It was widely agreed amongst the Dark and Penhallow clan that, with the notable exception of Aunt Becky's jug, the reunion of Joscelyn and Hugh Dark was the most inexplicable event in the clan's history.
"It's the lack of closure," Miller Dark, frustrated clan chronicler, confided to Stanton Grundy in an aggrieved undertone. Grundy shook his head. "Women," he said, with an air of bemused authority. And Uncle Pippin, thinking back to that night those few months ago, the spectre of Joscelyn in a white dress, looking as stately and proud as he had seen her at her wedding, had no choice but to agree.
It was another wedding that brought them here today - Darks and Penhallows alike. For Roger and Gay were finally to be wed.
Joscelyn didn't realise she was scanning the room for Hugh until she felt his hand encircle her own - and of course - there he sat, beside her. They were sitting together, as husbands and wives so often do.
He met her gaze, amused. "Looking for someone?" he asked. Any other woman would have blushed, but Joscelyn wasn't any other woman.
"Not anymore," she said. Even though they were reconciled, now, it still amazed her - that he was here, that he was hers, once again.
Seeing the joy reflected in Roger and Gay's faces, Joscelyn was struck by the memory of her own wedding day; her own wedding night. It had taken her three miles to reach her house that night - and ten years to reach her home, but now she was back where she belonged, at last.
Joscelyn rapidly tired of pleasantries and polite conversation, and after declining a plate of Mrs William Y's cucumber sandwiches (and earning an eternal enmity in the process) she slipped away to the balcony for a moment's peace and some fresh air.
As soon as she walked out the door, she realised she wasn't the only one who had found the room somewhat suffocating - for there was Happy Dark.
"How are you, Happy?" asked Joscelyn kindly.
Happy smiled, wide and open. "It's good to be home," he said. There they stood, the two prodigals; returned. Joscelyn smiled back, bright and easy. "It is," she agreed. From where she stood she could just make out Treewoofe shining on the hilltop, the glass windows catching the afternoon sun and spinning the light to molten gold. She tilted back her head, drinking it in.
That was when Frank sidled up next to her. "Josc," he said.
Joscelyn, who had never been called "Josc" before in her life, shot him a look that, under normal circumstances, would ensure she never would again.
Frank continued on, undeterred.
"You know, Josc," Frank said, conspiratorially. "What happened, between you and Hugh?"
Joscelyn stared at him. It wasn't often she was at a loss for words, but she was trying to decide on exactly the right balance of acerbic fury.
"Kate told me about you and Hugh being… separated," he continued, trying to be delicate and failing miserably. "And nobody seems to be able to make heads nor tails of what went wrong, or what changed.”
If looks could kill, Frank Dark would no longer be in the realm of the living.
He kept talking, seemingly oblivious to Joscelyn's venomous gaze. "I feel like I’ve missed so much,” he said. “Perhaps I should have come back sooner!" Frank guffawed loudly at his own joke, and Joscelyn instinctively cringed, for she had spent a decade imagining him, dreaming him, and in none of her dreams had he ever guffawed.
Hugh would never guffaw, she thought, searching the crowd for him.
As her eyes locked with his, she felt again that peculiar jolt, a wrenching feeling in her chest. He was watching her intently, and she shivered, even though it was a balmy afternoon.
"Cold, are you?" asked Frank.
"No," Joscelyn said, eyes fixed on Hugh, forever and always. "I'm not cold."
Hugh had been quiet in the car the entire drive home. Joscelyn attempted conversation, but was only able to elicit monosyllabic answers and sensibly withdrew, leaving them both lost deep within their own thoughts.
They had barely walked in the doorway when he stopped with his back to her.
"I saw you talking to him," he said abruptly.
"Who?" Joscelyn asked.
"Frank," Hugh bit out the word like an accusation – and indeed it was.
"For heaven’s sake,” said Joscelyn. “You can’t possibly think – “
“That’s just it,” said Hugh, fiercely. “When I see you with him, I don’t think.”
Joscelyn let out a little cry, and he turned to face her. She flung herself into his arms. “Hugh,” she breathed.
"You’re going to be the death of me," he said, voice husky. She could feel his lips against her temple, the vibration of his chest as he spoke.
She was suddenly overcome by the sensation of being exultantly, unrepentantly alive.
“I know how he felt,” said Joscelyn, apropos of nothing; everything. She turned her cheek sideways, nestling against the front of Hugh’s overcoat.
