“So, tell me, Jon— how’s work going? What’re you doing, again?” Hank and Jon were catching up after not seeing each other for many months. They had finished their meals and all that remained were their drinks. The restaurant staff was perturbed that the two had stayed so long, but that’s just how Hank and Jon were. The conversation, not the meal, was the purpose of their meeting.
“Yeah, man, it’s going well — better than I would have guessed. I’ve been ghostwriting. I started through a website and then branched out on my own.”
“Like term papers and stuff?”
“At first I was writing for whatever came up. Term papers, yes, but also homework assignments, blog posts, speeches, research papers— whatever people can’t or won’t write themselves.” He surveyed the room to see if anyone else was listening, especially anyone he might have known. “Lately, I’ve been writing wedding vows.”
Before Jon could explain or Hank could inquire, a girl turned around and propped herself up on the booth wall that separated their tables. “That’s disgusting! Doing someone’s homework is one thing, but writing their wedding vows — that’s perverse!”
Hank craned his head to see the young woman perched above him. Jon took a sip from his glass before turning his attention to the young woman. White Russian clung to his mustache. He held his rocks glass in front of him, stirring the chunks of ice with a motion of his wrist. He played as he composed a response. Jon remained level as the woman waited in a huff, her eyes and pursed, pointed lips promising that she would gain the better of the exchange. This wasn’t the first time that Jon had encountered a woman that didn’t agree with him. Nor would it be his last. “How’s it any different?”
“What?” She replied with quizzical disdain. The difference was so blatantly obvious that it required no explanation.
“How is writing someone’s wedding vows different than writing someone’s book report?” Jon clarified.
She attempted to match Jon’s coolness. “A book report isn’t a promise before God to give one’s life to another.” She didn’t say this brashly or even in a matter-of-fact tone. Rather, she said it like she was surprised to hear herself saying it, but with a passion that ensured her that she was right.
Jon’s eyebrows raised and his lips rolled as he evaluated her answer. An answer better than most, he thought. His eyebrows returned to their normal resting points and Jon replied, “Of course, you’re right about that but whether it’s their words or mine, that doesn’t change the promise they make.”
The young woman backed down and considered what Jon said. “Doesn’t that sully the veracity of the vow, though? It didn’t come from their heart.”
Jon was becoming slightly agitated. “Have you ever attended a wedding where the couple didn’t read their own vows to each other? It’s not uncommon. Regardless, the officiant reinforces their promises to each other. The outcome doesn’t change: the couple vows before God, whether by their heartfelt sentiments or their simple “I do”, and they are united as married.”
“Okay, I guess you’re right. I have been to weddings like that,” she said. She slumped down into a more casual position as she still remained draped over the divider. “If people can use a template or repeat after their minister, why do they hire you?”
“For many reasons,” Jon answered. “Some hire me to attempt to articulate the love they feel within but cannot express in their own words. I work with all my clients to understand what they feel but can’t say. For them, I provide a jumping-off point towards a genuine expression. Announcing one’s vows before their future spouse, while friends and family watch, is an incredible exercise in public speaking. I ease the pressure by preparing their speech for them. There are some instances, though, where my words only perpetuate the falsity of their engagement.”
“What do you mean by that last part?”
“My clientele consists of some neurotic people who only seek after possessions rather than affectations. They need a convincing enough speech to ensure their spouse that they are truly acting out of love and compassion.”
“Don’t you feel bad about that?” The woman continued to prod. Jon was feeling increasingly uncomfortable discussing such personal matters with a stranger.
Hank was the fly caught within their web of conversation, unable to leave and unable to contribute.
“I loathe those customers. I sell out to those customers. I don’t enjoy creating lies and hurting the partner. Sadly though, those are my best-paying customers.” Jon was opening up to the woman and he wasn’t sure why.
“So it doesn’t matter if they love each other? You sell vows to them anyway?”
“Sure. They’re going to lie to one another anyway. I can at least help them sound believable.” Jon had moved past agitation to a jovial cynicism. “I advertise, ‘I’ll write your vows but the love’s not included. That part you have to come up with on your own.’”
The woman let out an uninspired “Hmph.” She turned around and sat back down in her booth. The discussion was over, she thought. Jon agreed and said no more to her. Hank suggested that it was time to go. The men laid their cash tips among their empty glasses and walked out of the restaurant.
Hank whispered to Jon as they walked, “Does that happen often?”
Jon didn’t respond. He couldn’t take his gaze off the young woman.