Based on a true story.
Copyright © 2011
All rights reserved.
The kids spent the next morning whispering in their rooms, talking about the evident changes in their mother. Gregor was skeptical, Aileana and Fia were happy, but Rhona seemed critical. During breakfast, she gave quick, terse responses to Anna’s various and unconnected questions: the laundry, flying raccoons, and winning the lottery. Anna pretended not to notice. She couldn’t face anything that closely resembled failure on her part as a mother. And sometimes because she had chosen Craig, she felt she had failed them.
Anna decided that when they got home from school she’d have a “family meeting,” which almost surely would beget groans and mumblings.
But she would “persist, not desist,” her right hand extended out toward the kitchen sink.
“What are you doing, Mom?” Fia asked, a mouth full of Special K.
Anna put her hand down, shrugged. She’d be honest and open. As honest and open as she could handle.
Craig took the kids to school and dropped Jason off at work. He came home and heard Anna singing “Play That Funky Music, White Boy” at the top of her lungs in the shower. His laugh echoed throughout the entire house.
He shook his head, went back outside, and stood on the porch. He bent down and grabbed a piece of wayward hay that had blown in from a farm down the road. He put it in his teeth and started chomping nervously. His mind started to race, his heart pump. He had to do it. Today.
When Anna finished her shower, she dried off, and dressed.
Anna went out onto the porch. Craig was pacing back and forth, eyebrows furrowed, mouth going over what appeared to be lines of a play.
“What are you doing?” she asked, annoyed.
Craig halted his pace, looked at her, looked away, looked at her again. Anna grew nervous. What if he didn’t love her anymore? What if he told her to move out? What if he was changing?
Craig walked quickly up to her, his hands gently on her shoulders.
He stammered, and stalled. It made Anna smile in spite of her worry. He walked away and came back.
“What in the hell is wrong with you?” Anna demanded. “You’re walking around like the Tin Soldier or something.”
Craig’s exaggerated laugh was as if she’d told a great joke. He clapped his hands and moved down the porch, came back again. Bit his lip.
“Craig!” Anna stomped her foot.
“Yes?” He looked utterly confused.
“Do you want to say something to me because if you are breaking up or telling me to leave, just do it and get it over with!”
He walked off the porch and over to the newly planted carnations. He picked a flower.
“Hey!” Anna yelled in protest but quieted as he came back onto the porch. He threw it at her.
“Oh sorry. I meant to hand it to you.” Then he was off to another corner of the porch.
Anna decided this was going to take some time so she sat in her rocking chair and smiled. What is going on inside his crazy head?
The only sounds on the porch were the rocking of her chair and Craig’s play rehearsal, little whispers with inflections every now and then. He turned to stare at her, and then abruptly turned away. She laughed out loud.
“What in the hell are you doing?”
With a purposeful gait, he walked or more like marched up to her with his hands on his hips. Then in his pockets. Then on his hips.
“Anna!” He said it so loud it made her jump.
“What! I’m right here! Why are you yelling at me?”
“Would you like some tea!”
“Why, no, Craig, I wouldn’t!”
Then he walked off again. Anna put her head in her hands, ran them through her thick hair, laughed to herself, and looked up.
Craig was back. Wherever he had just gone to didn’t matter, because his cool and confidence were back. He laughed at himself, shook his head, sighed.
“Anna?” He said softly.
He cleared his throat and the confidence left again. Anna got a sudden burst of boldness, her long lost friend. She stood, took two steps toward Craig, and held his handsome face in her hands. She kissed him. Hard. He lost himself, then broke away.
He said in a rushed breath, “Oh god, Anna, I love you so much. Marry me?”
Anna moved back. She searched his eyes for mockery. There was only sincerity. Her features softened as she remembered Dr. A’s words. Not all men are abusers, not all men rape their wives. She’d known Craig longer and he was still the same person. And she loved him as much as she could love anyone.
She pushed back his hair from his eyes. “I love you, too, Craig.” She kissed him soft and sweet, and then more passionately. He pushed her slightly away, gasping for air.
“Anna, will you marry me?”
