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“One day, whether you are 14, 28 or 65,
you will stumble upon someone who will start a fire in you that cannot die.
However, the saddest, most awful truth you will ever come to find––
is they are not always with whom we spend our lives”
― Beau Taplin, Hunting Season
The Wedding Day, 9 a.m.
She was always told that her wedding day would be the happiest day of her life. Her eyes were blank as she stared at herself in the mirror, it was hard to believe that. She wondered if any of it was worth it; the planning, the money, the facade. To make matters worse, this was just the beginning of the long day ahead.
Her mind kept going back to all the interviews that they had done leading up to this. Everyone wanted to know all about the proposal, the caterers, the guest list, and the magnificent dress. She was marrying Phillip Lewis after all, and his family ran most of the state with their money. They had what her future mother-in-law called a “smaller” ceremony planned, with 500 of their “closest: friends and family. Of course, it was all for show, and in reality, she didn’t know over half of the people on the guest list. She couldn’t help but wonder how this became her life. Her train of thought crashed when she heard a knock at the door.
“Carrie,” her sister peeked her head in, “hair and makeup in 30 minutes.”
“OK,” was all that slipped her lips.
“Look,” Leigh said, crossing her arms in the doorway, “I know that you’re nervous, but try to enjoy it. This day only happens once!” her eyes too bright and her grin fairly too large, she was clearly more excited than the bride-to-be.
Carrie let out a sigh she didn’t realize she was holding in, “Of course. It’s just finally hitting me, that’s all.”
When she was alone again, she examined the room. The wedding was to be held at a fancy golf resort, no doubt the most brilliant event anyone from her family had ever attended. It was all thanks to the Lewises and their money. If it were up to her, the wedding would somewhere outside and simple. This was far from simple.
The room she was in was bright and airy. Light flooded through a large window at one end that overlooked the golf course. She didn’t bother to push back the sheer white curtains, because no one would be playing. Everyone would be getting ready for her big day. She sat at a polished white vanity, an array of beauty products she had no knowledge of sprawled out in front of her. Her thin fingers plucked a flower out of a silver vase and she started tugging at the petals.
“I love him,” Carrie whispers, as a petal falls.
“I love him not,” another.
The Night Before, 10 p.m.
The night before, Ken stumbled back to his normal seat at the bar. The cute curly-haired bartender slid the usual down his way. He nodded towards her and took a sip. Ever since he was 22, The Side Door had been his second home. It’s the only bar within walking distance of his apartment, and his car was repossessed a while back. Clearly, he was living the dream.
Ken liked the routine of it. He liked that he could sit alone, wallowing in misery, and drink his favorite beer. His eyes scanned the room, trying to find someone out of place. This bar was for the locals and it was always easy to spot outsiders. They liked to torment people from out of town that wanted the “real experience.” They would have to find a different place to drink, this bar was off limits. Everyone here was the same. They were a community, together in their aloneness and alcoholism.
Every day was hard for him. However, this day was especially difficult. He had just read the paper and noticed that her wedding was tomorrow. He knew it was coming up, but tried to forget about it.
Surprisingly, he wasn’t too drunk yet, so when he saw a stranger take a seat across the bar, he wasn’t enraged. Cocking his head to the side, he decided to approach the man.
The man appeared to be in the same state as Ken. Screeches filled the air as he slid a chair up next to the stranger. He looked him up and down.
“You’re not a regular,” he stated.
The new guy barely glanced towards him and shook his head. Behind them, the locals crowded together, undoubtedly discussing how peculiar this situation was. They’d be expecting Ken to yell at the man, to force him to leave. He decided to ignore them.
“Let me buy you a drink,” he said, as he motions to the bartender, “I’m Ken. Technically, it’s Kennedy. After JFK! The parents were huge fans, but I go by Ken.”
The bartender placed another beer in front of the man. She lingered for a second, also noting the odd situation.
“You new to town or new to the bar?”
The man peers over his shoulder, “Both…but it might be my first and last time here.”
The regulars were still murmuring.
Ken takes a sip and savors the flavor, knowing soon it’ll taste like water. A million thoughts spin around in his mind until he’s drunk, so he drinks to keep them at bay. The familiar drink slid too smoothly down his throat, I miss her. A gulp, I’m lonely. More, they were right, I’m a failure. Another, I let her go. With the last of it, I need her.
