The blushing bride was a picture of radiance and exquisite beauty. Her long, white satin gown and equally long transparent veil flowed dreamily as she took her few, tentative steps towards her agitated groom. The timeless music of ’Here Comes The Bride’ accompanied her every step. All eyes on the crowd fell on her. A nervous smile was on her lips as the groom took her hand and led her to the beautifully made altar. Minutes later, the crowd was misty-eyed as the couple exchanged "I do’s". Then it was over.
The bride and groom sealed their eternal vow with a long, passionate kiss amidst the enthusiastic loud clapping of the crowd. Cheers of approval, laughter, and smiling faces greeted the newly wedded couple. Everyone was a picture of happiness.
Everyone-that is-except for the tall, young woman who was silently watching the entire proceedings. Her stooped shoulders said more than words conveyed. There was also a scowl on her beautiful face instead of the usual radiant smile. And it was a pity, because she would have looked lovelier had she smiled.
She witnessed the wedding ceremony from beginning to end, and Gem McQuinn was far from happy. Not because she felt envious or anything. No. It was because she was preoccupied with her own romantic troubles which left her feeling distraught. And the newlywed couple’s happiness reminded her of what she had just lost.
She sighed. She tried to divert her attention to her surroundings. She focused her thoughts on the scenery while keeping an eye on the continuous activities around her--the pristine, calm sea, the balmy, cool air, the clear blue sky with clouds like cotton candy drifting by. But her mind would eventually veer on what had transpired in the past few days.
Gem had just arrived in Florida that morning. She flew in from New York. It was not exactly a long flight. But it was enough to make her feel tired, grumpy, and incapable of coping with jet lag afterwards. Shortly before dinner she drove to the city for a quick tour. She had dinner at a nearby restaurant.
Finding herself alone in her parents’ huge house, she went out to the places she used to frequent when she was growing up here. She missed hanging out in those places with her friends. She wondered where they were now. She needed company badly. And she wanted to escape the deafening silence in her parents’ house.
The beach was her most favorite place of all. Being a Sunday, it was packed-as expected. That was how she stumbled upon a wedding ceremony held at the beach resort. Normally, she wouldn’t have minded what was going on, but this time she stayed to observe the entire proceedings. Curiosity-that female thing that gnawed at the insides until one was fully satisfied-egged her to stay and watch the wedding.
At first glance, people mistook Gem McQuinn for a young, ethereal woman fresh out of college. Her thin, frail frame offered no assistance to her image. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. She might have looked fragile, but looks could be deceiving. She could really be tough if the situation called for it. And she was way past her teen years. At 25, she could safely say she had arrived. As a matter of fact, those who were acquainted with her would know that she worked as an accounting supervisor in one of the biggest firms in New York.
She wasn’t exactly what one would call stunning. She considered her physical attributes average. She was tall and lean. Her ivory white skin was flawless. Her long brunette hair shone with health and vitality, and her dark brown gentle eyes, well, an admirer once poetically said that, "one could look at them and be lost in their depths."
Of course, Gem didn’t believe all that he said. But she was flattered all the same. Her peers agreed that she exuded presence and intensity. Maybe this was because her approach to life had been one of focused drive and determination, especially when it came to work. To say that she loved her work was an understatement. She had a passion for it that went beyond love and bordered on obsession. Anything that came in between was an intruder.
Maybe that was how she made her boyfriend of two years feel when they were together-an intruder in her life and work. It was no secret to Gem that her job had contributed to the rift between Robbie and her. It had been a constant factor in their quarrels. Consequently, they broke up two months ago when she found out that Robbie was dating another girl behind her back. And she, well, had to fly 1,000s of miles to mend a broken heart.
If the break-up had been particularly hard for Gem it was because she never had a real relationship with any man before Robbie not because of lack of opportunity, but because of choice. In all her 25 years, Robbie was her first boyfriend. He would probably be her last. She could not imagine going through any more heartache. She had had a few crushes and flings, which hardly constituted a relationship at all. She hadn’t been interested enough to go any deeper than that.
"You scare men away!" her friends back in college used to warn her. In hindsight now, they appeared to be right.
"Are you a man-hater or what?" some of her friends would ask.
But Gem was undaunted. "Maybe because they weren’t men to begin with," she would say.
She would then laugh at their admonitions. That way she would shrug off their unnecessary fears. Of course, none of their accusations were true. Gem was never a man-hater. She just loved to challenge their way of thinking. Besides, she was not the type to fall head over heels. She was too astute to succumb to passing fancy. Emotions did not play a huge part in her decisions, and the trait made her quite successful in all her undertakings both in studies and later, at work.
But then, success too had its drawbacks. Somewhere along the way, being alone for so long, she learned the art of independence so well that she forgot how it felt to be protected and to be vulnerable like most women. Her no-nonsense demeanor coupled with her above-average intellect and inner strength intimidated lesser men. She dreaded the very thought of romance and intimacy like it was some sort of a contagious illness. She could not stand the thought of becoming susceptible to her emotions. No, that was simply unimaginable. She was a ’take charge’ kind of person, always had been. And letting someone take control of the reins of her life went against the grain. Perhaps that explained why she loved being alone, free from the shackles of burdensome relationships. It gave her a sense of wholeness no relationships could provide. She was invincible to love.
Well, at least, that was what she thought. Until Robbie came along. She met her match in Robbie. Gem was impressed by his clean, handsome looks. His endearing charm and his persistence had won Gem’s heart. They met in one of the conferences she attended. He was an accountant in another firm based in New York City.
It wasn’t exactly love at first sight. She was flattered by the attention he showered on her, and he took his time in winning Gem’s heart. He had a way of making her feel comfortable and needed, traits which she found attractive. Not long after, she found herself seeing him often. Her feelings for Robbie grew as time passed by. The next thing she knew they were lovers.
It was hard to point out exactly when they drifted apart. All Gem knew was that she got busy with her job. Everything that she had now, she worked hard for. It was no accident. Success didn’t just fall into her lap. It would be fair to say that she deserved her good fortune.
After months of intense work her efforts finally paid off. Her career as an accountant was soaring. Big names in the industry sought her help. She was making waves at her profession and steadily climbing the ladder of success. She was on top, and she had every reason to be happy with the way things were going for her career. She had been a conscientious worker, but her time spent at work had created a strain in her year and a half relationship with Robbie. She had ignored that until now. And now it was too late.
"I hardly see you these days," Robbie used to complain.
"I’ll make it up to you later," Gem promised.