PRECIOUS CARGO

 

By: Kenda

 

When I Fall In Love, It Will Be Forever

                               

(Prologue)

 

 

     A mother cannot possibly be made to feel a pain any harsher, than that which is inflicted upon her child.  It doesn't matter if that child's a little boy of four, or a grown man of forty, as my son was that January day in 1990, when one hideous act of violence changed his life forever. 

 

     It seems as though I spent that entire winter praying.  First praying that my youngest would be safely returned to me.  Then, in turn, praying for the healing of his many injuries.  And not just the injuries of a physical nature, but as well, the injuries that he kept buried deep within himself.  The emotional wounds that lashed his soul and cut his heart in a way no belt or knife ever could.      

 

     When it became apparent to me that neither Rick nor I were able to completely offer A.J. the help he needed to heal his inner turmoil, I did the hardest thing of all.  I prayed that someone else would be sent to give him the comfort he was so desperately seeking.  And someone else was.  Janet.

 

      And now, almost five years later, A.J. is having a hard time understanding why a marriage that had once been so full of happiness, has ended in failure.  With all the wisdom my seventy years on this earth has afforded me, I smile softly and assure him he hasn't failed at anything.  That everything happens for a reason, and the important thing to remember is that there was a good reason why he and Janet came together in the first place.  They both helped each other mend some terrible inner scars.  They both helped each other through some very difficult times.   They both desperately needed one another. 

 

     As far as this mother is concerned, there's nothing wrong with that.   

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

 

     Rick has always accused me of having a sixth sense where he and his brother are concerned.  Of having the ability to know when Rick's lying to me, no matter how skillful he might be at pulling his fibs off on anyone else.  Or having the ability to know when A.J.'s charming me to get his way...to no avail, no matter how successful that charm might work for him with any other woman in his life.  And, of having the ability to know when one of them is hurting inside, even while that son tries so hard to hide his pain from me. 

 

     I stood back those early months of 1990, and watched as A.J. did just that.  Concealed the anguish he was feeling over Erika Garcia's murder from both his brother and me.  Kept the guilt he was wearing like a scarlet letter covered up as best he could, in order to keep it hidden from those who loved him.

 

     It's funny how a little distance, and a little time, will put things into such an unclouded perspective.  What seemed like nothing but a muddy, murky pond that winter, is now as clean and clear as a rushing mountain stream.  If only I'd been able to see it then. 

 

     I was well aware that my oldest son was concealing a good deal of guilt of his own surrounding the Garcia case.  I had attempted to get him to talk about it on several occasions, but my Rick has never been one to discuss the things that hurt him the most.  Even I, his mother, can't change that fact about him.

 

     Now I understand completely why my sons weren't able to help each other through this trying time, and why things ended up as they did in regards to the closing of their business.  It's as simple as this.  They weren't able to help themselves, so how in the world could they help each other?   They were both so lost and adrift.   For the first time in their shared lives together, each was truly alone. 

 

     I suppose this is why when A.J. showed up at my house that day in late April, I wasn't overly shocked at what he wanted to tell me.

 

     It was shortly before six o'clock.  I was sitting on the couch watching the evening news when the doorbell rang.  I reached for the remote and shut the TV off. 

 

     I looked through the peephole before opening the door and greeting him with a hug. 

 

"Hi, honey.  To what do I owe this pleasure on a Monday evening?"

 

     He bent and kissed my cheek.  "Nothing special.  I just wanted to talk to you for a minute."

 

     Trying not to be obvious about it, I studied my youngest as he walked over and pulled a chair out from the dining room table.  He took off his sport coat, hung it over the back of the chair, and sat down.

 

     I had been so worried about him throughout the trial.   I cried inside for him those two long weeks he was forced to relive the three terrible days in January he and Erika were held captive by the Conquistadores.˘   He'd been so withdrawn and quiet.  I hadn't missed the signs of massive fatigue either, that shadowed his eyes with dark circles, and seemed to drain his face of all color. 

 

     He looked better now.  Still tired, but better.  As if somewhere within this tragedy that had been thrust upon us, he'd found a new lease on life.

 

     I teased him as I pulled out a seat and joined him. "You're 'nothing special' must be pretty serious if we have to do our talking at the dining room table."

 

     He smiled back at me.  "Well...I suppose it's somewhat serious, but not in a bad way.  Actually, you'll probably be glad to hear it."

 

     "Good," I stated brightly.  "Your mother's ready for some news she'll be glad to hear."

 

     The comment was meant to be taken lightly, but that fact was lost on A.J.  His eyes clouded over with unjust incrimination.  "I know you are," he said softly.  "And you certainly deserve some."

 

     I reached over and touched his hand.  "Honey, I'm sorry.  I didn't mean anything by that."

 

     He gave me a little smile of understanding.  "I know you didn't, Mom.   Don't worry about it."

 

     He seemed to be having a hard time getting started, so I helped him out.  "Just what is it you need to talk to me about, A.J.?"

 

     He hesitated a full ten seconds before answering. 

 

"I...I've decided not to be a private investigator any longer."

 

     Of course, I didn't have to ask what caused him to make such a decision.   "I see," I slowly nodded.  "So does this mean you're dissolving your business partnership with your brother as well?"

 

     His eyes left me and settled on the china cabinet, as if he couldn't look at me when he said, "Yes...yes it does."

 

     "Does Rick know?"

 

     He focused back on my face and nodded.  "Yes.  I told him last Friday."

 

     "What did he say?"

 

     "He...didn't really say anything.  Only that he'd stand by whatever decision I had to make."

 

     Now that surprised me.  I thought for sure Rick would use every tactic available to talk A.J. out of leaving the business.  It only emphasized to me how guilty my oldest was feeling.  Guilty enough not to give his younger brother any grief whatsoever about decisions made that were related to the Garcia case.  And I had no doubt that's the only thing this particular decision was related to.

 

     "Honey...remember when I told you that a decision such as this can only be made when plenty of time has passed and you're looking at it from the proper perspective?"

 

     I was immediately sorry for having brought the memory up of the teenage boy A.J. accidentally shot in an alley several years earlier while he and Rick were on a case.  Though the boy lived without any long term ill-effects, A.J.’s, "Yes," was sad and full of regret.

 

     I reached over and took one of his hands in mine.  "It's just...you and your brother have been a big part of each other's lives for a long time now.  That business has meant the world to you.  To both of you.    I just need to make sure this is what you really want."

 

     The sorrow in his eyes was so plain to see. 

 

"It's what I want, Mom.  I can't deny the business hasn't been good to me over the years...but it's been hard on me, too.  You know that.  I won't put myself through another case like...like Erika's again.  I can't, Mom.  I just...can't."

 

     I could hear the tightness in his throat, and his eyes were suddenly too bright.  As if unshed tears were being held at bay.  I let go of his hand and cupped his cheek.  "I know, sweetheart.  I know."

 

     He bowed his head for a long moment.  When he looked up at me again the despair from seconds earlier was receding. 

 

"I want you to know the same thing I told Rick - that I've given this a lot of thought.  That it hasn't been a decision I've made lightly.  I'm well aware that it doesn't just affect me, but that it affects Rick, too.  That's what's made it all the more difficult."

 

     "I'm sure it has," I agreed, knowing how A.J. must have agonized over this decision that would ultimately force Rick to make some hard decisions of his own.

 

     "Will your brother keep the business going by himself?"

 

     He shook his head.  "I don't think so.  As of right now he says he's not going to.  But as far as what he is going to do, he doesn't know yet.  Nor would I expect him to.  I told Rick I'd remain in the business until he's ready to...start something new."

 

     I nodded my agreement.  I thought that sounded like a good idea.  And I was glad to hear that Rick didn't want to keep the business going on his own.  Often times the job was too dangerous for two men as far as I was concerned, let alone one.  And I'm only speaking of those times I know about it.  I shudder at the thought of how many hazardous situations my sons have found themselves in over the years that they neglected to mention to me.

 

     "Rick's resourceful," I stated with pride. "Probably more so than he gives himself credit for.  Given enough time to ponder all this, I'm sure he'll come up with something he wants to do."

 

     "I'm sure he will, too," A.J. smiled.  "And I'll help him in any way I can."

 

     "I know you will," I smiled in return, proud of the strong love that existed between the two boys I'd raised.  "Speaking of things your brother wants to do, just what are you planning to do?"  I asked.  I wasn't too surprised by the answer I received.

 

     "I'm headed back to school in June to brush up on my law classes.  I'm going to try my hand at that career you were so mad at me for giving up seventeen years ago."

 

     "Honey, that's wonderful," I gushed.  "I have a feeling you'll make a terrific attorney."

 

     "I don't know about that, Mom, but I'm going to give it a shot.  I have to admit, the thought of it is rather exciting, but kind of scary, too."

 

     "Change is always a little bit of both those things," I agreed.  "But I know you'll do wonderfully."

 

     We talked about his plans for school, not only for the

summer session, but, as well, for the fall semester. 

 

     When I had asked every question I could think to ask and then some, I invited him to stay for dinner.  

 

     "If you're sure it's no trouble." 

 

     "Since when has making dinner for my sons been trouble?"

 

     He laughed as he rose to follow me into the kitchen.  "Just let me give Janet a call.  She was expecting me to come by her condo after I left here."

 

     I began pulling things out of the refrigerator while A.J. used the kitchen phone to call Janet. 

 

     It became swiftly apparent from A.J.'s side of the conversation that Janet knew exactly what he had come over to tell me.  Now that wasn't necessarily wrong, or a bad thing, I just wondered as to how much influence she'd had over this decision.  If any.

