Thanks to all who have read, commented and posted nuggets. This turned out a lot longer than I had envisaged and I really appreciate you sticking with it. I know many have been hoping for a wedding and that you will get, although it is probably not the wedding you were expecting. Still I hope you enjoy.
Sixteen years later
Sophie Barkley studied herself in the cheval mirror that graced the spare bedroom that had been set aside for the bride and her bridesmaids. She liked what she saw: as she should; she was after all a very attractive young woman who favoured her mother rather than her father. As chief bridesmaid she had been allowed to pick the colour of the bridesmaid’s dresses. She had chosen a colour that she liked not realising that the dusky pink complimented beautifully the bride’s burgundy dress. Uncle Heath and Aunt Nerys had told Ellie that she could have any material she wanted for her wedding dress, but Ellie had been adamant that she wanted, if it could be altered to fit, to wear her mother’s wedding dress.
Sophie smiled at the memory of her three aunts and her mother lovingly toiling over dress alterations, supervised by Grandma, whose fingers had, with arthritis, become knarled; no longer enabling her to do delicate needlework. The result was a dress that looked as if it had been specially made for Ellie. Uncle Heath would shortly escort his eldest daughter to the church where she would marry the man she had fallen in love with. After graduating from law school, Joshua Bowman had come to work for Sophie’s father Jarrod and was now a much respected member of that law practice. Over the months, as she had gotten to know him, Ellie had fallen in love.
The bedroom door opened and Ellie’s mama entered. She wasn’t Ellie’s real mama; she’d married Heath when Ellie was six and Ellie loved her like she was her real mama.
“Let me look at you,” Nerys said taking Ellie’s hands in hers. “You’re beautiful, sweetheart. Your mama would be so proud. I love you.”
“I love you too, Mamee.” Ellie responded with a hug.
“Your father’s waiting downstairs, are you ready?” Nerys asked.
“Yes I’m ready,” Ellie told her with a confident smile.
They walked side by side, Nerys stopping when they reached the doorway. “I hope you and Josh will be as happy together as your mother and father were, and as I have been with your father.”
Ellie kissed her Mamee and with her bridesmaids following made her way toward the stairs. Watching the procession, Nerys sent a silent message to Ellie’s mother Sarah. Thank you for entrusting her to me.
Waiting at the foot of the stairs Heath’s breath was taken away by the vision standing at the top of the stairs, just as it had been twenty two years earlier when he had first seen Sarah in the church. Ellie walked elegantly down the stairs, coming to a stop when she reached her father.
“I love ya darlin.” Heath told her, a tear in his eye. “Ya remind me so much of your mama. She’d have been so proud of ya.” He looked from his daughter to the three girls who accompanied her: cousins Sophie and Anna, Jarrod and Nick’s oldest daughters and his youngest daughter, Angharad. “Yar all beautiful.”
Most of the family had gone on ahead but Nick was waiting outside with two surreys. Heath would drive one with Nerys and the bride in it; Nick would drive the other carrying the bridesmaids.
As the bridal party walked down the aisle Bill Hepburn stood proud and tall. When he had fallen ill all those years ago he had vowed to do whatever it took to see his only granddaughter walk up the aisle on the arm of the man she loved, and in a very short time he would do just that. Now though he was transported back twenty two years to the day he walked his daughter down the aisle and handed her willingly to the man she loved. Reaching her grandfather, Ellie grinned at Bill, bringing a tear to his eye. Isobel flashed a teary smile at Ellie, her mind too on another wedding many years ago.
Heath stood in the corner of the marquee they’d erected in the garden of the Barkley mansion and as he smiled at the revelry playing out before him, he thought back over his life. Blessed by the love of not one but two special women, he felt he had been very fortunate. It had taken a while but finally he had admitted he had feelings for Nerys Whitaker, Megan’s sister. They had courted slowly, each agreeing that although much healed they were still vulnerable. A little over a year after they first started courting, and two and half years after their first botched kiss, Heath Barkley and Nerys Whitaker were married in the same church that Ellie had married in earlier that day. It hadn’t been a big wedding but it had been what they wanted. Both their families were there as were the Hepburns and the Whitakers, the latter two families gladly giving their blessings; although it was for them an occasion tinged with sadness.
