When I Was … Twenty-Seven
by David Heulfryn
I was so proud to be Jack’s best man at his wedding. He’d finally found a woman who was right for him. And I also got on with her, which couldn’t be said for some of his previous girlfriends.
It took Jack nearly a year to get over Carla. Despite initial plans, he never returned to Birmingham except to get his stuff from the flat; he just couldn’t face it. He wanted to keep his distance between himself and the woman that broke his heart. So, Jack moved in with me. It was only supposed to be for a few days while he sorted himself out, but it was five years in the end. We couldn’t stay in my pokey one-bedroomed flat, so we rented a two-bed place, and Jack found himself a job in Oxford. That’s where he met his fiancé, Holly.
Tonight was the night before his wedding. We’d had his stag party last week, and both ended up paralytic. We ended up in one of his other mate’s houses, passed out on the floor. The next morning, my head felt like it would explode, and my back ached like hell from lying on the hard floor.
Jack insisted on spending the last night before his wedding with only me. His mates weren’t happy and teased him about having “one last fuck with his bent mate”. They were great to go drinking with, but you couldn’t have a serious conversation with any of them. I knew they teased him over being friends with me, calling me his “bum-chum”, and bantering about sucking dick. Jack always gave as good as he got and never felt that his sexuality was threatened. But I didn’t like it, and I would have to put on a brave face whenever I was out with them. Nothing was ever said in anger; it was all just friendly banter. But I had been around this casual homophobic banter all my life. I didn’t want to be around it anymore. I challenged them the first time it happened to my face, but they just mocked me for getting angry and not being able to take a joke.
I mainly avoided them, but on the occasions, Jack and I would go out together, we would sometimes come across them, and we always seemed to be subsumed into the group. Jack needed to make better friends; he did try but found it impossible to extricate himself from this group.
I didn’t think it possible, but flat-sharing seemed to have brought us closer. Jack would bring partners back, and I would bring partners back. Naturally, we had petty arguments, but they never lasted long. We could sometimes hear each other fucking.
Jack wasn’t like me. He would sometimes lecture me about how many different blokes I would bring back. But I was always safe and always had fun, sometimes a little too loudly.
“I wish you could find what I have.” Jack sighed as I popped the cork on a nice bottle of wine. It was his wedding tomorrow, so we had to have something decent to drink, nothing with a screwcap.
“I will,” I said, pouring him a glass of wine. “When I’m ready. I’m too busy having fun.” I winked at him. “Not ready to get tied down quite yet.”
We sat on the sofa together. Jack had brought his knee over so he could look at me. I was staring ahead, looking at my old stereo as it softly played music to us.
“I worry about you, Robbie…”
“I know Jack.” I interrupted him. “I’m really happy for you, I truly am. One day I will want it. I’m sure I will. I’m just not there yet.”
“Have you really never clicked with any of those blokes you’ve brought home? I’ve met some of them. You’ve dated some for a few months. Some were actually very nice and would have been good for you.”
“I know,” I admitted reluctantly.
“Well, what’s stopping you?” Jack asked.
“I don’t know,” I drew in a deep breath while I thought for a moment. “I think I’m just scared.”
“Of what?” Jack kept his eyes on mine, but I looked away.
“That the fun will stop, that I will become dependant. Vulnerable. Like you are.” I looked back at Jack, I could feel a tear forming in my eye, and I sniffed.
Jack put down his wine glass and hugged me. “You have been my rock when I needed you. I would have been there for you. Anytime.”
“I know. But I see how much you hurt. I see the pain. I see how you give yourself over so completely.”
“But that just makes it so much better when you find the one.” Then Jack pushed me away. “I’m not the one? Am I?” He pretended to look scared.
I burst out laughing. “Fuck off. I love you, man, but you are not the one.” I knew he was joking.
“Seriously, Robbie. Don’t throw all those men away.”
I leant over and rested my head on his chest. “There was one that got away. It was years ago. I was just out for a fuck, a one night stand, but he was pretty insistent. It lasted a few months, even though I’m sure he knew I was fucking around. I still see him in the gay bars sometimes, with his partner. They have been together for a few years now.”
“Just try it. That’s all I ask. The next bloke you shag, ask him out on a date. Get to know him.”
“You should be thinking about your own future, not mine.” I raised my head and grabbed my wine glass, and took a long slug.
“I am.” He laughed. “I want to be your best man someday.”
I nearly spat out my wine. “You are wedding crazy. Besides, I can’t see you organising my stag night, gay bars and male strippers. And please note the plural.” I chuckled.
“I’m sure one of your gay mates will help me.”
I eventually managed to get Jack off the subject of me settling down, and we had a raucous evening of reminiscing about our younger days. It was fun talking about the old days and what we’d been through together.
We didn’t get drunk. We just had a bottle and a half of wine, and we went to bed. Although Jack had moved out about a year ago to live with Holly, I kept the flat, joking that he could bring his fancy women back whenever he wanted. Or have his old bed back when Holly chucked him out.
He would stay over occasionally when we had a boys night. I hoped tonight wasn’t going to be the last night he slept in his bed. While ever I lived there, it would always be his room and his bed.
I really struggled to not cry at his wedding every time I had to do something, especially when I had to hand the rings over. Jack would sometimes look at me, and we both had glassy eyes as we held back tears.
