Despite their wedding being on a budget, George and Penny had definitely used what money they had to good use. For their wedding reception, they’d managed to hire the entirety of one of the most authentic Italian restaurant establishments in the area, which fit well with the Russo family’s Italian ancestry. The restaurant had been decorated fittingly for the occasion and looked utterly stunning. The rustic feel of the place was a complete opposite to the traditional church setting we’d just arrived from. Scanning the length and breadth of the room and taking in the atmosphere with the classic Italian music filling each crevice of the room softly, it was evident that this was the perfect venue for the newlyweds.
“It’s nice here, isn’t it?” I heard Ben say beside me. I turned to follow his voice and smiled at his sweet face.
“It’s beautiful,” I answered, taking hold of his hand and squeezing gently, “they’ve done such a good job in here. It looks like we’re in a completely different place.”
“Yeah, it does. Maybe it’s somewhere we can consider for our reception,” He then added. My heart stopped for a brief moment at those words. I forced a weak smile in agreement. I hadn’t expected it at all and had taken me by surprise, “I’ll be back. I just need to have a word with someone for a second. I love you.”
“You too.” I answered, as he kissed my cheek delicately before leaving. This gave me a moment to reflect on what had just happened. Any normal person would have had a flutter of excitement at the prospect of a possible venue for their wedding, but somehow that just hadn’t happened for me. Instead, it was more like a flutter of fear, and I couldn’t quite place why. I loved Ben, I really did, but whenever the topic of our wedding came up I just seemed to not be as excited as I should be. I wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of my life with him and James as a family but the process of getting to that point was a confusing
and scary thought.
It had been nearly two months since Ben had asked me to marry him and since then I hadn’t been able to think straight. To start I was excited, or I thought I was, but now… I just felt like I wasn’t completely sure about my decision. I’d wanted nothing more… We’d wanted nothing more. When we were together the first time it had always been something that I could see someday happening. It just felt right. We had a son together, for goodness sake! What other proposal could have been better?
Mum had found the decision quick and rushed and wasn’t overly impressed but accepted our choices. In theory, she probably would have wanted our situations to have been reversed: fall in love, get married and then have a baby. But I guess not all love stories and destinies follow the same trend. Ben and I… we’re different from anyone else that I know. We, as two individuals, are complete opposite ends of the spectrum from each other and, in any normal reality, shouldn’t be right for each other. But it’s these differences that do make us perfect for each other, like to opposite poles on a magnet: two positives and two minuses don’t work together.
But then there are all the things that have happened between us that have made us see the worst of each other. It was clearly obvious to everyone who knew me that I wasn’t completely over the whole scenario involving Marc’s death the previous autumn and that the images of that incident constantly haunted my dreams. I knew that it upset Ben to see how much it affected me and how I still showed some sort of feelings towards Marc. Even though our relationship hadn’t been the most simple or straight forward, I wouldn’t have been lying if I’d said that I had loved Marc at the time.
However, the people that I’d felt the most sorry for when Marc died was his parents, Theresa in particular. She’d lost her second child, something that no parent should ever have to experience once let alone twice, and she hadn’t dealt with it well. Even to this day, she still blames me for Marc’s death and communication between the two of us was pretty much null and void. All of the communication between our two families was through my Mum and Jerry. He’d mourned for his son but was able to look past the circumstances and tried to remain as positive as was physically possible. Unlike his wife, he hadn’t blamed me for the accident but blamed the mess that had initially caused it, which sort of pointed in my direction still.
I was just thankful that they still respected my wishes and allowed me to have access to James. I had been pleasantly surprised when Jerry had said we could have him over the Christmas and New Year period, with much frustration and disapproval on Theresa’s part. It had been such a distraction from the mess that Ben and I were in and was the only constant for me to worry about and focus on. I loved being James’ mother and I had been counting the days until I would be old enough to file for full time custody and remove him from the care of the McFarlows. Although I’d been grateful of their help and cooperation in the fostering system, I was ready to take care of my son on a full-time basis. If things had been different and I could go back and change them, I would never have put him in their care to begin with. I was doing well in college and I was set to pass with decent grades. I now had a part-time job and was saving towards a future with my two boys. But this dream was still a fair way away in the distance. There was marriage and commitment to worry about too.
“Everything all right, dear?” an unfamiliar voice asked, startling me. I turned to face them and relaxed at the sight of Ben’s grandmother, “you’ve been staring at that same spot now for quite a while.”
“Oh, yes. I’m fine thank you, Mrs. Russo. I was just thinking about… things.” I replied, smiling politely. I’d never had a proper chance to speak to Ben’s grandparents on his father’s side of the family before as they lived in Italy but they seemed very nice people, his grandmother in particular. There were qualities in her that I also saw in her son, Ben’s father.
“Oh, good. And there’s no need to call me Mrs. Russo, dear. Please, call me Carol. Or, even better, call me Grandma. After all, you’ll soon be family if things go as planned.” She smiled gleefully and gave a cheeky wink before being distracted by another guest. I was left where I was taking in what Ben’s grandmother had just said to me. Although I liked them, Ben’s family didn’t half know how to drop a hint. The only problem was, the more they mentioned it the more it terrified me. Maybe Mum was right, maybe Ben and I should wait a while before we considered getting married. After all, we hadn’t been together that long before we’d broken up and we hadn’t particularly been in the right frame of mind when the proposal was made.
I spied Ben from across the room talking with the newlyweds and noticed the joy in his face. His eyes meet mine and they warmed up instantly, his smile widening the longer his gaze was on me. I smiled back to hide the concerns in my mind and made my way over towards him.
