It’s a simple system: you grant Aphrodite, Inc., access to all your social media accounts. She computes your ideal mate and a date and time for the wedding, usually before you graduate high school. Divorce rates have dropped. Married couples are happier than ever. The system is perfect.
Except Dre and Alex were never meant to be matched.
Dre finally caved, tugging at the collar of his tuxedo with one finger, just as a bead of sweat rolled off his nose and splashed against his well-polished, rented shoes. Time must have stopped, the rest of the world gone superluminal, or his bride was late.
He glanced at his parents, who fanned themselves in the front row. They were in his time-stream. Kathryn-Alexandra was late. How could Aphrodite pair him with someone who couldn’t keep time? The system was supposed to be perfect.
A soft clack drew his and his parents’ attention to the back of the hall, where a young woman had appeared. A thick, denim purse hung from one shoulder like an old, forgotten tool bag. She wobbled in her stilettos and tucked one clump of unbrushed, ragged hair behind her ear. She bit her lower lip.
That wasn’t a wedding dress! A lace, ivory bag of a dress covered her from wrist to clavicle to ankle, layered over a matching sleeveless shift that preserved her modesty. It bulged at her stomach, hips, bosom, and shoulders, straining the fabric.
She must have found the wrong room.
It had taken forever to find a parking spot big enough for the RV here in the big city. Alex had agonized over her wardrobe for an hour afterwards before settling on her old Easter dress. May 20th had crept up on her. She was lucky she’d remembered. Maybe.
She froze in the doorway of the Ceremony Hall, studying the lay of the land. The Hell’s Kitchen gorge looked more welcoming.
The stranger stood at the front of the hall in some fancy suit, the light glinting from jewelry at his wrists. He wiped his forehead with a handkerchief—a bona fide handkerchief. Only old men used those. The motion emphasized the unnatural length of his arms, which his legs mirrored. He oozed sweat.
She shivered. Seventy-six degrees seemed like it should have been warm enough, but it wasn’t.
She took a wobbly step back, checking the room’s name beside the door: Ceremony Hall #4. This was the right place.
She shouldn’t have come.
She stepped inside. The cool breeze cut right through her tight lace sleeves, sending a new wave of goosebumps across her skin. The three sets of stares following her every move were just as bad, just as penetrating.
She ignored the parents and walked to the front. The heels weren’t so bad, as long as she kept moving and kept her weight on the balls of her feet. The stares at the front were harder.
She forced a smile on her face. “Hello, Bartholemew.”
The smile fought a grimace for control of his face. Did he dislike her already, just by looking? How shallow! “Hello, Kathryn-Alexandra.”
Her wide, plain, unadorned face was pretty when she smiled, but she made his name sound uglier than it had to. Dre winced at her pronunciation. Maybe he could get her to call him by his nickname. Maybe he could find one for her, so he wouldn’t have to go through the whole mouthful every time.
For now, they turned to the front of the hall and its two illuminated touchscreens.
CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR MARRIAGE!
Their childhood photos wandered by in the background, and the computer had already photoshopped one of them standing together, smiling, in today’s wedding attire under an expansive oak tree.
PRESS ANYWHERE TO CONTINUE
“Ready?” Dre asked.
Kathryn-Alexandra shrugged one creamy lace-bound shoulder and jabbed her screen with a finger. Maybe, in time, she’d grow to be more refined.
Sighing, he brushed his own screen.
“Done yet?” she demanded.
He pressed the consent button. A vow appeared on his screen, with instructions to say it to Kathryn-Alexandra, whose name appeared in bold. He turned, keeping the screen in the corner of his eye, and tried to catch her gaze. She wasn’t looking. “I, Bartholemew Devin Mayor, take you, Kathryn-Alexandra Hughes, to be my lawfully wedded wife.” Dear God, would she always look like this much of a wreck? “To have and to hold—“ after a shower— “from this day forward, for better or for worse—“ Really? Could he mean that? What was he doing? He tried to wet his salty lips with his dry tongue. “—for richer or for poorer—“ Poor he could handle, if nothing else. “—in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”
Done. Somewhere nearby, he heard the clang of a locking jail door.
The vow switched to her screen, and she mumbled through it, never looking away from her prompt. “I, Kathryn-Alexandra Charity Hughes, take you, Bartholemew—“ She made his name sound lumpy. He hadn’t known that was possible.
The screens faded into a stilted, programmed message of CONGRATULATIONS in front of electronic fireworks. How. Very. Original. A recorded voice announced, “You may now kiss the bride.” Eww.
Alex looked up at his sweat-slicked face, trying to be strategic. Maybe there was a flat spot on his cheek where most of the water had already drained off.
He leaned forward, his lips pursed. How to aim? How to aim! He was coming in wrong. Heavens! He was aiming for her lips! She turned her head and planted a light peck on his cheek, smearing the side of her face with his sweat in the process.
He straightened, blushing as he glanced at his clapping parents. She did, too, when a horrific thought struck her. In-laws. She was too young for in-laws. They bombarded the stage, the two of them an oncoming horde, and hugged and kissed them both. With impish smiles, they led the newlyweds into the hall, clearing the room for Aphrodite’s next victims. No, her next couple.