Jennifer & John, at sea

John & Jennifer

The Grand Princess cut through the blue like a knife. Below, the cool turquoise of the sea, etched with lines of white foam and waves as the water hurried out of the ship’s way. Defiant waves push back at the bully of the boat, as if to remind the Princess that she was no “princess” out there. Above it, the crystal azure of a cloudless Caribbean sky turning paler as it reached the blaze of the white-hot sun above. A light breeze floats by, barely strong enough to counteract the heat.

The serenity of the outside is by no means matched on the inside. Busy bees carrying armfuls of lush blooms buzz around the Hearts and Minds chapel, moving in a perfumed haze. The chapel is flooded with the sunshine from outside, which glows off the reflective walls. John steps swiftly to the right as an army of tropical flowers descend upon the altar, threatening to take him down with them. He nervously brushes off a dusting of imaginary dust from his sleeve.

Phhuuurrr. It’s hot in here. He fans himself somewhat fruitlessly, knowing that the tuxedo is the real source of discomfort.

Out in front, the chairs filling the chapel are disappearing, being replaced with a sea of excited faces. They hum together, the crowd ebbing and flowing in a mingle. John grins at the familiar faces, big cheesy grins and funny contortions for their amusement. His father moves up the aisle, brandishing a large lavender bloom to secure to the lapel. A sudden jerk of the boat momentarily causes the father of the groom to lose his precarious balance, but he manages to steady himself at the last moment. He allows a relieved chuckle to escape his lips, one that grows louder as he watches his son comically applying lip balm. His deep tones are harmonized by a few elderly ladies behind him, who also spot John’s face.

Gotta be ready for that kiss. No new husband wants chapped lips.

The captain arrives, looking dashing in his uniform, his face a symbol of the sincerity he feels that the occasion warrants. Lisa sidles up to him, jokingly asking who is steering the ship, if he is here at the altar? A rumble of laughter across the room gives way to nervous coughs and confused frowns. Sensing the change of tone, the captain reassures the crowd that there is a full team aboard manning the ship whilst he holds the wedding. Phew.

A crew member hands John a mic, which is attached before being slipped into his pants pocket. In the back corner of the room, a camera crew is being set up. He watches as they carefully handle each precious piece of equipment, more gently than a newborn, and attach it all together. The cameraman peers intently through the lens, adjusting in order to get the best possible view of the altar. John wonders what he looks like through the lens, automatically adjusting the neatly creased lapels and smoothing his dark hair. He stares back at the eye of the camera like it is some unblinking nemesis. A busy bee flies into his direction, eagerly humming for the groom to take his position. He allows himself to be led into his correct spot at the right of the altar as the captain makes his exit to visit the bride.

Outside in the corridor, Jennifer is preparing to make her entrance. She’s all dolled up, hair falling in perfect ringlets, and suitably late enough to make the groom sweat that little bit extra.

Upon her face is etched a permanent smile, that not even the rocking of the boat can remove. She scarcely notices it. Or indeed, the fuss that follows her around. She has barely taken a step out of the elevator before a trusty girlfriend is on hand, fluffing her train and checking the positioning of the veil. Another attacks her viciously with a make-up brush, least the rouge fade in the breeze. Before her, a photographer snaps away incessantly, hopping around in order to achieve optimum light and positioning, stopping her every few moments to pose for his masterpieces. Another woman just stands there dumbfounded, partly over-seeing the entire process or lost for anything to fix.

The captain appears, all smiles now, and takes Jennifer through the particulars of the ceremony. She listens intently, not even the sudden jolt of the boat distracting her. After all, she is no stranger to being aboard a ship.

A nod from the captain to the First Mate to the band and then the Bridal March begins.

The doors open and John Nolan’s heart skips a beat.

Arm-in-arm with her father, Jennifer Newhouse is a sight. Her slim and petite frame are draped elegantly in a long, diamond white satin gown, the sweetheart neckline adorned with crystals and embroidery, a string of pearls sitting upon her proud neck. The dress swoops out from her waist to the floor, with the small train obediently following her footsteps. Every few steps, a flash of her royal blue pumps catches the light. Framing her curled hair is a long veil, plain and transparent as it cascades from the tiara to her waist.

But it is not all these adornments that he notices.

The first thing that catches his eye is her smile. That wide, beaming smile that lights up her entire face is the smile John immediately fell in love with when they met. The smile that he is more than happy to see for the rest of his life, it cannot help but make him smile too.

Man, my wife is hot. Just those thoughts make him giggle a little.

