You are invited to the wedding of Angus and Laura on May 1st at St John's Church, Stoke Clandon, Somerset
It's Angus and Laura's wedding day, and Charles is going to be their best man. The best man has to look after the bridegroom and give him the wedding ring. The best man also has to be at the church on time, but Charles is never punctual. He is not even awake yet. The alarm clock rings loudly next to his bed. He reaches out his hand, turns it off, and goes back to sleep.
The wedding is in the west of England, which is at least two or three hours by car from London, where Charles lives. Some of his other friends are awake though. They'll be at the wedding before Charles. In their large, fine house, Tom and Fiona are up and getting ready to go. They are brother and sister, and they come from a very rich family. They are opposite types of people: Fiona is a tall, elegant and clever woman; Tom is a happy, but not very intelligent, man.
Tom enjoys his food, and he's now eating a large breakfast while Fiona chooses what to wear. Finally, she zips herself into a smart dress. She goes downstairs to the dining-room and the maid gives her a cup of black coffee. She quickly drinks it, and they set off. It's Saturday, so the traffic is not too bad, but they mustn't delay any longer.
On their way out of London, they call for Gareth and Matthew, who live together in an attractive, country-style house. Matthew is a cool but kind, sympathetic person — a Scotsman in his thirties. Gareth is a large, fat man of about forty-five. His hair is a little grey, but his beard is still black. He likes to wear quite elegant, but very bright clothes. He loves to joke, and is often quite rude to other people. Gareth and Matthew are boyfriends.
'Late! You're late!' he shouts, pointing at his watch. But Tom and Fiona know Gareth well, and don't take any notice.
They are not as late as Charles though, who is still asleep. Finally, the sun shines on to him through the bedroom curtains and he wakes up. He takes the alarm clock off the table near his bed and looks at it.
'Oh God!' he says. He is really awake this time.
Charles is thirty-three years old, good-looking, and always late. He jumps out of bed and rushes in to Scarlett's bedroom. Charles and Scarlett share a flat together. They are friends, but not lovers. Her room is a terrible mess — there are clothes everywhere. He picks up her red alarm clock and puts it under her nose. She opens her eyes sleepily.
Scarlett is twenty-five, lively, and a real London girl. You can hear it in her voice — she's certainly not from an upper-class family!
They hurry to get ready, and run out to the car, carrying some of their formal wedding clothes with them. The car is Charles's, and it's very old. The engine won't start.
'Mine?' says Scarlett. 'But it only goes at forty miles an hour!'
Charles drives her car so fast along the motorway that it shakes. It is a very small, red car, and it's also very old and rusty. The engine makes a terrible noise. Scarlett can't have looked after it very well!
'What road are we looking for?' asks Charles.
Scarlett has a map, but she hasn't looked at it yet. She picks it up just as they pass a motorway exit sign.
'I hope it's not the B359,' Charles says when he sees the sign behind him.
Scarlett finds the right place on the map. 'It's the B359,' she says proudly.
'Damn!-' says Charles. He suddenly puts his foot on the brake and starts to drive backwards along the motorway. There is a lorry coming up fast behind them, and there is nearly a terrible accident. Charles turns the car on to the exit road.
'Oh, hell and damn!' he says again.
It is a beautiful sunny day not long after noon as they arrive at the small church in the peaceful countryside. The church bells are ringing and all the other guests are already inside. Charles and Scarlett jump out of the car. Charles hasn't finished dressing and neither has Scarlett. They quickly put on the rest of their wedding clothes. For Charles, it's a formal suit. But Scarlett is wearing a bright orange dress with purple around the waist, and an orange hat to match. Charles tries to help her do it up at the back, but the zip gets stuck.
'Hell, hellish hell!' says Charles, pulling at the zip.
'Damn and hell!' says Scarlett. She tries to get his tie straight. A very large smart car drives up behind them. The bride is coming.
She gets out of the car in her beautiful white wedding dress. One of her bridesmaids helps her. They are both holding wonderful bunches of flowers.
'Oh no!' Charles says, and they begin to run towards the church. They smile and wave at the bride as they pass her.
The church is full of flowers and all the women guests are wearing elegant hats. Charles and Scarlett look around and finally see their friends, Fiona and Tom, Gareth and Matthew. They go over to them.
Fiona says to Charles, 'There is a sort of greatness in your lateness.'
'Thanks,' Charles replies. 'I have to work hard at it, you know.'
Scarlett sits down with them, but Charles puts a pink flower in the buttonhole of his jacket and walks on up the church to Angus, the bridegroom, who is waiting nervously for his best man.
'Sorry, sorry,' says Charles. 'There's no excuse, I know. I'll kill myself afterwards, if you like.'
'It doesn't matter,' says Angus. 'If you hadn't come Tom would have taken your place.'
'Thanks, Tom — you're wonderful! What a terrible haircut though!' Charles jokes.
'You haven't forgotten the ring, have you?' asks Angus. The best man is always given the ring to bring to the church.
'No, no, of course not.' Charles touches his pocket confidently. But he is secretly alarmed. Where is the ring? When Angus isn't looking, he searches for it in his pockets, but they are all empty. Oh God! He must have left it at home!
Just then, an attractive girl in a large black hat and white jacket walks into the church.
Charles and several other guests turn to look at her.
'Late!' says Charles. 'I hate it when people are late! Hate it.'
This makes Angus smile a little and he seems less nervous now. Then the wedding music starts.
'Here we go!' says Charles, and Angus turns round to look at his bride, who is walking up the aisle towards him. Laura is holding on to her father's arm, and she's wearing a very expensive white wedding dress. She has two little bridesmaids, and one older bridesmaid, a young woman called Lydia.
'Oh, isn't she beautiful!' breathes Scarlett.
'You're blind,' says Fiona sharply. 'She looks like a big white cake.'
'Dear friends, I am so happy to welcome you here today,' the priest begins the service. 'Welcome to our church on this wonderful day for Angus and Laura!'
But Charles is looking around him, wondering what to do about the ring. When he sees the girl in the black hat, he starts to think about other things — she's very attractive. Then he remembers that there is a more urgent problem. Everyone is singing now. He tries to make one of his friends notice him, but has no luck.
At last Matthew looks at him. Charles points at his own ring finger and the pain on his face tells Matthew what the problem is.
'Please! Help me!' Charles silently makes the words with his lips.
Matthew whispers to Gareth, but Gareth holds out both hands to show that there is no ring on them. He whispers to Fiona, and to several more friends too. None of them is wearing a ring. Charles will be in big trouble! The singing is coming to an end now.
Scarlett is singing very loudly and enthusiastically but not very well. Matthew interrupts her.
'Scarlett!' whispers Matthew. She is their last hope. She smiles back at him innocently. When the priest begins to read the next words of the service, Matthew nods to Charles — yes, they've got something!
