The champagne glittered in the light from the chandelier. Ellie gripped the microphone and glanced over at Nick. He winked at her and reached for the hand of his new bride next to him. Ellie glowered at him. She was not supposed to be giving this speech. This was for the best man, but at the last minute, she’d been handed a mic and told it was her turn. She cleared her throat and looked out at the room full of faces. There was Nick’s mom, smiling at her. There was Bri’s dad, looking proudly at his daughter in white. She knew everyone in the room, including the group of girls evil eyeing her from table six.
Ellie pasted on her happiest smile and took a deep breath. While she really was truly very happy for her best friend and his new wife, she did not enjoy having all eyes on her. It had been her least favorite part of her own wedding. But Nick had stood by her side and given a speech at her request. It was the least she could do. Ellie looked at Nick and Bri again and smiled.
“Does anyone here know the story of how Nick and I met?” She asked. She flashed an evil grin at Nick, who groaned audibly and raised a hand.
“I want to preface this with: I was a dumb kid. And a jerk.” He put his hand over his face and laughed.
“I had just transferred to a new French class. Now…in MY previous French class, everyone participated. So day one in this new class, Madame…I don’t remember her name…asked a question. So I answered. And immediately, from behind me, I hear a boy say, ‘Can you shut the hell up?’” Gasps came from the crowd and Ellie laughed. “That’s what I said! I turned around to see Nick just glaring at me. If eyes could throw daggers, I would have been impaled on the spot.” More chuckles came from the crowd. Ellie saw Nick’s mom with her mouth slightly open, looking shocked that such a phrase could come from her son.
“It’s all right, Mrs. G,” Ellie said, addressing her. “We didn’t get along for a while. In fact…I don’t even remember how we actually became friends?” Ellie looked over at Nick, who just shrugged. “But you know what? I’ve never ever had a better friend than Nick. Nick, who called me countless times to cheer me up when I didn’t even tell him I was upset. Nick, who literally saved my life more than once. He knows me better than I know myself. Nick…who just…” Ellie paused, wiping a tear away from her eye. Everyone in the audience waited quietly. “Nick…who just…was such an ass for so many years, and still sometimes is.” The silence broke and everyone laughed, exhaling out the tense air.
“Nick, I love you to pieces and I am so, so proud of how far you’ve come and how much you’ve grown up. Bri, you married a wonderful man.” Everyone murmured their agreements and smiled at the newlyweds.
“Now, I bet you all thought I was done. But I have just as good of a story about how I met Bri, because I actually knew her first.” This time Bri let out a loud, sharp laugh. “When we were in sixth grade health class, one of the first things we had to do was practice the Heimlich on someone. Bri and I were partnered up and we just looked at each other. I said something to the effect of, ‘Ready for me to hump you?’ And the rest was history. We were so close from that day forward, until Bri moved back to her home state. We lost touch for a few years, but I am so happy that you guys found each other again. I love you guys so much. We all do, and we all wish you nothing but the absolute best. Cheers to you two,” Ellie finished, raising her glass of champagne. Clinks were heard around the room and there was silence for a brief moment while everyone took a sip.
Ellie handed the mic off to the emcee and returned to her seat. She caught Nick’s eye and winked. He mouthed ‘thank you’ and returned his attention to his new bride.
Ellie relaxed into her chair, happy the speech was over and feeling like it went well. She stared at her hands for a moment, then lifted her eyes to the table number sitting in the center of her table: six. She pretended to be super busy settling her napkin onto her lap and began to eat her salad.
The back of Ellie’s neck burned as she felt everyone at the table staring at her. She silently cursed Bri for sitting her here. Bri knew everyone at this table hated Ellie. Why would she sit her here? Literally anywhere else would have worked.
“I’m going to grab a drink. The bar is free. Why don’t you come with me? You look like you need one.” It took Ellie a moment to realize that the question was directed at her. She looked up to see Kate standing next to her. Kate and Ellie had never had as bad of a falling out as Ellie’d had with everyone else. They had sort of made up years ago, and just not spoken since. “Come on,” Kate urged. “It’ll be fine.”
Ellie dragged herself out of her seat and followed Kate to the bar. A shot and drink in hand later, Ellie was feeling a little more relaxed.
“Thank you for getting me out of there,” Ellie said.
“It’s not as bad as you think,” Kate replied.
“You saw them all walk away from me at the ceremony. It’s worse than I think.” Ellie took a long sip of her vodka cranberry. Every sip relaxed her a little more. But every sip meant she had to stay that much longer to sober up to drive home. She had stayed for the ceremony to watch her best friend get married and that had been her whole plan. She knew the reception was going to be a “wait and see how bad it is” situation before she could decide how long she was staying. Turns out it was worse than she was expecting. Ellie was torn on leaving. She wanted away from everyone’s evil eyes but didn’t want to leave Nick’s special night just yet.
