Steven sat silent in the driver’s seat, watching the small droplets of rain gather on the windscreen.
He had to stop the wedding.
The more he thought about it, the better the idea seemed, more fully formed, and less likely to fail. He would drive down, arrive early, and tell Suzanne how he felt about her. She would naturally reciprocate the emotion, and they would disappear together to some far flung extremity of the British coastline, north Wales perhaps.
He was nervous, as one would expect, but the quiet anticipation of what success might bring kept him composed. He turned the key, and after a few coughs, the engine spluttered into life, and he was on his way.
Much to his distaste, he had a passenger to pick up. Ella was one of the bridesmaids, but she had hardly any responsibilities in the wedding, as Suzanne regarded her as “Flakey” and “Unreliable”. Steven had learnt this from the call in which she asked whether he might bring her, as they lived so close. How soft her voice had sounded on the phone. Each syllable a perfectly crafted symphony, which he simply couldn’t say no to.
As he pulled up at Musselburgh station, he spotted immediately that there was no one waiting. He fidgeted angrily as he reached for his phone. He had specifically asked Ella to be there for quarter past five, but true to her name, Unreliable Ella was late.
He climbed out of the car, and leant his slender figure on a nearby lamppost, enjoying the gentle flecks of drizzle landing on his forehead.
“Ella, where are you? It’s twenty past.”
“I’m only a few minutes away.” Came the tinny reply. “I’m on the train, and I think I’m only one or two stops away.”
Steven sighed heavily before offering a polite “goodbye”, and hanging up. He climbed back into the car, shook the moisture from his thick curly brown hair, and began to wait.
Around fifteen minutes later, a train pulled in, and after a rush of tired commuters, Ella arrived. She was tall, had fairly short blond hair, and was wearing baggy cotton trousers and a black tank top. Steven left the car to greet her, and as she sauntered over to him he extended a hand to shake. Ella ignored this hand, and drew him into an awkward embrace.
“Wow, you really are short!” She said in a loudly. Her accent was slightly Scottish, but not as strong as Steven had expected.
“Erm, yes I suppose,” replied Steven, who was totally taken aback by this bizarre greeting.
He loaded her rucksack into the boot of the car, before climbing in and heading towards the A1.
“So Steven, it is Steven isn’t it?” He nodded gently, and she continued, “How do you know Suzanne?”
His arms went tense on the steering wheel, as he wondered how to answer the question.
“We met at school. We were pretty good friends. That’s about it really.”
“And are you in the wedding?”
“No, I’m just a guest. But I think she’ll be pleased to see me again.”
“How long’s it been?”
“She still rings from time to time. It’s just hard to meet up when I live so far north.”
“I know what you mean, Steve. I haven’t seen Suze since the end of uni. That’s almost three years…”
He was unhappy with her familiarity, and soon asked if he could put the radio on to ease the conversation. Soon though, this started a lengthy story about when Ella had seen one of the artists, and ended up missing a whole week of work, via a series of uninteresting details. Soon though she tired and began to doze off in the passenger seat, and Steven was back with his thoughts.
There was no doubt in him, he had to tell Suzanne. He had tried meeting other women, he had tried moving away, he had tried everything, and he could never forget her. That gentle kiss she placed on his cheek at the prom would haunt him forever, and the thought of her being attached to another man forever, made Steven shiver with dread.
Around an hour later Ella awoke, and began singing along to the radio. Fortunately for Steven, they had nearly arrived at the hotel which would house them for the night. It was around 90 minutes’ drive from the church, and subsequently very manageable for the eleven o’clock ceremony.
They checked in and after a short talk during which Ella thanked Steven for the lift, headed up to their rooms. Steven lay fully clothed on the bed, and being lost in the labyrinth of his thoughts, was still awake to see the sunrise.
Claire pulled the phone away from her face, and her eyes shot daggers across the room. Stan remained motionless on the bed, watching the television with a can of lager resting against his side.
“So how are you feeling, dear?” Her eyes returned to Stan, but again without results.
“And are you excited?” Using her left hand, Claire removed her right shoe, and tossed it haphazardly across the room.
“What?” said Stan irritably?
“No cold feet, I hope.” Said Claire into the phone, before locking eyes with Stan and pointing angrily at the phone. He shrugged, took a healthy slug of lager, and went back to the television.
