THE STAG NIGHT CAME ALL TOO QUICKLY FOR DONNA. She should have been thinking of the happiest day in her life, but instead had to worry about the two brothers out on the town, up to no good. She was annoyed with Cole for instigating this, and with Evan for going along with it.
‘Ready for the off,’ Cole grinned, getting to his feet, when his brother came into the living room at seven o’clock. They were both freshly groomed, their clothes smart and neat, looking forward to Evan’s so-called last night of freedom.
‘As if I have any choice,’ Evan smiled, looking at his brother warily.
‘You two had better be careful what you’re doing. I don’t want either of you coming home drunk. Or you’ll have both of us to answer to – do you hear?’ Their mother wagged a finger at them.
‘Mum, you’re worrying over nothing,’ Cole laughed. ‘I’ll take good care of him, I promise.’
‘We’ll only have a couple,’ Evan said. ‘Honestly Donna.’
She moved her head to one side and pulled her lips back, wondering if she could trust him. In all their time together, he’d never let her down once, so surely he wouldn’t dare throw everything away. ‘Just come home safe and sound, that’s all I ask.’
‘We will – don’t you worry about that.’ He winked at her, leaning over to give her a peck on the cheek, and then with Cole draping an arm around his shoulder, they left.
After the front door had been slammed shut, the two women looked at one another knowingly, realising exactly what would happen. Hopefully they’d be proved wrong.
For the rest of the evening they watched the television together. But Donna found it hard to concentrate on any programme, constantly fidgeting in her seat, wondering what the two brothers were up to.
‘I think it’s time for bed now,’ Donna announced a little later, having noticed the time was close to ten o’clock.
Mrs Lacey smiled. ‘You’ve been very quiet tonight. Something to do with my son’s stag night, is it?’
‘You could say that.’
‘You’re not on your own, my dear. I feel exactly the same. Remember, since they were born, I’ve seen the best and worst of them. Both of them got into trouble at one time or other but thankfully they got that out of their system years ago. Mind you since then they’ve buckled down very well, and in their own way they’ve made a success of their lives. Let’s hope there aren’t any lapses one day before the wedding.’
‘Evan would be the biggest fool on earth if he did anything to jeopardise your relationship, because I reckon he’s the luckiest man alive. You’re a pleasure to have around and so modest with it too. That’s what Theresa always used to tell me.’
‘Thanks for that, but I’m not that wonderful – honestly.’
‘That’s what I’m talking about. Your modesty becomes you, my dear. Go on, get off to bed - you have a big day ahead of you in the morning. Try to forget about the lads for a few hours. If there’s any bother, I’m more than capable of handling it. They’re not too old to have their ears boxed.’ She rolled her sleeves up to show the muscles in her arms.
Donna laughed and said ‘Thanks. I do appreciate everything you’ve done for me since I came to live here. If it hadn’t been for your kindness, I dread to think what would have happened to me.’
‘You’re a really nice girl, so it’s easy to treat you the same as my kids. And so good for Theresa, you were almost like sisters. And now by marrying Evan you’ll make him the happiest man in the world. A mother couldn’t ask for anything more.’
Donna had tears in her eyes wishing, in comparison, her own parents had treated her more like this lovely lady. This made her even more determined to take this chance of happiness with Evan. Having come through everything else with him, there remained just one more obstacle to overcome.
Later, lying in bed, she found it hard to sleep. Imagining the two brothers up to all sorts, out on their pub-crawl, winding up in some seedy night club, having one final fling before Evan became a married man. It drove her crazy thinking that way. So long as he came back in one piece, that was all that mattered, she kept telling herself.
It must have been in the early hours of the morning that she finally fell asleep, without having heard them return home. And when she was woken by a knock on the bedroom door, opening her eyes, she was surprised to see daylight flooding in through the curtains. It seemed the day of her wedding had arrived at last.
Mrs Lacey came into her room with a wide grin on her face and a welcome cup of tea.
‘Are they all right?’ Donna asked, suddenly more alert.
‘They’re both sleeping like babies.’
‘And did you see them when they came back in last night?’
