Katie’s phone shouldn’t have been ringing. It had to be a mistake. She had been asleep for maybe sixteen minutes—it just wasn’t possible that her phone was ringing. Down the hall, Autumn had collapsed in the guest room in a giggling heap of sparkles and cosmopolitans, still in her tiara and bachelorette sash but with only one of her high heels—the other one was floating out in the Pacific. They had to be up and un-hungover for eleven AM when she was supposed to perform the most important job of her life and make sure that Autumn walked down the aisle and married Robert at a very specific time. It was going to be a tight squeeze anyway, schedule-wise. There really wasn’t any room for a phone call right now. Her hand swept over the bedside table, knocking over the stack of books and her water bottle before she finally grasped the source of the obnoxious jingling and buzzing right beside her ear.
“What the shit?” she muttered as she punched the screen. Beside her, Nadia groaned and rolled over, pulling the comforter up and over her ears.
She pulled the phone away from her ear and stared at the time: 1:58. “Who is this?” she demanded, already knowing the answer.
“It’s…uh, it’s Finn…Racheski?” Katie felt the sigh she let out come from the very depths of her soul. “Robert’s friend?” She clapped her free hand over her eyes. “I’m the best man?”
“That’s debatable,” she said finally, hoping he’d shut up. “What do you want, Finn?”
“I need your help.”
“Katie, I really really screwed up and I really need your help and if you don’t help me then this whole wedding thing is going to have some serious problems tomorrow.” He cleared his throat. “I mean, today. Since it’s already tomorrow.”
She shut her eyes and sighed again. “This has to be some horrible dream.”
“My God, I wish,” Finn insisted.
“What is it, Finn? And why can’t we fix it tomorrow…in the daylight?”
“Because our best friends decided to get married before noon and that doesn’t leave a lot of time for me to fix all the fucking up I’ve done tonight!”
She threw back the covers and shuffled into the hallway, closing the door behind her. “I swear to God, Finn,” she hissed, dropping her voice. “If you did something to Robert I—”
“What? No! Robert’s fine—he’s asleep in my room.”
Katie rolled her eyes. “You two are adorable.”
“I lost Autumn’s wedding ring!”
She leaned against the wall as the phone nearly slipped from her hand.
“Katie?” Autumn’s voice floated from the guest room. “Did I hear you say Finn? Is Finn okay?”
She sighed again and popped her head around the corner. “Everything’s fine,” she said, forcing a smile. “Go to sleep, bride-to-be. You’ve gotta get married in the morning.”
From her tangled mess of blankets and hair falling over her face, Autumn gave her a sleepy smile with her eyes closed. “To Robert, right?”
Katie resisted the urge to laugh. “Yeah, Odd. To Robert.”
Autumn snuggled further into the blankets. “He’s so handsome…” she was asleep again before Katie could respond.
Relieved, she brought the phone back up to her ear as she closed the door to the guest room. “Finn, talk fast and try not to piss me off. What do you mean you lost Autumn’s wedding ring?”
“Did I stutter? I mean I had it at the rehearsal dinner and now I don’t have it.”
“Why did you have it at the rehearsal dinner?” she implored, beginning to pace. “Why did you have it at all?”
“Robert picked it up from the jewelry store this morning and he was worried something might happen to it—”
“So he gave it to you so that something would definitely happen to it?” Katie stopped pacing and pushed her hair back again. “Wait a minute. Why are you calling me about this? Go look for it yourself.”
“Katie, I swear to God, I would. I wouldn’t ever bother you with this—”
“Because you know I don’t really like you all that much?”
“But I need your help—I have to find that ring.”
“Retrace your steps and let me go back to bed!”
“I’m too fucked up to drive!” he exclaimed. “I’ve been trying to sober up for the last half hour and I just can’t!”
Katie’s back pressed against the wall again and she closed her eyes. “Jesus H. Particular Christ.”
“You’re literally the last person on Earth that I would ask for help but you’re all I’ve got.” He stopped and cleared his throat. “Please Katie. Please help me find it.”
Her car was nearly out of gas and the muffler was broken. That’s what she told herself, anyway, when she quietly lifted Nadia’s keys from the key ring and scribbled a note. That lie and the certainty she’d be back long before anyone woke up were the two forces driving Katie to slip behind the wheel of Nadia’s BMW and pull stealthily out of the driveway.
