He looked down at the invitation in his hand: the maroon letters in segoe script font on the off-white card with a printed ribbon border spelled out names he was familiar with – he knew the names and the people attached to those names for almost twenty years – along with a date and a cordial invitation: Mr. and Mrs. James Mahoney request the honor of your presence at the marriage of their daughter Jordana Eveline Mahoney & Matthew James McCormac son of Mr. and Mrs. James Andrew McCormac, Saturday September 13, 2014.
It was not a surprise that Matt and Jordana were getting married. They had been dating for five years, and had known each other all their lives. Everyone knew it was just a matter of time before Matt popped the question, and when he did two weeks ago, Ted, along with all of Matt and Jordana’s friends and family congratulated them and wished them the best. What surprised Ted – what hurt him deeply – was that this invitation was the first he had heard of the wedding. This must mean, Ted thought, that I’m…I’m not in the wedding?
Ted and Matt had first met in fifth grade. They were both new to Oak Hill Elementary School, Ted having moved from Toronto and Ted from Dorchester. Since Oak Hill was in a suburb of Massachusetts, both Ted and Matt were teased for their funny accents: Ted for saying “eh” after making a statement or asking a question, and Matt for not pronouncing the letter “r” when he spoke, but instead saying “ah”.
Anybody got a quatah? Matt asked in the cafeteria the first day he arrived at Oak Hill.
A what? Matt responded earnestly. Since he had moved to Franklin only two weeks earlier, Ted was unfamiliar with the Boston accent, and was trying to decipher what Matt was asking for. It sounded like guana or maybe carta, but Ted neither knew what either of those things were or why anyone would be asking for one.
A quatah, Matt repeated. I wanna get a chip-burgah but I only got a dollah. They cost a buck-twenty-five, so I need a quatah.
Oh! Ted exclaimed with a sigh of recognition. A quarter. Yeah, I’ve got a quarter, eh. Ted reached into his pocket and pinched the coin between his index finger and thumb, then pulled it out and flung it towards Matt, who missed it because he was laughing with the rest of the kids at the lunch table.
What? Ted asked, uncertain of why everyone was laughing but certain it was at him.
I don’t know, eh. Greg said.
Yeah, eh. What’s all this aboot, eh? Brendan teased, nudging Ted playfully in the ribs.
Matt picked up the quarter and headed for the ice cream cooler. Hey, thanks for the quatah, eh! He giggled.
Ted had no idea why everyone kept saying, “eh,” or why they were looking at him and laughing. He never noticed that he said “eh” after just about every sentence, nor did he notice anyone else doing it while growing up. It was part of the vernacular in Toronto, so when the kids made fun of him for doing it, he became very self-conscious and embarrassed. It was difficult, especially at a young age, to recognize when you are doing something that’s different from the norm, and try to fix it. Ted wanted to fit in as quickly as possible in his new school, having seen what happens to new kids at his old school in Toronto that struggle transitioning to a new social hierarchy. If Ted was becoming the butt of the jokes already, the rest of fifth grade would surely be an eternity of misery.
When Matt came back to the table, munching on his ice cream sandwich, Ted, knowing that he had to find a replacement for the position he was in, in the pecking order, looked at Matt and said, loud enough for the entire table to hear him, say quarter, again.
What? Why? Matt asked.
Just say it, Ted insisted.
No. Fuck you, Matt said.
Greg saw what Ted was trying to do, and as the alpha in the group, took charge in assuring that Ted remained the target of the jokes. Hey, Ted. When Ted looked over, he noticed all eyes were on him. The blood in his face drew hot, and he felt his stomach begin to knot. Is it true, Greg went on, that people live in igloos in Canada? There was some chuckles but no one took their eyes off of Ted.
No, Ted said defensively. We live in houses and buildings just like you, eh. In fact, Toronto is like, one of the biggest cities in the world. It’s bigger than Boston, eh.
Is your dad a lumberjack, eh? Greg asked. The giggling turned into chuckling.
Fuck you, eh.
