Her entrance was everything Suzanne had dreamed it would be. As the initial bars of Mendelssohn's famous march bellowed from the organ, every head turned to stare at the neo-goddess mincing down the aisle. Suzanne lapped up the adulation, relishing every look of wide-eyed wonder and every glance of undisguised envy. Her dress was a work of art, silver threads woven through the silk, forming a circling brocade that flashed stylised representations from the Song of Solomon.
Michael raised an eyebrow in appreciation of Suzanne's radiant beauty. But his smile didn't conceal the lecherous thoughts that tumbled around inside his head. She had lost count of the number of times he had pawed her body, eager to savour the fruits of their love, constantly frustrated by his fiancée's determination to wait until their wedding night.
Pimple stood to one side, his face a blaze of unfeigned admiration. His real name was Philip and he had been Suzanne's best friend for as long as she could remember. He had put the chain back on her bicycle when as a ten-year-old she had somersaulted into a pile of freshly swept leaves. He had given her the confidence to leap from the tyre swing into the chilly waters of the brook. Yet the moment one of Suzanne's suitors arrived to whisk her away, Pimple invariably slipped back into the shadows.
Michael's cousin had broken his leg and Pimple was a last minute replacement. Suzanne was delighted that he should stand in as best man on this the happiest day of her life. Even the sight of his slightly gormless grin brought a smile to Suzanne's lips and a skip to her step.
Whatever was Michael looking at? Suzanne glanced to her left. Her fiancé should be staring at her, not ogling some other beauty in the crowded church. Surely it wasn't Lucy? That relationship had ended eighteen months before. Michael had sworn on his mother's grave that he was a changed man, that he only had eyes for his beautiful bride. What a contrast Michael and Philip made. Her oldest friend had nursed a schoolboy crush for Suzanne since his fourteenth birthday but had never acted on it. Not that she had ever given him any encouragement either. Just one kiss and their precious friendship would doubtless have unravelled into a sorry mess of broken promises and unmet expectations.
The opening hymn rushed by without Suzanne singing a single word. Michael had infuriated her by reaching over and patting her on the backside. Was he trying to humiliate her in front of everyone? "Leave me alone," she had hissed, drawing a snigger from her fiancé and a look of consternation from the clergyman.
"Do you take this man..." The words rolled by like leaves carried along on the autumn breeze. "Will you love him, honour and protect him..." Suzanne wasn't sure what she really felt. Yes, she wanted to be married and have children. Certainly she was looking forward to consummating their nuptials. But were she and Michael really in love? Would he stay faithful to her as long as they both might live?
"No, I don't think so."
The clergyman wasn't paying attention. Automatically he had moved on to address Suzanne's father. But the growing clamour among the guests couldn't be ignored.
Suzanne turned to face Michael, her voice surprisingly strong. "I'm sorry. You're good-looking and smart and I'm sure you'll make someone very happy. But I can't marry you."
"Suzanne, what are you doing?" The question didn't come from her astonished fiance but from the best man.
Tears poured down Suzanne's face, ruining her mascara but bringing sudden clarity and insight. "There's only ever been one man for me." Then in a rustle of silk she threw herself into Pimple's arms and covered his lips with her own.
A tap on her shoulder caused Suzanne to come up for air.
"Yes?" she snapped.
"I'm sorry," stammered the clergyman, "but you can't do that yet."
"I haven't said, "You may kiss the bride.""
"Give me a break," Suzanne said as she pulled away from an appreciative Pimple. Michael, she observed, was already halfway up the aisle with Lucy in tow. Some of the congregation were tut-tutting; others were gently applauding. Suzanne's father was practically beaming.
"Will you marry me?" Pimple's voice was scarcely more than a breath.
"Let me think about it," Suzanne replied. Then she threw her arms round her best friend in the whole world and kissed him again.
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