The Second Season
Parental Advisory Rating: L, AC
Break out those V-Chips, everyone!
Created, Produced, Directed and Written:
Fanatic and TNovan
Episode Eighteen: I Do, I Do
Im holding on to Kels for dear life. Another fine Kingsley wedding tradition is about to come up and bite me in the ass. While Kels gets to go out for an evening with my brothers, Im doomed to an evening with my sisters. Im gonna get grilled and shes gonna go party.
There is no damn justice in this life.
"You be good!" I tease her, tweaking her nose. Its so cute. Shes so cute. "I know what happens when you go out. You either get arrested or you get pregnant."
She laughs at the comment, running her hands up my arms, linking them behind my neck. "Well, I promise not to get pregnant again. Though I believe its biologically impossible considering my current condition. And Ill do my best to keep from getting arrested."
"I wont come bail you out again." Ill never forget the distressed look on her face that night I bailed her out in Los Angeles. The joke was on Beth, though. I won, I won, I won. "Ill let you stay there this time. I swear, I will."
"Like I buy that for one minute." She leans up and gives me a long kiss. I hear myself moan and I wonder again why Im letting her go out. There are so many other better things we could be doing with our evening. I mean, we wont be able to spend tomorrow night together thanks to my lovely bride-to-bes irritation with me last week.
"Okay!" Robies voice booms in my ear. "Enough of the mushy stuff. Let go of the blonde there, Kingsley, and no one has to get hurt."
"Bite me!" I snarl at him and cuddle Kels closer because I can.
"Nah, Kels told me you taste like chicken."
It takes all of my self-control to not completely lose it with his comeback. My brother is a nut. God knows I love him for it. I look down at Kels, who has buried her face in my shoulder.
"I swear I said nothing," she mutters.
I dont believe her for a minute, but in the interest of marital bliss Ill let it slide. "Well, you can go out and tell them anything you like." I unwrap her arms from my neck and hand her off to Robie. "But dont blame me if by morning our sisters know far more about you than youd like." I allow myself a smug grin. "Including, but not limited to, where you have a certain cute, little tattoo."
"Kels!" Robie looks inordinately pleased at this thought. Hes always loved bad girls in good girls clothing. "You have a tattoo?"
"Its a birthmark," she protests, glaring at me. Tough nuts, baby, you started this with the chicken comment.
"Oh, sure it is," Robie snickers. "Tattoo, birthmark, whatever it is, it sounds like its in a fun place." He studies my girls ass. No doubt wishing he had X-ray vision to see through her jeans.
I smack him upside the head. "It is, but its not for you to see." I cross my arms over my chest and give him my best intimidating look, leaving no doubt as to where said birthmark is located.
"Harper!" Kels is turning four shades of red, all at the same time. Its an interesting effect.
"Come on, Kels," Robie offers her his arm. "Let me take you out and show you a good time." He winks at her. "The Conspiracy has quite the evening planned for your lady and its not gonna be pretty, so lets get while the getting is good."
"Good idea, Robie, my dear." Kels wrinkles her nose at me and sticks her tongue out.
"Dont make promises you wont keep," I tease, giving her a swat on the butt as she and Robie walk out the front door.
I stand there for a moment. Its the calm before the storm. I know that instinctively. Then I hear Renes voice behind me. "Oh, Harper! Why dont you come in here and join us?"
My head drops. The storm has begun.
The first time Ive ever been invited into the kitchen and its for this. Oh God, Ive lost my mind. Slowly, I turn and head into the lair of the Kitchen Conspiracy. I know how spies feel when theyre about to be interrogated. No, I take that back. Id rather be a spy. It wouldnt be as ruthless an inquisition awaiting me in that case.
From the doorway I see them. Theyre all seated on one side of the table, hands folded in front of them, looking at me. They would make the perfect Senate subcommittee.
Mama and Papa went over to Gerrard and Katherines tonight to watch all the younger kids and leave the house empty for the Conspiracy to do their thing. I wonder if I can sue them for mental cruelty.
Rachel gestures to the solitary chair on the other side of the table. "Have a seat, Harper. This wont hurt."
"Much," Katherine adds, sipping from a glass of wine.
* * *
Robie leads me out to the waiting Lincoln Navigator, Gerrards family car. Gerrard, Jean and Lucien are already inside and rocking out to a Zydeco band. Zydeco is an acquired taste, requiring an affinity for accordion music I dont quite have yet. There is, however, something contagiously fun about the way the four Kingsley brothers croon their hearts out along with the tunes. This should be a fun night.
I climb into the back seat and am settled between Jean and Robie. Gerrard twists around in the front seat. "Chér tit chou, are you ready?"
Im being called a dear little darling. I doubt if Im quite ready for that. Nor do I am think Im quite ready for whatever these four have planned, but, hell, Im game. Besides, this is only going to happen once in my lifetime. "Ready for what?" I may as well try to get information.
"Ooo la la, wouldnt you like to know?" Robie replies, sliding his arm around my shoulders.
"Harper said if I get arrested she wont bail me out." I figure I should bring this up.
The brothers burst out laughing. "Chér, by the time the Conspiracy is finished with her, we might be bailing Harper Lee out. Now, laisse les bons temps rouler!"
With whoops and hollers, we pull out of the driveway and head toward the French Quarter to let the good times roll.
* * *
I know I am in big trouble the moment the tequila bottle is placed on the table.
None of my brothers bothered to mention to me that this is some sort of a twisted drinking game the sisters came up with. While theyre grilling you on your intentions, theyre giving you booze. A single shot for every right answer and a double for every wrong answer.
Tonight, theyve decided to do this somewhat in the form of that friggen game show Regis Philbin has been hosting. So, I get asked asinine questions and have lifelines I can use for help. Someone needs to kick Regis ass all the way down Broadway. As I look at the shot in my hand, I consider doing just that when I get back to New York.
"So, Harper." Rene smirks at me, clearly enjoying herself far too much at my expense. "Drink up so we can move on to the mechanical skills portion of our quiz."
I set the glass back down and take the lime out of my mouth. I grin at Rene in a way that is a bit inappropriate. Its her own fault for getting me buzzed. "And what kind of mechanical skills would you like me to demonstrate for you, Rene?" I leer across the table at her.
I am quite proud of myself when she blushes and looks away. I still got it.
"This look familiar?" Elaine holds up the blindfold. Dammit, Kels. Whatever possessed you to give it to them, of all people?
"Oh shit!" I groan. "Now be nice."
Rachel laughs, getting up and moving around the table. I watch her retrieve the blindfold as she comes around. "We are nice, Harper Lee. Were the nicest bunch of women youll ever meet." She slides the blindfold into place. "You will have to do this three times tonight. This is the first time. We expect you to get it right every time."
Rachel takes over, I hear them moving around the room doing God knows what. Be strong, Harper. Its just the Kitchen Conspiracy. "You got a nice buzz going, dont you, Harper?"
"Im stone cold sober." Okay, thats a bit of a stretch but Ill never admit it.
"Sure." Rene chuckles in my ear. Oh man. I shake my head, trying to dislodge the air she just deposited there. She takes my hands and places them on the table. I feel something being placed between them. What in the hell?
"Heres the deal," Katherine explains, clearly enjoying herself. "Theres a baby and a diaper on the table. Change it."
"Youre joking, right?" Please, Lord, tell me they arent so insane as to put Geoffrey or Clark up here as a sacrificial lamb.
"Nope. Its a scientific fact that being awakened from a sound sleep to change a babys diaper can be just like trying to do it drunk and blindfolded," Elaine tells me, placing the diaper in my hand.
"We need to know your limits. We have to tell Kelsey when its not safe to let you deal with the babies." Rene guides my other hand to the baby. I can tell from the first touch, its a doll. Thank God for that.
* * *
We park the Navigator and enter The Bistro at Maison de Ville. Gerrard is obviously well known here and we are immediately shown to a corner table. The Bistro is a small dining room with maroon leather banquets, dark woodwork and jewel-toned paintings. The effect is understated but not minimalist. I sink into the leather bench, still sandwiched between two Kingsleys.
Gerrard orders a bottle of Vieilles Vignes from the vineyards of Hubert Lignier Morey-Saint-Denis. The wine steward murmurs his approval and leaves to retrieve the bottle from the wine cellar. It sounds wonderful, but, I cant imbibe for another six months or so.
