The two weeks leading up to the wedding passed in such a whirlwind that Chevy barely had time to think. Biddy had everything planned before anyone could so much as offer up a preference, which was just fine with her; it might have been her wedding, but the closer it came, the more Chevy realized: she was not ready for this. She had imagined being excited and in love and completely sure about the man she was going to marry, but as the day grew closer, she felt conflicted.
Rhys stirred up so many feelings in her that she wasn't sure which ones to follow. The engagement had seemed to change him; he was happier, but it was almost an act. As if he thought this was how he should act, and he overcompensated for something he was trying to hide. It made her uncomfortable. He flirted, but it seemed almost superficial. As if he were trying very hard to make sure Chevy did not change her mind.
Not that she would. Alice was over the moon to finally have a mother. Every morning, she bounced into Chevy's room, singing and twirling and chattering away about the wedding, in which she would be flower girl, of course, and seeing her joy reassured Chevy that this was the right decision. But when she saw Rhys, she wasn't so sure. There was something going on with him, and she was not quite sure what.
And now here they were, and it was the day before the wedding. There was no backing out now.
Chevy lay in bed staring at the ceiling, thinking about the past few days. She had met Rhys's parents, who seemed nice enough, over an awkward lunch wherein they asked about her family, made polite comments on the little details she did give them, and overall seemed much more interested in news about Alice. Chevy couldn't blame them; everything she said about her family was uncomfortable. Her father's death, her sister's pregnancy, her brother's failed marriage, her mother's inability to live alone... none of these things were great conversation pieces.
But, they made up for her lack of subjects with their own, telling her all about their other grandchildren, and showing a great love for Alice, who soaked up the attention with gusto. Chevy liked them, and hoped she was approved. They made no mention of the swiftness of the engagement, nor did they seem to notice how awkward Chevy felt accepting the sudden change in Rhys's actions. He had not yet tried to kiss her, but he held her hand whenever they went anywhere public, and he casually laid claim to her with an arm about her shoulder when they sat.
Turning onto her side, Chevy stared at the wedding dress, which hung on the closet door in all of its slightly outdated glory. It had belonged to a woman in town who had similar proportions to Chevy's tall and slender frame, and had been altered to remove some - but not all - of the overwhelming lace. If she had been able to choose her dream gown, this would not have been it. The train was long, the skirt covered in rows of lace, the sleeves pointing to a vee at the wrists... it was obviously a creation of the eighties. Thankfully, the puffy sleeves and high neckline had been taken away to diminish its garishness.
But none of it really mattered in light of the future. Someday, perhaps, Chevy could look back at her wedding and laugh at how mismatched and quickly done it had been. Or so she hoped.
When she heard Alice tromping down the stairs, she knew there was really no more avoiding the day. Today, she would be running around, finishing up the last little bits of planning, meeting her future mother-in-law for lunch, and wrapping everything up for the wedding tomorrow. It was going to be a long day, she already felt.
Sliding out of bed, she wrapped herself in a robe and went down the stairs after Alice. She and Rhys had not yet spoken of a subject that sat highly in her mind- the arrangements after the wedding. Would she continue to sleep in her room next to Alice's? Or would she move downstairs? The latter brought high color to her cheeks, and she bit her lip. What, exactly, was the marriage to entail? Rhys treated her differently now, but other than the hand-holding, occasional flirting, and arm around her shoulder, he made no advances.
Were they to be proper husband and wife, or only in name? The question burned hot on her mind as she came into the kitchen and saw Rhys helping Alice prepare pancakes for breakfast.
"Chevy! Good morning!" he said cheerfully, and Alice turned to give her a big grin.
"Daddy said we can put chocolate in our pancakes!" Alice said enthusiastically. "Do you want some? He said we were letting you sleep in because you might be stressed. What does stressed mean, daddy?" Alice turned to Rhys with an inquisitive look and he bit his lip to hide a smile.
"Well, do you remember how I told you Chevy and I are getting married?" he asked carefully, recalling the night he'd asked Chevy to marry him, and breaking the news to Alice. Of course, after it had been explained that Chevy would be Alice's mama, the little girl had been overjoyed.
Alice bounced happily. "Yes! And live with us forever and ever and ever!" she stated matter-of-factly, perhaps adding one or two more "ever's" than Rhys or Chevy had said.
"Right. Well, the wedding is tomorrow, yeah? And miss Chevy has a lot to think about before then." He looked up at Chevy, and his blue eyes bore a hole through her.
"Like what?" Alice asked innocently.
"Well, perhaps how she'll do her hair, or whether she wants to wear lipstick." He winked at Chevy to show he was making light of the situation for her benefit. Too many questions from the child would be hard to answer for Chevy right now, and he seemed to know that.
"Oh!" Alice ran to Chevy and grabbed her hand. "I know! You must wear flowers in your hair! But miss Chevy, you mustn't wear any lipstick or it might smear when you have your first kiss!" she said knowingly, and Chevy felt the pink creeping up her neck.
"Who told you that?" she inquired of the child.
"Grace, at the park; she said lipstick is much too messy for a kiss," Alice said matter-of-factly
Rhys scowled slightly. "And what would she know?" He seemed quite upset that his small daughter knew of something so innocuous as a kiss.
"She kissed billy!" Alice exclaimed, "and he had kiss marks on his cheek all day!"
Rhys relaxed slightly. "She kissed his cheek, did she? And she had lippy on?"
Alice nodded solidly. "Her mama let her wear pink lip gloss that day, and Billy was mad for the whole week." Her innocence shone with her words, and Chevy smiled.
"Well," she said, somewhat hesitantly, "I will be sure not to wear anything too showy, then."
