Not the marrying kind
Kirstie Collins was getting married. Getting married tomorrow to be precise, although the invite had only just found it's way through the postal service. Tash turned the cream card delivering the information around in her hands as she stared out the window of the staff room. She'd read it so many times she'd memorised it, and yet for some reason she still found it difficult to believe. Ordinarily news of the wedding of a friend would be a time to celebrate, but in this case, there was something nagging away inside of her that prevented her from being happy.
Behind her, Tash heard voices and turned around to see Kath and Simon enter the room. From the looks on their faces, it appeared they weren't in the best of moods, but both made a concerted effort to cheer up when they saw they had company. Kath forced a smile so big Tash though her face might crack.
"Morning Kath; Simon". Tash said cordially to the Shaughnessy's and forced a smile of her own.
"Good morning Tash"
A slightly awkward hush descended, which Tash broke by holding up the invitation card and announcing with false enthusiasm "I received a letter from Kirstie Collins this morning. She's getting married!"
"Tash that's lovely news. You'll pass on my congratulations, won't you?" Kath said, her smile turning genuine at the thought.
"Of course" Tash nodded politely, as her subconscious wondered how she would be able to face Kirstie and still sound pleased for her.
"Who's Kirstie Collins?"
"She was a doctor here on Darwin love, a while back. Cardiology registrar". Kath answered.
"Oh. Good friend then?" He directed his question at Tash, clearly uninterested in his wife's opinion.
"We trained together. We were", Tash caught the slightly suspicious look that Kath was shooting her, "good friends yes".
"So when are you going to tie the knot, then?" Simon continued.
"Er, Tash isn't exactly the marrying sort Simon love…" Tash raised an eyebrow at Kath's euphemism but as she had never felt particularly inclined to discuss her private life, didn't say anything. Simon however completely missed the point.
"Oh, one of these workaholic career minded sorts are yer? It wasn't like that in our day eh, Kath? I mean, having a career is all very well and good but it doesn't keep you warm at night does it." Simon finally picked up on Kath's scowl and shrugged his shoulders at her, "I'm just saying it how it is. Work only seems to get in the way of a marriage." And with a pointed nod of the head, he left the room.
Kath lowered her gaze to the floor and took a deep breath. "I'm sorry about Simon, Tash. I'd better get on".
Tash nodded, not entirely sure what she'd just witnessed, but certain that however badly Simon put it, he did have a point. For all that she loved her career, and was dedicated to being a top class surgeon, it did seem to be at the expense of forming relationships. Perhaps it had never been her dream to swan down the aisle in a puffy white dress, but she'd never doubted that she would meet a special someone eventually. Someone to spend the rest of her life with. In fact, at one point she'd been convinced she'd found her someone, but that was a long time ago and now she'd lost her forever. Kirstie Collins was getting married.
Kirstie stood on a chair in the middle of her living room feeling like the fairy on top of a Christmas tree: overdressed and rather ridiculous. By her pink, fluffy-rabbit-slippered, feet, knelt her mother, fiddling with the hem of the long white silky gown and muttering something through a mouthful of pins.
"Mum, I can't understand a word you're saying!"
Jessica Collins spat the pins into the palm of her hand and looked up at her daughter, "I said that I'll never get all these alterations finished by tomorrow. It takes longer than a fortnight to plan a wedding darling. Your father and I were organising things for months before we married."
"Mum you're doing fantastically. I have faith in you".
"I don't know about faith sweetheart, I need a miracle. You know the florist still hasn't returned my call…"
"It's my wedding Mum. I should be worrying, not you!"
Jessica struggled to her feet and tried to adjust the line of the skirt with some more pins. "You're my only daughter. I want your wedding to be everything you've ever dreamt it would be. I mean, just look at this dress. Wouldn't you rather have something new? I remember you dressing up in this to play weddings when you were little."
"Precisely. It's the dress I've always pictured myself in."
