Authors: Susie Martyn
Back at the cottage, Susie’s car had gone. She’d
obviously tidied the kitchen before leaving a note, which slightly cryptically said ‘thank you dear Lizzie, Please don’t worry about me, think I’ve sorted myself out! Lots love, S x’ written in big curly letters. Did that mean the wedding was on?
In London, Tom and Rich had decided to take Friday off, Bella ha
ving begged them to come down early.
‘Darlings, I really could do with you two lovely strong boys.
You wouldn’t believe how much there is to do. We’ve got all the wine and champagne to set up, and car parking to organise. Your father’s still tied up with the farm… you know what it’s like when the weather’s good. And your sister,’ Bella added wearily, ‘is rewriting the table plan yet again, honestly. Please. I’d really be grateful…’
more than the slightest hint of anxiety in his mother’s voice, Tom agreed they‘d be there Thursday night. It was a bank holiday on the following Monday too. They’d make a long weekend of it, he thought. He couldn’t wait to get out of London... The heat was getting to him. When the air didn’t move, it wasn’t a good place to be. He found himself longing for open spaces and a cool lake to dip in, and maybe too, he’d see Lizzie… Then he reminded himself that she was out of bounds, already spoken for, belonging as she did with that tosser Leo, to whom he’d taken such a dislike.
Tom had gathered himself together. No mooching around being preoccupied with someone else’s girlfriend, he’d decided. It was going to be a great party that the folks were throwing for Susie, and he didn’t get to see all of them that often. He was looking forward to it…Rich was, too. Rich, however, for his own reasons.
Last week, he’d
unexpectedly bumped into Shar after finishing work, and they’d gone for a drink together. Best friends with Susie since childhood, Shar knew the Woodleighs as well as Rich did. They’d found a bar on a barge on the Thames, and sat outside drinking cold beers, gossiping about the forthcoming wedding.
And then, fixing
his lovely brown eyes on Shar, Rich had held his nerve, taken one of her hands and asked her - if she was still in love with Tom.
Shar had given a quiet gasp which she hadn’t been able to stifle, then turned pink with embarrassment.
‘How do you know about that?’ she’d asked, horrified at the thought that her unrequited crush might be common knowledge. Then, ‘so, who else knows? How embarrassing…’ Oh no. What if Tom knew too…
She’d rolled her eyes and Rich hadn’t been able to stop himself laughing at her.
‘I know he’ll only ever see me as the spotty twelve year old with pigtails who used to come and stay in the summer holidays,’ she eventually admitted. ‘But a girl can dream can’t she?’
Rich nodded, still laughing at her loss of composure.
‘Anyway. Let’s talk about you! There must be a guilty secret somewhere, Richard Carter! Come on, tell me…’ she’d insisted.
Several beers later, they’d decided to order some food, and it was dark by the time Shar looked at her watch.
And then it only seemed right that he walk her home. It was dark after all, and far too hot to get the tube, he said. And as they walked, chatting easily, giggling at so many small things, Shar realised how much she’d enjoyed herself. She’d known Rich how long? Almost as long as she’d known Tom, and all the time it was as though she was wearing blinkers…
now they were off and when Rich stopped on her doorstep, saying he’d see her in Littleton for the wedding, she’d taken his surprised face in her hands and kissed him on the lips, firmly, just so there could be no mistaking that she’d meant it and when Rich had kissed her back, it had been spine-tingling. They might have been slow getting started, but it was worth every second of the wait.
neither waited until the wedding to meet up again. The next night, they’d met in a swanky fish restaurant, Rich being in the mood to celebrate. Shar had looked beautiful in a short skirt and boots, her chestnut hair shiny and falling all over the place. Wondering if it had all been in her imagination, as soon as she saw him, she knew.
As they sat sipping expensive wine, Rich was starting to wonder why she
didn’t order. Eventually, when he pressed her, Shar had blushed a deep shade of beetroot, and admitted, highly embarrassed, that she was very allergic to fish, and that it made her puke. Rich couldn’t believe it.
‘You completely daft girl!’ he told her. ‘Why didn’t you say so?’
‘I so wanted to see you,’ admitted Shar, ‘I probably would have eaten sheep’s scrotums if it meant we spent the evening together.’
