Poles apart, p.22
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       Poles Apart, p.22
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           Kirsty Moseley

  season being over. That meant, in five months, I would be married to a person who barely even liked me. What exactly was there to be excited about in that? Nothing.

  “I don’t have a preference, baby; you just have what you want.” There, that answer should suffice and mean I don’t have to talk for the next half hour!

  Carson sighed deeply, obviously seeing my unwillingness to be a part of this stupid day. He set down his champagne flute and scooted forward in his chair, taking the colour wheel from Margo’s hand and tossing it onto the table. “Emma’s favourite colour is red; dark red, like maroon. She likes butterflies, so maybe we could incorporate that somehow? I don’t know, on the invites or place names or whatever. Book the Scotland castle then if it’s a nice place. And as for the honeymoon,” he shrugged, “go for somewhere ridiculously hot with a gorgeous beach and no paparazzi. Emma and Sasha will need to order passports as they don’t have them.”

  My mind was reeling as he spoke. How on Earth did he even know my favourite colour? Had I told him, or was he some kind of mind reader?

  Margo gasped. “Butterflies? We could definitely work that in!” she exclaimed excitedly. “We could have the napkins printed with a butterfly in the corner and your initials either side, or incorporated stylishly within in the wings. I’ll get a designer on that and see what they can come up with. We could then have the same design throughout all the invites, thank you notes, place names, and table favours. I bet we could get some metal ones crafted and inserted into the bridal flowers. Oh, and I’ve just thought of the most beautiful idea for your hair instead of a tiara, Emma,” she enthused, patting my knee excitedly. “Butterflies! Beautiful!” She even clapped her hands as she wriggled in her seat happily. The scratch of her assistant’s pen filled my ears like a buzzing of a bee that I wanted to swat.

  A butterfly theme. Had I not hated the whole idea of being forced into marriage, I would have swooned over the very thought of it. Instead, my wedding, which seemed as if it was going to be my perfect, dream wedding, was marred with thoughts that this wasn’t what anyone truly wanted. It was just a marriage of convenience and nothing else.

  “Great. Are we done now? I think I’ve had about as much wedding planning as I can take for today,” Carson muttered, clenching and unclenching his hand on his knee as if it were painful.

  I frowned, studying his hand to see if I could see anything wrong with it.

  Margo cleared her throat and nodded toward all the books, magazines and other wedding planning essentials covering every inch of the brand new white wood table that Carson had bought yesterday. “Well, your part can be done for now if you want, Carson. Why don’t we girls just spend a few minutes talking about wedding dresses?” she suggested, grinning wildly.

  I groaned internally, willing Carson to tell them enough was enough and that we’d pick this up another time. Surely they had enough to be getting on with for now. He didn’t jump in and save me, though; instead, he nodded and stood up, stalking from the room without another word.

  Once he was gone, out came another book. Margo moved from her seat and sat opposite me. Her excitement was evident and burst from every pore. Clearly, this was her favourite part.

  “I have some fantastic contacts, Emma, so if you have a designer in mind then let me know. But do you know who I think you should wear? Alexander McQueen!” she gushed.

  Kimberly squealed, and the two assistants nodded in agreement, but I had no clue who they were talking about. Obviously he was some kind of famous designer, but I didn’t much follow the fashion world.

  “I personally know Sarah Burton, and although the timing is short, I’m sure she could come up with something stunning and elegant,” Margo continued. “Something beautiful and form-fitting, something people will talk about and envy.”

  I cleared my throat. “Who’s Sarah Burton?”

  Margo raised one eyebrow before sharing a meaningful look with her assistants that clearly meant I was a level of stupid she wasn’t used to dealing with on a daily basis. “Sarah is creative director at Alexander McQueen,” she replied. When I still didn’t get it, she laughed incredulously, but it was a mocking laugh that made me feel about three inches tall. “Sarah is the one who designed The Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress.”

  I gulped and shrank in my seat. My mouth had gone dry. “Oh,” I muttered before shaking my head. “I don’t need a designer dress. What’s wrong with me just going to a bridal dress shop and picking one out?” I didn’t need a ridiculous amount of money spent on a dress that I would only ever wear the once.

