Splintered Memory
Author:Natascha Holloway

Part Four

Matt

It had been a long day and he felt dead on his feet. What he ideally wanted to do right now was to go home, cuddle up with Charlie, and go to sleep. The problem was he knew was that there was no chance of this happening. Today was his birthday, and Rich and Bex were throwing him a dinner party to celebrate the occasion. Ben and Rach were driving up from Bristol, Claire and Adam were coming up from London, and Nick was coming up from Bath with his new girlfriend.

He’d already thought about bailing, but he knew that he couldn’t do that. Yet as he tried to stifle a yawn he felt his phone vibrating in his back pocket. It was Charlie, and he assumed that she was calling to say that she, Claire, and Adam, were stuck in traffic on their way up from London.

“Hey you,” he said into his phone.

“Happy birthday, did you get my messages? I tried to call before you went on shift,” Charlie said.

“Yeah I got them, thank you. I can’t wait to see you. Are you already here?” He asked.

“Not exactly,” Charlie said hesitantly.

“You’re in traffic,” he said.

“No. Please don’t be mad, but I’m still at work. I went in this morning and I was supposed to leave at twelve on a half day, but then I got called onto a conference call that ran on for two hours and after that things kind of went a bit crazy. In the end I had to tell Claire and Adam to go without me so that they could at least be at Rich and Bex’s on time. I’m going to get a train now though. I’m sorry,” Charlie said.

“You chose work,” he said knowing that hurt was emanating in his words.

“No,” she said; “and please don’t think that.”

He didn’t say anything, and there was an awkward silence between them.

“Look, I’m leaving right now so I can be up in Birmingham for tenish. I’ll still be in time for your birthday. It’s just that I’m going to miss most of your birthday dinner,” she said apologetically.

“Okay,” he said.

“Please don’t be mad with me? I’ll see you in a couple of hours,” she said; “and I promise that I’ll make it up to you as soon as we get home.”

He could tell that she was smiling, and he said; “I’m not mad, just a bit disappointed. But I’ll see you later. Do you want me to come and get you from the station?” He asked knowing that he was still sounding despondent.

“No I’ll get a taxi. You have a drink,” she said a little flatly.

“Okay. Speak to you later then,” he said.

“See you later,” she replied.

Matt hung up and realised that he now felt even more tired than he had done just five minutes earlier. Charlie had been the only thing that had gotten him through the day, and now she wasn’t even going to be at his birthday dinner and wouldn’t be in Birmingham till at least ten.

After their first few days back together, cooped up in Charlie’s room in London, he’d had to come back to Birmingham to work and Charlie had had to stay in London for her job. Since then they’d been having a long distance relationship, but it wasn’t easy and he missed her.

Matt tried to get his days off and times when he wasn’t on call together so that he could go to London to see her, and Charlie tried to come home most weekends. The problem was though that when Charlie came home he was at work and barely got to see her, and when he went down to London it was usually in the week and Charlie was at work. By the time she got home on a night they hardly got to have any time together.

He knew that there was nothing that either of them could do about it, and incidents like tonight were just part and parcel of them living and working in two separate cities from each other. He also knew that he shouldn’t moan as Charlie was already the one making all of the compromises in their relationship. She’d handed in her notice at work, and she was coming back to Birmingham. He’d just been disappointed when he’d discovered that her notice period was three months.

Matt felt guilty that he couldn’t go and join her in London, but he knew that he was well placed career wise where he was. He also knew that in reality, after everything that had happened in the past year, he needed to stay put for a while. A stint in rehab wasn’t great on the CV.

Charlie understood and he knew that. It’s just that he hated the fact that she knew that he still had to work with Emily, and that he saw her most days. He also wasn’t all that comfortable with the fact that she was aware that he worked with a lot of the nurses that he’d had one night stands with, but what could he do? She hadn’t said anything, and he knew that she wouldn’t, but he was sure that she must’ve thought about it. She had to have he thought, because he felt certain that he’d have obsessed over it had their situations been reversed.

When she’d agreed to come back to Birmingham he’d asked her if she’d wanted to sell their house and find somewhere new, but she’d said that she was happy to stay where they were. He was aware however that she’d only said this because she knew, more than anyone else, just how hard it was to find houses in their price range as close to the hospital as theirs was.

He’d felt guilty about this though, as he was the one who’d tainted their home and relied upon its location. Yet he couldn’t have felt any worse about this, than when Charlie had innocently suggested – on one of the weekends that she’d been home, that they could instead re-decorate and maybe invest in a new bed. He’d said that they could do whatever she wanted, and she’d smiled cheekily and had told him she might hold him to that.

His mind ran through everything that he’d done when Charlie had left him, and all the sacrifices that she was making for them to be together again now, and he knew that he’d been out order to her on the phone. He’d apologise to her later he thought as he approached Rich’s front door, but for now he knew that it was time to put a smile on his tired face.

“Birthday boy,” Claire said smiling; “still looking gorgeous even at what, thirty six?”

“One year above you at school remember? So if we’re thirty six, then that makes you thirty five,” Rich said squeezing Claire’s shoulders on his way past her to Matt who he clapped on the shoulder and then shook hands with. “Many happy returns mate.”

“Cheers,” Matt said as he followed Rich and Claire inside.

“Happy birthday,” everyone said in unison as Matt walked into the kitchen.

Matt smiled and nodded his head in thanks. He then shook hands with Adam who’d just put his arm around Claire’s shoulders. Then with Nick, who was stood by a woman that Matt didn’t recognise but who he assumed was the new girlfriend. Then he walked over to Ben, who was sat on a stool next to Rach. She leant up and kissed him, and Ben clapped him on the back. He finally reached Bex, who he hugged and said a quick thank you to before pecking her on the cheek.

“Where’s Charlie?” Nick asked him.

“She had to work late so she’s still in London,” he said as positively as he could; “but she’s coming up later.”

“That is such a lie!” Charlie said from behind Rich, who was stood in the doorway from the kitchen to the entrance hall grinning widely.

Matt whirled around and his face lit up, which in turn made everyone smile. Charlie included.

“Gotcha,” she said squeezing past Rich and walking over to him.

He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her close, kissing her as he did. He’d meant to give her just a quick kiss, but there was something about the moment. His relief and delight at seeing her had made him kiss her as passionately as he would’ve done if they’d been alone.

“Alright mate,” Nick said on behalf of everyone in the room; “you’re in company!”

Charlie pulled away first, and she looked around at everyone sheepishly. Matt didn’t care though, and he pulled Charlie back against him so that her back was pressed up against his front. He wrapped his right arm around her waist, and he kissed the side of her neck.

“It’s my birthday,” he said smiling.

Everyone, with the exception of Charlie, Adam, and Nick’s new girlfriend Mel, looked at him gooey eyed and smiled endearingly.

“What?” He asked looking puzzled by their expressions.

They all shook their heads at him, but they were all still smiling.

“Seriously, what,” he said again feeling self-conscious now.

“Nothing mate,” Rich said; “come on let’s eat.”

As everyone filed out of the kitchen towards the dining room, Charlie turned to face Matt. She put her hands on either side of his face and smiled.

“Happy birthday,” she said kissing him lightly on the lips. “Surprised?” She asked.

