It was a sunny Saturday in early spring. Someone had placed an order with God and got his wish. There was not a cloud in the sky. The previous day’s strong wind had left Melbourne and no one could have had a better day to hold a wedding ceremony.
Jayden walked into the church. He was very familiar with the church, having married Maya 22 years ago in this church. Although he wasn’t religious, Maya had wanted a church wedding and he had had no reason to be against it.
The church was filled with people. He had purposely come a bit late so he could sit at the back of the church and have a good view of all the people sitting in front of him. Studying people was part of what he did for a living.
He had filled his business card holder up before he left home. He wasn’t going to miss any opportunity to hand out his card. He understood networking strategies. Contact was the most important thing of all.
From a lady’s hairdo, whether it was styled nicely or not, he could figure out her husband’s or partner’s social status. Although he was not always correct, the fit was perfect most of the time.
The wedding march started. All the guests turned around to look at the church entrance. No one wanted to miss their first glance of the bride. That was the best chance for Jayden to have a good view of the faces of the people.
‘Harrison must be doing very well,’ he thought. Most of the guests seemed like people with wealth. He knew Harrison’s chartered accounting firm employed 250 people and had a reputation for being a good employer. ‘Who would have known he could do so well?’
Short and stocky Harrison was a person no one would take any notice of. He had had to work two jobs to put himself through university. From memory, Jayden had never really had any conversations with him. That’s why he was surprised to receive an invitation to Harrison’s daughter’s wedding.
He was shocked to look at the old man that walked with the bride down the red carpet. He was grey, wrinkled like a prune.
What had happened? He hardly recognised him. Harrison didn’t look like his university colleague, more like someone from his uncle’s generation. ‘Poor guy, he did not handle the stress too well,’ he thought.
Gradually he remembered Harrison’s wife, Holly. He had actually taken her out once. Not by choice though, accidentally.
He had bought a new motorcycle and was very keen to take it for a spin. His girlfriend Lily was travelling at the time with her mother overseas. He had been riding along, when coincidently he saw Holly, who he knew from university, standing at some traffic lights.
After a brief exchange of words, Holly jumped onto the motorcycle. They rode all the way to Ballarat. It was a good ride to the countryside.
It started to pour cats and dogs after dinner. They weren’t prepared for it so they stayed in Ballarat for the night.
The next morning they rode back to Melbourne. He never saw Holly after that. He never even thought about her until her daughter’s wedding day.
* * *
“Are you a relation of the bride?” An attractive lady named Addison asked Jayden.
“You are the third person who’s asked me that question.”
“I studied at uni with the bride’s parents. If that means we’re related, then we are. Are you related to the groom in any way?”
“We work for the same company, that’s how we’re related.”
Addison gave Jayden her business card, Jayden gave her his.
“Are you a genius or ageless?”
“I am lucky to love what I do.”
“You are the most attractive Executive Vice President I’ve ever met.”
“Thank you. Tell me, what does a ‘Strategic Career Adviser’ do?”
“We help executives like yourself and professionals to gain a sharper clarity about where they are, where they want to be and the obstacles that have been standing in their way to get there.”
“How long have you been in the company?”
“I started it about 20 years ago.”
Addison was a refined lady. She had good taste in high quality fashion. Jayden had been attracted by her appearance even before talking to her. He liked women in high positions. They were the best group to have an affair with. Their main focus was their career, leaving little time on their hands to play ‘needy’ games. They were hard to come by and usually their appearance was not their priority. By the time they reached their position, they were already beyond help.
Although he liked to be with women, he didn’t want to divorce Maya. He just wanted to have a good time. Maya was a good enough wife. She had a job to occupy most of her time and her own group of friends to go to shows, movies, restaurants and weekends away with. He needed a wife with her own interests, leaving him time and space to do what he liked most. He tried to be home for dinner during the weekdays and Sundays though.
Michael was 20, Kelly was 17. They had their casual jobs and their own social groups to mix with. On the weekends, almost always no one was at home.
Maya was better than his mother. Maya let him have freedom, seldom asking questions. His mother on the other hand was a pain.
“Why couldn’t you come last Wednesday night? Don’t tell me you had to work. You are the boss, you don’t have to do things yourself, let others do the job. Before long, those kids of yours are going to move out. Even when you want to see them, you won’t be able to see them whenever you like. Look at yourself. Once a month you’re supposed to come here for dinner – is that too much to ask? I don’t know why Maya puts up with you. That woman is a saint. You better be nice to her. Don’t regret things when it is too late.”
