Short Story : Third Time Lucky, sort of

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Derek is good marriage material and this is precisely why it is no surprise that he is getting married.

For the third time.

Derek’s first marriage, through no fault of his, lasted only two months. It is his good fortune that Derek did not love his first wife although he did convince himself otherwise. He had to because she was pregnant and Derek had never been the kind of man to walk away from his responsibilities. The couple even bought a house together and on the day they were to move in, which was somewhere in the beginning of the second trimester, she admitted to him that the child was not his. The real father, she informed him, was Derek’s best friend Angus McCummerbund, who was already married but had done “it” with her numerous times in multiple locations, most of which were somewhat public;  bathrooms of restaurants and changing rooms of apparel stores, that sort of thing. Anyway, long story short, Derek no longer has a best friend and neither has he a child. Both reside together with his first wife in a small farm in North Lincolnshire.

Before I go on to tell you about the real love of Derek’s life, his soon-to-be wife Miranda, I must put Derek’s second marriage out of the way. Ah, that one was entirely his fault and entirely illegal. After a drunken night at his friend’s twenty-fifth birthday in Cardiff, Derek ended up having sexual intercourse with a rather elderly, bun-faced housekeeping lady at the Ivy Cottage Lodge. In the morning, while he was still hungover and vulnerable, Bogdana chose to unburden her sorrows and cried buckets while telling him of her difficult life in Romania and her employment contract which was on the verge of expiry. He married her so that she could apply for citizenship and thus continue to live and work in the UK. Bogdana’s residency was rejected because she had a criminal record for shoplifting and worse still, she refused to sign the divorce papers until he paid her a sum of four hundred pounds for a ticket home.

It was the best money Derek ever spent.

Now, at long last, Derek is going to marry a woman he is convinced is the one for him. Thus, no expense will be spared for this genuine wedding and every single detail will be perfectly curated by his soon-to-be Mrs. This is why he and Miranda stand here now, before the offices of Ethan & Jolie Wedding Planners on the first floor of 11, Harbinger Street.

Miranda presses the button on the little keypad console and a female voice comes through the speaker-holes.

“Hi there, how may I help you?”

“Hello. This is Miranda. I am with my fiancé, Derek. We have an appointment with Jolie.”

“Yes sure, come right in.”

The door clicks and Miranda pushes it open. They enter the small reception area that is furnished with a modest set of sofas, a basic coffee table (wedding magazines are stacked high on top of it), a water dispenser and a vase full of pink roses on top of a side table.

The only empty wall boasts a large signboard that reads:

Ethan and Jolie Wedding Planners.

Celebrating your love the way it should be.

“A bit presumptuous, don’t you think?” Miranda says.

Derek raises his eyebrows, “What’s presumptuous?”

“How do they know how our love should be celebrated?” Miranda explains.

“Oh, I don’t think they mean it that way darling. I am sure they will ask us how we would like to celebrate our love.”

“I don’t know, but I can tell you right now I don’t like that signboard. I know what kind of celebration I want and how can someone who has never…” Miranda turns at the sound of a pair of heels. A young bespectacled woman is coming out of a corridor that neither Derek or Miranda have noticed.

“Hi, I am Jolie’s assistant, Amy. Jolie will be right with you, She’s just finishing up a conference call. Please take a seat. Help yourselves to some magazines.”

Amy disappears into the magical corridor and the couple make themselves comfortable on the purple sofa.

“Feels like waiting at the doctor’s, doesn’t it? You think Ethan is her husband?” Miranda says.

“Ethan?”

“You know, Ethan and Jolie…You think Ethan and Jolie are husband and wife?”

“They could be,” Derek replies.

“I bet he’s queer. These wedding planner types usually are. They must be brother and sister. Wonder why he won’t see us, if she’s busy. Are you sure they’re any good?”

Derek isn’t sure, but now that they are already here in this office and Miranda is asking in the way she is, he feels compelled to vouch for them. “Edmund used them. He said they did everything they said they would and were good value for money.”

“Is that why we are here? Because they’re cheap? I hated Edmund’s wedding. The flower arrangements were the ugliest I have ever seen. And that band. Do you know the guitarist hit on Edmund’s sister?”

“I didn’t know Edmund had a sister.”

“Oh God, I can already feel we are in the wrong place. I don’t want a wedding like Edmund’s.”

“It will be fine, darling. Trust me. We will tell them exactly what we want. And anyway, at least these guys come with a recommendation. You detested the last planners we met.”

“And you should have too! They were suggesting a Star Wars themed wedding.’

“Now, now, that wasn’t entirely their fault. You told them you wanted something different and special.”

“Yes I did, but I hardly meant outer space!”

