Willa sat in front of the mirror, gazing into her refection. Her blonde hair was curled beautifully by her best friend, Nikki. Nikki and I had never got on well, but I was glad Willa had her because I was still pretty rubbish at the whole makeup and hair thing. She'd even offered to make me over for the ceremony, and I'd reluctantly accepted when I saw the look on Willa's face. Twenty-Three years old and Willa could still get was she wanted with a sad look and those big blue eyes.
"Damn it!" Nikki swore, digging frantically through her makeup bag.
"What?" Willa asked. "I thought we were done."
"I can't believe what an idiot I am!" Nikki screeched. "I brought the wrong fucking mascara."
Willa frowned. "I didn't bring anything extra."
Nikki looked at me. I shook my head, and she gave an exaggerated sigh. "I have to run to the store. You can't have a wedding without waterproof mascara! You'll leak black all over yourself!" She grabbed her purse and gave one glance inside. "All right, I'll be right back, I promise."
"Hurry," Willa implored her best friend.
Nikki touched Willa's shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze, making her smile. "I will." She took off towards the door, then looked back, her eyes fierce. "Do not cry while I'm gone!"
Once she was gone, I took in a deep breath and let it out. Willa turned to look at me. "Are you okay?"
I laughed. "Shouldn't I be asking you that?"
Willa's smile faded slightly. "I'm fine."
I wasn't sure I believed her, but I didn't want to push. Instead, with Nikki gone, I reached into my bag and pulled out a wrapped box. Willa's expression became intrigued.
"I thought you said you got us the Keurig Tom wanted," she said.
"Well, this… isn't from me, exactly," I said. Willa gave me a confused look. I realized how weird this sounded, but I didn't care. "Just open it."
I handed her the present, and Willa opened it delicately. When she pulled the tissue paper away, she frowned. It took her a second for the memory to register – in that time, my heart pricked with fear that all the stories about Lochan, our Lochie, hadn't been enough to keep him alive in her mind – but then her eyes lit up. "My gloves," she breathed. "The ones I almost lost…" She looked up at me. "You saved them all this time?"
I nodded, my eyes full of tears. "It's your something old. And a reminder… of Lochan."
Willa's face grew sad, her eyes cast off to the side. It was more than sadness, I thought. She almost looked like she felt guilty. That she didn't remember him better? That he could only be glimmer of true memory matched with years of the same stories, like a faerietale? That wasn't the feeling I'd wanted to evoke at all.
"It's okay, Willa," I said, taking her hand and looking at her perfectly polished nails. "I just wanted you to know he is watching over you. He always has, and he doesn't want you to be sad at the thought of him." I smiled through my tears. "He wants you to be happy. So, so happy. Especially today."
Willa's eyes were shining, as she glanced at my bracelet. "I wish I'd been older. I wish I could have really known him."
"I know, sweetie," I said. "He would've loved to walk you down the aisle." I gave a sad laugh. "Though he'd be proud of how Kit's cleaned up for the job."
Willa laughed and dabbed at her eyes with her free hand. "I can't believe he shaved and everything."
I grinned. "I know."
"I'm scared," Willa said, after a moment. "Not of marrying Tom. Just… of the little things. Not tripping over my dress. Not stumbling over my words. I don't think I've ever been more nervous in my life."
"I'd be more worried about Tom stumbling over his words when he sees how gorgeous you look today," I said, solemnly.
Willa giggled. "Aw, Maya," she said, her voice light and happy. "You always know what to say!"
I shrugged with a smile. "I try."
Then, she grew serious again. "I'm also scared of… later. Moving away from home. Being a mom." She shook her head slowly. "What if I don't know how to? What if I'm too scared to try, and I let Tom down?"
I frowned. Of course she'd worry about those things. "I understand your fears, Willa. And you don't have to have kids, not to please anyone, but I know you'd be a great mom if that's what you wanted. And Tom will be there to support you. He loves you. And I've met few men as responsible and caring as he is." In fact, I could only think of one. But I was probably biased.
"He's the one," Willa said, smiling. She was almost blushing. A blushing bride.
