(As always if you are new to the book here are links to the earlier chapters, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3 , Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, and Chapter 8).
Julie awoke the next morning feeling rather chipper. Today was the day she shed the oppressive bondage of singlehood forever. She hadn’t even fully removed the covers when she heard a slight knock at the door, “Honey, you in there?”
The night before, her parents had flown in from back east, and at the airport, as her mother caught a glimpse of her, she rushed into her arms totally ignoring any whistles or yellow coats telling them to move on. The only way Julie could think to describe her mother's mood was that of sheer giddiness. She doubted if most 14 year old girls got this excited before a NYSC concert.
Even now, the gentle tapping on the bedroom door was like that of a child anxious for their parents to get up on Christmas, but cautious of upsetting them. Indeed, just like a child on Christmas morning, Julie’s Mother had found it difficult to sleep, as today was a day she had dreamed of for a long time.
It was about 6 AM, as late as the enthusiasm would allow her to wait. Again came a gentle knock. “Yes, Mom, I’m here,” Julie said as her Mother rushed in.
“You haven’t even started getting ready yet?”
“Mom it’s 6 AM, we don’t need to be there until 9:30. I have plenty of time.”
“I think we’d better get started.” In truth, Mom was glad Julie hadn’t started. The two of them standing in front of a mirror, doing make up and putting her hair in an amazing “updo” in preparation for her Father walking her little girl down the aisle was a moment Barbara had relived in her head since Julie was a little girl, and she didn’t plan to miss any of it.
“I need to shower first.”
“Good Idea. You shower, and I’ll get the makeup and hair items set up and ready to make you look amazing.”
Julie had a very nice, very long master bath. It was one of the main reasons she had bought the home. Not only did it have a bath and a shower plus a jacuzzi tub, but it also had a large sink, vanity and mirror she could sit at to do her makeup.
When she bought the home she pictured herself each morning leisurely applying her eye shadow and sitting for long jacuzzi tub soaks on the weekend. Now, six years into ownership, reality had set in. The jacuzzi tub had years ago turned into a place for her to layout outfits and store clean clothes she hadn’t gotten around to putting away. And more makeup was applied in the front seat of her car at a stop light than in front of the huge vanity, but it was going to be used properly today. Mom was sure of that. So, while Julie showered, mom arranged and chat continued.
After mostly small talk around what types of braids and twist her hair would be forced into or what tone of base she preferred, Julie decided she could ask what was really on her mind, “Mom, is Dad okay with this?”
“What do you mean? Of course, he is. He couldn’t be happier.”
“He seemed a little odd last night.”
“I wouldn’t worry about your Father. He is a bit old fashion is all.”
“I know he’s old fashion, Mr. Rogers wears more modern sweaters. But what does that have to do with my wedding? I mean I’m marrying a man, in a church, and were not even living together. What is more old-fashioned than that?”
“We are very happy about that. I think the issue is, that he would have liked to meet Byron before the morning of the wedding. But don’t worry, he will be fine.”
Julie had to admit this was a reasonable request. After all, meeting the parents was a standard right of passage in any courtship. Had this wedding been happening ten years ago, Julie's Mom would also have demanded the opportunity to meet her fiance, but with Julie well into her 30’s she was so happy to see her getting married at all, she wasn’t going to get hung up on little details like, “who he was.”
“I told dad, Byron was picking up his Dad at the airport, so he couldn’t be there last night.”
“Yes, he understood, but he thought it was odd.”
“What, that he had to pick up his Dad?”
“No, the whole situation.”
“What do you mean?”
“Julie, don’t worry about it. You want this day to be perfect. Don’t let your Father's skepticism bother you. I told him to drop it, so he will behave today.”
“Mom, what do you mean his skepticism?”
“Forget I said anything.”
“Mom, it’s my wedding day, I deserve to know what dad thinks.”
“Come on Mom.”
She had always been a pushover for her daughter. “I’m not sure your Father trusts Byron, or at least, he’s a little uncomfortable with him.”
