The Empty Spaces Between Us - 27. Chapter 27
The final days had been a whirlwind. Troy told Tyler to not bother going to work on Friday because they would be too busy getting ready for the wedding and to just come hang out at the house with the rest of them for breakfast. Afterwards, everyone would have something to do to keep them busy for the rest of the day with preparations for the wedding. He was a little nervous about being at the house after his first introduction of Kyle’s mother, but he went ahead and joined them for breakfast, spending those early hours of the morning visiting with Jacob and Kyle. For her part, Helen engaged all of them in conversation and he found her to be very likable once you accepted the fact that she had more money than all of them combined and she was just used to a different life than he had. The longer he was around her, the more Tyler came to learn that she had a good heart and if she came off as overbearing, it was because she knew how fortunate she had been in life and wanted to help those she could. He couldn’t deny she loved her son and her grandson with how she doted on them.
As that Friday morning went on, the others slowly started to trickle into the house. Helen was also less formally dressed that morning, in a simple skirt and blouse. Her platinum blonde hair was out of the bun it had been in the evening before allowing it to rest just below her shoulders. Regardless of her casual appearance, it was still obvious to any observer that while her clothes may look casual, she still carried herself with a certain air around her that almost compelled respect. Her face still looked perfect and her voice was always measured and polite when she wasn’t overcome with joy over meeting everyone in the house.
Andy and Brian were the first to arrive after Tyler. Tanner and Blake were excited about trying on their suits for the wedding before getting to play with their friends. Helen was delighted to see the new children. She, like many others before her, commented on how much like his grandfather, Blake appeared. After bending down to talk to the two children she looked to Andy and asked, “how has Lisa been? I haven’t heard from her in a long time.”
Andy smiled with a little pride at her obvious exuberance. “She’s doing fine. Lives in Cleveland now. She and Nate will be staying with us tonight when they get here. Nate’ll probably show up early so he’ll likely know to just come here first.”
“Well,” Helen smiled brightly, “we’ll have plenty of time to catch up tomorrow at the reception.” With that said she came up to Andy and kissed his cheek. “I am so jealous of David getting to watch you all grow up. You look simply amazing, dear.” Her gaze went to the other blonde man next to him. “And you must be his fiancé, if David informed me correctly.”
Brian took half a step back and felt his cheeks warm under her gaze. “That’s me. The Lucky One. Everyone just calls me Brian though.”
Helen smiled brightly. “Brian. I will congratulate you in advance. It’s been too long since I was last here, but there is always so much to do and be done, I barely have time for myself these days.”
“What is it you do exactly,” Brian asked curiously.
“Well, if I wish to be frank, I buy and sell large mansions for people with too much money on their hands,” she explained with a mirthful smile. “I don’t have to do it since my husband makes enough to support a small army. He’s an executive at a talent agency in Los Angeles, you see.”
Andy and Brian were both caught off guard. “Well, I think I remember you doing something in real estate back in the day,” Andy said. “But I was just a kid back then.”
Helen nodded with a polite smile. “Yes. I was last here at Emily’s funeral. She was such a close friend when we were growing up and we stayed in touch even after I moved away. You probably overheard something then.”
David stood at the stove and shook his head with a smile as he listened to all of it. His ex-wife always was able to make conversation with anyone if she put her mind to it. She’d impressed Stephanie, totally disarmed Jacob and was working on the other boys individually with no stopping in sight. It was just a knack she has always had since he knew her as a teenager so many years ago. “I think we’re going to have to have breakfast in the dining room with how many people there are,” he declared as he looked over his shoulder. “Jacob, Kyle, grab some pitchers and fill them with juice and milk for the boys and set the table up. Tyler, why don’t you give them a hand?”
The three of them set about the work while Andy made himself at home helping David cook. Brian went around the house, keeping the boys occupied so they wouldn’t get in the way. Helen took the opportunity to get herself some more coffee before joining Stephanie and her assistant Cindy at the kitchen table. “Kyle hasn’t told me much, so forgive me for asking.” She took a drink of her coffee before she continued. “How far along are you now?”
Steph smiled. “I have about another three months left. Sometime in the middle of October, the doctors told me.”
Helen looked pleased as she smiled brilliantly. “Wonderful. It must be hard having to deal with it all on your own.”
“She’s not,” David said from the stove, subtly letting Helen know he’s listening to everything. “She’s staying here at least until she gives birth.”
Helen grinned. “Then you’re in good hands. David waited on me hand and foot during my last months with Kyle.”
Steph grinned. “Yeah, well, I got three servants on call here. Jacob will barely leave me alone as it is.”
Helen chuckled. “I take it it’s his child?”
“He was the donor this time,” she confirmed. “They were very sweet about asking me. And, in my mind at least, I couldn’t argue with their logic that having the same mother for their two kids made sense.”
Helen nodded her approval. “I’m sure you will be an excellent mother to them both.”
Steph looked less enthusiastic. “Not sure if I’m interested in being a full time mother. Kyle’s been doing most of the hard lifting as far as Matt is concerned.”
