This story is paired with my story "The Climbing Tree!" For the greater part of the text they are the same story, however the two tales have different outcomes. For the convenience of the reader I have marked clearly the divergence point, where the individual stories go their separate ways. If the reader has recently read "The Climbing Tree!" then they may prefer to scroll to down to it and only read the latter part of the text.
My sincere thanks go to Grisbuff and Davnel for their assistance in preparing these two little yarns for posting. It is not a particularly simple task for native speakers of American English to cope with my strictly colloquial British interpretation of the language.
Some clarifications that might assist the reader:
-Trick-cyclist; a psychiatrist.
Oppo; (plural oppos) a colleague or friend.
The Kray twins (Ronnie and Reggie (RIP)) were the foremost perpetrators of organised crime in London's East End during the 1950s and 60s.
Costa del Crime; an area of southern Spain where some British criminals are reputed to run-off to, when things get a little "too hot" for them in the UK
Along with Sally and maybe a couple of hundred other people, I stood the instant the first bars of the wedding march thundered out of the church's organ. For reasons of my own, I tried not to, but I could not stop myself turning my head and trying to snatch my first glimpse of the bride as she paraded down the aisle on her stepfather's arm.
Actually that's not exactly true, it's a misnomer; I wonder just why people say aisle? In fact Alice had been escorted by her stepfather down the nave of the church, as most other brides are.
Whatever, I did kind-of get a glimpse or two of her between the other guests' heads. Not that I could make out Alice's face, because it was shrouded by the traditional veil. But I did note that Alice's head nodded just slightly a few times; evidently as she acknowledged several different people in the congregation. But I somehow doubted that any of those little nods were directed at me.
Being that we were somewhere near the back of the church, in a matter of seconds Alice's entourage had passed. I kind-a wondered who had organized the seating plan in the church. At first it struck me as a little odd that Alice would have her old friend Sally sitting so near the back. But on second thought if Alice had been aware in advance that I was going to be accompanying Sally ... Well that would have kind-a made sense, in a way. Thoughts briefly passed through my mind about what the seating plan at the reception was going to look like ... And I also began to wonder if my presence would bring any unfortunate repercussions to the receiving line at that venue.
While these thoughts were passing through my head I was watching from behind as Alice's stepfather led her down the nave and handed her over to the beaming Roger Vine, awaiting her before the alter.
Then there was the usual short hiatus in the proceedings during which the vicar and those who are to actually participate in the service exchanged a few hushed words. That was the instant that I realized that it really had not been a good idea for me to come that day, and that I really should not have agreed to accompany Sally. But for some reason I wasn't blaming Sally; I found myself cursing the invention of the telephone.
It had started at some unearthly hour the previous Sunday morning. I was comfortably tucked up in bed when the damned telephone's insistent ringing roused me...
Forcing myself to half-consciousness, I struggled to focus on my bedside alarm and saw that it was three o'clock in the morning.
Scrabbling around I grabbed the ruddy phone and with more than a little difficulty located the answer button; then -- after pushing the thing -- I demanded, "Yes!" into the mouthpiece.
"Hi handsome, did I wake you? Sorry, please don't sound grumpy at me?"
Very suddenly I was wide-awake, very wide-awake. The voice was that of Sally Parsons, a long time friend whom had, not a year before, lost her young husband (and my good friend) while he was on active service for HMG. He was one of the many who ... well where and why he died is really of little importance here. What is important is the fact that following his demise I'd promised Sally that I'd "be there" for her, wherever and whenever she needed me.
"What's up kiddo, are you alright?" I asked as gently as I could manage.
"Yeah, sorry Jeff, I'm fine. Just a little tipsy that's all."
"You're not drunk are you Sally? Where are you?"
"No Jeff, just a little tipsy. Alice had her Hen Night this evening, and I went along..."
"Sally, I thought we'd agreed that you were going to give Alice's nuptials a miss!"
"We did Jeff ... but..."
"But what, Sally?"
