WIPs – Part 1, Story 3

Sam’s Stag Night is winding down by the time her shadow crosses the bar. A few of the groomsmen notice nothing more than the silhouette and start hooting and clapping Josh on the back, assuming that he’s the one who has shelled out for the stripper what with him being Best Man and all. The jaunty angle of the bowler hat over one eye, the casually unbuttoned neckline on her conservative little black dress and the spike on her heels all point in that direction.

Then she giggles, and Sam spins with a grin to grab her by the waist and lift her onto the bar in front of him.

“Thank God you’re here, Katie.” His eyes droop with beer, and his jaw slackens under her gentle palm. “They were gonna make me do shots.”

Katie oohss and aahhs and pinches his chin between her finger and thumb, waggling it back and forth playfully.

“Oh no! No shots for my Sammy on his big night!” Her hat is tossed in the air and the mess of curls he remember mooning over as a teenager fall around her plump shoulders much to the delight of Sam’s friends. The men who trooped down from Scranton look confused. The guys who helped Sam survive four years at Notre Dame are putting the pieces together with conspiratorial grins and beginning to nudge each other in the ribs. And him? He leans against the bar beside the only other adult from the old neighborhood and works on forgetting the raging crush he’s always had on his big brother’s best friend.

Nick’s hand falls to his shoulder from nowhere and squeezes tight, ready to inflict whatever torture he can before Sam or Kate notice the standoff. Nick was always a prick – made nicknaming him easy as a kid.

“Finally gonna tell her you love her Josh?” He isn’t as loud as he could be and Josh is momentarily mollified but still on guard.

“Please. Why would I take away from the festivities that surround me with thoughts of an unrequitable childhood crush?” He scoffs and raises the scotch to his lips just in time to wink at Katie over the rim with what feels like class but probably comes off as awkward and childish. It draws her attention if nothing else.

“Joshua!” she shouts from his brother’s embrace. “Where have you been all my life? Get me a drink!”

“Yeah Joshua! Get the woman a drink!” Sam is drunk, but Josh is willing to forgive him. It’s his last night of freedom before marrying Miss Perfect.

“Double Blantons, please. One ice cube.” He orders from the bar with a nod towards the lone female in their group who is now being introduced to all the friends she never knew she had. Sam’s boys are lining up for the honor to meet the legendary Katie – the girl he never slept with, never dated, never even kissed. She is the only girl who makes Miss Perfect shake in her stilettos and all of Sam’s friends love the very idea of her.

She never visited when he was in college. Flights were too expensive from New York and then London, and they both were home in the summers anyways. There was email and the phone. They didn’t need to be in the physical presence of the other for the shorthand to apply. There are some things that even time and distance cannot wrench apart thanks to technology. Somehow, even Miss Perfect had managed to miss Katie except for the occasional phone call until last night.

Sam’s phone call at 2 AM – dead sober and not completely awake – to tell him to come and collect Katie and her luggage from his doorstep before his bride invited her to move into the bridal suite with them had brought goosebumps up along Josh’s arms. His confused face at the door, a confused face mused with sleep and not at all with it had landed him with an armful of Katie. She had been completely wired, caffeine practically vibrating from the whites of her eyes, and had launched herself down the thickly carpeted hallway when he turned the corner.

He wasn’t going to protest an armful of Katie.

“You’ve grown up, Joshua.” He had barely caught her murmur an hour later when he deposited her on her hotel bed, removed the knee high boots and the intricately-wrapped sweater, and tucked her in. It had taken about that long for the caffeine high to wain, for them to find her room, and for her to quiz him on his love life.

Katie was the only one who was allowed to call him Joshua. Joshua was the only one allowed to call her Katie. It was their thing. Growing up in Sam’s shadow hadn’t always been fun, but with Katie as his best friend, Josh had always at least known he had an ally.

