Susan watched Linda and Johnny dancing around the floor of the dining room, staring at each other, warmth and joy radiating from them so strongly she thought she could feel the heat of it from across the room.
"Look at them, Susan. Just look at them."
Susan turned and smiled indulgently at her husband, who looked as if he might bounce out of his chair in happiness.
"They're a little hard to miss, Nick," she said, squeezing his hand on the table.
He sighed in happiness, and she swallowed a laugh.
It wasn't as if she didn't share his joy. Johnny had been special to them both for many years, and while Johnny rarely seemed unhappy, he did at times appear lonely. When he'd left for Lake Placid, he'd talked of contemplating his future and the feeling that his plans might be about to come to fruition. Susan had suspected, though, that it was the loneliness, on some level, driving him away. His holiday wouldn't have meant much on his own, and Susan couldn't have imagined how it would have worked with Julia, even if he could have somehow talked her into it.
They'd only met Julia for the briefest of moments at New Year's Eve, but Susan found herself immediately recognizing something about her, since she reminded Susan so much of a certain type of girl she'd known growing up: capable of being outwardly genial while disapproving of everything that didn't fit precisely into her plans, and a casual acceptance of her money and station as her due, while hungering for more. She certainly didn't seem like the kind of woman who would approve of her husband doing backflips in the parlor.
Right now, Johnny and Linda looked like they could both do backflips all the way to France.
Linda and Johnny came back to the table, Linda laughing and kissing Nick on the cheek. There'd been a lot of champagne.
"Oh, well," Nick said, blushing slightly. "I do like the service on this ship."
Linda laughed again. "You're a lovely man. You're both lovely."
"Thank you, dear," Susan said, amused. "You're fairly lovely yourself."
It hadn't taken long, though Susan was honestly surprised they'd managed to hold out three whole days into the trip before Johnny had grabbed Linda at dinner tonight and said, "Why are we waiting for France? Let's get married now!" They'd then run to the ship's chaplain, grabbed Nick and Susan as delighted witnesses, and a short ceremony followed.
"Don't you hate long engagements?" Linda said to Susan as they got ready before the ceremony.
"I prefer them, personally," Susan said primly. "Nick and I waited a thoroughly decorous week before we got married."
Linda laughed and tucked at her hair, her smile turning suddenly a little sad. "I wish Ned were here," she said quietly.
Susan came up behind her and kissed her cheek. "You'll just have to do it all over again when he can."
Linda smiled at Susan in the mirror. "I'm sure Father and Julia will be thrilled to attend that party."
Susan pinned a flower in Linda's hair, watching a stricken look come across her face. Linda turned around suddenly, grabbing Susan by the shoulders. "Am I the most awful person, Susan?" she asked, tears in her eyes.
"I think there are plenty much more awful, so you should try harder," Susan said, grabbing her kerchief and wiping Linda's eyes.
"But... Julia..." Linda's eloquence left her.
"Listen to me, girl, as I'll only say this once," Susan said seriously, having known this would happen sooner rather than later. "Julia had more than enough opportunities with Johnny. If she'd loved him, even an ounce of real love, she could have tried to make it work. I know she's your sister, and you love her, but I'm glad she didn't: I can't think of anyone less suited to making Johnny happy than Julia, and vice versa."
"Yes?" Linda said, unusually tremulous, wanting to believe, but not knowing if she should. "I'll do my best to make him happy."
"Yes," Susan said firmly. "And you'll do it by letting him be himself, and letting him encourage you to be who you were meant to be, not locked up in a marble mausoleum all your days." It's what Nick had done for her.
"Oh, Susan," Linda had said them, laughing and throwing her arms around her. "I was buried for so long, and I feel like I could fly right now."
"Well, don't do that, you'll miss the wedding," Susan laughed back, sniffing back her own tears.
"There needs to be more champagne," Nick announced, waving at a waiter. Then he stood and held out his hand. "And more dancing."
And that was where Susan had to put her foot down. "No," she said firmly.
"But why not?" he asked, seeming genuinely puzzled. "The night is young, we're not that old ourselves, the atmosphere is perfect, and the band knows more than three tunes. It seems the perfect time."
