“These are actually pretty nice.”
Jessie nodded as Steph inspected the mask she’d been given. “Thanks. We thought so when we saw them.”
“They’re soft, too.” Steph slipped the blue mask over her mouth and nose, the color matching nicely with the dresses her and Alex were wearing. “I might make this my new daily mask. Where’d you find them?”
“Etsy. A woman is sewing them in whatever color you- oof,” Jessie grunted as Alex tugged on the lace that crisscrossed up the back of her dress. “Too tight.”
“Sorry.” Alex loosened the lace a little before continuing to thread it through the holes. “Better?”
“Good.” She finished at the nape of Jessie’s neck, tying the remaining lace into a bow before stepping back. “Okay, Riley, you’re up.”
The younger brunette stepped in. Unlike Alex and Steph, her dress was a muted shade of yellow. And since her experience doing hair and makeup far eclipsed that of the Maids of Honor, she had volunteered to help Jessie get ready as well. The four of them were standing in front of the large mirror beside the apartment door while everyone else waited in the garden across the street.
“This really is a killer dress,” Riley mentioned as she began running a comb through Jessie’s hair. “Like, I know it’s supposed to be more casual than a serious wedding dress, but you could totally make it work for the real thing if you wanted.”
Jessie looked down at the strapless white dress. “Maybe. Though I think I’m gonna want something a little fancier when we do the big party.”
“When it that?” Alex asked as she leaned against the wall beside the mirror. “Have you guys talked about it?”
“Probably not for a year or two. And my parents want to host it on our ranch in Wyoming.”
“That sounds pretty,” Riley agreed, as she took Jessie’s hair in her hands and began nimbly working it back into the long braid. “Hopefully away from the manure.”
Jessie rolled her eyes. “The whole property doesn’t smell like manure. Just… well, most of it.”
Steph snorted. “Classy.”
“It’s a cattle ranch. Besides, you don’t smell it after a while.”
“Still.” Her eyes lit up. “Ooh, you guys could throw a redneck wedding, where you wear a camouflage dress.”
Jessie shot her a look. “Not a chance in hell.”
“But it would look so good! And Ryan could wear a camouflage suit, and a cowboy hat, and you guys could do your wedding toast with Natty Lite-”
Alex and Riley both laughed, as the younger girl finished the braid. She then began coiling it on the back of Jessie’s head, inserting hairpins to keep it stable. After a couple of minutes, she was done, having turned Jessie’s hair into an intricate braided bun.
“Shit, that looks good,” Jessie mentioned as she looked in the mirror.
“Yea,” Alex agreed. “Way better than we would’ve done. Good work.”
“Thanks. I spent most of the night watching YouTube videos to make sure I got it right.” Riley placed a few more hair pins before she was satisfied, then accepted the makeup case Steph held out for her. “We’re not going overboard, right?”
“Enough to make sure I look pretty,” Jessie said as Riley broke out a brush. “But not so much that I look like a streetwalker.”
“Fine line to walk.”
“I have faith in you.”
Riley chuckled as she worked, first with brushes, then a couple of pencils. By the time she was done, Jessie looked flawless.
“Damn,” Steph remarked as Riley put everything away. “Maybe I should start wearing makeup. You look hot as shit.”
Jessie smirked at her. “You can’t tell I had my first brush with morning sickness earlier?”
“Did you really?”
“Yea.” She held a fist to her mouth. “I can still taste it, a little.”
Alex wrinkled her nose. “Gross.”
Steph shook her head as she pulled out her phone, dialing a number.
“Hey Pike. Are they here?”
She listened for a few minutes.
“And the others?”
She listened again.
“Okay. Thanks.” She hung up. “Pike says everyone’s at the park. And that Duckie’s trying to get Ryan drunk, so we should get going while he can still stand.”
Jessie took a deep breath, exhaling slowly before she slipped on a white face mask. “Let’s do this.”
Steph opened the door beside her. Jessie followed the brunette, who led the way down the stairs. But she stopped and turned around at the landing. “You can’t cry.”
“Huh?” Jessie looked confused. “What are you talking about?”
“You can’t cry. It took Riley too long to do your makeup, and if we re-do it, we’ll be late.”
“I thought the bride was always late,” Jessie pointed out. “Besides, it’s not like anyone’s gonna kick us out of the park. The entire city council is there.”
“And they’re waiting on us. Like I said, don’t cry.”
With that, she stepped aside. Jessie gave her an odd look as she walked past, getting to the bottom of the stairs. Alex watched her turned for the door and freeze in her tracks, eyes going wide.
“Mom?!” she exclaimed. “Dad?!”
Both of her parents were standing in front of the door to the bar. Her father was wearing a smart suit and tie, while her mother had a deep purple dress. Both of them were wearing masks, but Alex could tell that they were smiling widely underneath them. “Hey sweetie!” her father said cheerfully.
