Chapter 37

In the end it was a very small wedding, short in the planning but long in the sentiment. Just their closest friends. Rosemary and Lee, Bill, Florence and Ned, Molly and a few others and of course Allie and Little Jack. They would have a larger celebration later, inviting out of town family, both hers and his, and more of the townsfolk, but for now this was all they needed. Time was of the essence since they needed to be married before the end of the month, as Judge Simmons had stipulated, for the adoption to proceed.

Elizabeth remembered when she went to Rosemary and asked for help to plan a small wedding. Rosemary had excitedly asked when the date was, and Elizabeth had suppressed a smile when she replied, "This Saturday," to Rosemary's gape-mouthed reaction. But Elizabeth knew that while the time to plan was short Rosemary was up for the challenge.

There wasn't time to make a dress even and Elizabeth contemplated wearing the dress she wore on her first date with the Nathan, but in the end decided it wasn't very bridal and so chose the dress she had worn to Little Jack's christening several years earlier. It was off-white and lacy and entirely suitable and Elizabeth felt beautiful in it. She wore her hair down, a few twigs of baby's breath woven into the comb on the side of her head.

Nathan wore a blue suit, partially in deference to Elizabeth's first marriage to Jack where Jack had worn his serge, and partly because that's just who Nathan was. He was more than his serge and his family would always come first so it seemed appropriate to wear the suit as a representation of this particular Nathan, the family man.

And when the couple stood before Pastor Canfield in the church, the clergyman had smiled and had looked from one to the other, marvelling how God had worked His plan. How He had worked it all out in the end, after many challenges and obstacles. That the two people who had come to him months ago for advice about each other, had found their way to each other. All weddings were joyous of course but for Pastor Canfield officiating this one was especially so.

It was about halfway through the ceremony when Little Jack, seated beside Rosemary, suddenly decided to join Elizabeth and Nathan at the altar, as he bolted past Rosemary before she could stop him, the small congregation chuckling at the child's impromptu move.

Looking down to see Little Jack peering curiously up at him, Nathan had smiled and reached down to lift the boy into his arms. He smiled over at Elizabeth and watched as she then turned sideways to beckon Allie to join them as well. Allie got up from her place in the front pew and came to stand next to Elizabeth as Elizabeth reached an arm around the girl, one hand resting lightly on the small of Allie's back, the four of them participating in the ceremony.

And so it was like this that the four of them became a family, standing at the altar together as Pastor Canfield recited the wedding ceremony and Nathan and Elizabeth solemnly repeated their vows to each other, the giving of a ring long held in Nathan's family. And as a last gesture that this was more than a couple coming together as one, it was a family, Pastor Canfield turned the group of four towards the audience at the end of the ceremony and pronounced, not Mrs. And Mrs. Grant, but The Grant Family, to the delighted reception of the clapping spectators.

After a small celebratory dinner at the cafe after the ceremony, it was tired group that trudged back to the rowhouses at dusk. Nathan and Elizabeth would leave Allie and Little Jack with Rosemary and Lee for the night, giving the newlywed couple just one night together as man and wife before the demands of family life began, an official honeymoon would have to wait until some future time. But they would have tonight.

After they left the children with Rosemary and Lee, Nathan and Elizabeth walked slowly down the road towards Nathan's rowhouse. It had been a full day, to say the least, but both were supremely happy. Even though their marriage had been accelerated because of Allie's adoption there was no doubt in either of their minds that this was where they were meant to end up. Together.

As the pair ascended the front stairs of Nathan's house, Elizabeth drew up her skirts to climb. Nathan reached the door before her and put his hand over the door knob, forestalling her.

"I think this is where I'm supposed to carry you inside," Nathan said. He was supposed to carry her over the threshold, into their new home. Well, it wasn't exactly a new home, but it would be new to Elizabeth and Little Jack.

