Four days before Valentine’s Day, and my store buzzed with happy customers. Time in a Bottle had originally been a scrapbook store until I purchased the place and expanded our offerings to include other crafts. Now every holiday presented me with another chance to pay down my hefty business loan.
This being the last Friday night before the holiday, it was “all hands on deck.” I’d even phoned my friend and co-worker Laurel Wilkins and begged her to come and help. After a quick conference with her fiancé Joseph Riley, aka Father Joe, they agreed to postpone their date night so she could help me out. Thank goodness for that, because we’d been crazy busy. So much so, that I sighed with relief when I flipped the front door sign to CLOSED. I was turning the handle on the lock when I spotted the handsome young priest striding up the walkway.
“Hey there!” I threw open the door and gave the man a big hug. I reveled in the scent of his woodsy men’s cologne. “Sorry about interrupting your date. I appreciate the fact that Laurel could help me out. She’s in the stock room.” I stepped back to give him an apologetic smile. “How are the wedding plans coming?”
His welcoming grin faded. “Not good. Not good at all. Got a minute to listen to my tale of woe?”
“Of course I do. Come into my office.” I pulled up a stool by my work table and gave him my full attention. “Don’t tell me one of you is getting cold feet?”
“Absolutely not.” He sighed and tugged on the ends of his wool muffler. “In fact, we’ve never been more committed to becoming man and wife. Watching you and Detweiler grow your family has been inspiring.”
I swallowed an emotional lump in my throat and waited for him to find the right words. Joe wasn’t accustomed to being the speaker, typically he was the one listening to an emotional congregant. He fiddled with his scarf as he struggled to gather his thoughts.
“As you know, Laurel’s mother just died—” He stopped. “I mean, her adoptive mom, of course. And that’s been hard, but it’s also a relief because Edith was suffering so from cancer. Laurel wants to get married, but she worries that people will think she’s not properly mourning her mother’s death.”
“That’s ridiculous!” I couldn’t help myself. “I know that Edith passionately wanted the two of you to wed!”
“Right. Then there’s Mert, Laurel’s biological mother,” said Joe. A weary tone crept into his voice. “Mert went out and bought a designer wedding gown that she’s insisting Laurel wear. Although it isn’t Laurel’s style. Not even close.”
A hand flew to my mouth as I smothered a giggle. Mert’s style could best be called “trailer park trashy.” I loved her, but she was a huge believer in “displaying the merchandise.” Since Laurel was built like a Playboy centerfold, the resulting gown could be. . .well. . .a real showstopper.
Joe snickered, too. “The wardrobe issue is small potatoes compared to my problems. The bishop of my diocese has told me he’s looking forward to officiating at our marriage. That’s nice. . .I guess. . .except that my best friend from seminary presides over a congregation in Henderson, a suburb of Las Vegas. I’d love to have Ralphie perform the ceremony. But flying him here for the service would be problematic, because protocol demands that the bishop pronounce the blessing and preside at the Eucharist, and that’s when I’d most like Ralphie to be the celebrant.”
I guess my eyes glazed over. I was raised as an Episcopalian, but I didn’t follow the “who’s on first” turn our conversation had taken.
However, Joe was just getting started. “And then there’s the congregation. I can’t tell you how many people have suggested that we use their children as flower girls and their adult daughters as bridesmaids. Don’t even get me started on best men. Or who gets to give away the bride.”
“Wow.” I hadn’t thought that through. He was right. He and Laurel were on course to tick off every blessed member of Joe’s congregation.
I had hoped I could offer a shoulder to lean on. Instead, I’d reminded Joe of all the problems strewn along the path to the altar. Now I sat there, stunned and overwhelmed by his problems.
With a groan, Joe sank his head into his hands.
Yet, all around us were cheerful red hearts, flying Cupids, and other symbols of undying love. The sweet fragrance of chocolate lingered in the air.
We weren’t talking Romeo and Juliet. We were talking Laurel and Joe. There had to be a way!
“Elope,” I said. “That’s what Detweiler and I had planned to do. If I hadn’t been eight months pregnant at the time, we would have hopped on a plane and run away together.”
Joe jerked to an upright position. “Elopement? Really? That would honk off everyone!”
“Yes,” I agreed, “but it would honk them off equally.”
The next four days flew by faster than an arrow shot from the bow of the winged God of Love himself.
I did my best to compartmentalize my conversation with Joe. Certainly, I had plenty to occupy my thoughts: the kids, my new husband, the return of my dead husband’s mother from rehab, and always, the hum and thrum of my store.
When Laurel sent me a text message that she wouldn’t be in on Valentine’s Day, I noted it and moved on. She’d done me a world of good by giving me extra time before the holiday. How could I be upset because she’d skipped out? Especially since she’d gone missing on that one day a year we set aside for romance?
I couldn’t be miffed. Instead, I sent up a silent prayer that she and Joe were having some well-deserved fun.
We closed the store at five on Valentine’s Day, so our staff could celebrate the holiday. Our nanny, Brawny, had volunteered to babysit so that my new husband and I could go out to eat, but we’d decided instead to have dinner as a family. “We’ll celebrate after the kids are in bed,” said Detweiler, with a wink, as he took a pass on Brawny’s offer.
I had blushed and agreed that a family dinner was certainly in order. After our youngest child was born, our older two had exhibited some anxiety. Friends had warned us this was common, a jockeying of roles as the dynamic of our little tribe changed. In an attempt to reassure the older two, Detweiler and I had privately discussed the need to spend as much time as possible with them.
Thinking back on that wink, I felt a tingle as I pulled into my driveway. Okay, so this evening might not include a romantic dinner for two. It would still be a wonderful celebration of the abundant love in my life. I’d only just opened my car door when Detweiler came racing toward me. “Hurry! There’s something you need to see!”
I took his arm and hurried into the house, expecting to find some surprise concocted by our kids. Instead, he whisked me through the kitchen and into the family room, where Anya, our thirteen-year-old daughter, stood with the remote control in one hand.
“Quick! Sit down!” She pointed to an empty spot on the sofa next to Brawny and five-year-old Erik.
“The wee master is asleep in his crib,” said Brawny, as she patted the space reserved for me. “He had his bottle and conked right off.”
“It’s six o’clock. Here we go!” Detweiler gave Anya a nod.
She clicked the buttons. As the screen came to life, Erik snuggled next to me. I planted a kiss on his head and wrapped my arms around him. He smelled of peanut butter and baby shampoo. Delicious!
On the screen stood Joe and Laurel, waving to us. In the background, I could barely make out an altar and flowers.
“What?” I couldn’t wrap my head around what I was seeing.
“Joe took you up on your suggestion! He and Laurel flew to Las Vegas. See that priest? Stepping behind the altar? It’s his friend, Ralphie. Joe sent me a text this morning to tell us to watch. That’s one of those wedding chapels. We’re actually seeing the ceremony live.” Detweiler rubbed his hands together in glee. “Isn’t it terrific?”
And it was.
Through tears and smiles, our family watched as two hearts became one.
♥ The End ♥
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