A few days before the dance, Ray himself had a bit of a shopping trip. He bought a new white shirt to go with his best suit, and a tie with gray and burgundy in it to match Livy's outfit. He was pretty darn proud of his choices, thinking he wanted to look his best for his wife.
He'd been talking to Hank, too. He'd always been like an older brother, and Ray found it easy to confide in him. Naturally, he was wondering how to proceed with Livy, to truly become her husband. It was such a different situation from most couples. They had done everything backwards. Complete stangers when they'd married, but sort of 'courting' for the last several months. Now it was time for them to take that next step...to consummate their marriage, and to celebrate the love they had discovered in each other. This was where Hank's advice was so welcome. For not only would this be their first time together, but Livy had just given birth. Hank told Ray that Livy would likely feel embarrassed by the changes in her body...that it was only natural that she would feel hesitant -- bound to have doubts about her husband finding her attractive. (Ray was relieved when Hank brought this up. He wouldn't have betrayed Livy--that she'd told him this was exactly how she felt.) Ray argued, trying to tell Hank that he found Livy very attractive! Hank just laughed and patted him on the back.
"I know, I know. But take it from me. Just reassure her...tell her how much you love her, Ray. That's all..." Ray nodded, and he searched for the words to tell Livy that he – that they – were ready for the next step in their relationship. As it turned out, no words were needed...
Saturday, February 17, 1945
Livy had just finished feeding Danny when Ray paused in the doorway.
"Liv? You need help with the baby?"
"Oh, please Ray...he was taking his time eating, and I'd hate for us to be late!" Ray smiled and joined Livy by their bed, looking down at Danny, who gurgled and made his parents laugh.
"Relax, Livy...we're fine. Ok, little man...let's get you dressed for the trip to town." While Ray changed their son, Livy went to the closet. Ray looked up to ask her about Danny's pajamas, but stopped when he saw her take her robe off. Though she was in a full slip and stockings, he'd never seen her look so...desirable. She turned towards him with her clothes in hand and smiled.
"He's getting to be a handful, isn't he, Daddy?"
"Uh...yeah...yes he is," Ray chided himself...a grown man, tongue-tied as a school boy! He finished dressing Danny and propped pillows beside him till they were ready to go. He'd started out of the room, when Livy put her hand on his arm.
"Ray, could you...?" She turned her back so he could zip her jumper. He held her shoulders, their eyes meeting in the mirror.
"You look beautiful, Livy..." Livy studied their reflection. She thought her new clothes flattered her, so she felt confident. But it was the look in Ray's eyes that made her feel special. He rested his cheek against her hair.
"Mmm...you smell good, too" She reached up to take his hands, then turned in his arms to smooth the lapel of his jacket.
"You look quite dashing, yourself, Mr. Singleton. You'll be in high demand as a dance partner tonight!"
"Livy, you're the only one I want to dance with -- ever," He held her close for a moment, then smiled down at her.
"We best be going. Ruthy'll be itching to get hold of Danny and I know the boys will want to help with him, too. I'll get the beet box warmed up and come back in for you and the baby. Bundle up...it's really cold!"
Driving into Wilson, Ray commented how bright and brilliant the February Snow moon was, how starry the sky. But Livy couldn't take her eyes off of her husband. This felt like a date, a date with a man she loved dearly. He looked so handsome and she knew they were going to have a wonderful time. When they got to town, they parked alongside the church. Ray smiled at Danny as he scooped him into his arms. The baby's wide-eyes suggested even he knew it was a special night for his parents.
"Let's go in through the church and down the back steps instead of walking all the way around the building." Livy nodded and took Ray's arm. Ruth was waiting in the vestibule, grinning.
'Hey Aunt Livy! I'll take him, Uncle Ray. We have the rest of the little ones down in the Sunday school rooms." Danny gave Ruth a gummy smile as she started down the steps with him. "Come on, sweet boy...I've got you now."
Ray took Livy's coat and hung it up. Before she could follow Ruth down the steps, Ray steered her to the right and opened the doors to the sanctuary. The scene that greeted her took her breath away. For filling the pews were all of their friends. Martha and Hank stood up front with Reverend Case. Ray leaned down to murmur in her ear,
"We said we wanted to repeat our vows...this all right with you?" Livy turned to face him.
"Ray...you did this?" He nodded.
"This is how it should have been, the first time..." Tucking her hand in the crook of his arm, they proceeded down the aisle. The church was beautiful, lit only by the glow of dozens of candles. Mrs. Case began to softly play 'The Wedding March' and Martha handed Livy a small pink and white nosegay. She and Hank took their places beside Ray and Livy as once again Reverend Case led them through the ceremony. When it came time for the ring, Ray grinned, and proudly produced a shiny gold band to add to Livy's diamond. This time, there were no awkward moments. This groom didn't hesitate to kiss his bride, and did so with his heart full of love...