Jessie bolted across the bar, letting both of her parents wrap her up in a tight hug. The three of them completely ignoring Charlotte as she stood in the corner, wearing a black dress, shooting pictures on her camera silently.
“But- I thought- you guys said-” Jessie blubbered as she looked at both of her parents, gripping onto their arms. Despite Steph’s instructions, tears were leaking from her eyes as she sniffled. “What are you guys doing here?!”
“You didn’t think we’d ACTUALLY miss your wedding, did you?” her mother asked coyly.
“I thought you didn’t want to risk traveling!”
“That’s why we drove instead of flying,” her father informed her. “And we bought the camper, so we didn’t need a hotel.”
“Oh my god, honey, you look so beautiful,” her mother commented as she laid a hand on Jessie’s shoulder. “I can’t tell you how glad I am we let Ryan convince us to come.”
“Oh, yes. He told us how much it would mean to you.” She smirked. “Your aunt was right about marrying that boy.”
“I remain open to debate,” her father said dryly.
“Hush.” Her mother smiled. “Now. Are you ready to get married, or what?”
Alex hadn’t been to many weddings in her life. But the ceremony felt pretty simple.
Ryan and Jessie hadn’t invited many people, on account of the pandemic. Jessie’s mother sat in the very front, beside her father’s empty seat. Behind her was Ethan, sitting with Riley and Eleanor. On the other side of the aisle was Pike, sitting beside Ted and a couple of other people from SubTerra. The sheriff was sitting beside a cell phone mounted on a tripod facing the alter, one hand on the handle so he could turn it as necessary for Jessie’s family still in Wyoming.
Charlotte stood up front beside Duckie and Ryan, holding a camera and taking pictures of Alex and Steph as the two of them walked down the makeshift aisle ahead of Jessie and her father.
“Nice camera,” Alex commented in a low voice as she took a position opposite Ryan and Steph.
“Thanks,” Charlotte replied distractedly.
“I didn’t know you were into photography.”
“I’m not. I use it to take photos of the stuff I sell online.” The artist smirked. “Probably still the best camera in Haven Springs, though.”
“Are we ready, then?” Duckie asked.
“She’s waiting on us,” Steph confirmed.
Duckie looked at Ryan. “And you?”
Ryan took a deep breath as he rolled his neck. “Let’s do this,” he agreed.
The older man nodded at Riley, who nodded back and tapped the screen of her phone. The wireless speaker they’d planted near the park entrance changed its tune to the bridal entrance music.
It didn’t take long for Jessie to appear, her father leading her down the path.
Alex listened to Ryan suck in his breath. “God damn,” he muttered wistfully.
Steph snorted quietly. “Keep it together, lover boy.”
“Working on it.”
Alex was still snickering quietly as Jessie arrived in front of Duckie, her father kissing her on the cheek. Then he turned and took Ryan’s hand, shaking it a few times before heading back to his seat.
Well, at least he didn’t punch him, Alex decided as Ryan took Jessie’s hands.
Duckie cleared his throat. “Welcome everyone,” he began. “And thank you for coming, especially those of you who came such a long way, to bear witness to one of the happiest days of this couple’s lives.”
He looked between Ryan and Jessie. “The most remarkable moment in life is when you meet the person who makes you feel complete,” he continued. “The person who makes the world a beautiful and magical place. The person with whom you share a bond so special that it transcends normal relationships and becomes something so pure and so wonderful, that you can’t imagine spending another day of your life without them.”
Duckie smirked. “Now, for Ryan, that happened when he met me a few years ago. But then he met Jessica, who is also pretty wonderful.”
Everyone laughed, though Ryan rolled his eyes.
“Though we are all third-party witnesses to their love, it was extremely clear that Ryan and Jessica represent a perfect pairing because each of them complements the other so well. They balance one another, and while each of them is a tremendous individual on their own, together they are even better. And being better together, as a team, a unit, and partners in crime, is what has been many years in the making and ultimately leads us to be here today, witnessing their commitment to one another in front of those they love most.”
“As such, we are gathered together here to watch Ryan and Jessie join in the union of marriage. A contract is not to be entered into lightly, but thoughtfully and seriously, and with a deep realization of its obligations and responsibilities. To make your relationship work will take love, trust, dedication, loyalty, and commitment. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always the alcohol in Ryan’s bar.”
He looked to his left as the crowd chuckled again. “Do you, Ryan Lucan, take Jessica to be your lawfully wedded wife, in sickness and in health, until the end of your days?”
Ryan nodded. “I do.”
Duckie turned to his right. “Do you, Jessica Winslow, take Ryan to be your lawfully wedded husband, in sickness and in health, until the end of your days?”
