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So now I come to you with open arms, nothing to hide

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It’s too perfect a day to not go out for a drive. The late-June sun is shining, enveloping the rolling hills of Touraine in a golden glow; there are only a handful of wispy white clouds in the sky; it’s warm but not too hot, thanks to the light breeze; the air is clear and fresh and barely humid. It’s okay. Marguerite de Valois doesn’t mind a little humidity.

 

Being the only remaining Princess of France, the sister of King Charles IX, and the soon-to-be Queen of Navarre, Marguerite is usually chauffered everywhere, as she will be to a party tonight celebrating Charles’ twenty-second birthday. The party is a big deal. Everyone who is anyone in France will be there, and since she’s the King’s sister, a lot of those people’s attention will be focused on her.

 

Marguerite may adore the spotlight, the food, the fun, the atmosphere, the gorgeous lavender and silver gown she and her mother picked out for the occasion, but she still dreads the thought of spending the evening making awkward small talk with the often-snobby, if not downright vicious, company her family keeps. And even more, she dreads the thought of being closed in, of having to project exactly the right image for everyone. But she has to go anyway.

 

So she decides that though she cannot avoid the party, she can spend the day as she pleases to make up for what will no doubt be a painful evening.

 

It is with this in mind that shortly after twelve-thirty, she finishes her lunch (nothing fancy, just some salad and cheese), brushes her teeth, tells one of the maids that she’ll be back in four hours to get ready (although the party doesn’t technically begin until eight, the big dinner starts at six and that is just as much a part of the celebration as the party itself), and grabs the keys to her car. It’s an antique, from the fifties if she remembers correctly, shiny black, open-air, recently reupholstered with chic leather seats. She loves it.

 

This is the car in which she learned to drive three years ago, thanks both to Charles’ instruction and her own obsessive binge-watching of videos about driving. Ever since, whenever she’s needed an escape from everything, she’s revved up the car and taken it for a drive around the Touraine countryside, always turning up the radio as loud as it can go, always going faster than perhaps she should (although she’s never gotten so much as a scrape or a speeding ticket), always alone. She’s liked going alone; it gives her time to clear her head and be one hundred percent herself, with no judgment from anyone.

 

For some reason, though, she doesn’t want to go alone today.

 

With this realization, she runs back in and grabs two bottles of rosé, the rest of the cheese she was eating, a baguette bought just that morning, two bars of Swiss dark chocolate, a red-and-white checkered blanket, and a picnic basket, in which she hurriedly packs everything else. Then she dashes back out, places the basket in the backseat, gets in the car, and turns it on.

 

And she drives.

 

Marguerite hopes she remembers the address correctly. It’s been a while since she’s gone where she needs to go.

 

Less than ten minutes later, she spots it: the same sprawling stone house with the same oddly small front porch- and even the little succulents in the tiny flowerpots on top of the front railing are still there. She sighs with relief and parks by the curb.

 

Please don’t let him be home, please don’t let him be home, please don’t let him...

 

Marguerite rings the doorbell, her hand trembling. After a few seconds where nothing happens, she rings it again. This time, the door opens immediately.

 

“Who is- ah! Princess!” The maid at the door curtsies. “What are you doing here on such a fine day as this?”

 

“Is the Comte de Saint-Bris home?” Please say no, please say-

 

“He is not. In fact, he won’t be home until after the party tonight.”

 

Yes!!

 

The maid continues, “Do you need to see him? I can tell him you dropped-“

 

“No, no, you don’t need to tell him and neither do I need to see him. Could you get Valentine, please? Thank you.”

 

The maid nods her assent, turns around, and runs upstairs. “Valentine!” Marguerite can hear her even from the porch. “Marguerite de Valois is waiting for you on the porch. She wants to see you.”

 

“Really? She wants to see me?”

 

Of course I do, Valentine, Marguerite thinks. Who else here would I want to see, your father? With all due respect, Valentine, I despise him. But you, you are so wonderful. If that’s something you inherit, you got that from your mother.

 

A door slam, a racing flurry of footsteps, and in less than ten seconds, Valentine de Saint-Bris is standing on the porch as well. 

