The Never-Ending Road
Kemara stared out at the waves as Warren slept beside her on the steps.
JenniAnn and her own mother had offered to stay, but she had thanked them and declined. It felt right to be alone tonight, this night before her wedding. To think of the life ahead and thank Joshua for Sean’s place in it.
She picked up the scrapbook she’d brought out with her and opened the green leather cover. On the first page was a picture of her and Sean at Willowveil the morning after he proposed. They held a wooden nest with two birds inside. Beside the photo was a printout of the email announcement they had sent friends and family a few days later.
After that excited breakfast, she had called Sean. He’d come over at once, and as the others watched, they found a place on the tree for their birds and the nest Joshua had made.
“So I guess we need to set a date,” he said later as they braved the cool ocean breeze. After the Memorial Day cookout when he had been introduced to Dyeland, walks on the beach had become their favorite activity during his visits.
“Hmm…” Kemara tore her gaze away from her new claddagh ring with it’s white gold hands clasping a crowned sapphire heart and considered. “Well, if we want a church wedding, we’ll need to wait at least six months.”
He grabbed her hand and kissed it. “Can’t stop looking at it, can you?” he teased. “Six months is March. How about St. Patrick’s Day? That’s when Joshua gave us a kick in the butt after all.”
“That’s a good idea! But St. Pat’s is in the middle of Lent. Can we be married then?”
He shrugged, unconcerned. “Call Father Mike, or ask him tomorrow. I imagine we’ll be seeing a lot of him either way.”
“He’ll be thrilled. So...you do want the whole nuptial Mass?” She tried not to sound too hopeful. She’d never dreamed of a big church wedding, but now…
He was silent for a few minutes. “Yeah, I do. I- I’m not one of those guys who’s comfortable talking to complete strangers about God. But I do believe; and after meeting Joshua - even though I didn’t know who he was at the time - it’s made me think, you know?”
Kemara nodded. “Yes, Joshua’s very good at making people think, and rethink for that matter!”
“Exactly. I’m glad you asked me to come to Bible study, but it is a little weird sitting there in the pew on Sundays and hearing something a little different. I know Fr. Mike can’t deviate too much from the Church’s viewpoint though.”
“No, he’s doing the best he can. And he did tell us that it might come down to a choice one day...Joshua or the Church. Of course, he’ll choose Joshua, but he’ll probably alienate a lot of people in the pews.”
“So….we’ve got a date and a presider,” Sean mused. “What else do we need?”
“I have no clue….but I’m sure everyone will be anxious to tell us,” Kemara said.
Her smile vanished. “Oh! I just remembered. JenniAnn and Andrew met on St. Patrick’s Day, and that’s always been kinda their anniversary. I hate to steal it from them.”
Sean hugged her. “We’re not stealing; we’re sharing. I mean, look around! You’ve got Monica, an angel who was ‘born’ in Ireland. Andrew and JenniAnn are anam caras. We’ve both been to Ireland, and we dance. I think St. Patrick’s Day is going to be popular here no matter what. Might as well add something else to celebrate.”
“That’s true. And I guess there’s no question where we’re going on the honeymoon.” She grinned up at him.
“Nope. Better pack warm, though.” He shivered, not entirely in jest. “Ireland’s cold and wet in the spring.”
“So have you thought at all about your dress?” Violeta asked eagerly while they unpacked Halloween decorations later that afternoon at Willowveil. “Oh and the cake and decorations!”
JenniAnn laughed. “Violeta, give her a few days to catch her breath! They’ve got six months to work all that out.”
“Actually, we already talked about some things,” Kemara said as she untangled a strand of pumpkin lights. “We know we want a Mass with Fr. Mike as the celebrant.” She glanced at JenniAnn. “If...you think that would be OK with the non-Catholic folks? I hadn’t thought….”
JenniAnn set down a papier maché bat and hugged her. “You guys do what you want to and the rest of us will deal with it. And I’m sure no one will mind….we go to each other’s church services already.”
“That’s true.” Kemara plugged in a new strand of lights. “And as for my dress….I don’t want the Disney princess thing; It’s just not me.” She shrugged. “Probably something simple and elegant.”
“We could have a girls’ only shopping trip!” Violeta enthused. “With Ivy and Emma and Diana and Kylie and…”
JenniAnn and Kemara shared a smile. JenniAnn leaned close and said quietly. “Maybe you’d better go ahead now and make Violeta your wedding director.”
“You’re sure you don’t mind about….”
“No! And I know Andrew will say the same. St. Patrick’s Day is perfect for you and Sean,” JenniAnn assured her. “Besides, I think we might start considering Belle’s baptism as our anniversary, what with Joshua’s blessing that day too.”
“Aww...yeah, that’s a good idea.” Kemara hugged her friend. “I miss him so much! Not all the time, but every now and then it’ll hit me.”
JenniAnn nodded. “Me too. I hope we’ll see him at Christmas.”
Kemara and Sean waited for Father Mike in the vestibule at St. Mary Magdalene’s after Mass the next morning. He finished greeting the last parishioner and caught sight of them. He studied them for a long moment and then hurried over, smiling broadly.
“You don’t need to tell me!” he said hugging them both. “Congratulations!”
Sean laughed. “Kemara said you’d know. We’d really like you to officiate.”
“I’d be honored,” the priest said. “Do you have a date in mind?”
“St. Patrick’s Day, so that gives us six months,” Kemara said.
Fr. Mike nodded. “Why am I not surprised? OK, can you meet me here an hour before Bible study on Wednesday? I can give you an overview of pre-Cana and get some preliminary things out of the way.”
“Sounds good,” Sean said. “We’re going to my parents’ house for lunch. I….uh, asked if they could have Ciara, my sister, and her family there, too. So I think they know something’s up.”
Kemara shifted uneasily, and he hugged her. “It’ll be fine. You know they adore you, and Dad’s your biggest fan.”
“I know. I love them all too. It’s just...so many people.” She shuddered.
Fr. Mike smiled. “I think Sean’s going to be really good at getting out out of your shell, Kemara,” he teased .
“That’s what I’m afraid of!” She looked up at Sean. “You need to marry somebody more outgoing.”
He kissed her nose. “Then they wouldn’t be you; and I want you.”
She blushed hotly, and Fr. Mike laughed. “Sounds like you’re stuck with him!”
The drive to Sean’s parents’ home in Brewster took an hour, but they had so much to talk about that the time flew by. He laughed as she recounted Violeta’s enthusiastic questions.
“Just wait ‘til Ciara hears - and my mom. They might be even worse!”
“We’ll have to get all three together then and leave them to it. They can do all the planning for us,” Kemara said. “I don’t mind really as long as I get to pick out my own dress. I do have some ideas about that.”
He glanced at her. “Just don’t ask me to wear a kilt and you can do whatever you want.”
“Don’t tempt me!” She giggled. “I think you’d look fantastic in a kilt. Have you ever worn one?”
“Years ago when I was still dancing. Boys wore kilts and jackets until the mid-90s or so. I made darn sure my friends at school and soccer never saw a picture.”
“Aww...I’ll have to ask your mom for some old photos of you,” she teased.
“Only if I get to do the same!”
“Of course...my mom was really good at making up albums when I was a kid.”
“Speaking of parents….” He reached over and squeezed her hand. “You said you told yours this morning. How did that go?”
Kemara smiled, a little sadly. “They’re happy and relieved. I think they had given up on me ever finding someone. They got married when they were 22 - as soon as my dad finished college. So I’ve waited really long by their standards.”
“Hey, better late than never! And maybe we’ve outgrown some of foibles of youth.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Foibles? I didn’t think you knew such big words.”
“There are a lot of things about me you don’t know,” he said, only half joking.
She rested a hand on his arm. “And I look forward to learning every single one of them.”
The McCallum house was bustling with activity when they arrived. Ciara and Brad had brought their five children, who ranged in age from three to seven. Uncle Sean was quickly dragged away by many small hands to admire the tree house daddy and grandpa had made them in the back yard. Four-year-old Natalie refused to leave Kemara’s side until she was given the task of setting the children’s table in one corner of the dining room.
“It’s so good to see you!” Megan said when she Kemara and Ciara had settled into the living room.
Kemara smiled. “I’ve missed visiting, but I’ve just been so busy lately! You know I do promotional work for two shelters that my friends run?”
Ciara nodded. “Sean’s mentioned that once or twice.”
“Well, on Friday I finished up a series of pamphlets on human trafficking - signs to look for, who to contact, where to get help - that kinda thing.” She shook her head. “We interviewed some former victims to get quotes, and it was heartbreaking.”
Megan looked concerned. “You poor girl! I hope Sean took you out after all that!”
“Actually, he cooked,” Kemara said, remembering how she had arrived home physically and mentally exhausted to find that Sean - with a great deal of help from Warren - had made fried chicken strips, green beans, mashed potatoes, biscuits and a big pitcher of sweet tea. “He got one of my neighbors to let him in the house, and he had everything ready when I walked in the door.”
She’d stared in amazement, and then - to her horror - burst into tears. Sean had been terrific. He’d led her to the couch until she calmed down. As they ate, he kept up a steady stream of jokes and stories about his nieces and nephews that had her laughing.
“Really?” Ciara looked surprised. “I’m impressed. I didn’t know he knew how to cook!”
Megan snorted. “He’d better!” She glanced surreptitiously at Kemara’s left hand. A flicker of disappointment crossed her face when she saw no ring there, but she hid it quickly.
Kemara noticed the look and smiled inwardly. She’d taken off her ring on the way. Sean had it in his pocket now, waiting for their big reveal at dinner.
“Let’s eat!” Keith called from the kitchen where he had been supervising the roast..
Everyone gathered in the kitchen, and after a blessing, filled their plates. Talk revolved around the children, the concert Kemara and Sean had seen the previous weekend, and Brad’s job as a lineman for the state power company.
“Now, I think the two of you have an announcement to make?” Keith said when there was a lull in the conversation. Ciara shushed the children who watched curiously.
Sean laughed. “I don’t know if we should even bother. I think you’ve got us figured out.”
“Well, go on!” Megan made a beckoning gesture. “Don’t keep us in suspense!”
“OK. OK.” Under the table, Sean passed Kemara her ring, and she slipped it back on. He sighed and looked around the table. “We’re not really sure how to say this, but…We’ve decided not to do the whole ‘boyfriend’ ‘girlfriend’ thing any more.”
Kemara struggled not to laugh. Megan, Brad and Ciara looked stunned. The children had fallen silent, unsure what was going on. Only Keith was still smiling.
She grinned and held up her left hand. “We decided ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ would be much more interesting!”
“I knew it!” Megan shrieked. She rushed around the table to hug and kiss them both. “I knew Sean wouldn’t cook you dinner for no reason.”
Ciara followed her. “Sean, you ass! You nearly gave me a heart attack!” She kissed her brother on the cheek and gave Kemara a hug. “This is so awesome! Let me see your ring.”
Keith and Brad added their congratulations. When everyone was somewhat calmer, Keith asked. “So he cooked you dinner?”
Kemara blushed, unused to being the center of attention. “Yeah, I told Megan and Ciara….On Friday I’d just finished a really emotional writing job that I’d been working on for weeks. So all I wanted was to curl up on the couch with some ice cream. I get home and Sean greets me at the door - he got a neighbor to let him in. He had dinner all ready. Candles and everything.” She beamed at her fiance.
“That’s my boy!” Megan said. “What did you make?”
“Southern food.” He shrugged.
“And sweet tea!” Kemara put in.
Sean laughed. “Yeah, can’t forget the tea. The day we decided we were a couple I took her to this Southern restaurant in Alphabet City.” He grinned at Keith. “So, since I’ve learned from the best, I decided to borrow your tradition.”
“So you didn’t get your ice cream on the couch, but I guess a ring was better,” Ciara said.
“Actually, I got that too!” Kemara smiled. “My neighbor, Andrew, he told Sean about the time I’d been having. So when we got through with dinner, Sean pulled two cartons of Cherry Garcia out of the freezer, and we finished the night on the couch watching….” She turned to Sean. “What did we watch?”
He shook his head. “I have no idea. I was too busy looking at you.”
“Awww….” Ciara sighed.
Kemara and Ciara offered to help with the dishes only to be shooed out of the kitchen by Megan. Keith, Brad and Sean headed into the living room laden with beer and chips to watch football.
“Come on,” Ciara said, linking her arm through Kemara’s. “Have you seen the basement yet?”
Downstairs, Kemara saw that the entire large room had been turned into a dance studio with hardwood floors and one wall of mirrors. Music played softly from a stereo in one corner.
“Wow! This is really nice,” she said as Ciara showed her to some chairs along the back wall.
The other woman shrugged. “Mom and dad had to have it renovated after Sandy, so they figured why not make it into a studio for the kids? They’re over here all the time anyway since we live right down the street.” She gestured to where the youngest children were choreographing a four-hand coached by the fifth, a boy of about seven.
Kemara shook her head. “I don’t know how you manage.”
“I think it’s easier with more of them because they can entertain each other,” Ciara said. ”And we have pretty strict rules. Like here: They can use the studio when grandma and grandpa agree, but they have to stay for a meal or do something else family oriented. They can’t just show up, dance for an hour and then leave without even saying hello.”
“That makes sense,” Kemara said. “My aunts and uncles used to stay at my grandparents’ house over Thanksgiving, make themselves at home and not help at all.”
Ciara glanced at her. “So have you and Sean —.”
“Mommy! Watch us!” Kelly, the youngest child, called as the music started over.
“That’s another rule,” Ciara said quietly. “The music can’t be so loud that it can be heard upstairs. Otherwise no one would be able to think.”
They watched as the four-hand performed accompanied by shouted corrections from their coach. Both women applauded enthusiastically when they finished.
“Very nice!” Ciara said. “You’ll be ready for the oireachtas in no time!”
The children reset the music and continued their “rehearsal.”
Ciara turned back to Kemara. “Have you and Sean talked about kids yet?”
“A little bit.” Kemara smiled. “We know we want kids, but we haven’t gotten more specific than that. It’s funny….I can remember being little and saying I never, ever wanted to get married or have kids. And now, I want both of those things so much. Well, maybe not kids right off,” she amended. “It’s going to be hard enough getting used to living with someone.”
Ciara laughed. “Good luck with that! Brad and I didn’t live together, but only because he was working third shift the whole time we were engaged. We certainly didn’t wait for anything else.” She made a face. “I was a month and a half pregnant when we got married.”
“Did anyone know?” Kemara was a little surprised that her future sister-in-law was being so open, but she had to admit it was refreshing.
“Our families did. And everyone else figured it out pretty quickly once Parker showed up earlier than he should have. I’m sure some people said things, but we didn’t care, and they got over it.”
Kemara sighed. “I don’t know if I could handle that. I’m pretty sensitive about what other people think.”
“Well, when you’ve done grocery shopping by yourself with five kids and three are running around pulling stuff off the shelves, one needs a diaper change and one sits down in the middle of the floor and refuses to move, what other people think will be the last thing on your mind!”
“Oh my!” Kemara snickered at the mental image. “No, probably not!”
Ciara smiled at her. “I wouldn’t worry about it until you need to. Tell me what plans you guys have already made,” she said eagerly. “You know mom and I would love to help!”
“Actually…” As she began to explain, Kemara remembered Violeta’s enthusiasm the day before. It seemed other people were more excited about her wedding than she was. But the past couple of days had been so busy she hadn’t had time to process the new direction her life had taken.
Kemara smiled. She’d gotten excited soon enough. Looking back, she was amazed at how much work a wedding involved. Even though JenniAnn had been joking, she’d taken her friend’s advice and asked Violeta to be their wedding planner. The young angel had done a wonderful job. Thanks to her time in Records she was excellent at organization. With her help, Kemara had been able to focus on other things….like her deepening relationship with Sean and their pre-Cana classes.
She turned a page and saw her copy of their “pre-wedding assessment”. She supposed their classes with Father Mike, while instructive, hadn’t been quite what the Diocese of New York intended.
That Wednesday, they met with Fr. Mike in his office at St. Mary Magdalene's. He laughed when Sean described his family’s reaction to their deception.
“It sounds like you’re very lucky they were such good sports about it!” He reached for some papers on his desk. “OK. While the diocese requires you to take a pre-Cana class, private instruction is allowed.”
Sean sighed. “No workbooks or group classes?”
“Group classes?” Kemara looked panicked.
Fr. Mike shook his head. “Nope. I have some general topics for discussion, and a couple of books I’d like you to read, but no group classes. Although…” He glanced at Kemara. “I do have an idea about bringing in other people.”
“What’s that?” She asked warily. Sean took her hand and squeezed it.
“Well, it’s customary for a married couple to act as mentors for a newly engaged couple during pre-Cana. So you can get answers from someone who’s been there as I, obviously, have not.” Fr. Mike grinned.
Kemara and Sean looked at each other. “I think it’s pretty obvious,” Sean said.
“Yes, Diana and Zeke.” She smiled. “Although I do wish Maryam and Yosef were available.”
Fr. Mike looked pleased. “I could certainly set you up with one of the couples here, but I think Diana and Zeke will be even better. Ideally, you would meet every week with either me or them. But I know with the new baby almost here, the other kids and everyone’s different schedules, that’s highly impractical. So we’ll keep in touch and work things out as we go along.” He shrugged. “I think six months will be plenty of time to cover the big things. And the really important stuff won’t come up until you *are* married.”
Sean laughed. “I know that’s true! My dad told me you don’t know what it’s like to be married until the newness wears off and you get down to the day-to-day, little stuff.”
The priest nodded. “My parents have said the same. And speaking of, Kemara, you mentioned once that your parents built their own house. What did they build it out of?”
“Concrete blocks reinforced with steel rods,” she said. “If there’s a fire, it would take eight hours for it to burn down. About the worst that could happen is a storm ripping off the roof.”
Fr. Mike nodded. “You parents didn’t want to take any chances on losing their home. And if you build your marriage like that house, then it will stand up to fire and storms.”
“A house needs a strong foundation, though,” Sean said, guessing what the priest was getting at.
“Exactly. And that’s communication. Talk to each other….about anything and everything. You’re taking the NFP class, too?”
“Good. NFP isn’t just good for tracking a woman’s cycle or spacing out babies. It’s helps a couple learn to talk about things that might otherwise be embarrassing in another context.”
Both younger people blushed, and he chuckled. “See? I promise - by the time you’re married, comments like that won’t bother you a bit.”
“So, to get started, I have a little test for you both to take.” He gave each of them a booklet and a pencil. “It’s something the diocese requires, but I’ve found it very useful in helping couples see just how much they know about each other.”
He glanced at his watch and stood up, “I’ve got an appointment for a confession in just a few minutes. That should take you close to an hour to finish, so I’ll see you back here then.” He left, closing the door behind him.
There was silence for a few minutes as they worked through the statements marking each as “yes,” “no” or “does not apply.”
“‘There are habits/traits about my future spouse that annoy me,” Sean read aloud. He glanced at Kemara and smirked. “Now, that sounds interesting.”
“You hush!” She shook her head in exasperation. “Some of these questions are so poorly worded you can’t really give a straight yes or no answer.”
He turned the page. “I sometimes feel this might not be the right person for me to marry.” He rolled his eyes. “If I didn’t want to marry you, I wouldn’t have asked!”
“And if I didn’t want to marry you I would’ve said no,” Kemara said. “So that one’s an easy ‘no’.”
They were just finishing the last of the 235 statements when Fr. Mike returned.
“Wasn’t that fun?”
Kemara handed him their booklets. “You’re a very bad man, you know that, Father Mike?”
He laughed and gave the booklets back to her. “Keep these to go over by yourselves. I’m supposed to send them off to be scored, but instead I want you talk honestly about your answers. And more in-depth than just ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘does not apply’.”
Sean groaned. “Homework!”
Kemara stood and took his arm, hauling him up. “Come on! Time to be the center of attention yet again at Bible study.” She smiled at Fr. Mike. “I see what you meant about him getting me out of my shell!”
He patted her back. “Everybody loves a blushing bride. Just think of it as practice for the big day.”
The next evening, they met at Adrian’s and over coffee and scones went over the statements and their answers.
“What’s the next one?” Sean asked setting down their refilled cups.
Kemara leafed through her booklet. “Oh, it’s that one you read out loud: ‘There are habits/traits of my future spouse that annoy me’.”
He quirked an eyebrow. “And your answer is?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Would you care to expand on that?” He took a sip of his drink, watching her closely.
She blushed. “Well, it’s just…”
He reached over the table and cupped her cheek. “Honesty, remember?”
She put her hand over his. “It’s just...Don’t think I want to change you! I don’t; I love your sense of humor and how you can joke around ‘cause that’s just not me.”
He smiled. “I think I hear a ‘but’ coming.”
“I love that part of you, and 99 percent of the time it’s great, but sometimes, I wish you’d wait before you automatically make a joke or a snarky comment.”
She almost expected him to say, “Snark? Me?” But he didn’t.
What he did say was, “Thank you. You’re, uh, not the first person to tell me that, actually. My dad has been on me about it since I was a kid. Every time I’d pop out with something inappropriate, he’d call me on it.”
She gaped. “You’re not angry?”
“Of course not! That’s what this whole thing is for.” He held up his own booklet. “To find out this stuff before we get married and decide we can’t live with it.”
“True. So...what did you answer?”
“I said ‘yes,’ too. Sweetheart, I love that shy, quiet side of you,” He grinned. “And it is just one side because you’re anything but shy when you dance! But…” The smile faded. “I don’t like how you’re always putting yourself down. What you said on Sunday, that I should ‘marry someone more outgoing,’ that hurt.”
Kemara pressed her lips together, fighting back tears. “I’m sorry.”
He rose and came over to her side of the booth. Slipping in beside her, he wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “It’s just I think I’ve got pretty good tastes, and I don’t think I would’ve asked a reprobate to marry me.”
She laughed. “I’ll try to do better, but keep reminding me, please?”
“Of course.” They kissed. “As long as you do the same for me.”
They had managed pretty well, so far. Sean was better about listening before he spoke, and she had learned - was still learning - how to gracefully accept compliments and not disparage herself.
Kemara pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders. The sun was setting and the air chilly, but she wasn’t ready to go in just yet. Warren snuggled closer. She tucked a fold of her blanket around him.
She looked back at the scrapbook, at the photo of her and Sean sprawled in a leaf pile the night they had all met Liam. With it were other pictures from the Halloween bonfire in the Fields of Gold and a very special one taken in Times Square.
Kemara inched a little nearer to Sean. “Compared to some of these people, we’re positively boring,” she whispered glancing at the other occupants of the subway car. She tugged on the skirt of her nurse’s outfit wishing it was just a little bit longer.
“Speak for yourself. I am never boring.” Sean pulled her close, but continued to look around them protectively.
The navy blue of the sailor’s uniform suited him, highlighting his red hair and pale skin. “No, never that.”
He grinned down at her. “Wanna practice some more? I don’t think we’ve got the dip quite right yet.” He made as if to stand.
“Sean!” Laughing, Kemara pulled him back down. “Not here!”
He settled back in the seat, glaring at a man in a clown costume who had gotten a little too close. “Let me see the map again.”
Kemara reached into her purse and handed him several papers. They had spent a couple of hours on Google street view the night before, searching for the proper spot. Sean leafed through the photos until he found the map. “OK. the subway comes up here.” He pointed. “And we need to get here.”
“That’s not far.” Kemara said. “I’m glad it still looks mostly the same.”
The car slowed and Sean helped her to her feet. “Stay close and don’t let go of my hand.”
They came out of the subway entrance into chaos. Kemara gaped. Times Square was packed with people in costume, most of whom were displaying varying amounts of skin. Sean glanced at the map and plunged into the throng, pulling her behind him.
“Sean! It’s too crowded! We’ll never find it!” She yelled. But he didn’t stop.
“Yes, we will! Believe in the power of Google!”
After several pauses and changes of direction, they ducked into a doorway, so Sean could compare the photos they’d printed out with the buildings around them. “That’s it. If we stand there - we should be in pretty much the same spot.”
“Now we just need to find someone to take the picture,” Kemara said studying the vampires and scantily clad Playboy bunnies who passed them. “We should’ve asked Max and Rose or some of the others to come with us.”
Sean gently pushed her deeper into the doorway. “Don’t move. I’ll be right back.” He darted out into the street, stopping next to two younger women. Kemara had no idea who or what they were supposed to be. She watched in astonishment as he chatted with them, gesturing at the photo he held and led them back towards her.
“Kemara this is Mindy and Barb. They’re going to help us out.”
“Oh, you look so old-fashioned!” Mindy squealed when she saw Kemara’s costume. “I love that little hat.”
Reminded, Kemara patted at her hair, making sure no strands had escaped from her bun and that the nurse’s cap was firmly pinned. She opened the black leather purse she carried and touched up her red lipstick.
“Perfect,” Sean said approvingly. He led them through the revelers - was it a parade or a street party? - to a certain point, once again consulting the map. “OK. This is the place.”
Kemara gave the cheap camera she’d brought - in case of thieves - to Barb. “And here’s the original picture. So you can make sure we look the same.”
She and Sean got into position, trying to ignore the interested onlookers who were beginning to gather behind the two girls.
“Over to the right a little,” Mindy said. “That’s good. Oh, this is so cool!”
“On the count of three,” Barb called. “One - two - three!”
Sean leaned in and with his left arm behind Kemara’s head and his right hand on her waist, gave her a thorough kiss to the accompaniment of whoops and cheers from the watchers.
“They’d better hurry up or my back’s gonna go out,” Sean muttered. Kemara shook with laughter.
“OK. I think I got it,” Barb said at last.
With a last brushing kiss, Sean and Kemara straightened up. Barb showed them the preview of the photo beside the printout.
“When was that taken?” someone asked. “I know I’ve seen it in some movie.”
“It’s pretty famous,” Kemara said, marveling at the similarities. “It was taken the day Japan surrendered after World War II. This sailor was running down the street, saw the nurse and kissed her.”
Mindy looked shocked. “Just grabbed her? I’d have slapped his face!”
“Maybe she did,” Kemara said. She raised a hand to Sean’s cheek, but he captured it, laughing.
“But you won’t. Come on; we’ve got a bonfire to get to!”
Thanking their new friends, they headed back toward to subway entrance.
“It never ceases of amaze me what a people person you are,” Kemara said, using a tissue to wipe the remains of her lipstick off his mouth.
He kissed the top of her head. “I thought you did fine. Maybe I’ll rub off on you. Eventually.”
“In about twenty years or so.”
They’d returned to Dyeland in plenty of time for the party. Kemara studied the group photo with all their friends - family really - old and new: Andrew and JenniAnn “gone country”, Shelby and Belle as Elsa and Anna from Frozen, and with them Liam as Olaf, Ivy and Violeta giggling as Glinda and Elphaba, the other AODs as rock trolls, little Jacob as Vincent Van Gogh, Diana with her hugely pregnant belly was the sun escorted by Zeke as adoring Neil deGrasse Tyson and their children.
Even at four months old, Manny was still the center around which the Wilson household revolved. Another photo slipped out of the book and fluttered to the floor. Picking it up, Kemara saw it was one taken when she and Sean had visited a couple of weeks after the boy’s birth. She sat on the couch with Sean beside her and Manny in her arms.
“I love what you picked out,” Kemara said peeking for the hundredth time into the gift bag on her lap. “It’s so cute!”
Sean batted her hand away. “Will you quit! It’ll be mangled before we even get there!”
She put her hand in her lap and sighed.
She looked startled. “What makes you think something’s wrong?”
“You fidget when you’re nervous.” He gave her a quick glance. “Although, I don’t know what you’ve got to be nervous about. It’s just Zeke and Diana. And Manny. Zeke said the kids won’t be home until later.”
Kemara fiddled with the ribbon on the gift bag. “I’ve never been around babies much - I mean, besides Belle, and she’s older now. I have younger cousins but they’re close to my age, and I don’t remember when they were born.”
Sean grinned. “Afraid of getting peed on?”
“No. It’s just weird. I never thought I’d have kids or be around them. I didn’t even babysit when I was a teenager,” she said. “Well, I did, but the girl was about eight. Little kids I do OK with once I know them.”
“Huh. I can’t imagine. I was five when Ciara was born, so I helped mom with her a good bit. And now she and Brad have all their little monsters.”
“Whom you’re teaching to be rascals just like their uncle,” Kemara teased.
“Of course! That’s an uncle’s job.” He thought for a minute. “I’ve got an idea…”
Kemara eyed him. “Every time you say, ‘I’ve got an idea,’ it usually means we’re going to do something I’m not used to.”
“And you’ve enjoyed yourself every time; admit it.” Sean turned onto the Wilsons’ street.
“Okay, so what’s your idea?” Kemara checked the gift bag again.
