Sibling Rivalry

By S. Faith, © 2010

Words: 16,773 (in three parts)
Rating: T / PG-13
Summary, etc.: See Part 1.


Part 3

"So where are Peter and Augusta?"

Mark had been so focused on tending to supper, so lost in his own thoughts, that he did not hear her come into the house and into the kitchen. The sound of her voice startled him, and he jumped, dropping the spoon with which he had been stirring the tomato sauce.

She began to laugh. "Didn't mean to scare you," she said. "Bit of a Nervous Nelly, you are."

"They've gone out," he said, answering her question. "He wanted to take her out for dinner."

"Sweet," she said, coming up behind him and threading her arms around his waist, pressing herself into his back. "And you're cooking for me. Double sweet."

He chuckled, then coughed, thankful that the box resided in his jacket pocket, which hung over the back of his chair.

"Mark." She backed away from him. "Is everything all right?"

"Yes," he said quickly, looking at her. "Fine."

"I swear you're trembling," she said. "What's wrong?"

"I'm afraid I'm going to burn dinner with you distracting me," he said. She blinked in surprise; his tone was probably harsher than he had intended. "Sorry," he added. "Have a seat at the table. This is just about done. I'll bring it in."

"Okay," she said, her brow furrowed, then did as he asked.

Within a few minutes the pasta timer went off. He brought the pasta and the sauce to the table, served some for each of them, poured their wine, then slipped back into the jacket.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"Putting my jacket on."

"To eat at home?"

"I want to look nice."

She smiled, though looked slightly confused; in retrospect, it was probably an odd thing for him to say from her perspective. "You do look nice. It's just… what if you get sauce on you?"

He sat down. "I'll be careful."

"No need to frown," she said. "If you want to eat with your jacket on, you can."

He cleared his throat. "Sorry."

She reached into the bowl of freshly grated parmesan and sprinkled some on her dinner. She began to eat, as did he, and within moments dropped a strand of tomato-laden spaghetti on his lapel. She pursed her lips at regarded him with a distinct 'I told you so' look.

"Take off your jacket," she said. "I'll clean it."

"No," he said, thinking of the box in the front pocket. "I'll take it to the cleaners in the morning."

"Don't be silly," she said. "The stain will set."

"Bridget," he insisted firmly, wondering where this Pam-like domestic stain removal concern had suddenly come from. "Don't worry about it."

She set her fork down on the table with a loud smack. "Mark Darcy," she said. "If you don't tell me what's going on, I swear I'm going to go upstairs, unfold all your boxers and toss them all over the bedroom floor."

This was not going at all as he planned. He set his own fork down, his heart thumping like mad in his chest, and he sighed. "You're right, Bridget," he said. "Something is wrong."

He watched the colour drain from her face.

"There's a reason I can't concentrate," he said. "Why I'm jumpy and on edge tonight. I think—hope—you might know why."

She brought her hands to cover her suddenly gaping mouth. "Oh my God," she said. "You're dying."

"What? No," he said quickly. He got to his feet, and in one swift move, plunged his hand into the jacket pocket holding the box and crouched beside where she was sitting. "Why would you think I was dying?"

"You don't like giving bad news."

"What makes you think it's bad news?"

"Because—" She stopped suddenly. "It's not bad news? Are we just going on another trip to somewhere that isn't LA?"

"Bridget," he said, pulling the box up, still out of her sight, and flicking it open with his thumb. At this point he swore that sweat was beading on his forehead as he lowered one knee to the ground. "I wanted to—I hoped you would—would you do me the honour—Oh, hell." He forcefully inhaled then exhaled, and with a final show of courage, held the open box up to her. "Marry me. Please."

"Oh my God," she said again, this time breathily, her eyes fixed on the beautiful diamond ring surrounded by dark blue velvet. He felt dizzy. She met his eyes again after what felt like hours, almost as if surprised he were there. Her hands went to cover her mouth once more, but just at the outer corners of her eyes he could see the distinct evidence of a smile, could see her eyes were becoming misty with tears. She sobbed, then chuckled through her tears… then nodded. "Yes," she answered at last, grinning at him, launching forward off of her chair to embrace him—

And sending the two of them tumbling onto the floor.

