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