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A Family To Share
By Arlene James
Steeple HillCopyright © 2005 Arlene James
All right reserved.
"Lovely," Sharon pronounced, backing away from the trail of ivory satin ribbon that she left curling around a tendril of ivy on the floor, the finishing touch to a canopy of cascading ribbons and greenery.
"It is beautiful," Connie said, gently tugging on her left earlobe as she pictured her older sister, Jolie, standing beneath the canopy beside Sharon's brother, Vince.
Jolie met tall, good-looking Vince Cutler after she'd moved into his old apartment. He'd forgotten to have his personal mail forwarded, and the two had met after he'd dropped by to pick up what the post office had sent to his old address. One thing had led to another and now the two were about to be married.
Connie couldn't have been happier for her sister. God knew that Jolie needed someone like Vince, especially at that point in her life. The whole thing was terribly romantic. Every wedding was romantic, Connie supposed, but especially on Valentine's Day when the couple were as much in love as Jolie and Vince. The wedding was still hours away, but there were already tears in Connie's eyes.
Helen, one of the youngest of Vince's four sisters, folded her arms and nodded decisively.
"I think it's the prettiest wedding we've ever done."
"Ought to be," Donna, the youngest, cracked,
"considering how much practice we've had."
"And you know that if we'd left it up to Vince," Olivia, the second-oldest sister, drawled, "he'd have hauled in a couple of hay bales, stuck a daisy in one and called it done."
Everyone laughed, but it was good-natured teasing. All of the sisters were married and seemed delighted that their adored only brother had found his life mate, even if Jolie had decorated his house in Western style, or something between Texana and cowboy chic, as she put it. For the Cutler women, chintz and kitsch seemed to be the height of home fashion, but Connie certainly couldn't fault their wedding decor.
In fact, Connie couldn't have been happier with Jolie's soon-to-be in-laws. They had even helped mend the rift that had existed between Connie and Jolie, a break that had resulted from a custody battle over Connie's young son, Russell. Vince had pushed Jolie to reconcile with her family, and for that, Connie would be forever grateful. According to Marcus, Connie's and Jolie's brother, that just went to prove that God does indeed move in mysterious ways.
Marcus, who was the pastor of this endearing old church where the wedding would take place, had been accorded the happy privilege of performing the ceremony, and Connie knew that he treasured the very idea of it. No one had regretted the break with Jolie more than Marcus had, but since the family had been mended, he'd have the joy of officiating at his sister's wedding ceremony. Wanting to look his very best on this momentous occasion, he had gone to the barber shop that morning for a professional shave and cut.
"Just think," he'd said as he kissed Connie's cheek before walking out of the door of the house they shared, "one day I'll be doing this for you, too."
Connie doubted that very much. Marcus, bless him, was so good that he couldn't understand that most men would hold her past against her, at least the sort of man that she would even remotely consider as a father for her son. Jolie, on the other hand, deserved a kind, caring, upright man like Vince. Connie had cheated herself of that privilege, but she couldn't be too maudlin about her situation; if she hadn't made certain mistakes, she wouldn't have Russell.
Thoughts of her eighteen-month-old son woke a quiet yearning for the sight of his sweet little face, and Connie glanced at her wrist to check the time. If she hurried, she ought to be able to give Russell his dinner in the kitchen at the parsonage before she had to start getting ready for the wedding.
As if she could read her thoughts, Sharon announced, "I think we're finished here."
"Better be," Olivia said, gathering up her decorating supplies. "Mom's hair appointment is in thirty minutes."
"Oh, that's right!" Helen gasped. "We'd better swing by the fellowship hall and pry her out of there ASAP."
"I don't know what she's been doing over there all this time anyway," Donna said. "All she had left to do was arrange a few relish trays."
Sharon rolled her eyes. "That's like saying all Genghis Khan had to do after he conquered Asia was ride a horse across it. She'll have rearranged the serving tables and had the baker redecorate the cake by now."
