It's the Same Old Song
Harold stood in the sacristy, nervously adjusting the formal tie that felt as if it was choking him. Sarah was due to arrive in the quaint little church any minute now, and it was much too late for him to be having second thoughts.
Alex stood by him, silently offering support. He wanted to reach out and touch his friend, but if he did, he knew he would wind up kissing him in front of God and the whole congregation.
"I'll go check out front and see if she's here yet," Alex volunteered instead. He handed Harold the toke he had smuggled into the church and was surreptitiously smoking. He turned away to hurry outside.
Alex didn't see Harold curl his tongue around the end that had been in the other man's mouth.
Swallowing a lungful of the smoke, he held it in, and distracted himself with thoughts of a happier, simpler time.
Harold's father had started out a salesman, risen to manager, and by the time the younger Cooper was in high school, owned a couple of shoe stores. Harold spent weekends and summer vacations working behind the counter.
He had seen enough hammer toes, and curled his nose at enough foot odor to last him a lifetime. It had been a relief when he left for his freshman year of college.
He planned on getting his degree and shaking the dust of his small town home from his heels.
At first he was drawn to art. He thought he'd paint surrealistic scenes that would stir the soul. But he couldn't draw a straight line.
Then he thought he'd play music that would bring the listener to tears. Which he did, but only because he couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. And besides, as far as he was concerned, the classics began and ended with Motown.
Law bored him.
Blood made him queasy.
He was stricken with stage fright if he had to stand up in front of an audience.
But he found he had a talent for numbers, and for devising an interesting advertising campaign.
And he found a group of friends who meant more to him than he had ever dreamed possible.
After graduation, after Nick walked out of his life, Harold plunged into a period of excess. He screwed anything on two legs. Male or female, it didn't matter.
He smoked pot, sampled a little Acid, and sometimes looked at the world from the bottom of a bottle.
But there was Alex, the fair-haired boy of their group, ready to pick up the pieces. He actually seemed to care for Harold.
And he was there when Harold got the news that Nick was so seriously injured the doctors weren't sure if he would pull through.
Nick's patrol had been decimated. The platoon leader had triggered it off by stepping on a land mine. There was nothing left of him, not even his dog tags. The soldiers behind him caught the brunt of the blast, and Nick was wounded when shards of their bone fragments ripped into his chest and groin.
Alex had made a very poor joke. "If he lives, he'll never play the piano again!"
Harold knocked him down and would have left him, but Alex valued his friendship too much, and was willing to grovel to make amends.
They ended up making love, but there was a tinge of desperation about it. School was finished, summer was over, and they needed to face the real world.
And then he got that phone call from Sarah.
Harold looked at his watch for the umpteenth time and shook it and held it to his ear to make sure it was running.
Where the fuck was Sarah?
He slid a finger behind his tie and tried to pull it away from his adam's apple.
Alex strode into the tiny room just then and brushed aside his fingers with impatient hands. "Stop messing with your tie, Ha. It took me forever to fix it the last time!"
Harold scowled at the friend who was the glue that held their group together, but subsided and let him straighten the bow and smooth his lapels.
"Okay, that's better. You ready now?" Alex stroked Harold's jaw.
"What's the point, if Sarah isn't here yet?"
Alex wondered if his friend wanted her not to be there. "She's here, man! Now let's get this show on the road!" //Before I try to steal you away from this.//
Harold's mouth was suddenly so dry it felt as if it was filled with cotton. Panic flared in his eyes, and Alex saw it.
"You don't have to do this, you know that, don't you?" He threaded gentle fingers through his friend's soft brown hair.
"She's pregnant. I have to do this!" //But I wish you could steal me away from this.//
Alex didn't say that it might not be Harold's baby. Why state the obvious?
Harold gave a last tug to his tux jacket, ran a hand over his neatly trimmed hair, trying to recapture the feel of Alex touching him, and opened the door. The scent of the roses filling the church was overpowering, sickly sweet, and he thought for a moment his stomach might rebel.
He took a deep breath. He walked the few steps to stand before the minister, and turned to face down the aisle.
The woman he was marrying stood in the vestibule of the picturesque church, the flowers she held visibly trembling in her white-knuckled grip. The organist struck a chord and everyone rose to their feet. Before Sarah could begin the journey that would forever alter her life, Karen, her maid of honor, touched her shoulder, drawing her wide-eyed gaze.
The brunette, exquisitely made up as usual, leaned forward and pressed her lips to the pale mouth of the woman in white. "You don't have to do this, Sarah."
Sarah squeezed Karen's hand and took a deep breath. "Yes, I do, Karen. I've messed everything up so badly. I threw away what I had with Harold for the illusion of desire that Alex offered me. I hurt Harold very badly, and I intend to make it up to him."
"What about us?" the other woman hissed.
"Karen, I'm pregnant! If my parents knew about us, on top of the baby, they'd have his and hers heart attacks!"
Karen looked at her reproachfully, her blue eyes welling up with tears. "How can you joke at a time like this?" She muffled a sob. "I'd stand by you..."
"I know you would, sweetie, but how would we live?"
"I'd get a job!"
Sarah cupped Karen's quivering chin. "I've done a fine job ruining my life. I won't ruin yours as well." She kissed the other woman softly. "*I* can't give you the security you're looking for, that you need. You'd just wind up resenting me. Harold's parents have agreed to look after the baby while I continue med school, and Harold doesn't seem to mind. He's being very good about this."
Sarah's eyes grew hard. "I won't fuck up again, Karen. Don't make this any harder for me than it is. I'm going to marry Harold."
"And live happily ever after?"
"Oh, no, sweetie. Happily ever after would have been with you!"