The mirror was imperfect and in it his figure wavered and broke, making him look disjointed and far away. The black of his suit and boots was stark, the white of his shirt ghostly. Suddenly from behind him, his brother moved into view, and his reflection was so incongruous with Buck's own that he felt startled.
Red Bear grunted at the sight of the two of them, his distaste at Buck's attire obvious. Buck sighed, "I know, I look ridiculous." He didn't add that he felt just as ridiculous in buckskins these days. He missed the soft trousers and crisp shirts he'd worn when he was with the express. They were folded in his saddlebags now, the creases turning pale.
"You look like one of the soldiers," Red Bear said gruffly. Buck shrugged; there wasn't anything to say in his defense, it was true. "You wore your hair like this all the time when you were living white?" Red Bear asked, eyeing Buck's ponytail.
Buck shook his head, "Not all the time." He smoothed his hands over his hair and noticed they were shaking. He knew he could pull back the ugly curtains on the windows and see lean and hungry faces peering in curiously, all of them waiting to see what a white wedding would be like. He could feel their gaze through the curtains made of feed sacks, cutting through the coarse material. They all felt today as a betrayal. None of them had ever wanted to claim Maya or Buck as full Kiowa, but for them to choose a different way - Buck knew his wedding suit was shutting the door on acceptance. He would never have given that up, would never have married a white woman who asked it of him.
But Maya didn't ask; she didn't do what was expected. She gave up the name her parents gave her and kept the one she took the year she spent at the mission school. Buck hadn't noticed her then. He'd been at the school longer and she was put in a younger class, with the children who could not speak English.
By Kiowa standards, she was old for a bride. Her pretty face was marred by a nose that was crooked and broken from a fall when she was young. The women clucked sadly and said it had made Maya too ugly to be married. The men said the problem lay in her shrill tongue, or her troubling ways of speaking English and wearing her hair like a white woman.
The first time she had kissed him, Buck had been surprised. It had never occurred to him they could be more than friends. He had been aware of the smell of her hair, the sweetness of her mouth, the warmth of her skin where the sunlight hit it. It was nothing like the kisses he'd shared with Jenny or Kathleen; there had been no analytical detachment then, no categorizing of the various sensations a kiss produced; there had been nothing but a dizzy, whirling feeling in his head, the whole world had been made of light, there had been no time for thinking. But he was older now, and he knew what was possible and what was not. This, he reasoned, this contentment and comfort, this was what love was when you were older and wiser.
"As best man, what do I do?" Red Bear asked, snapping Buck out of his reverie and back to the reality of his awkward reflection.
"You stand beside me," Buck said.
"That is all?"
Buck nodded. He didn't know how to explain it. "It's like giving a pledge that I'll be a good husband."
"So I make a pledge? That is good." Red Bear nodded his head in satisfaction.
"No, no," Buck scrambled to correct himself, "You just stand there, but by standing at my side you give the pledge. You say nothing."
His brother grunted in irritation. Buck sighed and fidgeted with his tie again. When he had told the missionary who would perform the ceremony that his brother would stand as witness, there had been some argument that a non-Christian could not fill the position. It was the one thing about the wedding Buck would not compromise on, and eventually he had won out. He turned away from the mirror and looked at Red Bear, hoping the terror in his stomach didn't show on his face.
Red Bear smiled at his brother and set his hands on Buck's shoulders. "And who, brother, will tell you what it takes to be a good husband?"
"Oh, well, I guess I'll just figure it out as I go," Buck mumbled. If the wedding was any indication, he imagined Maya would tell him exactly what a good husband would do.
Red Bear laughed and squeezed Buck's shoulders affectionately. "That is the best way to do it." Buck smiled weakly.
On the other side of the door, in the tiny room that would be kitchen, dining room, and parlor, the reservation missionary, a grave and portly reverend, waited, drumming his fingertips against his bible. Through the open front door, he could see his wife and the bride walking past the silent crowd of Kiowa. The reverend consulted his pocket watch and nodded knowingly. Weddings never ran on time.
The reverend knocked authoritatively on the bedroom door, "Mr. Cross, they're almost here." The door swung open and Red Bear swaggered out, in an almost flagrant disregard for decency in the reverend's mind. The groom's nervous face peered around the door, as if he felt it necessary to check the room for armed adversaries before entering. The reverend beckoned, but Buck hesitated.
"It's customary, Mr. Cross, for the groom to be present at the wedding," the reverend stated flatly, his eyes still looking out the door as the bride reached the threshold. She was rearranging her skirts at the doorway, patting down her hair, readying for an entrance that would transcend the shabbiness of her dress. She caught Buck's eye and smiled. There was a loud exhalation from behind the bedroom door and at last, the groom emerged, jaw and fists clenched.
Buck took his place between the reverend and his brother. He watched as the reverend's wife came forward to stand as Maya's witness and then as Maya walked towards him, beaming and radiant. The air felt too still, too hot, and he tugged at his collar without thinking about it. He looked ghastly, all tensed up and grim, as if he were attending his own funeral and not his wedding. Maya reached out for his hand; he felt dizzy, so maybe he was in love after all…
His knees went weak. His sight went black. He fell to the floor like a sack of grain, heavy and formless, only vaguely aware of the women's gasps and his brother's laughter. A cool hand patted his cheek and he opened his eyes, staring up into Maya's face. She was trying not to laugh and he smiled himself. He could hear the reverend speaking, his voice annoyed, "Highly irregular for the groom to faint. Highly irregular."
Maya helped him to his feet and squeezed his hand gently, "Shall we go on?"
"Oh, uhh, yes." Buck muttered, feeling his face blush.
She squeezed his hand again and leaned in to whisper in his ear, "But this time, don't forget to breathe."