(A Short Story)
By Monica C. Voskamp
Alone. Alone she ran down the path, away from the ceremony. She left behind the music , the crowd, the cake, the gifts..she left as a running bride, running from the man still standing there. The man she loved, Ryan, who had just said vows to her.
Aeria ran. She knew how to run. ‘Just get away, just get away, you have to stay alone.‘ The thoughts pounded in Aeria’s mind, her heart beating racing. She clutched her dress tight, lifted the sheer skirt and let her bare feet hit the dirt. She had flung her shoes off the path as she ran, she needed to be able to run free.
She only looked back once, but now that one memory crowded her mind. The memory of Ryan. He was standing on the rustic wooden platform, tall, handsome, softly smiling an adoring look. But then she had told him “I can’t.” Oddly, his expression went softer still, though pain clearly reflecting. His eyebrows furrowed deep, his grey-blue eyes locked on her as he brushed his thumb across her cheek. He whispered, “I’ll wait.”
And then she ran. She left him. And though she ran, she could still see the pain mingled love on his face. Fear and shame filled Aeria. She didn’t deserve that man. He didn’t deserve the mess of her! She grabbed her skirts of white, stifled a sob and ran. Tears had blurred her vision as she tore down the flower petaled aisle path. She had blocked the stunned audience out and kept her eyes on the woods beyond. Aeria paused only to rip off her shoes, and then she ran. Hard.
Heart beating loud, the memory of Ryan flooding her mind, Aeria ran, gulping down sobs.
She couldn’t say yes to him. Her heart wouldn’t say yes. She had refused the notion of love for so long that when it finally stood before her, she was overwhelmed. She was terrified.
Aeria slowed, stopped to catch her breathe. She relaxed her fingers and let her dress hit the earthened ground. She had outrun the noise of the crowd, she couldn’t hear the music playing anymore. She didn’t even hear her fiance’s chasing footsteps. How she wanted him to chase her, to run after her. But he wasn’t there. Maybe he was still coming, but, no he said he’d wait.
Aeria shook her head in disbelief: What kind of man said such things? She wanted him to run after her. Either that, or just come and yell at her. One of the two, but to stand there and say ‘I”ll wait‘, well, that left it up to her. That made it her choice to return, to choose him.
Aeria looked down at her dress, her beautiful wedding gown. Her chest was heaving, the laced material pressed tight against her skin. What had she just done? Had she actually just left the only man who proposed to her, the one man who genuinely wanted to be with her? Had she really just said no to the man who had determinedly chased her down 2 years ago. For 2 years he already waited, proved he wasn’t going to leave her, proved he wanted to spend every second of the rest of his life with her, the whole package of her. Yet somehow it was a gift too big to accept for Aeria to accept. Her pride got in the way of love. She couldn’t accept his love. He wanted to stand by her side for always. He wanted to be there for her, with her, together. Ryan adored her. Aeria didn’t know what to do with such devotion.
Even when they dated, and she had showed colors not becoming or when she had stubbornly refused to talk to him when offended, he was patient. In Aeria’s mind, Ryan was the greater of the two. Why did he want her? Why did he stay with her? Why, why did he want to marry her? She knew, for love. He loved her. He loved her so fiercely, so passionately it overwhelmed her. Aeira knew Ryan’s devotion was to her and her only. It was too much. She never expected a man to feel this way about her, she had only dreamed of such. But here on her wedding day, when he was publicly declaring his forever love to her, she just up and ran away.
She ran, because knowing and seeing the depth of his love triggered fear. It scared her inner soul. Every fiber of her being had always lived with a guard, do not trust too much, do not to let love in. And now today she was fully denying those defenses. She was about to trust so deeply, so intimately to another. Something in her freaked out, and she ran.
Ryan wasn’t intimidating or demanding and maybe that’s why, her soul feared. He wasn’t forceful though he definitely gave his onions. No, he bore his soul open to her and offered her to do the same. That’s what scared Aeira. Vulnerability. She was scared to be vulnerable with this man. That’s what she was scared to commit to: Vulnerability, exposing her soul, uniting their souls, learning the journey of love together, building a legacy of love and trust.
She knew without a doubt he’d be good to her. She had observed how he related in life, business, family and stressful situations. She knew he could be trusted, yet she fought it. But even moreso, she was afraid of herself. She didn’t know if she would be that strong. Aeira was scared to death of hurting this man somehow. He was so good, so kind. And she was so…so tainted, so flawed, so unpredictable. He was stable; she was chaotic. He was calm, she was a wildfire. She was afraid for love to get messy, and afraid if it got too messy, maybe he’d leave.
Never had she met a man like Ryan. He made her feel safe. Being with him felt like home. When he proposed 6 months ago, it wasn’t hard to say yes. Aeria was so happy, finally her soul felt happy, felt just right with another. She was excited to unite their lives, to do adventures together.
