Robert Thomas waited at the train station, nervously strumming his fingers on the steering wheel. The 505 was late as usual, he noted, anxiously glancing at his watch for the fifth time in so many minutes. He sighed, remembering how Miss Melinda came home the last time. She was happy as a clam having brought the archeologist with her, he recalled. His brow furrowed with worry.
Like the last time she came home, only Robert was there to pick her up. But unlike last time, Melinda wanted it that way. When Melinda finally contacted them, she had asked that only Robert, the family driver, be there. Her concerned family reluctantly agreed.
Finally, the train arrived, slowly rolling to a loud and screeching halt. The steam from the engine seemed to exhale with relief as the conductor hopped off the train and set out the bottom step out for the passengers.
The travelers quickly emerged from the car, eagerly spilling into the welcoming crowd that scooped them up into happy hugs and kisses. Robert sighed sadly as he watched the homecoming Miss Melinda would not have this day.
After the ‘welcome homes’ were said and all the hugs and kisses given, the crowd began to thin. Robert looked back to the train. After a few moments, he finally saw the woman he waited for emerge.
Always particular about her appearance, this long and difficult trip home made no difference, he noted. Her hair was neatly pinned under an attractive hat which perfectly accented her tailored suit and matching shoes. With her head held up and purse tightly tucked beneath her arm, the southern lady took a deep breath and slowly descended the steps.
When on the last step, the porter offered his hand with a smile. She paused and numbly glanced at it a moment before dismissing the hand with a shake of her head. With one more step, she reached the ground.
Taking another deep breath, she squared her shoulders and turned towards the parking lot. She found the family driver standing by the family car, hat in hand.
This day there were no radiant smiles, no heartfelt bear hugs, ‘welcome homes’ or ‘glad to be backs.’ Exchanged were silent, uncomfortable looks which were quickly averted as the discomfort grew too great.
The tall woman’s steps were steady and purposeful, absent any trace of vigor seen in her fellow travelers. Stopping at the car door, Melinda looked at Robert as he silently opened it. With brief eye contact between driver and passenger, Robert nodded and glanced into the car.
Melinda nodded and gracefully entered and sat in the back seat. Carefully, she adjusted her skirt and smoothed out the wrinkles as the door closed. As Robert silently retrieved the luggage, Melinda pulled out a compact from her purse, touched up her makeup, and returned it to her purse.
Awkward silence filled the car as they drove away from the station. Robert knew that if Miss Melinda wanted to talk, she would. But she didn’t. He sighed and glanced in the rear view mirror to see the young woman numbly stare out the window.
Melinda grimaced slightly, seeing some Christmas decorations still on display in some shop windows. As they drove past the Krispy Kreme, a happy old couple was leaving hand-in-hand.
Her eyes dropped uneasily to her skirt. They can build airplanes that fly all the way across the ocean, yet they can’t make a decent material that doesn’t attract lint, Mel considered with irritation as she focused on the light fuzzies on her navy blue skirt and picked off the annoying pieces.
“Uh . . . Miss Melinda?” Robert asked uneasily, looking in the rearview mirror at the tired woman. “Where . . . ?”
“The barn,” she said evenly, not quite looking at him, and returned her gaze to the window, staring out at the familiar landmarks that at one time brought her great comfort in knowing she was going home.
Robert nodded. He wished he could say something that would help, but there were no words. The awkward silence returned as he drove to the barn.
He turned onto the long, dirt driveway, which challenged the passengers to sit still as they roughly bounced from the bumps and potholes. He smiled, recalling Janice telling Mel she wouldn’t fix the driveway because that might mean more people would come to visit. Of course, after Mel glared at her, Janice ended up buying the gravel. It’s still in their shed, he thought as his smiled faded and eyes moistened.
They finally stopped in front of the barn which became a home after weeks of incredible sweat, pride, and love to refurbish it.
It looked just like it did when she left, Melinda observed numbly, waiting for Robert to open the door. Carefully stepping out, she straightened her skirt and stood erect as she tucked the purse under her arm. Without a word, she raised her chin and walked to the front door as Robert retrieved her bags.
