"I am." She offered Carolyn a weak smile. "My happiness is partially based on selfishness. By marrying Carson you'll live close by and I'll still get to see you. I missed you so much when you were at school."
Then why did you send me away?
"Have you discussed wedding dates?"
"We'll be married within a month, if Father Dorian okays it. If not, then Carson will insist on a judge. He wants to do this soon so we can spend time together since it's the slow season for him." And after this morning, she couldn't wait to get out of this house.
Her mother frowned. "That doesn't leave much time for planning."
"What's there to plan? I'm asking Kimi to stand up for me; I need a wedding gown and boxes to pack what little stuff I have."
"That's what I mean. You shouldn't be going into this marriage empty handed. Someone needs to throw you a bridal shower. What about that friend of yours, Beverly?"
"Mom! I can't ask her to do that!"
"Of course, you can't. I'll think of something. Now I have an engagement gift for you." She reached for a velvet box on her nightstand. "This was my mother's and one of the few things she brought over from the old country. She'd already passed on by the time I married your father but I'd like to think she would've given this to me to celebrate finding a husband." She opened the box. "Go ahead and take it out since my fingers don't work so well."
Carolyn pulled out a beautiful silver bracelet with colorful crystals centered between each link. "I've never seen you wear this."
"I wore it all the time until it became too difficult to work the clasp." After Carolyn had it on her wrist, her mother stroked the delicate bracelet with the tip of her gnarled finger. "Don't be afraid to wear it every day. It's stronger than it looks."
"Thank you. I'll cherish it forever." She brushed her lips over her mother's cheek, getting a whiff of Evening in Paris, her mother's favorite perfume. For a moment she spiraled back in time to when she was a small child and the pride she felt seeing her mother outshine all the other mothers. Whether attending church with her children or just going to the store or school events, Clara West prided herself on being smartly dressed and well-coiffed. She refused to be stereotyped, especially since she had seven children and her husband was a coal miner.
"Now let's call your sister and Aunt Hulda with your exciting news!"
When Carolyn and Carson met with Father Dorian, he mentioned the required couples' course before he'd agree to marry them, a class that lasted six weeks.
Carson refused to take the class. Then he laid on the cowboy charm, emphasizing how important it was to both of them to get married in the church, but he understood there had to be rules. But since they'd both been raised Catholic-Carolyn had even recently graduated from Catholic high school-and both sets of their parents had been married in the church, and they intended for their children to be raised Catholic, then didn't they more than fit the criteria? After a few pointed questions, the priest agreed to marry them on a Sunday afternoon in three short weeks.
Three weeks until she became Mrs. Carson McKay.
It seemed surreal-it was as scary as it was exhilarating.
"Engaged a few days and we're already actin' like an old married couple, shopping for groceries on a Friday night."
"I'll remind you I shopped for groceries on Friday nights when I was single too."
Carson kissed her hand. "You ain't single anymore."
Like Carolyn's mother had warned her, her father had not had a change of heart about her marrying Carson. But he still expected her to pull her weight in the West household for as long as she lived there. For the first time he hadn't given the weekly grocery money to her directly; he'd left it in a sealed envelope on the counter.
"I can't wait to have your home cookin' every day and night."
"I promise I won't be making meals like that for you." She pointed to Carson's section of the shopping cart-TV dinners, potpies and canned goods. "You're not just marrying me because I can cook, right?"
His lips brushed her ear. "Partially. But the fact you're a hellcat in the sack weighed heavily in your favor too."
She elbowed him in the gut. "Behave."
"Carson McKay. In a grocery store. On a Friday night. Seems God saw fit to bless me for saying the rosary today."
They both looked at the gray-haired woman who'd blocked the aisle with her cart.
She stepped forward. "You must be Carolyn. The rumor mill is churning about you, dear. No one knows anything about the mysterious woman who is marrying Carson McKay."
Carson put his arm around Carolyn's shoulder. "This is the lovely woman I've asked to be my wife. Carolyn West, meet Mrs. Agnes Varlo."
"So respectful, Carson. Your mother would be proud." Mrs. Varlo offered Carolyn her hand. "Please call me Agnes. And what Carson didn't tell you was his mother Helen was my dearest friend for over twenty years."
"I'm sure you miss her."
"I do, every day, even when she's been with the Lord for six years." Agnes kept hold of Carolyn's hand. "Tell me about the wedding."