“Why you drinkin’ tonight?” Ken asked.
Caught off guard, the man finally looked up. With a shrug, he stated, “A girl…You?”
He nodded, “A girl.”
After forming a bubble of self-pity, Ken glanced over at the bartender. “Meet my new friend,” he paused, clearly waiting for the stranger to give his name.
“Right. Alec and I are both heartbroken over here,” Ken pointed out, “It looks like you have two options. You can take one of us home or you can keep the beers coming all night!”
She scoffed, “You’re such a dick.”
Ken responds with a wink. Now that he knew what was to come tomorrow, he wanted no remembrance of it.
The Wedding Day, 11 a.m.
Carrie still wasn’t used to this much fuss and attention. A tall woman was tugging at her hair, making sure every last strand was in place. A plump girl who barely looked 16 was being ever so delicate as she painted lipstick on Carrie’s full, parted mouth. Another woman grabbed her hand and shrieked. She scolded her for being too rough with her nails and began the repair. One reeked of cigarette smoke and quickly made last minute adjustments to her dress, a stunning ball gown handed down from Mrs. Lewis herself. Her sister, Leigh, was speaking with the photographer and stayed busy keeping the rest of the bridesmaids in check.
Her stomach growled. She realized she skipped breakfast and after thinking about it for a moment, she realized she skipped dinner too.
She attempted to swat everyone away, but they all insisted their tasks were dire. Everything felt like too much, all at once. The room got hot and her heart started racing, sweat began forming at the base of her neck. She felt like she was going to explode.
“Stop!” she yelled. “Leigh, I need help! Everyone, get out!” she retracted her hand and knocked the curling iron out of the tall woman’s hand. They fought back, urging her to reconsider.
“I’ll get fired if your nails aren’t ready!”
“—and your lashes aren’t on!”
“What’s Mrs. Lewis going to think if you’re not ready soon!?”
Leigh ushered them out of the room and Carrie locked the door behind them. Breathing heavily, she slid to the floor. This all felt so wrong. After a moment, she pulled herself up and started picking apart an elegant fruit basket. The women were still yelling outside of the locked door.
“How overdramatic can they be? What in the world is going on?” Leigh demanded.
“I don’t think I can do this,” Carrie declared with the bite of an apple.
Leigh snapped her head towards her sister, with utter confusion, “Why in the world not!? You two are perfect together!”
Carrie whipped out a bottle of champagne from a different gift basket. She struggled to get it open. She wrestled with the cap until she heard the “pop.” Deep down, she knew she was just like him. Alcohol helps hide emotions, and they need it to get through hard days, which seems like every day lately. They feel too deep. While she can settle for a glass or two of red in the evenings, how unbearable must his pain be to have to drink every moment of the day?
She took a long drink directly from the bottle. With a deep breath, she finally admitted it, “I’ve been…thinking about Kennedy.”
The Night Before, 12 a.m.
He lost track of how many drinks the bartender had passed his way. He was sitting still, but the room started swirling, a mix of faces and loud music. A beer cap caught his eye, and he started twiddling with it between his fingers. It was such a normal scene, the locals all drunk together. Gossiping and plotting things they wouldn’t remember tomorrow.
“You have a ride home?” he asked Alec.
“Yeah, I got an Uber on the way,” he stated after emptying out the last of his beer.
“How responsible! No car?” Ken slurred.
“I have too much to lose if I get a DUI,” Alec responded.
“My life went to shit after she left,” he stated, sloppily. He knew he had shared too much, but he couldn’t help it.
Alec’s phone buzzed. He picked it up with relief.
“Alright man, rides here. I gotta go. Thanks for the drink.”
He left a tip on the bar top, grabbed his worn leather jacket, and walked out.
Ken sipped the last of his beer and held up his hand when the bartender started heading his way, he knew he should be done for the night. He needed to sober up a little to make the walk home, he asked for water instead.
Even though his mind wasn’t very clear, something in the room changed, he could feel it. Slowly, the loud chatter came to an end. He could hear light shuffling over the music as everyone was turning towards the door. He followed suit and his heart nearly stopped beating.
