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The Best Man
I stare at the groom and hope it doesn’t show—the love I feel for him, the love I’ve always felt. I’m praying I can keep the ardor off my face, even though I know I’ve failed miserably to keep it out of my heart.
The best man obviously lusting for the groom would be, well, just wrong. Especially not when the groom has eyes only for his gorgeous bride, the blond and lovely Alana, in her Vera Wang wedding dress. Now, their eyes are locked on one another and I feel the old paradox I experience every time I look at them—a curious brew of jealousy and happiness at their having found the other.
Love is a rare thing in this world.
Yeah, you heard me right—I’m the best man. That groom up there at the altar? The gorgeous guy in the tux with the close-trimmed red beard, the green eyes, and the linebacker shoulders? That’s my best friend, Kevin. We’ve been together since we were in second grade. I’d lay down my life for the guy. And the sad truth is, I’d lay down for the guy. Period. With my legs thrown in the air. He knows this, yet he continues to call me his best friend, except he says, ‘best bud.’ He even proclaims he couldn’t live without me.
But shame on me for having such thoughts on Kevin’s wedding day! If the poor guy knew the wicked, lustful thoughts coursing through my brain as I stand here, smiling, but jealous as hell, with the other groomsmen, Kevin would be blushing as crimson as the rose in his lapel.
But God, he does look gorgeous! Edible. And I can’t help but think—unkindly, I know; inappropriately, I know—the thought gay guys have had about buff and beautiful straight men for millennia—what a waste!
I’m sure his bride, Alana, would beg to differ.
The music, Pachelbel’s Canon, has just ended and the crowd at St. Aloysius Catholic Church has grown quiet. There are only a couple of coughs here, a whisper there.
We’re ready to begin. Kevin turns to Alana. I can see he’s trembling and my heart gives a little lurch. A lump forms in my throat.
Alana beams beneath her lace veil, all smiles. I try not to think unkind thoughts about her. Jealousy is such an ugly emotion. And so is Alana, in anything backless. Stop it!
I let my mind drift back to a few months ago. A winter’s night when Kevin and I had traveled up from Seattle to the San Juan Islands. We had taken the ferry over on Friday afternoon to Orcas Island where we rented a small cabin at Doe Bay resort. The cabin was no frills and cold. It had rained all weekend. Even our trip to Mt. Constitution was doomed—the stunning vistas from its top blocked out by drizzling banks of low-hanging clouds.
So we had little to do but hang out in the cabin. There was no TV or Wi-Fi, so cards or reading were pretty much the order of the day.
A lot of drinking. See, Kevin had asked me to come away with him that weekend because he had acquired a severe case of cold feet regarding his wedding to Alana that summer. “She’s great,” he’d told me. “But suddenly I’m just not sure I’m ready. Maybe it’s like they say, you know?”
“No. I don’t know.” An evil little part of me just wanted Miss Alana to go away so I could have my Kevin back. I’d missed things like our early morning runs together on the Burke-Gilman trail, with the sun coming up and the world seeming to contain only the two of us. I missed Friday nights with Kevin at his condo in Wallingford, ordering in a meat-lover’s pizza from Pagliacci to go with a nice IPA I’d bought on my way over to his place, streaming old horror movies on his big-screen. We both loved Carnival of Souls.
“Like, maybe I love Alana, but I’m not in love with her. You know what I mean?”
I’d wanted to say that I knew exactly what he meant. For example, I loved Kevin and to my heart’s great regret, I was also in love with him. So yeah, I got the distinction.
I thought our weekend together, somehow, might change things between us. Magically. Maybe it was because I was reading a lot of books lately that featured some butch “straight” protagonist falling suddenly for his buddy and realizing that, while maybe he wasn’t strictly gay, he could be gay for this man he’d fallen for. Like that ever happens…
And yet…those stories always had a happy ending. Why couldn’t ours?
Hey, if I read it in a book, it must be possible, right?
