Chapter sixteen: A mess of a dress
It turns out that the instant a human asks another human to marry them, suddenly it’s like the pair has become the centre of gravity with the whole world revolving around them.
I’m not sure if it’s on purpose but every conversation turns back on to wedding preparations, setting dates, reserving rooms for family members who will come by to visit, deciding on the menu, the decorations, the dress and the rest.
I think I may have learned more about human customs in the last month by simply observing the conversations around me than I have in all the years I’ve spent in this city mostly doing my own thing.
For one I’ve learned that a wedding is a matter of pride for both the husband and father alike.
A good wedding means a good marriage and a bad wedding is a worse fate than death
At least that’s if their tales are to be believed.
It makes everyone very excited.
And very nervous.
And of course, tragedy strikes when you least expect it.
I’ve been called to the parent’s bed chamber. Which is one of the few rooms I’ve never been in before.
I don’t think I should be surprised to find it looks the same as every other room.
But somehow I am.
The sisters are here too.
Missus Viola is rummaging through the drawers of her wardrobe.
“All right here it is. You’ll have to keep it neat, your sister will have to marry in it too after all.” She explains as she pulls out a yellow-striped cardboard box. A little bit of brown dust falls from it.
She sets it down on the desk.
And stares for a while before letting out a soft “Oh no.”
“What is it, mom?” Harmony asks.
“Harmony, I’m so sorry.” She pulls out the dress, a pretty yellow dress, that’s full of little holes. A tiny graveyard of munchers falls to the floor.
The dress didn’t stand a chance
Harmony gasps in shock, Melody frowns for a second, but then puts her hands on her sisters’ shoulders in comfort. “Maybe it can be fixed?”
“I can certainly try.” Missus Viola offers.
Harmony doesn’t speak a word, but the tears coming up in her eyes say enough.
I guess I should offer a solution, even if unconventional.
This is clearly an emergency.
“Would you mind borrowing a dress?” I offer.
“You own a wedding dress?” Melody asks, there’s surprise in her voice with a hint of suspicion tucked underneath.
“Me? Oh no, but a sibling of mine might, he’s a collector of rare and pretty things, he’s also a stylist and very good and finding things that look good on people.”
Harmony pulls up her nose and shrugs while pulling out her handkerchief. She dries her eyes. Nods a bit blankly while Missus Viola puts the tattered dress back into the box.
I open the door and let the girls into the parlour.
“This is wild,” Melody says, eyes glued to one of the many glass showcases that have started springing up around the place. “Where does he get all this stuff?”
“Auctions I believe? I think it may be turning into a small obsession.”
“Delaylah! How is my big sister?” He asks practically racing towards us from behind the counter. “You brought friends as well?”
“Uhm, yes, they’re colleagues of mine, Harmony, Melody, this is Zjeliah, my younger brother.”
“It’s a pleasure, how did you manage to look so similar?”
“We were born that way.” Harmony replies.
“Really? I didn’t know humans could do that, that’s remarkable!”
“Yes, twins are a thing in humans as well. Now with that out of the way, I’ll need a dress for Harmony, she’ll be getting married.”
“Oh really? Congratulations.”
“Thank you. Unfortunately, our mother’s wedding dress has been destroyed by munchers.”
“Really?” Zjeliah scoffs “Munchers, dreadful things. Keeping them off my prized possessions is an endless battle. As well as temperature and moisture control, it truly is a science all by itself.”
“Yes, but do you have a dress maybe?”
“Oh undoubtedly.” He waves away the question and steps towards the bride-to-be. “Let’s see, a bit of a beech colour on you, with undertones of pink and paper. I can work with that, just stay here I’ll be back in a moment.” Zjeliah announces before disappearing into the back.
Harmony turns to me, flabbergasted “Beech and paper?”
“It’s the doll way, don’t worry, you’ll be fine.”
“Oooh Harmony get over here, I found the perfect earring.” Melody exclaims. She has already headed back to the cases and has her nose pressed to the glass.
“We don’t even know what the dress will look like yet.”
“Don’t care, these are wonderful.”
“Right let’s see them.” Harmony joins the crowd and Melody points at a set of pewter earrings shaped into stylised branches of leaves and set with red half gems as berries. “See?”
“Seems a bit more your style. Are you sure you don’t just want them for yourself?”
“I mean you’re the one getting married. They’re too expensive to just buy on a whim.”
“I can buy them.” I offer.
“No.” Melody says, her voice sounds sharp, a bit harsh even. It confuses me, it was supposed to be a nice gesture.
“Why not?” I ask.
“You’re not buying me anything Delayhlah.” Is she angry at me now?
I’m not sure.
Harmony looks from Melody to me and back again.
Then the door behind up opens again with a flourish and a bid for attention.