She covered her face with her hands, laughing at herself. What an idiot she
felt, but for once she didn’t mind.
Rich was grinning. He
couldn’t believe that this had been under their noses.
let’s just go…’
Giggling, they left more than enough money on the table to cover the wine, and scarpered like naughty children. Hand in hand they made their way down towards the Thames again, finding a bench to sit on
where they ate chicken and chips out of newspaper.
afterwards, Rich had kissed her, still giggling at first, then increasingly passionately until suddenly he stopped.
‘What is it?’ Shar’s big green eyes questioned his.
Rich looked at her for a moment. ’You, this, us,’ he tried to clarify. ‘Only, we’ve been friends for such a very long time, are you sure? Only we could stop now, and still just be friends - very, very good friends…’
Shar gently touched his cheek. ’You
darling idiot man, it’s far too late for that,’ she murmured, as she wound her arms tightly round his neck.
‘Oh Alice…’ wailed Lizzie. ‘Sorry, but I can’t do this! I don’t know where we start…’
‘Nonsense,’ said Alice
, with a stern-ness that belied her years. ‘Of course you can…’
Lizzie walked around the marquee in circles, her stomach churning, feeling sick and dizzy all of a sudden.
This space was simply massive. And all those guest who’d see it. And she’d never done anything like this…
he heard Bella’s voice. ‘Lizzie? Dear? Do you have a moment? Only the plants and trees are here.’
Oh, thought Lizzie,
still in a panic and wanting to turn and scream and run a million miles away. This was insane.
She went through her
list of what they were taking to the church, and the wonderful, long suffering gardeners loaded it all on a trailer for her. Not only that, but those brilliant men actually volunteered to help the other end. Secretly, they were staying out of the way at the house, and Lizzie didn’t blame them. Even Bella, normally so calm and unruffled, was looking stressed.
And so it was, two hours later, am
idst a veritable forest outside the door to Littleton church, Lizzie and Alice got started. The gardeners had already started shifting the largest of the trees inside. The ivy needed to go up first though, great long trails of glossy, dark leaves which Lizzie wound around the ancient stone columns. Four columns later, Lizzie had worked up a sweat. Between them, she and Alice then packed the windowsills with candles, covering the ledge behind the altar with the ones left over. Already it was transformed… They’d bring the plants in tomorrow, she thought, trying to envisage how it would look.
‘Alice’, she called. ’Come and
They stood at the back of the churc
h together, and Alice grinned. ‘It’s
cool! Oh Lizzie, it’s going to look amazing!’
ut at the marquee, the tranquil scene had descended into chaos. Someone had left a gate open, and at that precise minute, two dozen greedy sheep were rampaging around Bella’s perfect garden like hungry children in a sweet shop. And with a flower bed to tempt them, they weren’t remotely interested in the grass.
Lizzie and Alice could hear
the shouts and ‘baaing’, and they started to run. Bella and the gardeners were endeavouring to round up the small flock, now in full flight, aided ineptly by the marquee men, who far from helping seemed to be making matters worse. Two sheep stuck their heads up from deep in Bella’s prized perennial border, chewing on mouthfuls of flowers, while several more could be heard galloping around inside the marquee itself.
Lizzie clapped her hands
to shoo them and the woolly vandals demolished a mass of daisies on their way. Alice meanwhile, had deftly slipped inside the marquee and sent the offenders packing out of there. Then Lizzie spotted a bowl and shaking it so it rattled noisily, a trick that Antonia did with Dave, she’d caught the attention of most of the flock who started to trot towards her. Making her way out of the garden and onto the drive, she looked back to check that they were still following. With the stragglers being herded out by Bella and Alice, Lizzie was relieved to see a very scruffy looking farmer in an equally scruffy old Land Rover, making his way towards them. Parking at the side on the grass, he whistled to a couple of collies who took over. Bella was fuming. It was Mr Woodleigh.
‘Darling. I simply can’t believe you let that happen. The garden is ruined, you wouldn’t believe the mess in there.
..’ Bella looked close to tears.
