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The Wedding  婚礼-The Wedding

  I was less nervous on Saturday morning than I anticipated.? Anna swung by after everyone was up and about and surprised us with her nonchalance as she ate breakfast with the family. Afterward, we all lounged on the back deck, where time passed almost in slow motion. Perhaps we were quietly bracing ourselves for the frenzy that would follow later that afternoon.? More than once, I caught Leslie and Joseph watching Jane and me, apparently transfixed by the sight of us nudging each other playfully or laughing at each other’s stories. While Leslie looked almost misty-eyed—almost like a proud parent—Joseph’s expression was harder to decipher. I couldn’t tell whether he was happy for us or whether he was trying to figure out how long this new phase might last. Perhaps their reactions were warranted. Unlike Anna, they hadn’t seen us much lately, and no doubt each of them remembered how we’d treated each other the last time they’d seen us together; indeed, when Joseph had visited over Christmas, Jane and I had barely spoken at all. And, of course, I knew he still remembered her visit to New York the year before.? I wondered if Jane noticed her children’s puzzled scrutiny. If she did, she paid no attention to it. Instead, she regaled Joseph and Leslie with stories about the wedding plans, unable to hide her delight at how well it had come together. ?Leslie had a hundred questions and nearly swooned over each romantic revelation; Joseph seemed more content to listen in silence. Anna chimed in from time to time, usually in response to a question. She was seated next to me on the couch, and when Jane got up to refill the coffeepot, Anna watched her mother over her shoulder. Then, taking my hand, she leaned toward my ear and whispered simply, “I can’t wait for tonight.” The women of the family had appointments at the hair salon at one o’clock and were chatting like schoolgirls on the way out the door. As for me, both John Peterson and Henry MacDonald had called in midmorning, asking if I would be willing to meet them at Noah’s. Peterson wanted to check how the piano sounded, while MacDonald wanted to take a look at the kitchen and the rest of the layout to ensure dinner went smoothly. Both men promised to keep the visit short, but I assured them it wasn’t a problem. I had to drop something off at the house—something Leslie had left in her trunk—and was heading over anyway.? Just as I was leaving, I heard Joseph enter the living room behind me. “Hey, Pop. Mind if I come along?” “Not at all,” I said. Joseph stared out the window and said little on our drive to Noah’s. He hadn’t been there in years and seemed to be simply soaking up the view as we wound along the tree-lined roads. While New York City was exciting—and Joseph now regarded it as home—I could sense that he’d forgotten how lovely the low country could be. Slowing the car, I turned up the drive, then parked in my usual spot. When we got out of the car, Joseph stood for a moment, gazing at the house. It was radiant in the high summer light. Within hours, Anna, Leslie, and Jane would be upstairs, dressing for the wedding. The procession, we’d decided, would begin from the house; staring up at the second-floor windows, I tried and failed to imagine those final moments before the wedding, when all the guests would be seated and waiting. When I shook myself from my reverie, I saw that Joseph had moved from the car and was heading in the direction of the tent. He walked with hands in his pockets, his gaze roaming over the property. At the entrance to the tent, he stopped and looked back at me, waiting for me to join him.? We wandered silently through the tent and rose garden, then into the house. ?While Joseph wasn’t visibly excited, I could sense that he was as impressed as Leslie and Anna had been. When he completed the tour, he asked a few questions about the mechanics of what had been done—the whos, whats, and hows—but by the time the caterer pulled up the drive, he’d grown silent again.? “So what do you think?” I asked. He didn’t answer right away, but a faint smile tugged at his lips as he surveyed the property. “To be honest,” he admitted at last, “I can’t believe you pulled it off.” Following his gaze, I flashed on how it had looked only a few days earlier. “It is something, isn’t it?” I said absently. At my answer, Joseph shook his head. “I’m not just talking about all this,” he said, gesturing at the surrounding landscape. “I’m talking about