NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
This is a grand departure from the typical mystery/romance tales that I love to write--but sometimes true life does its own plot twist and it's hard not to blend those precious remnants into a bittersweet tale. So...this one's for all of us lighthearted romantics who have "been there" a few more times than we care to admit.
And now...the grand departure. Hope you enjoy it!
Reflections of a sweet childhood are told through the eyes of a woman watching her best friend get married. RATED: E (Everyone).
There’s something disturbingly awful about watching someone walking down the aisle and knowing that she is completely NOT RIGHT for the person she is marrying.
It’s not as though I believe that we are all destined for one perfectly suited person, but I do believe that we are all doomed to make one really bad choice in life. This particular choice can be horrendous when it involves an altar…..
I met Brad King when I was six. He was playing in my sandbox like a shithead. It was MY sandbox, after all, and not even my idiot brother Zach was allowed. But when I marched up to the blue-eyed and brown haired trespasser, the notion of yelling and screaming at his insolence flew completely out of my head. His eyes were blue. Cornflower blue. With just the slightest hint of violet. His hair wasn’t just brown. It had several pieces that were sun-bleached auburn and dark blonde.
Brad King was a little god.
Not that I would ever tell him that.
So instead of having a tantrum, I climbed into my sandbox and asked him what he was doing.
“This sand is GREAT for a castle!” He exclaimed, already luring me in with his architectural ambitions. “If you have any smaller buckets than these big ones, I can make this the bestest and most awesome castle EVER!”
I raced inside the house and began tearing my mother’s tidy kitchen apart. There were no smaller buckets, but there were measuring cups! I skipped the plastic ones and went for the nicely polished silver ones that were dangling from the cookware hooks—the ones my mother never used because they were a wedding present from my great aunt. And they had been engraved with my parents’ initials.
But I could hardly take mere plastic measuring cups to a god!
When I presented the majestic silver, Brad nodded in delight and added on to the ever-growing castle. When he was completed, it was a six tier monstrosity that was far shapelier than my own six-year-old eyes had ever witnessed being constructed on an actual beach. Brad was brilliant. He was a god. He was my hero. And that was just the first afternoon…..
But when middle school began, Brad was far less godlike and much more human—just another disappointing adolescent boy. And RUDE!
As any other seventh grade girl can attest, it is the age of awkwardness. The age of sensitivity. The age that, for whatever reason, boys want to push as many buttons as possible before actually getting murdered.
Puberty isn’t easy. And the fact that I did, in fact, survive it was no thanks to Brad.
One day at lunch, I was eating with a group of friends. “Hey.” I heard him calling from behind me. He sat with his group of all boys as I sat with my group of all girls. “Hey.” He called again.
“What?” I replied.
“Didn’t I used to know you?”
I rolled my eyes. Up until the summer before, we had spent every weekend together. We were no longer in the sandbox, of course, but at the park behind his house.
“You know me.” I said, clearly annoyed.
“Yeah. I thought that was you.” He was giggling. The boys at his table were giggling. I turned my back away from them again and tried to focus at my all girls table.
But he wasn’t quite finished.
“Hey.” He called again.
I chose to ignore him. Because boys were/ARE so annoying!
But he persisted. “Hey.” Again, he chimed at me.
“What do you WANT?” I finally sneered.
There was more laughter at the table. Boy laughter. And he had to regain his composure before he could finish his awful, awful sentence. “I meant to tell you,” he said, “that you’ve got something red on the back of your pants.”
The color drained from my face. A girl sitting next to me tried to carefully inspect the ‘situation’ to see if what he said was true or not. I wasn’t sure if I could survive a nickname of Period Pants (or something equally horrific). Not all the way through middle school. And then probably high school.
“They put an open ketchup packet on your chair before you sat down.” She whispered.
I groaned. The boys were howling with laughter.
Brad King was a shithead.
I didn’t see him again until we started high school. We were more or less not on speaking terms. Much of that was likely on my end, but in my defense, you just don’t play pranks on a middle school girl of that nature. Not if you want to live.
But high school was different. We had different paths. But in strange ways, we would find ourselves back together. The first time was a sophomore year field trip to Elephant Rocks. Of course, our teacher was yelling at us all to stop trying to climb them, lest we fall and kill ourselves.
It was amazing, though, to be climbing around these huge stones—stones that might have been placed there by giants. Or elephants. One of my girlfriends had managed to climb atop one of the smaller ones (which, by all accounts, was not very small), and she ushered me to join her. I waited until the teacher was out of sight before starting the climb. It wasn’t quite so difficult, or so I thought. But about halfway up, my foot slipped, and I began the ever-so-flattering desperate scrambling foot dance.
It must have looked bad—at least the look on my friend’s face was pretty terrifying. And while, in those few seconds of frenzy, I did imagine death (or a very embarrassing fall), there was suddenly an arm pressing around my back. Then a leg trying to level my erratic foot.
“I’ve got you,” the voice said.
Seconds later, I was steady again and able to climb the rest of the way. On top of the rock, I turned to see who my rescuer was.
Brad King. Like Superman coming out of the sky (or from down below).
That was all I could muster. A simple “thanks.” That, and a very genuine smile.
“Anytime.” A brief pat on my cheek from his hand, and that was it.
Brad King was a good guy.
The end of high school brought the end of my childhood. I was journeying off to college…leaving my parents…even my little brother.
Rose Heart was throwing a goodbye party—an informal event in her parents’ old barn house. It was perfect for a bunch of teenagers. And perfectly heartbreaking.
