The hours I spend with you I look upon as sort of a perfumed garden, a dim twilight, and a fountain singing to it. You and you alone make me feel that I am alive. Other men it is said have seen angels, but I have seen thee and thou art enough.
-George Edward Moore
Tiana's Place was the place to eat at that everyone was buzzing about.
The food was American, but the type of American that was special only to a certain section of the United States, Louisiana, and it was the owner's specialty. And the owner, Tiana Wilcox, seemed to have a way of bringing that specialty to everything she served up. The restaurant was small, but always packed. People from all over the island flocked to the restaurant, wanting to taste the food, have a chat with old friends, and hear the swinging jazz provided from the in-house band, fronted by the most unusual combination of a trumpet-playing alligator and Prince Naveen himself. Of course, the prince's love of jazz was well-known, as was his sudden engagement to Miss Wilcox. The royal family confirmed it, and Princess… the former princess Charlotte seemed to be more excited for the upcoming nuptials than anyone else, but some still conveyed their confusion and disapproval… that is, until they visited Tiana's Place and saw the way the two interacted, their two seemingly opposing personalities melding together into one perfect fit, the tender way they regarded each other. It was difficult for anyone to disapprove of their upcoming union then.
Miss Wilcox ran her restaurant under a tight schedule, detail-oriented and everything in its place, but she was also a gracious and friendly host, even if her Maldonian was a bit broken and shaky. Her American accent just added to the overall charm of the restaurant, though. It was inviting. Well-run. And there was always something to celebrate. The day of Miss Wilcox's official recognition as a Maldonian citizen, a mere three days before her wedding day, was of course the biggest celebration of them all.
Miss Wilcox tried to set aside time to thank each and every one of her customers for their gifts and well-wishes, but her hands were full with more than presents.
She had a wedding to prepare for.
She had a wedding to cater.
"Salmon. I put in the order for salmon two weeks ago. And it still wasn't at the restaurant this morning. If it ain't in by now—"
"The delivery's at noon, Tia. You know that." Charlotte brushed out a section of Tiana's hair, bobby pins in her mouth.
"They should be here by now. I've gotta get them to the—" Tiana stopped herself, looking at her reflection in the mirror. Her hair was only half-done, strands of it still lying against her back, the rest of it twisted in a bun that Charlotte, as both Tiana's attendant and maid of honor, had fixed. "I told Katharine to bring them. But that woman's so forgetful. And she and Helena need to decorate the cake too. I didn't even have time to decorate my own wedding cake last night, I misjudged how long it would take me to bake it—"
"Tiana," Eudora interrupted, who was making some last-minute adjustments to the wedding gown she had made for her daughter and smoothing out the hems so that they lay evenly at her feet, "it's your wedding. All a bride's supposed to do at her wedding is walk down the aisle and say 'I do'."
"I won't be saying 'I do', I'll be saying 'viz'," Tiana snapped. "And I said I'd do the catering. If we were going to have a New Orleans flavored wedding and the royal chefs don't exactly know how to make that and… who am I kidding, I shoulda let them do it, I can't get married and try to plan a three-course meal all at once! I must be insane—" She jerked forward as if wanting to stand up out of her chair, and Charlotte let out a yelp of surprise through the bobby pins. "How much longer are you gonna be with my hair?" Tiana asked. "I need to go find Katharine and Helena—"
"Oh no you don't!" Charlotte admonished, pinning up another stray lock of Tiana's hair. "The bride can't be seen until the ceremony! You're staying right here until the organ music swells."
"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard!" Tiana shrieked. "I've got too many people to supervise and I can't do that while just sitting here getting dolled up! Who says I can't be seen?"
"It's wedding tradition, silly! It's unlucky if anyone other than the attendants see you. Especially the groom. You need to stay right here."
"I'm not staying put just for some stupid superstition!"
"You're gonna anyway. Once I'm finished with your hair, you still need your makeup."
Tiana groaned. "This is a disaster… I knew we should have just gotten married at the courthouse, but no, half the kingdom's showing up and I've gotta be on display like some perfect little doll and the whole ceremony's in a language I still don't quite understand and there ain't gonna be any food because I can't leave this stupid room!"
