Lisa and Damon stood up with everyone else and cheered as Rachel and Bobby sealed their vows with a kiss. Who would've thought that those two would be knot-tying first? Though it had come as a shock, since they'd always talked marriage down, hearing them speak their I-do's was tremendous. Damon turned to Lisa, winking at her and playfully suggested, "Wanna make this a double wedding?"
The interior of this huge, glassed-in, air-conditioned botanical garden tilted on its axis. Lisa was still sweating from nerves in her silky, pale teal Maid of Honor dress. She looked drop-dead divine in it, but didn't steal Rachel's thunder. The bride was a knockout too, looking invincibly gorgeous; her wedding gown was a dazzling modern strapless number with pearlescent white feathers sewn into the skirt. Her veil of snow white petals was icing on the cake, a delightful confection.
Blushing, Lisa replied, "Like where your head's at...but..."
"If I got married without Bonnie being here, she'd die." Lisa wasn't kidding; her mother would die of disappointment, missing her baby's wedding. A day she'd long dreamed of, often. In addition, she would've died of wondering where had she gone wrong. "Rain check for sure." Nodding, Lisa avidly repeated, "Rain check." Damon slung his arm around her trimmer waist and squeezed hard. Going over the setting visually for the umpteenth time, she couldn't figure out why Rachel and Bobby had bothered to hire a florist. The botanical garden was crammed with tropical flowers and greenery all over the place. Everywhere, as far as the eye could see, lush flora greeted all eyes. The newlyweds were surrounded by red and white roses. Beautiful was the hallmark of the day. This wing of the garden had been shut down just for them, sparing them the intrusion of curious visitors stopping to gawk.
A pristine-looking waterfall flowed down the rock wall behind the ceremonial set-up, creating soothing overtones in the background. Cheering was still going up for the convivial bride and groom as they exited into a festively-decorated smaller room behind the waterfall where the reception would be held. Lisa wasted no time extracting herself from Damon as she scrambled after Rachel for Maid of Honor duties. Duty number one...looking after the bride's train while entering the reception room. The cake had already been brought in. Plates sat on a table piled high with fancy hors d'oeuvres. Thirty chairs had been arranged around six round tables. Guests were filing in as an air of excitement kicked into higher gear.
Adam walked in with his girlfriend Tammy. Lizzy and Joe came next, with Damon following behind just as Rachel and Bobby entered the Reception from an adjacent room that was off to the right of where they and the wedding party would be sitting. Another eruption of cheers echoed off of the glass walls.
"Lisa, everything is perfect," Rachel squealed in sheer elation, pulling her into a hug, entangling Lisa in a daze of giggles, perfume and arms. "You did good, kiddo." She sighed and attached a dreamy quality to the word again. "Perfect."
"You deserve it to be, Rach. This is your day."
"And you deserve to enjoy it with Damon," Rachel insisted, glancing over in his direction and smiling as if she guarded a secret as she shooed Lisa away.
"He wants to marry me," she said, sounding mystified, as if his impulse had been outrageously far-fetched despite her endorsement.
"He'd better, and he'd better be quick about it too. He lets you get away, it'll be the biggest mistake of his fly-by-night life," Rachel chided.
Once feeding the crowd had been taken care of, the band got folks from tapping their feet to taking to them for dancing, filling the floor. Lisa was full of ribeye, well-done, scalloped potatoes and green beans almondine. Relieved and happy that the wedding and the reception had gone off without a hitch, she felt a surge of happiness pulse through her. Under his spell, she grabbed Damon's hand, stood up, pulling him up along with her. She ignored his active head-shaking in protest.
"Uh, uh, Princess. No can do. I don't dance."
She wasn't having it. "You do now." Grinning, Lisa latched onto his arm and lugged him to the dance floor. Wrapping her arms around his middle, she pulled him in close. "Like I'm an expert? I don't really know how to either, except for a few modern dance classes I once took. Oh, and I tried belly dancing, on a dare...that was hilarious. You can't actually belly dance to Selena Gomez or Ariana Grande. So, it's not like you're by yourself."