Miranda’s voice is rising, becoming unsuitably loud and Derek decides he must take control of this rapidly deteriorating situation before she storms out of the room. He slides closer to her on the sofa so that their bodies touch, his thigh warmly against hers, his hand reaching out and grasping hers tightly. “Darling.” He looks into her eyes. “I promised you a dream wedding and we will have nothing less than that. If Nathan and Jolie…”

“Ethan,” Miranda interrupts him.

“Oh it doesn’t matter what the fellow’s name is. If Nathan or Ethan or Jolie cannot assure us of that, we will find someone who can.”

Miranda’s eyes begin to well up and her lips break into a quivering I-love-you-so-much-right-now smile. Derek breathes a secret sigh of relief. He knows he is out of the woods and in the safe-zone. He leans forward in smug confidence to kiss his future wife. Their lips meet.

“Awwww, what a sweet couple you both are. I am so sorry to disturb you lovebirds ,but Jolie is ready to see you now.” Amy leads Derek and Miranda through that secret corridor and into Jolie’s office. It is small and cluttered, but in an organized way. There are many files and binders, mood boards and fabric swatches, photographs of wedding cakes, happy couples and for some reason, among all of this, there is a picture of a large ape up on the wall.

They make introductions and Jolie, an affable young woman with darkest of hair and lightest of eyes, sincerely enquires about their wedding plans. What kind of venue, cuisine, budget, music, guest list?

Miranda has all the answers and while she gives them, Derek looks around the room and in particular settles his gaze at the photograph. It does not seem to be cut out from a magazine. It looks like a Polaroid, like it was taken by someone real. Could the ape be a pet? No, that can’t be legal.

“Something the matter?” Jolie pauses between the conversation she is having with Miranda.

Derek gestures at the picture of the ape.

“Oh him? He’s Ethan. I adopted him a few years ago when I visited Africa. I sponsor him, he’s an orphan. He has been so lucky for me,” Jolie says.

“Ethan is an ape?” Miranda exclaims.

“You’ve been to Africa?” Derek adds. “I have always wanted to go to Africa. I wanted to go there for our honeymoon.”

“But we are going to Paris instead. It is my dream to kiss beneath the Eiffel Tower,” Miranda says.

“Be careful when you’re there. Lots of pickpockets in Paris. They almost got me.”

“You’ve been to Paris too?” Derek asks.

“I do love to travel.”

“Me too. I found Paris to be a tad overrated. The coffee and croissants were lovely though.”

“Oh you must eat at this little pastry shop by the Champs Elysees –wait,what is it called again? Ah! Le Petit Patisserie. Ask for the Pain au Chocolat.”

“Can we get back to the wedding, if you don’t mind?” Miranda interrupts.

“Of course. I am so sorry. Yes, where were we? Tell me a little bit more about the two of you. I want to make sure I understand your story, your personalities. You see, I believe a wedding must be a reflection of the couple and what binds them together. How did you both meet?”

Derek takes hold of Miranda’s hand, “We worked together.”

“Yes, we did. He was in marketing and I was a design assistant.”

They leave it at that. No point going into details, is there? The story is nicer like this, without all the stuff about the office Christmas party, the alcohol, the pantry and them both getting fired right after for sharing photos on the company cloud account. That is what bound them, if Jolie really wanted to know; the fact that they were both out of a job for banging each other and making it public while inconceivably drunk. But that didn’t take away from what they had now. Sometimes you discover love in that strangest of ways.

Derek and Miranda met every day for lunch in between job-hunting and both found new employment fairly quickly. And they discovered that not working together made them miss each other all the more. They hadn’t fully realized their mutual fondness until that point. Distance does make the heart grow fonder.

“Is there any colour or theme or style you had in mind?”

Derek is interrupted at the “wh” of “white.”

“Pink. A faded powdery pink. And lots of flowers.”

On and on it goes for two hours; design and decor, centerpieces and hair stylists and cake stylists and photographers and Stationary and band options and caterer options. Derek keeps himself occupied by fiddling with his phone; reading emails, replying to text messages and smiling at unread jokes. He dutifully pauses when Miranda seeks his opinion, but it doesn’t happen all that often, because she has exited the real world and entered the parallel universe of bouquets and brunch menus.

As Derek and Miranda leave Ethan and Jolie Party Planners, Derek compares the look on Miranda’s face now with the time they had sex three times in one night; spent but satisfied, content, comfortable. She is not like this often and he is mighty pleased with himself and even more pleased with Edmund. He makes a mental note to buy the good man a beer one of these days. Now the burden of a perfect wedding is off his shoulders. Jolie’s quote of one thousand eight hundred pounds is worth every last penny. If all goes well, in three months he will be well on his way to an impeccable and enjoyable married life.

