Icy clumps of wet snow splashed across the floor of the church each time one of the heavy boots struck the wood. Outside fat snowflakes swirled around in the dark, making both boys glad that they were out of it.
“Father Healy, glad to see you’re not busy!” Alonso flexed his cold fingers as he spoke, trying to warm them up. The drive from the Christmas party at Turner’s house had been long and cold and snow had startedfalling halfway through, but they had made it all the way across town to St. Lawrence Church in record time.
Alonzo and Turner came quickly down the nave and knelt in front of the altar, crossing themselves. Father Healy looked on in confusion. “I’m sorry to say that you boys are rather late for Midnight Mass.”
Turner rose first and cleared his throat to speak. “Father Healy, we’ve come to ask a favor.”Father Healy eyed them with suspicion. Having known both of them since they were in knickers, the Father knew that when Turner and Alonzo got together, mischief usually ensued. “What can I do for you?”“I know it’s late, but would you consider performing one last ceremony tonight?” Turner’s heart beat faster and he tugged at his collar. “Please?” “What kind of ceremony?”
Alonzo cut excitedly into the conversation, “A marriage ceremony, Father! Alonso’s gone and got himself re- engaged to Fanny!”Father Healy stumbled back in astonishment, but a sly smile spread across his face. Quietly he turned his eyes heavenward and whispered, “Thank you, Father. It was about time!” Turner heard and blushed.Alonzo nodded excitedly, “So you’ll do it, then? The girls are on their way here as we speak. They stopped at Fanny’s house on the way and Charlotte was going to help her dress.”
Father Healy’s smile fell and he became serious. Coming around the altar, he looked Turner in the eye as he spoke. “This is highly irregular, I must say, and I cannot decide whether it should be permitted or not.”From over his shoulder, Father Healy heard Alonzo saying, “Please, you don’t know what a miracle this is forTurner! Why just this evening, I was I who convinced him that he and Fanny still deserved one another and-” Father Healy held his hand up to silence the eager young man. With his other he motioned to the first pew. “Have a seat, Turner.”
“Please, Father, you must try to see things from my point of view,” Turner pleaded.Father Healy let his eyes trace the thick scar that ran across Turner’s face. When he had come back from war, Father Healy had seen such a change in his young parishioner. The soldier that had gone off to war so eagerly had come back a new man: angry and spiteful. He had allowed bitterness to overtake him and, in the process, had managed to cut off almost all of his friends, including his beloved fiancé.
And yet, now he sat before the Father a changed man once again. Father Healy struggled to reason out the explanation. In his years as a priest, he had seen evidence of the power of love, but none so rapid as this. “I suppose the only question to ask here is: are you absolutely sure that you love her?” Turner’s head shook eagerly up and down. “One hundred per cent. It has taken me some time, but I have come to realize that I don’t have to let my scars define me. Yes, I have been affected by the war (who hasn’t)but I want the change to be for the better. I want to move on from the battles and the horrors. I want to move on with Fanny Bright at my side.”
“What’s takin’ so long?” Charlotte’s voice echoed through the church, her southern drawl more pronouncedwith her irritation. “Fanny and I have been positively freezin’ outside! We’ve been here for at least ten minutes, but nobody’s come out to say a word! Is the wedding ready to go or not?”
Father Healy chuckled at her enthusiasm and rose from the bench. “I have the feeling that you had something to do with this outrageous arrangement.”“What, little ol’ me?” Charlotte batted her eyes innocently. “So will there be a wedding or won’t there? Please don’t tell me that I got Fanny laced into that dress for nothing!” “Just allow me five minutes to talk to the bride herself,” Father Healy said and excused himself.
“Miss Bright.” Father Healy spotted her immediately; her voluminous white skirts positively glowed in the moonlight.
The snow swirled around, freezing his fingers and toes, but he ignored it. “Miss Bright, I have just receivedthe oddest request and I have come out to get your honest opinion on the manner. Do you or do you not wish to marry Mr. Moore?” Fanny smiled sweetly and fidgeted with her bouquet, “Of course I do.” Father Healy shook his head slowly and asked again, “Are you sure?”
Fanny raised her eyes to meet his. “Father, it has been nearly three years since Turner asked me to be his wife. The date was set, the preparations were made, everything was in order, but then the fighting broke out. Turner enlisted and the wedding was postponed and I waited patiently. But then the unthinkable happened and the war found a way to wedge its way between us even further. I tried to move on, I really did, but Icouldn’t. Even after all the anger and pain we both went through, we never stopped loving one another. I love Turner with all of my heart and I am ready to become his wife.”Looking in her eyes, Father Healy saw that she was telling the truth and there was nothing he could do butsigh. “Then let’s get the show on the road. I only pray that your dear mother forgives me for what I’m about to do.”
