We Are Gathered Here – Part 2







Saturday 10th December

10.30 am

St Martha’s Church


“Why are we early,” Mike Gresham-Fox asked as he and his wife walked down the street with Grace, Sarah and Harriet.  While he was in a tailored suit with a crimson tie and white shirt, Angela Gresham-Fox was wearing a white jersey dress with a dark jacket and heels.  


“It’s not as cold as I thought it would be,” she said as she looked round and then at Grace.  Her sister-in-law was wearing a grey trouser suit with a blue camisole, while Hannah wore a grey jersey dress, and Sarah a green dress. 


“I know – it’s sunny and dry.  Probably for the last time for a while,” Grace said as they approached the church, then smiled as she saw Juliette and the others coming from the other direction.


“Well, I’m glad to see you made it safely,” Angela said as she saw Olga, “I presume the others are coming with their parents and family?”


So I believe, Mrs Gresham-Fox,” Olga said as a car pulled up outside the church, Luke getting out first and opening the door to allow Jack and John to leave the vehicle.  John was now in full dress uniform, Jack and Luke in the grey tails.


“Well, you certainly look the part,” George said as he greeted them.  He was now wearing a tailored three piece suit with a silk tie and shirt and smiled as he said “let me take you through.”


“Looks like people are starting to arrive, boss,” Sharon said as she stood with Caroline.  “I recognise most of them – including this lot.”


She smiled as Piet and Charlotte walked to the steps of the church, Francesca carrying Frances as she looked round.  The young baby was wearing a white dress and coat, while Francesca and Charlotte were in pale blue dress coats.  Piet was in the suit as well, as he said “so was that the groom going in?”


“It was,” Juliette said with a smile, “shall we go in?”


As they walked up the steps of the church, the Morse and McNally families came along the road as well, while Doc and her family got out of the car.


“Well met by church stairs,” Doc said as she saw Becca, “the others are on their way as well.”


“I’m here already,” Pepsi said as she came down the stairs, “Mom’s gone to the hotel to check out the tabletops, so I got to bring the flowers here.”


“Ama is probably a nervous wreck by now.”


“I think I know a bigger one,” Doc said as she saw Kylie, Abby and Rose get out of the car.


“Nicola, darling,” Kylie said as she walked over, “the bouquets?”


“I’ll fetch them down in a few minutes, with my escort.”


“Your escort?  I thought Jack was…  Ah, I see.”


“Good morning,” Nick said as he came alongside them, “given Ama is busy elsewhere, I agreed to act as Pepsi’s escort until later.”




Doc slowly turned round to see Chet standing there with Blair, as their parents talked to Gus and Paulie.


“Hey – it’s good to see you,” Doc said before they kissed, Kylie smiling as she shook her head.  “I’ve missed you.”


“And I’ve missed you as well – it’s good to see you as well Kylie.”


“And you, Chet darling, but you must excuse me, I am required,” she said as she walked off with Pepsi and Nick.



“You look amazing,” Paulie said as she saw Nessa arriving with David McIlroy, Nessa wearing a brown two-piece outfit with a black camisole underneath.


“Well, I had to look my best for him,” Nessa said before she kissed David.


“The Wedding Breakfast?”


“Is ready and prepared,” Nessa said as she saw Emma arrive with Tracey and JD.




“Lucia – it is good to see you again.”


“And you,” Lucia Bianchini said as she rose and kissed Maria Riva on the cheeks.  Her husband Flavio and son Sandro stood behind her as she said “will you join me?”


“I will – if you will allow them in first,” Maria said quietly, Lucia moving to the side as the men went in first, and then Maria sat herself between Flavio and Lucia.  “So,” she said as she carefully put her walking stick down, “how has the reconciliation gone?”


“Better than I had hoped or dared dream,” Lucia said with a smile, “I even made peace with my other sister.  They will come and join me in Victoria later in the year for a reunion.”


“I am glad,” Maria said with a smile as she looked round, “and I see a number of the Sisterhood are here today as well.”


“Some of them are, yes…”




“I guess JD got an invite as someone prominent who works for her,” Rick said as he escorted Cassandra to the church doors.


“Not just that,” Cassandra said with a smile, “most of her executive team are here, and JD is filming in the area, so she was a last minute addition.”




