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A Bride, Some Beer and 'Great Balls of Fire'

Sarah glances at the clock. "Like what?"

"Like, I don't know, Sarah. Mess around and . . . stuff!"

When she doesn't react, Keith disappears into their bedroom to try on his suit anyway, their yellow mutt, Fisher, trotting excitedly behind.

"Just don't mess with him now," Carey advises Sarah, fixing himself a drink from the small bar in the kitchen. "He's in this mood." He reaches over and repeatedly pokes her in the forearm with his index finger.

Sarah shakes her head sympathetically. "He's so stressed. He'll be so happy when this whole thing is over."

"This whole thing" being, of course, their wedding -- a low-key, low-budget event that Sarah has designed to be, above all else, fun.

ALTHOUGH SHE WAS BORN AND RAISED IN OHIO, Sarah has the markings of a Southern belle. She has a subscription to Southern Living and wears Polo shirts with the collar flipped up; her manners are impeccable, and her voice has a soft, sweet drawl. She always thought she'd end up marrying an "Old Virginia gentleman" with an MBA and a BMW, but, while earning her master's in rhetoric at Texas Woman's University, she happened to fall in love with Keith, a friend of her next-door neighbor. It's easy to see why; when not in full-out panic mode about the wedding, Keith, a soil scientist, has an easy laugh and an affable, "Aw, shucks" charm. He can quote every line from "The Big Lebowski."

Last July, Keith proposed to Sarah as a belated birthday present. He was so nervous that he dropped the engagement ring into a gift bag and mutely stood by until she found it, burst into tears and said, "Yes!" Looking back, "I guess I should have dropped to my knee or something," he says wryly.

At first, Keith floated the idea of eloping to New Zealand, a country he and Sarah had always been curious about. Sarah's father approved. "Why waste money on a big splash of a wedding when you could do something more useful?" he says. "She could take that money and use it for the principal of a home. Or invest it." (Dave understands the value of good money management; it's what allowed him to retire from his company at 48. He now owns a small family farm and trains redbone coonhounds for competition.)

Sarah says she wasn't opposed to eloping. Still, the day after Keith proposed, she was on the phone with the place she says is "her identity": Sweet Briar College, the small all-women's school in central Virginia. Sarah graduated from Sweet Briar in 1999 and now works as the associate director of admissions.

Getting married on the lush, sprawling 3,250-acre campus -- where she and Keith now also live -- became, by far, her first priority. Her 150-guest ceremony would be at Memorial Chapel, the reception at an on-campus conference center. "If I couldn't get married here," she only half-jokes, "I don't think I'd get married at all."

When she was younger, Sarah entertained thoughts of an over-the-top "princess wedding." But now, she says, "I'm 29 . . . The same stuff isn't important to me anymore."


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