Excerpt from With This Ring

     I woke up in the midst of a nightmare about three o'clock in the morning. In the dream, I'd been standing in front of Tom Nelson, who held an open Bible in his hands, and I was surrounded by all my family and friends. I was wearing my lovely pink silk dress, and my hair, recently permed and highlighted, looked as good as it was ever going to look. My nails, all manicured and painted, also looked terrific. The cakes, punch bowl, and flower arrangements were all positioned perfectly. The guests were all smiling in anticipation. Even the pair of doves that had been delivered an hour earlier, as planned, were cooing quietly in their cage and waiting patiently for their chance to fly free after the vows had been exchanged. Everything was in perfect order for a picture-perfect wedding.
     The only thing missing was the groom. Stone was nowhere to be found. Neither Randy nor Wendy knew where he was, and he hadn't mentioned being late to Detective Wyatt Johnston or to his nephew, Andy, either. The grandfather clock just inside the back door struck half past the hour of three, and there was still no sign of Stone. He had skipped out and left me standing at the proverbial altar. I'd been afraid he'd take a long, hard look at all my inherent faults and weaknesses and come to his senses before the big day, but I hadn't expected him to change his mind at the very last moment. I hadn't expected him to humiliate me this way.
     I looked around at the crowd who were now all laughing at me as they began to realize what was happening. Even Paula Bankston's dogs, Tiny and Moose, were perched on chairs in the back row, snickering as only a tiny Chihuahua and a massive mastiff can do. This should have clued me in that it was only a dream, but it didn't. Nor did the dancing clown with the creepy makeup, or the fact that Sheila had morphed into my late, great-grandmother and was serving hot dogs and peanuts to the crowd. I hadn't remembered inviting Joe Namath to the wedding either, but there he sat in the third row.
     It was only when Frieda, the vocalist from church, began singing "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" that I woke up, bathed in sweat. I was relieved to discover I'd only been having a nightmare, and that my fiancé was lying in bed next to me. I tried to go back to sleep, but only managed to doze off a few times, while spending the rest of the night tossing and turning. It was a wonder I didn't wake Stone up with all the thrashing I was doing trying to find a position that would put me back to sleep.
     With my mind racing in numerous directions, I knew the chances of me falling back to sleep were remote. I was worrying about every little aspect of the wedding to be held tomorrow, afraid some critical detail had slipped my mind. I was wondering also if driving by the Webster's house in the morning was a good idea. It had been very important to me to see Pastor Steiner's killer apprehended before another minister stepped in to officiate our wedding, but all my efforts so far had been fruitless, causing me nothing but grief, embarrassment, fear, and humiliation, not to mention a broken wrist. Wasn't it better to leave well enough alone, whether the killer was ever brought to justice, or not? I flipped over in bed for at least the hundredth time while I mulled it over.
     At six o'clock I gave up and went downstairs to brew a pot of coffee and have a few moments to myself out on the back porch before the inn became a beehive of activity. There I reflected on how my life was about to change. I would never make a major decision on my own again without talking it over with Stone. It would never be just "me" again, for I would soon form a partnership and be half of "we." I knew I could never give up my independent nature, and I knew Stone would never ask me to, or even want me to. But I also realized I wasn't the type to be selfish, and would always take his best interests into consideration before I acted on any impulse.
     The impulsiveness would never fade entirely from my personality, but it might be tempered some. For both of our sakes, I hoped so.
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