She was as beautiful as ever, with her dark hair cascading over her shoulders. She scanned the room and their gazes locked. Everyone watched, mouths gaping. No one was more confused than he was, half convinced he was hallucinating. He’s done it before. The old her would hate this attention, she’d turn and run from it. There’s no way it’s really her, shoulders back, head held high. Her gaze unwavering, she closed the door behind her and headed his way. There was nothing he could do but stare, absolutely dumbfounded.
“May I?” she asked, gesturing to Alec’s recently vacated barstool.
Still dazed, he didn’t respond. He just stared.
She took the seat anyway. She removed her coat and placed it under her expensive handbag on the seat beside her. Looking around the room, he sees that all eyes are still on them. They notice him and pretend to do something else. The two of them sit in silence for a moment, until the bartender returns.
“Hey girl! Can I get you anything?” she asked.
“Rum and Coke, please,” she responded quietly.
“Ah, some things never change!” the bartender exclaimed.
Carried flashed a smile as the bartender walked away, gathering the right liquor for the drink.
The Wedding Day, 11:30 a.m.
Leigh felt a combination of confusion and anger. Kennedy and Phillip were polar opposites. Phillip was wealthy and educated, he had goals and was going places. Her little sister always made bad decisions around Kennedy, while Phillip kept her grounded.
As much as everyone hated the idea, everyone in town thought Carrie and Kennedy would get married one day. Somehow, they were perfect together. Carrie and Kennedy, Kennedy and Carrie, even their names were in harmony. They were reckless and compulsive, but somehow perfect. The fire and passion between them would always be there, a flame that could never burn out.
Once, finals had Carrie extremely stressed out, she was on scholarship and bound for medical school, being the brainiac of the family. Kennedy convinced her to skip town for a few days to go to the beach and relax. Those days somehow turned into weeks of saltwater and sand. They spent what seemed like eternity lounging on the coast, contemplating what they wanted in life and planning their future together. The two of them came back with nothing but empty pockets and sunburns, having spent all their money on hotels and alcohol. With new freckles and sun-bleached hair, she told her parents she was dropping out.
“He hasn’t called in three years, Leigh,” she starts, “I’m getting married to someone else and he hasn’t stopped by, he hasn’t called, heck he hasn’t even texted me! He gave up on us.”
“Isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t that what you wanted? After what happened—and Phillip, he’s amazing!” Leigh was stunned and rambling off every fragment of a thought that came to mind.
“Phillip isn’t him though. I mean, he saved me from the heartbreak, but he’s not Kennedy.”
The sisters sat on the floor of the same airy, bright room, although both of them were feeling dull inside. They began passing back and forth the bottle of champagne.
“But…your wedding is today,” Leigh said, in between sips.
“And I AM getting married. Unless—”
They were interrupted by a harsh knock on the door.
“Carrie!” it was her soon to be mother-in-law, Mrs. Lewis, “I have a room full of folks waiting to see you get married and you kicked my girls out!? Open this door!”
“Shit!” Carrie threw the bottle of champagne towards her sister and tried to gather her composure. Mrs. Lewis was not one you mess with, and she would consider a drunk bride utterly classless. She rolled her eyes at the thought.
Carrie opened the door and is greeted by a red-faced Mrs. Lewis and a stampede of angry women. This time, she complied and allowed them to finish.
The Night Before, 12:30 a.m.
Ken didn’t mean to let such a long time go by. He just wanted to give her space and some time to cool down, that’s normally what she needed when they got in a big fight.
They were both hotheads. The two of them clashed in every way possible. It was a constant war, but that’s also what made them so remarkable. They would yell and scream and push each other to the limit. Then, in an instant, they were wrapped up together with a passion and every angry word was forgiven.
It had been three years, but he still knew what he did was wrong. He was drunk, per usual, and at the time, he didn’t realize he was putting their entire relationship on the line. He didn’t know he would lose her, forever. It always seemed like nothing could actually ruin them. To this day, the foreign memory of someone else still burns every inch of his body.
Ken tried calling her the first few weeks without return. Over the first few months, he would sit outside her sister’s house, trying to find the words to say. The words to get her back.
