The cheerful refrain of church bells rang out on the streets of Melif, saluting passers-by and summoning the latecomers to the wedding of Hermann Florian Dennison and Alba Rhian O’Brian. The wedding was to take place in a parish church near to the canal, and not in the magnificent catherdral near to the university, but it was still a pretty church, with jewel-like windows and gold-gilted goblets.
Gabrielle just let her eyelids drop and leaned her weight on the stone pillar in her corner of the vestry, snaking her arms around its comforting solidity and hugging it tightly. If only the stone wasn’t so cold and hard and grey. A pillar could not hug back.
“Coming, Gab?” said a soft voice behind her, and Gabrielle detached herself from the pillar and nodded to the bride, who was decked in the customary white dress.
Gabrielle followed her to rejoin the other bridesmaids, who consisted of Meriel, the flower girl, radiant in a light pink dress, Trudy in a rather becoming turquoise, and Gabrielle herself, in emerald green, with a wreath of evergreens perched on her head, a halo to show that she was maid-of-honour.
Gabrielle sighed, thinking how handsome Alba was in that delicate sparkling veil passed down the generations, and that pure white dress, low but not too low, and implicitly beautiful. The long pale-to-white hair flowed down her back in a cascade of moonlight, and her normally-pallid blue eyes were alight with an inner peace and contentment, now misted by an anxiety for a friend. How kind and good she was!
All of a sudden the bells ceased in their seemingly relentless pealing, and almost at once the organ started up.
"Ready?" said Alba with shining eyes, and Meriel gave a small skip of excitement. She pulled the wispy veil over her face, giving her an air of silvery mystery. "Let's go then."
Meriel went first with her basket of posies, followed by Gabrielle and Trudy side-by-side, and finally the bride, Alba, on the arm of her father, Joel O'Brian, a renowned firework manufacturer.
The wedding march blared into recognition, and the little procession began to move, slowly, but surely, as they always say, down the aisle. Gabrielle was curious adout the church, which she had never seen before, but did not dare to glance about her for fear of tripping up or looking out of place. She dearly did not want to spoil Hermann and Alba's wedding, for their sake, now that she was here.
Instead she fixed her eyes on the black-suited figure of Hermann, patiently waiting at the altar for his bride. As she looked, Hermann's eyes seemed to peer straight at her, right into her heart, into her soul, into her deepest feelings. Gabrielle resisted the urge to wriggle, even as her lips unconsciously parted.
But no. They reached the altar, and the bridesmaids turned to stand at one side. Alba stayed in the middle, and as Hermann clasped her white hands and gazed into her eyes, Gabrielle felt sick at heart. How could she be so awful as to think such thoughts on their wedding day?
The vows passed smoothly, and the rings exchanged. Then came the famous words, "You may kiss the bride," and Hermann leaned over, and...
Gabrielle blinked, feeling her heart give a final wrench. And when she looked at Hermann again, she realised for the first time that his hips were rather wise and his hands slightly flabby. She realised that his eyes had an early splay of crow's feet and his hair ever so slightly thin on top. She exhaled, and prepared for the future.
There were still two years left of university at least, and therefore plenty to be getting on with in the meantime. After that she didn't know, but it was a way off yet. Hermann was lost to her, and she knew it finally.
The wedding over, the guests began to disperse into the parish room, led by the happy couple and their parents. Meriel was off dancing after them all, in her usual younger-than-sixteen manner, and Trudy had slipped away a moment before. Gabrielle took a moment to look for her, wherever she was, not knowing anyone else and not liking to intrude on the party in the parish room alone and awkward.
She caught sight of Trudy's flashing green eyes almost immediately, some way near the back of the church. She was hugging a tall broad-shouldered man in a grey suit, who seemed vaguely familiar. Gabrielle would've turned away. She was unwelcome in that scene. Trudy, too, had a partner in love. She, Gabrielle, was bitterly alone. But something held her gaze. Something did not allow her to look away.
And then the man turned round. And Gabrielle saw him: a tall man with short brown hair and fearless grey eyes.
It was Dominick Cardington.