Upon hitting the floor, they were both thankfully laughing. It was not what he had in mind, it was true, but he should have guessed proposing to Bridget would be anything but ordinary.

They sat up; he reached for the jewellery box, plucked the ring from its secure holding, and slipped it onto the fourth finger of her left hand. She climbed to sit on his lap, facing him with her legs about his waist, then placed her hands on his face and kissed him soundly.

"Did you think I would say no?" she asked close to his ear as she embraced him again.

"I thought maybe you might not want to get married. You don't seem to care much for married people."

She chuckled. "My poor Mark," she said, running her fingers through his hair. "It'll be different with you. I'll have every right to be smug."

Smiling, he helped lift her to her feet; as he rose he saw her swoon, then brought her hand up to her temple. Only then did he wonder if she perhaps had hit her head as they landed. "Are you all right?" he asked.

"Yeah," she said with a smile. "Little whack on the head."

He took her face in his hands, looked deep into her eyes, and swore one pupil was more dilated than the other. "Come on," he said. "We're taking a trip."

"What are you talking about?"

"You hit your head," he said. "I'm not risking letting a concussion go undiagnosed."

She knew he meant Accident & Emergency. "Mark! What about your fantastic dinner? I'm starving."

"Sorry, love," he said. "It'll keep until we return."

"Oh, come on!"

"One of the side-effects of a concussion is nausea," he said. "If you get sick…"

She rolled her eyes. "Fine."

After an unfortunate two hour wait in Accident and Emergency, it turned out she did not in fact have a concussion, and as a treat he stopped on the way home and picked up a container of ice cream for after dinner. He would have thought the engagement would have negated the pout on her face; he chalked it up to being hungry.

As Mark swung the door open upon their return, he was met by a distraught-looking Peter and Augusta, who appeared so suddenly from wherever they'd been that it seemed as if they had materialised out of thin air.

"Where have you been?" asked Peter sternly, brows together.

"We have been worried out of our minds!" said his wife.

"I'm sorry," said Mark. "Everything's fine."

"Mark was convinced I had a concussion," she said. "Didn't hit my head hard at all, but he insisted."

"Quite right," said Peter.

"Better safe than sorry," said Augusta. "I'm just glad you're okay."

"I'm not okay," Bridget said, pout still in place. "I haven't had supper yet."

Mark slipped his arm around her waist and pulled her in the direction of the kitchen. "Yes. There is a wrong to be made right."

As she resumed her place at the table, Mark retrieved her plate from the refrigerator and put it into the microwave. The pasta seemed to have soaked up a little sauce but still looked and smelled delicious, and when he brought it to her, she dug into it greedily.

"Mm, oh," she said, her mouth a little too full to talk properly; after finishing chewing and swallowing, she said, "Oh! By the way, we're engaged!"

Augusta's eyes immediately flew to Bridget's bare left hand. "But—"

"Oh, right, sorry." Bridget leaned to the side and held her left hand out while he dug into his trouser pockets. With a chuckle, Mark then slipped the ring back into place. "Mark held on to it for safe keeping while they examined me. Haven't gotten used to it being there yet." She smiled at last as she admired the ring on her hand, then offered that same genuine smile to Peter and Augusta. He knew she was waiting for their approval.

Mark turned his own gaze their way, and was happy to see without words she had gained it. It was clear from the way they were both smiling proudly that Peter had informed his wife of his ultimatum, one that Mark was now thankful he'd threatened.

"Well done," said Peter, as his wife offered her congratulations to Bridget in the form of an embrace. Peter went around to Mark, who expected a firm handshake, but instead got a brotherly hug. Peter added, "Please tell me the proposal happened before the trip to hospital."

Bridget giggled as she stood to accept a hug from Peter. "The injury was in fact proposal-related."

Peter patted her head gingerly. "What, did Mark have to hit you over the head to accept?"

At that she laughed as she took her seat again.

"No," said Mark; "she just sent me head over heels in accepting."

"A night to remember, for sure," said Augusta as she embraced Mark. "Well done, indeed."

