We drove for an hour or so before we hit the city of Reno. Robert parked the car in front of a white brick building with a railed porch. The place looked like a church, well sort of. A small steeple with a white cross, stood right directly above a neon sign flashing WEDDINGS. To the right of the door was a stained glass window with the word LOVE etched between two pink hearts; black silhouettes heads of a man and woman facing each other, decorated the next two adjoining windows. But the most noticeable thing about the place was the big red OPEN sign on the door. Realizing what my surprise was, my jaw fell wide open.
“Come on. Let’s do it!” Robert said.
He looked so cute with his usual infectious grin, I could have carried him over the threshold, but I restrained myself. I was happy as a yellow smiley face icon, anticipating my very near future. Once we were married, there would be no way our parents could tear us apart. We would belong to each other forever. My heart thumped as we walked hand and hand toward the Chapel of Love.
Robert propped the storm door open for me. “Brides first.” He bowed slightly, and grandly gestured with his arm.
I skipped across the threshold, taking my first step toward becoming a married woman, only to stumble onto an ox-blood red carpet that covered every inch of visible floor space. My eyes popped. It was the gaudiest place I’d ever seen. My mouth watered in distaste at the clashing muli-mirrored, Pepto-Bismol colored, hearts spattered on the walls and dangling from the ceiling, sparkling, and reflecting rain showers of light around the room. But, that wasn’t all. Just when I thought the place couldn’t be tackier, I eyed a humongous fake gold heart encapsulating a white podium, where I presumed the vows of matrimony took place. For the first time, in a long time, I was rendered speechless.
No sooner, had the door rattled shut behind us, and a short fat man in a navy blue banker’s suit appeared.
He cleared his throat. “Hello, how may I help you?” He asked.
He didn’t look like a minister at all to me. His fat lips puckered outward, squeezed out of position by his chubby cheeks, and he had a funniest looking comb over I’d ever seen. I glanced down at the floor, then at his nose, and then over at the wall, to curb the urge to stare directly at his head and giggle. One big gust of wind and he’d have hair down below his shoulder, at least on one side. By the shocked expression on his face, I was sure we didn’t look like the clients he expected either. Robert’s uneven hair had grown well below his shoulders and his multi-patched, faded, jeans looked ragged. I was in my dirty green down jacket and carpenter pants. I’ll admit we looked terribly out of place in this pristine pink wedding chapel. The fat man’s phony smile didn’t fool me either; I could see the fear in his eyes. He probably thought we were going to rob the joint.
“We want to get married,” Robert said grinning from ear to ear, breaking the momentary silence.
The fat man let out a guarded sigh, his stance relaxed somewhat, as he dabbed at his forehead with a white, silk, handkerchief. “Well son, you are in the right place,” he said.
“How much does it cost?” Robert asked guardedly.
He offered Robert a brochure. “We have different packages. It all depends what you want.”
“We just want the piece of paper, nothing special.”
“Our most economical package, which includes the ceremony, complementary music and the marriage certificate runs only twenty-five dollars.”
Robert’s jaw dropped open. “Twenty-five bucks! That’s expensive.”
“Well, son it is for life. We wouldn’t want you to make a hasty decision.”
“I guess that makes sense,” Robert said shaking his head.
I could see he was still trying to swallow the cost of the whole thing.
“Come on in and have a seat. Miss Swan will get your paperwork ready for you,” the man said, leading us to two chairs in front of a nearby desk. Behind the desk sat a woman with glasses, an up-do, and an air of superiority to match her hair. She eyed us up and down cautiously and then a big fake smile stretched across the thin skin of her face, creating ruts on either side of her mouth. She plopped down a contract in front of us.
“Fill out these forms, and in the meantime, I will need to see your driver’s license.”
“Um. I don’t drive,” I said reflexively.
“Do you have birth certificate or some other form of identification?”
I pulled my birth certificate out of my blue bag. Thankfully, I had been smart enough to pack it when I left.
The woman shook her head and frowned. “I’m sorry. We cannot marry you. You’re not old enough.”
I stared at the woman baffled. “I thought everyone could get married in Reno.”
“Not until you are eighteen. You have to have your parent’s permission,” she informed us in firm tone.
“That’s the problem. Our parents don’t want us to get married. Can’t you help us?” Robert pled.
She inhaled deeply and her nostrils pinched together. “Sorry, the law requires you to be eighteen to marry without parental consent. Have you tried Tennessee or Alabama, some place like that?” She asked.
I didn’t like the sarcasm in her voice, or the suspicious look on her face. I got the distinct feeling she might be one to call the cops.
“Let’s go Robert. I will ask my parents tonight,” I said, attempting to cover our tracks.
Robert looked at me funny for a moment, stiffened, then shifted his eyes toward the door when he caught on to my ruse.
“I’m sorry we couldn’t help you,” the fat man called after us as we fled the pink house of horrors.
Robert and I beat it to the car and not a minute too soon as far as I was concerned. I didn’t want to get married by a fat guy with a comb-over in that ridiculous pink nightmare of a place anyway.
Robert draped his arm over my shoulder. “I’m sorry things didn’t work out, I tried,” he said regretfully. His eyes clouded over and I knew her meant it.
“Don’t worry about it,” I snorted. “That place was so gaudy, I kept waiting for Elvis Presley to come through the door in a white sequined jumpsuit to marry us himself.”
Robert let out a loud belly laugh. “Mary, what an imagination you have,” he said shaking his head. “Elvis. Ha! That’s a good one.”
© 2011 Susan Antony THE IN BETWEEN ERA - All Rights Reserved