Dear patient readers,
I had to edit this chapter and repost it, because someone pointed out a major plot point was missing. As it turns out, I apparently deleted it by mistake. But all is well and the end of this story makes a lot more sense. Thank you, Rehema! I could not sleep without fixing this problem immediately, and I feel incredibly stupid, but at least we have solved the problem!
Thank you for your enduring patience!
"Watch your step now, Miss Victoria."
Victoria took the driver's hand and he helped her down from her carriage. She blinked in the morning light. The sky was it's usual rainy gray, but something seemed different in the air today. Victoria took a deep breath and let the scents of dew on grass and rain fill her lungs. It was quite nice to be outside again, and she stifled a quiet smile when she saw a small flower poking out of the grass. She barely had time to marvel at the outdoors she had missed for so many months when her mother hurried her along up the steps of the church. Victoria was rather surprised that her ghoulish mother did not say but a word about her choice of a bouquet. The dried up flowers crackled a little bit in her hands, and Victoria loosened her grip. She had not realized she was so nervous.
Victoria blinked at being addressed so, and felt even more befuddled as she saw her stout father offering an arm to her. She took it hesitantly, knowing how much her parents disapproved of physical contact. Finis straightened up to his full height – which, admittedly, was no higher than Victoria's waist – and puffed out his chest like a robin. He nodded curtly to his daughter as if to say, "This is as good as it is going to get," and then nodded to the servant to open the large, oak doors of the church.
"Lord, give me strength," Victoria prayed silently.
Meanwhile, Victor Van Dort stood rigid at the altar, trying very hard not to play with his cravat entirely too much. He was so nervous, more so than he had ever felt in his life. He paid no mind to his parents trying to get his attention in the front pew; for once he was in his own thoughts in his own mind, and the only thing on his mind was his lovely Victoria. He wondered if she had this feeling of butterflies fluttering around in her stomach just as he did. His thoughts were all over the place, aflutter with anxiety and some excitement for that moment where he would be able to see his beloved face to face after months of waiting.
Finally, the doors of the large church swung open and Victor thought his heart must have caught in his throat. There in the dim morning glow, stood Victoria Everglot with her father, Finis, at her side. He saw her soft, brown eyes light up as she saw him and she immediately flushed a deep shade of pink and averted her eyes to the floor. Victor felt a huge weight lift from his chest, and he wondered why he had been so nervous. Just laying eyes on her made him feel so calm and at peace…he felt like he belonged somewhere.
When Victoria finally walked up the aisle and made it to the altar, she bent over and kissed her father on the top of his shiny, balding head. Surprisingly, Finis did not utter a complaint or even a grunt. He merely nodded and went slowly to his seat next to his wife. Finally, finally, Victoria was standing a breath away from him. He stared long and hard at her face, taking in absolutely every detail, memorizing. Besides the dark circles under her eyes from lack of daylight, she looked just as beautiful as she did when he first met her just a few months ago. She wore the same white wedding dress and veil as before, but something was different. He looked down at her bouquet of blue tinted flowers and a small smile came to his lips. He looked right into Victoria's eyes and she smiled back. He had never seen her look happier. Her smile was so big she had dimples on her rosy cheeks. Who knew?
"Now, then," Pastor Gaswells cleared his throat and the lovers quickly drew their attention to the pastor. The old, grouchy-looking man opened up his thick Bible and began reading some passages in a loud, booming voice. Victoria knew she should be paying attention, but she had a very difficult time when Victor kept stealing glances at her and she would return them with sparkling eyes. When the pastor had finished quite a while later, he announced that the young couple would be saying their vows. Victor had practiced his vows all night long, and he was only feeling a little twinge of nervousness as he offered his hand to his lovely bride. She took it. Her hand was so warm.
"With this hand," he said, taking three steps up to the table. "I will lift your sorrows…"
Victoria listened intently as Victor's pupils pored into hers, promising her from the bottom of his heart that he would forever be hers. He pulled a golden ring from his coat pocket and only fumbled with it once before slipping it onto her finger as he said, "With this ring, I ask you to be mine."
Victoria closed her eyes and thought, Yes, yes, yes.
