Big Day Jitters

Allison Hay © Illustration of a garden shed.


A game of hide-and-seek adds to wedding day drama – but can loving sibling bonds bring some calm?

Where’s Katy? I’ve looked everywhere,” I have to admit I was panicking a bit. As the parents of the groom, I suppose, in retrospect, we didn’t have that much to do – get Scott ready, get him to the church. Only we also had to juggle Katy, his sister’s, arrival as the flower-girl. She would accompany the ring-bearer down the aisle at the start of the ceremony. Since the church banned all petal throwing, Katy would blow bubbles up into the vaulted ceiling. Lovely, I’d thought. “Katy?” I yelled now in frustration. “She said she wanted to watch TV but she’s not in the lounge.”

“Scott’s missing, too.” My husband, Greg, stood poking his head out of the door of our son’s bedroom. Already dressed in his wedding finery he looked handsome. (Mind you, he always does.) “He went off for a shower then said he’d come back and get changed,” he explained.

We both stared towards the bathroom door, open wide at that time. Scott’s stomach had churned all morning, nerves getting the best of him. He’s twenty-five, born just as I’d turned the same age myself. Katy, his little sister, on the other hand, showed up as a very late-in-the-day surprise.

“Have we lost both of them, then?” I asked. “Katy’s wearing her dress, too. She better not get it dirty.” I’d just spent an hour curling her hair into ringlets. Had she disappeared now into the cow flower-infested wilderness of our June garden? “I’ll find her, you track down her brother.”

In my powder-blue wedding suit, down in the kitchen I exchanged my heels for the big chunky trainers I used to walk the dog. I discovered Hector, our cockapoo already in the grass outside.  He stood sniffing at the shed door. My stomach dropped. “Is she hiding in there, then?”

Katy’s mood all morning had seemed like a weather front full of thunder  hurtling in from the sea to the west. “Katy?” When I reached the shed I pulled at the handle. The door rattled but refused to budge. “Are you in there?” I peered in through the one rather dirty window. There, my nine-year-old sat in her frilly white frock, a flowery tiara in her freshly-made curls. “What are you doing?”

She pouted and crossed her arms. “I’m not coming. I don’t want to do it any more.”

Really! After four rehearsals? She’d adored the bride during every one. Emily, a dog groomer by trade, was a lovely smiley young woman. She and Scott had bought a little terrace closer to town. They’d decided not to move in together until after the big day, mainly to allow for a few renovations – the carpets removed, laminate installed, a glossy kitchen fitted. They’d take a honeymoon in a few years time to offset the cost, they’d decided. It all seemed very sensible to me. Now I rattled the door latch one more time. Greg had fitted a lock, first to stop Scott barging into the shed, then to stop Katy doing the same years later. His hobby involved restoring antique miniature cars he purchased on the internet. Apparently, it takes a lot of concentration and one slip might ruin a paint job.

“Katy, you’ll be fine. You did the school play last year and you were brilliant. This won’t be half as bad and there are no lines to learn.”

Beyond the grimy pane, she scowled. “I’m not scared of the church, Mum.”

That’s something, I thought as I peered in. At least one of my kids doesn’t suffer from stage fright. “Silly me. Is it because we asked you to hold hands with the ring bearer on the way out?” She’d refused during every rehearsal, Noah, her cousin grimacing, clearly not overly keen, either.

“I said I’d do that on the day,” came Katy’s retort.

She had indeed. The crisp tenner I’d taken straight out of the cash machine on the way from rehearsal number four had nothing to do with it. (Don’t judge; we all bribe them sometimes.) “What is it, then? Just tell me. If you don’t I can’t help, can I?”

Her stubborn expression crumbled. “Scott’s leaving home. He won’t be here any more. He’ll be gone forever. He’ll forget all about me.  So I’m not coming. I’m not.” She wiped at hot tears.

I was sure we’d prepared her for this. I mean, Scott tended to wander off, anyway. Since his fiancée lived in a flat on her own, he’d sometimes disappear for days. Still, soon he’d clear out his room, his posters, his herd of socks and trainers, the white shirts he wore to work at the bank. The place would suddenly be empty. I gulped myself at the thought. He’d always been there for his little sister, too. If she couldn’t tell us something, she’d tell him. Like that time Missy Davis bullied her. He’d sorted it all out at the school gates without a word to me or Greg.

“All right. Stay in there for now,” I told her. “Just don’t get your dress dirty.”

I checked my watch then stamped back down the lawn.

I almost collided with Greg in the kitchen as he hurtled about. “I still can’t find Scott. He’s not in the house. I’ve searched every room. Where’s Katy?”

I explained her plight at speed.

“Do I need to take the door off?” he asked.

No, of course not. Go and talk to her while I find her brother.

