Alice and Bob danced the first dance, as was traditional. Of course I was there, chronicling this latest phase in my best friend's life. The two of them were good together, everyone said so and I had to agree. The love-light just shone from their eyes and their smiles were sickeningly sweet. How did I know this? You ask. I was videotaping their wedding. I didn't have to, they did have an official cameraman, but I had a self-appointed task to complete my record of Bob's life as a single man. The first song segued into the second song and the rest of the wedding party sashayed onto the dance floor and mums and dads partnered their opposite number along with maiden aunts and roguish uncles. I decided that I'd had enough and sat down, deflated.
"It's all right you know."
I turned round bewildered at the unexpected intrusion. The words had come from Alice's grandmother.
"What is?" I said tersely.
"It's all right to admit that you love him."
"Who?" I was completely at a loss to understand what she was driving at.
"Bob. It's all right if you're in love with him."
I laughed. She looked offended.
"I'm sorry. I'm being rude, it's just that you caught me off-guard. Yes, you're right, I do love him." The old lady looked smug and murmured something like 'I knew I was right'; then I lowered the boom. "But like a brother. I'm not in love with him." I reflected on the inadequacies of the English language in this respect. The Greeks had it right with their different sorts of love: Agape, Philos, and Eros. Philos that was the one: love between friends. I clarified myself to Alice's Grandmother. "I'm not gay you know."
She looked unconvinced. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend you."
"It's okay, I'm not offended, there's nothing wrong with being gay. It's just that I'm not." I smiled to show just how relaxed about it I was and wandered off to get a drink.
Another close call, I reflected as I downed the single malt that Bob had made sure was behind the bar especially for me. The peaty, peppery flavour of the Talisker burnt its way down my throat and I held my glass out for another double. Good old Bob, always looking out for me, I thought darkly. I looked up to see the happy couple weaving their way towards me. I pasted a welcoming smile on my face in a band-aid kind of way and waited for them to arrive.
Alice and Bob descended on me like two slightly drunken angels of love, dispensing bonhomie and goodwill to all and sundry. Alice draped her arm around my shoulder and tried to kiss me. I stiffened under her embrace and she desisted, rebuffed once more.
"Wish us luck." Bob oblivious to the by-play, as always, demanded his obligatory blessing from me.
"Good luck" I tried to smile and added, "both of you. I hope you'll be very happy together."
Alice flinched at my artificial tone and dragged him off. I stared after them and wondered again what the hell I was going to do when they came back from their honeymoon. It was then that I knew I was going to take the job offer from the 'States. That was the ticket, I thought to myself, several thousand miles ought to be far enough away to cope with it and maybe, just maybe, I would be able to forget.
The sounds of cheering drifted from the entrance of the hotel and then cries of "Charles, where's Charles?" floated into the ballroom. That was my cue. I fired up the camera and made my way outside to video them leaving for a fortnight's cruise in the Caribbean. So intent was I on filming them that I missed the fact that the bouquet had been thrown until I looked up and saw the flowers descending on me. Sometimes things just happen. I nonchalantly put out my hand and the bouquet just fell into place as if it were magnetically attracted. I looked up and saw Alice glaring at me. I shrugged an apology and handed the flowers to the girl next to me who looked dejected at having received them second-hand. Before anyone could say anything Bob grabbed Alice and dragged the garter from her thigh, a process that I didn't capture on video. Then he chucked it high in the air and I watched as several drunken teenagers fought over the bounty. With a final wave the car drove off into the night with cans and boots banging and thumping merrily behind it.
The 'phone rang as I entered my apartment. I searched amongst the chaos of the imminent move and eventually found it.
"Hey Charlie boy, wassup?" The raucous tones of Bob made me wince.
"Hey Bob. I only just left you, wa'd'ya want?"
"Sorry, I forgot to ask you. Alice says the cameraman has made a complete cock-up of the wedding video. I told her that you'd been filming all the time and she asked if she could borrow your tape. What do you say mate?"
"I suppose so." I stalled for time. "Look, the thing is, with all the packing I don't even know if I still have the tape."
