Smoothing her hands over the lacey skirt of her dress, Olivia took one last look in the rear-view mirror, to check her makeup and hair. It had cost her a small fortune, having it all done professionally, but if she was going to do this, she was going to look amazing. She’d played out the scene in her mind all week. Emma’s blue eyes would turn green. Gregory would gasp and question if he’d made the right decision. Olivia would smile, flirt, and leave them in their misery.
She got out of the car and followed the crowd into the hotel, only stopping to dig the invitation out of her nude-coloured clutch. She looked around the foyer, taking in the crystal chandelier that hung from the high ceiling and the ivory and gold bunting strewn around the room. Matching flower arrangements had been placed in the centre of all the tables. They must have maxed out credit cards and taken out ridiculous loans to pay for it all.
Olivia twisted her fingers together and blew out a thick breath. The butterflies in her stomach had tripled in size. She looked around the room, desperate to find someone she recognised. The room was full of light-hearted chat and laughter, mixing with expensive perfumes and cheap aftershaves. Someone nearby was wearing a particularly cloying scent that caught at the back of Olivia’s throat. She didn’t know anybody there, so she looked to find someone else who had been denied a “plus one”.
‘Olivia?’ called a male voice.
She glanced towards the bar and saw a gorgeous man walking towards her. He could have stepped straight from the pages of a catalogue. Dressed in black trousers and a matching suit jacket, with a crisp white shirt underneath, the top button undone to show off the dusting of dark curls. His brown hair, longer on the top than it was around the sides, had been swept back and styled to precision. His jaw and cheeks were covered in a closely clipped beard, no straggly bits poking out. Olivia swallowed down the lump of apprehension that had built in her throat and nodded.
‘I thought it was you! You look great!’ He beamed a melt-worthy smile, with teeth as perfect as the rest of him.
Olivia frowned. It was obvious that she was meant to know him. Surely someone that good-looking, she would remember? But, she came up blank when she tried to put a name to his face.
‘Craig,’ he offered, thrusting a hand towards her. She stared it for a moment, before letting his long fingers wrap over her palm.
‘Craig…’ she said thoughtfully. ‘Oh, my God! Craig Feathers!’ She grinned as the memory slapped her. ‘Wow, you look… amazing!’
‘Thank you.’ He chuckled. ‘You look good too. It was brave of you to wear white.’
‘It’s cream actually,’ Olivia said in a small voice. She felt the heat rise in her cheeks.
‘How long do you think it’s been?’ he asked, the corner of lips tweaking into a knowing smile.
‘Ten years at least. Wow. Craig Feathers.’
‘Let me get you a drink.’ He slipped his hand to the small of her back and guided her towards the bar. ‘What would you like?’
‘Oh, I don’t know.’ Olivia was still in shock. The last time she had seen him, Craig had been an overweight eighteen-year-old, wearing thick metal braces over crooked teeth, and only spoke in either computer jargon or Klingon. While she’d understood a little of the Klingon, she hadn’t been willing to admit it, and preferred to ignore him, focusing all her attention on the luscious Gregory Barrett.
‘A pint of Leffe, and…’ He glanced at Olivia.
‘White wine, please.’ She sat down on the stool in front of her.
‘I wasn’t expecting to see you here,’ Craig said, pushing the wine glass in front of her. ‘You’re all still friends then?’
‘I wouldn’t go that far. But we keep in touch. Facebook, you know?’
He nodded, took a sip of his beer and licked the froth off his top lip. ‘Same. I don’t think I recognise anyone else in here though.’ They both looked around. All the guests had separated into little groups; the men standing, and the women taking over the few chairs that were spread around the edge of the room. Somewhere, a man let out a raucous laugh.
‘No, I don’t think I do either. Then again, I didn’t recognise you! You’ve changed so much!’
‘You mean I’ve lost weight.’ He patted his stomach. ‘Four stone.’
‘Wow,’ Olivia mouthed. ‘That’s quite a lot.’ She took a drink and tried not to seethe; the wine was drier than she was used to. ‘How?’
Craig shrugged. ‘I got myself a personal trainer and a nutritionist, and worked at it.’
‘Sounds expensive. You must be doing quite well for yourself.’ She took another drink and glanced over her shoulder.
The noise behind her grew from chat to cooing and applauding. Craig said something, but it was lost as Emma and Greg walked through the doors.
Olivia tried to make herself taller and look over the ocean of heads and smiles that crowded around them. She could see the top of Emma’s veil and tiara – a thin white mesh trailed over a crown of diamonds and silver. The guests parted, and like Moses guiding the Israelites, Greg was revealed. Olivia was glad that she was still sat down. Disappointment washed over her. She’d been hoping that he’d be fat, or missing teeth, or something. Anything that would make him unattractive. But he was as gorgeous as ever. And so was Emma. Wearing a beautiful ivory dress, decorated in tiny pearls and diamantes, her waist had been cinched in, accentuating her bust and hips. Olivia felt sick. How stupid it was of her, to think she could out-do the bride.
‘Are you okay?’ Craig touched her elbow.
‘I’m fine,’ she said, forcing a smile. ‘Sorry. Miles away. Doesn’t she look stunning?’ She couldn’t help the sadness and jealousy that edged her voice.
‘We should go and congratulate them.’
