Lauren aged 4, Erik aged 10.
Lauren was concentrating very hard. She wanted to be the perfect hostess and from the looks of things everyone was very much enjoying her tea party. Floppy Bunny had eaten all the carrots (Lauren had hidden them under the table), Misty the Unicorn was munching on a plastic donut and BaBa the Bear had really liked his plastic cheese block until he had started slipping over to one side in his little chair. Lauren frowned at him for misbehaving but quickly focused back on the task at hand. She had two small pink tea cups on two small pink saucers and she was carefully pouring 'tea' out of a pink and purple tea pot. It was a very precise task, requiring full concentration so that she didn't 'spill' anything and embarrass herself in front of her guests. When she was satisfied, she put down the tea pot and handed one tea cup and saucer to the boy who was awkwardly hunched on a small blue plastic seat to her right. He accepted the cup and under her watchful stare he sipped accordingly, smiling at her. Now that Lauren was sure that Erik would play along appropriately she smiled back and pretended to sip from her own tea cup.
She really was a great hostess.
Lauren aged 6, Erik aged 12.
"Yes, I know."
"Yes, I know, I'm coming!"
From the swings, Lauren could see that Erik wasn't happy as he stalked towards her from the other side of the park, but she also knew he wouldn't yell at her. Erik never yelled at her, even if she played the "why" game which always made him go all frowny. But still, it was his fault for not paying attention to her when she had specifically asked him to come with her to the park so he could push her on the swings. She loved the swings, they were her favourite, but she could never get high enough if Erik didn't push her; after all, her feet didn't even touch the ground. The minute they had entered the park through the gate she had run to the swings, grinning happily, and climbed with some difficulty onto her favourite one (she always used the big swings now, not the kiddy ones which were for babies). When she had looked up she saw that Erik hadn't followed her and was instead talking with two girls and another boy who were sitting on a log on the other side. One of the girls seemed to having problems with her hair as she kept flipping it away from her face and Erik must have been telling some of the knock-knock jokes Lauren had learned from school and had told him the other day because the other one kept throwing her head back and laughing hysterically. Lauren had sat on her swing completely unable to move forward or backwards until boredom had set in and she'd called for Erik. Maybe he was mad that he had to push her, but she had asked him if it was okay on their way over.
"Are you ready?" Erik said, grabbing hold of the bottom of the swing.
Lauren nodded happily, gripping the chains in her small hands so she wouldn't fall off.
With a couple of pushes Lauren was swinging high into the air, kicking her legs backwards and forwards like Erik had taught her when she was little. She squealed in delight, and finally a smile spread across Erik's face.
The boy on the other side of the park shouted something at them and laughed but Lauren was too busy enjoying herself to really hear what he said.
"Just grow up Kyle," Erik shouted back, and with a quick look behind her Lauren saw that he looked mad again.
"What did he say?" she asked.
"Nothing, he was just being stupid."
"Well, boys are stupid," Lauren said in her usual matter of fact manner. "Marcie at school says they have germs as well, but I play with you a lot and I've never gotten sick."
Erik snorted and Lauren guessed he was feeling better again so she felt rather pleased with herself.
"You're right, I don't have germs, but some boys do, especially the mean ones so I would stay far away from them if I were you."
"Joey Tucker always picks on Marcie but Marcie's older sister says it's because he fancies her. Marcie thinks it's gross so the next time he picks on her she says she's gonna punch him so he won't fancy her no more."
Erik laughed again and gave her another push when she seemed to be slowing down.
"That will probably cure him. Do you even know what fancying is?"
Lauren turned slightly in her seat and threw a stern look behind her.
"You're right, sorry," Erik replied seriously and Lauren turned back in her seat.
"Do you fancy anyone?" she asked a moment later.
"Where did that come from?"
"Well, one of the girls over there is staring at you and she laughed a lot when you were telling them jokes."
"When I was-? Oh right, yeah, well, I know her from school and they think I'm a funny guy at school."
"I think you're funny," Lauren interrupted, just in case he thought his school friends might like him better than she did.
"Thank you Lauren."
"Do you think you'll get a girlfriend? Judy's brother has a girlfriend and Judy says she's very nice and makes her cookies and cupcakes. Judy brought some into school."
"I imagine one day I'll get a girlfriend," Erik said, amused. "Will you get a boyfriend?"
Lauren wrinkled her nose.