"So, Kelsey, what makes a nice girl like you want to get involved with Harper?" Robie asks mildly. "I mean, surely you had better offers."
I give him a look, trying to discern how serious he is. Hes just like my partner and cant hide anything. Clearly, hes playing with me. "She just looked so damn good on her bike."
The brothers laugh. "I have a bike," Lucien informs me.
Jean throws a wadded up napkin at his younger brother. "She doesnt mean a mountain bike, Luc." He runs a hand over his unshaven jaw. "Do you really know what youre getting into by marrying Harper?"
"Other than a big clan of Cajuns?"
"And one wicked Kitchen Conspiracy," Gerrard adds.
"Why dont you tell me?" This should be interesting.
"Well, shes grumpy in the morning," Jean tells me unnecessarily.
"And she tends to have trouble follow her around. And Im not talking about that damn, lazy cat she pawned off on Mama, either," Luc supplies.
Robie shrugs. "The police have been involved in the past."
"She was barred from every sorority at Tulane," Gerrard tells me.
That I didnt know. But, its understandable. Frat boys have nothing on her in the corrupting of innocents. Wish I had gone to Tulane. I would have liked that kind of education.
"Sounds like she fits right in with the rest of you." I lean back and fold my arms over my chest, enjoying the looks of shock on their faces. I wont bite. If they want to get me riled up, theyre gonna have to do a lot better than this.
* * *
I must have done okay with the first diaper the doll drill because I only had to drink one shot, but they took the evidence away before I could see it.
"Whats Kels favorite color?" Elaine asks, looking up from a clipboard full of questions.
"Whats Kels favorite color?" she repeats, pouring me another shot.
It occurs to me that I have no damn idea. This is bad on a multitude of levels.
Rachel hands me my cell phone. "Wanna use a lifeline?"
Yup, Im gonna kick Regis ass.
I take the phone and flip it open, staring at it for a second. I realize Im getting drunk. I try to hold back the laughter as I attempt to remember what Robies speed dial is on my phone. I only talk to him every damn day.
Rene leans over my shoulder and presses the button for me. I place the phone to my ear, turning my head to look at her. I grin stupidly, the alcohol doing a number of me. Her perfume is very nice. Its definitely a good thing Im
"Stanton," her voice rings in my ear.
Holy Shit! Thats not Robie.
"Hello?" she says again. I hear all my brothers laughing in the background. The bastards.
"Hi ya, baby. Whats your favorite color?" Hopefully shell just blurt it out and I can end this damn game sometime in this millennium.
"You mean you dont know?" She laughs in my ear.
I drop my head. "Chér, please " I am not above begging at this point. The rate Im going, Im gonna have a hangover for a week.
"Give the phone to Rene, Tabloid."
"Kels, honey "
"Give the phone to Rene."
"Please dont make me."
"Now, Tabloid." Well, at least shes laughing.
I hand the phone over to Rene who walks away from the table, taking the call in the privacy of a corner. Oh man, Im in trouble all ready.
I hear her snap the phone shut. She returns to me and pours a double, then a single on top of that. "Penalty shot." She slides the third shot in front of me, then says, "Forrest Green. Try to remember that, Champ."
Like Ill remember anything considering how loaded Im getting.
* * *
We have moved our little party from The Bistro over to Jackson Square. In the warmth of the summer evening, a number of the fortune tellers and artists remain outside. We wander around until we find one the boys want to patronize.
This medium is an extra extra large. A man of considerable girth, swathed in a purple robe, a gold turban and more jewelry than is tasteful. He is sitting behind a folding table on a folding chair that looks like it might collapse at any moment. Laid in front of him are an assortment of cards and crystals.
Gerrard pushes me down into the chair across from the seer. My brothers line up in a wall around me.
The medium looks at me and smiles pleasantly, ignoring the intimating force behind me. "Welcome. What would you like to know?"
"The future. What does it hold for me?"
"A question that all of us ponder." He picks up the tarot deck and shuffles it. Once satisfied it is reordered, he deals out nine cards, in a cross and triangle pattern. He points to the card at the center of the cross. "This card is The Lovers, and it represents you. Right now, the prime energy in your life is directed toward love. This card," he points to the one above The Lovers, "represents the influences on your thoughts. This is the card of Strength. You are a woman of courage."
"Damn straight," Robie agrees, squeezing my shoulders. "Shes marrying my sister." The brothers guffaw.
The medium smiles, having just earned several free bits of information about me he can use. "This one," he indicates the card to the right of the cross, "is The Hierophant. It tells me that marriage and alliance are impacting your emotions right now." Well, Ill be damned. Look at that. "And this one," the card at the bottom of the cross, "is The Sun. It tells me that happiness and contentment are the dominant forces on your emotions right now. Finally, this card, the Empress tells me that you are taking charge and growing in your spiritual life." Hmm, that sounds more like Harper at this point, but, I suppose its true.
My cell phone rings, startling me. I had forgotten I had it clipped on to my belt. Shit. I hope its not the station. I dont want to deal with the real world. "Stanton." I listen to silence. "Hello?"
"Bet its Harper using a lifeline," Robie says, causing the boys to erupt into laughter again.
"Hi ya, baby," Harper says, her voice a little full of liquor. "Whats your favorite color?"
I shake my head. Poor thing. Shes stumped on such an early question. My darlin spouse is going to be very drunk before the night is over. "You mean you dont know?"
"Chér, please," she whines.
I need to make sure theyre treating her all right. My girl normally doesnt sound this desperate. Unless Im doing things to her. No one better be touching her or theyll have me to deal with. "Give the phone to Rene, Tabloid."
"Kels, honey "
"Give the phone to Rene."
"Please dont make me."
I almost lose it with that plea. I want to go home and rescue her from the Conspiracy. I might have to start calling them the Coven after tonight. "Now, Tabloid."
"Hi, Kels. Having fun with the boys?" Rene asks once shes on the line.
"You be careful with Harper. I want her in one piece and able to stand for the wedding."
"Dont worry. Well return her intact. Mostly."
The line goes dead. Hmm we might have to go home early. I put the cell phone back in its place and smile apologetically at the medium. "Im sorry. Please go on."
* * *
We have progressed past the second diaper the baby test and Im definitely feeling the effects of the tequila. I know I screwed up because I had to do two shots.
"Okay, Harper Lee!" Elaine consults the clipboard once again. She shows the next question to Rachel who begins laughing and nodding. "Kelseys favorite sexual position."
"What about it?" I puff up my chest a little on this one. This is an area I feel very confident in. Drunk or not. Ive certainly never had any complaints.
"What is it?"
If it werent for the tequila courage coursing through my veins, I would slip under the table with that question. God damn, have they no shame? But all things being equal, I sit up straight in my chair. "Any one that involves me."
Rachel looks down at a paper in front of her. "Thats not what it says here."
"What!" I explode, getting up and leaning over the table, straining to get a glimpse of it.
She folds the paper over so I cant see this answer. She shows me a previously asked question and answer. Thats my girls handwriting. Oh Kels, how could you do this to me?
Katherine slides the phone over to me again. "Wanna call her?"
You know somehow I think being dead ass drunk and wanting to discuss favorite sexual positions on a cell phone doesnt sound like a good idea. Especially when shes out with my brothers.
"Well?" Katherine prompts again.
"Cant I just take a penalty shot?" Or four. Anything to avoid his call.
"Nope. You have to ask first, at least," Rene tells me, flipping the phone open and dialing before handing it off to me.
"Baby, what are you trying to do to me?"
"Me? Im not even there, Tabloid." She sounds so innocent. Im not fooled.
"You left notes."
"No, they asked me questions and I answered them."
"Well, theres a particular question I wish you had left blank."
"From the sound of you," she observes, "there were several I should have left blank. Which one are we talking about right now, Tabloid?"
"The sex one."
"Which sex question?"
I look at my sisters, sitting across from my with grins on their faces from ear to ear. "Mother of Christ, whats wrong with you people?" I lower my voice for Kels. "Favorite position."
She gives me the answer. I cant say that to my sisters. I dont care how drunk I am.
* * *
We are now settled in Preservation Hall. The cover is a ridiculously low five dollars a head. So, now its confirmed that the Kingsley men are cheap dates. Im glad Im marrying their sister. Harper knows how to show a girl a good time.
