A Charmed Life
Chapter 41: Union and Reunion

Copyright© 2016 by The Outsider

27 June 1996 - Common Street, Enfield, Massachusetts

Jeff scowled at the man accompanying one of his oldest and best friends. Keiko glanced at her fiancé when she felt him stiffen.

Heather didn’t notice the look Jeff was giving her guest; she’d turned towards the man in preparation for an introduction. “Keiko, Jeff, I’d like to introduce you to...”

“I know who this son of a bitch is, Heather!” Jeff barked, cutting her off and startling both new arrivals. He took a step towards the man next to his friend, getting right in his face. “You dare come here and disrupt our wedding weekend? Before I have you thrown out of here, I have just one question for you, you bastard.”

The man swallowed. “What?” he croaked.

“Where the hell you been, Tommy Reb?” With the question Jeff broke into a wide smile; he hugged the other man tightly, slapping him on the back. The man was startled by Jeff’s abrupt change in attitude, but soon relaxed and hugged him back. Keiko and Heather looked confused. “Man, it’s good to see you again!”

“Jezus, Jeff, you scared the shit outta me! It’s good to see you again too!”

“Jeffrey, I am guessing you know Heather’s guest?”

“Keiko, I’ve known this sorry excuse since Basic Training; may I introduce Mr. Thomas Clayton Pelley the Third of Gadsden, Alabama? TC, this is my fiancée, Miss Keiko Takahashi.”

“‘Takahashi?’ Wasn’t that your roommate’s last name at Bragg, Jeff?”

“My brother,” Keiko answered for Jeff as she nodded.

“He always seemed a pretty cool guy when I’d run into you guys, Jeff.” TC looked around the lobby. “Where’s he at?”

“Spokane,” Keiko said in a whisper; Jeff hugged her. Heather looked mortified.

“What?” TC asked. A pit formed in his stomach. He looked at the people next to him; each wore a long face. “I just screwed up, didn’t I?”

“Ken was killed in the Persian Gulf, TC,” Jeff replied. “He’s buried in Spokane.”

TC was horrified. “I’m so very sorry; I had no idea.”

“There’s no way you could have known.”

“I feel horrible. I meant no disrespect.”

“And none was perceived, Mr. Pelley,” Keiko assured him.

“‘TC, ‘ please.”

“Since you and Jeffrey seem to be friends, please call me ‘Keiko.’”

“I don’t know if I can call Jeff a friend still, Miss Keiko, not after how I treated him so long ago.”

“TC, you needed some time to get things straight after Ricky was killed; Keiko and her family, my friends who’d met Ken, me, we all needed that same kind of time when we lost him during the Gulf War. You are my friend; the only difference between you and a friend like Heather is the amount of stuff we have to catch up on.”

“Thanks, Jeff. I was worried how you’d react when Heather asked me to come to your wedding, but I didn’t want to say no, either. We’d only been dating for about two months when your invitation came; I recognized your name right away but didn’t let Heather know I knew you until about a month later. That’s the main reason why she hasn’t been in touch.”

“No worries, TC. It looks like they’re ready for us; we’ll have more time to catch up after the rehearsal.”

The <clink> of glass against glass sounded when the two old friends saluted each other. The rehearsal dinner hadn’t been the place for TC and Jeff to catch up, so they were sitting by a fire pit at the hotel’s outside bar. They both stared into the flames while they reclined in their chairs, their feet on the stones lining the pit.

“How is your family, TC?”

“Everyone’s doing fine, thanks. Miranda and Travis were disappointed that they didn’t feel comfortable inviting you to their wedding a few years ago; they didn’t want to upset me. That’s something else I have to apologize to you for, Jeff.”

“Miranda married Travis? That’s great! They made a nice couple when I was visiting in ‘87. Your mother and I have been trading Christmas cards, but only with a signature on them, no letters enclosed or anything. Did Miranda and Travis reconnect after college, or something?”

“They went to college together, Jeff. They got their math degrees from Alabama in three years, then their Masters degrees in Applied Math from Duke. They got married a year after that and are now math teachers in Northern Virginia.”

“Give them my best when you talk to them again. Now, how did you wind up dating Heather?”

“I got out of the Army in ‘93; I extended my contract for two more years after my original enlistment was up. I was lucky they didn’t flag me as not suitable for reenlistment the way I was acting after Panama. After Korea and the 2nd ID they sent me to Schofield Barracks in Hawaii as part of the 25th; it was there I started to lose the attitude you ran into after Panama. I pulled my head out of my ass and started to be a soldier again. I made sergeant before my extended contract ran out.”

