The following morning at work, I saw Craig emptying his desk. “What you up to?” I asked.
“I just got retrenched.”
“HR told me that they didn’t need me anymore.”
“They said that?”
He pursed his lips. “Not exactly in those words, but that’s what they meant.”
“Jeez, man. I’m really sorry. I’ll let you know if I hear about any openings elsewhere.”
I went back to my desk and raised my hand as he walked past me. His wife was unemployed, and he had two children. Although I felt I could’ve accomplished more, I was healthy, employed and about to marry the woman I love.
A taxi driver hooted as I swerved past him. The speedometer indicated that I drove over the limit, but I didn’t care because I had to get home.
I scampered to the front door, swung it open and flung my briefcase onto the sofa, then swooped Mandelin off the couch and crashed my lips onto hers in desperation. She blinked twice, and her stiff body relaxed as our tongues swirled around each other. I lowered my lips to her neck, then bit her lip and stretched it. She grabbed the back of my head and shoved her tongue into my mouth, then raked her fingers through the back of my hair.
I pulled back and rubbed my nose against her cheek.
“What was that all about?” she whispered.
“To show you how much I love and appreciate you. I also wanted the kiss to tell you that I’m ready to marry you.”
“And you weren’t before?”
“I was, but nerves got the better of me. It had nothing to do with you. I needed to work through some issues before realising how wonderful it was going to be married to you.”
“Having cold feet before a huge lifestyle change is normal. I can only promise that I’m going to be a good wife.”
During the monthly dinner at the steakhouse, I raised Mandelin off the chair and put my hand on her hip.
“Sweetie, I don’t think there’s dancing here.”
The adjacent couples glanced at us, turned to each other and whispered. My worries about being incapable of supporting Mandelin dissipated when looking in her eyes. Something about her smile assured me that she would stick with me, no matter what.
We sat down, and I called the waiter. “I’ll take the finest bottle of wine you’ve got.”
“You really don’t have to do that,” she said.
“I want you to have the best.”
After a few glasses, we got the giggles, and the people around looked at us as we burst into obnoxious laughter.
“I’m sorry, sir, but would you mind keeping it down?” asked the manager.
“Shhh,” I said to Mandelin with my finger over my lips.
Her face flushed as she tightened her lips and leaned into me to muffle the laughter.
The bill arrived after Mandelin went to the bathroom. Woah. Wasn’t expecting it to be that much.
I gave the waiter my card, and he swiped it. The paper rolled out after a few seconds. “Sorry, sir, but it got declined.”
“Put it on a three-month budget.”
I looked at the bathroom door to see if Mandelin was returning. The waiter handed me the card and a slip after it went through, then passed Mandelin on her way back.
“Everything okay?” she asked.
“Yes. We can go if you’re ready.”
We walked to the car with our arms around each other, kissing and giggling like a teenage couple.
During the drive home, I swerved into the oncoming lane as we laughed. “Woops,” I said. I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw blue lights. “No. Damn it.”
“This cop is stopping us. Just relax.”
I pulled over, lowered my window and saw him approach.
“Sir, can I ask you to step out of the car, please?” I got out and saw Mandelin peering through my window. “Blow into this,” he added.
The officer turned the breathalyser and showed me that I was over the limit. I lowered my eyes to the ground and raised my eyebrows, wondering how to get out of the mess.
He took handcuffs out of his belt pouch.
“Woah, woah, woah. Wait,” I said as I instantly sobered. “Look, officer. I’m getting married soon, and jail cells aren’t big enough to accommodate all our guests.” I thought my joke would get some kind of a reaction, but he was stolid. That was the hint I needed to pull out the big guns, so I took my wallet out.
“Sir, are you trying to bribe a law enforcement officer?”
“Um.” My eyes darted.
Mandelin stepped out of the car. “Sir, we’re sorry. Please, forgive us. We don’t usually do this.”
He ignored her and looked back at me, then leaned in and frowned. “Warren, is that you?”
“Yeees,” I said, wondering how he knew me.
“It’s me, Ray, from high school.”
“Oh, man. What are the chances?” I said, pretending to recognise him.
He hugged me. “I can’t believe it’s you.” My heart rate returned to normal as I looked at Mandelin with wide eyes over Ray’s shoulder. “Remember during my initiation week when the guys in your grade wanted to dunk my head in the toilet, and you stopped them?” he asked.
“Yeah.” I didn’t.
“I still haven’t forgotten that. You think we can exchange numbers, Warren?”
The following morning, my head felt like somebody had knocked it with a hammer. I rubbed my forehead, and my eyelids dipped as I walked in the corridor.
I walked past the boss’s office and heard him say, “Didn’t know that we started the day at eight-thirty.”
“Sorry, sir. It won’t happen again.”
Despite being hungover, I signed up three new clients. Not bad, considering I averaged five a day. My best, and still the company record, was fifteen clients in one day.
I got home and saw Mandelin composing an invitation list. “Anybody else you want to add?” she asked.
That was her way of telling me that I should invite my parents. Two years into my job, I had fallen behind on rent and gotten kicked out.
I showed up at my parents’ house with my bags in the car and knocked on the door. “Hi, Mom.”
“Warren, my angel.” She cupped my face. “Come inside.”
I walked into the kitchen and saw empty whisky bottles next to the dustbin. Dad didn’t want to fill up the dustbin with bottles, so he kept them beside it to dump them later.
“How’ve you been, my child?” mom asked in the lounge.
“Not that great.”
“What’s the matter?”
“I got kicked out of my place. Had some financial issues.”
“Where are you staying now?”
“Nowhere. I was hoping you and dad could help me out for a few months until I get back on my feet.”
Her eyes lowered. “I don’t know about that, my angel. If it were up to me, I’d have you in here yesterday. But you know how your father can be.”
“Where is he?”
“He’s busy. I’m sure he’ll be back today or tomorrow.”
That’s what mom used to say when I was in high school and dad would get paid, then gamble and drink for a few days before we saw him again.
“And you’re here alone again?” I said.
Mom looked down and nodded. She was unemployed, and dad had never taught me how to manage money. How could he when he didn’t know how to handle his finances? I hated that mom was alone while dad was away, God knows where.
What made their rejection worse was that I had sent money to mom the first year I started working when dad left her at home for a few days.
“Add Ray,” I said to Mandelin. “You never know when we might need a policeman.” She kept looking at me. “What?”
She looked down and jotted his name. “We have to decide on a few things about the venue. I want the place to smell nice,” she said. “Scent is important because it has a lot to do with the mood. The problem is I’m not sure what a joyful smell is like.”
I whiffed her neck. “The place must smell like you.” Her forehead wrinkled, and she pouted. She wore a perfume that demanded the attention of the nostrils and refreshed the lungs. The smell was like opening a window on a spring morning, and the perfect infusion of breeze and jasmine drifted in front of the nose. The hint of floral made you sniff, but it kept its distance. “I’m serious,” I added.
“That’s so sweet.” She cupped my face and kissed me.
My finger tapped her nose. “You’re sweet and adorable and beautiful and wonderful and…”
“And? Yes, go on.”
“And the love of my life.”
Thinking about how dad treated mom prompted me to promise myself to be by my wife’s side always and provide for her anything that she wanted.