#24 | ALWAYS & FOREVER…


‘What are you two doing here?’

Rocks’ grandmother’s home is bride central; the three friends secured a wedding dress by Dior and Nonna’s seamstress drove in from Florence to help with minor alterations. A team of hotel staff are setting up the village church and another work the ball room. The three friends made their way down to the hotel having received a call from the security team about the presence of Cleo and Gyll in the village.

‘Hello Zea.’ Cleo starts with the faux niceness.

Rocks levies a look of absolute disdain at Cleo, she’d never really gotten to know the girl and she’ll never bother to, because her loyalties lie with her friend.

‘Gyll, I can’t say it’s good to see you, but what are you doing here?’ Caroline’s tone is tinged with superiority of her position suddenly. For the sanity of her friend, she will pull out all the stops.

‘I am not above getting security to throw you out.’ Tallulah says.

‘I called them.’ Martin is standing at the door, he looked like a man who’d had a bad night, fought and lost. The hardness had fallen away overnight, in light of everything that happened at the dinner.

‘I thought you were leaving.’ Rocks rounds on him. ‘JJ doesn’t want you here.’

‘I will but I have something to say to my children and I wanted everyone here for it. I promise I don’t want to cause any more trouble than I already have.’

‘What did you do Martin? I told you not to ruin this for JJ.’ Gyll says, looking at the shell of a man standing before her.

Martin looks defeated, hands in his pocket. ‘I would like to see JJ please. Can you ask her to come down? I know she is busy with her wedding prep-’

‘Wedding?’ Gyll looks to her daughter’s friends for an explanation, but no one reveals anything ‘what’s going on?’

‘Bloody hell, what are you two doing here?’ Fen, Jason, and Thomas make their way into the small parlour. Their father had sent for them.

‘Please.’ Martin raises his hands peaceably, ‘I need to speak to you all. I won’t take up much of your time and I won’t stay for the wedding but there is something I must say with your mother present.’ He looks to JJ’s three friends who have assumed the role of bodyguard.

Rocks looks to Fenmore who gives a short nod, and she places a call to the security at her grandmother’s house to have JJ chauffeured down urgently.

‘Anyone care to tell me what’s going on?’ Gyll inquires still at a loss. Cleo sits beside her mother, meek and sombre.

‘JJ’s getting married, we pretty much ruined dinner last night and dad would rather she got back together with Barnaby.’

‘I saw Barnaby before I left to Florence-’

‘What were you doing in Florence? Awfully convenient timing won’t you say?’ Thomas is already suspect of Cleo sitting there without having said one word.

‘She wanted to make sure I did not ruin JJ’s holiday.’

‘Cleo.’

‘Mum, I know that’s why you came and its fine, I cannot say I would not have ruined it.’

‘At least you’re honest. What’s gotten into you?’ Fen asks, this is all so damn weird.

‘I had a talk with her.’ Gyll answers.

‘What the fuck are you two doing here?’ JJ has entered the parlour.

‘I called Jorja, please give me ten minutes, twenty at the most I have something to say to all of you.’ Martin dives right in knowing he is on thin ice.

‘I don’t want to be in the same room as her.’ She motions to Cleo who looks contrite for once in her life.

‘I know and we’ll leave as soon as I’ve said what it is I have to say.’

JJ relents only just. Rocks, Tallulah, and Caroline give them the privacy they clearly will need but not straying too far.

Alone, the family stake their corner on the plush arm chairs waiting on their patriarch.

‘Being a parent is never easy,’ Martin starts, looking at the guarded faces opposite him ‘you hope you’ll do the right by your children and those who love you, they never tell you the complications and the grey areas and the failures. The failures are what’ll kill you. I failed all of you. Including you Gyll. There is something you should know, something I have never told you.’

‘What’s that?’ Jason asks.

‘When your mother left the house that day, we found her two villages away.’

‘We know that dad.’ Tommy says and Fen rounds on him bidding him to shut up. ‘Sorry.’

‘What I didn’t tell you was that she went to rehab for two years, and when she came out, she tried to get custody, tried to come home, but I wouldn’t let her because I was so angry at her.’

‘Why?’ Fenmore looks from her father to her mother.

‘You said she didn’t want to come back.’ Jason says confusion on his face.

‘Because I could not bear the court giving her custody after the divorce. I fought her, threatened to expose what she did to JJ.’

‘What did you do to JJ?’ Thomas leans closer to his sister in a protective motion.

‘I left her alone. When I left home that day, I literally ran out on her, and she was home alone for five hours before your dad returned from his posting.’

‘Mum she was five years old.’

‘That’s why your dad had to tell you I didn’t want to come back because he didn’t want you to hate me any more than you did. If he told you I left JJ on her own he knew you’d never forgive me so he made you believe I was sick for a long time and could not come back. To relinquish custody, he said he wouldn’t reveal to anyone why I was no longer in your lives.’

‘Shit.’ Fen buries her head in her hands.

‘It was a dirty underhanded thing to do.’

‘Yes it was dad.’ Thomas snaps, ‘it was fucked up.’

‘But you didn’t want to have me.’ JJ’s voice is small and pained. ‘I thought that was why you went away because of me. I heard the conversation with you and dad one night you came home late, and he said you got your tubes tied. You were both yelling, and I couldn’t sleep. I was upstairs on the landing. You didn’t see me. You said you couldn’t handle having me that dad should have allowed you terminate the pregnancy but he wouldn’t.’ JJ stated the facts she’d retained in her five year old mind, for a long time until she could piece together the words and form an understanding of what really went on that night.

‘Oh my God. JJ.’ Fenmore instinctively reached for her sister.

‘You heard that conversation?’ Martin’s heart threatens to explode with shame. He wants the ground to open and swallow him up.