The laughter broke out like a clap of thunder, echoing throughout the cafeteria. Now, the eyes of every student in the cafe were looking at Ted, who was red with anger. He wanted to jump up and attack Greg, but he felt powerless with the deafening sound of laughter pointed at him. He had become the new kid that everyone made fun of. How did this happen? Ted wondered. He had been here for two weeks and no one made fun of the way he spoke. Why the sudden change? It suddenly dawned on him: Matt had done this. Before he moved to Franklin, Ted was the new kid; fresh, interesting, exotic. He came from a different country and lived in a city. Everyone wanted to know what it was like living in Toronto, but now, Matt was here. The role of new kid shifted, and like Ted, Matt grew up in a city, except this city was the home of all the beloved sports teams and the lure of danger, crime, and excitement. Dorchester was a rough neighborhood, and Matt was a product of that. Toronto was in Canada, home to a hockey team and a new basketball franchise named after a dinosaur. No one was going to pick on Matt because he was assumed to be tough. Ted was an easy target, even though, in reality, the roles were reversed. Matt did grow up in a rough area of Boston, but he never went too far from home and the roughest things got for him was when he’d wrestle around with his two younger brothers. Ted, on the other hand, grew up on a street with a few older kids that picked on him and treated him like a little brother – forcing him to play goalie during street hockey games then pelting him with slap shots, holding him on the ground and giving him charlie horses until his legs went numb, they even once handcuffed him to a tree and left him there while they went inside to eat dinner. At his Catholic elementary school where he had classmates from all different parts of the world and an Irish-Catholic principal, Mr. Fitzpatrick, who treated violent outbursts with a slap on the wrist and an hour of detention, fistfights at recess were common. Ted found himself in a fight with one of his friends or classmates almost once a month, whether it was a result of an argument during a touch-football game, a battle over a girl’s attention, or simply a moderately-aggressive “your mama” joke, it didn’t take much for Ted to lose his cool and start throwing punches. He didn’t think much of it. Going home with a black eye, a fat lip, or a blood-stained shirt from a bloody nose was no big deal, and after the fight, Ted and the other kid usually became even closer as friends. It was almost a right of passage, and Ted was considered the toughest kid in school.
All of that changed when he moved to Franklin. Oak Hill had a no tolerance policy regarding violence, and if Ted started a fight with anyone, he’d find himself suspended or even expelled from school. So, when everyone suddenly turned on him, he didn’t know what to do. He just sat there, staring down at the left over mashed potatoes on his tray and waited for the bell to ring. When the bell did ring, all the kids got up to throw their trays in the garbage and head to their next class. Ted waited for all the other kids to go first, as he was worried someone would make fun of him when there was a girl around. Matt noticed Ted’s hesitancy and gave him a little nudge. “You know we’re all just messin’ with you, right?”
“Yeah, I guess,” Ted tried to say with as much confidence as he could muster.
“What class you got?” Matt asked.
Ted pulled his crumpled schedule from his pocket, smoothed it out it on the table, and after an uncertain moment when he wasn’t really sure if he was reading it properly, said: “I think I have art.”
Matt’s mouth spread into a wide grin, “Mr. Pitts?”
“Me, too. Come on, we’ll go together.”
Ted and Matt went to art class together where they goofed off until Mr. Pitts threatened to throw them out of class. After school, Ted went to Matt’s to shoot hoops. For the next eight years, they were inseparable. They had their differences of course: Ted played on the high school soccer and hockey teams, Matt played football and basketball, but they hung out almost everyday and once they became upper classmen and house parties became a weekend activity, they could always be counted on to show up together with a bottle of Captain Morgan and two twenty ounce Coca-colas. They grew apart a little during college since Ted went to UMass and Matt went to a small business school in Vermont before transferring to UNLV, but even during those four years, they’d make it a point to try and visit each other over spring breaks and hang out back home over winter and summer vacations. Neither of them thought they’d ever stop being friends. No matter what happened, they always had each others’ backs.
