Chapter 1

Wingman

Chris Parsons was pacing impatiently in the chancel of the Parish Church of St. Margaret near Port Wenn. Glancing between the time on his watch and that on his mobile, both confirmed that Ellingham was late, the first Parsons ever knew him to be so. The cool November air flowing through the open doors rustled the pages of the programs clutched by the many congregants. Chris could feel the anxiety emanating from them. Louisa Glasson had not arrived either, and heads were craning toward the entry willing her presence in the church.

Looking toward the second pew, he saw Michelle's eyes drop as he tried to gain her attention. She was likely still angry from the rare argument they had early this morning whilst driving to the village. Their three children had been left in the care of her sister, so that Chris and Michelle could stay the night in Port Wenn. They began the trip with Michelle's hand resting on his thigh and the anticipation of a night together uninterrupted by children.

An unthinking remark by Chris had ended that promise. Laughing, he told her that the local pub had a betting pool underway as to whether or not Martin would actually appear for the wedding on Saturday. The odds were an astonishing 99 to 1 that Louisa would be left standing alone at the church. Rather than laugh, Michelle had shrieked: "What a bloody horrid thing to say Chris! You're his best man. How dare you even think that. Louisa has been through so much with him. It would devastate her to be left at the church. Shame on you!"

Not only had her hand left his thigh, her back was turned to him as she pulled a book from her bag and pointedly ignored his pleas that he was only joking. He knew Ellingham very well, and it seemed he loved Louisa deeply. Remember how they behaved when the two couples met for dinner last Sunday? They couldn't take their eyes from each other. Chris was astonished to see Mart drape his arm around Louisa's shoulder and kiss the top of her head several times as they lingered over coffee

At med school, he was more likely to see Ellingham arrive late for a lecture than to show overt affection to a woman. True, Mart had no women in med school – or at least none Chris knew of at the time. It was only after Edith Montgomery left for Canada that Robert Southwood told him of the relationship between Martin and Montgomery. He did so by way of urging Chris to keep an eye on Ellingham. He was bereft over Edith's rejection of his marriage proposal and her move to Montreal.

Had Southwood not been his mentor, Chris would have punched him for what he knew must be a treacherous lie. How could his friend Mart have anything to do with Montgomery? Surely, Robert was saying this only to wind him up before training began in earnest. He assured Chris it was true and again suggested he look after Ellingham.

Still questioning his mentor's veracity, Chris told Michelle about this outrageous tale. She blushed deeply and stammered that it might be correct. Although married less than a month, Chris recognized her unease and continued to press her. Michelle finally admitted that Martin had told her about Edith just before their wedding. She, too, was in disbelief but he seemed quite taken with the woman.

Michelle also recalled that her friend, Nathalie, was on the prowl for single men at their wedding and cornered Ellingham. She managed a modicum of conversation with him, but complained that he was the first man not entranced by her considerable charms. Realizing there was no hope for romance, she entertained herself by coaxing words from the truculent man.

Prattling on about her escapades through many failed relationships, Martin had listened patiently whilst twirling a spoon between his hands. Finally, she asked if he was involved in a relationship. For a long minute he stared at her and eventually blurted that he had just ended one. A woman had turned down his marriage proposal and left the country for studies abroad.

Recognizing a fellow-sufferer in the realm of romance, Nathalie urged him to talk about it. Martin looked at her as if she had asked him to create world peace, end poverty and cure all diseases in the next five minutes. Askance was not strong enough to describe the look on his face, she laughed.

Chris was elated that Montgomery had not accepted Ellingham's proposal and thrilled that she would be in Canada for many years. Pointing out that Martin might be upset by Edith's rejection, Chris shouted incredulously "why?"

This was nearly the same reaction he had when he learned that a Dr. Edith Montgomery was to work one day a week at Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro. Thinking there could be two or more doctors with that name, Chris quickly scrolled through her CV and saw it was, indeed, the same Edith Montgomery from St. Mary's. Resting his forehead on the desk, Chris wondered how he might avoid his med school nemesis during her time in Truro.

Of course that was impossible, so Parsons stood and forced a smile as she walked into his office in mid-September. He recognized Montgomery immediately, but her long brown braid had been replaced with a short hairstyle of a dubious ginger colour. This meeting was as difficult for Edith as Chris, and they studiously remained cordial throughout their talk. Both were equally relieved to end the time but not before she dutifully asked about Michelle and wondered if they had children.

Chris took up a framed photo from his desk and identified Gillian, Daniel and Julia, ages 11, 9 and 4. Oh bother, now he would have to ask about Edith's family. No she was not married – divorced twice actually – but she did have a 7 year old son, Nicholas. He was to begin boarding school in September, but her family held what she called a "bloodless coup," and Nicholas now attends the village school with his cousins. She travels to Hertfordshire on weekends to be with him.

Chris was surprised and relieved that Edith did not ask about Ellingham. On learning she would be working in Truro, his first thought was how to tell Mart. He had not found the right occasion, and really Martin might never learn of it. Gynaecology and obstetrics were the most distasteful parts of Ellingham's GP practise. Unless a medical emergency, he quickly dispatched pregnancies to the area mid-wife and gynae patients to Royal Cornwall.

Given that she would only be at hospital one day each week, there was little chance Montgomery would ever encounter Ellingham. Besides which, Mart finally was making headway with Louisa Glasson, the primary school head who nearly quashed his appointment. Chris appreciated the irony. Ellingham did not.

Trying again to catch Michelle's eye, Chris saw Roger Fenn motioning him to the back of the church. Heads turned in unison as he strode through the nave to the narthex. Roger, Martin's Aunt Joan, and a thin, bearded man awaited. The man identified himself as Anthony Oakwood, Louisa's next door neighbour. He solemnly handed an envelope to Roger saying that Louisa asked him to deliver it. "I stand ready to help as I may, even though Terri and I were not invited to the wedding."

Chris lead the three outside, not wanting this scene to unfold in front of the curious guests. Roger Fenn opened the envelope and read aloud:

"Dear Roger, I have decided that I am not yet ready to marry Martin. Please ask Chris Parsons to escort him from the church and tell him with no one else present. I will deliver a letter to his surgery explaining everything. Please ask Joan Norton to announce that there will be no wedding. I hope that everyone will partake of the food and drink Bert and Al Large so kindly prepared for today. Finally, I ask that no one come to my cottage or try contacting me for the next few days as I sort this out. Thank you Joan, Chris and Roger for helping your grateful friend, Louisa Glasson."

Joan Norton broke the silence: "Well, then, where's Marty? Perhaps he's had an accident on the road. I'll just have PC Penhale search him out."

"Mrs. Norton, I've just come from Port Wenn," said Oakwood, "and I saw nothing along the way." Stating what the others did not wish to think, he added: "It might be that the groom also had a change of heart. Has anyone phoned him?"

The three looked one to the other and shook their heads no. Chris had thought to do so, but knew Martin would be angry if he were only delayed with a patient.

"Let me ring his mobile," Chris said. "He'll likely have that with him." After two rings, the answerphone switched on, and Chris asked Martin to phone him when he had a moment. Next he left the same inane message at the surgery. It may be that Louisa had delivered her letter to him, and – like her – he did not wish to talk with anyone.

Continued. . . .