They pulled into the driveway, and Sean switched off the engine. “We’ll offer to babysit Manny.”
She gaped at him. “Are you crazy? Diana and Zeke will never go for that! He’s too little! Sure, Andrew and JenniAnn left Belle with Joshua and her parents, but that’s different.”
“Sure they will. Not right now, but maybe sometime in December...just for a few hours. Give ‘em time to go out to dinner or Christmas shopping.” He took the gift bag from her. “I’d better hold on to this.”
She got out of the car. “I still think you’re nuts and they’ll say no.”
“Wanna bet?” He looked like a little boy himself as he waited for her answer.
“What’s the penalty?”
He thought for a minute. “Loser has to change all Manny’s diapers when we babysit.”
Zeke opened the door for them. “Welcome! We saw you drive up. Looked like a pretty serious discussion you two were having.”
“No, just a little wager,” Sean said as Zeke led them into the living room.
Diana sat on the couch nursing the baby. She lifted him to her shoulder as they came in. “Hey guys! You’ve got perfect timing. Manny just finished eating so he should be ready for a nap soon.”
“He sure likes to eat,” Zeke said. “It’s a good thing he’s OK with taking a bottle too, otherwise mama wouldn’t get any sleep at all.”
Diana patted the cushion beside her. “Kemara, why don’t you sit here and hold him?”
Sean and Zeke exchanged amused glances as Kemara gingerly took the offered seat. “I dunno.” She smiled nervously. “You’re sure I won’t break him?”
They all laughed. “Come on! You held Belle when she was younger than this! I doubt you can do much damage just sitting still,” Sean joked coming to sit on Diana’s other side. “He looks pretty solid, don’t you, buddy?” He reached out a finger and the baby’s hand closed around it. “Yeah, you are strong; that’s quite a grip!”
Diana passed Manny to Kemara. “He’s beautiful,” she said, gazing down at the baby. “Zeke, I think he has your nose.”
“Yeah, he’s going to be the spitting image of his daddy.” Diana smiled proudly at her husband.
Sean reached for the gift bag he had set down. “And we have something that should help with that,” he said, handing it to her.
“Well, thank you!” Diana removed the tissue paper and unwrapped a white onesie with reindeer and a red bow tie.
“Sean thought Manny ought to join the guys Ugly Christmas Sweater tradition this year,” Kemara explained. “We got it bigger so hopefully it will still fit when the time comes.”
Zeke held the outfit up, laughing. “I love it! Little Man’s gonna look sharp. Thank you both!”
Diana hugged them. “Yes, it’s a great idea.” She sighed. “Christmas will be so wonderful this year with Manny. But I can’t help wishing -.” She trailed off and Zeke squeezed her hand.
“That Joshua might be here?” Kemara said. “Me too. And Sean didn’t know about him before.”
Sean nodded. “I want to thank him for the bodhran. I mean, I have already, but to be able to do it in person would be amazing.”
“Maybe he’ll show up,” Zeke said. “But even if he doesn’t, it will be a very special Christmas with all our new friends and this little guy and your engagement. We have a lot to celebrate.”
Kemara cuddled Manny closer, surprised at the surge of longing she felt for her a child of her own to hold this way. “Umm...Sean and I wanted to ask….if we could babysit when Manny’s a little older? Kinda as practice? I’ve held Belle and fed her of course, so I know a little bit.” She wasn’t sure now if she wanted them to say yes or no.
“I helped my mom with my little sister, so I remember the basics,” Sean put in.
Diana and Zeke looked at each other. Zeke shrugged. “I don’t see why not.”
“It’s a good idea,” Diana agreed. “We’d be in touch by cell phone and with the portals and the Tunnels, we’d be able to get back here pretty quickly if something happened.”
Sean caught sight of the look on Kemara’s face and began to laugh.
“What’s so funny?” Zeke looked from one to the other.
Kemara shook her head, disgusted. “That was our wager - would you let us babysit. So now I have to change all Manny’s diapers.”
Diana laughed. “It’s not that bad, I promise.” She sniffed. “Actually, I think we can get in a lesson right now. Sean, do you need a refresher course?”
“Nah, I think I remember how it goes.”
“Wait,” Zeke said reaching for his phone on the coffee table. “Let me get a photo of the three of you. Sean, come sit on Kemara’s other side.” Quickly, he took a couple of shots. “Perfect!”
“OK. Diaper time,” Diana said standing up. “You can carry him. Put him up against your shoulder.” She demonstrated.
“He’s heavier than I thought I’d be!” Kemara said standing up very carefully. She followed Diana down the hall to the bedroom.
Under Diana’s direction, Kemara soon had Manny’s diaper changed. “Messier than cleaning my cat’s litter box, but not that bad,” she said as they settled the baby into his crib for a nap.
“Come on,” Diana whispered leading her from the room. “Let’s get a cup of tea and talk.”
“So how are things going with you two?” Diana asked once they were seated at the kitchen table with tea and some shortbread cookies. “I’m sorry we haven’t been able to talk more, but - “
“Oh, no it’s fine! We know you guys have your hands full right now. And things with Sean are great.” Kemara hesitated. “And I guess that’s a good thing.”
Diana looked puzzled. “Why would you think think it isn’t?”
“Well….we don’t fight,” She flushed. “That sounds stupid, but we haven’t. We’ve gotten irritated with each other...and that’s usually Sean being irritated at me ‘cause I’m not comfortable doing something. But we haven’t had a huge blowup yet.”
“Maybe you just haven’t been in a situation that would lead to an argument,” the other woman suggested.
“But that’s just it!” Kemara burst out. “What if there’s some huge issue that we feel totally opposite about but we don’t know it yet?” She sighed. “I understand about not living together, and we won’t, but sometimes I think it would be so much easier to figure out this stuff before we got married instead of after.”
Diana nodded. “Maybe. But what about Kylie? Do you think she could’ve known before their wedding how Jett would end up treating her?”
Kemara shrugged. “I dunno. There might’ve been something.”
“I’m thinking no, even if they did live together,” Diana said. “If you’re simply living together, the idea that you can leave will always be in the back of your mind. You won’t be as motivated to work out your problems because you can just walk away from them.”
Kemara thought for a minute. “That makes sense. But what about Andrew and JenniAnn? Or Monica and Arthur? They’re not married.”
“Not the way we think of it, no,” Diana agreed. “But I think they are in Joshua’s eyes. He did bless them after all. Zeke and I feel they’re part of something new and different. Or something so ancient it’s nearly been forgotten.”
“Makes sense,” Kemara said. “And I’ve never seen Andrew and JenniAnn argue.” She shook her head. “I can’t even imagine!”
Diana smiled. “I”m sure they have, but they’ve just been careful not to do it where anyone else can hear. And yes, you and Sean will find something to fight about eventually. If you learn what that is after you’re married, then you’ll work through it.” She reached across the table and patted Kemara’s hand. “Zeke and I will always be glad to help if you need it.”
Kemars sniffed. “Thanks, Diana.”
“I thought we heard to you ladies in here,” Zeke said as he and Sean came into the kitchen. “What’ve you been up to?”
Diana smiled as he leaned down and kissed her cheek. “Just girl talk.”
“I hate to break up the party,” Sean said. “But we need to get on back if we’re going to be at the pub on time.”
Kemara started to get up, but Zeke motioned for her to stay. “Why don’t we pray before you head out then?”
“Dear Lord... Joshua... we thank You for this time to visit and, though our time was brief, we hope You will use it to draw Kemara and Sean closer together as they continue their journey towards marriage. Diana and I continue to thank You for bringing them and all our friends into our lives. We ask for Your strength and wisdom in the months ahead. As for tonight... we know You’ll be smiling down on them during their dances and ask that you use that time, too, to strengthen their love for each other and for You.”
As they drove back to Manhattan, Kemara’s phone chimed. “A text from Violeta,” she said reading it. “She says she’s found the perfect wedding invitations - Celtic knot and all. Isn’t it early to be looking at those?”
“One less thing to worry about when the time gets closer,” Sean said. “As long as she doesn’t go too overboard with the Irish theme. I refuse to get married surrounded by leprechauns!”
Kemara shook her head. “I already told her we want things simple and elegant. Monica offered to lend a hand too, so I think she’ll keep Violeta in check.” She smiled. “I do appreciate all her hard work though. You know those thank you notes we’re doing in Bible study? I think I’m going to write mine to her.”
Sean looked thoughtful. “That’s a good idea. And mine’s going to be to Zeke and Diana. I’ve enjoyed getting to know them better these past few weeks.”
Not only had they written those letters, they’d also composed a joint one to Joshua. Kemara had left it in his room at Willowveil on Thanksgiving Day along with a copy of their engagement photo. When she had checked later - feeling a bit like a child peeking to see if Santa had come - the envelope was gone.
Her parents, David and Joyce, joined them for Thanksgiving and spent the entire visit in a daze. New York City was so different from what they were used to, that the revelation about Dyeland hardly seemed to register. Her dad and Andrew worked on furniture, while Kemara, her mother and Violeta spent hours online and with catalogs making wedding plans. They went sightseeing and shopping. Sean and Kemara had insisted on cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the four of them.
Kemara sighed, remembering. The visit had gone so well, until she had told her mother about their plans to babysit sometime in December.
“Kemara, Sean, we’ll see you on Saturday, right?” Zeke asked as they all prepared to leave Willowveil after Bible study.
“We’ll be there!” Sean promised as Kemara nodded.
Diana smiled at them. “We’ll make sure Manny’s on his best behavior,” she said, wrapping the little boy in a blanket against the cold wind outside.
“If you need help, you can give me a call,” Emma said. “I babysat for Zoe from the time she was younger than Manny.”
Kemara shivered. “I’m just praying nothing will go wrong.”
“It won’t,” Sean kissed her forehead. “Stop being a worrywort.”
Zeke grinned. “You’ll do great. Little Man’s no trouble at all.”
“I think he’s the most laid back of all our kids.” Diana agreed. “He sleeps better than any of them did at this age. And we’ll leave you our phone numbers.”
“I know you’re right,” Kemara said. She frowned. “It’s just…..I told my mom about it when they were here for Thanksgiving. She said it was a crazy idea since I have no experience with babies at all. And she said what kind of help did I expect Sean to be?”
Sean grimaced. “Her dad and I weren’t in the room, but we heard them at it.”
Kemara blushed. “We just rub each other the wrong way...I got mad.”
“Well, I liked what you told her,” Sean said. “She deserved it.”
Diana and Zeke exchanged glances. “And what was that,” Diana asked.
“I wanted to know how she expected me to get experience,” Kemara said, her voice rising. “And I asked her what she did when I showed up three months early!"
“What did she say?” Rose asked. She and Max had come in while the others had been talking.
Kemara shrugged. “Nothing really. She mumbled something about the nurses in NICU explaining things, and then changed the subject.”
Diana handed Manny to Zeke and came over to hug Kemara. “Well, I can tell you that everyone has to learn. Joshua doesn’t just automatically gift you with the knowledge when you have a child.”
JenniAnn laughed. “Now that would’ve been nice!” She turned to Andrew who was carrying a sleeping Belle. “Why didn’t we think to ask him?”
Andrew grinned. “He would’ve just laughed and said that if his own Ama and Abi had to muddle through, so do the rest of us.”
“OK, I think that’s everything,” Diana said Saturday morning as she and Zeke got ready to leave. “Manny’s been fed and put down for his nap. I’ve left instructions with his bottles, but he’ll probably only eat once before we get back.”
Zeke waved toward the kitchen. “Feel free to raid the pantry if you want.”
“Thanks,” Sean said. “We’ll try not to eat you out of house and home.”
Diana rolled her eyes. “Oh, the older three already do that; and Little Man is trying his best to catch up with them.” She tugged on Zeke’s sleeve. “Come on! I want to be there when they open!”
“Where are you going?” Kemara asked, smiling at their antics.
“Shopping!” Zeke pretended to pout. ”Several local churches go in together and set up a Christmas bazaar the weekend after Thanksgiving every year. Someone donates an empty warehouse for them to use so it’s miles of walking.”
“Ha!” Diana shot her husband a look. “You park yourself near the food, and I do all the walking!” She grinned. “I can get most of our presents in one trip, so it’s worth the trek.”
Zeke brightened. “Hey! I wonder if the lady with the fried apple pies will be there this year? Those were there best. And then there’s the men’s club with the barbecue plates….” Still talking, he headed out the door.
Diana gave them a wave and followed him out.
When their car had left, Kemara and Sean stared at each other.
“Now what?” Sean asked. She was surprised to see that, despite all his reassurances, he sounded a little uneasy.
Kemara looked around. “Ummm...maybe we’d better check on Manny.”
Sean pointed to the baby monitor which sat on the coffee table. “We’ll hear him if he wakes up. Zeke said they have Netflix. We can watch a movie.”
“OK. But let’s check anyway.” Kemara took his hand and led him down the hall to the master bedroom. The baby’s crib was in one corner. For a few minutes, they stood and watched him.
“He’s cute, isn’t he?” Kemara whispered.
Sean wrapped his arms around her and she leaned back against him. “Yep. He looks a lot like Zeke.”
“I think he looks exactly like Diana!” She frowned. “Doesn’t he need a blanket?”
“He’s fine. Ciara said you don’t want to cover them up too much.” Sean said. When Kemara twisted to look at him, he shrugged. “I asked her advice. It’s been a long time since she was a baby and I had to look after her.”
Kemara grinned. “Awww...I bet that was cute!” She turned back to the crib. “I’m glad you know what you’re doing, cause I don’t have a clue.”
“Hush! I forbid any bad thoughts today.”
“Oh, you do?” She gave him a gentle shove.
He looked smug. “Uh-huh. You have to promise to love, honor and most of all obey, remember?”
Her head rared back. “If you’re thinking I’m gonna obey, you’re marrying the wrong person! And besides….you have to promise the same things, so there!”
“Sure! Of course...it depends on what you’re asking me to do….”
He waggled his eyebrows, and she clapped a hand over her mouth to keep from laughing out loud and waking Manny.
“Come on - movie time!” Sean hurried her - still giggling - back into the kitchen. They found a couple of sodas and some chips before settling on the couch.
Kemara snagged the remote before Sean could grab it, and began scrolling through the movie offerings. “Horror, Action, Drama, Comedy….”
“Go back!” Sean said. “Princess Bride!”
“Oooh, yeah!” She put the remote down.
The Grandfather began to read about Westley and Buttercup.
“See, that’s what ‘obey’ looks like,” Kemara teased as the farm boy uncomplainingly did everything his younger employer demanded.
“So you want me walking around saying, ‘as you wish,’ all the time?”
“Depends on what -.” She broke off as the sound of a baby’s whimper came through the monitor. “Sounds like Little Man is awake.”
The noises grew louder. “You gonna go or you want me to?” Sean asked.
“I’ll go.” Kemara made a face. “I’m the one who has to change diapers after all.”
He paused the movie. “Okay. Yell if he’s turning blue.”
“Ha, ha. Just you wait, mister. When we have kids you’re on permanent diaper duty!”
Manny was flushed and wailing when she took him from his crib.
“Hush....I’ll get you cleaned up in a minute, buddy.” She changed the soiled diaper, and the baby quieted. “See? All better. Wanna come hang out with us for a while?”
When they returned to the living room, Sean was grinning. “A smelly job, but somebody’s gotta do it.”
Kemara scowled at the baby monitor. “I should’ve turned that thing off.”
“Nah, it was cute.” He held out his arms. “Let me take him.”
Kemara passed the baby to him and smiled. “You two are quite a contrast.” She picked up her phone and quickly snapped a picture.
He looked at it and laughed. “Woah...dark and light. Kinda cool.” He nodded at the TV. “Now, let’s introduce Manny to one of the greatest movies of all time.”
Buttercup and Westley part, and she is devastated by news of his death. She agrees to marry Prince Humperdink - “What kind of a name is that?” Kemara muttered - but takes long rides on her horse whenever she can.
During one such ride she is waylaid by three bizarre travelers who knock her out.
“Hey,” Sean asked as the giant caught the unconscious girl. “Isn’t that the Vulcan Nerve -?” He froze and looked down at the baby. Quickly, he stood up and held the bundle away from him. Manny’s blanket and Sean’s shirt were both soaked. “What the-?”
Kemara couldn’t help it; she laughed so hard her ribs ached.
Sean scowled at her. “This is your fault!” He tried to find a way to hold the baby that would keep both of them from getting wetter, but it was no use. The little boy was whimpering, uncomfortable in his sodden wrappings.
“The look on your face!” With an effort, Kemara made herself stop laughing and followed Sean back to the bedroom where he quickly put Manny down onto the changing table. “I know I put his diaper on right,” she said. “It’s not like it’s that complicated.”
“Well, I don’t think they leak like that,” He tossed the stained blankets into the nearby hamper and unfastened the dripping diaper. He started to chuckle himself.
Kemara was startled. “What is it?”
“I think Diana forgot to show you something,” Sean said. He wiped the baby off and readied a clean diaper. “See? Point it down or else….”
She blushed dark red. “I never even thought about that! And I guess Diana didn’t say anything because she’s so used to it.”
He settled Manny in his crib. “Well, now you know.” He plucked his wet T-shirt away from his chest. “Think Zeke would mind if I borrowed one of his shirts?”
“Let me text them and ask,” Kemara said.
Sean rolled his eyes. “I guess you’d better.”
She quickly sent the text and the phone beeped a minute later. She read the message and laughed. “He says, ‘Sure! My shirts are on the left side of the closet. Let me guess...you forgot to point the business end down. I did the same thing with Sy. Learned my lesson.”
“Tell him you did it, not me,” Sean said, pulling out a Yankees’ T-shirt.
He stripped off his own shirt, and Kemara caught her breath. She told herself not to stare, but before she could turn away, Sean’s eyes locked with hers in the mirror. Not dropping his gaze he reached for the hand wipes and ran one over his chest.
Kemara forced herself to look away, blushing again. “Sorry….I’ll - I’ll tell him.” She tapped in a reply with shaking fingers.
“What should I do with this?” he wondered picking up the soiled garment and holding it at arm’s length between finger and thumb.
“I bet Diana has some plastic bags in in the kitchen. I’ll go look.” Kemara hurried out of the room, glad to get away.
She’d never been so embarrassed, not even during their Natural Family Planning classes where they were learning how to chart her body’s cycle. At least she and Sean had been able to discuss temperatures and physical symptoms - like PMS - from a scientific point of view
Since their engagement, they had been very careful about each other’s personal space, not wanting to push any boundaries. They only hugged and exchanged light kisses. But now she wondered if even that was too much.
Should she say something? Just act as if that shared glance had never happened?
She found a stash of plastic grocery bags in the pantry just as Sean walked in. “Here you go.”
“Thanks.” He dropped the shirt into it and washed his hands. He turned from the sink, and put his arms around her. “You know, I think that in there was a very good thing.”
She buried her face in his shoulder, unable to look at him. “Really?”
He put a finger under her chin and raised it. “Uh-huh. We’re engaged. If we didn’t feel that way, I’d be worried. No, it’s not the only reason we’re getting married, but it’s one of them, right?”
“Definitely!” She smiled, reassured. “But I thought -.”
They were interrupted by a squawk from the baby monitor.
Sean pulled away. “I bet he’s hungry. If you’ll go get him, I’ll make up a bottle.”
The little boy was wailing by the time Kemara carried him into the living room. “Poor little guy! We’ve kept you in tears since we got here, haven’t we?”
“OK. Here we go!” Sean sat beside them on the couch. He gave Kemara the bottle. “Raise his head up a little more...that’s right.”
She smiled as the baby latched onto the nipple eagerly. “So hungry!”
Sean watched them. “When I was born, the doctor said to feed me four ounces every four hours. I cried all the time and didn’t sleep much so neither did Mom and Dad. One day, Mom left me at home with dad while she did some shopping. When she came back, I was sound asleep. She asked him, ‘What did you do?’ Dad said, ‘I fed him, and when he seemed like he was still hungry I gave him another bottle’.”
Kemara laughed. “So she was doing exactly what the doctor said, but you were starving!”
“She says I haven’t stopped eating since,” Sean grinned. “What about you? Any funny stories?”
She thought for a minute. “Not from when I was a baby…” She smiled. “Except for the the one about how I was jaundiced and had to be put under those lights?”
Sean nodded. “Yeah, they did that for one of Ciara’s kids.”
“Well, it gave me a really dark tan. Mom had some complications, so it was a day or so before she could get to NICU to see me. When she did, she thought they’d given her the wrong baby!” She laughed. “Plus, I was hairy like some preemies are so I looked like a monkey.”
“Monkey,” Sean chuckled. “Is that your nickname?”
“Sometimes. Later, I was always climbing the cabinets so it stuck.” In her arms, Manny turned his head away from the bottle. “I think he’s full. Do I need to burp him now?”
Sean passed her a hand towel. “Yeah, put that over your shoulder cause he’ll probably spit up some milk when you do it.”
Kemara lifted the baby to her shoulder and patted his back. Manny let out an awful noise and she froze.
Sean got up and walked around the couch. “Umm….”
“Was that supposed to happen?”
“Is it in my hair?”
“Doesn’t look like it.” He took Manny from her and used a clean corner of the towel to wipe the child’s mouth. “Why don’t you go hop in the shower? I’ll lay him down, and let Diana know you need to borrow a shirt.”
Kemara stood up gingerly. “I’m sure this will be funny later, but right now I can’t see it.” She stretched up and kissed Sean’s cheek. “Thanks for not laughing, even when I laughed at you.”
He wrinkled his nose. “That was just smelly, this is…”
“Yuck.” She shuddered.
“Totally. Go on. I’ll call Diana.”
As she left the room, she heard him say, “Diana? Hey, sorry to bother you guys again, but Manny spit up all down the back of Kemara’s shirt and…”
Ten minutes later, Kemara returned to the living room with her wet hair in a braid and wearing one of Diana’s school T-shirts.
“Feeling better?” Sean passed her a bowl of popcorn as she sat down beside him.
“Very much so. What did Diana say?”
He picked up the remote and restarted the movie. “She said they should’ve mentioned that you have to burp Manny every couple of minutes or so since he eats fast. If you don’t….”
Kemara rolled her eyes. “Now they tell us!”
Onscreen, the Man in Black chases after the kidnappers.
“I’d love to see how they filmed all this,” Sean mumbled through a mouthful of popcorn. “...’s really good.”
Kemara made a face. “Didn’t Megan teach you not to do that?”
He swallowed, looking a little hurt. “Hey! In my family if you don’t talk with your mouth full, you don’t get a word in edgewise!”
She remembered meals at the McCallum dinner table where Sean’s nieces and nephews had been in attendance. “Good point.”
The two parties reach the Cliffs of Insanity and begin to climb.
“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means!” Kemara and Sean chorused along with the giant.
The baby monitor whined, and they looked at each other.
Kemara shook her head. “He’s been fed and changed. I guess he might need changing again…”
The whining escalated to full on sobs. “Isn’t there something about letting them cry it out?” Sean asked, trying to look nonchalant.
“Well, I can’t listen to him like that,” Kemara said jumping up. “Let’s go see. Maybe he’s just lonesome, and we can keep him in here with us until Mommy and Daddy get back.”
They found Manny dry and unharmed, but fretful.
“Manny! Look here!” Sean found a stuffed rabbit on a nearby chair and waved it enticingly, but the baby turned away, still crying.
Kemara scooped him out of the crib. “Come on, little man, let’s go sing some songs. I bet you like that, don’t you? I bet Mommy and Daddy sing to you all the time.”
“And Sy too,” Sean commented. “I think he’s going to sound a lot like Zeke.”
The trio settled on the couch, and Sean muted “Princess Bride.” For a moment, the baby’s attention was caught by the action on screen, but soon enough he started to squirm again.
“I don’t really know any lullabies, but sometimes singing this one makes me sleepy,” Kemara said. “Slumber my pretty prince, sleep….Birds now are resting and sheep….Silent are garden and tree….Hushed is the hum of the bee….Slumber my pretty prince sleep….”
The little boy quieted and his eyelids drooped.
“I think that did the trick,” Sean whispered.
Kemara let the song taper off, but as soon as she did, Manny’s eyes opened and his face screwed up in protest.
“Maybe not.” Sean held out his arms. “Let me try.” He began to sing. “In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight…”
Kemara hummed along and leaned her head on Sean’s shoulder. “You’ll have to sing this to our kids.”
Sean smiled but kept singing.
She felt her own eyes drifting shut as his voice lulled both her and the baby.
A noise startled her awake. Diana and Zeke stood in the open doorway holding several shopping bags each.
“Sorry,” Diana whispered coming over. “We were trying to be quiet.”
“I guess we fell asleep…” Kemara struggled to rouse herself. She had been dreaming of Joshua. He held two small bundles in his arms and offered them to her and Sean….
“All three of you were out cold,” Zeke grinned. “I was holding my phone so I got a couple of pictures. Hope you don’t mind.”
Kemara shook her head. “I bet we looked funny.”
“No,” Diana assured her. “It was very sweet.”
Sean began to stir, and Zeke took the still sleeping Manny from him. “It sounds like two had an eventful time.”
“I’m so sorry,” Diana began. “I never even thought -.”
“It was fine,” Sean ran a hand through his hair. “Even with all the changing clothes - thanks for that by the way - I think we had fun.” He looked over at Kemara and raised his eyebrows.
“Definately. Manny was a little angel. All the screw-ups were ours. And I feel much more prepared for when we have kids, that’s for sure!”
Diana laughed. “I’ll remind you of that when the time comes,” she warned.
The sun had long since set, and the moon was beginning its rise over the edge of the ocean. Kemara shivered and decided she really ought to go in. She hoisted Warren to her shoulder and carried both him and the scrapbook inside. For the next few minutes she busied herself with poking up the fire and making a pot of tea.
At last curled up on the couch with the kitten stretched out on the opposite end, she opened the book to her favorite pages. Photos covered every inch of space, and an envelope held several sheets of handwritten journaling. She wanted to remember every moment of that wonderful week when Joshua had returned to them.
"Even with my live feed down, I bet I know who that is."
Grinning, Kemara nodded. "Sean….Can I...?"
"Of course!" Joshua motioned for the others to step into the ballroom to give her some privacy.
“Sean! Where are you?” Kemara clutched her phone so tightly she heard it creak.
“Hey, I’m on the subway, almost to the theater.” The connection was filled with static, and she could barely hear him. “I saw where you tried to call. Is everything okay? You do still want me to stay the whole week, right?”
She rolled her eyes, shifting from foot to foot with impatience. “Of course! Listen - Joshua is here!”
For a moment there was only crackling white noise. Had they gotten cut off?
“What? You mean -”
“He’s at Willowveil, right now! JenniAnn texted everyone...that’s when I tried to call, but I guess the subway was blocking it.”
“Re-...Really? That’s great…” Sean sounded dazed.
“He’ll be here until Christmas - his birthday.” Kemara fought back tears. “So you can talk to him.”
“I just...wow….My stop’s coming up. I’ll be there as soon as I can. Love you!”
“Love you, too!”
When Portia and Sean arrived to join the growing throng, Kemara hung back in the ballroom doorway, knowing that her fiancé needed this first meeting with Joshua to be as private as possible. She smiled at how Sean’s normal self-confidence was replaced with stammering.
Kemara glimpsed Sean’s face before he pulled Joshua into a hug and saw that her man was close to tears. Joshua spoke quietly, and her own eyes grew wet. He would know of course, how much Sean hated to be seen crying in public.
She felt a gentle hand on her shoulder and turned to see Maryam peering out into the foyer. “It is something to see, yes?”
Kemara nodded and jerked her gaze back to the Carpenter. “He’s amazing.” She started and pulled her phone from her pocket. “I should get a picture of them together!”
Maryam gave her shoulder another squeeze and went back to the buffet table where Yosef had discovered the pancake syrup.
Kemara took several photos, before Sean noticed her watching.
Joshua smiled over at her, and she hurried to join them. He clasped their hands together. "This is good," he declared.
Teary-eyed but smiling, Kemara looked back and forth between the two men she loved best.
With a silent nod, Sean agreed with Joshua's assessment.
"Go fix yourselves up a plate and, please, do me a favor?" Joshua requested.
"Anything," Kemara vowed.
"Make sure Abi's not drowning anything in syrup."
The joke putting him further at ease, Sean laughed. "We'll do that."
After breakfast, Kemara and Sean headed over to her house for her crock pot.
“Where’s your luggage? Did you bring your skis?”
Sean laughed. “Those would be fun on the subway! Nah...We rent skis when we get up to the lodge. And I left my bag in the theater’s office. I’ll get it later.”