She nodded. “I do.”
“Do our Maids of Honor hand the rings?”
Alex and Steph both produced the metal bands from their dress pockets, handing them to Jessie and Ryan. The two of them quickly placed them on each other’s fingers.
“Then by the power vested in me, by a website with a legitimacy I did not verify, I pronounce the two of you husband and wife.” He used his finger to make a flourish in their air. “Do the thing.”
Everyone started laughing and cheering, as Ryan and Jessie wrapped each other up and mashed their lips together.
“Your speech was seriously awesome, Duckie.”
“Thank you, my dear.” He smiled at Alex as she passed him a glass of his whiskey. Everyone had retreated back to the Black Lantern, where they were holding the reception. “Although I am curious as to why one of the Maids of Honor is bartending right now, instead of celebrating with the others.”
“To keep you from coming back here,” Alex remarked dryly. “Plus nobody else wants to do it. But it’s whatever, I’m heading back to my seat when I’m done getting the beers together.”
“Good.” Duckie took a sip from his glass. “Don’t work too hard, dear. It makes you age faster.”
Alex snorted as he walked off, then resumed gathering beer bottles from the fridge behind her. She turned back to place them on a tray just in time to see Steph lean on the counter where Duckie had been standing.
“Damn, girl, that’s a nice dress you’re wearing,” Steph remarked, running her eyes up and down Alex’s body. “It looks good on you.”
Alex smiled at her. “Yea?”
“Totally.” Steph looked around before lowering her voice. “It’d look even better on the bedroom floor.”
“Oh, Jesus, Steph…”
“Keep practicing that line.”
“Okay, shut up before someone hears you.” Alex nodded over her shoulder. “Ethan is literally right there.”
Steph glanced behind her to see Charlotte’s son casually chatting with Eleanor and Riley. “I know. I was just talking to him earlier,” Steph mentioned. “He thought it was a cool ceremony.”
“Yea? Not too boring?”
“Nope.” Steph nodded. “I liked it too. Small, intimate, only the people they care about… pandemic aside, they could’ve done worse.”
“I suppose that’s true.” Alex looked at Jessie and Ryan, seated beside each other as they laughed with Jessie’s parents. “It was a good wedding.”
“Yea, it was.” Steph hummed. “… did you ever think about what your own wedding would look like?”
Alex glanced at her. “I… actually never did,” she admitted.
“Really? You never thought about it?”
“It honestly never seemed like something that would come up.” Alex shrugged. “I mean… until I met you, I never actually saw myself falling hard enough to consider it.”
Steph raised an eyebrow. “And now?”
Alex inhaled slowly as she leaned both elbows on the bar, her hand finding Steph’s to grip it tightly. “Well, you definitely made me fall pretty hard.”
“Enough to think about what a wedding might look like?”
“Are you trying to propose right now?”
“No. No no no no no,” Steph said quickly. “Definitely not.”
“What, you don’t think I’m good enough?”
Her girlfriend gave her a desperate look. “Let me out of this conversation. Please.”
Alex smirked, squeezing the brunette’s hand. “Consider yourself released.”
“… what about you?” Alex asked, curiously. “Did you ever think about what your wedding would look like?”
“A little,” Steph admitted. “When I was little, I thought I would have, like, a princess wedding. With a ton of people, in a big church or something.”
Alex tilted her head. “Really?”
“Well, I mean, that was when I was LITTLE little,” Steph clarified. “I haven’t given it a ton of thought since then. But something like this feels… nice, I guess. Just the people we care about, with a small little ceremony, ending with everyone getting nice and drunk at the bar.”
“That… does sound pretty good,” Alex agreed. “Mostly because I’ve never wanted to be in the spotlight in front of a ton of people.”
Steph snorted. “Fair enough.”
“Do we… need to talk about this some more?” Alex asked hesitantly. “Are you probing for information, or just making conversation?”
“Just making conversation,” Steph assured her. “Although… I mean, I’m not gonna lie, I do foresee us doing this at some point in the future.”
Alex tilted her head. “You do?”
“Do you not?”
“I never gave it a lot of thought. I’ve been so caught up in how things are going that I haven’t thought much about our future.”
Steph leaned both elbows on the bar. “And… now that I’ve broached the subject?”
Alex hummed as she looked around, considering her answer. “I don’t hate the idea of having one,” she allowed. “Someday, I mean. Not now.”
“Good, because I’m not ready to do it now.”
“Me either.” Alex nodded. “But eventually. And when it happens… you’re definitely the one I want standing across from me.”
Steph slowly smiled. “You mean that?”
“Of course I do.” Alex took the brunette’s hand and gave it a squeeze, smiling back. “I’m still here, aren’t I?”
