Second Chance Wedding
Life converged on Mel MacAlister with a ferocity it hadn’t shown since she lost both of her parents in a car accident halfway through kindergarten. There were those in her profession who announced with a kind of elitist superiority they found charming, that children in general didn’t have clear memories before the age of two, and after a traumatic loss at the tender age of five, any memories she specifically may have had of her parents, were most certainly the product of fantasy more than memory.
What a load of crap.
She remembered the scent of her mother’s perfume on her pillow after Melody MacAlister snuggled with her. She remembered the deep rumbling sound of her father’s laugh when the three of them danced to the Steve Miller Band in their kitchen that always smelled of fresh baked bread. She remembered chocolate cake for breakfast and eggs for dinner. She remembered “silly Saturdays” spent by the lake, and the fact that the lake was called a pond, even though it was way too big to be called a pond. She remembered being carried to bed in strong arms and read to every night to keep the monsters out of the closet and away from under the bed. She remembered the stench of the hospital; the creepiness of the funeral director; the sadness on her grandmother’s face as the big men with expressionless faces lowered her parents into the black earth.
She remembered the first day at her new school, Shute Pond Elementary, in the small-town named after the lake that was too big to be a pond. She remembered one blond-haired girl coming up to her where she stood alone on the playground at recess, hand thrust out like she was an adult business person saying hello. Instead of saying “hello”, she said, I’m sorry your parents are dead. I want to be your friend. My name’s Wendy.
Now, here she was, twenty-eight years later, rehearsing for tomorrow’s walk down the aisle as Wendy Doonan’s maid of honor.
Yep, a lot had happened in almost three decades. Fate had been kind to her for the most part since she first met Wendy. Until now. Until today. Until she had to come face to face with Conall O’Malley, her first, and only, real love. And there was that little bit about having to acknowledge that the grandmother - who’d been parent, guardian, grandmother, and friend - was quietly losing what was left of her life.
Conall loved four women in his lifetime: his mother, his niece, Kitt MacAlister, and her pain-in-the-ass granddaughter, “Mel” MacAlister. Her real name was Sunshine Melody MacAlister. When he had stolen her lunchbox while walking home from school in second grade, she punched him in the face. His father was so angry with him for what he called tormenting a wee girl. She had been a “wee” girl then. She still was a half-pint. When his mother saw his blackening eye, she said, you’ve been hit by sunshine, laddy. If I were you, I’d treat something so bright with more respect from now on.
He’d been made to apologize not only to Sunshine Melody MacAlister, but to Kitt MacAlister, her formidable grandmother, as well. Since that day, neither MacAlister ignored him. He’d also been forced to cut Kitt’s grass for the entirety of that summer, which wasn’t all bad, because Kitt, as that great old dame insisted he call her, made Sunshine rake up all the cuttings as he went.
He’d taken that lunch box to get Sunshine to notice him, to smile at him the way she smiled at Wendy.
He’d taken the black eye as the cost of getting noticed.
He didn’t mind working outside, cutting Kitt’s grass. He began to enjoy spending the mornings working with Sunshine and the afternoons spent swimming in the pond. Most of the time, Kitt made him supper, prolonging his time with her and Sun. He learned how to play cribbage that summer. He learned he loved Kitt MacAlister, her windmill cookies, warm hugs, and kind smiles. He knew then he’d love Kitt as long as she lived.
By end of that summer, he knew he wanted to spend every day with Sunshine.
Now, watching her come toward him, dressed in a black, sleeveless, sheath dress that looked like it cost as much as he’d gotten for Kitt from selling her old pickup, black sunglasses that were too big for her pixie face, black studs in her ears that were undoubtedly black diamonds, he couldn’t believe she was the same woman who left Shute Pond, who left him twelve years ago. She was too pale, too skinny, and too pinched, with her pale blond hair pulled back so tightly from her face. The woman she presented to the world was too uptight to be worthy of the name Sunshine Melody. That was another thing he hated about this person she was pretending to be - she called herself Mel now.
He’d seen that name across from his in the wedding program and he’d immediately rebelled against it. She wasn’t a Mel. It just didn’t fit with the person she was.
A small voice he didn’t want to acknowledge flowed through his head...you mean it doesn’t fit the person she used to be.
Conall pushed the voice away. He knew the heart, the mind, and the spirit he loved was still in that skinny body somewhere. No matter how Sun tried to hide it. No matter what ill-fitting name she chose to call herself. Conall knew he should just let it go, but for some reason known only to the universe, he just couldn’t get past it.
What kind of name was Mel anyway?
It sounded like it belonged embroidered above the pocket of a polyester bowling shirt worn by a balding sixty-ish guy with a beer belly and an unhealthy interest in cheap cigars and garage pin-up calendar girls a third his age.
She didn’t even call herself Melody, her mother’s name, just Mel. No, that wasn’t quite right, and it wasn’t just Mel, it was Dr. Mel MacAlister.
Her choice of a first name fit her about as well as her choice to wear all that black at a wedding, even if it was only the rehearsal. Everyone else in the wedding party was dressed casually; in color; no dark sunglasses; no black dress that should be on a New York City socialite; no strappy black heels that would sink into the grass the second she strayed from the stone path.
She was going to break her neck in those damn things. Who wore heels to a garden wedding?
She didn’t fall on her way down the aisle. That irked him.
The closer she got, the more prominent her collar bones became. That irked him, too.
When she reached the arbor that he’d created for the ceremony, she paused, and Gary, the minister, nodded toward the left, where she was to stand across from him. Sun turned to step from the stone path to her position as maid of honor and, sure enough, her heel caught, and she tripped. Right into him. Conall steadied her with both hands on her arms. She pulled out her heel and righted herself pretty quickly for someone who couldn’t take a full stride in her tight dress.
When she tried to pull away, he held her tight, whispering in her ear, “Falling for me again, Sun?”
She yanked away and tottered a bit in her ridiculous shoes. She raised her chin and he could tell her eyes were shooting lasers at him, though they were hidden behind lenses far too big for her face. Her voice was calm when she spoke, but she couldn’t hide the rapid pulse beating against the translucent skin at the hollow of her throat.
“That was no fall, O’Malley. I was merely catching my footing on my way to higher ground.”
Conall let her go so quickly she stumbled again. He wished she would have fallen on her too-skinny ass, but she didn’t. He locked his jaw and plastered a sardonic smile on his face. She was always smarter than he, and better able to lock her heart away and move on. If she could pretend there was nothing between them anymore, he could too.
“Better be on your way then, princess. Hate for you to waste your time down here with us small-town nobodies.”
Her sharp inhalation of breath and the stiffening of her backbone mollified him somewhat. Conall’s fake smile eased and he was able to breathe again.
I can still get to you, Sunshine. No matter how hard you try to hide your light.