It was a beautiful wedding. I knew it would be. After all, I planned it.
Held outdoors, next to a crisp, perfect stream in the Great Smoky Mountains where we loved to hike. Gorgeous fall morning, with blue mist gently rising, the crop of massive boulders on the bank looking quiet yet colossal, like waiting, sleeping giants.
And then she appeared, her veil blending with the misty fog, an apparition of beauty, an angel, my best friend, Sarah. She glanced in my direction, waved, looked up and smiled such a wonderful smile . . . at David, apparently standing behind me. I turned and grinned automatically, reflexively, like I always did. David, tall with tousled hair and an dancer’s air of elegance, dashed next to her in one, two, three graceful steps until their hands were clasped, ready to be wed, heads bowed before the justice, gently laughing like dew on the leaves, wrapped up in the web of their newly spun love.
They were amazing to see, really. At first, I doubted Sarah when she described their whirlwind romance: the chance encounter, the handful of dates, hiking, biking, then dinner and the surprise wedding announcement, with really no engagement to speak of. Being her best friend, best ever, I was skeptical hearing the stories, envisioning bad Lifetime movie plots but then I met him when we all went hiking, and it was all over. He was so handsome with his mischievous smile and photographer’s eyes but he wasn’t vain; calm, centered, assured without being arrogant. If I had met him under any other circumstances, I would’ve made a play for him myself. He wasn’t my usual type, but I could imagine those artistic hands on my back, my hands in his hair, feeling the muscles in his arms . . . But when his eyes lit on Sarah it was like honest-to-hell magic. I could no longer doubt it. Their fate was sealed.
So that’s why I had to plan the wedding. It had to be perfect.
It had to be outside in the Smokies, of course, at our favorite trailhead, Masker’s Creek, simple and honest, like them, just family and friends with a justice of the peace. Or really, it just made sense for it to be the three of us, like we always were. Going up to Charlie’s Bunion, biking the Deep Creek trail, three of us, a trinity. They wanted their church minister, but I convinced them there was plenty of time for that later. With the beautiful outdoors, there was no need for tacky fake flowers, no rickety metal archway, no plastic runner. . . together they were a vision from something like “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” so they only needed the natural beauty of the mountains, nothing else. Well, nothing else but me.
Did I mention how truly beautiful they were together? It was like a movie. Sometimes I could imagine their life on the big screen, a wonderful movie about their lives and their special love; Tom Hiddleston with his almost-but-not-quite sardonic Loki grin but more playful, I guess. And her — perky blonde, but not stupid. Just kind, funny and engaging. Beautiful but unaware. In my mind Jenna Elfman would be the best I could do. No one could really take her place. I even jotted down some script notes, planned an outline.
And they were beautiful, not just the day of the wedding, but anytime they were together, always reaching out for each other, connecting like magnets, grasping like air for one another. It would have been wrong for them to be separated. Anyone could see that. Just wrong.
And they were more than happy to leave the wedding details to me. Details are my thing. Plus, they were busy. Cocooned in their growing love, discovering each other’s little charms, mundane things like favorite meals (Sarah loved burgers) and colors (David liked yellow), they were interweaving their lives to be bound together forever. Looking in, I understood. I didn’t mind. Really.
So, it’s just me and you talking, right? Privately? Then I’ll let you in on something. I loved them both, dearly. They were the center of my world. Of course, Sarah would always be, just a teeny bit, my favorite. Just the natural sunshine she brought with her everywhere, it illuminated a room, sparked everyone in her radius, including me. I felt brighter, warmer, around her. In a way, she would always be mine.
How did I know her? We were friends in grade school. Yes, that far back. Then in high school, I was having some trouble. Was in the drama club, hanging out with kids my own kind, things weren’t as open then as they are now, but a couple of jocks started pushing me around. Literally. Then Sarah stepped in, somehow making them not only stop, but apologize and cease completely. After that, I was under her spell. She saw me as her best friend. And I was. But I never asked her out, or even tried. What would be the point?
