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From This Day Forward – Chapter One, Part Six

Welcome to From This Day Forward, book ten in the Operation Quickline series. It’s Sid and Lisa’s big day – their wedding. But in the weeks leading up to the event, something strange is going on. The only thing scarier will be their honeymoon. You can read the first episode here and see all the episodes that have run here.

Still breathing heavily from my run, I stopped and saw a small diner. I checked my watch again. It was probably time to get back to Mae’s. I called a cab from the pay phone at the back near the restrooms. While I waited for it to show, I went to the front and ordered some hash browns and an orange juice, paying for them with the last few dollars I had in my pocket. The cab arrived just as I finished the orange juice. The hash browns were long gone.

The cab pulled up in front of Mae’s house at almost eight. Maybe a little later.

“Why don’t you park it and come on in?” I told the driver. “My money’s inside.”

He sighed, but agreed. We walked into sheer chaos.

Neil was yelling at Mae. “She can’t have gone that far!”

“She’s here!” Darby yelled.

“Lisa!” Mae flew at me. “Where have you been? We’ve been worried sick about you.”

Mama flew down the stairs. “Landsakes, Lisle! I like to have died. What did you think you were doing?”

“I went running,” I replied. “I’ve got to find my purse.”

I went toward the room where I’d been sleeping.

“Why didn’t you tell anyone where you were?” Mae followed me.

“We all got up, and you had plumb disappeared.” Mama followed on Mae’s heels.

“I went running,” I said again. I turned to the cab driver. “I’ve gotta get my purse. I’ll be right back.”

Mama and Mae followed me into the guest room, yammering at me every step of the way. I found my purse and pulled out my wallet. It was empty of cash.

“Where’s all my money?” I asked.

“Lisle, honey,” Mama said. “I know you’re tense about this, but you could have told us where you went.”

I groaned. “That’s right. I gave my last ten to the waiter on Thursday and forgot to get some more cash yesterday. Mae, you got a twenty I can borrow?”

“What?” Mae screeched.

“Twenty dollars so I can pay the cab driver. Come on. You know I’m good for it.”

Mae shoved my robe at me. “Lisa, you’ve got to get into the shower.”

“Fine. Will you take care of the cab driver?”

“Yeah, sure. Now hurry up. We’ve all got to take showers, too.” Mae shoved me toward the stairs. “Your stuff is in my bathroom.”

“Excuse me,” I called to the cab driver as I went up the stairs. “My sister will pay you. Don’t leave until she does.”

Mae snorted and went to take care of the cab fare while Mama replaced her, pushing me up the stairs.

“Now, Lisle, you can’t dawdle too long, but go ahead and relax.”

“Yes, Mama.”

Alone, at last, I stripped and turned on the water. The shower felt good, but my nerves were still raw. I felt like I was in line for a roller coaster that I both didn’t really want to ride and really did want to.

After drying off, I put on my robe, then slipped out of the bathroom into Mae and Neil’s bedroom. Sitting on the bed, I picked up the phone on the bedside table and dialed quickly. He answered on the first ring.

“Hi,” I said quietly. “I’ve got to keep it low, so they don’t catch me.”

He chuckled. “How are you doing?”

“Nervous. You?”

“Surprisingly, me, too.”

“Oh, no.” I sighed. If he was admitting it, he was in bad shape.

“I wasn’t until last night, after you got hauled off.” He chuckled again. “That’s when it hit me. It’s like the adoption. The wedding changes nothing, and yet changes everything.”

“Yeah.” I swallowed. “You’re right.” I gulped again. “I went running this morning.”

“No kidding.”

“Did you run?”

“Of course. I had Nick and Motley with me. We took the usual route. It loses something when you’re not here.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“It’s not your fault.” He paused. “I had a nice long talk with Stella, too.”

“Good.”

“She said she thinks I’m doing the right thing.”

Stella was, for all intents and purposes, Sid’s mother. Even though she was his aunt, she’d raised him even before his mother had died when he was two years old. Stella did not approve of marriage, nor of the Catholic Church, and had been dismayed to find that Sid was marrying me in a religious setting.

“That’s terrific,” I said.

