Conclusion to BTWD
Dabbing a perfectly pressed linen handkerchief to the corner of his eye, Stewart Sullivan sighed heavily. "Kitten," he said, clearing his throat of the rasp emotion had planted in his voice. "I always thought you were so beautiful. I knew it the first time I laid eyes on you, but today…wow...today you take my breath away."
His daughter, resplendent in a winter white designer gown, laid a gloved hand on her father's shoulder and gave it a delicate squeeze. "I hope those are happy tears, Daddy," she teased, "and you're not crying because you still disapprove of Jimmy."
"In my own defense," he said, a frown creasing his forehead, "I never said I disapproved of Jim…we've had so little time to get to know him. I just…I said it before…I guess I always pictured something more for my little girl."
"Daddy," she answered quietly, "I wish I could make you understand that I don't need anything more. That was your vision, it always has been. I found what I was looking for and he's right out there, waiting for me."
"I know you say that now, Christine, but I wish you would try to understand my point of view too. The truth is I'm not convinced you're cut out to be a cop's wife...it's a gritty, blue collar kind of life and whether you believe it or not, you're not a blue collar kind of girl. That's certainly not what I see in the woman standing before me now. You weren't raised that way and Jim wasn't raised with the same monetary benefits you enjoyed. Those social differences will…let's just say that this won't be easy, for either one of you. I hope you know that if things don't work out…."
"Daddy, stop," she said, indignation in her voice, "please! Believe me; I've had so much time to think about this, especially after what happened to Jimmy last week. I'm not going to lie to you; his being a cop still frightens me, but it's who he is and he loves what he does. I accepted that a long time ago. I don't question any of it because I know in my heart this is where I'm meant to be…and because he's…..because he's worth it. Now," she said, her tone softening, "I asked you to give me away on my wedding day to the man I love because you're my father and I love you dearly too. But if you keep this up, I will walk down that aisle without you. Please don't make me choose between you."
"Oh, Kitten, I'm not trying to make you choose," he said, pulling her to him and wrapping her in a fatherly hug. "It's obvious that your mind is made up and nothing your mother or I say or do will change that. I guess what it all boils down to is a matter of love and I can see it's one you seem to be very sure of. So be it." He placed a gentle kiss on her forehead before releasing her from his embrace. "I'm sorry…maybe I'm the one who's not ready for this day. I just want my baby to be happy."
"And I will be," she said without hesitation, a radiant smile finding its way to her lips. "This is my big day and I want to be able to enjoy it, Daddy, every minute of it, including these last few minutes with you. You do understand don't you that this is it? Things will never be the same again."
Stewart hesitated, an expression of contemplation on his face. "No…you're right….they won't. You'll always be my baby but you're not your Daddy's little girl anymore. Somebody else has your heart now." Snuffling back a fresh bout of sentimentality, he smiled adoringly at his daughter. "This is really it, isn't it? The day every father looks forward to and the day every father dreads. It's time to let you go," he said, holding his arm out to her.
She slipped her hand in the crook of his elbow and leaned her head against his shoulder. "Yes, it is, Daddy," she said. "It's time for you to give me away."
"Damn!" Jim cursed in frustration at the reflection of his latest effort to master a simple bow. Tugging at both ends of the black tie tucked neatly under his shirt collar, he watched it unravel and prepared to give it another go. "What can possibly be so difficult? I solve homicides but I can't figure this out?"
A light rap interrupted his thoughts. "Jimmy," a friendly voice called out, "you decent?"
He dropped the tie mid-knot and reached for the door. "Hey, Walter!" He greeted his friend with a genial hug. "Am I glad to see you!"
"What's up?" the older man answered with an affectionate slap on the back. "Wedding day jitters finally starting to get to you?"
"Nah," Jim sighed, clutching an end of the tie in his hand. "I just can't seem to get this damn thing to cooperate."
Walter grinned. "Oh, is that the problem? It's been a few years for me, but I think I remember how this is done," he said, taking the dangling tie in hand and tightening the loose knot.
"I hope so 'cause I'm running out of options here," Jim replied, lifting his chin in response to a nudge by the little man. He stood quietly while Walter concentrated on bringing the errant tie under control, the uncooperative nature of which Jim was sure had less to do with nerves and everything to do with impatience.
"There, that's got it," Walter said in short order, making a final adjustment. "You know, Jimmy, for someone who's about to take the big step, you seem to be pretty calm. It wasn't until I heard Dottie finally say I do that I stopped shaking."
