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Chapter 14: Something New

The next morning when my eyes flutter open, I don’t know where I am. It sure looks like my old Boring room, but it also feels like a completely new place—somewhere I’ve never been before.

The same, and yet… somehow different.

I turn in Terry’s arms and bury my face in his chest.

He hums at me, and stretches. He takes a deep breath and lets it out with relaxed contentment as he settles his arms back around me.

“Good morning,” he murmurs, voice thick with sleep.

Yeah, I think, relaxing against him. It actually is.

“We don’t have to get up yet, do we?” I ask.

He makes a hesitant noise and shifts, undoubtedly to look at the clock. “Nah, looks like we’ve got time. Tai said not to show up until 2:00. It’s barely 8.”

I groan. “Why are we awake so early?”

Terry shrugs. “You moved. You don’t really move in your sleep. Plus, I sleep lightly when I’m in new places, and this is a new place.”

I smile and twist my arms around his neck. Right again, Mr. Walsh. It is new.

I settle back into sleep against him. Until our alarms go off one after the other and we both shoot out of bed to turn them off.

Saturday morning haters that Terry and I both are, we might have set our alarms a little later than we should have. Even with Mom up, breakfast ready, and the house bustling about us, Terry and I managed to sleep until the last possible moment when our alarms went off at 11. As if trying to look presentable on a Saturday wasn’t already a burden, trying to cram that process into three hours is pretty silly. Looking presentable enough to meet Terry’s family at a wedding? That feels impossible. Especially when your period decides to show up a few days early.

Hello, unforeseen blood. Did you know that I have a very big thing happening today? Oh, that’s why you’re here? How considerate of you. Let’s make this an easy affair with minimal bloating and cramping as you go through the exit wounds, shall we?

At least weddings don’t call for heroic feats of strength and agility—and the dress I allowed Terry to buy me is a dark forest green, so I won’t have to worry about blood on the dress as much as I would if it was some pretty bright color.

Still, even without all these obstacles in our way, getting ready for a wedding takes a while. Terry and I share mirror space as we hurry through dressing up. He fights with his tie while I have it out with my fair-weather friend mascara.

“Fuck you and your long eyelashes,” I mutter at him as I fuck up for the third time. “Lend them to me for today.”

“They’d clash with your complexion, not to mention your dress,” he grumbles back, pulling ineffectively at the snarl of fabric around his neck.

“Gingers look great in green. And I could pull off ginger.” There, right side done. Finally. Now to get the left ones to kind of look like they match.

He snorts.

“What?”

“You could not,” he says.

“Fine.” There, eyelashes done. I turn and bat them at him. “Guess I’ll just have to settle for getting them off instead.”

He sags as he starts laughing, hands falling away from his tie and going to cover his face.

“Do not let my sister hear you say that.”

“More worried about what your sister’ll say than your parents?” I’m meeting his parents. I’m terrified. Let’s not talk about it. Oh god, we’re talking about it. Mayday, mayday!

“My parents will acknowledge their son as a sexual being the way they always have: supportively and with many, many condoms. Titania will throw a fucking bridal shower.”

I start fixing his tie. Thank goodness I liked wearing these for debate tournaments in high school. “You still wanna do this? We could always run off into the trees and pretend like we were just doing research for the Serenity Peaks finale.”

We got lucky with my family being chill… What if his isn’t? They don’t know the first thing about me. I’m the plus one—but what’s that going to mean to them?

He puts his hands in mine and squeezes. “After? I don’t think you understand just how badly Tai will skin me if I skip out.”

I grin. “Oh, I think I do. I’m a big sister.”

He sighs. “She only beat me out of the womb by one fucking minute…”

My grin only widens.

He glares and tosses my hands away from him. “You look just like her when you do that.”

“I thought you said I couldn’t pull off ginger,” I chide.

“The resemblance is still uncanny,” he mutters.

I laugh and reach for my lipstick. “You know…” I pause to apply matte, burgundy balm to my lips. “I think I like your sister already.”

“I’m reconsidering your running off into the forest suggestion,” he mutters, combing product into his hair.

I finish with my lipstick and pop my lips at him, sassy as Ursula in her sea-witch cave. “You’re the one who said we’d have time for me to show you the woods this morning.”

“And I was WRONG! I always forget how long dressing up takes…”

I stand up and kiss him on the cheek. “S’okay, darling. Like you said, we’ll go explore the forest after the wedding—assuming this whole thing doesn’t come crashing down in flames.” I wink at him.

His eyes soften and he loses the stressed crinkle between them for a moment. Then he catches sight of the lipstick print I’ve left on his cheek and groans.

I chuckle and hand him a wash cloth. Then I go back to touching up my ensemble. I think about how this is the first time I’ve called him “darling,” as I work. Lover. Partner. Darling. All things we’ve said in the last twenty-four hours.

I guess we finally are starting to put words to this.

* * *

I drive to the wedding. It’s my town, and I want him to look around. He’d fuck up parking, anyway. I don’t know how many guests are coming to the wedding, but the church parking lot is going to fill up fast, and parking in the boonies is a skill—one that usually relies on an awareness of empty fields and who won’t tow your car.

“You sure it’s okay for us to park on the grass?” he asks.

“Stick with me, kid,” I say. I take his arm and lead him towards the chapel. “We’ll make a country man of you yet.”

There are a lot of establishments in the town of Boring that make use of the town name in the title of their establishment. Most people might be offended by the relentless jokes about the name of their home town, but I—like most natives—have heard every joke there is to hear about living in Boring that I beat new acquaintances to the punch lines. It saves them and me their terrible delivery. Boring Burger, Boring not Dull Hardware, The Not-so-Boring Bar… The Boring Chapel may officially be called the Bell Tower Chapel, but few people really called it that. It’s true to its name, at least, the rest of the chapel seeming planned around the bell tower. The bell isn’t visible from outside of the church, but it can be heard. A double-sided staircase leads up to the front door that stands just below the bell. A young woman with beautiful red-ginger hair and a dress the muted soft color of orange sorbet stands there, greeting guests.