"Darling I want you to be happy, but to tell you the truth I think you're rushing things. You only started dating Paul a few months ago. He's a lovely sweet young man but…"
"To be frank, you don't usually come home with the lovely sweet ones and I'm worried that because Paul isn't a self obsessed charmer you're reading too much into this."
"You don't think he loves me?"
Jessica sighed. In all the times she'd met Paul he'd seemed genuine enough, she could believe that he was indeed in love with her daughter, but it wasn't his feelings she doubted. Kirstie had flung herself into the wedding idea, but as far as Jessica could recall had never actually mentioned loving her fiancé. It wasn't like when she was a teenager and came home talking incessantly about her boy of the minute.
"I just think you're rushing, that's all" she replied, hearing the doorbell and disappearing off to answer it.
Kirstie listened, immobile on her chair, unable to make out the voice, so, when she heard the door slam shut she called out "Who was it?"
"An old friend of yours love…"
"Tash?" Kirstie shouted back hopefully.
"No, sorry to disappoint. I'll go away again shall I?"
"Ray!" A smiling tanned head poked through the doorway. "What are you doing here?"
"You invited me! And this was the only flight I could get so I'm a little bit early" he shuffled into the room, closely followed by Jessica who helped her daughter off her platform and wandered off to make a pot of tea. It was only then that Kirstie noticed the suitcase in his hand.
"You came straight from the airport?"
He glanced down at his bag, "Er, yes…I was that desperate to see you. It's been too long Kirst"
"I know" she smiled warmly at her friend, "but you could have dropped your bags off first"
"Well, you see I would have but…" His big blue eyes opened wide, and he smiled his most charming smile.
"You want to stay here?" Kirstie asked with some surprise.
"Seeing as your offering… OK then. Thanks" he gave her a gentle hug, trying to avoid the pins that stuck out from her frock.
Kirstie made an effort to look disgruntled by the way he'd invited himself to stay but it was decidedly hard work. "You can have the spare room."
"As long as Paul doesn't mind a strange man staying with his fiancee. I don't want to wake up the victim of a brutal crime of passion…"
"He's not the jealous type. Don't worry about him."
"Well then, thanks, I appreciate it" he said, his voice serious for a second, "and might I say how gorgeous you look. Nice choice of footwear too!"
Kirstie ran her hand through her shoulder length red hair and blushed, kicking the tatty bunny slippers across the room. "You really think the dress is OK though?"
"You look like a fairy tale princess".
"I showed Tash this dress once when she came to stay at Mum's during the last summer we were at med. school together. She thought it was meringue-y".
"What does Paul think?"
"Well he hasn't seen it, has he?" She perched awkwardly on the arm of the sofa and directed Ray to sit down too as Jessica brought in the tea tray then made her wandered back into the narrow hallway to call the florist.
"So", Ray started talking a long gulp of the first proper cuppa he'd had in ages, "What's he like, this Paul of yours?"
"He's got dark hair, and greenish eyes, is a bit under six foot tall. He's an estate agent, likes rugby…"
"Kirstie! I want details! What's he really like?"
"He's a lovely man; caring, considerate. I think you'll like him. He's nice"
"Nice? You're marrying him tomorrow and the best you can say about him is that he's 'nice'?"
"Well he is. He's what Tash would call sincere. I thought you'd be happy that I've found a decent bloke". She stuck her chin out defensively and Ray took hold of her hand.
"Of course I'm happy Kirst. Just all this marriage stuff seems a bit sudden".
"You're as bad as my mother, you are. This is what I want, I want to get married!"
"You want to get married to Paul."
"That's what I said isn't it?" Ray took another gulp of his tea and nodded, trying to conceal his concern.
Tash entered her house, deftly deactivating the alarm whilst shrugging off her overcoat. She was in a rotten mood. Worse still, if she'd been asked why she wouldn't have been able to explain. Her operations for the day had gone perfectly, she'd caught up with her paperwork, and even the canteen meal had been tastier than usual. Nothing unexpected had happened. Except, of course the wedding invitation from Kirstie.
