I'd always found comfort in the brisk chill of early autumn, and the sting of wind that promised winter. I loved the way the sun hung in the sky, unimposing, and the layers of red and yellow leaves that littered the street. The fall time had always been my favorite.
I was sipping coffee – hazelnut and vanilla, when it happened. I'd always spent my Friday evenings at the cafe in town, curled up in the corner with a book and my computer. Everyone knew this was my own private time dedicated solely to feeding my literature addiction. That's why I was so surprised when I got a phone call.
What's more, the luck that I had forgotten to silence my phone. Perplexed, I eyed the screen as my father's name flashed across it wildly. An old woman in the booth across from me glared. I blushed, answering my phone, putting an end to the tacky Justin Timberlake ring tone.
"Hel-" I started, but he was speaking before I could even finish.
"Come home, Aria." His words were fast and strained. "You are needed here."
I frowned. "Is everything okay?" My father, being the Alpha he was, often exaggerated the severity of situations. In his mind, everything was a big deal.
"Come home, Aria," he said again. "Your Mother needs you home. Your brothers are here." He paused. "There's a situation."
I sighed, shutting the screen of my laptop. I guess my essay would have to wait. "Okay, okay. I'll leave now."
"Hurry. But don't actually hurry, there might be traffic," he said. Typical Dad. Always worried about nothing. The city of Heston never had traffic, which is not uncommon for a town of less than 1000 people.
"Okay, Dad. I'll hurry but not hurry. I love you."
He made a grunt of approval and hung up.
I sighed once more, my alone time ruined. Pity. I grabbed my jacket and slipped my computer back into my bag. I waved at the barista, Maud, before exiting the quiet comfort of the bistro.
Coffee and keys in hand, I made way to my car. The moon was a trace of white in the darkening sky, and night fell like dust onto the trees and the city. My little red car beeped and flashed as I approached. I drove home, not really worried about what awaited me upon arrival.
I drove down the path into the forest in which our home resided. The driveway was about half a mile long, not that I minded. I loved the privacy of our family-sized cabin, set deep into the thick foliage of untouched nature.
I opened the door and kicked my boots off on the rug. "Dad!" I called out. There was no answer. I checked my watch. It was only 7:00. "Dad?" I asked again. I shrugged off my jacket and threw it on the couch.
"Basement, Aria," I heard him call from down the stairs. My father had the loudest voice I'd ever heard. It came in handy with 5 kids and a pack to control.
"I'm home," I sing-songed as I descended into the basement. My whole family sat around the coffee table, which was actually quite surprising. It was a rare occasion the 7 of us were all in the same room at the same time.
My father sat at the end of the table on the end of a lounge chair. My father's wolf was tall and lean with a shiny red coat. Clearly perplexed, he ran a hand through his graying hair. "Sit, Aria."
I sat next to my oldest brother, Max.
My Mother, across from me, sighed. Dark circles hung low under her gray eyes. Uh oh. She never looked tired.
"What's going on?" I asked. Anxiety started to rise inside of me. The situation was just too weird. My family was never quiet.
My father spoke first. "Our enemies to the South are rallying." His voice was strangely collected. "They outnumber us. Greatly."
I swallowed. "Rallying for what?" I asked like an idiot.
"War, Aria. They mean to challenge us for rights to our land. They are not content with their territory."
It took me a moment to process. "So what's gonna happen?" My voice sounded small.
Next to me, Max stood. His wolf was red like our father's. He'd recently celebrated his 26th birthday, his 5 year anniversary with his wife, Wendy, and celebrated his daughter's third birthday. My handsome brother spoke with grave words. "The clans to the North offer to assist us with troops in the exchange of brotherhood through mating." He looked at me, all seriousness in his gray eyes. "I'm so sorry, Aria."
"For what?" I frowned. This made no sense.
"Ridge and Flynn are both promised, and Troy has recently imprinted. We cannot sever ties we've already knotted. Flynn and Ridge will never marry. Troy has found his mate. There is no one else to marry." Max looked down at me with pain in his eyes. "I'm so sorry, Aria," he said again. "We've arranged for you to be mated to the Alpha in the North. He is young but very brave and we've no doubt he'll treat you well..."