Mom.” He paused, making sure he had my attention. “Last year, when she came up,” he went on, “she was more upset than I’d ever seen her. She was crying when she got off the plane. Did you know that?” My expression answered for me. He pushed his hands into his pockets and looked down at the ground, refusing to meet my eyes. “She said she didn’t want you to see her that way, so she’d tried to hold herself together. But on the flight . . . I guess it finally got the best of her.” He hesitated. “I mean, here I was, standing in the airport waiting to pick up my mom, and she walks off the plane looking like someone who’d just come from a funeral. I know I deal with grief every day at my job, but when it’s your own mom . . .” He trailed off, and I knew enough to say nothing. “She kept me awake until after midnight the first night she was there. Just kept rambling and crying about what was going on between you two. And I’ll admit that I was angry with you. Not just for forgetting the anniversary, but for everything. It’s like you always viewed our family as a convenience that other people expected you to maintain, but you never wanted to do the work required. ?Finally, I told her that if she was still unhappy after so many years, she might be better off alone.” I didn’t know what to say. “She’s a great lady, Pop,” he said, “and I was tired of seeing her hurt. And over the next few days, she recovered—a bit, anyway. But she was still dreading the thought of going back home. She’d get this real sad expression whenever it came up, so finally I asked her to stay in New York with me. For a while there, I thought she was going to take me up on it, but in the end, she said she couldn’t. She said that you needed her.” My throat constricted. “When you told me what you wanted to do for your anniversary, my first thought was that I didn’t want anything to do with it. I wasn’t even looking forward to coming down this weekend. But last night . . .” He shook his head and sighed. ?“You should have heard her when you left to take Noah home. She couldn’t stop talking about you. She went on and on about how great you’ve been and how well you’ve both been getting along lately. And then, seeing the way you two kissed on the deck . . .” He faced me with an expression bordering on disbelief and seemed to be seeing me for the first time. “You did it, Pop. I don’t know how, but you did it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her happier.” Peterson and MacDonald were right on time, and as promised, they didn’t stay long. I stored the item that had been in Leslie’s trunk upstairs, and on our way home, Joseph and I stopped by the rental shop to pick up two tuxedos—one for him, the second for Noah. I dropped Joseph off at the house before heading to Creekside, since he had an errand to run before the ceremony.? Noah was sitting in the chair as the late afternoon sun streamed through the window, and when he turned to greet me, I knew immediately that the swan hadn’t returned. I paused in the doorway. “Hello, Noah,” I said. “Hello, Wilson,” he whispered. He looked drawn, as if the lines in his face had grown deeper overnight. “You doing okay?” “Could be better,” he said. “Could be worse, though, too.” He forced a smile as if to reassure me. “Are you ready to go?” “Yeah,” He nodded. “I’m ready.” On the drive, he didn’t mention the swan. Instead, he stared out the window as Joseph had, and I left him alone with his thoughts. Nonetheless, my anticipation grew as we neared the house. I couldn’t wait for him to see what we’d done, and I suppose I expected Noah to be as dazzled as everyone else had been.? Strangely, however, he showed no reaction when he got out of the car. Looking around, he finally offered the faintest of shrugs. “I thought you said you had the place fixed up,” he said. I blinked, wondering if I’d heard him right. “I did.” “Where?” “Everywhere,” I said. “Come on—let me show you the garden.” He shook his head. “I can see it fine from here. It looks like it always did.” “Now, maybe, but you should have seen it last week,” I said almost defensively. “It was completely overgrown. And the house . . .” He cut me off with a mischievous grin. “Gotcha,” he said with a wink. “Now come on—let’s see what you’ve done.” We toured the property and house before retiring to the porch swing. We had an hour to ourselves before we had to put on our tuxedos. Joseph was dressed by the time he arrived, and he was followed a few minutes later by Anna, Leslie, and Jane, who’d come straight from the salon. The girls