Disclaimer: I do not claim ownership to any of the characters and fictional settings used here. All rights belong to CBS.
Dedicated to the memory of all the veterans who have served protecting our freedom. And for their millions of comrades who never came home.
I would also like to express my special thanks to my sister, Courtney, for her help in the writing of this fanfiction.
"…I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride."
Private First Class Gomer Pyle smiled down at his bride, Lou Ann Poovie, and suddenly became embarrassed with all the people there watching him. Behind him, his best man, Corporal Gilbert "Duke" Slater, prodded him forward. "Come on, Gomer."
Actually, considering the whirlwind of a day it had been, it was surprising Gomer had waited until now to freeze up. He had been perfectly fine earlier, what with all the other things he'd had to do…
Duke had gone back to the barracks late that morning while the men were on Sunday liberty to check up on his friend. He had found Gomer sitting on his bunk, shining his shoes like crazy.
"Hey, Gomer. What are you doing?"
"Just spiffin' up my dress blue uniform so it looks real nice. I gotter wear it today, you know. An' you know why?"
Duke held up a hand. "I know, Gomer, I know. And I'll be there. Say, does that mean you've already picked up the uniforms from the dry cleaners?"
Gomer's eyes widened. "Shazaam! I knew there was somethin' I'd forgot! You think Sergeant Carter'll give me a pass so's I can go into town an' get them?" He glanced at his watch, starting to look panicked. "We only got five hours til the weddin', Duke! We only got five hours!"
"Calm down, buddy. Calm down." Duke reassured him hastily. "I'm sure the sergeant will let you once you explain it to him. Here, I'll go with you."
The two men left the barracks for the duty hut, hoping Sergeant Carter was in a good mood to give them a pass.
"What for, Pyle? I've been giving you so many passes, I don't know what to think! It makes me wonder what you're doing in town that's so important, anyway?" Gunnery Sergeant Vincent Carter stood at his desk and eyed the private warily.
"Well, I guess I better tell you now." Gomer brought his hand from behind his back and handed the sergeant an envelope. "Surprise, surprise, surprise!"
"What's this?" Carter hastily opened it and scanned the contents of the note. He slowly put it down and stared at Gomer, wide-eyed. "A wedding invitation…for today?"
"Lou Ann an' I are gettin' married! Ain't it wonderful? Surprise, surprise, surprise!" Gomer grinned goofily.
Carter slowly turned to Gomer's companion. "Slater, you were in on this, too?"
Duke nodded hastily. "Everyone's known about it for a while. Except for you and Corporal Boyle, of course. Gomer wanted to invite you at the last minute to surprise you." When Carter's old corporal had returned from specialized training, Duke had been transferred to a different combat unit on the base. Needless to say, Duke was over at Sergeant Carter's portion of the camp a lot more often than he should have been since.
Carter slowly looked over at Corporal Chuck Boyle, who was calmly listening to the whole exchange from his desk. Then he turned back to the two men, a dumbfounded look across his face. "You want us..." He motioned with his finger to include Boyle. "To come to Pyle's wedding?"
Gomer nodded. "An' I sure hope you can make it, Sergeant, Corporal Boyle. But you see, the reason I need this pass is because I dropped me an' Duke's dress blues off at the dry cleaner's last week. An' it took me a while, too. There was this sweet old lady in there that was a talkin' to me that had to get twelve of her sweaters cleaned. See, she was tellin' me 'bout how she's got these cats that live in her house? Well, they's always coughin' up fur on her furniture an' it's jus' plain ruint her nice sweaters. An' she told me 'bout how she cleans up all them messes. You know what makes a real good lint roller when you don't got one? Piece of maskin' tape round your fingers. I tried it an' it works real fine, too!" Gomer smiled.
"That's enough, Pyle!" Sergeant Carter barked roughly. "You were saying about the uniforms?"
"Oh, I jus' almost forgot to pick 'em up, is all." Gomer motioned to his friend. "Duke reminded me 'bout them, an' I would've done forgot if he didn't. We need those uniforms right away an' you know why? Cause me an' Lou Ann is gettin' married today." He grinned at Sergeant Carter.
"I know, Pyle, I know. You told me." Carter rummaged in his desk for a pass.
"I'll be there, Pyle. Where's it at?" Corporal Boyle spoke up from his desk.
"You don't have to go far, Corporal. It's jus' that itty bitty church at the corner of Main, you know the one with the Bingo Night on Thursdays sign out front that always gets torn down?"
"Yeah, I know it. What time?"
"Well, the weddin' starts at..." Gomer looked down and his eyes widened. "Four an' a half hours! Goll-ly, Duke, I got to hurry!" He hastily grabbed his pass from Sergeant Carter and turned to his friend. "Duke, can I borrow sixty cents?"
