"On behalf of my wife and myself..." It was a traditional opening gambit for a groom's wedding speech and it caused everyone, Rachel included, to laugh and applaud. Reece could carry off even the corniest of lines with grace and charm. "I'd like to thank you all for being here to celebrate our special day," he said, concluding the sentiment and drawing out another appreciative murmur. American and Brit guests alike were loving him, especially the female ones. His dark tuxedo was tailored to heighten their imagination of the near-triangular athlete's torso beneath and ever tuft of his dark hair was waxed perfectly into place. He's immaculately-groomed, therefore so is the bride. Rachel smirked at her own wordplay and swallowed the tinge of envy which coloured it. Kyla was gazing up at her new husband with a got-the-cream smile on her perfectly-curved lips. At least this bride knew what a catch she'd reeled in, but then a woman as smart, sassy and gorgeous as Kyla could keep chucking them back in the sea until she knew she'd landed a prize. Then again maybe it was Reece who'd caught her. Or maybe they were two expert anglers whose lines had snagged and... Rachel's metaphor grew tangled as fishing-wire and she felt glad it wasn't her making the speech.
"Kyla wanted me to say special thanks to my friends and relatives who have hopped across the Pond to join us. Not that coming to Hawaii is an especial chore, but it's an expense that none of you needed to incur and we're delighted that you took the opportunity. So delighted, in fact, that we're bringing you all on honeymoon with us..." Laughter broke out once more around the palm-fronded reception area. "I'm not joking... Kyla and I will be spending the first few days here in her native state and have invited some friends along with us -- many thanks to Kyla's parents for allowing us all the fabulous Frutchey-family beach house in Maui. That's on the proviso that our guests allow us a little 'us' time." Much grinning, Rachel noticed, particularly from the British party in the reception's middle table.
"Of course there's one person joining us there to whom Kyla and I owe particular thanks." Reece glanced down at Rachel, and his bride turned her garlanded head to bestow a radiant smile. Rachel was blushing even before Reece had named her. "People have been inquiring since the rehearsal about the identity of our beautiful second bridesmaid. Let me introduce you to Rachel Stanton, without whom this celebration would never have happened." The ripple of amused interest made her drop her eyes further, though Reece's acknowledgement gratified her. "Rachel was Kyla's student and the daughter of my client and she took it upon herself to -- well -- throw us casually together. Kyla had no idea that her top student was plotting to hook her up with a family friend."
Rachel was pleasurably mortified. The sun-blonded bride was bedazzling her with a grateful, slightly impish smile. The groom, towering above her in six foot two of bespoke-tuxedoed magnificence, was gracing her with a grin fit to melt a girl. For that moment in time she got to bask in the twin suns of their affection. On one level it wasn't much consolation, but on another it meant everything -- to be decked out in an exquisite pale green bridesmaid dress, hibiscus flowers in her hair, seated at the head table on the day of this beautiful couple's gorgeous wedding.
"Well our happiness is much to do with her subterfuge, and we hope that her place here today demonstrates something of the gratitude we share. You know, if I were Mormon I'd marry her as well." It was the sort of cheeky aside Reece could pull off safely, eliciting only a comical slap from his new wife. All perfectly clear that Rachel was a shy little girl, however curvy, to Kyla's fully-flowered woman. Your loss, mister, she thought, not remotely believing it.
The bride leaned down the table to her, looking ravishing in her simple spaghetti-strapped wedding gown, her bosom peeking out discreetly from the corseting of the white bodice. "I'd marry you too, baby," she whispered in Rachel's ear, so that Greta Frutchey, chief bridesmaid and Kyla's sister, could not hear. The little flourish was so unexpected that Rachel was sure she blushed right down her bare neck to the tight-compressed orbs of her breasts. Her ex-teacher shot her a cheeky wink and resumed a graceful pose next to her husband.
It said much of her, Rachel sometimes joked, that she had brought together the two great crushes of her teenage years. An act of unswerving selflessness. "So how did you become the great match-maker?" asked Tyler, the bride's college-grad cousin, as she danced with him after the meal. He was slender and well-presented, two years her senior and obviously hot for her. A cooling sea breeze wafted across the dance floor and the sun set the horizon ablaze, but even as this young fair-haired suitor pressed himself gently to the skirts of her dress, arms linked around her waist, she could not summon up much sense of romance. Maybe the proximity of the groom was spoiling her for any other man, or at least for any around her own age.
