"I CANNOT BELIEVE you are getting married," Maisie gushed, fluffing out the bottom of the long dress Annalise was wearing. "I'd known Marius had wished to see you but I hadn't expected that to be the outcome."
"But we are supportive," Esther added quickly, shooting Maisie a look in case she held judgment behind what she said. "Marius is a kind man."
Annalise peered at the two of them, their appearance slightly mistier due to the veil that fell over her face. "Do you believe I've made a bad mistake?"
"Not at all!" came from Maisie's lips, just as Esther spoke, "No, dear." That was a bit more reassuring.
Annalise had come to the promising conclusion that she did indeed love Marius. She'd never stopped, but the flickering candlelight of love and affection had grown to something far larger over the past bit. It was strange, really; she'd convinced herself time and time again that after their parting, love didn't exist. She supposed she had a good enough reasoning for this, given the outburst her father had when he caught them drowning in a pool of love and affection one night. Well, a servant did. But that was enough to fire him up. She, in all honesty, was not sure what had switched in his mind, when he'd decided Marius was worthy enough of Annalise's love and her father's support. Was it before Philip had realized that it was the Bellegarde family who'd looked after Annalise when they fled, or was it sometime before that? After that? She hadn't bothered asking. There was no point, really; the more questions spilled, the bigger the chance he would change his mind. And Annalise wasn't willing to let that happen.
"What if John finds out?" she found herself murmuring, fingers twiddling anxiously. Though she hadn't had any contact with him in a few weeks now, it was still worrisome. He never seemed to leave her mind, though whenever she thought of him, the thought was associated with fear, anxiety.
"Then he finds out," Maisie retorted lightly, joining her side. "I am most certain he already knows; that man knows everything about everyone. But he will disappear shortly. Some nerve he would have to approach you at your wedding!"
"Thank you, Maisie," Annalise drawled sarcastically. "That makes me feel very relieved."
"Maisie is right," Esther chimed in quietly. "I, too, am sure he knows, but what is the worst he can do? You are surrounded, Annalise, and that man will not make a fool of himself, that is for certain."
Annie took in a breath and let it out slowly, her head bobbing, though the action barely visible. She knew her sisters were most likely correct on that matter, but what was she to do about it now? She couldn't think too much about him; he was the past now, and Marius was her present, future, and forever. That was all that mattered now.
"White really does wash you out," Maisie sighed a moment later, breaking the comfortable silence. "Such a shame."
Esther snorted a laugh at the random comment and Annie glanced sharply at her younger sister. Though she was not completely offended, the words did indeed take her by surprise. "Maisie," she whined. "Do I really look that awful?"
"No, Annalise," Esther put in quickly, slashing a hand across her throat in a "stay silent" motion towards Maisie. "You look lovely."
"Perfect," Maisie added, her tone more sincere. "Now come, we have a wedding to attend!"
Annalise hadn't expected to be so nervous at an event that was supposed to be filled with so much joy and purity. Her legs felt weak, and she was genuinely worried that for a moment, they would give out on her as she walked down the aisle, if tripping over her thick, heavy wedding dress didn't beat her to it. Her mother stood beside her, stroking back small bits of hair (whether they were actually there or if her mother was simply touching her face for whatever reason was beyond her), her eyes visibly teary.
"You look so beautiful," she cooed. "My Annalise. I could not be more proud."
Beside her, Annalise's father stood silently. He held a proud stance, with a puffed chest and a lifted chin, but Annie knew he would eventually cave. He had at Esther's wedding, and he had when Maisie revealed to them that she loved Mr. Earlston. Philip Purcell was strict, but he loved his daughters, and he didn't favour one over the other. She wasn't sure what to say. Often, it was he who addressed them first. Was it appropriate to say something to him? What would she even say? She supposed she could thank him for allowing Marius to step back into her life, thank him for giving the blond his approval. Thank him for believing her when she told him about John, thank him for letting John go without a second chance. That last part, though, was a bit iffier, come to think of it; Annalise was sure John had many, many chances. Finally, a small, squeaky "Father?" escaped her lips, and she stared at him, hope visible in her gaze.
"You look like a grown woman, now," he mumbled, side-eyeing her. "I just hope you've made the right decision."
"Philip," her mother hissed from the side, giving his elbow a light smack with her fan. "No need to be so cool with your words. Mr. Bellegarde is a perfect match for our dear Annalise."