  Margo’s nose wrinkled in disgust. “You don’t want an off-the-rack dress. You want something original, something stunning, something that shines and glitters like a thousand diamonds are sewn into it. Something that will show off everything you have to perfection and make you look unforgettable. You want people to talk about you for months after, telling their designers they want to look like you on their wedding day. You want people gushing over your photos saying how jealous they are of you because you look so beautiful,” she answered loftily, as if all of this should have been obvious to me.

  Glittering like a thousand diamonds? Has this woman ingested a cliché romance novel? I wondered. I shook my head. “But I don’t, actually.”

  Kimberly sat forward, reaching out a hand and placing it on my knee. “Alexander McQueen is incredible; I’d kill someone to get married in a one-off McQueen.”

  I felt bullied, trapped, forced upon. Taking a deep breath, I shrugged. “I don’t know, can I think about it? Can’t I just look around a few shops and see if there’s something that I like? I mean, I don’t want a big wedding dress anyway. I want something that’s just simple and plain.”

  Margo’s jaw tightened, but she nodded in agreement. Her forced smile didn’t reach her eyes. “Of course. It’s your wedding day; have what you want. We’re here to help and organise, but every decision must come down to you,” she answered before turning to her assistants. “Why don’t we schedule a meeting with Sarah as soon as she’s free, and she and Emma can talk? We can take it from there.” She cleared her throat and stood, signalling for her assistants to start packing up. “In the meantime, I’ll put in calls to designers for the butterflies, and I’ll have some paper samples collated for the invites. I think it would look just lovely if we have them personally handwritten instead of printed, don’t you?” She said it as a question, but it didn’t really feel like one – she’d clearly already made up her mind on it. I nodded in agreement anyway. “Great. So next time I come, I’ll also bring some samples of professional handwriting and you can choose.”

  Carson’s mother stood, too. “If we’re all done then Kimberly, Alice and I should be going. It’s getting rather late,” she said, eyeing the wall clock which said it was past nine already.

  “Okay. Thank you for coming,” I replied, forcing a smile even though all I wanted to do was curl into a ball in bed and pull the covers over my head.

  Once everything was packed up, I saw them all out and waved goodbye at the door before closing it tightly and leaning against it. I closed my eyes and groaned in frustration. After listening to them all prattle on for the last hour and a half, the silence now filling my ears felt a little strange, almost as if I’d gone deaf.

  Taking a few deep breaths, I headed back into the lounge, picking up all the empty glasses and stalking into the kitchen. Carson was sitting at the kitchen breakfast bar; he looked up as I entered.

  “Hey, all done? Get a dress sorted?” he inquired.

  I sighed in exasperation and set the glasses in the sink. “Sure, I’m wearing Alexander McQueen and it’s going to glitter like a thousand diamonds are sewn into it,” I answered sarcastically, eyeing the champagne bottle that was open in front of him. “There any of that left?” I asked hopefully.

  He nodded and picked up the bottle. “Yeah, pass me a glass.”

  Instead of getting a nice crystal one out, I just grabbed a regular one which was s
itting on the draining board and walked over to him, holding it out and watching as he poured me some. The silence between us stretched on as I leant against the counter, fuming on the inside about Margo and the stupid arrangements.

  “So, why the attitude about the dress? You don’t like this McQueen person?” Carson asked finally, pouring himself some more of the expensive fizz, too.

  I shrugged, walking around the counter and taking the seat next to his. “Never heard of him, actually.”

  Carson laughed. “Me either. Some hotshot prick who designs women’s clothes, obviously.”

  I chuckled wickedly. “Don’t let Margo hear you say that. I thought she was going to stab me when I asked who Sarah Burton was. I dread to think what she’d do if she heard you utter the words ‘hotshot prick’. Clearly, she has designer envy,” I joked. Carson grinned boyishly, and his dimples appeared again. I stared at them, longing to reach out and touch them, to trace the line of one with my fingertip.

  “She has a designer stick up her arse,” Carson replied smartly. I giggled and nodded. “You, er, like the butterfly idea? If not then I’ll tell her to scrap it.”