Helping herself to a glass of red wine, Tash settled into the large armchair in her living room and closed her eyes. She knew she really ought to call Kirstie and tell her how pleased she was that her old friend had found love. However, between the facts that one, Tash had trouble even remembering her last serious relationship, and two, the only person she wanted one with was Kirstie, she didn't much feel like it. Tash's ability to hide her feelings was well developed, but not that well developed.
She took another sip of the wine and wondered what Kirstie would do if their situations were reversed. Get drunk; the answer came back. Tash laughed a little as she remembered the days out partying with her at med. school, she'd never seen anyone put away as much booze as Kirstie and still manage to function the next day. And still look so good doing it too.
Finishing her glass she switched on the television and filled the room with the sound of some random DIY show. Maybe a few hours of brain numbing TV would take her mind off it all, she thought, settling back into her chair, it certainly can't make it any worse.
"So, are you sure you shouldn't be at some hen night?" Ray asked as he carried his and Kirstie's bottled beer to their table.
"No, I'm not having one". Kirstie answered as she tried to get comfortable on the padded wooden bench by the pub's window.
"Why ever not woman!?"
She shrugged, "I haven't had a permanent job since I've been here so I don't really have any friends to go out with. Not close ones anyway."
"What about your mates from Holby, surely I'm not the only old face you've invited?"
"I haven't heard from Tash. I think maybe the invite got delayed, it being so close to Christmas…" She said in a tone approaching wistfulness.
"You should have phoned her like you did me".
"I guess", Kirstie shrugged, unwilling to go down that line of conversation, "anyway, if I was having a hen night you wouldn't be invited. The whole point of a hen night is that it’s a girls only occasion".
"Untrue Kirst. The whole point is to get plastered, embarrass the bride-to-be, and ogle half-naked men. I think I can manage all three of them!"
Kirstie smiled at Ray's mock innocent expression. "So you're properly 'out' now are you?"
He took a swig of his drink and placed it carefully back into the centre of the beer mat. "Yes, I suppose I am. All that business with Damien made me realise it, and getting out of Holby and away from people's expectations of me helped me to come to terms with it. I'll let you into a secret Kirstie…"
"I feel calm. For the first time in I don't know how long, I feel calm. I know who I am."
"Must be nice" Kirstie replied, though Ray noticed that she couldn't maintain eye contact any more.
Ray moved his bottle to one side and leant over the broad oak table so he could whisper conspiratorially to his friend. "Look Kirstie, what's going on? This is a big city and yet you've not made a single friend? Then you latch onto this Paul bloke, who is and I quote 'nice', so you decide to marry him just like that…"
Kirstie sat upright her back pressed against the oaken backboard of the bench. "I do have friends! And I have not latched onto anyone!" She interrupted, barely keeping her voice in check.
"Kirstie, will you calm down?"
"No I won't. You haven't been here five minutes and you think you know what's going on in my life!" She shuffled her way along the bench and stood up at the end of the table, "And what the hell do you know about marriage anyway!"
Ray followed her out of the pub, scooping up his coat as he went and hoping that she hadn't run off where he couldn't find her. As it happen he needn't have worried, no sooner had he stepped out of the warm pub into the cold January air he'd spotted her, sitting on a low wall under the lights of the petrol station across the road.
He pulled on his long coat and buttoned it against the icy wind as he darted across the road and sat next to her. "What was that about?"
"Nothing" She said as she blew on her hands to warm them.
"Come on Kirstie. You can tell your Uncle Ray" he turned on his boyish grin, and it raised a small smile to her lips, but still she shook her head. "Come on, you know I won't shut up until I've got the goss!"
"There is no goss. Put it down to wedding jitters. Let's go home, yeah?" She got up and started walking in the direction of her flat.