‘I did. Waited up for them until two o’clock in the morning. They seemed shocked to see me. They seemed ok, perhaps a little unsteady on their feet – but not blind drunk, in fact nowhere near as bad as we feared. Cole said they’d only been drinking beer, so it would have taken a lot for them to get legless. Apparently he was a little disappointed in Evan, as he kept on about you the whole time, and how he didn’t want to let you down.’
‘That’s nice,’ Donna smiled, sitting up in bed, feeling more secure now. How touching to have Evan think about her, and it almost brought a tear to her eye.
‘I told you he wouldn’t do anything stupid. He’s always been a good lad at heart. All right, so he’s had his moments especially when he found out he couldn’t play football again. But once he got through that, he’s been a son to be proud of.’
This put Donna’s mind at rest and made her feel much more comfortable about her wedding day.
‘What’s the weather like?’ Donna asked as she put on her dressing gown.
‘Very promising, my dear,’ And pulling back the curtains to allow in bright sunshine added, ‘As you can see it’s sunny and the forecast is for a dry warm day. What a wonderful day for a wedding.’
‘It certainly is.’
The ceremony was due to take place at St Luke’s Church Dexford, an eighteenth century building situated at the top of a hill overlooking the town itself. The couple thought it the perfect venue for the wedding, and the photographs afterwards too.
Donna’s heart raced like an express train for most of the morning. Evan had agreed to remain downstairs once he’d taken a shower, and in return Donna would stay upstairs until Evan had left in the wedding car.
That became a little difficult and Mrs Lacey had to constantly make sure the coast was clear before Donna left the confines of her room. Even the hairdresser had to style the bride’s hair upstairs in the bedroom.
When the hairdresser had gone, the time had come to put on her wedding gown. There at hand was Mrs Lacey to give her support and guidance. She placed a footstool in front of the mirror for Donna to stand on, so she could arrange the dress and trail to fall without getting creased.
‘Will you be all right to stand for a while until the car arrives?’
Moving back to see how she looked, she gasped, took Donna in her arms and cried.
‘You look so wonderful my dear. The photographer will have it easy taking pictures of you.’
‘Oh come on - that’s a bit of an exaggeration,’ Donna grinned, feeling embarrassed.
‘It’s such a shame about your parents. You ought to have forgiven them, my dear - it is the biggest day in your life after all.’
She felt her face flush again, and not wanting an argument with her soon-to-be mother in law, said. ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t help how I feel. They should never have treated me like they did, forever making me do things they knew I hated doing. I never wanted to be thrust into the limelight at all - I kept telling them, and yet they still carried on and on at me - so they only have themselves to blame. And then of course their attitude over Evan was unforgivable. Just because he’s a male nurse, for God’s sake.’
Mrs Lacey looked sad. It would seem she hated family bust ups, but as far as Donna was concerned, any differences she had with her folks would never be resolved.
‘Well, I suppose that’s between you and them, my dear–’
‘I won’t change my mind.’
Having stayed in her room all morning, she was eager for the wedding to start, now she had her dress on. She was all for sticking with tradition, but this was ridiculous. As it had been arranged for Evan to leave half an hour before her, she felt sure it would soon be time for the boys to depart.
Just as she looked at the clock on the bedside table for the umpteenth time, there was a gentle knock on her bedroom door. She was on her own. Who on earth could that be?
‘Come in,’ Donna replied, sure it couldn’t be Evan. Much to her surprise, Cole opened the door, admittedly looking very smart in his army uniform, but he seemed a little ill at ease. He kept adjusting the collar of his shirt, and didn’t look her straight in the eye.
‘Er…could I have a quick word with the bride?’ He closed the door behind him.
‘Why – what’s wrong?’ She got a sudden dread in the pit of her stomach that Evan had changed his mind. Surely not.
‘Oh nothing much.’ He seemed awkward, and sat down on the bed, then brushed away the fluff off his lapels with his hand, hesitating, as if he was trying to summon up the courage to tell her something.
She was bewildered, and noticed the peculiar expression on his face. A smirk seemed to over emphasise the gap in his teeth, making her blood run cold. How odd he’d made her shudder, as if someone had just walked over her grave.
