It was their happy ending. Stephen and Sarah signed into the hotel in Venice as Mr & Mrs Russell, and it was the first time they had ever done that, and they smiled. They marvelled at the splendour of the place they had chosen from the brochure in the travel agent’s. They brought their bags in from the shuttle bus. They were looking forward to their honeymoon.
They flew from Stansted on an early morning plane. And before they left the hotel where they had had the reception they stopped to remove the “Just married” banners on their car and tin cans hanging from the bumpers. And they laughed. “Is it any different?” Stephen asked. “Kind of,” said Sarah. They made love for the first time as a married couple. They went upstairs to their room.
The reception ended with dancing, with old people dancing with the little children and things winding down. There was cake. There were speeches, some of them rude, some of them funny, some of them awkward. James, Stephen’s brother, was a reluctant best man but he did his best to make sure the event went smoothly. The couple were too nervous to eat. Their friends and distant family crammed into a single room, eager to congratulate them and enjoy the festivities; it was a great event, though not like one of those you see in a film, with a marquee and a band and hundreds of people in the open air. It was November, and they did not mind. People began arriving early from from all over the country.
Because they had just got married. On the way out of the register office, they did wicked impressions of him, a man with bad teeth and a speech impediment. “Do you take thith man to be your lawful wedded huthband?” the registrar said.
They signed the book, both sets of parents with them, and it was a joyful morning. The registrar conducted the ceremony with simple efficiency. James did a good job of welcoming family and a handful of friends.
For months and months they made wedding preparations, sending out the invitations, arguing over whose Auntie should come and whose cousins should be left out, sorting out the caterers, and finding the venue, which was hard because they were doing it at short notice and all the best places were booked. They decided to keep a close eye on the budget because they did not want to be too ostentatious and they had no money.
They told their parents they did not want any money from them, because they were a modern couple who were working and who wanted to do things for themselves and in their own way. Sarah said, “We don’t have to, you know.”
They told their parents and their parents were not surprised but still asked whether it was what they both wanted.
“Of course I want to,” said Stephen. “It’s all I want.” Because they weren’t even sure why they were getting married.
Sarah said she would marry Stephen, because she asked him if he was serious and he said he was. It was awkward and uncomfortable and there was no going down on one knee. That was the modern way. They were watching television on the sofa. He did not know he was going to ask her until that moment.
One night, Stephen proposed to Sarah.
Stephen wanted to have children and knew that time was passing and he would never find someone he loved as much as Sarah. Sarah loved Stephen and thought that they would have a good life together and wanted him to commit himself to her, but she had so nearly left him and made a new life altogether.
Because Stephen knew the time was coming for a gesture but he was not sure what he could do to put things right. He had to apologise and promise to mend his ways, to be more attentive and more committed. “I’m doing my best,” he would say. “Give me a break.” He wondered whether their golden times were over and would never come back. Because Sarah was cold with him and nursed a grievance. And they began living together again.
Because they reconciled, and it was painful.
She was not unfriendly and said, “Not too bad. What about you?” when he saw her in the street one day and approached her for a chat. He saw her go into a pub and come out with a man but decided there was nothing in it. He watched her leaving work. He stood outside her window. He was not stalking her, because they had been in a relationship. He just wanted to keep an eye on her.
He became obsessed and jealous, imagining her in another man’s arms or writhing beneath his naked body.
He tried Tinder, but his heart wasn’t in it. “What, like a date? With you? You must be joking,” she said. He asked out a woman in his office. He went to bars and clubs. He thought he might find another woman. Because he thought he might take revenge or get her out of his system. Because he wondered whether Sarah had been seeing someone else; she had form, after all.
When he asked their friends about her they would say she was fine, but no more. She would not take his calls nor answer his emails. She packed her bags quickly with the help of a workmate and the two of them disappeared without leaving a forwarding address. She announced she was leaving him.
“I can’t stand this,” she said. “I need to know where we are going? Are we even going anywhere?” Because Sarah and Stephen argued and wrangled and fought and that was because he messed her about. They were together for a while and when she asked him about their future together he turned away and avoided the question.
Their life together was good. They spent their weekends buying old furniture and decorating and sometimes their friends would visit them for meals or to play music in the evenings. “It’s good, really good,” said Sarah. “Stephen’s a lovely guy.” Julia, Sarah’s best friend from her old town, asked her how it was going.
Sarah got rid of her flat, so there was no going back. Because they moved in together, into Stephen’s flat. And he said,“You know, we have been to get her for a while and it’s going great. You know I love you. Would you, you know, like to move in with me?” She thought about it for a minute and looked at his serious face and said, “Why not?”
Stephen and Sarah were in the bar on the corner of the street by her office, with its smell of spilled wine and garlic, and they had both been drinking.
Michael called her parents and pleaded with them to make her change her mind, which was embarrassing because they had always liked him and they could not understand what she was doing. He rang her at work and at home and pleaded with her until she asked him, over and over again, to leave her alone.
She said no when he asked her “Why are you doing this? Is there somebody else?”
When she met him to break it to him, he looked as if he was going to cry.
Sarah knew she would have to get rid of Michael, because although she thought she loved them both, in her way, she knew Stephen needed her more and would always love her and she needed to choose.
They made love at Stephen’s place, in secret, because Sarah was still involved with Michael, an older man who did not much seem to care. But she knew she would give herself to Stephen because they had had a couple of dates and she knew from the start that he was full of love and valued every moment they were together.
She knew Stephen was a sensitive man. And she asked why he had a tear in his eye and he said it was his favourite film and they watched Barry Lyndon when they went to the cinema. They met for a drink and got on well, although they were both nervous and Stephen spilt his wine. And he wondered whether she had changed her mind when she said “just a drink” when he asked her where she wanted to go when he phoned her.
She said yes, although she was still in a relationship, when Stephen asked her out. Sarah and Stephen talked and talked at the party and there was a spark between them.
Stephen offered to get her a drink and she said yes.
Because Stephen saw Sarah across the room and was almost paralysed by her loveliness and did not know what to say to her.
Sarah entered the room and clung nervously to the walls. The event was in a room in a fancy West End club.
She did not know what to wear because she was in her work clothes and didn’t think she would make the right impression. “Why don’t you come with us tonight. It’ll be good. You never know who might be there,” they said. Her workmates heard of a party happening that night and thought they would take her along because Sarah seemed lost in her new town and knew no-one and seemed to need cheering up.
Stephen was persuaded to go. He thought he’d go home and watch the football, even though he didn’t like football, because it sounded like the kind of thing you said when you wanted to get out of something. His colleagues said there was a book launch and he ought to go because it was part of his job and besides there might be some talent there. He worked for a publisher and sometimes wondered how to spend his evenings.
Because Stephen was lonely and lost after the failure of his relationships. And he regretted leaving behind Juliet, the girlfriend he had had since college.
Sarah started a different career and found a different boyfriend.
Stephen came to the capital for a new start. And Sarah came to the capital for a new start.