Short Story: Pity-Party

By Clea Marshall

Short Story: Pity-Party
As old, single uni mates of the bride and groom Jane and Max, Geoff and Stewart wondered whether they’d been seated at the ‘saddo losers’ table at their friends’ wedding. But once they got chatting to their tablemate Hazel, they realised their assumption was far from correct...

Stamping his feet to rid them of confetti and petals, Stewart quaffs a flute of champagne and assesses the information in front of him.

A rainbow-coloured seating chart, drawn cheerfully on a chalkboard at the end of the barn, confirms he’ll be sitting at table 17 for the reception dinner. The chart has been drawn in the shape of a horseshoe, with the bride and groom’s table front and centre between the two prongs of the shoe.

Stewart can’t help but notice table 17 is at the back of the barn, furthest from the wedding party. He grunts softly to himself, “Fair enough” and weaves through the other guests, navigating hay bales and whimsical balloon garlands as he goes.

Five place settings. One seat his. Two seats taken. Two seats empty. Stewart nods collegially to the man to his left, “You alright, Geoff? Been awhile.”

They clink their glasses together and, in sync, silently assess the other female guest seated to Stewart’s right. She’s frowning into the menu, tapping away at a smartphone. A moment passes between the two men. A quizzical gaze, a raised eyebrow, a nod. They’ll keep to themselves for now.

“Lovely ceremony,” offers Geoff.

“It was, yeah. Quite a posh one too – they both scrub up good. Who would’ve thought, back in the Castle St days…” Stewart laughs, loosening his tie.

“The Cookathon! The couch fires … Gardies … god, it’s incredible we even survived those days. Our livers … our brain cells … our dignity. What a big fun mess it all was,” Geoff shakes his head slowly as he removes his suit jacket, then cufflinks, and rolls up his shirt sleeves. “Do you ever think how surreal it is that we’re all somehow adults, with proper responsible jobs?”

“From bozos to CFOs, right – I hear you!” Stewart cackles.

“I, ah spoke to a few of the old crew earlier – did you catch many of them? Most of them are over at table six,” says Geoff.   

“Ah, the happily married contingent,” snorts Stewart, “Guess we’re the outcasts over here.”

“Speak for yourself,” Geoff says lightly. “Anyway, I’m quite happy on my own right now. Relationships aren’t the be-all and end-all, plus it’s been quite nice being selfish with my time lately,” he smiles, settling back into the chair.

A thought occurs to Geoff: “Do you still speak to…”

“Her Royal Highness? Nah. Old news. Still bitter.”

“Her, or you?”

“Both. Pfff. So I see Max and Jane divided the old crew up: we’ve got the happily-married contingent at table six. Then us two sad sacks back here, over in the wop-wops at the back of the barn. And her. What’s up with that? Why? I have so many questions…” Stewart mutters, nodding his head towards the other table guest.

An older woman from neighbouring table 16 shuffles up to their table, pausing to squeeze the shoulders of the other guest, who grimaces and shrugs her off. She’s too busy pouting and winking, taking selfies from every angle possible – clearly this old biddy is cramping her style. The older woman sighs, gives Geoff a knowing eye-roll and returns to her seat.

Geoff leans sideways to read the remaining name-tags. “Looks like we’re still waiting on Robert and Claire, whoever they are … I wonder if they’ve ghosted!”

At that, the other table guest looks up from her photoshoot. Mid-pout.

“They are here,” she says. “They went back to the car for something.”

A long pause. Geoff and Stewart eyeball each other.

“I’m Hazel,” she adds, putting her phone down to give them both an assessing look. Stewart has the sense he has been found wanting.

“Alright you are, Hazel,” says Geoff as he introduces himself with a handshake. “Are you a friend of the bride or the groom, then?”

“Oh both of them actually,” she chirps and preens, tossing her hair over a shoulder.

Stewart kicks him under the table hissing, “Settle down, mate, settle. We’ve got all night, you don’t want to get stuck talking to someone early doors. I’m pretty sure we’re at the pity table.”

“Speak for yourself. Who knows, maybe we’re at the party table! Or the troublemaker table!” laughs Geoff, sipping his drink and beckoning to a waiter for an extra bottle of red.

At that, the guest-known-as-Hazel leans back in her seat, crossing her arms and narrowing her eyebrows at them. “I’m not a troublemaker. Are you troublemakers?”

“Probably. We – both me and Stew that is – went to uni with Max and Jane, nearly 20 years ago. We haven’t caught up with them for ages though so today’s a bit of a reunion for all of us,” Geoff explains. “We used to live together in a big disgusting flat in Dunedin that smelled like bacon, and weed, and trouble.”

Stewart grins, accepting a champagne top-up from the waiter as a new bottle of syrah appears in front of Geoff.

“We glued a Mini to the garage roof once, that was fun. There was about 12 of us living there at some point, if I remember rightly. Probably more if you count whoever was dossing on the couch most nights. Also, that disgusting flat is where I met my now ex-wife. Don’t get married, Hazel. I assume you’re not married?”

Geoff elbows him, “Dude. We’re literally at a wedding, settle down on the divorcee talk. Don’t traumatise the young woman.”

At that comment, the older woman from table 16 turns around to give Geoff and Stewart a hard stare. She stands slowly and walks closer. “You alright sitting with these men, my darlin’?” she inquires. “Do you wanna come sit with us for a bit?” She’s looking at Hazel, but it’s clear the comment is for the benefit of the wider group. 