Melinda glanced uneasily at the door knob a moment before firmly grabbing it. She took a deep breath, opened the old wood door, and entered the barn. She halted as the familiar scent of wood and flowers overwhelmed her senses.
Her eyebrows furrowed at the bouquets littering her coffee table. Melinda marched towards the flowers and glared at the cards by the vases.
“Robert!” Melinda called angrily.
“Yes, Miss Melinda?!?” He asked, rushing inside with concern.
“Take them away.” Melinda snapped, glaring at the unwanted gifts of sympathy. “Now!”
“Sure thing, Miss Melinda,” he said quickly and nervously removed the flowers. When he returned from the car, Robert found Melinda still standing in the exact spot he left her.
She was just staring at the mantle.
“Miss Melinda?” He finally called, gaining her sluggish attention. “Should I go?” He asked softly.
She nodded weakly.
“Ruby’s made sure there’s plenty of food in the kitchen. If you need anything else . . . “ he said, gaining a nod of understanding as her eyes drifted back to the mantle.
“Your grandparents have a room ready if you . . . “ He softly informed her, stopping when she shook her head no and stepped towards the cold fireplace.
“Well, then . . . uh, “ Robert said uncomfortably, not wanting to leave her.
A tear fell from the tall woman’s eyes as she gently traced her long fingers over the intricate design.
“I guess I’ll be getting back home, now,” he exhaled with resignation. The tall woman took a deep breath and nodded, caressing the wood beneath her fingers.
At the door, Robert turned and watched Melinda continue to stand by the fireplace with her hand on the mantle. He sighed and shook his head sadly.
“Good night, Miss Melinda,” Robert finally said and gently closed the door behind him.
Remembering the day when she came home, Robert looked up at the bride and groom sadly. Tears formed in his eyes. Ruby looked over at him with understanding and squeezed his hand and whispered. “It will be ok, sweetie.”
“I’m not so sure about that . . . ,” he said honestly, looking back at the altar as he wiped his eyes.
“Today your separate lives with their individual memories, desires, and hopes merge into one. Will you bring to this new life each for the sake of the other, the best that you have in you, seeking to express your life together, each at the highest level of his own understanding?“ Reverend Baylor asked the bride and groom.
The groom glanced to the less
than enthusiastic bride, who nodded weakly.
“Who gives this woman in marriage?” Reverend Baylor asked, glancing nervously at the Colonel and Mrs. Pappas.
Victoria took a deep breath. It would soon be over, she thought with some consolation, inspecting her long nails. Feeling her husband shift uneasily without answering, her eyebrows furrowed curiously as she looked at him.
After a silent moment, the Reverend nervously glanced around the congregation which started to murmur as the moments continued to pass without a response. Reverend Baylor cringed as he looked at the bride and groom, who turned to look back at the Grandparents.
YES! The maid-of-honor silently rejoiced as she saw the Colonel’s face grimace. Christine knew the Colonel would come to the rescue . . . ‘oh no!’
Victoria’s blue eyes narrowed as
she looked at her husband, who remained quiet.
Allowing a sharp elbow to express her displeasure with his silent obstinance, her husband expelled a painful gasp.
“He just said he does,” Victoria blurted helpfully.
‘NOOOOooooo’ Christine’s stomach did a nose dive.
Reverend Baylor stared uneasily at the grandparents. The groom’s eyebrows furrowed with concern.
“Reverend,” Melinda said tightly, urging the Reverend to continue.
Reverend Baylor winced and cleared his dry throat. “Is there anyone here who thinks these two people should not get married,” he asked nervously, his voice cracking. He glanced uncertainly at the Colonel, who suddenly grimaced in pain again. The pastor didn’t see the long fingernails that were embedded in the man’s thigh.
The Reverend’s eyes drifted to Ruby and Robert sitting behind the Colonel and Victoria. They fidgeted in their seats and glanced uneasily at each other.
Larry fingered his collar. Was it hot in here?