In every sense of the word.
I wish I were with her right now. And, I bet she wishes I were too.
The band is good, playing jazz, naturally. Robie leans over and hands me a list. "Weve been coming up with some names that we think would be appropriate for the babies."
"Im sure Harper explained that its traditional for the first born child to be named after one of our distinguished ancestors."
No, she didnt explain that. I glance down the list. For boys names, there are: Antoine, Pierre, Jean, Philonise, Herbert, and Xavier. For girls names, I find: Genevieve, Marie, Isabelle, Romain, Veronique, Desire and Marguerite. None are terrible. None will be chosen, however.
We havent even discussed names yet. I wonder if thats normal.
"I dont see Christian on this list." I crumple it up and hand it back to Robie.
My phone rings again.
Gerrard checks his watch and holds out his hand. "Pay up," he commands.
My poor dear had a bet made against her, I see.
I answer the phone and begin making my way through the benches to the far wall so as not to disturb people. I hate people who talk on their cell phones at concerts. "Stanton."
"Baby, what are you trying to do to me?"
My girl is toasted. "Me? Im not even there, Tabloid."
"You left notes," she accuses, her tone petulant.
God, they showed her them? I dodge, "No, they asked me questions and I answered them."
"Well, theres a particular question I wish you had left blank."
There can only be one question shes referring to. I was astounded that they asked me. And Im still not quite sure what possessed me to answer it. Oh well, no time for recriminations right now. "From the sound of you, there were several I should have left blank. Which one are we talking about right now, Tabloid?" I know, but I want to make her say it.
"The sex one," she whispers.
"Which sex question?" Come on, baby, say it. A little humility is good for the soul.
I hear her cup her hand over the phone and say something to the Conspiracy. She unmuffles it and comes back on the line with me. "Favorite position."
I feel heat suffuse my face with the question, even though I was expecting it. God, even when shes drunk, being badgered by her sisters, and utterly pitiful, she makes me hot. "Darlin, remember what you promised to do to me last week? The night Mama surprised you? Thats my favorite."
The line goes dead.
My poor baby. We should start heading back soon.
* * *
"Im particularly fond of this position!" Kels laughs, bouncing on the middle of the bed. I dont even remember how I got here last night. After that last question, which I refused to answer, I was forced to drink two penalty shots. Everything is a blur afterwards.
I uncover my very hungover head. The sun is way too bright this morning. Can we turn it down a notch or twenty? My darling wife is far too perky for me today. I see my brothers were far kinder to her than the Conspiracy was to me. I dont think Ill ever go into that kitchen ever again. They have effectively scared me out for life.
"Should I be worried, Tabloid?" Kels is holding up what must have been my third diaper the baby attempt. Okay, so the doll has a diaper on its head. We were on the second bottle of tequila at that point. Im lucky the damn diaper made it on the baby at all.
I groan and recover my head. "Go away," I grumble.
"Nope. I have my orders from Mama. She says youve slept long enough and its time to get up. She says if you dont get up willingly, shes gonna come up here. She said to remind you of how she would get Robie up when this would happen to him."
Oh, I remember that. She would run the vacuum cleaner and serve him a huge breakfast in bed, complete with very runny scrambled eggs to make him feel better. It wasnt pretty.
I throw the covers back. "Im up," I mumble and head for the shower.
* * *
I miss her. And Im so nervous about tomorrow, I cant sleep. Making Harper stay at Robies was a really bad idea. I hated saying goodnight to her after the rehearsal dinner earlier this evening. I could tell she wasnt thrilled either, but Mama was insistent.
Getting out of bed, I go out on the balcony and step into the night air. Its warm, with a gentle breeze carrying all the wonderful aromas of this place. I remember our walk in the garden below not two months ago after she proposed to me. Dont go there, Kels. Itll just make you more miserable.
"God, I miss you, Tabloid. I wish you were here." I lean on the railing and wonder if shes feeling the same way.
"Be careful what you wish for, chér." Her hand grabs hold of the beam and she pulls herself up, so her head pops over the edge. She gives me a brilliant smile, then begins hoisting herself over it.
I step back, offering a hand to steady her. "What are you doing here?" I whisper. Im delighted, but I have to ask.
"Spending the night with you."
"If Mama catches you "
"Youre a widow. Why do you think I came in this way? Im too damn big anymore to fit in the doggie door" She pulls me into her arms. "No way was I gonna spend the night away from you."
"For once, Im glad youre stubborn. And that's a buck, babe." I sigh contentedly, snuggling into her embrace. "Harper, are you nervous about tomorrow?"
"Good. Glad to know its not just me."
"Nope. This is whats known as the Mama Effect." She kisses the top of my head.
Im so glad shes here. "Lets go to bed." I tug her hand toward our room. "I dont want to risk you being seen out here."
* * *
Okay, I snuck in. So shoot me. Were already married.
This is silly. Its not like Im some teenager sneaking around.
Nope, Im a twenty-five year old sneaking around.
Still, this is nice. Im holding Kels in my arms, laying here relaxing. Were both so wound up about tomorrow, we cant sleep. We agreed to behave since Mama has ears like a bat. Id rather be making love to her as a means of stress relief, but, given the circumstances, this will do.
"Yes?" My lips graze her forehead as I breathe in the scent of her shampoo and perfume. She used the apple scented one this morning.
"I have something I really want to give you."
"Oh, Kels " How can she give me more than what she has already? Hell, she already gave me a plane. Our own private outlet of the Mile High Club.
"Shhh. Go with it." She gets out of bed, leaving my arms empty, and retrieves a box from the dresser. I dont feel better until she returns to me and resumes her prior position. "All the things in the world dont mean squat if you dont have someone to share them with. Even still, they are just things that can be replaced. But to find the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, who you want to raise children with Well, thats a once in a lifetime thing. You, Harper, can never be replaced in my heart."
"Kels " I brush back the hair from her eyes and stare into the color of spring and new beginnings.
"Let me finish." She places a gentle finger on my lips. "Once in a great while, there is a thing which actually cant be replaced because it serves to symbolize more than the sum of its parts. I have something like that and I think you should have it."
I cant even imagine what shes talking about, but I can tell its very important to her.
"Please take this. I want you to have it. I know when the time comes youll pass it on appropriately."
I take the box in one hand, reluctant to lose contact with my girl, and open the lid. Its her grandfathers pocket watch. I remember when she was given it in Texas last year. I dont know what to say to her.
She gently palms my cheek and kisses me. Sometimes you dont need words.
* * *
Well, this is it. This is definitely it. No stopping this roller coaster. No getting off. Oh, I think Im gonna be sick.
Rene must sense my distress. Shes at my side with a cold glass of water. "Kels, are you okay? Youre really a funny shade of green."
"It's not easy being green," I warble and take the water. Suddenly, I feel a little better. Guess I just needed something to take my mind off of this. "Yeah, Im fine. I didnt think Id be this nervous."
She nods understandingly. "Its perfectly normal."
"How much longer do we have?"
"Just a few minutes. The limo should be here soon to take us to our place."
"Good." I take another sip of water.
"My God, Kelsey, youre beautiful!" I look up to find my dad. He looks very handsome in his suit and is beaming. He moves across the room never taking his eyes off me. For the first time in my life, I really do feel like the proverbial apple of my fathers eye.
I smile when he stops in front of me. "Im glad you approve."
"Sweetheart, I always approved. I may not have always understood, but I always approved." He loops my arm through his. "The car is here. Are you ready?"
"As ready as I can be."
* * *
Papa claps me on the back as I stand to the side, waiting to make my appearance in the gazebo. I look out at the yard and see all of the Boudreaux family seated out there on my side. On Kels side are all of our friends who we invited. In the first row are Amanda and Claire. I gotta admit, Kels sister is cute as a bug. Im trying to decide if itll be weird if I try to get her and Clark hooked up later in life. That might freak my dear Kels out though.
In the second row are the Furies. I laugh at my own description of CJ, Susan and Beth. You had your shot at her and you blew it. But I didnt. Hell, no. I know a good thing when it comes along. And Im not so stupid as to let it slip through my fingers. So, sit back and enjoy the show. Foster is seated with them as well. I wonder. Dont go there, Harper. It doesnt matter who the damn fifth lover was. Because there will never be a sixth in Kels life if you have anything to say about it.
