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Chapter 26

Modern Day; March 19th; Parcia; Melissa

I blinked in utter disbelief at how beautiful she was in her white gown. It was long sleeved with a sweetheart neckline. The sleeves were made entirely of lace, as well as the skirt. The bodice was the smooth material of hair ribbons, but was a soft white color rather than shiny or shimmery. Around her neck was a pearl necklace, which had been borrowed from Amber. Her extremely long brown hair was bound up on top of her head and secured with blue pins that sparkled in the right light. When she smiled, I noticed her red lipstick, which was something old. It had been a color that Amber wore a lot when she was in college, but was no longer getting any use out of. The woman I was looking at was exquisite. Her cheeks were rosy with happiness and her eyes sparkled like jewels.

She was my best friend. And she was getting married. We were all gathered in the largest meeting room in Parcia, clustered together on the benches of tiered seating. Cierra entered the room by herself because her father was dead and she didn’t need a man, anyways. As I had pointed out to her, she could walk perfectly fine on her own.

It occurred to me, as she walked to the front of the room, that two of the people I loved most in the world had gotten married in the last two months – including Cierra. It was surreal to think about. Amber’s wedding, though, had been extremely low key and had taken place at the courthouse with four people present besides the couple – Megan, Chris, Beth, and me. In this case, Cierra needed to have a big wedding in order to please the elves of the Underground. They wanted to celebrate the marriage of their Leader. God knew we needed something to celebrate, especially after the death of Madeleine.

Margrét was standing in the front of the room. She had been the one who’d happily volunteered to marry Cierra and Scott. She was the closest thing Cierra had to a mother, so it was fitting. I could tell she was crying even though I was sitting fairly high up. I was trying not to cry, myself, and I didn’t cry that often.

The quartet that was playing in the corner stopped as Scott stepped forward to stand with Cierra in front of Margrét. The couple gazed into each other’s eyes and joined hands. Amber, who was sitting beside me, reached over to grab my hand and I bit my lip to prevent the tears from falling. It didn’t work. By the time they had been pronounced man and wife, I was blubbering like a child and clapping loudly as they kissed.

Willow was sitting in the front row, of course, but I wished that we were together during the ceremony. After all, we were the ones who spent the most time with Cierra. We were her family.

I fought through the crowd after the ceremony and most of them stepped out of the way. After all, most of them had grown accustomed to seeing Cierra and I together during the past few months. It was common knowledge that we were best friends, so I managed to reach her in less than five minutes. She was in the hallway just outside the meeting room. If she hadn’t been dressed to the nines, I probably would’ve knocked her over with the force of my hug. Since I didn’t want to mess up her outfit, I was a little gentler, but I still squeezed her to death.

“Oh my God, congratulations!” I said, kissing her cheek. “I can’t believe it happened! You’re finally married! This is happening!”

“I know!” she squealed. We bounced up and down a little bit. “I’m married! I tied the knot!”

“I love you so much. I’m so happy for you.”

I hugged her tight and breathed in the smell of her perfume. It was something fancy that she wore especially for her big day, not the usual smell of her laundry detergent.

We walked together to Ruoka Hall, where the reception was happening. The benches and tables had been pushed closer to the walls so that people could dance in the middle of the room. A disco ball had descended from the ceiling and an upbeat song with a man singing in a foreign language was playing over the speakers. We got in the line for food, which was leading up to the window into the kitchen. Garrett, the cook, was dishing up specific orders from people, which they could choose based on the menu that was tacked onto the wall.

One of the advantages of being best friends with the bride was that I was the third one to be served, after her and Scott. I passed Amber with my full plate and her eyes went as round as quarters. I had to laugh when her mouth dropped open.

“The best of Parcian cooking, Amber!” I said, lifting a forkful in her direction.

I sat at a table between Cierra and Willow. Scott sat on Cierra’s other side and Beth and Felix were on the other side of Willow.

“This is a pretty fantastic party,” said Felix as he ate.

“Of course it is,” Cierra said. “All of you guys are here.”

“Aw!” Willow leaned around me to smile at his twin. “You know, I used to imagine what our weddings would be like. I didn’t realize yours would be so soon, though.”

“With love, anything is possible.”

Cierra leaned over and kissed her new husband. It was so weird that they were married now. Cierra was my age. Someone my age was married. I was old enough to be married. Where had the time gone? I couldn’t imagine how Amber was feeling. I looked over at her and Adam, who had just gotten their food and were sitting down across the room. They looked happy. Everyone looked happy today. It was really wonderful to see everyone in the Underground coming together, especially after Madeleine’s tragic death.

“Hey, guys,” Beth said. “I have a wedding present for you.”

“Beth, you didn’t have to,” said Cierra.

“Of course I did.”

