Standing in a raven coloured tux under an entangled mass of wildflowers would usually be my one of my sweetest memories. Especially with Aaron by my side and Cassandra, standing opposite me wearing an off-the-shoulder dress in a brilliant shade of sapphire. But it wasn’t. Because the girl who would walk down that aisle was not my bride.
“This is the day I dreaded,” I said to Aaron as he looked down at the shower of petals. “I remember planning this day. I pictured standing next to her in one of these expensive raven tuxes and waiting for her to walk down the aisle.”
“What are you talking about?” he said, scowling at me. “You weren’t there when Chantel –or rather I -planned the whole thing to her tastes. She never was much of a planner. Neither is Tristan.”
“The wildflower canopy? The raven tuxes and the stained glass on the summerhouse?” I said, looking around. “I’ve wanted this since eighth grade. Chantel and I planned it while Mr. Kotze was droning on about the Rwandan genocide.”
“I don’t believe it,” Aaron said. “Chantel always paid attention at history class. She loves anything with a good story.”
“Not when that story involved so many people being hacked to death,” I said as I remembered how the fourteen-year-old Chantel squirmed as Mr. Kotze explained the murders in graphic detail. “So I decided to distract her with planning our wedding. Only I didn’t really mention that I saw myself being the one she married.”
“You are so effeminate,” Aaron scoffed. “Are you sure your name isn’t Wilhelmina? Are you sure you can honestly call yourself one of the ‘groomsmen’ because I am seriously beginning to doubt it.”
“Oh stop it,” Natalie said as she threw Aaron a look of pure vehemence. “There is nothing effeminate about planning your wedding and dreaming of marrying the person you love. I think it’s beautiful. The stereotype, however, stinks like nineteenth century London.”
“I’m sorry if I’ve offended you,” Aaron said, flashing his spotless white smile at her. “Would you like me to go wait in my horse-drawn carriage?”
“Shut up, Natalie,” Tristan sneered as he stood beside Aaron and Zameer, who had taken to telling everyone that I needed to go cry in the girl’s bathroom. Apparently, I needed my mum to guide me through a wedding. “You’re lucky Aaron included you on the guest list. I doubt you’d have the guts to see someone eating the wedding cake without crossing yourself.”
“Don’t be fooled by the seemingly delicious pink champagne cake,” Aaron whispered to me. “It has weed in it. And there’s margarita ice-cream and steaks that are drenched in rum. The entire menu is booze themed.”
Before I could respond, music so intense flooded Aaron’s sprawling garden, making my vision cloud in a watery haze. Chantel walked out. Her beaded organza dress gave her dark skin the sort of glow one would normally expect from the ethereal. Her dimples flashed as she clutched the arm of the father whose advice about waiting for marriage she had defied. This was, perhaps, the first time I’ve seen Mr. De Carvalho. Oh, I’ve seen the businessman and the actuary and the golfer who cared for his clubs more than he did for his daughter. But I’ve never seen the man.
His sky blue eyes dimmed when compared to Chantel’s, but beneath them lurked the fog of unsaid emotion. Was he proud? Or upset? Was the grimace that lived on his face his wedding present for Tristan? Would he have worn a happier expression if it were me marrying Chantel? As much as my mind wanted to linger on the father’s expression, my soul was drawn to his daughter.
“I know I have not been the best father,” he said. “Ever since your mother left, my job has been my only care. But let me care for you now. Some marriages destroy you, Chantel.” His eyes were still but a million emotions flickered on his face.
“I don’t want to see you destroyed.”
“Nothing is going to destroy me,” Chantel huffed before sprinting to greet Tristan.
“She’s beautiful,” I said in an audible whisper to Aaron, Cassandra and every single member of the bridal party who stood at the altar.