"Not for a loooooooong long time. I don't know how to make cupcakes."
Erik sat down on the swing next to Lauren's and laughed.
"Not all girlfriends have to make cupcakes. Most boys will like them even if they don't."
Lauren considered this as she watched the horizon bob up and down in front of her.
"If I was your girlfriend, would you like me even if I couldn't make cupcakes?"
"Yes, I would. You're too cute not to like."
Lauren's grin practically glowed as she held her legs ramrod straight in front of and wiggled her toes in her sandals.
"Would you marry me even if I couldn't make cupcakes?"
"Hmm, I think I would."
"Promise? If I don't learn how to make cupcakes then you have to marry me, 'cause Aunty Joyce never got married and Mummy says Aunty Joyce must be lonely as a spickster and I don't think Aunty Joyce can make cupcakes 'cause I've never seen her make 'em."
The swing had almost slowed to a stop but Lauren didn't mind that Erik hadn't gotten up to push her again. Lauren didn't want to be lonely when she was a grown up so this was very important to her, and she liked Erik so she wouldn't mind marrying him much. Then even when they were both proper grown ups he could push her on the swings as many times as she wanted, and she might even be tall enough to push him on the swings too. Erik leaned forward on his swing and looked her in the eyes.
"I promise I will marry you one day if you find that you can't make cupcakes and if you don't find someone else, although I'm sure there will be a million boys out there who will love you even if you can't make cupcakes."
Lauren grinned back happily, and hopped off her swing. It was getting a bit chilly and she only had her cardigan on. She probably should have taken her coat like her Mummy had suggested but she hadn't wanted to carry it.
She turned around and saw that Erik was looking very serious.
"Don't go dating boys until you are at least 16. And don't let them do anything more than hold your hand until you are 18, and only think about marrying them when you're 30."
It all sounded sensible to Lauren so she agreed, skipping to the gate and hovering only long enough so that Erik could catch up, and then she skipped and jumped her way home.
Lauren aged 18, Erik aged 24.
Lauren glanced at her watch for the umpteenth time, then the clock on the wall to make sure her watch hadn't slowed down, and then out of the window in case he arrived earlier than he had said he would.
She was sitting in her desk that was pushed up against the window. It had once been the place where her dollhouse had stood until she had decided it was rather childish and her parents had stored it in the loft. Her desk was completely empty of the books that had covered it only a couple weeks ago when she had been completing her A-levels; they were now stuffed in bags ready to be sold online. Her laptop, which she had been half-heartedly paying attention to an hour ago, was sitting on her bed in sleep mode. Lauren was very much aware of her pathetic attitude but couldn't help but check outside through the window again for the blue car she was expecting.
It had been some time since she had seen Erik. He had moved away to university for 3 years and then had moved down to London to work within a large company. He had been back to visit several times and when she was 16 her parents had allowed her to visit him in London, but the visits were quite short and Lauren had looked forward to seeing him more and more even as the visits became fewer and less frequent. They used the Internet – thank god for the Internet – to keep in touch, regularly emailing back and forth and chatting online. Erik had always been such a big part of her life, a guiding force and a mentor at times and the loss of his constant presence had been startling. It had taken her a long time to adjust to the distance between them.
She had last seen him at a meal at his old house, where his parents still lived, just before she had started study leave for her final exams. He was full of interesting and funny stories about his colleagues and phone calls he received and things he had done with his new friends. Lauren soaked in every detail, ignoring the gulf that had seemed to open up inside her chest when she thought about how different their lives were, how he seemed to become more distant and harder to keep close.
He never mentioned any girlfriends in front of her, for which she was exceedingly grateful. No doubt he had had a few, but no one of significance, she believed, because he would definitely have told her if there was someone that important in his life; and when that day came, Lauren thought her heart might just explode.
It was easy to love Erik, and Lauren was very good at it. She felt as though it had always been there; love for a boy who was like a brother, love for guy who helped her and cared for her and seemed to really cherish her, and finally love for a man who was good, and kind, and mature in ways that the guys Lauren had known at school could only dream of. He knew about politics and world issues and could hold a conversation about anything with anybody. He was friendly and polite and looked out for others, especially those close to him. He was reliable and dependable and everything Lauren could ever want. He was also very much out of her reach.
