Shopaholic Takes Manhattan

Page 42

And there’s another awful silence.

“I’ve seen his morning coat,” ventures Janice timidly. “But not his actual… body,” she whispers.

“I knew it. I knew it!” Lucy’s voice is loud and triumphant. “He never was here, was he?”

“Of course he was!” I say, trying to sound confident. “I expect he’s just in the—”

“You’re not going out with Luke Brandon at all, are you?” Her voice lashes across the marquee. “You just made the whole thing up! You’re just living in your own sad little fantasy land!”

“I’m not!” To my horror, my voice is thickening, and I can feel tears pricking at my eyes. “I’m not! Luke and I are a couple!”

But as I look at all the faces gazing at me — some hostile, some astonished, some amused — I don’t even feel so sure of that anymore. I mean, if we were a couple, he’d be here, wouldn’t he? He’d be here with me.

“I’ll just…” I say in a trembling voice. “I’ll just check if he’s…”

And without looking anyone in the eye, I back out of the marquee.

“She’s a bloody fruit loop!” I hear Lucy saying. “Honestly, Tom, she could be dangerous!”

“You’re dangerous, young lady!” I hear Mum retorting, her voice shaking a little. “Janice, I don’t know how you could let your daughter-in-law be so rude! Becky’s been a good friend to you, over the years. And to you, Tom, standing there, pretending this has nothing to do with you. And this is the way you treat her. Come on, Graham. We’re going.”

And a moment later, I see Mum stalking out of the marquee, Dad in tow, her lime-green hat quivering on her head. They head toward the front drive, and I know they’re going back to our house for a nice, calming cup of tea.

But I don’t follow them. I can’t bring myself to see them — or anyone.

I walk quickly, stumbling slightly, toward the other end of the garden. Then, when I’m far enough away, I sink down onto the grass. I bury my head in my hands — and, for the first time today, feel tears oozing out of my eyes.

This should have been such a good day. It should have been such a wonderful, happy occasion. Seeing Tom get married, introducing Luke to my parents and all our friends, dancing together into the night… And instead, it’s been spoiled for everyone. Mum, Dad, Janice, Martin… I even feel sorry for Lucy and Tom. I mean, they didn’t want all this disruption at their wedding, did they?

For what seems like ages I sit without moving, staring down at the ground. From the marquee I can hear the sounds of a band starting up, and Lucy’s voice bossing somebody about. Some children are playing with a bean bag in the garden and occasionally it lands near me. But I don’t flicker. I wish I could just sit here forever, without having to see any of them ever again.

And then I hear my name, low across the grass.

At first I think Lucy’s right, and I’m hearing imaginary voices. But as I look up, my heart gives an almighty flip and I feel something hard blocking my throat. I don’t believe it.

It’s him.

It’s Luke, walking across the grass, toward me, like a dream. He’s wearing morning dress and holding two glasses of champagne, and I’ve never seen him looking more handsome.

“I’m sorry,” he says as he reaches me. “I’m beyond sorry. Four hours late is… well, it’s unforgivable.” He shakes his head.

I stare up at him dazedly. I’d almost started to believe that Lucy was right, and he only existed in my own imagination.

“Were you… held up?” I say at last.

“A guy had a heart attack. The plane was diverted…” He frowns. “But I left a message on your phone as soon as I could. Didn’t you get it?”

I grab for my phone, realizing with a sickening thud that I haven’t checked it for a good while. I’ve been too busy dealing with imaginary Luke to think about the real one. And sure enough, the little message icon is blinking merrily.

“No, I didn’t get it,” I say, staring at it blankly. “I didn’t. I thought…”

I break off and shake my head. I don’t know what I thought anymore.

“Are you all right?” says Luke, sitting down beside me and handing me a glass of champagne. He runs a finger gently down my face and I flinch.

“No,” I say, rubbing my cheek. “Since you ask, I’m not all right. You promised you’d be here. You promised, Luke.”

“I am here.”

“You know what I mean.” I hunch my arms miserably round my knees. “I wanted you to be there at the service, not arrive when it’s all nearly over. I wanted everyone to meet you, and see us together…” My voice starts to wobble. “It’s just been… awful! They all thought I was after the bridegroom—”

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