"No way" he grabbed at her arm, spinning her around, then directed her to sit back on the wall. "Not even the great Dr Collins can fob me off that easily. Now what is going on with you Kirstie?"
"I don't know". There was something about her solemn expression that made Ray believe she was telling the truth. He sat down next to her and put his arm around her shoulders.
"Why don't you start from the beginning. Tell me about when you first noticed something wrong…"
"That's easy. When I left Holby. I had no job, no friends, I was in a strange city and all I could think was that there was suddenly this big hole in my life, and nothing I did seemed to fill it."
Ray sighed and hugged her a little tighter, "Moving away is always hard. You feel homesick, but you'll settle in eventually…"
"That's what Tash said when we first met at university. I've done this before Ray, it's just this time it's different. I can't explain". She tipped her head back so she could stare at the tranquillity of the inky sky.
"Holby does kind of get under your skin, I suppose."
"It's not Holby…"
"Is it Tash?"
Kirstie's head snapped back so she could stare questioningly into Ray's eyes. "Why'd you say that?"
Realising he'd hit a nerve he tried to keep his tone light, "I dunno. Could be that since I arrived you've mentioned her, what, five times? Maybe six?"
"I have not!"
"You have. You did just now."
"B*****ks. Anyway, so what if I did?"
"Nothing. Only you haven't mentioned Paul at all."
"Now you really are talking rubbish. I told you all about him!"
"I asked you. Prompted you. Most brides to be can't shut up about their intended's. Anyone would think you were more interested in Tash than you are in Paul." He chose his words carefully and made an extra effort not to sound accusatory. If it were the case though, it would certainly make some sense of the situation.
"I've never heard anything so ridiculous. Just because she's a lesbian, it doesn't make me one too. It's not contagious you know". She said forcing an uncomfortable laugh.
"I know. Believe me I know. But sometimes it takes someone special to awaken… dormant feelings. Things you've tried hard to suppress because they'd make you different from everyone else. Ignoring them doesn't make them go away though".
"I'm not ignoring anything."
"And neither does getting married for getting married's sake. Trust me, I've been there. Vanessa is a wonderful woman, who I care about deeply even now, but she knew better than I did that we were living a lie, and it just ended up hurting both of us. Paul sounds like a great bloke; but can you honestly tell me that you love him?"
"He loves me." Kirstie whispered softly, her fight gone now that Ray had guessed the truth. Marrying Paul had seemed the perfect way to get Tash out of her thoughts, and she knew that Paul would love her, care for her and would never hurt her.
"I don't doubt it. Who wouldn't? But do you love him?"
She shook her head gently, sniffing back tears. "I think I love Tash, but I've hardly heard from her since moving away. I can't just jilt Paul for a relationship that'll probably never happen. It's not fair on him."
"Marrying him is not fair on him either. Besides it's not jilting him exactly, if you tell him now there's still several hours until the big moment…"
"I don't think I can, Ray."
"Look, Tash or no Tash, you'll regret it if you don't call things off now."
Kirstie's eyes drifted back to the heavens as though somewhere beyond the clouds lay the answers to her problems, and her heart ached with the decision she had to make. She felt Ray rubbing her back to try to keep her warm, and thanked God that she had a friend like him to help her through it.
Tash awoke early on Saturday morning, the concept of the lie-in being foreign to her overworked body. She'd gone to bed early the previous night in an effort to stop herself from thinking about Kirstie's impending wedding, but all that had happened was she'd dreamt about her instead. Moreover, in her dream Kirstie was saying her vows to her; pledging to stay together forever.
The green glow of her alarm clock's display told her it was nearly eight 'o'clock. Kirstie's ceremony was at one in the afternoon; five hours, and around a hundred miles away yet it had more of an impact on Tash's life than she thought possible. She wondered what Kirstie was doing right now. Getting ready, probably, doing her hair and make up, admiring her dress - whatever she was doing Tash was willing to bet that Kirstie was a darn sight happier than she was. And why shouldn't she be? She'd found the person who she wanted to spend her life with and that person felt the same way.
