Worst Best Man
Part One, Invited
Usually, high school friends leave town and drift apart.
It didn't happen with Tucker. We drove away to our distant colleges. We dropped out at different times. We returned to other schools at mismatched semester breaks. For years, hundreds of miles separated us. So did our divergent American sub-cultures (ROTC, punks and hippies). Yet we managed to remain friends. At Hampshire College, I took courses in creative writing. It wasn't hard to discipline myself to write letters to friends as well. The surprise was that Tucker wrote back. Sometimes he splurged to speak to me on the phone. He said that he charged the calls to his parents or lumped them into his college payments.
In all the time I was at college, we were best friends despite the ever-present distance between us. He visited me at Hampshire. Once I took off for a semester and worked in Maryland. Tucker had returned to Darnestown, so he and I went running together every day. We talked about women, school, and life philosophy while getting physically fit or sometimes while shooting a basketball around the hoop in my back yard.
Eventually, Tucker went back to college in Rochester. I finished undergraduate school and settled down in Massachusetts. We still saw each other from time to time. But it became a rarer thing. We talked only when I made the effort to visit. He had a fiancé, Laura. I was living with a woman in Amherst. Neither of us seemed to have free time.
One morning, two years after my graduation, I got a call from Tucker. He had moved back to Maryland. Since his return there, I hadn't heard from him. I'd sent letters but had gotten no replies, no calls, nothing for sixteen months. Then the phone rang and my girlfriend handed it over to me with a worried look.
"Hey, man," Tucker said. He sounded tired. "I've got news. I'm getting married."
"To Laura? Congratulations." I had expected a dire report, not a good one. Laura had once or twice mentioned the idea of marrying Tucker. In contrast, he'd mentioned problems with her. But apparently that sort of drama was in the past.
"Yeah." He paused. "Well, thing is, Eric, I want you to be my best man."
We were so distant at this point, I was surprised to get an invitation to the wedding. Still, an invitation for old time's sake seemed normal. Getting asked to join the wedding party seemed a bit much. I didn't trust that. Getting asked to lead the wedding party seemed outright wrong. But here it was, a request for me to step in as best man.
"I thought you said you had a bunch of new friends." That was one of the first things he had told me about moving back to the Gaithersburg area, just before I heard nothing else.
"I do. But none of them would be really on target."
"None?" That seemed reassuring, in a way, although possibly a source of needless drama as well. I understood the idea of reaching back to a high school friend as sort of a traditional thing. If that's what it was, I could certainly make my peace with it. I'd have to, since I liked Tucker and it was an honor to be asked.
"Seriously. It has to be you, man. It's right."
"Then I'll be there."
My girlfriend marched over to stand beside me. She had a sense of when a call turned important. She knew Tucker and Laura, too.
"Hey, gotta go, man. Things to do." Tucker ended the call abruptly. The whole conversation had taken two minutes. My girlfriend raised an eyebrow but refrained from comment. I placed the plastic handset back on its stand. It was one of the slightly-cheap knockoff brands that were available now that AT&T wasn't allowed to own all of the phones. I took a deep breath, hands on hips.
After half a minute, I started to feel inspired by the call. Tucker still thought I was his best man. I gave Andrea a sideways glance as I considered my options.
"I've been thinking about moving back near my old home," I ventured, "maybe to Frederick."
"Oh really." She folded her arms across her chest.
"Frederick has a real downtown, like Northampton. You said you wanted to live in a place with a downtown so you didn't need to drive. Well, you can walk anywhere you need to go in Frederick. And you graduate soon."
"I'd better." She had finished her academic hurdles, she thought, but not every professor had completed his or her side of the required paperwork.
"How would you feel about moving to Maryland with me?"
We would soon have the freedom to go anywhere we pleased. Why not get an apartment in a town close to where Tucker was getting married? It made logistical sense. Maybe it would seem like a good decision for other reasons later. For a second, Andrea scowled. Not much later, she cracked a smile.
"Anywhere away from here." She put a finger to her lips for a moment, then added, "That isn't upper New York State."
And so it was decided.