“My dress is going to be whiter than that cloud,” she said to me while we walked down the path through the park. The sky was clear except for a few cotton ball-sized clouds congregating above us. She pointed at them as she spoke. “It’s going to have this braid that flows down my gown and a net on my back. You’ll like that won’t you?”
The sun was playing a mischievous game of hide and seek with the clouds as I tried to envision the gown in my head.
“You really want that braid?” I asked.
“Yes!” she exclaimed and let go of my hand as she twirled on the grass. “It’s going to fall over my shoulders and my bridesmaids will have the same color dresses as the braid!”
I chuckled. It sounded perfect.
“You’ll look beautiful,” I said and she stopped. A soft smile brushed her cheeks.
The priest checked his watch impatiently and around the corner, she walked in with her father. Everybody stood to witness her as she stopped at the door, and her father took a breath in. The people murmured in awe. She was mesmerizing. Her gown was white as the clouds and her braid fell gently on her shoulders. Though a veil shadowed her face, her eyes were alight underneath.
Her smile was wide and sweet and her cheeks were rosy as she stood soaking up the adoration. Her father, the proudest man in the room, stood straight as an arrow. His tuxedo was sharp, and under his almost opaque spectacles, a tear formed like a diamond under the earth.
I was standing, as well, and I could not believe I saw her before my eyes. Her presence was illumination of an already bright afternoon. Her glow charmed us all.
She scanned the room and her eyes locked with mine for a second. I smiled, though she missed it.
“What will you wear?” she asked. She had found the shadow of a tree and sat gracefully beside it, hands in the soil, while I towered over her.
“Why, I’ll wear a tuxedo,” I replied.
“With a bow tie?”
“It will match your braid,” I said. She smiled again.
I looked down and saw my hands clenched tighter than they’d ever clenched before. A bead of sweat formed on my temple when I relaxed my fists to straighten up my bow tie. It was sky blue, just like her braid.
“Will we do it in a church?” she asked.
I scratched my head. I had only been to a few weddings in my life and most of them were outdoors under a tent. Only my brother’s wedding was held in a church, and I had been too young then to remember how it went.
“A church will do,” I said. “Although I’d prefer the outdoors.” The clouds had left the sky, and the sun beat on the grass warm but gracious.
She spoke of a countryside wedding, below the hillside near a lake. The canopy would be made of bright and colorful flowers, the type that fill your whole vision. The walk down the aisle would be on flower petals and leaves. Her eyes sparkled with magnificent fantasies.
“The outdoors! I want it outdoors!” She leapt into my arms. She was soft and the wind was cool and all was perfect around me.
The wedding was in a church and a colorful pattern of rainbows fell across the floor while she stood at the end of the aisle with her father. A distraught Jesus hung on a crucifix above them in the doorway as she and her father waited for the organ to sound before making their way down the aisle.
I stared at her; my eyes would not dare stray to anything else, for she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
She let go and gave me a peck on my cheek before falling back onto the ground. She sat with grace, her legs folded and her arms in her lap and the future in her eyes.
“It’s a long time from now,” I said. It was: Years, and lots of them.
“Time flies with you,” she said. “It seems I’ve known you forever.”
But she hadn’t.
“I wish I had known you forever,” I said.
“I wish you had spoken to me earlier.”
“Our classes were different!” I protested.
“You were just scared.” She always brushed off my excuses.
I sat next to her and our knees touched and our eyes met before she rested her head on my shoulder.
“Tell me more about our wedding,” she said.
It seemed too far away and my mind would not wander that far. But still I reached for it.
“What song would you walk down the aisle to?” I asked.
She thought for a moment. “Iris?”
I shook my head. “Too rock and roll,” I said.
“Time after time?”
We went back and forth for a while until she started to frown. I hated that. “How about … Can’t Help Falling In Love?”
She turned to look at me, her lips in a curve. She kissed my nose and rested her head on my shoulder.
The organ player played a C-chord and held the notes for what seemed like forever. It wasn’t until she and her father began walking that the organ player shifted chords to A, C, then a G, then an A-minor. I knew because I’d played the keys for a few years in a college band. I hummed under my breath and so did the rest of the guests.
“Wise men say,” I whispered. “Only fools rush in.” My eyes never left her as she walked down the aisle. The joy was no different than seeing one’s first child take her first steps. “For I can’t help, falling in love with you.”
“Where will we go after?” she asked.
“Somewhere quiet,” I said.
The only quiet thing I thought of was the library, where I’d told my mother I would be. Instead, I had strolled the park with her, and I knew it was the right thing to do. “A hotel maybe.”
I felt her smile on my shoulder. In front of us, two ducks waddled over the grass, soaking in the sun. The second fowl followed the first around until the first flew away. The other stayed behind grazing the grass. The wind picked up.
“I wonder what vows we’ll make,” she mused. “How honest will they be?”
I shifted and the cool soil bulged in the place where my heels sank into the ground.
“Do you want to practice them now?”
She chuckled and twined her fingers in mine. “I vow to keep you happy and content, through thick and thin, through high and low. For I know no other love like yours, and nothing else will come close to what you make me feel. I vow to keep this fire burning through the coldest of nights, and keep it ablaze through the most scorching of days.” She hummed the wedding song. “Or something like that.”
She walked in straight, steady line, with her hand wrapped around her father’s. Like a celebrity walking the red carpet, she almost flaunted her beauty.
I stood patiently as she walked towards me. My eyes watered. Such an astonishing angel she was, dressed in white and that braid over her shoulder. Lilacs, tulips, and daffodils bunched between her hands while her gown swayed gently from side to side. She took small steps and the organ music complimented each movement.
Finally, our eyes met. A smile reached her cheeks like it had that summer afternoon so many years ago and her eyes brightened yet further. The pulse in my veins doubled and my breath grew heavier. I managed to smile in return, weakly, and she looked away. She was inches away, and I could smell her sweet perfume.
Then she continued past me.
Her gait quickened as she neared the altar. Her groom waited for her patiently. His bow tie was black and his suit was not a tuxedo. He didn’t seem to enjoy the Elvis classic, wincing at every chord change. But he stood proud and ready to be her husband, and that was enough for that day.
We all sat down in our seats as the ceremony started. I realized that not paying attention would be the wise thing to do. Instead, I thought about it all—the reasons and the incidents that led me to be here and her to be at that altar with someone else. It’s only when we’ve missed our chances, that our choices seem wrong.
I paid attention only during the vows. I remembered hers like a vague silhouette of a distant dream. The ones she spoke were different. There were no promises of contentment and no fires to keep burning. The vows were mature and doable, not outrageous obligations that could not be maintained.
They kissed. I turned away. It was the worst afternoon of my life. It was the second longest afternoon in my life.
With our fingers clasped, she hummed a soft melody of a tune I had never heard before. Maybe she made it up as she sat there, or maybe it was a song I had yet to hear, but it made me feel warm in my heart. The sun’s shine was a different ray of light, and it felt like, just for a second, all the illumination in the world came from the being beside me.
When she finished her tune, my eyes were closed and my head rested on the trunk of the tree. I saw myself from outside my body, like a ghost. I could not believe I was there, and she was there with me. I could not believe that, for the first time, I was free of all the care in the world—liberated under the shadow of an oak tree next to a girl I planned to share a future with. I was young and I was free.
She tickled my cheek and my eyes slowly opened. All I saw was her.
“I love you,” she said.
“I love you too.”
The afternoon wind picked up and the leaves above us rustled in unison. It seemed as though the sun paused in the sky and the clouds stayed whiter a little longer than usual. It was the best afternoon of my life. It was the longest afternoon of my life.