by M. Mitch Marmel & E.O. Costello
© 2010 By E.O. Costello and M. Mitch Marmel.
All characters © E.O. Costello and M. Mitch Marmel.
After the cake (two layers of soft sponge cake with raspberry filling and sweet, dense buttercream icing – yummy!) all of the younger and unattached members of the wedding party gathered at one end of the room as Willow and I walked to a chair set up near the serving tables.
I dropped to one knee as Willow grinned down at me, and I gently removed her garter. As I stood up I said, “I really should say something . . . something in the honi soit qui mal y pense style, y’know. But – well, dash it all, here it comes!”
And with that I stretched the elastic and shot it across the room like a rubber band at the mels waiting to grab it.
The garter, frilly lace acting as a brake or whatever those aerodynamic chappies call it, went sailing through the air. Several men reached for it but missed and it came to rest perched precariously on Chef Joseph’s toque.
The gallant Frenchman had been making eyes at a certain lissome girl across the room. He took the garter from his chapeau and winked at her, then smiled and bowed as the others applauded.
I clapped my paws as well, and stepped back as Willow stood up and someone passed her the bouquet.
The other girls all hooted and hollered at me as I took another deep sniff of the flowers in my paws. I winked at them, turned my back and flung the bouquet over my head in the general direction of the waiting ladies.
There was a scuffle and I turned as the scrum started to separate.
My eyes filled with tears.
Rosie had caught the bouquet.
The dinner was winding down as everyone had their fill, and people began applauding as Reggie led Willow out onto the terrace for a dance. He bowed correctly in response to her curtsy and the quartet started a waltz.
“They dance beautifully,” I remarked to Josslyn.
“Harrumph.” My mate, always the romantic.
Willow and Reggie finished their dance and as other couples took to the floor my daughter-in-law came up to us.
She smiled broadly as she said, “Father, would you please dance with me?”
Josslyn jerked as if someone had run an electrical line to his flag. He glared up at her and snorted.
“I said no, woman.”
I selected a tender spot on Josslyn’s flank and prodded him. “Get up, Joss, and dance with your daughter-in-law.”
A whistling snort greeted this, and Reggie added, “Please, Father. It *is* traditional, y’know.”
Still grumbling, my mate rose from his chair (rather like the lamented Hindenburg rising from its mooring mast) and allowed Willow to practically drag him to the floor.
Another waltz was started, and she curtsied deeply to him. He gave a jerky bow and the two started to dance.
When the applause had died down and he had returned to his seat, he mumbled something. “I beg your pardon, Joss?”
He repeated himself, in a petulant tone. “I said that she looks lovely, doesn’t she?”
I smiled warmly at him.
“Yes, she does.”
I was amazed.
First, that Father had allowed himself to be led out to the dance floor.
Second, that he was actually a fair dancer. I knew that he had been a boxer, but his fighting style hadn’t relied so much on fancy footwork as on sheer, brutal, head-to-head fisticuffs.
Of course, on a dance floor, where’s the neutral corner?
Still, he obviously knew how to move when occasion demanded it.
Willow and I had another dance before going back inside, where I spotted the Sire hovering over the cake. I went to stand beside him.
“Want another slice of cake, Father?”
He nodded, grumbling sotto voce, and I moved to one side to get a clean plate.
I was having a wonderful time, and so was everyone else.
Which, naturally, meant that someone was about to crash the party.
Rosie tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Willow, battle stations.”
“To your right.”
I looked, and my flag flicked as I spotted a familiar-looking bushy tail.
Attached to a very familiar nutmuncher.
“What the hell is he doing here?” I asked.
“Dunno,” my cheetah friend said, “but this is what happens when you don’t issue invitations – you start getting the Wrong Kind of people.”
As we watched, Andre moved through the crowd as unobtrusively as possible to end up standing behind Reggie and Lord Josslyn. The squirrel was obviously up to no good, and what he planned to do became hideously apparent.
Reggie moved to his right.
Lord Josslyn moved to follow his son just as Andre leaped.
And Lord Josslyn was shoved face-first into the cake.
Who would have thought Andre, of all people, would do something like that? Most of his usual tactics had involved sneering, sarcasm and the rampant abuse of busfurs.
The room had gone deathly quiet, broken only by the soft snorting of the Sire, as he blew cake crumbs out of his nose and started to glare through his frosting-encrusted monocle. Andre, for his part, stood rooted to the ground with wide, frightened eyes as he realized that his attempt at an anti-Reggie jape had failed miserably.
I could sense that a full-scale ranygazoo was in the offing.
I looked down, and spotted something. “Father?”
He glared at me, something I was used to.
