“This is it. This is the one.” Rae couldn’t believe her luck. She, Connor and Layla had been looking for a venue for the last week and she was just about to give up when they drove by this small park.
“Are you sure?” Connor asked.
“Yes. This is exactly what I’ve been looking for. It even has the fire pit. Oh, can I have it…please?”
He smiled at her. “When have I ever been able to say no? I’ll go see if I can find a manager or a staff person.”
She grinned as he walked away. This temple would be perfect for her wedding.
“I guess if you’re into overly elaborate venues, this place would work. But Connor is such a low-key guy, I would have thought he’d want something simpler. At least, that’s what we used to talk about.” Layla Cullen-Vazquez smiled coolly at Rae.
Rae felt her grin fade and she shrugged, “Connor wants me to be happy.”
“Yes, he always did have a soft heart.” Layla turned away. “I’ll go help him look.”
Rae watched Layla walk away. How had they gotten stuck with that woman? Connor’s ex-girlfriend was hateful and conniving and beautiful – and she had known him almost all their lives. It was beyond annoying to hear them talk about their shared past or laugh at an inside joke. But when she’d volunteered to show them the venues in town, Rae couldn’t think of a reason to say no.
I was married here. You chose well.
Rae frowned, “What?”
I was married right here, at this same place, when I moved to Sunset Valley.
“You lived here? Rebecca, why didn’t you tell me?”
It isn’t important. And this is not about me, it’s about you and your special day.
“But I –” She started to say but Connor came back with the proprietor.
“Hey Rosie, so we’re good to go for the 3rd, Mr. Pope here just has some paperwork that needs filling out.”
“Yes, that’s perfect. Can you call my mom and give her the information and I’ll get the paperwork sorted?” She couldn’t contain her excitement. This was going to be perfect.
It didn’t take long to fill out the forms and place a deposit down on the venue. As they drove away, Connor asked, “So, we’re happy?”
“Absolutely. And get this, Rebecca was married there! She actually lived in Sunset Valley!”
“Who’s Rebecca?” Layla asked.
Rae had forgotten she was in the car. She felt Connor tense up as his ex-girlfriend leaned forward from the backseat.
“She’s just a ghost from the past,” he said.
“Is that right? Don’t you have an ancestor named Rebecca?”
Rae’s eyes flew to Connor’s face. She didn’t know that. He frowned and glanced at her, “I guess so.”
“Really? Wouldn’t it be funny if they were the same people?” Rae grinned at him.
“Oh, you didn’t know about her? Connor’s family has a fascinating back story. Poor immigrants who came to the new world with nothing on their backs and became richer than you could ever imagine. My family befriended theirs and we’ve been connected since the start. Right CJ? In fact, several of our family members have married each other over the years. We just naturally gravitate towards each other.”
Rae sat back and remained quiet. If Connor saw nothing wrong with what Layla was saying, then she wouldn’t make a big deal about it. Her joy in finding her wedding venue was dampened by this woman’s presence, but Connor thought fondly of her and she was not going to let her jealousy ruin this time for them.
He reached over and squeezed her knee, keeping his hand there. She looked up at his smiling face and gave him a smile back. He was marrying her, not Layla. They had naturally gravitated toward each other, not him and Layla. He loved her. But he’d once loved Layla – hadn’t he?
She placed her hand on top of his. They would last – wouldn’t they?
The day of her wedding finally arrived and she was nervous. No matter what Ade or her mother said, this didn’t feel like the happiest day of her life. She was tired; she hadn’t slept in over a week. She kept having these dreams that she only vaguely remembered when she woke up.
The first time it happened, Connor had woken her up and she’d called him David. It had not been fun trying to explain why his brother’s name was the first thing she said after waking up. She knew that these dreams had something to do with Rebecca, but her resident ghost had been MIA since she’d revealed that she was from Sunset Valley.
Rae also couldn’t get Layla’s voice out of her head. Connor had an ancestor named Rebecca?
