Surrender To Me (Book One)

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Chapter 7a

I turn to Tyler and Timothy. I embrace them simultaneously. “Oh, my gosh, you guys look AWESOME! I can’t believe how handsome you are in your tuxes! I am the luckiest woman in the world!” I exclaim as I invite them into my condo. “Today’s my wedding day and I get to spend it with such good-looking men.” They smile down at me. I’m so proud I’m fighting tears.

“Mom,” Tyler says, “You look amazing!”

“Yeah, mom,” adds Timothy. “That dress is perfect for you and the color is so pretty. You look like a million bucks!”

“You think?” I ask as I do a girlie turn for them.

“Definitely!” They agree. Tyler says, “Jackson’s going to be blown away.”

“I hope so. That’s what I’m going for,” I say as I smile at them and admit my strategy.

“It’s a done deal,” says Timothy. I smile and give each of them a hug and kiss.

“Well, we better be headed towards the church,” Timothy states. “If we get there late, Jackson will come after us. Let’s go!” he says offering me his arm.

Tyler offers me his arm on the other side. I stop to grab my overnight bag, which Timothy promptly takes from me, and my purse and then, we’re on our way, locking the door behind us as we exit my home.

Tyler’s girlfriend, Beth is waiting on us when we get to the car. “Hi sweetheart! Come out of the car and give me a hug,” I ask of her.

“Ellie, you look so pretty! You’ll take Jackson’s breath away!”

“Thank you so much. Look at you! You are just beautiful,” I tell her. Her ivory dress complements her tanned skin tone and big blue eyes so perfectly.

“Are we ready to go?” Tyler asks.

“Yes, let’s go!” I say and in no time, we’re eating away at the thirty-minute drive to the church. We arrive at a just a few minutes after two p.m. I ask Beth if she’ll find Riley for me and bring her out to the car. I see Jackson’s limo is present. Inside those doors my future is waiting for me. I take a deep breath to steady my nerves and my knees.

While Beth looks for Riley, I spend a few minutes with my boys. “I love you both so much,” I say, holding one each of their hands in each of mine. “I’m so proud of you. I don’t want you to ever forget that, okay?”

“Sure, mom,” Timothy says laughing, “You don’t ever give us the chance to forget it!” We all laugh. He’s so right. Every time I talk to them, I remind them how proud of them I am.

Tyler reminds me, “You know, mom, you’re getting married, you’re not leaving the planet, right?”

“Yes, you’re right. I know. I only want you to know how much I appreciate you being here for me. It means everything to me that you’ve accepted Jackson the way you have.”

“We wouldn’t miss it, mom. We love you, too, you know,” Tyler reassures me.

Timothy adds, “We think Jackson is a great guy. It’s so obvious how he feels about you. You’ll have a great life with him. We only want you to be happy.”

“Thank you so much for that, my darling boys. Please keep us in your prayers, okay? Every new marriage needs prayer.”

“Sure mom, anything you need. You only have to ask,” Timothy promises. Tyler agrees.

“Be sure the church is cleaned up for tomorrow’s service. Don’t forget,” I remind them.

“We’ve so got this mom,” Tyler tells me. He’s trying to dissuade my nerves. I smile at him as I recognize his use of one of my favorite phrases.

“Look,” says Timothy, “here comes Beth and Riley.”

Riley comes forward. “Ellie, you look amazing! Come on, let’s get your bouquet. It’s nearly time to get things started” I give Tyler and Timothy a quick kiss each. I give Beth a hug and Riley leads me to the reception hall.

I ask because I have to know. “Jackson is here, isn’t he?”

“Oh, yes!” Riley confirms. “He’s sitting on the front row waiting for things to start. I have to say, Ellie, he sure is a good-looking young man.”

“Yes, he is, isn’t he? Far more importantly, though, he treats me really well. He’s so good to me.”

“You’re so right. That’s the most important thing of all,” Riley agrees wholeheartedly.

When we enter the reception hall it’s like we enter a different world. Riley has transformed the space. In the far-left corner, a small band is set up and ready to go. The far-right corner of the room contains the gift table, which is already filled to overflowing. Along each side of the room are tables and chairs where everyone will sit while eating.

