Camp Wedding (part of Matrimonial Mayhem)

Chapter One

“Stop fidgeting or I might poke you instead of your wedding dress.” With a half dozen pins held between Ashley’s lips, her words were barely intelligible.

Trish couldn’t miss the warning hand on her waist though, and she froze in mid-hop, one foot suspended in the air. With a great deal of caution, she slowly dropped her foot until both her feet were firmly set on the hardwood floor.

“I don’t know, Ash. Maybe it’s a sign. A second major storm making a direct hit on Lookout Island before we even finished cleaning up after Emily?” Trish leaned forward to peer at her reflection in the full-length mirror. “And now my dress doesn’t fit.”

“A sign of what?” Ashley gathered some of the material and slid another pin along the edge of the blush-rose colored fabric.

“I don’t know.” Trish shifted to her other foot. “Dan’s whole family will be here. I’ve never met them. What if they hate me?”

“Trish Evers, you know that’s just nerves.” Ashley stepped back and looked at her work. “Okay, you can get changed. And Big Dan was a little scary when I was in high school but Margaret has a golden heart. You’ve talked to them on the phone, haven’t you?”

Trish nodded, staring into the mirror. “Dan set us up on this computer thing and we met in a video chat.”

“Did they look like they hated you then?”

“No, they were very nice.” Trish fingered a bit of taffeta at her waist. “Does this look too bunchy to you?”

Ashley leaned over, tugging gently on the fabric. “The pins are making it stick out funny. It’ll look better when it’s actually sewn. It’s a good thing you tried your dress on.”

Trish smiled, meeting Ashley’s eyes in the mirror. “It’s handy that I have a friend who can sew.”

Ashley set her hands on her hips and cast a mischievous grin in Trish’s direction. “There! See? That’s a sign, too.”

“I guess. It’s just so much is going wrong.”

Cocking her head to one side, Ashley’s narrowed gaze surveyed Trish. “Do you want to get married?”

Anxiety sparked the irritation at her friend’s question into anger. “Of course I do. What kind of question is that?”

Ashley gentled her tone. “You’re concentrating on the curves in the road instead of the straightway.”

Trish made a face at Ashley and stomped her foot. “Am not.”

“You look so much like your little girl when you do that.” Ashley’s southern belle accent thickened. Then she smiled and tossed her thick, blonde hair. “Look, you’re just having a case of nerves. You’re marrying about the most perfect man there is. Think about that instead of all the crud that’s not perfect.”

A warm feeling washed over Trish. “I really am, huh? I couldn’t ask for anyone better. And Bella just loves him.” A twinge of dismay filtered in. “But what if his family doesn’t understand about Bella?”

Ashley stepped in front of the mirror and clamped her hands on Trish’s shoulders. “Look at me. You think the Conways will have a problem because you have a six-year-old daughter?” Her tone clearly told Trish to try another thought.

And Trish did, albeit only slightly different. “Her own father didn’t want her when we found out about her Down syndrome. Maybe Dan’s folks won’t be too thrilled when he tells them he’s adopting Bella as soon as we’re married. It’s one thing to be presented with an instant granddaughter, but a granddaughter with a handicap might not be so thrilling.”

“I thought you said Dan told them about her Down syndrome.”

Trish sighed. “He did, but we didn’t know the adoption was going to go through until just two days ago, so he didn’t want to jinx anything by talking about it.” She smiled at the recollection of her self-assured fiancé’s superstitious nature when it came to things that were important to him. It felt pretty good knowing she and Bella were important enough to Dan to awaken that in him.

“You’re worried over nothing.” Ashley began to pull down the zipper on the dress. She paused when a knock sounded on the door.

The door pushed open and Bella barreled through, a green plastic beach bucket in her hand. “Mama! Daddy and me found special shells!”

Glancing in the mirror, Trish saw Dan lounging against the doorframe, an indulgent smile on his strong face. He still wore the sunglasses he typically used when he went outside.

“Daniel Conway, you aren’t supposed to see the bride in her dress before she walks down the aisle!” scolded Ashley.

Trish’s eyes widened and she stared at Ashley in horror. But Dan’s smile only widened into a grin. “Ash, I think you’re forgetting, my woman here could walk down the aisle in rags and I’d never know the difference until our first dance.”

Ashley giggled.

So did Bella. “Daddy’s funny. Mama’s dress is like a princess dress.”

“Oh yeah. I keep forgetting you’re blind.” Ashley jabbed a pin into a plump red pincushion.

Dan’s grin became a full-blown hearty laugh. “You can’t get away with playing the dumb blonde, Ashley.” He paused. “Hmm, you are still blonde this week aren’t you?”

The clenched fist around Trish’s heart eased its hold. Maybe one day she’d be less sensitive to Dan’s blindness than he was. It still amazed her how well-adjusted and laid-back he was about his loss of sight. She knew acceptance hadn’t come easily for him but that fact wasn’t so apparent to others because of his outward self-confidence.

“Well, I’m about to take off the wedding gown, so you all can rest easy.”

Dan’s grin remained in place and he settled more comfortably against the doorjamb.

