“So, Granny,” Dannie asked as she bit into her cake (because it was her wedding, and she could have her dessert before her dinner if she so chose), “any last-minute tips, tricks, suggestions for tonight?”
“Hmm. I told you to relax and enjoy yourself?”
“Granny, you told me that when I was twelve and got my first monthly.”
“Hmm. What about making you sure you knock back a couple glasses of that wine that should have cost your father a lot more than it did?”
In answer, Dannie lifted her glass and jiggled it so that the wine leapt up and down.
“Did I mention that you ought to be watching your husband’s alcohol intake?”
Dannie’s eyebrows went up. “That’s a new one.”
“Well, honey, I didn’t want to give you ideas,” Maude said, batting her eyelashes as if she hadn’t spent the better part of the last fortnight doing just that — often calling off-color suggestions through the house, though Dannie thought that was more for the pleasure of watching her father squirm than anything else.
“Besides,” Maude added, turning again into the practical, down-to-earth fount of all knowledge that she could be when the mood suited her, “when you raise three girls, you learn the advantages of teaching them to get the boys drunker than they are. Falling-down drunk, if at all possible.”
“Maude, please,” Helena laughed, “really? You encouraged your girls to get drunk? How old is your oldest grandchild, again?”
“Twenty-eight, and born a respectable eleven months after her parents’ wedding! Pamela was nothing if not shrewd!”
“And how many months after her wedding did your youngest daughter give birth?” Helena challenged, eyebrows arching. Not for the first time, Dannie wondered how it was that she had managed to give birth to her Rob.
“Eighteen, but I don’t blame her for that. Her husband was past thirty,” Maude smirked.
“So … getting the man drunk keeps him from making babies?” Babette asked, leaning a little forward.
Granny laughed. “Oh, honey! Whoever said that? We’re not even talking about making babies here!”
“Maude!” Helena hissed.
“Oh, shush, you, you were the one who decided that the only possible measure of success of my parenting skills was when my daughters got pregnant! Look, Babette,” Granny added, “if ever a boy tells you that if he does x or y or z, you won’t get a baby, do yourself a favor and don’t believe him. At least not until you’ve gotten confirmation from a respectable matron, who’s been around the block a few times.”
“Such as you?” Helena snarled.
“Me, or you, or her new sister-in-law,” Maude patted Dannie’s shoulder.
“Who will be getting all of her information from you!”
“I would think that would be a helpful thing. You can guarantee the information will be accurate.”
“And speaking of accurate information,” Dannie poked her grandmother, “before my husband goes for another glass?”
“Ah, yes! And Babette — listen up! Wine … well, let me put it like this. It’s some lines from a play Alfie and I saw when we were courting.” Maude coughed, batted her chest, cleared her throat. “‘Much drink may be said to be an equivocator with lechery: it makes him, and it mars him; it sets him on, and it takes him off; it persuades him, and disheartens him; makes him stand to, and not stand to; in conclusion, equivocates him in a sleep, and, giving him the lie, leaves him.'”
Even Helena snorted at that one, and while Babette was laughing the laugh of a young woman who wasn’t entirely sure what all that meant but didn’t want to admit it, Dannie grabbed Rob’s glass and moved it out his range.
Rob turned to her with one eyebrow raised.
“You’re done, dear,” Dannie told him.
“Dannie!” Bianca laughed. “Give the poor man a break! Let him think he’ll be lord and master for a day or so!”
“Oh, Rob never thought that, did you, Rob?”
“No, dear,” Rob answered.
“Good answer.” Dannie turned back to her cake. “Besides, if you knew what we were talking about, you’d be thanking me.”
“Then why don’t you tell me, so I can?”
“Hmm …” Dannie mused. “Well, for starters, we were telling your sister the most reliable form of birth control there is.”
Rob blinked. “You were what?”
“Most reliable way of preventing babies, lad!” Maude called. “Drink your man under the table!”
A lesser man might have protested that a man drunk below the table was incapable of fathering children, at least until he sobered up. Rob only wrinkled his brows, and then smiled.
“See, kiddo?” Dannie said to Babette. “Even your big brother agrees. And if the big brother is signing off on it, you know it has to work!”
“Oh, Rob just agrees with everything you say,” Babette scoffed.
“I know, isn’t he wonderful?”
“You’ve got him well-trained, my dear,” Maude patted Dannie’s shoulder again.
Dannie glanced at Rob, who was watching her from the corner of his eye. “Well, sweetie?” she asked, batting her eyes.
“Which is it? Well-trained, or naturally wonderful?”
“Whatever you say.”
“See what I mean?” Dannie squealed, and kissed him on the cheek. Rob grabbed her waist and met her lips with his own.
When they pulled apart — after the obligatory clapping — Rob remarked, “You taste like cake.”
“So do you.”
“Now that just isn’t fair,” remarked George — Dannie had no idea how she could hear him from down at her end, unless she was somehow meant to. She glanced sidelong at Maude, but Maude was watching George.
