Sunday serialisation – A Bump in the Knight, 1.2

 In Knight & Deigh, confirmed bachelor and businessman Hannice Knight suffered a back injury that left him without the use of his legs. Sophie Deigh, physiotherapist and recent widow, devoted herself to supporting him.

On his father’s death, Hannice inherited a global business and great wealth. Then, together with Sophie, he embarked on a series of activities designed to give him some of the excitement and the freedoms that he felt he had missed out on, by being tied to his father’s business for two decades.

As Hannice’s body recovered, he became ever closer to Sophie, and found himself drifting into a relationship with her that neither had anticipated or intended, and for which neither was fully prepared.

This book follows Hannice’s new adventures as he tries to juggle business, hedonism, marriage and ultimately parenthood.

But all doesn’t go quite as he had planned…

Beginning on 14 January 2018, I am publishing Knight & Deigh here as a serial; one part each Sunday.

A Bump in the Knight. Chapter one, part two

Apart from mealtimes, I didn’t see Sophie again until the Saturday. Even then it was fleeting. On the day itself, she told me, at breakfast, that I had an appointment with an outfitter and a gentlemen’s stylist at half past nine in my office suite.

When I turned up, five men were waiting for me. One of them, an enormous man of Indian extraction, helped me remove my clothes and gave me a traditional Ayurvedic massage, which took more than an hour and left me, frankly, exhausted. The others then set about grooming and pampering me, treating me like a cross between a king and a rock star. I had never had a manicure before and knew nothing about some of the procedures they carried out on me. The shave one of them gave me left the skin on my face feeling like a baby’s, and the hairdresser not only dealt with most of the grey that was advancing like an invading army but also managed to render my growing bald patch almost invisible.

Finally, dressed in grey morning attire, Rahul, my big Indian masseur, got my wheelchair out of the back room, sat me in it and pushed me to the Great Hall. I arrived there at precisely one minute before three.

No sooner had we stopped by the door than I heard Sophie’s voice from behind me, ordering me to my feet. I pushed myself up and looked around to face what must be the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. Sophie’s dress, hair and make-up were identical to what I thought of as perfection; she was the image of Grace Kelly at her marriage to Prince Rainer of Monaco in 1956. So taken aback was I, that my knees all but buckled under me, and had Rahul not been there to steady me (undoubtedly something else Sophie had foreseen and arranged) I’m sure I would have ended up on the floor.

Sophie took my arm and said, “Let’s go.”

Two ushers opened the doors in front of us and we started walking slowly through the hall. I was looking from side to side, staggered by the number of people who had turned up for what I thought would be a quiet, hastily arranged affair. I recognised all of my regional directors as well as head office people. Max was there, looking rather severe, I thought, but Lindy was at her side in floods of tears. Tanja, Henk’s go-to girl, was at Lindy’s other side. True to her ‘Goth’ personality, she looked even more severe than Max did, but she had actually dressed appropriately for a wedding. The girl was wearing a dress and had taken out many (though not all) of her decorations. Her appearance both surprised and pleased me, and I raised my eyebrows toward her. “For Lindy,” she mouthed, and gently dabbed his eyes with a tissue. Beyond her, Henk smiled and shrugged his shoulders in an approximation of a Gallic shrug.

Continuing down the aisle between two sets of full seats, I felt honoured that so many people had travelled so far to be here. I turned to Sophie and mouthed, “Thank you.” She simply squeezed my arm and smiled, before waving to her parents, Eddie and Martha.

Finally reaching the front table, Sophie and I were helped into two chairs. There was an empty seat opposite us. A large screen appeared and came to life on the wall in front of us, in full view of the guests. I was surprised to see my late father’s face appear. He was seated in what is now my favourite armchair and which was evidently his, too. He started to speak.

“That you are seeing this means two things. One, Hannice, my son, is about to marry; and two, I can’t be there for him. For the benefit of Hannice, his bride, and the, I hope, hundreds of guests who are here to see a young man commit to his bride, not to listen to some old duffer spouting platitudes, I’ll keep this very brief.

“Hannice is now the head of the business that I spent my life building, and I know it’s in safe hands. I also know that you can’t run a business like this without the support of a good woman, but that the business can take over and ruin your relationship. I know that because I let it happen to me. All I want to say to Hannice today is this. Don’t let it happen to you.

“I wish you both a long and happy marriage, and I thank all of the guests for helping to celebrate this occasion.”

The screen faded and retreated into its cupboard on the wall. My firm’s attorney, Joe Green, walked in from the side and stood in front of us.

“You in on this, too?” I asked sotto voce.