“Well, I don’t know where everybody’s sleeping, but I’m sure Andrew and JenniAnn will figure it all out.” She giggled. “It’s Christmastime and everybody’s coming to Dyeland to see Jesus and his family.”
“History really does repeat itself, I guess,” Sean agreed. “Except this time there’s plenty of room at the inn.”
Kemara nodded. “Yep! No one has to sleep in the barn unless they want to.”
They looked at each other and laughed. “Violeta!”
Sean squeezed her hand. “So are you ready to learn how to ski? Hunter’s Mountain is supposed to have plenty of real snow beside the artificial stuff by next week.”
“A little nervous, but my daredevil side is excited.”
“You don’t have a daredevil side,” he scoffed.
“Oh yes I do! I’d love to go skydiving.”
He stopped walking and stared at her. “Seriously?”
“Why’s that so surprising?” she asked, one eyebrow raised.
“I dunno...I just never figured you for an adrenaline junkie.” He shook his head. “Learn something new every day.”
Kemara tugged at his hand to get him walking again. “Come on...Maybe we can go skydiving for our first anniversary?”
“Don’t push your luck.”
On the way back to Willowveil, she brought up the subject they had both been pointedly not talking about.
“It’s great to see Joshua again, isn’t it?” She blushed. “When I got here, I just ran right to him and ignored everyone else. “
“Yeah.” His normally cheerful expression grew serious. “It’s funny, looking back, I don’t know why I didn’t realize who he really was. I mean, I knew there was something - different - about him. But talking to him today, even for just a few minutes…..”
Kemara nodded. “It’s almost overwhelming being in the same room with him. In a good way!” she hurried to add.
They approached the castle, but Sean led her to the gazebo. “I left my bodhran at St. Genesius. Maybe Joshua will have a little time before everyone gets back?”
His eager expression reminded her of a little boy who was looking forward to a day at Disney World. “I’m sure he will.” She glanced at her phone. “It’s only 9, so you’ve got half an hour.” She took the crock pot from him. “Go get your wee drum, and I’ll take this inside.”
She dropped off the appliance in the kitchen and and met Sean in the foyer. “JenniAnn said Joshua just went up to his room.”
“Walk up with me?” He held out his free hand to her and together they climbed the stairs to the third floor.
The door to Joshua’s room was open. He sat in the window seat, tuning his guitar.
“Kemara and Sean! Welcome! Make yourselves comfortable.” He gestured to a couple of extra chairs.
Sean took one, but Kemara shook her head. “I’m not staying. I just wanted to chaperone Sean and his ‘girl’ up here safely.”
Joshua grinned and nodded at the bodhran. “So, how do you like her?”
“She’s fantastic!” Sean ran a hand over the Celtic cross painted on the goat skin. “I still haven’t figured out all her quirks yet, but we’re getting along pretty well.”
Kemara rolled her eyes. “I’d be jealous if I thought it would make a darn bit of difference.” She kissed his cheek and then Joshua’s. “I’ll leave you boys to your music making.”
As she started back downstairs, she heard Joshua say, “Anything in particular you want to work on?”
Father Mike passed her on the landing, tin whistle in hand. “Ah, it sounds like they’ve started without me,” he said as the sounds of guitar and drum drifted down from above.
“I think Sean was a bit impatient,” Kemara laughed. “He’s been waiting since May for this.”
‘I don’t blame him a bit!” Fr. Mike said. “I’d better get on up there.” With a wave, he continued up the steps.
In the kitchen, Diana and Portia were putting away the food contributions as they arrived.
“Everything good?” Portia wondered, gesturing upward. “We’ve been trying to figure out what they’re playing.”
“Very good,” Kemara said shifting two crock pots already on the counter to make room for the one Peter had just brought in.”Sean’s thrilled. He doesn’t have much time to play with other people - and with a bodhran you need other musicians - and to be able to do that with Joshua…”
Diana smiled. “I remember the feeling.”
“Yeah,” Peter nodded. “You walk around in a daze for a while.”
Emma stepped into the kitchen. “Hmmm….I bet I know who you’re all talking about!” she teased. She held up two plastic grocery bags. “Two loaves of honey fig bread and some wheat rolls.”
“That sounds good,” Portia said, taking the bags. “I’ve heard about this bread.”
“It’s Maryam’s recipe. Where is she, by the way?” Emma looked around the crowded room.
Diana shrugged. “I’m not certain, but I think she and Yosef were going to read to the kids until we’re ready to leave. They offered to feed Manny at the same time.”
“Awww….” Kemara shook her head. “They’re awesome.” She glanced at Diana. “I’m surprised you let me and Sean near him again after the poor job we did.”
“You did fine!” Diana said. “Zeke and I just didn’t explain things well enough.”
The others chuckled, but Portia looked confused. “Wait. What needed explaining?”
So as they finished tidying the kitchen, Diana recounted Kemara and Sean’s messy adventures in babysitting.
Even though they’d had very little time to practice, the trio of Joshua, Mike and Sean played several Christmas carols during the tree decorating party to enthusiastic applause.
“Very nice!” Kemara cheered. She kissed Sean on the cheek and handed him a cup of cider.
Sean wiped his forehead on his sleeve. “Thanks! It’s been a while since I’ve played so much at one time. I forgot how exhausting it can be.”
“Well, why don’t you take a break, and we’ll go hang our ornaments?” She linked an arm through his and led him over to the table where the tree decorations were spread out.
“I bet this one’s yours,” Sean said holding up a cat. The slim body, large ears and slanted eyes showed it was a Siamese like her kitten, Warren.
Kemara laughed. “What gave it away? But where’s yours, I wonder?”
Beginning to feel slightly alarmed, she sifted through the remaining ornaments. Sean couldn’t have been left out. She knew Andrew and JenniAnn wouldn’t let that happen. Nor would Joshua.
“This is it,” The Carpenter himself had come up beside them. Now, he reached past her and held up an ornament. Sean took it, looking stunned.
“A firetruck?” Kemara watched as Sean held the perfect tiny replica on his outstretched palm. Even the wooden wheels turned.
Joshua beamed. “Yup. I thought it was the perfect choice.”
“It- it is.” Sean blinked back tears. “Thank you.” He hugged Joshua tightly.
“Now to find a place for them.”
They followed Joshua over to the huge tree, and chose spots among the nearly full branches.
“Perfect!” Joshua hugged them both. “I think Miss Lily would like help with her ornament. Sean, you wanna play some more later?”
Sean nodded, eagerly. “Sure!”
They watched as Joshua made his way through the crowd leaving smiles in his wake.
“Let’s sit down.” They found a loveseat along the edge along the edge of the ballroom with a good view of the dancing, chatting throng.
As soon as they were settled Kemara turned to him. “A firetruck?" She repeated.
Sean blushed and took another drink of cider. “Yeah. I told you my grandfather on my mom’s side was a firefighter?”
Kemara nodded sensing that the toy vehicle had been more than just a remembrance.
“Well from the time I was really little I knew that’s what I wanted to do. Grandpa would take me to the station on Sunday afternoons to help wash the trucks. And I made him tell me about every call he went on. I’m sure he censored a bunch of stuff, but I heard enough to cement it in my mind.”
“He never took you on calls with him surely!” Kemara said, fascinated.
Sean laughed. “God, no! I did as much as he - and my mother - would let me.”
“So why didn’t you pursue it?”
“I tried to. There’s a kind of firefighting academy for high school kids - been around forever. I was all set to sign up when I turned 14. I was so excited because they actually get use the equipment and go on some calls.” He sighed. “But mom put her foot down.”
“Really?” Kemara had never heard Megan McCallum so much as raise her voice, even when five grandchildren were rampaging all over the house.
Sean grimaced. “Oh yeah. It was horrible...I think that was the first time we’d ever really yelled at each other. I said I didn’t want to do anything else. And she said she didn’t want to sit up waiting for me to come home the way her mother did for my grandfather. She didn’t want to think that a stranger driving up or a phone call might be someone bringing the news that I had been killed.”
Kemara leaned her head on his shoulder. “What did Keith say?”
“He was on my side, but he couldn’t convince mom to change her mind. My grandpa tried. Even the fire chief who headed up the program tried.”
“I can understand why your mom was worried, but that must’ve been awful, having to give that up.”
“Yeah. It took us a long time to get back to where we could even talk easily again.” He shrugged. “I was good at math and music - don’t those usually go together? So I focused on that and tried to forget.”
She laced her fingers through his. “ But you didn’t. I know how that is. I wanted to be an astronaut - of all things! - since I was about eight. I was 14 when I realized it was never going to happen. Still hurts sometimes though.”
Sean wrapped an arm around her in a hug. “Yeah. And...I guess I could’ve done something once I’d graduated and moved out, but I took a few extra courses and got a job as a CPA. The money was good, so I stayed.”
“I don’t blame you a bit!” Kemara rolled her eyes. “The rents here are outrageous! I have no idea how I managed to afford my old apartment for as long as I did.”
“I was wondering…Would we keep my apartment do you think?” He smiled. “I know we’ll live at the beach house - it’s a little bit bigger. But if we had family come visit - like for the wedding - there’s no room.”
Kemara frowned. “Well, since my folks found out about Dyeland at Thanksgiving, they could stay here. And I’m sure yours could too if they wanted.” She gestured at the crowded room. “That’s what most of these folks are doing after all!”
“Very true! Since we’re discussing the wedding...do you want a bridal shower? Or couples’ shower or whatever they’re calling it these days?”
“We don’t need anything. I mean, between the two of us, I think we’re set. I know it’s tradition, but….”
He kissed the top of her head. “Well, we’re allowed to make our own traditions, I think. What about asking people to donate to the two shelters instead of giving gifts?”
Kemara sat up excitedly. “That’s perfect! We can put something in the formal announcement. Remind me - I need to ask Violeta when those should be mailed out.”
“Lots to think about,” Sean joked, pulling her close again. “We’re blessed to have so many people willing to help.”
Backstage at St. Genesius, Kemara checked costumes and tied shoes for the six children who would be joining Fr. Mike, Joshua and Sean onstage for their performance.
Her fiance was watching as Emma sang, shifting from foot to foot. Surely he wasn’t nervous? He’d played and danced in front of hundreds of people at Irish festivals.
As Joshua walked over to them, she realized he was the reason for Sean’s unease. It wasn’t every day one got to jam with the Son of God. The rest of them had had the entire JCS run to get used to the idea.
"You ready?" Joshua asked picking up his guitar.
Father Mike beamed. "Definitely!"
Joshua clapped Sean on the back. "It's gonna be great!"
Calmed by Joshua's touch and cheerful voice, Sean nodded. "It is, isn't it?"
"Yes!" Kemara assured, sneaking in a quick hug.
"Can't argue with Joshua," Fr. Mike jested. "Well, you can. But you won't win."
Laughing, Joshua pulled the three into a hug. "The dancers ready, Kemara?"
"Ready and waiting!" Kemara waved to the stage. "Out you go!"
With that, the three took their places on stage with members of the orchestra and began to play the Galician Carol. After a few moments, the children trooped out and began their jig.
The adults and the audience clapped along as Shelby, Jacob, Liam, Lily, Persephone, and Galen danced to the merry tune before crowding around Joshua in a giggling group hug.
Sean was beaming when the three men came off stage.
“That was awesome!” Kemara said hugging each of them in turn. “I can’t believe you guys only practiced for half an hour.”
Joshua grinned. “Well, it helps to have such talented people playing with you!”
“Good morning! Merry Christmas!” Kemara opened the door for Sean just after 8.
“Same to you!” They exchanged a kiss. “Wow! Something smells good.” He set the gift bag he had been carrying under the tree in the corner. It was decorated in tropical colors and adorned with starfish, flamingos and other fish ornaments.
Kemara shrugged. “I know we’re having brunch later on, but orange rolls are a Christmas tradition in my family. There’s fresh coffee, too.”
“Now that’s a tradition I like” Sean cheered.
He followed her into the kitchen where they filled their plates. With food and coffee in hand, they settled on the sofa. As they ate, Kemara kept glancing at the bag Sean had brought.
Noticing, he made a big show of eating very slowly. She fidgeted even more, and he chuckled. “Someone’s a little impatient,” he teased.
She grinned, unrepentant. “Yup! But I’m more excited about you opening your present.”
Sean crammed the last bite of orange roll into his mouth. “OK. All done!”
Kemara retrieved a box from under the tree which she gave him before sitting back down with the gift bag in her lap. Curious, Warren jumped up on the arm of the couch.
“You go ahead.” Sean shook his present gently. “I want a minute to puzzle out what this might be.”
Kemara broke the tape holding the gift bag shut. Inside were several individually wrapped packages. “Sean…”
“Just hush, and open them,” he suggested, stroking Warren’s head.
On top, was a small red stocking with a cat on the front.
“Oh, that’s for Warren here,” Sean explained. “I didn’t want him to feel left out.”
Kemara laughed and pulled out a mouse, knitted from brightly colored yarn with a braided tail. On the underside was a velcro opening where catnip could be added.
“Did Adam make this?” Beneath the mouse were several knitted balls that felt like they were stuffed with cotton. “And these?”
Sean nodded. “He said they aren’t hard to make if you ever want more.” He held up the mouse for Warren to sniff, then tossed it across the room.
The Siamese launched himself off the couch and pounced on the toy, batting it around excitedly.
“I think he approves!” Kemara laughed. The stocking also held a bag of cat treats and some extra catnip. “He’s going to be so spoiled.”
“Like he isn’t already?”
“This is true…” Kemara took out the remaining two packages, one flat and square shaped, one small and curved on top.
She unwrapped the square one revealing a CD case with a Celtic cross on the front. The songs listed on the back were all her favorites. She looked up at Sean, puzzled. “What-?”
He grinned. “I had the hardest time figuring out what to get you, so I talked to Joshua about it - prayed, I mean. I had no idea he’d be here this week. I was toying with the idea of putting together a mixtape of your favorite songs or songs we both like. So I made a list. The next day, I found that lying beside my computer. Joshua sings and plays his guitar on all of them.”
Kemara had been listening in growing amazement. Now, she began to laugh and cry at the same time.
Sean looked alarmed and pushed aside the discarded paper so he could take her into his arms. “What? It’s OK, isn’t it?”
For a minute she could only nod. She gestured toward his present. “I think you’d better open that,” she sniffed when she was calmer.
Mystified, Sean tore the paper from the box. Inside were a CD, DVD and another small box. The DVD and the CD both bore the same image as that on Sean’s bodhran. “Is this….?”
“I couldn’t think what to get you either. Well, I did get that -.” She motioned to the little box. “But I wanted something else, so I went to Joshua on Tuesday. We used Andrew’s camera to record him playing a bunch of Celtic music on his guitar and on a bodhran. So you can play along and learn what he’s doing. He said some the the bodhran stuff you don’t know how to do yet.” She grinned up at him. “And we can dance to the CD, too.”
Sean was scanning the list of songs. “This is great! Thank you…”
“And thank you.” They shared a long kiss. “But there are still two boxes left. Why don’t you open yours next?”
A minute later he was holding the opened box in his hand. “Kemara, I can’t - This must’ve cost…”
She took it from him and removing the ring inside placed the heavy gold band on his finger. “Perfect. And no it wasn’t bad. Monica put me touch with a jeweler she knows in Ireland who was able to give me a very nice discount.”
Sean leaned closer to the lamp on the side table, turning the ring to see the claddagh engraved around it. Then, on a hunch, he took it off and angled the inside toward the light. Inside were the words, “Kemara & Sean - March 17, 2015 - Always in step.”
Kemara was watching him anxiously. “I thought since my engagement ring and band were a set, that I’d get your band. If you don’t like it, he had several designs…”
Now, it was his turn to blink back tears. “I love it.” Somewhat reluctantly, he replaced it in the box. “Keep it for me until then?”
She accepted it. “You do remember where you put mine?” she asked tartly.
“Of course!” He frowned. “At least, I think I do….”
He smirked. “Your turn.”
Kemara unwrapped her present to reveal another jewelry box. On a bed of cotton rested a large, sterling silver circle with a design of running horses accented with sapphires that matched those in her engagement ring. She took it out and saw the pin on the back.
“A brooch? It’s gorgeous….”
Sean blushed. “Umm...actually that’s connected with Joshua, too,” he admitted.
“Yeah. When we went shopping the other day, I had already found everything on the list Arthur gave me, so I wandered over to the jewelry counter. Joshua came up with Belle. I was looking at the brooches, cause I thought you might like one for performances - like I have my sword pin. He suggested this one in particular and said you’d know when the time was right to wear it.”
“Aww...that’s so sweet. I have no idea right now, but I guess it has something to do with the wedding.”
“Maybe for your dress?” Sean suggested.
Kemara smiled. “Maybe. This has been a very Joshuan Christmas, hasn’t it?”
“As it should be!” Sean tossed one of the knitted balls to Warren. “You ready to head over to Willowveil? Can we take the furball?”
Kemara got up and started gathering the discarded wrapping paper. “Sure, he’s friends with the dogs so no problem there. And on the way you can tell me all about this punk rock past of yours….”
Friday, December 26
“Are you OK?”
She turned from the truck window. “Sorry, I’m just….”
“Missing him already?”
“All of them, but yeah, him most of all.”
They had taken their leave of everyone - including Joshua - the night before and slipped out of Dyeland before anyone else was up. The drive to Sean’s parents’ house in Brewster would take an hour. From there, the Hunter’s Mountain ski resort was two hours north.
Kemara made an effort to cast off her melancholy. “So tell me about where we’re staying!”
Sean glanced at her, but accepted the change of subject. “It’s right at the bottom of the mountain. It’s a great!”
“But….Sean, what’re we going to do about rooms?”
He shrugged. “Well, we got a deluxe room for mom and dad - really nice with a jacuzzi tub - Mom threatens every year to stay in there all week long - and two suites. Brad and I will be in one with the two boys; and you and Ciara have the other with the three girls.”
Kemara winced. “Doesn’t seem fair to Ciara and Brad having to be apart all week.”
“You can’t fit seven in a room anyway, so they have to split up. Actually, when Erin was younger they could just use the pack-and-play, but now, they couldn’t. So having you along is a good thing.”
She pretended to scowl. “So I’m an extra babysitter?”
“Just think of it as more practice!” He grinned at her. “At least the kids are all older than Manny or even Belle.”
“Will there be anything for the kids to do? Surely they’re not old enough to ski.”
“Oh, yeah. There’s skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, tubing, zip lines, horseback riding. And the inn has a couple of game rooms with big-screen TVs, video games, air hockey, stuff like that. They’ll stay busy.”
Kemara nodded, looking thoughtful.
She flushed. “Well, I was just thinking it might be nice to get Ciara and Brad their own room for one night. Give them a break.”
“Aww...you’re such a romantic!”
“And you aren’t? You’re the one who keeps hinting that he’s looking forward to Valentine’s Day.”
He smirked. “Only in private. I think it’s a great idea. Maybe near the end of the week when we’ve all gotten on each others nerves and they’re this close to strangling whichever kid makes a peep next.”
“I notice you ignored my comment about Valentine’s Day.”
“Not talking.” He turned on the radio. “Let’s find some Christmas music. It’ll keep my mind off how hungry I am.”
For the rest of the drive, they sang along with the carols and made up their own verses, though Sean refused to reprise "Three Ships."
They found the McCallum household awake and bustling. Megan and Keith were finishing cooking breakfast while Ciara and Brad got the children ready.
"Aunt Kemara! Uncle Sean!" A red-headed dervish collided with them as soon as they stepped into the living room.
Sean caught her up and swung the four-year-old high in the air. "Hey, Erin! What did Santa bring you?" He lowered her, and she reached out for Kemara who settled the child on her hip.
"I got books and a kitchen and two dolls..."
"Two?" Kemara asked. "Wow...that's a lot of babies to take care of."
Erin shook her head, red curls flying. "Uh-uh. Mommy says five are harder."
Kemara chuckled. "Well, Mommy would know!"
"Erin! Where did you -." Ciara came in looking frazzled. "Oh! Merry Christmas! I didn't hear you guys come in." She hugged both of them and took the little girl. "Come on, honey. Let's get your shoes on."
She hurried back out, and Sean grinned. "Never a dull moment around here!" He led the way to the dining room where Keith was just setting down bowls of bacon and eggs.
"Merry Christmas!" he greeted them. "You ready to hit the slopes?"
Kemara hugged him. "I hope so! I am a little nervous though."
"Why? You're the one who wants to go skydiving," Sean said.
She rolled her eyes. "That's different. If your chute fails it's all over; if you wipe out skiing you end up in the hospital."
Megan carried in a platter of pancakes. "The instructors are very good. They won't let you do anything you're not comfortable with."
"Kids can start learning when they're four," Brad added coming in with the three older children. "Parker’'s been skiing for two years, haven't you, buddy?"
Parker nodded. "It's fun! I like to go fast!"
Kemara turned pale. "That doesn't help...."
Sean laughed and pushed her gently into a chair. "You worry too much."
"Sure you still wanna put up with me?" She tipped her head back and smiled up at him.
He leaned down and kissed her. "Yup!"
"Eeeww..." Parker pretended to be sick.
Brad slapped his son lightly on the back of the head. "Behave."
Ciara settled the littlest girls into their booster seats. "I'm so glad we were able to get connecting rooms this year. That's going be a big help."
“How many years has your family been doing this?” Kemara asked as everyone began to fill plates.
Keith and Megan looked at each other. “Huh….since Sean was about five, I guess,” Keith said.
“That’s a long time!” James said, wide-eyed. He turned to his uncle. “I didn’t know you were so old.”
The adults laughed and Sean gave a mocking bow. “Thanks for the compliment.”
“You’re welcome,” James replied with complete seriousness that set them laughing again.
When they had recovered, Keith reached for Megan’s hand. “Alright, let’s bless the food and dig in so we can get on the road.”
An hour and a half later their two-vehicle caravan headed north.
“So what do you think?” Sean asked anxiously.
Kemara pushed up her goggles and tried to catch her breath. “Wow....Kinda scary going backward, but once I got my balance it was fun.”
“Let’s try again. You’re really starting to get the hang of it.”
She unfastened her bindings and tucked the snowboard under one arm. “You don’t have to stay with me all the time, you know,” she said following him back up the beginner trail.
It was the third day of their vacation. After she had taken an introductory snowboarding lesson the first day, Sean had insisted on teaching her the basics. Now, they were working on connecting turns and making a switchback down the mountain.
He looked back at her. “I want to. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a complete newbie.” He grinned. “And you’re so cute when you -.”
He broke off as two pre-teens skied by much too closely. “Hey! Watch it!” He shook his head. “I ought to report them. That’s the second time they’ve nearly hit someone.”
“I thought there were rules about watching where you’re going?” Kemara asked, panting a little as they pushed higher up the slope. She had been surprised to discover that multiple days of dance class had not prepared her for how strenuous ‘boarding could be.
“I guess some people think the rules don’t apply to them. Doing OK? I thought we’d got just a bit further so you can really get the feel of it.”
“I’m fine.” She caught up with him. “So what’s on the agenda for this afternoon?”
Their group tended to split up in the mornings. The kids went to the ski-and-play program, while the adults skied or snowboarded or - in Ciara’s case - went ice skating. After lunch, everyone reconvened for a group activity.
“The kids want to go snow tubing, and everyone likes that.”
“Like sledding?” They had reached the top of the easy trail now, and from this angle the drop looked very steep.
Sean re-secured his bindings while she did the same. “Sorta. Big inner tubes. You can go down feet-first or head-first, and there’s a lift to pull you back up. So it’s a nice way to unwind.”
“Sounds like fun.” Kemara lowered her goggles. “OK. One more run and then can we get something to eat? I’m starving.”
“Sure. You go first, and I’ll be right behind you.”
Kemara shifted her weight and started to glide across the trail at an angle. Reaching the other side, she turned without pausing and recrossed the trail, picking up speed. Halfway down, with her back to Sean, she heard him yell.
She looked over her shoulder. Someone - a child? - had swerved in front of Sean and was heading straight toward her with madly pinwheeling arms. Forgetting that her feet were strapped to the board, she tried to throw herself out of the way.
The person slammed into her, and Kemara felt her left knee and ankle explode with pain as they buckled under the weight. The two tumbled down the slope in a tangle of skis, poles and snowboard.
Dazed, Kemara fought to free herself and get to her feet. Hands pushed her down again. Nearby, she could hear the child crying.
“Lie still! The medics are on their way.” Sean was peering down at her, his pale face gone white. “Does it feel like anything’s broken?”
“I don’t know…” She was starting to tremble from the shock. Sean stripped off his gloves, removed her goggles and cupped her face in his warm hands.
“Just breathe. You’re okay.” Someone called out. “Over here!” He turned back to her. “These guys will get you down to first aid and check you out.”
She managed a smile. “You’re the only one who’s supposed to do that….” Her left leg was really starting to hurt.
He winked. “I’ll make sure they don’t take any undue liberties.”
Despite his assurances, Sean was banished to the waiting area while nurses removed Kemara’s boots and cut her pants leg away from her rapidly swelling knee.
“Let’s get some X-rays,” the physician said after examining both knee and ankle - which was also beginning to swell and bruise.
Kemara lay still and tried not to shiver while the machine did it’s work. The technician helped her sit up and gave her a heated blanket to wrap up in.
“Well, you were very lucky, young lady,” The doctor said coming back in with her films. “Nothing’s broken. But you badly strained the ligaments and tendons in your knee, and your ankle has a lot of soft tissue damage. I’ll give you a brace for both and some crutches, but I want you off that leg as much as possible. Keep it elevated and put ice on it a few times a day - here’s some instructions about that.”
He handed her a couple of sheets of paper. “How much longer will you be here?”
“We’re supposed to stay through Saturday, but now, I don’t know…” Kemara said realizing that her injuries might cut their trip short.
The doctor patted her shoulder. “Well, if you’re still here on Friday, stop in before you leave, and I’ll take another look at it.”
“Thank you so much,” Kemara said. “Ummm….the person who hit me? Are they alright?”
“It was a little boy, and he’s completely fine. You got the worst of it.”
She let out a relieved sigh. “That’s good then.”
Ten minutes later, the nurse settled her into a wheelchair with a pair of crutches across her lap and pushed her out to the waiting room. Sean jumped to his feet when he saw her.
“I’m okay!” She said before he could speak. “Just a couple of sprains.”
He leaned down and kissed her. “You scared the crap out of me. Come on, lets get you back to the lodge.”
Kemara kept her head down and pretended to reread the doctor’s instructions to avoid the sympathetic glances of the skiers and snowboarders they passed.
“Mom and dad are bringing us lunch. Then they, Ciara and Brad are going to take the kids tubing so you can rest.”
“I wish everyone wouldn’t make such a fuss,” Kemara said as they waited for the elevator. “And you should go with them this afternoon. I’ll be okay by myself.”
“Nope!” Sean said cheerfully. “‘In sickness and in health,’ remember? Besides, you’re family now, and family is supposed to fuss.”
Keith and Megan met them in the hallway outside their two suites of rooms.
“Oh you poor thing!” Megan said coming forward. “I’ll help you get settled and then we’ll have some lunch. You boys stay here for a few minutes. She pushed Kemara into the girls’ suite and shut the connecting door.
With her help, Kemara changed into sweatpants and a T-shirt. Leaning on the older woman, she hobbled over to the sofa where Megan propped her leg up on the coffee table with the ice packs the doctor had provided.
“Looks like you really did a number on yourself, girl,” Keith teased as he and Sean set out the sandwiches and chips.
“It wasn’t her fault,” Sean said. “She was doing really great. Some little kid skidded on a patch of ice at the side of the trail, lost control and wham!.”
Kemara grimaced. “Yeah, I didn’t have time to get out of the way. I’m just glad he wasn’t hurt.”
“And we’re so glad you weren’t hurt any more than you were,” Megan assured her. “I bet you’ll be sore and stiff tomorrow, though.”
“We are going to stay the rest of the week, aren’t we?” Kemara asked anxiously. “I don’t want y’all to cut your vacation short because of me.”
Keith and Megan exchanged glances. “We do this every year,” Keith reminded her. “The big thing this trip was that you’d be with us and get the chance to ski for the first time. But now...”
“Please?” Kemara pleaded. “I know it’s expensive -.”
“Don’t you worry about that!” Megan said, patting her hand.
“But I’d really like to stay. Maybe in a couple of days I can get out on the crutches and maybe even go snow tubing if I don’t have to walk.” She looked at Sean hopefully.
He shrugged. “I’ll keep her company, and some of the kids might want to hang out with us instead of going to the daycare.”
Kemara nodded. “That would be fun. We could take them down to the game room or ice skating.”
The couple looked at one another again and nodded.