“Who?” asked Hugh. As he spoke, his breath ruffled her hair.
"Lawson," she said. "When that jug hit his head, and he opened his eyes and he saw Naomi. It was like that for me, like waking from a dream, coming back to the life I should have been living. It was exactly like that - I opened my eyes and finally saw what was in front of me all along. Was it like that for you, too?"
She tilted her head, awaiting his answer.
Hugh met her gaze squarely. "I never looked away."
"Everyone keeps asking what happened," he said, after they had both been silent for a moment.
"What do you tell them?" said Joscelyn.
"I don't," said Hugh. "It's none of their business. It's our story, not theirs."
"Good," said Joscelyn fiercely. "I'm glad. Although - " she trailed off.
"What?" asked Hugh.
"I did tell one person," she confided. "Only one. Aunt Becky. After her levee, she asked me to stay behind and explain what happened between us, to satisfy her curiousity." She shrugged. "I couldn't say no."
Hugh pulled her tightly to him. "I understand," he said. "If anyone deserved to know, it was her. Why, if it wasn't for her -"
"Don't," said Joscelyn fiercely, trying to extricate herself from his grip, but he didn't let her pull away. "Don't, Hugh - why, to think that I could have kept on like that, never waking up to what was in front of me..."
Hugh traced a finger down her cheek, calloused hands surprisingly tender. "But you did," he said, wonderingly. "You did wake up."
"I was a proud little idiot," said Joscelyn.
Hugh held up a reproving finger. "Now, now," he chided. "I take insults against my wife very seriously."
She shook her head, refusing to be distracted. "Hugh," said Joscelyn, "we could have had years."
"I've had plenty of years," Hugh said mildly. "Now I have you. It's a fair exchange." If she'd looked up, she would have seen him smiling down at her. There were depths to that smile, years of secrets and silences to piece back together – but if she had seen the wonder that still lit his eyes whenever he looked at her, she would have realised at once that her next statement was utterly redundant.
“You must hate me.”
“Bitterly,” Hugh said, as he dropped a tender kiss on her forehead. “I can barely stand the sight of you.” His eyes twinkled with a light that hadn’t shone for a decade, incandescent with joy.
They were both glowing, the firelight reflected in their eyes, no world outside of this room.
Joscelyn reached out her hand.
“What are you doing?” asked Hugh.
“Something I should have done a long time ago," she replied, smoothing the unruly lock of his dark hair that she had noticed at Aunt Becky's levee - and it still seemed miraculous to her that he was here; that he was hers. Mine she thought, with a queer, possessive air. She never knew if she’d spoken out loud or if it was just coincidence that the next moment Hugh caught her wrist.
“Mine,” he said wonderingly, his hand firm around her wrist, anchoring her.
Behind his shoulder, she could see the flames writhing in the fireplace, and a matching spark shone in Hugh’s gaze as he looked at her, drinking her in.
“Mine,” he repeated; low, triumphant.
She grasped his hand and brought it to her waist, where already she could feel a slight swell, the promise of new beginnings. "Ours," she said, knowing he would understand.
“Joscelyn," he whispered, and on his lips her name was the solemnest of prayers.
Beyond Hugh she could see the moon, a pale sliver of silver silhouetted in the night sky. She thought suddenly of the Moon Man, of his adoration for an elusive love forever fated to be out of his reach. The moon was beautiful, certainly - but cold, distant.
Frank had been her moon, she realised - or rather, the idea of him. And she had been so enraptured in her own imaginings that she had not opened her eyes wide enough to realise that the moon was just a reflection, after all.
Frank may have been the moon, but Hugh - Hugh was the sun; and she was inexorably drawn into his orbit, the moth to his flame. She couldn't stay away; didn't want to try.
"You can't turn back time, Hugh," Joscelyn said.
"I know," said Hugh. "But we can make the most of it. I’ve had enough of lost time.”
It took Joscelyn a moment to distinguish the sound from the beating of her own pulse, rapid quicksilver in her veins, but she slanted a look sideways.
The clock that had been silent since that fateful night was ticking again – Hugh must have wound it.
“It’s our time now, my Joscelyn,” said Hugh, leaning down to claim her mouth in a kiss. And she thanked God for Aunt Becky and all the wheels she'd set in motion; for second chances.
For coming home.