Most people would assume the worst part of being a baker is having to wake up hours before dawn, but they would be wrong. When you’re regularly up at 4:00 in the morning, you get to experience the world in a different way. How can anyone think they truly know the world they live in until they’ve seen it slowly shake itself awake under the pink light of the rising sun?
Ali didn’t actually need to be awake this early; her alarm was set to go off at eight thirty. But four o’clock had come along and she had found herself wide awake, staring up at the ceiling, unable to fall back asleep. She’d tried everything, from deep breathing and meditation to counting backwards from five hundred. But at five thirty she was still awake in her childhood bed that she was sharing with Kyle, and she eventually got up before she risked waking him up with her restless tossing and turning.
She wrapped a throw blanket around her shoulders and crept downstairs, not wanting to wake anyone up. All of her extended family had trickled in over the past few days, and every bed and couch of her parents’ house was currently occupied. She tiptoed past where a cousin was snoring in the living room before slipping into the kitchen.
She silently started up the coffee pot, leaning against the counter as she waited for it to brew. There were so many things that needed to be done, last minute details that her mom and Alex had assured her they would take care of, but she still couldn’t stop the small, wriggling anxiety that something was going to be forgotten.
Her stomach gave a quiet growl and she glanced around the kitchen. If this was a normal day she would have went ahead and pulled out some pots and pans, went about baking something for breakfast, some sort of croissants or maybe just a loaf of bread. But this was not a normal day. This was one of the most important days of her life and besides that, she didn’t want to chance waking anyone up.
Instead she grabbed a banana from the basket on the counter and retrieved her coffee, creeping through the side door so that she could sit out on her parents’ deck. She shivered as she settled onto the lounger, pulling the blanket tighter around her. This probably wasn’t the best idea, the last thing she needed was to catch a cold from sitting outside in the middle of winter-
“Shouldn’t you be in bed?”
Ali jumped, spilling some of her coffee on her in the process. “What, what are you doing here? We’re not supposed to see each other!”
A figure stepped a little closer, just barely visible in the pale moonlight. “Well, to be completely fair, I didn’t think I would risk running into you outside of your parents’ house at…” She checked her phone. “Ten till six in the morning. But seriously, what are you doing out here? Shouldn’t you be maxing out on your beauty sleep?”
Ali lifted an eyebrow even though she was certain she could barely see her. “Are you saying I need it?”
“No, no that’s not what I’m saying at all,” she quickly backpedaled, and Ali couldn’t help but giggle.
“I couldn’t sleep. But more importantly Ash, why are you doing here? Shouldn’t you also be in bed?”
“Couldn’t sleep? Not having second thoughts, are you?” It was meant as a joke, but Ali could hear the ghost of nervousness shaking her voice.
“Not at all, just still running on bakery time. What about you?”
“Couldn’t sleep either. Too excited. I brought over some donuts, I thought they would be a nice surprise to wake up to, that way you guys aren’t scurrying around trying to make sure everyone gets something to eat.”
“Aw, you’re too sweet to me.”
“Too sweet? I’m a completely right amount of sweet, thank you very much!” Ashlyn scoffed. Ali giggled and watched as she stepped closer, taking the lounger next to her.
“Can you believe that today is the day?”
“No, I can’t.” Ashlyn took a deep breath. “You would think that after waiting all this time I wouldn’t be so surprised for the day to arrive.”
“I know.” Ali took a sip of coffee. “It’s going to be great, though. I can feel it.”
“I know,” Ashlyn agreed, taking Ali’s hand before giving a low whistle. “I don’t know how you could possibly feel anything with those icy cold fingers! You should probably go inside, I’d hate for you to have the sniffles when we get to St Maarten.”
Ali stood and followed Ashlyn inside but couldn’t help but tease her. “What? Are you saying you won’t want to seal the deal if I’m all stuffed up and sneezy?”
Ashlyn placed the donuts on the kitchen table then turned to wrap Ali up in her arms. “Baby I will take you, sneezes and snot and anything else. In sickness and in health, remember?” She leaned down to press her nose into the warmth of Ali’s neck. “But I think we both know that we sealed the deal a loooong time ago,” she teased.
“Good morning to you too, Ashlyn.” They both jumped as the soft voice, pulling away to look at Ken as both of their faces flushed. He simply raised his eyebrows, giving them both a smile.