"Sure, Gomer. What for?" Duke fumbled in his pocket for the change.
"Fifty cents is for the bus ride into town, an' another ten cents is for the pay phone so I cain call Lou Ann an' ask her if I need to do somethin' else I forgot, like the uniforms." He glanced at the change Duke put into his hand and frowned. "You gave me fifty cents extra, Duke."
"I know. You're forgetting the bus fare back to the base." Duke clapped his friend on the back. "Don't worry about it. You can pay me back next payday."
"Thanks, Duke! I will!" Gomer ran back to the barracks to change out of his fatigues and into his khakis before going into town.
"I sent the land lady over to the church with the napkins and the chaplain just called and said he'd be over here in an hour." Bunny Carter consulted her list of things to do before the wedding while the bride-to-be, Lou Ann Poovie, watched her from the couch.
"Flowers. I called the florist this morning, and they should be decorating the church right now." Bunny checked the item off her list. "I've got to give Tipper his pillow. Come here, Tipper!" She patted a chair, calling to her three-year-old mutt, who came bounding up to her with his tongue hanging out. Bunny pulled out a small pillow with a lace collar and attached it around Tipper's neck. "We'll have to remember to put the rings on there before the ceremony. Wasn't this a great idea to make Tipper the ring bearer?"
Lou Ann smiled. "Actually, it is." She reached out and absently petted the dog.
Bunny frowned at the girl. "Lou Ann, you wouldn't happen to be nervous, would you?"
Lou Ann looked up at her girl friend, her face drawn with worry. "Actually, I am. I must be a terrible person."
"No, dear! Not at all! It's perfectly natural for the bride to have the jitters right before the ceremony." Bunny sat down next to her and patted her knee reassuringly. "Believe me, when I married Vince, I felt exactly the same way. Then I got into that quiet congregation room, and the music started playing, and all my jitters went away then and there. I marched (literally) right up that aisle and made my vows right opposite at Vince up at the altar. You know how long I waited for that guy to finally get up the guts to marry me? I wasn't about to let him get away!"
Lou Ann's eyes clouded with tears as she pictured it. "That must have been wonderful."
"Yeah, until we arrived at our hotel in San Paulo." Bunny grimaced. "It was our honeymoon, and I was getting our keys from the front desk while he had the gall to check out a few girls in bikinis and go over and talk to them! On our honeymoon!" Then she smiled. "But he paid for it, all right. I got the king bed all to myself that night while dear hubby Vince got comfortable on the cold floor. I'll never forget the royal battle we had that night. It was the most amazing honeymoon I could ever ask for." She sighed happily, as if recalling a fond memory.
"But I cain't even think that far ahead! All I can think of is the chaplain askin' me, 'do you take this man for ever an' ever, til death do you part?' I've been thinkin' an' you know...that's an awful long time!" Lou Ann looked worriedly at Bunny.
Bunny shook her head. "Come now, girl! You've got to cheer up! Don't you love Gomer?"
"And doesn't he love you?"
"And don't you want to spend the rest of your lives together? Brave all of life's storms and trifles together? Strike up a family together? Share your laughter and every precious moment together?"
Lou Ann brightened. "Actually...I do!" She cried happily.
"That's all you're agreeing to when you make that morbid-sounding promise. It's nothing but the best things in a marriage that make it up. So when you're up there making those vows, look up at Gomer and think about the things I said. They'll carry you through."
"Thanks, Bunny!" Lou Ann hugged her friend tightly, then looked at Bunny's list. "What all is left for us to do?
Just then, the phone rang. Tipper started barking while Bunny jumped up to answer it.
"It's the catering! I knew it wouldn't come in time, I just knew it wouldn't!" She hastily picked up the phone from its hook. "Listen, you! We're shoveling out five hundred bucks for your crummy food and the least you can do is arrive in time to feed the reception! I...oh, it's you, Gomer. Sorry, I thought you were the caterer...Yes, she is...Yes, hold on a second."
Bunny put a hand over the phone and turned to Lou Ann. "Gomer wants to speak to you."
Lou Ann hurriedly took the phone from Bunny. "Hey, Gomer!...That's awfully sweet of you. It's nice to hear your voice too, darlin'...Well, let me check." She turned to Bunny. "Gomer's in town. He just picked up his uniform. Is there anythin' else he should do for the weddin' while he's here?"
Bunny consulted her list. "Hmm...well, he could pick up the cake from the bakery and deliver it to the church."
Lou Ann uncovered the phone. "Actually, there is. Would you be a gentleman an' go pick up the cake at the bakery an' then take it over to the church...I knew you would...see you soon, Gomer....love you, too...bye, now."
