The steps up to the third floor of the Goode Mansion seemed longer than ever. I could hear the music drifting down the stairs, the murmur of people. Each step was harder than the last. It wasn’t just the pain. Yes, there was still a bit of pain left over from the four broken ribs, the broken right arm, bruises and a bruised bone on the left arm, bruises and a bruised bone on my left leg and, well all of those other injuries from being struck several times by a heavy iron bar. For the most part, they had healed, but there was still a bit of pain and tightness when I pushed it. But, no, it wasn’t just the pain.
It was as much the fear.
Fear? OK, maybe nervousness would be a better word.
I stopped at the landing on the third floor and took a few deep breaths, ignoring my complaining ribs. In some ways this took more courage than entering the carriage house on that dark April night.
The ballroom was filled with people. I walked to the front, the area were Abigail kept court, and turned. I smiled at my parents, who were up from their retirement home in Arizona. I nodded to my sister and a few friends. I noticed Kunhal and other work colleagues.
I looked at the men next to me. Mike was at the end of the row. After my injury, he stopped by my house every Tuesday and we talked. He usually left me a book or notebook about the town, which we talked about the next week. As time went on, he began to come over other times just to keep me company. It’s odd how someone can go from stranger to great friend in such a short time.
And thinking of that, the next person in line was Sean. He blamed everything that happened on himself and tried really hard to pay it all back. Yes, the Goodes still have money and so there were no bills of any sort, but he paid it back more by being there. I discovered that he owned a software company and had worked his way up, so he knew it from the code end too. Having another software engineer who didn’t work at LMDF to talk to was very nice. He had made a deal with his father and was in the process of moving up to the mansion to live in it. He’d kept the promise to restore it to its full 1821 glory and start showing select groups of people through it. And he kept his promise about the ballroom.
The next person in line was Nate. Yes, the big, bruiting guy who hated me. I should say, the guy who used to hate me. We spent a lot of time recovering together and we grew to understand each other a little better. Jess made sure of it! In ways, we went through life and death and life again, together. He might never be my best friend, but for this ceremony, I felt it fitting that he should be my Best Man.
The ladies started to come down the aisle so I focused on them.
Leading the way was Tish. I did remember her from Lyndsey’s first wedding. We had met again a couple of days before this fateful day at the Goode Mansion and I understood what Lyndsey said about her. She did seem so concentrated on her family that she had almost lost herself. And yet she was nice, and I enjoyed her company. I could see spending a day with her when Lyndsey visited the DC area for business.
Next was Carol. Of course I already loved her for giving Lyndsey that needed push in the back towards me, but, joking aside, I really liked her a lot. Batcha Biotics had bought the Old Mill, yes, the Goode Mill in Amesbury, and was almost finished making it their Research Amax, known colloquially in the company as the Amesbury Skunk Works. She had been up to coordinate the work on a few occasions and we spent a lot of time together. But as the work had progressed, Lyndsey had started to take the lead more and more, with Carol just making sure everything was on track.
Jess was next, and was more beautiful than I ever remembered seeing her. For a half a second I envied Nate. Talking to Jess as we recovered from the injuries, I had discovered that Martha had not gone “to the Other Side” because of George. The second Galvin had died, George was no more, not a ghost, not a shade, not a spirit and not in “the great beyond.” Martha left right away, hoping to take herself out of danger. I also hoped that she was thinking of Jess. Jessica gave me a lewd wink as she walked by. I know Nate saw it, but I also know that he now understood. He might feel a twinge when she did that, but he also knew that our relationship was purely Plutonic.
The small orchestra paused. The trumpet player walked up front and started playing Trumpet Volunteer. Everyone stood and turned around. Bill and Lyndsey entered the ball room and there was no place else anybody could look.
I have no idea how she did it, but somehow Lyndsey was able to come up with a wedding dress modeled on Martha’s ball gown. To say she was stunning would be an understatement. I glanced over at Jess and saw that she was smirking, but that there was a joyful tear in her eye. Bill “gave” his daughter to me, with a wink. I’m sure he’d seen Martha in the dress and knew very well the meaning behind it.
And yet, as soon as she was opposite me, the dress ceased to exist, Lyndsey’s eyes so filled my Universe.
After the ceremony, dinner was served under a large tent outside. The dessert was served in the formal dining room, which was lit with early 19th century lamps. Later, when it had turned dark, we all went back up the steps to the ballroom once more. After we had left the ceremony, the furniture had been changed so it was almost the way it had been back in 1821. The candles and lamps created an ambiance that was impossible to duplicate with an electric light.
The orchestra, wearing ancient formalwear and powdered wigs, was marvelous, and even did arrangements of modern dance tunes and pop songs mixed in with the late 18th and early 19th century music.
The night was magic and full of love. I could imagine a shadow of it playing every night into eternity, the way the 1821 ball did.
As I danced with Lyndsey, I began to notice that the room was fuller than it had been earlier. Some of the dancers from 1821 had come to join us. Abigail, holding Alexander’s hand, took the place of honor at the front of the room where Lyndsey and I had said our vows. Martha, back to being forever young, danced with her Samuel. They spun their way over and gave us a wave, before going their own way.
We pushed up close to Jess and Nate.
“Uhm, Jess,” Lyndsey said. ”It seems that there are some unexpected guests.”
Jessica smiled. “These people were just as important to the two of you getting married as any, so I invited them.”
The ballroom, in fact the entire mansion, had been built for such nights as our wedding, and yet it had been almost 200 years since that last fateful ball. If buildings had emotions, I could tell that the house was happy. It radiated from the walls in the warm glow of the candles.
With the Mill full of the hustle and bustle of people and with happy events and the preparations for the ball filling the mansion with happy people, the feeling in the air of Amesbury changed. The dark stench left by Thomas was finally washed away and a new fresh smell of hope spread around the town. I’m sure that if Izle were around, she’d tell me that the angels had returned.
As the clock downstairs struck midnight, Lyndsey and I decided it was time to say our goodbyes. After talking to our living friends and family, we went to the head of the room and stood with Abigail, Alexander, Martha and Samuel. We stood hand in hand, pretending to watch the ball, but we were communicating silently with the past occupants. After a few minutes, Abigail and Martha curtsied and the two men bowed. So as not to attract attention, we just nodded back to them.
And then we were alone, surrounded only by the living once again.
Lyndsey and I locked eyes. For a moment, I lost myself in their depths, but when I resurfaced, I asked, “Ready?”
“As ready as I’ll every be. Let’s go,” she answered.
We turned to leave the ball, facing our new day and our new life together with hope and joy.