I'm satisfied with how A Love Too Late ended, and the overall story in general but when I was deciding whether to go for a happy ending or not for Jackie, I was stuck for a while. Then I wrote the current ending and thought it was fine the way it was. Looking at it from another perspective, it is a happy ending (for Joyce). It was also a little bit therapeutic since some of my experiences was used as inspiration for the story. It was some sort of a closure. Then a friend told me, "why not write an alternative ending", and I thought "why not?" Then I decided to write it on my blog to see whether what other people would think of it and compared to the canon ending. =) Hope you enjoy.
In case you didn't know, this is under the assumption that you read the original short story and so spoilers are expected.
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We bickered amongst each other as we got to the train station. Her train had arrived first, so we said farewell to each other. As I sat alone on a bench waiting for my train, I learned that this whole time I had only been lying to myself to protect what we had for each other. When I finally realized it at the time, it was too late for me to say anything. All I could do that night was cry.
I saw Stephanie again at Joyce’s wedding. We had all gathered inside a church for the ceremony, and I sat down beside her. With the months and days leading up to the wedding, I couldn't help but look through old picture albums between Joyce and I from time to time again. The selfish thought always came to mind, but I just couldn't follow through. It would cause so much drama, and it would definitely ruin Joyce's wedding. However, there was always the "what if" scenario deep within my mind that I just wanted to see in reality just to see how it all pans out.
“Jackie, are you listening to what I was saying?” Stephanie asked.
I turned to look at her, “sorry, Stephanie. I was thinking about something else. What did you say?”
She commented, “I was just saying how nice they set up the church for the wedding. Your friend must have worked really hard to get it perfect.”
“She sure did.” I responded and anticipated how beautiful she would be in her wedding dress. She would definitely look beautiful. Then I gulped down my saliva to prepare myself . "Stephanie, this may the wrong place to ask this, but would you lend a ear for a bit?"
"Sure, what's the matter?" she replied filled with curiosity.
"If there was something you had to say to someone, but it's already too late to tell them, would you still let it out?"
Stephanie looked up at the ceiling while she scratched her head before turning to look at me again. "It would depends on how important it is to me, and the other person. There are some things better left unsaid."
"What if you know you'll regret it if you don't say it, but you'll know it will probably cause misunderstanding around people if you do tell the person."
Stephanie chuckled quietly. "This is about Joyce, isn't it?"
I panicked, and said quickly, "y-you have it wrong. What are you implying?"
She pounded a fist at my chest right above my heart. "If it is Joyce, I'm sure she won't mind whatever it is you want to say. Say it from the heart."
I looked down, embarrassed. Even without trying to be specific, Stephanie knew right away who I meant. I replied, "Joyce had asked me before the wedding if I could say a speech about her at the reception dinner after the wedding. I felt honoured when she asked me since she knows so many other people better fit to do the task. I was just thinking on what to say. That's all."
"I see, well have confidence and follow what your heart tells you to do," she said, giving me the thumbs up.
"Thanks." I glanced over at her with a smile.
As the guests had settled down in their seats, everything became silent. I turned around to wait for those doors to open. As soon as it did, the music from the organ started to play near the front. First, the groom walked down the aisle towards the front of the church where the priest was waiting.
When Joyce had started to walk down the aisle, I immediately forgot about my surroundings. My eyes were glued to her as I stared straight at her. As she passed my row, I gave her the thumbs up when our eyes met. In return, she smiled back at me. When Joyce was on the right side of the priest and the groom was on the left, he began to address the congregation, “dearly beloved: we have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony...”
Throughout the whole procedure, my attention had been focused only on Joyce that I knew nothing about what the priest was saying. Flashes of old memories resurfaced and made me teary. Near the end of the ceremony when they were saying their vows I looked away to avoid seeing the sight of them exchanging rings, especially when the groom had kissed Joyce afterwards. After the completion of their marriage, everyone had slowly made their way to the banquet hall near the church for food and to socialize. As I went over to the side overlooking the garden, Stephanie noticed that I wasn't beside her and came over. "You aren't coming in, Jackie?"
"I want to take in some fresh air before going in. Go on ahead."
"Alright, well see you soon. Don't be long," Stephanie replied and joined the crowd going into the reception hall.
I heaved a sigh when I was alone and leaned against the railing with my hands, until someone said, "are you nervous?"
I expected that it was Stephanie, but when I turned to face her, it was actually Joyce to my surprise. I immediately straighten my posture, laughing. "Me? Nervous? You must be crazy for saying that."
Joyce didn't believe my act, and giggled. "You can be honest in front of me. Are you ready to give out your speech?"
She saw right through me, but I said, "don't worry. I may not have everything sorted out, but I'll say it from the heart."
"That's good. I'll be looking forward to it, but I hope you won't say anything embarrassing about me," Joyce said with a laugh, "I'll see you soon."
After taking in a couple of deep breaths, and was walking around the garden, I finally decided to head into the reception hall. With my luck, the MC had started the events for the night. "Good evening everyone, my name is Jessica and I'll be your MC for tonight." Then she turned to face Joyce and David at the table beside the podium and said, "I want to first congratulate Joyce's and David's wedding, and I hope it is the beginning of their happiness. I am pleased to have both known the groom and bride as close friends, and I wish you two the best in your future together."