What was going on now? Perhaps she over reacting because of the anxiety of the day. What if Evan really had had a change of heart? Oh dear God, if that happened, she couldn’t bear it.
She saw Cole breathing in deeply, finding it difficult to reveal what he wanted to say.
‘What is it? He’s not ill, is he?’
‘No, he isn’t. Donna...Look I...I don’t know quite how to tell you this... but I have to get it off my chest. You’ll be making the biggest mistake of your life if you marry Evan.’
‘I said – for God’s sake, don’t go ahead with this wedding.’ His hands were shaking.
‘Cole, what the hell do you mean by that? I’m supposed to be getting married to him within the hour, so why are you telling me this now of all times. You’d better explain yourself – and double quick.’ She glared at him angrily.
‘I’m sorry but I can’t tell you why. Evan’s my brother and I don’t want to do this to him, but there’s no other way. Take my word for it – this marriage will never work. I’m warning you, it’ll end in heartbreak, and when it does, I can’t imagine what it’ll do to you.’
‘Don’t do this to me.’ She walked across to the window with her back to him.
‘I’d have told you before, but I wasn’t sure, not until last night. Now that I am, it’s my duty to try to stop you before it’s too late.’
She was outraged at what he was implying. What right had he to come here and tell her this? She dreaded what Evan would do if he found out. There’d be a massive altercation.
‘I’m going through with this, whatever you say or do. So unless you can give me good reason not to, or show me your proof, I’d be grateful if you’d shut up about it. In fact, I’m not sure I want you at my wedding now. And what’s more, maybe I should tell Evan what you’ve been saying. Let’s see what he has to say about it.’
Cole scratched the back of his head with his fingernails. Donna guessed he realised he shouldn’t have said any of this.
‘All right. Suit yourself, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.’
Another knock on the door, and Mrs Lacey popped her head around the door, surprised to see Cole sitting on the bed.
‘Your brother’s looking for you. You’d better get downstairs; he wants to get on to the church as soon as the car arrives.’
‘All right, I’m coming mum.’
Donna glanced at him as he left, not liking the concern he tried to display on his face. She immediately felt like crying. What had got into him all of a sudden? She’d always thought of Cole as a hero, the life and soul of the party, willing to put himself out for anyone. And when he’d told her how he’d suffered in action, his dread of going back to the front line, she’d really felt sorry for him. Now it was difficult to understand what was going on with him.
‘Is everything all right Donna? What did Cole want?’ Mrs Lacey asked, although clearly she didn’t suspect anything was amiss.
‘Oh nothing much. Wanted to wish me luck. Really nice of him, I thought. Anyway, they should be going soon. We’ll give them a few minutes, then we’ll finish getting ourselves ready, and hope the other car comes on time.’
They stood together for a few minutes, musing over what was to come. Donna had already been nervous, but now after Cole’s revelation, she felt even more jittery. He’d upset her. But why had he done it? She couldn’t answer that one, unless he was jealous of Evan and secretly wanted her for himself. But he could probably get any woman he wanted anyway. So what was the point of wreaking his brother’s happiness.
Mrs Lacey went across to the window.
‘They’ve just gone out. They’re getting into the car, and they’re driving off. Both of them look so handsome and debonair. Oh, I am so proud of them, and you too. You’ll make a lovely couple – and with the weather the way it is, the photos should come out a treat.’
Donna kept glancing at her watch. She’d hardly heard what Mrs Lacey had said. And was now trembling, daring to doubt Evan. What if there was some truth in his accusations? Yet what exactly had he said? Very little except to run his brother down. Surely she knew Evan better than that, didn’t she? For a few seconds she had a terrible urge to tell Mrs Lacey what had happened. She was in a quandary, unsure of what to do for the best. In the end she thought it best to keep this to herself. After all Evan had always treated her with respect, and was so patient and understanding, it bordered on the sublime.
‘Come on then Donna. Are you ready now?’
‘As ready as I’ll ever be.’
‘Good, the wedding car is pulling up outside.’
She found it difficult to move in her long white wedding dress, especially coming down the stairs. But she made it, with Mrs Lacey following behind holding the trail, before opening the front door for them to go out.
