The Island Of Lote
Episode 30: I Do
By Emily Kinney
By Emily Kinney
IT WAS VERY early in the morning, the sun barely teasing the horizon, but Milo had woken up anyways. She felt sleep was quite out of the question considering the situation she was in. The only other one up was Simon, who must have felt the same way, though for different reasons. They had dressed and were wandering silently about the hut, feeling tremendously nervous and fidgety. Eventually, Simon walked into their bedroom and found Milo sitting stiffly on the bed, looking drawn in the dim half-light. He smiled weakly at her, and she made a feeble attempt to return it.
"You ready?" he asked her gently.
"Yes," she sighed. "Simon, you don't have to . . . I can do this by myself."
"No," he said firmly. "I am your husband. You're not going alone. I'll either see you off, or take you home. Whichever way, I'll be there."
Milo smiled gratefully at him. Then she exhaled forcefully and fell onto her back. "Oh!" she moaned, pounding her fists on the sheets. "When did things get so confusing?"
"I don't know," Simon admitted, sitting down on the bed. He stroked her forehead. "I remember a time when you would have jumped into that plane before it had even touched down. . . . I even remember when you hated me so much that you were ready to make me sick with a raw egg."
Wincing, Milo sat up and stared into Simon's eyes.
"Hey," she said. "I can't say how sorry I am. Not just about that, but everything. I know I treated you like crap. Please try to forget how I acted. I was different back then. I was so stubborn."
Simon grinned. "There's a saying, 'A stubborn wife makes a bad lover, but a good cook.'"
Milo actually laughed out loud. "So true! But I want to be both. . . . Like I said, I'm sorry."
"I know. It's okay. You had a reason for everything you did. Still, you were better than most. Some people, when they come here, just sit on the beach and stare out at the sea. I'm glad you didn't do that."
"Yeah," Milo murmured. "I guess I adapted better than I thought I did. . . . I mean, I didn't try to build a raft or anything."
"Yeah," Simon laughed. "That's happened too . . . never ends well."
They lapsed into silence, the light-hearted moment passing. Finally Milo said, "Simon, even if I do go, I want you to know that I do love you. I wasn't lying about that. I do love you and Ajsha."
He swallowed hard. "And we love you, Milo," he whispered. "No matter where you are."
Milo leaned to the side and kissed his temple. "Thanks, boo. Ya hungry?"
"Not really," he muttered. "You?"
"No. I guess I'm too nervous. But I didn't eat anything yesterday, so I'd better today. When I don't eat for a long time I start throwing up. I know it makes no sense, but that's what happens."
"Maybe some fruit?" Simon proposed, deciding not to comment on this particular idiosyncrasy.
"Sure," she agreed, somewhat eager to get out of the bedroom. She hadn't seen much else, lately.
Hand in hand, just two teens, the spousal illusion gone, they walked into the kitchen and ate some mangoes and raspberries. Milo felt better after that, one of the sick feelings inside her clearing up, and as she was washing the dishes Simon came up behind her. Gently brushing her hair aside, he kissed her shoulder and put his arms around her. Milo's throat tightened and her nose burned. Oh, but she was not going to cry. Not today. Today, she would be strong. If she could. At the moment, Simon wasn't helping.
Eventually, Ajsha walked in, looking sleep deprived and sullen. She hugged Milo's legs, burying her face in her jeans. Milo patted her head, feeling thoroughly hugged, and fixed her some breakfast. She ate it quietly, too choked with emotion to utter a single syllable, though she continuously cast Milo beseeching glances. Just as Ajsha went to dress, people started to gather in front of the house. Milo's stomach churned as she looked out the window at all of them.
"When should we leave?" she listless asked Simon, turning towards him.
He smiled faintly. "Is there any hurry?" he inquired, reaching out to touch her arm.
"I'd like to get this over with."
His face and hand fell, but he said softly, "I understand."
They headed outside when Ajsha came back, her long hair in a very stiff braid appropriate for funerals. Before they left, Milo picked up Chaos and kissed her fuzzy head. She whispered into her ear, rubbed her human forehead against her kitty one, and then set her down. The feline peered up at Milo with a sort of stunned fascination, as if wondering why the proceedings didn't involve her. Sighing, Milo turned and began to walk away, first blowing a kiss to her flowers. The light morning breeze shifted just enough to bend the stems towards her, and every petal fluttered in such a way that the flowers might have been waving.
The assembled people watched the three of them for a second before following. The crowd included Mrs. Lanslo, Soldier, Randolf Fittler and his gang, Hattie Knocker, Aunt Rosario with Mayor Em-I, (which might have made Milo anxious at one time, but now she just didn't care) and Salsa and Squelch. The rest, who were more strangers than friends, also supported Milo, while the remaining spectators, mostly youngsters, were only there for the excitement. They all headed towards the beach, Milo in front, her face unreadable.
