Liam leaned against the wall and took a few deep breaths. It's normal to be nervous he comforted himself. For god's sake, you're about to get married! But he wasn't nervous, he realized unhappily. It was something else. He pushed away from the wall and crossed the room to the door. He placed his hand on the doorknob and looked over his shoulder, making sure he wasn't forgetting anything. The folded paper Jake had tossed on the bed caught Liam's eye. He sighed and prepared to ignore it, but then dropped his hand from the doorknob. He walked over to the bed and picked up the paper, flipping open the first fold. He sighed again, deeper this time, then squeezed his eyes closed and shoved the unread paper in his jacket pocket. He shook his head, walked back over to the door and left the room.
He made his way slowly down the multiple flights of stairs until he reached the Morrison’s kitchen which was crowded with early guests, family and a few of the workers who'd properly set up the garden. Jake, who was sampling some of the food that had been prepared for the reception, was the first to notice Liam's presence.
“Liam!” Jake called, waving his friend over.
Liam walked up to Jake, who shoved a green cream topped cracker in his mouth with a moan.
“Try one of these!” Jake exclaimed, holding out a cracker to Liam.
“Uh, no thanks.” Liam said with a chuckle, tugging at his bowtie.
“Fine. Your loss. They are so good. I can't stop…”
“Jake Matthew Morrison!”
Jake jumped, dropping the cracker on the floor. Emily Morrison stood with her arms crossed in front of her and a deep shade of red colouring her face.
“You eat one more thing before the reception and, so help me Merlin, I will make sure you never eat again!”
Jake's face paled and Liam couldn't help but laugh. Mrs. Morrison's expression softened.
“Oh Liam, dear! I didn't even see you there! My! You look so handsome.” Mrs. Morrison beamed at him.
“You're looking lovely yourself, Mrs. Morrison.” Liam complimented.
“This old thing?” she said, looking down at the dark blue dress she was wearing and shaking her head. “Don't be silly!”
Jake rolled his eyes.
“Well, there's still so much to do. You boys excuse me now.”
With a nod and an “I'm watching you” glare at her youngest son, Mrs. Morrison turned and was gone. Jake looked longingly at the plates of food and sighed.
“Let's go outside.” he said, desperate to rid the temptation of sneaking just one more sample.
Liam nodded and followed Jake out the backdoor and into the garden. They plopped down on two of the white, wooden chairs facing the altar. Neither spoke.
“Getting some fresh air?” asked a soft, silky voice behind them.
Both boys twisted in their seats to face the speaker.
Laura was standing there in a beautiful light green dress. It was long and airy; it caught on even in the slightest breeze. Her long blonde hair was pulled into a messy bun and her signature pearl earrings dangled from her earlobes. She smiled and took a seat next to Jake, whose face turned pink. Liam raised his eyebrows suspiciously at his friend, who responded with a scowl.
“How are you, Laura? How was your trip?” asked Liam.
“Lovely. Just lovely!” she said in a sing-song voice. “Sweden kept father and I quite busy.”
Liam and Jake exchanged glances, but smiled. Laura’s silvery eyes sparkled.
“So, do you suppose Alexa will be coming today?” she asked.
Liam’s faced turned green. The unexpected force of her name being spoken out loud had punched him in the stomach. Jake's eyes widened and almost rolled out of his head. Laura appeared unfazed and waited expectantly. She sure had a knack for getting right to the point. Jake cleared his throat.
“Uh…she was invited if that's what you mean.” said Jake evenly. “Other than that…”
Laura tilted her head thoughtfully. Jake shrugged and hastily eyed Laura, who wore a dazed expression. Deciding his pal could use a quick drink, he shoved a hand into his jacket to retrieve his flask, only to realize his pocket was empty.
Jake looked around on the ground by his feet, searching for the silver container that he guessed must have fallen out unnoticeably. It wasn't there.
“What is it?” asked Laura, following his gaze to the floor and glancing around.
“Nothing.” Jake sighed. “Nothing. I just must have dropped something.”
Laura nodded dreamily and stood.
“Don't worry.” she smiled. “Whatever it is, it will turn up. Everything always does in the end.”
She looked slowly at both boys, lingering a bit longer on Liam, then gave a soft wave and glided off towards the house, leaving them completely silent.