In the near front corner is the buffet style steam table from which Jackson’s favorite Chinese food will be served. The bridal table sets front and center of the room, a reasonable distance from the door. Across the room from the buffet line is the drink station. Next to it sits the prettiest wedding cake I’ve ever seen.

Somehow, Riley managed to construct a hardwood surface in the center of the room. It’s not enormous, but it’s ample space for several dancing couples.

The tables are decorated in my colors of lavender and ivory. Tulle ribbons and floral arrangements and twinkling lights pull everything together. I sigh in complete relief and happiness. Perfect, it’s absolutely perfect.

“Riley… this is incredible… You’ve outdone yourself. Everything is just as it should be.”

“So, you like it?”

I kiss her cheek. “You’ve made this flawless and effortless for me. You’ve made my big day so pleasant and wonderful. Thank you so, so much!”

Riley is keyed up for the job at hand and is the personification of a professional. “The grills are going out back. We have rib eyes, sirloins and T-bones for folks to choose from. A smoker grill is full of baked potatoes. We have an enormous kettle of green beans and another of homemade coleslaw. Your wedding cake will top off the meal. The band is all set to perform contemporary Christian music just like you asked.”

I can’t help myself. My eyes mist up. Riley fusses at me. “Hey, you quit that crying! You’ve got to look your best.” I nod at her indicating I understand that she’s right. I pinch the bridge of my nose and do my best to stay my tears.

“Does the church look this beautiful?” I ask putting Riley on the spot.

She blushes and says, “It looks pretty great if I do say so myself.” I squeeze her hand.

“I’m so nervous. I don’t know why, really. Jackson has had to talk me down off the ledge twice this morning.”

Riley turns to me and places her hands on my upper arms. Quietly, but earnestly, she says, “You don’t need to feel nervous and I’ll tell you why. Anytime today that I’ve been within earshot of Jackson all I’ve heard him talk about is you. He’s crazy about you, Ellie. We should all be so lucky.”

“Thank you, Riley, for the pep talk and all that you’ve done here today.”

“You’re quite welcome,” she says as she squeezes my hand. “Now, come on, it’s two twenty-five. It’s time to get you married!”

She takes me by the hand and leads me from the reception hall through the side door of the church.

“Where is everyone?” I ask nervously.

“They’re all seated, Ellie. It’s time to start.”

I sneak up to the entrance at the back of the sanctuary and peek around the edge of the swinging double doors. I’m so curious to see what the auditorium looks like.

Riley will be getting my recommendation for the rest of time. She’s taken lavender and ivory tulle, anchored it to the outside ends of the pews and raised the fabric so that it meets in the ceiling, dead center of the sanctuary aisle. Her efforts have created a Cinderella walk way for me down the center of the room. Floral arrangements similar to my bouquet dot the inside ends of the seats.

At the end of the aisle is a large lavender arch covered in climbing versions of the flowers in my bouquet. This is where Jackson and I will stand as we say our vows. Between us and pastor Willoughby is a framed copy of our pledges to one another. Jackson and I will step forward and sign them as an additional graphic demonstration of our commitment to each other.

The sanctuary is a holy place, but today it’s a magical one as well. I couldn’t have imagined anything more perfect. I can see the back of Jackson’s head. He’s still seated, as is everyone else. The only exception is the wait staff, dressed in starched crisp uniforms as they stand along the back wall, awaiting their cue to depart to their serving stations.

Thank you, Lord. Thank you for making this so perfect.

Riley pulls me back into the hallway. “It’s so beautiful, Riley, so perfect. Thank you so much.” My heart is so full of gratitude and joy that it’s about to get the best of me.

“You’re most welcome, Ellie. Hey!” She fusses again as she gives me a look that’s all polite business. I’m glad she’s so focused. One of us needs to be! Her experience and expertise have proven invaluable. “Slow your breathing,” she encourages me. “The only job you have for the next several hours to have fun! Okay? Chillax, Ellie! You’re absolutely beautiful and you’re going to do great.”

The bridal music starts. It’s a flowery improvisation of the timeless classic. I can hear everyone stand. Jackson is now at the front of the sanctuary and will be looking at me as I approach him.