Max continued to speak but I manged to tune it out. Marriage? Mating? I was still in college. They had to be kidding. Or mistaken. Certainly there would be some other way.
"Aria? Are you alright?" My mother asked. She looked defeated. The color had drained from her face. "I understand it's a lot to comprehend but this was really the best way to tell you."
I couldn't speak. My mouth wouldn't move to make words. My brain was a flurry of fleeting thoughts and worries. Marriage? Mating? I'm only 20. They can't make me. There has to be some other way.
"Aria, honey," Mom said again. "Are you alright?"
Somehow I managed to nod. "How soon?" My mouth asked, without my permission.
"The Wilde clan has already left there home. They'll be here by morning. We've arranged a wedding of sorts that will do for now. We can have a more traditional one once the war is over."
The room began to spin. My breath became heavy and fast and before I knew it I had passed out onto the floor. Morning.
I woke to the sweet sound of my Mother's voice. She had her hand gently pressed against my forehead, concern evident on her face.
My bedroom was still dark with the lingering of night. I glanced over to my alarm, which read 4:30 AM. Ew.
"Are you ready to get out of bed, Honey?" Mom asked. I scowled. Did I have a choice?
I rolled out of bed and onto the floor. Mom gave a half-hearted chuckle. "C'mon dear," she said, bending to hoist my upward. "Time to shower."
Reluctantly I picked myself up and crawled to my bathroom, shutting the door behind me.
I spent too much time in the shower, letting the water massage at my shoulders and my back. To be honest, I only ever spent about 12% of my actual shower cleaning myself, and the rest standing there like an idiot, contemplating quantum physics and Adam Levine.
Half an hour later, I stepped out of the shower, brushed my teeth and groggily slabbed some lotion on my body. Somewhere in between applying toothpaste and moving the brush to my mouth I realized I was getting married today and I panicked, sitting on the floor and looking into space, for a good three minutes before actually brushing my teeth.
Drying my hair, I slipped into yoga pants and a hoodie. I didn't bother wearing makeup. If I was going to marry this man, he'd have to know what he was getting himself into. This was my silent protest.
I left my room with an overwhelming sense of dread. This would not be a good day. Each step forward brought me closer and closer to my fate. I heard their voices coming from the living room.
The first thing I noticed was how large he was. Muscles bulged from the thin fabric of his T-shirt like something deadly. He was sitting on the end of the sofa, his elbows pressed to his knees. His head was in his hands but he looked up when I entered. Holy shit.
His eyes were dark like midnight but reflected brilliant flecks of amber in the dim light of the lamp beside him. A thin layer of stubble covered his strong, angular jaw. He had a head of thick black hair, curled slightly, and sideburns that stretched the length of his face. His neck followed into very broad, very menacing shoulders. He was possibly the most attractive man I had ever seen in my life. I imagined his wolf to be twice the size of my Father's and twice as strong.
"There she is now," my Mother was saying. My brothers and my Father were nowhere to be seen. Beside the man sat a woman, that I assumed to be his mother. She had fair skin and a thick brown bun of hair atop her head. She was just as beautiful as he was. "Liam, this is my daughter, Aria Fleur. Aria, this is Liam." She motioned my toward him but I was frozen in my tracks. Our gazes were locked and, for the first time in my short life, I was truly captivated.
"...and his mother, Vivien."
He stood and immediately I was in awe of his size. Easily he would have dwarfed my father. His head was dangerously close to the ceiling. Well, not really. But he must have been at least six and a half feet tall. He started to move and within a manor of seconds he had crossed the living room to where I stood. He held out his hand to me, a serious look on his face. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Porte."
I couldn't move. He towered over me, dark eyes burning holes into my own. I had to tip my head all the way back just to meet his gaze. Slowly I moved my hand forward to put it in his. The moment was just too intense. My legs shook. Actually, my whole body shook. His hand was thick and warm with callouses.