Trish chuckled. “What are you doing?”

“Waiting for you.” Dan crossed his arms over his chest. “Did you forget our meeting with Chaplain Higgins this afternoon?”

“No,” said Trish, making a face. “I didn’t forget.”

Dan merely stood against the doorframe, a knowing smile playing around the corners of his lips. Trish allowed her gaze to linger on those lips for a moment, wishing they were alone so she could kiss that smug smile away.

“Okay, it may have slipped my mind,” she admitted with a laugh. “But I had a wedding dress crisis.”

“Oh, well, of course a dress crisis has to be resolved before we meet with the chaplain who’s going to marry us.”

“Okay, I get it. I’m being impractical trying to get everything just right.” Trish struggled to reach her zipper, giving up and presenting her back to Ashley instead. “I know everything can’t be perfect but I at least want to look nice.”

“You always look nice to me.”

Trish whipped her head up to glare at her fiancé.

Dan struggled to control a grin. “She’s giving me the death stare right now, isn’t she?”

Ashley leaned around Trish to check her face. “Umm-hmm.”

Dan sighed. He pushed off the door but made no move to enter the room. “Trish, I really do think you’re the most beautiful woman in the world. And I’m talking about so much more than how you look. I see who you are inside.”

Bella looked up from her bucket of shells. “Daddy doesn’t see with—his eyes, Mama. He uses—his heartsight.”

In an instant, Trish’s worries about her dress, about the venue, the preparations, and meeting Dan’s family all fell away. She looked from the daughter she loved to the man she loved and smiled. “And aren’t we lucky he does, baby?”

“Hold still so I can unzip you,” said Ashley.

The whisper of the zipper sounded loud to Trish’s ears and she suddenly realized Dan still stood in the doorway. His head was tilted in the way he had when he was listening intently, and the smile on his mouth looked just a little bit like a leer. Trish cleared her throat. “Don’t you have to get ready yourself?”

He shook his head. “No, I’m all set.”

“Um, hello. I’m changing here.”

His suggestive chuckle did things to Trish’s heart rate. “What’s the matter? It’s not like I can see you.”

When the man was right, the man was right. With a giggle at her silliness, Trish slid one sleeve off her arm with a whoosh of taffeta. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught the slight movement as Dan tilted his head in her direction. “Oh, for Pete’s sake! You’re imagining the dress coming off, aren’t you?”

He froze, the smile evaporating from his face as he started easing from the doorway. “Ah, I’ll just go get Jack into his harness.”

Laughing so hard she could barely move, Trish plucked a throw pillow from the chair next to the bed and chucked it toward the door, deliberately missing the man she loved and hitting the wall next to him. His laugh lingered as he beat a hasty retreat down the hall.

Trish poked her head around the door to make sure Dan was gone before she closed it. When she turned around, Ashley was watching her with a big smile. “I love watching the way you play together. It’s never going to get old with you two,” she murmured. She looked around the room. “You’re living in his house until you get power back but you don’t—you haven’t. . .” She shot Trish a knowing look, then her gaze slid to Bella, as if suddenly becoming aware the conversation was inappropriate with a child in the room. But Bella was busy playing with the ribbon that was supposed to tie around the waist of Trish’s wedding gown.

Heat crept into Trish’s face, along with a sudden feeling of shyness. Ashley was, after all, Dan’s high school girlfriend and though they were nothing but good friends now, with more than a decade gone by, Trish was pretty certain they had once been intimate. So this wasn’t a topic of conversation she wanted to continue, no matter how great a friend Ashley had become to her.

Thankfully, her daughter saved her, voicing the one aspect of the conversation between the three of them that she had apparently fixated upon. “Mama, Daddy can’t see your princess dress.”

Trish slipped out of the gown, laying it across the bed and smoothing it out. She tugged a simple blue sundress over her head, tying the halter strings around her neck. The simple task of getting dressed helped her regain her composure.

“Mama!” Bella pulled on Trish’s dress. “Daddy can’t see you. How will he know you’re pretty?”

“Remember we’ve talked about it, sweetie? Daddy sees differently than you and me.” Trish drew a hairbrush through Bella’s soft blonde hair. “Daddy knows what things look like because he can feel them.”

Bella turned a solemn face upward to regard Trish. She used her hand to push up her pink-framed eyeglasses. “But how does he know what color it is?”

“Hmm.” Trish paused in mid stroke. “That’s a tough question. I suppose we’ll have to tell him.” She pointed at the dress. “What does the color make you think of, Bella?”

Bella frowned at the dress for a moment. Then her face cleared and a sunny smile burst forth. “It’s like my big shiny shell, Mama!”

Trish stared. Indeed, the dress was almost the same color of blush pink as the inside of the conch shell Dan’s sister had sent Bella from her childhood collection. “Then when we get married, that’s what we’ll tell him the color is, okay? But let’s keep it a secret until then.” She kissed her daughter on top of the head.

Ashley folded the dress into the garment bag. “I’ll have these alterations finished by tomorrow. Don’t worry. Nothing’s going to keep your wedding from being absolutely perfect.”

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