Chapter 20, Vow to Live and Love
[BY AMBER MARIGOLD]
Only two steps past the glass door and I cannot deal with the stress. I grip Owen’s hand tightly as he leads me down the curving path of marigold flowers. I pray to whatever gods are listening that I don’t A) trip, B) tear my dress or C) get hit by pigeon poop.
C has and always will be a fear of mine for a while now.
Deciding that C is out of my hands and B is most likely inevitable at this point, I kick off my wedding shoes to, at the very least, avoid A. Nessa will murder me, but I’d rather die after all this is over than embarrass myself. God knows I’m good at doing that.
“Something wrong with the shoes?” Owen asks.
“Nope, just want to feel the flowers beneath my feet,” I lie.
“You’re wearing the toe ring?” Owen asks as he glances at my feet with amusement.
“Of course. It was a gift from a very dear friend of mine,” I smile.
The further down the path I walk, the louder the music becomes. It’s a slower piano rendition of the traditional wedding march. I’d have to thank the pianist for his work... This really is a magnificent piece. Blake has outdone himself. I really wish I can tell him how much I appreciate it.
With no need to be scared of the steps I take anymore, I let the moment carry me. Bright sun welcomes me warmly - making the gold treads in my dress blink in greeting. With every second step I take, my right leg gets exposed by the slit in my tiered wedding dress. I can’t really breathe, but that might not entirely be the corset’s fault. I can feel my hand becoming clammy with sweat and I really hope Owen doesn’t mind. We make our way down the path that’s twisting and turning around rose hedges too high to see past. The garden statues all seem to stare at me as I walk by. A sculptured little boy by a birdbath looks up curiously, a half naked goddess wishes me luck, an angel opens his arms in welcome. I can’t help but linger on the angel as I walk past. Only once I round a corner, passing two large vases, can I finally break my stare.
And here we are.
I look ahead in absolute fear at the straight path leading to the wood and copper dais.
Rows and rows of guests are standing on either side of the marigold path. They’re all staring at me. Some are surprised and in awe, others eye me skeptically. The seats are beautiful wood with copper wiring entwined and deep red roses to crown every single chair. Spruce trees with copper lights and hanging roses box’s everyone in - the sunlight filtering perfectly through the canopy to catch my golden threads. This section of the garden truly is transformed with water features beside me as I start my path to the dais. Oh, dear God, the dais. It’s somehow even better than I remember it in my dream. A wooden elevation is just on the other side of that marigold path with copper features mixing with the ivy overgrowing the whole scene. Roses and plants I can’t even name are arranged around the dais to make it seem like it had been there for years. Even the arch on that dais... Old wood with copper fairy lights and hanging roses... natural crystals seemingly sprouting out from the ivy wrapped around that arch... Daniel and Paul flank the left of the dais while Nessa and Jessy flank the right. I want to look further, but Owen tugs at me and I realize I have to walk.
No bird poop, no bird poop. Please, dear gods of food, no bird poop.
While slowly marching through the aisle, my feet sinking into the soft petals beneath me, I make eye contact with quite a lot of the guests. The twins at the back are the first with Ryan filming everything and Bryan making sure the technical side of the wedding goes smoothly. The twins both send a thumbs up and I smile nervously. In a bit of a haze, I stare and recognize most of the guests. Aunt Tessa, Liam, some of the older northern members and even Miss Sauvage comes first in my view! I haven’t seen Miss Sauvage in ages! I can’t believe Xavier brought her here for this. My old art teacher sends me a wink and I can’t help but to beam in return.
I continue down the path and meet the curious gazes of gang members that aren’t in the North. A handful of Trojan guys are here - including Clarence the leader. I understand why Xavier invited him, but I can’t help holding a grudge against the man that wouldn’t help me when I asked. I glance at the rest of the guests and my eye catches Enzo and Valentina from the Gladius gang. I’m glad those two made it... I’ve done my research and the Gladius gang seem like the easiest to convince of our innocence. We have to plead our case. It takes me a moment to realize that Gareth is sitting with them. I’ve been wondering what happened to Sterling’s ex second in command. It seems he has joined Gladius... No doubt he has something planned against Jane for the death of his son. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the one that helped convinced Gladius to be here today.
I walk past more guests and after a while, I can’t help but to feel a little sick... If even one of the people here betray us... We’re all dead.
Have faith, Amber, I tell myself. You’ve got the winning hand.
My eyes focus on the Marigold flowers I’m walking on, but even that gets too much for me as I picture the flowers bursting into ash. I envision silver bullets replacing them... If I look up, will everyone be dead?
I start to panic again and just when it gets too much, I feel a pair of eyes on me.
Gentle light leaks in the corner of my vision when I slowly look up. There, on that dais is Xavier. Emerald eyes stare at me - glossy with emotion.
You’re almost there, those eyes seem to say.
Will it be weird if I sprint the last steps? I smile in return.
Xavier grins like a fool. Try it.
I shake my head and blush. With the fear leaving my heart, I confidently walk to the dais. I’m not walking alone. I have Owen by my side and... I look over at the guests. I can’t see them, but my friends are here as well... Lynch, Matt, Calvin, Jack... even Camilla for crying out loud. And my family... Mom, Dad and Anton... they’re walking with me as well. I just wish Sean was here as well. Though I respect his choice for leaving this life.
