Alone in her bedroom in front of the mirror of her dressing table, Candy sat looking at herself, confused. Throughout all those years, she had tried hard to distance herself from the very idea of this great day, not daring to hope for an instant that it would be realized. However, the enchanting image that reflected back at her testified to the reality that her dream was going to be fulfilled. She could clearly distinguish in her gaze the wonder dwelling inside her, which was immediately covered with a perplexity that didn’t bear any sadness, but rather an emotion so vivid that tears welled up in her eyes. She was going to get married!!! She was going to get married with... HIM! And despite this, she could hardly believe what she was experiencing. She readjusted the garland that held her veil which was cautiously placed on her head by Annie a few minutes before, then remembered that she had ordered her not to touch it anymore until the end of the ceremony.
“Oups! If Annie had surprised me doing this, she would have scolded me badly!” she said while laughing inwardly. “I think she is even more nervous than me!”
On a scale from 1 to 10, it was highly likely that her friend might have exploded the meter when she had taken on the organisation of her friend's wedding seriously. Since she had been aware of this wonderful news, she had undertaken all the preparations and had forbidden anyone to deal with it at her place. It was Candy's wedding, and everything had to be perfect in respect to the sisterly relationship that bonded them.
The young woman came closer to the half-opened window and hidden behind a curtain billowing in a light breeze, she started to observe the guests who were arriving little by little and grouping together in the garden of Pony 's home. From where she stood, located on the second floor of the new wing that Albert had financed, she could quietly enjoy the evolvement of the beginning of this May afternoon. In spite of the distance, she easily recognized the people present and entertained herself with their behaviors: Annie, wearing a sublime greylag pink silk gown, flared in the back that highlighted her fine silhouette, rushed in all directions with a severe expression as if it was a matter of life and death. She was seen giving her latest advice to the servants, talking with the chef, who came specially from France to create the evening banquet and who was showing her the definitive menu with an exaggerated mannerism, as if he was presenting the birth certificate of little Jesus. Patty, the second Maid-of-Honor, followed her like her shadow but she wore a lighter mood, marvelling at the bouquets of Sweet Candy roses that had been hooked around the fences of the orphanage, caressing the cheek of one of Pony's children who passed by her, shaking unknown hands here and there and inviting them towards the chapel's entry, then was startled at Annie's call, less receptive to the serene atmospheres of the place. Great Aunt Elroy, whose health was declining little by little, was looking with absent-minded eyes at the comings and goings as she sat down in a wheelchair under the shadow of a hazelnut tree. Her nieces, Sarah Leagan, Eliza and Neil's mother, and Janice, Archie's mother, kept her company in silence, having visibly lost their voices when they discovered the modesty of the place in which they had to celebrate the most famous and coveted wedding. Neil and Eliza had not been invited to the celebration. For personal reasons, HE had imposed his will and never changed his opinion despite Candy's supplications.
“The Leagan parents are one thing though I do not think highly of them,” HE had exclaimed when she submitted the guest list to him. “But their execrable offsprings, NO WAY!”
“Be a little tolerant. They are still a part of my family, whatever we say. I can't offend them.”
“I do not give a fig about it! I don't want those vultures on the most important day of my life! I'll do something I won't regret if I see them!”
“Please, don't get furious. They’re not worth it,” she said, imagining the scene without any difficulty. “We won't discuss this further.”
Fearing the extreme reaction of her future husband, she had crossed Neil and Eliza's name off her list with her best pen. Great Aunt Elroy would certainly have difficulty accepting this decision, but it was better to risk her fury than witness a fight during the ceremony. Nevertheless, Candy highly enjoyed doing the task and applied it carefully.
Annie had told her later that Eliza almost suffocated when she learned that she was not invited to the wedding.
“What bad luck! With a little effort, she could have choked for good!” she had launched, chuckling.
