By Patrick W. Andersen

“Mr. Gregoire, can I speak to you for a moment?”

“Of course, Mike,” the man said, setting his newspaper aside on the coffee table next to his reclining chair.

Mike took a seat on the sofa facing the chair. In any other sort of social situation, he would probably make some small talk about the weather, the Giants’ position versus the Dodgers in the Western Division rankings, or the latest outrage in the news. But this called for more direct language — he didn’t want to get sidetracked into nonproductive chit-chat.

“Mr. Gregoire, I’ve asked Nancy to marry me, and she said yes. I’d like to ask for your blessing.”

Mr. Gregoire tilted his chair into the upright position and held his right hand forward. Mike got up from the sofa and stepped across the room to shake hands with his future father-in-law. After a moment’s silence, he reclaimed his seat on the sofa.

“Vickie,” Mr. Gregoire called out. “Vickie, come here for a minute.” When Mrs. Gregoire appeared in the doorway, he said, “Vickie, our baby girl is getting married!”

The woman shrieked in glee, and ran from the room shouting, “Nancy, Nancy, come here! We’ve got so much planning to do!”

As his wife’s shrieks in the dining room were joined by the excited shouts of his daughter, Mr. Gregoire pushed his chair back into the reclining position again, which automatically raised the footrest so that his lower legs became horizontal again. He folded his hands together contemplatively under his chin.

“Ah, my. So my little girl is getting married. You know, it’s hard to believe that she’s grown up already! Time really does fly.”

“Yes, I can imagine,” Mike replied.

“You know, I can remember when I bought her first bicycle. She was anxious to get rid of the training wheels right away, but I said no, you’ve got to learn the basics first. I made her keep the training wheels on for three months – would have made it longer, but she was so insistent, you know. And when we finally took them off, I wouldn’t let her ride unless I was there to hold the handlebars for her to make sure she didn’t fall. Yes, it seems like just yesterday.”

Before Mike could say anything, they heard more shrieks from the dining room. “Yes, the Cathedral! Old St. Peter’s is just way too small.”

Mike cleared his throat. “I must say that I have always been impressed by your daughter, ever since our first class together at the university. She has quite an outstanding academic record.”

“I should hope so. We’ve worked so hard to make sure she maintained the best possible GPA. Why, I remember back when she was just eleven or twelve years old, sometimes her mother had to stay up past our bedtime working on her algebra or geometry problems. But, of course, I took over when it came to term papers. Her mother is good, but she’s no match for me when it comes to writing essays!”

“Oh – you wrote her papers?”

“Well, not completely. Of course Nancy would always do the first draft. Then I’d clean up the grammar and spelling, and add in some research with footnotes to make her argument really solid, whatever it was. And of course, we would all consult together to tighten up the thesis statement. The secret to writing a good essay is the thesis statement, you know.”

Mike didn’t answer immediately. His eyes had lost their focus, as if his mind were wandering. But the awkwardness of the silence in the air broke through and he snapped back to attention. “Oh, absolutely. The thesis statement.”

“Yes, and then it’s just a matter of the supporting research and a strong conclusion that restates the thesis. But enough of that,” the man said, waving his hand as if to push the topic aside. “What are your plans, my boy? You know, I’ll want to be sure that you can support my little girl in the lifestyle to which she’s accustomed. Heh, heh!”

“I think I’ve got a long and very fruitful career ahead of me.”

“I’m sure of that. Speaking of which, get me a draft of your resume, and I’ll submit it to human resources. I’m sure we can get you set up with something.”

Mike held up his right forefinger. “Actually, I’ve already got several interviews set up with some very big companies.”

“Of course you do. Of course you do. But you just send me that resume anyway.” Mr. Gregoire stroked his chin for a moment. “By the way, do you have much stuff you have to store? I’m trying to think where I can make room in the garage.”

Now Mike tilted his head in confusion. “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

“Well, you’ll be moving in here after the wedding, of course. I just want to make sure we can accommodate most of your belongings. You don’t want to have to sell or give away all of your possessions, do you? No, of course not! So I’ll be working on making room for them during the course of your engagement. How long is your engagement going to be, by the way?”

“Um, we haven’t discussed that yet. Mr. Gregoire, I was thinking that Nancy and I would get our own place to live.”

Startled out of his reverie, the man frowned at first before spreading his bright smile across his face. “Plenty of time to think about that. Plenty of time. I understand wanting to be the man of your own house. I know some local real estate agents who can scout our neighborhood for you. In fact,” he said, his face brightening, “old man Nichols next door was telling me he plans to retire to Palm Springs and put his house on the market. Wouldn’t that be just grand — we could be next-door neighbors!”

Just then there was the sound of commotion in the dining room. Mrs. Gregoire stood in the doorway. “Michael, we can’t do anything more until you tell me the color of your cumberbund.”

Mike gave his head a small shake as if he had not heard correctly. “What?”

“Your cumberbund. Everything hangs on the color of your cumberbund. We have to have a decision.”

Mike knit his brows together. “What’s a cumberbund?”

Mrs. Gregoire planted her hands on her hips and made a face at him. “Don’t play games with me. You know perfectly well that it’s the sash you wear around your waist with your tuxedo. The color of the bridesmaids’ gowns have to complement your cumberbund. And the color of their gowns decides the color scheme for the floral arrangements, and all the decorations. Even the napkins and the guests’ place cards at the banquet have to fit into the color scheme properly. And of course the wedding invitations and the RSVP cards. And many of my friends will want to know what color wrapping paper and ribbons to use on their gifts. So you see, it all depends on the color of your cumberbund. Come now, Michael, hundreds of people will need to start their planning as soon as possible, so what’s it going to be? You only have three choices — red, blue or purple, though I think we should exclude purple from the very get-go. So do you want red or blue?”

Mike scratched his head. “You want me to wear a tuxedo?”

“Aaauughhh! You’re as useless as your bride-to-be! Nancy, we’re going with the blue,” she called into the dining room.

As Mrs. Gregoire left the living room, her husband waved his hand again. “Don’t worry about them — they’ll be deep into planning for months to come. But speaking of colors, what color do you think your house should be? Old man Nichols has used three slightly different shades of yellow over the years, each one worse than the last. I’ve always thought a light blue or a bright white would look better. What do you think?”

“Um, I’ll have to give that some thought.” Mike stood up from the couch and approached the doorway to the dining room. “Nancy, could I see you for a minute?”

Nancy appeared, looking puzzled. “What’s wrong?”

Mike gave his head a small shake. “Nothing. I just remembered there’s something I wanted the jeweler to do with your ring. Can I have the ring back?”

Nancy laughed. “Oh, I’ll go with you. I’d love to see the shop where you bought this ring.”

“No, I can take care of it. You stay here with your Mom.” He held his hand out, palm up. Shrugging, Nancy took the ring off her finger and dropped it into his palm.

“I’ll call you later,” Mike said, turning toward the front door.

“How soon will I see you?” Nancy called out.

“I’ll call you. We need to talk.” Mike closed the door behind him as he walked out.

(Previously published in Saint Red Magazine.)

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