“Hey there Ken. Did not… see you. Obviously,” Ashlyn laughed.
“Isn’t this breaking some sort of rule? I thought you weren’t supposed to see the bride until the wedding.”
“What’s the matter, you think I’m gonna change my mind and give her back to you?” she teased, earning an elbow from Ali.
“Not at all… especially since you’ve already sealed the deal.” Both women flushed beet red, avoiding looking at each other or him as he took another sip of coffee.
“Ash brought us donuts,” Ali finally murmured.
“Don’t mind if I do.” He fished out a chocolate iced with sprinkles and placed it on a napkin, then turned and pulled Ashlyn into a hug. “Thanks for breakfast, and all of the other sweet things you do for my girl.” He pulled back. “But seriously, you’d better hit the road before Deb comes down, the woman lives and dies by traditions when it comes to weddings.”
“Okay, okay…” Ashlyn leaned over and gave Ali a soft peck on the lips. “I’ll see you this evening, yeah?”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
“I love you three, now get out of my house, Harris.”
Ashlyn rolled her eyes at Ken. “Alright! I’m going.” She gave Ali a final kiss then ducked out the door.
Ken put an arm around Ali’s shoulders, pulling her in and tucking her head beneath his chin. “How’re you feeling this morning?”
She let out a slightly shaky breath. “Good! Good… nervous. I’m not sure why, though,” she laughed. “I’ve never been more sure of something in my whole life.”
He chuckled. “I think that’s just par for the course. You’re about to do something big and wonderful and a little bit scary. Only a fool wouldn’t be nervous.”
“I wish I didn’t have to wait twelve hours for it to happen.”
“Oh trust me. It’s going to pass by in a blink. And the next thing you’ll know, it’ll be six fifteen in the morning and your little girl will be getting married to the person of her dreams.”
She leaned further into his chest. “I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with her.”
He smiled, kissing the top of her head. “It all starts today.”
“Alright, if we can get everyone lined up, it’s nearly time!” Butterflies fluttered through her stomach, and Ali couldn’t help but give a little shiver. She turned back to the mirror one last time, her eyes sweeping over her makeup and hair. Kyle had done an incredible job, as always, making her feel just like a princess. He leaned down, putting his face next to hers in her reflection.
“You heard the woman, cupcake, it’s time!” They shared a smile. “You ready?”
“I was born ready.”
He laughed and rolled his eyes. “Just be glad it’s your wedding day so I’m going to be nice and not prove just how wrong that statement was.” She stood up and grabbed the bouquet and they made their way out of the suite they had been using to get ready.
All of Ali’s bridal party made their way to the entrance. Ashlyn was already inside with all of her party, just out of Ali’s sight. Her heart began to beat a little faster as Becky took the first step. In just a few moments she would get to see Ashlyn, and they would be married, and they would spend their first day of forever together. After Becky was Sydney, one of Ali’s friends from Penn State, and she stepped a little closer. Alex followed, stopping to throw Ali one last excited thumbs up before she started down the aisle.
“You look beautiful,” Kyle whispered, pecking her cheek before stepping into the doorway. He gasped quietly then looked back at her. “Oh Ali… just wait until you see her.” And with that, he started down the aisle.
The only remaining members of the processional was Sydney’s son Cassius, who was taking his role of ring bearer very seriously. On either side of him were the flower girls, his sister Roux and Alex’s daughter Viviana, born just a few days after that fateful day that Ali had decided to trust her gut and take the leap. He carefully led both little girls down the aisle, earning several aws before the doors were pulled shut.
Ali took a deep breath, smoothing her hands over the fabric of her gown one last time before taking her dad’s arm. He smiled at her. “He’s right, y’know. You look stunning.”
She beamed up at him, overcome with the emotion of the moment. “Thank you,” she choked out.
“Hey now,” he ran his thumb under her eyes. “None of that, or Kyle’s going to be mad about you ruining your makeup.” The venue coordinator gave Ali a questioning look and Ali nodded. The music began to swell, and she heard everyone inside stand up. Then the doors opened again, and she and her dad started down the aisle.