were giddy as they got out of the car. Walking ahead of Jane, they quickly vanished upstairs, their dresses folded over their arms. Jane paused before me, her eyes twinkling as she watched them go.? “Now remember,” she said, “Keith’s not supposed to see Anna beforehand, so don’t let him go up.” “I won’t,” I promised. “In fact, don’t let anyone up. It’s supposed to be a surprise.” I held up two fingers. “I’ll guard the stairs with my life,” I said. “That goes for you, too.” “I figured.” She glanced toward the empty stairs. “Are you getting nervous yet?” “A little.” “Me too. It’s hard to believe that our little girl is all grown up now, and that she’s actually getting married.” Though excited, she sounded a bit wistful, and I leaned in to kiss her on the cheek. She smiled. “Listen—I’ve got to go help Anna. She needs help getting into her dress—it’s supposed to be real snug. And I’ve got to finish getting ready, too.” “I know,” I said. “I’ll see you in a little while.” Over the next hour, the photographer arrived first, followed by John Peterson, and then the caterers, all of them going about their business efficiently. The cake was delivered and set up on the stand, the florist showed up with a bouquet, boutonnieres, and corsages, and just before the guests were to arrive, the minister walked me through the order for the procession.? Shortly, the yard began filling with cars. Noah and I stood on the porch to greet most of the guests before directing them to the tent, where Joseph and Keith escorted the ladies to their chairs. John Peterson was already at the piano, filling the warm evening air with the soft music of Bach. Soon, everyone was seated and the minister was in place. As the sun began to set, the tent took on a mystical glow. Candles flickered on the tables, and caterers moved out back, ready to arrange the food.? For the first time, the event began to feel real to me. Trying to remain calm, I began to pace. The wedding would commence in less than fifteen minutes, and I assumed that my wife and daughters knew what they were doing. I tried to convince myself that they were simply waiting until the last moment to make their appearance, but I couldn’t help peering through the open front door at the stairs every couple of minutes. Noah sat in the porch swing, watching me with an amused expression. “You look like a target in one of those shooting games at the carnival,” he said. “You know—where the penguin goes back and forth?” I unwrinkled my brow. “That bad?” “I think you’ve worn a groove in the porch.” Deciding it might be better to sit, I started toward him when I heard footsteps coming down the stairs. Noah held up his hands to signal that he was staying, and with a deep breath I entered the foyer. Jane was moving slowly down the stairway, one hand gliding across the banister, and all I could do was stare. With her hair pinned up, she looked impossibly glamorous. Her peach satin gown clung to her body invitingly, and her lips were a glossy pink. She wore just enough eye shadow to accent her dark eyes, and when she saw my expression, she paused, basking in my appreciation. “You look . . . incredible,” I managed to say. “Thank you,” she said softly. A moment later, she was moving toward me in the foyer. As she approached, I caught a whiff of her new perfume, but when I leaned in to kiss her, she pulled away before I got close. “Don’t,” she said, laughing. “You’ll smudge my lipstick.” “Really?” “Really,” she said, and batted my grasping hands away. “You can kiss me later—I promise. Once I start crying, my makeup will be ruined anyway.” “So where’s Anna?” She nodded toward the stairs. “She’s ready, but she wanted to talk to Leslie alone before she came down. Some last minute bonding, I guess.” She gave a dreamy smile. “I can’t wait for you to see her. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more beautiful bride. Is everything ready to go?” “As soon as he gets the word, John will start playing the processional music.” Jane nodded, looking nervous. “Where’s Daddy?” “Right where he’s supposed to be,” I said. “Don’t worry—everything’s going to be perfect. All that’s left now is the waiting.” She nodded again. “What time is it?” I glanced at my watch. “Eight o’clock,” I said, and just as Jane was about to ask whether she should go get Anna, the door creaked open upstairs. We both looked up at the same time. Leslie was the first to appear, and like Jane, she was the picture of loveliness. Her skin had the dewiness of youth, and she bounced down the stairs with barely