“And she’s mine,” Tristan whispered back with a smile curling on the side of his face. I wanted to smack that disgusting smirk away. I wanted to pound him until he was nothing but a raw piece of meat. I wanted to run, scream, fight and cry. I didn’t want to see him say her vows as he looked into Chantel’s dark eyes. I didn’t want her to marry him.
“Don’t,” Aaron said to me in a low voice that he only reserved for conversing with very small children. “This is the day Chantel has dreamt of all her life. I know, she ought to dream of getting her school diploma, but this means the world to her. If you love her, you’d not ruin it.”
“I do love her,” I said as a burning tear slid off the side of my face. “I love her more than the world and everything in it.”
“That makes no sense,” Aaron said back. “But if you do love her, you’d risk your happiness for hers.”
It didn’t strike me as the world’s most crucial advice but those words were an endless record stuck on replay. It bordered on irritable. If I loved Chantel was I to be happy at the sight of her joining her life with another? The truth was I did want to see her happy. Her smiles were the very proof that angels did exist.
As the officiant began reading the vows, I felt my tears multiply, blinding me to everything but this giant curtain of water. It wasn’t just my tear glands that failed me. My legs forgot all what my parents had taught it about standing up.
“Are you alright?” one of the groomsmen, a lanky boy from Art Club, said as he tried to support my considerably giant form.
“I think I can handle this,” I said, giving him an awkward pat on the shoulder. It was then that the officiant read the notice with his booming voice.
“Do you Chantel Isabelle De Carvalho take Tristan Van Eeden to be your lawfully wedded husband……….” He droned on. And as he did my insides melted. I felt my soul endure an eternal scorching that most people would flee from.
“Yes,” Chantel screamed before flinging her carnation bouquet at Cassandra and locking lips with Tristan.
“Are you okay?” the Art Club boy asked again as he grabbed my shoulders.
“I don’t think so,” I answered back before the boy dragged me to another bathroom. Thankfully, this was the men’s one.
“It’s all right. You can cry without facing the glares of Tristan.”
I thanked the boy, who introduced himself as Adam Ebineng, yet he didn’t stop shooting pitiful expressions at me. I felt my anger roar. I was fat and odd and now an object of sympathy. I didn’t want sympathy. I wanted misery to evacuate my heart and settle far away from me. I wanted to devourer every crumb of that weed and pink champagne wedding cake in the hope that it would banish my broken heart. I wanted Chantel.
“She loves you, you know,” he said as he laid a hand on my shoulder. “She told me that a long time ago.”
“Yeah, right,” I said, blowing my nose on one of the many tissues Adam had in handy. “She loved me because I was her boring friend who’d listen to her not-at-all-boring stories. She never loved the man beneath my dull prison.”
“She did. And she still does.”
A mirthless laugh slipped past my lips. Chantel didn’t love me, at least, not like she loved Tristan. She told me that her happiness was him. He was the one who would make her smile every single day. It was not me. It would never be me.
“She loved you since the eighth grade,” he said. “Aaron and Cassandra and the entire Art Club knew about it. They just promised her that they wouldn’t tell.”
“Aaron and Cassandra knew it?” I gasped.
“They did,” he replied. “She kissed you the other day didn’t she? She loves you. She even told me that she dreamed that she would stand beside you wearing that studded dress under that wildflower canopy. The one that was meant for you.”
“She told you that?” I asked. “Wait, Chantel told you that we kissed?”
“She told everyone except Cassandra. When has Chantel ever been able to keep a secret?” he said, rolling his eyes. “That’s why Chantel is so famous in Cape Town, isn’t it? Her feelings are open and ever so interesting.”
“Then why him?” I asked, feeling sorrow claw at my throat. I’ve asked this question from Aaron, Cassandra, Natalie and Chantel herself and I never really got any definitive answer. Was I too late to make a move? No. Chantel, I knew, didn’t really believe that a girl should wait for a man to make the first move. She wasn’t Cassandra.
“I don’t know for sure,” Adam said as he lowered his gaze to meet mine. “But something about you frightened her.”