 

Marguerite glances at her car and then back to Valentine.

 

“Get in. We’re going on a road trip.”

 

“Where are we going?”

 

“Nowhere in particular.”

 

Marguerite smiles and winks. Valentine shakes her head and let’s out a single light laugh.

 

“Oh, Marguerite, I’d love to-“ Before she can add the ‘but’, Marguerite cuts her off:

 

“Great! Let’s go!”

 

The maid comes up behind them all of a sudden. “What are you two doing?”

 

“I’m taking her for a drive.”

 

“But the party tonight-“

 

“Don’t worry! I’ll have her back with plenty of time to spare!” Valentine, for her part, looks relieved.

 

The maid sighs. “Very well, you two. Have fun. God knows that this one especially,” she puts her arm around Valentine’s shoulders, “needs a little joy.” She releases. “Stay safe out there. Marguerite, you are ultimately not my responsibility, but Valentine, you are, so be good. Bon voyage!”

 

With that, she goes back into the house, shutting the front door behind her.

 

“Shall we go, Valentine?”

 

Without answering, Valentine runs across the front lawn- she’s wearing combat boots! Marguerite notices- and jumps into the front passenger seat, slamming the door. Marguerite, for her part, darts to the driver’s side.

 

She starts up the ignition and glances over. Valentine has her head bent down, and after a few silent seconds, she crosses herself and looks up to see Marguerite’s mildly confused expression.

 

“I’m afraid if I don’t, the car will crash and we’ll die.”

 

“Valentine, we are not going to crash and we are most certainly not going to die. Relax. This’ll be fun!”

 

Valentine reluctantly smiles. “Alright, then.” She still seems a little nervous but Marguerite can tell she wants to pull through.

 

“Allons-y donc!”

 

With that, Marguerite puts the car in drive and slams on the gas.

 

“Whoa! Marguerite! Slow down! At least try to follow the speed limit.” Valentine sounds a little breathless, if not shocked, but Marguerite can hear a little laugh in her voice. She’s secretly enjoying this already.

 

She knows because she’s heard that little laughing quality many times before: Valentine has had an extremely strict Catholic upbringing (thanks to her fanatically religious father), one which doesn’t leave much room for hijinks or even the ability to really enjoy the pleasures life has to offer, no matter how simple. And though this means that Valentine usually sits out on the little pranks and jokes and trips to bathe in the Cher and a lot of the other things Marguerite’s other companions do, she often makes some offhand comment that only Marguerite realizes means that Valentine not only enjoys what’s happening, but also wishes that she could break out of her shell a little and take part.

 

“Valentine, today you will be going faster than you ever have before, because that’s how I like to go. I think you’ll like it too. Give it a chance, and if you don’t like it, then very well. I’ll slow down for you.”

 

“Thanks. I’ll give it a try.”

 

“You’re welcome.” She pauses for a few seconds and then goes on:

 

“Alright. Today, on the most beautiful day so far this year, the perfect day to do this, I’m taking you around the lovely countryside here in Touraine.”

 

“Ooh, like that song you sing sometimes?”

 

Marguerite furrows her brows, confused. “What song?”

 

“The one that goes, ‘Ô beau pays de la Touraine, riants jardins, verte fontaine...’

 

“You’ve heard me sing that?”

 

“You sing it softly when you think no one’s listening. It’s a very beautiful song, and you sing it so well- what’s it from?”

Marguerite blushes. “I actually wrote it myself. It’s a big, long piece, and I hope to someday perform it for an audience, with a bunch of friends singing other parts and chorus, oh, and there’s orchestra parts too, so if I could get an orchestra-“

 

“That sounds amazing! Can I be a part when it happens?”

 

“I appreciate that, and of course you can! I’ll put you on one of the other main parts.”

 

“Marguerite, I’m really not much of a singer-“

 

“Valentine! You don’t think I’ve heard you sing? You’ve got the loveliest voice this side of Italy! Indeed, if anything, you should be front and center.” She shakes her head and turns on the radio. “Here. Sing along.”

