My thanks go to SH for doing what she can to find all of my cock-ups.
I really hadn't wanted to be there in the first place; but Bill was my oldest friend, even if we had drifted apart somewhat since he'd taken up with Stephanie. So when he contacted me and made it clear he was about to ask me to be his "best man", I really hadn't been able to come up with a reasonable sounding excuse to turn him down.
Without making it too obvious I tried just about everyway I could think of to put him off asking, even making it clear that if he did, then my escort for the big day would be Brenda.
That did lead to the phone line going quiet for a few seconds, whilst I believe Bill contemplated what kind of atmosphere Brenda's presence might bring to the proceedings. But then -- after some thought -- Bill stopped beating around the bush and upped and put it to me.
"Look mate, I don't really understand what happened with us. But I can't think of anyone else who would fit the bill. You were always my best mate, there's no one else that I'd want to be my best man." Bill eventually stated.
What could I do? I glanced across at Brenda who, sitting beside me, had I'm sure heard every word Bill said. She smiled, shrugged, and then nodded, before silently mouthing back at me.
"I'm game. It's up to you!"
"Yeah all right mate, whatever you want!" I'd replied, somewhat cautiously I should imagine. My memory of that phone conversation is a little confused.
"Thanks mate, I'll give you a ring in a couple of days so we can get together to sort out the details." Bill had replied and then the call came to an abrupt end.
"I should imagine he wanted to get off the line before you changed your mind." Brenda said with a grin, as I sat there staring at the now silent handset.
Yeah well, if I'm forced to, I'll admit to you that Stephanie was probably the biggest reason that I hadn't wanted to volunteer to do my duty that day. Or as they say, stand up for my oldest and one time best mate! And I'll add, that I hadn't been at all sure how Brenda was going to be able to handle things either. But if you don't mind, I'll get back to where Brenda fits into the equation a little later. My real problem was Stephanie!
We had all been aware that Bill had found the girl of his dreams, whilst he'd been away at university and most of us guys had had a good laugh about it behind his back. Yeah well, our little crowd had always been a group of confirmed bachelors. Or at that age, rather guys out for fun and looking to sow a few of the ubiquitous wild oats, not on the lookout for life partners. Bill had maybe grown up a little whilst he'd been away and was looking more to the future.
But the first time he'd brought Stephanie back to town, I stopped laughing in a hurry. And what's more, I'd instantly known that my close friendship with Bill was well and truly over.
I didn't have to take a second glance at Stephanie to know that I was in love with her as well. Not that I could fall in love with her, mind you; I knew that I was completely taken, hook, line and bleeding sinker, with my best mate's new fiancée.
Christ the woman was a walking wet dream, perfect in every detail. Stephanie had an unbelievably beautiful face, and an indescribably alluring figure, that her apparently natural dress sense showed off immaculately. Honestly the woman was everyman's dream life partner and should really have been on the stage or a catwalk somewhere.
Actually I had always had the impression that there was something vaguely familiar about her, which I put down to her looking so much like everyone's -- in this particular case read "my" -- ideal woman. I figured that I saw in Stephanie elements of just about every model and actress I'd ever drooled over, all rolled into one.
Not that I actually liked Stephanie. Now, you have a go at getting your head around that one? I know that I had a hell of a lot of trouble understanding it myself for a long time. I'm telling you, I'd been in love with the woman from the moment I clapped eyes on her but, at the same time, I'm also assuring you that I couldn't stand to be in the woman's presence.
My reasons for not liking her were manyfold. Most obvious I suppose, because her presence in his life had caused the rift between Bill and myself. And yeah well, I suppose that there was the possibility that the fact she'd chosen Bill over myself, has to be added into the calculations as well.
Mind you, there was also the point that, right from the moment I had first been introduced to Stephanie -- before I'd had the chance to decide whether I did or didn't like her -- I knew she was engaged to Bill. I couldn't very well have gone walking up to the girl and her told how I felt about her could I? Well shit, she was Bill's fiancée already, wasn't she?
