The black Lab that introduced him to the love of his life sent an emissary to his wedding.
Tall pines framed an elegant outdoor amphitheater nestled in the Wallowa Mountains. This small ranch in Joseph, Oregon, was truly the ideal place for Kara and me to be married. We loved the outdoors.
Looking out at the scenery on the morning of the ceremony, I marveled that this was everything we wanted when we got engaged. Well, almost everything, I reminded myself. There was one thing missing: Bella. And she was the reason we were here in the first place.
Six years ago to the day, I’d just finished competing in the Black Diamond Triathlon in Enumclaw, Washington. I was pretty proud that I’d raced well, having swam, biked and run 32 miles.
I was waiting to accept my award when a black Labrador retriever wandered over to me and licked my leg. “Bella! Come back here,” another triathlete said when she saw what her dog was doing. “Sorry about that.” Bella flopped down at my feet.
“No problem,” I said. “My name’s Michael.” Kara introduced herself. We’d heard of each other before—the triathlon community is pretty small—but we may never have actually met if it weren’t for Bella.
As I got to know Kara, I got to know Bella. I got to love the way she jumped around me to get attention, begged me to play fetch or tug-of-war. The three of us became inseparable. We planned to make her a part of our wedding ceremony, but Bella died just two months before the big day.
“We’ll just have to imagine her here with us,” Kara said, coming up behind me. She couldn’t even see my face, but she knew what I was thinking. “Let’s get ready for the first part of the day.”
Kara and I were both signed up to participate in a local triathlon just minutes from the ranch. Some of the guests thought we were a little crazy to compete in a multi-stage endurance race the morning of our wedding, but without Bella, we were glad for a special way to commemorate how we’d met.
“I like to think she will be running right along with us all the way,” Kara said as we stretched and warmed up.
“She won’t have trouble keeping up with us, now that she’s got her angel wings,” I said. I was trying to be cheerful, but I really missed her. The day that was supposed to be perfect couldn’t be perfect without her.
I ran wearing my vest and tie. Kara attached a wedding veil to her bike helmet. A few members of the wedding party joined in as well. Some of them had raced in the same triathlon where Bella had brought us together.
Friends and family cheered us on from the sidelines and the locals loved our “formal” triathlon attire. Kara and I finished in the top tier.
We headed back to the ranch to make our final preparations for the main event. As we got out of the car, something on the grounds caught my eye. Something black with a long tail.
“That dog looks just like Bella,” I said. Kara turned to look. The strange dog bucked excitedly whenever someone showed her attention and begged games of fetch from the kids.
“She acts just like Bella too,” Kara said. “Those are her mannerisms.”
One of the owners of the ranch hurried up to us. “I’m sorry,” she said, gesturing to the dog. “Luna just loves being around people. We can keep her inside for the day if you want, so she doesn’t bother anyone.”
“No, she’s great! I love having her here,” Kara said. “She reminds me of my old Lab. She couldn’t be here today....” She smiled over at Bella’s look-alike, who was now engaged in a fierce game of tug-of-war. Just like Bella used to do, I thought.
Kara and I went inside to shower and change in record time. We reemerged to find our guests settling themselves in the cool shade of the little amphitheater. I lined up with the minister and my groomsmen beneath the grove of pine trees that surrounded the ranch. Musicians played as my bride began her walk down the aisle.
Just as Kara reached me, I felt something touch my leg. I looked down. There was Luna, flopped at my feet, an exact likeness of Bella the day she’d introduced me to the love of my life. Luna lay there, pressed against my leg, while Kara and I said our vows and pledged to spend our lives together.
It was the perfect wedding. Bella may not have been there, but she’d found a way to give us her blessing by way of the Rainbow Bridge.
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