"When I was still at school Reece was helping my dad build this modern town-house right in the middle of London. It featured in Dream Dwellings, this TV show about crazy-ambitious building projects? It was all reinforced glass and loads of light pouring in from above. Reece was chief architect on the build so we all got to know him pretty well."
Got to know him... He'd been suave and funny and cool, totally intimidating a girl embarking on her A-levels. At school Rachel had brushed off advances from boys and the occasional creepy teacher. So smitten had she been by Reece Everett, however, his mere presence had rendered her a babbling fool, even after the squash lessons he'd given her on her dad's suggestion. He acquired for her the status of a Ryan Gosling or a Heath Ledger, only this idol showed up in her house most weeks. Then began his appearances in her night-time visions, the ones where he took her in all sorts of charming naked manly ways.
When she tried a little nervous flirtation during waking hours -- "So, who are you building your own dream home for?" - he brushed it off with a brotherly "Haven't met her yet." She knew she was growing into quite the little hottie; glossy black hair, juicily-rounded tits and ass, and didn't the schoolboys notice? Reece's refusal to play, however, always made her feel like a kid again.
"And my cousin taught you history, right?" said Tyler, giving her all his best slow-dance moves. "She must have stood out a little."
"Yes..." Rachel smiled. "Miss Frutchey was quite the exotic staff-member. We'd always ask her why she'd left the sunshine."
It had seemed unlikely, this slender, glamorous Hawaiian teaching History at North London Collegiate School. Bombshell-blonde with mesmerising Pacific-island eyes. "Hapa haole," she'd once explained. "My mom's Caucasian as all get, and my daddy's an Islander. "As for how I got here," she would respond affably to the students' queries, "it's just where life took me."
She had confided more to Rachel after class one day. "Between ourselves, I moved here because of a guy, but stayed because of a job. Always have a Plan B, Rachel, just in case Plan A flakes out on you."
"So why England?" Rachel had pursued. Kyla had been sitting cross-legged on a desk, lovely in a print dress, hair draped over one shoulder in a long ponytail. Rachel had imagined her teaching some kind of Hawaiian beach class in a bikini and sarong, the very fact that she could conjure up such an image rather disconcerting.
"Hey, school is school," Miss Frutchey had replied blithely. "Plus, I've always had a soft spot for those sexy Tudors and naughty Victorians. And I get to teach that stuff here. I guess I'm not a traditional Hawaiian gal..."
Rachel had giggled with her and thought she was just so sophisticated. They had discussed Rachel's university prospects along with her boy-troubles and man-crushes. Kyla had been sympathetic and funny, helping her laugh off her sillier teenage notions. She had also lent her books, the most memorable of which was Sarah Waters' Tipping the Velvet. "It's a whole aspect of Victoriana which might not even have existed, but you'll wish it had, it's so vibrant and liberating..."
Miss Frutchey's motives for recommending a young Victorian woman's journey of lesbian self-discovery had surely been innocent. Still the proffering of the book along with the vivid eroticism within its pages had resulted in deliciously wet dreams. Thoughts and sensations of being wrestled into Reece's masculine control were now as odds with those of Sapphic seduction at the hands and tongue of her beautiful worldly teacher. So foreign were the latter thoughts to Rachel, she had become hopelessly tongue-tied the next time she met Kyla. She had started blathering about Reece as a cover: "You should meet him, Miss -- you two would get along so well..." Remembered the contents of the book, she added: "That's if you're still..." Then she faltered and floundered, feeling wildly silly.
"Honey..." Kyla came to her rescue. "I still date guys. Rachel, just because I enjoyed a lesbian-themed novel, I haven't crossed over. Although maybe I've straddled the line a little... Now shouldn't you be going to your next class?" That was the way of it. Either Reece or Kyla could so have had her -- it made her squirm to admit it to herself - but the objects of her schoolgirl desire remained frustratingly appropriate in their behaviour.
"I set them up," she explained to her dance-partner, leaving out all the other stuff. "I showed Reece some photos of Kyla I'd taken on my phone during a school trip to the Globe Theatre and told him he had to come meet her. She was taking our History class to TGI Friday's for dinner just after we'd finished our Finals and I told him he had to show up just as though by accident. He said he didn't do set-ups, but he was still there that night. I knew he wouldn't be able to resist."
"You're quite the little one-woman dating agency," said Tyler, his face hovering close to hers.
"I suppose so..."
