After the holidays, plans for the wedding seemed to dominate their activities. Greg let Allison take the lead; he had never been big on weddings, so he simply did what she told him and gave input whenever she asked. It was just as well, because she seemed to enjoy planning everything.
The first day of school after the break, all of Jeff's friends asked about the beautiful woman who had picked him up at school. At first he joked that she was his girlfriend, which of course they didn't believe, then after having his fun he admitted that she was going to marry his dad. Then they teased him about having a hot stepmom, their comments ranging from playful jabbing from Rick to obscene suggestions from Jesse. Jeff wasn't embarrassed; he was too happy about the situation to let it bother him, and he had long ago grown used to hearing Jesse's perverted fantasies. Instead, Jeff told them, "You should see her in a bathrobe. It's too bad you'll never get the chance." That shut them up fast. Jesse and Mike grinned stupidly, and Rick looked like he was about to pass out from the mental image.
Brit's friends were too young to understand all of the implications of the change in the family, so for the most part it was just one more item to bring up during their unending prattering. Lissa's friends, however, were all excited that she was going to have a new mother. They had been very supportive during the divorce, and now once they realized that Lissa liked Allison, they were all happy for her.
Things began to settle down into a routine at the Primdale house. While the novelty of Allison's presence wore off after a few weeks, the cheerful atmosphere that she seemed to emit remained. Greg just grew happier and happier as time went on and the pain and anguish of his divorce to his first wife faded, to be replaced by Allison's fun and energetic spirit.
Jeff also seemed much happier than he had been in years, possibly forever. Part of it was simply that Allison was easy to talk to, so he found himself spending more time being social than ever before. It was quite obvious that he really liked her.
In March, Mr. and Mrs. Craven flew in to meet their future son-in-law and his family. They turned out not to be much older than Greg, which was a little awkward, but after joking about it for a bit, they seemed to accept the idea. It turned out that they were very nice and although still a little cautious about the whole situation, they were surprisingly tolerant. Greg had been nervous about meeting Mr. Craven ever since Allison had mentioned he had been an officer in the Army, but the man turned out to be nowhere near as intimidating as the mental image Greg had in his head.
"I want you to know," said Mr. Craven as they sat together in the dining room the day after they arrived, "that we're both opposed to what Allison's doing. Not because of anything to do with you personally, just that we don't agree with her decision. But we've also decided to support her in it. I hope I'm wrong in my apprehensions and everything turns out well."
"I can give you my assurance that Allison's going to be all right," Greg told them. "I'll let her tell you how she feels, but as for me, I feel twenty years younger. She's really the best thing that's happened to me in a long time."
Allison beamed at the compliment.
"Thank you, dear," she smiled. "And I'm so happy about this whole thing. I was scared at first about what I was doing, but Greg's been great. He's made me feel so welcome here that I can't imagine what I was so nervous about in the first place."
"So... are you two in love?" asked Mrs. Craven, a little hesitantly.
"No," Allison replied immediately. "We've talked it over, and we're both fine with that. There's no telling what the future may bring, but for now, we're satisfied just to like each other. It's not like we're mortal enemies or anything; we're friends. With benefits," she added with a grin.
"And what about the kids?" asked Mr. Craven. "I like the idea of being a grandpa, but suddenly having three grandkids, especially since the oldest is already fifteen, is a little disconcerting."
"I absolutely adore the children," Allison said. "Lissa was hesitant at first, but ever since she decided to like me, she's been wonderful. Jeff's been very nice to me right from the beginning, and Brit's the cutest little girl you've ever seen. Sometimes I just want to grab them all and hug them."
"And the kids all love her too," Greg added. "So don't worry about this relationship not working out. Allison's felt like a part of this family ever since we met her."
The Cravens stayed for Brit's eleventh birthday party on the twenty-second. Jeff had never been a fan of other people's birthdays, especially since Brit invited over several of her bratty little friends. But he promised himself he would be nice to her because it was her big day after all. He even bought her a present, which he and Allison had picked out for her (he even found shopping tolerable with Allison). It was a shirt with the words "I wear my emotions on my sleeves" on the front, and all over the long sleeves were words like "happy," "angry," "competitive," "moody," and "flirtatious." It described Brit perfectly, and it was even more appropriate coming from Jeff, being a subtle joke about her personality. Despite the teasing nature of the gift, she seemed to really like it, and gave him a hug. He didn't particularly like hugs from her, but then, he really didn't like hugs from anyone except Allison. Of course, there were a couple of girls at school that he wouldn't mind hugging, Kari Williams for instance, not that he would ever have the chance with a popular girl like her.
A week or two later, they began sending out invitations for the wedding. Allison and Greg went through their lists, and the kids all helped stuff, seal, address, and stamp envelopes.