Helen laughed. “He’s his father’s son. I’ll never forget the look on Dave’s face when he got to hold Kyle for the first time.” She glanced over at him and Andy with a little glint of mischief in her eyes before she continued, lowering her voice slightly. “He’d only been out of the marine corps for barely a year. So, he still had the close cropped hair and that tough man attitude they all wear on their faces.”
Andy and David silently exchanged looks at the stove. Andy broke into an amused smirk as he saw David’s cheeks blush under his beard.
“But,” she continued, “he was still his usual boyhood self, always wanting to be helpful and sweet. That was part of what made me want to marry him so fast. He hovered over me incessantly the last few weeks when I could barely move on my own. And when the day came and I felt that first twinge, he sprang into action and practically carried me out the door, using that deep, gruff marine voice of his as he turned into a marine on a mission.”
Stephanie was grinning as she leaned in, listening to Helen. Cindy sat next to her with a small smirk on her face as she sipped her coffee. Helen’s smile broadened as she went on, seeing her audience’s rapt attention. “We get to the hospital, and David is in full marine mode. Shouting at people and yelling and everyone is in a frenzy to get me into a delivery room just to get him to shut up.”
“I was not shouting,” David muttered mostly to himself. Andy didn’t dare look at him, fearing he would start laughing.
There was a silent moment as Helen looked at Stephanie and rolled her eyes. She raised her coffee cup to her lips and said in a hushed voice, “he sounded like a madman.” Stephanie was laughing silently, finding a new friend in her best friend’s mother. “Anyway, we get in and he’s talking to me, coaching me through each contraction. I’m in horrific pain and David is near panic. At some point, I recall telling him to calm down.”
Andy bit his lip to keep from laughing. He was determined to commit this story to memory to share with Brian later. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see David subtly squirm, marking that as a rare treat to remember for a long time.
“Long story short, Kyle finally comes into the world and I’m tired but thrilled. The nurses clean him up and wrap a blanket around him before setting Kyle into David’s arms. At first, David wasn’t keen on the idea. ‘Oh, no no, I don’t want to hurt him.’” She rolled her eyes and smiled as the other women chuckled. “He finally gives in and there’s suddenly this silence in the room. The baby’s not crying or anything. I look over at him… and I can see tears rolling down his eyes as he looks down at Kyle’s face, totally enraptured by our little boy.” She looked over at David who turned his head and met her gaze. “My big, strong, confident marine corps husband could barely get a word out as he cried, holding his little baby boy.”
David’s eyes sparkled for a moment before he went back to his task on the stove. “That part I still remember.”
“Kyle wasn’t much different,” Stephanie said. “When Matthew was born, I thought he was going to explode.” Helen nodded and grinned as if it came as no surprise to her. They shared a special look between them as they sipped their coffee.
Helen glanced over at the men at the stove and did a double-take before declaring, “good Lord, I had no idea Andrew was a marine as well!”
Stephanie looked back at forth between Helen and Andy’s who’s back was still turned to them. “How can you tell,” she asked Helen.
Helen got a playful look on her face as she replied, “it’s something one notices after you’ve… you know… been with a marine. I can’t explain it exactly but there seems to be something they do to recruits during training. Some kind of workout of some sort that enhances their ass. Only a marine walks around with a certain kind of walk and… well… a certain kind of ass.”
Andy’s eyes bulged wide and he froze in place as he heard the women at the table erupt with laughter. He dared to look at David who just stood there and grinned. Andy finally turned around and saw Stephanie and Cindy looking at him. “Get you own,” he said with a smirk. “This ass is spoken for.”
A good natured laugh filled the kitchen but before their conversation continued, the back door opened again, and Troy entered along with his wife and children. Liz held their tiny baby girl in her arms as they stepped inside with Chase and Carter immediately running up to David and Andy in greeting. When Troy and Liz saw who was sitting there, they stopped as Troy looked down at the woman just getting to her feet to look at him. “Mrs. Howard,” Troy said with a surprised smile.
Her laughter was just starting to abate as she stood up to greet him. “Stratford, dear, but I do appreciate the sentiment.” Her smile beamed as she reached up to grasp his face not unlike how she had done to her own son. “Oh, you look so much like your mother. So handsome.” She was going to say more but the memories of her lost friend silenced her as she took in his eyes and smiled.
“Thank you,” Troy replied. “This is my wife, Elizabeth. Those two over there are Chase and Carter and this,” he indicated to the child dozing in his wife’s arms, “is our little girl, Emily.”
Helen’s lips pressed tightly as she fought back tears of joy. “Oh, how perfect! She’s beautiful. Your mother would have been so proud. Is proud. We grew up together, you know. I just know she’d be so pleased.”
Troy nodded with a proud smile. “It felt right. And Dad was touched when we told him her name.”
“I’m sure he was, the poor thing.” She let a finger stroke the little face as she smiled. “He never did remarry. A true testament of how he loved her so.”
They were all quiet as Helen watched the little face for a few more moments. “Well, I should let you get to the others. I’m so glad we could see each other before tomorrow.”
“How long as you staying,” Liz asked politely.
“Until Sunday morning and then we need to return the car to New York. I have a few things to settle there before I fly back home that evening.”