“What’s he worried about? That he is secretly an axe murderer.”
“That did come up.”
“You’re kidding, right.”
“You are his little girl. Nothing will ever change that. He feels an obligation to ensure that you are safe and don’t get hurt.”
“Byron’s not going to hurt me.”
“I know, but your dad doesn’t know that. So, he feels things are a bit rushed. Last night he was rattling on and on about how when he married me, he had to ask my Father for permission before he proposed, and then he mentioned something about handbaskets and hell.”
“He wanted Byron to ask him before he proposed?”
”He just wanted to be involved with the decision to some small degree. You mean the world to him, but he’ll see that Byron is an amazing man. He simply needs time to get to know him.”
Julie was torn. On one hand, she knew her Father’s desire to protect her was based in love. But didn’t he trust her not to pick an axe murderer? After all, her Mother trusted her. But then again her Mother was so anxious for this marriage, if she had found out Byron was an axe murderer, she would likely have said, ‘Sure everyone's seems bad if you only focus on their bad qualities.’ Her Dad had a point and perhaps deserved a better situation.
“I know what to do.”
Julie had a look in her eye that her mother was all too familiar with and she didn’t like it. It reminded her when at age 8, Julie leaned over to her mother at church and asked, “How much longer?”
“Any time now”
“No, How much longer?”
“We should have finished by now. But pastor Brent will finish soon.”
“You mean, were supposed to be done?”
“Yes, so it will be anytime now.”
Julie got that look, the ‘I know what to do’ look. She scooted down the pew, just out of reach of her mother, stood up and yelled up at the good Pastor, “Your time is up! We’re supposed to go home!”
While unorthodox and embarrassing, it did work. Pastor Brent lost his place, chuckled, said, “Amen” and sat down.
The look was back.
Julie, this will work out. Don’t do anything abrupt. Just let it be. There is no reason to call off or postpone the wedding because of your Dad.”
“I have no plans on postponing my wedding. Go and tell Dad to get ready quick we are going to the church at 8:30. I have a phone call to make.”
Uneasy as she was, her Mother obeyed. After all, it was Julie’s wedding day. Once she left the room and the door was shut, Julie picked up her phone.
Saturdays had always been Byron’s only day to sleep in, and even though today was to be his wedding day, he did not plan to make an exception. Yet the sound that was pulling him into and out of his dreams was not his typical alarm, by the time his brain focused enough to realize it was an incoming call, it had already gone to voicemail.
Grateful for voicemails, he rolled back over hoping he could find his way back into his dream. While he wasn't 100% sure what the dream was, he had been flying, getting some award, or perhaps eating cheesecake, whatever it was, it was good. But just as hope of reentering into slumber was becoming a reality the phone again rang. Byron willed the eyes to focus onto the faceplate of the phone. “Julie, why would she be calling?” Instantly the thought that she was backing out flashed through his mind. Who doesn’t have cold feet on their wedding day? Even people about to marry someone they love go through it. And why do they call it cold feet? Byron would have further contemplated the correlation between our likelihood of taking action to the temperature of one's extremities but decided he better answer the phone. After all, no matter how bad the news, sending Julie to voicemail a second time wasn’t going to make it better.
He cleared his throat, trying to clear 8 hours of built up throat flem in 2 seconds. Unfortunately for every person who has attempted this, the Guinness Book of World Records is still waiting for this to be done successfully.
“Did I wake you up?” Julie said with a bit of condescension. He knew a lie would be futile but contemplated it long enough for Julie to jump in. “Never mind, it doesn’t matter. I need you to be at the church by 8:30.”
“Eight-thirty? Why? It’s a little late for a run though?”
“Not for that, I want you to meet my Mom and Dad.” Byron felt the temperature of his feet dropping. “And ask my Father for my hand?” Julie added
“I said, and ask my Father for my hand.”
“No, I heard you, but, do people… even do that anymore?”
“Isn’t it a little late in the game?”
“This is not a game.” Julie said, as Byron instantly regretted his choice of words.
