Not All Roads (Part 3 of Series)

He had forgotten how to breathe.

She had come out of the alcove and turned to face the front of the church, pausing to take her father's arm. As she made the slow walk up the aisle, he thought his heart would burst out of his chest. He had seen the traditional style dress, which she had borrowed from her sister, but, as tradition demands he hadn't seen her wearing it...

...until just then.

He remembered the first moment he had seen Angel at college. He was riding his bike down the hill onto the grass in front of his dorm. Across the way was the cafeteria and she was filing in, with many of the 500 other students that attended the small Iowa school, for lunch. She so captured his attention that he had crashed his ten-speed into the bike rack and flipped over the handlebars - landing on his back and tearing his book bag. He didn't know at that moment that he was looking at her in exactly the same way that he was at this moment: enraptured.

They say all roads will eventually lead you home, but he knew not all roads did, and that was a good thing. He had chosen Wesleyan College, in McLars Iowa, not for any outstanding academic features, but simply because it was the farthest from his family that he could afford to go. At the time he thought he was leaving his small-town life behind him and moving on to bigger and better things. It wasn't until he checked into his dorm that he realized that just because it was a college town didn't mean it was a big town. In spite of being known as the "Ice Cream Capitol of America" (because of the ice cream factory on the edge of town that gave the entire area a slight, sour-milk smell), McLars was not much bigger than the town he had grown up in.

She was about a third of the way up the aisle now, just passing his brother's girlfriend in the fourth row. His brother, of course, was his best man; not his idea, since he and his brother never really got along - a concession he had made to keep peace in the family, the day would be full of many such concessions before it was over. - The third guy on the groom's side- another concession, this time to one of his soon-to-be-wife's bridesmaids - he couldn't remember his name, and wouldn't ever see him again after today. His college roommate and best friend - who should have been his best man - was the second groomsman.

He met Randall Hoff about 30 seconds after dragging all his worldly belongings into their tiny shared dorm room on the first floor of Bicentennial Hall. His mother and grandfather didn't stick around after the long drive; they helped him unload his clothes and his bike, his mother slipped a note into his hand, and they left. He was sitting in the chair closest to the door, reading the emotionally-laden note, when Randall walked in. "Rat" as his friends loved to torturously call him, had joined the Army Reserve to make money for school and had just returned from Boot Camp. At first glance Rat, with his crew cut and camouflaged pants, looked like the worst possible pairing for him, but the computer decided they should be roommates.

He tried to cover the tear in his eye as he introduced himself. "Hey, I'm Al, nice to meet you." He hoped the bloodshot eyes wouldn't be a give-away. "Hey, I'm Randall, looks like we're bunkmates - I've been sleeping on this side," he said, motioning toward the bed by the solitary window opposite the door, "but I'll move if you want." While mentioning that he had been living at the college for a few days since leaving Boot Camp, Rat tried to inconspicuously size up his new acquaintance - dressed in short shorts, a loud printed shirt (typical in the '80's) and a blond streak in his hair - they were as different looking as roommates could be.

But it didn't take long for them to become friends. There really wasn't anything definable that connected them, other than sharing a room. They both smoked, they both drank too much caffeine-laden soda, and neither one of them was as intelligent as they pretended to be - or at least wished to be. If there was anything that forged a bond, it was that they had similar childhoods, growing up in rural, small-town, America. Whatever it was, Rat proved to be a true friend.  If he had noticed Al had been crying the moment they met, he never, ever, mentioned it.

His bride was halfway to the front now. Rat's fiance' was there, on the bride's side. What was her name again? Carrie, or something like that. Years later she would be long out of the picture, but here, now, in a way, she was the one to thank for him and his bride looking at each other across the church.

Al and Angel were in the band class together, she played clarinet, he played sax. As such she sat right in front of him in the woodwind section. During the time he'd spent with his new friend touring his new small-town home, he'd met and flirted with a few other girls, even had kind of a crush on one of Rat's friends, Jean. But Angel was different; he couldn't explain how, but she was different. From the first day she sat down in front of him, and he recognized her from the day he ruined his bike, he seemed to have lost his mind. He tried talking to her, tried to find some way to get her attention, but the best he could seem to muster was playfully bopping her on the head with his music folder - no better than a fourth grader pulling her pigtails.

That's where Carrie came in. Her and Angel lived in the same dorm (there were really only three on campus, one for guys, one for girls, and one that was co-ed), Jean lived there too. By coincidence, Angel had become friends with Jean and was in her room studying one evening when Carrie came by.  She wanted to visit Rat but didn't want to walk across campus alone. She had come to ask Jean to go with her. Instead, Angel borrowed Jean's coat and went with Carrie.

When Carrie and Angel came through the door, Al and Randall both thought Angel was Jean. When she turned around, Al lost all contact with reality. The rest of the evening was a glorious blur. What Rat and Carrie did, he had no idea, they could have been drinking beer and smoking pot, he wouldn't have noticed. The rest of the evening - and on into the morning - just flew by. Rather than talking, Rat had an electronic typewriter and Al and Angel spent the time typing back and forth to each other - the worlds first text messaging conversation. That first flirtatious meeting was preserved on page after page of innuendo filled typing paper.

Lost in thought and memory, he hadn't realized the ceremony had started. The preacher was going on and on about who knows what. He supposed that he could watch the video tape later if he really wanted to know what was being said. Someone was singing... Oh, right. He and Angel had invited someone to sing. A couple of someone's, actually. Oh, man, that was a long story, but one of the performers was Katie.

Katie was a good friend of Angel and Al's from Wesleyan college. She was a music student, as they were, with an amazing voice, and was in band and choir with both of them. As their relationship heated up, things seemed to go bad between them and Rat and Carrie; two sexually-active couples sharing a room never does go well. While their friendship, on the surface, seemed ok, there were just some things that weren't as smooth as they used to be. Soon, Rat had a new friend, Eric, who wanted to be his roommate. Eric had an amazingly over-bearing personality and had actually packed Al's things, leaving him without a home on campus. Katie helped Al get into the co-ed dorm where she lived. He ended up with a private room - allowing his relationship with Angel to develop in seclusion. Was that a good thing? Time would tell. Vicious rumors began going around, but that only pushed them closer together. As the school year ended, Angel and Al left together, knowing they probably wouldn't be back the next year. Their relationship with Rat and Carrie would smooth out, but the small town college would be behind them.

The ceremony was ending. Al kept stealing glances at Angel out of the corner of his eye. She was astoundingly beautiful in her veil. The preacher just kept droning on and on. Did other weddings last this long? Even though they had been living together since they left that small college in McLars, this ceremony had come to mean everything. It somehow justified everything they had been through, it tightened the laces, it made it all worth while.

As they kissed, turned, and walked through the applauding crowd, he knew: not all roads led home, but he didn't need to travel any more roads - he was home.

To Be Continued....(?) (I'm not inspired yet)

Author's note: the events and locations in this narrative are fictionalized versions of experiences from my life. The characters are fictitious and do not represent real people, living or deceased.