I have no one to walk me down the aisle. I couldn’t, wouldn’t choose between my boys. It never occurred to me to let them both escort me. What a simple, obvious solution and I missed it, thanks to a two-week planning window. It’s too late to do anything about it now. So, I have to get from here to Jackson without tripping all over myself.

Come on, Ellie! You can do this! I can feel every eye in the room zeroed in on the doorway. They are waiting on my appearance. Riley says to me, “Okay, Ellie. It’s time.” She nudges me forward and center.

I’m standing in the doorway now. When I raise my eyes everyone in the sanctuary is looking right at me. I know they’re our friends. I know they’re the people, out of all people in the entire world, who love us and want the best for us. I know I’m supposed to walk, but I’ve forgotten how. I look down the aisle at all my friends and family, who are smiling back at me. I know I’m supposed to meet Jackson, but I’m stuck. No part of my body will work.

Finally, my eyes find Jackson. Our gazes lock onto one another. Jackson smiles at me. He turns loose of his best million-watter ever. My heart is beating so fast. My knees begin to shake. My skin erupts in a slight sheen of sweat.

IIs it my imagination or is that light fixture moving?

Jackson is watching me. I see understanding come to life in his eyes. Without taking his gaze off mine, he jogs toward me. I know I’m conscious and I know my brain is still working because I appreciate how handsome Jackson is in his tux. Jackson is the embodiment of kindness, intelligence, athleticism, good looks and, charm. My future is running towards me.

Somehow, though, there’s a disconnect between my brain and my body. My body won’t cooperate with what my brain expects of it.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter because, in a heartbeat, Jackson’s at my side. He wraps my left arm around his right. He leans over to my ear and quietly asks, “How you doing, Ellie?”

I swallow hard and I’m brutally honest with my answer. “I’m kind of shaky, Jackson. I’m afraid I won’t make it. I’m pretty sure I’ve forgotten how to walk.”

Jackson chuckles at me. “It’s okay, sweetheart. Lean on me. I’ve got you. You’re so damn beautiful, Ellie. You take my breath away.”

I smile up at him and know instantly he said it because he means it. I see adoration and joy residing in his gaze. He’s here. Jackson is really here. He didn’t bolt and leave me stranded. He really believes I’m enough for him. Suddenly, my knees find their solidarity with the rest of my body, my heart rate slows, and I know everything’s okay because Jackson has me.

“Are you ready, sweetheart?” he asks tenderly.

“I’ve never been more ready, Jackson.”

Jackson leads off with the first step, holding my hand in place on his arm. At an entirely appropriate pace he leads me down the aisle to our place beneath the arch.

In the span of fifteen minutes, pastor Willoughby allows each of us to speak our vows, the very utterances of our hearts. Our individual pledges incite us to the lifelong commitment we seek by being here today. Jackson and I step forward and sign the framed copy of our commitment. Pastor Willoughby introduces us as Mr. and Mrs. Jackson Dawes. Finally, he tells Jackson he may kiss his bride.

Jackson looks longingly into my eyes before he cradles my face and kisses me so tenderly that I want to weep for joy. Suddenly, the auditorium erupts in cheers and thunderous applause. I bury my head in Jackson’s chest and he hugs me tight. When I come up for air I smile at everyone and they cheer again.

Jackson takes my hand and leads me back down the aisle so we can exit the church. We spend about twenty minutes taking pictures with different combinations of friends and family. I’ve never met several of these people, but I assume I’ll get the chance as the afternoon progresses.

Soon, we make our way to the reception hall. Everyone is hungry and they quickly find their way to the food. There’s plenty to choose from so everyone fills their plates with what sounds good to them.

When Jackson realizes I’ve included a top-notch Chinese buffet for him, he’s over the moon. “Ellie! You did this for me?”

“Of course, who else would I do it for?” I ask him, surprised at his surprise.

Jackson takes hold of me and kisses me thoroughly. Again, the room bursts into shouts of approval with lots of applause. I laugh. I think it’s impossible for me to ever get used to all of this ruckus.

Jackson and I find our way back to the bridal table. Jackson sits to my right while Tyler and Timothy settle on my left. Johnson and his girlfriend, Trish, sit on Jackson’s right side. Pastor Willoughby rounds out the population of the foremost table.