Finn was waiting outside of his apartment building in a pair of gym shorts and a t-shirt, bouncing anxiously on the balls of his feet when she slowed to stop and rolled down her window.
“Get in!” she barked, ignoring the way his eyes widened and his jaw dropped. “Now!”
“Sorry, sorry,” he muttered as he slid in next to her, craning his neck to look over the interior of the car. “Holy shit, Katie—I had no idea coffee and yoga paid so well.”
She rolled her eyes. “It’s Nadia’s and I swear to God if you do anything to even hint at the fact that we were in it, I will rip out your ribcage and wear it as a hat, do you understand?”
He grimaced. “Jesus! Imagery! I was trying to give you a compliment,” he ran his hand appreciatively along the dashboard. “I didn’t even know they sold these to women.”
“I am already regretting this,” Katie muttered, turning her eyes back to the road. “Where are we going?”
“The Hook, I guess?”
She looked over again to find him shrugging, genuinely unsure. “What do you mean, you guess? We’re retracing your footsteps, Finn. You have to tell me where we’re going!”
“God, you’re so angry!” he exclaimed. “I feel shitty enough about this, Katie, you yelling everything at me isn’t going to make me feel any better!”
She narrowed her eyes and clenched her jaw. “You definitely remember having it at the Hook?”
“Yes,” he nodded.
“Fine,” she said, taking the next left. “We’ll start there.”
It wasn’t at the Hook. After twenty minutes of crawling on their hands and knees and sweeping the corners of every possible booth and even Finn rooting through the trash, Katie sat back on her heels and sighed. “Finn, it’s not here. Are you sure you had it here?”
“Definitely,” he said with a decisive nod. “But then I didn’t look for it again until I got home so…”
“So where else might it be?”
“Could be at Cheetahs…”
It was Katie’s turn to make a face. “Ew,” she said. “You guys went to Cheetahs?”
“What?” he shrugged again. “They have really good chicken wings.”
She scoffed. “Right; we all only go to Cheetahs for the chicken wings.”
Finn let out a bark-like laugh and slapped his knee. “Oh my God, I completely forgot that you play for my team. You should have come with!”
Her eyes were going to be tired from all the rolling they were doing. “I don’t play for your team, Finn! I want nothing to do with your team!”
“Y’know, that’s maybe the sexiest thing I’ve ever forgotten about a woman,” he continued, almost to himself, as if she hadn’t spoken. “How did I forget that? You just told me we’re tooling around in your wife’s car—I’m not an idiot.”
“You’re not?” she asked before she could stop herself. “And how is my sexual orientation sexy? How is the fact that having sex with any member of your entire species makes me want to vomit somehow appealing to you?”
“I don’t know,” he answered. “I don’t fight these thoughts—I just enjoy them.”
“You make me sick.”
“I won’t say what you make me,” he gave her a smile that didn’t fade with the look she shot him.
Katie pointed to the parking lot. “Car, Finn. Now.”
“Katie, every moment I spend in that car becomes the new best moment of my life. You do not have to tell me twice.”
His digging through the trash had been more thorough than she realized by the smell pervading her nose. “You have to roll down the window,” she said as she merged quickly onto the five. “You st—”
The rest of the words died on her lips as Finn took her advice and immediately stuck his head out of the window. The wind whipped his blonde hair into his eyes as he leaned a little too far out, crowing and shaking his cheeks like a dog.
“Finn, sweet Jesus,” she leaned over and grabbed a handful of his shirt, yanking him back inside before she rolled up and locked his window. “I can deal with your stench; I can’t deal with you getting impaled or decapitated.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, still laughing and unable to keep his hands from running along the dashboard again. “I can’t actually hear you over my massive, throbbing, car-induced erection.”
Katie checked her rearview mirror, assuring that the freeway was still empty before she slammed on the breaks, sending Finn’s forehead careening into the dash. “Better?”
“Yeah,” he groaned, rubbing his face. “It’s gone now.”
The neon lights were out at Cheetahs when they pulled in and the parking lot was empty. “Well, they’re closed,” she assessed. “What’s your next brilliant plan?”
“This is still my brilliant plan,” Finn said, getting out of the car.
“Finn, they’re closed,” Katie reminded him, following suit, locking the doors behind them.