Just the thought of walking down the aisle had her hands clammy and her heart jittering as though she'd had too much coffee. Rhys stared at her lips in a peculiar way, which didn't help in the least. Rubbing her moist palms together to dispel some of the sweat, she walked over to the counter where the pancakes had yet to be cooked, and said "now, what about that chocolate?"
Later that day, when Alice had gone up to her room to play and Chevy was getting ready to meet her future mother-in-law, Rhys found his way to her side where she stood stressing over whether to put her mother's likely empty seat at the family table or with Biddy and Paddy right beside. Unexpectedly, Rhys took the table arrangements from her hands, put them on the side table, and took her fingers lightly.
He waited for her to meet his eye, which she did reluctantly. "We don't have to kiss, you know." The offer was gentle and understanding. "We'll write it out of the service, nobody will miss it."
Chevy sighed and blushed. "No, I... it's just a kiss. Everyone expects it. And it might be a bit odd if we don't, you know; start new rumors and all."
He raised an eyebrow. "It's what you're worried about, though, isn't it? The wedding night. All of that." He did not seem embarrassed to bring it up.
She must have been a very bright shade of red by then, and she couldn't lie. Instead, she opted for avoiding his gaze and quickly saying "I have to meet your mother soon; I'd better go."
"Chevy," he said sternly. "You can't avoid this. We shouldn't avoid this."
Sucking her cheeks in, Chevy kept her eyes firmly on the ground and blurted, "Rhys, do you believe in God?"
He seemed a bit taken aback by the subject and shook his head. "I'm not... sure what I believe in at the moment."
"I do," she rushed on, her face on fire by this time. "I was raised conservative by parents who were overly protective of their daughters' virtues. I mean, they didn't believe in God but they preached the whole sin of sleeping together before you're married and being the oldest girl, I took it to heart. Hard. You'd think with my family history this wouldn't have been a thing, but it was. I um..." she felt her heart beating hard and harder and she couldn't look at him. "I felt guilty for kissing my boyfriend for the first time when I was eighteen."
Rhys tried to lift her chin, but she resisted. "What are you trying to say, Chevy?" he pressed.
"And then you know, every guy after that it felt a little less rebellious to kiss someone I was attracted to but still uh..." she felt the words burst out of her suddenly and she couldn't stop them even though she desperately wanted to. "When Jonathan tried to do more than kiss with me I avoided it. I just couldn't... by then I had come to believe in Jesus and it was against my faith to... to..." here, she faltered. "He was a little upset, but he said he respected my beliefs." Suddenly, it dawned on her, and she mumbled, "I suppose that's why he left me."
"Oh." Rhys immediately understood. "Are you saying you've never slept with anyone?" he put it somewhat delicately.
Chevy nodded, beyond embarrassed by this point. She didn't know if he found her attractive, if it was an act, if he even expected any of that after marriage, but she felt it was her duty to inform him of her utter innocence in that are. Or at least, the innocence she had fought to maintain despite the world and resources and Jonathan's constant barrage of reasons why it was a completely normal and adult thing to practice.
In the silence that ensued, Chevy felt she could melt into the floor. Rhys did not let go of her hands, but she felt him retracting all the same, and he seemed to withdraw into himself in the moment. Slowly, she pulled her fingers from his grasp and gathered up her purse while he remained silent. Her mortification prevented her from looking at him.
"I'd better go or I'll be late," she nearly whispered, and she slipped out the door before he could react.
Suddenly, it all made sense to Rhys. The constantly blushing, the stuttering, the insecurities she displayed when they spoke of the wedding procedures. Her pink cheeks when Biddy mentioned a honeymoon. Her look of scandal when Paddy joked of a baby eight months down the road. No wonder she didn't know what to do with him and his attempts to flirt. No wonder she wasn't quite responding to his efforts to woo her.
Perhaps she saw through the farce - although at this point Rhys had to admit to himself that it was not entirely farce - and perhaps it was merely innocence. Much like Alice, Chevy had limited knowledge of the more intimate workings of a marriage. A sense of guilt seeped into Rhys's mind, and he felt remorse for baiting her and teasing her. Where before he'd thought she was merely playing hard to get, he now understood that she simply didn't know how to respond. Or perhaps she felt it was inappropriate to respond.
Would she continue to feel this way post marriage?
Rhys rubbed his chin, feeling the prickle of a five-o'clock shadow and making note to shave before tomorrow, and wondered how to approach the situation. He could no longer lie to himself that all the attraction he felt was for Alice's sake. In a twisted way, he had been denying his own feelings as he felt it was a betrayal to his dead wife. As if Rose might care that he could find some sort of happiness while she watched from beyond the grave.
Chevy was an attractive woman in more ways than just the physical. In humor she understood him; she cared for Alice more than any other being had; she displayed a fierce sense of loyalty and kindness that he found to be soothing and beautiful. It didn't hurt that her face and form were his type; did he have a type? Where Rose had been small and mysterious, flat and wiry, Chevy was tall and open and curved in all the right places. She was the antithesis of his late wife, and he was drawn to her for her differences.
He needed to apologize to her. For the way he was acting, for putting on a face, for trying to hide his own insecurities. There were things she did not know about him that perhaps she should before they made the everlasting vow to be tied to each other till death. Things that would likely stick with him for the rest of his life; ghosts that would haunt him, habits that he had given up changing, addictions he did not know if he could resist.
And this innocent, attractive, nearly perfect woman needed to be aware of these things before she signed her life away in the morning. Her choice needed to be based on more than just care for Alice, and whether her newfound knowledge of him would drive her away or make her stay, he no longer cared. It was time for her to hear the entire story.