All in one building were the faces I had seen my entire life. Rose Heart and her sister Taylor. Debbie and Tonya Cook. Ralph Benson. April Fools (her parents really were THE WORST). Dalton Banks. Tony Prior.
And Brad King.
We had orange flavored beer and a gin bucket while feasting on Cheetos and Sprees. It was the height of teenaged cuisine.
Around midnight, Rose made an odd (and mostly drunken) toast. “Brothers and sisters,” she began,” we are gathered here to celebrate the end of our youth and the start of our adult lives. May we live long and be not our parents.”
We cheered and clapped. It was, in many ways, the end of an era.
I stayed after most of the others left and helped Rose take the trash out. As I brought the last few bags to the giant trash bin, I felt a tug on the back of my shirt.
“Hey.” I knew that voice. I knew it as well as my own.
“Barely had time to talk in there.”
I laughed. “You and Dalton were engrossed in your beer chuggery.”
He grabbed the bags from my hands and tossed them effortlessly in the bin. “And I am, as always, victorious!”
He laughed at my sarcasm. I smiled at his charm. It had been years since we were alone together.
“Do you know I used to have a crush on you?” I wasn’t sure if he was still drunk or not.
“No. You never said.”
“Well, I did. That’s why I put that ketchup packet under your chair.” He patted my cheek with his hand…and I remembered he had just been picking up trash.
He laughed again. And without me noticing, he closed the gap between us…and kissed me.
Brad King had a crush on me. Brad King kissed me.
We never talked about the kiss. And to this day, I question if he remembered it the next morning. But it is one of the warmest memories in my heart.
Post-college, I found myself working a mere forty minutes from our hometown. Familiar faces were suddenly popping up again. Life had found us all. Some of us were married with children. Some of us were on second marriages. Only a few of us came back as still single, still closely entwined to our former selves.
It was a chance encounter that I would run into Tony Prior and Brad King. I recognized Tony immediately, only his expression was sobering and sour. We had all come home for Thanksgiving, and on our way out of town, all coincidentally hit the little coffee shop near Route 67.
“Are you okay?” I asked Tony.
“I hate my family.” Tony bit out. From behind him came Brad…taller than I had remembered with a tailored suit and shoes that were likely more expensive than mine.
I smiled and he hugged me before I could even say anything. He smelled like heaven—or Old Spice.
“Tony’s wife left him,” he whispered in my ear. “He just told his family. They’re apparently blaming him.”
Reluctantly, our embrace ended. “Tony, I’m so sorry.”
“She was AWFUL. I’m GLAD she left. I wish’d she’d taken my damn family with her!” He stormed out of the shop. Brad King and I were alone again…..
“Tony will be better off. That girl was a nightmare.”
“Who was she?”
I didn’t really care. I just didn’t want the conversation to end. He smelled SO good.
“Some girl from Arcadia.”
I stepped back, trying not to be so…intrusive (and obvious about how good he smelled), and because I’ve never had grace, I backed into a coffee display. A glass bottle of pure Arabica coffee shattered.
Embarrassed, I apologized to the employee, who was shaking his head at me. Brad bent down and swirled the loose grains on the floor with his coffee stirrer. “Not quite as nice as sand, is it?”
I grinned at his meaning. Our wonderful sandbox days…
“I wish we could go back,” he said flatly. “I wish we could redo some of those times.”
“What would you do differently?”
He reached up and patted my cheek, as he had done probably a hundred times before. “I would have appreciated the best parts of my life, and the best people that filled those days.”
Brad King is my love. My one and only…..
And now, months later, I sit in a chapel with April Fools-Rains (still not a name improvement), and watch as Brad King marries someone else.
“Rose Heart.” April whispered.
“Didn’t you read the invitation? That’s who he’s marrying.”
I skimmed the invitation. My heart stopped after reading that Brad was getting married. I hadn’t bothered to notice who the bride was.
“I didn’t know they were ever…close.” I was trying desperately not to sound pathetic.
“It all came about kind of suddenly, if you know what I mean.”
“I don’t know what you mean.” And I didn’t.
“I wonder if she’s showing yet,” she whispered.
“Well, that’s why the marriage is happening so quickly.”
My heart sank.
Brad King was going to be a husband. And a father.
I could barely look up during the ceremony. When it was over, I quietly skipped out the back of the chapel and watched as a few kids played at the park down the street…the same park Brad and I had lived out a chunk of our childhood in.
A friendly tap on my shoulder brought me back to the present. “Were you ever going to say ‘hello’?”
Brad King looked so handsome in a tuxedo. Like a god.
“Hello,” I whispered.
There was awkward silence as we stared at one another. The laughter of children grew behind us; it was our final pause before we both ventured toward our new futures.
I wanted to tell him that I loved him from the first moment I saw him. I wanted to say that I understood what he was doing.
And I wanted to tell him that he married the wrong woman.
Instead, “I hope you’ll be very happy,” came out.
“I hope you’ll be very happy, too.” He whispered.
Ever so effortlessly, he closed the gap between us again, and surrounded me with the warmest embrace of my life. It touched my soul, and when we let go of one another, a piece of my heart was irrevocably fractured.
And just like that, Brad King the god, Brad King the shithead, Brad King the good guy, Brad King the hero, and Brad King the husband…was out of my reach.
But we’ll always have those sandcastle days…..
Published by Lana Moon
First Printing, April 2014
Copyright Lana Moon, 2014
All right reserved
Printed/Published in the United States of America
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