Hearing his oldest daughter's strident tones as she bossed the younger children around, Derek looked up from the book he was reading while he had lounged in a chair on his back porch. Out in the middle of the yard, Lina stood with her hands on her hips yelling for the whole neighborhood to hear (in a great imitation of her mother when frustrated) while Kee sat patiently on the ground in front of her waiting for further instructions, Roz happily tore apart the flowers she was supposed to be holding, and Josh Saunders (the little boy from next door who was about Kee's age and seemed to constantly live in the mud) was happily chasing Clooney around the yard with a muddy stick.
"Hey," Derek yelled, stopping the chaos in progress. "What's going on?"
"We're having a wedding," Lina declared. "But no one's doing what they're supposed to."
"You haven't told me what to do," Kee hotly complained.
Lina ignored her quite correct sister and turned to her father imploringly. "Make them play right!"
"Alina," Derek started in his most parental voice. "How are you supposed to behave when you play with others?"
"But, Daddy," Lina whined. "I can't let them play too if they won't do it right!"
"I don't wanna to marry no girl!" Josh yelled. "Girls have cooties."
"Daddy," Keelia sobbed as she rushed to father. "I don't have cooties!"
"No, Kee girl," Derek soothed. "You don't."
Josh, not liking the idea of a girl being right when she was clearly wrong, yelled even louder, "Yes, you do!"
Two-year-old Rosalyn, seeing her sister weeping heavily, dropped her half-destroyed flowers and rushed to her father to join in the crying.
"Ahh!" Lina screamed, stomping over to her sisters.
"Alina!" Derek snapped.
Not listening, Lina grabbed her sister's arm and dragged the now quiet Kee into the middle of the yard. Curious, Roz toddled after her sisters, her tears long forgotten.
"Josh, come here," Lina demanded.
"No!" he shouted back.
Voicing his opinion, Clooney gave a loud, staccato bark before seeming to grin at his girls with his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth.
"Clooney wants you to be the groom," Alina smugly interpreted.
Looking over at the only other man there, Josh was disappointed to not see Derek leap to his defense. As he had played at the Morgans' house before, Josh knew Alina wouldn't let him leave until she got her way, he huffed and then stomped his way over to the girls.
"Fine, I'll marry her, but I won't kiss her!" he declared.
"Daddy!" Lina appealed to her father. "The bride and groom have gotta kiss."
"No kissing, Lina," Derek declared. "You girls don't need to kiss boys until you're at least thirty."
"Fine," she said with a heavy sigh.
With quick instructions and some dragging of the players, Alina soon had everyone in their positions. Lina stood at the top of the "aisle" as the minister, next to a sulky Josh, while Derek hummed the wedding march as Roz threw mutilated flowers to the ground, and Clooney lead the lovely bride (who was wearing a white towel draped across her head as a veil) down the aisle.
Looking over the carefully placed audience of stuffed animals and dolls, Lina announced, "Dearly beloved. We are here to see my sister, Keelia, and Josh get married. Marriage is important because…"
"Hurry it up," Josh demanded. "I don't wanna miss dinner for this. It's taco night!"
Scowling, Alina declared, "The marriage person is supposed to make a speech. I saw it at my Uncle Spencer's wedding. The marriage man talked forever! Right, Daddy?"
Biting back his grin, as Derek knew Alina would be upset to see him smile during such a serious moment, he replied, "The reverend did speak for some time on the importance of marriage."
"See," she bragged. "I gotta talk."
"Lina girl," Derek interrupted. "Why don't we hurry it up just this once? It is almost dinner time."
"Fine," she sulked. "Josh, will you marry my sister?"
"If I hafta."
"You hafta," Lina assured him. "Kee, will you marry Josh?"
"Okay," Kee quickly agreed.
"You're supposed to say 'I do,'" she whined.
"And you're supposed to ask if there are any objections to this union," Derek added.
"Right! Who doesn't want to see this couple gets married?"
