~ Chapter Eight ~
The assembly gathered outside in the vast garden as the room was transformed back into the ballroom; all chairs being removed to clear an open space. Henry stood next to Rosie with his arm around her waist as they spoke with friends and family. Rosie couldn't remember a time where she felt happier or had greater acceptance within their local community.
"Alright everyone! You can come back inside now!" Eva called out to the crowd to encourage them to start to slowly make their way back inside. It didn't take much persuasion to move everyone back into the warmth of the house to escape the chilling summer breeze as nightfall approached, casting the garden into long shadows. Eva smiled as Henry and Rosie were the last to walk past her into the house and she shut the doors after them.
A small band had assembled in the short period of time that they were outside and were warming up. Waiters were making their way around the room with platters of fancy canapés and glasses of champagne to celebrate the occasion. Eva stood on a chair and tapped her glass gently to acquire everyone's attention. "Ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys, I would like to thank you all for coming tonight on such short notice to celebrate with us this very special evening; the marriage of my daughter to her wonderful new husband, Henry." Rosie lifted her glass at the couple and others did the same or clapped. "So, as you know, Rosie's father could not be here with us tonight. But I'm sure that if he were here, he'd be ever so proud of his little girl, just like I am." Eva paused, an unsteady smile on her face trying to hold back her tears. Rosie was the same. "So would you all please put your hands together and move to the side for Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong's first dance."
Obediently the guests moved to the edges of the ballroom as the band began to play a requested song; the first song that Henry and Rosie had danced to. Their song. Everyone clapped and whistled as they watched the newlywed couple sway to the music.
"Did I ever tell you what I thought the first time I saw you?" Henry whispered in Rosie's ear before he spun her out.
Rosie twisted back to him and he held her there for a moment. "No? I don't believe so." She twirled to face him once again. "What did you think?"
"I thought, 'what is a beautiful girl like her doing with an old monster like him?'" Henry nodded towards Mr Solomon who was sulking in the corner of the room. "From the moment I saw you, I was already wondering if I'd ever have the privilege of so much as talking to you. I still can't even believe I'm marrying the girl that I thought I would never even have the courage to speak to."
Rosie linked her arms around Henry's neck and kissed his lips gently. "And I thought you were promised to that girl who you were dancing with. She was stunning."
"Isabella? She's actually older than us. A lot older than us." Henry exaggerated.
Rosie's eyes widened. "No?! Seriously? She looked younger than me!" Rosie felt herself blushing as she realised that she had raised her voice louder than she had anticipated and felt self-conscious, feeling other's eyes following her every movement. "How old?" she whispered, regaining control over the volume of her voice.
Henry's eyes flicked around the room. "About your mother's age."
"Get out of here!" Rosie laughed.
"Oh… Wow." Rosie whispered, no longer laughing. "Christ, really that old?" She wished she looked that good when she was that age. Before she realised, the song finished and they struggled to break free from each other's proximity to bow and curtsey. The next song started and other couples now joined in dancing alongside Henry and Rosie until eventually the floor was filled with people. Rosie rested her head gently on Henry's shoulder. "I never thanked you."
"What for?" Henry's breath tickled Rosie's ear.
"For saving me."
"Saving you?" Henry frowned and pulled her back slightly so he could read her expression. "Saving you from what?"
"Rosie. My dear."
"Derek." Rosie said flatly as Derek pulled her hand away from Henry, towards his face to kiss it. It took all her effort to avoid her disgust from showing on her face.
"Sorry to barge in on the newlyweds, I hope you don't mind Henry." Derek said at Rosie, not even paying Henry a glance.
"Actually-" Henry started.
"Rosie, I insist on a dance. Just one!"
Before Rosie could reply, he was already dragging her away from Henry. She looked back over her shoulder desperately at him. He ran up, kissed her neck and whispered in her ear that everything would be okay before disappearing into the sea of bodies.
"So Rosie" Derek said pulling her closer to him. She could smell alcohol on him. "You can dance. Why were you pretending you couldn't?"
Rosie panicked. She knew he had a violent tendency when he was drunk. It was suspected that he had killed his own wife in a drunken argument provoked by jealousy. Of course it was never proved otherwise he would have been locked up. Then again, he was also known to weasel his way out of situations. "Yes. I don't know. To make you feel better."