'I'll be back in a moment!' Charles says to the groom, who looks alarmed.
The priest continues to speak: 'Do you promise to love her...?' while Charles goes down the side of the church to find Matthew.
Angus, the bridegroom, is saying 'I do.'
Matthew hands something to Charles, and Charles looks surprised at what Matthew has given him.
'It's the best I could do,' whispers Matthew.
Charles rushes back to the front of the church.
'Do you have the ring?' asks the priest.
When he sees it, he is quite surprised too. Angus puts the ring on to his bride's finger. It is in the shape of a large, brightly- coloured plastic heart.
While the happy couple are signing their names at the back of the church, the bride's sister and her boyfriend come forwards with a guitar to sing pop music. It's an old Barry Manilow song.
Gareth holds his head in his hands. Then he pretends to shoot himself. He is letting everybody know that it is one of the most terrible things he has ever heard.
At last it's time to leave the church. When the bride, the groom and the guests walk out of the church they look very happy. Everybody is smiling and chatting. Charles catches up with the girl in the black hat outside.
'That's a great hat,' he says.
'Thanks — I bought it specially,' she smiles at him. He can hear from her accent that she's American.
Now it's time for the wedding photos. The photographer arranges the bride, the groom and the family in groups for the different pictures. A little boy spoils one of them when he tries to hide under the big skirts of the bride's wedding dress. He thinks it's funny — but the others don't.
Charles and his friends all get together in their own group to chat. There's Matthew and Gareth, there's Fiona and Tom, and of course the lively Scarlett. There's Charles's brother, David, too, who is deaf and communicates in sign language using his hands. And there's also Bernard, who is Tom's best friend — he is like Tom, a kind man, but not very clever.
Tom enjoyed the wedding and so did Bernard.
'I thought it was good, very good,' says Tom. 'What did you think?'
'Oh yes, good, very good,' replies Bernard.
'Scarlett,' says Gareth, 'what an amusing dress! Purple for the Christian church, and orange for the wild natural world. Just like the meaning of the wedding itself, don't you think?'
'Yes — that's right,' says Scarlett, who doesn't really know what he means.
'Does anybody know,' asks Charles, 'who the girl in the black hat is?'
They all look at her. She is standing not far away, talking to somebody's grandmother.
'Awful girl!' says Fiona. 'She's American. She used to work at Vogue, the fashion magazine. She lives in America now, and she only goes out with very smart, elegant people. So you can forget about her, Charles.'
Fiona is not completely serious.
'It's a good thing you told me,' says Charles, who knows this. 'Thanks.'
The bride and groom leave the guests and get into their car. They look very happy. People wave at them as the car is being driven away.
'Right,' says Gareth. 'It's time for the reception.'
The guests have to walk through a farm to get to the reception. It is very pretty, but Tom steps in some cow mess.
'Did any of you do this too?' he asks, looking at his shoe. 'Typical!' says Fiona. 'Only my brother could do that!'
'Well,' said Tom, 'I might find love at the reception. There might be a really nice girl there! I don't want to spoil my good luck with a horrible smell!'
He stops to clean his shoe, and the others walk on towards the house. The bride and groom and their families are standing outside in a line. Everybody has to shake their hands and congratulate them as they go past.
'I never know what to say,' says Fiona.
'It's easy. Just say, «You must be very proud,'» Matthew advises her. 'That's what everyone says.'
'God, no!' says Fiona.
They walk up the line.
'You must be very proud of your daughter,' says Fiona, as she shakes the hand of the bride's father.
The reception is being held in a very large and smart tent, on the grass at the front of the house. It is full of flowers, and looks very beautiful. The guests are elegant too, but in a comfortable, not too rich way. Most of the men are wearing dark suits, and a lot of the women have dresses with flowers on them. The drinks are being served by waiters and waitresses, and at the back of the tent, the band is getting ready to play.
Charles pushes through the crowd, trying to find Carrie. But when he finally sees her, she is already talking to a good-looking man.
'The rat!' says Charles. He goes back to the drinks table and takes two glasses of wine. When he turns round again, she is alone. He offers her a drink.
'Oh — hello!' he says brightly. 'Do you want one of these?'
'Thank you,' Carrie replies.
Charles badly wants to talk to her, but he can't think of anything to say.
'Ah — mmm-'
The situation is rather embarrassing for them both.
Before he can think of something, another man joins them. This is John, who is about thirty-eight, but behaves like a man of sixty. He is very formal.
'Hello Charles,' he says.
'Ah, hello, dear John — how are you? This is ...'
'Carrie,' answers Carrie for him.
'I'm delighted to meet you. My name's John.'
They are all silent for a moment — who is going to speak first? Charles decides to be the first.
'So, John, how's that lovely girlfriend of yours?'
'She's not my girlfriend now,' he replies stiffly.
'Oh dear — well, don't be sad! I heard that she was still seeing old Toby de Lisle! She needed two men, you know!'
'She is now my wife,' says John, even more stiffly.
The situation is now even more embarrassing than before.
'Excellent, excellent!' says Charles, very uncomfortably. 'May I congratulate you? And is there the sound of little feet yet? You know — babies, and all that? No? Oh well, plenty of time for that, isn't there?'
'Excuse me,' says Carrie, amused. She walks away.
Charles tells himself that he is a fool. If he hadn't said those stupid things, Carrie wouldn't have gone, and John wouldn't have been hurt. He hits his head against a tree on purpose, then tries to say hello to an old lady who is walking past. She thinks he is crazy.
Fiona has found a man called Gerald to talk to. He looks innocent, but a bit strange too. He is wearing a dark suit and a black pullover.
'What do you do?' she asks him.
'I'm studying to be a priest,' he answers.
'Good God,' says Fiona. 'Do you do weddings?'
'Not yet — I will do later, of course. It'll make me very nervous, I can tell you!' He laughs uncomfortably.
'That's just like the first time one has sex, isn't it?' Fiona says sweetly.
Gerald is even more embarrassed now. 'Ah — well, I suppose so-'
'Not so much mess, though,' Fiona continues, but Gerald can't reply at all now.
David has come over to talk to Charles, his brother. Charles knows sign language for the deaf very well, and has communicated like this with David since they were children.
'How are you doing?' David asks with his hands.
'Do you remember that time when we were playing with the engine on Dad's motor boat, and my leg was almost cut off?'
'Well, this is worse.'
Somebody has been watching David — a pretty girl with long red hair. She is wearing a bright yellow hat. Her name is Serena. She points at David.
'Who's that boy over there in the grey suit?' she asks Matthew.
'His name's David,' Matthew answers.
'He's very attractive, isn't he?' she says.
'Yes — I've always thought so.'