“Now I have four options though I already know which one’s my favourite.” Zjeliah burst into the room arms loaded with pale pinks, soft yellows and off-whites.
“Oh wow, would you look at that?” Harmony makes her way to my brother while Melody shoots me a glare I don’t understand.
“What is it?” I ask.
She rolls her eyes and heads to her sister.
Well, that didn’t do much to lessen my confusion.
“Okay so you have to try this one first, I insist. If you don’t like this one we can look at the other ones but I’m certain you’ll love it like I do.” Zjeliah shows off a pale pink dress with a massive skirt, sloped shoulders, frilled sleeves and a spray of cabbage roses past the neckline and down the hem.
Harmony looks at it, mouth agape, then looks at me “I can borrow that?”
“If you like it.”
“Yes, yes I love it. Where can I change into it?”
“Oh…hmm, usually my siblings just change in the store, but I can absolutely understand your hesitance given your…Anyway I can show you to the back room, this way please.”
“Thank you.” Harmony follows Zjeliah out of the room.
Meaning Melody and I are alone all of a sudden.
“So…do you want to explain why I’m forbidden from buying you a present?” I try to ask it as carefully as possible but the moment the words have left me I can taste the passive aggressiveness on the back of them.
Melody huffs “You can’t just keep spending money on me.”
I cross my arms “I spent money on you one time and it was an emergency.”
“It was more money I’ve ever held in my entire life.” She sounds upset.
“So no gifts? Ever?” I ask.
She crosses her arms “No gifts for now, not until I feel like we’re on equal footing again.”
I consider this for a while. I don’t like her feeling guilty over the time at the casino. I mean she should feel guilty about cheating at cards of course. But not about me paying the bouncers. That was my decision, not hers and I don’t miss the money at all.
It’s not an issue to me.
But this isn’t about me. If it makes her uncomfortable then getting gifts isn’t fun, if it’s not fun there’s no use in doing it.
I nod, feeling a bit disappointed but I can’t really fight that reasoning. “All right, I won’t offer to buy you things then. But do let me know when I’m allowed again.”
“Thank you.” She wraps her arms around me and holds me tight for a bit. I hug her back feeling her heart thumping in her chest.
“Now, are you two ready to see the most beautiful woman in the world? You’ll wanna sit down for this, trust me” Zjeliah announces, putting his head out the door of the back room and wildly gesticulating towards the sofa.
“Pretty sure I’m already looking at her,” I whisper cheekily as we take out places. Melody giggles at this before shouting “Yup, we’re ready.”
Zjeliah opens the door waving his hands in a sort of tada gesture before Harmony comes out looking absolutely stunning.
The colour of the dress looks amazing on her, the flowers give it an innocent flair and the silhouette has a timeless elegance.
And Harmony glows.
“What do you think?” She asks.
“You look great!” Melody cheers her sister on “Now do a spin.”
Harmony twirls around the fabric dances around her and shimmers in the light like rays of sun on a lake at dusk.
“I feel so pretty.” She cheers.
“That’s because you are!” Zjeliah cheers back. “Now there are a couple of small adjustments that need doing, nothing too dramatic just some small pinches here and there to really perfect the waist and neckline.
“Really? I don’t want to impose.”
“Nonsense, my pride is on the line here, I won’t have anyone leaving here with clothes that aren’t perfect to the last detail. It’ll only take a moment, shall we go back to the back?”
“You’ll wait I take it?” Zjeliah look at me.”
“Good, now give us ten, twenty minutes tops.” Knowing my brother I highly doubt that but okay.
And just like that they disappear again.
Leaving us to our own devices.
Melody leans against me, then flings her legs over mine and nestles into my side “This is exhausting, fun, but exhausting.”
“I can imagine.”
“Is it bad that I’m feeling both happy and jealous right now?”
“I wish I could be as happy as she is when I get married.” She sighs.
I think back to the conversation we had when her father asked me to spy on her. The words passing me by like lines in a book.
‘I know one day I’ll be married off to some loser and if I’m lucky I’ll get the better of him and my marital duties end after I kicked some kids onto the planet. But right now I’m young, beautiful and adamant on making enough love to last me the rest of my life.’
Back in those days, they sounded nonsensical to me.
But now that I’ve spent time with this family, seen what a proposal and the prospect of grandchildren does to people.
I like to think the two of us are here together forever.
But she doesn’t have that luxury.
Time is constantly running out for her and I can’t even imagine how that feels.
I look at her, she’s gazing at her hands, patiently waiting for our respective siblings to appear again.
“Do you want to make love with me?” I ask her.
Her eyes shoot up towards me “Right now?”
“Knowing Zjeliah he’ll be busy for at least thirty minutes.”
She looks blankly at me, I think I may have done something very silly.