** 3 YEARS AGO **
There's an old saying - “when it rains, it pours” and for Alexa, today was the day the floods began. Of course, she was not yet aware of this as she dressed hurriedly in the early morning hours. Liam was still sprawled across their bed snoring lightly, bare-chested; a sheet tangled tightly around his legs. She pulled a black skirt up over her knees to her waist and zippered the back. Then sighing affectionately, she moved over to the bed and shook Liam softly.
“Time to get up.” she said.
Liam groaned and grabbed her arm, trying to pull her down onto the bed.
“Oh, no.” she giggled, digging her heels into the floor. “I've got to be at the House of Parliament in thirty minutes and you've got training in an hour.”
He released her with a moan and buried his face into his pillow.
Liam had just started his first week of football training. It was a bit of a chore making sure he got up in the morning, but he was enjoying it. The entire training period consisted of a six month instruction course. It seemed like a long time, but Alexa knew it would be over before they knew it.
“Liam Jack Hewitt. Get up!” Alexa yelled, poking him playfully.
Liam grunted. He yawned and slid on his glasses.
“What time is it?”
“Almost eight.” Alexa answered, slipping on her shoes.
“Did I tell you my parents are coming to dinner this Tuesday, didn't I?”
“No.” Liam said. “I don't think you mentioned it.”
“Well,” Alexa said, walking over and kissing his cheek, “now you know.”
“Will you be late tonight?” she asked Liam, who was now getting dressed.
“Nah, I don't believe so.” he said, pulling up a pair of black trousers.
She nodded in acknowledgement.
“Ok, well, I'd better be off. Don't want to be late.”
She bounced over to Liam, planted a kiss on his lips, wished him luck with his training and left the flat.
A lot had changed at the House of Parliament since Tony Blair was replaced. Most notably, Gordon Brown had been named Minister. It was refreshing to have someone noble and honourable running the Government for a change; someone truly interested in improving London. Alexa walked quickly through the lifts, nodding politely to familiar faces as she passed. As she stepped into the lift, she felt a firm hand grasp her shoulder. She jumped and spun around, coming face to face with James Kingston, head of the Department for Education Society, and her boss.
“Good morning, Ms. Baker. I didn't mean to startle you.” he chuckled.
“Oh, no matter!” she replied, shaking her head. “And good morning to you as well, sir.”
There was a pause in the conversation as the lift doors closed then Kingston spoke again.
“I was wondering if I could have a word. This afternoon perhaps? If you wouldn't mind stopping in my office around, oh, three-fifteen?”
Alexa nodded slowly, feeling a bit of anxiety creep into her throat. It must have shown on her face, because Kingston smiled warmly and shook his head.
“You've done nothing wrong, I assure you.” he comforted.
The lift dinged as it reached its destination and the doors slid open.
“This afternoon. You're office. Three-fifteen.” Alexa confirmed.
Alexa tried to keep herself busy, tackling a large pile of paperwork that had been growing on her desk for almost three weeks and making a few phone calls she'd been putting off. Though, her eyes still glanced at the clock at least once every twenty minutes as she waited for the afternoon to arrive. The day dragged, but finally the hour hand of the wall clock struck three. She decided to stop in the bathroom to freshen up before heading to Kingston's office.
As she pushed the door of the fourth floor woman's bathroom open she was struck by a twinge in her stomach. It wasn't particularly painful, more annoying than anything else. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Just relax! Kingston said it wasn't anything to worry about. She tried to calm herself as she glanced at her reflection and brushed her hair down with her fingers. Once she was convinced she looked the she best possibly could under the circumstances, she left the bathroom and headed down the hall to Kingston's office. When she reached the door, she hesitated and took a deep breath before knocking softly. She waited, unsure if her knock had been heard.
“Come in.” her boss's familiar voiced called.
She opened the door and walked in. Kingston was sitting behind a large, dark coloured desk that was cluttered with books and papers. The room was bright; sunshine poured in through three, floor-to-ceiling windows behind him. Two other men stood to his left. One she immediately recognized as Gordon Brown. He gave her a quick wink. The other face was less familiar, but after searching her brain for a few seconds, she identified him as Robin Garret, the head of the Department of Health Law Enforcement. She wondered what they were doing in Kingston's office when she was supposed to be meeting with him.
