“Z’opn’ ‘noder bawdul wine…”
“’Roro, dontcha think you’ve had enough…?”
The sputtery snort of cackling laughter answered that question.
“Yer gonna be in a whole worlda hurt t’morra, girl. C’mon, put the Chardonnay down.”
“PAH! ‘M a GODDESS, d’you hear me, kneel to me – WHOOPS!” CRASH!
“Damn it, there goes the other lamp…”
“No worries…wheeeeee.” Sparks fly as a sphere of ball lightning illuminates the sweaty, tousled faces of the party guests.
“Ain’t a party til somethin’s broken, my mama always used ta say.”
“Guess it’s been a party for the past several hours, then. Think T’Challa has party insurance?”
“Duh, he’s, like, the KING. Probably throws wild parties like this all the time.”
“Well, maybe not EXACTLY like this.”
“This is still tame compared to some of the stuff that goes on during happy hour at ‘Belles, especially during spring break. Ya haven’t lived til ya hafta clean vomit off the ceiling.”
“I phased my way up.”
“No, I mean how did…”
“Ya don’t wanna know.”
“Lorna, don’t bogart the chocolate, pass some over here.”
“You’ll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands.”
“God…it’s nights like these when I miss Jeannie.”
“l’ dringg t’that!”
“Noooo, you won’t. Put the Chardonnay down, ‘Ro. I mean it. Somebody get her some ice water, please.”
“Don’ be such a poop, Kit’n – HICCCH!”
“Cripes, that didn’t sound good.”
“Whut wuzzat game you tol’ me ‘bout before, An-Anna? I never? Or wuz it kwor-derzzz?”
“No more games, Boss. Let’s get you cleaned up.”
“Actually, I like her this way. Vast improvement over Miss High and Mighty Stick Up Her Bum.”
“Look who’s talkin,’ and look who’s also three sheets to the wind.”
“Why, yezzz, Scott my luv, I’ll wear that green uniform for youuuuuu…”
“…and you guys talked about what a nut job I was before MY wedding!”
“Girl, you were a nut job AT the wedding! Talk about ‘Father of the Bride’ gone wrong…helmet an’ all.”
“Oh, yeah. Try getting the chocolate away from me now, Anna.”
“Uh-huh. Very nice. I’m not cleaning the ceiling this time.”
“That’s what the help’s for, Kitty. Anybody else feel like breakfast?”
“All right. ‘Ro, I’ll take that to mean you don’t want breakfast?”
“I still ain’t cleaning the ceiling…”
Twelve hours ago:
Nice thing about flying in the Blackbird is at least I don’t have to chew Airborne the whole way over. No business traveler’s snotty sinuses, flatulence, or twenty-four hour flus to cover my nose against, flying with this group. Still hate flying this long and this far, though. Scattering Peter’s ashes in Russia, flying over to Latveria in a containment cell to keep from fizzing away into nothing, flying back home from Japan after Logan was turned away at the altar…for me, long plane trips almost always mean something’s gonna majorly hit the fan and splatter all over me. Thank God I can phase.
I miss Peter. Sure, it’s girl’s night out. And it’s not every day I have the chance to give the one friend who’s been like a mother to me for half my life a proper send-off before she leaves our little “family” and joins T’Challa’s. I guess it’s kinda like a Cinderella story. Well, if Cinderella were an Omega-class mutant, pickpocket, expert burglar whose prince left her hanging for, what, two decades?
Okay, that was a little bitter, Pryde.
But tonight, I’m glad Petey’s hanging with the guys. I need to cut loose. The inmates have officially escaped the asylum, at least for one night.
We hit the runway, smooth as silk. Lorna’s still a great pilot, just as good as Jean. Logan admitted once that the only fly girl with Jeannie’s skills in the cockpit was Maddie, back when they were still hiding out in the outback. I must have looked at him funny when he said that; he kind of winced and said “Sorry we never got in touch with ya, Half-Pint. We never shoulda left you an’ Elf hangin’ like that.” All that evil clone, Goblyn Queen stuff aside, I still miss Maddie. She was the best dragon sitter Lockheed ever had.
And now…well, she’s just “Wife Number One.” Or she was, anyway. Playing second fiddle to a woman you were genetically copied from would be enough to make ANYONE crack up.
X-Men and marriage. Not the easiest of bedfellows. I should know, I’ve played bridesmaid more times than I can count, more often than not for a happily ever after that never ended up happening. Still hurts when I look back on that moment when Mariko ripped Logan’s heart out and handed it to him. “Because, gaijin, you’re not worthy,” my ass. I’m pickier now about who I’ll let gussy me up in taffeta and dyeable shoes.
