Nefret, you have finally done it. You've stumped me. I hadn't even thought about gifts between the bride and groom. *throws hands up in defeat* That's it. I give up. Story's over.
Seriously, everyone, this is the end of the line. (Try not to think of this as an ending, so much as a stepping-stone to the next story... ;)) Thank you for sticking with me--and Rick, Evelyn, and Jonathan--all the way through. Your comments and questions were an inspiration and a delight. Please do keep reading and reviewing. :)
It took me forever to figure out where to end this chapter. I really didn't want to let the characters go. If this ending isn't to your taste, well, you shall just have to imagine that I wrote something very romantic and insightful. And if you can do better, then drop me a line to let me know where it's posted when you're done. After all, that's what fan fiction is all about--if you feel something's missing, do it yourself! ;)
"Little did I realize how strangely our destinies would be intertwined; that that act of simple charity would reward me beyond my wildest dreams..."
Well, Evelyn had done nothing but make me crazy from the moment I said "Will you marry me?" to the moment I said "I do". But when all was said and done (especially done), I don't think either of us could have been happier with the way things turned out.
I don't think I'd ever seen her so nervous as when she came down that aisle on Jonathan's arm. She was almost as white as her dress. She was lucky I didn't take it personally. I mean, being sacrificed by a mummy doesn't scare her, but being married to me does? Not exactly a big ego-boost. But I knew how she felt--not that I was nervous, of course, but I understood what it was like to have your stomach tied up in knots and your mouth all dry and your palms sweaty and your heart hammering away in your chest even though you knew there was no good reason for it... okay, maybe I was just a little nervous. I could have sworn Evelyn was going to faint, though. She got this funny look on her face near the end, and I actually had to hold her up. I was just hoping and praying that she wouldn't keel over--I didn't think either of us could stand to go through the whole ceremony again!
But then I got permission to kiss the bride, and that seemed to make everything better.
It was weird, having an entire day centered around us, with everyone treating us special and congratulating us. Evelyn, normally so awkward in social situations, was suddenly very dignified and regal, saying exactly the right things. Me, I just kind of stood there, grinning stupidly over her shoulder and shaking people's hands as they came by. I confined myself mostly to one-word answers: "Yeah." "Thanks." "Right." "Bye." I couldn't wait to get out of there, away from these people, most of whom I didn't even know. I felt like everything was flat, somehow, in comparison to Evelyn--like all the people around us were just cardboard, and I wished a good strong wind would just blow them all away.
Jonathan let me drive his car, which he once swore would never happen "even if hell froze over and the devil turned his hand to a roaring trade in ice sculpture." Go figure. He did treat me to a nice little lecture when he handed over the key--something about how if I did a lick of damage, he'd have my hide, and he could do it because he had very large, stealthy friends. He'd been drinking, so I never quite figured out if it was his car or his sister he was protecting; I didn't intend to let anything happen to either, so I just listened, nodded, and pounded him on the back every so often for good measure.
Evelyn had skipped breakfast that morning, which wasn't surprising--she never eats when her mind is occupied with something. Of course, by the time we got back to the hotel, she was famished. She wouldn't let me have any peace until she got something to eat, so we went back out. It would have been nice to have a little more time to ourselves, but I didn't really mind as much as I claimed to. I never would have admitted it, but I liked giving in, letting her think she'd outsmarted me somehow. I hoped that didn't mean that I was going to be henpecked.
We went to the same small, crowded restaurant where I took her on our first real formal date, a thoughtful touch I figured she'd like. She didn't even remember the place until I pointed out our table--and then she claimed she knew all along, and was just testing me. The staff remembered her, though. It's hard to forget the girl who breaks four water glasses before her meal even arrives. And that was without having had a single drink. Pure nerves.
She'd looked like a scared little girl that night, didn't seem to know which way to turn. It's one thing, to fall for a stranger in the middle of the desert, especially when you're in a dangerous situation--it's mysterious and exciting, and you don't really have to think about it much. But when you get back to civilization, and you have to find ways to bring this person into your real, everyday life, that's when the problems start. The brave girl with the dazzling smile was suddenly watching me with a grim expression that suited a funeral better than a first date.
