Chapter 7: I Do
I do my best to keep my promise to Jackson regarding a two-week engagement, but right from the get-go, I find it hard to keep my word.
Failure after failure beats me down. I meet failure on venue fronts, catering fronts, band fronts. Everyone is already booked and I’m coming up horribly short.
Finally, I come across a small country church between Chicago’s outer limits and Arlington Heights, which lies northwest of the city. There will be fewer than fifty people in attendance, so we don’t need a huge venue. Besides, I’m a country girl at heart and Jackson says he doesn’t care one way or the other. He just wants us to be married.
Simply thinking about Jackson makes me smile and gives me motivation to finish my task. I make arrangements with the pastor, Jacob Willoughby, for the date I want. I pay him the full amount for the use of the church and assure him the facility will be left in the same shape in which I find it.
When I get home, I get on the phone and start cranking out calls to wedding planners. Here again, I meet one obstacle after another. Many of them are booked for that Saturday, but finally, my perseverance pays off and I find one feisty lady, Riley Connor, who had a wedding cancellation for the weekend I need. Evidently, the bride found the groom in a compromising position and decided she wanted no part of being married to him. Good for her.
I tell Riley what I need, and we agree on a price. She comes to meet me later in the day. She strikes me as one of the most organized and confident people on the planet. I take her through my thoughts on what I want regarding colors, music, food and photography. Immediately, we make a guest list and buy in stock invitations. Both Jackson and I have given a verbal heads-up to our attendees so they can keep that Saturday open, but I spend the evening addressing the invitations and mail them out the next day.
I get a hold of Mandy Persinger and put her on the urgent lookout for a suitable wedding dress. I want lavender if she can manage it.
I don’t really have anyone to ask about being my maid of honor. I consider my son’s girlfriend, but I don’t know her all that well. I feel awkward about asking anyone from back home. I’ve not stayed in contact since Thomas and I moved away. It would be so awkward, possibly even unfair, to ask for a favor now. I am perfectly content to have a handful of people in my life. I feel I need no one else, but my solitude certainly poses a problem at times such as this.
I seek Jackson’s advice. “Jackson, have you asked anyone to be your best man?”
“Not yet,” he replies. “I was going to ask my best friend, Branson, but I wanted to check with you and see how you’re setting things up on your side.”
Sadly, I admit to him, “I don’t really have anyone to stand on my side of the ceremony. It will seem kind of lopsided if you do.”
“Well, that’s an easy fix,” Jackson offers, “I won’t have anyone stand for me either. Lopsided problem solved,” he says matter-of-factly as he kisses me.
“Are you sure?” I ask hesitantly. “This is the only wedding you’ll ever have. I don’t want you to do without.”
Jackson shakes his head and takes me in his arms. “Ellie, if you’re there I’ll have everything I need. I promise.”
I smile as I snuggle my head into his broad warm chest. “You are so easy, Jackson Dawes.”
“I wish you were easy, Ellie. Oh, how many times I’ve wished you were easy.”
I pull my head away from his body and look up at him. “Really, Jackson? Of all the things in the world you could wish for, you’d wish I was easy? Are you’re serious?”
Jackson instantly recognizes the hole he’s dug for himself. “No, I’m not serious,” he says as he reneges his earlier statement. “I’m just say….”
“I know what you’re saying,” I interrupt him. “You’re saying you are a scoundrel.”
Jackson widens his eyes and gasps slightly. “So, now I’m a scoundrel because I want my girl in the Biblical sense?”
“Yes,” I reassure him, “you are definitely a scoundrel, but the cutest, sweetest one of all time. How’s that?”
“I can live with that,” he says as he grins at me and gives me a mouthwatering kiss.
You wouldn’t believe how quickly two weeks can pass.
It’s Friday night, the night of our wedding rehearsal. Riley meets us at the church. I introduce her to Jackson and my boys, the two that come. The oldest one is upset that I’m replacing his father, like that’s even possible. Regardless, he’s boycotting the wedding, making his statement of disapproval well known to the rest of us.
Another holdout is Jackson’s mother. She feels our relationship is entirely inappropriate. She refuses to watch her son destroy his life. It’s a shame she won’t meet my oldest boy. The two of them have so much in common. They could pass the entire event just conversing with each other as they verbally devour me.
Riley assures me that everything is set for tomorrow. She’ll see that the decorations are put in place first thing in the morning. I get with my boys and ask them to make sure the church and reception area are restored to their original condition. The people who attend service here should be able to worship Sunday morning unbothered by the clutter left behind by us. I tell them Riley is to see to the cleanup as part of her contract and I’ve thrown in a bonus for her if she does well. I just want them to make sure it gets done. They promise me they’ll take care of it.
