The ritual is a success, and Neil and Cynthia are inducted into the Circle. Once that’s done, the party begins.
Chase cleared his throat. “Excuse me, Auntie. Inappropriate subject matter for young ears.”
Cynthia laughed, swatting him. “I’ll be as inappropriate as I like.”
Jackie came up with a worried frown on her face. “Has anyone seen Dora? I can’t find her.”
Neil looked around quickly, checking the crowd for his sister. Suddenly, he had a sense of where she was and he relaxed. “She’s gone home. She needed to be by herself for a little while.”
“Oh, sure. I hadn’t thought of that. What she must be going through. It would be like losing him all over again.”
Soon, the party wound down. Brian and Jordan put the fire out, smothering the flames by taking the air from it. Neil was impressed to see that the wood hadn’t been consumed, except for the kindling. They all pitched in to clean up, leaving Neil and Cynthia together. They had already planned for him to stay over, so he had his car and his clothing for the weekend. Finding themselves alone, they both felt a little awkward. Cynthia made the rounds of the house, checking doors and windows. Neil joined her. They met up at the base of the stairs, staring at one another.
“I have something to say,” Neil began. “Since the ceremony, I’ve been thinking…. Well, honestly, it’s been on my mind since I saw you yesterday. Cynthia, I let you get away from me once before and I don’t intend to do that again. I’ve loved you most of my life and I need you like I need water and air. I know in the ceremony, we promised to be together as mates…. I wanted to make it formal.” He took her hands, kissing them. “Cynthia Finley, will you do me the immense honor of being my wife?”
Tears sprang to her eyes, but she smiled. “I would be honored to be your wife, Neil Braxton.”
“Cool.” He took the pine needle circle from his pocket. “I don’t have a ring yet. I want us to pick that together. But I made this a little while ago. I was going to put it in the fire, but I know, for some reason, I should give it to you.”
“Oh, Neil!” She laughed, taking the circle. “We used to make these as kids. They have some significance, but I can’t remember what.”
“Dora said it has power.”
“I’ll keep it safe.” She slipped it over her finger. It was too big, but she held out her hand, admiring it as if it were a ring. “Thank you. It’s the prettiest ring I ever had.”
“Even if we weren’t in the Circle, if I hadn’t promised for the ritual, I would be asking this question. I never dreamed you’d be here or that I’d see you again. But I know that I belong to you.”
“And I belong to you.”
Their hands glowed as they moved closer. Neil swept her into his arms, carrying her up to the bedroom.
“I asked Claude about this.” He indicated their inner glow.
“Oh, you didn’t!”
“He’s a doctor. I figured if anyone knew anything about it, it would be him. He had never heard of it happening. But he got a clear picture at the ceremony. We did it again!”
“That was weird.” She put the pine straw ring in the Bible near the bed, before taking Neil by the hand.
They made love, feeling the extra joy of their new bond. Exhausted, but happier than either of them had ever been, they cuddled up, talking quietly about the future. In the small hours of the morning, they fell asleep, holding one another close.
Cynthia woke early in the day, seeing the sun barely peeping through the trees outside her bedroom. Neil wasn’t in the bed, but only his boxers and jeans were missing, so she knew he hadn’t gone far. After a short search, she found him on the deck, a cup of coffee in front of him, shirtless, shoeless, watching the sun come up.
He turned to smile as he stood up. “Hey, babe.” He gave her a gentle kiss. “I’ve missed our Mississippi sunrise. Nothing smells like it.”
“After Cliff died, and everything that followed, the first thing I did was clear that yard. You can’t imagine the devastation. I had to put it right, for Cliff and for myself. This was always my favorite spot as a child. I used to come out here every morning and have a cup of cocoa as the sun rose. Funny to be the only early riser in the house. Cliff hated morning….”
“Only time I want to see the sunrise is if I’ve been up all night,” Neil quoted, sounding a lot like his friend.
Cynthia smiled. “Yep! Just like Daddy in that respect. I think that’s one reason Dad took night shifts. He could see the sunrise, but knew he was on his way home. Drove Mama to distraction, though. She hated being home alone at night. She never minded mornings, but she wasn’t a night owl either.”
“Dora’s a night person, I’m a morning person. I learned to keep odd hours when I was in the Marines. You have to learn to adapt or you can’t survive. But morning was always my favorite time, even after a long night. I got called Mary Sunshine in bootcamp. Sergeant Pepper gave me that name.”
© 2017 Dellani Oakes