And I thought, on our Saturday night here on Orcas, drunk on beer and a good single-malt Scotch, that maybe, just maybe, the same could happen for Kevin and me. Magically. I mean, we’d been practically inseparable since we were kids. We’d played softball together, spent countless nights together, went through the trials and tribulations of high school as one, cheered each other on at our respective events at track meets and cried on one another’s shoulders as we each met yet another disappointment in love. As we grew, we grew closer.
And then Alana came along.
And spoiled everything.
Oh, Alana’s a wonderful woman—kind, sweet, funny. She can curse like a sailor, drink a man under the table, and arrange a bouquet of spring wildflowers like Martha Stewart. And, if you’re straight, she’s a knockout. Hell, if you’re gay, she’s a knockout. She’s the kind of woman who turns both straight and gay men’s heads when she walks down the street, although the latter, I cheekily admit, might only be wondering if her bag is Prada or Ferragamo.
But that night, as the rain drummed down on the roof of our little cabin, it felt like Kevin and I were the only two people in the world. I remember how, after we finished with the cards, and me beating his ass three straight times at canasta, we relaxed together on the bed in Kevin’s room.
Now, don’t go thinking this was odd. As I said, Kevin and I had had countless sleepovers, starting at the age of seven. Although we didn’t often share a bed, we had fallen asleep next to one another on the couches at one of our houses. I never told Kevin how sometimes, during those nights, I would snuggle close and then, if he woke, pretend to be outraged by what I’d done in my sleep.
So it was not unusual we both were on his bed, our backs against the wall the bed was shoved up against, legs stretched out before us, dangling. We both had that one-too-many tumbler of Scotch in our hands, but we weren’t thinking about the headache and nausea surely waiting for us in the morning, but only how loose and warm it made us feel tonight.
Kevin babbled on and on, finally getting to the topic of our trip up here—his upcoming nuptials to Alana. He told me how he didn’t know if he was ready to give up his independence. He said that she could sometimes be controlling.
I told him these were all good points, worth considering.
He even told me how she wasn’t always so keen about going down on him and I just about lost it. I mean, really? Talk about casting pearls before swine! Was the girl crazy or what?
It just seemed natural to me then, with the lights low, the Scotch making our systems hum in a languid way, and with the rain’s staccato beat on the roof, to turn to Kevin and look into his eyes. I knew they were green, but in the dim illumination, they looked brown. And like wells I could fall into….
I thought something passed between us. A signal, maybe, an understanding.
And I did something I’d never done before. But, damn it, it felt right.
Yeah, you know what I did. I leaned forward and I kissed him. It wasn’t a playful little peck either, but a full-on kiss, with my tongue darting impetuously into his mouth. He was so surprised—and drunk—that, for a second, a delicious, life-altering, wished-it-would-go-on-forever second, he kissed me back. His hand even went up to the back of my neck for a moment.
And, in that tiny, tiny amount of time, I imagined that things could change, that this would be a scene like in one of those books I’d read where the straight guy magically turns gay—just for me.
For all time. Kev and I would have our happily-ever-after. It all flashed by, like they say one’s life flashes by in our final moments—our going back to Seattle and announcing to Alana that we were in love and always had been. The marriage with her could not take place because he was marrying me. The condo we would purchase together on Capitol Hill, overlooking the Space Needle and the Olympic Mountain range. All that stuff. And, of course, the more immediate—both of us hurrying to get out of our clothes, tossing them to the floor in our passion, in our yearning heat to feel the electric satin of a full body press of naked skin.
Kevin pushed gently against my chest and leaned back to break the kiss. He stared at me for a moment and I misinterpreted the stare as lust. I went in for another kiss and he pushed harder against my chest, holding me back.
He smiled and I’m happy to report there was nothing mocking or disdainful in it. “Dude,” he whispered. “You know better.”
And just like that, my dreams shattered, dropping on the floor in tinkling shards of regret.
I moved away from him, putting a few feet between us. I hung my head. “I’m so embarrassed. And ashamed,” I managed to get out.
He moved close to me and he laid a hand on my shoulder. “Look at me,” he said.