"I don't," Derek declared, scooping up his middle daughter. Keelia laughed with delight as her father swung her around. "I'm not ready to lose her yet."
"Daddy!" Alina whined. "You can't stop the wedding! Josh and Kee are supposed to get married."
"No we're not!" Josh declared. "Girls are gross. They have cooties!"
"Josh," Penelope called as she stepped out onto the back porch. "Your mother says it's time for you to go home."
"Good," Josh yelled, running away from all the icky girls.
"Are you going to object or are you actually going to let me marry Josh this time?" Keelia asked, spying her father in her mirror.
It took him a minute, but the memory came to Derek and he laughed. "I knew I shouldn't have let your mother invite the Saunders over for dinner last Christmas."
Carefully turning so as to not crease her expensive, white gown, Kee smiled brightly at her father. "When have you ever let Mama do anything?"
"You have me there, sweet girl." Shaking his head, Derek added, "I should have known my luck was running out. You and Josh were just friends for way too long."
"I hadn't seen him for years, Daddy. We went to different colleges and didn't bother to keep in touch…if it weren't for Mama…"
"If it weren't for your mother, you wouldn't be twenty-two and getting married. I seem to remember you promising me not to kiss a boy until you were at least thirty."
"No, Alina promised you that."
"Yes, well," Derek sighed, "she's too much like me for me to even hope she hasn't ever kissed a boy."
"That and you and Mama caught her making out with a boy on our couch when they were supposed to be doing homework," Kee replied with an impish grin.
"That too," he agreed, smiling back at his daughter. "You do make a beautiful bride."
"And I look pretty good with Josh?" she asked, a hopeful look upon her face.
"You two do make a beautiful couple." After a pause, Derek added, "He better treat you right or…"
"I know," Keelia interrupted with a long suffering sigh. "Mama will make him disappear – social security number, bank statements, cell phone, credit report, tax records, etc., all gone."
Looking just a little offended, Derek said, "I'll have you know that I am fairly scary myself. I can make a person disappear—permanently!"
Giggling, Keelia stood up and carefully rearranged her skirt before leaning over and giving her father a kiss on the cheek.
"At your advanced age, Daddy, you'd need Mama to make sure that there is no evidence."
"Keelia Maria Morgan…"
Blinking back tears, she asked, "Do you feel like giving me away now?"
Pulling his little girl into a hug, Derek whispered, "I'll never be ready to give you away. In fact, I've decided I'm not. Josh is just going to have to become a Morgan."
"Oh, Daddy. I love you."
"I love you too, Keelia Maria. I'll always love you."
"Hey," Alina's voice interrupted. "I'm trying to keep this wedding on schedule here. We need you two at the end of the aisle. Now!"
Watching his oldest storm off to check on something else, Derek said, "She's acting just like she did all those years ago in our backyard."
"Lina has always been super list oriented," Kee agreed.
"I said now," Alina snapped, popping backing the room.
Offering his arm to his daughter, Derek asked, "Ready?"
A soft smile spreading across her face, Keelia confirmed, "Oh so ready."
"And, let's go," Alina instructed.
"Handsome," Penelope asked, walking down the darkened hallway of the upstairs in their home. Finding him sitting in Keelia's old room with his head in his hands and his elbows propped up on his knees, she smiled and sat down next to him on the stripped bed.
"I'm blaming you," he said, not looking up at his wife.
Leaning her head against his shoulder, she answered, "And I'm happy to take the blame."
Tilting his head to see her face, Derek asked, "Aren't you going to miss her?"
"Of course. But, when I see Keelia and Josh together, it reminds me of us. I know how happy we are together and I want that for our children."
"I really hate it when you're right, Goddess."
Grinning, she looped her arms around his neck. "You should be used to it by now, the Chocolate Covered Apple of My Eye."
Bringing his lips down to meet his wife's, Derek decided Penelope was indeed right. He wanted all of his children to one day be as blessed as he was.