CHAPTER ONE OF NEW RELEASE
LOVE LIVES ON
by Sidney W. Frost
Karen Williams was fifty-four and divorced for so long she’d given up hope for that special marriage everyone talked about, but few probably had experienced. Then, a year ago, her life changed. Her college sweetheart charged back into her life, acting as if he’d never stopped loving her. He was waiting for her at the altar now as she touched up her makeup in the bride’s room of her church.
She hurried to apply mascara, but her right hand wouldn’t be still. The pencil hit the table with a soft clunk. Tears followed. Tears from nowhere. A glance into the mirror showed mascara running down both cheeks. What was happening?
Was it that feeling of unworthiness that crept in when she least expected it? Couldn’t be. God had forgiven her long ago, but she would never forget what had happened. Second thoughts? Definitely not. She loved Brian and he loved her. He would never do anything to hurt her. Not again.
Brian Donelson looked at his watch again. She was now officially late. The buzz in the congregation meant he wasn’t the only one who sensed something was wrong. All his friends and Karen’s friends were laughing softly, but he knew there was no reason to be concerned. Not yet. Surely she’d walk up the aisle in a few minutes.
Perhaps he should announce a delay. Ardis Twiss stared at him from her perch on the organ bench as if asking what to do. He shrugged and she kept playing.
All the turmoil he’d endured the past thirty years came back to him now. His sin. His self-loathing. His unhappiness with his life. He accepted that God had forgiven him for what he’d done, so why was he thinking about it now? He feared she’d changed her mind about marrying him.
Phil was all decked out in a tux with his gray hair complementing his caramel-colored skin. He took his best man duties seriously. He whispered to the pastor, just loud enough for Brian to hear, “We’re checking on the bride.” He then gave Brian a questioning look.
Pastor Jim Dunlap merely nodded and waited patiently. He didn’t seem flustered at all. Maybe this was nothing new to him.
Brian had a sudden image of Karen driving away from the church with a corner of her long white wedding gown sticking out from under the driver’s side door. He remembered she’d told him she wasn’t wearing a traditional bridal gown. His imagination adjusted to show her in a suit, but still in her car speeding away from the church. He saw himself running after the car holding the bride’s bouquet high in the air, yelling to her that she’d forgotten to get married so she could toss the flowers to all the single women. His legs were like rubber as he moved them faster and faster without going forward.
He took in a deep breath, tested his legs, and shook his head to erase the vision. Could their relationship survive one more difficulty? He hoped so.
Karen was glad she’d picked a dress she could wear again instead of a bridal gown. She’d worn a long white one when she married Steve only to have their marriage end in divorce.
“Well, is there going to be a wedding today, or not?” The question came from a large, some say full-figured, woman standing in the doorway. The floral dress she wore wasn’t much different from her everyday attire at the library, but it appeared to be newer.
“I’m glad you’re here, Liz,” Karen said, standing. “I need your help.”
Karen knew Liz was a hugger. Still, she was caught off guard when Liz put her arms around her and held her tight.
“What can I do, darlin’?” Liz asked as she let go of Karen and moved back to look into her eyes.
Karen’s hands quivered ever so slightly as she gripped them together in front of her chest. “I need to talk to Brian.”
That was all it took. No questions asked. Liz was heading out the door when she called back over her shoulder, “I’ll get him.”
He entered the room soon afterwards.
“Oh, Brian. I’m sorry for holding up the wedding, but I have to tell you something.”
“First, let me say I love you deeply and I hope what I have to say doesn’t change your mind about marrying me.”
“Nothing could do that,” he said.
“Don’t be so quick to answer. Remember all the little and not so little surprises we had for each other during the past year? Well, this is one I wanted to tell you. I just didn’t know how to say it.”
“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. It doesn’t make a difference to me. I love you and want to marry you. No matter what.”
She smiled and hugged him. “I’m glad you feel that way. But, after so many years of keeping this secret, I didn’t know what to do.”
“Why are you bringing it up now?”
She gazed at those eyes she loved so much and kissed him. “Because I told you there were no more secrets.”
Brian smiled as he took her in his arms and held her close. “That’s all? No problem. Let’s get married.” He kissed her back. “Of course I want to hear all about it later. Okay?”
They turned and left the room, walking hand in hand down the hall toward the sanctuary.
Phil’s father George was the only one ready to go when Karen and Brian got to the narthex. Brian’s daughter Amy was talking on the phone while her own daughter Julie played some game on her smart phone. Karen’s best friend Cathy was stretched out on the couch with her eyes closed. George stood at attention at the door to the church waiting to walk Karen down the aisle and give her away.
He turned to the bridal party. “Let’s go, ladies. It’s show time.”
The three women came over and hugged Karen and got in line to walk down the aisle.
Brian handed Karen’s arm to George in a gesture for him to take it from there. “I guess I better get back to the altar before everyone leaves,” Brian said.
“Not to worry,” George said. “No one left. Ever’body wants to know how this soap opera’s goin’ to turn out.”
Brian smiled. “Everything is just fine.”
Brian walked down the hallway on the right side of the sanctuary to reach the altar while Karen looked into the church from the narthex. The organ music was nearly drowned out by the many voices all talking at once. The buzz from multiple conversations died down when someone noticed Brian was back and asked loud enough for all to hear, “Did you find her?”