Rachel wondered what exactly had possessed her to do it. She supposed that since she wasn't going to have either of these older, wiser individuals that they might as well have each other. There had been the 'giving two nice people a shot at happiness' element, but just as strong was a wicked sense of pimping them, of instigating something wild and hot. Of course however fevered her imagining of their first meeting, the reality might have fizzled like a soggy firework. She recalled her trepidation on the night in question.
How deliciously her stomach had squirmed on spying Reece at a table across the restaurant. His grin on seeing her had been sheepish, as though this slip of a girl had him at a disadvantage. She had waited till most of her classmates had departed, then made her move. "Hey, Miss Frutchey..."
"Rachel, it's Kyla now. You're not in school anymore."
"Kyla... I've just spotted someone. Back in a moment..." She had chatted to Reece self-consciously for a while ("Well, isn't she even prettier than the photo?"), then drawn him over, her heart pounding, feeling excited and silly in equal measure. He'd had a wryly amused air, but could not take his eyes off Kyla from the start. "Miss... Sorry, Kyla... This is Reece, you know, the guy who planned out our new house, the one who's going to be on the TV show with Mum and Dad. Reece, this is... is Kyla, my History teacher. Best teacher in the world..."
"Right... Rachel's mentioned you a lot," Reece smiled, shaking her hand, looking splendid in dark shirt and sports jacket, smelling subtly of Acqua Di Parma. "Inspiring teachers are a rare commodity, you must be pretty impressive..."
"I don't know about that..." Kyla's smiling eyes had locked into his. Her hair was down and she looked great, her pert bosom accentuated in a silk wraparound dress. "I mean are you the architectural genius she seems to think?" She raised an eyebrow and her grin was playful.
"Maybe... Seems like she's been talking about us both behind our backs."
Something quietly powerful had existed between them from the start and become more thrillingly apparent as the seconds ticked by...
"I think this interfering young lady has kind of aimed us in each other's direction, am I wrong?" Kyla smiled archly to Rachel, who bit her lip in embarrassment.
"I should take some of the blame," Reece replied gallantly. "She was insistent that we be introduced, so I came along to placate her." It was already clear that his feelings were rather different.
"Well you've passed yourself," Kyla smiled, running her finger around the rim of her mojito glass. "Don't let me take up any more of your time..."
"Now Kyla, since Rachel here is so keen for us to get acquainted, the least I can do is buy you a drink..."
"Okay, for a mojito you can have half an hour of my valuable time."
"A whole half hour, I feel privileged."
"You should do..."
Two pairs of eyes fixed, unblinking... Currents of testosterone and estrogen crashing in silent explosion and eddying together, while Rachel watched it happen. The attraction was so tangible she felt she would be sucked into its vortex. She was witness to the creation of something primal and amazing; to an extent it was her creation. What a freaking result!
Tragically she could only observe the first few moments. Anything more would have been impolite, to say nothing of embarrassing. Kyla and Reece were civilized about it, engaging her in friendly chat and inviting her to join them for a drink, but she knew this embryonic passion could only develop once she had absented herself. So she made her excuses and joined her remaining peers on a pub excursion.
After that night she saw little of either teacher or architect. School was out forever and the build was pretty much wrapped. She met Kyla in Camden Market once over that summer and they went for coffee, where she inquired after Reece. "Well we're dating," Kyla had assured her, unable to stop breaking into a conspiratorial grin. "It's very fun. He's so charming and attentive. I have... a lot to thank you for." Rachel had felt a peculiar combination of pleasure and envy. It was so delicious -- if a little wrong -- to imagine her sexy ex-teacher getting the use of Reece Everett. Rachel's sexual experience at that time had been limited to furtive back-seat fumblings with Clive Rintoul, ex-student of her school; she could scarcely imagine what it was like to be taken properly by a fine specimen of manhood like Reece, but her foxy ex-teacher knew the reality.
After that it was occasional Facebook chat with one or the other and a sense from their photos of a hot accelerating romance. The holiday snaps from Kyla's Hawaiian home had been particularly loin-stirring -- two lovers happy, tanned and svelte in beachwear on some sun-blessed strand. Thoughts of what the sexy couple would be like in bed together fired up her night-time masturbation. If they only knew how many times they'd joined her under the sheets and made love next to her...
And then the phone-call, out of nowhere, not two years after she had helped create that initial spark... "Rachel? It's Kyla. Kyla Frutchey? I've got some great news. We've got some great news and we'd really like you to be a part of it..."