'Why are they using their hands like that?' she asks.
'He can't hear. He's deaf,' says Matthew.
'Oh — good heavens!'
'Silent, but very attractive,' Matthew continues.
And now the father of the bride tells everyone that dinner is being served. He asks them to go into the tent and sit down. They all find their way to their tables. John sits down next to his wife, not as happy with her as he was earlier now that he knows about Toby de Lisle. Carrie sits next to George, another stiff and boring type of man who read a piece from the Bible very loudly at the wedding service. Scarlett sits down next to a complete stranger, and gives him a big kiss on the mouth.
'Hi — my name's Scarlett! Don't let me drink too much — I get much too friendly!'
Charles, as best man, has to sit on the top table with the family. He sits down next to an old man, who looks annoyed.
'How do you do — my name is Charles. '
'Don't be stupid!' the old man says angrily. 'Charles died twenty years ago!'
'Well, that must be a different Charles. '
'Are you telling me that I don't know my own brother?'
Charles can see that the old man is obviously mad.
'No, no, of course not,' Charles says hurriedly, and tries not to have any more conversation with him.
Dinner is served, and everybody begins to eat. Laura, the bride, is very happy, and laughs and talks with everyone near her. Even Angus is smiling, which is unusual for him. In England it is a custom for the best man to make a speech and at last it's time for Charles to stand up. He hits his glass loudly with a spoon, and people stop eating and talking. Charles is nervous.
'Ladies and gentlemen, I'm sorry to take you away from your conversation and the wonderful food, but there are a few things that I need to say. This is only the second time that I have ever been a best man. I hope that I did the job well the first time. Well, the bride and groom are still talking to me! Unfortunately though, they're not talking to each other.
'But people say that I'm not guilty. Yes, I did say in my speech that Piers, the groom, had slept with Paula's younger sister. But Paula knew this already — she really did! She was a bit surprised to hear that he had also slept with her mother. But I don't think their violent two-day marriage broke up because of that. I really don't think so!'
Most people burst out laughing at the joke — Carrie is one of them — and some clap, but there are a few straight faces.
'But of course I'm here today to talk about Angus, and he has nothing to hide, has he? Well, that's what I thought at first...'
People are still laughing, as Charles becomes serious for a moment.
'I'd like to say that I do think very highly of people who get married, like Angus and Laura. Marriage is a big step to take, and I know I couldn't do it. But I think it's wonderful that they can. Now, back to Angus and those sheep!'
Everybody laughs and claps, and then Charles asks them to raise their glasses and drink to Angus and Laura.
After the formal dinner and speeches, it's time to dance. The band plays, and Laura and Angus as bride and groom are the first to come out on to the dance floor. Laura enjoys herself, and dances in a very lively manner, but Angus moves stiffly. Perhaps he's never heard pop music before. Scarlett and Tom dance together. They are both enthusiastic dancers; Scarlett dances wildly, and Tom very badly, but they enjoy themselves enormously. Gareth is dancing like a madman.
'When I first saw Gareth dance,' Matthew tells Charles, 'I thought to myself, «People will be killed. Lives will be lost.»'
But Charles is not really concentrating on what Matthew is saying. He is looking for Carrie. When he sees her, she is already dancing with another man.
'She's pretty, isn't she?' Matthew notices that Charles is looking at her. 'Is it love?'
This may be true, but Charles is surprised and alarmed to hear Matthew say it.
'Oh, good God no — no, it's the man that she's dancing with! I was at school with him. I'm just trying to remember his name! But — well, if one did meet somebody nice at a wedding — are there men who could ask a girl to go out with them at once? On the same day, I mean?'
'If there are,' said Matthew, 'they're not English.'
'Exactly!' said Charles. 'I mean — it usually takes me about three weeks to ask. '
By about nine o'clock, it's getting dark, and the bride and groom are almost ready to leave. Laura has drunk a lot by now, and she is enthusiastically kissing some of her distant cousins, who she doesn't really know.
'You know that I love you, Jean, don't you?' she asks, almost in tears. She puts her arms around Jean. 'I love you, I love you and Mike very much. I've never met you before, but I love you both, I really do. '
'Don't worry,' says Angus, her new husband. 'She's drunk. Well, I hope she is — or I'm in real trouble!'
Back in the tent, Lydia, the young woman who was a bridesmaid at the marriage service, is sitting with her head in her hands. She looks depressed. She is still wearing her bridesmaid's dress and the flowers around her head.
'How's it going, Lyds?' asks Bernard.
'Awful. Just awful,' complains Lydia.
'Oh dear. What's the problem?'
'They promised me sex,' says Lydia. 'Everybody said it. «If you're a bridesmaid, you'll get sex,» they said. «All the men will want you. You'll have to fight them off. „But has it happened? No, it hasn't. Nobody has been near me.'
'Well, look...' said Bernard, a little shy now, 'I mean — if you like — I could -'
'Don't be stupid, Bernard. I'm not desperate!' answers Lydia sharply.
'No, no, of course not — sorry — I just thought -' Bernard replies hurriedly.
When the bride and groom are finally ready to get in their car, Laura throws her bunch of flowers at the guests. The person who catches it will be the next person to get married — or so people believe. Scarlett raises her hand to catch it, but fails. Fiona steps out of the way. And Lydia is the one who catches it!
The car has a string of tins tied to it, and rude things written on it. This is the custom at English weddings. But when Angus and Laura open the door, a large white sheep jumps out, with a bell tied around its neck! Everybody laughs. They all wave and shout goodbye as the happy couple are being driven away. They are going on their honeymoon.
Charles is sad, though, as he goes back into the tent. The band is playing 'Love is All Around'. Obviously, he feels that it's not true for him. Later on, his group of friends begin to make their arrangements for the night.
'Where are you staying tonight, Charles?' asks Tom.
'Scarlett and I are going to some pub — The Lucky Boat? Something like that. Aren't we all staying there?'
'Well, no — the plan has changed. The others are all coming back to my place. Nansy's there — you know, our lovely old servant. She'll probably cook us some bacon and eggs when we get there, and we could play some games. Would you like to come too?'
'Yes, excellent, thanks very much. Is there a room for Scarlett, too?'
'Oh of course — we've got a hundred and thirty-seven rooms actually. '
Tom's 'place' is his family castle. The house in London is not their only home.
'Tom,' asks Charles, 'are you the richest man in England?'
'Oh — no, no! I believe we're number seven on the list. Well, the Queen comes first, obviously. And that Richard Branson man is doing very well with his pop music and his aeroplanes. Well, excellent news — I'm glad that you're coming. I'll go and tell Scarlett.'
Suddenly Carrie appears next to Charles.
'Hi!' says Charles, surprised. 'I thought you'd gone.'
