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Tales of a Black Sheep: A Toast to Secrets

“The thing about quiet people is we’re usually up to the most mischief,” I spoke over the dwindling applause. “Isn’t that right, Bee?”

I’m not sure if it was the eight-hour drive up the coast. Or perhaps it was the three glasses of Cabernet I’d eagerly baptized my social anxiety in the moment we walked through the doors. I was in a really talkative mood.

It hardly mattered that we missed the rehearsal earlier that day, . I wasn’t there to be in my brother’s wedding. Just attend it with the rest of the extended family. Still, when we walked into the banquet room of the upscale restaurant for dinner, I felt like we were hours late. Again, I felt like I was running on what my parents had dubbed “Sarah Time.”

Don’t fuck this up, I warned myself, trying to calm my nerves and reminding myself to breathe. You’ve been rehearsing this speech for months…sort of.

I stood there noteless, armed with nothing but my fourth glass of tannin-filled courage and a rebuttal locked and loaded for all the bridesmaids who’d just delivered their toasts. All had read their speeches from their phones. Each punchline delivered like a question? Like, as if they were asking the room of 50 people to laugh?

Ugh.

Each had called my brother offensive words like “quiet” and “such a gentleman.” Well, I found those words offensive. They, however, were offering those as words of praise. Giving their approval of a perfectly well-behaved husband worthy of marrying their sorority sister.

O…M…G…. So cute.

PUH-LEASE, I thought to myself. If they only knew that this is the same guy who once called me from the toilet–completely sober–to announce that he was in fact, at that very moment, shitting on a cockroach.

I surveyed the faces sitting at the head table. The bridal party, the bride’s parents and siblings, and my parents. All dressed in coordinating colors and fabrics. Picture perfect. Huh. Even from my seat at the back of the room, I could see my mom and dad tensing up, visibly bracing themselves for what their other kid might say about her only sibling on the eve of his wedding.

“I apologize in advance for what I’m about to say,” I lied while trying to stifle a smile. I was fully going to enjoy this.

For a moment, I flashed back to my own reception years before.

Freshly-wed, sitting in the reception hall, and listening to toasts. I sat between my new husband and 5-year old daughter, who had demanded earlier that she should be the one to sit next to her favorite Uncle Bee. My best man. Rules and traditions were never my thing. I couldn’t think of a single person I would want to ask to spend hundreds of dollars on a bridesmaid ensemble to stand up there and hold my bouquet while I tried desperately not to mess up my vows. My brother was the only one I really wanted up there with me, and I promised he didn’t have to wear a dress.

My dad spoke into the mic. Began with the typical father-of-the-bride speech. Happy memories and thanking guests. Welcoming the new “son” into the family. But then things began to unravel. Kind words like “congratulations” and “I’m so proud of you” quickly turned into a tearful undressing of my past transgressions. Exposing some of the worst moments of my life. Difficult student in school. Pregnant unwed mother. This being my second marriage after I divorced a guy I was shamed into marrying. By him. And then, a completely sober congratulations to my new husband for more or less stepping up to take care of his broken mess of a daughter.

Touching.

I sat there frozen; unable to look able to look at him or anyone else. My face felt hot as I fought back tears. Not the kind of tears one would expect to shed at a wedding, but rather ones of betrayal and years of pent up rage. The trouble was, this sort of thing was par for the course. He had this way of promising to be my biggest cheerleader and then without fail, managed to find a way to cement a would-be happy memory in my mind as utter humiliation.

Thanks, dad.

Now, liquored up and fake apology issued, I had commanded the attention of many of those same guests. Now, it was my turn to share. Except I didn’t need a mic. Like we rehearsed:

“Now, I’m definitely not going to tell everyone about the time that I taught you how to shoot Skittles out of your nose. Because that might be a little embarrassing.”

I shot a glance at my folks as the crowd laughed. Their expressions pleaded with me to keep it light. Yep, this was going to be liberating.

“And I’m not even going to tell them about how that led to you cramming a bunch of raisins up your nose and how you had to go to the ER to have them removed. So embarrassing.”

A tentative sigh. God, this is so much fun watching them squirm.

“And I can’t bring myself to tell them about how I used to dress you up in my clothes and made you play house with me. But you were such a good sport and we had fun. But still, that would be awful if I shared that,” I shook my head in mock disapproval.

My dad grips the back of his chair. What do you think I’m going to say next, old man? You afraid I might expose Bee’s Hall of Shame? After all it’s MUCH longer than mine ever was. Only one of us has been in handcuffs. Wouldn’t that be just terrible?

“Or what about the time you and your friends lit that mason jar full of nail polish remover on fire and threw it out your bedroom window,” I laughed. “And it exploded mid-air? Definitely shouldn’t tell them that.”

I set my wine on the table so I could have both hands for this performance.

Don’t get sloppy.

“And I think I promised to never tell anyone about how you used to jump off the second story balcony into the 5ft pool and no one died.” I gasped, “Oops. Well, I guess that secret is out.”

I paused for effect, taking the moment to lock eyes with my dad. I could have absolutely annihilated all three of them with one sentence. KABOOM. But then….

You know what, dad? I am better than that. I’m better than you. I won’t tell them the truth. For his sake. Not for yours.

“But what I will tell you,” I continued, “is that my brother is insanely talented. He’s the most genuine person I know. He’s tender-hearted. He admits when he’s wrong. He’s strong-willed, and you’re super lucky because he actually does housework and he knows how to cook really well. I’m proud of you little bro, and I know you two will be really happy. And BONUS! I finally get to have a sister!”

And then, while my brain was snorkeling in a sea of wine, I raised my glass and went to toast my brother and his bride.

Except…I didn’t. I toasted him. And then my own name stumbled out of my mouth instead of hers.

The room gasped. Who was this other girl?

“Oh shit. I was doing really great, too,” I fumbled for recovery like Bambi on ice. IT WAS RIGHT THERE. YOU WERE DOING SO WELL. “I mean you, obviously. You can have him. I’ve had to deal with all his shenanigans long enough. He’s your best friend now. Congrats. Who’s next?

I plopped down in my chair and stared at the slice of flourless chocolate cake, my face burning and undoubtedly flushed. It might have also been the thinner blood, but that didn’t really account for my aching desire to duck under the table to avoid the reassurance from everyone that I hadn’t completely face-planted.

Always with the landing. Maybe that’s just my schtick. Crash landings.

Besides, it actually pretty nice here in the back of the room.

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