The Last Goodbye Chapter One: Denial
“He’s engaged,” Angela blurts out in the middle of dinner.
We are sitting in the center of a popular restaurant in Uptown, in the midst of the dinner rush. Before Angela spoke those words, the two of us had to practically shout to be heard over the dull roar of the other customers. Yet once those words escape from her mouth, all noise ceases to exist.
A strange tingling sensation flows through my body. It feels as if my fingers are no longer attached to my hands, and I watch as a fork full of stuffed tilapia slips from my hand and falls to the floor. I can’t think. I can’t not think. My brain is screaming a thousand different things to me at the same time, but I can’t decipher what they are.
As if moving in slow motion, my eyes shift from Angela to the floor. Little pieces of pale, flaky fish topped with a creamy white brie and shrimp sauce are now scattered across the blue tile. My fork is on the floor. My fork is on the floor, and the floor is dirty. My fork is dirty. How can I eat my dinner if I don’t have a clean fork? Dinner has suddenly become intensely complicated.
A tentative noise breaks through my thoughts. It sounds like Angela. It sounds as if she is saying my name. I look up at her. I can see her lips moving, but the sound coming from her is disjointed. I furrow my brow and force myself to focus on her voice.
“Bella?” Angela’s concerned voice finally makes sense to me.
“Huh?” I reply.
“Did you hear me?” she asks slowly. “He is engaged.”
There is that word again. En-gag-ed. I have to bite my lip to keep from laughing. Gag. It is funny. The word that is supposed to be the epitome of romance has the word gag in it. I wonder if anyone else has ever thought about it before. I wonder if he has ever thought about it before.
“Why?” I ask her. “How?” A slight stutter traps my words together.
Apparently I have lost the ability to form complete sentences.
“My mom told me,” Angela says gently. “She ran into his dad at the grocery store.”
Angela reaches her hand across the table and gently lays it on my arm. Her skin feels insanely hot, like it is burning me. I flinch and pull my arm off of the table so both of my hands rest in my lap. I give her a quick apologetic smile, hoping she will understand.
“He’s twenty-three,” I say quietly. “He’s twenty-three and he wants to get married?”
“Apparently,” Angela replies. “Are you okay with this?”
How am I supposed to answer that? How do I even begin to process this information? How do I become okay with news that the boy who was my first kiss, the boy who was my first love, the boy who used to sneak over to my house in the middle of the night and tell me his plans of our future together, is engaged to another woman?
“Of course I am,” I reply quickly. “I just never thought…”
I don’t know how to finish this sentence. I have never thought about it, about him marrying another woman. We broke up, and we did it for the right reasons. No matter how shocked our friends and family were at our break up, it was something that was right for both of us at the time. We loved each other, and thought we always would, but the long distance aspect of our relationship was too hard. The phone calls, the emails, the texts between us slowly came to an end. It was too hard to talk to him and not be with him. Being with him while he lived hundreds of miles away was too hard. Our break was necessary, to save us from ourselves.
Two whole years went by. Twenty-four months. One hundred and four weeks. Seven hundred and thirty days. Seventeen thousand five hundred and twenty hours.
A lot of time had passed, and I have completely buried the possibility of what we could be. I did not imagine the what if a hundred different ways, because it did not matter. I did not think about what would happen if we ran into each other while home for the holidays. I did not ponder over a random connection with him, whether via an email sent out of the blue or bumping into each other on a street corner in some arbitrary town. I just didn’t think about it because it didn’t matter. And it certainly did not matter now, because if any of those things happened he would be promised to another woman.
I had heard, a few months back, that he had begun to date someone new. I had not been surprised. I have dated in the time since our breakup. Dating is fun. Dating is casual.
Dating does not always result in marriage.
“When?” I ask tentatively. “When is the wedding?”
Angela gives me a cautious glance. “This summer.”
What does that even mean? Are they going to be married in May or August? How long do I have to get used to the fact that he will be slipping a ring on another girl’s finger and promising to have and to hold her for as long as they both shall live? Two months? Three?
Most girls imagine what their weddings will be like. The fact that they don’t yet have their Prince Charming is irrelevant. Girls imagine the details. They imagine white, silky, beaded, floor-length gowns. They imagine an aisle adorned in rose petals. They imagine dancing outside on a clear moonlit night, with the stars shining brilliantly in the sky. They imagine whether they will wear their hair up or down, curly or straight.
I am not most girls.
I have always wanted to elope. There is something seriously exciting about the idea of escaping to Vegas, in the middle of the night, and having an Elvis impersonator declare you man and wife. It would be so personal, so intimate. It would be about the love, not the dress or the party or the seating arrangements. A marriage is not about silver-rimmed china, about finding a dress that flatters all of your bridesmaids, or about the option of steak or salmon. A marriage is about vowing to love another person, with all of your heart, for the rest of your life. The fanfare is just a distraction.
I wonder what his wedding to her will be like. Will she plan the wedding all on her own, or will he help? Will his family help? Will they wish they were planning a wedding for him and me instead? Will the wedding be outdoors or in some stuffy, old-fashioned hotel ballroom? Will she choose roses or daisies? What song will be playing as she walks down the aisle? Will he wear a tuxedo or a black suit? What will she be thinking as she walks towards him, with evenly paced steps, all dressed in white, as he stands at the altar ready to accept her as his wife in front of God, friends, and family?
“Why so soon?” I ask curiously.
“They’ll both be done with grad school in May, and he has a job offer in North Carolina,” Angela answers.
“And what, he can’t start work without a wife?” I reply sarcastically.
“I think they just want to be married before they move,” Angela replies cautiously. “You know, before they live together.”
Before they live together?
He and I lived together. He didn’t seem to have a problem with that, and we certainly had not been married. Granted, our living together only lasted for a summer, but for that summer - the entire three months - we lived together. We lived in the same apartment. We parked in the same garage. We watched television in the same living room. We cooked in the same kitchen. We showered in the same bathroom. We slept in the same bed. We spent ninety long days cohabitating with one another, and we were good at it. How could he marry her without living with her first?
“Oh,” I reply, not knowing what else to say.
“Bella,” Angela says soothingly. “You’re happy now. You’ve been happy. He’s just a guy from your past.”
Is he really just some guy?
He was the first guy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he is just any guy. A first love is memorable. A first love is exciting, new, and dangerous. It is the first time you are putting yourself out there, for someone you hope is worth it, in a way that you have never put yourself out there before. Can you ever really forget about that? Can I ever really forget about that? Can I ever really forget about those feelings? Do those feelings ever really go away?
This is ridiculous. I am completely okay with this. Minor freak out over. It is only natural to have a moment of pause after you hear that someone from your past, a boyfriend nonetheless, is getting married. Perfectly natural. After all, we are only twenty-three. I have no desire to be married at twenty-three, and it is weird for me to think about other people my age having that desire. That is what sparked the shock. Definitely.
After that Angela subtly changes the topic, and we spend the rest of the dinner chatting about random, light topics. She chats about work, about how excited she is to be working with a new client, and about how annoyed she is with her bitchy coworker Lauren. She chats about her boyfriend Ben and his friend Mike who has been crashing on their couch for almost two months now. I have to hand it to her; Angela is the queen of small talk.
We leave the restaurant and walk towards our cars. As I get to mine, she pauses to give me a quick hug.
“Just think,” she says with a hint of uncertainty in her voice. “It could have been you.”
It could have been me.