Sun’s bright; I can actually see the waves of heat rising up off the blacktop. Hope I don’t melt. The Windy City, this ain’t. Someone’s coming this way, I can just make out…
“ORORO!” I grab my duffel of CDs and books and my carry-on bag with wheels and phase my way out. I drop both on the blacktop and hit the ground running. “Ororo! Ohmigosh, look at YOU!” Just this once I’ll ignore how unfair it is that she can always look so bloody perfect.
“KITTEN! WHOOULFF!” The momentum carries me as I launch myself into her arms and give her the biggest hug I know how. “Easy, Kitty. You’re light, but strong. I’m not as young as I used to be!”
“Are you kidding? You’re RADIANT!” And she is. Duh.
“Geez, Pryde, give Lorna the chance t’land the ‘Bird b’fore ya just go dashin’ off like that. Ya could skerr a body outta ten years of life pullin’ that stunt.” Poor Anna Marie. It’s ninety degrees in the shade, and here she is, covered from head to toe, gloves and all. Won’t stop her from breaking any hearts, though. Wish I could get away with wearing that shade of green. At least it’s one of those floaty prairie skirt, gradient blend numbers with the flutter-sleeve top from Old Navy, but still, it’s so out of character with the temporary tattooed, biker babe we’ve all come to know and love.
“Sorry,” I cringe.
“You haven’t changed a bit. Still throwing yourself through moving vehicles, Kitten.” Ororo reaches out to lift a stray bit of hair out of my eyes and shakes her head at me as she tilts my face at an angle. “I know you’re a genius, but really, Kitty, it’s a rather overconfident gesture, having this many holes in your head.” She pokes at the newest piercing in my ear.
“Yeah, yeah. Mom already read me the riot act,” I grin. “Gotta admit, though, it matches this one pretty well,” I assure her, nudging aside the hem of my top to show her the silver hoop through my navel.
“’Ack,’ indeed. Ideal example for the faculty advisor and advanced computational theory teacher to set the younger students, don’t you think?” Ororo’s eyes flit over my shoulder and then narrow slightly, but she doesn’t drop her smile. Much. The Lucite heels of Emma’s white Manolo Blahnik shoes come clicking up behind me. Hope the blacktop doesn’t melt’em, that’d be a crying shame. Those are killer shoes. I’d never admit it out loud. That rule “never wear white shoes after Labor Day” doesn’t apply when you wear white everyday.
“Hey, you’re the one who called me the X-Men’s ‘own little poster child’ for non-aggression,” I remind her.
“That was evidently before she saw you out of uniform and discovered that you have more piercings than Pink,” Lorna guffawed. I thumb my nose at Emma, just because I can.
Hey, it woulda looked bad if we hadn’t invited her. And she was nice enough to let Cyke off his leash for the night, too.
“Step aside, Pryde! My turn to hug the bride!” Lorna crowed, nudging past me now that the Blackbird’s been pulled into the hangar.
“Geez. Sounds like a Seuss title, kinda like ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go.’ If he even wrote one about getting married.”
“Don’t think he did. Or his ghost writer didn’t, at any rate. Hallo, Ororo. MMM-WAH!” Betsy follows Lorna’s lead and administers a boob-crunching hug of her own and rocks Ororo from side to side in the way that true sisters have done for centuries. Emma and Ororo kinda eye each other for a second before Ororo cracks first. “Ohhh…come here, you castrating old slag!” My mouth kinda hung open for a second when Emma beamed – yeah, I said beamed – at Ororo and walked into Ororo’s embrace and gave her a pert peck on the cheek.
“Who are you calling old, you sticky-fingered escapee from a Harley Davidson catalog? Don’t you know this is the best Botox that money can buy? And I’m the hardly the one with the head full of white hair!” Again with the smile. Will wonders never cease? They sigh in unison and their arms drop, losing interest in the hug as though it never happened.
“So when do we get booze?” That’s it, Lorna, remind us why we really came.
“After the presents and other ladylike activities. Once the last watercress finger sandwich is cleared away, then we get to let our hair down.”
“Watercress – feh! There betta be some hot wings, sugah.”
“No kidding, I’m hungry enough to show up Cain at a pie-eating contest.” Ray stepped out from the hangar and wrinkled her nose at the scent of hot asphalt and jet fuel blowing downwind of us as we packed our luggage into the plush Jeep.
