Chapter 9: A Less Bittersweet Ending:

After over six months of planning, scheduling, phone-calling, and several minor squabbles, the wedding between Katrina and I is finally in session. It is set in the middle of the expansive grassy meadow just behind the Plum Tree Country Club, covered by several white tents to shade everyone and everything from the scorching late-afternoon sun. In addition to a large amount of Katrina's family, the entire population of Kicksburg has been invited to enjoy the festivities today; I know that sounds excessive, but that's just what you do when you live in a town this small.

As for me, I've just walked up the red-carpeted aisle, passing by a small table with a wedding photo of my late parents, complete with a note-card that reads "Wish You Were Here - Ryan & Leslie Simmons" all typed in bolded, italicized cursive. A photograph of Pietro, Katrina's late elder brother, is also present, complete with a similar note-card. I am currently sitting by the altar in the stereotypical groom getup, but with my own twist on it, in that I'm wearing a necktie since I've always hated how bowties look on me.

I would be bored just sitting here, but thankfully I've got the company of fellow Kicksburg resident, Ike Van Dyke, a man who I've always thought looks like 80s era Phil Collins. He's a local celebrity of sorts within the town due to his astonishing speaking voice and astounding sense of humor, and pays the bills by acting as an announcer and commentator for things like sporting events, graduations and mayoral debates. Why, he was even the priest at my parents' funeral, so it only makes sense to have him be today's preacher.

At this point, I'm finally able to relax, knowing that the very thing I want more than anything right now is practically at my fingertips. I don't have much time to examine the crowd, as the DJ starts to play "You Are My Lady" by Freddy Jackson, and my wife-to-be finally makes her appearance, looking more spectacular than ever. Prior to the event, I asked Katrina to surprise me with her dress, and the surprise turns out to be quite pleasant. The strapless, form-fitting number stops halfway down her thighs, exposes the top half of her chest, and is flecked with microscopic diamonds that sparkle like champagne under a sunrise. Her translucent white veil is propped up by her beehive, and most peculiarly, she's chosen not to forgo her glasses for this ceremony, probably because she knows how much I adore them. Completing the look is a bouquet of red, white, and pink roses.

Alfonzo's khaki suit is covered in black pinstripes and has a pink rose in the pocket. With a proud smile on his face, he walks his daughter up seventy-five percent of the aisle. Seeing the two right next to each other makes me realize just how diminutive the former truly is. Walking on either side of the pair are Sting and Dean, both wearing matching white collars with black bow-ties on them. Each dog has a basket on its back that's tilted in such a way that the rose-petals are sprinkled out as they move.

After Alfonzo lets Katrina go to walk the rest of the way, however, his expression changes from pride to shock as he stares at his daughter's behind. He nudges Priscilla, who is sitting in the row next to him with all the bridesmaids and best men.

"Priscilla! What is that?! I thought you supervised her!" I can barely hear him say.

"Oh, lighten up a bit, Padre," Priscilla replies nonchalantly. "She wanted to go commando, but I wasn't having any of that shit."

"Great, but how do you explain that?!" Alfonzo asks.

"I made her wear black granny-panties instead, knowing damn well how tight that dress would fit!" Priscilla all but fails to stifle a laugh. "And before I could stop myself, I also told her not to wear any pasties!"

Alfonzo rolls his eyes and loudly face-palms in response. Big sisters and their pranks, am I right? Katrina doesn't physically acknowledge the discussion behind her, most likely too ecstatic to care. The smile I've seen spread across her face countless times before is warmer and bigger than ever as she finally stands next to me at the altar. Ike clears his throat into a microphone in order to silence the crowd.

"Good afternoon, folks! I hope you've all had a great day so far!" he begins. "And hopefully there'll be countless great days to come for both Mark Simmons and Katrina Vicciotelli, as they at long last tie the knot today."

The crowd erupts into a quiet applause before Ike speaks up again.

