Extract from Kate's Wedding
It was much too cold and wet to be standing in a queue to go up the Eiffel Tower but Ian was insistent. How could you go to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower? Especially as, Ian reminded Kate, he had never been to Paris before. That was a sore point. Ian had been so proud of organising this surprise mini-break in the City of Light. He was gutted when Kate told him that not only had she been to Paris before, she had actually stayed in the very hotel where he had booked a junior suite.
Kate stopped short of telling him that on her last visit – just two years before - she and Dan had stayed in the hotel’s honeymoon suite. Not that there was ever any chance of a honeymoon with Dan. Dan somehow managed to be involved in complicated divorce proceedings for all four years Kate was with him, despite having officially separated from his wife two years before Kate even arrived on the scene.
So, Ian had sulked all the way from Kings Cross St Pancras to the Gare Du Nord. He seemed set to keep sulking all day. At the Hotel Renoir, Kate prayed that the receptionist would not recognise her, as she had recognised Dan two years earlier. How awful that had been. Putting two and two together to make five, the receptionist had greeted Kate by Dan’s ex-wife’s name.
‘We have put you in your favourite room, Mrs. Harper,’ the girl said.
That was how Kate and Dan came to be in the honeymoon suite. She told him it was one thing that he was taking her to the hotel where he and his ex had tried to save their marriage. On several occasions, as it turned out. It was something else to have to sleep in the same bloody room. Dan was forced into a hasty upgrade.
But despite that inauspicious start, Kate had liked the Hotel Renoir and for that reason she persuaded Ian that there was no need for them to find a different hotel for their mini-break.
‘This trip is already one hundred percent better than the last time I was here because I am with you,’ she assured him. ‘Everything is different.’ That much was absolutely true.
Neither did she mind doing the tourist sites since Dan, of course, had been to Paris dozens of times with his Francophile wife and so refused to spend even a minute of Kate’s birthday weekend queuing to see the Mona Lisa. Kate wanted to see the Mona Lisa. She also wanted to see the Venus Di Milo. She wanted to go to the Musee D’Orsay and see the Impressionists at the Orangerie and have her picture taken beneath the Arc De Triomphe. The Eiffel Tower, however, had never been high on Kate’s ‘to-do’ list. Given her slight fear of heights, she had no particular desire to spend an hour getting to the top of the thing to spend five minutes looking at the ground. Especially on a wet, grey day like this one. What would they be able to see anyway? They should go to St Germain instead, she suggested. Find a little bar and get quietly hammered on pastis.
‘No,’ said Ian, digging in his heels. ‘I’ve always wanted to go up the Eiffel Tower.’
And so they went up the Eiffel Tower, squashed into the lift with a group of American tourists who were commiserating with one of their number over a handbag snatched. At the top, Ian pulled Kate away from the crowd. At least, as far away from the crowd as was possible in one of Europe’s most visited monuments. There was no hope of being entirely alone.
‘Shame about the weather,’ Ian muttered.
‘Hmmmm.’ Kate looked out over the city towards the white fairytale domes of the Sacre Coeur, barely visible through the mist. She was remembering standing in front of that cathedral, hearing Dan say that even now his divorce was through he wasn’t sure that he was, you know, ready to move on and make their relationship permanent, when Ian interrupted her reverie with the question she should have known to expect.
Kate didn’t quite catch what he’d said.
‘Will you marry me?’ he asked again. He looked so scared. He was actually shaking, though maybe that was only through the effort of half sinking to one knee. Ian didn’t want to put his knee down properly because the floor was wet and his trousers were new. Kate asked if he was joking.
‘No,’ he said. ‘Of course I’m not joking. Kate Williamson, will you marry me?’
Two of the American matrons from the lift were watching for her answer.
‘Oh God,’ said Kate, intensely aware of her audience, so that she caught the cat’s bottom tightening of lips her blasphemy elicited. ‘I mean, yes,’ she said and it was as though she’d said it as much to appease the American matrons as much as to please Ian. She hadn’t had time to consider whether it pleased her. This was all so sudden.
‘Oh, Kate.’ Ian pulled her into a bear hug. ‘My Kate, my Kate, my Kate.’
Kate dropped her camera. One of the matrons picked it up and obligingly took a series of snaps.
‘You’ll want to remember this moment for ever,’ she told Kate as she handed the camera back. ‘We are so pleased for you. You two young people take care of each other now.’
‘I am going to take care of this woman until the day I die,’ Ian responded proudly. He hugged Kate close again, rendering her unsteady on her feet.
‘You’ve made our vacation,’ the matron assured him. ‘To see a proposal in the most romantic place on earth!’
Ian was looking at the photos already.
‘There we are,’ he said. ‘That’s us. That’s you and me getting engaged.’
The Kate in the photographs looked ambushed, staring over Ian’s shoulder with wide and frightened eyes.
‘Were you surprised?’ Ian asked her, beginning the reminiscing before the moment was even complete.
‘Well, yes,’ said Kate. ‘I suppose I was.’
‘Are you happy?’
‘Of course I am.’
She felt breathless and tearful. Exactly as she’d felt the time she almost died stepping out in front of a bus while exhausted from an all-nighter at the office. She could almost hear the squeal of the brakes. Was she frightened? Relieved?
They joined the queue shuffling back towards the lift.
‘I haven’t got a ring yet because I didn’t want to get something you didn’t like. I’m sorry,’ he said.
‘Don’t be sorry,’ said Kate. ‘We can choose something in London.’
‘You’re not properly engaged until you’ve got the ring,’ said a little voice at the back of Kate’s head. ‘There’s still time to change your mind.’
No, Kate told the voice firmly. This is exactly what I’ve always wanted. This is the best moment of my life so far. She looked at Ian’s handsome profile as he pushed ahead through the crowd. She hadn’t been lying when she told Ian that everything about this, her second romantic weekend in Paris, was so much better than the first. She loved her kind and generous boyfriend. He made her feel so much better than any of the Muppets she’d dated before him. She knew that when he promised he would always look after her, Ian actually meant it. He was steadfast and trustworthy. He was a proper, grown-up man who would never give her cause to worry or distrust him. She knew that he had made his proposal out of the very purest love and there was nothing she wanted more than to spend the rest of her life as Mrs. Ian Brown. Yes, Kate told the little voice. This is brilliant. Oh my god, I’m getting married!
‘Let’s not go back down to earth just yet.’ Kate caught her new fiancé by the arm. ‘I want to savour this moment for a little bit longer.’
Kate easily persuaded Ian back to the viewing platform, where she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him so passionately that she raised a cheer from a coach party of pensioners from Frankfurt.