suppressed glee. Her dress was also peach colored, but unlike Jane’s, it was sleeveless, exposing the tawny muscles in her arms as she gripped the railing. “She’s coming,” she said breathlessly. “She’ll be down in a second.” Joseph slipped through the door behind us and moved alongside his sister. Jane reached for my arm and, surprised, I noticed that my hands were trembling. This was it, I thought, it all comes down to this. And when we heard the door open upstairs, Jane broke into a girlish grin. “Here she comes,” she whispered. Yes, Anna was coming, but even then my thoughts were only on Jane. Standing beside me, I knew at that moment that I’d never loved her more. My mouth had gone suddenly dry. When Anna appeared, Jane’s eyes widened. For just a moment, she seemed frozen, unable to speak. Seeing her mother’s expression, Anna descended the stairs as quickly as Leslie had, one arm behind her back. The dress she wore was not the one that Jane had seen her wearing only minutes earlier. Instead, she wore the dress that I’d delivered to the house this morning—I had hung it in its garment bag in one of the empty closets—and it matched Leslie’s dress perfectly. Before Jane could summon the will to speak, Anna moved toward her and revealed what she’d been hiding behind her back. “I think you should be the one to wear this,” she said simply.? When Jane saw the bridal veil Anna was holding, she blinked rapidly, unable to believe her eyes. “What’s going on?” she demanded. “Why did you take your wedding gown off?” “Because I’m not getting married,” Anna said with a quiet smile. “Not yet, anyway.” “What are you talking about?” Jane cried. “Of course you’re getting married. . . .” Anna shook her head. “This was never my wedding, Mom. It’s always been your wedding.” She paused. “Why do you think I let you pick everything out?” Jane seemed incapable of digesting Anna’s words. Instead, she looked from Anna to Joseph and Leslie, searching their smiling faces for answers, before she finally turned to me. I took Jane’s hands in my own and raised them to my lips. A year of planning, a year of secrets, had come down to this moment. I kissed her fingers gently before meeting her eyes. “You did say you’d marry me again, didn’t you?” For a moment, it seemed as if the two of us were alone in the room. As Jane stared at me, I thought back on all the arrangements I’d made in secret over the past year—a vacation at exactly the right time, the photographer and caterer who just happened to have an “opening,” wedding guests without weekend plans, work crews able to “clear their schedule” in order to ready the house in just a couple of days. It took a few seconds, but a look of comprehension slowly began to dawn on Jane’s face. And when she fully grasped what was happening—what this weekend was truly all about—she stared at me in wonder and disbelief. “My wedding?” Her voice was soft, almost breathless. I nodded. “The wedding I should have given you a long time ago.” Though Jane wanted the details of everything here and now, I reached for the veil that Anna still held. “I’ll tell you about it at the reception,” I said, draping it carefully over her head. “But right now, the guests are waiting. Joseph and I are expected up at the front, so I’ve got to go. Don’t forget the bouquet.” Jane’s eyes were pleading. “But . . . wait . . .” “I really can’t stay,” I said softly. “I’m not supposed to see you beforehand, remember?” I smiled. “But I’ll see you in just a few minutes, okay?” I felt the guests’ eyes on me as Joseph and I made our way toward the trellis. A moment later, we were standing beside Harvey Wellington, the minister I’d asked to officiate. “You do have the rings, right?” I asked. Joseph tapped his breast pocket. “Right here, Pop. Picked them up today, just like you asked.” In the distance, the sun was sinking below the treeline, and the sky was slowly turning gray. My eyes traveled over the guests, and as I heard their muted whispers, I was overcome by a surge of gratitude. Kate, David, and Jeff were seated with their spouses in the front rows, Keith was seated right behind them, and beyond them were the friends whom Jane and I had shared for a lifetime. I owed every one of them my thanks for making all of this possible. Some had sent pictures for the album, others had helped me find exactly the right people to help with the wedding plans. Yet my gratitude went beyond those things. These days, it seemed impossible to keep secrets, but not only had everyone kept this one, they’d turned out with