"Belly dancing, huh? You gotta give me a private demonstration of that." While rolling his eyes, and acting like he was resisting, Damon smiled as he leaned his forehead up against Lisa's. "Guess what I really wanna do," he softly asked.
"Marry me, like you said," Lisa piped up.
"Yeah, that...but before that."
"Go behind that waterfall and kiss me breathless?"
"Seriously-you really can read my mind now. Scary. Maybe I shouldn't marry you, y'know? You'll spoil all the fun of keeping things from you."
Lisa smacked his shoulder about as playfully as he'd said that.
"But, it's cool. It's cool. I'll get used to it."
"Going behind the waterfall will have to wait. This is Rachel and Bobby's day after all," Lisa reminded.
"Yeah, yeah. True that," Damon agreed. He scooched down to kiss her; her lips tasted like champagne, intoxicating, when he did. She went even fuzzier inside. How much dancing they did was debatable. There was more holding each other and swaying, with Lisa choosing to stay like that forever in his arms, surrounded by family and friends and exotic flowers and sweeping green leaves, comfortably languishing in their private version of paradise.
Tammy and Adam were dancing on the other side of the room. Lisa caught Adam's eye, giving him a mellow smile, which prompted him to wave at her. Several hours rolled by and gradually guests began clearing out. It wasn't long before only a few remained. Everyone had waved goodbye to Rachel and Bobby as they had drove off. They would be making a pit stop before heading to the airport in Columbia before flying off to honeymoon in Spain. Rachel spoke a fair amount of Spanish to make their three-week junket of bliss on the Costa del Sol interesting. Following the newlywed's departure, the botanical gardens crew wasted no time removing tables and chairs, like so much finished business. The rest of the wedding party picked up whatever needed picking up and made sure everything was in order just the way they'd found it when they'd first shown up that morning to avoid any additional charges for negligence.
Already dark outside when they finally left the building, Lisa and Damon walked out arm-in-arm. Her feet sore, she limped in her high heels. Determined to ease her pain, Walker scooped her up in his arms and carried her the rest of the way to his truck. Impishly, he told her, "I've got you now. Forget about going anywhere without me." He was grinning like a lovey-dovey schoolboy.
"Pretty sure of yourself, Mister? Huh?" Lisa ribbed. "That's if I let you get me." On the drive home, she drove him to distraction, nibbling the shell of his ear, kissing his neck softly. His groans punctuated her ministrations which showcased just how much she cared.
"Oh, my-Lanta, Lisa," Damon cried, "you're killin' me! And when we crash, that's what could happen. We'll be killed!" His raspy whimpering continued filling the cab. "You're driving me crazy!"
As she laughed, she whispered into his ear, "Hush your lips! You're driving me crazy in that tux." Nibbling on his ear, she pledged, "I love you, Damon. More than just telling you that can express." She never tired of declaring her love for him. Each time she breathed it, she came alive.
"See...we should've gone ahead and done it. Gotten married along with Rach and Bobby," Damon insisted, not a hint of mirth in is tone. "Too bad this ain't Vegas. I'd drive this truck straight to a chapel."
Lisa began giggling uncontrollably and nailed, "You're perfect. Insane, funny and frank. Always the way I like you. Wonderful and perfect."
"Far from it," Damon contradicted and swiftly asserted, "you're the one. The one for me, forever and ever...till...you know the rest."
While nodding, she added, "I now pronounce us unofficially married. You agree too?"
Nodding along with her, he capped, "Me too. I do."
The rest of the way home, they talked about setting a date and actually did, agreeing that in early fall they'd marry officially. As summer neared its end, Lizzy opened up the opportunity for Lisa to realize one of her dreams, furthering her culinary arts aspirations. Lizzy advocated that she should accept a job teaching baking classes. How great was that since Damon was customarily around, working at the same premises? Lisa decided she'd be able to sell her car and hitch rides from him. They were saving up for their wedding and a house of their own. No living with Bonnie after their marriage for them. Being independent young marrieds was their goal. Bonnie, Lizzy and Joe were all for that.
