Laura glanced away from the ceremony in order to look at Claire. She was, as mother of the bride, seated in the front pew. Clutching a wadded up tissue as if it were a lifeline, Claire dabbed incessantly at her sparkling black eyes.
Laura smiled. Claire always cried like a baby at weddings. Laura also cried easily and had already started, although she didn't have a tissue. Many was the time they'd sobbed on each other's shoulder over the years.
It felt good to be home. And North Carolina would always be home to her no matter how long she lived away. It had been seven years now, three since she'd last seen Claire. Oh, they kept in touch, but ever since Laura had moved away, she'd felt like there was a Claire-shaped hole in her heart.
Of course, it was a much bigger hole these days, Laura grinned to herself. Claire had put on at least forty pounds during the past seven years. She was looking downright matronly now. Although she still appeared to be more like thirty than her true age of almost forty.
Laura returned her attention to the bride and groom as they began to exchange rings. Billie was beautiful, she thought, even if Billie's ears did look as if she'd stolen them from a bat. In fact, except for the ears, she was the spitting image of Claire. How had that happened? Claire, the beautiful. Billie had always been a little on the homely side.
Laura assessed the groom, whom she had not yet met. Nicer-looking than Laura had expected. He was obviously head-over-heels in love with Billie. Every time he looked at her, Laura was certain he was going to melt into a puddle around Billie's silver sandals. Well, that was good. He would have to be totally smitten to put up with Billie's bullshit.
If the groom -- what was his name? Oh, right, David. Laura would have to remember that. She was terrible at names. Still, it wouldn't do to not know the groom's name at her best friend's daughter's wedding. If -- David -- was true to form for the family men, he would be the strong, silent type with a wry sense of humor.
Claire's family, and Laura's, for that matter, was overrun with strong -- domineering? -- and opinionated women. The men who survived, and there were many who did not, had a core of steel which was well padded in cuddly loveableness and essential cool.
Laura adored Claire's husband, Jack. In fact, if they both didn't love Claire so much that it hurt, Laura and Jack probably would have fallen in love with each other.
But Jack was perfect for Claire, and would have been not-so-perfect for Laura. Laura's perfect man was seated beside her. Laura squeezed Mike's knee as the minister rambled on about some weird-ass ten commandments of marriage. As far as Laura was concerned, there was only one commandment of marriage. Pick the right man and love the hell out of him.
Laura suddenly realized that she had relived the last seventeen years of her life in the spare hour that had passed since Billie had marched up the aisle. Where had the time gone?
Laura's own children were grown and gone. She and Mike did what they pleased within the confines of Mike's career.
They were counting the days until his retirement. Then they would travel. General delivery granny. That's what she had promised. "Send me an email, and I'll tell you where I am. I love you."
Not that there were any grandchildren, yet. Her children, bless their practical souls, had listened when she told them to wait until they were financially secure to have children.
Laura's oldest was married. But the marriage was rocky, at best, and she expected it would end shortly. Kevin had already told her that he didn't love Dee any more. Kevin didn't make such pronouncements lightly.
Mike slid his arm around Laura's shoulder as the minister wound up the commandments and started in on first Corinthians. Would this man never shut up?
Laura kissed Mike's ear and slid into his automatic embrace. Claire was still crying in the front pew. Claire would need an IV to replace the lost fluids if the minister decided to tell the story of Ruth.
Jack, obviously bored, was mugging at one of his coworkers and showing him his new work boots. He wore work boots to the wedding. How like Jack.
Jack. How the hell did he put up with Claire? He was, truly, a saint. For that matter, how did Mike put up with Laura? Laura and Claire were two peas in a pod.
Laura stole an anxious glance at her husband. His steady, heart-meltingly green eyes were firmly fixed on the wedding as the groom kissed his bride.
Laura's heart leapt as she looked upon her own heart's desire and as the newlyweds turned to face the world as one. "I am so lucky," Laura told herself. "Here I am, the luckiest woman on the face of the planet. And no one knows it."
Carefully, she put her hymnal back on the rack of the pew in front of her. As she gathered up her skirt to stand, Claire caught her eyes. And they smiled at each other.