SAM: “Such a strange time of day for a wedding,” my mother said. “And a strange time of the year as well.”
I looked at myself in the full-length mirror. My mother stood behind me. It was hard to believe that the tall woman who was reflected in the mirror was actually me. Was I really that beautiful all the time or just on this special day?
“Elias and I wanted to begin the new year and our life together simultaneously,” I said.
“Was it his idea or yours?” my mother asked as she stood beside me.
“Both of ours,” I said. “Having experienced my share of breakups, I wanted this relationship to be built on a better foundation. I want to look back after forty or fifty years and be really happy.”
“What about children?” my mother asked.
“Those may happen,” I said. “We've discussed it, but we definitely don't want to feel forced to start a family. We want it to happen as naturally as possible.”
Someone knocked on my bedroom door. The door opened slightly. “May I come in?” my father asked. He was dressed in a tuxedo and looked quite handsome in it. Nothing compared to Elias, of course, but can you blame me for being biased?
“Of course,” I said. “It's only the groom who isn't supposed to see me today before the wedding starts.”
Dad hugged me. “You look gorgeous, Sam. It reminds me of what your mother looked like on our own wedding day.” He hugged her. “She's still as beautiful as ever.”
Mom smiled and blushed a little. “Still the charmer and still my prince.”
He kissed her. A dimple appeared to the left of her lips. “And you're still my princess.” He looked at his watch. “Two minutes to go.”
“I'll meet you there,” Mom said and left my bedroom.
“Ready?” Dad asked me.
I nodded and picked up the bouquet of flowers from where it had lain on my vanity.
He placed the wedding veil over my head and face, then offered his right arm to me.
I placed my left hand in it and held the bouquet with my right hand.
“Let's go,” I said.
ELIAS: I stood nervously at the altar end of the aisle outside Sam's childhood home. (I'd hoped for something simpler, but my bride-to-be was sentimental. She wanted to get married here, as a symbol of her changing from a single woman to my wife. Since it made her happier to agree, I agreed.) My best man was my male best friend François and he stood next to me. I wondered if he wished that his late sister Danielle were here as well. And perhaps she was. Smiling, as she watched this wedding from up in Heaven.
It was several minutes before midnight when the familiar “Wedding March” was played on an upright piano as Sam and her father walked down the aisle.
“She is une tres belle femme, n'est pas?” François asked softly.
“She is indeed,” I agreed.
When Sam and her father reached where we stood, her father transferred her left hand to me.
“I give my daughter to you in good faith,” Sam's father told me. “May you both live together many happy years.”
“Thank you, sir,” I said. “I'll do my best.”
Sam and I held hands as the minister spoke: “Dearly beloved. We are gathered here together in the eyes of God to join this man and this woman in the bonds of holy matrimony. In the garden of Eden, God saw that Adam was alone and unhappy. Therefore, from one of Adam's ribs, he created Eve, to comfort and care for Adam. Though thousands of years have passed since then, the situation is much the same today. Some men and women are happy living alone, while others prefer each other's company.”
The minister turned to me: “Elias Stergios. Do you promise to wed this woman? To love her in sickness and in health, in poverty or in wealth, in good times and in bad, to support her whatever path she may choose to travel on, to be beside her no matter what, until death do you part?”
“I do,” I said.
The minister turned to Sam: “Samantha Colleen. Do you promise to wed this man? To love him in sickness and in health, in poverty or in wealth, in good times and in bad, to support him whatever path he may choose to travel on, to be beside him no matter what, until death do you part?”
“I do,” she said.
A little boy who carried the pillow with the two rings on it stepped between us. I picked up Sam's ring and placed it on her left ring-finger.
“With this ring, I thee wed,” I said.
She picked up my ring and placed it on my left ring-finger.
“With this ring, I thee wed,” she said.
“Then by the power invested in me, I now pronounce you man and wife,” the minister told us. “Let no man separate those whom God has joined.” He turned to me. “You may now kiss the bride.”
I looked at my radiant bride. My nervousness disappeared as I lifted her veil, took her in my arms, and kissed her. We both heard cheering and applause as I did so.
“Happy now?” I asked Sam.
She nodded. “Happier than I've ever been in my entire life.”
“Same here,” I said.
We could hear the distant sound of church bells as we walked arm-in-arm back down the aisle. The little flower girls in their white dresses and white shoes tossed flower petals as high above our heads as possible. The last two tolls rang out as we stood there.
