Something fell out of Tom’s pocket and he swept it up again quickly.
“Oh you grabbed that up fast” said Jacqueline as they walked towards the party, “Especially for an old man like you now Tom”and she winked neatly. “One might be made to think you were just hiding something there.”
“Aha, yes” chuckled Tom, “quite right” and then he grabbed her suddenly. “But perhaps I was” his tone lowered, he stared dead into her eyes.
“Oh really now?” Jacqueline knew how to play along, and her eyes expanded in mock surprise.
“Yes… Umm.. It was a picture. Yes a picture” begun Tom.
“Oh not of another lover I should hope!” Jacqueline cried.
“Oh no no, nothing so trivial… It was, umm… a Mexican boy! Yes, a mexican boy named Enrico, and on the back there’s a note, it says Tom! Call now! You are the only one who can save our village and then underneath there’s a number… You weren’t supposed to see it!”
Jacqueline stared at Tom sternly. It was silent, stiff air between them. Then with that innate synchronicity that old relations share with each other, they simultaneously broke the tension their jaunt had created, bursting out laughing together.
Jacqueline kissed Tom and put her arm in his. She then gazed at him as they strode towards their awaiting guests already beginning the party under the canopy. She marvelled again at the way he could always make her laugh, at his creativity in his jest, the lateral way of thinking that all had attracted her to him that first day, now exactly 20 years ago, when she had first let him take her to dinner.
“Happy Anniversary!” The crowd of friends and family screamed, and an eruption of applause accompanied the couple of the moment’s arrival out into the canopy. To be fashionably late, even to one’s own party, dramatic entrances, the welcoming of attention, these were all things that Jacqueline thought more of Tom than to be characteristics of herself. But she enjoyed experiencing it through him, being pushed along by the turbulence of his charisma, like she were a side-car attached to a motorcycle in which Tom was both engine and rider. She thought about how handsome he looked in his tuxedo, he was certainly elegant, she thought, but never in a classical way; instead Jacqueline had always seen him as holding a less conventional kind of quirky charm, with his darting eyes, odd, often fantastical jokes, how he carried into every conversation a great penchant for surreal tangents.
And it was exactly these quirks that Jacqueline reflected upon as she now kissed cheeks with her guests. She remembered 20 years ago, when first scooped up in his motorcycle, how she rode love for the first time. She turned back to see all those fears she had once for the road they shot down. Those exact same quirks, his ability to make jokes, to avoid being serious by instantly creating crazy and ridiculous stories, that had made her head over heels for him initially, how she was scared would be the exact same things she may come to hate him for. Just as with friends when too much time spent in their company, how through tired eyes even their most loveable characteristics could sudden turn into their most revolting and dislikable, she had been almost petrified that this would also come to be the case with Tom, but worse, more intense, as all things are with love, she imagined.
She had never wanted anything to change, wishing the motorcycle to no longer be on a road, but on a lap course, never progressing, infinitely repeating, for no time could be better than those first months together, she was sure. But then love progressed, and she experienced hate for the first time, how all his little strange jokes that she had once loved him for came to then send a cringe-inducing shiver up her spine, laced by a pulse of flashing red irritation. However as abruptly as the sensation came, the fear was vanquished, for so quickly did she come to see how love would even then still be there underneath, and when exhausted senses dropped their hateful filter, the love that was there before now shone stronger, made more resilient through its survival.
An almost infinite cycle of emotion later and her eyes were now looking toward Tom again, watching him talk playfully with a friend. Love was set in her glance, though perhaps not as passionate as it was first felt 20 years ago, it was deeper, she thought, full of more understanding for the person before her. The fountain of thought for him now finished itself and she was back greeting her own guest, momentarily then marvelling at how 20 years of memory could flash through her mind all within the movement of a pair of lips from one cheek to another.
The party continued to the early hours. Champagne bottles popped, merry words were exchanged among old friends. Tom and Jacqueline sat at a head table, emptied plates littered along its length. They joked with their friends, Tom made up more funny stories, most notably one about the idea hat he had actually spent a working summer in a Siberian concentration camp, just in order to avoid the wife, playfully prodding said wife with his elbow upon the delivery of his comedy. They all laughed, Tom and his lateral brain they all thought, so creative, so wonderful. Yes, they all thought. But none of course more than Jacqueline.
The early hours became late and the attendants thinned out, with largely only the usual dregs still accountable for. There was Tony and his wife, Lisa Potsgobble, Emma Klopfield and her her new friend she had brought (that many expected to perhaps be a secret lover…), and naturally the Prew contingent, who would be the last to be at any party or, more likely, still to be discovered the next morning scattered about on whichever odd pieces of furniture were fortunate enough to host their often upside down drunken bodies. Tom was still up, speaking with his old university friend out on the lawn, while Jacqueline lent back in her chair at the table alone, satisfied. She took a cigarette she’d been saving from her handbag and put it to her lips, but couldn’t find a lighter. Tom’s jacket was hung over the back of his chair, and she searched his upper pocket for one. But she didn’t feel anything. Anything except for a small square card. She plucked it out.
Her drunk brain couldn’t instantly comprehend what then met her. In her hand was a photo of a boy, seemingly South American. Some earlier memory from the night started drifting into her mind. Flipping the photo round, the loose recollection consolidated itself instantly, “Tom! Call now! You are the only one who can save our village” it read, underneath a number, underneath a signature; Enrico. Jacqueline’s pupils dilated. A cold wind rustled under the canopy across her cheeks, raising her hair slightly. A million memories of Tom’s quirky made-up stories and funny jokes crossed her mind. She looked down, back at the photo, up, again to the scene of her and Tom’s 20th anniversary. And in one instance she realised, she didn’t actually know her husband at all.