When she had started to visit him in London at 16 years old, she had noticed the gap that had seemed to grow between them. Six years was a huge age gap according to her friends, and she had noticed how Erik had changed considerably from the boy she had used to play with. When she was doing her G.C.S.E's he had already completed his university degree and gotten a job, had been out drinking with friends (at least legally) when she still wasn't able to drink for another 2 years. She was still learning how to drive and he already had a company car. At home it was easy to ignore all these things, but when she visited him they became more and more apparent.
Yet Lauren couldn't help herself. She watched the blue car she was looking for pull into her driveway and didn't try to prevent a grin from spreading. Erik was everything she could ever want, and everyone else paled into comparison when she thought about him.
Lauren ran down to stairs, almost tripping over her own feet and swung open the front door before Erik had fully opened his own driver's door.
"You're late," she said.
"I'm not, I'm 5 minutes early," Erik corrected her, smiling and shutting his door.
"Did you bring me a present?" Lauren asked, trying to contain her excitement so that she didn't look like an idiot hopping from one foot to the other.
Erik opened the boot and lifted out a small rucksack before locking the car.
"Did I bring you a present? I thought we were at the stage where you were too old for me to bring back novelty gifts? Are you or are you not 18 now?"
"But did you bring me a present anyway?"
Erik rolled his eyes but from his grin Lauren knew that he had brought something with him. He always had from when they were little. If he went anywhere, on a holiday or even just a school trip, he would always bring back something for her.
Lauren stepped back into the house and out the way as her parents fussed over him as if he was their own child. Erik looked much the same as when she had last seen him except his hair was somewhat longer, enough to cover his ears. She clenched her hand into a fist when she thought about running it through his brown hair to see if it felt as soft as it looked. It was her automatic reaction now to keep from embarrassing herself.
He had come for dinner at hers, but he would be returning to his parents' house later that night. The meal was much like others they had shared, with jokes and anecdotes being passed around. Lauren was congratulated on her exams, even though she pointed out she still hadn't heard about her results yet. The faith that Erik expressed he had in her made her feel so warm inside and she blamed the heat in the room for the rise of colour in her cheeks.
Once dinner was over and her parents were clearing away, Lauren led Erik upstairs despite his protests that he should help clear away the remains of the dinner. Her parents wouldn't hear of it and Lauren certainly was having none of it.
She entered her room and climbed onto her bed, moving her laptop safely out the way and saw that Erik was still standing in the doorway, looking around her room.
"You know, I still remember when everything in here was pink," he said.
"Yes, and my furniture was made of plastic, and we had tea parties that you didn't even complain about after the fifth or sixth time."
Erik laughed quietly.
"You did serve the best air and plastic donuts, how could I say no?"
He finally came into the room and leaned against the desk that she had sat on to watch and wait for his arrival.
"How is work?" she asked to fill the brief silence.
"It's good. I'm actually thinking about moving to a different company."
"The usual, better pay, higher position… better pay."
They grinned at each other, but then that strange silence crept over them again.
"How is Marcie? She must be psyched about getting into Cambridge."
Lauren smiled when she thought of her friend's excitement about her university choice.
"She is. Of course we haven't heard about our grades yet but the thought of Marcie getting anything less than four A's is ridiculous, absurd and never going to happen."
"She isn't nervous or feeling intimidated or anything? I would have been."
"No, if anything I think it's Cambridge that needs to be nervous. They've probably never had someone quite like Marcie before."
It made him grin, which was what she had been aiming for, but the silence stretched between them again. Lauren had hoped it was all her imagination but things had seemed slightly weird when she had seen him in her last visit to London a few months ago. Usually their conversations were so normal and natural that people picked up on their long friendship immediately, but a few times in that trip she had caught Erik looking tense and some of the things he said had seemed forced, as if he had no idea what to say. To end the uncomfortable silence Lauren asked a question that had been plaguing her mind for a while.
"Do you have a girlfriend?"
Far from the desired effect, the question seemed to make the atmosphere even more uncomfortable and Erik was looking at her bedroom door.
"Not right now. I was… dating someone for a while, but it ended."
"Oh, I'm sorry," Lauren said, ignoring the pang in her heart at the thought of Erik with some faceless girl.
"No big deal."
The silence that grew again was nearly unbearable. Lauren fidgeted with the edge of her jumper, avoiding looking at Erik, but then Erik was probably avoiding looking at her too.
