He was but 10 years old when first he met Cally. She’d stopped to help him back on his bike after her older brothers had knocked him down. Some time later, she taught him how to fly under the radar. It was the best course of action for folks like him, for his family were church folk and hers most decidedly were not. Her lessons worked darn well and Cally’s brothers soon found other targets. The rest of his schooldays, James split his time between his studies and teaching those targets the life lessons he’d learned from Cally.
Cally had always been kind to folks, so James felt genuine surprise when she started dating one of her oldest brother’s friends – someone most folks regarded as not a nice guy – yet Cally seemed smitten. Like her brothers, Cally left school as soon as it was legal, to start working in the family business. In contrast, James stayed the full course, studying hard till he graduated. But having planned his escape, James skipped the graduation ceremony, spending the next few years working in the third world.
But he’d made a promise to join the seminary, one he’d returned to fulfil. Now he was home, freshly ordained, come back to support his father. Although remarkable for his age, his old Dad had been struggling with the size of parish allocated to him, yet always turned down offers of assistance, in the fervent hope James would – one day – fill that role. He’d been kept busy too, so busy there’d been no time to catch up with old friends. Then, just as he was finding his feet, his father had a fall. Despite attempts to brush it off as just a broken wrist, complete bed rest was prescribed, and that’s when James discovered what busy really meant. With his mother caring for her husband full-time, James carried both their workloads alongside his own, which explained why he hadn’t realised Cally was getting married in his church … until he recognised her walking up the aisle that is.
Shock gave way to relief – she wasn’t marrying that guy; the one she’d been so smitten with all those years ago. He suspected she wasn’t marrying any friend of her brothers either, for none were church goers, not even for weddings and funerals.
“My goodness, it’s that boy – the minister’s son. I thought he was away doing good deeds in Africa or such like.” Cally knew her mind should be on Brett, the handsome man by her side, her husband-to-be, but she’d not been able to think straight since the hen night.
Thing is, Brett had made this huge thing about their waiting till after the wedding, yet it turned out he’d been keeping company with at least two of her bridesmaids. It was their drunken confessions that fateful night which had left Cally questioning everything. She hadn’t known what to do. Her entire family had been up in arms when she’d chosen Brett. They’d expected her to marry one of the boys – for her brothers had a lot of friends and there was no doubting she could’ve had her pick of them.
But Cally had wanted something different. She’d dated a few of the boys but, if she was honest, she found it hard to tell them apart. Nice enough, some were even real nice looking, but none got her motor running. There was no drive, no ambition, no plans, hell no sign of much in the way of brains. Not one of them read other than sports magazines. They liked to hang out with their pals, expecting their girl to be satisfied with listening to their joshing, then drive them home. Surely there had to be more to life than that?
Then she met Brett. When her aunt got married for the second time, she’d insisted they go away for a hen weekend somewhere fancy to change her luck. They’d shared fun and a lot of laughs, till a problem with flights left them stranded for an extra day. It was at the airport she’d run into Brett – there with his friends, all hungover after a stag weekend. Brett had been attentive, good mannered, and keen as mustard. They’d started dating immediately she got home and Cally had been sure she’d found “the one”. Until her hen night that is.
Since that night, she’d gone through the motions and not one living soul had spotted anything wrong. She’d made her bridesmaids swear not to breathe a word, and it seems the guilt had kept them quiet.
Cally’d intended to make a decision by now, but here she was, standing in front of the minister – James – that was his name, she remembered now. They’d done their rehearsal with the old minister during the week, but she’d heard something about him falling off his bicycle. She was following the cues and responding automatically, but this couldn’t go on.
It was a blessing that her duties had pretty much ended when Cally had handed over her bouquet, for Becky’s mind had been in a whirl ever since she’d decided to tell her friend what her husband-to-be was truly like. He wasn’t the good guy he’d pretended to be – all said and done, he was no better than any of the boys Cally had known all her life. Sure he’d better manners and a glossier veneer, but he was still a dog underneath it all.
He’d caught Becky out by charming her into helping him chose a wedding gift for Cally. To thank her, he’d invited her out to dinner, then got her drunk before trying it on in the car while driving her home. Yes, she should’ve said no, but she’d been smitten from the very first time she’d seen him – and that was well before Cally’d met him. She’d pretty much decided to fake illness in order to avoid the wedding, when another bridesmaid confessed to being in the same boat. A few discrete questions later and the truth came out – Brett had been quite the lad while wooing Cally.
She’d really believed Cally would call it all off immediately, expecting it to happen at any moment. Unsure where she stood with Cally now, she’d tried to stay close by, in case Cally needed support when the news broke. Now she now wondered if Cally was actually going to go through with the wedding after all.
Brett was gazing into Cally’s eyes and repeating his vows – oh lord, what a rat! If only she’d been brave enough to shout out when the minister had asked “is there anyone here present …?” for now it was time for Cally’s vows. As the minister spoke to Cally, Becky realised why he’d looked vaguely familiar. Momentarily distracted by recognising James, she realised that he was having to repeat “will you take this man …?” while giving Cally a most concerned look. Cally was just standing there – in complete silence – when she should have been saying “I do.” Handing the bouquet to another bridesmaid, Becky stepped forward. Taking Cally’s hand in hers, Becky addressed James quietly “Is there somewhere we can go to get away from the crowd?”
Brett flushed red in the face and tried to grab Cally’s hand from Becky. A picture of calm, James looked Cally in the eye and asked “would you like to get away from here?” At her mute nod, he stepped between her and Brett, leading her away from the altar to a side room. Holding his arm out for Becky to join Cally, he closed the door firmly behind them. In the quiet of the side room, Becky could hear James speaking to the congregation, asking that they disperse quietly in respect of the bride’s wishes. There were raised voices – Brett’s prime among them – but James remained calm, repeating his request, until everyone finally complied.
In the time it took for the church to empty, James remembered those lessons he’d learned at Cally’s hand all those years ago. Now he was finally in the position to repay her kindness – and he was grateful.
© Debra Carey, 2019