Chapter 5

I do

If I believed in reincarnation I would've sworn that in a previous life something very bad happened to me in a church. Something involving a medieval ritual, sharp pointy objects, and my life. If I believed of course.

Stepping through the thick, heavy doors as I entered into the church, I could feel my defences beginning to form. Taking a deep breath of the cold, damp air, I forced the angst from my system and trailed down the aisle. The ambience began to warm as we headed further inside and mingled with the rest of the guests, waiting for the ushers to seat us in the correct place.

Raising my head, it soon dawned on me that it was the architecture of the building that alarmed me the most. The high ceilings and arched, stained glass windows made me feel small and insignificant, as though I were staring up from the bottom of a deep and dark pit. A grave.

"West?" came Dad's voice from behind, followed by a gentle nudge forwards. Dropping my eyes back to the aisle, I noticed that Mum and Georgina had been directed down one of the pews and were taking their seats. I quickened my pace to catch up with them, avoiding the questioning gaze of the usher as I turned down the pew and sat next to Georgina.

After taking a few moments to orientate myself, I glanced over at the aisle and watched as the rest of the guests began to enter. Very few of them were recognisable, either friends of the couple or belonging to the other family. Amongst the sea of unfamiliar faces, there was one person who stood out from the crowd. She was around my age and quite attractive. After taking her seat and speaking to the people sitting next to her, she scanned our side of the church, her eyes meeting mine for a brief moment. I smiled and nodded to acknowledge her but she quickly turned away. I shook my head at her action and faced the front, sliding lower into my seat.

Kill me. Kill me now.


"It was very beautiful," Mum began, smiling at my aunt Carol, the mother of the groom, as we walked away from the church.

"Yes, it really was." Carol grinned, gently dabbing her eyes with a folded up tissue.

Pulling my suit jacket closer against my body, I quickened my pace to the car. The numbing temperature of the wintry air engulfed us the instant we left the church, and after having waited for several minutes for the happy couple to speed off in their Rolls-Royce, I was less than impressed.

The ceremony itself had gone well, with the couple electing to recite their own vows. Despite any concerns I had before hearing them, their vows turned out to be quite beautiful. They really did seem to love each other, at least if the words shared were any indication.

Witnessing the ceremony led me to ask the internal question of whether I'd ever be standing there one day, getting married to someone. While there were a lot of ifs and buts surrounding that thought, I was able to come away with two certainties. One, it wouldn't take place in a church, and two, it'd be in the summer.

Arriving at the car, I moved to stand next to a cold and very unhappy Georgina, who started to shake her head when she saw me. "It's all stupid."

The corner of my mouth twitched. "What is?"

"Getting married," she replied, her teeth chattering together. "My wedding's not gonna be like this."

I raised an eyebrow, curious that she was thinking of similar things to me. "What would yours be like?"

"Somewhere hot, on a beach."

I laughed. "Sounds good."

Fortunately, Mum and Dad soon excused themselves from the other guests and we were able to get inside of the car. I had no problems with socialising, but it really was far too cold to be doing any of that outside, especially with the church and its adjoining graveyard serving as the backdrop.

Starting the car, we slowly pulled out of the parking space and began to head back to the hotel. As the wedding reception was not due to start until later that afternoon, around six o'clock, we were free to do whatever we wanted for several hours. Personally I just wanted to get back to the hotel and have a nice, hot shower.

There was also the issue of dealing with Sean. As I was going to be busy with the wedding and unable to talk to him as frequently, I'd made up an excuse that Ryan was having some family members visit during the weekend. While it explained away some lengthy absences, I knew I couldn't just vanish on him completely. Besides, talking to him was always an option if I got too bored.


Standing before the entrance to the country house, I froze on the spot, stunned at the size of the grand building. Situated on a flat swath of land with a large, intricate garden prominently displayed in front, the magnificent structure rose up from the ground. Bright, white spotlights shone from below, illuminating its striking Elizabethan architecture and casting a wide silhouette against the darkened, evening sky.

A blinding flash from my right caught my attention, as a photographer took another photo of the unsuspecting guests as they arrived. Turning back towards the house, we followed behind another family ahead of us and entered through the front entrance.

Emerging into the house we were met by an imposing centre staircase that dominated our view. A series of paintings flanked the walls, each of them depicting different men and woman of aristocratic descent. It was clear that the current owners worked hard to ensure the building retained its unique and historic composition.

