Novel Excerpt, Chapter 24
[Note: I'm having trouble with how to place events...this is a novel in two parts, with a significant passing of time in between. Can you tell the back story from this chapter?]
The invitation arrived at the end of July 2001. Mr. Andrew Abbott and Guest it read. How nice, I can bring a guest. Not a year earlier, she was at camp, rounding out her job fulfillment and her belly, as it were. How did we get from there to here in 12 months?
I debated not going to her wedding. I looked at that invitation like it had cholera on it. If I had listened to country music, I’m sure there would have been a song about my situation. There was her name in gold script, but not with mine; with his. We should have been parents by now. That baby would have been seven months old at the time of her wedding.
I started seeing a counselor to try and get some perspective. It was my mother’s idea. It wasn’t my favorite thing in the world, but it was either that or talk to her, and I wasn’t about to do that. Why didn’t I just listen to my parents? Why didn’t I propose to Jill when I had the chance? These were the questions I was tackling in therapy, those and the inevitable “what ifs” that come along with every situation. I wasn’t getting very far.
I brought the invitation with me to my weekly therapy session.
“This is it, huh?” Jim asked. Therapists are weird. They aren’t doctors, and they encourage you to call them by their first names. Also, he saw people in a building I drove past every day and assumed it was abandoned. Apparently, counselors aren’t rolling in the dough.
“That’s it,” I said. “I don’t even want to touch it.”
“Are you thinking of going?” Jim asked, reading the invitation. The wedding was at a church down the street from our high school and the reception was right next to the YMCA where I worked out every day.
“I was thinking about it, yes,” I said. “It’s going to happen whether I go or not, and she is my friend and has been for a long time.”
Jim put down the invitation and took out his legal pad. “Sure, but do you think it’s best for you if you go?”
I looked at the water stains in the corner of the room. It started in the ceiling tile and went down the wall, where it was eventually hidden by a fake palm plant.
“It’s probably not the best thing for me, but I know she wants me there.”
“And what about what you want?” Jim asked. “You said she wants you there. What do you want?”
I lowered my eyes at Jim. “I want Jill. That’s not a secret. I want Jill and I want the baby we were supposed to have. Come on.”
Jim wrote something down. “And in regards to this wedding?”
I knew the answer to that. “I think it might give me closure.”
“I think it will be more painful than you could ever imagine,” Jim told me. “And if you’re having this internal debate with yourself right now, then going to the wedding will only open newly-healed wounds.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “We’ll see.”
“What will you gain by going?” Jim asked me, his legal pad filling with scribbles. “Define closure.”
I looked at the ground. What would I gain from going? She wasn’t going change her mind on the alter. This wasn’t a Hollywood movie. She was marrying Miles. Period. Next paragraph. Maybe I needed to see it to believe it.
“Maybe if I see her happy, you know, deliriously wedding-happy, dancing with her husband, I will finally get the message.” I told him. “As much as I know this is happening anyway, I think it’s one of those things that isn’t going to sink in until I see it for myself.”
“Tell me again what you think of Miles,” Jim prodded.
“Again?” He knew what I thought of him. It was one of our central themes. I had re-met her fiancé during our Christmas break. We all went to dinner together, an awkward meal and ridiculous idea altogether. I didn’t like him. He seemed annoying and immature. I just kept thinking, “This is the guy I lost out to?”
I sighed. I don’t want to go over this again. “He’s fine. A nice guy. He’ll make a lot of money some day. He’ll keep her comfortable.”
Jim shook his head at me. “Okay, Drew. What aren’t you saying?”
Therapy blows. I don’t want to deal with all of this right now. But that’s kind of the point of therapy; someone prodding you along, making you answer the difficult questions in order to grow as a person.
I felt my face get hot.
“He’s not my favorite. I don’t think she loves him.”
He wrote something down. “But she loves you?”
My eyes watered for a minute, which pissed me off. “I don’t know. I think she did once. I guess I won’t ever know.” I held my head in my hands and sobbed. I hadn’t cried like that in a session since the second time I went.
He handed me a box of tissues. “There it is.”
“So you don’t think I should go to the wedding?” I asked.