“I didn’t mean that, but I’m not sure I’m comfortable asking your Dad, whom I’ve never met, for your hand in marriage an hour before we are supposed to be married.”
There was a moment of silence, where again Byron wished had he been a little more awake because then perhaps he would have practiced the “think first, speak second” theory he spent so much time preaching to his clients.
“Byron, you will be at the church at 8:30, and you will meet with my Father and ask for my hand.”
“What if he says, No?”
“Oh, I forgot to add, and you will do whatever you have to to get his consent.”
Byron at this point debated asking “Or else you’ll what?” But he had been awake a little longer now and thought. Worst case she backs out, or was their something worse? He decided he didn’t want to find out, and her backing out was not a good outcome either. So he simply said, “See you at 8:30.”
Byron took a deep breath and headed for the shower.
Solomon said, “It shall be well with them that fear God.” And the wise king was not alone in touching on the subject. Indeed it seemed to be prerequisite to get your stuff published in the Old Testament that you love the word begat and that you have a good working knowledge of this God fearing thing. Byron had never felt he had a good grasp on the topic, but as he approached the towering, solid, decorative, 10 foot front doors of the St. Marks Lutheran Church, he felt his grasp of the concept improving.
Part of the confusion had come that, as a boy, he had always been taught that God was his loving Father, which, if it was true, then why fear him? But fear was exactly what he felt as the door slowly began to swing under Byron’s slow pull. It was a fear he never felt for the mild mannered man, the Father he only ever called Dad, who walked up the steps behind him. In fact, he could only think of two times he’d ever felt true intense fear of meeting someone. One was now, and the other was the first time he came up these stairs. Both times he was on his way to meet a man behind this door, and both went by Father.
He had not crossed the threshold before he heard Julie, in an angry whisper, “Byron, what are you wearing?”
The attire of his forefathers had the impact he assumed it would have.
“Julie,” he began as he finished his entrance and allowed his father to enter, “this is Stanly, My Dad. He was kind enough to bring me his tux from his wedding, for me to wear,” He said partially trying to shield her from any embarrassment, but mostly as a way to use his dear old dad as a shield from her wrath.
“Oh, so you are Julie,“ he said, then added with a resonance of sincerity, “You are beautiful! I’m so happy for you and Byron, and so glad I get to be here.”
“Thank you, I’m glad to meet you as well.” And she too was sincere. Despite his clear failure in fashion Julie could sense Byron’s Father was a good man. And nothing is more appealing than someone who loves us, and Julie could tell that despite never seeing her before Stanly loved her. She didn’t know why but his sincere happiness for them allowed her to instantly forgive his part in the appearance of the baby blue disaster that now draped over her husband to be. Byron however was not as easily forgiven. And she made that clear as she pulled him aside, and resuming her angry whisper that comes so naturally to all mothers, wives, and as Julie proved, soon to be wives, when under the roof of any sacred edifice. “What are you wearing?”
“It is, technically a tux.” Byron whispered back.
“Yes, it is, technically a tux. But the fact that you have to add the word technically in front of it should have been a clue to wear something else. What is my Father going to say when he sees you in that get up?”
Byron shrugged, partially because he could sense the question was rhetorical and partially because he had no idea.
“Well, I’m sure it won’t impress Dad. He’s waiting in Father Young's office. She pointed to a small room that sat at the back of the church, where they had originally met with Father Young. It was only now that Byron noted Father Young sitting on a pew a few rows from the back, not knowing what to do with himself since Julie had commandeered his office.
“Remember,” Julie continued, “you need to get his permission to marry me.” She forced a smile and added, “Good luck.”
Byron wanted to remind her that there was no game plan if her Father said no, but decided there was no point, took a deep breath and opened the door.
An older man sat at the desk. Byron instantly saw Julie's face in his. He was definitely her Dad. He stood as Byron entered, “Hello, you must be Byron.”
