Errr hi. Yes, it's been forever, and I am a terrible person to make you wait this long, and if you've kept up with this story up until this point…you have my awe, my gratitude, and my eternal apologies for the delay.
This is unbeta'd so, warning right there.
Oh, and if anyone is of the belief that Stan's counterpoint is completely necessary, I'm willing to hear your arguments. Otherwise, this is the last chapter. Probably.
You can give him this.
Stan hasn't asked you for anything in years. Didn't ask you to tell him what's been eating you up since freshman year of high school when you realized you loved him. Didn't demand to know what made you snap at him when you just couldn't take it anymore, or what made you push him away over and over just to see if he'd come back to you because you needed that reassurance at least. He never asked for an explanation or a justification or even a reason, but he's asking something of you now. And what he's asking is that you to stand in front of his family and Wendy's family and all the people you've grown up with, plus a few you've never seen before that are distant family or Stan or Wendy's, and tell them how happy you are for the bride and groom today. He's asked you to be his best man on his wedding day. He's asked you to support him as he breaks your heart into a million jagged little pieces, to smile as he gives his life to someone else, and then to stand before everyone and say how wonderful it all is. He's asking you for a lot all at once. He's asking you to lie and to hide. It should be too much but with him it never is.
And you can give this to him, because it's what he's asking for, and you've always known that you'd give him the world if he asked for it. It very much feels like it is killing you to be here, to do this, but you're not going to tell him that. You can act like what he's asked for is an easy thing to offer, and that can be your second gift: a pass from guilt over causing you pain. He doesn't have to know how much it's costing you. He can take without remorse, because it should have been easy in the first place. It's not, not at all, but you'll make it okay so he can be happy. Somehow, somehow you will. For now you can just survive and smile. You'd sew your lips in place if you had to, to be here. Because it's what he wants.
So you stand by the alter like your leprechaun-green necktie isn't a noose you are hanging yourself by, and your crisp white tux (yes, white, its so tacky; Wendy's particular brand of psychotic comes with the worst taste ever in wardrobe, apparently) isn't made of lead and regret. No, today is about silk, linen, and eating your heart. You're even dressed up like a dinner napkin to celebrate the occasion.
"The bride and groom have written their own vows. Go ahead Stanley, read your eternal promises to this woman, and declare your love before God and your friends and family."
"Uhm, what? Oh! The vows! Sorry, Wendy, jeez, ouch. …Okay, dude…here goes."
He fumbles in his pocket for a slip of paper, smooths it out nervously, clears his throat. A tiny hitch in your throat you disguise as a cough surfaces. His eyes are so bright, shining with that sheen of happiness you'll never be able to offer him despite all you want to give him, and this moment, this moment right here sticks to your lungs and hurts so much, and you're not sure if it will ever stop hurting.
"Wendy. From the moment we met, I knew you were a special girl. I'm pretty sure I'll always think so, and I promise I'll always try to make you happy. You make me happy just by being in my life, and I love you a lot. I know I love you, because every time I look at you, my heart feels funny even after all this time, and I feel sick to my stomach, sometimes I even still puke, but somehow, it's in a good way. Without you, my life makes no sense...and with you…it only makes a little sense. But that's good enough. You're good enough, more than good enough. I love you, and I'll always love you, even when you're all wrinkly and gross. Because it's you, old, sick, whatever—it's the same you that you've always been, just older and not hot anymore 'cause you'd be eighty years old, and its just wrong to be hot at eighty years old. But I still want to be with you then, and always. I guess…well, maybe, Wendy…love isn't about how beautiful you look right now even though you look more beautiful than anything I've ever seen, or how much happy I am that you want to marry me and spend the rest of your life with me, even though the fact that you do makes me happier than I thought it was possible to be…love is about something much bigger, something that never really goes away. And I love you, Wends, you know I do, and that's never going to change."
You choke uselessly, tears stinging your eyes. You will them back, hate yourself for your weakness, but it's all so very Stan. So honest and clumsy and true. Wendy's blushing face and Stan's matching grin sicken you. He's vowed, in his own way, sure and simple, to love her forever. He's promised all he ever had to give to Wendy Testaburger in her puffy white gown and thick black curls. And she, rosy cheeked and beautiful…she's accepted. There's no room for you here anymore. You feel like you're crowding them, like your presence here is wrong in so many ways, and you just want to get out. You want to unhear Stan's promise, his stumbling vow filled with so much love it swims through him and fills the whole church with a warmth that stifles and drowns you.