Charlotte hastily pinned the last of Tiana's hair in place. "Here, sugar, I'll go find Katharine and Helena for you. Mrs. Wilcox, if you'd be a dear and start with Tia's makeup—we've only got half an hour before the ceremony starts—"
"Half an hour?" Tiana exclaimed in despair.
"Not a problem, Charlotte," said Eudora. "I'll handle her."
"You'll handle me," Tiana moaned helplessly as Charlotte quickly darted out of the room. "You say that as if I'm some sort of wild animal."
"Well, you're acting a bit like one," laughed Eudora. "But it's your wedding day, so it's forgivable. Wait here a minute. Before I put your makeup on, I've got another silly wedding superstition to give you."
Tiana groaned. "I'm not sure if I can handle any more of these."
"I think you can handle 'something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue'," Eudora said, moving over to a counter in the other corner of the room, picking up a small box, and making her way back to Tiana. "Here's your something old." She lifted the lid. Inside was a set of gloves, small, delicate, satin, transparent. "I wore them at my wedding."
Tiana drew in her breath. "Thank you, Mama," she said softly, gingerly lifting them out of the box. "Do… do these count as the 'something borrowed' then too?"
Eudora shook her head. "I'm giving them to you to keep. The borrowed is the bobby pins in your hair, they're Charlotte's."
"The dress, of course."
Tiana looked down at her dress and smiled for perhaps the first time that day, despite her stress. Eudora had made it herself, of course, and it was about as far from a stereotypical over-the-top princess wedding dress as one could get. No poofy sleeves and shoulders, just thin shoulder straps and bare arms. No ruffles or frills, just a green satin band crisscrossed around her torso. The dress seemed to be the only thing that had remained simple as Tiana had wanted it. Simple, yet elegant. She slowly pulled the gloves on her hands. "And something blue?"
"I think that's gonna be this blue eye shadow," said Eudora, motioning towards the makeup.
"Oh please, Mama," Tiana moaned, her smile gone, "use another color, I can't wear blue eye shadow, I'll look like a prostitute—"
"I ain't gonna put that much on! Now close your eyes."
"I'm gonna look like a harlot. A nagging screw-up harlot marrying a lazy playboy. God. Won't that look swell. Please just let this day be over with…"
"Babycakes, if I didn't know any better, I'd think you got forced into this or something! Don't you want to marry him?"
"I want—I want to be married to him, I just don't want to marry him, I don't know if I can handle the wedding, that's what it is, I just wanted to say 'I do' and sign the papers and be done with it dammit." And suddenly Tiana giggled, imagining what she must have looked like, the perfect, demure, beautiful bride on her wedding day, cursing.
"Don't you say that," Eudora warned. Tiana felt the unwanted pressure of the makeup stick ramming against her eyes. She scrunched her face in revulsion—she hated makeup and hated whenever someone tried to put it on her. "And don't scrunch your face up. How do you expect me to put this on evenly if you make faces?"
Tiana heard the door to the room open and shut, and Charlotte's quick footsteps bound in. "Dinner has arrived at your restaurant, Tia! I found Katharine and she told me that all the orders got in and they'll be transporting it all to the ballroom as soon as possible for the reception. And here!" Tiana suddenly felt a fragrant-smelling bundle get deposited in her hands. "These are from Naveen," Charlotte continued as Tiana's eyes flew open, staring at the bouquet of red and white roses in her hands. "When he heard me say how stressed you were he immediately grabbed this bunch of flowers from the altar and told me to take them to you to cheer you up. Isn't he a dear?"
"Wait a minute." Tiana's mouth was still hanging open in disbelief, but her eyes were quickly narrowing, first with suspicion but rapidly growing into full-blown rage. "Did you seriously just inform everyone out there that I'm some sort of wild, raving, stressed-out mess, and—and please tell me these ain't actually from the altar, that Naveen didn't ruin the arrangement in some deluded attempt to cheer me up, if you insist on having flowers Lottie we have to have them perfect but now they're—why did you say that? Why did you do that? Why did he do that?"
Charlotte and Eudora exchanged worried glances. "Well that didn't go as planned," Charlotte murmured.
Tiana was only slightly more composed as she waited in the back, obscured from sight, unable to see the crowd but able to hear the anticipatory silence as they waited for the ceremony to begin, the wedding processional lined up ahead of her, her makeup on, her veil on, the roses from Naveen still clutched in her hands, one hundred percent bride, and she couldn't keep her breathing or her heart rate down. She had to focus all her energy on fighting down the urge to run right out of there.