The pastor puts us through two practice runs of the ceremony. We all drive back to the city for dinner together. We spend two hours visiting and catching up. I kiss my boys good night and thank them for being so good to me. They promise they’re looking forward to the big event. I hug them extra tight, taking a moment to appreciate what fine young men they are. I couldn’t be prouder.
Jackson drives me to my condo and walks me to my door. He caresses my cheek and says, “You’re awfully quiet, Ellie. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, I think. Just nervous I guess,” I say absent mindedly.
Jackson strokes the side of my arm. “You’re not getting cold feet on me, are you?”
I shake my head at him. “Oh, no. It’s nothing like that. We’ve kind of lived in our own little bubble since we met. Now that the wedding’s here, it’s really easy to see who’s for us and who’s not. It’s kind of sad.”
Jackson lifts my chin with his fingertips up so he can look into my eyes. “Don’t you let anyone take the joy out of this for you, do you hear me?” Jackson asks. Now, his tone takes on an uncompromising edge to it. “I’m serious, Ellie. I want you to enjoy our wedding day, okay. Two of your boys are here. They love you so much and want you to be happy. They’re really great guys, Ellie. You must be so proud.”
Despite Jackson’s reprimand, I continue to fret. “Aren’t you sad your mom won’t be at the wedding?” I ask. “It’s your only wedding, Jackson. I feel so bad for you.”
Jackson chuckles and pulls me against him. “Ellie, I’d be far more surprised if she did attend. I refuse to let her get the best of me. Nothing would make her happier. Johnson and his girl, Trish, will be there. I’ve got my best friend, Branson, coming. Sarah and all my senior level managers will be there. I’m going to have a ball. It’s our day. It’s a day that belongs to no one but us. I don’t want you to forget that.”
Suddenly, Jackson’s logic takes root in my thought process, so, I change my mental trajectory. “You’re right. I know you’re right. It will be okay. Everything will be just fine.” My brain continues to crank on a myriad of details. “Do you have the honeymoon all squared away? Do you have everything we’ll need in the protection department?”
“Yes,” Jackson answers immediately. He knows I’m stressing and can use all the reassurance I can get. “I have everything ready. The jet is fueled, the flight plan to Paris has been filed and the crew is on standby as of ten a.m. tomorrow morning.”
“That sounds good,” I confirm for him. “Actually, it sounds wonderful,” I murmur as Jackson hugs me close.
“Not as good as you feel against me,” he says.
“Hey,” I remind him, “We’ve only got one more night to get through, right?”
“That’s right,” Jackson agrees quietly, but continues cautiously, “however, since tomorrow is our wedding day, we’re close enough we could pretend tonight is our wedding night, couldn’t we?” Jackson asks as he nuzzles my earlobe with his lips.
Instantly, goose bumps erupt and cover the entire length of my body. My knees start to quiver. Jackson brings his attention to my jaw line and starts down my neck. My knees let me down, literally. Jackson catches me at my elbows.
Jackson chuckles at my response to his attention. “How you doing, Ellie?”
“Bout like you, I guess…,” I whisper. “I’m not as strong as you are, Jackson. My body gives out on me.”
“No, Ellie,” Jackson corrects me, “you’re much stronger than I am. I’d have given in long ago.” He kisses my nose, my forehead, and my closed eyes.
“I want to Jackson. God knows how I want to. We’ve got another twenty-four hours. We’ve come this far. Don’t ask this of me, please.”
“Oh, my Ellie, girl, I’ll respect your wishes. I want you badly enough to wait, sweetheart.”
I reach up and kiss his cheek. “Thank you, Jackson.”
I turn around and start to unlock my door. I need some space from Jackson. My head and my body need a reprieve from the temptation.
“I love you, Ellie. Tomorrow our lives change forever.” He kisses me sweetly one last time then turns to start down the hallway.
My nerves get the better of me. “Jackson?”
He turns to look at me. He smiles beautifully. “Yes, sweetheart?”
I have to ask because I have to know. “You’ll be there tomorrow, right?”
He gives me one of his million-watters, “Just try and stop me.”
I smile back at him. “I love you too, Jackson. Tomorrow can’t come soon enough.”
I turn my key in the door lock, step inside, and relock the door behind me. I lean backwards and rest against the door frame.