Finally her attention was caught when he bent down and rummaged through the rucksack he had brought up with him. He pulled out a small, square box about the size of two fists, wrapped in newspaper and held it out to her.
"You were right, I did bring a present. But it's the last one, really the last one this time."
Lauren smiled faintly, taking the box from him.
"That's what you said last time," she wisecracked, though neither of them laughed. She played with the box in her hands, even jokingly shaking it near her ear, although the slight rattling sound did not do much to pique her interest. She was much too preoccupied with Erik's behaviour and the lull in conversation.
When she looked up at him Erik was standing at her bookcase studying the photo-frames of her and her friends. She had changed them not long ago to more recent photos and Erik wouldn't have seen them yet. The way he seemed to take a long time to study each photo made Lauren realise he was avoiding having to look around at her and ignoring the silence between them. She felt her heart splinter a little and finally took a deep breath.
"Okay, so I'm guessing you know."
There was very little if any reaction at first. Erik simply moved onto the next photo.
It took Lauren a moment to gather her courage. There would be no going back, but this uncomfortable and unnatural feeling between them was evidence that things had already changed.
"You know that I love you."
Erik stilled in front of the photo she had taken with two friends at the local pub after they had finished their last exam. Slowly he turned to face her, already looking apologetic.
"It's obviously not my best kept secret," she interrupted, afraid of what he might say, "and I know that you probably think it's strange that I feel that way after knowing you my whole life, but seeing as we're already experiencing an awkward silence it's probably mildly less awkward to have an awkward conversation… if you what I mean."
Erik ran a hand through his hair down his face, moving to lean against the desk once more.
"Lauren, it's not that strange. I know that I've always been there and you know I've always cared about you. Feelings get all mixed up and different types of love can be confused for other types."
Lauren pursed her lips and rested her chin on her hand.
"Okay, lets try to remember that I'm 18, not 12, and that I am well experienced in many different emotions, enough to know the difference between brotherly love and romantic love."
"And can you at least take what I said a little more seriously and not treat this like a little girl crush? I didn't throw down the phrase 'I love you' for kicks."
Erik ran his hand through his hair again, a sure sign that he was either frustrated or exasperated, or both.
"Lauren, I'm not taking it lightly. But think about this, just think about it. You're 18, I'm 24. A six-year age gap is nothing to laugh at. I'm pretty sure your parents would have a heart attack if you dated someone who was 22, never mind 24."
"But they know you! And age isn't all that important-"
"Yes it is!" Erik said, suddenly leaving his spot against the desk and walking into the middle of her room. There he stopped and turned to face her.
"You're about to go to university, no doubt your first choice, you always were clever. Once you get out of university you're going to want to move to a city, like I did, where it's exciting and hectic and you'll get a great job, make new friends, and socialise like crazy. Right?"
Lauren nodded slowly.
"By the time you've gotten to that point you'll be about my age, you'll then start to date seriously if you weren't already, you'll want to find someone to be with for the rest of your life."
Lauren was only slightly surprised that Erik had guessed so accurately about the life she wanted to lead. He had always known her very well. Still, she had a feeling she wasn't going to like where this was going.
"By the time you'll want to settle down I'll be 32, or older."
"If it was three years between us it might be different. But I am going to get the point where I want to settle down about six years before you will."
Her head was beginning to throb, and a cold fever seemed to sweep through the rest of her body. If she could just have separated herself from the situation for a second, she might have been amazed at how a person's body could react so significantly to something they had heard, but there was no way to separate herself, no way to stop his words from whirling round inside her head.
"So, you're saying if I was older or you were younger you'd have no problem with us being together? Isn't that important? You want to be with me too."
Erik sighed and closed his eyes.
"Maybe, if there was only a couple years between us, things might be different."
"But they aren't. Six years is too much, Lauren. When you're 50 and I'm 56 then six years may not seem that much, but right now it's too much."
Lauren blinked hard. Erik hadn't seen her cry since she had shut her finger in his car door when she was 12, and she certainly wasn't going to let him see it now.
She heard the words, and smiled benignly, although she didn't really feel it. She also didn't really feel it as he came over to hug her. It was loose, unlike the tight hugs they shared in previous years, but Lauren didn't even notice. She barely heard him say that he would be returning to London in a few days and certainly didn't hear him say goodbye and softly shut the door behind him. All she knew was that despite the light shining in her room from her lamp, her world was very grey and bleak.