He thought he was very nice to Maya. She had wanted that five bedroom house with the swimming pool so he hadn’t stopped raising his hand at the auction until he got it. She had wanted a BMW so, although he thought the quality wasn’t worth the money, he had bought it for her. She had wanted some procedure done to her face. He had thought it was unnecessary but he had paid the six figure bill. How many husbands would be willing to do that?
Every year, he took Maya and the kids travelling overseas. They would spend three weeks together, sightseeing, visiting the museums and art galleries and shopping. How many men did that with their families?
He considered himself a good family man. He looked after his wife and children. He sent his children to the best private schools in Melbourne. He gave them all he could but also taught them to be independent. He didn’t want his children to become useless like some other rich kids.
A little fun here and there was good for the soul. He’d never think of hurting Maya or his family. All he wanted was to be happy, like he made Maya happy by letting her buy whatever she fancied.
He stood in front of the church, watching the photographer organise the bridal party into position to take photos. Right there and then, what would make him happy was to build a good rapport with Addison, professionally and personally.
“Would you like to go somewhere for a drink before the reception?”
* * *
The newly renovated bar was airy and pleasant. They choose a section tucked away from the counter and sat opposite each other at the small table.
Addison quietly faced Jayden with an aloof smile.
Jayden raised his glass. “A drink to the newlyweds, to their ‘happily ever after’.”
“To Logan and Imogene.”
After a sip, Jayden raised his glass again. “To the beginning of a beautiful friendship; to us.”
After another sip of sparkling white wine, Jayden raised his glass again. Then he paused when he heard the conversation from the other side of the thin partition.
“I often wonder where Imogene gets her good looks from. Let’s face it, Holly’s not exactly a beauty queen and Harrison wouldn’t have found another woman willing to accept his proposal, that’s for sure.”
“Now he has money, the situation has changed of course.”
“I wonder if Harrison knew.”
“That Imogene is not his.”
“He must know, unless he’s a fool.”
“Men aren’t that smart you know!”
“Sometimes they play dumb just because they don’t want to be bothered. Even a fool can tell Imogene is not his.”
“Poor girl. I wonder if she knows.”
“Would you tell your daughter if she’s not your husband’s child?”
“That is a tough one.”
“There you go. I wouldn’t tell mine either.”
Jayden lowered his voice and said to Addison, “That is what a wedding celebration is for. All the bride’s and groom’s relatives and friends can have a chance to gather together and focus on them to make some stories up to brighten their pathetic lives.”
Addison raised her glass. “Let’s drink to the story makers.”
“Did you know many people at the wedding?”
“Yes, I am not the only one from work who was invited to the wedding.”
“How many were invited?”
“Logan said 25 people accepted their invitation. Why do you want to know?”
“From 24 individuals, I guess we might have a chance to receive some complimentary gossip for a change.”
“Why do you think they would gossip about you and me?”
“Let’s face it. Beautiful women are always the centre of gossip. Who wants to talk about average looking women? Men don’t want them, unless they are their only choice; women don’t want to talk about them, unless they do something that attracts attention.”
“Don’t people gossip about men too?”
“No one would focus on me. I am a boring person.”
“Not at all.”
“Tell me, what do you see that is not boring?”
“You are attractive and charismatic, charming and fun, yet you have self-control. Your feelings are deep and extraordinarily intense, that’s why you are an achiever. None of those qualities are boring.”
“Are you talking about me?”
“Thank you, you have a keen perception.”
“I hope so.”
What Addison didn’t say was what she had heard from others about him. They said he was a restless, impulsive, inventive, self-assured and very intelligent man.
* * *
Jayden thought that he and Addison got along fine. His enchanting personality met with Addison’s delight. Her sophistication matched his cosmopolitan nature.
In fact, he was quite pleased with Addison. He purposely tried to play it low key. He didn’t want to say the wrong thing or make a wrong move and destroy this promising chance.
He’d had countless affairs but there were not many ladies he really cared about. He couldn’t even remember the names or faces of some of them. Once when he was having lunch with a client, an attractive lady came to his table when the client had left the table to make a phone call.
“Hi Jay, haven’t seen you for a long time. How’s Kelly’s arm? I hope it’s already back to normal.”
“Thanks for asking, yes, Kelly is fine now. Nice to see you again, you look great as always.”
He had tried to remember her. He knew he had had an affair with her by the way she talked to him. He had a good memory. If it was important to him, he would remember it.
She was a total stranger to him. He didn’t know her name. He couldn’t even remember her face. That bothered him for a while. Then he accepted the fact that his memory was only good if he chose to remember something.
Jayden knew Addison would stay in his memory for a long time. She had to; he could not afford to slight someone who held an important position in a large company.