"Yeah, I guess I am," Jim said. "Honestly, I think I was more nervous the day I asked her to marry me. Today, I'm just ready to get it done, you know?"
"I do," the older man acknowledged. "It's been a lot of years for me, but I remember it all like it was yesterday." He glanced at Jim. "What happened last week change your perspective on things a little?"
"Maybe," Jim replied with a shrug. "I know it scared the shit out of Christie…and I'm not too proud to say I had a couple of minutes there when I wondered how it was going to shake down for me. But, you know….it worked out."
"No doubt it did – this time. But, from what I'm hearing, this little incident could have gone down a whole lot worse. You might not want to hear me say this, but I'm going to say it anyhow. This time you were lucky, Jimmy. Next time you might not be."
"I know that," he said, quietly. "I did get lucky Danny played it like he did. But you know, Walter, if I had it to do all over again….I think I'd do it exactly the same way. Sometimes the end doesn't justify the means but in this case I think we did a hell of a job."
"Yeah," Walter said, nodding his head in agreement, "but not before they did a hell of a job on you first, Jimmy."
"You won't get any argument from me. I'm still feeling like it and according to my wife to be, still looking like it." He grinned, "And that is exactly why Christie decided to have the wedding pictures shot in black and white."
"All kidding aside, Jimmy, I'm just glad it's a wedding I'm here for," he said, placing a concerned hand on his shoulder. "And I'm sorry your brothers couldn't make it. You okay with that?"
"Hey, that's life, right?" Jim said lightly, the regret he had been grappling with masked by a guise of nonchalance.
"It's me you're talking to here," Walter said. "I know how important that was to you."
Shrugging his shoulders, Jim drew his chin down in an accompanying shrug. "Maybe if we had a little more time, you know, pushed this out 'til spring, maybe it would have been different. They'd be here if they could; I know that. But Walter," he said, gazing down at the man who had come to symbolize so much in his life, his mentor and his friend, "sometimes I think things work out the way they do for a reason. You wouldn't be here if they were and….it means a lot to me, you standing up with me today."
Walter nodded. "You know, Jimmy, you've grown so much since since that first time we talked. Some days it seems like it was just yesterday," he said, reminiscently, "but I've watched you become a hell of a cop, and a hell of a man. And I couldn't be prouder if you were my own son." He wrapped Jim in a powerful hug. "It's my honor to stand up with you."
Emotion choked his voice. "Walter…" he replied haltingly, "I..."
"Yeah, I know," said his friend, "me too….Dot and me." With an affectionate pat on the back, Walter released him and reached up to smooth the fall of the jacket and to readjust his tie. "All right, Big Man…"
"Hey," Jim interrupted, noting the sudden maturing of a moniker he had worn since the older man had first pinned it on him. "What happened to Kid?"
"Not today," Walter said, shaking his head. "The kid I knew is gone…the nickname has to go too." He pulled the door open and motioned Jim through. "As I was about to say, Big Man, if you're ready..."
"What are we waiting for?" Jim replied, taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly. "Let's roll."
The melodious sound of the string quartet flowed over the hushed voices of friends and family gathered in the elegantly appointed Park Room. Beyond its curved windowed wall, a velvet grey evening sky heightened a wonderland panorama. A fresh blanket of powdery snow shimmered under the magical spell of white fairy lights, thousands of them laced through the barren branches and wrapped snugly around the tree trunks.
Inside, fluted columns lined the bridal aisle, flaunting urns of deep red and cream roses cradled in cascading boughs of evergreen and holly. At its end, a simple table, set before the majesty of the park's magnificent backdrop, was draped in creamy winter white and simply adorned by a candelabrum nestled in a companion bouquet of red, white and green.
With the park setting at his back, Walter at his side, and the wedding guests seated before him, Jim was suddenly acutely aware of his nerves. The tie that Walter had managed to bring under control at once seemed to be limiting his ability to take a breath, his palms were sweaty, his knees shaky. He sighed and glanced over at Walter, shooting him an anxious smile.
As the first notes signaling the entrance of the bridal party lifted over the whispered conversations, the room grew silent, all eyes fixed on the grand entrance. Erica appeared at the door, stunning in a rich evergreen floor length gown, a bouquet of deep red roses clutched tightly in her hand. She floated up the aisle, acknowledging familiar faces with a discrete wave and a smile. She offered Jim a flirty wink on her way by..
