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In all four chambers of her practical heart, Camille Delonga held that one of the surest ways of blowing a considerable pile of money was to hitch a girl’s dream onto the six-foot train of a woman’s wedding dress. The proof, in all its floral-scented glory, lay before her as she and her mother waited for their turn to be ushered to their seats in the church where the children of her friend for life, Bridget Mayfield, had been baptized.
Camille had dutifully been there for both babies. The first one had yowled like a tomcat on the make, and Camille recalled wondering how Bridget could live with that noise. The second one, who would soon be walking down the aisle in another white dress, had taken to her christening spotlight like a Christmas cherub. Babies were looking downright darling to Camille by then, as were her own beach ball belly and the bad boy who’d promised to be her mate for life. Soon the belly had deflated, later the promise. But the beginnings had been glorious, filled, in the way of beginnings, with soft colors, summer flowers and much music. Way too much music.
In the last year Camille had heard more about the details and the worries and the changes in the plans for Lauren’s wedding than she cared to remember, but today, like the day of Lauren’s first name-giving, all was right with the world. Bridget and Camille had seen each other through some thick-headed and thin-skinned times, and they were still friends. Bridget was the one who enjoyed playing in money. Camille preferred to put it to work, but she enjoyed seeing how Bridget’s spending played out. Bridget called Camille a vicarious shopper, but neither saw anything wrong with that. They balanced, often beautifully.
Mother of the bride had been Bridget’s best role ever. Every phone call began with a wedding update. She offered a wedding monologue every time they had lunch with Ellie Terrell, the third leg of their girlfriend tripod. Bridget would be soaring over some great wedding find one week and suffering over some perceived loss the next. “In for a penny, in for a pound,” had become Bridget’s mantra. In for a pile of bills, Camille thought, and she’d said as much, because they were friends.
Not that her opinion on this particular matter counted with Bridget, but thank God it counted with Jordan. “You don’t need to be the princess bride,” Camille had told her daughter a time or ten. “When your turn comes, have a small, tasteful ceremony, a party for close family and friends, and put the money you save toward a house.”
Jordan always agreed, if tacitly. No objection was as good as an agreement. Jordan could be quite sensible when she put her mind to it, which she often did these days. She hadn’t stuck it out in college, but she had a good head on her shoulders. She could be anything she wanted to be, just as soon as she decided what that was. Camille had no reservations about putting all her pennies and pounds into her daughter’s education, even when Jordan had dropped out. School was never a waste.
“Mrs. Burke, Mrs. Delonga, you both look beautiful.” Usher James Mayfield greeted them with a killer smile. “I’ve saved you two ladies the best seats in the house.”
Camille tried to remember how long it had been since the bride’s older brother had left home. Bridget’s kids had always been such good manner-minders, which somehow irritated Camille enough to want to correct James’s error on the spot. But she beat down the urge. He had known her as Mrs. Burke when he was growing up, but she’d reclaimed her maiden name after her divorce. James must have been in college by then. Both of Bridget’s kids had finished college. Ever-polite college graduates. Your basic other people’s kids.
“You look like a million bucks in that tux, young man,” said Rosemary Delonga as she took James’s arm. “I suppose you’ve noticed how nicely my granddaughter has filled out.”
Over the top of Rosemary’s new platinum wig, James sent Camille a sweet, sheepish look. “Yes, ma’am, I surely have.”
Camille smiled as they walked down the aisle to the strains of a string quartet. “How long will you be home?”
“Indefinitely,” James whispered. “I’m moving back to the Cities. How’s this?”
Seats on the aisle. Perfect. Camille went in first so that her mother would have the best view. “How’re you doing, Mama? Feeling okay?”
“This is one of my favorite concertos. The musicians are good.”
“They ought to be. They belong to the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.”
“Bridget has good taste.” Rosemary settled back in the oak pew and opened the vellum program. “I just love weddings.”
Since when? Camille wondered. She could count the weddings she’d attended with her mother on half a hand. There was her brother Matt’s wedding, which Camille had attended alone. She’d been newly married herself then, but Creed had been on the road with his band. Camille had spent most of the evening visiting with Mama and her friends, pretending she didn’t notice that they were pretending not to wonder whether she had any regrets yet.
