“Aeva, wake up, baby. It’s wedding day!”

The bride-to-be groaned and rolled over in her bed. “Ten more minutes, Mom,” she muttered groggily, burrowing deeper under the covers.

Leslie laughed. “You’ve said that three times already, Aeva. No more.”

The Daltrar house was filled with women in preparation for the big day. All of the female part of Aeva’s wedding party, her aunts and cousins, as well as many of her mother’s friends bustled around the house in a frenzy. The wedding was to take place sharply at four in the afternoon at Sermon at the Mount Baptist Church to be followed by a very exclusive reception in the Chamberlain Gardens. Leslie and her sister Colleen had gone to great lengths to ensure that Aeva’s wedding would be one that all the residents of Cornerstone—or at least those who were privileged enough to be invited—could never forget.

Joelle slipped through the back door and into the kitchen, her to-go bag from the bakery clenched between her teeth to prevent her freshly painted nails from smudging.

Aeva’s best friend Layne stood in front of the counter, stirring a spoon in Joelle’s favorite mug. “Joelle! We were wondering where you snuck off to,” she greeted her with a chipper voice. Her eyes zoned onto the bakery bag. “Pastries on wedding day? Tsk, tsk. How are you going to fit into your dress?”

Joelle smiled and plopped the treats on the counter. “Is Aeva up yet?”

“Just woke up a few minutes ago,” Aunt Colleen sauntered into the kitchen, pecking her niece on the cheek. “Hello, Joelle.”

“Hi, Aunt Colleen. How’d you sleep?”

Her aunt opened the fridge and pulled out a bottle of water. “Like a baby. I don’t know if I can say the same for your mother, though,” she spoke before sipping. “I’m sure she was up all night, anxiously waiting for today. If it’s possible, I think she’s more excited about today than the bride herself.”

Joelle shook her head. “Knowing Mom, I can believe it.”

Aunt Colleen paused to observe her niece. “Jo,” she began softly, “You know she didn’t get to have such a big wedding when she was younger. Your mother has always dreamt of planning her daughters’ weddings, and we really thought—nevermind.” Her words faded, and her lips curled into a soft smile. “Nothing. You should start getting ready, sugar.”

As she watched Aunt Colleen walk away, Joelle found herself feeling thankful for her aunt’s tact. Undoubtedly, watching Aeva get married before her would be difficult. But it wasn’t about how she felt. She was the only the maid of honor.

“Jojo??” Joelle could hear Aeva’s shouts from the second floor of the house. “Where is my sister?”
With a sigh, Joelle grabbed her purchases and headed to the stairs. “Coming, Aeva.”

At the Mainesbury Hotel, the men had been up for hours. Consumed in a tournament game of NBA 2K12 on the Playstation 3 that was provided in the hotel, the two suites that the bridal party occupied were noisy.

“I’m out, I’m out!” Michael lifted his hands in surrender, standing to his feet. “Even though I was cheated, I’ll respectfully back out with some dignity.”

“… So you mad?” Gerrod, one of his groomsmen, teased, rousing laughter from the rest of his friends.

Laughing, Michael headed for the connecting room where he found his godbrother on one of the beds, a Bible in hand. “Whoa. Is it my birthday?”

Ryan looked up, closing the book and laying it beside him. “What are you talking about?”

“You were reading a Bible, were you not?”

“I was.”

Michael nodded. “That’s something I haven’t seen since we were younger. It made me happy.”

Ryan stood to his feet. “It was right there,” he explained quickly. “So I just opened it… It’s been awhile.”

“You don’t have to explain anything to me, bro,” Michael grinned. He flopped on the bed on his back, staring at the ceiling. “I can’t believe I’m getting married in a couple of hours. It’s crazy.”

Ryan crouched to place the Bible back inside the drawer in which he found it in. “Good crazy or cold feet crazy?”

The younger man propped himself up on his elbows. “Good crazy. I love Aeva so much, man… Who would’ve thought I’d be getting married to such an amazing girl?” Michael looked to Ryan for approval. “Aeva’s great, isn’t she?”