"Honestly, marriage is truly one of the most amazing adventures that one can go through during their lifetime. It allows them to fully realize both themselves and their spouses, providing countless opportunities to make new discoveries and tap into previously unknown potential," he says. "It gives you one less house and bank account to manage, and not to mention it takes a lot of the shame out of fornicating together."

This prompts a considerable amount of laughter from the guests. As Ike continues his tirade, I momentarily tune him out and take a glance at Katrina. Just as her father noticed, she does indeed have visible panty-lines, and I also notice that her dress has a plunging back as well, which thankfully stops before it can reveal her tramp-stamp. I wouldn't mind that personally, but Lord knows Alfonzo would have some choice words on the matter. Before long, she leans in and whispers into my ear.

"Don't get me wrong, I can't tell ya' how ecstatic I am right now, but..." she says, a small quaver in her voice. "I... kinda' wish my ma was here to see dis'. I-I'm sure she'd be cryin' buckets right now… especially if she hadn't forgotten who I am."

"Yeah," I whisper back, clenching her hand tighter. "I wish my parents were here too. But all we can do is tell her the good news afterwards."

"So! Let's get this show on the road, shall we?" Ike says at last. "Now groom? Why don't you raise your right hand for me? Now. Markus Nathaniel Simmons: do you hereby solemnly swear to protect your new wife 'till death do you part? Through health and illness? Through whatever else life dares to throw your way?"

"I do," I reply confidently.

"Alright, your turn. Katrina René Vicciotelli: do you hereby solemnly swear to protect your new husband 'till death do you part? Through health and illness? Through whatever else life dares to throw your way?" Ike asks.

"I do," Katrina replies, beaming with excitement and enthusiasm.

"Very well, then," Ike says as he closes his book. "Mark? You may now kiss the bride. And you'd better make it count, you hear me?"

With the song's final verses still playing, I say nothing as I lift Katrina's veil ever so delicately, before slipping my right arm around her tiny, supple waist. I hold her right hand in my left as I lean in for a deep kiss, both of us gently closing our eyes during the impact between our lips. The kiss sways the crowd into applauding loudly, complete with whistles and cheers. It makes me think back to our very first kiss during that public dance at the Four Seasons over in San Francisco, and what an unbelievable moment that was for both Katrina and myself.

"YEAH, KATRINA!" I hear some woman shout over the applause, her accent sounding like a hybrid between Brooklyn and New Orleans. "YOU GO GIRL!"

The ceremony ends as Collin steps up, holding two golden wedding rings on a small pillow that my mother knitted decades ago, clad in a dark blue suit that allows us to see him in a whole new light after our unforgettable experiences with him in the past. We slip the rings onto each other's fingers, eliciting some more applause. Before long, the guests are dismissed, but not before we run back down the aisle, our fingers interwoven tightly as the bridesmaids shower us with uncooked rice.

The social hour that follows the ceremony is quite hectic, with the crowds of people who want to congratulate us and ask questions, and the countless pictures that we're asked to take with various guests, as well as the ones we want to take with just ourselves. During this time, I try to interact with Katrina's relatives as much as possible, for due to our marriage, I will likely be interacting with them much more often in the future. Most of the Vicciotellis have either an Italian accent, or some type of New York accent, and there are even a sizable number of them who aren't fluent in English, forcing Katrina to translate their words for me.

Following social hour is the wedding feast. The meal consists of English-cut prime rib, red-wine gravy, bacon-infused creamed spinach, mashed potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, chopped salad, and sourdough rolls with three flavors of butter, alongside assorted alcohol, and plain water for the underaged. Alfonzo initially offered to cater our wedding with food from his own restaurant, but we ultimately turned him down, choosing instead to recreate the meal from our very first date.

