Either side of the aisle I see faces, some I know and some I don’t. My family have made the journey; aunts, uncles and cousins keen to get a look at Oscar and the fancy London high-life my mum has no doubt been regaling them with tales of. My colleagues, Oscar’s friends, his ex, Cressida, in a black dress and pearls (Black! What is she, in mourning?), his brother, Gerry, with strait-laced Fliss, tasteful in teal organza. And then I catch sight of Jack. I’m halfway down the aisle, and there he is, shockingly real and smarter than I think I’ve ever seen him. He’s even brushed his hair. I’m not sure what I think of Jack in a suit. But then I can’t think about that any more because his familiar eyes find mine, and I wish I could grip his hand for even a fleeting second before I become Oscar’s wife. With no Sarah here he feels like the only person who knows the real me. Perhaps it’s as well that he’s too far away from me. For a second I wonder whether Sarah told him anything about our fall-out. But they’ve barely spoken since their break-up, and he doesn’t look like he knows a thing. I shoot him the smallest of smiles, and he nods, and thank God my dad keeps walking because it leaves me no choice but to do the same thing.
We haven’t written our own vows. Lucille looked as if I’d asked for naked karaoke when I suggested it, and to be honest Oscar wasn’t very far behind her. I didn’t push it. I’d been half joking anyway, but the look on their faces told me the joke was in poor taste. What did I think this wedding was? Some kind of modern affair?
Oscar still has his back to me as we’d agreed, straight and proud. His mum thinks it looks unseemly if the groom gawks as the bride walks down the aisle, and I’m happy to go along with it so I can be beside him when we first see each other. It’s more tender, more us. We’ve both been so caught up in work and the wedding whirlwind lately, it feels as if we’ve barely had any proper time together; I can’t wait to see him today, to spend all of my time with him again. I hope on our honeymoon we can recapture the magic of those precious weeks in Thailand.
I’m there at last, and as I draw level with him he finally turns to look at me. His mum said he should lift my veil at this point; tricky, because I’m not wearing one. I should have told them, but I didn’t want to be railroaded into something that isn’t me for the sake of convention. I’ve opted instead for a delicate 1920s hair vine that the hairdresser has wound into my hair along with tiny fresh flowers, a serendipitous find in the same shop as the dress came from. It’s the prettiest thing, fine gold wire scattered with jewelled sea creatures: a seahorse, shells and, of course, a starfish. To the untrained eye it just looks suitably bridal, but I hope Oscar will see it as an intimate nod towards our history.
Regardless of the fact that I don’t have a veil, Oscar’s hands move to lift it; he’s practised every step of today in his head, and he looks momentarily wrong-footed that there’s nothing there until I smile and shake my head a tiny bit. ‘No veil,’ I mouth, and he laughs softly.
‘You’re beautiful,’ he whispers back.
‘Thank you,’ I smile, and his dark eyes flood me with love. He’s a world away from cut-off jeans and T-shirt right now, but that’s what I see when I look at him. My Robinson Crusoe, my rescuer, my love. I don’t think he’s even noticed that Sarah isn’t behind me. I don’t think he’d notice if the reverend flung off his cassock and performed an Irish jig around the altar, because he has eyes only for me, and those eyes are full of wonder and joy and love. However hard Lucille has tried to plan our wedding like a military operation, she hasn’t counted on these moments, and they are the ones I’ll remember long after my brain jettisons the salmon mousse for taking up too much space. He looks so dashing, every inch the groom. Everything about him is perfect: the artful flop of his hair, his shiny black wedding shoes, his dark, intense eyes as he looks at me for the first time. Has any man ever made a more picture-perfect groom? It’s as if all of those tiny grooms perched on top of wedding cakes across the country were modelled on him.
I wonder what HRH Lucille is making of my veil-free attire; she’s probably got a spare one in a bag in the vestry just in case. No doubt she’ll try to force it on me the second we get out of here.
When the priest asks whether anyone has knowledge of any lawful impediment I wonder, fleetingly, about Sarah; will she crash through the church door and tell everyone what I’ve done?
This doesn’t happen, of course. In what seems like a few seconds I find myself walking back down the aisle wearing Oscar’s diamond and platinum band on the third finger of my left hand, the church bells ringing out. We walk hand in hand and everyone applauds. Just before we step out into the pale winter sunshine, Oscar carefully ties the ribbons of my fur stole, then kisses me.
‘My wife,’ he whispers, cupping my face.
‘My husband,’ I say, then turn my face and kiss his palm.
My heart is full to bursting and I feel a pure joy at the simple truth of it; he’s my husband and I’m his wife.
The photographer has had his work cut out gathering our two families together for the pictures. Oscar’s mum seems determined to be art director; my lovely mum even took me aside at one point to tell me she might throttle Lucille before the day is out. We had a little laugh about it and mimed choking her, and then straightened our faces and went back inside to pose for the pictures.
My family have been the only thing keeping me sane. Oscar’s ex, Cressida, mistook my brother for a waiter and complained that her champagne wasn’t chilled enough. So he remedied it with ice cubes fished from a nearby water jug. When she caught him doing it and threatened to have him sacked he took great delight in telling her he was my brother, in his strongest Midlands accent of course. He’s still in ‘wet the baby’s head’ mode after the recent birth of my gorgeous baby nephew, Thomas, who looks so angelic today that he’s almost upstaged me as the centre of attention. Daryl took me aside for a little heart to heart earlier and asked if I’d like to be Tom’s godmother next summer – talk about making a girl cry on her wedding day! I love my family so much, never more so than today when we’re so badly outnumbered by Oscar’s side.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for the speeches.’
Oh God! I completely forgot that Sarah was going to make a speech. She had it specially time-tabled in as the first one, and her absence is going to screw up Queen Lucille’s carefully scheduled programme. It would have helped if I’d remembered to tell her but I didn’t, and now the red-faced toastmaster has just asked everyone to give the Matron of Honour a hearty round of applause. People are clapping, but it’s that slow, scrappy, confused kind of clap when the crowd know that something is amiss and aren’t quite sure what to do. Christ, don’t the staff in this place communicate? You’d think the fact that the top table had to be hastily rearranged when we arrived would have alerted them to the fact of Sarah’s absence, but no, he’s calling her name again now and looking towards us expectantly. Oscar, bless him, looks horrified, as if he knows he should do something but has no idea what, and Lucille leans forward and gives me a ‘do something right now’ stare. I look out at the sea of faces in front of me and start to get to my feet, wondering what the hell is going to come out of my mouth. Lying to people one by one about Sarah’s absence was excruciating enough. I’m not sure I’ve got the bare-faced cheek to lie to all of these people in one go. But what else am I supposed to tell them? That Sarah discovered I once loved her boyfriend and now she can’t stand the sight of me? My heart starts to race and I feel my face going red. Then there’s the sound of someone scraping their chair back on the parquet and clearing their throat to speak.
A murmur ripples around the room, a low buzz of anticipation that this might be about to get juicy.
‘As Sarah isn’t able to be here, Laurie’s asked me to say a few words instead.’ He looks at me, a question in his eyes. ‘I was lucky enough to play third wheel to Sarah and Laurie for a fair few years, so I’ve got a good idea of what she’d have liked to say if she were here.’