He could see that one day in the near future, Addison would be his lover. She would influence her company to sign up a contract with him. He would easily make a substantial amount of money from it.
The chemistry was undeniably there. He could feel the burning passion inside Addison. Under normal circumstances, he would have taken her to a nearby hotel and booked a room.
That was all very well with an ordinary woman but Addison was a true lady. He would not dream of doing something so unrespectable to her.
He would take his time with her. Rushing was not the way. At first, he’d pamper her with lots of admiring little actions. When she was settled in the cloud that he created, he would move to the next step. Take her to the best restaurants in town where his money would show its power. Next, he would shower her with luxury gifts.
When Addison was ready, she would let her guard down. She would willingly seduce him and choose him as her lover. Powerful ladies needed to feel in control. He would let her have all the control she needed.
If she made the move, she could not complain that he was a married man, could she? Jayden had it all worked out. He was confident, he trusted his instincts. Addison would be his little pussycat before long. All he had to do was enjoy the journey. That would lead him to paradise.
* * *
The reception venue was grand and luxurious. One thousand guests? It was a bit extravagant wasn’t it? No one had so many relatives and good friends. What was Harrison trying to prove? That he was doing far better than all his uni mates?
Jayden tried to find some familiar faces from university but he couldn’t see any. He thought everyone they knew from uni must have been invited, otherwise why had he been invited?
He tried to see if he could find George White. He was CEO of a large financial company. His face often appeared on the news. How about Samuel Smith? He was a big man on the stock exchange.
Before he came to the wedding, he figured that Harrison wanted to make connections. It worked both ways. He didn’t mind adding Harrison to his contact list either.
It looked like he was the only one who has been invited from the accounting faculty. Well, he thought it helped when you had the personality.
“How long have you been on your own?” A direct question came from the lady on his right.
“I beg your pardon?” He wanted to say, “Mind your own business” instead.
“Hi, I am Angie. The bride’s mother, Holly, is my best friend.”
“Well, I am honoured to sit on the same table as the bride’s mother’s best friend. I am Jayden.”
“I know. I helped Holly to arrange the seating.”
“Thank you for the privileged seat.”
“You’re welcome. I promised Holly that I would look after you tonight.”
Jayden didn’t like Angie’s forceful personality, her appearance even less. Her unnatural, stiff, short hair, the exposed neckline which showed the aging of the slightly humped back. The thick makeup brought out the wrinkles, the colour of her bright red lip gloss bled around her mouth. The sunspots on her face made her look dirty, the floppy pieces hanging on her dress made her look untidy. Her over exposed cleavage put him off straightaway. He didn’t like women who made themselves like a piece of meat, hanging in the market for sale.
The other people on their table were couples. He looked at those dull faces and thought, ‘It will be an early night.’
“Holly has told me so much about you,” Angie said.
He really wanted to stand up and move away. If he were on a plane, he would have gone to the flight attendant and asked for a different seat. She was hunting for a mate. Her obvious behaviour turned him right off.
“What could she have possibly said? She doesn’t really know me that well.”
“You would be surprised. Holly is an observant lady. She notices things more than most people.”
Someone tapped a glass in front of the microphone.
“Ladies and gentlemen, would you please stand up to welcome Mr Logan and Mrs Imogene Lancaster,” the master of ceremonies announced.
“Here comes the bride.” Jayden stood up. He was glad of the interruption from the MC. He couldn’t care less about Holly – what a boring subject to talk about.
The bride and groom held hands and, smiling happily from ear to ear, walked in between the tables to the bridal table at the end of the hall. That was the very first time Jayden had a chance to lay his eyes on the bride. When they walked past him, he saw Kelly’s face. He stared at the bride’s face. He could not believe what he saw.
The bride had an unusual heart shaped face and eyebrows with a sharp arch, like a boomerang. She had deep set eyes with the whites visible under the irises. A short, straight, full and fleshy tipped nose, with gently flared but protected nostrils. Her lips curved up and were full and rounded.
That was what his daughter Kelly looked like.
Kelly got those looks from him. His mother often said “Kelly is a small print of you”.
Imogene was an older copy of Kelly.
Jayden felt like he had been hit with a heavy object. His head was spinning and his mind was confused.
How old was the bride? She looked about 30. It was about 31 years ago that he had bought the motorcycle. A few days later, he had had the one-night stand with Holly in Ballarat. How could it be?
* * *
He had a headache and felt tense and anxious. His throat felt dry, his palms felt wet. He felt uptight. The left side of his cheek had a spasm. A feeling of irritation wrapped around him, he was overwhelmed.
