By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: You go to work the morning after a long night of drinking. You notice a cheap wedding ring on your finger that wasn’t there yesterday. Describe your action steps to determine what happened.
Greg pinched the bridge of his nose and scrunched his eyes, suppressing a groan as he did so.
Whose brilliant idea was it to hit that fourth bar?
His computer pinged an email alert. The sound drilled his pounding headache into place, and even though he’d just walked into his office 15 minutes earlier he felt like picking up his briefcase and going straight home.
The computer pinged again, and he slumped into one hand and peered through his fingers. With his other hand he worked the mouse and double clicked on the new messages. Scanning the missives he deleted both of them.
Piece of crap. How am I supposed to put together a spreadsheet of expenses if these idiots don’t send me the numbers I need?
As he began typing responses he tried to ignore the paper ring on his finger. He’d already tried tearing it off twice, and it hadn’t budged. It revolved freely but wouldn’t slide over his knuckle. Worst of all, Greg couldn’t remember where he’d gotten it. The paper itched too.
This is ridiculous. I’m not in middle school.
He pulled at it again. Once again the ring wouldn’t budge. Once again he tried to ignore it. Or, more precisely, he tried to ignore the words that pushed between the dips and rises of his skin.
“I vow my lifelong fidelity.”
It irritated him, this stupid circle of paper. How was it possible that paper couldn’t come apart? It was just…paper.
Another email pinged, and he moved the mouse again to delete it when the subject heading made him stop.
“Regarding your wedding last night”
What the—did I really—oh, man.
The sound that came from him this time sounded closer to a moan, and he clicked on the email.
“Good morning, newly-crowned prince of the European province of Concord! We welcome you and wish you well as you begin your transition to royalty. Please call Her Royal Highness at the following number. She wishes to speak to you regarding your nuptials.”
A number came next and Greg stared at it for a few minutes.
Prince of Concord? Are these people nuts??
He sat back in his chair and put some serious effort this time into remembering the previous night.
Jack and I went to that place on Main Street first; then he said he wanted to go back to where he’d seen that hot chick last week. That was at Maxfield’s. Then…did we go to Voodoo next? Yeah, Voodoo. But then what was the name of the last place?
He frowned, trying to concentrate.
By the time he and Jack had decided to move to the next stop of the night, Jack couldn’t quite stand up straight. He had started singing Justin Bieber songs at the top of his voice to anyone who looked at him long enough, and Greg finally flagged a cab and practically shoved Jack into the back seat. He rode with Jack to his apartment and watched him try to navigate the sidewalk in the semi-darkness. By this time Jack had started squinting at the ground, stepping with exaggerated care from one square of concrete to the next.
When Greg saw a light turn on in the front window of the building, he shut the car door.
“Where to?” the cabbie asked.
Greg opened his mouth, ready to give the driver his own home address, but he stopped. He didn’t want to go home. Didn’t want to unlock his front door. Didn’t want to pretend that Shana’s things were gone. That Shana was gone.
“I don’t know,” Greg finally responded. “Do you know a place where I can just hang out in a dark corner for a little while?”
The driver looked at him in the rearview mirror. Greg looked back and almost turned toward the window when he realized the cabbie kept looking at him. Considering.
“All right, mac, I’ll take you to a place I know. But it’s gonna cost you a little extra.”
Greg shrugged, trying to overlook the sliver of doubt that had worked its way into his brain. Watching the city lights go by, he felt depressed all of a sudden. Maybe he should call Shana and apologize. Any guy could get jealous, he would say. Anyone could make the same mistake, could come to the same wrong conclusion. Could make the same incorrect accusation and refuse to believe her.
But he’d lived with her long enough to know she meant it when she said she had had enough. She wouldn’t come back. No matter what.
The cabbie pulled into a dark alley between two tall buildings, and the sliver of doubt turned into a ripple of uncertainty that tripped down his neck.
“Uh, hey, buddy, sorry for the inconvenience, but I think I really do just want to go home. Do you think—”
“Can’t take you home. You’re gonna have to figure it out from here, mister. Now, get out.”
Relieved that the man hadn’t pulled a weapon on him, Greg scrambled out of the car. He slammed the door shut behind him and took a moment to inspect the door in the wall. It almost looked like a part of the brick. He turned around.
“Hey, man, what—”
Cab and driver had disappeared.
Greg turned back to the door and looked at it again. The doubt had disappeared. It left curiosity in its place, and he stepped forward and turned the doorknob.
Greg propped his elbows on his desk and rubbed his eyes. Fragments of images began shaking through his memory, fitting together like puzzle pieces. A young woman, close to his own age and height, with black hair and piercing blue eyes. Twin bodyguards with eyes that matched hers flanking her.
Her brothers, Greg recalled. He sat up straight in his chair at the recall. Those were her brothers, and they were afraid someone would try to assassinate her if she didn’t get married and assert her place on the throne.
More images. A simple wedding ceremony. A chaplain from a church nearby who also had a wedding license ready. Greg just had to fill in his name and details. The woman—Genevieve—had placed a heavy signet ring on his ring finger. It showed the province crest—an olive branch held in the beak of a dove. After the ceremony ended, though, Genevieve had asked for the ring back. He could wear it on state occasions, she said. They would get him a simple band he could wear.
Another ceremony. They kneeled in front of one another, and one of her brothers used something that looked like a salt shaker to sprinkle sparkly dust on them. When Greg had asked what it was, Genevieve had told him it was actual gold powder from a chalice back in Concorde. Then she’d shared with him a potent alcoholic beverage in a silver goblet. They each took turns drinking. At some point, Greg remembers, he started singing a little Justin Bieber himself.
He ran his fingers through his hair and then laced his fingers and rested his chin on his hands. After a minute he brought his clasped hands to his desk. The morning light from the window caught something shiny on his skin.
Greg sighed, the sound carrying the weariness of the previous evening. He picked up the phone and began dialing.