pull away, barely giving it a second thought. Earlier, his family had mentioned that I would give in to Tyler eventually. I wasn’t even sure what we were anymore. We had started a series of two steps forward and four steps back since the beginning and couldn’t seem to kick it.
Beads of sweat were forming between my skin and my dress, and dampening the hair at the nape of my neck. It wasn’t so much hot as it was humid. The air was thick and heavy, draping over my skin like an electric blanket.
The song ended, and Travis led Abby to the cake table by the hand. I left Tyler on the dance floor to find Camille and my camera, trying not to feel too irritated that she’d taken over a hundred pictures in the five minutes it had been in her possession.
I focused the lens while Travis and Abby pushed down on the knife to make the first slice. Everyone chuckled while Abby threatened him as he inched the small square of cake toward her mouth. An instant later it was over, sealed with a kiss. Everyone clapped, and then the music began to play again. I snapped a few more pictures and then made my way to our table, swiping my drink and finishing it off before I reached the small bar in the corner.
“Rum?” the bartender said, sweat streaming down his temple.
“Vodka cranberry. A double, please … mostly vodka.” I watched him closely as he poured, nodding with satisfaction as he poured three-fourths vodka and the rest cranberry juice. I’d realized vodka was cheap and the least smelling of spirits, and it was easy to mix with most things, making it easiest for me to take to work or most functions. “Better go ahead and make me another,” I said, glancing over my shoulder. I finished off the first drink before leaving, turning with a smile on my face, hoping anyone watching would think I’d just come away with one drink.
Hiding, concealing, and strategizing to seem normal. I wasn’t sure how much longer the functioning part of my alcoholism would continue to be true.
“Just relaxing,” I said, watching Travis kiss his wife and then lift her into his arms, waving goodbye. I grabbed my camera and captured that moment, happy for them and me, that I could finally put away my camera and mean it.
It wasn’t long before Camille and Trenton, Taylor and Falyn, and Tyler and I were the last of the wedding guests left. The parents had turned in early, and Thomas and Liis seemed to be fighting.
I sat at the table, holding ice on my neck with one hand and a new drink in the other. Trenton and Taylor were twirling to the music with their dates, joking and giggling. The flaps on the outside restaurant that had been unrolled to keep out the rain were flapping in the breeze. I lifted my head, letting the air roll over my damp skin and the liquor sink in.
Tyler brushed a few wet strands of hair from my forehead. “You okay?”
“I’m good,” I crooned, keeping my eyes closed. It wasn’t often that I could get drunk anymore. “I want to swim in the ocean.”
He lit a cigarette, but before he could blow out, I grabbed his cheeks and inhaled, filling my lungs with his smoke. I sat back, exhaling into the thick air.
He perched his elbow on the table and cupped his chin with his hand, shaking his head. “You make it so fucking hard to do the right thing.”
“Take me swimming,” I said, biting my lip.
“What about tomorrow?” he asked. “It’s been a long day. Not sure if swimming at night in a storm is the best idea when we’re drunk and tired.”
“Whatever,” I said, leaning back and closing my eyes again. Air cooled by the rain caressed my skin, and the heaviness from the vodka was comforting. I reached out for Tyler, blindly finding his arm.
“What are you doing?” he asked, amused.
“I’m here. For as long as you’ll let me.”
My lids popped open, and I let my head fall forward, looking at him with sleepy, dry eyes. “I want to make a pallet on our floor and lie with you naked.”
“That sounds like a dirty trick,” he said, grinning.
I lifted my hand to the waiter, signaling for another drink. He glanced to Tyler, who I could see shaking his head from the corner of my eye.