I saw Brian approaching before he saw me. He was with his wife and two small boys, pushing the stroller with one hand and waving the other in the air as he told a story.
Brian hadn’t changed much. He was still tall and gangly, but a little less so as he’d filled out over the years. It changed the shape of his face and made his big engaging smile even more charming. His wife was pretty with long, straight blond hair and an athletic build on a petite frame. She looked kind and sweet and I was so happy she had found Brian.
When his eyes zeroed in on me across the park, his grin grew even bigger. He pointed me out to his wife, and I was immediately apprehensive. She had to think I was crazy. What kind of weirdo meets up with ex-boyfriends? Married ex-boyfriends? I hadn’t explained to Brian what I was doing, or why I wanted to see him. He never asked why, just accepted with enthusiasm. To my surprise, his wife flashed a genuine smile and waved at me before pressing a kiss to Brian’s cheek and steering the two little ones to the playground.
He jogged my way grinning from ear to ear and my stomach flipped as he drew closer. Did I know what I was going to say? Good lord, no. But I stood up and offered a shaky smile anyway.
“Brian. I’m so glad you were able to come.”
Stopping a few feet from me, he stared at my hand like I was offering him a snake before closing the distance and enveloping me in a hug. This was no awkward, uncomfortable hug – he pulled me close and held me tight and all of my nerves melted away.
This was Brian. I had nothing to be afraid of here.
He kept an arm around my shoulders as we began to walk. It was easy and friendly. Brian asked about Kelly and about my family. I asked him about his work at the high school and was thrilled to learn he’d been composing his own jazz music.
“It’s amazing,” he gushed. “Anything and everything inspires me: the sound of the rain, my kids laughing, the wind in the leaves. And the freedom of creating something that is all my own is intoxicating! I’ve never been happier.”
Arm in arm we kept moving through the park. I talked about Jamie. A lot. I told Brian about how we met, how he proposed, how he dealt with my neuroses always with a smile.
We continued swapping stories until my stomach growled loud enough for Brian and everyone within ten feet to hear.
“Oh my god,” I groaned, burying my face in my hands.
He simply looped his arm through mine and steered me to a nearby soft pretzel vendor. We sat in companionable silence while we ate. It was refreshing to just be still in the sunshine and the light breeze, not feeling compelled to do or say or think about anything.
Of course, that feeling was short-lived. Brian cleared his throat and crumpled up his pretzel paper.
“So. Alexis. I’m not complaining – I’ve had a terrific time catching up and just hanging out with you – but I’m fairly certain you had an ulterior motive for seeing me.”
I stared at him, chewing the last bite of my pretzel very slowly. I still hadn’t figured out what I was going to say and we’d been walking and talking for an hour.
“You’re right. There was something else I wanted to talk about. So.” I took a deep breath and squared my shoulders. “So. I don’t know if you heard – probably not, I mean why would you? – but I got engaged recently.”
The smile exploded across his face and I could tell that he was genuinely ecstatic for me. “I DID hear! When is the wedding?”
I grimaced. “Well, that’s the thing. It’s kind of…postponed indefinitely.”
He grabbed my hands and his smile faded as quickly as it had bloomed. “Oh my god! What happened? Are you okay?”
“Yes…and no. I mean, it’s not like anything actually happened, the wedding isn’t called off. Jamie is amazing and perfect for me and my favorite person in the world. But I just…I don’t know, I’m not ready, I guess.”
Brian pulled me up from the bench and started strolling around the fountain in the middle of the park, obviously trying to think of something to say besides ‘you’re a crazy person’.
“Brian, how did you know things would last? Was there some kind of clue? Was there something she did or said that told you that, no matter what, she would love you forever?”
His roar of laughter startled me enough to make me jump a foot out of my skin. I wasn’t trying to be funny, so I was pretty peeved that his response to my honest question was laughter. He must have felt me tense up next to him because he squeezed my shoulder and let the chuckle die in his throat.
“I’m so sorry, Lex, I don’t mean to laugh. But what makes you think there is ever anything that can give you that kind of definitive proof? No one knows they’re going to be together forever – or that they’ll divorce after seven years. It’s all based on your faith in the other person.”
I groaned. “I know, I know. But – and I don’t mean to be rude or anything – but you had such low self-esteem when I knew you, how were you so convinced that getting married was the right thing?”
In the distance I could see his wife, Janie, returning from the playground. During our conversation Brian and I had giggled at the similarity in the names of the people we loved best. The children were already dozing in the stroller, dirty, exhausted, and happy. I glanced up at Brian and the look on his face when he saw his little family was ridiculously sweet and sappy. I loved it.
“You’re not rude, Lex. I didn’t think much of myself back then, you’re right. I needed constant approval from the people around me, you included – maybe especially. Let’s not pretend – I was gangly and goofy and nerdy and my mouth was too big – the fact that I had a girlfriend ever was a miracle in itself. But Janie…” He sighed. “I don’t know if I can explain it, but just her loving me gave me a confidence I had never felt before. And not just because she’s smokin’ hot.”
I bumped him with my hip and rolled my eyes.
“Seriously! She helped me see myself through her eyes and it was…amazing. I didn’t know if we would last forever – I still don’t know. But what I do know is that I want to spend all the time I can with her, no matter if it’s an eternity or two years.”
We stopped in front of the bench where I’d been perched when he arrived and turned to face each other. When he smiled down at me this time, there was nothing but kindness and affection in his eyes. He took my hands in his and gave them a squeeze.
“I don’t know exactly what you were looking for here, Lex, but I hope I was helpful. Listening to you talk about Jamie, I can hear how much you love him in every word.” Brian pulled me in for one last hug and shook his head. “Kind of strange that the tables have turned, huh? I’ve never seen you so hesitant before.”
I pressed my cheek against his shoulder and my words came out as barely a whisper.
“I’ve never had so much to lose.”