Even though it wasn't my wedding, I still remember the day vividly. Each sigh of happiness from the grandparents as the bride floated down the aisle. Each tinkle of crystal as spoons crashed against champagne glasses, signaling for one more kiss from the happy couple. Each time my heart broke into a million pieces. I remember everything...
"Aren't they a lovely couple?"
"Pardon?" I turned to see who had spoken and smiled as my Aunt Rose tipped her glass of champagne back, draining the last few drops. She burped daintily, not bothering to cover her mouth, and gave me a toothy grin.
"I said aren't they a lovely couple?"
I nodded, unable to form a coherent sentence as the newlyweds danced their first dance together. Shelly and Dave were certainly easy on the eyes as they moved in tandem over the dance floor. My brother was still dressed in his tuxedo shirt and pants, although the bow tie had long since gone the way of his jacket and cummerbund.
Shelly? Well, there's no good way to describe the most stunning creature on God's green earth, not without making her sound practically... human. Her pixie face was aglow with happiness as she spun around in her husband's arms. I could hear the peals of her laughter over the buzz of the crowd. It was her day, far more than it would ever belong to Dave.
Far more than it would ever belong to me, although by rights it should have been mine.
She should have been mine.
Is it my fault I loved too deeply? Too completely? I admit to driving her away, although that admission certainly rings hollow to my own ears, all things considered. It seems I have often exhibited a talent for stating the obvious, and this would certainly fall into that category. So many things changed that day.
I've probably ruined her life, I know that.
But was it worth it?
"Ronnie, why aren't you dancing?" I looked up from playing with my six year-old niece Taylor, who seemed disappointed that her time of monopolizing me was over. She waved goodbye and scampered off in search of more entertaining adults.
"Hey, Shelly. I've been busy," I said, my smile turning a bit sour as my brother walked up behind his bride, embracing her in his arms. "I seem to have been elected oldest child by most of the kids, so I've been providing pony rides."
"You're cute, but you really need to dance," Shelly said, reaching up to return a stray lock of hair into its proper place in her elegant hairdo. She was lithesome and stunning, and I felt my stomach turn as she leaned back into my brother's embrace.
"Yeah, Ronnie. Why don't you get out there? You used to be able to cut some kind of mean rug on the dance floor, if I remember right. Time to strut your stuff. Show 'em that Davey boy isn't the only Hayes brother who's got it."
"Hush, David." Shelly looked embarrassed for her new husband, who clearly had enjoyed more than his share of the champagne, which seemed to flow from a bottomless spring.
I stood as if to leave, uncomfortable to be in their presence.
"Sorry, I've gotta..."
"Ronnie, don't go yet. It's still early," Shelly pleaded. "Let me stow Dave away somewhere. You can't leave yet. I still haven't had my dance with the best man."
Reluctantly I agreed, sighing as I watched my brother shuffle off to one of the side tables, held upright thanks to Shelly's strength, already supported by his new wife.
As I watched them walk away, I had to laugh. Best man? I hadn't been the best man in many years, especially not around my younger brother.
My last year at university seemed so long ago, but really it was the blink of an eye. I had seen Michelle Thomas from across the courtyard, and was instantly... instantly smitten.
"Do you see her?" I'd asked my brother the freshman, although he already had in two months managed to ingratiate himself to more people than I'd managed the previous three years. "I'm going to ask her for a date." I was terminally shy and nervous around girls, but she was something else.
"Who? Shelly?" My brother Dave was a social maven compared to my awkward, boorish behavior, but I still cringed to learn he knew her name. He should have had no reason to know her and yet he did, and when something, or someone took his fancy... I knew then I had no chance with her.
But I still had to try. Two weeks later I saw my opportunity and took it.
"Hi, um... Michelle?" I said, standing nearby the circle of people Shelly seemed always to be in the middle of.
"Yeah?" she asked, turning to look at me. My heart soared as for a moment a flash of recognition flickered over her face. Had I been thinking I would have known she saw my brother's features in my face. It was already too late, I just didn't know it yet.
"Hi. I'm Ron." Always Ron, never Ronnie, definitely not Ronald although most people seemed not to hear my preference. "Ron Hayes," I said, extending my hand in greeting. One of Shelly's friends said something I couldn't quite catch, and the girls around her burst into laughter.
"Hi Ron. I'm Shelly, but you already knew that, didn't you? Have we met? You seem familiar."
"Maybe you've seen me around the library. I usually work weekends there, so if you were ever there studying..."
"I don't think that's it," she answered, her reply triggering another round of laughter.
"Ron Hayes," I said again, hoping to remind her of whatever it was she had recognized in me originally.
"Ron Hayes? Oh! Ronnie Hayes! Sure, right... David's brother. He's told me so much about you. How are you?" she asked with what appeared to be the utmost sincerity.
It was the most agonizing conversation I'd had since my father attempted to lecture me on the birds and bees. His wasn't a bad attempt, really, and the fact that I was eighteen at the time almost made it humorous. This, on the other hand, was pure torture.
"He talks about you all the time," Shelly gushed, and I wondered why Dave had never seen fit to make any mention of the seemingly countless dates the two had gone on since first I'd mentioned my interest in Shelly to him.
The seeds of my torment certainly started that day. Couldn't he see that without any help from him, I had managed to find the one girl who would make me happy? I hadn't needed his help, our father's money would not have been an issue, it would have been Shelly and me, happy together.
But my brother had to fuck that up for me.
The last year of my college career was nothing but slow torture for me. Thankfully my brother and I were no longer roommates, so I wasn't forced to put up with Shelly's constant presence in my life. No, I only had to be around her on holidays, vacations, birthdays, and all the other important events in a person's life.
When my graduation finally came, I eschewed the family tradition and bolted to the coast. If the family business was ever to be Hayes and Sons, my father would have to sprout another progeny, for I would not be part of it. I wanted to get as far away from my brother and Shelly, now his fiancé, as I possibly could.
For the next three years I was a ghost as far as my immediate family was concerned. Oh, I appeared when needed, of course. The passing of my maternal grandmother was cause for great sadness and I was the appropriately somber grandson on that occasion. My youngest sister Mary's confirmation was another, happier event.
Each time I would return, Shelly was always happy to see me, wrapping me in a hug. It was all I could do to remain civil, so strong were my emotions. I knew my brother loved her, or at least thought he did, and Shelly's sentiments were obvious to anyone within range of her smile. My usual routine was to attend to my obligations and then more or less barricade myself in a spare room, so I'm certain I must have been awful company.
Thankfully those were two of only a handful of times I was obliged to return home. Until one day in January when I returned to my apartment, exhausted from one more day in a seemingly endless string of days at work. I rifled through my mail, which was filled as it always was with glossy advertisements, bills, credit opportunities, and something else-a thick envelope, made with heavy linen paper and scented of jasmine. My heart sunk as I flipped it over and read the return address.
Mr. and Mrs. Richard Thomas
Michelle's parents, who would never send me a letter, not unless it was to inform me of the upcoming marriage of their daughter to my brother.
I tore through the wax seal only to find my suspicions confirmed. And worse yet, it appeared my brother and his soon-to-be wife had planned this far in advance, and the blessed day was not for another seven months.
Seven months to agonize over what might have been.
Two hundred days still to come before Shelly Thomas would become Shelly Hayes.
How many minutes, how many seconds, until she married the wrong brother?
Finally the day of the wedding loomed ever closer and I, ever the faithful and trustworthy brother, arrived back home for the festivities.
.... There is more of this story ...