“Yes, and you must be…” Byron let this hang in the air. When he had begun this sentence, his intentions were entirely pure. However, it was about the third word in when he realized Julie always called him Dad, and Byron couldn’t recall ever learning his name. It must have been on the invitation, so he thought hard on trying to envision what it had said, but was coming up blank. Percy came to mind, or some weird P name, but should he risk guessing? The pause had been long enough that Dad jumped in.
“Oh, yeah that’s right. Sorry about that. I’m a bit nervous.”
“Don’t feel bad. It’s an odd name. Even the man I’m named after didn’t go by it. Most people called him Plum but since I never could pass for a fruit, I’ve been stuck with Pelham.”
“Well, It’s good to meet you.”
“I’m glad to finally be meeting you.” Pelham had not overemphasized the word “finally,” but did so just enough that Byron noted it.
Byron wasn’t sure how to do this. He’d never asked a man for his daughter's hand before; he felt like some small talk was in order, something to lighten the mood but nothing came to mind. Byron’s discomfort would have been obvious to the most oblivious observer, his face was flush, sweat was forming on his forehead and many more less visible places. If Pelham shared his discomfort, he didn’t show it. This was his opportunity to see what kind of man he was dealing with and he wasn’t about to let him off easy by showing any sign of discomfort himself.
Pelham let the mistake slide as Byron continued to stammer. “I...uh...was wondering…?”
“Yes.” Pelham said.
“I’m not really sure how to say this, but can I marry your daughter?”
“It looks to me that you are going to, so I suppose you can.”
Oh great the old may versus can. He had sworn in sixth grade he’d never fall for that one again. “What I mean is, do we...would we...may we,” Byron wanted to get the right word. “Have your blessing?”
“Byron, I have known you for a grand total of less than 5 minutes, we haven’t had a phone call, a text, a letter, or even a comment on each others facebook page. And now you are asking me if I am okay with trusting the most important thing in the world to me, the protection, happiness and welfare of my little girl to a total stranger. What would you do?”
Byron had never thought of this from the Fathers situation, what if it was his daughter getting involved in a sham wedding. The pressure was mounting and rather than take it Byron was buckling, a sick feeling in his stomach began to grow. The only answer he could come up with was, “I wouldn't give my consent, and you can’t. I understand Pilgrim, the show must not go on.” Byron was trying to build up the courage to say it. But the more he thought the more sick he got and he began to work that if he opened his mouth he might throw up.
But it was Pelham, the pillar of strength that became the first to buckle.
“But I realize, there is no point in laying all this on you at this point. There’s no turning back now, huh?”
Byron wasn’t sure he was grateful that he had been saved from answering. Despite not having to answer the difficult question, the sick feeling still lingered.
Pelham now had a calm and kindness in his voice as he asked, “What was the point of pulling me aside to ask when you knew it was too late to matter?”
Byron thought and honestly prevailed, “Because, it was what Julie wanted.”
Pelham looked at Byron and tears began to well up. “I guess sitting down with her honorary, old man and asking my consent at this point wasn’t easy, but you did it, because it’s what Julie wanted.” He chuckled a little as he spoke. “She always gets her way. Always has. I’ll guess you’ll have me to blame for that. I’ve always been a pushover for Julie. And if she wants you, and she wants my blessing, then I guess you, and I, better give it to her.”
Byron sighed. The sick feeling had not completely dissipated but he was now feeling confident he’d make it without throwing up, when Pelham continuing said, “But promise me you’ll always put her first, care for her and fight for what she needs?”
The sickness came back stronger than ever. Pelham was staring into Byron’s eyes.
“Of course.” Byron quickly got out, more out of reflex than anything else.
“Well, then I guess you are now my son, or will be soon enough.” Pelham said as he put his arm around Byron and headed for the door. “By the way son, I love the tux. I tried to wear one just like it when I got married, but I guess Barbara isn’t as open minded as Julie. My day had a real flair for fashion, especially compared to boring stuff of today. Glad you see it.
The talk had clearly calmed Pelham but inside Byron there was anything but calm.