Allan Richards sat in the driver’s seat of his parked rundown sedan as he checked the copy of the invitation he had printed out earlier that morning, verifying that "Community First United Church of Christ" was indeed the appointed location. For a long moment, he considered hitting the key in the ignition and coming up with some kind of explanation of why he couldn't make it, but eventually he instead removed it from the console and, with a heavy sigh, swung the door open.
He walked toward the front of the venue, catching sight of signs declaring today to be claimed for the wedding he had been invited to. He was just beginning to squirm awkwardly in his not-too-well-fitting rented suit when a voice barged its way across the parking lot toward him, "Allan! Hold up brother."
He turned around to meet the forceful greeting head on, his gaze lighting on the shape of a face that would look familiar if not for the layer of beard fur that clung smartly around the contours of its mouth. "Michael?" he offered up a query in place of a greeting.
The broad-grinning bear of a man removed the hat that hadn't changed since high-school from his head and—giving Allan a short, performative bow—placed it over his heart. "The one and only," he confirmed his identity.
Allan couldn't help but grin, the familiar antics of high school serving to abate his nerves somewhat, "I'm pretty sure there's more than one Michael."
His friend took on an expression of mock horror, "Where? Point them out to me, and I will beat them up for daring to use my name." Then, the moment of silliness-as-handshake passed, and Michael gathered up a more serious presence. "It's great to see you, Allan; how long has it been?"
"Graduation; haven't seen any of you since graduation, except Jenny."
"Really? Damn. Well, you look..." he trailed off, and Allan could almost see the working of his brain as he took in his old friend's disheveled appearance, "Good'," he finished, erring on the side of a polite falsehood.
"Thanks," Allan accepted the words of kindness and absolving Michael of the white lie, "You're looking fine yourself.”
Michael seemed almost poised to say something further when another voice called out to them from the front door, "Oi, what're you two blockheads dawdling out in the parking lot for? The wedding's not gonna wait for you, y'know?"
"He's right, let's get inside," Michael said, motioning his arms as if to sweep the two of them toward the entrance.
Inside the hall, Allan cast his gaze around the assembled attendees, finding no one that he recognized, save for a pair of men with bright orange hair even after all these years. "Well get over here," the one who had stayed thin after high school called over to Michael and Allan.
"We’re coming, we're coming; keep your tits on Charlie," Michael called back as he led their way over to the fiery-haired pair. Upon closing the distance to a more socially acceptable speaking range, he declared, “Good to see you too, Sam," and the other man received the greeting with a polite tug or the corner of his glasses’ frames for want of a hat to tip.
Allan was amazed at how different the "twins" now looked; Charlie looked almost the same as ever, the only evidence that he hadn't simply teleported to the current date from graduation being the presence of a moustache that ought disqualify him from ever setting foot on an elementary school campus, while Samuel looked almost middle-aged already, his clean shaven-ness doing little to counter-act the effect of carrying around an extra fifty or so pounds.
"0l' bookworm here was just telling me about the research he's been doing for his master's thesis," Charlie pointed to Samuel while miming a yawn.
"Oh, how's that going?" Michael asked with polite curiosity.
The man with the academic's physique responded with a good-humored snort, "Fine, I guess," he swilled his drink in front of them as if to say the liquor was the source of his claim, "Can I get you two a Drink?"
"Sure, I'd take some liquid courage, " Michael responded.
Allan stared at Samuel’s drink for a moment. "No, I really shouldn't.”
His reply drew worried stares from the rest of the group for a moment, until Samuel simply nodded. "Okay, one wet one dry, then," he said as left the huddled friends.
Michael quietly drew Allan toward the nearby corner, taking on the fatherly affect he had sometimes worn back when they were in high school, and Charlie politely turned his attention onto a program on the nearby table.
"What's wrong?" Michael thrust the question directly at Allan once they were sequestered away from everything else, "You care to talk about it?"
