“Has anyone showed up at Southampton?” Kit smiles sadly and shakes her head. I close my eyes. I just hope that it doesn’t ruin anything for Tina. Outside of our friends that are here, we only invited Kit’s son David, and Tina’s father, brother, and sister. There’s no way to tell Tina’s family about the change in location and David declined the invitation saying that he doesn’t approve. I look to Kit and nod my head. “Tell Shane and Carmen to come back. It’s getting close to starting time.” She pats me on the shoulder and nods her head, walking away as she dials her phone. She starts talking into the receiver and I turn back to the full length mirror in front of me.
The dress fits beautifully, though just a bit looser than the last fitting. All the running and lack of food or water yesterday shaved a pound or two off of me. I’m fairly light skinned considering the African American heritage in my veins, but the white offsets it in a pleasing way. I reach up to adjust the low offset bun of curls, and tuck a few of the more unruly ones back into place. Shane did a great job, and so did Alice.
I lean in close to the mirror and touch beneath my left eye. I can’t see the bruise at all, not even at this close range. I wipe at the lipstick at the corners of my mouth and lean back to take it all in. I’m marrying Tina, in just half an hour, I will meet her and we will commit our lives to one another. If nothing goes as planned today, it is still a glaring success in the book that is my life.
I reach for the satin, shell gray sash and wrap it around my waist. I feel Kit’s hands take the strands behind my back and tie it. I smile at her in the mirror as she finishes. She leans to the table and takes the small tuft of baby’s breath encircling one perfect white lily, and tucks it gently into my bun, fanning it out so that it’s situated just right.
She stands back and I turn to face her. Her eyes travel the length of my dress and when she gets to my eyes I can see the gleam of tears in her own. She puts one hand on her hip and raises the other to her mouth for a moment before pulling it away to say, “You are just so beautiful baby sis…just so beautiful…”
I smile through my own tears and pull her into a careful hug. I close my eyes and whisper, “You’re beautiful. I couldn’t have a better sister. Thank you…thank you for being here with me today, for being my family.
She squeezes me gently and holds me at arms-length. She smiles. “Well…I guess we’re both just lucky…”
We both laugh as Alice steps into the room with a big smile on her face. “Wow! Porter! You look fucking hot!” I chuckle at Alice and she spins her finger in the air in front of me. “Come on! Do a little spin.” I squint my eyes at her but do as she requests. A brilliant smile lights her face as she comes up to me and takes my hands. “Really, you look…you look as beautiful as you are…” Tears hesitate in her eyes. “You’re my best friend…and…well…I’m just happy for you.”
I reach in and hug her to me. “You’re the best friend I could ever have Al.” I sigh. “Maybe we can plan a wedding for you and Dana soon.”
She leans back and looks at me with wide and frightened eyes. Kit and I both laugh and she glares at us. “Uh huh…I see how it is…I’m outnumbered…tease the white girl in the room…” She clucks her tongue and points at me. “It’s on Porter. I still owe you for the fitting…”
I raise my hands and shake my head as I nearly choke on my laughter. “That wasn’t me, Al. I just figured out what was going on faster than you guys…”
She eyes me specutively before she says, “Well, when you marry Tina, not only do you get fifty percent of her possessions; you get fifty percent of her pending retribution.”
I smile genuinely. “It’s worth it…” Tears well in her eyes again and she sniffs indignantly to get rid of them just as Dana walks into the room.
She shuts the door, turns, and stops, staring at me. She crosses her arms over her chest and clears her throat to clear her tears. Such a jock. I smile at her and raise my arm beckoning her to me. She rolls her eyes and gives me a tight hug. She rests her chin on my shoulder and mumbles, “You look beautiful,” in a pathetic voice.
I smile brightly and release her. I caress her shoulder and she diverts her eyes as she swipes at her nose and sniffs. I smile brighter. “Thank you Dana, and thank you for being such an important part of my life.” This gets her attention and she looks to me wide eyed. No Dane, you’ll never be expendable, to any of us. The tears try again and one escapes before she rigidly nods her head and swipes it away.
She turns to Alice who takes her in her arms. “Aww, is my big, tough, cuddly wuddly, baby boo crying?” I give Alice a warning look and she gets the message. “It’s okay Dane. Everyone cries at weddings.” I smile at her. Nice save Al…
Ricky enters the room cautiously. “All you ladies got your icky parts covered?”
We all laugh and Alice says, “Ricky, get your flaming ass in here.”
He enters the room fully and puts his hands on his hips. Tears well in his eyes and he fans his face before saying, “Damn girl…if I were straight I’d be all up in your shit!” He comes forward and gives me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. His eyes are watery and a brilliant smile lights his face as he throws his hands in the air and squeals, “GIRL! YOU’RE GETTING MARRIED!”