“Very,” he said pulling her more tightly to him.

“Nice surprise?” She asked whilst searching his face.

“Absolutely,” he said.

“Good. I’m glad you like surprises,” she said before kissing him again.

Matt pulled back from her kiss and looked at her curiously, wondering what she’d meant by that. Yet before he could ask her, or scrutinise her face properly, she took his hand in hers and said; “come on dinner’s up.”

***

It’d been one of the best nights that he’d had in a really long time. Everyone was on top form and the banter was in full flow, and just as always Charlie was at the very centre of it. She was causing the most trouble, and making the most laughs. Yet everyone was also being careful not to exclude Adam and Mel, and Matt noticed that both Claire and Charlie had gone out of their way to talk to her as much as possible.

After lots of food, and even more wine, they all moved into Rich and Bex’s living room to carry on drinking, chatting, and laughing, but as they all sat down Matt once again found himself being stared at by his friends.

“Seriously, you lot are creeping me out. What’s with all the staring at me tonight?” He asked.

No one spoke, but Matt continued to look at them for an answer.

“It’s got something to do with the way you were stood before, and the way you’re sat now,” Mel said with a slight shrug of her shoulders to indicate that she didn’t understand it either.

Matt quickly checked that his flies were done up and then he curiously glanced at Charlie, who was as always sat leaning against his knee with her arm looped loosely around it. She looked back at him, and he could see that she looked just as bemused as he was.

“The way I sit and stand?” He asked looking from Mel to Rich and then across at Claire.

“It’s both of you,” Bex said sighing as she said it. “You both always had these little quirks that we’ve all noticed over the years. Like the way you sit and stand with each other for example. But after the accident you were different with each other, and when…”

“Bex,” Rich said interrupting her and shaking his head to indicate that she’d said enough.

“And when?” Charlie asked looking from Bex to Claire who she knew would tell them the truth.

“Matt was with Emily,” Claire said to Charlie; “he apparently wasn’t the same way with her.”

Matt felt his whole body tense, and the atmosphere in the room became noticeably uncomfortable. He waited for Charlie’s reaction, and he wished that she hadn’t been prompted to think about him and Emily in the company of their friends. Actually, he wished that she hadn’t been prompted to think about him having been with Emily at all.

“So hold on a minute, let me see if I’ve got this straight? You lot go all go gooey eyed because he wraps his arm around me, and I lean on his knee?” She asked checking that she’d understood correctly. “And what, you’ve all decided that these two actions are the indicators of love or something?” She asked before starting to laugh.

The tension in the room dissipated immediately as everyone started to laugh with her, and Matt kissed her on the cheek and she smiled at him.

“More wine?” Rich asked, and the room as a whole concurred.

As everyone’s glasses were being topped up, Charlie put hers on the floor by Claire.

“You’re being lame tonight Charlie. You’ve sipped at your wine all night, and now you’re not having anymore. Have you failed to remember how much you can put away?” Rich asked reaching down for her glass to fill it up anyway.

Matt noticed that Charlie looked embarrassed as everyone laughed, and when she did take the glass back from Rich she looked at Claire.

“Bathroom,” Claire said straightaway.

Charlie nodded and stood up quickly, putting the full untouched glass of wine down on the floor. “Anyone else,” Charlie said smiling at the other girls, but recognisable to him alone was the fact that it was a false smile that didn’t reach her eyes.

None of the other girls went though and the conversation resumed, but as he took a drink from his own re-filled wine glass he suddenly realised what was going on with Charlie.

“Back in a sec,” he said to everyone as he got up to leave the living room.

Matt had noticed that Charlie hadn’t been drinking much, but he’d assumed that she was tired. He’d also been enjoying the night so much that he hadn’t really given it much thought, until that was he’d seen her pass off a full glass of wine to Adam when they’d been coming into the living room. Yet before he’d had a chance to query this with her, he’d gotten side tracked by all the staring at him and Charlie.

As he went upstairs to Rich and Bex’s bathroom he felt a twinge of jealousy that Adam had known before he did, but then he supposed that he was grateful to him for helping Charlie not to drink tonight.

He tapped on the bathroom door, and when Charlie opened it he saw that she looked upset.

“Aren’t we supposed to be happy about this?” He asked her before smiling at her.

“You know?” Claire asked him from inside the bathroom.

“Yeah I managed to put a couple of clues together,” he said rolling his eyes at her.

“Are you angry with me for not telling you?” Charlie asked.

“No, but I’ll assume this is what the surprise comment was about earlier?” He asked before smiling at her again.

She nodded. “I wanted to tell you at home. So I asked Claire and Adam to help me with the wine situation tonight,” she said sounding like she was unveiling a major conspiracy plot to him.

“I guessed as much when I saw you pass off a full glass of wine to Adam,” he said.

“I’ll see you back downstairs,” Claire said. But neither Matt nor Charlie looked or said anything to her as she passed by them.

“How far along are you?” Matt asked.

“Ten weeks,” Charlie said.

“Ten,” he said sounding shocked.

“I think it dates back to when I was off work with gastroenteritis,” she said smiling wickedly.

“Come on,” he said taking her hand and leading her downstairs. “Wait here,” he said to her at the bottom of the stairs as he walked over to the living room and popped his head round door and said to the others; “Charlie and I have gotta pop out. We’ll be back in about twenty minutes.”

“You’re optimistic. We all saw the kiss earlier. I reckon five minutes is far more realistic,” Rich said. To which everyone laughed.

“Come on,” Matt said to Charlie still smiling at Rich’s quip as he led her from the house.

They walked hand in hand, but as they past their house Charlie asked; “aren’t we going home?”

“Why does everyone assume I’ve taken you off for sex?” He asked shaking his head and smiling.

Charlie didn’t reply, but he felt her grip on his hand tighten as she recognised where they were heading and he looked across at her.

“Do you think there’s something wrong?” Charlie asked anxiously.

He stopped walking, feeling guilty that he’d obviously scared her, and he pulled her into a hug and said; “no, I just want to see our baby.”

As they got closer to the hospital he could feel the excitement bubbling up inside of him, and he knew that he was all but dragging Charlie along in his stead.

When they arrived he found an empty exam room, and he told her to lie down on the bed. He went off to get a monitor so that he could do an ultrasound, and when he returned he saw that Charlie was lying down just like he’d told her to. Yet he could see that she looked nervous. He walked over to her and kissed her on the lips, and said; “you’re going to need to lift up your shirt, and undo your jeans.”

Matt watched Charlie lift up her shirt to reveal her beautiful flat stomach, but he could also see her hands fumbling with the button and zip on her jeans because her hands were shaking.

“Here,” he said undoing her jeans for her before asking; “what?” He could feel her eyes on him.

“I’m just curious. Do you help all your patients undress?” She asked him cheekily.

“Only the hot ones,” he said winking at her. He was also relieved to see her smile and relax a little. “This is going to be cold,” he said squeezing gel onto her abdomen.

He focused on the ultrasound and said; “okay, let’s see how good your doctor is shall we?”

“You or my other doctor,” Charlie said clearly confused.