Jennifer gives her father a kiss, and he returns to a seat at the front. The captain clears his throat confidently, hushing the nattering crowds and beginning the ceremony. His words, of marriage, being not only about being a great teacher, but a lover, a fighter and a critic, come easily. The well-rehearsed words of the wedding ceremony fall out of the couple’s lips. They stand opposite one another, their hands entwined in a vice-like grip as they attempt to steady each other against the ever-enthusiastic waves that threaten to throw them off-balance.

Wave: I am so happy I could dance!
Boat: Please don’t.

Neither can resist a grin as they swear, “I do solemnly declare that I do not know of any lawful impediment why I should not be joined in matrimony.” There’s not a minute of hesitation on either side; they both know that this is it for them. The world caves in and all that is left is the two of them.

The moment for the rings arrives in a flash. John sticks out his hand upside towards Jennifer, a cheeky grin reaching from ear to ear. She lets out a quick chortle, good-humorously flipping his hand over in a what-are-you-doing manner. A titter echoes through the room, raising and falling like the waves bashing at the sides of the boat. The captain gives them a minute to admire each other, to wade through the waves of happiness and disbelief at their own luck.

I now pronounce you, man and wife.

The words bring a round of applause from the crowd, and John moves in for their first kiss as a married couple. Two quick little pecks, keeping it clean for the oldies, at least for the time being. As the applause and heart-felt smiles subside, the captain motions the newlyweds to a table over to the corner of the room, draped with a crisp, white cloth. They gracefully take their places, constantly under siege from a battalion of flashes as the photographer clicked away in front of them, eager to capture every minute for future reference. Soft classical music hummed in the background, no one really listening to it, but it’s presence creating a mellow aura around the room. This was promptly disrupted by a strong wave smacking its face against the boat, causing the telephone to fall off the wall. It landed with a loud clatter, scaring the living daylights out of the audience members sitting in its immediate vicinity.

With the official papers signed, their marriage officially recognized by both God and the State, the captain having scrawled his own mark, the marriage license is complete. The party of three make their way back to the center of the altar, John and Jennifer introduced back to their family and friends as husband and wife to a storm of delighted claps and cheers. Both grin bashfully and humbly, conscious of the standing ovation. They make their way back down the aisle, looking between each other and to each side to thank their guests. The boat swung itself side to side in joy, clumsily knocking over a couple of silver flower stands around the photographer and causing every woman who had somewhat mistakenly chosen heels to wobble precariously on the spot.

A bustle of movement and the photographer finally has a chance to shine. The bride and groom are posed together, his arm here and her head turned that way, this friend over on this side, that friend down over there. This family member come stand over here, facing this way slightly, beautiful, then that family member and friend go together over there, face the couple, move a little in, then a little forward, fantastic, right there that’s perfect. The bride, always at the center of the action, literally radiates; her complexion, her expression, right down to the gems on her rings and the crystals adorning her dress. Next to her, John is still a victim of the soaring temperatures in the room, a helpful friend attempting to fan away the stifling air. He catches the eye of other guests, fanning themselves in vain and sighing in exhaustion. The temptation to run out and jump into the cool, clear waters of the pool might prove just too much.

The camera comes into play. Jennifer’s troops have been the extra guests, watching on a television far-away on base in Africa. She beams towards them, her family-away-from-family, waving and showing off to the sound of their cheers and jokes. She cheekily flashes a bright blue pump towards the camera, though the four-inch heels got more respect from the other women on the boat, who were gingerly trying to navigate their own smaller heels against the motion of the ocean that was ever present. The photos started to come to a close, the photographer seemingly happy with the wide selection he had from this scene. The entire new family clubbed together now for a few last shots, one mother jokingly offering to remove her shoes for the benefit of her more petite counterpart. It’s almost as if the water is keen to get in on the action, battering hard at the boat in a struggle to get into a few shots, as mothers grabbed chairs to keep themselves from falling from the impact of the waves.

The photographer gets the couple on their own for the last few shots, as everyone else makes their way into the reception area.

From this day on, I am yours. You are mine.

You are mine to love and cuddle. I am yours to spoon.

We will pick up each other’s dirty socks, in either mock disgust or real.

We will argue about small, irrelevant things, only to make up immediately after.

We will nurse each other through sickness, through sadness, through happiness, through life.

This day is not a day when we will start these things. You have been there for me from the start.

I married you because you have loved me as no other has and I have loved you the same.

Through tears, jeers, laughs, distance and worries.

But now you’re legally obliged to put up with it all and like it.

Everyone crowds around the elevator door, waiting to be taken to the bow of the ship for another round of precious memories. John takes Jennifer’s hand and says,“Ready sweetie?” Not just for photos and for the formalities of today, but for everything that comes with yours truly. She doesn’t even hesitate to take his hand and follow.

