Poughkeepsie, p.40
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       Poughkeepsie, p.40

           Debra Anastasia

  Kyle nodded. “Thanks, Liv. You look great too.”

  Livia smiled and busied herself with the bridal accessories. “Well, that dress gets a lot of things out of the way.” She lifted Kyle’s headdress of fresh flowers from its box. There was no veil.

  Kyle gave her a questioning look as she clipped the blossoms in place.

  “Something old: the dress. Something new: your attitude. Something borrowed: I’m pretty sure you got those earrings from my jewelry box.”

  Kyle rolled her eyes.

  “Something blue: the dress again. The last thing we need is this.” Livia slipped off her shoe and turned it upside down until a penny fell in her hand. “This bad larry comes pre-warmed.”

  Kyle kicked off her high heel, and Livia dropped the copper piece into the shoe. There was loud knock on the door.

  “Ladies, I believe I have a job to do.”

  Their father’s gruff voice made them smile. “Come in,” they said in stereo, like they had when they were kids.

  Livia watched her father’s policeman’s entrance, as if a room that held chirping girls was harder to face than an armed robber. He gave each of them a nervous smile and said nothing about Kyle’s unconventional dress. Perhaps her delicate beauty or the emotion of his little girl getting married blinded him, but Livia had a feeling her dad just knew when to keep his mouth shut.

  Livia patted his shoulder. “It’s time.”

  The bells in the steeple began to reverberate through the very foundation of the church. They wouldn’t normally ring them so late at night, not wanting to disturb the neighborhood, but tonight was special. Twelve full-bodied tones notified the town that something spectacular was about to happen.

  Livia dared to peek out of the crying room and into the foyer of the church. It was empty. She nodded at her sister and waved her little family out of the room. Her father waited with an awkward arm crooked for Kyle’s hand.

  The first strains of organ music filled the church.

  Blake. His playing brought Livia a wide, warm smile. The music was supposed to be reverent. It was supposed to slow the world down for prayer. But Blake infused hope in his music. Love was the only song he knew how to play.

  Livia faced the crowd. She commenced her slow, practiced step-together-step march. She felt like she was onstage without knowing her lines. All eyes were on her, and really, she just wanted to crane her neck to see Blake’s hands on the organ.

  She focused on smiling at the guests as she passed. Dear Bea gave her a wink, and Eve stood on Ted’s right, looking effortlessly exquisite in a black A-line gown. She seemed to tip her sparkling hummingbird brooch toward Livia as she passed. And there was Nurse Susan, looking beautiful in a silvery dress, rather than her usual scrubs.

  As Livia finally completed her journey, Blake switched to Mendelssohn’s traditional wedding march. Cole came through the altar door and assumed his spot next to Father Callahan. He nodded at Livia and watched the door where Kyle was about to make her appearance.

  The door swung open, and Kyle and her father stepped into the archway. Livia heard a gasp from the crowd. In the middle of a classic church wedding, Kyle’s blue dress was shocking, simple, and entirely casual. But one look at the bride’s face should have obliterated any other considerations. Her smile was unadulterated joy. She almost hopped between steps. Her father looked pained and proud as he walked her down the aisle.

  When Kyle was finally firmly in front of the groom, John held out his hand. As Cole shook it, the men had the most important conversation in the world without saying a word.

  John stooped to give Kyle a kiss on the cheek. Kyle held her hand out to Cole, and for a brief moment their hands didn’t touch. The tiny sliver of air between their palms seemed to contain the energy of an entire universe. But when his hand eclipsed hers, instead of an explosion, there was only calm. Only peace.

  Livia set down her flowers and scurried over to the spiral staircase and up to the organ. As Blake put the finishing touches on the march, Livia lifted her long skirt and ascended the stairs. Blake nodded at the newly appointed, and seemingly rather nervous, church organist and motioned to the bench for the changing of the guard.

  With his shaky replacement in position and continuing to produce sound from the organ, Blake turned to descend the stairs and join the wedding. His eyes widened when he found Livia waiting, still holding her dress out of the way of her feet. She motioned for him to join her as she began walking backward down the stairs. Blake had been doing well for the past month, but he still became winded and a bit dizzy at times. Livia was taking no chances.