“Rachel,” Ororo whispered. “I’m so glad you could make it, child,” she called out. I could swear that was a glimmer of tears in her eyes. Three guesses why. The sun catches the crystal pendant hanging from Ray’s necklace and throws rainbow prisms across her skin. Ray’s so fair, what with having her mom’s redheaded coloring and complexion, I hope to God she brought sunscreen. I don’t have to be a mind-reader like Emma to know that Ororo misses having Jean at her side for the most important event of her life.
“Glad t’be here, Boss.” Ray’s tone’s pretty hopeful. I get the feeling we can stuff our hopes.
I’ve been cramming that uneasy buzz in the back of my skull as far down as I can, but I may be denying the inevitable. Ororo will always be in our hearts, part of our disjointed little family.
But as Storm, she may never lead us again. This isn’t just one last night with the girls as a single woman. Once she makes her vows, that’s it. Her heart belongs to T’Challa.
Her life and duty belong to her country. I don’t know how to compete with that. I don’t know that we should.
That doesn’t mean we ain’t goin’ out with a bang, however…
“Please tell me you’re taking us somewhere with air conditioning. And Chardonnay.”
“Buckets of it. Ladies, our chariot has arrived,” Ororo announced with a flourish. The most beautiful limousine I’ve ever laid eyes on pulls up to the curb. Champagne gold – I think they call that muscatel? – with gold accented platinum rims, I practically faint as I calculate the money that went into customizing this car. Anna’s drooling, Lorna’s looking put out that she never had the chance to ride in the limo she ordered at her wedding, I can see it in her face, and Betsy just looks bored, her expression practically shouting “been there, done that.”
“A friggin’ Crown Vic. They stretched a Crown Vic,” Anna breathed. She ran her gloved fingertips over the distinctive, stylized, black panther sigil – what else? – airbrushed in a crouching pose across the hood.
“It is gorgeous,” Emma admitted, “although it would be better in white.” Figures.
The driver in the Jeep asks Ororo a question or two before she beckons to us, and then we all shimmy and climb into the limo, which feels as spacious as a house inside. There’s already a DVD playing on the TV housed in the console next to the mini-bar. Hmm, “Room with a View.” Ooooh. The scene with Julian Sands taking a dip, NOW we’re talkin.’ Ororo pops open the mini-bar fridge and pulls out Fiji water for all of us, which everyone gratefully holds against various parts of our bodies to cool off before we take a sip.
And we’re off.
Toto, I don’t think we’re in Chicago anymore. Or Westchester. This is beautiful. I’ll even go as far as to call it breathtaking. I know it’s dumb to expect Ororo to be living in the middle of the wilderness, but on our way out of the Wakandan Municipal Airport, we actually do drive past some gazelles. Gazelles! Close enough to touch…oh. Shit.
Of course that gets me thinking about Logan. You know me, I love to associate one thing with another, think everything to death. Gazelles make me think about hunting, hunting makes me think about deer, for whatever the reason, and deer remind me of stories Logan’s told me about his treks through the woods behind the mansion to track a family of deer that come out occasionally to munch on Ororo’s prized roses. Ororo was always nice enough about it to not mind. If anything, she planted extra cuttings every spring.
I know he can’t be in a good way right now. Which reminds me…
“Excuse me, ‘roro, can I toss this into the fridge?” I reach into my duffle and pull out a box. Ororo examines it with curious blue eyes, noting the tiny holes punched in the top.
“What is it, Kitten?”
“It’s a surprise. I’ll show you later when it’s time to open up the gifts.”
“Stinker! Why can’t you just tell me?”
“Cuz then it won’t be a surprise!” I stick out my tongue and cross my eyes.
“That’s attractive,” Rachel chuckles.
“And so mature,” Emma drawls, taking a long pull from her Fiji.
I really need to share this with Ororo when she can take a moment to really savor it in privacy, so it won’t lose a drop of its value.
“Have it your way, then. Now, who needs to do some last minute shopping?”
Well, hello. This was greeted with a frenzied flurry of hands waving in the air, along with a chorus of “Oooh! Me! I wanna get my nails done! I need my lights retouched! SHOES! We MUST get SHOES! Where’s my American Express card?” For the first time all day, I can finally relax. From the smile Ororo’s flashing me, complete with that contented glow that comes from being among her family again, I know we’re on the same page.
Nine hours ago:
“You sure this don’t make mah butt look big, sugah? You wouldn’t lie ta this lil’ ol’ country gal?”
“Some men like a nice, big round juice bootie,” Ray pointed out.