We all laugh at this and I beam a radiant smile back at him. “It’s about damn time…”
He giggles boyishly as the door opens and Helena and Dylan enter the room hand in hand. They approach me with warm smiles. Helena leans in and hugs me gently. “I really am glad for you…both of you…” I smile as she leans back.
I look to Dylan and smile before returning to Helena’s gaze with a wink. “I am too…”
She smiles coyly at me and Dylan gives me a half hug. “You look just beautiful.”
I smile at her and touch her shoulder. “Thank you Dylan…”
Shane and Carmen enter the room and Shane stops by the door while Carmen approaches me. I smile brightly at her and lean in to give her a warm hug. She smiles a watery smile and I can’t help the tears the grace my own eyes. “You look gorgeous Bette…”
I touch her shoulder. “Thank you Carmen. It must run in the family.” She smiles brightly at this and we both turn as Shane approaches me.
Kit clears her throat and everyone looks to her. “Tina’s here. Let’s go see her so she can finally tame the wild beast that is my baby sister…” Everyone chuckles as she starts ushering all of them out of the room but Shane. She looks back to us with a knowing smile as she shuts the door behind her.
I look to Shane. What on earth can I say to her? She’s been a rock for me. She loved me when I didn’t even love myself and never faltered to be there for me. New tears gather in my eyes and I’m going to have serious mascara issues if I don’t stop it. Waterproof only goes so far.
Shane has her hands in her pockets and she’s rocking back and forth on her heels. She has yet to meet my eyes. I walk up to her and take her in my arms and hold on tightly. She hesitantly wraps her arms loosely around my waist as she lets out a brave breath. “I don’t even know what to say to you…there just aren’t words big enough or good enough for you Shane…” She releases me and steps back, again diverting her eyes. She swipes at her nose nervously. “Shane…?” She still won’t meet my eyes so I reach down and take her hand. “Shane, look at me…”
Her hand trembles a bit but she forces herself to honor my request. I smile at her through the tears and I’m barely able to choke out, “Don’t be scared, Shane…” Her lip trembles slightly and she swipes at her nose again as she lowers her head. I lift her face and wipe at the single tear track with my thumb as I gaze into her eyes. “Fear is what we learn here, but love…” I smile brightly, letting my love and hope for her shine in my eyes. “…love is what we are born with. And I love you…I do…we all do…”
Her barriers crumble and so does her face, and for just a moment, I get a real glimpse at the pain that chains my friend’s heart. I hug her to me and hold on tightly and she hugs me back fully this time. She sniffs and clears her throat. “I need to go see Tina, but I’ll see you downstairs.” I smile at her and nod my head with a sigh. She stops at the door and says, “You really do look beautiful Bette.” I smile at her, and her expression says, ‘everything’s just peachy,’ as she walks out the door, but I still have hope for her. I just have hope.
I turn back to the mirror and do damage control. Just as I’m throwing yet another tissue in the waste basket, Kit opens the door and peaks her head around it, saying, “It’s time.”
I smile brightly and walk up to her, taking her hand as we walk to the end of the stairs and descend carefully. She hands me a small bouquet of long stem lilies wrapped in a shell gray ribbon and leads me to the end of the hallway. I can see Tina at the other end, a vision in gossamer white, and I whisper, “It truly is…”
Kit smiles and releases me to walk ahead and meet Ricky in the middle of the hallway. Our friends, our family, gather together behind them in pairs as Turning Page starts over the speakers perfectly situated throughout the estate. Ricky and Kit start the slow procession through the double doors that lead to the beach, followed by Helena and Dylan, then Alice and Dana, then Shane and Carmen.
Once they’ve cleared the exit I start to walk toward Tina…my life…my soulmate…my reason. The white dress she’s wearing is similar to my own but perfectly shapes and flows across her smooth skin. It’s strapless with simple, elegant lines that slightly flare high on her waist to flow to her bare feet that peek out from the bottom with each step. Her small, delicate hands hold a matching bouquet of lilies and she has the same sash across her sloping waist.
I can finally see right into the glassy, hazel pools that are her eyes, and the radiant warmth and love I find there could blow me over in its passionate intensity. Her hair is up in long, wavy tendrils of honey golden silk in the naturally, haphazardly beautiful way that is markedly her. A matching lily and baby’s breath is situated so easily in the tangle of wonderful swirls on her crown, that it appears it might have grown there naturally. I see the tears gather in her eyes and feel them gather in my own. I reach out to this vision of her and by some incredible miracle she accepts my hand, linking our fingers.
It’s all I can do to tear my eyes away from her own so I can walk with her down this aisle, neither of us leading, neither of us following, but walking together, facing whatever comes together, complete and true equals in the life we will build together and live together.
We take easy, measured steps up to the half circle of friends and family that wait for us with brilliant smiles on their faces. Valentino’s at the center, prepared to help us take this first step toward a brilliant future. We approach and stand before him and our friends file in around us, forming a circle that has no beginning and no end, just like my love for this woman, this truly incredible woman.