  He looked amused as he placed his shiny dress shoes on each stair as she vacated it. The church organist slammed her way into a little improv, providing some filler so Blake could get to the altar. Livia looked at Blake and tried not to burst out laughing.

  “What exactly, my love, do you think you’re doing?” Blake looked down at her.

  “These stairs make me nervous. I just wanted to make sure you got down them okay.” Livia felt silly now. He was obviously fine. Their slow spiraling dance actually made her a little dizzy instead.

  “And if I trip like the delicate flower that I am?” Blake asked, drawing near.

  “I was hoping I would break your fall, if you fell…which you won’t.” Livia stepped backward again. The edge of her train caught under her heel, and her careful steps stuttered.

  Blake reacted swiftly, grabbing her around the waist and righting her balance in one smooth swoop. He held her close and used the railing to keep them steady.

  “Oh. Damn.” Livia pressed against his chest as she caught her breath. Instead of keeping him safe she was about to break both their necks. The organist decided to drop some vocals on the captive crowd.

  Blake stilled even though they should have been rushing at this point; everyone was waiting. “Livia, I’m going to be okay. You have to believe it.”

  The nape of his neck was just inches from her lips. The only things stopping her from tasting it were red lipstick and one hundred pairs of eyes.

  “I’ve always believed it.” Livia tilted her head so she could see him.

  Blake held his lips close to hers. They were lost in each other until Kyle had enough.

  “Get the hell down here!” the bride shouted. “You’re stealing my thunder.”

  Livia could hear Bea’s distinct laugh over the organist’s shrill rendition of “Closer My God to Thee.” Blake transported Livia back to her spot next to Kyle, and Kyle slapped Blake’s shoulder in greeting. Cole and Blake executed a subtle tattoo touch.

  The wedding proceeded, and the ceremony never veered from the time-honored, familiar words. The well-practiced clergyman rarely consulted his prayer book. His homily was filled wonderful advice about patience and listening to one another. When it was time for the promises in front of God, Cole repeated his vows in a voice well-practiced at filling the whole room. Kyle’s words were quiet, small, and for his ears alone. They exchanged shiny new wedding bands.

  Communion took forever, and the guests chatted quietly as everyone was served the sacrament. Cole and Kyle looked anxious and wildly in love.

  Blake held out a hand to Livia, who felt like she was cheating on an exam as she took it.

  “I can’t stop looking at you,” he whispered. “The candlelight, the dress, the curls.” He pressed a reverent kiss on her forehead.

  Livia inhaled his cologne. Maybe he’d borrowed Cole’s, and the warm scent made Blake a present begging to be opened.

  By the time Father Callahan had concluded his work, he had to hold up a hand to quiet the crowd. “I do believe we have a bit more business to attend to.”

  After a gentle round of snickers, quiet blanketed the church.

  The crowd knew what was next, and although there was no sound, the anticipation itself was shouting.

  “I present Mr. and Mrs. Cole Bridge. You may kiss the bride.” Father Callahan gave Cole a nod of approval.

faced Kyle and wrapped her in his arms. He pulled her off her feet and closer to his face. Livia and Blake were the only ones close enough to hear Cole’s private vows.

  He kissed her once, gently and almost chastely. “For our past.”

  Cole kissed her again, just a breath of a kiss, lightly touching her lips. “For today.”

  The last kiss was deeper, but still maintained church decorum. It was the intimacy in his gaze that made the guests feel voyeuristic. “For the rest of our lives,” he said softly as he set her back on her feet.

  Kyle looked stunned and deliriously teary and happy as she turned to face the crowd, which clapped and whooped. The processional music burst forth, and the organist’s exuberance propelled it through the sour notes. Cole picked Kyle up as soon as they were down the few steps from the altar. The ladies in the crowd sighed and smiled as he carried her down the aisle.