“I mean you said you wanted to make enough love to last a lifetime and we haven’t done…that thing yet but I understand if now is not the time of course.” I stammer while miserably failing to keep my cool.
Then she smiles and giggles “You’re not afraid your brother will come in and make everything awkward?”
“As long as you’re not afraid of the same thing happening with your sister?”
“I think I’d like some cover, so we’re not in full view should that happen.”
“That can be arranged…I think.” I’m not sure what I’m doing. Or where I got the courage to do any of this. But I don’t want to be the time we looked for Harmony’s wedding dress to be ‘the time she had to tell me she’s feeling guilty over money.’
If this is a memory she’ll be keeping with her, I want it to be a good one.
I pull the rejected dresses off the pile and hang them over the coat rack as some sort of improvised dressing screen.
“Perfect.” She smiles widely, then pulls me into the mass of ruffles and lace.
She kisses my cheeks, my lips.
I hold her, rapidly feeling my courage slip away as my partner starts undoing buttons.
“You okay?” She sighs in my ears.
I curse inwardly, she wasn’t supposed to pick up on that “Uhm, well, first time so…”
She chuckles “Kinda same over here, at least with a doll that is.”
“Is there something I can do that makes you feel good?”
“Hope used to stroke my clitoris.”
I look at her blankly “Your what?”.
At this her face rapidly grows red “Oh uhh…you know, it’s…” she falls silent. Then grunts “I don’t want to have to explain that, can I just grab your hand and show you?” she pleads.
She takes my hand and guides it gently underneath layers of petticoats. The fabric feels surprisingly heavy on my arm.
It feels warm under there, and slick. She holds my hand as she talks guiding it carefully “If you go up a little, yes now stroke that par- yup that’s it.” I can see her face flushing red and hear her heartbeat going faster. I’m transported back to that time I found her in the alley with Hope but this time things are different.
This time she’s in front of me. This time I’m not some silent observer.
I’m helping her feel this way.
It makes me happy.
I push a little harder and it makes her heartbeat even faster.
So I push a little more and-
“Ow, that’s too hard.” Her hand grips mine stopping me with a start.
“What? I’m so sorry I-”
“It’s okay just, keep doing what you’re doing just a bit more gently.” She kisses my lips.
“All right.” I do just that and she starts sighing in my ear again.
She looks so beautiful.
“It feels a bit one-sided, are you enjoying yourself too?” Melody asks.
“Okay good. I-” she gasps, her hands grip the back of my dress tightly “Could you speed up a little?”
“Uhhu hah yes hmm.” She moans nestling her face in the nook of my neck. “All right that’s enough. Please stop.”
“Are you okay?” I ask concerned I did something wrong again.
“Yes, yes very I just…I don’t want to make a mess of your brother’s shop.” She blows out for a bit then sucks in a big gulp of air “That was really nice, thank you.”
She wraps her arms around me again and hugs me tightly “I just wish I could do more for you.”
“It’s okay I liked watching you when you were excited.”
She chuckles at this “I can’t imagine I looked very seductive, but I’m glad.” She looks over my shoulder “And our siblings are taking their sweet time I see.”
“I told you Zjeliah would be a while.”
“We should probably put the dresses back before they come in to ask questions.”
“Yeah, good point.”
By the time they emerge again, Harmony is wearing her daydress again and she’s smiling from ear to ear while holding a big cardboard box in her hand with stripes and roses printed all over it.
“Now I’ve been told it’s delicious, but no red wine while wearing this dress okay? The stains are a mess to get out.”
“I’ll protect this dress with my life sir,” Harmony promises solemnly.
“No need to go that extreme but I appreciate the sentiment.” He wraps his arms around her. “I hope you’ll have a wonderful day.”
“And that also extends to the two of you of course,” Zjeliah says finally acknowledging we’re here too.
“Now off you go, I assume there are many other errands you need to run like flowers, cake and such?”
“Yeah, so much to do so little time,” Harmony admits.
“When’s the family coming by?” I ask.
“Three weeks.” Melody rolls her eyes.
“Three weeks!? Wow, they really wanna hurry this thing up huh?”
“Kind of, and Mister Dovey can only get so much time off to prepare,” Harmony adds.
“You still refer to him as Mister Dovey despite marrying him?” Melody pulls up an eyebrow.
“It’s only polite.” Harmony shrugs.
“Okay but… You do know his first name don’t you?” Melody asks suspiciously.
“Of course I do.” Harmony crosses her arms.
We leave Zjeliah’s parlour laughing amongst ourselves.
I look back for a bit and see my brother picking up those two other dresses.
They feel oddly significant now.
I know it’s just a fanciful daydream.
But if Melody and I were to get married, I would like to ask Zjeliah for those dresses again. The ones Harmony didn’t wear and Melody could pick one of those to wear while I wear the other.
That would be pretty sweet.