The plan was for Lisa's teaching a Level 1, Baking Basics class five nights a week to absolute newbies, as she had once been. The instruction was intended for people who inhaled baked goods, but had never baked a thing in their lives. She loved these eager hopefuls' potential, and relished working with them more than she had ever thought she could love any job. She doted on how they lit up when they eventually understood what they had struggled with. When confidence sparked in their eyes, once they got the hang of separating eggs like a pro, creaming butter and sugar like a seasoned baker, or scraping the bowl to perfection after many failed attempts, Lisa glowed, radiating enthusiasm and conviction. Her students varied in ages and backgrounds. The oldest was a recently-divorced father of four; he was lonely, and had figured he could meet a nicer category of women here more easily than in some dive bar. His name was Lloyd; Lisa could tell he was self-conscious and a tad intimated by all four women who, he figured, knew their way around a kitchen better than he did.
Time and again, Lisa would remind him that anyone could bake. How many times had Lizzy told her that? At least a million. If she hadn't told her that over and over, she would have given up long ago. Fourteen going on fifteen-year-old, Tammy, Adam's adorable girlfriend had decided to give Lisa's class a try. The cheerful teen was joining class a few days into the new school year, on a Thursday night. Before this week's class began, Tammy, somewhat shy, but receptive, approached Lisa wearing baggy, navy blue leggings and a pink T-shirt with the word Dance positioned diagonally across it.
"Um..." Tammy murmured, lightly tapping Lisa's shoulder.
Turning to her and smiling warmly, Lisa knew she looked familiar, although not quite placing where she knew her from. Not yet, anyway.
"Hi. I'm Tammy. Adam's girlfriend," she said, prefacing the introduction with an apologetic look.
"Hi back at ya," Lisa brightly returned, grinning. "I know who you are." She pictured her with Adam in the same breath. "Welcome!"
Revealing pink braces cramming her mouth when she smiled, Tammy haltingly admitted, "I've never done this before. But...well, Adam is sure that I'll like it...maybe." She went on speaking more softly. "It'll all be new to me. I know nothing about baking. Just that I love cake. I like it a lot." She relaxed more, having admitted that.
"Good. That's a start. That's where I started. Chocolate buttercream's my favorite." Lisa unconsciously licked her lips, imagining a creamy, thick slice before her eyes as her mouth watered. "There's nothing to worry about. These nice folks are beginners too." Lisa reached for an apron lying nearby and handed it to Tammy. "See that empty spot next to Betty? That's yours. Make yourself at home in this kitchen. Tonight, we're reviewing measuring the foolproof way."
Tammy studied the spot Lisa had insisted was hers and without another word, headed straight for it. Positioned between Grace and Anna, who showered her with big, friendly smiles, Tammy flashed Lisa a grin, her way of saying: "Okay, I'm not only here. I'm willing to really give this a try."
Lisa cleared her throat, eyed all of her students considerately. "So...just to re-emphasize. For Tammy's benefit, and Tammy, this might sound very strange. Nevertheless...it's truly important. Everyone, if everything else seems too much for you to handle, if you just get this, I promise you, the rest of the stuff will happen. This likely will sound like it's something more for a dance class. Nice idea on your T-shirt, by the way, Tammy. It was what I thought when I first heard it from my mentor and employer, Lizzy, but believe me, it works for baking too. It's your center of gravity. Your home base. Your flour and liquid, sugar and butter, so to speak. Then comes the decoration."