“She’s on the phone,” I heard Mama shout to somebody outside the room.

“Uh-oh,” I said. “Mama knows I’m on the phone.”

“Don’t hang up yet.”

“I won’t until they make me.” I took a deep breath. “Just a few more hours.”

“I know. Can you believe we’re actually doing this?”

“Not really.” I had to laugh. “Kinda freaky, isn’t it?”

“It most certainly is.”

I shut my eyes. “You know, just hearing your voice is calming me down.”

“Good. I’m glad you called. I needed it.”

“I love you.”

“Lisa!” Mama burst through the door. “Are you talking to Sid?”

“Shavings. She caught me.”

“You get off that phone this instant! You’re not supposed to be talking to him.”

“I can hear.” Sid chuckled. “I never thought I’d ever say this, but see you in church. I love you.”

“Love you, too.”

I slowly replaced the receiver onto the hook.

“Honey, you’d better hurry,” Mama scolded. “It’s almost nine o’clock and Jesse’s going to be here by ten. You gotta be ready.”

I shook my head. “Mama, it’s not going to take that long.”

“And talking on the phone with Sid. Did you call him?”

“Yes, Mama.” I smiled at her calmly. “We planned it last night. He needed to hear me, and I needed to hear him.”

“Oh, Lisle.” Mama began sniffing.

I was named for my Grandma Wycherly, who’s German, and my parents tend to use the German version of my name as often as not.

“Look at you,” Mama continued. “You’re all grown up and getting married.”

“Mama, I’ve been grown up for a while now.” I got up off the bed.

“I know, sweetheart.” She blinked, then put her arms around me. “But you’re getting married. That’s a whole new step.” She sighed, then smiled at me. “You have no idea how proud your daddy and I are of you.”

“Thank you, Mama. I love you so much.”

We held each other for a couple minutes, then I went downstairs and got my makeup on. I swallowed as I looked at the dress. It had a high collar, slightly puffed long sleeves, rows of silk lace trim running up the front of the bodice. I’d nearly blinded myself trying to get that trim on straight. The lace fabric of the overdress was silk, with tiny rosebuds interspersed throughout. The feel of it was deliciously soft and smooth, as was the light silk underdress. I slid it on over my head. Grandma, who had just gotten dressed herself, sniffled as she buttoned up the back, and tied the sash. The tiny lace ruffle at the hem swished just above my ankles.

Then I sat down on the bed and looked at the two pairs of shoes I’d brought. For months I’d been trying to decide whether to wear a pair of white spike-heeled sandals with a wide band across my toes and an ankle strap, or a pair of white ballet flats. The sandals looked spectacular with the dress but were not the most comfortable shoes I’d ever worn, and I was going to be on my feet a lot that day. The ballet flats were comfortable but kind of blah.

The dress decided it for me, though. I put on one of the sandals, but as I tightened the ankle strap, sure enough, the spike caught on the bottom ruffle. My heart stopped. Thank God, it didn’t tear anything. Holding my breath, I disentangled the sandal and slid into the ballet flats. Who was going to be looking at my feet, anyway?

The doorbell rang.

One of those things that a lot of people never get about Sid and me is that I am not freaked out by all his former girlfriends. There’s no reason to be. Sid takes his word very seriously, and he had made his promise to be faithful. The other part was that I’d become friends with some of them, such as Angelique Carter, and didn’t want to drop the friendships simply because Sid had slept with them at some point or another. Another excellent example was Shawna Daye. I first met her as Sid’s hair stylist, who then became my hair stylist. And when she showed up that morning at my sister’s house, she came to fix my hair for my wedding to her former lover. The point that almost everybody seemed to miss was the former part.

Shawna, a blond with nice curves, got me settled in the dining room of Mae’s place and smiled.

“How are you doing?” she asked as she brushed out my hair.

“Okay,” I said. “Kind of getting used to the idea.”

Shawna laughed. “You and me both. Would never have figured Sid would get married.”

“I wouldn’t have figured I would either,” I said.

“Then you two deserve each other.”

The wreath of daisies and pink rose buds had arrived. The florist had the rest of the flowers at the church.