 

The strains of an old Italian song begin to play. Though Marguerite knows that Valentine’s voice is gorgeous and her ear remarkably keen- she swears up and down that Valentine has perfect pitch-, she is still not prepared for how simply beautiful and heartbreaking Valentine’s rendition is.

 

’Ma nun me lassà, nun darme stu turmiento! Torna a Surriento, famme campà!’

 

Both of them are crying now.

 

“Valentine, why are you crying? I know I’m crying because you sing it better than anyone I’ve ever heard, but why are you crying?”

 

Valentine shakes her head, wiping away the tears with her left hand. “I haven’t heard that song in years, not since...”

 

“Not since when?” Marguerite has a wisp of a guess but doesn’t know for sure.

 

“Not since...my mother died.” Valentine puts her head in her hands and completely loses is.

 

Marguerite pulls over as quickly as possible. “Valentine, I’m sorry...I didn’t know, I didn’t mean to make you cry, I never want you to cry...” She unbuckles and reaches over to wrap her arms around Valentine.

 

“No, no, it’s not your fault. It’s just that she used to sing it to me when she would tuck me into bed because she knew it was my favorite...She’d heard it when she took a trip to Italy once; she was about as old as we were now... And when I was nine, she told me, ‘Before you are inevitably married off- I wish I could do something, but your father is so cold-hearted, and he knows so many people, and I cannot do anything about either- I’ll take you back there, to Italy, I promise...’”

 

Oh no. Marguerite’s mind begins to race. Valentine’s ninth year was also the year that her mother died: over two hours on a bitterly cold, overcast winter morning, Valentine’s mother had gone from completely healthy to dead. To this day, no one was quite sure of what had happened.

 

And Valentine had still never been to Italy.

 

“Valentine,” Marguerite says softly as she attempts to wipe some of the tears off Valentine’s face herself, “I’m sorry...” She begins to form an idea in her head, and snatches at it. “You know what? Though it can’t be today, I’ll take you to Italy sometime. I’ve been, and it’s absolutely beautiful there. You’d love it, and your mother would be so happy to know you finally made it there, and with your best friend...”

 

“True.” Valentine smiles slightly through her tears. “My mother loved you then, and she would love you even more if she could see you now...”

For a few minutes, Marguerite just lets Valentine cry as much as she needs to. Valentine’s face gradually brightens, and then she turns to Marguerite.

 

“Hey, today is supposed to be fun, right? I can cry when I get back home and realize I actually have to go to this party.” Marguerite practically guffaws at that. “Let’s get back on the road!”

 

“That’s the spirit, Valentine! Before I go, though, do you want me to slow down?”

 

Valentine quickly shakes her head ‘no’.

 

“Really? I thought you’d want to.”

 

“I like the adrenaline, and the breeze hitting me head-on like whoosh!” She laughs. “Let’s go fast!”

 

With that, Marguerite turns the ignition back on, and after another quick silent prayer from Valentine, she pulls back onto the road.

 

“Valentine, you pick the station.”

 

“Thanks.” She leans forward and fiddles with the buttons for a bit until she suddenly stops, listens for about half a second, and yells, “I love this song!”

 

“What song?”

 

Valentine turns it up all the way, and suddenly, Journey fills the Touraine countryside.

 

Any way you want it, that’s the way you need it, any way you want it...

 

Valentine balls up her right hand into a fist and holds it to her mouth like a microphone. “She loves to laugh, she loves to sing, she does everything...”

 

Marguerite can’t help but join in. “She loves to move, she loves to groove, she loves the lovin’ things!”

 

They trade lines. Valentine belts out, “All night, all night, oh every night!” and Marguerite comes back with “So hold tight, hold tight, oh baby, hold tight!”

 

“Hold tight because we’re going fast!” Marguerite ad-libs, and Valentine joyously screams in response.

 

The song goes on. They sing along and both end up hysterically laughing by the end.

 

“That was awesome!” Valentine cries, high-fiving Marguerite.

 

The radio announcer comes on. “That was ‘Any Way You Want It’, the first song in today’s Journey marathon-“

 

“Journey marathon?” Marguerite grins. “How about it, Valentine?”

 

Valentine claps wildly. “This is going to be great.