They breeze past the scattered crowds of strangers on the boat, fully enveloped in a cloud of their own happiness and thoughts. A woman, catching a glimpse of the lovely bride whisking by, gasps to her husband, “Oh! She is so beautiful!” and he nods in agreement. It reaches the excited ears of the bride, who blushes modestly in the face of reality.

“I feel like such a princess,” Jennifer said aloud.  It was her day, their day.  She was exuberantly happy.

Not far off and as if on cue, a young girl, blonde haired and dressed up in a little blue dress, spots the couple. “Mom! It’s a princess!” She dreams of the Barbies and dolls she has, their hair gleaming, bodies of impressive proportions shown to best light in couture outfits; beautiful dresses to make them look like the characters of fairy tales. The little girl’s cry causes a mini-riot to erupt around the couple, each clambering to glimpse this princess and her prince. They smile back, their moment in the spotlight, surrounded by admirers who didn’t need to understand their connection to see it plainly. John holds her tight, both through affection and sheer necessity against the waves on the side of the boat. They are assured that, as they approach the bridge, it will be a smoother ride.

Soon enough, the hallway begins to narrow; leading them forward into the heart of the ship, to an intriguing metal door, labeled “Crew members only.” Going up to the door feels a little naughty, going where they are not necessarily allowed, brandishing only wedding rings as passes to allow them into somewhere special and off-limits.

The group pauses a moment in the hallway, while gaining entrance.  Jennifer seems briefly reflect on her past, as if she was taken back in time.

Flashback: Jennifer looks around at the sticky Chicago room. This was not what she had envisioned tonight being like; a fun night out with the girls, surrounded by like-minded, interesting singles, doing something interesting. Instead, it feels decidedly like a stereotypical prom night from a bad ’90’s movie. The “boys,” otherwise known as a group of adult, career-owning, President-voting men, are huddled on one side of the room, clutching half-empty drinks and luke-warm chat-up lines while the “girls” flock nervously, like sheep.

The photographer unlocks the door into another world. An expanse of clear blue ocean stretches out in front of them, the glass on either side of them extending seemingly forever. It not only gives the crew a full range of view of the sea, but a sensation in the bridge that you are in the water, vulnerable to every motion and wave despite the strong glass protection around you, like you are outside.

John immediately takes the helm, posing as his own “King of the World.” Jennifer lets out a loud laugh, kissing him affectionately in the face of his silliness. 

I’ll never let go.

They turn, directing their attentions to different crewmen; John begins to ask about the mechanics of the ship, nodding with eager attentiveness at each answer.

How much horsepower does a ship of this size have? How big is the engine? Is it electric? How fast does it go?

Meanwhile, Jennifer has her own attentive audience, engaging them with tales of her time in Camp Lemonnier, her time in general in the army, and how much her troops would be laughing at her choosing a ship as her wedding location. But they can jeer all they like. It’s been one awesome vacation that has just happened to have a wedding slap-bang in the middle.

The crew move away, keen to give the newlyweds (and the photographer) some private time. They pose comically around the steering wheel, with the captain’s hat, looking out into the distance as though embarking on a big adventure at sea. From this high, the waves that are such a menace to the crowds below seem almost inconsequential, rolling silently from the sea.

Holding one another, they look out into the horizon, whispering memories, hopes, and dreams into each other’s ears. They reminisce about the time in Dubai, and Djibouti, begin to plan the next time they will meet. Two weeks seems such a cruelly short time, and it always flies past, much faster than other 2 weeks seem to go. Definitely much fast than the 2 weeks before they see each other seems to pass. But so goes life. They hold each other tight, kiss and smile at each, making the most of each second, to counteract the ones where they are not.

Through the glass, they watch the sunset, its golden reflection beaming off the water and filling the bridge with the last punch of heat for the day. Jennifer turns to her new husband, saying those immortal words that every man wants to hear his wife say: “I’m getting sweaty.”

BRIDGES CHANGE OVER ON RIGHT SIDE.

BRIDGES CHANGE OVER ON RIGHT SIDE.

Interrupted by the booming Russian action-movie-announcement, they knew it was time to spring into action. They pull off their wedding clothes, each revealing a separate costume. Underneath John’s suit sits an impeccable black tuxedo; perfectly formed, with a crisp, white suit and a bow tie untied at the neck and hanging down in an oh-so-casual-yet-smart fashion. Jennifer’s wedding dress gives way to a fitted, black silk number, kitted out with the necessary weaponry in order to take down any necessary foe. He brushes him arm seductively, glancing into his eyebrows at her, waiting for her say-so. She gestures to him with a detached nod, not tearing her gaze away from the horizon.

