Stranger

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">The wedding went well. There weren’t any big problems or mistakes, we all walked in the right direction and all that. Yeah, it was alright.The wedding went well. There weren’t any big problems or mistakes, we all walked in the right direction and all that. Yeah, it was alright.

I never was overly comfortable with the idea of getting married abroad, purely because it seemed a bit strange to be saying my wedding vows in a country that I don’t speak the language of. That and the fact that it meant that the people that were coming had to travel a long way and couldn’t just pop in to the reception after work if they couldn’t get the day off.

The hotel was just over the road from the place we’d actually said our vows in. It was funny how much she stood out, sitting on the floor on the plaza outside the hotel. I looked up at my new husband in disbelief.

“She came?”

“You invited her.”

“Yes, but I didn’t think she’d actually come.”

It was difficult to contain my excitement, but at the same time I felt myself slowly fill with anticipation.

“Will you talk to her?”

He looked at me like I’d just asked him to sell everything he owned.

“Why?”

I pulled him close to me by the lapels on his blazer and pressed my cheek onto the knot of his tie.

“Because I’m scared.”

After a little while he stepped back and looked at me with his icy blue eyes before heading over to her. My heart flipped in my chest for the first time that day, but I focused myself on being nonchalant, looking in every other direction to give off some impression of either having not seen her or at least not cared if I had. How had this happened? I’d never even met her. Come on, she might not even be nice. How. Just how. Maybe I should stay away, this has got very weird very quickly.

After he spoke to her I dragged him to get some drinks, purposely turning my back on her so she’d never know I noticed.

“Are you not going to say hello after all that?”

“It’s too weird.”

She’s still there isn’t she. She brought people with her as well. Well, I guess she had to. This is not normal. I’ve ignored everyone because I’ve been looking at her and I’ve ignored her because I didn’t want her to know.

“Hey!”

Oh no. This is it then. Why the hell did I do this to myself?

I was right. Or wrong, depending on how you look at it. This girl is hilarious. Her friends are hilarious. I spent the rest of my wedding day on the floor outside the hotel emptying beer bottles with the stranger I knew so well. I don’t know where my husband and all the guests even went. I just very suddenly became aware of the fact that there were only the five of us – me, her and her three acquaintances – left. It didn’t take long for the excitable conversation to die out and the coldness of reality to set in.

“What’s going on with all this then anyway?”

“What?”

“Well, you haven’t seemed to interact much with your husband at your own wedding, so-”

I slumped down more than I was already, and my shoe fell off.

For a while we watched the locals wobble in and out of a pub on the corner of the road. It had an almost magical feel, like it had been trapped in a time capsule and placed back 50 years later. The wooden building coupled with the glass tankards of beer being clumsily spilt down simple clothes covering hairy chests reminded me of the classic film scene, you know, when the protagonist ends up in some pub full of rowdy men but they all turn out to be big softies. If I spoke the language, I think I’d have joined them. I’d do many things to avoid heading up to the honeymoon suite tonight.

I tried to wrap my head around this day. It was meant to be the happiest day of my life, of course, and it absolutely was. The dress, the decorations, my family and friends, saying vows, the food, my now-to-be-called husband… None of that mattered. This was the best, sitting here on the floor in a white dress with my head nested on her shoulder, trying to get my shoe back on by only moving that one foot with the help of one of her friends who I’d never met but felt like I’d always known, while he laughed lazily.

“I don’t know.”

I thought about him. He was probably waiting for me now, if he hadn’t already given up waiting and gone to find someone else to keep him company in the meantime. I’m deadly serious, I’d absolutely not put it past him to do that. It didn’t matter really, did it. We might both be in this for our own reasons, and they are the wrong reasons, but they’re reasons. He’s got lovely eyes, and his smile just has a way of winning you over. He knows the right things to say and he plays the part of the perfect man if I need him to. This might be a good thing, you never know. I just can’t quite accept the fact that this is it now, and she isn’t helping.

I wore her long, plaited hair like a scarf, twisting the ends through my fingers while we talked about the world. She came here today because she just knew it was important, whatever that was supposed to mean. She travelled here to come to the wedding of two people that she didn’t even know existed. Weirdo.

The empty bottles around us grew in number until we were begrudgingly ordered to move inside by the hotel staff. I dragged myself up to the room that would contain either a suspiciously happy or devilishly angry husband, and put on a plastic smile.

It would be nice to say that things went downhill, but they didn’t really. He just got a bit more careless. He was untouchable now, because so was I. I didn’t need to work or go anywhere, I could be at home with him or waiting for him.

I thought about her a lot, and what she meant by each little comment she made on that strange night we spent on the floor outside that colourful building. I’d almost convinced myself it hadn’t happened until I found one of her hairs on my dress when I’d taken it to be cleaned. Unless I’d made that bit up too. Part of me wanted to reach out and continue this mysterious friendship, but I just didn’t have the courage. She saw through him, and that would be a problem. He was always so good at looking like a prince and I argued with anyone that said otherwise, even myself.

She still managed to make me laugh everyday until it became too painful and I cut it all off. It was for the best, this was my life now, inside these walls with this perfect monster.

