New World Symphony: Musical Chairs

“Nice dress,” said Cathy Tea, passing Kitten Nell as she walked down the stairs.

“Thanks,” said Kitten. “Part of my entertainer gig, you know. It’s kind of hard to walk down the stairs in. Not to mention the breathing part.”

“Oh, well,” Cathy replied, “I’m sure you could change into something more comfortable. It’s the music, not the dress, that we care about.”

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A few minutes later, they passed each other on the stairs again. Kitten had changed into a cotton t-shirt dress.

“How’s that?” Cathy asked.

“Much better!” replied Kitten Nell. “I think I can actually breathe and move, simultaneously!”

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While all the other guests made their way inside to the bar on the gallery floor or upstairs to the supper spread in the Crow’s Nest, Sugar waited outside for Kitten Nell’s concert. She’d heard about her interpretations of Liszt’s transcriptions of Bach’s preludes and fugues, and she expected to learn something new.

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Upstairs, Floyd joined Cathy for a snack.

“No plus one?” Floyd asked.

“Ah, no,” said Cathy Tea. “I forgot to invite him.”

Floyd chuckled. “Flying solo!”

“I guess so!” she said. “Anyway, everyone I want to see is here!”

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“What a day,” said Wade, wrapping Jaclyn in a big hug.

“You make a fantastic best man,” she replied.

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onezero stood in the middle of the room and closed her eyes. She could hear everyone’s thoughts, all the conversations, and the wedding songs of the 1,000, and every voice, spoken or unspoken, sang of happiness.

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Jaclyn recounted elf weddings that lasted days and days.

“And we had to sleep in the treetops,” she said, “those of us who could sleep! Matter of fact, my mother tells me I owe my very existence to an elvish wedding celebration!”

“Conceived in a tree-top?” Rae asked.

“More like a hobbit hole!” Jaclyn laughed. “My father’s folks aren’t tree-climbers much.”

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Wade looked dashing–everybody thought so.

“What will it be, Wade,” Jaclyn teased, “ever the best man and never the groom?”

“I’m a happy bachelor,” he replied.

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“That I can understand,” said Jaclyn. “I’m in no hurry myself. Something about being part of a couple makes me feel like running away by myself to the mountains sometimes, even if getting together with Davion was my idea!”

“And how does Davion feel?” Wade asked.

“Pretty much like me!” said Jaclyn, and everyone chuckled.

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Sempervirens listened carefully to a conversation that Floyd and Sabreene were having. She caught the word “tree,” her attention was rapt.

“I love this line,” Sabreene said. “‘God is the experience of looking at a tree and saying, “Ah!”

“Who said that?” asked Floyd.

“Joseph Campbell.”

“Ah, of course! And do you agree?”

“With the feeling, yes,” said Sabreene.

“And many things can generate that feeling?” asked Floyd.

“That’s right,” said Sabreene.

And Sempervirens began to think that maybe that meant that God was in many things, not just trees and pollywogs.

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Jeffrey noticed midway through the reception that the caterer hadn’t arrived yet and they had no cake! It was getting late, and the guests might start leaving soon. He thought about which recipe could be baked most quickly: carob cake! As soon as he pulled it from the oven and added the decoration, the caterer arrived.

“Sorry,” Meggs said. “There was a screw-up at the catering office! I just now got the text. Got here as fast as I could.”

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No matter! The guests were still there, the cake was baked, and Meggs was just in time to join the fun!

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Sempervirens knew that every cake deserves a song, so while J. P. cut the first slice she sang loud and clear:

An aunt takes an aunt
And an uncle with an uncle!

‘Come with me to the pond
beneath the hidden tree,’
said the grasshopper to the frog.
‘We will be happy, happy as can be!’

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“I’ve got an idea!” said Rae. “Let’s play musical chairs, and when you’re out, you grab your piece of cake!”

So Sempervirens sang, and the adults marched around the table, and when Sempervirens stopped, the one left standing grabbed the cake.

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“What’s the incentive to find a chair, again?” eXo asked Floyd.

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“To play the game?” he replied. “To be the last to get a piece of cake? Oh, never mind! Just, quick! The music has stopped!”

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It was almost–but not quite–too much joy for onezero. All those games, all those friends, all that family, and the songs from beyond that never did quit, not once.

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Soon the game ended, and all the slices of cake had been eaten, and more guests arrived from downstairs. No more cake? No bother! Redbud whipped up a fresh one, white this time, with sprinkles.

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“Oh, well done!” said Meggles. “Now that’s a cake that any caterer would be proud to serve!”

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Knox got to wondering where his wife had gotten to. The wedding joy was stirring up romantic feelings in him, reminding him of how lucky he felt to be married to the most beautiful member of this family.

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“Have you seen Cypress?” Knox asked Davion and eXo down at the bar.

“She did grace her form troo this way den funf minuten,” Davion said.

“She said she was looking for you,” said eXo.

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Cypress had headed outside–that’s where she always went she couldn’t find Knox.

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But this time, she didn’t see him there. She took a moment to take in the big sky and look up at Orion’s belt. She took a moment to listen to Kitten Nell’s performance on the piano. And then she headed back in.

They found each other at the bar.

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Upstairs, Nathanael painted a wedding gift for the couple. He’d been married to a woman strong as a mountain, burning like lava within–it had been bliss. With this gift, he hoped to pass on that magic to J. P. and Floyd.