Anna’s smile spread over her face, lighting up her beautiful green eyes. “I think so,” and they both laughed.
“I think I’m engaged.”
Dr. A dropped the phone, picked it back up. “You are?”
Anna grinned sheepishly. “Yeah. Craig asked me to marry him this morning.”
Dr. A slapped his hand on his leg, his smile beaming. “That is just great, Anna!” He paused. “How do you feel about it?”
She shrugged. Looked out the window. Smiled again. “I guess okay.”
Anna stood nervously on the porch as Craig drove up the frontage road with her children and Jason. As they exited the vehicle, Anna blurted out the words, “I’m engaged to Craig the Cab Driver!” so loud, a flock of birds flew high from the trees and scattered. “Poop alert! Poop alert!” She ducked, covered her head, and ran around the yard while they all looked on.
Craig smiled. My wife-to-be. To be forever. Although reactions both outwardly and inwardly were mixed, the general consensus was “Righteous!!!”
Fia couldn’t wait to help design Anna’s dress. She grabbed Anna by the hand, and ran in the house, directly to her room. She sat at her design table with fresh white paper awaiting the next creation.
While Anna described, Fia drew, and the beauty came to life one line at a time. A full length ivory gown, covered with an ivory/champagne tulle lace, the waist coming down to a ‘v.’ Thin satin straps at the shoulders, a corset with hooks in the front and lacing in the back, a big ivory satin bow gracing the small of her back.
Anna sat back, tears in her eyes. “It’s so perfect, Fia. Just like you.” Then they both cried.
Rhona wondered when all hell would break loose, but she did quite successfully push bad thoughts out long enough to help Anna pick floral arrangements online. Pink and white roses and carnations, baby’s breath and wispy, soft green ferns.
Gregor, although eyeing Craig with suspicion, jumped in like a paratrooper, making plans for tables, chairs, where they’d go, who’d sit where, barking out orders to anyone who would listen…which was no one at the moment…and talking wildly to himself, rehearsing what he’d tell the wait staff as if in charge of his own platoon.
Aileana was just plain happy because her mother was. And she skipped around the house, bothering everyone, teasing Gregor, scaring him half to death while he came innocently around a corner. Sometimes with a squirt gun aimed right between the eyes, sometimes a loud noise, sometimes whisper quiet. And each time the satisfaction of hearing Gregor scream like a girl was etched on her face.
Fia fought and won with Rhona over who would write the invitations. Fia painstakingly hand-wrote each one in perfect calligraphy, using an old-fashioned ink well, her own coffee-stained parchment, and a red wax seal. They were old-days perfect. Invitations were reserved for those who meant the most. Fran, Anna’s dad, Dr. A., Craig’s family from Oklahoma City, and a few friends.
Craig chose his older brother as best man, to which Anna responded, “When the hell did you get a brother, mister!”
Craig responded patiently, “I’ve always had one.” To that, Anna grunted and stomped off to the kitchen.
Anna chose her daughters as the bridesmaids. Gregor was proud to be asked to walk her down the aisle, his stature rising a few inches that day.
Anna spent the rest of the day in her luxurious bathtub, looking up at the vast sky, clouds moving, the sun coming and going, and a bird’s poop.
Although she had said her “yes,” courage did flitter in and out, and would for a long time. The next day, Anna, on hands and knees, scrubbed out the fireplace, getting soot on her face, in her hair, on her left butt cheek, under the right knee, and outside on one particular fern.
Craig and Jason gathered up the kids on the porch, and there they made their plans, and wrote their lists. Then, with quick good-byes to a filthy Anna, they headed out.
Running errands like Olympic sprinters, their first stop was to secure house decorations for the wedding. Craig held the list tightly in his right hand, wondering how he would survive all the chatter and suggestions coming from his new family. He’d need a beer when he was done, that’s for damn sure.
They went to A Better Design of Lawton for everything except the balloons, which they found at Bill Veazey’s Party Store.
Fia decided the wedding would be in the backyard, on “the expanse of lawn beyond the pool.”
Craig smiled. Sometimes she talks just like her mother.
