After my talk with my mother, I was even more thrilled to be planning my wedding to Luke. Our discussion brought up a lot of valid points; I was young to be making a decision this important and I was at a time in my life when a lot of other things were changing in big ways. And this was something to think through completely and certainly not something to take lightly.
But that was the thing; I’d taken this decision anything but lightly. There had been plenty of decisions in my life that had been decided rather impulsively; certain friendships when I was younger, and some getaway plans to escape Jim’s torment were just a couple examples. It was a behavior of mine that taught me some hard lessons about taking my time to think things through. Those friendships stole more from me than they helped and obviously my quick-thinking schemes to get away from Jim hadn’t proven effective.
I’d learned that the important decisions in life needed thorough consideration. That was one reason it had taken me so long to return to faith in God and settle on the decision to join Niteo. I knew that both of those choices were going to be life-altering and I wanted to give them proper consideration before jumping in with both feet.
The decision to spend the rest of my life with Luke was no different. I knew that Luke was going to be a special and significant part of my life from the night of our first date. I’d even considered that I might want to marry him early on—but it was never something I completely decided on until we’d been dating a year and I finally told him everything that was going on at home. Once he knew my whole story, and I saw that despite the terrible things I’d been made to do with and for my stepfather, he still loved me, I knew. I just knew that he was the one.
Luke was going to be my husband someday. From that day forward, I didn’t care how long it would take him to propose. I was secure and confident in our relationship. And with each day, as I learned more about him and saw more of his strengths and he let me in on his weaknesses and trusted me to love him still, my choice only became stronger.
In Luke, I didn’t just see a hot guy I could live with; I saw someone I couldn’t live without. He was as much a part of my life as any other member of my family. I couldn’t wait to make that official.
John held a morning meeting that following day and it had me thinking. He called on all of us to revisit our pasts and the stories that brought us together as a society—and he asked us to consider how our gifts might be used to further the world in which we lived. He reminded us that we’d been called to be disciples of the faith and to spread the word to everyone we could reach.
The discussion had my mind reeling. When everyone else went their separate ways, John and Luke out to work on a garden Clara and Natalie wanted to start and the other girls off to start planning my wedding, I chose to stay behind and think on my own.
I didn’t know what my gift was yet, but I knew I was beginning to see signs of it in my life. I was beginning to get visions of different things intermittently. I couldn’t make sense of anything I was seeing, and I knew I couldn’t rely on anything yet because I hadn’t gone through any training to develop my gift into anything useful. This was just the beginning of my mind displaying my gift.
It was exciting and terrifying. Just accepting membership and being part of the society was a joy to me. I was getting to learn all the secrets of Niteo and explore the grounds with Luke, but I also had no responsibility here yet. I knew that a time for my leadership would arise eventually, but for now, I was still just Cassie. And I liked it that way.
Once I had a fully developed gift, I would be tasked with using it to help others like me. I would be tasked with living my life much the same way Mama Audrey chose to live hers, completely sold out to help all those who needed it. Her house was essentially a safe house like Castellum. I knew from my time living with her that one day I hoped to model my home after hers.
But those hopes were founded at a time when Niteo didn’t exist in my life. What I pictured was on a much smaller scale than a supernatural society. I still had those desires, but I was having trouble matching them to the scale that Niteo would require. The responsibility of having a gift and being called to use it for the justice of others was a heavy weight to carry. I knew that I wanted to help people, I just didn’t know if I could handle hearing so many stories similar to my own.
A few hours after our morning meeting, I decided I needed a distraction from my quickly growing list of concerns. Emily came into the meeting room to warn me that my first dress fitting was in a half hour and that if Luke wasn’t inside in the next few minutes for his first tux fitting, she would be forced to collect him herself. I promised to find him myself and spare him from her wrath.
I ventured out to the east side of the building where I heard Luke and John working. They were spreading fresh mulch around the perimeter of the building for the new garden. I greeted Luke with a kiss and wiped some dirt from his forehead.
“You guys never seem to stay clean when you work,” I said and giggled.
“It’s not work if you don’t get dirty, right Luke?” John asked with a hint of sarcasm.
“If you say so,” he replied in the same sarcastic tone.
“How much longer will you boys be out here?”
“Not much longer. Are you trying to steal my worker from me?” John asked lightheartedly.
“Not just me. There are some wedding plans that need attending to and I won’t be the only one out here if he doesn’t come in soon,” I said giving a knowing glance toward Luke’s father.
“Alright, I’ll have him in there soon. I don’t want to be responsible for getting Luke in trouble,” John said and chuckled.