Walking further inside, we noticed Carol standing next to a set of double doors, along with what seemed to be a seating plan. Heading over towards her, she greeted us and then turned to the layout. "Okay, West and Georgina, you'll be seated at table C."

Looking at the table she was pointing towards, it appeared to be in quite a good location, though by judging from the names of the other people seated around it, it was apparent that Georgina and I weren't going to be sitting with Mum and Dad.

"I thought you two would prefer to sit with some of the younger members of the family," Carol added. "Don't worry, they're all very friendly."

Georgina instantly shot her the best pissed off face she could muster up, forcing me to bite my tongue to hold back from laughing aloud.

"That's a great idea." Mum noted. "Should help keep them entertained."

Once we'd figured out where Mum and Dad were going to be sitting, we followed the other guests and entered into the grand hall. It was a vast space, with varnished wooden panels aligning the walls, along with a various assortment of ornaments and venerable fixtures. An oversized, crystal chandelier dangled from the ceiling, dispersing light throughout the room in a mesmerising and sparkling display. The long, head table was on the left of the hall, with a pearly white tablecloth draped on top. Twelve circular tables for the guests were spread out in front, each of them home to a vase full of lilies.

Walking through the room and navigating our way past some of the tables, the grand hall appeared to be around half-full, with the remainder of the guests arriving closely behind us. Nearing our designated table, my eyes scanned the place cards in the vacant seats. After checking a few of the cards, I found Georgina's seat first and then mine immediately next to it.

Pulling out the chair, I gently sat down, with Georgina sitting on my right. Unbuttoning my jacket, I made myself comfortable and then glanced around the table, catching a few stares of the people sitting there. While there were still some empty seats, it seemed that the average age of the table was from late teens to early twenties, with Georgina looking to be the youngest.

"I was wondering who this James guy was."

Facing to my left, I stared at the man sitting next to me. He was a few years older than me, perhaps twenty-three or twenty-four, and not bad looking. Short, black hair covered his head, his eyes were a dark brown, and his beard was cut in a very neat stubble. Leaning towards me, his lips were drawn up into a friendly smile.

"That'd be me." I grinned back. "But I go by West."

Reaching out, he shook my hand. "I'm Neal, Louise's cousin."

"I'm the same. Well, John's cousin."

A waiter passed by our table and deposited a fresh jug of water, replacing the half-empty one already there. Glancing at everyone's glasses and finding that they had a various assortment of drinks, I began to wonder where they'd got them.

"The other drinks are over there." Neal pointed towards a small bar at the back of the hall. "They're all free."

"Even alcohol?" I asked, eyeing the bottle of beer he had in his hand.

"Even alcohol." He confirmed, raising the bottle to his lips. "But you look a little underage."

"I am, slightly." Looking over at Georgina, who was having a conversation with a girl who sat next to her, I tapped on her shoulder. "You want a drink?"

"Uh, yeah. Lemonade, please."

Nodding my head, I turned back to Neal. "Be back in a sec."

"Sure." He tipped the rim of his bottle towards me and I stood up from the table.

After walking over to the bar to get some drinks for Georgina and me, I returned to the table and quickly resumed my conversation with Neal, who was quite interested in finding out more about me.

"So where you from?" he asked. "London?"

"Just outside. We live in a city to the west."

"I thought so, you have a nice accent."

Nice accent? That's a new one. I gave a timid smile. "Thanks."

"You still at school?"

"Sixth form, doing my A-Levels."

"Oh, do you know what you want to do?"

"Something with journalism," I replied flatly. While I was sure he was only trying to be friendly, his constant stream of questions was starting to make me feel self-conscious, so I decided to flip things around. "What about you? Studying at uni?"

"Just finished getting my bachelors. I'm taking a gap year."

"What did you study?"


Well, that explains the questions and staring. I smiled back. "Sounds good."

We didn't have long to wait until the happy couple arrived. Following their entrance, there was also an announcement that food would be served shortly. In reality the food wasn't served until forty minutes later, but it turned out to be well worth the extra wait.

I'd expected to queue up at one end of the hall with a plate, but instead our meals were brought to each of the tables. I was amazed to be waited on like that, but Neal took it in his stride, as though it was something he'd become accustomed to. While he didn't act like the stereotypical rich-guy, it was clear he lived a more extravagant lifestyle than the average person. Regardless, I found it all interesting and was able to learn quite a bit, not only about him, but other topics in general.