“Oh, come on Annie, this is not very charitable of you!” Candy had deceptively taken offence with a mischievous eye, while giving a little hit to her friend's rib, who chuckled even more. This wedding was clearly changing people, even the most diffident ones.
After a little moment, she looked for Sister Mary and Miss Pony and finally found them at the other side of the garden talking with Mr. Cartwright and Mr. Steve, Tom's adoptive father. The sun’s ray teased the eyeglasses of the old woman, who was smiling benevolently. Reflecting on the bits of light on her glasses, it amused itself by dazzling the surrounding. Candy thought that it might be Miss Pony's tears of joy shining brightly through her eyeglasses.
“Tssss! You should wear a hat, Miss Pony. I would not like you to get a sunstroke,” she said to herself, concerned. Just then, she caught sight of Annie who was squeezing among the guests holding a straw hat which she tenderly placed on her mother’s head. Annie was undeniably revealing herself as a marvellous organiser, on the lookout for everything and everyone so that everything proceeded in the best conditions.
It was at this time that Candy, moved by a strange sensation that someone was watching her, turned her head to the right and noticed HIS presence among a group of young men the same age. Dressed in a dark suit that stood out in sharp contrast with the whiteness of his shirt he had left half open, the knot of his tie undone, he looked relaxed in spite of the tension that might be filling him. Archie, wearing the Scottish costume with the Audrey family colors, launched a joke that made his comrades laugh. Tom, Candy's childhood friend, dealt a good blow on her beloved's back so she could easily deduce that their conversation sparkled with good humor. She could distinguish his shoulders, now larger with maturity, shaking themselves with laughter, stopping, then going back to shaking again, and she was delighted at this frank complicity that united the young man she loved with her precious friends. Engrossed in her thoughts, she did not immediately notice that he had turned around and lifted his head towards her window. His deep greenish eyes with turquoise-blue glints pierced through his long locks that enveloped his divine face and searched to catch a glimpse of her. As if hypnotized, she remained still, plunged into the magnetic gaze that often made her lose control. Her heart beat faster, banging against her chest like a galloping horse. Hidden behind the curtain, her hand poised on the window pane, she closed her eyes. She knew he could not see her, but she seemed to hear him murmuring tender and soft words for her attention, words that he no longer felt ashamed to tell her. HE, so indisposed to expressing his feelings, so resistant to any display of emotion, knew now to show freely what he secretly kept for himself during those long years, protecting what he considered the most precious in the profound depths of his being.
“I love you too, my love... ” she mumbled, her throat caught by the tension that invaded her.
A stronger breeze came, lightly lifting up the curtain and she took refuge immediately behind the wall.
"My goodness ! He must not see me ! It’s bad luck to see the future bride before her wedding!"
With a beating heart, she opted for a last attempt and gave a glimpse at the window to check if he was still looking at her. As an answer, she noticed HIS sensual mouth curving into a mischievous smile that ended by conquering her. Really, the power he had over her suggested that their future together might not be so common, and she blushed, confessing to herself that she was eager to share it with him.
A light knock on the door shook her from her thoughts. A refined and sophisticated silhouette entered the room. It was HIS mother, a stunning woman despite her 50 years, with a surreal beauty that her son had generously inherited. The same turquoise eyes rested on Candy and narrowed with joy.
“My child, forgive my intrusion, I didn’t want to bother you during your last moments as a young lady, but I want to give you something that’s of great value sentimental value.”
While saying this, she handed her a purple velvet bag whose bottom held a rectangular shape. Candy hesitated a moment then took the bag in her hands, half-opened it and took out the object that was inside. Visibly surprised, she raised her head to her future mother-in-law, who was watching her in silence with hands crossed.
“It’s a jewel or treasure box, depending on how you would like to use it… “
“It’s too magnificent!” Candy exclaimed, covering her mouth with her hand to hide her stupefication. “I can’t accept such a splendor!”