“That wreath looks perfect.” Shawna said. “It will go great with your dress. Why don’t you just sit and relax and let me take care of everything?”

“Sure.”

I wasn’t entirely sure about relaxing, but didn’t really care. I let my brain go only to hear wild, cackling laughter from two nights before.

(Friday, February 28)

More accurately, it was 2:48 Friday morning at that point. Neil and my dear friend Frank Lonnergan stood laughing like hyenas in the front door of the house I shared with Sid. They were drunk, or more accurately, they were bombed out of their skulls.

“We’re home!” Neil announced merrily. He’s tall with red hair.

“Brought Sid back safe and whatever.” Frank leaned precariously against the doorjamb. He’s roughly the same size as Neil, but with dark hair.

“Where is he?” I asked.

“He’s right…” Neil looked around and tried to push his glasses up on his nose. Only he couldn’t find his nose. “He’s not here.”

Neil and Frank looked at each other and burst into laughter. I stepped around the two of them and walked through the tiny front yard to where I could see the driveway and the street below. The limousine was still parked in the street, with the chauffeur walking up the drive. I met him halfway.

“Ma’am, I’ve got another guy in the back seat still. Dark-haired fellow. I’m not sure if he belongs here or not.”

“He does more than those two at the door.” I shook my head. “What happened to the fourth guy?”

“Sicker than a dog. We took him home to Encino a couple hours ago. That’s why I’m not sure about this guy. Everyone met here.”

“I know. Why is he still in the limo?”

“He’s out, Ma’am. He passed out around two, or maybe some later. I’m amazed those other two are still on their feet.”

I rolled my eyes. “Really? Can you help me get the guy in the limo inside?”

“Sure. He a friend of yours?”

“My fiancé. This was his bachelor party.”

The limo driver just shook his head. I had to admit, I’d seen Sid drink my uncles under the table, which was no easy thing. That he was out, and Frank and Neil were still going was totally frightening. Frank and Neil had somehow staggered up to the loft next to Sid’s and my bedroom and were singing pseudo-Irish songs written by American Jews. Conchetta, the housekeeper, had made a huge pot of menudo earlier that day. Those boys were going to need it. Once the driver and I had dumped Sid on the living room couch, I picked up a phone and called Mae.

“It’s me,” I told her. “You wanted me to call when they got home.”

“It’s almost three in the morning,” Mae said with a yawn.

“I know. They got here a few minutes ago. I think Neil and Frank have finally passed out. Your husband was singing Irish tenor.”

“Oh, dear God. I didn’t think they were going to get that blitzed.”

“I didn’t, either.”

“Get some sleep. Tomorrow’s a big day, and then Saturday.”

“I don’t want to think about it. I’ll see you tomorrow. I mean, tonight.”

I hung up, sighing. I had teased Sid about Dan Williams’ bachelor party, at which they’d indulged in ice cream sundaes. Sid had been appalled. But at that moment, I thought that maybe Dan’s idea of a bachelor party hadn’t been all that bad.

I got a little sleep, but then the alarm went off at six-thirty, and I stumbled downstairs to get Nick up and ready for school. That turned out to be a waste of time. Nick begged me to let him skip that day, claiming that he couldn’t concentrate and would only make his teacher mad at him. Nick was so excited about the wedding, which is why I agreed to let him stay home and called the school office. Mrs. Fleming really didn’t like it when Nick skipped, but I later found out from Maria that the teacher had been relieved when Nick hadn’t shown. He’d been pretty antsy all week.

Stella, Sid’s aunt who raised him, and Sy, her lover, were already up and reading the newspaper in the breakfast room. They were staying with us for the festivities. I told them that we had guests in the house upstairs and asked that they get dressed after breakfast. Stella is a nudist, one of the reasons Sid is perfectly comfortable in his birthday suit no matter who happens to be around. I was almost used to seeing Sy in his altogether. It was part of the compromise Sid and Stella had come to. If she was going to have to respect closed doors, then Sid didn’t mind her wandering around buck naked all the time as long as it was just Sid, Nick, and me in the house.