 

And indeed, it is great, as the two sing along to the next several songs: ‘Faithfully’. ‘Wheel in the Sky’. ‘Lights’. ‘Separate Ways’. ‘Who’s Crying Now’. ‘Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’’. ‘Be Good to Yourself’. ‘Girl Can’t Help It’. ‘Ask the Lonely’. Marguerite is surprised about just how many Valentine knows- it’s a lot more than she expected. Valentine retorts that she’s listened to practically every Journey song at least ten times in all the time her father hasn’t been home- “the staff think the ‘music-except-for-traditional-Catholic-music-at-home’ ban is stupid and they never tell,” she explains with a wink.

 

Geez Louise, Marguerite thinks when she hears that, Valentine is nothing if not full of surprises.

 

Eventually, the announcer solemnly proclaims that there are only two songs left, the first of which is ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’.

 

Marguerite smiles. “My personal favorite.”

 

“You start off, I’ll join in later. Sound good?”

 

“Yup!”

 

The familiar guitar-and-keyboard intro begins, and then Marguerite lets loose:

 

“Just a small-town girl, livin’ in a lonely world, she took the midnight train goin’ anywhere...” She turns to Valentine. “That’s you, Valentine, you small-town girl in a lonely world who wants to go anywhere...”

 

Valentine smiles and shrugs as if to say, well, you’re not wrong, before taking over the next line. “Just a city boy, born and raised in south Detroit, he took the midnight train goin’ anywhere...”

 

During the next few bars, Valentine asks, “You know where South Detroit is?”

 

“I’ve got no clue. Sounds like a cool place, though.”

 

“I want to go there.” Valentine turns to look out her side, craning her neck to get a wider view of the seemingly endless hills and meadows. “I want to go everywhere.

 

“I’ll take you there after I take you to Italy, if you want. Or maybe it is in Italy, although the name certainly doesn’t sound Italian.”

 

“True.” Valentine chuckles. “Thanks, Marguerite.”

 

She says that just in time for the chorus, which they both carelessly belt out, arms up in the air (although Marguerite has one holding on to the steering wheel): “Strangers waiting up and down the boulevard, their shadows searching in the night! Streetlights, people livin’ just to find emotion, hidin’ somewhere in the night!”

 

The fingers of Marguerite’s right hand interlace with the ones on Valentine’s left. The warmth of her fingers, the shape and weight of her hand- or maybe it’s for another reason- just feel so right in her hand, Marguerite thinks. However, the beginning of the next verse quickly distracts her:

 

“Workin’ hard to get my fill, ev’rybody wants a thrill, payin’ anything to roll the dice just one more time...”

 

“Some will win...” Marguerite continues on her own.

 

Valentine answers: “Some will lose...”

 

And then both again: “Some were born to sing the blues! Oh, the movie never ends, it goes on and on and on and on...”

 

They sing the chorus again, even louder than the first time. Valentine is practically dancing in the front seat now, although she still somehow keeps a firm grip on Marguerite’s right hand.

 

The last part begins. Their voices grow still louder:

 

“Don’t stop believin’, hold on to the feelin’...”

 

“I want to hold on to this feeling...” Valentine sighs, content.

 

“Me too, ma chérie. Me too.”

 

They smile, and their grip on each other grows tighter.

 

“Look!” Marguerite shouts suddenly. “Up ahead and to the right a little bit, there’s a little side road and it goes to the top of that hill with all the wildflowers. Shall we make a stop there?” She checks the clock on the dash. “It’s not even two-thirty yet.”

 

“It looks so beautiful over there! Let’s go.”

 

With that, Marguerite takes the exit and slowly (for her) chugs up the hill as the final bars of the song die away. By the time she’s parked at the top, the announcer is busy declaring that the last song will be ‘Open Arms’.

 

Valentine nods excitedly when she hears that. “That’s my favorite!”

 

“It’s definitely a good one.” Marguerite gets out and retrieves the wicker basket from the backseat. “Picnic on the hood?”

 

“Sounds good. I’m huuuuuuuuuuungry.” They both laugh at that.