Or maybe she was watching poor Josh, to whom George seemed to be speaking, but who seemed to only pay him any mind with an effort. Smart man, Dannie thought, or wished she could think, because Josh would have probably rather paid attention.
Especially since the dark-haired lady beside him wasn’t his wife, but Lady Garnet — an inferior option in every way, or so Dannie thought. How the hell that girl is related to Jess … well, at least I can see how she bagged Lamorak!
“What’s not fair, Georgie-porgie?” Freddy asked, since Josh was only wrinkling his nose, as if trying to remember what he was supposed to say to that.
“Hey!” George called, his voice rising to a squeak, which only made him glow red and made even Freddy laugh. “Don’t call me that, ” he muttered to his plate in a tone of voice that was probably meant to be deep, but wasn’t quite managing it. “Anyway, it’s not fair, having to watch those two –”
“Tell me about it, squirt,” Freddy sighed.
“Well, not just that! But still! We’re supposed to be able to make them kiss when their mouths are full of food, and it’s completely embarrassing. Seriously, where’s the justice in them just kissing when they feel like it?”
“I’ll remember that at your wedding, Georgie-porgie!” Dannie called down the table. “And considering that we’ve been watching you, Mister Freddy, make calves’ eyes at Clarice for two years, I think a bit of payback is in order!”
“Um, Dannie, considering that we made him chaperone us …”
“Shush, you, you’d be doing the same thing to –” Her mouth stuck on Josh, so she substituted, “Heloise, if you had the opportunity.”
“So, Freddy, my dear grandson, how are things going with Clarice now?” Maude yelled down the table.
Freddy’s grin said more than words could hope to.
If only they’d been able to invite Clarice to the wedding! Or rather, they had — Dannie’s parents had invited the whole family — but Sir Bors had declined, saying that the was sending Clarice back to Camford early, and there was no point in him and Elyan attending. Well, that was probably a good thing, seeing what Dannie had managed to milk about Elyan from Jessie and Leona. But still! Freddy and Clarice could have had a great time!
And so, Dannie was left with nothing to do but count down the days until Freddy and Clarice’s wedding — difficult, given that neither the couple nor the parents had set a date, but not impossible — or rather, the day after Freddy and Clarice’s wedding. She had promised herself that on that day, she would ride up to Sir Bors’s castle, and as the sister of his son-in-law, give him a piece of her mind.
After all the shit she’d watched Sir Bors put his daughters through — and she’d only known Lynn for the four years of Camford! — it would be a glorious day, when she could do that.
She turned to see Rob glancing her way, one eyebrow raised, and as she watched, he shook his head. But he smiled. Then again, Rob usually did smile. It was easy to smile, when the world presented so many things to laugh at.
“Who’s Clarice?” Babette asked. “Heloise — she’s not that girl you wrote about? Sir Bors’s daughter?”
“Aye, that’d be her,” Heloise muttered.
Babette’s eyes seemed to expand to fill half her face. “Oh, Freddy! You’re courting the Crown Princess’s sister? Truly?”
Dear Freddy’s cheeks were turning quite red, but he nodded, and as he was nodding, he grinned.
Out of the corner of her eye, Dannie could spot Richard glancing at her mother, eyebrows lifted up as if to ask, Should we? Dannie watched as Bianca’s eyes went up and down the table, and surveyed the company, and finally could do no more than shrug.
“Don’t,” Maude hissed, just loud enough for Richard (and Dannie) to hear. “Think about your son. What if it all falls through? You want him to have to remember this?”
That was enough for Richard, for he shook his head and nodded to Maude, who was also shaking her head. That, in its turn, was enough for Bianca.
“Oh, that’s so romantic!” Babette was squealing. “Do you think her father would let her marry you? Oh, Sir Lamorak!” Babette called down the table, batting her eyelashes in a way that could hardly endear her to Garnet, “you’re a nobleman! What do you think are the chances of a nobleman letting his daughter — or his son! — marry a commoner?”
“Um …” was all Lamorak said, and considering the amount of notes he had to copy from Rob over the course of their Camford careers, that was probably the most intelligent thing he was capable of saying.
“What about your father, what might he say?”
“Oh, the exact opposite of Sir Bors!” Lamorak laughed. Who looked more alarmed — Freddy or Babette — at that pronouncement, Dannie could never be sure.
But why would Babette —
She felt an elbow nudge her ribs, looked up to see Rob holding out his hand. “Dance, my lady?”
“Good idea.” She let Rob help her up, then called, “Georgie-porgie! Music! Dancing starts now!”
“Hey, don’t call me Georgie–”
“I’ll call you something worse, porgie, if you don’t cast the darn spell on the violin!”
George grumbled, but he shook his wand out of his sleeve and muttered a spell in the direction of the violin. “Happy?”
“Muchly! Thank you!”
Rob led her over to the grass nearest the violin, and as soon as they were safely out of earshot, Dannie murmured, “Nice save, buddy.”
“I try,” Rob replied, even as seats were pushed in and pounding feet made their way to the grass by the violin.