Dear God, help me keep it together. Thank you for sending me Jackson. Thank you for the new life ahead of me. Give me peace about the dissenters. Help me to love Jackson with all my heart. Please protect our marriage and help me to be an example of Your love to my unsaved husband. Be with me every day, Lord, so I can do my best for you. Forgive me when I sin and let you down. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
I intentionally leave my alarm clock unset so I can sleep in the next morning. At ten a.m. my phone rings. With my eyes closed I roll over and fumble around on the top of the nightstand in an attempt to find the noisy thing. Finally, I have success. I’m too out of it to take notice of who’s calling. “Good morning,” I croak into the phone.
“Good morning, sweetheart,” comes Jackson’s thoroughly masculine voice. “Did I wake you?” he asks with remorse lining his tone.
“Kind of,” I admit, “but it’s time to get up anyway.”
“I’m sorry, Ellie. It never occurred to me you’d still be asleep. I thought you’d be so nervous you’d be climbing the walls,” he says.
“Actually,” with my voice coming into wakefulness I assure Jackson, “I’m so relaxed and happy I took advantage of some extra snooze time.” I sit up in bed and wrap the top sheet around my naked chest.
“Hey, that’s what I like to hear. A relaxed and happy bride is always a good thing. I called you for a couple of reasons, Ellie”
“What are they?”
“First, I wanted to hear your voice. Second, I want to tell you how much I love you. I can’t wait to see you. It’s only four and a half hours and we’ll never have to be separated again.”
“I know, isn’t that great!” I agree. My smile and happiness light up the tone of my words.
“It’s so far beyond great I don’t have a word big enough, Ellie. I’ll see you soon, sweetheart. Till later. I love you, Ellie.”
“I love you too, Jackson. See you soon.”
I close the call and head for the shower. My boys are coming to pick me up at one thirty I really slept plenty late enough. It’s a good thing Jackson called when he did. I still have enough time to do what I want to get ready, but I’ve not left myself any extra time, that’s for sure.
I shower and shampoo, dry my hair and set it on rollers. I decide to wear my hair up since it’s a special day. I root out my favorite banana clip. The oversized barrette will be completely invisible once I get all my curls sprayed into place.
While my hair sets, I take time to eat a bite and watch a few minutes of the morning news. My bagel and mixed fruit help settle my anxious belly. I spend more time than usual on my makeup. I don’t want to be overdone, but I want to be my most beautiful today.
Suddenly, and without warning of any kind, my hands begin to shake. My gut lurches inside me. My skin starts to tingle, and I feel nauseous. I have so many butterflies. My nerves are really starting to get the best of me.
I know exactly what’s happening. The thought of being the center of attention is going to manifest itself as a stroke. I’ve already discussed this with Jackson, so I decide to call him.
He answers on the first ring. “How’s my Ellie girl?” he asks me with a smile in his voice.
“I’m not doing very well, Jackson,” I confess.
Concern and urgency hijack his voice. “What’s wrong, sweetheart?”
“My nerves are about to get the best of me. What do I do?”
“Do you want me to come see you?”
“Yes!… No!… Yes! I mean, I want you to come, Jackson, but no, you can’t.”
He chuckles into the phone. “Are you sure? I can come right now and hold your hand while you get ready.”
“No! You can’t see me until the wedding,” I remind him.
“I’m not going to get to help much with your nervous problem then,” he states.
“Please, just tell me it’s going to be okay,” I plead with him.
Instantly, Jackson’s tone grows very serious. “Ellie, I love you. I’ve waited my entire life for you. I was waiting on you before I knew I was waiting, sweetheart. You are going to be fine. Everyone in attendance will be there because they love us, Ellie. They’re our friends and they’re rooting for us. I can’t wait to see you. It won’t be long now, okay? Take a deep breath and focus on meeting me at the front of the church.”
I do as he tells me, and my heart rate slows. The butterflies leave because their anxiety fueled environment is replaced by peace. After a minute of quiet I say honestly, “I’m feeling better, Jackson. Thank you. You’re my hero. You know that don’t you? That’s why I called you in the first place.”
“Anything for my girl. If you need me, call me back, okay?”
“Okay, Jackson. Love you. See you soon.”
“Harcourt will be there soon for your bags,” Jackson reminds me.
“Okay, I remember,” I reassure him. “I’ve got everything ready for him. Bye, Jackson.”
Talking with Jackson totally calmed me, and I can finish getting ready for my big day. I fix my hair high up on my head, but leave a few tendrils hanging loose for a romantic effect. When my doorbell rings I’m still in my robe and bare feet, but I answer the door anyway.
It’s noon so I know it’s Harcourt. I open the door and he steps into the room so he can collect my things.
