Michelle’s dates never went well. The high profile attorneys who asked her out had egos bigger than their sports cars. They wanted flings, flippant attachments with someone in a glamorous dress. Any Size 4 woman would do. They didn’t really grasp the synergy of interdependence or what it meant to pull together for a common goal. Michelle couldn’t, for instance, ever imagine one of them mowing her parents’ lawn as a favor.
These emotional leeches scared off easy. All she had to do was say, “meet my parents,” and they vaporized. At first she was reluctant to vaporize the men—not wanting to stunt a chance at romance—but then she realized they weren’t worth it. If only Brian were still around. Her high school sweetheart had disappeared after he joined the army. But, she would take a movie date with him over the lobster and caviar at fine dining any day.
Disillusioned with the emptiness on the dating scene, Michelle vented her frustrations to her mother on a visit home. And, as mother’s often do, her mother had the perfect solution. Michelle’s mother and father had been introduced to each other through their parents. Both sets of grandparents had met the same way. In fact, Michelle’s entire family tree was comprised of arranged marriages. “You are so busy,” Michelle’s mother said, “let us find someone for you, someone who will love you the way you should be loved.” Michelle shrugged. She pulled up Google on her smart phone and with some very cursory research found that couples in arranged marriages were statistically happier. What would it hurt? “Sure,” she agreed, and then she went back to the city, and back to work.
A few months went by. Michelle got heavy cases to work on filling up her time with depositions, court appearances, mediations, and long nights at the law office. She ate Chinese food at her desk and wrote briefs till 2 am. She slept on the couch in her office for three hours and then kept writing. She forgot all about the conversation with her mother. Things got so busy she ignored her mother’s phone calls, but only because she was always tied up on the other line arguing with an opposing attorney or calming a client.
Finally, one Sunday afternoon after she had collapsed for a three hour nap, she picked up her phone and called her mother.
“Dear!” Her mother squealed. “Honey, your father and I have found someone for you. We told him all about you, but he insisted that we don’t show him any pictures of you.”
“Weird,” Michelle said. “I’m not sure if I like that.”
“Honey, this is a good man. Your father and I are 100% positive that he is the right man for you.”
Michelle sighed, head pounding, eyes gritty, she couldn’t handle thinking about it right now. “Mom, I’m just really busy. I can’t handle getting into a relationship.”
“Dear, he wants to get married in three weeks.”
“Three weeks. His mother and I talked and we can pull it together. You don’t have to worry about any of the details. I’ll just work with your secretary there to get names and addresses for the invitations—”
“Nobody from the office, mom!”
“Er…well, if you want it that way…and if you’re not too picky about your wedding dress, we should be able to pull the wedding off.”
“But mom!” Michelle felt her blood pressure begin to spike. “Getting married is a huge commitment and how could you expect me to be okay doing that with a man I’ve never laid eyes on before? I can’t handle this stress right now!”
“Honey. You explained that you were ready to settle down and that you wanted me to handle this for you.”
“Yeah, find a good potential match, not plan out a whole wedding with someone I don’t know!”
“Okay, okay. If you meet him and you don’t instantly love him, we’ll call off the wedding, or postpone it.”
Michelle’s phone began to beep. She held it away from her ear and saw the incoming call was from an opposing attorney’s cell. “Mom, fine, I’ve got to go. I’ll talk to you later.”
Michelle switched the line and found herself plunged into another complication with an already complex case. She headed to the office to make some changes to the pre-trial order and wound up sleeping on the couch again.
The trial lasted two grueling weeks. The secretary thankfully ran interference and handled most of her mother’s questions about the wedding. Michelle’s immediate panicked reaction gave way over time to a resigned martyrdom, then, as some lewd associates made passes at her, tempered curiosity regarding the man her parents had selected. Who was he?