“I love you, man. I always have. As much I love anyone. You’re more than my best friend, you’re family. You know that, right?”
I nodded, feeling tears well up in my eyes.
He touched them away with his thumbs. “Now, I don’t want you to feel weird about what just happened. We were both a little drunk and we can always say it was the Scotch talkin’, but I want you to know I’m flattered. Hey, the fact that anyone finds a big lug like me, who farts constantly, attractive is a bonus in my book.”
We both laughed. Me, reluctantly at first, and then the giggles took over. I fell onto Kevin and soon, we were both short of breath, holding each other. He kissed the top of my head. “You’re my man. Always.”
The next day we said nothing about what had happened.
And now, well, you know the rest of the story. He’s up there, saying his vows to Alana.
And I’m happy for him.
Really I am.
But I can’t look at them. Not right now. It hurts too much. I turn away and let my gaze light on the crowd.
And that’s when I see him. And I’m not imagining it—he’s looking right at me. And when out gazes connect, he smiles.
I smile back and then glance down at the floor, a little embarrassed.
The priest is presenting the new married couple to the crowd. I join in the cheers and the applause.
And I turn to follow Kevin and Alana, the new husband and wife, in their processional out of the church.
He looks at me again as I pass his pew. He’s tall, with dark brown hair, almost black, and eyes so dark the pupils get lost in the irises. He has full lips that shift my mind into naughty mode. His five o’clock shadow gives me a visual cue to how it would feel against my face. His suit, dark blue, hangs perfectly on his lanky, yet broad-shouldered frame.
Our eyes connect in that way only two gay men can have (or two lesbians or a man and a woman who are hot for the other). The milliseconds pass and they cement us together. It’s just a bit longer than two strangers would glance at one another. It acknowledges interest, attraction—potential.
Outside the church, the drizzle that had come down earlier has been pushed away by a brilliant sun. Everything sparkles. There’s laughter, the chatter of a hundred happy voices, raised in celebration and excitement.
Someone taps me on the shoulder. I turn and it’s Alana. She’s beaming at me and her blue eyes project love. She hugs me and I feel just horrible for the thoughts I had about her new husband during their wedding. But hey, they were honest. At least I can say that.
She kisses my cheek and whispers in my ear, “I’m so glad you’re here. You really are Kevin’s best man.”
I have no words. I just pull her close to me.
At last, we pull away. There are too many others waiting to kiss this blushing bride. I step back, thinking to move away, when her hand on my arm stops me. “Hold on, there’s someone I want you to meet.”
She steps aside and it’s him. We grin at each other as though we share a secret.
“This is Ryan, my very best friend from college. He’s out here from Boston, but he’s thinking of moving to Seattle in the fall. He’s interviewing with Amazon.” She pulls me close and whispers in my ear once more, “And he’s dying to meet you.”
I reach my hand out and we touch. And it’s electric. There’s something about a wedding—all that concentrated hope and happiness. It makes me gleeful for the future.
“Ryan. I’m so happy to meet you.”
He winks. “Likewise.”
My latest work is Dinner at Fiorello's (where love is on the menu).
Henry Appleby has an appetite for life. As a recent high school graduate and the son of a wealthy family in one of Chicago’s affluent North Shore suburbs, his life is laid out for him. Unfortunately, though, he’s being forced to follow in the footsteps of his successful attorney father instead of living his dream of being a chef. When an opportunity comes his way to work in a real kitchen the summer after graduation, at a little Italian joint called Fiorello’s, Henry jumps at the chance, putting his future in jeopardy.
Years ago, life was a plentiful buffet for Vito Carelli. But a tragic turn of events now keeps the young chef at Fiorello’s quiet and secretive, preferring to let his amazing Italian peasant cuisine do his talking. When the two cooks meet over an open flame, sparks fly. Both need a taste of something more—something real, something true—to separate the good from the bad and find the love—and the hope—that just might be their salvation.
Pages or Words: 210 pages
Categories: Contemporary, M/M Romance, Fiction, Gay Fiction