When the procession arrived, Milo's parents were waiting impatiently for her, dressed in their most imperious wealthy-person attire. They wore strict, I-know-I'm-better-than-you looks. Milo stopped twenty feet from them. Turning on the spot, she hugged Salsa and Squelch, who gasped and mournfully shook their heads. Milo dammed up her tears as she left them and the entire mob, and neared her parents.
"Well?" her father said, not bothering to say good morning.
"Have you made your decision?" her mother said, also not bothering.
"Yes," Milo said quietly, staring straight at them. She felt like telling them good morning, just to spite them, but also felt it would be a lie. "I have. It wasn't easy, but I think it's the right one."
"Good," her mother said, sounding relieved. "Good! I'm proud of you, Milo. I've never really had a reason to be, but I am now. Come on, then! Hop aboard!"
Milo didn't budge. "Do you remember," she went on as if her mother hadn't spoken, "my childhood? Do you?"
"What?" her father said, halting on his way to the plane. "What's that got to do with anything?"
"Do you?" Milo inquired severely, standing rigidly on the sand like a dividing pole.
Interpreters in the crowd began to translate the conversation into Galo. Her father peered at them suspiciously, trudging back over to his wife, who was also squinting at them distrustfully.
"Of course we do," he replied tartly, crossing his arms. Milo's mother nodded in agreement.
"Was I happy at all?"
"What?" they asked, clueless as to what this had to do with their current situation.
"Please just answer my question."
"Of course you were!" her mother answered briskly, checking both her watch and the crowd.
"Oh, think hard," Milo said quietly.
Her parents started at her tone and stared at her, finally ignoring everything around them.
"Was I ever really happy?" Milo asked. "Was I? No. I wasn't. I was an outcast. A sad, scared, hopeless outcast. But mostly I was lonely. Really lonely. So lonely that I made friends with a stapler. And when he was gone, I started talking to my conscience. I was so desperate for a friendship that I started talking to myself! Do you call that happy? Do you? I've never really, truly have been happy any place you've taken me. And you guys didn't exactly help."
Her parents fidgeted uneasily and looked down at their feet as a genuine emotion that they didn't recognize suddenly surged through their hearts. Guiltiness was new to them.
"Then I came here," Milo went on, more loudly, her stomach hurting. "Things changed. You know, at first I was miserable and wanted to leave. I longed to leave. I wished each night and day that someone would find me and take me away. I wanted to leave so much, no one has any idea. Well, except, of course, my conscience, whom I talk to! And I hated Simon! I hated him for forcing me to marry him and all the crap that came with it."
There was some peevish mumbling behind her as this was translated, but she ignored it.
"Could you blame me?" she demanded. "Yes, if you had come then, I would have gone with you without question. You wouldn't even have had to have landed; I would have jumped from a palm tree into the plane as you circled around. But now . . . now things are different. They've been different for a while.
"The difference is that I'm in love. I fell in love with Simon."
There was an awed silence that followed this. The mob smiled and her parents' mouths dropped.
"What?" her father stammered, looking from her to Simon, who stared back defiantly. "But he -"
"I know," she cut in. "But that doesn't matter now. I love him and my daughter. And you know what? I am actually grateful to him for forcing me to marry him. Back then, I hated it, but not now. Crazy, huh?" she laughed softly. She looked them over pityingly. "No. You don't get it. I'm happy here! I - Love - It - Here! This is the first home I've ever really had. I have my own family now. I have my own house and my own kitchen and even a cat. I dug us a cellar and planted a flower garden and painted our house. I cook and clean and wash, and I am happy. I'm happy when I'm productive. And, I actually have friends here. Friends, as in plural, as in more than one! Good . . . great friends."
Those friends were sucking in their breath with mounting anticipation. Simon stared at her, not daring to blink, or else all hope would be lost and she would vanish.
"I've never been happy anywhere else," Milo plowed on, her volume steadily increasing. "At first, I didn't understand why it was all happening. I even wondered if God had stopped caring and just left me to suffer. The island and the wedding seemed like the last thing I could take. But, you know, I don't think that way anymore. I think that maybe God meant for me to come here; that all this was His answer for my lousy life. Like He was saying, 'I know how you're doing, but I have a plan for you. So just try to trust Me and hang in there. You may not know what's going to happen, but I do, and I'll take care of you. I have a plan for you.'
"And this was his plan," she said. "Okay, yes, it's an island, an unknown, mystery island with its own language and economy and rules that don't make sense. And, no, I don't know why they have people marry at such young ages. Heck, maybe it's a conspiracy or something to make the island population grow faster."
When Mayor Em-I heard this translated, he coughed into his fist. As did his colleagues.
"But," Milo went on, her voice warbling with sincerity. "It doesn't matter. Finally, since we first moved, I am happy. Before, I couldn't forget about my past because I thought it would also be my future, the same friendless, homeless, nomad lifestyle on repeat. But this is my future now, and I can forget. You said that you want to start being good parents, and I'm sure you must think that good parents would take their daughter away from a strange island where, yes, there is no electricity, or health insurance, or glass in the windows. True, but think about it. Good parents also don't want their kids to wallow in misery, and that's what I'll do anywhere else except here. If you really want to be good parents, if you really mean it, then you'd let me stay here? Right?"
