As she stared at her reflection she tried to comprehend what she was looking at.
There was a girl, no more than that, dressed all in white with far too much makeup caked on her face and her hair pinned up in an impossibly complicated mess that looked as if it would be infuriating and possibly painful to untangle.
There was an incessant buzzing behind her, the incomprehensible giggling and chatter emanating from her gang of bridesmaids glugging champagne as if it were water. Yes a gang, all six of them. She didn’t even really know all of them, most of them were Jim’s relatives who had insisted on being part of their ‘special’ day. Only one of them was meant to be there, her best friend Tara, and even she was oblivious to the fear growing underneath the mask of the conventional bride.
Was it the fear of walking down the aisle alone? She had never met her father, so how could she miss someone she had never met? No, that wasn’t it, but the absence of her father didn’t make her feel any less trapped. Maybe if he had never left them then she wouldn’t feel this heavy duty to do better.
The buzzing became too much to bear, the plastic smile was starting to hurt her cheeks; she excused herself and wandered out into the gardens, which were hidden under a sheet of snow.
The gardens were beautiful, massive, a winter wonderland, and they were just too much.
This had never been her, how had she ended up here? Her thoughts strayed to a night on the beach, several years ago. She remembered his warm embrace as the struggling fire lost its fight to the chilly sea air. A promise of comfort, warmth and happiness that had been ripped away from her. Now here she was; cold, uncomfortable and confused.
Her heart practically stopped dead, she dared not turn around. That voice, even after all these years she knew it so well.
“Jenna? Please look at me.”
She slowly turned, staring down at the snow, scared to meet those eyes not knowing what would happen if she did.
“Wow, you look… incredible! Different, but still so gorgeous.”
He had edged closer as he spoke and now he was inches away from her. Caving in to her desire to look upon his face she glanced up. Straight away she knew it was a mistake. A feeling of warmth spread through her, oblivious to the snow, and she itched to throw her arms around him.
But what little sanity she had left prevailed, so she took a step back and she found her voice.
“What are you doing here Kevin?”
He winced at her withdrawal from him and she instantly wanted to fall into his arms and wipe that look from his face.
“I’m here to stop you from making the biggest mistake of your life. It should be me you marry, not him!”
She felt as if her insides had turned to lead. Had he really just said that? Was he really here? Was this a dream?
“Say something Jenna!”
The silence was deafening. So many questions, which one to ask first?
“Why here? Why now? Where was this 3 years ago?”
“I know this is the worst timing ever, but you must know that I have never stopped loving you. I have spent every second missing you and regretting my decision. I thought I was doing the right thing for both of us! You wanted marriage, I didn’t. You wanted a family, I didn’t. But as soon as I heard you were getting married to someone else I couldn’t bear it! I jumped on the first flight over here, I was worried I would be too late…”
He reached out to her as he saw her moving to back away again and cursed.
“Jesus Jenna you’re freezing!”
He took off his jacket and threw it around her shoulders pulling her into his chest and wrapping his arms around her.
She couldn’t help it. Straight away it was as if they were back on that beach, his strong arms wrapped around her protecting her from the cold. But that small semblance of sanity refused to disappear and she drew away.
“You are too late. I’m getting married, today, to Jim.”
“Don’t say that, you know he isn’t right for you! None of this is you!”
Yes, he was right. None of this was her and she wanted none of it. But she was trapped; it was no longer her decision to make. The thought provoked a single tear to escape from the iron control she had held onto for so long. He softly swept it away and caressed her face, and, though she tried not to, she lent into his touch.
“See, you know I’m right. Leave with me now, please. Don’t do this.”
The agonizing need to run away with him, disappear and leave this charade behind was almost too much to bear. But she couldn’t, wouldn’t, do it. There was too much at stake, too much to lose and destroy.
The single word came out with more conviction than she imagined possible. She hid the pain from her face as his hand left her skin and the cold seeped back into her bones.
“You shouldn’t be here. You need to leave. Now.”
The agony on his face was a mirror of what was hiding within her. She couldn’t bear it any longer. Dropping the jacket in the snow she turned her back on him escaping back to the cacophony that had driven her unknowingly into his arms.
As her hand touched the door handle her resolve faltered and she risked a glance behind. He was gone. The winter wonderland was empty and cold once again, with only footsteps in the snow left to betray the cliff edge she’d been clinging too.
Would she ever see him again? Did she want to?
Taking a deep breath she resigned herself to her fate and entered back into the swarm of bridesmaids.
Everything seemed to be on fast forward.
The church was so full, everyone was staring at her, some were even crying tears of joy. She also felt like crying, but they weren’t tears of joy.
There were flowers everywhere, it was suffocating.
The priest was talking far too much and despite her efforts she just couldn’t concentrate on any of it.
This was supposed to be the happiest day of her life and all she felt was hollow, isolated despite the ridiculous crowd. She tore her gaze away from Jim; scared the guilt from her thoughts would be as clear as day in her eyes.
Scanning the crowd it was all she could do to hold her composure as she locked eyes with him.
What was he doing here? She had asked him to leave. No, she had told him to leave.
“If there is anyone present that believes there is any reason why these two should not be wed, speak now or forever hold your peace.”
The priest’s words brought her crashing back to Earth.
Oh God! Is that why he’s here? Is he going to say something?
Seconds seemed to turn into hours as the silence went uninterrupted. She couldn’t breathe, everything she wanted and everything she couldn’t have held onto life by a single thread. If he said nothing then the thread would snap and it would all be lost to her, forever.
“Marriage is a sacred union between husband and wife…”
The priest’s droning voice interrupted her train of thought and tearing her gaze away from Kevin she breathed for what felt like the first time in an age. He hadn’t said anything.
It was over.
“You may now kiss the bride.”
Somehow she had managed to make it through the vows but as Jim reached out to her it was almost impossible not to lean away. As his lips met hers she felt wracked with guilt. Guilt that she was kissing Jim in front of Kevin, guilt that she was thinking about Kevin whilst kissing Jim. It felt wrong and she felt like a traitor.
As Jim pulled away there was concern in his face and she was terrified he knew. She may never love him like she had loved Kevin but Jim had been kind to her; there for her when she had been left broken by the very man who was trying to steal her away today.
As they walked back up the aisle she scanned the crowd but he was gone. Again. He had disappeared as if he had never been there. Had he been there? There was no way she had imagined it, was there?
Jim jumped up and offered her his hand to help her climb onto the horse drawn carriage. A horse drawn carriage? Kevin’s words echoed in her mind “None of this is you!” Well it would just have to be now. As the carriage started its steady pace towards to reception Jim reached over and placed a tentative hand on her stomach.
“Just a few months. I can hardly believe it!”
The look of pure delight on his face told her everything she needed to know. She had made the right decision. Jim would be a wonderful father; her child would never know the pain she had. That was all that mattered; her happiness came second to that of her unborn child. Kevin had never wanted a family, let alone someone elses. He would never of understood that she was bearing Jim’s baby.
“I’m sorry you can’t drink at your own wedding, but wait till you hear some of the toasts, my mother is going to smother us with such sweet words you won’t even need wine.”
She smiled, the plastic smile she had grown so accustomed to. Reaching over she took his hand.
“I don’t need wine, I have you and that is all WE will ever need.”
As they neared the reception she knew that this was never going to be the happiest day of her life. This was a day of sacrifice and it was the hardest one she would ever have to make.