HELLO! has invited best-selling authors to entertain readers with uplifting stories during these testing times. We begin the series with a heart-warming tale by Adele Parks. Read on for the extract and check out Adele's bestseller, Just My Luck...
Just My Luck by Adele Parks, £7.99, Amazon
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Adele Parks' short story 'A Perfect Wedding'
The door bangs, the house trembles, I hold my breath, Bridezilla is home. My son coined the phrase and normally I try to minimise teasing between my children (a lifetime's habit, a lifetime's work) but frankly I agree with him. A blood-curdling scream causes me to dash to the hall, where I find her literally pulling at her hair and stamping her feet, like a toddler. She kicks an enormous box towards me. It's almost comical, except she's my baby, my 27-year-old baby, but my baby still; I fold her into my arms.
"Hush. Harriet, please." I ease her tight fists from her hair and walk her towards the sitting room. "The dress! My dress!" She's livid; every pore on her face is tight with tension and fury. I'm almost afraid. Where has my contented, comical, serene daughter gone? Why have I been left with this despot?
When Harriet first called to say Jason had proposed, I was delighted, ecstatic. They're a great couple, very compatible – and a wedding! So many of my friends have given up on the idea of their children getting married; they've accepted the word "partner" and say things like: "Well, he's like a son-in-law in every way. Marriage is outdated." I've said the same myself, although I think weddings are beautiful and marriage is hopeful, wonderful. Not every day, I admit; a lot of the time it's about dirty socks, dreary admin and pretending to be entertained by stories that have long since become familiar, yet I imagined a day oozing with laughter and champagne, Harriet radiant, relaxed, surrounded by friends and family.
I adjusted my vision almost immediately when she referred to Jason's ring as "the holding ring". She liked the emerald but it wasn't perfect; she'd always wanted three round brilliant-cut diamonds, exceptionally white, in a classic claw setting. I hadn't realised she'd given it any thought. How wrong I was. Apparently, she had very clear (and expensive!) ideas about every aspect of the day.
Wedding planning is a black hole. A girl can get lost, Alice in Wonderland style, chasing down that dirty, deep warren, relentlessly striving for perfection. She hired a calligrapher to write the 100 invites, tied each with a silk ribbon (to match the chair backs) and stuffed the envelopes with lavender. There are to be four bridesmaids, two flower girls and six groomsmen, doves and a choir at the church, fireworks and a live band at the reception. As if the day itself wasn't big enough, she has had hair, make-up and vow rehearsals as well.
She has burned through her budget. The dress was a bone of contention. She picked a designer one in a fabulous London store. It is shimmering, intricate, breathtaking. But so was the price tag! The equivalent to a deposit on a flat. Compromises had to be made, so she decided to buy a copy online for a tenth of the price. I suggested she simply find a less expensive dress, but she knew best. The dress has been delayed at customs for three weeks, causing much anxiety. Now I tentatively pull it from the box.
Rather than a blush pink it's scarlet, not elegant silk chiffon but polyester, the beading is plastic, not Swarovski crystals; it looks like a horrible fancy-dress costume. "We can fix it," I say, although I can't think how. "Get something new." "The wedding is the day after tomorrow, Mum!" "There're off-the-peg designs. You're a standard size." "I'm fated!" She wails in despair. It's true she has had some bad luck. The chief bridesmaid broke her leg on the hen – she's in a wheelchair. Harriet moaned: "She'll ruin the photos!" "Have a heart, love. She's in lots of pain." "She was go-karting uber-competitively. I've no sympathy!" The vintage car she'd hired gave up the ghost. Then the florist said calla lilies are blighted this year; might Harriet consider roses?
