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Utopia

I pulled up the car outside Sofia’s family home early on the morning of the wedding. Stepping out, I shut the door behind me. From the back seat I retrieved my bridesmaid’s dress and my bag, before locking the car and ambling along the front path. I reached the front door and knocked on it. After a moment, Sofia’s father John opened the front door and smiled briefly.


“Hello Nina,” he greeted. “How are you? Come in.”


John stepped to the side. I moved into the house and he closed the door behind me.


“Well, thank you,” I answered.


“Sofia’s in her bedroom, she’s just having some breakfast,” John divulged.


“Thanks.” I smiled and gently knocked on the door of Sofia’s bedroom.


It creaked ajar.


“Come in,” Sofia invited.


I pushed the door open and stepped inside, beaming.


“Sit down, I was just about to jump in the shower, actually.”


Sofia led me through to the kitchen table. I took my seat, while the bride scurried off to wash herself clean, enjoying her last shower as a single woman. It seemed a little cliched when I put it that way, but it didn’t make it any less true. While I was sitting at the kitchen table, Sofia’s father emerged. His eyes were round. Sofia’s father, whose name was John, looked at me for a moment, then smiled.


“Good morning,” he greeted.


I grinned back.


“Good morning,” I echoed.


I considered rising to my feet.


“I’m Sofia’s father, my name’s John,” he introduced himself, striding across the kitchen and offering his hand.


Finally, I stood. I firmly shook hands with John.


“I’m Nina, it’s a pleasure to be here,” I responded.


John nodded.


“I know,” he pointed out, “and it’s a pleasure to have you.”


“Thank you,” I replied.


John’s eyes trailed down.


“Well, Sofia’s in the shower now, so hold tight and I’m sure that she’ll be out in a moment. Would you like a coffee?”


“Yeah, that would be lovely.”


John prepared me a coffee, with milk at my request, which hopefully would make the hot drink less bitter, for me to enjoy it. The warmth proved to be just what I needed, while the father of the bride had other tasks to attend to. I waited in the kitchen, listening to the running water while Sofia showered. When a knock at the door rang it, I stood up straighter, thankful to be drawn out of my waiting. I swiftly ambled out of the kitchen. After padding down the hallway, I opened the door. A woman was standing there dressed all in black.


“Hello,” she greeted.


I noticed that the woman was lugging bags full of hair equipment.


“Hello, I take it that you’re the hairdresser,” I assumed.


“Yes,” the woman confirmed. “My name’s Lauren.”


“Fantastic to meet you, Lauren.” I stepped to the side and beckoned her in. “I’m Nina, one of the bridesmaids. Sofia, the bride, is just in the shower at the minute.”


“All good, I’ll just get set up.” I closed the door behind her. “Where will we be doing the styles?”


“Um, I’m not sure, to be perfectly honest.” I glanced over my shoulder.


Alexia stepped into view, holding the door frame.


“We’re going to do the hair in my bedroom,” she mentioned, “and then we’re dressing in Eleonore’s room, just so that Sofia’s room isn’t too cluttered or crowded.”


“Cool,” I answered.


Lauren made her way further into the house. Alexia directed her to Sofia.


“We’ll start with the younger ones first.”


Amalia, Sofia’s eight-year-old sister, sat in the soft chair. She leaned forward with excitement. Lauren styled her hair with soft curls.


“You look so beautiful.”


I took a moment to check my phone. After satisfying myself that there were no messages from Geoff or my parents, I indulged in Instagram for a few seconds. Soon enough I stopped, choosing to put my phone away and immerse myself in the next wedding day event. Us bridesmaids were doing each other’s makeup. Alexia, as Maid of Honour, had been tasked with Sofia’s bridal face, and I was glad that it was her, rather than me.


“Your hair looks so beautiful,” I praised.


Firstly, I smiled at Sofia, then Lauren. Both of them returned grins. When the doorbell sounded, I raced off, given that my makeup was done and Eleonore was still having her hair finished off, by Lauren.


“Thanks, Nina,” Sofia called out. “That’ll be the flowers.”


“Thanks, hopefully,” I responded.


I reached the door. Sure enough, when I opened it, Clara was standing on the other side, carrying a large carboard box filled with flowers.


“Hi, Clara, come inside,” I invited.


I stepped back and held the door.


“Hello, Nina,” Clara replied.


She walked into the house.


“Ooh,” Clara commented, “it’s much warmer in here than out there.”


She spun around.


“Sofia has a cardigan,” I pointed out. “She’ll be fine.”