But before Matt’s wedding, the Delongas had rarely proclaimed themselves the marrying kind. Mama had taken Camille to an older cousin’s wedding when she was about ten or twelve. She remembered being the only kid among the few family members in attendance. Most of them had cried through the whole thing. When she’d asked what was wrong, Mama had whispered, “Nothing.” Then she’d blown her nose, wiped, wiped again and muttered, “Yet.” Later Camille remembered sitting in a green brocade chair in the ladies’ room watching her mother repair a side seam in the weepy bride’s dress and listen to Aunt Carol remind her daughter that she should have known the dress was going to be too tight by the time her wedding day rolled around.
That particular marriage had lasted two years, but the couple had managed to produce three children.
“I didn’t know Ellie was going to sing,” Rosemary whispered, her nose buried in the program.
“Bridget hired a professional soloist, but she backed out, so Ellie came to the rescue.”
“Should’ve asked her in the first place. Nobody sings better than Ellie. Not this kind of music, anyway.” Rosemary offered her daughter the flying eyebrow, which always alluded to a supposedly obvious unmentionable.
Generally, the unmentionable was Camille’s former husband, and the point, ironically, usually had to do with the virtues Rosemary had recently begun to attribute to him. Camille shook her head, chuckling. Creed’s absence had made his ex-mother-in-law’s heart grow decidedly fonder.
“Ellie’s pretty nervous, what with all Bridget’s fussing around over professional musicians. It was really short notice.” Even so, Camille wasn’t surprised when she found Ellie’s name on her program. “But I see she managed to get these reprinted. No flaws allowed.”
“Might as well do it right.” Rosemary continued to scan the program, noting, “A pastor and a minister. Mixed marriage.”
Camille gave a soundless laugh. The many recipes for marriage created the possibility of so much adventure. There were so many colorful mixes, complete with collaborative risks. It was enough to scare a mother spitless. Camille understood all that now. Recalling Mama’s dire warnings, she swore she’d never utter them herself even if she were bursting at the seams with them. Still, fitting into her mother’s shoes was not as unthinkable as it had been twenty-three years ago. She couldn’t imagine a man worthy of the dark-haired beauty she who glided past her now, leading the wedding procession.
Somehow Jordan made the fluffy peach bridesmaid’s dress look regal. “No, please, no bow on the butt,” she’d protested, but Lauren had already made her selection. One by one the big satin bows passed Camille’s pew. Plump maid of honor Marion Moony looked like a prize pumpkin, poor girl.
Catty, catty, two-by-four. The old jibe echoed in Camille’s head, clashing with the wedding march. She smiled at the nameless woman across the aisle, as though they were thinking the same thing, sharing in the wickedness the way Bridget and Ellie would have years ago. They’d done their share of critiquing fashions from the sidelines, cuing one of the three to chide and restore order. They’d believed in the natural superiority of the buff and beautiful. Believing had been easy back then. They’d had nothing else to go on.
The music changed. Throughout the church, feet shuffled, knees cracked, and people whispered, one to another. “Here she comes. Oh, look, here she comes.”
Not one of Bridget’s detailed descriptions had done justice to the designer gown’s form fitting, beaded silk bodice or to its voluminous skirt. Layer after layer of airy white tulle lapped the polished maple floor like sea foam and lent a dancer’s grace to the bride’s solemn stride. Beneath the silken veil, the girl’s face was radiant. Her eyes sparked. This was her moment.
With his daughter on his perfectly tailored arm, Timothy Mayfield had never looked more handsome. His summer tan seemed to add substance to his thinning brown hair, and his smile seemed remarkably effortless. Camille had felt vaguely prickly around Tim lately. She couldn’t put her finger on what it was—probably just her, possibly the tip of her becoming an iceberg. But she was glad to see him smiling like a man who had something of value in his life rather than in his possession.
Camille tried to imagine Creed walking his daughter down the aisle. They would make quite a picture together, father and daughter. She liked the image, traditional as it was. For better, for worse, and for all the other double-sided pieces of change in the marriage bag, Creed had always cherished his daughter. Most possessions had not been terribly important to her former husband, including the wedding ring he’d seldom worn because jewelry bothered him when he played his guitar. Or so he’d said. Watches bothered him, too, and maybe it was because he never wore one that the passage of time did not. Camille hadn’t heard from him in at least a year.
Has it been that long? he would say the next time they spoke, and he would sound genuinely surprised. Creed Burke could not keep track of time for love nor money, which was one reason he’d lost out on both. He would want to walk his daughter down the aisle. He would have sterling intentions, and he would promise to be there, but whether it would be safe to put his name on the program was another matter.
Oh, but wouldn’t father and daughter look beautiful walking down the aisle together?
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