"I know," I said, happily. It had been such a relief to me when they got engaged. Willa had dated her share of jerks through high school, but when she met Tom at university a few years back, I could tell it was serious. At first I was scared his kindness was a sham, trying to win us over. But every time he came around, I liked him more and more. "You're going to be so happy together!"
Willa was grinning, but something changed in her suddenly. "Maya… why haven't you ever… you know?"
I blinked. I knew what she meant. Why, in all these years, had I never even dated anyone? I was in my mid-thirties, but I had shown no interest in meeting the love of my life and settling down, like she was about to. I wanted to tell her the truth. I always had. Anytime she'd asked me a similar question. But I'd always brushed it off, not brave enough to speak the words.
Kit knew, obviously. Sometimes, I wondered if Tiffin remembered that kiss in the kitchen. Or maybe he'd blocked it out. But Willa had never asked so directly, so seriously why I'd stayed alone. And I felt like my throat was closing up.
"Is it… because of Lochan?"
I made a noise of surprise. "You know about that?"
Willa bit her lip and shrugged. "Kind of."
"How?" I found myself asking.
She took her hand away and scratched her arm, almost nervously. "The way you talk about him. It was always different than how you talk about Kit or Tiffin. Not like a brother. Like a… lost love." She gave me a moment to answer.
I swallowed, looking at my hands, and my lip trembled. Oh, God. What was she thinking? Did she find me repulsive now? Would my little sister look at me with shame? Maybe I could take that. But if this ruined the way she thought of Lochan, it would kill me. Lochan, who'd looked after her and protected her with everything he had. I rubbed my bracelet for comfort.
"You always said he died to protect us," Willa continued, when I couldn't speak. "But you wouldn't explain. So, one time, I asked Kit."
My eyes shot up to her face. "What did he say?"
"He said… it was his fault," Willa breathed. "He found out about the two of you, and… he told Mum."
"I…" I couldn't believe it. Not only that Kit would tell Willa the truth, but that he still felt guilty after all these years. The tears were pouring down my cheeks now. "He shouldn't blame himself. He shouldn't – it was my fault. I loved him too much. I wanted him too much. I wouldn't let it end."
"Once, one of Tiffin's friends said they heard Lochan was… a rapist." Willa whispered the last words. "And Tiffin punched him."
I remembered that. The fight, at least. Tiffin had never told me what it was about, no matter how hard I'd pleaded. I'd grounded him for a week. Now, I felt horrible for it.
"Lochan was not a rapist," I said, fiercely. I wasn't mad at her; I was mad at the world for calling him that. For labelling our love abuse. For forcing me to say it myself all those years ago so I could keep our kids with me. "We were in love. And – and I understand if you can't comprehend that. But you have to know that Lochan never hurt me. And he… he did die for us. So, I wouldn't be blamed. So, we could stay together as a family."
Willa looked down. She was crying, too. "I don't know how I could have survived without you, Maya. You were… my real mother. You taught me how to love when she couldn't."
I let out a sob. "I did everything I could, Willa," I said. "It wasn't easy to go on without him. God, that's an understatement. It hurt like Hell. For a while I didn't – I really didn't think I'd make it." Willa's eyes widened at my confession. I'd never told anyone this. "But you were the one who convinced me to hang on. You were always the one who kept my faith. Kit stepped up to help out around the house, and Tiffin had his boundless positive energy. But you were the one, Willa. You saved me. You asked me what Lochie would have wanted. You reminded me that I could talk to him when I was lonely. That he missed me."
"I don't… I don't remember any of that," Willa admitted. She seemed awe-struck.
I smiled. "It's okay," I said. "I just want to thank you. And Lochie, he thanks you, too." I took the box from her lap. "You told me he helped us find these. That's why. That's why I kept them."
Willa took the gloves in her hands and ran her fingers over them. "That part, I remember."
"Do you really?" I asked.
Willa nodded. "And now I always will."