I'd been a total mess too, don't get me wrong; I had it set in my head that nice girls just didn't end up with guys like me. I was almost a hundred percent certain I was going to screw up royally before the night was over. But helping to get past Evelyn's shyness didn't really give me much of a chance to be nervous. I told stupid jokes that had her laughing behind her hand. I bombarded her with every cheesy come-on line I could think of, trying to make her blush. "Oh, Rick!" she'd squeal, scandalized and delighted at the same time. "You're terrible!" I'd held her hand under the table, shyly, like we were kids with a crush, getting ready to carve our initials into something. What we'd crafted instead, as it turned out, was something much more permanent.
Now we were on what was basically our first outing as a married couple. We both handled the big change in different ways: I got very quiet and thoughtful, which for me was pretty rare. Evelyn got the giggles, which was even rarer. Evelyn liked to be thought of as a demure, dignified, serious-minded academic. Helplessly snorting water because the waiter addressed her as "Madam" instead of "Miss" didn't exactly help to boost this image. And it went on all through dinner, for no apparent reason. She'd just all of a sudden get silly and goofy and full of laughter. People kept looking over at us, but I didn't care.
I reached across, through the folds of the tablecloth, and found her hand. That made her smile. She toyed with the ring on my finger, which I was still getting used to.
"So tell me, O'Connell--I mean, Rick," she began, exactly as she had on that first evening, "what are your plans for the future?"
"Well," I replied, just like I did then, "they include kissing you at the end of the night. Hope that's okay with you."
She tilted her head, watching me inquisitively. "That's very nice, but I was speaking of something more... long-term."
"So was I." I grinned.
"That's not what you said next," I pointed out.
"Oh, I don't remember what I said next," she lied, with a wave of her free hand. "Something quite forgettable, I'm sure. I don't believe I did a lot of talking. You were quite the silver-tongued devil that evening, as I recall."
"You mean during dinner, or after I walked you home?"
She made a sour face and kicked me under the table. "You know perfectly well what I mean! Stop trying to insert innuendo into everything I say. Unlike you, I do have the capacity to go without discussing such things for more than five minutes."
"You can't go without discussing anything for more than five minutes."
She tried to kick me again, but I dodged. Her shoes were pointy.
"I remember a time," I said wistfully, "when we used to play footsie under the table. Now that we're married, all I get is a boot in the shin. Typical."
She giggled again.
"What is that?" I demanded. "What's so damn funny?"
"I honestly--don't know!" Between spasms of laughter, she managed to gasp, "I think the wine's gone to my head."
She hadn't had more than two sips of the wine, but I didn't point that out. Instead, I topped off her glass.
"You're trying to get me drunk, aren't you, Mister O'Connell?" she continued, mock-indignantly.
"So you do remember what you said next. I knew it."
"As I recall, Rick, you never gave me an answer to that question."
I grinned, slightly abashed. The truth was, the answer to that question didn't do me a whole lot of credit. "Well, not so much that you'd pass out before I got to kiss you," I teased, giving her hand a squeeze.
"Aha!" She hit the table with a little fist, like she'd just drilled a confession out of me. "So you admit that you did have improper intentions."
"Only since the moment I saw you."
She glanced down at the table, then peeked at me through her lashes. Even though I knew she wasn't quite as innocent as she sometimes made herself seem, that coy little look always did me in. "Flatterer," she murmured, smiling. "I'll bet you say that to every girl you meet."
"Sure, but you're the first one I said it to and really meant it."
I thought I was going to get a kick under the table for that one, but her only response was, "Good."
Evelyn hadn't been kidding around when she said she was famished: when the food came, she ate almost as much as I did, which is saying something. She even had two desserts--hers and mine--while I added mihallabiya to the rapidly-growing list of foods she liked that really disgusted me. I seriously couldn't figure out why anyone would want to go and wreck a perfectly good rice pudding by throwing rosewater in there.
"I'm not kissing you tonight if you keep eating that stuff," I told her.
She shrugged, loading up her spoon. "More fool you, then."
When the wine finally did kick in, it seemed to make her more sleepy than giggly. Although the fact that she'd just eaten enough to feed a small village probably contributed to her sudden fatigue. When she yawned twice in the middle of telling a story, I knew it was time to go.
