Boy on the Towpath

by Andrew Foote

Chapter 12

I think we both slept soundly. I for one didn't stir and if Tom did, well I wasn't aware of it.

I glanced up at the clock. 7.15. The sun was filtering through the blinds and I could feel the humidity on the boat rising already to the point where despite last night's shower, I was in need of another one. Tom slept on and he was a pleasure to watch! He looked so young and vulnerable yet poised and calm. Yet again the need to hold him tight and protect him from the inevitable was all but overwhelming but I forced myself away. We had time enough for that. Today was of paramount importance to all of us and HAD to go well for all our sakes.

Following my shower, I laid out the clothes for later on and made some tea. I didn't want to wake Tom too soon as there was nothing much to do until such time as we left for the church. The weather forecast on the TV was for a fine and settled day so that at least would be cheerful even if nothing else was.

I wondered how Janet would be feeling because as hard as I tried, I could feel no excitement only a kind of sadness that it had come to this, an arranged marriage, not in the accepted sense of the word but arranged none the less. I cast my mind back to David's words. "All weddings are joyous occasions." And I hoped to God he was right and that I could pull myself up when the time came.

I sat at the table with my head resting on my folded arms and I must have drifted off briefly as I felt Tom's hand on my back bringing me back to reality.

"Are you okay Stu?"

"Sorry pal I was miles away. Yes I'm alright."

"You don't sound very happy?"

"I just wish things could have been different, that's all."

"The wedding? You're not happy about it, are you?"

"Like I said, I wish circumstances were different."

"I'm happy you and mum are getting married and I know mum is as well so you should be too."

"You're right. I'll be okay once the time comes. Honest."

We ate a light breakfast, Tom showered and we both got dressed in our finery. The taxi arrived twenty minutes before we were due at the church, arriving there ten minutes before the event.

It was odd just the two of us being there along with David's wife and the verger and still I was having to fight hard to supress tears and I was so afraid that I wouldn't be able to sustain it but just as the clock ticked around to the allotted hour, suddenly the church started to fill with people. People from my past, most of which I hadn't seen in years all of them waving to me as they took their places!

Then another crowd of people arrived, none of which I knew but guessed they were friends of Janet. Tom recognised his head teacher and his maths teacher plus his young friend Paul but I couldn't get my head around how they'd all found out? Sure Jan could have told her own friends and acquaintances but mine? Then the penny dropped! Maggi. It had to be Maggi! I'd invited her and she'd offered the use of her Alvis as a wedding car and during that conversation, I'd voiced my concerns about the service being a forlorn affair and now I wondered just how much of what I'd said she'd taken on board. But my thoughts were suddenly interrupted as the organ struck up announcing Jan's arrival.

I was nervous, really nervous! I wanted to turn around and look at her but

I resisted however Tom didn't.

"Oh wow Stu? Mum looks lovely!"

I swallowed hard in an attempt to keep my emotions in check but this time it wasn't the feelings of sadness but more now a mixture of love, pride and happiness that stabbed at my heart.

Jan moved to my left side and we looked each other and smiled! She looked incredible! Ten years had been knocked off her and she genuinely looked happy and relaxed!

A normal wedding service for the most part but David's talk was indeed very special.

"I would very much like to congratulate Janet and Stuart on taking their vows of marriage this afternoon and I pray God that their life together will be happy and fulfilling. Also I would like to pay tribute to other very splendid people who have played a very special part in facilitating everything that makes this perhaps the single most rewarding service I've ever conducted and the single most pleasurable.

Our best man! Young Tom has done a sterling job in supporting Stu and despite his tender years, has conducted himself with a maturity far beyond that and now I can fully understand the love that Jan has for her son and more especially, the love that Stu has for him and I KNOW that no matter whatever the future brings, he will nurture and grow in a very loving environment.

Over the last week or so, it has been my privilege to spend many hours with one particular lady. Whilst we don't share the same faith, she is without doubt the most fascinating person I've met in many years and our conversations reminded me of a visit I once made to Tibet where I fortunate to spend some days talking to and learning from a Buhdest priest. A very leaned man who exuded a calmness and dare I say, an understanding of people that I've never experienced since. That is until I met Maggi.

Stu, you must know that it is because of this remarkable lady that so many of your friends and acquaintances are here to celebrate with you today and whilst I know you have learnt a lot from her recently, you are not alone as I too have gained an insight into things I once dismissed as imponderable.

I know that it's not normal practice at a wedding to applaud but this is no normal wedding ceremony! Please ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause to these fine people, Stu and Janet and also to Tom and Maggi."

The church erupted with the clapping of hands and wolf-whistles! I think that all three of us standing in front of the altar were completely overcome and just as the applause was dying down, I took hold of both Jan and Tom and held them both in a tender embrace. If the first round of clapping wasn't loud enough, the roof was almost lifted off the building with the second!

We walked, all three of us down the aisle wiping away tears of pure happiness and joy! David had been proved right after all!

Many photographs later and we headed for Maggi's car and away to the vicarage and the reception.

I don't recall much of a conversation on that short trip. I think that the whole thing had blown us away but as we turned into the driveway of the vicarage, we were met by another surprise. A massive marque had been erected in the gardens complete with waiting staff holding trays of drinks.

"What on earth...?"

"Stu I don't know! But who paid for all this?"

"I've no idea but you bet your socks I'll find out! Nobody is going to be out of pocket on our behalf!"

"Do you know what you just said?"

"Um, what did I say?"

"On OUR behalf silly! That one small comment has truly made this day one of the happiest of my life and you know why? It's because you actually feel that we're a couple!"

"But, 'MRS' Mailing! We are! What's more, we're a family and a very special one!"

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