Firstly, he was very well cultured, displaying a taste for art and theatre, two areas I knew absolutely nothing about. Despite his family having a lot of money, he didn't really elaborate on his background, much less on his upbringing. Secondly, he enjoyed travelling, having been to many countries across the world and often journeyed out of the UK for short weekend holidays in Europe.

"I just really like travelling," he exclaimed, placing his knife and fork down onto his empty plate. "Especially in Europe."

"Why Europe?" I asked, bringing my bottle of Coke to my lips.

"It's quicker to get to than the US, but very different from here. And between you and me..." He leaned closer. "European guys are hot."

I choked on my drink. Placing the bottle on the table, I picked up my napkin and coughed into it, hoping my inadvertent spluttering was drowned out by the music.

"Sorry." He laughed. "Should've waited for a better moment."

I watched him closely, knowing how much he was enjoying the... to be honest I wasn't really sure what he was doing. He wasn't teasing me, more like testing, as though he wanted to know how far he could go, how far he could push things. He didn't realise how two could play that game.

I dabbed at my mouth with the napkin. "Any photos?"

His eyes widened. "What?"

"Photos," I replied smartly. "Of your trips to Europe."

"Oh." He chuckled again. "I though you meant the guys."

Instead of responding, I simply held my stare on his, opting to rely on some silent communication. I'd never outed myself to anyone before, forcing a rush of nerves to squeeze my stomach in response, but I was curious to see his reaction.

After returning my stare, he dropped his eyes to the table and smiled. "Right." Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his phone. "Well, I can't show you everything right here, but here's a few."

Taking the phone, I started to flick through the photographs he'd taken. Some of the places really did look very beautiful, and the guys were indeed quite hot.

I glanced up from the screen. "Do you speak any other languages?"

"Some German, a little bit of French." He shrugged. "Most people understand some English, so it's easy get by."

"So what do you do in Europe? Touristy things?"

"Sometimes, depends what I'm after." He paused and raised an eyebrow. "Or should I say who."

I smirked and then gave Georgina a sideways glance, checking to see if she was listening, but she appeared to be focused on her phone again, oblivious to everything going on around her.

"I don't think she wants to be here," came Neal's voice.

"She doesn't like being anywhere," I replied, before picking up my bottle of Coke and finding it was empty. "I'm gonna go get another drink. You want anything?"

His eyes settled on mine and then he shook his head. "No, I'm good."


Going by the few weddings that I'd attended over the past several years, it seemed that they usually fell into one of two categories in the area of refreshments, particularly drinks. One, they'd bring their own drinks to the venue, or two, they had an on the house budget for the bar. John and Louise's wedding, this wedding, was the sole exception. The bar was a bottomless pit, with seemingly every drink available for free, with unlimited refills. While my 3rd bottle of Coke was unlikely to break anyone's bank, some of the shots and cocktails that the other guests were drinking at the bar appeared to be considerably more expensive, leading me to once again wonder just how much money the family had.

Armed with a fresh bottle of Coke, I turned away from the bar and almost collided with the person standing behind me. "Jesus!" I jumped back, startled by their proximity when I paused and narrowed my eyes when my gaze came to rest on Neal.

"I was looking for you." He beamed, amused at my moment of alarm.

"Well, you found me," I retorted smartly, checking the bottle for any spills.

Stepping to the side, he flicked his head away from the bar. "Come with me."


Gripping onto my upper arm, he led me towards the main entrance. "I want to explore."

"Explore?" My eyebrows dipped. "I don't think we can just-"

"Relax," he whispered as we exited the grand hall and arrived in the entrance beside the main staircase. "Come on, up here."

I watched in amazement as he headed up the stairs, cleanly ignoring the Do not enter sign lying across the bottom steps. Turning to look over his shoulder, he briefly frowned and then softened his expression. "I've been here before, I know where I'm going."

I stole a glance back into the grand hall, debating whether to go gallivanting with Neal through the country house or to remain seated in there. It wasn't a very hard decision, leading me to trail behind him up the stairs and onto the second floor.

"Where we going?" I asked, eyeing the long, upstairs corridor that stretched the length of the building.

He winked at me. "Somewhere I think you'll like."