Jim wrote something down and said, “It’s your decision, Drew. Whatever you decide, we can deal with here.”
Days before her wedding, I was at the mall picking out her wedding gift. I decided to go after all, and my mother told me to buy her a setting of china. The registry machine spit out the selection of gifts she and Miles hoped to receive. I wasn’t thinking too much of the pain it was causing me anymore; I was numb. Jim had me see my regular doctor for an anti-depressant. I was bad off, and never in my whole life would I think going to a wedding would have had me resort to a prescription.
I paid for the china. In my head, I was calculating what I’d bought for Jill during the course of our knowing each other. A corsage once, maybe a dinner, a pregnancy test, ginger ale, and the bill from her first visit to Planned Parenthood. And now, wedding china. It was an odd list.
The music started and people stood up to see her walk in. There she was, in a wedding dress walking with Mitch up to the alter. Mandi grabbed my hand.We had just started seeing each other, and having her there with me made me feel a little better. She was a good distraction for me. I didn’t tell her much about this wedding and my history with Jill, just that I needed a date to a wedding.
Jill looked beautiful, hair up in a tiara thing, long train behind her. She carried red roses and I could see a glimpse of her grandpa’s ID bracelet on her wrist. She needs to feel brave. I wish I didn’t see this.
“Who gives this woman to this man?” the pastor asked.
A beach. Yup, definitely a beach. Secluded, warm, her in her bare feet and a breezy white gown; me in a linen shirt and khaki pants rolled up. Maybe a few relatives there, a couple friends if she wanted them there, but I would have been happy with just her and I and an officient. Two rings and some crashing waves would have been enough for me, but I would have done whatever she wanted to.
I would have recited a poem for her as we said our vows. I would vow to be hers forever and have her be mine forever. I would have swung her around after we were pronounced husband and wife. Mitch would shake my hand and welcome me to the family; her niece and nephews would run up to me afterwards and call me Uncle Drew. We would have drunk rum punch and slow danced to every song they played. When we left, we’d go to the honeymoon suite and make love on a bed covered in rose petals.
“A reading from Second Corinthians,” her friend read from a podium. “Love is patient. Love is kind…”
We’d live in Chicago, maybe in Lakeview or Lincoln Park. A small one bedroom apartment to start, one near the train. We’d go to the movies on weekends, church on Sunday mornings. I’d make her coffee while she was in the shower every morning before she went to work and have picnics outside when it warm enough.
I’d go jogging every morning and ask her to come with me, to which she’d respond, “Only if I’m being chased.” In the winter, we’d go shopping at Marshall Fields on State Street and host holiday cocktail parties for our friends.
“With this ring, I thee wed,” she said to Miles as she put the ring on his finger.
She’d show me the pregnancy test when I got out of the shower. There’d be two blue lines after a month or two of trying. She’d be so happy, with a big smile on her face. She’d run into my arms with happy tears and I’d be so excited. We’d tell our parents in some corny way, like an ultrasound picture in a frame wrapped up as a Christmas present. It would be so drastically different than the first time around. She’d look so cute in a little maternity sundress, and eventually, we’d get a bigger place or move to the suburbs. A new chapter of our life would be beginning and we’d be so ready for it.
“By the powers vested in me through the state of Illinois…”
I was brought back to the present with the ending of the ceremony. I watched Jill and Miles kiss and the sanctuary erupted with cheers. They marched out of the church, followed by the rest of the wedding party and then their families.
I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding. I made it through her wedding. I don’t remember a lot of it, but I made it through. The wedding march played and she and Miles turned and went down the aisle, back to the church entryway.
“Boy are your hands ever sweaty,” Mandi said to me, lifting up my palm.
Shit. They were pretty sweaty. I had been holding hands with Mandi through the ceremony, and I’m sure it wasn’t exactly a turn on for her.
“Sorry. I must be…” Nervous is what I was going to say, but anxious also came to mind.
Instead, she interrupted me with, “A little bit preoccupied?” She gave me a sly smile.
Shit. How did she know?
I racked my brain trying to think if I had ever told her about me and Jill. Or was it something I was throwing out there? My hands, and the rest of my body, began to sweat more.
“I mean, we have like, what? An hour before the reception starts?”