 

     It also became more apparent to me than it previously had been, that the feelings between the couple were rapidly escalating.  I could hear it in the tenderness of his voice, and the gentle way he chuckled over something she'd said.  I could hear the concern and love when he told her to be careful driving home in rush hour traffic.  I could hear the eager anticipation of seeing her later in the evening when he told her he'd stop by her place after he left mine.

 

     After A.J. said his goodbyes to Janet he joined me at the sink.  I put him to work peeling carrots for a salad while I washed and shredded lettuce. 

 

     "A.J.," I said as I studiously went about my task.  "If what I'm about to ask is none of my business, feel free to tell me.   Okay?"

 

     He looked over at me and smiled with puzzlement. 

 

"Okay...whatever you say."

 

     I didn't look up at him, but rather kept shredding lettuce into salad bowls.  "Just how serious are things between you and Janet?"

 

     "Well...I've always wanted to date a woman who owns a BMW."

 

     I looked up at him, then gave his arm a little stinging slap with my hand when I saw his twinkling eyes. 

 

"Oh, you.  You and Rick are just like your father used to be.  I can't get a straight answer from either one of you."

 

     A.J. laughed at me, then bent and kissed my cheek in way of apology.  This was one time his charm tactics worked.

 

     I wasn't quite willing to let the subject drop there, however.  "So, is it serious?"

 

     He chuckled at my tenacity, before concentrating on peeling the carrots once more.  "I...yes, it's serious."

 

     "Serious enough that you two have talked marriage?"

 

     He looked at me out of the corner of his eyes.  I think he was taken aback by my perceptiveness.   "Yes, we've...we’ve talked about it."

 

     Because I'm his mother, and marriage is not to be taken lightly, I felt it was my obligation to remind him of a few things. 

 

"You and Janet had your share of challenges the last time you were serious."

 

     "Yes, we did," he readily acknowledged.  "But that was a long time ago.  We've both got a number of years of experience under our belts when it comes to serious relationships and what they entail."

 

     "That you do."  

 

     "I think we both know ourselves...and each other, a lot better than we did all those years ago in Florida.  As well as having a better idea of what we each want out of life, and whether or not those wants can mesh easily into a life together."

 

     "That's good.  Those things are important," I agreed once again.  "And Rick?  Where does Rick fit into this picture, son?"

 

     He gave me a sly smile.  "If you mean am I planning on taking him along on my honeymoon, the answer is definitely no."

 

     I swatted his arm once again.  "Andrew!  You know perfectly well what I mean.  If you and Janet do marry, she's not only gaining a husband, and a mother-in-law, but she's also gaining a brother-in-law.  A rather...unorthodox brother-in-law, who also happens to be the oldest son I love very much.  A potential brother-in-law she once accused of being a Peter Pan.  You and I both know not a lot has changed in regards to your brother's personality since that time."

 

     "I know.  But things have changed between Rick and Janet over the years.  They've become good friends."

 

     I nodded, but didn't say what I was thinking.  That sometimes good friends do not good in-laws make.

 

     "I have no doubt Rick loves her as a friend," A.J. told me.  "And will love her as a sister, as well, if it comes to that.  And Janet loves him too, Mom.  She really does.  Like I said, things have changed since the three of us were in Florida.  To a certain extent we're all different people.  The passing years have done each of us some good."

 

     I simply nodded my head once again in agreement with what he'd just said, letting the subject drop there.  I walked over to the refrigerator and pulled out three tomatoes and a cucumber.

 

     "Mom?"

 

     I looked up into anxious blue eyes.

     "Yes, son?"

 

     "You'll be happy if there comes a day when I do tell you Janet and I are getting married...won't you?"

 

     I didn't want A.J. to think for one second that I wouldn't be overjoyed for him if he told me such news.  Or that there was some underlying meaning to the conversation we’d just had that I wasn't revealing to him, because there wasn't.  I had just wanted to make sure that he and Janet had thought things through.

     I held my arms out to him, encircling the waist that had been too thin ever since January.  "Oh, honey, of course I'll be happy.  As a matter of fact, I'll be thrilled!  I'll even put an immediate order in for three grandchildren that I can spoil the dickens out of.  No, make that four."

 

     I felt his chest move with his laughter.  His arms held me snugly to his body. 

 

"I'm glad you'll be happy.  And about those four grandchildren?"

 

     I looked up, expecting to see exaggerated mortification on his face.  Instead, I was greeted by a big smile of delight. 

 

     "Sounds darn good to me, Grandma."

 

     I chuckled right along with him as I hugged him once more. 

 

     It's so good to hear him laugh again, I recall thinking as he held me.  After all he's been through he deserves every ounce of happiness that comes his way.  Thank you, Janet, for making my boy smile again.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

 

     It was four short weeks later, the Tuesday after Memorial Day weekend, that my doorbell rang again.  This time it was eight-thirty in the morning.  I had just returned from my daily three mile walk with some other ladies from my neighborhood and was headed up to shower.

 

     Again I looked out the peephole, and once again it was A.J. standing on the other side. 

 

     I opened the door to let him in. "Hi, hon--"

 

     Before I could finish the greeting he had me up off the ground and twirled me around the living room.

 

     "A.J.!  A.J. have you lost your--"

 

     His grin went from ear to ear.  "She said yes, Mom.  She said yes!"

 

     I didn't need to ask who had said yes to what.  His smile said it all.  I laughed at him from where I still hung suspended in the air.  "And did you think she'd say anything but yes?"

 

     Gently, I was deposited on my feet.  He gave his shoulders a sheepish little shrug.  "Well...a man never quite knows when he asks a question like that."

 

     I reached out and gave him a congratulatory hug.  "She'd have been six ways a fool had she told you no."

 

     He rolled his eyes in an expression that said, ‘Of course that's what you'd say.  You're my mother.’

 

     I took his hand and led him over to the couch.  "Have you set a date yet?"

 

     "Yes," he nodded.   "September 8th."

 

     "Good," I stated, already mentally putting the affair together.  "That's over a year away.  That will give us plenty of time--"

 

     "Mom...Mom," A.J. interrupted my musings.  "Not September 8th of next year.  September 8th of this year."

 

     "This year?  This year!  A.J., that's only three months away!"

 

     He laughed at the horror in my voice.  "I know it is.  But Janet doesn't want anything big and pretentious.  She wants to keep things small and quiet."

 

     Small would be hard enough to handle.   But quiet?  The Simons?  Never. 

 

     I immediately changed my battle plan and began preparing myself for a wedding that would take place in just three month's time. 

 

"First we'll have to decide how many people you're going to invite.   Then we'll have to talk about who you'd like to cater it, and what type of food we should--"

 

     A.J. held up his hands.  "Whoa, Mom.  Whoa.  I'm staying out of all this.  Janet's coming over here this weekend so you and she can discuss those things together."

 

     That sounded fine to me and I told him as much.  I was looking forward to finally having another woman in the family to plan such affairs with.

 

     "There's only one request I'd like to make if you don't have any objections," he stated.

 

     I looked up at him and smiled.  "What is it, honey?"

 

     "I'd like for us to be married right here.  In the backyard.  It would mean a lot to me."

 

     Tears welled up in my eyes.  "Oh, sweetheart, it would mean a lot to me, too."

 

     "Hey, there," he soothed, while putting an arm around my shoulders.  "Don't cry.  You aren't supposed to cry."

 

     With the sleeve of my sweatshirt I wiped at my eyes.  "I'm just so happy for you, A.J."

 

     He pulled me against his chest.  "I know, Mom.  I'm happy too."

 

     And he was.  I could hear it in his voice and see it in his smile.  Any qualms I had about this wedding date being set just a little too quickly after Janet's divorce I pushed to the back of my mind.  Yes, I'll admit I was somewhat concerned.   I had been since early March when I'd seen this relationship growing more and more serious with each passing day.   Concerned that when enough time had gone by for both Janet and A.J. to get past the individual wounds that were still so raw, they might discover they weren't right for each other after all.  I wasn't sure if a love born of pain and tragedy was a love that was meant to last.  On the other hand, a love such as that might turn out to be the strongest love of all.  Who was I to say? 

 

     And it wasn't like A.J. and Janet were young kids anymore.  He'd be forty-one that July, she had turned thirty-eight in February.   I hardly thought for one minute that either of them had taken this decision lightly.  As A.J. had told me in my kitchen a month earlier, they both had a number of years experience under their belts in regards to what makes a relationship work.  

 

     For just a brief second I pondered bringing all this up.  Pondered asking A.J. outright if the excitement of a new love and marriage enabled him to better hide from the pain Erika's death had been drowning him in.  But then I looked up at his face.  And in that moment I saw the eyes shining with joy, and the smile that told me how much he loved her.  I saw in him once again, the spark of life that had been missing since January.  The spark of life that Rick and I had been unable to help him find, no matter how hard we tried. 

 

     And in that moment of seeing all those things, I decided any concerns I had were best left unvoiced.  He loved her with all his heart, just like I knew she loved him.  If that was good enough for them, then it was good enough for me.

 

     The hard part that morning was when A.J. was forced to tell me he and Janet would be moving to Seattle right after the wedding.  I didn't expect that, and when it came it was a shock.  I knew I'd miss him terribly.  He and I had spent so many years together after his father died and Rick left home, just the two of us, that a special bond had formed between us that didn't exist between Rick and myself - or at least not in quite the same way.

 

     This time the tears I shed weren't tears of joy, but rather tears of sorrow over all that was rapidly changing.  A.J. hugged me once again, begging me not to cry.  Telling me Seattle wasn't really all that far away, and that we'd see each other several times a year. 

 

     After being used to seeing him several times a week ever since he and Rick had returned from Florida ten years earlier, I wanted to say several times a year wasn't good enough, but I didn't.  I didn't want to make this any harder on him than it already was. 

