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What about you?

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Kate has spent the last eight years devoting herself to the past. The guilt and pain of past events has destroyed relationships with her friends and family. Then Mason Fitzgerald bursts into her life, and suddenly she's questioning everything she knows, everything she believes in.

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What about you?

Kate gazed at her reflection, ‘done up like a dog’s dinner’ was how her old gran would have described her, the bridesmaids dress was what Tilly her best friend would also term a meringue. Salmon pink cap sleeves decorated a fitted salmon pink bodice that dipped a little too low on her ample cleavage, and the same colour full hooped skirt topped off the ensemble, all in a shiny satin sheen. She felt if not looked like the salmon gateau the farm cats were fed on their birthday. Not that her parents remembered each of the seventeen cats actual birthday, they had a joint special cat day on April the seventh. Why then she didn’t know. But it had been a tradition her father had started before she was born.

Wriggling desperately to try and accommodate her larger than average breasts into the ill-fitting dress she grimaced. It was no good. It looked hideous, and her pale skin looked almost alabaster next to the pink lace trim. She tucked a few more pins into her long dark hair, piling the ebony curls on to the top of her head, and then touched up her makeup, hoping that the coral overtones didn’t clash with the blue of her eyes.

It wasn’t that Kate was completely against the occasion, but the dress was clearly designed to either suit (and possibly fit) someone else, or to ensure that she was not looking anywhere near her best. She wasn’t someone who enjoyed dressing up, despite her job she had little opportunity, and generally she lived in jeans, sweaters and converse baseball boots. This monstrosity...she tried to adjust it forcibly in the mirror, then realised that she might actually rip it, was something she had to wear, so she had to plaster on a fake grin and put up with it...hardly difficult.

She was ready before the tap at the door. “Come in!” She’d checked into the hotel an hour earlier, no one knew she was here, except...turning she smiled.

Her mother stood at the door, an emotional look on her face as she took in the sight of her only daughter. Using a finger she swiped at a tear as she tried to smile at Kate.

Kate shook her head, “I know those are tears of sympathy!”  She smiled trying to make light of a tense encounter. It was a long time since she’d seen her mother, and despite how much she loved her, the occasions were always tense.

                “I was just thinking how...unique you look, but you can carry off anything Katie, you should’ve been a model!” Her mother was older than Kate remembered, her short blonde hair was now virtually all grey, and there were wrinkled around her mouth and eyes that hadn’t been there before. And not for the first time she felt tremendous guilt, this time for not visiting more often, not being the daughter she always had been.

                “A model!” She scoffed, “hardly Mum, I’m too chubby for that. Pity I inherited the Michaels genes, you Smith’s are the model quality!” her father had been dark and tall like herself, but he too had been stocky, and his mother and sisters were all ‘blessed’ with very defined hour glass figures. She hugged her mother and the delicate petite woman seemed more fragile than ever before.

Her mother hugged her back with an almost desperate fury, then smiled adoringly at the daughter she loved and missed, handing her the shoes that had been selected for her, “You are anything but chubby! You are a beautiful woman, which is why I hate seeing you throw your life away!”

It had taken all of five seconds before it started again. Kate shook her head and gave her mother a ‘don’t go there’ glare. Change of subject required, she asked, “So what is she like this Paula? Is Stuart happy?” She loved her little brother and couldn’t believe he was marrying at just twenty four, there was another wave of guilt and remorse that she’d yet to meet the woman he was marrying, the woman she was about to be bridesmaid to.

Her mother nodded, “they’re well suited, and he loves her to distraction. And her loving the farm life is such a big bonus, I feared he’d be romanced off to the bright lights and the Big Smoke like you, then I’d really have to sell up!”

Since her father had died the void left was immense, he’d run the farm so efficiently, and now, Stuart who had always loved helping out, had taken over, and it was more than a full time job. She loved that he helped her mother, it had definitely made it easier on her, but Kate knew she’d not done her fair share, she had been no help to either of them. The pain in Kate’s chest was immense, this was part of the reason why she didn’t come home, she didn’t need the guilt in her life, or the memories of her father in every place she looked. Nodding unable to speak, her voice in danger of cracking, she tried to fasten the clasp of her necklace but her shaking hands made it impossible.

                “Here, let me!” Her mother took over, and once the locket fell down secure to nestle between her breasts, her mother sighed. “I wish you’d come home more often! I promised myself I wouldn’t nag, but this is the first time since your father’s funeral, and that was almost a year ago. I miss you!”

                “You know I find it hard Mum, I have no free time...work’s hard...”

Her mother shook her head, “and of course there’s the guilt you’ve forced yourself to live with. Unnecessarily, as you well know.”

                “Don’t do this Mum, please. Not here, not now.”

Shaking her pale bob haircut her mother sighed, “you’re throwing your life away Kate, this should be you getting married, happy looking to the future. Instead you’re living in the past. I know you hate talking about this, but there will never be the right time for you. And it breaks my heart.”

                “Mum!”  Tears well welling and Kate knew she was about to lose control. “I’m doing what I feel is right, and that’s the only way I can live.”

As usual the stubborn daughter did not yield to the desperate mother, and so Kate gave herself a shake then stepped out to find the much talked about bride.

