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Only the Beginning
“Go away Dustin!” I screeched as I ran into my room, slamming the door behind me. “I will not marry you!”
“Please, Grace? You know how much I love you. Besides, if you marry me you’ll be wealthy enough to provide for your father and sister for the rest of their lives. Don’t you want to take care of them and make yourself happy, at the same time?” Dustin pleaded.
“Don’t you dare try to guilt me into marrying you, Dustin Nastt. Besides, I don’t love you, so how would marrying you ever make me happy? Marriage is not a one way commitment. It needs love to come from both sides, unconditional love, to make it work.”
“You’ve given marriage a lot of thought, haven’t you, Grace?”
I heard his deep sigh clearly through the thick wooden door. As I listened for his footsteps to move away, I thought about how much I hated to make him unhappy. Contrary to my statement, I really did love him. I just couldn’t marry him. I was too young, and it wasn’t what my mother would have wanted. I reached for my mother’s locket hanging around my neck and held it tight. She’d given it to me four years ago, with Grandmother’s gold wristwatch, moments before she died in that sterilized hospital room.
“Be happy, but don’t make the same mistake I did,” she had whispered, and then with a gasp I’ll never forget, she’d slid into unconsciousness. She never returned to me.
I know she would have liked Dustin. He was honorable, kind, generous. He loved country music, just like my mother did, and just like I do. Granted, we live in Atlanta, Georgia, so country music lovers are not uncommon. Still, he loved to draw and sing, which was how we had met…
“May I draw you,” he said, smiling at me like he knew he was being forward with his odd request, but he didn’t care. “I’m Dustin by the way. You are?”
“Grace,” I said, agreeing to let him draw me. I put down my pad and pencil and held still as he positioned me. As he drew, I softly hummed ‘Bless the Broken Road’, a personal favorite of both mine and my mother’s. I realized two things simultaneously: the tune was not only coming from my mouth, and Dustin had stopped drawing and was staring at me.
“I didn’t know anyone else liked that song. All my family and friends hate it. Wait, do you like ‘Bless the Broken Road’, or was it just stuck in your head?” he asked, still gazing at me in a way that made me blush.
“No, I love that song. So does my mother.” I paused. “Well, she did.” I clarified softly.
“I won’t say that I’m sorry. I lost my mother ten years ago in a horse-riding accident and I hate when people apologize when it clearly wasn’t their fault. And I despise when they look at me in—“
“Pity,” I finished. We looked at each other and smiled.
After that, the pieces just fell into place and stayed in place; our love growing until that fateful day. We dated for three months before he asked me to marry him. I said no, and that was the end of it for me, but not for him. I would do as my mother had requested, because I knew what ‘mistake’ she had made.
By marrying early, she had given up on her dream of becoming a world-renowned chef and owning her own five-star restaurant. Having children and a household to run had made her dream impossible, regardless of how amazing her food was. She had no time for herself anymore. Then she had died of pneumonia and the flu, putting an end to her dream forever. I wanted to be a doctor and I would be, one day. Dustin had other ideas, however.
Every day for the next month, he sent my favorite flowers until I smelled of roses and carnations whenever I left my room. I called him and told him it had to end. The flowers stopped, but a week later I started to receive pieces of jewelry with little pink cards attached. Each card had a small passage on it, confessions of love from our favorite books.
I called him, and made him swear to never send me anything again. He promised, but said when we got married that promise was null and void. I hung up on him. That was three months ago, and since then he’s proposed twice more. I wished he would move on, even though I never would. His proposals and my refusals not only affected us, but they were causing problems between my sister, Amanda, and me. My father had refused to get involved, saying that he only wanted me to be happy. I could tell that he agreed with Amanda, though. My marriage to Dustin, whose family was extremely wealthy, would set them for life.