'No — not yet. I was just wondering — where are you staying tonight?'
'Well, I was going to stay at some pub -The Lucky Boat?'
'Boatman,' Carrie tells him. 'The Lucky Boatman.'
'Right. But now I'm going to stay with some friends at their house. Well, I say house, but it's really an enormous castle...'
'Oh, what a shame — because I'm staying at the Boatman.'
'Oh!' says Charles, surprised again. This is really a perfect invitation — but he doesn't reply quickly enough. He is, unfortunately, an Englishman!
'Well — it was nice to meet you. Though we didn't quite meet,' says Carrie. 'I liked your speech — it was great.'
'Thanks,' says Charles. He still finds it hard to say anything, and they stand there silently together for a moment.
'I'm going now,' Carrie says.
'No — don't! Couldn't we meet each other now? The evening's just starting!'
They both look around at the tent, which is now in quite a mess, with bottles and chairs lying on the ground.
'We both know that's a big lie,' says Carrie, and she walks away.
'Hell!' says Charles.
The band has stopped playing, but the bride's sister and boyfriend are back with their guitar. Only four people are trying to dance now to their music, which is not very lively. Others are kissing, and a few really drunk people have fallen asleep. One of the pairs that are kissing is Bernard and Lydia. They are kissing very enthusiastically, and Lydia is quite breathless.
'Bernard!' she cries in surprise. 'I didn't know that it could be like this!'
'God,' says Gareth, looking around at all the mess. He hates the music that is being played. 'What a disaster! It's time for the castle. How about you, Tom — are you drunk? Can you drive us safely?'
'Of course, of course,' says Tom. 'I've had nothing to drink the whole evening. 'But when he stands up, he nearly falls over! He must have drunk more than he thinks!
The group of friends get into Tom's big car, and they drive away through the quiet countryside under the stars. They're trying to sing, but they're finding the high bits quite difficult.
Charles says, 'Tom, can you stop the car?'
Tom brakes suddenly.
'Sorry,' Charles apologises. 'I think I will go to the pub.'
'But why?' asks Tom.
'Ah -' Charles is uncomfortable, and doesn't know exactly what to say.
Everyone makes a joke of it.
'No, seriously,' says Charles. 'I'm writing about pubs that have the word “boat» in their name. My book will be the first on the subject.'
'Do what you like,' says Tom, and Charles jumps out. He is now standing in the dark in the middle of a road, somewhere in the countryside. He suddenly feels very much alone. And how is he going to find this pub?
'Hmm, an odd decision,' says Charles to himself.
He sets off in the opposite direction down the dark country road. He does manage to find his way to the pub, though by the time he arrives, it is about one o'clock in the morning. It seems very quiet in the hotel reception where Charles should check in. Charles is just about to ring the bell on the front desk when he sees Carrie. She is sitting peacefully in a large, comfortable chair.
'Hello,' says Charles.
She looks at him with a question in her eyes, but she is smiling too.
'There wasn't enough room for everybody,' Charles lies, 'so...'
'You said it was a castle,' Carrie reminds him.
'Did I? Yes, that's true — it is a castle. But it's a very small one. Only one room upstairs and one room downstairs — very rare!'
They both enjoy the joke.
A waiter comes in and asks Charles, 'Would you like a drink, sir?'
Charles orders a drink for himself, and one for Carrie too. But when he turns round, there is no Carrie — where has she gone? Then George walks down the stairs. He is the boring man who read loudly in church. He is whistling and he seems happy. Charles understands.
'You're here too!' says George.
'Hello,' says Charles.
'You haven't seen Carrie, have you?' George is still speaking loudly.
'Who?' asks Charles, thinking fast.
'Carrie. American girl. Lovely legs. Wedding guest. Nice smell.'
'No — sorry,' answers Charles.
'Damn. I thought I had a good chance with her!'
Suddenly, Carrie's head appears above the sofa, where she has been hiding. She makes a terrible face to show that he had no chance with her at all! Only Charles can see, fortunately.
'Look, if you see her, could you tell her that I'm in my room?' asks George, not very pleased.
'Yes, yes,' says Charles, hoping that he'll go away quickly.
But just then, the waiter comes back with the two drinks.
'One for you, sir,' he says, 'and one for the -'
'One for the road!' says Charles brightly, before the waiter can say 'lady'.
'Actually, I think I'd like a drink too! Can I join you?'
'Yes — lovely idea,' says Charles unhappily.
'Another drink here and a cigar!' George calls out to the waiter. 'No, let's have a bottle! We'll drink till daylight, eh, Charles?'
Charles sits down on the sofa, and George on a chair. Charles knows Carrie is behind the sofa. She is trying to escape.
'Lovely wedding,' says George.
'Yes,' says Charles, wondering how he can get away.
'I was at school with Angus's brother, Buffy. Excellent man, though he liked little boys too much. Still, it taught me a few of life's lessons. Where do you know the bride and groom from?'
'Angus and Laura? Oh, from university,' answers Charles. He is not exactly enjoying the conversation.
'Yes, yes, excellent place. I didn't go to university myself though. I work in the money markets, you know. What good are books there? Not much at all.'
'Excuse me sir.' The waiter is back again. He has a message for Charles. 'Your wife asks you to go upstairs at once. Room Twelve. She said that you may be too drunk to remember the number.'
'My wife?' asks Charles, in surprise.
'Yes, sir,' the waiter replies.
'Oh — yes, of course, my wife!' Charles says, as he understands.
'You must be drunk!' says George. 'You can't even remember whether you've got a wife!'
'Yes — will you excuse me?'
'Oh yes, off you go! Good luck! Well, I haven't got a wife, so I'll go and look for that Katie woman.'
'Carrie,' says Charles.
'Yes, that's the one. A fine girl. I think I might be lucky there!'
Upstairs, Charles knocks on the door of number twelve. He is quite nervous. Carrie opens it.
'Hi,' she says.
'Hello. I'm sorry about that.'
'No, that's fine — it was impossible to get rid of him.'
'Yes — perhaps we should just wander about up here for a bit, then go back down.'
'That's a thought,' says Carrie. 'I don't usually wander, but I can wander if I need to. Do you wander a lot?' She is gently joking with him.
'No,' says Charles, still nervous, 'I'm not really a wanderer — I don't usually wander a lot but -'
'Well,' Carrie says, 'why don't you come in and wander here a little, and then we'll see?'
She leads him into the room.
'It's strange,' she says. 'The bride and bridegroom didn't kiss in the church. Where I come from, kissing is very popular.'
'Is it? Yes, I think you're right.' Charles is speaking fast. 'I think English people are probably more shy.'
'I always worry,' continues Carrie, 'that I would go too far in the church — you know, at the place in the marriage service where the groom can kiss the bride. I might not stop at kissing -'
'How far is too far?' asks Charles, coming very close to her.