Her wide eyes never beheld such a perfection. The size of a shoebox, the casket, built of precious wood, was inlaid with mother of pearls, grey and white pearls, and coral sculpted to form an Oriental landscape worthy of a thousand and one nights. The wealth and care taken in fabricating this object reflected its rarity, but also the importance of the owner: a king perhaps, or a high dignitary of the nobility.
“My son's father offered it to me long time ago... “ said the elegant lady with a neutral tone, despite the grimacing smile evoking a reminder of a deep wound. “This object dates back to the Great Crusades in the Middle Ages and is handed down from father to son...”
“Then I'm not the person intended to receive it... It belongs to HIM...” Candy insisted, shaking her head negatively. She walked across the room to place the box in the drawer of her nightstand next to her bed.
A gentle hand caught her wrist and squeezed it firmly. A pair of turquoise eyes plunged into the ocean green depths of her own to capture her attention.
“Not anymore, my child. HE insisted strongly that I give it to you. You are the most precious thing in his life, and HE wanted you as its guardian, as you have always been for his heart...”
“Mrs Baker, I...”
“Come now, Candy, you can call me Eleonor. We've known each other for so long, don't you think? I remember you, just coming out of your teens, fiercely fighting to pull HIM out of despair. I haven't forgotten the tears you shed, neither the sacrifices you made to ease his existence. I am and will always be eternally grateful to you for this. What a satisfaction for a mother to know that her son is loved by such a noble soul. I prayed so much to see you both reunited again and I cherish this long-awaited day that it’s finally happening. You are going to be my daughter in a few minutes and I cannot adequately express this delight, that HE could not make a more better choice than you. My son is the happiest of men thanks to you.”
“And I am the happiest of women,” she said, embracing the famous actress in her arms, her eyes moistened with emotion. “Thank you for giving birth to someone like HIM.”
She stepped back a little and noticed Eleonor's gaze clouded over with tears. She could not retain a sob and confessed, mumbling :
“It is always very hard for me to think back to that time... My existence was meaningless without him. Losing him while we had just met one other was unbearable for me, a true rupture, an immeasurable loss, every day a little more painful than the other. I would never have been able to replace him, you know? NEVER!!!”
Eleonor squeezed Candy's hand a bit stronger to express her understanding.
“And when he came back to me after all these years, hiding behind his uncertainties about me, I thought that the gap separating us, this invisible line that had built itself between us, would drive us apart again. It was difficult for us to accept that we could lower these barriers that prevented us from loving each other, thinking this love that was forbidden to us had been banished from our thoughts forever. However, they were broken down one after the other. Your presence here is the ultimate proof of that. In spite of this, I still have difficulty believing that all of this is nothing more than a wonderful dream. I'm so afraid to wake up and realise that it never happened!”
“You are not dreaming, Candy!” Answered Eleonor while holding the young woman's face between her hands. “Open your ears wide and read my lips! You are going to be MRS. TERRENCE GRAHAM GRANDCHESTER. Nothing can happen to you both now. The only thing you have to do is to say ‘yes’ to the priest!”
Overwhelmed, Candy nodded in agreement, sniffing. She was really getting married to Terry! TERRYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!! She wanted so much to yell his name and free the immense joy that was bursting inside her. Spontaneously, she seized Eleonor and pressed her against her heart, tears of joy rolling down her pretty face.
The movement of a person in the bedroom interrupted their emotional outbursts. It was Albert dressed in his Scottish costume, the same worn by the Prince of the hill, but adapted to his new height as a man freshly in his forties. Terry's mother slipped away at that moment to join her son, who was waiting for her at the footsteps of the chapel to be lead to the altar. Visibly moved, the head of the Audrey family laid admiring eyes on Candy.
“How beautiful you look, Candy!!! I knew you as an extraordinary beauty, but in that dress, you are ravishing!”