What was happening to her?
Yesterday she hadn't been like this. Yesterday, last night, she had been the happiest woman in the world. She had stayed late at the restaurant, baking the three-tiered cake, and although she realized that she wasn't going to have time to decorate it she hadn't quite cared, surprisingly; it was something that could be done later, but right then she was just enjoying the moment. Naveen had been eager to help her, getting in her way… he meant well, of course, and Tiana had finally told him that his playing music to relax her would be the most helpful thing he could do. She had been back in the kitchen and he had been out on the main stage, switching between the piano and the ukulele, whichever seemed to strike his fancy at any given moment, and Tiana had sung along as she baked, feeling carefree, feeling happy, feeling like a million, Naveen interrupting her every so often to compliment her singing voice or the smells coming from the kitchen. And this made her sing even more. Life didn't get any better than this. She was happy. She was undeniably happy. And she was getting married tomorrow.
Why, then, had tomorrow brought her nothing but worry and doubt? Things weren't going right. There was too much to do and not enough time to do it. She still didn't know if the catering was going to be exactly as she'd ordered it. She had to get bathed and cleaned and prettied and dolled up and apparently locked away from the rest of the world, and there was still too much to do even there. She hadn't even seen Naveen yet that day.
Eudora, standing by Tiana's side in the shadows and holding her arm, gave her daughter a proud smile. Tiana tried to return it, but judging from Eudora's expression morphing into worry and concern, she obviously hadn't done a very good job of it.
The organ music suddenly swelled, filling the entire building, the entire city more likely judging by how completely it hit Tiana. The chord knocked out what little bravery she had left. "Mama, I can't do this," she whispered.
"What do you mean you can't do this?"
"I can't get married. Wh…what do I know about getting married? I don't know how to be a wife, or a princess, or—all I know how to do is cook and bake and own a restaurant, nothing else! I can't do this, Mama! I'm going to mess everything up!"
Eudora just sighed and comfortingly patted Tiana's shoulder. "You're too much of a perfectionist, babycakes. You're gonna do just fine. You love him, don't you?"
"Of course I do." Tiana turned her head to the side and looked longingly, hopefully, through the crowd and the processional slowly moving forward ahead of her, in a vain attempt to catch a glimpse of him, her heart aching for some sort of relief from the stress and doubt that she knew he could give. "But it… scares me how much I love him, Mama, and it scares me to realize that he deserves better than me, he deserves perfection, so I need to be perfect for him but I just can't do it…"
"That's absurd, honey. Naveen doesn't expect you to be perfect."
"I know he doesn't, I never said he did, I said he deserves me to be perfect, and—"
"Tiana," Eudora interrupted firmly. "Nothing is perfect. You ain't perfect. He ain't perfect. Your marriage won't be perfect. It's a fact of life. But as long as you both love each other… you'll be fine."
Tiana felt herself smile, the tears that finally leaked out of her eyes grateful ones.
"Please rise," she heard the minister say in Maldonian.
Eudora smiled and linked her arm in Tiana's. "Now go get him, tiger."
They slowly began to walk down the aisle, the attention of the entire chapel focused on them.
Tiana looked down at the floor. The wood paneling was exquisite, but old. A chip of the floor was jammed upright where a pew met it, she noted. Not perfect.
She looked up and to the sides at the stained glass windows. They were beautiful, filled with images of doves and crosses and tiny flickers of light—at least they would have been if it weren't storming outside. No light was shining through them today. Not perfect.
She looked at the altar. Flowers of every shape and size adorned it, but she could see where, to the left side, a small gap existed, making the arrangement asymmetrical. Not perfect.
She looked at Naveen.
Well… he sure looked perfect. He was so handsome, so beautiful, so full of life, and when he looked at Tiana he looked as though he'd never seen anything more beautiful in his entire life, and Tiana smiled through her tears, her not perfect tears because they were happy and condemning all at the same time, condemning of herself, how could she have even considered running away from this, from him? Now she wanted to run to him, wanted that delicious ecstasy of having her spirits lifted as only he could, want want want need need need and she was going to have him, she was going to have it all, she was going to marry him and nothing could have been more right.