Now he swirled the glass in his hand, feeling very grown up for twenty-five, and watched the men whose hair was beginning to thin and paunch beginning to show try to impress his brother’s best girl. Kate still got carded.

When the last sweaty older guy had kissed her cheek, Kate rose to her feet. Well, her heels were looped through the rung of the stool she’d been perched on, and Sam’s hand at the small of her back may have been the only thing that kept her vertical.

“Alright boys!” she shouted over the crowd, “It is Samantha’s last night as a free man. You will buy us drinks. You will not make him do shots. I promise you, he will barely remember his name in the morning as it is.” Her fist rose in the air with each order. Her neckline nearly gave the group more of a show than Josh was sure she wanted. Drinks began arriving at her elbow.

Josh had elbowed his way through the crowd to his brother’s side, bolstering him beside Kate for the next 20 minutes until he saw her plan. The plan was not a good one. He had to look for reinforcements in the crowd and found himself raising a judgmental eyebrow in Nick’s direction in short order.

Sam was already only a drink or three away from calling it a night, and Kate was determined not to let a drop of the amber liquid go to waste as it was laid before her. Nick took Sam’s left arm, and he stationed himself at Kate’s right, sliding shots and drinks behind his elbow as frequently as possible. It was high school graduation all over again except Kate had the tolerance of a trucker now and was much more quick witted a few doubles in than she used to be.

A soft arm looped around his neck and her moist breath made his hair dance.

“Joshua. Are you withholding liquor from me?” she breathed into ear. He could practically feel her lips on his skin. His knees wobbled like a thirteen year old, and he did nothing to hide the finger he threw at Nick behind her back when the other man guffawed.

“Nope,” he lied with a completely straight face. Regardless of the crush that was well known and documented in the old neighborhood to everyone except Katie herself, Josh wasn’t about to take advantage of a woman who he was pretty sure looked at him like a little brother anyways. Plus, she belonged to his big brother in a way that no other girl ever would. They had been playmates as infants, toddled to kindergarten together, survived high school, and managed to get through every single first beside each other but never with the other. It was the kind of intimacy that even Josh’s genetic ties couldn’t challenge.

“Just making sure I get my fair share, Katie love. God knows Sam had to teach one of us how to drink.” He waggled a shoulder and raised an eyebrow, challenging her a little. They both knew that she could drink him under the table. She was the only one of the three of them who had ever learned how to hold her liquor, and they each had a horror story of hangover memory to remember all the occasions she had removed yet another set of training wheels from her tricycle. She giggled now at his bravado and dropped a loud kiss on his cheek.

“Pass me one of those shots or I’m telling your brother what really happened to his mitt,” she whispered. In a move that was much smoother than he ever thought he would be able to pull off with forethought, he produced a glass from his far side and handed it over to her.

Kate Blarvel became the girl who grew into the heads she turned after college. She had been a short and pudgy child with wild dark brown hair, hazel eyes and more freckles than she knew what to do with. She survived high school mostly on the bulwark of the quarterback’s friendship. No one could say a thing against her. And Sam fulfilled so many of the ridiculous stereotypes of high school stardom that he was nearly recruited to model for Abercrombie & Fitch his freshman year of college. No one would say a thing against him either.

“Thank God we have each other Joshua my love,” she said later after she shoved Nick away from her shoulder and wrapped one arm around his waist on the curb. “Where would I be without your side to wrap myself around?”

Her question was asked so musingly that he nearly laughed, but he could feel the tension in her arm and the way she tilted into him, leaning at an angle that should have been impossible given the height of her heels. Under his arm, she felt small and soft. The pudgy child had added a sheen of polish to make the curls shine and the eyes sparkle, but much of the confidence she outwardly exuded had the stench of bravado to those who knew her best. He rubbed her shoulder briskly before answering.

“Oh Katie. Where would I be without you to keep my head on straight? You know we have to stick together. Sam loses all our loyalty tomorrow. It’s just you and me against the world.”

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