Mary grinned at Amy’s astonished expression. The two sat at the kitchen table with baked brie and French bread on a plate before them. Steaks sizzling in the broiler filled the kitchen with the smell of a summer grilling party. She had invited Amy to dinner so she could break her news in person over a celebratory dinner. “You heard right. I’m getting married to David. On August 15.”
Amy got up and rounded the table to hug her shoulders. “Oh, that’s fantastic news.” She returned to her seat. “So when is he coming out to see you?”
“A few days before the wedding.”
“A few days isn’t very long to get to know someone you’re going to marry.”
Mary slathered some brie cheese on a piece of warm bread. “I’m not sure why everyone’s so concerned that I haven’t met the man. For centuries, the bride and groom never saw each other until after the wedding ceremony.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s the right way to do things. Sometimes those marriages don’t work out”
“I know, but it’s not as though I just met the man. We’ve been chatting every day for months. I feel like I know him better than anyone I’ve ever met.”
Amy picked up a piece of bread and spread brie on it. “What does Jared say about this?” She took a bite.
Jared’s shuttered expression of when she had told him of the engagement replayed in Mary’s mind.
“Mary?” Amy’s voice yanked Mary back to the present.
“He said congratulations, and then he asked the same questions you are asking.” She removed the steaks from the oven, and placed the meat on two dinner plates, adding green beans and a baked potato.
Amy sighed. “I’m sorry, Mary.”
Mary set the plates on the table and reseated herself. “I mean, we’ve known other couples who have met through Soul Believers and gotten married. What about Jill and Damion? Matt and Kirsten?” Mary’s voice rose. She hoped she didn’t sound too harsh, but she was tired of being interrogated by her two best friends.
“They did initially start a relationship online,” Amy said slowly. “But you know those couples had in-person dates long before they were engaged.”
Mary popped the last bit of bread in her mouth to avoid saying something she might regret. Amy’s comments echoed Pastor Smith’s. She had asked him to perform the ceremony, but he wouldn’t unless David could be physically present for premarital counseling. After swallowing her bite, she tried to speak more calmly. “I’m nearly thirty-nine years old and I’ve never been on a date. I finally meet someone who’s my soul mate in nearly every way, and no one can be happy for me.” She sighed. “What do I have to do to convince you that David’s a nice guy who just happens to be in love with me? Is it so hard to comprehend that a handsome man would want to marry me?”
Amy looked down at her hands, her shoulder-length brown hair swinging forward to touch her cheek. She raised her eyes and met Mary’s stormy gaze. “No, it isn’t hard to think you’ve captured the heart of a man. I don’t want to see you get hurt, that’s all. You hear so many stories about weirdoes online. I’m just concerned about your safety—as I’m sure Jared is.” She took a deep breath. “But if you’re sure David’s the one, then I’m here for you.” Amy reached out and touched Mary’s hand. “Now, what can I do to help you plan this wedding?”
Mary wiped a tear from her eye. “Thank you. I can’t pull this off without you.”
“You won’t have to.”
Mary cut a piece of steak, then paused. “It will be a very small wedding, since my parents…” She couldn’t wrap her mind around the fact that they weren’t her parents, but her distant cousins. No matter, she’d explain the circumstances to Amy later. “They won’t be able to come back from Peru, and David’s parents are dead. He will be coming out with his sister, Sylvia.”
“Where will you have it? Have you talked to Pastor Smith about this?”
Mary nodded. “I asked him about officiating, but he said he couldn’t unless David came out before the wedding. David said he would try, but he has so much to do. My list is growing longer by the minute, what with the auction and all.”
Amy quirked an eyebrow. “Auction?”
Mary took a deep breath and filled Amy in about her plans to sell the Eakins painting to fund David’s missionary trip to Peru, which now included herself.
“I can see that I’ll have to call you more often, if this is what happens when I don’t phone for a few days.” Amy laughed. “You get engaged and sold a valuable painting. Wow. I had no idea that portrait was worth that kind of dough.”
