Two years. It wasn’t a long time, but Val could recount almost every day of them. From the moment when the Jeep she was riding in was struck broadside by a minivan, to the agony and strain of just staying alive in the ambulance, and then the long months of rehab. Each tiring, terrifying days she spent stitching her shattered body back together was etched into her memory with perfect clarity. The only days she couldn’t recall were the six months when she’d been lost to the world entirely. Comatose, with no signs of possible recovery.
“But you remember the accident?” Lara asked. They’d managed to meet up on the day after the fitting, choosing a Starbucks near Lara’s gym for old times sake.
“Every bone crunching moment of it,” Val said. “One second we were heading back from a supply run laughing and joking and the next we got T-boned. Found out later the guy driving the other car had a heart attack, so, you know, not exactly his fault entirely.”
“Damn, that is bad luck,” Lara said. “I’m surprised you remember it though. I thought coma victims usually lost a lot of their memories?”
“It differs,” Val said. “I was out for a lot longer than most, but I had a great team helping with my recovery so it kind of balanced out.”
“That’s who you’re working for now right?” Lara asked.
“Yeah. Three months into my coma, the Army decided I wasn’t fit to serve, which was true,” Val said. “I can’t blame them. At that point there was no sign when, or if, I was going to wake up. And if I did wake up there was no guarantee that what was left of me would be able to serve in any capacity. My current team picked me up sometime after that.”
“Well, the Army’s loss right?” Lara said. “You’re looking pretty good from what I can see.”
“Says the evil woman who’s marrying someone else,” Val words would have held pain and recrimination half a decade earlier but that was a lifetime ago, and even before the accident she and Lara had made peace with what seemed like the insurmountable mountain of drama between them at the time.
“You had your chance girl,” Lara said shaking her forefinger back and forth.
“Hey, I tried to give you a ring,” Val objected. “You threw it back at me! No, I correct myself, you pitched it at me like a fastball! Overhand!”
“Yeah, whatever happened with you two?” Elena asked. “You got in some big fight didn’t you? Right before Val left for the Army?”
“She cheated on me,” Lara said.
“Now wait, that’s technically true, but there was a whole lot of cheating and miscommunication going on there, you’ve got to own up to that,” Val said.
Lara bowed her head and shrugged.
“Yeah, we were young and stupid,” she said. “I mean that wasn’t even that long ago but I look back now and I want to slap my teenage self. She was such an idiot.”
“At least you didn’t sleep with Kevin Louganis,” Val said. “God why? What was I thinking?”
“That you needed to get back at me,” Lara said.
“For something you hadn’t even done!” Val groaned.
“So you two were dating, then you broke up and slept around, and now she’s your Maid of Honor?” Elena asked. “How does that work?”
“Lara is a very forgiving person,” Val said.
“And Val’s good at apologizing sincerely,” Lara said. “After I returned her ring, I started feeling a bit bad about, you know, hurling it at her face.”
“Wait, back up, why was there a ring involved at all here?” Elena asked.
“The usual reason,” Val said. “I asked her to marry me.”
“You did what?” Elena jumped in her seat. “Did Mom and Dad know?”
“Not exactly,” Val said.
“She wanted to elope,” Lara said. “What did you say? ‘I was stupid, here you wanted this, let’s grab a bus to Vegas’?”
“In my defense, it seemed like a great plan at the time, but I did come to see that there would have been a few problems with it,” Val said.
“Yeah, the first one being that your mother wouldn’t have had time to kill us, because we would have killed each other first,” Lara said.
“We might have made it as far as Philly before that though,” Val said. “That would have been a nice long engagement right?”
“So how did you get from ‘murder each other on a bus’ to here?” Elena asked.
“Step one was throwing the ring back at her,” Lara said.
“Step two was going away and thinking about what I really wanted,” Val said. “The ring and the proposal weren’t really honest. I felt bad, and I thought I could buy forgiveness by making a giant gesture.”
“I didn’t want a huge thing though,” Lara said.
“Yeah, I didn’t either it turned out,” Val said. “I just wanted my friend back.”
“So did you two never…?” Elena asked.
“Sleep together? Oh that wasn’t problem,” Lara said. “That part was fantastic. It was what it did to the rest of our relationship that sucked.”
“I don’t know if either of us were ready for a relationship like that,” Val said. “I know I wasn’t, and I think I kind of went overboard.”
“Oh, I was out of my mind too,” Lara said. “I remember being livid – like burst a blood vessel enraged – when you gave me that ring. When I look back now though, I don’t get it. I mean I know what I was thinking at the time, that you weren’t taking me serious and were just mocking my feelings, but how the hell couldn’t I see where you were coming from? That you were just so hurting and trying to make things right?”
“The same way I couldn’t see just how bad stabbing you in the back had hurt you. It’s easy to get lost in our own pain.”
“You were leaving too,” Lara said. “I think that’s where everything started for me. I knew I was going to lose you to the Army after school ended and then all the stupid drama happened and suddenly I was losing you right away. I had a dump truck full of sadness and anger inside me and it had to come out somewhere and make an ugly mess.”