Nick and I made French toast for all of us for breakfast and had a lovely time doing it. Nick looks just like his father and Stella, with dark, wavy hair, bright blue eyes, and a dimple in his chin. Well, Stella’s hair is dark gray and Nick wears glasses. His dad wears contact lenses. Nick had turned thirteen exactly two weeks before, and the top of his head was already almost to my nose. I have a strong feeling he’s going to be taller than his father, who is only three inches taller than me, and I’m average. Sy is taller, with a rounded belly and full dark gray beard. His hair is also dark gray, and he’s bald on top.

I explained about the bachelor party. Stella’s eyebrows rose and Nick laughed.

“I’m surprised Sid passed out so fast,” Stella said. “He used to hold his booze much better than that.”

I laughed. “So, I’ve heard. I think it’s more of a comment on Frank and Neil. Sid drank my uncles under the table last Thanksgiving, and that is not easy to do.”

“Hm.” Stella looked over at Sy. “We should probably make ourselves scarce for the time being.”

Sy smiled and turned to Nick. “Well, my boy, where should we amuse ourselves today?”

“Anyplace but a mall,” I blurted.

“Mom!”

Nick wasn’t greedy. On the other hand, you could hardly blame him for liking his chances with Stella and Sy and stores with cool stuff in them. Stella and Sy loved playing the indulgent grandparents.

“I know,” said Sy. “Whale watching.”

“It may be a little late in the day for that,” I said. “But a trip to a pier might be fun. Which ones haven’t you seen yet?”

With Sy, that was a pretty short list. The man loved being a tourist. I’d thought he’d caught every sight there was in the area over the Christmas holidays, but then he and Stella had visited again at the end of January, and he’d still found stuff to look at. I let them worry about it and pulled together the aspirin bottle, and scooped menudo into mugs to be ready to microwave at the first moan. And, as it turned out, Sy did somehow find a whale watching cruise that left late enough for the three of them to get on it. They left around eight.

Sid stirred around nine a.m. I hit the button on the microwave, got the aspirin bottle, a glass of water, and a spoon. Sid lay on his back with his hand over his eyes. He muttered a curse.

“Sid, are you okay?”

“I feel like somebody has been dancing on my head in steel boots. Was I attacked?”

“No. Just drunk.”

“I was afraid of that.” He groaned again. “I haven’t felt this bad since I woke up from that three-day binge when I got out of the Army.” He opened one eye. “You’re a hell of a lot better looking than that S.O.B. Landry.”

Colonel Landry had been the officer that had roped Sid into intelligence work when Sid was in boot camp, then later sent to Vietnam. We’d since learned that his real name was Dale O’Connor, and he was a congressman with intelligence connections. He’d also pulled some strings in allowing me to officially adopt Nick as a stepparent, even though Sid and I weren’t quite married yet.

Sid shut his eye again. “He’s not coming to the wedding, is he?”

“Both he and Marge Benson sent regrets.”

“Good.” He blinked, then cursed. “I still have my contacts in.”

It could have been worse. Some months before, Sid had gotten soft lenses, which were easier to sleep in than the hard lenses he’d had.

I put my hand out. “Give them to me. I’ll get them into your case. In the meantime, I’ve got some menudo here for you.”

Sid winced. “I suppose I must.”

“Here, get a few spoonfuls down and I’ll let you have some aspirin.”

I helped Sid into a reclining position and fed him some soup.

“Do I want to know what happened?” he asked, pulling the lenses from his eyes, and placing first the right one under the pinkie on my left hand, then the left under my forefinger.

“Well, Henry got sick.” I gave him three aspirin tablets and some water while holding onto the lenses.

“Yeah. We took him home around one.” Sid knocked back the pills, then some water, and winced from the headache.

“You apparently passed out around two, and then everyone arrived here at ten ‘til three. Neil and Frank were still going and polished off a bottle of Chablis.”

Sid moaned. “I was saving that.”

“They finally passed out. They’re still up in the loft. When I last saw them, Neil was wrapped around Frank and telling Mae she needs a shave.”

