She woke up deliciously warm. Sleep fell away slowly, letting her down easy, and sunlight glowed behind her closed eyes. When she blinked them open, everything was flushed with yellow, edged in soft shadows. The window was closed, but she could still smell the ocean salt outside, locked in on the balmy air from yesterday. There was a faint citrus sharpness from somewhere she had yet to find. And she took a long breath in, pushed it back out, conscious, but thoughtless.
He breathed behind her.
Her back rested against his ribs. His arm laid flat beneath her neck. She listened to him, gently waking into the strange room.
Blue suit jacket open and tie undone, he smiled at her.
“Are they gone?” she murmured and caught herself before she peeked over his shoulder into the next room. She already felt as if she had come to the kitchen to hide from the last late-night party guests. She had to bite back a smile at the ridiculousness of her urge to check around the corner for them, as if she were checking under the bed.
“I just packed Aunt Edie into the car myself,” he said. He squeezed her arms gently. “She wanted to stay to help you fold napkins or write place cards or something, but I saved you.”
I’ve had a lot of days put on hold over the last few years, by things that you hope will never come on any day. I’ve had days used up and burned out, all wrapped up in emergencies that disallow anything else. But not today.
Today is all wrapped up, and I’m thrilled. We’ll burn through it, and I’m happy that it should be so bright. Today, I will have no time for anything else – maybe even no time to breathe – and I couldn’t wish it any other way.
Today, my older sister is getting married, and I will be doing nothing but following her around and painting this day in the best colors I can find.
I will put on my party dress. I will dance a little, laugh a lot, hug people I have not seen in a long time, and celebrate things that deserve nothing less.
And I will be thrilled to lose the day, glad that life has the full arc of all it’s circles: that we are compelled to throw aside all our plans for both our emergencies and our triumphs.
And there they were, right on time.
Two perfect wooden trunks, dark, carved wood with steel straps shined until they could have been silver, identical down to the long keys tied to the locks with glimmering gray ribbon. The lids were gently curved, with corners carved with lines of ocean water to round them down. Each side was carved with a thousand fish, swimming in their elegant swirls, each lithe body just a dash in the whole beautiful rush.
Killian touched the closest one gently. The oiled wood was smooth and cool, though it warmed instantly. “Finally,” he murmured.
Destri paused in the middle of turning the second so that it slid off the palate he had used to carry them inside. “Finally?” he repeated. He raised his eyebrows with a smile. “I got them to you exactly when you asked.”
“I think he’s waiting for you.” Looking out the window, Aymee leaned her head to one side to see around the lead lattice and catch Damion’s slow pace beside the green square. Rising behind him, the interlocking stairs and porches and porticos were sprinkled with lazy walkers. But they came and went, or relaxed in the benches around the square. He had stayed on his feet, and stayed in the square for the last half hour.
Leonne didn’t lift her head from the short stack of reports in front of her. “He can do what he likes,” she said. “We have other things that need our attention.”
Aymee looked back, to see her, eyebrows raised, nodding pointedly toward the chair opposite her. Sighing, and smiling, she set her back against the window ledge and crossed her arms. “You work too much,” she said.
“You work too much,” Leonne said, reflecting the smile right back to her. “I think this is all fun. I play too much.”
Aymee laughed at her.
Chaela burst through the back door wearing her best dress. The full red skirt was embroidered with stars and birds, flying thick at the hem and thinning as they moved upward. Her white shirt was tucked in crisply, and a new black sash gleamed at her waist in the low light. Her dark red jacket hung gracefully open, sleeves widening perfectly so that they fell to her fingers in smooth lines. Her dark hair was braided up to the back of her head, then tumbled down around her shoulders in a mix of braids, twists and curls, white flowers and those ribbons that she loved with the metal threads. She was smiling, and that was almost dazzling enough to distract Aaren from everything else.
Six in the morning and Laurel woke up just in time to catch her cell phone before it vibrated off the bedside table. She set the phone against her ear, checked the time and then let her head fall back onto the bed, eyes shut.
“Hello?” she asked.
“Morning, lovely,” Sarina said on the other end. “Sorry to wake you up.”
Laurel opened her eyes again as soon as she recognized the voice. Sarina was, by far, the craziest of her friends, and by strange odds, also the most considerate. She never called before nine in the morning, or after nine at night, unless there were previous arrangements, an emergency, or she was dead certain that Laurel was ready for a break from average life. Laurel looked at the clock again, just to make be sure she hadn’t misread the time and sat up.
“It’s okay,” she said, trying to clear the sleep from her voice. It still came out like a croak. “What’s up?”
Leonie found Reka in the small ready room at the back of the church, alone, her grand white gown scrunched onto the ledge of the window. Reka was looking out the window when she entered, but she turned as soon as the door opened. And she smiled, readily, calmly, but with no exuberance. She was quiet, and it was an odd look on her.
“You’re missing your usual crowd,” Leonie said, leaning against the door handle.
Reka’s smile twisted a little brighter. “Well, they’re not here anyway…”
Leonie glanced over her shoulder. The hall was empty, though she could hear voices somewhere off the other end. It was an hour before the ceremony, but no one seemed to mind standing around to wait. There were too many things to discuss, too many words they wanted to say, but were too polite to voice before hedging around the topic. Leonie couldn’t blame them. She had things she wanted to say too. She took two small steps into the room, turned and pressed the door closed. Then she looked to Reka.
“You look beautiful,” Reka said, cutting off her first word.