But leading up to her wedding day, Aeria started to doubt, doubt her self, doubt the very notion of love. And when it came time to say “I do”, right in her part of the vows she froze. She froze and then ran out. Now, she was in the middle of the woods, alone in a white dress, and crying uncontrollably.
Aeira felt anxiety and shame fill her simultaneously. *What had she done?* She just ran from the best man she ever knew. She left him! How could she do that to him? He hadn’t done anything wrong, and now she just humiliated him, left him at the altar without a bride.
Aeira cried harder. Why did he said “I’ll wait” Why did he only flinch when she said “I can’t” Why did his eyes still look so kind to her even while sadness shadowed his face? Why did he still believe in her, why did he still want her when she just told him: I can’t.
Aeira sank down to the ground and just sobbed. She leaned forward and clutched her knees tight to her chest and buried her face into soft white fabric. She cried and cried. The pain in her was too much, too loud. Aeira pushed her hand over her mouth, stifling the sobs, rebuking the pain.
It was too late.
Aeira’s body shook. Her nose ran. Her face was a mess of tears. He said he’d wait, but no, now it was too late. How could she go back? Seriously Ryan, you didn’t mean it. You won’t be there if I return, Aeria thought bitterly. Then she suddenly realized her family, her friends would be looking for her. Or someone would be looking for her. And she sure as heck didn’t want to be found.
She wanted to hide, hide from the day, hide from everyone that believed in this confusing thing called love. Aeira got up and pushed through the brush, the trees until she found a covered hiding place. There were a few logs overlapping. She crawled into the shadowed space and pressed her body to the earth.
It was time to wait.
Minutes passed by. She heard people running down the trail calling her name. Aeira let her breathing slow. She drove every muscle into silence. Then she heard his voice. Ryan called off the search. He told them: Let her be. I told her I’ll wait. I’ll stay here in the woods tonight.
She saw a lantern and one of the wedding chairs in his hands. Then she watched Ryan leave. She crawled out from beneath the logs, and inched closer to the path. Hearing him approach again she ducked behind a large elm and then tilted her head to see. Ryan had brought another chair, a chair she knew was for her. He also had brought the fizzy toasting drink, along with her cream hooded shawl. It was the shawl they were going to use in the woods for the photos. Aeria poked her head further around the tree. Ryan had settled down into the chair, right there in the middle of the trail. Crazy guy.
Aeira’s heart broke. He so believed in her. He was crazy. He still wanted her. Aeria leaned her head on the tree as she realized Ryan had met her half way. He came into the woods, he came a little closer for her sake.
Fire flies flickered, evening was coming on. A bird’s song sounded near by. She ducked behind the tree as Ryan’s head turned her way. Aeira leaned hard into the tree. Her heart pounded so loud she was sure he could hear. But why was she still here, hiding behind a tree? Ryan was right there! He was only a few paces away on the trail waiting for her.
Aeira sighed. She had to let go. She had to let go of her pride. She looked down at her diamond ring, and a small smile came. The ring was gorgeous, way more classy then she deserved credit for. But she loved it, it was perfect. Ryan had told her it was only a reflection of the beauty she saw in her and the beauty they were as a couple. Ryan saw her, saw life through the lens of his incredible positivity, his generous spirit, his devoted heart.
Aeira fingered the ring. She smoothed her thumb over the diamond stone. She didn’t want to be apart from this man. No, Aeira loved him, she loved Ryan. But she was scared of being vulnerable, she was scared of letting him forever be in her life. That terrified her. All the unknowns ahead of them terrified her, but she’d never know a new adventure without confronting a bit of fear.
Ryan cleared his throat, and began to hum. Aeira smiled. He was humming Somewhere Over the Rainbow. It was a song she caught him humming different times in the past and she liked to tease him about his sentimental side. Her half smile grew. She loved hearing the sound of his voice. She closed her eyes breathing in the comfort that he was near.
She needed to go to him. She wanted to. She had to. He was her other half. He was the man she had been desiring, yet never finding since she was caught up in the wrong ones. He found her really. And it took a hard fall for her to look up and realize the man she needed was right there, waiting for her.
Waiting. He was always waiting. Darn that man. She gave a little huff. He wasn’t going to make it easy. He knew it took two. He knew she had to make her own choice. Ryan wasn’t going to make the final call. She loved that about him. He never forced her. He advised her yes. More than often though, he’d just quietly let her figure things out. He’d listen to ramble and wait for her mind to clear. So often he waited. He had done that the past 2 years they knew each other, always willing to meet her in between, and then they moved on. He knew how to build things, he knew how to build relationships and make them strong. He was doing it again, meeting her in between her fear and her longing, giving her the opportunity to take the next step forward.
Aeira shook her head slowly as she thought about her self. What was she doing running from him? What was she trying to prove? Then it hit her: she was trying to prove he didn’t love her. Maybe she even was trying to make him walk away. Aeira caught her breathe at that thought: Yes, part of her was purposely trying to make Ryan walk away. A man could only take so much. And as loyal as Ryan was, a man didn’t desire rejection, this man didn’t deserve rejection, he simply wanted connection, her attention. He deserved that. She did have good to give him. They were better together.
