I shook my head in disbelief. No one could be more surprised at the fact that I showed up than me. All I have to do is open the door. One hour. That’s all the time I'll be here. There was once a moment that I would be nothing except elated to be walking into this building, with those people. The memories we’ve made together are in the past, however. What’s done is done. If I’m being honest with myself, there’s only one reason that I’ve come. I’m fully aware that the invitation I received was out of pity. I should have shaken it off, moved on with my life. Instead, I find myself here. Trying to gather up enough courage to take the next step forward, to open the damn door. I’ve never been more thankful to my predilection that so many have hated before; showing up late. There’s no one to witness my waffling, my shaking hands. Miniscule details such as the slight tremble of my lip, the single bead of sweat dripping down my forehead are easily overlooked. Weaknesses these people would have once happily pinpointed. Which if they saw now, would make it even easier to recognize my place with them no longer exists. There is, however, a sense of tranquility at the realization that I no longer have a spot at their table. That there is no longer any reason to be anything other than the person I’ve become on my own two feet without them. Moreso, because of them. Hence why I’ve taken it upon myself to actually show up.
An impatient ahem sounds off behind me. Slowly, with or without my conscious awareness I’m unsure, I turn towards the very familiar sound of Nathan. Well, you know what they say; once an impatient ass, always an impatient ass. Coming face to face, neck to neck with the man I used to trip over myself in hopes of making him fall the way I did makes those pesky butterflies start to swarm in my lower stomach. If I stupidly decide to open my mouth, one will surely take the opportunity to join the free world. Staring into those brown eyes is something I desperately tried to prepare myself for. Something that feels like the millionth time doing, while somehow simultaneously, feels like the first. However, it’s as if my body is rebelling against me in every way at this moment. I can hardly feel the fake smile that sits upon my face for the man that made me lose it all those years ago. “Hey Savannah. Long time,” Nathan says, hands deep in his pockets.
“That it has been…” my voice trails off awkwardly, hoping that any moment now I’ll gather the strength I need to rip myself away from this horrific encounter.
“Shall we go inside?” He asks, putting on his own uncomfortable smile.
It looks like we’re both going to pretend this whole interaction is a completely normal one between old friends. He opens the door I’ve been camping out in front of, the first gentlemanly thing he’s done in regards to me in all the time we’ve known each other. Luckily for me, he doesn’t regard the instinctual flinch that happens whenever he raises his hand in my direction. My goal is to not let any of them see how much they affect me. Together, we enter the stuffy venue. It’s opulent and expensive looking. Makes sense, as the groom is always the first person in the room to make his personal wealth known. How many conversations require the little slip of his college alma mater? If we’re being frank with ourselves, only one. Which would be, hey Chad, where did you go to college? He, however, feels it’s a great addition to any and all conversations. As soon as we enter, I hear them. Always the loudest group in whatever space they take up. The seven wonders of my teenage world all in one room. With Nathan in front of me, they don’t take an immediate notice of my presence. As he’s saying his hello’s, Luke catches sight of me; his eyes widen slightly, as if he really didn’t expect me to show. By the hush that falls over the group, it looks like he wasn’t the only one surprised by my audacity. If I had been smart, I’d have shown up for the ceremony and left quickly after.
“Oh my god Savannah! You actually showed up!” Jennifer laughs in what could be mistaken for excitement. I, however, know better than that. “I’m so happy you’re here. We weren’t expecting you!”
As if I didn’t RSVP my confirmation months ago. I watch as she gestures for the nearest waiter to request an extra seat be provided for me at the bridal party’s table. It’s at that moment, I regret showing my face at all. I have seven pairs of eyes on me in varying stages of disbelief. The air of wariness made the room all that much more stuffy. It takes some real personal strength to keep myself from physically rolling my eyes at the ostentatious choice of venue. If there was one thing I remembered about Jennifer was her need to be the best. Have the best hair. The best clothes. She should have focused on having the best attitude, however the population of our very small high school weren’t so lucky. Only I would be dumb enough to befriend my high school bully. The fact that I was surprised when our relationship blew up in my face is sadder than anything. Fool me once…am I right? I have to wonder if they see the mischief in my eyes the way I see the apprehension in theirs.
“It’s so nice to see all of you!” I say brightly.
Jennifer has this energy about her. As if she thinks I’ve truly come crawling back to beg for their forgiveness. I shoot her a wink, smile in thanks at the waiter for my seat; the power of my place at the head of the table is not lost on me. Today, for the first time in six years, the only person in the group with the Jenniferlity to wield the power to sway me is myself. As an outsider, I’m not privy to the inner workings of their minds anymore. It makes me more uncomfortable than I thought it would. In a way, I miss these people more than I’d care to admit. My time with them was the last time I was close to so many people. “What a beautiful reception! I love,” I trail off, taking a moment to really observe my surroundings, “how sparkly it all is.”
It truly looks like the Swarovski swan threw up all over the large room. “Thank you! It is marvelous isn’t it? Our wedding planner is one of the best,” she smirks.
“Yeah, she was a friend from Harvard,” Chad cut in. “Only the best for us.”
A cough disguises my chuckle. Man just can’t help himself. “How have you been?” Robert, sitting on my left, asks me.
“Yeah, I’d love to catch up. First, I need a drink though. I’ll be right back,” I respond brightly, with a big smile on my face.
As I get up to make my way over to the bar, that smile quickly falls. Before I’m out of earshot I hear one of them say, “She needs a drink first? Must be worse than we thought.”
