Penelope beamed, holding up her bouquet.
“Are you ready?” I asked.
“Never been more ready.”
I adjusted her veil.
“Let’s get you married.”
I gave the signal. The wedding guests rose to their feet and the music began. I spotted Aaron at the front of the church as I entered. Already, his eyes had started to well with tears. I was so grateful that Geoff was able to be there, too. Reaching the front, I felt so present in the moment. Finally, it was time for the stunning bride. Aaron’s eyes sparkled. Penelope walked slowly, holding her father’s arm and her bouquet. While this had been a mid-week wedding to save money, it felt like no expense had been spared. When they reached the front of the church, Penelope offered her father a kiss on the cheek. She handed her bouquet to me.
“We are gathered here for the wedding of Aaron and Penelope. Please ensure that your phones are on silent.”
I tried not to giggle.
“If anyone has reason why these two people should not be joined in marriage, then speak now or forever hold your peace.”
It was always a little awkward, but thankfully nobody broke the silence, allowing the priest to clear his throat and continue with the wedding. It seemed fitting that Dean would provide the Bible reading for the ceremony. He ambled up to stand behind the microphone, adjusting it slightly so that it would be at the correct height. Thankfully, the Bible was already open on the lectern to the correct page, also marked with a ribbon, just in case.
“This is from the epistle to the Corinthians, chapter thirteen.”
Dean carefully read those famous words, about love being patient and kind. I vowed that I would never stop being devoted to Mitchell, no matter how much it cost me. Of course that was a different kind of love – a philia, agape love. I breathed out. Thankfully we had the opportunity to sit down during the ceremony. As the priest gave a heartfelt sermon, I scanned across the packed church. I would have benefited from a program, which some of the wedding guests were discretely using to fan themselves, but I trusted that I would be fine.
“Alright, let’s get you married.”
Hand in hand, Aaron and Penelope rose to their feet. I could smell the red roses which matched my bridesmaid dress. Aaron and Penelope exchanged vows and rings, pledging their lives to each other. I was so proud of them.
“By the power vested in me by the state of New South Wales and almighty God, I now declare that Aaron and Penelope are married.”
Even though I was beaming, I felt light-headed in the late spring heat and the clamminess of the church building. The last thing I wanted to do was faint during the ceremony.
“You may now kiss the bride.”
As the wedding guests roared with approval, Aaron swept Penelope off her feet with a passionate kiss. Eventually, they parted for air. I thought Aaron was about to rush from the church, hand in hand with his new bride. Music played, seeming to crescendo as the bride and groom kissed again at the other end of the aisle. As the guests returned to their seats, I stepped forward and caught eyes with Geoff. I was so grateful that he’d been able to come to the wedding. Aaron and Penelope needed to sign the paperwork to make their marriage legal and I’d been selected as one of the witnesses to the ceremony. The photographer snapped away and, eventually, the guests were released from the pews. I finally took the opportunity to take a sip of water.
“Are you good?” Geoff asked me.
I’d expected the roles to be reversed. Following a short afternoon tea, we left the church for photos. I grounded myself in the car on the way, thinking about what Rose had taught me. We arrived at the reception centre. There, the photographers were in charge. We needed to stand to the side for a little while as Aaron and Penelope got their shots. Being a bridesmaid wasn’t as glamourous as I might have first thought. Finally, we were called over, first for serious portraits, then something a bit more light-hearted. I never quite knew what to do with my hands during a silly photo, so Todd and I decided to have a little bit of fun. We were laughing our heads off while the photographer snapped away. At the conclusion of the photo session, we were welcomed into the reception. I panned my gaze across the tables. The reception commenced with the lighting of a candle. Now that vows had been exchanged, we could all breathe a sigh of relief. I appreciated that we’d taken the opportunity to remember Joel. I noticed one of the venue staff rearranging some vases with fairy lights within. They weren’t where they were supposed to be, so I rose to my feet and sauntered over.
“Sorry, I think they’re meant to be on the tables,” I pointed out.
“Oh, I got told by my boss to move them.”
“Well, I just want to make this day the best it can be.”
I had to walk away so that I wouldn’t make an argument. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if things weren’t exactly as planned, even though I felt a level of responsibility, as Aaron’s friend and Penelope’s bridesmaid. I managed to win the point, and the centrepieces stayed.