Livy opened her eyes and tried to catch her breath. She was able to focus on her husband's face, the tender look he was giving her. People were hugging them, surrounding them with congratulations on the renewal of their vows....but Livy heard only a dull buzz. Her husband's kiss was all she could think about. This kiss had been different. It was an affirmation of all they wanted in a life together, of the love they had found in each other. That he had planned this ceremony told her all she ever needed to know.
Finally, the crowd thinned, and as everyone began to make their way downstairs, Livy and Ray had a moment to themselves. She sat down in the front pew and reached for his hand. He sat beside her, fingering the wedding ring he'd just given her.
"Ray, I don't know what to say. I can't believe you did this. We'd told everyone we eloped and ..."
"Sweetheart, when we took our vows, I meant every word. But now, I really know what they mean...and it was important that we say them again. It's funny, because Mrs. Pratt and Miz Parker have always said what a shame it was that we were married without all of our friends. That just kind of stuck with me...." He smiled.
"What better time than Valentine's Day? So, I asked around, and everyone thought it was a great idea -- to surprise you with a 'real' wedding. It's ok, isn't it?"
Livy wrapped her arms around Ray's neck.
"Oh Ray, you have no idea how 'OK' it is...thank you!" Ray rubbed her back for a moment.
"Well, then let's get downstairs. I want to dance with my wife."
Applause broke out as they entered the church hall. Livy was deeply touched to see the room decorated with wedding bells, hearts and flowers. There was even a small wedding cake at their table! As Slim and the boys began to play 'Always', Livy and Ray walked to the center of the floor to lead the dancing. Livy glided into her husband's arms and was once again grateful for the way her life had turned out.
The evening passed in a blur for the young couple, who might as well have been the only people in the room. More than one person nudged another with a smile of delight to see Ray Singleton happy again. No one deserved it more...it was indeed a magical night in the midst of an ordinary life.
It was after midnight when they turned onto their road. Once they got back to the house, Ray carried Danny upstairs. Livy took a few minutes to nurse him for his last feeding while Ray let Franklin out and banked the fires. He came back up so they could tuck Danny in together, the way they always did. Leaving his door ajar they went to their room.
Livy stood at the dresser, removing her earrings and pin, loosening the bow on her blouse. Ray stood in the doorway, leaning against the frame, watching her...reluctant to leave, even though he knew he should give her some privacy to undress.
"Liv...want me to fix you some tea or something...?"
"I'm all right..." slipping off her shoes, she turned and slowly walked over to face him. She reached up and loosened the knot of his tie, then helped him out of his jacket and laid it on the cedar chest. Neither of them spoke...they were barely breathing. He took her shoulders and turned her gently to unzip her jumper. She lifted her hair for him and this time he gave into the urge to plant a soft kiss at the base of her neck.
"Mmm...Livy?" She answered the question in his voice by leaning back into his arms. She sighed as he kissed her neck, nuzzled her shoulder. Finally, Livy spoke.
"Um, Ray? Let me go change...I'll be right back, ok?" Ray nodded.
"Sure Liv....hurry?" She smiled back at him as she went into the bathroom. Ray nearly groaned aloud when he heard her running a bath. He ran his hand across his face, then hurriedly got ready for bed. He turned the quilts down, he paced the room, then went downstairs. If ever there was a time he could use some of Daddy's blackberry wine, it was now. He went to the kitchen and poured himself a small glass, then took it in and sat by the fire. He'd been waiting for this night since the day he'd married Livy, hoping that one day they would come to love each other. Now he prayed he would say the right words. That he would be the husband she deserved...that she dreamed about. He turned out the lamp, and ran his fingers through his hair as he rounded the doorway.
"Ray?" He looked up to see Livy at the top of the stairs. She took his breath away...a vision in a pale blue peignoir. She looked ethereal, the moonlight from the window backlighting her...making the gauzy gown seem like an aura. And unbeknownst to Livy, it outlined her body, leaving little to the imagination.
"Ray... when I bought this, I...I was thinking of you...of a special night with you." He was still trying to find words as she rushed on.
"I mean...now, it's kind of like our wedding night, and...." His heart melted -- she looked nervous and unsure of herself. He slowly climbed the steps, his eyes never leaving hers. Tonight, he would tell her how incredibly beautiful she was. He would show her how much he loved her, wanted and needed her. As he reached the landing, she extended her hand to him.
"I love you, Ray...come to bed"
"I love you, Livy," he cupped her face in his hands and kissed her...kissed her until there was no doubt in her mind that they were meant to be together....always.