Why does the night before of important or special things always have to feel like forever? It gives you too much extra time to think and to doubt myself. I fall into that strange phenomenon where I have so much I should be doing I’m overwhelmed into feeling as if I have nothing better to do than slouch around thinking. And thinking gets me nowhere. Sometimes it just makes me anxious or impatient for dawn to come, but sometimes it makes me regret things. Wonder if I’m on the right path. I mean, everyone doubts themselves from time to time, and that’s okay – it’s forgivable. But I wouldn’t say it’s so forgivable when it’s the night before your wedding.
I tell myself it’s just natural pre-wedding apprehensiveness, yet I can’t deny the fact I intentionally gave myself no time to think since I began planning the proposal. Years ago. Time to think scares me. It tells me things I don’t even want to admit about myself. Opens up doors I refuse to even face. I deliberately avoided time to think so I had no time to doubt myself or regret before the marriage is sealed. Maybe with the prospect of divorce my only way out I’d succumb to life as a dutiful husband. A dutiful husband who loves his wife. It has to be the right decision. It’s destiny, it’s what every good man does.
Thinking about that terrifies me. So, I’ve tried not to think. I just look straight forwards and get on with it.
Tonight, that failed. I fell into the worst possible time to begin to think: the night before something big. I have sat here for hours, my thoughts slugging about in a tired loop, and yet I could swear it’s been days. I feel like my wedding should be over. Maybe I missed it. I kind of hope I missed it. But of course, it’s only time playing its devilish tricks on me.
The sudden opening of the door and loud, urgent, fuming footsteps snaps my loop and I’m stumbling to stand up in surprise. A man stands far away from me blocking the door but I feel like his eyes are pressed right up against mine, glaring back into my retina. Him. I’m breathing successfully yet I don’t think any oxygen is reaching my head.
“You didn’t tell me you were getting married.”
I wince at the intensity in his voice, and how it’s deepened. Not much, not a shocking amount, no, but enough to scare me. Scare me that we’ve grown up.
“Long time no see!” I attempt, rubbing the back of my neck awkwardly. “Haven’t – haven’t spoken in a while, hey?”
“And who’s fault is that, Theodore?”
Bile rises in my throat. “I – don’t know… what you’re talking about.”
“You can’t pretend like nothing happened.” He walks slowly closer, still eyeing me as if paranoid I’d retreat into a little hole like a mouse. He’s blocking the door; I have no escape. “Not any longer, at least. It’s been – what? – five years! Five years, Theodore, and I’m sick of waiting for you to come to your senses.”
“You used to call me Theo,” I squeak.
“And you used to look at me when I speak!” My eyes snap automatically back to his eyes, a piercing dark brown. His nose is soft and slightly upturned, cheeks slightly rouged. Neat dark coils fall over his forehead. He looks the same, but so utterly different. I don’t reply. My silence is enough to admit he’s right. I see his fists clench in my peripheral and his voice shakes with rage as he continues, “I wonder why that’s any different now. Oh! I don’t know. You ghosted me! Is that not enough reason to go back to awkward formalities?”
He’s still at least a meter away, but it’s like his breath is hot down my neck. I dare breach the question: “Why do you come now, then?”
There’s a pause. “I didn’t know you were having a wedding.”
Hand returns to my neck. “I… yeah. I, erm, fell in – I wanted to–”
“I know why people have weddings.” He sighs, exasperated, and then continues more gently, “Look me in the eyes, Theodore. Tell me my name. Do you even know my name any more?”
“Of course, I do! I don’t have amnesia!” I pause. He just watches me. “Julian. It’s Julian.”
There’s no acknowledgement or hesitation, just a cold look and: “You need to call off this wedding.”
“No, I – what? No! I can’t!”
“Theodore, I’m not a fool,” he growls impatiently. “You’re not really in love with her.”
I look at him. Something flows between us. I once would’ve called it understanding, but we’re basically strangers now. I don’t understand him. I don’t even understand myself.
“Say it, then. Say you love her, if that’s the truth.”
“I also can’t,” I mumble. The urge to look away is painful, it goes against every instinct to hold his unwavering glower. “You’re never gonna let this go, are you? Something just went off with us. I didn’t mean to ghost you, but this isn’t the time to come back hoping we’ll be friends again.”
“Stop acting like nothing happened!”
“Okay. Okay, fine! We kissed. Once. You know that. Just one night, maybe, just maybe a little more than friendship came between us. So what? Pretty much every teenager makes a mistake and kisses someone at some point and regrets it. They just move on.”