Turner, Alonzo, and Charlotte all watched Father Healy in anticipation as he came back in. He went up to thetrio with a grave expression. “Turner,” he said and then let a smile spread across his face, “when Mrs. Bright comes looking for someone to blame, this was all your idea. Leave me out of it!”
The group broke into a round of laughter before taking their places. Charlotte skittered from the room while Turner and Alonzo settled into position at the altar.
A few seconds later, Charlotte entered once again. Carrying a single pink rose, she sauntered up the aisle and stood patiently by the men.
Moments later, the doors opened again and Fanny came into view. Crystalline snowflakes clung to her veiland skirts, reflecting the candlelight as she walked. She clutched her pale pink roses to her body and let the doors slide closed behind her.
She glided down the aisle, all smiles, and, when she got close enough for Turner to really see her, he elbowed Alonzo in the ribs. “Wow,” he whispered under his breath.
He stepped forward and offered his arm, which she took readily.Father Healy cleared his throat, “This is usually where the bride would be presented by her father, but I shall make an exception in this case.”
Charlotte stepped forward to take Fanny’s bouquet. “Oh for heaven’s sake, I’ll give her away, just as long as these two finally get married!”
A small round of laughter followed, but the bride and groom paid no heed to Charlotte’s antics. They just smiled at one another. Father Healy cleared his throat again, this time to get their attention.
Snapping back to attention, Fanny and Turner knelt down and crossed themselves. Father Healy opened his bible to the correct page and began, “In nomine patris et filii et spiritus sancti…”
For the next half an hour, Father Healy read scripture while the impromptu bridal party listened. Finally, he motioned for all to rise.
“My dear friends,” Father Healy began, “you have come to me tonight to ask something I would have though impossible only a week ago. Here you stand before me, proof of the eternal bond of love which Christ willabundantly bless. And so, in the presence of the Church and those who have gathered here, I ask you to state your intentions.” Fanny grasped Turner’s arm.“Turner and Francine, have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage?”
“Yes,” they answered in unison. “Will you love and honor each other as man and wife for the rest of your lives?” “Yes.”“Will you accept children lovingly from God and bring them up according to the law of Christ and the church?” “Yes.”
Turner and Fanny turned towards one another and grasped hands. Charlotte squealed and Alonzo winked.“Turner Jefferson Moore, do you take Francine Margaret Bright to be your wife? To have and to hold fromthis day forward, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, to love her and honor her all the days of your life?” “I do.”
“Francine Margaret Bright, do you take Turner Jefferson Moore to be your husband? To have and to holdfrom this day forward, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, to love him and honor him all the days of your life?” “I do.”“You have declared your consent before the church. May the Lord in his goodness strengthen your consent and fill you both with his blessing. What God has joined, let no man separate. Amen.”
Father Healy blessed the rings which were produced from Alonzo’s pocket and handed the first one to Turner.As he slipped the gold band onto her finger, Turner spoke, “Fanny, take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”“Turner, take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
“My friends, it is my great honor to present to your Mr. and Mrs. Turner Moore.”
A short round of applause followed before Turner took Fanny’s arm and led her back down the aisle. Alonzo took Charlotte’s arm and they walked together as Father Healy watched on with a disbelieving smirk. This Christmas night had turned out to be his craziest yet.
“Sweet pea, now you go an’ have fun with that husband of yours,” Charlotte sniveled as she spoke. Wiping atear from her eye, she pulled her best friend into a tight hug. “I never thought this day would come! It was a beautiful ceremony, don’t you agree?”
Fanny nodded in agreement and pushed her bouquet into Charlotte’s hands. “I would toss it, but I don’t really see the point seeing as you’re the only other girl here.” Charlotte blushed. “Now, I don’t see what you mean by this!”“Oh, come on, Lottie! You’re the one that taught this to me when we were little! She who receives bouquet shall be the next to marry.” With a demure, for Charlotte, smile, she took the bouquet and offered one last hug.
Fanny turned to get into the sleigh, turning her head to add one last thing. “By the way, where has Alonzo gone off to?”
With a jingle of sleigh bells, Turner held out his hand and helped his new bride into the sleigh. Snapping the reins, he yelled “Giddyap!” and the horses began to move. Charlotte waved like mad as she watched the sleigh disappear into the night.
“Where are we going?” Fanny asked eagerly as she snuggled closer to her husband. “Home, Fanny. We are going home.” “Finally.”
As he watched the horses pull the sleigh farther down the street and away from the church, Alonso grinned. Gripping the ropes tightly, he gave a sharp and a loud peal of bells rang out into the night. Finally.