Alistair held Waverly in his arms. It was bittersweet. How long ago was it that Millie got married? He remembered his heart swelling with joy. Declan wasn’t there, but that didn’t seem to matter at the time. He was focused on his daughter’s happiness, but to see that shattered only a short time later broke down the reserves that he had built up. Jeffrey wasn’t Zander, he knew that. Jeffrey Bennett had come into their lives like an asteroid, sudden and unexpected. He had proven a formidable companion for his loud mouthed daughter. He had taken her hard exterior, and hadn’t softened it, but made it stronger. Because he knew that Charlotte was great as she was, she just needed someone to help build up what she already had.
It was bittersweet because his fondest memories weren’t consummated in tradition. He wasn’t born when his fathers had gotten married, so he couldn’t talk about how wonderful that was.Instead, he relished in what he could remember, his earlier years with Declan…when they were young and in love. When he had woken up to the smell of pancakes in the morning, his children awake bright and early to watch cartoons, and Declan with that smug grin of his as he cooked shirtless. The two men, against the world. He had given up his family in Sunlit Tides to be with the man, and if circumstances were different, would rush at the chance to return to that life.
It was bittersweet because he saw how happy his daughter was and felt…empty. He felt fear. He felt unfulfilled. The joy he had when he saw his daughter with her hair and makeup done earlier that morning had been swept away with the thoughts of all of the marriages and loveless relationships before this. He knew it was possible to be happy, he had seen that with his dads. He knew Charlotte was going to be happy with Jeff. Still, the nagging feeling was in his gut, making him feel worse. He had given his daughter up to Zander, and that hadn’t worked out. He had given his daughter to Erik, and though they were happy, they weren’t the paragon he had once held them to be.
He bounced Waverly in his arms. “Your mom and dad are going to be so happy. You don’t understand this now, but you will one day buddy. This is the happiest day of your mom’s life. I’m happy too, I promise.”
Alistair found his seat amongst his family. Charlotte had opted for a smaller wedding, inviting only her family and a few others. They weren’t there for her struggle, she had said. She didn’t want to celebrate with anyone who didn’t see how hard she and Jeff fought to get to where they were, and Alistair respected that. Charlotte was brave, courageous, strong. Zayne sat beside him, eyes wide and frown present. “Are you okay?” Millie whispered to him, wrapping her cold hand around his warm one.
He snapped out of his trance and smiled at her. “Afraid is all.”
“You too?” Alistair asked, interrupting their conversation.
“For different reasons than you, probably,” Zayne said. “Ordinary stuff, like…commitment.” The last part was low do Millie wouldn’t hear him, but she had anyway. “Jeff’s my best friend, and I watched his last marriage fall apart. I don’t want that happening again.”
“We’re both pretty much against marriage, daddy,” Millie said.
“Me too,” Alistair mumbled. “In some cases, but not in this one. It’s going to be a good one.”
“I know,” Millie said. “Sometimes I feel like they were made for each other.”
“Years ago, I had said that about he and Lisa. Jeff would talk about how wonderful she was. She pushed him, and that made him better for a while. But, he never felt like he had to push back, and when things got rough with his family and his attention shifted to being the unofficial patriarch that everyone turned to for answers, Lisa’s pushing was too much. If they didn’t have kids, I don’t think they’d last as long as they had. He’s too good of a person, I just don’t want to see him hurt again.”
“Charlotte won’t hurt him,” Millie said. “I know you know that.”
“It’s not her,” He said, recalling a conversation he had a few weeks earlier with his best friend. Jeff had said that he wanted to live out his life as a mortal. He didn’t want to use magic to keep him from aging. “I’m afraid that he’s going to make a decision that pushes too hard against her. I’m afraid that he’s going to make a decision hastily because he loves Charlotte so much. I guess seeing him so happy today reminded me of how happy they are together, and I don’t want that to change.”
“Relax,” Millie said, tracing small shapes onto the back of his hand. He looked over to her and smiled. If he could live together with her forever, he’d jump at the opportunity. What was Jeff thinking? “Whatever it is you’re afraid of, you don’t have to be. They both push,” Millie said. “They work together, that’s why they’re so perfect together. Whatever it is you think he’s going to do, just know that Charlotte isn’t Lisa. She will never be.”