Every day for the next eight weeks Miranda is kept busy in the company of Jolie. She is either texting her, emailing her or meeting her. Together they decide on invitations, theme, venue, color scheme, tableware, candle bras and many, many other such matrimonial paraphernalia. Derek strives hard to stay engrossed when Miranda calls him at all sorts of hours to regurgitate details of the origin of the lace of her wedding gown or the kind of fork she has decided to use for the dessert course.

Time passes in the way it does and before Derek or Miranda realize it, the wedding day is upon them. The venue is the quaint Coswell Lodge, a fourteenth century manor turned hotel with thirty bedrooms, large and richly green gardens, a lovely little vineyard and a commanding view of the countryside. The ceremony is to take place on the lawns at the rear of the hundred-acre property. Derek’s two brothers, his widowed mum, his five best friends, Edmund (and his newly discovered sister), some aunts and uncles, other relatives (that he didn’t want to invite but had to because if he didn’t his mum would never let him marry in peace) and his boss are all in attendance.

Miranda’s side of the family consists of a lot of women. In fact, if one was to stand on the wedding stage and look out at the sixty odd guests at the bride’s side of the canopies, they would find exactly three men. One is Miranda’s ex-boyfriend Roy, who Derek both detests and suspects (Miranda has assured him there is nothing between them, but Derek does not understand why Roy is still single and always ready to lunch with her). The other is Miranda’s stepfather who claims his father was knighted by the queen of England and that he himself has fought in two wars (no medals or photographs to prove), and the last man is Miranda’s sister Edna,who is now her brother Eddie.

Derek is in his room. He stands in front of the full mirror adjusting the knot of his silk tie. He’s picked this tie out of all the others at the shop because of three reasons; its color, a deep amethyst which is his birth stone;the white prints on the tie,which are little Eiffel Towers that you can’t make out unless you lean forward and inspect the tie at close range, and finally because it is made in France where they will be going for their honeymoon tomorrow morning.

His shirt is crisp and his suit (he hates wearing a tux) is a dark blue with a wonderful sheen. He checks his wristwatch.It is ten past ten. He is ready ahead of time. He has been told to be at the ceremony by eleven and it is a pleasant twelve-minute walk across his patio, then through the vineyards to the canopies.

Derek opens the cupboard of the minibar and helps himself to one of the miniature bottles of vodka. He then turns on the television, surfs channels back and forth and finally stops pressing buttons when a troop of apes appear on the screen. It is a wildlife documentary. He turns up the volume and drinks the vodka in one gulp. He checks the time again. Only five minutes have passed. Eyes still on the screen, Derek gets up and goes back to the minibar to take a bag of peanuts, a mini of gin and a mini of whiskey. This show is interesting: magnificent creatures. These fellows are filmed in Africa, but he learns that apes are also found in parts of Southeast Asia. Oh, how he would love to visit Asia someday. There is so much to see in this big, big world.

The clock strikes eleven and all heads are turned, eyes wide in anticipation at the thick quilt of green, the delicate vineyards, the majestic oaks and the curving hills beyond. The pathway is lined with petals. The pianist awaits his turn as the soft classical music from the speakers starts to fade. Derek is nowhere to be seen. Not now, not in fifteen minutes and, it seems, not any time in the conceivable future.

The rest of the morning is a mishmash of tears, failed phone calls, upset family members and an inconsolable bride. Thank goodness for Roy, though, because he does seem to be able to make Miranda feel just a little bit better. The lunch buffet, because it has already been paid for, is served and the guests eat in the absence of a wedded couple. By three o clock, despite Jolie’s repeated announcements of the dinner reception still going ahead as planned, cars begin to pull out of the driveway. It is all over. Coswell Lodge is empty.

As evening comes, Jolie sits at the edge of the small river just outside the lodge and plays with a blade of grass. The dismantling of the canopies is over,but she still needs to stay to make sure her team of contract workers load every last rented fork into the lorries. What a sad thing to happen to a bride, she thinks. And why would a man do something this dreadful to a woman he loves? Unless he didn’t love Miranda, which he would know in the first place, wouldn’t he? Why plan this wedding then?

She takes her mind back to the first time she saw them at her office. They certainly looked like they loved each other. You would know, wouldn’t you, if you loved someone enough to marry them? You would know that loved them more than anything or anyone else in this world, loved them enough to commit to spend the rest of your life with them.

Her phone beeps and she hopes to God it is not the damned band for tonight. They’ve been calling incessantly. When she informed them that the gig was off, they were quite upset. She explained that there has been no wedding,thus there can be no celebration and at this the lead singer dived into an ocean of expletives and didn’t stop till she reminded him that he had already been paid in full. Now he keeps texting with pleas of We can still come sing? and can we just do a few songs?

But it is not the band. It is a number she knows but hasn’t saved.

Hi, please don’t tell them it is me. I never asked you much about Ethan. When are you planning on visiting him in Africa next?

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