Elizabeth blushed. "Nathan, you don't have to," she said of his offer. Theirs had been a small, intimate wedding, nothing fancy and it maybe made sense some if the more established traditions didn't apply in their situation.

"Oh, but I must," Nathan countered and raised a brow teasingly, his voice filled with mock seriousness and his eyes twinkling.

Elizabeth pretended to sigh in resignation. "Well, if you must," she replied dryly, but with secret delight.

Nathan smiled, then opened the door wide in preparation. He turned back to Elizabeth and quickly scooped her into his arms, preventing her from peering into the house, with Elizabeth emitting a surprised 'Oh!' before her arms looped naturally around Nathan's neck as he carried her over the door's threshold. He stepped inside the house and stopped on the other side of the door, kicking the door shut with his foot.

When Nathan didn't immediately move to set her down, Elizabeth tore her gaze from his face to look around the room, emitting a startled surprise.

"Nathan!" she exclaimed in wonderment. On most every surface-table, desk, shelf, end table, windowsill—there were vases filled with bright colourful flowers. Some looked to be hothouse flowers, many other looked to be recently picked wildflowers. "Nathan! Did you do this?" Elizabeth asked, her eyes going to his face.

"Well, I had a little help," Nathan confessed, pleased at Elizabeth's reaction. True, he'd had the florist in town bring some of the flowers, but he and Allie had spent a good part of yesterday collecting wildflowers as well. He had wanted to do something to make Elizabeth's homecoming special.

"Nathan, it's beautiful! Thank you!" Elizabeth said, reaching a hand over to cup Nathan's face, drawing it towards her, then pressed a soft kiss to his jaw. Nathan inhaled a little at the move, then stared back at Elizabeth, locking eyes with her. As they stayed like that a moment, a teasing smile finally began to tug at the corner of Elizabeth's mouth. "Nathan, you can put me down now you know," she informed him gently. He'd been holding her in his arms all this time and she wondered if the strain was getting too much.

Nathan snapped out of his reverie. "Oh, right," he said, setting her on her feet. He hadn't minding carrying her like that, in fact he had quite liked it.

On her feet now, Elizabeth smoothed two hands down the sides of her dress. "It was a beautiful ceremony today. I'm just sorry I didn't have a new dress to wear," Elizabeth said, referencing the christening dress she had re-worn and looking up apologetically at Nathan. There hadn't been time to make a new dress.

Nathan's eyes travelled up and down her length, as they had when she first entered the church earlier that day, taking in the lovely vision and wondering why Elizabeth sounded sorry. Didn't she know? "Elizabeth, you were beautiful today, and I love your dress! I remember it. It's the dress you wore to Little Jack's christening. And I...I think that was the day I first started to fall in love with you so it is very special to me that you wore it today," Nathan answered truthfully.

Elizabeth gasped a little. She hadn't known about that. That he had started to fall in love with her all that time ago and that her dress made him think of that moment. How very happy she was now to have chosen it for their special day.

"Come here," Nathan said, taking her hand and drawing her towards the settee. "I have something for you," he said.

As the two settled onto the settee, Nathan reached forward to the table and drew back a small wrapped box tied with a string bow. "This is for you," he said, holding it towards Elizabeth.

Elizabeth took the package and cupped it in her two hands, then looked up to exclaim, "Nathan, you didn't have to get me anything!"

"It''s not new or store bought," he explained, not wanting her to get her hopes up too high. "It's just something I wanted you to have," he said.

Elizabeth looked down at the package then reached a hand to pull the string bow open. She unwrapped the box then lifted the small lid off, gasping at what she saw inside. It was the beautiful carved butterfly, the one Nathan had made and she had admired when she'd visited his house all that time ago. "Nathan!" Elizabeth exclaimed softly, lifting it out of its box and cupping it in her hands like a rare treasure. "You remembered how much I liked this. That's why you're giving it to me," Elizabeth surmised, her glance going from the butterfly to Nathan's face.

