WRITTEN BY CILLA MOSS
How can other people’s weddings possibly heal a broken heart…?
Gemma was sunbathing in her aunt’s garden when Jamie, the intern from the Register Office, pulled up on his bicycle calling for Rebecca.
“Rebecca! You’re wanted!”
Aunt Rebecca came out of her tiny outdoor workshop, wearing her apron, with her hands covered in ceramic paints.
“On my way!” She beamed at Gemma excitedly. “My first call of the season.”
Before Jamie could speed off again, Rebecca called after him, “Have you been to fetch Aubrey too?”
“No, because Aubrey answers his phone,” Jamie said meaningfully.
“Aubrey from the farm?” Gemma sat up. “Is he your partner now?”
“Yes,” Rebecca said, looking at Gemma shrewdly. “Why?”
“I’d have thought he had better things to do than witnessing weddings for strangers.”
“Being a youngster, you mean?”
Gemma grinned. Rebecca took in the pile of magazines beside her niece and judged that she had no intention of doing anything productive that afternoon.
“Age, clearly, is no indication of industriousness,” she said wryly. “But actually I do have better things to do this afternoon. So I tell you what – you can go in my place.”
“What?” Gemma exclaimed. “But you love weddings.”
“Yes, but I need to finish painting my pots. And you, my dear, need to pull your weight if you’re going to be staying here all summer.”
Gemma didn’t have a response to that. Her aunt was being very kind in letting her stay in return for occasionally looking after her online store or delivering her pots and vases to some of the shops in town.
“It doesn’t serve to sit around licking your wounds,” Rebecca said, more gently. “Getting out into the world can be the best thing for a broken heart.”
Yes, Gemma thought – but surely some strangers’ wedding is the worst place to be when you’ve just been dumped.
Their small island off the Cornish coast was a popular place for people to come to be married, and Aunt Rebecca had provided a service for decades to any eloping couples who arrived without a wedding party. It was surprising to Gemma how many did.
Gemma put on a sundress, pinned up her hair and ran down the hill to the High Street where the Register Office was.
Aubrey was waiting outside, sitting on a bench, reading a fat paperback. When he saw her he stood up, smiling, and pushed his reading glasses into his curly hair.
“Hello! I heard you were visiting. Did your aunt send you?”
“I’ve been told to make myself useful,” Gemma said with a grimace. “Do you think they’ll mind having a freelance web designer rather than a retired magistrate?”
“No one seems to mind having a farmer when I do it,” Aubrey said.
He offered Gemma his arm to escort her inside, and Gemma recalled when she was seventeen years old and would have killed for a just-home-from-uni Aubrey to offer her his arm.
He never had – he’d already been with Siobhan, the love of his life, for years by then. And now it was nothing to her but a nice gesture.
“Are the bride and groom here yet?”
“What’s their story, do you know?”
“Young couple, madly in love, couldn’t wait another minute to be married.”
“I guess it’s cheaper than a big family do,” Gemma said.
“Cynic,” Aubrey scolded. “You can’t make a career of this with that attitude.”
“It wasn’t really that terrible, was it?” Rebecca asked.
“It wasn’t terrible,” Gemma said. “I’m just not sure I want to do it again.”
The couple she’d signed the register with a month ago had turned out to be nineteen years old, and Gemma couldn’t help thinking as she watched them, You’re too young! You don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t know what you’re setting yourself up for…
And then she’d scolded herself, as Aubrey had, for her cynicism. The truth was, it was just too hard to be at a wedding when, two months since she’d last seen Ben, she was still checking her phone for messages from him.
Gemma wondered how Rebecca could stand going to so many ceremonies either. Didn’t they just make her feel lonely?
But Rebecca seemed genuinely delighted for every couple.
Gemma wished she was like that too – not one of those bitter people who begrudged the happiness of others.
Rebecca was watching her, holding a pink carnation that she’d picked from the masses that grew in her garden, while Jamie stood astride his bicycle on the front path, waiting for confirmation to take back to the registrar.
“OK – fine,” Gemma said with a sigh, letting Rebecca slip the flower under the clip in her hair. “I’ll go.”