In an effort to distract her, I pop on the TV. I make a cuppa, ignoring her request for something stronger. I'm no sooner in the kitchen than I hear another awful scream, the sort she made when she fell out of the apple tree aged seven. "Look, look, it's up in flames!" Harriet points to the TV, where the local news is reporting a dreadful fire in a beautiful National Trust home. It takes me a moment to realise that the building is Harriet's reception venue. "Oh my goodness, that's terrible. Such a wonderful building." "What am I going to do?" "Well, we have insurance." For all the effort put into sourcing a bubble machine, "Mr & Mrs" ceramic coasters and edible gold glitter, the insurance is the only really useful thing.
"That's it. I'm calling it off." "What?" "I'm cancelling." "A postponement will inconvenience a lot of people, darling. What about Jason's family? They've flown from the States." "Not postponing. Cancelling. So many disasters. They're omens. Jason and I aren't supposed to get married."
With that, she flounces out of the room and upstairs to her old bedroom. I'm in a time warp, flung back to her teenage years. She's wrong, of course. As she was wrong when she told me she would never pass her exams, never get a boyfriend. I think back through all the traumas and tantrums that sit between us, part of the delicious, indescribable, indestructible bond of mother and daughter. I love her so much and, despite what she's just said, I know she loves Jason.
Suddenly, I feel a huge wave of sentimentality for my wedding dress that's stored upstairs in the attic with one or two other treasured items: old photo albums, letters, books; forever-cherished things that I can't find room for downstairs but flutter in and out of my consciousness. Carefully, I climb the ladder and push my way through the cobwebs and boxes. Stooping, I hold the dress against me. I'm aware I'm being watched.
"I hope you aren't going to suggest I wear that," Harriet mutters sulkily. I grin at her head poked up through the floor and beckon her to join me. "No, the moths have got to it." "Oh, I'm sorry." It has been a while since Harriet has had empathy for anyone else. I grin and shrug. "It doesn't matter, it's only a dress. The marriage is still going strong." She looks uncomfortable. "What's this?" She picks up the envelope, tissue-thin paper, spidery handwriting. "Besides people, that is the one thing I consider irreplaceable. My mother gave me it on the eve of my wedding. I was planning on giving it to you. Go on, read it. I know every word."
Dearest Love, You mustn't be so panicked. So depressed. I understand now that men are coming home injured or, worse still, not coming home, that you are fearful for me, but don't be. Be steady. Chin up. You're right, the nights are long. Then the dawn is shattered with the clamour and turmoil of the explosions and the now-familiar long screech of the shells rushing through the air. Do you know how I drown out the roar of fire as the artillery erupts with an enormous violence? I think of our wedding. The soft calmness that it will be. Don't worry that you won't have a new dress. I understand that such things are hard to come by. You look adorable in that blue cotton dress you were wearing when you waved me off. Wear that. I like your idea of picking flowers from the woods; it's been so long since I've seen flowers. I can almost taste the ham pie and pickles you're planning. I agree, we don't need a tiered wedding cake. How clever to think of saving jam jars to make night lights. It's good of Mrs Ashworth to lend you her bunting, that will look pretty hung in the garden. Don't worry, it's going to be perfect. We're going to be together. Yours forever, John.
"Did he make it home?" Harriet turns to me with tears in her eyes. The softness has returned to her face, she looks desperate for a happy ending. I dig about and then hand her the worn old photo. "That's your great-grandmother's wedding. And that's John." The groom is in a wheelchair. "He lost his foot, but you know it never really held him back. They were very happy, from all accounts."
Her eyes flash across the scene. "Everything is as he described. The bunting. The jam-jar lights, the food on the table." "Yes. It's a black-and -white photo but I somehow know she's wearing a blue dress. She looks radiant, doesn't she?" "Everyone looks so happy," murmurs Harriet thoughtfully. "Despite all they'd been through, despite everything." Gently, I suggest: "I think I have some bunting. We can hang lights in the trees in our garden. We could re create it all.' Smiling, Harriet nods. "It sounds like the perfect wedding. Don't you think?" "I do." She giggles. "Isn't that my line?"
By Adele Parks, author of Just My Luck, published on 14 May by HQ HarperCollins. Available to order now.
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