"Sit down, Mark," said Peter. "Let me get your own dinner… and a little something special to go with it."

Mark was confused, but agreed as he watched Peter and Augusta go towards the refrigerator.

He felt her fingers touch where his hand rested on the table, and he turned back to look at her; she looked as happy as he had ever seen her. He smiled in automatic reflex, turning his hand over and lacing his fingers with hers.

"I'm so glad they approve," said Bridget quietly.

Mark could not help but feel slight apprehension at her saying so; he fully expected a private consultation with his brother about all the caveats in place for his approval, hounding him to get working on the prenup as soon as possible, and maybe even suggestions with a social advisor to get Bridget nice and polished up. He did not say so, only said, "Me too," then raised her hand to brush a kiss on her knuckles.

A loud pop echoed through the kitchen; both Mark and Bridget turned quickly to see foam erupting from the top of a bottle of fizzing wine. Mark laughed in his utter surprise. "Where on earth did that come from?"

"We had a feeling you'd be successful tonight," said Augusta with a wink. Peter had located champagne flutes and poured four of them to the top with champagne. He carried two back to the table, and Augusta brought the other two, then was kind enough to fetch Mark's plate of food.

Once they all had flutes in hand, Peter lifted his above the others. "To family," he said with a broad grin.

"Hear, hear!" said Augusta, clinking her glass with Bridget's, who giggled. After a full round of touching glasses, Bridget tipped her glass up and took in the whole flute in almost one swallow, then held the flute out towards Peter for more.

"Careful," said Mark.

"It'll go to your head," added Peter.

"I'm a newly minted engaged woman," she said with a grin. "Everything's going to my head right now. So fill it up."

"No," said Peter with a laugh. "It's already gone to your head."

"Has not," she said. "I'm just like this when I'm deliriously happy." She cleared her throat and tapped the side of the glass with her fingernail.

"That settles it," said Peter, lowering his glass from his lips, then pouring her another. "I will never have a moment's peace the rest of my life." As Bridget stuck out her tongue at Peter in response, Mark's happy mood deflated instantly. The tone was jovial enough, but the words were close to how Peter must have felt deep down. Rather than contribute to the conversation, he merely sipped his own champagne.

"How about you, Mark?" asked Augusta. "Fancy another?"

"Um, no, no thanks," he said, setting his glass down.

"I insist," Peter said. "It's a time for celebration."

"No, really," said Mark, looking down to his full plate. "Not on an empty stomach." He reached for the fork, even though he had quite lost his appetite.

"Then eat," said Peter.

"Nah. More for me," said Bridget impishly with a saucy smile, tipping her flute up again to sip.

………

"Oof."

She had said this several times since getting to her feet, and now it was in mid-ascent up the stairs that she said it again, followed by a giggle. He had his arm around her waist, and he did not mind at all that she leaned in to him for support.

"How many glasses did you have? Four? Five?"

She made a dismissive sound with her lips. "The bottle wasn't that big."

"There was more than one bottle."

"Was there?"

They reached the top, then made their way to the bedroom. "Mm-hm."

"Oh." She was silent. "I'm not really sure. I lost count."

He chuckled. He'd had two in total himself; as he'd eaten he'd felt his good spirits return. "Not that I like to encourage this sort of thing," he said, "but you're adorable when you're like this."

"On top of the world with a beautiful ring on my finger?"

"No," he said. "Well, yes, that too, but I meant the fact that you're squiffy."

She giggled again, reaching for and unsteadily undoing his trouser button. Her drunken friskiness was surfacing. He had to admit that his was as well. She teased him with a kiss, saying, "Am the happiest girl in the world… love your lovely family… your brother… and especially do I love you."

He was too swept up in thoughts of celebratory lovemaking with her to think twice about how she was destined for disappointment when Peter's true feelings came to light. That only happened later, after the contentment of coital bliss washed away and left him in the darkness with these dismal thoughts.

He thought back to his early to mid-twenties, when he and his brother were both living and working in London and had much closer social contact. There wasn't a girl he'd taken out with which Peter, after initially treating them nicely, hadn't found some fault, usually relating to her not being Mark's equal in either socio-economic status or moral attitude. Although those relationships ultimately did not last, he hated that his brother seemed to understand much more quickly than he did that they'd been wrong for him, hated that he had always been right.