Gregor believed the weather would hold a few more weeks before winter hit. The gazebo would be draped, according to Rhona, in pink and yellow roses, white satin ribbons and bows, and “don’t forget cascading ferns,” added Aileana. Jason spoke in a British accent with dramatic tones, “On the grass, a cozy gathering of chairs under a canopy of white satin.” He got a kiss from Fia.
The reception would be in the house, mainly the living room, dining room and kitchen. The ceilings would have pink, white, silver, and blue helium balloons resting high above, providing a magical canopy. Among the balloons would be white lace and satin, tied up at different points in the ceiling, creating a wave of white curves and bows. Tables would have beautiful white linens, crystal goblets, the finest silverware, and small white flower candles floating in crystal bowls at the center of each table.
Next stop: Rinie’s Kitchen & Wine Bar caterers. Lobster, shrimp, and filet mignon as the main courses, and several different salads, everything from green, to Caesar, to pasta, to ambrosia. The vegetables would include baked and mashed potatoes, broccoli, asparagus, and peas with baby onions. Drinks would include a tangy orange punch, champagne, coffee, and tea. And of course for dessert, the beautiful cake. Craig knew it had to be special so he asked the kids what they thought.
“Call Buddy from Carlo’s Bake Shop!” Fia screamed.
“Fia, he’s all the way in god damn Chicago or somewhere!” Rhona always seemed exasperated by someone or something. Just her nature.
“Hoboken, New Jersey,” Aileana corrected.
“What are you so mad about, Rhona?” Gregor asked. “This is supposed to be fun.”
Craig steered the conversation back to the topic. “So if he’s in New Jersey how are we going to get a cake from him?”
Fia jumped up and down. “You’ve got money right?”
Craig laughed. “Yeah.”
“Well, hire him to come out here and bake the cake!”
Rhona sighed. “Fia, you just can’t spend everyone’s money.”
Fia stuck out her tongue at Rhona.
“Oh, that’s mature.” Rhona rolled her eyes.
Craig thought about it. A grin slowly came on his face, and with it, a sudden eruption of cheers and squeals. Craig made a note to call Buddy as soon as he got home.
Craig knew what he wanted for the cake top, and knew someone who could make it. “I want a crystal willow tree, catching light as if it’s growing, to symbolize the family we have all become. What do you think?”
He got hugs this time, even from Jason.
The next stop was Tipton’s Fine Jewelry. Craig knew the ring had to be very special since it would be “the only fucking diamond engagement ring” Anna had ever received.
The girls ran from the truck into the “store of twinkling delights,” Fia clapping and giggling. She was a natural when it came to diamonds and gemstones.
“Platinum, antique cushion cut, F in color, VVS2 in clarity, 8-pronged filigree mounting with 1.5 carat center, plus a full carat in accent diamonds.”
“How do you know this stuff,” Craig asked bewilderedly.
“History Channel.” Fia smiled.
“Then let’s get shopping.” Craig went up to the counter where an overjoyed jeweler, with brilliant white teeth, crisp Chanel suit, and perfectly painted Mac face, was waiting with a tray of exquisite diamond rings.
Rhona and Aileana tried on almost every ring in the store, proposing to each other over and over again. Gregor stayed to himself, looking at Rolex watches, and Fia stuck with Craig like gum on a shoe, demanding to look through the loupe at each piece presented. And Jason stuck with Fia. Fia moved to the next case.
There it was, in the small blue velvet box. Sparkling under the overhead lights. By itself. The exact ring Fia had described. Fia shrieked. All came running. They were mesmerized, picturing it on Anna’s delicate hand. Fia cried. Then Aileana. Then Rhona. Then Jason. Gregor and Craig looked at each other.
The next stop was Amor Formals to reserve the tuxes. That was quick because according to Craig, guys just don’t take that long to do things. They all chose Armani, black, crisp white shirts, black silk vests, Calvin Klein ‘Gareth II’ Oxfords.
After that, Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Store for all the material needed to make Anna’s dress, and Fia’s, Rhona’s, and Aileana’s. Craig, Jason, and Gregor were smart to wait in the truck.
