We celebrated their engagement that night; champagne and thirty dollar entrees, all paid for by Aiden. Christina took every opportunity to show off her ring – the waitress, the customers at nearby tables – they all shared in the joy that emanated from the newly promised couple. Their smiles were infectious, and Christina spared no time in planning the wedding. She sat across from me, animated as she gushed over the future.
“You’ll be my Maid of Honor, right?” The question is dropped in between talks of dress shopping and venue searching while I am mid drink. I inhale when I should swallow, and Christopher pats my back as I dissolve into a coughing fit.
“Me?” I croak finally.
“Of course, you’re my best friend.” Her answer is punctuated with laughter as if I should have known that.
I suppose I should have, she was still my best friend after all, but I had assumed that four years of distance would have dampered that bond. Three months is hardly enough time to repair the damage that I had inflicted, and Christina still hadn’t brought up the isolation I had imposed on us. Part of me still spent every day waiting for her to tell me how much she hated my guts, how much I had hurt her, how little she thought of me. But it never came.
“I would be honored.” I answer truthfully.
Christina squeals, clasping her flute of champagne and raising it in the air, “To us!”
We echo her toast, glasses clinking together at the same time my phone begins to buzz against the wooden table. Jay’s nickname flashes onto the screen, but I ignore it with one motion while finishing off my drink. It lights up a minute later: Mr. Impractical. I hit ignore again, but can’t help the unease that seeps its way into my bones. Jay never calls me.
“Who is it?”
I turn to face Christopher, smile still in place, “It’s just Jay,” My phone lights up a third time, “I’m not sure why he’s calling me.” I add.
“You still talk to him?” Christina asked surprise etched into her face.
I shake my head, “No, not really. We had drinks once.”
My answer did nothing to alleviate her worry, “Oh.”
I frowned, unsure if she’s upset that I hadn’t mentioned to her that I had run into my ex or if her concern stemmed from the fact that my ex was calling me while I happened to be dating her little brother.
“You should answer.” Christopher said. Even though he seemed unperturbed by the fact that Jay was blowing up my phone I found myself hesitating. I didn’t want to give Christopher a reason to doubt me – or Christina, for that matter – but would it look suspicious if I didn’t answer? Like I was hiding something?
“Okay, I’ll be right back, but I’m sure it’s nothing.” I pause, try to judge Topher’s expression. When he strikes up a conversation with Aiden – who was painfully out of place during this whole exchange – I scoot out of the booth, winding my way past tables until I find myself outside of the Italian restaurant.
The sun had begun to set. Strings of lights and a few lampposts illuminate Channelside. Most of the shops had already closed for the night and, besides the buzzing restaurant behind me, no one roamed the brick streets. I’m about to dial Jay’s number when ‘Mr. Impractical’ pops up onto the screen for the fourth time that night. This time I answer.
“Will, where are you? I’m outside your house and you’re not here.” The sentences are achieved in one breath, rushed and strung together.
A dozen questions run through my head but I land on, “Why are you outside my house?”
“Because I have to tell you something.”
“Ok….” I trail off, still quite confused at the urgency his voice contained, “Why don’t you just tell me now? I’m in the middle of something and -”
“No, you need to hear this in person. Just tell me where you are, I’ll pick you up -”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Jay, whatever you need to tell me, you can tell me now. Really, it won’t make a difference.”
There is silence on the line and then finally, “Will, it’s about your parents….”
I can’t think. My lungs seize. The world around me becomes a blur as it begins to spin; slow at first, then with dizzying speed. I can hear my name being called from a distance. I focus on it. It grounds me.
Soon my anxiety dissipates enough to allow me to mumble, “I’m at Channelside.”
“I’ll be right there.”