Then the music dipped and swelled again with the passion of Pachabel's Canon in D, announcing Christie's arrival. Jim felt a strong surge of emotion as he caught sight of his bride for the first time, radiant on her father's arm. The seconds that should have been her journey to his side seemed to pass in slow motion, much like Stewart's progression. Jim wondered if he was making one last ploy to delay the inevitable.
Justice Maynard Scolari, an old friend of the Sullivan family who had been honored to be asked to perform the ceremony, waited for their arrival. "Who gives this woman to be married to this man?" the Justice questioned as Stewart delivered his daughter to him.
In a clear and certain voice Stewart answered, "Her mother and I do." He leaned over and kissed his daughters cheek, then turned to Jim and gripped his hand in a strong grasp. "That's my baby, Jim. Promise me you'll take care of her."
Jim nodded. "I will, Stewart."
"Good, that's good. You know I'm going to hold you to that." He placed his daughter's hand in Jims and retreated to the vacant seat beside his wife, the linen handkerchief finding its way back to his hand.
"Family and friends," the Justice announced, "we are gathered here today to witness the union of these two hearts. Christine Sullivan and James Dunbar have come here of their own free will and with a common desire to state their pledge of love for each other, and to venture forth from this day forward as husband and wife. I understand that this next announcement is no more than a mere technicality, but it's one that still must be addressed and it's one that I do occasionally get the unexpected answer to. I ask you now, if there is anyone here amongst you disbelieving in this union, speak now or forever hold your peace."
Jim waited for the only voice of dissension he had heard in the past month, but it wasn't forthcoming. The silence in the room his answer, the Justice turned his attention to the couple waiting before him. "And now, James, if it is your intent to join your heart with this woman's heart, please so state before these witnesses."
Clearing his throat, in a sure voice sure, he said, "I James Dunbar take you Christine Sullivan to be my partner in life. I will cherish our union and promise to love you more tomorrow than I do today. I will trust you, respect you, honor you, protect you, laugh with you, cry with you, live with you and die with you. I give you my hand, my heart, and my solemn promise to take you with me on this journey regardless of the obstacles life may put in our way…..if you'll come," he said, slipping an eternity band on her ring finger.
"And now, Christine, if it is your intent to join your heart with this man's heart, please so state that intention here before these witnesses."
Taking Jim's hands in hers, eyes fixated on his, and in a voice equally clear and confident, she said, "I, Christine Sullivan, take you, James Dunbar, to be my partner, loving what I know of you today, and trusting what I do not yet know. I eagerly await all of our tomorrows, to wake beside you each morning, to grow old with you, to know the man you will become, falling in love with you a little more each day. I promise to love and cherish you, whatever life may bring us and where ever life may take us." She slid a simple platinum band on his finger.
Jim swallowed hard, fighting the lump that had risen to sit at the back of his throat, and reached over to wipe a solitary tear drifting slowly down her cheek. A tender smile turned at the corners of his mouth.
With her hand tucked safely in his hand, her eyes captured by the adoration in his eyes, he affirmed his intention in unison with her. "I will."
"Then by the power vested in my by the State of New York, I pronounce you husband and wife. James Dunbar, you may now kiss your bride."
Christie snuggled her head against Jim's shoulder and drew the blanket a little closer to her chin. "I can't believe it's really over, the day every little girl dreams about her whole life and in the blink of an eyes, it's gone."
"Was it everything you thought it would be?" Jim wrapped his arm a little tighter around her shoulder and pulled her to him as the horse drawn carriage rounded a bend in the road.
"Everything and more; it was the fairytale I always wanted, Jimmy. I even got the horse and buggy. And it was so special because your mother was there and I finally had a chance to meet Walter and some of the people who mean the most to you. I'm so happy they could share this with us. Did you happen to notice that Daddy was having a harder time with this than your mom or mine?"
"You know," Jim said lightly, "I think he might actually be starting to like me."
Christie grinned. "I think you're right but you'll never hear him say it, Jimmy." Settling back into the comfort of his arms, she sighed. "So, where do we go from here, Mr. Dunbar? Any ideas?"
"Yeah, I do, Mrs. Dunbar," he said, "but we've got a whole lifetime to figure it all out. Let's just take it a day at a time and enjoy the ride."