“Why are you asking when you already know the answer?” Ryan nudged his godbrother and laughed. “Get up. We’re gonna have to get going soon. You can’t be late to your own wedding.”

Aeva stood in the full length mirror in the bridal suite of Sermon on the Mount Baptist Church, smoothing down her billowing wedding dress. Her mother and sister stood beside her proudly.

“Joelle,” Leslie sniffed, dabbing the corners of her eyes with a tissue, “Are you sure this mascara is waterproof? I’m already crying my eyes out, and the service hasn’t even started yet.”

Aeva’s lower lip poked out. “Moooom! No crying right now or I’ll start, too!”

“How about both of you save the tears until after the service?” Joelle’s dad spoke up from behind him. At the sight of his youngest daughter in her wedding gown, Joel’s mouth broke into a wide grin. “Aeva, you are beautiful. Like a princess. A real life princess.”

“Thank you, Daddy,” Aeva beamed at him. “What time is it? Is everyone in place yet?”

Joelle checked the clock hanging on the wall. “Ten till four,” she reported, bending at the waist to fluff the bottom of Aeva’s dress. “We need to get going now.”

Their mother nodded and wiped her eyes before taking a deep breath. “You’re right. I’ll see you in the chapel, ladies.” She kissed her youngest daughter on the cheek and walked out of the bridal suite, leaving her husband with his daughters.

Joel took Aeva by the shoulders, smiling proudly at her. “This is such a big step, Aeva. I’m so proud of you for doing this. Just yesterday, you were your four-year-old self, holding onto my leg and saying I was the only person you wanted to marry.”

Aeva made a face at her father. “Daddy,” she protested lightly. Still, her smile was bright.

From where she stood, Joelle felt like she was intruding in a special moment. The sight of them together was a lot for her to face. “I’ll be outside,” Joelle said softly, moving towards the door. “Be careful on your way out, Aeva.”

Once she was on the other side of the door, Joelle took a moment to recollect. It wasn’t about the wedding she wasn’t having but the wedding that she was more than happy to take part in. It was Aeva’s big day. “Give me strength, Father. And lots of it. I’m going to need it today.”

“Joelle! The flower girl’s throwing the petals already!”

She chuckled. “Coming!”

Inside of the chapel, the wedding had already started. Michael had walked in with the Reverend, and Ryan escorted his godmother to her seat before taking his place beside the groom. The sounds of sweet jazz music suddenly filled the room.

“Jazz music?” Ryan murmured incredulously. “You like jazz music?”

Beside him, Michael laughed. “Aeva wanted it.”

The procession began with little Kiah toddling in, a basket of flower petals in hand. Ryan watched with mirth as the three-year-old grabbed a fistful of petals and threw them into the air before even walking halfway down the center aisle. Realizing that her basket was empty, Kiah backtracked and picked up more petals to throw. Once she reached the end, she stuck her thumb in her mouth and marched to Ryan’s side.

The congregation laughed as Ryan, to no avail, attempted to guide her to where she was supposed to stand, but she would not budge. Even when her mother gestured her over, Kiah held tightly to Ryan’s leg.

The procession continued. The five bridesmaids and five groomsmen walked into the chapel gracefully, looking regal in the royal blue themed gowns and tuxedo accessories. All of the women looked pretty, and the men were sharply dressed. Ryan felt a sense of pride, having tied all of their bowties himself.

There was a ripple of gasps within the mass of people, causing Ryan to turn his eyes to the back of the church. Joelle.

His mouth unconsciously went dry at the sight out her. Because she was the maid of honor, she wore a powdery blue dress rather than the royal blue that the bridesmaids wore. Her skin shone, and her eyes glittered as she seemed to float down the aisle. Even more so than she had been at the cotillion, Joelle was gorgeous.

Ryan blinked, reaching up to rub his eyes. What was going on?

Reverend Daltrar lifted his hands. “Shall we stand for the bride?”

<<Part 11 || Part 13>>

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