They built a house close to the Barkley home, the path between the two becoming well worn, the houses seemingly interchangeable to the children within them. He smiled as he pictured squeals of delight and the patter of feet running back and forth between the two houses. Now at nineteen Stevie and Andy had grown into fine young men; Stevie as tall as his father and Andy still that couple of inches shorter. Nick and Megan had added another three to their brood: Anna Victoria, Lily Nerys and Thomas Owen. In addition to Sophie, Jarrod and Louise had been blessed with two boys, Joseph Thomas and Michael James. When Ellie and Josh returned from honeymoon Jarrod and his family would move permanently to San Francisco leaving the Stockton law office in the capable hands of Josh. Jarrod had presented his wedding gift to the couple the night before: a full partnership, the Stockton branch of the law practice would be known as Barkley and Bowman.
Feeling a hand slide into his Heath turned slightly and came face to face with his sister. “Penny for them,” she said softly.
“They’re worth a lot more than that.” He responded cryptically.
“I was just thinking about life over the years n’ how lucky I’ve been.” He smiled and studied her face for a moment. “How lucky we’ve all been.”
“We have, haven’t we?” She agreed. “Though with those three boys of mine there are times when I haven’t felt too lucky.”
“D’ya miss not havin a daughter?” Heath questioned, it had always seemed a bit ironic that the only daughter in the family had never had a daughter of her own.
“I admit I would have liked a girl but I have three healthy boys so no complaints from me.” She chuckled, besides I have more than enough nieces to spoil.”
As they fell into companionable silence Heath’s memories took him back to the day Nerys had given birth to their twins. He knew that visitors to their home found it strange that in addition to a photograph of the two of them with Ellie, taken on their wedding day the other photographs on the mantelpiece were of Nerys’ late husband James, and his late wife Sarah. Both of them were agreed that these two were as much a part of their lives as anything that might come later and both were agreed that Sarah’s memory should be kept alive for Ellie. He had sat on the bed holding his minutes old son in his arm, marvelling at the miracle.
“They need names Heath.” Nerys said softly.
“Ya have any thoughts?”
“I’d like if you don’t mind,” she gently stroked her son’s face, “to call him Owen.”
Heath studied his son for a moment. “Owen James, that’s a mighty fine soundin name.”
“Are you sure Heath?” She asked, looking deep into his eyes.
“I’m sure. What about this little one?” He asked nodding toward their daughter who lay securely in her mother’s arms. “Have ya got a name for her?”
“I picked his name, you pick hers.”
“Oh no, ya did all the hard work.” Leaning over he placed a kiss on her forehead. “I’ll bow ta yar choice.”
Nerys thought for a moment. “Would you mind if we called her Angharad?”
“I wouldn’t mind a bit.” Smiling he stroked his daughter’s soft face.
“That’s settled then.” Nerys told him. “Owen James and Angharad Sarah.”
The smile that lit up his face was all the approval she needed.
Three years after the twins were born they were blessed with another son who they called Paul Nicholas.
“The pair of ya look like yar scheming.” Nick barked as he approached. Two pairs of innocent blue eyes just looked at him. “Aw don’t give me that look, ya forget I know ya.”
“She just ain’t willin ta give in is she?” Heath said suddenly, his eyes on his mother who, despite needing a stick to aid her to walk, was in the thick of things in the marquee.
“Nope,” Nick agreed with a hint of pride in his voice. “As she’s so fond of saying it’s her body that’s addled, not her brain.” All three chuckled.
Falling again into silence, Heath thought back to the days when he had felt completely lost and alone, he thought of the woman who had become his saviour, of too few years with her, the daughter she had left with him who was so like her mother and engendered in him so much pride. He looked at his children as they stood together, the three younger one’s smiling at whatever their now married sister was saying to them. Arms slid around his waist and a head rested against his shoulder: he didn’t need to turn to know who it was. Aware of Nick’s voice he was too lost in his thoughts to focus on what his brother was saying but he felt the large hand that nestled on his shoulder and his sister’s small delicate hand as it slipped back into his; and feeling the love that his family so freely gave to him, day in day out he knew his was a soul no longer lost.