I pulled the heavy binder of l’Etoile’s wine list from its hiding place under the table and offered it to him. “Here . . . Father. You’ll need this, I think.”
He looked at me.
He looked at the wine list.
He took the list from my paws.
“Thank you . . . Son,” and he flipped the list open to the dessert wines.
He then turned to Andre, who started to look increasingly paralyzed with shock and fear.
Right up to the instant he took the Chateau d’Yquem across the chops.
That started it, as my father started thrashing Andre with the wine list, the actions punctuated by rodentine screaming and the cheers of the guests. Finally Andre made a break for it and dashed through the terrace doors pursued by the Sire, still wielding the increasingly abused wine list.
Chef Joseph, who had been coolly surveying the action, took a sip of his sauterne. “Alors, the fool will learn that the buck will not stop here.”
And he was right, as the screams faded into the distance.
It dawned on me that I’d never been to this part of Meeting Island before.
Or maybe I had, but had been too inebriated to notice.
That’s all safely in the past now.
Thanks to Willow.
As the reception wound down, Willow took me aside and whispered something in my ear.
I agreed completely.
Now, still dressed in my suit from this morning (flecked with a bit of frosting from the poor cake, which made me wonder – had Father succeeded in thrashing Andre all the way to South Island?) I held a small item wrapped in a napkin as I knocked on the door to Nerzmann’s Book Store.
I opened the door and an elderly mink asked, “Good evening, how may I help you?” in German-accented English.
“Oh, ah, righto. Is Inspector Stagg here?” I asked.
“Ah. Through there, please,” and he went back about his business.
It made sense to me that the Inspector – Willow/Grace’s father – would live in a bookstore. He had enough brains for any three regular rozzers and had quite cleverly put the skids to any number of nefarious schemes, if the papers were to be believed.
I felt bad about having put him through Hell during my time here, and now I had married his daughter.
And she didn’t want me to tell him, which I thought terribly unfair. Still she was his daughter, and knew best, I suppose.
“Come in, please.”
I eased the door open. Good Lord, such a small place! But it was very neat and clean, and everything in its place. The Inspector had gotten to his hooves and stood looking at me.
“Ah, Mr. Buckhorn. Congratulations on your marriage.”
We shook paws, and I said, “Thank you, Inspector. Um, Willow wanted me to give you this,” and I offered the package.
He took it and removed the napkin, revealing a small plate bearing a slice of our wedding cake.
Not the bit the Sire’s face had been buried in.
He looked up at me, and my heart went out to him. I wanted to tell him at that point.
“Please give your wife my thanks,” he said, “and thank you for giving me the opportunity. You . . . have a lovely wife, Mr. Buckhorn. Cherish every moment you have with her.”
“I will, Sir.”
We shook paws, and I left the bookstore.
(As we changed out of our wedding dress, I paused to reflect.
In mere minutes my – our – husband would be coming through that door.
For the wedding night.
Memory pressed me backward, back to New Haven, and happier times.
I had been getting ready for a date, and Margaret was peeking around the door, watching me. I had invited her in to watch a bit more closely, and she wanted to know what I was doing.
When I told her that I had a date with a young man that night, she made a face, stuck out her tongue and said, “Ugh. Boys are icky.”
I recall laughing and telling her that she would learn in time that bucks were definitely not icky.
But she didn’t. She never got the chance.
(When Reggie gets back - )
(It’s MY turn.)
What do you mean, Grace?
(You’ve already had him, Twin. MY turn!)
I chuckled. “All right. Have fun.”
Suddenly I was relegated to the shadows, looking out of my eyes as Grace changed into a sheer champagne-colored silk peignoir with a light robe over that, and lit a few candles in our bedroom before stepping out to await Reggie.
I got back to the hotel and opened the door.
To find a vision, dressed in a light robe.
When she spoke, I knew that Willow wasn’t at home. Or maybe she’d just stepped back to a guestroom.
“Hello, my love. Everything’s ready – in there.” She nodded in the direction of the bedroom.
Then I picked her up and carried her in, over the threshold. “I took that piece of cake to your father, Grace.”
“Thank you, Reggie.”
The lights were off, and some candles were lit.
For some reason, my paws started to shake a bit when I turned away to unbutton my vest and remove my tie.
A wave of musk hit me as I realized that Grace had just as strong a grip as Willow.
I turned to face her.
“Oh. I SAY . . . “
I noted that a comfortable chaise lounge was waiting for me, along with a stack of books, my Dunhills, and a well-padded set of earmuffs.
I wondered if I’d need them.
Probably would. If they’re going to start up that carrousel, I want to be prepared.