Once upon a Christmas
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Sometimes the happiest moments are the beginning of the end.
Thomas stood fidgeting like a school boy. He hadn’t been this nervous since his first kiss or maybe since the NFL draft.
The pianist and string quartet began playing soft wedding music as the bridesmaids paraded past the guests wearing identical green velvet gowns and carrying bouquets of evergreens and red poinsettias. They all looked very pretty but they were not the ones he wanted to see, he was waiting for the bride. His son walked toward him carrying imitation rings tied securely to a green velvet pillow. Thomas Jr took his place next to his dad as best man, grinning like he was full of mischief and happiness.
The bridal march began and everyone stood. The beading on her winter white velvet dress sparkled as she walked down the steps,carrying a bouquet of white poinsettias and flocked evergreens. Her fine cornrows had been woven with iridescent ribbons into a crown that was covered by the sheerest veil he had ever seen. The softly twinkling globe lights hanging all around created a magical atmosphere as she passed under the arched trellis and started toward him. The weather had held warm and the stars were bright over Texas tonight.
Irene had always wanted a Christmas Eve wedding, a real wedding and not the one at the courthouse, with only her seminary student brother and his retired grandfather with them. She had been terrified Thomas would leave her when she told him she had gotten pregnant, but that had been the happiest day of his life until his son was born. He had sold his truck, bought an old Blazer; a carseat and a wedding set from a pawn shop. Tonight was exactly what she wanted. It was the least he could do for the woman who had given him so much. She was his angel, and it seemed even more perfect that she looked like the angel on top of the tree in the living room.
His brother-in-law Isaac gave him a wink and started the ceremony with his best impression of the bishop from the Princess Bride movie.
“Mawiage iz wah bwingz uz togethew today.”
Thomas choked to keep from laughing as Irene’s expression changed to something akin to murder. She reached out and fisted the shoulder of Isaac’s preacher’s robe and pulled his face to hers. Amused chuckles and smothered giggles came from the audience and the bridal party. It echoed in the silence of their back yard as everyone heard her hushed threat.
“I will maim you, patch your corpse back together, and maim you again. Do you understand, little brother?” She then brushed his shoulder like she was dusting off the wrinkles she made before she took Thomas’s hand again.
Isaac cleared his throat as he stood back up, speaking very clearly. “Erherm. I mean, marriage is what brings us together today. A holy institution ordained by the Lord between a man and a woman, a joining of two souls. The history of marriage is a long and...”
“Skip to the end,” Thomas said loudly and Irene elbowed him as the audience laughed again.
“Do you, Thomas Tanner, take Irene Bauman-Tanner to be your awfully wedded wife... again?”
“I do.” Thomas said quickly before Irene could scold her brother, who just kept going as if she wasn’t about to murder him in one of the many horrific ways that only a nurse would know.
“To love, honor, and cherish, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer and to always eat her horrible cooking without complaint for as long as you both shall live?” The audience was really laughing now.
“I always do.” Thomas squeezed her hand to get her to look at him. When she glanced at him, all her outrage vanished as he kissed her hand.
Thomas Jr pulled on his pant-leg. “Naow, Dahdah?”
“Not yet, little guy. It’s Mommy’s turn,” Isaac told the toddler.
Thomas put his hand on T.J’s head and Irene smiled at their son, then answered Isaac’s questions with two quick ‘I do’s, never looking away from Thomas’ eyes.
Isaac intoned, “May I have the rings?”
Irene looked at her brother surprised and whispered, “Isaac, we aren’t doing that part.”
“Actually, Tank insisted.” Isaac grinned.
Thomas was holding T.J., who was holding out a red velvet box. They weren’t supposed to exchange rings, but Thomas has borrowed against his end of season bonus to buy her the ring he thought she deserved. A real princess cut diamond surrounded by a dozen tiny ones, to replace the simple solitaire and band he had bought from a pawn shop when they were struggling college students.
“Iz fur you, momma. ” T.J. announced to a chorus of ‘awws’ from the female guests. “Itz shiny like duh kissmaz tree. Hold out yur hand.”
Irene’s hand trembled as Thomas carefully slipped the new set on next to the old one, “With these rings, I thee wed, again and forever. I love you, Irene.”
“I luv you, momma.” T.J. added.
Irene opened and closed her mouth, tears of joy shined in her eyes as she looked at the two people who were her world. Finally she said, “I love you, little man.” And kissed T.J. on his curls, then she smiled up at Thomas, “And I love you, big man.” She leaned forward to kiss him only to have her brother put his hand between her face and Thomas’.
“Sis, we haven’t gotten to that part yet.” The audience snickered as Thomas put T.J. down and Irene glared at her brother.
Isaac cleared his throat and announced loudly, “What the Lord in his infinite capacity for love and humor has joined together for...”
“Say man and wife,” Thomas interrupted.
“Man and wife, you may kiss your bride.” Isaac grinned.
Thomas pulled Irene into his arms and kissed her like no one was watching. Most clapped and cheered, but there were also cat calls and shouts to ‘get a room’ as music started to play again.
