This story is by Paul Isaac and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Tami pulled over onto a quiet side road with a view of the church. It loomed foreboding above the tree line, conspiring to pierce the low bearing clouds to the point of puncture. We all dream of sun for our wedding day. Something about the rain’s intrusion just seemed… wrong.
‘It’ll ruin your dress,’ her passenger said, staring out at the gloom beside her.
‘The car park’s quite close to the entrance,’ Tami responded, ‘I’d only be out for a moment or two.’
‘That’s all it will take.’
As they listened to the patter on the windscreen, they held their silence. The time stretched itself thin, both agonisingly slow and way too fast all at once, concluding in Tami’s sigh.
‘If you don’t show up soon they’ll suspect I’m with you, those that know about me anyway. Emily will start asking about me.’
‘No,’ Tami said firmly, turning to force eye contact. ‘She won’t.’
Tami stopped to examine her hair, the natural brown combed back behind her shoulders, and caught sight of her own blonde twirls woven into her headpiece in the passenger window.
‘She can’t,’ Tami said more quietly, turning away from her reflection.
‘This isn’t you.’
Tami felt intruding fingers uncurling the styled strands and letting them fall flat to the side of her face. She had to make it stop. It had taken so much effort to put things in place.
‘It is today,’ Tami said catching the hand. She returned it to its owner, summoning the courage to look her in her baby blue eyes. ‘And it has to stay that way, forever.’ The latter elicited a scoff. It was perhaps a tad naive.
‘If marrying Emily is forever,’ her companion asked, ‘then why aren’t you inside?’
‘I wanted to face you before the ceremony,’ Tami said, ‘so I figured I’d go somewhere I knew you’d find me.’ She looked at the church. ‘Rather than watch Father remarry I came out here and worried about how fickle the heart can be. You were good company that day, but I didn’t expect us to grow so close.’
‘I kept you safe for so long.’
That voice had been weaker. Tami looked at her with a measure of pity and her expression softened, confrontational air waning.
‘But you were unfaithful.’
The delivery was so brutal it made Tami physically wince.
‘Rachel started sniffing around and pretty soon you didn’t have time for me anymore. It’s become a bit of a pattern for you, hasn’t it?’
‘Rachel was good to me,’ Tami said, closing her eyes against the painful recollection.
‘Until she wasn’t. You came crawling back to me soon enough.’
‘She made a mistake,’ Tami said pensively, ‘letting you back into my life was a bigger one.’
‘She wronged you.’
‘I could have forgiven her,’ Tami said, eyes beginning to water. ‘I’m sure if I-‘
‘I won’t let you.’
Tami nodded her head sadly, resisting the urge to touch her face. The tears there wanted to fall, but she couldn’t let them. A streak in her mascara would be too telling, an indication that she’d not been on her own. Misery loves company.
It came out as a surprise. Tami noticed her rock a little, and felt revulsion as she noticed her grin and rub her hands with glee.
‘Rachel was the best thing that ever happened to me,’ Tami said quietly, ‘but it was you. You drove a wedge between us with your lies. When Rachel left, you were worse,’ her voice faltered under the weight of memories. ‘So much worse.’
‘That girl has no idea, does she?’
‘Emily keeps you away,’ Tami said. She felt close to screaming.
‘But not like Rachel did. With Emily I’ve been sharing you this whole time.’
‘There’s,’ Tami struggled to finish her thought. ‘There’s something different.’
‘You don’t love her.’
Tami sighed. She sighed deep. So deep, that when her lungs grabbed for air again she thought she might never stop inhaling and the air would pass right through her. She felt ten times lighter.
‘Thank you,’ Tami said. For the first time since she pulled up, she bore a smile. Heck, even the rain started to subside. ‘I, needed to hear you say it.’ She revelled in the stunned expression that greeted her. ‘Don’t think I haven’t noticed your family lingering around. When Emily and I announced our engagement, they went away for a while, but they’ve been everywhere I turn in the last couple of days. I can’t stand them. I won’t let you use them against me anymore.’
