He couldn’t believe he was back here. It had been just over ten years, years where he’d been able to push it from his mind and now he was back, partly, no mostly against his will. He had a vague memory of some annoying kid from his brother’s wedding but nothing more than that. It had to be some kind of cosmic joke that he’s ended up getting engaged to Robert’s best friend and the party was being held back in Emmerdale. From what he could see as he pulled the car to a stop, nothing had changed.
He’d changed though. Back then he was a mechanic, sleeping with his brother’s fiance, not much else going for him. Now, he was reasonably successful, even if selling agricultural machinery wasn’t the most glamorous job in the world it paid the bills...and he was in love with his best friend’s fiance. Ok, so maybe not everything had changed.
He wasn’t going to do anything about it, he had grown up that much. If it was anyone else, he might have, but he wouldn’t do that to Luke. He’d been there for him for years. He’d met him not long after he left the village, letting him kip on his sofa for a while until he got himself sorted. He owed him everything, which is really the only reason he was here. If it had been anyone else he would have made an excuse, got out of it somehow but not Luke. Taking a deep breath he gets out of the car, convinces himself it’ll be fine, and heads inside.
The first thing he notices is that the pub has changed. He’d heard of course about the siege a few years before, he’d even called his sister to check on everyone. He wasn’t that heartless. He sees her first, heading through the back, arms full of food platters. She’s grown up, of course, reminds him so much of their Mum. He misses her. They’ve been closer since that phone call, chatting every couple of weeks, texting a lot even if this was the first time they’d seen each other in person for years.
“Alright mate, you made it!” He cringes slightly, had wanted to see the lie of the land before drawing any kind of attention to himself. Then again that’s just impossible with Luke, he’s loud and annoying especially when you don’t want him to be. “Wasn’t sure you’d turn up.”
“Anyone but you, and I wouldn’t, you know that. So, where’s Aaron?”
“He’s here somewhere, hijacked by his family. Listen, about that, would you, in your position as my almost definitely best man, do me a favour?”
“Almost definitely? Well that’s a compliment and a half.”
“Yeah, yeah. There’s probably gonna be speeches and one of Aaron’s lot is meant to be filming it but they’ve been at the bar since it opened so could you, you know be a backup? You know, posterity and that?” Robert can’t help laughing, can only guess how many drinks he’s already had, but he nods, patting him on the back as he spies Vic making her way back into the bar.
“Don’t worry, I’ll make sure to get it all. I’m, er, gonna go talk to Vic.” She’s already seen him, is heading over to him at speed.
It feels good hugging her, he’s missed her. Whatever reasons there were for leaving he’s always regretted leaving her. There’s no peace for a proper chat and he has to promise her that he’ll hang around the following day for it before she’ll let him go. He’s booked into the B&B anyway, against his better judgement, and he promises her breakfast at least. After that he’ll see.
The party is fun, considering, and he watches as Luke and Aaron make their way round the pub, all smiles. He’s not used to seeing Aaron like this, dressed in a smart blue suit, shirt collar open, and he’s having a hard time taking his eyes off him. He has to keep forcing himself to tear his gaze away in case anyone notices. In the end he busies himself filming and taking photos on his phone trying to do as he’d been asked and capture the evening.
He finds himself watching Aaron again, he’s all smiles, laughing and joking with his family and their obvious good natured teasing. He’s not normally like that. There’s more likely to be a frown than a smile. He can’t really pinpoint when he knew he was attracted to him. Luke had introduced them on a night out and for a reason he can’t remember Aaron was in a mood. The first impression hadn’t been great but even then there had been an attraction.
“They seem happy. Aaron’s been smiling a lot more when he’s come back to visit.” He jumps as Vic sits beside him and the phone has to refocus itself.
“You know him?” He knew Aaron’s family lived here but he himself lived in Leeds, it hadn’t occurred to him that his sister would know him well.
“Yeah, we were good mates until he moved to Leeds, still are I suppose. I hear from him more than you anyway!”
“Alright, I know I’m a terrible brother, no need to rub it in.” She’s joking he knows, at least partly. He could be better of course. She was forever asking him to come back, telling him that Leeds wasn’t far, disappointed to know he had been that close all those years and hadn’t been in touch. He had a lot to make up for, still.
He glances back at the screen of his phone, still videoing. He can tell she’s looking, can see what he’s recording but he can’t make himself stop. He hates himself for it, it’s his best friend for God’s sake but he just can’t help how he feels. “Which one?”
“Which one of them is it that you like? I’m not stupid, Robert. You haven’t taken your eyes off them.” She knows he’s bisexual, had for a year or so, had seen a picture on his facebook that he’d been tagged in, kissing some guy from way back and asked him outright. Vic had never been one for subtlety after all. He was glad she knew though, it felt good, even if she did still stick her nose in a bit too much for his tastes.