Allan held the question at arm’s length first, an emotional dagger threatening his heart, but Michael's piercing, care worn stare eventually won cut, and the corners of his eyes let a subtle stream of tears slip out, "It's just… seeing how well you've all done for yourselves these past few years, and all I've managed to do since high school has been dropping out of college and pissing away my health..." he trailed off into a fit of quiet sobbing.
Michael put his hands on Allan's shoulders in lieu of a hug. "Hey now, easy does it," he cooed in reassurance. When Allan had managed to calm down, he asked "Okay, now, how have you really been?"
Allan took a deep breath to gather himself up. "After mom passed, I... I fell apart. Took to drinking and didn't stop, not until a few months ago," he finally confessed.
Michael looked into his friend for a moment before turning away, his brow furrowed with guilt. When Allan's single mother had passed away, Michael and all of the others had been busy studying or traveling, so Allan had been left attending bis mother’s funeral alone. "We really have been shitty friends, haven't we?"
Allan reluctantly nodded.
"I'm going to do better, WE’RE going to do better by you going forward, but you can't keep keeping your struggles to yourself, okay?"
Allan paused for a moment, then nodded again, more assuredly this time.
"Right. Now, today belongs to our friend Jenny; you ready to get back in there?"
Allan nodded once more, finally with a sense of confident forcefulness.
With Allan's emotional state seemingly stitched together well enough to proceed with the evening, Michael pulled them away from the corner and led the way back to where they had left their friends.
"You know, I always though Jenny was gay, but turns out she was a girl,” Charlie mused to Samuel.
Samuel took a sip from his drink, "I won't lie, I was kinda shocked when she transitioned, but you gotta admit, she sure looks a lot happier now then she ever did as a guy." He idly looked around and caught sight of the pair returning from their emotional sidebar, causing him to give Charlie a quick nudge in the ribs. "Is everything good, you two?" he asked, directing the question more at Michael.
"Yeah," Allan interceded in answer, "good to go."
Samuel accepted Allan's answer with a firm, almost congratulatory nod, then handed the second drink he was holding over to Michael. Michael accepted the drink but—glancing over at Allan—refrained from taking a sip. Instead, he cast his gaze down at the picture on the table announcing the marriage of Jenny and Frederick Condran. "When we promised to be the best men at each other’s weddings, I guess we didn't consider that the first of us to get married would be doing so in a dress."
Charlie had a sheepish grin creep across his lace, "Well, Jenny's technically not the first of us to get married." When the other three looked at him with simultaneous expressions of incredulous inquisition, he began, "So are you guys familiar with the annulment process, by chance?"
* * *
The ceremony went off without much fuss, the proceedings being relatively stripped down in accordance with Jenny and Frederick’s more pragmatic sensibilities. The "I do's" were declared, the cake was cut, and eventually the festivities progressed to dancing, freeing the attendees to spread out less formally, leading Allan to work his way to the edge of the party, hoping to slink off without causing any grief to Jenny or their friends.
He had almost made it to the door when Jenny came trotting over, her dress heels making a conspicuous clopping sound as she went. “Going so soon?” she asked once she was close enough to not have to shout.
Allan turned halfway around, a bit too ashamed to meet her face on. “Uh, yeah. I think I better go.”
They stood there together, a pregnant pause enveloping them in awkward tension. “Okay,” she finally accepted, “but could you maybe stay for just a few more minutes? I really wanted to get a picture with my bros.”
Jenny had playfully allowed her voice to dip into a masculine register for ‘with my bros,’ forcing Allan to hold back a short burst of laughter. Turned around fully, meeting his old friend in the mascara-burdened eyes. “Alright; I can do that.”
She pulled him into an embrace before he had a chance to protest. “Thank you,” she whispered into the crook of his shoulder as she held their bodies together. After a long moment, Allan relaxed and committed to reciprocating the hug; shortly thereafter, the embrace ended. “And thank you for coming; I really appreciate it.”
“Wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” he replied with a confidence that would have surprised the man he had been of that morning, for now he knew he was truly glad to be there, with and for his friends.
Jenny smiled, then took him by the hand, leading the two of them back into the party in search of their friends and a photographer.