Behind them are my Los Angeles pals: Bear, Jims and Conrad. Jims hair is now tipped red. Someone needs to have a talk with that boy. Maybe Ill sic Brian on him. Brian and his date, Doug, are behind them. Kels assistant is nattily attired in a black suit and a vivid gold vest. Its as if he watched Four Weddings And A Funeral one too many times.
The next row contains my oldest friends Terry and Beth. Terry and I tore up Tulane together. When my brothers mentioned my being banned from all the sororities they neglected to mention it was all her fault. God only knows what she might pull at the reception. Beth and her partner Caroline Ive known since I was knee high to a gator. They are from the bayou as well. Our families go way back and technically Beth and I are related on some level.
I am pleased to see Drs. Solomon and Stern enter the backyard. I watch them get escorted to their seats by Gerrard and Lucien. Well, everyone we invited showed up. And, Mama was good and only invited family members for her part. I dont see anyone from her committee here which eases my anxiety greatly.
"How are you holding up, Harper?" Papa asks.
I smile. "Is it over yet?"
"Nope. But, soon. Remember not to lock your knees while youre up there. Otherwise, youll be flat on your face."
"Thanks, Papa. I appreciate the advice."
He shoves his hands into his pockets and leans back on his heels. "Can you stand a little more?" I nod and he continues. "Love her more than yourself every single day, no time off for good behavior. And tell her that fact daily. Never let anything become more important to you than her happiness, even your children. You keep the mother happy, the children will turn out just fine. Believe me, I speak from experience."
"And dont doubt yourself, Harper. You have good instincts. Im very proud of you."
"I love you, Papa."
"Me too, baby girl. Are you ready to meet your future?"
I glance around looking for Robie. I see him round the corner, Kam at his heels. Were set now. I bend down and adjust Kams bowtie. "You look even better than your Uncle Robie," I say loud enough for Robie to hear.
"Yeah, laugh it up. Lets go. Its that time."
* * *
Getting out of the car, the first thing I notice is how beautiful the house is. Damn, Rene, you should stop complaining about Robie. Youre doing all right. I sigh, straightening my dress and waiting for instructions. I basically told Rene I was turning my brain off and trusting her to point me in the right direction. Too much thought and Ill pass out.
I feel my dad take my hand, giving it a little squeeze to get my attention. He hands me a bouquet of flowers. White roses and babies breath. Tasteful. "Ready, baby?"
I simply nod.
He leads me around the side of the house to the garden. We arent going in yet, but I can see the grounds. Oh God. All of Harpers family and our friends are here. "Wheres Rene?" I stammer.
"Shes with the rest of the wedding party. Were getting ready to start." He pats my hand gently. "Relax, sweetheart, Ive got you."
I dont know why but I keep looking down. I think I need to focus on the fact there really is solid ground under my feet.
The string quartet begins playing and I watch all the sisters leave our little holding area. After Rene leaves, the music changes and Dad tugs on my hand. "Thats our cue, honey. Lets go."
And the journey begins.
I manage somehow to hold my head up. The smile on my face is real. Its there if for no other reason than I simply cant help it. The garden is magnificent and a beautiful place to get married. Its filled with new life and all the people we love and who love us.
Then my eyes lock on the gazebo. There. There they are, those blue eyes.
"Oh my God, shes beautiful," I whisper to my father, tightening my hold on his arm when I get a good look at Harper.
She is wearing the Armani with an ivory silk shell underneath which matches my dress. Her hair is loose but combed back. She is the most stunning creature I have ever laid my eyes on. My stomach slowly rises back from where it dropped when I first saw her.
I know this is important to my father so I hope he isnt disappointed by the fact I simply cant take my eyes off her. Im barely aware of when he finally stops, gives me a kiss on the cheek and leaves me staring into her face.
* * *
I really hope no one ever asks me about the wedding. And I am suddenly grateful to Mama for hiring both a videographer and a photographer. I know for sure I wont recall a single thing.
Im standing in the gazebo, Robie on one side, Kam on the other. The family priest is here too. I watch as my brothers escort their wives down the aisle and take their places around us. I dont pay any real attention to them. It registers somewhere in my brain that they all look nice. What theyre wearing, I have no idea. Clothing.
Kels is an entirely different matter. Its like she stepped into a spill of sunlight, she is so illuminated in my eyes. Ive never been one much for dresses or describing them but somehow I suddenly know. I know its an ivory silk taffeta floor length slim dress with a scoop neck top and three-quarter sleeves. I am a fashion Rain Man.
And now shes here, looking at me with the sweetest expression on her face. You would think this is the first time Im marrying her the way I feel. Id be a total wreck if we hadnt done the ceremony in New Mexico, I fear. Im glad Papa told me not to lock my knees.
I think I just shook Matts hand and agreed to something. What it was, I have no idea. I offer my empty hand to Kels. She takes it and I lead her up the steps and to our spot in front of the priest. Kam settles down in front of her.
Kels gives me an amused look. "A very dapper dog."
I shrug. "Its a big day."
The priest gives us our moment, knowing it is more to calm our raging hearts than anything else. Due to the churchs opposition to our lifestyle, hes not doing the standard ceremony, but one the three of us agreed on earlier. "Harper and Kelsey, today you make a giant step of courage and commitment to communicate love, understanding and growth. When a commitment this strong is made by two people, the force of that commitment, of that love, of that courage, reaches out and touches all of us around you, so that our lives are changed and we share a part of your love. Like a stone dropped in a still pond, the ripples of the love from this celebration extend and change the world we live in for the better."
I dont think Ive ever noticed before how many different shades of color there are in my girls eyes. Theres green and gold and a hint of blue.
"At this time, your family and your friends wish for you a home, not a place of stone and wood, but an island of peace, a place from which you will receive strength and support that stays and carries with you throughout your daily lives. It should never be said of either of you that you show more concern for a friend than you do for each other. More kindness, gentleness, and concern needs to be shown in the privacy of your own home than anywhere else. Indeed, your home should be a haven from all the confusion and craziness the world will create."
Her hair is beautiful too. I like it better cut shorter. I dont know quite why. It seems sexier, more mature. I like the way it pours through my hands when I caress it. The softness of it against my skin when we make love. The smell of it when I snuggle next to her in my sleep.
"You are now taking into your care and keeping the happiness of the one person in all the world whom you love best. You are adding to your life not only the affection of each other, but also the companionship and blessing of a deep trust as well. You are agreeing to share strength, responsibilities and to share love. I require and charge you both to remember that love and trust alone will be the foundation of a happy and enduring home. No other human ties are more tender, no other vows are more sacred than those you now assume."
Kels thumb strokes the back of my hand, raising goose bumps along my arm. What she can do to me with a simple touch. I run mine across her palm and thoroughly enjoy the reaction is gets me. I listen to the priest for a moment to see if its possibly time for me to kiss her.
Doesnt sound like it. Damn.
"For what greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined for life - to strengthen each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent, unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting?"
Her lips are slightly parted and she is wearing a beautiful shade of lipstick. I want to kiss her. Wrap this up or Im just gonna cut to the chase.
"So, I have a question to ask both of you: will you both love, comfort and honor, keeping each other forever more?"
We are so engrossed in one another that neither of us realize weve been asked a question until Robie snaps his fingers in front of my face.
The audience laughs. I think I even hear Mama laughing.
I blink and clear my thoughts for a moment. "Yes," I reply, not knowing what Im agreeing to. I hope its not giving up our firstborn or something awful like that.
The priest looks at Kels who readily agrees as well. Ill have to ask her what we agreed to later. If she even knows.
I see Robie and Rene both hand something over to the priest and I figure it must be the ring part of the ceremony.
"Let these rings symbolize the devotion and commitment each holds for the other. These rings, given in love, are a testimony to all who bear witness that Harper and Kelsey are truly joined together on this day. Repeat after me: with this ring I pledge to you my deepest love and devotion."
I take the simple platinum band I bought to go with her engagement ring and I slide it onto Kels hand, proud of myself for not dropping it. I then add the engagement ring to it, having been given it by Kels for safekeeping yesterday. Once both rings are safely on her hand, I kiss it.
I try to hold my hand steady while she slides my wedding band on. No big screw ups, Kingsley. Just a few more minutes and this is all over with. Remember to breathe. Passing out is not an option here.
