The scent of roses and lilies filled the sanctuary. Various faces smiled and nodded while the pipe organ played the processional music. The women wiped tears from the corners of their eyes and the men looked on in wonderment as Ruth Beirs took slow, calculated steps down the white runner that led to the pulpit and her waiting groom. She swallowed back a hard lump in her throat. It was difficult for her to fathom that she was finally getting married to Wesley Norton. He had been the hardest egg to crack, but a year ago, to this day, he had accepted his fate and got down on one knee in the middle of Shove Park and asked Ruth to marry him. She played shocked and shed a few happy tears, but inside she had been plotting all along; placing small subliminal hints around her apartment, bridal magazines, and jewelry market sales flyers. Ruth made certain they knew of all their mutual and extended friend’s engagements and weddings, and being the best girlfriend a man could ask for.
Ruth’s smile spread across her face and she tried in earnest to stop her bouquet from revealing just how nervous her hands were shaking beneath their flowered foliage. Wesley looked as nervous as she felt, standing there with his hands folded and fingers fidgeting in front of him. They had kept the wedding party simple, two groomsmen and Ruth’s best friend, Whitney, as her Maid of Honor. Whitney looked amazing in her cornflower blue sundress, gauzy and form fitted. She was biting the fullness of her bottom lip, hindering herself from smiling or crying. Ruth wasn’t sure which it was, but she could see the visible tears in her friend’s eyes as she glanced from Ruth to Wesley. Wesley wiped at the beads of perspiration on his forehead and upper lip. Ruth was now three quarters of the way down the aisle.
The minister’s voice echoed out over them, loud enough that the back of the room could hear him without the use of a microphone. Ruth could hear Whitney sniffling behind her, although she could not see her. She watched as Wesley looked beyond her to make certain Whitney was all right. He was a sweet, caring person, and it brought Ruth joy to know her future husband cared for her welfare and that of her immediate family and friends, as well.
Ruth bounced on her toes and squeezed her fingers around the ribbon-wrapped stems of her flowers. When the minister asked them to join hands, she quickly wiped her fingers dry on the side of her gown before taking Wesley’s hands in hers. She giggled when she found his hands to be just as clammy as her own.
“Do you Wesley Jonathan Norton take Ruth Katherine Beirs to be your wife? Will you promise to love and respect her in sickness and in health, holding her above all others for as long as you both shall live?” the minister paused.
Ruth heard a small sigh behind her and she reached back to take Whitney’s hand to calm her. Grasping, she found only air. Her eyes locked to Wesley’s features. She watched as his smile twisted into a tortured grimace. He looked as if he was doing everything in his power not to vomit all over himself and her. He was positively sallow.
His chest expanded and a mournful moan escaped his lips.
Ruth held his hand tight.
“Mr. Norton, are you all right?” whispered the minister, leaning in close to the soon-to-be newlyweds.
Wesley shook his head.
“Wes, what is it? Do you need to sit down? Are you going to pass out?” Ruth’s heart had dropped to her toes. Was he ill? Was he possibly having a heart attack?
The minister cleared his throat. “Wesley Jonathan Norton, do you take this woman to be your wife?”
Wesley cleared his throat. “No.”
The room went silent. The world went silent. Ruth swore that she had fainted or died in that moment. What was happening? Had she heard Wesley correctly or was she having a stroke? She inhaled deeply, smelling the scent of the air for any unusual scent. She heard that when people had a stroke, they could smell burnt toast. Her nostrils filled with the aroma of flowers. Her fingers brushed at the hot, dripping moisture on her cheeks. Someone was supporting her by her elbow and she was moving past the pulpit into a side room. The door clicking shut behind her sounded like a gunshot through the middle of her chest and broke the deafness that had momentarily taken over her sense. Someone was hyperventilating. She realized in the next moment that it was her. A loud ruckus broke out beyond the locked door.
“Ms. Beirs, it’s Reverend Markus. May I come in?”
Ruth shook her head. She didn’t want to see anyone. Her head was a befuddled mess of incomprehension. Someone cracked the door open and made an excuse for her rejection of company. Her own hands were holding a paper bag to her mouth. When had she been handed a lunch bag? Who was in the room with her? Was this their bag that smelled of tuna salad and cheese crackers? This had to be a nightmare. She was asleep in her own bed and having a nightmare because of pre-wedding jitters. “Wake up,” her subconscious mind screamed at her.
“Ruthie?” A round woman, adorned in silver silk, looking like an antique, pewter, tea kettle, was kneeling in front of her. “Ruthie honey, we are going to stay put, right here, until the church clears out.”
Ruth glanced up at the woman. It was her mother. Her eyes were red rimmed, and she clutched a wrinkled lace handkerchief in her fingertips. She stroked the top of Ruth’s head like she had done throughout her childhood when anything went wrong. This was not a childhood moment. She hadn’t fallen off her bike, or been teased by Greer Watson, or failed her midterm essay. This was her “happily ever after” lying at her satin wedding shoes in a big, broken heap of heart crushing “No”.
“Mom, I don’t understand. What happened?”
“Well, don’t you worry Ruthie-kins. Daddy and I are going to take you home. No one has to see you like this. We will wait until everyone has gone. You can stay with us. Shh.” She continued to stroke Ruth’s head, smoothing down her primped and hair sprayed curls like she were petting a puppy.
Ruth could feel herself nod in agreement, devoid of any understanding.