In the car, she laid her head on my shoulder and gave a little sigh. I knew this routine.
"Don't you dare go to sleep on me."
"When I said I wasn't going to carry you to bed any more, I wasn't kidding."
She settled herself more comfortably against me. "You're so good to me, Rick," she breathed, her mouth just below my ear. Her breath was rose-scented.
"Yeah, nice try. I mean it. You'll be sleeping in the car."
It was useless, of course: by the time we got back, she was out like a light. (She was really sleeping this time; I whispered a few less-than-polite things in her ear to make sure. She didn't even stir.) I really had to learn to put my foot down in this marriage, or little Evie and her pointy shoes were going to walk all over me for the rest of my life. I seriously considered leaving her outside in the car, but even I could tell that was a dumb move on many levels. Besides, though I'd only been doing it for a short time, I'd already gotten used to waking up next to her.
After I'd put Evelyn to bed, gotten undressed, and put up the netting, I lay there, staring at the ceiling and pondering the injustice of it all. Ever since that first night, she'd done nothing but try to entice me into her tiny little bed. (To be fair, I don't think it took much enticing before I gave up, but still.) Now that we finally had a room all to ourselves, with a real bed big enough for the two of us, and her brother was out of earshot... all she wanted to do was sleep.
I was a pretty sound sleeper when I got comfortable, which was probably why I eventually woke up to the most godawful commotion you could possibly imagine. The bed was shaking, lights were flickering, furniture was banging around, and my lovely wife was squealing like a stuck pig.
"Evelyn, what the hell--?!"
I couldn't see her, but when I moved to the edge of the bed I nearly stepped on her--she was sprawled on the floor, and, wonder of wonders, had somehow managed to get herself wrapped up in the mosquito netting. She'd been kicking the bedside table where the lamp was sitting--hence the flickering and banging.
For a few seconds, all I could do was look at down her in disbelief, wondering if this was some kind of mihallabiya-induced nightmare. Finally I got up, picked her up, and set her, still hollering, on the bed. "Let's not put this thing up any more. Malaria would probably be safer," I told her, loosening the web of fabric knotted around her legs. Unwrapping a mummy would have been easier. At least they usually stayed still--well, so I'd heard, anyway.
I heard her mutter under her breath--something about me being an idiot. I didn't entirely agree with her assessment. I mean, there was a time in my life when I'd have been lucky to get the girl's name right after being woken up at two in the morning. Since meeting Evelyn, I'd never had that problem even once. I would have called myself a reformed idiot.
I flipped her over onto her stomach and yanked away the remainder of the netting. I guess I could have been a bit more gentle--she rolled right off the bed and landed with a squeak and a thump. Right on her ass. Sounded like it hurt, too.
She sat up and glared at me, eyes dark and smouldering. Of course, all I could think of was how incredibly tempting she looked, sprawled on the floor in her little slip, her hair a mess of tangled waves, her chest rising and falling rhythmically.
"Sorry," I added, crouching down next to her. "Are you okay, honey?" I placed a hand on her knee.
She didn't stand up, which was promising. "I'm fine, thank you."
"What are you doing up, anyhow?" I asked. "We don't have to start getting ready for another... four hours." I slid my hand further along the smooth white slope of her leg. "Right?" Since we were both awake anyhow, hopefully we could find something fun to do for those four hours...
She jumped to her feet, brushing me off. Well, so much for that idea. Now I was really starting to feel married. "I have to call Jonathan," she announced.
"Evie, it's two a.m. He's probably asleep."
She shot me a look.
"Okay, he won't be asleep, but I bet he's... out. With his friend from the other night." I hoped for Jonathan's sake he'd gone to her place. "Come on, what are you calling him for anyway?"
She smiled. It was the kind of smile that gave me mixed feelings; on the one hand, I loved it when she was happy, but seeing that particular expression on her face usually meant that I was about to be less happy. This was her "I've-got-the-bloody-book-and-I'm-damn-well-going-to-read-it" smile. It was almost never a good thing.
"I'm so excited, Rick, I've just got to talk to him... you see, I've finally remembered what happened to that papyrus."