“Yea, you are.” Steph’s smiled turned devious. “You sure you don’t want to ditch this party right now?”
“I was serious about that dress.”
“We live literally upstairs, in case you forgot.”
“I’m caring less and less.”
“I bet you are.” Alex let go of Steph’s hand. “Let me grab our drinks so we can get back over there. We’ve got a happy couple to congratulate.”
Six months later
“One year, fine citizens of Haven Springs. That’s how long this cavalcade of insanity has been going on.”
Alex smirked as she leaned one elbow on the bar, looking up and the speaker over her head. God, it really has been a year, she thought idly as she reached under her mask and scratched her nose. Feels longer, the way it’s been dragging.
“The good news is that relief may finally be in sight,” Steph continued. “Doctor Wyneman informed me this morning that the first delivery of COVID vaccines is expected to arrive at the urgent care in the next two weeks. They will be free of charge, and he’s encouraging everyone over the age of twelve to come get them as soon as they arrive. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m tired of this, and I plan on being first in line.”
“I’m not sure about those shots,” Riley admitted warily, the brunette standing beside Alex. Ryan had offered her job back two weeks prior, and the younger girl had happily submitted her notice to SubTerra. “It seems like they pushed them out really fast. And they aren’t FDA-approved yet.”
“Yea, I get that,” Alex agreed. “I don’t know. I might just go get it anyway, if it means less time wearing a mask. It’s getting a little old.”
“While things may be getting back to normal, masks notwithstanding, let’s try to remember to be respectful of everyone,” Steph continued. “Three citizens of Haven Springs passed away from COVID, and almost a hundred people caught the virus, including me. If you see someone wearing a mask, don’t criticize their choices. Really, it’s not like they’re hurting you.”
She cleared her throat. “But enough about my opinions. You’re here to listen to music, not my rambling. Let’s play a request from some chick, Playboy by The Klepto Kids.”
Riley smirked. “What do I have to do to request songs from the town DJ?”
“Shoot her a text,” Alex replied dryly, as she turned back to the bar and resumed stocking the cooler with bottles of beer. “She’ll play whatever, as long as she’s got it.”
“Then why do your requests seem to come up before everyone else’s?”
“Because I sleep with her. Are you gonna check on the party at table ten or what?”
“Right.” Riley stood up straight, then hesitated. “Um…”
“Back of the room, to the left.”
“Right. I’ll remember eventually.”
Alex smirked as the brunette snagged her notebook and walked off. Then she finished stocking the beer, folding up the cardboard box up and setting it aside. She returned to the spot behind the bar as the door opened, and a young woman stepped inside.
She had gotten pretty good at determining who tourists were at a glance. Though it was helpful that she’d never seen the girl before. The brunette had shoulder-length hair, and wore jeans over a pair of Converse sneakers. A pink shirt was visible under her grey hoodie, and a boxy black bag hung over her shoulder.
Alex watched the girl glance around as the door swung closed behind her, seemingly looking for something or someone. “Welcome to the Black Lantern,” she greeted after a few seconds.
“Oh. Um… hi.” The brunette walked up the bar, still glancing around the bar. “Did another girl walk in here in the last five minutes?”
“No. You looking for someone?”
She sighed. “My girlfriend. She has a bad case of ADHD, and ran off on me a few minutes ago.”
“I know the feeling. Did you just get into town?”
The girl snorted under a black fabric mask. “Is it obvious?”
“A little. And I know most of the people around here.”
“I bet. This seems like a really small town.” She nodded towards the door. “We just parked ten minutes ago. I stopped to take a photo of the mountains, and when I turned around, she was gone.”
“Bummer. You try calling her?”
“Twice. I think her phone’s on silent.” She sighed, sagging her shoulders. “Great.”
“Well, like you said, it’s a small town,” Alex offered. “I’m sure she’ll turn up eventually.”
The girl looked out the door. “Small enough to walk to most places?”
“Mostly. Is she looking for something specific?”
“We actually swung through so she could see an old friend of hers from high school.” She looked back at Alex. “We were driving through Boulder when she looked online and saw that her former classmate was working here at a record store. We detoured over so she could stop in and see her.”
Alex blinked in surprise, drawing herself upright. “… your girlfriend went to high school with Steph?!”
The girl’s eyes widened. “You know her?”
“I should. She’s MY girlfriend.”
The brunette blinked a few times, before she laughed while shaking her head. “… jeez, this really is a small town,” she quipped.
“No kidding.” Alex leaned forward. “From Arcadia Bay, right? Back in Oregon?”
She nodded. “We’re both from there,” she added. “But I never met Steph, I was a couple of years behind them.”
“Cool.” Alex extended her hand. “I’m Alex, by the way.”
“Max.” The brunette took it, shaking with a smile. “Nice to meet you.”