"She'd better not," Olivia declared, heading for the door.
Olivia had spent hours that morning arranging those serving tables just the way she wanted them, but Connie wasn't fooled into thinking that anything but the most best-natured arguments would ensue. The Cutler clan loved and treasured one another. They teased mercilessly, but since Jolie and Vince had gotten engaged at Christmas, Connie had not witnessed a negative expression stronger than a grimace from any member of the Cutler family. Nevertheless, Olivia made a hasty retreat in the direction of the church's fellowship hall.
The other sisters followed her in rapid succession, waving at Connie and saying that they'd see her in a little while. Connie smiled, genuinely admiring the Cutler sisters, each in her own way. As the last one hurried off, Connie took a final measure of the chapel.
The white of the antiqued walls had aged to a soft butter-yellow, which complemented the gold carpet and pale, natural woods in the room. Tall, narrow stained glass windows glowed vibrantly in the afternoon sunlight, while brass gleamed overhead.
The altar had been draped in an ivory satin cloth and topped with a basket of bloodred roses and a gold cross. The canopy of ivory ribbon and greenery elegantly draped the brass kneeler before it.
A tall, heavy glass pedestal decorated with twining ivy stood to one side, holding an ornately carved unity candle. The Cutler sisters had crafted unique bouquets of greenery with lengths of red satin cloth gathered into soft, billowy clumps, which now adorned the ends of the pews. Connie found them especially appropriate for Jolie, who, though very pretty, was not, as Olivia put it, the "girly" type.
The final touch was an artful scattering of almost two hundred tiny votive candles in simple, clear glass containers, which Vince's older nephews would light at the beginning of the ceremony.
The attendants' dresses were a shade of pale yellow trimmed with green ribbon, which, oddly enough, brought the whole scheme together perfectly. When Jolie had first chosen that particular shade, all of the sisters had protested, but it hadn't taken long for everyone to realize that Jolie had not only her own distinctive style but also a gift for putting colors together.
It truly was going to be a beautiful wedding. Smiling, Connie went to pick up her son at the church's day care, situated on the back corner of the grounds.
Rather than erect a shiny new building, the congregation had opted to purchase houses surrounding the historic old church, link them with covered walkways and renovate them for administration, education, fellowship hall and day care spaces. In doing so, they had created a quaint campus reminiscent of a gingerbread village with the chapel at its center. The result felt more like a community than a church, and Connie would be forever grateful for the haven she'd found here.
Snagging her tan wool coat from a peg in the foyer, Connie shrugged it on over her straight-legged, brown knit slacks and matching turtleneck sweater. She felt that the monochrome color scheme made her look taller that her mere five-foot-three frame and balanced her top-heavy figure.
In actuality, her neat, curvy shape was well proportioned to her height, giving her ultrafemi-nine appeal that her taller, leggier older sister had often envied. Connie, however, remained unaware of this fact, just as she remained unaware that her wispy, golden-blond, chin-length hair-style often garnered more appreciative glances than her sister's long fall of straight, thick, golden-brown hair.
The one trait that the two sisters shared, other than their jade-green eyes, was a simplicity of style. In Connie, that translated into an almost-elfin elegance that made her seem vulnerable and quintessentially female, as opposed to Jolie's earthy, Amazonian womanhood.
Unfortunately, like many women, Connie tended to concentrate on her shortcomings. When she gazed into the mirror, she saw not a pert nose but a childish one, not a classically oval face but a too-sharp chin and wide cheeks, not a full, luscious mouth but a mundane one, not arresting, gold-fringed eyes like jade glass but odd-color eyes and lashes that were too pale.
As she tugged open the door and stepped onto the covered walkway, a cold gust hit her with the force of an icy slap. The wind had a wet, chilly feel to it, but the sky remained blue and clear overhead.
Excerpted from A Family To Share by Arlene James Copyright © 2005 by Arlene James. Excerpted by permission.
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