The courtroom smelled like burnt popcorn. Holding my breath, I shifted in my seat, making the hard wooden bench creak.
“This is taking forever,” Ben hissed into my ear.
I ignored him and glanced across the aisle at my soon-to-be stepsiblings. Clara cut her icy blue eyes at me without actually turning her head. She sat beside her brother Sam, stiff and plastic-looking with perfectly highlighted blond hair, only reinforcing my initial suspicion that she was, in fact, a living Barbie doll. Sam, on the other hand, actually looked over at me and offered a slight nod.
“Children of the Corn,” Ben whispered.
I rolled my eyes and faced forward. “Just because they’re blond-”
“Blond and creepy,” he interjected.
The doors at the back of the room opened and Judge Newton walked in, followed closely by Dad and Susan.
Dad wore a charcoal grey suit; the only one he owned. He looked nervous but happy as he smoothed the back of his dark brown hair, making sure it was in place. Susan wore a short, lacy, white dress that accentuated her long legs and blue wedge sandals that matched her eyes. Her poorly-dyed orange hair was pulled back into a chignon. They held hands tightly and walked slowly down the aisle until they were standing directly in front of the judge.
“The scandal of Oak Lake,” I muttered.
Ben looked at me quizzically and I shook my head. Never mind. That’s what I’d overheard Ida Miller call the wedding yesterday. In a town of five thousand people, a recently widowed man marrying a relative stranger was something worth talking about.
Judge Newton was an older gray-haired woman with small glasses and an air of indifference. She gave a tight smile and looked around at all of us. “We are gathered together in the presence of these witnesses to join this man and this woman in matrimony.”
Reality hit me like a ton of bricks. The smell of popcorn mixed with the fact that my father was marrying a woman I’d only met once made my stomach churn uneasily.
Beside me, Ben’s head fell into his hands. “I can’t believe he’s doing this, Molly,” he mumbled.
My heart pumped faster; suddenly this was too real.
Ben lifted his head and unbuttoned his two-sizes-too-small suit jacket. He looked ridiculous but had refused to get a new suit for the wedding. He also refused to comb his hair, which made him look like a fifteen-year-old Albert Einstein.
Catching movement out of corner of my eye, I looked across the aisle again. Clara was shifting in her seat, taking deep breaths. It was hard to imagine the two of us sharing a bedroom. Sam’s foot shook uncontrollably under the bench, but otherwise he appeared totally unaffected.
Glancing back one row, I eyed Joseph, the oldest of the three. He sat with his knees slightly askew so they wouldn’t hit the back of the bench in front of him. He ran a hand through his sandy blond hair, letting out an agitated sigh. While the rest of us were in dresses and suits, he was wearing dark blue jeans, a white t-shirt, and dirty sneakers.
“If anyone can show just cause why this man and this woman may not lawfully be joined together, let them speak now or hereafter remain silent.” Judge Newton glanced around the courtroom.
Ben sat up straighter and I stared at him wide-eyed, silently pleading for him to not do anything stupid. Dad would never forgive us if we caused a scene.
The bench behind Ben squeaked and we all turned our heads.
“Oops, sorry,” Big Mike, who was Dad’s boss, laughed nervously.
If Gram had come to the wedding, she would have objected. Instead, she refused to attend and moved out of the house. I was going to miss her but understood the decision. Her daughter died a year ago and her son-in-law was already getting remarried.
Judge Newton nodded, satisfied, and looked back at Dad. “Do you have rings?”
Susan turned and motioned to Joseph. He stood slowly and walked up the aisle, his dark brown eyes blinking rapidly, and gave her two boxes. As he reached out his hand to pass her the rings, I noticed tiny white scars that ran all the way up his left arm, like little flecks of light trying to escape through his skin.
“Thanks, sweetie,” Susan said, squeezing Joseph’s shoulder.
Judge Newton cleared her throat. “Susan Katherine Wright, will you take this man…”
Joseph returned to his seat behind Clara and Sam, all three of their faces expressionless.
“Ugh,” Ben moaned.
“Charles Ronald Anderson, will you take this woman…”
I closed my eyes and swallowed hard as my stomach rolled again. “This is actually happening,” I whispered, more to myself than anyone.
Everything was about to change. “Oh man.” I put my hands over my stomach and turned my attention back to the ceremony. I wanted it to be over so I could leave.
“I do,” Dad said.
Judge Newton finally smiled. “By the authority vested in me by the State of Michigan, I pronounce you husband and wife.”
Dad and Susan turned and grinned at us as Big Mike stood up, clapping his large hands together.
No one else clapped.