Epilogue: The Greatest of These Is Love
St. Paul's Episcopal Church was not exactly a location Linus knew well. As an infant, his parents had presented him for baptism, but the faith was more a notation in his mind, an item to be mentioned in introductions rather than lived: another role one was cast in during the production of being of a Larrabee, not a creed to be lived in the heart. Yet still he stood in the front of the church, waiting—not hoping, only waiting. No questions remained, no concern, no worries about whether it was right at all. Only joy and anticipation, any fear sprouting only from the unknown.
The sanctuary, while large, had only a few inhabitants. To his right were a number of the staff from his parents' home, clustered together in their Sunday best. Sabrina, born in Long Island a year or two after her parents had become employed, had only her father since her mother's death, any other close relations still residing in England. But the staff, they were her family, too: the cook, butler, and several others. Some friends he had met over the past weeks were the remainder in the pews, every face lit by excited smiles.
On his left sat his brother and his new wife—and if David had not for once embraced married life as a man should, Linus would have foregone an invitation for the couple, if only for Elizabeth. He had left it to David to explain the situation surrounding Sabrina. A few of his closer friends were present as well, along with the required spouses whose names Linus occasionally forgot. His parents, though invited, had declined. Not that it mattered, really. If they had only cruel words, then so be it.
The ceremony was to be simple. While David's wedding, Linus understood, had filled the church until it nearly burst with well-wishers and an enormous bridal party, his own had been pared down to the requirements. Only himself, Sabrina, and the witnesses. Those dearest to Sabrina were already present, and he had no desire for a bloated wedding simply to fulfill the expectations of Long Island society. And what would be gained by it? More murmurings about the propriety of the situation, comments on the bride's still flat belly—he had heard more than enough of those rumors—and whispers about the unbelievable situation, that was all.
A door creaked and his heart pounded, new anticipation in his veins as he looked to the sound— Sabrina, her arm in her father's, his Sabrina, one slow step at a time bringing her to him the last time as merely his beloved. Oh, she would remain his love, but so soon, the world would recognize her as so much more than only that. His family, his friends, his colleagues, they flitted from one to another, playing love and marriage like a game, a senseless past time. Even he was not innocent, forcing his brother's hand, but he had never made the mistake of involving himself. For years, he had never even pondered marriage, for if it was only a distraction from the start, he had no use for it. Now, this was no game of chess, no match of tennis, it was real.
Each step she took with her father was an eternity, but also another moment for Linus to see her, nearly intoxicated by her slim frame. She wore a white gown, simple but beautiful: smooth satin, just the top of each arm covered, with no embellishments or train, only the cluster of white and red flowers in her hand. The pale skin of her face, her arms, her chest all faded into the fabric, highlighted by her dark eyes and hair. Beautiful was the only word in Linus's mind. Forever passed in a second until she stood beside him, between her father and himself. His fingers ached to hold hers again, but he kept his hand by his side. A few more minutes, just that.
The priest nodded to himself, opening his small book before he spoke. "Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this company, to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony..." All words faded, and Linus only thought of her, of Sabrina. The words regarding Cana, St. Paul, the commands for those present to speak of any reason to prevent the marriage, they all passed by unheard. And now to himself and Sabrina, he only heard part of the priest's request. "...dreadful day of judgment when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, that if either of you know any impediment, why you may not be lawfully joined together..." And again, the words vanished with silence as their only answer. There was no reason why it could not be, many why it should not be, but all caution was gone, thrown aside.
The priest continued, looking first to Linus. "Linus Oliver Larrabee, will you have this woman to be your wedded wife, to live together after God's holy ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love her, comfort her, honor, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep only unto her, so long as you both shall live?"
Linus lifted his face briefly as he answered: "I will."
Now the priest spoke to Sabrina. "Sabrina Lynn Fairchild, will you have this man to be your wedded husband, to live together after God's holy ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love him, comfort him, honor, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep only unto him, so long as you both shall live?" Perhaps for other men, waiting for the response was a moment of nerves, but not for him. Linus only awaited Sabrina's response for the sake of those seated, whose presence he had forgotten when his vision centered on her alone. "I will."
Another nod from the priest, as if to put aside his own reservations. "Who gives this woman to be married to this man?"