“Try not to be so grumpy about it, dear. It’s a wedding.”
An hour later, Gemma couldn’t help wondering if her lack of enthusiasm meant she was somehow at fault for everything falling apart.
They were in middle of the vows. The bride was suddenly in tears, and couldn’t answer the registrar.
Gemma met Aubrey’s eyes, horrified, as the groom turned green.
“I just can’t,” the bride whispered.
They left the bride and groom sitting in silence, his arm around her and her head tucked under his chin. Gemma and Aubrey went for a drink at a café nearby, close enough to hurry back should they be called. But Aubrey, who seemed to be an expert on these things, told Gemma it was unlikely.
“She was miserable about not having her family there,” he explained. “It wasn’t that she didn’t want to marry him.”
He stirred sugar into his coffee and told Gemma the whole story.
The couple were childhood sweethearts who had recently been reunited – but had each left a long term relationship for the other, and so had upset their families and friends, who thought they were making a mistake.
“How do you know all this?” Gemma asked, intrigued.
He shrugged coyly. He liked to tease her with his mysterious powers.
“And are they?” she said. “Making a mistake, I mean?”
“Who can tell? They must have just as good a chance as anyone else, I’d imagine.”
Gemma considered talking to him about Ben and getting his wisdom on the subject. She imagined Aubrey as a sort of relationship sage, and wondered whether his own relationship was one of those perfect, enviable ones.
However it was still difficult to mention Ben’s name, so instead she said, “Part of me was relieved. It’s comforting to see other people have problems too.” She raised her eyes sheepishly. “Isn’t that horrible?”
He smiled so kindly, it was as if he’d taken that grubby little bit of resentment and envy inside her and blown it into crumbs.
“It’s human,” he said simply. “One day you won’t feel like that so much. And it will probably be sooner than you think.”
Gemma didn’t have to be persuaded to take Rebecca’s place for the next wedding – she was beginning to see each one as an opportunity.
If she attended as many weddings as she could, maybe eventually she’d start to feel nothing but pleased for the happy couple. And then, maybe she could stop feeling so cross with herself all the time.
Aubrey was waiting for her outside the Register Office with an umbrella to shield them both against the drizzle.
She smiled and linked her arm through his without a word.
They were beginning to fall into a routine now: walking in together to greet the registrar, Caroline; shaking hands with the bride and groom, then taking their places for the ceremony.
“You’ll like these two,” Aubrey had whispered to her as they went in.
Gemma had finally found out where he got his information. Siobhan worked at one of the main hotels in town where the couples stayed, and sometimes even helped with arrangements for the ceremony.
She gave Aubrey the broad strokes, but the more personal details he got for himself, often chatting to the groom while the bride did some final preparations.
There was something about Aubrey which made it easy for people to open up to him; he’d be good at soothing last minute nerves.
Whatever it was Aubrey had, Gemma wished she had it too.
He was right – she did like this couple. It was hard to feel anything but warmth for two people in their seventies who were tying the knot after nearly forty years together.
When Alfie pretended to swoon at the sight of Aida, Aida giggled like a teenager, and Gemma just melted.
Maybe I’m cured, she thought.
After the ceremony, Alfie and Aida accepted their invitation to go for some celebration drinks.
“But we don’t want a fuss,” Aida said in the pub. “That’s why we did things this way in the first place.”
She was wearing a chiffon scarf the colour of roses around her long silver hair, which made the colour in her cheeks look all the prettier. Her wedding outfit was a white jacket and long flowery skirt.
“There was talk of a marquee,” Alfie confided. “And a live band.”
“Our youngest wanted to hire a horse-drawn carriage!”
They laughed, but then, glancing at each other, their laughter faded as they both thought of their children.
“Well, there’s always our first anniversary to celebrate,” Alfie said, and for the first time he sounded a little wistful.
Aida slipped her hand into his.
It would have been nice for their kids to have been there,” Gemma said later, as she and Aubrey left the pub.
“Still,” he answered philosophically, “it’s their day. It’s right that they should have it the way they want.”
