Merry Christmas, one and all! I thought it was about time I gave you all a sneak peek of what to expect of the story, so as an early Christmas present, here is the beginning of chapter three of The Third Wheel , in which Dexter is attending a wedding and encounters his most recent ex-girlfriend, with whom he never felt he belonged. Enjoy!
The weather is uncharacteristically perfect. Lara-and-Steve have exchanged vows and rings, kissed to seal the deal and are now being moved around by the photographer, who is trying to get as much of the old hotel they’ve chosen as a wedding venue into the background as possible. It’s a gorgeous location and we all gather on the lawns with glasses of champagne.
Everyone seems coupled up and talking away happily, so I focus on the alcohol and check my phone. Maybe I can get in a level of Candy Crush – I’ve been stuck on Level 433 for weeks.
“Come on, get that phone away,” I hear. I look up and find Jay-and-Kay approaching, beaming. He’s tall, broad-shouldered, wearing dark glasses and a smart trilby. She’s short, pale and pointy like an Arctic fox. On the occasions I do get bitter, they’re probably the couple I have least bitterness about, as they were already engaged by the time I met them, so I’ve never had time to resent the idea of one of them being stolen from singlehood.
“Beautiful ceremony wasn’t it?” smiles Kay. She’s from Brooklyn, and it strikes me once again how much louder an American voice is on British soil.
“Lovely,” I grin back. “Couldn’t happen to a nicer couple.” I mean it too. Lara and Steve make a great couple. He’s about three years older than her, and they’ve been together nearly ten years. At the time, her being sixteen and him being a far more mature nineteen, I think we all privately wondered why he was messing around with someone apparently so much younger, but now we wonder why we ever had doubts and the age gap is nothing.
As Kay launches into a speech about some political situation in America that I remember seeing headlines about on Google News, I notice a face in the crowd. I’ve managed to avoid Georgina so far, but now she’s seen me. Crap, crap, crap. I swivel my head back round with a speed that means I risk whiplash to look at Kay, and laugh at the wrong point in her story. She gives me a weird look.
“OK, friends of the bride!” shouts the photographer, and I see Lara beckoning us over, smile so wide she’s in danger of the top half of her head falling off like the Canadians from South Park. I stand behind the happy couple, with Ruby-and-Alex, Jay-and-Kay, Kerry-and-Mia and, yes, Georgina in there somewhere too.
As her name comes unhyphenated, it may appear that she’s single but, nope, she has a new boyfriend too, only he’s not here. They started dating after all the invites had been arranged and there was no extra plus-one to accommodate him. Plus, I don’t think Lara likes him all that much. I know I don’t.
A few photos are taken, and we disperse as Steve’s friends begin to gather. Two of them pick him up and Lara’s smile falters for the first time all day. Jay, Kay and I retreat to a bench next to the hotel’s back steps and watch on. I can’t see Georgina anymore. Jay produces some cigarettes and we all take them and light up. The smoke curls up in the still air and disperses in a thin cloud across our faces.
Eventually, either there are no possible permutations of photographs left to take or the photographer is getting bored, and we all traipse back inside for the wedding breakfast. This is, to me, always the most disappointing meal any of us encounter in life as if someone invites me for breakfast, I expect there to be bacon at the very least, but hopefully also mushrooms, hash browns and fried eggs. As it is, in the backwards world of weddings, breakfast here means melon balls, roast beef and crème brûlée. I mean, fine, but it’s no bacon sandwich.
I am the only single person on this table, joined by Jay, Kay, Ruby, Alex, Kerry and Mia. I’m not left out of the conversation, especially, but every now and then the couples return as if to check in with one another and I’m left drinking too much wine to compensate. We’re the only table to so far have asked the waiters for another bottle, and I’m probably a substantial part of the reason.
“Have you spoken to Georgina?” says Ruby, next to me. The question comes from so far out of the blue it’s actually green.
“No. Has she said anything to you?” I say back. I’m trying to lower my voice even though Georgina is a good three tables away, but the fifth glass of wine has turned off the part of my brain that controls volume awareness.
“She said hello, but that’s all,” Ruby shakes her head. “Why don’t you try and get back with her?” This is strange, as Ruby never much cared for Georgina. I think she just feels embarrassment on my behalf of being, as she views, lonely.
“Have you forgotten how it ended?” I chide, gesticulating with my glass. “She threw my Kindle in a pond and I set fire to her dress, although in fairness it was accidental on my part.”
“Well, you could still say hello,” says Ruby. I shrug and turn to talk to Kerry-and-Mia about their new puppy.
The plates are cleared away, the speeches are made, and we toast the happy couple, before moving off to the gardens again while the tables are cleared away and the room becomes a dance floor. In the interim, Lara and I talk about her and Steve’s honeymoon. She mentions a news report about Europe – she thinks France – that was on the previous night, but neither of us knows much about it. Some political event, I think. The evening guests begin to arrive, including Iris and Annie (one half of Annie-and-Matt), both without partners due to Lara not really know either of them and guest space being at a premium.
We put our cigarettes out and are allowed back into the function room, which looks much bigger now it lacks tables. A few waiters are setting out a buffet, and while I don’t know how anyone can even consider eating, Steve, Alex and Jay simultaneously make a move for it. I’m not your average man – most of the ones I know seem to have bottomless stomachs and an overriding love of sport. One of the many reasons I’ve always been more comfortable being friends with women.
Once Steve is dragged away from the chicken legs he’s gorging on, they cut the cake, have their first dance (Adele’s “Make You Feel My Love”) and the rest of us, pleasingly buoyed with alcohol swarm onto the dance floor like ants honing in on a dropped toffee apple.
The music is what one has come to expect from weddings – the Grease soundtrack, Abba, Jackson Five – and then hits from ten years ago that make us all scream with recognition and excitement as the first notes play and we are taken back to being sixteen and seventeen, partying every weekend at someone’s house, circulating around the town so that parents had time to replace everything that got broken before that house hosted another one.
I started drinking gin and tonics and, soon enough, I find myself in a corner of the hotel’s gardens under a bush shaped like a jumping stag with Georgina.
Through the alcoholic fug, it’s not clear who approached who, but someone asked the other one for a light and we now both stand here, the music thumping away back in the hotel – it sounds like “Dancing Queen”.
“What a lovely evening,” she says, dragging deeply on her menthol cigarette. Her hair is dyed an emerald green, which at sixteen would’ve been experimental and cool, but now just looks like someone struggling with the reality of adulthood.
“We should go back in,” I say, not wanting particularly to have a conversation.
“No, Dex, hang on a second, I want to say something,” she says, reaching out and just stopping short of grabbing my wrist, a gesture we both know would be inadvisable. I decide to see what she wants to say.
“I’m sorry,” she doesn’t say.
“We should get back together,” she doesn’t add.
“Do you think we could try again?” she doesn’t query.
Instead, she says, “Why didn’t you fight for me?”
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