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When my future father-in-law asked how much I loved his daughter, I said more than the world, and he half-smiled. He told me to remember that when I saw “him” at the reception tomorrow. I was cut off before I could ask. He will wear a black suit, as if for a funeral. He won’t talk to anyone nor dance, but will stare at me for hours, not moving. I was told that whatever I did, don’t approach the man or offer him drinks or even stare back at him. I was to turn the other way and pretend he wasn’t there. If he appeared in any photos, I was to delete or burn them. 

I was baffled. The rehearsal dinner was everything I dreamed it would be. Not being a man of means, my in-laws took the reins, and I have to say they outdid themselves. The venue was gorgeous, the food was so good I had to shake the chef’s hand, and I felt at ease for our future. I looked at my beautiful bride-to-be and I was stunned at how incredibly lucky I was to be there, how some other man hadn’t swooped in before me. I didn’t think much of it when my father-in-law-to-be asked me to talk with the family alone after dinner, after the glasses were empty and the caterers had left.

I was expecting the old “take care of our daughter or else” kind of speech, so I was a little surprised when my fiancée stayed with us. As if part of the rehearsal, the family arranged the chairs in a circle and sat. All the merriment had left the room. I jokingly asked when the funeral would begin, but no one laughed: a first for me. My fiancée touched my shoulder and asked me to sit across from my father in law. I looked at him and saw fear in his eyes, so I started listening.

My mind went to an ex or estranged relative, and my fiancée read my face. She said that “the guest” has appeared at family weddings since at least the 1930’s, but they aren’t exactly sure. I was handed withered photos marked 1947, 1963, and 1991 and my mother in law started crying. She reminded me that my vows said “till death do us part.” I felt something twist inside me, and I asked if this was a joke. My fiancée gripped my hand tight. Those three years, she said, the groom brushed off their advice, and to look more closely at the pictures. I could tell by the black clothing and pinkish lights that they weren’t taken at a wedding. My fiancée hugged me tight and said she loved me more than anything.

When I proposed, I told her we could get through anything together. And now, as I wait for her to walk the aisle, I remember these words, even as I see a well-dressed man in the corner. Staring.