"Harper and Kelsey, we have all heard you promise to share your lives together. We respect the covenant you have made. It is not the state or a minister standing before you that makes your commitment real, but rather the honesty and sincerity of your love for one another. On behalf of all present, I acknowledge that you are joined in the eyes of God and your families." He pauses for a long moment, knowing what I want to hear and teasing me. "Vous pouvez embrasser la mariée."
Does everyone suck up to Mama?
Well, its not going to stop me from kissing my bride. I slide my arms around Kels and pull her close. "You make my dreams come true," I whisper and kiss her.
Okay, I understand now why Mama wanted a formal wedding.
* * *
Im holding onto Harper, relaxing. Were off in a corner, alone finally, for a moment before the party starts. When I open my eyes, I see Harper looking at her ring.
"Regrets?" I ask softly, rubbing my cheek against her shoulder.
"Oh no." She gives me a kiss on top of my head. "Ill never take it off, Kels. Its a part of me now, just like you are and the babies. Im very proud of it."
"Hey, you two!" Robie finds our hiding space and comes charging in. "We cant start this party without you."
"Why not? Youve started plenty of other parties without me." Harper hugs me even closer as she teases Robie. I am perfectly content here myself.
"Because, you dork, youre the guests of honor at this one." He gestures to the garden. "Everyone is waiting for you."
"Tell them we eloped." I chuckle.
Harper snickers along with me, knowing the truth behind that comment.
"Come on, you two. If I go back without you, Mama will have my hide." In another family, that would be an exaggeration. In ours, its the simple truth.
"Shall we take pity on the poor boy?" Harper looks down at me with an evil gleam in her eye.
"Sure." But first I kiss her lingeringly, a promise for later. I dont want her to get too involved with the reception. I have plans.
Once were back in the garden, people surround us. Thank God, we didnt do this inside. My claustrophobia would definitely be getting to me. Papa stands on the gazebo steps and gets everyones attention with one of his piercing whistles. I dont know how that man hits that note. It hurts my teeth to even think about it. "To get this party started properly the newly married couple will have the first dance together."
I can live with that. Harpers lips are close to my ear. "I chose the music for this. I hope you dont mind."
"I trust you, Tabloid."
"Good." Harper takes me by the hand and leads me to the center of the dance floor thats been set up under a tent alongside the house. She nods to the DJ whos been hired and the music starts up right away.
I sigh and sink into her when I hear the opening notes. She knows its one of my favorite songs. And its perfect for this day. As we begin to move with the music, I pull back so I can watch her face.
After your laughter like thunder
After you skin like coffee and cream
After it takes our bodies into the night
After weve come to the extreme
I want to lay down on your shoulder
Just inside your arm
I want to listen to your heart beat
And your breathing on and on
I want to lay down on your shoulder
Surrender to your peace
And go to sleep
God, she is beautiful, just like this song. It is everything I want in my life with her.
After weve gone a million miles
Made true our dreams with sweat and bone
After weve built it up with our bare hands
Made strong a place we can call home
I want to lay down on your shoulder
Just inside your arm
I want to listen to your heart beat
And your breathing on and on
I want to lay down on your shoulder
Surrender to your peace
And go to sleep
I want to build a home and a family and a life with this person. I want her forever and ever in my life.
And when the light in my eye is fading
When running water becomes too deep
Finally angels turn my fire to dust
And when my souls no longer mine to keep
I want to lay down on your shoulder
Just inside your arm
I want to listen to your heart beat
And your breathing on and on
I want to lay down on your shoulder
Surrender to your peace
And go to sleep
And just go to sleep
This is where I start crying every time. Even though I dont ever want to think of us as being apart, when my time comes, I want her there. I want her to be the last thing I see, because she was the first thing in my life I ever really saw.
As the music ends, she pulls me close again and we stand there for a moment, lost in each others arms. The music starts up again and the party begins around us. Suddenly, I have a twinge and I pull back from her and run a hand across my stomach.
"Kels!" The concern is very clear in her voice and I know she thinks something is horribly wrong. "Honey, talk to me."
I look up and smile, forcing the words from my lips. "I felt the babies move."
* * *
The song ends and chaos erupts around us. I think about sixty of my relatives rush onto the dance floor. We go from a nice, slow romantic song to "Whatever Boils Your Crawfish" by Jimmy C. Newman. I am about to invite Kels to two step with me, when she clutches her stomach.
Oh God! The babies! "Kels, honey, talk to me!"
She looks up at me with wonder in her eyes. "I felt the babies move."
"Theyre okay, right? Youre okay?" Someone bumps into me as they dance by. I ignore them. Were not moving from here until I know my family is all right.
Kels hastens to reassure me, her smile brightening by degrees. "Were fine. They moved." She clutches my hand tightly. "I felt them. I never felt them before." She looks like she might cry at any moment. "They moved," she whispers.
I have never been as jealous as I am right now. I drop to my knees and press my ear against her stomach, trying to hear them. I hear a gurgle, but I think its Kels breakfast and not my children.
Kels doubles over laughing, tugging me back up to my feet. "I said they moved, Tabloid, not spoke."
I feel my face redden. "Yeah well "
Rene swoops in to my rescue. "You already got her on her knees, Kelsey. Im proud of you. It only took," she reaches over and grabs Robies wrist and looks at his watch, "fifteen minutes of matrimony. Thats a record even for the Kingsley women."
"Whipped," Robie mutters so only I can hear him.
I give him a look to convey my intense displeasure with him. "May I have this dance?" I ask Rene, holding out my hand.
"If Kels doesnt mind sharing?"
"Oh no, please. Go right ahead. Im sure my charming brother-in-law and I can find a little trouble to get into while youre gone."
"More than a little, chér, more than a little." Robie sweeps Kels into his arms and twirls her away.
"Its good to see you so happy, Harper."
I pull my eyes back from where they have followed my girl. I kiss Renes cheek. "Thanks, Ren. I had to go find Kels because all the best girls were already taken. You know, it used to be, until Kels, that if anything had ever happened to Robie "
She reaches up and covers my mouth. "I know, Harper. And I would have said yes."
For some reason this admission allows the last of my crush on Rene to be put to rest. I will always adore her. She will always be my favorite sister. But, she will be forever my sister.
"I think you need to go rescue Kels before Robie spins her to death. Unless youre used to it, its really nauseating."
"I love you, Ren," I agree, leaning in to give her a hug.
"Go get her, stud." Rene whispers in my ear. When I pull away and give her an outraged look, she points over at the gyrating Brian in the middle of the dance floor. "Someones been telling tales."
"I knew this was a mistake."
* * *
Harper and I are enjoying another chance to dance with each other. Its truly wonderful to be here, sharing this with our family and friends. I also love the silly little grin Harpers been wearing all day. "Have I told you lately that youre adorable?" I reach up and wipe away a small smear of lipstick from her cheek. Not my shade, but its hard telling where it came from today. Shes been kissed by nearly every woman here. No doubt thats part of the reason for the silly little grin.
Speaking of adorable, Christian makes his way slowly across the dance floor, looking very shy as he approaches us. I glance over and see Robie, who has obviously sent his son into no mans land, barely suppressing a smile.
"Heads up," I whisper into Harpers ear. "I think someone is going to want to cut in."
She gazes down at the now-arrived Christian and quickly masks a smile when he tugs on her jacket. Harper bestows on him a very serious expression. "Yes, little man?"
He looks back and forth between us then motions her down with his hand, whispering something in her ear when she arrives at his level. I watch his face flush bright red as he speaks to her.
Harper nods and whispers something back. The next thing I know, she kneels down so that he can tap her on the shoulder. That is so sweet. She praises him and then gives my hand to Christian. With a wink, she climbs to her feet again and steps back to watch.
So, I have a dance with the one man in the Kingsley family who holds almost as much of my heart as his aunt. Hes so precious in his suit and tie, his hair all slicked back and his big blue eyes turned up at me.
"Are you having a good time?"
"Yes, Aunt Kels."
"So do you want a little brother or sister?"
"Mama says a girl." He shrugs his shoulders as if he is unconvinced on this topic.
"What about you? What do you want?"
Christian glances around, presumably for his mother. As softly as he can get away with saying it and me hearing him still, he says, "I want a brother."
