“Can’t you go any faster?” I called to the driver in the front seat, pleading for a reassuring answer in return.
“I’m already over the speed limit, love,” he replied apologetically, looking at me through his rear view mirror, “if I go any faster and get snapped by a speeding camera or pulled over by a copper I’ll have my license taken off me.”
“It’s okay, just… make sure you take the quickest route and try to avoid speed cameras.” I answered with a disheartened sigh. The driver responded with a curt nod and turned onto the next left. Recognising the buildings outside of the car, I came to the conclusion that it wouldn’t take much longer to get there and that, unless something extremely traumatic took place, I should get there just in time.
My clutch bag vibrated on my lap. I undid the clasp and retrieved my phone, glancing down at the screen and groaning at the name that flashed across it: Mum. I opened the text message,
Where are you!? Everyone’s waiting for you. Mum x
I replied shortly and simply, not wanting to start an argument via text message; especially not with Mum,
On my way!
She was right though. Everyone was waiting for me, and had been waiting some time now. I felt sorry for them all sat there not quite knowing what was going on. To be completely honest, I could relate to them and had felt more or less exactly the same for quite some time now, although my reasons for this feeling had been for slightly different reasons than theirs. Everything in the past few months had happened so quickly that I wasn’t sure where to look next or how to react. I just felt… lost, almost. And perhaps a little confused or distracted. I couldn’t quite place my finger on it. All I knew was that my life would soon change forever if things continued on as they had been. The only problem was I didn’t know if it was for the better or the worse. Only time could tell.
The tapping of my manicured fingernails against the case of my phone irritated me, so I stopped and returned it into my bag, resting it on my lap as my knees twitched nervously. My breaths drew sharper the closer we got and, once parked outside, my stomach was in knots. As I gazed upon the historic, stone building outside terrible memories filled my mind.
“There now, love,” the driver called back, startling me suddenly, “just in the nick of time.”
“Thank you,” I stammered, reaching for the door handle, “thank you very much.” I stepped out of the car and began to make my way up the path towards the church. I heard another car pull up behind me which gave me the incentive to hurry up. I was late.
I quickened my pace, lifting the skirt of my vintage floor length silk satin dress from the ground, so not to tear it on the gravel path below. My ivory heels, loaned to me by Mum, crunched against the petite stones and the silver bracelet, bought brand new earlier that week, with an encrusted blue topaz on my right wrist jangled with the momentum. I was only really able to catch a glimpse of the outside of the building, known for its beauty and place in the history books. I spied Mum waiting impatiently at the thick wooden doors with a look that could kill when she finally spotted me.
“Finally!” she exclaimed, ushering me through one of the opened doors, “Everyone’s been waiting. Ben was starting to get worried.”
“Well, I’m here now so there’s no need to worry.” I replied, smiling nervously. She returned the gesture weakly and placed her hand on the small of my back, prompting me through a second set of doors and into the main procession hall.
The atmosphere within the church was warm and friendly with music being played by the organist filling the cavernous space softly. The quiet murmur of guests could also be heard intertwined between each note as they all gazed at Mum and I as we walked down the alter together side by side. Adding to the surprising warmth of the ancient building, the sudden pop of summer colours from the arrangements of calla lilies, snapdragons, tiger lilies and various other wild flowers at the end of pews and either end of the alter added a clever distraction and dismissed the fact that it was actually the end of winter and freezing outside.
Despite the beauty that the church held, my eyes scanned for the one person I wanted to see and his eyes fixed onto mine too. An expression of relief spread across his face as he gazed back at me with his familiar smile appearing at each step I took towards him. My heart melted.
As mum parted away from me and took her place in one of the pews, I continued on towards him. He looked so handsome stood there in his suit with his brother nervously stood beside him. The resemblance between the two of them was undeniable but it was evident that he was still the better looking younger sibling. I had caught a keeper and I never intended to let go of him ever again. I loved him and he loved me and that’s all that mattered.
“Hello, stranger,” I smirked as I stopped before him, smiling ridiculously, “I told you I’d get here.”
“Yeah, but only just,” He replied with a similar smirk, “you did bring them, right?”
“Of course I did,” I answered, rolling my eyes as I unclasped my bag. I retrieved the two white gold wedding bands from the inner zipped pocket of the bag and placed them into Ben’s outstretched hand, “and I wouldn’t have been so late if you’d have remembered them yourself.”
“You’re an absolute star, Casey. Did I ever tell you that I love you?”
“It may have slipped out in conversation.” I replied. My cheeks flushed red as he leant down towards me and kissed me. Even still I couldn’t quite believe how lucky I’d been and that each kiss left me feeling just as it had done the first time.
“I love you, Casey Stewart.” He whispered as we parted.
“I love you too, Ben Russo.” I responded, gliding my hand down his cheek before returning to my seat beside Mum in one of the middle pews. That was when the hall fell to a hush as the organist’s music began to resemble the traditional wedding march. All eyes were on the beautiful girl in the white lace wedding gown whose arm was linked into her weeping father’s arm as they walked down the alter, followed by two bridesmaids in slinky, form fitting satin gowns.
However, no matter how beautiful the bride looked, my eyes were fixed on the little boy that toddled in front in his fancy little suit, which matched those worn by Ben and his brother, as he made his way towards his daddy. Many chuckled to themselves as they watched my little James run up to Ben with excitement. I had never been more proud of James in all my life than I did at that moment. Watching him as his uncle’s pageboy was something that both Ben and I would remember and treasure for the rest of our lives.