He loved Bridget, and he was prepared to fight for her. Even against his own brother.

………

"I don't think that woman can do anything right."

It was a private conversation, one between husband and wife, and had Mark not been passing by the guest bedroom at that moment he would not have heard it.

But he had.

"She's really trying," said Augusta in a conciliatory tone, "but I must admit I'll be glad to be rid of her once and for all."

"She can't do anything right," he said again. "If there's anyone more inept—"

"Shh," Augusta said. "Keep your voice down. I think they're still sleeping."

"Sorry." Mark heard Peter sigh. "I think trying to stay pleasant through this whole ordeal is taking its toll on me."

"It'll be over soon," she said in return. "But for now, we need to stay civil." Her voice came nearer to the door and Mark moved away quickly and down the stairs, continuing down to the kitchen to start some coffee brewing.

Sometimes Mark hated being right. He was not surprised that Peter felt so vehemently against her after all, but he really dreaded Bridget finding out that the friendship forged with Augusta had been fraudulent.

"Morning," said Peter, coming down into the kitchen, startling Mark from his thoughts. "I thought you were still asleep."

"No," he said, rising from his seat, realising the coffee had finished brewing. "Coffee?"

"Yes, thanks." Mark heard the newspaper rustle behind him. "Mark? Everything okay?"

"Yes, fine," said Mark quickly. "Not sure I slept so well."

"Sorry to hear that." Mark brought a mug of black coffee and set it down in front of his brother. "Listen, Mark," he began; his tone was quiet and very serious. "I need to speak to you in private, and now's as good a time as any."

Mark knew this was it. The hammer was about to drop. Peter was going to share his opinion, his true opinion, about his choice in fiancée. "What's the matter?"

"I wanted to let you know that I—we—are very grateful for your taking us in. However—"

"Good morning!"

It was Bridget, far more bright-eyed and bushy-tailed than usual in the morning as she strolled into the kitchen. "Good morning to you," she said, bending to peck Peter on the cheek, "and a very good morning to you." She snaked her arms around Mark's neck and gave him a tender kiss.

"I would have thought you'd have a killer headache after all of that champagne," mused Peter.

"Love has conquered all," she declared. "Even hangovers."

"So what trouble are you planning on getting my wife into today?" he asked.

"Mm, thought maybe we'd go get our colours done," she said. "I resisted when my mum made an appointment for me, but it's actually rather a lot of fun."

"Go get your… what?"

Bridget chuckled; inside, Mark winced. "It's a girl thing."

"Peter," Mark said abruptly. "There was something you wanted to talk to me about…?"

"Later, Mark. Later. I have to get going. Another bloody meeting with the estate agent to pick up some more paperwork." He picked up the coffee cup and drained it. "Thanks for the coffee. Delicious." He rose and left the kitchen.

"You okay?" It was Bridget asking the question from where she was pouring herself her own cup. "You don't seem quite yourself."

"I'm fine," he said, then added, "tossed and turned a bit."

"Oh, I'm sorry," she said, then playfully added, "but if you're having second thoughts, it's too late. You're stuck with me."

At that he chuckled, then went to give her a hug and kiss. "Not a chance."

………

"You will never believe what that little brat did now."

Mark glanced up from behind his desk to find Peter standing there at his office door; he looked slightly pale, his eyes round as if in shock. He came in and closed the door behind him. Mark realised that the talk he'd wanted to have earlier was about to happen whether he wanted it to or not.

Mark stood so quickly his chair fell backwards.

"Let me have it," said Mark, his voice quiet yet simmering with anger. "Let me have your true feelings like you've wanted to since the very beginning."

Peter looked taken aback. "What are you talking about?"

"Bridget. She's not from a family of standing, doesn't have important connections. She's not mature or capable enough. She doesn't cook. And she's a nuisance, destined to make the rest of your life impossible."

