[by J.M. Young]
How did I get here?
We had made the choice that ending our engagement like mature adults was the best course for the both of us. We weren’t good for one another, in that way. Ethan took a job as a professor in Boston. I refused to leave my photography business in Tennessee. Long distance was torturous. He has a daughter ten years my junior who hated my guts. He made me cry almost every time we were together. The list goes on.
But we were good in the sack. So we christened our breakup with a weekend stay at a bed and breakfast in my hometown. He ran his fingers down my ribcage and we didn’t discuss that it would be the last time. And it was hotter than ever. I bid a fond farewell to my engagement ring, pulled up the handle of my suitcase, and thrust out my hand. “All the best.”
He grabbed my hand. “Let’s remain friends?”
We stayed frozen in the handshake as I considered his question. I was grown up enough to handle that. I most certainly was not going to get in my car, turn on our song at the highest decibel my speakers could handle without blowing out, and cry while recklessly driving home. I wouldn’t sit at home in my bathrobe with lighted candles and pretend I was one of those B-rated actresses in the rom-coms that play at Christmastime who go into hysterics before getting a makeover and emerging like Elle Woods with a bedazzled briefcase. I could be friends with Ethan. It was the responsible thing to do. My girlfriends would applaud me on this final graduation into adulthood. I was not only surviving losing my fiancé, we were thriving together.
“Friends? As in we will occasionally like each other’s statuses on social media or friends as in we will actually want to talk to one another and spend time together?”
“Friends. As in when I see you on the street, I won’t awkwardly look away. I’ll hug you.”
The way he repeated my cadence always made me think we were on the same wavelength. How did we get here?
“Friends.” I pumped his hand vigorously and set off on my own to drink my rosé while contemplating my singlehood.
To his credit, we did remain friends in the strangest way possible. We sent each other text messages with funny pictures, let each other know when our favorite bands were in town, and we hung out together (always in the company of mutual friends). I went on a mission trip to Guatemala. His daughter, Kelsey, stopped hating my guts. Life was good.
Returning from Guatemala, I felt like I had conquered my breakup like a champ. I changed the world for three months. I was tan. I had purged social media for three months and succeeded! I was going to start a juice cleanse.
I sliced a large red apple with my right hand and fed the pieces into the juicer, while my left hand rummaged through the pile of unread snail mail. A heavier cream envelope stood out and I tore it open with my teeth.
You are cordially invited to the marriage ceremony of
Laura Ginny Freeman
Ethan Theodore Banks.
‘How lovely.’ I thought. ‘How good for my friend. Perhaps I’ll wear pink.’ I fed another apple slice into the juicer and my fingers got too close to the whirring blades. The tops of the pads were swiftly nicked and the blood mixed with the juice.
The wedding itself took place outside/inside at an old-fashioned home that specifically functioned as a one-stop for all buy. Having the event there meant that the caterers were included, the florist came with, and the day of coordinator was complimentary. Mercifully, it was not one of the locations we had looked at together.
Ethan was married under a trellis with a red brick wall as the background. There were lights strung in the trees and around the gazebo where the band played. They had opted to write their own vows and Laura’s were corny and contrite.
“I am the luckiest woman in the world. I do not deserve your love…”
The cliché lines went on and on. Ethan smiled in what I could only assume was pain at his fiancé’s uninspired speech. He cleared his throat and began to speak.
“I am the luckiest man in the world. I do not deserve your love.”
His words were an exact copy of hers, a perfect mirror and word for word reflection of her promises to him. His repetition breathed life and love into her tired phrases, exhuming them into sonnets. He was the completion to her musical stanza, as satisfying as “Shave and a haircut…two bits!” The in-unison cadence swam dizzyingly fast about my head.
After the kiss, the couple lingered to take pictures with the family. The rest of the guests surged inside to partake of the buffet as the ceremony bled into the reception. I ran inside with the stream, trying to push past the famished bridesmaids as I searched for a restroom. I decided to try my luck up the wooden staircase. Rounding the corner, I found two stalls excessively close together with toilets very near to the floor. There was a bathtub off to the right and it struck me again that this was once an actual house and not an exclusive wedding destination. I wondered who the original owners were. How did they get here?
Curiosity overtook me and I lingered upstairs a bit, searching for clues of the past. Across the hall was clearly the bridal suite. I felt like a peeping Tom as I hurriedly snuck over. The room was spacious with lavender walls, a day bed, and a center chandelier. A small table was set near the slightly opened window which allowed a breeze to ruffle the white curtains and flicker the tea candles. ‘So they opted to have their first meal as a married couple secluded.’ I thought. I wasn’t a fan of the premise when it was explained to me on many of my tours. There were ladybugs crawling on the ceiling.
“I love you. I love you. I love you.”
Ethan. Ethan leading his bride to the bridal suite. Ethan.
I stopped breathing and all rational thought scurried like bugs when their rock home is lifted and they are subjected to the light. I didn’t have time to think. I opened the window, got out on the ledge, and half closed the window again. I scrunched myself into a ball and hoped the darkness would hide me.
Ethan held Laura’s hand and led her to the small table. A pane of glass and a gossamer curtain were all that separated me from Laura. If Ethan so much as removed his eyes from his wife’s face, he would see me. But, he didn’t.
Hanging out on window ledges wasn’t all that new to me. They had been my place of escape in my childhood home. I would crawl out to sit in the unrelenting sun with a good book and a pair of sunglasses. Ethan had brought me a smoothie, then left me to my reading and oh God how I loved him!
“Would you shut the window? Insects are getting in.”
“Of course.” Ethan stood up and I froze in horror. But he never took his eyes off his wife’s smile.
That adoration! That commitment! But how? Not a year ago he professed that commitment for me! Or did the person not matter? Was it just the action of commitment? He was ready for it, for all of it. The window clicked when he shut it and I realized I was locked outside on the roof.
Surely there was another window open somewhere. I would rather break both of my legs in the fall than ask for their help. I was wearing flats under my maxi dress. The roof wasn’t that steep. I could do this. I climbed up and over to the other side of the house.
So, here I am, looking through the skylight as the chef brings the dishes up the stairs for my ex-fiancé’s first meal as man and wife. How did I get here?
I remember Guatemala. I had threaded together a bracelet with beads for a little boy named Yanna. I wanted it to remind him of me, of our time together, and that there was someone out there who cared about him. I tied it around his small wrist, hoisted my backpack on one shoulder, and prepared to leave the shed I had spent three months building. At the last second, I smiled over my shoulder at Yanna. He had torn off the bracelet and thrown it in the dirt, no doubt waiting for the next herd of volunteers. How long would they stay? What promises would they make?
I bang my fists on the glass, startling the chef who is carrying up a bottle of champagne. It rolls down the stairs, spurting liquid, until it cracks on the floor.
“I made a mistake.” I mouth on all fours, my breath fogging the glass.
*Author’s Note: This piece was written in response to a prompt from the book 642 THINGS TO WRITE ABOUT by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, published by Chronicle Books. The prompt was “You are looking down through the skylight as chefs prepare dinner for your ex-fiancé’s wedding”.
J. M. Young is a graduate of the Florida State University with Creative Writing and Theatre degrees. At Orlando Repertory Theatre, she gained experience as a co-playwright for “Writes of Spring” (an annual creative writing program for students K-12), and as a writer of original shorts for the Rockin’ REP REC Fest. She is currently working on a novel set to debut in early 2018.