The bride was by my side before I knew it.
“Is everything OK?”
“I need to go to the bathroom,” Penelope murmured.
I knew that this could be part of my responsibilities, even though we never got that far on Sofia’s wedding day. Accepting the bouquet and the train of her dress, I followed our blushing bride.
“This is really getting to know each other on a whole new level, isn’t it?”
I giggled. We stepped into the bathroom. Catching Penelope’s reflection in the mirror, I noticed that she still didn’t have a hair out of place. We entered a cubicle. I could hear the band warming up through the walls, trying not to listen to Penelope relieving herself with her beaded wedding dress in my hands.
Finally, we returned to the main room. These were the memories I would never forget. Scanning the room, I recognised the people who had entered Aaron and Penelope’s lives through the support group – including Jason and Jennifer, of course. I noticed the champagne glass of orange juice on the table in front of her. Dean had already divulged about her pregnancy, but I wouldn’t say anything. I noticed waiters entering the function room. Entrees were being served. I returned to my spot on the bridesmaids’ table, just to the left of the sweetheart table where the bride and groom would spend the evening – when they weren’t on their feet greeting guests. My plate was adorned with a stuffed capsicum – a delicious vegetarian entrée. Aaron and Penelope had selected well. The others seemed to be checking their phones from time to time – apparently there was a cricket match taking place at the same time. I thought that having a mid-week wedding would prevent such clashes, but that wasn’t always possible. Todd, as MC, approached the microphone.
“The bride and groom will now have their first dance.”
Aaron took Penelope’s hand and led her to the dancefloor. I knew that he must have been nervous as they waltzed to a cover of a pop song. The rendition was sweet and soft. At the conclusion of the first tune, their parents were welcomed to the dancefloor. I dabbed at my eyes, then felt Geoff’s hand between my shoulder blades.
“Sorry, I didn’t expect that I would feel so emotional.”
I took a deep breath. It shouldn’t have been a surprise. I found myself missing Mitchell, even though to have never lost him at all, I would be giving up the chance to be here, witnessing this love story. Soon enough, it was time for us to join them, too. I knew that Geoff would be ginger, so we needed to take it easy. The two of us lasted one song, romantically slow-dancing, albeit in a little bit of a wooden fashion. Then, we returned to the table while the others carried on the fun for a few more numbers. Penelope and Aaron sliced into the wedding cake, chocolate cream oozing around the knife. At least it didn’t seem to still be frozen, which we’d been concerned about earlier in the day. The cake was served with a selection of delicious dessert treats. I thought that I was already full, but I managed to find the room. After dessert, I got chatting with the others around our table. Before long, the single ladies were called across. I wouldn’t have described myself as ‘single’, but in these old-fashioned spaces, I fit the brief. Penelope chucked her bouquet over her shoulder. I was determined to keep my hands by my side, so that I wouldn’t look desperate. Thankfully, the bouquet was caught by one of her schoolfriends. Although I wanted to be married, I breathed out. I glimpsed towards the windows. It was nearly time for the reception to be over. While I’d been enjoying myself, my sore feet begged to differ about not wanting the night to end. I would sleep soundly once I returned home. After we farewelled Aaron and Penelope with sparklers, they slipped into a vintage car for some much-needed alone time, as husband and wife. I took a deep breath.
“Do you think it’s time to go?” Geoff checked.
I startled a little, but tried not to show it.
We agreed that we wouldn’t be able to drive home, so I offered to call Mum’s taxi. I stumbled around under the awning, on the phone.
“Are you OK?” she checked once I got onto her.
I covered the other ear to be able to hear properly.
“Yes, everything’s alright,” I promised. “Listen, it would be lovely if you could come and pick us up, please, we’ve both had a little bit to drink.”
The younger sister of missing Sydney man Mitchell del Reyan, Nina del Reyan lives on Dharug land in western Sydney. She has recently commenced a teaching degree at Macquarie University. Nina loves her family and friends and is deeply committed to finding answers and justice for the families of missing people.
Abbey Sim is the founder of Huldah Media. She is a creative writing, law and theology student who lives on the lands of the Dharug people in Sydney, Australia. Abbey desires to explore themes of hope, love and longing through her storytelling. She is the author of 'Shadow' and 'From the Wild'.