"Mark, I—"

"I love her, and that's all that matters to me. I don't think there's a woman on this earth who can possibly live up to the standards you set for me. I couldn't live up to the standards you set for me!"

"Mark!" he shouted. "What the hell are you talking about? You're not making any sense! Which standards?"

"Your criticisms, your judgments of everything I did, pushing me into competing with you…. My choices have never been good enough for you, not in the professional arena, and certainly not in the personal one."

Peter still looked stunned. "You can't possibly think I find any fault with the work you've done in human rights law, Mark. You're brilliant, and I'm damned proud of you—and yes, I might have pushed you hard when we were younger, but you thrived under that pressure." He drew his brows together. "What have I ever said or done that would possibly lead you to think I don't like Bridget?"

"Your reaction to our living together. How you looked at me when you caught us kissing in the kitchen—and last night, when you refused to pour her more champagne. And just now, actually, what you said as you came in."

"When I came in just now," he said slowly, staring at Mark, "I was about to tell you that your Bridget had managed a miracle with the estate agent. Her methods were… unconventional, shall we say, but effective. Hence the affectionate reference to her being a brat."

"Then what about this morning?" Mark asked, then immediately regretted it; that was, after all, a private conversation.

"This morning? Over coffee? Or—" The Darcy brothers were both endowed with razor sharp minds, and Peter knew in that instant what Mark meant. "You heard Augusta and I talking this morning."

"I didn't mean to listen, but I was walking by and the door was open," said Mark. "It was difficult hearing that you and your wife can't wait to get out of here and away from Bridget."

"Mark," said Peter, who smiled, then began to laugh. "We were talking about our estate agent. Completely incompetent and unwilling to stand up for us. Bridget threatened to do a segment about her company on-air if she didn't get her act together. Though 'act' is not the word Bridget used."

Mark felt like the ground under his feet had gone liquid. "So what did you want to speak to me about this morning then, if not about Bridget?"

"I wanted to beg you to allow us a few more days here."

"Why didn't you want do that in front of Bridget?"

"I didn't want you to feel pressured to say yes in front of your new fiancée when you probably wouldn't mind some privacy of your own. I suppose we could have seen about going to a hotel, but… well… Augusta really likes the warmth of your place. It reminds her of home, which she misses very much. The point is moot now, though, because Bridget's read them the riot act, and we'll be moving in on schedule, after all." Peter paced a little. "So you think I was unnecessarily harsh to you when we were children. And that I was overly critical of your previous girlfriends."

Mark said nothing.

"Mark, I did it because I cared. I could see that you needed encouragement, that you were otherwise shy and reserved, unsure of yourself. And I may have been critical of the women you'd seen in the past, but it seemed you were a bit myopic when it came to them." Peter paused. "Is that why you never told her anything about me? Were you hoping she'd never meet me?"

"You and I weren't close," said Mark. "No conscious choice came into telling her about you versus not telling her; I just didn't think of it, and I regret that now. I'm sorry."

Peter regarded him intensely. "For the record, Mark, I have not been hiding my true opinion about Bridget, planning on ambushing you at some point in the future to sabotage your relationship. I like her, Mark. I truly do. I was inclined to from the start, because Mother spoke so well of her. She's a breath of fresh air. She's funny, she's bright, and there's not an ounce of artifice about her. She has been so good with Augusta, a real friend to her during a time of extreme homesickness for her. And most importantly, it's bloody obvious she loves you, and you love her." He paused to take a breath. "I don't make a habit of lying, Mark. I was always pleasant to your previous girlfriends, but I never said anything privately to you about them that I didn't mean. So why on earth would you think my previous declarations of fondness for Bridget were in some way untrue?"

Mark suddenly realised Peter was absolutely correct; he did not have an adequate answer for his brother. "I'm sorry," he said at last. "I was just so convinced that your concern would lie in the perfect merger, not in—" He stopped short just as it occurred to him why the change in his brother had happened.

In love. It was suddenly so obvious to Mark, evident in the care and concern for his wife's well-being, and his joy in Bridget's part in contributing to her happiness.

At that, Mark felt a smile play across his lips.

"What?" said Peter.

"You are completely in love with Augusta," said Mark, grinning broadly. "That's the piece of information I was lacking."

