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She could hear the sounds of the birds in the trees, as little by little nature came alive.Outside, in her parents spacious and flowery back garden, the wedding planner and her troop were busy getting things ready for the big day. Probably the biggest and the most momentous day of her entire life she thought smiling to herself.She had woken up early hoping to get a head start. She took her gaze away for a moment from the frenzied activity taking place outside to glance towards her wedding dress, hanging on a coat rack in one corner of her bedroom.She closed her eyes and imagined herself walking down the aisle strewn with white and pink rose petals, towards the man she loved, wearing that gorgeous dress, carrying a bouquet of white and pink roses. “That’s what I’ll be doing in exactly two hours" she said smiling as she opened her eyes.Her thoughts drifted to her soon to be husband, Daniel. They had met two years ago while she was on a wine tasting tour in Napa Valley with her best friend Molly. He had been staying at the same hotel. A silly accident had brought them together she recalled now, giggling to herself.One evening, she had been at the bar of the hotel ordering drinks for them. She had turned swiftly, drinks in both hands and collided with a tall, handsome, blue eyed, brown haired stranger, accidentally spilling the drinks all over his crisp white shirt. She remembered how embarrassed she was by her actions as she had set the two glasses back on the counter silently cursing herself while grabbing several napkins and dabbing his shirt, apologizing profusely.He had been so polite and understanding and had done his utmost to put her at ease about the whole incident saying that he also should have looked where he was going, as he had been gazing at his phone while approaching the bar.They introduced each other and fell into a conversation standing right there at the bar. He had told her that he is a Chef and owned his own restaurant in Los Angeles. He had taken a few days off to come to Napa Valley to unwind and to sample some of the best wines on offer hoping to make a purchase for his restaurant. She had told him that she is a hairdresser and owned her own salon in San Diego. From that evening on they had spent time together, getting to know one another, much to Molly's annoyance as she had felt left out. They had exchanged phone numbers promising to call each other, once they got back. They had even visited one another in their respective cities. She, at his restaurant and he, at her salon. Finally Danny had plucked up the courage to pop the question to her exactly on the first year anniversary of their meeting. They were out having a celebratory dinner. She had practically yelled “yes" as Danny had gone down on one knee and slipped a beautiful diamond ring on her finger, right there in the middle of the crowded restaurant much to the amazement of the other diners.As she gazed adoringly at her sparkling diamond engagement ring, she told herself that she is lucky to have met a man like Daniel. She said a silent prayer that all will be well today, as she got up from the ledge, set her now empty mug of coffee on it and walked over to her dressing table. She was about to sit down when her mother burst into her room looking as white as a sheet.“Mom! What's wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost!” Tara inquired looking at her mother's pale face.Her mother only nodded as she rushed forward and grabbed her daughter's hand and practically dragged her out of the room and down the stairs.“Mom, for heaven's sake will you tell me what the heck is going on?” she yelled, about to go into panic mode.Her mother still said nothing as she dragged her by the arm out the front door and into the front yard.“There!” her mother said finally pointing towards the street.Tara glanced in the direction her mother was pointing and gasped, covering her mouth with both her hands to prevent the scream from escaping it. She began to shake as she slowly walked towards the man standing on the side walk gazing at her, grinning.There he was, all six feet four inches of him, with bluish grey eyes and dark hair. The man who was her first love. The man whom she was supposed to be with, spend her entire life with forever. Until he disappeared four years ago while on an assignment as a journalist somewhere in Iraq.As she drew near him he said, “Hi Tara, it's good to see you after all these years"“Matthew?” she said wide eyed, still unsure it's really him standing before her.“In the flesh" said he grinning.“I don't understand. You were presumed dead, when you went missing four years ago, when no one heard from you.” she said fighting back tears.“We were captured and taken as prisoners. We thought they were going to kill us but finally they let us go. After a year of imprisonment and torment, we were released.” “But why didn't you get in touch with your family, why didn't you reach out to them, to any of us, to me? You wait all these years, and now you show up here on the day of my wedding, after four years, four years Matthew!” Tara yelled with tears running down her cheeks.She took a step closer and swung her arm and slapped him hard across the face and continued, “How dare you? Have you any idea how long I grieved for you? Cried into my pillow every night for you? And you have the nerve to show up here, standing there, grinning like a clown?”“Tara, please let me explain!” he pleaded rubbing his now reddened cheek.“I don't need any explanations from you Matthew James Brennan, I want you to turn around and walk away and never come back here again. There’s nothing to explain as far as I am concerned!” she said, burning with anger, her own cheeks beginning to change colour as she turned around and stormed back into the house.She ran all the way upstairs and into her bedroom and slammed the door shut behind her. She threw herself on the bed crying bitterly into her pillow as she had done four years ago. A few minutes later she heard a light tap on the door.“Go away!” she yelled, lifting her head up from her tear soaked pillow.“Honey, it's your mother, open the door darling, please!” her mother pleaded from the other side.She got up reluctantly and went to the door and opened it. Her mother walked in and touched her daughter's tear stained face and said, “Matthew is downstairs talking to your father. He invited him in for a chat. He really wants to talk to you sweetie and explain what happened. I think you ought to give him a chance. He says he won't leave till you do.”