It just so happened that in 1912, Thanksgiving fell the day before Harold Hill and Marian Paroo's wedding. Harold, of course, had not realized this when he proposed their getting married on the twenty-ninth of November and Marian, in her excitement, had not considered the close proximity of the holiday when she agreed to this date. However, by the time the fiancés figured it out, too many preparations had been set in motion by the Events Committee, so they could not change the day of their nuptials without causing major inconvenience to the ladies who were working so tirelessly on their behalf.

Fortunately, Thanksgiving did not require as much advance planning as other holidays in order to be successful. Certainly, Harold had made sure to clear his calendar, and did not schedule any concerts around that time. Normally, there would have been a town assembly of some sort, but the Events Committee was already preoccupied with planning the long-awaited wedding of the music professor and the librarian. So Thanksgiving in River City promised to be a quiet affair this year.

When Harold optimistically remarked to Marian that it was lucky things worked out so well for them, Mrs. Paroo overheard and quipped that he was lucky he didn't have to do any of the cooking for either of these occasions. Harold acknowledged the truth of this with a rueful chuckle and, true to form, he planned a pleasant surprise for his future mother-in-law by arranging for Mrs. Shinn and her ladies to cook a little extra for the Paroo family as they prepared their own holiday meals. Usually, Mrs. Paroo would have insisted she was quite capable of procuring her own trimmings, but she was so busy with her culinary preparations for the wedding that she gratefully accepted the task of simply focusing on the roasting of the turkey.

Although Harold and Marian were both keyed up with anticipation, they were both so thoroughly sick of going over the details of their ceremony that they mutually agreed there would be no talk of weddings. Even Mrs. Paroo, despite her eagerness to see the culmination of her matrimonial ambitions for her daughter, was relieved to take a break from the subject. Winthrop was pleased by this moratorium as well – being a ten-year-old boy, he did not take anything more than a passing interest in the actual planning, though he was thrilled to be gaining the music professor as his brother-in-law. So the four of them spent a wonderfully relaxing day filled with delicious food and pleasant conversation.

A social man by nature, Harold had always been rather lonely around the holidays. When his mother was still alive, he had made it a point to come home for Thanksgiving and stay until New Year's, but as the years passed and he got deeper into the conman lifestyle, his holiday excursions to California became increasingly shorter in length, until eventually he refrained from visiting at all. While it was easy enough to lie about his chosen career in his letters, Harold found it awfully difficult to maintain the charade when he looked into his mother's wide, honest eyes and attempted to answer her eager inquiries about what was new and exciting in his life. Taking the coward's way out and inventing reasons he couldn't come home, he had gotten used to spending the holidays alone. This was the first Thanksgiving in several years that Harold had eaten such a delectable meal or passed the day in such delightful company, and he relished the occasion.

Harold also relished the opportunity to arrange private moments of leisure with his beloved whenever he could manage it. He had already racked up several enjoyable little trysts today: a quick kiss hello on the front porch before Winthrop hurtled out the front door to greet him with a hug, a light kiss dropped onto Marian's neck when they were seated together on the parlor sofa and Winthrop's back was turned, a gentle caress of her inner wrist that made her shiver when they brushed past each other in the course of setting the dining-room table. And then there were the secret embraces they engaged in while in plain sight of Mrs. Paroo and Winthrop: their fingertips touching whenever they passed dishes of food to each other, Marian's foot bumping against his beneath the table, his hand resting on the small of her back as they all sat in the parlor after dinner.

As Winthrop drifted into a doze on the rug by the fireplace and the friendly conversation between the three adults lapsed into a sated silence, Marian stood up and went to wash the dishes. Sensing another opportunity to be alone with his fiancée, Harold excused himself on some run-of-the-mill pretext and stole into the kitchen after her.

When his arms encircled Marian's waist, she laughed and continued to scrub the pan she'd been working on. "You're incorrigible – I knew it wouldn't be long before you came in here!"

Harold grinned and tightened his arms around her. "Exactly – which makes you a scheming temptress, my dear little librarian."

Had his hands not left her waist and meandered downward to caress her hips as he spoke, he was sure Marian would have issued a cutting retort. Instead, she sighed and leaned back into his embrace, the pan slipping from her hands and sinking into the soapy water. Taking this as an invitation to continue his ministrations, Harold stroked his way back up her sides, delighting when she gave a little shiver at his touch. He paused when he reached Marian's breasts, his fingers hovering dangerously near an area he promised himself he'd never encroach upon before they were properly married – if he moved his hands only one inch forward, he would be caressing her soft curves in earnest. And it didn't help matters that Marian's breathing had become avidly quick, as if she were waiting for him to do just that.