He makes his way over to the glass window on the right, his knowledgeable fingers searching for the point of weakness. Crrrrsssssshhhh. One push of the finger and the glass crumbles, falling like a waterfall in its pane. The sound catches her attention, and she strides over to the empty pane, stepping through it defiantly. He follows after her, joining her in standing on the helm of the ship, both braced against the wind created by the movement. Once again, she half-nods towards the edge of the ship on the right, where a thick rope sits entwined around a metal loop. He slides along the smooth surface of the boat towards it, almost elegantly, not even causing the neat pleats in his trousers a momentary concern. He holds out his hand for her, helping her to follow his path down to the rope. He takes her in one arm, the other tightly grasping the rope. Their bodies lie at a 90 degree angle from the ship; they look into each other’s eyes. Jump one, abseiling down the ship. Jump two, jump three. They disappear from the view of the bridge.

FlashbackHe’s almost at the door when he sees her. And once he has he can’t believe he didn’t before. She’s petite, with brown hair and a glowing complexion. Something about her, physical or otherwise, is pulling him to her, like she is a cowgirl that’s planted her lasso. He doesn’t even seem to register that his feet have left their course for the door and are walking towards her. The crowds are not object either; he pushes people aside, indiscriminately, even rudely, just to get to her.

Back to reality, leaving the bridge, they take the elevator back down to deck 7. An elderly couple in their 80s wait outside the elevator too, and they greet the couple in a polite fashion. A cool breeze rolls through the door as it opens, and Jennifer relishes the cold tongues lapping against the perspiration on her skin. The elderly lady continues to look the bride up and down, a pleased smile spreading across her aging face. She is dressed in a loose t-shirt and a pair of elastic waist shorts, her husband sporting a loud checkered shirt and a shiny bald patch. “You’re beautiful,” the lady smiles towards Jennifer, before turning to her husband, “I’m a little under-dressed!”

Chuckling, the newlyweds exit at their floor, arriving at the top of the grand staircase. Jennifer takes a moment to arrange her veil and hair, before posting herself to the right of her new husband. Together in time, they slowly tackle the first step together, one eye looking down at the emerging crowd below armed with cameras, and the other firmly fixed on where each stair ended. They descend the stairs like something from a film, something imagined in the Disney-honed brain of a romantic screen writer.

The bottom of the stairs held a photo studio, complete with glaring lights and professional background. The crowd drew back, preparing to watch the couple pose in unnatural poses, to create unnatural precious memories, capturing a natural feeling in an unnatural shot.

Photographer, after every photo: That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful.

 Jennifer laughs.  OK,  I think we get it; it’s beautiful.

After yet another round of photos, Jennifer and John make their way to the glass elevator that will transport them to their reception. People surge forward, waving and hollering as if they were royalty or celebrities. Jennifer regally waves back; John is too engrossed in her shoulder to even notice. Her skin carries a scent that can’t be compared to perfume; it doesn’t smell of anything in particular, like flowers or musk. It smells of comfort, security and of rolling over in the night to find her there beside him.

Jennifer is by now starting to lose a little patience with the whole shindig and was worried about her guests. Being with her friends is all well and good, but by now they could have gone and done something more fun than just waiting for them, she whispered.

The glass elevator opens to a round of applause from spectators.  Smiling and waving to a few of them, the couple focuses their energy on their arrival to the reception.  They turn to the left, trying to find the restaurant housing their family and friends.  Aha!  There it is!

The room is small, but appropriately sized, with large windows and dark decor like the chapel. Towards the back of the room, their family and friends have been congregating, sipping on the beer and mixers and munching on the pretzels, nuts and crackers laid out to tide them over until the buffet begins. The room smells faintly musty from the residual heat of the sun, and it mixes together with the alcohol and salt in the air. The dance floor takes up a large section of the area, a DJ and her decks playing soft dance music to entertain as the couple make their appearance. Everyone rushes forward, bombarding the couple with hugs and congratulations.

You look so beautiful! That was a lovely service! What a fantastic location! What did the bridge look like? Was everyone welcoming to you? Have you enjoyed today? Don’t you think she looks lovely?

The food begins to arrive and the attention temporarily subsides. The iron-meaty smell of liver pate, against the sweet-spiciness of chicken satay and peanut sauce, egg-rolls and pigs-in-blankets are too much for the guests noses’ to resist.

In a corner of the room, sits a circular white cake. It is almost dwarfed by the towering stems of flowers that loom next it, but it sits quietly, a miniature bride dressed in white and holding a lilac bouquet. It has been patiently placed, waiting to be part of the ceremony.