Of course, no one can really plan for life and the way it comes crashing down on you like a rogue wave on a calm night. After fifteen years of unbreakable friendship, Ted and Matt decided to do the one thing capable of destroying any relationship: they moved in together. Ted had moved to the city right after college, and after spending the first two years out of college living at his parents’ house in Franklin, Matt took Ted’s offer to rent an apartment together. Both Ted and Matt worked in the city, Ted as a special education teacher and Matt as a restaurant manager. They worked opposite hours – Ted worked 8-4, Matt typically worked 4-midnight, so they didn’t see much of each other during the week. Matt made it a point to be quiet when he came home at night, not to wake Ted, and Ted returned the favor in the mornings. Still, things were rocky from the start: there was an argument over who got which room since one was significantly larger than the other, and it just built on from there…arguments over food and groceries, leaving dirty dishes in the sink, keeping the bathroom clean, borrowing money for the Laundromat… it seemed that every little detail was under scrutiny and Matt began to resent Ted. Ted, having been accustomed to arguments and fights, as he’d been getting into them with most of his friends, and all of his family, his entire life, thought little of the issues he and Matt were having living together. He took them as a part of having roommates. For Ted, if there were no arguments or fights every now and then, something was wrong. He and Matt had had plenty of blow-outs and even a few scuffles over their years as friends and they made it through it all. There was no reason to believe differently.
Things took a turn for the worse when Matt’s work schedule changed, and he had to work the morning shifts. Ted saw it as a perfect opportunity for them to hang out and get drinks after work, and smooth things out, but Matt wasn’t interested. He’d go out for drinks if he had the following day off, but otherwise, he preferred to stay at the apartment and have some drinks in front of the TV. Ted hated staying in the apartment, and hated the TV shows Matt watched even more. He couldn’t understand how anyone could watch reality TV – mental diarrhea, as he called it – and voiced his disdain every time he walked in on Matt watching Real Housewives, Pawn Stars, Jersey Shore, or any other show that Ted considered below him.
“Come on!” Ted whined, “turn this shit off and come get a beer with me.”
Matt picked up the beer he had next to him, gave it a light shake and said, “already got one.” Then he took a sip and turned the volume on the TV up.
Ted never stayed out late on weekdays, so there was never an issue of him waking Matt up, but come Friday and Saturday, Ted felt he had every right to stay out as late as he wanted and to get as drunk as he wanted, which he often did. When Matt went out with him on the occasional Friday or Saturday night, they’d resort to the same attitudes they had as teenagers, drinking pitchers of beer, taking shots of Captain or SoCo, and laughing all night over nostalgic stories. Those nights were few and far between, since Matt now had to work most Saturday and Sunday mornings. Ted always got drunk. He said it was his reward for being underpaid and underappreciated at work. He had plenty of other friends in the city, and finding people to go out and get wasted was just as easy living in Boston as it was living in the dorms at UMass. Boston is a drinking town, after all, and Bostonians take pride in that fact, just as New Yorkers take pride in their ability to make it big, Californians take pride in their uniqueness, and Floridians take pride in their cameos on COPS. Since Ted tended to drink heavily, he tended to come back to the apartment well after midnight with a craving for munchies. If he came home with some friends, he’d try to keep the party going by turning on music, passing out beers or shots, and yelling nonsense until he either passed out of ran to the bathroom to throw up.
Matt never said anything to him, even though seeing all the dirty dishes on the counter, often times with bits of Chinese food or chips littering the floor, his bottle of honey mustard left opened or empty, and people he never met snoring on the couch with their dirty socks on the coffee table made his skin crawl, not to mention that he had to look at all of that while fighting off the heavy fatigue he felt due to his lack of sleep. He’d take out some of his anger by stomping around, slamming kitchen drawers and cabinets, and slamming the front door when he left, but none of that was comparable to the inconsideration Ted treated him with, nor did it have the same lasting affect since Ted was able to fall back asleep for the rest of the morning while Matt had to go to work and desperately try not to take his anger out on an unsuspecting customer or one of his hapless waiters.
