The reception venue is stunning and Mary can imagine her and Francis listening to speeches at the head table that is raised. As a prototype, the team have put up two shades of blue for the curtains, joined together with silver bindings and Mary runs her left hand down them, turning to Francis for his approval or input.
"Should we have the Scottish one first?" He asks. "Considering we're in Scotland."
"We can make that happen," the manager says happily. "Anything else?"
Mary shakes her head. "Don't think so. Everything is just so elegant and sophisticated, we are really happy with what is going on so far."
"Wonderful," the manager says, checking his watch. "We have taken it upon us with your mother's insistence to hire a photographer for the big day. He will only be here for the reception, and you and your guests will be able to collect photos at our many scenic spots, free of charge. Families looking to update their family photos, couples wanting to reaffirm their romance... Hopetoun House is the place where romance lives."
Francis pulls a face, leaving Mary giggling. "Right."
"Shall we check out the gardens?" The manager asks.
"We'd love to," Mary says, entwining hers and Francis's fingers as they follow the man out of the reception hall.
There a lot of parking spots and there is enough space for horse carriages, they find out but they are not looking for actual horsepower but vehicles for their wedding. They even find out a contact number for a company that specialises in wedding vehicles and once their tour of the garden is finished, they rest with some cake and tea, the manager going to grab some more information for them.
"We haven't even thought about our honeymoon," Francis says.
Mary shrugs a little. "Why don't you choose? It's only fair since I wanted our wedding to be here."
"Well, since we were planning to go to Australia for the summer, why don't we just go then? It will be their Spring, right?" He suggests.
Mary nods. "Yeah, why not," she says with a grin. "What will we do in Australia?"
"Visit the Great Barrier Reef of course!" Her fiancé says, feigning exasperation. "Do you know how beautiful the scenery is in Australia? I've never been but I'm excited to go there."
"I'll go with you only if you promise to keep those spiders away from me," Mary says, leaning closer to him.
He pecks her nose. "I'll protect you from anything, even boxing kangaroos."
She giggles, hugging him before kissing him. They don't realise that they're really going at it until the manager clears his throat and they spring apart, turning to a red-eared man who holds a bunch of brochures.
"No, it's us," Francis says, chuckling a little. "You did say romance lives here."
The man guffaws, all embarrassment has gone as he takes a seat. "That is true," he says, sliding the packs to them. "Just more information about your reception. When you'll make appearances and the sort."
"Ah," Mary muses, grabbing a pen and biting her lip. "We should aim to be here before lunchtime, right? But we also need to account for traffic on the way."
"We will have an early ceremony at ten," Francis states. "So by half ten, we're on the road and here, by quarter past eleven? Give or take half eleven."
Mary nods, turning to the manager. "And the lunch will be served at half twelve?"
"With an hour to take photos, relax, share some light appetisers and drinks," the manager says. "Your mother says it is a custom of a French wedding to have a drink's hour of the sort."
"Yeah, us French are alcoholics," Francis jests, making them laugh. "But it's to loosen the guests and bridal party up."
"What a lovely tradition," the manager replies. "So, if that is everything, you can always call us if you have more questions or arrangments."
Mary's eyes widen. "We haven't even brought up the topic of food!"
"Oh, your mother-"
"It's our wedding," Mary says, holding Francis's hand for emphasis.
The manager blushes a little. "Yes, of course. Sorry, your mother made some suggestions but as the bride and groom, all things are final with your input."
Mary smiles and nods. "We've sorted our cake out," she tells him. "And we'd like to have many options from vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian and meat."
"And we'd like to serve a particular wine at the wedding," Francis adds. "My maternal family own a vineyard and my mother will bring at least two hundred bottles."
"Very well," the manager says. "And we'll have non-alcoholic options for children."
"We also have our music options organised," Mary continues before feeling pressure on her bladder. "Ooh, someone drank a lot of tea." She excuses herself to the restroom.
Franci takes over with, "Would it be possible to have a stage for a special performance?"
The manager eyes the exit where Mary hurried through. "A special performance?"
Francis smiles. "Yeah. A very special performance."
"We can make that happen, and give it a codename on the itinerary."
"Thank you very much," Francis says, leaning back in his seat with his tea.
"I've booked a tour guide for us around Scotland tomorrow," Mary tells Francis as they get ready for bed. "Show you the places Mary, Queen of Scots habited when she was alive."
Francis looks around Mary's bedroom. "I feel like I'm treading on a ghost's land."
She chuckles, waving him off as she places her earrings into her jewellery box. "She didn't die here, you know?"
"Then where did she have her head cut off at?" Francis asks, making her giggle a little at his phrasing.
Mary turns to him. "Fotheringhay Castle."
Francis brows raise as he pulls the duvet back and slips in. "Ahh. Sounds posh. Well, don't all castles sound posh? Holyrood, Buckingham," he says, emphasising the names. "Very posh."
"And doesn't France have the same?" Mary chuckles, rubbing some lotion onto her hands before getting in beside Francis on the bed. "Versailles, Fontainebleau. Chenonceau. The French language is ever so romantic."
"Must be why I'm such a charmer," Francis jests with a smirk when she snorts. "And I have Italian blood, I'm a double-threat." He reaches for a faux flower in the vase on the bedside table and presents it to Mary. "Amore mio."
Mary feigns a wistful sigh. "Grazie Tesoro. Ti amo."
"Hmm, your accent's coming along splendidly," Francis says, capturing her lips in a soft kiss. "Perfetto."
"Merci," Mary whispers against his lips. They are about to take things further when she gasps at the sound of someone knocking on her door. She sighs heavily, pecks Francis's lips and slips out of the bed to answer the door. "Katherine."
Katherine smiles fondly. "Uh, James is... Well, he's downstairs waiting for you."
"Waiting for me?" Mary asks in confusion before she gasps softly. She hurries to get her robe and pull her Converses on. "Francis, I'll be back soon. There's something I need to do..."
"Yeah, of course," Francis says, retrieving his phone. "I promised my mother I'd call her anyway..."
Mary nods and watches as Katherine heads to hers and Jim's bedroom as she heads down the stairs. She finds Jim in the kitchen and he leads her to the garden, down the path to the fields and eventually the family graveyard.
Soon, they stand before their father's grave, flowers held tightly in Jim's hands before he places them and arranges them neatly.
"We didn't forget, Dad," he mutters as Mary swallows hard, blinking back tears.
"Happy Birthday, Daddy," she breathes out. "Uh, I've been so busy. I'm planning my wedding, Dad. To Francis, a really nice man who's French like Maman but his mother's Italian and she's nice. Mostly..." She laughs a little, feeling her brother's arms over her shoulders. "Better late than never, hmm?"
"Yeah," Jim mumbles. "Can you believe that our Mary's growing up?"
Mary looks at her brother with a fond but sad smile on her face. "I am, aren't I?"
"She's a great actress. I think I forced Katherine to watch Blood Crusade five times now. Even got the guys from work to watch it," Jim says proudly. "And she's doing really good in that TV show even though I fall asleep and Katherine forces me to watch it... Your girl's a star. Bigger than ever. You'd be so proud."
Mary bows her head, some tears falling down her cheeks. "We love you, Dad. Raise a pint up there for us, yeah?"
She snuggles into Jim's side and they sigh, standing there by the dark grave until they head back inside and go to bed with their respective partners. Mary can honestly say she feels a little bit better about everything, a smile forming on her face as Francis wraps his arms around her waist.