“Ms. Baker.” her boss nodded. “Would you like to sit down?”
He motioned to a large, leather chair in front of his desk. She declined, feeling too ill to sit, but moved closer.
“Well, of course you're wondering why I asked to speak to you.” he began.
Alexa shook her head expectantly. There was a sudden, second, stronger ache in her stomach. She ignored it.
“This is Robin Garret. And, of course, Mr. Brown.” Kingston said, motioning to the men beside him. “As you know, I've been tracking your progress with the Education Relocation division. You've really done a wonderful job. You’ve met my expectations - and trust me, from your G.C.S.E. scores and the recommendations of your old teachers, I had high expectations.”
Alexa bowed her head in thanks. The ache in her stomach was starting to cross over bothersome and into painful. She shifted her weight, hoping a change in position might help. Kingston continued.
“What I do want to talk about…what I want to offer you is a new position”
Alexa's eyes widened with interest, but her stomach lurched and she had to fight the urge to wince. She glanced longingly at the big, leather chair next to her, wishing she'd taken a seat when Kingston had offered.
“Garret here needs a new department head; a colleague. Someone interested in reforming educational laws, Brown here suggested you. You're a hard worker, Baker, and I hear this is an issue close to your heart.”
Alexa did everything she could to stop from squealing out in joy.
“Wow.” she beamed. “I don't know what to say…”
“Say you'll take the job!” Garret was now speaking. “Of course you'll be getting an increase in your pay check and a small staff to work below you,
. “Thank you! Thank you so much” Alexa announced clapping her hands together.
All three men nodded, pleased with her response. Alexa's stomach pitched again, but she was intent on not letting it ruin the moment. She swallowed hard.
“Well, that's it!” Garret exclaimed. “We'll be in touch, Ms. Baker.”
He held out his hand. Alexa moved to grab it and braced an unexpected wave of nausea. Oh, no. She shook his hand quickly and looked back at the door desperately. .
“If that's all, I should be getting back to my office.” Brown said, shaking hands with the other two men. As he excused himself out he patted Alexa's shoulder and whispered “Well done”. Alexa wanted to thank him, but could only muster another swallow.
“That's all then. You can get back to your office as well, Ms. Baker.”
Kingston smiled and Garret bowed slightly. She shook her head gratefully, turned, and tried her best not to literally dash for the door.
She had just barely made it before her stomach gave a final heave and she got sick violently in the first stall of the fourth floor woman's bathroom.
Alexa stared at the clock, her heart thudding wildly in her chest. Please, no. Please. She silently prayed as the hour hand struck three. Her leg bounced anxiously. It's all in your head. She picked up the quill lying on her desk and twirled it between her fingers. Her eyes closed. And then she felt it - a light twinge deep in the pit of her stomach; so soft that you would only ever notice it if you were waiting for it. Her heart dropped.
It had been a week since she'd been offered a new position with the Department of Educational Law Enforcement. A week from the first day she'd gotten sick in the fourth floor woman's bathroom. And since then, everyday, for seven days in a row, she'd gotten sick in the fourth floor woman's bathroom, like clockwork, at three in the afternoon. Every day, save for the two days over the weekend where she'd gotten sick in the flat bathroom instead. She stood and walked miserably out into the hallway, waiting for the familiar retching of her stomach and the watery, nauseous feeling to fill her mouth.
** THE WEDDING **
“Do you think she'll come?” Liam asked softly.
Jake sighed. The boys were still sitting out in the garden, staring at the altar. They had been silent since Laura had left. Jake hadn't been sure what to say. He still wasn't. He shrugged.
“I don't know, mate. I'm sorry; I just…don't know.”
Liam nodded and twiddled his thumbs. Jake decided to take a chance.
“Do you want her to come?”
Liam opened his mouth and then slowly closed it again. He closed his eyes and tilted his head back. When he opened them again they were glassy.
“I don't know.” he said, shaking his head. “I really don't know.”
He looked desperately at Jake, who wished more than anything he had something remotely comforting to say. He patted his friend on the shoulder.
“That's okay. It's okay not to know.”