John is a bit of a wreck.
It's been near a decade since I've seen him, but I spot him among the wedding guests with expert Where's Waldo accuracy. He's pretending not to notice me, so I don't approach. I meander around the field a bit, in and out of the white wedding tent. Instead I catch up with high-school friends who I barely knew. I struggle remembering their names.
He's frequenting the bar now, one hand in his jeans and the other grasping onto his drink like reins on a horse. His crew cut brown hair brushes the collar of a button up flannel shirt which is neatly tucked into the waist line of pants that just cover ankles of leather boots.
A carbon copy 4 year old version of him moves around the reception through tunnels of adult legs, periodically being picked up into the stratosphere of conversations, set atop the hip of a bleach blonde aunt wearing costume jewelry.
I recognize one of John's younger sisters at a nearby table, eating barbeque and chatting idly.
"How are you? Great to see you!" I say.
She doesn't turn her head an inch in my direction. "Living the dream," she responds matter-of-factly, facing her friends. "Living the dream." It's just at that moment a breeze picks up the plastic plate from my hands and hurls the contents onto her purse, cake and frosting erupting into the air. When she turns to take in the catastrophe I notice one or two red crumbs perched atop immobile ledges of hairspray hardened hair. I am too timid to point them out, so I focus on cleaning up her purse instead. "Leave it," she says sharply, "Just leave it."
I excuse myself and announce into the mic that the bride and groom will begin their first dance, but the commotion under the reception tent doesn't pause to watch their ceremonial spinning. The majority of guests continue their conversations in buzzed, brazen voices. No one gives a speech, a toast. A sprinkle of rain starts to fall and little gusts of wind tug at the plastic table cloths.
The bride and groom couldn't care less. They dance in the field. She can both out-hunt and out-fish him, but this evening she looks quite fragile - and much lovelier than every wildflower speckling the grass.
Allen met Katie when he accidentally walked in on her standing over a skillet in her underwear, cooking up a rabbit she'd killed with her shot gun. Because he was inadvertently blocking the door, rather than cover herself she just shrugged and offered him a bite. I imagine her brushing her blond bangs out of her eyes and smiling slyly.
My mirror neurons rapid fire tears when I look at them now- promising eternity to each other in a quiet confidence that needs no reassurance from the crowd. Its evident that she will make him extremely happy. He's welling up, holding her small frame in his strong arms.
It's getting darker out.
John is still standing alone by the bar, looking exactly like his yearbook photo. His tall posture and tightly drawn mouth are so still that he could have been hair-sprayed there, fixed in front of the mountain backdrop. His legs are planted like trunks atop the mowed alfalfa. Only his eyes move, following his son's darting motion as he runs with the other children, a future football player.
"Joooooohn" I say, approaching. "Gab," he says, "How are ya?"
We politely catch up. He asks dutifully about each of my family members, in order of their age. I don't bother to ask about his relatives, because I've talked to all of them, near perfect clones of one another, within the last hour.
After the fifth drink, he follows me out to my car so we can plug in his cell phone to charge. I'm sitting in the driver's seat while he's pacing back and forth in the door ajar light. He pops the top on another can of beer and I hear simultaneously the ku-klunk of his pad-lock heart open up.
"You disappeared. You stopped calling," he accuses. My brow furrows instantly. "John," I say as sternly as I can, "you distinctly asked me to stop calling."
He doesn't seem to mind the lack of logic here, because what he says next is: "Brianne didn't like it when you called."
Despite the fact that there's zilch for sexual energy between us, he feels guilty just standing here, talking to me.
His dad doesn't have friends that are girls, his uncles don't have friends that are girls, and his grandfather and grand-uncles sure-as-shit don't have friends that are girls. They all have marriages.
So John unlocks his phone to try and send a text that will affirm his, but he's struggling with the dial-pad. Extra "v"s and "t"s and "x"s keep making their unwanted way into his words. I take the glowing screen from him and type on his behalf:
The wedding was fun, babe. Sweet dreams. I love you.
One of his hair-spray sisters walks by us and smacks him on the shoulder as she passes. "Remember your wife," she says, at an awkwardly loud volume.
He ventures into the trees to pee, and on his return he trips slightly on a potted flower bouquet. He kicks the thing aggressively, and it goes sailing. I hear the thud of his shoe, the crack of the plastic, watch the white speckles of potting soil spray through the blackness.
"How many nights?" he shouts at me. "how many nights did I lay next to you and never touch you?"
He's really quite mad now. His cheeks are red and his face looks like his boy's did earlier when John told him to finish his plate, even though he was already full.
It must be frustrating to behave so well and still suffer punishment.
He pauses for me to answer, but I say nothing. Of course, he's completely right - our relationship was sacredly platonic. I needed to be loved by not being touched, and he gave that to me. He warned his brothers. They built me a fortress inside their eight arms, and my comfort was never called into question despite spending countless nights together in tents, in tree-houses, in truck-beds. Just a pile of five snoring bodies, sleeping bags and stars.
But that was long before Leo married Brandy; before Mike married Nichole; before John married Brianne.
Then suddenly, like a hand reluctantly releasing a balloon, my heart sinks a pinch before floating up into the atmosphere, popping with celebratory joy at the sheer thought of it: Today, Allen married Katie. And two people have never, ever, belonged to each other more.