“If you’re sure,” Meagan said. “Then we will.” Her phone chirped. “Oh, that’s probably Ciara!” She checked it. “Yes, she says the kids are wild to go tubing, so we’d better hurry over there.”
When his parents had gone, Sean picked up the children’s book the adults had been taking turns reading out loud the night before. “Want me to read to you?”
He found the place they’d stopped and declaimed in an exaggerated Scottish accent: “Romancin’ is verra important, ye ken. Basically it’s a way the boy can get close to the girl wi’oot her attackin’ him and scratchin’ his eyes oot.”
Kemara giggled and began to relax while the ache in her ankle and knee gradually subsided. As Sean read on about witches and little blue men six inches high, she felt her eyes growing heavier. She yawned, and he laid down the book.
“I think somebody could use a nap.”
“Guess it’s the pain pill. Stuff like that doesn’t usually make me sleepy but…” she yawned again.
Sean laughed. “Come on; which bedroom’s yours?”
He supported her left side while she swung along as best she could. “Thank you Irish dance for teaching me how to hop!” she joked sitting on the side of the bed.
“You didn’t know how?” Sean asked, tucking a pillow under her foot as she lay down.
She grinned up at him. “Nope, wasn’t strong enough. I think my first lesson was probably pretty hilarious. We should see if Joshua can get us a video.”
He kissed her forehead. “We’ll ask next time we see him. Get some sleep, and yell if you need anything.” He turned to leave.
“Yeah?” He stopped in the doorway and looked back at her.
She held out a hand. “You could keep me company.”
He hesitated and took it. “You’re not gonna attack me and scratch my eyes out or anything?”
“Too tired….” Her words were slurring together as the medicine took effect.
“OK.” He laid down, careful not to jostle her leg.
She took his hand again and pulled his arm across her waist. “Better now,” she mumbled as her eyes closed.
By Friday morning, Kemara was going stir crazy. While she had enjoyed playing with the kids, and reading to them, she fretted at her enforced inactivity.
After breakfast, she and Sean visited the first aid center where the same doctor examined her leg and suggested she start trying to put weight on it.
“Well, I can tell you’re happy," Sean teased once they had turned her crutches back in and left the office. “What do you feel like doing?”
“Can we go into town? I’m a little tired of looking at snow, to be honest.” She pouted. “Especially if I can’t play in it.”
“Sure.” He snapped his fingers. “Wait! I know something we can do if you don’t mind a little drive. We could visit Woodstock. It’s actually on our way home tomorrow, but if I know know Mom she won’t want to stop then.”
Kemara grinned. “Woodstock? You mean….”
“The place the big music festival was named for but not held at back in the hippie days. Yeah.”
She rolled her eyes. “I did know that, thanks so much! OK. We’ll be back in plenty of time, won’t we?”
As planned, they had gotten Ciara and Brad a room for that night and offered to supervise the kids. Kemara didn’t expect to get much sleep.
“No problem. It’s less than an hour away.”
“Let’s go then!”
Woodstock wasn't at all what Kemara had been expecting. While the village center boasted a few hippie shops selling incense and tie-dye - they picked up a T-shirt for JenniAnn - professional galleries and studios prevailed with art of all kinds.
"Owen would love this place," Sean said as they left a funky loft studio with three prints of Adirondack wildlife for the beach house.
Kemara nodded. "He really would. I bet he could sell some of his stuff too." She squinted at the map they had picked up. "Looks like there are a some more shops on this street and then some kind of cafe - can't make out the name - on the corner."
"That works. We can have a long lunch. Your leg's hurting, isn't it?"
"It's okay...just a little sore from not being used."
He shook his head. "If I know you - and I do - it's probably more than a little."
"Oh, you think you know me, huh?" She gave him a sly smile. "I wouldn't be so sure about that."
Sean only grinned and held open the door to the next shop.
After another twenty minutes, Kemara admitted to herself that she would be very glad for a chance to sit down for a while.
“That’s it. We’re definitely having a break” Sean declared.
With a sigh, Kemara began looking around for the promised cafe when Sean started to laugh.
“Well, I think I know where we’re supposed to eat,” he said pointing to a nearby building. The sign read in a flowing Arabic script, Joshua’s Cafe - specializing in middle eastern cuisine.
“You’ve gotta be kidding!” Kemara pulled out her phone and took a photo of the sign and of the menu beside the door.
A waitress seated them in an airy, upstairs dining room with an appetizer of hummus and pita bread.
“I don’t know what half this stuff is.” Kemara said, studying the menu. She lowered her voice. “And I keep looking for Maryam’s spiced milk and honey fig bread.”
“Me too. I like lamb, but for some reason Mary and Silly have turned me off eating it,” Sean said with a mock shudder. “I think I’ll just have a burger.”
Kemara laughed. “If Violeta ever gets any cows we’ll all turn into vegetarians. I think I’ll have the falafel - I do know that - and the tabbouleh. Real falafel has to be better than what you get from a food truck even if that is pretty good.”
“Speaking of food trucks - I was talking to Arthur the other day and he said Monica’s been doing really well with the truck Joshua set her up with. He said most people pay more than the food’s worth, and she’s been able to direct folks in need to either True Light or the Phoenix Inn.”
“I know!” Kemara smiled. “He’s so proud of her! And she told me that Liam enjoys helping and talking to the customers. I think she and Arthur figured he would just sit and color or read, but she said he’s thrilled to be ‘working for God’.”
“Sounds like Monica and Arthur both,” Sean shook his head, marveling. “I still can’t get over how much he looks like their kid. I mean, we joke sometimes because not all of Ciara and Brad’s kids look like them. Parker’s blond - where did that come from?”
“Yeah, I have two red-headed cousins, but no one in our family has red hair. So our kids could look like anything.”
He looked thoughtful. “Hmmm….Blue skin and purple eyes?”
Kemara giggled. “Ask Joshua, and I’m sure he’ll get right on that!”
Their food arrived, and the array of dishes filled the small table.
“That’s not ‘just a burger,’” Kemara said looking at Sean’s plate. The sandwich was the biggest she’d ever seen, served not on a bun but between two pieces of toasted french bread.
He grinned. “Good thing I’m hungry.” He took a bite and nodded enthusiastically. When he could speak again he asked, “How’s your falafel?”
“Really good! Better than a food truck! This was a great idea.” She laid the overflowing pita down carefully. “I just wish I hadn’t spent most of the week laid up.”
“Hey, we’ll come back next year,” Sean said. “And since you already know the basics it’ll be even more fun. But we’re not done with this visit. What was your favorite shop we went in today?”
She laughed. “That’s easy - the one with the purple steps and all the flowers out front.”
“The one with the cockatoo and all the crystals hanging from the ceiling? That was pretty wild.”
“I still think you should’ve let that lady tell your fortune,” she teased. “Maybe you would’ve ended up filthy rich and living in a mansion.”
He shook his head. “I’d rather have just enough money and live in a little beach house.”
“Well, I’m all for that, so I guess we’re set.” She set down her fork with a sigh. “I think I need a to-go box. They give you a lot of food here.”
Sean popped the last bite of sandwich into his mouth. “Are you ready to referee tonight?”
“Referee? Not babysit?”
He snorted. “Not with this bunch! They’ll run wild, and no one will go to bed. Actually...that might not be a bad idea. Then they’ll sleep all the way home tomorrow. But no, don’t expect them to sit quietly while you to read to them. Not gonna happen.”
The waitress brought their check and a box for Kemara’s leftovers.
“I’ll get the tip,” Kemara said. “Oh, wait. I’ve got an idea.” She rummaged in her purse for paper and pen. Then she pulled something up on her phone and began to write. Sean leaned over and read.
To the owner,
My fiance and I really enjoyed our lunch this afternoon. We were delighted to find your restaurant because we have a good friend named Joshua who happens to be from Israel. His ama makes a wonderful honeyed fig bread that we think would be a great addition to your menu. So, we give you the recipe as a thank you. God bless.
“I hope Maryam doesn’t mind me handing out her recipe,” she said as she copied down the instructions.
“I’m sure she doesn’t,” Sean said. “I mean, you can’t get more authentic.”
They left the restaurant and walked back to where they’d parked Sean’s parents’ car which they had borrowed for the day.
“It would be great if we could get everyone together and take a big road trip here this summer for a week or two,” Kemara said.
Sean wrapped an arm around her waist. “You plan for the long term, don’t you?”
“Yup.” She grinned up at him. “I like having good things to look forward to.”
March 17, 2015
Kemara glanced at the clock on the mantlepiece. 2 a.m. Deciding there was no point in trying to sleep, she made another pot of tea. Her mug was one she’d bought from a pottery studio during that visit to Woodstock. It had a teal blue glaze with a twisted handle, and the artist had fashioned a happy face into the curved side. Sean thought it was creepy, but she appreciated its cheerfulness early in the morning.
Settling again, she pulled the brightly colored quilt off the back of the couch and wrapped it around herself. The fire was down to only coals, and there was no sense in building it up again. Immediately, Warren came over and curled himself up in her lap.
“Hey! I was reading that you little scamp!”
The cat ignored her. She put a fold of the quilt over him and smiled at the handwritten message now uppermost. “With this quilt, we surround the both of you with all our love, hopes, and prayers for you. May God's blessings fill your life together and may His enduring love be a comfort to you always!”
Saturday, January 24
“So who’s coming today? Do we know yet?” Violeta asked as she and Kemara helped clear up from breakfast at Willowveil.
JenniAnn closed the dishwasher and reached for her phone. “Let me check one last time. OK. Umm...Rose is out. She and Max are going to some Harry Potter roleplay thing.” She shrugged. “Don’t ask! I have no idea….Peter and Emma are at the theater. Peter said he’s working on a final rehearsal schedule, and Emma wanted to look over the costumes from last year - see if anything needs to be repaired or replaced.”
“What about Kylie?” Kemara asked.
JenniAnn bit her lip. “Well….”
“It’s OK! I promise I won’t be upset, whatever her reasons.”
“She felt it might be a lil hard to look at wedding dresses when things with Jett turned out so awful.”
Kemara nodded.. “I’ll miss having her there - all of them, of course - but that makes sense.”
“But I bet Clay will propose soon!” Violeta put in, excitedly. “And that will be awesome!”
“Yes, it will,” JenniAnn agreed. “So that leaves....the three of us, Monica, Diana, -”
Violeta’s phone beeped, and she jumped up. “Ivy’s here!” She raced out of the kitchen and a minute later they heard the front door slam.
Kemara and JenniAnn exchanged smiles. “Diana, Kendra and Haley,” JenniAnn continued. “And Ivy.”
“So four teens and four of us older folks,” Kemara grinned making air quotes around “older.”
“Yup! I can’t wait to see Violeta’s reaction to….you know.”
Andrew walked into the room and overheard this last exchange. “I still can’t believe she hasn’t heard about it already.”
JenniAnn shrugged. “Well, it is kinda unexpected.”
“So what do you and Belle have planned for today Andrew?” Kemara asked.
He grinned. “We’re meeting Arthur, Liam, Zeke and Manny in the Tunnels. We’ll visit Grandpa Vincent, have lunch, just hang out.”
“That sounds like fun!”
“Good morning!” Ivy and Violeta trooped in followed by Monica.
“Andrew, we met Zeke and Manny at the portal,” Ivy said. “They were headed below. He said Diana and the girls are at the theater.”
Andrew returned Ivy’s hug. “Thanks, we’ll go that way as soon as Belle wakes up from her nap.”
“Arthur and Liam are already there,” Monica added. “Is that everyone?”
JenniAnn nodded. “I think so. We were just counting noses when you guys showed up.”
“What’s the weather in New York?” Ivy asked. “I brought a couple of coats and a hat and gloves just in case.”
“High’s supposed to be 40-something and mostly sunny,” Kemara said. “Really nice for this time of year.”
“Shorts weather!” Andrew joked.
JenniAnn smirked. “I wish! I haven’t seen you in shorts in quite a while, mister!”
He pretended to shiver, “And I don’t think you will anytime soon!” A string of babbling came over the baby monitor sitting on the counter. “Sounds like somebody’s up. You ladies have a good time.”
The women hurried into their coats and were soon at St. Genesius. They left the blue room and found Emma onstage surrounded by boxes of costumes. Diana, Kendra and Hailey were helping to look over each garment as it was removed.
“Hey, everybody! You’re just in time to help me unpack another box,” Emma joked coming over to exchange hugs. “Peter’s shut himself in the office - until lunchtime he says. He’s determined to get the schedule finished today.”
“No luck finding someone to play Peter? His role, I mean?” JenniAnn asked.
Emma frowned. “Not yet. Luckily, that’s the only part we have to hire for which makes it a little easier.”
“I’m sure Joshua will send the perfect person your way,” Monica said.
Emma brightened. “That’s true! He might be cutting it close, but -.”
“Think of last year!” Diana added coming over with her daughters. They all chuckled remembering the turmoil and uncertainty before the Carpenter’s arrival had turned their little production around.
“Kemara, I like your makeup,” Hailey said. “It looks really good.”
The woman blushed. “Thanks; JenniAnn did it for me since I don’t usually wear much. I read somewhere that it’s best to do your makeup like you’ll have it for the wedding so you can kinda see at once if a dress will work.”
Emma hugged her. “I’m sorry I can’t come with you! Take lots of pictures, and make notes on the good places. It’ll save me some trouble when I start looking.”
“Of course! I had to promise my Mom photos of every dress, pretty much,” Kemara said. “So maybe we can narrow it down for you.”
“Where are we going, anyway?” Ivy asked. “Anywhere in particular?”
Kemara and JenniAnn exchanged glances.
“Well, I thought we’d hit Tribeca first. Lots of boutiques there,” Kemara said. “And then if I don’t find something, come back to Manhattan to Kleinfeld.” She wrinkled her nose. “I really don’t want to do that.”
Diana shook her head. “That place is just way too big!” To Ivy she explained. “It’s like a department store with nothing but wedding dresses.”
“Let me know when you find something,” Emma said as she walked them out. “And have fun!”
The group spent the morning exploring not just bridal boutiques, but the many thrift shops that dotted Tribeca.
“It’s not as funky as the Village,” JenniAnn remarked as they came out of one laden down with bags of scented candles. “A little more upscale, but still pretty cool.”
Kemara sighed. “I just wish I’d seen even one dress I liked.” She had tried on several - mostly just for fun - while the others took photos. But nothing had stood out.
“I dunno,” Ivy mused. “I thought the last one suited you.”
Diana snickered. “You mean the camouflage hoop skirt with almost nothing up top?”
Kemara rolled her eyes. “I’m going tell Sean that’s the one I’m having made.”
“Out of duct tape!” Kendra shrieked.
“I think pink camouflage would be lovely actually,” Monica mused.
“And tell him he’s wearing overalls and no shoes,” Hailey added.
“With the all music on banjos and harmonicas,” said JenniAnn.
By this time Kemara could hardly walk, she was laughing so hard. “He’d probably go for that!”
“Oh, if Sean’s dressing like a farmer you need animals!” Violeta suggested innocently.
Kemara looked thoughtful. “You know...that’s not a bad idea...I think Yonah would work really well!”
That set them all off again, and they staggered over to a couple of benches until they calmed down.
“Okay, let’s try one more place,” Kemara said consulting the map she had printed out. “It’s just down here. Then I could use a coffee or something.”
“Good idea!” Violeta chirped. “I think I see the sign!” She jumped up, nearly trotting down the sidewalk. Ivy, Kendra and Hailey hurried after.
Left behind, the others smiled as they gathered their bags. JenniAnn had sent out a group text the night before informing everyone - with the exception of Violeta - just which coffee shop they would be visiting.
The bridal store in a converted brownstone had a delicate, Victorian vibe. Kemara halted just inside the door.
“I think this might be a little too princessy,” she whispered to Diana as a saleswoman headed their way.
Diana patted her arm. “Won’t hurt to look around, just to make sure.”
“Hello, ladies! My name is Sarah! Is there anything in particular you’re looking for today?”
JenniAnn glanced at her friend. “Hi! Do you have anything simple and elegant?”
Sarah smiled at Kemara. “I’m guessing you’re the bride-to-be?”
Kemara blushed and nodded. “I just don’t do -” she gestured at the racks of filmy lace and satin dresses surrounding them, “Frills.”
“I completely understand!” She studied the woman for a moment, taking in her clothing and makeup choices. “I think we have some designs you might like.” She gestured for them to follow her up the nearby staircase.
The second floor was more airy and open, the dresses on display less ostentatious. “These are simpler but still very lovely.”
Kemara wandered over to a nearby rack and began to flip through the gowns, automatically dismissing those that lacked sleeves or were too tight-fitting. Her friends spread out and began to do the same.
After almost twenty minutes of discarding suggested dresses for one reason or another, Kemara was close to despair. The four girls had given up searching and wandered over to look at the veils.
“I think I’m just too picky,” she confided to Monica who had come over with yet another possibility.
The angel hugged her. “Ah, don’t talk that way! There’s still Kleinfeld. Or you could have something made to your own design.”
“It’s almost February, that’s not enough -.”
“Kemara! I found it!”
Everyone gathered around and Diana held up the dress. It was cream with a fitted bodice, off-the-shoulder neckline and long, fitted sleeves. The floor-length skirt was plain and lightly gathered with a short train.
“Look at that embroidery,” JenniAnn whispered. The sleeves, neckline and waist were accented with cream bands covered in gold metallic knotwork. Laced down the back was a matching gold ribbon.
Sarah came over to see what they had found. “Oh, that’s one’s so elegant! We can make it in different colors, too. So if you want the dress white and the embroidery in green, that’s possible. And….” She opened a nearby case and took something out. “We also have matching shoes. Again, they can be whatever color you want.”
Kemara looked from the shoes to the dress and back again. “Could - could you make it in white with the bands in navy and the embroidery silver?”
“No problem!” Sarah took the dress from Diana. “Do you want to try it on? Besides the length, it should be OK everywhere else.”
Kemara could only nod.
“OK, I’ll give you a hand.” Sarah led the four of them over to the dressing room. “We’ll be right out,” she assured the others.
The gown fit perfectly. As the saleswoman laced up the back, chattering about how gorgeous navy and silver would look against white, Kemara stared at herself in the mirror. Instead of the tears of joy she had expected from episodes of “Say Yes to the Dress,” she felt only calm certainty.
“That’s it,” Monica smiled when Kemara appeared, holding up the overlong skirt.
“No question,” Diana agreed.
“It’s awesome!” cheered Violeta who had come over with the other girls.
They crowded around her until Sarah said, “Try walking and sitting to make sure it feels good.”
“I wouldn’t try any Irish dance steps, though!” Ivy teased.
“No way!” Kemara laughed. “I’d break something; I thought Sean was never going to stop hovering when I sprained my ankle,” she stuck out her right foot and rotated the ankle in question. “If I broke it, he might never let me walk again.”
Kendra giggled. “That might not be a bad thing if you have him to wait on you!”
Kemara moved around the room and sat down on one of the couches to test how the dress moved.
Sarah went over to the jewelry section and returned holding a gold brooch. “I almost forgot! The usual style is to wear a brooch on the front of the belt, just to give it a little more bling. We have several, or you could order -.”
“No,” Kemara interrupted. “I already have one.” Now the tears were coming. She stumbled over to her purse and took out the handkerchief Maryam had made for her with a K embroidered in the corner.
“The brooch Sean gave you for Christmas?” JenniAnn guessed, putting an arm around her friend.
Kemara nodded, dabbing at her eyes. “He - Joshua - told Sean I would know what it was for.”
“And, as always, our Joshua was right,” Diana said. The others murmured in agreement.
Sarah had watched all this in confusion. “So, do you want to order the dress?”
“Yes,” Kemara sniffed. “How long will it take? The wedding is March 17.”
The saleswoman considered the gown. “Not that long. It’s a simple design, and the bands of embroidery are added separately. Same with the shoes. We could have it for you in plenty of time.”
“Wonderful!” Kemara sighed in relief.
“If you’re ready, we can go downstairs and fill out the paperwork,” Sarah suggested.
“Oh, let me get some pictures before you change!” JenniAnn said, reaching for her phone. “Are you gonna tell Sean?”
Kemara thought for a minute. “No. I think I’ll keep it a secret. Besides, he said he didn’t really care as long as he doesn’t have to wear a kilt.”
“Don’t sell him short,” Diana scolded gently. “He might not be interested in the details, but he wants you to be happy. Zeke and I got married pretty quickly, but he told me later he was glad I asked his opinion on things and kept him in the loop about what I wanted to do.”
“You’re right,” Kemara said, dismayed. “My rings are beautiful, and he was already looking at the brooches when Joshua suggested one.”
JenniAnn patted her shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. He might not say anything right out, but he notices.”
When they were back outside, they walked a little ways to a small park.
“Here looks good, don’t you think?” JenniAnn asked the others.
Violeta looked confused when her three friends started to giggle. “What’s going on?”
“Well…” JenniAnn began, unsure how the young angel would take the news. “The coffee shop we’re going to -.”
“It’s called Laughing Man,” Monica added.
Violeta’s expression didn’t’ change. “Uh-huh?”
Kemara grinned. “It’s owned by Hugh Jackman.”
The angel’s eyes grew huge, but instead of shrieking, she only whispered. “Will he be there?”
“Probably not, honey,” JenniAnn said. “I guess he stops by when he’s in town, but the chances are really low.”
“So do you want to go?” Kemara checked.
Violeta nodded eagerly, some of her enthusiasm returning.
“OK. The map shows that it’s right around the corner,” Kemara said.
“I’ve heard that it’s really small,” Diana put in. “So why don’t you girls go ahead. We’ll catch up with you.”
Kendra caught her mother’s eye and nodded slightly. “Come on, Violeta!”
When they were out of sight, Kemara sighed. “That wasn’t the reaction I was expecting. I’ve gotten so used to her screaming and jumping up and down.”
“I think that’s just it,” JenniAnn said. “It’s one thing to admire your crush from far off, but to actually have the chance to see him in person….”
Kemara nodded. “Like with Joshua. I mean, obviously, Hugh Jackman isn’t Joshua,” she grinned. “I imagine it’s kinda overwhelming for Violeta just the same.”
Diana chuckled. “Now, if Mr. Jackman is there, she might just pass out.”
Laughing Man wasn’t just small, but tiny - with room only for a few tables. The stopped on the sidewalk and peered through the open door. Shelves were filled with tins of tea and bags of coffee. A chalkboard menu behind the register displayed a note, “Try our Flat White. My favorite - Hugh J.”
Ivy spotted them and came out. “I don’t think there’s room for all of us.”
“That’s OK,” JenniAnn reassured her. “We’ll take our drinks back to to that little park, and you all can meet us in a bit. It looks like Violeta will probably be a while.”
“Yup! She’s taking pictures of everything,” Ivy said with a smile.
A few minutes later, coffee in hand, Kemara, JenniAnn, Diana and Monica settled around a table in a patch of sunlight.
Kemara took out her phone. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I want to let Sean and my mom know I found a dress.”
“That’s fine,” Monica said. “What’s he’s doing today?”
“Working on his parents’ taxes.” Kemara wrinkled her nose. “He refuses to do it for anyone else even though he could make a ton of extra money. He says it’s not worth it.”
JenniAnn shook her head. “I don’t blame him! I’m glad Andrew’s been handling that kinda stuff for us.”
“Speaking of the guys, Kemara what were you thinking for them in terms of wedding attire?” Diana asked. “Has Sean picked a best man yet?”
“I guess pale gray suits - the wedding’s at 10:30 in the morning - and maybe navy vests or ties?” She looked over at Monica.
The angel nodded thoughtfully. “I’ll see what I can find…something with a wee pattern would look nice.”
“Thanks. And the Best Man will be his brother-in-law, Brad.” She blushed. “I, I haven’t - decided about a Maid of Honor or bridesmaids or anything yet.”
Diana looked surprised. “I was wondering if you could have bridesmaids since it’s during a Mass?”
JenniAnn nodded. “Yeah, just not that many. Violeta’s been researching it all.”
“And Father Mike’s gone over it, too. I had no idea that it’s traditional for the couple to greet their guests as they arrive at the church,” Kemara said. “Sean and I really like that idea.”
“Well, there goes the big surprise when the bride appears for the wedding march!” Diana chuckled.
“No wedding march either,” Kemara said. “Our parents will walk with us in the processional behind Fr. Mike and the altar servers.”
Monica smiled. “I think that’s much more equal.”
JenniAnn reached over and squeezed Kemara’s hand. “And don’t worry about hurting anyone’s feelings when you do pick your attendants.”
“There are so many weddings coming up I think everyone will get to participate as much as they want!” Diana agreed.
“We should buy wedding presents in bulk, just different colors!” JenniAnn joked.
Kemara looked alarmed. “Now, we don’t need any presents like toasters or whatever. We’ve got more than enough ‘stuff’. You saw the note we put in the invitations.”
Just then, her phone beeped. She checked it and began to laugh. “Oh, Lord! I sent Sean the picture of the camouflage dress, and he says, ‘Well, if that’s what you want, it’s fine with me’.”
The others collapsed into giggles.
“You’d better tell him the truth quick,” Diana suggested. “Before he has a heart attack.”
Kemara dictated as she typed. “Just kidding. The one I’m getting looks much worse.”
A reply came almost at once. Kemara read it and snorted. “He says, ‘Oh, good! I was worried for a minute there!’.” She tapped rapidly on the screen. “I cropped one of photos to just show the embroidery. That should make him feel better.”
“Here come the girls,” Monica said, waving as the four teenagers spotted them.
Violeta flung herself into the chair beside Kemara. “That was so cool!”
“Even if the coffee’s not that great,” said Hailey making a face. “Starbucks, it ain’t.”
“It is too,” Violeta took big gulp of her own coffee, but Kemara saw her grimace slightly.
“Let’s see your pictures.”
As Violeta showed off the photos she’d taken from every possible angle, Kemara’s phone beeped.
JenniAnn picked it up and raised her eyebrows. Kemara nodded. “Sean says, ‘Beautiful! A much better choice!’.”
Diana smiled. “See? They really do pay attention.”
“So where to now?” Ivy wondered.
Kemara shrugged. I guess we’re done for today. Sean and I will sit down with Fr. Mike on Wednesday and figure out who we want in what roles. I’m not gonna make everyone dress alike, so that’s no problem.”
“Why don’t we go by Adrian’s on the way home and get a late lunch, early dinner - whatever ya want to call it?” JenniAnn suggested, glancing around at the others.
“Sounds good to me,” Diana said. “The guys will be fine without us for a while longer.”
“Ivy, you’re spending the night, aren’t you?” Kemara checked.
She nodded. “Grandma’s not expecting me home until tomorrow afternoon. Violeta and I are going to start watching “Anne of Green Gables.”
They gathered up their bags and started for the nearest subway entrance.
JenniAnn walked beside Kemara who was still texting. “Talking to Sean or your mom,” she asked, steering the other woman around a lamp post.
“Oh! Thanks…don’t want to end up in a fountain like John did…..my mom.”
“Did she like the dress?”
Kemara frowned. “I guess. She said it seemed a little plain and that the cream color washed me out.”
“Well, I don’t think it’s plain at all, but the navy trim you’re getting will help with both of those. And I’ll make sure you don’t look too pale.”
“Not too much makeup. I have to wear it that way for performances, sometimes and Sean doesn’t like it. He says it’s not me.”
JenniAnn shook her head. “Nope, I won’t go overboard.”
They stepped onto a subway car and found seats.
“Thanks. I guess I just feel bad doing all of this planning and shopping without my mom. But I know if she were here we’d probably argue.”
Diana leaned over from beside JenniAnn. “You and Sean are the ones getting married. You choose what works for you, and the rest of the world will just have to deal with it.”
“Go, Mom!” Hailey cheered and they all laughed.
“So what was your wedding like, Diana?” Kemara asked.
For the rest of the ride, the older woman kept them entertained with stories of herself and Zeke as newlyweds.
By the time they arrived at Adrian’s, Kemara’s mood had improved greatly. Her cellphone rang as they reached the door.
“Oh, that’s Sean! I’ll be in in a minute.”
The others exchanged amused smiles.
“Take your time,” Monica said patting her shoulder.
“Hey, sounds like you all had fun today.”
“Probably more than you,” Kemara teased. “Did
you finish your folks’ taxes?”
“Not quite, but tomorrow should do it. So
where are you now? Still shopping?”
“No; we’re at Adrian’s about to get something
to eat, and then we’ll head home.”
“Good. I uh...I really like the dress, by the
way. The part you let me see, at least.” He chuckled. “Very
“I’m having it made in white with navy trim
and silver embroidery. So you can wear a navy vest. That will
look gorgeous with your hair.”
“As long as I don’t have to wear a kilt!”