“And are all the bridesmaids there with you?” She turned to Stan, before hissing through gritted teeth:
“Stanley! Your daughter is getting married tomorrow! Come and talk to her!”
“Just Holly and Freya?” she said back into the phone, as Stan laboriously lifted his heavy frame from the bed. “Where’s Ella”
“Smart thinking Suzie, do you remember that surprise party she threw!?”
Claire laughed an elegant laugh, before calmly saying: “Here’s your Dad.”
She threw the phone over to Stan, who showed a faint smile as soon as he heard his daughter’s voice.
“We’re just by the airport. We fly early tomorrow morning, and we’ll be there by about nine.” He said in his gruff tone, running his hands across his bald head.
“Me and your Mum are really very proud of you.” Claire’s eyes fired once more at Stan
“Sorry, your Mum and I, are proud of you,” he said, grinning childishly at Claire, who turned back to the mirror in the corner of the room.
“Alright, bye sweetheart. Sleep well.” He ended the call and threw the phone down on the bed before retreating to the en suite. Claire delicately rose from her seat, and approached the locked door.
“Stan, I told you never to speak on my behalf,” she said coolly as she stared out across the room.
Stan grunted, but gave no other reply.
“And also, what kind of father doesn’t want to talk to his daughter the day before her wedding?”
“A tired one,” was the muffled, belligerent reply.
“Really Stan.” Said Claire exhaustedly, as she perched on the side of the bed. He opened the door, and strode over towards the mirror.
“Only one more day though.” He said optimistically.
“And I thought we might manage it without fighting,” spat Claire.
“Always a long shot,” said Stan, smiling at his own vaguely humorous remarks. “I wish we’d just told her. Who cares about a divorce when you’re excited about getting married?”
“You apparently. How is Joni?” asked Claire sarcastically.
“Better than you.” Said Stan, dashing back into the bathroom as he went. Claire’s other shoe hit the door just as he locked it, and she shouted:
“Hope your back can survive another night on the floor!”
“Can I play?”
“No. Girls aren’t allowed.”
Ana ran into the group of boys and viciously kicked the ball towards the boy who had denied her.
“Ha girls are rubbish.” Said Leo as the ball flew by him.
“Why can’t she play?” asked Robbie
“Because she’s rubbish!”
“She can be on our team.” Said Robbie quietly, as an array of sighs and smirks echoed around him.
“Alright,” said Leo. “But you’ll definitely lose now.”
“I’m Robbie”, said the 9 year old, turning towards Ana
“I’m Ana. Can I be in defence?”
“Perfect!” He exclaimed, which brought a delicate smile to Ana’s face. She ran back towards the two jumpers which formed the goal, and when she got there, she turned and smiled for a second time.
He could not quite explain it, but all of a sudden Robbie felt a warm rush all through his body. It was both painful and soothing, and all he wanted to do was see Ana smile again. But he didn’t know what to do. He had to concentrate on the game, and yet he had an uncontrollable urge to keep turning back to see her.
“I’ve got to go, my tea’s ready.” Said Leo flatly. It was his ball, and so the game was over, but Robbie’s team had snatched a narrow victory. He picked the ball up and ran off, and the group of children dispersed in every direction.
Robbie went to pick up his jumper, but when he turned to see Ana one final time, all he could see was her bright purple shirt disappearing into the distance.
“So what makes you think you deserve my sister?” Said Alex flatly.
“I don’t deserve her, and for that reason I’ll treat her like no woman has ever been treated before.”
Alex didn’t smile, but was satisfied with the answer. He didn’t know, however, that Suzanne had warned Luke that he would ask such questions, and that the answer was pre-prepared.
“Another round boys?” This was Dean, the best man. He had known Luke since childhood, and his youthful face grinned across the small round table.
“Just one more,” replied Alex tersely.
Dean lifted his muscular frame from the chair and began navigating his way across the busy tavern. Alex continued to stare intensely at Luke with his small thin eyes. He was unsure of this man’s prospects, and subsequently nervous letting him marry his adored little sister.
“What line of work was your Dad in?”
“Army man.” This was a lie, as Luke’s father had really been an alcoholic chef, but Suzanne had insisted he didn’t tell Alex this.
On seeing Dean’s return, they both drained their glasses.
“So, Alexander, What exactly does an usher do?” asked Dean mockingly.