 

     And again, for a just a moment, I was tempted to ask A.J. if by getting married and leaving San Diego, he was attempting to run away from the bad things that had so recently happened to him here.  But I didn't.  Though I must admit now I wish I would have.  If nothing else it would have been fuel for thought. 

 

     I wiped my tears that day and resolved not to focus on the move to Seattle, but rather to focus on planning a wedding.  Finally, one of my sons was getting married.  I have to admit that at this point in time I had no regrets over the fact that the boys were getting out of the P.I. business.  Yes, I was sad that they would no longer be in business together, that fact being brought home even more so by the impending move of my youngest.  Nonetheless, I had spent a lot of years blaming their irregular hours, unorthodox and often dangerous work, as being the cause of my lack of daughter-in-laws and grandchildren.  It was asking a lot of any woman to sit home alone night after night, and quite often on weekends, while her husband breaks into an office building, or runs a scam that could wind him up in a jail cell, all in the name of his career.

 

     A.J. left at nine-fifteen that day, saying he had to get to the office because Rick would be wondering where he was.  It was then that I realized he hadn't told Rick about the engagement yet.

 

     I walked him to the door.  "Do you think your brother will be surprised?"             

 

     "Let's put it this way, Mom," he smiled knowingly.  "About as surprised as you were."

 

     "Then I take it he doesn't know anything about the move yet either?"

 

     His face darkened a bit with regret.  "No...he doesn't."

 

     I hugged him.  "I doubt if he'll ever tell you this, A.J., but he'll miss you terribly."

 

     His arms wrapped around me as his cheek came to rest upon my hair.  "I'll miss him too, Mom.  It's not going to be easy at first.  For as much as Rick can drive me completely crazy sometimes...well, you know how much he means to me."

 

     I looked up at him and smiled softly.  "I know, sweetheart.  I know.  And you mean the world to him, too."

 

     "I just hope..."

 

     He let that thought trail off there.

 

     "You just hope what, honey?"

 

     "I hope he's not so upset that he won't be my best man."

 

     "Oh, Andrew Jackson Simon, don't you so much as think such a thing.  That isn't even a remote possibility."

 

     He didn't look like he believed me.  "I sure hope you're right."

 

     I shooed him out the door that day while telling him to get such a silly notion right out of his head.  That even if he didn't know it, I could assure him that he wouldn't be getting married without Rick at his side.

 

     The Camaro wasn't even out of the driveway before I was on the phone to Janet.  First we cried, then we laughed.  Then we made plans for her to arrive at my house early Saturday morning to discuss the wedding. 

 

     I'd been waiting for this moment for so long, that when I finally hung up from Janet I spent the next hour and a half calling four friends and two sisters-in-law to whom I was especially close.  It was after eleven before I finally got upstairs to shower that day.  When I did, I was amused, and somewhat embarrassed, to find myself humming, Here Comes The Bride.

 

 

Chapter 3

 

 

 

     There's nothing like planning a wedding on only three month's notice to make a summer seem to end before it even begins.  Not to mention all the other activity that was going on within my family.

 

     It seemed as though everyone who had ever done business with Simon and Simon Investigations wanted to give my sons one more job before they closed the office for good.  Every company the boys did employee background checks for, and every prominent couple they provided security for at parties, had them working overtime that summer.  And that doesn't even begin to cover the multitude of other jobs that came their way.  It got to be so ridiculous, Rick jokingly commented that they should have announced they were going out of business three years earlier.  Had they done that, he was sure they would have made a bundle of money by now.

 

     When it reached the point they were putting in sixty hour work weeks in July, Janet and I told them they should turn some of their clients down.  Neither of my sons would agree to that, however, feeling a strong obligation to those people who had loyally patronized them for so many years.

 

     A.J. started school three nights a week early in June as he had planned.  Because of Simon and Simons' full workload, he had to steal whatever free time he could for homework and studying.  Quite often this was done in the cab of Rick's truck as they drove from one job to another.  When he was forced, because of time constraints, to turn in an important paper stained brown and crinkled to the point it was barely legible, his professor remarked that this was the first time a forty-year-old student had handed in such a document to him with the excuse, "My older brother spilled coffee on it."   We all got a good laugh out of that, and A.J. got an A, so in the end no harm was done.

 

     And as if we didn't have enough other irons in the fire, Rick bought the Captain Gully in late May.  Every Saturday in June, and three in July, A.J., Janet and I helped my eldest scrub and polish and paint.  By the time we were done the Captain Gully stood gleaming proudly in her harbor.  If you didn't know it, you would have thought Rick had bought her brand new.

 

     A.J. and Janet also had to make time to fly up to Seattle twice that summer.  When they went in July it was to spend three days house hunting.  When they went back in August it was to sign the papers for the purchase of a rambling ninety-year-old Victorian they had both fallen in love with on first sight.

 

     In-between all this activity, Janet and I planned a wedding.

 

     As A.J. had told me, Janet's desire was for a small, quiet affair.  I didn't realize how small and quiet until she announced on that first Saturday we met to discuss it,  "I'd like to limit the guest list to thirty people, Cecilia."

 

     The look on my face as we sat together at my kitchen table must have conveyed more than any words could have. 

 

     "Is that going to be a problem?"  The bride-to-be questioned.

 

     "Well...honey...just on the Simon side alone A.J. has twenty-three cousins.  And on my side there are ten.  Now not all of them will come, I suppose.  Some of them do live out of state.  But still, I would expect at least twenty to show up, plus their spouses and children.  And then, of course, there are A.J.'s aunts and uncles.  Not to mention old friends of Jack's and mine like the Krelmans and the Wells, who will be so disappointed if they aren't invited.  And that doesn't even begin to touch on A.J.'s friends.  Plus people like Carlos and Eva, who are friends of Rick's, but who I'm sure would also like to attend.  And we've got to remember Abby Marsh and some of the other officers from the station.   I'm sure Town and Temple will want to drive down for the ceremony, as well.  And don't forget some of the clients the boys have grown close to over the..."

 

     I broke off my mental guest list when Janet started laughing.  She leaned sideways in her chair, wrapping her arms around my neck. 

 

"Okay, okay, you win.  You invite whomever you want to.  I guess as long as all those people fit in your backyard, it doesn't make any difference to me."

 

     I knew it did make a difference to her, and I greatly appreciated her bowing to my wishes.  I hugged her back.  "I'm just so happy for both you and A.J., honey.  So thrilled my son will be marrying such a beautiful bride, that I want to share the occasion with everyone we're close to."

 

     She kissed my cheek as we parted.  "I know you do, Cecilia.  And I understand.  I need to remember that, although this is my second marriage, it's A.J.'s first.  You both deserve to share such an occasion with all the people that mean so much to you."

 

     I reached for my blue spiral notebook, the brand new one I had scrawled across the front, A.J. and Janet's Wedding, and began listing names as fast as they came to mind.  Janet didn't have too many of her own to add, just a few people from the D.A.'s office and three close girlfriends.  Her family guest list was small as well.  Like Janet herself, Janet's mother had been an only child.  Myron was the middle son of three boys.  His oldest brother had been killed somewhere in the Pacific during World War II before he'd had a chance to marry.  Myron's younger brother, Chuck, who lived in Florida with his wife of forty years, had just one child, a daughter a few months younger than Janet.  Colleen, Janet's cousin, would be her honor attendant, as Rick would be A.J.'s.  Janet and Colleen had practically grown up as sisters, especially after Janet's mother had passed away.  Because of the odd hours Myron kept as a private investigator, Janet's care was often left to her Uncle Chuck and Aunt Vera.  Colleen had been unable to attend Janet's first wedding, much less be a member of the bridal party, because she was quite pregnant at the time with her second child.  She was pleased Janet asked her to stand up in this wedding, and promised that her parents, husband, and three children, would all be sitting in the first row on the bride's side when the ceremony convened. 

 

     By the time the guest list was complete we had two hundred names on it.  I gave Janet a sheepish little grin.  "Now the next problem is, how in the world am I going to fit two hundred people in my backyard?"

 

     A.J. solved that dilemma for us when he stopped by later in the morning to check on our progress.  First he teased me about how large this small wedding had suddenly become, then asked, "How many people do you think you can fit out there?"

 

     "I was guessing that by the time we rented chairs, probably one hundred."

 

     He thought a moment.  "Alright.  Then how about if we invite one hundred to the wedding, and the remainder to just the reception?  We can have a buffet-style meal.  People can fill their plates in here, then move about the house and lawn to find seats."

 

     I thought that sounded like a good idea and so did Janet.  The ceremony was to start at two p.m.  I decided we'd state the reception would begin at three-thirty and run until seven, so as to alleviate seating problems.  It was my hope that with such a wide span of hours to greet and visit with the bride and groom, our guests would come and go in random numbers rather than all arriving at the same time.      

 

     I looked over my handwritten list of names and moaned with distress.  "But now how do I decide which hundred to invite to the reception only?

 

     A.J. laughed at me again as he headed out the door. 

 

"That's your problem, ladies.  I don't want any part of it."

 

     It took three tries on Janet's and my part before we finally managed to decide which one hundred people we, as well as Rick and A.J., were closest to. 

 

     For as much as I might have ruined my future daughter-in-law's plans for a small wedding, she had the good grace not to mention it.  And also the good grace to give me warm hug that day when she left, and to tell me how much she loved me. 

 

______________________

 

     As August came to an end, Rick equated me to General Eisenhower right before the invasion of Normandy.  And, I suppose, there was some truth to that comparison as I scurried about lining up my wedding troops. 

 

     A.J. had rented one hundred white chairs to be delivered and set up in my yard the Saturday morning of the wedding.  As well, he rented ten wrought iron tables to be placed in the driveway that would seat six, so that the majority of our elderly guests would have a place to sit and eat their meal. 