You don't even hear Wendy's vows. You're staring at Stan, who is clasping his hands over his wife-to-be's dainty white fingers, and he looks reverent. Reverent and grateful; he's looking at her the way you've looked at him for nearly 26 years now, and you can't handle it. You know you can't; you can practically hear your heart cracking in your ribcage. You're held up, standing instead of breaking down right here, crumbling to a useless pile of brokenness on the alter beside him, and it's only because this is what he expects of you. You can't help thinking it's an awful lot to expect, even if he doesn't know that. But that knowledge alone, that this is what he needs from you right now, freezes the tears and screams in your throat and you just stand there shattering and shattering, and he'll never know it.
"You may kiss your bride."
It makes your already broken heart give a thudding, aching protest when he doesn't hesitate before taking her in his arms, kissing her like he's been waiting for it all his life. She tosses the bouquet of rosettes and baby's breath over her shoulder, and one of her feet raises off the ground, bent up behind her as she gives into him, arms clinging around his neck. He leans her back, so she is suspended in his embrace, and for a moment they are alone in their enthusiastic promises and love. The red satin pump she wears is vivid, like blood under her the snowy flounces of her skirt. The audience laughs and cheers and stands, clapping and tearing up. You clap along, hollowly, tears in your own eyes finally breaking through and coursing down your cheeks.
After about twelve seconds, they both jump back with expectant looks, and, right on cue, Stan pukes all over the priest.
You can't do this.
The guests settle into their seats, expectant faces turn towards you, lining the lily-white table cloth with eyes that remind you that it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that you can't, because you have to. So you will. You push your chair back, the scraping against the hardwood, and tiny rattle of the china place settings twist your nerves. You numb yourself by repeating and repeating it will all be over soon, and take a deep breath.
Clinkclinkclick! You stand and tap your knife to your drinking glass (crystal, faceted, perfect), and it hums with vibration in your hand. You are doing this.
You clear your throat.
"Stan," your voice sounds so raw, you have to stop and steady yourself. You look at him, meet his eye. He smiles, encouragingly, and it pierces right through you, but you'll bleed over that later. For now, you smile bravely, tip your glass towards the happy couple; you knew your could subsist for however long he'd let you, but there's no more room for tenant farmers on land that belongs to a happy home now. This is goodbye, to a part of yourself, to a dream you never really believed in, but somewhere hoped for, because you can feel that hope dissolving now—you know, just know: this is all you can give him.
"Stan is my best friend," you recite. He nods back at you, and you have to look away before continuing, staring at a random point on the wall.
"We grew up together," you hope they can't hear how close you are to breaking, the tiny cracks in this thing you're trying to feel. You raise your glass a little higher and continue.
"I..I don't know how well any of you know Stan," you had a rehearsed speech, but it doesn't fit the moment dragging fierce, desperate, icy fingernails over your heart. It's gone, and left is only how you're gasping for air, but you'll sprint to this finish line before giving in. You said you'd do this for him. Everything you've practiced is useless now, and all you can do is tread water before completely falling under.
"Stan has been the best part of my life for as long as I can remember. He's been my partner, my confidante, my…my brother," you're no longer capable of stopping the raining tears, hot against your face, so you'll just have to hope they'll be misinterpreted, "but, you know. Things change. I'll always love Stan, that's not…that's not the type of thing that really ever goes away." You sniffle pitifully and wipe your sleeve, briskly over your eye, then sigh.
"But like I said, things do change. Stan's got a brand new life now. A new journey, with a beautiful new wife by his side," Wendy smiles at you and you dip your glass to her, "and I fit…I fit into a new place with him. He has a new partner now. And that's a good thing, a great thing. And I'm…I'm so happy he found someone as special as Wendy, who makes him as happy as she does," you shake off your invisible burdens and stand straighter to deliver the last part with as much courage and strength as you can. You want to give this, this last thing, to him, all of it; your last gift to him will not be a half-attempted farewell tempered with fear. You can do this. You can give that to him.
"Stan, you know I love you, man. You know that I want you to be happy—and now you are. Here's to your future, to love, to life, and to you. There's a lot to get used to, good things, hard things, painful things…but I'm not scared of them, and you shouldn't be either. We'll keep on, like we always have and somehow…somehow we'll make it through, and it'll all be for the best. I know that, and I know you. And I know you have a wonderful life ahead of you, both of you. Congratulations, Stan…I'm happy for you."
The world can hang for all you care, you've done it. The clap on your shoulder and the, "thanks, man," Stan pours gratefully in your ear mean you were strong enough for him.
And tonight, that's enough.