“Keeps things running.”
The silence around the table was heavy, and Dean, being generally outspoken, was the one who broke it.
“So, let’s talk bridesmaids.”
Luke snickered, but Alex’s face remained straight.
“Well you know Freya.”
“Yes I do,” said Dean boastfully, smiling broadly at Luke.
“Then there’s Scottish Ella, and the maid of honour, Holly.”
“Tell me more about Holly.”
“She seems uptight, I don’t really know her very well.”
Luke shifted uneasily on account of Alex’s stare, before answering: “Maybe, depends what you like”
“That’s a yes then.” Said Dean, once more producing a childish grin.
Silence fell once more, and awkward sips were taken from the glasses on the table.
“So if the reception’s here, where’s the dancefloor?”
“Upstairs,” answered Alex dryly.
“Handy.” Said Dean, who then used his hand to disguise a laugh from Alex.
“Are you absolutely sure about tomorrow?” asked Alex turning towards Luke.
He spluttered with disbelief, before calmly replying: “I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life.”
“I’m going to bed. I suggest you two do the same sooner rather than later.”
Dean let out a loud sigh.
“Don’t worry, we will,” said Luke diplomatically.
Alex disappeared through one of the many doors out of the main bar, which led to the rooms.
“What a prick!” said Dean.
“Yeah he is a bit odd isn’t he?”
“You better hope Suze doesn’t go like that as she ages!”
Luke laughed loudly, and as he settled down, a wide, comfortable smile came over his face.
“Better not mate, I do want to be in good form for tomorrow.” Said Luke as he got to his feet.
Dean smiled, before shouting after him: “You got this Holly’s number?”
“So, I’ve set the alarm for six tomorrow, so we have almost four hours to get ready.” Said Holly, reading the girls’ expressions as she went.
“I’m not sure that’s early enough Hol.” Said Freya.
“So maybe half five then?”
“She’s winding you up Holly.” Said Suzanne. “Four hours is plenty.”
“Thank you Freya.” Whispered Holly, pursing her lips, “I’ll be off to bed now.”
“Night!” Said Suzanne automatically. Her mind was elsewhere, walking a tightrope of doubts and nerves.
“So how are you feeling about tomorrow?” asked Freya, as she brushed her long black hair over her shoulders.
“Alright? Only alright?”
“I’ll be fine. I’m just a bit het up is all. I’ll be fine once I’ve slept.”
Suzanne seemed unable to look away from her feet, and seeing this Freya went over and sat next to her.
“You should be excited, Hun. This is a big deal.”
“I am. I think that’s the problem.”
“Do you want me to sleep on the floor in your room?” asked Freya, trying to read her blank expression.
“No, I’ll be fine. Don’t worry.” Said Suzanne, turning and offering a weak smile.
“Alright then.” Said Freya, as she rose to her feet and left the room. “Sleep well!”
Holly sat for a while, fidgeting with her thick brown curls, and staring down at her long, pale legs. She couldn’t understand why she wasn’t excited. She had waited almost a year for tomorrow, yet she was nearly there, and only felt a vague emptiness, and a detachment from everything going on around her. Maybe sleep was the solution.
She went to her room, changed into her pyjamas, and climbed into bed. For twenty six years, she had lain in bed thinking of this night, but now she was here she was uncomfortable. She could not shut down her thoughts, and was becoming increasingly restless. She climbed out of the bed, paced up and down for a while, and then went to the window. Hidden behind the curtains, she could make out the faint outline of the church in the moonlight.
It was all too much. She went back to the bed, held her head in her hands, and began to weep. After a minute or so, she dried her eyes, and tried to sleep once more, but she couldn’t. She simultaneously felt too much and nothing. Maybe a drink would help.
She went to her suitcase, pulled out a litre bottle of Famous Grouse, and poured some into the porcelain mug on the bedside table. She took it in one, revelling in the warmth it offered, and immediately poured another. This time, she choked on the fiery liquid and spat it all over the carpet. She needed a mixer.
She found the bottle of coke she had been drinking on the drive to the B&B, poured a dash into the mug, and filled the rest with the pale brown whiskey. It went down a treat, and she felt light-headed and cheerful. She switched on the television, turned the volume down, propped herself up on the bed cushions, and settled in with the mug in her hand, and the bottle between legs.
The bridesmaids would wake in six hours.