I was confused as to what she meant by that. True, there was an hour before the reception started, but why was she pointing it out?
She gave me sly smile and whispered, “Let’s get out of here.” Her hand rested on my lap, awfully close to certain parts of my anatomy.
I felt my face turn bright red. Is she really suggesting what I think she’s suggesting?
She raised her eyebrows at me.
Yes, Drew, she is suggesting that.
People were heading out of the church and into a line. Above their heads, I could see the line led to Jill and Miles and their parents.
“Well, Drew?” She slipped a hand in my pocket and it startled me.
I wasn’t too sure of how to handle this. I didn’t want to offend her, but I also wasn’t sure I wanted to do anything like what she proposing. That is, if I was even reading her signals correctly.
I took her hand out of my pocket and held it. “Let’s get through this line first, and we’ll see where the night takes us.” I smiled at her, hoping she wouldn’t see right through my coy line. The truth is, I knew where the night was going to take us, and I was sure it wasn’t in any bedroom.
She nodded and smiled back. “Fair enough. I suppose we should be sociable,” she took my arm and put it around her waist. “We’re going to have some fun later.”
I wasn’t sure what to say to that, but didn’t have to. Thankfully, Jill’s brother Rob came up to me right then.
“Drew! Good to see you,” he patted me on the shoulder as he moved past me. “I’ll catch you at the reception.”
That caught the attention of Kyle, Jill’s brother-in-law, who was standing off to the side with some of his kids.
“Hey there. Good to see you,” he said.
I waved at him.
The kids then saw me.
“Hi!” Jill’s oldest nephew said to me. “I know you!” I could never remember his name, but I knew he and his brother and sister were always around when I was at Jill’s house.
“Hey buddy,” I said to him. Michael? Matthew? It was something like that.
The little girl ran up to me in her flower girl attire and hugged me around the legs.
“Hi sweetie,” I said to her, picking her up. Her name was Paige. That one, I knew.
Mandi let go of my hand when I picked up Paige, or rather, I let go of hers to scoop up the girl.
“So, are you like a celebrity or something?” she asked me. I put Paige down and waved to the other brother, the middle one, and I couldn’t remember his name either.
“Not really,” I said. We were approaching the front of the line. I could see Mitch and Nancy standing there with Jill and Miles.
“How exactly do you know the bride?” she asked carefully.
Mitch saw me and said with his big booming voice, “Drew! Hey! Thanks for coming!” He stuck out his hand and shook mine.
“Hi Mitch. Good to see you,” I said. Mandi stood there looking awkward, so I said, “Mitch, this is my friend Mandi.”
He shook Mandi’s hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“Drew, thanks for coming,” Nancy said to me, giving me a hug. “And it’s nice to meet you,” she said to Mandi.
“Thanks, it’s nice to meet you too,” she mumbled.
“Hey stranger,” Jill said quietly. I made my way past Nancy to her. “I’m so glad you came,” she said.
I wasn’t sure how true that was. “I wouldn’t dream of missing this,” I said to her. I wasn’t sure how true that was, either.
“Come and give me a hug,” she said.
I looked at her in her wedding gown and veil. She was beautiful. Her hair was up and her vail had little pearls scattered throughout it. Her eyes looked even more brown than ever, which made her look very innocent and child-like.
I gave her a hug and closed my eyes for just a second. Just long enough to imagine she didn’t marry Miles, that she had married me instead. She made such a beautiful bride.
“And who’s this?” she asked, ending our friendly embrace.
Who? Oh yes, I brought someone.
I turned around and pulled Mandi forward. “This is my friend Mandi. Mandi, this is Jill.”
I watched the two of them hug and say pleasantries to each other. I felt like I was in some twisted episode of the Twilight Zone. The woman I loved had married someone else, and was now hugging the woman I brought to said wedding. Cue theme song.
I shook hands with Miles and his parents, too, since that was what you were supposed to do. I introduced Mandi to them as well, since she was there with me.
At the end of the line, I knew I needed something, anything, to distract me.
“Still want to get out of here?” I asked Mandi.
She nodded and smiled.
“Good. Let’s go. We have a little time before the reception.”