“There you are Mama,” Abby said as she saw Diana walk along to the bottom of the stairs.  “I have not seen Brooke or Karen yet.”


“We are here,” Karen said as she and Brooke crossed to join them, Karen taking John from her husband’s arms and kissing the young boy.  “Brooke wanted to make arrangements to meet some people.”


“I’m glad to hear it - how are you Brooke?”


“Better every day, thanks Heather,” the judge said as she turned to greet her friend.  She and Sandy were wearing long blue dresses, while Sands was in a slightly altered version of the same dress.  George smiled as he saw Katy approaching as well.


“Well, at least we’re not late,” Eleanor said as she and Veronica walked alongside Katherine, Janice and Adam.


“No, in plenty of time…”





“A small restorative is in order, I think,” Alex said as he poured some brandy into three glasses, handing one each to Jack and John.  “Allow me to propose a toast – to love and marriage.”


“Love and marriage,” the other two men said as they all raised their glasses and took a drink.  “It’s a pity you cannot marry me and Luke,” Jack said with a smile.


“If it were my choice, I would, but…  Where did he go anyway?”


“Outside – to take some photographs…”




“Now, this is truly a meeting of the minds, Mum.”


“What is,” Rose said as she held her hand on her hat, and smiled at John Bowden as he, Barbara and Jeannie made their way up to the church entrance.


“I think Susan is talking about us, Rose,” Marina said as she arrived with the others.


“Rose, my dear – how long has it been,” Beverley said as she extended her hand. 


“Bev?  Bev Martello?  What…”


“Some time following in my footsteps,” Marina said as Penny and Helen came over, both wearing trouser suits while Cathy Lo was wearing a traditional Chinese dress.  “As you can see, the results are outstanding – ah, I believe the bridesmaids are here.”


“Got to go to work,” Rose said as April waved “bye, Granny…”


“Come on,” Susan said, “we had better get in…”




Park Avenue


As the elevator car doors opened, the concierge looked up, and then walked to the front door, opening it and saluting as Clint opened the door to the limousine.


“Thank you,” Shirley said as she carefully sat inside, arranging her outfit before Clint closed the door and walked round to let John sit beside her.



St Martha’s Church


“Oh wow,” Mylie said as she and the others arrived, “look at them.”


“Kylie has done a wonderful job,” Agnes said as Maisha and Ama stood on the sidewalk, waiting as Sandy, Cat and Maddie got out, and then each of them accepting a bouquet from Pepsi and Nick.


“Their dresses are not like ours,” Laura said, “but even so…”





Kay glanced to the side as she saw two familiar faces talking to the two African women, and then saw some men watching the ceremony.  She frowned for a moment.


“Everything all right?”


“Everything’s fine,” she said as she looked at Richard, “let’s go in with the others…”




“The car is on the way,” Caroline said quietly, Sharon nodding as she walked in with her father, brother and sister.  Showing them to their aisle, she said “I’ll be back in a minute” and walked quickly to the vestry, knocking on the door.


“Ah,” Alex said as she looked in, “showtime?”


“Showtime,” she said with a smile as John stood up and shook himself.


“Let’s get you married,” Jack said as he clapped his old friend on the back, and they walked into the main chapel.





“You want to see the dress as well, don’t you,” Juliette whispered to Cathy.


“Indeed – Kylie ordered silk from us, but…”


They both stopped talking as the limousine drew up, and Clint walked smartly round, John joining him as the door was opened, and Shirley stepped out.  As she did so, they saw the full length coral pink silk cape she was wearing fall down, covering the flowing skirt of her gown as it fell from the gathered waist.  The front was studded with pearl, and it had a high collar and long sleeves.  A white veil fell from the brim of the pillbox hat over her face, as Kylie adjusted the hood of the cape and then stood back.


“Exquisite” she whispered, “I am glad you asked me to do this for you Madame.”


“I am glad you were able to do it,” Shirley said with a smile as Kylie lifted the hood of the cape over her head, and April handed her a large bouquet of roses and lilies.


“Well, you look beautiful,” Alex said as he walked down in his robes.  “Kylie, Rose, any last minute arrangements?”


“Only to wish you all good luck, and to ask you to line up darlings - we will see you inside.”




The teenager looked over as Shirley smiled, and said “thank you.”


