A year to the day after I stood at the end of an aisle in Vegas, I found myself waiting for Abby again, this time in a gazebo overlooking the rich blue waters surrounding St. Thomas. I pulled at my bow tie, pleased that I had been smart enough not to wear one last time, but I also didn’t have to deal with America’s “vision” last time.
White chairs with orange and purple ribbons tied around their backs sat empty on one side, the ocean sat on the other. White fabric lined the aisle Abby would walk down, and orange and purple flowers were pretty much everywhere I looked. They did a nice job. I still preferred our first wedding, but this looked more like what any girl would dream of.
And then, what any boy would dream of stepped out from behind a row of trees and bushes. Abby stood alone, empty-handed, a long, white veil streaming from her half-up, half-down hair, blowing in the warm Caribbean breeze. Her long, white dress was form fitting and a little shiny. Probably satin. I wasn’t sure and I didn’t care. All I could focus on was her.
I jumped the four steps that led up to the gazebo and jogged to my wife, meeting her at the back row of chairs.
“Oh my God! I’ve missed you like hell!” I said, wrapping her in my arms.
Abby’s fingers pressed into my back. It was the best thing I’d felt in three days, since I’d hugged her good-bye.
Abby didn’t speak, she just giggled nervously, but I could tell she was happy to see me, too. The last year had been so different from the first six months of our relationship. She had totally committed to me, and I had totally committed to being the man she deserved. It was better, and life was good. The first six months, I kept waiting for something bad to happen that would rip her away from me, but after that we settled into our new life.
“You are amazingly beautiful,” I said after pulling back to get a better look.
Abby reached to touch my lapel. “You’re not so bad yourself, Mr. Maddox.”
After a few kisses, hugs, and stories about our bachelor/bachelorette parties (which seemed to be equally uneventful—except for the whole Trent stripper thing), the guests began to trickle in.
“Guess that means we should get in our places,” Abby said. I couldn’t hide my disappointment. I didn’t want to be without her for another second. Abby touched my jaw and then rose up on her feet to kiss my cheek. “See you in a bit.”
She walked off, disappearing behind the trees again.
I returned to the gazebo, and before long the chairs were all filled. We actually had an audience this time. Pam sat on the bride’s side in the first row, with her sister and brother-in-law. A handful of my Sigma Tau brothers lined the back row, with my dad’s old partner and his wife and kids, my boss Chuck and his girlfriend of the week, both sets of America’s grandparents, and my Uncle Jack and Aunt Deana. My dad sat in the first row of the groom’s side, keeping my brothers’ dates company. Shepley stood as my best man, and my groomsmen, Thomas, Taylor, Tyler, and Trent, stood next to him.
We’d all seen another year pass, we’d all been through so much, in some cases lost so much, and yet come together as a family to celebrate something that had gone right for the Maddoxes. I smiled and nodded at the men standing with me. They were still the impenetrable fortress I remembered from my childhood.
My eyes focused on trees in the distance as I waited for my wife. Any second now she would step out and everyone could see what I saw a year before, and find themselves in awe, just like I was.
After a long embrace, Mark smiled down at me. “You are beautiful. I’m so proud of you, sweetheart.”
“Thank you for giving me away,” I said, a little embarrassed. Thinking about everything he and Pam had done for me made hot tears pool in my eyes. I blinked them away before they had a chance to spill down my cheeks.
Mark pecked my forehead. “We’re blessed to have you in our lives, kiddo.”
The music began, prompting Mark to offer his arm. I took it, and we walked down a small, uneven sidewalk that was lined with thick, flowering trees. America was worried it would rain, but the sky was nearly clear, and sun was pouring down.
Mark guided me to the end of the trees, and then we rounded the corner, standing just behind Kara, Harmony, Cami, and America. All of them but America were dressed in purple, strapless satin minidresses. My best friend wore orange. They were all absolutely beautiful.
Kara offered a small smile. “I guess the beautiful disaster turned into a beautiful wedding.”
“Miracles do happen,” I said, remembering the conversation she and I had what seemed like a lifetime ago.
America turned, hooking her arm around my neck. “I love you!” she said with a squeeze.
Mark tightened his grip, and I did the same with my bouquet.
“Here we go, kiddo.”
We rounded the corner, and the pastor motioned for everyone to stand. I saw the faces of my friends and new family, but it wasn’t until I saw the wet cheeks of Jim Maddox that my breath caught. I struggled to keep it together.
Travis reached out for me. Mark held his hands over ours. I felt so safe in that moment, held by two of the best men I knew.
“Who gives this woman away?” the pastor asked.
“Her mother and I.” The words stunned me. Mark had been practicing Pam and I all week. After hearing that, there was no holding back my tears as they welled up and spilled over.
Mark kissed my cheek, walked away, and I stood there with my husband. It was the first time I’d seen him in a tux. He was clean-shaven, and had recently gotten his hair cut. Travis Maddox was the kind of gorgeous every girl dreamed about, and he was my reality.
Travis tenderly wiped my cheeks, and then we stepped onto the platform of the gazebo, directly in front of the pastor.
Travis leaned in, squeezing my hand as he whispered, “Happy anniversary, Pidge.”
I looked into his eyes, as full of love and hope as they were the year before. “One down, forever to go,” I whispered back.