“It’s good to see you again, Dad,” Jared said with a weak smile.
Gabe beamed. “You’ve done wel , Son. You’ve done wel .”
“I’ve tried,” Jared said, relieved at his father’s words. He took my hand, then. “You remember Nina.”
Gabe leaned down and kissed my hairline. “Of course.”
Eli walked up the steps, watching with amusement as Claire and Bex crowded their father. “Gabriel….”
“I know,” he said, seeming a bit sad. “One more thing,” he said. He wrapped his arms around Bex and Claire again, and then fol owed Eli through the double wooden doors, down the aisle of the chapel. Lil ian was stil frozen. The same sweet, smal smile on her face hadn’t moved a centimeter.
Gabriel kneeled before her. He noticed her folded hands in her lap, and tenderly covered hers with his. “She is as beautiful as the day I first saw her,” he smiled. With two fingers, he brushed her cheekbone, and then leaned in to kiss her lips. His mouth lingered on hers for a few moments, and he closed his eyes, taking in his last moment with his wife.
Claire wiped a stray tear from her cheek, but her cheeks were glistening with preceding tears. “Eli…”
“I’m sorry, no,” Eli said.
“We’re already pushing the rules all owing Nina to be animated, not to mention all owing me to be here at all ,” Gabriel said. His eyes didn’t stray from Lil ian’s delicate face.
“Not unlike hacking into dreams to get your point across….” Eli said, looking away in dramatic fashion.
“The dreams,” I said. The moment I spoke, I wished I hadn’t. Bothering Gabe while he spent his last moments with his wife was ridiculously selfish. Regardless, Gabe touched Lil ian’s lips to his once more, and then stood to face me.
“Yes, the dreams,” Gabe sighed.
I hesitated, and then decided to ask, anyway. “Why did you come to me in the dream if there was nothing in the book to help us?”
Gabe looked to the floor, and then to Jared. “At first, we were hoping you wouldn’t go right along with the prophecy and get pregnant the first chance that presented itself.”
A flush of red lit my cheeks, and Jared cleared his throat. “That’s not exactly how it happened, Dad.”
Gabe gave a quick nod. “You have the book?”
“Yes,” Jared said.
“Now that you have it, it’s safe to say that it would behoove you to help the Pol ocks replace it. One less thing to worry about, wouldn’t you agree?”
Jared frowned. “But…if it puts us in danger, why did you take it from the Pol ocks to begin with?”
“Answers. Jack knew the moment she was born she was in danger of being the woman in the prophecy. When you fel in love with her, Son, we knew it was a matter of when, not if. We were fighting time and fate…an impossible task. Stil , Jack loved his daughter, and he wanted to do everything in his power to try to keep her from that path. We knew there was a chance the book could help us find a loophole, so we took it.”
In frustration, Jared shifted his weight. “But…by the time you came to Nina in the dreams, you knew there was no loophole. Why did you put her through that? Why the theatrics? Do you have any idea what she’s been through? What I went through?”
“To get your attention. We were desperate to find a way to stop you from commencing the prophecy.”
“By then it was too late,” Bex inserted.
“Obviously,” Claire grumbled.
Gabe shook his head. “Not quite. She stil had time.”
I looked around the room. “Where is Samuel?”
Claire shoved her hands into her jacket pockets. She wore sweats, her gathered gray pants pushed up to just below her knees, and a matching hooded jacket over a ratty white tank top. She had been summoned unexpectedly. “Babysitting Ryan until I get back. Now that the trial is over, he’s vulnerable.”
“Is he okay?” I asked.
She nodded. “Kim goes home tomorrow. Father Francis is in stable condition, but he wil be in traction for a while.”
Bex frowned. “That should have never happened. Clergy should have more protection than that.”
“Father Francis’ guardian is an Arch, Bex. His hands were tied when Donovan attacked him,” Claire explained.
“So what now?” Jared asked Gabe.
“Shax stil wants his book. Hel doesn’t want the child to be born. Things are stacking against you, Jared,” Gabe said. “One thing at a time.”
