It wouldn't be long now until her father would come and fetch her to walk her down the aisle. There had been people fussing around her all day until finally, exasperated by the attention, she'd asked for half an hour of privacy to gather her thoughts. Now here she sat alone, as requested, and was rapidly realising that asking to be alone had been a huge mistake, because the second she was alone she had begun to think of him. No, not the him she should have been thinking of, not her very soon to be husband....the other him, the love of her life. Alex pulled the note from her purse and read it again for the thousandth time, trying to find something in his words that should prevent her from what she was about to do, and again she was disappointed.
I am so very sorry about last night. Please believe me when I say that what happened was never my intent when I came here. But having said that when you asked last night what I wanted, I meant what I said - I wish last night could have lasted forever, it was one of the best nights of my life, second only to that magical night on the beach. But I know I can never give you what you need. I honestly hope he can. Please...be happy baby!
You will always have a piece of my heart.
She was sitting at the dressing table in the bride's room at the quaint little chapel Rick had chosen for their nuptials. He had been so very good to her, organizing everything while she had continued to work – first with Bruce and then on a series of exposés for Rolling Stone. All she had really had to do was find her dress and turn up ready on the day. Well she was wearing the dress and she was there, but was she ready?
Considering the reflection in the mirror she wondered how it had come to this. Marrying one man – a good, kind, wonderful, loving man, a man that she did love – but in love with another. She folded the tattered piece of hotel stationery and placed it securely in her purse.
Picking up the lip pencil she lined her lips then filled them in with blood red lipstick – it matched her nails – not exactly traditional for a bride but very effective against her pale skin and the ivory gown. Her hair was a mass of dark glossy curls, half of which had been expertly and artistically piled atop her head by one of New York's foremost celebrity stylists – her good friend Serge – and sat behind a dazzling diamond and pearl tiara, a generous gift from Bruce and Patti.
Was it really only three days ago that she had been lying blissfully in his arms? It seemed so much longer. That night as she drifted off to sleep curled into him, she had decided that she would call off the wedding; it was the right thing to do. But then when she woke, he was gone and in his place was that note. That was it! No goodbyes. No "I love you's." No "Please don't do it's", just a short pitiful "sorry".
The days following had been torturous as she teetered back and forth about what was right - to marry Rick or not. Until she had seen Jon again, she had been confident that it was the right thing to do, but now she wasn't so sure. Rick had always known of her feelings for another man, she had been honest about that much from the start - though she had never divulged his identity - but he claimed that didn't matter, that she had chosen him to spend her life with and that was good enough. Alex wondered what she had done in life to deserve this wonderful man. It was the obligation of this knowledge - in the absence of a sign from Jon - that brought her here today.
After their night together, and on finding Jon's note, Alex had made a deal with herself, if...and only if, he gave her some kind of sign that he wanted her - any kind of sign would do - she would call off the wedding... but that sign hadn't come. So here she was, just minutes away from marriage, absolutely terrified that she was doing the wrong thing, but couldn't see that she had any other option – it would be cruel to back out now. She loved Rick – she would do her very best to make him happy. He deserved that.
A sharp tap on the door startled her. "Yes," she called out.
The door opened a crack and her mother poked her head in.
"Honey, the photographer wants to photograph you before the boys get here, he asked for you out front in the garden." Her mother informed her tentatively.
She could see the uncertainty on her daughters face reflected in the mirror and could guess at the cause. She knew Alex had never really gotten over the rock star. It was never discussed again after he had left that day all those years before, but every now and again, a song of theirs would come on the radio, or they would pass a magazine rack and he would be smiling from a front cover, and Sophia would see Alex flinch as an unknown memory assaulted her. She had never quite understood how her daughter had remained a fan in spite of it all – it seemed...masochistic to her. She also wondered how she had managed to keep it from Rick all this time.
"Sure Mum." Alex stood and walked towards the door.
"Oh honey...don't forget your flowers." Sophia said as she scooped the bouquet off the bench.
"Thanks Mum" Alex smiled at her mother but it didn't quite touch her eyes.
"Are you sure about this honey?" Sophia gently gripped her daughters arm and held her back in the foyer for a moment. "You don't seem...well I'm just not sure this...well he really...is what you truly want."
Her mother had always been so perceptive. "He loves me Mum. He's good to me. He treats me like a princess. What more could I ask for?"
"I love Rick honey. I know he is good to you. He is every mother's dream for their daughter...stable, hard working, kind, loving and absolutely gorgeous on top of all that. But still...I am just not sure he is good for you. I just don't think that you ever got over..."
"Don't Mum... please!" Alex begged, "Not today. Please not today...I can't think about that."
"Listen to me sweetie" Alex made to interrupt but Sophie stopped her, "No, honey... listen...please!" she begged. "I should have told you about this a long time ago but...well I just didn't know how to explain it without you taking it the wrong way. I'm not sure I can now."