"Well," I bend down to give him a hug as the song ends, "its okay for you to want another brother, you know."
"Really?" This makes my nephew a very happy little boy.
"Absolutely, but dont be disappointed if it is a girl. Girls can be fun too, you know."
He hugs me around the neck, giving me a kiss on the cheek. "I know. Love you, Aunt Kels."
"Love you too, little man."
His face contorts and he looks over at Robie for guidance. I watch him mouth something to Christian who then says, "Congraduations, Aunt Kels."
Its all I can do to keep from laughing at his attempt to roll such a hard word over his little tongue. It was a good try. "Thank you, sweetheart."
He looks over at his father again. Oh boy, Robie must have put him up to something. He looks back at me and takes a deep breath. "Good luck with her."
I am absolutely astounded at what he has just said. I want to burst out laughing, but I know it would hurt his feelings. He delivered his wish with such sincerity.
Christian looks once more at his father and smiles, flashing him a thumbs-up signal. "Papa told me to say that. I love Tante Harper."
I wrap him up in a tight hug and give him a big kiss on the cheek, complete with sound effects. "I know you do, Christian. Your Papa is ornery, isnt he?"
"Mama says hes the reason we need a girl."
* * *
Harper and I take a moment to sit down and relax. Lord knows, we both need it. I watch the guests. Everyone seems to be having a really good time. Im glad to see it too. I didnt know how having my exs here would go over, but we all parted as friends. I couldnt see excluding my friends from this, no matter what the circumstances.
When I hear it, I know whats coming. Oh God. Harper, please dont kill her, this is just CJs way of saying good-bye. Right on cue, I watch CJ ask Harper if its all right to dance with me. My darling spouse nods and I sigh a relieved breath. No bloodshed today. CJ offers me her hand and we head out on the dance floor. She is very careful to keep an appropriate distance from me as we dance.
"You had to pick this one, didnt you?" I try to smile.
"Its the truth. Ive always told you that."
"I know. You gave me a lot, Tough Stuff. Courage, strength "
She cuts me off with a shake of or head. "You always had it, Angel, always."
"You will always have a special place in my heart, you know that, right?" I run my hand under the lapel of her jacket, realizing I bought it for her.
"I know." She draws in a deep breath. "Harper is a very lucky lady. Im glad she wasnt the fool I was. Im delighted she found you and held on for dear life. You deserve all the good things life can bring, Kels. If it couldnt be me, Im glad you found someone who can give you that."
I dont know what to say. CJ always said no one would ever replace me in her life and apparently she means it. "Will you promise me youll always be careful?"
"Ive never broken that promise to you. I dont intend to start now." As the music fades she leans in, giving my cheek a very soft kiss and singing the last lines to me. "But above all this I wish you love. I will always love you." She steps back from me, palming my cheek and wiping away the tear with her thumb. "Goodbye, Angel."
I stand there and watch her disappear into the crowd. "Goodbye, Tough Stuff."
* * *
I am a mature adult. I am a mature adult. I keep repeating the phrase to keep my ass firmly rooted in this chair.
My bride is out there dancing with the one other person she has said she loved. It wouldnt bother me if she were dancing with Susan. She was my stand-in. Or even Beth. Beth is convenient, not a love affair. CJ is a different story all together.
The song doesnt help me much. 'I Will Always Love You' is not reassuring. Especially from someone who carries a gun for a living.
Keep your ass planted, Kingsley.
"How are you holding up?" Rachel asks, sliding onto the chair next to me.
"Im good. Mama throws a nice wedding, eh?"
Rachel turns wistful. "She does."
Oh no wrong subject to take up with an ex-lover in a troubled marriage.
Does the entire lesbian population have to sleep with one another? I mean, is it written in the contract somewhere? I swear to God, there are seven lesbians in this world three couples and the chick who keeps breaking them up.
"I was wrong," Rachel says almost too softly for me to hear.
I wonder if I should ignore it. I dont think this is really the time or the place. And, unlike Rene, its not like she has something better at this moment. No matter what, I know Robie worships the ground Rene walks on. And I trust him with my life and with Kels'. But, Lucien
I am silent for so long, Rachel takes it as a dismissal. She starts to get up, but I reach out and grasp her wrist. "You cant live with regret, chér. Itll eat you up inside."
She sits once more, crosses her legs, and angrily wipes at her cheeks. "I made my bed, now lie in it, eh?"
"I didnt mean it that way."
"You two need to talk. Lucien is a good man, underneath it all." I see him dancing around with Laurent, our oldest niece, underneath the tent. "I think its been hard on him, being the middle child, to be honest."
"He certainly got bookended, thats for sure." She picks up a champagne glass on the table and gestures toward Gerrard with it. "We have the judge with four kids and a beautiful wife. His best friend is the attorney with five kids and a beautiful wife." She points to Jean and Elaine. "Luc's little brother, the one who is supposed to look up to him, is bewitched instead by the baby of the family. Together they manage to seduce half the girls at Tulane. Robie grows up and runs his own law firm, marries a beautiful Cajun girl - making Mama happy, and has two kids and one in the oven. The prodigal child isnt quite so prodigal and returns home one Thanksgiving with a famous television personality in tow. Within six months theyre married and have two kids on the way. And what does Lucien have? A law job in a non-profit and a wife his sister slept with first."
"Rachel, I dont know what to say." Truer words were never spoken. I am in way over my head. I wish Kels were here. Shes much better with crying women than I am.
"Theres nothing to say, Harper. God, I shouldnt have said anything. This is your wedding day. And Im being selfish." She stands up and puts a crushed napkin on the table. "Congratulations, Harper. And I do mean that. Kels is terrific."
She leaves before I can think of anything to say.
* * *
"Hey, beautiful," she whispers in my ear. This sends shivers down my spine that keep going to a destination a bit more south. I love it when she does that. I shiver and growl before turning around to face her. Her eyes tell me she knows what she did to me and she is very pleased with herself. "Im so gonna hurt you later." I lick my lips as I whisper this in her ear and give the lobe a nip.
Foreplay has begun. I wonder how much longer well last here. Good thing the Kingsleys know how to continue a party without the guests of honor.
"Be good," Harper replies, half-heartedly. "For now at least. You can bite my buttons later."
I run my hand up the front of the shell under her jacket. "Tabloid, you arent wearing any buttons." She merely gives me her evil smirk and I know what shes thinking. "Oh yeah, I forgot about those."
She removes my hand, patting it, to bring me out of what was slowly becoming a no turning back sexual thrall. "Just a little longer, Little Roo, I promise. Right now there is someone very important I want you to meet."
She leads me by hand over to a table where her grandmother is seated. I find it hard to believe this woman is ninety-two. Must be something in the water down here. Damn, based on her mother and grandmother Im gonna have my hands full with this one for a very long time. I like that thought.
"Nonny?" Harper takes a seat next to her. "I would like to introduce you to Kelsey."
She looks up, appraising me before she smiles. "Cecile is right. You are a pretty little thing." I cant help but blush. Taking the seat indicated by Harpers grandmother I allow myself to be sized up by the matriarch of the family. This is a job Im sure Cecile will fill in another thirty years or so. "So youre Leones companion?"
I look at Harper, who rolls her eyes with the use of her Cajun name, then back to her grandmother. "Yes, maam."
"Well," she straightens the napkin in her lap, then adds a touch more cream to her coffee before continuing, "Im glad she decided to settle down and stop all that tom-catting around she was doing."
Harper remains respectful and silent, but runs a hand over her face before resting her chin on her knuckles. Shes trying to hide a smirk.
"Have you managed to get her off that noisy motor bike?"
It suddenly occurs to me that Harper hasnt been on the Harley since the day That explains a lot, like why she is letting Robie store her baby down here. I swallow hard and reply, "Yes maam. I think she gave it up for Lent."
"Well, good. See to it she stays off it."
"Yes, maam, I will. I promise." I somehow think thats Harpers intention anyway. I thought she was over the blaming herself for the attack. I guess not. I reach out and clasp her larger hand in mine.
"You take good care of my Leone, you hear me?"
"It'll be my pleasure."
"Good." She takes her coffee in hand, taking a long sip, before turning to Harper. "And you," she pats Harpers cheek, "you be happy and live a long and wonderful life. Tous mes voeux de bonheur."