She slowly replaced the phone on its receiver. She stared at it for a moment uncertainly.
"Everything okay, Lou Ann?" Bunny looked up from her list and frowned in concern.
"Actually...yes." Lou Ann's face slowly lit back up. "After what you jus' said an' gettin' to hear Gomer, well...I just ain't nervous anymore!"
"Great! And Gomer said he'd pick up the cake..." Bunny checked the item off of her list. "Then there's only one thing left to do."
"Get you ready for the wedding! Come on, we don't got a minute to waste!" Bunny ushered Lou Ann away toward the bedroom.
Gomer stepped cautiously into the bakery, two garment bags in his hand. "Hey there!" He called to the baker at the counter. "I'm here to pick up a cake. It's a purdy special occasion too. You see…"
"What name was it ordered under?" The baker asked, stifling a yawn. It just wasn't right the way some people could be so bright and happy like this young man…
Gomer frowned. "Gosh, I forgot to ask her. I guess it would be under the name Carter." He kept talking as the baker disappeared into the back. "Miss Bunny's been real nice to help us so much by takin' care of most all the preparations."
The baker reappeared with a box and set it down on the counter. "That'll be $32.50."
Gomer shook his head at the price. "Shame, shame. Thirty-two fifty for one silly old cake. That's too much, is what."
"Look, I don't make the prices. I just bake the goods. Have you got the money or don't ya?" The baker kept his head propped up on the table to keep from falling asleep.
"Could you jus' bill it to Miss Bunny's address? Here, I'll write it down for you." Gomer grabbed a piece of paper laying nearby and hastily scribbled down the address. "I'm real sorry I don't got the money, but I'm plain broke an' payday's not til next week." He looked closely at the baker. "You ought to try Gran'ma Pyle's sleep medication. It'll really help keep you awake durin' the day." He picked up the cake and gave a small wave. "Well, bye." He turned and almost tripped over himself as he left the little shop.
The baker picked up the paper to read it. He slowly frowned and turned it sideways, at all angles, even upside down. "Some help this is. I can't even read the address!"
As Gomer entered the small church situated on the corner of Main, he had to push his way through a throng of florists and caterers who were anxiously preparing the church for the ceremony and reception. "Scuse me, I really am sorry," he looked up and smiled as he spotted a familiar face. He waved. "Hey, Chaplain!"
The Chaplain cleared a path for Gomer and led him over to a table to set the cake on. "Sorry about all the commotion. The curators had a fit when all these people showed up, worrying about whether all this can get cleared away by seven. It's bingo night, you know." He smiled warmly. "Well, Pyle, the hour draws near. Are you going to be married in those khakis? You only have three hours left, you know."
"Three hours?" Gomer began to sweat nervously. "Mercy, mercy me. I'm gonna be late to my own weddin' an' Lou Ann will be so sore at me, she'll kill me dead, I know it!"
The Chaplain put an arm out to steady Gomer. "Relax, Pyle. I was only kidding you. You'll have plenty of time to prepare before the wedding." He glanced up. "Looks like you have some visitors."
Gomer turned around and smiled. "Hey, Miss Bunny!"
As she came up to him, Gomer enveloped her in a big bear hug. "I just wanna say ahead of time on behalf of Lou Ann an' me, thank you, thank you, thank you!" He released her and grinned goofily. "I don't think we ever could've done it without you."
Bunny waved the praise aside. "Nonsense, Gomer. I was glad to do it." She smiled and gestured behind her. "By the way, you have some more guests. They just flew out this morning."
"Who?" Gomer looked, trying to see whom Bunny had indicated. He was greeted by the sight of his old buddy Andy Taylor. The sheriff of Mayberry lifted his hand in greeting. "Hey, Gomer."
"Hey, Andy!" Gomer's eyes lit up as he went over to greet his friend. "You came all the way out here from Mayberry, North Caroliner, jus' to be here for Lou Ann an' me?"
"That's right, Gomer. And I didn't come alone."
"Wonderful! That's jus' wonderful! I think I could cry…" Gomer's voice trailed off as he saw the rest of the Mayberry gang.
"Hey, Gomer!" They cried, rushing up to him.
At that moment, Gomer actually did cry. All his old friends had come out to be there for him and Lou Ann on their wedding day. There was Opie Taylor, and how he was growing! And Aunt Bee, Barney Fife, Cousin Goober, Aunt Martha, Uncle Ralph…
Gomer let out a gasp and waved, trying to smile through his tears. "Gran'ma! Gran'pa!"
"Gomer, my boy!" Grandma Pyle finally made her way through the throng and up to her grandson, hugging him tightly.
"I ain't seen you two in what seems like forever!" Gomer sobbed, smiling as he saw the look of mild disapproval on his grandfather's face.