A seafood cocktail and smoked salmon were served as alternate entrees. Angie asked if she could swap her salmon with Jayden’s seafood.
“Do whatever you please.”
“Thank you.” Angie put her hand on his arm. “You are a gentleman.”
He pulled his arm away from her by reaching out for his wine glass.
The waiting staff were attentive. As soon as his glass was half empty, they came and filled it up. He didn’t know how many glasses he had drunk. All he knew was he didn’t really eat much, he just kept drinking to quench the dryness in his throat.
Jayden knew other guests were laughing at the speakers but he couldn’t hear a word of the speeches. Everyone was enjoying the celebration except him.
He kept asked himself the same question, ‘Was the bride mine?’
Harrison and Holly mingled amongst the tables, showing their appreciation to their family and friends and thanking them for taking part in the celebrations.
Jayden stood up. Before he had a chance to kiss Holly, Holly had already put out her hand. He shook her hand and Harrison’s. He tried to read Holly’s face, to see if there was any message to him but there was none whatsoever.
Holly had a happy smile on her face. She was aging better then Angie. At least she still had her dignity. She wore a respectable outfit in a modest style.
“Thanks for coming Jayden!” Harrison shook his hand again before moving to the next table.
“Thanks for having me Harrison.”
When he tried to look for Holly, she had already moved to the next table.
“How do you feel?” A voice next to his ear said softly. He felt a hand touch his arm.
He thought it was Angie again. He pulled his arm away. His elbow hit the person, she stumbled away from him.
“I am sorry, did I hurt you?” He turned towards the person. It was not that annoying Angie, it was Addison who he had really wanted to please so much.
Addison’s nose was bleeding.
“Let me take you to a doctor.”
“I am a doctor, let me have a look,” Angie said.
Jayden was surprised. He thought Angie was a good for nothing woman.
“Just a little blood. No harm done. If it bleeds again, put an ice block on it and that should stop it. You’ll be ok.”
“Thank you Dr Wards,” Addison said.
Jayden was surprised again. He thought, ‘Angie Wards? Is that the famous doctor who does a lot of charity work?’
“I was coming over to let you know I am leaving,” Addison said.
“Good, I’ll drive you home.”
“I don’t think you should drive. Why don’t you call a taxi, pick up the car tomorrow, when you feel fresher?”
Angie was right. Jayden could not even stand up straight.
* * *
“That is very nice of you to let me into your lovely apartment.”
“I thought you might like it.”
“I’ve been to this apartment building before but I can’t remember which apartment.”
“Would that be number 107?”
“Ha ha, you are funny, that’s your number.”
“My number is 109.”
“Who lives in number 107?”
“It is rented out to a cooperative. All different people live there, it changes quite frequently.”
“Good to have new faces around.”
“Is that why you don’t stay in a relationship very long?”
“Who gave you that idea? I would love to have a long lasting relationship, one that could last forever. Why do you think I came to the wedding? Because Harrison and Holly were my university friends. I wanted to be a part of their celebration of the happiest day of their beloved daughter’s life.”
“I didn’t know you are sentimental.”
“Oh yes, I am a sentimental guy. I care for the people that are closest to me. I would do everything and anything for them. People closest to me all know that I am a rock for them. They can turn to me whenever they need support.”
“Are you kidding or do you really mean what you said?”
“Come on Addison, we spent hours together today. You are a smart lady; you can see for yourself.”
“Are you looking for some casual excitement?”
“I am not that kind of guy. I never take advantage of a beautiful lady.”
“Then why did you offer to take me home?”
“I didn’t think you should take a taxi home on your own. At this hour of the night, you never know what could happen. There are lots of sick people around. You have to be very careful. After spending some time together, I felt I should protect you, if you let me.”
Addison went into the bedroom, while talking. “You wanted to protect me because of my job title or because I am a woman?”
Jayden laughed. “Your job title is impressive but don’t get me wrong, I like you more as a woman. I wouldn’t offer to take a man home, even if he was our Prime Minister.”
He thought he better handle this carefully. Soon Addison was going to walk out from her bedroom wearing her sexy nightgown and seduce him.
“I love your taste. I love how you decorated your living area.”
“That was my mother’s taste actually. It was my birthday present. I went to Europe for six weeks and when I came back, the whole place had been redecorated.”
“That’s a wonderful present!”
“It certainly was wonderful. This apartment was a present from my parents too. I lived in number 107 for a few years, after I graduated from uni.”
Addison walked into the lounge, with a body hugging long sleeve top, a pair of skinny jeans, a wide heavy belt fitted with metal stars sitting on her hips and a pair of flat long boots up to her knees.
