I stand in the shallows with my suit trousers rolled up above my ankles, feeling the turquoise water breaking over my feet. It’s as warm as bath water and while it’s four in the afternoon and the day is hot and the sun bright, there is a wonderful breeze blowing off the ocean.
John and I and our close friends have been here for a week staying in spacious thatch roofed bungalows with every luxury including glass floors which look down onto the ocean floor. We’ve golfed, pissed about and had long drunken nights when we’ve laughed so much that our ribs have hurt. Every morning I’ve woken next to the love of my life, sprawled against tanned, hair roughened skin and waiting to see his sleepy eyes open and that first flash of love and contentment that I wait to see every morning because it sets me up for the day.
It’s been a fantastic holiday and so rare for us all to be together without time restraints and demands, but the real purpose of our trip is today. I smile. John’s and my wedding day. We’d discussed many options and many scenarios for the wedding but at the end of the day we’re both private men with a small circle of friends at the centre of our life so we’d known that it would be small and not a big spectacle. We’d gone over places and times of the year until I felt like throwing the brochures out of the window and then Johnny came back from work one night raving about a colleague’s stay at a fabulous hotel, which is why we find ourselves here at Le Meridien in Bora Bora to get married
As if on cue warm arms slide around me and I instantly recognise the scent of blackberries and bay and the strength of their grip. I run my fingers lightly over his tanned hands. “So we’re really not doing the whole bad luck to see the bride before the wedding?”
He snorts. “Not sure if that’s you or me, but no I think we’re fine babe.”
I turn to look at him sending my eyes greedily down his body which is clad in the same stone coloured suit and white shirt as I’m wearing, the only difference being that my shirt is untucked while he looks neat as a pin. The sun makes the crow blackness of his hair shine and his smile softens the hawk like nose and draws attention to the deep blue of his eyes. The man gets better looking every day and I think that it’s because he’s happy. It comes off him in waves and I’ve never seen a man better suited to being loved.
A sudden breeze blows and teases strands from my stubby ponytail, sending them dancing over my lips and making me curse. “Fucking hell I’m going to shave this bloody hair off I swear.”
“Don’t you dare,” he growls. “I love your hair.”
I shrug. Every night after sex when we lie together sweaty and happy his hands always find themselves into my hair so I know that I’ll keep it that way.
“Are you ready?” I ask and he smiles. We’d decided to exchange just the traditional words of marriage in the ceremony as John would have come out in hives at the thought of declaring his inner thoughts to all and sundry. He had no argument from me either as I hate over the top things. I’d been surprised to find that he still wanted to make our own vows but he wanted to do it between the two of us.
“I am,” he murmurs. He turns me fully to him catching my face between his palms, and his face is so serious that my laughter dies. “Matty I always thought of myself as a cold man, caught up by work and the trappings of success. I thought that my life was a good one.” He pauses and smiles. “I was an idiot, because you walked into my life covered in brick dust, this warm, sexy, scruffy, charming man, and everything changed. I have never in my life known that just a few months could witness such a change in one person. Over that summer I fell in love with you and I will love you until the day that I die because you have given me a life worth celebrating and a home and a love that makes leaving work easy. That’s because the centre of everything is you, laughing, mocking and loving me. Making me feel safe because I know that you’ll never leave me, that you’ll always look after my heart.”
I swallow hard and when I speak my voice is hoarse. “I will sweetheart.” I clear my throat. “Johnny all my life I was looking for real love. I had so much love to give but I just couldn’t find the person that needed it, and I never dreamed that it would be you – the cool collected man who intimidated me and turned me on in equal measures. But it was you and I’ve never been so glad to be wrong because when you love Johnny, you love the
best that I’ve ever seen. Every day I wake up and I know that I’m loved and every night it’s the same. You’re the first person that I think of when I want to celebrate, the first that I reach for when things go wrong, and the love that I have with you is so far above and beyond what I wished for that I can’t comprehend it. I want to spend our lives together loving and supporting each other, traveling the world and facing any troubles head on as a team because we are at our strongest when we’re together which is how true love should be.”
His beautiful eyes have tears in them and he reaches down to the sand picking up a paper bag which when I open it is full of frangipane petals. The scent of vanilla rises around us heady and mingled with the briny scent of the sea. “Throw them on the sea and make a wish,” he says hoarsely.
“You’re it sweetheart,” I say softly and he smiles, his face soft with love. “Then let’s just celebrate what we’ve built and what we’re still building.”
I nod and we each take a handful, throwing the scented petals out onto the water and watching them eddy and twist before vanishing in a swirl of purple and cream.
