She Always Wanted to Get Married in a Barn
Summer Loving: Eternal
Her name was Annabelle Claire Wishmoore. A determined girl with wavy ash blond hair and fierce hazel eyes that differed slightly every time you looked. I had the honor of meeting her at the innocent age of seven. We had just moved into our new countryside home. The neighbors came to welcome us into the community with pies and fruit baskets. One couple had brought their daughter.
Neither of us had been around many kids, though you’d never think that with Annabelle. She marched straight up to me, hand extended, and introduced herself.
“Hi, it’s so nice to meet you! My name is Annabelle. My family just calls me Ray. What’s your name?”
“Charlie.” I tell her as I slowly shake her hand. “Is Ray your middle name?”
“No. It’s Claire.” She replies before switching subjects, “Want to play?”
We became instant friends. We’d climb trees, play tag, and play-pretend. Annabelle loved to pretend we were getting married. She’d gather wildflowers, tying their stems to make rings. Then she’d attach a few to one of her many tiaras for fashion. The ceremony would be held in my backyard shed, but she always clarified that in the pretend world it was a barn. Whenever we got to the part when adults would kiss, Annabelle would end the game and we’d go off on another wild adventure being pirates, explorers, or whatever suited her imagination that day.
My fondest memory of those days was when Annabelle decided to make us a wedding cake made of mud. She made me wait outside the shed a whole hour while she worked on it. I was thinking about wandering off when she finally returned. She rushed up telling me I just had to see it. I went inside to see a massive mud pie on the floor. Behind me, Annabelle had begun our game.
“Oh no! I told them we wanted vanilla not chocolate. What are we going to do?” she groaned.
“Chocolate is a good flavor.” I assured her.
“Yeah? Maybe you should try it first.”
I turned around confused and was met with a slap of mud on my cheek. She nervously smiled. I stayed quiet just long enough for her to start worrying. A smile broke onto my face.
“You know it’d be rude of me to have all of this cake. You should have some.”
I grabbed as much mud as I could hold and threw it at her. She gawked at me before eyeing the remaining pile. The mud war was on. We laughed and shouted as we slung mud at each other. By the time our parents came to check on us, we were completely caked and the shed was a mess. As punishment we had to clean the shed with rags and soap buckets. It was during that punishment that I learned more about her nickname.
“It’s a nice thing really.” She said softly.
“Yeah. It’s short for ray of sunshine. Kind of like the song, I guess. Momma sometimes sings it to me.”
At the time I had laughed. In the years that followed, I’d tease her about it. But as we became teenagers, I found it was accurate. Annabelle was a strong positive force in everyone’s life that she came into contact with. She never lingered on the negative, always striving towards a brighter future for herself and others. She was an inspiring light. Like a moth, I was drawn to that light.
I stuttered my way through asking her out one summer eve under a willow tree. I expected her to laugh at me. I expected her to call me weird for thinking we could be anything more than neighborhood friends. But she didn’t. She patiently waited for me to finish speaking. Her face donned a faint red hue from the bubbling excitement from within her as she tackled me into a hug. The hug ended with our first kiss and her telling me she had waited forever to be asked that very question.
Our parents thought it was cute but nothing more than a test run before our real dating life would begin. It’d be over in a few months. And perhaps for most people that’d be right. We’d argue or simply get bored and that would be that. But we didn’t. Our feelings matured and deepened. My parents were surprised to watch me, a natural night owl who slept most of the day, rise before noon to do odd jobs. They were even more shocked when I proposed to Annabelle on the night of our graduation with a ring that those jobs paid for. Annabelle equally shocked her parents by readily saying yes.
The biggest problem with the engagement was money. We could have gone to the courthouse and been done with it, but that wasn’t really an option. Annabelle loved celebrations. It was not possible for her to do them small. When I suggested just getting her mother flowers and a card for Mother’s Day, she glared at me like I committed some cardinal sin. We then spent all day spoiling both of our mothers. It started with a homemade breakfast that she made and I served. We then took them to a spa and went to a local buffet for dinner. I wanted to give Annabelle everything she gave to everyone else. I told her she had full reign with the wedding while I took up a cubicle job to cover all expenses.
I had trusted Annabelle’s judgement in most things. So, when she declared she found the perfect location to have our ceremony I was excited. I had asked where but she insisted on showing me. In the car, I kept trying to guess the location. I was alarmed when we stopped on some vaguely familiar backroad. I had thought we had run out of gas.
“We’re here!” Annabelle sung out.
I got out of the car and looked around. There was nothing out there. Annabelle ran up to me, grabbed my arm, and pointed.
“Isn’t it just beautiful?”