 

     Janet and I had decided on a simple buffet of finger sandwiches with a large variety of hors d'oeuvres, salads, cheeses and crackers, as well as fresh fruits, vegetables, and dip to make it easy for those who couldn't find seats to stand and eat.

 

     The three-tiered wedding cake that had been ordered was to be frosted in white and decorated with tiny pink frosting hearts.  One layer was made of strawberries and custard, another raspberries and cream cheese, and the third layer, in deference to Rick's request, would be chocolate.  Janet and A.J. couldn't figure out why I wouldn't allow them to pick a decoration out for the top of the cake.  It wasn't until their wedding day that they saw why. 

 

     Jack had sent me a real silver picture frame from France when he was in the service.  The frame was actually two little frames in the shape of hearts, that joined on hinges in the middle.  For years it had sat on my dresser with a picture of myself as a new bride on one side, and a picture of my young groom on the other.  On the day of my son's wedding, I replaced those photos with pictures of A.J. and Janet, and carefully adorned the top of their cake with it. 

 

     Janet didn't want a traditional wedding gown, and as a matter of fact, didn't intend to wear white at all.  But just what she was going to wear she didn't know.  She and I spent several evenings shopping for the perfect dress.  I finally found it in a formal wear store across town.

 

     Janet started out by holding up two-piece suits - the kind I normally saw her wear to work, though admittedly more on the elegant side.  If one could think of a suit as elegant, that is.  

 

     I shook my head.  "No.  You can't be married in a suit, Janet."

 

     She moved on to a rack of dresses.   Granted, they were designer items, but they looked more like the type of dress someone would wear to a fancy restaurant or a wedding.  And by wearing it to a wedding, I don't mean the bride.

 

     I wrinkled my nose in distaste.  "No.  That will never do."

 

     "But, Cecilia," she said as she held up a pale pink Christian Dior, "this one's pretty."

 

     "Yes, it is," I agreed.  "But not for your wedding."

 

     She reluctantly moved on to the formal ball gowns.  There she began pulling out long dresses in yellow, peach, and green for my approval. 

 

     "No, none of those will do either," I negated.  "They're just not you."

 

     She gave an exasperated sigh before returning the dresses to their proper place.  She buried her head in racks of gowns once more, continuing her quest.

 

     While she was busy doing that, I did some searching of my own.  Within five minutes I'd found it.  I'd found the dress that had Janet's name written all over it.

 

     I held up the beautiful, hand crafted gown for Janet to see. 

 

     I could tell Janet fell in love with it the minute I showed it to her.  "But, Cecilia," she voiced her regret.  "It's a wedding gown."

 

     True, it was.  And she'd said many times she didn't want to buy a wedding gown or wear white.  But this gown was different.  It didn't look like something a first-time bride in her twenties would wear.  It was devoid of a train and full skirt and elaborate veil.  All the things Janet said she didn't want in a dress.  Rather, it had a sophisticated air about it.  An air that said the bride that wore it was a worldly woman of finesse and grace.  A woman with a special style all her own.   The gown itself described Janet to a T.

 

     "You're right, it's a wedding gown," I acknowledged.  "But really, Janet, what difference does it make?"

 

     "Well...I'm just going to feel funny wearing a wedding gown, considering this is my second marriage."

 

     "Oh goodness, sweetheart, that's an outdated tradition as far as I'm concerned."   I thrust the dress at her, urging,  "Just try it on."

 

     She hesitated a moment longer before a sales lady with a heavy French accent approached and insisted that Janet, with her height and slim build, would do the gown great justice. 

 

     And she did.  When she stepped out of the dressing room tears came to my eyes. 

 

     The form-fitting gown was actually in two pieces.  The long satin skirt clung to her narrow hips and slender legs, forcing her to take abbreviated steps as she walked toward me.  The hemline dragged the ground just a tad, covering her shoes completely.  Hundreds of tiny pearls formed an elaborate design on the skirt that rose from the hem to her knees.  The top was a separate piece altogether that buttoned up the back, the white elastic fasteners looping over intricately placed pearls.  Just like the skirt, the all-lace top hugged Janet's slim body, only further emphasizing the figure that was the envy of many a woman.  It tapered to a point in both the front and the back, laying smoothly over the top of the skirt and ending a couple of inches below her waist.  The lace sleeves were puffed at the shoulders, then narrowed dramatically and came to a stop at her wrists.  The collar rose up high on her throat giving the very modern dress a hint of old-fashioned styling.  Above her bust-line material had been cut away in the shape of a heart.  Just the barest amount of cleavage was showing. 

 

     "Oh, Janet...it's beautiful," I gasped.  "You're absolutely gorgeous."

 

     Janet studied herself skeptically in the three-way mirror, turning this way and that.   "I do like it, Cecilia.  But I don't know.  I hadn't planned on buying an actual wedding dress.  Maybe I should keep looking for something else"

 

     The stout little sales lady indignantly negated such a suggestion.  "And why would Mademoiselle consider buying somezing else when zees dress eez zo perfect for Mademoiselle?"            

 

     "It is perfect for you, Janet," I echoed.

 

     "But it's my second marriage," Janet told the sales lady.

 

     "Oh, pooh, pooh," the woman dismissed with a wave of her hand.   "A more perfect drezz I have yet to zee on such a lovely woman az yourself.  Deez eez the wedding gown Mademoiselle should have.  A more beautiful bride her groom shall never zee. "

 

     Janet and I both laughed after the woman was out of earshot.   While she studied herself doubtfully in the mirror once more I put an arm around her shoulders.  "Pooh, pooh.  A more beautiful bride her groom shall never zee."

 

     Janet chuckled at me.  "I don't know, Cecilia."  She placed her hands on her slim hips and swiveled in front of the mirror like a teenager critiquing her prom dress.  "Maybe I should get A.J. to come and take a look at it."

 

     "You most certainly will not!"  I declared.  "I don't want A.J. to get so much as a glimpse of you in this dress until he sees you walk down that aisle."  I gave her a little squeeze. "Oh, honey, he'll be so proud.  You'll make him the happiest man on earth."

 

     "Do you really think so?"

 

     "I know so.  Now I expect you to buy this dress today before you have second thoughts."

 

     Janet laughed at me once more and said she could already tell she was fighting a losing battle.  By the time she got it home and hung it in her closet, any qualms she'd had about wearing a wedding dress had completely disappeared.

 

     The next week the general sent her eldest on a shopping expedition for his wedding outfit.  Much like she hadn't wanted a traditional wedding gown, Janet hadn't wanted the formality of tuxedos for an afternoon wedding in a backyard.  Even after she did end up buying the wedding dress, she didn't change her mind about the tuxedo issue.   It didn't make any difference to A.J., so he readily obliged her by going out and purchasing himself a handsome, light gray double-breasted suit that looked just as good on him as any tuxedo ever could have.  

 

     Rick had come over to the house the Sunday before the wedding to help me wash windows.

 

     We had just finished our big chore, and he was winding up the hose while I gathered up the buckets and rags.  

 

"Is there anything else you need me to do, Mom?"

 

     "No, honey.  You've done more than enough.  Thank you."

 

     He took off his hat and wiped at the sweat on his brow.  "Man, this wedding stuff can wear a guy out."

 

     I smiled my amusement at him while at the same time handing him a cold beer.  "Speaking of wedding stuff, you need to buy yourself a new suit this week."

 

     "Why?"

 

     "For your brother's wedding, silly."

 

     In-between swigs of beer he informed me,  "I've already got a suit." 

 

     "Yes.  I know.  The Rick Simon all-occasion black suit.  The one you wear to weddings, funerals, court appearances, class reunions, important meetings with clients--"

 

     "Yep.  That's the one."

 

     "Well, you're not wearing it to your brother's wedding.  You're buying a new suit."

 

     "Mom!"

 

     "Rick, I don't want to hear it.  A.J. bought himself a new gray suit.  I expect you to go out and do the same."

 

     He looked at me as if I'd said he had to purchase a lime green polyester leisure suit. 

 

"It has to be gray?"

 

     "Yes," I nodded.  "That's the color your brother's wearing."

 

     "We'll look like the Bobbsey twins," he moaned with disgust.

 

     "Oh, you will not.   You don't have to buy the same shade of gray as A.J. did.  Nor the same style for that matter.  You don't like double-breasted suits anyway.  Just buy a traditional cut.  And one that fits well.  One from a good quality men's store.  Don't even think of buying one from Surplus Sammy."

 

     "But, Mom!  I always shop at Sammy's."

 

     "This time you're not going to," I sternly informed him.  "Buy yourself a new white dress shirt, as well."

 

     "What's wrong with the white shirt I already have?"

 

     "It starting to fray at the collar.  I will not have you wearing a frayed shirt to A.J.'s wedding."

 

     He looked down at me, mumbling,  "I'm startin' to think bein' out of town for A.J.'s wedding would be a heck of a lot easier on my wallet." 

 

     I chose to ignore that remark.  "And buy a pair of gray shoes and socks to go with it.  Oh, and a gray belt, too."

 

     "A gray belt!  Who the hell is gonna see my belt?"

 

     "I don't know!  Someone might.  Just do it, Richard."

 

     He knew there was no use arguing with me.  He reminded me of the eight-year-old he had once been when I forced him to put on a suit for church each Sunday.  "Oh, all right," he grumbled.

 

     "But you don't need to buy a tie.  I've got one in the house for you."  I led the way to the patio doors.  "Come with me and I'll give it to you now."         

 

     He followed me in the house mumbling the whole time. 

