Tomorrow is my wedding day.
Leah Thornton looked at the group of friends and family gathered for her rehearsal dinner and couldn’t control the tears that sprouted.
Sitting alone at a table covered in fine, white linen, her thoughts began to spin out of control. The scene before her–a group of people, well fed after a catered meal, dancing and socializing–faded. The sounds of music, laughter and conversation blurred to form an indistinct background hum. Almost hypnotized by the flickering candle placed at the center of the table, her gaze turned inward.
She should be the happiest woman in the room– the bride-to-be. She wasn’t. She felt confused. She felt afraid.
Trying to deal with something more than a severe case of bridal jitters had finally taken its toll. She hadn’t slept the night before, and instead of eating her usual healthy breakfast, she’d downed a tub of Häagen-Dazs ice cream while she sat staring at her engagement photo. Her and Stephen, laughing and happy. Heads pressed together, ear to ear. His hair, raven black above the bluest eyes she’d ever seen. One of her long brown curls dancing across his cheek thanks to a sudden gust of wind, only to be snagged and held by the natural Velcro of his beard. A rough stubble that gave him that bad-boy look she loved. The undeniable sparkle of happiness in her hazel eyes. Their arms around each other, so sure of a joyful future.
Somewhere between then and now, she’d lost that feeling of assurance.
Now she felt queasy. Afraid of a future she couldn’t predict. At a time she should be one hundred percent sure she was making the right choice, she felt more unsure than she’d ever been in her life.
At twenty-nine years of age she was about to take a leap. A leap of faith. The problem? Leah realized she didn’t put much stock in the institution of marriage. Oh, it wasn’t that she didn’t believe in marriage. She did. She even believed in good marriages. Hadn’t she’d seen them with her own eyes? Her parents. Her grandparents. Many of their contemporaries. However, finding lasting marriages amongst her contemporaries could be a little more challenging, and that generated more angst than she could deal with.
Was the deck stacked against her before she even began? She wanted a marriage that would last a lifetime, but maybe she was living in a fool’s paradise. In a few years time, would she look back and wish she’d followed a different path?
Leah loved Stephen, but did she love him enough to ride out the storms they would eventually face? Did he love her enough?
She was one of those people that demanded excellence. Not so much in other people, but in herself. Taking a course doomed to fail wasn’t her style.
Pouring herself another glass of merlot from the open bottle on the table, she hoped it gave her strength. Of course, between the ice cream for breakfast, and this, her fourth glass of wine, she doubted she’d end up with strength.
Her throat tightened, and her chest ached.
Maybe she should call this whole thing off. It would be heart breaking, but far less so than a divorce would be.
A hand covered hers where it lay on the tablecloth. She didn’t need to look to know it belonged to Stephen. No other hand could convey such love, such confidence in their love. Confidence she wished she had.
The sound of his voice, and the concern it communicated, wrapped around her like a tight embrace.
She blinked, trying to dispel her tears. She loved this man. She wanted him. Needed him. But…
“This is your party. And you’re the only one not partying.”
He caught her face in his palms and turned her to him. “Honey, what is it? You’ve been acting strange all day.”
How could she tell him? Her heart–her foolish heart?–yelled marry him! You love him. Take the chance and everything will be okay. And on a purely emotional level, she believed that. Her feelings–her intuition–told her marrying him was the right thing to do.
Ah, but her rational side. Her brain. It sang a different tune, with a chorus so loud, she couldn’t ignore it any longer. After a day of conflicting emotions, it was time to make her choice. And then tell him.
Through a veil of tears, Leah looked up at him. The man she’d agreed to marry. To bind herself to till death do they part. Navy blue eyes that never missed a thing watched her from under a hood of dark brows and a forehead wrinkled with worry.
She reached up and cupped her hands over his. Took a deep breath. “I’m afraid.”
Stephen’s glance bounced around the room before he crouched down before her. “Of what?”
Tears began to stream unchecked. She ignored the voice deep inside, screaming, No! Don’t do this! “I don’t think I can go ahead with the wedding. I don’t want to get divorced.”
With a stunned expression, he stood, then pulled her up into his arms. “Leah, sweetheart, what are you talking about? Who said anything about divorce? Why are you saying anything about divorce?”
“Nobody said anything.” She gulped. Her stomach did a summersault and she knew it had nothing to do with what she’d eaten. “Stephen, I’m afraid that if we get married, one day we’ll end up screaming at each other in divorce court.”
Pulling her tight, he tucked her head under his chin, and then cupped the back of her skull with his palm. “Why are you even thinking such a thing?”
Leah grabbed the lapels of his charcoal grey suit. Anchored herself. She had to make him understand. “Look around. How many of our friends are still happily married? Doesn’t it seem like it’s only the old folks that are still together?”
She felt the movement of his chest as his lungs expanded on a deeply indrawn breath. “Then we’ll go talk to the old folks and find out what their secret is.”
Banging the sides of her fists against his chest, she said, “I’m serious.”
“So am I.”
Leah stilled. Was it really that simple? She doubted it. If it were, seniors would be getting rich handing out advice to the lovelorn.