“Well, I’d better get inside before they think
I’ve been kidnapped.”
“OK. See you at church tomorrow. Love you.”
“Love you, too.”
Kemara was surprised to find only Violeta waiting for her inside Adrian’s.
“Where is everybody?”
“In the back. We figured we’d have more room there. Come on.” She led Kemara past the empty booths to a closed door. She pushed it open and stepped back to let Kemara go in ahead of her.
Kemara froze in the doorway taking in the beaming faces of her friends.
“We know you didn’t want a shower,” Violeta said pulling her into the room.
“But we still wanted to give you party,” Kylie went on, coming forward to hug Kemara.
“And we didn’t get you any presents,” Emma added taking her own turn.
“Well, just one,” Rose said. “But you’ll get that a little later.”
Kemara laughed and cried and hugged all of them. “Thank y’all so much!” She wiped her eyes. “Listen to me - my Southerness is showing…”
“I’ve got my laptop so we can look at the photos we took while we eat,” JenniAnn said. “And Violeta if you’ll give me your phone we can show the Laughing Man pics too.”
Kemara had recovered herself enough to look around the room. The tables had be decorated with pots of bright artificial flowers and one held platters of sandwiches, potato salad, and assorted fruit and vegetables with dips.
“This looks great!” She walked over to the drinks. “Awww….and you even got sweet tea!”
JenniAnn laughed. “We had to go to Bob White’s for that. Sean recommended it since they don’t serve it here.”
“Sean knew you planned all this?”
“Oh yeah! I texted him and had him call you so we could make sure everything was ready in here before you came in.”
Kemara laughed. “Very sneaky! Well, lets eat! I can’t wait to show Kylie, Emma and Rose that ‘redneck’ dress.”
They all filled plates and settled around the table discussing each dress as it came up on the screen.
“What does ‘redneck’ mean?” Violeta asked when the camouflage gown appeared. “Is it bad? I don’t think the dress is very pretty, but why do you call it that?”
No one spoke for a minute, and the angel blushed. “Is this one of those things I’m not supposed to ask about?”
“Oh, no, honey! It’s just kinda complicated.” JenniAnn looked at the others for help.
Kemara sighed. “Actually, we weren’t being very nice, Violeta. See, it’s a derogatory term these days to refer to a stereotypical Southerner - someone who lives out in the woods, hunts, drives a pickup truck, doesn’t work for a living and is as dumb as a post.” She gestured at the dress. “That’s the sort of thing a redneck girl would love.”
Violeta frowned. “OK. So what’s funny about it?”
“Well, I think it’s funny because my dad’s family were rednecks,” Kemara said, smiling.
“Yeah. The word redneck started out referring to farmers who were sunburned from working in the fields. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of. But it grew to mean Southerner to a lot of people.” She grinned. “And you know what? My dad had a donkey as a pet when he was a kid. It used to wait down at the end of the road for him to get off the school bus every day.”
Violeta perked up. “That’s so cool! Does he have pictures?”
“I’ll ask next time I talk to him,” Kemara promised. “Oh, and there’s the dress I’m getting.” She told them about discovering the reason for Sean’s Christmas gift.
“It’s perfect!” Rose said. “I’ll have to check out that shop.”
Emma nodded. “Me too! And that’s so great that Joshua knew what your dress would be and prompted Sean to get the brooch for it.”
“He’s interested in even the tiniest details of our lives,” Diana said. “And that’s such a wonderful thing.”
When they had cleared away the plates, JenniAnn and Violeta passed around pieces of paper and pens.
“We’ve got a few games that we thought might be fun,” JenniAnn said. “I was on the internet the other day and came across a book published in 1880 called, ‘How to Get a Husband!’” She went to her laptop and pulled up the title page. “It’s really a collection of personal ads from men who want to get married.”
“A veritable list of some of the the best looking, wealthiest and most reliable single and marriageable men of the Country, with their Post Office Address.” Hailey read aloud.
“Apparently, a woman was supposed to go through the book and write letters to the men she thought sounded like good prospects,” JenniAnn continued. She clicked to a page of ads.
Kylie giggled. “James G. Bennett, Heart as big as his pocket; eyes as blue as his blood. Nab him.”
“I like Rollin M. Daggett,” Kemara said. “A diamond in himself; a spicy and versatile character; good writer; a widow with money could torment him amazingly.”
JenniAnn pulled up another page. “So, I thought it might be fun to write our own personal ads for the guys in our lives. If they were the ones writing them, I mean.”
“Ohh…So we each have to write one for Sean, Andrew, Arthur, Clay, Peter and Zeke?” Emma asked.
Ivy held up a hand. “What about Joshua?”
“Huh. Well, maybe the Bible counts as his?” Kemara suggested.
Diana laughed. “I like that way of looking at it.”
“OK. So maybe we write up to four sentences for each guy.” Rose said. “But don’t take longer than ten minutes.”
They got to work, and the silence was broken only by the occasional giggle. The laptop’s alarm went off.
“Time’s up!” JenniAnn said. “So let’s take each man one at a time. We’ll start with Sean since this is Kemara’s party.” She turned to her friend. “What did you put?”
Kemara cleared her throat and read: “Sean E. McCallum. Flaming red hair; brilliant on the dance floor; plays several instruments; looking for a lady who can match him step for step.”
“Very nice!” Diana applauded. “Here’s mine for him: Red hair with a wit to match; big-hearted and fond of music; would make a fine catch for any lady.”
After Sean, they moved on to Andrew: “Definitely Heaven-sent; a family man with aspirations towards carpentry; a green-eyed cupid looking for his soul mate.”
Zeke: Dependable, handsome, eager to bring joy to your life, has the voice of an angel and is as gentle and loving as one. Loves his God and his family, forever.
Clay: Gentle warrior, country boy and man of faith, beautiful in every way, delightfully romantic, would make an amazing father.
And Peter: Lovable former business man turned song and dance fella, would do well with a young lady who can sing and dance, as well. Enjoys double chocolate scones.
“Next, we have a copy of today’s horoscope,” JenniAnn said handing out another paper. “I’ve got everyone’s signs here so you can find yours easily.”
Kylie cheered. “Leos win! There are three of us!”
Kemara winced. “I don’t like the sound of mine: ‘Someone will break a promise. Take your time while you decide how to handle this setback. Even if you feel let down, an immediate reaction is likely to backfire’. Wonder what that could be about?”
Violeta looked panicked. “I don’t think there’s anything to do with the wedding that I’ve forgotten! I have a list and Gloria’s been helping me….”
Kemara went around the table and hugged her. “I’m sure it’s not talking about you! These are just fun predictions that someone thought up. You’re not supposed to take them seriously.”
“Plenty of people do,” Emma muttered, but not loud enough for the young angel to hear.
“Ares has some good advice,” Rose said. “‘Anger and hostility will not lead to success. Even if someone lets you down, you should stay centered and show tolerance and understanding. Negative emotions will sap your energy’.”
“I think mine is a wee bit closed-minded,” Monica remarked. She read, “Refuse to take part in anything that doesn't correspond with your own point of view. Stay in control and don't give in to pressure or ultimatums. Protect your rights and assets’.”
Hailey nudged her sister. “Kendra yours is funny! ‘Think about making a commitment or taking a partnership to the next level. You will be in the driver's seat if you are the first to negotiate’. Maybe there’s a guy in your future!”
Kendra blushed, but looked thoughtful. “Well, we do have to pair up for a big science project next week. Maybe it’s talking about that.”
“Good answer!” Ivy said, clapping.
“That’s my girl!” Diana laughed. “Keep that -”
A knock on the door interrupted them.
“They’re here!” Violeta shrieked. “Come in!”
The door opened, and Kemara stared. Andrew, Sean, Peter, Arthur, Zeke and Clay trooped in with Sean in the lead. He came straight to her, and taking her in his arms kissed her thoroughly. She blushed hotly. He’d never acted like that in public before or even in front of their friends. She pulled back and looked at him.
“What in the world have you been doing?” His nose and cheeks were sunburned, and he was very cheerful for someone who had supposedly been inside all day. “I thought you were working on your parents’ taxes!”
He grinned. “Oh I was! Until the rest of the guys showed up and dragged me off to Dyeland.”
“Yup!” Zeke said. “We didn’t think it was right for you ladies to be having all the fun today.”
The men spread out around the room perching on tables or leaning against the wall.
“So what did you do?” Emma asked curiously. “Peter wouldn’t tell me anything. He left St. G’s right after you all did,” she explained to Kemara.
Andrew shrugged. “We dropped the kids off in the Tunnels -.”
“After a second breakfast of course!” Arthur put in.
“And then we went sailing, grilled out, had a few beers….” Clay finished.
Peter thought hard for a minute. “And gave our soon-to-be-hitched friend there, some good advice.” He jerked a thumb at Sean. “At least, I hope it was. I can’t really remember what I said.”
“That’s OK, man, I can’t either,” Sean told him.
Diana shook her head. “Well, at least you had fun. I guess we need to wind this up and go get the kids before Jacob decides we’ve abandoned them there.”
Monica stood up and pulled a large gift bag from under the buffet table. “Sean and Kemara, we know you didn’t want any gifts, but we really wanted to do something. So we came up with this.” She passed the bag to Kemara who nearly dropped it.
“It’s heavy!” With Sean’s help she removed a cloth bundle. Unfolded, they saw it was a quilt done in the colors of the sea on a white ground. The spaces between the interlocking circles were filled with names and messages.
“The design is called a double wedding ring,” Monica said. ‘We sent out an email to all your family and friends asking them for messages.”
“Let’s spread it out so you can see it better,” Emma suggested. When the longest table was cleared and the quilt spread out, Kemara and Sean walked around it, reading the notes.
Ivy passed Kemara her handkerchief for the second time that day.
“I- I don’t know what - This is amazing…I can’t believe you all went to so much trouble.”
Sean wrapped an arm around her waist. “It’s not ‘trouble’ when people love you, sweetheart.”
She hid her face in his shoulder, unable to speak.
“Kemara’s right. This is really great.” He wiped his own eyes. “Thank you. We’ll treasure it.”
Andrew clapped him on the shoulder. “You can actually use it, too. The writing won’t come off in the wash.”
Kemara raised her head. “Thank you,” she whispered. “This is way better than a toaster.”
Everyone laughed, and the evening ended in an exchange of hugs and good wishes.
March 17, 2015
Kemara set the scrapbook on the coffee table and reached for the large envelope Rose had given her the night before. Her friend had graciously taken pictures at the rehearsal dinner and gotten the prints made immediately afterward. Included in the stack were photos Kemara had taken throughout the past couple of months.
She shuffled through them laying out the important moments: Belle’s first birthday, the traditional Dyeland Valentine’s Day party, her and Sean’s visit to Los Angeles, her parents’ arrival two weeks ago, rehearsals for JCS and ending with yesterday’s wedding rehearsal and dinner with all their family and friends.
February 4, 2015
“OK. So what have the two of you decided so far?” Fr. Mike said as he, Kemara, Sean and Violeta settled around the Willowveil kitchen table. The priest had agreed to come over before Bible study and help them finalize the wedding ceremony.
Sean handed him a sheet of paper. “We did go ahead and pick the first and second readings, responsorial psalm and the gospel.”
Fr. Mike looked it over, finding each passage in a booklet that listed all the possible choices.
“Let’s see....for the first reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34. ‘I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel’.” He smiled. “I like that because it can refer to the community we’re building here with those of us who have met Joshua.”
Violeta beamed. “That’s what I thought! It’s fun that it can have a double meaning like that.”
“And who will be the lectors?” Fr. Mike asked. “I’ve got this handy form to write it all down.” He flourished a pen.
“We thought Owen would be a good choice,” Kemara said. “And Diana will do the second reading and Zeke the psalm.”
“Excellent!” The priest wrote down their names. “And the second reading is Philippians 4:4-9. Oh, that’s a lovely choice. ‘....Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things’.”
Kemara sniffed and Sean squeezed her hand.
“I was really surprised that we had so many options for each one,” he said. “Some of them we dismissed right off -.”
“Like the ones that focus on just the woman,” Kemara put in.
Sean nodded. “Yeah, but we did have trouble deciding on some of them.”
Fr. Mike consulted the list again. “And Zeke will do Psalm 33. It’s perfect for him. ‘I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise will always be on my lips.”
“Yup, we’re really looking forward to hearing him sing that,” Sean said. “I guess the church will provide a pianist or we could ask Tess?’ He grinned at his fiancee. “As much as I like Kemara’s idea of banjos, that might not fit the mood.”
“Yes, we can do that. And altar servers too unless you have someone in mind?” Fr. Mike asked.
Sean shook his head. “All my nieces and nephews are too young, and Kemara’s the only Catholic in her family.”
“But we do want his niece Kelly to be our flower girl and Liam as ring bearer.” Kemara said. “They’re about the same age, so it will be a nice match.”
Fr. Mike wrote it down. “So that just leaves the Gospel.” He read their choice and began to laugh. “The wedding at Cana. I should have known!”
“Actually, that’s one of those we had trouble deciding,” Sean admitted. “After your talks about how marriage needs a strong foundation, we almost picked the one about the wise man who built his house on rock. But we decided we just had to have Maryam in there.”
“OK. That takes care of the readings,” Fr. Mike said. “Now, there’s the prayers of the faithful after you’ve made your vows and I’ve given the nuptial blessing.”
Kemara and Sean looked at one another. “Monica?” she suggested. “Maybe she could start and alternate with Arthur?”
Fr. Mike nodded. “That would work. After that
is the presentation of the gifts….”
“Andrew, JenniAnn and Belle,” Kemara said. “We wanted to include them somehow but we knew Belle might fuss if she saw Mommy or Daddy up front. This way one of them can carry her, and she can be involved.”
“Good idea. There are a few other options for prayers and the like. We can go over them if you want, or I can choose.”
“You go ahead,” Sean said. “I think the readings were the big decision we wanted to make.”
“That’s fine. And will you have a best man and maid of honor or other attendants?”
“My brother-in-law, Brad will be my best man,” Sean said.
“I’m going to ask Ivy tonight if she’ll be my maid of honor,” Kemara added. “And they’ll be our witnesses too, to sign the forms.”
Fr. Mike smiled. “It sounds like we have everything figured out then!” He read back over the form. “Oh, did you want to do the unity candle or the flowers for Mary?”
Violeta looked puzzled. “What are those? I’ve never read anything about them.”
The priest shrugged apologetically. “Well the unity candle is actually a Protestant custom, but a lot of my parishioners ask for it thinking that it’s part of the Mass. And the flowers for Mary actually is a Catholic tradition. The bride leaves a bouquet at a statue of Mary at some point during Mass or right after.”
“Just the bride?” Violeta asked. “That’s not fair. And why doesn’t Yosef get mentioned?”
“We’re not going to leave him out,” Kemara assured her. “We don’t care for the unity candle thing.” She glanced at Sean who nodded in agreement. “But we’d like to come in before Mass starts and leave flowers at the picture Owen painted of Maryam, Yosef and baby Joshua.”
Fr. Mike thought for a minute and then nodded. “Yes, that sounds like a good idea.”
JenniAnn came in the kitchen then. “How’s it going?” she asked.
“We’re just finishing up,” Kemara said. “Do you need help with anything?”
“Nah, just going to set out some veggies and dip and a cheese plate we made up last night.” She opened the refrigerator and removed two large platters. “As much as I loved having our meetings in Joshua’s room, it really is easier to have everything the ballroom now.”
Fr. Mike stood up and gathered his papers. “So is our birthday girl ready for her big day tomorrow?"
JenniAnn smiled. "We've been telling her about it all week, but she's really too little to understand."
"Not too little to enjoy the cake though," Kemara grinned. "I loved mine. It was chocolate, and I thought it made wonderful finger paint."
Sean chuckled. "We do ice cream in our family. Belle would get something simple like a big bowl of strawberry or vanilla with sprinkles, but adults get a huge sundae with anything they want on it."
"I've never been a big fan of ice cream, but an ice cream cake would be good," Kemara mused.
His expression turned dreamy. "Definitely..."
They heard the front door open and close and footsteps coming down the hall.
Kemara rolled her eyes. "Men and food," she said to JenniAnn. "It's amazing they pay us any attention at all."
"Did someone mention food?" Andrew asked, stepping into the kitchen.
Fr. Mike laughed. "The ladies were just debating if the old adage is still true about the way to a man's heart being through his stomach."
The angel of death thought for a minute. "Well, I guess it depends on if you're talking about surgery or cooking."
JenniAnn hugged him. "Aww...perfect answer! I love you."
He returned the hug. "Thanks! Love you too."
The door opened again to the sound of more voices.
"Well, shall we?" Fr. Mike asked.
“What did JenniAnn mean that she and Andrew will be starting on the Valentine’s Day video next week?” Sean asked as he walked Kemara home later that night
She looked surprised. “Oh, I forgot this is your first year. Andrew and JenniAnn used to interview everyone - that was before my time - and put together a video to show at the party. But this year, JenniAnn said there are just too many people to. So it’s a clips show - photos and video both.”
“Sounds like fun,” Sean said blandly.
Kemara looked at him. “Okay, spill it! What are you planning? You wouldn’t answer my questions before.”
“Weeelll….” He drew the word out, teasing. “I thought….maybe we could….”
“Sean…” she threatened.
He laughed. “So impatient!”
She stepped in front of him, forcing him to stop walking. She folded her arms and gave him a mock glare. “Now. Or you’ll find out just how impatient I can be.”
He held up his hands as if warding her off. "Okay! I give! Andrew mentioned once that you all have some friends who live in L.A."
"Yeah, Logan, and a few others." She fell in step beside him again. "I met them once or twice. Why?"
Sean stuck his hands in his pockets. "I thought maybe we could spend the day there - in L.A. I mean - for Valentine's. Andrew said there's a portal. Sun and warmer weather, do some sight-seeing, check out Disney."
They were at the house now, and Warren greeted them with his usual exuberance.
"Would you get the fire started while I make a pot of coffee?" Kemara said.
When they were seated on the couch with Warren sprawled across both their laps - Sean got the tail end, much to Kemara's amusement - she said, "I'd love to go, but....can we afford it? With the wedding and Ireland and all?"
"Don't worry about that. We have plenty, and if you want to see the accounts I'll show them to you."
She shuddered. "No thanks! I'm quite happy to let you handle the finances. Well, if it won’t break the bank then I think it’ll be fun!” Just one day, though…” she trailed off thinking about what she wanted to do first. Maybe sit in the sun and -.
“I’m sure we could come back later. Unless you’ve changed your mind about waiting until we’re married.” He grimaced and looked as if he wished he could take that last sentence back.
“Changed my….” Kemara blushed hotly as she realized what he meant. “Oh, you mean we could get a hotel room. No, I didn’t think…” she stammered. “And it wasn’t just my decision, you know!” Embarrassment made her tone sharp. Warren raised his head in alarm and mewed.
He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “I know. Look, I’m sorry...that didn’t come out right.”
They sat quietly for a few minutes, sipping their coffee and watching the fire.
"Have you ever...?" she ventured tentatively.
"Once. It...didn't go well. For her, at least." He sighed again. "We were 15. It wasn’t….she….we both wanted...but we were just kids we didn’t realize…” He trailed off, frustrated. “Anyway, I was just focused on me. I never thought that it would be different for her. I knew something was wrong of course...after. But by then it was too late."
She could see he still felt guilty about it. She laid a hand on his arm. "I'm sorry. For both of you."
He shrugged. "We dated for a while longer, but whatever had been between us was...tainted." He smiled slightly. "At least I know she's happily married now with a couple of kids. But if I could go back and change anything I've done it would be that.” He glanced over at her. “Does that bother you? Knowing that I didn't wait?”
“No.” She didn’t have to think about it. “I mean, I guess I figured most guys your age have had at least a few girlfriends. It's a stupid double standard." She looked down into her cup. “But maybe I’m not so squeaky clean that I can throw stones.”
Sean started to say something, but stopped when he saw she was serious.
“Did you talk to her after that?”
“Yeah, and apologized too. But I talked to my dad first.”
"You came right out and told him?" What did he do?"
He shook his head. “It really got to me - I guess I was immature - but I loved her - thought I did anyway. And I couldn’t understand what I’d done wrong. We guys can be pretty dense at fifteen. So, I told him everything.” He frowned. “Dad was...great. He said he was disappointed, but he understood. Then he explained the technical details that I’d somehow managed to miss. But he said that wasn’t all there was to it.”
Kemara listened intently, wishing they’d had this conversation a long time ago instead of now, with the wedding a month away. This was a side of her fiance she’d never guessed existed.
“My mom was kinda a feminist when she and Dad were dating,” Sean grinned. “He told me that she refused to sleep with them before they were married - and this was the wild 1960s, remember? And it wasn’t because she’s really religious. I mean, she may be, but she’s quiet about it.”
“Like you,” Kemara smiled.
“Yeah. So she told my dad what for, and he passed it on to me. He said sex binds two people on an emotional level, and that for women, the emotional is often more important that the physical. So my girlfriend was probably thinking of sex as a way to feel closer to me, and I just thought of sex - full stop.”
Kemara nodded. “Two completely different viewpoints.”
“Yup. And then there’s the double standard you mentioned.” He chuckled. “Apparently, what mom sad, really opened dad’s eyes. She told him, ‘If we have sex, all the guys will congratulate you; and all the girls will think I’m a slut even if they’re doing the same thing!’ And that made me realize how I’d hurt my girlfriend in more ways than just the physical.”
“Hard lesson to learn at fifteen,” Kemara said. Her heart ached for the nameless girl and for the boy Sean had been.
He nodded. “I cried. I asked my dad what I should do, and he said that was my decision. I thought about it for a long time. I knew I couldn’t change what had already happened, but the next day - it was a Saturday - I bought the nicest bunch of flowers I could afford. I went over to my girlfriend’s house and asked her to come for a walk. I told her I was sorry and how I was a stupid ass and a lot of other stuff.” He blushed.
Kemara set down her cup and rubbed his back. She felt his tense muscles relax slightly. “And what did she say?”
“She was nicer than I deserved. She could’ve gone to her father and claimed it wasn’t consensual. But, she...she said she was fine and she’d had a long talk with her older sister. I guess like I did with my dad. We agreed that we’d try to forget about it and just be friends….”Sean trailed off. “That didn’t work, of course, but I don’t think she hated me. Or if she did, she wouldn’t admit it.”
Kemara hugged him. “I’m sorry,” she said again.
“Me too. I should’ve told you months ago.”
"I understand why you didn’t. Your talk with Keith - that's more than I got from my parents," Kemara said. "I read everything I could get my hands on, and they didn't censor me at all. I was reading Stephen King and Sidney Sheldon at a young age.
"And then in high school, my best friend introduced me to those bodice-ripper romances." She made a face "I wouldn't touch them now, but stuff like that....it sticks in your mind, you know?"
He pulled her close. “Yeah."
She listened to his heartbeat under her cheek. After a while she said, "And...I don't want you to feel...pressured, or anything but I'm kinda glad that..."
"That one of us knows what we're doing?" He suggested wryly.
She blushed. "It sounds awful, but -.”
"It won't be like that with us. I promise."
“I know,” she said, and kissed him.
March 17, 2015
Kemara chose one last birthday sticker and carefully positioned it on the page. She smiled at the photo of Belle face down in the small chocolate cake she had been given for her very own. She hadn’t eaten it so much as inhaled it.
In another picture, Owen read to Belle the picture book Kemara had written and he had illustrated about her first days with Andrew and JenniAnn. It had been a cozy party - just the “family”. Max, Rose and Violeta had given the little girl small gifts. Jacob and Liam had drawn her pictures. Shelby had saved money from doing chores to buy her sister an Elsa doll which Belle refused to let go of all evening.
Warren sat up, stretched, and jumped down from the couch. The cat ambled over to the rocking chair in the corner and leaped up, curling around the large plush monkey that sat there - Sean’s Valentine’s Day gift to her along with a box of her favorite chocolates.
She grinned, remembering his jest that he would wear the leprechaun pajama pants she’s given him on their wedding night - tonight. The clock read 4 a.m. - a few hours yet before she had to be over at Willowveil to get dressed. Hopefully she could finish the scrapbook before then.
She turned to another double-page spread and picked up the stack of photos, brochures and ticket stubs from their Los Angeles visit: Sean “acting” in a TV show at Universal Studios; grinning delightedly on the Tower of Terror ride; herself sitting in the sun at a downtown cafe and posing with Goofy at Disneyland. As the crowning touch, Sean had surprised her with a romantic dinner at a seafood restaurant on the Santa Monica Pier.
As wonderful as the day had been, their conversation after Sean suggested the trip had touched her the most. It had revealed a new facet of her very-soon-to-be husband.
And what they’d discovered two weeks ago had shown her another...
March 2, 2015
“Sean? Could you come here a minute?”
“Sure, just let me finish the eggs.”
In the bathroom, Kemara stared at the chart pinned up by the sink. She flipped back several months, looked again at the March page. There was no doubt.
“What’s up?” Sean asked, appearing in the doorway. “Food’s ready. Are you feeling OK?”
They were heading into Manhattan so Sean could pick up his suit for the wedding while Kemara had the final fitting for her gown.
“I - I’m fine.” Kemara was still concentrating on the chart.
“You don’t look it.” Sean came over to her. “You’re pale.” He put a hand on her forehead. “And clammy. Sure you’re not getting sick?”
She laughed shakily. “Not yet.” She unhooked the clipboard of papers and handed it to him. “Look at this.”
He frowned in puzzlement. “This is your NFP chart, right? What am I supposed to be looking at?”
“This pattern….” She pointed it out, turned back to previous months, so he could see the dates.
“I still don’t -” he started to say and then froze. Like her, he went back and forth for a minute, confirming what his eyes were telling him. His face went blank with shock.
Kemara watched him anxiously. She remembered his reaction to Diana and Zeke’s story about their little honeymoon souvenir. According to these results, they might be bringing home one of their own.
Sean still hadn’t said anything.
“Umm...I don’t think it’s very likely,” she said to fill the silence. “And we could wait, just to make sure, if we don’t want -.”
She broke off as Sean dropped the chart to the floor with a clatter and pulled her into his arms. “A baby,” he mumbled into her hair.
“A chance.” She wrapped her arms around him and held on tight. “Like I said, it might not -.”
He pulled away to look at her, and there were tears on his cheeks. “You’re 34, not 90. And if that’s accurate -” he gestured at the clipboard. “Then it’s a very good chance.”
“I know we want kids, but so soon…”
His kiss stopped her words. “Might as well go ahead and get started, don’t you think? Have hope, my little worrywart!”
She smiled and let the wonder of it sink in. “A baby…Maybe a little girl with your red hair.”
“Or a boy with your brown eyes,” Sean countered.
Maybe both, Kemara thought remembering her dream (vision?) of Joshua offering them two babies. She hadn’t told Sean yet, and she wasn’t quite sure why not.
“I guess we’ll just have to wait and see,” she said. “At least we won’t be surprised if it does happen!”
He grinned. “No! This was enough of a surprise. Now, let’s have breakfast. I guess you could go ahead and start eating for two if you wanted….”
Laughing, she followed him into the kitchen.
“You excited about your parents getting here tomorrow?” Sean asked as they ate fried chicken at Bob White’s that afternoon. He had suggested the diner knowing they wouldn't have another chance before the wedding to revisit the site of their first “date”.
Kemara grimaced. “Yes and no.” At his look of surprise she added, “I mean, I do want to see them - very much, but I feel bad that they’ve been left out of all the planning.”
“My mom probably thinks that’s a bonus!” Sean joked. “Nothing for her and dad to do except show up and walk me down the aisle.”
She smiled, grateful that he could always cheer her up. “Mom really likes that part - both of them escorting me instead of just dad. Actually, she’s so thrilled I’m finally getting married we could have the ceremony in Alaska and she wouldn’t care.”
“Well, Ireland will be chilly, that’s for sure. I looked at the month-long forecast this morning, and highs should be in the upper-30s and low 40s.”
“With the usual rain every day! As long as there’s no snow, I don’t care.” Kemara said, shivering. “I’m so tired of snow! Hopefully this past storm was the end of it.”
Sean pretended to pout. “And here I thought we’d made a New Yorker out of you this winter!”
“Not a chance, buddy! You can take the girl out of the South, but you can’t take the Southern out of the girl.” She pointed at him. “Just wait. We’ll go down there for a visit, and then you’ll understand.”
“You miss it.” It wasn’t a question. He reached across the table and took her hand.
She sighed. “Yeah. But I’d rather be here with you and all our friends - our family - than down there without you.” She squeezed his hand and released it to take a sip of tea. “So are you ready for your folks to see you on stage?”