Lizzie hardly dared go to look at the carnage that lay in the garden. The gardeners was already on their hands and knees, cursing as they collected the sheep droppings that had been scattered absolutely everywhere, and while there was no permanent damage to the marquee itself, the flower beds were decimated. What had been the most impressive spires of white delphiniums had been trampled to the ground, and how quickly those treacherous sheep had made inroads into what had been a showpiece.
ast her expert eye around. The delphiniums were trampled and smashed to pieces, but the rest could be tidied up. It wouldn’t be quite the same but at least there were more than enough plants in pots for the marquee, which she could easily fill the gaps with. She went in search of Bella.
’s ok,’ she reassured her. ‘I can make your flowerbeds look fine,’ she glanced at Bella, ‘though there’s not much I can do about your delphs.’
A little more composed by now, Bella
looked sad. ’We planted them just for this weekend, you know,’ she said. ’Timed it to perfection too…They were
heavenly, the best we’ve ever had.’ She sighed resignedly. ’Well, there was bound to be some kind of a hitch. Let’s just hope that this was it, and that everything else goes as planned.’
Lizzie hoped so too. A
couple of hours later, she’d done her best, patching it up with a few carefully camouflaged pots among what remained of the plants, the flowerbeds at least looked respectable. Alice had cleaned up the inside of the marquee, and the pair of them collapsed on the grass. It was the end of a very long day. Susie had appeared about an hour ago, fortunately no earlier, and thought it all sounded hilarious, which it was, Lizzie supposed, now that the damage had been repaired.
‘Poor Daddy,’ she’d said, before hooting with laughter. ‘Those sheep of his are notorious for escaping, it doesn’t matter where he puts them. Mind you,
’ she added grimly, ‘he better double lock them in until Saturday’s over. I really don’t want them at my wedding.’
Thursday. Boxes and boxes of freshly cut roses had been delivered. Carrying them over to the old stables, which were shady and cool, Lizzie and Alice began the laborious task of unwrapping each bunch, cutting every single stem before placing them in buckets of cold water.
was back to being her old excited self, with no further mention of her jitters. She’d raved about the roses. The old fashioned cream coloured one was Lizzie’s favourite, with its extraordinary scent, but the rest were equally stunning, and in shades of deep reddish pinks and purples, massed together in the mismatched assortment of buckets, they looked perfect as they were.
Lizzie and Alice returned to the church. As the door creaked open, Lizzie was relieved to see that everything looked as fresh as yesterday
as they moved the plants into position. She’d have to remember to water them. The poor trees particularly – they were shouting to have their roots buried in the ground, where they could stretch them out in comfort.
Huge white hydrangeas were placed either side of the altar, with taller, more subtle olive trees placed just beyond.
Further pots of roses, and tall climbing jasmines and honeysuckle were grouped here and there against columns and under arches. Small bunches of herbs tied with raffia bows lay among the candles behind the altar, and the larger trees were grouped in the corners and along the side walls.
They hadn’t been there long when they heard the door open and someone come
Good God, Lizzie! It’s bloody amazing!’
Lizzie looked round from behind a huge hydrangea
Sssh…You’re in a church!’
‘Oops, forgot for a moment. I say, it’s frightfully
swish… Not at all like when Harry and I got hitched… think we just had begonias or something.’
Then behind her, someone else crept in.
‘Eucalyptus!’ boomed Antonia. ‘Should Lizzie decorate the bells?’
‘Oh Lizzie… oh
dear, it does look very beautiful….’ Euc looked as anxious as ever.
‘Oh Lizzie,’ she said again. ‘I
really do have to talk to you sometime.’ She looked around worriedly at Antonia and Alice. ‘But not now… No - it can wait.’ She scurried out of the church.
‘What was that about?’ called Lizzie.
‘Haven’t a clue. Seems odder than ever, just lately. Think she’s losing the plot… Now, brought you some coffee.’ She waved a flask in the air. ‘Shall I pour some?’
The coffee was strong and black,
and Lizzie drank it gratefully as someone else appeared. The trail of visits from nosey villagers seemed never-ending, and was taking up a lot of Lizzie’s time. This time it was Cindy, who she’d only met in passing, looking very pretty, as Cindy always did.
‘Cindy!’ Antonia jumped up. ‘Not quite like your flowers is it?’
