This story is by Jo Winwood and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
‘What have you done, you steaming great idiot?’
Wet hair, grey skin, one strip of face shaved. Grant stared at the stranger in the mirror and sighed. Today was the day. Or more accurately today was the days, both of them. He was caught between a rock and …
‘Bloody hell! You cretin! You twit, what were you thinking?’
Water sprayed up and dark patches appeared on the complimentary bathrobe. Grant turned from the mirror, slammed the bathroom door behind himself and flopped onto the bed.
Lighting up the ceiling was the fancy projecting clock that he had so admired when he checked in. Now it was mocking him, taunting him with two hours to go until his wedding. And four hours until his second wedding. Two ceremonies. Two venues. Two receptions.
More importantly, two brides.
Grant closed his eyes, felt the remains of yesterday slide into the remains of Thursday’s stag party and pound behind his closed lids. Two hangovers from two stag parties and now two weddings. It was all too much.
On the back of the door a suit hung in a plastic wrapper. Grey morning suit, red waistcoat and tie, hired for the happy occasion. Or should that be occasions? Grant’s head was spinning. On the chest were two flowers, one yellow rose, one pink carnation. Each chosen by his bride to fit in with her colour scheme. All he had to do was choose.
Stephanie had gone with yellow roses, sunny and fresh, befitting her bubbly personality. That was what he had loved first about her: the laughter, the energy, the positive outlook. She was just the sort of girl his Dad would have liked for him, a little ray of sunshine just like his Mum. He had proposed in Devon during a rainstorm while they walked across the beach. She had squealed, jumped into his arms and agreed at once. Now he pictured her getting into her dress, pinning yellow roses in her hair and waiting for him at the church.
Andrea had chosen pink carnations, traditional, safe and not too showy. She was a quiet girl, never wanting the spotlight, never pushing herself forward. He had loved her reserve and the way she made him feel like the man in their relationship. He wanted to protect her and look after her, just the way his Dad had done for his Mum. She was the sort of girl his Mum would have chosen, a girl who wanted nothing more than to be his wife. He had proposed to her at the end of a lovely meal in their favourite Indian restaurant. She had blushed, cried and nodded yes. Now he pictured her smoothing her dress out, pinning on her veil and waiting for him in a second church on the opposite side of town.
Thank goodness neither of his parents were alive to see the depths to which their precious son had sunk. They would be so ashamed of the mess he had made of his life and the terrible choice he had to make today. The choice that would break the heart of one or other of the two women he loved. And he did truly love them both. That was what made this all so distressing.
Grant sat up, ran his hands through his damp hair and sighed again. This was dreadful. He had two women about to walk into two churches expecting him to be at the altar waiting for them. What was he going to do? He picked up his phone, scrolled through and selected a number.
‘Dave? Grant. Problem dude. Get here now. I know I said I’d meet you at the church but this is an emergency. Cheers, room 210, be quick.’
He repeated the actions on his phone.
‘Chris? Grant. Get here now. No, I mean now. Never mind what Jane says, I need you here. Yes, urgently, room 210.’
The phone dropped from his fingers and he opened the mini bar. Struggling with the tiny bottles he emptied them one by one into the glass from the bathroom and swirled the brown liquid round before downing it in one. Spluttering and coughing he rushed to the bathroom and bent over the toilet, vomited copiously and dropped onto his haunches.
There was a knock at the door. A member of hotel staff offered him congratulations and a complimentary bottle of champagne. He muttered thanks, twisted the cork out and drank straight from the bottle. Bubbled filled his nostrils, flowed over the rim of the bottle and soaked into the carpet. He laughed, then coughed, then cried.
More knocking and Dave was at the door. Grant flung the door open and retreated into the room.
‘Grant? You need to pull yourself together, mate. You have a starring role at a wedding in less than two hours!’
Another knock, another best man.
‘What a state! Ok Dave? Let’s get you ready, suited and booted for Andrea.’
Dave looked at Chris, shook his head.
‘Stephanie. He’s marrying Stephanie. I’m the best man and we have less than two hours to get you ready.’
‘Who’s Stephanie? The bride is Andrea. And I think you’ll find that those best man duties are to be performed by me.’
Grant looked from Dave to Chris, from Chris to Dave and let out a hollow laugh. Once he had started he found he couldn’t stop. And soon he was curled up on the floor beside the bed, weeping and laughing hysterically.
Some time later all three sat on the bed, passing the bottle. Grant was crying and hiccupping, Dave and Chris both shaking their heads and muttering ‘Oh mate.’ Nobody mentioned the time that was ticking away, getting closer to the time for the weddings to begin.
‘You need to man up Grant. You have to decide which way to go. Is it Andrea or Stephanie that you want to marry? You can’t leave one of them hanging so now is the time to make a call, let one of them down gently.’
His two best men nodded in agreement and waited, hardly daring to breathe. Grant stood up, nodded and locked himself in the bathroom.
Ten minutes of pounding on the door left him with a headache and no closer to making a decision. Then silence, muffled voices and the door being slammed. He waited, listened and unlocked the door. The room was empty, his suit was laid on the bed and the two flowers were pinned on opposite lapels. His phone pinged twice. He opened the messages from his two best men. Two pictures, two couples. One at a wedding, smiles and raised glasses, a happy couple. One in a field in driving rain, hair plastered to faces, burnt sausages waved at the camera, a deliriously happy couple. The same caption under each picture: ‘Does this make your heart sing?’ He knew at once which couple he wanted to be a part of, which woman made his heart sing, who he wanted to spend his life with. Life with Andrea would be happy, safe and comfortable but life with Stephanie would be exciting, unpredictable, fun. He picked up his suit, held it up and smiled. After all this was his wedding day, he should be happy. He plucked the carnation from the lapel and placed it carefully on the bed.
Later that day he slipped his jacket over the back of the chair and looked around him. All his mates were at the bar, swapping dirty and erroneous stories about him. He looked at the remains of the wedding feast on the table, the empty bottles and the crushed flowers. Across town, in another hotel the staff were clearing away his other, unused reception, listening as angry relatives cursed his name and the jilted bride drowned her sorrows with her girlfriends.
On the dancefloor a blurred figure in white swayed in the arms of his best man, her head slumped on his shoulder. His wife, the one he had chosen. Stephanie. He stood up, tapped Dave on the arm and took over the dance. Stephanie relaxed into his arms and he tried hard to concentrate on dancing with his new wife and not to think about Andrea, heart broken, tears staining her face, standing alone.