Home > Eden (Providence #3)(4)

Eden (Providence #3)(4)
Author: Jamie McGuire

Bex led us to the chapel on a dirt bike, while Cynthia commandeered the passenger seat. Beth squeezed against the door to my right to give the dress plenty of room.

“You are all being a little ridiculous about this dress. Once I get out of the truck, the wrinkles wil fal ,” I said.

“It’s possible. What wil you do if mud is splattered on it? Have you found a dry cleaner on the island?” Cynthia asked.

“Good point.”

Within half an hour, the truck was bouncing over familiar cobblestone streets. My heart pounded against my chest when the chapel’s steeple appeared above the palm trees, and I could barely restrain myself from bursting from the truck and running inside when the fountain, and then the wooden double doors came into view. Jared was inside, and the wait had already been an awful test of my patience.

Beth lightly touched the top of my hand, and only then did I realize I was tapping her knee.

“We’re here,” she said, pulling at the door handle.

Bex stood on the walkway with a wide grin on his face. “You look good.”

“Thanks,” I said, touched by his sentiment.

“Al right, enough chitchat. We’re not in the church, yet,” Cynthia said, orchestrating another transfer. She lifted the hem of one side of my dress while directing Beth to lift the other, and together we climbed the steps.

Inside, Lil ian waited. Once recognition hit, her eyes lit up, and she clapped her hands together, quickly bringing them to her mouth. “Oh. Oh my goodness,” she said, tears glossing her eyes. “You’re even more beautiful than I imagined.” She looked to Cynthia. “It’s so good to see you,” she said, hugging her old friend.

“As it is you,” Cynthia said with a warm but demure smile.

Lil ian blotted her eyes with a tissue and shook her head. She looked upon me with pure love and adoration. She had always regarded me with an adulation that I never quite understood, but the look in her eyes was new to me.

“May I seat you?” Bex said to Cynthia, offering his arm.

“Yes, thank you,” she said, walking with Bex into the church.

Lil ian watched them disappear behind the door, and then leaned into my ear. “You don’t know how long I’ve waited for this moment. You’ve always been family, Nina. I can’t explain it,” she whispered. A sweet, innocent laugh escaped her throat. “Some nights, after Jack and Cynthia took you home after I’d make you all dinner, I would cry.”

My eyebrows popped up. Lil ian was always so candid about her feelings for me. Even so, her words surprised me.

“Gabe used to shake his head. He always thought me to be irrational when it came to you. But each time you left my home, I felt I was letting my daughter go away to live with someone else. I must sound crazy. It sounds sil y to say out loud. I…I just wanted to tel you how happy it makes me that after today…I can cal you my daughter.”

I hugged her to me. The intensity of emotion in the room was overwhelming. I didn’t hear crazy. Lil ian’s words sounded like love.

“No, no, no, no…,” Beth said, pulling a tissue from her purse. “Don’t cry. Your mascara is waterproof, but it’s not magic. It could smudge.” She careful y dabbed under my eyes. “You’re only marrying the man of your dreams soon. What’s to cry about?”

I smiled. “Touché.”

The music sounded. Beth handed me an exquisite bouquet of pink and white tulips, winked at me, and then slid out of the double doors to take her walk. I stood alone in the vestibule, in my dress, holding my favorite flowers—the same Jared presented me on our first date. I was amazed, then, at the coincidence. Now it just made me smile. Why he was ever nervous about whether I would fal in love with him was a mystery. Not only was he the most thoughtful, most selfless and loving person I knew, he was also armed with the knowledge of all my likes and dislikes. He was more armed to win me over more than any man could any woman. The tulips were perfect. Jared had sent me this very bouquet many times over the course of our relationship. It just occurred to me that these flowers had also been sent to me before our relationship; on birthdays, my high school graduation, and I remember feeling comforted by a wreath at my father’s funeral bearing the same flowers. Jared had never mentioned it before, but I knew they were from him. That thought made me smile. He had loved me for a long time, and now I was about to walk down the aisle of our chapel, on our island, to pledge my eternal love to him. Life had never felt so right.

I thought about my father, and wished he were next to me. I imagined him in a smart tuxedo with teary eyes, fawning over my dress and how beautiful and grown up I looked. As a little girl, I imagined him giving me away at my wedding, and now he would have to do it from Heaven.

“I know you can see me, Daddy,” I whispered, closing my eyes.

Suddenly, I was no longer alone. Someone was beside me, with an arm hooked around my elbow.

“Hope you don’t mind a wedding crasher. Jack sent me,” Eli winked and tightened his grip.

“N-No,” I said, shaking my head. “Of course not.”

“I’ve always wanted to do this.” He stretched his neck and shoulders. “Looked like fun.”

“Thank you,” I said, as the wedding march began to play in the chapel.

“Ready, kiddo?”

I smiled, and took a deep breath. “Ready.”

Both doors swept open, held by two young local boys, and our smal audience stood.

Eli leaned into my ear. “You are breathtaking, by the way.” He took a step, and I fol owed his lead. Together we walked slowly down the aisle.

The sanctuary was a bit dim, with beams of sun breaking through the windows and spotlighting the different faces of our friends and family. The dust motes slowly floated in and out of the sunshine, delicate and graceful. I saw Jared’s Uncle Luke, first. I was surprised to see him, and it must have showed, because he and his wife Maryse chuckled softly at my expression. I was glad to see Chad sitting next to my mother, although it wouldn’t have occurred to her to feel…wel , anything...I didn’t want her to be alone. Lil ian, Luke and Maryse sat together in the first of the heavy, wooden pews, paral el to Cynthia and Chad. Luke whispered something into his sister’s ear, and Lil ian nodded, taking a deep, satisfied breath.

And then, I saw him. Jared stood next to Bex at the head of the chapel, at the top of a few steps that lead to the pulpit and the rest of the stage. Eli waited before he took a step, sensing that I had stopped in my tracks. Jared was dressed in a khaki suit with a white-button-up shirt. The top button was undone, and he skipped the tie. He looked perfect, and his bright blue-gray eyes were locked on me, over a slightly nervous, beaming smile.

Without thinking, I took a step, now anxious more than ever to be next to him. Eli picked up his pace as my feet insisted on placing the rest of me next to the man I loved more than life itself. My love for Jared surpassed needing normal, enough to conquer fate and beat death. In that moment I couldn’t fathom why I had waited so long, and I wanted to be nowhere else but in that chapel, making the easy promise to love him forever.

The reverend was short, swal owed by his officiant’s gown. His brown skin was dul and wrinkled, but his kind smile brightened his face. He spoke in a thick accent. “Hel o, Nina. I’m Father Julian.”

I nodded, my gaze returning to Jared.

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