The rain had cleared away to a beautiful evening, and they started up the hill to Rebecca’s house. They were so comfortable in each other’s company it seemed natural that Aubrey would walk Gemma home, so much so that she didn’t even notice it was happening until they were halfway there.
She sighed. “Even with Alfie and Aida I couldn’t help finding a negative. And I thought I was doing so well.”
Aubrey looked at her, bemused, while she explained about her keenness to volunteer that day. She eventually told him about Ben, who she hadn’t even talked to Rebecca about yet.
“It sounds stupid, doesn’t it?” she said, after she’d told him everything. “Going to weddings to get over a break-up?”
“Not at all. I mean, that’s how I got into this too.” He smiled at her look of astonishment. “Rebecca roped me into it to keep me busy after I separated from Siobhan. I didn’t know about you and Ben, but I did sort of wonder if she was trying the same tactic with you…”
“Oh, Aubrey, I had no idea!”
She’d assumed he and Siobhan were still together. He seemed so good at this relationship stuff.
“It was a while ago now. We’re friends again – sort of.” He grimaced, knowing she would understand. “Anyway, it’s a strange therapy, but it worked for Rebecca, so she knew what she was talking about.”
“What do you mean?”
They stopped outside Rebecca’s gate. Aubrey kept his voice low.
“She never told you about Stephen, the pharmacist?”
Gemma shook her head.
“Then it’s not my place to say. But maybe you should ask her. I don’t think she’d mind talking about it.”
Rebecca was serving up ice cream when Gemma came in. She gestured to Gemma with the spoon.
“Yes, please,” Gemma said.
She slipped into a chair at the table, watching her aunt deftly scoop a generous portion into a bowl, and checked her phone for messages. None.
Before she could change her mind, she deleted Ben from her contacts.
Aunt Rebecca had Stephen the pharmacist, she thought, and Aubrey had Siobhan; they’d both been through this too. They had survived. So could she.
It had been weeks since the last wedding.
It was the end of the season now, and Gemma was beginning to worry that she wouldn’t be called on again when, looking up from her computer one Saturday morning, she saw Jamie pull up on his bike.
She leaned out of her bedroom window to wave to him.
Grinning, he gave her the thumbs-up, and drew off again.
She had to battle the wind to get to the Register Office, and regretted wearing a dress. By the time she arrived, she was all askew.
Aubrey was waiting just inside; he opened the door for her and while she tidied her clothes he picked a sycamore seed out of her carefully styled hair.
“You look lovely,” he said.
Oh, how she’d missed that gentle attentiveness. She beamed.
“I made a special effort.”
The couple were young and nervous and not very well off, and only had each other in the whole world. When Gemma saw that Isla had no flowers, she pinched a bunch for her from beside the reception desk, but no one minded.
Gemma smiled the whole way through the ceremony. When it was over, she slipped her arm through Aubrey’s, feeling content.
“Not so bad?” he asked her.
“Not so bad.”
She was about to ask him if he had time for a coffee when they saw a familiar face.
It was the groom from two months ago, whose wedding had been called off.
Noticing them, he came over.
“You seem dressed for a special occasion,” Aubrey said, gesturing to the man’s grey suit and pale pink buttonhole.
“I’m getting married. Pretty sure it’s actually going to happen this time.”
“Congratulations!” Aubrey and Gemma shook his hand.
“Do you need a couple of witnesses?” Aubrey said.
“It’s all taken care of. This time we brought Shell’s mum and dad, and my best mate’s here too. Thanks, though.”
“So it all worked out,” Gemma said, as she and Aubrey watched him return to his party. “Isn’t that wonderful?”
Aubrey looked at her.
“What?” she said.
“I think you might be cured,” he said, his smile soft.
She couldn’t resist: she kissed him quickly on the lips. She hadn’t been able to stop thinking about doing that for weeks, suffering as more and more time passed with no weddings to witness and no chance to see him.
His adorable face seemed at first surprised, and then pleased. He took her hands and pulled her closer. Her muscles softened with relief.
“I am now,” she said.