"Better?" Mr Solomon snorted. "Do you think being made out to be an idiot makes me feel better? Do you think seeing you get married makes me feel better?" Rosie swallowed and didn't reply. "Henry doesn't deserve you. He's not worthy of such…" Derek's hand slid down her lower back. "Of such… beauty…"
Rosie became aware of his fastened breathing. She felt uncomfortable. She was now a married woman; he had no right to touch her. "Get your hands off me." She whispered sternly.
Derek inhaled her scent deeply. "Or what?" He forced her against him.
Rosie squirmed. "I said get your filthy hands OFF me!" Rosie exclaimed, pushing him as hard as she could away. "You are a vile human being." A small circle had formed around them, couples moving away from the disruption as people moved to a safe distance to watch the commotion. "You are vile." She said again for emphasis, the music suddenly silencing. Rosie knew she should back down to stop herself from making a public humiliation but she was angry. This was her big day. She was angry of being pushed around by people like Derek all her life. "You are a coward. And you're here, hitting on your deceased best friend's daughter on her wedding day. He died fighting for me, my mother, for our family and friends and country. Whilst what? You hid in your cosy little mansion whilst men- real men- fought for their country. You should be exported. You know that? Did you know that there are rumours that you killed your wife?" Derek's eyes narrowed.
"Don't you dare mention her."
"Oh yes." Rosie continued, walking around Derek. He watched her, fixated, his face reddened with anger. "They say that you pushed her off that bridge. But do you know what I think?" Rosie stepped forwards whispering, "I think she jumped."
Derek gritted his teeth and glared at her.
Rosie stepped closer to him and whispered in his ear, "I don't blame her. Being married to you?" she snorted, taking a step back. "I don't blame her. I would have done the same."
"You bitch!" Derek raised his hand to hit her and the gathered crowd took a deep intake of breath as Rosie flinched, raising her hands to protect her face.
However, the blow did not come. Rosie looked through her fingers at him to see what was delaying the impact. Henry held his wrist in a vice grip above his head, suspended in motion, turning Derek's fingers pale. "Don't you dare strike my wife." Henry's voice was cold and unforgiving. "So you hit women? That's the lowest you can get."
"Get off my hand! You're hurting me!" Derek struggled to get out of Henry's vice grip. His fingers were turning blue.
"What? Let go so you can strike another lady? I don't think so. I will never let you hit another woman again." Henry snapped Derek's hand back creating a spine-chilling crunch of the bones breaking. Derek roared in pain as Henry finally released the broken hand. "Are you alright darling?" Henry asked Rosie as he put his arms around her, hugging her close to him.
Rosie couldn't stop shaking. "I think so."
"You foolish boy!" Derek roared. "Look at what you've done to my hand!" He held it up and already it had ballooned in size. "You stupid, stupid boy!"
Eva rushed over to her daughter. "Rosie, are you alright?" she whispered over Derek's cursing. Rosie nodded, still hugging Henry close to her. Eva nodded, tightening her lips together. In one swift movement, she spun on her heels, drew her hand back and slapped Derek's cheek, silencing him at once. The crowd applauded her action. "Leave. Now."
"Eva, Eva!" The boy who had brought the wedding rings forward just an hour before squeezed his way through the crowds to get forward into the small arena. He panted and took a second to recompose himself apologetically. "I know this isn't the greatest time" he said between breaths "but there's breaking news on the radio…"
"Thanks Lawrence but this really isn't the greatest time…"
"What is it child? Spit it out." Derek interrupted Eva, clasping his swollen hand to his chest.
The small boy looked at Derek dumbfounded, as if he had just realised that he had been standing there all along and then back at Eva. He took a deep breath and bit his lip. "Mr and Mrs Armstrong, I am so sorry this had to happen today… On your big day… It's been announced formally… We're going to war." The crowd began murmuring among themselves in fear and horror whilst Rosie and Henry remained standing holding each other, already aware of their fate.
Derek smiled and let out a laugh. "Perfect."
"Get him out of here." Eva said to the crowd.
Two large men in tuxedos appeared behind Derek and grabbed his forearms, dragging him out towards the door. "Perfect!" Derek repeated with a smug expression plastered on his face. He lifted his good hand to point at Henry. "You had better watch your back out there boy. Friendly fire isn't uncommon. I'll see you on the field."