There is a small wooden chapel surrounded by palms and native flowers, overgrown and a little neglected from the outside. White washed weatherboards now chipped and faded rise to a small bell tower, and a red corrugated steel roof. There are rusty patches on the roof and a few missing panes in the arched glass windows.
Holy Church of the Trinity is the oldest church on St. Cloud, and you can tell not a lot of care is put into its upkeep these days. Its congregation lie mostly in the cemetery nearby and Father Rene opens its doors only on special occasions: christenings, funerals and weddings.
Today the doors are open and the interior of the small church is a fiesta of colour; pews groan at capacity, seating a sea of smiling expectant faces dressed in their summer finest. Sundresses and hawaiian shirts, flowers adorn hair and hats perch on elderly ladies’ heads. Oranges, yellows, purples and pinks; the vibrant congregation compliment the flowers. Island blossoms of hibiscus, frangipani and jasmine line the altar and drape in garlands from the edge of the aisles.
All around are people I know and care about. It’s an occasion of joy, a coming together in celebration of love. Sun streams through the cracked church windows and a fan fixed high above turns listlessly, distributing the warm, muggy air. It’s hot but no-one seems to mind. Shoulders press against shoulders and the heavy fragrance of summer blossoms blends with the musty odour of old hymn books and candle wax.
To my left is Dan, radiant in a pale linen suit, cool despite the heat. He catches my eye and winks. To my right is Jack. The low hum of quietened chatter stills as a guitar at the front strums a chord. All eyes turn to Raife as he plays the opening chords of Bob Marley’s One Love, then begins to sing.
Everything about Raife seems softer, today he isn’t performing but accompanying. He strums and sings softly as heads swivel to the rear entrance of the small church where Sadie stands framed by the arched double doorway. As she enters a collective sigh emits from the congregation. She walks slowly, head high, cheeks flushed, wearing a simple white sundress. A crown of fuchsia and hibiscus rests on her blonde hair as she smiles brightly and makes her way barefoot down the aisle to the Jed.
No-one gives Sadie away and Jed has no ‘best man’. Somehow it feels like we are all one in those roles, in spirit we accompany Sadie down the aisle and stand together in support of Jed.
They’d tried to keep it all simple, just a small wedding they’d said, but Jed is part of the fabric of St. Cloud and now, so is Sadie. Excited at the prospect of newlywed bliss Jed had given an open invitation to all. He’d pinned a sign on Monica the espresso machine telling everyone to come and help them celebrate. Of course, Jed may not have thought through the logistics of his generous invite. At the front of the church Father Rene looks hot and a little flustered, Church of the Holy Trinity is now at full capacity.
Raife and his guitar stop, he smiles at Jed who hasn’t stopped smiling all day. Jed gives Raife the thumbs up, his eyes locked on Sadie. Father Rene welcomes us all and goes through the dearly beloved speech whilst Jed and Sadie stand facing each other, holding hands, locked in their own little bubble of bliss.
I take a mental picture. I want to remember their happiness: Jed with his slicked back hair and hawaiian shirt and Sadie with her crown of flowers. Today is the day she thought would never be hers. A love she didn’t believe possible. Yet here they are, happy with however long they have together. It’s their own version of perfect and it’s beautiful.
Sunny squirms in my lap and Evie tries to stand on Jack’s knee, waving as though the show should be about her. Jack whispers something in her ear, she giggles and sits back down on his lap. Sunny sighs and plops his thumb into his mouth. Jacks thigh presses against mine and it all feels right.
The I do and I will bit is followed closely by the kissing which makes Evie point and squeal loudly. There’s more music, laughter, hugs all round and an exit down the aisle by the bride and groom who are showered with flower petals. The congregation rise to follow outside where bubbles and more music await. Here we will toast Jed and Sadie and some will later head to a small hotel in Plantation Cove for their reception party.
People file out; colours and wafts of heavy perfume, excited chat and laughter as rows of townsfolk pass where we sit. Dan rushes ahead to see the happy couple. Jack is off on the heels of Evie and Sunny who disappear mischievously between the passing herd of legs. For now, I’ll let him play hide and seek. I need to sit just a moment longer.
Soon it’s just me, a solo figure, seated mid-row in the petal-strewn church. I want to stretch out the moment: the people, the flowers, the music and the smells. So much of my faraway home condensed into this small place of worship. I say a silent prayer to the God I hope is listening, the God I seem to talk mostly too when things need fixing.
“Billie, will you join us outside? Even God couldn’t bring us a breeze in here today.”
I jump at the sound of Father Rene’s voice. “Yes, of course, I was just coming.”
He stands a little unsteadily by the arched doorway, outside voices and laughter rise from the heat haze. His balding head gleams, a few limp remaining strands of hair stick to his forehead. As I approach he reaches out and gently links arms with me as we make our way out through the shaded porch.
“And are you well?” He pats my hand as we walk slowly.
“I am, thank you.” He smiles as I answer, his eyes warm in the cool shade of the porch.
