"Wake up, Molly," Audra Barkley said, bouncing on the bed, "it's your wedding day!" She leapt up and opened the curtains. "It's a gorgeous day - we'll be able to have the breakfast outdoors like we planned."
Molly sat up and pushed her wiry black hair out of her eyes. Audra said, "I don't know how you could sleep, Molly. I couldn't."
"I don't think I slept much," Molly said.
"Oh, yes, you did. You snore."
"Do I? How nice for Jarrod."
Audra giggled. She picked up the tray she had set on the floor. "I brought you breakfast."
"That’s sweet, Audra, but I don't think I could eat a thing."
"You'd better - we don't want you fainting at the altar." Audra picked up a piece of toast and nibbled at it. "You may not be hungry, but I'm famished."
Molly lifted the cover. "Ummm, Silas's scrambled eggs. Maybe I am hungry, after all." She and Audra shared the breakfast tray until there was a tap at the door. Audra bounced up to answer it, and admitted Annie and Stella, Molly's other two bridesmaids. "Let me be the first to kiss the bride," Stella said, kissing Molly lightly on the lips.
"Why didn't I think of that?" Audra said, kissing Molly in turn. Annie followed suit. Molly moved the breakfast tray aside and flung back the bedclothes. She took a shirt and pair of pants out of the wardrobe and put them on. "Well, ladies," she said, "let's go pick flowers."
"Enough for bouquets and garlands," Annie said. "That won't take long."
"Oh, I need far more than that," Molly said.
"Whatever for?" Stella asked.
Molly smiled. "You'll see."
Four women sitting on the bed, surrounded by flowers, wire and ribbon, making garlands and laughing. "Too bad you're not wearing a veil, Molly," Audra said.
"No veils for widows, you know that."
Audra pouted. "I know, but still. You'd be so pretty in a veil."
"It's hard to believe you're a widow," Annie said. "There's nothing widow-ish about you."
"Well, it was a long time ago. I was hardly more than a girl. Audra, would you go see that the bathroom's free? Hard to avoid the groom when he's in the same house."
Audra slipped out the door and returned a few moments later. "All clear," she said.
Molly gathered up her things and headed out the door. "You ladies should get washed up and into your dresses while I'm bathing. I won't be long."
Molly returned to an empty room. She sat at the open window and ran her fingers through her towel-dried hair. Damp tendrils curled around her fingers, but dried quickly in the sun. Audra came back in. "I'll help you with your corset," she said.
"All right," Molly said, "snug, but not too tight. I don’t want to faint at the altar, either." She took off her robe and hooked her corset over her chemise. Audra tugged at the laces as Annie and Stella came in. All three women were clad in simple dark green dresses trimmed in white lace.
Molly opened the wardrobe and took out her wedding dress, a pale green silk. She stepped into it and Annie helped her lace it up the back. The fitted bodice gave way to a full skirt, pleated in the front to lie flat, but flaring out to a full, mid-length train in the back. Ribbons fluttered down the side. "This is what we need the extra flowers for," Molly said. She gathered a bunch of flowers and tied them to the dress with a pair of the trailing ribbons. "See," she said, "we tie bunches of flowers all down the side, like that." The bridesmaids gathered flowers and helped tie them to the dress. "Oh, that's so lovely," Stella said. "Did you think of that yourself?"
"Yes," Molly said. "I still wish I'd had time to make the dress myself, but it's good to have a dressmaker who can follow instructions."
There was a clatter of hooves in the drive. Audra leaned out the window. "Oh, the carriage is here."
"Carriage?" Molly said, leaning out the window as well.
"Yes, Jarrod hired a carriage to take the two of you and Mother and Bill to the Church."
"How romantic," Annie said, "I'll have to put a bug in Keith's ear." She smiled.
"Let's do each other's hair," Audra said. "I know just how you should wear yours, Molly."
"Annie's is simple," Stella said. "Such beautiful chestnut hair. Wear it down, with the garland. Simple and beautiful."
Audra bound Molly's hair in green ribbon and wound it atop her head. She let several tendrils trail along her cheek, down the back of her neck. She twined rosebuds in Molly's hair and stood back and admired her work. "There, better than a garland," she said.
Molly had to agree. "Thank you, Audra, it's beautiful. I really feel like a bride. Now let me do yours."
"Oh, I'm going to be like Annie. Simple." She brushed her hair back and settled her garland on her head. "There. Perfect."
Molly gathered up her bouquet - red roses and ferns. "Are we ready? It's almost time." The bridesmaids gathered up their flowers and followed Molly out the door.
The bridesmaids joined the groomsmen - Brett, Nick and Heath - in the surrey and set out for the church. Bill and Victoria were already in the closed carriage, but Jarrod waited by the open door, wearing morning dress with white tie, dark green gloves and waistcoat. A silk top hat sat atop his dark hair. As Molly approached, he took her face between his hands and kissed her fervently. "Ah, Molly, you just get more beautiful with each passing day."