Inside was beautiful, everything Ali had dreamed of since she was a little kid. Everything was softly lit, making the atrium seem almost magical. To the side of the atrium, Christen was standing in a long silk gown, playing the violin next to a woman playing the piano, the two of them working together to produce the beautiful music that Ali was now walking to. To say that she was proud of Christen for finally leaving the bakery to pursue her dreams was an understatement. She and Ashlyn had come to see every engagement she booked once she moved to New York, nearly crying the first time she took the stage at the Met. She was so happy that her former employee had finally taken the steps to pursue the things she wanted in life, including a certain home health nurse who had also made the move to the small Brooklyn apartment, and was now seated with Ali and Ashlyn’s other guests.
The guests were all turned to look at her, but she couldn’t see any of them. When her eyes landed on Ashlyn, she thought for a moment she would faint. She looked as breathtaking as ever. Her hair had grown out in the subsequent years of them dating and being engaged, now shoulder length and blonde, but still immaculately styled. She was in a crisp black suit that fit her perfectly, but more importantly than the clothes she was wearing was the look on her face.
She had a hand covering her mouth, her eyes already teary as she watched Ali walk towards her. All at once, Ali was a little annoyed with Christen and the other musician; why were they playing so slowly? Didn’t they realize that she wanted to hurry up and get to the alter? But her dad’s reassuring hand on hers kept her walking steadily down the aisle.
Finally tearing her eyes away from her fiancée, she glanced down the line at Ashlyn’s wedding party. Her brother, Chris, was standing at her side, followed by Megan, Kelley, and Earl, Ashlyn’s old boss. He’d nearly cried when Ashlyn asked him to be a part of the wedding, insisting that he was too old and too ugly to be up at the front like that, but she insisted that he was family, and she wouldn’t do it without him.
Her eyes went back to Ashlyn and she couldn’t help but think for the millionth time that she had been so unbelievably lucky to find her. “I love you,” she mouthed.
Ashlyn gave her a big dimpled grin. “I love you,” she mouthed back.
They finally reached the alter and her dad gave her a soft kiss on the cheek. “Your mom and I love you more than words can say, sweetheart.” He stepped away and Ali took her space next to Ashlyn, taking her hand tightly in her own.
If someone had asked Ali later on what the officiant had said, she wouldn’t have been able to tell them. All she knew were the hazel eyes shining down at her, the way Ashlyn was nervously nibbling at her lip, the feel of her hands, warm in her own. They repeated the words he told them to, and Ali felt so full of love she was sure she would explode. It didn’t seem possible for one person to be so happy, so full of bliss.
Before she knew it, rings were exchanged, and the officiant was saying the words she had so often imagined in her head: “By the power invested in me, you may now kiss the bride,” and then her hand was on Ashlyn’s neck, and Ashlyn’s arms were encircling her waist, and she was lost in their first kiss as a married couple.
They broke apart and turned to the assembled guests, the people who loved and cherished them, who had been beside them during this entire journey. Ali looked out over the smiling faces then turned back to Ashlyn for another kiss. They had made it.
The ceremony turned out to be something for the history books. Everyone filled their plates, visited the open bar, and made merry on the dance floor. For her part, Ali just enjoyed the ride as she and Ali were whisked around from person to person, not even caring that she’d only had half a plate of food, who needed to eat when the love of your life was on your arm and giving you that smile?
Before she knew it, the venue coordinator told them that the car was headed their way, that they had time for one final dance before the send-off. Ash led her to the dance floor and pulled her close.
“You look so beautiful right now,” Ash murmured just loud enough for Ali to hear.
“Is that it? Not gonna make a dumb honeymoon joke about getting me out of this dress?” Ali asked, wrinkling her nose.
“I can’t even joke right now. I’m too overwhelmed with how perfect this day has been, and how much I love you.”
Ali stretched up, giving her a soft kiss, then rested her head on her shoulder. “I love you, too. I couldn’t have asked for more.”
“Can you believe that this is just the beginning?” Ash asked. “It’s the first day of the rest of our lives. Whatever comes next, be it with our careers or kids, whatever it may be, we’ll get to trace it back to today. Forever starts now, and you’re not getting rid of me.”
Ali smiled. “I wouldn’t even dream of it. You make forever seem too short.” She glanced up to see the venue coordinator beckoning them off the dance floor, and led Ashlyn that way. They stood just inside the door as everyone lined up outside, sparklers in hand. The car pulled up and Ashlyn took her hand.
“Ready to go home?”
Ali just smiled. “As long as I’m by your side, I’m already there.”