Philip's eyes lingered on Annie a moment longer, and she desperately wished to read his thoughts. His gaze was not disapproving, no, but it didn't shine radiantly like Beth's. Was he ever truly happy, though? Annalise had told herself she didn't want to live like him, though in reality, she wasn't sure she could. Being a woman, her choices were limited. Work did not consist of much more than getting out of bed and eating her meals. He was constantly buried in paperwork, quill moving constantly, face a permanent frown. Somehow, despite the fact that she'd never live a life like that, she found that was what she'd look like if she sided with John. Dreary clouds, a dark, endless mist swirling around her, blocking out any potential forms of sunshine and happiness. It made her shiver, even though the image was so far away. And impossible. It wasn't going to happen. Marius was her sunshine, her ball of bright, infinite joy.
"Annalise, are you ready to go?" Beth Purcell murmured, brushing back some hair yet again. Annalise knew she wasn't supposed to be in the back room any longer, but it seemed her mother just couldn't let go. That was flattering, really. Annie nestled into her mother's touch, though did give a nod of her head. She didn't need to say anything. Beth pressed her soft lips to Annie's forehead and Annie closed her eyes, embracing all the mothery love and comfort. Then Beth was gone, and it was just her and her father.
"Father—" Annalise began timidly, feeling she had to say something. Anything. But her father raised a hand, silencing her.
"I am the most proudest father," he told her. His tone was still gruff, low, but his words were sweet and meaningful. He did not have to say much more, Annalise knew he meant it.
Her chest felt like it was closing, and she threw her arms around him, no longer worried about crumpling her beautiful white dress. "Thank you," she murmured, her voice quivering with happiness. "Thank you, Father."
Philip stroked back her hair, then created space between them. "We mustn't make them wait longer," he told her. She nodded, a new rush of nerves eating at her insides, and placed a shaky hand against the dark grey fabric that covered his arm. He started up then, leaving her no choice but to scurry behind him.
The corner they were to turn so she could reveal herself felt like miles away, when in reality, it only took them a couple dozen steps to reach it. The entire time, Annalise focused heavily on her breathing. In... and out. Repeat. She wasn't sure why she was so nervous. It was just Marius. The only real difference was that there was a dress code, right? And that there were going to be people from both sides of their family there, watching an intimate kiss shared between them. Perhaps it was just that. Annalise had spent so much of her time with Marius in secret that this just didn't seem right. It didn't seem ethical, appropriate. Approval lingered around them, and yet, she couldn't quite grasp the concept of it all. At the same time, this was what she wanted, and she knew it. Marius wanted it, and Marius knew that. They were on the same page in the same chapter in the same book.
Following her father, Annalise shuffled around the corner and stepped onto the main pathway. Immediately, the figures around her rose. Marius's back was to her, traditionally, but every other set of eyes lingered on her, watching her every move. She felt like she was of royal blood, with adoring fans gawking as she rolled past them. Too nervous to look at anyone, Annalise stared intensely at the organ piano at the back of the church. Her father's pace slowed and eventually came to a halt. Realizing this was it, her head snapped towards him, awaiting his next move. His fingers fanned her face as he lifted the veil up and over her head, letting the delicate fabric flow behind her like her own personal cape. He kissed her cheek, then, silently, drifted into the crowd of faces. She stared at him until his body blended in with the rest, then turned back to the front and cleared her throat. Marius ducked his gaze down, then let his own head move to the side as she came up beside him. Even though he wasn't supposed to say anything, Annalise could hear him suck in his breath. She couldn't quite face him, a bit embarrassed to do so, but felt her cheeks warm regardless. Her snarky side was already thinking of the negatives to such a noise, like that maybe she looked absolutely awful, but the angel on her shoulder was doing an awfully good job battling those worries out of her mind.
The vows and prayers that followed were quick, though, at the same time, felt like they were dragging on. The promises were true to the heart, Annalise knew, and she spoke with dignity and veracity. Her words were bouncy, shaky, but it was evident Marius could sense her nerves, for when he spoke his vows and tripped over a line, Annie knew it was on purpose, to make her feel better.
And it did, it really did.
The words she was both dreading and looking so forward to eventually came around. "You may kiss the bride." Sucking in a breath, Annalise shifted her weight and turned to her right to properly face for Marius for what felt like the first time in forever. Adoration dazzled in the depths of his eyes, and he grabbed her hand, whose glove had been removed, a glimmering ring having replaced it. Stepping closer to him, Annie rose onto the tips of her toes, and the space between them closed, sealing their promises.
They were on the same page in the same chapter in the same book. Their story, written by them. And it was perfect.