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A Christmas Wedding
Author:Paige Toon

A Christmas Wedding

Paige Toon



The sight of his name in my inbox causes flu-like symptoms to wash over my body in quick succession: hot flush, cold flush, prickling all over, dizziness, nausea…

<Alex Whittaker>

It’s been three and a half years since I rang and told him to stop emailing me, but it has been impossible to wipe clean the memory of his last words: ‘I love you. I’m not giving up.’

But then he did give up. He let me go, just as I asked him to. And he hasn’t contacted me since.

Until now.

With my heart in my throat and a shaking hand, I hover over his name with my mouse, feeling surreally shocked that he can still have this effect on me after all this time. What does he want? Click…

Hi Bronte,

Sorry to land in your inbox out of the blue like this but I’m going to be in Sydney next month at the Tetlan offices. It’s unlikely I’ll be coming into Vivienne, but I thought I should let you know in case we bump into each other in the lift or something.

I hope all is well with you.

Alex

My heart thumps hard against my ribcage. Alex in Sydney? Next month? In the same building as me?

Alex and I used to work together at a celebrity weekly magazine in London – he was the head of the art department and I ran the picture desk. I heard on the grapevine that he has an even more senior role now, overseeing art direction for the whole of Tetlan, the publishing company that produces the women’s style magazine where I work.

I read his email again. His tone is hard to dissect. I can’t tell if he’s being cold and detached or respectfully distant. How does he even know where I work these days? Does he keep tabs on me? I shouldn’t care about any of this, but I’m alarmed to find that I do. Massively.

My eyes come to a rest on his sign-off.

I hope all is well with you.

What was going through his mind when he wrote that?

‘Hey, you ready?’

I whip my head around to see Christie, a colleague from the Style desk, smiling down at me expectantly. We’re about to do a casting for a photoshoot. Her face falls at the sight of my expression. ‘What’s wrong?’

‘Nothing,’ I lie, pushing out my chair and getting to my feet. ‘I’m all set.’

Am I going to see Alex again? Do I want to? I’m not sure I should be pondering the answer to that question.

As I gather my things together at the end of what has felt like a very long day, I overhear a group of people discussing their options for Friday night drinks venues.

‘You coming, Bronte?’ Louise, the features editor, calls from across the office.

I shake my head reluctantly. ‘I can’t. Next week, though, definitely!’ I try to inject some enthusiasm into my voice and feel bad as she turns away. I had planned to join in tonight – I’m quite new to this job and I haven’t fully integrated yet – but I need time to get my head together. The ferry ride home to Manly still won’t be long enough.

Today has been a struggle. I must’ve read Alex’s message fifty times, but I haven’t come close to formulating a reply. I need to talk it through with Lachie first. What will he say when he discovers that his old nemesis has been in touch?

Lachie and I still live in the same flat in the same northern beach suburb where we settled almost four years ago. Lachie was moving home to Australia permanently with his expended visa, but I was only supposed to be visiting for Christmas before returning to my job in London.

Then a certain someone rang and told me that he’d left the wife he’d married right in front of me and wanted to be with me instead.

Alex’s declaration of love was everything I had hoped to hear for months, but it was too late. I was happy with Lachie, and Alex had already caused too much pain.

I had a perfectly good plane ticket at the ready, but, rather than return to the UK to face my demons, I called my boss on the other side of the world and resigned so I could stay put in Sydney. I’ve been burying my head in the sand ever since.

I’m not proud.

Digging my phone out of my bag while waiting in line with the hordes of commuters at the ferry terminal, I type out a quick text to my boyfriend: ‘You coming home for dinner?’

Lachie replies just as I’m boarding: ‘At the pub. Thought you were out with work tonight?’

I wait until I’ve reached an empty space by the railings at the back of the ferry before I write back: ‘Change of plan…’ I hope he’s not up for a big one.

We’re already chugging out of Circular Quay by the time he replies: ‘Just got the beers in. Come join me!’

I sigh and slip my phone back into my bag, then tuck my long brown hair into my coat before zipping it up to my neck and bracing myself against the cold September wind. I don’t want to be a nagging girlfriend, but Lachie is gigging at a wedding up in Newcastle tomorrow, a couple of hours’ drive away, so that rules out pretty much the whole of Saturday. I need to talk to him about this tonight. I need to talk about this, full stop. If I don’t get it off my chest soon, I think I’ll burst.

The Sydney Opera House is cast in golden light from the setting sun as we motor past. It was sunny today for the first time in I can’t remember how long – spring is officially here, it seems – but I was too dazed at lunchtime to appreciate it.

Someone once said to me, you have to go back in order to be able to move on. Wise words, I’m sure, but the thought of seeing Alex again has always scared me. I haven’t returned to England since I left, and I still feel haunted by what happened. My boss, Simon, said he understood my decision to stay in Australia, but I’m mortified by how unprofessionally I behaved. Luckily my career wasn’t affected – at least, my magazine career wasn’t; I haven’t photographed a wedding since.

I thought that, with time, I’d start up that side of my work again, doing the occasional job on weekends, building up my portfolio, maybe even one day leaving journalism behind and going full-time as a wedding photographer. But, despite encouragement from Lachie, my mentor Rachel and my close friend Bridget, it still hasn’t happened. Work has been so full-on; I haven’t had the energy to pursue work as a weekend warrior, as well.

Sometimes, though, I find myself daydreaming about all of those Big Days that I did… Not Alex’s – I’ve buried that one too deep – but all of the others, and my head is full of images of beautiful brides and handsome grooms, flowers cascading from pews and the hands of pretty bridesmaids, sparkling champagne in crystal-clear flutes, and hazy blue skies and scented warm grass on perfect English summer days…

And then I miss it so much it hurts.

But I feel as if I left that part of me on the other side of the world and I’m not sure I could ever go back.

My stomach clenches. At this rate I won’t need to go back in order to move on. Like it or not, my past might be about to catch up with me right here in Sydney.

Lachie calls me as I’m disembarking at Manly.