“Both,” Matt said smiling but also concentrating at the same time. “Okay it looks like your other doctor was right. You are, by the looks of things, ten weeks along. Your foetus looks fine,” he said sounding relieved and turning back to Charlie who he saw looked close to tears. “What’s wrong?” He asked and then saying reassuringly; “its fine, I promise.”

“Its fine? Your foetus looks fine? Not the baby or better yet our baby?” She asked, and he watched helplessly as she started to cry.

“I’m sorry,” he said smiling at her reaction and knowing that it was just her hormones. “I was concentrating on what I was doing, and not on what I was saying. Ultrasounds aren’t that clear this early on. Of course I meant our baby. I can’t wait for us to be able to hold our baby.”

He kissed her on the lips, wiped her abdomen, and then kissed her there too. Yet the door of the exam room suddenly opened, and they saw Emily. She looked from Matt and Charlie to the image that was still on the screen, and she turned on her heel and walked away.

***

“You said twenty minutes. Where the hell have you been?” Rich asked Matt and Charlie as he let them back in.

“Is everyone still here?” Matt asked, and Rich nodded. He walked past Rich and went into the living room, once again all but pulling Charlie along behind him.

“We’ve got an announcement,” Matt said.

“Claire’s already killed your moment,” Nick said.

Matt looked angrily at Claire, and she said; “they all wanted to know why you couldn’t wait till you got home. So I let the cat out of the bag, and told them that you were getting remarried.”

“Oh,” Charlie said exchanging a look with Matt.

“Yeah,” Matt said nonchalantly; “that’s true, but most of you knew that already. We have much newer news than that though.”

Everyone looked at him expectantly, but he waited for a few seconds before he finally announced; “Charlie’s having my baby.”

“Congratulations,” everyone said in unison before getting up to give Charlie a hug and to shake his hand.

“You’re a lucky bastard,” Rich said to him quietly.

“I know,” Matt said to his best friend.

“He won’t be as handsome as if I was the daddy,” Rich said to Charlie. He then hugged her and kissed her a little too closely to the lips for Matt’s liking. He also noticed Bex look as well.

“Who say’s the baby’s a he?” Charlie said putting her hands on her currently flat stomach.

“God help us if it’s a little girl,” Ben said. “If she’s anything like you, she’ll have Matt in an early grave. He won’t be able to cope with all of her potential suitors!”

Charlie smiled, and Matt stood behind her and put his arms around her and his hands over hers which were still on her stomach. “I’ll just ground her from the age of twelve,” he said.

“Or you can just hope for a boy,” Rich said; “and then cross your fingers that he doesn’t inherit your drug addiction!” The whole room went silent. That was until Matt burst out laughing, which seemed to make everyone else feel free to laugh at the comment as well.

The excitement and chatter went on long into the night, and Matt felt immensely proud and lucky to have Charlie back in his life again.

“I have a question,” Adam said when everyone except Charlie was a little on the drunk side.”It’s all a little incestuous this group isn’t it? You all grew together. You’ve all dated, kissed, and slept with one another. So what I want to know is, are there any of you that haven’t dated, kissed, or whatever with any of the others?”

“I’m out,” Charlie said laughing; “well, assuming that I can discount the girls of course?”

Adam nodded, and smiled appreciatively at her comment.

Charlie laughed again and said; “okay, then I’m definitely out. A kiss during spin the bottle with Ben, and Nick once stuck his tongue down my throat when we were at the cinema. But before he even tries to claim that it was a date,” she added looking straight at Nick who was looking very guilty; “it wasn’t! Sorry Mel,” she said to a giggling Mel; “he’s genuinely lovely. Er where was I,” she continued as Adam started laughing. “I dated and slept with Rich, and I’m married and pregnant with Matt. Oh and not to be forgotten I suppose, I once snogged Claire for a bet.”

Everyone looked at her, and Claire who was now laughing said; “Shit I’d forgotten about that!”

“I hadn’t,” Matt and Rich said in unison. But only Rich was looking amused.

Charlie stroked Matt’s face and kissed his cheek, yet he simply shook his head at her.

“When was this trip to the cinema?” Matt asked Nick.

“Oh mate it was pre-Rich,” he said. To which everyone started to laugh as Matt once again shook his head, but this time at Nick rather than at Charlie.

“I’m also out,” Bex said. “Spin the bottle with Matt and Nick, dated Ben, and married to Rich.”

“I’m out as well,” Nick announced. “Spin the bottle kisses with Rach and Bex, and I copped a cheeky feel of Charlie along with the whole tongue incident at the cinema until she hit me. Sorry Matt. Oh, and I lived with Claire obviously.”

Again everyone started laughing, but more at Matt who was looking unimpressed with Nick.

“I’m also out,” Ben said. “Spin the bottle with Charlie and Claire in the same night, every boy’s fantasy! Sorry Adam, sorry Matt. Dated Bex, and now married to the lovely Rach.”

“I’m in,” Rach said proudly. “Spin the bottle with Nick and Matt, and I’m married to Ben, but I’ve never done anything with Rich thank god. Sorry Bex.”

“I’m in,” Rich said. But he sounded disconcerted. “Who’d have thought it? Charlie and Bex we all know about, nothing with Rach or Claire though. God, what have I been doing with my time?”

“So Claire, you must be in too?” Bex asked, and Claire nodded.

“And Matt must be in as well?” Mel asked, and Matt nodded.

“You fucking liar!” Rich said laughing. “Seriously play the game fair and answer honestly.”

“I’m out,” Matt said making everyone laugh. “Spin the bottle with Bex and Rach, married and have impregnated Charlie, and... kissed Claire a few times.”

“Kissed Claire a few times? That’s what you’re going with?” Rich asked.

Claire and Matt exchanged an awkward look, before looking across at Charlie who returned their looks innocently.

“Did you two have at it in school?” Ben asked sounding shocked.

“Let’s just say they visited some bases,” Charlie said serenely. “Although I always wondered how they found the time, you know in between all of their arguing that is.”

Matt was stunned by what Charlie had just said. He’d had no idea that she’d known, and it looked like Claire hadn’t either.

“How do you know that?” Claire asked Charlie.

“Hmm, you two are both pretty clever and both claim to know me better than the other. Yet neither of you can piece this together?” Charlie asked them before laughing.

Matt looked at Charlie and asked; “you’ve always known?”

Charlie exchanged a look with Rich, and then nodded.

“We walked in on you in a pretty compromising situation mate,” Rich said smirking. “Not something I’d want to see again,” he added pulling a face at Charlie who laughed again.

Matt was feeling mortified and he saw that Claire was blushing. Yet the moment was made even more horrifying and cringe-worthy for them both, when Rich made a lewd gesture to the room to show exactly what they’d been doing when he and Charlie had walked in on them.

“Note no unimpressed look on my face,” Nick said laughing.

“Nor mine,” Adam said laughing; “but you really are incestuous, you get that right?”

“Yeah, and it gets worse if you include our older brothers in this!” Claire said smirking at the girls. To which all the boys looked at her, and Rach, Bex, and Charlie all burst out laughing.





Emily

It hadn’t been an easy couple of months for her since she’d moved out of Matt’s home. The initial feelings of indignation, and impromptu I’m too good for him platitudes, had quickly dissipated and her life had returned to what it had been like when she’d first moved to Birmingham. It was lonely again.