 

Marguerite takes out the blanket, unfolds it, and stretches it over the hood as the announcer begins a long list of thank-yous to the sponsors and listeners. They both sit on the blanket, and as if she were a magician, Marguerite pulls out the refreshments.

 

“Gouda cheese...two bars of Swiss dark chocolate...a freshly-baked baguette...and last but certainly not least, two bottles of fruity rosé, one for you and one for me!”

 

“A whole bottle for each of us?!” Valentine’s eyes practically pop out of their sockets.

 

Marguerite giggles. “You really think I couldn’t pilfer two bottles of rosé?”

 

“It’s not that,” Valentine quickly explains. “It’s just that...I’ve never had alcohol, except in very small quantities.”

 

“You mean, ‘except the wine they serve at Communion’?”

 

“That’s it. That’s all the alcohol I’ve ever had.”

 

“Well then, prepare to have your mind blown; the Communion wine is nothing compared to this. Besides, I’m pretty sure it’s diluted anyway before every Mass. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure; you can’t even really taste the alcohol.”

 

She pops open both bottles. Each foams over, much to the delight of Valentine, who starts squealing as Marguerite hands her a still-dripping bottle. Marguerite takes a slow drink from hers. Valentine imitates her.

 

“How is it?”

 

“Incredible. Just...incredible. My mind is completely blown.”

 

“You want any of this?” Marguerite gestures at the food.

 

“Don’t mind if I do.” Valentine reaches over and tears a piece off the baguette. After breaking off a chunk of cheese, she gingerly balances the Gouda on the flat edge of her bread and bites in. Marguerite does the same, and both are done with their pieces in less than sixty seconds.

 

“Here it comes!” Valentine cries, just in time to join in with the chorus:

 

“So now I come to you with open arms, nothing to hide, believe what I say, so here I am with open arms, hoping you’ll see what your love means to me, open arms...”

 

Her voice, so sweet and strong and full of love, rings out across the hills and into the distance. Marguerite can’t resist, and she throws her arms around her.

 

And Valentine does the same.

 

They spend the rest of the song like that, softly duetting as they look out across the seemingly-endless land. Valentine improvises harmonies here and there, only making the song and the moment more beautiful.

 

Once the song is over, Marguerite whispers, “I could stay like this, right here, with you, forever.”

 

“That would be wonderful, Marguerite. Ah, but it can’t be.”

 

For a split second, Marguerite is crushed as Valentine lets go of her, but Valentine merely laughs and grabs her rosé. “I couldn’t drink any more of this if I were just holding you!”

 

Instantly relieved, Marguerite watches as Valentine drinks more of the bottle, taking a closer look at it when Valentine finally puts it down.

 

“You’ve already drank over half of it! Valentine, you really surprise me sometimes...”

 

Valentine laughs. “How have you not already drank over half of yours? This wine is amazing!

 

“Very true,” Marguerite concedes, and with that, she takes a long swig from her own bottle. Valentine claps her hands in triumph before reaching over and grabbing one of the chocolate bars.

 

“Dark is my favorite; it’s got just the right mix of sweet and strong...”

 

“Like you, Valentine, just like you. And I love you for it.” Wait, did I just say that out loud? She internally panics for a moment, but Valentine is blissfully oblivious, happily eating her chocolate.

 

She is also oblivious to the fact that some of the chocolate has gotten on her face. Marguerite briefly considers just telling her, but then remembers that she didn’t bring any napkins with her, so that would be useless unless Valentine would wipe it with the blanket, or worse, the neck of her flowery cotton dress. So she improvises, gently beginning to rub it off with her own hand.

 

At that touch, Valentine puts down her bar. “Marguerite...” she sighs gently, “that feels so good...

 

“I’m just trying to get some chocolate off your face,” Marguerite chuckles.

 

Valentine, however, lifts her own hand to her face and puts it over Marguerite’s, encouraging her to keep rubbing. “It still feels so right, though...”

 

Oh my God, is this actually happening?

 

“Whoa, whoa! I feel like I’m about to fall off!” Valentine stretches out her left arm, grabs Marguerite’s shoulder, and pulls herself onto her knees, ever closer to Marguerite.