When we get closer, I recognize her as Terry’s sister Titania. Even if I didn’t already know what she looked like, the matching red hair and the way she jumps up and down when she sees us would give it away. “You made it!” she says, throwing her arms around Terry. She shakes him in the confinement of her hug, obviously overjoyed to see him.

I relinquish Terry’s arm so she doesn’t pull me over, and stand a little to the side. I might be smiling like an idiot. In my defense, it’s difficult not to. Terry based Cassie and Clint off of himself and his sister. I’m invested, and I’ve seen a lot of their closeness thanks to conventions and the internet. But I have no idea how this very real flesh and blood person I know and don’t know will react to me knowing her brother.

Terry smiles and hugs Titania fondly. “Yep, I’m here. Guess you finally got me to come to one of these.”

“Oh ho, you bet I did.” Titania steps back and stabs a finger into his chest. “And this is just a small one.”

“Really?” Terry says, rubbing the back of his neck. “But isn’t the parking lot already full?”

“Well sure, but it’s a small parking lot,” Titania says. She’s not wrong. Only about ten cars max would fit in that little lot. I’ve seen how bad the overflow can get if a couple doesn’t think about parking before booking the church. “Including you two, we’ve only got maybe thirty people inside, and the happy couple only sent out forty-seven invites to begin with.” Whoa, she knows the exact number of invites Ai and Kate sent out? She is a wedding planner! “Besides, you know Ai—she wouldn’t go for anything big.”

“We were always lucky to be part of the small social circle she kept,” Terry agrees.

“Exactly,” Titania continues. “And Kate didn’t invite most of her family. But someday I’ll get you to come to one of the bigger weddings.” She pokes him in the chest again. “If I have to organize the weddings of everyone you know to get you to come, I will.”

“Yeesh.” Terry raises his hands in surrender. “The scary thing is that I believe you.”

“So.” Titania draws out the word and elbows him lightly in the side. “Who’s your friend?”

She gives him a wicked grin, and Terry blushes more quickly and more deeply than I’ve ever managed to get him to with his clothes on.

I’ve got to get Titania to teach me that trick…

Terry holds his hand out to me and I take it. “This—” He interrupts himself to clear his throat. “This is Alexis.”

“It’s good to meet you,” I say, holding out my hand.

“Oh, the pleasure is all mine,” Titania responds, taking my hand and shaking it vigorously.

I’m racing through the list of magical twin abilities I might be sharing by touching both of them at the same time when another voice cuts into the encounter. “Is that my boy I spy other there, Ida, darling?”

“It most certainly looks like our boy, Izzy, but it can’t be. He’s entirely too handsome and has such a lovely young woman with him.”

Terry’s flush deepens, and if the heat running up my neck is anything to go by, I’ve followed suit.

“Well, that’s enough of this. Thanks, sis.” Terry’s eyes dart over to me. “Home?”

I shake my head. “No way. Your parents will blame me if I let you run away.”

Titania laughs the way a cat would—if it could—when it’s cornered a mouse. “Trapped by your plus one, brother dear?”

Terry wheezes in a gasp. “That’s why you always—!”

Titania laughs again, then ushers us in towards the room teaming with people to her left. “Go, drop your coats and any personal items you don’t want to carry with our coat clerk and then go mingle in the reception hall and eat tiny food with toothpicks so your blood sugar doesn’t dip! I’ll come get everyone when it’s time for the ceremony to start in the chapel.” She gives us one final push towards the reception hall and then turns back to the door to greet the next set of guests.

I blink. Phase one complete? Did I just pass the Titania Test? We hand over our coats to the clerk and then head into the reception hall. Phase one might be over, but here comes what looks like phase two…

“Terry, oh my sweet boy, it is you!”

A stocky woman with a deep voice and no lack of affection throws her arms around Terry and essentially picks him up off the floor with a hug.

Terry laughs and hugs her back. “Hey, Momma. Long time no strangle-hug.”

“Oh, goodness!” His mother all but drops him and then sets to straightening his suit jacket and checking him over. “How unladylike of me. I’m sorry, dear, but you know I can’t help it.” She waggles her finger in his face. “You know how your mother misses you when you’re away for too long.”

“I’m sure he would hold it against you if it wasn’t so very endearing.” A much smaller woman comes to stand next to Terry’s first parent. She has small piercing blue eyes, large glasses, and short, orderly, straight brown hair that gives her an air of perceptiveness and no-nonsense. I’m guessing this is the parent Titania and Terry referred to as “ma’am” when they were in trouble. She takes the arm of Terry’s tall, brilliant red-and-curly-haired mother, conclusively establishing herself before me as Terry’s other mother. They make quite a pair. The smaller woman wears a plaid dress shirt with rolled up sleeves and a black bowtie—now I know where he gets his penchant for it from. Her taller counterpart wears a brilliant red dress that offsets her hair to orange and brings out the dark contrast of her big brown eyes.

No wonder he’s so fucking gorgeous, where do they grow people like this?

The smaller woman perches her head on the taller one’s shoulder and wraps an arm around her red-clad waist.

“But you know you do make us worry when you won’t even stop working for holidays,” the smaller mother says.

Terry sighs. “Yeah, I know, Ma. It’s just important.”

“So’s family,” she quips back.

“That’s enough!” the taller mother says. “I won’t have my darlings fighting after seeing each other for the first time in so long—or at a wedding, of all places.”