"What're you trying to say?" her mother asked, suddenly gentle; the steam pricked out of her.
Milo inhaled deeply, aware of every eye on her and every strained set of lungs holding in oxygen and every pair of ears waiting to hear her final verdict.
"I'm saying that I want to stay."
A moment of silence followed these word, her parents motionless and without retort, and the interpreters struggling past their elation to loosen their tongues. When they finally relayed her answer to the crowd, a roar of delight went up. For the first time in two days, Simon took an easy breath, his chest no longer constricted. But Milo wasn't done.
"I realize that this can't be easy for you," she said quickly, while she had her parent's attention. The interpreters yelled something along the lines of "Shut up! Shut up!" and a hush fell on the people.
"But," Milo implored, her body trembling with apprehension, "please, it seems that our marriage certificates aren't complete. I know I'm really young and maybe it just seems silly, but I want to remain married to Simon. We're not . . . being irresponsible or anything. And I love him more than I thought I could love anyone. And, for some reason I've yet to figure out, he loves me even more. So, Dad, Mom, could you please sign the certificates?"
Once again, all present held their breath, especially Simon, waiting for the answer. Milo waited with a throbbing pulse, feeling as though she was at the brink of an abyss, and that everything that ever mattered or ever would matter was suspended within the two possible replies.
Milo's parents, to an unknowing observer, might have looked defeated, but actually they were touched. Whatever sudden riches had done to alter them, thinking that they had lost their daughter, their only child, had done far more. And it was this remorse, this contrition, which visited them now. When they had finished thinking through all she had said, Mr. and Mrs. Hestler looked at each other, both knowing each others' thoughts:
Though this all was exceedingly bizarre, it was time for them to start being good parents.
"Milo," her mother said, smiling at her, "we're going to let you stay and we'll sign the papers."
Milo, overcome by both relief and shock started to gasp, as the crowd started to roar again upon hearing the translation. She felt like keeling over, all of her strength and tension draining away. Unwanted tears threatened to spill, but she managed to keep them at bay and turn herself to see Simon's beaming, breathless form. Suddenly Milo had her strength back, and everyone cheered as she ran into his arms. Or he ran into hers. It was hard to tell. They kissed over and over again, hugging each other tightly, determined never to let go. Stray tears slipped down both their faces, but neither noticed. The shouting died away, and that bubble of separate time and space known to couples sprung up around the two of them.
"You wanted to stay," Simon whispered, smiling, his hands clutching her back.
"Oh, I'll never leave you," Milo whispered back, her eyes shut. "Not even for the world."
Leaning away, yet still holding her close, Simon looked at her face. "You'd give up the world?"
Milo nodded calmly, her lips curling unintentionally into a smile. "I've tried the world. The world sucks. But, even if it didn't, I'd still want you more."
He grinned and kissed her again, as their bubble of privacy dissolved and the surrounding sounds became audible once more. Ajsha was close to bursting with joy, laughs and shouts issuing simultaneously out of her.
As the couple broke apart, she rushed up to Milo and jumped to hug her. Milo had just enough time to turn from Simon and stoop down to catch her.
"Momma!" Ajsha cried joyously, entwining her arms about Milo's neck. "You're staying!"
"That's right, sugar!" Milo confirmed, chuckling and kissing her nose. "I ain't going nowhere! You stuck with me for the rest of your life!"
Squelch and Salsa, who had been holding each other fearfully the whole time, were now whooping and wiping away leftover tears. They pranced up to her, Salsa doing a few cartwheels.
"Oh, girl, you scared me!" Squelch laughed thickly as Milo put Ajsha down.
"Sorry," Milo apologized, hugging her fiercely.
"Don't do anything like that again," Salsa ordered, hugging her too.
"Heh," Milo scoffed. "I really don't think I'm capable of doing this again. I so want a nap."
She jumped as a booming laugh resounded from behind her.
Whirling around, she had enough time to register that it was Soldier before she was caught up in a rib-splintering hug.
"Ha-ha!" he thundered jubilantly. "Knew it! Knew it all along! Never doubted ya for second!"
"No?" Milo wheezed, wriggling one hand free enough to pat his elbow.
"Really, now, Gorben," Mrs. Lanslo tutted, coming up beside them. "Let the poor dear breathe."
"Oh, sorry," Soldier apologized bashfully, setting Milo back on her feet, perhaps an inch or so skinnier than when he had picked her up.
"S'all good," she muttered amiably, embracing Mrs. Lanslo, just as Aunt Rosario burst through the throng of bodies, her pallid cheeks quite rosy. Her husband was a couple of paces behind her.
"You've no right to give us all heart attacks like that!" she said as they hugged.
"Sorry," Milo said yet again, glancing up at the Mayor, who returned it with a look that assured her that they didn't need to hug. Milo nodded appreciatively.