Christine’s hands went to her mouth. Oh no. . . .
“Speak now,” Reverend Baylor looked down at a very annoyed bride, who eyed him to speed things up. “Orforeverholdyourpeace,” he blurted, looking over to the green maid-of-honor, hoping she was going to hold her peace . . . at least until the end of the wedding.
“Ok then,” the Reverend said quickly, with an uneasy smile. “Will you please face each other and join hands?” He asked the couple.
Mel sighed with some relief as she faced the groom. It was almost over, she thought as she waited for him to take her hand. And waited. Rolling her eyes with impatience, she took his.
“Michael, will you take this woman, whose hand you hold, choosing her alone to be your wedded wife?” Reverend Baylor said, nervously glancing at the congregation, then the bride and groom.
Michael blinked. Her alone. . . .
The groom finally nodded . . . after he felt the firm squeeze of his hand and noticed the annoyed blue gaze.
“Will you live with her in the state of true matrimony? Will you love her, comfort her, honor her at all times, and be faithful to her?” Reverend Baylor asked with a warm smile.
Michael blinked again. Faithful . . . .
Mel’s eyebrows furrowed. “Michael,“ she growled through gritted teeth, causing the groom to jump.
Michael looked anxiously between the Pastor and at the surprisingly intimidating woman who he was going to spend the rest of his life with, forsaking all others, never ever to have another. . . .
“Uh, can we have a moment?” Michael quickly asked the Reverend, not waiting for an answer as he pulled the beautiful, frightening woman aside. The surprised congregation murmured loudly.
This cannot be happening, Mel thought in amazement.
“What do you think you are doing?!?” The groom’s father called out with shock and great embarrassment. “Michael, stop this nonsense,” the groom’s mother snapped, turning beet red.
“Now, now, we don’t want to interfere,” the Colonel shared his sage advice with the groom’s nonplused parents. Robert and Ruby shook their heads no.
“That’s right,” Victoria quickly agreed. Robert and Ruby nodded helpfully.
Christine’s eyes were wide with disbelief as she glanced over the stunned congregation and focused on the happy couple off to the side of the church.
“What?!?” The flustered bride questioned the groom with amazement. Was everyone losing their minds? Or was it just her?
“Sweetheart . . . “ he said with an uneasy laugh that was promptly extinguished when she snapped, “I told you - never call me that.”
“Uh, right, uh, well, Mel, uh, you see,” he said and cleared his throat. “I don’t think I’m ready to settle down yet,“ he blurted quickly, with a cringe.
Mel blinked and stared at him, still not sure if it was just her or everyone else that had lost their minds. Or maybe this was all a bad dream . . . .
Normally, when a Southern lady faints, she makes sure she is within arms reach of a handsome man. However, the nearest handsome man, the best man, was too far away and intently focused on the bride and groom. And unfortunately, the logistics of proper fainting were not foremost in Christine’s mind.
A loud thud redirected Melinda’s blank gaze to the floor where the maid-of-honor once stood.
“Oh my GOD,” blurted a woman on the groom’s startled side as gasps escaped from the concerned congregation. Little Celia giggled.
“Miss Christine!” Larry jumped up and rushed to her side, rapidly fanning her with his hand. “Are you ok, Miss Christine? Miss Christine?”
All Melinda wanted was to finally have a simple life. No more danger. No more heroes. No more fear. To just become a mother and make a good home for a child, who would get everything she had to offer. “Was that asking for too much?’ The weary Southern bride wondered as she stared at her friends on the floor.
“Well, at least she didn’t throw up,” Robert mentioned to Ruby, who nodded thoughtfully as they watched Larry and Christine.
“Michael Arnold Hurlbut, get back to that altar and marry that woman right now!” Michael’s mother ordered him. “Do what your mother says, young man!” Michael’s father interjected. Both parents ignored the maid-of-honor lying on the floor being fanned by the junkyard owner.
Melinda looked blankly at the grandparents of her child. ‘I hope a little fear is healthy,’ she considered, absently caressing her stomach.