At every wedding I've been to up until this point, the marrying couple never managed to participate in the feast even though it was supposed to be their day. So for this wedding, I've chosen to break tradition and have the bride and groom get first dibs on the food. Everyone eats so heartily that we run out of absolutely every component of the meal, and only after everything is finished do the countless, simultaneous conversations pick up again. The food turns out to be incredible and almost as good as it had been on that fateful evening, despite not being made by the same people.

Dessert, as tradition would have it, consists of a bride's cake and a groom's cake. For my cake, I've simply chosen red-velvet, while Katrina's isn't really a cake at all, but a tiramisu made by her father. Per age-old wedding customs, we both feed each other a bite of our own desserts before we cut them for everyone else. Katrina and I both choose to eat our dessert more quickly than the others, for we already know what event is going to transpire next.

Before that happens, though, Priscilla looks towards us from further down our personal table, where the bride, groom, best men, and bridesmaids are all sitting. She motions for me to move to her location, instantly making me remember the surprise we secretly planned with Alfonzo's help. I get up and follow her towards the edge of the tent we're under, beckoning for Katrina to follow me.

"Mark, what's this about?" she asks.

"Nothing's wrong. In fact, I'm sure you're gonna love it," I reply.

The three of us cut through the crowd until we reach the edge of the tent, where we see Alfonzo speaking with a woman around his age who looks like Stevie Nicks, maintaining her balance with a mahogany cane that has a black rubber grip. A noticeably younger woman is also standing at attention, and I immediately guess that she's the live-in assistant. Katrina gasps at the sight of this.

"Surprise!" Priscilla and I exclaim in unison.

"Hey Renata! Look who is here!" Alfonzo says, extending his arm out in Katrina's direction.

"Oh? Uh... wh-who is this?" Renata asks, confused.

"That is Katrina. Your daughter. Our daughter," Alfonzo replies, placing a hand on his wife's shoulder.

"Oh, right! S-So is... she the one whose wedding we're at?" Renata asks.

"That's right!" Katrina grins at her mother, sounding as if she's about to burst into tears.

"What do you say?" Alfonzo asks his wife.

"Oh! Uhm... c-congratulations, Katrina! I... I could never be more proud of you!" Renata replies as she hugs her daughter, sounding as though she might cry as well.

After Priscilla and I engage in a fist-bump, I continue to watch the touching moment and I can't help but smile. I can see Katrina's body jerk slightly as her face contorts into a mixture of sadness and joy, a single tear rolling down her cheek. When they withdraw, she immediately runs up to hug me.

"So did you like the surprise?" I ask.

"'Like' doesn't even begin to describe it," Katrina replies, sniffling. "Thank you, Mark… for everything!"

"You're welcome," I reply sincerely.

"Alright, everyone! Please direct your attention to the dance-floor for the bride-and-groom dance!" Ike says into a microphone. "...You hear that, you two? Get your asses out here and dance for us!"

After the two of us finally partner up on the floor, the preacher steps off stage and Priscilla steps up. She and the other bridesmaids are dressed in violet silk dresses with bold slits on the left and golden sashes around the waist that match their high heels. A dark red rose is stuck in her beehive, and diamonds the size of shelled sunflower seeds are worn on her ears, and around her wrists and neck.

"Hey everyone! For those who for some reason don't know who I am, I'm Priscilla Vicciotelli, a proud relative to my little sis, Katrina," she starts. "I'll be providing the backup music for the bride-and-groom dance, and I honestly couldn't be any happier to be in this position right now. And Katrina? I... I just want you to know that... even though I wasn't always the nicest to you growing up, I've always been proud of you, and... and today is no exception! So, congratulations! Oh, and Mark: take good care of my sister, or I'll be coming for your blood!"

Everyone in the audience roars with laughter, followed by another round of applause. Following a brief drum-solo, the school band from Kicksburg High begins to play "Never Knew Love Like This Before" by Stephanie Mills, with the cheerleading squad occupying the role of backup dancers. Given that she's an acknowledged Broadway star, it comes as no surprise that Priscilla has a good singing voice, though admittedly her vocals aren't very suited for pop music.