Although this was supposed to be the biggest day of her life, Cole’s outburst had put a damper on things. Now sitting in the back of the wedding car her mind began to consider not going through with the wedding. Her brain wouldn’t function properly, but then again she didn’t feel it fair to let Evan down purely on hearsay. The more she thought about it, the more it seemed to her Cole was doing this out of spite and jealousy.
As the car travelled towards the church, she thought about telling Evan about her conversation with Cole before the ceremony began. But if she did it would almost certainly ruin the whole wedding.
When the car turned left into the entrance of the church grounds, the tension mounted, and she had the urge to run away again. Then looking up she saw the photographer waiting for the car to pull up in front of the church and realised there was no backing out now. She kept telling herself she knew Evan as well as she’d ever known anyone; and he’d helped turn her life around while in hospital. And hadn’t he been her rock ever since? Never complained or pressurised her into revealing the dark side of her past which he knew of, but not about. Surely that meant he loved her a great deal.
The car stopped and the driver quickly got out to open the door for the bride and the soon to be mother-in-law.
At this point Donna thought about her parents. Normally the father of the bride would have travelled with the bride to the church and then escorted her into the church and down the aisle, but weeks before the wedding her parents had made it quite clear, in their opinion, she was marrying beneath her. The fact that Evan was only a male nurse and had encouraged her to work as a menial kitchen assistant hadn’t gone down well with them. The meeting had ended with a furious altercation, resulting in Donna telling them to stay away from the wedding ceremony and reception.
Mrs Lacey squeezed Donna’s arm, having seen how distracted and quiet she had become.
‘Try not to worry dear – everything will go off fine, I promise you. Nothing to be concerned about. Enjoy it as much as you can, it’s going to be the best day of your life, but it’ll pass all too quickly – believe me.’
‘Yes, I know, I’ll do my best.’
As Donna looked around and took in the picturesque setting of the eighteenth century church, situated above the town of Dexford, she heard footsteps on the gravel pathway. Looking up she saw her father rushing towards her. Smartly dressed, his face was flushed and he was breathing heavily from exertion. She suddenly got all emotional.
‘Please Donna, would it be all right if I gave you away?’ He appeared to be pleading.
This brought tears to her eyes - despite what had happened between them, she didn’t have the heart to say no. Nodding in agreement she looked at Mrs Lacey, who seemed pleased at how this had unfolded. And as they walked towards the entrance to the church, the strains of Love Divine could be heard.
As soon as she stepped into the church, the wedding march started, and so taking hold of her father’s arm, they walked slowly down the aisle to the front of the church, which was packed with well-wishers. She recognised some of the staff from the hospital, and her colleagues from the school where she worked.
Gazing to her left she saw her mother standing a few rows back from the front. It seemed she too had decided to come, despite being told to stay away, and gave Donna a warm smile although her eyes seemed tearful, as if to say everything was all right now. Whether they would ever have a relationship again, she couldn’t speculate. But at least her mother had made a start, and for that Donna was grateful.
Evan waited at the front pew for her. He wore a dark blue suit, with a pink carnation in his buttonhole, his black hair freshly groomed and brushed back. He looked elated. Next to him stood Cole, all smiles, acting as if nothing was wrong.
At last, the happy couple stood side by side ready to make their vows. Evan kept smiling at her reassuringly.
The bald-headed vicar in his white robes was in front of them, smiling too, happy it seemed, to be conducting this marriage service. In his hands, he held an open bible. After a quick glance at both of them, to ensure they were both ready, he began.
‘Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to join this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony…’
To Donna the ceremony seemed to pass in a blur. She could barely remember repeating the words after the vicar except to say ‘I do’.
Finally, the couple kissed clumsily, before making their way back down the aisle amid the music and out of the church, where everyone would soon congregate.
After the photographs had been taken, Donna’s mother and father moved closer to her. Her father slipped an envelope into her hand with instructions not to open it until later. Donna was intrigued but resisted the temptation.
‘Well, Mrs Lacey, I suppose we’d better lead the way to the reception,’ Evan said grinning.