His grip got stronger. Maybe it was because each day was like a workout for the muscles he used to do these things. But it reached a point that I realised it couldn’t carry on, not for me but for him. What would he go on to do if I wasn’t here to take it?

I’d managed to reach for a window handle, air jumping from my lungs with each blow. There was someone coming past, she had a gentle face. He was too preoccupied by his fists to notice at first, so I flung the window open and screamed to the stranger. I begged her for help, to call someone, do something. She scowled at me and grabbed the hands of her two little girls.

“I’ve got kids out here!”

As my only hope strutted off down the road with a child in each hand, I spotted someone I recognised instantly – my own mother. I panicked. This was my precious husband, my Prince Charming. She’d paid for the wedding. He stopped and went to open the door and act like the gentleman he always did but it was too late. I pulled up my sleeves and revealed the purple spots and red lines that he’d lovingly decorated my skin with.

She went mad, shouting angrily. How dare I. How dare I allow him to do this. How dare I then take it upon myself to broadcast it to the whole town. She’d never be able to look at him the same now, because of me. Yet she’d have to act like nothing had changed, because everyone liked him. 

Until death do us part.

Run

Her driving made me hold my breath at the best of times, and this was an entire new level. She was almost laughing as the car swerved around corners of the country roads, heading recklessly into the path of any oncoming vehicles that remained unseen since she turned the lights off, and a stork of a corn plant shot towards me from the other side of the windscreen. The car jolted over the edge of the corn field, the suspension making a worrying sound.

I turned around and peered out of the back window. Blue lights were still flashing, but a bit further away now.

“I think they’ve lost us,” I said, almost hopeful.

“That’s irrelevant,” Jaq growled through gritted teeth, her eyes fixated on the road. “We were stupid. They know who we are; they know this is my car. We’re out of excuses. We’re caught.”

I glanced at her in shocked silence, then leant back onto the headrest.

“You’re unbelievable,” I muttered under my breath, but I knew she was right. It was just impossible to even try to comprehend the fact that this might be it. This could be the last time I’m in this car with her, it could even the last time I ever see her; the girl who changed my life.

We emerged into the suburbs and Jaq switch the lights back on. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, running her hand through her hair that rippled like water around her fingers. She did a double take then turned her face away again, hardly bearing to look at me.

“Anna, for what it’s worth,” she began.

“No,” I shot back. “Just don’t say anything.”

We carried on in silence, and I treasured every second of her presence, neither of us knowing where we were going. I stared out of the window and the light of streetlamps cast circles around us, digging us a deeper hole with each metre we drove. Jaq slowed down and pulled into a car park, parked the car neatly and got out.

“We’ll try and have this one night,” she sighed defeatedly. “Then we’ll go. We won’t get in any more trouble for twelve more hours, it’s gone too far anyway.”

I nodded in agreement and pulled two cigarettes from the box in my pocket. I put them both between my lips and lit them, the orange glow of the flame illuminating Jaq’s face as well as mine. I passed her one, and slumped down onto the floor, leaning against the car. Jaq slid down next to me, simultaneously taking a long drag of her cigarette. I looked at her intently, and she blew the smoke out from her lungs before turning to face me. Neither of us dared speak, and we sat there in each other’s gaze as time seemed to slow down.

We spent the final five hours that we had granted ourselves wandering aimlessly through towns, detouring through random parks and open spaces. We even went into a play park on the swings at one point, then disappeared into some dense woodland that looked like it wasn’t a common walking place for the public at night, and emerged half an hour later both picking leaves and twigs out of our hair, the pair of us laughing for the first and last time tonight. We tried to make it as enjoyable as possible, it was all we had. 


Now here we are, standing either side of the entrance to our church, 270 Sundays on, puffing away on cigarettes. We’ve already decided that we might as well enjoy them, they feel precious now, but also a representation of how we have our own free will back. Anyway, our lives are already five wasted years shorter. Jaq finishes first and dabs her cigarette out on the floor. She peers in through the curtains over the door. I follow her and we head inside. I don’t know if this church is anything like how we left it, but it looks just as warm. I walk slowly over to the chairs in the middle of the room and sit in the front row. I don’t think anyone other than the vicar and maybe a couple of other people will be around yet, the service isn’t for another few hours – the sun is barely up – but we take the time to reflect, and relish in the fact that it’s our church, we are home and it’s like the good old days, not that cold room we spent hours in while we were inside. Jaq slinks into the chair next to me, looking at the altar with her dark eyes sparkling in the light. I put an arm around her and she rests her head on my shoulder.

“Let’s not talk about the last few years,” she whispers. “Let’s just live as we were before.”

Neither of us have a clue where to go, not many people seem bothered with us any more, especially our families. But the world is out there, and we are out in it, with years ahead of us full of possibilities. 

Yet something feels off.

Maybe it’s the strange relationships we’ve each made and acted on with others over the last few years, knowing that the other was only a few thick walls and clunking doors away or maybe it’s just that even the local world is different to how we left it, I don’t know. Maybe I never will. Maybe we’ll never be the same people we were last time we were here. But I have some cash that I took with me when we went in, and it’ll get us somewhere.