When I found out the theme for November was writing about holidays, I despaired. (I know, I know. Writers exaggerate. I was a little worried, okay?) Why? Because I had to rack my brain to remember if I’d included a holiday in any of my stories! (Middle age is slowly destroying my memory!) When I did finally recall one, I was amazed that it hadn’t popped immediately into my head. In Turning Thirty-Twelve—which is arguably the book with a heroine as close to my own personality as you’re ever going to find—Jackie and Mark get married over Christmas. How could I have forgotten?
It was a fun wedding to write. Jackie was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Mark just wanted to get it over with before Jackie changed her mind. It took Mark’s fifteen-year-old daughter Carly to play wedding planner and get the show on the road.
So allow me to share the union of Mark and Jackie Brennan with you! Enjoy!
Carly shot me a frown. “Quit picking at the flowers or there won’t be anything left of your bouquet.”
“Sorry.” I pulled my hand out of the cascade of silk roses I’d been clutching in my hands like a lifeline. Glancing down at the floor, I noticed bits of baby’s breath and red petals lying in a small puddle at my feet. “Sorry,” I said again, giving Carly an apologetic look. “You look awfully pretty.”
Standing there in her tea-length red dress, she looked a lot older than fourteen. She’d wanted a strapless, but I insisted on something less revealing. At least this dress had capped sleeves and only revealed a little shoulder. Kathy was supposed to wear one exactly like it, but she hadn’t come up to see me before the ceremony, choosing instead to stay at her father’s side.
“Jackie, leave the bouquet alone.”
Three seconds later, I was picking at it again.
I should have expected the attack of nerves. I was getting married, for pity’s sake. It was something I had sworn I would never ever do again. I had a vivid memory of a summer lunch with my friends where I pledged I wouldn’t be a wife again. I didn’t want the hassle. I didn’t want some man to run my life, to call the shots, to make me hate myself again.
But Mark Brennan wasn’t “some man.”
Carly came over, took the roses from my hands, and handed me a huge wad of tissues. “Shred those instead.” She was definitely fourteen going on forty.
“Are you going to be a psychologist when you grow up?” I asked with a nervous chuckle.
“There are enough crazy people in this family, I oughta consider it,” she replied with a smile. Then she glanced at her watch. “Won’t be long now. Relax.”
The bedroom door opened to reveal my frowning oldest son. Patrick was so handsome, so grown up in his black suit, ready to stand in for my father. Mom and Dad said they might visit in the spring and to have a nice wedding.
And people wondered why I had low self-esteem.
My heart was heavy, knowing Patrick didn’t approve of this marriage. No matter how much his acceptance meant, his disapproval wasn’t going to make me change my mind. I hoped he would follow through and give me away when the time came.
“You ready?” Pat asked, not a note of emotion in his voice. He might as well have been leading me to the Green Room at San Quentin.
I placed a hand on his arm. “Pat…”
He shook his head. “I don’t want to argue.”
“I don’t, either. I wanted to thank you.”
His eyes widened. “Thank me?”
“I know this is hard for you, but I want you to know how much I appreciate you being here, giving me away.” I stood on tiptoes to kiss his cheek.
He blushed and stared at his shoes. “You know how I feel, but I couldn’t not be here for you.” His eyes finally found mine, and I could see the little boy for a quick second—the little boy who was always going to be there was hiding just behind the man he’d become. “Mark’s an okay guy. I just want him to be good to you. I love you, Mom.”
Tears formed up in my eyes. It was way too soon for tears. I tried to choke them back, but a couple leaked out anyway. “I love you too.”
I dabbed at my eyes with the shredded tissues. No black blobs were left behind, so at least my waterproof mascara was holding. Thank heaven for small favors.
“We need to go. The judge is here and Mark is waiting.” He opened the door and gave me a sassy smile. “It’s not too late to call it off. Sure I can’t change your mind?”
I shook my head. Taking one, last look in the mirror, I felt pretty for one of the few times in my life. My ivory dress brushed the floor. Light caught the bits of beads that dotted the skirt, making them sparkle. I adjusted the off-the-shoulder sleeves, smoothed the front of the dress, and took a deep, steadying breath. It didn’t help calm me much.
Pat escorted me from the bedroom. Lifting the hem of my dress I started down the stairs before I suddenly realized I’d left my bouquet. Carly was right behind me, holding my roses.
“Got your back,” she said with laughing eyes and a grin full of braces.
One day those dark eyes and that beautiful smile would devastate some poor guy, and his life would never be the same.
“Thanks.” I made my way down the steps.
The family room was awash in Christmas and candlelight. Carly and I had decorated for the holiday, even though no one was really living here now. I’d moved in with Mark the day after I put the house up for sale. We’d sold the couch, recliners, and tables, so the room was empty. It was a perfect place for a small gathering.
There was a Christmas tree in one corner, covered in red and gold bows, lights twinkling in the dim room. Garlands of pine covered the fireplace mantle and glowed with the light from a dozen red candles. Soft music floated around us.