enthusiasm, ready to celebrate this special moment in our lives. I wanted to thank Anna most of all. None of this would have been possible without her willing participation, and it couldn’t have been easy for her. She’d had to watch every word she said, all the while keeping Jane preoccupied. It had been quite a burden for Keith, too, and I found myself thinking that one day, he would indeed make a fine son-in-law. When he and Anna did decide to get married, I promised myself that Anna would get exactly the kind of wedding she wanted, no matter what it cost. Leslie had been an immense help, too. It was she who had talked Jane into staying in Greensboro, and she was the one who drove to the store to buy Anna’s matching dress before bringing it home. Even more, it was she I called upon for ideas to make the wedding as beautiful as possible. With her love of romantic movies, she’d been a natural, and it had been her idea to hire both Harvey Wellington and John Peterson. Then, of course, there was Joseph. He had been the least excited of my children when I’d told him what I intended to do, but I suppose I should have expected that. What I didn’t expect was the weight of his hand on my shoulder as we stood beneath the trellis, waiting for Jane to arrive. “Hey, Pop?” he whispered. “Yes?” He smiled. “I just want you to know that I’m honored that you asked me to be your best man.” At his words, my throat tightened. “Thank you,” was all I could say.? The wedding was all I hoped it would be. I’ll never forget the hushed excitement of the crowd or the way people craned their necks to see my daughters making their way down the aisle; I’ll never forget how my hands began to shake when I heard the first chords of the “Wedding March” or how radiant Jane looked as she was escorted down the aisle by her father. With her veil in place, Jane seemed like a lovely, young bride. With a bouquet of tulips and miniature roses clasped loosely in her hands, she seemed to glide down the aisle. At her side, Noah beamed with undisguised pleasure, every inch the proud father. At the head of the aisle, he and Jane stopped and Noah slowly raised her veil. ?After kissing her on the cheek, he whispered something in her ear, then took his seat in the front row, right next to Kate. Beyond them, I could see women in the crowd already dabbing their tears with handkerchiefs.? Harvey opened the ceremony with a prayer of thanks. After asking us to face each other, he spoke then of love and renewal and the effort it entailed. Throughout the ceremony, Jane squeezed my hands tightly, her eyes never leaving my own.? When the time came, I asked Joseph for the rings. For Jane, I’d bought a diamond anniversary band; for myself, I’d bought a duplicate of the one I’d always worn, one that seemed to shine with the hope of better things to come.? We renewed the vows we had spoken long ago and slipped the rings on each other’s fingers. When the time came to kiss the bride, I did so to the sounds of cheering, whistles, and applause and an explosion of camera flashbulbs.? The reception went on until midnight. Dinner was magnificent, and John Peterson was in wonderful form on the piano. Each of the children offered a toast—as did I, to offer my thanks for what everyone had done. Jane couldn’t stop smiling.? After dinner, we moved away some of the tables, and Jane and I danced for hours. ?In the moments she took to catch her breath, she peppered me with questions that had plagued me during most of my waking moments this week.? “What if someone had let the secret slip?” “But they didn’t,” I answered. “But what if they had?” “I don’t know. I guess I just hoped that if someone did slip, you’d think you heard them wrong. Or that you wouldn’t believe I’d be crazy enough to do such a thing.” “You put a lot of trust in a lot of people.” “I know,” I said. “And I’m thankful they proved me right.” “Me too. This is the most wonderful night of my life.” She hesitated as she glanced around the room. “Thank you, Wilson. For every single bit of it.” I put my arm around her. “You’re welcome.” As the clock edged toward midnight, the guests began to leave. Each of them shook my hand on the way out and offered Jane a hug. When Peterson finally closed the lid on the piano, Jane thanked him profusely. Impulsively, he kissed her on the cheek. “I wouldn’t have missed this for the world,” he said. ?Harvey Wellington and his wife were among the last to leave, and Jane and I walked with them out onto the porch. When Jane thanked Harvey for officiating, he shook