A shiver rolled through me as I smoothed the purple lace bodice of my cream satin, size-six wedding gown. I smiled inside at what Cliff’s eccentric Aunt Zelda might say about my quiver. Someone just walked on your grave. Now wasn’t the time to ponder one of Zelda’s superstitions. I told myself to focus.
The pianist, seated at a shiny black baby grand at the corner of the stage, played the first thunderous chords of “The Wedding March.” Two hundred people stood and faced me in the Mountain Community Church in Rim Vista, Arizona.
I took my first step toward my new life as Mrs. Rita Avery.
Cliff waited in front of the two steps to the stage. He looked handsome in his black tuxedo with purple cummerbund that he acquiesced to wear to match the wedding colors. Under the lights, a streak of gray glistened in his dark hair.
Why would something like that cause a sudden surge of uncertainty to spiral up my spine? A fourth of the way down the aisle! I hoped my smile hid the misgivings. It sure wasn’t enough to quell the doubt that twisted inside. Was two years too soon to marry after a shooter blew away my first husband and thirteen other people in the local movie theater? I struggled to get control of my wandering thoughts. I was ready for this … wasn’t I?
At the halfway mark, I took a deep breath and steadied my gaze on Cliff’s kindly, gold-flecked brown eyes. At six-foot-one – five inches taller than me – he was a physically-fit and muscular hunk of a police detective. His brilliant grin soothed my nerves and fast-forwarded my thoughts to our honeymoon: two love-filled weeks touring Scotland. A pleasant sense of anticipation crowded out the worrisome thoughts.
That didn’t last long. My stiletto caught in my gown’s hem. A glorious bouquet of cream and purple orchids launched skyward as I tried to recover from my stumble. Stems broke when they pelted the face of a lady to my right. I winced when I realized she was the mayor’s wife, Christine. A flower caught in her perfect coiffure, the stem across her cheek. Petal remnants showered her lap.
Unable to free my shoe from the hem’s grip, I crumpled to the floor.
It felt like a slow-motion, hands-raised wilt. Cliff bounded toward me. I held up a palm to stop him, but he had already reached me. I acknowledged the room full of gasps with a thumbs-up and an embarrassed giggle. The pianist stopped playing at the exact moment I said too loudly, “I’m okay.”
Cliff helped me to my feet. Balancing on his arm and one stiletto, I leaned over to retrieve the bouquet pieces from Christine’s Oscar de la Renta shimmery jacquard silk skirt.
“Sorry.” I picked a half-orchid from her hair. The flower folded over the stem, a withered metaphor for what my wedding had become. I wanted to cry. Or run. Definitely hide.
Christine took the ravaged flower from me with a sympathetic grin. “Thank you for giving me this lovely bouquet. I’ll take care of it for you.” She leaned closer and whispered, “Love your new bob haircut and how the golden highlights accent the dark brown.”
“Bless you.” I hugged her, wrestled my shoe from the gown’s hem, and held Cliff’s arm while I returned the pump to my foot. The pianist resumed where she had left off, and I summoned superpower concentration to ignore the burn in my face and the assortment of amused, horrified, and stunned expressions around me.
Cliff stopped at the stage steps. “Hey, brown-eyed hottie, didn’t I tell ya we should’ve walked down the aisle together?”
I tried not to let my shoulders shake as I worked to suppress a laugh. He was good at making me laugh when I needed it.
He removed my hand from his arm, cradled it in his palm, and brushed his lips across my knuckles. “You look gorgeous, my love. Thank you for giving us such a great memory to look back on as we grow old together.” He positioned my arm back into the crook of his elbow and escorted me up the stairs to the center of the stage.
We stopped to face our tall and slender pastor, and pledged to love and respect each other forever.
The pastor prompted applause by introducing us as Detective and Mrs. Cliff Avery.
We dashed to the nearby community room for a Scottish-themed reception that Zelda had insisted she prepare, complete with haggis, Scotch whisky, and bagpipes.
Whisky means water of life in Gaelic, she had said after researching Scottish culture. I’ve read that many Scots groan and ask who stepped on a cat when they hear the first squeals of bagpipes.
My children and granddaughter, all dressed to match our cream and purple theme, joined us in the reception line. So did Zelda, who looked stunning in her mid-calf purple and cream floral dress, cream flats, and gray braided up do.
At the entry to the party room, friends filed past, shook our hands, hugged us, and wished us a life of happiness. Many complimented Zelda’s fake Scottish accent that sounded more authentic than I would have expected from a Texan.
“I love your themed parties.” I gave Zelda a sideways hug.
Zelda offered a half-smile and a nod. That seemed odd. I wondered if I insulted her in some way, as if I hadn’t shown my appreciation for her efforts.
I thought back to when Zelda proposed this party. Cliff had told her we planned to honeymoon in Scotland. While there, he’d look up the grandfather he’d never met: his father’s father.
Why would you want to meet someone who raised the man that beat your mother to death? Zelda had asked. She seemed reluctant but accepted Cliff’s explanation that he wanted to at least know his grandfather, to ensure he was nothing like that side of the family. He’d assured Zelda that no one could have raised him as well as she had.
Well, if you’re going there, I need to send you off with a proper party, Zelda had said. I protested when she scheduled a last-minute trip to a social worker convention in Cleveland one month before the wedding.
Let me hire a wedding planner, I had said, concerned that Zelda had taken on too much.
Nonsense, she had said. I’ve already done the research to throw an authentic Scottish party.
Cliff’s voice cut into my thoughts. “Everyone is saying they feel like we’re really in Scotland.”
“Zelda did thorough research.” I reached over and gave Zelda another sideways hug. “Thanks for loving my family and me these past two years, and for sending us off to Scotland with this great party.”
She turned and pulled me to her huge bosom. “You and your wonderful family are now my family. Thank you for making Cliff so happy.” She turned to Cliff. “As you find your roots in Scotland, remember that things aren’t always what they seem to be.”
She remained quiet as Cliff and I joined our guests for Champagne toasts, wedding cake, and laughs about my unique promenade down the church’s center aisle. Before leaving, I asked if Zelda felt okay. She assured me all was well.
A feeling of dread glimmered beneath my elation with my new husband.
I pushed it aside. A final glance at Zelda made me wonder why she looked as apprehensive as I felt.