He had not been expecting a letter. He never did. Who would write to him anyway? He had no friends to talk to, ever since She died. The only thing he went outside for was to check the mail. He had nobody, was nobody, and was content. Better to live alone than to risk your heart being broken, he thought. His wife’s death had destroyed him; made him a recluse, hiding from the world and its sorrows-and its joys.
Still, curious despite himself, he opened the letter. It was an invitation to a party celebrating the engagement of two people he didn’t know, but the whole community had been invited. According to the invitation, the celebration would be a black-tie affair. It would be held at the country club, which he didn’t know even existed.
He shivered at the thought of going outside. Surely it was far safer to hide inside. He wouldn’t fit in with the rich crowd anyway-he was too poor, too uneducated, too…something. Not that it mattered whether they liked him or not-he didn’t have anything to wear to the thing, and therefore couldn’t go.
And yet, didn’t the new couple deserve to have a terrific engagement party? He thought of his wife and smiled sadly. No doubt this couple was as full of each other as they had been. Wasn’t love something to celebrate?
“Bah!” He thought to himself. “The only thing I’ll be celebrating if I go to this thing is a life of marital unhappiness.” What was there to celebrate about marriage anyway? You love a girl and she gets taken from you, and half yourself goes with her. “No,” he thought bitterly, “I won’t be celebrating that. Young love,” he scoffed, “Young idiocy is more like it.”
Despite vowing to himself that he would not even consider it, he found it popping up in his thoughts at odd times. Cleaning out his closet, he found his tux in perfect condition. “Course it’s not moldy-I only wore it once and put it back in the bag it came in.” He was oddly pleased. “I could wear it to the party; it’s almost a shame that I’m not going.”
What use was it, an engagement party? It’s not like it’s the wedding, which really is something to celebrate. An engagement just says that this is probably the person you want to marry. No, there was no point at all to the party.
Still, this was an opportunity he couldn’t afford to miss. Surely a young couple just starting out needed all the happiness they could get. The tux was in great shape, too, and would probably fit. He didn’t even have to bring a gift!
The time came for an unavoidable trip outside, for groceries. The store was just down the street; it wouldn’t take him long. He was seen coming out of his house by his neighbor’s child (was it his niece or his daughter?), who was playing in their front yard.
“Mister,” she said, “Why don’t you play outside?” He was stunned. He didn’t think anyone knew he existed. “Because I don’t want to,” he told her tersely.
“Oh. Are you scared?” She was right, but he couldn’t tell her that. She seemed so happy and unafraid, sitting there on the grass with her dolls. She’d find out the truth soon enough.
“No. I’m not scared. I just don’t like being outside.” He stomped off before she could reply.
He knew the little girl was right. He had become what he hated most-a coward. The next few days were spent inside, but his house now felt more like a prison than a refuge. Escape was imperative, but where would he go? He had no friends, no family, nothing.
Finally, He remembered the invitation. On second thought, a party sounded like fun. He might meet some people, make a few friends, who knew? He called to RSVP before he could consider otherwise. No going back now; he was committed.
The last few days before the party were spent in a tizzy. He cut his hair, aired out the tux, and generally prepared. And, just because he didn’t feel like he was prepared enough, he prepared again. Finally, he was out of excuses. It was time.
The country club was close by, so he planned to walk. Eyeing the sun, he almost decided that it would be too hot to go, but he had committed. He crept slowly, fearfully down the driveway. Stopping at the foot, he took a deep breath; this was the furthest he had walked since she died. Holding his breath, he tentatively stepped out onto the road. One tentative step, then another. His new life had begun.