Sid couldn’t help chuckling but winced as he did. I took the contact lenses upstairs and got them into the correct partitions of Sid’s case and poured wetting solution over them. Neil and Frank both woke up sometime between ten-thirty and eleven. They were in slightly better shape than Sid, but still pretty bad. I distributed mugs and spoons and left them alone while I called Esther and Mae to let them know that neither man was in any shape to drive yet.

I suppose I should have been more annoyed. But none of those guys drink that much normally. I’d seen Neil get plastered at least twice, but no more than that, and I’d known him since I was eight years old.

Sy, Stella, and Nick returned around three, having enjoyed the boat ride, even if they’d only seen one whale. Or maybe they didn’t see any. I was too busy getting Frank and Neil upright so that they could get ready for the wedding rehearsal and the dinner afterward.

Sid staggered to his feet around the same time so that we could take my truck and his Beemer to the garage where his Mercedes 450SL was. It was a necessary precaution. Frank had something up his sleeve, probably multiple things. I’d caught Neil and Mae winking at each other several times that week, and it was entirely probable there may have been some revenge inspiring them. [Given what Neil had told me, it was all about the revenge. Seriously, Lisa? The honeymoon suite? The only thing exonerating you was that you were only fourteen at the time. I know we thought for the longest time that it was Frank who’d rigged the shoe stunt. But it was Mae and Neil who pulled that one off. How, I still do not know. – SEH] Sid debated taking another nap, but realized he needed to shave and get dressed for the rehearsal at six.

As we got to the church for the rehearsal, it hit me that I was doing this. I was getting married. For real. Mama and Father John conferred on the procession, then Mama lined us up in the vestibule, putting Daddy at my side.

“Mama, I was going to walk in alone.” I glared at her.

“Why would you do that?” she asked.

“Because giving the bride away is archaic and sexist and everything I hate about marriage.”

“Oh,” sighed my father. He looked so hurt. “I was really looking forward to it.”

I shut my eyes. “Oh, crap!”

“Lisa Jane Wycherly!” Mama trembled in fury. “How dare you use language like that, especially in a house of God!”

“I am a grownup!” I hollered in spite of myself. “I will use whatever language I like.”

I saw Stella lift an eyebrow.

“Are you going to tell me you’re going to hurt your daddy’s feelings?”

I looked over at him. “But I hate what it says.”

“That’s alright, Lisle.” Daddy smiled weakly. “I think I understand.”

I shrieked. “This isn’t fair!”

In the end, I agreed to let Daddy walk me in. But the rehearsal didn’t get much better. Nick was really, really nervous and pale as a ghost. Sid didn’t look much better, but that was probably the hangover. He seemed okay otherwise. Mae’s five kids were unusually hyper, even for them. Darby, who was almost thirteen, was having kittens about the music – he was going to play his violin along with Sy and Stella for the wedding. Janey, one of my bridesmaids and nine and a half, was everywhere but where we needed her. Ellen hid. Well, she is the shy one in the group, and was not quite eight yet. Marty and Mitch, the five-year-old twins, got into the choir loft and started playing with the organ, which did not do much for Darby’s kitten fit. John walked us through our paces so fast, I barely knew what was going on.

I was shaking so badly that when we got to the restaurant for the rehearsal dinner, I ran for the ladies’ room and refused to leave. Mae and Kathy both tried to get me out, but I just locked myself in one of the stalls. They left and a minute later, I heard the door open.

“Hey, Lisa, it’s Esther.”

“You gonna try and get me out of here?”

“Why? I just came in to keep you company.”

I opened the stall door. “Thanks.”

Esther sat on the sink counter and handed me a tissue. “Here you go.”

I blew my nose. “I’ve been acting like such an idiot.”

“No, you haven’t. I’ve seen lots worse. I worked at that bridal salon, you know. You should have seen some of those girls. Spoiled brats. They panicked over the least thing. Oh, and the fights! If they weren’t fighting with their mothers, they were fighting with their grooms and a lot of times, both. You are sailing through this.”

“It doesn’t feel like it.”

“You got more to deal with, too. Your fiancé has a past and a half, plus he and three of your groomsmen are hung over. Your sort of mother-in-law hates the Church and hates marriage. And then, there’s your kid. He’s running around out there now, telling everybody his parents are finally getting married.”