She stretched her arm out flat against the table, palm up, and a small green thing appeared. It grew down to fall against her forearm until it was a long green stem. More stems appeared in the same way until there were at least fifteen of them. Then, all at once, flowers bloomed from the end she held in her hand. The flowers were beautiful; bright yellows and pinks. Everyone at our table gasped and applauded at the beautiful sight.

“Beth, they’re beautiful! Thank you!”

Cierra and Scott beamed at Beth as they accepted the gift. I shook my head at Beth and she winked at me. Now that she had upstaged everyone in the way of gifts, I didn’t know what a good gift would be for my best friend and her husband.

“You’ve really been improving,” I said to my sister.

“Yeah,” said Cierra. “Is this a new ability?”

Beth nodded, growing pink, and Felix leaned forward to say, “She’s been practicing a lot. I’ve been helping her.”

I laughed silently and Beth glared at me as if she could read my mind, which was amusing because I was the one listening to people’s thoughts.

After the food, it was time for speeches. Willow had been nervous all day for his speech, so I gave his hand a squeeze as he got to his feet and spoke into a microphone.

“I cannot even express how glad I am to be here, at my sister’s wedding. I knew this day would come and that she would get married and I would have to make a speech, but I didn’t fully prepare myself for the stress I would go through because of it.” There were laughs from the audience and he looked down with a little smile on his face, taking the opportunity to gather his thoughts. “Since we were little, Cierra and I have been doing things together. We were tutored by Margrét together, we decided to go to America together for our last year of school, and we’ve been together for the difficulties of these past few months.” Everyone bowed their heads, recalling the tragic murder of their previous Leader and of Madeleine. “And of course, when she came to me and told me that she was going to marry my friend Scott, here –” he gestured at Scott “– I said that I would be there and I would make a speech. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, at the time…” Everyone chuckled again. I covered my mouth with my hand, laughing at how cute Willow was. “I love Cierra more than life itself. Like, you don’t understand. I don’t know what I would do without her. I wouldn’t be myself without her.” He looked down at his sister and I could see tears in her eyes, as well as his. “I know her so well. I remember a few years ago when she started acting weird. I was like, ‘What’s up, Cierra?’ She was like, ‘What are you talking about? Everything’s fine.’ Everything was not fine, of course. She was in love.” Laughter. He seemed more confident now because of it and stood up a little straighter. “And Scott has been my friend for many years now, too. He was acting weird too. Even though I’m supposedly pretty smart, it took me a while to put two and two together. By the time I did… The two were together.” He laughed along with everyone this time. “They were so cute at the beginning, everyone here can agree. I mean, they still are, obviously.

“After a while, it was weird seeing one of them around the Underground without the other. It was either Cierra and Scott or Scott and Cierra. Take your pick. It will always be that way now. I didn’t know until this year how exactly the two of them felt. Not until I met this beautiful lady sitting next to me.” He gazed down at me and my heart started hammering against my ribs. “I finally know what love feels like and, let me tell you, it feels fantastic!” I blushed and took a drink of my water. “I hope you’ll make a speech for me when I get married, Cierra.”

He winked at his sister and I blushed even more furiously.

Oh my God.

“Well, folks, that’s all I have for now. Until next time, this is Willow Caldridge signing off. Let’s have a toast to the bride and groom! They certainly deserve it.”

Everyone toasted and drank deeply. Somehow, Willow almost knocked over his chair in his haste to sit back down. He was beet red as he leaned over and whispered in my ear.

“Please, help. I don’t even know what I did at the end there. I might die of embarrassment.”

“You were great. Everyone loved you,” I said, kissing him on the cheek.

The dancing was next. I loved dancing in the Underground because everything seemed to fade away and I didn’t feel like anyone was judging me. How could anyone judge? We were all weirdos together. There was just more variety here. I wasn’t surprised to see Beth tearing up the dance floor. It was almost like she had been practicing. I asked her if she had and she rolled her eyes at me, but I knew from her thoughts that my suspicions were correct.

Exhausted from jumping around the dance floor for so long, Cierra and I walked towards the kitchen together to get some ice water. We were both sweaty and smelly, but we didn’t care.

“Do you think the dancing is going to be this good at Senior Prom?” Cierra asked me.

I giggled and said, “I doubt it!”

“What’s Prom?” asked Jibril, who happened to be walking past the two of us when we mentioned it.

“It’s a dance,” I said, trying not to show how amused I was at his curiosity. “It’s an American tradition. High school seniors – and sometimes juniors – get together once a year for it. I’ve never been to a dance before, so I’m pretty excited. Especially since my school is having it at Cleveland State University. I’m not sure how exactly they scored that venue, but it’ll be cool to be at my parent’s alma mater.”

“Well, I hope you ladies have a good time,” he said with a smile, patting my shoulder before walking away.

Cierra and I shrugged at each other and laughed.

“He’s a weird one,” she said to me.

After we chugged down our waters, we returned to the dance floor to sweat it all out again. It was a fantastic night and the happiest I had been a long time. We went to bed at night and Lady Catherine was far from my mind.

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