Wedding Flowers—Chapter Twenty-Seven
Victor had thought he'd already seen the most gorgeous, heartbreakingly beautiful bride in the world when he'd watched Emily walk down the aisle toward him, bathed in that otherworldly glow. He had thought he'd already seen the prettiest, sweetest bride in the world when Victoria had walked into his parents' parlor on their wedding day. But the moment he saw Anne walk down the staircase as he stood waiting in the entry, he knew he'd been wrong. Anne oustripped them both by a mile.
"You look lovely," he told her, meeting her at the foot of the stairs, offering a hand to help her down the last few steps. "Absolutely lovely."
All she did was smile and hold her bouquet a little closer. Looking at her, Victor felt a rush of pride. And, deep down, he found it hard to believe that he'd been so dreading this day arriving not a week ago. He noted with pleasure that she was wearing the pin he'd put together for her, and she'd added something else. Blue flowers. Flowers he recognized immediately.
Anne saw where he was looking. "Mother gave me flowers, too," she explained, lifting a hand to gently touch the pin. "Some of...hers. Em-Emily's. So we put them all together."
"I like it," he told her. "It's perfect."
So saying, he offered her his arm, which she took. Together they stood before the closed parlor door.
Everyone else was already inside, seated. Before Victoria had closed the doors in preparation for Anne's entrance, Victor had surveyed the scene. A very rickety and sour-faced Pastor Galswells stood before the fireplace, behind a table not unlike the one that had been set up for Victor and Victoria's wedding rehearsal so many years before. Up front were Victoria and the other three girls. The Van Dorts and the Everglots, dressed in funereal black to a one, were sitting behind them. A few men from work, Mr. Auerbach and Mr. Van Schelven among them, had also shown up, and were bringing up the rear.
Very small, very intimate. And very fitting.
"Ready?" Victor asked, glancing down at Anne.
"Are you ready?" she asked in return, looking up at him, a small smile playing around her mouth.
"Not at all," he told her lightly, only half-kidding. She squeezed his elbow, her smile disappearing. Seeing how solemn she looked, he swallowed back his own nervousness and grinned.
"But don't worry about me," he said. "You're the one that matters. Now, you are ready? Shoes still on? I didn't miss any buttons?" Much to his pleasure, that got a smile.
"They're on, thank you," she replied, laughing a bit. "I'm ready."
Victor took a deep breath and one last look at Anne Van Dort.
"Then let's," he said. And he pushed open the parlor door.
"With this hand," Ned began, walking Anne three steps to the table, "I will lift your sorrows."
Lydia was quiet, thoughtful, as she watched Father take a seat next to Mother after putting Anne's hand into Ned's. Mother's voice kept breaking into her thoughts, all of those things she'd said about Emily. Those dead roses.
Lydia couldn't think about it clearly just now. It would take some time for her to work out. Her ideas and opinions and messy feelings about the corpse bride, and her father, weren't going to change overnight. They were too deeply ingrained, she'd spent far too long nursing and cultivating them. And yet...now it was complicated, by something new trying to break through. But she couldn't think about it just now. Lydia decided she'd think about it tomorrow.
Fiddle dee dee, she thought with an inward sigh.
"Your cup will never empty, for I will be your wine."
"I thought Count Van Lynden was coming," she heard Grandfather murmur from behind her. "It'd be nice to have at least one decent person to talk to..."
"His gout's probably acting up," Catherine said under her breath. Then she gave a visible shudder.
Lydia gave her a sympathetic pat on the knee. Grandmamma had been in a dither when she arrived today, pulling Catherine aside and excitedly telling her that Count Van Lynden, the man who'd agreed to become engaged to Catherine, would be there—all thanks to Grandmamma pulling some strings and using very important connections, naturally. Lydia had heard all about the Count, whom she'd never met, the other night—an old associate of Grandfather's, bald with an enormous white beard, and pushing seventy. The only nice thing Catherine had found to say about him was that he'd taught her to play whist while she was at his estate the previous month.
"Ugh," Catherine whispered, as though for emphasis, shuddering again.
"Well, at least he didn't show up, you can be thankful for that," Lydia whispered.
"With this candle," Ned continued, "I will light your way in darkness."
Lydia tried to focus on the ceremony, but was distracted by Grandmother and Grandmamma whispering behind her.
"Never mind the Count. Where is Lord Peregrine?" Grandmother was asking. "He was asking after Mary just a few days ago..."
Catherine elbowed Lydia, and they both stole little sideways glances at Mary. Lord Peregrine was, apparently, a very distant relation of Grandmother's. They'd all met him at one of Grandmother's dour Christmas parties—he was dapper, trim of beard, and about fifty years old. When Catherine had told Mary about both the list and her potential suitor, Mary had had to excuse herself to go be sick.
