This was a story I wrote for Valentine’s Day (I think in 2011). I wrote it with the help of suggestions from readers on my blog, and it was a lot of fun! It features Sarah, a very minor character from Star Crossed, who suffers from hay fever, which isn’t a great thing when she meets a cute boy at her sister’s wedding! I hope you enjoy it.
Sarah blew her nose again.
‘Don’t,’ said her mother, shooting her an annoyed look. ‘You’ll make your nose all red.’
‘I can’t help it. It’s all these flowers…’ There was a pause, and Sarah sneezed violently. ‘It’s not my fault I’ve got hay fever.’
Her mother sighed. ‘Just try not to sneeze during the service. That’s the last thing your sister needs, a sneezing bridesmaid.’ She took a step back. ‘You look nice. Can’t imagine why Claire thought that pink would suit you – still, never mind. It’s always been her favourite colour.’
Sarah said nothing. Her sister Claire was older, prettier and girlier than she was. She was getting married this afternoon to Peter, who was nice but Sarah wasn’t sure what her sister saw in him. He seemed a bit dull to her!
‘I must get back to Claire.’ Her mother glanced in the mirror and pulled out her powder compact. ‘You go downstairs and wait in the front room. And stay away from the flowers.’
‘It’s a bit difficult when I’ve got a bouquet to carry,’ grumbled Sarah, but under her breath so that her mother didn’t hear. She picked her way carefully down the stairs, trying not to trip in her heeled shoes. Which were pink, of course, to match the dress.
To be fair to Claire, it was actually a very pretty dress. Made from silk and chiffon, it had thin straps with a little flower on one shoulder. The bodice was tight but the skirt flared out into ruffles ending just above her knees. If it hadn’t been pink, Sarah thought she might even have wanted to wear it again. But pink had never really been her colour. Her sister Claire was petite and blonde, taking after their mother. Sarah resembled their father, with long, gangly limbs and dark hair which framed a pale face and dark eyes. She liked wearing dark colours – russet, aubergine, emerald – but pastel pink? Never mind. It was Claire’s day, that’s what everyone kept telling her, and so it didn’t matter a bit what she thought or felt. The important thing was that Claire was happy.
Sarah sat down on the sofa and eyed her bouquet dubiously. The calla lilies didn’t smell of anything and neither did the lisianthus. But there were clumps of small pink flowers – stocks? – that were giving off a very strong scent. Sarah suspected they were the ones making her sneeze. She reached into her pearly bag for her nose spray. Better to overdose and dry up her nose completely than sniff and sneeze all the way through the church service. Claire would kill her if she did that!
‘Thank goodness that’s over,’ Sarah overhead her mother say to her father. ‘Now we can relax.’
‘Speak for yourself,’ he told her. ‘I’ve still got to make a speech!’
Sarah tried to ignore the sharp pain in her right little toe. The shoes weren’t as comfortable as they looked.
‘Photos!’ called someone. ‘Bridesmaid and ushers please!’
‘Hold your flowers up a bit higher,’ Claire told her, radiant in her enormous white dress. ‘So that they’re on the same level as mine.’
Sarah obediently did as she was told. They had to take the photo three times because she kept sneezing. ‘I thought you were on new medication,’ Claire hissed.
‘I am,’ Sarah replied, embarrassed at the way people were looking at her. ‘It takes three weeks to kick in.’
Claire rolled her eyes. ‘Just don’t go anywhere near the cake. I don’t want it covered in germs.’ Then she looked at her sister and softened. ‘You look really lovely, Saz. So pretty.’
Sarah was touched. ‘Thanks. You look amazing too.’
‘She does, doesn’t she?’ Peter squeezed his new bride round the waist. ‘And she’s all mine!’
They smiled into each other’s eyes.
Sarah made a quick getaway round the side of the church. Once there, she stopped, taking a deep breath. Hopefully here she could have a moment’s peace.
There was someone else leaning against the wall though, so she tried to look as though she was nonchalantly strolling along the path. It was a boy, too, which made things slightly more embarrassing.
‘You all right?’ he asked her.
‘You look cold.’
Sarah was indeed cold; the thin pashmina draped around her shoulders did nothing to keep out the chilly May breeze. ‘I’m fine,’ she said, trying to hide the goosebumps.
‘Always the same at these things,’ said the boy. ‘All the men are too hot in their suits and all the women are too cold in their little dresses. Not to say,’ he added hastily, ‘that you don’t look very nice. You do, I mean. Look nice.’
Sarah felt herself smiling. ‘Thank you. It’s not really my colour.’
‘Isn’t it?’ He raised his eyebrows. ‘I don’t know about those kinds of things. Are you related to the bride, then?’
‘I’m her sister.’
The boy stared at her in sudden astonishment. ‘Her sister? You’re never – you’re not Sarah, are you?’
Now it was Sarah’s turn to be surprised. ‘Yes. Why, who are you?’
‘I’m your cousin. Well, a distant one. Third, or second twice removed, or however it works.’ He grinned at her. ‘I’m Campbell – Cam for short.’
‘Cam? But you’re – I thought…’
‘I know. I think we last met when we were about seven, or something. That big family party when it was so hot and we all played in the sprinklers.’