She didn’t look like she was going to seduce him. Jayden drew a deep breath. He did not know what to expect.
“Do you like this apartment better than 107?”
“I don’t know, I haven’t seen 107. I wouldn’t know which one I liked better.”
“I thought you have a good memory.”
Jayden sat up in the couch. He sensed something was wrong. Addison’s soft and gentle smile had turned into an icy cold grimace. Her sexy green eyes were filled with hatred, her facial muscles had stiffened.
“Hit and run!”
“I can explain.”
“Then explain!” Addison sat down opposite him.
What had that got to do with Addison? Why did she care so much about Imogene? Who Imogene’s father was had nothing to do with her anyway.
“I am waiting.”
“It was an unexpected encounter. I was young and foolish. I realised it was wrong, that’s why I didn’t contact her. If I had known she was pregnant, I would have taken responsibility. I would not have left her out in the cold. What do you think I felt the whole night? I couldn’t believe it when I saw Imogene’s face. It was my very own face.”
“You are Imogene’s father? Why did you tell me that? Did you think it would make me feel better? Are you trying to tell me that was the way you were?”
Jayden looked into Addison’s eyes, hoping to see some clue.
He felt cold. It was what he got from Addison’s eyes – cold ice.
“Did I really mean that little to you? Or are you just being yourself, a heartless bastard?”
* * *
Michael was born a few months after Jayden set up his own business. He was stressed with the newly founded company, working 12 to 16 hours a day. He was constantly lacking sleep. Michael was an unsettled baby and Maya couldn’t cope with him very well. Maya’s mother moved in with them for a few months, helping to look after the household.
He was tired, Maya was tired. They argued a lot. Their home life was not harmonious. The new addition to the family didn’t bring the joy that they thought it would.
It was not that he needed a reason to have affairs. The affairs he had during that time were short and meaningless, purely for his physical needs. He forgot those ladies as soon as the affair ended.
Jayden remembered vaguely a young and fresh uni graduate he met in the dentist waiting room. She was vivacious and bouncing with energy. That was what he had needed at that moment. When they saw each other again in the car park, he couldn’t help talking to her.
She wasn’t a great beauty but her looks were pleasant enough. He had been captured by her youth and nothing else. After a few brief drinks, she surrendered.
He couldn’t remember what happened later, how long they were seeing each other.
He couldn’t remember her name was Addison.
There was no way he could connect Addison’s face with that young graduate.
“Why didn’t you return my calls?”
“I worked long hours. Often I didn’t even have time to eat or drink. My life was tied up with my work. I was not like I am now, with free time to spare. Addison, didn’t today prove that I was and still am attracted to you? Do you know how hard it was for me? You should understand the pressure I had at the work place, especially when the business was only new. I had to try very hard to keep it going. Often there were disappointments but I still had to keep my chin up and keep trying. Was I or wasn’t I attracted to you today when I first laid my eyes on you? After all those years, I was still hoping to see that gorgeous young graduate again. I kept myself free just waiting to see you again.”
“Of course I remembered. The feelings I had for you only come once in a lifetime. Nothing could replace it.”
“You hurt me badly, do you know that?”
“Good. That means you did love me.”
“Of course I loved you. That’s why it hurt so badly. You didn’t even remember me.”
“I did. I was waiting for you to say something. I didn’t know if I should or shouldn’t say anything. For all I knew, you may have already married and didn’t want to talk about the past. To be a gentleman, I had to wait until you decided to say something.”
Jayden moved to Addison’s side and looked into her eyes. The ice in her eyes had already melted away. He held her hands.
“Let me spend the rest of my life making it up to you. I promise you, it will be the best love you’ve ever known.”
Addison burst into tears. Jayden put his arms around her. She laid her forehead on his shoulder.
* * *
Jayden didn’t want to wake Maya. He quietly changed and gently lay down on the bed.
“One of Michael’s girlfriends is pregnant.”
Maya’s voice made him jump.
“Michael? He’s only a boy.”
Maya switched on the light and sat up in the bed, facing him.
“What does he want to do about it?”
“What do you think?”
“He is too young to get married. The unwanted child would cause problems for both parents.”
“That was what I thought. I told him we would pay for all the expenses she needed.”
“Good move. I know I can count on you.”
Maya was pleased with Jayden’s reaction. She switched off the light.
Jayden was glad for Michael. At least in the future Michael wouldn’t have to face the same situation he had faced today. Well, he hoped the new generation would be much more open minded than his generation. If everyone put their gloves on the table, no one would ever wonder ‘Was the bride mine?’