The processional music hit its ending chord just as Eudora and Tiana reached the front of the chapel. Eudora wrapped her arms around Tiana in a gentle hug. "I'm so proud of you, sweetheart," she whispered.
"Thanks, Mama," whispered Tiana gratefully. "I love you."
Eudora smiled at Tiana and Naveen before sitting down in the front pew. Naveen smiled at Eudora too, gratefully and affectionately, before turning back to Tiana and taking her free hand in his. With no free hands to wipe away her tears now, Tiana simply blinked them away, still smiling, thinking to herself that she completely forgave him for upsetting the flower arrangement.
A rumble of thunder resonated through the chapel.
The minister chuckled. "Lovely weather we're having, isn't it?" he remarked in English. The guests all laughed appreciatively.
"Before we start," he said, still in English, "there's a little something I'd like to say. Before the ceremony the prince and I were talking, and the subject of Tiana's remarkable language abilities came up. While we both agreed…" He smiled apologetically at Tiana. "That your Maldonian isn't perfect, it is still amazing considering you have only been speaking it for six months." He turned back to the audience. "But Prince Naveen voiced his concerns to me that as far as Tiana has come with her Maldonian, she still feels far more comfortable in English. And seeing as the two of them, collectively, understand English better than Maldonian… And I believe most of you here understand English too…"
Tiana drew in her breath. Was she hearing what she was thinking she was…
"And, as the prince wisely said to me, shouldn't the bride be able to fully understand what is being said at her own wedding?" He smiled at Tiana apologetically. "You will have to forgive me if I make any errors, I've never performed a wedding in English before…"
English. It was going to be in English. She didn't have to worry about pronouncing the words right or saying the right thing or having to so intently listen to what was being said in order to understand even half of it… she was getting married in English. Letting go of Naveen's hand in order to wipe the tears from her eyes, she smiled gratefully at the minister. "Thank… you…" She turned her attention back to Naveen, still smiling through her tears.
Naveen smiled back, warmly, tenderly, and Tiana was finally able to agree with her mother.
This ceremony wouldn't be perfect. It already wasn't.
But it would be just fine regardless.
In Charlotte's own, probably biased opinion, the wedding had gone absolutely beautifully. Tiana had been radiant, Naveen had been beaming, it had gone without a hitch, at least as far as Charlotte could tell through her emotional sobs. The instant she had been one of the first to arrive at the ballroom for the reception, reporters swarmed around her, all apparently wanting the scoop about how broken-hearted Charlotte was at having lost her husband, but after all they were able to get out of her were sighs of "It's so romantic!" and "Ain't they just the perfect couple?" they apparently gave up on her. Now Charlotte was left alone, sitting at the table set aside for her, Shakir, Avani, Asher, Eudora, and of course Tiana and Naveen, watching the other guests start to file in and waiting for the others at her table to join her, enjoying the peace from the reporters.
She wasn't a princess anymore. She was free from their scrutinizing eyes. They only reason they had wanted to speak to her today was because they wanted a juicy drama to take away from the day's happiness… they were the press, after all, they lived for drama. The citizens of Maldonia had all accepted the fact that Charlotte was quite happy with the union of Tiana and Naveen as soon as she published her letter… and it seemed now that the press was finally starting to get that hint, too.
Charlotte sighed with a bit of regret, glad that the reporters weren't paying any attention to her. She was happy for Tiana, of course. Couldn't be any happier. But when was Charlotte going to get that kind of happiness in her own life, too? When was she going to find a love as beautiful and encompassing as Tiana and Naveen's? When was she going to find her Prince Charming?
She knew it was silly to ask these questions, even to herself; she could be perfectly happy without a man and her life wouldn't be doomed to nothing and worthlessness if she never found love. But her soul still yearned for it. It always had, there was going to be no stopping until she found it. But nineteen years of looking and she was still sitting at the wedding reception by herself, at the wedding reception of her former "husband", alone…
Prince Asher glumly slid into the seat next to Charlotte, while Shakir, Avani, and Eudora were still standing in the main doors, smiling for pictures. "Hey there, Ash!" said Charlotte cheerfully. Seeing the young prince's expression, however, her eyebrows raised in concern. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing," Asher mumbled sullenly.
"That's a mighty big nothing to make you frown like that," Charlotte retorted. "Come on, Ash, put on a smile! Ain't you happy for your brother?"