We pause, not quite ready to face the glare. “These things take time.” He nods as he speaks, his eyes looking out beyond me, out past the crowd to where Sadie and Jed stand, hugging and thanking people. “Love is a powerful healer.”
My eyes follow his and together we watch all that happiness. “Sometimes.”
“When you’ve lived as long as me you’ll see that in the end, it always is.” I look at his wizened face, held together by the creases, leather brown and careworn. He turns back to me, smiles and squeezes my arm. “Trust me.”
“I do.” He nods and descends the steps down on to the grass, moving gracefully through the crowd, smiling and shaking hands as he goes.
The last time I saw Father Rene was at Evans memorial. Although the occasion was one of loss and great sadness, his presence then had been the same now: gracious, gentle and knowing. An old spirit that understands how it all works. I watch as he disappears into the welcoming mass.
I hear my name and see Sunny hoisted onto Dan’s shoulders, weaving through the crowd toward me. “Here she is.” Dan grins and throws Sunny up into the air before depositing him at my feet. “One of your matching set, the other is terrorising Jack.”
I kiss the giggling Sunny then tiptoe up to kiss Dan, who places a hand on his heart and drops on to a knee before me. “Should we have Father Rene marry us here while we have the rent-a-crowd?”
“Dan!” I laugh pushing him on the shoulder, he wobbles from his bended knee position and flops on to his bum on the grass.
“Oh come on, we’d be great together, it would be so easy. You could cook me chile rellenos and I’d share my music collection with you.”
“Sounds like bliss.” I roll my eyes and pull him to his feet as Jack and Raife approach, their heads weaving through the crowd from opposite directions.
“Damn and blast.” Dan’s hands move to his hips as he sees them. “I see how it is, you’re hot for one of these Kelly brothers.”
“Stop it.” I nudge him as he slugs down some champagne.
“You’re not alone sister.” Before my smart retort finds voice he’s gone, his golden mane swallowed by a sea of heads.
As Dan disappears, Jack and Raife arrive at my side and there is no tension, no weight of unsaid words between them. They smile at me, and at each other and together we turn to face the crowd centred by Sadie and Jed. Raife raises his glass and makes a toast to peace and happiness and we clink glasses and sip whilst Evie and Sunny make farty noises and run races round our legs.
It’s close to midnight and the band is still in full swing. They play under a canopy at the edge of the beach facing the courtyard, which doubles as a perfect dancefloor. Tables, groaning under the weight of candles and half-filled glasses surround them. Guests resting from the rigours of the dance floor sit, deep in conversation, smoking expensive cigars, arms draped over loved one’s shoulders, legs crossed at ankles, ties undone and high heels abandoned.
The night is black, no stars from where I sit eyes raised to the heavens. And I love that about stars, always there, only we can’t always see them. Like Mom and Evan, like Amandine. All there somewhere.
Tonight those stars pale under the glow of paper lanterns strung from post to post. Small white domes that illuminate the darkness above. They hang from pillars connecting the veranda to the hotel and string in diagonals across the courtyard.
It’s a magical scene. Dan dances with Ginny. Zoe who hasn’t left the dance floor all night, cuddles up to Felix, who she has finally persuaded to dance. Felix holds on to Zoe and he looks a little afraid, he ought to be. Zoe with this much champagne on board is dynamite.
Jed dances with tiny Josefina, he’s laughing hard, struggling to keep up with her bouncing moves. She dances like she cooks, fast and with passion. Over by the bar I see Bastian, all smiles. Tonight he gets to stand on the other side. He is sipping dark beer from a large glass with a handle; his hands gesticulate as he no doubt describes the intricacies of the flavour with the barman.
Sadie floats from table to table, a picture of flushed perfection. Still in her white sundress, her floral crown slightly askew, she chats and hugs, allowing herself to eventually be led off to dance by an elderly gent with a bow tie and white gloves.
Evie and Sunny were taken away after supper by Marlene, they will sleepover and I will stay here at Plantation Cove. I have a room, with a balcony and a view of the sea, crisp cotton sheets and a huge ceiling fan. What more could a girl want?
Jack skirts the edge of the dance floor carrying a tray of drinks. I watch him from afar as he heads carefully this way, smiling and stopping briefly to chat to friends, working his way slowly back to me.
He arrived home from St. Eloise only a few days ago, there hasn’t been time for us to talk. He was swooped up by Jed and Dan, keen to have him help with plans for Jed’s stag night. They were trying to keep him busy, give him focus after the tragic death of his mother. What a time.
I haven’t had the chance to tell him how sorry I am. To help share his grief and let him talk it out. To tell me what happened and what it might mean for him, for Raife and their family.
The wedding has given everyone a joyful distraction from anything less than happy. Instead we celebrate with Sadie and Jed, friends who have found love and a future together despite the odds. We are grateful for this reminder that happiness is there to be taken even though life is short.
Raife arrived yesterday, to play at the wedding at Jed’s request. Something has changed there, something big. Jack and Raife walk together, dragging nothing behind them. It doesn’t matter why, but, that they can finally tuck their past away is a wonderful thing.
