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

At 11 p.m., she's ready to go home, but Keith doesn't come to say goodbye. Like she has many times over the past few months, Sarah goes with her gut and writes it off as anxiety, not a sign of cold feet. And sure enough, at 1:30 the next morning, although she's insisted he spend the night at a friend's house so they don't see each other before the ceremony, Keith creeps into their bedroom to give her a kiss goodnight.

IT'S THE RARE WEDDING THAT BEGINS ON TIME, but Keith and Sarah's ceremony actually starts three minutes early, at 5:57 p.m. the following day. Sarah has chosen traditional music -- Beethoven's "Fur Elise," Wagner's "Bridal March" -- not because she's particularly fond of either piece, but because she didn't want the hassle of searching for anything else. Keith doesn't like the music at all, but still, as he waits by the altar for Sarah, he finally feels the apprehension of the past year begin to slide away.

Desi faces him and Sarah away from their guests, so he doesn't feel like a bug under a microscope. And no tears flow, thanks to Adam's suggestion to gaze over the top of Sarah's head.

Not until halfway through the ceremony, while his aunt is singing, does Keith make eye contact.

"You like my dress?" she whispers.

"It's nice," he tells her, and Sarah's already-wide grin gets even broader. In Keithspeak, "nice" is the ultimate compliment.

Out of habit, Desi accidentally makes a few references to God during their vows. Gracie Zeigler, the 3-year-old flower girl, begins hamming it up, trying to steal the crowd's attention. And during the kiss, the groomsmen make a high-pitched noise in unison: "Errrrrt!" It's an inside joke for Keith, signaling that something "cheesy" is happening.

The ceremony isn't particularly solemn or cookie-cutter perfect, but that's not what Sarah and Keith wanted. And besides, the end result is the same: Fifteen minutes later, they are pronounced husband and wife.

WHILE THE CEREMONY WAS NICER THAN KEITH EXPECTED, the reception is "even better." Until midnight, he and Sarah dance to King Cadillac's version of "Ring of Fire" and "Great Balls of Fire," drink white sangria and beer and feast on appetizers. Lit white tapers cast a soft glow over each table, and someone has taken the square boxwood wreaths down from the chapel doors and set them up on the conference room mantel to distract from the lack of "official" decorations.

Keith and Sarah are the last to leave. As they head down the hill toward the Florence Elston Inn, the on-campus hotel where they'll spend their wedding night, Sarah overhears a couple talking about the evening. "They said, 'That was the most fun wedding I've ever been to!'" Sarah beams. "It was the best thing I could have heard."

Keith is equally proud. "Throughout, Sarah had been describing this to me, and I thought it'd be cheesy. I couldn't envision it," he acknowledges. "But she did an excellent job.

"If I had to do it over, I wouldn't change a thing -- except . . . I would try not to be so nervous."

Stephanie Booth is a freelance writer. She can be reached at stephaniebb@gmail.com. She will be fielding questions and comments about this article Tuesday at noon at washingtonpost.com/liveonline.

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