Danny had been drinking. Heavily.
There were eleven people at the stag party; five left early, three fell asleep and they were left slumped where they dropped. The rest of the dwindling crew were eyeing Danny’s alcohol intake with a lot of side-glances at each other and a few nervous whispers.
They’d started the night at 6 o’clock in the familiar haunts of Hull’s old town district. All had been asked to keep an eye on Danny before the first lid had been flicked off the Budweiser. This was not a day he could miss – Kelly, the bride-to-be, had been messaging all day with dire threats should Danny come to harm or end up in another country.
Kelly had known Danny since they were at school. They were in the same class, had the same teacher and they ended up with the same qualifications. They’d moved apart only when Danny’s parents had insisted that he continue the family tradition and study at college, which is where he’d learnt to drink as well as his trade. Kelly had heard the stories and was there for him when he was almost kicked out of his parent’s house and she’d pleaded for another chance when the college were also about to do the same and for the last two years of his course, he stayed in a straight line, watched closely by Kelly and his family.
Danny moved in with Kelly while he was looking for work. Kelly had her job with a travel company and was working away which helped their relationship. She needed a house-sitter, he needed a house.
Danny’s friends were few and often temporary and Kelly tried to keep them apart as much as she could, fearing Danny would slide back into old habits, visit old drinking haunts and the game would begin again.
Kelly’s father had met Danny when Kelly had told him about the marriage. It would be an understatement to say her father had been disappointed with her choice. She remained adamant and told her father to stay away from the church if he didn’t like it.
The stag-party, now just three including Danny, were making their way out of what was agreed to be the last bar, with the intention of grabbing a burger to soak up the beer and then finding a taxi-driver willing enough to risk vomit and pee in his car and take them home. Lee and Jonesy were propping Danny up as his gait took on a very random style and his head rocked forward with each step. Both Lee and Jonesy were fairly well soused but had managed to stay in control, scared of Kelly’s retribution if anything happened to Danny.
Hull’s High Street was well served with bars and clubs, all of which Danny had wanted to go into but his friends remained firm and manoeuvred him deftly to the side. The door-staff would also take one look at the threesome and offer the opinion that they had more chance of a date with Kylie Minogue than of entering their bar. The trio meandered their way towards the harsh light and steamy windows of a takeaway, both hoping the smell of hot fat, sizzling onions and salty chips would rouse their companion and take his mind off his quest for more drink.
They lurched into the takeaway, propping Danny up near the door where he blearily looked up at the brightly lit menu, narrowing his eyes as if deciphering ancient runes and settled on pointing a wobbling finger at the picture of a chicken burger. His companions gave the thumbs-up, pulled out a ball of notes and paid. Jonesy asking Danny to stay where he was and to stop asking for ketchup.
Danny stayed where he was by dint of his feet sliding under him on the tiled floor and with a loud fart, he slid down the wall landed on his backside. Lee and Jonesy decided to leave him there while their food was being prepared. Taking the opportunity, Lee pulled out his phone, stared drunkenly at the 11 missed call notifications and dialled a local taxi company.
Lee was told there would be a 30 minute wait for a cab, which would allow them to force half the burger and chips into Danny and then take him home to his parents while there was still a chance he could be fresh for the wedding at 11.30am.
Meanwhile, Danny slumbered away on the floor, unworried by the other takeaway customers stepping gently over him to order their food. Lee and Jonesy decided sleep was a far better option than trying to prop him up and possibly risk the collateral damage of a spray of puke.
The takeaway was beginning to fill up with more end of the night revellers so Jonesy and Lee stepped outside, pausing only to push Danny away from the door where his head was being used as a door-stop. They looked with weary eyes at Lee’s phone and the missed call count which now had reached 14 and agreed to ignore it, get Danny home and sleep off the beer.
Shortly, the taxi pulled up, identified Lee and they headed back inside the takeaway to retrieve Danny. Danny was gone. The takeaway owner hadn’t seen him leave, hadn’t actually cared and continued to serve his customers.
Lee and Jonesy threw themselves out of the door, each scanning the street left and right to spot their friend among the throngs of people. Suddenly becoming, very sober, Jonesy took charge. He told the taxi to wait, thrusting ten pounds at the driver and, grabbing Lee by the ketchup-stained tee shirt, made it clear that he had to find Danny, or face Kelly’s wrath, her father’s anger and then being separated from his balls. They headed in opposite directions, dropping the remnants of their food on the floor. It was beginning to rain that sad, depressing drizzle that fogged your vision and put a bright lens-flare around every streetlight and signpost.
They entered all the bars down the street, realising Danny had something like a 10 minute start on them, but most were still full of drinkers and their task not made easier with the loud, pumping music that was making those drinkers jog and bounce around maniacally and drowning out any chance of Danny hearing his name being called. By now, Danny could have been in any place, drinking his way to a fight or a fling.
Eventually, the pair agreed that they had done what they could and decided to head home and face the consequences and retribution in the cold light of the morning. The battery in Lee’s phone had died, the result of a night of selfies, dozens of calls to Danny’s voicemail and of course, Kelly’s missed calls. Lee and Jonesy made their way back to the taxi, which had by now driven off and rounded off a perfect night.
Morning came with a violent assault on the eyes. Bright, searing sunshine welcomed the wedding day into Lee’s house where he and Jonesy had arrranged to crash and wait for Danny to contact. Gingerly, Lee connected his phone to the charger and padded out of the lounge, kicking Jonesy in the legs to rouse him from his makeshift bed on the sofa and headed to the kettle. Behind him, his phone vibrated alarmingly for what seemed like an hour as message after message hit his phone, each one sounding as angry as the sender. It was Kelly demanding to know where her fiancé was and issuing threats that if they weren’t all at the church by 11.30, she would hunt them down.
Not one of the messages or voicemails was from Danny. Even more importantly, none were from the police, hospitals or his own family. They were at a loss as to where he’d gone. Neither Lee nor Jonesy dared to call Kelly to see if he’d gone to her house –they weren’t ready to answer awkward questions when they had hardly any answers for her.
Slowly, both sipped the coffee and looked up at the wedding outfits hanging neatly on the lounge door, sheathed in their protective plastic. It was 9.40 and they knew they had less than two hours to face up to life on the run from Kelly and her family. They decided to get dressed, clean up and get themselves to the church and face the organ music. Lee was closer to Danny than Jonesy and he fervently hoped Danny would simply call, explain himself and then grovel to Kelly if he didn’t turn up at the church.
Jonesy was the most nervous, he didn’t want to let Kelly down and he didn’t particularly get along well with her father. By losing Danny, he’d be forever in her bad books.
At the church, Lee arrived with Jonesy and he took his place at the back of the congregation, avoiding the looks from Kelly’s family. No sign of Danny. Lee kept his head bowed and sat pretending to study his prayer-book and idly wondered if the hassock would protect his genitals if needed. Jonesy had gone to the front and sat down. Lee kept an eye on the church doors, clutching the hymn-sheet and offering a prayer that Danny would walk in.
Suddenly, there was a rustle of movement at the front. Row by row, everyone in the congregation rose to their feet as the first bars of “The Wedding March” were played. The doors opened and Kelly stood there with her father, face unseen under her veil as the usher let them pass and they headed up the aisle. Lee frantically looked down at the front but couldn’t see anything and the altar was obscured by the congregation.
Finally the procession reached the front, Kelly raised her veil and smiled at the man who would be her husband.
Jonesy smiled back at Kelly as Danny said, “Dearly beloved. We are gathered here…”