He pulled on the cigarette and let the smoke swirl on his tongue for a moment before inhaling it into his lungs. Though the porch was unlit, light from inside spilled out, driving away the darkness. But the sounds of people enjoying themselves drifting to him couldn’t drive away the loneliness.
Footsteps behind him signaled that his absence had been noticed.
“The party is inside.”
He looked at her. Of course she would be the one to follow him. She was the only person he wanted to join him on the porch, and the last person he wanted to be around.
She studied his face for a moment, as though she were trying to read his thoughts. He hoped she couldn’t.
“Jake was wondering where you’d gone,” she said, taking his cigarette and drawing her own puff.
Jake was wondering…? Maybe he was. “I’m happy for you two,” he said in an effort to fill the silence between them. The noise from inside seemed to fade away.
She smiled and looked out into the night. “Yeah. We have a lot of planning to do before the wedding, but it’s exciting.”
“I’m sure it is.” He tried to muster some enthusiasm, but it sounded hollow to him.
She handed him his cigarette back. “You will come, won’t you? Play at the ceremony?”
He turned to face her folly. “Listen…” He raised his hand to touch her face, caress her cheek, apologize for not being able to attend the ceremony. But he stopped himself, afraid of the consequences. “Yeah. Of course I’ll be there. Wouldn’t miss it.” He dropped his cigarette butt and crushed it with his shoe. “Now let’s get you back to your engagement party.”
Without looking back over his shoulder, he walked back inside to join the celebration.