Before he did something he might regret, Harold lowered his hands back to her waist. When Marian's shoulders slumped slightly, he couldn't help grinning. In terms of the physical side of their relationship, the retiring librarian had certainly come a long way since that warm July night when they had first met. Charmed by her eagerness, he leaned in and bestowed several soft kisses upon her slender neck. As Marian began to sigh happily once more, Harold pressed his mouth a little harder – though he took care not to leave any telltale marks on her delicate skin. Perhaps it would be best if he refrained from giving her any more love-bites until their honeymoon, but it had been ages since the two of them engaged in such intimacy – after their passionate embrace in the lonely cornfield a few weeks ago, Harold hadn't dared to so much as take Marian to the footbridge. He had come dangerously close to making love to her that day, and he didn't want to find himself in a similar situation.

The closer they got to their wedding, the harder it was for Harold to resist his carnal inclinations – especially as he had wanted to make love to Marian since the first time he laid eyes on her. When they first started courting, her maidenly reticence served as a convenient shield; her kisses were shy, so he wisely modulated the intensity of his embrace to match hers. But now that Marian was awakening to passion and curiosity was overcoming her trepidation, it was extremely difficult not to surrender when she pressed her body eagerly against his in an unwitting seduction. Yet because of her innocence, he was certain Maid Marian remained charmingly unaware of just how ready she was to be a wife – despite the fact she was letting him kiss her like this in her mother's kitchen.

As much as his beloved's steadily increasing desire delighted him, Harold would never have shared this observation with her even in jest, as he surmised Marian was just as nervous about their impending honeymoon as he was about marriage in general. When it came to the emotional side of their relationship, Marian was definitely miles ahead of him. Although she wanted to be his wife for awhile now, she had been content to wait patiently for him to come to terms with the idea of settling down. And despite his nervousness, Harold thought he was finally ready to be a husband. More than that – he was downright excited at the prospect of spending a stationary but happy life with the woman he loved. Even in the midst of indulging in a little lustful canoodling, the idea of being Marian's companion and protector appealed to him just as much as being her lover.

Harold lifted his lips from her neck. "You know, darling," he said in his low, velvety voice, "I've been counting the days until we can do this in our own kitchen."

Marian let out a throaty laugh. "I thought we weren't going to talk about the wedding today," she teased.

Harold's fingers curled possessively around her waist. "I wasn't talking about tomorrow, Marian," he said seriously. "I was talking about all the tomorrows after tomorrow, when you'll be my wife and I'll be your husband. That's the part I'm looking forward to."

Marian turned to face him, regarding him with the same depth of emotion he felt radiating from his own countenance as he looked at her in return.

Their lips had just met for the lightest and softest of kisses when the kitchen door creaked open. Harold and Marian jumped apart to see Mrs. Paroo gazing at them with a knowing smile.

"You're an awfully long way from the lavatory, Professor," she slyly observed.

When Harold smiled and bowed his head in apologetic deference to his future mother-in-law, he expected her to admonish the two of them to cool their ardor – after all, they only had to wait one more day for each other. But to the music professor's surprise, Mrs. Paroo simply laughed and turned to leave the room, saying over her shoulder as she went, "Winthrop has woken up and wants us all to play Parcheesi. When you two are finished with the dishes, why don't you join us in the parlor?"

XXX

Marian was surprised she didn't blush, not even after her mother left. Instead, she and Harold exchanged wry smiles, and she returned to her neglected pan. Her surprise increased when Harold didn't take her in his arms and attempt to pick things up where he had left off. Instead, he simply picked up a dishtowel and dried the dishes she had already washed – a gesture Marian found oddly moving.

And when they returned to the parlor and took their places for what promised to be a rousing game of Parcheesi, Harold didn't attempt to secure a position that was close to her – he chose the wingback chair, while Marian sat on the sofa with her mother. It was probably for the best that he refrained from getting too near; the urge to touch each other was difficult to resist at this juncture. But they didn't hesitate to exchange sweet, private glances when no one else seemed to be looking.

Although Marian had looked forward to her wedding day for quite awhile now, it still slightly alarmed her when she realized that around this time tomorrow night, she and Harold would be consummating their union in their new home. There were only twenty-four hours left until she became a wife, and physical love would no longer be such a maddening mystery.

Of course, the librarian wasn't completely unprepared for her new station. Mrs. Paroo had never been one for Victorian delicacy, and gave her daughter a frank talking-to about menses, marriage and pregnancy – or what she unsentimentally referred to as "the facts of life" – as soon as she noticed Marian's slender, girlish figure taking on the curves of womanhood. Though Marian had been shocked and a little repulsed at the time, when her courses began a few months thereafter, it was a relief not to be surprised – had she not known what was happening, she would have feared she was gravely ill or dying.

But the idea of marital relations continued to repel her – even though from her mother's sly smiles and occasional, veiled remarks, it was clear that women could and did enjoy that aspect of marriage. Unable to fathom such a radical notion, Marian refused to ruminate about the matter in too much depth, figuring she'd examine the issue more closely when she was engaged. As the years passed and it seemed less and less likely that she would marry at all, the subject did not even cross her mind. Even when the librarian fancied herself in love, she dreamed of nothing but kisses from her paramours. Despite her inexperience, she was sensible enough to realize that fantasizing about anything more was courting danger. So it was just as well that no man she was attracted to had inspired stirrings in any place but her heart.

