I couldn’t help but watch Chris as he stood up in the bridal party as Brad and Nicole said their vows.
He looked normal, happy, to those not looking closely. But I saw the slight shake of his hands when they weren’t clasped together, I saw the deep intake of breath, as if to steady the building anxiety.
It’s been three weeks since the mission. Chris is home, on medical leave from the army. He’s still in the process of being diagnosed with PTSD, but he’s admitted to ongoing anxiety attacks since the mission. He told us that it’s like he’s back there, in that tiny dark cell, and can’t escape. Flashbacks, they call them. And since that mission they’ve been consistent. If only I’d listened to my gut.
I barely focus on the wedding, or the words that are said when two of my best friends get married. I force myself to look away from Chris, the guilt becoming too overwhelming, and instead scan the large crowd of guests. I can spot the Valentino’s easily enough, all wearing their Italian suits and fedoras, no doubt a dig at Brad. I see quite a few familiar faces from Brad and Nicole’s engagement party, Judy and Brian from Nicole’s show circuit days, Brandon sitting next to them.
I knew Brandon back in high school. A good kid who got a bad wrap. There were all sorts of rumors floating around about him growing up, how much of a trouble maker he was, all the fights he got into. I never saw it, he was always quiet and withdrawn. Until the last year of school of course, but even then he didn’t do any more than a bit of graffiti and some pot. Still, it’s hard to believe that he became a cop.
He met Nicole on the show circuit, though she went by Katie at that time, Brandon had been sent to live with his grandmother Judy. Funny how Nicole and I were connected by Brandon all those years ago. The world really is small.
I continue to scan the guests as my eyes fall on Julz, she’s not hard to miss with her bright coloured hair. Next to her sits a girl in a wheelchair, who I assume is Jane Doe, the coma patient that Nicole has become good friends with. I haven’t met her, though I know Seb and Lucy have. It’s only a matter of time before I do. Our group of friends is like a family, Jane has been welcomed with open arms, so will no doubt be a friend of mine in some way.
Beside me, Chase stares up at Kate who stands next to Nicole. The look on his face is one of awe, no doubt that he is completely whipped. I can’t help but wonder if that would be me one day, to be so taken with a woman that I sit there looking like an idiot. I can’t imagine it. I can’t imagine falling around like an idiot over a girl.
The ceremony comes to a close and I watch as Brad and Nicole walk out, both with massive smiles, followed by the wedding party. I stand with Chase as they walk past us.
“That’ll be you next mate.” I say as I clap his shoulder.
“Can’t wait.” He tells me with a big smile before quickly changing his demeanor. “I mean, then Kate will stop pestering me... you know, got to keep the missus happy.”
I chuckle and shake my head.
“Whatever you say.”
The reception is in full swing, the toasts have been said, the cake cut and dinner served, the rest of the night is about drinking and dancing.
Chris and Tammy left after all the formalities were over. Not that I blame them, I could see how exhausted Chris was getting, how he was becoming more and more anxious and uncomfortable. It’s hard to see my once confident and fun loving friend turn into an anxious mess. The change was so sudden. I remember just before we got deployed, standing with Chris and the team at Ethan’s place, laughing and joking, mainly at Chases expense, not a care in the world. That was only a month ago, and there is no sign of that same Chris anymore.
I shake the thoughts out of my head and walk towards the makeshift bar, grabbing a beer a wander around the outskirts of the dance floor, laughing at Seb’s attempt at dancing with Lucy, no doubt he’s had one too many already.
I spot the girl in the wheelchair on the other side of the room, sitting to the side by herself, with a content smile on her face as she watches everyone dance the night away.
I haven’t actually spoken to her yet, or really even looked at her, but taking in her black hair, bright blue eyes, dark red lips and pale skin, she reminds me of Snow White.
I chuckle at the thought as I make my way around to her, not liking that she’s forced to the side on her own.
As I approach her I pull a chair to her side and sit down.
“Jane, right?” I ask and she turns her head quickly, startled by my presence.
“Apparently.” She responds with a shy smile, making me chuckle.
“I’m Jordan.” I say as I offer my hand, she shakes it as she looks me over, not in a flirty, checking me out way, more as if she’s taking me in.
“One of the army men.” She states.
“That makes me sound like a toy.” I laugh, causing her cheeks to redden. If I thought she looked like Snow White before, she definitely does when she blushes.
“Are you having fun?” I ask her and she nods her head with a wide smile.
“I am. I don’t think I’ve been to a wedding before.” She says before her eyebrows furrow in confusion. “At least, I don’t remember going to one.” She huffs. I can tell she’s frustrated, unable to remember any details of her past. I can’t imagine what that would be like.
I take a sip of my beer before placing it down on the table and standing up, wanting to take the frown off of her face.
“Come on, let’s dance.” I say. She looks up at me with wide blue eyes.
“I can’t dance!” She gasps, “I can barely walk.”
I smile as I take the brakes off of her wheelchair.
“Trust me.” I say as I push her out onto the dance floor. I spin the chair fast around me, earning a shriek and then a gleeful giggle. The sound instantly bringing a smile to my lips. I do it again, listening to her laugh as I try to time the spinning to the fast pace beat. By the end of the song, Jane is out of breath from laughing so hard.
The song changes to a slow beat and I push her chair to the side of the floor, I can see the slight disappointment in her eyes, thinking that our dancing is done, but instead I put the brakes back on the chair and lift the footrests out of the way.
“Put your arms around my neck.” I tell her as I crouch down in front of her. She hesitates, before her arms wrap around my neck, I place my hands on her waist and stand her up, taking her weight as I move her onto the dance floor.
“Place your feet on mine.”
“What?” She gasps and I chuckle at the shocked look on her face. Her facial expressions are adorable, they hide nothing which I find refreshing.
“You’ll be fine, you barely weigh more than a feather.” I tell her, and I’m not wrong. She’s severely underweight, but who wouldn’t be if they spent a decade in a coma.
She complies, placing her feet on mine and I start to move us slowly around the dance floor, the massive smile on her face telling me I’ve done the right thing, that I’ve done something good.
And I realize as I move us around the dance floor, listening to her small giggles, that for the first time in 3 weeks, I’m not consumed by guilt.