Copyright © 2012 by Whodunnit, Inc.
From her seat in the sanctuary of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Annajane Hudgens wondered if there had ever been a more flawless day for a wedding.
Spring had arrived spectacularly early in Passcoe, North Carolina. Only the first week in April, yet the dogwoods and azaleas were already burst into bloom, and the weeping cherry trees lining the walkway to the church trailed fingertips of pale pink onto a blue and white carpet of violets and alyssum.
It was as if the bride, the equally flawless Celia Wakefield, had somehow managed to will perfect weather. Or perhaps she'd specified blue skies and color-coordinated bursts of blooms in one of her famously precise memos. If anybody could do that, Annajane mused, it would be Celia.
Could there be a more beautiful setting? Baylesses had been getting married at the Church of the Good Shepherd for nearly two hundred years. Not in this grand sanctuary, of course. The original church was a quaint, stoop-shouldered gray granite affair, with uneven oak floors, a single Gothic-arched leaded-glass window above the altar, and two rows of ten primitively wrought pine pews built by black laborers from the casket factory in Moore County, twenty minutes down the road.
Annajane could remember sitting beside her best friend, Pokey, in the Bayless family pew after countless Saturday-night sleepovers, back when they were both still in pigtails. By then, Pokey's grandmother had already started her slow descent into senility, although Annajane had not known that. Miss Pauline, for whom Pokey had been named, seldom spoke, but she was content to sit in church on Sunday mornings and smile and nod to the hymns, dabbing at her cataract-clouded blue eyes with her ever-present handkerchief and patting Annajane's hand. "She thinks you're me," Pokey would whisper, giggling at her grandmother's confusion and grimacing and holding her nose when Miss Pauline passed gas, which she did frequently.
When the "new" Church of the Good Shepherd was built in the early '90s, with reproduction Tiffany stained-glass windows, solid cherry pews, and a custom-built German pipe organ, the old church was renamed the Woodrow Memorial Chapel in memory of Pauline Woodrow, who died in her sleep the year Pokey and Annajane turned fourteen.
Annajane's own wedding had been held in the chapel, the one concession her new in-laws made to what they considered Annajane's "quaint" ideas. Since she'd paid for the wedding herself, she'd insisted on having an intimate affair, just family and close friends, fewer than forty people, with Pokey as her only attendant. It had rained the November evening of her nuptials, and at the time she'd considered it wildly romantic that the loud thrum of the rain on the church's tin roof threatened to drown out the wedding march played on the chapel's original wheezy pump organ.
Had it been only seven years ago? Sometimes she wasn't sure any of it had really happened at all, that it wasn't something she'd just remembered from a long-ago dream.
Today's affair was nothing like Annajane's modest wedding. The sanctuary was at capacity—beyond capacity, if you went by the county fire code, which said the church could hold five hundred people. It seemed to Annajane that every living person who had ever known or done business with the Bayless family, or even just sipped a bottle of their Quixie cherry soft drink, had crammed themselves into one of the polished wooden pews beneath the soaring exposed rafters of the imposing Episcopal church.
Annajane felt her eyelids droop now. It was too warm...