  Blake and Livia were next to exit. He took the steps before she could and turned to offer her his hand, like a knight escorting his queen. Livia took Blake’s hand and hugged his offered arm. Bea’s photographer-nephew’s flash blinded them as it captured their moment for all time.

  Kyle and Cole’s reception was to be hosted in the community room at the retirement center. The couple multitasked with the slow conga line of seniors heading back home by greeting them as they passed like a receiving line. Kyle got on her tiptoes to search the crowd every few minutes.

  “What’s up?” Cole asked. “Are you looking for someone?”

  Kyle waved his questions away.

  Livia leaned down to her sister. “Beckett?”

  Kyle made big eyes and shook her head.

  Eventually, Kyle seemed to find what she’d been looking for and became less agitated.

  As they drew close to the building Livia was pleased to see Bea in her wheelchair, decked out in a lavender dress and bright rosy blush. A string of pearls completed her fancy look.

  “I see your young man has accompanied you today.” Bea accepted Livia’s hug with a gentle pat.

  “He has. I’m so glad he gets to meet you.” Livia held Bea’s soft, delicate hand.

  “I’ve noticed he always has his body angled toward yours,” Bea reported seriously. “It’s a good sign, my dear. I do believe you’ve found yourself a winner.” She smiled.

  Livia leaned back to catch Blake’s eye. As if he heard her heart calling his, he leaned back as well. Livia motioned for him to come over.

  “Blake, this is Bea,” she said as he came to her side. “She’s that friend of mine who gives great advice.” Blake touched Livia’s lower back before he took to one knee.

  With his eyes sparkling, he turned Bea’s offered hand to kiss it. “Lovely Bea, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance. Thank you so much for befriending Livia. She speaks very highly of you.”

  Bea giggled and swatted at him playfully with the very hand he’d kissed. “What a gentleman. Aren’t you a looker?”

  Blake stayed on his knee, giving Bea his full attention.

  “I hope you know how rare a girl like Livia is.”

  Blake nodded, but said nothing.

  “I’ve only met a few souls as crystal clear as hers,” Bea continued. “One of them was my Aaron; we were married for sixty-two years. Souls like that, my boy, are a gift. Cherish her.”

  “I will.” Blake stood and gave Bea a formal bow only he could get away with.

  Kyle glared at Blake. He jumped and kissed Livia quickly so he could get back into his Kyle-approved position, next to Cole.

  A small lady moved on after greeting Livia to address the wedding couple. “Cole Bridge. Look at you!”

  Cole’s mouth dropped open. “Mrs. D?” After a shocked pause, he scooped her into a hug. “You’re here?”

  “Of course I am, sweetheart. Your wonderful wife delivered the invitation by hand. She insisted it be a surprise.” Mrs. D rubbed Cole’s arm.

  Cole turned to Kyle. “Thank you so much. I didn’t know you were going to do this.”

  Kyle nodded. “I know how much she means to you,” she said.

  Livia smiled, making a mental note to ask Kyle about this later, as the bride turned and held her hand out to Mr. D. He looked like he’d been to a million weddings. Livia suspected Mrs. D was important in a lot of lives.

  After greeting each of her guests, Kyle was in for her own surprise. The seniors had been preparing the community room for weeks, and Kyle and Livia both held a hand to their mouths when they saw the intricate decorations.

  Nothing was hung very high, but what the residents could reach was touched by love, wisdom, and heart: knit-flower centerpieces, carefully cut paper shapes, and streamers arranged to look like expensive fabric.

  The DJ had set up in the corner, and he looked old enough to have started his career by knocking rocks together to entertain dinosaurs, but he was excellent and provided the best oldies in existence. The buffet was served by some of the seniors themselves, their fancy clothes complemented by hairnets.

  Cole led Kyle to the center of the room when the DJ announced their wedding dance and Etta James did the honors with “At Last.” When Cole kissed Kyle deeply to show off at the end of their graceful dance, the bride bent one knee and pointed her toe like a smitten cartoon character. The spectators laughed out loud.

