I looked over at my parents, feeling more lost and confused than I ever had before. “But what if my heart doesn’t know what it wants anymore?”
The greenhouse seemed unable to contain all the plant life, and vines weaved around door frames to climb over the walls in the small adjoining room. It was usually used as a break room, but it was a perfect place to get ready for a wedding.
Flowers of pink and white and purple bloomed on the vines, and flourishing potted plants sat on every available surface. Even the two sofas in the room had floral designs stitched onto their cream fabric.
A pale pink rose blossomed at the top of the full-length mirror, and Tilda took a deep breath as she stared at her reflection. Her long hair hung in loose curls down her back. Her cheeks were flushed slightly, and carnation-pink lipstick brightened her full lips.
The light chiffon fabric of her off-white dress flowed over her growing baby bump, nearly hiding it, but still managing to highlight how curvaceous and tall she was. Soft sleeves draped off her shoulders just so, revealing her well-toned arms and olive skin.
Ember and I stood to either side of her, both of us looking short and rather plain compared to Tilda’s radiance. Our hair had been styled the same way: small purple flowers were weaved into braids twisted into an updo.
We wore matching dresses: pale blue chiffon that landed just above the knees, in a similar empire design as Tilda’s. Her mother, Ranetta, had made all three of our dresses, and she’d done an amazing job, especially given the short notice of the wedding.
Tilda’s mother stood behind her, carefully adjusting the wreath of flowers on her head—the Kanin tradition instead of a veil. When she’d finished, she looked at her daughter’s reflection and smiled with tears in her eyes.
“You look absolutely beautiful,” Ranetta told her.
“It’s true,” Ember chimed in. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone look prettier.”
Ilsa, Tilda’s older sister, opened the door with a quick knock, then poked her head in. “I think they’re all ready for you out there.”
Ranetta once again assured Tilda that she looked beautiful and that everything was perfect, then departed with Ilsa to take their seats before the processional started. We could hear the soft music from the piano, and we were just waiting for our cue—“Winter” by Vivaldi to begin.
Tilda took a deep breath and stared straight ahead. “I don’t know why I’m so nervous,” she whispered.
“It’s a big day. It makes sense,” Ember said.
Her smoky gray eyes widened, and she nodded. “It’s a huge day.”
“There’s nothing to be scared of.” I tried to calm her nerves. “Do you love Kasper?”
“Of course.” She looked down at me, her eyes misty. “I love him with everything I am.”
“Just remember that, and everything will be okay.”
Tilda smiled, then she reached out and took my hand. Ember was on the other side of her, and Tilda grabbed her hand too, squeezing it tightly. The three of us stood together like that until the first notes of “Winter” began.
Ember went out first, walking down the short aisle. Tilda was getting married in the flower garden of the greenhouse, and there were flowers everywhere. Potted plants had been moved to the side to make room for a white velvet carpet to run down the center, and the twenty chairs set up on either side of it were decorated with floral garlands.
At the altar, Kasper’s two groomsmen were already waiting underneath the flowered arbor. His best man was Elliot Väan, the guard he worked with, and his fifteen-year-old brother, Devin, was the other groomsman.
Devin looked just like a smaller version of his brother, but his fidgety, hyper demeanor set them apart, especially in contrast with Elliot’s severe Högdragen stance.
When it was my turn, I kept my head high and my eyes forward. I knew that Tilda had invited Ridley, and I didn’t want to see him holding hands with Juni, who would undoubtedly be getting misty eyed at the beauty of it all.
The carpet felt soft on my bare feet, and I kept my eyes locked on the pale lilac and white roses that adorned the arbor. I listened to the music and counted my steps, and I tried desperately not to think about the night Ridley and I had spent together and how I’d wished it would last forever.
When I reached the altar, I took my place next to Ember and turned to watch Tilda. She came out a few seconds later and met Kasper. As soon as she saw him, her eyes filled with tears and she smiled. He took her hand, then he leaned over and whispered something in her ear, causing her to smile wider. Then hand in hand, the two of them walked down the aisle together.
It was only when they made it to the front, and the officiant had begun the ceremony, that I allowed myself to steal a glance around the room.
Kasper’s family sat in the front row, and by the rigid way his father sat, it was obvious that he’d once been a member of the Högdragen. His mother seemed more relaxed, hanging on to her husband’s arm, her eyes brimming with tears.
Naima, Kasper’s little sister, was the spitting image of him. She couldn’t have been more than ten, with black corkscrew curls and a wide toothy smile, watching Kasper and Tilda with intense fascination.
But soon my eyes wandered beyond them, and it only took me a moment to spot Ridley, sitting in the third row. He was alone, no Juni by his side, and he was looking right at me. His dark eyes met mine, and for a moment I forgot to breathe.
Then Tilda turned to hand me her bouquet so she and Kasper could exchange rings, and I looked away from Ridley, forcing myself not to gaze in his direction again.
Tilda’s hands were trembling as Kasper slid on the ring, and she laughed nervously. From where I was standing I could see Kasper, and how his love for Tilda warmed his dark eyes when he looked at her.
To seal their matrimony, they kissed. Tilda put her hands on his face, and Kasper put his arm around her, and the kiss was chaste but passionate. As they embraced, I wondered if I’d ever seen two people who loved each other more.
Ember never missed an opportunity to dance, and she was out on the floor, twirling around underneath strings of fairy lights. Devin had been chosen as her reluctant dance partner, and she pulled him along with her, forcing him to keep up with her moves whether he wanted to or not.
After the ceremony, we’d moved to the reception in the adjacent party room, which was really just a small ballroom built for occasions like these. A three-piece orchestra had been set up at one end of the room, with Tilda’s sister Ilsa singing with them. Ilsa had an astonishing range and an amazing voice somehow suited perfectly for the covers of Etta James, Rosemary Clooney, and Roberta Flack that she was performing.