'Oh, I don't know.' She gives him a very small kiss on the cheek. 'That would be all right, I think.'
'Yes,' says Charles. 'That would be fine.'
'Perhaps it's not enough,' says Carrie. 'Maybe this would be better.' She kisses him on the mouth.
'Yes. But it might be dangerous to go further,' says Charles, nervous again.
Then they kiss for a long time.
'That might be too far...' says Charles.
'And this?' asks Carrie. It is a few minutes later, and they are in bed, making love. 'Do you think the priest might be a little bit worried about this?'
'Yes,' says Charles. 'I think he might be.'
They kiss again, and spend the night together.
The pub is in the middle of the countryside. It looks very peaceful in the morning. Carrie gets up first and packs. When Charles wakes up, she is already zipping up her bag. Her face looks beautiful in the early morning light.
'What's happening?' asks Charles.
'I have to go,' she answers.
'But where to?'
'That's a tragedy,' he says.
'But before I go, when are you going to tell everybody?' Carrie asks him.
'Tell everybody?' Charles asks in surprise. 'Tell them what?'
'Well, you'll tell them that we're going to get married, won't you?'
'Get married?' He is alarmed now.
'We slept together last night — we made love — so that means we're getting married, doesn't it?'
'Well — yes — oh dear — we need to think hard about this, you know,' he says unhappily.
Then suddenly he notices she's smiling.
'Oh, you're joking!' he says. 'Thank God! For a moment, I thought I was in one of those awful films. You know — the kind where the woman spends a night with a man and murders him if he won't marry her.'
'No,' says Carrie, gently. 'We're not in one of those films. But I think we've both missed a great chance here. Goodbye!'
She leaves the room and Charles lies down in the bed. He looks thoughtful and confused.
The Second Wedding
You are invited to the wedding of Bernard and Lydia at noon on August 1st at the Church of St Mary of the Fields, Cripplegate, London EC2
It is three months later, and Charles's alarm clock is once again ringing by his bed. Charles stretches out his hand and turns it off. He goes back to sleep again. He likes to sleep until noon, whenever he can. Scarlett is still asleep in her untidy bedroom. Some time later, there is a loud shout from Charles's room. He has woken up, at last.
He jumps out of bed, and runs in to Scarlett, dressed only in his underclothes.
'Oh God!' says Scarlett, when she looks at her clock.
They run out of the house before they have finished putting on their formal wedding clothes. Scarlett is trying to put on a silly pink dress with an enormous skirt, but she can't zip it up right. She is going to be a bridesmaid.
'Car or taxi?' she asks, still running.
'Taxi,' says Charles. 'We won't be able to park the car.'
They get to the corner of the street and start looking for a taxi. But there isn't one anywhere.
'Well, maybe the car is a better idea,' says Charles.
They rush down another street to find Scarlett's car. But when they get there, it can't be moved. Scarlett must have parked it in the wrong place and the wheels have been locked by the police.
'Damn!' they both shout at once.
They will have to go on foot. They run as fast as they can.
'The service will start before we get there,' Charles thinks to himself.
The skirts of Scarlett's silly pink dress fly up in the wind and, as she runs, a piece of the dress falls off.
Charles is going to stop and pick it up, but Scarlett says, 'Leave it! Nobody will notice!'
They run all the way to the church, and as they get near, they can hear the bells ringing loudly. Some of their friends are already there — Fiona, Matthew, Gareth and David.
'Sorry I'm late,' says Charles. 'The traffic was awful.'
They all look at him; nobody believes him at all.
'Yes, well -' says Charles. 'Now, who's getting married today?'
He reads the wedding card, pretending that he doesn't know.
They all go into the church, where the wedding is about to start. A young priest comes in, looking worried and nervous. It's Father Gerald, who they met at the last wedding reception. He's finished his studying, and now he's a real priest.
Today Tom is best man. He has remembered to bring the rings, one each for the bride and groom. He takes them out of his pocket and shows them to Charles, holding them up to his eyes like a pair of glasses. Charles smiles and waves at him.
As the wedding music starts, the bride and her bridesmaids enter the church. The bride, of course, is Lydia, who first kissed her bridegroom, Bernard, at the last wedding reception. There are four bridesmaids. Two are little girls and two are women. One of them is Scarlett. As she walks up the aisle, everyone can see her bright blue underclothes. The piece of her dress that fell off has left a large hole in the back of her dress! Scarlett is still wearing her sunglasses too — she looks quite strange! She takes them off just as they reach the priest. Bernard is standing there by the priest, waiting for his bride.
Father Gerald begins to read the words of the marriage service. Unfortunately, because he is very nervous, he gets some of the words wrong. Everybody bursts out laughing.
'It's his first wedding, you see,' Matthew whispers to Charles. 'He's a friend of the family.'
'Ah. Excellent,' says Charles. He finds it very amusing.
Father Gerald calls Bernard 'Lydia' by mistake. And when he does get the groom's name right, he doesn't know how to say Bernard's middle name. It's written 'St John' and spoken as 'Sinjun'.
'… Bernard Geoffrey Sijjjjjjern Delaney' says Father Gerald, hurriedly. Everyone is smiling. This is all very entertaining.
Now, as the priest speaks, the bride and groom have to repeat the same words after him.
'I Bernard Delaney -' says Father Gerald, leaving out the St John part now. 'Do take you, Lydia Jane Hibbott, to be my awful wedded wife.' This is not what he should say at all! He is so nervous that he's getting the words mixed up!
'To be my lawful wedded wife,' Bernard says. These are the words Father Gerald should have said.
'That's right. That's right,' says Father Gerald. He doesn't know exactly what he's doing now, but somehow they get to the end of the service.
'Well done!' shouts Gareth, clapping, and the others copy him. It's like being at the theatre, and after the service, everybody congratulates the priest. Gerald is very pleased with himself, and is smiling too, now that it's all over.
The reception is being held in an elegant London hotel. The guests seem to be from rich, upper-class families. All the men are wearing formal wedding coats, and the women are in expensive dresses. Lydia, the bride, is in an excellent mood; she is laughing and kissing the guests as they arrive. Charles, Gareth and Matthew have already found the drinks. They are used to weddings, and know exactly what to do.
'Do you know what I think about marriage?' asks Gareth. 'Two people are in love. They live together, then suddenly they can't think of anything to say to each other. They're worried — what are they going to do? Then the man has an idea.'
'What?' asks Charles.
'They'll get married! And then they've got something to talk about for the rest of their lives.'
'So — people get married when they can't communicate properly any more. Is that what you're saying?'
'Yes, that's right. Tom!' Tom, the best man, has come to join them. 'How's the speech?'