 

"Geez, I'm gonna be broke before this wedding's over with, and I'm not even the one who's gettin' married!  I swear I'm gonna take the cost of the suit outta A.J.'s wedding present

and—“

 

 

     Before he could finish the ranting and raving that didn't mean a thing, I returned with a small bag in my hand.  He looked into it, then wrinkled his nose with distaste when he pulled out a silk tie.

 

     He held it aloft, studying it.  "What the hell kind of a color is this?"

 

     "It's called teal.  It's a shade of green."

 

     "I can see that.  Why do I have to wear this?" 

 

     "Because that's the color of the dress Janet's cousin Colleen will be wearing."

 

     "So?"

 

     "So, Rick, if you haven't noticed by now, in the majority of weddings the groomsmen match the color of the bridesmaids dresses in some way or another."

 

     "And I gotta wear this ugly color in order to do that?"

 

     "Richard, it's not ugly.  And don't you dare say that in front of Janet.  That's the color she picked out."

 

     He pulled a small, teal silk handkerchief out of the bag next.  "And I suppose you're gonna make me put this in the breast pocket of that new suit I have to buy?"

 

     "That's correct."

 

     "And A.J. has a tie and handkerchief like these, too?  The exact same color?"

 

     "Yes.  Janet and I bought a set for each one of you."

 

     "And what did he say about it?"

 

     "He doesn't mind.  He likes the color."

 

     He rolled his eyes.  "Figures."

 

     He made one last desperate attempt at arguing with me.  "I don't know why I can't just wear my black suit.  I'm comfortable in it.  It's broken in.  If I have to buy a new suit it'll itch me somewhere.  I know it will.  Not to mention the fact that the damn shoes will pinch my feet.  New shoes always do that to me, ya' know."

 

     I hid my smile as I threw the trump card I had been saving on the table.  "Well, son, you've got two choices.  It's buy a new suit, or you and A.J. rent tuxedos."

 

     He looked at me a moment, trying to gage as to how serious that threat was.  He must have come to the conclusion that it was a very serious one.

 

     "Alright," he sighed with disgust.  "I'll buy a new suit."

 

     "And shoes," I reminded as he headed for the door, bag in hand.

 

     "And shoes.  And socks.  And a belt.  And a shirt.  Hell, I'll even buy new gray underwear if it will make you happy.  Man, I'm startin' to wish they'd just eloped and sent me a postcard from Las Vegas."

 

     I watched from the kitchen door as he climbed in the cab of his truck, a permanent scowl etched on his features. 

 

"You don't mean that for one second, Richard Lawrence Simon!"  I called.  "You're proud to be standing as your brother's best man next Saturday and you know it."

 

     If he thought I didn't see the smile that touched his lips he's wrong.  He covered it up by grumbling,   "Yeah, well, with the way you and Janet got me and A.J. dressin' alike, it'll be a wonder if she doesn't marry me by mistake."   

 

     I laughed at him as he pulled out of the driveway.  I shut the door, saying to myself,  "Oh, I think Janet would be wise to that mistake long before the ceremony was over."

 

 

 

Chapter 4

    

 

     The sun was just peeking its head up over the horizon when I rose the morning of the wedding.  I opened the curtains at my bedroom window and listened to a family of birds singing in a nearby tree.  I couldn't help but think of the old adage, ‘happy is the bride the sun shines on.’ 

 

     The bride that was on my mind that morning was still asleep in my guest room.  I was touched when Janet asked me if she could spend the night before her wedding with me.  Of course, she was much too mature, as well as having been married before, for me to need to give her the old-fashioned premarital 'talk' all mothers gave their soon-to-be married daughters in my day.  Nonetheless, we stayed up late pouring over family photo albums and talking of A.J. as a little boy.  She told me, as well, of how much she loved A.J.  Of their hopes and dreams for the future, and of their excitement over the new home they'd recently purchased in Seattle.

 

     Myron, his brother and wife, as well as Colleen and her family, were being housed at Janet's condo.  The lease wasn't up until October first, so Janet said they might as well get use out of it.  Rick was glad to hear that news.  One of the threats I'd used against him whenever I needed something from him in regards to the wedding, such as buying that gray suit, was to tell him if he didn't behave himself I was going to make him host Myron and family. 

 

     Still in my nightgown and robe, I slipped on a pair of tennis shoes and walked out the patio doors onto the dew-covered backyard.  I knew within a few short hours it would be bustling with activity as men set up chairs and tables, and the florist arrived to add the last of the decorations. 

 

     A.J. and Janet would be married under my white arched trellis that was at the end of the cobblestone walkway that led to the garden.  Ivy of three different varieties, and Morning Glories of every color imaginable, grew up and intertwined on that trellis in thick bunches, making the white painted wood barely discernible. 

 

     The flower garden had once been nothing more but a small patch of color in a far corner of the lawn.  It had grown considerably larger in the years since I no longer had little boys playing in my backyard whose footballs and baseballs didn't always respect Mom's garden.  Each year it seemed as though I took a little more of the lawn away and added a few more flowers.  There was nothing I enjoyed more than getting on my hands and knees and working the soil. 

 

     Three birdbaths had been added to the flower garden over the years, as well.  Three birdbaths I'd gotten Rick to give a thorough cleaning only the day before.  Once again the threat of an extended visit from Myron had my oldest at my doorstep bright and early with scrub brush and bucket in hand.

 

     I'd kept the groom busy as well that week.  A.J. washed the patio and its furniture for me on Thursday, and mowed the grass on Friday. Aside from other wedding duties, I'd spent most of the week weeding the garden, as well as the many other flower beds that lined the outside of the house.  Somewhere in-between all that I gave my home a thorough cleaning, attic to basement. 

 

     That morning I surveyed all the hard work that had gone into this backyard wedding and was pleased with the results.  Even the farthest edge of the lawn was well trimmed and neat.  The flower garden and beds were in full bloom, awash with purples, blues, yellows, reds, whites, pinks, and greens. 

 

     I also gave a little prayer of thanks that the sky was clear and there was no call for rain.  When Rick had asked us one day where we were going to hold the wedding in the event of inclement weather, A.J., Janet, and I all said in unison, "Don't even think such a thought."  If forced to, we could cram all the guests in my house, but I certainly didn't want to ponder that possibility, and was now glad to see it wouldn't be a concern. 

 

     I walked back into the kitchen that the caterer would be filling up with food later in the afternoon.  Edie Krelman and Margaret Wells had come over the previous day to help me hang wedding bells and white bunting throughout the room.  The boys then moved the table so that the caterer would have room to add two of her own tables, while still allowing walking space for our guests as they filled their plates.

 

     I started the coffee brewing before returning upstairs to shower and make my bed.  I could hear the shower running in the bathroom down the hall, signaling to me that Janet was up as well.  

 

     I glanced at my bedside clock to see it was eight-thirty when I walked out of my room, dressed casually in sweatpants and matching shirt.  Certainly not the way the mother of the groom was planning to present herself in only a few short hours. 

 

     I knocked on the closed bedroom door across the hall. 

 

"Janet?  Are you coming down for breakfast?"

 

     "In a few minutes, Cecilia."

 

     "Would you like me to make us some eggs and bacon?"

 

     "Oh, heavens no, my stomach won't tolerate eggs and bacon this morning."

 

     I laughed at the nervous bride.  "Well, you have to eat something, honey.   How about cereal and toast?"

 

     "That will be fine.  Just don't go to any trouble."

 

     As I reached the bottom step I thought I heard Rick's truck pull up outside the house.  I went on in the kitchen and began putting out the makings for breakfast, setting a place for Rick as well.  When my eldest didn't appear inside the house within a few minutes I looked out the kitchen window. 

 

     Rick's truck was parked against the curb.  I saw him walk around to the bed of the vehicle.  He pulled out, and sat on the ground, what looked to be a nine foot long orange sawhorse, like the ones people use when they want to close off their streets for block parties.  Another sawhorse followed the first one.  I watched as he walked to one end of my street and firmly set a sawhorse in place. 

 

     I opened the front door and walked halfway down the sidewalk. "Rick?  What in the name of Pete are you doing?" 

 

     He looked up.  "Oh, morning, Mom."

 

     "Good morning, son.  Now I repeat, what in the world are you doing?"

 

     "Blocking off the street for the dance."

 

     "What dance?"

 

     "The dance for A.J. and Janet's wedding."

 

     I walked down to his truck.  "Honey...A.J. and Janet aren't having a dance."

 

     His face split into a big grin of self-satisfaction.   "They are now."

 

     "What?"

 

     "See, a bunch of Carlos's cousins have a band.  I've heard 'em play and they're real good.  So I hired 'em to play for the wedding today."

 

     I was afraid I knew the answer to the next question before I even asked it.  "Rick...have you discussed this with your brother?"

 

     "Nope," he said as he reached into the bed of his truck.  "It's a surprise.  It's part of my wedding gift to him and Janet."

 

     "Sweetheart...that's very kind of you, and while I'm sure both A.J. and Janet will appreciate the thought, Janet did want a quiet wedding.  Remember?"

 

     He began pulling banners from the truck that said boldly, Congratulations, A.J. and Janet! 

 

"Sure I remember.  That's why the band won't be playing until the wedding's over.  They're supposed to start at four o'clock."

 

     I nodded at the banners he was now attaching kite string to.  "And just what are those for?"

 

     "To hang across each end of the road from the streetlights."

 

     I thought I'd nip this idea in the bud before it went any further.  "Rick, you have to have a city permit in order to block off a street and have a dance."

 

     He smiled at me as he reached in his back pocket.  "Yeah, I know.  Abby told me that.  I got it right here."

 

     And sure enough he did.  A permit that allowed my street to be blocked off from seven a.m. until midnight on Saturday, the 8th of September.

