Stop making that face. You look constipated.
My mother. Of course.
I swipe it away and continue. Beside me, Ethan smugly laces his hands together behind his head, and I can feel his satisfied grin without even having to look at him. I push on—because he can’t win this round—but I’m only two words deeper into my speech when I’m interrupted by the sound of a startled, pained groan.
The attention of the entire room swings to where Dane is huddled over, clutching his stomach. Ami has just enough time to place a comforting hand on his shoulder and turn to him in concern before he claps a hand over his mouth, and then proceeds to projectile-vomit through his fingers, all over my sister and her beautiful (free) dress.
Dane’s sudden illness can’t be from his alcohol intake because one of the bridesmaids’ daughters is only seven, and after Ami retaliates and throws up all over Dane, little Catalina loses her dinner, too. From there, the sickness starts to spread like wildfire through the banquet hall.
Ethan stands and drifts away to hover near one of the walls. I do the same, thinking it’s probably best to watch the chaos from higher ground. If this were happening in a movie, it would be comically gross. Here in front of us, happening to people we know and who we’ve clinked glasses with and embraced and maybe even kissed? It’s terrifying.
It goes from seven-year-old Catalina, to Ami’s hospital administrator and her wife, to Jules and Cami, some people in the back at table forty-eight, then Mom, Dane’s grandmother, the flower girl, Dad, Diego . . .
After that, I am unable to track the outbreak, because it snowballs. A crash of china tears through the room when a guest loses it all over an unlucky waiter. A few people attempt to flee, clutching their stomachs and moaning for a toilet. Whatever this is, it appears to want to exit the body through any route available; I’m not sure whether to laugh or scream. Even those who aren’t throwing up or sprinting for the restrooms yet are looking green.
“Your speech wasn’t that bad,” Ethan says, and if I weren’t worried he might vomit on me in the process, I’d shove him out of our little safe zone.
With the sound of retching all around us, a heavy awareness settles into our quiet space, and we slowly turn to each other, eyes wide. He carefully scans my face, so I carefully scan his, too. He is notably normal-colored, not even a little green.
“Are you nauseated?” he asks me quietly.
“Beyond at the sight of this? Or you? No.”
I stare at him. “How are you single? Frankly, it’s a mystery.”
And instead of being relieved he’s not sick, he relaxes his expression into the cockiest grin I’ve ever seen. “So I was right about buffets and bacteria.”
“It’s too fast to be food poisoning.”
“Not necessarily.” He points to the ice trays where the shrimp, clams, mackerel, grouper, and about ten other fancy varieties of fish used to be. “I bet you . . .” He holds up a finger as if he’s testing the air. “I bet you this is ciguatera toxin.”
“I have no idea what that is.”
He takes a deep breath, like he’s soaking in the splendor of the moment and cannot smell how ripe the bathroom has grown just down the hall. “I have never in my life been more smug to be the eternal buffet buzzkill.”
“I think you mean, ‘Thank you for procuring my plate of roasted chicken, Olive.’ ”
“Thank you for procuring my plate of roasted chicken, Olive.”
As relieved as I am to not be barfing, I am also horrified. This was Ami’s dream day. She spent the better part of the last six months planning this, and this is the wedding day equivalent of a road full of advancing, flaming zombies.
So I do the only thing I can think to do: I march over to her, reach down to loop one of her arms over my shoulders, and help her up. No one needs to see the bride in a state like this: covered in vomit—hers and Dane’s—and clutching her stomach like she might lose it out the other end, too.
We’re lurching more than walking—really, I’m half dragging her—so we’re only halfway to the exit when I feel the back of my dress rip wide open.
• • •
AS MUCH AS IT PAINS me to admit it, Ethan was right: the wedding party has been demolished by something known as ciguatera, which happens when one eats fish contaminated with certain toxins. Apparently the caterer is off the hook because it isn’t a food preparation issue—even if you cook the living daylights out of a contaminated piece of fish, it is still toxic. I close out Google when I read that the symptoms normally last anywhere from weeks to months. This is a catastrophe.