Paula was all that Kate expected and the petite blonde has gone for the full fairytale wedding. She smiled and hugged Kate as she arrived in the room that had become Paula’s for the day. The three other bridesmaids were tiny lithe blondes like their friend, so at almost five ten, she dwarfed the wedding party in a ridiculous fashion. Everything was coordinated and harmonized; no stone had been left unturned. She hated thinking of the word tacky, or chav, but unfortunately that was what the wedding was, tacky and overstated, but she looked at her brother with such devotion from under her false eyelashes that Kate was in no doubt that she loved Stuart as much as he loved her. She’d bring life to the Michaels’ farm both in herself and the children that Kate had no doubt would soon follow.

With a plastered on smile, she played her role in escorting the bride to her brother, along with the three amigos as she’d already started to think of them. How ironic that salmon pink satin suited petite blondes with fake tans, yet tall pasty looking brunettes were definitely not at their best. The service passed, and all too soon it was photos and the pomp that came with the reception. Stuart’s pleasure at her being at the wedding was so obvious and again she felt awful that she didn’t visit more often, that she wasn’t more involved in the day’s activities.

Kate went along with everything, trying not to sound ungrateful, she hated that people would see her as standoffish or maybe even snobbish, it was Stuart’s day, and she just had to count the moments until she could get out of this hideous dress. She’d deal with the family, the comments, the recriminations and the pity later. Oh yes, she knew exactly what the day would have in store. It had happened so many times in the past that she almost went into automatic pilot - defensive mode.

For the wedding breakfast, she was sat at the top table, on display to the marquee filled with some familiar but largely unfamiliar faces. Sitting at one end, she turned to the man sat next to her, the father of the bride Roger. When she introduced herself she spotted a slight change in his expression just before he gushed at how much he loved her brother, her mother, the family home. Pity? She wondered as she answered all his ‘safe’ questions about her work as an advertising executive, her small flat in South London.   He then helped her catch up on the politics and identified the major players in his family. She learned that her new sister in law had one brother Brandon, but his wife was due to give birth at any moment in Dubai where he worked in the oil industry, so he wasn’t at the wedding, but both he and his wife Sandra had large families, which more than made up for the fact that they weren’t there. Kate noticed the same rueful smile as he assured her that her mother used when she opted out of any family event. Why was there so much guilt in the world? She wondered as she excused herself. All she wanted was to do the right thing and get on with her life. Was it that hard?

Leaving the table, she made for the foyer and was directed to the bathrooms. There she sighed and sank down to sit on the closed toilet lid, the layers of net and tulle that filled out the meringue part of her dress squeezing around her meaning she could barely see forward. It wasn’t an ideal hiding place, so she gathered her skirts and headed outside on to the terrace. It wasn’t a warm September day, but it was dry, lowering herself to a step that lead from the terrace to the gardens.

Rifling under her skirts, she pulled her phone from its hiding place tucked in to the band of elastic that kept her stocking held up. The speed dial connected quickly and the sing song voice of Tilly answered, “So how is it girlfriend?”

Kate closed her eyes and sighed, “As you’d expect, lace flowers and perfume! With a bit of luck I can get out of this dress, which I hasten to add is WORSE than you predicted, and get some sleep.”

                “I told you not to do too much yesterday, you should have got down there early instead of stopping off for the evening.”

Kate sighed, “I can’t just drop everything Tilly, you know that.”

                “I know you deserve to have a bit of fun. And if you’d got down there earlier last night you may have met up with a few more people and it would’ve been easier today.”

                “So says Tilly the Great!” Whilst she was a little flippant and sarcastic, she loved Tilly with all her heart and knew she was right. Everyone was right...and so wrong.

Chuckling warmly she asked, “When are you back? If it’s tomorrow come for dinner, Mike and Steve have agreed. But I don’t know if I can cope with both of them without you!” Kate had shared a home with Mike and Steve since leaving University, they and Tilly were the only ones who knew everything about her, and as a support network, they were more than priceless. Tilly lived with her rather rich fiancé Ashton an American financier, whatever that was, in Knightsbridge, part of the deal of going to dinner there was their absolutely stunning home.

                “I NEVER turn down coming to see you, you know that. And dinner is a date!”

As she disconnected the call, she felt an overwhelming wave of grief. She’d look forward to dinner the following day; it would be the highlight of her weekend. Because she knew that come Monday life would return to the mundane, the duty and the hell. Her head dropped and she fought tears for a few seconds. It was all such a mess, a contradcicting hell that she couldn't escape. And that was just it, this was her life, with a deep breath she physically shook herself.

Sliding the phone back into her garter, Kate pulled the hideous dress down over her legs and pulled herself to her feet. As she readjusted her clothing, she noticed a pair of eyes watching her, a man stood at the door from the bar. Dark collar length hair framed his tanned face, from this distance she couldn't make out his eyes, but there was a smile of appreciation on his face.

It was a long time since Kate had had anyone look at her like that, with longing, attraction and she didn’t know what to make of it. Her heart fluttered as she stepped back towards the hotel, her head held high. Flirting had never harmed anyone, and that was as far as it would ever go, she knew that, so why not.

As she drew level with the man, she admired him for a second, despite not breaking her stride, then ducked through the door back into the ballroom. 

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