“Gator!” “Big Dude!”
Kris Mason elbowed his way past a few tired businessmen holding Scotch and sodas in the Omni’s elegant lobby bar and bro-hugged his old Villanova Wildcat football teammate, Aaron O’Meara.
Part 3 of 10
The story so far: The O’Meara and Levy clans are gathering in Old City Philadelphia for the Christmas weekend wedding of Aaron and Rachel. The mother of the groom’s misgivings about the Christmas weekend date are being justified by some ominous weather reports.
DEC. 26, 5 P.M.
Kris Mason elbowed his way past a few tired businessmen holding Scotch and sodas in the Omni Hotel’s elegant lobby bar and bro-hugged his old Villanova Wildcat football teammate, Aaron O’Meara.
“Gator, you made it!”
“Would never miss this, BD. You bein’ my main man all those seasons, leading me to glory on Power Left 88. You get hitched, I am down for that. “
The lobby bar was slowly filling with just-arrived wedding guests stumbling in from the beginnings of the threatened storm. Battleship-gray clouds had hung ominously over the city all day, seeming low enough to reach up and touch. Now they were emitting their first volleys of fat, white flakes.
The rehearsal dinner would begin at a restaurant just around the corner in just over an hour. Aaron, in his new gray suit, and Rachel, stunning in green silk, were holding court at the bar as college and work friends trickled in.
“Rach, this is the Gator, Kris Mason, greatest Villanova running back ever – at least the greatest not named Brian Westbrook.”
“Pleased to meet you, Kris,” Rachel Levy said, looking up in frank appreciation at the stunningly handsome young man, whose 210 pounds of tightly sculpted muscle were packed into an elegant bespoke suit.
“Just glad I made it. Getting a little dicey out there, bro! I got the last plane today out of Chicago. … And, dude, Westbrook who? Ain’t no Westbrook at the top of the Villanova record book for rushing TDs in a season.”
“True that. Rach, Kris is the guy who threw the option pass …”
“… That you caught with a minute left to beat Delaware your senior year. Yes, yes, I know. You’ve told me about it, and him, about 64 times.”
Aaron’s biggest catch
“So, Rachel, how did you meet this dumb Irish lug? More to the point, how’d he convince someone as gorgeous as you to hang with him?”
“Well, hate to admit it, Gator, but Villanova football brought us together. I so hate your stupid game. But, anyway, a few years back, a friend of mine from Arcadia kinda dragged me to a ‘Nova homecoming game, ‘cause she had had this new guy she liked … “
“… Who had a friend,” Aaron picked up the thread with a practiced air. “Who was a total Phi Gamma loser, who drained his flask of Jack by the end of the first quarter …”
“And was asleep, snoring, on my shoulder by halftime,” Rachel picked it up. “But thank goodness, who should turn up to rescue me from this creep, but some very nice, very hot guy sitting right there in the next seat …”
“Let me guess. One Aaron O’Meara, No. 83 in your program, No. 1 in your heart.”
“Yep. I gave her a lift back to Manayunk and we talked all night …”
“Talked. Yeah. Sure,” Kris snorted a laugh.
“Yes, talked, Gutter-Breath, talked. All night.”
“Aaron is a very deep person,” Rachel said solemnly, then poked her fiancé in the ribs. “For a big, dumb jock.”
A mom on a mission
At that moment, a rolling ball of bustle surged into the lobby bar: Aaron’s mom, with his dad in tow.
“Aaron! Aaron! Rachel, sweetie! Time to go, time to head over to the restaurant,” Molly commanded.
“Mom,” Aaron said in a tone of calibrated weariness. “It’s still an hour, and the place is two blocks away. I’m going to hang with our friends a bit.”
“Aaron, it’s starting to snow …” Molly began to protest.
“And I’ve the huskie team tied up and the sled is waiting out back. We’ll mush on over in about a half hour. You go ahead and interrogate the chef, or whatever it is you have in mind.”
“Aaron O’Meara, are you drunk already?”