The smaller mother shrugs and gives Terry a small devious smirk.

He gives her a manic grin in response, so I can only assume this is some sort of secret familial code as I flick my eyes back and forth between them.

Whatever it means, it must have settled something, because the taller mother doesn’t continue to fuss. Instead, she turns her attention to me.

“Really, Terry, where are your manners? You still haven’t introduced us to this delightful creature you brought with you!”

I choke back a laugh, thinking “creature” really is the best word to describe me.

“Delightful is the word,” Terry says.

I look over at him. He’s giving me that small smile. I shouldn’t be shocked when he says things like this anymore. He says them often enough. But there’s still a part of me that’s always surprised someone as magnificent as him thinks such things of me.

“Stop swooning and tell us her name,” his shorter mother says to Terry.

Terry gestures to his smaller mother. “Alexis, the sarcastic slip of a woman next to the beautiful red visage—”

His taller mother slaps his shoulder, almost throwing him off balance, “Oh, stop it, you charmer, you.”

Terry chuckles as he recovers, “…is my mother Ida. The one next to her—is that better, Momma? Okay, good—is my mother Izzy.”

Ah ha. Ma Ida and Momma Izzy. I give them a nod of my head. “Mrs. and Mrs. Walsh, it’s a pleasure to meet you.

Momma Izzy titters and Ma Ida raises an eyebrow and then turns it on Terry to say, “Well at least she’s got manners.”

Terry rolls his eyes at her affectionately.

Titania interrupts, ringing a giant triangular dinner bell—the same sort my mother used to have to call us in for dinner from wherever we were adventuring in the woods as children. “Attention please, everyone!” she says, projecting her voice out over the crowd. “We’re about to start the ceremony, so please find a seat in the chapel and get those handkerchiefs ready, because this is going to be the touching moment to rival all touching moments you’ve seen yet! There will be tears over how perfect these two are for each other, and I guarantee you’re going to want a prime seat! Of course, for those without handkerchiefs, there are complimentary flowery packets of tissue on hand. Now go, go, go!”

She wasn’t kidding about the tissue packets.

“Am I actually gonna need this?” I ask Terry, holding one up between my fingers.

He shrugs. “Better safe than sorry?” He stashes one in his coat’s inner pocket.

We follow Terry’s mothers through the foyer and into the chapel. When they sit in a pew, they beckon us in. I try to move so Terry can sit next to his mothers instead of me, but Izzy catches my wrist and pulls me in after her, saying, “Oh, don’t be shy, dear. We don’t bite.”

“Much,” Ida adds from Izzy’s other side. She gives me a reassuring smile. I give her a nervous one in response.

If this is what meeting my family was like for Terry, he didn’t show it at all. I’m sweating bullets. I want them to like me, but I’m still too caught up in trying remember what he told me about his mothers all those months ago in San Francisco—which one did “Momma” correspond to again? Which one was is trans woman!?—because I don’t want to say anything stupid or offensive, but would I even usually say something stupid or offensive about that? No, no I wouldn’t, so it doesn’t fucking matter—and do any of these million-mile worries matter when I should be paying attention to a wedding, and—oh, that’s Terry’s hand on my waist. I-is that okay in front of his mothers? I guess Ida has her hand around Izzy’s waist again, but they’re married, and…

Terry pulls me against his side and leans over me. “Don’t go stealing her away from me, Momma.”

“Ooh, possessive already,” Ida remarks.

“Now, Alexis. Don’t you stand for that sort of talk from him. You just give us a call if he keeps talking about you like you’re something that can be stolen instead of a complete being capable of your own agency. We’ll set him straight.” Izzy huffs. “To think I raised you in my own house and you still learned to say such things and paw at young women.”

…Wow, they’re sweet.

“Don’t worry,” I say. I place my hand over the one Terry has on my waist. “He’s not pawing where pawing isn’t asked for.”

Izzy’s eyes simply sparkle, and Ida guffaws.

“Did you hear that, Ida, darling,” Izzy titters almost in Ida’s ear. “Our dear boy and this sweet girl have—”

“I like this one, she’s got spunk,” Ida says, looking straight ahead.

“Congratulations,” Terry murmurs in my ear. “You passed.”

I can’t help but be pleased with myself.

“What would you have done if I hadn’t?” I whisper back.

His arms tightens fractionally around my waist, bringing me all the closer. “Loved you anyway.” He presses a kiss to my flaming cheek.

H-he’s never used that word before.

But I don’t have time to process. There’s music now, and everyone turns in the church to see the two smiling brides holding one huge bouquet of red and orange roses and walking each other down the aisle, smiling and giggling like this is the happiest they’ve ever been.

“Oh, there’s dear sweet Ai,” Izzy breathes.

“Don’t forget Kate. You’ve met Kate. You like Kate,” Ida murmurs.

“I know, it’s just so different seeing the tiny toddler we used to have over for playdates all grown up into this beautiful orchid blossom.”

“Hush, love. Get poetic about them after your first glass of wine at the reception.”

Izzy takes a breath as if she’s steeling herself and quiets.

I guess they know the shorter Asian woman, then, judging by their conversation—but one tries not to judge. The tall, broad-shouldered blonde could just as easily be named Ai. We’re not in the dark ages anymore—and both of them are beautiful enough to fit the description of orchid blossom.

Although that may have something to do with the way they’re looking at each other more than anything else.

Same-sex marriage was only legalized nation-wide about a year ago, and this is the first time I’ve ever had the privilege of being invited to a same-sex wedding. As I watch the two brides interact, my heart goes out to them. I could have fallen in love with a woman or any other kind of person just as easily as I fell in love with Terry. Being with Terry, though… If we were to get married, I would never have to worry about having to fight for my wedding, having to question if my marriage was legal if we moved somewhere else in our country—just another straight-passing member of the queer community. They’re doing something bolder. Something braver. And I’m happy to be here to witness it.

