I Now Pronounce You
By Laura Schiller
Based on the Hermux Tantamoq novels
Copyright: Michael Hoeye
"We are gathered here today to join this chipmunk and this … mouse … in matrimony … "
The black-robed guinea pig behind the wooden desk paused uncomfortably, glanced between Mirrin and Birch, cleared her throat and plowed on with the ceremony as if nothing had happened. The five of them – the judge, the bride and groom, and Hermux and Linka serving as witnesses – were alone in the courtroom, looking no more festive than if they had been going out to the theatre. Birch and Hermux wore tuxedoes, Linka wore a pale pink skirt and blazer, and Mirrin wore a silver cocktail dress and carried a small bouquet of white roses. As far as Birch was concerned, of course, she didn't need a veil or train to be the most beautiful woman in Pinchester.
"Mirrin Stentrill, do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do you part?"
"I do." Mirrin smiled softly as she spoke the words that should have been spoken forty years ago. Better late than never, my love.
"Birch Tentintrotter, do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife … "
"I do," said Birch, with enough emphasis to make them all laugh, including the judge.
"I now pronounce you husband and wife," she declared, with a sigh of relief as she held out the necessary documents for them to sign. "Good luck … I mean, I hope you'll be very happy."
Considering the anxious look on her face as she shook paws with the new couple, it was clear that she thought they needed luck. After all, this was the first interspecies marriage in living memory, for Pinchester at least. As the newlyweds and their friends exited the building and breathed in the fresh spring air, it was Hermux who said out loud what they had all been thinking.
"Well, that's over and done with. Shall we go and have lunch?"
"Hermux, you're incorrigible," Mirrin teased. "Always thinking with your stomach."
Linka giggled in agreement, making him flush to the tips of his ears.
"No, actually, I agree," said Birch. "I was on tenterhooks the whole time, expecting her to change her mind and kick us out. That kind of stress can give you a real appetite."
"Well, thankfully she didn't." Mirrin linked arms with Birch and handed her bouquet to Linka as they set off down the street. "Hold this for me, dear, would you?"
It was Linka's turn to get pink ears. "Uh … Mirrin … you know what they say about bridal bouquets, right?"
"Of course I know. I can hardly throw it here, now can I?" The older mouse winked suggestively. Linka buried her face in the flowers.
Hermux, following a surreptitious tilt of Mirrin's head, offered his arm to the young aviatrix and was secretly thrilled from whisker to toe when she accepted.
"They say the girl who catches the bride's bouquet is the next one to get married," Linka confided as they walked behind the other couple.
"Oh, really?" Hermux's voice, meant to sound casually polite, came out as more of a nervous squeak. "I mean, uh, I knew that."
"Not me, though." Linka shook her head decisively. "I've had enough of being engaged, thank you very much. Can you believe that Turfip dumped me for Elusa Loitavender? And told me so in a speech that went on for two hours?"
"You're joking." Hermux was undecided whether to be happy (because she was single) or miserable (because she obviously meant to stay that way).
"I am not!" She threw up her paw, stil holding the bouquet, then winced a few petals fell to the pavement. "Honestly, by the time he got through, I was actually happy to be rid of him. Pompous idiot. I can't believe I almost sold my plane for him. No way am I ever doing that again, not for anyone!"
I would never ask you to, thought Hermux.
"You wouldn't be you without your plane, Linka," he said instead.
She smiled warmly and patted his arm. "Exactly. See, you understand."
Meanwhile, Mirrin and Birch were having their own private conversation up ahead.
"Is it just me," said the bridegroom, leaning down to whisper in his bride's ear, "Or have you taken up matchmaking again?"
"I don't know what you're talking about." Mirrin widened her eyes innocently, delighted that Birch could still read her motives this way.
"Oh, come on. First you throw that cozy dinner party for Dandiffer and a bunch of cute little heiresses, now you're giving Linka your bouquet … I know what you're up to, darling. It's like our senior year all over again."
"You know perfectly well that Linnix would never have made a move without my help." Mirrin thought back with nostalgic joy to the moment their two best friends had finally started dating. "When it came to girls, that mouse was the shyest fellow I ever knew, and Hermux is just the same. Thank goodness he's got his mother's sense of humor."
"And his godmother's eye for beauty." Birch grinned. "That Linka is a charmer."
"If you're trying to make me jealous, that didn't work forty years ago and it isn't working now."
"I don't know what you're talking about," said Birch, mirroring her expression as closely as a chipmunk could.
"You know, you're every bit as silly as the first day we met."
She remembered it perfectly – that day in the Stepfitchler Library, when a tall lanky chipmunk had gallantly attempted to hand her a book from the top shelf, only to knock them all to the floor instead.
"I thought you were the most beautiful creature of any race I'd ever seen. No wonder I didn't know where to put my paws."
"And I took half a year to get it through my head that 'studying together' wasn't all you had in mind."
"Not by a long shot."
"It was the night of that thunderstorm, remember? I was at your apartment, we'd had a few drinks … "
"The thunder scared you … "
"Until you kissed me, of course. Then the weather became the last thing on my mind."
They laughed together comfortably, falling into the old pattern, almost as if he'd never been away.
As they sat around the candlelit corner table at Chez Souris, holding tall flutes of honey fizz, it was Birch who started off the round of toasts.
"To our second chance at love," he said, gazing into Mirrin's eyes across the table. "And to you, Mirrin, for believing in me when no one else would."
"To looking past our differences," Mirrin replied, "And learning to see clearly."
"To my parents." Hermux's voice craked a little as he said this; he had to blink hard several times until his vision cleared. "I wish they could be here."
"I think they are," said Mirrin, a dreamy, faraway look in her eyes. In a way, she was right – just saying the words had given so much power to their beloved memory that Hermux could almost feel their presence at the table. If they were here, no doubt, Linnix would wear his lucky ladybug tie and make an awkwardly sincere speech, and Tirrathee would crack jokes until the table rang with laughter.
"Linnix and Tirrathee," Birch agreed. "Hear, hear."
Last of all, Linka lifted up her glass to join the other three. Their drinks sparkled like liquid gold in the candlelight, but in Hermux's opinion, the light in her brown eyes as she glanced at him was the lovelist sight of all.
"To new beginnings," she said.