“I love you, Mrs. St. George.”
“I love you too, Mr. St. George.”
As his bride’s lips met his, Drake sighed with overwhelming relief. The wedding had been perfect, despite his family’s warnings.
“It’ll be expensive and time-consuming,” his dad had said. “You’ll need extra security, especially with Alice already stressed over grad school.”
Brody, his college roommate who bragged about wrestling alligators in the bayou, refused to be his best man. “It’s the pandemic, brah.”
But their worst critic was Alice’s mother. She’d cried when he’d announced their engagement. “Alice can’t handle a wedding. Don’t you love her?”
Of course he did. Drake loved Alice with all his heart, and after five years of dating, it was time he made a commitment. She had to choose a doctoral program soon, and there had been talk of UC Berkeley. He couldn’t lose her to California, so he’d proposed and promised to give her the best day of her life, no matter the risk.
Alice sucked his tongue and tugged on the ends of his red hair. “You’re gonna make us miss our flight.”
Drake’s heart quickened. Was that anger in her voice? A tinge of red in her brown eyes? Nerves cooled his ardor, and he pulled away. “You’re right. We’ll leave now.”
It had been an intimate wedding at a mountaintop B&B, with only immediate family and their more adventurous friends. Drake had handled all the planning, booked the venue, hired a florist, caterer, and a DJ. The vendors seemed relieved to deal with a groom, rather than a bride. Too emotional, the B&B owner claimed. “One wrong move and it’s up in smoke. With a man, you know where you stand.”
Drake had paid him double, plus fire insurance, and told Alice not to worry about the cost. Let her focus on her thesis, instead of dealing with trivial things, like ensuring the reception tablecloths were blush pink, not rose. Didn’t that rental company know the difference?
The mountain roads were empty, but on the highway, traffic settled to a crawl. Drake rolled down his window and waved to a cop setting up a roadblock.
“Hey officer. What’s going on?”
“Sorry folks. We’ve got a situation up ahead. You’ll need to turn around.”
“Is that the mall?” Alice asked, pointing to gray smoke on the horizon. Suddenly, a jet of flame cut through the clouds.
“Bridal show. Thought they’d get by with temperature checks.” The cop spat his tobacco into the grass and eyed Drake’s Hawaiian shirt. “Where y’all headed?”
An anxious ache pierced Drake’s skull, but he smiled, glad they’d changed out of their wedding clothes. “The airport. Going to Jamaica.”
“They don’t have cake in Jamaica?”
Drake looked in the backseat and nearly threw up. A pink box with “I Do Bakery” in gold lettering on the side rested next to their suitcases.
“Oh no, Mom forgot to take the top of the cake to freeze. It’ll be ruined by the time we return from our honeymoon.”
Alice clapped her hand over her mouth too late. The officer murmured into his radio, and a SWAT team in head-to-toe tactical gear jogged over. “Ma’am, please remain calm and step out of the vehicle.”
“But we’re already married.” Drake grabbed his wife’s hand; it felt cool, which was a good sign, but her eyes looked bloodshot. The cops would make her worse.
“Again, please remain calm,” the officer barked. “This is standard procedure, sir, for your safety and hers.”
Drake picked at a mosquito bite on his arm as an EMT in a hooded aluminized fire suit checked Alice’s temperature and flashed a penlight in her eyes. He’d watched for symptoms the whole day, but Alice had been a radiant bride. No muscle aches or rash or sudden mood swings. She was fine.
They’d miss their flight. Their honeymoon ruined.
He’d had a timeline and contingency plans. He’d even set up bug traps around the reception tent himself, though the B&B owner claimed there were no mosquitos in November.
Drake scratched the bite raw and found another on his knee. Bloodsucking vendors. No mosquitos, my ass.
In the distance, a mushroom cloud bloomed, tiger orange, like the day lilies in his boutonniere. Screams mixed with the roar of traffic, then died.
And that damn cake. Alice’s mother was a stupid cow. “Just elope,” she’d said. “Why put Alice at risk for a party?”
A party? Elope? This was his day! After all his work, he deserved the wedding and honeymoon of his dreams, instead of being interrogated like a common criminal.
Launching himself from the car, Drake marched toward the silver clad EMT taking Alice’s blood pressure. “We’ll miss our flight.”
“Sir, we have to complete these safety checks on your fiancé.”
“She’s my wife.” He grabbed Alice’s hand and held it up before the tinted visor of the EMT’s protective suit. “See the ring?”
Alice pulled away. “Drake, what’s wrong with your eyes?”
“My eyes?” Drake touched his face, hissing as the skin on his hands peeled off. He brushed the white patches away; a hoary flash blinded him.
Scales, hard and brilliant in the smoky light.
But grooms were immune. The transformation never happened to grooms.
Drake ran for his car, but his reflection in the side mirror made him freeze.
The red skin on his arms and legs flaked away, revealing more scales. Tiny aching horns sprouted at his temples, and his back curved in a serpentine bend. He blinked ruby-red eyes, his pupils shrinking to black slits.
He really was going to vomit now. With a giant belch, flames shot from his throat and engulfed their car.
Alice screamed his name — “Draaakkke!” — her voice like tearing flesh, like the leathery wings ripping through the skin at his shoulders.
“Down on the ground!”
“We’ve got a code red. I repeat, a code red! We need fire units, stat!”
Cops gathered, guns drawn; over the sirens and screams, Drake caught Alice’s soft sobbing. She hadn’t shed a single tear during the ceremony. No Kodak moments for the photographer to capture. But now she cried? Now she cared about his day?
The cake rested in the backseat, untouched by flame. Drake slithered into his fire and clutched the pastel box in his monstrous claws. The one perfect thing left. He’d save it for the first anniversary.