“All set to go!” I tell him as I point to the small stack of luggage by the door.
“This is it?” Harcourt asks disbelievingly.
“Yeah, I tend to travel light,” I admit. I laugh quietly because it suddenly occurs to me, “After I finish shopping in Paris, though, I’ll probably have more on the return trip,” I tell him.
“Okay, Mrs. Dawes. I’ll get these out to the plane for you. Are you sure you don’t want me to come back for you?”
“No, Harcourt. My boys want to drive me and I’m looking forward to spending the last few minutes of my single life with them.”
“Okay, then. You have my number should you need anything?”
“Yes, I do. Thank you, Harcourt… oh, one more thing…”
“I’m not Mrs. Dawes,…just yet.”
“Oh, I know, but I had to get in some practice!” he chides me as he grins from ear to ear. Harcourt’s has the small amount of luggage secured beneath his arms and in his hands. He’s going to get downstairs in one trip, no problem.
“You and Gina will be at the ceremony, won’t you?”
“Yes, ma’am, we wouldn’t miss it for anything…,” he says, then hesitates.
I recognize the pause in his tone and behavior. “Is there anything else, Harcourt? Did I forget something?”
“No, ma’am,” Harcourt pauses again as he looks at me sheepishly. “I… I just wanted to tell you how nice it’s been getting to know you. It’s been something watching you and Mr. Dawes work all this out. He has chosen well for himself in you. I just wanted you to know that, that’s all,” he says in quiet earnestness.
I walk up to him and give him a big hug around the neck. “Thank you, Harcourt. Your kind words mean the world to me.”
“Well, I mean them, Mrs. Ellie. You and Mr. Dawes have the best life ever, okay?”
“We’ll do our best,” I promise him. He turns with the luggage in tow and shuffles down the hallway. I close the door behind him, smile to myself and take a moment to be grateful for good friends.
Next, I decide to polish my nails. A single coat of lavender polish will complete my prepping process and won’t take too long to dry.
At twelve thirty I pull my dress and pumps from the closet. Time for the final step. Mandy outdid herself on this one. My dress is perfect. Perfect color. Perfect style. Perfect length. It’s a mid-shin length lavender dress with a scalloped neckline and tiny cap sleeves. The waistline fits snugly, and the slim crinoline petticoat underneath gives it a distinctive feminine flair.
Not wanting to damage my hair, I unzip my dress and undo the single button on the back of it. I lower it to the floor, step into the center of it and pull it up over my shoulders. I zip it up and refasten the single button. I forgo pantyhose because I detest them. Barefoot, I step into my matching lavender pumps so that I’m completely dressed.
I complete my look with my favorite lavender earrings, which happen to be made from recycled soda pop cans, and a delicate silver chain I bought myself because it’s my wedding day.
I take a deep breath, close my eyes and slide sideways so I’m centered in front of the mirror. When I open my eyes, I gasp at my own reflection. Tears come to my eyes and I send Mandy an inaudible ‘thank you’! I’ve never looked lovelier in my life. I’m so happy, but I can’t afford to cry and wreck my makeup.
I’m ready early, but that’s okay. I pack the overnight bag I’ll take with me tonight when Jackson and I leave the reception. I check my phone and charger. I make sure I have everything I need in my purse, especially my passport.
Wow! I’m actually going to Europe! I’ll have my first passport stamp ever. Dorothy and I travel by different means, but we both leave Kansas. Goosebumps cover me. This life I’m walking into is completely different than anything I’ve ever known. Can I do it? Can I be the wife of someone with Jackson’s business and social clout? I’ve had this conversation with myself before, but now it’s here. Marrying Jackson is not just a concept being volleyed around inside my head in the land of ‘what if?’. Marriage to Jackson is real and it’s imminent.
My hands begin to shake again. The butterflies reappear, asserting themselves aggressively against the lining of my stomach. I reach for my phone.
Again, Jackson answers on the first ring. How does he do that?
“Hi sweetheart!” comes his strong steady voice.
Does anything ever get to him? He always seems to have it together no matter what comes at him.
“How are you, Ellie?”
My voice is thin and raspy. “Jackson, I think I’m going to faint. I don’t think I’ll make it to the wedding….”
Suddenly, Jackson is on full alert. “I’m on my way!” I can hear the flurry of activity on his end of the conversation. He really is coming after me.
“No!” I breathlessly screech at him. “Talk to me, Jackson. I need to hear your voice.”
“What happened, Ellie? What’s got you so upset?” Jackson is confused and worried. I can hear it in his voice. I can nearly see the furrow of his brow through the phone line.