Tash rubbed at her eyes, the unmistakable uneasiness of guilt making its presence felt in her stomach. Kirstie was happy, what more could Tash want for the woman she loved? Pushing the bedclothes off herself, she sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed, her long black hair cascading over her shoulders. Kirstie had obviously wanted her to be at the wedding, so she'd be there, and she'd be happy if it killed her.
After getting ready, getting lost, and finally getting stuck in a traffic jam that backed up for miles, Tash arrived outside the registry office at ten minutes to one precisely. Smoothing down the burgundy trouser suit that had become crumpled during the journey, she made her way to the reception desk.
"Excuse me, I'm looking for the…" she fumbled in her handbag to find the invitation, "the Johnson wedding".
The receptionist typed something into her computer terminal, "Are you sure its today?"
"Definitely. Paul Johnson and Kirstie Collins, I have the invitation right here". She offered the card to the receptionist who gave it little more than a cursory glance, before directing her attention to the screen once more.
"The Johnson wedding was cancelled first thing this morning."
"Cancelled? Why?" Tash's mind started to race through a whole list of unspeakable tragedies that could cause someone to cancel their big day. What if Kirstie was hurt, what if…? She didn't even want to contemplate it.
"I have no idea miss. You should talk to the bride or groom" and with that helpful comment, she got on with her work, leaving Tash to wander numbly out of the building.
The journey from Holby seemed short in comparison to the twenty minutes it took to get from the registry office to Kirstie's flat. The other vehicles on the road seemed deliberately obstructive as though they were mocking her haste. When she eventually pulled up in front of Kirstie's building, she was out of breath with frustration.
She knocked smartly on the door and a few seconds later it opened.
"Ray?! What are you doing here?" Tash exclaimed in utter shock. Whatever it was she'd been expecting, her old colleague hadn't factored in it.
"Tash!" Ray grinned back, a look mild surprise on his face.
"Where's Kirstie? Is she all right?"
"She's fine, she's just through here" he replied, a little bemused by the urgency in her voice. He led her through to the living room, where Kirstie sat on the sofa, wrapped in her mother's arms. "You've got a visitor Kirst".
It was only then that she looked up, her eyes widening, and her jaw dropping.
Ray, realising that they needed time to talk, suggested to Jessica that they leave the girls to it, and took refuge in the kitchen. Tash and Kirstie remained in silence, completely stuck for things to say.
"Tash. It's good to see you". Kirstie started tentatively.
"You're not married". Tash replied from her daze, confusing Kirstie momentarily with the non sequitur.
"I mean, it's just, why did you cancel your wedding?"
Kirstie gestured for Tash to sit down in the chair opposite, and took a deep breath before she spoke. "I realised that I was getting married for all the wrong reasons".
"I don't understand. What do you mean 'wrong reasons'?"
"I mean that I was marrying him because it was easier than admitting the truth…"
"What's the truth?"
Kirstie crossed her fingers for good luck, and inched closer to Tash's position. "The truth… the truth is that I love someone else…" She gazed deep into Tash's dark eyes, trying to communicate her feelings even though her speech had faltered.
"Someone else?" Tash reiterated, confused yet suddenly hopeful.
"Yes Tash - you". Kirstie held her breath as she finished her sentence, waiting for the response.
A smile spread across Tash's face. "You really mean that?" she asked optimistically.
"Of course I mean it" she said earnestly, her confidence growing as she spoke.
"You have no idea…" Tash said as she moved to be seated next to Kirstie on the sofa, "how long I've dreamt of you saying that". Slowly, nervously, they drew together and shared a passionate kiss. "You do realise one thing though, don't you Kirstie?"
"What?" She replied breathlessly.
"That I'm not the marrying kind!"
The EndBack to Long Stories