“Jack, you have to do this for me…” Jonah sat next to me asking.
“I don’t have to do anything,” I answer, not surprised that he asked me to the game tonight to spring this on me.
“I would do it for you, and you know that,” he tries to pull that card.
“That’s dirty, JJ. Probably anything else you would ever ask of me I would do, this though? I can’t do this JJ. I just can’t…” I trail off wondering if he knows what tomorrow is.
My heart constricts in my chest as the memories burst through the wall I can usually keep standing crumbles. A flash of our own wedding day blips across the screen that is my mind, her simple white dress, the wildflowers she held in her hand, it haunts me more than I’d like to admit.
“You will do this for me. I’m not asking, I’m telling you. You owe me, and I’m collecting,” he says, pulling me from my waking nightmares.
I can’t say no now. Not to that statement. Not after what I asked of him those years ago. I knew one day he’d request the debt be filled. I just never imagined it would be for this.
“Fine. As soon as my duties are fulfilled I’m out of there though…” I finally answer.
Watching him smiling like a fool, I know I should do this for him and as much as I don’t want to, I do want to be the best man. He’s been a brother to me for almost my whole life and what kind of person would I be if I denied him this one thing. A broken one…
“You have to do this for me JJ. I can’t do this. I can’t live like this. I can’t make her live like this,” I said.
“What are you asking here Jack?” he said, his face a crumpled mass of worry at my request.
“You know what I’m asking… and you know that I wouldn’t ask if there was any other way,” I nearly cried.
“She’ll never forgive me…” he said unable to look me in the eye.
“Luce will be better off all the way around JJ. She’s still young, to have to deal with this, her whole life is ahead of her. It may take her a long time but she will get through it,” I said as the tears began to fall.
I couldn’t imagine my world without her in it, but could I let her dreams, our dreams, go to waste, no. I loved her too damn much for that. I needed him to do this for me, I thought waiting for him to man up and be the friend I needed him to be.
“When?” he finally asked.
I glance over at JJ, and the happiness that is emanating from him assures me that I’ve made the right decision. He’s smiling from ear to ear and I can almost remember what that feels like but it’s been what seems like a lifetime ago.
I’ve come to the realization that I’m destined to be alone. Alone in all things, every aspect of what should have been an awesome life. As I lie here, it’s well past midnight, I’m reminded of what I threw away, what my decisions ultimately led to and it’s this. Reaching out in the middle of the night for her only to gather my wits and realize she’s gone. Been gone for years now, because I was too much of an ass to man up. I even tried to drag my best friend, my brother down with me. I roll over and I can’t help but think of the first time I saw her. She was sitting at a table with two other girls, complete opposites of each other. I caught her looking over at me, and I remember thinking how cute she was, pretending to look everywhere but at me. When they came over to say hello to JJ I immediately bypassed the opposites and made it a point to introduce myself to her. The blush that ultimately crept up and onto her face and the way she stood there with her mouth open a little didn’t surprise me, it sparked something in me though. Those days were so long ago, we were different people then, just kids. Our story was just beginning, who knew it would ever be such a short story. I sure didn’t.
I’ve learned over the past two years that asking how she’s doing is not on the approved list of topics. Today though, waking up, it’s all I can think about. I want to know that she is okay, that she is happy. It would have been seven years for us today, seven married years anyways, we had been together for three years before we got married. Ten years of my life have revolved around her, even the ones we haven’t been together. Despite my best efforts to move on, the few dates I’ve had, no one compares to her. I would take one of our worst days over one without her, I just can’t let her know that.
I look for the incessant ringing, wondering who would be calling me this early on a saturday. Finally my hand connects with the phone, and I squint to make out the screen without my glasses.
“It’s early,” I spit out, my voice gruff.
“It is ten in the morning Jack,” the sweet voice on the other end of the line states.
“Lacey, why are you calling me?” I ask, rubbing the sleep from my eyes simultaneously.
“Where are you supposed to be at eleven?” she asks irritation evident now.
“Shit. I’ll be there. I can make it,” I try to assure her, realizing that I have exactly fifty nine minutes to make it to the tuxedo shop for my first fitting.
“Yes, I know you can, because I’ve got JJ waiting for you outside. You’ve got thirty minutes till he leaves, get moving,” she scolds in a way that reminds me so much of her sister my insides twist.
