Mayank Ganger CC
The night before his sister’s wedding, after the rehearsal dinner when the twenty-something crowd spills into the hotel bar, Mattie won’t let you buy him a drink. Doesn't want a hangover, needs to set up the audio system for the reception with his dad early in the morning. You’re having none of it. When's the next time your sister's getting married?
Two years previously, and ten minutes after meeting him, he’d deliberately flipped you off the back of his jet ski going 40 mph across a glassy lake. You know nothing about jet skis, but you know the fine line between friendly and dickish behavior. And you’ve seen since how often he dances on it, taunting his sister’s fiancé without ever being openly insulting.
You’re not sure he fully understands his behavior. Your first-year college roommate, a man you loved, had to sit you down in your senior year to explain how much your teasing hurt him. You’ve never forgotten it, never stopped being grateful he’d pointed out how obtuse you’d been. Maybe no one’s ever helped Mattie out this way. But you’re not close enough to him to do it. You’ve only met him three or four times, when you and your girlfriend (his sister’s best friend) visit his family at their lake house.
That day you met, he made a mock announcement: there isn’t room for two Matts at the lake house. In deference to your role as guest, he’d change his name to Mattie. Everyone laughed at the performance, including you. But you’d noticed how his parents seemed to like you, how they’d grin at your self-deprecating jokes. Mattie noticed too, you’re sure. The nickname had sent a message: this was his house and family; he knew which jokes the audience would like. And he was right. The Mattie nickname never went away.
So now, at the bar, you can flip him some shit. He grins when you tease him about not drinking the night before the wedding. Fifteen minutes later, he has that drink after all. The two of you start buying rounds. When you call out his stunt with the jet ski he laughs, then asks how many years you plan to waste on a dissertation. You start to think the two of you could end up friends, if neither of you ever leaves this bar.
The next day—after you see his dad struggling alone with the audio system and go over to help, after the groom’s brother has to step in at the last minute when Mattie isn’t there to read the passage from Corinthians 13—no one knows what to say. It’s not until three A.M., working through a cooler of beer with friends in a hotel room, that the newly married couple tells the story: how the night before, Mattie and a friend, loaded, beat up a stranger in a parking lot and stole his new BMW. The cops yanked Mattie out of bed, and no judge would grant bail for the felony charges of grand theft auto, robbery, and assault. The friend he was with is an asshole, the groom explains, always in trouble, but Mattie knocked the stranger down and drove his car away.
And only then do you recall hearing that Mattie crashed a boat into a dock late one night, months ago, after leaving a lakeside bar. You feel your chest constrict. As if you’d taken a punch or thrown one. That’s when you choke out a confession: how you bought him the first drink of the night, how you and he and the asshole friend had several rounds together. There’s half a beat of silence. Then both the bride and groom insist it’s not your fault. Mattie knew better. You hear the sloshy rustle of a hand digging in the icy cooler. My dad was so grateful, the bride explains, when you came out of nowhere to help him with the audio system. He could never have done it without you.
Matthew Harkins writes and teaches in rural Minnesota, where he also directs a reading series for visiting creative writers. He has recent creative work in Club Plum and forthcoming in Pidgeonholes.
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