Jackson asks if he can get my plate for me. In no time, he returns with my rib eye steak and all the fixins’. When he comes back from the Chinese buffet, he lays two eggrolls on my plate. Next, he retrieves two glasses of iced tea. He reaches over and kisses me then whispers into my ear, “Thank you, sweetheart, for making this the best day of my life.”

I kiss him and squeeze his arm next to me. “The same goes for me, Jackson,” I tell him.

We eat our dinner. Well, Jackson eats voraciously, I pick at mine. I’m still too nervous. After everyone has had time to eat, Jackson leads me to the cake table. We cut a slice of each of our favorites, chocolate for me and carrot for Jackson.

Jackson looks at me like he might shove cake into my face, but I give him a look that would fell a tree, so he behaves like the gentleman he is, and we politely exchange bites.

Then, it’s cake for everyone. After thirty minutes the cake phase ends and someone, I’ll never really be sure who, calls for the bride and groom dance. The band cues up my favorite song in the world. It’s called ‘Waters’ and it talks of abiding faith in God.

Jackson takes my hand and leads me to the dance floor. The music is ethereal and haunting in its beauty. In and of itself it always makes me cry, but now everyone is watching me, expecting me to dance. I never danced at my first wedding. It never once occurred to me I’d be expected to dance now. I’m no dancer and I’m certainly not prepared for this. Panic bears down on me like an out of control freight train.

Suddenly, tears threaten to consume me. I tug on Jackson’s arm. He bends over so he can hear me above the music and the conversation. “Jackson, I don’t know how to dance. The dance floor is for everyone else, not me!”

“You’re not going to dance with me at our wedding?” he asks, sounding and looking like a wounded puppy. I look up at him, terror shining in my eyes. He sees I’m seriously struggling so, being Jackson, he does what only he can do.

Jackson smiles at me and, without warning, bends over and picks me up. In no time, I’m twirling around the dance floor in his strong arms. I move fluidly with him as if I am an athlete too. If this is what it feels like to be strong and graceful, it’s no wonder he exults in his physicality the way he does. It’s downright intoxicating.

The entire room cheers for us. I’ve never seen such a rowdy bunch of people. Everyone here is truly happy for us and they all wish us their best. I’m blushing so badly I can feel the heat in my cheeks. I wrap my arms around Jackson’s neck, deciding to enjoy my ‘dance.’ Jackson is such a ham. I’m so not. I’m so very backward when I’m thrust into the center of attention.

Far too soon our song, our dance, ends. Jackson stands me on my feet and kisses me delirious. When I open my eyes, he’s beaming at me. “I love you, Ellie Dawes,” he says as he caresses my cheek. He takes my hand and leads me back to our table. He helps me into my seat and, I swear, he spends the much of the reception holding my hand like he’s afraid to let turn loose of me.

Jackson is so happy. I put together this country bumpkin wedding in two weeks. It’s so beneath a man of his position and wealth. He doesn’t care. He’s relaxed. He’s beaming his handsome megawatt smile. He’s busy showing off because he’s having so much fun. It amazes me that he’s having a wonderful time at his wedding. It makes me so happy and proud to know I pledged myself to such a humble guy.

The first time the music decreases tempo for a slow dance, Jackson leads me back out to the dance floor. He cradles me against his torso and slowly rocks me to the sway of the music. I’m so relaxed. This is one of the most incredible days of my life.

I love feeling Jackson’s toned torso next to me as we move. I’m in awe of his incredible genetic gift. His strength and coordination amaze me, maybe even more so because I’m so anti-anything athletic or genetically gifted. In a room full of other athletes, he’d be a normal guy, but next to me he seems like some sort of glorified super human. I can’t imagine what it’s like for everything to come so easily. Now that I’m married to him, I’ll get to enjoy his athleticism vicariously. I’ve got a great start already.

Slow dancing with Jackson boosts my confidence to the point where I dance once each with Tyler and Timothy. Harcourt then asks me to take a twirl with him. I’m still a terrible dancer, but I seem to be the only one who minds.

