When the Date's Been Set
Ellen’s father, dressed in a traditional black single-breasted jacket and matching bow tie, took my hand in a firm, dry grasp; he was at the door greeting latecomers to the reception when I arrived.
“Michael. It is so good of you to come.”
I winced; something in the emphasis, the way he clasped my shoulder with his left hand and gently furrowed his brow made me realize:
Not that I hid my feelings well. A friend doesn’t suddenly drop everything and move across the country after receiving a wedding invitation.
We quickly moved on to small talk: the same conversation I would have throughout the night with strangers, new friends, and thin acquaintances.
“How’s California treating you?”
“It’s good, it’s nice.”
“How about the weather here, snow in March, can you believe it, bet you don’t miss—”
I’m nodding but I do miss it; the hard chunks of snow stained brown by exhaust, black ice underfoot, and wet sleet down my neck.
Ellen’s father was always nice to me, maybe he thought I would be the one walking his daughter down the aisle. But we were only friends, friends until the end.
The DJ was playing Justin Bieber when I got inside the hotel event room and I couldn’t imagine it was on Ellen’s approved list unless it was some sort of ironic addition. Not that she and I agreed on music, her listening to maudlin music by cute and often deceased singer songwriters and me into niche music often centered about Washington DC.
I caught sight of Ellen’s ivory train and strawberry blond hair among a throng of guests but I wasn’t ready to offer fake smiles and congratulations so headed for the bar instead. That’s where I ran into Rachel.
The Best Friend
The last time I saw Rachel she was sitting cross-legged on Ellen’s couch. The look she gave me when I arrived told me something was wrong. Ellen was sitting across from her hugging her knees.
The subsequent conversation, after Rachel had excused herself, was brief.
“I think we made a mistake.”
“Listen, nothing happened, we kissed in your car, it was nice.”
“It’s really not a good time for me, I’m still working through things with Rich, it’s probably best we—don’t see each other for a while.”
“Hey, just forget the kiss OK.”
I tried to place myself between her and the door as she moved to leave and she let me hold her for a moment but pulled away after I awkwardly tried to land a kiss. When Rachel returned a moment later she held me silently in a gaze that contained a mixture of disdain, anger, and pity. I left without saying another word.
More than anyone else in this room Rachel knew what I was feeling; the three of us were inseparable after Ellen and Rich broke up the last time. I think Rachel and I thought we were doing our friend a favor, keeping her entertained, taking her out to the shows of bands we had in common in order to take her mind off how terribly he had treated her.
At the bar Rachel and I shared a few strong drinks and fewer words, I don’t think she had anything else to say to me. We’d already fought when she’d finally reached me after the 2nd voicemail urging me to RSVP. She called me out and she was right in a lot of ways. Ellen deserved better.
The event room was swaying behind a thick gauzy curtain when Rachel excused herself. Ellen sat beside me, tapped me on the elbow, and locked her pale blue eyes warily with my own. She never wore makeup or put her hair up but, apart from that, I was surprised at the ways in which she’d changed in only a few months. She looked older and her features had softened.
“I know it will sound trite, but I’m really glad you came.”
I tried to slur out a demure protest but she stopped me.
“Don’t get me wrong, I was really—really—angry for a long time. You left when I needed you the most.”
My face flushed with anger, wasn’t she was the one who pushed me away?
“Why didn’t you answer my calls? I wanted to try and explain. After a while I just gave up.”
And all of a sudden I understood how 3 months could change her, why her face had become rounder, her eyes gentler, why the fabric of her dress tightened across her belly and hips. All of a sudden I understood how she could forgive me.