Six Years - Harlan Coben
I sat in the back pew and watched the only woman I would ever love marry another man.
Natalie wore white, of course, looking extra mock-me-forever gorgeous. There had always been both a fragility and quiet strength to her beauty, and up there, Natalie looked ethereal, almost otherworldly.
She bit down on her lower lip. I flashed back to those lazy mornings when we would make love and then she’d throw on my blue dress shirt and we’d head downstairs. We would sit in the breakfast nook and read the paper and eventually she’d take out her pad and start sketching. As she drew me, she would bite down on her lip just like this.
Two hands reached into my chest, grabbed my brittle heart on either side, and snapped it in two.
Why had I come?
Do you believe in love at first sight? Neither do I. I do, however, believe in major, more-than-just-physical attraction at first sight. I believe that every once in a while—once, maybe twice in a lifetime—you are drawn to someone so deeply, so primordially, so immediately—a stronger-than-magnetic pull. That was how it was with Natalie. Sometimes that is all there is. Sometimes it grows and gathers heat and turns into a glorious inferno that you know is real and meant to last forever.
And sometimes you just get fooled into thinking the first is the second.
I had naively thought that we were forever. I, who had never really believed in commitment and had done all I could to escape its shackles, knew right away—well, within a week anyway—that this was the woman I was going to wake up next to every single day. This was the woman I’d lay my life down to protect. This was the woman—yes, I know how corny this sounds—whom I could do nothing without, who would make even the mundane something poignant.
Gag me with a spoon, right?
A minister with a cleanly shaven head was talking, but the rush of blood in my ears made it impossible to make out his words. I stared at Natalie. I wanted her to be happy. That wasn’t just lip service, the lie we often tell ourselves because, in truth, if our lover doesn’t want us, then we want her miserable, don’t we? But here I really meant it. If I truly believed that Natalie would be happier without me, then I would let her go, no matter how crushing. But I didn’t believe that she would be happier, despite what she had said or done. Or maybe that is yet another self-rationalization, another lie, we tell ourselves.
Natalie did not so much as glance at me, but I could see something tighten around her mouth. She knew that I was in the room. She kept her eyes on her husband-to-be. His name, I had recently found out, was Todd. I hate the name Todd. Todd. They probably called him Toddy or the Todd-Man or the Toddster.
Todd’s hair was too long, and he sported that four-day-stubble beard some people found hip and others, like me, found punch-worthy. His eyes smoothly and smugly skimmed the guests before getting snagged on, well, me. They stayed there a second, sizing me up before deciding that I wasn’t worth the time.
Why had Natalie gone back to him?
The maid of honor was Natalie’s sister, Julie. She stood on the dais with a bouquet in both hands and a lifeless, robotic smile on her lips. We’d never met, but I’d seen pictures and heard them talk on the phone. Julie, too, looked stunned by this development. I tried to meet her eye, but she was working that thousand-yard stare.
I looked back at Natalie’s face, and it was as if small explosives detonated in my chest. Just boom, boom, boom. Man, this had been a bad idea. When the best man brought out the rings, my lungs started shutting down. It was hard to breathe.
I had come here to see it for myself, I guess. I had learned the hard way that I needed that. My father died of a massive coronary five months ago. He had never had a heart problem before and was by all accounts in good shape. I remembered sitting in that waiting room, being called into the doctor’s office, being told the devastating news—and then being asked, both there and at the funeral home, if I wanted to see his body. I passed. I figured that I didn’t want to remember him lying on a gurney or in a casket. I