Barb and Doug's New Year's Eve Wedding

Barb and Doug decided to get married on New Year's Eve which the rest of us warned could be a mistake.

"What if the marriage doesn't work out?" We asked. "New Year's Eve will forever be a blemish on the calendar for both of you."

The couple was insulted by such an inference, of course, insisting that they were madly in love and ready to commit forever.

"Well, you're not pregnant then, are you?" I asked Barb.

"You're an asshole," she replied.

The wedding served as a three-fold event – the marriage, of course, a reunion of the old gang, and the chance to enjoy a great New Year's Eve party at the reception!

We were "The Gang of Eight" in college, but most of us knew each other from high school too so we had been friends for most of our lives.

Doug was from Vermont and Lillian came from Connecticut, but the rest of us – me, Kaia, Barb, Jeremy, Claire and Mase - all knew each other before we arrived at Green College four years earlier. Mase went to the Tech School and Claire went to the Catholic School and the rest of us went to Hillsboro High, but we all went to elementary school together.

That's why, at Green College, we affectionately called ourselves The Gang Of Eight.

Doug had already moved to Chicago for a job and Barb would be joining him, of course. I had just started my position as an entry level manager with Aztec Manufacturing in Greenville, moving out of my parents' house and renting an apartment in one of those new apartment complexes by the tech school.

Kaia had taken off with her boyfriend Bats after graduation for a getaway to Europe but she had returned a few months earlier without him or an explanation other than she was home for the wedding.

Jeremy had moved to a job in Hartford, Claire was living in Boston, and Mase was working for some firm in Springdale. So it really was a reunion for all of us – and perhaps a farewell as well.

All kidding aside, we were excited about the wedding and we were supportive, encouraging and positive as New Year's Eve approached. We really did want the newlyweds to be happy.

The wedding was being held at the Hillsboro Historical Society's The Old Stone Mansion which was often rented out for such ceremonies and events. It was a stately former home with a wraparound front staircase, granite columns and other impressive features.

Somehow, the pairing all fell together, almost without even being arranged. Jeremy and Claire were going to the wedding together as were Mase and Lillian so it was only natural that me and Kaia would end up as a couple for the evening too.

"We could go separately alone and met up or go together and avoid the awkwardness," Kaia said and it sounded good to me.

New Year's Eve was a cool but clear Monday night. I left work early to get ready for the 6:30 wedding and I picked up Kaia at her parents' house on the hilltop neighborhood. I had been there countless times before and Mrs. Garland said I looked fantastic in my tux.

Kaia came down the stairs, absolutely stunning in low cut and short red velvet dress.

"Man," was all I could think to say and Kaia grinned in response.

"Weddings are almost like Halloween," she said when she reached me. "You get to dress up!"

All the girls had gotten themselves spray tanned for the ceremony. They had their hair styled too and Kaia was wearing more make up than usual so she really did look fake-stunning!

"I hate having to wear a coat over this dress,' Kaia complained as she got an overcoat out of the front hall closet.

"You'll freeze your ass off otherwise," Mr. Garland replied.

We said our goodnights to her parents and I escorted Kaia to my car.

I had traded in the junk I used for college and had gone into hopeless debt buying a sporty new coupe knowing image was important at a new job. With the car payments, insurance, and rent, I'd be broke forever!

"Nice wheels," Kaia said as I helped her into the passenger seat.

We really hadn't had a chance to talk much since her return from Europe, me busy with the new job, her nursing her wounds from whatever happened with Bats.

We had seen each other a few times at various holiday parties but this was the first time we would be spending quality time together since we graduated from Green.

"Are you glad to be home?" I asked as I started the car.

"I had nowhere else to go," she sighed.

"Sorry about Bats," I offered,

"No you're not," she said knowingly. "You never liked him."

"I just thought his name sort of fit, that's all," I shrugged as we drove off the hill.

"His name is Batrum," she reminded me. "Bats is his nickname."

I decided to let it go. If she wanted to tell me what happened, she would.

"You look fantastic," I let her know.

"We all grew up, didn't we?" She responded with a tone of pride. She glanced out the window as we drove down Main Street. "It is good to be home," she decided.

I pulled the car into the Mansion House parking lot which was already pretty full.

"Anything I need to know for tonight?" I asked, letting the car idle to keep the heat going.