“NO!” Michael protested, drawing Melinda’s numb gaze back to him.
‘Apparently ‘simple’ was out,’ Mel concluded.
“What?!?” Mrs. Hurlbut blurted in shock.
Reverend Baylor exhaled, closed his bible, and scratched the back of his head. In all his years of ministry, he never had this happen. Well, GOD does work in mysterious ways, he concluded.
“He doesn’t want to get married, dear,” Victoria clarified helpfully, drawing a surprised and annoyed glare from Mrs. Hurlbut.
The Colonel looked over at the Army Captain with an approving smile. Michael was finally showing some backbone . . . by standing his pregnant granddaughter up at the altar. The Colonel’s smile faded. Goddamn it.
“Uh, if that’s ok with you?” Michael asked Melinda with a weak smile.
Mel’s eyebrows rose at the question.
“Dear, shouldn’t we do something?” The irritated Colonel asked Victoria, torn between conflicting and confusing duties.
“No dear,” Victoria said wisely, patting his knee.
“I mean, come on Mel, we both know I’m not the one for you. Someday, when you do find the right guy, you’ll be happy you waited to settle down and start a family. . . .“ Michael continued his convincing argument.
Mel scratched her cheek, wondering if now would be a good time to mention she wouldn’t have long to wait for the ‘starting a family’ part.
“I can’t believe this!” Mrs. Hurlbut huffed. “Look at what YOUR son is doing!” She accused her husband.
“Could you scoot over a bit?” Larry asked Christine as they eagerly watched the drama.
“Sure . . . “ the maid-of-honor said with surprise.
“Here. It is yours,” he offered with a smile as he handed her bouquet back and sat next to her.
“Thank you,” she said with a grin.
“MY son? You’re the one who was constantly nagging him about being a bachelor. No wonder he went along with all this, he just wanted to shut you up!” Michael’s father snapped.
“Dear . . . ?“ Colonel Pappas asked his wife through clenched teeth, annoyed at the implication.
“No dear,” Victoria responded, patting his knee again.
No, now would not be a good time, Mel concluded with amazing certainty and returned to the altar and Reverend Baylor.
“Mel?” Michael followed her uneasily.
“Reverend, I’m sorry about this . . . little development,” Mel said. “As you can probably guess, there will be no wedding,” she added with unusual calmness, the Reverend noted as he nodded hesitantly.
“What!?!” Mrs. Hurlbut spat indignantly.
“She said there will be no wedding, dear,” Mrs. Pappas explained helpfully.
Mrs. Hurlbut’s mouth dropped. In a great and angry display, she marched out of the church in a big huff. Followed by her husband and a few immediate family members, including little Celia.
‘Northerners,’ Robert and Ruby thought, shaking their heads.
The Colonel chuckled, knowing who wore the pants in that family.
“Stop chuckling, dear,” Victoria said.
Reverend Baylor looked uneasily at Melinda. “If you’re sure, my child.”
Mel looked at Michael who cringed. Mel rolled her eyes. “I am now,” she said flatly.
Melinda turned to the congregation as Larry helped a delighted Christine up.
The former bride looked over the remaining people, mostly on her side and cleared her throat before she spoke.
“I’m sorry to disappoint those of you looking forward to seeing us get married. I’m sure there are a few of you out there,” Mel said, glancing at her family and friends. “If anyone still has an appetite, my Grandparents and the Thomas’ have worked very hard in planning a reception. I’d hate to see their efforts go to waste. So please, join us . . . so we can continue to enjoy this happy day,” Mel finished flatly.
The remaining stunned people on the groom’s side were uncomfortably silent as the bride’s side burst with happy chatter.
“We’ll still get cake right?” Aunt Edith leaned over the pew and asked Ruby, who shrugged. “Don’t see why not . . .”
The weary, former bride took a deep breath, lifted up her train, and started to walk down the aisle, alone. Her grandparents promptly stood and joined her.
“Too bad, Mike,” the best man whispered, patting his friend’s back. Christine and Larry heard the condolences to the former groom, both feeling unexpected sympathy for his self-induced loss as he sighed and frowned.