She let her gaze wander around the room. There were her parents, dancing up a storm. She was too far away to see the look in her father’s brown eyes, but she could imagine their twinkle as he looked down at her mother. They’d been married for nearly forty years. They’d had their ups and downs, but they’d survived them with their love for each other intact. And her grandparents. Sitting talking to friends at a table not far away, his arm around her shoulders. More than sixty years, and they were still together.
The more she thought about it, the more she believed the situation had to do with lifestyle and the society of today. At least to some extent, anyway. Her parents and grandparents had lived in an era when they were taught to put other people first. Now it was me first and every man for himself. And the simple life had reigned a few generations back. Somewhere along the way, paying for the gas to fill up the SUV you just had to have–not to mention everything else–became more of a focus than hanging onto a spouse. A couple of today had much more stress to deal with then a couple of a few decades ago. Trying to keep up with the spiraling cost of living played havoc with the time a family could spend together.
When had the world spun out of control? And why were couples–families–paying the price? Could she and Stephen escape the traps and pitfalls they’d surely encounter?
Stephen pulled a chair away from the table, still cluttered with empty dessert plates and coffee cups, sat down, and then pulled her into his lap. Pointing with his chin, he said, “Look at Michael and Tasha. They’re happily married.”
Turning in his arms, she scoped out the dance floor. There they were; Tasha’s arms around Michael’s neck, his resting low on her hips. Barely moving, but attuned to each other on a level that couldn’t be defined.
Leah lifted her shoulders, and then let them fall in a dejected droop. “Yes, but this is Tasha’s second marriage.”
“Do you think her and Michael will make it?”
She burrowed into him. He made her feel so…safe. Cherished. But was that enough? “I think so. They’re working at it.”
He dropped a kiss on her forehead. “And what about you? Will you work at our marriage? Even if things get tough?”
She jerked her head up and glared at him. “Of course I will. You know I always strive for the best.”
With a fat smirk, he said, “Oh, I know it. Just look at me. You chose the best in husband material.”
That egotistical remark lightened her despondency a bit. One of the things she loved most about him was his ability to comfort her.
Smoothing a finger over his brow, she said, “Yes, I did.”
Maybe she needed to take a moment and ponder on the things she loved about him. Focus on the positives she had instead of worrying about negatives that may or may not be part of her future.
Okay–the positives. What were the things she loved about him? It wasn’t just his ability to comfort her. If she needed comfort, he gave it. It was his thoughtfulness. His willingness to treat her like a partner. His sense of humor. The way he seemed to know when she needed tenderness or when she just wanted to be treated like one of the guys.
She loved this man. Why had she begun to question that, and his love for her? He showed it in so many ways, day after day. He knew, understood, and cherished each facet of her makeup.
Leah thought of the song they’d picked for their first dance. It had taken ages, but they’d both wanted lyrics that meant something to them. They’d finally settled on a track from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack, called Come What May. Didn’t that song say it all? The exact words escaped her–yep, obviously too much wine–but the gist of it was that the world was a much better place because of the love they shared. And that no matter what happened, the other one would be there. They’d be at each other’s sides. Come what may, they would love each other until their dying day.
She looked across the room again. At her parents and grandparents. There they were, still at each other’s sides. They were somehow living up to their pledge to stick together.
Knuckles tapping on her forehead pulled her out of her thoughts. “What’s going on in there?”
“I’m thinking of all the reasons why I love you. And the ways you show me you love me.”
“Good. You need to keep thinking about that. Keep remembering. And think about something else. You just said it yourself. You strive for the best. Why would your marriage be any different? I don’t think you’re ever going to throw your hands up and say what we have isn’t worth working for anymore. I can assure you I’m not.”
Leah chewed the inside of her cheek. “But it can’t be that easy, can it? If it were, divorce wouldn’t be so common.”
He shrugged. “I’m not saying it’s easy for everybody. And besides, let’s just worry about us, not everyone else.”
Sitting up straighter in his lap, Leah drew in a cleansing breath as reason trickled in and doubt ebbed. Quitting wasn’t her style. “So what do you suggest?”
For a moment, he gazed at her, obviously deep in thought. Finally, a sparkle flashed in his jewel blue eyes. “Okay. I have it. What do we have in common when it comes to our cars?”
“Huh? What does that have to do with anything?”
“Just answer the question.”
Shrugging, she answered, “All right. Whatever. We’re obsessive about the maintenance schedules.”
“It’s the only way to keep them running at optimum performance.” She wrinkled her nose. “Are you suggesting we have a maintenance schedule?”
“Seems like a good plan to me. How about this? Let’s set specific times where we run a diagnostic on our relationship. And we promise to work on whatever isn’t up to par. Would having a plan like that in place ease your fears?”
The other thing she loved about him? He always took her seriously. If something scared her, he put aside time to still her fears.
They were in this together, and he’d be right beside her, doing his best to bring her happiness. She didn’t expect perfect sailing all the time, but she knew making their relationship work would never be on her shoulders alone.
Leah leaned forward, pressed a butterfly kiss to his lips, and then laid her forehead against his. “I love you, Stephen. I always will.”
Tomorrow was her wedding day–and she was going to leap.