As she and her aunt parted, Milo noticed her parents timidly approaching the group. They both looked much more pleasant and rather curious. A thought that, due to the recent controversy, seemed odd, occurred to Milo. She glanced at her island family, then at her biological family, and felt it was time to close the gap.
"Mom, Dad," she said, taking Simon's hand and pulling him over to them, "this is Simon Swallow. My husband. Well, husband once you sign the papers."
They studied each other for a moment, letting all previous biases fade away, and at last smiled at each other. Of course, this also meant overlooking the fact that they all had been very rude.
"Hellooo," Milo's mother said sweetly, going and shaking his hand.
"How are you, son?" her father tried, shaking his hand with a grip fitting of a humbled rich man.
"Terrific, now," Simon answered, somewhat shy, somewhat eager. "It's so nice to meet you two - you know, without the yelling. How are you? Now, I mean?"
"Fine! Fine! Yes, sorry about our first encounter. We're not proud of our behavior. But, we were in shock . . . you've really got to understand."
"I do," he assured them. "It's all right. I don't blame you."
"And," Milo broke in, not liking the mistiness in her father's eyes, "this is Ajsha. My wonderful daughter."
She gently pushed Ajsha forward, the little girl hesitant, since these were, in all honesty, the people she had been having nightmares about for months.
"Well, hello, sweetie," Milo's mother said, bending down. "How are you?"
"Fine," Ajsha said, shyly accepting the proffered manicured hand. "Now."
More introductions were made as they started to head into town, Milo intent on getting their signatures on those certificates before they changed their minds. They passed the Swallows' house along the way, and Milo's parents gasped as they saw it. They insisted that they just had to go inside. As they looked around at everything, they thoroughly expressed how proud they were of Milo for keeping such a tidy home and enduring in such a primitive structure. (Milo groaned.)
Then finally they went into town. The Hestlers, who, for the past two days, had been strictly under the impression that the inhabitants lived in tepees, simply marveled at it all and commented on every single detail. They were shown the stores and where the schoolhouse burned down, which, of course, prompted the story of how Milo became a hero. All she could do was stand and shrug modestly while her parents gasped and stared at her with amazement. The next stop was the library. As they sat down on a tree bench, Mayor Em-I went down to retrieve Simon and Milo's marriage certificates.
"This is so sad," her mother said when she signed them. "I didn't even get to see my own daughter get married. My only little girl."
"I know," her father agreed. "I didn't even get to walk my own daughter down the aisle. You're it for us, Milo. It's so sad. And I was looking forward to passing you off, too."
Milo considered how they were feeling and felt sorry for them. An idea came to her. An enormous, colossal, fantastic thought. She swiveled to look at Simon. He had a quirk in the corner of his lips that indicated he was thinking the very same thing. They smirked at each other. Quietly, they stole away to talk, choosing a prime moment, since Aunt Rosario had finally gotten around to explaining that the mayor was her husband. (The sizing up didn't take long, Mayor Em-I winning.) When they were hidden behind a store, Milo faced Simon, her eyes gleaming.
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" she asked.
"We get married again?" he said hopefully.
She grinned at him and gently put a finger to her temple. "That's right," she said, forcing herself not to cackle. "It's brilliant. My parents will be there and I'll actually enjoy myself. I will want to get married. What do ya say?"
"Absolutely!" he replied enthusiastically. "Technically, the last time wasn't even legal, and I'd never object to marrying you twice."
"Shoot!" Milo exclaimed, smiling and reaching up to give him a smooch. "I'm still shocked you wanted to do it the first time!"
They went back, hands entwined, and coughed numerous times for attention. Milo's parents had just finished signing their names, Mayor Em-I and Mr. Hestler shooting one another looks.
"We have made a decision," Milo announced, nodding at Ajsha to translate. "Or I have, and he liked it. I don't know. But, we are going to have another wedding!"
Everyone, English and Galo speakers alike, gasped in delight and voiced their approval.
"Really?" Milo's father asked.
"Yes," Simon confirmed, draping an arm about Milo's thin shoulders. "The last time didn't really count because the certificates weren't signed, and Milo, to put it mildly, didn't want to. I think it's definitely worth doing over."
"I concur," Milo said. "I know it's only been two days, but I'm so over only having a boyfriend."
"Oh, Milo!" her mother choked out, leaping up from the bench and clasping her hands together. "I'm so excited! My daughter's wedding! My fourteen year old daughter's wedding!"
"Fifteen, Mom," Milo muttered, rubbing one eye in exasperation. "Fifteen."
"Right! Fifteen, sorry," her mother amended. "Fifteen's much better."
"I'll help!" Mrs. Lanslo offered before Milo could make a retort. "Just let me do everything."
"Oh, no you don't!" Milo said, rounding on her sternly. "I'm going to be taking care of this wedding. Every bit of it. It's mine, after all."