It was New Year's Day and we were married to each other.
I couldn't believe that it had actually happened. All that pre-wedding nervousness seemed silly now. The fear that something would go terribly wrong. I suppose it isn't too different from what other brides and grooms have felt on their wedding days.
“And now for the reception,” Sam said softly.
“I hope I don't have to stand up and make a long speech,” I said, also softly.
“Maybe not a long speech, Elias,” she said. “In any case, you won't have to do it alone. I'll be sitting next to you.”
“Good,” I said. “Because I got poor grades in speech class in tenth grade. Too nervous.”
“You'll do just fine,” she said.
There was a long table at one end of the large room of the church's parish hall. Sam and I sat side-by-side behind the table. There were smaller tables elsewhere in the hall. Every table was fully occupied. Even the kids' tables were.
My parents sat to my left, while Sam's parents sat to her right.
I kept hoping one of them would want to give a speech first. And, thank goodness, Sam's father stood up and spoke first.
“It feels like years since our daughter Sam told us that she'd met a wonderful man. That they'd felt like old friends almost immediately. But I also remember when she called us to let us know that she'd turned down his marriage proposal. A few hours later, though, she called us again, to let us know that she'd changed her mind. She wanted to marry him after all. And today she has. We haven't lost a daughter; we've gained a son.” He raised his glass of champagne to me. “May you both have a long and happy life together.”
Sam's mother didn't seem to want to say anything. Sam nudged me. Apparently, my turn was next. I took a deep breath, let out, then stood up.
“Sadly, I'm not usually much of a public speaker.” I looked down at Sam's smiling face. “But tonight I'll make an exception. I used to be what people once called a loner. I wasn't unhappy being alone, though. Little did I know that as a young man I would meet someone who made me happy, who made me feel complete. All those years alone . . . perhaps without knowing it I was looking for that special someone. And one wonderful day I finally did. However bumpy our life together may be, I will never wish to exchange it for return to my life alone. Meeting you, getting to know, falling in love with you, and marrying you are the best things that have ever happened to me.” I raised my glass of champagne to her. “All my love to you, Sam.”
She smiled in return. Once I sat down, she stood up.
“I hope I do half as well as you did with you speech, Elias. I've had my share of good relationships and poor ones. I never knew that the best relationship was yet to come. It would happen on a day that had begun poorly. I tried to escape from that unhappiness and snuck inside the covered tables and chairs of a French-Canadian restaurant. It was there that I met Elias for the first time. At first, it seemed easiest to just be friends with each other. Little did he know that day, but I fell in love with him at first sight. How I managed to hide it, I don't know. We grew closer and closer over the months and then came the day we went to the community center's Christmas dance. Outside its back door, Elias confessed he was in love with me and asked me to marry him. The ring he showed me wasn't a gold ring with a diamond set in it. Instead, it was a silver ring with an amethyst set in it. A beautiful ring. Far too beautiful for someone like me. I told him I couldn't marry him and fled. It must have felt awful to him. Crying, I called home and told my parents what happened. They supported my decision 100%. But they asked what I was really afraid of: being Elias' wife or being alone after another failed relationship? When I realized I was afraid of being alone again, I knew what I had to do. I went to the waterfront boardwalk. I hoped he would be there and, thankfully, he was. I apologized to him. He forgave me and asked me a second time if I would marry him. This time I said 'yes'.” She looked at me. “I never knew life could be so happy before I met you, Elias. It's like a little bit of Heaven here on Earth. I have no doubt that it will get even better in the years ahead. Yes, we'll have some not-so-great times together. That's only normal for any couple, married or not. It's all the happy times that will make our relationship worthwhile. Not just after a year, but after fifty or more years. However long we both live. Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Elias, for making me happier than I never dared dream I'd be. You are everything I could ever hope for.” She raised her glass of champagne to me. “I love you, Elias. Always and forever.”
When she sat down, we leaned toward each other and kissed.
“Always and forever,” I repeated.
My parents took their turns, but I confess I've forgotten what they said. Then it was François' turn to stand and speak.
“Unlike most of you, I am not American by birth. I was born in Quebec. When my late sister Danielle and I decided to move south to America, our Canadian friends asked why we would give up life in Canada for life in America. We said that we wanted to open a French-Canadian restaurant in an American town. Show our customers what Quebecois cousine is like. They seemed to have enjoyed it over the years and they continue to enjoy it.