“To the public,” he scoffed. “But they’re not gone yet. They make the girls park next door,” he pointed to the adjacent lot, still littered with sedans and SUVs, “so there’s more customer parking. They’re usually here until three or four.”
“I hate that you know this,” she muttered, tucking the keys into her pocket.
“I hate that you don’t know this,” Finn countered. “I mean, what kind of lesbian are you? Didn’t you have a bachelor party?”
“No I didn’t have a bachelor party! I had a bachelorette party! And so did Nadia because I know you’re going to ask that next. And while we’re on the topic, didn’t you take Robert out for his bachelor party two weeks ago?”
“Well yeah,” he shrugged. “I mean, officially.”
“So this was the unofficial bachelor party? The one in which you decided to lose the bride’s wedding ring?”
He had the decency to look guilty as they stopped in the parking lot. “It wasn’t supposed to get out of hand. We were just going to go for a few drinks after we left the Hook and then his cousin Connor was like, ‘hey let’s go get some wings’ and then someone else brought up that since Robert’s only going to be seeing one set of tits for the rest of his life—” he glanced up and coughed at the look Katie was giving him. “I mean, not that Autumn doesn’t have awesome—”
“Move. On.” She ground the words through her teeth, clenching her jaws tightly together.
“So anyway, we were just going to have a drink or two and some wings and then someone heard that Robert was getting married tomorrow and everyone started buying us drinks and food and more drinks and I’m pretty sure Mateo had some coke which could explain why my hands keep shaking and why this buzz refuses to fade—but that could be from the car and—” his rambling came to an abrupt end when the back of Katie’s hand connected with the side of his face. “Ow!” he cried. “What?!”
“Don’t tell me this shit!” she exclaimed. “Don’t tell me that Robert was doing cocaine at a strip club while you were off losing my best friend’s wedding ring! I have to like him, okay?”
“Oh please. Grandpa Bob?” Finn rolled his eyes and continued toward the front door. “I’m not even sure he had anything to drink. The last I saw he was drinking ginger ale and could drive us all home.”
Her anger collapsed quickly. “Oh.”
“Yeah,” he scoffed again. “Don’t apologize for hitting me in the face or anything. Twice.”
“Well you were still doing cocaine and losing my best friend’s wedding ring,” she reminded, reaching the door before he did. “So no, I’m not going to apologize to you.”
To her surprise, the door opened a minute after they knocked. “We’re closed,” the almost stereotypically large Hispanic man said, glancing between the two of them. “Open tomorrow at noon.”
“Wait, please!” Katie winced and wedged herself between the door before it slammed again. “We’re not here for entertainment. My idiot friend here lost my best friend’s wedding ring and we’re pretty sure it’s here and we need it before she gets married tomorrow. It’s an emergency.”
“Sorry,” he said, not looking to be at all. “We’re still closed.”
“How much?” Finn asked, cutting her off. The bouncer’s eyes lifted to him with amusement. “We both know there’s a price, buddy. How much to let us look for it?”
He looked Finn up and down and shook his head with a grin. “You couldn’t afford it, buddy.”
Finn took a deep breath. “Okay, I didn’t want to do this,” he said, swallowing hard, “Katie, give him your car.”
“What?” she practically shrieked. “I’m not giving him my car! It’s not even my car!”
“Yknow, I’m starting to doubt your commitment to the mission here, Katie. We need a bargaining chip. Give the man your car!”
She willed herself not to kill him and turned her large blue eyes back to the bouncer. She offered a smile that was much more pleasant than she felt. “Look, I’m sure this is ten types of insulting,” she began kindly.
“It is,” he agreed, still not moving the door.
“You probably spend your whole day and night kicking out douchebags like us who think they can buy their way everywhere.”
“That’s about right.”
“But I’m serious about the wedding ring thing—it’s a family heirloom that should have never been entrusted to such an incomprehensible jackass—”
“Who is standing right here,” Finn reminded loudly.
“But it was, and two people are going to be devastated if they can’t have it on their wedding day which is in…” she checked her watch, “six hours and fifteen minutes. So please could you find it in your heart to let us in and give us fifteen minutes to look for it? Then we’ll be out of your hair and you’ll never see us again.”
“Well,” Finn cleared his throat again. “I mean, you’ll probably see me again.”
