Chapter 18, March to Hope
[BY AMBER MARIGOLD]
I’m standing in front of the mirror - minutes away from being escorted down the aisle. To attempt at calming my fluttering heart, I scan my dress. Nessa really pulled through with this one. As much as I hated all the fittings, this really is a dress fit for a queen’s wedding.
The light fabric of the tiered dress brushes against my freshly waxed legs. The skirt drags far past me in a lacy train so delicate it looks like freshly fallen snow dragging behind. The sheer overlay of the skirt has a golden threat spun through the pearly white of the delicate material - barely noticeable by a glancing eye, but the rays of sun peeking through the window seem to catch it perfectly. I extend my right leg and my tanned skin peeks through the slit of the dress. The slit goes up all the way to where the rest of the skirt gets brought together by a corset. My middle is being squeezed by hard white fabric and silver and gold wiring that gets pulled together by the the low lace-up of the dress. I turn to take a peak at the rest. My back is largely exposed and I’m happy I went tanning with Nessa at the beach during the holidays because my skin is sun-kissed all over. I turn back to face the mirror and slowly nod in approval. My shoulders, toned from training, really does look nice with the lacy off the shoulder sleeves. My eyes dart up - to where a delicate golden necklace sits beneath my neck. My hair is swept to the side so I let my eyes trail with those golden locks where silver vines are intertwined. My gaze travels up until I’m forced to meet my own eyes. Fear. Pure fear shines in my eyes much like the sun catches the subtly golden threads in my dress.
“It’s going to be okay. You’re going all in and you’ve played your cards right. All you can hope is that it’s the winning hand,” I tell myself.
Out of instinct, I go over everything in my head.
I got dressed this morning and half the guests left in vans at twelve. We made a stop at the Northern Mountain Tunnel where we got out of our transport and switched to the undercover trucks.
I still remember how Nessa and Jessy scolded me for chewing my nails during the whole trip. At 1 PM, we all got back at Isabella’s while the drivers of the vans continued on to the fake location. I immediately went back to my room with the help of Nessa and Jessy to prevent me from being seen by the other guests. I haven’t even sensed Xavier anywhere near me today. It makes me anxious...
“Amberry, I’m goin’ to shove mah fookin’ heel up yer arse if ye don’ stop ruinin’ yer nails! I worked on them for hours!” Nessa growls.
I immediately let my hand shoot down and I can’t stop the guilty look. I wasn’t even aware that I was chewing them again.
“Sorry... I’m just... Just nervous,” I admit.
Nessa let’s the fire in her die down for a moment as she looks at me with sympathy. Even Jessy gets up from where she was waiting by the chair to walk over with Socks. I go to scratch the ginger cat’s head.
“Amber, I believe that today will be fine. Your plans seem great. It’s too obvious that the wedding is at Isabella’s. The South will think it’s a decoy. They’ll go to the fake location,” Jessy says.
“That’s right, Amberry,” Nessa chirps in, “Xav knows what he’s doin’. His plans work out more than they don’t.”
I nod at that. Xavier’s plan is good... He’s playing a decent hand and his gamble can pay off... But the South has cards of their own. They have spies and they have the numbers to go to both locations if they wanted to...
That’s why I’m betting as well.
Three can play this game.
“How long do we have?” I ask.
Nessa glances at the clock on the wall. “Jus’ a few minutes. The weddin’ starts at 2 PM. If we want Xav and ye to head to the honeymoon at sundown, we’ll have to have the reception at abou’ 3 PM. Personally, I think it’s a good idea to have the weddin’ when the sun’s highest. It’ll really bring out the subtle gold in yer dress,” Nessa explains.
“Yes, of course,” I nod. I glance back at the mirror - eyeing my gold and silver makeup. It really brings out the gold dust mixed with delicate silver vines in my hair.
“I think I should go sit with the guests before the music starts,” Jessy says.
Shaken by Jessy’s suggestion, I walk over to her and take hold of her hands desperately.“Please don’t... Please be there with me... I’ve always wanted you to be my maid of honor.”
Jessy shakes her head - tears starting to form in her eyes. “I don’t deserve that title... As much as I want it. Nessa has been here for you more than I have. I’ve been a horrible friend to you... I just left you,” Jessy says.
I feel my own emotions well up inside me and go to hug my cousin. “You’re not just my best friend, Jessy, you’re my sister. Please be there. Even just as a brides maid,” I beg.
Jessy hugs me back tightly before she lets go and wipes at a tear. She nods with a smile. “I’d love to be there for you.”