It wasn’t long after that David advised everyone to prepare for breakfast. With a shouted command, Andy got the children ready as Stephanie and Cindy gave up their places at the kitchen table to move into the dining room. David and Andy went around the table, filling plates with eggs, sausages and hash browns. It was an amusing moment as the women took one side of the table with Helen taking the seat at the end and David at the other end with the boys. They both playfully squinted at each other before Helen broke into a smile and nodded her assent to him.
“So, we have some things we need to get done today and they have to get done,” David said to all who were assembled. “Troy, you and Tyler get to do a final walkthrough of the hall where we’ll be having the reception. Make sure you do a count of the number of seating available to make sure they can cover all the people we’re expecting.” Troy nodded as David pressed on. “Brian, you and I are going to pick up the wedding cake and make sure all the boys haven’t had sudden growth spurts. If there are…” he nodded to the other end of the table, “that’s who you need to tell.” Helen grinned and smiled.
David continued. “Kyle and Jacob, you already know what you’re doing. The photographer will be here in a couple hours. Make sure everything is ready before we finish the rehearsal tonight. Andy, you have family coming in, so you’ll be baby sitting all the boys along with Liz who is still breast feeding, last I checked.” Liz playfully rolled her eyes but didn’t object. He looked up at his ex-wife. “What plans do you have for today?”
Helen shrugged. “I intend to take the girls out shopping. We shouldn’t be gone long.”
He nodded and finished with, “and after that, we meet at six for rehearsal and then dinner.”
Stephanie started and looked around confused. “Uh… I was just going to… I dunno, use being pregnant as an excuse to dress casual.”
Helen gave her an eye of disapproval. “Nonsense, dear. Cindy and I can get your measurements sent out and have someone fly us a proper dress for you. And matching hat.”
“Hat?” She looked over at Kyle who was suppressing a laugh as the others started in on breakfast.
“Of course, dear,” as if stating the obvious. “We’ll be in a church. Women wear hats while in church.” She saw the uncertain look on the younger woman’s face and smiled to assure her. “Trust me, darling, you’ll turn heads before the day is out. Remember; you may be pregnant, but you are still a beautiful woman. If there’s any good place to find someone, it’s at a wedding.”
Stephanie was torn between feeling incredulous and laughing hysterically. She settled on acceptance and decided to just let Helen have her way. “That sounds like a lot of trouble.”
She shook her head dismissively as she ate. “Not at all, dear. You’d be surprised. I’ve seen far more complicated things in my time. Why, a few years ago, I was getting ready to attend a fund raiser with Cate Blanchet and one of the women with us tripped and torn the side of her dress as we were trying them on. Being such a close friend of hers, Cate called up and had the designer flown in to have it repaired. Mostly because it was a one of a kind dress and couldn’t possibly replace it, and why would she? She looked radiant in it up until that unfortunate incident.”
Stephanie and Liz exchanged looks, not sure how to reply to that. “Well… I guess you have a point.” Liz suppressed a laugh and went back to her breakfast.
Andy leaned over towards Tyler sitting next to him and whispered, “play your cards right and I bet she’d adopt you and you could be a beach twink the rest of your life.”
Tyler nearly choked on his food and had to duck his head to keep from spitting eggs out of his mouth. Andy giggled hilariously enough to get Brian’s attention who just chuckled and shook his head. “You’re evil,” Tyler said once he managed to clear his mouth.
“Only when the spirit moves me,” he replied. “You bringing anyone with you tomorrow?”
Tyler rolled his eyes. “Yeah. Tom Holland.”
“I didn’t know he was single,” Andy replied with a grin.
Tyler gave him a dry humored look. “He’s not. That’s why he’s coming.”
“What about your mom?”
“She’s bringing Stan, of course,” he said. “I think I’ll just sit with Drake during the ceremony.”
“Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if you walk out with someone before the day’s over,” Andy replied.
Tyler thought he saw a sparkle in Andy’s eyes for a moment when he said that but dismissed it. “Whatever. I’m fine going on my own.”
“We’ll see,” Andy said with a playful look on his face as he went back to eating.
Tyler gave himself one last look in his rearview mirror and adjusted the tie around his neck before stepping out of the truck and making his way to the church steps. The sun was shining brightly that Saturday morning and the air was already warming up. By the time the wedding would be over it would probably be over ninety degrees. Not that it would matter since the reception was going to be indoors. But the day would be sunny and beautiful. Appropriate weather for the day. He headed up the stairs to get inside as other people around him gathered at the church entrance, slowly making their way inside.
The cool air in the building was a relief and he started looking around for people he knew. Oddly, the first person he recognized was Stan. When Tyler took a few steps towards him, he saw his mother next to him, obscured slightly by a few other people between them. “Hi,” he said with a smile as he walked up to them.
“Hey,” Stan said with a smile before putting an arm around him, giving him a slight squeeze. “How’ve you been?”
“Busy helping out with all this the last few days,” he replied as he looked over at his mom. “You two done with the honeymoon yet?”
Colleen chuckled as she reached up and kissed his cheek. “Almost. I’ve barely seen you in the office the last few weeks. How come?”
Tyler shrugged helplessly. “They’ve been having me come in early a few times. And, like I said, I’ve been busy helping them with getting the wedding ready. The reception should be nice, that’s all I’ll say.”
“Sounds like you’ve been having a good time with your friends,” she remarked, seeing saw the brightness in his eyes.