"We'll leave you two to get adjusted. There are some few details that still need to be ironed out." My mother and Vivien stood. "There's coffee on the stove, Aria."
I tried to smile at her but I couldn't look away, not yet. They took their leave. My hand still lingered in his.
"Miss Porte? Are you alright?" His brow was furrowed with concern. I dropped my hand from his. His voice was low and smooth like silk.
I nodded. "Just a little lost is all." It was the truth. Somewhere in the back of my mind I still believed this was all a joke. We were alone in my living room, this stranger and I. The clock on the wall behind him told me it was only 5:00 AM. I swallowed back my anxiety.
"I can imagine," he said, looking away from me. I bit my lip and crossed my arms. "This whole situation is pretty confusing."
I bit my lip. What else was there to say? How could I answer that? I just nodded, pulling my hands up into my sleeves like a child. I'd never felt so out of control. "Do you want any coffee?" I squeaked. I turned to head into the kitchen and he followed.
"Coffee sounds wonderful," he said. I motioned for him to sit at the kitchen table while I went for the mugs but he insisted on following me to the counter. I opened the cupboards with shaking hands. Liam reached out above me to grab two mugs.
My entire body was hyper-aware of his presence. He set them down on the counter as I went for the coffee pot. I poured, blushing wildly. He took his coffee black while I doctored mine up.
After that, we sat in the living room with the most awkward silence I'd ever experienced. I sat on the arm chair while Liam was perched in the middle of the couch. He had his elbows on his knees again, holding his coffee in one hand while messing his hair with the other. I had my legs folded up underneath me.
Tension hung in the air like something tangible. The time was 5:46 when he spoke.
"I'm sorry this had to happen," he started, and continued before I could speak. "Truly, I'm sorry. And I don't know how else to say this.." His eyes bared into mine. "But I can tell you're uncomfortable. I know you don't want this to happen. But I can promise to give you a good life, Miss Porte, even if the situation is... less than favorable." His eyes grew soft. I could tell he was telling the truth.
My heart sunk, hammering, in my chest. Everything was just too surreal. Just hours from now, I would be marrying this stranger sitting across from me in the backyard of where I grew up. And after that, this wouldn't be my home anymore.
"Thank you," my mouth said. It wasn't quite attached to my conscious brain. My voice was small and weak when I spoke. "I think I really needed to hear that."
He nodded, almost smiling. "I know how hard this will be for you. I understand."
Just then, my mother emerged with Vivien. "Okay, we have a plan," she started. She stood in front of us. Vivien sat down next to her son. I sipped my coffee.
"We'll have the ceremony at noon but before then, Wendy's coming over with Kinsey and Troy's bringing Lina. The Wildes invented some family that will be here around ten." She hesitated a moment to think. "Your father is working in the back yard right now. Flynn is at the grocery store with Ridge getting a cake..."
My stomach started doing flips, I swear it did. A wedding cake. This is real. I'd always imagined myself getting married to Ryan Gosling on the beach and honeymooning in Portugal. We'd be madly in love, have three blue-eyed babies and Ryan would be out working while I stayed home with the kids and slave over a typewriter. That was the plan.
But things were different now, I guess. There would be no Ryan Gosling or honeymoon in Portugal. I wouldn't be madly in love with the man I was marrying. I wouldn't even know the man I was marrying. This was not the plan.
But as my mother continued to speak, and as I watched Liam nod in agreement with whatever she was saying, my stomach settled and I caught my breath. You're being selfish, Aria. You need to do this for your family. For your pack.
I took a deep breath. I was being selfish. This wasn't about me. I was sure Liam wasn't dying to marry me either. I was just an insecure college sophomore still living with my parents. He was a pack alpha. I was twenty and he was five years my senior. He was almost seven feet tall. I was five-foot-four. He was ripped. I didn't have much going on in the cleavage-region. Something told me I wasn't really his type.
But that didn't matter. My marriage to Liam Wilde was strictly on behalf of my pack. There was a war coming and if I wouldn't, as a woman, be able to fight, I'd do my damnedest to help. This union was far beyond me.
