She woke at 5 AM, her mind racing, full of the possibilities of the day. How could she sleep with so much to prepare?
Cassie got out of bed and put on her dressing gown. Her single room apartment was small, but practical. Kitchenette, a small living area and a dressing table next to the bed.
She went over to the wardrobe, paused for a moment, took a deep breath and opened the doors. One item hung from the rail: an elegant, understated white dress. No grand, fairy-tale flourishes of lace or silk. Just the beautifully simple lines she’d always favoured.
Cassie knew it was unusual, bad luck even, for the engaged couple to choose the wedding dress together, but Jeremy had insisted. Now, she was glad he’d been involved. Most brides worried themselves stupid about the impression thedress. Not her, not today. Jeremy would get exactly what he wanted.
Leaving the wardrobe open, she retreated to her dressing table and regarded herself in the mirror. Cassie turned her head one way, then the other. Long, thick, deep red hair framed her porcelain white face.
She was still beautiful; she had no doubts about that. Seven years ago, Jeremy would have seen only the obvious: The slim waist, the perfectly proportioned curves, the brightness in her eyes. If the years had diminished some aspects of her beauty, there had been compensating factors. The gentle lines around her eyes gave her the air of artful intelligence. The new pallor of her skin. Most appealingly of all, a quiet, considered smile betrayed a woman contemplating the most exciting day of her life.
“Does it hurt?” They were the first words he ever said to her.
It was 2am in Covent Garden and she’d been hurrying to catch her bus. Too much booze and ridiculous heels had conspired to send her tumbling to the ground, badly grazing her elbow on the way. Jeremy was there almost before she’d come to rest. He helped her to her feet, inspecting her elbow intently.
“I’m fine, but thank you.” She managed.
He was a large man. Not fat, just heavy set, broad shouldered. “You’ll need that looked at. Could turn nasty.”
“Yes. Maybe. I think I just need to get home.” She smiled at him, gently took back her arm, then started to walk away.
“Hey, look.” He said. She turned back to face him. “I know this is a bit forward, but could I give you my number? I’d like to take you out for dinner.”He was proffering a card. “Not now, obviously. Another day. I mean, I thought that might be nice.”
There was something so earnest about his proposition, so respectful in the way he gazed at her. It was completely disarming. He wasn’t classically attractive, that was true, but there was a certain gallantry to him. She smiled again and took the card.
“Yes, I think that might be nice.”
There were no bridesmaids to pamper her, no stylist to work on her hair. The wedding was to be a stripped-down affair. Just Cassie and Jeremy, with his old friend Teddy as the witness.
She ate a small breakfast, yogurt with muesli and then began the real business of preparing herself. Jeremy wanted to be married that morning so they could, in his words, “Bask in the glow of matrimony” for the rest of the day. She had just two hours before he arrived.
The apartment had a small side room for the shower and the toilet, no bigger than a large cupboard. She washed and plucked her eyebrows, then began on her hair and makeup. When she was satisfied she stepped out of her gown dressing gown and put on the dress.
She admired herself in the full length mirror. It fitted perfectly.
Cassie turned as she heard the outer door unlocking, then opening. He’d arrived early, by a good half an hour. All the air left her lungs making her lightheaded. Breathless, a moment of panic washed over her. Eventually, she regained some composure.
“Don’t you dare come in through that door Mr. Hennessey!” Her tone was light, playful.
She heard him laughing. A hearty, happy guffaw. “Okay, okay! I’m waiting.”
She collected the bouquet resting on the chaise lounge, quickly slipped on her shoes and took the small box containing Jeremy’s wedding ring from the drawer of her dressing table. Finally, she paused for a moment, checking herself in the mirror, then called out.
She called him the next day and they set up a date for the Friday night. He insisted on San Padres in Knightsbridge. A Spanish restaurant Cassie knew to be ruinously expensive, if only because a friend had once worked there.
In their short conversation at the bus stop Jeremy had made an impression. There was something old fashioned in his reaction to her. So attentive, so engrossed. It had been a long time since she’d felt so flattered. On the Thursday before their dinner she went shopping and bought a new outfit she couldn’t really afford. Then, deciding she might as well commit, she spent even more on a radical but, in her opinion, gorgeous new hair style. A razor sharp Bob taking her hair all the way up to her ear-lobes.
When they met in the restaurant bar she expected the same nervous,charming young man she’d met only a few nights before. Perhaps flowers, or a gift, or some other grand gesture? Instead she was greeted by a perfunctory peck on the cheek and a surly frown. Instead of offering to buy her a drink he bought himself one, leaving Cassie to get her own.
