Brad sorts through the stack of envelopes he had just removed from his mailbox.
“Gas bill, electricity bill, VISA bill. I swear I owe something to everyone on the planet some days. Wait, what’s this?”
Brad lifts the small, white envelope closer to the sunlight and reads the return address on the back. It was from his old high school football buddy, Roger. As he opens the envelope and pulls out the card inside, he is shocked to read what is printed on the inscription.
“You are cordially invited to the bond of marriage between Roger Calhoun and Elizabeth Watson on June 24, 2023.”
He couldn’t believe it. His best friend from high school was getting married to his high school sweetheart. Brad and Elizabeth had dated for nearly three years until she dumped him on prom night. Everyone thought they would be together forever before that night. They were inseparable.
He felt weak in the knees and flopped clumsily onto the sofa with the invitation still in-hand, reading it over again-and-again just to make sure he hadn’t read it wrong. It had been close to fifteen years since Brad had seen or even spoke with Roger, and more than twenty years since he and Elizabeth had broken up.
“What am I going to do?” he thought. “I want to be there to support Roger, but how can I face Elizabeth after all these years?”
Brad began to recall prom night in his mind. He and Elizabeth had stopped at a park near the high school where they met up with Roger and some other graduating friends. Roger had stolen some of his father’s liquor bottles from home, and all of the friends began to celebrate before the dance.
By the time they arrived at the hall, all of them were feeling the affects of the alcohol, but none more so than Brad. He had become loud and obnoxious and was beginning to stagger slightly.
Halfway through the night, Principal Knickerbocker stood at the microphone to announce the class King and Queen. There was no shock to hear that it would be Elizabeth and Brad. Soft music began to play, though to this day, Brad can’t recall what it was, then Brad and Elizabeth walked into the spotlight shining down upon the dance floor.
They had just begun to embrace one another when Brad spewed vomit into Elizabeth’s face and down the front of her gown. This, in turn, caused Elizabeth to vomit as well, followed by a chain reaction by others in the room.
The night was ruined and that was the last time the “perfect couple” had seen one another. It was their intention to go to college together and share an apartment, but after that night, Elizabeth transferred to another college out-of-state instead.
Brad decided to drop out of college three months into it. Without Elizabeth in his life, he had lost his drive. Instead, he took on a job at the local farm where his duties varied from moving bales of hay to cleaning out the stalls. It wasn’t easy work, but it kept his mind off Elizabeth.
As the years passed by, Brad had forgotten about his high school love and started dating again. Each relationship ended in disaster. After he was laid off from the farm, the reality of life kicked in, and he struggled to make ends meet.
Job-after-job turned to failure, and he was ready to give up when he was offered the opportunity of a lifetime. The local football team was seeking a coach to replace Coach Humber who had just suffered a heart attack.
Coach Humber played on a rival team back in high school, so Brad was shocked to find out that his name was suggested by the coach for the position. It had been years since he played, but he felt confident that it would all come back to him soon enough.
Brad continued to coach alongside Coach Humber for several seasons after his recovery, and they became close friends. With their combined knowledge of the game, they led the team to victory in the regionals.
Life finally seemed to be going his way when Brad received the wedding invitation. Against his best judgement, Brad decided to go. At least he could show that he made something of himself.
On June 24th, at a church two towns over, Brad stood on the front steps pondering what emotions he would feel after walking through those doors. He straightened his tie, fixed his hair, and swung open the large wooden door.
A quiet murmur hovered over the room as he walked in, but he swears that all went silent when they saw him there. Brad found a seat near the back and slid into one of the pews. Up near the front, he spotted somewhat familiar faces, though he could not put a name to most of them.
The priest entered and approached the front of the altar. He was soon followed by Roger, his best man, and a few groomsmen who Brad did not recognize. The organist began to play, and all eyes turned to the back of the church. Once Brad realized they weren’t looking at him, he turned his head as well.
Standing in the doorway, with a glow of light surrounding her, was Elizabeth in a gorgeous strapless white satin gown. It had white lace along each side of her waistline and a three-foot train trailing behind.