"Papyrus?" Oh, holy hell. She could not be serious. "The one with the, uh...?" I tried to get between her and the telephone, but she wormed past me. "That papyrus?"
"Of course that papyrus! I've been racking my brain, trying to recall what I'd done with it, and just now it came to me."
"Oh yeah?" My voice went up about an octave for that one.
"Yes, don't you remember?" There was a patch of pink blossoming in each of her cheeks. "It was--it was in his jacket pocket--I showed it to you by mistake, don't you remember? Oh, you must..."
Her passion for knowledge was a kind of lust, a fever. It consumed her, and it made her oblivious to everyone and everything around her. But it also made her radiant. I wasn't sure if I wanted to grab her and kiss her cross-eyed, or yell at her until she started talking sense.
"Jonathan was going to send a telegram, and I wrote it down for him--I just snatched up whatever bit of paper was nearest to hand."
My head was spinning. "Evelyn..."
She was stammering out of sheer excitement. "I-I-I took everything from the pockets of his jacket out of habit, I put it all into my sleeve, everything--everything's on Jonathan's dresser, in his room--he never tidies his room, it should all still be there, he's still there, there's no reason why it shouldn't be..."
"Evelyn," I said again, louder this time.
"Can you--can you imagine? All that time, it was right out in the open, none of us even thought to take a closer look at it... But they might come after it again. Or--or someone else might. We can't take that chance, we simply can't. I have to telephone Jonathan, we need to copy the directions and then get the paper to somewhere safe. I can get funding from the Museum and the Department of Antiquities--and if not, well, we'll just have to go it on our own, won't we? You'll have to make preparations, we'll need supplies and a--"
"Can't it wait a few days?"
She looked at me like I'd just suggested we go back and wake Imhotep up again, just for the hell of it. "Rick, this could be the most amazing archaeological discovery of the century. We--we--we can't just let it slip through our fingers! We owe it to the world, and to--"
"I'm not saying we don't ever go, I'm just saying we don't have to go right this second! What happened to our honeymoon?"
"What happened to your sense of adventure?"
"I married you, didn't I? That was taking a pretty big risk."
She glared. "Fine. If you don't want to go, Jonathan will--"
She went for the telephone again. I caught her around the waist and picked her right up off the ground. She squirmed and huffed, but I held on tight. "Okay, my turn to talk now," I told her. After a little more struggling, she went slack in my arms.
"Go on, then," she sulked, knowing she was licked.
This was it. I was going to take a position, and stick to it, and not let her beg or bully me into going along with whatever crazy plan she had in mind. "I refuse to spend our honeymoon in the desert digging up corpses with your brother," I announced. I mean, to me--and to any other sane person--this statement made perfect, logical sense. I figured I'd probably found the only girl in the world who'd be willing to fight me on this point. And then I'd married her.
"Oh, you refuse, do you?"
"Yeah. I refuse," I repeated, savouring the word. I should have done this ages ago, I thought. "And you know why?"
"Do tell." It was hard to know for sure, but I think she was talking through gritted teeth. Well, I didn't care. I was standing firm.
"I've been waiting forever to get out of here and spend some time with you. Just you and me. No Jonathan. No Jonathan's crazy friends. No dead guys. No sunburn. No curses. No books. No sand, no scarabs, no mummies, no tombs. No nothing. I don't want to go back out there, Evelyn, and there isn't a damn thing you can say that'll make me change my mind. That's it. End of story. So we can either argue about it until the sun comes up, or we can do something more interesting with our time."
"Very well. Could you put me down, please?" she asked, so sweetly that I knew she was about to try her next plan of attack.
Well, all right, I thought. Bring it on. I was ready for anything. I set her on her feet.
She turned and blinked at me, doe-eyed. "Rick," she sighed, "you're right."
That was a first. "Of course I'm right," I agreed, cautiously. If she thought turning up the charm was going to work, she had another thing coming.
"I don't care about treasure. Or adventure. Or discovery." She slid her arms around me, lacing her fingers together just above the small of my back, pressing herself against my chest. Suddenly she was all softness and smiles, her little face tilted up towards mine. "All I want is you, my love," she whispered.
It had to be a trick. She couldn't actually be giving in this easily. Still, it wouldn't hurt me to go along for the time being. "Now you're talking," I said.
