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Paddling Upstream

By Strickland83

 

Chapter 10 - I Promise

The rest of the time before the wedding mostly seemed to fly by, but at times it seemed to drag mercilessly. There was so much to do, and we were both looking forward to the big day with great anticipation. Lindseyís class gave us a wedding present at the end of the school year, and there was a wedding shower with the other teachers. Finally, it was the week of the wedding, the day Amanda would arrive.

I was struggling to finish my novel, to get it ready to send to George, before the wedding. I didnít want to have that to worry about on the honeymoon. The hardest part was the title. I had the plot worked out, but I had this ritual where I would not let myself type "The End" until I had the title. The text was open in the word processor and I was staring at the words "Working Title" at the top of the page, the bold letters seeming to mock me. The doorbell rang and I heard Lindsey in the background saying she would get it.

I needed a break so I decided to get up and stretch. The name was just not coming. I heard Lindsey talking to someone at the front door. As I reached the door of the study, I heard a familiar voice call out, "Dang, youíre hotter in person than you are on TV!"

"Amanda? Amanda, is it really you?" I said to the woman standing just inside the door, a woman I knew so well yet was just meeting for the first time.

With an enormous smile on her face, she held out her arms and said, "Come give me a big hug, brother."

I did just that, and as I held her in my arms, it was like I was holding Theresa again. Amanda had filled in for Theresa, keeping her promise to watch over me. She had done just that for so long that I felt close to this woman I had just seen for the first time. When I realized how long we had hugged, I blushed and let her go.

Sheepishly, I mumbled "Sorry," to Lindsey.

"Why? Amanda is family. Hug her again."

So I did.

We laughed about that, and talked excitedly for hours. Amanda wanted to see Lindseyís engagement ring (telling me the ring was almost as beautiful as Lindsey was), wanted to see the house and the yard (and where Lindsey had danced for me by the pool), and many other silly things. For though this was the first time either of us had met Amanda, we both knew her. We were "family," after all.

In time, we settled down, brought Amandaís bags into the guest room, and finally relaxed. Lindsey and I were sitting on the sofa and Amanda was in a chair across from us.

"Uh-uh, come here, Amanda," Lindsey said, reaching over my lap and patting the cushion on the other side of me. "There is enough of Michael to go around."

I felt so content sitting there, with Lindsey on one side and Amanda on the other. The two women who cared for me the most gave me such a feeling of joy and love. We talked for hours, like Amanda and I used to do on the phone or the Internet. Even when Lindsey started to get sleepy, she insisted on staying up with us. She was enjoying seeing the two of us finally getting to talk in person. In time, Lindsey leaned against me and drifted off to sleep. It was after midnight before we finally decided to call it quits for the night. I woke up Lindsey and helped her stumble off to bed.

It seemed like people were always at the house over the next few days. Amanda was accepted by Lindseyís family as if she really was my sister. Friends and family abounded as we completed the final preparations.

Amanda and Lindsey came to me two days before the wedding, serious looks on their faces.

"Whatís going on? From the way you two look, I think Iím in trouble," I said, trying to defuse the gravity of the situation with a joke.

Lindsey spoke first. "Amanda has something to say to you. She talked it over with me yesterday and I agreed with her. Listen to her, okay?" Lindseyís words were said with such gravity, and there was a hint of a tear in her eye.

I wanted to ask her what was wrong, but I didnít. I could sense they were doing something they both felt was important. We were under the trees in the backyard, the three of us, and I turned to face Amanda expectantly.

"Michael," she started, putting her hand on my shoulder, "earlier in the spring, I went to a Relay For Life event. It was sponsored by the American Cancer Society."

I felt a tremor of panic run through my body as she said those words, but I let her continue.

"Itís a fundraiser for research, but itís also a ceremony to honor the survivors of canceróand to remember the victims."

She was speaking slowly and sincerely, making sure I felt how important what she was about to say was. Lindsey took my hand in hers.

"I bought a luminaria and wrote Theresaís name on it, as part of the ceremony. After sunset, they light the candles inside the paper bags and call out the names of all the victims. They said Theresaís name."