"...So when your husband gets her, Vivian, we can start with the ceremony. I think we still have the blade we used for our Handfasting ceremony somewhere... I'll look for it." Vivien nodded her approval. "Come with me for a moment, Aria."
I stood on shaky legs to follow my mother. She lead me to her bedroom where she went straight to her closet. "I'm so proud of you, darling," she was saying. She went on her tiptoes to reach to the top shelf. Neither of us were blessed in the height department. She managed to get her grip on a large white box and she carried it past me to the bed.
"This was your grandmother's," she was saying. "I didn't wear it because I wanted something fancier but something tells me you'll love it." She removed the top of the box and pulled out the most beautiful white dress I'd ever seen. It was small, definitely my size, and covered in delicate pearls. It had a beautiful sweetheart neckline and thin, delicate see-through sleeves that lead downward to the wrists. The back had a circle cut out between the shoulders and layers of lace and tulle made up the fitted wispy skirt.
"Mom..." I started, but I couldn't find anymore words. She held it up to me and I took it against my body. "It's beautiful."
She gave me a soft smile. "Just like you, dear." She leaned over to plant a kiss on my forehead. "I have this as well.." She reached back into the box and unfolded some tissue paper to reveal a dagger with a dark wooden hilt. Our pack symbol was carved into the side. "It was used for your Father and I's ceremony. The Wildes brought the tie."
I nodded, feeling tears sting my eyes.
A few hours later, when Wendy had finished curling my hair and I had made my face somewhat presentable, I was alone to put on my grandmother's dress. I slid it delicately over my body like porcelain and it fit me like a second skin. The neckline framed my collar bones and made the light dance about them wildly. In any other circumstance, I would have felt beautiful.
I wore only simple pearl earrings and a pair of nude heels because anything more would be too much for the dress. My hair was curlier than it usually was and Wendy had clipped it back so it was out of my face. My makeup was minimal.
"Aria!" My mother called from outside my bedroom. "We're waiting on you, darling."
I took a final deep breath. The threat of tears stung my eyes once more.
They'd somehow turned our back yard into something incredible.
Autumn had fully claimed the trees, turning them to brilliant shades of red and amber. The sun peeked out over gray clouds in the sky and sent glittering rays of light down to the earth. The trellis was wrapped with white roses and ivy. A white silk path lead from the porch to the platform. Strings of white petals hung low from the branches and almost touched the ground. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
Two dozen white chairs were spread out on the lawn, twelve on each side of the aisle. The groom's side held twelve strangers, including Vivian and the severe-looking man next to her, who I assumed was Liam's father. The resemblance was overwhelming.
On the bride's side, my mother and father sat in the front with Flynn, Ridge, Troy, and his girlfriend, Lina. Behind them sat Wendy, Max, their daughter Kinsey, my aunts Sara and Leah and, to my extreme surprise and fear, my best friends Clark and Luna.
I took a deep breath, my chest expanding visibly beneath the thin fabric of the dress. A cold breeze whispered through the hung petals and I was grateful for the sleeves, however thin they were. There was no music, as tradition in wolf marriages, but for the wind and the sway of branches and the song of animals in the nearby woods. I took the first step forward onto the white silk and looked up to the altar for the first time.
The warden of marriage, Warden Grey, sat in the middle of the trellis. He had a small smile and a head of wispy gray hair to match his name. Beside him, to the left, stood my dearest friend, Mia. She looked lovely in a dress of soft beige silk, her brown curls piled atop her head. Her small red lips looked at me in the same sad smile as Warden Grey.
To the right stood Liam Wilde in all his glory. He dwarfed Mia and Grey beside him. His black hair was slicked back handsomely and he had shaved his face since the morning. He wore a sharp black tux with a gray tie and pearl cuff links. The look on his face was severe and threatening. If this were under any other circumstance than an arranged marriage, I would have thought he looked ravishing.
My steps were painfully slow and thought out. Everyone stared back at me from their seats with wide eyes. My heart was a humming bird in my chest. My step size grew smaller and smaller as I approached the altar.