“Yeah, but what about the rest of us?” Alexia remarked.


“We will be fine,” Eleonore assured.


She glanced towards her watch.


“We need to get dressed.”


I slipped into one of the bedrooms, darkened given that the curtains were drawn across, with my bridesmaid’s dress slung over my arm, so that I would be able to get changed. Once I’d stripped off my clothes, I heard a knock.


“Just a second.”


Once we were dressed, us bridesmaids presented ourselves to Sofia. She breathed in sharply, sitting up straighter in her seat.


“Oh,” Sofia gushed. “You look so beautiful.”


Just in time, the photographer, Topaz, walked into the house, carrying her large camera.


“Thank you for coming,” Sofia called out.


She pushed herself to her feet, which were still bare. Sofia’s wedding gown was floor-length, but when she walked forward, her toenails were visible. Its silhouette was A-line. Depending on the light, the fabric seemed to be a slightly different shade, whether white or cream. The key material of Sofia’s wedding gown was light and stretchy, perhaps not the best for a May wedding. Thankfully, she had a long-sleeved lace cardigan, to cover up her bare shoulders. Sofia wasn’t, however, currently wearing it. The cardigan matched the lace details around her waist. The train trailed after Sofia. Topaz eyed her up and down.


“Alright,” she surveyed. “You’re already beautiful. Now we need to turn you into a beautiful bride.”


The veil was slipped into her hair. Just like on television, that made her glow, a bride at last – even if ‘at last’ was the wrong expression, after a four-month engagement, at the age of twenty. Were they young and foolish? Maybe, but I believed that it would last, based on what they’d already endured. Topaz picked up her video camera to continue the wedding videography. Amalia gently tugged at Sofia’s gown.


“What’s the matter, sweetie?” she enquired.


“Could I please have a message on the video?” Amalia requested.


Sofia glanced up, towards Topaz.


“Of course,” she permitted.


Topaz adjusted the camera so that Amalia was in view.


“Sofia is the best biggest sister ever,” she declared. “I can’t wait for her to have lots of babies with Ashton.”


Sofia kissed her sister’s hair. Topaz stopped recording. She finally placed down the video camera. Their bond, albeit separated by more years, reminded me so much of Mitchell and I. I couldn’t afford to get too emotional, though. There was still a wedding to get through, and I couldn’t make this all about me. Topaz arranged the high-heeled shoes which Sofia would be wearing for the wedding ceremony, so that she could photograph them before she put them on.


“Those shoes are so pretty,” Amalia gushed, keeping close enough without touching.


She’d been told not to, after all. With a smile on her face, Eleonore reached out and took Amalia’s hand.


“Do you have your shoes on?” she enquired while she glanced down to her younger sister’s bare feet. “Come on, let’s go and put your shoes on.”


I looked at my own feet. Likewise, my shoes were still in my bag. Therefore, I slipped away, as I knew that I wouldn’t be needed for a moment, as Sofia put her shoes on – or was helped to do so – then looked photographs with her sisters. They all held just a little bit of a resemblance. I loved doing that, examining siblings to find their similarities and differences, and what they’d inherited from their parents. Mitchell and I shared Dad’s complexion. Through the front curtains, I noticed that a car was pulling up out the front. As I glanced across the room, I rose to my feet, taking a moment to be steady on my heels. I walked out to get into the car, to travel to the wedding, after which Sofia and Ashton could leave on their Parisian honeymoon. The car pulled away down the street, in the direction of the church where Sofia and Ashton’s wedding would be held. I was wedged in the middle of the back seat, with Eleonore on one side and Alexia on the other, with their mother, Carmel, in the front passenger seat, as her brother, Sofia’s uncle, drove. We reached traffic lights. Uncle Joe, as he was to Sofia, slowed to a stop, then glimpsed into the rear-vision mirror. His eyes were vivid blue, perhaps accentuated by the fact that he wore a pale blue shirt. Perhaps it was Uncle Joe’s favourite colour, as his tie was a slightly darker shade, and his suit navy blue.


“How are you going in the back there?” he wanted to know.


“All good,” I reassured. “You’re a smooth driver.”


Uncle Joe’s expression bloomed into a mirthful grin. I felt privileged to be travelling with the mother of the bride and the Maid of Honour. On the way to the wedding, Alexia held her bouquet in one hand and her phone in the other.


“Sofia and Dad have left home,” she told the rest of us.


“How far behind are they?” Eleonore wanted to know.