My eyes followed her direction to a barn. The roof had collapsed in and the wood itself was discolored and chipping.
“Ray, surely you don’t…” I gave up on my first line of thought upon seeing the bright intensity of her eyes. “Honey it wouldn’t be safe. And it’s on someone’s property. We’d have to ask…”
“I’m sure they won’t mind! Come on!”
I walked a few paces behind her. It’s only when we got to the door of the house that I remembered who lived there. Leeroy, a hermit and fabled cannibal by the community teenagers growing up. Feeling residual childish fears, I tried to reach out and stop her. Knock. Knock. Knock.
Silence hung in the air. I tried to convince Annabelle to leave. She ignored me and knocked again. On the second knock, the door opened a sliver.
“What’dya want?” a hoarse voice growled.
“Hello, sir. My name is Annabelle Claire Wishmoore, soon to be Jackson. This is my fiancé, Charlie. We noticed you had the most beautiful barn and were hoping we could rent out the space for our wedding.”
“We talking about the same barn that’s a piss away from this door?”
“Yes sir. By the way, I apologize for not asking sooner. What is your name?”
“Leeroy.” The man widens the door, but keeps the chain lock in place. “What you really want?”
“Excuse me?” Annabelle blinks confused. “I thought I just told you.”
“You want to pay me to use that garbage heap?”
“I’d hardly call it that, Leeroy sir. It has character. I bet it was beautiful in its prime.”
“It sure was. My father built it with his own hands he did.” Leeroy smirked.
“If you’d let us, we’d love to restore some of that original charm. We’d use our own materials. You can set the times we can come over to work on it. What do you say?”
“She doesn’t stop, does she?” Leeroy looked to me for the first time.
“Not when she really wants something.” I tried to speak in an even tone.
Leeroy contemplated for a moment.
“Two-fifty for the space. And you don’t work past five in the afternoon. None at all on Sunday. Got it?”
“Oh my god! Thank you! I promise you won’t regret this!” Annabelle extended her hand to within the threshold.
To my surprise, Leeroy shook her hand and bid us a good day. Our next stop that day was the hardware store. Annabelle couldn’t wait a single moment to begin her great project. She nearly overwhelmed the hardware expert with all her rapid-fire questions, but he appreciated an enthusiasm that matched his own and did his best to answer everything. After paying for nearly eight hundred dollars in starter supplies, Annabelle insisted on carrying the heaviest materials. I let her do just so until she took a small break for the fourth time. I quietly picked up half. She huffed for a brief second then thanked me. Before long she was chattering away about all her plans.
It took four months of steady work for the barn to be finished. We salvaged as much of the original as we could, which ended up only being the doors and a handful of slats. Leeroy started to help a few weeks in. He claimed it was because he thought we’d ruin it, but I like to think Annabelle’s charm got him. With the barn restored, the wedding was officially on.
Annabelle handcrafted the invitations, taking pride in making each unique but cohesive. She selected both of our outfits including a black tie with pigs. I thought it was silly but she insisted it was cute and thematic. I relented, enjoying to keep her at her happiest. I like to think I succeeded to the very end.
It started with a small cough. A week away from our ceremony, we were adding the final touches to the barn. Annabelle was hanging the lights while I arranged the tables. A small rattily cough every couple of minutes. A few hours later she asked me to take her home so she could lie down. A good nap would set her straight. I fetched her a glass of ice water, some cough drops, and tucked her into bed with a kiss. I went back to the barn to finish up.
When I returned home, she had a fever. I did what I could to alleviate her symptoms but her conditioned worsened. By nightfall she had trouble breathing. I took her to the hospital and they put her on a respirator. I stayed by her side while she fought. Two days later it overwhelmed her body and she passed. I couldn’t cry. It was too surreal. We were getting married in five days. She couldn’t be gone!
Everyone who was once coming for a celebration was now coming to mourn. I asked Leeroy to let me use the barn for the funeral service. He agreed. My memory of the service is hazy. My focus didn’t leave that casket. I know I was the first to say my farewells. I gazed down at my love donning her wedding dress. I squeezed her folded hands and asked the nearby priest,
“Can you marry us?”
He looked at me strangely but agreed. I stumbled through the vows. My voice catching every few words but I didn’t stop. I delicately slid her ring on before putting on my own.
“We did it, Ray. I love you so much.”
The tears had finally started to fall. One of the guests, an elderly woman from the community, approached the casket to stand beside me.
“It’s a lovely sentiment dear but why put yourself through it?”
I gesture around, remembering every ounce of love Annabelle had put into this place. Tears readily streaming now, I choked out the only answer I could,
“She always wanted to get married in a barn.”
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