"Dearly beloved," the warden started. I stepped up to my place next to Mia with a heavy heart. I turned to face Liam but looking forward I only met gazes with his chest. A large glass bowl sat on the wooden altar between us. I looked up to his face, but his head was turned to the warden. I followed his lead.
"We are gathered here today to create one of the strongest ordained bonds known to wolf-kind," his voice held far too much joy for the occasion. "One of matrimony, of love, of the union of packs. Kitarj. Mating."
I looked out at the crowd. I dared not meet their gazes in fear the dam would break and tears would spill out, giving lead on my true feelings. My mother looked at my expectantly. I tried to smile. I'm sure it was pathetic.
The warden cleared his throat. Liam had held his hands out and, blushing, I put my hands in them. I'd be lying to say the warmth of them wasn't comforting.
"...and with the blood letting we offer tribute to the greatness of our ancestors," the warden was saying. He grabbed the dagger from beside the glass bowl. The symbol of my pack on the hilt was familiar and reassuring. He motioned for us to move our hands into position.
I'd only been to one wolf wedding in my life and that had been Max's when I was fourteen. I'd seen the blood ceremony done then and he and Wendy had made it look easy. I had thought about it a lot back then, wondering who I would share my blood with, even holding out my wrists the way I someday would. Rationally I knew the woman's left arm was held out with the palm facing down and the right was held with the palm and wrist up. Once both bride and groom were cut, the husband would hold his arms out the opposite way and the blood would mix when the wrists were pressed together by the warden.
I held out my arms and waited with bated breath. The warden spoke as he raised the knife but I processed nothing. The silver blade came down across my right wrist, and then the top of my left hand. Surprisingly, the pain wasn't too bad. I winced a little but I was proud my reaction wasn't to scream and roll on the floor the way I thought I would. Finally I looked up to meet his dark eyes with my own.
The warden did the same to Liam. Not a single trace of pain flashed in his eyes as the blade slid through his skin. The warden continued to speak, I continued not to listen. Finally our arms came together to complete the cycle; my wrist was pressed to the back of Liam's hand, his wrist was pressed to my hand. I could tell he was trying to be gentle but the pain was still kind of strong. By ears buzzed.
The warden then moved to tie our hands together with a fine silk rope and Liam pushed out wrists together. Once the rope was tied, Grey spoke some words of the old wolfen language and before I knew it, everyone stood and clapped. I felt Mia's reassuring hand on my back.
"I now pronounce that before the ancestors, before the gods and before me, Warden of Marriage, you are mated for life and eternity."
I almost smiled because it was over before I realized this was just the beginning of a lifetime, so my smile turned into a pout rather quickly.
It the ceremony was over. I was married. Mated. Aria Wilde. The name was too foreign for my mind to comprehend. Aria Fleur Porte-Wilde.
It wasn't a requirement to kiss the bride in wolvish ceremonies and I was grateful that Liam didn't move to. However I always pictured doing so at my wedding. Sigh.
Cameras flashed. My mother stood in front of us with happy tears in her eyes, snapping pictures wildly. Mia hugged me around the neck and kissed my cheek.
"Oh, sweetheart," Mommy crowed. "You look so beautiful."
"Thanks, Mom," I managed to speak. "But how long do I have to stay like this?" Beside me, Liam was speaking to his parents.
"It should be done," the warden said. He unwrapped the knot and my wrists were freed from Liam's. Through all of this, we still had not spoken.
Semi-dried blood crusted my hands, a mixture of me and my mate's. It still stung.
My mother worried about me cleaning it while everyone took turns on congratulating the both of us.
Everyone in the audience had made their rounds and congratulated my new husband and I, which really shouldn't have been as tiring as it was, seeing as their were barely two dozen people. I'd met Liam's father, Lance Wilde, and his sister, Lauren, who couldn't have been much younger than me. Mia and Luna came last to shake Liam's hand and embrace me.
