I successfully flag down a taxi, which is no mean feat in this day of Uber this and Uber that. I hadn’t planned on catching a taxi. In fact, I hadn’t caught a taxi in years and I’m a little unsure of the correct taxi protocol. So, I suppose the first thing is to tell the driver where I want to go. I open my mouth to do so, when the other passenger door is wrenched open and a froth of tulle and lace tumbles in breathlessly.
“Follow that limo!” an urgent voice from amid the silky concoction demands.
“Um, miss, this is my taxi,” I tell her as I try to make out her face beneath the layers of fabric that scrunch about her.
Slender arms beat at the fabric, punching down the layers and ruffles to expose the most exquisite china doll face, made up with dewy perfection to enhance the great luminous orbs of her eyes and rosebud pout. All of this she turns on me with lethal force.
“Please!” She switches the full force of her regard to the hapless taxi driver. “Please, just follow that white limo.”
I look at her, really look this time and it registers in my brain that the yards of tulle and lace and ruffles is a wedding dress. I am sitting in the back seat of a taxi with a bride. Not my bride, never that! And within the space of the most minuscule portion of a second, I realise that I will not sleep tonight if I don’t learn the whole story.
“Follow the limo,” I tell the taxi driver, who looks beyond puzzled at the turn of events, but he carefully pulls out into the traffic.
“Listen lady, my name is not Ross, and yours had better not be Rachel!” The bride looks at me with confusion. She is obviously too young to remember the sit com about six friends that began with a bride running from her own wedding.
“I’m Madison. Madison James.” From somewhere within the mountain of froth, she extends her hand with its perfectly manicured nails for me to shake.
“Daniel Carlton,” I reply, taking her dainty hand in my own. “I can’t help but pry, considering you have hijacked my taxi. But why are we following that car?”
“Please hurry. He’s getting away.”
‘He’ could have been a number of people. In fact, without doubt ‘he’ represents nearly fifty percent of the population, myself included, but considering her attire, I was going to go out on a limb. “I am assuming the ‘he’ to whom you are referring is the groom? I presume he is not waiting for you at that church.”
“Oh no, he was at the church. I made sure of that. I wasn’t getting out of the car until Josie, that’s my bridesmaid, the chief bridesmaid, which I suppose is the Matron of Honour, but she’s not married, so the Maid of Honour then. Well, I wasn’t getting out until Josie checked and she saw him there. She said he was waiting, so I get out of the car and was in the middle of posing for the photos outside the church, when I saw him at the limo. And suddenly I just knew that Vince and I, we weren’t going to be getting married, not now and maybe not ever.”
“Once again, I will assume that Vince is the groom?”
“Of course. And when the limo drove away, and I saw this taxi and well, I ran and here I am.” She shrugs, the fabric slipping a little down one well-formed shoulder.
“I see.” I don’t really, but it is something to say while my brain processes her story. She speaks in a rush, in a manner that’s more air than sound, as if she were afraid of her own voice.
“When we catch up with the limo, do you know what you will do next?” I ask, curious to see if she had formulated any kind of plan.
She bit a well-manicured nail absently, her brow crinkling with the weight of her thoughts.
“Well, I suppose I should go straight back to the church so we can get married.” She raises her eyes to mine, lost and bewildered. “Everyone is there, Mum and Dad, and Nana Jean, and Mary, and Savannah with all her children, and just about everyone I’ve ever known.”
“You would still marry this Vince, even though he’s obviously not overly… um… well…” How to put it gently? “Obviously not willing?”
Madison turns the force of those luminous eyes upon me, and I feel like I’ve kicked a puppy. “You don’t understand. He does want to marry me. This is not his fault. It’s just cold feet. Nerves, you know. We all get nervous!”
“I see.” And I did. If this child was more than twenty, I’d be surprised. Oh, to have the hopeful naïveté of youth. “How long have you and this Vince been together?”
“And based on two years of knowing him, you are sure that this is the man for you. No other man can possibly be better suited?”
“Of course, we’re soul mates!”
Soul mates? What utter drivel. But I don’t say that out loud. I’m not that insensitive, no matter what Alison says. So instead I ask, “Tell me about Vince. What is he like?”
“He’s a Business Major and wants to run his own company one day.”
“What kind of company?”
“I don’t know, but he says it will make a lot of money.” I sigh inwardly. So many of the young grads we employ have the same vague mindset of get rich quick, but lack the passion, patience, perseverance and persistence needed to make it. I call it the Four P’s for Success.
“What makes you certain that he’s your soulmate?”
“We’ve been together for two years. He’s the one.”
“I was with my ex-wife for fourteen years before she walked out on me. Time together doesn’t equal a good relationship.”
If I sound bitter, then that was because I am bitter. I had just left the attorney’s office, lighter by fifty percent of all my assets and savings. Alison had wanted sixty, but I beat her down to fifty on the condition that she sign immediately and never speak to me again. Was I angry? Yes. Was I disappointed? No. I always knew what Alison was, and she had proved true to the end. Hard, driven and self righteous. That was my ex wife. What had I ever seen in her? It must have been something more at some point. But after years of wrangling and backstabbing on both sides, I was hard pressed to remember a time when I looked at her with any kind of hope or love.