But Nathan was shaking his head slightly. "No, Elizabeth. I made this for you. A long time ago. I just...I couldn't give it to you then. But I can now," he said.

Elizabeth's brow furrowed as she took in the information. Nathan had made this for her a long time ago but never given it to her. Because he couldn't. Something of a grimace came to Elizabeth's face as she began to understand. He couldn't give it to her before because...because she had rejected him. Because she had rejected his love.

"Nathan..." Elizabeth choked out his name in anguish, her face contorting in pain, the beautiful butterfly now a reminder of her past actions. The past pain she had caused him and others.

"No, no," Nathan said, reaching to cup his hands around hers, both pairs of hands now cupping the delicate butterfly. "I couldn't give it to you then, Elizabeth, because it wasn't right then, but it is now," he explained. "Don't you see? It's you. The butterfly is you," he said, explaining, as Elizabeth looked up at him and his strange explanation. But it wasn't strange. All the hours he had spent carving it, implanting the small pieces of coloured glass that brought it to life. At some point he had begun to think of the butterfly as Elizabeth, their forms melding in his mind, one the personification of the other. "It's you, Elizabeth," he repeated. "Beautiful. And free," he said.

Elizabeth swallowed and looked down at the butterfly in her and Nathan's hands. Maybe Nathan was only trying to tell her he had thought of her while carving the butterfly but suddenly it became something much more. Beautiful and free, he'd said. And he couldn't give it to her before. Maybe Nathan hadn't meant it this way, but Elizabeth found herself thinking it. He couldn't give it to her before because she hadn't been beautiful or free then. No, she'd had a certain ugliness about her then. Ugly in the way she had treated people and in her actions. She'd been far from beautiful. And she wasn't free then either. She'd been shackled by her grief, imprisoned by her fears. Her grief over losing Jack, her fears of loving Nathan, of loving another Mountie. No, she had not been free then either. So maybe it was true, what Nathan was saying. It hadn't been right to give it to her then. But he had given it to her now.

Elizabeth swallowed, overcome with the beautiful gift and the symbolism behind it. "Thank you, Nathan. I will treasure it always," she said.

A small, pleased smile came to Nathan's face and he reached to scoop the butterfly from Elizabeth's hands and set it gently aside. Suddenly, he grew very serious. "There is something else, Elizabeth. Something else I need to tell you," he said, knowing the time had come.

"Nathan! What is it?" Elizabeth asked, alarmed by her new husband's very serious expression.

Only Nathan didn't know how to begin. Maybe he would have to show her instead. She was a new bride on her wedding night and she would be curious when she discovered it later. Suddenly he moved to shrug out of his blue suit jacket, tossing it aside, then untying his tie and moving to undo the buttons on the shirt beneath.

"Nathan!" Elizabeth exclaimed, even more confused. Was he getting "Nathan, shouldn't we wait until..." Elizabeth cast her glance over to the staircase. Shouldn't they wait until they were upstairs for him

Nathan glanced at Elizabeth's startled face and stopped unbuttoning his shirt, knowing she would need the words to understand. "Elizabeth, you know a lot about me. About my upbringing. But there are some things you don't know," he said. With Elizabeth's curious eyes upon him, Nathan swallowed, struggling to continue. "You know how my father was in and out of jail, how I worked to support my family. Only I didn't tell you about my father's debts. His gambling debts. Sometimes...sometimes when my father was in jail the people he owed money to, criminals really, would come around looking for payment. Elizabeth, you need to understand. I worked hard for the money we had and I wasn't going to just hand it over. At least at first I didn't," Nathan summarized ominously. "But I soon learned that if I didn't I would be in much worse shape than before and I'd be unable to go back to work," he explained. "Do you understand what I'm saying?" he asked, looking intently at Elizabeth.

Elizabeth furrowed her brow, thinking. "You mean...if you didn't give them the money they would...they would hurt you," she answered, suddenly understanding the painful truth.