Zayne sighed. “I am happy for them, really I am. They know that I am. I’m ecstatic to be Jeff’s Best Man.”
“You just worry because you love them so much,” Alistair said. “It’s going to be ten times worse when your daughter gets married.”
“I have no problem fighting someone,” Zayne said.
Millie laughed. “My dad almost fought Zander. Him and Dio wanted to, but I was pregnant, so when I told them not to, they listened.”
Ethan leaned forward and interrupted the trio’s conversation. “Charlotte would have loved to have Dionysus here.”
“She would have,” Alistair agreed. “Astra, not so much.”
“Knox is his son,” Ethan said. “He’s part of this family, whether she likes it or not.”
“Let’s not talk about my sisters’ messy decisions. Today is a happy day,” Millie said. “We’re all being such downers. We didn’t wait a decade for this kind of negativity.”
“No, we didn’t.” Alistair shot his dad a playful glare. “Listen old man, you’re getting cranky. Do you need a nap?”
“I might be old,” Ethan said. “But remember who the powerful mage is.” He winked at Alistair.
Millie laughed. “Dad, grandpa is going to kick your ass.”
“Psh, I was the keeper of magic. I could totally take him.”
“Mr. Gray, I don’t know if you want to chance that. Ethan died and came back to life, that’s a whole other level of invincible,” Zayne said. Alistair let out a small breath. Joy, there it was. Watching his family joke around and enjoy each other’s company, this was what he had been waiting for. After all they’d been through, he didn’t think it possible.
Astra had taken Waverly from her dad before he entered the chapel. She had told him not to worry, she’d be inside in a minute. And, here she was. Her stomach tightened looking into the church. They weren’t particularly religious, or at least, she didn’t remember her family being so. But that wasn’t what bothered her. She felt out of place, as if she didn’t belong in the family. How many times would she distance herself from them and then crawl right back? She had missed out on some of the most important years of her sisters’ lives. She wasn’t around when Jeff and Charlotte met, so she couldn’t gush with the others when they talked about how they had grown to be such a loving couple. She also didn’t listen to Charlotte when she had lectured her before leaving. Why did her sister even invite her to this event? She didn’t belong, she just didn’t belong…
“Hey Astra,” Nerissa said. “Want to sit by me?”
She felt the little hands tugging on her arm and she looked down to see the nymph with her hair down and wavy. “Me? You don’t want to sit with the other kids?”
The nymph shook her head fiercely. “No, of course not. I’m not one of them.” She pointed to Graciela and then Pax. “I’m not a Gray.”
Astra motioned for the girl to follow her, and she did. Both of them sat down. “You feel like you don’t belong? Camilla isn’t a Gray either, but she’s still part of the family.”
“That’s different! Pax likes her,” Nerissa complained. “He hates me now because of what I said to Gracie.”
“He doesn’t hate you,” Astra said. “Pax doesn’t have a mean bone in his body.”
“Yes but…I’m mad at Graciela and he is going to choose her over me. So, that means he hates me.” She crossed her arms over her chest defiantly. “I just want to live my life, but they’re all so…together!”
Astra nodded, bouncing Waverly in her arms. “I understand.” She motioned to her sisters on the other side of the chapel, with a small nod. “We can sit together.”
Charlotte bit her lip, as Jeff gazed at her. “What are you smiling at?”
“You,” He replied, his grin widening.
“Yes, you.” He took her hands in his. “You’re beautiful. I can’t believe I get to marry you. I am seriously the luckiest man in the world. No, not world. Dimension. Dimensions.”
She blushed and looked down to the floor. “There’s probably a lot of dimensions out there.”
“And I’m sure that you’re more radiant than any woman on any of them,” He said. “Especially when you’re blushing.”
“It’s been more than a decade and you still make me blush,” She replied. “I think I’m the lucky one. I sometimes feel like I don’t deserve you. I feel like I’m too hard on you, and one day you’re going to get fed up and just leave.”
“I’m not leaving,” he mumbled. “I don’t want to. I will spend the rest of my life telling you that.”
“I love you,” She whispered. “In case you didn’t already know that. I love you.”
“Charlotte, I love you. Please, just marry me already. I can’t wait to make this official.”