Warning: Casual swearing ahead.
When I was younger—way younger, maybe ten or eleven—my dad thought it’d be a fun idea to nickname me ‘And.’
See, my name’s Andrew, and I liked being called Andy, or even Drew (Drew was for girls to call me, ‘cause I thought ‘Drew’ was way more studly at this point in my life). But, wouldn’t you know it, ‘And’ stuck. Out of all the damned rotten luck.
Anyway, so here I am, a lonely conjunction trapped in a place I certainly don’t belong: A church. Shit if I belong in a church. I’d declared myself atheist by the time I was thirteen. But, God, I had to come to this wedding, even if it means I’m going to see the one I love—my best friend, the only one who keeps me from quitting my job, my long-time confidant—getting married to someone else.
I’m so very tempted to jump up during the ‘speak now or forever hold your peace’ segment of the service, but I don’t. The right to do that is solely reserved for dramatic scenes in movies, scenes with overuse of violins and perfect couples—usually a petite blonde girl and a tall, masculine, dark-haired guy with artfully-unshaved stubble. I am neither tall nor particularly masculine, to be honest. I’m a skinny blond dude, five foot eight.
So that speak-now moment passes, and the rest of the service goes without a hitch. The only thing I’m thinking is, damn, my ass hurts, because these pews must have been made for people to bring their own cushions or something. I look up at that massive crucifix on the wall and feel a bit bad for thinking curse words in a church, but hey, let’s be honest. I don’t believe in God, so do I really think anything bad is gonna happen? Negative.
I hold back a yawn. I’ve spent so much effort trying to tune out, trying to keep myself from staring with shameless agony, that I’m about to make myself fall asleep. And that’s bad, because this does mean a lot to both of them, and I wouldn’t want to hurt their feelings. Especially not Taylor’s—and God, does Taylor look great up there. Tall, blonde, gorgeous. So much personality behind those blue eyes.
I grit my teeth. I know I shouldn’t be thinking about this stuff while—oh, Lord, and now they’re kissing. Isn’t that just the cherry on top?
I knew I should’ve stayed home with my dog, Ampersand. Why the hell not, I’d figured, when naming him. He was doomed to be a failure at being a dog, anyway. I still don’t know how he grew up so stupid, given that he’s half St. Bernard. What the other half might be remains a mystery, but there’s no questioning Ampersand is one of a kind.
The first time I saw him at the shelter, four years back, I laughed my ass off. What a goofy-looking dog, I thought to myself. Medium size, shaggy, and all sorts of weird colors in that coat of his. Then the guy working at the shelter told me, “This one’s still a puppy,” and I stopped laughing.
“Nah. You’re joking.” I peered closer at him. He was definitely the size of a full-grown dog. “You’re joking, right?”
“Nope. He’s going to be huge. He’s just about six months old right now.”
“Could I see him?”
The volunteer guy opened the cage, and this dog leapt out at me. Must’ve been a three-foot-high jump, I swear to God. I fell back on that hard-ass concrete floor, and to add insult to injury, damn dog started humping me. I felt myself going red in the face. “Get—off,” I grunted, and shoved the dog off my chest.
“Sorry about that. Dogs are such gaywads sometimes,” laughed the volunteer guy, grabbing the dog’s collar.
I pulled myself to my feet, brushing off my disgraced jeans, giving the dog another look. Sure, he was an obnoxious son-of-a-bitch—literally—but I’d never seen a dog look so friendly in my life. So I took him home, cut his hair really damn short, called him Ampersand. We make a pretty good pair. And and Ampersand—try saying that five times fast.
Should’ve stayed home.
I sigh. The organ’s playing, and it’s time for the reception. Good thing, too, because my stomach is empty. There’s nothing in the fridge at home—admittedly, it’s been a bit of a task forcing myself to leave my house these days, between the depression and the just-plain-fear.
See, I got mugged a couple weeks ago. I was walking home, holding my groceries, and this pair of guys kicked me into a side alley and started beating me up. It hurt a whole hell of a lot, not that I wasn’t used to getting beat up. Being scrawny and quiet, among other things, isn’t good for your health when you’re a middle-schooler.