“Yeah, it’s been fun for sure.”
There was a lull in the quiet murmurs of conversations around them, prompting Tyler to turn around. He wasn’t at all surprised to see Helen and the other women walk in. All four of them were beautifully dressed but Helen walked and looked like royalty in her lavender dress that was just high enough to show off her heals. She had a small removable velvet like jacket that covered just her shoulders and arms. A wide-brimmed hat set at a slight tilt gave her a festive appearance. Pearl necklace and what he knew had to be real diamond earrings finished her look as she moved about. She started to mingle with the crowd in the atrium with Stephanie, Liz and Cindy trailing behind her almost looking like an entourage. They all looked stunning as they engaged in quiet conversation with those around them. He could tell Liz and Stephanie were doing introductions. There was no question who would be dominating most of the conversation after that.
“Who is that,” his mother asked him in hush surprise.
He smirked and turned his attention back to his mom. “That would be Kyle’s mother.”
“Tyler,” a familiar voice called out.
He turned and smiled seeing Brian in his white tux approach him with a smile. “Hey. You’re looking nice.”
Brian grinned. “Thanks. Come visit with him before everything starts.”
“I’ll see you later, Ma.” He turned and started to follow in step with Brian. “Everything okay?”
“Mostly,” Brian replied, still grinning. “He stayed at Troy’s place last night and… well… they made a stop before getting here.”
Tyler found it amusing that David insisted that Kyle and Jacob not spend the night together so they wouldn’t see each other that morning until the ceremony. They had protested a little at first, but Helen agreed, and the other boys jokingly went along with it. After their rehearsal and the dinner that followed was over, Troy and Liz took Jacob home with them while the children stayed the night at the house, much to Helen’s delight. Tyler suspected she’d be spoiling all those boys in time.
Brian led him down a short hallway off the main route to a waiting room off the side near the sanctuary. “Brace yourself,” he said as he opened the door.
Tyler didn’t understand at first until he stepped in and saw all the boys along with Andy, Troy and Jacob. Some of the boys were wearing little black tuxedos similar to Andy’s while Troy, Brian and Jacob were wearing white. His eyes went from one to the next with Troy and Andy gathered around Jacob as they were helping him get the final buttons fastened and his jacket with the tails onto him. When Jacob turned towards him, Tyler’s eyes widened in shock as much as his smile. “Oh, my God! Your hair!”
Jacob grinned and ran his hand through his recently cut hair. It was styled with a slight wave and textured along the sides, but the long locks Tyler had grown so accustomed to were gone. “How does it look?”
“Wh…” Tyler started to laugh, despite himself. “What brought this on?!”
Andy grinned and explained, “the last time he got all dressed up for Kyle, he cut his hair then too.”
“And he looks great,” Troy added.
While he’d always thought Jacob was attractive, something about the sudden change made him look stunning. His bright blue eyes seemed to shine more and be more prominent than they used to be. Jacob’s cheeks also were flushed slightly red, giving him a hint as to how he was feeling. “You look drop dead sexy,” he finally said with a chuckle.
“Thank you,” Jacob replied.
The boys seemed in their own little world and Brian tried to keep them from getting too mussed up as they sat in chairs or on the floor. They’d all been drilled as to what they were supposed to do and, for the sake of their dads and uncles, they were going along with the adults’ wishes. Carter was sitting quietly with a small white pillow in his lap. With the wedding rings fastened to it with a string. Troy periodically would check on him to make sure he still had them and understood how important a part he had in the ceremony and it was important he not let the pillow or the rings out of his sight. Tyler thought he was the cutest little four-year-old in the world as he seemed to take his responsibility so seriously, warning off Blake’s curious hands.
“David and Kyle haven’t seen it yet,” Tyler asked.
“No, and please don’t run and tell them,” Troy said. “He wants this to be a surprise.”
Andy chuckled. “And payback for not getting a final single guys’ f… fun time together last night.”
Tyler laughed. Both at the sentiment and how swiftly Andy censored himself. “Okay. I’ll keep it to myself. I should go find a seat.” He stood there, looking at Jacob for a second before he couldn’t stop himself from stepping up to him and hugging him tight. The reality of what was about to happen to his friend suddenly sank in and he felt his affection for Jacob start to overflow inside. When he found it in him to speak, it was with a voice filled with love and affection. “I’m so happy for you.”
Jacob hugged him back just as warmly. “Thank you. From both of us.”
Tyler smiled and let go. “I’ll see you at the reception.” He backed away and started to leave.
“Whoa, there,” Troy responded with a little authority in his voice. “You don’t go to the reception until we’re done with pictures.”
Tyler blinked in confusion. “Um. Okay.” Troy looked at him for a moment to make sure he would obey before he nodded and let him leave.
When he returned to the front entrance of the church, Tyler could tell almost everyone had arrived. The atrium was less populated than before, but he could hear people talking at the open doors to the sanctuary and he turned in that direction. When he stepped inside, many of the pews were already filled. There were a few places left to sit towards the front and he decided to take one of those. He saw Stephanie and a tall red headed man sitting next to her on his left at the second pew from the front, so he impulsively went to sit with her.
When she saw him, Stephanie smiled and leaned over to whisper to him, “I feel like a painted pig.”