She lay down on her bed, her heart shattered into a million little pieces, and Erik's present lay at her feet unopened.
Lauren aged 22, Erik aged 28.
Lauren must have shaken the hands of fifty people, some of whom she was sure she should know but didn't, and others she absolutely didn't know but they apparently knew her, or had at least heard of her. It was a really beautiful day, and the church practically glistened where the sun's rays touched white walls, dainty flowers and white drapery. She had received many compliments about her dress and her hair and even a couple about her eyes, all of which made her feel fantastic and happy.
It was almost time.
The vicar stood at the front of the church, holding his bible in his hands and nodding along to some tune no one else could hear. Most of the guests were already in their seats and a few of the more sociable ones were being politely encouraged to take there's.
Lauren smiled, and the handsome groom who stood in front of all the guests returned her smile. He was obviously doing his best to ignore the teasing whispers of his groomsmen.
Erik looked amazing. He hardly ever wore a full suit, but now he was dressed in a tuxedo that made many a heart melt in the church. However, it was her he winked at and she winked back. Finally, the organ behind the vicar began the wedding march and people turned expectantly in their seats. Lauren took one last look at Erik, before turning to watch the doors at the back of the church.
When they opened, the bright sunlight was too blinding at first to see anything, but then a vision in white entered the room on her father's arm. A veil partially hid her face but her smile was clear to everyone who looked; and everyone was looking. Lauren watched as the gracious figure passed her and continued down the aisle and she smoothed a wrinkle out of the deep blue dress she was wearing. Her mother beside her was already crying, and even her father's eyes looked a little watery. Lauren contained a chuckle which would have been incredibly inappropriate and turned back to the front in time to see Erik take Fran's arm. Fran was an exquisite bride and she glowed beneath her veil, as every bride should on their wedding day.
Soon the vows were taken and the kiss was cheered, and the happy couple were making their way back down the aisle. Lauren clapped her hands and threw the handful of confetti she had in a hidden pocket in her dress when Erik and Fran were near enough. Erik ducked and caught her eyes for a second. He was laughing and Lauren couldn't help but grin in reply, and then he was gone, married, a husband, and Fran's.
Lauren aged 25, Erik aged 31.
Despite years of practice, Lauren could not paint her toenails without painting most of the rest of her toes. She cursed again as the beautiful deep red colour she had fallen in love with at the shops refused to co-operate, mostly because of her shaky hands even though she was concentrating. She dipped another cotton bud in the nail varnish remover and scrubbed at her toe.
It was a Saturday and instead of going on a girls' night out with her friends she had decided to have a girls' night in for once. She was in her comfiest pyjamas, had a box of half-eaten pizza beside her on the sofa and Meg Ryan had just jumped off a bridge back in time and was searching for Hugh Jackman to tell him she loved him, and life for Lauren was good.
She paused in her nail painting to watch the final kiss when the moment was ruined by the shrill sound of her telephone.
Groaning, she hobbled to the phone and grabbed it from the table at the entrance of the flat she shared with her unusually absentee roommate. Carly had said she wouldn't be back tonight and Lauren had been looking forward to an uninterrupted evening of solitude and self-indulgence. She glared at the phone as she pressed the 'answer call' button.
"This had better be important," she informed the unidentified caller as she hobbled back to her place on the sofa.
Lauren immediately recognised the voice and was about to emit a happy greeting when she noted the tone of the caller.
"Erik?" she said, concern filtering into her voice. "Is everything okay?"
Lauren pressed pause on her remote, despite the fact only the credits were now rolling and pulled her knees up against her chest, being careful of her toes.
Immediately Lauren pictured car accidents; work accidents; Fran in a hospital bed; Erik in a waiting room.
"Fran? What happened to Fran? Is she okay?"
"She's… she left me."
Lauren was shocked into silence. Now there were no mental pictures. She tried to get her head around this new information. Fran had left him. Had left… Erik. Erik's wife had left him.
"She's gone. She's not coming back."
"But she's… are you sure?"
"Yes. She's been staying with her mother for the past two weeks. She came back today to pick up her things."
"She's been at Veronica's for two weeks? Why? Why was she there?"
There was a pause at the end of the phone, and Lauren was about to backtrack and apologise when he finally answered.
"Things haven't been right for a long time now. She said she wanted some space, to think about things. Now she's made up her mind."
