He stepped out into the terminal of Oakdale International Airport and scanned the room for any sign of his ride to the Lakeview.
She hadn’t arrived yet, but it was only a few minutes later that Katie came walking through the door, her five year old son’s hand in hers.
“Sorry I’m late,” she told him, letting go of Jacob’s hand to give Reid a hug and kiss on the cheek.
“I wouldn’t have expected anything less,” he told her with a playful smile. “Hey, Jacob,” he said, stooping down to the boy’s level. He put up his hand for the boy to give him a high five, feeling incredibly awkward and imagining he looked even more so. He loved Jacob, but he was just not ever going to be a kid person.
Jacob was too young to realize that, of course, and responded with an excited and overly enthusiastic high five, catching Reid off guard by the force with which he hit his hand.
Reis grimaced and stood up, shaking off the sting in the palm of his hand. He turned to Katie, who was eyeing him with such a pityingly sympathetic look that he was immediately annoyed. He already felt foolish enough about being here without her acting like he was some poor fragile creature.
“How are you doing?” she asked quietly, reaching up to rub his shoulder encouragingly.
He sighed loudly and rolled his eyes. “I’m fine, Katie,” he told her, drawing out the second word for emphasis. “No one’s died. There’s no need for us to get all…weepy about it.”
“I know that,” she replied with just a trace of defensiveness in her tone. “But I also know you were originally planning to bring Greg as your plus one, and I’m sure that attending your ex’s wedding with a boyfriend would have been much preferable than going stag.”
Reid shrugged dismissively. “If I really wanted him here, I probably wouldn’t have dumped him a week and a half before, would I?”
Katie frowned. “What happened, Reid? I thought things were going well with you and him.”
“I was bored,” he answered simply. “The sex was alright, but the longer we were together, the more of a complete dullard he revealed himself to be. He’d started making this big push to move into my apartment, and he was yammering on and on about all these redecorating ideas he had. If I heard one more fucking word about Feng shui or Tiffany lamps, I was going to need to kill myself.”
Katie cleared her throat and reached for Jacob’s hand, not so subtly reminding Reid to watch his language in front of the child.
The corners of Reid’s mouth curved upward into a half smile. Katie was pretty much the only person for whom he’d ever make an effort to watch his language.
“Well, then I guess it wasn’t meant to be,” she said, returning to the topic of him and Greg.
“No,” he replied with a curt nod, “it wasn’t.”
They walked outside to Katie’s car and Reid put his luggage in the trunk before settling himself into the passenger seat while Katie got Jacob buckled up in the back seat.
“So, where would you like to have dinner?” she asked once they were driving down the road toward the Lakeview. “It’s my treat, of course. I can give you a couple of hours to relax in your room and pick you up whenever you’re hungry.”
“When am I not hungry?” he asked with a sly smile, elicting a chuckle from Katie. He then cleared his throat. “As great as that sounds, though, I guess I forgot to tell you that I’m invited to the rehearsal and dinner.”
“You’re-what? Really?” she asked. “Chris and I aren’t even invited to the rehearsal dinner! Not that I mind, of course, but I’m just surprised that you are.”
“I think they invited all of the out of town guests,” he answered. “Want to give us a free dinner for traveling so far to be here. And you know I can’t bring myself to pass up free food.”
She glanced over at him worriedly. “So, not only are you going to watch them make vows to each other tomorrow, but you want to go and watch them practice their vows tonight?”
She was his best friend in the world, but she could be such a ninny. “It’s not a matter of wanting to or not wanting to,” he responded, rubbing his temple. “They’re getting married tomorrow whether I’m there or not. They’ll be practicing getting married tonight whether I’m there or not. But he invited me, and he didn’t have to. He could have just pretended that he and I never happened, but he didn’t. So…” he paused, wondering when exactly he had gone so soft, “…I feel like the least I can do is show up and wish him well. And get a free meal while I’m at it.”
Katie shook her head unhappily as she pulled into the parking lot of the Lakeview. “I don’t think this is healthy, Reid,” she told him. “I think you should have taken one look at that invitation and thrown it in the trash. You don’t owe them anything…not anymore, and I don’t see the point of flying back here just to reopen old wounds that you’ve spent the last three and a half years trying to heal from.”
“I see one over there,” he told her, pointing toward an open spot further down the row of cars. The hotel parking lot was absolutely packed, and Reid couldn’t help but think that at least some of these cars belonged to members of that enormous extended family, in town for the wedding.
“He and I were only together for three months,” he finally said as she pulled into the spot. “You can hardly consider that a great loss. Honestly, it was a relationship I could feel slipping away from me from the minute it began.”
She turned off the ignition and looked at him pointedly. “None of that changes the fact that those were the best three months of your life,” she stated, locking eyes with him.