‘I did.’ There are tears in JJ’s eyes now, rehashing that conversation. She was a bright and brilliant five-year-old that retained information like no other.

‘You mother was sick, she was still post-partum depressed after Thomas and I simply did not want to listen. Whatever you heard that night was my fault. I pushed her when I should have seen the signs. I was so mad at her when she left you all alone, I would have done anything to keep you all to myself but I didn’t know how to be a father, let alone a good father so I spanked when the words failed me because she always had the words. And then that night… I am so sorry JJ. I am so desperately sorry. You will never know how sorry I am that I put you through so much and then I come here on yours and Rocco’s invitation and I tried to ruin things because I felt like I missed out on seeing you grow, I missed out on your life. You may never believe this but I love you in ways a father loves a daughter and then some. I am so proud of you. Of all of you and I am so sorry that I marred your childhood.’ There were tears in Martin’s eyes as he gets up to leave, ‘I will not ask for your forgiveness, but I hope in time I will prove worthy of some kindness. I am sorry.’

‘Daddy.’ JJ stops her father before he can walk out the door, it is the first time in a long time she had referred to him that way. ‘You must apologise to Rocco.’

‘I wrote him a letter, I didn’t think he’d want to see me after yesterday.’

‘Rocco’s a peacemaker, it’s one of his many qualities that gets on my last nerve, go talk to him he would want that. And then we’d like for you to attend our wedding.’ She looks at her mother, ‘both of you.’ This isn’t forgiveness per se it’s that she wants to move on with her life, to move forward with her family and to slowly heal the bond with her parents. They may never get there where they need to be, but they are family and who is she to say that family is not everything.

‘JJ I’m sorry.’ For the first time since walking in, JJ forces herself to look at Cleo, where she reserved hatred for her now there was only guilt. ‘I know you hate me, and I deserve it but Mum spoke to me before we came here, she told me everything about the day she left, her never really holding you because she was too fragile, your last words to her, before she ran out were-’

‘I love you.’ JJ turns to look at her mother who still had tears in her eyes.

‘You were singing that song, Santa Claus is coming to town and all I heard was screaming  in my head, and I yelled at you to stop, and you said, I’m sorry mummy, I love you mummy. I can never listen to that song again without hearing those words. Oh darling Little Jiji how can I ever make it up to you.’

‘You look beautiful my darling girl.’ Gyll takes in JJ, dressed in her simple and stunning gown; heavy silk biased cut floor length slip dress, dipped low at the back, topped with waist length fur bolero gifted to her by her grandmother. Her hair is neatly pinned in a chignon, the veil secured to it, trailing her ever so beautifully. Her friends had pulled out all the stops

‘Thank you mum.’ There is a lot of healing to do, maybe they can do it from this evening of love. JJ squeezes her mother’s hands as she waits in the vestibule of the church ready to be led in by her girls.

‘You look lovely Jorja, absolutely beautiful.’

‘Thanks dad.’ Martin gives her a kiss on each cheek, he is a man with a lot of grounds to make but he’ll keep making it for as long as he lives. ‘You two look adorable.’ He say to his grand children.

‘Thank you Granddy.’ They each give him a kiss on the cheek. For all his faults he’d never skimped on loving his grandchildren. All of them.

‘Martin I’d like to speak to JJ a minute. Save me a seat will you?’

He nods and heads into the church.

‘You alright?’ JJ asks her mother, with everything that unfolded anything can happen.

‘Can I give you a hug?’ It is the one this she most wants to do with her daughter hold her for all those times she felt too fragile to do so when she was a child. It is one of the most comforting bonds between a mother and a child and she’d robbed her off it too many times.

‘Oh mummy…’ All her life, she’d wanted to be held by her mother, as a child she hardly held her because she was too fragile, but right now she needed her mother to hold her.

‘My darling Little Jiji.’ Gyll leans in and pulls her daughter close for a hug, both women lean into it, holding on as daughters and granddaughters watch. When she lets go there are tears in both their eyes. ‘I’m so sorry I’m ruing your make up.’

‘I don’t care. Thank you.’

‘You never have to thank me for loving you because I love you to the moon and beyond.’ Gyll kisses her daughter on the head and pulls her in for another quick hug before heading into the church, not before exchanging quick hugs with her granddaughters.

Tallulah is at the ready with the make-up team to touch up JJ’s face for the hundredth time.

‘Places everyone.’ Caroline issues her final orders as the musician starts playing Canon in D Minor. Fenmore leads the way as the maid of honour, Rocks, Tallulah, and Caroline follow behind her as bridesmaids.

‘Ready girls?’ JJ asks her two girls who’d been looking forward to this moment. They too had gotten customised little bride dresses from Dior. How her friends pulled this all together with mere hours, she’ll never know or be able to thank them enough.

‘Yes mama.’

‘You look beautiful mummy.’ Roma says.

‘Thank you my darling.’

‘Let’s go meet daddy.’ Bella says.

‘Lead the way.’

Both girls enter the church throwing the rose petals from each of their baskets, cute as they come.

The congregation of mostly family, close friends, and locals stand as the bride makes her entrance led by her daughters. JJ looks right at Rocco and catches her breath, he was always all in with her from the moment they met, two children and a whole life together, they are onto their next chapter before both their families in this place they have come to love as home.

The memories they’ll never forget.

‘Daddy here’s mummy.’ Bella says when they reach the altar.

‘Thank you.’ Rocco bends to kiss both girls before they take their seat.

‘Don’t forget the lines we practised.’ Roma adds cheekily and the congregation laughs.

Rocco kisses the back of JJ hands and leans in to plant a kiss on her head. Always and forever.

‘I love you.’ Rocco mouths at JJ.

‘I love you too.’