I think it was a Saturday. It was cool and crisp with a slight tang of woodsmoke and dying leaves, of frost and chill. I shivered as I got out of bed—it was the first time Thom and I had slept apart since our reconciliation.
I’d spent the night with an actual wooden roof over my head, too. The radiant heating system for the sheds seemed to be working the way we thought it would, and while we’d need to do more work on all of them before winter really hit, it had been decided that it was more than time Thom and I moved into one of them. Our impending nuptials—and the tradition that would keep us apart for the day—gave Drew, Kellin, and my brother enough of an excuse to move us in.
Someone knocked on the door when I was half dressed. I startled slightly, turning and yanking my shirt all the way down. I padded across the plank floor and peeked out.
“Jay?” I opened the door fully and waved him inside, turning to start changing my pants.
“Morning,” he rumbled, slipping inside and shutting the door behind him. “Will you come do something with me?”
“I’m not going into the ravine to get eaten by anything,” I quipped, tugging on a pair of jeans. “I’d like to live long enough to get married this afternoon.”
J.T. smiled briefly. “We’re not going hiking down there, but I was hoping you’d come out to the Shakespeare Garden and the burial with me. Carolyn’s busy with some other stuff today, and I’m not sure who else to drag along.”
I turned toward him, already reaching for a sweatshirt. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” he said. “I just feel like I should go out there—and not in a bad way. Besides.” J.T. smiled briefly and ruffled my hair. “There might still be some flowers out there you can salvage for a bouquet. If there’s not, at least we tried.”
“Everyone else is more interested in making sure I have all the traditional elements of a wedding than I am,” I said, smiling wryly and shaking my head. “Let me get my shoes on and we’ll go.”
“You don’t need to eat something?”
I laughed. “With the butterflies going already? No thank you.” I tugged on my sweatshirt. “Just get me back here in time for some of our friends to work feminine magic on me and everything will be fine.”
“All right. Let me tell someone we’re going. I’ll meet you out by the bridge.”
He ducked out and left me alone. I sat down and pulled on my shoes.
This is it. It’s today. No turning back for either one of us, is there? I had to smile. As if there was ever turning back in the first place.
“Don’t leave me now, Mar,” Thom’s voice whispered very close to my ear. His fingers were cold were they tangled with mine, like ice where they rested against my forehead. I squeezed my eyes a little more tightly shut and exhaled with a shudder.
“Promised I wouldn’t,” I mumbled, opening my eyes to stare at him. The image was blurry. My body ached, head pounding.
Someday I will ask…
I swallowed hard. “I’m still here.” I focused on the growing patch of red on his shoulder. “And you’re bleeding. What happened?”
“That’s not important now, because we’re safe.” He rested his forehead against mine. “You feel like you’re on fire.”
“I’m all right to ride,” I whispered. “I can make it.”
He shook his head slightly, a single tear welling up in one blue eye. “I’m not letting you go alone.”
“What about Lin?” I whispered. What about our son, Thom? “He can’t come with us.”
“They’ll take care of him,” he said. “You know that Matt and Care and Jay will take care of him.” His hands cupped my face. “I won’t let you go alone.”
I squeezed my eyes shut and nodded. “Then it has to be tonight,” I said. “Tonight, before we lose our nerve.”
“Tonight,” he agreed.
I closed my eyes again and let the world fade to black.
I came back to myself a second later, a shiver running through me. Shit. What was that? My hands curled into fists against my knees.
Every action has a consequence. But what will cause that? Or is it something that’s meant to be? I tied my shoes. Something in my gut told me that the bargain we’d struck would haunt us for a long, long time.
I set out for the bridge.
Camp was comparatively quiet that morning—most people had headed for the walls again. No one was by the cookfire as I passed. Walking on, I could make out the figures of Thom, Phelan, and Matt up by the forge. The foundations were almost ready. Matt planned to pour concrete in the morning as long as it stayed dry.
J.T.’s boots crunched on fallen leaves as he jogged to catch up with me, his hand grasping mine as he fell into step.
“Thought you’d be by the bridge by now,” he said.
“I probably should have been,” I said, forcing a smile. “I saw something. Maybe our bargain coming back to haunt us.”
He went a little pale. “When?”
I shook my head slowly. “A long time from now, Jay. I’m not going to panic over it and neither should you. Who knows, it could just be a weird dream.”
J.T. opened his mouth to protest, then closed it again. He nodded. “Right. You’re right. Anything can happen, especially if it’s a long time from now.”
I smiled. “Exactly.” I glanced at the bag in his hand, a small canvas sack. “What’s that for?”
For a moment, he looked uncomfortable, then shrugged and smiled sheepishly. “Candles,” he said. “Candles for the dead. I thought—I thought that maybe—that maybe we—”
“That maybe I should ask them to watch over us?” I squeezed his hand. “Maybe you should, too.”
A weak smile tugged at his lips. “Yeah,” he said softly. “Maybe. Either way, it seemed right to honor them. It’s getting close to that time, isn’t it?”
“Another couple weeks,” I agreed. Samhain and the Feast of All Souls. “A little early won’t hurt. We’ll go again when the time’s right.”
J.T. smiled faintly, nodding. “I just thought that because it’s a full moon and it’s your day and all…”
“It’s not a bad idea,” I assured him, squeezing again. Our footsteps echoed through the ravine as we crossed the bridge toward the empty plaza. I’d be married that afternoon out in the arboretum, under an archway—inside a liminal space. Phelan had chosen the spot and blessed it, dragging J.T. and Jacqueline with him to do it. That had been two days ago. “How big are the candles?”
“Just a bunch of tealights.”
“Good enough,” I said with a smile.
“Is it?” he murmured, suddenly a bundle of nerves. I would have laughed if he hadn’t seemed so close to the edge of upset.
We walked on.