Carrie was a distinctively routine person. Her sister’s house was on the corner of a neighborhood, with a park across the street. She moved into the large white home, with black shutters and a yellow door, after she left him. It was very suburban, porch swing and all. Ken picked a bench in the park and inhabited it, a million things running through his mind daily.
This was the reason he lost his job and his car, he was always there. He would watch her flick on and off the lights. He caught glimpses of them around the table, eating together. Wishing he could just walk in and sit down, like old times. She left for work at the same time every morning and returned after stopping by the gym. She had always been tiny, but after their breakup, she was as thin as ever. There were bags under her eyes, her joints became knobby, her ribs protruded when she wore a tight shirt. She was unhealthy and he blamed himself. He knew that she was always one to let stress get to her. Of course, he knew that watching her was creepy but he would do anything for her.
After a few months of being on the outside, he noticed that her precise 7:15 p.m. arrival turned into 9, then 11, then not at all. He knew what this meant; he had waited too long while struggling to find the right words.
Now she was here, right in front of him, and he’s gone over this moment a thousand times. He knew what he’d say to her if he ever spoke to her again. How deeply he would apologize for all that had taken place, and all the mistakes he made. How everything would work itself out and she’d find a way to forgive him. How they could go back to being in love, and live the rest of their lives together. The moment they made eye contact, all of that disappeared. For once, his mind was an absolute blank.
Carrie toyed with the thin red straw in her drink, “Hey, stranger.”
Hearing her voice was like a bullet to his chest. It was painful. The mix of adrenaline and confusion left him disoriented. He blinked a few times, sure that she was a figment of his imagination.
She looked different than he remembered. Her hair was much longer and she wore her makeup differently. Although she still didn’t seem healthy, her figure was more filled out than the last time he saw her.
“Um,” he looked around and noticed everyone gave them space, “w-why are you here?”
Her mouth fell and she paused, “I don’t know…this was probably a bad idea,” she grabbed her coat.
Ken saw it all happen again in his head, her leaving him. Instinctively, he reached out for her and caught her hand as she placed some cash on the counter.
“No, sorry,” he pleaded, “don’t go.”
It was strange, her hand felt all too familiar, yet something was off. Her hand was soft and petite, just like he remembered. He was mesmerized. She let her nails grow much longer than she used to. He recalled that she hated shaping them, so she just chewed them off instead. Now, they were pink, flawless, and so distracting. Something else was different, too. As he lifted his palm up, he revealed the diamond she wore on her ring finger. His heart sunk as he realized that was something he could never provide for her. He realized he looked crazy just staring at her hand, so he let go.
She nodded and set her things down. After another round and her doing most of the awkward small talk, it was clear to see that Carrie came there for a reason.
“Look…I don’t want you to talk. That’s obviously something you’ve gotten good at, not talking that is.”
He’s shocked at this, so he remained silent. She seemed so angry with him.
“I’m getting married tomorrow, and I love him, I do—but I don’t know if he’s the one. You know?”
She interrupted him, “I said no talking,” she clears her throat and continues, “I know it’s been a really long time, but I’m getting married. Tomorrow! And there are so many questions that are unanswered.”
He knew that she’s never been one to put feelings into words so he couldn’t imagine how hard this is for her. Internally, he scolded himself for forcing her to seek him out. After he heard that she was dating one of the Lewis boys, he thought it would be best to stay away. In his mind, she would always be better off without him.
“Wait—” he interrupts, “How did you know I was here?”
“Everyone knows you’re always here! You’re always in the background of everyone’s photos…and your location is still shared to my phone on that Friends app,” she shrugged.
“So you’ve been keeping tabs on me?” he blurted out, too defensively to cover up the embarrassment. He wondered if that meant that she still cared.
“No! Anyways, it’s like no one in my family understands and this is just a really big deal. It’s a huge commitment and how do you know if you are really ready for something like that? I just needed someone to talk to and—”
He interrupts again by reaching up and placing his hand on her face. Her body stiffened and her eyes went wide. It was like the world stopped. Eyes straining against the dim lighting in the bar, he wanted to see every detail of her face. He could make out the tiny mole she hated on her right cheekbone and the scar on her forehead. He remembered how it felt to be kissed by her lips and that was enough.