 

     I looked up and down the block at my quiet neighborhood.  I gave it another try at dissuading my oldest.    "But, Rick, I'm sure the neighbors will complain about the noise and inconvenience."

 

     "Don't worry about that, Mom," he dismissed.  "I invited them."

 

     "You what!"

 

     "I invited ‘em."

 

     "All of them?"

 

     "Sure."

 

     While I had invited a few of my neighbors to the ceremony, those I'd known for years and whose children had grown up with, and been friends of A.J.'s, I certainly hadn't invited everyone who lived up and down the entire street.

 

     "But, Rick...I don't even know half these people."

 

     "You will after today."

 

     I followed at his heels as he went to get a ladder out of my garage.  "Richard Simon, how will I feed forty extra people, plus I don't know how many band members--"

 

     "Eight."

 

     "What?"

 

     "There's eight band members...oh, and their wives and kids, of course."

 

     I picked up where I had left off as I now trailed him back out to the street where he set the ladder up by a light pole. 

 

"How will I feed forty extra people, eight band members, and their families?  You know perfectly well we ordered just enough food from the caterer to feed the two hundred guests we originally invited!"

 

     He scaled the ladder with one of the banners in his hand, not at all bothered by my almost hysterical concerns.  "Don't worry about it, Mom.  I got ya' covered.  I ordered eight pans of ravioli, eight pans of mostaccioli, eight pans of lasagna, two dozen loaves of garlic bread, two barrels of beer, ten cases of pop - 'cause of the kids an' all, and twelve large pizzas from Mama Maria's.  Everything will be here when the reception starts at three-thirty."

 

     "Pizzas!"  I shrieked.  "At your brother's wedding?"

 

     "Sure, Mom," he smiled down at me.  "It'll be great.  Everyone loves pizza.  And hey, look at the bright side.  If we do run out of food, pizza's always a real easy thing to order more of."

 

     I scowled up at him, shading my eyes against the morning sun.  "And just where are all these people going to sit?  You know what a problem the seating arrangements have been."

 

     "I know.  That's why I told 'em to bring their own lawn chairs."

 

     Under my breath I mumbled, "I hope they don't wear their Bermuda shorts, too."

 

     "They won't.  I told all of 'em it's a formal affair."

 

     I stood out there watching my impetuous eldest as he went about hanging the banner.  Even I, the general of this wedding, was not going to be able to derail this particular soldier from his designated battle plan.

 

     Before I could think of a way to gently break the news to Janet, the upstairs bedroom window flew open.

 

     The bride-to-be stuck her head out, observing her soon-to-be brother-in-law hard at work.  She looked down at me.  "What's he doing?"

 

     "Janet...honey--"

 

     Any thoughts I'd had of breaking the news gently were dashed by Rick.

 

     "Oh...hey, Janet.  Beautiful day for your wedding, isn't it?"

 

     "Rick Simon, what the hell are you doing?"

 

     "Geez, Janet, I don't know if you should be using that kind of language on the day you're gettin' married.  It might be a bad omen or some--"

 

     "Richard Simon!"  Janet screamed.  "Just tell me what you're doing!"

 

     "I'm blocking off the street for the dance.  I hired a band for you and A.J. as part of my wedding gift to you."

 

     "But I didn't want a band!"  She wailed.  "A.J. and I talked about it and I told him no dance.  You were there!  You heard me say that!"

 

     For the first time Rick looked a bit contrite. 

 

"Well...yeah, I know.  But gee, Janet, what's a wedding without a dance?"

 

     "And just what band have you hired, may I ask?"

 

     "Carlos's cousins."

 

     That's all Janet needed to hear.  "Carlos's cousins!  Oh, no!"  She looked down at me as the tears started to flow.  "Cecilia!  He's turning my wedding into a carnival!"

 

     The window was slammed shut as the bride ran to the bathroom to cry. 

 

     Rick looked down from his perch and shrugged.  "Wedding day jitters.  She'll get over it."

 

     Knowing I wasn't going to get any further with the best man, I went in the house to calm the bride.  I followed the sound of her sobs to the bathroom.

 

     Knocking on the door I called,  "Janet...honey, can I come in?"

 

     I heard the teary hiccupped reply from the other side. 

 

"Ye...ye...ye...ye..yes." 

     I walked in the bathroom to find her clad in blue jeans and a T-shirt, sitting on the closed lid of the toilet.  I hugged her to me.  

 

"Oh, sweetheart, don't cry.  You're still going to have a beautiful wedding.  The band won't bother anyone.  Those that don't like it can stay in the house and backyard."

 

     Between her tears she sobbed, "Why does h...h...h...he always ruin ev...ev...ev...everything?"

 

     "Rick?"

 

     "Ye...ye...yes."

 

     I handed her a box of Kleenex, then sat on the edge of the tub and waited for her tears to subside.

 

     When she had calmed down somewhat I reached over and took her hand.  "Janet, doing things like this...hiring this band, is the way Rick tells those he cares about that he loves them.  It's hard for him to say it in words, sweetheart.  He doesn't realize he's doing anything wrong.  He's just being Rick.  He thinks he's doing something that will make you and A.J. happy."

 

     "But I don't want a band," she wailed again while blowing her nose.  "I wanted a quiet, simple wedding.  He heard me tell A.J. that months ago!"

 

     "I know.  But you know Rick.  He's still that Peter Pan you accused him of being so many years ago."

 

     That got a tiny smile out of her.

 

     "And, Janet..."

 

      I paused there.  She looked at me with red-rimmed eyes.  

 

"Yes?"

 

     "You've known Rick a long time.  As long as you've known A.J.  You know what he's like.  You know what you're getting when you accept him as a brother-in-law.  And most of all, you know how much he loves A.J., and in turn, how much A.J. loves him.  Whether you like it or not, Rick's part of the package deal you're going to get with this marriage."

 

     "I know that, Cecilia," she acknowledged while using a tissue to wipe the corners of her eyes.  "And I do love, Rick.  I don't want you to think for one minute that I don't.  It's just that...well, that sometimes he can really try my soul."

 

     I laughed.  "Honey, sometimes he can really try my soul, too.  He has since he was two years old."  I squeezed her hand. "But he's a good-hearted person, Janet.  And he's been the rock I've leaned on through more hard times than I'd care to count.  He loves A.J. and me with all the love his heart possesses.  And he loves you, too.  Just keep those things in mind when you're at your wit's end with him."

 

     Her eyes took on a bit of a twinkle.    "Is that how you've survived being his mother all these years?"

 

     "On some days, dear, yes.  That's how I've survived it."

 

     I urged her to wash her face with a cold rag.  "Why don't you call A.J. and talk to him for a few minutes.  I'm sure he's just as nervous as you are this morning and would love to hear from you."

 

     She hugged me.  "Thank you.  I'll do that."

 

     She walked into the bedroom to use the phone.  I saw her pass by the front window, pausing for a moment to look down at Rick.  She didn't think I heard her mutter, "This is exactly why I knew we had to move to Seattle.  He'd drive me nuts if we stayed here."

 

     I walked away as she picked up the phone to call A.J.  As hard as it was for me to pretend I hadn't heard that last comment, I did just that.  Years ago, when my boys were still small, I promised myself the last thing I'd ever be was a meddlesome mother-in-law.  The kind of woman a daughter-in-law dreads to see coming for a visit.  I wanted to be a friend to my sons' wives, just as my own mother-in-law had been a friend to me.  I had vowed, that just like Jack's mother, I would stay out of my married children's affairs, never give advice unless asked for it, shower each and every one of my grandchildren with unconditional love...and warm sugar cookies, and have equal amounts of affection for each of my daughters-in-law.  I wasn't about to break that vow now, only hours before my youngest married.

 

     And, to Janet's defense, I couldn't blame her for being upset.  A bride's wedding day is nerve racking enough without having a lively brother-in-law like Rick to deal with.  It didn't help that she was still angry with him over the bachelor party he'd thrown for A.J. on Thursday night. 

 

     Myron and family had flown into San Diego Thursday afternoon.  Although A.J. had met Janet's aunt, uncle and cousin years before in Florida, he didn't know them well by any means, and had never met Colleen's husband or children.  Janet, her entire family, and A.J. had just sat down to dinner at A.J.'s dining room table that Thursday evening when the door burst home and in rushed Rick, Carlos, Jerry Reiner, and Downtown Brown.  Over his good-natured protests, the groom-to-be was ‘kidnapped’ and whisked off to Rick's boat leaving Janet there to host the family meal alone. 

 

     The bash was rather mild as bachelor parties go.  Just a group of twenty men playing cards, eating pizza and drinking beer.  After Janet's experiences with Allan Cassidy, Rick wasn't foolish enough to go the route of strippers or women jumping from cakes.  Not that A.J. would have appreciated those things anyway.   

 

     Nonetheless, Janet was more than a little ticked off to say the least.  I can't blame her, as this was supposed to be an evening reserved for her and A.J. to spend time with the Fowler family.   But on the other hand, Rick didn't know they had plans and hadn't purposely set out to spoil Janet's dinner party.  The most that can be said of the whole affair is that it was unintentional poor timing on Rick's part. 

 

     Janet, however, didn't see it quite that way.

 

     Somehow A.J. managed to calm her down when he was returned to her from that bachelor party during the wee morning hours on Friday.  Just like he managed to calm her down over the phone in regards to the unplanned wedding band. 

 

     She looked much better when she appeared at the breakfast table fifteen minutes after I'd left her upstairs.  Her eyes were no longer red, and at least outwardly, she didn't seem to be angry.

 

     I turned from where I was pulling cereal boxes out of a cabinet.  "Are you okay now, sweetheart?"

 

     She smiled at me as she reached in the refrigerator for the orange juice.   "Yes.  I'm fine."