“Nope, Mom, just 26 and about to get married. I can find my own way to a restaurant 300 yards from here. We’ll be there in plenty of time, I promise. Besides, I’m waiting for Pete. Now HE will never find the place if I don’t drag him there by the sleeve, you know that.”
“True that, Mrs. O’Meara. Ol’ Pete could screw up a two-car funeral,” Kris Mason said with a boisterous laugh.
“Oh, hi, Kristopher. Lovely to see you. Well, you all have a point about Peter. When you find him, send him straight over to me. I have some …”
“Index cards for him. Yes, Mom, I know. You guys get over there and whip the place into shape. We’ll be along once I find Pete.”
About 20 minutes, and a couple of rounds, late, Peter Chen finally bounced into the lobby bar. His skinny black tie was askew; the front of his white shirt trickled out of his pants over his belt.
“Dudes, dudes, what’s up, what’s up,” Pete blurted, his eyes darting beneath his black, nerd-chic glasses. He ran a hand over his close-cropped black hair, lunged forward to give Rachel a greeting peck on the check that landed on her left earlobe.
“Peter, glad you could make it,” Rachel said, smiling indulgently.
“OK, OK, tonight we got the watchamacallit thing, right?” Pete said.
“Rehearsal dinner,” Aaron said.
“Yeah, right, right, the dinner, and that’s where I do the toast, right? Or no, that’s tomorrow.”
“Toast is for the wedding, dude,” Aaron said. “Tonight, Molly wants some of you guys who know us best to get up after dinner and tell some funny stories about Rach and me.”
“Got it. Funny stories. Well, I got those about you, BD,” Pete grinned at Aaron.
“That’s what I’m afraid of. Pete, remember there will be nuns there. And parents. People like that. Just sayin’.”
“Got it. Got it. No worries. I got just the thing. Perfecto.”
“Lord, you are in trouble, boy,” Kris Mason said to Aaron.
A most jumpy genius
Two things about Pete Chen: He had ADD that was about as fierce as anyone could have. And “genius” barely began to sketch the scope of his brain. Some major league shortstops have batting averages a few points lower than his IQ. He’d been a chess master at the age of 12; like many with his disorder, he had fanatical powers of concentration when a task absorbed him. But he could get bored quickly even at things where he excelled. Chess had been one.
The absorbing passion of his life was writing computer code. He could not for the life of him seem to pick the same color socks out of his drawer most mornings, but he could make ones and zeroes sing like the cherubim and seraphim on God’s birthday.
Pete did something Aaron could not quite grasp for some company near Palo Alto. He’d been with three companies (or was it four?), since the day five years ago when he and Aaron, arms linked, had tossed mortar boards into the air on the Main Line. CEO’s kept coming at Peter Chen with offers he couldn’t refuse.
Now, Pete tugged on his best friend’s sleeve.
“Dude,” he whispered in Aaron’s ear. “Am I supposed to have the rings? ‘Cause, dude, I don’t know where they are.”
Aaron feigned shock and outrage for a moment, saw a look of terror dawning on his old roommate’s face, then laughed: “Chill, Pete. I still have ‘em. What, you think I’m nuts, giving you that much time to lose the little devils? Tomorrow at noon, Pete, that’s when you get ‘em. Let’s get to the restaurant. I’ll let Molly drill her list into you, so you can calm down.”
“Just want to get this one right for you, BD,” Pete said. “Means a lot to me, what you did here. A lot.”
“Have a beer, Chen,” Aaron said, trying to bluff his way past the lump in his throat. “Next, we go to the restaurant. And then, from there on in, Molly’s in charge of you.”
“Oh God: Molly. Can’t let Molly down, can I?”
“No, dude, you’d better not.”
Part 4 – “Parental postmortems on the rehearsal, and dread for a snow dawn” – will appear on Newsworks.org Tuesday afternoon. To see earlier parts, go to the Whiteout Christmas archive page.
Radio play: Listen to a dramatization of “Whiteout Christmas” on WHYY-FM this holiday weekend. The radio play, with Tony Auth, Chris Satullo and WHYY staffers acting up a storm, will air on 90.9 FM at 8 p.m. Friday, 1 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Christmas Day.