[Warning: Explicit Content]
I seat myself at the head of the table and look around at my friends. I smile, my stomach doing a quick butterfly routine. They are expecting a toast, and I haven’t prepared one. But they are right to expect a toast. The majesty of the evening calls for a show of gratitude, something to mark a beginning to the celebration. I’m nervous, but their smiles are encouraging.
I clear my throat. Though all who are present I do consider a friend, their presence - no, their mere existence - in this moment, is entirely overwhelming. I get unsteadily to my feet, clutching my glass and holding it aloft. I have to make them proud.
“Ladies and gentleman,” I begin, then rethink such a formal opening. “No. My friends! My dearest friends. I welcome you here this cold winter’s night for a celebration of our most generous host.” I incline my head to Mrs. Hepsida. “It is no small thing that we gather here in festive warmth under her roof, and under this lovely chandelier - the value of which I haven’t the slightest desire to know, for I’m sure it would make my head spin.” My friends smile. “But Mrs. Hepsida, I do SO admire it all the same, and I’m sure I speak for all present when I thank you for being the reason we’re gathered together beneath its twinkling magnificence.”
I pause and take a deep breath. The tears sense a window of opportunity and are only too eager to emerge. But still I smile, as my thoughts flow away from the shining eyes of my friends and out the door, traveling in a split second back to a year in the past.
I had no friends then. I had no reasons to smile as I do now. No greater purpose in life. No choice but to be at the mercy of the rolling grey clouds and the sadness that fell from them as they passed overhead. It was the darkest period of my life, a year ago. I had no hope for positive change.
I gulp and press a hand to my mouth as the tears spill from the corners of my eyes, not caring that my friends are still looking at me with a mixture of deepest love and understanding adorning their bright faces. If only I could go back and tell that boy that everything was about to change. Hang in there, sweet boy. You will find your purpose soon.
It is important to communicate these feelings. I have to tell them how much they mean to me. How even now, this night is solidifying a place at the forefront of my mind like hanging one’s favorite painting on the wall, to be admired fondly, and often.
I address my friends.
“One year ago, I didn’t have a-anyone in my life.” I choke, willing myself to stay present so that I may finish my speech and do the moment the justice it deserves. “I explored the deepest, darkest depths of despair, and though the journey yielded unforeseen rewards, I wish never to go back to that awful place.” A soft sob escapes me now, and I don’t resent it. “But since you have entered my life,” My voice is suddenly much higher. “I have been able to see the kind of light that is making this chandelier twinkle for us all. Each and every one of you, though you may not realize it, have showed me wonderful things, great things, oh-so-beautiful things, and I’m forever grateful for this.”
I beam at my friends, taking care to look each in the eye to further communicate my sincerity. They continue to smile smiles that are the most wonderful things in the world to me.
“But I prattle on, my friends, so let us make a toast.” I raise my glass higher and the crystal catches the light in the most magical way, like the sun itself has taken the liberty to have a presence in the room. “To new beginnings! To this beautiful feast!… To friends… that understand!”
And now the tears are gone, and I seat myself, gazing upon Mrs. Hepsida - our wonderful host.
“And with that…” I take another deep breath that fills my body with tingling happy warmth. “Let us eat!”
Taking the carving knife, I look over at my smiling friends, up at the beautiful room with its glittering chandelier, then down at Mrs. Hepsida, her face ringed with bright and juicy potatoes, carrots, and brussell sprouts. She looks so tasty.
As I carve the first helping of Mrs. Hepsida, and place the tender meat next to a generous helping of mashed potatoes with cranberry sauce and gravy, I let out a little laugh. I can’t help it. The joy of the moment is taking hold of me.
“Who would like the first plate? Julia?” I hold out the plate.
She doesn’t move, but her painted smile on that lovely shining face tells me that she would be honored, so I set the plate in front of her, all too happy to do so.
“Who’s next?” I ask, laughing lightly once more, just because.
The mannequins smile back at me.
They’re all hungry.