Sarah remembered it vividly. It was late in the summer and the hay fever season nearly over, so she was feeling much better about being outside. There had been about twenty kids there, from various branches of the family, and it had been a long hot afternoon of eating far too much and getting very wet in the garden. She remembered Cam, too. He had been a slim, athletic boy, tall for his age, with blond hair that was just on the side of too long. ‘You cut your hair,’ she said before nearly biting off her tongue at the stupidity of the comment.
Cam gave a shout of laughter. ‘You remember it! Wasn’t it awful? Mum insisted on it being that length. I think she was so disappointed she didn’t have any daughters she tried to make me look like one.’
Sarah giggled. ‘I did think you were a girl when we first met. And I didn’t know that Cam was short for Campbell. I thought your name was Camilla.’
‘The things our parents do to us,’ said Cam, shaking his head in amusement. ‘So now you’re a bridesmaid then? And your sister’s married! That must be weird.’
‘It is, a bit,’ agreed Sarah. ‘I mean, there’s a big gap between us – six years – so she’s always seemed grown-up to me. But even so, it’s going to be strange. She and Peter are buying a house. And she keeps talking about having a baby.’
‘It’s like she’s leaving me behind in a way.’ Sarah suddenly felt rather lonely. ‘Still,’ she added with an effort, ‘I’m sure she’ll be very happy.’
‘And what about you?’ asked Cam, taking a step away from the wall towards her.
‘What do you mean, what about me?’
‘You getting married any time soon?’
‘Me?’ Sarah yelped. ‘Of course not!’
He grinned. ‘Just kidding.’
She glared at him. ‘I’m never getting married. It’s all such a ridiculous fuss.’
‘All these dresses and flowers and invitations and silly arguments about food and napkin colours.’ Sarah screwed up her nose. ‘You would not believe how stressed everyone gets!’
‘So if you were to get married…’ Cam held up his hands. ‘Just saying. If you were getting married, how would you do it?’
Sarah opened her mouth and then shut it again. How would she want her perfect wedding day? She considered for a moment. ‘I wouldn’t want a dress that costs as much as a car,’ she said decidedly. ‘Something special, yes, but not one that looks like all the other wedding dresses. And I wouldn’t have a posh sit down meal, where everyone gets bored and you have to think about chair covers matching the colour scheme. Maybe…’ Her voice became dreamy. ‘Maybe something like a little service for just a few friends and family, and then a big party in a field, with a barbeque and a space for dancing and some get-your-own food. And no speeches. Or top tables. Or seating plans. Just everyone being happy and doing their own thing.’
‘Sounds nice,’ Cam said gently.
Sarah had almost forgotten he was there. She blushed. ‘Well. Not that it’s going to happen. Not until I find exactly the right person, that is.’
‘The right person?’ Cam’s eyes were quite blue, like the handkerchief that was sticking out of his top pocket.
‘Yes.’ Sarah looked down at her flowers in confusion. ‘You know. Mr Right, or whatever they call him.’
Cam took another step closer. ‘And what are you looking for in Mr Right?’
Sarah blushed even more. ‘Oh, I don’t know…’ Then, to her horror, a familiar tickle began in her nose. She was about to sneeze! Sharply, she turned away from Cam, desperately screwing up her face in an attempt to block it.
‘Oh, look…’ said Cam, his voice changing, ‘I didn’t mean to upset you.’
‘No, it’s – aCHOO!’
How embarrassing! Sarah hastily reached for her little bag to retrieve a tissue – and then remembered to her horror that she had left it on the church pew! She couldn’t possibly turn around! She needed to wipe her nose really badly!
Cam touched her on the shoulder. ‘Are you OK?’
‘Hay fever,’ she mumbled. ‘Need tissue.’
A large blue handkerchief appeared over her shoulder. ‘Got snot everywhere?’ asked Cam conversationally. ‘Hate it when that happens.’
Sarah started to laugh. All at once, the stresses of the day seemed less important. She blew her nose. ‘Thanks.’
‘No problem.’ Cam smiled at her as she turned around. ‘I – er – I won’t have the hanky back, if you don’t mind. You keep it.’
‘Thanks. That’s really kind.’
‘Sarah! Sarah – where’s she got to?’
‘That’s my mum.’ Sarah wiped her nose again. ‘It must be time to throw confetti and all that. I should go.’
‘Tell you what,’ said Cam. ‘Give me your flowers.’
‘They’re making you sneeze, aren’t they?’
‘So…give me your flowers.’
Hesitantly, she handed them over. Cam looked at them. ‘Very nice,’ he observed, before throwing them as far as he could into the churchyard.
Sarah gasped. ‘What did you do that for?’
‘Can’t have you with a runny nose all day, can we?’ he asked. ‘I haven’t got any more hankies.’
She smiled. ‘Thank you. Again.’
‘No problem. Just say you put them down somewhere and they disappeared. No one will care.’
‘I’ve got to go.’ Sarah turned.
‘Wait!’ He caught her arm.
She looked up at him. His face was startlingly close, and there was something about his eyes that stopped her in her tracks. She swallowed. ‘What?’
He paused for a moment. ‘Oh – nothing. I’ll see you at the reception then?’
‘Yes. Yes, of course.’
He let go of her arm. ‘Good to see you again, Sarah.’
As Sarah walked back to the throng of guests, she felt a secret smile spark into life. And to think how much she’d been dreading this day! It looked like it might not be so bad after all…