He immediately looked away from her penetrating stare. “So what if they were?” he asked. After a long silent moment, he told her, as more of a command than a request, “Pop the trunk.”
She bit her tongue and reached over to push the button, and he stepped out of the passenger door to retrieve his luggage.
A few hours later, Reid found himself standing alone at the edge of the pond, with the full moon and the multitude of stars in the sky casting light onto the calm waters.
During his short relationship, he had heard so much about this damn pond and briefly visited it a couple of times, but had never actually gotten to go swimming in it. Which, if the hype was to be believed, was just the most fun thing EVER.
But he never had the chance to find out because, three months and six days into their relationship, he received a text from his boyfriend midway through a double shift at the Hospital.
It read: “Could I come by when you get off tonight? There’s something important we need to talk about.”
He wrote back: “On the slim chance that this is about something other than you breaking up with me because you still love Noah, please let me know, and I’ll find a way to summon up an iota or two of energy to deal with it after working a sixteen hour shift. Otherwise, your silence will be your answer and, as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing for us to talk about.”
The silence WAS the answer.
But a few months later they started talking again, and by the time Reid decided to leave Memorial to return to his old hospital in Dallas, they were on friendly enough terms to keep in touch via e-mail from time to time. Six months earlier, one such e-mail arrived in Reid’s inbox to inform him of the engagement and let him know that he would be invited to the wedding, if he chose to come.
And now here he stood, having chosen to come, and wondering why in hell he thought that was a good idea.
He had first glimpsed them from afar that evening when he started up the long driveway leading to the Farm. The blonde with the wide brown eyes who had stolen Reid’s heart almost four years earlier was standing in front of the Farmhouse, surrounded by arriving guests. He had an arm around Noah and was laughing merrily at something the tall brunette had just said. Even from a distance, it was impossible to miss the look of complete joy and adoration on his face.
He had met them at a miserable low point in their relationship. Reid had no idea, until after his own heart had been broken, that Noah had the ability to make the other man’s face light up in such a radiant smile. Reid had made him smile, sure, but it was nothing like that.
Reid was greeted by them only briefly before their attention was requested by other guests, as a seemingly endless parade of relatives showed up to wrap them in tight embraces and congratulate them. He then made perfunctory pleasantries to Lily and Holden and Lucinda and Emma, all of whom greeted him politely, but looked at him as though they couldn’t figure out why he was there.
Neither could he.
He and the other guests sat down to watch them practice their vows, looking as in love as two people had ever been. By the time night had fallen, tiki torches had been lit throughout the yard and trays of catered food were being brought outside for the late dinner. To his great surprise, he found that he wasn’t the slightest bit hungry for any of the sumptuous offerings. Without putting much consideration into it, he had stood up and left the group to take a stroll around the property. He was sure he wouldn’t be missed amid all the mealtime revelry.
And his aimless walk had eventually brought him there to the edge of the pond. The only sounds to be heard were the distant laughter and chatter coming from the direction of the Farmhouse and the soft chirping of crickets.
Reid was suddenly struck by an unexplainable and overwhelming desire to go for a swim. He unbuttoned his shirt and tossed it on the grass before pulling off his shoes and socks, then undoing his belt, unzipping his pants and stepping out of them. Now clad in only his boxers, he stepped purposefully into the pond.
And holy SHIT, that water was cold!!! He involuntarily let out a high pitched shriek and jumped around in the shallow water as he immediately turned himself around and headed back for dry land.
Yet another in a string of terrible ideas! At least no one else had witnessed that rather embarrassing moment.
He stepped back onto the grass and gasped in surprise at the sight of the figure standing a few feet in front of him. Noah’s eyes traveled quizzically between the soaking wet man in his underwear and the pile of clothes that he was standing next to.
“Sorry to startle you,” Noah said, raising an eyebrow and smiling at him.
“You didn’t startle me,” Reid fibbed in reply. He cast his eyes downward and grabbed for his pants, quickly stepping into them.
He looked up to see Noah staring at him with a mix of amusement and confusion.
“What do you want, Noah?” Reid asked snippily. He recognized that Noah hadn’t actually said or done anything to invite such a harsh tone, but he couldn’t believe that it was Noah of all people who had happened upon him in this ridiculous situation.
Noah stepped a little closer. “I don’t want anything,” he said. “I didn’t even know you were here. I just needed to break away from the party for a little while and get some introvert time. Those Snyders are a loud bunch when you get them all together.” He looked down at Reid’s shirt, socks, and shoes still lying on the grass. “Felt like going for a swim tonight?” he asked with a wry chuckle.