'Fine — good, I think. Something for everyone — yes, the jokes will raise a few smiles, and there should be a few tears too,' Tom says.
'Excellent!' says Gareth.
'It's an interesting idea, Gareth,' says Charles.
'Of course, there's another idea. Some people think that weddings are about true love,' says Matthew, looking at Gareth.
'Well, that's a thought,' Charles replies lightly. But he has listened seriously; Charles is very confused about love and marriage at the moment.
The reception is very busy now, full of well-dressed guests who are drinking and chatting, laughing and calling to one another.
Charles is just fetching three more drinks, when a voice says, 'Hi.'
He turns round. It's Carrie. She looks wonderful.
'Hello,' says Charles, and nearly drops the drinks.
'How are you?' asks Carrie.
'Fine. Fine. Sorry — I'm so surprised, and so pleased to see you. Don't go back to America! Please! Wait here — I'll be back in two seconds. OK?'
'OK,' she smiles.
He rushes back to the others.
'That's yours. And that's yours,' he says, giving them their drinks. 'See you in five hours.'
'Has something happened?' asks Gareth.
'Yes — yes — this is a great wedding, you know!'
But when he finds Carrie again, things don't go quite as he planned.
'Hi. You look perfect. In fact, you probably are perfect. How are you?'
'I'm really well. Charles, I'd like you to meet Hamish. Hamish and I are going to get married.'
This is a horrible shock for Charles, but he tries to hide it.
'Excellent, excellent. I'm happy to meet you, Hamish. Lovely surprise to find Carrie back in this country again.'
Hamish is an elegant and confident man of about fifty. He is Scottish.
'Yes, well, it wasn't easy! I had to work hard — she didn't want to come at first. Come on, Carrie dear, I want you to meet James. He's waiting for us over there. He'll think that I can't control you at all, if we don't go and find him now!' He holds out his hand to Carrie, and she takes it.
'I'll see you later,' she says in a friendly way to Charles, as she walks away with Hamish.
Charles is shocked and very unhappy. He is unhappy about Carrie, of course, but why is he so very unhappy? He doesn't quite understand himself at the moment. He doesn't feel in the mood to join in with the party any more, and he sits down alone. Later, Matthew comes up to talk to him.
'How are you doing, Charles?' Matthew asks.
'Actually, not great,' says Charles. 'Not great at all, really. I don't know — what's happening here? Why am I always at weddings but never getting married? What does it mean?'
'You're not smart enough,' says Matthew. 'Or perhaps it could be because you haven't met the right girl.'
'Ah, but is that right?' Charles asks. 'Maybe I have met the right girl. Maybe I meet the right girls all the time. Maybe it's me — I'm the problem.'
'Oh, rubbish!' says Matthew.
And then it's time for dinner. Everyone has been told to look at a written table plan to find out where they have to sit. It has all been organized very carefully.
'Come on,' says Matthew, 'you'll probably meet your future wife at dinner.'
Charles looks at the table plan. 'Oh my God!' he says, but doesn't tell Matthew why he is so alarmed.
Fiona is already sitting at another table, next to an upper-class older woman who is wearing a bright blue dress and a bright blue hat. Her name is Mrs Beaumont.
'Are you married?' she asks Fiona immediately.
'No.' Fiona answers.
'Do you prefer women?' asks Mrs Beaumont.
'Good God!' says Fiona. 'What made you say that?'
'Well, it's a possibility these days, isn't it?' Mrs Beaumont says. 'And it's an interesting one. It's very boring if you just say, «Oh, dear, I've never found the right man!'»
Fiona laughs. 'Quite right. Why be boring?'
'Thank you,' says Mrs Beaumont.
'Well,' Fiona continues, 'I have met the right person, you see. But he's not in love with me. Until I stop loving him, I can't get interested in other men.'
'Bad luck,' says her new friend.
'Yes, isn't it?' says Fiona. 'I did go with another girl once, at school — but it was only for about fifteen minutes. I don't think that really means anything, do you?'
Charles has now found his table, and sits down with two men and four young women, who are all attractive and about the same age as him. His brother David is there too. Charles looks very embarrassed and uncomfortable.
'Hi,' says Charles to one of the men.
'Hello, I'm Alistair. You know Veronica, don't you?'
'Yes,' says Charles, very nervous now. 'Yes — hello Vee! Hi, Nicki! Great to see you.' He can see Carrie on another table. She's laughing with Matthew and Gareth. Charles would much rather be at their table.
Alistair seems to be giving them all a lesson on tea. 'There are about four hundred different kinds of tea, and all the fruit teas as well. I took Veronica out to India at Christmas to see the places where they grow it.'
'Excellent,' says Charles.
'You and Veronica went to India together, didn't you Charles?' Alistair asks.
'That's right,' Charles answers. So Veronica was once a girlfriend of Charles's.
'Charles was horrible,' says Veronica. 'I was really ill, and he just joked all the time.'
'I was only trying to make you feel better, Vee.'
'Oh, you're that Veronica,' says Nicki.
'Which Veronica?' Veronica asks. 'Charlie — what have you been saying?' She's worried too now.
But Charles doesn't want to answer the question. 'Remember Bombay?' he asks brightly.
Nicki continues: 'When Charles and I were going out together,' — so she's another old girlfriend of his — 'he told me about this «interesting» journey he'd taken round India with «Vomiting Veronica» Yes, I think that's right. I'm sure that's what he called her.'
'Did I really say that?' asks Charles quickly 'No I don't think so -'
'Oh come on, Charles,' says Martha, who is old girlfriend number three at the table. 'You could never keep a secret. You're hopeless.'
Charles is certainly in a horrible mess now.
'Martha, that's not quite true -'
'I'm sure it is, Charles,' says Nicki.
'I remember another thing you told me,' Martha continues. 'About a girlfriend that you had called Helena. Her mother liked you too. She wanted to go to bed with you! You told me that you didn't know what to do. «Would it be rude to refuse her?» you asked yourself.'
'That's right!' adds Nicki. 'You said that they were both as fat as pigs! Mrs Piggy, and Miss Piggy -'
'I think perhaps -' says Charles, but the three girls are laughing loudly and they're not listening to him.
Finally, the fourth girl, who is sitting quietly next to him, speaks. 'We've both lost weight since then, my mother and I,' she says, taking another chocolate.
It is a disaster for Charles. But fortunately it's now time for the speeches.
'Ah — great — speeches!' he says. At least they can't talk about him any more until later.
Everyone claps Tom as he stands up.
'Yes — when Bernard told me he was getting married to Lydia, I congratulated him. All his other girlfriends were real dogs, you see! And of course, I'm delighted to see so many of them here this evening...'
It is a terrible speech, but Tom thinks he is doing well. So does Gareth! He seems to enjoy really awful things.