Even though Fia strongly disagreed, Rhona decided for all of them to pick out their own material as long as it went with the color scheme: silver, pink, blue. Aileana couldn’t wait to tear off to the far corners, searching for a pale pink sparkle organza. Rhona went for iridescent taffeta in a slate blue, and Fia, a deep, rose-colored beaded silk. Thirty minutes later they each found their way to the counter. And to Fia’s surprise, the combination of color, texture, and pattern was beautiful.
The last stop was to Adventure Travel for a special surprise honeymoon: two first class tickets to Scotland, Anna’s ancestral homeland. Craig reserved a flight to Edinburgh, and the Best Western Balgeddie House Hotel, just 33 miles north. And Craig knew by looking at the hotel, Anna’s reaction would be “that’s a fucking castle, Craig!” It made him smile. She was so weird she was endearing.
Then for a special treat they’d drive 30 miles west and see Blair Castle, which Anna would insist she owns.
They’d take the Loch Ness and Highlands Tour which included Loch Leven Castle where he was sure Anna would insist on waiting by the banks for Loch Ness. The tour also included history on William “Braveheart” Wallace, whom she’d insist she was related to since her great-grandpa was named after him. They’d tour castles, eat in pubs, check out the Edinburgh Historic Vaults Tour. He knew Anna would tell him she saw ghosts there, and the funny thing was, he’d believe her.
They were exhausted but happy when they returned home. Anna was in the bathtub, having left smears of soot on the floor near the fireplace, and the bridge.
While the kids and Jason went to work cleaning up the mess, Craig went in the office and looked up Buddy’s number on his laptop. He gave him a call. For $10,000 Buddy would come out to Oklahoma, make the cake, and stay for the wedding and reception. It was perfect.
Craig looked at his lists, found the one specifying the cake details, and placed his order. A four-tiered vanilla cake, with custard cream filling, and butter cream icing. The icing, a soft ivory color, was accompanied by flowers of pink, blue, yellow, purple, and white on each tier. Like they were growing wild… just like Anna. One side of the cake had what looked like ivory satin fabric draped over it. It was stunning.
Then he got on Expedia.com and made the plane reservations for Buddy, arriving two days before the wedding, departing one day after. Then the hotel and rental car. He called Buddy back and gave him the specifics. Everything was set.
And now that Craig was “so god damn efficient” that he had nothing left to do, he sat at the desk and drummed his fingers on the surface. Stared out the window. Bit his lip. He was excited, nervous, scared, happy, all those things. In the back of his mind, he was still downright frightened that Anna would change her mind. Just hold on till you say ‘I do’. Just hold on, Anna.
Saturday came, just two “god damn short” weeks until the day of the wedding. The house was decorated for Halloween, fake spider webs hanging so low they got in everyone’s hair. Carved pumpkins lining the porch, candles illuminating happy, jagged smiles. The kitchen smelled of cup cakes and caramel apples. Tomorrow they’d have their Halloween party, they’d eat, watch scary movies, sit by the fire, and have their Oracle Cards read for the year. It was a tradition in Anna’s family. Everyone got a turn.
At exactly 12:01 am on Halloween, they all silently gathered in the dark living room, seated in a circle, candles lit and lining the Bridge to Nowhere. Craig and Jason looked on curiously. Anna shuffled the cards. Rhona was first. She came and sat in front of Anna.
“Rhona,” Anna instructed quietly, “concentrate on this new year, and cut the deck.”
Rhona carefully took the beautiful green cards in her hands, touching lightly the painted pond at sunset. She thought of this new year, closed her eyes, and cut the deck.
Anna placed one stack on top of the other, and shuffled again. Then she spread them out in front of Rhona.
Rhona selected her one card, and handed it to Anna. Anna placed it face up on the floor. It was the card of Self-Control. Anna sat silent, and then explained the card’s meaning.
“There are a lot of changes going on in your life this new year.”
Rhona looked around the room. “Ya think?”
“The message of this card is to stay calm, and not let yourself be drawn up in all the things happening around you. Change can bring anxiety, and this year is a year of change.”
