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Angel of the Morning

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Sometimes she wonders what Leigh would say.

An impossible conversation to picture. A mother is meant to dispel advice, to guide a daughter in her journey. Difficult to do when that mother is perpetually a 14-year-old girl, bundled up in a fancy coat and fleeing to the hills. All her life, Heaven had sought to understand that girl, to figure out why she had made the, frankly bizarre, choices that she had made.

Now, however, she gets it. Heaven might not be a starry-eyed kid being sweet-talked by Luke Casteel but oh, oh, oh does she get it.

Not that she had intended it, any of it. Her goal had been to finish college and to help her family, her Casteel family, and have them back all together under one roof. That had been the only goal.

And then there had been Troy, like an earthquake, so yes she gets it. She gets a lot of things these days.

***

The first thing she understands, now, is that weird empty rattling-around feeling that one gets when they lose someone they might have wanted to love, but just couldn’t.

She had been visiting Grandpa Toby when she got the news. The gruesome death of Tony Tatterton was the thing of gossip from here all the way up to Maine most likely.

He had been true to her word and had named her his heir. Heaven had held her heart in her throat as the lawyer read over the will, waiting, waiting for the moment in which there would be a coda or a caveat or an exclusion that in order to inherit, Heaven could not, must not, must not be proven to…

And yet it never came.

Maybe Tony was still full of surprises. Or maybe by the end, he had run out of them at last.

***

So she understands. Sitting in her room at Farthy, contemplating her options, she understands.

And she understands what’s at risk, almost hears Tony’s voice telling her that she cannot, that she must not, that he doesn’t need to put it in black and white because she knows why she cannot marry Troy.

And Troy has told her the same, over and over again, that this fact is what must keep them apart for all times.

“I was never much of a fan of Romeo and Juliet, Troy,” she tells him the first day after Tony’s funeral that she’s able to catch him alone. “I don’t think there’s any point in toiling over being star-crossed lovers and dying alone and miserable.”

“You must not have met me. Being alone and miserable is one of my greatest strengths,” Troy tells her, and they lock eyes, and she knows he’s almost lost all resolve.

“Why make yourself suffer when the only person left who knew is dead? Why live our lives based off his mistake?”

There may be one other person who knows, of course, but Heaven has not spoken to Luke in some time. The curiosity is there, of course, but whether he would give her any straight answers remains to be seen. She knots her hands together and then moves them to his hair, clinging there as if someone may try to pull her away any moment.

“Troy, let’s just get married, like I said. Nobody knows and nobody needs to know. You’re getting into your own head and you’re making this into more than it needs to be.”

“Heaven, I love you, and I always will, but what Tony did...”

“Was what he did. And Leigh paid the price. And I paid the price, living with Luke. Why should you have to pay now?”

“Heaven...”

Heaven rises from the couch and walks to pluck a notepad from the desk, nestled right under the lamp, and she began to read.

“What do you think of the Soviet Union?”

“As a vacation spot? I mean it may not be the best time to go, considering the shoe thumping...”

“Australia…”

“Koalas? Is this word association?”

“The Netherlands. Finland. Malaysia. Argentina. Canada.”

“Should I be finding these on a globe?”

“All countries that allow an uncle to marry a niece.”

Troy cocks his head to the side and lets out a long, shuddering sigh. Heaven bridges the gap and presses a soft, desperate kiss to his lips.

“So could it be... that this isn’t the block… the wall that’s up, but that you’ve taken it as a sign of what you wanted to think all along? That you will never have the happiness you want? The happiness you deserve? Well, Troy... stop it. Because it’s not just you you’re trapping in this rut. If you thought I was going to go run off and marry Logan if you sacrificed yourself long enough... you’re out of luck.”

***

So they go to them all, one after another, touching down for a few months, sometimes a few years. They set up a Tatterton Toys on the Island of Borneo, in Helsinki, Vancouver, Rotterdam.

They visit Leningrad with the help of somebody known only as Nicolai who Troy had gone to college with, though the possibility of a Tatterton Toys is, as Heaven says with a smirk “tabled... for the time being.” And it's then that they decide to turn around and come home.

“We should get married in Winnerow,” he tells her, though they signed all the papers in Amsterdam and are officially, and legally, man and wife, regardless of any secrets that could come back to haunt them.

Heaven knows she should feel protected and bolstered, and that in the years since she first happened upon Troy in his little cottage she has grown from that headstrong, terrified girl into a woman who should know what she wanted. She shouldn’t have to prove anything to the people who had dubbed her a scumbag Casteel, but the prospect seems enticing. Even if the last time hadn’t given her quite what she had wanted, and maybe it never will.

So she says, “Yes”, because maybe there are one or two things left to prove.

***

She stops by Farthy before they make their way there, though, and lingers at the photographs of Leigh VanVoreen. She wonders what her voice would sound like, what advice she would give her.

“You married your uncle,” Heaven imagines her pointing out needlessly, pulling her blonde hair back into a braid or maybe a ponytail as she looks on with dismay.