Anyway, though. The muggers—huge, stupid guys; must’ve been twice my size—shoved me up against the wall.
“Got any money?” said the first one.
“Yeah,” I gasped through the blood pouring out of my mouth, reaching for my pocket. “Just hold on—”
“Well, you better hurry up, faggot!” hissed the second.
I pulled my wallet out of my pocket and tossed it to the first guy. “There. That’s all I have.”
“How ‘bout a cell phone, faggot?” the second guy said. Probably his favorite word, ‘faggot,’ but his lack of intelligence wasn’t really an issue to me at that point. I couldn’t breathe. My face resembled some sort of vegetable—broccoli, cauliflower; one of the puffy ones. And my brain wasn’t too far from vegetable status, either, given the number of times they’d slammed my head into the wall. So I took out my phone, handed it to moron number two, and he called me a faggot one more time—ooh, tantalizing—before taking off with moron number one.
I find it sort of weird, now, how little I was scared at that point. I think if they’d had guns, I would’ve been taking a piss in my pants, but as it was, they were just two big idiots calling me names and taking my money. Nothing new.
I stand up and slide out of the pew, my ass crying in relief. My knees are doing that awkward half-bent thing so I can shuffle sideways out into the aisle without just turning ninety degrees and walking like a regular person. I flow with the crowd to the reception area.
A guy named Kyle is walking on my left. He works in the cubicle next to me. He’s also a douchebag, infamous for his douchebaggery. Jesus, I hope I’m not just another douchebag Taylor decided to invite just for the hell of it. There should be two types of invitations: the I-really-wanted-you-to-be-here invitations and the you’ll-hear-about-it-even-if-I-don’t-invite-you-and-that-conversation-will-be-awkward-as-hell-so-I’m-inviting-you invitations.
Kyle turns to me a little and feigns surprise. “Oh, hey, And.” Oh, the subtext is so clear. Why, hello, And! I, uh, ‘didn’t see you there’!
“’Sup, man?” I... uh, I ‘didn’t see you’ either! Wouldn’t it have been better if we had just gone on ‘not noticing’ each other?
“Not much, not much. Nice wedding.” It sure would’ve been better to just continue ignoring you! I’m going to make vapid conversation!
“Yeah.” I’m going to agree, and not contribute anything to this interaction, so that it might fizzle out before it gets too painful and/or personal!
“They look really great together, huh? Took them way too long to go ahead and tie the knot, in my opinion.” I’ve just destroyed all chance you have at exiting the conversation without contributing an opinion! Ha-HA!
“Yeah, it’s been a while.” You thought you had me there, but I’m going to make more vagaries and pray you just go away! Ha-HA, yourself!
“Alright, man. I’ll see you Monday, huh?” Touché.
“Cool.” As I stop translating the subtext, which I generally find far more interesting than actual conversations, I find myself stopping in front of a huge-ass wedding cake. Why did they need this much cake? Oh, right - to satisfy the appetites of hundreds of people they probably didn’t even want to invite. I know Taylor hates Kyle, so i know there’s at least one of 'em.
Should’ve stayed home, should’ve stayed home, should’ve stayed—
Oh, that voice. Musical, almost. Husky, sort of low, beautiful. Taylor’s there, standing right in front of me, and I’m so lost for words I don’t know what to say.
“Hey, Taylor,” I manage eventually. “This... it’s great. It’s all great.” I wave around at the reception hall.
“Glad you like it.” Two twinkling blue eyes can be so goddamn cruel.
I smile wide, the lie in my lips hurting worse than anything.
Still remember the first time I met Taylor. We were twenty-three—I was just out of Tufts at this point, the new kid on the proverbial block. And there are a hell of a lot of blocks in Philly.
I’ve never been much of an advocate of love at first sight. Back when I was twelve, I convinced myself I was in love-at-first-sight with this chick called Melanie. She was the so-called hot one in our grade, and I’d never spoken to her, and I’ve still never spoken to her. I guess at that point I was just latching onto some girl, any girl, to be in love-at-first-sight with, ‘cause all the other guys did it, so I thought I’d fit in better.