“What? No! Luke asked me to video the speeches and that.”
“Hmm, well they’re all done and dusted and you’re still filming. So come on...I’m going with Aaron because you’ve known Luke long enough that you’d be over it by now or at least done something about it.” He just shook his head in disbelief. “Robert! What are you doing?”
“Nothing. I’m doing nothing, alright. So just forget about it.” He looks at her until she nods. “They look happy, don’t they?”
He’d hoped maybe stupidly, that seeing them together again so happy, he’d start to feel less, that somehow his brain would compute that there was no chance for them. If anything it was the opposite, the more he saw him the stronger it was and he had no idea what to do.
“How long what?” He stops, piece of cake halfway to his mouth. Breakfast had ended up being lunch and now they were in the cafe and he’d barely even sat down before she started in on him. He’d hardly slept, too busy thinking about Aaron, wondering what to do.
“You know what. How long have you liked Aaron?” He can’t help the nervous glance around, checking no one is within earshot before he answers her.
“Will you keep your voice down? It’s nothing to do with you.”
“Got a queue of people you can talk to then have you?” He sighs, she’s got this thing about him only having the one really close friend. It doesn’t bother him, if anything he prefers it that way. “You know nothing’s going to happen don’t you?”
“Expert now huh?”
“Aaron’s my mate, like I said, so yes...I am. I don’t want to see you get hurt Rob, or him.”
“I told you, I’m not going to do anything. It’s a stupid...crush if you like, I’ll get over it. I just need to keep my distance until I do.” It’s all he’d thought about, laying awake all night. If he just stayed out of their way, avoided their usual weekly drink then surely this ‘thing’ would fizzle out. The downside to all that was his friendship with Luke might end up damaged by the time he was over it. Then again it’d be destroyed if he did anything else. “Let’s change the subject, yeah?”
He doesn’t see either of them for a few weeks, he’s busy at work and trying to avoid them, the guilt of how he’s feeling beginning to overwhelm him. Then they’re off on holiday, a pre-wedding honeymoon of all things because they want to stay at home for Christmas. It gives him some space, time to think, even if he doesn’t come to any kind of conclusion. He needs to work something out or he’ll lose the best friend he’s probably ever had.
They’re away for two weeks and the pictures on Instagram keep him more updated than he really wants but he can’t bring himself to stop checking, replaying every video of Aaron willing himself to not feel like this anymore, but nothing works. He shoves it to the back of his mind as best he can until his phone rings at work one day.
“Rob, it’s me.”
“You’re back then?” He leans back in his chair, keeping an eye out to make sure his boss was nowhere in sight. The man had been on the warpath recently and Robert wasn’t about the get on the wrong side of him, not even for his friend. “How was the pre-wedding honeymoon thing?”
“Brilliant. Listen, we wanted to have you over for dinner next week, to say thanks. You free Saturday?” He sighed internally, that was the last thing he wanted, spending the whole evening with Aaron, at least not until he got over whatever this was. Not that he’s going to say no, he never has so far, isn’t going to start now, knows it’ll look suspicious.
“Yeah, should be. Haven’t you got better things to be doing than inviting your sad single friend round?” Please say you have, he thought over and over. He didn’t know how he’d get through it.
“Nah, not really.” Comes the teasing reply. “Listen I’ve got Aaron on the other line, he wants to talk to you. Be nice, yeah?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Just be less you, yeah?”
“I’m hurt! Go on, I’ve got a couple of minutes before getting back to the exciting world of tractors.” He doodles absently on the diary in front of him while he waits, the two of them obviously having a conversation.
“Finally. What’s up?” He can’t help sounding fed up, he’s trying so hard to get over himself and having to see and hear from Aaron isn’t helping in the slightest.
“I, er, I’ve got to go and buy my suit, for the wedding. Well, I’m not one for suits and none of my mates are either. Luke suggested I ask you. You might be a big headed prat but even I can tell you’ve got some taste.” He’s panicking because he can think of nothing worse, spending the whole day with Aaron should be a dream come true but not like this, not buying his wedding suit.
“I’m pretty busy, work, you know...is there no one else?”
“If there was do you think I’d be asking you?” He sounds so put out that Robert wants to laugh. “Look, will you help me out or not?” Well he had no choice really did he? It’d look suspicious if he didn’t.
“Fine. It’ll have to be Friday though, only day I’m free.” That gave him three days to think of a way to get out of it because there was no way this wasn’t ending in disaster.
“Don’t sound too enthusiastic will ya. Friday then. I’ll pick you up at your place at 10.”
He agrees and Aaron’s hung up within seconds, leaving Robert just staring at the phone, pretty much regretting getting out of bed.