  An involuntary smile twitched at the corner of my mouth. I loved that he was being so sweet all of a sudden and that he’d suggested planning the entire day around something he thought would make me happy. “It’s nice,” I admitted.

  The talk of butterflies suddenly reminded me that I never did get around to thanking him for decorating my bedroom this morning. By the time we’d finished arguing about the engagement ring, Sasha had woken so everything from then on revolved around her until the wedding planner arrived.

  “I forgot to say earlier… thank you for painting my bedroom. I meant to say it before, but we started talking about other things and I forgot all about it until now,” I admitted, looking down at the weighty ring on my finger.

  He smiled, seeming a little embarrassed about it as he looked away. “No problem. I wanted you to feel at home here, so…” He shrugged. “It was my first attempt at doing something like that. They didn’t turn out too great. I told you I was shit at decorating. I’ll get someone to come in and fix them up and make them look nice for you.”

  I shook my head quickly. “I love them. They’re perfect the way they are,” I countered.

  He looked up at me again then and a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth, his eyes soft and gentle. That expression reminded me of the Carson I fell in love with, and I felt heat spread through my whole body. No one spoke, but surprisingly, it wasn’t an awkward silence as we both drank our drinks.

  When he started clenching and unclenching his right hand again, I frowned. “Have you done something to your hand?”

  He looked down at it and shrugged. “Nah, it’s all right. I, er, hurt it the other day. It just aches now. Nothing serious.”

  “How did you hurt it?” I reached out, taking his hand and pulling it toward me as I turned it over, inspecting his knuckles and fingers for damage. His skin was blemish-free, though, so I traced my finger over his knuckles lightly, just marvelling over his warmth.

  Carson sighed. “I punched a wall,” he replied. I gasped, flicking my eyes up to his. He smiled sheepishly. “Your fault really. I was mad. It was the day I found out about Sasha.”

  Guilt settled over me, and I winced apologetically. Of course, he’d been mad. Who wouldn’t be? Dropping my eyes away from the intense blue of his, I resumed stroking his knuckles.

  “Maybe you should get an x-ray?” I whispered, unsure what else to say.

  “Nah, it’s all right, honestly. Don’t fret.” His hand twisted in my lap, capturing my hand and holding it tightly in his.

  “I’m sorry I never told you,” I croaked. I meant it. I was sorry. “I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought you’d be better off living your life without the burden of a daughter with someone like me. I didn’t think of all the stuff you’d be missing out on. I should have told you. I’m sorry.” I closed my eyes and let my head hang in shame. Now was going to be my punishment. Trying to make a life with him, living like strangers in a house while he went off and had affair after affair, was going to be my punishment for keeping him in the dark.

  His hand tightened on mine. “I know you are, and I know you were thinking of me. I can’t change the past now, so I think we just need to move on from it.”

  I sniffed and nodded in agreement.

  “Though I do have some stuff I’d really like to ask you. I have a lot of blanks to fill in about Sasha,” he said.

  I looked up at him then and smiled weakly. “Like what?”

  Carson reached out his spare hand and brushed away the tear that fell down my cheek. “Everything. About your pregnancy, your cravings, the birth, her first word, first step. Everything, I want to know absolutely everything. We could be here all night. I have a lot of questions.”

  I nodded toward my glass with the remaining inch of champagne in the bottom. “Pour me another drink then if we’re in for the long haul,” I joked.

  AS I STARTED TO WAKE, I realised I could hear both Carson’s and Sasha’s voices. Forcing my eyes open, I looked around, instantly confused when I didn’t see them standing over me. A flickering light on my bedside cabinet caught my eye and I glanced over to see the baby monitor sitting on the side, was flashing as he spoke. I smiled, realising he was in Sasha’s room. They were having some sort of conversation, though Sasha’s side was more gobbledygook than anything else.

  A dull ache in my head registered as I sat up and stretched. Last night, Carson and I had stayed up talking and polishing off the rest of the large bottle of champagne until well after midnight. I was feeling a little delicate because of that. It had been fun, though, and Carson was right – he certainly did have a lot of questions.