Everyone chuckled as Brian smiled and gave a thumbs up. A rippling of applause began and quickly grew to a roaring accolade as he moved in next to Phil. Ardis sat up straighter on her bench and started shuffling the music on the stand.
Karen pulled George closer. “I think you’re right. Everyone’s here, and they’re pulling for us.”
“Amen,” he said. “Ever’body here loves you two and wants you to be happy.”
The music started softly as the bridal party walked down the aisle, but the volume quickly increased. Soon everyone was quiet and on their feet looking toward the entrance where Karen and George stood. Two photographers stepped into the aisle between them and the front of the church. One was the woman Karen hired and the other was a young man she’d never seen before. They both snapped photos then jumped out of the way.
When Karen and George reached the altar, the pastor asked, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?”
George was resplendent in his tux. His glasses sat so low on his nose he gazed out over the top of the wire rims. His curly black hair speckled with gray glistened from perspiration or hair oil. As usual he stood erect with his head held high. Today, though, when the pastor asked who gave this woman, he seemed taller. “I do,” he said in his booming voice as he handed Karen to Brian.
She smiled as she moved into the position next to her fiancé and prepared to take her vows. Her mind stayed on the unknown photographer and the doubts she couldn’t explain. When she faced the congregation she turned toward George and mouthed a “thank you.” Her father walked her down the aisle when she’d married Steve, but both he and her mother died a few years ago. They would have loved Brian and been pleased she was marrying him.
The room was silent as George returned to his seat. Karen nodded at Phil who stood next to Brian.
“Who is that young photographer?” she whispered to Brian.
He looked around then shrugged.
Pastor Jim focused on Karen. “Is everything okay?” he asked, speaking softly.
“Yes. Sorry for holding up the ceremony.”
He didn’t seem upset that she’d kept him waiting. Standing here in front of her friends reminded her what a huge step they were taking. She took a few breaths to calm her body. Brian squeezed her hand. Was he nervous, too? Probably. He blinked more than usual and his forehead was covered with perspiration.
“Brian, face Karen and hold her right hand in yours,” the pastor said. After a pause and in a voice all could hear, he continued. “Now, repeat after me.”
She saw only Brian.
“In the name of God, I, Brian, take you, Karen, to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.”
After they both repeated their vows, the pastor nodded to Phil and Cathy for the rings. “Bless, O Lord, these rings to be a sign of the vows by which this man and this woman have bound themselves to each other. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
They placed the rings on one another saying, “I give you this ring as a symbol of my vow, and with all that I am, and all that I have, I honor you, in the Name of God.”
The pastor joined their right hands and said, “Now that Karen and Brian have given themselves to each other by solemn vows, with the joining of hands and the giving and receiving of rings, I pronounce that they are husband and wife, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder.”
When the ceremony ended and they turned to be introduced to their friends as Mr. and Mrs. Donelson, Karen saw more than friends. Another unknown person stood on the side of the sanctuary, staring at her. He seemed angry with his arms crossed. She should acknowledge those happy faces in the crowd, but she couldn’t take her eyes off the frowning one. As they walked down the aisle, she scanned the area for other strangers. She didn’t see one until they reached the narthex. The young photographer pushed his way past the woman Karen had hired.
Brian went with the pastor to sign papers while Karen hung back with the photographers. The same negative feeling she’d experienced before the wedding came over her again as a man she didn’t recognize approached her.
“Karen Williams Donelson?” he asked.
“I’m sorry to bother you at this occasion, but I must give you this.” He handed her an envelope.
She took it, holding it away from her body as if it could harm her. “Who are you? What is this?”
“Ma’am, you’re being sued. I don’t know why. I only deliver the papers. Like I said, I’m sorry.”
“Sued? Who’s suing me?”
“I don’t know that either, ma’am. You’ll find all that information in the envelope.” He nodded and turned around to leave. Before he got far, Liz had him by the arm and walked him to the exit.
Brian returned and stood by Karen’s side. “Who was that?” he asked.
She held the envelope for him see. “A process server, I guess. He gave me this. Said I’m being sued.”
She pulled out the document and scanned it quickly before returning it to its envelope. “We’ll look at this later,” she said, holding the envelope next to her hip. “Right now all I want to think about is our wedding day.”
The rest of the wedding party moved in closer after the stranger was escorted out. Karen held Brian tightly and smiled at their friends. Still, she couldn’t help but wonder about what she had seen in the envelope.
Sidney W. Frost is a Stephen Leader, a Stephen Minister, and a member of his church choir at First United Methodist Church in Georgetown, Texas. He has served on the session at a Presbyterian church, and has been on the vestry at Episcopal churches.
While singing with the Austin Lyric Opera Chorus, he was in 42 productions. He and his wife, Celeste, sing with the San Gabriel Chorale and have been in several Berkshire Festivals.
He was an Adjunct Professor at Austin Community College where he taught computer courses for more than thirty years. He received the adjunct teaching excellence award in 2005.
While attending the University of Texas in the 1960’s he worked part-time at the Austin Public Library driving a bookmobile after completing service in the U.S. Marines.
He is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, the Writers League of Texas, and the San Gabriel Writers’ League.