Weve now been blessed with happiness by the matriarch of the family.
Harper takes her grandmothers hand before it can pinch her cheek and gives it a very tender kiss. "I will, Nonny, I promise."
* * *
Sometimes life is totally wonderful. Take mine, for example. Twice in the last month or so Ive married the woman I love. Were expecting our first children in a few months. We have two new houses, a plane, a car all the toys. We have a great career. We are surrounded by family, an ever-increasing one, in fact.
Life is good.
However, in every life a little rain must fall.
Hurricane Cecile is headed my way.
I see it in her eyes as she crosses through the celebration. Shes coming over here to gloat. I lean back in my chair and try to appear nonchalant.
"Having a good time?" The twinkle in her eyes tells me my enjoyment of the day is obvious.
Now I must swallow my pride and admit it out loud. "Yes, Mama, Im having a wonderful time."
She glances over at Kels who, at the moment, is sandwiched between Papa and Matt. Papa and Matt were delighted to see each other again and even happier to become related, in a manner of speaking. Who knows what type of other mergers and acquisitions will come out of mine and Kels. Though, for the moment, it doesnt appear they are discussing business. Instead, all three are laughing and smiling, at ease with each other.
I warm at the sight. For over twenty years the poor woman never felt like she had a father, now she has two of them.
"Kelsey is beautiful in that dress."
"Kels is beautiful in sweatpants and a T-shirt, Mama. Its not the clothes, its the person."
"I know." She sits next to me, running her hand over my arm. "Youre living proof of that fact."
Oh, shes still miffed I didnt wear a dress. My theory is if dresses, nylons and high heels were so great, men would wear them. Until then, Im staying in pants and close to the ground. "Thanks. I think." I take a sip from my glass of champagne, enjoying the bubbly sensation on my tongue. "So are you going to say it, or not?"
"Say what, mon Coeur?"
"Dont play innocent with me, Mama. Youre dying to say 'I told you so.'"
"Well, for me to do that," she gives me her infamous look, "youd have to admit this was a good idea." She gestures to the party.
Lets see: band playing, people dancing, champagne pouring freely, family visiting, friends being entertained and enough food to feed a small country. Everyone here to celebrate a significant date in mine and Kels life. The happy expression my girl has on her face.
I bite my lip and drop my head. Sighing, I finally give it up. "Yes, Mama, it was a good idea."
"I told you so."
* * *
Everyone is banging their forks against their champagne glasses. I know what it means they want me to kiss my girl. I am very happy to oblige. Apparently, the family approves of my technique because a loud cheer erupts from our on-lookers.
"If I could have everyones attention," Papa says, stepping into the middle of the melee. "If everyone could please raise your glasses and join me in a toast to the newlywed couple."
I pull Kels in front of me and wrap my arms around her, letting my hands rest of the swell of her stomach. Damn, I wish I could feel our little guys moving around. Its so not fair. I went through morning sickness with her, and Im not getting any benefit here. I lean down and rub my cheek against hers.
Papa reaches out and pulls Mama over to him. "When children find true love, parents find great joy. To your love and our joy!"
"Mais oui!" the crowd calls out. They bang their glasses again and I kiss the corner of Kels mouth.
Gerrard steps into the circle. "May your hearts beat as one from this day forward!"
More clinking, more kissing.
Next up is Jean. He rubs his hand over his jaw and stares at us for a long moment, as if trying to decide on his toast. Finally, he gives us his patented bad boy smile. "Harper, Kelsey, marriage can have a lot of ups and downs. May all yours be under the covers."
"Jean!" Mama chastises. Elaine pulls him safely back into the crowd before Mama can flick his head.
Luciens turn. "I kept trying to figure out what to say for this toast. After a lot of thought, I finally came up with the perfect one but Ive decided to save it for your next wedding."
Whoops and laughter from the crowd, assuming his toast to be a joke. I watch as Rachel walks away from the festivities.
Robie shakes his head and steps out into the circle, coming to stand beside me. "Harper has been my best friend for as long as I can remember. I dont recall any significant event in my life that didnt involve her. Usually getting me in trouble."
"Mais non! It was the other way, Robie, and you know it," I chastise.
"Shh, Im telling the story here. Harper and I have done everything together and been as close as two siblings can be. I love her with all my heart, and so does my wife, and our children think she hung the moon. Naturally, we were skeptical that anyone would be worthy of her. And, then she brought home Kelsey. We immediately knew she was a keeper. She bewitched our eldest son and made herself a part of our lives. So, now, I have the honor of introducing you all to my best friends new best friend." Robie comes over and gives Kels a kiss on the cheek. "Vive les mariées!"
Im gonna kill him later for making me cry at my own damn wedding.
"The cake!" someone calls out. "Time to cut the cake!"
Mama signals for the waiters to wheel it out. As it makes its way through the crowd, people begin laughing. Kels cranes her neck to look at me. "Thats odd."
I shrug, trying to not give away this surprise.
It arrives. Kels stares at it for a long moment. "Oh my God," she whispers.
The cake is a three foot long and one foot high replica of a Twinkie.
"I am so not going to explain that to your mother."
* * *
I can only shake my head when Harper hands me the cake slicer. "Shall we, chér?"
Oh yes, Tabloid, we shall, and you are so gonna pay for this.
Together we slice off the end of the cake and each take a small piece of it in our fingers. Now the standoff begins. We stare at each other for a moment, knowing this is where it could get messy. Very messy.
Being the one adult in this relationship at the moment, I give in first and gently offer her a piece, hoping she will be kind to me as well. She takes the cake into her mouth and manages to keep the tips of my fingers a few moments longer than need be. Well, than need be in front of an audience. Especially an audience containing our parents.
All right, Harper, dear, you started this. She places the cake to my lips. I take hold of her wrist to make sure she cant get away from me. Then I take my time with the cake and the fingers holding it.
"Nice!" She half gasps, half growls. "Be nice."
"Tabloid, Im always nice." I give one last kiss to her fingertips.
"You really do have an evil streak, Kelsey Diane Kingsley," she growls in my ear, reaching for a napkin to clean her hands.
That really sounds nice. "I learned from the best, Harper Lee Kingsley." I wipe my own mouth and hands, then offer my darling spouse a kiss as a peace offering.
"So," someone pipes up from the crowd, ending our kiss earlier than we had planned. "Is Kelsey going to throw the bouquet?"
Harper looks to me for my consent. When I nod, she laughs, "Oh why not?" She hands me the roses. Once the waiter removes the cake to safety, we are surrounded by the single female members of our family and friends.
"Hold on just a minute," I muse out loud. "If Im going to throw the bouquet, I think Tabloid here should do the garter bit." I turn to the crowd. "Dont you?"
The laughing and the cat calls confirm my suspicions, Ive married into a crazy family. I look back to Harper. "On your knees, Tabloid."
The groan that roars through the crowd makes her a bit defiant. I lift a brow and motion with my hand. Very slowly, she drops to her knees. I rest my foot in front of her. "Its up there. Go get it," I tease.
I think she might pass out. She takes a deep breath and her hands begin a very slow climb under my dress and up my leg. I can only smile when one hand finds the garter and the other continues up the inside of my leg, heading toward places she should not visit in public. Danger, Will Robinson. "Behave," I warn softly.
"You started this." She gives my inner thigh a tickle and then slides the garter down my leg. With fluid grace, she rises to her feet, twirling the garter around her index finger.
"Yeah, but you get to finish it later," I tell her quietly as we turn to the crowd.
I love that groan.
* * *
I have come to the conclusion that my wife is a very cruel woman. As I twirl the garter on my finger, Im sure of it. She looks sweet enough, but under that innocent exterior beats the heart of a truly dangerous woman.
The crowd brings me back from my thoughts. Kels and I hold hands, turn our backs to the waiting crowd and toss the items over our shoulders. The laughter erupts even before we can turn around to find out who the lucky winners are.
"Always a brides maid and never a bride." Brian laughs as he holds up Kels bouquet. He pulls one rose out of the bouquet and clamps it between his teeth. His date, Doug, hides his face in mock embarrassment.
I glance around and see Luc holding the garter. Oh God, he had to be the one to catch it, didnt he?
"You know the rules, Harper!" Robie erupts into laughter as he gestures to Brian with his camera. "You and Kels have to dance the next dance with the winners."