Valentino’s dark eyes light with happiness as he smiles warmly and begins. “We, unaccustomed to courage, exiles from delight, live coiled in shells of loneliness until love leaves its high holy temple, and comes into our sight to liberate us into life.” I am finally allowed to gaze into her face again as we turn to each other. The wind is a little sharp, but it’s glorious as it wafts the delicate strands of her hair.
“Love arrives, and in its train come ecstasies, old memories of pleasure, ancient histories of pain. Yet if we are bold, love strikes away the chains of fear from our souls.” Everything, from the sounds of the ocean and the cool grains of sand beneath our bare soles, to the radiant warmth in her eyes and the shining light uniting our souls, seem testament to all we’ve come through. Our rebirth started on a shore just like this one, and here, it will come to fruition as we are gloriously and irrevocably exposed to one another.
“We are weaned from our timidity in the flush of love’s light, we dare be brave, and suddenly we see that loves costs all we are and will ever be. Yet it is only love which sets us free.” I gaze into her warm tearfully joyous face and it’s true, it’s all true. Our past, our present, and our future are to become one and set us free. I’m free. She is free. Bound together, we are free.
“Tina and Bette, you have chosen to be married and this ceremony serves to symbolize the deep fulfillment of two hearts joining as one. It represents two people in love. It speaks of passion and fire, of hearth and home, and creates a new light and space within which you both will live. This light burns bright and hot, and is imbued with a unique spirit which characterizes both of you individually, but when fused together, it shines twice as bright.”
We both smile so fully that it’s almost painful and our tears flow freely. “This wedding ceremony is, by your intent, both a celebration of your love for each other and an exchange of commitments to each other. You compliment and complete each other. Your enjoyment of life together is more than it is when you are apart. With the love you have for one another, everything is possible.”
Valentino smiles warmly and takes our empty hands, placing them together. “It is now time to exchange your vows. You are about to make promises to each other. These vows are beautiful words representing even more beautiful intentions. No other human ties are more tender. No other vows are more important than those you are about to pledge. The miracle lies in the path you have chosen to take together, and the true magic of love is the ability to stay the course. Bette…”
I grip Tina’s hand tightly and gaze deeply into her eyes. “T…” We all chuckle. Yes, even now, she’s still T. “My Tina, my soulmate, my very reason…” I blink the tears from my eyes so I can see her shining face clearly. “You honor me today…you exhilarate me and you revitalize me…” She raises that glorious eyebrow and I don’t hesitate to reach up and touch it. “It’s not much, but I offer you all that I am, the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly…” Her tears fall harder. “I used to think that loving someone would make me weak, or maybe I was just too proud to relinquish control…but the heart wants what the heart wants. It will not be controlled or contained. It is my very heart that felt you from the first moment I saw you, and it’s my very heart that changed me, shaped me to fit you. I surrender T…I surrender who I am for who you are, because nothing makes me stronger than your fragile heart…”
She laughs through her joyful tears and it’s like a song only my soul can fully understand. Valentino motions to Tina. “Tina…”
She wipes at her eyes and gazes deeply into mine, and I can see the very light I am joining with today as the conviction in her voice reaches out to me. “Bette…I never thought that change was possible. I never thought that unconditional love was possible. But then I met you. You were so smart, and tough…” We all chuckle. “…warm, and gracious…and incredibly beautiful.” Her smile is warm and infectious. “I was changed forever. But what’s more, is that the incredible woman you were doesn’t even compare to the woman who stands before me now. You never gave up on me…” She swallows tightly and her voice is rough. “…no matter how dark my world became, you refused to leave me there. You came for me, you found me, and you brought me out into the light. You blew me away…you blow me away…you just keep doing that…” She squeezes my hand and raises that delicate eyebrow and I’m almost completely undone. “It’s small, but my heart’s all I have…and it’s yours. It always has been, and it always will be…to its very last beat…
We need to wrap this up or I’m going to grab her, hold onto her, and never let her go. Sensing this urgency Valentino pipes in. “You have chosen to exchange rings…” Shane and Alice step forward, handing out our rings to us. “…these rings symbolize your love for one another. They are circles, and as such, they know no end.” We exchange our bouquets for the rings from our family and they return to their places. We slip them on at the same time. The new bands line up and link with the old perfectly, just as they are meant to do.
We smile at each other as Valentino concludes. “I’d like you both to repeat after me…” We gaze deeply into each other’s eyes and intertwine our newly adorned fingers just as we intertwine our newly dedicated souls. “Soul to soul, yours in life and death.”
We repeat these words and she is now my wife. Truly my wife…and I am hers, I always have been. We both start to shed more tears as we lean in and seal our vows, our future, our lives with an intimately tender kiss. It’s soft, and sweet, and warm, and my very soul breaks apart as it spreads its wings, wrapping us together in an embrace that will last an eternity, which won’t be nearly long enough.