She looked over the curving mahogany railings to the beaming face standing sentry at the base of the stairs. His smile was definitely twinkling in his eyes today. His joy mirrored hers but looking at it blossom in his slightly dilated pupils… Well, everything was worth it for this tiny moment. This blip of happiness. She gathered up her hem so she wouldn’t trip over it as she descended. She could already hear the murmur of their thirty closest family and friends in the great room and it wouldn’t do for their welcome to be a resounding thud from her skull fracturing if she misstepped. Not today, at least; not in this perfect moment. When she got to the last two steps, He stretched out and held her hand gently. She smiled at Him gratefully and twirled on the landing. The dress was, after all, His gift to her and He had yet to see her in it.
“Come, everyone is growing restless,” He smiled but gently tugged her in the direction of the great room. She was eager to follow, breathless to please. Her happiness was His, but much greater as she was the source of His tonight. She seldom was…
They got to the double doors with their intricately carved, brass polished handles and paused for a beat. Francis was going to announce their arrival before they went in. He, too, was smiling at their approach as he turned to open the doors. This moment was almost as much his as theirs. He had been butler and head groundskeeper for as long as she could remember and he had been privy to all their sorrows and disappointments, no matter how hard she had tried to hide them. As soon as she set the tip of her heeled sandals over the great room threshold, a mass of bodies collectively enveloped then swept the rest of her into the room.
“My daaaarling! How are you both feeling?”
Her sister was looking only at her, breaking through the overwhelming haze of hellos, momentarily dispersing them. Her gaze was swaying gently from face to belly back to face- the careful pendulum of love. And for the first time that night but probably the thousandth over the last week, her left hand strayed to her belly. Her right was still firmly cocooned in her husband’s. As was wont to happen, He responded before she got a chance to, “Maman and Baby are doing well, Jas. Where’s the toy?”
The toy was Ethan. And she had begged Him to stop calling Ethan that. For whatever reason, He had adopted Jas as His little sister but would not extend the same courtesy to E. But she said none of this and smiled shyly instead. She kept her mouth and thoughts shut. Everyone expected her to… Or they had come to expect her to because of habit. Those ugly thoughts they mostly shared that she did not spare time to have thoughts in the first place were long established.
Jas winked at Him and nudged her chin ever so slightly to the table weighing the hors d’oeuvres. E was intent on the story he was listening to from Aunt Joan. All three pairs of eyes followed Jas’ chin. In the split attention lapse that followed, Jas took her hand and gave it a squeeze – as one would when shared words of condolence suddenly feel like they are not enough.
But that tiny squeeze spoke other volumes. It spoke of waves of heat and sweat tangled between two lithe bodies in the swimming pool shed on hot summer afternoons. It spoke of goosebumps and steeped nipples, buttons of tension responding to well-experienced thumbs on taut January’s endless nights. Those same thumbs she could feel on the back of her hand now, right below her wedding band. The squeeze spoke in waves but it felt like cascading falls and abandon. Really, it felt like Jas testing their limits of exposure and now was neither the time nor place for it. Not that her husband would be remotely suspicious or concerned. He would probably attribute her flush to nausea or her anticipated response to the crowd’s overwhelming love.
She withdrew her hand slowly but firmly, not wishing to offend Jas but also desiring to not draw attention to what she was definitely making a bigger deal than it probably was. Jas bunched up her face for the tiniest second then relented. She went for His elbow instead and dragged Him further into the room to say hi to “the toy”. She used this spare second to carefully compartmentalise her rushing emotions then glided in to say hi to her parents who had stayed back to give the couple time to wade in and work the room…

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