“We have bridesmaids now?” Nessa asks, “I’ll have to contact Xavier and tell him to have Paul and Daniel as his groomsmen!” Nessa hurries off to a corner where she gives out instructions on her walky-talky.
I smile at my second in command. She’s wearing a see-through red dress with a black leotard underneath. No fur this time - thank God, but I have to admit that I really like her hair loose and wild. She and Jessy don’t match at all, but I don’t really care much for the aesthetic. I just want my best friends to be there with me.
When the music eventually starts and I have to stop myself from glancing out of the window, Jessy and Nessa drag me downstairs. Nessa hands me my deep red bouquet of roses and kisses both of my cheeks. She wishes me good luck and Jessy does the same.
“Now remember, just follow the path and it’ll take ye to where the guests are. Ye know yer cue,” Nessa instructs.
It’s happening. It’s happening. Oh, God, it’s happening.
When the Bridal March starts, Nessa remind me once again to wait a few beats before I follow them out the glass door. I nod. Jessy keeps Socks in her arms instead of a bouquet, while Nessa grabs roses from one of the decor pieces. Too soon, my friends leave with bright smiles on their faces.
My palms start to sweat and I can’t help but to think of that horrible nightmare I had this morning. What did it mean? Why did I see everyone I lost? And why was Xavier in it? I feel a deep part of me know the answer, but I’m too afraid to ask. The wedding will be fine. It’ll all be fine. Nobody is dying today.
“Goldy,” Someone says.
I turn to look behind me and Owen is there. Even though he’s in a wheelchair, my friend looks nothing short of dashing in his formal suit. All black except for the dark green bow-tie. His copper hair is combed and gelled neatly and for the first time in a long time, those sinfully dark eyes of his looks like they have a bit of life.
“Owen,” I cry and fall to my knees to hug him. With the nerves and fear, I have no control anymore. How the hell can I walk out there calm and composed?
I feel Owen’s hands brush over my back. “Goldy, you look amazing,” he whispers.
“I’m so glad you’re okay. I’m so glad to have you here,” I cry against his lap.
“Hey, don’t cry, you’ll ruin your makeup,” Owen says and pushes me back so I can look him in the eye.
“I didn’t think I’d be okay today, Goldy,” he starts, “I didn’t think I’d survive seeing you getting married to someone else. I was so sure you were the one for me - I still do sometimes. But seeing you today... I just want you to be happy. More than anything else, I want you to be happy. Xavier isn’t a bad guy. He’s dangerous but I do believe you’ll be happy with him. happier than you ever would’ve been with me.”
“Owen...” I whisper, but he holds his hand up to stop me.
“You don’t have to say it. You don’t have to tell me you’re sorry, because sorry means you regret it and I don’t want you to regret your life, Goldy... I sure as hell don’t regret mine. I mean, I don’t really want to go on... I feel like after we get Kelly back, it’s time for me to rest, but I still don’t regret it. I don’t regret it, because my part in all this, however small, lead to this day where you can take your first step to true happiness,” Owen says.
I feel my heart weep at his words. “Owen, I don’t deserve to be happy. It’s because of me that so many people have died,” I say.
Owen shakes his head. “I don’t care about the others. The dead may hate you if they want, but I will always love you, Goldy. You made me better. It’s thanks to you that when I die, I’ll at least have a shot at heaven. I can leave this world as a good guy and not the mess that I was before we met.”
“I don’t want you to die to, Owen,” I whisper, “I love you.”
Owen closes his eyes and smiles. “What I would’ve given for those words two years ago,” he says.
My friend opens his eyes again and grins like a fool. I can’t help but to smile as well. “I’m not family, but will you please allow me to escort you down the aisle?“| Owen asks.
And for the first time today, my heart feels calm. “I wouldn’t want it to be anyone else, Owen,” I say.
As if on cue, I hear the part in the song that Nessa told me to start walking at. Owen remotely controls his wheelchair to drive him to the double glass doors. He slowly opens them and rotates to face me with an extended hand in offer. I look out at the garden - at the path leading around the corner. If I follow that path, that clear, marigold path, it’ll lead the way through the maze of hedges and take me to Xavier. I can’t see the end of the path yet, I’ll have to trust it doesn’t get me lost, but I guess I’m used to that by now. Nothing has ever been certain. Victory isn’t a given, but neither is defeat. So I’ll hold onto that uncertainty, because with it comes hope.
“Here we go,” I whisper and take Owen’s hand.
After one last breath, I step past the door and begin my march. My march to hope.