“The funny thing is? I wasn’t even thinking of the Army as being a big deal for us,” Val said. “I thought, ‘I’ll go to the Army, and Lara will be there when I get out and we’ll make some kind of awesome life for ourselves’.”
“So why didn’t you?” Elena asked. “No offense to Sam, but if you two made up after your big fight, why not get back together?”
“We talked about it,” Lara said.
“I was still leaving for the Army though,” Val said. “And once we were broken up, it was easier to go back to being friends. Right?”
“Definitely,” Lara said. “I’ve loved you since second grade, but we were just not meant to be in love with each other. Not like that at least.”
“Sam’s the one though is she?” Val asked, stirring her coffee and watching it swirl.
“I think so,” Lara said with a happy sigh.
“What’s the she like?” Val asked, looking up to take in the contentment in her best friends eyes.
“She’s grounded, like a rock I can hold onto,” Lara said.
“And then there are the parts of her that aren’t her abs,” Elena said and ducked a playful swat from Lara.
“No, seriously, I know I can be a bit over the top sometimes. It doesn’t take much to drive me up a wall. Sam though? She’s able to bring me back down.”
“That sounds a lot healthier than what we had,” Val said. “You’d go off on something and I’d be there going off twice as loud.”
“I think that’s why you were always my best friend,” Lara said. “No matter what, you always had my back.”
“Damn straight,” Val said and held up her fist.
“Straight as a rainbow,” Lara said completing the fist bump.
“Oh my god you two!” Elena said, mocking a scandalized expression. “If you’re like this now, you must have been disasters when you were in school.”
“Why did Mom ever let you out of the house?” Elena asked, turning to Val.
“It was either let me out or I’d sneak out,” Val said. “Plus she knew Lara had enough sense to keep me from getting in too much trouble.”
“What’s hysterical is that my mother though the same thing about you,” Lara said.
“If they only knew,” Val said.
“I used to think we were clever, but you know, I think they had a good idea the kind of things we got up to. I mean they were teenagers once too, and from the stories I’ve heard they raised all kinds of hell before they settled down.”
“Probably best if we never dig too deep into that, but now that you’ve said it, I’ve got to admit I am damn curious to know what Teen Sophia was like,” Val said.
“Picture us I guess, but in the 70s and 80s,” Lara said.
“And now I regret my curiosity,” Val said with a chuckle. She drained her coffee before adding, “You said you had a special request to make though didn’t you? Some unusual part of the wedding?”
“Not the wedding, the bachelorette party,” Lara said.
“I could swear you once said you had no interest in having one of those?” Val said.
“That’s when my mother was talking about marrying me off to some guy,” Lara said. “And anyways, this is more than a bachelorette party. It’s an affair of honor.”
Val drew back and cocked her head to the side.
“A what now?”
“Sam owns a women’s fitness club,” Lara said. “It’s how we met. She came by my gym to see if she could expand by buying me out.”
“And you told her to go to hell because you’d never sell your grandad’s place,” Val said.
“I could have done that, but instead I asked her out to dinner to talk about it,” Lara said.
“Were you seriously considering selling?” Val asked. Lara had been unimaginably proud when she’d inherited the gym. Unless the business was in deep distress, Val couldn’t imagine Lara parting with it.
“No. Never. But as Elena said; Abs. My god, they were hypnotic.”
“Okay then,” Val said with an appreciative laugh. “Did you propose that night?”
“No, we just had a nice meal,” Lara said. “I didn’t know she was even into me at all until the third time we went out.”
“Oh that is typical Lara,” Val said. “Tell me she didn’t throw you onto a bed and just smooch you?”
“Wait, is that what you did to her?” Elena asked.
“Yes, it is,” Lara said. “And no, Sam was much more polite about it.”
“You dared me to do it!” Val said.
“I believe I mentioned we were stupid when we were kids,” Lara said as an aside to Elena.
“Ok, but tell her about your bet!” Elena said.
“I was getting to that,” Lara said. “When we decided to get married, we went back to the idea of combining our businesses. Sam’s place is more of a health club with a decent set of speciality courses, and mine’s more of a boxing gym with a smaller number of general fitness programs.”
“Sounds like an excellent match then,” Val said.
“It is. What we’re trying to decide is which of our business names we want to consolidate under,” Lara said.
“And this is something special you’re planning to work out at your Bachelorette?” Val asked in disbelief. “Is the honeymoon going to be a trip to the tax assessor’s office?”
“Oh, we’re not talking this one out,” Lara said. “We going to mats over it.”
“What?” Val asked, perplexed.
“The girls from our places wanted to help us celebrate, and so we wanted to put on a bit of a show for them,” Lara said. “Sam had the idea to make a wager for the naming of our combined businesses, and then we’d have a Champion’s Battle between our best fighters to see whose honor would reign supreme!”
“That sounds like the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” Val said try to hold back the grin from her lips.
“Aww, you don’t want to be part of it?” Lara asked, her bottom lip dropping into a pout.
“Are you kidding? I wouldn’t miss this for world!”