I had to laugh. “Nick’s so excited.”

“He showed up those little angels of your sister’s. Were they brats tonight.”

“Nick was good. Poor thing. He was so nervous. He’s so proud of being Sid’s best man.”

There was a knock on the door and Sid poked his head in.

“May I come in?” he asked.

“No one but us in here.” Esther hopped off the counter as Sid came in. “I’ll go stand guard.”

Sid smiled gently. “You’re pretty upset.”

“Maybe we should have just shacked up.”

He shrugged. “We still can. It’s not like all of this is changing anything, really. We’ve made our promises.”

“I know.” I took a deep breath. “I just wanted the Sacrament is all.”

“Then let’s focus on that. All the other hoop-de-do is for everyone else.” He came up and pulled me into his arms.

I leaned my forehead against his. “Thanks, Sid.”

He lifted my chin and looked into my eyes. “It’s going to be alright. We get to define our relationship. No one else does. Not even your parents, and not even if you let your father walk you up the aisle tomorrow.”

“He is looking forward to it.” I smiled softly. “I love you.”

“I love you, too, Lisapet.” He kissed me so sweetly. “Think you can face the crowd now?”

I took a deep breath. “Yeah.”

I blushed when everyone cheered as we entered. It wasn’t just the bridal party and parents. Neil’s parents, Malcolm and Ellen O’Malley, were at the dinner since Neil’s father and Daddy have been best friends since college. The senior O’Malleys had hosted the parents’ lunch the day before. Father John was at the dinner, which I’d thought was an amazing concession on Stella’s part, given how she feels about the Church. Stella has good reason to hate Catholicism and priests and she and Sy were hosting the dinner as the parents of the groom. But for some reason, she really likes John. [No surprise there. That’s just who John is. – SEH]

Jesse was there because Kathy was one of my bridesmaids. Jesse, a professional photographer, had decided he wanted to take the pictures, so he’d declined to be one of the groomsmen. Frank and Esther were both part of the wedding party, so they were there. Henry and Lydia James were there because Henry was also a groomsman, and they’d brought Angelique Carter. Ange is Henry’s secretary as well as a good friend. Stella had also invited Sid’s old friend from high school, Tom Freeman, who had come down from San Francisco to attend the wedding.

On my side of the family, my two uncles and their wives were there, as was Grandma Caulfield. My cousin Maggie and her husband, Jed, were not.

That was kind of a weird story. Mama had gotten them an invite to our wedding because Sid and I had gone to their wedding the previous fall. But right near the end of January, Mama called to tell me that Maggie and Jed were breaking up and Maggie wanted to know if I’d mind if she kept the coffeemaker Sid and I had gotten them for their wedding because she used it every day and really liked it. Well, that freaked me out, what with my own ambivalence about getting married. Only Mama said that it was a good thing because Maggie had gotten a really great job in Tallahassee and moved up there from the town in Southern Florida where my folks are from. Jed was supposed to move, but decided he didn’t want to. Maggie realized that she was having more fun in Tallahassee than she was with Jed, and told him that if he wanted to stay married, he’d have to move, which made Mama happy because it meant that Maggie had finally grown a backbone.

I told Mama it was fine if Maggie kept the coffeemaker. Then Maggie sent Sid and me a set of six lovely hand-thrown coffee mugs for our wedding with an uncharacteristically sweet note thanking us for being so nice about the coffeemaker, but she wouldn’t be able to make the wedding because she couldn’t get off work.

The rehearsal dinner was lovely, with good food, some nice bubbly, and lots of laughter. The kids ran around everywhere. We had just been served dessert when Mama and Stella got up. Mama had a big, flat, white box in her hands.

“I promise this will not be at the reception tomorrow,” Mama said, handing Sid the box. “But Stella and I thought you both might like to have it, anyway.”