“Hell, I know that, but…ohhh, YOU -!” Ray ducks out of the path of Anna Marie’s fist before darting out of the dressing room suite. Thank God Ororo’s got pull, and we have it all to ourselves. We’re making, oh, what’s the word I’m looking for: A spectacle. And enjoying every minute of it.
“God, I missed this,” I sigh to no one in particular. “Why can’t we get together and do this more often?”
“You went off to school. Dear Rachel went off to school.” Emma’s ticking off points on her French manicured nails. “Rachel’s mind was taken over by Elias Bogan, leaving her missing for months…”
“…pot calling the kettle blaaaa---accck,” Ray sang with a note of warning.
“Touche, dearie. Oh, yes, Betsy was, let me think…dead. Yes, I believe that was a bit of an obstacle. Ororo was off forming her own team, making a quaint little statement. ‘If we won’t take responsibility for our own and protect the helpless humans, who will?’” Emma mimicked, forming her hand into an imaginary, beak-shaped puppet for emphasis. Ororo, surprisingly, just kind of rolled her eyes. Huh.
“Rogue was depowered for the first time in her life and chose to gallivant off into the sunset with Remy to make up for lost time…”
“Mmmmmm. An’ then some.” Anna Marie looked kinda dreamy-eyed. “Gawd, that was some trip.”
“…and then came back to the house, and the team after being noticeably absent for several weeks in, where was it? Some backwater town in Mississippi? Or was it Japan?”
“It ain’t a backwater. We got our very own Wal-Mart in Caldecott County,” Anna tsked.
“And then, of course, Lorna and I were at the school.”
“When we weren’t off in space. And Genosha.” She shuddered. I bristle and bury my face in the rack full of clothes that we already tried on, pretending to reconsider the purple halter dress that I already put back.
S’okay, Pryde. I meet Ray’s eyes across the suite and nod.
‘M okay. No worries.
I know. She turns to the shopgirl that just stopped in to check on us and take our purchases to the counter. “Excuse me, do you have this in red?”
“What time do we need to get back to the embassy?” Betsy checked her watch, then remembered that we’re in a different time zone.
“We’re right on schedule. The party begins the moment I walk in the door.” I love that she said that without so much as hint of smugness or sounding remotely coy. It’s just a fact.
“It’s good ta be the Queen,” Rogue grinned. Betsy and I nodded our heads.
“All right, ladies. It’s not easy being green. I need a wash and set,” Lorna declared, looking at her wilted ‘do in the full-length mirror and fluffing with her fingers.
“I want a piece of that,” Ray chimed in.
“Me three!” Can’t wait!
“After hunching over the controls of the jet all morning, I need to get my head under a dryer,” Lorna said, linking her arm through Betsy’s. “Let’s blow this popsicle stand.”
“Speaking of which…how’s Bobby since…?”
“Fine. Still occasionally has weird spiky icicles growing out of his ears, but fine.” Lorna picks at her fingernails as Ororo sidles up to the sales counter. She chats cheerfully with the owner of the shop, who fawns over her, grasping a handful of Ororo’s white hair and stroking it, appreciating the color and sheer volume of it, I’m guessing, since I can’t translate. She gives Ororo all the proper fanfare and lights right up when Ororo pulls out her American Express Platinum Card. I peek at the plastic, chuckling for a moment at the custom insignia on the card that matches the limo. Same stylized panther head, but this time there’s also a laser watermark of a heart-shaped leaf. Wonder if that’s the national flower? Does Wakanda even have a national flower? I peek at the silver lettering on it: His Royal Highness King T’Challa. Sheesh. Ororo gestures to all of us as she chats with the owner, who’s still writing an enormous commission slip. Emma and Betsy reach for their purses until Ororo leans over and covers Betsy’s hand. “Put that away. You’re my guests.”
Holy crap. I peek over at Ray, grinning at the big fish eyes she’s making at Ororo’s announcement. Pryde, tell me she didn’t just…
Yeah. She did. Almost makes up for marching down the aisle as part of the Taffeta Squad, doesn’t it?
It’s back into the limo with us, and off to the day spa. You heard me, day spa. No quick fixes or touch-ups at the Penney’s salon on the second floor. I just finished biting into a Kahlua chocolate truffle that Ororo thoughtfully smuggled into the fridge to welcome us here when I take a gander out the tinted window. I can’t believe my eyes, and I don’t want anyone to pinch me.
“Holy…” Lorna’s fingers are frozen halfway between the truffle box and her mouth as we all glue ourselves to the window.
“Oh, my.” Even Emma has the good grace to be stunned speechless. For a change.