Emily spent her days and nights, if not on call or at work, alone in her flat. She had no friends, and the nurses at the hospital – that had on occasion asked her to join them for drinks, no longer seemed to bother now that it was common knowledge that she was no longer with Dr Grayson.

She missed Matt more than she wanted to admit to herself. She missed his company. She missed their conversations about patients and about the hospital, and more generally she missed just having someone to come home to and be able to share her day with.

Emily dwelled upon the memories of the times that they had spent together. She thought about them making love, the way that she would watch him sleep, and the way that he would pull her close in the night. The pain of no longer being with him sometimes felt like it would cripple her.

Each day after the breakup had been a milestone for her; the first day that she’d spoken to him, the first time that she’d spoken to him without it being intensely awkward, the first time that she’d been able to have a conversation with him without having to fight the urge to beg him to take her back, and the first time that she’d been able to go to bed following an encounter with him and not cry herself to sleep.

After more than two months of being apart from him, her heartache had seemed to be getting better. Yet as she lay on her sofa in a ball with tears pouring from her eyes, trying desperately to shut out of her mind the image of absolute joy on Matt’s face as he’d kissed Charlie’s stomach, she felt like her heart was back on fire.

She tried to alter the picture in her head, and she tried to visualise Matt kissing her stomach instead of Charlie’s as they looked at an ultrasound of their baby. Yet as the image of their happiness burned in her mind again it felt like a blow to the face, and at the same time there was a knock at the door.

Emily ignored it and wiped her face with a tissue. There was a knock again, but she turned on her television and continued to ignore the knocking despite the fact that it was getting louder. After ten minutes of continual knocking though, she couldn’t ignore it any longer and she got up to answer it.

She was surprised, and angry, to find that it was Charlie who had been knocking on her door. She was stood there in front of Emily holding a bottle of wine and a big bunch of flowers.

“Hi,” she said. “Don’t happen to know a doctor do you? I’ve been banging on this door for so long that I think I’ve broken a bone in my hand.”

“What do you want?” Emily asked coldly, refusing to allow herself to be taken in by Charlie’s kindness and her pretty smiling face and innocent eyes.

“Can I come in?” Charlie asked lightly.

“I’d rather you didn’t,” Emily said.

“Oh, okay,” Charlie said sounding a little taken aback. “I’m just going to leave these with you then,” Charlie said passing the bottle of wine and the flowers to Emily.

“I don’t want them,” Emily said passing them straight back.

“Okay. I’m just going to leave them here then,” Charlie said putting them down on the floor in the hallway. “The flowers will die, but I’m sure one of your neighbours will take the wine.”

Emily shut the door and went back to her sofa.

How obnoxious she thought. She couldn’t believe that Charlie was stupid enough to think that she could just come round here and expect her to be polite to her. She was the reason why she was alone and unhappy. It was Charlie’s fault that Matt couldn’t be happy with her, and hadn’t been able to love her. How dare she come round here as though nothing had happened she thought angrily.

***

In the days that followed, Charlie’s persistence amazed Emily. She came to the flat every night that Emily was in, and left notes for her when she wasn’t. Given the number of times that Charlie had supposed rightly that she was in, she’d started to suspect that Nurse Willis was giving Charlie information about her shifts.

She had obstinately refused to talk to Charlie. She hadn’t let her in, and most times she hadn’t even acknowledged that she was at the door. Yet each time Charlie came, she brought Emily something. If it wasn’t wine and flowers, then it was chocolates and sweets.

After two weeks of visits, Charlie stepped it up a gear and started bringing her fresh groceries. She no longer bothered to knock, she simply left them by her door and slipped a note underneath so Emily would know that she’d been and there was food outside for her.

Finally one Friday night, when she was sat watching television, she saw the familiar handwritten note being pushed under her door. Exasperatedly she walked over to the door and opened it.

“What do you want from me?” She demanded from Charlie.

“I want to talk to you,” Charlie said.

“Just talk. Not to be friends again?” She asked suspiciously.

“I would actually like to be friends again, but I’ll accept just a single conversation if that’s all that’s on offer. Look if you talk to me, then I promise I’ll stop coming round here,” Charlie said with a little smile. She even drew an invisible cross over her heart with her finger.

“Fine,” she said too exhausted to argue and she held the door open for Charlie to come in.

Charlie walked inside and went and sat down on the sofa.

“I had sex with your husband there,” Emily said cruelly. She also felt the immediate gratification of seeing Charlie flinch at the image that must have formed in her mind.

“I hope he was good,” Charlie said smiling.

“He was,” she said.

Charlie smiled again, but Emily was irritated to see that it wasn’t a cold smile or a sarcastic smile. It was instead the smile of a wiser older sister, who was looking fondly at a younger sister and knowing that she was being immature and deciding to ignore it.

“I’m not going to stay long. So if you want to punish me for trying to talk to you by responding with constant appraisals of my husband’s sexual prowess,” Charlie said; “well then I guess that’s your prerogative.”

Emily felt embarrassed, and she hated that Charlie had made her feel like a small child.

“I’m sorry,” Charlie said making Emily look at her in surprise. “I shouldn’t have said that, it’s just I’ve been struggling with a lot of things in the past few months since I discovered everything that Matt did after I left. I’m so sorry that you’ve gotten hurt by everything, but I just wanted you to know,” she paused and Emily saw her take a deep breath. “That is what I need you to know is, I’m more grateful to you than I’ll ever be able to properly say for you having looked after him.”

“I didn’t look after him for you. I looked after him for me,” she said and she was annoyed at hearing her own voice shake. She could also feel tears prickling in the corners of her eyes.

“I know,” Charlie said. “I’m glad you loved him enough so that you could save him from himself.”

“Love,” she retorted; “not loved.”

“I know,” Charlie said again. “I wouldn’t have come between you, and you should know that. You were my friend, and I’d never threaten another friend’s happiness. I walked away when I first found out, did you know that? I left you to be together. I wanted you to both have a chance at happiness.”

“Friend,” Emily said sceptically.

“I haven’t known you as long as my other friends, but I did consider you to be a friend. I certainly never meant for you to get hurt. I never intended to trade your happiness for mine,” Charlie said.

“Your friend hurt me,” Emily said.

“She did,” Charlie conceded knowing that Emily was referring to Claire. “But then Claire’s loyalty was always to me. I’m not going to condemn what she did because it led to Matt finding out the truth, which led him back to me. I just wanted you to know that I miss our friendship, and that I’m sorry that you’ve been so badly hurt in all of this. If it was anyone other than my husband that had hurt you this way, I’d threaten to kill or castrate him for you,” she added smiling.

Emily felt her tears overwhelm her, and the months of pain and loneliness were all finally too much for her to bear. “I really love him,” she said.

Charlie held her hand with both of hers and said; “I know. I’m so sorry.”

She shook her head embarrassedly, and to her absolute amazement Charlie pulled her into a hug. Her first reaction was to pull away, but she didn’t. The sincerity of Charlie’s gesture and hug made her cry even more, which in turn made Charlie hold her more tightly. Yet she was mortified when she did pull herself off Charlie’s shoulder a few minutes later and saw that Charlie’s top was sodden.