Dannie nodded to Babette. “Did you notice your sister …”
“Don’t want to think about my sister — either of them — right now. I’m more interested in you.” He spun her, probably to forestall an argument.
Clearly, spousal training was a two-way street. But when Dannie was turned to face him again, she smiled anyway. “Music to my ears.”
“I thought it might be.”
She crept closer to him, her head resting on his shoulder. “I love you.”
“I love you.”
She glanced at the other dancers from the corner of her eye — and giggled. “Rob?”
“Did you know you’re the only guy out here?”
He glanced around her. “Oh brother.”
“Nope, they’re all sitting out!”
“Looks like your father and Lamorak want to change that, though.”
“Best of luck to them. They’ll have to get Garnet and your Mother to pay an ounce of attention to them.”
Lamorak, Dannie thought, wouldn’t have too much trouble diverting his lady’s attention where he wanted it to go. But Bianca was the daughter of Maude Parkinson, and if there was anything daughters of Maude Parkinson knew how to do, it was to direct their attention exactly where they — and no mere male — wanted it to go.
However, when Dannie thought of that, she realized soon that she had not reckoned with grandsons of Maude Parkinson, who were pretty good at gaining attention, period. Even Freddy couldn’t claim that Clarice had ever ignored him — much as Clarice may have wanted to.
Besides, George had the advantage of being Bianca’s son, and if he claimed he wanted a dance — especially with his poor mother! — well, Bianca sort of had to listen. Even if Babette clearly wanted to pretend that the younger boy didn’t want to exist.
Maybe she and Clarice can compare notes on how that doesn’t work!
Rob rested his forehead on hers. “Did I mention how beautiful you look today?”
“Oh, was that what you were going to say when I came to the altar?”
Rob’s eyebrow went up. “What did you think I would say?”
“I hadn’t the least idea! It just came out as um-um-um-um–”
Yes, clearly spousal training was a two-way street — for they hadn’t even been married a whole afternoon, and Rob already knew how to stop that statement in its tracks.
But even a just-married afternoon must stretch forth into evening — if only so the guests could have a chance to stumble home and sleep off that wine that should have cost a lot more than it did before morning. Lamorak and Garnet were some of the first to leave, Garnet on her broomstick and Lamorak on his horse. Next were the Wesleyan family, herding Babette before them. And last, of course, were the Ferreiras.
But last even of the Ferreiras was Maude. Rob waited on the porch, bathed in the rosy glow of the setting sun, while Maude hugged Dannie. “You remember everything I told you, now?”
“Oh, boy. Everything? Are we including eating my vegetables and –”
Maude stepped back and held her at an arm’s length. “You nervous, honey?”
“Me? Nervous? Why ever would you say that?”
“I was too, you know. So was your mother. Both your aunts. I’d bet my best hat that your friend the Princess was nervous, too, a sennight ago.”
Dannie could only shrug.
Maude kissed her cheek. “Don’t be. And remember what I said — relax, enjoy yourself. It might be uncomfortable at first, but if it’s uncomfortable beyond that –”
“He’s doing something wrong.”
“Good girl.” One last kiss on the cheek, and Maude was making her slow way to the carriage.
Then Dannie and Rob were left — alone — in their house, man and wife. Rob extended his hand to Dannie, and she hopped up the steps, taking it when she could reach it. Together, they walked inside. Rob shut the door behind them.
The house was awfully quiet, not even a mouse squeaking to break the silence, and the cat, Pepé, must have been sleeping somewhere to be so silent. Dannie finally had to laugh.
Rob, thank the Lord, laughed with her.
“Good Lord!” Dannie finally gasped. “You’d think — I don’t know what you’d think! But you’d think something!”
“I do generally try to think something when I’m not talking. It gets boring otherwise,” Rob replied. He slung an arm over Dannie’s shoulder. “So …”
“So,” Dannie purred.
“We’ve got the place all to ourselves now –”
“Don’t forget the cat.”
“I include the cat among ‘ourselves.’ So. What would you care to do, Mistress Wesleyan?”
Mistress Wesleyan. Dannie let the delicious shiver race down her spine. Then she answered Rob.
“Race you upstairs!”
Her feet pounded up the steps, Rob’s clunky boots following. Her slippers were not made for this sort of treatment — she was skidding and sliding by the time she hit the landing, stumbling headlong into their bedroom. Their bedroom.
Dannie stopped. She’d seen the room before — she’d decorated it! — but now that she lived in this house — now that she would be sleeping in that bed, keeping her clothes in that chest of drawers, fixing her hair at that vanity —
Rob entered, shutting the door behind him.
She turned around, hand on her hip, one eyebrow raised. “You were expecting interruptions?”
“You just told me not to forget about the cat.”
Dannie snickered, and then she checked under the bed and vanity and chest of drawers, just to make sure the cat hadn’t gotten shut in here with them.
When she straightened again, she asked Rob, “So … now what do we do?”
“Oh,” Rob replied, “I have a few ideas.”