That is, until she met Harold. From the first evening the smooth-talking professor had followed her home and attempted to flirt his way into her good graces, Marian felt a peculiar quivering sensation in the depths of her stomach whenever she thought about him. At first, she thought it was nausea arising from her genuine loathing of his person and deep distaste for his brazen conman ways. But when she started to fall in love with the charming charlatan, those feelings only intensified. Though she treasured being in his company – after all, what woman didn't thrill when her beloved was near? – she had never felt love to this degree. When Harold was in the same room, her entire body was acutely aware of his presence, and yearned to be near him. And when Marian was near him, her body pressing against his in a closer embrace than she had ever engaged in with anyone, it was shockingly easy to fathom enjoying marital relations – a revelation that made her stomach quiver even more.

However, it didn't make contemplating her wedding night any less nerve-wracking. As she always did when she was uncertain, Marian had consulted several books that she hoped would prepare her for her honeymoon. When she read about the various scenarios she could expect, she felt the same sense of fascinated disgust as she had so many years ago when her mother told her about the facts of life. It didn't help matters that more than a few of the authors of these "marriage manuals" took a rather dour tone, making marital relations seem like an unpleasant duty to be borne instead of an enjoyable facet of intimacy – sometimes, it was difficult to reconcile the glum warnings with the knee-weakening embraces she shared with Harold at the footbridge.

But as the two fiancés exchanged heated looks, those books were the furthest things from the librarian's thoughts, and she could only fathom pleasure. So when Harold finally took his leave around ten thirty, Marian insisted on seeing her husband-to-be out properly. For a moment, Mrs. Paroo looked concerned. But then she grew misty-eyed, as if she was remembering what it was like to be young and in love, and said she would put a yawning Winthrop to bed. But she did tack on the caution to her daughter and future son-in-law that they refrain from dawdling too long, as they both needed their sleep for the big day tomorrow.

When the librarian and her music professor stepped outside into the chilly, late-November night, neither of them engaged in pretense; they immediately retreated to the deepest recesses of the front porch, where the shadows were darkest. As they shared a deep and passionate kiss, Marian wondered with a twinge of excitement if Harold would engage in the amorous explorations he had tentatively begun in the kitchen earlier that evening. But at this point, it didn't seem to matter whether he did or not; though his hands remained firmly ensconced around her waist, Marian melted into his arms as if he was caressing her everywhere. When their kiss finally ended, they remained in each other's embrace, the fog from their shuddery breaths mingling together in the cold night air.

Harold gazed yearningly at her, and she could see the struggle in his eyes. "I should say goodnight."

"So should I," Marian agreed, her own voice weak with longing.

But it was a battle neither of them could or wanted to win; their mouths eagerly met for another kiss.

Just then, the porch was plunged into darkness, breaking the spell. Bewildered by this sudden change of atmosphere, the lovers parted and opened their eyes. When their surroundings were illuminated again a moment later, Marian observed that Harold looked as amused as she felt.

"It seems someone else agrees we should say goodnight as well," her husband-to-be noted with a chuckle. But even though he moved out of her embrace, he hesitated to leave, instead taking her hands in his and standing together with her as if they were on the altar.

Marian giggled. "I think Mama would marry us now, if she could."

Harold gave her a fond smile. "I wish she could," he said with real feeling. "Then I could take you home with me. And when I said goodnight, you'd still be in my arms."

If this were a scene from a famous piece of literature, Marian would have responded with an ardent but elegant sentiment that perfectly expressed her longing. But all she could do was gaze dreamily at the man she loved and reply, "One more day."

Thankfully, Harold seemed to find this stammering statement just as eloquent as anything Shakespeare could have come up with; his eyes shone with pure joy as she spoke. "One more day," he echoed.

As if on cue, Mrs. Paroo flicked the porch light off and on again.

Letting out another chuckle, Harold escorted Marian back to the front door. She started to open it, but he tugged on her hand, making her turn – and then his lips were on hers once more.

Their kiss was fervent but brief. When it ended, Marian regarded her mischievous music professor with a scolding smile. "You are incorrigible."

Harold gave her his usual unabashed grin. "I needed one more for the road," he explained. Then he leaned in and kissed her again. "Well, make that two."

Although she had readily kissed him back, Marian attempted to give him a playful swat. But as usual, he easily ducked her open hand.

"Well, I suppose I'd better take my leave now!" Harold said in mock affront, his eyes twinkling impishly. "Until tomorrow, darling."

"Until tomorrow," the librarian called after him, her gentle laughter reverberating lightly in the air as she watched her husband-to-be bound down the stairs and exit the front gate, his step lighthearted and jaunty as he disappeared into the crisp autumn night.