“Rebecca, what’s your last name?” Rae stood still, looking out towards the front of the house they’d rented to prepare for the wedding. “Becca?”
Silence. Rae had never felt so alone.
Turning away from the balcony doors, Rae finished getting ready.
It was a beautiful evening to get married. Her uncle sent over half his kitchen staff and Connor’s parents went all out on the decorations. As people found their seats, she and Connor stood on the dais, gazing at each other.
Once things settled down and everyone had a seat, the ceremony started. They said their vows and exchanged rings. It felt good slipping that piece of metal onto his finger. He was hers now, forever.
And then they shared their first kiss as husband and wife.
It was perfect.
As they walked down the aisle, their guests threw rose petals and cheered for them. Rae glanced around and smiled at everyone. Okay, so maybe her mother and sisters were right; this was the happiest day of her life.
“I love you Mrs. London.”
“Mrs. Torres-London.” She looked at him and laughed. He was such a guy! “We talked about this Connor, remember? Don’t pout.”
“I’m not pouting,” he said with a frown.
“I love you Mr. Torres-London.”
He leaned down and kissed her nose.
“Your uncle has a pastry chef that works in his kitchen?” Connor looked over at her in disbelief.
“He is a king; he has a baker, a butcher, and a candlestick maker.” She laughed, “He wanted us to have the best and since he couldn’t come on such short notice, he sent us some of his help. I’ve had some of Justine’s pastries, you’ll love this cake.”
He just took the cutting knife and sighed. “It’s takes a strong man to be your husband Rosie.”
“Oh, whatever! We’ve been married for six seconds.” She laughed and looked around at the crowd waiting for them to cut the cake. Her eyes met Layla’s and she felt a chill down her spine. It was only for a second, but the look of pure hatred on the woman’s face was something she would not forget soon.
Who in their right mind would invite their Ex to their wedding? Only Connor. Rolling her eyes and resolutely deciding that nothing was going to ruin her day, she turned back to Connor and the cake just in time for him to smear some on her face.
“Really? You’re just going to throw cake on my face?” She said as she picked up the knife.
“Now Rosie, I didn’t throw it. I was aiming for your mouth but you moved your head.” She would have believed him, but he couldn’t stop laughing.
“You should have signed a pre-nup sweetheart.” She held the knife up and smiled sweetly. “You’re a firefighter; you have a life insurance policy, right?”
That stopped the laughter. “I haven’t put your name on it yet though.” He grinned and took the knife from her hands. “And I’ll love you until the day I die, even if it’s by your own hand.”
“Don’t push me dearest.” She leaned up and kissed him.
The caterers came to cut the rest of the cake and serve it to the guests and Connor and Rae took that time to mingle and talk to their guests. After wiping the cake off her face, she turned around to go talk to her mother and bumped into a woman who looked vaguely familiar.
“Oh, I’m sorry about that dear. I can’t see a thing with these sunglasses!” The woman apologized.
“It’s alright, wait – I know you. Oh my God, you’re – but how is that possible. You used to be blue!” Standing in front of her was the genie that had granted her wish, except she didn’t look like a genie anymore.
Taking the glasses off, the woman smiled. “I was worried you wouldn’t recognize me.”
“Why?” It was all Rae could think to ask. She was still shocked that the person she owed her life to was at her wedding!
“We’re not allowed to reveal ourselves to people, dear. I had hoped you would save me the trouble of breaking that rule and you did! You look absolutely stunning.”
“Thank you so much, um – I never got your name.”
“I go by Nyema now. Easier for the mortals to pronounce. I would ask you how you are, but we’re at your wedding.”
Rae laughed. “I’m good. I’m happy.” She looked over at her husband. “I’m loved.”
“Yes, you are; very much so.”
“Where are my manners, I’ll call him over and you can meet him.” She turned to call Connor over, but Nyema stopped her.
“Oh no, no, he seems to be having an important conversation and there’s much I need to talk to you about.”