It was during that time that Greg made his last bitter comment about his ex-wife.
"Do you mind if we send an invitation to that rotten bitch?" he asked Allison. "I'm sure she won't come. I just want to taunt her."
Allison laughed. "Your ex-wife is your concern. You do whatever you want."
Greg grabbed an envelope, stuck an invitation in, then sealed and stamped it. The others watched in amusement as he proved that it was possible for a person to address an envelope in a malicious fashion.
Later that month Greg had his lawyer draw up the prenuptial agreement. It was pretty simple, since Allison only had her car and a few belongings, and she didn't care to take anything away from Greg if later on down the line they decided it wasn't working out. They did, however, add the unusual clause stating that an affair on Greg's part did not constitute grounds for divorce, since Allison had already told him he could have a mistress on the side if he wanted.
April came and went in a flurry of wedding preparations, and before they knew it, May had arrived with only a couple of weeks before the big event. Greg and Allison met often with the wedding planner that they had hired, with increasing frequency as the days counted down. There were very few snags; the biggest one was that the professional photographer that they had hired had to cancel, but she gave them the name of one of her colleagues, who agreed to fill in for her at the last minute. Other than that, things seemed to go smoothly.
The weather turned out to be perfect for the wedding. Just as Brit had told Allison, the park was extremely beautiful in the spring with the flowers in bloom. The family went down a couple of days early to look it over. Brit of course wanted to go so that she could take some more pictures of the park, this time in the spring. Lissa always enjoyed Allison's company so that she didn't want to be left behind. Greg felt it more a duty than anything else, although he admittedly was getting excited with the wedding only a couple of days away. And of course, Jeff liked to do anything when Allison was around.
There was a covered shelter that they could use in case of rain, but it didn't look like it would be needed, since the weatherman predicted blue skies all weekend. So they picked a large open area in the park where they could hold the ceremony. Allison took Greg's arm and led him all over, jabbering away about where everything would go and how they would set things up. The two of them looked very happy together.
Jeff's feelings were surprisingly simple. Considering that the most gorgeous woman he had ever met was about to marry another man, it would probably have been natural for him to feel jealous. But there were two reasons why he felt only joy. First, he had never really expected for a moment that a romantic relationship between Allison and himself was remotely possible, so he was content to let it remain in his fantasies, where it could do no harm. Second, the very act of her marriage to his father meant that she would become a part of the family, to be with them for the rest of their lives. So he was more than willing to let things continue on their course.
The day before the wedding, Allison's family flew in to town, and Greg and Allison went to pick them up at the airport while the kids were in school. When Jeff arrived home that day, he was in for a delightful shock. Allison's parents had brought their other daughter Rachael with them. She was nearly as lovely as Allison herself. She had the same long, brown hair and big, bright eyes as her sister. Even her smile was the same. It was unfortunate that they would only be staying until after the wedding, when they would fly back home again. Jeff certainly wouldn't have minded spending extra time with Rachael. But she was a freshman in college, and had to get back to school to take her exams. It was only by luck that she was able to take Friday off to fly in with her parents.
Being Allison's sister, that technically made her his aunt, but she was way too young for him to think of her like that. Maybe a cousin, perhaps. Yes, that would do. He would think of her as a cousin.
His grandparents arrived later that afternoon; they had flown in from Nebraska. He liked his grandparents, even though his grandma insisted on hugging him. She was one of the people he didn't like to hug.
The grandparents got the spare room, and Allison's family got the guesthouse out back. After eating dinner and spending a couple of hours talking, they all decided to go to bed to get a good night's sleep in preparation for the big day.
The children went upstairs to their respective rooms. Jeff had stripped down to his boxer shorts and was just climbing into bed when he heard a knock at the door. Allison stepped into the room, closing the door behind her. Jeff suddenly felt a little self-conscious; he was, after all, almost naked in front of her.
If it bothered her, she didn't show it. She merely pulled up a chair and sat down by his bed.
"Jeff," she said, "I wanted to talk to each of you one last time before I marry your father."
"Sure," he said. He always enjoyed talking with her.
"You've been great these last couple of months," she continued. "Always helpful and kind and full of compliments."
"It's easy to give you compliments," he smiled, "because you're so deserving of them."
"Thank you, Jeff. I just wanted you to know that I appreciate how well you've treated me, making me feel right at home. I've never had a son or brother before. And although I've spent a lot of time with teenagers, it's a new experience for me to have a teenage boy as part of my family. I have no problem with Lissa and Brit, because I grew up with a little sister so I just think of them like I think of Rachael. But with you, it's different."
