WRITTEN BY TESS NILAND KIMBER
One person could make him happier, but would she come to the wedding…?
Being a strictly jeans and dog walking guy, but now wearing a charcoal grey morning suit, Greg felt out of his comfort zone, like a Formula One racing driver stuck in a traffic jam.
He straightened his lilac silk cravat for the umpteenth time. His very soon-to-be wife Chrissie would call it a “displacement activity”. She was right; he was using any excuse to stop looking out of the bedroom window to check for Jo’s arrival.
Please, he silently begged his sister, come to our wedding…
He scanned the tree lined avenue. It was May, the traditional wedding season. Blue sky teased the duvet-plump clouds, promising sunshine later. Watching the swaying cherry trees, pregnant with blossom, spring certainly represented his imminent marriage to Chrissie. It was a fresh start. A triumph of hope over experience. He was so happy. This promised to be the best day of his life – but only if Jo came.
His big sister meant everything to him. With just three years between their ages, they’d always been close. Until…
He checked the view from his bedroom window again. Jo wasn’t here. Yet, he added, optimistically. He glanced at his watch. There was still time.
Alerted by the sudden sound of a car engine, he felt almost disappointed when the gleaming wedding cars pulled onto the drive. A white Rolls Royce had parked alongside a silver stretch limousine. Both had purple satin ribbons streaming across their bonnets, like yachts’ rigging trembling in the breeze.
A limo and a Rolls – was the choice of wedding cars too ostentatious for a second marriage? He fretted. Perhaps… but he wanted to show the importance of this new union, especially after the sorrow of his broken first marriage.
He couldn’t help thinking of Sarah today. Their wedding, almost twelve years ago, had been perfect too. Perhaps that had been part of the problem…
“It’s not the wedding day you need to get right, it’s the marriage that follows, lad,” he could remember Grandad Don telling him as he waited for Sarah to arrive at the church that day. Grandad Don had been right. Sadly, he wasn’t here this time round but his advice was just as apt with his new union.
Yes, that first wedding day had been seamless – the beautiful bride in her meringue dress, the heartfelt words of the service, the church was a picturesque backdrop for the photos, followed by a honeymoon in Mauritius. Even the move into their first flat in a new block in town had made a wonderful first home.
His family had loved Sarah, taking her to them as if she was one of their own. Especially Jo – but then they’d been best friends since primary school. It was how he’d met Sarah. Not that he remembered their actual meeting – he’d practically grown up with her.
So what had gone wrong?
He shrugged. They’d certainly loved each other but as time had passed, their differences, which initially had made life interesting, became a source of discord.
“I’d love to move away, work in London or one of the other big cities,” Sarah had mused, her blue-grey eyes alive with ambition.
“But I love Colehurst – living near all the people I know and care about – and then there’s my job at the unit.”
He was training to be a phlebotomist, taking blood samples from patients at the local hospital before they were sent to the laboratories for investigation. He loved how the job gave him the right balance of caring with science.
“You’ll want slippers and a pipe next,” Sarah had teased.
“Hey, I’m ambitious, too. I’m studying for my certificate and the diplomas. I just don’t feel ready to leave the area.”
Then, a few months later, she’d suggested, “Let’s take out a bigger mortgage and move into a house. The flat’s alright but we need somthing…”
“Larger?” he’d suggested, looking around the lounge, thinking the flat was more than a place to live to him. It was special – their first home together.
Why did she want to move? Maybe Sarah was ready to start the family he longed for? Excited, he’d asked her, but she’d squashed his hopes by saying, “Oh no. No children yet. We’ve too much to do, first.”
What she had meant, of course, was that she wanted more from life before starting a family. Happily, he accepted her decision to wait, although for him being a parent couldn’t come soon enough.
That had become the beat of their married life
His suggestions were ignored, hers usually in opposition to his. Neither of them was in the wrong – he saw that clearly now – but their differences had led to arguments and, in the end, that had made them unhappy, robbing their marriage of the deep love they’d once felt.
It still pained him. Sarah was a lovely woman, a friend, and for a long time he’d missed her in his life.
But they’d been young. Silly young, now he thought about it as a “grumpy thirty-five-year-old,” as Jo would tease if she was here.
Where was his sister?
On the lawn, below, he glimpsed the marquee, hired for the reception.
Earlier, he’d wandered inside the tent, checking the flowers and decorations. On each table were carefully strewn gold and silver love hearts and, as a surprise for Chrissie, mini chocolate bars tied in purple ribbon.
“For you,” he’d said to Chrissie on their first date two years ago. “I should’ve brought flowers or chocolates but this is all I can afford. I’m newly divorced and broke, I’m afraid.”
Later, when they were more sure of each other, he’d promised to make it up to her.
“Our dates won’t always involve staying in with a bottle of plonk and a takeaway. I’ll spoil you one day.”
“I’m all for being spoiled,” Chrissie had said, laughter twinkling in her brown eyes. “But there’s nothing better than being curled on the sofa with you, watching a good film and sharing a bowl of pasta.”
