by Christian Linville
When Anna received the wedding invitation from her best friend in late spring, she felt a wave of nostalgia. She recollected Katy’s young, beautiful face. She thought of the stale classes and shared angst of their last days of high school. The elegant calligraphy and formal wording of the announcement signaled a new age in her friend’s life. Anna read the invitation several times over before placing it on her fridge beside a small calendar. She circled the date and smiled. It would be so good to see her friend again.
The wedding fell amid the first days of summer and the arrival of a strong heat wave into the Gulf. Anna fanned herself, sitting in a crowd of overheated guests protesting the sultry evening. Men loosened stifling collars and women dabbed flushed faces. Before them, the wedding party stood in form.
Anna scrutinized their faces, feeling a pang of discomfort. What is that? she wondered.
The bride stood apart from her friends, still youthful and familiar. Seven years, Anna thought, looking at Katy, surrounded by the party of strangers.
It was, Anna realized, the passage of time between them and all the ways they had changed. She fanned herself, too quickly, feeling like an outsider. A bead of sweat trickled down her back until it dissolved into the thin fabric of her dress.
At the reception, voices blared to overpower each other, the muted guests now revived by the alcohol. Waiting in the bar line was Matthew Walker. Anna unknowingly drew his attention. He broke away from the line and greeted her, animatedly asking “Is it you?” and informing Anna how long it had been since graduation. Seven years. Matthew took it upon himself to reintroduce her to some of their senior class. She greeted each of the former classmates. The group agreed on the bride’s beauty and the romantic beachside reception.
“This is too funny,” Matthew said. “I remember Katy failing Personal Finance, but here she is throwing one hell of a wedding.”
Anna agreed, though she didn’t remember the class. She asked Matthew about his life, as the group suspected he wanted.
“Amy and I are in Mobile. We were married after graduating from South Alabama.” Matthew waited for a response, unenthused when no one questioned his education. “Well, it’s not a big school like Anna attended.”
“Where did you go?” one of the women asked her.
“I graduated from the Capstone College of Nursing in Alabama,” Anna explained.
“She really made something of her herself,” Matthew teased. “Port Myrtle would be proud.”
Anna smiled, admitting, “I’m still in Port Myrtle.”
“At the hospital?” They seemed surprised.
“Yes. It has grown, though, since we all left.”
“Do you work as a nurse?”
“Yes,” said Anna. She explained her consuming position at the Port Myrtle Methodist Hospital, the many hours and her responsibilities, legitimizing the small city so distant to many of them now. She hoped it would also explain her position in life, though she said nothing of that.
“Well, where is the Mr. Anna Connor tonight?” Matthew teased.
Anna forced a smile. “I’ve stayed quite busy,” she said, deflecting the loneliness that had lingered since the ceremony.
“Haven’t we all?” Matthew stated, redirecting the stale conversation to another former classmate.
Outside the tent, the evening waned into sultry darkness. Anna watched the dancing and conversing guests near the small bar. I’m content, she thought, contemplating Matthew’s question and watching the new bride, failing to reconcile the celebratory atmosphere with her sudden unease.
Katy caught Anna’s eye from across the reception. Her old friend approached in her new state of matrimony, beautifully decorated. The two embraced, agreeing on the excitement of the marriage.
“I don’t know where he went,” the bride explained, looking among the guests for her new husband. “He is here somewhere.”
“I know he’s wonderful,” Anna suggested. “Tell me about the honeymoon.”
“Mexico,” the bride announced. “Mexico it is.”
“Oh!” Anna exclaimed. “Okay, but don’t drink the water.”
“Quickly, before I’m pulled away, tell me about life.” The bride took Anna’s hands.
She grasped for a better answer than the one she’d given earlier. “I’m still a practicing nurse,” she admitted awkwardly.
“In Port Myrtle, at the Methodist hospital.”
“Oh, yes. Do you like it?”
“I do …” Anna said, wondering why she hesitated. “I’m helping people.”
“And has a handsome nurse come to your aid?” the bride teased.
Anna ignored the question as her bygone friend was called away to greet someone else. She smiled at the bride’s words, “Thank you for coming,” and watched her being led away by another guest, to another country, away from Alabama. A pang rose through Anna’s body and settled in her chest.
She turned from the reception to the green lawn leading to a wall of woods hiding the Gulf. She just needed to get away from the crowd for a minute, to get some air, she told herself, deflecting the unhappiness lingering from her earlier conversation. Anna stepped from beneath the tent and into the humid, thick darkness. She wandered across the lawn and down a sandy path through the woods. The path led to a splintered wooden walkway stretching to the beach. At the end of the walkway, Anna removed her flats, wine glass in hand, and stepped onto the beach. Her ankles wobbled in the loose sand. Nearer the water, her feet leveled upon the wet ground.
She crossed her arms, holding her shoes and wine. The music from the reception projected onto the beach. She looked down to her feet, bright and pale in the darkness. The water surged forward, washing them clean then receding again, leaving a foamy residue on the sand.
Anna wiped her perspiring forehead then stabbed the ground with her heel, sloshing the glass of wine. She looked back from where she had come then stabbed at the salty sand again. She waded in until the water rose above her knees. She lifted her dress to avoid the ocean.
I won’t, she whispered. I won’t. Anna stabbed the water with the same blunt tool. I won’t cry. I’ve got to go back. I’ve got to go back to watch someone else’s happiness. The settled sun left a vast emptiness on the horizon. The darkness seemed to stretch from her surroundings outward into the ocean and further still.
She turned to ensure no one had found her. The party lights glowed above the woods. “I’m not content,” Anna said aloud. “I’ll say it if I must.” She fell to her bottom, making a splash. The cool water sloshed about her midriff. She threw the emptied wine glass out into the water. “I’ll say it,” she whispered once more. Slouching her head into her wet hands, she wondered how she would explain herself to the wedding party.
Category: Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing