“I publish the banns of marriage between Sarah Holderness, spinster, and Brian Carter, bachelor, both residents of the state of Maine, and due to wed in this parish. This is for the third time of asking, and if anyone knows of any just cause or impediment why these two should not be wed, let them declare it now.”
One of the quaint things I love about the services at St Cuthbert’s, the parish church of Holderness, is the way they are required to observe some customs, such as having to announce three times an upcoming wedding, even if they are such an unusual couple as Sarah and Brian. Sitting there with Mum and Dad, it gave me a chance to think back on everything that has happened in the least year, including meeting Sarah and Brian for the first time last summer.
Angela had taken Andy into the crèche, so that both our parents could be here to hear the banns with the others. Aunt Susan and Uncle Alexander were in the aisle in front of us, along with Bobby and Suzie, and in the aisle in front of them were my grandparents, along with Sarah and Brian.
They had arrived just after New Year, and were staying at the manor for the wedding. So far, they were the only guests to arrive, but in two days time the first of the American group were coming – something I was looking forward to, given Heidi was one of them.
Sarah was wearing a pink and black smock top, covering the fairly obvious bump on her stomach, and a pair of black stretch pants with short boots, while Brian had on a thick jumper and black denim trousers. Actually, we were all wrapped up warm, given the sudden cold turn in the weather.
Anyway, Sarah and Brian – I first met them after… Well, I’m sure others have written about it, but last summer there was a very nasty robbery at the Manor House, one where my grandmother, mother, aunt and sister along with the relatives of my best friend Jenny Craig were assaulted. The thing was, they were saved by a woman who somehow managed to overcome the gang, and that person turned out to be Sarah.
It was only some time later, however, that we managed to piece everything together. And we discovered, over a very unusual weekend, some very deep family secrets – such as the fact that Sarah, although we found out her name was Smite, she really was a Holderness. So now we knew her as Sarah Holderness, and that was the name she would be married under.
So here we were, as the vicar announced the next hymn and we stood up to sing. Brian has this rich tenor voice, even if it sounds a bit funny with an Australian accent, but hey – Hugh Jackman can do it, so can he.
After that weekend, things began to change a lot for me, starting with Martin. I’d known Martin for some time, and we were getting closer, but somehow we’d never made that step of saying how we felt about each other – until the day of Bobby’s birthday, the summer ball, and the fact that during a game at the manor, he managed to trick Martin into finding me, bound and gagged in the attic, and unable to stop my darling cousin from pointing out he could see how we both felt about each other.
He has a future in relationship counselling, that boy.
Anyway, despite Bobby’s shock therapy, we did manage to tell each other how we feel, in time for Martin to accompany me to the ball, lead me in the first dance. Not just in public, but also inside at the family dance – the one where, by tradition, the younger females are bound and gagged.
How that tradition started, I have no idea – Granddad always said it was in his time, and his grandfather encouraged it, so stick it has.
Still – Martin and I have got awfully close since then, and he has a hidden sense of humour behind that silent exterior. And he sounds wonderful – he does so now, in the choir.
I can see Jenny and Cassie across the aisle as well, Bobby and Cassie smiling at each other. They think we don’t know just how deep the feelings they have for each other are, but it’s obvious even to someone as shy as me. I think it’s cute, Angela thinks it won’t last, and Grandma – Grandma just smiles.
We’ve spent a bit of time in each other’s houses recently, both with the wedding and also – well, we spent a weekend in very unusual circumstances, thanks to a man called Jay Edwards.
We were meant to be staying at their house for the weekend, with their cousin Patty and her friend Rachel. During the summer holidays, Cassie and Jenny had inherited a lot of their grandmother’s old clothes, and the idea was we would append the weekend being girl detectives from the fifties.
And then Jay and his men arrived. They were bank robbers, who held families hostage while they forced someone to steal money for them. In this case, their target was Mister Craig, and they planned to hold us hostage all weekend. Jenny and Cassie had met him before, when they spent the night very tightly bound and gagged – and it looked like we were going to spend the whole weekend that way.
It turned out that was exactly what they planned – so we spent the weekend, in various outfits, ropes tied tightly round us and very thoroughly gagged. The only time we weren’t gagged was when we were eating, and the only time we weren’t bound was when we went to the toilet or washed. Even when we were in bed, we tied to the bed in some way.
Three things stuck in my mind from that weekend. The first was personal – that weekend just happened, by pure dumb luck, to be the first time I had really experienced… Well, I think you can guess what I was feeling like, which did not help my mood.
The second was the fact that, halfway through the weekend, we were all blindfolded, loaded into what turned out to be the Craig family car, and driven to a house out in the country where we spent the rest of our captivity. The house was big, and we actually ended up spending a lot of time playing games over the time of the stay. In fact, the guy Edwards spent a lot of time making it a game, so that little Patty and her friend Rachel weren’t afraid. I’ve been in enough scrapes with the Craigs to know what was happening – but we all, including Mrs Craig, made it as much a game as possible.
The third thing happened on that Saturday as well – somehow, we ended up an extra band of rope around our arms, just under our chests, and I knew Jenny felt the same way about it as I do. It was the look on Cassie and Suzie – I think they had no idea what was going on at first, and when we had a discussion later on whether or not we should have that extra band in future, they could not make their mind up!
Anyway, in the end our rescue came from a very unexpected source – Bobby and his friend Colin. They had gone to Cassie and Jenny’s house, found the house was empty, figured something was wrong, and alerted their fathers. They in turn had talked to their Aunt Cassie, and – well, come the Sunday afternoon, Jay and his men had gone, and Bobby and Colin found us.
That was a weekend I’ll never forget, as I sat back down and the vicar decided to preach on 1 Corinthians 13. Love – I think I’m just beginning to discover what that means, and not just with Martin but also with the family.
A few weeks ago, I was at home when Martin called round to check something, and I went to make some coffee – only to be grabbed by two masked men, dressed in overalls, who taped over my mouth and eyes, sip tied my wrist behind my back, and marched me out to some sort of van. I had no idea what was going on, who was responsible, anything – until I was tied to a chair, very tightly indeed, the blindfold removed – and there was Suzie, and next to me Rachel and Cassie.
More to the point, my kidnappers had taken their masks off – and that’s when I learned they were Martin, Bobby and Colin. Worse still, I recognised my darling sister Angela and Eddie, the older brother of my friend Mary, as two of the other guards.
Let’s just say I was not the happiest of young ladies, and I made my feelings very clear as to how I was at that moment in time. But it was no use – we were being held hostage in a cellar somewhere, and over the rest of that day we were joined by Patty, Jenny and Lisa, Cassie’s friend from across her street.
The worst bit, at first, was we were as tightly bound, gagged and secured as that weekend with Edwards, but they would not allow us to do anything except sit on a camp bed, lie on the bed to sleep, or sit at a table to eat.
The next day, we were surprised to see five more join us – our friends Mary and Cathy, and Cassie’s friends Hazel, Claire and Pippa. We had calmed down a bit, and had to calm them down, but the same thing had happened to all of us – one by one, we had been grabbed and brought there, wherever there was.
And that turned out to be the cellar of Wissenden Manor, the new home of Bobby and his family, and the very place Jay Edwards had taken us that Saturday. Turned out it was for sale, Granddad bought it with Uncle Alexander, and now it is something like the junior home for the Holderness family.
And the reason for the mass kidnapping? The reason they scared all of us half to death?
To make sure we were all at the hall, to attend a gala party for Cassie and Suzie, of course. Let’s just say I managed to forgive all three of them by the end of the evening – even if I ended up leaving the party the same way I had been brought there, bound, gagged and blindfolded.
“Now let us sing our final hymn – All Creatures That on Earth Do Sing…”
“Well, that sees all the church formalities taken care of,” Grandma said as we assembled in the library after our return from church, and Mrs Bridges had brought in hot drinks for the adults, and some squash for Cassie and Suzie, “and dinner will be in an hour or so. Everything is now in place for Saturday.”
The wedding of Sarah and Brian was going to take place at the manor – a tradition that also stretches back generations, and for which the Lord of Holderness gets a special dispensation. There had been a little fuss to sort out, but Granddad had taken care of that with his usual ease and charm.
“I have to confess,” Brian said as he helped Sarah to sit down, “some of the traditions you have here still baffle me a little. I guess I’ve lived in America too long – everything seems to happen much more quickly over there.”
“Well, we like it this way,” Grandma said as she sat down. “Now, the fittings for the dresses are on Wednesday, or at least the final ones. When do the rest of them get here?”
I’d been told a while back that, although this was an English wedding, Sarah had chosen a number of bridesmaids – well, six bridesmaids, two flower girls and one maid of honour. The maid of honour was Anne Duncombe, a very close friend of Sarah’s who had helped our families get over the trauma of that night. Anne was flying in tomorrow.
Then on Tuesday my pen friend Heidi Strong, and her friends Cindy and Natalie were coming with their mothers and Natalie’s parents. It gets a bit confusing – Heidi and Cindy are actually more like sisters now, because their mothers are partners. Natalie, on the other hand, is adopted, but her natural mother is Heidi’s aunt Veronica – and all of them were coming to stay at Wissenden Hall with Bobby’s family. Heidi, Cindy and Natalie were three of the bridesmaids – Angela, Jenny and I made up the rest of that party.
Suzie and Cassie were to be the flower girls – something they had been rather vocal about, until it was pointed out to them that meant they walked in first, which kept them a bit happier.
As for the rest of the party – Brian had asked the father on another of Heidi’s friends, someone called Jack Hawkins, to be his best man, while Granddad had insisted on the right to give Sarah away. As he put it, he was the oldest living relative, given he was actually her uncle, and he would be honoured to.
So Alice and her family, along with Anne’s sister Sue, a friend of Anne’s called Kayla, Anne herself, Jannifer and her family, Natalie’s aunt and two friends of Angela’s, Chloe Bandelaine (who we had met before) and her boyfriend were flying in on Thursday. They had said they would stay in a nearby hotel, over Granddad’s protests, on the grounds of it gave Brian somewhere to go on Friday night.
“I think they may have to let my dress out a little again,” Sarah said with a sigh, “I seem to have grown some more.”
“That’s what happens when you carry twins,” Mum had said with a smile as she held Andy in her arms.
Now, Jenny and I were really looking forward to the girls coming – we hadn’t seen them since the previous summer, and we had a lot to catch up on. Having said that, we wanted them to have a really fun time here – and we had just the idea of how to do that. The Craigs had also joined us for lunch, as had their grandmother.
So, after lunch, we cornered Grandma while the younger generation went upstairs, and said “Can we have a word please?”
“OF course you can, Alicia,” she said as we retired to the kitchen.
“Grandma,” I said quietly, “we were wondering if our American friends might like a surprise on the way here.”
“Oh, what sort of surprise?”
“The kind we had for the party just before New Year.”
She looked at us, and said “You do remember what happened to all the girls last October?”
“We do,” Jenny said, “but we think they may enjoy this – once the initial shock wears off. What do you think?”
Grandma looked at us, and said “Let me think about it, and talk to their mothers. They will need to approve – but you have a problem. They know Colin and Bobby.”
She then thought for a minute, and smiled. The sort of smile I knew meant she had an idea.
“Wait here a moment,” she said as she left us in the kitchen, returning a few minutes later with Jenny’s dad. We explained our idea to him, and he listened carefully, before saying “When does their flight land at Heathrow?”
“I will check, but I believe it is at about 7.30 on Tuesday morning, so between 9 and 10 by the time they leave Terminal 3.”
Mister Craig sat back and looked at both of us. “I’ll need to call in a couple of favours – the problem is they know most of us, and even with masks on and them being a little sleepy I think they may twig what’s happening. Having said that…”
I could see Jenny’s grin getting bigger before he said “All right then – Jenny, Alicia, you’re on. I’ll let you know what happens in due course.”
And with that, we had to be content – for the moment.
“Alicia, can you pass the box of wet wipes over?”
I picked the box up from the counter and handed it to Mum, watching as she took one out and wiped Andrew’s chin. “I really never thought I’d get past this again,” I heard her to say to herself as I bit into a slice of toast, looking over my History assignment as I did so.
“Hey,” Dad said when he came in, “I just heard from Amy to say that they had landed safely. When are you going to see them?”
“I’ve got the day off school tomorrow for a fitting,” I said quietly, “so I guess I won’t see any of them before then.”
“Fair enough – but you’d better get a move on, young lady, or you’re going to miss the bus.”
I grabbed my bag and ran out, almost knocking Angela over as she spoke on the telephone. I made it on time – just – and when I got to school I found Jenny sitting with Mary and Cathy.
“Well if it isn’t the bridesmaid,” Cathy said as I sat down. “We got the order for your flowers yesterday – my mums are going to be very busy over the next few days.”
“So are you both looking forward to coming to the evening event? I’m sorry you can’t come to the wedding itself, but at least you get to party that night.”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Mary said with a smile. “So has Eddie seen you yet?”
“Eddie? No – why would he?”
Mary looked at me in a funny way, and then said “he came last night and left early this morning – said something about doing something for Angie. Maybe I misheard.”
“Ask him when you get home,” Jenny said as she poked her in the ribs. “So what are you going to be wearing?”
“Forget us,” Cathy said as she leaned forward, “What are YOU going to be wearing?”
“Sorry,” Jenny said, “sworn to secrecy.” As she leaned back, I felt my mobile phone vibrate, and I took it out to see who it was.
It was a message from Grandma, and simply said “It’s begun.”
“Hey,” Jenny said as she looked at the usual bunch of boys congregating, “where’s Martin?”
“Probably doing a rehearsal for Saturday – he and his family are singing and playing.”
Further discussion was stopped by the bell, as we made our way into the school.
It was when we were going to Lunch that we saw Martin, and one look at him told us he had been busy. Not that he was scruffy, or anything, but he walked up to me, hugged me and then said “I need to talk to you and Jenny – grab your lunch and meet me in the music room.”
So the two of us grabbed a sandwich and a drink, made some excuse to the others and went back into the school, joining Martin as he sat by the piano, tinkling away at a tune.
“All right, Martin,” Jenny said as we sat down, “what’s the word?”
“The word is – wow,” Martin said as he looked at us. “I have to tell you that Ms Heidi Strong, Ms Cindy Elsworth and Ms Natalie Jenkins are currently very much securely tucked away in the cellar of Wissenden Hall, while their mothers and Veronica Cabot are enjoying a light lunch with your aunt and uncle right now.”
“And you know this because?”
“Because,” Martin said with a smile, “I was one of the ones who took them there. Let me start at the beginning.
“I got a call from your dad,” Martin said as he looked at Jenny,” to meet him in town last night. When I got there, Mary’s brother was also there, and two other people – one I knew, one I didn’t know. The one I knew was Mark Williamson – Charlie and Lisa’s dad.”
“And the one you didn’t know?”
“Some guy called Billy James – apparently he’s a teaching assistant at Cassie’s school, and your dad knows him well. Anyway, he told us what you had suggested, and Mister Williamson had cooked up a plan for how to grab the girls in the same way the three of us did you girls. We talked, and at eight o’clock this morning I was picked up by Mister Williamson in a grey van.
“All four of us – Eddie, Billy, Mister Williamson and I – wore blue boiler suits, and he had brought black leather gloves and balaclava masks for us to wear. He’d also got ahold of a couple of dummy shotguns, and a starting pistol, to make it more authentic.
“We drove to Beaconsfield services, on the M40, and waited there until Mister Williamson got a text, and then we drove off. When we got onto the motorway, I realised we were following a minibus – and when we overtook at one point, I could see Mister Bridges driving it. So we followed him, or let him go first, until he got off the motorway and we drove through High Wycombe, then onto the old road.
“It must have been about nine thirty when we over took him, and then stopped on a quiet stretch of the road. Eddie got out, and pretended to be working under the bonnet until Mister Bridges drove past, and then stopped, getting out to see if we wanted a hand.
“That was our cue – we all had the masks on, and as Eddie held the starting pistol against Mister Bridges the three of us jumped out of the back and opened the minibus doors. Mister Williamson took the lead, telling the girls and the older women not to scream or anything, before I grabbed a smaller girl with blonde hair.”
“That’s Heidi,” I said as I wished I had been there to see it, “what did you do?”
“Exactly what we did with you lot – ziptied her wrists behind her back, tape gagged her, covered her eyes with tape, and then led her to the back of the van. As I did this, Eddie grabbed a thin, dark haired girl.”
“Cindy,” Jenny said quietly, “so he secured her, gagged her and put her in the van as well?”
Martin nodded before he said “I then went back for the third girl. She was a bit more ready to fight, and she had some strength to her, but I noticed she was barefoot.”
“Nats,” we both said in chorus.
“Anyway, we got her in the van as well, Mister Williamson telling Mister Bridges and the four other women not to follow us or call the police, but to go to Wissenden Hall and wait for a call. We then got into the back of the van while Eddie drove off, and we got to work securing the three of them.
“You could tell they had just got off a trans-Atlantic flight – They were wearing cardies and sweatshirts, t-shirts and jeans, so we taped their ankles and legs, then their arms to their sides, before wrapping more tape around their heads to keep them quiet. We then put sponges in their hands, covered them with clean socks, and taped them into fists – I got the feeling Cindy in particular could have undone the ziptie if she wanted to.”
“It wouldn’t surprise me,” Jenny said with a smile, “Cassie learned a thing or two from her. So you secured them with tape, made sure their hands were covered, and then?”
“Straight to Wissenden Hall – I carried Heidi in, then Eddie Natalie and Bobby Cindy. We took them down to the cellar, where Angela was waiting, dressed in the same way as us.
“We sat them down in chairs, and held them on their shoulders while Mister Williamson cut the zipties away, but crossed and bound their wrists with rope as soon as he did so. He also tied their wrists to their back, before cutting the tape from their arms and letting Angela get to work with the extra bands. As he moved on, we knelt in front of them, and replaced the bands of tape with ropes around their ankles and legs, before tying their ankles to the side of the chair.
“Anyway – once all three were secured, Angela tied their waist and laps to the chair, while we removed the tape and gave them the full gag – sponge, knotted towel strip, tape round the head and a scarf tied over it. Only when all three were secured did we remove the blindfolds.”
“Martin, you have a really evil streak in you at times,” I said as I leaned over and kissed him, “it’s one of the things I love about you.”
He blushed as Jenny said “So what did they look like when they saw you?”
“Terrified,” was what Martin said. “Angela had the balaclava on, and I think she’s the only one of us they’ve met. When she spoke, however, I think Heidi recognised her voice, and mumbled something to the other two as they calmed down.
“Angela told them they were being held captive, and in a little while they’d be fed, allowed to go to the toilet and made to send a message to their mothers. Otherwise, they would remain their captives until the ransom was paid.
“That was when we got the signal to leave, as Eddie stayed down there with her. The rest of us went back upstairs, taking off the masks as we did so – only to meet their mothers as they arrived with Mister Bridges.”
“I bet that was a meeting to be devoutly wished for,” Jenny said with a smile. “What do you make of Amy and Dorothy?”
“I liked them – they gave me a hug, as did the other two, and said I was younger than they were expecting. Your mum had also arrived with the twins, Jenny, so she made the introductions before Mister Bridges said he would run me to school – and so, here I am.”
“Indeed – and a job well done,” I said as I bit into my sandwich. “So,” I said after I swallowed, “Are you doing guard duty later?”
Martin nodded. “We’re coming to the hall tonight to play for your grandparents, and I’ll take a stint then. When are you planning to see them?”
“Not today,” I said quietly, “I need to stay out of their way. I’ll be up at the hall tomorrow morning, so I’ll sneak down and see them then.”
Come the next morning, I arrived at the hall at about nine am, in time to see Eddie emerge from the cellar.
“Hey there,” he said as he rubbed his hand through his hair, “we just got them secured for the morning, but they haven’t got blindfolds on – so best you don’t go down.”
“Fair enough – can I see the ransom videos though?”
“Ask your Uncle Alexander – he’s in there with the others now.”
So I went into the front room, and said “Hi – sorry I didn’t get here until today.”
“That’s all right,” Amy said as she looked up from one of the couches, Dorothy sitting next to her. They were both wearing jeans and blouses, with flat shoes on. Veronica and Katherine, Natalie’s mum – well, they both were her mum, but anyway – were pouring themselves a coffee as Aunt Susan sat down with Uncle Alexander.
“Looking forward to the fitting this afternoon,” Aunt Susan said as she sipped her coffee.
“That’s not the word I’d use – where are Bobby and Suzie?”
“They’ll be back at lunchtime – they couldn’t get the whole day off.”
“So, Alicia,” Dorothy said as she put her coffee cup down, “I understand you and Jenny were responsible for our surprise when we arrived yesterday. Care to tell us what gave you that idea?”
“Well,” I said as I sat down, and started to explain what had happened just before New Year…
“Well,” Veronica eventually said, “I’m glad we agreed, but it was incredibly realistic. Whoever you got to do it, they knew how to act the part.”
“You’ll meet them on Saturday, if not before,” Uncle Alexander said as he looked at me. “Right now, tell us all about the others who are coming…”
It would have been about 1 when I heard the voices, and saw Bobby and Suzie come in, accompanied by Jenny and Cassie. “Hello Susan,” their mother said as Mrs Boyle helped her with the car seats. Grandma and Granddad followed them in, as they said “Good afternoon everyone – I trust you managed to sleep well?”
“We slept like logs,” Dorothy said with a smile, “but I’m not sure about the other three.”
“Don’t worry – they slept like babies.”
I looked up to see Angela standing in the doorway, wearing a blue boiler suit and holding a balaclava in her gloved hand. “When will dinner be ready, Mrs Boyle?”
“In about thirty minutes, Miss Angela,” the housekeeper said.
“Enough time then,” she said as she looked at me and Jenny. “I need you two to give me a hand – come and get changed.”
As Jenny and I followed her, she opened the downstairs toilet. “There are two boiler suits in there, gloves and masks – put them on and then come with me.”
The suit was baggy, which was just as well given Jenny still had her school uniform on, so as we pulled the gloves and masks on, there was nothing to show there was a couple of teenage schoolkids in there. We walked out to find Angela had already put her mask on, as we walked down into the cellar.
I could see someone else there already, and he winked at us as we came down. An educated guess, and the fact I knew what he looked like in that gear, told me Eddie had been on morning watch for the three captives.
All three were on the camp beds, looking up at us over the scarves that covered their lower mouths. Heidi was on the first bed, wearing a white polo shirt and a pair of blue jeans. Next was Cindy, in a grey smock top with a white long sleeved top underneath, and a pair of black leggings. Finally there was Natalie, squirming round in her light blue t-shirt and boho skirt that came to just below her knees.
All three were barefoot, with their hands covered by socks and tape behind their backs. They were tied as we had been – wrists crossed and secured together behind their backs, then rope around their waists and wrapped between their arms and back. A band held their lower arms to their stomachs, then two bands above and below their chests.
As for their legs, their ankles were secured side by side, and then their legs below their knees, while a length of rope went from their ankles to the foot of each bed. I could guess just how much packing was under those scares as well from the way their cheeks bulged.
Heidi wriggled round as she looked at us, and said “Hwmssshlngr?”
“You can go now,” Angela said to Eddie, who nodded and left without saying anything. “Good news,” she then said to all three of them, “your ransom has been paid, and we’re going to take you back to your mothers. I’m going to untie you from the bed, one by one, and I want you to sit on the sides of the bed without saying anything. Understand?”
The three girls nodded as Jenny and I had to turn and stop ourselves from giggling. “You two,” Angela said in a commanding voice, “help me here.” We went and stood by Cindy and Natalie’s bed before we untied their ankles from the metal, and helped all three to sit up.
“Whrrwww,” Natalie said as she wriggled her toes on the cold floor.
“You know we’re not going to tell you that,” Angela said as she turned Heidi to the side and started to untie the chest ropes. “Release her legs, and then get the tape,” she said to us, so as Jenny knelt down and removed the ropes around her ankles and legs I walked over and picked up the roll of white micropore tape.
“I want you,” Angela said to Heidi, “to close your eyes. We’re going to blindfold you, and then you sit still until we tell you to move, all right?” Heidi nodded as I tore off a long strip of the tape, and then stood in front of her. She looked at me, before closing her eyes and allowing me to blindfold her.
Cindy quietly allowed us to free and blindfold her, but as Natalie sat up she tried to stand as well. “I told you to sit down,” Angela said as she put her hands on her shoulder. “We don’t want a repeat of what happened when you changed this morning, do you?”
“Neednt,” Nats mumbled as she sat back down, and then was blindfolded.
“All right,” Angela said as she helped Natalie to stand, and we accompanied Heidi and Cindy, “Walk with us, keep quiet, and it will soon all be over.” She took the lead, holding Natalie’s arm as we followed her up the stairs, and into the dining room.
Mrs Boyle was setting the last places, and smiled at us as we escorted our guests to the three seats at the centre of one side. Sitting them down, I was surprised to see them meekly put their legs against the front legs of the chair.
“Not this time – you just need to sit still,” Angela said as she nodded to us, and we started to untie their arms. As we coiled the ropes and put them to one side, their mothers came in and took four of the chairs on the other side f the table, moving as quietly as possible.
“Whstsgngngnn,” Cindy said as Jenny began to unwind the tape from her hands. “You will sit still and quiet until we tell you to move,” Angela said again in that commanding voice of hers, as the others came in as well – Cassie and Suzie sitting at one side of the American visitors, Grandma and Granddad on the other side.
As Bobby, Uncle Alexander and Aunt Susan sat at one end of the table, we started to remove their gags while they rubbed their wrists. Under the folded scarf was a band of white tape encircling their heads, and once I had removed that I saw the knotted strip of towel between their teeth. We untied them, and helped the cloth to come out of their mouths, before standing back.
“All right,” Angela said quietly, “you may remove your blindfolds now.”
Very slowly, Heidi reached up and peeled the tape away from her eyes, blinking as she allowed them to adjust to the light. She then took one look at her mother, smiling across the table from her, and said “What the…”
Turning her head, she saw that the three of us had removed our masks, while Cindy and Natalie were looking round. “Where…. How…. When…”
“Welcome to Wissenden Hall girls,” Uncle Alexander said as Mrs Boyle started to bring in some bowls of soup, “we hope you enjoyed your stay here last night.”
“Our stay here last…” Natalie looked at her mother, before saying “Oh great god above, you mean this was all a game? And you knew? YOU KNEW???”
“I’m afraid so dear,” Katherine said as she smiled back across the table. “But don’t think it was our idea – thank your friends behind you.”
“You suggested this,” Heidi said as she turned and looked at me, while I took off the boiler suit. “I thought I recognised Angela’s voice, but this was your idea? Then who did it – I didn’t recognise anyone else!”
“We’ll tell you over lunch,” I said as I walked forward and hugged Heidi, “welcome back anyway – did you enjoy it?”
“Once we figured out it was someone we knew, yes – but whoever you got to do it, they knew what they were doing. How on earth did you get the idea?”
“It happened to us,” Jenny said as she hugged Cindy and Natalie, “but never mind that now – you must be hungry. Mrs Boyle is a very good cook, so sit back down and tuck in.”
“So this is where you live now, Suzie,” Heidi said as she sat back down and looked across the table, “I like what I’ve seen of it – mind you, it’s just this room and – where were we anyway?”
“In the cellar,” Bobby said as he picked up a hunk of bread, “I took your mothers down last night after you had gone to sleep to show them.”
“You watched us? Oh great – and me with a Laura Ingalls nightshirt on as well!”
“Oh yes – and such a wonderful sight it was as well,” Veronica said with a smile. “Do you know you talk in your sleep?”
“I don’t” Natalie said as she looked over, than at the other girls. “Do I?”
“Sometimes, but we ignore it,” Cindy said as she took a mouthful of soup. “This is very good,” she said as she looked at Mrs Boyle. “Can we get the recipe?”
“If you can give me one for clam chowder,” Mrs Boyle said.
“Deal – we’ll talk later,” Cindy said with a smile. “So we’ll be staying here for the trip?”
“That’s right,” Suzie said. “I’ll show you the house later, and the grounds tomorrow, but we have to go into town this afternoon – dress fitting.”
“And tonight you will be having dinner at the Manor house – Sarah and Brian are most anxious to see you as well,” Grandma said as she looked at us.
“Tell me they didn’t see us,” Cindy said as she looked at her mother.
“No – they were busy last night,” Dorothy said with a smile.
“Sorry I’m late,” Eddie said as he came in and took the one empty seat, “I had to clean up downstairs first.”
“Heidi, Cindy, Nats, this is my boyfriend Eddie Holmes,” Angela said as she smiled at him, “one of your captors.”
“Pleasure,” Eddie said as he smiled at them, and then started to eat the soup.
“I liked him,” Nats said with a smile, and I laughed in return.
“Just promise me,” Heidi said as she looked at me, “you’re not going to do that for any of the others.”
“Nope – they’re going to a hotel anyway,” I said in response.
“Good – I don’t think Alice in particular would like it, and Chloe…”
“Chloe is getting very good at getting out of ropes,” Natalie said quietly.
Once we had finished dinner, and the others had a chance to change out of their school uniforms, the six of us climbed into Mrs Craig’s large car, while the mothers got into the car being driven by Aunt Susan, and we headed into town – specifically, into the dress making emporium known to all as Casey’s. She had made all our ball gowns, and a couple of years ago had made the dress for Jenny and Cassie’s Aunt Connie’s wedding. So she had been the natural choice when it came to the dresses for Sarah’s party.
“Ah there you are,” Casey herself said as we came in. “And it is pleasure to finally meet the final members of the bridal party – I hope I managed to get your dresses almost right from the measurements we were sent. Right – I need the two flower girls first, so Cassie and Suzie – with me please.”
Bobby had stayed at the Hall, mumbling something about needing to work on something, so it was women only – which suited me, as we sat and talked about some of the things that had happened, while the mothers took themselves to the other side of the room and talked together.
“Right – I think we only need a little adjustment, but what do you think, Mrs Bowden, Mrs Craig?”
We turned and looked at Cassie and Suzie as they stood there, beaming at all of us. Their dress was made from gold silk, and had a square neckline with little puffed sleeves at their shoulders. A waistband of silk flowers was on the dress, and below that it went from a smooth fabric to a slightly more ruffled look, as the skirt flowed a little to about four inches above their ankles.
They both wore a pair of white lace gloves, while their legs were in a pair of white tights, with matching gold shoes that had a little heel.
“Oh my,” aunt Susan said as she stood up and walked over, “You have done a fantastic job, Casey. How does it feel to you, darling?”
“It feels great,” Suzie said as she beamed at her mother. The last part of her outfit as it currently stood was a little headband in her red hair, with flowers on it.
“I think I need to take it in just a little here,” Casey said as she pinned the back, “but otherwise I think we’re there.”
“Oh I agree,” Mrs Craig said as she looked at Cassie, “Perhaps gather her waist a little more?”
“I agree,” Casey said as she walked over. “Ruth, be a dear and fetch the jackets please.”
Her assistant went into the changing rooms, returning with two matching bolero jackets that she helped Cassie and Suzie to put on. “Perfect,” Casey said as she adjusted the fit, “just perfect. You two are going to make one heck of an entrance on Saturday.”
I could see the biggest smile possible on their faces as they twirled round. “Right then – you two go and get changed, and we’ll get these ready,” Casey said as Ruth took them back in. When they returned a few minutes later, she said “Angela and Alicia – you’re next.”
We followed her through to the changing rooms, and as I went in she closed the curtain behind me, returning a few minutes later with a bag labelled “Alicia Bowden.” She also handed me a box, and said “Get changed as quickly as you can – I’ll be in in a second to help with the last part.”
I opened the bag, looking in awe and wonder at the dress inside, and then hung it as I took off my jumper.
A few minutes later, I stepped out and looked at Angela as she stood before me.
“Wow,” she said, “that really does suit you.”
“I could say the same for you,” I replied as we both heard Mum say “Come on you two – we want to see this.” So we took a deep breath, and walked into the viewing area.
The dress, like that of Cassie and Jenny, was made of gold coloured silk, but the style was so different, so much more adult. It had thin straps over the shoulders, and a bust area that was decorated with a subtle fern pattern. A wide sash of gold was around our waists, and then the skirt fell to the floor in delicate pleated gold silk. The box contained a pair of matching soft leather shoes with a three inch heel, giving us both a little extra height as we walked in.
“Wow,” Natalie said as she looked at us, “That is something. And we’ll all be wearing something like that?”
“Bridesmaids do generally wear the same outfit, Natalie,” her mother said quietly, but I could see the smile on her face as we turned round, while Casey fussed around both of us.
“Now, I don’t have them here,” she said as she looked at our mothers, “but there will be elbow length gloves and wraps to complete the outfits on the day. The wraps are optional, like the jackets for Cassie and Suzie, dependant on the weather for the day, but they are included in the deal.”
“You… You’re both getting so big,” Mum said, and she looked as if she was starting to cry as Aunt Susan put her arm around her shoulders.
“Right – you two go and get changed, and Jenny and Natalie are up next,” Casey said, as Ruth waved us back into the changing rooms, and we put the dresses back in the bags.
“All yours,” I said as I handed the bag to Ruth, and then passed the other two as they walked in. We took our seats and waited as they both came out.
Amy and Dorothy took one look at Natalie as she came out, standing next to Jenny, and then looked at Veronica and Katherine.
“Natalie,” Veronica said slowly, “are you wearing the shoes?”
“Shoes? Were there a pair of shoes as well?”
“Well, given you’re almost standing on the hem of the dress, I think there may indeed have been a pair of heels factored into the fitting,” Katherine said with a smile.
“But you know…”
“Humour me,” Katherine said quietly as Natalie turned and walked back into the changing area, returning a few minutes later and a couple of inches taller.
“That’s better,” Veronica said as Natalie and Jenny looked at each other.
“What sort of headdress will we be wearing,” Jenny said as Casey lifted the hem of her skirt a little.
“I believe that the florist is taking care of that,” she said as she added some pins, and then looked at Natalie. “I’ll soon sort your skirt out,” she said as she winked at Natalie, adding a few pins before she said “I hope that looks all right to you?”
“Looks great,” Mrs Craig said as Jenny turned round, and Katherine nodded in agreement.
“Right – let me have a little word with you privately,” Casey said as she took the girls by the arm, walking them through as she called back “Heidi and Cindy – you’re next.”
When they came back, Natalie had the biggest grin possible on her face. “All right, I know what that means,” Veronica said, “what have you done?”
“You’ll see,” Natalie said quietly as she sat down and winked at us, before Cindy and Heidi came back through.
“Actually,” Casey said as she looked at them, “why don’t you see the whole ensemble on them, given by some miracle I have the fit right.”
“Good measuring,” Dorothy said as she nudged Amy.
“I have my uses,” Amy said quietly as Casey returned with two pairs of gold silk opera gloves, and two wraps. We watched as Heidi and Cindy put them on, and then Ruth adjusted the wraps so they sat across their shoulders, pinning them together in front of them as they stood there.
“Oh yes,” Mum said as she looked at them, “That does complete the outfit, very much so.”
“Right,” Casey then said, “go and change, and I’ll see you all on Saturday morning.”
“Don’t we get to see what Anne and Sarah are wearing?”
“No you do not,” Amy said to Heidi, “For one thing, Anne doesn’t get here until tomorrow, and for another Sarah’s dress is top secret.”
“That’s right,” Casey said as Heidi and Cindy walked through, “so you find out just before everyone else, when the photographer gets to work. Thanks to all of you, but that’s it for you here.”
“It’s not the last thing we need to do in town, however,” Mum said as we waited, “We need to visit Penelope.”
“Who’s Penelope,” Nats said as she looked at me.
“Cathy’s mum – she’s the florist,” I said with a smile. “I think I can guess why, but let’s find out when we get there.”
“Oh my,” Cathy said as we walked into the shop, “so this is where you’ve been hiding out this afternoon?”
“Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll have to catch up,” I said as I hugged her. “You remember Heidi, Cindy and Natalie?”
“OF course I do,” she said as she hugged them in turn. “Mum’s been expecting you – MUM! THEY’RE HERE!!”
I saw her mum coming through from the back of the shop, adjusting the fingerless gloves she was wearing as she looked at them. “Well, well, six pretty maids,” she said with a smile. “Thanks for stopping by – I need to check I have the right bands for all six of you, and then have a look at you three in particular,” she said as she looked at my American friends.
“Uh oh,” Heidi said quietly, “I think we may be in trouble.”
“Nothing of the sort,” she said as she picked out some headbands, and tried them on us, putting each to one side as she found one that fitted us. “But while I know the colour of your dresses, and the rough style, a floral headband needs to match your colouring and skin tone as well.”
Taking out an old Polaroid camera, she took head shots of Heidi, Cindy and Natalie, and laid them next to their headbands, before she looked at all six of us.
“Any idea yet on the order,” she said to Mum.
“We’re thinking Angela and Natalie, then Alicia and Heidi, and finally Jenny and Cindy.”
“With Cassie and Suzie going first?”
Mum nodded, as I realised they were talking about the order we were going to come into the ceremony.
“All right then,” she said as she made a note, “I’ve got all I need now. See you all on Saturday.”
“Thanks, Penny,” Mum said as we were ushered out and back into the cars, and then headed to the Manor house. As we set off, I said “So your Aunt Heather is coming as well,” to Natalie.
“Yeah – I guess they all managed to get the time off school and work. I can tell you that Britney and Margo are as jealous as heck of you two,” she said as she looked at Cassie and Suzie.
“Not our fault – tell them to take it up with Sarah, or tell Jannifer to keep them in line.”
“I think they’ve been mollified,” Dorothy said as she looked over, “you’ll find out how on Saturday.”
Sarah was waiting in the library when we walked in, hugging Heidi, Cindy and Natalie in turn as they came in.
“I’m so glad you made it safely – despite the little diversion,” she said as I closed the door.
“Oh – you heard,” Angela said quietly.
“Oh I heard all right – just as well I knew it was a game. The last thing I need right now is more bad dreams,” she said with a smile as she sat back down again. “So how did the fitting go”
“They are going to look magnificent,” Mum said as Mrs Bridges came in with some drinks. “Where’s Brian?”
“On the phone to Alice’s father – trying to persuade him a men’s night out on Friday may not be the best of ideas.”
“Good luck with that one,” Veronica said with a smile. “So the others arrive tomorrow?”
“That’s right – with one exception. Someone arrived this morning while you were all busy.”
“Oh – who?”
“Who do you think,” Anne Duncombe said as she came in, and embraced all our mothers. “I managed to get an earlier flight, while Sue cleared a few things up. I hear you three had an interesting time yesterday.”
“That’s one way of putting it,” Heidi said as she nudged me, “and I think it’s time we repaid the favour – what do you two say?”
“Oh most certainly,” Cindy said as she stood behind Jenny, and Natalie put her hand on Angela’s shoulder. “Absolutely.”
“Well, we have a little time before dinner – why don’t you three take them up to the playroom, and we’ll see you later?”
“I might have known it,” I said, but I went with all of them up to the playroom, sitting on one of the boxes as Heidi said “Do you still keep the supplies over there?”
“Yeah, yeah,” I said as I looked at Angela, “and would I be right in thinking we’re getting the same treatment you did?”
“For a little while yes,” Natalie said as she watched Heidi bring a large Perspex box over. “If that is all right?”
“Allowed under our rules – it’s only the boys who can’t tie those extra ropes, but we’re making this an escape challenge, right?”
“If you want to try, be our guests,” Cindy said as she took six sponge balls out of the box, and threw them towards us. I counted my blessings that, like Jenny and Angela, I was wearing a comfortable pair of jeans with my jumper, as Heidi proceeded to tape our hands into white fists, and then crossed my wrists behind my back, Cindy behind Jenny and Natalie behind Natalie.
“Before I forget,” Natalie said as she tied my sister’s wrists together, “Chloe would be interested in giving you a taste of our escapology club on Sunday morning, once we have all woken up. Sound good?”
“I think that’s fair turn around,” Angela said as she felt her wrist being pinned to her back, “given what is going to happen after…”
“What’s going to happen after what,” I said as Heidi wrapped the rope around my waist.
“Wait and see,” Angela said as we all had our arms tied tightly to our sides, with one band around our lower arms and stomachs in the double figure of eight, the next around our upper arms and shoulders, and then that extra band below our chests, before they used smaller lengths of rope under our arms to being the top two bands together.
“Oh that’s…” Jenny looked at me, I looked at her, and then we both looked at Angela.
“Yeah, I feel the same way,” she said as we were helped to sit down, and watched as our ankles were crossed and tied together, “and no, it’s not a bad feeling to have. It is, however, why Mum doesn’t want the boys to tie it – in case they get any ideas.”
“Yeah – Martin certainly would,” I said as Heidi tied my legs together below my knees.
“And when do I get to see this paramour of yours again?”
“Saturday – you get to hear him as well. He and his parents are providing the music for the ceremony.”
“Talented man – right, open wide now.”
I allowed Heidi to push the sponge in, and then tie the rolled up and knotted black bandana between my lips, before she wound the white tape tightly round my head. The other two were getting the same treatment, and we thought that would be it – until she folded an old blue silk headscarf into a triangle, placed it over my head and tied the ends tightly together under my chin, locking my jaw in place.
Angela got a black scarf and Jenny a red one, before we were helped to lie on our stomachs and hogtied, our ankles secured to our chests as we rested our heads on some large pillows.
“Ready, get set… GO!!”
Yeah, right – of course we were going to get free from this in time for dinner. Not. The one comforting thought I had was tomorrow, we could show the girls around Wissenden Hall – and the playhouse beckoned from there.
After an hour or so, however, the three of them took pity on us – more due to the fact the dinner gong sounded than anything. After they had freed us, we went down the stairs and joined everyone else at the dinner table, as we were told the plans for Saturday and what we would need to do.
The next couple of days seemed to pass in a blur – I went to school on Thursday, and went to Wissenden hall that night to meet with Heidi, Cindy and Natalie. They had been joined by the rest of the girls – Jannifer, Alice and Jannifer’s sisters Britney and Margo. They went off with Suzie to look to at the playhouse, while we sat in the library and told stories of what had happened to us over the last year – it turned out we all had gone through some fairly nasty periods, but were stronger for it.
I guess that’s a bit of a win, for all of us. As for Angela, she had come as well, but only for a moment – she and Eddie were going out with Chloe and her boyfriend James.
Friday I remember waking up, getting through school, and then going home, before I was taken to the manor house by Dad to spend the night there, with Sarah and Anne. As we got there, I saw Anne talking to a slightly smaller, dark haired woman in the hallway.
“Well well – how are you Alicia,” the dark haired woman said as she hugged me.
“I’m fine, thank you Sue,” I said as Angela followed me in. “Good, good – all set for tomorrow?”
“No,” I answered honestly.
“Good – neither is Anne, and I know one thing you don’t.”
“Oh – what’s that?”
“What she’s wearing tomorrow,” Sue said with a wink as Brian came out, carrying a suit bag with him. “Hey there – two of the bridesmaids, and the matron of honour,” he said as he kissed Anne. “Sorry – gotta run. I’ve been kicked out for the night.”
“Quite right too,” Sue said with a smile. “I’ll see you at the front of the canopy tomorrow.”
“Come along Brian,” Grandfather said as he and Mister Bridges came out, “the others will be waiting for us at the hotel.”
He hustled the groom out of the hallway, as Mrs Bridges took our bags. “You’re to go through to the canopy,” she said as she climbed the stairs, “the others are waiting there.”
“My cue to go and talk to Margaret and Blossom,” Sue said as she walked off, while we went out to the large covered area that was set up on the manor lawn. The entrance was through the dining room, and we stepped out onto a carpet that had been laid on the grass, under the white canopies and tent sides. Lights had been hung in the ceiling, as we joined the rest of the group at the front.
“Alice and Jannifer say hi – they’ve been charged with looking after the twins tonight,” Heidi said as Grandmother came out.
“Right then,” she said as she looked at us, “Busy day tomorrow, so tonight we just need to walk you through what’s going to happen in the morning.
“Early breakfast for all of you, so no games tonight I’m afraid. The hairdresser is coming at nine, and the mothers will be helping with make-up after that. Casey is due to deliver the dresses tonight, and will join us for any final adjustments, and Penelope will have delivered the flowers by then.
“The ceremony is due to start at one, so you need to be ready for twelve thirty. Have a good breakfast – you will not be eating until later. You gather in the dining room, and wait for the cue from the musicians.”
“Somebody mention us?”
I looked round and smiled as I saw Martin coming in with his parents. “Perfect timing,” Grandmother said as she came forward and shook their hands, “I wonder if you could play the music for the processional tomorrow so they can hear the timing?”
“Of course,” Martin’s father said as he opened his case and took out a violin, “Shall we?”
“Come with me girls,” Grandmother said as we walked into the dining room. She turned and nodded, and as the sound of Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary (yes, on the violin) came out, she said to Suzie and Cassie “You first, dears, nice and slow.”
They stepped out and walked between the rows of chairs, practising their smiles until they reached the stage at the end and turned. We then followed, Angela and Nats first, then me and Heidi, and finally Jenny and Cindy. Finally Anne walked down the aisle, concentrating on every step, and finally Sarah.
“Excellent – except, of course, you will be accompanied Sarah,” Grandmother said with a smile. “Now then, let’s get back inside, and allow you to continue.”
“See you later,” Martin said with a smile, and I nodded in agreement as we walked back.
“You two are definitely a lot more relaxed now,” Heidi whispered as we walked back into the house.
“Yeah – and I like it,” I whispered back as we saw Mrs Bridges setting out the buffet. “Let’s see who else is here.”
As we went into the library, we were introduced to a friend of Anne’s called Kayla, and then we sat in groups, eating and drinking and just passing the time with each other. A perfectly normal, quiet, simple night, with none of the men of the families around.
I woke up at five on Saturday morning, and looked up from the bed to see Heidi looking at me.
“You too,” she said as she looked at me, and I nodded slowly as I got up. “Come on,” I said quietly so as not to wake up Cindy, “Let’s go and raid the kitchen.”
We slowly walked down the corridor and down the stairs, but as we approached the kitchen we could hear voices inside. Looking in, I saw Anne and Sarah sitting at the table, talking quietly as they each nursed a mug of coffee.
“Hey,” Sarah said as we came in, “Couldn’t sleep either?”
“No,” I said as we came in. “I guess you’re nervous?”
“Doesn’t even begin to describe it,” Sarah said with a smile. “I never thought this day would actually – oooo.”
“Yeah – I never thought I’d be feeling them at four and a bit months,” she said as she stood up and held her back. “But they have some kick, I’m telling you.”
“Can I listen?”
Sarah nodded as Heidi and I listened to the heartbeats, our ears pressed to her stomach. We could hear the two heartbeats, strong and clear.
“Wow – that’s what Jenny must have felt when she heard the twins that day,” I said to Heidi, who was nodding in turn.
“Oh – I see you couldn’t sleep either.”
I turned to see Jenny coming in with Cindy, both of them rubbing their eyes, and followed by Grandmother.
“I guess the excitement is going to get to most of us today,” she said as she went to put the kettle on. “Mrs Bridges should be up soon, so we can get breakfast started.”
Little by little the rest of us came into the kitchen, talking to each other as Mrs Bridges prepared a cooked breakfast for each of us. Sarah did not eat that much – not surprisingly really – but the rest of us ate as much as we could.
Eventually, however, Grandmother looked at her watch and said “Right – to our stations. Girls, I want Sarah and Anne to get to the bathrooms first, then I will call you up in pairs to get ready. Chop chop, you two – you have a wedding to get ready for, and you have to be out of the way before the men folk return.”
“Superstition,” Anne said, but she was smiling as she took Sarah by the arm and walked her up the stairs.
“So what does her gown look like,” I asked Grandmother, but she just said “Find out later,” before she left the kitchen.
Cassie and Suzie went up first to get cleaned up, and as the rest of us went into the library I saw Mrs Craig and Aunt Susan coming into the house, carrying a bag each.
“Hey you lot,” Aunt Susan said as she waved at us, “Excited?”
We all nodded – yes, even Angela – before they headed up the stairs, and we went into the front room, sitting round and trying to keep still.
“Angela, Natalie – your turn,” Grandmother said as she looked in the room, and the two girls walked off, saying “see you later” to us. A short while later, Heidi and I were called up, and we headed up the staircase and into the shower.
Once we were cleaned up, we went back into my room where Amy and Mum were waiting, dressed casually as they looked at us. “Right then,” Mum said as she opened her makeup case, “I know you lot think you can do this yourself, but we’re going to do this right, so sit down, and let us get to work.”
“Looks like we don’t have a choice,” Heidi said as she sat down, allowing Amy to put a cotton headband round her head to hold her hair back before she started to put the makeup on. We sat quietly, hearing the other girls come and go before they both looked at us, and said “Done.”
We looked in the mirrors they held, to see the subtle gold eye shadow over our eyelids, and the rouge on our lips, as well as the shading on our cheeks. “Right,” Mum said as we stood up, “report to the playroom for gown fitting.”
We made our way down to find Casey and Ruth waiting. Cassie and Suzie already had their dresses on, and were sitting with Aunt Susan as she took care of their hair alongside Cassie’s grandmother.
“Hey – how are things… Wow.”
I looked at Cathy as she came in with her mother, carrying a box in her hands. “So those are your dresses,” she said as she looked at the bags hanging up.
“They are,” Aunt Susan said as she took the boxes. “The headdresses?”
“Yeah – labelled, and the bouquets and other flowers are downstairs.”
“Great – time you went and helped your mothers,” she said as she escorted Cathy out.
“It is a little chilly today,” Casey said as she opened our dress bags, “so jackets and wraps are on, folks, please bear that in mind.”
“You two,” Mrs Craig said, “go and sit quietly. Girls, come here once you have the dress on.”
So we put on our dresses, then went to have our hair tidied up as Natalie and Angela came in. By the time the clock in the room said eleven fifteen, we were all ready to go, our floral headdresses in place, gloves on and wraps secured.
“Form a line, girls,” Casey said, and we went in procession down the stairs, in time to see Martin, Bobby and Colin standing there. All three were dressed in smart suits, properly ironed shirts and ties, and all three just watched us, their eyes open as we walked slowly to the dining room.
“I gotta go and get ready,” Martin said as he went out of the front door, the other two watching before I heard Uncle Alexander said “You two – you need to escort Bobby’s Great Aunts to their seats.”
“They’re both here?”
Angela nodded as she said “I believe they wish to meet this unknown Holderness family member.”
As we walked in, Penelope Harmer was waiting with a number of small bouquets, and two baskets of flower petals.
“Oh my – you do all look so beautiful,” she said as we stood in a line, “and where is the Maid of Honour?”
I think we all gasped in unison as we saw Anne come in. She was wearing a gold silk robe, the front cut low between her breasts, and a wide girdle round her waist. I could see a pair of open toed shoes under the floor length skirt as she came in, blushing slightly.
“I… I think this is the first time I’ve actually seen you in a dress,” Heidi said as she looked at her.
“Yeah – it’s an unusual day all round,” she said as I looked at Natalie, who seemed to have lost an inch or two in height suddenly. She looked at me and nodded, smiling shyly as the six of us were handed a bouquets of white, pink and yellow flowers each, and Anne was handed a larger one.
“Well, Sarah really does have a guard of honour,” Brian said as he came in, accompanied by a tall, short haired man who looked calmly at us. Both of them were wearing grey morning dress, with pink ties.
“Hello Mr Hawkins,” Heidi said.
“Hey girls,” he said as he kissed Anne. “All set for the big day?”
We nodded as he said “Good – Brian, as your Best Man, I need to get you outside, now.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Brian said as they went out, and I saw the guests in their chairs.
“So where’s the blushing bride?”
“She will be with you shortly,” Grandmother said as she came in, wearing a grey jacket and knee length skirt. She smiled at all of us, and then went in, accompanied by Bobby as he waited at the door.
“Right,” Aunt Susan said as she stood by the doors, “line up.”
We took up our positions in front of the doors, as the clock struck one and Mister Bridges came in, holding the door for Grandfather and Sarah.
“Oh my,” I said as I looked at her, before Mister Bridges opened the doors to the ceremony area and nodded. We heard the music start, as Aunt Susan said “and on three. One… Two… Three.”
Cassie and Suzie looked at each other and nodded as they stepped through the doors, and walked slowly down the carpeted aisle, scattering the flower petals from their basket as they did so. I could see the silks hanging down now, and the flower garlands that Cathy’s parents had supplied, but I was watching my cousin and Jenny’s sister, as they approached the stage at the bottom, admiring glances and murmurs as they turned and faced us.
“And – go,” Aunt Susan said to Angela and Natalie, who held their bouquets in front of them as they stepped out in time to the violin playing of Martin’s dad, his mother accompanying on the guitar. They walked slowly down, and I could see Mum looking over and beaming as Angela passed her. Cassie and Suzie had stepped to the side, Suzie going to where Brian was standing with Jack Hawkins on the right, Cassie to the left. Now Angela and Natalie did the same, as they turned and stood beside them.
“And – go.”
Heidi and I took a deep breath and stepped out, walking down as cameras started clicking. On the right, I could see as I passed all our American friends, with their families. Jannifer was smiling at us next to her parents, in a pale blue trouser suit with a white top and white shoes. Britney and Margo were wearing white dresses with silk sashes around their waists.
“Pretend bridesmaids,” Heidi whispered as she passed her mother, sitting with Dorothy and Alice, her mother next to her.
On my side, I passed Colin, who was standing with his mother and father, as well as his cousin Brian and his parents. He smiled at me, but the smile was not as big as the one on Martin’s face as he watched me walk down.
Then there was Bobby with his family, whose eyes were fixed on Cassie. The next row had Mum and Dad, who were sitting with Cassie’s aunts and uncles – including Patty and Rachel, who had received a special invite. They both were wearing new dresses, and smiled at me as I passed Mister and Mrs Williamson, with Charlie and Lisa, who beamed at me as they looked at Mister and Mrs Craig, who were sitting with Cassie’s grandmother, the twins in their arms.
On the front row Grandmother was sitting with Great Aunt Claire and Great Aunt Olivia. Both of them were wearing long dresses, but they smiled at me as I took up my position, and we watched Cindy and Jenny walked down.
Brian was talking quietly to Jack Hawkins, while the front row on his side had Katherine Jenkins smiling at them as well as Sue Duncombe, who was wearing a light green long sleeved dress and matching shoes. Next to her was someone I did not recognise, dressed in a brown trouser suit who looked nervously round. Behind them were Chloe and her boyfriend James, who smiled at us before talking to some of her friends.
“Her name’s Kayla,” Angela whispered to me as we watched the others come to join us, “a friend of Anne’s.”
I realised that as she turned to watch Anne Duncombe walk down the aisle, smiling shyly at everyone before she turned and stood with us. She looked at Kayla and whispered “Hi,” Kayla returning the greeting before Aunt Susan walked down and joined Uncle Alexander.
The vicar came out from a side entrance, in his full robes, and stood on the stage as Brian and Jack walked forward and stood before him. A nod from the vicar, and Martin stood up and started to sing Ave Maria as the whole congregation tuned and looked to the rear.
I don’t think I’ve seen Grandfather look as proud as he did as he stepped out, dressed in the same way as Brian and Jack, but all eyes were on Sarah. She was wearing a light pink gown, the bodice held by thin straps that went up and around her neck, and a pink bow sitting under her chest and above her bump.
Not that you could see much of the bump – Casey had outdone herself, with the soft taffeta overskirt and train that flowed out from there, trailing behind her as she walked down the aisle. I saw her smile and nod at each side as she came down, and I swear she had never looked so radiant.
She held her bouquet in her white gloved hands, and I could see a simple silver pendant hanging around her neck. As with the rest of us, she had a wrap over her shoulders, this one as pink as her dress, but there was one other item of jewellery – a brooch that was pinned to the front of her wrap on the left side, a brooch with a pink jewel that sparkled as she walked down the aisle. She did not wear a veil, but then I didn’t think she needed one.
She stopped at the front of the stage, as the vicar looked over the guests. Sarah smiled at us all, and then at Brian as he stood next to her.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered together in the presence of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to witness the marriage of Sarah and Brian, to pray for God's blessing on them, to share their joy and to celebrate their love.”
I could see Grandmother starting to wipe her eyes, and in truth I was feeling a little weepy as well as the vicar began the ceremony.
"Sarah and Brian are now to enter this way of life. They will each give their consent to the other and make solemn vows, and in token of this they will each give and receive a ring. We pray with them that the Holy Spirit will guide and strengthen them, that they may fulfil God's purposes for the whole of their earthly life together.
“First, I am required to ask anyone present who knows a reason why these persons may not lawfully marry, to declare it now.”
I always hate this part of weddings, but in this place, we were united in one thing – this was right. The vicar smiled as he continued.
“The vows you are about to take are to be made in the presence of God, who is judge of all and knows all the secrets of our hearts; therefore if either of you knows a reason why you may not lawfully marry, you must declare it now.”
A moment later, he said “Brian, will you take Sarah to be your wife? Will you love her, comfort her, honour and protect her, and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?”
“I will,” Brian said quietly, and then the vicar asked the same question of Sarah, who said “I will” as well. He smiled at both of them, before looking out over us and the guests.
“Will you, the families and friends of Sarah and Brian, support and uphold them in their marriage now and in the years to come?”
I don’t think I’ve ever heard a louder response of “We will,” as Sarah blushed.
“Who gives this woman away?”
“I do,” Grandfather said as Sarah handed the bouquet to Anne, and then he gave her hand to the vicar, who said “Sarah and Brian, I now invite you to join hands and make your vows, in the presence of God and his people.” They turned and faced each other as the vicar handed her hand to Brian, who looked deep into her eyes as he spoke.
“I, Brian Carter, take you, Sarah Holderness, to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part; according to God's holy law. In the presence of God I make this vow.”
Sarah then took Brian’s hand, and I started crying as she said “I, Sarah Holderness, take you, Brian Carter, to be my husband, to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part; according to God's holy law. In the presence of God I make this vow.”
I glanced over at Heidi and Cindy’s mums, who were holding each other’s hands, and at Cassie’s Aunt Cassie and Jo, who were staring intently on.
“Who has the rings?”
Jack Hawkins stepped forward and reached into his pocket, taking out two gold rings and placing them on the bible the vicar was holding. He blessed them and then Brian picked up one and held it over the fourth finger of Sarah’s left hand as he held it.
“Sarah, I give you this ring as a sign of our marriage. With my body I honour you, all that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you, within the love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
He slipped it on, Sarah smiling as she picked up the second ring and said the same vow, before slipping it over Brian’s finger.
They turned and held hands as the vicar placed his hand on theirs, before saying “In the presence of God, and before this congregation, Sarah and Brian have given their consent and made their marriage vows to each other. They have declared their marriage by the joining of hands and by the giving and receiving of rings. I therefore proclaim that they are husband and wife. Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder.”
He then blessed them both, before saying “You may kiss your bride.”
“With pleasure,” Brian said as he kissed Sarah, and I swear to God the whole tent sighed as one – even my great aunts. Anne was crying, I was crying – we all were crying.
“Let us join in the hymn, Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” the vicar said as two chairs were carried in by Mister Bridges and Mister Boyle, both dressed in formal wear, and set down for Sarah and Brian to use, while we slipped to the sides and took our own seats.
When the hymn had finished, Dorothy came forward and read from One Corinthians, before Uncle Alexander came forward.
“The time for speeches and laughter comes after the Wedding Breakfast, normally,” he said as he smiled, “but for a wedding in the Holderness Family, there is another tradition which we observe.”
I watched as Grandfather and Dad walked forward as well, and each of them shook Brian by the hand. “Welcome, Brian, and know we stand with you whatever may happen, now and forever.”
He looked genuinely stunned at this move, before he sat back down and the vicar gave a short sermon.
“At this point,” he said as a woman in a grey two piece suit came in, “we must sign the register. If the witnesses could follow Sarah and Brian?”
Jack Hawkins and Anne Duncombe followed the couple out, Anne handing Kayla her bouquet, as Martin and his parents started to provide some music.
“You know what we forgot to bring,” Jenny whispered to me.
“Here my dear,” Great Aunt Claire said in her soft accent as she handed a packet back to us, “I always come prepared. She definitely has something of our father’s eyes about her.”
I nodded in agreement as I dabbed my eyes, and passed the packet down the row.
Martin glanced to the side as he finished one song, and then said loudly and clearly, “Ladies and Gentlemen, please be upstanding for Brian and Sarah Holderness-Carter.”
We got up and moved to the front of the church as Brian and Sarah walked out, arm in arm, to a great cheer and round of applause. They walked back up the aisle, beaming at each other, followed by Anne and Jack. Suzie and Cassie then walked behind them, followed by us, the tunes of Mendelssohn’s wedding march on the violin following us out.
Behind us came Grandfather and Grandmother, as we went back into the dining room, and Mister Bridges closed the door.
“And relax,” Grandmother said as she hugged Sarah and Brian. “Congratulations – both of you,” she said as Grandfather did the same.
“Thank you,” Sarah said as she looked at them, “for everything.”
“You do know the real torture is still to come,” Grandfather said as Mrs Bridges and Mrs Boyle brought in trays with champagne glasses on them filled with Buck’s Fizz. “You have to be formally introduced to my sisters now.”
“Do they know?”
Grandfather nodded, and then said “Only the relationship – nothing more. That remains a secret to all of us. Well done – well done all of you.”
“Yes, thank you all,” Sarah said as she looked at us, “you all looked wonderful today.”
“That’s a lovely brooch,” Heidi said as she looked at it, “but there’s a flaw in the gem – it looks like…” She then stopped and said “Oh – a family heirloom?”
“In a way – something old, you might say,” Grandfather said with a smile, “Something new is the dress, something borrowed?”
“I took care of that,” Anne said with a smile, “and something blue?”
“You can’t see what’s under here,” Sarah said as we saw others filing out through the windows. As the vicar joined us, he shook hands with all of us before the photographer came in.
“Right,” he said as he looked at us, “we need to take photos in the wedding area. If you can all come back in for a few minutes?”
There’s something they never tell you about weddings, when you attend as a guest – there is a reason there is such a long gap between the end of the ceremony and the start of the wedding breakfast, or the reception if you prefer. And it has nothing to do with the time it takes to get from the church to the reception venue. Especially today, when it was a short walk.
No, it has everything to do with one man, a camera, and whoever he brings to assist him. I was never so grateful for one of Mrs Bridges’ cooked breakfasts as I was that day, because it seemed to take ages to get all the photographs taken. He had already taken a few in the side of the tent while they signed the register, but there were so many he wanted to take – not just of Brian and Sarah, but of all the bridesmaids, of us with Brian and Sarah, of us with Sarah, Sarah with Anne, Brian with Jack, of us with Sarah and the rest of the family…
Well, you get the picture, but there was one interesting moment. The photographer was trying to take a picture of Brian and Sarah when he looked up, checked his equipment, and then looked again.
“What’s wrong,” Brian said as he looked up again.
“It must be the light,” the photographer said as he looked, “I’m getting a couple of shadows coming up behind you, and I can’t seem to get rid of them.”
At the mention of the word shadows we all looked at each other, as Grandmother said “This is going to sound unusual, but take the photograph anyway – and make sure we get a copy. Don’t worry – we will pay for it.”
“As you wish, Lady Holderness,” the man said as he looked back through the camera, and took a few more pictures. “That’s better,” he then said as he looked at them again, “must have been a cloud causing it.”
“Come,” Lady Holderness called out, “we need to arrange a group picture.” She led the way out as I heard Cassie say “I’m getting hungry.”
“Patience,” Jenny whispered back, “we’re nearly done…”
Once that last photo was taken on the lawn, we had to line up to receive the guests to the breakfast. Given Cassie and Jenny were at the start, I was glad there actually were not that many people there – my legs were starting to kill me, walking in the heels.
“I should have done the same as you,” I said to Natalie as she stood next to me, “All you get to worry about is dirty soles.”
“And not stepping on the dress,” Natalie whispered back, “Casey put the hem up at the last minute, but it really is just held up with pins…”
I think it was actually more nerve wracking than greeting the guests at the Summer Ball – I know it should not have been, but it was as friends and family came past. Mum hugged both Angela and me, and said “You both looked so beautiful.”
“Thanks, Mum,” I said as I started crying again, and Dad gave me a hug for that – a one armed one, given her was carrying Andrew in his other arm.
“Alicia, mon cherie, you looked si beau aujourd’hui.”
“Merci bien, Chloe,” I said as I held her hands. I was so used to seeing her in shorts and Doc Martens, that it was a shock to see her in a crimson skirt and jacket over a white camisole – and an even bigger shock to see her wearing stockings and a pair of red leather shoes with three inch heels.
“This is my partner, James,” she said as she introduced him to me. “A pleasure, Alicia – Chloe has told me so much about you, it is good to finally put a face to the tales.”
“I’m more worried about what Heidi might have said,” I replied as I looked down the line, but she was talking to Mum and didn’t hear me.
“Do not worry – we know how to keep secrets,” she said with a wink as they walked on.
I looked at Jannifer and hugged her as well, as she said “That was some ceremony – how are you feeling?”
“Honestly? Hungry,” I said as I looked at Britney and Margo. “You both look divine today,” I said, which at least made them smile.
“Will we get to play with the others later?”
“I think Suzie’s friends are coming tonight, so you can have some fun with them then, all right?”
They nodded as they went on, and I hugged Alice as well as shaking hands with her mother.
“I’ll bet you’re glad that’s over as well,” Colin said as he and his family came up.
“It’s not over yet, is it,” I said before laughing, as Heidi looked at me.
“What’s coming next,” she said as she shook hands with Colin’s dad.
“I have no idea, but you know what happens on grand family occasions like this.”
“Alicia is right, my dear – we do go a long way back in our customs.”
“Great Aunt Claire, Great Aunt Olivia,” I said, and I swear I gave a little curtsey as well. “May I introduce you to my pen friend, Heidi Strong?”
“A pleasure my dear,” Great Aunt Claire said as she kissed Heidi on both cheeks. “Strong – you’re not related by any chance to the Strong family of Chicago, are you?”
“I believe my great grandfather came from there, My Lady – why?”
Great Aunt Olivia looked at me and nodded as they walked on. “Now why would they ask that,” Heidi said as she looked at me.
Before I could answer, however, I heard Martin say “Can I get a kiss from the prettiest of the bridesmaids?”
“I refute that comment, sirrah,” Bobby said as he stood further down the line, talking to Cassie and Suzie, but I laughed and said “Of course you may, Martin,” and gave him a little pack on his lips.
“Oh you’re in trouble now – Uncle Alexander will be having words with you,” Suzie called up the line, but he just smiled shyly and walked on.
So it was that the guests went in, and so it was we went in. Now, it is traditional that the bridesmaids sit with the bride, groom and their family at the top table, so we split as we had in the church. If you imagine a long row, there were two chairs free in the middle. To the left sat Grandfather, Anne, Jenny, me, Angela and Suzie. On the other side was Grandmother, Jack, Cindy, Heidi, Natalie and Cassie.
There was a lot of talking at the other tables, which ended as soon as Mister Bridges hit a gavel on the table. He was dressed in full formal wear, as he said “Ladies and Gentlemen, please be upstanding for the bride and groom, Sarah and Brian.”
We clapped and cheered as they walked in, faces flushed with happiness, and took their places at the table, before Mister Bridges helped first Sarah, then Brian to sit down, and we all took our places – all except the priest, who blessed the food before we sat down.
I honestly cannot remember right now what we had – I’ve got the menu somewhere – all that I know is my grandparents paid for the catering staff from a local hotel to come and provide the service as well as the meal. It was delicious, whatever it was, and for once I even got to have a glass of wine with the meal – which made Suzie in particular unhappy, as she got lemonade instead.
Eventually, however, the meal was over, and as Mister Bridges came forward I heard Angela say “Oh great – speech time.”
“Ladies and Gentlemen, please pray silence for his grace, Desmond, Lord Holderness.”
As Grandfather stood up, there was a hushed silence, with all eyes turned on him. He coughed a couple of times, and then said “Well, now for the part you’ve all been waiting for. I have a few things which, as the father… Well, the father figure of the bride, I need to share with Brian on this day.”
He motioned to Mister Bridges, who brought out a large ring binder and handed it to Grandfather. He looked through it, humming to himself as he looked at it, and then said “Actually, if truth be told, I only have three things to say to you both today.
“Firstly, how proud I am that you allowed us to host this special day for you, and honoured I was when you asked me to act as the father of the bride today. It only seems like yesterday that we discovered Sarah as one of our family, and now here we are, welcoming Brian as well as your children to come. You have both given us so much in such a short time, it feels as if we have only just begun to repay you.
“Secondly, to welcome Brian to the family. When I first met Brian, he struck me as a quiet man, in the same way John Wayne was in the film. I am so glad he has agreed to take Sarah, beautiful Sarah, as his wife today, and I am sure they will make magnificent parents.
“Finally, I want to say thank you to all of you for coming today to support them. They are family, and we need to remember how important family is to all of us. Brian, I know you will look after and support Sarah in all she does now and forever, and Sarah I know you will support Brian as well.
“More than that I need not say now, except for this. Ladies and Gentlemen, please take your glasses in hand, stand and join with me in toasting the bride and groom, Sarah and Brian.”
“SARAH AND BRIAN,” was the reply as we all raised our glasses in their direction, and then sat back down again.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the groom, Brian Holderness-Carter.”
There was a cheer as Brian stood up and looked round the room. “You know,” he began, “I didn’t believe those who told me this was the most nervous I could ever be. To all of you, I say this. You were right.”
As we all laughed, Brian said “Seriously, on behalf of Sarah, my beautiful wife…” He paused as we all clapped and cheered again, before saying “on behalf of Sarah, my beautiful and now very embarrassed wife, and I, we would like to thank Desmond and Lucinda, both for welcoming us to the family and also for hosting today. When I proposed to Sarah, I had visions of a nice quiet wedding in Maine – but I have to admit, today had been incredibly special to me, and I know it was to Sarah as well.
“I’d also like to thank the Reverend Carter – no relation – for leading the ceremony today. I know as an Australian it is normal for us to make fun of the home country’s customs, but truly, it was a beautiful experience.
“Talking of beautiful, by the way – and I’ll get to them in a moment – I also want to thank the musicians who played for us today. I never knew the guitar and violin could sound so beautiful together, but it did. I also need to thank the florist, and especially the person responsible for the gowns today – Casey, stand up and take a bow, you did good.”
As a table, we stood and applauded Casey, as she stood up at the back of the room and smiled.
“Right – I also want to thank Jack here for agreeing to act as my best man today. He didn’t have to, but he agreed without hesitation, and I am truly grateful to him for that. Although he really needs to learn how strong English beer can be.”
Jack shook his head as I raised an eyebrow towards Alice at a nearby table. She just smiled and shook her head as her mother held her hand.
“Okay – I need to thank Sarah, for saying yes to me. I never believed in soulmates before we met, but the moment we did, I knew we were destined to be together, and how can we argue with destiny?”
Sarah blushed again as he continued “Sadly, as some of you know, our parents are dead, but Lucinda, you have been a true mother to Sarah, so on behalf of both of us, we’d like you to accept this.”
Mrs Bowen came into the room with a huge bunch of flowers, which she handed to Grandmother. I could swear she was crying openly now as she said “Thank You” and sat back down.
“Anne,” Brian said as he looked at her, “Thank you for being a sister to Sarah and her friend. In fact, all of the brides maids today we consider friends and family as well – so before I embarrass myself further, I will simply take my glass, ask you to take yours as well, and say a toast to The Bridesmaids.”
“The Bridesmaids,” everyone in the room said, especially Sarah, as it became our turn to blush. I saw her take Brian’s hand as he sat down, and Mister Bridges said “Ladies and gentlemen, pray silence for Jack Hawkins, the best man.”
As Jack stood up, he looked round the room and said “Well, believe me, a year ago if you told me I would be doing this, I would have laughed. But let me say one thing before I look at the cards before me – I am proud to count both Brian and Sarah amongst my friends.”
The room clapped as he picked up some cards. “now then, there are a few people who cannot be here today, so please bear with me.
“To Sarah and Brian, may your day be special and may you never lose your love for each other. From Coral, Frank and Andrea Blackwood.
“To Sarah and Brian, may you have the best of futures and the finest of lives together. Love, Heather.
“To the happy couple – enjoy your day and remember, you are special. Roberta.
“Let’s see - Que este sea el comienzo de una vida increíble y maravilloso juntos. Maria.
“And finally – to Brian and Sarah. Congratulations to both of you. Bobbi.”
Jack put the last card down, and said “Now, traditionally it is the job of the best man to, if you will forgive the words, take the mickey out of the groom at this point. But I find myself unable to do so, as truly Brian had nothing awkward or unsavoury in his past that I can share with you.
“So let me just say this – the most important thing you can do in life, if you are lucky enough to find the right person for you, is to be there for her no matter what.” He looked over at Alice and his wife before saying “Chances are you may forget that from time to time, but if you do, then it is our job as your friends and your family to kick you up the backside and remind you. It is an arduous and sacred task, and we want both of you to know that we accept it with good grace and a determination to see it through.”
Well, we all laughed at that point, Brian hitting the table and nodding as Jack continued “Brian, Sarah, we have so much to be thankful to you both for, and you have such a wonderful change coming soon, that you need to know we are here for you, no matter what. So, when things look – well, let me put it this way.”
We all looked at each other as Martin’s mother stood up and started to play the guitar, while Martin started singing.
When you're down and troubled
And you need some love and care
And nothing, nothing is going right
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest night
You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I'll come running
To see you again
Winter, spring, summer, or fall
All you have to do is call
And I'll be there
You've got a friend
If the sky above you
Grows dark and full of clouds
And that old north wind begins to blow
Keep your head together
And call my name out loud
Soon you'll hear me knocking at your door
You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I'll come running, running, yeah, yeah
To see you again
Winter, spring, summer, or fall
All you have to do is call
And I'll be there, yes I will
Now ain't it good to know that you've got a friend
When people can be so cold?
They'll hurt you, yes and desert you
And take your soul if you let them
Oh, but don't you let them
You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I'll come running, running, yeah, yeah
To see you again
Winter, spring, summer, or fall
All you have to do is call
And I'll be there, yes I will (oh, yes I will)
You've got a friend
You've got a friend
Ain't it good to know you've got a friend
Ain't it good to know
Ain't it good to know
Ain't it good to know
You've got a friend
Oh yeah, now
Well you've got a friend, yeah baby
Well you've got a friend, oh yeah
You got a friend.
Yes, we were all singing along by the end, and yes some of us were crying – Sarah and Brian certainly were, as they mouthed “Thank you” to Jack.
“And with that, Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe it is time to cut the cake.”
The doors opened as Mister Bridges and Mister Boyle wheeled in a four tier wedding cake, a model bride and groom standing on top.
Sarah and Brian stood up, and walked to the side of the room, where the photographer was waiting. They smiled at each other, placed the point of the knife on the bottom layer of the cake, and then pushed it down to a round of applause.
Grandfather then took the photographer out of the room, as Mum and Dad came over and stood behind me and Angela.
“Glad it’s all over,” Mum said as she looked at us.
“Oh yeah,” I said, “these shoes are starting to hurt – a lot.”
“Well, once the first dance is over, you can take a hint from Natalie and ditch them, I suppose.”
“You knew,” I said as I turned and looked at her.
“There’s not much your mother doesn’t know,” Dad said with a smile as Mister Bridges came in.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” he said quietly, “If you would care to make your way back to the tented area, we are about to have the first dance.”
“About time,” Natalie said as she stood up, the rest of us following the happy couple back through the doors. The chairs had been cleared to one side, and a dance floor revealed in the middle. On the stage were a local band – Jenny recognised them, and whispered “they played at Aunt Cassie’s wedding.”
“Welcome, Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,” the lead guitarist said. “Can you please show your support for Sarah and Brian as they take to the floor.”
We watched as they walked on, Brian taking Sarah by the waist and hand as they looked at each other. I heard Sarah say “All right, what did you ask them to play,” but Brian just smiled and kissed her, and the band started to play.
Oh how we danced, on the night that we met…
We all clapped and cheered as they started to dance – for a big man, Brian is surprisingly light on his feet – and then Jack led Anne onto the dance floor to join in.
“May I have the honour of this dance?”
I looked round to see Martin standing beside me, offering his hand to mine as Bobby led Cassie out, Colin Jenny and Eddie Angela. “Of course,” I said as we went out and joined in, waltzing to the song as the band continued.
“You were wonderful today,” I said to Martin as he looked at me, “When did Jack get you to do that song?”
“I had a call from him last week, asking if I knew it. Well, I didn’t – then – but I had time to learn it with Mum.”
“I’m glad you did,” I said as we danced round, before Martin said “Forgive me, but I need to change partners now – we’ll dance more later, but…”
I realised that Colin, Bobby, Eddie and Martin had moved to the side of the floor, as with one movement they let us go and led Cindy, Suzie, Natalie and Heidi onto the dance floor, their skirts twirling as Brian and Jack swapped partners as well.
“I guess that means we all get in on the first dance,” Jenny said to me as we watched.
“They look wonderful, don’t they?”
We realised that Jannifer and Alice had joined us, both smiling as they watched their friends on the dance floor.
“Sorry you’re not bridesmaids?”
“Not a bit of it,” Jannifer said as she looked at the twins, who were standing by Patty, Rachel, Brian Hampton, Charlie and Lisa. “I get the feeling Britney and Margo are making new friends.”
“Besides,” Alice said quietly, “I’m still a bit whacked from the flight. Not sure I could have held it together.”
“Not sure how I managed to do either,” I said with a smile as the band finished, and everyone clapped. “Right then,” the band leader said, “Who wants to dance?”
They launched into a medley of more recent hits, as we all went onto the dance floor and started dancing around, while Brian led Sarah to a group of chairs at the side of the tent.
“Bonsoir, mon amie,” I heard Chloe say as she came over with her boyfriend. “A beautiful wedding, no?”
“Oh yes, it most certainly was,” I said as I watched Charlie twirl Rachel round, the skirt of her dress flying up as he did so. “So what do you think of Holderness, James?”
“Interesting place – Chloe tells me you have a private lake with a tomb on an island?”
“The family crypt – yes.” As I spoke, I saw Great Aunt Olivia beckon for me to come over. “Come with me,” I said as I led Chloe and James over.
“So these are two of your American friends, Alicia,” she said as she looked at the couple, a shawl wrapped over her shoulders.
“In a way, but Chloe is French,” I said as I introduced her and James to my aunt.
“Badelaine,” Great Aunt Olivia said to herself. “Our father talked of a Pierre Badelaine, who was in the same field hospital as him. He would not be related to you, would he?”
“Mais oui, Madame,” Chloe said with a small nod of her head. “He was my great grandfather, and is revered in our family for his valour in the war.”
“Ah well – I am glad you are a friend of our family now as well,” she said as we moved off.
“Strange – another connection between us,” I said as we walked back across the floor.
“Did not someone once say there are no coincidences, there is only the illusion of coincidences?”
I looked at Chloe for a moment, and noticed for the first time the wrist watch she was wearing, which was glowing green. “Hang on,” I said slowly, “why are you…”
“Ah there you are Chloe,” Brian said as he walked over, “I wonder if you and James could accompany me for a moment?” He led them to the main house, as Angela walked over and stood with me.
“Chloe’s watch,” I said as I looked at her, “It’s like the one Sarah wears – but Sarah’s has a pink glow, while Chloe’s…”
“… glows green at the moment,” Angela whispered back. She smiled at me – a smile I knew of old meant simply “Don’t ask.”
“Come on you two,” Natalie said as she grabbed our hands, “We need to dance!”
So for the next few minutes, I stopped wondering where Chloe and James had got to, and lost myself in dancing with the others, our arms in the air as the band played on…
“Angela, Alicia, could you come with me for a moment?”
We followed Grandmother back into the house, to see that Mum and Dad were there, Mum holding Andrew in his baby sailor suit, as well as Uncle Alexander, Aunt Susan, Bobby and Suzie. My Great Aunts were seated in two armchairs, as the door opened and my grandparents led Sarah and Brian in.
“Olivia and Claire,” Grandfather said as the door was closed, “I know you have not had the chance to formally greet Sarah until now, so my apologies, but – well, this is Sarah, our niece. Sarah, this your Aunt Olivia and Aunt Claire.”
I don’t think I’ve ever seen her look so nervous in the times we have met, as she said “errr.. Hello. It’s a real pleasure to meet you both at last.”
I looked at them as they looked at each other, then back at Sarah. “Oh for the love of…” Great Aunt Claire finally said as she stood up and embraced Sarah, saying “Welcome to the Family, dear – I’m just sorry we had to wait so long to meet you.”
“Thanks,” Sarah said as she returned the hug, and then kissed Great Aunt Olivia – never a great one for showing emotion, but she was close this time.
“So when do the babies arrive?”
“Early June, we think – still a ways to go,” Brian said with a smile. As the four of them talked, however, I saw Grandfather sit down, as Grandmother sat next to him. He looked pale and tired – more tired than I had seen him for some time.
“Are you all right, Grandpa,” I said as I went and sat next to him.
“You haven’t called me that in a long time, Alicia,” he said with a smile as he took a pill and a glass of water from Grandmother, and swallowed it, taking a drink afterwards. “But yes, I’m fine – it’s a long day for all of us, and I forgot to take my vitamin pill this morning, that’s all. Just let me sit here for a few minutes.”
“All right,” I said as I stood up, but I was worried now – was there something wrong and we hadn’t been told?
“Let’s leave them to it,” Angela said as she took my arm and led me back out to the dining room. The caterers were busy clearing the tables away and setting up for an evening buffet, as we went into the tented area to see everyone standing round and talking.
“Dance break,” Jenny said as she came over, “everything all right?”
“Yeah – I think so,” I said with a smile as I looked to the stage. “Why is your Aunt Cassie getting up there?”
“I have no idea,” Jenny said as her aunt took the microphone and cleared her throat.
“Hi everyone,” she said, “This is not something I normally do – I tend to let my actions speak more than my words…”
“Never,” I heard Jenny’s dad call out, to a round of laughter.
“Thanks for the show of support, John,” she said with a smile, “but anyway, this is a very special day, when a couple come together and state that they wish to spend the rest of their lives together. Something I know my brother, and my sister, have done with great success.”
Cassie had come up to join us, and said “What do you think she’s doing?”
“Oh… Oh my,” Jenny suddenly said as her aunt said “Jo, will you join me up here please?”
We watched as Jo Frost walked up to the stage, with a clear look that told us all she had no idea what was coming.
“Jo – Joanne,” Cassie Craig said quietly, “You are to me as Jennifer is to John, and David to Connie, but I want to let the whole world know exactly how I feel about that, and how committed I want to be to you – if you will be as committed to me. And a wedding reception is as good a place as any to do this.”
I saw Amy and Dorothy hugging each other, and Anne Duncombe slowly take hold of Kayla’s hand, as Cassie got down on one knee.
“Joanne Marigold Frost…”
“Marigold,” I heard Cassie and Jenny say to each other at the same time.
“Jo, will you do me the honour of becoming my wife.” She dug into her jacket pocket, and produced a small box, opening it to reveal a diamond ring. I swear, you could have heard a pin drop as Jo stood there, taken completely by surprise as she looked at her partner.
Cassie had her hands to her mouth, and Jenny was whispering “Go on… Go on…”
“Cassandra Craig,” Jo said quietly, “Of course I bloody well will!”
There was almost as big a cheer as when Sarah and Brian came back up the aisle, as the whole room applauded, and John and Connie ran up to embrace both of them. Cassie and Jenny probably would have as well – had it not been for the fact they were both grabbed round the waist and hand gagged, before being made to walk back into the house.
And how did I know this? Because the same thing was happening to me, and to Angela. It was only when we were walked into the library that I was finally allowed to turn round and look Martin straight in the face.
“What’s going on,” I said as I saw Bobby handing ropes to him, Colin and Eddie.
“The next set of photos – family only,” Martin said with a smile, “and apparently this is a tradition in the Holderness family –every major family occasion…”
“… the younger generation is bound, gagged and dances that way, I know,” Angela said as she felt Eddie taking her hands behind her back. “But that’s normally…”
“Yes, it’s normally behind closed doors,” Bobby said as he tied Cassie’s wrists together, “but this is a rather unique occasion. Everyone, and I mean everyone, in the reception knows the games we play – so, possibly for the first and the last time, we’re doing this in the open.
“But without the band of rope under our chests,” Angela said to Eddie as he tied her wrist to her back at her waist.
“That’s right – we know the rules,” he said as we all had our arms tied to our sides at our stomachs and shoulders. “Right, sit down, we’ll secure your legs, and then we collect the others.”
So we sat down, in a row, and watched as they tied out ankles together – not side by side, or crossed, but with a length of rope between them about a foot long. That told us we would be walking later, so we sat back and talked quietly until they fetched the other half of the party.
“Well,” Angela eventually said, “Quite a day, eh?”
“And it’s not over yet, is it,” Cassie said as she wriggled her legs round.
“Nope – still the evening to go.”
“Where did Chloe go anyway?”
“No idea – I know Colin’s dad nipped out for a few minutes, but that’s all.”
As if on cue, the door opened and we watched as our three American friends, as well as Suzie, were escorted into the room by the four boys.
“Why does this not surprise me,” Heidi said as she looked at the four of us, “do you guys go more than a couple of days without feeling the need to be tied up?”
“It’s a struggle,” Jenny said with a smile, “but put it this way – you’re going to be seen in a way you’ve never been seen before.”
“I saw Patty and Rachel take Britney and Margo upstairs,” Suzie said as Bobby tied her wrists together behind her back, “perhaps you boys can send Tommy and little Brian up later to rescue them?”
“Little Brian,” I said as I looked at Colin.
“To save confusion,” he said as he bound Cindy’s wrists to her back. “However, you’re right – we’ll take care of it when the buffet is served.”
“Have you any idea where Chloe went?”
Colin looked over Cindy’s shoulder, and said “I know they slipped out for a few minutes, after talking to Dad. I’m sure they’ll be back later though.”
As they talked, they sat the other four girls down and tied their ankles in the same way as ours, Natalie wriggling her toes as Eddie took care of her.
“So let me get this straight,” she said as she looked at me. “Your family has this tradition of securing the females kids at big events, and then dancing with them in this way?”
“Yup,” Angela said with a smile, “Although I think this may be as far as it goes tonight. We have other guests coming, and you’ll want to be free to talk to them as well. At some point, you might want to change too.”
“Not yet,” Cassie and Suzie said in unison as they wriggled their arms round.
“No, not yet, and you don’t have to if you don’t want to – oh, that time already?”
“’fraid so,” Eddie said as he held a sponge ball in front of Angela’s mouth. We all then went through the same routine – the sponge ball placed carefully into our mouth, a knotted chiffon scarf between our lips, gold coloured tape wrapped round our heads, and a gold silk scarf tied over that, folded into a band.
The door opened as Martin finished tying the scarf over my mouth, and Grandmother came in, accompanied by Veronica and Mrs Craig, Cassie and Jenny’s grandmother.
“Well, this is a sight for a picture or two,” Veronica said as they were followed in by Sarah and Brian. “Oh my,” she said with a smile, “I see why you may wish to keep these photographs private.”
Uncle Alexander was next, with his camera, as we were stood up and escorted into a line, with Brian and Sarah in the middle. “Your mothers are talking to Cassie’s aunt and her fiancé,” Veronica said as Heidi and Cindy looked at her. “They’ll be along in a minute.”
And sure enough they were – and they weren’t the only ones. Once Heidi and Cindy had their photo taken with Amy and Dorothy, Natalie had hers taken with Veronica and Katherine. Then it was the turn of Suzie with Bobby and my aunt and uncle, and Cassie and Jenny with their parents, before Angela and I stood with Mum and Dad, Andrew in Dad’s arms.
“Right,” Uncle Alexander said as he finished taking our photograph, “time for the dance. Gentlemen, take your ladies and follow Mother.”
So we lined up again, Eddie with Angela, Colin and Jenny, Bobby and Cassie, me and Martin. Uncle Alexander took Suzie by the arm, Dad Heidi, and Mister Bridges and Mister Boyle escorted Cindy and Natalie.
As we walked through the dining room, and back into the tent, everyone else was standing around the room, watching. Charlie stepped forward, and said “May I have the honour of this dance,” Cindy nodding as he took her onto the floor. Natalie then got the surprise of her life as Grandfather came forward and took her by the hand.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” he said out loud, “The Holderness Waltz. Music, please.”
Martin’s mum and dad had gone to the stage – the band were taking a break – and started to play music as we were waltzed round the floor, our skirts rising as we were spun round and round by our partners. Every so often, we were passed on to the next in line, and then danced round again, as if this was the most natural of things to do. I personally was just glad our feet were tethered rather than bound, and everyone started clapping and cheering.
It was dark outside now, and as I was taken round the floor I saw that Mary and Cathy had arrived with their parents. Both of them were wearing long dresses, Mary a royal blue one and Cathy a light pink one, and were clapping as we were waltzed past.
Eventually, however, the music had to stop, and we were all applauded off the floor as we were taken back to one of the tables round the side. Angela and I sat down with our parents, while Cassie and Jenny went to the next one.
“Very well done,” their Aunt Cassie said as she came up with Jo, “so, happy for us?”
“Hhysyss,” they both said as they nodded their heads, and then they both looked at Jo as they said “Mrgld?”
“Yeah – thanks for that, Cassandra,” Jo said as she nudged Cassie Senior in the ribs, “I worked very hard to keep that quiet, you know.”
“Get used to it, Jo – there are no secrets in this family,” Cassie said as they were joined by their parents, as well as their Aunt Connie and her husband Dave.
“Yeah – talking of secrets, I guess while you two can’t scream would be a good time to tell you another piece of news,” their dad said as he sat down.
Cassie and Jenny looked at each other as their grandmother came over as well.
“Danny here,” Connie said as she held the young lad in her arms, “is going to have a baby brother or sister before the end of the year.”
Let me put their reaction this way – it would have made everyone stop and turn if it had not been so effectively muffled. I looked at Angela and shook my head, but I could see her laughing as well under her scarf.
“Hey – any chance we can talk to you two now?”
I looked up to see Mary and Cathy standing there, while Hazel, Claire and Pippa came in, wearing their party dresses as they waved to Suzie and Cassie.
“Yeah,” Mister Craig said, “I think we had better release you. Don’t worry – I’m sure you’ll get one more game in before the weekend is over.”
We nodded as we stood up, went back into the house and had the ropes and gags removed, before coming back and joining the others.
As I came back in, I saw that Dad was talking to Mister Williamson, Charlie’s dad, while Lisa had gone to join Cassie and the others at one of the tables.
“Well hello Alicia,” Mister Williamson said to me, “I was just saying to your father how beautiful you all looked today – and this is the bride and groom?”
I looked to see that Brian and Sarah had walked back in. Sarah had changed into a pale pink jacket and knee length skirt, with a white blouse underneath, while Brian had changed from the formal suit into a more casual jacket, trousers and an open necked shirt.
“Brian, Sarah,” Dad said as he beckoned them over, “May I introduce you to Mark Williamson, and this is his wife, Yvonne.”
“A pleasure,” Brian said as he shook Mark’s hand, and Sarah held those of Yvonne as they kissed each other on the cheek. I happened to notice her watch as they did this, and saw the dial change from a bright pink to a slightly darker shade, then back again.
“The pleasure is all mine,” Mister Williamson said, and then he looked at Sarah. “Are you all right,” he said quietly, “you look a little pale.”
“No – no, I’m fine,” Sarah said quietly, “it’s probably just the day catching up with me.”
“I can imagine,” Yvonne said with a smile, “the adrenaline rush has to wear off at some point.”
“Yeah – yeah that’s probably it,” Sarah said. “Would you be awfully offended if Brian and I stepped outside for a moment – I could do with a breath of fresh air.”
“Of course not,” he said as Brain and Sarah walked out of the tent and onto the walkway in front of the bay windows. Something didn’t seem quite right, so I followed and listened to them as Brian said “Did you feel it?”
“Yeah – yeah I did. I can’t describe it – almost as if…”
“Me too – but you’re right, it’s probably just the day. If they really were that way, we would have known straight away.”
I walked away, wondering what was happening when I bumped into Natalie and Heidi.
“Have you seen Chloe anywhere?”
“No – but I know who might have.” Colin’s father had just come into the tent.
“Hello girls,” he said as he walked over, “Have you seen Colin anywhere?”
“I think he was talking to Jenny and Cindy,” Heidi said. “We were wondering if you had seen Chloe anywhere?”
“Chloe? I just saw her and James in the house. I’m sure they will be in here in a minute.”
“Why don’t we go and find them,” Heidi said, as the three of us walked into the house, and made our way upstairs. We could hear muffled giggles from the playroom, so I stuck my head round the corner, said “You’d better let them all go, the supper is about to be served” to Charlie, Tommy and little Brian, and closed the door again.
Little Brian – given he was the tallest of the three, it made little sense, but hey – any port in a storm. We checked the other rooms, and then went up to that attic.
We could hear muffled talking, and the sound of someone hitting something, so we opened the door a crack and peeked in. Chloe and James was there, James wearing padding as Chloe punched and kicked at him. She was dressed like that girl – Hit Girl, if I remember the film – but her outfit was red, as she hit James again and again with her feet and hands.
“Enough,” James said as we watched, “got it out of your system now.”
“Oui, mon amour,” Chloe said as she kissed him, and we saw the mask over her eyes. “I am glad I was not needed in that sense, but I needed to get the adrenaline out of me now.”
I could see her watch from my position, the dial fading to a green as they kissed. The three of us looked at each other, and slowly closed the door, walking quietly down the stairs.
“Oh my,” I said as we walked down the hallway, “You don’t think Chloe and Sarah are related do you?”
“No – no they’re not,” Natalie said, “but…”
“Don’t say it – not unless you’re sure,” Heidi said as the younger members of the family and friends ran out of the playroom in front of us, and we went down behind them. Walking into the room, we saw that people had started to help themselves from the buffet, so we all went and joined our respective families.
“Ladies and Gentlemen!”
We looked at Grandfather as he stood in the middle of the room.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for joining us tonight,” he said as he looked at everyone, “but it has come to the time for Sarah and Brian to leave us, and begin their married life with a little holiday. So Sarah wanted to say a few words, and then we will wave them off to their hotel.”
Sarah blushed as she said “I wanted to say thank you to all of you who made this possible, and to ask Brian a question. Where are we going?”
“Well,” Brian said, “I figured while we still had the chance, we should visit my homeland as well. So, tomorrow we fly to Hong Kong, and then to Sydney for our honeymoon, before we fly back to Maine via San Francisco.”
There was another audible gasp, as Sarah out her arms round Brian’s neck and kissed her. “Then we need to have a good night together,” she said as she looked round the room. “Now, one more tradition – someone needs to catch this bouquet, so before we get in the car…”
All the women gathered at one end of the room, and watched as Sarah stood with her back to us. “What’s the superstition – whoever catches the bouquet is next to get married?”
“Well, we’re out of that one,” Cassie said to Jo as we all lined up. Sarah looked to the opposite wall, said “Ready?” and then sent the bouquet flying over her shoulder, spinning in the air as it approached us…
Let me tell you, folks – something like this has the potential to descend into something approaching a rugby scrum during the Calcutta Cup, but on this occasion one arm reached out and grabbed it – a long, gloved hand that belonged to my sister. She blushed slightly and looked at Eddie, who stared back slightly open mouthed.
“Congratulations,” Chloe said as James went over and stood next to Eddie, whispering to him.
“Uh oh, now big brother’s in a fix.”
I looked at Mary, who had the biggest grin possible on her face.
“You’ll find out,” she said in a way that meant she knew something, but was sworn to secrecy. I contemplated for a moment tickling it out of her, but was topped by Mum and Dad saying “Just how much is in the account?”
“Enough – but I didn’t think…”
“What account,” I said as I walked over to them and sat down.
“Every father starts saving for their daughter’s wedding when they hold the little girl in their arms,” Dad said as he looked at me. “It’s part of the job description. Anyway, I think Angela is just realising what she’s done.”
I looked round as Angela walked slowly over to the table we were sitting at, sitting down with her eyes fixed on the flower bunch in her hand.
“Oh my,” she finally said, “I thought someone else would catch it.”
“Hey – they’re going!”
We all got up and walked to the front of the house, standing in a line as Mister Bridges carried their cases out to the car. Someone – my money was on Bobby and friends – had stuck a couple of lines of rope with cans attached to the back of the car, as well as a hand written “Just Married” sign on the rear window. Some traditions just die hard, I guess – although I’m damn sure Mister Bridges would have kept an eye on them.
Eventually, however, Sarah and Brian came out, to a shower of confetti courtesy of Anne and Sue Duncombe and our mothers, and walked down the path between us, all of us clapping and cheering as Mister Bridges held the door open for them to get into the car.
We watched it fade into the dark, and heard it a little while longer, before Grandmother said “the party is still on, everyone – let’s celebrate.”
Which is why, twenty minutes later, the dance floor was filled with all the girls dancing round, in their gowns or their party dresses, to the tunes the band were playing, while the older ones sat round the edge of the floor in small groups, talking amongst themselves.
Natalie in particular was having the time of her life, her bare feet visible as the dress rose and fell, as she danced with Alice and Jannifer. Heidi was with me and Jenny, while Cindy and Cassie were holding the hands of Britney, Margo and Lisa.
One thing I did notice was that Sue and Chloe were talking to Colin’s dad quite a bit.
“Hey – want to go for a walk?”
I suddenly realised Martin was standing next to me, so I nodded and made my excuses, taking his hand as we walked out to the garden. The full moon was shining down on the trees along the bottom edge, as we stood looking towards the path.
“Hell of a day, and you know what the thing that caught my eye most was?”
I turned and looked at Martin, before saying “What?”
“Not what – who. You, you daft ha’penny,”
“Oh,” I said, as I smiled a little.
“You looked fantastic today,” he said as he put his arm round my shoulders – which I was doubly grateful for, as I’d left my shrug at the table. “You know that don’t you?”
“Nah,” I said, “but it’s nice of you to say so.”
“What would you have done if you had caught the bouquet?”
“Died of embarrassment?”
We both laughed as we saw Angela and Eddie walk out, talking to each other. “They do make a lovely couple though,” I said as we looked at them.
“Yeah, they do – so what are you doing tonight?”
“All the bridesmaids are heading back to Wissenden to spend the night – Angela and I head home tomorrow night. You?”
“I have to head off in a little while,” Martin said quietly, “but I wanted to thank you for letting me sing and play today.” He looked over the darkening lawn, and said “Ever wonder what your wedding day will be like?”
“Sometimes,” I replied, “but – well, it’s a way off isn’t it?”
Martin nodded before he turned and kissed me. “I wonder about it too, sometimes,” he said before he took my hand and we walked back into the house.
“There you are,” Anne Duncombe said as we came in, “the car’s ready to take us back, and your mum and dad want a word.”
“Be there in a minute,” I said as I went and hugged Mum and Dad. “We’ll see you tomorrow night – enjoy tomorrow,” they said before I got into the car with the others, and we made our way back to Wissenden, Uncle Alexander following in the car.
“I am so tired,” Jenny said as she stretched her arms and yawned, “I feel as if I could sleep for an eternity.”
“Tell me about it,” Natalie said as she stretched her legs out. “Hell of a day though, right?”
I nodded – it had, as she wonderfully put it, been one hell of a day.
I didn’t know what time it was when I woke up. I remember getting out of the dresses at home, with Aunt Susan’s help, and then climbing into the bed, but after that nothing until I woke up.
Mind you, I didn’t wake up to the sound of birds chirping – too early in the year for that. And I didn’t wake up to the smell of a cooked breakfast courtesy of Mrs Boyle. No, I woke up because of the hand that was over my mouth, and as I opened my eyes I saw Heidi and Natalie standing over me. They were already dressed in joggers and sweatshirts, as Natalie said “Good morning, Ali – time for our revenge, I think.”
“Hgrrrttt, cngttlt,” I mumbled under Heidi’s hand.
“OF course you can,” Heidi said as she removed her hand, and allowed me to get up, pulling down the sleeves and legs of my blue cotton pyjamas as I did so, “but I’m coming with you, and you’re coming right back here. Don’t want to wake anyone else up, do we?”
“Let me guess – one at a time?”
“Something like that,” Natalie said as I headed to the toilet, Heidi keeping me company from outside until I had finished and walked back.
“SO, let me guess – this is what you meant by Chloe demonstrating what she does at the school with you?”
“Eventually – we first have to collect you all together,” Heidi said as Natalie held up a length of rope. “Hands behind your back please.”
“As you command,” I said with a sigh as I felt my wrists being crossed and secured together behind my back, and then some rope tied around my arms and stomach. Obviously this was the prelude to something else, as Heidi raided my wardrobe and collected a pair of blue jogging pants, a sweat shirt, some clean underwear and socks – two pairs of socks – as well as a pair of trainers.
“Now then,” Natalie said as she turned me round ad tore a strip of the white tape off a roll, “Close those lips – just to help you to stay a little quiet until everyone is done.”
