An unpublished outtake to celebrate the 5th Anniversary of Find Wonder in All Things:
“Laurel, dear, are you ready?” Susan called through the bedroom door of James and Laurel’s suite at the Maui Four Seasons resort. “The guys left about 20 minutes ago.”
“Yes, I think so.” Laurel stood in front of the full-length mirror, arranging one of her bright red curls around the plumeria fastened above her ear. The door opened and her almost sister-in-law Susan stopped just inside the room, blinking.
“Oh!” She sniffed. “Oh… I’m all verklempt.” Susan fanned herself with her hand, as if that would take the tears away. “You’re so beautiful!”
Laurel blushed. “Will it do then?”
“Will it do? Why, he won’t be able to keep his eyes off you!” Susan’s typical down-to-earth tone returned. “And the wedding pictures are going to be gorgeous. I knew that dress would be perfect on you the minute I saw it, but the dressing room lights didn’t do it justice.” She came over and, in a maternal gesture, gently turned Laurel around so she could get a 360 view. She straightened the dress just so with a slight tug at the waist. “The halter style is perfect for your body, and I love the chiffon fabric—the way it just barely sweeps the ground—you’re just like a Greek goddess. How does the foot jewelry look?”
Laurel raised the hem of her skirt and lifted her foot to show the silver and crystal strands that circled her ankle and ran down the center of her foot to her newly pedicured toe.
“I really like these,” Laurel said, smiling as she turned her foot this way and that so the crystals caught the light.
Susan laughed. “They’re so you—kind of artsy and Bohemian. Very appropriate for my sister-in-law the potter.”
“Well, I guess this is it.” Laurel took Susan’s hand and squeezed it.
“Are you nervous?” Susan asked.
“Not at all. James is the best thing that ever happened to me, so I’m just going to enjoy the whole, wonderful event.”
“I’m so happy for you.” Susan bent over to the coffee table and handed Laurel a small bouquet of maile leaves, plumeria and stephanotis. “Here… don’t forget this.” Laurel took the flowers and glanced around the room, realizing that when she returned to it later this evening, she would be someone’s wife. Would it be different?—being here with James after they promised to belong to each other for always?
Susan drove the Murtowskis’ rental car the short distance to the beach at Wailea, parking right behind the car James and Gary had taken a few minutes earlier. They ascended the easy slope and took the path winding its way down to the beach. The sun was still relatively high, but the aura of the coming evening permeated the scene. White cotton candy clouds, tinged with pink and orange, decorated the azure blue sky. A light breeze stirred Laurel’s hair and the gauzy fabric of her dress, and the sound of the surf waxed and waned like music to her ears. She slipped off her leather sandals, and Susan tucked them in her beach bag for later.
Laurel looked down to the spot the minister had chosen for the ceremony and halted in her tracks. Her fiancé stood there in profile, talking and joking with his brother-in-law and Reverend Mike. James wore a white linen shirt, open at the neck, and khaki-colored pants. His hair was a bit longer than usual and curled against his collar, and his feet were bare. There was a relaxed, wind-swept look to him that stole her breath. Gary touched his elbow and nodded toward the women, and James turned, his smile widening at the sight of her.
Laurel collected herself and approached the group, listening as the young musician Reverend Mike brought began strumming “The Hawaiian Wedding Song” on his guitar. She drew nearer and heard James softly singing the words to her. Her heart lurched in her chest with an almost painful thump. She should have realized he would know the lyrics, Elvis fan that he was, and a joyful smile burst from deep inside her. He stopped singing, his gaze stormy and intense. Then, he swallowed hard and reached out for her hand.
Reverend Mike welcomed them in Hawaiian, his jolly round face beaming at the duty he was about to perform. He wore light ministers’ robes, a long tippet around his neck like a yoke, his balding head bare in the sunlight, his dark eyes crinkled at the corners with crow’s feet from years of sun and laughter. Susan and Gary took their places on either side of the wedding couple, and the ceremony began.
“James and Laurel, you have chosen this day and this place to affirm your love by speaking your promises to each other, by prayer, and by the exchanging of rings, a symbol of the unending nature of love.
“Marriage is sacred covenant, ordained by God, in which two people commit to live their lives together, to bring out the best in each other. It is a promise that takes a lifetime to fulfill. A wife and husband become each other’s confidante, best friend, lover, teacher and listener. No other relationship can equal the strength, intimacy and endurance of a marriage that is lived with love and respect for each other.
“With the solemnity of this covenant in mind, James, do you wish to declare before God and these witnesses that Laurel is your wife?”
“I do.” He gave her a lop-sided grin.
“And Laurel, before God and these witnesses, do you wish to declare that James is your husband?”
“I do,” she replied softly.
Reverend Mike beamed once again. “Then as you have declared it to be, with God’s blessing, so shall it be. James, please repeat these vows:
“I, James, take you, Laurel, to be my wife. I promise to be a loving and faithful husband and care for you with the fullest devotion. I will cherish you all the days of my life, whether you are in sickness or in health, in plenty or in want, as long as we both shall live. I give you this ring as a symbol of that love. It is a circle with no beginning and no end, as is my love for you.”
As James placed the ring on her finger, he whispered, “I will always love you, Laurel Elliot. Always.”
Reverend Mike turned to her then and said, “Laurel, please repeat your vows after me:
“I, Laurel, take you James, to be my husband. I promise to be a loving and faithful wife and care for you with the fullest devotion. I will cherish you all the days of my life, whether you are in sickness or in health, in plenty or in want, as long as we both shall live. I, too, give you a ring as a symbol of love that has no beginning and no end.”