The brides reach the altar, and even though I don’t know them, there’s something about the way they hold each other’s hands that feels like victory.

I’m glad they don’t have to hide their love.

Titania comes down the aisle with the rings and presents them to the couple. They each take one and wait as Titania sets the ring-bearing pillow aside and steps up in front of them.

She takes a quick breath and launches into the ceremony. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…”

I haven’t been to a lot of weddings. There was one my parents took me to when I was seven. We didn’t stay very long, and I was a little too short and much too restless to really pay attention to the ceremony. The other I served as maid of honor at for one of my best friends from high school. Both were stressful—for very different reasons—and I only remember getting cake out of the first and a small sense of accomplishment out of the second. Poorly timed as my friend’s marriage had been in the early days of my parent’s divorce, it had restored some of my belief that maybe marriage between the right people could work.

Believing one could find that right person was a separate battle.

But sitting here—listening to Izzy get teary-eyed and Ida gently soothe her; watching the brides say “I do,” and slip their rings on each other’s fingers, and kiss as if they never wanted to kiss anyone else ever again; holding Terry’s hand…

Well, I’ve sobbed over cornier movie scenes and believed again over less.

Izzy tugs me to her side with a hug and says, “Oh, I know dear, isn’t it beautiful?”

I nod slightly and sniffle. It feels good to feel happy while I cry, instead of like a weakling or an emotional fem stereotype—to be moved to tears instead of having them torn from me in private after battles with my father or misunderstandings with my mother. It’s been a long time since I cried with people.

Two handkerchiefs appear on either side of us, one from Ida and one from Terry.

Izzy and I blink and then laugh together, a knowing laugh shared between two people who have just met. My idiot seems to be very like Izzy’s idiot—and, goodness, are we idiots for loving them.

I take Terry’s handkerchief and dry my eyes.

Titania holds her place at the front of the hall after the brides have joyously flounced out, ushering the guest towards the reception. “The happy couple will join us shortly for our cocktail hour, so please make your way back to the reception hall!” She latches onto her family as they come through the door, taking Terry’s other arm before he can tuck his handkerchief back into his pocket. “Aww, you cried? That’s so sweet! See, aren’t you happy you came?”

“This would be so much more of a mess if I had cried,” Terry retorts.

“You did inherit that from your mother,” Ida says, tucking her returned and sopping wet handkerchief into a small plastic bag before settling it back in her pocket.

“Don’t shame a lady for her tears,” Izzy huffs.

Ida smiles at her gently and takes her arm. “I wouldn’t dare shame anyone for their tears. Now, where did the happy couple get off to? I believe congratulations are in order…”

Ida and Izzy venture into the crowd and Terry makes to follow them—but Titania swoops around him and takes my arm from his.

“You can go,” she tells him, “but I’m going to steal her to interrogate while you’re gone.”

“Tai,” Terry says. His voice sounds like a warning.

“Don’t worry, I’ll just get her some punch. I promise. It’s my own secret recipe.” My mind flashes to the juice Cassie makes in Terry’s show. Didn’t that recipe include glitter? Should I be worried about this? “Besides,” Titania continues, “Alexis’ll just be bored congratulating people she doesn’t know. I have a strict policy about bothering my married couples with unknown party guests anyway: they’re not to deal with them until their third drink, when they no longer worry about remembering their names. That way everyone can enjoy company without the stupid social stresses.”

Wow, she really does have a system.

Terry looks at me.

I shrug.

Terry throws up his hands in defeat. “Fine! This is your party anyway.”

“Their party!” Titania says, standing on tiptoe and raising a finger in front of him as if she were a school teacher.

Terry makes a face at her. “I’m going to go talk to our childhood friend.”

“You do that!” Titania waves him off and then steers me in the direction of the refreshment table. “I love your dress, by the way.” She waves her hand over the three-tiered skirt that falls to my knees. “Were you going for a pine tree theme on purpose?”

I see Terry freeze and then turn to gape out of the corner of my eye.

Fuck. Now I’ll never be able to look at this dress without seeing a pine tree either…

“I think it must have been unconscious,” I say, brushing the skirt with my fingertips.

“Well, it’s lovely. And definitely suits the scenery!” Titania gestures to the arched windows that reach up towards the room’s vaulted ceiling. With all the wood inside and the beautifully framed views of the evergreens just outside, the reception room feels like part of the forest.

Yeah, that’s what Terry and I were going for. Definitely thematic scenery matching and not an unconscious reference to Buck’s favorite nickname for Clint in Serenity Peaks.

I shoo Terry away with a hand behind my back, and he gets back to leaving, but ohmygosh, we’re going to have to talk about this later, I can feel it. What does choosing this dress together say about us? That I look good in green? That we’ve got a real thing for trees? That his show haunts the regions of our subconscious even when we’re not consciously thinking about it? Jeez, I can almost hear him saying it.

Pine Tree…

I shiver a little. Need to get Terry’s Buck voice out of my head. Talking to his sister. Must make good impression and not think of aged-up Buck and Clint fanfiction or their adorable PinePuzzle pairing name!

Titania relinquishes my arm when we reach the refreshments. She half fills two wine glasses with punch and hands one to me. She holds hers slightly aloft in front of me in a toast, grinning big and warm. “To finally getting to meet you,” she says.

I laugh and clink my glass to hers. “And to meeting you—assuming this punch isn’t as intense as the stuff Cassie cooks up in Serenity Peaks.”

Titania makes a noncommittal sound. “More alcohol, less glitter. Probably the same amount of Gatorade. The electrolytes keep everybody going.”