It wasn’t until Matt began spending all of his time at Jordana’s, who he’d started dating just before moving into Boston, and presenting his resentment towards Ted with a level of passive aggressiveness that made Ted want to put his fist through the wall that Ted was fully aware his friendship was weaning from what it once was. There were fewer arguments and no blow-outs as the months went on. Ted rarely saw Matt, and when he asked if he’d be around to grab a drink, Matt would shake his head and answer simply with, “work.”
Ted cocked his eye and asked with a little too much accusation in his voice: “What, did they change your hours again?”
“Yeah, Ted. Not everyone gets the luxury of working 8-5 jobs. Some of us have to work 60 hours a week.”
Matt had said that with so much disdain, Ted almost felt guilty for having a job with regular hours. He didn’t like being accused of not working as hard as Matt, since Ted’s job was extremely demanding and exhausting, but he agreed that 60-hour work weeks was something he could never do.
“Well, consider yourself lucky.” Matt was taking a large hamper of laundry to his car.
“We got a letter from the landlord. He wants to know if we’re renewing the lease.” Ted knew the answer already, but figured he’d hear it from Matt directly, just to be sure.
“Look,” Matt said after putting the laundry in his trunk. Ted could see Matt had a few other items from his room in his back seat. It was like he was already moving out. “Jordana and I have decided to move in together. We found a place in West Newton, so I’m going to be moving out at the end of August. If you want to stay here, you should probably start looking for a new roommate now.”
Ted stepped in front of Matt to prevent him from getting into his car. He could feel his heart rate picking up as Matt’s words processed. “Wait. What do you mean you guys already have a place? How long have you been looking?”
“A month,” Matt said.
“Why the fuck didn’t you say anything to me?” Ted said, his voice getting louder and aggressive.
Matt got closer to Ted, sensing Ted’s anger and becoming angry himself. “What? I have to ask you for permission before I do anything?”
“No! But it would have been a little considerate if you had told me you were doing this before now. You’re leaving me high and dry you fucking asshole.”
“Considerate? No, you did not just accuse me of being inconsiderate. There’s no fucking way you just said that.”
“You want to talk inconsiderate? Huh? How about keeping me up all night when I have work in the morning? How about eating all of my goddamned food and leaving your shit all over the apartment for me to clean? You don’t think that’s inconfuckingsiderate?”
At this, Ted made a face, brushing Matt’s comments off. “Oh give me a break,” he said. “I barely touched any of your food and anything I ate, I replaced.”
“No!” Matt yelled, his neck and face beating red. “No, you didn’t! Every time I went to make a sandwich, I was out of honey mustard, or ranch dressing. You always ate my food and you never replaced it, so don’t tell me you didn’t.”
“So you’re moving out because I used some of your goddamned honey mustard? Seriously?”
Matt stormed back into the apartment, went into the kitchen and then turned, shooting Ted a blazing look while holding his arms out at his sides. “Look at this shit,” he growled. “It’s a fucking mess in here. I’m tired of cleaning up after you. I’m tired of listening to you come home late and scream and yell with your friends, and I’m tired of all your bullshit. I’m moving out. Get over it.”
Ted followed Matt back out to his car, yelling at his back: “Good luck keeping your relationship together. Jordana’s got her work cut out for her; I hope she can deal with your crazy OCD bullshit!”
“Go fuck yourself, Ted.”
Matt drove off and was gone for a few days, but he went back to the apartment sporadically to sleep, take a nap, or to watch TV. He even started going out at night since his schedule changed again, but he never invited Ted, and Ted gave up asking where Matt was going since anytime he asked, Matt would say: “What are you, my mother? Don’t worry about where I’m going.” By the end of the month, Matt was taking the last of his things out of the apartment, and Ted was getting ready for his Labor Day weekend in the Cape.
They both parted without saying a word to each other. When Ted returned from the Cape, his friend, Jon, had moved all of his things in and started to put some pictures up on the wall.
