Invit­ing Trou­ble

This en­ter­tain­ing com­plete story by Suzanne Ross Jones wel­comes you to a brand-new Spe­cial.

The People's Friend Special - - CONTENTS -

A ro­man­tic story by Suzanne Ross Jones

YOUR fa­ther’s won­der­ing why he hasn’t been in­vited to my wed­ding?” I bit my lip as I put my daugh­ter’s ce­real in front of her. I hadn’t meant to be sharp, but this I had not been ex­pect­ing. “Well,” Alexa be­gan un­cer­tainly, pick­ing up her spoon and stir­ring her corn­flakes care­fully, “when I was round there the other week­end, Dad said he was sur­prised you hadn’t asked him.”

If it came to that, I was sur­prised my ex was sur­prised! Why would he think I’d in­vite him, of all peo­ple? Es­pe­cially when the last wed­ding we’d both been at had been our own – and that had ended with us hat­ing the sight of each other?

“Dar­ling, you know it’s just not pos­si­ble. Your fa­ther and I have been apart for years. It wouldn’t be ap­pro­pri­ate to in­vite him.”

Alexa’s face fell and I felt an im­me­di­ate surge of guilt. It wasn’t my daugh­ter’s fault Scott and I hadn’t been able to get along. It wasn’t fair that she was the one to suf­fer.

“What shall I say if Dad asks again?” Alexa fret­ted. “I mean, I know you two are di­vorced and all, but you are still friends.”

That wasn’t strictly true. Scott and I tol­er­ated each other for Alexa’s sake. I wasn’t sure that made us friends, ex­actly.

I sighed as I looked into my daugh­ter’s face. Her wor­ried brown eyes pulled at my emo­tions. How could I ex­plain to a child of eleven that the last per­son I’d want at my big day was the fa­ther she loved so much?

I knew she’d feel torn be­tween the two of us – and I didn’t want that. She wanted us to be a big happy fam­ily, and if invit­ing Scott along made that hap­pen, then who was I to put a stop to it? Even if it was my wed­ding day we were talk­ing about!

Forc­ing a tight smile, I said the only thing that I knew would stop her frown­ing.

“Of course your fa­ther will be welcome at my wed­ding. Now, hurry up and fin­ish your break­fast, or you’ll be late for school.”

“Bril­liant.” She smiled and I was glad she was happy. “Thanks, Mum.”

I could do this, I de­cided. In the name of my daugh­ter’s hap­pi­ness, I would be pleased that my ex-hus­band would be at my wed­ding to another man. Even if it killed me!

****

“You told Alexa what?” Jenny, who hap­pens to be my best friend as well as my boss, was in­cred­u­lous as we folded a new de­liv­ery of brightly coloured flo­ral scarves on to the shelves in her shop later that morn­ing.

I closed my eyes, try­ing to blot out the hor­ror of the de­ci­sion I’d made.

“I know, Jen. I’m crazy even to think of it. But you didn’t see Alexa’s face.”

“That may be true,” Jenny agreed, “but I did see your face when Scott walked out on you. And I mopped up your tears. I just can’t un­der­stand why you would want the man who broke your heart to turn up at your wed­ding.”

I re­folded a scarf I’d made a mess of tidy­ing.

“I’m sorry, Ellen,” she car­ried on. “I don’t want to up­set you. But if I don’t say this to you, then who will?” I sighed. “You’re right, Jenny, Scott did break my heart. But that was in the past, and I’m over him now. I’m get­ting on with my life by mar­ry­ing Iain.”

“Then why open up that past by ask­ing Scott along?”

“Be­cause it will make Alexa happy.” I shrugged.

She shook her head as we put the fin­ish­ing touches to the dis­play.

“What does Iain have to say about this? I mean, he can’t be happy.”

I frowned. Telling my fi­ancé was some­thing I would have to do, and sooner rather than later. The trou­ble was, I had no idea how I was go­ing to do it. “I’m sure he’ll be fine with it,” I hedged. Her eyes nar­rowed. “Oh, re­ally? Are you?” “Yes, I’m pos­i­tive. You know how lovely he is,” I told her.

I hoped I sounded more con­fi­dent than I felt. Se­cretly, I was sure any man in his right mind, no mat­ter how lovely, would not rel­ish see­ing his bride’s barely tol­er­ated ex at his wed­ding!

“I hope you’re right,” Jenny told me as she stood back to study our hand­i­work. “Be­cause I’ve a nasty feel­ing that you’re invit­ing trou­ble.”