 

“How were you about to fall off? I’ve sat on here dozens of times and never once have I felt like I was about to fall off.”

 

“I just did, I guess.” She shrugs and tosses her head, laughing. Marguerite catches a sparkle in her dark eyes and a sly smile on her face.

 

Ah...I’m tingling everywhere...I feel like I’m about to faint, or go over the edge...

 

Valentine looks directly at Marguerite now, that same dizzying expression on her face, and Marguerite can bear it no longer.

 

“Valentine, I just have to say it: I love you!

 

For a split second, Valentine’s jaw drops. Then her face melts.

 

“You...” she whispers. “You do?

 

Tears well up in Marguerite’s eyes. “Valentine, I have loved you for so long, and I’ve always wanted to tell you, but I worried about what you would think-“

 

“You love me?” A huge smile breaks out on Valentine’s face, and she covers it with her right hand.

 

“I do, Valentine. I do love you.”

 

Valentine lowers her hand. “Let me tell you a secret, Marguerite.”

 

“What?” Marguerite can hardly breathe.

 

Valentine pauses for a moment, leans in, and whispers, “I love you too.”

 

At those simple words, the tears burst forth from Marguerite’s eyes.

 

“And I’ve loved you for so long too...” Her voice fades out as she gently wipes Marguerite’s tears away with her right hand but she eventually continues: “Marguerite, you have no idea how much I have dreamed of you, of a moment like this, although I always thought it could never happen...”

 

“If it’s anything like the time I’ve spent...” Both of them manage a shy laugh as Valentine continues her work until Marguerite has no more tears left to cry. They silently stare into each other’s eyes for a long moment, but Marguerite finds her vocal cords vibrating and her lips moving to form, out of the blue, the words she’s been holding in for who knows how long:

 

“Valentine...may I kiss you?”

 

That huge smile, bright like the sun, breaks out again. “Marguerite, I would love that more than anything.

 

“Are you sure? Seriously, I’m not playing coquette here; I want to make sure you’re actually okay with this-“

 

“Yes!”

 

And with that, Marguerite takes Valentine’s head in her hands, leans in, and kisses her.

 

It’s a bit messy- Marguerite can tell Valentine doesn’t quite know what exactly to do- but it still feels like the best thing in the world: it’s warm, it’s sweet, Valentine’s lips taste like rosé and dark chocolate, but most of all, she’s kissing the single person she loves most in the world. And it is beautiful.

 

After some time (milliseconds or hours, neither cares at this point), they stop, and Valentine says shyly, “Marguerite, I have to tell you something.”

 

“What is it?”

 

“I’ve never been kissed before, Marguerite. That was my first kiss.”

 

Though she isn’t really surprised by this, Marguerite gasps. “Oh, Valentine, you have missed out...”

 

Valentine eagerly shakes her head. “No, no. I haven’t. How could I, when it was with you?”

 

Marguerite can do nothing but shrug her shoulders.

 

“You know, my father always said that my first kiss would be at the end of my wedding: Nevers and I would kiss in front of the congregation and God after we’d been pronounced man and wife. He always said, ‘It’s strange, your first kiss. It will feel wrong. It should feel wrong.’ Well, Marguerite, this first kiss was so much better. It felt so, so right.

 

Marguerite grins. Valentine returns it and then asks, “My dear Marguerite, may I kiss you back?”

 

“Of course, Valentine. Of course you may.”

 

So Valentine slowly leans in and kisses Marguerite oh-so-gently, her hands somehow finding their way to the nape of her neck and the small of her back. It feels wonderful, especially as their arms begin to engulf each other. 

 

Suddenly, the announcer’s voice comes on again: 

 

“We have just received a call asking us to play ‘Open Arms’ again. And so we will.”

 

Valentine’s lips momentarily move away and smile. “Isn’t it funny how God plans things sometimes?”

 

Marguerite shrugs. The slow waltz strikes up again. “Valentine, I think ‘Open Arms’ might actually be my favorite now. It seems like it’s...our song.”

 

Valentine nods, and the kiss goes on for the whole song, only broken when one of them quickly goes for some air and then right back in. It’s...it’s perfect.