I had an inkling where he’d disappeared to. “Scott?” Moments later I reached our four-berth caravan. It slumbers on the drive for most of the year, only ambling down the road twice a year, if that. It was getting on a bit now. I rattled the door handle but guess what? “Not again!” I shifted the steps we always slid underneath the van over to the lounge windows. I took a step up and peered in.

On one of the seats, Scott sat hunched, gripping his stomach.

“Are you all right?” I called through the polycarbonate barrier between us.

“I just need a few minutes on my own.”

It was definitely nerves, not any stag-night excesses. Those happened in town a week ago, such as they were. He’d only taken his best friend, Lewis, and one other friend out. That’s Scott for you – introverted and very low-key. Now he winced, pain etched into his features. “I’m not sure I can do this. Mum. I think I might pass out. I’ll be one of those fainting grooms on the internet. Everybody will post a clip to YouTube.”

“Don’t be silly. You’ll be fine. Have you talked to Emily about it?”

His pained expression intensified. “She’s been calling and texting all morning and …”

“Oh, Lord, please don’t tell me you haven’t answered. She’ll think you won’t turn up at the church at this rate.”

Of course I answered but I lied and told her I felt fine. I don’t want her worrying over me fainting in front of the vicar.

He had suggested to his intended they have a tiny ceremony in a register office. Only she’d wanted the big dress and the occasion. Her well-off parents didn’t mind paying for it all, either.

I took a deep breath. He needs distracting. “Scott, not to add to your stress levels but your sister’s locked herself in the shed. She’s decided to boycott the wedding because you’ll be leaving and that’s simply not on.”

“What?”  Up snapped his head.

Don’t give yourself whiplash, love. I’d always considered the age gap would be a problem for my two, that they’d never have anything in common. Only, he never resented having such a tiny baby sister. As a teenager, when his life ought to have been full of strops and door-slamming sessions, he’d cooed over her cot instead. He loved it when she gripped his finger. He loved it even more when she’d bawled her head off at night and only he’d been able to soothe her. She might simply have exhausted herself by the time he sloped out of bed but neither Greg nor I ever said so. No, we called our son brilliant, a proper baby-wrangler.

Now he gulped, trying to rally some resolve. “I’ll talk to her.”

Of course you will.

He just about fell out of the caravan, unsteady in nothing but his bare feet. He still wore jogging bottoms and a T-shirt, his face pale yet perspiring. I nudged him down the side of the house into the garden. His dad stood by the shed. “Hang on, Scott’s here,” he called to Katy as our son wandered into view.

Scott leaned against the door when he reached it. “It’s me.” He always uses the same signature greeting to sister. “What’s going on, Titch?” He uses the name nickname, too.

“I don’t want you to get married.” Katy seemed more upset than ever. “You’ll move out and forget me. You will.”

He knew what to do. We often use the same techniques in our family. Distract her. Give her another task to cope with. “I’ll never forget you, I need you too much. I need your advice right now. You are an expert. When you did your school play, how did you handle your nerves? I’m shaking, I feel too nauseous to even get dressed. I don’t know what to do. I might pass out in the middle of the ceremony.”

“No you won’t. That’s just silly.” She uses a special voice on him sometimes as if she’s the oldest and he’s a naïve little boy. She did it when he tried on his wedding suit the first time at home a few weeks ago. He’d wandered about looking anxious, saying he looked like a penguin. “All grooms look like penguins,” she stated like Greta Thunberg pointing out global warming to all the blindfolded adults. It’s a fact. Deal with it.

“What should I do to stay calm?” Scott asked her now.

The bolt to the shed is old and rusty and it took some effort for her to slide it aside. She emerged into the sunshine, her white dress glowing, her face very serious. “Use your diaphragm,” she announced. “That’s what my teacher told me. You need to breathe properly.”

I think Scott had only taken shallow breaths since he’d scuttled out of bed a nervous wreck at 5am. In front of Katy, he made a show of standing up straight and filling his chest. “That’s it,” she praised.

“You see, I can’t do this without you.” His voice wobbled as if suddenly he too realised he’d pack his things soon and move them out. He’d start another life; he’d build a new family. He crouched down, held out his arms and his little sister thumped into his chest. “Thanks, Sis. You will be close-by in church, won’t you?”

“Yes,” Katy said in her grown-up voice. “You’ll need looking after. I’d better come and make sure you’re all right.”

As we watched, Greg’s hand slipped into mine, his fingers tightening as we shared a gulp. “Don’t cry,” he warned me in hushed tones.

“I won’t,” I replied as a big fat tear dripped down his cheek instead. We’d both need a hanky at this rate.

“Weddings are so emotional,” he pointed out.

“Yes,” I agreed.

All this and we haven’t even left the house yet.

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Georgia Grieve