Joyce and David smiled and nodded, while everyone in the crowd clapped. Jessica continued, "to start things off, let's have a word from Michael, a friend of the groom." Everyone clapped as Michael stood up from his seat and proceeded to the podium where Jessica was standing. On his way, Jessica said, "Michael has known David since the years of elementary school, and they are currently co-founders at their own startup media company."
I knew that my turn was going to be next after Michael's speech. I quickly found Stephanie and took my seat beside her before Michael started to talk. To try to calm my nerves down, I concentrated on taking slow deep breaths and was rehearsing what I was going to say. Stephanie noticed my fidgety hands and held it as a form of support. She smiled as I looked at her. When Michael's speech ended and everyone started to clap, I stood up as soon as Jessica called out my name to give out the speech about Joyce.
"Good luck, Jackie. You can do it," Stephanie whispered as she did a guts pose for encouragement.
As I walked up, all of the noise started to drone out. When I was closer, I heard Jessica finished saying, "Jackie is a longtime friend of the bride, so please give him a hand."
When I stood at the podium looking out at the crowd, sweat started to run down the back of my neck and the palms of my hand. I struggled to get the words out leading to the awkward delayed silence, until I glanced at Joyce where she was doing a small gesture at her diaphragm to take a deep breath. Following her advice, I took a full breath before turning to face the bride and groom. "Congratulations on your marriage. I wish that you two will journey forth together through the highs and lows in your connected life from now on."
Everyone, even Joyce and David did a small applause. After everything got quiet again, I continued, "when Joyce told me the other day that she wanted me to give a speech at the reception dinner, I felt really honoured, proud and scared all at the same time. I want to believe that aside from her parents, I have known her the longest from her silly and childish antics to being a mature, responsible, and intelligent woman that you all know her today. Why am I scared? With the many memories that we had shared together as childhood friends, it seems overwhelming and way over my head to condense it all down into like a 5 minute speech. David, I'm not sure if you know this but we watched our first horror movie when we were 6 and guess what happened? Joyce peed her pants afterwards."
Joyce spoke with her cheeks reddening, "that's not true. If I remember correctly, that was you."
"Shh!" I whispered, blushing a deep red colour. "Nobody needs to know that minor detail, but I digress."
At that moment, that drew in some laughter. "I've witnessed everything about her through the years, and I have to say that you, David, is an incredibly lucky guy. I really hope you don't take her for granted."
"Of course not, I love everything about Joyce and I accept both the good things and bad things about her." David chuckled at the mere thought of losing his wife. "She's a keeper."
I glanced at Joyce's reaction to see her acting embarrassed, and that David reached over to hold her hand. "The fact that Joyce and I have grew up together, I couldn't possibly comprehend another guy would take her away and bring her happiness. That's because I..." I stopped myself from saying anything more, and wiped a few tears that rolled down my cheeks. Even after wiping the existing tears, more came out of my eyes. I continued as I stuttered, "I... I..."
Even though Stephanie told me to be honest, but at the most important time of Joyce's life, I was afraid to say the truth. If I said the next few words, it would ruin the fun atmosphere and make everything awkward but things would be weird even if I said it earlier. But still, what did I have to lose? The woman that I love is going to be out of my reach, and the time spent with her would decrease more than before. Some things should be left unsaid, but the "what if" scenario in the back of my mind would haunt me forever if I never say it. Time would be frozen and I would be left behind in the past, and so, sink or swim, I have to say it now.
"I... I believed that I would bring you that happiness. When we were little, I made a promise to always take care of you for the rest of my life. My feelings back then are still true today. I loved Joyce and I still do right up to this very second. I'm not going to try to convince you, or trying to make a stand at this very moment to ruin this happy day for you and David. I just wanted to get this off of my chest before I regret never saying it. Thank you and sorry."
With a quick bow at David and Joyce signalling the end of my speech, I immediately turned to walk as fast as I could to the door to leave the banquet hall. For the entire time, I kept my eyes glued to the carpet to avoid any gazes from the many guests there due to both shame and my tears.
With the awkward silence that almost everyone could hear the sound of a falling pin, Jessica coolly said, "with the best friend's speeches over, Jen and Frank, both friends of the bride and groom respectively, have compiled the pictures in both of Joyce's and David's past leading up to today's joyous celebration into a slideshow presentation. Let's enjoy."
As the lights dimmed, and the slideshow presentation started, my mind was still preoccupied on Jackie's last words even though I was watching the pictures passing from my childhood with piano music in the background. When Jackie confessed, my old feelings resurfaced that I swore to keep down when I decided to move forward in my life. He's always felt this way and that made me happy because at one point in my life, we were on the same wavelength.
I was certain of my decision to be with David, but I looked down at the ring on my finger during the slideshow presentation. I touched the ring with the hesitation of having it there, and wondered if these lingering feelings from my past have any merit to them in this day and age.
I loved him.