"Sure…" Asher mumbled with a marked lack of conviction.
Charlotte gasped in surprise. "Don't tell me you don't like Tiana."
"I do like Tiana! But…" Asher looked at Charlotte with wide eyes. "Now that they're married, you will be going away! I don't want you to leave, Charlotte!"
Surprised, Charlotte brought her hand to her collarbone. Asher had always been fond of her, yes. He was fond of pretty much everyone. But now, with the way he was looking at her broken-heartedly, with what he had just said… Charlotte was normally quick to tell when someone had a crush on her, but normally that someone wasn't seven years old. Well, a voice inside of her whispered, bubbling up into her brain and sinking back down into her heart, you wanted the love of a Prince Charming, and here he is.
Suddenly smiling, Charlotte threw her arms around Asher in a tight hug. "Now don't you be upset over that! I ain't going away forever! Far from it! I'll be coming back to visit Tiana and Naveen as often as I can! And when they come to New Orleans to visit me, you are definitely most welcome to visit too."
"I am?" Asher asked, brightening.
"Darn tootin' you are!" Charlotte released her hold on Asher. "More than welcome, you'll be expected! I'm gonna start writing stories once I get back home to New Orleans, and I'm gonna need an appreciative audience to test them out on! You won't mind hearing more of my stories, will you?"
This time Asher was the one to initiate the hug. "I love your stories, Charlotte! I want to hear them all!"
"You will, and you're gonna be the first one to hear them too!"
Charlotte realized that the mull of the reporters had grown much louder. Turning her attention to the doors, she saw why. Naveen had arrived. The reporters descended upon him like vultures. Somehow, Naveen managed to throw out friendly-sounding Maldonian responses while at the same time cutting his way through them and to the table. Charlotte marveled at his skill of breezing right past the press. Why couldn't she have learned how to do that?
"Your clothes make you look like a gimo-gimo!" Asher said to Naveen with a grin, jumping out of Charlotte's arms and running to him.
"Well, you look like a miniature gimo-gimo!" Naveen retorted, playfully grabbing Asher and rumpling his hair.
"Gimo-gimo?" Charlotte asked.
"Yes, it means…" Naveen bit his lip thoughtfully. "There is a wonderful English expression for it… ah yes! 'Fuddy-duddy'." He smirked. "And Asher, I must disagree with you. Prince Naveen never looks like a fuddy-duddy."
"Where's Tia?" Charlotte asked.
Naveen sighed helplessly, but he was still smiling. "Where do you think? She is catering this reception, after all! As soon as the cameras stopped flashing she made her escape to the kitchen to supervise everything."
Charlotte laughed in mock despair. "Someone needs to tell that girl that it's her wedding day!"
Naveen looked at his left hand, or more specifically his new wedding ring, and let out a gentle laugh. "If she has not figured that out by now, there really is no hope for her!"
"Vishza de capastino?"
Katharine, Helena, and the other staff members of Tiana's Place who were helping cater all nervously wrung their hands at Tiana's anger. "We don't know where it is, Miss Wilcox—Princess Tiana," Helena said, making her Maldonian slow enough so that Tiana could understand. "The men who drove the delivery trucks said they never saw the cake getting loaded into the truck, but we looked at the restaurant and it's not there, either."
"Well, it didn't… just… disappear!" Tiana sputtered, her frustration and anger making her already slow Maldonian even more staccato and jumpy. "It has to be somewhere, where is it?"
"We don't know, my princess," Helena repeated. "We are looking, but we don't know."
"Perhaps it's behind the box with the serving… utensils." Katharine's voice cut short when she moved said box with a noticeable lack of a clang of silverware.
"What's in that box?" Helena asked.
"I thought the utensils!"
"Move. Please." Tiana cut her way through them and flung open the top of the box.
She, Helena, and Katharine stared in dumb horror at what they saw.
It was the cake. The three layers were stacked with the biggest on bottom and the smallest on top, but their journey in the box had left them jostled and a little smashed. And they were not decorated. No frosting, no whipped topping, nothing.
The three women continued to stare.