He grinned and looked at her in her red dress that seemed designed to accentuate her slight bump on her midsection. Her hat was tilted slightly, and her makeup and hair looked perfect. No doubt, he figured, thanks to Helen and her assistant who were across the aisle from them. “You look beautiful,” he assured her.
She squinted her eyes, looking at him askance before seeming to decide he was being genuine before she smiled. “Thank you. You’re not half-bad yourself.”
He smiled a little as the red head next to him leaned over and said in a deep but vaguely familiar voice, “I kept telling her that, but she wouldn’t believe me.”
She gave the man a playful frown and replied, “I know your little brother well enough what smooth talkers’ you boys can be.”
Tyler chuckled. An older woman on the other side of the man grinned and said, “yeah, but it works every time.”
“Mom…” the man said.
“I dare you to call me a liar, Nathan,” she said with a smirk.
“Oh wow,” Tyler realized. “You look just like Blake.”
Nate looked over at Tyler curiously. “Well, I’m his uncle. You know my brother?”
“Andy? Yeah, we’re friends. I’m Tyler Brewer.”
“Cool. I’m Nate. Nice to meet you.”
Tyler nodded and smiled in return. He looked around, wondering if he could see any other people in the crowd he might know when he spotted Helen’s eyes on him. Their gazes met as she stared at him before her eyes seemed to look him over. He felt the beginnings of a cold sweat start to break out until he saw a slow smile and nod of approval from her before she turned her attention elsewhere. Without meaning to, he breathed a sigh of relief.
Father up the aisle, he saw Drake sitting at the end of one of the pews. Their eyes met and he smiled and started to get up, but Drake’s friendly smile was joined with a hand motion for him to stay where he was. Tyler didn’t think his friend should be sitting alone, but his unspoken message told him to stay where he was. He waited for a moment for Drake to change his mind and then just shrugged and turned around.
It would have been nice to not feel like he was sitting alone. Granted, Stephanie was sitting next to him and they did know each other to a point, but her attention seemed mostly fixed on Nate sitting to her left. Apparently, they had known each other for awhile and they, like many others sitting here, were catching up as friends do in times like this. His focus went to the front of the room where the aisle ended in five steps, leading up to the alter. Right before the ceremony was to begin, he knew Harry would be standing there, waiting for the two grooms. He’d met the pastor briefly the evening before during rehearsals. He seemed a kind enough man and seemed to dote on Brian and Andy to some extent. It wasn’t until they were at dinner that he learned the connection.
There was faint music in the air around them as he settled into his spot, patiently waiting for the ceremony to begin. A part of him felt a kind of melancholy settle in. While he was happy for Jacob and Kyle today, the feeling that he would likely never have a day like this had started to become less of a theory and more of a fact to him. It was a little saddening, but it was also something he knew was likely unavoidable. Jacob and Kyle. Andy and Brian. They were extremely lucky that they found each other when they did, and he was aware of that fact. Tyler failed in his attempt and it may have been his last. That’s just a part of life, he reasoned. And he would just have to find his own happiness in his own way and his own time.
“Would it be alright if I sit with you?”
Tyler felt his world completely stop, along with his heart. Daring not to move too fast for fear he might injure himself, he turned his head and looked up at a handsome man in a very sexy looking suit with a red dress shirt, black slacks and black tie looking down at him with hopeful grey eyes. He hadn’t considered this could happen and he’d been so busy with everything else, it had completely slipped his mind. “S-sure. Hi.”
Sean sat down next to him, with Stephanie and the others politely making room for him to join them. “Hi, yourself,” he replied with a small smile. “I’ve been in town for months, but we seem to keep missing each other.”
Tyler swallowed, nervously. He couldn’t identify the cologne Sean was wearing, but it was distracting him and made his face feel like it was going to catch on fire. Whether it was irony or fate, Tyler was saved as the music faded and Pastor Whitman stepped up to the dais and stood in the center with a gentle smile on his face. Those in the pews quickly quieted down and a silence settled in the sanctuary. The quiet in the chamber lasted a few seconds before slow, ascending notes from a harp were heard over the speakers and the large screen on the wall behind the pastor lit up with an old picture of a man holding an infant child in his arms.
His heart did a little lurch in his chest as he remembered the look on David’s face when he held that picture in his hand not so long ago. The first words of the song filled the air and Tyler knew he would need to keep his mouth securely shut, else something between a laugh and a cry would come out. The pictures on the screen told a silent story about a boy and his friends. As the images changed, the boys grew older. Three became four as their little family grew. It was a captivating show but he knew the pictures told only the slightest sliver of the story of their lives together. The fact that he knew that while most in the audience didn’t gave him a sense of his place in life and how close he’d become with all of them.
He gave into the urge to look behind him as the first chorus came and he saw brave little Carter walking by himself down the aisle, carrying the most important part of the ceremony in his hands as he walked towards the pastor. He may not be walking in the same tempo as the music, but few people would care or remember. The little boy’s appearance and his bright happy smile would be the only thing anyone would remember.