Just at the edge of his vision, Linus noticed Fairchild's hand clasping his daughter's arm nearer before offering his own consent. "I do." Now gently, the man loosened his grip, drawing Sabrina closer in a close embrace for which Linus could not fault him, no matter his desire to hold her himself. For the final time, Fairchild was to hold this beautiful woman who was only his child. In but a few minutes, she would no longer be merely a child—the man's only child—but a wife.
A long moment passed, then Fairchild released her, walking a few feet away to sit in the front row, his typical straight posture gone as he bent forward slightly. His fiancée turned to watch him, fiddling with the flower stems she clutched in a moment's pause before she passed the bouquet to a friend who stood briefly from the edge of the pew. And when she faced him again, she glowed.
Linus reached for her right hand with his own as he had been instructed to do, the sudden touch of her skin a thrill he had denied himself the entire day. The priest spoke and he echoed, never more certain of anything as the fingers of his right hand wrapped around hers and the gravity of the words he uttered. "I, Linus Oliver Larrabee, take you, Sabrina Lynn Fairchild, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward..."
The parting of their hands was a prescribed torment, soothed when her fingers clasped his anew. "I, Sabrina Lynn Fairchild, take you, Linus Oliver Larrabee, to be my wedded husband..." He no longer listened, only watched as the words poured from her mouth, measured but eager. "...till death do us part, according to God's holy ordinance. This is my solemn vow."
They had elected for the priest to keep their rings through the beginning of the ceremony rather than searching for a ring bearer. He held them now in his hand, offering a few words of blessing before handing the proper one to Linus. It matched her engagement ring, the same gold though unadorned. And the words, again solemn and heavy, broke from his mouth. "With this ring, I thee wed: in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen." The band encircled her small finger, sliding farther until it finally touched that first ring.
Now, she had his left hand, threading the matching gold ring onto his own finger, speaking those same words. "With this ring, I thee wed..." And again, Linus heard nothing else, only saw her flushing face even as the ceremony once again demanded they part. The prayer was a mass of ignored words, the next blessing a collection of sounds.
"...ever remain in perfect love and peace together, and live according to thy laws; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
The priest gestured for Linus to raise his right hand, and now fixed Sabrina's in it, folding their fingers together. The pulse in his thumb pounded against her skin. "Those whom God has joined together let no man put asunder. For as much as Linus Oliver and Sabrina Lynn have consented together..." Only her smile remained in the world, all other sights and sounds a blur wanting to distract him. Together. Yes, Sabrina, we are now together, until the end of all things. You were wrong. I can belong to someone.
"...and wife, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."
It is done, now, Linus thought, his heartbeat a drum in each ear. It was a phrase that a year ago, he had never considered. How had he explained it to his brother? "I were ever to get married, I'd have to take a dictaphone, two secretaries, and four corporation counselors along on the honeymoon. I'd be unfaithful to my wife every night of my married life, with vice presidents, boards of directors, slide rule accountants..." No more. Surely the days would come that he would once again feel married to his work, the nights he would beg her forgiveness for the time he could not spend with her, the mornings he would leave too early for even a parting word. But this moment was too real, too certain, too important to forget, and everything it demanded too precious to discard for anything.
They knelt now as the prayer book commanded, one final blessing to be spoken as Linus clutched her right hand. So close to her, he could not let her go one more time. The entire morning, he had starved just for a glimpse of her, and to release her now...No. Another minute of ceremony, that was all, one final moment in this strange place in-between life before and life after, a barrier he could not cross without her this close. "...grace; that you may so live together in this life, that in the world to come you may have life everlasting. Amen."
Standing again, Linus had to take the vision in, this young woman now his wife. Nearly his height, svelte and beautiful, and with so few years to learn the world, yet she chose to spend her life with him. Her answer and her choice still amazed him. "You may now kiss the bride."
His fingers caressed her face, her jawbone then her cheeks, almost searching to prove she was real, that this moment was no figment of his imagination. Her flesh was hot, her breath burned his skin...and a few tears slipped from her eyes even as she smiled. "Sabrina," Linus whispered, wiping one or two away as he remembered past words from a long-forgiven moment, "none of those." His lips touched hers, first gently then passionately, until everything but her—her face, her skin, her warmth—disappeared, until the world was only himself and her. A man and his wife.