I rush to meet the deadline she’s set for me, and have thirty seconds to spare as I’m closing in on his truck.
“Really? Thirty seconds?” he asks as I climb in.
“Gotta do what you gotta do man…” I say with a shrug.
“I can’t believe you almost forgot this,” he says.
“I just didn’t sleep well,” I say honestly, wondering if he’s going to start mothering me.
“Oh, yeah…I didn’t realize when I made the appointment. Sorry,” he says shifting uncomfortably in his seat.
“Convenient,” I snort under my breath.
“What was that?” he asks.
“Nothing,” I say, not really meaning to be an ass but it happens sometimes.
The rest of our ride to the shop is quiet, he knows what today is, I can tell by the way he’s avoiding looking at me. I’m not surprised that Lacey is standing in the doorway waiting on us, the other three groomsmen sprawled out along the couch to her left.
“‘Bout time…” she says, all business.
When JJ leans in to kiss her I hear him whisper something and then hear her say “Oh” and I know she figures it out because her bossy tone never appears in my direction again. Billy, Ed and Matthew are all waiting for me to finish up so that Lacey can see us all decked out before she commits to these specific suits. She’s going for a mix between summer wedding and 1950’s garb, to be honest it isn’t half bad when I finally manage to get a glimpse of myself. A light brown linen pant, with white shirts, rolled up to the elbow, brown suspenders and a newsboy hat and I’m feeling like the pictures of my grandpa and not in a bad way. She gives a little laugh when I come out, JJ following behind me, and then promptly proceeds to line us up. Her eyes travel up and down each one of us as she takes it all in before she snaps a picture of us. Finally she approves and three different stylists appear to go over the final measurements with each of us, of course I go last with JJ. The stylist pauses before approaching me, not unusual, but never unnoticed.
“I don’t think you really need to adjust Jack’s at all Beth. He looks perfect, don’t you think?” Lacey says, noticing the same thing I did.
“Are you sure? The pants aren’t too long?” she says nervously, looking from Lacey to me.
“Whatever Lacey thinks Beth, it’s her day,” I say purposely flashing her my thousand watt fake smile.
She nods and turns to leave us, even her ears are red as she vanishes behind the door. Lacey comes up behind me and puts her hand on my shoulder, “Thank you.”
“No worries, kiddo,” I say, hoping she doesn’t pick up on the terror in my voice at what lies ahead.
“I really mean it Jack, thank you. It means more to us than you know,” she says giving my shoulder a squeeze.
An image of a fifteen year old Lacey dances across my mind at her continued touch, the long white skirt of her dress trailing behind as I spin her around in my memory before I move away to break the hold she has on my shoulder. I head back to the dressing room without a word, glancing up just in time to catch the worried look on her face before I disappear. It kills me to see that look, the way she scrunches up her nose and the corners of her mouth turn down, just like her older sisters and it guts me. I’m a glutton for punishment I smirk, changing back into my regular clothes. You’d think after two years of shared custody of my best friend and his fiance I’d be used to this but that’s not the case. It has just gotten harder as time has passed.
“These actually look pretty cool, what do you think?” JJ asks, bursting through the door.
“She did good man, at least we won’t be stuffed in suits and cumberbunds and vests…” I say with sigh.
“It could be way worse,” he agrees.
“You want to catch the game later?” I ask as we emerge with armfuls of wedding attire.
“Uh, I… we kind of have plans tonight,” he says and I immediately know that she is part of those plans by the way he hesitates.
“Next weekend maybe?” I shrug.
When he drops me off I head straight into the garage. The dirtbike I’ve been rebuilding is almost finished. I’ve spent most of my free time rebuilding it from scraps I either traded or scrounged for online and to see it nearly complete is exciting. Two hours in and I’ve had all I can take of the cold floor. I decide to call it quits for the day and head inside to find my phone still on my bed where I must have left it in my rush this morning. Not surprising that there are no messages or alerts I pull it from the charger. I’m used to living this solitary life for the most part but it doesn’t mean I like it. Settling in I find “Die Hard” on one of the channels and let myself get distracted by it. What a life, I think.
“Jack, you have to do this for me…” Jonah sat next to me asking.