The collection of pictures and memories continued to play out on the screen as Matt and Blake walked down the aisle followed by Chase and Tanner. All the mothers and more than a few fathers watched the little boys looking so happy with themselves as they made their way down. Most of the guests knew them in one way or another and nearly all were moved with what they were sure would be how proud their parents would be with them. Tyler spared a glance at Stephanie next to him who already had a handkerchief clutched in one hand that appeared to have already seen some use. Nate next to her, seemed to be grinning so brightly, it nearly dulled the color of his hair.
Everything went smoothly into the second chorus and Tyler watched as Andy and Brian came down the aisle arm in arm. He allowed himself to grin, remembering how they joked with the others the night before how nice it was that Jacob and Kyle went so out of their way to make a huge rehearsal for their future wedding. As he watched the two of them make their way past him, he prayed their day would come soon.
At the last moment, Andy’s eyes caught Tyler’s and his grin became more than a little mischievous as his eyes went to Sean sitting next to him. Before Tyler could react or comprehend it, the look was gone, and Andy’s attention was back to escorting his love to their destination. Tyler made a mental note to find out just how Sean came to be at the wedding since, to his knowledge, Sean did not know Jacob or Kyle.
There was no time to think about anything else as the interlude played and the final pictures on the screen played out. The last one being Jacob and Kyle, smiling at each other as they lay under an apple tree. The picture faded out, replaced by a hand drawn sketch of that same picture, accentuating the two faces and the eyes full of love for one another. It was a portrait Jacob drew himself the night before as was evident in the initials he had scrawled in the bottom right hand corner. J.M.H.
On cue, Pastor Whitman raised his arms and Tyler, along with everyone else in the pews, rose and turned to the doors. The chorus returned with an intensity to match the moment, the doors opened, and Kyle and his father entered, making their way down the aisle together. Tyler was a little surprised to feel a tear escaped his eye at their appearance. But he understood that even if he watched them perform this march five times the night before, today it was real, and that fact was clear on both their faces.
He remembered Helen advising her son, “the reason your father has his arm around yours is to keep you from floating off the ground.” That advice seemed to be well intended because the look on Kyle’s face was so filled with the emotions of the moment that he wasn’t even sure if Kyle knew anyone else was in the room beyond those standing in on the dais before him. When Kyle and David reached their places on one side of the pastor, he again extended his arms out in greeting and his smile brightened as the drums rolled and everyone turned into time for the doors to open again.
Tyler didn’t bother hiding his tears this time as he saw Troy and Jacob in gleaming white tuxedos start their march down the aisle together. Pure joy flooded his heart as he was so happy for his friend. Tyler could see in that moment that this was all Jacob had ever wanted in his life. Many things happened in that moment that would solidify it in his memory the rest of his life. He felt Stephanie press her handkerchief into his right hand and Sean’s hand found its way into his left and they unconsciously laced their fingers together as he wiped his face. Sean’s hand squeezed his in a sign of silent support and perhaps something else at the same time the words of the song seemed to finally coalesce in Tyler’s heart and new tears sprung to his eyes as he watched Jacob and Troy make their way past and up the steps.
Whenever you’re in trouble
Won’t you stand by me?
They along with the others in attendance turned back forcing them to release their hold but the feeling remained and seemed to intensify in Tyler’s heart as he witnessed Jacob stand next to Kyle and extend his hand to him. As their hands met and held onto each other, the feeling of love they held for each other was finally realized in that instant and Tyler once again felt like a wave washed over him as he saw each of them lend strength to the other. Heads bowed, overcome and others could only smile as the song ended. As everyone took their seats, Tyler heard more than a few sniffs in the crowd that indicated to him that he wasn’t the only one to feel so moved in the moment.
He sat there, wanting to listen and watch the service, but his thoughts and feelings were a jumble which only resolved a little as he felt Sean’s hand slowly seek his out again. With the contact between them, Tyler felt like his soul was vibrating, clouding out all other sound and feeling. He never wanted it to end as he watched the ceremony unfold before him. He could hear the words from the pastor’s mouth, but they were ultimately forgettable as he felt Sean’s soft hand in his and watched as Kyle and Jacob seemed to have eyes only for each other to the exclusion of everything else around them.
“And now,” the priest said with a smile, “Kyle and Jacob have decided to make their own declaration of their vows to each other for all of us to hear and to bear witness.” With a slight wave of his hand, he took a step back and all eyes went to Kyle as he prepared to speak.
Kyle seemed to take an extra breath before focusing on Jacob. “I remember a kid I went to school with who was able to make me unable to talk whenever I looked in his eyes. It took me awhile to realize how much I loved him and longer still too find it in myself to be brave enough to push past my fears to be with him again. I, Kyle Andrew, now swear to you, that I will love you for the rest of my days. I will always be your best friend. I will always be there to comfort you and to lift you up when you feel low. I know it will be you who will be my confidant, my conscience, and my protector whenever I’m in need. I promise to treasure every day we share together from now until I take my last breath. My love for you is without end and without equal.”
In the silence that followed, Tyler could see Jacob’s chest seem to expand for a moment before he spoke with a trembling voice. “You saved my life once when I felt so alone. Before I knew you, I never knew what love really was and I am thankful for every day of my life since then because they always had you in them, even when we were apart. And now I, Jacob Michael, swear to you before our friends and family that I will always be your best friend and will cheer you on in anything you do. I will always hold you when you need me. You will always be my home and be the one who I can turn to when I’m in need. I will always cherish every moment we spend together in this life. My life is made whole… because you are and always have been the best piece of my life. No matter what happens in our future, you will always come first.”