“Look, sweetheart, I’m sure you’re telling the truth,” he appeared to be softening. “But I can’t just—”
“Do you like seafood?” she asked abruptly as a last ditch effort idea occurred to her.
“Ever been to the Hook, Line, and Sinker?”
He rolled his eyes. “Of course I have.”
“Are you a fan?”
“You can eat there for free whenever you want.”
“What?” he asked, confused, just ask Finn cried, “Katie!”
“This is the owner,” she jerked her thumb over her shoulder, “And he can guarantee you free food for life if you do us this favor.”
The bouncer’s eyebrow right eyebrow crooked toward his hairline. “For real?”
Katie glared at him until he swallowed back his protests and nodded. “For real. Just give me your name and I’ll put you on the gold list. Free food for life.”
The silence that lapped over them while he contemplated their deal seemed to last for a decade before sighed and shook his head. “Fine,” he said. “You have fifteen minutes. And you put my grandma on that list too.”
The relief almost knocked Katie to her feet as they were herded inside. The bar was full of barefoot girls in various states of undress, their silk robes tied loosely or not at all, lounging on the edge of the counter or on the surrounding stools, paying them no attention.
“Okay,” she said, grabbing Finn’s arm. “Where were you sitting?”
“Back corner,” he pointed to the private booth, furthest from the door. “But I did get a lap dance over there,” he aim moved to the adjacent booth. “So let’s divide and conquer.”
“Oh my God!” A squeal of delighted surprise came from the bar, interrupting them. “Is that a ring?”
Wide-eyed and hopeful for the first time that night, they turned together, just in time to see a girl in glittery blue pasties and a matching g-string tip back a mojito glass to loosen what she’d just seen amidst the ice cubes.
“No, wait!” Katie exclaimed, exactly two seconds too late judging by the way the girl’s eyes widened and she began to cough, trying to evacuate from her throat what she’d just swallowed.
Autumn’s wedding ring.
The girl’s real name was Danielle, not Desiree as she went by on stage. She was nineteen and going to college for art history and, as it turned out, had never had her stomach pumped.
The emergency room’s waiting area had the most uncomfortable seats in the world. Katie dropped her elbows onto her knees as Finn dropped into the chair next to her with a cup of vending machine coffee. “Quite a bill I’m racking up tonight,” he said, stretching his long legs out in front of him. “On top of this delightful little ER visit, I’ve got to feed Kenny and his Abuela for the rest of their lives—”
“And refill Nadia’s gas tank,” Katie reminded glumly, no longer having the energy for her usual venom.
“Right,” he nodded to himself. “Can’t forget that.”
“Mr. Racheski?” the nurse with the short blonde hair and minty green scrubs appeared in the doorway and cleared her throat. “We’ve retrieved your missing property,” she said with a rueful smile.
“Oh thank you sweet baby Jesus,” he exhaled as he stood up. “At least we got what we came for.”
“I just need you to sign some forms,” she handed him a clipboard and pen. “And might I suggest that next time you keep your diamond rings away from the bar?”
Finn smiled and shook his head as he scribbled his name before the pen dropped from his hand. “I’m sorry, what?”
“Your…” she consulted the chart. “Four carat diamond solitaire ring?”
Katie blinked. “I thought it was a white gold wedding band,” she said quietly, not quite ready to accept what the nurse was saying
“It is a white gold wedding band,” he said with a ferocious whisper.
The nurse glanced between the two of them. “Not what I just pumped out of Danielle Brady,” she said with certainty. “We actually weighed it—she broke the record. Last ring we fished out of someone was only two and a half carats.”
Neither of them had the heart to tell Danielle that they had pumped her stomach for nothing as they dropped her back off at Cheetahs.
The sun was just beginning to rise over the Pacific, sparkling off the water and creeping down the streets as Katie and Finn sat, dejectedly on the front steps of Finn’s apartment building.
She sighed and rubbed at her eyes. “Could we get a replacement in time for the ceremony?”
“No,” he shook his head. “This was Hank’s grandmother’s wedding ring. It was supposed to go to Hank’s wife, but since that didn’t happen—Grandma G saved it for Robert to give to Autumn. It’s like a hundred and fifty years old or something.”
“Shit,” she said under her breath. “This really is a clusterfuck.”
“He’s going to kill me,” he said quietly, rubbing a hand over his face.