Brad was stunned to see how beautiful she looked so many years later. It was as if she had hardly aged at all. Their eyes met briefly, and Elizabeth gave him a smile as if to say, “thank you for coming.” Her eyes then turned toward Roger who waited patiently at the altar.
For a moment, Brad was in a world of his own. He watched as Elizabeth seemed to glide across the floor like a ghost. He was brought back to reality when the elderly lady sitting beside him began to bawl hysterically.
His heart seemed to tighten as they began to recite their vows, and when it came to the part where the priest asked those present if anyone objected to the marriage, Brad resisted the temptation to speak out. He looked into the face of Elizabeth and saw that she was truly happy. That was all he cared about.
Before the happy couple could exit the church, Brad slipped out virtually undetected and stood out of sight. He watched Roger and Elizabeth as they came through the doors. They were instantly pummeled with handfuls of rice that rained down upon them as they walked down the steps.
Crowds of people surrounded them, congratulating them on their marriage, but Brad noticed Elizabeth searching the crowd for someone and wondered if it was him she was looking for.
Following the wedding ceremony, over one-hundred people arrived at the reception hall. Brad showed up fashionably late and tried to mingle with the crowd unnoticed. He was soon interrupted by a familiar voice.
“Go, Trojans, go!” the man shouted.
When Brad turned around, he was faced with two of his football teammates, Colin, and Steve. They told him that a few others from the team were there as well. Pretty soon, nearly half of the original team had gathered together and began talking about the good old days.
Brad smiled and tried to participate, but his heart just wasn’t in it. He still felt uneasy being there. Suddenly, a hand laid upon his shoulder. When he turned, Roger was standing by his side.
“It’s great to see you, buddy. It has been way too long,” Roger stated sincerely.
“Yeah, you too, Roger,” Brad replied. “Congrats, by the way. I wish you and Elizabeth a very happy life together.”
Roger stared at his friend with uncertainty. “Can I speak with you alone for a minute, bud?” he asked.
“Hey Brad, I know how hard this must be on you. I totally get it, and I’m sorry to spring it all on you so suddenly. Elizabeth and I have been together for nearly a decade now. We had many discussions about how and if we should tell you about us, but it never seemed like the right time. I’m sorry, man.”
“It’s all good, Roger. I admit that coming here today was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make, but I am glad I did. Now that I see you two together, I can see you were made for one another.”
Just then, Elizabeth strolled up behind them. “Am I interrupting anything important? My ears were burning, so I figured you boys must be talking about me. Hi, Brad,” she said. “Thanks for coming. It means a lot to us both.”
Brad instinctively reached out to give Elizabeth a hug, then paused and looked at Roger. “Do you mind if I hug your wife, Roger? I promise to give her back unharmed.”
“Go for it, buddy, just watch those hands,” he replied with a chuckle.
Brad embraced Elizabeth gently, but she squeezed tighter. “Congratulations, Liz, I am very happy for you.”
After a minute or so passed by, Roger spoke up and said, “Okay, you two, can we end this before the honeymoon starts?” They all laughed, and Roger joined in for a group hug.
“Before I forget,” Elizabeth stated abruptly, “I have someone to introduce you to, Brad.”
Elizabeth waved a woman over to join them. Brad recognized her as the Maid of Honor.
“Brad, this is my best friend, Francesca,” she said. “Francesca is here alone, and I thought since you were here alone as well, you wouldn’t mind keeping each other company. Is that okay with you?”
Brad stared at this stunning woman. Despite the unflattering bridesmaid dress she was forced to wear, Brad was drawn to her beauty.
“It would be my pleasure,” he said as he took Francesca’s hand and led her to the dance floor.
The rest of the evening was filled with embarrassing stories of the past from many of the old classmates that attended, and a few intimate moments between Brad and Francesca as well.
The day that Brad dreaded, had turned into a rebirth of sorts. He was finally able to let go of the ghosts of the past and begin a new future.
He thought of a quote by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, author of Frankenstein, that went, “The beginning is always today,” and he considered how appropriate it now was in his life. Every day is a chance at a new beginning.