** August 2000 **

Later that evening at the reception party, whilst their family ate, drank and danced, Hannah Morales sat at the far end of the table that was close to the musical set.

It was an escape she needed after the ceremony and interacting with the invitees and to stay away from Austin. They might be married now, but she still deserved her free time. Especially as she pictured herself later tonight being intimate with him. And every other night after that.

But her escape didn't last long because a voice sounded through the speakers, calling up the bride for the cutting of the cake and to have her first dance as a couple.

Hannah acted as though the announcement didn't concern her. She hoped to get another five minutes to herself. But the MC spotted her and soon, she was joining Austin at the buffet table which carried a three-tier wedding cake and some macaroons.

Hannah Morales met Austin behind the table with a forced smile on her face. Everyone had gathered round the table to witness them cut the cake.

The MC did the basics. Austin placed his hand over Hannah's and on the count of three, the knife was piercing through the cake and applause filled the room. Then, everyone cheered, encouraging Austin to feed Hannah a slice of cake.

Austin sensed Hannah's uneasiness and tried feeding her with a fork. But the crowd booed. They wanted more. They wanted mouth-to-mouth sharing.

Hannah Morales didn't want that. She didn't want the crowd to see the look of disgust on her face once their mouths touched. But Hannah’s gaze locked with her mother's and she knew there was no escaping it. So, she braced herself. Closed her eyes and after counting to ten, it was all over.

It wasn't long before her father was pulling her to the dance floor and then, he was handing her to Autin.

Ed Sheeran's Perfect came through the speakers. The newlyweds swayed to the sound. Austin pulled in and wrapped his arm around her. Hannah forced a smile on her face when her gaze landed on her mom who had teary eyes.

Then Austin was pulling away from her. He placed a quick kiss on her lips and Hannah wrinkled her face.

"Can you stop acting as though you're repulsed at the thought of being with me?" Austin Jenkins leaned in and whispered in her ears, then he pulled back and flashed her a smile. To any other person, it seemed like a romantic gesture.

Hannah frowned. "What do you mean?"

"It's just, I couldn't help but notice the look on your face whilst we were at the altar and your reaction throughout. I understand I am not your ideal choice for a life partner, but come on, I'm not the worst either. We're friends, Hannah"

The hurt in Austin’s voice didn't go unnoticed. Remorse cursed through Hannah's body. He was right. All along, she thought she was doing a great job at hiding how she felt about their marriage. It never occurred to her that maybe he didn't want to marry her either.

"You're right. I'm sorry I made you feel that way" she apologised.

"It's okay. I understand where you're coming from. But, give this marriage a chance Hannah. Give us a chance. Give me a chance to make you happy"

As he spoke, all Hannah could do was smile at him. He had a point. Marrying him wasn't the most horrendous thing to have happened to her. And they were friends.

"I'm sorry, Austin. I'll try" Hannah convinced.

They continued to sway to the rhythm of the sound. Gradually, the dance floor became crowded. Next to them, were Hannah’s parents and Austin’s parents. They smiled at their kids. A smile which they reciprocated.

Then Austin spoke. "Whilst you were hiding..." Hannah Morales cut him off with a questioning stare.

"Don't pretend. I know you were hiding, but that aside. I spoke with your mom and she said something that had me thinking. She asked me to look after you and love you. She said you are like a white rose, so fragile and innocent it, does that mean that if you’re not loved adequately, you wither and die?”

Somehow, Austin’s question sent shivers down Hannah's spine. Not in a pleasing and pleasurable way, but also not in a terrifying way. She couldn't figure out what he meant by that question. Was he expecting a reply?

That paranoid side of Hannah Morales pondered on his words. Right up to when they were pulling away from each other, biding farewell to everyone and got into a silver Chevrolet classic that had the words 'just married' on the license plate to a destination unknown to her for their honeymoon, Hannah thought about it over and over again.

Part of her wanted to ask him what he meant because his words terrified her. He may have referred to her as a white rose; pure and innocent, but he also referred to her as weak; and that didn't settle right with her.

Of course, Austin Jenkins noticed the change in Hannah's behaviour, so the young girl smiled at him.

"Where are we going? My mom refused to give me a hint about our honeymoon destination"

It was Austin’s turn to smile. "It's meant to be a smile, but when you give me that look.." he grumbled and Hannah cajoled him some more with her smile and baited her lashes.

"Ahhh...It's somewhere you love and have always wanted to visit" Austin breathed out.

The smile on Hannah's face slowly disappeared. "We're going to Boracay?"

Austin Jenkins nodded frantically and grinned. Mentally, Hannah grumbled but maintained a look of surprise on her face.

She never thought she'd be spending her first night as a married woman in her dream vacation spot with a man she didn't love. How on earth was it supposed to be memorable for her when she'd spend most of her time trying to act right around him?

"You're mom told me you've always wanted to go there, so I figured I'd surprise you with that for our honeymoon. I can't wait to experience all that with you" Austin took Hannah's hand in his and brought it to his lips.

Mentally, Hannah facepalmed. She told herself she would make an effort and give Austin a chance. So why the hell was she reacting as though she just heard her parents doing the dirty?

So, with another smile on her face, Hannah Morales said; "I can't wait either"

If only Hannah Morales knew, that saying yes and giving Austin Jenkins a chance will cause her the most traumatic experience of her life, she would have apologised whilst at the altar and bear the consequences.

Because just like he had said, she would soon become that flower that will wither and die.


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