A low scuffing sound outside my door startled me, and I listened as his footsteps gradually faded away. I had forgotten that Dustin was still there. Barely three seconds passed after I heard Dustin say his goodbyes to my family and close the storm door behind him before Amanda, came stomping down the hall to our bedroom, like a stampeding elephant.
“Grace Rose Winag!” she bellowed. “Open that door this instant and get out here, or I am coming in!”
“Is that a threat, Mandy dear?”
“Don’t you ‘Mandy dear’ me. Get out here now!”
I heard my father grunt as he heaved himself out of his favorite green leather armchair, and shuffled down the hallway.
“Now, now, girls, that’s enough. I will not have my two most treasured people in this world fighting like cats and dogs,” he ordered calmly, a hint of smile on his lips. Had he been in the Twin Towers on the eleventh of September that dreadful year, he would have been standing calmly, directing people not to panic and to walk as fast as they could. He’s like an oak tree— my oak tree—, strong and steady, someone I depend on.
“Dad, you know how selfish she’s being, trying to keep her dream alive, as she says. Doesn’t she care about us?” Amanda probed, trying to bait our dad into admitting that my act was selfish.
I knew that Dad would never openly agree with her, at least not with me around. But I also knew that Amanda was right. I was being selfish and it was affecting all of us. Amanda’s insinuation that I only cared about myself was uncalled for.
I opened the bedroom door and stormed out, standing tall to confront her. “H-how dare you!” I stammered. “Just becau—“
“You are a selfish brat, Grace Winag. I am disgusted with you! What would mom have said if she could see you now?”
Slap! Unconciously, my hand struck Amanda’s face. I don’t know how or why her comment had fueled such a violent reaction in me, I only knew that it had. I felt my world stop turning, as an angry red mark appeared on Amanda’s shocked face. I, too, stood frozen in place, not quite believing the evidence that appeared to pulse on my sister’s cheek. My handprint seemed to glare at me, an accusatory look that made me hunker down in shame at what I had done.
I had never hit my beloved Mandy before! We had fought of course—what sisters don’t—, but our verbal wars hadn’t ever turned physical. I had crossed the line, and I was horrified with myself! I spun around and raced down the hall, passing my frowning father on the way. Our charcoal gray storm door slammed back against its frame, the crash echoing in my ears as I ran down the road, not really caring where I was headed. As I ran, I realized the echoing sound of the storm door had faded and was replaced by the sharp crack of my hand on Amanda’s cheek.
My tears flowed freely now, as I thought about what had happened. This is all Dustin’s fault, I thought bitterly, eager to lay the blame on someone else’s shoulders. My anger at myself shifted to him, but quickly died. I couldn’t stay mad at the man I loved with all my heart and soul. If only my mother hadn’t made me promise to avoid making the same mistake she had, this would never have happened and I would probably be planning my wedding right now.
Mommy, did you realize what you were doing? You couldn’t possibly have wanted me to refuse to spend the rest of my life with my only love. My thoughts were jumbled then, as if they had been hit by a speeding train. That’s when I finally realized what my mother had been talking about. Her mistake was hers, not mine! She wanted me to be happy, like she had been, but she also wanted me to follow my dreams. Her mistake had been failing to pursue her dream of being a chef and owning a restaurant, not getting married to the man she loved and having children. My epiphany came with such force I gasped and fell to my knees. I knew what I had to do.
Suddenly I heard the pounding of footsteps thudding on the dirt road, headed in my direction. I lifted my head to see Dustin barreling towards me, his face tight with concern. I rose to my feet just as he reached me.
“Amanda called me and told me what happened,” he breathed, reaching towards me like he was afraid I would fall down. “Are you okay?”
“Better than okay,” I whispered. I took a step forward to close the gap between us, stood on my tiptoes, and kissed him. My eyes closed and I saw my mother smiling at me, her gaze saying, that’s my girl. I knew in my heart my decision was right, because it felt right. I began to lose myself in our kiss, but not before I heard the low trilling of wedding bells.