The ceremony itself was very short, with two hymns sung and the traditional “Do you, George John Russo, take Penny Isis Stone to be your lawfully wedded wife” and vice versa throughout but it was beautiful all the same, if not a tad bit boring.
Despite the fact that I’d managed to successfully stifle three yawns during the service, everything had gone off without a hitch and Mr. and Mrs. George Russo were now officially man and wife and all was merry and bright. All that was left to do at the church was for them to sign the wedding register and for photographs to be taken within the church grounds.
Once outside, the warmth of the church vanished instantly and the reality of the winter breeze hit set teeth chattering. It was times like this that I’d wished I’d worn a cardigan or light jacket; just something to help keep the cold from my bear arms. James was with Ben and the wedding party posing for the necessary photographs whilst all other guests stood around chatting and smiling away exclaiming what “a wonderful ceremony it had been” and that “wasn’t Penny the most beautiful bride they’d ever laid eyes on”. Mum joined these likes, leaving me to stray on the edge of the group looking a little out of place and lost. My mind was wondering away from the wedding itself and was more concerned with the memories that this particular church yard festered; and to who to was now home to. I wasn’t far and no one would really notice if I disappeared for just a few minutes. I took a quick glance over to Ben, who was beaming at the photographer’s camera with James in his arms, and edged away from the group to the steps that lead down to the grave yard.
The bear trees provided no more shelter from the wind than up the shallow slope to the church. In fact, the sight of rows of grave stones and the suspected eeriness that came with grave yards made it seem colder. I hugged my arms tightly as I passed the resting places of the deceased, scanning the various names and dates carved into them:
William Arthur Bates, Born 28th April 1935, Died 8th June 1976.
Reginald J. Hollow, Born 7th October 1890, Died 2nd February 1959.
Julie Anne Moore, Born 16th May 1970, Died 5th July 1990.
I came to halt at the next name I laid eyes on and a sharp, icy prong stabbed at my chest. My breathing became heavy and all the dreadful memories came flooding back to me; the car crash, the aftermath, the guilt, the anguish, the distraught look on Theresa McFarlow’s face as I walked out of that hospital room and the hateful, scornful words that she’d thrown at me:
“This is all your fault!”
Tear drops dripped down my cheeks stinging my icy cheeks as the fell,
“I you hadn’t have been playing with his emotions, he’d still be here!”
A small croak erupted from my throat as I choked on my own tear drops,
“You’ve been nothing but trouble since the moment I first met you!”
I grasped hold of a handful of material at my stomach and gripped tight as I tried to compose myself,
“You’re the reason he’s dead!”
I closed my eyes, willing for the painful memories to disappear,
“You killed him!”
The contact of the hand on my shoulder startled me and my eyes opened wide:
Marcus Joseph McFarlow, Born October 13th 1989, Died October 4th 2009.
“You shouldn’t keep torturing yourself like this, Casey,” Ben’s sweet voice rang in my ear, “it won’t change what has happened.”
“I know.” I whispered. I could break my gaze at the sight of his name and the details of his short life sprawled across that cold, stone block. No sooner had be entered our world for him to be cruelly taken away before his time. The evidence was all there, plain and simple, for all who passed by to bear witness to. He would had just missed a birthday when his life had been taken from him; his twentieth. He was still a teenager when he’d died… when I’d killed him, because I had really. I was entirely my fault that he was dead and I not a single day went by when it didn’t cross my mind. I was my fault.
“It was not your fault that he died,” Ben’s reassuring words encouraged me, almost as though reading my mind, “he was speeding and driving recklessly. It was his own fault for not being more careful. His death was entirely accidental. You are not to blame.”
“The only reason he was speeding was because he was angry.” I retaliated.
“Yes, with me.”
“No, he was angry with me. He was angry because he knew that there was still something between us, even if I couldn’t see it. He knew that if I had to pick between either of you, in a life and death situation, he’d have no chance and that I’d choose you in a heartbeat. He was angry because I was breaking his heart each second that I began to fall back in love with you.” I was beginning to feel hysterical and the tears were flooding down my face. Ben pulled me away from the direction of the grave stone and pulled me into his arms, holding me tightly in his arms as I balled. His chest was warm and his embrace was comforting. I let the anger and remorse melt away as he held me as he gently murmured kind words into my ear:
“You are most sincere person I know.”
“The world would be dull and colourless without you in it.”
“You shouldn’t blame yourself for something fate had control of.”
“You are the most beautiful person in the entire world.”
“I love you.”
And I loved Ben, with all my heart, but even he would never be able to completely remove the pain I felt in my heart or the memories that haunted me every day.
“Come on, they’ll want to take the group photos soon and I don’t think red eyes and tear stained cheeks will go down all too well in the wedding album.”
“Urgh, I hate having my picture taken.” I groaned, smirking slightly.
“You’ll look beautiful. You are beautiful. Now come on and don’t worry your pretty little head off about the past anymore. You’ve got plenty to look forward to in the future.” He smiled sweetly releasing me from his hold and leading me back up towards the church, taking my left hand in his right. I glanced down at the sparkling diamond that sat gracefully on my ring finger and smiled weakly.
Yes, I had plenty to look forward to in the future.