“Dad… Alex and I have a favor to ask.” Maybe Ellen should have waited until after breakfast when they were all upstairs, away from other patrons at the hotel restaurant. Or maybe this was better. Malik couldn’t lose his temper and yell at them if he thought they were asking too much. “We want you to teach me how to do Alex’s stretching exercises.”
“Why? Are you changing career paths? I thought you wanted to be a writer, not a PT.” Malik scooped another bite of eggs into his mouth.
“Um… no, this is kind of one of those no-offense-but moments,” Ellen said. “Alex is still going to need his stretches every day, but… we don’t want you to come on our honeymoon.”
Malik almost choked on his food but reached for his glass of juice and was able to regain composure before glaring at Alex. “When exactly are you planning to get married?”
“As soon as possible, sir.” Alex had never tacked on a title to his good friend and physical therapist but felt it appropriate in the moment since he was essentially asking Malik for his daughter’s hand in marriage. “I mean, I know we have two more presentations scheduled and I won’t back away from my commitments, but after that we’d like to head home and dig out our birth certificates and make this legal, out of respect to our parents. But also, because we’ve committed our lives to God.”
“How am I supposed to argue with that?” Malik sighed with resignation.
“You’re not. You’re supposed to teach my fiancé how to perform my physical therapy.”
“Fine, we’ll start in a couple hours after our stomachs have settled. I don’t want you puking all over my therapy table.”
“I agree. That would be uncomfortable.” Alex turned to Ellen. “My speech isn’t until this afternoon. Wanna go ring shopping?”
“I would love to.”
Ellen had gotten good at helping Alex in and out of cars and folding his wheelchair to stow it in the trunk. They left her father at the hotel and ventured out on their own. There was a mall that had two jewelry stores inside so they headed there, considering doing some other shopping for fun.
“Oh, look, a bridal shop.” Alex halted his chair and spun toward the store with formal dresses on mannequins. “We should go try on wedding dresses.”
“We?” Ellen chuckled, following him into the store. “I’d like to see you in a wedding dress.”
“I’d like to see you in a wedding dress,” Alex said. “Humor me.”
After they had wandered through the store, having no idea where to start, they were approached by a prim and polite saleswoman. “Is there anything I can help you find?”
“Yes, we’d like to buy my fiancé a wedding dress.” Alex used his most grownup voice, hoping to seem older than eighteen. “Spare no expense. I’m quite wealthy.”
“Alex, I don’t need anything expensive.” Ellen seemed embarrassed.
“I know.” He reached for her hand. “I just want the lady to know that we don’t need to shop on the clearance racks or anything.”
“How about if we start somewhere in the middle.” The woman guided them toward the back of the store. “Do you know your dress size?” She looked Ellen up and down.
“I have no idea,” Ellen admitted. “I don’t usually shop for dresses.”
“I’m guessing about a four. I’m Gina, by the way.” As if they couldn’t read her name tag.
“Nice to meet you, Gina. I’m Ellen and this is my fiancé, Alex.”
“How long have you two been engaged?” Her tone was pleasant as she moved hangers around to find the right size.
“Officially a few hours,” Alex said. “But we’ve been talking about it for a while.”
“You know, my mom’s going to kill me if I buy a dress without her.”
“No problem. I’m buying the dress, so she has no reason to complain.”
Ellen giggled like a teenage girl. Okay, she was a teenage girl, but usually acted more mature and less giddy.
“Have you thought about what kind of dress you want?” Gina asked. “Something more form-fitting, or a full princess gown?”
“Gee, I don’t know what a princess wears to her wedding.” Ellen turned to Alex. “Hey, is Phoebe considered a princess now?”
“I mean… kinda. They didn’t have a coronation or anything,” Alex said. “But Princess Miranda definitely is, and I’m sure the king will perform her wedding with Hayden, since he’s her father.”
“Ooh, can we go to the wedding?” Ellen asked, bouncing on her toes. “I want to visit Madain Saleh and see the palace.”
“They haven’t set a date yet, but sure, we can fly over there.”
“Yay, I’m excited to see a real princess get married.” Ellen turned back to Gina, who stood with her mouth gaping. “I don’t need a princess dress, just something flowy and whimsical.”
“Okay… well, flowy and whimsical. Let’s head over here.” She picked out a dress and led Ellen away to a dressing room, showing Alex to a sitting area where he could wait.
Alex’s breath caught when Ellen stepped from the fitting room. The dress had a bloused top with long sleeves that reached down over her wrists. The gypsy skirt was panels and panels of white fabric that fanned out when Ellen spun in front of the mirror.
“It’s perfect,” Alex whispered, never wanting to take his eyes off her, even as he warred with the desire to take the dress off her. “Can we get married today?”
“No, sorry.” Ellen turned back toward the mirror and twisted side to side again, letting the skirt wrap around her legs. “My mom would double kill me if I got married without her.”
“Do you want me to send her a picture of you in the dress so she can give her stamp of approval?”
“Sure, send it with your phone though so she’ll know you’re shopping with me. She’ll have a fit about you seeing me in my dress before the wedding.”
“Okay, pose for the camera.” Alex held up his phone and snapped the photo then sent a text to her mom while Ellen changed back into her street clothes. His message read, Sorry I dragged Ellen kicking and screaming into a bridal shop. We’re going ring shopping next. Can you dig out her birth certificate? We’re going to need it.
The response from her mom was not what Alex expected. YESSSS!!!!
Responses from all their friends and family were the same when Alex and Ellen posted a photo together on both of their Instagram accounts with her sitting on his lap holding up her left hand, showing a sparkling diamond.
Gus, in particular, knew exactly what that meant because Alex had told his closest friend about he and Ellen’s science experiment. His comment was subdued and meaningful. God answers prayers, my brother.
Yes, he does. Alex closed his eyes right there in the jewelry store for a silent little two-word prayer. Thank you.
Book Club Discussion Questions: I'm still working on the epilogue. What kinds of threads would you like to see tied up?