After walking about halfway down the corridor, Neal stopped next to a door and slowly inched it open. Taking a peek inside, he grinned and stepped back, allowing me to enter first. "Here we are."

My body stiffened slightly as I walked inside, unsure of what to expect, but the feeling immediately dissipated when I surveyed the walls. Bookshelves as high as the ceiling surrounded the room, filled with masses of books, archives, and other hard backed volumes. A large table filled the centre of the room, its surface covered with even more books, maps, and some candlestick holders. Given the apparent antiquity, it took me a few moments to try and figure out when the room was last used before it occurred to me that it was probably dressed up to appear old for guests and visitors, rather than being actively used.

Lifting the bottle of Coke to my lips, I took a small sip as I walked over to the bookshelf closest to me and inspected the work available. Many of the spines were unrecognisable to me, clearly dating back a long time through history. A small, golden ornament, a book stop, rested on one of the shelves. Staring into its golden reflection, I could see Neal gazing in my direction. Either he was very interested in whatever I happened to have my focus on or he was looking at me.

Neal let out a wolf-whistle. "Damn!"

Tearing my gaze off the shelf of books, I faced him. "What?"

"This." He held up a photo frame, too small for me to see clearly from where I stood.

I wandered across the room and moved to stand next to him. Peering down at his hands, I stared at the photo. To my surprise it appeared to be relatively modern compared to most things in the room. A boy around my age stood in the middle of the photo, with a man and a woman standing on either side of him. Neal tapped on the glass cover above the boy. "He's cute."

I briefly glanced at Neal's face and then switched my attention to a glass cabinet nearby. "If you say so."

"He kinda looks like you."

My eyes widened at his bold statement, immediately thankful that I had my back to him.

"Yeah, he's my type of guy."

Up to that moment I felt like I was in control of the situation, that I was the one holding the key, but there was a part of me that wanted to dance to his song, to play his game.

It wouldn't be the worst thing, besides, it's not like we're going to... My eyes flicked over to the chaise longue in the corner of the room as images flashed in my mind, forcing a blush on my cheeks. No, that isn't going to happen. But flirting back-if it was even flirting-wouldn't hurt.

I swallowed hard and spun around to face him. "Your type?" I asked, feeling a surge of hormones fly through my body.

"Yeah. Cute face, brown hair..." Neal slid the photo frame back onto the shelf. "But I prefer your eyes."

Feeling my cheeks warm from the compliment, I gave a shy smile and averted my gaze.

Moving to stand next to me, Neal gently took the bottle from my hand. "I know what you want."

Did he? A man who hadn't known me longer than five hours suddenly knew what I wanted when it was a question I'd been asking myself for the past five years?

Placing the bottle on the centre table, he moved back towards me. Reaching out with a hand, he lightly traced his fingertips across my cheek and down to my neck. I shivered from the sensation, causing goosebumps to ripple across my skin. Laying his other hand on my hip, he inched his face closer to mine and kissed my lips.

His eyes searched mine as he pulled back. I stared at him, my mind trapped in a chaotic maze. Gripping at his shirt, I tugged him towards me and pressed my lips back up against his.

I kissed my first man.

It felt strangely different to kissing a girl. I could feel the power and need behind his tenderness and emotion. From the way his stubble tickled my face to how his strong arms encircled my body, it all felt amazingly male. I didn't want it to end.

A gentle vibration rippled through my groin, seconds before Neal stepped back, his hand dropping to the front pocket in his trousers. Blood rushed loudly in my ears as I stood there, my body trembling from the rush of excitement.

Pulling out his phone, he stared at the flashing display. "It's my boyfriend."

My head became light as my heart jumped to my throat. "Boyfriend? But we, you just-"

"I have to take this." Neal cut me off, his voice oddly nonchalant. Walking towards the open door, he stepped through it and answered the call.

I stood there for a moment, hearing his voice becoming quieter and quieter as he distanced himself down the corridor. Staggering backwards, I came up against one of the bookshelves. Boyfriend? I remained standing there for about a minute being supported by the books, and then wandered over to the chaise longue.

Sitting down on the soft surface, I hastily wiped at my mouth with the back of my hand, my tongue still buzzing from the taste of alcohol.

What the hell just happened?

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Written by Kai Taylor
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Copyright © 2013-2014 Kai Taylor