He shrugged. “It’s weird….I’ve done so many performances playing instruments. Just a couple lines of introduction and ‘thanks’ at the end. This is the most singing I’ve ever done.”
“Aww...I don’t know why - I think you have a great voice.”
She started to reply, and then gave a little start. “I just realized…This day last year Monica and I were planning the St. Patrick’s Day party. I told her there was this guy named Sean in my dance class who I really liked….”
“Oh, yeah?” Sean sat back in his chair.
“Uh-huh. But I was afraid to let you know how I felt.”
He grinned. “And what did Monica say?”
Kemara blinked back sudden tears, remembering. “That...locking away my heart might protect me from being hurt, but it also shut out all the love and all the gifts God wanted to give me.” She grabbed a napkin and dabbed at her eyes. “And Joshua said those exact same words at the party. That’s when I knew there was something different about him.”
“He talked to me, too,” Sean admitted. “It was right after Kylie finished her song. I was standing at the stereo, just watching you all.” He flushed. “There was this energy about your whole group - I guess that was from Joshua - and I wanted to be a part of it.”
“You already were,” Kemara said softly.
He nodded. “You were alone for the first time all night, and I was trying to get up the courage to ask you to dance. I felt so stupid, ‘cause we’d just done that two hand, but….” He trailed off.
“But it’s not real, couple-sorta dancing?” she guessed.
“Exactly! So Joshua walks over, real casually, and he says, ‘You never know unless you give her a chance.’ It made me jump because I didn’t realize I was being so obvious about it. I probably wasn’t since he’s who he is-. What?”
She was crying again. “He said that to me about you! And that I should let you come to me….”
“Then he gave me the push to do just that,” Sean marveled. “And I’m so thankful he did.”
“Me too.” She smiled. “We’ll have to tell that story at the reception. Just one more example of Joshua bringing people together.”
The next day, Kemara paced the arrivals area at JFK. Her parents’ plane had landed almost half an hour ago, but so far no one had deplaned.
“Relax.” Sean put his hands on her shoulders halting her in her tracks. “They’ll be here. It takes a while to get everyone unloaded.”
“I know.” She took deep breaths. “I just hope they like everything we've picked out and..."
Sean turned her to face him. "It's our wedding and our decisions to make. If they have suggestions, we can talk about them, but we don't have to do it." He gave her a gentle shake. "Understand?"
"Have I told you how much I love you?"
He grinned. "Not in the last five minutes, no. But my ego always likes to hear it."
"Yes; but you're smiling again. And here they are..."
Kemara whirled around and caught sight of her parents in the doorway. Her father had hold of her mother's arm, and they were scanning the lounge anxiously.
"Mom! Dad!" She and Sean hurried over. The next few minutes were a confused jumble of kissing and hugging.
"How was your flight?" Kemara asked once they had left the bustle of arrivals for the baggage-claim area.
Her mother smiled. "Not as nerve-wracking as last time, thank goodness. I still don't like flying, but it wasn't bad. I might get used to it eventually."
"There's just not enough room," her father said. "I think next time we'll upgrade to first class."
"It really depends on the airline," Sean replied. "Sometimes business class is just as good, and cheaper, too. OK. What do your bags look like?"
David turned to Kemara and Joyce. "We'll get the suitcases. You two just stay put."
“How are we getting to Willowveil?” her mother nervously, watching the foot traffic, carts and personal trams flow past them. "Not the subway, surely?"
“We’ll take a cab to Sean’s apartment, and then our friend Andrew - you remember him, don’t you? - loaned us his van.”
“Yes. He’s one of the - angels, right?”
Kemara nodded, glancing around to make sure they weren’t overheard. “That’s right, but don’t mention it outside of Dyeland. People might get the wrong idea. Actually, be careful about mentioning Dyeland at all.”
Joyce smiled. “I can keep a secret, Kemara. So when will your dress be ready?”
“Monday, I think. The shop’s going to call Friday to confirm it. Then Ivy will come over Monday night so we can practice hair and makeup. You’ll like Ivy, Mom. She’s really sweet.”
“Oh, I’m sure she is, but you could’ve asked your cousin. That’s what you girls planned when you were younger.”
Kemara stifled a sigh. “I know. The thing is Amanda and I haven’t seen each other for years. Ivy’s gotten to be like a little sister to me.”
Her mother wasn’t listening. She was watching Sean pull one of the suitcases off the conveyer belt. “I’m so glad you found a man with a good job and some money to take care of you,” she said with a happy sigh.
“I don’t need someone to ‘take care of me’. Sean and I want to be partners.”
“But it’s not like you can bring in much money without a regular job, is it? Thank the Lord you ended up with these friends of yours or you’d probably be living on the street!”
Kemara clenched her hands into fists and forced herself to stay quiet. She knew from experience that arguing wouldn’t change her mother’s opinions in the slightest. She searched for a topic that wouldn’t cause friction.
“JenniAnn said you guys can have the same room you stayed in at Thanksgiving. Sean’s right across the hall, actually.”
"I don't know why Sean hasn’t moved in with you already. There's nothing wrong with that, you know. It’s what your father and I did."
Kemara flushed. Sean and her dad were coming over with the bags, and from the expression on Sean’s face she knew he’d overheard this last remark.
“We just don’t want to do that, Mom. Sean’s moved most of his stuff to my place, and we’ll finish up when we get back from Ireland.”
“Actually,” Sean put in cheerfully before her mother could say anything else, “I like the idea of having something to look forward to after the wedding.” He wrapped an arm around Kemara‘s waist and kissed her cheek. “More fun that way.”
Kemara smiled up at him gratefully.
Her father chuckled. “Now, Joyce, don’t go on about it. Let them do what works for them.”
As they walked to where the rental cars and taxis were parked, he told Sean, “Not that we were honest about it, mind you. We wanted to get married, but I still had a year of college left. My parents wouldn’t have kept paying my tuition if I was married, so we eloped and only told them after I’d graduated.”
“Makes sense to me,” Sean said.
When they were in the cab, Kemara asked. “So is there anything in particular you guys want to do while you’re here?”
“Well, Megan and Keith have invited us to go to dinner and a Broadway show Friday night,” Joyce said casually.
Sean twisted around in the front seat to look back at them. Kemara couldn’t speak for a minute. “You -, you know Sean’s parents?”
“Just to talk to,” Joyce said, clearly enjoying their reaction to her news. “Megan and I have been emailing back and forth and chatting on Facebook for a few months now.”
David chuckled. “We know everything you kids have been getting up to.”
Sean muttered something Kemara couldn’t quite hear. “Well, that’s great! Kemara was worried that you might get bored, since the two of us have rehearsals and other commitments in the evenings.”
“Oh, I can’t wait to see your show!” Joyce said. “I remember when the movie came out - the year we were married actually. Ted Neeley was so good looking!”
“Hey, I’m sitting right here, you know!” David pointed out, making them laugh.
“The guy who’s playing our Jesus...,” Kemara’s voice caught as she thought of Joshua. Sean reached back and squeezed her hand. “...Peter, he’s great. He played Peter last year, actually. And everyone else is back, too, so rehearsals are going really well.”
Her father never missed anything. “What about that Joshua fellow? Did he not want to reprise his role? From those articles you sent us, I thought he’d be sticking around.”
“No,” Sean replied. “Acting’s not his usual gig, but the one performance I saw, he was fantastic. He gave a very realistic portrayal.”
“I’m sure this year will be just as good,” Joyce said. “But Kemara, you told me opening night will be while you’re gone.”
Kemara nodded. “Yes, Sean and I will be in the last three shows, but we thought you two and his parents could watch a dress rehearsal. We should should be pretty polished by then.”
At Willowveil, Andrew and JenniAnn greeted David and Joyce and made sure they were settled in. Kemara’s mother laid down for a nap before dinner, while her father persuaded Andrew to show him the angel’s woodworking shop.
“I wish I could stay,” Sean said as they stood at the gazebo, “But I really need to run into the office for a couple of hours. Tom’s been great about letting me work from home every now and then….”
“And more so when we get back from our honeymoon -,” Kemara added.
After a lot of thought, Sean had decided to make the move to Dyeland permanent by telecommuting as much as possible instead of going to and from the Manhattan financial district every day. It meant a slight reduction in his paycheck, but he’d offered to teach seminars on personal finance, budgeting and tax filing at True Light and the Phoenix Inn. Both Catherine and Arthur had insisted on paying him a little something.
“I can’t wait,” Sean said. “But until then -.” He kissed her and climbed the steps. “I’ll be back for dinner.” He set his coin against the post and stepped through.
Kemara sighed and sat on the steps feeling suddenly lonely.
“I know the feeling.”
She turned and smiled at Rose. “Hey! Taking a break?”
The other woman nodded and sat beside her. “Yep. Every time, I say that the current paper will be the death of me, but this one just might be.”
Kemara laughed. “I remember those days! I had to take an entire class on Spenser's “The Faerie Queene”. Just one poem, but it’s a 700-page poem! There were about five of us, so no one could slack off. It was pretty intense.”
Rose shuddered. “I’m still taking the core classes: American Lit, British Lit, Composition 103 - all those. I do have a Shakespeare class next semester that I’m really looking forward to.”
“He’s always fun.”
They were quiet for a minute, then Kemara said, “What did you mean, ‘you know the feeling’?”
“Just that...It’s hard to be away from Max sometimes. I find myself looking for him, or expecting him to walk in the door if I haven’t seen him in a while.”
Kemara nodded. “Exactly! It’s weird. I’ve always said - loudly - that I’m an introvert, and I need my space and my alone time. But now...I just want to be with Sean, and all of you, too.” She laughed. “I should’ve moved into Willowveil when he did.”
“I think we’ve become more of a family over the past year,” Rose said. “And not just here but the rest of our group - the Friends of Joshua - as JenniAnn calls us.”
“I tried to explain that to my parents, but I think it kinda hurt my mom’s feelings to hear that I consider people I’m not related to family.”
Rose squeezed her shoulder. “I’m sorry. I...I get the impression that you two don’t get along real well?”
“No. Dad and I are pretty close, but with mom….” She shook her head. “It’s like she can’t understand me at all. She keeps trying to make me into someone I’m not. I actually had to explain to her that I’m not frowning and angry all the time. My face just doesn’t smile automatically!” She choked back a sob.
“Hey…” Rose pulled her into a hug. “That’s exactly what I like about you. You’re honest, and you don’t try to cover up your true feelings. I’m sorry your mom can’t accept that.”
Kemara wiped her eyes. “Thanks...I’m such a mess! It feels like I’m crying all the time lately.”
“I think that’s pretty normal considering everything you’ve got going on right now.”
“I know. I just - it seems like I’ve got so many more issues than Sean does. He’s already got to deal with my shyness and insecurity and now this with my parents, too. It feels like it’s all about me and my problems.”
Rose smiled. “Don’t worry about it.” She nudged her friend. “Yes, I know telling you not to worry is pointless, but try anyway.”
She stood up. “Now, why don’t you read over my paper? That should take your mind off missing Sean!”
Kemara laughed and got to her feet. “It’s a deal! I’ve got some of my college notebooks in boxes in the closet. I’ll have to go through them and see if there’s anything you can use….”
To Kemara’s relief, all went smoothly for the next few days. Her parents attended the Wednesday night Bible study where the group made sure to avoid any references to Joshua as the second person of the trinity.
On Thursday evening, she and Sean left her mother with Violeta and JenniAnn discussing decorations for the church and the ballroom. Her father and Andrew had gone Below to look at some old furniture a Helper had recently donated.
“I’m going to miss dance class and this while we’re gone,” Kemara said as she and Sean navigated the still-busy Manhattan sidewalks to Paddy Ryan’s bar where their group performed once a week.
He took her arm and guided her around a bunch of Canadian tourists with red backpacks, “I’m sure we can do some dancing while we’re there. This is Ireland we’re talking about.”
“Good point!” She laughed. “And maybe you can find some other musicians to play with.”
“I’d say that’s a guarantee since every village has at least one pub,” Sean said, holding open the door for her. “And at least -.”
“Surprise!” chorused several voices.
Looking around, they saw their fellow dancers and several of the bar’s regular patrons beaming at them. Elaine hurried over.
“We thought we’d throw you two a little party!” she said, hugging them both. She ushered them over to where some tables had been pushed together. A sheet cake decorated with shamrocks read, “Congratulations Sean and Kemara”. Beside it was a large glass jar.
“Aww...thank you guys so much!” Kemara said admiring the cake. “But you didn’t have to do this for us.”
Joanne stepped forward. “Oh, the cake isn’t all!” She gestured over to the bar where Patrick waved to them. “Pat and the servers have offered to put their tips this evening in this jar and invite the patrons to add to it. And so will all of us. Whatever’s there at closing time goes to True Light and The Phoenix Inn.”
“I-, I-,” Sean stammered.
“Wow, never thought I’d hear Sean lost for words,” someone joked.
That made all of them laugh.
“Yeah, that was definitely a first,” Kemara teased.
“I guess it was,” he said. “This is just amazing. Thank you everybody!”
“Yes, thank you! This is fantastic!”
They watched as Joanne carried the jar to a table beside the bar and propped a brightly colored sign next to it: “Donations accepted for True Light Men’s Shelter and The Phoenix Inn Women’s Shelter”.
Elaine clapped her hands. “OK, people! Let’s get out there and fill that jar up.”
Soon, the pub was loud with the sounds of reels and jigs accompanied by the rhythm of hard shoes. Pat opened the doors wide and proclaimed a “Pre-St. Patrick’s Day Party” with drinks 10% off to draw in the crowds.
“I’m beat!” Kemara collapsed into a chair at 2 a.m. as Pat locked the door behind the last of the patrons. “I don’t think we’ve ever danced so much at one time.” She sighed with relief as she changed her dance shoes for a pair of flats.
Sean handed her a glass of water. “Here you go. How’re your ankle and knee feeling?”
“Thanks. They’re fine. I’m just tired, and I think I’m getting a blister. That’s never happened before.”
“I’m not surprised.” Elaine said, coming over to them. She looked as energetic as ever. “This crowd was the biggest I’ve seen in years. Pat’s counting up the money now. He said he’ll divide it evenly and write you out two checks.”
Sean nodded. “Sounds good. Our friends who run the shelters will be thrilled.”
“Not to change the subject,” Elaine said with uncharismatic hesitancy. “But, would you mind if I came to your wedding? I know the invitation said the reception is private, but -.”
“We’d love to have you!” Kemara hastened to assure her. “You and anyone else who wants to come! The reception’s private because a friend of ours offered to host it at her home, and there’s only so much room.”
“Yes, bring anyone you want,” Sean said. “My whole family will be there, but Kemara’s only got her parents. Most of our mutual friends are in the ceremony, so it would be good to fill up the pews.”
“But don’t you have performances that day?” Kemara asked. “I’d hate for you to pass them up.”
Elaine shook her head. “Nothing until after lunch since it’s a weekday. The kids will be in the parade, but we hadn’t planned on it this year, so the timing’s perfect.”
Joanne and some of the others were close enough to overhear. ‘I’d like to come,” she said. “I always take St. Patrick’s Day off work, so I’m free.”
Several voices chimed in, and before Kemara knew what was happening they had added eight more people to the guest list.
“Oh, good! Here’s Patrick,” Elaine said as the bar’s owner walked out of the back room followed by the servers and kitchen staff.
“I have here two checks,” He announced. “For 500 dollars each!” He waited for the cheers to die down. “Also, I personally will be donating 250 dollars to each shelter.” He produced two more checks. “In appreciation for all the business that your group has brought us over the years.”
Renewed cheers almost drowned out his last words. Sean shook his hand and Kemara hugged him. Waving and calling good nights, the group left by the back door and scattered to their various subway stations.
Sean took his bag and Kemara’s and slug them both over his shoulder. “This has been a really great night.”
“I know. I was thinking we should wait and present Catherine and Arthur with the money at the reception. Between this and whatever people bring as gifts or put in the collection basket, we should have a good bit.”
“Sounds like a plan. Maybe the jar could be gussied up and make a reappearance.”
Kemara laughed. “I’ll mention it to Violeta. I really want to get her something for being our wedding planner. She’s done such a great job. Like tonight - she would’ve loved it, but she stayed with Mom and JenniAnn to talk about flowers….Everyone’s been so wonderful.”
“Things with your mom are still going okay, aren’t they?”
“Yeah, so far. Do you know where they’re going tomorrow night? She said your parents were going to pick.”
He shrugged. “I don’t know about the restaurant, but dad said they’re leaning toward the Carole King show. They grew up with that music, so he and mom have been wanting to see it.”
“That’s perfect! I’m so glad they offered. I was worried my folks might get bored just hanging around Dyeland for two weeks. And I couldn’t really picture them roaming New York by themselves either.”
“You might be surprised! I bet by the time they leave they’ll have visited places you haven’t even seen yet.”
Kemara yawned and leaned her head on his shoulder, lulled by the motion of the subway car. “The only thing I want to see right now is my bed.”
She felt Sean draw breath to reply, and held up a hand. “Don’t even bother. I’m too tired to think up a good comeback.”
He chuckled and said nothing as the train rolled on.
“So what’re your plans for today?” Sean asked as they finished breakfast. He’d shown up at 8 with a pan of orange rolls ready for the oven, and she’d made a pot of coffee.
Kemara put the last plate in the dishwasher. “Emma and I have dance class at Lily’s Loot at 10. But after Thursday night, I’m not sure how much actual dancing I’ll be doing. My feet are still sore!”
She glanced at him hoping he wasn’t disappointed not to have her to himself. She thought she saw the beginnings of a frown, but wasn’t sure. “Want to come along? We could get lunch with Emma and Peter when we’re done.”
His expression lightened. “Sure! Maybe we could go early so I can pick up a gift for my favorite girl.”
Lily had enchanted Sean from the moment he met her, and he never failed to bring some small treat when he visited the shop.
“If we ever have daughter, you’re gonna spoil her rotten, aren’t you?” Kemara teased. She knew he would be a wonderful father - if he ever had the chance.
Sean pretended to frown. “If?” He pulled her into his arms. “What have I told you about doubting? Be careful or Joshua might make it so you can’t talk at all - like what happened to Zechariah. And I want you able to say, ‘I do’.”
“Ten days....” Kemara sighed.
“Ten days too long,” He agreed leaning down to kiss her.
Finally, Kemara pulled away. “OK. Enough of that! Otherwise, we just might have to elope and upset a bunch of people.”
Sean pouted. “And that would be bad thing?” But he followed her over to the computer.
“Let’s check the forecast again.”
For the next hour, they looked at photos of the west coast of Ireland, and researched things to do in Dublin where they would spend two days before flying home at the end of the month.
Lily met them at the door, and Sean scooped her up. “Hey Lilypad!” He took a plush butterfly from behind his back and perched it on top of her head. “Hey, looks like something landed on you!” He made it flutter lightly across her face.
Giggling, she reached up and grabbed it. She cuddled it close and placed a loud kiss on his cheek.
“Don’t I get one, too?” Kemara asked, and the little girl happily obliged.
They went through the shop, waving to Basil behind the counter, and into the back room where a few children and young adults waited with Emma and Azalea. Sean put Lily down and “danced” with her.
“He’s so good with her,” Emma said, as Kemara joined the other women by the stereo. Another group of young people ran in shouting and laughing.
Kemara watched proudly. “I know. He’s great with kids. He never talks down to them or anything.”
“I think everyone’s here,” Azalea said, counting. “It’s a little early, but it looks like they’re excited and ready to go.”
Emma clapped her hands. “OK everyone. Let’s start with some stretches…”
Sean came over to Kemara and Azalea. “What can I do to help?”
“Just wander around the room and try to keep them focused or lend a hand if someone looks like they’re really struggling,” Kemara said. “Otherwise, we just keep them moving, and let them do their thing.”
“Umm...don’t take this the wrong way,” Emma said as she and Kemara circled the room fifteen minutes later. “But Sean seems a little distracted.”
Kemara nodded, watching her fiancé. Something had been bothering her the entire class, and now she realized what it was. While Sean moved around the room as she’d instructed, he only spoke to or interacted with Lily.
“He’s ignoring the other kids.”
Emma frowned. “Now that you mention it…” The two of them watched in silence until Azalea joined them.
“I don’t think Sean’s very comfortable around the others,” she whispered.
“That’s not true!” Kemara said. “He loves Lily, and he’s wonderful with all his nieces and nephews, and Belle and Manny.”
The older woman patted her shoulder. “I’m sure he is; but I can tell. He won’t get too close, and he’s holding himself stiffly.”
“It happens,” Basil added. He had been standing in the doorway watching the class and overheard their exchange. “We’ve seen it before. People treat Lily differently until they get to know her. Once they do, they don’t see her differences any more, they just see what a beautiful butterfly she is.” He smiled as his daughter twirled with Sean, her wings sparkling.
Kemara’s heart sank. She wanted to protest again, but as Sean stepped out of the way of one teenager’s flailing arms, she knew Azalea and Basil were right.
Emma gave her friend a quick hug and went to turn off the music. “That was really awesome everyone! Come over here and put your props in the box.”
For the next few minutes she and Kemara were busy removing wings and antenna, straightening any that had gotten bent during the children’s enthusiastic dancing. Kemara noticed that Sean didn’t help, but chatted with Basil where he had a view of the shop door.
When the bell rang signalling Peter’s arrival, Sean waved to her. “We’ll be outside.”
“OK. We shouldn’t be long.” She turned back to the others. “I can’t believe he’s acting like this!”
“Don’t say anything about it,” Azalea advised. “He needs to find his own level of acceptance.”
Kemara sighed. “I know. Maybe if he keeps coming here, that will help.”
Azalea and Basil exchanged glances. “We’ll pray that it does.”
When Kemara and Emma left the shop ten minutes later, Sean was just putting up his phone.
“My mom,” he explained as they headed down the street to a Chinese restaurant all four enjoyed.
“Did she say how last night went? Our folks went out to dinner and saw the Carole King Musical,” Kemara explained to Emma and Peter.
Sean took out the phone again. “Yup! She said they had a great time. And….” he pulled something up on the screen. “Apparently had a bit too much to drink and started taking selfies.” The showed them a picture.
Peter laughed. “Now, there’s blackmail material!”
“Seriously!” Kemara rolled her eyes. “It also explains why I didn’t hear from mine this morning. They were probably still asleep if they got in late.”
“The wee hours, was all mom would say.” Sean grinned. “And like good kids we were tucked up in bed before midnight.”
Emma grinned. “I think you get your second wind once you reach a certain age and the kids are out of the house. I remember my grandparents still liked to go out dancing.”
“It’s true,” Kemara said. “On my first trip to Ireland, my cousin and I were the youngest in our tour group by about a dozen years. Every night, she and I would be going to bed just as the ‘old folks’ were heading to the pub.”
Once they were seated and had given the waitress their orders, Peter asked. “So how’d your class go?”
“Really great! The kids are coming on so fast,” Emma said. “Azalea said several parents have mentioned how the exercise is helping their children’s stamina and mobility. Some of them have heart problems so they tire easily.”
Sean frowned. “Heart problems?”
“Azalea and Basil say that’s pretty common with Down Syndrome,” Kemara said. “But Lily’s heart is fine.”
“That’s good.” He looked relieved.
She nudged him. “I noticed you hardly left her side today,” she teased.
“I told you - she’s my girl! Besides, you and Emma were doing just fine with the others.”
Emma tapped the edge of her plate. “You know, I bet the kids would love it if you brought your bodhran and played for them.”
“And let them try it out,” Kemara added. “Joshua made it, so I don’t think they could damage it.”
Sean nodded eagerly. “Yeah….that’s a good idea. When we get back I’ll do that.”
“You’re leaving on the 18th?” Peter asked. “That’s a long flight.”
“Yes, it’s eight hours,” Kemara said. “We’ve rented a really nice cottage on the west coast. We’ll stay there for almost the whole two weeks and then spend a few days in Dublin before we fly home again.”
Emma looked wistful. “I think I’d like to go overseas sometime. Maybe to Spain. I’ve always thought it was so beautiful. And now that I’d be with someone who knows the language…”
Peter smiled at her. “I spent a semester there in college, so I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Not to change the subject,” Sean said. “But when do you two think our parents should come watch rehearsal?”
“Huh…” Peter considered. “Maybe next Saturday? That will be our last one before the preview shows on the 18th and 19th.”
“That would work,” Emma said. “We’re pretty polished already.” She smiled at her fiancé. “And you’re perfect.”
He shrugged. “Joshua was perfect. I just feel like a kid dressing up as his dad and pretending to be him. Joshua just... was. Is. And I do... feel him with me. So I hope that shows.”
“It does,” Kemara assured him. “And Eric’s great, too. He was already gone before we all came on board last year, but from what you’ve said, he’s a totally changed man.”
“He really is,” Emma said. “I think we’re finally seeing the real Eric and not who he was pretending to be.”
Sean nodded. “I liked what he said on our message board about how Neela lets him beat himself up for three minutes and that’s it.” He pointed to Kemara. “I think we need to try that with this one.”
“I’ve gotten better!” she protested. “You know I have.”
“Yes, you have. I’m teasing,” Sean said.
Kemara blushed. “Joshua had a lot to do with it, and all of you. Rose and I were just saying the other day that we’ve really become a family in the past year.”
“And one that’s only going to keep growing,” Emma said happily.
Sean met Kemara as she was leaving the house.
"Hey! I was just coming to see if you wanted breakfast." He took her hand and turned back with her toward the castle.
"I already ate. I'm meeting Mom at Willowveil, and we're going to run pick up my dress. Then, Monica asked if I'd see about printing up some new flyers for her to hand out at the food truck."
Sean raised his eyebrows "She must have a lot of people asking about the shelters - not surprising with all the snow. Sounds like they'll need that money we've been taking in."
Kemara frowned. "I'm sure they do need it, but this is different. Monica's had several women lately - usually immigrants - ask if there's a safe place they can stay at. She thinks they might be connected with sex trafficking. The Phoenix really doesn't handle that sort of thing, but Catherine knows people who do. So Monica wants the information ready just in case."
"Good. Don't let your mom tell you that you don't have a real job. Making up these flyers and writing articles - all that helps people. And I'm sure Joshua would tell you the same thing."
She managed a smile. "Thanks. I needed to hear that...it weighs on me sometimes. I do hope it makes a difference."
"I know it does. So...when do I get to see you in your dress?"
"Not until we get to the church that morning, so don't even try to sneak a peek tonight," she said.
He thought for a minute. "Wait! What about photos? When are we doing those?"
"After we get back here. No one will mind waiting since most people will be in the pictures anyway. I'm sure we'll have everyone suggesting locations or poses for us."
A wicked gleam came into his eye. "That could be fun...."
She swatted his arm. “Behave! Are you going into the office?"
"Yeah, there are a few last minutes things to tie up especially right here at tax time. That screw up with Obamacare putting the wrong information on people's forms means even I'm having to help put the mess to rights."
"Poor, baby...." Kemara tried not to laugh. She knew how much Sean loathed working on taxes even though, as an accountant, they were a frequent part of his job.
He pouted. "Laugh at me, and I'll make you keep up with our finances." He waved to Joyce who was waiting for them by the gazebo.
Kemara shuddered. "Oh, God. We'd be broke in a week if they were my responsibility."
"Morning!" Joyce said, hugging them both. "Kemara, are you feeling okay this morning? You look a little green."
"We were just talking about money matters, and I think it turned her stomach," Sean said.
"She is pretty awful with numbers," Joyce said smiling at her daughter.
Kemara nodded. "Words make much more sense!"
“You ladies have a good time,” Sean said as they parted ways outside St. Genesius.
Joyce took Kemara’s arm as they walked to the nearest subway station. “You two are so cute together,” she teased.
“I don’t know about me, but he’s cute, that’s for sure. You should see him playing with his nieces and nephews. He’s like a big kid himself.”
“Speaking of kids - Your dad and I can’t wait until you give us some grandchildren,” Joyce said.
Kemara flushed and glanced around. But, as usual in New York, no one paid any attention. “Mom, don’t get your hopes up. It might not happen or at least not right away.”
“I bet it will. You wait and see. Now, you said Ivy has red hair, what will she be wearing?”
The ride to Tribeca passed swiftly as they discussed wedding attire for Ivy, Sean and Brad. Monica had found (from Elsewhere, Kemara expected) a length of navy brocade with a faint knotwork pattern for the mens’ vests which they would wear under pale gray suits. Ivy would wear a tea-length lace dress, also navy. Kemara had gone with her the week before to pick it out at Kleinfeld.
“Oh, it’s gorgeous!” Joyce said when Kemara stepped out of the dressing room at Lovely Bride. “I wasn’t sure when you showed me the photos, but the navy trim is perfect.”