A little later, Jackson introduces me to a man he works with. “Ellie, this is Branson Montpelier. He’s been employed with Dawes for years and, because of his position within the company, he’s come to be my best friend. He’d like to dance with you.”

Jackson’s friend steps forward and I say, “Hi, Branson. I’m Ellie.”

Branson extends his hand and replies, “Nice to meet you, Ellie. Will you do me the honor?”

“Oh,” I begin as my cheeks turn bright red. I mean, dancing with people I know well and am comfortable with is one thing, but I can’t possibly risk embarrassing myself in front of someone Jackson holds in such high regard. I try to wiggle out of the invite. “I’m so bad, Branson. You have no idea.”

Jackson prompts me. “Go on, Ellie, he’ll take good care of you. I promise.”

Branson holds his hand out for me. Again, it’s large, like Jackson’s. When I take hold of his hand, I find his fingers warm and strong as they wrap around mine. Branson and Jackson look nothing alike except for their broad, developed physiques. Branson is a very handsome man, as well, but he has dark coloring were Jackson is an all-American blond.

Branson smiles at me, sweeps me up in his arms and off we go. He’s got that same coordinated litheness Jackson does. He moves me around like I’m on air. I want to stay relaxed, so I start a conversation. Well, I start my version of a conversation.

“I just love your accent. You probably get sick of hearing that, don’t you?” I ask as I look up at his strong jaw line.

“Thank you. Actually, I tend to be the quiet type, so most people have no idea I’m from down under.”

“So, where in Australia is home?”

“I guess you could say Sydney. It’s actually a very small town outside the city, but it’s so small it’s really just a wide spot in the road,” Branson answers me as he moves us around the dance floor. He’s liquid motion. Me and my clumsy awkwardness are certainly no hindrance to his dancing ability.

It’s not fair, Lord. Couldn’t you have given me just a smidgen of athleticism? You know, just enough to let me function in life?

“Jackson said you work security at Dawes.”

“Yes, I help Jackson at the company and on some outside jobs as well. You may not remember, but we’ve met before.”

I look up at him. I’m inclined to disagree with him. I’m pretty sure I’d remember a man like this. He’s not the sort of man who gets forgotten by anyone of the female gender.

Branson continues. “We weren’t introduced, but we were in the same room briefly.”

I turn my head and look past Branson’s bicep while I try to remember. “Really, when was that?” I certainly don’t recall any such event.

“Remember when you woke up in the hotel room with an ice pack on your head?” Branson smiles at me again. For some reason he’s convinced he’s got me dead to rights.

I grimace violently. “I’d really like to forget that!” I immediately admit to him. “Let me think back… oh, there were four of us there that day. You were one of the two guys standing next to Jackson when I came to, right?”

“Yes, that’s right,” he agrees, smiling down at me.

I shake my head. “I don’t even want to think about that day. That was some stupid stunt Jackson pulled. I can’t believe we got past it and arrived here at our wedding.” Disbelief washes over me, and I shake my head again. “This whole journey has been truly remarkable.”

Branson proves he’s assertive in his own right. “When Jackson had to rescue you at the top of the ceremony I was wondering if you’d changed your mind about marrying him.”

Now, I shake my head adamantly. “Oh, no, never, I just have this hang up about being the center of attention. When I looked up and saw everyone watching me I kind of freaked out,” I explain, laughing at myself. “Believe it or not, that’s normal for me.”

Branson smiles at me and continues. “Jackson obviously understood what was happening. He knew exactly what to do.”

“Yes, Jackson seems to understand me really well considering we’ve known each other for such a short time. It worries me though, since you misunderstood, maybe others did too. I’d die if I embarrassed him by freezing up like that.”

“You shouldn’t worry about it. Most of the people here know you so they’re probably aware of your situation. Besides, Jackson is too much of a show off to ever be embarrassed. You freezing-up played right to his strength.”

“Oh, that’s so sweet of you to say. That makes me feel better.” I pause for a second and wonder if I should mention what’s on my mind. I decide to forge ahead.

“Earlier today, Jackson had to talk me down off the ledge,” I admit to Branson.

“Oh, really, why’s that?” he wants to know.