“It was my honour,” Kylie said as she and Rose walked in, passing Alex as he walked down the stairs.


“Well, I know it may sound like everyone is saying it, but you do look radiant – all of you.  So, let us walk up the stairs, and then if you can form up behind me, we have a wedding to perform.”


“I’m glad we decided to go for capes rather than jackets,” Maddie whispered to Sandra as they walked up, “Much warmer.”


“Yeah – and we do make a fine group,” Cat said as they approached the doors.




The Waldorf Astoria


Yuri looked out of the window, various thoughts and prayers running through his mind.  It was obvious now a crisis had arisen – and whatever he was forced to do, whatever he decided to do, it had to be done in a way that would keep his family safe.


Glancing at his watch, he knew they would be at the chapel now.  He knew John Hammond and Shirley Xavier by reputation, and he wished them every happiness he had not been able to feel for so many years…


Even those he felt could possibly be of help to him were not contactable for a while – but he knew they would be here.  Unless…


Picking up the NorStar paperwork from the side table, he smiled as he took his phone out and sent a text, praying they would not know the hidden meaning on the wrong sides…



St Martha’s Church


“Look at all the pweety things, momma,” Judith said as she looked round the church, Annie smiling as she sat Rudi on her lap.


“Indeed – but you are the prettiest one here, aren’t you Judith?”


“As pweety as Mags?”


“She’s got you there,” Carina said with a smile as Judy looked to the back of the church, nodding before she turned, and the sounds of Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary came from the organ.  The congregation stood as one, John and Jack turning their heads as they saw Alex start to walk down the aisle, Maisha and Ama following them with the hoods down, and bouquets in their hands.


Ama smiled at Nick as he stood next to Caroline, while Maisha nodded to Leader and Liz as she passed.


“Now, picture you two walking down the aisle of Oban Cathedral,” Donald whispered to Mylie and Laura as they passed, Maddie, Sandra and Catriona following them.


The congregation then watched, Coco smiling as John walked with Shirley’s arm in his, the congregation smiling as they passed by.  Tatiana and Olga nodded as they watched, Angela looking over both of them as they did so.




Turning her head suddenly, Angela looked at the couple before saying “what on earth are you two doing here?”


“We were going to ask you the same question,” Jo Frost said as she and Cassie Craig smiled.  “Teaching?”


“Well, supervising at any rate.  Let’s talk at the reception…”




Alex smiled as John stepped forward, whispering “Kylie has done an amazing job” to Shirley as she came and stood next to him.


“Please, be seated,” he said as the congregation sat down.  “Dearly beloved, we are gathered together in this place to witness the joining of John and Shirley in holy matrimony…”


As Alex spoke, Francesca felt her cell phone vibrate in her bag.


“Something wrong, Mama,” Charlotte said as she held Frances, while Francesca checked.


“I…  I am not quite sure,” she said quietly, “I’ll tell you later…”





“Who gives this woman away,” Alex asked as Klaus gripped Juliette’s hand.


“I do, with great pleasure,” John Jacobs said quietly as he handed Shirley’s hand to John, and then stepped back, joining Coco in the aisle as Alex continued.


“John and Shirley, have you come here to enter into Marriage without coercion, freely and wholeheartedly?”


Both of them smiled as they said “I have”.

“Are you prepared, as you follow the path of Marriage, to love and honour each other for as long as you both shall live?”


“I am.”

“Are you prepared to accept children lovingly from God and to bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?”


“I am.”


Ama and Maisha both smiled as Catriona wiped a tear away, while Alex continued “Since it is your intention to enter the covenant of Holy Matrimony, join your right hands, and declare your consent before God and his Church.”


They turned to face each other, and took each other’s hands as John said “I, John Nathaniel Hammond, take you, Shirley Xavier, to be my wife. I promise to be faithful to you, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love you and to honour you all the days of my life.”


Maddie and Sandra both smiled as Shirley said “I, Shirley Xavier, take you, John Nathaniel Hammond, to be my husband. I promise to be faithful to you, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love you and to honour you all the days of my life.”


Diana wiped away a tear as Alex said “May the Lord in his kindness strengthen the consent you have declared before the Church and graciously bring to fulfillment his blessings within you. What God has joined, let no one put asunder.

“May the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God who joined together our first parents in paradise, strength and bless in Christ the consent you have declared before the Church, so that what God joins together, no one may put asunder.