"But I don't understand. I mean, you mentioned you'd had a few arguments but that's normal, surely."
"It's not the arguing. It's what we've been arguing about. You know how we've been trying to have a baby?"
Lauren remembered. They'd been at a big get together meal with family and friends two years before and Fran had practically glowed when she announced they were going to start trying to have kids. Lauren even remembered the faint pang in her heart when she's thought about Erik having children.
"Yeah I remember."
"We tried, for two years. It wasn't happening so we went to a fertility clinic."
Lauren didn't really want to hear the answer, wished she didn't have to hear it. Her heart was already hurting for him before she even heard what he had to say.
"It's me. They said I can't have kids, that I'll never be able to have them."
Lauren's heart bled and she couldn't stop the tears that began to trickle down her cheeks.
"But what about IVF, all those kinds of treatments?"
"Wouldn't work, at least not with my help. Fran would have to use a sperm donor and she said she couldn't bear that."
"Erik, I'm so sorry."
Lauren sniffed and wiped her fingers under her eyes.
"Hey, don't cry, I didn't call you to make you cry."
"I know that, it would be very mean of you," Lauren said, managing to smile a little.
"I just… we talked through the options, Fran and me. We talked about all of them, well, argued about all of them. We couldn't agree. Fran wants a kid badly but she wants one with her husband, and I can't…"
Anger was beginning to simmer inside Lauren's heart when she heard the heartbreak in Erik's voice and it was all she could do to keep a sharp retort about Fran at bay. How dare she leave him because he couldn't have children? How dare she leave him because he couldn't have a biological child? They could have adopted, or gone with a sperm donor, or anything like that. Erik should have been worth it. Erik was worth it. What was genetics when you could have a family with Erik?
"You know, I'm due a visit to London," she said instead. "I've been dying to eat at that place in Covent Garden again, and I could definitely do with some decent shops around to find a present for my mum."
"Your mum's birthday isn't for another two months," he said, and Lauren was glad to hear that he didn't sound as close to tears as he had a few moments ago.
"Yes, well, if I don't want to see that look on her face again with the last gift I gave her I'm going to have to think a little further in advance than two days. I figure two months is a good starting point."
"I don't want you to go out of your way, you know I can't ask you to adjust your plans. I just… I just wanted… to talk to you."
Lauren smiled sadly.
"I know Erik, and you don't have to ask me to adjust my plans for you, I will anyway. I'm impulsive like that, haven't I always been? Look, I'll go to work on Monday, book some time off and call you and we'll set details. We can drown ourselves in cheap booze, cry on each others shoulders and go to that restaurant… although not necessarily in that order."
She thought she heard a faint laugh at the other end of the phone, which was enough to lighten her heart a little.
"Thanks Lauren, love you lots."
"Love you too, Erica," and she thought she heard another soft laugh right before the call ended and all that was left was the dial tone.
Lauren aged 28, Erik aged 34.
Laughing, Lauren collapsed into a chair. As another man approached her she waved him away politely. She was much too exhausted to get up again.
"You're quite the party animal," said Erik in the chair next to her.
"And you're quite the party pooper. You haven't danced to one song, not one!"
Erik shrugged unfazed.
"I have refused to dance to any song ever again since Marcie's birthday party last year when that kid said I do really funny 'dad-dancing'."
Lauren cracked up and even Erik had to grin.
"Ryan admitted he paid that kid to say that so stop being so hung up on it and dance!"
Erik shook his head and watched the other dancers flurry about. Lauren kept looking at him. The three glasses of wine she'd had felt like they were swirling around in her head, but she wasn't nearly drunk enough to forget the dangers of staring at him so openly. It had been three years since Erik and Fran had ended their marriage and Lauren had spent all her energy in the first two getting him back into high spirits again. In the last year she had caught herself staring at him more than few a times, and when Erik had noticed he had always smiled and looked away or struck up a conversation with someone nearby. Still, she couldn't help herself. His hair was floppy again like it had been when he was in his early twenties, yet his face looked mature enough so as not to make him look too young. The black shirt he was wearing looked fantastic – she had always told him he looked good in black – and his jeans encased strong legs that were toned from running, a sport which he had taken up in the last two years. Not for the first time, Lauren's heart ached and she gripped the seat firmly in her hands to prevent them from reaching over and stroking his hair.