‘Yes, Mr Lacey, we better had.’ She smiled, and the guests walked over to their respective cars.
From there they travelled to the Red Lion Inn, quaintly situated in the country just outside Dexford. At the back was a function room, where the wedding reception would take place, and also later in the evening, a buffet and disco.
The bride and groom sat at the top table, in the middle of guests from both sides. Once the meal was over the bride’s father, surprisingly, got to his feet to make a speech.
‘We are here today to celebrate the marriage of my daughter Donna to Evan. Everyone can see they are very much in love as Donna’s mother and I were too many years ago for us to care to remember…’
She was so proud of her father, as he made his speech, it was just what was needed to lighten the atmosphere. Experienced in this sort of thing, he had only positive things to say about them which was good to hear; in fact at one point she got quite emotional. Once again glancing at her mother, she was surprised to see more tears in her eyes.
‘…so it just remains for me, along with everyone else here, to toast the happy couple and wish them a long and joyous future together.’
Then Cole made a speech. He had all the guests in hysterics, with his funny anecdotes, mostly about when the two brothers were young. There was a moving tribute to his sister Theresa, so poignant, there didn’t seem to be a dry eye in the room. But the moment passed, and on he went with more amusing stories.
When all the speeches and well wishes had been made to the couple, the tables were cleared away in readiness for the disco.
Cole got to his feet again and said, ‘Now I gather there’s a disco laid on, so I would encourage you all to get on to the floor – and let’s start boogieing. But first to start the proceedings, Mr and Mrs Lacey will take the first dance.’
The main lights were dimmed, and replaced by flashing lights of blue, red and yellow; everyone waited for the happy couple to appear on the dance floor.
‘Well, Mrs Lacey, shall we?’ Evan invited holding out his arm.
After a while they were joined by the younger guests. And as the night wore on, following a number of requests from the older generation, the music was toned down a little to cater for all age groups.
Donna struggled to dance in her wedding dress, aware she must have looked comical, perhaps the reason why Evan kept smiling at her. However, once the music slowed, it became easier for the couple to dance together. Donna was happy and at long last experiencing the ‘glad to be alive’ feeling. How wonderful to be able to spend the rest of her life with the person she loved. She wouldn’t let Cole get her down; after all once the wedding was over he’d return to Afghanistan and wouldn’t be home again for many months.
A short time later they sat down, exhausted from their endeavours. They held hands, watching what was going on around them.
‘I wish Theresa could have been here to see this,’ Donna said suddenly.
Evan squeezed her hand. ‘Me too. She would have brought the ceremony alive with her music. Maybe she’s looking down on us right now, enjoying our special day with us.’
Donna felt sad for a moment. Everyone had been devastated when Theresa had died; and none of them would ever forget it.
‘Come on now love, don’t be sad. Theresa wouldn’t want you to be like this. She’d want you to be happy, so let’s try to be that in her memory.’
‘I know, I’m sorry. It’s just that it still gets to me sometimes. Am I being silly?’
‘Not at all. Don’t worry, I understand. I’m the same myself, but we can’t change what happened. We’ll never forget her, but it’s time to move on, and get on with our own lives.’
Evan pulled Donna to him and kissed her lightly on the lips.
Suddenly Cole leaned over towards them. ‘Hey, what’s the matter with you two? The honeymoon hasn’t started yet, and you’re all over each other already. Have you no shame?’ he joked, his beaming face only inches away from them.
‘Cole, get lost will you,’ Evan told him in a humorous tone of voice.
‘Well, that’s a nice way to treat your one and only brother. I came over here to ask your darling wife for a dance, but if that’s how you’re going to treat me, I won’t bother.’ A half-smile appeared on his face as he winked at Donna.
‘Cole, have you thought she may not want to dance with you. She’s a married woman after all, and married women don’t dance with strange men.’
‘Strange - is that what I am? Well I reckon she won’t say no to the groom’s brother, just for old time’s sake.’
As Donna took in the situation, she wondered what was going on in Cole’s mind, despite his joking with Evan.
‘Cole, if she wants to accept your invitation to dance, then that’s fine with me. I can stand the competition now you know,’ Evan laughed, showing his perfect snow white teeth.