The pastor stepped forward after a moment and nodded to Troy who turned and motioned to Carter to come to him. He retrieved the rings from his son and passed them on. Pastor Whitman held each in on hand, holding one out to Kyle who took it and solemnly said to Kyle. “Take now this ring and place it upon Jacob’s finger and say unto him, ‘with this ring, I thee wed.’”
Kyle’s hand shook for a moment as Jacob held out his hand. As Kyle slid the ring on, the weight of his feelings kept his voice to a whisper. “With this ring, I thee wed.”
Whitman repeated the process with Jacob who gently held the ring and Kyle’s hand and said in much the same voice, “with this ring, I thee wed.”
Harry smiled and took both of their hands in his, saying, “let us all now bow our heads and pray.” Heads were lowered and Tyler’s eyes closed in relief as a few more tears managed to escape. “O Lord… As you have heard their words from their hearts and in their souls, we ask that you bless this union. Bless them and their house, O Lord. Let their love light the way for all who come after them. And if dark times should come, shine your divine light on their path, that they may never stumble as they travel through life. We ask this of you, in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, whose love knew no limit and no condition. Amen.”
Tyler and everyone else raised their heads as they saw two bright smiles start to eclipse all other light in the room as the pastor declared, “In the name of God, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I here now declare these two married. Let none sunder that which God has ordained. And may I be the first to present to all of you, Kyle and Jacob Howard.”
There were no further instructions, and none were needed as Jacob and Kyle came together and kissed each other sweetly to the sudden applause and cheers of everyone around them as they rose as one to their feet in celebration. Their lips lingered together and if there were tears there, no one would have known nor cared as the beat of music began to fill the chamber. With hands held, the newlyweds made their way up the aisle together with David and Troy following behind, along with the rest of the wedding party. Tyler tilted his head curiously after they had passed to listen to the music. No one had told him that there was more planned music at the end of the service. When he recognized Shinedown’s “Unity,” he smiled happily, feeling it was probably some meaningful song between the two of them but also a good song to end a beautiful service.
The ushers began motioning people to exit their rows and proceed up the aisle in an orderly fashion starting at the front of the room. He knew Jacob and Kyle along with the adults in the wedding party would be on the other side of the doors as an impromptu receiving line to thank everyone for attending. Thankfully, since he was in the second row, he would be there soon enough, but he also knew he would have to remain until all the guests were gone for pictures that were to be taken here before they left for the reception.
“Are you going to the reception,” Sean asked him as they waited to exit.
“Yeah, um,” Tyler suddenly wasn’t sure what to say. “I have to stick around here. They’re doing pictures before going to the party and they told me to wait for them.”
Sean seemed satisfied with that answer. “Maybe we can talk and catch up there? I missed seeing you at work and all.”
“Yeah. Sure.” Tyler could feel himself sweating. “I’d like that.” Tyler didn’t know what to do and he found himself turning his head to look at Stephanie who was giving him an appraising look before giving Sean the same look when his back turned to them. Her eyebrows went up along with her smile and a nod to let him know she thought Tyler had done well. His cheeks nearly burned as he got what she thought was going to happen.
As they walked up the aisle together, Tyler noticed two things. Sean hadn’t let go of his hand and he didn’t want to let go of Sean’s hand. The question that had been on his mind before the wedding had started suddenly came back to him. “So, what brought you here? I don’t remember you being a friend of either groom.”
“Andy ran into me at work the other day and told me I should come,” he replied with a shrug. “Said it would be fun.”
Tyler knew he was going to have to have a private word with Andy at some point.
Before he could think of more, he was past the doorway and saw Kyle standing next to Jacob at the beginning of the line of the men who had stood there with the two of them. He somewhat reluctantly released his hold on Sean’s hand and embraced Kyle and then Jacob as they stood there. “Congratulations!”
“Thank you,” Kyle said. “And thank you for your help.”
“Just happy to be here,” Tyler said.
“Make sure you stay for pictures. We want everyone in the group shots,” Jacob reminded him before he turned his attention to Sean standing very close to Tyler. “Who is this?”
Tyler blushed when he saw the curious look Kyle and Jacob both got. “This is Sean. He’s… a friend of mine.”
The newlyweds exchanged a look between them before giving Sean a more examining gaze. Jacob’s eyebrows went up a little in surprise. “Well, then,” he said as he extended his hand, “it’s nice to meet you. Thanks for coming.”
Sean shook his hand and then Kyle’s. “My pleasure. It was a beautiful service.”
Kyle’s eyes went from Sean to Tyler and back. “Thank you. Are you coming to the reception?”
Tyler felt like the earth tilted slightly because he could swear he heard Helen’s voice in her son’s mouth for a moment. Sean just smiled brightly and nodded. “Tyler told me he had to wait around here for photos. So, I’ll just be there waiting for him, I guess. Oh, and of course, all of you.”
Kyle nodded even as his eyes seemed to stare right into Sean’s skull. “That’s great. I’m sure we’ll have some time to talk then as well.”