She encouraged me to join the yearbook committee and I’m glad I did. I learned how to use a camera, took all the pictures and we spent many late nights putting the pages together. None of this online stuff, you understand. I mean using rulers and grease pencils and figuring out layout and pictures. That’s when I discovered I had a natural talent for planning. Nothing flashy. Just behind the scenes. Quietly. Planning.
So, she went on with her life, graduated, become a yoga instructor and we stayed in touch. We would go through quiet times where I didn’t hear from her as much. But I had my pictures, all those left over from the yearbook, to keep me company. Oh, so you already know about that? I guess you found my special corner then? Not really a room, just a little corner where I carefully pinned up all the pictures of Sarah I had, just to remember what she looked like. It sure spooked any lovers I brought up there. They didn’t understand. Not at all. Did that make me depressed? Well, of course, but I started taking these little red tablets and I’m much, much better.
So back to the wedding. I was so happy to be her best “man”, not traditional, I know and some of her family weren’t happy, but her momma never did like me. And they weren’t invited to the ceremony, now were they? Waste of money on fancy invitations and frippery. Sarah and David could use it later, for their church wedding. We had all we needed: white dress for Sarah, crisp gray suit for David, a few chairs, a cake I made myself, her bouquet, the justice of the peace, plenty of champagne and, of course, her veil. Long, white, edged with scallops and tiny pearls, she was ethereal. Especially emerging from the cabin trail like she did that morning. She must’ve picked her way carefully down the trail from the overnight cabin, right to the trailhead where David and I were waiting for her. The ceremony only took a few minutes, but it seemed, in my mind, to stretch into eternity.
Then the champagne! Thankfully I had brought enough glasses for everyone, Sarah delightedly slicing the delicate white cake, carefully balancing them on each plate. And, as expected, they were dignified. No cake smashing here. Just a bite from each other’s plate, a sip of champagne, I had to really encourage them to drink up and celebrate, refilling and refilling their glasses. I took some pictures of them and then dashed up to the cabin for them to grab their suitcases. They had decided on a low-key honeymoon on the beach in Currituck Sound, in North Carolina, something I found for them online, leaving right after the ceremony, with Sarah driving her old white truck (with the iffy brakes) so they could leave right away. The more formal, in-the-church wedding would happen for all their friends and family when they got back. When. They got back.
I was sweating and jittery by the time everything was loaded up in my car, so I took a pill from my pocket and felt instantly calm. I was happy to take all the chairs, disheveled cake pieces, dirty glasses, tablecloth . . . all the ugly debris that shouldn’t touch this day, and I packed it up so they wouldn’t have to worry about it. They just needed to drive and drive and drive. It was supposed to take 8 hours to get there, including winding their way through the mountains, and they were both already exhausted, plus all that champagne.
I promised to follow them in my van, packed up with stuff, at least as far as the turnoff back to my house, but really, I just had to see, had to make sure everything I had planned went correctly to the end. Carefully following behind her beat-up truck, with the dinged bumper, through the hairpin curves, I could tell it was going to happen. Then it started raining, hard sheets of gray rain, so hard the yellow lines melted into nothing and then I knew. It was a like a sign that my plan was perfect. First fishtailing, then swerving, then flipping over and over. Like a cloud. Like a puff of smoke. Into the fog. Over the edge. And then. Gone.
So, what don’t you understand? You tell me- what was their life supposed to be like, after this? Kids crying, money problems, office jobs, beige cubes, mortgage, late nights, fights, disappointment, divorce. This was the apex. A moment of perfect forever. Think about it — I certainly did, for a long time. David was a free-spirited photographer, an artist. And Sarah, well, she was Sarah. They were perfect together.
And I helped them stay that way. Showed them the path through the veil. Forever.
AE Stone is a writer, artist and educator. Married for 33 years, Stone is looking forward to celebrating Valentine’s Day with a glass of wine, a rare steak and a lineup of classic horror movies, luckily shared with the most wonderful, beloved partner.