"Alice ... well she's my friend ... and your friend too..."
"At one time, Sally; when we were kids. But Alice is a big girl now, and she forgot all about you and me a very long time ago. Anyway, we discussed this the other week, and we both agreed that you attending her wedding, wasn't a good idea under the circumstances. Christ Sally, even your mum agreed with me on that one, and that's a first ... one for the record books!"
"But Alice asked me to go along this evening ... and I just couldn't find it in my heart to refuse. You know that we were best mates when we were at school together. How could I refuse to go with her on her Hen Night? It was good fun actually, I didn't find it upsetting at all."
"Well, providing that it's only her Hen Night, Sally."
Ah well ... you see, Jeff ... Um, that's why I'm calling you so late really. We had a great time this evening and I ... er sort-of agreed to..."
"Jesus Sal, you haven't said you'd be her maid of honour, have you? I thought we'd agreed on that at least."
"No, no, Jeff I'm not that dumb. I really think standing that close to that alter would ... well, the memories..."
"Well that's alright then; but I still think you'd have been better served, not to go at all."
"I know, I know; you made that pretty plain the other week when you were up here. But Jeff, I need to ask a big favour of you..."
"My answer is no, Sally; before you even ask."
"Oh come on, please, Jeff, I need you there! And you did promise that you'd be here for me whenever I needed you. Well, I really do think I'm going to need you here next weekend."
"Sally, you know..."
"Yes, I know, Jeff, and I do understand. I know I'm asking a really big favour of you, but I need someone ... you, beside me at the ceremony next weekend."
"Dammit Sally, you're asking too much really! But I did promise you at Bill's graveside. So ... under protest and against my better judgement ... I'll be there. But you must realize that I have my own crosses to bear. I doubt that I'll be the happiest person in the world."
"Jeff Turner, you are the best friend a girl could have in the whole wide world, I could kiss you."
"Promises, promises, Sal. I'll call you when I get up to town on Friday evening, but God alone knows what time that will be. But hold on a minute, I haven't got an invite; you know that I'm the last person in the world that the George Arnold would invite to his stepdaughter's wedding."
"No worries there, Jeff. My invite says Sally Parsons and companion."
"A little ... careless of him, wasn't it?"
"Possibly, but his Royal Highness knows that you sold your parent's house and that you didn't come back here to live after Uni. I suspect he's forgotten you ever existed. There's no way that he or Alice's mother knows that you've been such a rock for me. Besides I should imagine that Alice sent the invites anyway. Call me when you get in on Friday evening, goodnight Jeff."
"Good morning more like, Sally. How much did you have to drink toni ... last night, anyway?
"We're still at it Jeff. Well, some of us are. Alice, kind-a keeled-over about an hour or so ago, so we dropped her off at the Vicarage. Then some of the girls came on over here and we're attacking my mum's cocktail cabinet, what there is left of it. Since then, I've been trying to work up the courage to call you."
"Sally, you know I think that you're are being very silly about this. And somewhat stubborn; but that's no surprise."
"Jeff, you know I think the poor girl was trying to drown her sorrows this evening."
"Alice of course: I'd have thought that was obvious."
"As obvious as it is that you've drunk far more this evening than you should have, young lady. Alice is getting married next weekend; I'll bet she's like a cat with two tails. And you are going to wake-up with one hell of a hangover tomorrow, by the sound of it."
"Not as bad as the one Alice is going to wake-up with, Jeff; of that I'm bloody sure. Anyway I'd better go. Night, night lover."
"In my dreams gorgeous; in my dreams!" I replied just before the line went dead.
A little background would probably help the reader at this point.
Sally was ... well, a year my junior, we'd grown up together; Sally had been my neighbour from across the street as far back as I could ever remember. As had her deceased husband Bill Parsons. But Bill didn't live across the street; he lived in the house next door to mine, on the north side of my parents place. Bill and I had been best buddies -- as some folks call it – since the year dot.
.... There is more of this story ...