"There'll be plenty of time for that after the ceremony," Victoria said.
"Nay, Mother, there's never enough time for that," Jarrod said, assisting Molly into the carriage and settling in next to her. The coachman whipped up the horses.
"It's a fair way to Stockton," Victoria said. "You're not planning to kiss the whole way."
"What would you suggest, Mother? Wrestling?"
Bill snorted and Molly laughed gaily. "Oh, yay," she said, "best two falls out of three."
Jarrod threw back his head and laughed, dislodging his top hat.
"Oh, there's a nice sound," Molly said.
"Yes, it is," Victoria said, dropping her stern demeanor and smiling. "You will make my son happy, won't you, Molly?"
"At least as happy as he makes me, I hope."
"Shall we have a contest, Feather?" Jarrod asked. "See who can make the other the happiest?"
"How will we tell who wins?" Molly asked.
"Good point." Jarrod tapped her nose and then put his arm around her. "All right, let's just cuddle so as not to offend the parents - or facsimile," he nodded at Bill, "and I'll try not to crush your pretty flowers."
But they stole a few kisses, anyway.
They arrived at the church at the stroke of noon. Jarrod helped Victoria and Molly down from the carriage. He placed Molly's hand on Bill's arm and whispered, "Just a few more minutes, Feather."
Molly and Bill entered the church first, followed by Jarrod and Victoria. The men left their top hats on the table in the foyer, where they met the rest of the wedding party. "Are we ready?" Brett asked.
"Just a minute," Annie said. "We need to straighten Molly's dress first." The bridesmaids straightened and retied the flowers that had been loosened in transit, and laid Molly's train out behind her. The church bells rang out as Molly took Bill's arm and proceeded down the aisle.
Jarrod followed with Victoria, then the rest of the party in pairs - Brett and Annie, Nick and Audra, Heath and Stella. Jarrod and Molly knelt at the altar while the rest of the party gathered around them. After a moment for prayer, they stood before Rev. Stacy and plighted their troth, vowing to love, honor, cherish and obey. Brett fumbled the ring, as was traditional, but nearly dropped it in truth, had not Jarrod quickly caught it with a smile. He removed Molly's engagement ring, and placed the plain gold band on her finger. He replaced the engagement ring, then sealed their vows with a tender kiss. The church bells rang out again, and Molly and Jarrod walked back up the aisle, arm in arm, man and wife.
The closed carriage had been replaced with an open one, drawn by two white horses. As Jarrod helped Molly in, the wedding guests emerged from the church and began pelting them with rice. Jarrod stood in the carriage as it began to draw away and tossed coins into the crowd.
"That's a nice, old-fashioned custom I haven't seen in a while," Molly said as Jarrod tossed away the last coin and sat down.
"I am filled with largesse today," he said. "Ask me for anything, Feather, and it's yours."
"A kiss," Molly smiled.
"Granted," Jarrod said, doing so. "What, nothing else?"
Molly whispered into his ear. Jarrod's eyes grew soft. "My dearest wish, too, love. All in good time, I hope." He kissed her tenderly. "Welcome to the family, Mrs. Barkley."
Molly heaved a long, satisfied sigh.
"Is everything ready, Silas?" Jarrod asked, handing the butler his hat and gloves.
"Yes, sir. The men from the hotel have everything set up in the garden. I wish you'd let me do more, Mr. Jarrod."
"Now, Silas, just enjoy yourself. We insist."
"Don't you want to kiss the bride, Silas?" Molly asked.
"I don't like to presume, Mrs. Jarrod."
"Ooh, I like 'Mrs. Jarrod.' It's not presumption, Silas," Molly said, offering him her mouth. Silas kissed her reverently. "Best wishes, Mrs. Jarrod," he said.
"Pucker up, sweetheart," Jarrod said. "Here comes the rest of the wedding party, and the guests close behind."
The receiving line was set up in the study, so that the guests could pass through the verandah doors into the garden. Molly used some of her flowers to fashion boutonnières for the groomsmen, who would be ushering the guests through. Molly was introduced to Victoria's sister, Eulalie, from Denver and several of the Barkley cousins. Her ribs were nearly crushed by the bear hugs given her by Dick Shalot and his lumberjack friends, Harry and Tom. Mrs. Ephraim was accompanied by one of her boarders, Molly's friend Shirley who was the recipient of startled looks from Heath, although she herself was nothing but demure. Mrs. Gregson accompanied the children from the orphanage, who at first drew back shyly, but Molly knelt down and extended her arms and they ran joyfully to her, although Timmy fastened himself to Nick's leg and had to be pried off.
Last of the guests to arrive were the Nagles. Nick strong-armed Fred at the door. "Not you," Nick said. "Cora and the boys were invited, you weren't."
"Just 'cause that minx has snared a Barkley don't mean she's no better'n she should be," Fred snarled.
"Go ahead, Nick," Jarrod said.
