3rd place winner in SCRIBBLER's September 2020 Dialogue Writing Contest
The day was perfect. The floral arrangements were crisp and gorgeous, the satin clothes that were draped over the pews had been delivered on time, all the bridesmaids fit into their dresses and not a single guest without an RSVP had shown up to the church. When Steve took his place at the altar, he smiled softly as the bright North Carolina sun shone through the stained glass windows, bathing the marble walls in a symphony of rainbow hues. These colors seemed to radiate off his beautiful Emma as he watched her walk down the aisle and take her place on the other side of the rose colored runner that she had hand-picked for her special day.
Aside from certain parts of his vows, Steve could not rightly remember what had been said in the few minutes they stood there. The priest officiating their wedding was not the one they had originally wanted, so his speech was uninspired and generic, something both bride and groom had agreed to not encumber them. All Steve remembers is that right as the priest was about to pronounce them man and wife, the church doors suddenly opened.
They opened slowly due to their impressive size and weight, but they also opened loudly. Every head turned in confusion, including his own, but the sunlight that flooded in blinded everybody and it was a while before anyone could see who had the audacity to interrupt the ceremony. Steve was the last to see, but the first to hear.
“Oh,” said the quietly familiar voice.
Steve blinked a few more times before the figure at the threshold became visible, and he immediately felt his heart jump up to his throat. “Jemma?”
Beside him, Emma tore her eyes from the person who would dare interrupt her wedding and focused them on the man she was about to wed.
A few yards ahead of the couple, Jemma gave a half-hearted chuckle. “I’m so sorry,” she said, waving her arms awkwardly. “I’m in the wrong place.”
Silence and confused blinks met her words, but Jemma ignored them, her eyes locked with Steve’s. She gave him the barest smile before ducking away and out of the church. Steve’s eyes lingered on the space Jemma had just vacated.
Behind him, the priest cleared his throat. “Shall I proceed?” he asked.
“Yes,” Emma said, her body already facing her groom. “You may proceed.”
“I now pronounce you Husband and Wi--”
“Wait.” Steve held up a hand.
Immediately, the murmurs began. Steven tore his eyes away from the church entrance to meet Emma’s. Her beautiful brow was furrowed in confusion and Steve could already hear her heart start to break.
Steven took Emma’s hand and kissed the top of her head. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”
Steven exited the church -- and his wedding -- to a cacophony of voices exclaiming in shock and disbelief. It took every ounce of willpower that he possessed to put one foot in front of the other and focus on what he felt he needed to do. Once out of the church, he broke into a run and ran until he spotted her.
She was only a few blocks away and she was pacing back and forth in front of a liquor store, probably debating just how drunk she wanted to get that night. Her arms were hugging each other, a sure sign of distress.
Once he got close enough that she wouldn’t be able to outrun him, he called out her name.
Jemma instantly started to walk in the opposite direction with that jerky panicked walk of hers.
“Oh, no, no, no, no!” Steve cried, easily cutting her off. “You’re not getting away that easily.”
“Jesus,” Jemma said, running her fingers through her hair, another sign of stress. “What the hell are you doing here, Steve? Don’t you have a fiancé to marry?”
“What am I doing here?” Steve repeated incredulously through his panting breath. “You interrupted my wedding!”
“I’m sorry!” Jemma shouted. “I don’t know what the hell I was thinking, okay? I’m sorry. Just leave me here and go back to Emma, please.”
She tried to get around him, but Steve blocked her path. “Oh, I plan to,” Steven said. “But first, you owe me an explanation.”
Jemma exhaled heavily and Steve could see her eyes glistening. He felt his arm twitch, the ghost of a once automatic move to wipe her tears away, but he ignored it. He stood there, his face steely, fists on his hips, unwavered by the threat of her tears. The weight of so many unspoken things hung in the air between them, both waiting for the other to speak.
Finally, with a defeated shrug, Jemma said, “What do you want me to say, Steve?”
“I want you,” Steve said slowly, “to say whatever you were planning on saying in that church, in front of my future wife and all of my friends and family.”
Jemma took a deep breath and, without ever breaking eye contact, said, “Okay... I was going to say, please, don’t marry her.”
Steve rubbed the bridge of his nose and turned away from Jemma, his entire body physically hurting from this exchange.
Jemma kept going: “Please, don’t punish me for my huge mistake by marrying her. Please, don’t marry her because I know you never stopped loving me.” The tears that were threatening to fall were now steadily streaming down her cheeks. Her voice became somewhat shrill and gargled as she tried to speak in between sobs. “I’m sure she’s wonderful and I’m sure you two are great together, but I fucked up and I just want you to know that you can still choose me--”
“You can’t do that, Jemma!” Steve shouted, his anger now immeasurable. “You can’t just disappear from my life and show back up at the worst possible moment!”
In the past, any time Steve raised his voice like this, Jemma’s response was always to clam up and get small. But this time, even though they were in a very public place and having a very audible argument, Jemma stood her ground. Her hands were balled into fists at her side and she held her head up, holding his gaze. Although her posture was unrelenting, her face was scrunched up in agony and wet with what Steve knew to be shame, not sadness.
“I know,” she said softly. “I knew coming here was a long shot, Steve. I know you love her. You wouldn’t be marrying her if you didn’t. Goodness knows, I rejected you enough times.”
Steve hung his head at that last comment and quickly wiped away a few runaway tears. “You left, Jemma. You left and you made it pretty clear that you didn’t want me. What the hell changed?”
Jemma shook her head. “Steve,” she said, her voice was clearer and stronger now, “I never stopped wanting you. You were all I wanted...” She trailed off.
“But?” Steve prompted.
“But you wanted all these other things. Marriage and a family. Things I didn’t want. Things I didn’t know that I could give you.”
Steve swallowed, digesting this. “So you thought disappearing was the answer?”
“I thought maybe you deserved a chance to have all those things with someone else, if that’s what would have made you happy… I guess I just thought-- I hoped that you’d change your mind and choose me again… someday.”
Steve shook his head. “Jesus, Jemma,” he said, his voice cracking. “I didn’t even know choosing you was still an option. Why didn’t you just tell me all this?”
Jemma’s shoulders fell. “Don’t take it personally, I push everyone away.”
At this, unbelievably, Steve laughed. Surprised, Jemma smiled in spite of herself.
A moment passed, and then Steve took Jemma’s face in his hands and wiped her already drying tears before planting a long kiss on her forehead and pulling her into his arms.
“I missed you,” he said.
Jemma’s hands clutched at the back of his midnight blue jacket and buried her face in his waistcoat; he had forgotten how small she was.
“I missed you, too,” she mumbled. “And I’m sorry for all this. You don’t deserve it.”
A few minutes later, a tired and sweaty Steve was entering the bridal suite at the back of the church. He was lucky and managed to avoid everyone he had abandoned earlier. They deserved an explanation, but that could wait. Right now, there was only one person who he needed to see and he found her -- alone, thank goodness -- sitting in front of the vanity mirror where her bridesmaids had applied her make-up that morning.
Steve entered without knocking. When she looked up at him, he was standing there, sheepish, his hands in his pocket, and an apologetic smile tugging sweetly at the corners of his lips.