"I'd much rather be doing something else... kiss me."
I was happy to oblige.
"We'll do just as you like..." she murmured, after an interval during which her mouth was otherwise occupied. "We'll get on the train in the morning and go far, far away from here. Just the two of us." She let me guide her over to the bed, then pushed me down into it and landed on top of me. "We don't ever have to go back into the desert if you don't want to."
"Okay. Good." Why did I get the sense that there was a catch I was missing? Of course, at that point, I was more concerned with getting her the rest of the way undressed. I didn't want to rip her slip--she hated sewing, and she was running out of clothes due to mutual impatience. Pulling it off over her head seemed the easiest way of doing it. "Arms up," I told her breathlessly.
I wasn't sure if that was an acknowledgement or just a happy noise. She stayed where she was, and her arms stayed where they were.
"Evie," I said, more distinctly, "put your arms up."
By this time, her hand was in a place that ensured she definitely had my full attention. "Yeah?"
"I think you're forgetting something, don't you?"
She smiled. "You're not the only one who can... refuse."
Okay, she did not mean what I thought she meant. She couldn't be that cruel. Not Evelyn. Not my sweet, loving, generous wife.
She lowered her mouth to mine for a last, lingering kiss, then just got up and walked away. She sauntered over, perched on the table next to the telephone, and crossed her legs, looking at me expectantly.
"Oh, come on!" I yelled, sitting up on the bed. "You can't do that! It's not fair."
"Neither is holding me up off the ground," she pointed out. "We all must cut our cloth to fit our pattern, mustn't we?" She really did have a saying for every occasion. It would have been cute if it wasn't immensely frustrating and a bit painful.
I sighed. "This really is your idea of fun, isn't it?" I asked.
"What, this?" She gestured to our relative positions. "Not particularly. I'd much rather be over there with you. You're the one who turned this into a battle of wills."
"No, I mean... You love all this desert adventure garbage. Digging for treasure, chasing after rumours and fairy tales--"
"Now, you know I don't believe in fairy tales and hokum, Mister O'Connell," she said, doing a top-notch impression of the over-confident girl who stole my heart away.
"Uh-huh. How 'bout a compromise?" I suggested.
"Well... what have you in mind?"
"We go out and take a look. You and me. No Jonathan."
"You're simply determined to be rid of him, aren't you?" Her face was dead serious, but I caught the start of a smile in her eyes.
I stood up and walked over to where she was. "Hey, I like the guy as much as you do, but you didn't have to bunk up with him."
"Well, you won't either," she assured me gently.
I ran my hand over the soft curve of her shoulder and down her back. "Yeah, but... it's not like there's a lot of privacy out there, you know?"
"He'd be able to hear every move we made. All the time."
This obviously hadn't occurred to her. I could almost see the little wheels in her head turning.
"And I think we'd have a lot more fun without him," I pressed. "Don't you?"
"I don't know, Rick... I'd hate to leave him out of all this."
I'd known all along that this was how it was with her. I knew better than to try and make Evelyn choose between me and her brother. It wasn't a contest, never had been. And I was more than willing to admit that keeping her out of trouble was a two-man job.
"Okay. We go alone and check things out. He joins us once we start digging," I conceded. A decent archaeological survey--especially using Evelyn's meticulous methods--could take weeks, even months. "And if we find something--if there's even anything to find--the credit goes to all three of us."
She beamed at me.
"So... we have a deal here, or what?"
"Deal," she declared, and stuck out her hand.
I took hold of it like I was going to shake it, but instead gave it a good pull. She slid right off the table and into my waiting arms, just like I'd hoped she would.
"Ooooh. You're the handsomest, cleverest, nicest, best husband in the world, and I love you," she told me.
I snickered. "Yeah, sure, when you're getting what you want."
"Don't worry, darling," she assured me, with a devious smile. "You'll get what you're after, too..."
And, to give her credit, I sure did.
It was almost dawn when she finally put the call through to her brother. I lay in bed, exhausted and grinning like an idiot. I wasn't sure how it had happened, but she'd become my whole world, this girl. More than the whole world; I was sure that even heaven couldn't have compared to the kind of happiness I felt just watching her.