"Why not?" she asked him, looking to see how drunk he was so far. Not so much, and more on happiness than wine, if she was any judge. Which was beautiful, if a far more dangerous intoxication when it came to Nick: he tended to do things like buy artwork and ask women to marry him when he was drunk. Fortunately, she'd only had to give away four truly hideous paintings, and she was the one woman who had ever said yes to him, which was the others' slow-wittedness and her own good fortune, in her opinion. "Because, dearest, you treat a minuet like you're re-enacting Hannibal's march over the Alps, and I have two left feet. If we were going to take the dance floor, I think we'd need to send lead scouts to clear the way to cut down on innocent loss of life."
Nick laughed, and grabbed her hand. "I think we should let them take their chances." With that he pulled her out to the floor.
Fortunately, it was a foxtrot: casualties were limited.
For the next dance, Johnny cut in, spinning Susan until she had to suppress the urge to giggle. "Trade you," he said to Nick, deftly handing off Linda.
"Take care of him, Susan," Linda said, her smile not having waned a mote. "I expect him back in the same condition."
"I expect mine back a little better," Susan said, before Johnny swept her into a quiet waltz.
"Oh, Susan," John said, holding her tight, as if she were the one about to fly off. "I can't tell you how happy I am right now."
Susan smiled up at him, letting her own delight show. "You hide it well," she said dryly.
"She's just so..." and he trailed off, at a loss for words to describe the wonder of his new wife.
"She's Linda," Susan said, smiling around his shoulder at where Linda was laughing and trying to keep Nick from stepping on her feet. "That about sums it up."
"Yes," he said, turning his smile on her, then stopped, and hugged her so tightly, she thought she might break.
"Johnny, we're so happy for you both. Truly," she whispered in his ear, hugging him back just as tightly.
"Unhand my wife!" Nick said from over his shoulder, looking as if he might challenge Johnny to a duel, Linda still laughing next to him.
"Nick!" Johnny said, suddenly letting her go and spinning to kiss Nick on the cheek.
"Really! I'm a married man," Nick said, affronted, still smiling, before putting his arm around Susan.
"So am I," Johnny announced loudly, casting a smile at the whole room while staring intently at Linda. "Isn't it grand?"
"It is grand," Linda said, beaming back at him.
"I propose a toast!" Johnny said gravely and loudly, reaching for his glass on the table. The rest of them dutifully reached for their own glasses. "To my grand friends and my grand wife: long may we be grand together." Johnny then drained his glass, and seemed barely able to restrain himself from throwing it on the floor in exuberance.
"Here, here!" they all said and followed suit.
"More dancing," Johnny said, reaching again for Susan's hand. "This time I lead."
The band, though, was obviously done for the night, packing up their instruments. Susan was unsurprised to look around and find that they were the only people left in the area, aside from the waiters patiently standing off to the side and busing the other tables.
They all made disappointed sounds, then Linda turned to Nick and Susan saying, "I don't want to the night to end just yet. Let's go for a walk around the boat. We'll sing and scare the fish."
Susan coughed discreetly into her handkerchief.
"Oh, is that the time?" Nick asked, so broadly Susan pinched his side. He flinched away, but he continued. "We really must be getting to bed."
Susan threw in a broad yawn for verisimilitude.
"Really?" Johnny sounded genuinely disappointed—but not much.
"Yes, yes," Nick continued, kissing Linda good night on the cheek. "Very important early game of shuffleboard tomorrow. We must be fresh."
Hugs and kisses were exchanged, and as she and Nick left the hall, Susan looked back to see Johnny and Linda dancing once again, even with the music stopped and the tired waiters moving around them, staring at each other as if there was nothing else in the world.
"You know, that shuffleboard appointment isn't that early. We could go back to our room and..." Nick trailed off and waggled his eyebrows, which never failed to make her laugh.
"Why, Professor Potter," she said, trying not too laugh too loud at him rolling his eyes at the name. "you realize I am a married woman."
"Yes, and I hear he's quite the fellow," he said, as they walked back to their room.