"That's okay, it was just a thought. Tell Alice when she gets there. She said she'd be calling round after work."
Christ! She was coming to the apartment! I had to get away before she got here.
"Okay Bob, I'll see what I can do. No promises, mind you."
"Thanks mate. You're a pal."
"What are friends for?"
I chucked the 'phone on the settee and hurried back to the front door. If I was quick enough, perhaps I could be out when she called. I opened the door to see Alice with her hand stretching towards the doorbell. She screamed in surprise.
"Shit! Charlie, you scared the crap out of me." She stared at me confused. "How did you do that?"
"Open the door before I'd pressed the doorbell."
"Oh. Coincidence, I was just on my way out."
She forestalled me from trying to squeeze by her and pushed me back into the apartment.
"This won't take long." She closed the door behind her and leant against it, blocking my escape. I stood irresolute. "I'm determined to have this out with you. Why do you dislike me so much?"
"I don't dislike..."
"Yes you do. You won't spend a minute alone with me. My Granny reckoned that you were in love with Bob. I even asked him if you were gay and he laughed at the very idea. So, just what is your problem with me?"
"I don't have a problem with you." I prevaricated. It was an outright lie, but not the way that she thought.
"Yes you do. You've never liked me. I don't understand why, I've always tried to let you and Bob have time together. I've never come between you. Ever. I've never said, 'it's Charlie or me, decision time.'"
Her words knifed through me, scarring my soul. I tried again to deflect her ire. "I know, it isn't..."
"So why? I try and try and you keep knocking me back. If you weren't Bob's best friend I'd have given up a long time ago!"
"It's not like you think." It was futile. My words were lost in the tornado of her frustration. She continued as if I'd said nothing.
"I don't understand you at all. If you disliked me that much, you could've stopped Bob from marrying me, he listens to you, but you didn't. Everyone I talk to says you're a great bloke, but I never see that side of you at all." She subsided, bewildered, into silence.
"Leave it alone, please?" The plea in my voice disarmed her somewhat.
"Well don't say I didn't try. Again. Anyway I came to ask if I could borrow the video that you made?"
"I suppose so. If I have it here; it's probably been packed away."
While I was talking Alice had made her way to the stack of videotapes by the TV. I stared in anguish as she picked up one in particular.
"I don't think so. Is this it? The one with 'Bob's Wedding' written on the label?" She looked at me, resigned. "Couldn't you even bring yourself to write my name?"
I shrugged. "I've probably taped over it by now."
"Unlikely, as you've removed the record tabs. So let's see what we've got, shall we."
I stood paralysed as she pushed the tape into the player. The sights and sounds of the wedding service filled the room. The picture was surprisingly steady and the quality was pretty good, though I say it myself. The wonders of modern technology now make it almost impossible to make a traditional wobbly home video. Alice was thrilled.
"This is wonderful Charlie. Do say I can borrow it." Her delight at finding usable footage of her wedding had driven all thoughts of my behaviour towards her out of her mind. She turned to me. I stared aghast at the screen, which was now filled with her smiling face, in loving close up. Alice seemed surprised at my expression and turned to see what I was staring at, and then she became quiet as each shot I'd taken eventually ended with a close up of her. After minutes of this, Alice turned back to me in bewilderment.
"Of course you can borrow it. I'm sure your video company can make something suitable for public consumption out of it." I struggled to maintain my composure and added, "best not to let Bob see it though."
The homage to Alice continued to play on the screen and Alice stared at me in dawning realisation as I stood with tears rolling down my cheeks.
"Charlie. I had no idea. I thought you hated me." Her expression had softened as she saw me anew in the light of this revelation. It was this, more than anything else, which almost broke me. Finally I forced a few words passed the lump in my throat. Short, staccato bursts of speech were all that I could manage.
"Hate you? How could I? It's a self-preservation thing, really. Abject failure, though, as you can see. Still, I'll be in America soon. No point in crying over spilt milk." I stumbled blindly through the front door. "You'll see yourself out, won't you?"
.... There is more of this story ...