Now that’s what he loved about Chrissie. She didn’t mind what they did as long as they were together. He was lucky. After Sarah, he hadn’t thought he’d find happiness again, but Chrissie had walked into his life. Well, more limped – she’d been bitten on her foot while on holiday and her GP had sent her to the unit for blood tests to rule out infection.
“I trust the fly came off worse,” he’d joked, trying to put her at ease when she’d confessed to a fear of needles.
A few weeks later he’d bumped into her in the supermarket and asked her out. They’d been together ever since.
He’d kept his promise about treating her…
Last year he’d moved to a private clinic and his wages had improved dramatically. Back on his feet financially, he’d surprised Chrissie with dinners in good restaurants, weekends away in the country and bouquets delivered to her at work in the pre-school.
“You really spoil me – and it’s not even my birthday.”
“Wait until it is,” he’d laughed.
As he’d got to know her he’d discovered she’d had a tough start in life. Her parents had split up when she was young and her single mother had moved around a lot.
“Money was in short supply but never love,” Chrissie had told him.
“Then you were lucky.”
“True – there are better ways to be rich than with a large bank balance.”
So that’s why the wedding was all about surprising Chrissie, but he knew she’d appreciate their special day being linked to their humbler beginnings. Hopefully, Chrissie would remember the significance of the chocolate bar and be thrilled.
Yes, everything was in place. The day would be perfect – but only if Jo came.
His mind drifted back to that evening, last autumn. He could so clearly imagine Jo’s soft voice it was as if his sister was standing beside him in the bedroom now.
“I’m sorry, Greg. I… I can’t come,” she’d said when, as excited as a puppy, he’d invited her to their wedding.
He’d taken her out for a meal at her favourite Chinese restaurant, thinking it was the ideal setting for a celebration. How wrong he’d been…
“Why?” That one word had sounded as choked as he’d felt.
He couldn’t have been more shocked that she was refusing to come to his wedding than if she’d said she was emigrating to Australia.
Then a smile had teased his lips. Was she playing with him, as she had so often in childhood – the older sister tormenting her young brother? But her next words proved this wasn’t a joke.
“I can’t…” she’d gazed at her hands, cradled in her lap, as twisted as a tabloid’s version of the truth.
“Why? Because I’m remarrying? I know you’re close to Sarah but…”
His sister’s friendship with Sarah hadn’t faltered throughout the divorce. Jo always described the petite blonde as the sister she’d never had. She’d given Sarah oodles of support when their marriage had ended. Although it had been a joint decision, he still felt sad over the failure of their marriage.
At first, if he bumped into Sarah it had been difficult, but they were better now, could talk as friends, and there was no awkwardness when they met.
He credited Jo with that ease. She’d helped Sarah move on. For that alone, he’d always be grateful.
Yet that evening, Jo had shaken her head, avoiding his eyes. “No, Greg, I can’t come.”
“But we wanted you to make our cake.” He was close to tears. He’d hoped she’d have been thrilled, see it for the honour he’d intended.
In Chrissie he’d found his soul-mate. It was so important that his sister shared his joy. Their parents had died when Greg and Jo were in their early twenties.
Already close, grief had bonded them even further
“Don’t you…” his voice strangled with emotion, “Don’t you like Chrissie?”
“It’s not that…” But when she’d looked up he’d seen the truth in her eyes.
So he’d got up and left the restaurant.
They hadn’t spoken since.
Now, as he waited, he thought of the wedding cake they’d ordered from the local bakers that would undoubtedly be scrumptious – but inferior in every way to his sister’s legendary rich fruit cake. More than that, the bought cake only served as a reminder of his sister’s disapproval of his second marriage.
That, Greg thought with tears filling his eyes, was what hurt the most – not that Jo hadn’t come, not that she thought his wedding to Chrissie wouldn’t last – but that her disapproval was greater than her love for him.
He wiped away his tears – and as he did so Jo’s ancient Mini suddenly sped round the corner, bumping over the drive and almost clipping the back of the stretch limo!
Thrilled, he rushed out of the bedroom and downstairs to meet her.
“Jo! You’re here!”
She stood in the hall, her slightly smudged make-up showing it had been hurriedly applied, her eyes showing how hard the decision to attend had been.
“Yes – and I made this, Greg. I’m sorry, I didn’t have time to bake anything more traditional.”
She held out a tin.
Releasing the lid, he revealed a chocolate cake.
“Sarah iced it…”
Jo nodded. “And she talked some sense into me, too. She said she’d never seen a happier couple than you and Chrissie, or two people more right for one another. So I thought that if she’s happy for you and Chrissie, then what right did I have not to be?’
Greg gazed at the cake…
“Jo, thank you. I…”
“It’s…” She swallowed hard. “It’s for you and Chrissie. I hope you’ll both be very happy, Greg.”
He pulled her to him, holding her tight. Tears and wedding cake, he thought, the perfect example of his sister’s struggle to give her blessing to his new life.
As he pulled away to smile at her, he couldn’t love her more for it if he tried.