She sat at the table near the window: back straight, legs crossed at the ankle, face sweet and demure. Never mind the fact that she was completely naked except for one of my favourite shirts. The slip, like many others before it, had come to an untimely end, and the shirt looked a damn sight better on her than it did on me anyway.
While she waited for the call to go through, she put her hair up with a few deft twists of the hand, jabbing a pencil through the heavy coil to hold it in place. It was a maneuver I must have seen her do a hundred times, but I didn't think I'd ever understand how she managed it so neatly. I reckoned that if I tried it, I'd probably punch a hole in the back of her head.
She blew me a kiss over her shoulder. I'm not sure what it was--the upswept hair, the loose-collared shirt, the all-too-innocent expression, the way the soft light made her skin glow--but something suddenly reminded me of how she'd looked on the morning we met. By the time she'd started to talk, I was only half-listening, immersed in memory.
"Jonathan? Yes, it's me. What d'you mean, 'me who'? Me, your dearest darling sister, that's who, you silly goose... Ah-ah, be nice. I'm coming over to see you."
It all happened pretty quick, see. Jonathan kind of shoved her at me, obviously thinking I'd be more likely to spill my guts to a cute girl than to a guy who cheats at cards and picks pockets all at the same time.
"Yes, now! Well, I don't care if you've got company, just you tell her to get dressed and go home!"
I could barely see her face under her hat, but the rest of her looked all right as far as I could tell. When I dismissed her as not a total loss, I had no idea that I'd be regretting those words for the rest of my life--from the moment I first caught a glimpse of those bright eyes...
"That's right. No, it has to be immediately. We have a lot to discuss. No, I can't give you twenty minutes! Jonathan, really."
I didn't know why I'd bothered to fight her, really, then or now. We were both happier when she was getting her own way.
"Rick and I are going to find Nefertiti's tomb." She giggled, and held the receiver away from her ear so that I could hear Jonathan's surprised squawk. "All right, calm down... I'll explain everything when I get there."
She put the telephone down with him still bawling on the other end. When she turned to me, her whole face was shining with happiness and excitement, and I knew I'd made the right decision. Which meant it was definitely time to get some sleep. I rolled onto my back, finally allowing my eyes to drift closed.
"Not coming with me, I suppose?" she asked, moving to sit beside me on the bed. When I didn't answer right away, she prompted me with a little poke and a, "Hmmm?"
"Nah. Not if it means getting dressed. Or getting up." I yawned. "Or staying awake, even."
"All right. I won't be long, I promise." Her fingers absently traced patterns over my bare stomach. "Will you miss me?"
"Yeah. Especially the way you hog all the blankets."
"You're lovely when you're asleep," she observed. "So quiet and sweet."
"You ain't seen nothin' yet, baby. Gimme a few minutes, I'll be--" here I yawned again-- "downright adorable."
"Mmm, I believe it."
I don't know how long it was before I realized that, instead of getting dressed, she seemed to be curling up next to me, her head resting on my chest.
"Thought you were leaving."
"I am." She wasn't. "In a minute."
"Okay." I sure wasn't going to twist her arm; instead I put mine around her. After a minute or so, I murmured, "Love you."
"I wish you'd say it when we're both fully awake," she said plaintively.
"Yeah... good luck with that."
"Or at least when you've got pants on."
"Times are tough all over the--hey! No biting, you little--"
I felt her evil cackle, as well as heard it. "When did we decide on that rule?" she wanted to know.
"I dunno--maybe when you started being the only one allowed to get any sleep around here?"
"I can hear your heart beating," she sighed, snuggling in closer.
"You made Jonathan send his little friend home."
"He's gonna be pissed off if you don't get your ass in gear, honey."
"Especially if this is your excuse for not going."
"I said I was going."
After another few minutes, I took the pencil out of her hair. Last thing I needed was that jabbing me in the eye while I slept. I said my wife's name, softly. The only answer I got was a little snore.
Jonathan could wait, I decided.
I found a dream that I could speak to
A dream to call my own
I found a thrill to press my cheek to
A thrill like I have never known
Oh, when you smile, when you smile
That's how the spell was cast
And now here we are in heaven
For you are mine at last...