Julie, Abby, and Suzanne were there. Julie looked a bit misty-eyed as she leaned against her husband’s arm. Abby was beaming. So was Suzanne. They would finally be able to tell everyone they were trying to fix up on one of their blind dates that they’d made a successful match. I took strength from having my friends close. It was almost like having real sisters.
I nodded to a couple of police officers Mark had introduced to me one night at dinner. I felt bad that I couldn’t remember all their names. One escorted a woman I assumed was his wife. She gave me a goofy little half wave that reminded me so much of myself, I instantly liked her.
Mark stood next to a local judge I’d met when I had her twins as students a few years ago. The blond judge smiled at me and nodded, clutching a small white book.
I nodded back as I threaded my arm through Patrick’s and let him lead me to my groom.
Kathy took her place at Mark’s left, looking spectacular in her red dress. Nate stood at her side. Patrick and Carly would be my attendants. It made a nice little mix for the new family we were creating.
Mark took my breath away. He’d chosen a dark gray suit and a solid red tie. The red rose boutonniere Carly and I had made was pinned to his lapel. He smiled at me with those handsome brown eyes and sparkling teeth.
I realized—probably for the millionth time since I met him—that I was a very lucky woman.
I saw the appreciation of the way I looked in his eyes. His gaze scanned me from head to toe, and his smile grew even wider. Even here, in front of everyone, I warmed to that smile. A quiver of excitement and feeling of rightness flowed through me.
Mark was going to marry me. It was really happening.
Patrick stopped in front of the judge as our children and guests gathered around us. Twenty of our closest friends formed a sheltering semi-circle. I was happy we were here. A church wouldn’t have been nearly as intimate.
“Who gives this woman to marry this man?” Judge Honeycutt asked.
“My brother and I do,” Patrick replied in a voice with a small catch to it that choked me up.
Taking my hand, he gave it an affectionate squeeze and then set it in Mark’s waiting hand. It was probably the hardest thing Patrick had ever done. He was already sniffing in that masculine way he always did when tears threatened. I could feel my own eyes growing moist.
Mark drew my hand through the crook of his elbow and gave it a loving pat. “You look stunning,” he whispered.
“So do you,” I whispered back.
The ceremony proceeded per tradition, with the standard questions and the usual answers. I had a hard time paying attention, because all I could think about was Mark. The warmth of him beside me, the gentle weight of his hand covering mine, and the rumble of that baritone voice as he responded to each question with no hesitation. Then came the time for the vows we had both decided to write for each other.
But I’d resorted to an uncharacteristic bout of procrastination. The problem was that I had too much to say, but I also had too little. How could I possibly sum up everything I felt for Mark Brennan in a few words?
I started writing the silly vows a hundred different times, but each attempt ended up in wadded paper being pitched across the room. Not until the morning of the wedding had I finally decided what to say. A small folded paper was tucked in my bouquet, waiting at ready in case my memory fled. I hoped I hadn’t accidentally left it amongst the rose petals I’d nervously plucked.
Judge Honeycutt closed her little book. “Mark and Jackie have written their own vows. Mark, would you like to recite your vows to Jackie now?”
“Good a time as any,” he said before his eyes grew serious, penetrating to my very soul. “Sweet Jackie. You’ve changed my entire world. I’ve never met a woman so full of love, so full of life. Every time I’m around you, I feel like I have to catch my breath. You never stop moving. Or talking.”
Several people in the small crowd chuckled. I couldn’t blame them. Yet I didn’t take his words or their amusement as criticism as I always had before. He meant what he’d said as an endearment. A tear fell from my lashes.
“And I love that about you. I love that you sing aloud to the radio and that you always mess up the lyrics. I love that you eat peanut butter right out of the jar. I love that you always think about everyone else before yourself. I love that you laugh the same time you cry. I’m damn lucky that I found you, and I couldn’t imagine life without you. I promise to be faithful. I promise to be there through good times and bad—no matter how bad things might get. As long as I draw breath, I’ll be by your side.”
I thought my heart would burst. Mark knew me—he knew me almost better than I knew myself.
Suddenly the words I had written seemed inadequate.
“Jackie?” the judge asked. “Would you please recite your vows to Mark?”
Reaching deep down, I let all I felt for that wonderful man tumble from my mouth, fervently hoping the words would come out right. “Mark, you’re my rock. My stalwart. I’ve never known a man I could trust the way I can trust you. You’re always there when I need you. No matter how hard I tried to push you away, you didn’t budge. I love that stubbornness. I love your bad jokes. I love that you turn everything I say into a double entendre. I love that you always do a really bad impersonation of William Shatner to make me laugh when you know I’m sad.”
Carly let out an enormous laugh that sent a ripple of chuckles through the crowd.
“I love that you’re always there for your girls, too. I promise that I’ll be there for you—just like you’re there for me. Through the good times and the bad, through sickness and health, through living on a cop and teacher’s salaries and putting four kids through college, and through gray hair, wrinkles, and grandkids. I’ll be there. I promise.”
He kissed the back of my hand and smiled.
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She is about to lose hope when she is rescued by Seeker Aiodhan Reil, an elite warrior of Tirios sent to Earth by the Praemons, precognizant children who can predict which Vymalns will threaten their homeworld.
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