Before he knew it, he was leaning in, merely inches from her beautiful face. Close enough to feel her breath on his cheek. He wanted to tell her that he was sorry, that she could come back home, that he would do everything to keep her this time.
They both jumped when they heard a loud crash. Someone near the door had knocked several empty bottles off of the table. They shouted out an apology and everything settled back down.
“What are you thinking!?” She questioned, brushing back her hair, and looking around to see if anyone saw whatever that was.
He was trying to muster an apology when she started talking again.
“Back to my point…It’s the whole speak now or forever hold your peace thing,” she looked down, her face burning where his hand had been, and took a deep breath. “I have every reason in the world to marry this man, I really do.”
It was like she was trying to convince herself it was true.
Carrie continues, “Unless… you give me a reason not to,” she looked up at him with tear-brimmed eyes.
He could tell this was painful for her, and it wasn’t just the tears in her eyes. She’s such a different person now, a person that his mistakes formed. He knew that if it wasn’t for him, she would be the same as she used to be. Or maybe she would be a little different, who knows? He was certain Carrie wouldn’t be like this. He could see the damage in her eyes, that is, when he could bear to look at them.
A silent moment passed by, his jumbled mess of thoughts returned, all at once. What is she saying? Crash her wedding? He let this all process for a moment, and when he came to, he realized the oddity of this situation. He wasn’t good enough for her and he knew it. Being with him would only ruin her life too, he couldn’t do that to her.
She waited a few moments for him to respond. He said nothing.
“Of course you’re not going to say anything,” she scoffed, “Goodbye, Kennedy,” she gathered her composure, pulled on her coat, and slipped her bag around her shoulder. She tucked a fifty under her glass and started heading for the door. He did what he was best at, he allowed her to walk away.
The bartender snuck up to him, not wanting to be too nosy, “Wow…nice tip. So, what was that all about?”
His body didn’t know what to do, so it became angry. He yelled a few curse words and kicked the barstool, “I don’t know.”
He didn’t even grab his things and ran straight out of the bar after her. It was too late, she was already gone.
The Wedding Day, 1:05 p.m.
Carrie stood in front of a large trifold mirror on a platform. Leigh was lacing up the corset to the stunning ball gown, Mrs. Lewis in tears. After all the bumps in the road, things were finally coming together. One of the girls finishing her makeup held Carrie steady as Leigh slipped on her heels for her.
Mrs. Lewis clipped in her veil and admired her, “You look beautiful! We’re running late, but it’s OK, they’ll understand when they see you!”
Leigh wiped away a tear as she handed her the bouquet, an array of white gardenias, “Are you ready?”
Carrie nodded, and followed her six bridesmaids and her sister, the maid of honor, into the hall. Anxiety and nervous chatter came from all of them, in just a few moments, there would be 500 pairs of eyes on them. Everyone perked up as Mrs. Lewis found her seat and the organ started playing. One by one, the bridesmaids found the groomsmen, then parted at the end of the aisle.
When it was just the two of them, alone, Leigh turned to Carrie, “We can leave, now. You don’t have to do this.”
Carrie contemplated the option for a moment and finally shook her head, “Just go.”
Leigh gave her sister one last hug before she caught up with the other bridesmaids.
Finally, it was Carrie’s turn. It felt as though she was floating as she made her way down the aisle. Her body was light, it felt as though she was outside herself. She felt lightheaded, on the verge of fainting. All too quickly, she was standing in front of Phillip.
He looked handsome, truly. His mother picked the colors, and the blue in his suit made his eyes pop. She felt nervous as he gazed at her with his boyish grin. The sun they’ve had lately brought out his freckles and dusted them across his cheeks.
Her heart was racing, as she realized that Phillip was her future. She would force herself to be happy, but part of her wondered if Kennedy was going to show up.
Before she knew it, the minister began, “I stand before this couple this day to unite them in the bonds of holy matrimony. If there is anyone here that may present just and lawful cause why these two individuals may not be lawfully wed, let him speak now or forever hold their peace.”
Unsure if anyone else in the room could feel the tension, Carrie didn’t want to turn her eyes towards the door, afraid of who would—or wouldn’t—be there. After just a moment, she glanced back and caught Leigh’s eye. Leigh slightly shook her head. What appeared to be Carrie’s sigh of relief might have been a sigh of defeat.