“One thing at a time,” Jared repeated, letting his father’s advice sink in.
Gabe hugged his children one more time, and then made his way toward the door. “It’s a long time between now and the time she delivers the baby, Jared. We’ll keep an ear to the ground, but be on alert. Heaven won’t step in until you give them a reason.”
“You mean start a war,” Jared said.
“Figure out a reason, Son.” In that instant, Gabriel was gone.
“Huh,” Bex puffed. “Weird.”
Claire’s shoulders dropped. “He’s never coming back, is he?”
“Probably not,” Jared said with a smal , apologetic smile on his face.
Claire sat on the closest pew, beside her mother. She leaned against Lil ian’s shoulder and closed her eyes, pushing the remaining tears down her face. “I’m so sorry you couldn’t see him,” Claire whispered.
“She’l know,” Bex said. “She always knows.”
The windows began to brighten, and light danced down the wal s as if the sun were rising.
Eli smiled, kissing me lightly on the cheek. “Congratulations, kiddo. On both counts. See you soon.”
He smiled. “It’s as I said before. When there is only one question left to ask.”
“But...what does that mean? What is the question?” I asked, but I was talking to empty space. He was gone.
Claire stood, taking a deep breath. “I have to get back,” she said, looking behind her. Samuel stood at the door with an outstretched hand reaching in her direction. “You look beautiful,” she said to me with a smal smile. In no hurry, Claire ambled down the aisle. Once her hand touched Samuel’s, she was gone as wel .
Bex laughed once and shook his head. “That’s so cool.”
Jared took my hand and led me to our former spots at the front of the church. Bex took a position beside his brother. We watched each other as the sun grew brighter, slowly brightening the faces of our audience. From the corner of my eye, I saw movement, and Father Julian shifted his weight, signaling their awakening.
The minister smiled, gesturing for us to turn. We faced our friends and family, and Father Julian placed his hands on each of our shoulders. “I present to you, Mr. and Mrs. Jared Ryel.”
Every face in the room beamed, and applause fil ed the room. Even with the frightening events just moments before, joy consumed me. Jared’s hand enveloped mine, and we walked the few steps to the aisle, and then made our way outside. It was surreal to return to the scene of Jared’s trial, this time in the sunshine where birds sang, happily riding the bobbing branches that swayed with the breeze. The plaza at the bottom of the chapel’s steps where Michael and his smal army had stood not ten minutes before now bathed in the warmth of the sun, waiting for our friends to occupy its smooth, rocked surface. The fountain gushing, the road peppered with townspeople—I felt a bit sick at the sight of it.
“You okay?” Jared said, stopping to smile as Beth took our picture.
“Yeah…yeah, I just feel…confused.”
“Changing planes is unnatural and unsettling for humans, which is why they typical y don’t all ow it.”
“That explains a lot,” I said, stopping to pose for more pictures as Lil ian, Cynthia, Chad, and Jared’s Uncle Luke and Aunt Maryse filed out of the chapel. “Does it…,” I smiled again, “affect the baby?”
“No,” Jared answered, kissing my forehead.
“How do you know?” I said, leaning into his kiss.
He looked down to me and touched my cheek. “Otherwise Eli wouldn’t have done it.”
“Oh,” I said, my eyes wandering until I found Lil ian. “Of course.”
Lil ian hugged her son, and then me. Her sweet, energetic smile lit up the island. I watched and waited, wondering if she realized she’d been in Gabriel’s presence just moments before.
“What is it?” she said, half curious, half amused.
“Nothing,” I smiled. “I’m just glad you’re here.”
“Not as much as I,” she winked.
Jared and I traded glances, wondering if she’d just given us a clue.
“Cynthia!” Beth cal ed. “Stand beside Nina and I’ll take a picture of the couple with their mothers.”
Cynthia fidgeted with her hair, and then took her place beside me, poised and proper. I hooked my arm around her waist, and she stiffened when I pul ed her closer.
“Smile!” Beth said, snapping a picture.