“Well, I don’t care. I will not talk to him even if he camps outside my door!” she said walking over to her bedside table and grabbing a tissue from the box to wipe her face.“Tara Anne Williams, now you listen to me and you listen good. You are going to be grown up about this. You are going to march right downstairs and talk to that young man, do you hear me young lady?” her mother said sternly, walking over to her and cupping her daughters face with her palms.“Fine!” she said pushing her mother's hands away and walking past her and out the door agitated.Matthew and her father rose to their feet as she entered the sitting room. Her father excused himself and exited the room awkwardly, leaving Tara alone with Matthew.Tara sat on the arm chair directly opposite him and looked straight at him and said, “Well, you better start explaining fast as I have a wedding to get to in about two hours!”Matthew cleared his throat and began.“I am sorry that I barged into your life like this, out of the blue. The reason I didn't reach out to anyone is because It was hard for me Tara.”He stood up and walked over to the window looking out, with his back to her, as he continued.“What I went through over there, the whole experience, did something to me. When I came back I was a different person, I was a mess, I had flashbacks, nightmares, waking up in the middle of the night screaming, breaking out in cold sweats, I started drinking, I told my parents not to tell anyone that I am back. They didn't even know that I was alive till two months after I came back to the country. I was in a bad place then, broken shattered, scared. I didn't want anyone to see me like that. Not my parents, especially not you. So they decided to keep my secret. I have been going to AA meetings and seeing a therapist for the past year.”He turned around to look at her with eyes full of tears and went on.“I didn't want to come before you a broken and shattered man, Tara. I didn't want you to see me like that. That's why I stayed away. Two months ago I ran into Molly by accident while visiting my parents. Believe me, she had the same reaction as you, when she saw me. She told me you were engaged to be married. I told her not to say anything to you because I didn't want to disrupt your life or your plans. I decided to come and see you today only to wish you good luck!”He came back to his seat and sat down facing her once again as he continued.“I wanted to see you one last time. I wanted to let you know that I am alive, that I am okay. I had no intention of ruining your big day. I…love…you, Tara, I….will always…..love you, you will always be my forever love!” he said choking up as tears rolled down his cheeks.Tara stood up, her own cheeks now wet with fresh tears as she took a step forward and knelt in front of him and said, “I am so sorry for what you have been through, I can't even begin to imagine what the entire experience must have been like for you. But you could have come back to me. I could have helped you get through it, I could have helped you to mend!”She reached over and cupped his face with her palms and continued.“Why didn't you Matthew, why didn't you want to let me help you? Did you think that I wouldn't be able to handle it? That I’d give up and run away? Please tell me, why?”Matthew took her hands in his and held them tight as he replied, “It wasn’t your job to fix me, I needed to do that myself. I didn't want to burden you. That's why. You understand, don't you Tara? You understand why I had to stay away?” he asked her imploringly.“Yes Matthew, I understand now” she said gazing at him tenderly.They remained that way for a moment, as if frozen in time, he sitting on the chair holding on to her, she kneeling and holding on to him.………………………………………………………….Tara was ready and waiting to walk down the aisle with puffy eyes from all that crying earlier. The ceremony was delayed by half an hour, much to the annoyance of the wedding planner. She stood next to her father along with the rest of the bridal party. Molly who was her ‘Maid of Honour’ turned around and winked, giving her the thumbs up sign smiling broadly. Tara warmly returned her smile.After her encounter with Matthew she had called Danny and explained everything and informed him of the delay. She has had a few words with Molly as well, when she got to the house to get dressed after supervising the proceedings outside.But all was well now. Everything was going according to plan although half and hour late. She looked back and caught Matthew watching her, their eyes locked as he gave her an encouraging nod. She had invited him to the festivities. He had accepted reluctantly.The music started as Molly began walking down arm in arm with Danny's best man Chris, his best friend, followed by the page boy and the flower girls, as they walked down throwing rose petals from their baskets.A moment later, as the string quartet started playing the “Bridal Chorus" Tara looked back again, but this time she received no encouraging nod. She looked around frantically, searching for him, he was nowhere to be seen. Her father nudged her gently saying, “darling, it's time." Tara pulled herself together and started walking, smiling nervously. Suddenly halfway through she stopped, turned to her father and said, “I can't do this daddy, I am sorry, please forgive me” She glanced towards Danny who was looking on nervously and mouthed the words “I am sorry,” dropped her bouquet, turned and dashed from the garden, through the house, into the front yard. She called out his name several times while hot tears ran down her cheeks messing up her make up.“He’s gone, gone from my life forever!” she said as she slumped down on the front steps in her wedding dress, covering her face with her hands and weeping bitterly. A moment later she felt a shadow fall on her, she looked up and saw Matthew looking down at her, confused, as she sat there weeping.He reached down and helped her to her feet saying, “What's wrong Tara? Aren't you supposed to be getting married? What are you doing sitting here on the doorstep?”“I can't go through with it Matthew, I am still in love with you, I love you, you are my forever love, you always have been, you always will be!” she said as she flung herself at him wrapping her arms around his waist.“My darling, are you sure? Do you want to spend the rest of your life with a broken man like me?” he asked as he wrapped his arms around her.“Yes, I do, my love!” she said smiling up at him through tears.He kissed her passionately, standing there in her front yard, fully aware that they are being watched by a few curious wedding guests including her parents, Molly, Chris and Danny.THE END,