She couldn’t dwell on it long. Her cases began settling left and right. Clients who had been staunchly unreasonable began to see the light about conceding certain points and cutting their losses. By Friday of the third week, the cases were calm. She wandered downstairs and found balloons and streamers everywhere. The conference room table was stacked high with gifts. She froze in shock staring at the impromptu wedding shower. Thankfully, no one seemed to know the marriage was arranged. Or, if they did, the snide ones had enough social grace not to comment. Her secretary, who she would recommend for a raise, handled transportation of the gifts to her apartment.
Saturday morning Michelle awoke with the realization that she was getting married the next day to a man she had never met. She bolted to the bathroom and threw up. Then she called her mother. “Mom, what’s going on?”
“I can’t talk now dear. I’m at the church with the wedding planner. I’ll call you later.” Click.
Michelle buried her head in her hands. What had she done? This was the craziest most foolish thing she had ever done in her entire life. She seized her phone and dialed her father’s number. “Dad!” she exclaimed. “What’s his name?”
“Who’s name?” he asked. “I’m at the barber shop getting my hair cut, and I don’t have good signal. Who’s name?”
“The man I’m marrying tomorrow. What’s his name?”
“Oh…” the phone crackled. “…Feimster.”
Crackling. “…bad reception….call you back.” Click.
Michelle threw her phone into her satchel and stuffed clothes into suitcases. Then she fired off an email to her secretary. She would be available by cell phone during week days, but wouldn’t be coming to the office for a week unless it was an extreme emergency. Then she hopped into her car and drove the three hours to her old home. The house was swarming with people. She sank onto a chair, dazed and disoriented. Two women crowded near her and started asking for direction on tulle and bows and aisle runners and bouquets and candles. Michelle shook her head. “I don’t know.”
She stomped outside and found her mother on the porch shouting directions to two people who were carrying a humongous wedding cake between them.
She caught her mother by both shoulders. “I want to talk to this man, and I want to talk to him right now!”
“Oh! Good to see you dear. Glad you are home. I think he’s over there. That’s his car. He’s taking a load to the church.”
Michelle watched as a red dodge charger backed up, getting ready to take off. Heart pounding, she jumped off the porch and slid into the passenger’s seat. “I’m coming with you,” she said.
“Oh,” his voice was low, nice. His face had an open, honest expression. He was tan, had a neatly trimmed beard, and a slightly receding hair line. His polo shirt was snug, but not too snug, revealing a well-built frame. He worked out.
“Sure, I guess.” He smiled, good-humoredly. “Buckle up. And you are?” he asked.
She could live with his looks. He wasn’t exactly movie star material, but he wasn’t ugly to look at either, and his brown eyes had a kind expression.
She stuck out her hand. “I’m helping with the wedding,” she stated. “Call me Shelley.”
He shook it warmly.
“And you are?” she prompted.
Michelle’s heart sunk. Hank? Really? Hank? She stifled disappointment with a stoic nod. “Are you from around here?”
“Yes, right up the road, actually. Moved here three years ago with my job. I’m a civil engineer. We’re constructing a new roadway through the mountains.”
“Oh. So you’re a math man.”
“Uh-huh,” he grinned. “I guess you could say that. He shifted with a sturdy grip on the handle.
“And you like fast, throaty cars, or you would drive an automatic.”
Another smile. “That’s right.”
Michelle looked at him hard. “If your neighbors were out of town would you mow their lawn?”
He blinked. “What kind of question is that?”
“Sorry. I like random questions.”
He drew a deep breath, “Well,” he looked back at her, “Shelley, if my neighbors needed someone to help them like that, sure, I’d do it. Or, I guess if I saw it was getting out of control and I knew they had gone on a trip…yeah…yeah I guess so. I’d hope they’d help me out if I needed it sometime in the future.”
He turned up the radio a degree higher. It was mellow jazz—Michael Bublé singing that he just hadn’t met her yet. Michelle felt her steely heart melt to a more pliable metal, like lead. “So, Hank,” she said, crossing her arms. “What do you do for fun?”
“Well, I work most of the time. Camping, although I haven’t been in a long time. To be honest, I just tinker in the garage or read trade magazines, but I do actually play the violin…haven’t in a while, I’m a bit rusty.”