"You and me got a date with the woodshed, Fred," Nick said, twisting Fred's arm behind his back and marching him out the door.
"Jarrod," Molly said, disbelieving.
"Shh, Feather, it's long overdue."
"I'm sorry, Cora," Molly said.
"I'm not," Cora said.
"Nor me," said Aaron.
"Me, neither," Jim said.
Cora kissed Molly warmly. "Best wishes, Molly. You've got a good man. Be happy with him." Each of the boys kissed Molly in turn and filed out into the garden.
Molly pulled Jarrod aside as the wedding party made its way to the breakfast table. "I can't believe that you would condone that, Jarrod."
"I can't forget what he tried to do to you, Molly. It's not justice, but it will have to do."
"Nick doesn't know about that, does he?"
"No, or else he'd probably kill him. For Nick, it's enough that the man insults you and beats his children. Forgive us if you can't condone it, but he still has it coming. I'd do it myself if it weren't our wedding day."
Molly stared into his eyes. "All right. I certainly won't let it spoil the day, Husband. Come, the guests are waiting."
Molly and Jarrod sat at the midpoint of the table that had been laid out in the garden for the wedding party. The other guests served themselves from the buffet, while waiters circulated with trays of champagne. Nick arrived and took his place at the table, hair mussed and looking rumpled but satisfied. Molly chose not to comment, merely gave the signal to begin eating by picking up her fork.
Brett raised his glass. "A toast. To Molly and Jarrod, the warmest, sweetest couple it's ever been my pleasure to know. You deserve every happiness."
"Why, Brett," Molly said. "How sweet. I almost expected something frivolous from you."
"Not just now, Molly. Maybe later," he said with a twinkle.
"I'd like to propose a toast, too," Molly said.
Jarrod said, "It's not customary for the bride to propose toasts, love."
"Good point. Propose away," Jarrod smiled.
"To Annie, without whose kindness none of this would have happened."
Annie blushed. "I certainly never expected things to turn out this way, but I'm so happy they have."
"Who's that climbing down the drainpipe?" Audra asked.
The entire wedding party turned to see that, indeed, there was a woman climbing down the drainpipe from an open window. She slipped the last few feet, and would have fallen had Harry, the lumberjack, not been nearby to catch her.
"Looks like Opal," Nick said.
Harry set Opal down, but they stood gazing into each other's eyes a moment before Opal tore herself away. "Oh, Jamie," she chirped, grasping another woman by the hand. "Come, I have something to show you in the tack room."
"Those two," Heath said. "Who invited them?"
Bill stood and gestured to his actors. "We have a little surprise for you, Molly," he said. "A bit of entertainment apropos to your wedding."
"You don't have to do that," Molly said. "You're guests, you don't have to work for it."
"It's our wedding gift to you, Moll. Come now, you know you always loved our Pyramus and Thisbe."
"If you'll excuse me," Victoria said. "I want to go ask Cora if she and the boys would like to stay here at the ranch for awhile."
"Great idea, Mother," Nick said. "I'll teach those boys to rope and ride - make real men out of them."
Molly smiled at Nick's change of heart - she could remember when Nick had nothing nice to say about Jim and Aaron. "Because of you," Jarrod whispered in her ear, interpreting her smile. "Come now," he said aloud, "sit here and I shall be Theseus and you Hippolyta, and enjoy our wedding entertainment."
"I hope we won’t need to remember lines, because I can't," Molly said.
"Well, when I was in school, I played Oberon in Midsummer's, so I know mine," Jarrod smiled.
"Really?" Brett said. "Because when we did Midsummer's at my school, I played Titania."
Molly threw back her head and laughed so hard, she scattered rose petals all around her.
"What?" Brett said. "It was an all-boy school. I'll have you know, I was a very fetching fairy queen."
Molly snickered. "I'm sure you were."
"We were planning to play it without the interlocutions," Bill said, "but, certainly, feel free to join in if you're so inclined."
Brett took Molly's hand. "I'll be happy to feed you your lines, Mrs. Barkley."
"Oh, just speak them yourself. I'll sit here and laugh at you," Molly said.
"Anything to give you pleasure," Brett said.
When the playlet was done, amidst much merriment, Jarrod took Molly's hand. "Time to go change into our traveling clothes, dearest. We don't want to miss our train."
They took the carriage back into town, kissing all the way to the railway station. Jarrod assisted Molly into the railcar, and she stared around her in wonder. "I don't think I've ever seen such a luxurious car," she said.
"It's the family's private car, but I had some modifications made for this journey," Jarrod said. He opened the sliding doors to the sleeping compartment.
"A feather bed," Molly said. "With curtains, no less."
"It's a long way to New York," Jarrod said. "We should be comfortable."
Molly tugged on the ends of his tie, kissed him ardently. "Well, then, Mr. Barkley, let's be comfortable."
Jarrod reached behind him and closed the sliding doors. The train pulled out of the station, gathering steam as it headed East.