“If you are anxious, take a walk, swim. Exercise.”
“Are you saying I’m fat?”
“Of course not.”
“Rhona, quit being a jerk,” Fia retorted. “This is serious.”
Rhona rolled her eyes. She was not one to buy into the cards, but she had to admit that the card she drew was dead on.
Anna continued. “Try to remain at a distance to all that you see around you, and basically, stay cool.”
Rhona shrugged her shoulders. “Okie dokie.” She moved to the outer ring of the circle, and Fia anxiously moved closer.
“All right, Fia. Your turn.”
Anna shuffled again, Fia cut the deck, Anna shuffled some more, Fia picked her card: Shame.
Fia was alarmed. “What the hell does that mean?” Jason moved closer to her, put his hand on her shoulder.
Anna sat silently. She took Fia’s hands.
“This card tells me that you are so critical of yourself that you have moved away from those who really love you.”
Fia looked down.
“What you need to know is that everyone makes mistakes and everyone is deserving of forgiveness. No one on earth is perfect.”
Anna paused for a moment.
“You see yourself one way. Being ashamed. What we see is something totally different. We love you, Fia, and see only good in you.”
Fia’s tears welled up in her eyes, fell down her cheeks.
“No one is more critical of you than you. The message here for this year is to learn from your mistakes, forgive yourself, and move on, letting the love of those around you take hold.”
Fia nodded, slid back into the circle, and let Jason hold her.
“Gregor, your turn,” Anna instructed.
“Hey, man, I don’t want a shame card. I’ll sit this one out.”
Anna pointed to the spot in front of her. “Right here, right now, mister!”
Gregor reluctantly slid on his butt to the spot in front of his mother.
After the same routine, Gregor picked his card: Denial.
“Well that’s just great!” Gregor scowled. “Nothing better than Shame and Denial to start the year off right.”
“Shut up!” Gregor shouted. “You’ll probably draw the Ugly card.”
Anna shushed him, and concentrated.
“There are problems you are not allowing yourself to see, Gregor.”
“Some things can be let go of, small things, but you need to take your blinders off and see what is really there before you can get rid of the problem.”
“Call it what it is.”
“If you see someone in your room, and something is missing, it’s likely they stole it.”
“Who was in my room? Are you saying someone took my crap?”
Aileana giggled again.
“I’m watching you, man. I swear, if you go in my room…”
“Gregor, shut up!” Rhona yelled.
Craig and Jason looked at each other.
Craig asked meekly, “Anna, is this the way it goes every year?”
“Shh!” Anna commanded.
Craig sat up quickly. Smiled.
“May I continue?”
Everyone but Gregor nodded.
“It means to take a good look, a real look at your life, who is in it, what is in it, and if it’s not healthy, accept it, get rid of it, and move on.”
“Aileana isn’t healthy.”
“Gregor, no one is getting rid of anyone in this family,” Fia said.
“Well, I’m just saying.”
Anna cleared her throat.
“Be honest, Gregor. With yourself, with others who care about you. It’s okay to tell us the things that trouble you. Getting them out in the open will help you to see them more clearly, be able to get past them.”
“I want to get past Aileana.”
Rhona rolled her eyes. Fia sighed. Aileana giggled.
“Gregor, you can’t be truly happy until you face these things. And I know you can do it. So, what do you want to tell us?”
“You’re in denial,” Aileana said with a snicker.
Gregor moved toward her, but Craig put out his leg.
“Listen Gregor,” Craig interjected, “we all deny things. We think by pushing them away they go away, but they don’t. Not until we face them. It’s what everyone has to do for themselves. And it is in every person. Not just you. Okay?”
Gregor relaxed. “Okay.”
Aileana moved forward as Gregor moved back.
Aileana drew Loss.
“Shut up,” Aileana whined.
“Shh!” Anna commanded, then concentrated.
“It seems you are in a lot of pain right now, Aileana.”
Aileana looked down at the floor, playing with her shoe lace.
“It’s time to unburden your pain, whether it’s something in the past that hurt you or something that hurts you now. The important thing to remember is that this will pass, your heart will be light again. There’s hope.”
