Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Hmph! (03/04/10)
TITLE: And the Bride Sneezed
By Sandra Petersen
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“Every bride should have a bouquet, my dear.” Mrs. Chambers withered Amanda with her no-nonsense gaze before taking the offered arm of the usher at the door.
Horrified, Amanda stared at the off-white roses and baby’s breath in her hand. Her mind screamed at her to toss the flowers into the nearest wastebasket. But Mrs. Chambers would expect to see the bouquet in Amanda’s hands as she entered the chapel. And Mrs. Chambers was not a woman to be slighted.
Nothing made Amanda more nervous than somehow offending Michael’s mother and being on the receiving end when she raised her double chins in indignation. One degree up from that was an arched eyebrow and pursed lips. The ultimate symbol of her disapproval was her infamous “hmpf.”
Amanda knew if she did not process down the aisle clutching that bouquet she would experience the Triple Crown of Mrs. Chambers’ fury. And when Pastor Allen asked the congregants “Does anyone present have any objection . . .” Michael’s mother might be the first to voice it.
Amanda thought of her antihistamine medication and realized just as quickly she had left the bottle in her apartment. Michael and she had decided upon a flower-free ceremony. Why should she have brought her medication? But Michael had evidently not informed his mother of their no-flower arrangements.
The music had started and the last of her bridesmaids entered the chapel on the arm of her attending groomsman. Amanda whispered a prayer for strength and ascended the steps.
“Are you alright, sweetheart?” Her father ran a finger around the inside of his shirt collar.
She nodded and attempted a smile. Her eyes began to water as the music for the bridal march sounded.
The wedding guests rose to their feet. Through blurry vision, she spied two of her mother-in-law’s elderly spinster relatives four rows from the front. The two women giggled as Amanda passed by.
“Oh, how precious,” one of them simpered. “Did you see her tears?” Mrs. Chambers stiffened at the remark. Amanda saw her chins begin to rise.
Michael’s mouth fell open at the sight of the off-white roses in Amanda’s hands. He stared into her reddening eyes as her father placed her hand in Michael’s to give her away.
Halfway through the service, a sneeze tickled her nose. Once the sneezes started, nothing could stop them. Hoping to distract her mind from it, she glanced at Mrs. Chambers. Her lips were pursed.
Amanda forced her tongue against the back of her upper front teeth. Sometimes that was enough to hold back her sneezes.
Becky, her maid-of-honor, nudged her and held out her arms. Amanda shoved the bouquet into her hands with such force, Becky stepped backward to balance herself.
Someone in the audience gasped and Amanda dared a glance at Michael’s mother. Her brow was perched high above her eye.
Amanda gulped as Pastor Allen asked the question she had dreaded. Relief flooded her heart when no one spoke an objection to their union. Her urge to sneeze intensified.
Pastor Allen began the vow-sharing section of the service. As Michael grasped her hands, he mouthed the words “I’m sorry.”
She forced a smile. Somehow she stumbled through the promises to love, cherish, and obey and heard Michael vow the same.
“Amanda, do you take Michael Warren Chambers to be your lawfully wedded husband? Respond with ‘I do.’”
Her mouth opened and she inhaled.
“I . . . choo!” She was caught in an uncontrollable series of abrupt sneezes. “Achoo! Achoo!”
Amanda heard a loud “hmph” from the front row. Tears smeared her mascara and the spasmodic sneezes continued.
Michael swallowed. “Pastor Allen, I believe my soon-to-be wife said I do. Please proceed.”
He enveloped her in his arms and took a white handkerchief from his trouser pocket as the bewildered pastor stammered the words. Dabbing at her mascara-streaked cheeks, Michael said, “I do.”
“You may, uh, kiss the bride.”
Drawing Amanda close with one arm, Michael reached behind her and grabbed the bouquet from Becky’s hands. He lofted the flowers in a perfect arc over the heads of family members in the first three rows.
As bride and groom shared a kiss, one of the spinsters in the fourth row cackled triumphantly and held the bouquet up for all the people to see.
“You know what this means,” she crooned.
“Hmph!” huffed Mrs. Chambers.
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