  I sat there for ages, just listening to them interact and laugh through the baby monitor. I hadn’t even heard her wake today, but clearly Carson had if he’d gotten in there before me. “You know what we should do today? We should spend some time together; you, Mummy and me. Maybe we should ask Mummy if she wants to go to the beach. Want to do that?” Carson asked Sasha.

  “Beach!” Sasha chirped, clapping her hands, barely managing to say the word.

  I smiled. Sasha had never been to the beach before. She probably had no idea what one even was, yet she was excited about it by the sound of it.

  “Well, let’s leave Mummy sleeping for a little while longer. Mummy deserves a lie in, doesn’t she? She works hard, your mum,” Carson said. “And when she wakes up, we’ll ask her if she wants to go. I have today and tomorrow that I can spend with you before I have to go away. Personally, I think it’s great that you and Mummy aren’t going to school this week. Means I get to hang out with you both.”

  “Hangs out! Beach!” Sasha practically screamed.

  “Shh, you’re gonna wake Mummy.” Carson laughed. “Can you make me some more tea?”

  Chuckling, I pushed myself out of bed and crept from the room. This I had to see for myself. As I peeked around the doorway, I spotted Carson sitting on the rug, cross-legged, wearing another pair of long-leg loungewear trousers and nothing else. In my eyes, he was perfection, made even more perfect by his surroundings.

  Sasha’s favourite teddy bears were all sitting in a semi-circle on the rug, too. They all had a little pink plate in front of them. While Sasha walked around pretending to refill everyone’s cup, Carson raised the little pink plastic cup to his lips and faked a loud slurp.

  “Eww, sugar! I need sugar!” he said with mock disgust, holding his cup out to her and pulling a funny face. Sasha chuckled and pretended to get something from her pocket and drop it in his cup. Carson grinned. “I would have preferred one from the sugar bowl instead of an old, pocket lint-covered sugar lump, but that’ll do nicely. Stir, please,” he instructed, holding his cup out to her again and laughing as she picked up a plastic spoon, swirling it in his cup.

  My heart melted at the sight of them playing together. I never realis
ed how much Sasha was missing out on. He’d known her less than a week, yet Carson was already a fantastic dad. It broke my heart that I’d denied them each other for almost two years.

  Unable to watch anymore without speaking, I cleared my throat. “It takes a real man to drink from a pink cup at a toddler tea party,” I teased.

  Carson jumped, and his head snapped up. His mouth popped open before he laughed sheepishly, and a huge grin spread across his face. “Busted. I like tea parties, so sue me.”

  “Very cute,” I teased, smirking at him. He shrugged, not even seeming bothered. “So, what’s this I heard about going to the beach?” I asked, raising one eyebrow.

  “Beeeeeeeeeeeeeach!” Sasha screamed at the top of her lungs, which made a dull thump come from Rory’s room and then a groan of pain. Carson and I both burst out laughing because Sasha’s screaming had obviously caused her uncle to fall out of his bed.

  IT TOOK JUST UNDER TWO HOURS of driving before we arrived at Clacton-on-Sea. Thankfully, Sasha had fallen to sleep after an hour, so the drive was pretty peaceful in Carson’s massive four-by-four with the plush leather seats. It was nice, and us talking so much the night before meant I didn’t feel as awkward around him. We seemed to have made some peace last night and bonded over a bottle of champagne and a mutual dislike of designers. The drive time seemed to fly by in the blink of an eye.

  After pulling in at the car park and buying an all-day ticket, the three of us set off to find the beach. On the way, Carson stopped and took Sasha into one of the little shops, buying buckets and spades, sand moulds and various other toys for her to play with. The ecstatic grin on his face as he helped her pick out what she wanted was enough to melt my heart. Clearly, spending money on her and giving her things was going to be one of life’s pleasures for him.

  When we stopped at the steps and looked down at the beach, Sasha’s excited babble seemed to crank up a couple of notches as she pointed at the sea, her eyes wide. Smiling, I kicked off my shoes and rolled up my jeans before bending and doing the same to Sasha’s.

  “Shame it’s not that warm. We’ll have to come back in the summer or something so we can go in the sea,” Carson mused, kicking off his trainers.

  I frowned, shaking my head. “You can’t go in the sea. There are fish in there, and crabs.”

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