A few of the locals gathered on the street, their warm, smiling faces interlacing with the familiar faces our friends and family. They began clapping and singing, and then one of the grandmothers waved us with her hands, encouraging us to walk. Jared tugged on my hand, and we walked to the street. I laughed with surprise and excitement when I realized they were fol owing us, their hands clapping to the beat of their happy song. Our guests’ white faces were littered among the brown, sun-kissed skin of the townspeople. They fol owed us to a makeshift downtown, where a smal group of men played music.
“You did this?” I asked Jared.
He smiled, amazed. “No. This one I didn’t do.”
We laughed together, amazed at the random celebration that grew around us. Jared pul ed me to the center of the street, where we danced to the strumming guitars and hand-tapped percussion. Chad and Beth joined us, as did Luke and Maryse. Bex pul ed his mother into the dirt street as wel . If I didn’t know better, I would have felt badly for Cynthia, but I knew she preferred to stand away from the nonsense. Perfectly stil .
The afternoon sun was warm, and my wedding dress wasn’t built to breathe in the Caribbean humidity. Jared sensed my dilemma and nodded, providing me a seat in the shade. An elderly woman brought me a fan with a smile of understanding. The band played on, and the townsfolk and our guests danced into the evening, long after the makeshift street lamps and hanging lights turned on to flicker and twinkle against the night.
“How do you feel?” Jared asked, handing me another glass of water.
“Good,” I smiled, taking a sip. “I feel good.”
“Feel like dancing?” he said. Jared gestured to the band, and it slowed the beat.
I eagerly let my husband take me by the hand to the middle of the celebration. I wrapped my arms around his neck and pressed my cheek against his chest. His heavenly scent took me away from trials and the war we would create to stay alive. It was then that I realized his skin wasn’t the feverish temperature it usual y was.
“What is it?” Jared asked.
“You don’t feel as hot.”
“It’s probably because you’re overheating in that dress. I should have arranged for something you could change into.”
“I’m fine.” I smiled. “Quit fussing.”
Jared rested his jaw against my hair, and we moved slowly to the music. A slight breeze moved through the trees that lined the smal cobblestone street in the center of the town. I sunk into Jared’s chest and let his arms total y engulf me. I had never been in more danger, and yet I had never felt so safe. The tribulations that we would face upon our return to Providence suddenly seemed so smal in comparison to that moment.
I looked up to Jared, and noticed his content smile. “Was it exactly what you hoped it would be?”
“Something like that,” he cooed. “Everything and more.”
My head felt heavy, and I rested it against my husband’s shoulder. My eyes swept across the landscape, seeing Beth and Chad dancing. They weren’t talking, but smiling as they shared a sweet moment. It reminded me of the first time Jared and I had experienced Little Corn, and it was heartwarming to see the island make Beth and Chad feel the same way.
As the sun set, the vil agers lit the primitive lamps that bordered the sidewalk. Jared and I stood with Bex, listening to Cynthia and Lil ian discuss how beautiful the ceremony had been. I waited to hear some indication that Lil ian knew of Gabe’s presence, but if she knew, she wasn’t letting on.
“Wel , daughter,” Cynthia said, dabbing her forehead with a handkerchief, “I have an early appointment that Jared promised I would make. I best be off.”
“Thank you for coming, Mother,” I said, leaning in to hug her. Her embrace was more than the usual awkward squeeze. She held me to her, and whispered in my ear.
“Be safe, dearest. I love you.”
Cynthia turned on her heels and walked quickly to a waiting pickup truck. She didn’t look back as the truck slowly faded into the dark jungle. I waited until I could no longer hear the engine, and then turned to Jared.
He offered a half smile. “She loves you.”
“I heard,” I said, stunned. “I mean, of course she does. She’s just never…she’l make her appointment?”
“I’ve made sure of it,” Jared said. “Bex is at the boat dock, now. He’s going to ride with her to the mainland and get her on the plane on time.”
“Good. Remind me to thank Bex later.”
“Oh,” Lil ian put a thin arm around me and pul ed me to her side, “he’s happy to do it. I’m going to catch a ride with Chad and Beth. She’s a sweet girl.”