 

The last bars drift away on the breeze. 

 

“Marguerite, can we just hold on to this moment forever?”

 

Marguerite smiles until she hears the announcer’s voice again:

 

“Bottom of the hour now. It’s three-thirty.”

 

“Three-thirty! Valentine, you and I both need to get back home so we can get ready for the party!”

 

“I wish I could just stay here with you...”

 

“Me too, but I don’t want you to get in trouble! Or me. But mostly you.”

 

Valentine bursts out laughing as she hurriedly puts the refreshments back in the basket. “Marguerite, if you don’t want us to get in trouble, consider keeping this our little secret...”

 

“Of course!” Marguerite winks and stuffs the blanket in the basket before carelessly tossing it in the backseat.

 

“Marguerite!”

 

“What is it?” She turns around to find Valentine holding a handful of white-and-yellow flowers.

 

“For you.”

 

“Hold that thought and that bouquet for a sec.” Marguerite quickly bends over and scoops up her own bouquet. “For you.”

 

They trade, get it, and buckle up.

 

“Allons-y! Faster than lightning, faster than anything!

 

“Right on, Valentine!” Marguerite stamps on the gas pedal and they zip down the hill and along the winding road.

 

We’ve got to get home, we’ve got to get home...for her sake and mine, but especially hers...

 

With that thought as almost the only thing in her mind, Marguerite begins to go faster than even she is comfortable driving, although impressively, she’s still maintaining good control. Meanwhile, Valentine is cheering, having the time of her life going so fast.

 

They’re almost back- indeed, Marguerite can see Valentine’s house in the not-too-far-off distance- when Marguerite suddenly (and perhaps inevitably) loses control of the car. She desperately tries to right it, but it’s too late.

 

“Oh God! Marguerite!” Valentine screams, throwing her arms around Marguerite’s upper body and holding as tightly as she can while the car veers off the road and slams into a ditch.

 

Everything stops and goes black for a split second.

 

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

 

When she comes to, Marguerite is still buckled in the driver’s seat, her car still upright (although she can tell the front is mangled almost beyond recognition), Valentine still hanging on for dear life.

 

“Valentine, are you okay?”

 

“Yes, I’m alright...you?”

 

“I am one hundred percent fine. No injuries?”

 

“Don’t think so. Please tell me you don’t have any.”

 

“I don’t think so either. Relax. Let’s get out.”

 

Both unbuckle and survey the damage: indeed, the front is almost completely totaled, but the rest of the car (and both of them) are unharmed, although they’re sad to find that one of the rosé bottles shattered at some point, maybe from the crash, maybe from being carelessly tossed into the backseat, maybe from the bumpy ride. Neither of them can say.

 

Valentine gets the other bottle and shakes it. “Still about half-full in there, I think.”

 

“Good.”

 

Valentine holds the bottle up. “A toast! To life, to happy accidents, to freedom, to love!”

 

“So be it! Now give me that bottle!”

 

Marguerite takes it and drinks. Valentine playfully snatches it back when she’s done and downs the rest before smashing the bottle against the side of the car.

 

“Valentine!”

 

“Oh, Marguerite, what a day! This was the best day of my life...thank you.”

 

“Thank you!” She whirls Valentine around in the air. “Shall we go back?”

 

Valentine mock-sadly sighs, “If we must, we must...” before dissolving into laughter.

 

“How about one more kiss before we go?”

 

“You got it.”

 

The two share a quick kiss and then each wraps one arm around the other’s shoulders. 

 

Valentine begins to sing softly: “So now I come to you with open arms...”

 

Marguerite joins in, and the duo begins to slowly walk back home: “Nothing to hide, believe what I say...”

 

Their voices ring out into the afternoon sky, possibly even all the way to God:

 

“So here I am with open arms, hoping you’ll see what your love means to me...”

 

“Marguerite,” Valentine breaks off, “it means the world to me.”

 

“And it means everything to me.”

 

“What, are you trying to outdo me?”

 

“I never could!”

 

They both laugh.

 

This moment is exactly how they dreamed life would be: together, happy, nothing to hide. ‘Open Arms’ indeed.