“Fair enough.”

We sip and then Titania steps away from the table. “Walk with me? I need to make sure the party’s going well.” I fall into step beside her, and we meander, making small talk about whatever we notice as we walk by. Her eyes flick over the party, I assume making sure that merriment is abounding. We settle on the far side of the room from the entrance, on the small raised viewing platform that leads out onto the porch. The largest window of multi-faceted cut glass in the room looks out into the chapel’s yard. Looking out the window, it’s clear this place would make for some beautiful outdoor weddings. The tall pines outside would give the chapel’s backyard feel like nature’s cathedral. I can only imagine we’re not using that space today due to cold and the possibility of rain. Despite the view, Titania stations herself with her back to the window. It takes me a moment to understand why she would pass up the view until I notice her eyes flicker past me to the room of guests. It’s a good spot— the raised floor gives Titania a good vantage point while allowing her to focus on me without constantly turning her head. What a pro. I have such a weakness for talent. Of course Terry’s twin sister would have me swooning over her in an instant.

“By the way,” I say, sounding just like a fangirl at a con, “I really liked the way you finished the ceremony.”

“Oh, you mean the ‘I now pronounce you married!’ bit?”

I laugh. “Yeah, that bit. And the ‘You may now kiss!’ bit that followed it.”

Titania shrugs and then gives me a small bow. “What can I say, I aim to make people laugh during weddings. Makes the pictures come out better. No one likes serious wedding photos. Not all weddings I plan get to be this casual or original, though. Some people like their white dresses, diamond rings, and gender roles.”

I think through this wedding. Ai and Kate definitely took the white dresses, but I wonder about their rings… Titania did a great job removing gender roles from the ceremony, though.

“How long have you been doing this?” I ask.

“Hm? Oh, you mean weddings? Ages. I think I kind of started in art school when my best friend asked me to be her maid of honor, and then I got stuck making all the party decorations at 3 AM the night before. She kept telling me everything was okay and that she had it under control… Rule number one: never believe a bride about how much work has been done on the wedding. Always serve it up to them. But also always make them feel like they’ve contributed. Otherwise they start to feel bad, or, in worse cases, like you’re taking over their wedding.”

“Is that why you call them ‘coworkers’?”

“Hey! You’ve been on my twitter!” Titania’s eyes glimmer. “Whyyyy?”

I gesture to the dress. “Why do you think I would unconsciously pick out a pine tree themed dress?”

Titania grins and snaps her fingers. “You’re a fan of Terry’s show.”

I nod. “But I’m working on the show now too. I mean, as an intern, but still… it’s different, you know? Going from fan to, well, professional.”

Titania shakes her head. “Nah, don’t think of it that way. Fans are professionals. Do you see all the creative work they do? Art, videos, music, original fiction.” She cuts herself off to clench her hand into a fist dramatically and raise her eyes skyward, as if she personally is proud of the Serenity Peaks fans. “They have so much passion!”

“Heh, I guess, but it still feels like we’re a world apart from real creatives like Terry.”

“Oh, don’t say that. Being a fan doesn’t disqualify you from being a creator. I mean, you must have talked with Terry about all the things he loses his fan chill about. He’s the biggest Maddening Men geek out there!”

“…I don’t watch—”

“Oh. Um, Simp Sons? He knows some of those by heart, I swear. What’s the new thing he’s into… Evening Vale? I keep meaning to listen to it. You’d think I’d listen to more podcasts what with all the traveling I do, but…” She gestures vaguely, then shakes her head. “Then of course there’s his fucking Pocket Monsters obsession. I swear, if he petitions my little noob ass to fight his stupid pun-inspired team one more time.”

I wince. “Pun inspired?”

Titania’s face turns comically dark for a moment. “Yes.” Her expression brightens as she smirks. “I’ve actually trounced him a lot because I don’t think he’s putting any effort into anything other than the puns and the ‘but it looks cool!’ factor.” She rolls her eyes. “Animators,” she grumbles.

“Tell me about it.”

She holds out her cup and I tap mine to hers again.

“Of course, there must be something you like about them, hmm?” Titania touches the edge of her glass to her lips and eyes me over the rim.

I flush a little. “Yes, well…”

“Good. That makes me happy.”

I glance back up at her, my embarrassment forgotten. She’s looking out over the crowd to where Terry stands; hands in pockets, casual smile on his face, talking and laughing and just existing.

My heart softens. We had twins in my family once. “He’s really important to you, huh?”

“Well, you’re a big sister, right? You know how it goes.”

A smirk tugs at my lips as I think of Lizzy. “Yeah, with a sister like mine, I’m pretty invested.”

“Then you know how it feels.” She sighs a little and pushes some of her hair behind her ear. “I just want him to be happy.”

“…I think I feel the same way. About him, I mean.”

Titania laughs and looks at me like it’s the first time she’s really seeing me. Then she goes back to looking at her family and says, “Okay, we’re keeping you.”

I smile to myself. Her approval would feel good even if she wasn’t Terry’s sister.

“So, is that why you always invite him to your weddings?” I ask.

Titania purses her lips. “Sort of? I’m trying to get something through that thick skull of his.”

“I hear this thing called talking works pretty well when you want to do that.”

Titania smirks at me. “Does that ever work with your sister?”

I swirl my punch in my glass, trying to recall if that ever has worked for me. “Okay, point.”

“He’s been stuck in his stories ever since we were young. Most of the things he actually made were just silly, but they were practice. He needed simple ideas so he could write and draw and produce… You can’t go changing the world in five minutes, but you sure as hell can get a ton of practice out of it for the big stuff later.”

“Jeez, wish they’d teach that in school,” I grumble.