“He’s not going to kill you,” Katie assured him, feeling oddly sorry for him. He looked so tired, so lost and sad. “He’s Robert—he doesn’t kill. He understands.”
“Not Robert,” Finn shook his head. He glanced sideways, avoiding Katie’s eyes. “I’m supposed to take care of him—that’s my job. I’m supposed to make sure things go smoothly for him and that everything’s taken care of and I fucking promised him and I—”
“Finn,” Katie’s voice was so gentle it surprised even her. “Hank isn’t going to kill you either. You’re not letting him down.”
“Uh, yeah, Katie, I am. I am the world’s biggest fuck up—you should know, you’re the one who’s been reminding me all night.”
She could hear in the edge of his voice that he was dangerously close to crying. She swallowed hard and placed her hand on his forearm. “Finn, you’re not a fuck-up. You did, in fact, fuck up tonight, but you’re not, by definition, a fuck-up. You’re a good person and you’re a good friend and you take really good care of Robert.”
He looked over at her suspiciously. “No I don’t,” he said, shaking his head again.
“Hank wouldn’t have put you in charge of looking after his son if he didn’t think so,” she reminded him with a nudge of her hip. “So don’t believe me, believe him.”
“And what about everything you said?”
She took another deep breath and swallowed again, not enjoying the heavy taste of crow in her throat. “I’m kind of a bitch sometimes,” she said, ignoring his scoff before she continued. “Autumn’s always going on about how much she loves you and how happy she is that Robert has you in his life and I always kind of thought she was just…y’know, being Autumn and being in love with everyone she ever meets.” Finn shook his head, clearly not complimented. “But, I have to say, I am pretty impressed with how far we went trying to fix this mistake.” She nudged him again. “You kind of moved heaven and earth, here. I mean, we paid for a stripper to get her stomach pumped, Finn. That’s about as best man as it gets.”
He was fighting the grin turning up the corner of his mouth. “She was an exotic dancer, Katie. Get it right.”
“Who was an exotic dancer?”
They both turned in quiet dread to see Robert standing behind the screen door, rubbing at his chin, squinting into the sunlight. “Hi Robert,” Katie greeted around her cotton mouth and leaden stomach.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, confused for a moment before his eyes widened. “Oh my God, is Autumn okay? Is she having second thoughts? Is she—”
“Shut up, she’s fine!” Katie said, holding up her hands. “She’s fine. She’s probably still asleep, actually.”
He deflated with relief. “Oh, okay.”
“Yeah, save that anxiety for me, buddy,” Finn said, pulling open the screen to address his best friend face to face.
“Don’t worry,” Robert rolled his eyes affectionately. “You already pissed me off this morning.”
Finn winced. “I did?”
“Yeah, way to leave Autumn’s wedding ring in the coffee canister. Dipshit,” he swatted at him. “How’d it end up there?”
Katie blinked several times. “What did you say?”
He laughed and shook his head. “I went to make some coffee a minute ago and there’s her wedding band sitting on top of the beans. How drunk were you last night, man?”
His eyes had widened to almost comical circles. “I was trying to sober up,” he said, remembering out loud. “When we stopped back here after the Hook. I…” he ran his hand down the lower half of his face. “I put it there…after I made coffee last night. Before Cheetahs.”
Katie wanted to feel rage, righteous and pure, filling her veins. She wanted to hate Finn and his stupidity and his forgetfulness, but it was hard to feel all of that over the relief flooding her system.
“Well, the important thing is that you found it,” she heard herself say, surprised that she was telling the truth. That was, in fact, the important thing. Any other wedding day hiccoughs would be a breeze compared to the last five hours. “And since that, uh, thing I had to talk to Finn about is taken care of…” she glanced at him for a shrug of confirmation. “I’m gonna go make sure your bride is all ready to go and meet you at the altar at eleven o’clock.”
Finn clapped a hand on Robert’s shoulder, his smile wide and genuine and infectious to anyone who saw it. Robert looked at him a little uneasily. “Are you okay, Finn? You look…”
“Really, really happy?” Finn finished for him. “It’s the happiest day of your life, Babydoll. Let’s go get you married!”
Katie could hear them laughing and joking the rest of the way up the stairs. The relief was still coursing through her bringing with it a wave of giddiness. She was still smiling when she got home and found that Autumn was awake and making breakfast.
Nadia was still fast asleep upstairs.