“As you asshshhnnntl,” I mumbled as the tape formed to the contours of my lips and chin. Satisfied they had secured and silenced me enough for now, the two of them took my arms and walked me down the stairs, where I saw Anne Duncombe, dressed in a white sweater and blue jeans.
“Good work girls,” she said as he took my arm from Natalie. “Why don’t you go and help Cindy with the next one, and we’ll take Alicia out to the playhouse.”
I was actually quite pleased at that – at least in the playhouse there was some sunlight, and it meant whatever they had planned, it would not involve spending the entire day tied to a bed.
What I wasn’t expecting was to get into the larger of the two rooms, and to see I was the third person to be captured that morning. Aunt Susan was also there, wearing a green dressing gown over her pyjamas, and much to my surprise Mrs Boyle was there as well. She was wearing a short sleeved blouse and a knee length skirt, and I got the distinct feeling she would have been cooking breakfast if she was not, like Aunt Susan, sitting against the wall, her legs stretched out in front of her, rope around her ankles and just below her knees.
Their arms were behind their backs, and strips of tape covered their mouths, as I was helped to sit next to them. Watching Heidi as she tied my ankles and legs with ropes, I heard Anne say “This is our way of saying thank you – we’re in charge today, Susan, not you or your housekeeper, so you get to take part in Chloe’s class as well.”
“Hswwtjeee,” Aunt Susan said as she winked at me, and then started trying to talk to Mrs Boyle. Now, as I know, tape on its own does not stop you talking, but this tape does make it difficult to understand. I think it was something about dinner when Heidi and Cindy brought Jenny in, still in her short sleeved nightshirt and bedsocks.
“Grrrt – rllestrt,” she said as she was sat next to me, and Natalie and Anne left the room. “Mrrnrnngmssshldrnss”
“Mrrngngjnnee,” Aunt Susan said as Jenny watched her legs being secured, and a pile of clothes being placed next to mine.
“Eyssntltnw,” I replied as Cassie and Suzie were brought in together, Natalie and Anne making sure they were as well secured as the rest of us before they left again, Heidi and Cindy keeping guard.
“Needeewwhstgngn,” Cassie said as she looked over at me. I shook my head, as curious as the others to see what was going to happen next. The two younger girls were wearing onesies – Cassie a black and orange tiger stripes one, Suzie a white one with Hello Kitty faces all over it.
Given the company we were keeping, I thought it was inevitable that Angela would end up joining us – and so it was, as the door opened and Angela walked in, wearing a dressing gown with her bare lower legs showing, the rope tied round her arms and stomach with her hands behind her back.
“Shldhvssnnthscmng,” she said as she was sat next to Aunt Susan, and her legs secured as well. “Right, girls,” Anne said to the others, “go and see if your mothers have got their breakfast ready, and then one of you stay there – you need to show Chloe where to come when she arrives from the hotel.”
“Gotcha,” Heidi said as the three of them walked out, Anne turning on the television to watch the news while we waited. I hate the news, but what choice did we have, as the bulletin went into the regular Sunday review show on the BBC.
“Here we go,” Heidi finally said as she opened the door, backing in with a tray of pastries and holding it open as Cindy carried in one tray, with a pitcher of orange juice and some glasses, and then Natalie with a flask of coffee, a bottle of milk and some cups.
“Breakfast is served,” Anne said as the trays were laid on a mat on the ground, and then the four of them started to untie our arms and wrists, allowing us to remove the tape from our mouths.
“Legs stay secured for the moment,” Anne said as we shuffled over and sat round the mat, “enjoy.”
“Well, I guess I am getting the morning off,” Mrs Boyle said as she poured herself a glass of juice. “Miss Duncombe surprised me as soon as I walked into the kitchen, with Mrs Strong and Mrs Elsworth.”
“Same here,” Aunt Susan said as she passed round the plates of pastries, “I went to make some tea for me and Alexander, and – well, did he get his tea?”
“Ah – knew we forgot something. I’ll remind them,” Heidi said as she left the room, and we heard her walking down the steps.
“Anyway, I guess we get the morning off – but I don’t have any clothes here.”
“Not a problem – we’ll get them brought to you in due course,” Anne said with a smile. “Now, eat and enjoy – Chloe will be here soon.”
I have to admit, of all the ways to spend a Sunday morning after a day like that, sitting in Suzie’s playhouse with our legs tied, eating pastries, drinking juice and coffee, and just talking about things was one of the most relaxing ways.
“So do we need to start planning your wedding now, Angela,” Aunt Susan said as she sipped on her coffee. Big sister at least blushed, as the door to the room opened and Bobby came in, carrying a set of clothes and a pair of sneakers for Aunt Susan.
“There you go Mum,” he said as he put them next to ours, “Enjoy your morning.”
“Hold on a minute,” Aunt Susan said as Bobby singularly failed to get away, “did you and your father know this was going to happen?”
“Actually, no – the first we knew was when we came into the kitchen, me for breakfast and Dad saying something about a missing cup of tea, and saw Amy and Veronica cooking. On the other hand, the two of us have been told to stay out of the kitchen after we had eaten, so I imagine they are going to cook Sunday dinner as well.”
“So what are you going to be doing?”
“What we do every Sunday – go to church, give your apologies, and then come back and veg in front of the early game until dinner is ready. After all, I have the Shirt of Hurt thing next week with Tommy.”
He left us then, as we looked at each other.
“Shirt of Hurt?”
“A bet he needs to pay up on,” I said to Cindy.
Eventually, however, there was a quiet knock on the door and Heidi escorted Chloe into the room. She was wearing her usual red v-necked sweater with a scarf round her neck and tucked in, denim skirt, black leggings and striped socks, the tops showing over her Doc Marten boots.
“Bonjour, my friends,” she said as she looked at us, “I see you have had breakfast? Then it is time for my lesson – who shall be first to change and begin?”
“I will,” Angela said, “if I can get my legs untied?”
Cindy removed the ropes from around her legs, and Angela stood up, collecting her clothes and leaving with Chloe to go to the small bathroom.
“So what exactly is going to happen this morning,” Mrs Boyle said to Anne.
“Chloe runs a special after school club for the girls – and this morning you are all going to have a taste of what they get up to. You’ll find it – relaxing.”
“I’m not as supple as I used to be…”
“Don’t worry, Susan – Chloe will not do anything you are not capable of doing.”
A few minutes later, Chloe put her head round the door and said “Perhaps the next person can start to get ready, oui?”
“Anyone mind if I go next,” Aunt Susan said, “I really need to take care of something.”
“Of course,” Anne said as she untied her legs, and Aunt Susan grabbed the clothes Bobby had brought, almost running for the toilet.
We heard the toilet flushing, and then Aunt Susan saying “Oh my…” before Anne looked at me.
“Your turn, Alicia,” she said as she untied my legs, and I collected my clothes, heading for the bathroom and a few moments of blessed relief. That taken care of, I washed my face, changed into the joggers and sweatshirt, and put my nightclothes into the wicker basket with everyone else’s.
“Ah, excellent,” Chloe said as she looked at me, “You are ready and prepared. Please, come in.”
As I walked into the other room, I saw why Aunt Susan had called out. Angela was standing against one of the walls, dressed in a short sleeved blouse, a knee length skirt and a pair of high heeled shoes. Her wrists were tied together and pulled above her head, with a length of rope going from them over a rafter to keep them in place. Her ankles, below her knees and her thighs were secured with rope around and between them, while a strip of white tape covered her mouth. From the way her cheeks were bulging out, I guessed there was something filling her mouth under that tape.
As for Aunt Susan, Bobby had brought her a blue smock top with a black jumper for underneath, a pair of blue leggings and her short black felt boots. And she needed that protection – because Chloe had folded her arms behind her back, and tied them together wrists to elbows, as well as between her forearms, before tying rope around her upper body, above and below her chest. Her legs were bound at her ankles and knees, and a length of rope went around her waist and her thighs to keep them bent. One of her Hermes scarves, the one with the horse, was tied over her mouth, but I could see a bulge under the silk band that suggested that was merely the top layer.
“So, mon ami,” Chloe said as I felt her guide my hands behind my back, and secure them tightly together, far more quickly than I had thought she could, “did you enjoy yesterday?”
“Very much so,” I said as she quickly wound more rope around my waist, and then my upper body, pinning my arms to my side as they forced my chest out. “Do not worry,” Chloe said, “your lovely Aunt Susan said this was permissible, and that you would enjoy it.”
“I swear there are no secrets in this family,” I said as I watched Aunt Susan giggle silently, before I was helped to sit on a mat, and watched Chloe bind my ankles and legs together with the rope. It had only taken her ten minutes, and already I was tightly secured.
“How did you learn to do this so quickly,” I said as I watched her roll a bandana into a band, and tie a knot in the middle of it.
“Practice,” was all she said as she picked up a sponge ball and compressed it in her hand. “Now, open wide, and please stay quiet – we would hate to spoil the surprise for the others.”
So that was it – the sponge ball went into my mouth, followed by the knotted bandana, and then the white tape around my head to keep it in. I could only grunt in a muted fashion as she helped me to lie on my stomach, pulled my ankles back and secured them to the chest ropes, before she stepped out for a moment, returning with Jenny.
My friend was wearing a pair of jeans, and a long sleeved blouse with the cuffs turned up to show her white undershirt. Not that it mattered, because with ten minutes of Chloe’s attention she was lying on the floor next to me, looking at me with her eyes wide over the tape as she said “Hwdddshgtsgd?”
“Prctsshsd,” I mumbled as I looked at Angela, who was twisting slowly round as she stood there.
Suzie and Cassie came in together, giggling as they saw me and Jenny and then gasping as they saw Angela. Suzie was wearing a white jumper over a pair of black leggings, her socks pulled up over them and a pair of black plimsolls on her feet. Cassie had on a short sleeved green dress with a white floral print on it, and a pair of black tights with her feet in a pair of trainers.
Chloe had them sit back to back, and tied the wrist of each girl together in front of the tummy of the other. “When Britney and Margo attend, this is what I usually do for them,” she explained as she then tied their waits together, and then rope around their upper bodies and arms.
Cassie then crossed her legs at Chloe’s request, to sit in the lotus position, watching her as she tied her ankles tightly together, and then ran a rope from her ankles to Suzie’s wrists. Repeating the process for Suzie, she then gagged them the same way as us – sponge ball, knotted bandana, and tape round their heads.
Mrs Boyle was the last to come in, and as she entered it was obvious the girls had already started after she went to the toilet. She had a black scarf tied over her mouth and head, with something obviously underneath, and her arms were already secured behind her back as well as to her body.
Sitting down next to Aunt Susan, we all watched as Chloe bent her legs and then secured her ankles, as well as her legs below her knees, before she tied her upper legs against her body. She looked at Aunt Susan, and then at the rest of us, before Chloe said “Bien – here are the rules. You are free to try to escape, but if you cannot escape within…” She looked at the watch and said “one hour, then my friends will enter and execute a most exquisite torture on all of you. So, you have a choice, and I wish you all good luck.”
She then took out an iPod, plugged in her earplugs and picked up a book, before she sat down and began to read.
Standard practice at this point would be to see if one of us can free the others – but a quick look between all of us meant we knew that was not possible. I could reach the heels of my trainers with my fingers, but that was it, and I suspect Jenny was thinking the same thing.
As for the youngsters – Chloe’s plan was clear. They could not help each other, and the fact their wrist were held to their crossed ankles made it next to impossible for them to try and untie said ankles without toppling over.
Aunt Susan and Mrs Boyle were in no position to help either, as I could see their fingertips either side of their body. Secretly, I suspect that even if they could help us, they weren’t going to, as they sat back and watched us.
And as for Angela – not a chance.
So we did the only thing we could do – we relaxed, looked at each other, and tried to have a pleasant if heavily muted conversation.
I had no idea how much time had passed, before the door opened and I saw Heidi, Cindy and Natalie come in.
“Oh my my, have they not managed to free themselves,” Cindy said as she looked at us.
“I regret to say they have not, Cindy,” Chloe said with a smile as she checked her watch, “so I am afraid they will have to undergo the exquisite torture I promised them.”
“It will be our pleasure,” Heidi said as she and Natalie knelt next to me and Jenny, and Cindy knelt next to the other two. I knew what was coming, and I knew what I would do, but there was no stopping them as the fingers began to tickle our sides.
All we could do was squirm round and try not to laugh too much – but that was flaming difficult with what they were doing. As for Cassie and Suzie, they could only twist round and giggle as Cindy tickled their sides – but as she slipped off their shoes and tickled their feet, I heard Jenny mumble “hgddnnddnt….”
It was too late – the soles of our feet were soon getting the treatment as well, as we twisted on the floor. There was no stopping them…
Until, that is, Dorothy appeared at the door and said “It’s dinner time in thirty minutes. You’d better untie them and let them sort themselves out before you all come back in to eat.”
“Ah well,” Chloe said as she walked over and stood on a stool, reaching up to untie Angela’s wrists from the rafter, “Class is over for another lesson. I trust you enjoyed this little demonstration?”
Yeah, we had enjoyed it, and we would be sure to thank Chloe personally afterwards…
When we finally went into the dining room, we saw that James, Chloe’s boyfriend, was here as well, and was sitting deep in conversation with Uncle Alexander and Bobby.
“There you are,” Uncle Alexander said as he hugged Aunt Susan, “did you have a fun morning?”
“Oh yes – most relaxing,” she said as Mrs Boyle went to enter the kitchen – only to be stopped by Anne, as she said “Sit at the table – your husband will join you shortly. This is our way of saying thank you to all of you, no exceptions.”
“Don’t worry, Rebecca,” Aunt Susan said as she sat down, “For once, join us.”
As Mrs Boyle sat down, her husband came in and sat beside her, the rest of us taking our places as we were served by Anne, Amy, Veronica, Dorothy and Katherine.
It was an amazing dinner – they produced a typical New England celebration meal for us, with the corn chowder, breads, roast turkey with all their trimmings and sweet pies.
As we pushed out pudding plates away, Anne came round and placed a small silver box in front of each of us.
“What’s this,” Heidi said as she picked it up.
“A present from Brian and Sarah,” Anne said as she sat down. “They wanted you to have them as a thank you for yesterday, but they asked me to hold off from giving you them until they were on a plane – which they were about an hour ago. Go on, open them.”
I opened the box, to see a silver heart shaped locket inside. Opening it, I saw in small letters “Thank you. B&S. 27/2/14”
Okay, I admit it – I cried as I whispered “Thank you” to Anne. I could see the others were smiling as well.
“Now then,” Amy said as they started to clear the dishes, “do we need to take steps to ensure you stay out of the kitchen while we do the washing up?”
We looked at each other, before we gave the answer to that question. One thought was in my mind though – this was the perfect end to a very special weekend.