"Who did this?" Tiana finally shrieked in English. "Which one of those idiotic moving men threw my cake into a box like it's just some—and it ain't decorated! It ain't decorated! My wedding cake ain't decorated! You—" Tiana alternated between glaring furiously at Helena on her right side and Katharine on her left, remembering to switch back to Maldonian. "You were supposed to decorate the cake!"
"Your Highness, we never saw the cake until now," Helena pleaded. "When we got to the restaurant this morning we didn't see the cake. We assumed that you had taken it and decorated it. It must have gotten loaded in here by one of the moving men before we even got there. Please don't get upset, Your Highness."
Tiana fumed, inhaling deeply, wishing she knew how to say "I can't get upset when I'm already far past it!" in Maldonian. Instead, she said markedly, "It is my wedding, and I don't have a—" She flung her arm to the box to accentuate her point, a little too forcefully. The box tumbled over and the cake fell against itself, becoming even more mashed.
"…dammit," Tiana hissed in English, bringing her hands to her face.
Katharine comfortingly put an arm on Tiana's shoulder. "It is alright, my princess," she said in slow, accented English. "We have the… plunidra o frigi."
Appetizer and main course. Tiana moaned into her palms, not looking at her. "A wedding's supposed to have cake," she muttered, still in English. "But I had to be stubborn and try to make it myself and it fell flat. Literally. I've ruined my own wedding."
"It is alright, even without cake. It is still your wedding!"
"It is your wedding," Helena said comfortingly, in Maldonian, "and you should be out there celebrating it. Not worrying yourself back here in the kitchen!"
"You haven't been out in the ballroom once since the reception started," Katharine added gently, "and they have already started eating the appetizer. In a few minutes we will begin to serve the main course. You should be out there with them. It is your wedding."
Tiana bit her lip. "Esí mio boshra," she repeated. With resolve, she stood up, leaving the cake where it was, and made her way out of the kitchen, through the hallway, and finally into the ballroom.
So many people. And all of them talking, smiling, laughing above the clatter of their silverware and the music of the jazz band, Louis at the forefront playing his trumpet beautifully. It was extravagantly elegant, the food, the décor, the location itself, and Tiana nearly forgot that the extravagance was for her… that is, until she heard shouts of "De pruta esí abrí!" and a swarm of reporters and photographers gathered around her. The flashes of the camera were accompanied by… silence. The whole ballroom had grown silent. Tiana realized with a slow surprise that they were waiting for her to say something.
And, well, there was only one thing to say at that moment. "De capastino esí…" Tiana held her arm out into the hallway and in the direction of the kitchen, hesitating, and then finally sighed, bringing her arm back to her side. "Ruined," she finished in English. "The cake is ruined. It got a little squashed on the way here and I accidentally knocked it over in the kitchen. Not that it matters since… I never got around to decorating it anyway. So… there ain't gonna be any cake tonight."
"I, uh… I hope y'all like the hors d'ouevres, though," Tiana said, wanting to just curl up and die right then and there.
No voices were kind enough to break the deathly quiet.
Failure, a silent voice hissed in Tiana's ear.
"And what, exactly, do you mean by ruined, Miss Wilcox?"
Naveen, who was on the other side of the room where he and Calix had been chatting amiably and munching on bite-sized quiches before Tiana's arrival, smiled playfully with his words, and although it was an expression Tiana was certainly used to from him, it and what he had said still caught her off guard. "I mean—I mean it's ruined, we can't eat it, what else would I mean?"
Naveen just shrugged. "So it has no frosting, and it got a bit squashed. I don't see what the problem is. I am sure it still tastes delectable."
"It looks like an elephant sat on it," Tiana retorted angrily, "and—"
"Ah! Give me your fork, Calix!" Naveen quickly whisked the utensil from Calix's hands and zipped to the doorway upon seeing Katharine and Helena passing by in the hallway with the alleged cake on a platter. To their and Tiana's utter shock, he dug his fork in the cake, took a large forkful, and put it in his mouth.
"We were going to throw it out, Your Highness!" Helena whispered to Tiana in Maldonian in response to her questioning, icy stare.
Now all eyes were on Naveen, who was slowly and thoughtfully chewing the bite of cake, as if he was… savoring it? "Delicious!" he declared with a grin. "Richonaza! The best cake I have ever tasted! I knew it would be good, my wife makes the best cakes in the world, but this puts all her others to shame! It is probably a good thing it is not decorated, that would have made it too good for mere mortals like us! Come, everyone, have a taste!"