Aeira’s head spun. She had tried to push Ryan away. What the heck was she thinking? She couldn’t believe she was trying to sabotage her own wedding. Her fear of love, of intimacy was going to ruin her destiny. She wouldn’t let the fear win. She would do whatever it took. Aeira breathed in with new resolve. She would tell him. She’d tell him how much she needed him, how much she wanted him, and how afraid she was.
It was time to stop holding back her soul. She would marry Ryan, no matter how much she was trembling. Aeira stopped her thoughts. No more thinking, she told her self, It’s time to stop delaying, just let go off this darn tree and go to him already!
Aeira gulped, then slowly stepped from behind the tree. Moss and twigs cracked as she started towards the path. Ryan’s head immediately looked in her direction. He stopped humming and just locked eyes with hers. She kept walking, swallowing hard, but she kept walking. She reached the edge of the trail. Ryan stood up from the chair and took a step towards her. She stopped, and looked into his eyes letting her soul expose her vulnerability, her fear. Her eyes searched his desperately, trying to gauge what he was thinking. Inside Aeira screamed apology. She inhaled sharply, a leftover sob still unearthing.
“Ryan?” She asked in a broken whisper, “Ryan, will you still have me?” He gave a look to her, a look of tortured love. The look he had when she left him at the altar. He whispered back, “Oh honey, that’s why I’m here Aeira. I’m waiting for you.”
Aeira ran to him and held him tight, unleashing words, sobs, and apologies. He smoothed her hair and just held her close. They stood, locked in a deep embrace. She uttered her vows. She told him why she ran away. She told him she was scared, and still scared, but how she wanted to be his wife. Aeria went on and told him how she wanted to let him into the parts of her she was hiding from him.
“Shh,” Ryan said. “Listen.” She stopped her gushing words. Listen. Aeria saw Ryan reach into his phone pocket, but she couldn’t see what he was texting. “Just wait,” he said. Then she heard it. The music, their wedding music.
Aeira looked up stunned. “The people, they, they are still here?” She asked incredulously. Ryan smiled and gave a small wink, “Ya, I told them this was part of the ceremony….and they got an early cocktail intermission.” He paused and added more seriously, ” I told them we’d be back by 8.”
Aeira pulled back from his arms a bit. “How’d you know?… And oh my goodness, look at me, my dress is a mess! I’m a mess!” Ryan laughed, “Aeira, stop worrying. Life is messy. Yes…I agree, your dress looks a lot better without the twigs and dirt, but I signed up for this. I want to vow to this. To the messy beautiful of doing life with you. I’m vowing to what we know now, and… what we don’t. I’m vowing to doing life together even though we are scared….” Ryan paused and lowered his voice, “You know I’m scared too.”
Aeira searched his eyes, taken back, “Hon…you’re afraid?’ Ryan gave a slow nod. Aeira stroked his check and then held his face close as she asked, “Why, what are you afraid of?” Ryan’s eyes flickered, his cheeks flushed. “Maybe I’m not enough. Maybe I can’t be the husband you need, the man you deserve. Maybe I’ll mess up too much. Maybe I’ll get angry one day and say things that will hurt you. I’m scared. I’m scared too Aeria. Maybe I’ll die before you, and then what will happen to you? Or maybe you’ll leave me first. I don’t know how I’d live without you. And I don’t want you to ever live without me.”
Aeira kissed his face. “Oh Ryan, don’t be afraid. I’m here, I’m going to do this with you. You’re my strong man. But it’s okay if you fall, if you aren’t always strong. It’s okay if you make mistakes….I’m going to too. We’re going to learn together. That’s why were doing this marriage thing. We both know in the end, we’ll do life better with each other.” Aeria searched his eyes and moved in closer. “Don’t be afraid Ryan…Here, feel my hands.”
Aeira placed his hands on hers. “Feel that ring? I said yes, and I’m still going to say I do to you. It’s enough waiting. Its time to just step ahead together.
Ryan’s body relaxed, then pulled her head into his chest. Aeria felt him smile, she breathed in his scent. Then the phone vibrated. Ryan ignored it for a moment while he kissed her slow. He finally pulled back from her and looked down. “See that?” he said holding out his phone. Aeira looked at the screen. It read: Everything’s ready, it’s time to come and finish the ceremony.
“I’m going to walk right with you, and we’re going to give this another try. Are you ready?” Ryan asked.
Aeira couldn’t take her eyes off his face as she spoke, “I’m ready. I’m done my hesitating. You’re done your waiting. No more waiting Ryan. I’m going to marry you today.” And with that Aeria pulled his hand and began walking back together, back to the ceremony.
Always believe. Always hope. Always love. ❤
*Photo credit: Photo by Kenny Luo on Unsplash