By the time I get to the stairs, I’m not scared anymore. I turn to Owen and go to hug him tightly. My friend holds me as well before letting go. Tears are in his eyes but he’s smiling. I feel my own tears resurface. “Owen... Thank you,” I whisper.
“I hope you can be happy now, Goldy,” Owen smiles sadly before he goes to park his wheelchair in the front row where there’s a missing seat. I’m glad we got him a new wheelchair. This one doesn’t squeak.
Alone, I turn to look up at Xavier on top of the dais. The music is coming to it’s end and Xavier extends his hand to me. “You don’t have to be alone, Marigold,” Xavier whispers, “Whatever happens, I’ll always be with you.”
The words feel familiar, but I accept his hand all the same and take my last few steps on top of the dais before I turn to face Xavier. He takes my other hand as well. I get lost in those emerald eyes of his. I don’t know if he’s my poison or my cure, but either way, I’m addicted.
You look amazing, his eyes sparkle.
I glance down shyly before smirking back at him. I’m sure it would’ve been even better if you picked it.
He quirks his eyebrow. Who says I didn’t?
I can’t help the little chuckle just as the music ends and the officiant of the wedding clears his throat. “Welcome, family, friends, loved ones and...” he starts, but gives a nervous glance around the garden where armed guards are patrolling the grounds, “Uh, more friends... We gather here today to celebrate the wedding of Xavier Jilten and Amber Marigold. You have all come here to share in the formal commitment these two make to one another, to offer your love and... support to this union. To allow Xavier and Amber to start their married life together surrounded by the people dearest and... most important to them.”
It’s pretty clear that the officiant is uncomfortable with all the guards, but I find it amusing. Xavier and I share a look and I know he thinks the same.
The officiant continues, “Marriage is perhaps the greatest and most challenging adventure of human relationships.” I know he’s going by a usual script because another glance at the armed guards make him question his own words. “Some marriages... more challenging than others... Not this or any other ceremony can help you in the duties that come with marriage. Only you, Amber and Xavier can make this last. Through love and patience; through dedication and perseverance; through talking and listening, helping and supporting and believing in each other; through tenderness and laughter; through learning to forgive, learning to appreciate your differences, and by learning to make the important things matter, and to let go of the rest. What this ceremony can do, however, is to witness and affirm the choice you make to stand together as life-long partners.”
Not even for a moment do Xavier and I break eye contact. I am committed to make this last for as long as we shall live. I will do everything and more that is expected of me.
The officiate continues to talk about love for a few more moments, but I don’t quite listen because love doesn’t seem to really describe what I’m feeling for Xavier right now. No words can hold a candle to it. Instead, the loud, burning silence between us says it all.
“Do you, Xavier Jilten, willingly take Amber Marigold. to be your wife, and in so doing, give yourself to her, freely, fully and gladly? Do you agree to take the bad with the good, the difficult with the easy, the anguish with the joy, the defeat with triumph? And do you promise to love her, come what may?” the officiant asks.
Xavier has no doubt when he says, “I do.”
I feel the tears in my eyes only get fueled. Just two words and yet they so so much more. God, calm down Amber. You can’t cry just yet.
“Do you, Amber Marigold, willingly take Xavier Jilten to be your husband, and in so doing, give yourself to him, freely, fully and gladly? Do you agree to take the bad with the good, the difficult with the easy, the anguish with the joy, the defeat with triumph? And do you promise to love him, come what may?” the officiant asks me.
I don’t dare to even blink. “I do,” I say and mean it with all my heart. Come what may, I will never stop loving this man.
“In the spirit of the importance of strong friendships to a marriage, Xavier and Amber have asked a friend to read a poem about love that especially resonate with them,” the officiant announces - setting the stage for Daniel of all people to take the mic from the officiant and read from his paper.
Xavier and I were torn to choose between Daniel and Nessa, but at the end we decided that between the two of them, Paul was the most trustworthy. Paul proceeded to point at Daniel and so it has been decided.
Daniel clears his throat and loosens his purple bow-tie a bit. “How do I love thee, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning,” he starts, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach, when feeling out of sight. For the ends of being and ideal grace. I love thee to the level of every day’s most quiet need, by sun and candle-light. I love thee freely, as men strive for right. I love thee purely, as they turn from praise. I love thee with the passion put to use in my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith. I love thee with a love I seemed to lose with my lost saints. I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,” there’s a pause as Daniel seems to think about the words, “I shall but love thee better after death.”
Daniel hands the mic back to the officiant and smiles at Xavier and me. I take a moment to tear my eyes away from my fiance so I can return Daniel’s smile before he goes to stand with Paul on the left side of the dais.
The officiant turns to Xavier and me again. “We’ve come to the point of your ceremony where you’re going to say your vows to one another,” he says - a little more comfortable with all the guards now, “But before you do that, I ask you to remember that love - which is rooted in faith, trust, and acceptance - will be the foundation of an abiding and deepening relationship. No other ties are more tender, no other more sacred than those you now assume. If you are able to keep the vows you take here today, not because of any religious or civic law, but out of a desire to love and be loved by another person fully, without limitation, then your life will have joy. Please now read the vows you have written for each other.”
Neither Xavier or I have bothered to bring a written speech. I think we’ve been born with these words. It has been engraved into our hearts.
“I vow to live and love,” I start and hope those words will be true.