“It suddenly occurred to me that marrying Jackson means marrying Dawes. It means I marry serious money and society. That was me freaking out before I got to the church,” I further admit to this man I just met.

“For someone who doesn’t like the spotlight that’s a lot to carry,” Branson surmises.

“Tell me about it,” I agree while I laugh lightly in order to dislodge the horrifying thought.

Branson shakes his head slightly. “You need to remember two things when it comes to Jackson,” he advises.

Genuinely interested, I ask, “Oh, yeah? What two things are those?”

“First,” Branson begins, “for a man of his position Jackson is surprisingly basic. He doesn’t really buy into his own celebrity. Second, all you need to do, Ellie, is keep the main thing the main thing.”

“I don’t understand quite what you mean. Can clue me in?” I ask quietly.

“Love Jackson and all those other things will fade into the background,” Branson says like it’s the most obvious thing of all time. “Don’t stress over the society stuff, Ellie. Jackson will never put that kind of pressure on you.”

I smile up at Branson. “Thank you for your kind words. They’re very encouraging to me.”

“You’re very welcome, Ellie,” Branson says as he smiles back at me. “Jackson is like a brother to me. I’ll do anything I can for him and, now, by extension, for you.”

I look up at him in surprise to find him watching me. “How’s that possible, Branson? You don’t even know me. You might want to give this some time before you pledge yourself in such a significant manner. I might really be a terrible, awful person.”

“That’s not possible, Ellie. I already know you better than you could possibly imagine. I did most of the investigative work on you. No, I meant what I said about being around to help. Nothing will change that.” Branson looks at me with stern kindness in his gaze. Instantly, I recognize the sincerity of his words.

What a nice guy Branson is. Without even realizing it he reiterated to me the very thing Jackson said to me this morning. Neither of them wants me worrying about the society stuff. I suppose I need to simply accept their advice and just let go of what they perceive as unnecessary stress.

Jackson’s personality is so over the top, but Branson seems to be quite the opposite. Where Jackson is boisterous and will charge ahead Branson gives the impression he’s made of deep waters and will look intensely into a situation as he treads more carefully. He appears to be a very stable, steady, even insightful, guy.

I tuck our conversation into the back of my brain and change the subject. “Jackson introduced you to me as his best friend.”

“I haven’t seen much of him since he met you,” he says as he winks at me.

Remorse hits me hard. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to keep them away from his responsibilities or his friends.”

Branson drops his head close to mine and says quietly into my ear, “Oh, no, Ellie, I don’t think you understand.”

I pull my head away slightly because I’m confused. “Understand what?” I ask him.

“You are Jackson’s foremost priority. You’d never keep him away from you regardless of how hard you try. Now, that I’ve met you, I can certainly understand why.”

I blush again and drop my gaze. “Oh my, aren’t you a total charmer? You must have someone special in your life. Is she here with you?”

Branson shakes his head slightly and tightens his jaw line. “Actually, I’m still looking,” he admits forlornly.

“Well, hang in there,” I tell him, laughing. “You obviously have a lot to offer.”

“You, Ellie Dawes, are a bit of a charmer yourself,” Branson chides me.

“Thank you, I think,” I say, chuckling at him. He smiles at me. His white teeth glimmer against his bronze complexion and coal black beard.

Suddenly, the music changes and Branson escorts me back to Jackson. “How’d you do, sweetheart?” Jackson asks as he takes my hand. “You looked pretty smooth out there,” he says, grinning and winking at me.

I deflect Jackson’s praise. “I’m afraid Branson gets all the credit for that,” I laugh. “He’s like you with all that athletic grace. You two would make anyone look good.”

“She was great, Jackson. Don’t let her tell you otherwise. Thank you, Ellie for dancing with me. It was certainly great to have a chance to talk with you.”

“Thank you, Branson, for the lovely dance. I truly enjoyed it.” A few minutes later, I see Branson dancing past with Mallory McCullough in his arms. She calls to me from the dance floor, “Hey Ellie, this is sooo cool!”

Next, Jackson and I take time to open our gifts. Beth is kind enough to operate as registrar. We receive so many lovely things. Some of the gifts are expensive. Some are extremely thoughtful. Some are gag gifts. Everyone gets a good laugh from those.