“Let us bless the Lord.”


As the congregation said “Thanks be to God,” Alex said “Who has the rings?”


“I do,” Jack said quietly as he took two rings from his pocket and placed them on the bible.


Alex nodded as he said “Bless and sanctify your servants in their love, O Lord,
and let these rings, a sign of their faithfulness, remind them of their love for one another.  Through Christ our Lord.”


Both of them said “Amen” as John picked up the smaller ring, and placed it over Shirley’s finger on her left hand.


“Shirley,” he said quietly, “receive this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”


Shirley smiled as he slipped the ring on, before she picked up the second ring and said “John, receive this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”


“In so much as they have exchanged rings, and made their vows in front of this congregation and before God,” Alex said as he spread his arms, “I take great pleasure in declaring you Man and Wife.  What God has joined, let no man sunder.


“You may kiss your bride.”


“With the greatest of pleasure,” John said as he lifted the veil and kissed Shirley, the entire congregation clapping and cheering.  Ama and Maisha just smiled as the tears ran down their cheeks, the other three doing the same.


“Please,” Alex eventually said as the applause died down, “be seated…”




The Astoria Waldorf


“They are at the ceremony, Sir,” one of his assistants said to Byushin as he sipped his coffee, “when do we execute the plan?”


“Not there,” Oleg said quietly, “The new Mrs Hammond is not a woman to cross.”


“You speak as if you know of her.”


“I know who she is,” Oleg said as he nodded, “and you need know no more than that.  Where is he?”


“In his room – he attended the meeting, and came straight back.”


“Good – we will know soon enough…”


St Martha’s


Judy nodded as she started to play on the organ, Alex walking to the front of the church as Shirley put her arm in John’s and followed him.


“May I?”


Catriona nodded as Jack offered her his arm, Maddie and Sandra following them and then Ama and Maisha as the congregation turned to see them walk out. 




“I am all right Olga,” Tatiana said as she wiped her eye, “purely enjoying the happiness of the day.” 


“We all are,” Juliette smiled as Carina and Annie held the babies.  “We all are – so let us go and congratulate the couple.”





“You have no idea,” Shirley whispered as she hugged her husband’s arm, and they stepped out into the winter sun, smiling as Luke started to take some photographs.  “Somehow, I feel complete now.”


“More so than ever?”


“Indeed, Cat,” Shirley said as she turned with a smile.


“I’ll take some photos at the reception as well,” Luke said as Emma held Maddie’s hand, and Nick stood with Ama.  Liz and the other girls came and stood behind them, as the congregation started to come out and pass the group.


“If you are ready,” Clint said as he touched the peak of his cap, “we have the cars here to take you to the hotel for the photographs and the wedding breakfast.”


“Then let us be on our way…”



“Kylie, you have certainly fulfilled a great commission today,” Helen said as she and Marina stood with the young designer.


“Thank you, Sensei,” Kylie said with a smile.  “I am pleased that Madame is pleased, as are the others.”


“And you, are you at peace?”


“Now – although it was a hard struggle,” Kylie said with a rueful smile, “as you taught us, the struggle is a lesson in itself.”


“If we allow it to teach us,” Beverley said as she stood with them.  “Truly a memorable day, and yet…”


“You feel it as well,” Helen said quietly.  “Be alert…”




“So where do we go from here,” Tatiana asked as she and Olga left the church.


“The reception,” Klaus said, “once the family have come out.  I think Mags and Rudi were being admired again…”


As they stood waiting, Jo Frost and Cassie Craig stood to one side.


“All right – so who do you know, the bride or the groom?”


Jo smiled as she looked at Angela Gresham-Fox, and said “the bride actually – and you?”


“Watching a group from Benenden, if truth be told,” Angela said, “who insisted they had to join their parents at this wedding.”


“And you let them?  You’re slipping,” Cassie said with a laugh.  “I see Kay and her husband are here as well, though.”


“There are a lot of fascinating people here – as well as us,” Angela said with a smile.  “Teaching looks like it is keeping you both happy.”


“It is – Geography, right?”


and Chemistry and English for you two?  Perhaps we should compare notes before I head back.”  Angela looked round, before she whispered “why do I think you have other reasons to be here?”


“You have as well, right?”