The shadows of the parking garage swallow us as Ororo’s chauffeur takes the parking pass from the slot, but not before we drink in the sight of the most sumptuous salon I’ve ever laid eyes on. The fountain in the main courtyard is huge and carved from black marble, depicting a young woman frolicking with twin panthers. The walkway is paved in bricks and flanked with impeccably tended flower beds. The building is five stories tall with reflective tinted windows that reflect the equally impressive neighboring buildings surrounding it. We pile out of the car and rush in, throwing propriety out the window, all except Emma, who’s still minding her shoes and brings up the rear.
As if the building weren’t breathtaking enough, the people coming out of it have me raising my hand to my lip to make sure I licked all the chocolate off. That settles it, I’m getting the FULL treatment. I know I have bed-head from nodding off repeatedly in the Blackbird in those uncomfortable upright seats. We reach the front desk in the lounge, and the hostess is up out of her chair in a flash, grasping Ororo’s hand in both of hers. Ororo rattles off introductions in the local dialect, nodding to each of us in turn, occasionally indicating her hands, hair and face. The woman nods and beams, darting back to her desk to chatter into the intercom. Before I can get comfortable in the cushy leather couch and flip through the magazines – Wakanda has its own version of Cosmo, who knew? – three men step through the door, all handsome enough to make Ray walk up beside me and tip my jaw shut, since it feels like it just hit the floor.
Down, girl she warns me.
Hamana, hamana, hamana… My thoughts are as blank as the look on my face. Ray just shook her head and shoved me through the swinging doors.
Eight hours ago:
“Errrrrggggh.” Whack, whack, WHACK. That’s the only intelligible thing I can manage. The percussion portion of the massage is pitch-perfect. I’m gonna be so limp they’ll have to pour me off the table and into the stylist’s chair.
“Ohhhhh, this is heaaaaaa-veeee-eeennn.”
“The sandalwood and almond essential oils, please.”
“Lawdy, that feels good. A little to the left, sugah.”
“What’s the point of the oxygen in an oxygen facial? Ah, screw it, gimme the works.”
“Is that hypoallergenic? I’m really sensitive to…aaaaaagh. Never mind. Don’t stop.”
Six hours ago:
Ooh. That SMARTS. Now I’m minus one creeping case of uni-brow. The skin should grow back. I hope. Do I want smoky eyes? Are those the same as bedroom eyes? Sure, why not.
At least my curiosity is finally satisfied as to what highlights Lorna gets to give her hair color, such as it is, a little lift. She even adds on a transparent glosser to shine it up, good to know. I might get one, too. Anna’s getting her white streaks touched up, and Ororo’s been in the styling chair the longest, having her hair cornrowed into three different layers. I thought Ororo only made huge changes to her look whenever she visits Japan, but that goes for making herself at home on this side of the globe, too. Ororo selected three different shades of hair to weave in from the enormous wall of hair extensions. Her stylist’s slender, numble fingers roam through it, parting and plaiting it one braid after another. Ororo doesn’t so much as grunt through it all, chatting with us and occasionally showing us pages out of a Bride’s magazine on her lap. The stylist whisks away the cape and lifts up the pile of plaits, testing their weight and arranging them over Ororo’s shoulders. She turns those baby blues on me and grins. “What do you think?”
“Ororo, if you have to ask…God.”
“Being engaged suits you,” Betsy marvels from her seat at the manicurist’s booth. “T’Challa may just have to move the honeymoon ahead a little. He may send us packing back the way we came…”
“And people stare at MY hair. I love it.” Lorna nods her approval from the makeup station. Ororo’s hair is side-parted on the left and zig-zagged. The lower layers of braids are still her customary white, but the topmost layer alternates lavender and topaz blue between each white braid in an eye-catching pattern.
“I don’t’ wanna think what that would’ve cost if she’d had it done in Manhattan,” Ray whistles.
“Money’s no object when it comes to cutting a dash,” Emma reminded me as her stylist inserts the final pins into her upside-down French braid and tweaks her long bangs into place.
Guess that’s all fine and good when my dad’s paying the bills…
“I heard that.”
Five and a half hours ago:
“Ladies, grant me the honor of presenting the future bride and royal consort of His Royal Highness King T’Challa – ORORO MUNROE!” We walked in casually enough. But all of the sudden I’m going blind from the flashbulbs popping and partially deaf from the clapping and applause. The banquet room’s huge, but the air just got a little bit closer and stuffier in here with the press of bodies leaning in toward Ororo.
Except…uh oh. There’s that look. Ororo’s eyes flash white for a split-second.