I drop my head. I knew having Brian here was gonna bite me in the ass. And now theres gonna be photographic evidence that I might actually like him. "All right, all right." I hold up my hands in surrender. "But after this dance Kels and I will be taking our leave of you." People groan and begin protesting. "She needs to rest and I have to admit Im a little tired too."
"Yeah, you both need to go to bed," Terry calls from her spot on the dance floor followed by more whoops, more hollers, more stomping. "I'm exhausted from all this dancing. Anyone here want to take a nap with me?" Her eyes land on Beth and I swear I can see sparks flying.
Another one bites the dust.
I'll be glad to get Beth hooked up though. I don't want her with any free time on her hands and frequent flyer miles at her disposal.
"But, we want to thank all of you for coming today and sharing in our happiness," I continue. "So, please, stay and have a good time." I lead Kels onto the dance floor and hand her off to Luc. Hes had a little too much to drink, I think. If Kels is lucky, shell be able to cut their dance short.
I will not be quite so lucky. Brian has put the rose he removed from the bouquet into the button hole of his suit jacket, completing his English dandy look. He hands the rest of them to Kam with instructions to return them to Kels. Kam trots off, flowers in mouth, seemingly understanding. What a good dog.
Brian now faces me and strikes a pose. "Come here, Stud!"
The crowd around me erupts into a hearty laughter. "You even try to kiss me and Ill kick your ass," I tell him as I approach.
"Wouldnt dream of it."
* * *
"What a good boy," I praise Kam, taking the flowers from him. He still has on his bow tie and is just so damn cute. I hope there are lots of pictures of him.
"Aint this a kick in the ass?"
I look up to find Luc standing in front of me. I can tell hes drunk. Something tells me this isn't going to be one of the most comfortable moments in my life. Make the best of it, Kels. Itll be over soon and then you and Tabloid can get out of here.
"Whats that, Luc?" Even as I ask the question, I realize that was a mistake. I never seem to be able to let anything go though.
"It seems," he moves closer to me, the odor of the alcohol on his breath making me a little nauseous, "that there is some justice in this world." His hand strokes my arm, giving me shivers. They are not good ones.
"Meaning?" There I go again.
"Its only fair, dont you think? Harper got to try mine. Seems fair I get to try hers." He takes hold of my hand a little tighter than necessary.
"Wait a minute, Luc," I say, making a little more distance between us, "one dance doesnt mean anything. Youre my brother-in-law, for God's sake. Lets not get carried away."
"Hey, Rachel gave her up. Maybe I could do the same thing for you."
"Thats enough," I warn softly, once again pulling away from him slowly. I really dont want to attract any attention here. We dont need any problems on our wedding day. It's pretty obvious by his unsteadiness on his feet that Luc isn't operating on all cylinders right now. "Why don't you go sit down, Luc? Well talk later, if you want, but youre not thinking straight right now."
"Oh, Im thinking straight. Youre not." He seems inordinately pleased by his rather unimaginative pun. He gestures toward Harper. "What is it about her anyhow? Do you have any idea how many women shes bedded? You are the last in a very long line."
"The important word being last." I give Kam a scratch behind the ears, letting Luc get this out of his system. He apparently needs to vent. I can let him do that. He's not speaking loud enough to draw undue attention our way.
"You really dont think shes not gonna fuck around on you, do you?"
"I know she won't. Shes already had the chance and passed it up."
"Old habits die hard, Kelsey. Shell slip. Shell find some young thing somewhere and screw around on you. When she does, will you forgive her and take her back?"
"Luc, you have no idea what youre talking about. Why dont you go have a seat and I'll have someone bring you a good strong cup of coffee. I think youve had enough to drink today."
"Oh, Im just getting started," he growls and grabs me by the upper arm.
"Guard," I say firmly, pulling away from Luc.
Kam comes to life in front of me. My dog stands there, snarling, growling, and barking at Luc who immediately backs away. Kam never moves from his spot. He just continues to snap and bark. My eyes meet my brother-in-laws. He certainly wasnt expecting my cute little bow-tied puppy to suddenly become a hundred pounds of hell's fury on Earth.
When I see Harper coming, I call Kam off. Luc staggers backward into a table, still staring at me and the dog.
"Kels, what happened?" Harper asks, ignoring her brother for the moment.
"Luc stumbled and Kam must have thought he was going to hurt me," I say this loud enough for everyone to hear. It's important to save face for Luc. Nothing's worse than a pissed off, embarrassed drunk with a score to settle. "Its all right. Everyone is all right." I give my dog a very nice scratching and bend down to praise him, quietly. No need for anyone to know that I intentionally set him on Luc.
* * *
I walk over to my brother and help him stand upright. I know better. If Kam went on guard, Kels gave the command. That means Luc did something to frighten or startle her. I wont have my wedding day ruined by this incident. But, I guarantee we will be discussing this in the future.
I maintain my pretense of helping my brother. "Touch her again," I whisper in his ear, "and Ill let Kam rip you to shreds. And if the dog's not here to do it, Ill do it with my bare hands." I give him this warning even as I brush imaginary dust from his clothes. "Are we clear on this, big brother?"
"Good. Go home."
* * *
I lead my lovely bride around to the front of the home, which she still believes belongs to my brother. The crowd here is thinning some with the food eaten, the music played, the flowers and garter tossed. Itll be awhile before the party is entirely over, but, at last, were free to make our escape.
"Where are we going?" Kels asks. I have to imagine shes getting tired by now.
"To our honeymoon suite."
She looks around and sees neither a limo nor carriage to whisk us away. "Were walking?"
The question comes in such a pitiful voice that my heart breaks. "No, baby. I just want to show you something real fast." I take her hand gently and lead her across the yard to the mailbox near the sidewalk. Its a simple wooden one with a sign hanging below it reading Kingsley. There are two hooks underneath it where another sign should be, but is missing.
Kels stares at it. She looks at it as if Ive lost my mind. "Its a mailbox."
"This is true, but not just any mailbox." I open it and reach inside, removing the other sign which should be hanging there as well. Without letting her read it, I attach it to the hooks. Then I step away. "Our mailbox." The sign reads: Harper & Kelsey. There is plenty of space for the twins names to be added as well.
"Oh my God!" Kels exclaims, looking from me to the house and back again. "This isnt Robies house?"
I point to the house next door. "That one is."
"This is ours?"
"We have a home?"
I sweep Kels up in my arms, amazed at how light she is despite being pregnant. She gasps in surprise and winds her arms around my neck. "Harper! Im too heavy!"
The protest is weak. My girl is tired. "No, youre just right." I hold her tight, careful with my precious cargo. I carry her down the sidewalk, to the house, and across the threshold. Kissing her, I whisper against her lips, "You are my home."
* * *
"How does it feel?" Harper asks. She's resting with her ear against my stomach again.
"Kinda like butterflies." I run my fingers through her hair, combing them completely through. We're sprawled out on the one piece of furniture in the entire house - our bed. My girl is always focused on the essentials. We can still hear the sounds of the party going on outside, but it seems a world away. We've divested ourselves of our clothing, but right now we're merely relaxing together.
"Then how do you know it wasn't just butterflies from today?"
Aww, my poor Tabloid. It's really bothering her she can't feel them moving yet.
"Well, I can't explain it. It's just different. Besides the stressful part of the day was over when I first felt them."
"Can you still?" She turns and gives my tummy a kiss.
"Yeah." She runs her hand over my stomach like a diviner looking for water. I take hold of it and hold it in place. "You will be able to very soon, I promise."
She sighs, giving me another kiss before moving up to the top of the bed with me. A huge smile breaks across her lips. "I can't wait."
"I know," I whisper, kissing her chin. "In the mean time," I wiggle my eyebrows at her, "this is technically another wedding night. Remember how much fun we had on the first one?"
"Wanna try for two?"
"At least. Paybacks are a " She stops and grins at me. "Let's just say I owe you for the questionnaire and letting the Conspiracy have their way with me like that."
"Nah, you don't owe me." I reply, playfully. "It was my pleasure."
She tucks her head into the curve of my neck, kissing me below my ear. "It can be, but you have to let me get my revenge for the position question."
"Will be by the time I'm done with you." She nips my ear then her hands begin a slow massage of my body.
"Oh yeah. Punish me. Go ahead," I moan. "Please do. All night long."
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