When little girls imagined a fairytale wedding – and she’d been no different as a child – Maya was pretty sure they envisioned the kind of staging that surrounded her first walk down the aisle with Stuart Evans. Maybe they believed as she had that such a spectacle meant permanence, or in her case that it might cement the whole tenuous venture into something she could rely on, because look at all the people come to bear witness, and listen to all those legacy pronouncements. Those ten thousand professional photos weren’t going anywhere, either.
In retrospect, Maya knew she’d been bullied into the occasion by her in-laws, but she’d gone along with it all because she really couldn’t think of an alternative. And who knew? Maybe that legion of little girls would be right and the grand gestures of one particular afternoon would carry her relationship into the future. Maybe she’d wake up in twenty or thirty years to find her marriage in a state of placid maturity because of all they’d done and said on their wedding day.
As she contemplated her second stint as a bride, this time at the palace on Shaddox, Maya concluded none of them on the mainland had possessed big enough imaginations. Perhaps their definition of couple-hood had been too small for themselves, and hence all the effort to make her union with Stu seem bigger. Whatever the premise, the performance looked lamentably quaint in hindsight, especially considering the current extravaganza the sirens had laid out on her and Aiden’s behalf. The prospect of walking into it made her dizzy.
Simon, her soon-to-be brother-in-law and stand-in male relative for part one of the proceedings, steadied her but smirked. “Buck up, little camper,” he teased. “You’re almost home free.” Perhaps as he’d intended, she collected herself enough for a retort.
“Just for that, I’m going to throw up on you.” Simon laughed.
Sylvia turned their way to hiss, “Stop it, you two.” To Maya, she instructed, “But he’s right. You need to get over your stage fright. It’s not like you haven’t faced bigger crowds in New York. Or courtside, when you played volleyball.” Maya gasped in protest – this was not about stage fright – but Sylvia cut her off, addressing Simon this time. “And you, behave. You’re representing Jeremy, remember?” The prompt caused Maya to relent, since Simon had, after all, volunteered to fill her father’s role. No one had been able to devise a plan to include her parents in a primarily and obviously siren affair, so they’d had to improvise. She remained touched by Simon’s offer to stand by her.
Simon grabbed his wife’s wrist and kissed the inside of it, then spanned her pregnant tummy with his hands. “It’s all good, angel. I’ve got her. Now run along to your place in the lineup so we can get to the fun part.” Sylvia narrowed her eyes at him, but Maya could see she wasn’t really angry. Sylvia hustled to where their two children waited for her.
Maya would have greatly preferred not to have any sort of public rite and had initially begged for a quiet, expedient visit to a human licensing bureau, just the two of them. Followed by a casual dinner party with ten other people at most. Her groom hadn’t supported her, however, although he’d held her hand as she’d pleaded with his overexcited aunts.
“Can we just… I mean, I’ve already gone through this nonsense once and it made me nuts. Really – I didn’t sleep or eat for almost a month from nerves. And I stitch viscera in place for a living.”
Queen Carmen herself quashed the last of Maya’s hopes for privacy. Or for any say at all in what came next. “This is about the community, not you, Maya,” she admonished, and, really? A spectacle where she would be gussied up and on display for several thousand people was not about her? She didn’t even know how to respond.
“We’ll get through it, love,” Aiden encouraged… and something in his approach, his tranquil warmth, convinced her to give in. He squeezed her hand. “This will be strange for me, too,” he confessed. “I’ve always been peripheral to big community shindigs. But I know a bit about what a Shaddox wedding will mean for us. I think we’ll appreciate it afterwards.”
“We’re decided, then,” Carmen declared. She set a date two weeks out, and Aiden’s relatives bustled off to make arrangements. Carmen departed, too, citing her need to attend to “issues of actual consequence.”
Aiden, who was seated on a stool, pulled Maya to him so she stood between his legs, facing him. He rested his palms on her hips and concentrated on her with such weighty devotion, she lost most of her anxiety over what had just happened. She looped her arms around his shoulders and fingered the hair at the back of his neck. “What was so wrong with our plan to keep to ourselves for a while?” she complained lightly. She relived a snapshot of their swim here, the lush closeness they’d enjoyed and the sense of permanence they’d gained. Following their exit from the sea – which had included whole minutes of terror for Maya as Aiden led her through the “compound illusion” protecting Shaddox – she’d become convinced her life had finally righted itself. Her new and unencumbered happiness relegated the unhappiness of the last decade to a far-away realm disconnected from her, as if her trials had happened to someone else. She couldn’t help but try to protect what they had, to avoid outside factors that could burst the bubble of contentment they’d so recently formed.
She supposed the prospect of a palace wedding was less onerous than the intrusions she’d suffered from her stalkers in New York, or from her siren-led memory hijackers in Lehland. She sighed. “Is there somewhere more remote we can go afterwards?” Aiden chuckled. “There is… but it’s cold. Trust me – you wouldn’t like it.”
“I might,” Maya protested, but she surrendered herself to her ceremonial fate.
The same battalion of goddesses who’d shanghaied her in New York before she married Stu also showed up to prep her for today’s production… and why she’d thought they were anything other than mermaids back then now baffled her. Seriously. Only someone with no observational skills whatsoever – and she was a physician trained to notice stuff – could have convinced herself these women were not sea creatures of some sort.
“We’re not hazing you this time,” one of them explained as she wove seed pearls and ribbons into Maya’s hair. The one dusting Maya’s face with… something… paused, and stared at her with that hungry, ardent expression Maya had come to recognize as natural siren solicitation. It made her want to take all five of them swimming.
When she was deemed ready, they stood her up in front of a mirror, and she stared at herself in amazement. “I look like you,” she murmured.
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