"So will you be staying any longer when you get back from Maui?" Tyler interrupted her reverie as they slowly rotated to a Sinatra number.
"Ehhh -- yes, I've booked into a hotel for a few days, why?" She was semi-interested, she supposed, in what he might have to suggest.
"Well if you'd like to hang out, do some tourist stuff, go check out volcanoes in the National Park, I'm a great guide..."
"Yes, that might be fun..." Rachel was not totally dismissive. She wished she could muster more enthusiasm for Tyler -- he was pretty good company and pretty good-looking -- but the proximity of other more mature company was rather draining her interest. Still, once back from Maui she might take him up on the offer... She looked around for the happy couple and saw them having a moment's respite from the wedding's whirl of socialising. "Tyler, is it okay if I just go say hello to the bride and groom? I haven't spoken to them properly since dinner..."
The combo of wine and champagne was making her spin a little as she sought them out; she supposed Tyler had been propping her up. The bride and groom's covert chat looked so cosy she almost left them alone, but Kyla spotted her and they drew her into a joint embrace that made her shudder. She kissed them both, Reece's trademark Acqua and Kyla's Kauai Rose combining in her nostrils. "I bet you two just can't wait to get shot of all us guests. I mean... have a little down time." She knew exactly what she meant. Go fuck each other's brains out in the privacy of the bridal suite. From their sly glances to each other, they knew it too.
"We will," Kyla smiled. "Soon. What about you, honey? Getting along well with my handsome cousin? He's taken quite a shine to you..."
"Yeah, sure, he's great..." Rachel sidestepped the topic, returning to them. "You know I can't get over how perfect you two look together. You're like... like the prototype for the little couple on top of the cake!"
Reece applied a playful squeeze to his wife's waist. "We're such a model couple, aren't we, sweetheart?"
"Yeah, we're just sick-makingly perfect," Kyla laughed, screwing up her nose and poking his ribs in response. "And we have this one to thank." She beamed benevolently on Rachel, who felt a rush of happiness.
"That's right," she smiled, loving this moment of unity. "I created you. I'm kind of like Frankenstein only better. Now you can go off and add amazingness to the gene pool and it'll all be my doing." Wow, she'd had more champagne than she remembered.
"We will, eventually, just give us a little time, okay?" Reece feigned panic, but ended up grinning along with the new Mrs Everett. Rachel had an image of them heatedly making babies, and went a bit swoony. She wondered if they'd be beautifully tender that night or bounce each other off the walls of the suite...
"You know I've got the most massive crush on you both..." The thought was out of her mouth before she could edit. She followed it up with a giggle to try and underline the comment's jokey nature.
"Yeah..." Kyla was laughing with her. "We know." The briefest shadow of wickedness crossed the bride's face and her eyes flicked to her husband, who dropped his gaze as though in amused embarrassment. Kyla reached out and squeezed Rachel's arm to diffuse the moment. "You're the sweetest girl in the world, Rachel, and we're both crazy about you. We want you to have a great time in Maui... It's simply beautiful there. Part of our thank-you, okay?"
"It's true," added Reece. "We can't express our thanks enough."
"If you like, we can see if Tyler would like to come along as well..." Kyla suggested sweetly. "Something tells me he'd say yes..."
Rachel felt a flicker of temptation. Some company would be nice to distract from the thought of the couple's amorous honeymoon exertions. But Kyla's family had shown enough generosity in flying a group out from the UK. Three days' sunbathing on island sands would be all she needed. "It's fine," she assured them. "I could just do with the relaxation. I'm sure I'll have a great time."
* * * *
They all flew out from Hawai'i to Maui late next morning -- a party of eleven. Reece's mum and dad were there, as were older sister Jess and her husband Brian with their teenage son and daughter Philip and Saskia. Then there was best man Graham with partner Teri. An amiable family group and Rachel mixed in passably well, not too noticeably the outside member. A hired minivan picked them up from Kahului Airport and took them around the north coast road towards their destination. The whole place was possessed of a something primeval -- Rachel could almost breathe it through the van window as they travelled, the rest of the group joking and singing around her. Tourist developments could not detract from her vivid sense of an island forged in the midst of wild volcanic explosion. It was fringed with white-gold beaches and overlaid with lush vegetation, but the primal forces of its creation were still set deep into the basalt rock. This island was romantic, she thought, but not in any comfortable, predictable way.