Page 4 of 5   <       >

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

The truth is, her wedding dress is the opposite of what she derides as "foofiness." It's a simple, sexy, strapless number -- and, better yet, cost her only $300. But Keith doesn't know this. And hearing talk of what surely sounds like a hideous -- and hideously expensive -- Bridezilla dress, he begins to fidget even more.

"Every day, I think, This is going to cost me a fortune," he acknowledges. "I hear the stuff Sarah's doing, and I think, Why are we doing that? Can't we just buy a piece of paper on the Internet" to become married?

Many people have reminded him that this is "Sarah's show," and he couldn't agree more. "I just hope she recognizes I'm really uncomfortable and am doing this for her." At this point, the couple has gone through roughly $1,000 of their own money, but finances aren't the only reason for Keith's apprehension. While he has no doubt that he wants to spend the rest of his life with Sarah, he watched his late father weather not one but two rocky marriages. And he has an overwhelming fear of not being able to control his emotions during the ceremony. "If I look at Sarah [during the wedding], I'll cry," he says. "I don't know why. But . . . if it starts, it'll be like a dam breaking."

His friend Adam has advised him not to look into her eyes, but to stare over the top of her head instead. This tip seems to calm him somewhat.

"This is a really emotional time for me," he repeats, shaking his head. "I just want it over."

THE REHEARSAL DINNER AT THE BOATHOUSE gets off to a steamy start. A forecast thunderstorm never quite materializes. The lake shimmers with heat, and air in the ancient wooden building is sticky and stale. The food is neatly arranged on folding tables, and the guests pile their paper plates high and complain good-naturedly about the heat. Keith, cold beer in hand, talks and jokes with everyone but his soon-to-be wife.

"He's avoiding me," Sarah observes, amused.

"I didn't want her telling me what to do," Keith will later explain -- although the truth is, there's really nothing left to do before the wedding.

No one else seems to believe it, either. Throughout the night, guests urge Sarah to confess to pre-marriage jitters.

"Look me in the eye and tell me you're not nervous!" someone cries. Another friend presses a beer into her hand and orders her to drink it.

"I'm really not nervous," she says, over and over.

In fact, the only thing stressing her out at this point is Keith. "I don't get it," she'll say later. "Every time I told him something we could do for the wedding, he saw it as something else that could go wrong. So I stopped mentioning any plans, and he took that as me dismissing everything he said."

<             4        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company