The couple step behind its table, the obligatory ship photographer out in front. They pose with the knife, both their hands clasped around the hilt. One easy push of the blade splits the cake to reveal the marbled flesh inside. Jennifer takes a small piece, and John takes the other. Smiling at each other, they zoom the cake into each other’s faces, both attempting for a photogenic chew. It’s buttery, sweet and soft, melting on contact with their warm mouths, the royal icing almost sickly sweet and creamy in the heat of the room. John pulls away the remainders of Jennifer’s slice, so as not to cause any cake-related-dress-disasters. Jennifer does not. What John has not eaten in the first bite, she continues to press between his lips, until he is forced to maneuver his entire head in order to eat it all. She giggles wickedly, licking the remnants of icing away from her manicure. John attempts to smile without pushing the half-chewed cake through his teeth like a hamster.

Servers dash around the room, handing out elegant flutes of champagne, the stem of each crystal glass flecked with gold. They move slowly but purposefully, at all times aware of the changeable sea but determined to not drop a glass in spite of it.

Robert is the first to take to the floor, thanking everyone for a wonderful wedding and holiday and welcoming Jennifer to their family. They toast and sip the bubbly, dry champagne.

A new daughter to look after our oldest son.

 John is next, naturally addressing most of it towards the most important person of the day. Though it’s not what he says that is relevant. It’s in the way he looks at her, his pupils attuned to each delicate movement of her face, drinking it in. When she speaks, his ears shut off to all other sound just to hear what she has to say. Everything about them shows that they love one another, that there is no one else for John Nolan or Jennifer Newhouse, now Nolan.

The guests begin to clink their glasses with forks, demanding a kiss. The newlyweds smile, a naughty glimmer appearing in their eyes, and they move in for a kiss.

 What a kiss! Lips press together in a fit of passion, eyes closed to the outside world, lost in the embrace.  No place feels such as home as this.

“Get a room!”

“Keep it clean!”

Oh God, I see what they mean. Maybe let’s keep ’til later.

The elderly guests go first, moving towards the long tables heaving with a wide array of food. Some dither indecisively around dishes, should I get this? Does that look nicer?, whilst other mercilessly pile their plates with a choice of everything to make the decision of what to eat when sat down. The bride is taking a minute off her aching feet, helped into a brown leather chair by her mother, Mary Ann. The yards of white satin are tossed aside to make room for the lady underneath. Jennifer sighs in comfort as she feels the pain from those hated-yet-loved shoes, her mother joking, “This is my first child. I look good for 57 years old!” and making her daughter laugh.

The mob around the food begins to subside, and guests begin to trundle back to their seats with heaping plates of food. The general chatter gives way to the sounds of satisfied eating, small talk titbits deposited between mouthfuls of food. The bride and groom mingle on their way up to get their food, laughing at jokes and comments about the day. The mood lulls slightly from exhaustion, the ceremony and heat having wiped out everyone’s existing get-up-and-go. As the buffet tables disintegrate, the cake starts to follow suit; people walk around with their lips white and sticky, sugar rushes cue louder laughing, more enthusiastic dancing and braver conversations. The DJ realizes her moment and begins with a few floor fillers, keen to take advantage of the sugar high until the alcohol gets involved.

Shuffle…Cupid Shuffle
Cupid Shuffle, Cupid Shuffle
Cupid Shuffle, Cupid Shuffle
Cupid Shuffle, Cupid Shuffle.

Anyone over the age of 60 looks around in a little bemusement. Maybe it’s time to leave the youngsters to their partying. Though not before nabbing a decent wedge of that cake.

And with those sentiments, they leave the newlyweds to their dance party.

Flashback: He’s so close to her that he can almost reach out and touch her. His brain suddenly decides to get involved in this charade; what are you gonna say to her now, eh? Oh, God, ermmm, think witty, sophisticated, alluring. Definitely a WWRGD; What Would Richard Gere Do?

It’s too late, she’s noticed him now. Wow, there’s something about her.

“Hi, I’m John.” The minute the words fall out his mouth his brain instantly becomes an Oscar-winning screen writer, a poet of unparalleled beauty, a playwright of deep emotions. Just a few minutes too late.

She notices him coming towards her, his strides looking pretty intent. Hope he’s coming for me, she inwardly grins. Someone says something about the evening in general and her attention is taken away. She forgets that he is there.

That is, until he’s there. Plonk, a block of man-flesh, in front of her.

“Hi, I’m John.”

HA! So ’90’s.

 

 

 

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