Tuesday, November 29, 2016
This piece was a semi-finalist in the WCDR's Whispered Words competition and appeared in the printed Anthology (there is a link in the bar on the right).
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Depending on which side you’re standing, the carpeted aisle between the church pews stretches for miles. It was much less scenic from this side of a marriage certificate. Not at all what Jake had imagined so long ago.
In a dark corner of a quiet bistro, Shayla sat across from Jake. They laughed and talked with a natural ease that surprised them both. Oblivious to the other diners, unaware that coffee was long-ago cleared, they were more than a little embarrassed when the waiter cleared his throat.
“Pardon me, but the staff will be leaving soon.”
Shayla glanced at her watch. “It’s after midnight.”
Jake apologized to the waiter. “We were talking and I guess we lost track of time.”
The man shrugged, flashed a smile. “You shouldn’t rush love, my friend.”
No, Jake thought now, you shouldn’t.
Reluctant to bring the evening to an end, Jake took his time driving Shayla home that night. He parked on the quiet street, in front of the little yellow cottage she called home. Brilliant flower beds flanked the stairs that led up to the porch.
Jake led Shayla to the house. Her palm was warm and dry as she locked her fingers with his. Beneath the single coach light beside the front door, he pulled her close. His eyes tracked her face, committing every feature to memory.
“I had a wonderful time,” he said, cupping a hand behind her neck.
Framing her face, his fingers wrapped in her thick curls, Jake dipped his head down as Shayla tipped her face up to him.
Just a light kiss, he told himself, a chaste goodnight.
Their lips hovered a breath apart, pressed lightly. Shayla breathed a sigh. Then it changed.
Jake was freefalling, the air roaring in his ears. Shayla’s arms crept up his back as he pulled her in, changed the angle of the kiss, took it deeper. Teeth scraped, tongues searched and he fell further, darker.
Jake was abruptly aware that he had Shayla pinned to the front door, the strap of her dress hanging off her shoulder, the crest of one glorious orb glowing in the warm coach light.
He held her away, shame tearing through him. How much further would he have gone? And on her front porch for chrissake.
Her breathing, he noticed, matched his: fast and uneven. Shayla’s hazel eyes were wide with surprise and—he could see a hint of it—fear.
“What was that?”
“I don’t know.” Jake shook his head. “I’ve never...”
Shayla leaned into him and he wrapped his arms around her, pressed his cheek against the top of her head and willed his heart to steady.
No, Jake thought, as he walked down the narrow church aisle, this kiss wasn’t going to be like that at all.
The planning for this day began almost a year ago. At first, there were vague notions, like the ambience and tone they wanted to set for the day. Jake smiled as he thought of how often Shayla had changed the music selection. She was determined this day would be perfect.
“After all,” she’d said, time and again, “it only happens once, right?”
Yeah, Jake thought. Only once. As soon as they knew the date, they met with their priest.
“This will be a trying time for you,” said Father Jim, his voice soft and soothing. “You will argue, and there will be tears, but if you rely on the strength of your love for each other, it will carry you through.” Jake squeezed Shayla’s hand. “We won’t argue, Father.”
And they didn’t. Jake couldn’t see the point. It was Shayla’s day and, as far as he was concerned, she would have whatever she wanted. Shayla had a vision of how she wanted her day to be and Jake found it easier to agree. When anyone questioned their plans, his firm response was always, “It’s what Shayla wants.” His tone left no room for discussion.
Despite the cheerful façade he had maintained, Jake could now admit that Father Jim had been right. This past year was trying.
He stood with Shayla at the front of the tiny chapel. The arc of colour cascading from the stained-glass windows seemed to dance in celebration.
Behind him, Jake could hear family and friends shuffle in their pews, their hushed voices drifting up to him. A year of careful planning had come down to this moment. A whole year, and he still wasn’t ready.
He glanced at Shayla, her face relaxed and serene. Diamond earrings—a gift for their one-year anniversary—winked at her ears. The ivory dress she had selected so many months ago, now fit just a little too loose.
Everything is going to change, he thought. It’s never going to be the same. Ever.
He wanted to go back to the way things were, before it all went wrong. Every instinct told him to run, burst through the chapel doors, and rush into the sunlight. He thought he was ready for this. He needed just one more year, one more month.
Just one more goddamned day.
It was too late, and there was nothing he could do to change it.
Jake closed his eyes for a brief moment, then nodded at Father Jim. Silence shuddered through the small chapel when the priest raised his bible. As Father Jim’s gentle voice floated over them (‘Friends, we are gathered here today…’), Jake covered Shayla’s delicate hands with his.
“I love you,” he whispered, as he bent down and pressed his lips against his wife’s cold, lifeless mouth.