Matrimony in Miniature
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CHAPTER 1

As hard as I tried, I couldn't break into the house. Every door, back and front, was nailed to the adjacent wall and every window on all three floors and the conservatory were painted shut. I might have been able to bore my way down the chimney, but that would have wrecked the roof. Finally, I decided to sacrifice a wide back door and simply knock it out and toss the splintered wood away. Then I could reach in, chip away at the paint, release the windows from the inside, and push out the back wall. A lot of work. I was beginning to think the house was not a bargain after all. But, for only two hundred dollars, I hadn't been able to resist the thirteen-room mansion with Victorian gables and a wraparound porch that ended in a small gazebo.

Before I could change my mind, I extricated a small hammer from my toolbox and banged at the dollhouse door.

"What's that racket?" A deep, smooth voice, to go with his long, easy gait. Henry Baker calling from the next room. he asked, entering my workshop. "Are you okay, Gerry?"

"Not exactly," I admitted. My fiancé had perfect pitch when it came to woodworking noises. After all our time together, I knew he was aware that my main reason for instigating the metal-on-wood clamor was so that he'd come and bail me out. I'd use my talents later, for painting the pastel gingerbread trim and furnishing the rooms. I wasn't cut out for heavy duty construction work, even if the dimensions were only one inch to one foot, traditional dollhouse scale. I wiped my brow, feigning exhaustion from hard labor. "Why would someone nail shut all the sides of this beauty?" I asked.

Henry took the hammer from me and led me to the nearest stool. "There, there," he said. "Let me take over." Always willing to play the game. One of the many things I loved about the former high school woodworking teacher, who'd be my husband in only one week.

I smiled and kissed his cheek. "If you insist."

While I enjoyed a second cup of morning coffee, Henry donned a heavy denim apron that he kept at my house, and chipped away at the dollhouse. He tapped here and there at a wall or a window frame, as if he were a physician examining a delicate patient, careful not to fracture a brittle bone or bruise tired muscle tissue. I flashed back to a time when Henry and I knew each other only as faculty colleagues at Abraham Lincoln High School. I'd talked to him casually at meetings, and he'd volunteered when I needed a hand building a miniature theater for my Shakespeare class. Both our lives had changed so much since then, and not because we'd both retired.

I knew that my reminiscing and leisure time this Saturday morning wouldn't last long. Once local businesses opened at ten o'clock, my phone would come to life with back-to-back calls from the endless list of people involved in the planning of our wedding. Our determination to keep it simple had gone south as soon as Bev, my sister-in-law and best friend, teamed up with Maddie, my preteen granddaughter, and Kay, Henry's daughter. Throw in a half dozen miniaturists from my crafts group; my artist daughter-in-law, Mary Lou; and assorted other relatives and friends of mine and Henry's, and the event was out of our hands and out of control.

The first call came from the Lincoln Point Inn, a newly refurbished B&B in town, coinciding with the spirited arrival in my workshop of two energetic preteens—our granddaughters. My Maddie and her BFF, Taylor, Henry's granddaughter, bounded in. While Nora Michaels, the inn's owner, put me on hold to take another call, I motioned to the girls that I'd be with them shortly. Maddie and Taylor were still wearing what they called their vacation sweatshirts. Tall-for-her-age and redheaded Maddie sported a pink "HAWAII THE ALOHA STATE" shirt from Taylor's trip over the Christmas holidays last month, and short, blond Taylor looked comfy in an oversize navy blue NYPD sweatshirt brought back by Maddie from our journey to New York during the same period. Maddie was having a hard time adjusting to being back in her California home, constantly wishing (some said whining) for a uniformed doorman and buildings high enough for a decent elevator ride.

"Or, at least we could have some yellow cabs on the street," she'd said yesterday. "Palo Alto isn't any better than Lincoln Point," she'd noted, comparing her hometown to mine. "All you see on the streets are stupid SUVs." One of which was the late-model green vehicle that took her to and from school, and to and from her grandmother's house, I'd reminded her.

"Still," she'd said. "It's so flat and boring out here."

"Out here" was where poor, disadvantaged Maddie had a room of her own in two California cities and enough doting relatives to grant most of her wishes (except for the doorman). Not that my darling was spoiled, however.

Nora came back on the line. "Crazy morning already. These young brides are going to drive me nuts," she said. "Not you, Gerry," she added, as if I weren't aware that, at nearly sixty years old, and a widow, I was hardly the target audience for brides' magazines. "The girls are always calling about something, like, just now, one of them wants a bigger table because she changed her mind about what's going into her swag bags."

"Her what?"

"You know, what we used to call wedding favors."

"You mean like white candied almonds wrapped in netting?"

"You don't get out much, do you?" I had to admit the last wedding I'd been to featured the Macarena at the reception. "Swag bags are simply a collection of favors, some useful, some not, in a fancy tote. But you don't have to worry, Gerry. The ladies and one gentleman in your crafts group are taking care of that for you."

Now I was worried. "I'll bet you have another reason for calling this morning."

"I need your seating chart, for one thing," Nora said.

"I thought we were dispensing with assigned seats. All my friends and family like each other."

Nora let out a wry chuckle. "That's what you think now. Wait until the next day when they're pouting about who got to sit closest to the head table, who was stuck near the kitchen, whose table was too crowded, who got served last, et cetera, et cetera."

I took an exasperated breath. "Isn't that all the more reason to let them choose for themselves?"

"Hmm," Nora said.

Had I stumped her for once? "How about no head table?" I said, wanting to settle the matter.

Another "Hmm," then "What about a sweetheart table, then?"

"A what?"

"A small table with just you and Henry."

"Do couples really do that?"

"It's the thing lately."

"Not for us. What's the point of having guests if you're going to isolate yourselves?",

Silence from Nora, while she recouped. Then, "Next you're going to tell me you're not going to have Henry remove your garter and toss it to a gathering of single gentlemen in the room."

"What? What are you—"

Nora's delighted laughter interrupted me. "Just kidding."

I realized this was a trick I'd used often myself. Offer one suggestion that was so outrageous, that your real suggestion would then be welcomed as reasonable and good, infinitely preferable.

"I'll think about the head table," I said, hearing an extraneous beep on the line. "I have another call," I added, ready to switch to a call-waiting from the baker. Could the butcher and the candlestick maker be far behind?

I was almost happy that Dolores, the baker responsible for my wedding cake, hung up before I could take the call. I knew it would be only a short reprieve.

I turned back to our granddaughters who were head to head, chattering. Henry was busy with my new dollhouse. As the gables came to new life under my fiancé's expert workmanship, I thought back to the days when I taught an advanced high school class on Victorian literature. I thought of Queen Victoria, who'd married Prince Albert during her reign. Had there been more fuss over a bride who was Queen of England in eighteen forty than I was experiencing now? Had there been a larger coterie involved in the planning of a wedding breakfast at Buckingham Palace than there was over my nuptials? I wouldn't want to bet.