The minister now turned toward the groom, “Do you, Phillip, take Carrie as your lawfully wedded wife? If so, answer “I do.”
Phillip squeezed her hands. With a smile, he exclaimed, “Of course I do.”
Carrie bit her lip as she realized it was now her time to pledge to be Phillip’s, forever.
“Do you, Carrie, take Phillip as your lawfully wedded husband? If so, answer “I do.”
She took a deep breath.
The Wedding Day, 12:32 p.m.
His head was spinning, and his mind was still blurry from the night before. Had he dreamt it, seeing her? He was confused and nauseous, but he was used to that. What he wasn’t used to was this underlying feeling of hope he sensed. Even if it was just a dream, maybe it was a sign. A sign revealing what he had known deep down for eternity, they were always meant to be together. He was fumbling for his things when he realized he must have forgotten them at the bar when he chased after her.
“Damn it!” he shouted as he rolled over and his clock read 12:32. She told him that the wedding was to start at 1, or was that in his memory from reading it in the newspaper?
Either way, he was going to stop this wedding! He scrambled to his feet. The closet was bare, so he grabbed a pair of pants and a shirt from the floor. He sniffed them before deeming them OK, he just needed to get to her. He ran to the bathroom, splashed water on his face, and took a swig of mouthwash.
No time, no time, no time! The same chorus ran through his head over and over again as he searched for his old watch. He burst through the front door and left it swinging behind him. He was jogging down the street before he realized it: the resort is at least 20 minutes away…by car. He slowed to check the time again. 12:38.
He ran through the options in his head. Running was impossible, he wouldn’t make it in time. The chain on his bike was broken. The bus was too risky and didn’t go all the way to the resort. If only he had a car!
Ken glanced up and spotted his neighbors truck. It was broad daylight, but it wouldn’t be stealing, just borrowing. He tried the door. It was locked.
After a moment of panic, he decided to run until there was another car. In his neighborhood, people were lucky if they could afford one. Thankfully, it came sooner than expected. A few houses down, he spotted an old Camry. He looked around before jogging up to peer in the window. The luckiest thing that’s ever happened to him occurred then, the keys were in the ignition.
Everything was falling into place, this is what he had to do. The car started up and he threw it into reverse. Finally, he had a real chance of getting her back. Luckily, he’s lived in this town his whole life, so he knew exactly where to go. When he glanced back, he noticed the owner of the Camry, running out of his home, shaking his fist at him. It didn’t matter, nothing was going to stop him now. He would explain the situation afterward and everyone would understand, he just knew it.
A calming sensation filled the car. He had found new hope, a reason to live again. Maybe he would even get a real job, a car, a life! If he could get her back he’d never let her down again, he promised himself right then.
If only he could make it on time. He glanced at the time on the dash, 12:45. There’s still plenty of time! Caught up in this new reality, he completely missed the bright red stop sign ahead. With a smile on his face and a new vision for life, a large truck barreled into the side of the “borrowed” Camry.
The next thing he knew, a bystander was pulling him from the jumbled mess of a car that wasn’t his. The man was yelling something at him, but he was too disoriented to understand. Confusion crowded his brain again.
Soon enough, a cop stood in front of him, “Son, have you been drinking?”
Feeling exhaustion like never before, he couldn’t find an answer. He must have hit his head, hard. All he wanted to do was sleep.
Another officer came up and whispered something about a stolen car, but there was something more important trying to surface in Ken’s brain. It was slipping, but it was there.
The cop placed something in his mouth and asked him to blow. He did his best at complying, still wobbly and on the verge of passing out.
The officer shook his head, “I knew it! You’re coming to the station with me.” He then placed cuffs on his wrists, far too tight. Ken was stuffed into the back of the cop car, his head ached and pulsated with the sirens.
He wanted to give in to the exhaustion. Before his eyes closed, he sees the time on the dash. 1:14.
The Wedding Day, 1:15 p.m.
Carrie let her breath out. She forced a smile as a single tear fell and softly repeated, “I do.”
She felt nothing but sadness when their audience erupted in cheers as the minister said, “You may now kiss the bride.”