 

     "What'd A.J. say about the dance?"

 

     "He told me not to get upset over it.  That this was our wedding day, and it was going to be just as beautiful as we had planned.  That I wasn't to let anything spoil it.  He also said pretty much the same thing you did."

 

     "And that was?"

 

     "That this is Rick's way of showing his love for us."

 

     I nodded my head as I joined her at the table.  "A.J. knows his older brother quite well."

 

     Janet reached for a piece of toast.  "Yes, he does. I also think he's being extra tolerant of any stunt Rick pulls lately because we're moving away.  He told me he doesn't want Rick's feelings hurt today of all days."

 

     "It's going to be hard on A.J. for a while, to be so far away from his brother," I commented while pouring milk on my cereal.  "Just like the distance is going to be hard on Rick, too.  Prepare yourself for a period of adjustment, honey.  You need to keep in mind that they've been a big part of each other's lives for many years now."

 

     "I know, Cecilia.  And I am keeping that in mind.  I...I don't want you to think that I forced A.J. into this move.  He wanted to go."

 

     I swallowed my spoonful of Grapenuts before assuring her,  "Never would I believe anyone could force A.J. to do anything he didn't want to."

 

     She smiled her gratitude at me before concentrating on her own bowl of cereal.

 

     I was ashamed at myself for the thoughts I concealed from her. 

 

Though I do think you conveniently made the move to Seattle part of this marital arrangement.  I have a feeling A.J. knew that, in order for him to make you his wife, he was going to have to follow you to Washington.  And I think you were well aware he knew that.

 

     As I said, I was ashamed of those thoughts, and even more so when Rick appeared in the kitchen ten minutes later.   Janet was kind to him, as he was to her.  Watching the two of them talk pleasantly and eat together, no one would have ever known she was so upset by his antics only a half hour earlier.  

 

     Maybe I'm reading more into this than is really there, I thought.  Maybe the remark she made upstairs about having to move away just came from nerves and anger. 

 

       In a short amount of time the morning grew so hectic that the concerns I had over any animosity Janet might harbor toward Rick were forgotten.              

 

 

Chapter 5

 

 

     By one-thirty that afternoon my home was as chaotic as that Normandy beachfront General Eisenhower landed his troops on all those years ago.  And just like Dwight D. Eisenhower, I was busy directing traffic. 

 

     I let the caterer and her two assistants in the front door, pointing the way to the kitchen.  I saw the first of the guests beginning to arrive and stepped out on the porch to give them a wave.  Once back inside the house I bustled through the kitchen, dodging the caterer bearing a silver tray, and looked out the patio doors to make sure the ushers were in place.  A.J. had asked his cousin and boyhood friend, Kevin Simon, as well as Downtown Brown, to seat the guests.  I nodded with satisfaction when I saw the two men, dressed in dark suits with boutonnieres pinned to their lapels, showing Margaret and Michael Wells, and Edie and Bud Krelman, to their seats.   

 

     A woman who worked with Janet at the D.A.'s office, Kathryn Coogan, was married to a professional flutist employed by the San Diego Symphony Orchestra.  Kathryn herself was an accomplished violinist.  Considering the size our guest list had grown to, Janet and I had agreed early on that fitting a piano or organ into my backyard would be next to impossible.  Janet decided instead to hire Kathryn and her husband, Ron, to play the traditional wedding march.  Kathryn wouldn't hear of letting Janet pay for their services, insisting their performance would be a wedding present for the bride and groom.   

 

     I watched now, as the elegant couple entertained our arriving guests by softly playing the theme from Love Story.  By the time the wedding began an array of romantic songs had been performed, from modern, popular tunes, to beautiful pieces composed several hundred years ago by Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven.

 

     Janet and Colleen were using my upstairs bedroom and master bath to dress.  My sister's daughter, Karen, is a hairstylist.   She was up there with them doing their hair and makeup.  Colleen's three children, ranging in age from seven to three, were running up and down the stairs conferring with their mother over this or that as young children will do.  Their dad was chasing in and out of the house after them, trying to keep them away from the busy women.

 

     Myron was playing the role of nervous father-of-the-bride to the hilt.  He paced the upstairs hallway, stopping to talk to Janet through the closed bedroom door on every other turn. 

 

     The nervous groom was pacing the living room floor.  Rick was keeping step right along side his brother, while at the same time attempting to calm him.

 

     As I walked through the living room one of Colleen's children ran past me on his way back outside.   "Be careful of the caterers, Brandon!"  I warned.  "Don't knock anyone down."

 

     "I won't, Mrs. Simon!"  I heard called right before the kitchen door slammed.

 

     I gave my pacing A.J. a little pat on the back as I passed him and headed up the stairs.   I did the same to Myron when I encountered him in the hallway.  Unlike A.J., he stopped my progress.

 

     "Cecilia, can I talk to you before things get too busy here?"

 

     I turned around and laughed.  "Before things get too busy?  Myron, in case you haven't noticed, things are already busy."

 

     "Yeah, I guess they are," he agreed in that rough, gravely tone that was his trademark.  "This will only take a second anyway."

 

     "What did you need, Myron?"

 

     "I just wanted to tell you that I'm really happy Janet's marrying A.J.  I always thought a lot of him when he worked for me."

 

     I smiled.  "That's nice of you to say, Myron."

 

     "I was disappointed when they broke their engagement all those years ago.  I'm glad they got back together.  I know he'll never do to her what that no good, dirty son of a bit--"

 

     "Myron..."

 

     "Gun," he quickly amended, "she was married to the first time did to her.  A.J.'s a good guy.   He'll treat her right."

 

     "Yes, he will," I agreed.  I knew without a doubt, very few men would take their marriage vows as seriously as my youngest would.  "And I'm glad too, Myron.  Janet's a wonderful woman.  After the year they've had, both A.J. and Janet deserve all the happiness two people can be blessed with."

 

     My cheek rested against the cloth of his black suit coat when he hugged me.  I could smell the sweet fragrance coming from the white carnation boutonniere that was only inches from my nose. 

 

"They certainly do, Cecilia.  And maybe you and I will finally be given those grandchildren we both deserve and have been waiting too long for."

 

     I laughed, hugging him back.  "Well, I've already put my order in for four with A.J."

 

     He released me, laughing as well.  "Then with the three I requested from Janet, we should end up with seven by the time it's all said and done."

 

     I let him return to his pacing while I knocked on my  bedroom door.  "Ladies, can I come in?"

 

     I opened the door and entered the room upon hearing Janet's, "Yes, Cecilia.  Come in."

 

     "Oh, Janet..." was all I could say as my eyes filled. 

 

     The bride was sitting in front of my dressing table mirror.  She was already in her gown and the white satin shoes she had bought.   Around her neck hung A.J.'s wedding gift to her.  A 14 carat gold chain with diamond pendant.  From her ears hung the diamond earrings he had given her as well.  Her long chestnut locks had been swept up on the back of her head.  Thin strands of hair had been left loose to fall delicately around her neck and shoulders.  A large white lace bow was attached to the center of the bronze mass, its long wide tails trailing down to end below her waist. 

 

     Though the dress was definitely modern in style, the high collar, puffed sleeves, lace bow, and the hair piled on top of her head lent a look of days gone by to this very attractive lady.

 

     I wiped at my tears.  "Sweetheart, you look just like an old fashioned Victorian bride."

 

     Janet chuckled at my sentiments.  "Cecilia, I'm not supposed to look like a Victorian bride.  I'm supposed to look like a mature woman who's getting married for the second time."

 

     I gave her a hug and kiss.  "Nonsense.  Every woman should look like a bride on her wedding day no matter what the circumstances."

 

     Colleen and Karen wholeheartedly agreed with me as Karen put the finishing touches on Colleen's hair. 

 

     Like Janet, Colleen was tall and slender.  Her brunette hair was streaked with flecks of summer gold and fell in thick waves to her bare, lightly freckled shoulders.  I had always envied women with hair like hers.  Just a few flicks with a brush, a lick of hair spray, and every strand stays in place for the rest of the day. 

 

     Her teal green dress, the one that matched the tie my grumbling Rick was wearing, stopped two inches below her knees.  Like Janet's gown, Colleen's off-the-shoulder dress was figure hugging.  But then, they both had the kind of figures that allow for such dresses.  A wide, white overlay encircled the top of the dress where it started just above her bust line, lending a dramatic contrast between dark color and light.       

 

     "And, Colleen, you're a picture of beauty as well," I complimented sincerely.

 

     Janet's cousin laughed.  Her brown eyes danced as she stood before my full-length mirror critically studying herself.  "Thank you for the kind words, Mrs. Simon.  You just don't know how hard I'm trying to keep my stomach sucked in.  Those three children of mine have ruined the figure that used to look pretty darn good in a bikini, if I do say so myself."

 

     If giving birth to her children had ruined Colleen's figure, I certainly couldn't see any signs of it.  Like Janet, she was a lovely woman.

 

     "Cecilia, I knew that dress was you the minute I saw it," Janet told me now.

 

     I looked down at the tea length mother-of-the-groom dress I was wearing.  It was a shade lighter than Colleen's, and had cost me far more than I had intended to spend.  When Janet and I found it on one of our shopping trips she insisted I look no farther, much like I had insisted she look no farther when we found her wedding gown.

 

     Like Colleen, I also had shoes dyed to match the color of my dress. Which, by the way, Rick thought was the most ridiculous thing he'd ever heard of.

 

     I looked at my watch to see that it was eight minutes to two.  "Are you both just about ready?"

 

     The bride and matron of honor nodded their heads.  Amid their words of gratitude, Karen scurried past me to take her seat outside for the ceremony.   As she went by Rick in the living room I faintly heard him tease her about how long it takes women to get ready for every occasion.  In turn, she teased him right back, telling him that if women had hairlines like his it wouldn't take them long to get ready at all.  