She put the gloves back in the box and set it gently on the floor, before wrapping me in a hug. I hugged her back, hard. Like always, she steadied me more than I steadied her. But I tried to remember her words. I'd taught her how to love. And Lochan had taught that to me. No one could rightfully say our love had caused only destruction now.
Nikki burst back into the room, livid when she saw us. "I told you not to cry!"
Willa brushed at her eyes. "Sorry, Nik," she said. "I had to."
"Ugh," Nikki moaned, glaring at me not Willa. "Now, I have to start over. On both of you."
But soon as she was back to work, Nikki was in a good mood again. Willa talked about the new house, and how much she loved it. Even I brightened at that. Willa was so happy. So truly happy. And I got to see it all.
There was a light knock at the door. "Come in," Willa said. – "If you're not the groom!" Nikki added.
Tiffin popped his head in. "How's it coming?"
"Great," Willa said, beaming.
"Better now," Nikki amended.
Tiffin came into the room. "Wow, Nikki, you look great."
I tried to hide my grin and exchanged a glance with Willa. Tiffin had harbored a crush on Nikki forever. It never seemed to go anywhere – Nikki went through boyfriends faster than I could keep up with and seemed oblivious to his affection - but I held onto hope for him.
"Thanks," Nikki said with a grin. "Thank God your sister actually has good taste in bridesmaid dresses. But can you believe I just made a run to Boots in this?"
Tiffin chuckled. "I couldn't tell."
"Aw, you're such a sweetie," Nikki giggled.
"Maybe you could, um, save me a dance," he asked, while fiddling with his tie.
"Why not?" Nikki said.
Tiffin looked like he might pass out from joy.
"We'll be ready soon," I said, standing up to adjust his tie. "Good luck," I whispered in his ear.
He nodded, dazed, and left the room.
"All right," Nikki said, after one last adjustment to Willa's hair, adding the veil. "Are you ready?"
"Absolutely," Willa said. And she didn't look like she was faking the courage in the slightest.
Still, I had to pull her aside. "What we were talking about before… I didn't mean to… and on your wedding day…"
"It's okay, Maya," Willa assured me. "It's something I've wanted to know for a long time. And… while I can't say that I understand exactly, I do believe you were in love. And that it was real. I can tell that from how you've always talked about him."
I gave a shaky sigh of relief. "I love you, Willa."
"I love you, too, Maya," she said, hugging me again.
"Come on, come on," Nikki said from the hallway. "It's nearly time!"
Willa pulled away and gave me a smile. I followed her and Nikki out to meet up with Kit. He was slouching against the wall, but straightened as soon as he saw us. Willa hugged him. "You look great. Thank you so much."
"Still can't believe my little sister is getting married," Kit chuckled.
"Had to happen someday," Willa said.
"But first of all of us?" Kit asked, pulling away.
Willa shrugged. "Can't help when you fall in love."
I went over to hug Kit, too. I hugged him even harder than I had Willa. "Whoa, what are you doing?"
"It wasn't your fault," I whispered. Kit pulled away enough to look at me, quizzically, while still supporting my weight. "And he'd be so proud of you today."
Kit frowned and looked away. "You think so? Uni drop-out, going from job to job, girlfriend to girlfriend?"
"For all you've done. All the important stuff. For supporting me when I needed it most. For being here to walk with Willa," I said. His eyes were wet, and he wouldn't look at me. "And it wasn't your fault, Kit."
Finally, he glanced my way. "It wasn't your fault, either, Maya."
I wasn't sure we'd ever convince each other, but I hoped we'd keep trying. That we'd always care enough to try.
"Guys, come on!" Nikki hissed. She gave me my small bouquet. "Are you sure you don't want to walk with someone?" she asked me. "I can grab Tiffin."
I tried to smile. "No," I said.
Nikki shrugged, then positioned herself at the front of our little group, next to Tom's brother. The way she smiled at him made me feel Tiffin would have some competition tonight. Willa hugged me again from behind, then took Kit's arm. He smiled at me.
The music started, and when it was my turn to walk, I did so proudly. Maybe people would wonder why I chose to walk alone. But that didn't matter. I wasn't alone. I was never alone. He always walked beside me.