The bride and the groom were popular church members. Father Krusling chose Paul and me to serve at their wedding because we were the oldest altar boys, both seniors in high school. Why the two Gracey boys, Pat and Mike, were chosen wasn’t clear.

They were younger and we liked them okay, individually. Together, they were pains, bickering, talking about stuff we cared nothing about. Father probably wanted them to experience a wedding, but I’d heard more deserving boys complain. After all, altar boys got paid as much as five dollars for a wedding, and there was no pay for anything else.

Pat knelt on the left side of Paul and me with Mike on the right so Pat rang the bells, which he did correctly. But he also leaned forward and made a face at his brother, as if he was saying, Ha Ha. I got to do that and you didn’t. At communion, Father put a piece of the big host he’d broken into five parts first on Mike’s tongue, then Paul’s, then mine, then Pat’s. Mike had picked up the golden paten and held it under his chin receiving the host, then passed it on so each of us held it for ourselves. Thus it ended up with Pat. Of course we all closed our eyes while swallowing the host. That’s why I didn’t notice Mike.

He’d circled behind us to his brother. “No!” I heard and opened my eyes. Mike had grabbed the paten from Pat, who’d yelled and stood up. Pat was rightly the one who should carry the paten. He grabbed the paten so they tugged it back and forth until Mike released one hand and pushed his brother. Pat fell backwards onto the altar and lost his grip on the paten.

Then he jumped up, hit his brother’s chin with a fist, and took the paten back.

Mike screamed, “I hate you!” and ran into the sacristy. Father Krusling had turned around with the chalice in his hand and seen this last bit of drama. “Oh no,” he said and looked behind us. I looked around, too. The bride, groom, bridesmaid and best man were at the communion rail where they’d frozen, half kneeling, to stare at us.

Father came down the two steps and looked at Pat. Pat started crying, dropped the paten, ran into the sacristy and out the back door, which slammed loudly. I was nearest to the paten and so I picked it up. Father shook his head and looked at the wedding party. They looked at each other, finished kneeling, and the rest of the mass went on as usual.

But of course the romantic spell of the wedding was broken. I heard someone whisper, standing in line for communion, that he hoped what had happened wasn’t a sign.

Afterwards, I found the Gracey boys’ cassocks and surplices on the floor. Hanging them up, I imagined Pat and Mike running home, afraid of what consequences their actions might bring, and I wondered what Father would do. He’d have to at least tell the parents what had happened. My mother would have killed me.

It was a pretty June day otherwise: sun shining, flowers blooming. Father caught Paul and me between the church and his house and handed us envelopes. “They gave me this for you two before the mass.” There was a five-dollar bill in each.

Paul said, “Think we should give it back?”

Father shook his head and gazed off at something beyond us. “No, that wouldn’t help. What’s done is done, and it wasn’t your fault. Keep it.”

William (Bill) Vernon served in the United States Marine Corps, then studied English literature in Ohio and taught it. He is still recovering from those experiences. Writing is his therapy, along with exercising outdoors and doing international folkdances. His poems, stories and nonfiction have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, and Five Star Mysteries published his novel OLD TOWN in 2005.