"Thank you," I said, the words sticking in my throat a little from the emotion.

Amanda continued. "There is this other ceremony they did, earlier when it was still daylight. They released balloons. I was thinkingÖ"

I could sense her unease at something. I didnít know exactly what she was trying to say. Lindsey spoke up for her.

"Michael, Amanda wants to do something similar here, for Theresaóand for you. We talked it over and I think itís a really good idea." Then Lindsey smiled and looked pointedly at Amanda. That appeared to give Amanda the courage, or the confidence, to continue.

"This isnít something they did, exactly. I kind of altered it, but I think it would do you some good. You need to let go of Theresa now, with the wedding so close. We would both like to help you do that."

I still wasnít sure what she had in mind, but it seemed important to her. I let her continue.

"I want to help you symbolically let Theresa go. We both do." She looked past me to Lindsey. I noticed they were both tearing up now.

"Okay. Whatever you two have in mind, Iím game," I said.

"Iíll be right back," Amanda said and she ran off to the house.

I looked to Lindsey but she only said, "Just wait."

Amanda came back with a helium balloon. I waited expectantly. She led us over to the middle of the yard. We were standing in a clearing, away from the trees and beneath an almost cloudless sky. There were three ribbons tied to the balloon. She handed me the longest one, the blue one. She held on to a purple ribbon that was a little shorter, and Lindsey took the pink one, the shortest one.

"The balloon represents Theresa. She was your wife, your loveóand she held your heart first."

After Amanda finished, Lindsey spoke up. "Iíve known about Theresa the shortest amount of time. I wish I could have gotten to know her. I know sheíll always be in your heart." I noticed Lindsey pause and swallow before continuing. "Sheíll always be in my heart, too." Then she let go of her ribbon and the balloon ascended a little until Amandaís ribbon stopped it.

"I got to know Theresa, but not until the end of her life. She was a wonderful person and I truly wish I could have known her longer. She asked me to help you, but I would have done it anyway. I was honored that she asked me, though. She trusted me with your happiness. I can let her go now, so she can be free." Then Amanda let go of her ribbon and the balloon was held captive by only the ribbon in my hand.

I knew then that I was holding her back. It was time to let her to go heaven, but I just couldnít let go. The two women moved closer to me, each putting a hand on my arm that still held the ribbon.

"Itís time to let her go, Michael," Amanda said gently.

I nodded, and ever so slowly relaxed my hand until the ribbon started to slip through my fingers. We stood there, the three of us, looking up into the sky, watching Theresaís balloon ascend until we could no longer see it. She was gone. She had gone home.

George arrived the afternoon before the wedding, with his wife in tow. Everyone was gathering for the rehearsal dinner when George took me aside.

"Michael, I canít tell you how happy I am to finally see this. You know youíre like a son to me, donít you?"

I looked into Georgeís face, seeing a tear escaping from his eye.

"George?"

"Michael, when you told me about Theresaís illness, I never told you but it really tore me up. You two were perfect for each other. You drew so much strength from her. I felt you drew more from her than you were aware of and I was afraid that after," and his voice cracked. He swallowed before continuing, "That you would lose that spark, that thing inside you that lets you create. You have a gift, a gift that needs to be shared with the world. I didnít want anything to hurt that part of you."

He touched me on my chest, over my heart.

"Now, that lovely young lady in there has come into your life and rekindled the spark. I couldnít be prouder about tomorrow if you were my own son."

"Thank you, George," I said, choking back a few tears of my own.

"We have more than a business relationship. I hope you realize that. I really do care about you. I want to see you succeed. That publicity tour, well, I enjoyed watching from the curtain. But it almost killed me when I heard your plane had gone down."

"You werenít the only one," I quipped. Then I realized how it sounded and added, "Iím sorry, George."

"No, I know what you mean. I just wanted to tell you how honored I am that you asked us to be here, to represent your family."

"George, you and Carolyn are my family. Well, you two and Amanda."

"Thank you," he said. Then he put his arm around me and led us both back to the house.

"Is everything okay?" Lindsey quietly asked me when she could get me alone.

