We chatted for a bit longer, about the wedding mostly, as Ashley stood from the table very slowly and sipped on her ginger ale.

“I’m so excited, and I can’t wait to see Duane and Jess.” She smiled despite how the color seemed to drain from her cheeks the moment she straightened. “I’ve always wanted a big, splashy wedding.”

“And so you shall, take ours.”

“Very funny, Cletus.” Her nose wrinkled and her lips curled like his words smelled back. But, in fairness, she’d been wearing a face of slight disgust since walking in the door. Morning sickness.

“When the time is right—” I cut in, sending Cletus a quelling look “—your wedding to Drew will be wonderful and please let me help.”

“Thanks, but, I honestly don’t know if we’ll ever get married.”

This seemed to frustrate Cletus because his eyelids drooped and his mouth mashed itself together, but he said nothing, just glared at his shoes.

“Can I ask why not?” I was curious. She’d done such a great job with our wedding and had really seemed to enjoy herself. Plus, she’d just admitted to always wanting a big splashy wedding. “No pressure. If it’s just not your thing—”

“No, no. It’s fine. This might sound strange, but I imagined planning it with my mother. Now that’s she’s gone, I feel so stuck. On the one hand, I don’t want to plan something without her. But on the other, I’m not willing to compromise on the dream.” Ashley snorted lightly, like she found herself silly. “It’s such a dumb dream, too. But, it almost feels like, if I elope, it’s like I’m admitting that my mother isn’t here anymore, that she’s gone and some dreams will never be.”

Oh my heart.

I’d never wanted a big wedding. Perhaps because of my youth? How I’d been thrust into pageants, beauty contests, and all nature of splashy events at my mother’s insistence. That said, I didn’t mind what our wedding had morphed into. I loved that Ashley and my mother had seemed to have the time of their lives planning it. I loved that my mother had been made happy and distracted over the last year.

But mostly, I loved that the wedding—just like the plans for the engagement party—had become a family affair, with all of Cletus’s siblings and significant others pitching in. It was shaping up to be beautiful, yes, but also a demonstration of their love for Cletus, and me, and for each other. And I loved that.

“You know, I even have my grandmother Oliver’s wedding dress? My momma had it restitched, certain I’d wear it for my wedding. I tried it on last October, on the anniversary of my momma’s death, just to feel closer to her. And . . .” Ashley pressed her fingers to her lips and swallowed a few times before she could continue, “It fit like it had been made for me. And that made me so sad ‘cause she’ll never see me in it.”

Cletus sniffed, lifting glassy eyes to his sister, but his silence persisted.

“I don’t know what to do.” Ashley laughed, wiping at her cheeks and giving her head a subtle shake. “But I do know, I want to marry Drew. Maybe we should just . . . elope and be done with it.”

“Don’t do that,” Cletus said, his voice low and rough as he also stood and walked to grab her coat. “You deserve to live your dreams, Ash. Give it time. There’s no rush.”

Ashley turned big eyes to me, and now she laughed in earnest. “Oh? Really? Mr. When-will-y’all-get-married-already?”

“I’ve changed my mind.”

His sister lifted an eyebrow at this statement.

“It does happen!” Holding out her jacket, he crossed to her. “Now put this on. You’ll be late for work.”

“I won’t, I have another half hour before I have to be there. But, I should go. I want to stop by the OB’s office and pick up the sonogram pictures. Their printer was broken when I had it done.”

“Can you snap a picture of the sonogram?” he asked. “With your phone?”

“Sure, but—Cletus—there’s not much to see yet. Wait until week eighteen, when I’m out of the first trimester. I know I can’t wait for this nausea to stop, I feel so gross all the time.”

“Well, just the same.” He pressed a kiss to his sister’s cheek. “By the way, you’re gorgeous, Ash. You’re going to make a great mother.”

“Thank you, Cletus—”

“And I’m going to make the best godfather.”

She smacked him lightly on the shoulder, rolling her eyes. “We’ll see.”

“Who else is in contention?” he asked, making me wonder if he had plans to launch a smear campaign.

“I’m not telling.” Ashley turned to me and pulled me in for another hug, speaking to her brother while she did. “And don’t go trying to pump Drew for info, either.”

“Did I miss a party?” Jethro shuffled into the kitchen, an empty plate in his hand. He was showered and dressed but looked exhausted.

“Did you know Ash and Drew are pregnant?” Cletus squinted at his oldest brother.

“I did.” Jethro placed his dish in the sink, and then turned, winking at his sister. “Why? Didn’t you?”

Cletus made a sound like harrumph, and crossed his arms. “Oh, by the way, you wanna be a groomsman?”

“Sure.” Jet’s smile widened and he looked a little more awake. “Do I need a new tux, or . . .?”

“We’re wearing Dickies. Coveralls, ” Cletus said flatly, sending Ash a grumpy look.

“Oh good Lord.” She appealed to the ceiling.

“Cool,” Jethro nodded, shrugged, and shuffled toward Ash, placing a kiss on her cheek, stopped in front of me and placed a kiss on my cheek, and then paused in front of Cletus. He hesitated for a second, and then placed a kiss on Cletus’s cheek, wrapping his arms around his brother. “Thanks for including me.”

Cletus frowned, saying, “You’re a dummy,” but he returned his brother’s hug.

I looked to Ashley and found her eyes watery again. And, again, she seemed to petition the ceiling for help. “I need to get out of here before I start crying again. Jenn—” she gave me an unsteady but happy smile “—don’t worry about the wedding shower. We’ll have it here. Tell your momma I’m happy to take over the planning.”

“Are you sure? I can—”

“No. I’m sure.” Ashley nodded, her smile spreading. “I love it.”