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"Just that it's not something I have much experience with. Oh, I could take on the role of a teacher and feel right at home, but I don't want that kind of relationship with you. I'd rather be a lot less formal and a lot more friendly."
"So far I think you're doing a wonderful job."
"Thanks. I just want you to know that although you might think I'm perfect, I'm far from it. So in the future I might make mistakes. Not big ones, hopefully. I mean, I'm not going to turn into a wicked stepmother like in the fairy tales, or try to bump off your dad and claim his fortune. On the other hand, I can't offer any proof of that, so you'll just have to take my word for it."
Jeff laughed at that.
"And I can't guarantee that I'll do everything right," she continued. "The only promise I can give you is that I'll try. Knowing that, I want to ask you one more time, is it okay with you if I marry your father?"
"Absolutely!" he exclaimed without hesitation. "I really want you to be part of this family."
"Me too," she smiled, then drew him in and hugged him tightly. It felt a little awkward; he was wearing only his shorts, after all. But it felt very nice. Her hands on his back and the feel of her body next to his with only a single layer of clothing between them, and especially her cheek against his own gave him a wonderful thrill.
Then she turned her head and kissed him on the cheek.
"It's all right if I do that, isn't it?" she asked. "I mean, tomorrow I'll officially be your mother, and it's perfectly natural for mothers to kiss their sons."
"Of course it's all right," he replied with a smile. "Why shouldn't it be?"
She drew back and looked into his eyes, as if searching for any clue to his feelings.
"I suppose if you have to ask that question, then there's no need for me to worry about it."
"Never mind, dear. Thank you for accepting me."
She released him, then stood up. "Can I ask you a favor, Jeff?" she said.
"I don't want anything to spoil my big day tomorrow. Promise me you'll try not to fight with Brit. I'll get the same promise from her so it shouldn't be a problem."
"Okay, I promise not to fight with Brit," he smiled. "I'll fight with Lissa instead."
"Sorry, I couldn't resist," he told her. "How about I just promise to be on my best behavior? That should take care of everything."
"Good enough," she replied, then disappeared out the door.
The next morning, they were all up at the crack of dawn to get ready for the event. They all piled into the van and drove down to the park one last time for a rehearsal. Everyone involved was there, the chairs and tables were all set up, and the wedding planner had them go over everything twice to make sure they knew what they were doing. Then they returned home to get dressed and groomed for the big event.
An hour before the wedding, Greg took Jeff and his sisters in the car down to the park again, leaving Allison in her mother's and sister's hands.
"I'm not supposed to see the bride in her wedding dress beforehand, after all," he explained. That meant that Jeff had to stand there as his father greeted the arriving guests.
Jeff wasn't particularly thrilled about the ceremony; he wasn't big on formal events like this. At least he had a part; his dad had asked him to be best man. So he didn't have to just sit there bored the whole time.
In contrast, Lissa and Brit were ecstatic the whole day. Allison had asked them to be her bridesmaids, with Rachael as the maid of honor.
Over all, the experience was relatively painless. Jeff had to wear a penguin suit (or "tuxedo," as his father called it) and he had to stand up front with his dad, but soon enough the music started and he realized it would all be over soon. Allison began to walk down the aisle accompanied by her father and followed by his sisters. She looked absolutely stunning in her white dress, but that was nothing unusual for her. Jeff just smiled with everyone else as she approached. Surprisingly, she gave him a wink as she neared. He didn't know what she meant by that, but it was probably just innocent fun. Then she turned her full attention to Greg.
Jeff just watched her as the priest said a few words, then one by one Greg and Allison said "I do," then they kissed. Rachael, Lissa, and Brit were almost in tears by this time, which Jeff just figured was a girl thing. Then the audience got up out of their seats and Greg and Allison began to hug everyone.
That was it. He was surprised by how short the wedding was, and how pain-free. Granted, he had to stand in line and shake the hands of a number of people equal to the population of a small country after that, and then he had to sit by while his dad and new stepmom opened a bunch of presents, all of which seemed pretty boring. He had to pose for a bunch of pointless pictures with the rest of his family, but he found that he really didn't mind so much.
Some time during the event they had cake and other refreshments. Jeff sat at a table between his sisters. They talked and joked, and because of their promise, Jeff and Brit somehow managed to keep from fighting.
Rachael asked if she could join them, so they made it a foursome. Normally Jeff would have hated having to spend time with three girls, but Rachael seemed pretty fun to be around.
"So Lissa," she asked, "how does it feel to have an aunt who's only three years older than you?"
"About the same as it does to have a stepmother who's only eight years older than me," she laughed.
"Good point. I have to hand it to Allison, she sure knows how to pick a husband."
"You mean my dad?" asked Brit. "What's so special about him?"