"Yes, very much okay," I told her happily. I put my arm around her and squeezed, breathing in deeply as I did so. "My life is so wonderfully okay." And I kissed her.

My eyes were still closed in the kiss when I heard people applauding. I opened my eyes in surprise to find everyone looking at us.

"To the happy couple," George announced and raised his glass. The rest of our guests cheered and joined in. I was expecting more toasts to follow, and they did, but first George gave a speech.

"I first met this man," and he pointed to me, "some years ago when he had this idea about becoming an author. I took a chance on himÖ and I never regretted it. I think you all know the pain he has had in his life." Most of the people in the room nodded. "After that happened, I feared he would never write again." George paused and smiled as his eyes darted to Lindsey. "I shouldnít have worried. When Michael met Lindsey, she got his life back on track. The change I have seen come over Michael in the last year has been truly amazing. He is happy again. He is alive again. You have no idea how happy it makes me to see him like this." He looked again to Lindsey, and his wife held his arm as he concluded. "It has been a long struggle for him. Thank you, Lindsey." And he held his glass out towards Lindsey.

Our guests applauded and I saw Carolyn reach up to wipe away a tear from Georgeís face. That gesture, so loving and caring, was one I hoped Lindsey would one day do for me. It demonstrated a love that had grown and matured over many years. Other toasts and speeches followed, but it was Georgeís words, and Carolynís gesture, that touched me the most.

I had hoped to get Lindsey alone after the rehearsal dinner, to have one last date with my girlfriend before she became my wife, but that was not to be. The wedding party had carefully orchestrated a bachelor party / bachelorette party. I was pulled in one direction, Lindsey in the other as we gave each other a last helpless look. It was tradition, but not what we really wanted to be doing. She gave me a look of resignation and blew me a kiss.

"Have fun," I mouthed as we caught our last glimpse of each other until the ceremony the next day.

The guys had a party planned for me. They enjoyed it but my thoughts were of Lindsey. I did my best to appear to have fun for their benefit. I was looking forward to the next day, to our wedding.

You plan and prepare for so long, and when the big day finally arrives, you just have to go along with whatever goes wrong. In our case, I think we got off easy.

I had slept at home and Lindsey had slept at her house. Amanda stayed with Lindsey that night. I was going back and forth between getting ready and trying to finish the book. I still hadnít come up with a title. On top of that, I kept thinking of our wedding vows. We had written our own, together, but I still wanted to say something special. Being a writer, I wanted to use just the right words, capture just the right shade of meaning, and I knew in my heart how I felt about Lindsey. I wanted everyone else to know it. In a moment of inspiration, things started coming together.

I thought about how my life had changed in the last year. I had just been through a terrible loss and I was dealing with it very badly. Then I met Lindsey. It hadnít been easy, but I had made it through many struggles. In the end, I had found a new life. Or, rather, I had found a new way to live, a way for me to be happy again. And that is when inspiration struck. I hurriedly typed the title at the top of the document, saved it, and sent it off by e-mail.

Having that done, I felt the rush and sense of relief I always felt when I finished a book. Oh, there would still be editing, maybe adding a little to the ending, minor things. The major part was done though, the story told. I took a deep breath and smiled. I was finishing dressing when the doorbell rang. It was the priest. The caterers had already arrived, the backyard was setup, and guests were starting to file in.

In an hour or so, Lindsey would be my wife. That thought running through my head brought tears of joy to my eyes. I hadnít noticed George arriving, but his strong arm was around my shoulder.

"I know how you feel, Michael. I cried the day I married Carolyn. When you have the right one picked out, you just know it."

"And you say you canít write," I answered him sarcastically.

"Oh, I never said I couldnít write. I said I was better at representing than writing."

We shared a laugh and then it was about time for us to make our appearance.

Standing beneath the banana trees on the side of the pool, I looked around at our friends gathered there. Mostly, they were people Lindsey had known before me. I wondered if any of the guys who had asked Lindsey to marry her before I came along were in attendance. She had never told me who they were. If any were there, I was sure they were envying me. I had managed to capture her heart, and she had certainly captured mine.