“Right?!” she says. “Anyway, the boy was always busy. I just want him to come out and live a little—see that there are happy endings in life that he doesn’t have to make. They’re just there. Sometimes you don’t even have anything to do with them. They just happen, you know? Just fall into your lap or get handed to you without it being about you.”

Terry’s words about my family flash back to me. None of this was ever your fault, and it was never your job to fix it. Put that brilliant mind of yours to rest…

“This is real life, not a conspiracy theory-riddled cartoon?” I offer her.

“Haha, exactly!” Titania shakes her head. “For such a smart guy, sometimes he can be so dumb. Plus, there are some things he’ll never be able to make by himself.” I follow her eyes. She’s looking at the brides. “That’s why I always sent him an invite with a plus one already marked. Just anyone. A friend, a lover, anyone he was willing to be seen with at a wedding. I want him to have someone like that.”

I meet her eyes and jump a little. The look in her eyes is so intense. “Y-you want him to have a plus one?” I ask.

She wrinkles her nose. “I guess that’s a little vague. A partner, I guess. Backup for when life gets hard. Everyone needs someone like that. Friends, family, lovers…” She takes a sip of her punch. “Which one are you, by the way?” She waggles her eyebrows.

Do not do a spit take with Titania’s secret recipe punch, Alexis. She’s wearing pastel orange, the red of this stuff would stand out like a firework on the Fourth of July against that soft orange sorbet-colored fabric. Swallow. Swallow!

“I thought you were his partner for things like that?” I rasp. “Isn’t that how twins work?”

“Hahaha! Well, to an extent. I’ll always be there, but I can’t always be there.” There’s something wistful about the way she rolls her wine glass between her fingers.

“Wouldn’t that be true of anyone?” I murmur.

“Yeah. That’s why parties like this are so important: you see all the partners you’ve got at once!”

There’s a bang as the chapel’s front door is thrown open and hits the hall wall.

The party reacts as a whole, murmuring and rippling as a tall blond man somewhere in his later years strides through the door. “Kate!” he yells.

He’s quickly followed by a much younger man, and a worried-looking middle-aged woman.

The blonde bride groans. “Mom, I told you not to tell Dad about this…”

“Shit,” Titania hisses. “Kate’s family wasn’t invited, why are they here?!”

Adrenaline roars in my ears. I clutch my wine glass tightly. “I take it this is a bad thing?” I whisper.

Titania throws a hand into her hair. “Her father thinks her sexuality is a devil-enticed phase, she’s got some sort of crazy ex-finance he keeps pressuring her to marry—I can’t believe this is happening. I told her not to tell her mother about the wedding… Just because her mother accepts her unlike the rest of her bigoted, backwards family doesn’t mean she can keep a god damn secret!”

My body is tense. Between the noise the new guests are making and the panic in Titania’s voice, my nerves are convinced we’ll have a fight on our hands in just a minute. Kate’s father looks mad enough to pop, and the young man next to him looks like a bad mug shot. There’s something cold and entitled about his eyes that makes me nervous. The look in his eyes reminds me of every bad date I had with dudes who expected me to kiss them after dinner, even if we went dutch.

Kate’s father pushes more wedding guests out of the way to get closer to where Ai and Kate stand in the middle of the room. Kate’s mother trails behind him, apologizing to people. “I’m so sorry,” she says, “I couldn’t stop him from coming, but once he sees how in love they are, I’m sure we’ll be right back on our way. Please forgive him, he’s just worried about his daughter. He doesn’t understand.”

Her placations are drowned out as Kate’s father yells. “What’s this I hear about you marrying some sort of fag—”

“You will not finish that word at my wedding!” Kate bellows. “And what the fuck is he doing here?” she says, pointing at the unsettling man behind her father.

“Clayton is still your betrothed, Kate.”

“So says you and your damn religion! Maybe if you wised up and started actually practicing all the acceptance and forgiveness that ‘good book’ of yours teaches you, you’d have a shot at understanding why I’m with Ai.” Kate grabs Ai’s hand and steps in front of her protectively. She sneers and tosses her head at Clayton. “And not with that.”

Her father’s face falls. He looks hurt and disappointed.

The thin-lipped anger on Clayton’s face would make a great reaction gif if the situation itself wasn’t so unnerving. As if that weren’t enough, the young man shoulders past Kate’s father and draws a gun. The crowd draws back with gasps and shouts.

Terry. Where is Terry?!

“I won’t have you insulting me with your mouth or your rejection a second longer,” Clayton says. His eyes are so, so cold. How does he think this is justified? Clayton cocks his head and returns Kate’s sneer. “But then, I was always too good for you, wasn’t I?”

He open fires. His first shot barely misses Kate’s head—he would have hit her if Ai hadn’t jerked her out of the way. I see Terry tackle the brides to the ground and take cover behind one of the many tables in the room. The father seems shocked, but then surges forward, grabbing the young man’s arm, looking like he’s trying to stop him.

The shots become erratic. Kate’s father’s head explodes somewhere in the middle of the wrestling. There’s heat, and blood, and shouting. None of it feels real, it feels like I’m stuck—because after the first shot that missed the brides and I pulled Titania off the raised floor and threw over a table to cover us, I’ve been watching red slowly stain a pastel orange dress like a firework on the Fourth of July…

Titania’s breathing is labored. She lays on the ground next to me, curled around herself on her side. The blood flows from her stomach, slipping out from under her hand as she tries to stop the bleeding.

I snatch a displaced table cloth off the floor, wad it up, and press it into her hands. “Put pressure on the wound,” I tell her. She nods and presses the table cloth to her stomach. She gasps in pain, and I flinch. There’s no way the shooter would hear Titania’s gasp over the amount of noise in the room, but I’m still scared he’ll find us. It’s not like Titania can really move like this!