I opened the lid to the box and pulled out a huge binder that had been padded and covered with pink, white, and blue striped cotton. Nick hung over our shoulders as I opened the album. The first picture was a recent shot Mae had gotten of Sid and me together with Nick, but the next one featured a black-and-white photo of Stella as a younger woman holding a small infant. Sid’s first picture. Mama and Stella had set the photos up in chronological order, so the first few pages were of Sid only, since he’s older than me. Sid smiled at my first picture, though, and touched it. It’s a shot of Daddy sitting in an easy chair, with Mae, then almost six-years-old, leaning on the chair’s arm, looking at a tiny infant in Daddy’s arms. I was already a month old at that point and still smaller than most newborns.

“Mom? Is that you?” Nick asked. “Why are you so small?”

“I was born prematurely,” I said.

Mama’s voice shook. “We almost lost her a few times. She was getting sick all the time when she was little, then roughhousing and getting into trouble as she grew up.”

Sid smiled at me. I was still getting into trouble and risking my neck. We kept turning pages. Given how many shots there were of Sid in his birthday suit, even well into his teens, I was glad that the album would not be at the reception.

“Well, you gonna pass that around?” Uncle Leonard hollered. He and my Uncle Stephen are identical twins and Mama’s older brothers.

Mama looked up from a picture of Sid and several of his friends without any clothes on sitting around a small living room.

“I don’t think so, Leonard. This is just for Sid and Lisa.”

Sid and I looked at each other, and I couldn’t help giggling. We’d both been worried that Mama would put out an album of our baby pictures at the reception, even though both of us had protested vociferously and repeatedly. Given Mama’s response to her brother, I got the feeling that Sid’s photos might have deterred her.

There were not a lot of shots of either Sid or me after we’d left high school. But Mama and Stella had included several photos from Nick’s baby album, then several shots of the three of us together.

“That’s really nice,” Sid said, closing the album.

Stella smiled, then tapped on her glass with a clean knife. “I believe it is time to drink a few toasts to our bride and groom. Bill, would you be so good as to make the first toast?”

Daddy grinned as he stood. “Thank you, Stella.”

The bottles were passed around and glasses filled. Daddy tapped his glass and paused as the room quieted. His grin was just a touch evil as he looked at Sid.

“Sid, how did you put it once? Yes. That you were the last man on earth that I wanted to see my daughter with.”

Sid laughed.

Daddy chuckled. “You were right.” He winced. “There’s a bit of a problem here, though. My daughter does not seem to care about that. One thing I have learned over the years is that if my Lisle makes up her mind about something, she’s usually right. And she has made her mind up about you. Sid, you are a good man. More to the point, you love my girl. Now, I know she is going to tell me that she does not need you to take care of her, and she doesn’t. But you damned well better, son. And welcome to the family. To the bride and groom.”

We laughed as the others drank from their glasses. But then Stella got up.

“There are a lot of people in this room, and probably even more at the wedding tomorrow, who are surprised to see Sid settling down,” she said, then smiled at Sid. “I, however, am not. For one thing, as a boy, Sid was always deeply kind and very loyal and protective of his friends. And while he definitely enjoyed sleeping around, and it was certainly part of the culture at the time, I could see that he was happiest with the two or three young women he called friends. Even back then, I knew that what he really wanted was a relationship.” She paused and took a deep breath. “Then there is Lisa. Now, some of you know that Sid and I were estranged for over sixteen years. But last November, Lisa walked into my music school. She somehow managed to convince me that the time was ripe for a reconciliation. I’m still not sure how she knew. I did know the look on Sid’s face that afternoon when he saw her walk up. He was happy, and that meant the world to me. Lisa, you gave me my son back. I cannot thank you enough.”

I couldn’t help but weep, and I was not the only one in the room wiping their eyes. I got up and hugged Stella.

All too soon, the dinner was over, and Mama and Mae tried to pull me to their car. I debated making a fuss and going home with Sid, but my dress and my overnight bag were already over at Mae’s place. I put my foot down long enough to spend a couple moments with Sid, kissing him goodnight. We quietly arranged for me to call him the next morning. Then Mama and Mae swooped down and carried me off. I looked back. Sid looked so forlorn.

Thank you for reading. For more information about the Operation Quickline series, click here.

Please check out the Fiction page for the latest on all my novels. Or look me up at your favorite independent bookstore. Mine is Vroman’s, in Pasadena, California.

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