"He's rich," replied Rachael.
They all broke out laughing at that. "So that's the most important qualification?" asked Jeff.
"No, the most important qualification is the size of his... um..."
"Rachael!" Lissa exclaimed, growing red.
"House!" Rachael grinned. "That's the word I'm looking for. But seriously, they seem really happy, and that's all that matters in the end, isn't it?"
"I suppose so."
"So Jeff, what do you think of my sister?" asked Rachael.
"She's amazing," he replied. "I can't think of a better person I'd like to have as a stepmother."
"Yeah, sometimes I'm jealous of her."
"Why, because she's so perfect?" asked Lissa.
"No, because she gets to spend a lot of time with Jeff," she said with a wink. Jeff felt himself growing red.
"Ew!" Brit giggled. "Auntie Rachael has the hots for her little nephew Geoffrey!" she teased.
"I'm just kidding," Rachael laughed. "I didn't mean to embarrass you, Jeff. But seriously, it looks like my sister has found the perfect family to settle down with. I've talked to her a lot on the phone and this weekend, and I can tell she adores all of you. I'm just jealous that she's found someone who can make her truly happy, that's all."
"You will too someday," Lissa insisted.
"I know," Rachael smiled. "Don't get the wrong impression; it's not putting me in a bad mood at all. I'm happy for her, really. And I'm having a great time."
"Me too," said Lissa. "What about you, Jeff?"
"What?" he asked. "Oh, sure."
Rachael laughed. "Typical boy," she said with a smile. "About as emotional as a rock."
"It's not that," he said. "It's just that weddings aren't my thing."
"And how many weddings have you been to?"
"Including this one? One," he replied.
Just then the live band started playing a romantic tune, and Greg and Allison stepped out into the middle of the field and began to dance. Jeff looked on with awe; he had never seen his dad dance before, even with his mom. But together with his new bride they looked surprisingly confident and graceful.
A few minutes later, Allison leaned in and whispered something in Greg's ear, and he smiled and nodded. They left the floor and approached the table where the kids sat.
"May I have the honor of this dance, young lady?" Greg asked Lissa, who giggled.
"Sure, Daddy," she said, taking his hand and walking with him back out to the floor.
To Jeff's delight and horror, Allison came over to him and asked him to dance with her.
"Uh..." he said. "I don't know how to dance."
"Don't worry, it's easy. I'll show you." She took his hand and led him over to the dance floor. She showed him where to put his hands, and then they began to dance.
It really wasn't all that difficult, although admittedly his technique left much to be desired. But really they just turned in slow circles, which was easy enough.
A few other couples joined in then so he didn't feel so self-conscious. In fact, it was rather pleasant to hold Allison like this, even with about a billion people watching.
"So how does it feel to be Mrs. Allison Primdale?" he asked her.
"Wonderful," she smiled. "You can't imagine how happy I am."
"Well if you're happy, I'm happy," he said.
"Thanks, Jeff. You're so sweet."
When the music stopped, Allison thanked him and let him go sit back down as her father took his place. Greg escorted Lissa back to the table where he exchanged her for Brit, and then the music and dancing started up again.
Before he had a chance to catch his breath, Rachael grabbed his hand.
"But I--" he started to protest.
"Don't you know it's rude to refuse to dance with a girl if she asks you?" Rachael told him with a grin.
"That's okay. Just dance with me and we'll call it even."
So once more he had to go through with it. Actually, he didn't really mind. Holding Allison like that had actually been fun, and it was the same with her little sister Rachael, especially since Rachael was closer to his own age and therefore it didn't feel quite so awkward. Granted, she was still five years older than him, but they were both teenagers, so it was all right.
That seemed to set off a chain reaction among his sisters. He had to dance with Lissa next, and then even little Brit, to his annoyance. No doubt the three girls had schemed this between them to maximize his discomfort. Allison had probably even been part of the conspiracy. But he had promised to be on his best behavior, and to his credit, he kept his word, even when he had to dance with his bratty little sister.
Actually, seeing the smile on her face as she danced with him touched his heart, although he hated to admit it. She had a nice smile, though he rarely got to see it. It felt surprisingly good to know that he was helping her to enjoy herself.
Finally, after a couple of hours of surprisingly little torment, it was over. The family drove back up the hill to the mansion, where Greg and Allison changed into clothes more appropriate for traveling. They had a plane to catch to take them on their honeymoon to Hawaii. Allison insisted on kissing everyone goodbye, then she and her new husband climbed into the car and drove off to the airport.
Jeff went up to his room and collapsed on his bed, exhausted from the events of the day. So it was official now. Allison was here to stay. He couldn't remember ever being so happy.