She slid his ring into place and looked up into his eyes. “I will always be here for you, James.”
He looked a bit startled by the significance of her words, first uttered so long ago, but then his gaze warmed and he leaned toward her.
Reverend Mike chuckled. “Hold on there, son, not just yet.” He took the maile vine streaming from Laurel’s bouquet and loosely wrapped it around their wrists, binding them together in a soft and fragrant chain. “Because you marry in the islands, I tie your hands in the maile vine, a symbol of your commitment to each other.” He placed his warm, weathered hand over their joined ones. “By the power invested in me by Christ’s church and the state of Hawaii, I pronounce you husband and wife. Whom God has joined together, let no man put asunder! Now—” he paused and winked at the eager bridegroom, “you may kiss your wife, James.”
Laurel’s new husband drew her hands to his chest and kissed her once, and then once more for good measure.
Susan and Gary applauded, and Laurel became aware for the first time of the young woman taking pictures from behind them.
Reverend Mike placed a hand on each of their shoulders and looked up into the faces of the happy couple. “For a benediction, I send you out into the world with an old Apache blessing:
“Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter for the other. Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other. Now there will be no loneliness, for each of you will be companion to the other. Now you are two persons, but there is only one life before you. May beauty surround you both in the journey ahead and through all the years. May happiness be your companion and may your days together be good and long upon the earth.”
They posed for several pictures with Susan and Gary, with Reverend Mike, and with each other. Laurel carefully unwrapped their hands and tucked a piece of maile vine in the pocket of James’s shirt. As soon as their hands were free, he grabbed her around the waist and twirled her around.
“Finally!” he said with an intensity that set her spine to tingling, and then he gently set her down, kissing her over and over while camera shutters clicked in rapid succession, and Susan and Gary looked on, arms around each other.
“This is the best damn wedding cake I’ve ever had,” Gary Murtowski declared, taking the fork from his now-empty plate and reaching over to scrape a morsel of icing off his wife’s dessert. “Usually, they taste like sawdust, but this one is great.”
Laurel smiled at her brother and sister-in-law. In-laws. She had in-laws. It didn’t seem possible, that she, Laurel Elliot, was a married woman, but the evidence was right in front of her—a half-eaten little round wedding cake, a platinum band that joined the diamond solitaire on her finger, and most importantly, the handsome man sitting beside her, drumming his fingers a bit impatiently on the back of her chair.
The four of them had returned to the resort for dinner after the ceremony. It was wonderful, but Laurel could hardly eat a bite—the excitement of the wedding still coursed through her veins. The quartet nestled into a quiet corner of the restaurant, a centerpiece candle providing dim, warm light, and the vague murmur of conversations drifting past them.
Susan folded her napkin and placed it on the table. “Well, I think it’s time for us to head up to our room and leave the newlyweds in peace. Don’t you think so, Gary?” She reached over and covered her husband’s hand with hers.
“Whatever you say, dear.” He winked at Laurel and leaned over to whisper, “She’s been trying to get me alone all evening. Woman’s got a one-track mind.”
Rolling her eyes, Susan smiled at her brother and his wife and shook her head in feigned exasperation. She stood, nudging her husband at the elbow to do the same.
“Come on, Commander Stud Muffin. Our flight to Oahu leaves at early-thirty in the morning.”
James and Laurel both stood as well, and Susan came forth to embrace them—one with each arm. She kissed Laurel’s cheek. “Congratulations, you two. Happiness is what I always wanted for my brother, and now I know he’s going to have it.”
Laurel stepped back, and James wrapped his big sister in two-armed bear hug. “Thank you for being with us today.” He squeezed her once more, thinking of how—even over time and distance—she had always been there when he needed her. “Thank you for everything.”
Gary took Laurel’s hand. “Now I get to kiss the bride,” he said, as leaned over and pecked her cheek. “Welcome to the family, Mrs. Marshall.”
“Thank you,” she replied, touched by their forthright acceptance of her. Gary turned to James and shook his hand. “Congratulations, James. You’re a lucky son-of-a-gun.”
“I am at that. We’ll see you when we get back East.”
James and Laurel stood, watching as the Murtowskis left the restaurant. As Gary held the door for his wife, Susan turned back one last time and blew them a kiss before the two of them stepped out into the night.
The newlyweds sat back down, and a quiet settled over the table. Laurel took a sip of water, looking at James from under her lashes, her heart skipping a beat as he gazed at her. She put her glass down and locked her eyes with his.
“Well, here we are,” she said, a knowing smile on her face.
“Yep, here we are.”
They continued to stare at each other, grinning.
James raked his eyes down her body. “I like your dress,” he said, understating the obvious. “A lot.”
“I’d feel better out of it,” she replied, leaning forward and resting her chin her hand.
James lifted his hand and looked over his shoulder for the waiter. “Check please.”
She laughed. Her laughter came easily now; these last few months with James at her side had been the happiest of her life.
James may have been joking, but the waiter appeared suddenly at his side. “Yes, Mr. Marshall?”
“Uh…” He grinned at Laurel. “I guess we’re about ready for our check.”
“Mr. Murtowski has taken care of dinner, sir.”
James tore his eyes from his bride, surprised. “What?”
“Mr. Murtowski has settled the bill for the table.”
“That sneak…” James began, looking toward the door.
“May I offer my congratulations on your marriage?”
“May I get you anything else?”
“Have a good evening, sir.”
“I plan to,” James muttered under his breath.
The End…of the Beginning
Aww, aren’t they sweet? A perfect Valentine’s Day nibble of a story. To see how they made it to this happy place, check out Find Wonder in All Things, available in print, Kindle and through Kindle Unlimited.
Thanks for reading!