Finally Erik noticed her staring and cleared his throat. Before she had a chance to talk herself out of it Lauren blurted out the first thing that came into her mind.
"Are you just going to ignore it?"
"Lauren," Erik warned, but whether it was the three glasses of wine or the constant ache in her heart, Lauren couldn't stop herself.
"No, really, are you going to ignore it forever? You're just going to watch me pine and pretend it's not happening?"
"Lauren, this isn't really the best time-"
"Is there ever going to be a best time for this conversation? Because if there is will you please tell me this magical time when I can tell you I love you and you'll admit that you return my feelings and then we can live happily ever after?"
"Don't be like that, Lauren, you're letting your drink talk for you."
"You're saying I'm drunk?" Lauren exclaimed, offended. "You're saying I could only say this if I was drunk? I have had three glasses of wine before, Erik, and although maybe it's helping me to say this right now it's not making me say anything that's not true."
"And stop using my name, Erik, so that you feel as though you're being the reasonable one, Erik, because you're not, you're being the childish immature one for once because you won't admit that you have feelings for me, and you do Erik."
Erik grabbed his bottle of beer from the table behind them but instead of drinking it he rubbed it back and forth with his hands.
"Please, not now."
"Then, when? I know you. There will never be a right time to say this, a magical time where it will be okay, because you have yourself convinced that you don't want to hear it even though you do."
This time Erik made no reply. He simply stared at the beer bottle in his hands, as if he was trying to block out everything around him.
"I know why you're doing this," she said, when he made no move to say anything. "It's because I want children, isn't it?"
She regretted the pain the flashed across his face, but persevered.
"You know I want children. Right from when I was little and we played happy families there was always a doll, always a child in our games. But that doesn't matter, not to me, not as much as you think it does. I don't care if I have a child biologically related to you and me, that's not important."
"You'll feel differently," Erik said suddenly, closing his eyes. "You'll feel differently later on. You'll want a child of your own. You might not think it matters now, but it will and I can't… I can't go through that again."
Lauren fought the tears that threatened to escape her.
"Why are you trying to be so self-sacrificing?!" she cried angrily. "I wouldn't put you through that, I wouldn't do that to you, you know I wouldn't. I have loved you too long to have something like that matter and you still insist on saying you won't be with me for my own good."
"It is for your own good."
"Don't you hear yourself? You're not listening to me. I've loved you for pretty much all of my life. I've gone through you moving away from me, you rejecting me, you marrying someone else, but I haven't changed! Nothing has ever changed for me."
Tears finally began to escape, and she wiped her cheek with the back of her hand.
"Don't you get it?" she asked. "Yes, we played games when we were little where you were my husband and we had a doll as a child, but the doll was never real. It was always a doll. But you were. You were always real to me."
Erik had put his beer bottle on the floor and put his face in his hands. Lauren couldn't read him, she couldn't even tell if he was even still listening, but she made a choice. She had been considering it for a while, but now she finally knew, in this moment, that it was now or never. Lauren leaned closer to him and spoke only loud enough to be heard over the blaring music.
"I love you, with all of my heart… but I can't keep living like this. If you can't accept me or accept what I'm saying then I can't be near you or I'll always want this. I'll never move on this way, and if you really can't see us together then I need to get over you."
She leaned forward, placing a gentle hand on the back of his head, and kissed him lightly on the temple. She couldn't bring herself to goodbye, to actually say the words, so she got up, took in a deep breath, and walked around him. She managed three steps.
A hand caught hers.
Lauren aged 29, Erik aged 35.
They chose Erik's parents' back garden for the wedding. It was spring, the flowers were blooming beautifully, and a long white carpet was flanked by seats filled with loved ones who were already in tears. Erik fiddled absentmindedly with the cuffs of his shirt. It was an ordinary white shirt, and he was also wearing ordinary smart black trousers. Lauren had tried to convince him to wear a black shirt, she'd always loved him in black, but he had felt it would have looked like he was attending a funeral rather than a wedding.
"You're not nervous are you?" his best friend Ryan said beside him.
"No," he laughed, "not at all. Just hoping she doesn't run off at the last minute."
"Hardly likely seeing as she's spent her whole life trying to convince you to date her. No way is she going to miss the day you're legally bound to her so she can make sure you can't run off."
Erik grinned at his friend. He wasn't really worried about Lauren getting cold feet. He'd been told she was hopping from one foot to the other in the house in her eagerness to walk down the aisle, so there was no chance her feet were getting even the slightest bit chilly.