That aside, though—I’m pretty damn sure it was love at first sight with Taylor. Third day at work, I turned the corner, looked up from the stapler I was reloading, and—bam! Hit full-force by those eyes. Oh, and I stapled myself in the thumb. It was pretty painful, and I made myself look like a dumbass, but we both started laughing, so it turned out okay. Once the bleeding stopped.
I’ve never really had a best friend before, and definitely not one as cool, funny, and downright gorgeous as Taylor. Before moving to Philly, I never even had a reason to leave my dorm, I was so closed-up. That was probably just my nervousness that someone might get to know me too well, because all during high school and college I hated myself to the point of contemplating suicide - so I didn’t have friends, not really. Sure, I talked with a few girls in a few of my classes—I remember Ashley and Mimi really vividly—and a few guys, though I always felt sort of awkward around guys. They didn’t think my name was funny or cute like girls did, shockingly. Just weird. Not a great conversation starter.
Now, after moving here to Philly, I have a reason to pick up the phone and call someone out of the blue to come over and hang out. I’ve got a reason to worry about what Christmas present to buy, ‘cause Taylor’s presents are always the best. Hysterical, and cute, too. Worst, though—I finally have a reason to stay awake at night, staring at my ceiling, wondering, Is it me? Is it the same? Is it mutual, for the first time in my life?
Should’ve known better, I guess. After I heard the news about the engagement, I completely snapped. I—Jesus, why had I ever thought I could find love? I can’t even find lust, for Christ’s sake. I’m twenty-nine and I’m a virgin. And everyone gets laid in college. Shit, it takes talent not to get laid in college. And I’m not even unattractive, not really. At least, I don’t think so most of the time. I don’t waste time thinking about my appearance, though, ‘cause it’s not what I think that matters. It’s what Tay thinks.
I guess it was pretty doomed, though, from the beginning. From the second that eleven-year-old kid ruined everything by calling me a fag. I guess names just stick to me. They become me, define me, and from that point on, since that dumbass kid called me a fag, I was the school fag. All through middle and high school. Shit, even all through that so-called ‘new start’ college was supposed to bring. I’ve only managed to escape it here, in Philly, and now I’m finding it’s even worse when people aren’t calling me a fag—cause, Jesus, what can I say?
Taylor grins, his teeth white and straight and his blond hair toppling in chaos over his forehead. Cass comes up to him, looking gorgeous in her white dress, and Tay puts his arm around her waist so casually. I try not to stare. I try to hold back my envy.
“You look great, Cass,” I say, glancing her up and down with that dumbass fake smile still plastered all over my face. “I—” I was just about to say I loved her dress. What the hell? Come on, Andrew. Andy. Drew. And. Keep it together. Don’t mind how handsome Taylor looks in his tuxedo, that pressed black tuxedo, perfect on his tall body.
“Thanks! How’s it going, And?” asks Cass, smiling. She’s pretty. Five foot two, brunette, got a nice smile. Maybe if I just looked like her—
I raise my eyebrows. “It’s... it’s going pretty good,” I say. “The wedding was... ah, lovely, I guess?” I laugh. “Isn’t that what people usually say about weddings?”
“Yeah, man,” laughs Taylor. “You shouldn’t say it, though. Makes you sound like a queer.”
It feels like a punch in the stomach. Feels like my heart’s beating too fast, feels like I can’t get any air. “All right, you two,” I say, keeping my smile together, because it’s all I’ve got left. “I gotta get going. Have fun on your honeymoon. Panama, right?”
“Damn straight,” says Taylor, flicking his hair back.
“Okay. Well, have a great time.” I lift a hand in goodbye, trying to grin wider. I don’t care that I’m still starving. I’ll pick up something on the way home, I guess.
As I leave, I check back over my shoulder. I only let myself do it once.
Taylor’s still looking at me. His blue eyes are so lazily confident, I feel like he can see right through my smile. But maybe I’m giving him too much credit. I’m a pretty good actor. I even fool myself sometimes.