"What Mum?" Alex asked softy.
"I once had a 'Jon' in my life too." As was usual Alex flinched as her mother said the name. "We were young and wildly in love but just like with you and Jon there were...obstacles...and just like you're doing now I made the sensible choice...the safe choice. But honey I'm not sure that's the right choice for you. Don't get me wrong sweetie...I have had a good life with your father and I have you...I could never regret that but honey...there has always been something missing, that special spark that makes things exciting and fun – the spark I see in your eyes when you see a picture of him or when you hear his voice on the radio, even through the pain it causes, that spark is still there. Now I can't believe I am going to say this – it's such an irrational thing for a mother to say – but I would rather you be Jon's mistress and be happy than be Rick's wife and be miserable for the rest of your life."
"Mum, are you miserable?"
"No, of course not Ali, that didn't come out right. I could never be miserable as your mum, and I honestly love your father so much... It's just once you know what that kind of love and passion feels like, nothing else ever really measures up. And I know you, Ali…I know that you'll never truly be satisfied. You'll always wonder what if…
"It will be fine mum." Alex took her mother in a deep embrace. "I will be fine."
"You may think now that you can make it work, and knowing you I am sure you are probably right but sweetheart, do you really want to go through life with a love that's less than perfect?"
"Is there such a thing as a perfect love mum? Jon isn't an option for me...he never has been. He has a wife, and now he has a child and he has made it perfectly clear to me that I am not worth risking either for. I would never want him to... even if he did love me enough. He belongs with his family, free from the risks an affair with me would entail. So that being said, is it wrong of me to try to grasp the little happiness Rick can offer me?"
"No honey, of course not... not if you think it's enough." Sophia said sadly.
"It has to be."
Silence fell for a long moment, and Jon who was standing hidden in the shadows of the stairwell to the gallery imagined that Sophia had taken Alex in her arms to comfort her.
When Sophia spoke again her voice was tinged with concern "Alex honey, what will you do if he shows up? I know Rick invited him, I saw the name when I posted the invites out."
"He won't!" Alex said confidently. "It's over. We've said our goodbyes. It was never even a possibility for us." Sophia did not know about her 'encounter' with Jon a few days before, though it seemed in light of this new information, it wouldn't have shocked her if she did. No one knew...not even Lanie...Alex was far too embarrassed to share that story with anyone – the weakness it showed. "We better get out there. I want to get back in before Rick gets here. It's bad luck if he sees me in my dress before the ceremony."
Sophia followed her daughter out of the door to the yard and closed it behind her.
When the foyer was clear, Jon emerged...he had heard it all. He wondered how – after everything he had said to Alex – that she still thought so little of his feelings for her. With the exception of his child she was the most important thing in the world to him... how could she not see that? He thought he had made it clear. He moved quickly into the bride's room and placed the CD on the center of the bench in plain sight for her to see, then went back to his hiding place in the stairwell. He had never intended to stay but he was trapped now until everyone was inside...he had cut the timing too fine. He had procrastinated about dropping off the CD all morning and it had made him late. He had only just managed to sneak into the church without being found out and was trying to figure out how to get the CD to her without being seen when her mother came to collect her for the photo's. Perfect! He had thought.
The door opened again a few minutes later and he could hear the crystal sound of Lanie's laughter echo in from outside as she headed for the door. He waited out of sight until he heard the door close again. He could hear a muffled conversation nearby, but it sounded as though the foyer was empty. He craned his neck around the corner...he was right....the foyer was clear. Across the small space the door to the bride's room stood ajar. He could see Lanie – stunning in a gold satin sheath – and then she moved aside and he caught his first glimpse of an angel.
Jon could only see her profile...but it was enough. There was no way he could leave now. Instead of walking out the front door as he knew he should, he moved in the opposite direction and slid unnoticed into the chapel. Large stone pillars supported the roof and provided him with the perfect hiding spot. He moved into the shadows, feeling somewhat like a fugitive and waited for the ceremony to begin.
In the bride's room Alex once again sat alone. Thankfully, Sophia had picked up on her daughter's mood and had managed to talk an excited and enthusiastic Lanie from the room .
Lost in thought she absently picked up her bouquet. The florist truly had done a spectacular job. It was simple and elegant – a bound bunch of long stemmed white Calla Lilies, tied with white satin ribbon.
A gentle tap on the door signalled it was time. She rose from her seat and took one long last look at the single girl in the mirror. Within the hour she would be Mrs Richard Carlisle. Well technically she wouldn't – they had discussed it and Alex had chosen to keep her maiden name – but she would be his wife. A wave of anxiety gripped her, she braced herself on the bench, closed her eyes and dropped her head, and forced herself to take several deep breaths...she could do this. She couldn't back out now. She couldn't do that to Rick.