“Looks good!” Ted told him, checking out Jon’s set-up. It was strange looking into Matt’s room and seeing someone else’s bed, dresser, and clothes. There were posters of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Allman Brothers, and Bruce Springsteen on the wall that reminded Ted of the concerts he and Matt went to during high school. Ever since he started dating Jordana, Matt stopped listening to classic rock and turned to country, the one genre Ted could not stand. As Ted stood in Jon’s room, he had trouble piecing together his year living with Matt. How had he changed so much in so little time? What happened? Was it possible that he and his best friend were actually incompatible but never realized it until they were forced to? He decided not to worry about it for too long. Ted figured that since they weren’t living together anymore, things would cool off and eventually go back to normal. They never did though.
Four years had passed since Matt moved out. Ted was still living in the same apartment, although he had gone through two more roommates – Jon moved in with his girlfriend two years after moving in with Ted, and his latest roommate, a random guy from Craigslist, just up and left without any notice. Ted felt like it was time for him to move out as well but wasn’t sure where to go or who to move in with. Most of his friends either had places or lived with their girlfriends. He scanned through the contacts of his phone to see if he could find someone who might want to move in with him. When he got to Matt’s name, he stopped and wondered how long it had been since he spoke to him. They hung out a handful of times over the years, Matt always telling Ted about work and how he never had time to go out, although Ted always heard through other friends about concerts, parties, and vacation spots that Matt went to with Jordana and some of their friends from work. Ted considered calling Matt, just to catch up and tell him about the weirdo that had moved in and then left unexpectedly. It would be a story Matt would find hilarious, Ted thought. He stepped outside – it was a beautiful sunny day – and hit the call button on his phone. It rang a few times then went to voicemail. Ted thought about leaving a message but when he heard the beep, he hung up. He stood outside for a while, enjoying the warmth of the sun and listening to the sounds of dogs barking, kids playing, and traffic commuting. When he turned to head back inside, he was in a surprisingly good mood. He was ready for a new beginning. He grabbed the mail on the way inside and flipped through the handful of envelopes. When he got to the small, sealed letter with fancy handwriting, he stopped dead in his tracks. He threw the rest of the mail on the counter and tore open the envelope, frantically pulling out the invitation like it was an urgent note from a missing person. He stared at the invitation, reading over the names and the date. September 13 was only three weeks away. How long had they been engaged without me knowing, Ted said out loud. His stomach felt nauseated, like his heart had swan dived into it. He felt so betrayed and alone. Ted always told his friends, especially Matt, that he was never going to get married, but he always told himself, that if he did, Matt would be his best man. Even after all the fighting and the separation between them, he couldn’t think of anyone more deserving. They had been friends for almost twenty years, after all, and spent nearly ten of those years side-by-side. Matt was more of a brother to him than a friend. And yet, Ted knew, looking at the invitation in his hand that he was not going to be Matt’s best man. Not even a groomsman. He was just…a guest.
Ted couldn’t help but laugh a little, quietly, to himself, because what he really wanted to do was cry and scream, but he was too shocked for tears and anger. He could have called Matt. Asked him why he was left out. Asked him if he still considered Ted to be his best friend. Or even a friend at all. But what was the point? The invitation answered all those questions without Ted even having to ask them. It was a clear message. Matt had moved on, Ted should do the same.
Ted walked over to the fridge and grabbed the last beer. It was cold and the humidity in the house made the bottle sweat. When he sat on the couch, he placed the invitation on the coffee table, took a big sip from his beer and put the beer on top of the invitation. Droplets of water rolled down the neck of the bottle and collected in a small pool at the base of the bottle, causing the ink on the invitation to run. Ted flipped through the stations, but found nothing of interest. A bunch of mental diarrhea, he thought. He grabbed his beer, pursed his lips around the mouth, and tipped it back, gulping it down while staring at the invitation below. The bottle had left a perfectly round circle that was bleeding out from all sides like the fire from the sun. It’s far too nice to be inside, Ted said aloud to himself. He slammed the beer down on the invitation, smearing the names and date, and left his apartment.