Cindy gazed around slightly shell-shocked. ‘Um…no…But it’s truly lovely…’
‘How’s your book coming along?’ asked Antonia. Without waiting for an answer, she continued ‘Cindy’s writing a novel, darling. She’s promised I can be the first to read it, haven’t you?’
‘I’ve nearly finished, actually! I’ll drop it over next week if you like…’
‘Jolly good! Can’t wait! Love a good old romance…Tell me darling, is it
raunchy?’ Her eyes glittered.
slightly as she thought about it. ‘Well, I’m not sure you’d exactly call it a romance…’
Eventually Lizzie and Alice were left in peace. Fortunately neither of them noticed Mrs Hepplewhite stick her head round the door, then leave without uttering a single disapproving word. Only when they’d sprayed every last leaf with a fine mist of water, did they close the church door and leave.
Friday passed in much the same fashion
only minus all the visitors, as they decorated the marquee, festooning tent poles with swathes of ivy, and massing the trees and rose plants like a beautiful, instant garden.
Bella had popped her head in, unbeknown to Lizzie,
secretly delighted with what she had seen. She’d somehow keep Susie out until Lizzie had finished.
wanted a rose walkway into the marquee, which wasn’t easy to build in a day, but the gardeners had come up trumps and produced a set of black garden arches, which they assembled to create a sort of tunnel. Draped with more ivy, the remaining climbing roses carefully woven in, when Alice added twinkling fairy lights, the result was spectacular. They’d then retired to the cool of the stables, where they filled the dark green vases until finally, they realised they’d finished just as Bella poked her head round the door.
Lizzie,’ she said... ‘And Alice… I just had to come and say what magic you’ve worked… It all looks, well, perfect - more than perfect! And she’s going to love those…’ She stood looking at the vases. ‘I left her jumping all over the place.’ She raised her eyebrows. ‘Please
go and see her. She’s in the marquee. Needless to say, she’s over the moon’.
Closing up the stable, they heard Susie long before they saw her. Walking through the tunnel, Lizzie and Alice were almost flattened by her, the most hyper Lizzie had ever seen her, her panda eyes evidence that more than a tear or two had been shed.
‘Liz-zie!’ She ran
and flung her arms around her. ‘This is a dream! I never imagined in a million years it would look as incredible as this! I can’t believe what you’ve done.’ Then she added more quietly, ‘if it wasn’t for you, none of this would be happening. You know what I mean.’
Suddenly Lizzie was mortified. ‘Oh Susie, I’d asked Leo to come as my date…before, you know…
I’ve completely forgotten to cancel him…’
‘Don’t!’ said Susie. ‘Honestly, there’s no need, I promise…’
Then she leapt up again. ‘Oh, I can’t wait, I can’t wait for tomorrow…!’ and to Lizzie’s heartfelt relief, she jumped and danced around the marquee.
Hi! I’m Shar,’ said a small chestnut haired girl with enormous brown eyes, holding out her hand. ‘Chief bridesmaid! I’m so happy to meet you, she hasn’t stopped talking about this! And she’s right, it’s amazing! It really does look magical.’
At that moment, o
ut of the corner of her eye, Lizzie noticed two more figures appear. Tom. And Rich. Shar’s eyes lit up when she saw them, and she grinned at Lizzie. ‘You’ve met these two before I think?’ She raised an eyebrow quizzically at Lizzie.
!’ Lizzie was feeling awkward. Conscious of how scruffy she must look. ‘Hello again!’
lushing as they congratulated her on how the marquee looked, Lizzie found herself grabbing Alice’s arm, then saying, ‘we really must be going, it’s lovely to see you again,’ before dashing off, leaving three pairs of eyes following her hasty departure with amusement.
That’s twice now, Tom! You’re losing your charm, mate,’ teased Rich, as he hung an arm over a giggling Shar’s shoulders.
Tom watched Lizzie leave.
Feeling a touch deflated. He’d hoped to spend longer with her. Well, tomorrow he would, he decided. Leo or no Leo. And away from the scrutiny of his so-called friends.
Alice couldn’t make it out. She
couldn’t understand either quite why Lizzie had dragged them both away so suddenly.