"I just had no idea this would be happening so soon," Mia was saying. "I can't believe I didn't even know you were seeing someone." She jokingly slapped me in the arm, and I could've sworn I saw a flash of anger on Liam's usually scowling face. "Why didn't you tell us?"
"I..err-" I stumbled over my words. Father had made it apparent that this arrangement had to be a secret for the time being, as to avoid scaring his pack. I had always been a terrible liar and lying to my dearest friends made it even worse. "I... Forgot..."
I felt Liam's unusually large arm move to rest against the small of my back. "She was embarrassed, is all. You know how she is with keeping things to herself. Always afraid of judgment."
I swallowed hard and nodded. The lie flew flawlessly from his lips. I made a mental note to always remember my husband was an excellent liar.
I look of concern crossed Luna's face. "Arie, you know we never would've judged you."
I tried to smile at her, though the gesture was probably just as convincing as my previous lie. All at once, anxiety rushed to my stomach and twisted it into a knot. "Oh, would you look at the time. I'm starving. Let's get some lunch."
Mia and Luna nodded, but Luna rested a hand on my arm before I could leave. "Arie, I think you should talk to Clark. He's really hurting."
"Hurting?" I asked like an idiot. "Why?"
Luna bit her lip nervously, a brown curl falling into her eyes. "He's just... Well, I'm sure he'll explain it to you better than I can, if you can get him to talk. He's out in the woods." She released my arm and stepped away with Mia and they retreated into the house.
"You should go eat," I told Liam, looking up at him. "You're probably starving. Could you tell everyone I'll be in in a minute?" When a worried gleam caught in his eye, I was quick to qualm his fears. "I'll be okay, I promise. Clark is one of my best friends. I should really help him out. I'll only be a moment."
Liam looked at me skeptically, but then nodded once and ducked away into the house. I took a deep breath and slowly made my way into the forest. I found Clark deeper into the forest than I'd expected, out by the willow tree that used to seem magical when we were kids.
"Hey, Clark," I said, desperate for his attention. I couldn't stand being ignored. He finally looked over at me. Distaste was obvious in his face.
"Hi," he said. His voice was low and lifeless. He leaned against the tree beside him and sipped at his beer.
"Everything okay?" I said. I held myself so that I could rub my hands down the lengths of my arms. It was getting cold rather quickly.
He hesitated, looking out over the way. He took another swig. "I don't know, Ari. Is it?" He still refused to look at me. His other arm was folded against his chest.
"Well... yeah," I managed. I bit my lip.
He nodded. "I see." He finished his beer with a final swig and then held the bottle at his side. He chuckled under his breath. "I see. Every thing's okay."
"Are... Are you okay?" I whispered just loud enough for him to hear me.
That's when he looked at me. His sad blue eyes met mine. "Do you think I'm okay?" He asked, voice even. He shifted his feet so that he was no longer leaning on the tree.
"You're scaring me, Clark," I said. It was the truth.
"But at least you're okay, right?" He said in that same voice. Still, he regarded me. "As long as you're okay, everything and everyone else is."
"Clark..." I plead but he continued to speak.
"No, Aria. This is wrong. You weren't supposed to marry him. This is not okay." He sneered the word. "Aria, you were supposed to marry me. That was the plan. You weren't supposed to run off with some other man, especially one that none of us even knew about. Aria, why didn't you fucking tell me!" His voice had grown hostile as he yelled. He turned and ran a hand through his hair in frustration. "I should have known," he said. "I should have known I wasn't good enough. The Alpha's daughter and the Beta's son." He scoffed. "No, Aria. This wasn't supposed to happen."
Before I could protest, Clark dropped his beer bottle and began to untuck his shirt from his pants. He shed his suit coat and unbuttoned his dress shirt and before I could stop him, he ripped off his shirt and pulled his undershirt off over his head. He turned to face me then and he must've seen how scared I was because his voice softened.
"Here," he said, pointing to the spot on his chest where the letters AFP were tattooed with the symbol of his pack, a Celtic knot. "Right here, Aria."
My jaw popped open in surprise. Aria Fleur Porte. Clark had promised himself to me.