"What do you mean?" Kaia asked, glancing at me.

"Are you planning on getting drunk? Do you want me to keep you sober?"

She let out a sigh. "I don't know," she decided. "I guess we'll play it by ear."

I climbed out of the car and played the gentleman, opening her door for her. When you get all spruced up and are attending a wedding in a historical old building you sort of feel like a VIP.

There were already plenty of people mingling about when we stepped inside. We checked Kaia's coat and got a drink at the portable bar set up in the lobby and stood in the corner for a few minutes.

"How long are you staying with your folks?" I asked.

"Who knows?" Kaia groaned. "I'm broke, I don't have a job, I don't want a job, and I have no idea what I'm supposed to be doing."

"Let's just do tonight," I suggested, motioning to our surroundings.

"Sure,' she agreed.

I was used to her moods. We had been friends long enough to be real with one another. Kaia had been my long-time one-way crush as I stood by watching her date others but we were inseparable as friends and that's why we were together on this New Year's Eve night.

We mingled with people we knew until it was time for the ceremony to begin in the master room.

Barb and Doug opted for a low key ceremony. Doug had his brother as his best man and Barb had her sister as her maid of honor but there were no groomsmen or bridesmaids – just the two of them and the lady minister in front of the room exchanging vows with a small orchestra playing in the background.

Barb made for a lovely bride wearing an understated white wedding gown and she looked happier than I'd ever seen her. Doug was pretty smug about the whole thing but I knew he was on top of the world.

The rest of us sat in our cushioned folding chairs watching the bride and groom exchange their vows and make their promises and kiss and cry. It was a nice ceremony.

"Time for a wonderful New Year's Eve celebration reception," Kaia said as we stood and made our way to the reception line to congratulate the newlyweds.

Part of me wondered if that was the only reason Kaia was attending the celebration.

After making it through the line and praising the just marrieds, Kaia headed for the bar again and I got the impression she wasn't interested in staying sober on New Year's Eve.

We chatted with folks and then made our way into the reception room with round tables but no assigned seating except for the head table designees. We claimed a table with our two other couple friends where we gushed about the ceremony, made fun of people around us, and talked about old times and new hopes. I think we all knew for us this evening was more of an ending than a beginning.

Drinks were flowing, the catered food arrived, and everybody seemed to be having a good time. The best man made a humorous speech from the head table and the couple danced their first dance as husband and wife.

When others floated to the dance floor, I asked Kaia if she wanted to dance and she said sure so I took her hand and led her to the dance area.

"It's great to be here with you," I told her as we shimmed about the floor.

"Thanks," she replied. "This is all kind of surreal, isn't it?"

"I would say," I agreed, trying to force a smile.

"Are all our years coming to an end?" She worried.

"I don't know," I admitted.

We got another drink (not that either of us were counting) and we returned to the table.

Kaia was quiet as she sipped from her glass. There was something in her eyes that signaled sadness. I leaned into her slightly, feeling butterflies flying around my stomach.

"Don't be sad," I whispered, putting my hand on her knee without breaking eye contact.

Kaia gave me a long look and finally forced a smile of her own.

The others returned to the table from their dances and the six of us talked about various unimportant and sundry topics to keep ourselves from getting to mellow or sentimental although we kept the drinks coming.

"I'm sorry you're going through a tough time," I told Kaia as I walked her to the bar for another drink.

"I'll live," she replied. "But I appreciate your concern."

"I'm your friend," I reminded her. "Now more than ever. Never forget that I'm always here for you."

"Let's not get overdramatic, Colton," She said, half-bemused. "I'm not going to go throw myself out a window or something."

"I know."

"Don't let me ruin Barb and Doug's night," she pleaded. "Let me get drunk and forget everything."

"I'm having a good time," I assured her.

"Sorry I'm an asshole."

"You're not!"

The party had to last until midnight, of course – it was New Year's Eve after all. I made sure that Kaia started drinking water so she wouldn't get as drunk as she might.

We danced some more, mingled some, and waited for the bewitching hour to arrive when we all cheered and yelled and celebrated the New Year.

Doug and Barb made a wonderful farewell speech and left – off for their honeymoon in the Bahamas in the morning and their exit gave the rest of us permission to leave if we so choose.

"Let's get out of here," Kaia said and I escorted her to the coat room to retrieve her coat.