“I haven’t sold it yet, but I hope to have it auctioned off in a few weeks.”
Amy leaned over and snagged a pad of scratch paper and pen from the kitchen counter. “I know nothing about auctions and paintings, but I do know a few things about planning weddings. For a stripped-down wedding, you basically need a venue, marriage license, wedding dress, witnesses, and reception plans.”
Mary sighed. “That still seems like a lot to do. I don’t know where to start. What do you think?”
Amy poised the pen over the pad. “Let’s start with the invitation list. Who do you want to invite?”
“You, Calvin, Jared, Pastor and Susan Smith, and of course, David and his sister. That would make eight.”
“Then you could have the wedding here in the living room or outside if the weather’s good and the yard looks nice.”
“Jared’s done a great job so far and I could ask him to have it ready for an outdoor wedding.” Mary craned her neck to see out the back window. “Under the giant maple tree near the old back garden would be pretty. That would solve the problem of having such a small party in our church’s large sanctuary.”
Amy took rapid notes. “You could have a local restaurant or caterer do a brunch afterwards. Something simple, like a buffet, and a small wedding cake.”
“That could work. I’ve always loved the take-out from Daily Bread Bakery and Café.”
“Then call them and see what suggestions they have for a brunch for eight.”
Mary stood and gathered their plates. “You make it sound so simple.”
Amy smiled. “It can be. I’ll make you a list of things to do. Call Pastor Smith. Call Daily Bread. Buy a wedding dress. Ask Jared about the yard.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad, except for find a wedding dress. That could prove difficult.”
“What about your mother’s dress? Maybe your aunt stored it in the attic. You told me once that there were all sorts of boxes and trunks up there.”
Mary wanted to explain about her aunt and parents to Amy, but Amy had to leave in a few minutes to make her premarital counseling session with Calvin and Pastor Smith. That was another thing to add to her list—finding out if Pastor Smith would conduct premarital counseling online or over the phone instead of in-person. “You’re full of good ideas. I’ll check to see what there is lurking up there. Who knows? I might get lucky.”
Amy looked over her list. “The only thing left will be the marriage license, which you can take care of when David arrives.”
“Don’t I have to have that ahead of time?”
“Nope, not in Virginia, and no blood test, either. What about a passport? That takes longer than few days.”
Mary loaded the dishwasher and walked back to the table. “I have a current passport.” She smiled. “I guess I always wanted to be able to jet off to Paris at a moment’s notice. I never thought it would be to Peru with my husband. But it can take several months to get a visa, so I might not be able to leave when he goes in late August. That will give me time to figure out what to do with the house.”
“What are you going to do about your job?”
“I’m not sure, since it’s still kind of up in the air as to when I’ll actually leave.”
“You probably only need to give two weeks’ notice, right?”
“Could you wait until you have a better idea of when you’ll be leaving before you say anything?”
“What would I do without you?” Mary blew out a breath. “That’s probably the best way to handle it. I’ll put in for time off for the wedding and honeymoon, and then go from there. I’d hate to give notice now and have nothing to do for a few months while I wait for the visa to come through.”
“You know I’m happy to help in any way I can.” Amy’s iPhone alarm buzzed and she consulted the phone. “Is it really after seven? Calvin’s going to kill me. I told him I’d be at the church by 7:30 and now I’ll be late.” Amy stood up. “I’ll let myself out. See you tomorrow.”
Mary hugged her friend good bye and then walked to the sink to wash the broiler. She envied her friend with her in-town fiancé. She longed to meet hers face-to-face before their wedding, but had to admit it was rather romantic not to have even seen the groom in person before she committed her life to him. She giggled at the thought that in this modern age, she was ready to become a sort of mail-order bride, one who had only corresponded with her husband-to-be in writing. After all, words had a way of baring a man’s—and woman’s—soul.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Phantom Love is copyrighted and cannot be used in any form without permission from Sarah Hamaker.