A Christmas Wedding

Spoiler Alert: Don’t read this if you haven’t already read Magnolia Nights but plan to.  

St. Phillip’s Church was decked for the holidays in red and white poinsettias and fresh Christmas greens—magnolia, pine, and holly. Ellie stood with her father at the threshold of the sanctuary waiting for the organist to transition from the carols she’d been playing while the guests arrived to the music Ellie had selected for the processional.

Abbott turned to her. “You look stunning, sweetheart.”

Ellie wore a slim-fitting dress with bell sleeves in winter white wool and her thick mane styled into a sleek chignon. She carried a bouquet of white roses and peonies with sprigs of seeded eucalyptus, the stems tied with a gray satin ribbon.

She smiled up at him. “Thank you, Daddy.”

“I’ve never been prouder than I am at this moment,” Abbott said. “Julian is a lucky man.”

“I’m the lucky one to have two wonderful men in my life.” She stood on the toes of her gray suede, thigh-high boots and kissed his cheek, leaving behind a smudge of her Dare You Red lipstick. With her complexion and auburn hair, she seldom wore bold colors on her lips, but red was the color of the season.

“Silent Night” ended and the sanctuary fell silent. All heads turned toward the back of the church as the organist launched into Purcell’s “Trumpet Tune.” Ellie’s three attendants—her three-year-old nieces, Bella and Mya, and Julian’s seven-year-old daughter, Katie—took tentative steps down the long aisle in their Mary Jane shoes. The small crowd of friends and family let out a collective “aw” at the sight of the three little princesses wearing ivory velvet dresses with red satin sashes and garlands of mistletoe affixed atop their pretty heads. Behind them, on her father’s arm, Ellie glided toward her groom, more handsome than ever in his morning suit.

The music ended and the minister greeted the guests before performing a brief ceremony. The little girls presented the wedding bands on satin pillows when Ellie and Julian exchanged their vows. When the minister pronounced them husband and wife, Julian planted a noisy kiss on Ellie’s lips. The organist played “Joy to the World” as they hurried up the aisle and out of the church to the horse-drawn carriage awaiting them. Julian scooped her into the carriage and draped a gray cashmere wrap trimmed in fur around her shoulders. The driver smacked the horses on the rear, and they clomped down Church Street to Julian’s house.

Heidi Butler, event planner and caterer extraordinaire, was waiting for her at the front door. She whisked Ellie upstairs to the guest room to freshen her hair and makeup. By the time Ellie returned to the small foyer, the first guests had begun to arrive.

Julian’s walled garden provided a lovely backdrop for the reception. At Heidi’s insistence, they rented a tent to cover the terrace and block out the cold. A fat Christmas tree occupied one corner of the tent and a string quartet playing holiday music another. Bartenders poured drinks. Shuckers shucked raw oysters. And servers circled the room with trays of hors d’oeuvres and champagne. A banquet table boasted an arrangement of white roses and delectable edibles—miniature crab cakes, lamb chops with mint sauce, a variety of sushi, sweet potato ham biscuits, hot crab dip, an assortment of fruits and cheeses, and miniature cups of lobster bisque.

Ellie spent a few minutes with each guest. She spoke at length with Jackie—the designer she’d hired to transform her grandmother’s creepy mansion into a comfortably sophisticated home fit for a family with small children—and Maddie, her beloved housekeeper who was the closest thing to a mother she’d ever known. She enjoyed talking with Bennett Calhoun and his lovely wife, Lucille, who had been supportive of Ellie when she first came to town, and their daughter-in-law, Midge, whom she’d grown to think of as a close friend.

It was well past three that afternoon when the last guest left. While the caterers cleaned up, Ellie saw her father off to Washington, D.C. where he would spend Christmas and New Year’s with his girlfriend who couldn’t get away from her high-pressured job for the wedding.

“I’m going to miss spending Christmas with you,” Ellie said, handing him a shopping bag of gifts.

“And I’m going to miss being with you as well.” He took the shopping bag from her and placed it in the trunk of his sedan beside his suitcase. “I left my gifts to you under your tree. I got a little carried away shopping for the twins.”

She play-slapped him on the arm. “You’ve got to stop spoiling them.”

“I’m their grandfather. It’s my prerogative to spoil them.”

“You need to get on the road. You’ll be late getting to D.C. as it is.” She opened the driver’s car door for him. “Just think, Dad, when you come back in January, Julian’s house will be all yours. We should have everything cleared out by the time you return.”

For the past three months, Abbott had been commuting back and forth from Charleston to his job in Washington. After the first of the year, he would pack up his apartment in D.C. and move permanently to Charleston. Julian hated selling the house he’d so lovingly restored, but knowing it was falling into the hands of someone who’d appreciate it made the process less painful.

“I’m ready to put down some roots.” He took her in his arms and kissed the top of her head. “It’s been too long since you and I lived in the same town. I’m looking forward to sharing your life.”

She nodded as she pushed away from him, the lump in her throat preventing her from speaking. He got in his car, and she stood on the sidewalk waving to him as he drove away. No sooner had her father reached the corner when Julian’s front door banged open and the girls tumbled out in their matching red wool capes.

“Look, Aunt Ellie!” Bella pointed down the street at the horse-drawn carriage approaching them. “Uncle Julian says we get ta go for a ride with the horseys.”

Unbeknownst to Ellie, Julian had hired the carriage for the whole day. Her father had arranged for the driver to attach a Just Married sign and a garland of roses to the back of the carriage. They piled in, the girls facing backward and Ellie and Julian opposite them. As they rode through the streets of downtown, the girls smiled and waved at passersby. As an added treat, they stopped in at The Charleston Place to see the train set and purchase a cup of hot cocoa on the way home.

The sun was setting over the harbor as the carriage pulled up in front of their house on South Battery. After a round of photographs with the driver and the horses, the girls hurried inside to change into their flannel pajamas.

Ellie and Julian opened a bottle of champagne and snuggled together in front of the fire in the library.

“To our life together,” Ellie said, raising her glass to him. “I never thought it possible after everything I experienced here as a child. But, because of you and the girls, this house finally feels like home.”

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