And what's more, ever since Bill had brought her to our town, there had always been something about the way the woman looked at me that I couldn't get my head around either.
At that first meeting, there had been -- what I've always interpreted as -- an expression of horror in Stephanie's eyes when she looked at me. And, at our few subsequent meetings, Stephanie had always had an inexplicable air about her of being uncomfortable in my presence. And well, she appeared to avoid actually looking at, or speaking directly to me.
Yeah well, in a way that was to my advantage, because I wanted to avoid speaking to her anyway; so I can't say that it bothered me all that much.
I very soon came to the conclusion that she was not only actively avoiding me, but trying to keep Bill out of my company as well. But I supposed, that that was pretty standard procedure when a couple get engaged. Stephanie wanted Bill to herself, not gallivanting around with all his old boozy mates; it was only natural really.
Almost all of the rest of our old gang appeared to love Stephanie, not that I could blame the guys. The one exception and -- I had it figured for a long time -- my only ally, in the "can't bear to be in the woman's company" stakes, was Brenda Morris.
Brenda had her own reasons for disliking Stephanie of course. For a long time before Bill went off to University, Brenda had been his semi-regular squeeze. Nothing serious, mind you, but I do believe -- like the rest of us -- Brenda had had it figured that that would change when Bill got back from Uni.
Brenda was right in one respect, things did change; Bill didn't call her anymore!
But in a strange way that fact kinda worked to my advantage. Brenda was a nice person and a damned fine piece of real estate (as the yanks say), definitely nothing to be sneezed at (that's the English description fella's). I'm not sure how or why now, but shortly after Bill returned from Uni, Brenda and I kinda teamed up together -- mutual disappointment possibly -- but somewhere along the line we did.
The rest of our circle of friends appeared to want to stay close to Bill and his dream girl, and it must have soon became pretty obvious to everyone, that Brenda and I both preferred to be anywhere that the loving couple weren't. Actually people, who had chosen my line of work, often find themselves changing their circle of close friends when they join the job.
Now look, I even changed my bank, because Stephanie got a job as a cashier at the one I had been using.
As the months passed, Brenda and I discovered that we got on extremely well together, all things considered.
I'd moved out of my parents place and bought myself a little flat earlier that year ... and well, as Brenda's and my relationship progressed, very soon becoming an extremely physically, if not an emotionally entanglement. Whatever Brenda wishing to spread her own wings she had very soon moved into my spare bedroom and shared occupancy with me. Yeah well that's what she told her parents anyway.
In fact, we almost exclusively shared the master bedroom; I'll leave the rest to your imagination. As I said, a close relationship did develop between us, but not to the extent that either of us would even contemplate the idea of getting married. Although we didn't let that stop us enjoying ourselves, if you understand me?
Whether Brenda intrinsically understood where I was coming from, I'm not sure. But I knew where her heart was and the pain she was trying to hide, no matter how energetic she would become in bed. Whether by accident or design, on Brenda's part, we had kinda consoled each other.
Actually, sometimes -- when we'd maybe imbibed a little more than was good for us -- we'd have a good laugh about that.
I'm not sure how now, but it had become common knowledge that Stephanie intended to get married in white; with all that that is supposed to imply! i.e. when the announcement appeared in the local church magazine, the words "virgin of this parish" could be taken literally; unlike the case with the vast majority of brides in this day and age.
Ah, for those unaware of English church law. By the time the wedding came up, Stephanie -- a regular churchgoer, along with Bill and his family since she'd moved into our town -- had been resident in the parish for more than the requisite six months, required by the C or E. Technically she was correctly described as a virgin of the parish in the literal sense, if only just.
You know, at the time I had to wonder whether Bill had hurried the wedding along, because he was missing out on what he'd once enjoyed, with Brenda. Later, I kinda discovered that most, if not all of the haste had come from the couple's parents.
.... There is more of this story ...