The sniggers following only fuel my fire. Reaching the bar, I snort at the realization that it’s a cash bar. Of course it is. I order a strong gin and tonic. As there’s no way I’ll make it through the evening without some liquid courage. With a drink in my hand, the silky feel of my gown swishing around my legs, I make my way back to my old friends. I take only a small moment to reign in my anger. As bad as we left things off, they were still the most important people to me during my most formative years. Maybe, they’ve changed. Hell, I know I have. I should give them the benefit of the doubt. I bring my bright smile back to take my seat. “So, tell me what you’ve all been up to! I’m dying to hear how life has been treating all of you,” I start, looking to my left at Robert. Last I spoke to him, he dreamt of becoming an aspiring actor. “How’s acting been treating you?”
I sense the awkwardness quickly. “Oh, um, acting didn’t quite work out. I actually work in the restaurant industry now,” he responds.
“Oh okay. Doing what?”
“My job is mainly to keep the restaurant in tip top shape during service. Just, you know, behind the scenes stuff,” he clarifies.
“Oh, so you’re a busboy?” I ask. The question is an innocent one, however I can’t deny myself the cruel act of needing the clarification.
“The term these days is actually busser. But, yeah that’s basically it,” Robert says.
He gets a bit quieter, focusing more on his drink than on me. I would feel bad if I didn’t spend all of my teenage years feeling not good enough around him. Growing up poor didn’t give me as many opportunities the way he had. Which shouldn’t have been a big deal if he hadn’t made the conscientious effort to remind me whenever he got the chance. God forbid he covered for me for literally anything. If he paid $20.46 and I gave him a twenty dollar bill, he made sure I knew I had been short the less than fifty cents. It was honestly embarrassing, especially with how loud he’d be when he’d make that little tidbit known. I look to his left, at Luke. The one friend who I thought would have stuck by my side. He’d grown up very similarly to me. We had always gone to each other to vent about the struggles we’d faced. For a long time, I’d been his only confidant. His exit from my life was truthfully one of the most painful. As I’m still unsure as to why he just dropped me one day. “So, Luke, what's your life looking like these days?”
“Savannah, we haven’t heard anything about you,” Abi looks at me with that familiar look in her eye. The one that says I’m about to break you. Well, not today. Just you wait. “I’m sure we’d all love to hear how your life is going. You’re the only person at this table we don’t know anything about. You know, since you ditched all of us, which thank god because you really were dragging us all down. I can’t imagine too much has changed.”
“Actually, yeah, I’d love to share,” I say, that mischievous glint in my eye returning. “Since I left all of you in the dust, my life has done nothing but get better. Turns out, the weight of all your opinions were actually dragging me down. Leaving you all behind was the best decision I ever made. I suppose I should say thank you.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I see my personal entourage making their way over to me. Kate, my best friend and newly appointed sister-in-law, sporting a champagne bottle that’s clearly been swiped if the disgruntled server behind her is any clue. What people may not realize is that this is the rescue team. Right on time, if I don’t say so myself. Chad’s eyes light up and he makes his way over, completely ignoring his new wife as usual, as I knew he would. “If you really want to know, I’m a successful author. Which gives me all the free time I need to travel the world with my amazing, kind, respectful husband. Something I’m absolutely sure you will never experience Jennifer.”
I watch in glee as Chad’s excited ass kissing of my husband’s presence is disregarded entirely. I can hear his incessant attempts at trying to get my husband’s attention, but the man is only focused on getting to me. Bringing my full attention to these people I used to care about so much, recognizing the difference between the way I felt with them and the way I feel with the people in my life now. There’s a disparaging gap between the two. The sneer on Jennifer’s face is familiar. “Oh please, the only weight dragging you down,” she looks me up and down, “would be your own. Never lost that freshman fifteen? Or was it a freshman forty for you?”
Much to everyone’s surprise but my own, a strong hand wraps around from behind me bringing me close to a very familiar chest. “And looking absolutely delicious for it,” the rumbling timber of my husband’s voice can be felt in my back, “are you ready gorgeous? We take off in an hour.”
I turn in my husband’s arms with a kiss hello. “More ready than ever,” I smile at him sweetly, “just have one more thing to say.”
He nods, giving me all the space I need. I knew if I needed more time, he’d be more than willing to stall the jet. My tech mogul husband could move mountains and has been keen to show me on numerous occasions. He wanted me to have this night to get the closure I needed from all the people that turned me into the shell of a person he’d stumbled upon all those years ago. My brother-in-law brings me in for a tight hug, ruffling my hair like the obnoxious little shit he is. Him marrying my best friend was the best thing to ever happen to me. I look into the eyes of my high school friends, turned family, lovers, enemies. “I came here to see if I had been wrong in leaving the way I did. But, I’m glad I did. While you may have had a hand in some of the worst moments of my life, you were all a part of the reason I became the person I am today. So thank you, all of you, truly. I hope you get the chance to be as happy as I get to be everyday.”
I smile at my real family, turning to leave. Chad is quick to scold Jennifer for embarrassing him in front of my husband. I honestly feel bad for the woman. The responsibility of her emotions, however, is no longer my problem. It feels so good to turn around and not look back. The same way I did all those years ago, blinded by the pain of their actions. Today, I can truly leave them all in the past the way I should have the first time. I shake off any residual emotions. I’m going to freaking Italy baby. With a bright smile on my face, I walk out of the venue with my hand intertwined with my husband’s. My giggling best friend whooping behind me, her husband egging her on; we ride into the metaphorical sunset.