"Of course I am," he said, utterly confused. "I married her. Why does this surprise you so much?"

"Because the Peter I knew so well didn't believe in love." Mark was starting to chuckle now. "He wanted a woman with the proper pedigree, the right connections, equally competitive in all aspects of life. Don't get me wrong, I like her very much, but I simply thought you'd found an exceptional companion with whom to join forces." He thought about the lack of physical affection he'd witnessed, but to be fair, Peter was more restrained in that regard than Mark had ever been. The scene in the kitchen must have been hell on earth for him.

Peter was obviously fighting a grin too now. "You're a fine one to talk, Mark," he said. "I never got the impression that you believed in love either, at least not until it was so obvious with Bridget." He started chuckling too. "Look at us. We thought we'd be sceptics 'til the bitter end… until it actually happened to us."

It was a marvellous feeling to sit there with his brother and finally feel like they were peers and on equal footing. He was grinning, Peter was grinning, and at the same time they moved towards each other for a brotherly hug. "I am glad you have someone you love as she is, without reservation," said Peter quietly.

"I'm glad for you, as well," said Mark, patting his brother's back before they pulled apart. Mark then drew his brows together. "Where are they, by the way?"

"What?"

"Bridget and Augusta."

"At Bridget's insistence," began Peter in an almost portentous tone, "we picked up celebratory pizza for supper."

"Oh," said Mark, thinking of the three chilling bottles of Chardonnay in the refrigerator. "We should go eat."

In reaching the kitchen he found his suspicions were correct. Half of the first bottle was gone and the two glasses Bridget had already poured were mostly empty. "Hurrah!" said Bridget, holding her glass aloft. "To closing in the morning!"

"Hurrah!"

They then downed the remainder of the wine they had. Mark had never seen Augusta tipsy before. He fought back a laugh.

"Getting started early?"

"Oh, Mark! Peter!" Bridget stood, wobbling a little, then threw her arms around her fiancé. "Just in time for pizza!"

"You haven't had food yet?"

"We were waiting for you."

"Clearly had no compunction on waiting to start in on the wine."

"We have to celebrate the closing tomorrow!" Bridget went and slung her arm around Augusta's shoulders. "I'm gonna miss you though. At least you'll be close by."

With a broad smile, Augusta leaned into Bridget. "I'm more grateful for that than I can say," she said. "And your friends are lovely too."

"Aw, they love you too!" said Bridget. "Come on. More wine."

"How about some pizza first?"

Both brothers said it in unison, causing both women to burst into uncontrollable laughter. It was nice to see Augusta uninhibited and laughing. Bridget had been a good influence on his own reticence, and it would seem that influence no less diminished in her future sister-in-law.

………

"We're going to be late."

For once, it was Bridget urging him to hurry up. They were supposed to go early to help set things up for Peter and Augusta's housewarming, but he was having trouble locating the card he'd purchased for them. "Bridget, have you seen the envelope?"

"Which one?"

He drew his brows together. "The card for Peter and Augusta."

"I have it in my handbag."

Mark covered his face with his hand. "You might have mentioned that sooner."

"Sorry."

He smiled, then chuckled. "I guess we can go, then."

"Yep. Let me grab the present."

"The what?" Their present to his brother was six place settings in ivory gilt-edged china, due to be delivered within the week.

"The kettle."

"Which kettle?"

"The kettle," she said. "You know, the ladybug kettle."

Mark had somehow missed the purchase of this object, but felt it best not to say anything admitting to same. "Oh."

"I thought it would brighten up the kitchen. You know."

"Yes." He felt himself fighting a laugh.

She did not notice, only furrowed her brow. "You don't suppose they already have one, do you?"

"I can guarantee you," Mark said, unable to hold in his chuckle any longer, "that they do not already have a ladybug tea kettle."

Since their house was within walking distance of Peter and Augusta's, Mark decided that even with a tea kettle in tow it might be best to walk, as parking might be at a premium. Upon arriving, he wondered if they should have brought the car, after all, because Peter and Augusta had a gift of their own for the newly engaged pair. Peter insisted that they open it before anyone else arrived. He let Bridget unwrap it, because she always did with an unholy glee.