The Waldorf Astoria


As John and Shirley walked in, Vanessa walked forward, wearing a blue dress, and said “welcome – we have a room set aside for Luke to take photos while the other guests arrive, but first, allow me to toast the happy couple.”


As a waiter came over, she took a champagne glass and raised it as they both took one as well.


“May your marriage be blessed in every way,” she said as they took a drink, while Luke walked in.


“So – where do we go?”


“This way…”




“That was an amazing ceremony,” Sands said as she walked in with George, Sandy and Heather.   She was wearing a grey coat over a cream dress, while Sandy and Heather were wearing blazers over long dresses.


“Yeah,” George said as he looked round, “but I think it’s going to be fun here as well.”  He smiled as Katy came in with Janice and Adam, Tom and Gale bringing Allen in with them next.



“Juliette, Klaus – may I have a word please,” Francesca said as they walked into the lobby, “in private?”


“Of course,” Klaus said as they made their way over to a booth in the coffee shop, Carina and Ingrid going into the reception room with Annie and the children.


So what has happened,” Juliette said as they sat down.


“I had a text from Yuri Markov before we went into the ceremony,” Francesca said quietly, “and it is perplexing me.”


“It is – why?”


“Have a look,” she said as she handed Klaus the phone.




Boronov is withdrawing from the offer to purchase NorStar, but I fear the storm is not over,




“Ah, that deceit should steal such gentle shape,
And with a virtuous vizor hide deep vice!”


“The takeover is off,” Juliette said, “well, that is good news – but why then is Boronov here, and what is that quote at the end?”


“It’s from Richard the Third,” Klaus said quietly, “but why is he quoting Shakespeare, unless…”




“Forgive me,” Klaus said with a smile, “I am pleased to hear that at least NorStar, and by association our models, are safe.  But I do fear other things, other forces…”





“Oh wow,” Eve said as she, Kit and Liz accompanied their mothers into the main ballroom, “they have done a wonderful job in here.”   The hall was decorated with yellow ribbons, and each table had a yellow centrepiece which April Broadhurst was walking round, checking as Pepsi shook her head.


“Mum, honestly – you can relax now,” she said as she walked over.


“Indeed, April darling,” Mandy said as she and Will joined them, “your part is played and played beautifully, but now it is time to relax.”




So Beverley darling,” Kylie said as she walked in with her old friend, “how are you finding the new lifestyle?”


“Invigorating – and I see Tracy has bloomed as well,” the blonde said as she looked over, a glass of champagne in her hand.  “It has been a truly – transformative experience.”


“As we discovered as well,” Kylie said with a smile as she nodded to Doc.  “And the poker?”


“As profitable as ever – indeed, the new me finds it much easier to strategize and plan in advance.”


“Which explains why you only pick the choicest tournaments, Bev,” Pru Levine said as she and Jerry joined them.


“Ah – that has more to do with my duties in my current role limiting my free time,” Bev said with a smile, “but it makes the challenge all the sweeter, especially when either of you are playing as well.”


So you have no plans to go to the World Series?”


“Not at this time,” Beverly said as she sipped her drink, “but we shall see…”





“So where are we sitting,” Donald asked as he looked at the seating chart.  “Ah – of course – with Tamsin and Kit, as well as Mandy and Will.”


“We’re on this table over here,” Grace said as she looked at the chart, “and I hope you don’t mind sitting with your teacher, Eve?”


“If I must,” Eve said with a shrug of her shoulders, “I must.”


Oh you must,” Angela said as she held her husband’s arm, and looked round the room.




“We appear to be making a group,” Jo Frost said as she and Cassie joined Liz and Itzy.


“Indeed – Karen? I did not know you were coming?”


“Nor did I until yesterday,” Karen Kumalo said as she took a seat, “but I had a call that told me to be here.  I arrived too late for the ceremony, and just made it here for the reception.”


“Ah – good, you made it.”


“Greetings,” Karen said as she looked at Charlotte, “I was summoned, I came – but why?”


“Let us say, things are happening…”




“So, if we have you and Ama in front of these three,” Luke said as he positioned the bridesmaids, and then took a few pictures, before he said “I believe I have all I need now.”


and you got my good side?”


“And I got your good side,” He replied as he smiled at Jack, and put his camera away.  “You are now free to join the other guests – well, apart from you, my dear John and Shirley.”