Both Mrs. Lanslo and Milo's mother started to protest, the first pointing out that it was too big a job for one person, and the second claiming that she had some good ideas. Milo however, in classic Milo fashion, was unyielding. The two women submitted at last, Mrs. Lanslo's condition being that she could assist in some form, and Mrs. Hestler's that the whole thing take place soon because Mr. Hestler was expected back on the mainland not long from now.
"Fine," Milo consented, giving Simon an inquiring look.
"We can start planning tonight," he told her with a grin.
And plan they did. Or, Milo planned and people carried out her orders, just like a real bride. The idea of her own wedding, prepared her way, enthralled her. Sure, last time she got to pick her clothes and jewelry and all the other minor accessories that people would only notice if they weren't there, but this time around she was in charge of everything. Everyone was quite willing to help out; therefore, she didn't get to boss and yell at people the way she thought wedding planners should. Nevertheless, it still beat the heck out of the first time, when nobody was listening to her.
She began by assigning people their parts. Squelch was going to be her maid of honor, though Bob the Conscience wanted the position and gave Milo a headache for giving it away. Meanwhile, Salsa, Mrs. Lanslo, and Hattie were going to be her bridesmaids. Ajsha, of course, was going to be the flower girl, this time in a dress of her choice. Simon again chose Will Westron to be his best man and several of his beach friends for groomsmen. Milo's father was going to walk her down the aisle, much to his pride and delight, and the Reverend Chouhouse was going to perform the ceremony.
One aspect of this wedding that was going to be different was that it was being held outside instead of in the church. Milo didn't want the old memories to muddy up the new ones. They picked a nice grassy area that was surrounded by leaning coconut trees and had a view of the ocean. All the chairs that were normally used at dances were brought out of storage and set up in rows. Since there wasn't enough for the whole town, plus the many farm families who had heard about the ordeal and wanted to come, the final word became that if you wanted to attend, bring your own seat.
One afternoon Milo had Simon accompany her into their bedroom, once their house was empty of the daily onslaught of company, which ranged from her parents, to his, to anyone involved with the wedding. (Milo had wanted it to be a small wedding from the get-go, but the accumulating list of guests, none of whom she had legal right to refuse, had caused her to need extra help with things such as decorations and food.) Incidentally, Milo had decided that, due to the unexpected amount of guests, the dinner was going to be a pot-luck affair.
"Help me lift the tick," she said, motioning Simon over to the bed.
Shrugging, he complied. Underneath, pressed against the slats, was Milo's wedding dress.
"Ahh," Simon said as she fished it out. "So that's where you put it. Why there?"
She grinned. "Where else? It's not like I wanted to frame it. Besides, it kept it wrinkle-free."
She flapped it out, admiring the way the beads glistened, and then went to check on Ajsha.
"How ya doing, love?" she asked, coming in to her room.
"Fine, Momma," Ajsha answered. She showed her a dress that was hanging up at the end of her bed. "Just like you said: A white sun dress, with a pink bow around the waist."
"Perfect," Milo commented upon examining it. She leaned down and kissed Ajsha's forehead.
Ajsha giggled. "I like this wedding much better than the last one," she said, stroking the folds of her dress's skirt. "So much more elegant. Are you excited, Momma?"
"Oh, you have no idea, babe," Milo said, smiling. "And this time I won't be wearing that ridiculous veil. I want every single person to see my ethereal glow! It's just a shame that my parents have to leave right after. I'm not saying I want them to stay here! That is, I'm only thinking of them. Once you go penthouse, you don't go back! Though, they seem to be having a good time translating with the Pitts. Maybe this wedding will smooth things over between us."
"Maybe," Ajsha said thoughtfully. "Let's just hope Hattie stays sane enough to make it through the whole ceremony, or that Caleb Scumm won't start acting like . . . well . . . like - like a scum!"
Milo smirked to herself. "Don't worry. He won't."
"Why are you so sure?" Ajsha asked suspiciously, all too familiar with that smirk.
"Because," Milo replied confidently, "Tambry Ethlins is quite good at the whole hostage thing, and isn't too moral to be bribed. If Caleb tries anything, he'll find himself tied up in her cellar!"
Ajsha nodded, impressed. Milo walked back to her bedroom, where Simon was waiting for her just inside the door.
"Hey, boo," she said as he jumped to hug her. After pacifying him with a kiss, she scratched the top of her head, thinking. "Let me show you something."
Sitting him down, she pointed to each symbol on his ring, decrypting them. "I - Love - You."
Simon concentrated for a moment, processing this new information, and finally grinned. He stopped when he saw her engagement ring hanging loosely on her finger.
"Can I do something?" he inquired softly.
"Sure," she said absently, tucking his hair behind his ears. "What?"
He slipped the ring off her finger and kneeled down on one knee in front of her. Taking hold of her left hand, he held up the ring, its stone glinting in the afternoon sunlight. Milo's eyes widened and she inhaled sharply, a tingling sensation spreading throughout her entire body.
"The proper way," he said quietly. "The way I wanted to do it the first time. Milo, there is no one else in the world like you, and I have loved you ever since I first . . . found you. I always knew that I was missing something, but I didn't know what until I . . . found you. Will you marry me?"