  Though they spanned an unlikely range of ages, everyone in the crowd was ready for a good time. Kyle twirled endlessly around a mostly stationary Cole, and the older couples schooled their younger counterparts. The seniors seemed to slip from one delicate, complicated set of steps to another, reacting to cues in the music only they understood.

  The entire wedding party was adopted by a blue-haired beauty who tried, with varying degrees of success, to teach them some classic moves from the musical past. Blake and Kyle were quick studies. Cole and Livia just shrugged and smiled. Livia watched as Blake sought out Bea for a dance, twirling her chair gently in circles.

  Cole tried his best to dance with Mrs. D, but she was much shorter and by far the better dancer. Mostly they rocked back and forth, smiling at each other.

  Mrs. D hugged Cole’s middle, hard, and the music cut out just in time for her compliment to carry across the room. “I knew you would be a magnificent man.”

  When it was time for the father-daughter dance, John politely left Kathy, his date, sitting with Nurse Susan and Dr. Ted. Kyle waited for her father in the center of the floor as the opening notes of Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable” swept through the air. John was not a dancer, but he was determined. He put his arms around his daughter, and Kyle rested her head on his chest.

  Halfway through, the DJ suggested others dance as well. Blake swept Livia onto the dancefloor, and she gazed at her sister and father as she basked in his arms.

  “Kyle, I love you. I’m always here,” she heard her father murmur as the song came to an end.

  Kyle gave her father a kiss on the cheek. “I know. I love you too.”

  With the formalities out of the way, the wedding party gathered in the corner with the bride and groom, and Cole grabbed Eve to join them. Beckett’s absence was a looming hole in the joy of the evening, and the friends offered a toast to their absent brother. Eve turned her whole body to gaze at each person in the circle for a moment.

  Blake lifted a plastic champagne flute filled with bubbling apple cider. “To Beckett—we wouldn’t be here without him.”

  “To Beckett,” the others agreed.

  The dull thump of the plastic was unsatisfying, but it would have to suffice.

  It was early morning with the sun creeping into view when the room’s harsh fluorescent lights came on. Instead of leaving to collapse in bed, the guests stayed to help clean up. With everyone working together, they had the community room back to its original state and ready for the day’s activities within an hour.

  Though Beckett remained confined to the same claustrophobic hotel room that had housed him for weeks now, he’d attended the wedding in every sense but literally.<
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  He dressed for the occasion, and Eve helped him get his bow tie just right before she left, promising once again that her hummingbird pin would send him every detail it could.

  Riveted to the live feed from Eve’s transmitter on his hotel room TV, Beckett stood when the congregation stood, and he sat when they sat. And when he noticed that the camera had bounced even lower, Beckett knelt.

  As Kyle came fluttering down the aisle in her simple blue dress, Beckett swore aloud in the empty room. “Shit, Fairy Princess, you’re an angel.”

  He fought with himself through the entire ceremony—despondent to be separated from his family, but bursting with pride over every single one of them. With no one around to preserve church decorum, he began toasting his sorrows and lining up shots to drown his frustrations about the same time as Cole and Kyle began their vows. By the time they’d reached the reception, he was a rumpled mess on the bed.

  But he did see them dance. He laughed out loud remembering when he’d danced with Kyle. She hardly seemed the same person. And Cole needed some serious help in the moves department.

  “Fuck, brother, you’re making us all look bad!” Beckett shouted at the screen.

  Everyone had a glass in their hand at the reception, so Beckett helped himself to a little more. He was just finishing off the bottle when he saw them raise their glasses to him—to him!—via Eve’s hummingbird camera. At that moment Beckett was glad he was alone. After joining the toast, his eyes blurry with tears, Beckett threw the bottle against the wall where it shattered spectacularly. This video was testament to exactly how normal his brothers’ lives would be without him.

  He lay back on the bed and balled his hands into fists.

  Cole shut the bedroom door and gazed at Kyle. His eyes said he’d married his salvation, and Kyle knew what he meant. Two souls in need had finally found resolution with “I do.”

  “Wife. You’re the most stunning vision I’ve ever seen. Will you always be mine?” Cole held out his hand as he unbuttoned his shirt.

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