“Ray, Betsy, we’ve got trouble at twelve o’clock!” Betsy takes one glance at Ororo and another at the eerie mass of storm clouds that have gathered outside over the embassy patio.
“Ya’d think they’d know not to crowd a claustrophobe,” Ray huffed. The gleaming phoenix raptor appears over her eye, obscuring all that carefully applied makeup. Subtly, she nudges the crowd of guests back as Emma links us with Ororo.
“No need to panic. They’ve waited this long to lay eyes on their new Cinderella. They can wait a bit longer while we get settled in. Ororo, I’ve already planted a ‘suggestion’ to them to back off.”
“I’m jamming their camera shutters with my teke,” Betsy muttered.
“And I’m pulling crowd control, so no one lays a finger on ‘Ro unless she says so,” Ray reassures me.”
“Some engagement party,” Lorna murmurs.
“Actually, this is just the bridal shower. The engagement party is next week, at the palace.”
“This is just the shower?” I squeak.
“I never had this many people at my shower,” Lorna mutters to no one in particular.
“Nope. But the bachelorette party rocked, sugah.”
“True,” she conceded, dropping her pout.
Naturally, we get the main table up front. Ororo’s dead center and looking pretty enough to make jaws drop. Cursory introductions follow: Dignitaries’ wives, politicians’ wives, the chief of staff’s wife, Parliament members’ wives, and the Dora Milajae, who, quite frankly, raised my newly waxed eyebrows.
“Let me get this straight: The Dora Milajae are T’Challa’s bodyguards?”
“Yes. And by extension, they will be mine.”
“Uh-huh.” I can’t help asking. “Ororo…why are they bald?”
“It gives an attacker nothing to grab during a fight, just like any soldier’s,” Ororo explains calmly over the rim of her glass of Chardonnay.
“Ah-hah,” Anna replies, looking kinda like I feel. This is out of our element. Bodyguards. Servants. Palace and embassy security. Admiring subjects.
All of the sudden, I feel pretty silly coming here with the hidden agenda, or not so hidden, of asking her to reconsider.
Let’s face it, as X-Men, or even “reserve” X-Men like me, we live hand-to-mouth and by the seat of our pants when the Professor isn’t footing the bill. We’ve been outed and have been walking around with bulls-eyes painted on our foreheads ever since. Our families, when we risk having one of our own, die. Or our parents or siblings get killed. Our spouses mourn us and have no clue where to pick things back up when we come back. Going to a regular school or working a normal day job suddenly feels meaningless, or like being a fish out of water. Guess that’s why I chose politics; if I can’t stand throwing myself in the line of fire anymore to save the world, I can do it from behind a desk and podium.
Ororo gave all of this up once. Threw down the mantle of “goddess” to her flock to take up Charley’s cause. Even without my genius IQ, I don’t have to ask why Ororo’s willing to give our life up.
Doesn’t stop me from asking the other nagging question, though: Why T’Challa? Why now?
And while we’re on the subject…what about Logan?
The gift table’s practically overflowing. Kinda seems silly, getting all these wedding gifts for the bride and groom who basically already have everything, but everyone knocked themselves out anyway. Our gifts to Ororo are still in the Blackbird, to unwrap and enjoy at the bachelorette party. Not that it wouldn’t be funny to see the Frederick’s of Hollywood goodies that Anna got Ororo on the front page of the i Wakanda Herald /i , but still…stop it, Kitty.
For what’ll end up being the first of many times that I start bawling tonight, my eyes start watering after one of T’Challa’s cabinet members’ wives approaches the banquet table and asks Ororo, “Good evening, Your Highness. Would you honor me with an introduction to your companions?”
“These are my sisters. And I’m honored that they came to share this with me.” Ororo reaches over to squeeze my hand.
Three hours ago:
“Okay, y’all, where are the strippers ya promised me?”
“I came all this way and had a big wad of cash converted to Wakandan singles for this, there better be some G-strings for me to tuck ‘em into,” Ray chimed in. Emma just looks bored. Again.
The last watercress sandwich has been swept away, so to speak. Actually, it was a fabulous shrimp cocktail, chicken cordon bleu, Caesar salad with vinaigrette, petit fours, and a five-tier, chocolate raspberry torte topped with, you guessed it, a spun crystallized sugar sculpture of a black panther. All of us nibbled enough to sop up the incoming flood of alcohol. I can almost taste the purple hooter shots now…but there’s one last thing I need to attend to.