Milo smiled. Though it was her second wedding, it was her first time ever hearing those four words. "Yes," she said. "Yes, yes, yes!" Grinning, he put the ring back on her finger. He stood up and they embraced, knowing that they were now fully prepared. "Yes," Milo said again, into his shoulder.
Don't laugh at them. They wouldn't have cared, anyway.
The day of the wedding finally arrived, the early morning rays drying up the dew on the flower petals and chairs at the site. Simon lay contentedly in bed and took his time waking up. When he looked beside him, he saw his lovely bride struggling to wake up. He grinned and, leaning over her, kissed the side of her nose. That woke her. Her eyelids popped open and she stared at him.
"We're getting married today!" she said in a low voice.
"Again," Simon said, propping himself up on an elbow. "In fact, just between us, it makes me nervous to call it getting married. It's like saying we weren't married at all. I know we weren't officially, but that was only because of one little detail. The rest of it was legitimate, at least for here, so why don't we say 'renewal of vows'?"
Milo stared at him, this too big a speech for first thing in the morning. "Yeah," she said slowly. "I like that better, too. Though, the vows they have here are a bit freaky."
Simon said that was true, and that it all revolved around the laws. Milo nodded, rolling her eyes. They got up, roused Ajsha, and the three quickly ate breakfast. Each bathed, Simon going last, since he didn't need as much time to get dressed. Ajsha put on her dress first and then went into Milo's room to help her.
"Thanks, darling. You're such a little fashion bug," Milo told Ajsha as she circled her, smoothing out her skirt. "I saw those drawings in your room. You've got some good ideas, girl."
"Thank you, Momma," Ajsha said, blushing vibrantly at the praise. "I don't think I want to be a psychiatrist anymore; clothes are more fun. Let me see, now . . . both necklaces."
Milo put on the necklaces Squelch and Ajsha had given her, rather than the mother of pearl set she has worn before. She also donned the cat, mouse, cheese bracelet Simon had given to her for Christmas. Embellishments complete, she examined herself in front of the mirror, nodding.
"What do you think, Bob?" she said, not caring that the necklaces didn't match her dress.
"Why!" he cried with surprise. "Are you really asking me?"
"Do I know any other Bob the Conscience who lives inside my head?" she inquired.
If he had a face, he would have smiled. "You look lovely," he said earnestly. "And you'd better not know any other! I'm so proud of you. You should wear your hair down for your mother."
"Aren't you just full of useful advice?" she said rudely, but let it fall to her shoulders anyway.
A little while later, when Ajsha was elsewhere, most likely overseeing some last minute wedding prep, Simon came in. He was a bit stiff, since his mother had been kind enough to starch his suit with arrowroot, but was still in an exceptionally good mood.
"You look so beautiful," he sighed, grinning as he looked her over.
"Thanks, Si," she murmured, using a recently adapted nickname. "You look just precious."
He rolled his eyes, but continued to grin. "Anything you need?" he asked. "Or want?"
She pondered for a minute and said, "Yeah. Sing me 'Hush'."
He nodded, happy to comply. The romantic song "Hush" came forth from his throat and Milo smiled. Not only was it her favorite song of all time, it was also the song that knocked down that barrier between Simon and her heart, making it more sacred than ever. It seemed right to kick off such a day with it. She gazed lovingly at Simon as he mimicked it, letting the words speak to her. They slowly came together and danced, letting the anticipation make their hearts beat in loud unison, before a horde of frenzied bride's maids and groom's men barged in on their serenity and whisked them away.
They were escorted to the wedding site in a clustered sort of procession, the bride and groom both being surrounded by their respected parties and only catching glimpses of each other the entire trip. The village was eerily quiet, all the shops closed and houses empty, every citizen having already flocked to the site. Milo could see farm wagons parked off in the outskirts, the oxen waiting placidly for their owners' return. As she was bustled past, Milo wondered if the farmers and villagers ever really came together for any special occasion. Based on the stories she had heard from Squelch, she was guessing they did not, and that this was a singular kind of event.
It was now easy to locate the wedding area, due to its cumulative rows and rows of chairs that stretched into the distance and varied from stuffed to wooden, whatever could be carried. A length of white, glossy fabric lay in the middle of the sea of seats, vivid against the green grass, and led up to the altar. It had been continuously extended throughout the morning to compensate for the growing number of seats, so that it wasn't one solid piece of material, but many overlapping each other. Milo was made to halt at the start of it, where, after some last minute dress tweaking, the bride's maid lined up to be escorted down the aisle by the groom's men. Simon had quickly waved goodbye to Milo before being sent to stand by the reverend.
Milo had enlisted the musicians who played at dances, and they were now grouped far off to the side, waiting for their cue to start. Gripping her bouquet of pampas grass tightly, Milo inhaled deeply and nodded to them. A soft, sweet melody began to float through the air, silencing any excited mutterings. The bridesmaids, dressed in red, went first, splitting with the groom's men upon reaching the alter to stand in their designated spots.