“Who do you think arranged the licence for Knight Towers?” he replied, with a wink toward Sophie, whose grip on my arm was strengthening by the second. Then, “Do you think you can stand for this, Hannice?”

“Let’s do this,” I said, pulling myself to my feet. Judging from the applause, this delighted the assembled multitude.

The procedure was mercifully quick: brief pep-talk, exchange of I do’s, promises and rings, and declaration that we were, indeed, man and wife. In a departure from what I always thought was normal, instead of “You may now kiss your bride,” Joe said, “The bride and groom may now kiss.” I learned later that it was Sophie’s idea to change this part of the ceremony, and a wise one, too. The traditional permission does seem to pander to male superiority.

We walked back to the ante-room together, hand in hand, to a constant standing ovation from our guests. Once through the doors, Rahul helped me back into my wheelchair and pushed me around to the back of the house where, unbeknown to me, a large marquee had been raised for the reception. It wasn’t there when I looked out that morning. I can only assume it was erected and prepared during the four hours I was being pampered.

“So, Mrs Knight,” I said when we arrived and took our positions at the top table, “we’ve done it.”

“Yes, husband,” she said. “We’ve done it. I’m so glad it was a short ceremony; I’ve never been so nervous in my life!”

“You were nervous? I was terrified. Terrified that this might all be a dream, and I’d wake up still without feeling below my bum; terrified that I might mess up my lines; that I’d collapse on the floor in the middle of it; but mostly, that you’d change your mind at the last minute.”

“Change my mind about what?”

“About tying yourself to an ageing cripple with the personality and social skills of a grizzly bear with a hangover.”

“Stop that, Hannice. We’re neither of us getting any younger; you’re not a cripple, and your personality and social skills are fine.”

“You know that’s not true, Sophie.”

“You’re improving. I think of you as a recovering workaholic. You’re a lot of fun when you let yourself relax. Now, come on. Brave, happy, smiling face time. Guests are arriving.”

“Okay. Break out the sherry.”

Within seconds the marquee was buzzing. Henk Overbock acted as MC and, in a break with tradition, Max Matham gave the best man’s speech. After the speech, she was joined by none other than the Rt Hon Forbes Fillingham-Smythe and Finlay Robinson PhD, old university chums of Max and mine, in the singing of the university anthem. I sang along, too, to the evident embarrassment of my new wife. When the anthem was finished, I tapped my glass.

“Not planning to stand for this. Hope you don’t mind. Keep it short, too. Just want to thank Max for being the best best man any groom could ask for, even if she is a woman. Thanks, Max. Good speech; glad you didn’t mention you-know-what.” I winked, and continued, “Finners, FFS, thanks for coming, and thanks for the anthem. I’d practically forgotten it. I want to thank everybody for coming here today, but I have to mention especially Max and Lindy, sorry, LJ, for coming all the way from darkest Africa [laughs], Danny and Geoff, who have come from Singapore and Australia, Scott from Baltimore and Carolina all the way from Brazil. I’m humbled. I hope you can all stay for a couple of days. I’d like to talk to you before my wife and I depart on honeymoon.”

There came cries from the guests of “Where are you going.”

“I’ll tell you when I find out,” I said, looking at Sophie, who responded by blushing. “Meanwhile, eat, drink, and celebrate with us.”

One by one the guests filed past and expressed their delight at the match and their best wishes for our future. Once the last of them had returned to the buffet, I turned to Sophie, “Silly question, but… honeymoon?”

“Arranged,” she said.

“Where?”

“You’ll find out.”

“When?”

“When will you find out or when are we going?”

“Both.”

“Next Thursday.”

“We’re going, or I’ll find out where?”

“Both.”

“In the meantime…”

“Of course you can have some meetings. I wouldn’t expect these high-flyers to come from all parts of the world and not be able to have a few minutes with their boss.”

“You should be there too if you can.”

“Thanks, Hannice. I was hoping you’d say that. Of course I’ll be there. I have an interest in the group, now.”

“Did you notice if Stephen Parker was here?”

“Your half-brother?”

“Yes, him.”

“No, I didn’t. Sit still, I’ll ask around.”

Sophie came back after some minutes, accompanied by Emily Russell, my HR chief.

“Stephen wanted to come,” she said, “but his wife apparently vetoed it.”

“Any idea why?” I asked.

“It seems she still thinks he deserves more and better than you’ve given him.”

“I want to see him before Thursday,” I said, “we’ll have this out once and for all.”

“Hannice, it’s your wedding day,” Sophie said, “don’t let that woman spoil it.”

“Me?” Emily asked.

“No, not you, Emily; bloody Parker’s wife!”