“Oh?” Connor did seem to be in a deep conversation with some man. She frowned; he was upset about something. Distracted, she asked, “What did you want to talk about?”
“I may have given you more than just your body back seven years ago. Have you felt weird lately? Do unexplained things seem to happen to you randomly? Are you seeing things, dreaming things that don’t make any sense?”
That got her attention. “Lady, let me give you a brief history.” Rae took her arm and led her to a quiet area to talk.
That night, as she lay in bed, Rae thought of her conversation with Nyema. She had yet to tell Connor what she’d learned and the fear that he wouldn’t understand was overwhelming. Even after all they’ve been through, she was worried about how he would take it. It was irrational, but there nonetheless.
Getting out of bed, she headed for the kitchen for a glass of water. They had landed on Sunlight Tides that morning and after showing Connor the property, she had spent most of the day doing some research online. She’d found one blog and one article that supported Nyema’s claim, but she was inclined to believe the genie.
“Haven’t you ever wanted something really badly, and all of a sudden, there it was? Have you ever gotten a cold, been hurt – when was the last time you went to the doctor for anything other than your yearly check-up?” Nyema had asked.
Rae had been stunned when she realized that the genie was right. She had never been sick, all the hot flashes had stopped, and although she knew she was blessed and very rarely wanted anything, it had come as a shock when her parents got her a horse right before she graduated high school. She remembered wishing for one after their first trip to Egypt. Back then she was 10, but they didn’t get it for her until after she changed. She always assumed it was because she’d been, well…a ghost. And Connor, she’d wanted someone to love her, someone she could trust with her secret and then he’d appeared. That thought had scared her. Did he love her because she was forcing him to?
“Does it work on love?” She’d asked Nyema.
Nyema had shrugged, “You can’t force someone to love you. It doesn’t work like that. Love is a different kind of magic and has different rules. You can push someone who has those feelings already to do things and they will rationalize it as love, but that takes very strong magic and you have to be careful, because if it backfires, the repercussions are worse than death.”
Rae had shivered a little at that. She knew there were worse things than death, like being trapped as a ghost, never aging, never truly feeling anything other than heat, unbearable heat. She shook herself and focused on her friend.
“So I have magic powers now?” Couldn’t things ever be simple?
Nyema had laughed. “A little bit. I had to give some of mine away to recreate your body in the form you wanted.” When Rae opened her mouth to speak, Nyema waved her to silence. “I would do it again. You freed me Rae Rose. After centuries of being imprisoned in that damn lantern, a little girl did with her first wish, what some of the wisest and richest men and women would not do with their last. There is nothing I would not do for you, Sadiqati.”
Rae stood in her living room, thinking about Nyema. The genie had told her a simple language spell to try and see if she really did have magic powers. It took several tries to get the wording right, but on her fifth try, just when she was about to give up and go back to her husband, she felt a tingle down her spine. A burst of symbols appeared in the air suddenly and hovered for a few seconds and then vanished. If she had blinked, she would have missed it.
She was going to pass out. She’d only half believed Nyema because a part of her, the scientist in her, could not believe in magic. Even though she was here because of it, her logical side said there must be a scientific explanation. How wrong that assumption was! She felt giddy and oddly boneless, so she did it again. And again, the symbols appeared and disappeared. Running to the closest computer, she opened up an online dictionary and changed the default language to Urdu, a language she had been trying to learn for the last two years. She could understand every single word. Rae sat back in her chair and started at the screen blankly. “Holy crap – I have superpowers!”
Her excitement turned to anxiety when she heard Connor moving around down the hall. Holy crap…how was she going to explain this him?
In the end, Rae decided to wait and tell him later, when the time was right. She knew she was being a coward but her conversation with Nyema worried her. Was Connor really okay with all of this or was she pushing him into accepting things he normally would not? Was anything that he’d said and done in the last four years his choices or hers? Until she knew for sure, there would be no more news.
On their last day in Sunlit tides, while she packed, Connor sat on the bed and grinned at her. “If you could be anywhere in the world, where would it be?”