“I went home and concentrated on rebuilding my relationship with my family for a few months before getting a job at a lumber yard there; the job was good for me: strenuous, long hours and it gave me time to think. I didn’t have the pressures of being in charge of a squad to worry about. After a year there, I’d decided it was time for me to go back to school.”

“I chose to study English and I surprised everyone, including myself, when I decided on Boston University as my school. I started as a freshman in the fall of ‘94; I’ll be a junior next year. I had to take a history class this past fall. I was in that section of the BU library trying to find a book for my final paper when I asked a passing student for help locating it.”

“Pardon the cliché, but the rest is history; the student was Heather, of course. I never found the book that day but I did convince her to have dinner with me that night. We’ve been seeing each other ever since.”

“When I saw your wedding invitation on her fridge five months ago it stopped me dead in my tracks; I must have stared at the card for a good five minutes while she finished getting ready for our date that night. Heather didn’t see my reaction and I was able to ignore the situation for close to a month and a half.”

“Eventually, of course, I had to tell her. I was at her place one night in late March or early April when I laid it all out for her, every ugly detail of what happened in 1990, of how I ran to avoid you. I knew I was asking a lot of her in not saying anything to you; I’m surprised she agreed, honestly. I knew you were around here somewhere, but I’d had plenty of opportunities to reach out to you. The time had finally come for me to face you.”

“‘Face me?’ I’m not that bad.”

“May I remind you how you almost made me crap my pants tonight?”

“So, anyway, you up for some kayaking on the river with the other guys tomorrow?”

“Yeah, you guys clearly didn’t do a lot of water-borne operations in the Army,” Gene Choamsky muttered while they pulled the kayak to the shore.

“Hello? The tab said ‘Airborne, ‘ not ‘Waterborne, ‘ Gene,” TC pointed out as they tipped the kayak over to pour out the water in the bottom.

“You said you grew up along a river!”

“I did grow up along a river! My ‘water-borne operations’ were limited to an inner tube unless we were on my Dad’s power boat.”

Jeff was glad to see his other friends accept TC this fast. When he and his friends gathered in the lobby for their kayaking trip earlier that morning there’d been some awkward moments while everyone else warmed up to the man from Gadsden; TC’s status as a veteran helped him relate to Stu, Gene, Oscar and Bill Nolan, which paved the way to including Sean, Bill Harris and Matty in everyone’s teasing. They’d kept the language family-friendly in deference to Matty.

“You guys win the ‘wettest crew’ award for the day,” Jeff announced when he looked over at Gene, TC, Stu, Bill Harris and Bill Nolan. Matty’s back was turned so they all flipped him off. Jeff laughed. They helped load the kayaks onto the tour operator’s trailer before hopping into the van to take them back to the hotel.

“How ya been, Bill?” Jeff asked Bill Nolan.

“I’ve been good, Jeff, thanks. I have to say though, that I was a little surprised to get your invitation. I mean, you, Ken and I were on good terms at Bragg, but we didn’t exactly go on bar crawls together or anything. Still, thank you for inviting Marie and me; we were glad we could come.”

“I’m happy that you decided to come. I’m growing nostalgic in my old age; I sent invitations to everyone from Bragg that I had addresses for.”

Bill laughed. “‘Old age?’ What are you? Twenty-six or something?”

“Not till August; I’m only twenty-five.”

“A baby-faced killer, that’s what you were back then! I remember now! So what are you up to these days?”

“I finished paramedic school last fall; I work for an ambulance service just north of Boston. You?”

“I’m a realtor outside of Champaign, Illinois; I’m a legitimate businessman now! I almost never break anyone’s legs nowadays.”

“You had ‘muscle’ to do that for you back then, who you kiddin’?”

“It would mess up my manicure if I did that kind of work back then.”

“Yeah, okay, Shark Man.”

There’s a name I haven’t heard in a while!”

Jeff’s palms were sweating while he stood on the bandstand on Enfield’s common; in less than five minutes Hiro would walk Keiko down the aisle. He fidgeted. Sean Brophy chuckled.

“Shoe’s on the other foot now, huh, wise guy? What are the chances she’ll come to her senses in the next few minutes and leave you at the altar?”

“Jack, if I punch his lights out can I claim I was provoked?”

