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(The online version of this story appears in two parts. Click here to go to part one.)

JOHNNY and I were underdressed for Sam's wedding. Johnny wore a big white shirt and no tie, and I wore a kimono. Nobody talked to us, but a big band was playing, so we drank a lot of wine and headed toward the floor. First we tried a polka, then a jitterbug, then a tango. Johnny pushed me into a bridesmaid's bare back, and I stepped backward, detaching her foot from its satin pump. "I'm sorry," I told her, and whispered to Johnny, "Why can't you lead worth a damn?"

I walked outside. Standing in front of me was a statue of Hiawatha, with Minnehaha in his arms. Her dress hung in strips, and his biceps barely bulged under her weight.

I heard Johnny walk up behind me. "See that?" I pointed to the statue. "Is that how it's supposed to be?" I turned around, but it wasn't Johnny, it was Sam, the groom.

"Yeah," he said, "but you take what you can get." We looked through the window at the wedding guests, and at Johnny dancing with the bride. They were beautiful, the whites blurring together, the bride ringing on his arm like a giant bell. They could have been any two people that you had seen once and forgotten.

BUT it wouldn't feel like a wedding if we drove to Vegas and got married by an Elvis impersonator," I said, holding a spatula. "We could act like it didn't mean anything." In the pan the eggs chugged like a motor.

"Do you really want to get married in Las Vegas?" Johnny asked, next to the stove.

"No," I said, confused. "No, I don't really want to get married."

"Good. Me neither. After Sally, I promised myself never again."

"What if you think about wanting to marry me and I think about wanting to marry you? And we'll both know that we won't do it -- that we'll promise not to do it."

"But I don't want to."

"Even with me?"

"What are you talking about? You hate all this. What is it that you want? The wedding part?"

"No. I couldn't stand to be around my family for a whole day."

"Do you want to be married?"

"No. Everyone would expect me to take your last name. Get fat."

"Everyone who?"

"Just everyone."

I had meanwhile flipped the eggs for the second time, so the yolks were face up and coated with a doughy white film. Johnny turned the burner knob to OFF.

I looked around the yellow kitchen, with yellow linoleum peeling at the edges.

"I hate yellow," I said.

"Well, that's what you get when you rent," Johnny said. "Listen, honey. I love you. I don't know what you're asking me for."

"I want to be that important."

"To whom?"

I started crying, sliding the eggs from the pan onto a plate. They had sat too long in the hot pan and were now rigid, even the yolks.

"I want you to want me like that. I want you to love me that much. As much as you loved Sally."

Johnny ran his fingers through his short hair and looked at me blearily. "It wasn't about love with Sally. It was about marriage. It was never about love."

"I still want you to love me that much."

He looked at the plate and then at my face. His voice was scorched and halting. "Do you love me that much?" he asked.

I INTRODUCED Nancy and Gary at an informal wedding reception. Nancy was Johnny's co-worker, one of those embarrassing guests who laugh too loudly at everything everyone says. Gary had wispy hair and permanently flared nostrils. He had once followed me home telling me about his pet lizards.

They talked at the buffet table for two hours, after the reception had moved outdoors, after the keg had burped its last. Nancy flushed red. Her voice became even louder, her shoulders even wider. She's in love, I thought, and turning into a man.

Nancy finally left after saying good-bye for thirty minutes. Gary stayed, holding an empty plastic cup. "Go after her," I whispered, and he hesitated until he saw her brake lights ignite in the parking lot. Then he ran toward her, waving with both arms.

Gary called me the next day. I had been up all night, and had a purple crescent under each of my eyes. Johnny was still in the bathroom, crying. "I was thinking of asking Nancy to coffee," Gary said.

No, not coffee. A date. Say the word "date." "Say 'date,'" I said. "Bring flowers. Kiss her good-night, with tongue."

He repeated everything. Date. Flowers. A kiss.

In the next room Johnny had emerged from the bathroom and was dividing our books into stacks. He got The Great Gatsby. I got Anna Karenina. Romeo and Juliet we gave away, since in that one both of them died.

GARY told me about his engagement over a hot cup of coffee. The windows were steaming in the coffee shop, and I drew little animals in the mist on the windowpane while he talked.

When Gary proposed to Nancy, it was raining, but he had planned a picnic, so they spread a blanket and sat on a curb. The chicken had gotten soggy, but the potato salad could be saved. He handed her a small white box. Nancy started crying. When she saw that the box contained a pendant, not a ring, she cried harder.

That night they called their parents. His hooted so loudly that Nancy could hear their voices through the receiver from across the room. Her parents were quiet. They said, "Oh."

When she got off the phone, Gary asked, "How did they feel?"

Nancy said, "They said, 'Oh.'"

Gary slept all night, but Nancy walked back and forth in the moonlight. When the sun came up, he said, she was still waiting by the window. He woke up, and she looked at him with her red-rimmed eyes and said, "Okay, I'm ready for it."

"Ready for it?" I asked, suddenly looking away from the window.

"Yeah, I guess she meant that she was okay with the idea," Gary said.

"Is that what she meant?"

"I didn't ask," he said. "Who knows what anyone thinks anyway?"

I PLAYED piano at a Presbyterian wedding, for a friend of a friend. The piano was good, the flowers were fragrant, the dress was misty white. The stained glass was blue.

They looked at each other and cried through the service. They choked on their vows. They said, "Yes, I will." I cried too as they clutched each other and kissed and kissed and kissed.

AT Nancy and Gary's wedding reception Johnny and I did the wave-salute at each other from our respective tables. He had brought a date; she was blonde, drunk, and kissing him. I had no date, but my stomach was the flattest it had ever been.

Johnny asked me to dance. I pulled close to him and smiled at his date.

"I think she's the one," he said.

"The one what?" I asked.

"You know," he said. But I didn't -- not really.

I left him alone in the middle of the dance floor and asked someone else to dance. He said no, so I asked someone else. He also said no, looking at his curly-haired date.

Gary, the groom, waited for me at my abandoned table. "Do you want to dance?"

"No," I said. "I want nothing."

"Look at her," he said, and pointed to his bride. So I did. Her dress was enormous -- she was packed in like a lace sausage. She thumped someone on the back so hard that his hors d'oeuvre flew out of his hand and dropped to the floor.

"I love her," Gary said. "I love her completely. My love for her is complete."

And it was. Complete. And I wasn't. Completely. Relief and fear tangled together, like the hands of women clutching in the air for a falling bouquet of something.

The online version of this story appears in two parts. Click here to go to part one.

Erika Krouse is a writer who lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Illustration by Irene Rofheart-Pigott

Copyright © 1998 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; October 1998; My Weddings; Volume 282, No. 4; pages 95 - 99.

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