Milo watched them go, briefly scanning the mass of heads. Milo's mother, dressed in violet, was sitting in the front row with Aunt Rosario and Mayor Em-I. Soldier was not far behind them, being a close friend. The Pitts sat in the opposite row, looking bemused yet proud. The Fittler gang was there, this time devoid of threatening weapons, as well as Squelch's family and Otto Gauls, who was obviously trying to keep his cool around so many people by staring raptly at Salsa.
Ajsha went next, scattering red hibiscus petals on the white path. Milo's father came up to her.
"Nervous, hon?" he asked bravely, evidently hoping he wasn't alone.
"Yes," she admitted. "But at least I'm not scared. Or mutinous. How you holding up?"
"Oh. I'll be all right," he squeaked. "I'm excited! You look beautiful. Underage, but beautiful. You're, uh, mom has a camera, so we'll bring you some pictures once we get them developed."
"Yeah," Milo said, latching onto the opportunity. "That's something I need to talk to you about. Later, though. Right now, I'm ready to say I do. Again."
"Right, hon," he said, holding his arm out to her. "Looks like they're ready for us."
Everyone had stood up and was gazing at her. Squelch and Salsa looked like they would explode from suppressing their excitement. Milo took her father's arm and began the walk down the aisle. If you actually want it, walking down the aisle can be quite exhilarating and pleasurable. People are smiling at you, and you are smiling back. At least Milo was. She was grinning without having to think about it, her lips acted of their own accord. What else could she do? She was happy. Yes, getting married was making her happy.
Looking up at the altar, she saw Simon. Simon. He was her goal. Her job was to get to him. He was her future. He was her cure. He was her reason. He was her love.
"He's your Boo," Bob the Conscience sang out, infected by the romantic atmosphere.
They finally reached the altar, after an uncommonly long saunter down the aisle, and Milo's father gave her hand to Simon. They stood in front of the reverend, staring at each other's faces, Milo's mother's camera flashing madly. As the Reverend Chouhouse spoke, Milo gazed at Simon intently. He batted his eyelashes playfully at her. She almost laughed. Ajsha was faithfully translating everything that was said. When they came to the vows, Ajsha translated back what Milo repeated. They were the same vows as before, only this time they held actual meaning.
At last, the reverend turned to Simon and asked him that illustrious question. Simon, aglow with inner bliss, said, "I do," first in English and then in Galo. The reverend then turned to Milo.
"He says," Ajsha whispered by her elbow, "'Do you, Milo Pereta Hestler, take Simon Adam Swallow to be your lawfully wedded husband?'"
Milo grinned proudly and answered, "I do."
Those binding words. Oh, but how Milo loved them! Now. The reverend smiled when Ajsha relayed this reply and pronounced the two husband and wife, (adding, "again") and then gave Simon permission to kiss her. He smirked and drew her in. As she smelled his milky breath, she got an idea. As their lips collided, she slowly pushed her tongue into his mouth, so that hers come in slimy contact with his. Don't ask me why. It really wasn't appropriate timing, but it certainly pleased Simon, as well as surprised him. As they separated and everyone clapped, he gave her a smug, well - well - well look.
She grinned saucily at him, batting her eyelashes. He smiled and kissed her again, both of them jabbing their tongues back and forth and . . . please don't make me tell you about it anymore! Arm in arm, they walked back down the elongated aisle and past an ocean of faces; thankfully, this time no one threw any gifts. Milo's mother was still snapping pictures, her face tearstained.
When they reached the end, they waited for the rest to arrive. Once Squelch and the other females had gracefully traversed the white path, they gathered around Milo, talking.
"Oh, Milo!" Squelch said, hugging her. "You were so stunning! You were all right, too, Si."
"What are you talking about, dear?" Mrs. Lanslo said. "He was wonderful!"
Simon shrugged merrily, secretly hoping nobody had noticed they were French kissing.
"Yes," agreed Soldier, extracting himself from the flow of guests who were leaving with their chairs. "Well done, Simon. She's worth twice?"
"Ab - so - lute - ly," he said, wrapping his arms around her.
"Are we gonna party to - night!" Salsa sang out, performing a complex salsa move with an invisible partner. Within the crowd, Otto Gauls colored with jealousy for this partner.
"Oh, yes, sur!" Milo confirmed, laughing and reaching up to kiss Simon on the cheek.
Her parents suddenly appeared before them, chests puffed and lips trembling. Milo couldn't remember the last time they had looked that proud. Or proud at all.
"Milo," they began quietly.
They strode forward and kissed her.
"My heart's all swollen," her father croaked, wiping beneath his eyes.
"And I'm overjoyed," her mother said, stroking Milo's long, highlight-free hair, which was actually behaving itself and not obscuring her face. "You're the loveliest bride I've ever seen. But we really need to go. Sorry we can't stay for the party."
"Yeah," her father mumbled, still dabbing at his face. "Since we're such party maniacs."