“They’ve just left home,” Alexia elaborated, “so however long we’ve been in the car.”


I checked the clock. With the wedding scheduled for twelve, it was about eleven thirty. I only thought that we’d been in the car for about fifteen minutes or so.


“That’s fair enough,” I assured. “We’re making good time.”


“We’d better be,” Alexia quipped. “Ashton would totally freak out if Sof turned up late.”


“He’d be fine,” Eleonore tried to reason, “and we’ll be fine, too.”


She leaned forward a little. As we drove through the streets, I ran through what the rest of the day would hold, currently believing that we were sticking to the schedule. These were Sofia and Ashton’s last moments as single people, before two became one.


“Oh,” Alexia spoke up, while we turned into the street where the church was located, “Ashton and his groomsmen are all there.”


“That’s good,” Eleonore responded, with something of a nervous laugh, “because Sofia will be there in fifteen minutes.”


“She’ll be early,” I pointed out.


It just ticked over to quarter to twelve, as the church came into view. Uncle Joe looked at us in the rear-vision mirror.


“Would you like me to do another lap?” he offered.


“No, no,” Carmel replied, with a laugh. “The parking place should have been reserved, so that nobody else will park there.”


When the car pulled up outside the church, I opened the door and stepped out onto the nature strip, bouquet in hand. There, we met the bride and her father.


“Alright.” Sofia breathed out. “I think that we’re ready to go.”


Carmel kissed her daughter on the cheek, then entered the church. She would be responsible for ensuring we got the sign, that the procession could commence. Amalia entered the church hall first, carefully scattering petals down the aisle. She walked slowly, glimpsing from side to side and taking in her surroundings.


“Good girl, Amalia,” Eleonore whispered over my shoulder.


Finally, she reached the front of the church. Beaming, Ashton briefly embraced Amalia. He murmured something to her which I couldn’t quite hear, before she planted a kiss onto the back of his hand. There was a soft ripple of laughter amongst the wedding guests, on their feet. Then, Amalia scurried over to Carmel, sitting in the front pew. She leapt up onto the chair. Then, just as quickly, Amalia jumped back off.


“This is for you,” she announced, holding out a translucent drawstring bag to Ashton.


He accepted it gratefully.


“Actually, it’s for Sofia,” Amalia corrected herself.


“Yes, it is,” Ashton agreed.


He tucked the bag, which must have contained Sofia’s wedding ring, into the top pocket of his suit jacket.


“I’ll keep this nice and safe,” Ashton promised.


He patted his pocket. Gently, Eleonore tapped me on the shoulder. I offered her a smile, then walked slowly down the aisle. The eyes of all in the church were on me. I looked out for Geoff. My eyes were only for him. Finally, I spotted Geoff’s gentle smile. We assembled up the front, allowing the ceremony to commence. Sofia and Ashton’s hands were linked. They beamed at each other. She’d made the right choice about her dress, not having a train which would need to be adjusted.


“If anyone has a reason why these two people should not be joined in marriage, speak now or forever hold your peace.”


Thankfully, the church remained silent. I could feel my heart thumping within my chest. Fortunately, we were able to sit down through the minister’s sermon, and I realised that I wouldn’t have to stand again, except for rising for the occasional song, until it was time for me to take my role as one of the witnesses in the ceremony.


“In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” the minister declared, “I now declare Ashton and Sofia to be husband and wife.”


Ashton took a breath, with tears in his eyes.


“You may kiss the bride,” the minister wished.


Sofia nodded her head rapidly. Ashton threaded his fingers into her hair and she melted into him. When they kissed, the wedding guests instinctively rose to their feet and cheered as they applauded. Finally, Ashton and Sofia parted, both a little breathless. They linked hands and turned, raising their arms like performers on a stage. Eventually, the clapping died down. The minister, a particularly tall man, glanced to his left. He side-stepped and lugged over a small wooden table, while Ashton and Sofia turned to each other, like they weren’t quite sure what to do. I stepped forward, given that I would be signing the marriage certificate as one of the witnesses to the ceremony. Alexia, after all, wasn’t yet eighteen. When it was my turn, I signed my name, hand shaking a little bit, but the etching still resembled my signature. Sofia and Ashton finally posed for photographs, guests tapping at their iPhones from the pews, before they rushed down the aisle and were showered with rose petals. When I arrived at the wedding reception venue, I was eager to see Mum and Dad. They had been invited to Sofia and Ashton’s wedding and I’d spotted them across the church, but hadn’t had a chance for a proper conversation. We were soon whisked away for the photographs. I had been tasked to find Uncle Joe. He would be his job to organise the wedding guests into a receiving line, for Sofia and Ashton’s official arrival at the reception. Uncle Joe was leaning against the wall by the window. The sunshine streamed inside, while he was chatting to Geoff’s Uncle Maurie, who was already holding a beer. As I scurried towards them, they both turned to look at me.