Of course, the Van Dort and Everglot wedding was quite dull and uneventful to any family member or casual onlooker, but it had to be admitted that the looks exchanged between the bride and groom were enough to put a smile on anyone's face. Neither complained about the tiny, slap-dash wedding feast and cake, they just enjoyed every waking moment together. They barely exchanged words (for they knew everyone would be listening) but their glances said more than words ever could.
At one point, when Victor's mother complained loudly about the chicken tasting undercooked, Victor leaned over to Victoria and whispered in her ear, "It's fish, actually." Victoria gave a spurt of laughter and covered her mouth promptly, with her tiny hand. Mrs. Everglot glared, but did not say a word.
Victoria could not remember the last time she laughed.
When the feast – if you would like to call it that – was finished and the unknown relatives grumbled goodbyes, Victor Van Dort was more than happy to take his bride by the hand and lead her off to the street, where the carriage was waiting. Victoria was equally pleased that they did not have to spend the honeymoon at one of their parents' houses. Victor's parents, now growing in wealth since their fish business took off, owned a summer home in the countryside, and Victoria was very excited to see the place. She wanted alone time to catch up with her new husband.
As the carriage pulled away from the house she grew up in, Victoria pulled her eyes away from the dull, grey past and looked into the timid face of Victor sitting across from her. He reached over and took her hand in his.
"This is…very odd," he said, scrutinizing her with his gaze. "I mean, it is as though we were never apart."
Victoria nodded wholeheartedly. "Oh, I could not agree more. I feel as though we were talking just yesterday."
Victor cocked his head to the side, gazing at Victoria's lap, where the bouquet of the corpse bride was being cradled. His eyes met his wife's.
"I have a feeling that you two would have been great friends."
Victoria's eyes widened considerably. It was probably the strangest yet most thoughtful thing anyone had ever said to her. She was instantly reminded of Emily – her beauty, her lovely disposition, and the fact that Emily put her love for Victor aside to make him happy.
She looked down, rather shyly. "I can never thank her enough."
Victor shook his head. "I don't think you will have to."
Victoria fiddled with her bouquet, staring down at it as though it would give her the answer she wanted. "Victor?"
He nodded, encouraging her to go on.
She took a deep breath. "Your last letter you sent to me was…well…confiscated," she finished. Victor said nothing. "And, well…I asked a very significant question and I was wondering about…you answer."
The man nodded slowly. "Ah, yes. I recall. You asked me if I was ever in love with the corpse bride." Victoria's brown eyes were like a doe's as she waited for his answer. He looked out the carriage window, as if pondering his reply. She waited with bated breath. "At first I found her…well, a corpse, really. On spending more time with her, however, I realized that she was a very engaging person, once I got over the fact that she was, indeed, deceased."
"I felt so ashamed of myself when I had deceived her to visit you," he continued. "We got along well after that, and when I heard that you were to marry Lord Barkis, well, I lost hope of ever being with you again. So I…"
"You decided to marry Emily," Victoria finished, a little disheartened that Victor had bounced back so quickly.
He shrugged. "I was being careless. Emily was…sweet. She obviously had feelings for me and though I did not return them, I figured, what other choice do I have?"
He chuckled at himself. "I should have seen that you would never marry Barkis if it were not for your parents, but again, I was rash and thought all hope was lost." He looked up at his bride, who blinked under his hard gaze. "Emily gave me the gift of life and happiness with you. No, I never loved her romantically, and she knew that. From the moment I first saw you, Victoria, I had never doubted for a second that you were the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with."
There were tears in her eyes now. Victor smiled, and it made Victoria's heart leap and her face glow. Unable to resist the urge any longer, she left her seat and sat next to Victor. She was told that a proper lady should never stand up in a carriage, but she had a respectful disregard for the rules lately, and tonight was no exception. She snuggled up against his chest as he wrapped his loving arms around her.
He leaned in so she could feel his breath on her face, and before she knew what he was doing, his lips met hers. She blinked in surprise at first, but almost immediately sank deeper into him, closing her eyes and resting her hands on his chest. She loved him. He loved her. And the memory of Emily would forever be preserved and never forgotten.
For that is what the name of a brown haired and blue-eyed baby would be named.