Olivia nodded and followed him. She waited as Craig shook Greg’s hand and kissed Emma’s cheek. She waited as he gushed pleasantries and told Emma how beautiful she looked, and how Greg was a lucky man. She waited as her stomach twisted and knotted and threatened to throw up the wine she had drunk.
‘Olivia!’ Emma stepped forward and grabbed the tops of her arms, tugging her into a tight hug. ‘You look fabulous! Doesn’t she Greg? Doesn’t she look gorgeous?’ Emma nudged an elbow into her new husband’s ribs.
‘Amazing,’ Greg agreed, and leaned in to place a kiss on Olivia’s cheek.
‘Thank you. And congratulations. And thank you for inviting me.’
Emma beamed at her. ‘I’m so glad you could come.’ She took hold of Olivia’s hand and reached out for Craig. ‘Both of you. And I’m glad that you found each other.’ Her blue eyes sparkled in the light that shone down from the chandeliers. ‘We will have to catch up in a bit. But you know… Photos, socialising…’ She groaned and rolled her eyes before finishing it all with a wide, genuine smile.
Olivia nodded and watched as Emma and Greg were swept into the next room, followed by a gaggle of women dressed in identical dark gold dresses, and a man with a camera hung around his neck.
‘That wasn’t too bad, was it?’ Craig said.
‘No,’ Olivia mused. She turned to face Craig. ‘What do you think she meant by, she was glad that we’d found each other?’
Craig chuckled. ‘You do know what Emma does for a living don’t you?’
Olivia gave a slow shake of her head. ‘Not really. I know she works from home.’ She gazed over at the women having their photos taken. A crowd had formed behind the photographer, each holding either a camera of their own, or their smartphones, high in the air, trying to get that perfect shot.
‘Another drink?’ Craig asked.
‘Yes. I definitely need one.’ They headed back to the bar, ordered drinks, and claimed a couple of the comfortable chairs that had been abandoned. Olivia settled into the soft cushioned seat. ‘Sorry, you were telling me what you do.’
‘I freelance as an IT Analyst.’
Craig laughed. ‘I work with computers.’
‘Ah. You always were a bit geeky.’ She picked up her glass and took a large sip. ‘I think they’re moving in to the dining room. Do you think we should join them?’ A knot of worry built inside her. What if they’d been put on different tables? Who would she talk to?
‘Come on.’ Craig helped her to stand, and once again placed his hand on her back. She hadn’t noticed how much taller he was until then. There was at least four or five inches between them. She fought the shiver that threatened to fall down her spine. Craig glanced over the board that stood by the door to the dining hall.
Olivia poked her head in and watched Emma and Greg officially greet their guests. Voices echoed off the bare wood walls, mingling into each other. Warm aromas followed waiters and waitresses as they moved around the room, offering glasses of champagne and hors d’oeuvres.
‘Look at that,’ Craig said, catching her attention. ‘We’re next to each other. It’s almost like fate.’ He winked, and grinned, but Olivia didn’t get the punch line of whatever joke was being told. Still, she felt reassured that she would have at least one person to talk to.
The tables were fat and round, and placed around the edge of a small dance floor. Each one was draped in white cotton, with the gold and ivory theme running throughout the room. The extravagant centre pieces included huge glass vases, filled with coloured beads, and decorated with flowers similar to those in the bar area. On the stage to the side, a small orchestra tuned their instruments.
Olivia found her seat next to Craig, and was surprised to see a small box set next to the silver cutlery, with her name written on it. She glanced around the table and saw that everyone had a gift; the men had a small bottle of whisky or brandy, and the women had a box of chocolates that looked to be handmade. ‘This must have set them back a bit,’ Olivia said in a hushed voice, looking at the newly married couple as they took their seats. Emma and Greg’s table was long and spread at the top of the room, but decorated in the same fashion as all the others.
‘I think Greg can afford it.’ Craig laughed.
Olivia stuffed a chocolate into her mouth to stop from biting her bottom lip. Still, she knew that her cheeks had reddened.
‘So, what have you been up to since we last saw each other?’ Craig asked as a waiter appeared with their first course; a creamy tomato soup with crunchy croutons scattered across the thick surface.
‘I’m an accountant.’
Craig grinned. ‘You always were a bit geeky.’
They spent the evening chatting, and soon Olivia forgot that there was anyone else at the table. She smiled through the speeches, without a single pang of jealousy. She lifted her glass and congratulated the beautiful couple. She watched as Greg held Emma close during their first dance.
Olivia placed her elbow on the table, resting her cheek on her knuckles. Guests began to join them on the parquet floor, swaying in time to the romantic music. She sat up when Craig offered his hand to her. She looked up, into his dark brown eyes and felt the butterflies in her stomach begin to flutter again.
‘You can’t sit there all night. Come on. Let’s dance.’ He took hold of her hand and pulled her from her seat, leading her towards the rest of the guests. Wrapping one arm around her waist, he held her as close as Greg and held Emma. She could smell the warm, musky scent of his aftershave.
Olivia closed her eyes. ‘I’m glad I came,’ she whispered against his chest. ‘It was fate.’
‘Me too.’ He kissed the top of her head. ‘Although I don’t think fate had much to do with it.’
Olivia opened her eyes and looked towards Emma, and realised she was watching them. Olivia smiled. ‘Thank you,’ she mouthed.