"I'm surprised you agreed to marry her this soon, I thought you were going to drag it on for a bit longer," Ryan commented.
"Lauren said that she wanted to get married before her 30th birthday which is in two weeks, this is the latest date I could get her to agree to. She said I owe her for making her wait for me for so long."
"She does kind of have a point there."
"I know, that's why I agreed to it."
Not long after, the string quartet paused from playing classical music and began the wedding march. Erik's heart began to thump loudly as he looked expectantly up the aisle. It was different this time, although he couldn't completely put his finger on why. He had been very much in love with Fran and had expected to be with her for the rest of his life, but this time he felt as if everything was truly as it should be. For the first time in his life he felt completely one hundred per cent sure about the choice he was making.
He watched as his two small cousins walked down the aisle as flower girls, throwing handfuls of petals up in the air and even straight at people in their seats if they recognised them. Next Lauren's friend Marcie began the slow walk up the aisle to join the other bridesmaids standing at the front. She smiled prettily at her husband, one of Erik's groomsmen.
Then, when the anticipation was about to get the better of him, he finally saw her.
She was dressed in a beautiful white dress, and the small tiara that Marcie had persuaded her to wear was twinkling prettily in her hair. She had decided against a veil and Erik was glad. It meant he could see the light in her eyes and the happiness in her smile as her father walked them ever nearer. Not once did she take her eyes from his.
Lauren aged 32, Erik aged 38.
First of all, let me say that I think your new email address is retarded. Just because your old email was hacked does not excuse this monstrosity. We promised long ago that no matter what, we would not let our life revolve around boys. This, my friend, proves to me that you have reneged on our promise and I deplore you for it. Plus it's really cringy.
You'll be happy to know that Paul and I have finally unpacked all those blasted boxes. I swear when we emptied one, two took its place (very much like Harry Potter so I'm told by Clare, your most favourite god-daughter in the world, who is so rudely reading over my shoulder. She has now cleared the room). I'm just waiting for furniture to kit out our new spare room (that's right, I can now afford a house with unnecessary bedrooms!) and then I expect you up here pronto with that beautiful little girl of yours, and you may bring your husband in tow if you really must.
How is Maddison? Is she still the charming angel of my memory or has she finally turned into the kind of toddler brat I had to deal with with my own? If you get a smooth experience with the terrible-twos I will disown you in the unfairness of it all. Glad to hear that all the adoption paperwork is finally finished and over with, such hassle for so pro-longed a period! I admire you, my girl.
Pass on my congrats to Erik for his promotion will you? Paul sends his too. And I imagine Clare would if she cared about these sorts of things.
As new development go Clare's started playing the violin, much to my horror. Her teacher says she is a natural talent, which makes sense with my musical flare for the piano. I told you she takes after me more than Paul.
And I hear that congratulations are in order on an unexpected soon-to-be new addition to your lives! I can just imagine your faces when you got the news, I'd have paid anything to see Erik's. I am so pleased for you Lauren, in all seriousness. It truly is a miracle and it couldn't have happened to nicer more deserving people. Let me know if you find out the sex, regardless I will begin planning your next baby shower immediately.
Anyways, must dash. Apparently Paul has just found two more boxes we haven't unpacked. I think someone's playing a very mean trick on us.
Lots of best friend love,
A/N: I just wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who has let me know they like my stories. Every time I get a notification I get so excited. It makes a HUGE difference to my motivation, as I'm sure any author on fictionpress could tell you.
So a BIG thank you to:
AngelsXDevils, SandmanCircus, xEchoxInfernox, Reeech Beeetch, blubbfreak, Ngoc1231, Mrs. Keith Ronald Harkin, anitsirK, ghurl00, WhenItRains, , The Imagination Addict, Katie Valentine, lissalee, sappyromancelvr, aliceeyy-chan, lola, Ravina, Beautiful Destination, psycho angel, WishBlade, ksonic, perfectly bemused, Only Slightly Crazy, Ceri Anne, x Storm x, Lily, ChaoticFaerie, OrangeXAngel, butt-munch, lost in pale blue, Too Much Info, pinkguppie, Li and JustKitsch.
Also thank you to all those who favourite my stories and add me to their author alerts, I don't have your names but I still want to give you a BIG thanks for letting me know you like them.