"Dry those eyes an' square up those shoulders, boy! You're a man now! A real Pyle!" Otis Pyle looked the boy up and down. "You're six foot, aren't you?"
Gomer nodded silently.
"You look six foot!" He chided, his eyes twinkling merrily.
Gomer smiled and straightened as he was told. His grandfather reminded him so much of Sergeant Carter. It was no wonder he had taken a liking to both from the very beginning. "Golly, Gran'pa." He murmured finally. "I stuck it out an' done like you told me to. It was real rewardin', like you said it was."
"An' I couldn't be prouder, son." Otis nodded approvingly and held up a bag. "Picked up a present for you an' Lou Ann when I took a tour group trip to Yellowstone. I'll jus' go set it with the others."
"My grandbaby! Look at him, all growed up!" Grandma Pyle stepped back and held him at arm's length. "Let me look at you."
Gomer squirmed in embarrassment. "Aw…"
Aunt Bee came up alongside Grandma Pyle. "That's what I tried to tell him when I saw him last. Look how strong he's gotten. An' he's filled out! He used to be such a skinny, scrawny thing, an' look at him now! An' it's no surprise to me he's finally gettin' married. Jus' look how handsome he's gotten!"
"That's Gomer. The big, strong Marine." Grandma Pyle looked down and rummaged in her bag. "Though he could use a little ocra root to get rid of those bags under his eyes…" She turned back to him and smiled warmly. "But I couldn't have asked for him to turn out better."
"Oh, Gran'ma!" Gomer hugged her again, then turned and gave Aunt Bee one as well.
He finally turned around and looked at Bunny. "Miss Bunny, where's Lou Ann right now?"
"She's back at my apartment, Gomer. Why do you ask?"
Gomer shrugged. "I'd kinda like ever'one to meet the girl I'm marryin'."
Bunny raised her eyebrows. "But Gomer, you're not allowed to see the bride right before the wedding."
"Because it's bad luck." Bunny said seriously, then smiled. "Don't worry. She'll get to meet all your friends at the reception. Did you pick up the cake like I asked?"
"Yes, ma'am! It's right here!" Gomer gestured proudly to the cake box.
"Well, let's open it up and take a look at it."
The Chaplain, who was standing closest to the cake, lifted up the cake and looked inside. "Um…Pyle?" He beckoned and Bunny and Gomer peered in at the cake.
There, at the top, inscribed in blue icing was HAPPY 80TH BIRTHDAY VICTORIA.
"Shazaam!" Gomer murmured numbly. "I got the wrong cake!"
"I jus' know I asked for an order placed under the name Carter!" Gomer explained as he and Bunny hurried back toward the bakery, cake box in hand. "He must have given me the wrong one!"
"Gomer, you should have looked inside and checked to make sure it was right!" Bunny cried in dismay. "How could you do something so stupid?"
"It was an honest mistake, cross my heart, Miss Bunny! I cain't even begin to tell you how sorry I am!"
"Let's just hope Victoria Carter didn't pick up our cake yet!" Bunny quickened her pace as they entered the bakery.
The baker was standing at the counter, his head folded over his arms. He broke off a snore and slowly opened his eyes as Bunny marched into the shop, followed by Gomer.
"Good afternoon, sir. I'm Bunny Carter. I'm afraid there was a mix-up earlier when Gomer came in here to pick up his wedding cake. As you can see," she plopped the cake down on the counter and opened the lid, "This. Is not. A wedding cake!"
The baker opened his eyes widely to get them to focus as he read the inscription on the cake. He shook his head. "You're right," he yawned. "That's no wedding cake."
Bunny was so mad she reached over the counter and grabbed a hold of the man's shirt, gritting her teeth. "Listen, buddy. What does it take to wake you up?" She suddenly raised her voice, shouting right into his face. "THIS MAN IS GETTING MARRIED IN TWO AND A HALF HOURS AND I'M NOT GOING TO LET ALL MY CAREFUL PLANNING GO DOWN THE DRAIN JUST BECAUSE YOU WERE SO ASLEEP AS TO GIVE HIM AN EIGHTY YEAR OLD LADY'S BIRTHDAY CAKE! NOW SEE IF YOU STILL GOT OURS!"
By this time, the baker was wide-awake. He nodded hurriedly and scrambled back to see what he had in storage. Gomer just stood there and grinned. When Miss Bunny talked, people listened. That was why she was such a good match for Sergeant Carter. She even had the same short temper, to boot.
"Please say he still has it, please say he still has it!" Bunny murmured under her breath.
But the baker slowly returned, shaking his head. "The other Carter party must've come and picked up your cake, lady. It's not back there."
"Oh, lordy! What a mess!" Gomer exclaimed.