“Casey!” George chimed as I approached. As I neared he wrapped an arm around me tightly and pulled me into a hug of some sort. Like his grandparents, I’d not had the pleasure to spend that much time with Ben’s older brother either but the times I had I’d always been pulled into an awkward hug. George always seemed to be in a good mood and I’d never witnessed or heard of him getting overly aggressive or angry with anyone before, “How’s my future sister-in-law doing, eh?”
“Great, George. Great.” I answered, forcing amusement into my voice, “Congratulations to you both, by the way. I don’t think I managed to say before at the church.”
“Thank you, Casey.” Penny answered, smiling sweetly beside her new husband, “we just hope you and Ben will be just as happy as George and I when you two finally get married.”
“When will that be, by the way, little bro? Couple of years? Couple of months? Couple of weeks..?” George added, removing his arm from around me and jeering towards Ben, nudging into his side with his elbow. His bellowing laugh filled the room and left me feeling rather uncomfortable. Why ask such a question when it had barely been a month since we actually told anyone about our engagement!?
“I honestly don’t know, bro. I honestly don’t. But soon, I hope. Eh, Case?” Ben replied, turning to face me and offering me a chance to answer. I could see in his eyes what he wanted me to say but in my heart I didn’t want to.
“The sooner the better.” I murmured, forcing a smile on my face. I couldn’t have said anything different and see the disappointment in Ben’s, face or feel the awkwardness between George, Penny and us.
“I bet sooner the better. Sooner the better you get to ride the Italian Stallion, right, Casey?” George yelled, overcome with humor. I felt my cheeks burn bright red as I felt the eyes of everyone in the restaurant turn to look in our direction.
“George!” Ben warned his brother, with embarrassment in his voice and face.
“Ah, Ben, sorry! I guess you’ve already done that with little Jamie in the picture, eh!” he continued with laughter.
“Okay, George that’s enough.” Penny continued to warn him.
“Oh, I’m only playing around. They know I’m only joking. Right, bro?” he whined in an attempt to straighten things out.
“Yeah. Yeah, I know you are.” Ben gave in, giving me an apologetic look. I knew he wanted me to say I was fine too, even though it was obvious that I wasn’t. To be completely honest, I was utterly shocked and, through my embarrassment, the tiniest bit angry.
“Well, err, we’d best start making our rounds shouldn’t we, Mrs. Russo?” George continued, changing the subject and turning to his bride. They smiled lovingly at each other before saying their farewells to Ben and I. The two of us stood in silence for a moment awkwardly before Ben broke the silence.
“I’m sorry, Case. If I’d have known what he was going to say I would have stopped him.”
“I know you would have, and you don’t need to apologize for it.” I reassured him, not wanting to look him in the eye completely.
“Yes I do, it’s obvious that you’re embarrassed and there’s nothing more I can say than that it’s just… well, just George and his weird sense of humor. I honestly don’t know how he’s not managed to get in trouble with the law with it before now.”
“Honestly, Ben, you don’t need to apologize. Like you said, it’s just George. I can learn to live with it; forgive and forget. Simple. Now, can we just enjoy the rest of the night?”
“Sure. Of course.” Ben answered, smiling with relief. He took hold of my hand and pulled me in close towards him, placing his other hand on the small of my back, “I love you, and will do anything in my power to make you happy. If I could, I would marry you this second and take both you and James away from here and find our dream house. That’s all I want; to be with my family. Until death do us part.”
“Please, Ben, don’t speak of death at a wedding.” I murmured, as a sudden thought of our previous surroundings in the graveyard at the church reentered my thoughts.
“I’m sorry, but I’m serious. I want to spend the rest of my life with you and I want to make you happy. You want that too, don’t you?” he continued. A nervous disposition suddenly spread across his face as though he was even questioning his own thoughts. It was as though he had his own concerns as to what my true feelings were towards both him and our engagement. This made me nervous. I thought I knew Ben – the enthusiastic young man and utter hopeless romantic at heart – but this one question, do I want this too, both startled and worried me. Should I confess my concerns to him and break his heart? Or should I tell him what he wanted to here and possibly lie to myself? After everything that had happened, the last thing I wanted to do was lose him again. Was this the answer I needed? Would I honestly be able to continue and existence without Ben by my side, supporting me through everything I do? Or would I be able to handle being a young single mother on my own?
“Of course I do.” I confessed, “I wouldn’t be able to function correctly without you to support and guide me through my rollercoaster of a life. You’ve been my rock throughout the past couple years, despite all the catastrophes that have gotten in our way. You are the one person in this world that truly knows the real me and who I can honestly trust entirely with my heart. I love you so much and I can think of nothing more wonderful that to be called your wife.”
“And I want nothing more than to be called your husband.” He answered with relief glittered around each word. His familiar and wonderfully youthful smile spread across his perfect face and spread a flicker of hope to my heart. I did love Ben and I did want to marry him, but I just didn’t have the heart to tell him that I perhaps didn’t want to get married this instant. The one thing on my mind at that current stage was getting James back. Mum had already insisted that I finish college first before I even considered taking him out of the McFarlow’s care, meaning that it wouldn’t be until at least James’ second birthday that I could take him home for good.
“Let’s go and find our son and enjoy the rest of the night, shall we?” I proposed, closing the gap between us and kissing him lightly and lovingly. Ben smiled in agreement and released me from our embrace, taking my hand and guiding my through the crowd.
Yes, the first thing I wanted to do was to get my son back, and fast.