“Give them a chance. Come sit next to me and I’ll talk to you. We can bitch together and you know Lo will talk to you. She doesn’t give a shit.”
“Fine.” Ellie sucked down the rest of her drink and grabbed a fresh one. Together her and Kate returned to table six and started chatting with Lo. She’d gotten a new job and was moving the next day. And Kate had been right: Lo didn’t give a shit. That or she was just drunk enough not to.
Dinner was served and just as Ellie was started to think she could stay a little longer, she made a joke to the wrong person at the table. She didn’t think anything of it. He was a stranger. Turned out he was the fiancé of the girl who hated her most.
“Can I speak with you? Outside?” Ellie’s stomach flopped. Of all the people she didn’t want to have to talk to, Emily was the main one.
Put on the spot, Ellie couldn’t just say no, so she followed Emily outside. Her insides swirled in an unhappy boozy salad mess. She twirled a dark lock of hair in circles and looked down at their shoes. Ellie had opted for three inch chunky heels that tied, while Emily had gone for a low heel nude sandal. They were almost the same height, now, something that had always been a joke when they were growing up.
“I feel like I’m in trouble,” Ellie blurted out.
“I’m so sorry,” Emily said at the same time.
“What?” Ellie met Emily’s eyes. That was not at all what she had been expecting Emily to say.
“You were my best friend. I don’t even know how we got so fucked up. But it wrecked me when we stopped talking. I know I played a big part. I can be such an ass, and I’m sure back then it was way worse.”
And then Ellie was crying. Damn alcohol had lowered her wall just enough that all her anxiety and trepidation about the wedding spilled out. She wiped her tears away quickly, but they just kept coming.
“It’s okay,” she finally sniffled. Emily shook her head.
“No, it’s not. And you don’t have to say it is. Especially if you still hate me. I just needed to apologize and make sure you knew how sorry I was. I miss you like crazy, but I also understand if this is a friendship you have no interest in being part of.”
Ellie giggled, which took them both by surprise.
“Don’t laugh at me! Do you have any idea how sick I’ve felt about coming to this wedding and knowing you’d be here?!”
Ellie’s eyes opened wide. “YES. Because I fully considered not coming, but I couldn’t do that to Nick.” She paused for a minute, looking up at the dark sky. Stars were just starting to appear and a warm breeze swirled through the air around them. “I don’t hate you. I never did. I was hurt by everything you said. It was awful. You were my person, and you shit all over me.”
“I don’t hate you either. It was just so awful. I figured you had to hate me after everything. You didn’t talk to any of us, except Bri.”
“Bri had my back,” Ellie pointed out. Emily sighed in frustration.
“I know. And I should have.”
“They’re about to cut the cake,” Kate said, popping out from the reception area.
“You better save me a piece. I didn’t get a piece at my own wedding and I’m still pissed about it,” Ellie said.
“That’s bullshit. I’ll save you two.” Kate disappeared back inside.
“You got married?” Emily said quietly.
“Want to talk about it sometime?”
“As long as there’s no booze in it, because boy am I not going to feel good tomorrow.”
“I always thought it’d be you and me,” Emily said quietly.
“What? Getting married and having kids and stuff?”
“Sort of. I meant more like going to the clubs until we were too old for it and then settling down.” Emily looked down at the floor. “You have a kid, right?”
“I do. She’s almost four.”
“I’ve missed so much. I’m so sorry.” Emily brushed a tear away. Ellie took a deep inhale, counting to four before releasing it on a count of four. Her mouth formed into a hard line for just a moment, as if she were deep in thought.
“It is what it is. We can’t change what we’ve missed. So let’s finish off tonight and grab coffee sometime.” Ellie shrugged and straightened her skirt. “Deal?”
Emily and Ellie linked arms and walked back into the reception. Ellie savored every bite of the wedding cake and laughed with her old friends.
When the music started up, Ellie hesitated. She hadn’t come with a date and was prepared to just sit alone. She watched everyone on the dance floor with a pang of envy. She saw more glances being cast her way and grew even more uncomfortable. There were still so many people she didn’t speak to anymore that she knew were eyeing her.
“Get up,” Kate ordered, grabbing Ellie’s arm.
“Come on. You’re dancing,” Emily said, taking Ellie’s other arm.
“Fuck all of them,” Kate said.
The three of them headed to the dance floor to join Bri and Nick, forming their own little circle like they had when they were fifteen. And for just a little while that night, Ellie was happy. For just a little while that night, Ellie felt whole again.