“It’s saying that you need to get help, whether from Dr. A, someone else, a book, a walk, whatever helps you to get past what is hurting you.”
“Can I hit Gregor? That would help me.”
Gregor rolled his eyes. “Yeah, just try it.”
Fia slapped Gregor on the arm.
Fia rolled her eyes.
“Jesus H. Christ,” Rhona muttered. “What a weird family.”
Craig laughed, then stopped quickly at Anna’s glare.
“I’m going to get you an appointment with Dr. A, okay, Aileana?”
Aileana smiled, relieved already. Then she scooted back to her place in the circle.
Anna looked at Jason, pointed to the floor.
He looked at Fia, unsure if he wanted to hear the bad news.
Fia smiled, gave him a push.
Jason drew the Invention card. He sat back, smiled. Breathed a sigh of relief.
“How come the new guy gets the good card?” Gregor complained.
“You’re just jealous, Gregor,” Fia said.
“Shh! You are a creative guy,” Anna began.
Craig shook his head, smiled.
“You take the good and the bad. The good is just…well, good, and the bad, you make good.”
Rhona shook her head. “Huh?”
Fia said, “shh!”
“Oh, shh yourself!”
Anna cleared her throat.
“Maybe you’ve had a bad childhood, but instead of dwelling on it, you make it positive. You make something good out of it.”
“It doesn’t mean you won’t have pain; it means you have the courage to make it into something great.
“What this card means for you, Jason, is that if something happens in this year that is upsetting, you will turn it around and make it better.”
“Wow, that is too cool!” Jason smiled, and slid back to Fia, who hugged him as if he’d just won a medal.
“You suck,” Gregor said to Fia and Jason.
“Mom,” Fia whined, “Gregor just said we suck.”
“Jesus H. Christ.”
Anna stared at Craig, an eyebrow raised, and pointed again to the floor in front of her.
Craig stopped laughing. He moved slowly closer. His hands were sweaty.
Craig drew Loss.
“Just like me,” Aileana said enthusiastically.
“Are you in pain, Craig?” Anna asked gently.
Craig cleared his throat. “Sometimes.”
The look of empathy in Anna’s eyes almost took him over the edge.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“So basically, me and Aileana are going to see Dr. A?” Craig asked.
Anna smiled. “Your heart will be light again.”
“It already is.” He moved close, kissed her.
Gregor moaned. “Come on guys. Not in front of the kids.”
“Shut up, Gregor!” Fia said, stealing a quick kiss from Jason.
Rhona rolled her eyes.
Anna began to pack up the cards.
“Whoa there!” Rhona said. “You don’t get off that easy, Mom.”
Anna grinned sheepishly. “I don’t need to read mine.”
“The hell you don’t,” Gregor stated.
“I’ll read for you, Mom,” Fia offered.
Fia got up and took Anna’s spot, Anna moving in front to face her, next to Craig.
“Do you want me to stay here with you, Anna?” Craig offered.
Anna cast an angry look at him. “No!”
“Geez, Mom, way to be nice,” Rhona said.
Craig went back to the outer circle, partly hurt, partly amused.
Fia began. “Okay, Mom, concentrate.”
Fia shuffled the cards. Anna cut the deck. Fia shuffled. Anna picked her card: Victory.
Anna clapped wildly.
Gregor rolled his eyes.
Fia thought for a moment.
“This card, Mom, means that whatever you’ve been doing, working on, will happen. You’ll succeed. But the only way you’ll really enjoy your success is if you remember what it took to get there, and who helped you along the way.”
Anna slowly looked around the room, to each of her kids, to Jason, then Craig, then the house.
“Please, go on,” Anna begged.
“It’s your time, Mom. It’s your turn to be the shiny one. Just don’t forget to be grateful.”
“The shiny one?” Anna asked, perplexed. “You mean, like a penny?”
Fia smiled. “No. I mean it’s your turn to be in the spotlight. Just don’t forget how you got there.”
Anna sighed contentedly, looked at Fia. “I promise. I won’t forget.”
…to be continued.