My hands shake as I fumble with the latches of my clutch. If there were ever a moment to argue for pockets in dresses, it would be while fumbling with one’s purse to find one’s phone in the middle of a god damn emergency! I finally get the clutch open, snatch my phone, and dial. I hold Titania’s hand tightly, encouraging her to keep pressure on her wound.

I don’t know what else to do. My Taekwondo instructor always said there were only two ways to deal with a gun: moving towards it or away from it. Can’t really move away from a gun in an enclosed space like this, and there isn’t enough cover between me and the shooter to really make trying to get the jump on him viable. Plus, Titania’s hit. Someone needs to stay with her so she doesn’t bleed out if she falls unconscious.

What if the shooter hits someone else? What if he hits Terry? Or one of Titania and Terry’s moms? Or Ai and Kate?

All I can do is hold my phone and whisper the details of our situation to the 911 operator. Yes we’re in Boring, no this isn’t a joke, yes we need an ambulance, yes there is a gun on site—can’t he hear the gunshots? I peek around the corner of our table when there’s a pause in the shots. Is he reloading? Moving towards us? My glance affords me a view of Clayton moving into the room, the cylinder of his revolver open to reload. This would be the perfect time to rush him… If only I was behind that table he just walked by instead of perfectly in front of him and not wearing heels. Talk about a suicide mission paired with a death trap!

Izzy pops up from behind the table as if she had just read my mind. She flanks him from behind, grabs the shooter’s wrist with both of her hands, and brings it heavily down over her ascending knee. He screams and drops the gun, which Izzy promptly kicks away. Then she knees him in the groin, drops him to the ground, and kicks him again. “No one shoots at my kids,” she bellows, her voice having gone baritone and gruff. “Not even the by-extension ones!” She kicks him one more time. “And especially not on their wedding day!” Clayton goes limp like he’s passed out. Izzy slaps him across the face. He doesn’t flinch or react. Good. I hope he stays under for a long, long time. “Someone call 911!” she orders.

I sigh, relieved and conflicted as people scramble. Don’t worry, Izzy, we’ve already got someone on the way. I just hope they get here in time to save you from having to go through anything else today.

Titania whimpers and says, “Was that Momma?”

“Yeah, yeah, it was.” I hold her hand tighter. “See, it’s okay now. Everything’s going to be okay. You’re going to be just fine.”

She nods, biting her lip, holding her stomach.

All I can hear is the raggedness of her breathing.

God, I hope it doesn’t stop.

People start popping up from behind their tables as it becomes apparent the danger has passed.

“Kate?” Ai screams.

Kate pops up, looking dazed, her hair mussed, the spindly decorative veil she was wearing horribly askew. Her mother stands next to her, looking bright-eyed and defensive. “I’m okay,” she says. She sounds tired.

“Oh, thank god you’re not dead!” Ai blubbers. She runs to Kate and grabs her. She showers Kate with kisses, touching her face, her hair, her arms, her waist—like she’s checking Kate over for injuries and can’t get enough of touching her all at once. Finally, she sets her hands on either side of Kate’s face and touches her forehead to Kate’s. “I’m going to love you forever, okay?”

Kate gives her a small smile and nuzzles her nose. “Okay.”

Kate’s mother stands next to them, looking at the wreckage of her husband’s body. A couple others around the room mirror her over other crumpled bodies on the floor. Others are on their phones, still others treating wounds or grazes—everyone in their own personal story of what just happened.

I’m no different.

“See, Titania?” I turn back to her and squeeze her hand, trying to rouse her, get her talking, keep her with me. I picture Ai and Kate’s relief instead of the hollow expression of Kate’s mother in my mind. “You were right about happy endings. Kate and Ai are bulletproof.” Unlike Titania herself. I keep holding her hand. I’ve never felt so powerless.

“Thank you, momma bear,” I hear Ida say. “Not sure what would have happened if you hadn’t taken that asshole down.”

“I hate having to resort to such things,” Izzy sniffs, her voice back in place.

“I know it makes you feel unfeminine,” Ida says. The gentleness in her voice is so kind. “But everything you do will always be ladylike in my book. Besides, better to bring down the piece of human garbage that thinks it’s okay to shoot people at someone’s wedding. People who think they’re owed something in situations like this stand against the standards of decorum anyway, I think.”

Ida’s resolute delivery gets Izzy to laugh a little, her voice finally losing the last of the tense, adrenaline spiked gruffness from before.

I hear some shuffling and the creak of wood, like more tables are being turned over. Another voice I recognize cuts through the air.

“Alexis?!”

Terry.

I don’t want him to find me. I don’t want him to see what’s happening next to me. I don’t want to see him see it.

“H-here,” I rasp.

I don’t stand, I don’t move. I don’t want to jostle Titania. I don’t know what that could do to her. Do people survive stomach wounds? How much of the shit they tell me on TV procedurals is true? Fuck, I’ll never not do my homework when writing again.

I hear someone crashing through the room. Terry almost trips over me as he spins around our table. He sinks to the floor, breath flowing out of him like a river of relief. His arms grasp me, his forehead presses against my shoulder.

He hasn’t seen Titania yet.

If I could just will him to stay there, if I could just stop time and steal a time-traveling DeLorean or a noisy blue police box, something to let me rewrite the past…

The distant sound of sirens breaks into the room, growing louder with each passing second.

I hope it’s not too late.

“Terry,” I murmur.

“Shut up, don’t say anything, just, just hold me.”

I drop my phone and bring my free hand up to caress his face.

“Terry, I need you to help me.”

His eyes jump to my face. I didn’t think I was blocking so much of Titania with my body, but he still hasn’t seen. He scooches back and runs his eyes over me, and the strangled sound that comes out of his mouth…

“Y-you’re bleeding,” he says. “Where…?”

