Naperville, IL—January 6
Melodie Alexander stood in the dressing room praying she’d thought of every detail. She needed—no, wanted—everything to be perfect. Tom deserved nothing less than her very best. Her simple dress, accented in delicate lace, fit her petite frame like a glove. Her best friend, Lydia, had taken extra care to style her wavy dark brown hair in an updo she claimed softened the angular lines of her jaw. Small combs worked to hold wayward strands in place. The roses, Tom’s favorite, were held tightly in her grasp.
Drawing in a deep breath, she fought to calm her jangled nerves. This was not the way things were supposed to turn out. Not at all. Tom was her best friend. They’d made a pact. If neither was married by age thirty, they’d tie the knot. Only six months remained until the significant birthday. An errant tear threatened to slip from the corner of her eye, and she hastily dabbed the offending moisture.
Before thoughts of Tom distracted her any further, she glimpsed in the mirror for one final check of her makeup. The right hint of color tinted her otherwise pale and lightly freckled skin.
The door quietly opened, revealing her father. “Are you ready, baby?”
Ready? The nerves in her stomach began their familiar dance. Nerves, along with a purveying sense of dread, settled deep in her heart. Could she really do this?
Soft strains of classical music filtered into the vestibule as she approached the room where everyone awaited her arrival. As the doors opened, every eye riveted to her trembling frame. Her steps faltered slightly, the rapid beating of her heart making it difficult to remain calm. She clutched her father’s arm, drawing from his strength as she had in her youth. Her breath caught as the emotions of those gathered overwhelmed her. The intensity of their focus prickled her skin, creating a fine sheen of perspiration. Her limbs, stiff with nerves, made each step laborious. For very few would she endure being the center of attention, but for Tom…anything.
The long walk over, she arrived at the front of the church. The comfort of her father’s embrace enveloped her for a moment longer before releasing her to take his place by her mother. She wanted desperately to place a kiss on her beloved Tom’s cheek. Instead, the minister cleared his throat, indicating they could no longer delay.
Turning toward the sea of faces, the fierce grip on her composure loosened despite the desperate fight to not lose the battle. Not here. Not now. She blew out a slow breath, certain her emotions mirrored theirs. Keen. Intense. Overwhelming. As if every ounce of love she’d ever experienced—ever could experience, ever would experience—was trapped between the four walls surrounding her, closing in on this exact moment in time. Today she couldn’t hide behind the shelter of the fictional world she retreated to when life became too much. Oh, how she wished she could. It would be so much easier to believe this was just another book she was reading and not her life.
Exhaling deeply, she spoke to the waiting mass. “Thank you for coming today to remember Tom and the ultimate sacrifice he made for his country.”