Sarah, who had helped Kemara order the dress, nodded. “It really does suit you very well. And here are the shoes.” She set down a pair of navy pumps with a small heel.
Kemara stepped carefully into them and over to the mirror. The dark bands on the off-shoulder neckline, cuffs and belt were a startling splash of color against the white gown. Below the hem, the toes of the shoes just peeped out. The silver embroidery shone as if it was made of metal instead of thread.
“Perfect. I don’t see one thing that needs to be changed,” Sarah said walking around Kemara. “And that’s rare. Would you mind if I got some photos for Facebook and our brochures? You’ll have to sign an agreement letting us use the images, of course.”
Kemara blushed. “Really? Well...sure, I guess. No one’s ever asked me to model anything before.”
Her mother beamed. “Can we have copies?”
“Of course! Just let me get the camera.”
Though Kemara felt slightly awkward as Sarah prepared to take photos, she couldn't deny that she was pleased by the woman's approval and, even more so, her mother's.
“And then she took a bunch of photos all over the shop and even out front,” Kemara said. “It was kinda embarrassing having everyone looking at me like that.”
“But several people stopped to say how beautiful you were,” Joyce reminded her.
Violeta sighed happily. “That’s so awesome.”
Ivy, sitting beside her on the floor of Rose’s room, nodded. “Is she going to send you links to the pictures online or some of the brochures?”
Kemara shrugged. “I got her card, so I think she will.”
JenniAnn smiled at her friend. “I can’t wait to see them. Maybe you could go back once we’ve got your hair and makeup figured out and show them the whole package.”
“I’ll just send some of the photos Andrew takes for us.”
Rose walked over to where the dress hung on the closet door. She considered it. “You could really do any sort of hairstyle with a dress like this. Is there anything you were thinking of in particular?”
“I printed out a couple of things I saw on Pinterest.” She laid out several sheets of paper. “I thought maybe this style for me, and this one for Ivy.” She smiled at the younger girl. “If you have any suggestions I’m totally open to them, though.”
The first picture showed a woman with her hair pulled back and looped into an elaborate bow at the nape of her neck. “I don’t like the bow,” Kemara said, “And there were a lot of styles that had tiny braids all over the head, but this one…”
Rose studied the picture. “Instead of braids, it’s celtic knots. Very clever!”
“And this one uses the same knots to hold her hair back from her face,” JenniAnn said, picking up the second photo.
“I love it!” Ivy took the paper from JenniAnn. “But my hair’s so curly. And Kemara’s isn’t stick straight either.”
Rose thought for a minute. “I think we could do it if we straightened your hair first and used a lot of gel and hairspray,” Rose said. “Do you want to try it now? It will probably take a while, but the more practice I have with the knots, the quicker it will go that morning.”
JenniAnn turned to Ivy. “Can you stay? If you want to spend the night, Andrew can drive you back after breakfast.”
“Sure! I told grandma I might be staying. I didn’t think Violeta would mind having a roommate.”
The angel shook her head. “Nope! And we can watch some more of the Anne series. I think we’ve only got an hour or two left.”
“Ivy, your grandma’s coming to the wedding, isn’t she?” Kemara asked.
The teen shook her head, exasperated. “I should’ve said earlier! Yes, she’s coming, and she said thank you for the invitation.”
“And Sy will be there too….” JenniAnn teased gently.
Ivy blushed. “We, we’re both thinking that this will be sorta like prom for us. My school’s prom is in April, and Sy’s in is May, but we don’t think either of them….”
“Would be very understanding?” Kemara hugged her. “We’ll make sure you and Sy have plenty of chances to dance. And I bet it’ll be much more fun than prom.” She made a face. “I went stag to mine, and no one asked me to dance.”
Joyce smiled sadly. “Your father offered to when he picked you up.”
“Well this time he’ll get the chance.” Kemara laughed. “You made my dress, and it was navy then, too. I’d forgotten about that.”
“Navy’s always been my favorite color.” Joyce stood up. “Let me get my flat iron, so we can work on both of you at the same time.”
An hour later, after much fumbling and laughter, Kemara and Ivy’s hair was done. They stood side by side while the others studied the result.
“I think it looks really good,” Joyce said. “We could curl the rest of it that morning.”
Rose nodded. “Yes, that would give it some body since it’s so weighted down with gel and spray.”
Ivy looked back over her shoulder. “I feel like I have an extra five pounds on my head,” she joked.
“And I feel like my eyebrows are going to pop off,” Kemara added. “Now, makeup!”
As she had promised, JenniAnn kept their makeup simple with some navy shadow and liner to bring out their eyes.
“I hope this stuff is waterproof,” Kemara said as Joyce applied mascara to her lashes.
“Don’t talk,” her mother said. “It is, but if you touch it before it’s dry, you’ll look like a raccoon. There….” She stepped back. “Beautiful!”
The other women helped them dress.
“Does it feel okay?” Rose asked as Kemara adjusted the fit of the bodice. “We could have Monica sew in some clear straps if you want. The last thing you need is a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ in the middle of the your vows!”
Kemara laughed. “Poor Father Mike! No, it’s pretty secure. I just need to get used to the bare shoulders.”
“What about jewelry?” JenniAnn said. ‘Maybe a choker or a short chain….”
“Oh, that reminds me,” Kemara said. She went to the shopping bag she brought with her and took something out. “I have couple of things for you, Ivy.” She gave the girl a box wrapped in navy paper. “I’m so glad you agreed to be my maid of honor.”
“You didn’t have to get me anything….” Ivy said, opening the box. Inside was a metallic gray shawl and a silver necklace with a Celtic knot pendant.
“You can wear them with your dress, but you don’t have to,” Kemara explained.
Ivy swirled the shawl around her shoulders. “Oh, it’s so lovely; thank you! Violeta, can you get the chain? I don’t want to mess up my hair.”
Violeta carefully fastened the necklace.
“That really makes the dress pop,” she declared. “It’s so pretty against the blue.”
Ivy looked at herself in the mirror. “It really does!” She hugged Kemara. “Thank you! I’ll wear both of them.”
“I think this will do for jewelry,” Joyce said, giving Kemara a box in her turn. “Your father helped me pick them out.”
Inside, a silver trinity knot studded with sapphires hung from a navy ribbon choker. Beside it were a pair of matching earrings.
“Oh…” Kemara couldn’t speak. Her mother took the necklace and fastened it for her while Kemara put in the earrings with shaking fingers. She threw her arms around her mother.
Joyce hugged her tightly. “Don’t cry,” she said, smiling and wiping away her own tears. “I want more pictures of my baby girl.”
The other women blinked back tears of their own.
A knock on the door made them jump.
“Quick! Hide!” JenniAnn and Rose jumped up, while Kemara and Ivy tried to both hide behind the open closet door. Violeta lay on the bed, convulsed with giggles.
“Who is it?”
Sighing with relief, Kemara peeked out from the closet. Ivy had ended up crouched on the other side of the bed.
JenniAnn opened the door just a crack.
Andrew smiled sheepishly. “Umm...Laja, am I supposed to use fabric softener on fleece or not? I can’t remember.”
“You couldn’t wait to ask me that?” JenniAnn said skeptically. “Sean, I see you back there. Did you need something?”
Kemara gasped and ducked back.
“I was just wondering too,” she heard Sean say innocently.
JenniAnn sighed. “Both of you go away. We’re almost done here. Why don’t you all pick out a movie and get some snacks together?”
“Sure thing. Actually David already suggested ‘Field of Dreams’.”
Over JenniAnn’s shoulder, Kemara saw them turn back to the stairs. “That was close!” She said as the door closed again. “I know Sean put Andrew up to that.”
“Definitely! By now Andrew knows how to wash fleece.”
Joyce shook her head. “If you leave men alone too long they tend to get into trouble.”
“I know that’s right!” Rose laughed.
“Yup,” JenniAnn agreed.
Joyce looked at her quizzically. “Even angels?”
The younger woman shrugged. “Sure. They learn and make mistakes just like we humans do. They’re not perfect.”
“I know I’m not!” Violeta said with a grin. “I get into trouble all the time. And even Jo- Jesus did stupid stuff when he was younger.”
Kemara smiled. “Remembering that always makes me feel better.” She turned around. “If someone will unlace me, I’ll go take a quick shower and we can head downstairs.”
Ivy obliged. “There you go! I think I’ll have one, too.” She and Violeta left the room.
“I’m glad you’re staying tonight,” Joyce said as Kemara carefully took of the gown and hung it up before slipping back into her T-shirt and capris.
“Me too!” She smiled at Rose. “I’ll try not to make too much noise if I’m up early in the morning since I’m right across the hall.”
Rose waved a hand. “Dont’ worry about it. I sleep pretty soundly.”
Half an hour later, the group settled in with popcorn and ice cream. Next to Sean on one of the loveseats, Kemara looked around the room at her parents, her friends and her fiancé and sighed contentedly.
“Happy?” he whispered as the opening credits played.
“Very.” She snuggled closer and let the movie carry her away.
The next morning after breakfast, Kemara helped her mother fold and put away a load of clean laundry.
“I was looking around earlier for some places to take photos of you and Sean once we come back here for the reception,” Joyce said as they worked. “I thought that room on the third floor across from the library - the one with the balcony - would be nice.”
“Joshua’s room….” Kemara murmured sitting down on the bed. For the dozenth time she wondered if he would make an appearance either at the church or afterward. He’ll be there even if you can’t see him, she scolded herself. She had left an invitation addressed to him, Maryam, Yosef and John on his nightstand. As with their engagement photo, it had been gone the next time she looked.
Her mother’s exasperated voice snapped her back to the here and now.
“Sorry. I was just -.” She looked down at the washcloth in her hands and folded it.
“I was asking if you’re going to have some kind of favors at the reception for the guests to take home.”
Kemara tried to think. “Oh...I don’t guess so. Everyone’s family anyway and….”
Joyce threw up her hands. “I swear, I think everyone else in this house is doing more planning for your wedding than you are! You and Sean just run off and do your thing, while the rest of us figure it all out.”
“That’s not true!” Kemara tried to keep her voice down. “Our friends offered to help; and there’s not that much planning left.”
“Because other people have done it!” Joyce hissed. “Lucky for you Violeta’s an angel. I don’t know many humans who would put up with what she’s had dumped on her.”
Kemara’s mouth hung open. “What she’s….What do you mean?”
“This is exactly my point! You have no clue. I’m talking about the reception. Instead of having it at the church hall and hiring a caterer - which I’m sure Sean could afford - you’d rather have JenniAnn open her home and provide all the food and drink into the bargain. Not to mention the fact that she’s housing us as well as Sean’s family.”
“But -.” Kemara was too stunned to think of a reply.
“Just because someone offers doesn’t mean you have to take them up on it, Kemara. You need to think about other people instead of yourself for a change.”
The patience Kemara had been holding onto was rapidly wearing thin. She scowled at her mother. “Where are you coming up with all this? I’m sure JenniAnn and Andrew haven’t been complaining. Or Violeta, either.”
“No, they’ve all been very nice. But it’s pretty obvious you’re relying on them when you’re out on the town every night with Sean.”
Kemara jumped up. “No we aren’t!” she shot back, her voice rising. “We have rehearsals and performances, and other things that we’ve committed to. I told you that.”
Joyce ignored her, intent on airing her list of grievances. "And another thing: You'd better start smiling a little more, young lady! I can't imagine Sean wants to marry someone who’s always gloomy. If you don’t at least try to act excited about all this, he might not show up at the church!"
She left, almost - but not quite - slamming the door. Kemara slumped down onto the bed and felt black despair wash over her.
When someone else came in, she looked up expecting her father, but it was Sean. She realized he must have heard their argument from across the hall.
She threw herself at him. Quickly, he maneuvered them into his own room and kicked the door shut.
“People will talk,” she said, trying to smile and failing miserably.
“I don’t care. Kemara -...” He looked as if he didn’t know whether to rage or cry on her behalf.
She sniffed. “Thirty...thirty-four years….she’s known me for that long and, and still she understands nothing about me!"
He sat down on the bed with her on his lap and let her cry. She thought maybe he was crying too.
When she was calmer, he gave her a handkerchief. “I’ve been thinking…..”
“Let’s pack a picnic and row out to Skellig for a few hours. Get out of here for a while.”
She stared at him blankly. “But it’s raining and not that warm….”
“So we’ll grab some of those fleece blankets that multiply by themselves.” He released her and went to the closet. “Here - I’ll give you a sweatshirt.”
She caught the one he tossed to her and smiled at the logo. “I think I could use some Guinness right now,” she said, pulling it on.
“Nah, you just need a break, and that’s what we’re going to get.” He grabbed her hand and led the way downstairs.
They were in the middle of making sandwiches when Max came in the kitchen. “Hey! What’re you guys up to? Kemara, your mom was just asking Rose if she knew where you were.”
“That’s what we’re up to,” Sean said. “We’re going to Skellig, but it would be better if certain people didn’t know that.”
Max took in Kemara’s red, swollen eyes and nodded. “I totally understand! Want me to run interference?”
“That’d be a big help. Thanks, buddy.”
Kemara hugged him. “Thank you, Max, I just need some time….”
“I know all about having difficult parents. You go relax and I won’t tell anyone where you are.” He ducked back out and they heard him climbing the stairs.
Sean put the sandwiches and a couple of sodas into a soft-sided cooler. Then he opened the cabinet under the sink.
“What’re you looking for?” Kemara asked, adding two small bags of chips and a couple of oranges to the cooler.
“Bug spray.” Sean straightened holding a can of OFF. “And maybe a machete. When we guys went sailing in January Skellig looked pretty overgrown.”
Kemara shivered. “I hope there aren’t any snakes.”
“We’ll ask St. Patrick to keep them away. I mean, we’re getting married on his feast day, right? He’s sure to listen to us.”
“If you say so.”
As they approached the island, the rain tapered off and the sun peeked through the clouds.
“What did I tell you?” Sean asked as he pulled in the oars and let the boat drift toward shore. “St. Patrick is smiling on us.”
“This brings back memories,” Kemara said as he helped her onto the beach. “After the show wrapped last year, we introduced all the others to Dyeland. We did one of Max’s scavenger hunts, and my group ended up here accidentally.”
Sean looked around at the wild vegetation. “Is there actually anything here?” He swatted at an early mosquito. “Besides a lot of bugs, I mean?”
“There’s a stone circle right in the middle,” Kemara said taking out the bug spray. “And that’s about it. I think the path’s over that way.” She pointed to the west.
They covered themselves in repellant and after five minutes of looking found the trail. It proved to be more overgrown than Kemara remembered.
“I think we should brought that machete after all,” she said, stepping over a large fallen branch.
A rustle in the underbrush made Sean stop and put out his arm to block her way. A tiny green snake slithered across the path in front of them.
“Ahem.” Kemara looked pointedly at him.
He gave her a cheesy grin. “Didn’t come near us, did it?”
She rolled her eyes, but said nothing.
The stone circle was open to the sky and for a wonder the ground around it was only grass. They spread out one of the blankets and enjoyed their lunch and the sun in comfortable silence.
When they were done, Kemara lay on her back and gazed up at the rapidly clearing sky. “I just...I have no idea where Mom got the idea that we’re letting everyone else do all the planning.”
“I can kind of understand,” Sean said. “She’s just seeing the end - not all the classes and the discussions with Fr. Mike, Violeta and everyone else. Not that it excuses her, mind.”
“I guess.” Her eyes teared up again. “I really wanted them - her especially - to see that I’m doing good. I’ve got lots of friends, a job I love, hobbies. I’m about to marry the best guy in the world. But all she sees is that I’m “gloomy” and “not caring about other people.” She choked back a sob.
“Come here.” Sean held out a hand.
She crawled over to him. He sat behind her and wrapped another blanket around both of them.
“What if my folks ask yours to stay with them until the wedding? Would that help, do you think?”
Kemara shook her head. “No. It would probably make things worse.”
“I don’t think it can get much worse. Sweetheart, your mom said horrible things to you and made some pretty sweeping assumptions about us and our friends - our family.”
“I’m sorry you had to hear it. I hope no one else did.”
He sighed heavily. “Well, if they didn’t, I’d really like to tell them.”
“No!” She half turned around to look at him. “Sean, please don’t....There’s only a week left.”
“Then let me talk to my parents, so we can all spend it in peace.”
She clung to him. “I’m sorry I’m the one with all the issues…I don’t know why you put up with me.”
He kissed her forehead. “I think we’ve had this conversation before. I love you, and it’s not ‘putting up with you’.” He chuckled. “Who knows? Maybe I have tons of issues, but we just haven’t uncovered them yet.”
“I find that hard to believe,” she laughed a little at the thought.
“So can I call them?”
“I guess so...as long as Megan and Keith make it sound like their idea.”
Sean took out his phone. “They will.” He selected a number. “Hey, mom! Listen, is dad there?....Then can you put me on speaker, please?”
He squeezed Kemara’s hand. “Yeah, Kemara and I were wondering if maybe you could invite her parents to stay with you until the wedding? Things are a little….tense….here right now.”
“No, we thought you could call them.” He listened for a minute. “Yes, on Saturday. And then you’ll all spend Monday night here. There’s plenty of room, trust me.”
Kemara watched his expression anxiously, and he smiled at her. “Great. Thanks so much. Kemara doesn’t need this stress right now. I will. Love you, too. Bye.”
He ended the call. “Mom’s going to call Joyce this afternoon. They said to tell you not to worry about anything. I’ll send an email tonight and mention some of the things your mother said.”
“But I don’t want them thinking badly of mom,” Kemara said. “I think they’re getting to be pretty good friends, and I’d hate for this to spoil it.”
“Hopefully, they’ll all talk it out and clear up the misunderstandings,” Sean said. He stood and helped her to her feet. “You ready to head back?”
Kemara nodded. “Yes, but let’s not forget this is here. It’s a good place to hide for a while.”
“Yes, but next time I’m bringing a weed wacker!”
At dinner that night, Joyce announced. “Sean, your parents have offered to let us stay with the for the rest of the week.” She turned to JenniAnn and Andrew. “Thank you for having us, but I think it would be better if we were out of your hair.”
David nodded. “Megan and Keith are closer to our age. I think we’ll do better with them than getting in the way of you youngsters.” Violeta smothered a laugh, and he nodded at Andrew. “No offense.”
Andrew grinned. “Actually, I’ll take that as a compliment, sir.”
Kemara forced herself to look up from the spaghetti she was rearranging on her plate. “That’s a good idea! I’ll miss having you here, but it will be quieter with them.” She thought for a minute. “Actually, the four of you might get up to more adventures like the other day!”
Sean smiled. “Yep, those selfies you took were pretty good for a bunch of old-timers.”
“We did have fun,” Joyce said, blushing. “Megan said they’ll take us sightseeing. Did you grow up there, Sean?”
The rest of the meal passed cheerfully as Sean told stories of his childhood in Brewster - a picturesque village an hour west of New York City.
When everyone scattered to their own rooms, Joyce stopped Kemara and Sean in the hall. “I have a feeling the two of you had something to do with our invitation. And I know you’re upset with me,” she told to Kemara. “But those things needed to be said.”
“With all due respect,” Sean said evenly. “You don’t understand how things are here. We do things with each other and for each other because we want to. No one’s getting walked on, I can assure you.”
Joyce bridled. “I understand that my daughter can be selfish, and you’d better learn that before you decided to spend the rest of your life with her.” She turned on her heel and started up the stairs.
Sean clenched his jaw and made as if to go after her, but Kemara put a hand on his arm. “Please….just let it go for now. They’re leaving in the morning.”
“Kemara? Sean?” Andrew’s voice made them turn. He and JenniAnn stood in the kitchen doorway. “We couldn’t help but overhear. I’m sorry….Kemara, do you want me to speak to her?”
Kemara shook her head. “Thanks, but she has her mind made up.”
JenniAnn hugged her friend. “She’s the only one who thinks like that.”
“Yes, she is,” Andrew said. “And Sean’s right: We’re doing all of this because we want to, not because you forced us into it.” He smiled. “Actually, I don’t think you even asked.”
“Nope!” JenniAnn said. “We jumped right in and offered.”
“Well, I did ask Violeta…” Kemara mumbled.
Andrew chuckled. “And she’s loved every minute of it. She talked my ear off while she was helping feed Belle this afternoon. Kept going on about about flowers and ribbons.”
“It’s good for her to have somewhere to channel all that energy,” JenniAnn agreed. “And as for helping...I don’t look at it as something to keep track of, to say, I did this for you, so you need to do this for me. I think it’s like Stephen Colbert said, ‘Try to love others and serve others and hopefully find those who love and serve you in return’.”
Kemara smiled. “Thank you both.” She hugged them.
“Yeah, thanks,” Sean said, quietly. “I would’ve been far less eloquent, I’m afraid.” He put an arm around Kemara. “Come on. I’ll walk you home.”
They left to a chorus of ‘good-nights’. At the door, something made Kemara look up. Joyce stood on the landing, and expression on her face made it clear she had heard every word.
Saturday, March 14
When Kemara and Sean arrived at the theater just after five, they found Emma and Peter in the office. Peter hung up the phone and waved them in. Emma was inspecting a box of newly printed programs.
“Hey, guys! You ready for your folks to see you on stage?” Peter asked.
Sean shrugged. “Ready as I’ll ever be.” He nodded at the phone. “Trouble?”
“Nah, just making sure the T-shirts will get here on time. All the snowstorms have things backed up. But FedEx tells me they’ve already left the warehouse.”
Emma kept out two programs and closed the box. “Here.” She handed them to Kemara. “So your parents can have a copy.”
“Thanks,” Kemara said. She wandered listlessly over the wall of photos and studied them..
Emma and Peter exchanged glances. “Have you talked to them lately?”
Sean had wanted to inform the others about Joyce’s opinions, and Kemara had finally agreed. Somewhat to her surprise, everyone firmly took Andrew and JenniAnn’s side.
She sighed and turned away from last year’s cast photo with Joshua front and center. “I called mom this morning. We mostly talked about how they all went out dancing last night. She didn’t mention the wedding at all.”
Sean frowned. “Well, if she’s waiting for me to change my mind, she’s going to have a long wait. Dad says they’ve explained all about Dyeland - they used the example of the early Christians who lived together and had everything in common.”
Kemara grinned. “But apparently mom looked kinda funny and muttered something about hippie communes.”
Emma and Peter laughed.
“I bet JenniAnn liked that!” Emma said.
“She did,” Sean agreed. “But she wanted to make sure they understood there’s no….umm...inappropriate behavior going on.”
The door from the house opened, and Adam, Kylie and Clay came in. “Hello all! It sounds nice and cheerful in here,” the angel of death said.
Peter wiped his eyes. “It seems Kemara’s mom now has the impression that we’re all part of a free love, hippie commune.”
“Really?” Adam looked startled. “That’s news to me!”
Kylie giggled. “I think the only ones getting any free love are Adam’s turkeys!”
He pretended to scowl. “I will not tolerate any disrespect to my turkeys,” he said with offended dignity.
“We wouldn’t dare,” Kemara assured him.
“How’re things with your parents?” he asked and put an arm around her in a quick hug.
Kemara shrugged. “No change yet that we’ve heard. Mom’s still convinced Sean and I are forcing all of your to prep for our wedding while we sit around doing nothing.”
“Forcing?” Now, Adam looked even more offended than at the slur to his beloved turkeys. “Hmm….we’ll have to force them to change their minds, won’t we?”
But before they could ask what he meant, Emma caught sight of movement in the parking lot.
“Andrew, JenniAnn and Belle are here with Yonah. And I think that’s your parents right behind them, Sean.”
Kemara went a little pale, and Sean squeezed her hand. “Let’s go see Yonah,” he suggested.
The Jolly Green pulled into a space next to the temporary stall Andrew and Peter had put up the week before. Sean’s dad parked nearby.
When Joyce and David got out of the car, Kemara took a deep breath and went over to them.
“Hey! So have you all been having a good time?” She asked hugging them both.
“Yes, we have,” Joyce said. “Although we tend to stay up far too late with a bottle of wine.”
David chuckled. “Well, your mother and Megan stay up late. Keith and I are usually in bed long before either of them.”
“We ladies have a lot to discuss,” Megan said, smiling. “Our children, for one thing.”
“And your husbands for another,” Keith quipped. “I’m amazed you’ve let us get a word in edgewise.”
Everyone moved back as Andrew climbed up into the trailer clipped a lead onto the donkey’s halter. Yonah stepped down carefully as if to make sure the ground wasn’t still moving.
Andrew led him to stall and took off the lead. “There, now you can see everybody.”
“Hey, buddy.” David approached and held out his palm revealing a piece of peppermint candy. The donkey crunched it eagerly and shoved his nose into the man’s chest looking for more.
“I’d forgotten!” Violeta said. “Kemara told me you had a donkey when you were a kid.”
“That’s right. His name was Saul, and he followed me around like a dog.” He ran a hand over the donkey’s scarred side. “Looks like this fellow’s been through a lot.”
JenniAnn nodded. In her arms, Belle reached out to pat Yonah’s nose. “He’s a rescue; but he’s a hundred times better than he was when we got him.”
“I can imagine.” He walked back over to Joyce. She sneezed.
“Well, that proves that I’m as allergic to donkey hair as I am to horse hair,” she said, taking a tissue from her purse. “Kemara used to ride horses, and when she’d get in the car, my eyes would start itching.”
Kemara smiled tentatively. “You weren’t always like that. Didn’t you say you and dad used to ride?”
“Yes, and I got bucked off every time!” The others chuckled.
As they were walking back across the lot, Adam said casually, “Kemara and Sean, I wanted to ask what flavor do you want your cake to be?”
They looked at one another.
“Lemon, maybe?” Sean suggested.
“Works for me. I’ve never liked that fake vanilla taste of store-bought cakes,” Kemara said.
“This definitely won’t be store-bought,” The angel assured her. He held the office door open.
Joyce stared at him. “You’re making their wedding cake?”
“Sure! Why spend money for something mass-produced, when you can have homemade? So, I offered.”
“Adam’s very talented,” Kylie put in.
“He knits, too,” JenniAnn said. “He’s made Belle several hats.”
Joyce looked a bit overwhelmed. “Really?”
Adam waved a hand dismissively and held open the door to the house as well. “Ah, one picks up various little hobbies over the centuries. And if they can benefit my friends, so much the better.”
“What about a groom’s cake?” Sean said, looking hopeful.
Kemara patted his cheek. “I’m taking care of that, and you’ll just have to wait and see.”
“No, butterscotch. Of course, chocolate.”
Keith grinned. “Son, she’s got you figured out.”
Voices from backstage interrupted them.
“That sounds like the Tunnel bunch,”Andrew said.
The next ten minutes saw a steady stream of people leaving the blue room where the portal was hidden. Kemara noticed her parents watching in some surprise as the new arrivals were all greeted like family instead of co-workers. The children ran up and down the aisles while the adults stood in chatting groups.
Andrew cupped his hands around his mouth. “If I could have everyone in the cast and crew in the auditorium, please!”
When they were all gathered he said, “First, I’d like to welcome Kemara’s parents, David and Joyce; and Sean’s parents, Megan and Keith. Since Kemara and Sean will have better things to do than join us on opening night -.”
Whoops and cheers broke out. Kemara blushed, but Sean just grinned.
“They’re going to watch tonight’s rehearsal.” Andrew continued. “So, since this is the last true rehearsal before the preview performances, we’re going to go full out - lights, costumes, everything. If you notice something that needs work, make a note of it, but we won’t stop unless something extreme happens. Sound good?”
Owen raised his hand. “What’s extreme?”
“Let’s try not to find out,” Peter suggested.
“So it’s 6:30 now,” Andrew looked at his pocket watch. “Lets try to get started right at seven.”
Kemara and Sean stood up with the others. She gave the programs to Megan and Joyce. “We’ll see you at intermission. It’ll still be 15 minutes because JenniAnn needs time to do Peter’s makeup. And Zeke’s takes a while, too.”
“Enjoy the show,” Sean said, and they hurried backstage.
When Kemara was dressed, she went looking for Sean. He was just leaving the men’s dressing room.
“How do I look?” he asked holding his arms out to his sides to show the tunic he wore
“Very handsome.” She patted his cheek again. “That green looks good with your hair, and I like the beard.”
He scratched at his chin. “It itches. I’ve never really had one before, so it’s taking some time to get used to. I’ll probably shave it all off when summer comes.”
“Just kept it nicely trimmed, please.”
“Don’t worry! I won’t go all Duck Commander on you.”
“Are you ‘posed to do that before the wedding?”
Kemara and Sean broke apart to see Portia’s daughter, Persephone, staring up at them suspiciously.