"An address, phone number, isn't there something you can give us so we can go switch cakes?" Bunny asked worriedly.
The baker slowly backed away from her. "Yeah, she gave me this address for the nursing home down the street." He hastily handed her a slip of paper.
"Thanks," she replied as she and Gomer hurriedly moved toward the door.
"Wait!" The baker called, forcing them to turn around.
"Can you write down your billing address for me? He did before, and I can't make heads or tails of it." He gestured to Gomer.
Bunny just looked at Gomer, who shrugged and grinned.
Down at the nursing home, eighty-year-old Victoria Carter was just about ready to nod off as her friends and family chattered excitedly about her. Bright decorations covered the room, hurting her eyes, and her great-grandchildren would not stop their incessant noisemaking.
Noise…how I hate the noise, she thought as she struggled to stay tuned in to her surroundings.
At that moment, a very angry-looking woman and a tall, skinny Marine with a goofy-looking face entered the room carrying a cake box.
She hurried up to one of the men who was standing next to the old lady. "Excuse me, sir. We have your cake. And we're hoping you still have ours."
"Say, what's this all about?" The man said indignantly. "Who are you, anyway?"
"I'm Bunny Carter and I've been planning this young man's wedding for the past six months. I ordered a cake to be picked up, but it was yours by mistake." She held up the lid so he could read the inscription on it. "Now, we have a wedding ceremony that's set to take place in exactly two hours and we have this poor old lady's birthday cake instead of ours. Please say you still have it."
The man nodded. "Sure, it's over there on the counter."
Bunny hurried over and set the birthday cake down. She slapped a boy's hand away from the other cake box. "Do so much as lay a finger on that cake and I'll break you in half!"
As the frightened little boy scurried away, Bunny lifted the lid and sighed. There was their wedding cake, still as immaculate as it had been when it left the bakery.
She picked it up and nodded to the man. "Thank you."
"It was no problem," he turned to Gomer. "And congratulations, son."
"Thank you, sir." Gomer acknowledged before leaning down to the old lady in the wheelchair. "An' happy birthday to you, ma'am!"
"Come on, Gomer!" Bunny pulled him out of the room before he could say anything else.
"All right, I'll hurry this over to the church while you get back to the base and get dressed." Bunny held up the correct cake box.
Gomer nodded. "Right."
"Picked up your uniform, right?"
"Okay, go hurry up and change. I'll see you at the church in a little while." Bunny left him at the bus stop as she continued to quickly make her way back to Main Street.
As Gomer stood there waiting for the bus, he couldn't help but feel that he was forgetting something important. They had the right cake, the fare for the bus ride was in his pocket. It had to be something else…
"Shazaam!" Gomer's eyes widened as he took off after Bunny. "Miss Bunny! Miss Bunny, wait!"
Bunny stopped and looked at him, but Gomer kept running right on past her.
"Miss Bunny, I plum forgot! I done left me an' Duke's uniforms back at the church hall!"
Bunny started walking as fast as she dared with the cake. They really didn't have a moment to lose now.
Duke was hastily pacing the barracks when Gomer finally dashed in with the garment bags, breathing hard.
"Gomer! Where've you been? We only have an hour and a half to get ready and go to the church! I thought you just had to pick up the dry cleaning and call the apartment. What in the world took you so long?"
"I'm sorry, Duke," Gomer panted, trying to catch his breath. "But there was this awful mess with the cakes an'…"
"I know. Something just had to go wrong. Things have a way of doing that whenever you're around." Duke grabbed the uniforms and hung them up in Gomer's locker. He pulled out a towel along with his friend's bottles of soap, shampoo, cologne, and hair tonic. He threw them at his buddy. "Go take a quick shower. You're sweating buckets. And," he noted the five o'clock shadow his friend sported, carefully setting his razor on top of the whole jumble. "don't forget to shave, okay?"
"Golly, Duke. I don't know what I'd do without you." Gomer grinned and left the barracks.
As soon as he was gone, Duke checked to make sure he still had the rings. He carefully set them on the closest bunk while he quickly began changing into his dress blue uniform.
Duke was pulling on his gloves as Gomer reentered the barracks and put his things away in his locker. He looked in the mirror hanging on his locker as he combed back his jet-black hair. "Duke? I cain't start to tell you how grateful I am for all you've done for Lou Ann an' me. You an' ever'one else has been jus' wonderful to us! I'm grateful, grateful, grateful!" As he turned around, he was presented with his pants.
"Come on, Gomer! You gotta get ready! You're getting married in half an hour!"
"Shazaam!" Gomer grabbed the pants and hastily jerked them on.
"Don't get 'em rumpled!" Duke warned as he held out the jacket for Gomer to slip into.