Michelle fought to keep her jaw from dropping open. “Do you go to church?”
“Yeah, but church isn’t enough…you know? If I just go once a week my relationship with God really suffers. So I read devotionals, pray, lead a bible study, and that helps more, but honestly the only thing that really makes me feel complete is if I just live in an attitude of prayer,” he looked over at her. “Oh, I’m sorry, I went all religious nut on you, didn’t I?”
Michelle felt her stomach begin to ache again…but she was certain this was a good sign. “No, no. It’s fine. Actually, I feel the same way,” she said, smiling. “Although, I find some weeks I’m just dragged along by life at break neck speed without time to eat or sleep.”
“That doesn’t sound like living,” he gave her a sad smile. “That’s just surviving.”
Michelle nodded slowly. “It’s not like that all the time.”
“Here we are,” he announced, pulling up to the church dooryard. Michelle gave him another long look before she left the car. People trickled up and offloaded supplies. She pulled herself together and acted like she knew what she was doing until he left. She would have liked for him to stay. There was so much more to ask. He’d been nice and respectful and she knew she couldn’t call off the wedding yet.
Michelle helped out with what she could at the church and then went back to the house and tried on her dress. The fit was snug in some places, too loose in others. It wasn’t the perfect dress, but it was close. Close enough. Michelle didn’t sleep much that night.
Morning came, and as nervous as she was, she was glad that she had at least gotten some insight into Hank Feimster, the man she would spend the rest of her life with. He was a good man. She could live with him. He was sensible. She liked him. It was going to work out. Her parents had done well.
What had they told him about her that had made him decide to marry her? He hadn’t acted that attracted to her in the car. Hadn’t really quizzed her about herself. Hadn’t really made an effort at an emotional connection. Hadn’t it occurred to him that “Shelley” might be her…Michelle…his future bride?
She stared at the surreal picture in the mirror: herself in a bridal gown. Then the wedding planner grabbed her arm and guided her to the back of the church. Standing behind the closed doors to the sanctuary, she trembled as the organ music inside swelled, and her heart responded, pounding louder. This was it. She was actually getting married to someone she didn’t love yet. It was insane.
Yet, she reminded herself with a deep, steadying breath, her ancestors had been doing this for thousands of years.
The doors opened, and she looked down the long aisle adorned with a runner and bows and tulle and flowers and there, standing at the altar, flanked by massive candelabrum, was the minister and Brian. Brian standing there in dress uniform, medals shining on his chest, eyes fixed on her.
She gasped and dropped her bouquet.
The music stopped.
The people, already standing, universally inhaled, waiting.
She numbly stepped forward, toward him. He came down the steps slowly, cautiously, as if afraid he would scare her with his approach. Her rational mind began to process, and she looked toward the right side of the church and saw Hank Feimster standing there—the best man.
“Brian?” she nearly squeaked.
He ran up to her. “Michelle. I’m so sorry I didn’t write you. I’m so sorry I didn’t…” he lost words.
She shook her head. “Why?”
Hank stepped up. “He was taken as a POW on his first mission in the field. He was just rescued about five months ago. Released from treatment two months ago.”
Michelle’s mother cleared her throat. “When he came home the town had the biggest party for him, and then he asked us about you, and well, it was just a few weeks earlier you had told us to be looking for you. It just seemed right.”
Michelle blinked. “POW? You couldn’t write me, could you?”
He shook his head. “But I still love you.”
She threw her arms around him, and held him tightly, so tightly as a flood of memories came back to her. All the popcorn and movies. All the adventures in their small town. All the projects they’d worked on together at school. All the shared looks and secret love notes. She sighed and felt happy tears begin to run down her face. Had POW life changed him? Had it changed the boy she loved so much?
She shifted into his arm and looked in his eyes. She saw a determined, manly glow there, a burning desire, and a depth of commitment stronger than any amount of adversity. Yes, POW life had changed him, but she saw in his face what had gotten him through, God and the memory of the girl back home.
He kissed her again, a slow tender kiss. Then he leaned back. “Michelle, will you marry me?”