Tears fill my voice. “I don’t think I can do this….”
Jackson sounds wounded as he asks, “What…you don’t want to marry me?”
“Yes, I want to marry you,” I correct him weakly. “I don’t think I can be a socialite wife, Jackson. I can’t do all the parties and the schlepping….”
Jackson’s voice comes to me. It’s strong and authoritative, yet kind. “Calm down, Ellie. Listen to me, okay?”
“Okay,” I squeak weakly while I fight tears.
“Think about the wedding, Ellie,” Jackson says.
“The wedding?” I repeat quietly. The wedding? What’s he talking about?
“Yes, the wedding. If I had the expectations of a socialite wife how many people would have been invited to our wedding?”
The light suddenly comes on in my stressed-out head. “Hundreds?” I question him.
“Yeah, that’s right,” Jackson confirms, but then continues. “How many did we invite?”
“Okay, then, do you see where I’m headed with this, sweetheart?” Jackson’s voice has returned to normal. He’s confident he’s averted catastrophe.
“Yeah, I think so,” I say weakly, still unsure of things.
“Ellie, I’m not marrying you so you can perform for me. I’m marrying you because of who you are and what you mean to me. No pressure, sweetheart. None, whatsoever, I promise.”
Jackson’s reassurance resonates centrally within me. I take a deep breath and ask, “Jackson?”
“Yes, honey, what is it?” he asks as a tinge of concern returns to his tone.
“I think I’m okay, now. The butterflies are leaving.”
“I’m worried about you, Ellie. I wish I could see for myself that you’re all right.”
“I’m feeling much better, Jackson. My boys will be here soon. They’ll keep my mind busy, so I won’t have time to fret.”
“Are you sure? I’ll come get you if you want.”
“No, no, I’m okay. Thanks for coming to my rescue. I can’t wait to see you.”
“I know, sweetheart, me, too. Has Harcourt picked up your things?”
“Yes, he’s come and gone,” I inform Jackson. “He paid me a compliment while he was here.”
“Oh, really? What did he say to you?”
“He told me how much he’s enjoyed watching us come together as a couple. Then he told me he thought you’d chosen well for yourself.”
Jackson smiles. I can hear it shining through the phone. “Good old Harcourt. Remind me to give him a raise for making you feel better about yourself.”
“He’s a real sweetheart, that’s for sure. He’s been awfully good to me since you put your limo at my disposal.”
“I gave him our honeymoon time off. That way he and Gina can have the entire duration of our trip to themselves”
“Oh, Jackson, that was so sweet. Thank you.”
“Hey, I do my best work while I’m in sweet mode.”
I laugh, “I’ll have to remember that. Do you have any sweet mode for me?”
“Oh, Ellie girl, you have no idea,” he says all serious and sexy.
“Oh, no, Jackson, I just had a thought...”
“No! Not another one!” he laughs at me.
“What if we get to the church and Riley flaked on me? What if it’s not decorated and there’s no band or reception or food?”
“I’m one step ahead of you, Ellie. I had Sarah drive to the church this morning so she could check on the progress of things. She called and assured me that Riley’s on top of everything and that you’ll be thrilled.”
“Are you serious?”
“Absolutely. I’ve got your back, sweetheart.”
“Have I told you lately that you’re my hero?”
“I think you might have mentioned something about it earlier, but I never get tired of hearing it,” he reminds me, chuckling.
“I’ll have to remember to tell you more often,” I say.
“A guy can never have his ego stroked too much,” Jackson says quite proudly.
“I’ll have to remember that, as well,” I confess.
“Sounds like you’re going to have your hands full with me,” Jackson baits me.
“I’d like to have my hands full of you,” I tease him back.
“Boy, it’s a good thing you said that to me over the phone or I’d give you what you asked for.”
“Oh, you’re all blow and no go, Jackson,” I tease again.
“I’ll show you ‘go’, Ellie girl. Just a few more hours and you’ll have more ‘go’ than you know what to do with.”
“You have no idea, Ellie, absolutely, no idea.” I know he’s teasing me, but I hear a solemn promise in his tone just the same.
A swift, sure knock suddenly comes to the door. I jump up to open it and find my two grown boys standing before me.
“Hi mom!” They say in unison.
“Oh, Jackson, my boys are here. We’re headed your way. I’ll see you in an hour, okay?”
“Alright, Ellie. Are you okay now?”
“I’m fine now, thanks to you. I love you, Jackson.”
“Love you too, Ellie girl. Bye for now.”
“Bye, sweetheart,” I whisper as I hang up the phone.