Gomer buttoned down the front while Duke jerked it down. He quickly dusted the jacket off and checked over his friend. "Swell, you look real swell, Gomer!"
"I ain't finished, yet!" Gomer sat down on his bunk and pulled on his newly shined boots. He fumbled with the laces in his hurry.
"Afternoon, men." Corporal Boyle stepped into the barracks. "Slater, I've got your pass as well as mine. Pyle, I've just secured your leave papers through headquarters. See you in a week!"
Gomer paused and grinned. "Goll-ly. Hear that, Duke? Headquarters granted my leave!"
"Never mind that! You've got to get married first!" Duke tossed Gomer his gloves and grabbed his friend's hat. "Come on, Boyle! Gomer, you can put those things on while we go to the bus stop!"
All three men hurried out of the barracks. A moment passed before Duke came scrambling back in.
"Almost forgot!" He grabbed the rings off the empty bunk and shoved them in his pocket.
Gomer looked about him anxiously as the bus pulled up to the base. "Is Sergeant Carter comin'?"
"Yeah, he said he'd be along." Corporal Boyle started up the steps and pulled out a dollar and fifty cents. He held up his hand as Duke and Gomer opened their mouths to protest. "I know it's right before payday and money's tight with all the enlisted men right now. Besides, this is a special occasion!"
Duke and Gomer weren't about to argue with that. As Corporal Boyle paid the fare and they stepped onto the bus, Gomer paused by the bus driver. "You two go on ahead. I'd like a word alone with," he glanced at the driver's nametag, "Larry."
Boyle and Slater shrugged, taking seats close to the front of the bus.
"Larry, can I ask you a question? It's about them bus stops you got in town?" He continued without waiting for an answer. "You see, I got to be at that itty bitty church down at the corner of Main? You know, the one with the Bingo Night on Thursdays sign out front that always gets torn down? Well, the nearest bus stop is half a mile away from there an' I'm getting' married in twenty minutes! You think you could make a special exception an' drop me an' my friends off right there at the church? You know, the itty bitty one down at the corner of Main with the…"
"Yeah, Larry! Come on!" Duke, overhearing the request, joined his friend up front. "This man's gotta get there in time for the most important day of his life! You don't want the bride to get there and think he stood her up, do you?"
"I'm supposed to stay on my scheduled route," Larry growled. "The other passengers…"
"They won't mind!" Corporal Boyle joined the other two up front. "Come on, Larry! This man enlisted to protect your freedom! He's out on the base training every day, willing to lay everything down on the line for you and every one of these passengers! The least you can do is get him to his own wedding!"
"Yeah, Larry, have some heart!" Duke jumped in.
"Lar-ry, Lar-ry, Lar-ry," the rest of the passengers on the bus began to chant.
"All right, all right! Don't think I'm heartless, do you? We'll get him to that church if Larry Pollansky's got anything to say about it!" The bus driver winked at Gomer, who smiled and took his seat.
With that, the bus tore away from the Marine base and headed for town.
"Where is Gomer?" Lou Ann cried, anxiously waiting in a small conference room of the church along with the rest of the procession.
"Don't get all riled up, dear." J. R. Poovie, Lou Ann's father, sighed. "I'm sure he just got lost on his way here."
Lou Ann frowned at him. "Stop it, Daddy! You think Gomer's stupid!"
Poovie rolled his eyes. The man made paper flowers and hooked rugs, for crying out loud! "Baby, I can assure you that I'm not alone in that opinion."
"He's a wonderful man! You don't know him like I do! Besides, I love him an' I will marry him!"
"He might have stood you up!"
"Gomer wouldn't do that!" Lou Ann turned to Bunny. "Cain't you go check an' see if he's here yet?"
Just as Bunny exited the room to do as she'd asked, Gomer, Duke and Corporal Boyle bounded through the door.
"Miss Bunny! I hope I'm not late! We tried to hurry as fast as we could, honest! Larry even dropped us off right at the door."
"Larry?" Before Gomer could clarify, Bunny shook her head and shoved Gomer and Duke up the aisle. "Never mind! Go stand at your places, boys! Boyle, I've got your seat up near the front, let me show you…"
As she led Corporal Boyle to his seat, dozens of civilians in street clothes came pouring through the church doors. Gomer saw them and waved. "Hey, ever'one! Hey, Larry!"
"Who are they?" Bunny frowned at the newcomers.
"The people we sat with on the bus coming here. Larry's the fella that agreed to drive us here. When we pulled up to the church, Gomer thanked them all by inviting them to the wedding. Looks like they took him up on his offer." Corporal Boyle smiled.
"Well, I guess there's no harm in them sitting in the back few rows. I left those empty on purpose." Bunny stopped near the front. "This is your row, Corporal. Go ahead and get seated while I get these people sorted out. The ceremony will start shortly."