‘Right, how about it Donna? May I have the pleasure? Let me show my little brother how to really dance.’ He held out his hand for her.
She tried to look amused, but her stomach fluttered alarmingly, remembering what he’d said to her earlier.
The music was fast and loud when they got up. At first, they danced opposite each other, laughing and smiling as if their previous conversation had never happened.
After a few minutes, Cole moved towards her, as if he wanted to whisper something in her ear.
‘You should have heeded my warning earlier, darling – please, you’ve got to believe me. I can’t tell you how worried I am. You’re in great danger.’
She was astounded and glared at him angrily. ‘Oh for God’s sake – not that rubbish again. This has to stop right now before I fall out with you. Evan will be a wonderful husband to me. I love him and he loves me. So why are you doing this?’ Gently pushing his shoulder with her hand, she continued, ‘Enough Cole, or I’ll tell him what you’ve said.’
Then as she moved away he said, ‘Tell him if you want to. Of course, he’ll deny it. But look him in the eye when he does and then tell me if he’s telling the truth. Look, I’ve had to come clean about him, even though he made me swear not to. I don’t want you to get hurt.’
Donna had had enough of Cole’s lies. She stormed away from him; about to tell Evan what he’d said, then realising it would spoil what had otherwise been a perfect day, she changed her mind. And choose instead to ignore what Cole had said for now. After all, he’d soon be back with his army mates on another tour of duty. But why was he suggesting his brother had done something wrong? Almost as if he hated Evan and wanted to spoil his happiness. Whatever the reason, she couldn’t think about it right now, and wasn’t sure about telling Evan either. Nevertheless it made her feel anxious again, bringing back those horrible feelings of when she’d been raped.
‘Hi love,’ Evan said, smiling at her as she went back to sit down beside him, unaware it seemed, that she’d walked off from Cole.
‘Evan...’ she said taking hold of his hand before kissing him lightly on the lips.
‘That dance didn’t last long.’ He sounded almost pleased his brother hadn’t hogged her any longer. ‘What’s happened to Cole?’
‘Oh, he spotted an old girlfriend, who’s been giving him the glad eye all night - and decided to go after her.’
‘He’s a randy sod, my brother – always has been. Mind you, I reckon he’s entitled to some release considering his job in the army.’
‘I suppose. So when do we have to make our way to the airport?’
Evan raised his eyebrows, almost as if he’d forgotten about it. ‘Oh damn! What time is it?’ He looked at his watch. ‘It’s just after midnight now, so that only gives us a couple of hours. My God, we’d better get a move on or we’ll be late. Come on, let’s go upstairs to get changed.’
Donna was relieved, as it meant she could get away and avoid any further awkward scenes with Cole, should he suddenly decide to join them again.
‘Lead the way, husband.’
‘Let’s try and slip away unnoticed, eh.’ He got up holding onto her hand.
But their plan to make a discreet exit was soon shattered and when they reached the bottom of the stairs, the lights flooded on.
‘Hey – we know where you’re going,’ a voice shouted at them.
They both froze momentarily. Then the clapping and cheering started. Donna had never felt so embarrassed in her life. As Evan dragged her up the stairs; they waved without looking back, glad of the relative safety of the room designated for them to change in.
While he went to the bathroom to freshen up, Donna started to get out of the dress. She jumped when he came back and felt his eyes on her. Never before had she allowed him to see her like this even though she was still in her underwear. She felt flushed.
‘You are so gorgeous. You’ve no idea how much I’ve been aching for you these past few months.’
She smiled as he moved closer and put his strong arms around her. Kissed her delicately and sweetly on the lips as if he loved her more than life itself.
She closed her eyes in a dreamy sort of way, sure now more than ever that Evan was the man for her, and that Cole couldn’t be more wrong. He was out to make mischief and obviously jealous of what she and Evan had. Maybe at some stage during the honeymoon she might tell Evan all about his wonderful brother. Let him know exactly what Cole was really like – so much for being the all action war hero. When they parted Donna smiled warmly at Evan, the love of her life, the man who’d saved her in more ways than one.