Everyone but Isaac had left by 9:30PM. As a diligent uncle, he insisted on reading T.J. the night before Christmas. Both her mother and his Pappy had retired for the evening. It was almost midnight when Thomas finished carrying in the presents and Irene carefully arranged them around the tree. He stood looking up at the angel.
“I think you wore it better,” He said.
She looked at him, “What?”
“Dressing as an angel on Christmas Eve, I think you wore it better. ” He smiled as her arms circled his waist, her lips were soft against his chin, so he tipped his head down and kissed her deeply.
“You need to get to bed, Thomas, you have a game tomorrow.” Irene chided and tried to step away but he held her firmly.
“Not just yet, my angel.” He murmured as his lips followed the path of her robe, slowly sliding off her body.
“Thomas, what about our guest?” she panted breathlessly.
“They are all asleep, ” he murmured against her skin, then he treated her with the adoration he always felt when they made love. She was his one and only, forever and ever, till death parted them.
Irene bit the inside of her cheek as Thomas saved the quarterback from being sacked by the other team again. She wasn’t even sure who they were playing. All she knew is every time he went on the field to practice or play, she lived in terror of him being crippled. As an RN, she had seen her share of traumatic injuries from sports. She prayed for the day when he would quit playing this stupid game and get a real job. His spot on the Houston Texans had brought them here after college and gave them nice things, but it wasn’t the life she wanted. She smiled tight-lipped and waved when Thomas looked at her but she hated it in the stadium. She would rather he was a cop, and had pushed him to finish his degree when his popularity as a whatever position he played got him noticed by coaches and NFL scouts.
She was glad they didn’t live in Denver anymore, she hated the cold and couldn’t imagine how miserable she would be if he had been drafted by northern team. The frozen games when they were in college had been bad enough to put her off outdoor football games forever.
“Your wedding was so beautiful last night,” One of the other player’s wives interrupted her thoughts. Her name was Lynette and she was married to the guy who played at the center of the line.
“Oh thank you, Lynette. I am so happy that you and Vincent got to come,” Irene said graciously, she couldn’t help but notice the slight sadness in the other woman’s eyes. “So, how’s the pregnancy going?”
As an Obstetrics RN with a masters degree in nursing, Irene found herself constantly bombarded with pregnancy and child development questions. Normally, she wouldn’t bring it up, but she suspected that Lynette’s children were the only joy in her life.
“Oh, much better than the last one. Thanks for the advice. You were right snacking every few hours instead of eating huge meals. It has helped, but it annoys Vinnie that I quit making fried foods. I just can’t handle the smell. Is there any way around it?” Lynette asked.
“No, Lynette. Unfortunately there isn’t. But there is a trick I learned in clinicals. If you put a little Mentholatum rub under your nose, you will smell that instead of other things. It was really a handy trick when they brought in a crew of guys that had fallen into an old septic tank at a demolition site.” Irene smirked at Lynette’s horrified expression.
“Oydios, that sounds terrible,” Camilla, another wife, said, “What did you do?”
So Irene began to tell them about that day, they were laughing and the rest of the game passed quickly.
Waiting for Thomas to come out of the locker room, Irene accept a lunch invite in January. She hadn’t really gotten to know the other wives and girlfriends because unlike them, she worked full time at Herman Hospital. When he finally came out, he had a dark look on the face, she kissed him but he turned away slightly.
“We lost. Or weren’t you paying attention.” He growled.
She followed quietly behind him, trying not to bite his head off in public. They didn’t speak the whole way to the car but as soon as they pulled out of the parking lot, she said in a quiet voice.
“You said you wanted me to get to know the other wives. So, I am. Lynette is having morning sickness problems and Camilla has a teething two-year-old. Then they asked me about my job. We’re going to lunch in January. I’m sorry your team lost but you saved two sacks.”
He sighed. “I’m sorry, baby. I don’t mean to snap at you, I know you don’t like football. I appreciate you coming.”
“Every game I’m not on the schedule.” She responded.
“You know you don’t have to work, none of the others do.” Thomas chided.
Irene twisted one of her braids, looking out the window. “I worked my ass off to get my RN, I love my job. Please, I don’t want to have this fight again. It’s Christmas.”
Thomas parked their Lexus SUV in the drive way and was around the car to open the door before Irene could get out. He hugged her after he closed the door. “I love you, you know that, right?”
“I know, I love you too.” She did, she loved him too much to be healthy but she couldn’t help it. He was her one and only.
“Good,” he smiled, “Then you can’t hate me for agreeing to go to a New Years Eve Party without asking you.”
“Thomas! You know I have a 6AM to 6PM that day!” She tried to push him away but he just held her, grinning impishly.
“You can have a nap after work, the party doesn’t start till 10:30 and I am looking forward to showing off the sexiest wife in the NFL.” He raised his eyebrows and winked charmingly.
Irene gave him a dead look. “You sir, are not as charming as you think you are.” But she felt her composure cracking as he continued to make faces at her.
“Maybe but I am good at faking it.”
She laughed then and he kissed her, she never could stay mad at him.