Autumn – Chapter 12 – 01

                “I’m still not sure this is entirely necessary,” I muttered to Carolyn as she fussed over the darts in my bodice.
                She glared at me, pins her mouth.  Behind her, Tala ran the treadle sewing machine, its rhythmic clacks echoing through the camp.  We’d salvaged the heavy black vintage piece, still in working condition, from the university theatre’s costume shop of all places.  My friends had been putting it to hard use the past week.
                They’d insisted on making me a wedding dress.
                I protested.  I whined.  I bargained, cajoled, tried to remind them that we had so much other work to do before the snows flew; did we really have time for this?
                Yes, they’d all told me firmly.  Yes, we do.
                But they’d never said why.
                Carolyn took the pins out of her mouth and stared at me.  “Trust me, it is.”
                “You keep saying that,” I said, stifling a groan.  “But none of you will tell me why it’s so damn important that I have a dress.  It’s not like Thom’s wearing a suit.”
                “No, he’s wearing his black doublet,” Carolyn said, seeming to agree with me for just a second.  “And for the record, Jacqueline is putting new trim on it for him, so you’re not the only one who’s going to be all dolled up for this.”
                I huffed a sigh, fighting the urge to cross my arms.  All that would do was get me glared at and stabbed with the pins that were already adjusting the bodice’s fit.
                The clacking wound down as Tala eased up on the sewing machine’s pedal.  “I don’t see why you’re so against this whole dress business, Mar.  Can’t you see why we’re doing this?”
                “No.  That’s why I keep wanting to know why.”
                Carolyn rolled her eyes.  Tala just smiled as she stood up slowly.  She was showing more than she should have, Jacqueline had said in a whisper, wondering out loud if Tala had been wrong about when she’d actually conceived the baby.  Only time was going to answer that question.
                Tala brought the half-finished skirt over to me to check its length, making sure it wouldn’t be too short.  It was heavy silver-white brocade that they’d looted from the fabric store down the road.  I suppose a dress was as good a use as any.
                “We’re doing it us as much as we’re doing it for you, Mar,” she said softly as Carolyn resumed pinning.  “Who knows if any of us will be able to have a dress like this, let alone get married?  You, in a white dress, marrying Thom…we’re doing it for all of us.  Something close to normal amidst everything that isn’t.  You can’t begrudge us that, can you?”
                When she put it like that, it almost made sense.
                “Still,” I murmured, lifting my arms a little higher as Carolyn tapped the underside of my arm.  “There’s so damn much to do, Tala, it just doesn’t feel right to me.  I feel selfish for even letting you guys do this for me.”
                “Well, don’t,” she said cheerfully, smiling through a flicker of pain in her eyes.  She must have been thinking about Kurt, her baby’s father, if only for a second.  He’d been preparing for a job interview on the east side of the state the weekend the world ended.
                Easier said than done.  I forced a smile.  “I’ll try not to.”
                Carolyn rolled her eyes again as she stabbed her extra pins into the cushion sitting by her knee and stood up.  “Don’t try, do.  It doesn’t matter whether or not you think you deserve any of this, because we’re going to give it to you whether you like it or not.  At the end of the day, you’re screwed.”  One corner of her mouth twitched upward in a smile.  “Besides, you only get married once.  You’d be doing the same thing if it was one of us.”
                Would I?  I smothered a frown, realizing at some point, my practicality had begun to override my sentimentality.  When had that happened?
                Probably around the same time I decided that we should let Leah go wherever she was going to end up and whatever happened to her was just going to happen.
                It had been nine days since Vammatar’s attack.  Things had been quiet since then.  No sign of Leah—but no sign of the Greys, the camazotzi, Vammatar or the Shadow Man.
                Nervous flutters in my stomach told me it was the calm before the storm, but every time I tried to tell someone that, they just told me to settle down and enjoy the respite.  Even Kellin didn’t seem overly concerned.
                If it hadn’t been for Thom and Phelan not telling me to settle down and stop worrying, I might have actually started to think I was just being paranoid.
                “Are you done pinning?”  I asked Carolyn, looking down at myself.  Pins sprouted everywhere from the bodice, but it certainly fit better than it had the last time she’d started working on me.
                After studying me for a moment, she grunted and nodded.  “Yeah, I think so.  Take it off so I can start basting.”
                Tala helped me ease out of the bodice without getting impaled by a dozen tiny daggers.  I nodded my thanks to her and dried my sweaty palms on the seat of my jeans.  My arms ached dully from keeping them raised for so long.
                “You know, I could always help you guys make my dress, since you’re so damn determined to make sure that I have one.”
                “Hell no,” Carolyn said.  “This is our gift to you.  You’re not allowed to make your own damn gift.”  She sat down at the small desk sitting next to the sewing machine.  “Go on, get out of here and let Tala and I work.”
                I smiled faintly and nodded, stepping out of the shed and into the afternoon sunshine.  We’d started moving more people, more things into the sheds, which were arranged in blocks facing each other, laid over the heating trenches Thom and Davon had spent so much time engineering.   They’d tested them out a few days after the battle.  Everything seemed to work well enough, but only time would tell.
                Winter would tell, if we made it that far.
                I headed for the tent, were the cookfire still burned.  The sound of hammering, of breaking up rocks and setting the walls echoed through the camp even as the sound of the sewing machine joined them again.  Somewhere, Angie was laughing as she chased Birtha’s puppies—I could hear the sound of their puppy-barks mingling with the girl’s delight.
                The cacophony of life as we knew it.
                Life as we know it.

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