Everything began to rattle.
I clutched the edge of the table and watched my engagement ring tumble onto the checkered floor of Sweethearts Café. The tremor lasted only a matter of seconds but the jukebox cut out and the alarmed waitresses teetered as they tried to balance their loaded trays.
Outside I saw the sky darken like bruised flesh and the treetops tremble as if shaken by an invisible hand. The blissful faraway expression on Xavier’s face vanished, replaced by the
hard, fighting look I’d seen far too much on him lately. I gripped his hand more tightly, closed my eyes, and waited for the blinding light that would surely come to return me to my prison in the sky.
But a moment later the earth was still again and normal activity resumed around us. Everyone had been bracing for something worse and breathed a collective sigh of relief when it didn’t come.
Now they were laughing, commenting on the unpredictability of Mother Nature while the waitresses hurried to clean up spilled drinks. Nobody was dwelling on what had happened—it would probably be newsworthy for a day or so and then forgotten. But Xavier and I weren’t so easily fooled. Trouble was stirring in the Kingdom; we could feel it.
I considered telling Xavier that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all, that we should return his grandmother’s ring and drive back to Bryce Hamilton for the remainder of the graduation ceremony. If we hurried we’d probably arrive in time for him to deliver his valedictory speech.
But the more I watched him, the more I faltered in my resolve. My dutiful side recognized the wisdom of heeding the warning, meekly playing by the rules and not tampering with the will of Heaven. But I could feel a rebelliousness stirring inside me that told me it was too late to turn back. I let the timid girl I’d once been shrink into the shadows like a wallflower at a dance and allowed the new Beth to take over. I didn’t know her too well, but somehow I felt like she’d been
there all along, waiting in the wings, an understudy ready for her moment to shine.
It was this Beth who stood and snatched up her bag.
Xavier tossed some bills down on the table and followed me into the street. He turned his face upward, squinting into the sun, which had quietly reappeared, before letting out a long sigh.
“Think that was directed at us?”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “We might be reading too much into it.”
“Maybe,” Xavier said. “But nothing like that’s ever happened before and I’ve lived here
all my life.”
I looked up and down Main Street. People seemed to be going about their business as usual. I noticed the sheriff was out, reassuring some nervous tourists. His level voice carried
over to us.
“There’s no cause for alarm, ma’am. Tremors might be rare in these parts but they’re nothing to worry about.
The tourists seemed placated by his words but I knew the trembling earth couldn’t be a mere coincidence. It was clearly a warning from above, not designed to do any real damage, just get our attention. And it had succeeded.
“Beth?” Xavier faltered. “What do we do now?”
I glanced at the Chevy parked across the street—it would only take us five minutes to get down to the water’s edge where Father Mel was waiting for us in the chapel. I remembered visiting him along with Gabriel and Ivy when we first arrived in Venus Cove, and although it had never been openly discussed, he had known what we were.
The look on his face had told us everything. I found myself thinking that if a man as pious as Father Mel had agreed to marry us, he must believe in our union. It was comforting to know we had at least one ally in our camp.
I wrestled internally for a moment before catching sight of an elderly couple sitting on a wooden bench in the square. The man held his wife’s hand cupped in his own and smiled to himself as the breeze ruffled his white hair, while the sunshine warmed the back of his neck. I wondered how long they’d been together, how much of life’s journey they’d shared.
It was a glittering afternoon and the birches on the sidewalk twinkled in the sun. I watched a jogger go by, plugged into his iPod, and a little boy making faces at pedestrians through a car window. I may not have been born into this world, but I knew I had earned the right to be here. I was not about to relinquish that right so easily.
I took Xavier’s face in my hands. “If I recall . . . you just asked me to marry you.”
He regarded me uncertainly for a moment until understanding dawned. Then his face broke into a smile. He grabbed my hand with renewed fervor and we dashed across to the waiting Chevy. In the backseat lay the academic caps and gowns we had abandoned earlier but neither of us noticed them now. We didn’t speak as Xavier stepped on the gas and the car sped off toward the shoreline. Any doubts we might have had evaporated. Come what may we were sticking with our plan.