As she performs, a massive projection screen is behind her, displaying a slideshow of childhood photos of both myself and Katrina, as well as several couples' pictures. One particularly noteworthy example is a Halloween photo, in which I'm dressed up as Two-Face, while Katrina is portraying a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. During the entire song, Katrina and I dance exactly as we did on the night of our first date, though at a slightly faster pace, also taking the time to notice that Renata, Alfonzo, and the caretaker have moved up front to watch us dance.

"Heh heh, I guess sometimes it helps to have a sister who's on Broadway," Katrina says, quietly enough so that only I can hear her. "Cause I can't sing worth a damn."

We end the song with another kiss on the mouth, and following a round of applause, I casually step off of the dance-floor.

"Alrighty, folks! Next up, we would have the mother-son dance, but sadly, the lovely Leslie Margaret Simmons couldn't be here with us," Ike says. "So instead, we're just gonna jump ahead to the father-daughter dance! Alfonzo, that means you."

"With pleasure," Alfonzo replies cheerfully. "For years I've been told that I have two left feet!"

This earns a few chuckles from the wedding guests. For the father-daughter dance, Priscilla sings again, this time performing a cover of "Mama Used To Say" by Junior Giscombe and Luciano. Katrina dances with her father much like she did with me, before they end the song with a tight hug.

"Alright, now that those traditional events are out of the way, why don't you all come out on the floor and partner up?" Ike asks. "I mean, c'mon! Just because you're not the ones getting married doesn't mean you shouldn't enjoy yourselves!"

Almost immediately after he finishes speaking, everyone partners up, the dance-floor just barely big enough to hold everyone who's attended the wedding. The band proceeds to play covers of "Strangers in the Night" by Frank Sinatra, "Right Down The Line" by Gerry Rafferty, "You're The First, The Last, My Everything" by Barry White, and "Woman" by John Lennon. Instead of Priscilla, the vocals are provided by a combination of the student choirs from the local elementary, middle, and high schools, giving each song a noticeably different feel. The vocals are beautiful in their own way, and the choir even adds in the occasional extra harmony that the original songs lack.

Following this playlist, everyone on stage makes their exit and the DJ assumes responsibility for the rest of the evening's music. All songs played until the wedding ends are choices that Katrina had made, and I'm honestly not too much of a fan of them. They're all upbeat, generic, modern party-anthems, which are utterly forgettable and pale in comparison to the more retro-styled music I enjoy. When the playlist first begins, the bass is accidentally turned up too high, nearly deafening everyone, and causing vibrations that we can feel through the floor itself.

"I thought the Earth wasn't supposed to move until after the wedding," I can hear Alfonzo groan nearby as he dances with Renata.

Oh, if only he knew! I think to myself sheepishly.

Fortunately, the bass is returned to a much more comfortable level, and the dancing continues, with decidedly less emphasis on partnering up and more emphasis on having fun and dancing like fools. Even I get in on the act eventually, and by the time the wedding grounds slowly start to clear out, it's around 8:00pm. We say goodbye to everyone who has shown up and thank them for attending, before cramming as much of our wedding cakes as we can into some complimentary plastic containers.

We set off for home in my Packard, which somebody had somehow managed to tie some rusty old cans onto without my knowledge. As Vladik carries the "souvenirs" from our big day into the house, Katrina and I choose to remain outside for a little while longer, staring upwards at the full moon and the countless stars that are infesting the indigo sky. I place my arm around her and she does the same to me. Though neither of us say anything, we both look into each other's eyes and smile softly, before sinking into a deep kiss. Both of us are somewhat tired from the act of getting married, yet filled with a near-incomprehensible amount of happiness at the thought of being an official couple and starting a whole new life together 'till death do us part… again.

~ ~ ~ The End ~ ~ ~