Bunny pushed her way through the crowd and stepped into the meeting room. "Procession! Line up! We're on in two minutes!" She smiled when she saw the excited, hopeful look on Lou Ann's face. "Yes, he's here and he's ready!"
Lou Ann smiled triumphantly at her father. "I told you he wouldn't stand me up."
Mr. Poovie grunted. "That doesn't mean I like him any better for it. Now you have to go through with marryin' the fool."
"Daddy!" Lou Ann exclaimed.
"Two minutes!" Bunny called again before stepping out again.
"Humph," Lou Ann looked the other way as she icily allowed her father to link his arm with hers.
Gomer stood up front with the Chaplain, Duke right behind him. He smiled happily as he waited for the procession to begin. At the back of the room, Bunny anxiously showed his new bus friends which pews they could sit in for the ceremony. It was funny to watch the quick-tempered woman, bedecked in a light blue dress with a white carnation, run around the church, showing the casually dressed civilians where they could and could not sit.
Duke patted his shoulder. "Here we go, buddy. Good luck."
Gomer looked about the quiet room at the faces of everyone he loved who was there wishing him luck, same as Duke. Everyone near and dear to him was there; his grandparents, Lou Ann's mother, Corporal Boyle, Frankie Lombardi, Lester Hummel, all the other men in his platoon, Andy and Opie Taylor, Aunt Bee, Cousin Goober, Barney, Aunt Martha and Uncle Ralph, even Wally, who'd used to own the filling station he'd worked at back home in Mayberry. All of his family, and all of Lou Ann's family, including their dozens and dozens of distant cousins, had attended. Even a few of his other friends from the base had made it out, including the guest of honor: Camp Henderson's own Colonel Edward Grey. He caught Gomer's gaze and smiled. Gomer gave him a small wave in return.
Bunny winked at the bridegroom before disappearing into the meeting room where the procession was lining up.
Just as Gomer was about to turn his attention back up front, the front door of the church opened and Sergeant Carter stepped inside. He glanced around and over his shoulder, as if to make sure no one was watching him. He jumped as the organ player next to him began the processional music. He quickly stepped aside to lean against the wall in the back. He looked down at the floor, hoping that he wouldn't catch anyone's notice.
But Gomer spotted him right away. "Hey, Sergeant!" He called, waving to the figure in the back. Everyone turned around in their seats to see the late arrival.
Sergeant Carter nodded in acknowledgement but looked perfectly miserable. He hadn't wanted everyone to know he'd attended Pyle's wedding by his own free will.
Bunny entered the aisle as part of the procession and caught sight of her husband. "Oh, good, Vince! You made it!"
"Bun-ny," Carter complained, then sighed. He never should have come here to begin with. And for Pyle, of all people! He could've just skipped and said something had come up, like an extra detail back at the base. Then again, Colonel Grey was there watching…
He straightened in surprise. Colonel Grey was there! He smiled and laughed. He was going to be on his best behavior for Colonel Grey, even if it killed him. Which it very well might…
Slowly, Lou Ann's bridesmaids walked up the aisle, followed by Bunny, the matron of honor. Behind her came the flower girl, one of Lou Ann's nieces, leading Tipper, the ring bearer, on a leash. When they had all made it to the front, the organ player abruptly stopped the processional music and struck up 'Here Comes the Bride.'
For the first time, the candlelight started to melt into the congregation's faces as the room swirled before Gomer's eyes. Suddenly, a feeling of anxiety rose up within him. He'd been so busy all day that he hadn't had a chance to think about actually getting married. Now, the moment had finally arrived and Gomer felt like he was going to get sick.
"Gosh, Gomer, stay standing!" Duke's hands went out to steady him as Gomer realized he'd been unconsciously rocking back on his heels.
"Duke…I ain't so sure about this now," He whispered over his shoulder.
"Oh, Gomer." Duke moaned miserably. 'You had to wait until now to get cold feet?"
"My feet are warm enough. It's jus' my stomach what don't feel too good."
Suddenly, the whole congregation stood as Lou Ann appeared at the end of the aisle on her father's arm. Gomer always seemed to think that she got prettier with each time he saw her. There was no disputing that right now she was the prettiest he'd ever seen her. She was dressed in an elegant, flowing white gown with a beautiful lace collar. Gomer could see her smiling, even through her veil. He gave a little wave and she laughed. She was so radiant that she seemed larger than life itself. The only thing seemingly real about the picture she presented was her father, who looked altogether less than pleased. Slowly, they began moving up the aisle.
Gomer couldn't help grinning as he watched her regal approach. How could he have had any doubts?