“Ororo? Could you step out here with me for a second?” I grab my duffle that I retrieved from the limo after tucking the box back inside, and I pulled Ororo out with me onto the balcony of our hotel. The sun’s just setting, even though it’s relatively late, and the colors looming over the mountains take my breath away. Ororo’s thin bangles on her wrist stir as she leans her elbows against the rail and watches me pull out the box.
“Ah. The mysterious gift you were hiding.” Her eyes crinkle at me. I take a deep breath.
“It’s actually not from me. Just open it,” I cut her off, just as she shapes her lips around a question. She takes the box and unwraps the white bow and carefully peels away the parchment-weight gift paper. She pops open the vented plastic lid and lifts out a small but hearty potted chrysanthemum. And I warned you about those tears earlier, didn’t I? I feel my carefully made-up eyes fill.
“There’s a card inside, too,” I tell her. Ororo just keeps stroking the stems and silky, snowy petals of the flowers for a second, then hands me the pot. Her fingers are trembling when she reaches back into the box for the card. It’s small but handmade. Logan and I tossed a couple of ideas back and forth over a much needed beer and decided to make Peter our partner in crime, so he painted the cluster of forget-me-nots on the front of the heavy vanilla cardstock. Ororo’s voice is shaking too when she opens it and reads it aloud:
“Someone else took your heart. No one can take the memory of you, and what you mean to me away. I’ll never forget you. Ever.” Eloquent, simple, and to the point. I wouldn’t expect any less of Logan.
Ororo smothers a funny little strangled sound behind her palms and closes her eyes against what looks like tears. I hear a rumble of thunder that seemed to loom up out of nowhere, so loud that I feel it vibrating up through my feet.
I catch the card before it can flutter to the ground and plop it back into the box. I take the gift and the box and move them onto a small side table just inside the slider before turning back to Ororo. “Kitten…?”
“I’m here, Ororo.” She folds me up into a crushing hug. I feel Ray’s faint mindtouch, just checking to make sure we’re fine.
“I never wanted to hurt him.”
“He knows that. On some level he knows. He wants you to be happy, even if it means letting you go. You know Logan. He’s a proud man.” He just muttered something under his breath when Scott asked him about the stag party. We’re just inside the ledge of the roof, so we don’t get hit by the warm rain shower, thank goodness. My hair couldn’t take it.
“Watching the women he loves marry someone else doesn’t get any easier for him with repetition,” I continue, stroking her braids absently. “Neither does having another friend taken away from him. You’re one of the only people who has ever been both to him.”
“I’ll still come home when you need me. No matter who needs me. Joining my new family doesn’t mean I’m giving up my old one.” I sniffle a little, since that’s what was bugging me the whole way over here.
“Don’t think we’ll ever stop needing you. Or that we’re letting you go easily, Ororo. You’ve made an impact on our lives. And you let a little bit of light into Logan’s when he shut the rest of us out.”
“I want to make an impact here,” she says, pulling back to straighten herself. The rain dwindles down to the last few drops. Down on the ground, I see the valets looking up in the sky and scratching their heads at the change in weather. “T’Challa was my first love.”
“Logan’s been by your side and in your corner ever since T’Challa walked out of your life.”
“Whenever Logan and I have hobbled a few steps closer together, someone from his past yanks him miles away from me. Logan loved others before we walked into each other’s lives.” Ororo stares at the plant, sighing. “He will love again.”
“Ororo, it’ll be like having a taste of prime rib and settling for hamburgers.”
“C’MON!” Okay, no more glooms. Someone pass me a purple hooter. Or three.
Two hours ago:
“Lorna, so help me, I’ll haunt you with memories of whatever it was that you saw in space for the rest of your years for this!”
“Awww, live a little, Emma. B’sides, your wearing white, the stains’ll never show…WHOOPS!” CRASH!
“Do I want to dance with you? Oh, I don’t know, I’m not much of a dancer…”
“Anna, let the poor man leave something to our imagination!”
“Oh, all right, one little dance couldn’t hurt…”
“I’ve already got an overactive imagination, sugah. Right now, I’m imagining what it’d be like if I could touch anybody! So that means I’m buying you a whip cream shot next!” Betsy snorts.
“So you want to live vicariously through me, then?”
“I’ll drink to that!” Ray crows, glugging down another glass of champagne.
“T’Challa probably wouldn’t approve of this,” Ororo murmurs, eyes agog at the well-oiled flesh wiggling itself in her lap, red sequined G-string flashing in rhythm to the music blaring out of the speakers.
“T’Challa has two female bodyguards that weren’t wearing much, last we saw of ‘em. Relax.”
“Okay,” she giggles. Giggles.