Amanda was there, sitting next to Carolyn. Amanda was beaming, and each woman was wiping a tear of joy from her eye from time to time, a crumpled Kleenex balled in a hand. I was so happy that Amanda was there to see this.

The backyard had been turned into a sort of wedding chapel. Since water (and the pool in particular) had been so central to our relationship, we had come up with a way to incorporate it into the ceremony. A wooden bridge had been constructed to span the narrow dimension of the pool, and been painted white. It now gleamed brilliantly in the late morning June sun. A small altar had been placed on the middle of the bridge, where we would exchange our vows. Our guests were seated in the yard around the pool, and the whole backyard had been decorated with white netting, greenery and flowers. My humble backyard had been transformed into a setting beautiful enough to showcase my bride. The setting was quite different from the formal church setting when I married Theresa. Then again, my relationship with Lindsey was quite different from that I shared with Theresa.

As that thought touched my mind, I felt a breeze drift across my cheek. I knew in my heart it was Theresa, letting me know she was there to share my joy. She was there on display also. A small table to one side held a portrait of my late wife, a picture I had taken two years before. It was on a beach and she was laughing as the sea breeze riffled through her hair. Next to that frame was another, of Lindseyís grandfather at work in his garden. The two of them were with us in spirit on our special day. Brisco, too, was there. He was lying in the kitchen window, safe from the crowd yet watching the event with mild interest.

George and I were standing at the foot of the bridge, the priest at the other end of the bridge. A murmur rippled through the crowd and I knew it was Lindsey and her attendants, arriving by boat. Music signaled the ceremony was beginning, and my heart leapt. I strained to get a glimpse of my bride, but all I could catch was a flutter of white in the distance.

I watched each of her closest friends walk up to the pool, meet a groomsman, and take her place at the edge. Then it was the Maid of Honor, to meet George. I knew Lindsey was next.

When the music changed abruptly, I felt in every pore of my being how much I loved Lindsey. It was a physical thing coming over me that I felt from head to toe. Everybody turned to watch Lindsey and her father walk across the yard, from the river to the pool. I could not take my eyes off her, so lovely was she in her gown. She glided across the grass, and though she smiled and looked from side to side to greet the guests, her gaze kept returning to me. I knew I was crying, I could feel a tear escape down my cheek from time to time, and I didnít care. I couldnít help it. I loved her and I was ready to pledge my life to her.

She and her father approached me, all eyes upon us. He lifted her veil and kissed his daughter. Then he turned to me and shook my hand.

"She is the most precious thing in my life. Take good care of her, Michael."

I tried to answer, "I will," but the emotion of the moment made the words stick in my throat. He smiled and nodded, then turned to take his seat next to his wife. I held out my arm to Lindsey and felt her gloved hand wrap around it. Her touch was so warm, so firm, so confident. We smiled at each other before turning and stepping together onto the bridge.

Our shoes made a small clomping sound on the boards as the music stopped. I felt all those eyes upon me, upon us, and I knew they were looking with envy at me. I was the one Lindsey was holding onto, the one she was about to marry.

We had written our own vows, and even practiced them. We each held a tiny piece of paper, to help if we forgot in the excitement of the moment. That was Lindseyís idea. I wouldnít need the paper, though. I wasnít going to say what was on the paper, either. When the time came, we turned to face each and held hands. I looked into Lindseyís eyes and spoke from my heart.

"Lindsey, my true love," I began, and saw the confusion in her eyes. She smiled softly, but there was concern. She didnít know where I was going with this. It wasnít what we had written. "About a year ago, I came to this town a broken man. I had been through a terrible tragedy, and carried a broken heart. I came here to hide, to escape from my world. Then I met you." I swallowed the huge lump in my throat and my voice cracked as I continued. "Lindsey, the school teacher selling vegetables on a summer day. I had no idea how my life was about to change at that moment. There were no bells ringing, the world didnít stop and take note. But that moment was a new beginning for me.