“You married Luke Casteel. You don’t have room to talk,” Heaven fires back, and she thinks of her as “Leigh” first before closing her eyes and toying with “Mom, Mother, Mama,” And none of them are quite right. Maybe the only name she can use was the one Luke gave her. Maybe Leigh will only remain an Angel to her.

But if Leigh never grows older, Heaven still must. She plays with the ring on her finger and finds herself smiling.

“You would love it,” she says to the image of Leigh, willing it to be true.

***

“Are you really sure of this? Maybe it was a bad idea,” Troy tells her, hesitating as they linger at the precipice of the hall, the one in which the town dances were held when Heaven had been young.

“Well, it’s too late now,” Heaven replies, emboldened, and leans in to kiss Troy, cut off by a sound of annoyance.

“Y’can’t kiss him yet, Heaven! Y’ain’t even married to him yet! What’s the point of waitin’ to hear ‘you kin kiss the bride’ if you’re gonna rush right in to it?”

Heaven turns and chuckles, taking in the look of frustration on Fanny’s face as she fiddles with the big red flower across the front of her Maid of Honor dress.

“We’ll try and hold off,” Troy promises. “Fanny, there was something I wanted to…”

“Don’t want to hear nothing from you, Troy Tatterton! This dress is itchin me all over so you need to hurry it up before I just take it off!”

When the strains of Here Comes the Bride start - Heaven’s not even entirely sure if they tucked away a pianist somehow or if it was playing off of one of Troy’s perfectly preserved records, and she honestly wouldn’t be surprised if it was somehow Troy himself - Heaven steps out, feeling shaky and unsure, again, in her fancy heels and white dress, suddenly sure that she’ll step out and see Kitty and Cal Dennison staring her down, talking about how a hill girl is always a hill girl and that a white dress on her was a lie. How is it that even now, Cal can get in her head and Kitty’s voice can make her shiver and shoot to attention?

She doesn’t see Kitty and Cal, but there is Tom, dressed in a tux and looking at least mildly annoyed about it, and taking her by the hand with a genuine, if uneasy smile, and there are Luke and Stacie Casteel with little Drake sitting at one of the tables, and Keith and Jane whispering to each other as Heaven walks down the aisle.

Fanny plops down in an available chair as they start the vows, and Heaven watches with some trepidation as she notices a red headed girl of around 12 approaching her and tapping on her shoulder.

“Fanny Casteel?”

“Yeh, that’s me. What of it?”

The girl smiles and replies, “my name’s Darcy Wise and...”

“Well why didn’t ya say so? Sit on down.”

Troy’s college classmate, a man by the name of Ikenna who had reluctantly agreed to officiate this “square dance” as he had called it (“I have attended the best boarding schools in the world, and I’m spending my sabbatical in West Virginia why again?”) looked at Fanny with some exasperation before beginning.

To have and to hold.

For richer and poorer.

In sickness and in health.

Heaven adds a few in her head: to never be torn asunder by Luke Casteel or Tony Tatterton, by the accidents of birth, by the sins of others.

“Heaven Leigh Casteel, do you take this man, Troy Langdon Tatterton, to be your lawfully wedded husband?”

“I do.”

“And Troy Tatterton...”

Heaven’s attention wavers slightly, over to Fanny stage-whispering gossip to a riveted Darcy (something involving “that ol’ cross-eyed bitch” features), to Luke sitting with an unreadable expression (does he see his Angel now?), to Keith and Jane and Tom and the various Winnerow onlookers who came to gawk (she notices there’s no Reverend Wise, though).

And Leigh. Always Leigh.

Looking less like a porcelain doll and more like a living, breathing girl, at last.

Or maybe an Angel.

***

Heaven awakens on the eve of Troy’s 30th birthday and tosses a sock at him to wake him up.

“What?” He inquires. “It must be 5 in the morning.”

“And you’re thirty.”

He blinks.

“Don’t remind me.”

Even in a mansion with the option of countless rooms, Troy and Heaven prefer the cottage. Their own little hideaway, uninterrupted by the staff or by the demands of daily life, a way to sneak away from the endless paperwork and meetings of the company.

Troy spends his mornings stroking his fingers over the piano, his nights designing tiny shrubs for tiny rowhouses to be populated by tiny families.

Heaven doesn’t give up her dream of teaching, quite, but with the company being what it is the time is limited. She sets up an after school program in Boston. The promise of less breakable Tatterton Originals do successfully bribe even kids who are less than enthused at the prospect of extra time spent on homework.

“I have news,” Heaven tells him, perching at the edge of their bed, “stop trying to go to bed, listen.”

“It’s my birthday and it’s 5 am,” he reminds her.

“I’m pregnant,” she tells him.

***

Their daughter is 17 (and, to hear her remind them, very cold) when all of them do make it to the grand opening of Tatterton Toys of St. Petersburg.

After five months of debating, bickering, and at one point a set of charts presented by Heaven on a slide projector, they had named her Annie but called her Leigh.