“Oh – and why is that?”


“You get the grand entry,” Nessa said as she came into the room, “and besides, it is only right and proper that you are the last ones to enter…”







Oleg Byushin looked up, wiping his mouth with the napkin before he said “they have returned?”


“As part of the main party, yes.  When do we move?”


“Not yet – we must allow more time, and then the test may begin…”








The room fell silent as John, Jack and Alex led the bridesmaids in and waited as they took their seat at the top table.  They had now removed their capes and long gloves as they looked around the room, Ama smiling at Nick.


“Pray be upstanding and welcome John and Shirley Hammond!”


The room broke out in applause as they came in, Shirley holding John’s arm.  She had also removed her cape and veil, and she nodded to the guests as they walked round, John holding Shirley’s chair before he took his one.


“Father Richmond?”


Alex stood up and looked round the room before he said “let us pray.


“Lord, on this most precious of days, we give thanks that John and Shirley are now united in your sight, and we ask you to bless both this food we now receive, and the celebrations that are to come.




As the room responded, Ama whispered to Maisha “you have your family complete at last Sister.”


“Indeed – and my joy is made complete in that,” Maisha said as the staters were brought out.




“You all right, Sis,” George said as he looked at Sands.

“Yeah – I was just wondering what’s going to happen later?”




“Holly and Tommy are coming later on – I just hope they can at least talk to each other.”


“And to you?  Has Tommy said anything to you?”


Sands shook her head, but inside she was wondering if Krystle would make an appearance instead…




“This is a truly excellent meal,” Tatiana said as she looked at Juliette, “so do you have any idea where they are heading?”


“Absolutely none – I understand the only other person who may have an idea is Maisha, and that is because she had to arrange for the suitcase to be brought here for Shirley to take with her.”


Olga shook her head before she said “where did you and Father go, Mother?”


“Nice – it was a wonderful place to go for such a time,” Tatiana said as she had a faraway look in her eye.


you know, he is in the hotel – why don’t I invite him to join us later on,” Klaus said quietly.


“Please, Mother – it would be a good thing to do,” Olga said quietly.  Tatiana thought for a moment, and then nodded before she said “why not – so long as he does not talk business.”




“Ladies and Gentlemen,” the toastmaster called out, “pray silence for Mister John Jacobs!”


John smiled as he stood up, and took some cards from inside his jacket, before he looked round and said “well, this is truly an august occasion, isn’t it?”


As the room nodded, he said “When Shirley asked if I would accept the honour – and it is an honour – of being the Father of the Bride, I admit I was surprised – but as she said to me, I have known her longer than anyone else here, and as such I was the obvious choice.  I could have debated the point, but if you know Shirley, you know if she asks something it is very, VERY difficult to say no.”


Maddie and Sandra both shook their heads as there was a ripple of laughter round the room.


“So – although I have known Shirley long enough to know how it felt to bounce her on my knee, which is a little longer than some of the others here.  She was a happy, outgoing child, even when she went to boarding school and made fast friends, such as Catriona, and then went out into the wider world.



“Today – this place – is not the time or the place to reflect on those years,” he said as John squeezed Shirley’s hand, “but they taught her the lessons she has applied in her business world.  But - and I hope she forgives me for saying this – those who remained close to her always knew there was something missing.


“Then, two years ago, she emerged from the shell she had built around herself, and in that emergence, she met John.  I have only the word of those who were at the party when they first met, but according to those sources the teenage Shirley appeared out of nowhere – and there was an instant and mutual attraction.”


John paused for a moment, before he said “I want, now, to acknowledge one thing they also have in common – both have lost partners in the past, and on this special day, it is only right and proper we remember them.  Join me, in raising a glass to Robert, and to Helen.”


Shirley and John both nodded as they returned the toast, before John spoke again.


“But enough of the past – this is about the future, and their lives together.  Lives they share now with their daughter, Maisha, as well as with us, so I may forgo the usual talk about raising children together.”


“She’s not too old,” Hannah White called out as the room laughed in response.


“True – but it has been a rare privilege for me to see their love for each other, and their care and love for Maisha, grow these last few months.  As I look round the room, I know there are friends here from every aspect of both their lives – friends who have seen this love grow and blossom, and supported them all the way.