JENNY’S words of warn­ing were still fresh in my mind as I met Iain for din­ner that night. Alexa had gone to stay with her dad for the week­end.

“About Scott,” I started once our main cour­ses had been served. Iain’s re­laxed ex­pres­sion tensed a lit­tle. “Did he give you any trou­ble when he col­lected Alexa this evening?” There was that word again. Trou­ble. I shook my head. “Of course not.” Scott had been re­laxed and as in­fu­ri­at­ingly hand­some as ever. He had called round shortly af­ter Alexa and I ar­rived back from school, full of Fri­day high spir­its. “Then what is it, love?” Iain asked. Quickly, I told him about my con­ver­sa­tion with Alexa.

“So I told her,” I fin­ished up, con­cen­trat­ing on my meal rather than meet­ing his eye, “that it would be fine to in­vite Scott. Is that OK with you?” I looked up to find him smil­ing. “Any­thing you want is fine.” I felt a huge surge of re­lief, and thanked my lucky stars that Iain was such a kind man. Strangely, how­ever, a part of me wanted him to show a lit­tle bit of con­cern. I tried to ig­nore it.

“It’s not for me,” I as­sured Iain. “Scott means noth­ing to me now.” He grinned easily. “I know that.” Again I won­dered why I felt so dis­grun­tled. Surely I didn’t want Iain to ob­ject? I sus­pected it was more to do with want­ing him to show a lit­tle pas­sion. A lit­tle con­cern. Just a hint that he was both­ered or jeal­ous.

In­stead, he’d ac­cepted my de­ci­sion so easily that it made me won­der. Was he tak­ing me for granted?

****

An army of Satur­day girls at Jenny’s shop meant that I wasn’t of­ten ex­pected to work at the week­end, so I had a bit of a lie-in the next morn­ing. I wasn’t go­ing to meet Iain un­til later – we were go­ing to the cin­ema to see the new supernatural thriller that had just been re­leased.

So, with the day free be­fore me, I planned to spend Satur­day get­ting the house in or­der and catch­ing up on all those lit­tle jobs that have a habit of be­ing ne­glected dur­ing a work­ing week.

As it turned out, house­work, though sat­is­fy­ing, left plenty of room for my brain to think big scary thoughts. I still wasn’t happy Iain had taken so calmly the news that I was invit­ing my ex to our wed­ding.

I couldn’t imag­ine Scott ever be­ing so laid back in that sit­u­a­tion. Be­fore we were mar­ried, Scott and I had spent ev­ery pos­si­ble mo­ment to­gether and had sworn we’d love each other for ever. In one par­tic­u­larly dra­matic mo­ment he had even told me he would die with­out me!

Yet now the only rea­son we ever had any­thing to do with each other was be­cause he was Alexa’s fa­ther.

What if the same thing hap­pened with Iain once we were mar­ried? What if we fell out of love, too? Iain had never made any out­ra­geous prom­ises.

More wor­ry­ingly, I couldn’t get over the nig­gling feel­ing that his lack of con­cern, when I’d told him I wanted to ask Scott to our wed­ding, meant he didn’t care enough about me.

Was I be­ing daft? Iain had al­ways been re­served and I’d never wor­ried be­fore! Maybe it was just a mas­sive case of bridal jit­ters mak­ing me ner­vous.

I re­placed the photo frame I’d been dust­ing on to its shelf and sighed.

BE­FORE I could dwell on my wor­ries fur­ther, Alexa flew through the door and ran over for a hug. “I wasn’t ex­pect­ing to see you un­til to­mor­row,” I told her, arms tight around her as I dropped a kiss on the top of her head. I al­ways missed her so much when she went to stay with Scott.

“Dad needed to bring me back early,” she ex­plained.

“I hear that I’m in­vited to your wed­ding.” A man’s voice sounded in the door­way. Star­tled, I turned. “Scott!”

He hadn’t been in­side the house in years. It was strange to see him so close.

“Yes, well, only if you want to be there, of course. I re­alise it might be a bit awk­ward.”

He grinned; the same care­free boy­ish grin I had known and once had loved. Again I was re­minded of how much I used to adore this man.

Yet now, when I looked at him, I felt noth­ing but ir­ri­ta­tion.

“That would be great,” he told me. “I was only telling Alexa, the last time she came over, that I’d love to go.”

I gave a short nod, still think­ing it was very odd. “What are you do­ing back so soon?” “Some­thing came up,” he said. “So I thought I’d bring Alexa home a bit early. You don’t mind, do you?”

