The hysteria of nighttime at a wedding - everyone an inflated version of themselves, like bubbles close to popping. Things always happen at weddings. This is what I told myself the next day - this is how I wrote it off when Sarah* and I had sex.
We were acquaintances, really, rather than friends. She was my best friend Steven’s* girlfriend. Steven and I had known each other since university. We’d spent our year abroad together, living out a silly, sepia-tinged Italian fantasy - 'che bello! che dolce!' - and then graduated and moved to London and ended up with a circle of six or seven close friends.
Our whole group had been pleased the first time Steven brought Sarah to meet us; he’d spent years dating women with wild temperaments who’d end up trashing his room or threatening to set his car alight unless he capitulated to whatever demand they had. His relationships, up to Sarah, seemed to me more like protracted acts of masochism. We’d winced behind his back when he said he’d found someone he thought he could have a future with. But then he brought her to meet us and she was perfect: fun but calm, wild without the violence.
I’d spent time with them as a couple but before this wedding Sarah and I had never really talked. So that day we talked. And then we danced. In hindsight I suppose we were flirting in a way that felt completely devoid of meaning or jeopardy because we were both straight. I found her charming and funny - she complimented me on my dress, my hair, my shoes. We laughed a lot and I was pleased for Steven - my best friend, who had been treated so badly by partners in the past. 'I’m really glad you like her,' he said to me that evening, spilling wine over himself. 'I’m really glad you’re happy,' I said back, helping him to mop it up.
It was when Sarah and I went outside to share a cigarette, sitting in a dark corner of the country house garden that she kissed me.
I was surprised, of course, but not so surprised as to jump back or make a comment. I suppose in a way it made sense in the context of the day and our flirtation. I was also drunk. I giggled and hiccupped - a parody of a drunk person, a character in a bad romcom. Nothing felt serious or real, suspended as we were in the amber of that perfect mid-summer’s night.
So, I kissed her back. Then we went and found a secluded part of the grounds and had sex outside, giggling and fumbling - and neither of us entirely sure what to do because neither of us had ever been with a woman before. It’s hard to remember what was going through my mind. I was just excited, even though I’d never done this before, it didn’t seem like a big deal. If this had been the boyfriend of a female best friend it would have been an ultimate betrayal. I would never do that to a female best friend. But with Sarah, in that moment, it didn’t feel like cheating. It didn’t feel like anything I’d felt before or anything I can really put into words now, almost five years later.
Even in the sober light of morning, I didn’t think about it that way. But I did feel uneasy. I could barely look Sarah in the eye when I saw her - I felt this knot of awkwardness and shame. I guess I should have known - the shame was there for a reason.
Later that day she texted me to say she was sorry for kissing me and could we just forget that anything had happened. I reassured her that it was 'all good' and that nothing more would ever be said about it.
And that’s how it remained for a long time: a sore spot of a secret. I couldn’t think about it too closely because, like pressing a bruise, it made me flinch with discomfort. I’d consigned it as much as possible to memory until last year when Steven told me that he planned to propose.
When they were just boyfriend and girlfriend it was bad, but somehow less bad. Now though...I thought over and over about how hurt he’d be if he ever found out. When they asked me to do a reading at their wedding, Sarah avoided making any eye contact with me the entire conversation. I still haven’t picked anything yet because it feels so disingenuous. I can’t even bring myself to think about it.
With a bit more maturity I can see that there’s really no distinction between cheating with a man or a woman, it’s still a betrayal and I wish I could take my actions back. Now I don’t really speak to Sarah, I guess we were never really friends in the first place, but the fact that we slept together has poured cement into the fissure between us. In a way, that has also made my relationship with Steven more difficult - he sometimes wonders aloud why Sarah and I don’t spend more time together. I think the guilt is something we’re both trying to forget, though I think it’ll be difficult.
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