After they’d sat for their meal, he snapped at the waitress for being slow, and hardly said a word during the starter and main course. Cassie filled the gaps with strained monologues about her life, her job, her flat, anything. Eventually, after yet another awkward pause, she decided she’d had enough.
“Is there something the matter?”
He stopped eating and put down his knife and fork. “The matter? With me?”
“Yes. You seem so . . . Well, so unhappy. Aren’t we here to have a good time? Didn’t you ask me to come out with you?”
He picked up his napkin and tossed it on the table. “Isn’t it obvious?” His voice rose over the general chatter of the restaurant. Several nearby diners turned and looked.
“No. It’s not obvious at all.” She responded.
“You’ve ruined it haven’t you.”
He gestured with both hands towards her head. “Your hair. You cut your hair. You weren’t supposed to cut it.”
Cassie looked for some sign that he was joking, as if a knowing smile might suddenly appear, excusing the bizarre outburst. Fury was etched all over his face and, disconcertingly, his hands were shaking. He took a large amount of cash from his wallet, placed it on the table and got up to leave.
“Enjoy the rest of your evening.” He said.
Jeremy came into the apartment wearing full morning suit, grinning from ear to ear. Just as she’d hoped, he stopped in his tracks when he saw her.
“Perfect. Just perfect, my love.” He said.
“Today’s the day!” Then a moment of concern, “You did bring the fountain pen, for the register, didn’t you?”
“Of course. Don’t worry.”
He walked up to her, pulled her towards him and stroked his hand over her long red hair. Under his breath she could hear him whispering,”Beautiful, beautiful.”
He kissed her passionately and she felt his tongue probing to enter her mouth. She relented. After a short time, Cassie pushed him away.
“Jeremy . . . later.” Her smile was coy, mischievous. “We’ll have all the time in the world for that, after.”
“You’re right. I couldn’t help myself. It’s just, you. The way you look. My perfect Cassie.”
“Now,” she said, “We have ten minutes. I need to pay one more visit to the ladies room, to freshen up. You need to straighten that tie Mister, and where’s Teddy?”
“Don’t you worry,” he said “Teddy has been looking forward to this for ages.”
The scene in the restaurant had left her mortified. After he’d stormed out, she played with her food, all the time aware of them gossiping about her, the jilted date. The only reason she stayed at all was to make sure Jeremy was long gone. Why would a man throw a tantrum on his first date over a haircut? Cassie and her friends would regularly share stories of dating disasters, but she’d never heard of anything so strange as this.
When she eventually did get home, her friend Alison called to see how the date had gone. Cassie described her dinner with Jeremy in fine and excruciating detail. Alison’s reaction was as predictable as it was reassuring.
“Whooooa! Serious control issues. You’re well out of it.”
“Psycho behaviour Cass. Total psycho.”
They chatted for a while longer and arranged to go to a local pub the following night.
It was exactly what she needed. Alison was great company and never failed to make Cassie laugh. They had a wonderful evening, just talking things over whilst a band played in the corner of the pub. At closing time, they hugged, laughed at how drunk both of they were, then went their separate ways.
Cassie took the short route home, past the shops on Barry Road and over the long path which stretched across the common. As she was approaching the halfway point, street-lights and buses already in sight, she saw something move out of the corner of her eye. She stopped and turned towards it, but saw nothing, only the darkness of the common. Assuming it must have been a fox or stray dog she started up again, her pace quickened.
Then she saw it again, clearer this time, the outline of man. A big man, broad shouldered. Just as she began to run, he appeared in front of her, blocking her path.
Dressed all in black, breathing heavily, he spoke. “Cassie.”
“What in Christ’s name do you think you’re doing?”
“Okay, okay.” Jeremy’s palms gestured downwards; the expression on his face was identical to when she’d first met him. A man desperate to placate her, please her. “Look, I just came to apologise.”
For a moment she was on the verge of screaming, but she regained her control. They were stood in the middle of the common, covered in darkness but surrounded, no more than fifty yards in either direction by the lights of the city. He had scared her, no doubt about that, but what could he do to her here? They were out in the open. If he tried anything she would shout out. Besides, part of her was interested in what he had to say.
“You want to apologise?”
“I’m sorry. I’m so deeply sorry. You see, when we met the other night, at the bus stop, that wasn’t entirely by chance.”
This wasn’t what she’d expected. “It wasn’t?”
“I’d seen you before. Your office, it’s across the road from where I work. I saw you in the street and I wanted to meet you. I wanted to get to know you.”
She started to back away, “You were following me? That’s not good.”
“Your beautiful hair,” He said. “It was just like Mother’s.”