his head. “No need for thanks. There’s nothing more wonderful than being part of something like this. It’s what marriage is all about.” Jane smiled. “I’ll give you a call so we can all have dinner together.” “I’d like that.” The kids were gathered around one of the tables, quietly rehashing the evening, but other than that, the house was quiet. Jane joined them at the table, and as I stood behind her, I glanced around the room and realized that Noah had slipped away unnoticed. He’d been strangely quiet most of the evening, and I thought he might have gone outside to stand on the back porch in the hope of being alone. I’d found him there earlier, and to be frank, I was a little worried about him. It had been a long day, and with the hour getting late, I wanted to ask him whether he wanted to head back to Creekside. When I stepped onto the porch, however, I didn’t see him. I was just about to go back inside to check the rooms upstairs when I spotted a solitary figure standing by the bank of the river in the distance. How I was able to see him, I’ll never be sure, but perhaps I caught sight of the backs of his hands moving in the darkness. Wearing his tuxedo jacket, he was otherwise lost in the nighttime surroundings. I debated whether or not to call out, then decided against it. For some reason, I had the feeling that he didn’t want anyone else to know he was out there. ?Curious, however, I hesitated only briefly before making my way down the steps. I began moving in his direction. Above me, the stars were out in full, and the air was fresh with the earthy scent of the low country. My shoes made soft scraping sounds on the gravel, but once I reached the grass, the ground began to slope, gradually at first, then steeper. I found it difficult to keep my balance amid the thickening vegetation. ?Pushing branches away from my face, I couldn’t figure out why—or how—Noah had gone this way. Standing with his back to me, he was whispering as I approached. The soft cadences of his voice were unmistakable. At first I thought he was speaking to me, but I suddenly realized that he didn’t even know I was there.? “Noah?” I asked quietly. He turned in surprise and stared. It took a moment for him to recognize me in the dark, but gradually, his expression relaxed. Standing before him, I had the strange feeling that I’d caught him doing something wrong.? “I didn’t hear you coming. What are you doing out here?” I smiled quizzically. “I was about to ask you the same question.” Instead of answering, he nodded toward the house. “That was some party you threw tonight. You really outdid yourself. I don’t think Jane stopped smiling all night long.” “Thank you.” I hesitated. “Did you have a good time?” “I had a great time,” he said. For a moment, neither of us said anything. “Are you feeling okay?” I finally asked. “Could be better,” he said. “Could be worse, though, too.” “You sure?” “Yeah,” he said, “I’m sure.” Perhaps responding to my curious expression, he commented, “It’s such a nice night. I thought I might take a little time to enjoy it.” “Down here?” He nodded. “Why?” I suppose I should have guessed the reason he’d risked the climb down to the river’s edge, but at the time, the thought didn’t occur to me.? “I knew she hadn’t left me,” he said simply. “And I wanted to talk to her.” “Who?” Noah didn’t seem to hear my question. Instead, he nodded in the direction of the river. “I think she came for the wedding.” With that, I suddenly understood what he was telling me, and I glanced at the river, seeing nothing at all. My heart sank, and overwhelmed by a feeling of sudden helplessness, I found myself wondering whether the doctors had been right after all. Maybe he was delusional—or maybe tonight had been too much for him. ?When I opened my mouth to convince him to come back inside, however, the words seemed to lodge in my throat. For in the rippling water beyond him, appearing as if from nowhere, she came gliding over the moonlit creek. In the wild, she looked majestic; her feathers were glowing almost silver, and I closed my eyes, hoping to clear the image from my mind. Yet when I opened them again, the swan was circling in front of us, and all at once, I began to smile. Noah was right. Though I didn’t know why or how it had come, I had no doubt whatsoever that it was her. It had to be. I’d seen the swan a hundred times, and even from a distance, I couldn’t help but notice the tiny black spot in the middle of her chest, directly above her heart.

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