Candy looked down, blushing. From the corner of her eye, she looked at herself carefully in the cheval glass next to her. It was true that the person reflecting back did not lack any elegance nor grace. Her fashionable empire gown made of white chiffon emphasized her cleavage. A blue satin ribbon wrapped around the lower part of her breasts and the puffed sleeves which had been embedded with white silk embroideries gave extra dimension to the fabric. A flowered crown adorned her blond hair, which had been cut a few years before, causing Terry to almost faint when he saw her for the first time again. But he quickly got accustomed to her new haircut and even acknowledged that she looked more beautiful that way. A bracelet in gold and silver lent by Annie, encircled her wrist. Exquisite earrings made with pearls of Australia belonging to Anthony's mother, embellished her delicate earlobes, enhancing the sheen of her golden locks.
Her gaze clouded when memories of Anthony, the love of her youth, was evoked and her heart squeezed. Was he able to see her where she was? Was he as happy as she was ? Certainly so because the world that surrounded him could only be marvellous, freed from the trials and adversities of life, bursting with the joy of being reunited with his mother. He was watching over her now; she could feel it every day and it comforted her. He had become her guardian angel as she entered her teens and he never ceased to be. She missed him so dearly as she missed Alistair too! She would have wanted so much to see them both with Archie, dressed in their Scottish costume, playing their bagpipes to welcome her.
A comforting hand alighted on her shoulder, the strong and reassuring hand of Albert’s.
“I miss them too,” he said, guessing the reason for her sudden sadness. “But they are even more present today, believe me. Anthony's roses never looked more beautiful and never gave off so much scent. And the kids even managed to play with the radio-controlled model plane which hadn’t been working before. Our genius handyman might have passed by.”
Candy nodded in agreement, wiping a tear with a smile to chase her sorrow. Once again, someone knocked at the door. Archie's voice rang out from behind.
“The priest is here. We are just waiting for you to start.”
“We're on our way, just a minute!” said Albert with an authoritative voice, then he turned to Candy.
He took her soft and fragile hands between his and sighed sadly.
“I must say farewell to my little girl, the one who ran away in a rowboat, who used to climb trees, and gave slaps to that idiot Neal...”
Candy raised her shoulders, holding back her laughter.
“I must say farewell to the young girl who took care of my amnesia, who made me a better man and more conscious of my duties. Without your example, I would have never realized the important task assigned to me. Perhaps, I would still be a vagrant, wandering from one continent to another. I am happy that our paths crossed each other, that I became your protector. If I had to have a daughter, I would like her to be just like you because a father could not dream of anyone better..."
“Oh, Albert...” said Candy, visibly moved by his confessions.
“But presently, I must leave you to someone else's care, and although I'm not yet accustomed to his bad-temper, I have to say that he could not be a better son-in-law. He knew how to ignite the sparkle in your eyes that had been extinguished for many years; he knew how to rekindle the flame of life which flickered in you, and I can only bless him for this. Be happy my darling, take wholly what life has to offer you, live your love in all its outrageousness; you both deserve it so much,” he added, kissing her forehead tenderly. Then he offered her his arm which she welcomed, trembling with emotion.
“Now, Miss Candy White Audrey, let me guide you towards the steps of Mrs. Candy Graham Grandchester. I know someone who is waiting impatiently to see her...”
The door opened. The religious music had started and rose upwards, melodious and poignant. With a knot in her stomach, Candy took a deep breath, pulled her veil down over her ravishing face pink with emotion, and walked to the doorstep, tightly squeezing the daffodil bouquet that Annie had prepared for her and left in a crystal vase on her chest drawer, waiting for the BIG moment. She looked for the last time at her bedroom where she spent as a young girl. A page was turning over her past, a new one was opening with HIM, a blank page that demanded only to be filled with the euphoric bliss she was feeling. She glanced up at Albert who looked back with a gaze imbued with confidence and tenderness. Then she walked forward, exuberant, towards the steps leading her to her new destiny...