“With you,” she said without hesitating.
He grinned wider and pulled her onto his lap. “Good answer. But let me rephrase. If we could be anywhere, where would it be?” His hands were making circular patterns up her arm and she found it hard to concentrate.
“Sorry.” He stopped stroking her and laughed, “Now focus. Where, Rosie?”
She blinked and said, “France.”
“I thought so.” Connor pulled out two tickets from behind him and handed them to her. They were one way tickets to France.
She smiled and hugged him. “We’re going to France! You know I love you, right? Can you take the days off of work?”
“Yeah, I’m covered, don’t worry about it.” His arms tightened around her and she knew instantly he was lying. Something was wrong, but she would wait for him to come to her. It was only fair, since she was keeping a secret from him too. Climbing off his lap, she went to finish packing.
They reached France two days later and Rae could barely hold in her excitement. This was her home. Her earliest memories were of this place and being back felt good.
Their first night in France was beautiful. Connor made them a delicious dinner and when they went to bed, Rae found rose petals strewn everywhere. They lay in bed that night and talked for hours about everything – well almost everything. She had yet to tell him about this new, more disturbing, aspect of herself. She wanted to talk to her aunt first, who lived in France and finally meet the woman who’d given her a house.
“I love you,” She told Connor. She felt herself falling asleep.
As her eyes closed, she frowned. He sounded so very sad.
Rae spent most of her days researching magic. At first, she thought it would be hard to find information but apparently there were people who were more than willing to talk and document their experiences. It was a little creepy, actually. One woman swore there was a whole other world underneath London! And sadly, at this point in her research, she was the most credible source.
As she and Connor walked down a side street, she stopped at a small shop called Hocus Pocus. Intrigued, she pulled Connor toward it. He gave the place an onceover and quickly declined to join her for yet another afternoon of reading old books in poorly lit spaces. And she couldn’t blame him.
“Alright, I’ll meet you back home later. I love you.” She reached up and kissed him.
“Me too.” He turned around and headed back to the castle.
She looked up several hours later from a book called Different Castes of Faerie and noticed that it was past midnight. Damn, Connor would be worried. Taking out her cellphone, she checked her missed calls and frowned. There were none, Connor hadn’t tried to call her at all.
“I was thinking about going to the museum later. You want to come with me?” Rae asked Connor as they sat outside and ate lunch.
“I thought we could just hang out in the market today. We’ve been married for over a month now and I think we’ve spent maybe half of that time together.” Connor was tired of scheduling time with his wife. He shook his head, he saw her less now than before they were married. And she was keeping something from him. He didn’t know what, but it was something big and she was a terrible liar.
Rae stopped eating and looked at him. “Are you upset with me?”
He sighed, “No Rae. I just want to spend some time with my wife, that’s all. I don’t understand what’s so important that you have to research it on our honeymoon.”
“I have work, Connor. I took a month off, that was over two weeks ago. This trip to France is great, but I didn’t plan for this. My life doesn’t stop just because you want it to, I have responsibilities!”
His mouth tightened and he sat back in his chair. She was right of course; he did spring this trip on her at the last minute. But what was so important that it couldn’t wait a few extra weeks? “Fine Rae. I’ll book our flights home today.”
“That is not what I meant and you know it. Do not make me the bad guy here.”
He just shrugged, tired of arguing. “I’m not doing anything. You’re right, we’ve been away from home too long and it’s time to go back. I’m almost out of vacation days anyway.” Which was a lie – he’d been on unpaid leave for the last three weeks. He’d turned down a promotion because it wouldn’t allow him the flexibility he’d needed to come on this trip.
Rae excused herself and ran inside toward the women’s bathroom. She was going to be sick. After throwing up, she sat down on the toilet seat and cried. Did this count as their first fight? They were still on their honeymoon and already, they were fighting. She knew a large part of it was because they were keeping things from each other. She’d have to tell him soon, the stress was making her ill.