“Hello,” I greeted.


My eyes flicked between the men.


“Sofia and Ashton are here,” I announced.


Uncle Joe nodded his head.


“We’ll have to get everyone together, then,” he decided.


“Yep,” I agreed, but Uncle Joe weaved his magic, and everything would be just perfect for the bride and groom, which, after all they’d been through, made my heart soar.


Sofia and Ashton were made for each other. It turned out that the receiving line included the entire wedding party, as well as all four of Sofia and Ashton’s parents. Therefore, I stood next to Eleonore and met guests one by one, some of whom I already knew, or at least vaguely. It proved fascinating to uncover all of the little connections, between my loved ones these two people whom I’d met less than a year before.


“Hello,” I greeted a woman.


She seemed pretty and bubbly, with shiny brunette hair and wearing a purple dress with shirt sleeves. While the woman’s face seemed vaguely familiar, I couldn’t think of her name.


“Hi,” she replied. “I’m Poppy Rosemeadow, nice to meet you.”


The name sounded a bell, too.


“Nina del Reyan, lovely to meet you too,” I responded. “I’m one of Sofia’s bridesmaids.”


I glanced towards her, while Ashton’s arm was around her shoulders and together they were conversing with a young man.


“She’s a friend of mine, a recent friend,” I explained.


I didn’t know whether or not to explain further, but considered talking about Ashton’s disappearance on his wedding day wasn’t the best idea.


“You met when Ashton went missing, I believe.”


“Yes.”


Something looked familiar about Poppy’s eyes, and I wondered if she’d had a missing loved one, too. Maybe she recognised me from the television, from my public appeals in relation to Mitchell.


“It’s lovely to meet you, Nina, really, really good.”


“Great to meet you, too.”


I glanced towards the windows and, when I looked back, there was another wedding guest in front of me.


“I’ll speak with you later, Nina,” Poppy assured.


“Bye.”


Something about that woman made her mark on me, and I did hope that I would see her again. Finally, the receiving line came to an end, so we were able to disperse and relax, the last of the appetisers being handed out. I scoffed a mini quiche Lorraine, then spun around when I felt a hand on my back. Sure enough, Geoff was standing there. I couldn’t grin at him, however, until I’d finished chewing, crushing the too-much mouthful of pastry and egg with my teeth.


“Sorry,” Geoff apologised. “Wrong time.”


I wiped my mouth.


“Sorry,” I echoed. “They are nice little quiches, though.”


Geoff glanced away.


“Hm,” he responded. “I might have to go looking for one.”


Geoff dragged his hand across my back.


“Oh, I saved you a program.” He retrieved it from the pocket of his trousers. “It’s got your name in it.”


Geoff unfurled the pages and pointed it out.


“Thank you.”


Once we were seated at our tables, I leaned back in my chair, against Geoff’s forearm. With something of a grimace, he withdrew it.


“Sorry,” I apologised, then looked at Geoff.


“No, it’s alright.”


I sipped slowly at a glass of wine and wished that Mitchell could have been there, but knew within the pit of my stomach that, if Mitchell had never gone missing, I would never have met Sofia, so wouldn’t have been at the wedding in the first place. A gleaming white plate of dinner was placed down in front of me. I couldn’t remember what the alternate menu was, but I was confident that Geoff would be given the other option, so we would be able to swap if desperately required, but usually I was fairly contented with any food at all.


“Thank you,” I murmured to the waiter.


I surveyed my dinner. Sure enough, there was a fillet of steak on a bed of mixed green leaves, whereas Geoff’s looked like chicken in an avocado sauce. He slung his arm around his shoulders and drew himself closer to me.


“Would you like to swap?” Geoff whispered in my ear.


“Only if you’d like to,” I replied. “I’m not that big a fan of avocado, so I don’t mind, but if you really want the steak--.”


“It’s fine,” Geoff interjected, and pulled back, starting to reach for his knife and fork, the silver also catching the light. “I just thought you’d prefer chicken.”


“Usually,” I conceded. “I’m happy with the steak tonight, though.”


I sliced through the meat, eating my dinner. Grateful I felt, for lovers, and grateful for mine.


 

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'.


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