Promising was an ancient tradition that a male would tattoo the name of his desired female onto his body before he even asked the father for her hand. If he was rejected, he would have to settle for female that would still accept him, usually one of much lower rank and class. And if the father accepted the proposal, the male lucked out and flattered his new mate that he would go through so much trouble to procure her. It was very common in the time of our ancestors.
But seeing my name on Clark's chest was the most disturbing thing I had ever seen. At first a sadness rose inside of me for Levi; he would have a hard time finding a female who was okay with another woman's initials on his skin forever. I was sad that he had gone through so much trouble just for me and my hand in marriage.
But then I felt anger.
"Why!" I yelled at him, my voice shrill. "Clark, why would you do something so stupid!"
He looked at me incredulously. "Me doing something stupid? Aria, you barely know this guy and you're running off with him. You're making the biggest mistake of your life!"
"You know nothing," I growled. Every word coming out of his mouth was just so wrong. "You don't know the situation I'm in."
"Aria, why didn't you tell me," he plead. "I was... I was going to marry you. I had planned on asking your father once you turned twenty-one." His breathing was labored and his eyes brimmed with tears. "And then.. And then this morning Luna wakes me up by telling me we're going to your wedding."
I took a step backward. My heart started beating faster.
"At first I thought she meant my wedding." He chuckled again. "Because your only wedding was to be with me. But then as I came to my senses I realized that..." His breathing picked up speed and he backed away from me. He turned and without saying another word, phased into his brown wolf and ran away.
I stood in the woods for a while before it occurred to me that my wedding reception was taking place inside. Coming to my senses, I picked up the skirt of my dress and walked back to the place that used to be my home.
"There she is," Max said as I stepped inside. He stood and sipped the drink in his hand. "We were just telling Liam about your childhood bed wetting."
I groaned. "Really, guys?" I shut the door behind me and moved to where everyone was gathered around in the living room. Liam sat in the recliner, sans tuxedo jacket. His sleeves were rolled up and his tie was loosened. My parents were on the couch beside him and my brothers were perched precariously around on the floor. Liam's guests sat about on the other sofa and in the dining chairs that must've been brought into the room. Overall, the atmosphere was light and cheerful.
"Don't worry, Liam," Max continued. "She hasn't had an accident in 10 years. Or have you, Ari?" Everyone laughed at that. I blushed, not at the comment, but that insinuation that Liam and I would be sharing a bed.
"I have not," I argued. I stopped at the small buffet my mother had set up in the kitchen next to the living room and loaded my plate with chocolate éclairs. I came out and sat between my parents.
"...she was eight when she puked in the mailbox. No one knows why she did it," Flynn said. "Aria, why did you?"
"I didn't want to get it on the Pattersons' lawn," I explained, blushing deeply. "It looked so perfect and green."
"And for some reason it made sense to you to be sick in their mailbox instead?" Flynn asked, smirking. I shot him a glare.
When it was 3:00, mother pulled me aside to my bedroom.
She went into my closet and began to take clothing out as I sat on my bed and watched.
"I booked a suit at the Hyatt in town," she began. "It's nice. I made sure it has a nice view over the pool for you. I know how you like to people watch." She pulled out my old suit case. It was white with a bunch of little kitties on it. She sighed at it but began to pack my things.
"Why, Mom?" I asked. I took the pins out of my hair. "Are we going somewhere?"
She just stared at me. "Oh, honey," she said. "I thought you would have assumed..."
"Assumed what?" I asked. There had to be at least a hundred pins in my hair, I swear.
"That.. Well... Honey, you need to consummate the marriage before any legal action can be taken. It's pack law."
I froze. "Oh," I whispered. My hands dropped to my lap. "Like... Tonight?"
"Yes, dear. It's tradition" She went to my underwear drawer and pulled out my undies, regarding them with distaste. They were very basic black and white thongs. I never really wore anything else. Sighing again, she gathered them into my suitcase. "I know you don't want to, dear, but honestly, it's not so bad."
I swallowed. "Mom... I'm not ready," I said. Anxiety rose inside of me like a shadow.