"What on earth…" began Mark, trailing off, holding the envelope his brother had given them without yet opening it.

"It's not as charming as the one we had as children," said Peter with a bemused smirk, "but I hope you can put it to good use…"

Safe and secure in its packaging was an inflatable paddling pool. Bridget blushed, but smiled then laughed. "I love it."

"I know how much you have enjoyed paddling pools in the past," said Peter, "though I'm not sure Mark's limbs won't hang out the sides should you try to enjoy it together."

At that Mark felt his own face flare with the heat of embarrassment.

"That isn't the only gift," said Augusta, handing Bridget an envelope. She tore it open as Mark looked over her shoulder to see what the card said. It was far more whimsical than he would have imagined, a cartoon of a regal-looking cat being snuggled by a fluffier one with a playful look on its face, and a caption inside that read, "You bring out the best in each other. Congratulations on your engagement!" Within the card was a certificate for a couple's day at a local spa.

"We thought you both deserved something nice," said Peter. "And what else do you get the couple who has everything?"

"Makes our gift to you seem completely mundane," he said, handing Peter the card with the note in it about delivery of the china.

As he opened the card and read the note, he smiled. "Thank you."

"It's similar to the one Mother uses for Christmas dinner."

"Your taste is impeccable, Mark," said Peter. "I'm sure we'll love it."

"And here's a little something for now," said Bridget.

She handed the box over to Augusta, who giggled as she opened it. "Oh, I love this!" she said, snapping the whistling lid open and closed via the trigger on the handle. "It's adorable, and will add a lovely spot of colour in the kitchen."

Bridget beamed. "I'm glad you like it." She cast a look to Mark that was impossibly smug.

"So," said Mark. "How can we help?"

Augusta had been cooking all morning—as evidenced by the platters of hors d'oeuvres lining the kitchen counters—and she now asked for Bridget help to bring the food, plates and silverware to the dining room. Mark and Peter were charged to uncork the wine, get the wineglasses, make the coffee and get the accoutrements for lightening and sweetening the same.

"You know, I'm very much looking forward to your getting married," said Peter just as he finished grinding the coffee. Bridget was putting a stack of places and forks on a tray.

"Oh really?" she said, not looking up.

"Oh, yes," he said. Mark could see Peter was smirking. "I've always wanted a younger sister to harass."

Mark glanced to Bridget and saw she was smirking as well, at least until she stuck her tongue out at him.

"Such class, such dignity," said Peter. Mark could see now in light of everything that had changed that he said these things with affection, and chuckled too.

She grinned as she picked up the tray. "I aim to please."

The doorbell sounded out at that moment. Augusta smiled. "I'll get it."

………

The party itself had been a great success. For those who arrived who knew Mark and Bridget also—and even some of those who did not—brought lovely tokens of congratulations on their engagement. Mark very much looked forward to his brother and sister-in-law living so close to Bridget and him.

Mark was thankful they had walked, as he'd had a bit too much wine during the course of the party. They left their gifts behind as, hand in hand, they strolled down the street towards home, the moon full in the sky, the relatively warm breeze ruffling through Bridget's hair.

"Practically perfect night," she sighed, offering a smile up to him.

"Practically?"

"Well, aside from another mortifying reminder of the paddling pool."

He laughed.

"It's not funny," she said, though she was still smiling a little. "Your brother's seen me naked."

"You were four."

"Details," she said. After a thoughtful moment, she added, "We'll have to go back with the car tomorrow for our things."

"Mm-hm," he said.

"Because it's supposed to be hot," she went on, "and I might want to take a dip in the pool."

Mark would have laughed if he thought Bridget was kidding. He wondered precisely what his expression looked like, though, that had caused her to burst out with a laugh of her own.

"I'm only sorry," she said, "that we can't fully recreate the experience."

At that he laughed, knowing she was referring to the 'naked' portion of the whole story. He let go of her hand, took her around the waist and pulled her close to him, pecking her cheek.

"I'm not joking," she said, the pout on her face evident in her voice.

The end.