The room was suddenly filled with the happy, approving mull of guests eager to get a taste of the cake. They rushed to the unsightly wad of cake with forks in hand, all diving in with abandon, Helena and Katharine managing to hold the platter steady through their shock. But if they were frozen with surprise, Tiana was tenfold, simply staring slack-shouldered at the bizarre sight in front of her, saying, "What… is going on…"
Naveen slid up in front of her with another bite-sized piece of cake on his fork. "Have you had any yet?"
"No—no. Put that down."
"Tiana! Is it not a wedding tradition for the bride and groom to feed each other the wedding cake?"
"If you like it that much—" Tiana suddenly grabbed Naveen's wrist and twisted his arm back to his own face, the cake getting crushed on his lips. The room filled with joyful laughter, laughter that Tiana suddenly felt herself joining.
Naveen grinned as he licked the cake off his face. "Now that's the spirit!" Reaching over towards the platter, he scooped up a chunk of cake with his hand and gently yet firmly smushed it to Tiana's mouth. The laughter of the crowd this time was joined by enthusiastic clapping.
Tiana let out a muffled yelp before wiping the excess cake off her face, but some had made its way inside her mouth anyway. "Mmm!" she exclaimed before she could stop herself. "This…" She quickly swallowed. "This is good!"
"I told you so!" Naveen wrapped his arms around Tiana's waist and lifted her in the air. "Why do you doubt how amazing you are?"
They kissed, and this time the crowd cheered.
"Do you want more?" Naveen asked after they broke the kiss short.
Tiana smiled slyly at him. "Cake or kisses?"
"Hmm… either one, whichever you would like." Smiling, he flicked a last remnant of cake from the corner of her mouth. "Quite a difficult decision between the two of them!"
"We shouldn't even be eating the cake right now anyway, we haven't even had the main course yet." Tiana pulled away from Naveen. "I'd better get back to the kitchen and—"
"Stay out of the kitchen! I mean—" Naveen, looking abashed, lowered his voice but still grasped Tiana's hands. "I'm sorry. I did not mean for that to come out like an order. But please… it is our wedding day, no one expects you to be working, you should be out here being waited on, you're… you're a princess and it's our wedding day and…" Realizing that the entire room was staring at them, Naveen dropped his voice even lower and murmured, "Please stay with me. I believe I once told you I cannot handle you coming and going so quickly…"
"But… the food…"
"Will be fine. Katharine and Helena can take care of it. Please stop worrying and…" He drew her into his arms and whispered in her ear so that only she could hear him, "stay with me. I need you."
The call of the kitchen was suddenly paled in comparison to the call of her husband.
"Okay," she exhaled.
The crowd, hearing her answer, applauded with approval.
Tiana smiled awkwardly. "You sure put on a scene," she said.
"I often do," smirked Naveen. "And now, my love…" He gestured towards what was left of the cake. "If it is more cake that you want, you had better get it before it's gone!"
And that's the end! Yeah, I know, leave it to me to write an AU in which I change only one tiny detail a few seconds, completely rip up everything happy about the ending in the original… and then piece it back together and bring it right back to where the original ended, only a year and a half later and in a different location. So why did I do it? Well, I think Tiana, Naveen, and especially Charlotte got a little more closure here on issues they had in the movie.
Plus, of course, I just like to drag characters I love through hell and back. ;) Actually, usually they don't make it back in my stories. In fact, when planning this story and even when I started writing it, I didn't know how I was going to end it. There were plenty of opportunities to give this a downer or even a tragic ending. But when I found I could realistically give all three of them a happy ending, I couldn't say no. I loves them all too much, yes I does XD
So yes, that is the end! However, to those of you remembering that I said there was a chapter thirteen… well… there might be a chapter thirteen, yes. Which you might be able to find by clicking on my profile and clicking on the link to my AFF dot net profile that might be there, and then finding the story that might be there called "Words that Have No Form". Of course, not that I write smut. And I certainly don't write smut for Disney cartoon characters. And even if I did, it certainly wouldn't run for nineteen pages in MS Word.
I'd like to again thank everyone who read, reviewed, and added this story to their alerts/favorites list. It really means the world to me and I appreciate every single one of you! Thank you so much, and I hope you enjoyed the story!