Hazel sighs loudly, prompting an amused glance between Geoff and Stewart. “I’m OK Janine, I’m actually just pretty bored,” she says, raising her phone for another selfie. “This wedding isn’t much fun and you’re all not being very interesting.”

At that, Geoff and Stewart dissolve into laughter and Janine throws her hands in the air and wanders back to her seat, muttering, “She’s just like her goddamn father! I give up! God speed to ya’s. I’m here if you need me, honeybunch, but I think you’re doing just fine.” 

“I think I like you, Hazel,” Stewart laughs as the three of them exchange high-fives and clink their glasses together. “Can we be friends tonight? Obviously Geoff and I go way back, but there’s not many other guests we know here today. Max and Jane are busy being the bride and groom, and the other people we actually do know, aren’t being very fun if I’m honest.”

“Whatever works,” she yawns. “Until dinner gets here, sure OK. I’ll be your friend.”

“Woah, clear boundaries! Alright, I respect those. So tell me, young woman,” Geoff starts, with a thoughtful look on his face. “What’s your story? Clearly we’re just a couple of old idiots. You look like you’ve got a better future ahead of you. How do you want to live your one and precious life?”

“Probably just eating cake and dancing, I think.” She muses, tapping away at a brightly coloured app on her phone. “I thought there was going to be cake and dancing at this wedding but it’s all taking aaaaaages.”

Stewart eyes both Hazel and Geoff, stroking his chin. “For the immediate future, eating cake and dancing isn’t a bad plan. Not a bad plan at all. But can I give you a bit of life advice, Hazel?”

She nods, cautiously, phone poised in hand.

“Get yourself a good job, something you personally find fun, but others might find boring. Like web development, or translation services, or policy analysis or some gaff. Work hard, but not so hard you don’t enjoy life along the way. Save most of your pay checks, but make sure you’ve got enough left to buy yourself treats – and enough to shout your friends the odd round of drinks,” Stewart finds himself on a roll, with Geoff nodding along as Hazel eyes them dubiously.

Geoff interjects, “Be a geek! Embrace the geekery, it pays really well. You might be single forever, but you’ll have a nice house and can buy fancy things.”

Hazel pouts. “You two are being SO boring. And I already have a house, I don’t need another one.”

The two men cackle. “Fair shout. You’re a bit belligerent, aren’t you Hazel?” says Stewart.

“You’re be-gig-ler-ant,” says Hazel. “And you’re a big POO BUM!”

At that, a flustered man and woman appear at the table, the man leaning in to wrestle Hazel into a bear-hug as the woman collapses into her seat, fanning her face and kicking off her heels.

“Ohmygosh I’m SO sorry – we parked on a yellow line by mistake and the venue staff let us know the car was about to get towed. Rob had to convince-slash-bribe the towie not to take the car, and it was horrendous. I’m Claire, by the way, I used to work with the bride,” she says, pouring herself a gigantic wine.

“Are you the two uni friends?” she continues. “When Max and Jane mentioned they’d seated us with two of their favourite people, we were stoked! I’d said to Rob I hoped to GOD we’d be sitting with some fun people. We never get out anymore and this mama needs to let her hair down tonight.”

“Please, oh please help us misbehave, we all need it!” she laughs, tossing a yoghurt pouch to Hazel while sneaking a swig from a delicate silver hipflask.

Rob introduces himself to the two men, adding, “I see you’ve met our four-year-old – she can be a bit of a sasspot which I’m sure you’ve clocked already. I left her with my phone and asked Max’s aunt to keep an eye on her for a few minutes but didn’t think we’d be gone so long … God I hope that went OK.” At that, Rob cranes his neck in the direction of table 16 until he catches Janine’s eye.

“You alright, Janine? Did wee Hazel keep you busy?” he says, standing and starting to wander towards her. With a mouth like the cat’s bum, Janine arches an eyebrow at Rob and he visibly shrinks and slows his walk.

“I, ah, thank you SO much for keeping an eye on her, we, ha, appreciate it…” Rob’s voice tails off and he retreats back to his own seat, shrugging sheepishly as he mouths “WHOOPS” at Claire. Janine cackles, raises her wineglass in the direction of table 17 and knocks it back. 

Visibly relieved, Rob turns to Geoff and Stewart.

“Seriously sorry for turning you fine gentlemen into accidental babysitters. Don’t worry, she’ll be heading to bed after the dinner, once Nanna can come and collect her.”

“Babysitters?” laughs Stewart as he and Geoff clink their glasses with Claire and Rob. “It felt more like we found a kindred spirit. Hazel told us she likes cake, and she likes dancing, sounds like a bit of a party girl to me…”

“Well in that case she takes after her parents, and I think we’re all at the right table. Here’s to the bride and groom!”

“And here’s to the troublemakers at table 17!” laughs Rob. “Anyone up for a Jägerbomb?”

“Yes please!” says Hazel as the rest of them dissolve into laughter.

About the Author
Clea is an avid reader and longtime MiNDFOOD fan. She’s a public servant by day, dabbling in creative writing whenever she gets a spare moment to herself. Clea lives in Titahi Bay, just outside of Wellington, with her partner and their two cheeky young daughters. When the girls are older she’ll make sure the eldest one knows she inspired this story after making a lasting impression at an old friend’s wedding!


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