Ac­tu­ally, he had brought her home more than 24 hours early. I couldn’t see how that could be de­scribed as “a bit” on any planet! I knew I should be an­noyed with him for chang­ing plans at such short no­tice, but un­ex­pect­edly hav­ing my girl back meant in­stant for­give­ness.

My only con­cern was that she might be a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed.

“I’ll phone Iain,” I told her once Scott had left. “I’m sure there’s a film on at the cin­ema we can all see.” “Great.” She grinned and ran up­stairs. “Change of plan for tonight,” I told Iain apolo­get­i­cally over the phone. “Alexa’s come home early.”

“No prob­lem,” he replied easily. “Tell her to choose the film and I’ll change the res­tau­rant book­ing to three peo­ple.”

My heart swelled with love for this man who would so easily adapt his ar­range­ments for my child. Un­like her fa­ther, who couldn’t be re­lied on to keep the prom­ises he’d al­ready made.

If only I could be sure Iain felt the same way to­wards me as I did about him.

WEspent a nice evening to­gether, the three of us. But even though I recog­nised it wouldn’t have been ap­pro­pri­ate for Iain to be overly ro­man­tic in front of Alexa, I felt he could have held my hand or slipped his arm about my shoul­der as we’d watched the film.

But he had made no at­tempt to do ei­ther of those things.

I had to face the fact that, in Iain’s

I knew my daugh­ter wanted her fa­ther to at­tend my wed­ding to Iain. But surely that couldn’t be a good idea?

eyes, we were barely more than friends. Even his pro­posal had been mat­ter of fact – no flow­ers and no lav­ish prom­ises. I had even had to choose my own en­gage­ment ring.

If this man was so in­dif­fer­ent al­ready, then what would things be like in five or ten years? A mar­riage was hard work even with two com­mit­ted par­ties! I didn’t want another failed mar­riage to my name.

Once Alexa was in bed, I sat across the sofa from Iain and knew I had to tell him. “I can’t marry you.” I tried not to cry as I saw a look of in­credulity cross his face. He was quiet for a mo­ment and I wanted to take the words back, to tell him I was be­ing silly.

But the truth was, I was ter­rif ied. If los­ing Scott had bro­ken my heart, mar­ry­ing Iain and then los­ing him would be 10 times worse. I couldn’t take the risk.

“Why not?” The colour had drained from his face.

“I’m not sure it would work out,” I told him truth­fully. “Scott and I thought we were in love when we mar­ried – and look how that ended. I just can’t trust that I can make any mar­riage last.”

The fact he didn’t try to talk me round was all the proof I needed that I’d made the right de­ci­sion in call­ing off our en­gage­ment.

****

I glanced at my watch and frowned as I saw the time. Jenny had gone to see one of the sup­pli­ers hours ago, so she should have been back by now. I was go­ing to be late col­lect­ing Alexa from school if I didn’t leave in the next few min­utes.

When the phone rang I ex­cused my­self from the cus­tomer who had been chat­ting about the weather and heaved a sigh of re­lief when I saw Jenny’s mo­bile num­ber on the dis­play.

“A lorry over­turned on the by­pass,” she told me. “I’ve been caught up in the most hor­ren­dous traf­fic jam – and I’m still on the other side of town! I know you need to get away, so just lock up the shop with the spare key and don’t worry about the alarm.”

I looked around the shop. Things had been quiet – too quiet – lately. But for once there was a healthy com­ple­ment of cus­tomers brows­ing the gifts on the shelves.

Jenny had been so good to me, fit­ting my hours around school times. I was not about to re­pay her kind­ness by throw­ing po­ten­tial cus­tomers out from the shop.

De­cid­ing that Scott owed me and Alexa a favour af­ter the way he had ne­glected his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties at the week­end, I called him. “What’s up, Ellen?” Quickly I ex­plained what had hap­pened.

“So I won­dered if you’d be able to pick Alexa up from school, please?”

There was a sharp in­take of breath on the other end of the line.

“Sorry, can’t be done. I’m meet­ing some of the boys for a game of pool.”

I held my tongue and counted to 10. I re­fused to shout at him no mat­ter how strong the temp­ta­tion.

“Right. Out of in­ter­est, why did you bring Alexa home early at the week­end?”

“Some friends in­vited me to the beach.”

Se­ri­ously? The beach, with his friends? A man his age would pre­fer to go and build sand­cas­tles with his friends rather than spend time with his daugh­ter!