'Camilla is one of them — it's lovely to see you again, Camilla! She was the first person who Bernard wanted to marry. She told him to go to hell! It's lucky for Lydia that she did!'
When the dinner and the formal parts of the reception are over, Charles and his friends are free to meet up again. They find some comfortable sofas, and sit down together to chat.
Gareth is talking about the wedding dinner. For once, he is not being rude. 'We had a lovely girl at our table — Carrie. She's going to marry a man called Hamish. He's very rich and owns half of Scotland. So, how are you?' he asks Charles.
'This is the wedding from hell!' Charles answers. 'Old girlfriends everywhere. I'll probably meet Henrietta next. That'll really finish the day off for me!'
'Hello, Charles,' a voice says from behind him. It's Henrietta and, of course, she's also one of Charles's old girlfriends. Charles seems to have no luck at all today. Henrietta is a tall, dark girl, and she is usually quite attractive. But now her face is white, and she looks very unhappy. Charles is feeling bad, but Henrietta seems to feel even worse.
'Hello, Hen, how are you?' says Charles brightly, trying to pretend that everything is all right. He hopes that she did not hear his last few words.
She is silent for a moment, then she bursts into tears.
'Oh, Hen,' says Charles, sympathetically.
Helena jumps up from the sofa in a temper. 'Why can't you just leave her alone? Haven't you hurt her enough?'
She leads Henrietta away.
Charles gets up. 'Excuse me,' he says to Gareth. 'I think I am a walking disaster at the moment. I think I'd better go away and be alone.'
But not everyone is having a bad time. David, Charles's brother, is talking to Serena, the pretty girl who was interested in him at the last wedding reception. She has been hoping to meet him again, and has started to learn sign language so that she can communicate with him.
She signs her name. 'I'm S-e-r-e-n-a.'
David smiles sweetly at her.
'Hello,' he signs back.
'I'm just learning,' says Serena with her hands. 'I'm probably making lots of mistakes.'
She certainly is — she signs 'tols' instead of 'lots', and 'nistakes', instead of mistakes. But David doesn't want to correct her. He shakes his head and smiles again.
'No, perfect. Perfect,' he tells her. 'Would you like to dance?'
'Yes, that would be nice,' Serena replies. They go off together, looking very happy.
Charles is in a bedroom upstairs. It seems to be empty — the door was open, but there was nobody inside, just a suit hanging up on a cupboard door. It's dark now, but he doesn't turn the light on. He goes to the window and looks down on to the street below. He just stands there quietly, glad to be alone in a calm room. But after a minute or two, he sees Carrie down there. She's coming out of the hotel with Hamish. They have their arms around each other and look very happy. They get into a taxi together. Charles watches them unhappily as they drive off. He seems to be very depressed.
Then the door opens, and Bernard and Lydia come in, kissing noisily. They are so interested in each other that they don't notice Charles. They are still dressed for the wedding — Lydia in her bride's dress, and Bernard in his suit. This is their room, the place where they are going to change into their other clothes before they go away on their honeymoon.
But they're not ready to change yet. They are about to have sex on the bed. Charles wonders how he can escape, and he begins to try to walk from the window to the door very, very quietly.
Then suddenly Lydia cries, 'Wait a minute! This isn't good enough! I want to see my lovely husband!'
She turns on the light. She is lying on top of Bernard — she still has her dress on, but Charles knows what's happening underneath it. Luckily, they don't see Charles. But he can't get past them to the door. Then he sees another door nearer to him, so he opens it and goes through it as fast as he can. Oh, no! It's only a kind of very small washroom — no more than a cupboard, really! There's almost no room in it for Charles! He waits there; it's very uncomfortable, and it seems to him that he has to wait for hours.
Downstairs, the other guests are enjoying themselves. Several of them are dancing to the lively music. Scarlett is sitting in a strange place, like Charles upstairs. She's under a table with one of the small bridesmaids. They are both dancing to the music but only using their hands for the dancing movements.
'Have you got a boyfriend?' Scarlett asks the little girl, whose name is Freda.
'Yes,' says Freda.
'What's his name?'
'Dolph. He's good at table-tennis. And you?'
'No. No boyfriend.'
'I don't know,' says Scarlett, a little unhappily. When I like men, they don't seem to like me. They think I'm stupid. Then, the ones who like me — well, I think they're stupid! I don't want to go out with them. So that doesn't get me anywhere, does it?'
Upstairs, in the bedroom, time passes. Lydia and Bernard are still making love, very noisily. Charles is sitting on the basin in the washroom. He looks at his watch.
'God, are they going to finish soon?' he wonders. If he'd known they were going to take so long, he wouldn't have hidden there.
'Oh — I love my wife!' cries Bernard.
'I-love-my-husband!' screams Lydia.
They finish. After a quiet moment or two Bernard says, 'We'd better go downstairs now, I suppose.'
Charles nods. 'Yes! Yes!' he says silently to himself.
'Or,' says Lydia, 'we could wait a few minutes — and start again!'
'No, no!' Charles shakes his head inside the cupboard.
He really can't stay there any longer, so he opens the door. He walks past Lydia and Bernard who are still lying on the bed. They are amazed and stare at him in great surprise, but he pretends that it's not strange at all. He holds up a pencil as he walks towards the door of the room.
'I found it!' he says, and goes out.
But his troubles are not over. Henrietta is outside.
'Charles, we must talk,' she says firmly.
'Right, right,' he says pleasantly. Is this a bad dream? But he would rather talk to Henrietta than stay in the bedroom with Bernard and Lydia!
They start walking downstairs together.
'The thing is, Charlie, I've spoken to lots of people about you.'
'Oh, God!' says Charles.
'And everyone agrees that you're in real trouble, Charles,' she continues seriously.
'Am I?' he asks.
'You see, you have one girlfriend after another, but you don't love any of them. You never let a woman get close to you at all.'
'No, no, Hen, it's not like that -' says Charles.
'But it's no good.' Henrietta continues, 'You're nice to them, sweet to them — you were sweet to me, though you thought I was stupid.'
'Yes you did. You don't give people a chance. Whenever you have a new girlfriend, you think, «I mustn't fall in love. I mustn't get married.'»
'Hen, you know me! I don't think like that! Most of the time — well, I don't think at all!'
'Oh, Charlie!' Henrietta suddenly throws her arms around him. 'The way you used to look at me! I thought — I thought that you were going to ask me to marry you! But you were only thinking about how to leave me. Oh — this is awful!'
She walks away. She is very upset. Charles just stands there. He can't move. Actually, he doesn't know what to do. Then he turns round and sees Carrie behind him.
'Are you having a good time?' she asks him.
'Oh, yes, of course! Wonderful — better than my father's funeral! Really entertaining!' Charles says. 'I thought you'd gone.'