When her eyes opened, she noticed something she hadn't seen before. A CD in a plain white case sat in the middle of the bench, typed across the top was her name. She wondered how she could have missed it before, and then remembered that was where the flowers had been. How strange! The music should have been out in the chapel already. It must have been left behind. She picked up the lone disc and opened the case. There on the inner sleeve was a familiar messy scrawl.
Sorry I couldn't make it to the church baby. This is for your ears only, my gift to you. Remember...Be Happy!
The door edged open. "Princess... it's time!" Tony Belle stood proud at the door, looking very distinguished in a black tuxedo.
Alex quickly slipped the disc into her purse and left it behind to take her father's arm as he led her into the foyer.
She looked up into his glassy eyes. "I love you Daddy."
"I love you too Princess...you've done me proud, I can't believe my little girl is all grown up and getting married." A tear welled in the corner of his eye.
"Oh Daddy..." She smiled at him gently, placed her palm on the side of his face and wiped the tear away with the pad of her thumb, "I will always be your little girl. No one could ever take your place in my heart."
"I know sweetie." He smiled an awkward kind of smile back, he was trying to be happy for her but he couldn't quite still the feeling of discontent. "Ready?"
"I hope so." NO!! Her mind screamed.
As if in self-defense, her mind started to shut down and she became numb. She knew there was no turning back the moment she took that first step down the aisle. The closed double doors were about to open, and should symbolize the start of a brilliant new chapter in her life. Instead, she felt like in some ways the best chapter in the book was ending. As the first strains of Pachelbel's Canon began to filter through her mind, she realized Lanie was adjusting her train. Closing her eyes, she willed herself to stop trembling, and managed a weak smile for her best friend as she quickly lifted her veil and kissed her on the cheek. "Here we go babe" she whispered excitedly as the doors opened and she began her slow walk before the bride, down the aisle.
Jon stood in his dark corner only yards from the door. The music began, the doors opened and Lanie stepped through, looking absolutely stunning – her now black hair in an intricate up do was a stark contrast to the pale dress – she looked like a goddess. At least that's what he thought... until he got his first real look at Alex. If he stepped forward from the shadows he could have touched her – he was that close.
She looked...well... she looked unbelievably, mind numbingly gorgeous – the way the gown clung to every curve as though it were sewn on in place, the way her subtle make up accentuated her fine features and the deep red of her lipstick enhanced her luscious lips, the way her silky mane of auburn curls cascaded down her back - but beyond that...behind the veil she looked...sad. A small smile was fixed in place, but it didn't belong there. It didn't match the sorrow in her eyes, or the single tear that dropped silently down her cheek.
Pain gripped him. How could he stand by and watch her do this? It was obvious it wasn't what she wanted, but then he couldn't give her what she did. He'd already caused her enough pain...if it weren't for him and the games he had played, she would have been blissfully unaware of what was possible...she could have truly loved Rick. But here...now...as things stood and after the discussion with her mother, he couldn't believe that she would go through with it. Even now, as she glided down the aisle to meet Rick on her father's arm, he could not believe that she would commit to him.
Jon couldn't tear himself away from the scene unfolding before him. He had to see it through. Like a train wreck...he was riveted. He had to stay and see her flee the church in tears. The ceremony commenced. When the minister asked if any one objected to the union, he took an involuntary step forward. He opened his mouth to speak...he wanted to speak...but nothing came out.
And then it was upon him. The vows were being said and she was still standing there...calm, serene, resigned. Something within him snapped...no broke...he realised it was his heart. She was really doing it...she was marrying him. That was it... it was over.
He couldn't bear to be there anymore...he couldn't watch the train wreck after all. He needed to escape. He felt the bile rise in his throat... he had to make it outside...and quickly. He rushed silently to the door and slipped quietly outside unnoticed....or so he thought.
From the corner of her eye, she saw him leave the church. He had come after all. She closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on the task at hand, but the image of his anguished face as he fled infiltrated her brain. The pain there was so...real...so palpable. She realised someone was calling her name.
"Alex...Alex" It was Rick.
"Alex are you ok?" He whispered, "You look ill."
"Do I? No I'm..." What was she? Overwhelmed, devastated, heartbroken? No just broken – all of her, heart and soul completely destroyed. "Fine... Just a little overwhelmed." At least she could use that adjective safely.
"Shall we continue?" The minister asked.
Rick nodded. He was eager for the ceremony to be over...he couldn't wait for this gorgeous woman to be his wife so he could finally disregard this feeling of foreboding he had had all morning.
"Do you Alex take Rick to be your husband.......?" The minister continued but Alex tuned him out.
Alex stood there like a deer caught in the headlights. She had only seconds to decide her future. Did she say 'I do'...or did she follow the man she loved out the door? Would he be there waiting for her if she did? She doubted that...but then...that look on his face...
"Well?" Rick asked expectantly.
Alex looked into Rick's smiling face. With every second that ticked by she could see the insecurity deepen in his eyes and it hurt her to imagine the pain she would cause him if she were to leave. Could she really do what she was considering?