So he hadn’t ma­tured at all since we were teenagers. I should have re­alised that when he’d men­tioned to Alexa how he’d hoped to be in­vited to my wed­ding. That had been a very child­ish re­ac­tion on his part.

Fi­nally recog­nis­ing Scott’s im­ma­tu­rity, I re­alised I could, at last, for­give him for our di­vorce. More to the point, I could for­give my­self, be­cause it would have been dif­fi­cult for any­one to stay in love with some­one who was just a big kid at heart.

Scott had al­ways been like that – I could see it now. Those elab­o­rate dec­la­ra­tions of love had meant noth­ing, be­cause he hadn’t been ma­ture enough to make any life­long prom­ises.

If I hadn’t been so young my­self when we’d met, I would have re­alised how fickle he was. How our re­la­tion­ship had been doomed from the start.

Was I any bet­ter? I had at­tached true feel­ings to those ges­tures, when what I should have been look­ing for was a man I could de­pend on. Some­one who would change his plans at the last mo­ment be­cause my daugh­ter had been let down by her fa­ther.

Some­one who was happy to al­low my ex to come to our wed­ding be­cause he loved me enough to want to make me happy.

IHUNG up and turned to the counter. “This is lovely,” I told a cus­tomer as I took a trin­ket box she’d brought and rung it up. “That will be ten pounds fifty, please.”

I forced a smile for the cus­tomer, while feel­ing sick that I’d ru­ined my fu­ture by be­ing so stupid. I was about to ask the re­main­ing cus­tomers to come back later when the bell her­alded the ar­rival of another cus­tomer. It was the last per­son I’d ex­pected to see af­ter our con­ver­sa­tion yesterday.

Iain smiled hes­i­tantly and my heart flipped. I knew I loved him and, now I was think­ing straight, I could be­lieve he loved me.

“I hoped I’d catch you. I left work early and I thought we could pick Alexa up to­gether and maybe we could talk on the way there.”

I looked around help­lessly. I wanted to talk to Iain, of course I did, but a cou­ple of the cus­tomers were show­ing huge in­ter­est in the stock.

“Ac­tu­ally, Iain, would you col­lect Alexa for me, please? I’ll see you back at the house once I’m able to leave here.”

He didn’t ques­tion why I was ask­ing. He nod­ded and, as his lips brushed against mine in a brief good­bye kiss, I dared to hope that maybe I hadn’t ru­ined ev­ery­thing, af­ter all.

****

Iain was watch­ing the news on TV and Alexa was qui­etly read­ing a book when I ar­rived back.

Grasp­ing the op­por­tu­nity, I took Iain’s hand and led him from the liv­ing-room and into the kitchen.

“I’m so sorry about yesterday. It wasn’t that I don’t love you,” I told him qui­etly. “Be­cause I do. Very much. But I can’t stop think­ing about how badly my first mar­riage ended.”

“I’m not Scott,” he re­minded me, his blue eyes earnest.

I knew that, of course. But there was some­thing else that was still both­er­ing me. Some­thing that sounded so daft, even in my own mind, I barely dared men­tion it.

“What else is wrong, Ellen?” he asked wisely. “I prom­ise you, there’s no prob­lem we can’t solve if we tackle it to­gether.” My face grew warm. “It was when I told you I had in­vited Scott to our wed­ding. I just feel that most men wouldn’t be happy to have their wife’s ex-hus­band at the cer­e­mony. Most men might have been a lit­tle jeal­ous.”

Iain smiled and pulled me into his arms, and I went gladly.

“I wasn’t jeal­ous, be­cause I trust you, and I know you only wanted him there for Alexa’s sake.”

That was ex­actly what I needed to hear, and his re­ply made it eas­ier for me to air my other con­cern.

“What if we fall out of love?” I voiced my most dreaded fear as I looked up into his eyes.

“I love you so much that I’ll make sure to con­vince you to fall in love with me again.”

If Iain was so in­dif­fer­ent now, what would he be like in years to come? He proved he loved me by be­ing there when I needed him

“But do you, Iain? Do you re­ally love me?”

His arms tight­ened around me.

“Ah. I need to learn to say it more of­ten, don’t I?”

“Maybe the oc­ca­sional men­tion of it would be good.”

I sighed in con­tent­ment. So what if Iain didn’t make a big show of declar­ing undy­ing love at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity? He proved he loved me in the way that truly mat­tered – by be­ing there when I needed him.

I lifted my face to ac­cept his kiss.

“Well, then, will you marry me?” I couldn’t help smil­ing. “Try to stop me.”

The End.

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