This was the way Lisa always began her class. Having good posture had been the first thing she'd learned from Lizzy. Back then, all the fuss about standing correctly had seemed silly. She hadn't signed up for dancing, but, over time, Lisa had come to appreciate that it was the most essential facet of having what one wanted to turn out well actually realized. Good baking began with getting the foundation right, and that started with the baker. Just like with any sturdy house erected, for instance; a good foundation was its start. That was a vital principle to be remembered, not only for house building, dance, or baking, but for life also, and especially for love.
"So, starting from our feet up, with our weight in our heels...bend your knees slightly and slowly breathe in. Close your eyes and slowly breathe out. Now, relax and pretend that your bellybutton has a string that's pulling the rest of your abdomen up. Imagine another string too, attached at the center of your chest; it is pulling the rest of you up. Think confidence, not pride. Oh, and don't forget: tuck your tuckuses under."
Tammy giggled a little, more out of nervousness than thinking what Lisa had said was hilarious. Lisa did a spot check of her hopeful students and was pleased to see that they were quick to embrace her coaching. Even if her point of view seemed to have come out of left field. She began shaking out her hands, then flexing and unflexing her fingers, encouraging her students to do the same.
"Energy in the fingers," Lisa said in a clear, upbeat voice. A few more calming moments of doing this went by until she said in a commendatory tone, "That's great, everybody. At ease."
Enthusiastically, her students relaxed with audible sighs.
"Okay, now that we're all loosey-goosey, let's go over the fundamental of measuring ingredients properly, again, for Tammy's benefit. Leveling off cups of dry ingredients, such as flour, sugar, baking soda with the correct measuring cup. And that means using the appropriate measuring cup or spoon for the type of ingredient you're measuring." Lisa checked to see if they still wanted to be with her, and she was happy to see that no one appeared to have dropped out. Tammy looked to be taking the introduction in stride. She nodded at Lisa, smiling right back at her. Lisa stood at her work station, all set to demonstrate. "That being said...we'll start with baking soda. Watch me, then it'll be your turn." She began scooping baking soda until the measuring spoon was full. "See how I'm leveling the spoon off with the straight edge of the spatula. A knife can be used too. Never measure the ingredients over the recipe bowl. If you pour too much, or level extra into the bowl, your measurements won't be accurate."
Lisa paused long enough for those knowledge nuggets to sink in. "Questions?"
No one's hand went up. Tammy munched on her lower lip, her eyes glued to Lisa.
"Okay. Ready to try what I just demonstrated for yourselves?" she posed, seeing eagerness in those attentive pairs of eyes as her fledglings nodded their consent. Time for Tammy to get her hands 'dirty.'
"That's the spirit. Begin then, and I'll come by just to peek in on how well you're doing. Offer pointers, if they're needed, here and there. Nobody should feel intimidated, especially those of you who have done this before. Like I say ad nauseum; you're here to learn, I'm here to make it understandable and enjoyable. Let me tell you, when it comes more naturally, it's fun. Trust me."
Tammy raised her hand then, and after Lisa nodded at her, she asked, "When we actually bake something, whatever it is, and it's not burnt, do we get to eat it?"
With a laughing lilt to her voice, Lisa grinned as she answered, "You bet you do. That's more than half the fun of this whole baking thing. If you don't get to eat, what's the point?"
Tammy and her fellow rookies gave their thumbs-up and Lisa couldn't help but feel elation, all abubble. The nervous tension she had initially felt when she'd helmed her first class had long since fizzled. She'd found her niche, and it fit her just fine. "There is nothing more important than enjoying as you bake, and enjoying the finished product. Creating something absolutely yummy." At that precise moment, Damon stuck his head in, flashed her a million-watt smile, which Lisa elatedly flashed back, as the word yummy consumed her thoughts. She'd fallen hard for him, harder than she'd ever thought it was possible to fall for a man, her man, the one who had hijacked her heart on that whimsical, autumnal day at that carefree flea market, back when her world had all but imploded. He wasn't perfect, but he was perfect...for her.
And she was the perfect woman for him, real, strong and quietly wise. He liked telling her she was his Rock.