"Shot time," she heard and smiled as she watched his hands appear slowly either side of her waist, a glass of sorts in each. She felt him press against her and leaned back in familiar reassurance whilst grinning up at the man before her; his eyes met hers with mild amusement as he shook his head lightly, reached down to kiss her softly on the cheek, and walked away.
"Yes. Shot time," she agreed, laughing, turning slightly in his half-embrace and accepting the offered drink."What is it?" she asked, pondering the pale yellow liquid as she swirled it gently. "And aren't these usually...smaller?"
He looked down at her hand. "In answer to your first: I have no idea at all. To your second, yes, I suppose so - these usually come in a test tube. But I asked for doubles!" He smiled triumphantly. "Hence the-"
"Boiling tube?" She finished for him.
"Reckon they've cleaned these out properly? Or are they straight from the lab?!"
He laughed. "Who knows? Where's your sense of adventure?!"
Her turn to laugh. "It's hiding at the thought of spending the rest of the evening hidden in a bathroom cubicle with the after effects of unknown alcohol and chemical cocktails. But OK. I will if you will."
"We should toast! Ooh, toast. Jam, marmalade, butter?"
A giggle escaped her lips as it always did in his company.
"All of the above. What are we toasting to?"
"You, naturally." He raised his glass solemnly and cleared his throat.
"To my best friend in the world on the best night of her life. Be happy. Always."
She smiled, not hiding the slight glisten in her eyes at his words.
"To being happy."
He lowered his glass to clink against hers and echoed, "To being happy."
They both flung their heads back and the liquid disappeared, leaving a pleasant burn in their throats. He swayed slightly and she reached out to steady him.
"Had much to drink tonight?" She asked drily, gesturing for them to sit on two high stools at an unoccupied table.He followed her and sat down heavily with an uninterested shrug of his shoulders.
"Probably, possibly. Maybe?"
"Well. Guess it is a free bar..."
"Yes!" He replied enthusiastically, "Thank you for that!"
"You won't be thanking me in the morning when the London Philharmonic Orchestra is doing a parade across the inside of your skull."
He shrugged once more and rested his hands on the table, smiling across at her. His eyes searched her own and she felt nervous as he held her gaze intensely."I love you, you know."
She nodded and grinned back. "I know it. And you know I love you too. Best friend forever, right?"
He didn't answer, just continued to stare her down, hold her gaze."I love you." He repeated softly, quieter this time.
They had known each other for twelve long years throughout school, college and university. All of the unspoken things neither had had the courage to say now passed silently through their locked gaze in a steady stream of silence. In the past, one of them had always backed away when this happened, sweeping it up under the carpet before any permanent damage could be done.
Neither broke away.
"I love you." he repeated, more adamantly this time.
She swallowed her retort, eyes not shifting away awkwardly as she had done a thousand times before. "Me, too."
Finally, she whispered, "...since when?"
His face contorted into a self-deprecating grin. "Since the beginning. Can I ask-"
"Always." she interrupted without letting him finish his question.
"Always..." He repeated in a remorseful tone heavy with regret.
He held out his hand to stop her, like a shield to protect him from the assault of words.
"I know. God, do I know!" He laughed a little shakily and ran an awkward hand through his hair, vowing he would cut it first thing in the morning. He had only ever kept it long for her, and now...
As one, they looked over at the tall man who had been stood with them earlier. A good man, kind, loving, full of vitality and a world to offer her. Her husband of merely a few hours. A man she loved, truly loved. Yet here before her sat her best friend, the man she had pined for, loved and trusted like no other from her teenage years through to her young adult life.He loved her. She hadn't been mistaken. It wasn't all in her head.
And yet. He had walked her down the aisle, given her away in the place of her father, approved of this wedding with all the generosity and enthusiasm you would expect from your best friend.
Was it selfish for him to tell her now, now of all nights, her wedding night? Would it have been kinder to have never known?No, she was glad she knew. Their moment, had they ever had one, had passed long ago in the cowardice of untruth.
Music struck up as if on cue and she watched as her husband held his hand out to her with his eyes full of happiness; their first dance as a married couple. All eyes would be on them now in the celebration of their vows. With one quick look to the man beside her she sought what: forgiveness? Permission? Acceptance?
The smallest of smiles accompanied by tear-filled eyes greeted her unperceived by anyone else. He still loved her. He would always love her. He would always be her friend. No matter how much it hurt.
Standing a little shakily and without looking back, she took the few steps needed and reached out her own hand, allowing herself to be spun out onto the dancefloor as a thousand camera flashes created a snowstorm of lights around them.