He’s close now, just a few feet from where I sit. Tall, breath-taking in his suit. I realise I’ve rarely seen him in anything but shorts and a work shirt. Clean shaven and suited he might have walked out of the pages of a lady porn mag; one rip and the whole suit’s gone leaving a muscly body in a gold thong.
Jack places the tray on the table and distributes drinks around, finishing with me. He sets down a tall stemmed glass whose bubbles rise frantically, bursting effervescently on the smooth surface. Smiling, I raise my glass toward him in a silent toast.
There’s an unexpected thickness to the air that separates us. He lowers himself into a seat opposite, glass to hand, eyes locked on mine. Raising and tipping his glass he mirrors my action and I sip slowly, feeling the bubbles burst and dissipate on my lips. I watch him, afraid to break the moment. In this evening of sensory overload; people, music, conversation and dancing, quiet is far away. But right now that quiet is everywhere.
He nods slowly, eyes still on mine. The movement speaks a thousand unsaid words. Lowering my glass to the table I nod slowly in reply.
Jack stands at the same moment I find myself on my feet. He comes to me, around the edge of the table, past the people in conversation, past the laughter, past it all. He takes my hand and leads me out past the lights of the dance floor, under the soft glow of paper lanterns blinking in the darkness, around and out on to the sand and toward the water that laps gently to shore.
We stand in silence for a moment, facing out toward the darkness of water and night sky. Behind us is light and music, laughter and raised voices. Time moves slowly, seconds marked with the ebb and flow of the tide. Everything seems to lie here on this beach, grain by grain, layer upon layer; people, places, love, loss, hope and desire.
The past lies heavily at my feet, changing slowly wave by wave. Compacted yet malleable, the sand shapes and moulds anew with each wave. Life’s constant ebb and flow in the force of the ocean around my ankles.
When I turn to him I’m steady, grounded in the moving floor of sand by the weight of my love. Love aged and gritty, layer upon layer, ground down, reduced, different in form from how it once began, but somehow more; certain, heavy and sure.
“I love you.” For a moment I’m not sure whether the words are in my head or said aloud.
Jack doesn’t answer, he leans in and kisses me slowly. And there’s a yielding; a gentle tenderness that leaves me dizzy. We kiss on the beach with the slow understanding of old lovers, knowing and unhurried until suddenly we’re hurried, and the tide is high and my dress is wet.
Jack scoops me up and carries me, striding quickly, back over the sand toward the hotel. And it’s all a little Gone with the Wind, but I don’t care. In fact I do, I care more than I knew possible. I love it. I love this. I love him.
In my room he sets me down and moves behind me, unzipping my dress, letting it fall around my feet. I lean back against his chest as carefully he undoes my bra. As it slides to the floor his face is in my hair, fingers running slowly down, over my breasts to rest on my waist. It’s all I can manage not to turn to him, to lose control.
I wait, eyes closed, senses on fire.
“Jack.” I breathe his name, the sound of my voice pulling me back to reality. This is not another fantasy.
His breath is jagged and he kneels behind me, hands carefully tracing my spine, kissing the small of my back before gently easing down my underwear. My heart no longer beats in my knickers which is good, as they’re on the floor. My heartbeat is everywhere as I pulse to his touch.
“Billie.” It’s the first word he’s spoken; the sound heavy with more emotion than I can bear to unpack. On his knees, his arms circle my waist, his face pressed into my back.
“Show me,” I whisper.
And he does.
There’s a blur of frenzied undressing, the suit loses a few buttons but the end result is worth it. I could look at him forever - well that’s how it would go in a good romance novel. The truth is, I can barely look at him. I want him, all of him and the wanting is all consuming.
He lowers himself down and eases into me and I cry out, hands buried in his hair, body slipping into his rhythm. Slowly at first, gentle and tender we move carefully, finding our fit together. The feel of him is almost more than I can manage, something inside cries out, alight, more than a memory.
“Is it okay?” He whispers in my ear, pulling me up to sit astride him, hands on my breasts.
“It’s okay.” I smile down as I move to him, and he to me. I bend to kiss him.
“I don’t want to hurt you.” His eyes are dark as he looks up, hands circling my back pulling me deeper with every thrust.
I gasp feeling the tension build and pull me closer to the edge. “You couldn’t, ever.” And although my words are said in pre-orgasmic throes of passion, I know it to be true. I know he will never hurt me. I’ve never been surer of anything.
“I love you Billie.” The words, deep and broken remove the past for now. For now, this is all there is.
We lose ourselves completely, no words or questions, no more declarations of love or plans for tomorrow. Jack pushes me back on to the bed and second by glorious second we lose all control.
When it’s over, when we’ve cried out, and lain softly beside each other, hands stroking, eyes closed, we talk. We talk about the past and the future, about where we’ve been and where to now. We laugh, and cry, and then make love again, this time it’s gentler, slower, less fraught. And when it’s done we sleep knowing we have turned a page. Tomorrow a new life will begin. The deal is sealed, our new direction set, and it is our time for happiness and maybe a little peace.