After the ceremony I was nervous, I had a speech to make. Jack stood up as the father of the bride closed his speech and sat down.
I could tell Jack was nervous, he got through it quite well, and he remembered to thank everyone he should and recounted the sweet story of how he met his now-wife.
Jack beamed at me after he gave his toast and introduced me.
I stood up and cleared my throat. “Thanks, Jack. It really is an honour to be your best man, mainly because I’m surprised you found someone to take you off my hands.”
The room chuckled.
“We have been friends since we met at primary school, aged five. We were paired off on our first day, and you were so nervous you held my hand all day whenever we had to walk anywhere…”
Jack cringed in embarrassment, much to the enjoyment of the guests.
“All I wanted to do was get together with the other boys, but you wouldn’t let go of me. And we’ve been together ever since. That teacher, I forget her name, didn’t know what she had done when she put us together as first day friends.” I paused a moment, “and I’ve been stuck with him for twenty-two years.”
Jack’s mates cheered, knowing that I could never be replaced as his best friend.
“But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Jack is more than my best friend; he is my mate…”
I heard some giggling.
“Not that way, you dirty lot,” I threw back at them, smiling. “he is my mate, my drinking buddy, my wingman, my confidante and my conscience. He is also great to go pulling with. Once he’d got over the embarrassment of me dragging him to a gay club, he was invaluable. Being so much more handsome than I, he would attract the guys, and I would swoop in. It’s the only way I could get a date.”
I looked down at Jack. He grabbed and squeezed my hand.
“But in our early years, it would always be Jack getting me into trouble. I was so naïve and trusting that when he told me that my parents said I could sleep over at his house when we were about seven, I believed him. My parents were frantic, wondering where I was and why I hadn’t come home from school. They found out where Jack lived and came round finding us both sitting on the sofa eating chocolate ice cream.”
“But I forgave him,” I rubbed the top of his head, messing up his hair, “and more importantly, so did my parents. Needles to say, I never trusted him again.”
“Ahh.” I heard echo around the room.
“Jack may come across as a confident, fun-loving young man, up for a challenge and willing to push himself to be better than he is… and he is… but he is also very sensitive. He doesn’t always show that side, but I have come to love that side of him, and I have always been there when he needed me. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and sometimes he has got hurt. I am honoured to be one of the few who he comes to for comfort.”
I struggled to keep my tears in check as I remembered the times he would come around, and I would console him.
“But I’m sure you want me to dish the dirt on poor old Jack. But I promised him I wouldn’t do anything to embarrass him. I promised I wouldn’t mention the times he would sleepwalk around the house, naked. Or the time his mum found him flat out on the living room sofa. On his back! She got an eyeful that day, I can tell you.”
Jack held his head in his hands as the room laughed, and we heard a few guffaws.
“I also said I wouldn’t mention the time he was at university, and I was visiting, and we got so drunk that he burst into the wrong dorm room and scared the student shitless as he tried to get into bed with him. I had to virtually drag him out of the bed and find his room.”
“Thanks a lot, Robbie.” Jack sighed.
“But when we left university, we ended up living together for a short time. And that’s when he met Holly.” I glanced over at his beautiful bride. “She has been the best thing to happen to Jack.” I raised my eyebrows, “other than me.” Jack gave me a light punch on the arm. “Holly is simply the best, and I know she will make Jack the happiest man alive.”
I had some announcements to make, some thank yous, and to read out some messages from those who couldn’t make the wedding. I ended with a toast to the happy couple.
“Will you now take your glasses and raise them in a toast to the happy couple, Jack and Holly, who, I know, are head-over-heels in love and who are made for each other. We wish them all the best and love everlasting, to Jack and Holly, the bride and groom.” I gestured my glass over at the happy couple.
In unison, the guests repeated, “to the bride and groom.”
I sat down.
I was so happy for Jack that I started to cry.
Jack leant over to hug me. Holly came over to join in.
“We love you, Robbie.” She whispered to me.
“I’m just so happy for you both.” I sniffed.
I think Jack was right. After watching them and seeing how much in love they were, I realised I wanted the same.
The wedding meal ended, and the venue started to set up the evening disco. That gave me time to compose myself.
Now, I know it’s customary for the bride and groom to have their first dance, and it was beautiful. But afterwards, Holly grabbed the microphone and surprised the entire room as she announced a new tradition.
“Thanks for the dance, Jack. We’ll have many years together for me to teach you how to dance properly.”
Laughs could be heard from all four corners of the room. I stood to the side, watching Holly stand in front of the microphone in her beautiful, white wedding dress.
Her eyes scanned the room, and they eventually found me. She smiled.
“It is only fair that Jack now has his first dance with the other love of his life. It is now time for the first dance of the groom and best man.”
I think I blushed like a naughty schoolboy. Jack stared at me from across the room. He had no idea she was going to do this.
When she realised neither of us was going to move, she jumped off the stage, grabbed my hand and pulled me over to Jack.
Everyone laughed, but it didn’t stop Jack and me from holding on to each other and having a slow dance to “(Everything I do) I do it for you” by Bryan Adams.
I didn’t get pissed that night, but I did have too much to drink. Jack took me to my hotel room and lay me out for the night. He kissed my forehead.
“Goodbye,” he said. “I’ll call you after the honeymoon. Look after yourself, Robbie.”
I groaned, turned over and went to sleep.
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