Hurt flashes in Julian’s eyes and instead they’re the ones to flicker away. “You don’t regret it,” he spits, “and you certainly haven’t moved on.”
Guilt clouds my vision as he turns and marches from the room. I don’t call after him. I don’t even intend to speak to him again. What happened between us happened long ago. Right now, I need to focus on what’s happening right now, and that’s the night before my wedding.
All thinking goes to slaughter. I still have so much I should be doing, but I’m still overwhelmed. My body submits to sleep and my mind is grateful to dance away to wonderland for a few hours.
There’s this funny sensation that occurs to me while waiting for my bride to walk down the aisle that I wonder if it’s normal. Most videos you see paint the time with nervous tics, an excited smile. Maybe a little weeping for effect when the bride and her father appear. I’ve always imagined that the feeling is something like apprehensiveness drowned out by the sort of excitement that makes you shiver. I never thought the excitement would be replaced with remorse.
When she appears, I should see Marilyn as a vision in white; my heart sent from above, an angel in disguise, my gorgeous, gorgeous lover. Instead, I just see a woman I know quite well. In a luxurious dress. Not to say she’s not beautiful, but I don’t see her the way I think I should. I think my eyes should be glued to her. I should be crying. Instead, my eyes find interest in the room.
It’s an idealistic, classic wedding in a church. A spotless white carpet flecked with gold embroidery is flat along the aisle. I can count roughly six rows of pews, all a neutral beige arranged with alternating cream and silver cushions. Too many people to count fill them; there is not even a single seat spare. My family are gathered in the front left – my sister and her fiancé, my mom, my step-dad, my two uncles and two aunts, my cousins and their partners. Even my grandparents are here. Marilyn’s family are on the other side but I don’t know them well enough to identify. I only know her of dad because I had to ask for his blessing. Despite hardly knowing me, he beams with affection and pride when I accidently catch his eye. It’s all strange. It all feels wrong.
Friends fill the rest of the seats.
I don’t spot Julian. I don’t know why I looked for him. He’s not a friend and I didn’t invite him so he couldn’t be here. He probably heard about the wedding through a friend of a friend, or something hazy, nonetheless wouldn’t dare come along for the real thing uninvited.
When Marilyn reaches me, I can see deep love and care shimmering on the surface of her eyes. I force a warm smile and take her hands.
Everything blurs into one guilty mess as the vicar reads his speech. I’m shaking – I hope it looks like from excitement. I try to tell myself how much I love Marilyn. All the reasons I’m bursting for her to be my wife. All the reasons I ever dated her in the first place.
To be a good son. To marry young, provide grandchildren with a beautiful, classy lady. Not because I really wanted it for myself. Not because I love her.
I can’t help my thoughts. I hate them. They always come back to–
The silence is loud enough to free me from my thoughts. I follow everyone’s eyeline to him, a sharp figure at the opposite end of the aisle. He’s focused on me, but he’s not glaring today.
It was just one night. Every teenager makes and mistake and kisses someone and regrets it.
Julian was not my mistake. And I was wrong. A lot more than friendship came between us.
And yes, of course he was right. I hadn’t moved on; I didn’t regret it, I regretted this. My foolishness to think forcing myself upon a woman would ever cure what I thought was some sort of disease. Something I was ashamed about. I was so, so ashamed over one kiss. One kiss that still meant the world to me, even if this world is corrupted and falling apart.
How could I ever believe Marilyn and I was destiny? I could’ve never been happy.
I forget Marilyn. I forget everyone in this room, all the perfectly ideal and obedient couples. I think of him and my legs take me there. Before I even have a chance to talk and to explain myself, he pulls me in and kisses me.
This is what love should feel like. There’s a nervousness, sure, but I feel electrified with life that pulls my spine straight and makes me want it forever. It makes me giddy like a child before Christmas. I push away all the shame that built up the last time. Love should be for myself, not for everyone else. That rule is no different if love is for two of the same sex. It’s still love.
How did Julian know all along, five years later, when I didn’t even know myself? Maybe I was just really obvious, or maybe he just knows me better than I know myself.
It feels like I’ve just broken from deep underwater when I surface from the kiss. A few of my family are shouting however I can’t make out which ones because my ears are blocked with water. I can see Marilyn. She looks just like I made myself. Crushed. She’s heartbroken, of course she is. Her very near husband just left her. Behind her sorrowful expression I notice a flicker of understanding. Perhaps it’s just me, but maybe that ghost of a smile, no matter how weak, was for Julian and I. Us.
Us feels pretty good to finally say.
Because this – this – is the right path.