I heard a story this weekend about a young man - let's call him Sam.
Sam had two best friends, a guy and a girl - we'll name them Mike and Laura for the sake of keeping the story straight.
The three of them were the best of friends in college. Sam and Mike roomed together, and Laura was a fun and welcome addition to their college adventures - embracing the age old adage that three is company.
As it usually goes, time went by, and they all grew up. Sam ended up moving to take an impressive job across the country, while Mike and Laura stayed in town and worked at a local restaurant.
After six months away, Sam returned home for the holidays to see his friends and family. He eagerly anticipated seeing his best friends at dinner at their favorite restaurant that evening. When walked in, he immediately saw Mike and Laura sitting side-by-side at a table set for four. Mike saw him and nearly jumped out of his chair to greet his old friend.
He wrapped Sam up in a tight hug. "Man, I've missed you buddy! How's the east coast treating you?" he said with a smile, clapping Sam on the back. Sam grinned, "Let's just say, dinner is on me," he said with a laugh. Then he turned to Laura with his arms held wide. She gave him her typical, beautiful, charming smile, met him with a tight hug of her own. "It's so good to see you!" she said, her voice muffled by Sam's shoulder.
He let her go, and gave her a long look, and then looked a Mike. "It's good to be home!" he said, grinning from ear to ear. They sat and ate and talked of the latest news. Sam thought it was odd that Mike kept putting his arm on the back of Laura's chair, but was too happy to see his old friend to pay too much attention to it.
Finally, their meal was done, and the waitress brought the check. Sam reached for it, but Mike interrupted him. "Hey Sam, we have some great news to tell you," he said, taking Laura by the hand. Sam froze with his hand over the check. Why was Mike holding Laura's hand?
He looked at Laura, and saw that she was looking at Mike in a way that she never had before. He looked back to Mike, to see him sitting there smiling like an idiot. Sam's blood ran cold. He forced himself to smile. "What's this?" he said, desperately trying to keep his voice happy.
"We're engaged!" Laura said. Mike looked over at her, and beamed. The man couldn't have been happier. Sam tried to swallow the lump that seemed to be stuck in his throat, but it wouldn't go away. He realized his hand was still hovering over the check, and with a cough and a fake smile, he quickly picked it up off the table, and looked at the bill...anything so that he didn't have to look at his two best friends.
"Hey, Sammy," Mike said, "I'll split that with you, man."
Sam shook his head, staring at the receipt as if it were written in Chinese. "No, no, I got this one," he said waving Mike away with his hand. "You buy next time."
When he felt like he was collected enough, Sam pulled his credit card out of his wallet, dropped it in the book and snapped it shut. The waitress happened to be walking by, so he handed it to her, and turned back to the couple sitting across the table from him. Mike was grinning like a dog with its head out the window, and Laura was smiling, but Sam could see that she knew something was wrong.
Sam smiled as best he could, and hoped they were too in love to realize how utterly fake it was. "Congratulations, you guys, that is wonderful news. I trust I'll be the best man and the maid of honor at the wedding?"
Mike laughed and slapped the table, "Of course you will, Sammy! Well, the best man, anyway, you'd look stupid in a dress." Sam gave him a tight-lipped smile, and turned to the waitress who had returned with the receipt. He took it and signed it as quickly as he could. "Well kids, I've got to get back home, my mom was too excited to see me for me to spend the whole night out."
Mike and Laura stood and gave him each a hug. When Laura let him go, she held him at arms' length and studied him, frowning. "Are you okay, Sam? You look rather pale." Sam smiled and patted her shoulder, "I'm find, Laura, just a little tired is all. I'll see you guys soon, okay? And really, congratulations!"
He turned with a wave and headed out the door into the cold winter air. Stunned, he drove the whole way home, and parked his parents' care in their driveway. He turned the lock and opened the door to find his mom waiting up for him, like she had all through high school. She gave him one look and immediately popped out of her chair. "Sam," she said, her voice concerned. "What's wrong?"
His voice broke, and a tear streamed down his cheek, "Laura is going to marry Mike...and...and I'm in love with her," he whispered
When I heard this story, my heart broke for Sam, and it made me realize that you have one opportunity to make your move before someone will steal it away from you. I don't know what made Sam hesitate, but I do know that this is a good lesson to learn. Rejection can't be nearly as painful as missing the opportunity entirely simply because you never tried.