"Which one is Mary, again?" Grandfather asked in a whisper.
"Not now, Finis!" Grandmother hissed.
They'll really stop at nothing to get us married off the way they want, Lydia thought, touching her gloved wrist and recalling her encounter with Sir Ralph. At least he, while an oily, handsy prat, was of a suitable age and had a few things in common with her. Poor Mary and Catherine, though...and to arrange for their suitors to crash Anne's wedding! It was only with great difficulty that Lydia refrained from turning around and shoving her corsage up Grandmother's nose.
"You're the one who told him not to come," Grandmamma replied, surprise plain in her voice.
"Excuse me?" Grandmother asked.
"I telephoned him this morning—on his private line, you know," Grandmamma said, and Lydia somehow knew without looking that she was patting at her hair. "And he told me you'd telephoned him already, and said the situation had changed. Although—and really, far be it from me to criticize-you probably needn't have told him he was old and boring. Or that he should chase after someone his own age."
"I did no such thing!" Grandmother hissed, aghast.
"Of course you didn't," whispered Grandmamma, ever the sycophant. "He'd probably been at the sherry again, you know how he is...I wouldn't expect him at any of your dinners any time soon, though."
Lydia glanced down and caught Catherine's eye. As one, they turned to Mary, who was making a big show of innocently watching the ceremony.
"What?" Mary mouthed when she saw them staring at her. Then, with great dignity, she turned to the front again. The tiniest little smirk played around her mouth.
"With this ring, I ask you to be mine."
"Now you, Miss Van Dort," quavered Pastor Galswells.
Beaming, Anne began, her voice confident and clear. "With this hand, I will lift your sorrows."
I will not cry, Victoria said to herself. She didn't want to make a spectacle of herself. All the same, she had to bite the inside of her cheek as a distraction. That was Anne, her little girl, in a wedding gown, standing with the man she was going to spend the rest of her life with. A brand new, exciting life.
Oddly, the idea of new life coupled with the sight of Anne in a white dress made Victoria think of Anne as an infant, in her long white baby gown. Impossibly little, wriggling about in her arms. Hadn't that only been three months ago?
Proud, happy, and still biting the inside of her cheek to keep the tears at bay, Victoria reached and surreptitiously slipped her hand into Victor's. He responded by squeezing her fingers, even though he didn't take his eyes from Ned and Anne.
"Your cup will never empty, for I will be your wine."
Ned looked so handsome in his uniform. And, standing there with Anne, he looked impossibly happy, and so in love. Victoria was again struck by how young he looked, how boyish. She watched as he tilted his head a little to the side, his adoring gaze never leaving Anne's face as she recited her vows.
And suddenly, out of nowhere, it hit her. Why he looked familiar.
"With this candle, I will light your way in darkness."
Her wedding to Barkis. A rainy, dark, sad day that she'd tried very hard to forget. That's where she remembered him from. Ogdred Weary been very small then, crouched behind a pew, watching her wedding from the very back. Victoria had only noticed him on her way out, as Barkis had more or less marched her out of the church. He'd looked so troubled, and, she now recalled, he'd gone so far as to reach out a tentative hand toward her as she'd walked by. Victoria had wondered, vaguely, why he was there, but it had been rather low on her list of concerns that day.
Ned's words at dinner the other night came back to her: "That was a very sad thing...upsetting." So that was why he'd spoken as though he knew. Because he did.
"Oh," she murmured, putting a hand to her mouth. She wasn't aware she'd spoken aloud until she saw Victor looking at her sideways, his expression questioning. Victoria just squeezed his hand again, and he turned his attention back to the ceremony.
A kind, solemn little boy had turned into a kind man. One who would treat her daughter well, and make her happy.
Come home. Please, come home to her, Victoria thought as she regarded Ned, standing there smiling widely as Anne took his hand, preparing to complete the ceremony.
For one brief second, as though he'd heard her, Ned and Victoria made eye contact. Much like they had twenty-six years ago.
And then the moment was over.
"With this ring," Anne said, sliding the band onto Ned's finger, "I ask you to be mine."
"I now pronounce you man and wife," quavered Pastor Galswells.
Just like that, Anne became Mrs. Weary, and Victor gained a son-in-law. Not a single line dropped, not a single catastrophe, no fires or swordfights or walking corpses or poisonings.
Somehow Victor found it slightly anticlimactic. As though there should somehow be more. And then he shook his head, deciding that this was just how it should be. Another happily ever after in the making, after a quiet, uneventful ceremony.