“Thank you. We’ll be in the front guest room,” I said and made my way back in to the building to find all the girls.
Although the moment of my engagement had been barely a couple weeks ago, it still felt fresh in my mind, and I liked that. There were times I thought my family was more excited about the wedding than I was. Watching Emily, Angela and Grace happily discuss various color schemes and ways to decorate the courtyard for the big day was encouraging to me. Even though I knew no one had any doubts about my relationship with Luke, I never pictured having friends like these involved in planning my wedding.
When Luke joined us after a quick shower, he was bombarded. I should have felt bad, but it was funny to watch. He had been given his grandfather’s wedding suit to wear at the ceremony that was set for late November, but the suit needed a lot of work before it would be ready for the wedding. Emily wasted no time sending him off to the nearest bathroom to change in to the suit for his first of many fittings.
As he stood up on the pedestal and his mother began taking measurements and dictating them to Emily, I couldn’t help but start imagining what our wedding day would be like. I knew that in the end, all of the overwhelming planning would be worth it when I was finally walking down the aisle toward Luke in his perfectly fitted suit. My mother came up beside me as I continued to daydream.
“Are you getting excited seeing him in his suit?”
“Yeah, I am. It’s a lot to take in at once, but it is exciting. Only five months nd I’ll be walking down that aisle toward him.”
“I’m glad you’re getting excited. Have you started on your guest list?”
“I have. It’s over here,” I said as I walked over to a small circular table across the room from Luke, Emily, and Clara. “I’m trying to keep it as small as possible so right now, I just have both our families listed, plus Mama Audrey and her clan. I hope that won’t be awkward to have here there,” I said as I suddenly realized the potential for weirdness.
“Of course not. Cassie, I am so happy that you got as close to her as you did. She served you well as a mother in the areas I failed. God placed you in her path for a reason.”
I smiled. “I’m happy you understand. Does it bother you that I call her Mama?”
“As long as I’m always Mom somewhere in there, I don’t care what you call her. She is your adopted mom after all.”
“True,” I said with a sigh of relief.
I gave Natalie the short guest list and she smiled as she looked it over.
“This looks good. We can go over it again with Luke later and start getting the invitations ready. Did you get a chance to look at any that you liked?”
“I found these nice ones online. They are cream with a paisley decoration on the opposite corners. The script is gorgeous.”
“Good. I’ll be sure to order them for you tonight. I’m so excited for you Cassie.”
“Thanks, mom. I’m excited too.”
“Alright, we’re done over there. Her turn,” Emily said as she joined my mother and me at the table.
“I’ll be right back I suppose.”
Luke had already been chased out of the room before I left to change into my wedding gown for my first fitting. Emily was insistent that we did everything the traditional way, down to Luke being forbidden to see my dress before the big day.
As I pulled the gown from the bag, I marveled at it just as I had since I was a child. My mother passed down the dress she wore to her wedding with my father more than twenty years ago. Their wedding had been a rushed affair, but she’d still insisted on wearing the dress her own mother had passed down to her. The gown was beautiful and exactly the style I loved most. I had admired the dress in pictures since I was young, and when my mother offered to let me wear it in my own wedding, I was overjoyed. Everything suddenly felt real when I got my first glance in the full-length mirror.
Up until that moment, everything had been discussed in terms of possibilities and dreams. I’d imagined so many different wedding themes and decoration patterns. But, that was it. All I’d done was imagine how things would go. Nothing had been physically set in motion. Now, my thoughts and wonderings were being made into real things. Starting with small things like invitations and discussions of colors. And now, with the dress. It was floor length, a bit too long for even my long legs. The material was soft and smooth like satin and had a shimmery look to it when it moved. The material clung tight to my body, only flowing out ever so slightly at my knee. It had a keyhole back and the sleeves were a little big and fell off my shoulders—but I kind of liked the look that created. The neckline was cut straight across the front of me and both sides had a pattern of ruching to accentuate my already slender waist. It wasn’t a pure white, but more of a creamy off-white, a color that complimented my fair skin perfectly.
Seeing myself in my dress for the first time only confirmed how confident I was about marrying Luke. I could perfectly envision myself making my way down a beautifully decorated aisle toward him.
I emerged from the bathroom and Clara was instantly giving me instructions on where to stand and how to stand so she could take my measurements. My mother stood off to the side and held back tears as she looked at me.
“Mom, we promised no tears until the big day. You’re going to make me start crying,” I warned.
