One Night in London

By: Marcella Rowe

CHAPTER ONE


I love weddings. Small country ceremonies where the bride is barefoot wearing some lace Boho-chic summer dress. Grand city affairs in cathedrals fit for a princess in a sweeping satin ball gown. Yes, I can safely say I love all weddings. Except this one.

I wasn’t dreading this particular wedding just because it was a particularly gray and drizzling London evening. It wasn’t just that there was a delay on the Tube when I left work, which meant by the time I reached the tailor near my flat they were closed, so Alexander McQueen would not be my date tonight. Instead I was wearing a Marks & Spencer wrap dress from their Twiggy collection. It was a Christmas gift from my grandmother, who fell in love with the blue and yellow floral pattern. She said the blue brought out my eyes. I didn’t have the heart to tell her it was marketed for the over sixty crowd, so I had about thirty years to go. Still, it was the only dress in my closet that was clean and pressed. Not to mention it was loose enough to conceal the added weight I’d gained since my divorce, without the need for extra-strength Spanx.

Which brings me back to the real reason I was dreading this wedding: my ex-husband was marrying my younger sister.

I still had to pause and let that sink in every time I said it to myself, or worse, out loud to someone else. At first, they’d ask me to repeat it. Then, once they realized what I’d said, they’d give me a look like my family should be appearing on one of those daytime shock-talk shows like Jeremy Kyle or Dr. Phil. A thousand scenarios went through my head too, many debauched and nefarious, when I found out they’d hooked up six months after Charlie and I split. They got engaged six months after that. And now, as the ink was barely dry on our decree absolute, I was walking back up the stairs of the Hammersmith and Fulham Registry Office for the Parker-Hickinbottom wedding. Part Two.

“Sarah,” my mother called out from across the building’s lobby as soon as I walked through the doors. She was channeling Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall today in her pale blue coatdress, matching handbag, and gloves. My mother was all about matching. She rushed towards me in a very unroyal manner that made me worry.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, slipping out of my blue raincoat, which was wet from the early evening rain.

“Thank goodness you’re here, your sister is in one of her moods…” My mum paused her fit to look at my wrap dress. “What are you wearing? Isn’t that the dress nan got you? I thought you were wearing that flattering McQueen dress?” She leaned in and whispered, “You know, the one with the corset that hides your, um, baubles.”

“You mean my fat?”

“I didn’t say that.” My mother looked aghast, as if I’d yelled “fuck” instead of “fat.” “Besides, it doesn’t matter, no one will be looking at you anyway.”

“Gee, thanks, Mum.”

“Oh, don’t you start with me. I can only deal with one stroppy daughter today.”

“What’s wrong with Angie?” I tried to get Mum to focus back on the problem.

“She says she can’t get married until she sees you.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. How do I ever know what’s going to set her off? She said I was to bring you to her as soon as you arrived.”

I followed Mum down the hall but wasn’t particularly worried. My sister was a drama queen, but it usually didn’t get out of control as long as she was the center of attention. And surely she was the center of attention on this, her wedding day. We stopped outside the ladies’ toilet.

“Angie, darling?” Mum knocked on the door. “Sarah’s here. May we come in?”

“No!” Angie shouted from the other side, then a pause. “Just Sarah.”

My mother looked at me and shrugged helplessly.

“It’s okay, Ang, it’ll just be me,” I said.

“Promise?” The voice on the other side of the door was calmer now.

“Yes, I promise. Just let me in, it’s getting late.” I looked at my watch. It was just past four forty-five and the ceremony was supposed to begin at five. The hall was closing and the officiant had agreed to stay late as a favor to my father, the Right Honourable Lord Justice Francis Parker, a judge on the Court of Appeal.

Finally, I heard the lock turn, and the door cracked open just slightly.

“Tell everyone we’ll be there shortly,” I said to my mother, then stepped inside the tiny cramped loo.

Angela stood in the middle of this nondescript government building toilet looking at me with her wide cornflower-blue eyes. Our eyes were the only similarity that would clue anyone to the fact that we were sisters. At twenty-three she was nearly a decade younger than me, but even without the age gap people would not guess that we were related. Angela was tall, blond, and naturally slim. I was five feet five, and every little digestive biscuit I ate went straight to my hips. Angie’s hair was a lion’s mane of waves that fell midway down her back as if she’d walked off the beach, while I kept my straight dark brown hair cut to a professional length just above my shoulders. After all, I was a barrister, so most days I wore a wig to work. It seemed a waste of money to pay for a blowout that would only get matted down beneath horsehair.

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