Tyler smiled to them both while feeling they were taking up Kyle and Jacob’s time so they stepped away. He could only wonder what was going through their heads as they shared a curious look with each other before turning their attention to the next person in line. He took a few steps and got to David who immediately wrapped the smaller man in a hug. Tyler laughed and managed to say, “everything was perfect.”
David laughed. “I was so proud of all my boys!” He let go of Tyler and noticed the quiet and handsome young man standing next to him with the very dashing smile. His eyes immediately got a curious look as they went to Tyler. David’s smile subtly turned to something more polite as he asked, “and who is this you brought with you?”
Tyler felt a hot flash in his cheeks. He heard a distinct edge in his tone even as he sounded just as pleasant as before. “This is Sean. He’s a friend of mine. We met working together last year.”
“Sean…” The way David said his name, gave Tyler the impression he was memorizing it for when he had to call the cops. The proud, and slightly protective father extended his hand and grasped the younger man’s in a very firm handshake. “Good to meet you. David Howard. Father of both of the grooms, I guess.”
Sean nodded and smiled back politely, seemingly unphased. “Congratulations to you as well then. Nice to meet you.”
“So. You’re here with Tyler today.” His smile remained in place, but his voice got a slight hint of steel in it. Like a protective father of a child meeting their first boyfriend. “I’ll have to take some time and get to know you better,” David remarked.
Sean looked from Tyler and back to David, seemingly unphased as he continued to smile. “Well, I’m not planning on going anywhere any time soon.”
“Good!” David’s smile took on something of a more predatory grin while still sounding pleasant. “You and Tyler should come have dinner at the house sometime soon.” To Tyler’s ears, that didn’t sound less like a suggestion and more like an order. Tyler was certain the topic of Sean was going to come up frequently whenever Tyler was at the house for awhile.
Sean grinned and looked again to Tyler. “I’ll be looking forward to it.”
Tyler managed to keep his smile in place even as he came to the realization that this “receiving line” had just turned into a gauntlet he was going to have to run with Sean in tow. Thankfully, Troy was standing just a couple feet away who was just turning his attention to the two of them. “Tyler. Hey, Sean,” he said as he extended his hand. “Didn’t realize you would be here.”
Sean just shrugged as they shook hands. “I heard something big was going on in town and decided to come.”
Troy smiled and nodded even as his eyes went from one to the other. “I see.” The subtle shift in Troy’s tone made Tyler groan inwardly. Troy went from some polite happy older brother of the newlywed couple to the critical eye of sizing up a siblings date. “Well. Hope to see you at the reception.”
“I’ll be there.”
Troy gave him a meaningful look and Tyler silently wonder what the hell just happened to his life. “Good. Looking forward to it. Tyler, everyone else is waiting in the room we were in earlier.”
Tyler nodded, checking a sigh and put his hand on Sean’s arm to keep the line moving.
“Hey! There you two are!” Andy’s voice and mood were almost ridiculously upbeat and his green eyes practically glowed along with his grin as he watched the two of them step up to him and Brian who, for his part, had an impish grin on his face as his eyes made contact with Tyler’s.
“Hi,” Tyler said with strained politeness. He let the look in his eyes let Andy know he knew what was going on.
“How did it look from the sidelines,” Andy asked politely as if nothing were amiss.
Tyler started to think if Andy didn’t stop grinning like a cat who just ate all the canaries, it would never go away. “It looked perfect,” Tyler replied as Brian hugged him.
“Same here,” Sean agreed as he shook Andy’s hand. “Was probably one of the best weddings I’ve been too.”
“We might be able to outdo them,” Brian quipped. “Make sure you’re around for that one too.”
Sean blinked and his polite smile widened. “Oh, that’s right! I’m sorry. It’s been almost a year now since I heard the rumor you two were getting engaged. I’m sure you two will look just as great as Jacob and Kyle did.”
Brian shook his hand and laughed. “Charmer. I got my eye on you now.” The last part was followed by a subtle wink to Tyler who was torn between laughing at the absurdity of the last few minutes and still wondering what the hell is going on.
“Well, Sean needs to go, and I’ll go find the others and wait until you guys are done.” Tyler turned to him and said. “I’ll find you first thing when I get to the reception.”
Sean stepped up a little close to him with a smile that made him look so sexy, Tyler nearly forgot his own name. “I’ll save you a seat when I get there.”
Tyler’s breathing stopped for a moment as they stared into each other’s eyes. “That would be nice,” he said before managing to take a step back.
Sean nodded and stepped away. “I’ll see you soon.” He gave Tyler a wave with that same brilliant smile before he turned and left.
Tyler stood there, feeling flushed and overwhelmed. His gaze slowly turned to Andy and Brian who were both grinning at him. Andy’s eyebrows wiggled up and down for a moment as neither one of them bothered to hide the mischievous gleam in their eyes. Tyler couldn’t take anymore and started off towards the waiting room to sit until the sanctuary cleared out. Before he could get very far, he began to laugh with a happiness in his heart he couldn’t remember feeling before. While he wasn’t sure exactly how his life was going to work out in the future, a part of him was comforted knowing that he had some very interesting friends who he knew would always be there through just about anything.
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