She saw it then. The way he was looking at her: obsequious, deferential. The way a little boy looks at his mother. She turned to run, but he was already on her, landing with his full weight. As Cassie hit the ground all the air was crushed out of her lungs. She tried to scream but managed only a pathetic wheeze. Something was on her nose and mouth, covering them. A white handkerchief sodden with chemicals.
As the world faded, she heard a whisper in her ear. “I’ll make you perfect again.”
The wedding began with music. A playlist Jeremy had compiled made up mainly of classical and jazz recordings he claimed reminded him of Cassie. She knew better. However long it lasted, there would be three people in this marriage.
All the time he was draped on the chaise lounge, eyes half closed, lost in the music.
Bouquet in hand she waited in the corner of the kitchenette precisely in the spot Jeremy had specified. After an hour of this, at last, the music she had been waiting for started up. Blaring out of the speakers, a grand, bombastic ‘Here Comes The Bride’.
Immediately, Jeremy stood and took his position next to the mirror. Cassie began walking towards him, slowly, methodically, in just the way he’d shown her. When she was half way there she saw him bend and take something out of the bag which rested at his feet. As she got closer he raised the object to head height and pressed it against his face. A large, worn out old teddy bear, literally falling apart at the seams. Its face was contorted into an expression of anguish, with a drooping mouth and mournful eyes. One ear hung by a thread and its right leg twisted outwards, giving it a bow-legged appearance.
Teddy. Jeremy’s oldest and dearest friend. The only one who stuck by him whilst his mother was parading one man after another through the house. Over the years of her confinement, Jeremy had told Cassie everything. For hours he would sit with her, sobbing hysterically then laughing out loud as he recounted his childhood.
In the beginning she had tried everything to escape. Attacking him with a hardback book (the only weapon she could find in the apartment) as he came through the door, sequestering notes in her laundry, begging him to free her. Nothing had worked. For seven years, he had kept her rotting in the basement apartment.
As she reached Jeremy, he held Teddy out to her so that she could kiss his mangy face. She did so obediently. Then Jeremy rested Teddy down on the chaise lounge, taking care to have him facing upwards towards them. The music stopped and the recording of the priest began.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to observe the joining together in matrimony of JEREMY and CASSANDRA.” Jeremy had digitally edited their names into the soundtrack.
For the last two years she had simply submitted to him, slowly gaining his trust, convincing him she was ready to do anything he wanted. Eventually he’d brought up the possibility of marriage, a final and complete expression of their togetherness.
They exchanged vows and then rings, perfectly synchronised with the recording. All the time Cassie watched him in the mirror, trying to gauge how lost in the moment he really was. Everything was going to plan. Jeremy was in a daze of happiness, enjoying every moment of his ultimate victory.
They moved over to the bed, on which rested a huge leather-bound book, all the pages blank except for the first. On the front page, in elaborate calligraphy was a statement of marriage. This was a stage of proceedings Cassie had insisted upon from the very beginning. Every married couple must sign a register, she told him, even if this one would only ever be seen by them.
Jeremy fetched Teddy over, sitting him on a pillow to oversee the signing. He took a large antique fountain pen out of his jacket pocket and unscrewed the lid. He smiled at her, knowing she approved. Like the dress, Cassie had chosen the pen herself online, closely supervised by her captor, of course.
He signed his name in the allotted place, stood and presented her with the pen. She gave a nod of acknowledgement, appreciation even, and took it from his hand. Cassie had rehearsed this moment in her mind a thousand times. She gripped the pen tightly.
As if to sign the “register”, she made a move to her right, then swung around with all her strength, slamming the pen at his windpipe. She caught it perfectly, the sharp point sinking into his flesh, dark blood spewing from the puncture. He stumbled back, hands reaching up to the wound, trying to stem the blood. Now she was on him, toppling him to the floor, then astride him, hammering the pen down at his neck and face.
There was no control to her movements, just a frenzied stabbing. He tried to stop her each time the pen was thrust downwards but it did no good. The shock and the blood loss soon left him powerless. After a while, his flailing hand dropped, his body went limp, but Cassie did not stop. By the time fatigue finally forced her to relent, his neck and face were a bloody mush.
Still panting, she stood, distracted for a moment by the realisation that her beautiful white dress had been turned claret red. She ran over to his bag and felt for the set of keys. Just as she was about to panic, she found them. Cassie opened the inner door and saw, for the first time the heavy, metal outer door she had heard him unlock so many times. She found the key she needed, inserted it into the lock and felt the satisfying ‘ click’.
The door opened, and the bride was free.