“I had hoped, however, that we might find someone to share our lives with. I still have not, but my late sister Danielle did. It was not an entirely happy relationship, but it still meant a great deal to both her and the man she fell in love with. After she died, I wasn't quite sure that I wanted to continue living and working here in America. But after Elias met Sam, I knew that I wanted to be not just Elias' friend, but also Sam's. They are the best friends I have ever had, here or in Canada.
“When Elias called me and asked if I would be his best man at the wedding of himself and Sam, of course I said 'yes'. There was no else I wished to be but at his side at their wedding. I also agreed to cater at the reception, with help of my fellow French-Canadians at our restaurant. I hope you will all enjoy the food and drink we serve you, and perhaps you will come to our restaurant as customers.”
He turned to me. “Thank you for your friendship, Elias. It has meant a great deal to me.” He turned to Sam. “And thank you for your friendship, Sam. I am glad that you both have met and are married now. Perhaps, God willing, one day I will be fortunate enough to meet someone as wonderful as you. May you both have a long, healthy, and happy life. And if you have children, please bring them to the restaurant. I would like to meet each one of them and become their friend as well.” He raised his champagne glass. “And if anyone here does come to my restaurant, I will offer you real champagne imported from France. Far superior to anything you could have in North America except in Quebec.”
There was soft laughter.
The meal part of the reception ended about an hour later. Except for one table, the tables were cleared and moved aside to make room for a dance floor. The DJ set up her equipment on the remaining table.
“I hope you don't think you're a bad dancer,” Sam told me softly.
“Mediocre at best,” I said, also softly. “I hope you won't mind. I'll try not to step on your wedding dress' train too often.”
The first song played and I recognized it as Fleetwood Mac's “Songbird”. Sam glanced at me and held out her hand. I took it and we went into the middle of the dance floor. As Christine McVie sang her beautiful song, it felt like a dream as we danced.
The last verse seemed the most apt:
And the songbirds keep singing
Like they know the score
And I love you, I love you, I love you
Like never before
Like never before
Like never before
“Thank you for choosing that song,” I whispered to Sam. “It's one of my favorites, even if it's over forty years old now.”
“You're welcome,” she whispered back. “It's one of my favorites, too. It's timeless.”
“Come on,” I said. “Let's go outside.”
She looked puzzled, but didn't argue.
Arm-in-arm we made our way around the other dancers and left the parish hall. We walked up the stairs to the parking lot behind the church. We were too far away from the New Year's Eve fireworks display, but that didn't dampen our spirits (nor did the occasional car alarm or police, ambulance, or fire sirens). Instead of fireworks, we had all the stars in the night-sky.
“When we wake up in the morning, do you think this will seem but a dream to us?” I wondered.
Sam turned to face me and put her arms around my neck. One of her hands idly played with the short dark hair on the back of my head. “Possibly. I never dreamed that the day would come when we'd be married to each other. Almost every girl looks forward to the day when she wears a beautiful white wedding dress, a white semi-transparent veil covering her head, the day she gets to be like a princess. I wanted to be your princess.”
“But you are,” I said. “As long as I can also be your prince.”
“Prince Elias,” she said. “It has a nice ring to it.”
“Princess Samantha sounds even better,” I said.
She laughed softly and kissed me. “Do you want to stay out here a little longer? I'd rather go back inside where it's warmer.”
“Let's go back inside, then,” I said.
As I opened the door for her, we could both hear the last chorus of another song:
However far away
I will always love you
However long I stay
I will always love you
Whatever words I say
I will always love you
I will always love you
“I know I didn't choose that one,” Sam said.
“I did,” I said. “I used to be a fan of The Cure back in grade school.”
“I didn't know that,” she said.
“Anything else you want to know?” I asked.
“Not right now,” she said. “Maybe later. How about one more dance?”
“One more,” I said. “If it's okay with you, I'd like to go home afterward and spend some private time with my bride.”
“We might have to sneak out,” Sam said. “What did you have in mind once we get home?”
“Starting with sitting on the sofa, watching movies and eating popcorn,” I said.
“That doesn't sound exactly romantic to me,” she said. “I mean it is our wedding night, after all.”
“You can suggest what we do next, then,” I said. “Sound good to you?”
She smiled and kissed me. “It sounds perfect.”