I thought it was a joke when Tyler told me he wanted to get married, so I laughed — a real loud, full belly cackle — and asked to whom, because deep down I was sort of an asshole. He was hanging upside down from the wooden railing of Jules’ back deck, stupidly cherubic curls grazing the grass beneath him and I wasn’t looking at him but I could tell he was glaring at me. Probably for the ‘whom’; he hated it when I talked like a jerk. Maybe his feelings were hurt. He always wanted to be taken seriously, even when he said shit like this.
Nobody in particular. But he was going to get married, he announced, because he had looked it up and he could. It was true. In Tennessee, you didn’t need a guardian’s permission once you turned 18, and he had already done everything else on the checklist. Jules and I went to the supermarket and cheered when he won three dollars on a 9’s in a Line lottery ticket. We rolled our eyes — actually, I rolled my eyes, Jules just laughed — when he spent his winnings on a pack of cigarettes and coughed up a lung in the parking lot by the shopping cart return. We held his hands while he received a lower back tattoo of Wile E. Coyote from a sketchy guy downtown, and we even waited outside the elementary school while he voted, talking about how weird it was to watch Tyler perform a civic duty. This was all that was left.
“Okay,” I said, “Good luck.” I hoped that would be the end of it, except Jules came back out carrying assorted sliced fruits and a gigantic carton of Goldfish crackers, and he brought it up with her: “I’m gonna get married, isn’t that great?”
She said: “Yikes.” She said: “That’s gonna be expensive.” She said: “And a real headache to annul.”
And then she said, “Fucking entertaining though. Can I be your witness?”
Delighted, Tyler started to pull himself back up the deck, beaming as he squirmed his way to a perch on the railing. He was such a terrible mixture of compelling and embarrassing that it hurt me to look in that direction. It was settled. He was getting married. My original point still stood: To whom?
Tyler thought about this, his whole body swaying back and forth in the breeze of Jules’ backyard like a windchime. He was probably high, I realized, and Jules too. I felt like an idiot for figuring it out too late — and for being annoyed, even though I had told them I didn’t care what they did as long as it wasn’t in front of me. “It’s not about the person,” Tyler said. “It’s about the statement.” Jules hummed in agreement.
“What statement?” I asked, resisting the urge to massage my temples or pinch the bridge of my nose or any of the other things old people did when they were stressed.
“I’m eighteen, right?” said Tyler. “I never thought I’d make it that far.”
Which was the sort of grandiose thing he would tell us that he didn’t mean, that was sort of concerning and sort of annoying at the same time. Tyler had never been sick, suicidal or in any way prone to danger. If he hadn’t thought he’d make it to eighteen it was because he hadn’t bothered to consider that there were moments beyond the one he was currently in. I tried to shoot Jules a look, but she was on her back in the long grass stuffing her mouth with Goldfish. I was going to have to check her for ticks afterward.
“And we,” Tyler was saying, “need to celebrate life. Especially you, Mason.”
I flushed a little; this was an old argument about me abandoning them for college that I wasn’t winning. Their post-graduation plans were never scholarly and constantly shifting. Last I’d asked, Jules assured me she had some social media sponsorship “locked down, basically,” and Tyler was wondering if he’d get free Cherry Dips by working at the Dairy Queen.
Tyler scooted off the railing and tipped gently onto the grass, and Jules crowed with glee and tried to shove a handful of Goldfish into his mouth, and he was saying no no no no no, both of them laughing so hard they shook. I stood to the side, sober and boring and wishing I wasn’t. I tried to distract myself by digging each seed out of my watermelon slice with the nail of my index finger. Then I said, “Whatever, I’ll marry you.” Just to insert myself back into their world, just to pretend I had ever in my life been uninhibited, had ever just said what I felt like saying, ignorant of any consequences.
Tyler smiled sweetly, like he’d known all along I’d say yes, and he said, matter-of-fact: “Mason, you are my best friend in the entire motherfucking world.” Jules pitched a handful of Goldfish at his face in mock retribution.
It sucked, because that was exactly what I wanted to hear.
I stood in front of the only full-length mirror in the secondhand store trying on a suit jacket that was too long in one arm and too short in the other while Tyler thumbed aimlessly at the tie selection hanging from the ceiling fan, taking occasional breaks to jokingly check out my ass in the purple corduroy pants he had made me try on. He had been like this ever since the proposal. It was funny, for him, to play with my hair or stare into my eyes until I flushed and asked what was wrong with him, to really seem to be serious about this whole wedding thing.
“Come help,” I said to Jules, who had no patience for men’s fashion. She was slumped in the gross armchair in the corner, a really impressive slouch, something that was going to give her a spine condition later in life. “Tyler is harassing me. And I honestly don’t think I can get this off of my body.”
“There’s comfort in knowing what you’re going to be buried in,” she told me, not looking up from her lap. Ninety percent of the time Jules was no help at all. She was always on her phone, which she only owned for two reasons. The first was so she could edit memes where each star sign corresponded to an unflattering picture of Jake Gyllenhaal, posted on an incomprehensible Instagram account she’d been running since sophomore year; the second reason was so she could send paragraph-long texts of the passive aggressive variety to her long-distance girlfriend. The relationship was older than the Instagram account and far more arcane. When the girlfriend put her in a particularly bad mood, Tyler and I would pretend my dad had asked us to clean the shed and leave her to watch Lord of the Rings in my basement, go to the batting cages and miss every single shot or see if he could eat the entire bag of mini Babybel cheeses in under three minutes this time.
I turned to him now. “In sickness and in health,” I said. “In good times and in bad. In please-get-over-here and in help-me-take-this-stupid-thing-off.”