Sean tugged one of her braids. “Sure! You know there’s a part in the wedding where the preacher says ‘you may now kiss the bride’?”
“Well, we have to practice to make sure we get it right on the big day. We wouldn’t want to bump noses, now would we?”
Persephone giggled as he gently tweaked hers.
Kemara smiled herself remembering that awkward first kiss where they had indeed bumped noses. But Sean was right - practice helped.
“Ten minutes, everyone.” Andrew was making the rounds. “Persephone, Monica says you left your pashmina in the dressing room.”
With a wave, the girl ran off.
Kemara and Sean heard the Shema music begin and Peter’s voice chanting.
“Good luck,” Sean whispered to her as they took their places with the others onstage. “I’d say break a leg, but then I’d have to carry you down the aisle on Tuesday.”
Arthur chuckled. “That would be a novel sight.”
“It would give the tradition of carrying the bride over the threshold a new meaning,” Eric said as Peter joined them.
“Everything OK out there?” Zeke inquired.
Peter nodded. “So far.” He took a deep breath. “Let’s do this.”
At intermission, the cast poured into the auditorium. Kemara grabbed a bottle of water from the cooler Andrew kept filled and looked around for her parents.
She found them talking to Shane and some of the others. Joyce broke off the conversation to hug her daughter.
“You were all wonderful! You and Sean both looked very comfortable up there.”
“Where is Sean?” Keith asked. “He’s not hiding, is he?”
“He’s helping to set up for the second act,” Shane said. “He’ll be out in a minute.”
Megan shuddered. “I’m not looking forward to that. Although Peter does a wonderful job.” She turned to David and Joyce. “We have the DVD of last year’s performance if you want to see it. Joshua really brought the role to life, but Peter is just as splendid.”
The cast members who overheard this smiled knowingly.
“Well, the first act looked good from here,” David said.
“For us, too,” Shane agreed. “But there are more chances for things to go wrong in the second half.” Arthur called his name, and he left them with a nod.
“Nice young man,” Joyce said. “What role does he play?”
“He’s King Herod in the second act,” Kemara said. She smiled at her mother’s look of surprise.
David chuckled. “Now, that I can’t wait to see!”
“He’s pretty over-the-top,” Sean agreed making his way over to them. “So, how’d we do?” he asked Megan and Keith.
“I’d say amazingly well,” Keith joked. “But I’m afraid your ego would overinflate.”
Sean looked wounded. “Sounds like you weren’t expecting much.”
“How did you ever put up with him as a child?” Kemara rolled her eyes.
Megan smiled. “It was a struggle! My advice, dear, is to only believe half of what he tells you.”
Everyone laughed, and the rest of intermission passed quickly as they chatted about the upcoming preview shows.
The second act had a few lighting glitches, but Gloria promised to have them fixed by the 18th. Megan, Keith David and Joyce applauded the finale enthusiastically.
“When you went past us down the aisle, I wanted to jump up and go along!” Keith said, shaking Peter’s hand. “Wonderful job!”
“Thank you, sir,” Peter blushed as Emma stood with an arm around him looking proud.
“And you,” Joyce said to Adam. “I can’t imagine how you managed to play that role. It must be incredibly difficult.”
Adam smiled. “Telling the story is important, and having my family around me helps.” He gestured at cast and crew, humans and angels all talking and laughing together.
“Yes,” Joyce said thoughtfully, taking in the scene. “I can see how it would.”
As Kemara and Sean saw their parents back to the car. David dropped back to walk beside her. “I think your mother’s starting to come around,” he said quietly. “Keith and Megan have told us a lot about Dyeland and your friends. She had some questions about the angels and their role around the place. But I think tonight - and Adam in particular - went a long way toward reassuring her.”
“And what about you?” Kemara knew her father preferred to watch rather than speak, so he missed very little.
He hugged her. “All I want is for you to be happy….in whatever way works for you. Your mother wants you to have the usual things - a husband and kids - but I’m a little more open minded. If you’ve found a family with these folks - good folks - then I can rest easy at night.”
Kemara blinked back tears. “Thanks, Daddy.” She kissed his cheek. “I love you.”
“I enjoyed tonight very much,” Joyce said giving Kemara a hug. “It was so exciting seeing you on stage like that.”
“You’ve seen me on stage before.”
“Not in something as professional as this!” She opened the car door and put her purse inside. “So what are you and Sean doing tomorrow?”
Kemara shrugged. “Besides church, nothing really.”
“I’ll be trying to keep her calm!” Sean said.
“It’s a hard job, but somebody’s got to do it,” David joked.
Joyce got in the car. “We’ll see you Monday, then!”
As they drove away, Sean wrapped his arm around Kemara.
Much to her surprise, Sean did keep her calm - and busy.
He had already brought most of the things from his New York apartment, and the stacks of boxes lined the walls of the living room - the largest room in Kemara’s little beach house.
So, after they got back from Mass, Sean suggested they spend some time unboxing and putting away.
“Not all of it. I know you’ve still got some packing to do for our trip. But there are a few thing you might find interesting.”
They put on Joshua’s CD of Celtic tunes and set to work. Sean’s collection of murder mysteries joined her own Victorian-era novels in the bookcase. His CDs filled large two boxes.
“Huh.” He looked at them doubtfully. “Didn’t realize I had so many.”
“I guess we could rip them all to an extra hard drive and put the CDs themselves in storage,” Kemara said. “I don’t think there’s space enough to leave them out.”
He sighed. “Yeah, but it’ll be a job. I’ll see if Dad knows someone who could do it for me while we’re gone.”
In one box marked Sean-childhood, Kemara found Sean’s old trophies and medals from his Irish dance competitions..
“Mom gave me that box when I moved out,” he said. “She said I might want it one day; but I never bothered to see what was in it.” He chuckled. “I can’t believe she kept all this stuff!”
Under the trophies were a couple of yearbooks and a thick photo album. Intrigued, Kemara opened it.
“Oh, look at you!” The first page showed a newborn Sean bawling and very red.
He tried to grab the book. “Give me that!”
“No!” She hugged it to her chest. “Go empty some more boxes. I need to study this closely.”
“So bossy….” he muttered, cutting the tape on another carton.
Kemara ignored him, fascinated by pictures of her fiance as a baby being held by Keith, as a toddler wearing a Yankees cap at a baseball game, as a child at dance competitions with a very young Ciara, as a teen in a soccer uniform.
“You do look good in a kilt!” she said, stopping on a photo of the siblings. Ciara looked to be about five, wearing a purple, hand-embroidered dress, her dark hair in a riot of curls. She was grinning from ear to ear and holding a trophy as big as she was. Ten-year-old Sean stood beside her in a purple kilt and jacket with a black shirt. His expression was solemn, but his green eyes were mischievous.
“What?” The adult Sean leaned over. “Oh yeah! I remember that day. It was Ciara’s first feis, and she didn’t win anything. Nowadays, every kid gets a ribbon, but not back then. She was furious with herself - she was really competitive even at five. So I said she deserved my trophy more than I did, because she’d just gotten over the flu and that was probably why she hadn’t swept the floor with her competition.”
Kemara grinned up at him. “Aww...such a thoughtful big brother.”
He shrugged. “I didn’t care about winning the way she did. I was more into the technical stuff - getting a step just right.”
“I bet you never minded practicing your scales on the piano, either. I hated those!”
“Nope! I could do those for hours.” He reached out and turned a page in the album.
“Oh, that’s you and your grandpa!” The boy, who looked to be about six, was wearing a fireman’s hat and sitting on the hood of a firetruck. Steadying him was an older man with a weathered face and bright blue eyes.
Sean smiled fondly. “Yeah, that’s papa - Eugene Edward - that’s where my middle name comes from. You know, I wonder how my own dad felt back then. Because I paid a lot more attention to papa than to him. Dad was just dad, but papa did exciting things.”
“I’m sure he understood. I think a lot of kids have favorite grandparents. I mean, isn’t that a grandparent’s job - spoil the kids and send them back to their parents?”
“Ha! Yeah, that’s true.” He came around the couch and taking her hands, pulled her to her feet. “Let’s get some lunch - something healthy since you’re hopefully eating for two and all.”
Kemara rolled her eyes. “Sean, I keep telling you….it might not happen for a long time.”
“I know that. But if it does you’re already a week pregnant.” She looked at him as if he’d just sprouted horns. “I’ve been reading up.”
“Joshua help me…..”
“So how’s the forecast looking for tomorrow?” Sean asked the next day as he broke down the most recent empty boxes. He’d come over early, but Kemara was already too nervous to be distracted by unpacking.
She switched away from Facebook and pulled up the Weather Channel. “Not too bad. High of 49; mix of sunshine and clouds. I’m so glad it won’t be raining or snowing!”
“I’m glad we decided to have the reception at Willowveil. It’s already really spring-like here,” Sean said. He stroked Warren who sat on the windowsill looking out at the gulls.
Kemara just nodded and went back to her email. Sean frowned when he saw her hands were shaking slightly. She was stung tight as a wire.
Quietly he went over to the stereo and selected a CD. Kemara looked around when “Mummer’s Dance” started.
She smiled and got up. “I guess we should practice for tomorrow.”
“Nah, I’m not worried about that.”
They were quiet for a while and then she said, “Isn’t this the song we danced to at the party last year?”
“I wondered if you’d remember that. We’re not quite as awkward now as we were that day.” He smiled down at her.
“I think I was in a daze the whole time. I couldn’t believe you wanted to be anything other than friends, but Joshua had confirmed it so what could I do?”
Sean nodded. “He does seem to enjoy surprising people. Been doing it for 2015 years, after all.”
When the song ended, Kemara sighed. “I guess we’d better get ready.” She glanced at the clock on the mantlepiece. “We’ve got to be at the church in an hour.”
She walked him to the door.
“This is the last time I’ll have to leave,” he pointed out as they stood on the porch.
“That’s true,” she agreed. “Unless I kick you out.”
He grinned. “Won’t happen in a million years.” With a kiss, he bounded down the steps to the path that led to Willowveil.
Kemara watched him go, smiling.
“Joshua, thank You for sending someone who can make me laugh,” she whispered before turning to go back inside.
At 4:30, the Dyeland inhabitants - plus Ivy who had arrived right after school - piled into the Jolly Green and Arthur’s car for the short ride to St. Mary Magdalene's.
“Looks like our folks are already here,” Sean said as they pulled into the parking lot. He scanned the vehicles of those who had come for Monday night choir practice. “I don’t see Ciara and Brad’s car, though.”
“I imagine getting five kids ready to go somewhere is a job. One is bad enough,” JenniAnn said.
Sean laughed. “Oh yeah! It’s like an assembly line.”
“Or ‘Cheaper by the Dozen,” Kemara joked as she climbed out of the van.
Ivy laughed. “Didn’t they have the assembly line thing, too?”
“Yes, and I don’t think it made much difference with them, either.”
They found Megan, Keith, David and Joyce talking with Father Mike in the narthex.
“I don’t imagine it will be a problem,” he was saying. “The only issue might be parking, but since the portal's right down the street, I think we’ll be OK.” He grinned. “I suppose everyone could walk back to Dyeland, but the sight of an entire wedding party dressed to the nines disappearing into an alley might draw attention.”
Keith laughed. “Even from those who are already celebrating.”
“I’d almost forgotten about the parade,” Kemara said. “It’s always crazy around here.”
“Hopefully we can avoid the crazy part and still celebrate,” Father Mike said. “Now, let me show you what decorations we do have….” he told Megan and Joyce, gesturing towards the sanctuary.
The others followed him, but Kemara hesitated in the doorway.
“What?” Sean, who was already halfway down the aisle, turned and came back to her.
“I just - I keep wondering if this is a dream, and I’ll wake up and still be a newspaper reporter in some little Georgia town.”
Sean smiled. “Didn’t you say you met JenniAnn and Andrew back then? Joshua was already drawing all of us together. ‘I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord’. And I think His plan is for us to walk down that aisle tomorrow.”
Kemara stared at him. “You can be really profound, you know that?”
“Only once every five years or so.”
As she genuflected, Kemara looked up at the crucifix behind the altar.
Sean’s right. I doubted, but You had this planned all along.
Joyce and David waved them over to a pew.
“So has Sean been keeping you busy?” David asked.
“I’ve tried, but she’s hard to distract when she gets like this,” Sean said.
Kemara blushed. “Sorry….I guess I’m just nervous.”
Joyce hugged her. “That’s totally normal.” She leaned close and whispered. “Will we have to kneel the way you all did just now when you came in? I don’t know how to do that.” She looked worried.
“I don’t think so. You’ll probably just bow to the altar when we get to the front - right before we enter the pew. Father Mike will explain everything.”
Her mother nodded. “I like him very much. He’s so down to earth! I didn’t know Catholic priests were like that.”
“Not all of them are,” Sean said. “But Father Mike’s just a great guy. He was actually born in Dyeland they tell me, so he knows everyone here - Catholic or not - really well.”
Megan excused herself and taking out her phone, left the sanctuary. She returned a few minutes later.
“Ciara, Brad and the children are on their way,” She rolled her eyes. “Traffic, as usual. But they should be here in about 15 minutes.” She looked inquiringly at Father Mike.
“That’s fine. This is the last thing I have scheduled for the night, so we can start whenever.”
“You’re coming with us to Adrian’s, aren’t you, Fr. Mike?” Kemara asked.
He smiled. “Wouldn’t miss it!”
Joyce had been gazing around the church. “That painting beside the altar is wonderful.”
“Owen made it,” Kemara said smiling at the depiction of Maryam, Yosef and baby Joshua. “Come on, you can look at it closer.” She led her mother over to it.
“I’ve never seen something so lifelike. It looks like a photograph.” Joyce said. She moved to altar steps and looked back up the aisle.
"What did you decide to do about flowers?” She asked. “Father Mike,” she said the words a little hesitantly, unused to the term of address. “said the church is pretty strict on what’s allowed. The last I heard, Violeta had a few different ideas."
"Oh, our friends in Albany - the Romanos - have a farm with greenhouses. Dot said she has some Easter lilies just blooming. So Kylie, Clay, Adam and the twins - Caleb and Edward - offered to bring them in the morning. We're going to have two pots to leave on the altar through Easter." Kemara gestured. "And I'll have a bouquet. Monica found some lovely navy and silver ribbons to tie it up with. I just don't know about Kelly - Sean's niece who's our flower girl. I’m not sure she can hold a bouquet and Liam’s arm at the same time.”
Joyce thought. "I don't suppose you want her scattering petals down the aisle?"
"No. Too many people are walking behind her. I don't think the church would go for that anyway."
"Well, can she just carry a basket of lilies or white roses?"
"That's an idea." JenniAnn had come down to the front after Belle who was toddling among the pews. "I'm sure we can find a little basket. I'll mention it to Ciara when they get here. She might have something."
At that moment, they heard voices in the narthex.
“That sounds like Ciara and Brad,” Kemara listened. “And maybe Diana and Zeke, too?”
Parker, Ciara and Brad’s oldest child ran into the sanctuary with his younger brother close behind.
“You boys get back here,” Brad called after them. “If anyone needs blessing with holy water, you do!”
Dragging their feet, the children trudged back up the aisle, and under their father’s gaze dipped their fingers into the font by the door.
Ciara came in with the three little girls. She sighed with relief as Megan took three-year-old Erin from her. “Thanks! She insisted I had to carry her so her shoes wouldn’t get dirty.”
“They’re beautiful shoes,” Megan told her granddaughter. “But you come sit with me now and give Mommy a break, OK?”
Zeke and Diana came in with Hailey and Kendra, who was carrying Manny.
Sy trailed in behind them looking bored, but perked up when he caught sight of Ivy. She blushed as he sat next to her.
“Hello everyone,” Zeke said coming over to shake hands. “Are we the last ones here?”
Andrew nodded. “It’s no problem. We don’t have to be at Adrian’s until 7 so we’ve got time.”
“Are you really sure you want to put up with my crew?” Ciara asked JenniAnn as the women watched Brad settle his two boys into a pew with a tablet computer.
Sean had picked up Kelly and was carrying her around the church showing her the statues and paintings.
To Kemara’s surprise, her own father and Father Mike were deep in conversation.
JenniAnn smiled. “Definitely! We’ll just corral all the kids into one room with some quilts and pillows. That’s what we did at Christmas, and it worked really well. I can’t guarantee they’ll get any sleep, though,” she warned.
“Oh, I’m not counting on that. I might keep Kelly in our room so she’ll have a better chance than the others. Don’t want the flower girl having a tantrum on her way down the aisle!"
Kemara laughed. “That would be memorable! I’m sure she and Liam will do fine. I can’t wait to see her in her dress. That will be three red-heads up there!” She smiled at Ivy.
“Yup! Kelly looks like she could be my little sister.”
Sean overheard her and, coming over, sat Kelly down beside Ivy in the pew. “Uh-huh. Two red-headed leprechauns.”
Kelly giggled, too shy to speak.
“You make three,” Kemara told him. “Let me get a photo.” She pulled out her phone.
He sat down beside Ivy pretending to grumble. “You take too many pictures, woman!”
“This is the only wedding I’m going to get, so you hush.”
“That’s the spirit!” Father Mike cheered. He made his way to the ambo and stood behind it.
“It looks like everyone’s here now, so if you would all please find a seat, we’ll go ahead and get started. First, I’d like to introduce, Darla, she’s our organist so she’ll be playing for us.” He gestured to a black-haired woman who had just hurried in by a side door.
“The purpose of tonight,” the priest continued. “Is to make sure everyone is familiar with the wedding parts of the Mass. We'll start with the procession, and then have the lectors and Zeke go over the readings. I'll save my inspiring homily for tomorrow so it will be a surprise...."
His listeners chuckled.
"Then we'll move on to the Rite of Marriage which includes the vows, the rings and the very long nuptial prayer. Don't worry - I won't be saying that tonight, either. If everything goes smoothly, I think we should be done in about an hour or so. But Kemara and Sean, if there's something you want to go over again, please don't hesitate to ask."
The couple nodded. Sean raised a hand. “Darla, are you going to be playing all the music tonight, too?”
“I can. That’s really up to you. You and - Kemara, right? - chose songs I’m very familiar with. Of course, I’ll play the piano for the responsorial psalm when we get to that point.”
Zeke raised a hand in his turn. “That would be me.”
Sean looked at Kemara who shrugged. “Why not? It will give us some idea of how many verses to do while we get every seated.”
“Cool!” Darla smiled. “I’ve already put the numbers up on the board, and all the songs are in the hymnal.”
“Alright.” Father Mike consulted the papers he held. ”I need Kemara, Sean, David, Joyce, Megan, Keith, Owen, Zeke, Diana, Ivy, Brad, Kelly and Liam to come back in the narthex with me. Those of you who are left, let us know how everything looks from your perspective. If you could spread out on both sides, that would help.”
In the narthex, Father Mike explained the order.
“The altar servers are first, followed by Owen, Zeke and Diana with the Gospels….” He waited while the three of them lined up in the front of the sanctuary doors. “Zeke and Diana you can walk together behind Owen. You’ll sit on the left side to be closest to the ambo.”
“Then comes myself. And behind me will be Liam and Kelly.” He crouched in front of the two children. “Now you’ll both have something to carry.”
“Do I get flowers?” the little girl asked.
“You’ll have a basket with flowers in it,” Kemara promised. “But I didn’t think about the rings. I guess Monica could sew a pillow for us.” She turned to Sean and Brad. “Weren’t you guys supposed to handle that?”
Sean shrugged. “I asked Father Mike and he told me he had something that would work.”
The priest stood up and took something small from the table beside the main doors where the bulletins were usually stacked. He gave the object to Liam.
“A bowl?” The boy turned it over and the others saw that it had been carved from a single block of wood and finished to a high gloss. Around the edge ran an elaborate Celtic design.
Kemara drew in a breath as she realized the identity of the bowl’s maker. She peered over Liam’s shoulder and saw that engraved on the bottom of the bowl were the words: K&S March 17, 2015. Beside her Sean stiffened.
Liam was still puzzled. “We’ll put the rings in here?” He sounded slightly disappointed.
Father Mike bent down and whispered, “Joshua carved it.”
Liam smiled and nodded. “Okay.”
Kemara turned to her parents and Megan and Keith. “Our friend Joshua made it. I guess he left it with you Father Mike?”
“That’s right.” The priest turned back to Liam and Kelly. “So you two will walk right behind me. When we get to the end of the aisle, you’ll sit in the first pew on the left side.” He pointed, and they nodded solemnly.
“OK next will be Ivy and Brad.” He stepped back so they could take their places. “You’ll sit in the first pew on the right side. Then comes Kemara with David on her right and Joyce on her left. Sean, Megan is on your left and Keith on your right.”
With some confusion and laughter, they got sorted.
“And here we go.” Father Mike nodded to Darla and took his place behind Zeke and Diana.
“Please stand and join in singing hymn number 548, ‘Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee’.”
As the music rang out and those in the pews began to sing, Kemara took a deep breath and started down the aisle.
They did two more run-throughs of the processional - without music - before Father Mike gave his approval.
Owen and Diana gave the readings, getting used to the microphone, and Zeke worked with Darla on the timing of the responsorial psalm.
The rest of the rehearsal went by quickly. Everyone smiled as Kemara and Sean stuttered through their vows the first time.
Father Mike shook his head. “You know, I can just ask the questions so all you have to say is ‘I do’. I think you could manage that much,” he teased.
The couple laughed. “Maybe we’d better try that,” Sean admitted. “This isn’t as easy as I thought it would be.”
“It’s not supposed to be easy, son!” Keith called out, making everyone else laugh, too.
Before leading the recessional, Kemara and Sean “practiced” their kiss for an appreciative congregation.
“I think that a wrap,” Father Mike said when they were all gathered again. “We want to get started at 10:30 sharp, so let’s have the wedding party here by 9:30. That will give Liam and Kelly a chance to practice with the flowers and the rings and for the rest of us to iron out any last minute details.”
******They were met at the restaurant by Max and Rose who had agreed to take photos for Kemara.
When everyone had arrived, Andrew asked, “Father Mike, would you say the blessing before we eat?”
“Of course. Lord, thank you for this happy celebration of your most amazing gift, the gift of love. Thank you for friends and family. Thank you for Kemara and Sean, and bless them as they stand on the threshold of a new part of their journey in this life. Let them lean in to their love of you and of each other. And let this big, crazy family stand to bolster them in their life together, now and always. Thank you for this meal. Bless those who helped prepare it and those who made this evening possible. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.”
“Amen,” the others echoed. Several people called for Kemara and Sean to go to the head of the serving line.
“Where do we sit?” Sean asked when they had filled their bowls.
“Anywhere,” Violeta said. “I didn’t think we needed assigned seats.”
When she finished eating, Rose moved around the room and took several candid shots with Kemara’s Nikon. She and Max offered to get them printed.
“I know a place that’s open late,” Max said. “We’ll have them to you tonight. Rose says you’ve got quite a scrapbook going.”
“Thanks,” Kemara said gratefully. “JenniAnn suggested I put it out at the reception, and it would be nice to have it up to date.”
Sean tapped on the rim of his glass to get everyone’s attention. When the room had quieted, he and Kemara stood up.
“I know you’re going to hear a lot of speeches and toasts tomorrow, so we’ll keep this short. We want to thank everyone for coming tonight. But most of all we want to thank Violeta for all the hard work she’s put in since November. I had no idea it took so many things to plan a wedding: flowers, food, music, ribbons, catering, filling out and sending in forms, ordering invitations….” He heaved a dramatic sigh. “Frankly, I’m glad all I have to do is show up!”
Even though Violeta turned red with embarrassment, she looked pleased.
“So Violeta,” Kemara continued. “We have something for you - and Ivy too, actually.” She smiled at the teenager. “If you look in the kitchen the next time you’re over at Serendipity, you’ll find a collection of table linens, towels and washcloths. We thought you could mix and match so we got bright, spring colors. Sean even helped me pick them out.”
Violeta clapped her hands excitedly. “That’s awesome! Thank you, so much!”
“Yes, thank you!” Ivy grinned. “Now I’m really excited about starting college.”
After that, the gathering dissolved into chatting groups as people helped themselves to an array of sherberts and cookies that the servers now brought out.
“Kemara!” JenniAnn made her way over to where Kemara stood talking with her parents. “I just spoke with Adrian, and she said everything looks good for tomorrow. She’s catering the reception,” she explained to David and Joyce.
“Catering?” Joyce asked, looking puzzled. “From what Megan and Keith told us, doesn’t everyone usually bring something?”
JenniAnn nodded. “Oh, sure, for more casual things, but a wedding should be a lil fancier. Not that this will be over the top. Since it’s early afternoon, Violeta and I thought a brunch would be good - biscuits and gravy, sausage, quiche, pastries, yogurt and fruit - that kinda thing. And some light sandwiches too.”
“That sounds great!” Kemara agreed. “I’ll probably be starving by then cause I doubt I’ll eat much breakfast.”
“But does Adrian know about Dyeland?” David put in. “Won’t you need servers?”
“Yeah, she does know, but it’s all self-serve. Some people have offered to leave at Communion to start putting things out. If the wedding party takes photos when you all get back here, it will be ready in plenty of time.”
Joyce smiled. “That’s very nice of them.”
"Yep! Everyone is so excited for Kemara and Sean and we love pitching in to help each other... for happy and sad occasions both. And we're so glad this is such a happy one!"
Kemara hugged her friend. “I know I’ve said it a million times already, but thank you - and Andrew - so much for everything you’ve done.”
“Aww….it was our pleasure. I’m just -.” She broke off as Belle’s wail sounded above the chattering of the crowd.
“Gotta go!” With a wave, she left them.
Joyce cleared her throat self-consciously. “Honey, can you get Sean, please? There’s something I want to say to the two of you.”
“Of course! I”ll be right back.” In some concern, Kemara found Sean and Brad at the dessert table. Brad smiled at her.
“How’s it going, sis?” He asked.
She returned the smile. “It’s going to take me a while to get used to being called that after 34 years of being an only child.” She turned to Sean. “Mom wants to talk to us.”
Brad whistled. “That sounds serious.”
“I hope it’s a good thing,” Sean said. “But we’ll see.”
When they returned to the table, and sat down, Joyce didn’t meet their eyes at first. Instead she folded and unfolded a napkin until David put his hand over hers.
“Just tell them,” he said gently.
“I - I want to apologize for the way I’ve acted, and the things I said about the two of you and your friends - your family,” she corrected herself.
“I didn’t understand this new life you’ve made for yourself, Kemara….I didn’t want to understand. Because I thought it meant you would push me aside. It took some long talks with Megan and Keith and seeing you with these people for me to realize that I was the one doing the pushing, not you.”
Kemara blinked back tears and squeezed Joyce’s hand. “That’s OK, Mama. I know this has been really hard on you and Daddy, both.”
“Yes,” David agreed. “But we should’ve been here for you this week, and we weren’t.”
Joyce looked a Sean. “And I badly misjudged you. I know you overheard our argument...I had no right to doubt you like that.”
“I love your daughter, Mrs. Meeks, warts and all. I know she’s got issues; she knows I’ve got issues. But the point is: We’re working on them. We might not overcome them completely, but we’re doing the best we can.”
David nodded. “We think you’re doing a fine job from what we saw at the performance Saturday and again tonight.”
“Thank you,” Kemara sniffed. “It means a lot to hear that.”
Joyce smiled tearily. “We just want what’s
best for you. And, as your father pointed out to me, the best
is Sean and Dyeland. Can you forgive me?"
Both women stood up at the same time and embraced. When they separated, wiping away tears, Joyce hugged Sean and David shook his hand.
The party broke up soon after that. Max and Rose returned with the promised photos and, after dropping Fr. Mike off at the church, The Jolly Green led a caravan of cars - including Ciara’s and Brad’s back to Willowveil. Their family, as well as Ivy, would be spending the night at the castle.
“Kemara, are you coming in for a while?” JenniAnn asked as they climbed out of the van.
“No, I think I’ll head on home, if that’s OK.”
JenniAnn smiled. “I understand. Call if you want me to hang out with you though.”
“Thanks. I’m going to try to finish up the scrapbook.”
She and Sean said goodnight to the others, and started down the path to the beach house.
“I’m really glad your mom came around,” he said. “I know it was bothering you.”
“And you too,” Kemara pointed out. “I was thanking Joshua all the way back here.”
They were silent for the rest of the walk, both lost in thought.
At the door, Sean looked down at her for a long moment as though memorizing her every feature.
He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it, not taking his eyes off hers.
“See you tomorrow.”
Her breath caught and she almost couldn’t reply.
“Yes, see you tomorrow.”
Is My Heart"
In case you're interested, Kemara graciously agreed to let us post a link to her Pinterest board where she collected ideas for the wedding.
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