"Oh," Milo said, rather stunned. She had expected them to at least stay for the reception. Oh, well. "Of course. Um, Simon, Ajsha. Let's go see them off."
A chorus of "Goodbye, Mr. and Mrs. Hestler!" rang out from the English speaking folk, and a symphony of
"Deetic sru, Triv fes Trives Hestler!" from the Galo speaking folk. Milo kept them entertained by pitching her bouquet at them before going. The recently married ones and their daughter walked the in-laws down to the beach, where they had yet more things to discuss.
"Mom," Milo said seriously, once they were standing near the plane. "Dad. You need to understand something. You can't tell anyone about the island. No one."
"Why?" her mother asked, tilting her head in a way implied innocence, but was really stupidity.
"Tourists would come and destroy it," Milo told her simply, figuring it was best to be as bare-bones as possible.
"Ah yes!" her father exclaimed empathetically, making the Swallows jump. "Those darn tourists! Always parading around like they're entitled to everything they see! I understand, hon."
"You do?" she said, exchanging a shocked look with Simon and Ajsha.
"Yes, of course."
"Really?" she said in astonishment. She had expected it to be much harder, her parents never having been known for their understanding quality. What she didn't know was that in the past year her father had taken an intense dislike to tourists, another symptom of Penthouse Syndrome.
"So," Simon piped up. "You'll keep the island a secret? From everyone?"
"We won't tell a soul," Milo's mother assured him, patting his cheek. "And we will come back for visits! But, we'll make sure no one follows us. And even if they do, we'll just fly around to confuse them, and then lose them. After all, now that I have a granddaughter, I want to see her often."
Ajsha smiled up at her. "And I want to see you, too," she said warmly. She had yet to tell anyone, but her nightmares had stopped.
"What a sweetheart!" Milo's father exclaimed. He looked at his watch. "Well, we'd best be leaving now. I have to report in for work at eight o'clock sharp tomorrow morning. It's a shame. I would have enjoyed catching up more with Rosario, if only that husband of hers wasn't such a hoverer. It feels weird leaving you here, hon; just when we found you."
Milo smiled reassuringly at them. "You'll be fine. Besides, after all this, I would absolutely hate living in an apartment building. I like having an ocean breeze blow across my face in the morning, know what I mean? And we'll see each other again, right?"
"For sure!" her mother said, reaching out to grasp her hand. "And not a soul will find out about this place. It will be like a family secret. Of course, we might have to destroy all your baby pictures, so that nobody asks where our daughter is . . ."
"Or," Milo quickly interjected, "you could bring them here."
"True," her mother mused, before sniffling and staring fondly at her daughter. "I'm so proud of you, Milo," she whispered, unable to speak any louder. "We did worry that your unstable childhood and, well . . . unrelenting nature would cause you to have problems when out on your own. But, you've proven yourself to be an amazing young woman. You've overcome adversity to find love and happiness. What more could parents ask for? Is there anything else you need from the mainland? Anything?"
"Well," Milo said thoughtfully. "You could bring over the rest of my clothes. Unless you threw them out?"
"Oh, good! Well, them, and two packages of triple a batteries. I'm running low on them. Oh! And some cheese. Actually, a lot of cheese. And macaroni. Yeah, if you could bring me copious amounts of both cheese and macaroni, I would be extremely happy. Ooh! And sugar. They really don't have a lot of sugar resources here, so if you could just bring a few ten pound bags, that'd be good. Yeah."
Leaning towards Simon, she muttered out of a corner of her mouth, "I'mma make you caramels."
Before he could respond, either vocally or with a confused glance, Milo's father spoke hastily.
"Very good," he said, still consulting his watch. "As you wish. Goodbye! Goodbye, Simon!"
"Goodbye," Simon said, shaking hands with him and then embracing Milo's mother.
"Goodbye," Ajsha joined in, hugging each in turn. "Fly safely."
They smiled, kissed her cheek, and faced Milo. "Goodbye, hon," her father said, fighting off intruding tears. "You're a Swallow now. Don't forget it, or that we love you."
"Goodbye," her mother said, gazing pleadingly at her for a split second. "We have changed."
"I know you have," Milo said, her throat swelling up. "Love you, too. Goodbye."
She wrapped her arms around the both of them, saying by touch what she couldn't say with words, and then pulled away hurriedly. That all expressed, the Hestlers climbed into their private plane and turned it on, the roar of the engine filling all their ears. After letting it warm up, they circled around and took off. The Swallows waved as they watched it climb into the air. Then, Simon and Milo in each other's arms, they strolled down the beach, with Ajsha trailing behind. Mom and Dad Hestler watched them from the air, and if you too had been flying in the air that day, over that island, you would have seen them, too.
You would have seen them happily walking, arm in arm, with a dear child following behind. You would have seen them. On that island. That island which was once filled with hate, and was now full of love. The island of hate and love. The island of love and hate. Indeed, you would have seen on the Island of Lote, that day, two young, and one even younger, people walking off into their happily ever after.