“I love you so much,” he says spinning me round and taking my mouth with a throaty growl. I pull my lips back enough to say the same before diving back in and we kiss deeply. The sun is warm on our bodies and faces turning the world gold behind my eyelids, and just for a second I’m transported to that heady long summer in France and to the start of us.
Hours later after we’ve walked down an aisle made of sand to stand under a cream canopy and exchange our vows prompted by a man who has laughter running underneath his words, we sit down to eat on the beach at a huge table that’s long enough to seat us all. It’s strewn with gardenias and jasmine which emit a gorgeous perfume as they’re stirred by the light breeze. The china and glass sparkle as they catch the sun and a wedding playlist that Sid made plays in the background.
I’m sitting watching the guests and playing my fingers over John’s hand as he laughs with Viv about something when I become aware of someone watching me. Turning I see the faded blue eyes of Lady Celia, John’s grandmother who’d been the only member of his family that he’d insisted on being at the wedding.
I’d met his mother and father and found them cold and greatly embarrassed by the open affection that John had paid to me. He’d told me later that it had nothing to do with them being homophobic, but rather that they just didn’t approve of demonstrations of affection, thinking them common. I’d anticipated many reactions to us on the nerve wracking trip to see them but never that they wouldn’t care enough either way about their son’s new direction. John however had been unperturbed and obviously used to their cool distance.
His grandmother however I love. She lives in London in a flat near Harrods and lives a life of friends, shopping and the theatre. At first I’d been a little intimidated by her cut glass voice and perfect diction and her air of casual wealth. I’d thought that she’d disapprove of me with my North London accent, not to mention that I’d involved her grandson in his first gay relationship. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong as she proved to be witty and warm and accepting with a wonderfully dirty, acerbic humour.
She’d taken me to one side on the first night while John poured her the pre-bed sherry that she favoured. “I like you very much Matthew,” she’d said in her direct way. I’d muttered my thanks but she’d waved her hand dismissively. “I like you because of what you’re making my John into – a warm, happy man who loves with his whole heart. I feel as if I have my grandson back but the curious warm boy that he was before his arse of a father got to him.”
I’d choked out a laugh and she’d shrugged. “You’ve met them. A larger cretin I’ve yet to meet but he keeps my daughter in good style, if not a good marriage. I never wanted that for John though, a marriage like that. I wanted someone who would love him for him, all the unique wonderfulness that makes him so special. I’d despaired of it with that awful woman that he married but suddenly here you are, and Matthew my darling the thing that I’m happiest about is that look.”
She’d pointed to the kitchen and I’d looked up to see Johnny, the sherry in his hand forgotten as he stared out of the window transfixed by whatever he’d seen. I’d looked at her in confusion and she’d smiled joyfully. “Oh Matthew you’ve made him a daydreamer again. Thank you.”
I come back to the present to see those bright blue eyes of hers and suddenly it occurs to me that this is what John’s eyes will look like when we’re old together.
“I wish John’s grandfather were here,” she confides, tucking her hand through my arm. “I wish that I’d met him,” I say softly.
“Oh, he’d have loved you.”
“Would he have been bothered by this?”
She scoffs. “Not at all. Bertie and I were very wild when we were young. The trouble with you youngsters is that you think you invented trouble.”
I laugh. “I can imagine. I know that John wishes that he could have been here.”
“He’d have loved seeing Johnny settled and especially the look of constipation on his father’s face.” She gives her raucous, uninhibited laugh and leans into me with her charm and warmth enveloping me, and I see a flash of what she must have been like as a young woman and know that she must have broken some hearts.
“It was his grandfather that gave John the E Type wasn’t it?” I ask, thinking of the car that John treasures and keeps in the South of France at his home. The car that we’d driven around in while we were falling in love.
“Darling he’d be ecstatic to think that he’d given him a lasting love of classic cars.” “Who would?” John asks turning to us and she coos, stroking his face.
“Grandpa, darling. We were on about the cars.”
“God yes, that collection.”
She nods and gives me a wide smile with a naughty twist which shows echoes of the ones that I see on John’s lips. “He had a massive collection of classic cars Matty. He left a few to John and managed to stir up the blood of a few of the old fossils of relatives. He’s have bloody loved that.” She gives an evil chuckle that John echoes.
“John said that he used to drive him about in them when he was little,” I say.
She laughs. “That would probably make it the only time that he did drive them.”
I’m startled and she and John roar with laughter. Looking at them you can clearly see the family resemblance.
When she speaks next she’s laughing too hard to talk properly. “He used to drive a golf cart around the estate rather than any of the cars.”
John is shaking with laughter and I relish the heat of his grip as he leans on me. It takes him two tries before he can get his words out. “Good thing he didn’t drive them because he was dreadfully impatient. When he came to a closed gate on the estate he used to drive the bloody golf cart at it. Wouldn’t get out, just sat in the bloody thing ramming the gates until they opened.”