A half an hour ago:
“I’ve always wondered what it felt like to wear one of these,” Lorna slurs, rubbing her hand over the white leather corset for a second before flicking away a stray dollop of whipped cream decorating her cleavage.
“Thank Ray and her nifty little talent to rearrange molecules of everyone’s clothes,” Anna reflects, smothering a burp behind her hand. “Ah know ah’ll never wear mine outside this door, but it was fun for five seconds.”
“Thank her when she wakes up. Ray? Raaayyyy…” I shake her. She’s out cold, poor thing. Hope she doesn’t get a draft. My own corset itches. I couldn't wear this every day. I don’t know how Emma does it. I know WHY she does it…ah, well.
“That’ll teach us to play truth or dare when the resident teke expert is three sheets to the wind.”
“Admit it, it makes you feel pretty,” Emma giggles. “Oof.”
I’m about to answer something to the effect that what it makes me feel is a huge draft and a chest cold coming on, until Ororo sits bolt upright from where she was leaning her head against the wall, wine bottle in hand.
“I’m marrying T’Challa,” she announces, the hint of a silly smile creeping into the corners of her mouth. “Heeeee-heeee.”
“Sure are, sugah.”
“And he’s wonderful, Ororo. There’s a love, up we go…”
“Whee. I’m marrying T’Challa. Did yoooouu knowww…that he was my first l-love?” Betsy’s bleary enough that she doesn’t mind being downwind of Ororo’s considerable and fragrant wine breath – whooooo. “And he’s a printh…I mean, a prince. A KING, even.”
“Uh-huh. That’s nice. Ororo, did you pack a nightie that doesn’t look like something off of a Harlequin Sunfire romance cover?” Emma guffaws at Betsy and thumbs her nose at her from her perch beside the pretzels.
“T’Challa…he’ll get t’see me in m’nightie every day. Won’t that be niiiiiice?” This strikes Ororo as hilarious, as pretty much everything over the past couple of hours has managed to do. “I luff…you guys.” Betsy’s bending under the weight of Ororo’s sagging, neck-wrenching hug. I pry her arms away so Betsy can sit back down before she falls over too. Call my tolerance enhanced from being a student for the past couple of semesters and working in a bar.
“We know, baby.” I search through Ororo’s toiletry bag for toothpaste.
“An’…I love Logan, too. Goddess, I luff himmmmm…sooooooo much.” Her eyes are beseeching me, and for the first time tonight, I really don’t know what to say.
That doesn’t stop me from trying anyway.
“I know you do, Ororo. You’re marrying T’Challa. Because you love him, you want to be his wife.”
“T’Challa…” I hand her the toothbrush, and she looks at it long and hard, turning it this way and that. “What do YOU think, do I love T’Challa?” she asks the toothbrush. “Yer…not much help, you,” she chastises it, shaking it.
“Sounds like a real meeting of the minds in there,” Emma bellows.
“Sounds frighteningly like true confessions, you mean,” Betsy corrects her, brows furrowed. She wrangles the truffles away from Lorna, snagging one and popping it into her mouth to fuel the discussion.
“Sum…buddy…turn Storm o-off,” Ray moans.
“Whatsamatter, Ray?” Ororo’s still glaring at the toothbrush, but at least she’s seated on the toilet lid.
“Turn her off. She’s projectin’…so loud, can’t hear m’self think. OWWWWW. Stoooorrrrrmmm, QUIT IT!” she yells. “Jus’ tell th’runt ya love him, al…ready.” Ray’s pretty bleary at this point, but I still feel ice trickle down my spine.
“I’m glad I’m limited to my teke now,” Betsy sighs.
“Lucky bint,” Emma growls. “I’m getting an unwelcome image from the cow of her taking off that hairy ruffian’s shirt that will haunt me all the way home.”
“Hm-hmm. My pleasure. Slag.” Ororo plays with the faucet to watch the thin trickle of water drip.
“Cow.” Emma tips her wine glass upside down to see if it really is empty. It is. She checks it again.
“You’ve never been scared of anything.”
“S’not true. Hate…bein’ closed in. Hate…feelin’ alone. Shut off.” She tips her face to look up at me. I’m far gone, but I hate seeing her like this. “Sometimes, Kitten…feel hemmed in by these wuh-walls. S’not easy bein’ a printh…prinzess. Need room.”
“T’Challa doesn’t give you enough room?”
“Hm-umm. Need room. NEED ROOM! Huh-mmmpph!”
It all went downhill after that.
“What happens in Wakanda, stays in Wakanda,” Anna sighs. “Lorna, don’t make me come over there and wrestle that chocolate away from you.”