"We met that day, and got to know each other as the summer progressed. From time to time, our lives touched until they became entangled with each otheróentangled in a way that no one could ever separate. Even our mistakes served only to bring us closer." Pausing to take a breath, I remembered what I had typed at the top of the manuscript. "This last year I have been paddling upstream. In time," and I nodded here. "In time, I reached my destination and I knew my life was beginning anew, that it could only begin again with you. As our love grew, I became more than the person I was before. You gave me the courage to do things I never could before. And you showed me how to live, how to really live, again. I owe my life to you, sweet Lindsey, and I pledge that life to you today.

"I will love you for the rest of my life, I will cherish you, and I will care for you. You will be the most important thing to me, for all time. I give myself totally and completely to you, here in front of God, our friends and family."

The concern was gone from Lindseyís face. Replacing it was delight, true and total delight, at my words. As I was speaking, I was not aware of anything else. I was entirely focused on the face of the woman I was pledging my life to. Lindsey was crying, and I was too. We were both crying tears of joy.

"That was so beautiful, Michael," she whispered. She leaned forward to kiss me, but the priest spoke up.

"Not yet," he admonished. We looked to him, seeing a ghost of a smile upon his face. Light laughter rippled through the crowd as he wagged a finger at us. Lindsey and I shared an embarrassed smile. Lindsey cleared her lovely throat.

"I donít know how I can begin to follow that impromptu speech."

Laughter again floated on the warm air.

"All I can do is speak from my heart," she said. She was looking into my eyes again, and holding my hands very tightly in hers. I could feel the love she felt for me in the intensity of her grip. "You say that I rescued you, but you gave as much to me as I gave to you. My life is so much better with you in it. Before, there was an empty place that I could never fill. I wasnít even entirely aware that it was there, but it was. When you stepped into my life, that place was filled with warmth, and happiness," and she took a deep breath, "and love. So much love. Thank you, Michael."

She turned to look at the priest. He cleared his throat, indicated me with a slight nod of his head, and then spoke when Lindsey didnít respond.

"Your vows?" he prompted.

"Oh, yeah," Lindsey said, and turned back to me. The crowd roared at that one, and through the laughter, I alone could see Lindsey blushing. She gave her head a slight shake, drew in a deep breath, blinked, and began speaking the words she had rehearsed.

"Michael, you are my love, my life, my everything. I pledge all that I am to you. I promise all of my love and the rest of my life to you alone."

Having pledged ourselves to each other, we were finally allowed to kiss, to the delight of the guests. As I reached with both hands and held my new wife in my arms, I saw reflected on her face the love I felt for her. As I closed my eyes to kiss her, I thought I could see for just an instant the image of Theresa sitting on the front row, smiling and nodding approvingly. I could never stop loving her, but I certainly had room in my heart for one more love. Her approval was the last thing I needed to make everything complete.

The reception was perfect. Even the weather cooperated, cooling off a little in spite of the season. We drank, we ate, we visited, and we celebrated.

I cornered Maria during the reception. "You know this wouldnít have happened if not for you," I told her. "You got me here, and you introduced us."

"I told you. I always try to match the person to the home. You seemed to be a good fit." She looked around, at the guests milling about, at Lindsey resplendent in her gleaming white gown, at even Brisco in the window. "Yes, a very good fit."

"I canít thank you enough. When you gave me Lindsey, you gave me my life back."

Lindsey joined us, entwining her arm in mine. I could hear the rasp of the lace sliding across the wool of my sleeve. She smiled at Maria, then looked mischievously at me.

"Heís a Newcomer, but I think heíll do," she said, her soft laughter like the song of a bird. "Now Iím a Newcomer, too."

The three of us shared a laugh.

"When Maria first showed me the house," I remembered aloud, "I looked at it and wondered about the parties that had been held here. I thought about the families that had started here, the people who had loved here. Would I make any memories here?" I looked into Lindseyís eyes, into the eyes of my wife, and said, "Yes, and theyíre going to be wonderful ones." I kissed my bride. When I opened my eyes, Maria was holding her glass up and toasting, "To many happy memories."

"George," I said, finding a moment to talk with him and Amanda together, "check your e-mail. I finished the book and sent it to you."