She sniffled and cleared her throat. “I know. I’m okay. You’re just so beautiful. You’re going to make such a beautiful bride, Cassie.”
I smiled and thanked her.
“Have you thought about a veil yet?” Emily asked, interrupting the moment with my mother.
“Uh, not yet. I don’t even know how I want to wear my hair yet.”
“Okay, we’ll talk about that,” Emily said as she scribbled notes into a small black notebook that had been deemed her ‘wedding book.’
“What about shoes?” she asked when she’d finished scribbling.
“Haven’t thought of those either,” I admitted as I realized just how little preparation I’d done.
“Actually, Cassie. I might have just the right shoe for you,” Clara announced with sudden realization. “Wait here.”
She rushed out of the room with excitement in her steps.
“What is she talking about?” I asked Emily.
“Don’t ask me. She’s never been much of a packrat. I don’t know what shoes she’s talking about.”
“Here they are!” Clara squealed as she came back into the room carrying a gold box.
She stood before me and opened it. Inside was the most stunning pair of shoes. They looked to have nearly a two-inch heel—still leaving me shorter than Luke by a large margin but enough to close the gap some. They were close toed and square at the front. Lined in metallic silver fabric with a thin strap across the top and a silver buckle on the side. In front of the strap was a collection of jewels arranged as an exact mimicry of my ring; one large rectangle blue topaz surrounded by a ring of diamonds and a strand of diamonds leading to the edge of each shoe on either side.
The shoes put Dorothy’s ruby red slippers to shame. I was instantly filled with hesitancy over accepting them from Clara.
“Clara, I can’t accept these from you. They’re absolutely beautiful but—” I turned to Emily. “Shouldn’t these go to you? I couldn’t steal them from you.”
Emily approached me and took my hands in hers. “I would be honored if you would accept these shoes from my mother. Cassie, I’ve been praying for you to be my sister since the first night Luke came home and talked about you. I couldn’t care less about a pair of shoes if it means getting to have you for a sister.”
I had to wipe the tears from my eyes. “Are you sure?” I asked between sniffles.
She nodded and handed me the box with the shoes.
“Thank you. So much.”
I slipped the shoes on and was surprised to see that they were a nearly perfect fit. I caught a glimpse of myself in the full-length mirror. With my hair pulled up into a loose bun, the dress and the shoes, I was finally able to get a glimpse of what I might look like as a bride—and it warmed my heart to boiling.
“You are going to make a stunning bride, Cassie,” Angela said as she stood beside me in the mirror.
“Thank you,” I said dreamily. “You know, I hadn’t thought about all of this seriously before.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I’ve been convinced that I would marry Luke for a long time now. I guess I just sort of started imagining life beyond all the celebration. I’ve pictured traveling together and having children someday. I used to picture growing old together,” I said with a chuckle. “So many things have changed, I guess I just lost sight of where it would all begin.”
“Well, then, let me remind you,” Angela said.
She pulled her phone from her pocket and showed me a picture. One that I’d long forgotten about. It was the three of us, her Luke and I back in high school. I could remember every detail of the night that picture was taken.
It was during winter break of Luke’s junior year. We’d planned a movie and decorating night at his house—his way of getting me out of my house to protect me from Jim without alerting Angela to anything, as I asked.
That night was one of many I spent with Luke that was filled with joy. But there was something different about that night. The night captured in the photo on Angela’s phone represented a night of association. Luke had always been equated with joy and love in my mind—but it was based on loose and vague ideas. But that night, I found happiness and love tied to something I could celebrate.
For many years, my birthday was my least favorite day of the year. It was the day my former stepfather would “celebrate” in his own way with me. Every year, that night I knew I could expect a visit from him that would include unimaginable pain. I came to loathe my birthday and even lied to Luke about it’s true day when we first met.
But that night, as the three of us hung lights around Luke’s house and decorated a tree, and hesitantly, celebrated my birthday together, I learned that some things could be redeemed.
“Oh, my gosh! I can’t believe you still have this! After all this time.”
“I thought it might come in handy one day,” she said with a smirk. “I also have this,” she said and pulled a framed copy of the picture from behind her.
I couldn’t find the right words to express my gratitude.
“Cassie, I know so many years and parts of your life have been invaded by what that man did to you. And I know how incredibly difficult it is to separate the past he created for you and the future you’re creating for yourself. But, I promise you, it is possible to isolate them. One step at a time, you will learn to replace the pieces of the past with pieces of the future.”
“Starting with a wedding,” I said through tears.
Angela hugged me tightly. “Yes, starting with a wedding,” she whispered.