“Sorry about your top,” she said blowing her nose.

“Who cares,” Charlie said not even looking at it. “Feel better?”

“A little,” she said honestly.

“Sometimes you just need a good cry. Sometimes it’s just a good drink,” Charlie said.

“Did he use me?” She asked.

“No,” Charlie said.

“Was I a rebound?” She asked.

“No,” Charlie said again. “The other women were. He used them as a distraction, but with you I think it was different. He needed you. He trusted you, and I think – and this isn’t a particularly easy thing for me to admit or say to you, he fell in love with you.”

Emily looked shocked, and she stared at Charlie with a bewildered expression on her face.

“You got him clean. You made him feel like himself again. You made him feel happiness again. He wouldn’t have let you in so far if he hadn’t fallen for you in one way or another. He won’t admit this to you, or to me, or probably even to himself. But honestly, that’s only because he can’t stand the guilt over what he sees as a massive betrayal to me. If he hadn’t found out about me, I think that you’d have probably stayed together and been happy for a long time. You shouldn’t hate him. You should hate me,” Charlie said.

“I do,” Emily said bitterly.

“If things were reversed,” Charlie said smiling again; “I’d hate me too.”

Emily said nothing, and she didn’t return Charlie’s smile.

“I used to think that Matt was mine. Like he somehow belonged to me because of how long we’d been together, or because of how long I’d known him. I think that’s why I never felt jealous when he flirted with you, or with other women. But after everything that’s happened, I can see now that I never owned him and I’d never want to. He can, and will do whatever he wants or needs to. But the thing is he loves me and he wants to be with me, and I love him and I want to be with him too. It’s not just about our history, although that’s a massive part of our lives, it’s about how we still feel about each other,” Charlie said as she got up from the sofa.

“Where are you going?” Emily asked.

“I can see that I’m wasting my time. It was too much for me to expect that we could be friends again, I see that now. Plus I came here to say that I’m sorry that you got hurt. You didn’t deserve that. I also wanted to thank you for keeping Matt safe and healthy when I couldn’t,” Charlie said; “and I’ve done that now.”

“You broke him you know, twice! First by nearly dying,” Emily said; “and then by not knowing him.”

“I know,” Charlie replied sadly.

“When he came out of rehab, his counsellors told me to listen out for when he was talking in his sleep. Do you know why?” Emily asked.

Charlie shook her head confusedly and said; “Matt doesn’t sleep talk. He never has.”

“Not when he’s with you apparently, but when you’re not there he searches for you in his sleep. When he’s really tired, or he’s been thinking about you in the day, it makes him restless in the night. The number of nights he woke me up by calling out for you,” she said looking at Charlie and wishing that she hadn’t let her into her flat.

Charlie didn’t say anything, and Emily thought that she looked like she was feeling guilty.

“That’s why he started self medicating initially, because he couldn’t get enough peaceful sleep without taking tablets,” she said pausing and looking away from Charlie. “When the sleep talking got more constant that’s how I knew that he was struggling again, and that he needed to go to a meeting. But that’s how he stayed clean, because I was there with him every night. I kept him off the drugs, but why? So he could keep searching for you in his dreams,” she said angrily.

Charlie looked like the wind had been knocked out of her, and her face had gone incredibly pale. Emily suddenly didn’t feel vindicated by what she’d said, and instead she just felt guilty.

“You need to sit down. I’ll get you a glass of water,” she said.

Charlie sat down and took the glass that Emily offered her a moment later, but she didn’t drink from it. She instead looked at Emily with tear filled eyes and said; “I wish I’d died in the crash.”

“You don’t mean that,” Emily said irritably.

“Sometimes I do,” Charlie said; “and I really did used to in the months after the crash when everyone around me wanted the old Charlie back. But since my memory’s come back, and since Matt’s been back in my life, I’m grateful everyday that I survived. But when I learn what I’ve done to other people; to you, to my friends, and especially to Matt, the more I feel like it would’ve been fairer and perhaps easier on everyone if I had just died in the crash.”

“Charlie, he turned to drugs because you left him. If you’d died, how would he have coped then? If you’d died,” Emily said seriously; “you’d have all but signed his death certificate.”

“I’m so sorry Emily,” Charlie said and Emily to her own surprise hugged her.

Charlie cried, and then Emily cried, and then they both laughed.

After they’d stopped laughing, Charlie let her talk for almost an hour about her fears and neuroses while she’d been with Matt and about how she’d been coping since they’d broken up. Charlie had listened and sympathised, and when Emily had finally finished talking she’d even wiped the tears from off her cheeks with a tissue for her before hugging her again.

“Why are you so nice?” She asked.

Charlie laughed and said; “I’m always nice to my friends. Good friends are few and far between.”

“How can we be friends after everything that’s happened? You’ll never be able to invite me anywhere where Matt is,” she said feeling a little down heartened at her own realisation that she couldn’t possibly have a friendship with Charlie again.

“The hell I won’t. You’re my friend, and if you’re in my life he has to accept that. He’ll live. He’s hated Claire for decades! Not that he hates you,” Charlie added quickly as Emily smiled.

“Friends,” she said with a raised eyebrow as Charlie looked at her and smiled earnestly. “Okay, let’s be friends again,” Emily said smiling.

Charlie stayed for another couple of hours, and Emily talked to her about everything including her relationship with Matt. She guessed that it couldn’t have been easy for Charlie to listen to this, but she did and Emily felt better for being able to confide in someone. She felt better about being able to be open with someone again, and she only stopped talking when she was interrupted by Charlie’s mobile which had just started ringing.

“Hey,” Charlie said. “No I’m not at home, I’m at Emily’s.”

She held up her phone so that Emily could hear the reaction on the other end of the line.

“I’m coming straight round,” Matt said making both Charlie and Emily laugh as Charlie hung up.

“He’ll be mad with me,” Charlie said.

“Why?” Emily asked. “Does he hate me that much?”

Charlie rolled her eyes and said; “he doesn’t hate you. He just doesn’t know how to deal with you. Dealing with you means dealing with his guilt about me, and that’s not something he wants to have to do.”

She didn’t say anything. She was suddenly feeling very nervous at the prospect of seeing Matt in her flat again. She was also feeling very conscious about the fact that she had just spent the past couple of hours crying, and she knew that it was likely that her face was all blotchy and tear stained.

The atmosphere changed in the room after the call, and Emily felt sure that Charlie must have been wondering the same thing that she was. How was this all going to work out once Matt arrived?

Emily couldn’t help thinking that Charlie was foolish to put herself through this kind of emotional turmoil just to salvage a friendship with her. Charlie really was just too nice she thought, and she understood why Matt wanted to be with her.





Charlie

The knock on the door brought the reality of the situation home to Charlie. She knew she’d done the right thing in coming here and making the peace with Emily. She knew that she owed Emily more than she could ever repay her, and she was glad that they were friends again, but seeing Matt with her wasn’t going to be easy. Hadn’t Emily said they’d had sex on this sofa she asked herself? Would he be thinking about that she thought? Was Emily? Stop she told herself.

“Hey,” Matt said as he came into the flat and walked straight over to where she was sat.