Nathan nodded slowly. "It only took a few times before I realized it was better to give them the money than try to fight it, because then they'd...well, then I was in no shape to work for at least a week," he said.

"You mean, they beat you?" Elizabeth supplied on her own, swallowing at her conclusion.

Nathan nodded again. "Well, beating is one word I guess," he said, then looked down to continue unbuttoning his shirt, finally shrugging out of it.

Elizabeth's eyes grew alarmed. What was he doing? Why was Nathan sitting here with her like this, half-dressed and bare-chested?

"I need to show you something, Elizabeth," Nathan said carefully, then slowly he swivelled on the settee, presenting his back to her, as Elizabeth gasped in shock. All across Nathan's back were fine scars, criss-crossing each other in an angry melee. Unable to help it, Elizabeth reached out a hand to touch a scar, her touch gentle and featherlight as Nathan felt her touch and reacted with a slight jolt. He turned back to face her and saw her pained expression.

"They whipped you," Elizabeth said, pain behind her eyes. They'd not only beat him, they'd whipped him. And he would still have been a child when it happened, Allie's age or so. That he'd had to endure this filled Elizabeth with such pain.

"Don't look so worried, Elizabeth. They don't hurt anymore," Nathan said, with a slight wry grimace, wanting to allay her worry.

"Don't they?" Elizabeth asked. Maybe they didn't hurt physically anymore but Nathan must still hold some pain inside, some pain from the memories. Suddenly, Elizabeth understood something else. "This is why you became a Mountie, isn't it? Or it's one of the reasons. To protect other people because there was no one there to protect you," she said.

Nathan shrugged lightly. Perhaps there was some truth in that. That he'd been powerless over the criminals looking to collect on his father's gambling debts and he'd chosen to become a Mountie, one, to be the polar opposite of his father, and two, to protect others from the criminal elements he himself had been victim to. "Elizabeth, I only showed you this because...because we're married now and tonight when you felt the scars you would have been curious, wondering about them. So I wanted to tell you beforehand," Nathan explained.

Elizabeth nodded, understanding. But she understood something else too. She understood that this was the missing piece of the puzzle. The missing piece to the calling she'd long felt to love Nathan and mother Allie. It was like they were a circle of healing, the four of them. That her calling to love them would initiate a circle of healing between them. She'd lost Jack, Allie had lost her mother, Little Jack had lost a father, and while Nathan had lost his sister there had always seemed to be a greater tragedy hovering over him. And Elizabeth understood now that it was only in becoming his wife that she had learned of it. He would never have told her of it otherwise, she would never have seen it otherwise. It was only because she was his wife that she knew of it. Because she had answered the calling. It was because she had answered the calling that the healing could begin. For all of them.

Elizabeth scouted over closer to Nathan's side, slipping inside his arm closest to the back of the settee. She reached a hand up to lay it alongside his face, now prickly with a 5 o'clock shadow. She stretched herself up to begin pressing soft kisses along his jaw as Nathan froze at the gesture. "No more words, Nathan," she told him. "No more words," she said, letting her kisses do the talking, do the soothing, letting them begin the healing. Giving this man, so deserving but so long denied, all the love and tenderness she had in her to give.

Nathan held himself very still while Elizabeth continued her tender ministrations but something began to build inside him, a tenderness edged with passion. Unable to hold off any longer, he turned his head, almost on a groan, and captured Elizabeth's mouth, stilling her soft quick kisses with a long slow deep one of his own. Elizabeth reached her arms around Nathan's neck as he pulled her tightly against him into his arms, the kiss deepening into something neither one of them could control.

Elizabeth had one more thought before she gave in to the feelings consuming her. One more thought before love and passion sparred, overruling all else. She had the thought that what Nathan had said earlier about the butterfly was true. It was all true. It was her. In the arms of the man she loved, she became the butterfly. Beautiful.

And finally free.