I start to laugh and then sit and listen while they reminisce about a man who was obviously loved. Finally she stirs looking at John wistfully. “I hope that you and Matthew have what Grandpa and I had Johnny. Love and laughter, fighting and tons of wild make up sex.”
I manage to snort out the sip of champagne that I’ve just taken down my nose to much hilarity.
After the meal we sit for ages reminiscing and laughing, trading stories and insults while the children run about playing around us and the adults keep an eagle eye on them. The sun puts on a stunning display for us sinking down over the sea in shades of violet and magenta.
When the dark falls, which it does here quickly, the staff come out setting up hurricane lanterns along the table and laying down huge brightly cushions around the fire pits that are dug into the sand. Over our heads fairy lights twinkle, competing with the guttering candlelight from the storm lanterns that are hanging everywhere.
Finally Bram’s mum stands up and together with John’s grandmother and Odell they kiss us affectionately and then whisk the sleepy children away. The staff replenish our drinks and it’s then that Bram gets to his feet. He motions to Seth who promptly puts his fingers to his mouth and gives a piercing whistle.
“Classy,” I laugh and Bram nods.
“I know, right. Bet you’re glad that it’s me doing the speech.”
“Oh God,” I say faintly and John breaks into peals of laughter. Finally when he quietens Bram raises his hand.
“I think that everyone here today can see how lucky Matt is, but what you probably don’t realise is that his luck started many years ago when he met me.” Sid groans and buries his head in his hands but Bram carries on blithely. “Yes, on that momentous day this geeky, wild haired boy met someone who let’s be frank looked like a Greek god to his wondering eyes, and a friendship was born that day that has grown and flourished over the years. It withstood Matty’s sad and much maligned trial of a mullet haircut, the time that I grew a Freddie Mercury moustache and our mutual short lived fascination with acid wash jeans. It flourished regardless of my falling ill backstage one night and choosing to vomit over Matt rather than an expensive guitar, and the following night when he dyed my beard and a large portion of my face bright pink.” He pauses. “But Matt’s greatest luck came when Charlie offered him a luxury three month vacation in someone else’s house.” Mabe bursts out laughing and Charlie lazily gives Bram the finger. “It was lucky because it turned out to belong to the love of Matt’s life. Someone who loves him the way that he should be loved, with his whole heart and soul, who protects his weak spots and lauds his victories. Someone who is truly worthy of Matt because he is clever and kind, funny and fiercely loyal.”
He looks down at me. “However the greatest luck has to be mine because Matty is my kin, my best friend, my brother. He is the best man that I have ever met and nobody was good enough for him, but then he found you John and I am lucky again because you encourage our bond, our madness and our three hour conversations about nothing.”
“Like the lengthy and serious conversation that the two of you had last night as to whether Frodo and Sam were gay,” John murmurs with a smile.
“Exactly,” Bram says seriously. “It’s important.” He smiles affectionately at John. “You encourage our friendship and so now I call myself lucky because I have another brother. So, to the two of you I offer these words of traditional Irish wisdom, which luckily are not mine:
May your troubles be less and your blessings be more.
And nothing but happiness come through your door.
And may you be in heaven an hour before the Devil knows you’re dead.”
He raises his glass, “Slainte.” We all echo it, draining our glasses. “Okay,” he shouts. “Cue the music, Jeeves.”
He nods his head imperiously at Sid who rolls his eyes and presses play on the iPod dock and then the sound of Edith Piaf drifts out into the balmy night.
I turn in consternation to Bram. “La Vie en Rose?”
He winks. “It’s about one man’s love affair with rose wine.” I burst out laughing. “No it bloody isn’t and you know it.”
He grins and shouts to everyone to get up and they obey, rising and drifting into their loved one’s arms. I smile to see all the people that mean most in my life and then my thoughts scatter as my new husband draws me into his arms, his copper and silver wedding ring catching the firelight and sparkling.
And so we dance amongst our loved ones, our mismatched eccentric family of friends, as the first stars emerge. We’re warm in each other’s arms and it feels like that moment when you come back from a long journey and you enter the last straight to home feeling happiness and joy, safety and the siren call of home. Only my home is this man, his arms warm around me and his piercing blue eyes soft and content.
“I love you so much,” I whisper. “You’re everything to me. In our life I’m like a tortoise who carries his home with him because I walk with you.”
He kisses me and then smiles, the lines elongating next to those stunning eyes and softening the sharp thrust of his nose. “I love you too. I’d like to say something profound but we’re on a beach so let’s face it I’m doomed.”
My laughter carries out over our gathering until the soft tropical breeze catches it and bears it away and we dance on together under the yellow moon.
The Summer of Us
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