"Really? Thatís great. All done?"

"The first draft. I know there will be changes, and I still have to put the final touches on the ending, but the story is all there."

"When do I get to read it?" Amanda asked in her pleasantly demanding tone.

"I e-mailed it to you, too. It will give you something to read next week while youíre watching the house for us."

"I canít wait!" she said with glee.

"I think you might find it, well, familiar," I told her with a twinkle in my eye.

"I am sure I will find it perfect," she said. Then, her gaze taking in both Lindsey and me, "Perfect." Her tone told of the love she felt for both of us, the joy she shared with us.

With one arm around my wife, I put the other around Amanda. I stood between my wife and my best friend, the two most important women in my life, and agreed. "Yes, perfect."

 

The End

This story is Copyright © 2007 by Strickland83. All rights reserved.

 

 

Afterword

This story took a lot longer to write than I expected. I enjoyed the journey, of course, but it was a long one. Along the way, I had help from many people and Iíd like to acknowledge them here. First is my editor, JRB. He and his wife gave invaluable assistance throughout the project. Alongside them was Lady_G, who inspired the character of Amanda. It was phone conversations with her that gave me the concept of the story, of how the friendship between Michael and Amanda sustained Michael through the death of Theresa. During this time, Lady_G and I became close friends and I hope to work with her on future projects. She also became one of my reality checkers and provided tremendous editorial input. I once again had help from my friendly neighborhood psychologist. "Dr. B" helped me to understand what Michael was going through and what it would take for him to get his life back on track. At the tail end of the process, Terry Steyaert still gives my chapters that final polish before you see them. If youíve read Secrets Revealed, then youíve met JRB, his wife, and Terry. In that book, JRB and his wife run the FBO at the Natchitoches airport, and Terry is their mechanic. As JRBís wife says in the story, between JRB and Terry there is nothing they canít fix.

In between the beginning and the ending, there were others who helped. The first debt of gratitude I owe is to Lindsey. Sheís a real person, a cashier at a McDonalds. I had written the beginning of the story, Michaelís arrival in Fournton, last summer and I was struggling to come up with the right person to be his salvation. I wandered into a McDonalds for lunch one day while traveling through a little town far from home, not knowing I was about to meet the character I was searching for. While I waited for my order, I watched the cashier at the next register. From the tiny red heart dotting the i in "Lindsey" to her pony tail to the way she playfully interacted with the other employees, I knew I had found the character I was looking for. Thank you, Lindsey, for inspiring me and for saving Michael.

Chapter 7 presented a special challenge. I wanted to write a realistic plane crash but had no experience (thankfully). A member of Nick Scipioís forum, known as riada6009, stepped forward. As a retired airline pilot, he had trained in simulators for emergency procedures. He and his daughter (an airline flight attendant) taught me a lot about what a crash would be like. Needing more information, I contacted the airline that flies the particular flight depicted in the chapter. After playing phone tag for two days, the spokesperson for the airline gave me a very large amount of time out of her busy schedule. In gratitude for this help I let these people name the flight crew. Thus came Carl Riada and Ginger in the cockpit. Kate, the spokesperson, became the flight attendant.

I had the unexpected delight of recently passing through the town that Fournton is based on. I now look at the Farmerís Market in a different light. To me itís forever where Michael met Lindsey. The house is Michaelís house and that office on Willow Street is now Mariaís office. The courthouse is gone, replaced long ago by a more modern structure, but in my mindís eye I still see the old one. I even visited Grandpaís gravesite, though the gnarled old cedar tree was destroyed in a storm years ago. The hardware store where Michael bought his refrigerator closed long ago, and I visited the graves of its former owners. I also stumbled across Samís grave. He was a real person, too, but he didnít own the cafť on Main Street. He had a different profession but he was a fixture in the town none the less. I also saw the bridge downtown that leads to the fields on the other side of the river.

These are the real details behind my story. They are just the backdrop against which my characters played their parts. I hope you have enjoyed reading the fiction I created against this reality. As always, thanks for reading.

Strickland83

May 2007

 

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