“Including today – so my words of wisdom to you, John, are simply these – love her, and your daughter, with all your heart and soul, and the rest will follow.


“So,” he concluded as he raised his glass, “join me, be it with champagne, soft drink, or freshly brewed tea, in a toast.  The Bride and Groom.”




There was applause as John sat down, Shirley whispering “thank you” into his ear as the toastmaster said “and now, please pray silence for the groom, Major Sir John Hammond!”


John nodded as he stood up and smiled.


“Well – before I submit myself to whatever it is Jack Linklater has planned for me, I just want to say a few brief words.


“Firstly, to thank Alex for conducting the ceremony today, and Nessa for making the arrangements here – and also to thank the staff here at the Waldorf for the way they have served us all today.  Please, show your appreciation for them.”


The room applauded, before John continued “I also want to thank April for providing the floral arrangements, and those who helped Shirley and the others prepare for today – and I especially want to thank Kylie Mitchell, who has made five women look amazing today.


and one very special lady look even more amazing.”


Kylie blushed as the room applauded again, before John looked to his side.  “I never thought I would find love again, after my first wife died, but I have given thanks every day since we met at New Year’s Eve, Shirley, and today you have made me feel complete once more.  Thank you.”


Shirley blushed as he leaned over and they kissed, before he turned to face the room again.


“Obviously, our own parents are no longer here – but as I said earlier, Nessa Richmond has done an amazing job with the arrangements today, and I know Shirley regards her as a mother as well – so, I am hoping that young Miley McAdam is ready with Laura?”


The room turned as Miley carried in a large bouquet, Laura accompanying her as she walked to where Nessa was sitting to David, and then handing them over as the older woman whispered “thank you.”


“Now, who else – oh.  Yes.  I want to thank Jack for supporting me today, and Luke for both taking the photographs and supporting Jack in those duties.  I understand they may be doing something similar in the spring, and we look forward to joining them on that occasion.


“Which leaves five very special women sitting at the table here with us.  Catriona, Maddie and Sandra, who are among Shirley’s oldest friends, and Ama and Maisha, our daughter and in many ways her sister as well.  They have been the bedrock of support these last few days, and I ask you now to join me in thanking them and toasting them.


“Ladies and Gentlemen, the toast is The Bridesmaids.”




Again there was applause as John sat down, and Jack stood up and looked round.


“Okay – I hope your camera is hidden, young Abigail?”


“Now would I do that to you today,” Abby laughed in response with a look of mock horror on her face.


“Okay then,” Jack said with a smile, “before I take my life in my hands – from Shirley as much as from John – I have a few messages to read out.


“Sorry we could not be there today, but we wish you all the joy and happiness of the day – John and Marianne Vosloo.


“Hope this is the beginning of the best chapter of your lives – Amelia and Maggie.


“May blessings fall like raindrops upon you and yours – Tamika.


and finally – on this most special day, my there be nothing but love.  Charles, Olivia and family.”


“Why are they not here anyway,” Nell whispered to Mick Harron.


“They’re meeting Fiona’s girlfriend this weekend in Newcastle.”


“Oh – right…”


“So – Major Sir John Hammond, MBE, and Miss Shirley Xavier…  To be fair, I have known John for more years than I care to try to remember, ever since we were first brought together by the late Fiona MacKenzie to do a shoot in Paris.  I remember seeing him for the first time, the former Guardsman, and thinking one thing.


“How the hell did he manage to get that shine on his shoes?”


“Practice,” John laughed as he smacked the table with his hand.


“At any rate – I found him a charming man, and then a good friend, and when Helen fell ill I and my fellow photographers supported him through those dark times.  He has repaid that a thousand times over, which speaks to the sort of man he is, and how he is concerned for everyone.


“And over the years, we have also shared in good and bad times – so when he asked me to stand by his side today, I took it as an opportunity to do what he would have done for any of us.  In fact, we need to have a chat later on today…”


John raised an eyebrow as Luke shook his head.  “Anyway – I have known Shirley for as long as John has, but I have also seen her fill that gap, and I have seen that the two of you are perfect together.  So I just want to make a small toast – and a slightly different one.


“To the future.”


The room repeated the toast as Jack said “and now, the management asks if you would repair to the outer hall while the dance fall is cleared…”







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