Best Man

One evening, I challenged myself to write a short story by starting with a first line prompt that I found on the internet.  The version below is the unpolished first draft.

Best Man

This wasn’t where he wanted to be.  How had it ended up like this?  All those years he had dreamed of being first, and somehow, incredulously, he had ended up in second place.  All eyes were on the winner, on his tall form, his pale skin, his dark, glinting eyes; his teeth gleaming in the bright sunlight whenever he chanced to spread that false smile across his face.  Ryan was shocked that in the presence of this prize winner, the sky remained a deep Southern blue instead of turning to black from rolling thunderclouds.  Like the thundercloud in his heart.

He shoved his hands in the front pockets of his pants and stabbed the toe of his dress shoe against the soft red dirt.  When would this day be over?  What if everyone else knew the truth?  Ryan lifted his head to examine the party assembling before him.  Women in pastel suits and hats, flowers and sequins, white gloves.  Men in their best office attire.  Children squirming on the white wooden folding chairs before their mothers admonished them to sit still.  After a glance at his watch, Ryan knew that only ten minutes remained until the unthinkable would take place.

Derek turned his dark eyes on Ryan and gave him a smile, though his eyes did not follow suit.  “Do you have the ring?” Derek asked, keeping the level of his voice below the murmur of the crowd.

Ryan flicked his eyes away from Derek as a flash of annoyance passed through them.  Then looking at Derek steadily, he patted the pocket next to the lapel of his tuxedo jacket.  “It’s right here.”

“Good.”  Derek nodded his approval and turned away.

Ryan pressed his lips into a thin line and sighed.  Right here.  Resting on his heart.  Right where Savannah should be.  Instead she would be walking down the aisle toward a scoundrel.  He shifted his weight, trying to escape from the wool fabric scratching his skin and the stifling heat of mid-day.  But there was no relief.  The hot, thick air squeezed the breath from his lungs as surely as the impending ceremony would squeeze the life from his heart.

Savannah.  Ryan’s stance became motionless, and his eyes took on a glassy appearance, as an image of the young women floated in his mind.  Wavy, sandy-colored hair.  The lightest, clearest green eyes.  A laugh like birdsong.  He heard their laughter mingle as a memory came to him.  He had been pushing her on an old tire swing by the river.  She rose higher and higher into the air with each push, and the final push he gave caused her to lose her balance.  Fortunately, she managed to cling to a tree branch before the tire swung back down.  However, she was too scared either to climb down or to let go and fall into the river.  Savannah held like glue to the branch as Ryan climbed twenty feet up the leaning trunk to fetch her.  He coaxed her inch by inch, while holding onto her waist, until she made her way to safe ground.  When he knew she had found her balance, he began to let go, but Savannah had another idea.  She spun around, wrapped her hands around the back of his neck, and kissed him with the sweetest kiss known to man.

Ryan’s attention was jolted to the present when the violin trio began to play a slow melody.  His blood began to pulse like a fever through his veins.  He clenched his fists at his sides and tried to control his breathing.  The minister took his place next to Derek.  No!  Ryan wanted to shout, to rage, to fling chairs.  A few weeks after the kiss by the river, Ryan had found out that Savannah was dating Derek.  He’d never seen the man, much less heard of him, but rumors flew quickly of their growing relationship.  A few months later, Savannah introduced Derek to Ryan at her parents’ annual Christmas party.  It was there that Ryan learned the truth.

Derek did not love Savannah.  Savannah’s parents held serious political clout in the state, and Derek was eager to take advantage of her for his own political gain.  He’d confided as much to Ryan during a conversation at the party.  Derek did not want Savannah to know that he had any interest in pursuing a political career lest she discover his scheme.  Ryan, in turn, had made a point of letting Derek know that he and Savannah had been close friends for years.  He also alluded to a relationship that extended beyond friendship.  Now that Ryan was standing as Derek’s best man, it was clear that Derek followed the old principle of “keep your enemies closer.”

Ryan saw a fluttering of lilac at the back of the crowd.  The bridesmaids were descending.  The mind-searing madness was in full swing.  This can’t be.  I didn’t want it to be like this.  Savannah, you don’t know what you’re doing.  I should have told you –

There she was.  Ryan could barely breathe, this time not from the heat, but from the appearance of pure, sweet beauty.  On the arm of her father, Savannah smiled and slowly walked toward Derek.  Ryan narrowed his eyes to see her more clearly in the blinding sunlight.  As she drew closer, her eyes faltered from Derek and landed on Ryan.  The sadness in her eyes was unmistakable, the regret so clear.  His heart surged; his breath came swifter.  Savannah, I’m coming.  Savannah, I’ll help you.  “Savannah, I love you!”  The words tore from his throat.  Then he froze.

A collective gasp filled the assembly.  Savannah’s eyes widened as she stopped mid-aisle.  Slowly, almost imperceptibly, Derek turned to face Ryan.  He let out a hiss.  “What.  Did.  You.  Say?”

Ryan came to life.  He had started it, and he would finish it.  He returned Derek’s glare.  “You’re through!  Savannah!”  He snapped his head to the side to look at her.  “This man – this scoundrel – you’re walking down the aisle to marry is only here for one reason.  Your political connections.”

Savannah gaped at Derek.  “Is that true?”  She let go of her father’s arm and walked swiftly to the front of the assembly.  Her voice rose.  “Is that true, Derek?”

Derek looked at Savannah.  “Well, I…. Of course it isn’t true!”

“It isn’t!”  Savannah’s cheeks glowed a fiery red.  “Ryan isn’t the only one who knows what you’re after.  I read your blog last night.  The one you thought I didn’t know about.”

Derek’s features turned to stone.  Ryan grabbed Derek’s shoulder and turned him so he could look him in the eyes.  “Like I said.  You’re through.  Now go.”

“Quite the best man you turned out to be.  However, you can go, because I’m getting married.”  Derek turned away from him.  “Savannah, darling, you’re in your wedding dress, and you look lovely.  All of the guests are here.  We’re ready.  Let’s get married and sort through all of this later.  It’s really not the big deal it’s being made out to be.”  He inclined his head.  “Savannah?”

Ryan scowled at Derek, and then turned a softer look toward the bride.  Savannah lifted her chin and fixed her eyes on Derek.  “You heard Ryan.  You can leave.  Now.”

Derek filled his chest with air as if preparing for a fight, but his chest deflated just as quickly in defeat.  He strode down the aisle without another word.

Savannah turned her level gaze on Ryan.  “I didn’t know how to stop the wedding once it was all in motion, even after what I learned from Derek’s blog last night.  You’ve always helped me whenever I’ve been in trouble.”  She stepped closer to Ryan and lowered her voice to a whisper.  “Did you mean what you said?  About – loving – me?”

“I meant everything I said.”

“Then kiss me.”

And the best man kissed the bride.

Copyright © 2012 Jennifer Howell

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