He gave her a kiss on the cheek, and this temporarily distracted Charlie from her thoughts which she was grateful for. Yet as she stood up she couldn’t help but visualise him and Emily having sex. She couldn’t help but picture him kissing Emily as they undressed each other, and she couldn’t help but wonder if he’d made her dig her nails into the backs of his shoulders the way that she did when they had sex.

“Hey,” she said forcing herself to stop wondering things she knew that she never wanted to know the answer to. “Shall we all sit down,” she said to him and Emily.

They nodded, but as they all sat she felt a sharp pain in her stomach and she winced slightly.

“What’s this about?” Matt asked Emily, not seeing Charlie’s face contort momentarily as another pain shot through her stomach.

“Matt, I came here tonight to make the peace with Emily. I’ve been coming by every day since I’ve been back home trying to get her to talk to me, but today’s the first day that we’ve actually talked. Well today’s the first day that she’s actually let me in,” Charlie said trying to maintain a steady level in her voice as another pain tore through her stomach.

“Talked about what?” He asked.

“How good you are in bed,” Charlie said lightly before winking at the pair of them and then laughing at the looks on both of their faces.

They might be uncomfortable with her humour she thought, but she needed something to distract herself from the pain in her stomach. It was getting much worse.

“We were friends before my accident, and I want to be her friend again now. I asked, and after a couple of hours of chatting I think she’s just agreed,” Charlie said answering his question more seriously but also smiling at Emily.

“You want to be friends with the woman I replaced you with?” He asked her quietly, clearly not meaning for Emily to hear him.

“I can hear you,” Emily said; “and I’d hardly say replaced. I was never more than a substitution,” she added and in spite of herself she smiled and so did Matt.

“See this can work. Awkward for a while inevitably,” Charlie said; “but we’ll all get over it.”

“Is this what you want?” Matt asked Charlie putting his hand on her leg, and she nodded. “And you’re okay with this?” He asked Emily, and Charlie felt her heart swell with pride that he’d shown an interest in Emily’s feelings too. She also saw that it had meant a lot to Emily, who she saw was now nodding and smiling and had tears in her eyes.

“Hug her,” she whispered in his ear.

He looked at her like she’d gone mad, but after she tilted her head towards Emily and looked at him meaningfully he got up and hugged her.

“Can I use your bathroom?” Charlie asked Emily.

“Sure,” Emily said still hugging Matt more tightly than Charlie felt completely comfortable with.

Matt looked at her guilty as she got up and she smiled at him, and she was pleased to see that by doing so she’d managed to alleviate some of the guilt that had been showing in his face.

She reached the bathroom with just enough time to close the door before another pain tore through her stomach. She felt her knees buckle underneath her, and she sat on the floor and kept her eyes shut until the pain passed. Yet when she opened her eyes she saw that blood was visible through her light blue jeans. She watched as it slowly spread down the insides of her thighs, and she now knew what had been causing her pain. She was having a miscarriage.

“Emily!” Charlie called out.





Emily

“Charlie?” Matt called through the door. “Let me in.”

“Matt,” Charlie said sounding in pain; “I want Emily.”

Emily looked at Matt who was blocking the door. She waited patiently for him to move, but when he didn’t she touched his hand which was holding onto the door handle.

“Do you want me to come in now?” She asked, and Matt looked at her and then back to the door.

“That depends,” Charlie said. But it sounded like she was crying.

Matt put his head against the door. Yet even with just the dim light that was coming into the bedroom from the living room, Emily could see that there were tears in his eyes. It wasn’t hard for either of them to have guessed the most likely cause of Charlie’s disappearance to the bathroom, or her terrified shout for help.

“Oh yeah,” she said confidently; “on what?”

“Are we really friends, or were you just saying that to pacify me before?” Charlie asked.

“Yes Charlie, we’re really friends,” she said. She then waited for a few seconds before asking; “are you going to let me in?”

Charlie didn’t reply, but she did open the door a fraction of an inch. Emily opened it a little more, and then she squeezed around it went into her bathroom. Once she was inside Charlie leant back against the door shutting it, knowing that Matt was on the other side.

“Okay,” Emily said calmly as she saw the blood on Charlie’s jeans and she bent down beside her. “I need to...” but she didn’t finish saying what she was going to say because Charlie put her finger to her own lips. She then shook her head before pointing to the door.

Emily understood what she was trying to say. She knew that Charlie didn’t want Matt to hear.

She nodded to so show that she understood and she gently lifted up Charlie’s jumper, but as she touched Charlie’s stomach lightly Charlie cried out in pain. Charlie slapped her hand over her mouth, and she was obviously angry with herself for crying out.

“Charlie!” Matt called anxiously again from the other side of the door.

Emily looked at Charlie’s tear stained face and she could feel tears in her own eyes. “Charlie,” she began to say but she couldn’t speak. There was a lump in her throat.

Charlie began to cry in earnest, and Emily sat down on the floor beside her and put her arm around her shoulders. She put her arm around the women that she had for many months believed that she’d hated. Yet in this moment the past was forgotten. Here and now, her friend was scared and in pain. She’d just lost her baby.

She pressed Charlie’s shoulder against her, and she felt Charlie rest her head down upon her shoulder. Emily slowly shuffled them both forward a little on the floor so that they were no longer barricading the door, and then she lifted up her left hand to open the door to let Matt in.

As he came into the room he looked instantly at the blood on Charlie’s jeans, and then to Emily who shook her head at him. The tears that had been in his eyes outside the bathroom now flowed freely down his face, and he roughly pushed them off his cheeks as he squatted down in front of Charlie.

He waited for her to look at him, and Emily felt the weight of Charlie’s head lift off her shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” Charlie said to Matt.

“It’s not your fault,” Matt said as Emily watched him stroke her face and push away her falling tears with his thumbs. It was the same gesture that he’d once done for her.

He sat down on the other side of Charlie and he pulled her to him, pressing her head gently against his chest as he did. Emily got up off the floor and went to leave the room. There was no need for her to be here. Here she was just an intruder upon their grief.

“Emily,” Matt said as he saw her get up. She turned to look at him. “You’d better call the hospital and tell them we’ll be coming over.”

She nodded silently, and Matt rested his cheek on Charlie’s head and cradled her to him.

Emily continued to watch Matt and Charlie, unable to look away from them, and she realised that he’d never felt that way about her. She knew that she couldn’t keep blaming Matt or Charlie for the way that things had turned out. She’d gone after someone that had always belonged to someone else. She’d brought the pain and heartache that she’d suffered on herself, and there was no one else that she could blame for that.





Matt

“Matthew, where are you going?” His mum asked him, and he rolled his eyes.

He found it hard to believe that at thirty three, he was still expected to explain to his mum where he was going.

“Where do you think I’m going?” He asked her irritably.

“Well I hope it’s not to see Charlie. You know it’s bad luck,” she said.

“We’ve had all the bad luck that we could ever possibly have,” he said walking out of the kitchen.

“Don’t be long,” his mother called as he shut the door behind him.

Bad luck he thought, shaking his head as he walked out into the street. He’d nearly lost his wife. He’d lost a baby that he hadn’t known about. The love of his life hadn’t been able to remember anything about their life, and then after a catalogue of errors and misjudgements by their friends he and Charlie been kept apart. Finally, just when everything had seemed to be back on track Charlie had miscarried.