For obvious reasons, we cancelled the tornaboda—the enormous wedding after party that was going to be held at Tia Sylvia’s house late into the night. I already see myself spending tomorrow wrapping and freezing the ungodly amount of food we spent the last three days cooking; no way will anyone want to eat for a long time after this. A few guests were taken to the hospital, but most have just retreated home or to their hotel rooms to suffer in isolation. Dane is in the groom’s suite; Mom is next door curled over the toilet in the mother-in-law suite, and she banished Dad to one of the bathrooms in the lobby. She texted me to remind him to tip the bathroom attendant.
The bridal suite has become a triage unit of sorts. Diego is on the floor in the living room, clutching a garbage can to his chest. Natalia and Jules each have a bucket—compliments of the hotel—and are both in the fetal position on opposite ends of the living room couch. Ami whimpers in agony and tries to wiggle her way out of her completely saturated dress. I help her and immediately decide she’s fine in her underwear, for a while anyway. At least she’s out of the bathroom; I’ll be honest, the noises coming from inside had no place in a wedding night.
Careful to watch my step as I move around the suite, I wet washcloths for foreheads and attempt to rub backs, emptying buckets as needed and thanking the universe for my constitutionally solid stomach.
As I step out of the bathroom with rubber gloves pulled up to my elbows, my sister zombie-moans into an ice bucket. “You have to take my trip.”
The suggestion is so exceedingly random that I ignore her and grab a pillow to put under her head instead. It is at least two minutes before she speaks again.
“Take it, Olive.”
“Ami, no way.” Her honeymoon is an all-inclusive ten-day trip to Maui that she won by filling out over a thousand entry forms. I know because I helped her put the stamps on at least half of them.
“It’s nonrefundable. We’re supposed to leave tomorrow and . . .” She has to take a break to dry-heave. “There’s no way.”
“I’ll call them. I’m sure they’ll work around this situation, come on.”
She shakes her head and then hurls up the water I made her sip. When she speaks, she sounds froggy, like she’s the victim of a demon possession. “They won’t.”
My poor sister has turned into a swamp creature; I’ve never seen anyone this shade of gray before.
“They don’t care about illness or injury, it’s in the contract.” She falls back onto the floor and stares up at the ceiling.
“Why are you even worried about this right now?” I ask, though in reality I know the answer. I adore my sister, but even violent illness won’t get between her and redeeming a prize fairly won.
“You can use my ID to check in,” she says. “Just pretend you’re me.”
“Ami Torres, that’s illegal!”
Rolling her head so she can see me, she gives me a look so comically blank, I have to stifle a laugh.
“Okay, I realize it isn’t your priority right now,” I say.
“It is, though.” She struggles to sit up. “I will be so stressed out about this if you don’t take it.”
I stare at her, and conflict makes my words come out tangled and thick. “I don’t want to leave you. And I also don’t want to be arrested for fraud.” I can tell she isn’t going to let this go. Finally, I give in. “Okay. Just let me call them and see what I can do.”
Twenty minutes later, and I know she’s right: the customer service representative for Aline Voyage Vacations gives zero damns about my sister’s bowels or esophagus. According to Google and a physician the hotel called in who is slowly making the rounds to each guest room, Ami is unlikely to recover by next week, let alone tomorrow.
If she or her designated guest doesn’t take the trip, it’s gone.
“I’m sorry, Ami. This feels monumentally unfair,” I say.
“Look,” she begins, and then dry-heaves a few times, “consider this the moment your luck changes.”
“Two hundred people threw up during Olive’s speech,” Diego reminds us all from the floor.
Ami manages to push herself up, supporting herself against the couch. “I’m serious. You should go, Ollie. You didn’t get sick. You need to celebrate that.”
Something inside me, a tiny kernel of sunshine, peeks out from behind a cloud, and then disappears again.
“I like the idea of good luck better when it isn’t at someone else’s expense,” I tell her.
“Unfortunately,” Ami says, “you don’t get to choose the circumstances. That’s the point of luck: it happens when and where it happens.”
I fetch her a new cup of water and a fresh washcloth and then crouch down beside her. “I’ll think about it,” I say.
But in truth, when I look at her like this—green, clammy, helpless—I know that not only am I not taking her dream vacation, I’m not leaving her side.
• • •
I STEP OUT INTO THE hall before remembering that my dress has an enormous tear all down the back. My ass is literally hanging out. On the plus side, it’s suddenly loose enough that I can cover my boobs. Turning back to the suite, I swipe the key card against the door, but the lock flashes red.