“These ties,” he replied, “are simply not ugly enough.”
Jules announced from the corner that she had finished analyzing our star charts. She was a little worried about Tyler’s Pisces moon and my Scorpio rising, but it would probably all be fine. She sent us our corresponding Instagram posts. My Jake Gyllenhaal was eating an ice cream cone and Tyler’s was receiving a foot massage. They were really, really terrible.
It was so hot we hung out in the air conditioned Kroger. Tyler, who was impervious to human sensations, felt fine, so he wandered around to find the cereal while Jules and I stuck our faces inside the freezers. “The ceremony has to be tasteful,” she said to me while I wondered how unhygienic it would be if I licked the ice crystals forming on the popsicle boxes. “Are you writing your own vows?”
“No,” I said. She fixed me with a look, the same one she had been giving me since we were in kindergarten and I told her I couldn’t come to her Hot Wheels themed birthday party. “What’s that for?”
“I’m only giving you my blessing if you write your own vows.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” I said. Jules rolled her eyes and took a grape popsicle out of one of the boxes. “Uh, are you going to pay for that?”
“It’s not that hard,” she said. “Just be nice. And … heartfelt.”
I didn’t want to talk about it anymore, so I went looking for Tyler and found him in Grains. Tyler liked to bounce around the aisle, touching his fingertips to the familiar boxes. “I’ve eaten this one,” he told me, “And this one, and this one too. It was fine. No Captain Crunch. But still good.”
I tried not to watch him flutter or think about how I was leaving in a month in the same way I tried not to pick at my hangnails — I was doing it before I could stop myself, and I was somehow surprised when it hurt. “Why are we doing this?” I asked.
Tyler was engaged in a speculative thought exercise wherein he contemplated which box of Captain Crunch looked more like it might contain the special prize: a blue plastic toy parrot he would immediately throw out after he found it. Sometimes I tried to ask Tyler serious questions like this, when his conscious mind was occupied with sugar and his subconscious mind might be prone to answering.
“I have a really good feeling about this box,” said Tyler. But the face I made in response must have been close to upset because he stopped being goofy for a second and a half — a giant effort, for him. “I like having you in my life, dude,” he said, facing away from me; he was pretending to be very interested in a box of Reese’s Puffs. Tyler’s voice was different when he wasn’t joking — it was quieter, and it cracked.
Then he looked back and grinned. “Even though you’re kind of uptight, and sort of gangly.”
“Thanks,” I said, half annoyed, half something else. “Are you writing your own vows?”
He responded: “Do you think I could pull off fingerless gloves?”
I thought about it for a second. “Honestly, yes.”
Jules looked it up and found out that the license from the County Clerk was $97.50. I was already worried enough about student loans; I wasn’t going to pay for Tyler to ditch me at the altar when the joke wasn’t funny enough to him anymore. Tyler didn’t mind. He said, “I always knew I’d be a sugar daddy one day,” and he broke open his Lightning McQueen shaped piggy bank and came up with $27.
“Shit,” he said. “And we have to pay for rings.”
Tyler was better at wedding chicken than I was. “It’s not a big deal,” I said. “Cause we’re not going to need them.”
“Yeah it is,” he frowned. “You’re my fiancé. I can’t have people saying I don’t treat you right.”
He thought the ring pop was a cliché. Jules agreed. “I guess I owe you a wedding present,” she said, “so rings are on me.” She bought two bronzeish bands at the pawnshop that cost her four bucks each. I liked mine, even though it was probably going to give me gangrene. It would be nice to look at when I left — a reminder of the summer.
Tyler wore the fingerless gloves to City Hall. They were neon purple mesh. I had a suit on, at least four sizes too large, that Jules promised made me look like David Byrne.
So we were really going to do it, then. “I think this is progressive,” I told them both. “In terms of outdated standards surrounding platonic male affection.”
“Come on,” said Jules.
“Dude,” said Tyler. “Shut up.”
He had written his own vows, as it turns out: I promise not to bring our marriage up in front of your parents unless it would be really funny. I promise to tell you all my thoughts about geckos before anyone else, except maybe Jules. I promise to stop judging you for the stupid fucking way you eat a watermelon.
I had too. I promise I will not stop bitching about the fact that you don’t recycle. I promise to eat the gumball eyes you don’t like out of your Spongebob icees. I promise one day I will learn the difference between geckos and every other type of lizard.
We fought over who got the marriage certificate for about half a minute before realizing that the only solution was to give it to Jules. She promised to frame it when she got home.
“Where to next?” asked Tyler, admiring the ring on his finger.
“I guess I’ll claim you on my taxes.”
He looked horrified. “Do we have to do taxes now?”
I was supposed to have started packing by now, but Jules said in honor of our one week anniversary she’d drive us to the lake, and that sounded more fun. We fought over the music on the ride up, built sand-drip castles with dozens of towers, and competed to see who could get a leech stuck on their skin first (Tyler won). I made us reapply sunscreen every two hours.
I started to bury Tyler in sand, which seemed like a good idea until I remembered how much of his body I had to touch to do it. He watched me the whole time, quieter than I had ever seen him, probably quieter than he had been since he learned how to talk. When only his head was sticking out, I said, “Did you know that us being married means I get a ton more financial aid now?”
He smiled. “Nope.”
“And I’m no longer required to live on campus next year. I could live with you. If you wanted.”
“Wow,” he said, “That’s crazy, I had no idea.” He was so very pleased with himself.
Jules had taken a candid of Tyler and I to send to the long-distance girlfriend, snapped right when Tyler broke free from the sand coffin. I didn’t look stressed at all in the picture, not about sunscreen or college or marriage or anything, and Tyler looked like he always did: like he was trying to make me laugh.