'No — Hamish is going on the night train to Edinburgh. I just went with him to the station. But I am leaving now. Do you want to come with me?'
So Charles and Carrie drive off together through the late-night streets of London. The taxi takes them to Carrie's flat.
'Are you coming up for a drink?' she asks Charles.
'Are you sure?' he asks. He looks rather doubtful about the situation.
'Yes — I think we can take a chance!' she jokes. 'You're attractive — but I can still refuse you, no problem! You're not so attractive, you know!'
Charles is not feeling very confident after all the horrible things that have happened today, so he doesn't share the joke. 'OK. Yes. Great.' he says, without a smile.
But as soon as they are together in Carrie's flat, it's like the last time that they met. They kiss, and become lovers again. They are both very happy to be with each other, and they spend the night together. But Carrie is still going to marry Hamish. Charles has left it all too late.
In the early morning, Charles gets up first. He puts on his formal wedding suit again; he doesn't have any other clothes with him. He looks at Carrie for a long moment, and she looks back at him. She is very beautiful. They seem to be in love and Charles doesn't want to go. Finally, he turns and leaves the room quietly. What would have happened to the couple if Charles hadn't been so confused?
A Free Saturday
It is nearly noon on Saturday, September the 1st. Charles is in bed, asleep as usual. The door opens, and Scarlett comes in, carrying cups and plates and the morning letters.
'Good morning, Charles. I've brought us some breakfast. Sorry the toast's a bit burnt.'
She sits down on the edge of the bed. Charles wakes up. Scarlett pours the tea and spreads butter on the toast. They eat breakfast together comfortably.
'What are you going to do today?' she asks him. 'Well,' says Charles, 'today is a day without a wedding. A free Saturday! The only thing that I have to do is to meet David. I mustn't be late for him.'
He picks up a large white envelope and opens it.
'I think I'll look for a job today,' says Scarlett. 'I heard about one the other day, as a shop assistant. You have to sell strange clothes to strange people. I think I'd be good at it.'
But Charles isn't concentrating. He is studying the card in the envelope. He looks rather upset.
'Are you all right?' Scarlett asks him.
'It's that girl, Carrie — do you remember? The American girl. It's the invitation to her wedding.'
The invitation also tells guests the address of the shop where they can buy presents for the bride and groom. This is another custom for some people in England. It seems that Charles is still going to spend his time today on weddings.
The shop is horribly expensive. There are handmade carpets, there is furniture from different parts of the world, and the place is full of all kinds of unusual and beautiful things.
The shop assistant is also very elegant. She looks down her nose at Charles, who is wearing an old shirt with his shorts and running shoes. He doesn't look at all smart.
'Excuse me,' he asks her. 'Do you have the wedding list for Banks? Hamish and Carrie Banks?' Carrie Banks is what Carrie will be called after her marriage to Hamish.
The assistant looks at Charles with dislike. 'Certainly, sir. I can show you plenty of presents for about one thousand pounds.'
'Ah!' says Charles, who is amazed, but is trying not to show it. 'What about presents for fifty pounds?'
'You can buy this one,' says the assistant. She points to a life-size wooden African man.
'This?' says Charles. 'Excellent!'
'You can buy it,' the assistant says nastily, 'if you can find someone to pay the other three thousand, nine hundred and fifty pounds.'
Charles smiles. He is still being very polite and trying to look calm.
'Or we sell plastic bags for one pound fifty pence each,' she continues. 'Why don't you just buy thirty-three of them?'
'Actually, I think I'll probably leave it. Thanks very much. You've been very...' He was going to say 'helpful', but it wouldn't be true.
As he turns round to go out of the shop, Carrie walks in.
'What did you get?' she asks him, smiling. She looks very happy.
'Oh — nothing, nothing yet! I've just been looking,' says Charles. It is once again a surprise to meet her. He is always delighted to see her, but he never knows what to say.
'It's nice to see you,' she says.
'It's nice to see you', says Charles.
'It's great, getting presents,' says Carrie. She laughs. 'Why didn't I get married years ago? Has anybody bought the wooden African yet?' she asks the assistant.
'The young man is thinking about it,' says the assistant, icily polite.
Charles nods thoughtfully, trying to look as if this is a serious idea.
'Oh no,' says Carrie, who is quick to understand. 'Get me something small — a teapot or something. Are you free for about half an hour?'
'Yes — I have to meet my brother, but — I can be a little bit late.' It's a lie. David will be annoyed if Charles is late. But he doesn't want to miss the chance to spend some time with Carrie.
'Good,' she says. 'Come with me. I've got to make an important decision.'
She takes Charles off to the dress shop where she plans to choose her wedding dress.
'The most important thing', she says, 'is — please don't laugh!'
'OK. Right,' says Charles, seriously.
The assistant brings dress after dress. Carrie takes each one away and tries it on. Each time, when she's ready, she comes out and shows Charles. The first dress is very complicated, with full skirts.
'What do you think?' she asks him.
'Lovely!' says Charles.
'Isn't it a bit like a cake?' she asks him.
'Well -' says Charles.
'Don't worry,' says Carrie. 'I thought so too! But we've only just begun.'
She comes out next in a very modern style of dress. Actually, it is not really a dress at all — it's a suit with trousers, a long open coat, and a very small top. Sexy!
'What do you think this time?' asks Carrie.
'You're joking!' says Charles.
'But it's wonderful, isn't it? Maybe next time...'
The next dress is long, in a 'country girl' style, like an old eighteenth-century picture. It is quite sweet, but not right for Carrie.
'What do you think?' she asks again.
'Ah-' says Charles.
'I knew it!' she says, smiling, and goes behind the curtain to take it off.
Then she comes out in a very simple, but very sexy dress.
'It's a bit sexy,' she says.
'If I was your husband, I'd be so proud,' says Charles, and he means it. 'But maybe you're right. You don't want the priest to get too excited!'
After Carrie has chosen her dress, they go to a cafe together to drink tea. It has started to rain now.
'Marriage is strange,' says Charles. 'Just one man and one woman — no more lovers, ever! Do you think you'll stay faithful?'
'Yes, once I'm married,' Carrie replies. 'I told Hamish that I would kill him if he goes with another woman. So I'd better do the same, I think, and leave other men alone.'
'Quite right,' says Charles.
'And I've had plenty of lovers in my life,' she continues.
'Have you?' asks Charles, surprised. 'How many is «plenty»?'
'Well — oh I don't know,' says Carrie, a little bit embarrassed. 'More than one.'
'Tell me!' says Charles. 'There are no secrets between us now. I've seen the wedding dress, remember?'
'Well -' says Carrie, and she starts to count on her fingers. 'The first one, of course, you never forget. It was nice. Number