The reception continues for the next couple of hours. There’s lots of music, food and fellowship. Everyone is so festive and seems so happy. What an incredibly fun, blessed day this is.

Sometime after seven p.m., Jackson reaches over and takes my hand. “Are you ready to head out, Ellie?”

I nod at him. “I’m ready when you are, Jackson.”

He rises from his chair and lifts my hand, asking me to stand alongside him. He clanks his glass to get the attention of everyone in the room.

“Ellie and I are headed back to the city now. We want to thank all of you for coming to share in our day. It’s been awesome having you here. We’ve had the best time with you. Thank you so much for everything.”

The room erupts in applause. I smile at the never-ending enthusiasm. What a tremendous group of people this is.

Jackson leads me from behind our table toward the exit. I wait for my boys to come forward. I kiss each of them and remind them how much I love them. They return my kisses and wish me every happiness.

Tyler and Timothy take a moment and pull Jackson aside. Tyler shakes Jackson’s hand and says to him, “Congratulations Jackson. I know we’re biased because she’s our mom, but we love her like there’s no tomorrow, so you’d better take good care of her.”

Timothy adds, “She’ll let us know if she needs us and we’re always here for her. Don’t forget that.”

Jackson seems surprised by the forthright sincerity of my sons. He runs his hand through his hair and says, “Thank you both so much. I can assure you Ellie is my number one priority. She always will be. She’s awfully proud of you two and I can certainly understand why. I’ll take very good care of her.”

Once we’re outside, we’re suddenly inundated with birdseed. Jackson and I are laughing as we climb into the limo to escape the barrage. As Harcourt pulls the car away from the church, we look out the back window at all the smiling friendly faces who love us.

Jackson raises the partition between us and Harcourt. He takes my hand in both of his and kisses it several times.

“Ellie, this has been the most wonderful day,” he exudes. His eyes are shining, and his smile is dazzling. Sincerity beams from his gaze.

“It was a pretty great day,” I agree, squeezing his hand. “I’m so glad you had fun. What was your favorite part?” I ask him.

“The part where you said, ‘I do’, of course,” he smiles at me.

“Jackson, you are such a romantic,” I tease him.

“I’ve never thought of myself as a romantic, but yeah, I guess maybe I am.” He just keeps smiling. “You know, Ellie I’m awfully proud of you.”

I cock my head rearward in genuine surprise. “You’re proud of me, whatever for?”

“You’re such an amazing person. I’m so happy I get to call you my wife.”

“Yeah, well, I’m so awesome I nearly didn’t get to marry you. I’m so sorry I got stuck today. I didn’t plan to embarrass you like that.” My eyes fill with tears. I wipe away the first tear that falls.

“Hey!” Jackson fusses at me, “Who got embarrassed? I knew you were scared because everyone was watching you.”

“You and I were the only two people in the room who knew that. You stayed so calm, Jackson. It was so awkward, but you came for me anyway.”

He caresses my face and cradles my neck pulling me toward him. He kisses me so sweetly more tears present themselves. He wipes them away with his thumbs. “Ellie, I will always come for you. Please don’t ever doubt that.”

“That’s three times today you saved me, Jackson. Hopefully, I’ll get stronger and I won’t need you to bail me out quite so often.”

“Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.”

“Why not?” I ask him, surprised at his response to my statement.

“Because, I love taking care of you, Ellie,” Jackson says sweetly.

I shake my head slightly. “The longer I know you the needier I become. I can’t believe you don’t see me as baggage.”

“Ellie, I want you to stop talking,…no, I want you to stop thinking like that. I absolutely adore you. I wish I could get you to believe that.”

“Oh, I believe you feel that way about me. I’ll just never really understand why,” I admit quietly.

“Well, thanks to today, I can spend the rest of my life making sure you understand.” Jackson kisses me again and again.

The drive to the city races by. It seems as if only a few minutes pass before Harcourt pulls the limo up to the curb of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

“Really?” I ask Jackson.

“Absolutely. It was here or the Trump Tower, but I thought you would enjoy the charm of this hotel more.”

“Oh, Jackson, thank you so much.” I squeal as I squeeze his arm. I can’t wait to find our room and begin our life together.

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