“Do you like the same things? Have any shared interests?” I ask, because Alison had never liked a single thing that I liked, and I could see it now. It wasn’t very obvious during our marriage, though. I just thought we were lucky to be so independent, you know, not living in one-another’s pockets.
“We are both interested in history,” Madison says after a pause. “Um… I meant we both read about it. Vince likes to read about famous people, like biographies and things like that. I like reading novels, you know about people who lived in different times. Historical fiction.” She blushes, a charming wave of colour floods over her cheeks.
I wonder if her reading was full of Mr Darcy and Heathcliff, or more like that Netflix series about Dukes and Duchesses and heaving bosoms. I’ll bet it was the latter, not that there was anything wrong with that, but it wasn’t really historically accurate then, was it?
“Do you do anything else together?”
“So, you enjoy the outdoors?”
“Well, it was indoors, and we only did the one time.” She flashes her left hand in my direction. “When I got to the top, he proposed and everyone cheered.”
“Now that’s hardly a romantic place to pop the question. I guess that it’s something you both enjoy?”
“Oh, he loves climbing, I just… well, after I said ‘yes’ I kind of overbalanced and fell. Kris, who was holding the rope, was too busy cheering for us and I crashed into the mat and dislocated my shoulder. I have never climbed since.”
“So apart from reading different books and a singular, disastrous indoor rock climbing event, what else do you do as a couple?”
“We walk and talk a lot.”
“Do you agree with each other’s opinions?” I can’t remember a time when Alison and I had agreed on anything, oh I lie. Sometimes we agreed to disagree and today she had agreed to sign.
“Well, mostly I listen. He’s so very knowledgeable about a great many things. You know he reads a lot about everything and well…” her voice trails off.
“Do you get along with his family?” Alison hated my mother. And her mother was a lying bitch who filled Alison’s head with nonsense that she believed.
“Well, none of them could make the wedding. They’re in Italy and we were going to go there for our honeymoon but…”
“But?” I prompt.
“But it’s too expensive. We’ve booked a little chalet down south for four days instead.” She won’t meet my eyes and I can barely hear her as she adds, “I really wanted to see Italy.”
“So let me get this straight. You’re settling for a man that you have very little in common with, and when he runs out on you, you want him back. Seems to me that you’re well rid of him.”
“You wouldn’t understand. I love him.”
“You’re right, that is something that I don’t understand.” Alison would agree with that statement. I settle back in the seat watching as the taxi driver weaves and turns through the streets, easily following the stretched limousine.
“I just didn’t want two years to be wrong.” Her voice is small and her hands twist the white fabric, crunching it beyond repair between her fingers.
“Better to find out you’re wrong after two years than after fourteen.”
“I need to talk with Vince. I need to find out if I am wrong.”
“I don’t have my phone. I didn’t think I would need it just to walk down the aisle.”
“Here, use mine.” I fish my phone from my pocket and hand it to her. She dials.
“Hey Vince, it’s me… where are you?” Silly question. He’s in the limo. “I’m sorry…” What on earth is she apologising to the asshole for? “No, I just suddenly realised that I can’t go through with it… I know… yeah… I should have talked to you, but all of a sudden I was unable to breathe… can you let my parents know that I’m OK and tell the guests that I’m sorry.”
She stills, listening. I can hear the tirade coming through the speakers.
“I’m not sure, I don’t know. I am sorry. I should never have let it get this far.”
She disconnects the call and hands me back my phone, not meeting my eyes.
“So Vince is not in the limo?” She shakes her head. “You lied.”
“I never said he was in the limo,” she protests, still unable to look my way.
“Then why on earth are we following the limo?”
She shrugs one shoulder. “I just didn’t know where to go, as long as it was away.”
I lean over to the front seat, where the driver is listening intently to the conversation. I am sure it’s been just the best soap opera he has ever had in the back of his taxi. “Back to the church.” I tell him.
I study the lovely little runaway, feeling incredibly old and tired.
“Honesty, Madison. It is the one thing that you need to practice, and you should start with yourself. Be honest, what is it that you want? Don’t let anyone else, me included, tell you what to do or what to think. But if you’re not honest with yourself, you will hurt everyone around you.”
“I know, but have you ever started something, and then suddenly it gets bigger and crazier and, well, you just can’t seem to stop it, and you’re not even sure if you should?”
“Yes, I have. And let me tell you that fourteen years later is not a good time to stop it. If you’re not sure, tell him now.”
“I don’t think he will ever speak to me again.”
“My parents will disown me.”
“Not if they love you.”
“I’m such a screw up. I just wanted to be perfect for one day, you know, a perfect bride, and I couldn’t even get that right.”
“No one is perfect, Madison,” I tell her and those words echo around my head. No one is perfect. Not me, not Alison. We’re all just doing our best from moment to moment.
We sit in silence, each lost in our respective thoughts, until the taxi pulls into the space in front of the church. The steps along the front of the church are overflowing with curious wedding guests dressed in their wedding finery like brightly plumed birds.
“I’m sorry for hijacking your taxi,” Madison says, unable to meet my eye as she slips out in a rustle of silk. I don’t envy her. She has an awful lot of explaining to do.
I give the taxi driver my address and I leave the drama behind. Fresh starts and all that, you know. Maybe an extended stay in Italy would do the trick.