He laughed into the dark. That had to be their lot he thought, neither one of them could possibly have done anything so bad as to have earned anymore bad karma.

“What you laughing at weirdo?” Rich asked him from across the street where he was stood outside his parent’s house smoking a cigarette.

“Life,” Matt said.

“I’m glad you can laugh about it,” Rich said.

“Onwards and upwards mate. It’s all about the future,” Matt said.

“Where you headed?” Rich asked.

“Claire’s,” Matt answered.

“I’ll come with you. Bex is over there and my folks are getting on my nerves,” Rich said.

The two of them walked along in silence until they reached Claire’s parent’s house, but as Rich headed towards the front door Matt walked round to the back.

“I think we’re probably old enough now,” Rich said to him; “not to have to sneak into Claire’s bedroom window at night.”

“Yeah, but then where’s the surprise in that?” Matt asked with a twinkle in his eyes.

Matt had regretted his decision to make a romantic gesture about five seconds after starting to climb the tree, and he wondered when he’d gotten so old and uncoordinated.

“You’re not helping,” Matt said tersely to Rich who was pushing him from behind.

“Well you’re taking too bloody long,” Rich said; “and I keep slipping.”

“Why are you climbing up anyway?” Matt asked.

“I can’t be out done on the old romantic gesture front,” he said. To which Matt rolled his eyes.

“It’s not actually that romantic to watch two middle age men haul themselves up a tree,” Claire said from her window making all the girls laugh.

“Shit,” Matt and Rich said in unison.

Matt walked along the last part of the branch and arrived at Claire’s window.

“Can I help you?” Charlie asked smiling cheekily at him.

“Maybe,” he said returning her smile; “I’m looking for a girl I used to know.”

“Hmm, a girl you used to know. Did she live here, and does she have a name?” She asked.

“No she didn’t live here, but yeah she has a name. When I first knew her she went as Young. Charlotte Young,” he said; “but I heard she married some guy and changed her surname to Grayson.”

“Shocking,” Charlie said smiling at him again and Matt felt his heart skip a beat.

“I know,” he said trying to control his smile and his heart beat. He was embarrassed that she or one of the others might be able to hear it, given that it was thumping loudly inside his chest.

“This Charlotte, was she pretty?” Charlie asked innocently.

“Beautiful. She was by far the best looking girl in Cheddar,” Matt said; “back in the day anyway. But in fairness she could be properly ugly now. It’s been a while since I’ve seen her,” he added laughing.

“Really,” she said trying to contain a smile.

“We done?” He asked cheekily, and she nodded and threw her arms around his neck as he kissed her.

“Aaah,” all the girls in Claire’s bedroom said.

Matt could feel the intensity in Charlie’s kiss. She was teasing him to want to take it further, even though she knew that he was trying to balance on a tree branch. He smiled to himself and reluctantly pulled away.

“Spoilsport,” she said smiling at him seductively.

“Don’t,” he said kissing her tenderly again and stroking her face.

“Don’t what?” She asked sweetly as she pulled him back for another increasingly passionate kiss.

“Is it my go yet?” Rich asked from behind Matt.

Charlie pulled back from Matt’s face and winked at him. She then moved a little way across the window ledge and leant forward towards Rich. She smiled at him and tilted her head slightly, but just as he was about to kiss her she moved and said; “sorry, the kissing booth’s shut for the night.”

Matt laughed as Rich said; “tease!”

As Charlie went to reply, Rich, or Matt, or Matt then Rich, lost their balance, and in a split second where everyone tried to grab Rich’s arms he fell from the branch. Everyone heard a loud thud and saw as he hit the ground below.

“Rich!” Everyone cried.

Matt shot down the tree, and Claire and Charlie both came down right behind him. Bex looked down from the window, and she was clearly panic stricken.

“Matt is he alright?” She asked concernedly.

“Rich,” Matt said as Rich sat up unsteadily. But he didn’t say anything, and he looked confused. “Rich,” Matt said again lifting his chin up and looking into his face and eyes.

“Rich,” Charlie said bending down by Matt’s side.

He turned to look at her, stared blankly at her for a second, and then asked; “do I know you?”

Charlie scowled at him as Rich batted away Matt’s hand from his face and started laughing.

“Are you alright?” Bex shouted down to him.

“No that really hurt,” Rich said standing up gingerly. But as he turned to face Matt and Charlie, and saw that they looked far from amused, he said; “sorry, I was only having a laugh.”

“Insensitive much,” Claire said to him before turning round and climbing back up the tree.

Charlie turned to Matt and gave him a quick peck on the lips, and then she went over to the tree and started to climb back up it as well.

“No kiss for me?” Rich asked.

“No,” Charlie and Bex said in unison before laughing at the fact that they’d both replied.

Matt also smiled, but as he saw Charlie reach the branch that led across to Claire’s window he called; “Charlie?” He waited for her to turn and look down at him before he said; “not too much wine okay? You’re supposed to be taking it easy.”

Charlie finished her climb, and when she was safely back inside Claire’s room she called down; “sorry Mr Grayson, but there’s a new doc in town and she says I’m good for another few bottles!”

Emily’s face appeared at the window, and she said reassuringly to Matt; “she’s had one spritzer, and I’m only going to let her have one more.”

“Seriously,” Charlie said nudging Emily with her hips.

“Oh sorry,” Emily said laughing as Charlie shook her head at her.

Matt smiled at them and said; “see you all tomorrow.”

“Will you recognise me?” Charlie asked sarcastically.

“Will you be the one in white?” He asked her, and Rich laughed appreciatively.

“Night ladies,” Rich called.

“Night,” they all replied.

Matt and Rich watched Claire shut her bedroom window, and Matt slapped Rich on the back as they walked away, Matt laughing as Rich rubbed his backside. “You really are an idiot at times,” he said; “and totally insensitive.”

“Well if you can’t laugh about a bit of memory loss, what can you laugh about?” Rich asked, and when Matt laughed again he asked; “pub?”

Matt nodded in reply, and then he couldn’t help but smile to himself. Tomorrow he and Charlie were going to renew their vows in the same church that they’d gotten married in eleven years earlier.

***

“Well here we are again mate,” Rich said to Matt as they sat in the front right hand side pews.

“Yep,” Matt said.

“Don’t know what comforting words I said the last time,” Rich said.

“Rich,” Adam said appearing to their right.

“They’re here?” Rich asked, and Adam nodded. “Ready?” Rich asked Matt, and when he nodded Rich smiled and said; “okay in that case, I’ll be right back,” and he walked away with Adam.

“Rich!” Matt said, but Rich just gave him a cheeky thumbs up as he turned his back on him again.

Matt stood up as the familiar music began, and everyone turned their attention from him to the doors at the back of the church which had just opened.

He watched Rich and Bex walk down the aisle together, and he smiled. Bex was in a lavender gown that suited her colourings perfectly, and Rich winked at him as he kissed Bex. She then went to stand on the left hand side of the altar, and Rich again took up his place next to him.

“I got double booked mate,” he said making Matt laugh.