Wait, what?

I look down. There’s a smear of blood down my leg. And for a minute, I think I just haven’t felt it—that the adrenaline kicked in like it always does and I’ve just been sitting here, holding onto Titania with a gunshot wound of my own.

But, no. There’s no pain. No pressure aside from that of Titania’s hand.

Oh, fuck me, thank god, it’s just my period. First day, first tampon, four hours and I’m bleeding through, whatever. At least, I’m not dying.

“No. No, I’m okay. That’s not what—” I choke. Tears cloud my vision. I can’t even say it, like saying it will make it true. I drop my head and bite my lip and suck in a breath. “Terry, look behind me,” I sob. I press a hand over my mouth, feeling sick. I squeeze my eyes shut. I wish I could close my ears.

I hear him see her.

It’s horrible.

“No…” he whispers.

“Dumb, right?” Titania manages. “I thought—oh, ah… I always thought people were supposed to deal with these sorts of things during the ‘or forever hold your peace’ section of the ceremony.”

She gives a breathy laugh.

Oh, she’s so strong. She’s so marvelous. Cracking jokes even now.

The pressure of her fingers on mine is slipping.

“Y-you’ll have to get bodyguards for that part of the ceremony next time,” Terry responds.

“Someone called for 911?” a voice bellows over the noise of the room.

“Oh, wow, they got here fast. That’s good,” I hear Ida say. “Better get the brides check—”

I raise my hand and wave. “Here! Over here! Please, she’s been hit in the stomach.”

I hear Izzy gasp.

Footsteps. Lots of them.

“Mom…” Terry says.

“Hi, Momma,” Titania says. “You okay?”

Her voice is so quiet…

“Where exactly is she hit?”

I open my eyes. A medic swims into focus.

“Lower right abdomen. I don’t think the bullet hit any internal organs because she—” I stop to clear my throat, the words getting stuck in it. “B-because she hasn’t bled out yet…”

The medic gives a curt nod and gestures to someone out of my line of sight. “Bring me the gurney, and our heavy lifters.” She bends down to take a closer look at Titania. “This is going to hurt, but I’m going to have to press on your stomach.”

Titania nods. Her fingers curl against mine, bracing herself. She screams when the medic presses. “I know, I know,” she says. “Shh, it’s going to be okay.”

None of us ever know, though, do we?

I hold on to Titania’s hand and tell her the same thing. It doesn’t matter if it’s true. It will be, or it won’t matter to her much longer.

Either way, I want her to believe it.

The other medics come back with the gurney.

“Miss.” The medic touches my wrist. “I know you want to help, but we’re going to need you to let go of her hand now.”

I squeeze Titania’s hand one more time. She returns the squeeze and smiles at me. “Don’t worry,” she says. “Everything’s going to be okay. Bulletproof happy endings, right?”

I sniff and wipe my tears. “Right.” I let go of her.

They transfer her to the gurney. The medic looks at the four of us and says, “We’ve got room for one family member in the ambulance…”

I step back immediately. Ida and Izzy look at their son. Terry steps forward.

“Okay,” the medic says. “No time to waste.”

The medics set off for the ambulance, and Terry whirls. He presses his keys into my hand. “This one’s the house key,” he says, singling one of the keys out. “I don’t know how long this is going to take…”

“I’ll take care of your things, don’t worry.”

He blinks. “Yes. That. Thanks. But, no.” He kisses me. Oh, yeah, that’s right. Battle Mode Alexis is kind of insensitive.

He draws back. “I love you. I was scared I wouldn’t get to tell you a second ago. I’ll see you on Wednesday.”

He squeezes me again, and then he’s gone.

I stand there in the middle of a murder scene with a house key, lost.

Ida’s hand comes down on my shoulder and I jump. I give her a bewildered look, but it doesn’t shake her steady expression. Izzy stands next to her, biting her lip with tears in her eyes. Ida’s face may look put together, but the way she grips Izzy’s hand says otherwise. Either way, Ida’s keeping it together better than either of us.

“You’re welcome to ride with us to the hospital after the police are done questioning us,” Ida says gently.

“Y-you just met me today,” I say.

“True, but where would my daughter be without your quick thinking?”

Just as likely to die, probably.

I clutch Terry’s key. “N-no. I should go home. This… this feels like a family thing, and I told Terry I’d look after things.”

I can feel Ida watching me. She knows there’s more, doesn’t she?

“I don’t want him to have to worry about me too,” I murmur.

She nods and drops her hand from my shoulder.

“Come on, Izzy. Let’s go see what the boys in blue have to ask us.”

Izzy sobs audibly. “You know there’s not just boys on the police—”

Ida smiles at her. “I knew that would get you to talk to me.”

Izzy leans against her spouse. Ida holds her as Izzy shakes with muffled crying.

I should give them some space. Their daughter is so badly hurt. I have no idea what that feels like. I don’t want to fuck up with someone’s grief again. The police have set up by the entrance to the room, and the medical team by the refreshments table. I take a deep breath. Okay, let’s take things in order; first to switch my tampon, then to talk to the police. I start off in the direction of the foyer.

“Alexis,” Ida calls.

I stop and turn back. She smiles at me over Izzy’s shoulder.

“We’ll insist that you come to Titania’s recovery party when this is all over.”

I nod and give her a small wave of farewell. “It was nice to meet you.”

Then I turn the attention back to the key in my hand. His house key and his car key both sit in my palm, geeky keychain of reference-which-I-have-yet-to-figure-out next to them. I think one of these is his office key at the studio. I sigh and make my way to the bathroom.

You never know how things like this will change a person.

I hope he’s still the same man that gave me these keys when he comes back.

 

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