‘This isn’t fair on Emily.’
‘Yes it is,’ Tami said, voice growing in confidence with every word. ‘She loves me. I don’t-‘
‘Precisely,’ Tami said, grinning. ‘You wonder why you’ve never met?’
‘Wait!’ Tami grabbed a hold of her fingers, and started twisting her arm. ‘This isn’t fair on you!’ She yelped as Tami pinned her to the seat, arm wrenching back behind her.
‘It isn’t,’ Tami agreed. She took a deep breath. The time had come. ‘I’ve made my choice. I may never be rid of you completely, you’ll likely plague me forever.’ She battled the remaining arm that tried to fend her off, forcing it down beneath her knee. ‘But marrying Emily will keep your family away from me, and Emily will be happy. All she’s ever tried to do is help me. I don’t love her, but that’s okay. She never needs to know.’
Tami’s hands found their way up around her throat. It felt good. She tried to push them together as hard as she could.
‘This is not right!’
Tami could barely hear the words as the airway tightened.
‘What you’re doing is wrong!’
She stared her quarry in the eye, finding a power in the weakening resistance. ‘I know.’
Tami and Emily stood facing one another, both dressed in the divine white plumage of a couple of radiant swans. Tami scanned the pews, relieved to hold the duckling within at bay. Most of the congregation wore their best excited smiles, but she found a few faces that were more subdued in a pew on their own near the back. She knew they’d be there, and cocked an eye at them in silent warning.
The most important smile was inches from her face. It’s lips were moving but for a moment she couldn’t hear the words. Tami found herself dumbfounded, Emily looked beautiful. It’s just a shame she was picturing someone else.
‘This is the part where you say it back, silly!’ Emily said.
‘Right,’ Tami squeaked, suddenly aware of the minister’s concerned glare. She had a quick glance toward those subdued faces again, who were suddenly perking up with interest. ‘I mean I do.’ They slumped back down, gathering up their belongings and heading quietly for the exits. Tami smiled in relief, and turned to see the beaming faces of her family.
When it came to the kiss Tami hesitated, but only for a moment. She had a nervous glance towards the back pew, but thankfully none of them had lingered long enough to catch it and the seats remained empty.
‘You know I was joking when I said blondes have more fun, don’t you?’ Emily said, reaching up and pawing appreciatively at Tami’s hair. ‘But I must admit, it does make your eyes shine like an ocean.’
‘Pardon?’ Tami asked, suddenly feeling on edge.
‘What a cheesy thing to say,’ Tami heard from the back of the hall. ‘But then, isn’t that just Emily?’ The voice cut across the clamour like a knife. She turned around to see a lone figure staring across at her, taking up residence in the vacated pew.
‘I was trying to say something romantic! I think I’m just getting swept up in the occasion,’ Emily said. ‘Carpe diem.’
‘Carpe diem?’ Tami asked distractedly. It had disappeared, but she could still feel her presence close by.
‘Seize the day. It’s Latin.’
Tami looked over her shoulder but no one was there. She turned back to Emily and jumped as the previously seated figure stepped out from behind her.
‘You should probably Google it if you’re not sure.’
‘I know what it means,’ Tami whispered to her under her breath. ‘I just don’t know why she-‘
‘You don’t need to keep it like that forever though!’ Emily continued, completely unaware of the conversation going on around her.
‘Oh good,’ the figure chimed in, running her fingers through her own brown locks. ‘She’s practically begging you to introduce us!’
If Rachel couldn’t accept her then what chance did Tami have if Emily ever discovered her? She’d leave, and Tami would get no respite from her assailant. They’d be together forever. Together alone.
‘I, I don’t?’ Tami stammered.
‘Of course not!’ Emily giggled. ‘Forever is a long time!’
The figure raised her hands to Tami’s throat and pulled her close enough to pool their baby blue eyes together. ‘You’ll find that out soon enough.’