Next in were Rach and Ben, and Matt saw that Rach was in a deep emerald green dress. Ben was in a traditional morning suit, as was he, as was Rich, and as were Nick and Adam he knew.

Matt saw that following them in were Nick and Emily. Emily was in a turquoise dress, and he wondered why Charlie hadn’t asked all the girls to wear the same colour. Yet he was distracted from this thought, as he saw Claire and Adam walking down the aisle behind Emily and Nick.

Claire was in a tight figure hugging black dress that went to the floor, and Matt couldn’t help but acknowledge how good she looked in it. He also knew that Rich was thinking the same thing because he heard him wolf whistle very quietly.

“Eyes to the back now please,” Claire whispered with a smile as she came level with them.

Matt looked to where she’d said, and he saw Charlie at the same time as the whole church made a collective; “aaah” sound.

She was stood in a full length silver dress, which was covered in sequins all around the hem. The front of the dress was low cut, and her hair was pinned back from her face. Matt couldn’t believe how beautiful she looked, and he smiled as she began to walk towards him.

One thing struck him as strange though as Charlie approached the altar, and that was that she wasn’t walking down the aisle with Harry. In fact as she got closer to him, he wasn’t sure that he recognised who she was walking down the aisle with at all. Did he know this man he wondered? He looked vaguely familiar Matt thought, but he was going to have to ask Charlie about this later. It didn’t seem fair of her to try and make him jealous whilst he was stood at the altar waiting for her.

As the vicar began the service Charlie winked at Matt and he mouthed to her; “you look beautiful.” She smiled at him and he felt his heart expand with happiness.

“In a departure from tradition,” the vicar said; “the bride and groom have decided to say their own vows.”

Matt felt his head snap from Charlie to the vicar. He hadn’t agreed to this, and he hadn’t prepared any vows. He felt himself starting to panic, but when he looked at Charlie she smiled audaciously at him. He recognised this smile. It was the same smile that she’d used when he’d gotten a detention at school, after she’d convinced him to skip his lesson to spend her free period with her.

“It was my idea to say our own vows, and Matt’s only just finding out about this,” Charlie announced to the congregation as she took his hands in hers whilst everyone in the church laughed. Well everyone aside from him he noted. He wasn’t finding this amusing right now.

“But we’re surrounded by our family and friends again,” she continued; “and I thought that standing in front of you all, and repeating the same vows that I said to Matt when I was twenty one would be a travesty.”

She turned to look at him, and he could feel the intensity of the moment in her eyes. “In the past eleven years,” Charlie said; “you’ve been my heaven and my hell. As a little girl, I had the same hopes and dreams as every other little girl. I wanted the fairytale. I wanted the handsome prince and the happily ever after, and eleven years ago I naïvely stood here and thought that I’d gotten everything that I’d ever wished for and more. I stood up in front of everyone here, and I looked forward to the rest of our story together. What I’d conveniently forgotten though, was that there’s always a scary element to all the best fairytales. It’s never just plain sailing.”

She took a breath and continued; “when our storm hit, we were unprepared. We lost our way, and we lost each other. We weren’t together in sickness, and it didn’t take death to part us.”

Matt tried to swallow back the lump in his throat.

“I lost you once because I forgot my way, but I never stopped loving you. So whether I can remember it or not,” Charlie said; “you should always know this. I have loved you my whole life, and I will love you forever.”

Matt could feel tears in his eyes, and he fought with himself to prevent them from sliding down his face. He looked at the girls stood behind Charlie, and he could see that they were all crying.

“You’re the best person that I know,” Matt said calmly. “You’re brave, and you’re fearless. When faced with the worst you protect those around you first, even if they don’t deserve it. You sacrifice your feelings for theirs, and your heart for their happiness. When others are scared you reassure them, and when people don’t deserve your forgiveness you offer it to them anyway. I used to thank god every day that you’d married me eleven years ago. I now realise that that wasn’t enough.”

The congregation made another collective; “aaah” sound.

“So know this,” he said; “I have loved you my whole life, and I will love you forever.”

Charlie kissed him.

The vicar cleared his throat, and the congregation laughed. “Sorry,” Charlie said to the vicar and looking a lot like a naughty school girl as she did which made Matt laugh.

“You have renewed your vows in the presence of god, and in the presence of your friends and family. I now pronounce you husband and wife again,” the vicar said. He then turned to Matt and added with a wry smile; “and you may now kiss the bride.”

Everyone clapped as Matt kissed a smiling Charlie, and as they walked up the aisle Matt looked at her and said; “I’ve got a really good idea, let’s say our own vows.”

Charlie looked at him guiltily, and then she smiled sweetly and said innocently; “I loved yours. They were very off the cuff.”

Matt laughed and knew that it was impossible for him to be mad with her, and as they walked out into the bright sunlight he swung her around into his arms before kissing her again.

“Charlie your vows were beautiful,” Emily said after she’d walked over to join them. The tear track marks on her face were evidence of the sincerity of her words.

“Thanks,” Charlie said hugging Emily.

“Congratulations Matt,” Emily said before hugging him.

He noticed that there was no tension between them, and he wondered if this had anything to do with the man that was hovering by her side and who he now noticed was the same man that had walked Charlie down the aisle.

“Do I know you?” Matt asked holding out his hand to the man. “My wife and friend clearly do.”

“This is Patrick,” Emily said as Matt shook his hand and looked from him to Charlie.

“Emily and Patrick have been dating for a few weeks. They met when Emily came with me to track him down,” Charlie said. But Matt looked at her confusedly, wondering why she’d tracked him down.

“Patrick was the paramedic that was called to my crash. He stayed with me until they managed to cut me free. He kept me chatting and conscious for as long as he could, and he told me sweet little lies so I wouldn’t be scared,” Charlie said smiling at Patrick.

He looked embarrassed, but he returned her smile.

Emily looked at him proudly, and Matt noticed that they were holding hands. Yet he felt blindsided for the second time that day. He had recognised this man in the church. He knew him from the hospital, and it now transpired that he’d also helped save Charlie’s life.

“That’s why you asked him to give you away?” Matt asked Charlie somewhat distractedly, as an image of her trapped inside a wrecked car filled his mind.

She looked at him and whispered; “I’m right here, and I’m okay.” He looked at her with amazement at how well she knew him, and she smiled at him.

“I think I need to shake your hand again,” he said turning from Charlie to Patrick and holding out his hand once more for Patrick to shake.

“Thank you,” Matt said as Patrick shook his hand again.

“It’s my job,” Patrick said smiling kindly at Matt.

“She’s my life,” Matt said to him as Charlie pulled him into a hug.

Emily and Patrick smiled, and then they walked away hand in hand.

“Come on,” Matt said taking Charlie’s hand in his and leading her away from the church.

“Where are we going?” Charlie asked. “What about our guests?”

“I think we waited too long before consummating our marriage the last time that we did this,” Matt said; “and we’ve had some pretty bad karma since then.”

“You could just say that you can’t wait to get me into bed Mr Grayson,” Charlie said jokingly.

“You’re right,” he said smiling; “I just can’t wait to get you into bed Mrs Grayson.”

Charlie smiled, and he whipped her legs from beneath her. He hoisted her up into his arms, and as she began to laugh he started to run.

The End