It was an obvious and perfectly reasonable question, and the smile on Noah’s face seemed completely sincere, and yet for some reason it pissed Reid off.
“Yes,” he responded bitterly. “I felt like going swimming in the pond! Is that alright with you, Noah?! Do I have your permission to swim in your family’s precious pond?!”
Noah pursed his lips. “Reid,” he said calmly, “I’m sure this is probably difficult-”
Reid shook his head, held up his hand, and turned his back on Noah to once again face the pond. He didn’t want or need anyone’s pity, especially not Noah Mayer’s.
He stared at the gentle waters and cursed himself. Because, although he felt like taking his hurt and frustrations out on Noah, he had to admit that he had set himself up for all of this. Not just this immediate situation of agreeing to attend the wedding of the only man he’d ever loved, but by ever becoming involved with that man in the first place. His gut had told him he was going to get hurt, that he was inevitably going to lose out to Noah in the end, but he had allowed himself to take the chance anyway. He had no one to blame for that but himself, and he hated that fact.
He could hear Noah’s movement closer to him, making his entire body clench. Why couldn’t Noah figure out that Reid just wanted him to GO. THE. FUCK. AWAY?!
Noah came to stand right at Reid’s side, also staring out at the waters. “I’m glad you came, Reid,” Noah told him simply.
“You’re glad that the only other man who’s ever given your soon-to-be husband an orgasm is going to be in attendance at your wedding?” he asked coldly.
He could hear Noah swallowing hard. Reid figured that would hit a nerve and it clearly did.
“No,” Noah answered a moment later, his voice a bit shaky. “But I’m glad the only man who’s ever given me my eyesight back will be in attendance.”
Reid turned to look at Noah, whose earnest blue eyes stared back at him.
“What do you want me to say here, Noah?” Reid questioned with an icy stare. “Am I supposed to tell you that it’s just fine and wonderful that the man I loved chose you over me? Because, hey, at least I got to give you your eyesight back and learned a very valuable lesson about opening my heart to the possibility of love! Cue the sappy Hallmark commercial music!”
Noah exhaled deeply. “You sound exactly like I did in the months you and he were together.”
“Like a pissy little bitch?” Reid turned his head back toward the pond.
“Why are you trying to make this so hard?” Noah questioned, starting to sound aggravated. “I know this is awkward, but I’m trying to talk to you reasonably and respectfully.”
“It’s easy to be reasonable and respectful when you’re the one getting everything you want,” Reid replied sharply. “It’s harder when you’ve lost the most precious thing in your life.” He bent down to pick up his shirt from the grass, threw it on, and began buttoning it. “You should remember that from those few times you railed at me when he and I were together.”
Noah paused for a moment and then nodded his head. “You know,” he said, biting down on his bottom lip, “it’s impossible for me to imagine ever coming back for your guys’ wedding. If you had stayed together, I mean. I couldn’t have done it. It would have wrecked me.”
Reid understood the compliment to him that was wrapped up in Noah’s statement. He didn’t respond, but instead reached down to grab his socks and lifted his legs to put them on, struggling a bit with them now that they had gotten damp on the water’s edge.
He was looking down at his feet and putting on his shoes when he suddenly broke the silence by stating, very matter-of-factly, “If I had gone blind, Noah, I don’t think the world would have been able to contain my rage.” He lifted his head to meet the other man’s eyes.
They regarded each other for a moment, and then Noah said, “Thank you, Reid.”
“For what?!” he scoffed, snapping out of whatever had just come over him. “I didn’t say anything about you!” Now that he was fully dressed, he began walking past Noah and away from the pond.
Reid walked only a few feet before stopping. He closed his eyes and hung his head, shaking it defeatedly, but he didn’t turn around.
“You’re the luckiest son of a bitch in the world, Noah,” he said.
“I know that,” Noah replied from behind him. “And I won’t ever forget it again.”
“I’m getting the fuck out of here right now,” Reid told him. “What are you going to tell him?”
“I’ll tell him whatever you want me to tell him.”
“Tell him that one of my patients had an emergency, and I had to fly back to Dallas immediately.”
I’ll do that,” Noah assured him quietly. “And I’ll tell him you’re sorry you couldn’t say goodbye.”
They both fell silent. Reid stayed rooted to the spot, and he couldn’t hear any movement from Noah behind him.
“You make it really hard for me to hate you, Noah.”
Noah remained silent, undoubtedly at a loss for how to respond to that.
He forced himself to glance backward at Noah, whose piercing blue eyes looked back at him sympathetically.
“But I still hate you anyway,” Reid declared simply.
And then he turned his head forward and resumed walking swiftly away from the pond-to get himself off this Farm, back to the hotel, and then onto a plane. To get himself as far away from the next day’s nuptials as he could get.