Lou Ann could tell her father was taking as slow of steps as he could. She tugged on his arm to get him to go faster. All she could think about was making it to the altar and taking her rightful place beside Gomer.
She was finally seeing Gomer for what seemed like the first time in ages. How good it was to see him again! I don't think I've ever seen Gomer in his dress uniform before, she thought as she slowly stepped forward. He looks so handsome in it! She returned his smile and tugged at her father's arm again. Mr. Poovie had practically slowed to a stop. A glacier probably moved faster than they did!
She met his genuine, caring gaze and blushed happily. She could see the reflection of the candles behind her flicker in his brown puppy-dog eyes and a chill went down her spine. Now, she thought she understood what Bunny had meant.
Lou Ann and her father finally stopped at the front of the hall before the altar. They had, at long last, arrived. She smiled up at the Chaplain as he looked up gravely from his book.
"Who gives this bride away to this man in good faith?" He asked, his gaze falling on Poovie expectantly.
"I do," He murmured softly through clenched teeth.
As soon as the Chaplain nodded, Lou Ann tried to go up to the altar but something kept her back. She tried again, only to realize her father was still hanging onto her arm. "Daddy, let go!" She hissed, jerking her arm away.
Mr. Poovie slowly took his seat, his disapproving scowl still in place. As he sat down next to his wife, she slapped his wrist.
"Ow! What was that for?"
She hushed him and bowed her head as the Chaplain murmured, "Let us pray."
I cain't help but think I've lost her for good…and to that incompetent fool, Poovie thought, not even listening to the Chaplain's gently lolling voice as he rattled off the Lord's Prayer. How could I have made such a mistake in giving that idiot my blessing?! I could care less if he's from my home state! Even the serviceman's pay don't matter! He's not good enough for my little girl!
"Amen," The congregation murmured, raising their heads.
At that moment, when Lou Ann lifted her face to meet Gomer's gaze, it was as though the two were enshrined in their own magical time and place, unaware of anything save each other. Gomer's white-gloved hands slipped over her tiny ones and held them firmly. She looked down at their joined hands and smiled, feeling warmth creeping into her cheeks as she did so.
The rest of the congregation, with the exception of two people, felt good just watching the two. Several of the ladies in attendance began to tear up, including Bunny. Mr. Poovie had a moody expression on his face while Sergeant Carter felt as sick as Gomer, hoping desperately the mushy moment would pass. Oh, puh-lease! He rolled his eyes.
The Chaplain broke the silence. "If anyone should object to this marriage, may he speak up now or forever hold his peace."
Mr. Poovie opened his mouth to speak, but one look from his wife caused him to quickly close it again.
And that was how they had all come to this moment. The vows had been made, the Chaplain had finished the service, and the rings had been carefully placed on their respective fingers. All that was left was for Gomer to seal the deal with a kiss.
"Come on, Gomer!" Duke gently prodded him again.
Gomer didn't know what to do. Kiss Lou Ann in front of all these people I know? To him, the idea was downright embarrassing.
Slowly, he found his hands coming up from his sides. They trembled as they took hold of the veil and lifted it back. Gomer was taken aback by what he found.
He had thought Lou Ann was pretty from far away, but that was nothing compared to her dazzling beauty up close. She looked so modest and ethereal in the candlelight, which lit her features in a way that made them look young and innocent. Her smile seemed so bright itself that it lit the whole room. Her eyes glowed with an intense and loving fire that made Gomer shiver. Her blonde hair elegantly encircled her face, pinned back at the sides to display a pair of pearly white earrings. Gomer had never seen anyone so beautiful in his entire life.
Their eyes met, and the embarrassed feeling left Gomer. His stomach settled and his movements lost their stiffness. There was nothing, nothing but he and Lou Ann. He suddenly knew what he had to do.
He leaned forward, lost in her hopeful gaze. His arm slid around her waist, then became confident and strong, holding her snugly. As he moved in closer, Lou Ann reached up and moved his white hat farther back on his head so she could better see his face.
The gap between the two became nonexistent as their lips met. A feeling of ecstasy rose within Gomer as his happy bride kissed him back. The power emanating from their embrace was so intense that it scared him. He'd never felt anything quite like this before.
They slowly broke off, still savoring every last moment of it as they returned to earth and heard the thunderous applause and cheers erupting from the congregation. They turned to watch them and smiled happily. Everyone was on their feet, clapping rapidly and shouting their congratulations to the couple.
The Chaplain had to wipe his eyes before clearing his throat and settling the congregation back down. "May I introduce to you for the first time, Private First Class and Mrs. Gomer Pyle."
Everyone burst into applause again, throwing rice as the newlyweds passed down the aisle.
Gomer held Lou Ann close as they breezed into the reception hall. What an exhilarating day! And the fun was just beginning…