His JP for the day, Jack Dwadczik, bit back a laugh. “You can claim whatever you like, Jeff. Doesn’t mean you’ll win in court, but you can make the claim.”

“Some ‘oldest friend I have’ you are!”

“Your ‘friend’ is reminding you that committing a misdemeanor in the presence of a police officer in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is usually an action you can be arrested for; not the best way to start off your marriage. Hi, honey, love you to pieces. Can you come bail me out of jail?

“Why do I put up with you two?”

His friends laughed until Keiko and Hiro stepped into view; in an instant his world became the woman in white one hundred feet down the aisle. If anyone were saying anything to him, he didn’t hear it.

Keiko’s dress was a Western interpretation of a traditional white Japanese wedding kimono with a Western veil. They’d also opted for Japanese wedding music. Keiko’s bride’s maids, Maureen McKenna (a fellow teacher from Devens Regional) and Kara, and her maid of honor Heather preceded her down the aisle, though Jeff didn’t notice.

Hiro climbed the stairs with Keiko on his arm; he lifted Keiko’s veil, gave her a kiss on the cheek and replaced the veil before he and Jeff exchanged bows. Jeff put Keiko on his arm and turned to face Jack. Jeff spent most of the ceremony smiling at Keiko; he could barely remember a word Jack said except the “do you?” parts. The happy couple exchanged their vows twice, once in English and again in Japanese. Their first kiss as husband and wife was passionate, intense with their love, and respectful of their surroundings.

Before Keiko and Jeff walked down the aisle they stopped at a large portrait of Ken Takahashi taken from Ken’s official Army photo when he’d been promoted to sergeant; a black band of mourning crossed the top corner. They bowed to his image, then walked between the lines of their applauding guests.

Reaching the screens at the end of the aisle which shielded Keiko from view before the ceremony, Jeff picked up his bride, twirled her around, and shouted for joy. Keiko laughed; strangers who’d drifted over to the temporary cordon applauded; Jeff and Kieko, now ‘the Knoxes, ‘ waved and bowed in return. They shared kisses, hugs, and handshakes with their wedding party.

Guests filed past them in the receiving line, then walked across the street to the reception area behind the hotel. The wedding party followed once the wedding pictures were taken.

The DJ introduced everyone and then he announced their first dance together:

“Ladies and gentlemen, Keiko and Jeff have chosen a special song for they believe it is very much them. They visited an Arthur Murray Dance Studio to prepare for this first dance as husband and wife. I had agreed to play it for them but now I cannot.” Keiko and Jeff, waiting on the dance floor, stared at him in disbelief. “It seems some of their guests have a better idea.”

He motioned to his right where a large curtain fell away to reveal Charlie Flaherty and her band, The Queens, and someone whose back was turned to them. They were ready to play.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Charlie Flaherty; I was a classmate of Kara Knox Masterson’s at Thompkins where we graduated in 1988, one year after Jeff. We are ‘Charlie Flair and the Queens.’ We, along with our guest, are honored to play Keiko and Jeff’s song as our gift to them.”

The unknown musician began to play the violin intro to Yes’ “Love Will Find A Way.” When the intro finished Charlie started the guitar solo; the violin player turned around. It was George Adler.

George nodded at a stunned Jeff. Keiko pulled at him to start dancing; George and Charlie started singing to their friend and his bride. Jeff’s performance in Spokane five years earlier faded in comparison; they stepped, they glided, swirled and smiled in joy and love and it showed. When Jeff dipped Keiko at song’s end their guests cheered them in a standing ovation. George, Charlie and the band all got handshakes and hugs.

“Did you say something to Charlie or Emilie?” Jeff asked his bride.

“Not directly, no. I might have mentioned our dance sessions to them once over the phone, however.”

“That was amazingly cool.”

Keiko and Jeff didn’t spend much time at the head table once the guests were served dinner; they’d been served before the guests so they could eat and mingle with those who’d come to celebrate with them. While they made their rounds of the tent behind the Enfield Grand they introduced neighboring tables to each other.

Jeff smiled when he noticed Keiko, Allison and Heather in deep conversation while he danced with Emilie an hour later; he wondered how much mischief they were cooking up. Kara showed Charlie pictures of little Jenni, now a year old. TC and Bill Nolan stood elbow-to-elbow at the bar laughing about something. Everywhere he looked someone was talking with at least one other person. He smiled at the sight.

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