And then Anne fainted.
There was a collective gasp as she collapsed into Ned, like a marionette whose strings had been suddenly cut. Shock plain on his face, Ned held her in his arms, patting at her cheeks. Victor rushed forward, pulling over a chair and helping Ned ease Anne into it. Victoria was kneeling by Anne's side, stroking her limp hand, as everyone else started talking at once.
"William, take my smelling salts up there, quick!" Nell said. "Oh, and my fan—give her some air!"
"Please, please, just give her a little room, will you?" Ned pleaded, waving them away.
"Where's that brandy I gave you, Van Dort?" Van Schelven called from the back of the room.
"There's wine right on the table, we can use that!" Mary said, grabbing the goblet.
"Most likely it hit her all at once, just what she's marrying," Maudeline remarked, her nose in the air.
"Mother, please!" Victoria said.
There was an audible snap as Pastor Galswells, rolling his eyes heavenward, closed his prayer book.
"I knew this was a bad idea, I told the blonde one," he grumbled to himself, shuffling along with his staff toward Victor's armchair and taking a seat. "Mad as hatters...not meant to get married..."
Eventually Anne's eyes fluttered open. When she saw everyone crowded around her, smelling salts extended here and the goblet of wine from the ceremony there, her cheeks went pink.
"I'm sorry!" she said, hand to her face as she sat up, Ned helping her. "I don't...I was lightheaded all of a sudden..."
"I wonder why," said Lydia, looking pointedly at Anne's heavily corseted waist. Together Lydia and Ned helped Anne to her feet.
"Look!" she added as Catherine stepped up to help, "I can get my hands all the way round your waist, Anne, for heaven's sake!"
"Let's get you out of this thing," said Catherine, patting Anne's middle. Turning to Lydia and Mary, she said, "Come on, give us a hand, will you?"
The four of them made their way upstairs, leaving the freshly-minted husband and the remaining guests to stare at one another. The men from the cannery stood in a quiet, awkward cluster by the piano. Nell, clearly overcome by the drama, had taken a whiff of the smelling salts herself, as William fanned her absently. Finis and Maudeline just sat, icily staring at Victoria, Victor, and Ned at the front of the room.
After a moment Victor noticed that everyone was staring at him in particular, clearly expecting him to do or say something. Father of the bride, and all. So Victor cleared his throat quietly.
"Er..." said Victor, straightening his boutinniere and glancing around the room. "There's...there's cake, in the dining room. Ah...shall we?"
"Well, there's one down," murmured Victoria as the wedding guests made their way across the entry. "It was a very nice ceremony. Anne and Ned looked so happy."
"Yes," Victor agreed with a smile, taking her hand.
"And to think, we get to do this three more times!" she said, standing on tiptoes to give him a quick kiss on the cheek.
"Mm-hm," Victor replied non-committally. Victoria smiled, patted his lapel affectionately, and then made her way toward the dining room.
For a moment Victor stood in his disordered parlor, taking in the flowers that were just beginning to wilt, and the bit of wine that had been spilled on the Persian rug. He noticed that the candles on the table were still lit. He glanced about, unsure of what the etiquette was for putting out the wedding candles.
And then he decided that a possible fire hazard trumped symbolism.
Leaning over, he solemnly blew out each candle. As he did so, he wished his daughter and her new husband a long and happy life together.
And as for the other three, he thought, grinning a little as he stood back up again, well...there's always that convent in the Alps.
Just in case.
I don't own "Corpse Bride" or its characters. Probably should've mentioned that sooner.
Holy cow, you guys. This has been a journey! "Wedding Flowers," much to my surprise, took almost a year to write, changing and evolving the entire time—right up to this ending! Thanks for sticking around through it all, if you're reading this. If you just skipped to the end, not wanting to bother with upward of 70,000 words, that's cool too. I don't blame you!
Many thanks to everybody, and I mean everybody, who took the time to review this story. Your feedback was always great to hear. However, I want to acknowledge a few folks in particular: Flaming Trails, for fruitful and fun discussions, as well as insightful reviews. To CoriOreo, for stimulating debates and extraordinarily helpful critiques. To Rose in Daydreams and Chris P.C. for all the very sweet thoughts and support.
And, finally, to no name please, an utterly amazing Constant Reader of the highest order. If I had your address, I would send you a card.
Thanks, always, to the members of the Corpse Bride fandom, who love the characters, the story, and the universe. It was nice to find you all still here, and to get such a sweet welcome back. Thanks for remembering me!
My own wedding is on Friday. :D Thought it fitting to share!