“This is the right thing, Melinda,” the Colonel confidently said to his granddaughter, as they entered the foyer. Mel nodded.
“Someday, you will find someone who’s right for you, you know,” Victoria offered.
Mel’s eyes dropped, having already accepted that she lost the only person who would ever be right for her.
“Yeah . . .” Michael said sadly, watching the beautiful woman’s form as she left. “She has a great ass,” he whispered back to his best man with a smirk that was knocked off his face when a solid fist cracked against his jaw, felling him to the floor.
Melinda and her grandparents looked back at the altar with surprise, finding another one of the wedding party on the floor as the normally meek Larry vigorously shook his sore hand.
“Larry! Are you all right?” Christine asked with great concern as the best man helped the stunned groom up.
“Why you bastard . . . !” the Army Captain spued as he angrily lunged towards Larry with a clenched fist. He stumbled when the maid-of-honor tripped him, unfortunately, right into Larry.
As the two men tumbled to the floor and wrestled, Christine squeaked with concern.
“So this is what you get with a military wedding?” Melinda casually asked her wide-eyed grandmother as they all watched the scuffle.
“Nobody's disrespectful to Miss Melinda!” Larry managed to mumble with his face being ground into the aisle carpeting. Attempting to help Larry, Christine thwacked the former groom over his head with her bouquet.
“Hey!!” The groom complained about the surprise flank attack, attempting to shield himself from the maid-of-honor with one arm as he held down Larry with the other.
The Colonel grinned and crossed his arms as he watched.
“Get off him!!” Christine yelled, continuing to whack the groom with her bouquet as petals flew off with each blow. Noticing the best man step towards the scuffle, intending to enter the fray, the maid-of-honor immediately threw down her bouquet and held up her fists as menacingly as she could, considering she was a Southern lady and not a student of pugilism.
“Back off,” Christine growled to the best man, who smiled with amusement and easily grabbed an arm. However, he grabbed only one and received an amazingly loud slap.
“Ow,“ Mel said with a cringe. The Colonel nodded.
“Stop this RIGHT NOW!” The Pappas matriarch boomed.
The wedding rumble looked up at the matriarch and froze.
Like deer in headlights, Mel observed, then noticed Christine’s torn sleeve slide down her arm.
“Really!” Victoria said indignantly, amazed at the childish behavior. “Get up!” She barked at the men on the floor. They cautiously let go of each other and stood. “Honestly!” Victoria added and shook her head. Turning to her granddaughter, she saw Melinda’s head down as her shoulders silently shook.
The sympathetic matriarch reached out to comfort her, thinking her poor granddaughter must have finally succumbed to the emotional stress. Victoria quickly retracted her hand when a surprising belly laugh erupted from the tall woman.
“Melinda?” Victoria asked with confusion, looking to her grinning husband.
Mel couldn’t speak, continuing to laugh at this unbelievably horrible day and her poor, dear old friend.
Victoria looked at her granddaughter, wondering whether to be happy or concerned.
The Colonel’s gentle hand on his wife’s shoulder and warm smile indicated his vote. She should be happy.
Hearing the long-missed, music of laughter from her best friend, Christine smiled broadly as she pulled her sleeve up her bare arm.
Ruby and Robert looked at each other with relieved smiles. Miss Melinda had finally come home.
“Come on, Melinda. Let’s go now, before something else happens . . . ,“ Victoria said wearily.
“Like what?!?” Melinda challenged with amazement and laughed.
Everyone looked at Christine with concern. “HEY!”
Mel laughed harder.
As Melinda and her family left the church, she wiped the tears from her eyes as she took a deep breath, finally able to speak.
“Well, on the bright side, I won’t be a Mrs. Hurlbut,” Mel reflected with a soft chuckle, looking at her bouquet then handing it to her surprised maid-of-honor.
“Every cloud has a silver lining,
dear,” Victoria shared with a smile.
And Life Goes On ….
Next Story - Die Pflicht