 

     I gave Janet a final kiss on the cheek.  "The next time I see you I'll be calling you Mrs. Simon."

 

     She reached for my hand and gave it a squeeze.  "Thank you for everything, Cecilia.  But most of all, thank you for the wonderful son you raised who's going to become my husband today."

 

     We hugged a long minute before I turned and headed down the stairs.

 

     "Are they ready?"   The jittery Myron barked as I hurried past him.

 

     "Yes.  But don't bring her down until A.J.'s outside," I cautioned. 

 

     Being the traditionalist I am, at least where weddings are concerned, A.J. had not been allowed to see Janet at all that day. 

 

     One of Jack's nieces is married to a minister of an all-denominational Christian church.  A.J. had asked Paul to officiate at the ceremony.  As I entered the living room Paul, all six foot four and three hundred pounds of him, was walking in the front door. 

 

     "It's four minutes to wedding time, folks," he joked in his deep baritone.  "Is everyone ready?"

 

     "Speaking for the bride, the matron of honor, the bride's father, and the groom's mother," I said,  "we're ready."

 

     "I'm ready," Rick acknowledged.  "But I don't know about the groom.  You may have to hold him up, Paul."

 

     A.J. stopped his pacing long enough to give Rick a dirty look.

 

     Paul chuckled.  "He won't be the first nervous groom I've done that for."

 

     Paul reached for A.J.'s arm.  "Come on, A.J.   Let's get this show on the road."

 

     A.J. cast one last, longing glance up the stairway.  I gave him a little shove from behind.  "Go on with you.  You'll see her soon enough."

 

     "I know, but--"

 

     Rick and Paul grabbed each of his arms and propelled him to the door, effectively cutting off whatever reply he was going to make.

 

     "See ya' outside, A.J."  Rick said as his brother disappeared from view. 

 

     My eldest walked over to me and held out his arm.  "Ready, Mom?"

 

     I nodded my head.  For some reason my eyes suddenly welled up with tears.

 

     "Hey, hey," Rick gently scolded.  "Don't start that already.  Save some for the ceremony."

 

     I couldn't help but chuckle at his teasing.  "I'm just so happy for your brother, Rick.  It's been such a hard year for him.  Janet's been his life saver."

 

     Rick kissed my cheek.  "That she has, Mom.  That she has."

 

     I smiled at him before turning to call up the stairway,

 

"Rick's escorting me outside now, Janet!"

 

     "Okay!"  Janet called in return.  "We'll be waiting in the living room when he gets back!"

 

     Arm and arm Rick and I walked out the front door.  We followed the strains of the bridal processional to the backyard.  Rick escorted me up the aisle past the smiling guests - Abby Marsh, there with Joel Lankey, Jerry Reiner and his girlfriend, Carlos and Eva, Temple and Town, Raj and his family, the Wells, the Krelmans, and so many more, to my seat in the front row.  Once I was settled he turned and hurried back to the house.

 

     A.J. was standing by the trellis with Paul.  He walked over to me and bent down to wrap his arms tightly around me.  I smelled the spicy scent of his cologne as I brought my own arms up to encircle his neck.

 

     "I love you, Mom," I was told by my soon-to-be married son. 

 

     I wanted to tell him, "I love you too, A.J.," but I was crying so hard the words wouldn't come.  A good portion of our guests wiped their eyes, too, as they witnessed this poignant scene.

 

     As Rick and Colleen rounded the corner of the house A.J. released me, once again taking his place by Paul.   

 

     One of the boys' former clients had been hired to photograph the wedding.  He unobtrusively snapped pictures of the best man and matron of honor as they slowly moved up the aisle in time to the notes coming from the flute and violin.

 

     For all Rick's moaning and groaning, he was quite handsome in his medium gray suit.  The teal green ties and handkerchiefs added just the right splash of color to lend an elegant, formal appearance to both the best man and groom.   

 

     Rick gave me a little wink as he passed.  Colleen's youngest called loudly, "Hi, Mommy!"  causing a ripple of laughter to emanate from the guests.

 

     Rick took his place off to the side of A.J.  Colleen stood across from Rick.  The notes floating out of the flute slowly died out, leaving only the sound of Kathryn's violin.  The first strains of Here Comes The Bride swelled forth.   Kathryn pushed and pulled the bow slowly across the instrument, dramatically holding each note.  I don't think I've ever heard that old traditional song played with more feeling.

 

     All in attendance stood and turned when Myron and Janet rounded the corner.  The bride glided up the aisle amidst audible gasps.  The jaws of several of our male guests, those who had never met Janet, hung open in unconcealed appreciation of her beauty.

 

     Janet held out her hand when she and Myron came abreast of me.  We briefly made contact, squeezing each other's fingers. 

 

     With open rapture, A.J. had watched his bride's every move.  He reached up and wiped at the tears that spilled over to run down his cheeks.  Even Rick's eyes were suspiciously bright.   

 

     There was no mistaking the love glowing from my youngest's face when Janet came to stand beside him.  She smiled softly with pride as he took her hand.  For a moment, the world contained only the two of them and the enormous love they had for one another.

 

     Paul began the service.  Within seconds Myron had given his daughter away in marriage.  Before he turned to take his seat with the rest of his family, Myron offered his hand to A.J.  This was the only wedding I've ever attended where I've seen the father-of-the-bride and the groom shake hands during the ceremony.  It was a touching gesture on Myron's part, and only reinforced to me how much he thought of A.J.  Even more so, because Myron Fowler isn't known for his sensitive side.  There would be those who would debate as to whether or not he even has a sensitive side.

 

     Janet had yet to notice that off in one corner sat a man behind a small electronic keyboard.  No, we couldn't fit an organ or a piano in the backyard, but when A.J. told me of the special gift he wanted to give his bride ,I saw to it we made room for that keyboard and a microphone. 

 

     Through my many social functions I knew a retired man by the name of Arthur Franz, who earned a part-time living singing at everything from weddings, to funerals, to ball games.  He'd been a businessman of some sort during his younger years, though why he never sang professionally is beyond me.  He certainly had the talent for it. 

 

     A.J. had heard the man perform on more than one occasion.  Unbeknownst to Janet, he hired Art to sing at the wedding. 

 

     All in attendance could clearly read the surprise on Janet's face when the first notes came forth from the keyboard.  She looked around, finally locating the soloist, then looked at A.J. with confusion.  He offered no explanation except a loving smile.

 

       I think most of our guests, at least those over thirty-five, recognized the prelude to the song.  After everything Janet had been through with Allan Cassidy, A.J. couldn't have picked a more appropriate melody with which to declare his love for his bride.

 

     Art's voice was as smooth and rich as honey when he started to sing the words to that old Johnny Mathis tune.

 

 

"When I fall in love, it will be forever.

“Or I'll never fall in love.

“In a restless world like this is, love is ended before it's begun.

“And too many moonlight kisses, seem to cool in the warmth of the sun.

“When I give my heart, it will be completely.

“Or I'll never give my heart.

“And the moment that I can feel that, you feel that way too,

“Is when I'll fall in love with you."

 

 

     Of course, one cannot convey on paper the beauty of the song or the voice that sang it.  Suffice to say that before Art got to the second verse, Janet was crying.  By the time the ending note faded away her silent tears had changed to open sobs.  Sobs that told all of us how much A.J.'s gift meant to her. 

 

     Paul had to delay the ceremony until the bride could compose herself.  A.J. put his arm around her and pulled her close, saying something to her none of us could hear.  Whatever it was caused her to chuckle a little in-between her tears.  Within just a few moments after that Janet nodded to Paul that she was ready for him to begin.

 

     It was my turn to sob openly when we came to the part of the ceremony where Paul asked, "Do you, Andrew Jackson Simon, take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?"

 

     A.J. smiled softly at his bride.  "I do."

 

     "And do you, Janet Madison Fowler, take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?"

 

     Tears streamed down Janet's cheeks as she looked up into A.J.'s face.

 

"I do."

 

     Paul looked to Rick.  "The ring please."

 

     Rick solemnly pulled the gold wedding band A.J. had handed him just an hour earlier from his pocket. 

 

     Paul took it from him, then in turn handed it to A.J.  When the ring had been placed on Janet's finger and the appropriate words exchanged, the process was repeated.  Paul retrieved a wedding band that matched Janet's from Colleen.  The bride placed it on her groom's finger as the appropriate words were exchanged once again.

 

     "By the power vested in me, I now pronounce you man and wife.  A.J., you may kiss your bride."

 

     A.J. gently took Janet in his arms.  He kissed her, then kissed her again, then kissed her a third time.   When my youngest didn't show any intention of releasing his bride, Rick gave those of us in the audience a helpless shrug and comedic look while tapping his brother on the shoulder.

 

     "Uh...hey there, fella'.  I think you two better hold off on startin' the honeymoon until tonight."

 

     We all laughed as A.J., still locked in an embrace of passion, didn't do anymore than bring one hand around to swat at Rick like one would a pesky fly.

 

     When the bride and groom did finally part for good Paul announced with amusement, "After all that, I don't think I have to present the new husband and wife to you.  But, just in case any of you still do have doubts as to who was joined together in holy matrimony this afternoon, it's with great pleasure that I present to you, Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Jackson Simon."

 

     The violin and flute struck up the lively notes of the recessional, Art joining in at the keyboard.  The majority of our guests knew the circumstances that had brought the bride and groom together.  Knew what tragic events had rekindled this strong love and devotion.  Because of those factors, it wasn't restrained clapping that came forth as the newlyweds walked down the aisle arm and arm, but rather cheers and shouts of unabashed joy.

      

 

Part 2