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The sky took on the gray of early dawn.

“Hey, Squid,” said Knox. “You’ve been up all night! Maybe it’s time for us to head home.”

“I’m not tired, Dad,” said Sempervirens.

“I am,” said J. P.

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The party was winding down as Joel arrived. He’d been in the middle of drafting a chapter of his novel when J. P. had texted that the wedding was on. He finished the chapter shortly before the sun rose, but he still wanted to congratulate the couple, even if he had missed most of the celebration.

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Kitten Nell played on, and Sugar discovered that she had, indeed, learned something from her performance.

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Kitten Nell had played with passion and grace, restraint and courage, abandon and care, and it felt, to Sugar, a little like living, and a lot like love.

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New World Symphony: Cloud and Pine

“Wait!” Cypress yelled. “I’m coming! Hold off on the rings!”

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While Jeffrey Pine’s sister raced towards the wedding arch, he and Floyd Cloud stretched time the way they liked to.

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Across the block, Rae Rei and Redbud, just finished with closing up the store, also ran to catch the ceremony.

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While they waited for the guests, J. P. looked up at the stars.

“That’ll always be our constellation,” he said. “Orion.”

“Oooh,” joked Floyd. “How romantic! A sword and a belt!”

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Since Floyd had moved in a few months back, life had grown sweet for both of them. They often stayed up all night, talking, playing chess, making love, and then slept the next day through. They had so much time.

Rae Rei managed the store while Redbud and Sugar kept the gallery fully stocked, which meant that J. P. could take the day off any time he wanted.

And with Floyd around, he often wanted to take the day off.

They’d stayed up all night the night before. Floyd was in the process of telling  J. P. about his childhood and youth, starting with his earliest memories and working forward. That night, Floyd told stories about his tenth summer. He’d discovered Emerson that summer. His mom had started him on Thoreau, but all those nature scenes were a bit raw for Floyd. He didn’t like thinking about lizards and mud. But Emerson’s nature poems had a dryness that pleased Floyd.

“Can we remember a whole summer by remembering a poem?” Floyd asked J. P. as they sat on the upper deck, gazing out over the city lights across the park. “‘I see my empty house, I see my trees repair their boughs’–those lines, even now, call up that whole summer to me. That was the summer I learned what loss meant.”

As J. P. leaned into Floyd, listening to him tell of that long ago time, he caught the tail of the dream that Floyd had let go of during that ten-year-old summer. That was the year Floyd realized that he and his mom would never be returning to their old home, but would live on the road, vagabonding from seminar to seminar. “It’s good not to have attachments,” his mom had said when she became aware of Floyd’s grief.

“You don’t have to give up what you wish as a child,” J. P. whispered that night. They looked up at Orion. “I like to feel I belong. It’s a good wish to have. And when you’re grown, you can make your wishes true for yourself.”

They lingered in bed after they woke late that afternoon. When they finally rose to stretch, Floyd said, “I dreamed of my childhood house, and the door was wide open.”

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“Was I there?” J. P. asked.

“You were the one who opened the door!” Floyd replied.

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“I’d love if I could get your old home back for you,” J. P. said.

“If I have a home now,” Floyd continued, “it’s because of you.”

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J. P. thought back to how lonely he’d felt during his first few months here, before Floyd moved in–though he had hardly let himself admit his loneliness back then. Now, he had someone to cook for, someone to share meals with.

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They’d held many conversations about their wedding. Some days, they wanted to elope: it had become something of a family tradition. Sometimes, they wanted a civil service at the courthouse, “because we can” and so that they could stand as part of history.

But sometimes, they wanted the whole thing: the wedding arch, the bartender, the caterer, the entertainer, and as many friends and family as could fit. They even bought an old arch and twelve chairs that they found at a consignment shop and stored them down in the basement, just to be ready.

“I think we should get married today.” Floyd said as they ate. “This evening. Right now.”

“I doubt anyone can come at this late notice.” J. P. replied.

“OK,” said Floyd, “then it’ll just be us, the arch, and that great vast sky.”

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J. P. couldn’t deny Floyd. He called everyone: Davion to tend bar, Meggles to cater, Kitten Nell to entertain, and for guests, all the members of ZenPines, all the family, and as many friends as would fit.

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The men changed. “Our tuxes match,” said Floyd.

“Here, let’s switch ties,” said J. P., and they quickly untied their own ties and retied them onto each other.

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“Is this the day you become my uncle for real?” Sempervirens asked Floyd when she met him out at the side yard.

“It is, Squid!” Floyd answered. “Now we’re officially family!”

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Nathanael felt proud of his grandson. One of the gifts of staying ever-young, Nathanael realized, was seeing the family grow. He and his grandson had always shared a special friendship, and he couldn’t help but take some pride in the man that J. P. had become.

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Nathanael chuckled when he noticed that he’d carried two drinks out with him to the seats near the arch. One of them was for Tamarind, he realized. How funny that even now he still expected his wife to be by his side at every family event!

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“Is this seat taken?” Sabreene asked.

“No, of course not!” replied Nathanael, standing out of respect. “Only by my memories!”

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The family and friends gathered.

J. P. complimented Floyd on his tie, his handkerchief, his cuff links, even the little pearl buttons marking a straight line down his shirt.

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“Did you guys get married like this?” Vi asked her dad.

“Nope,” replied Knox. “We got married in a garden. Just us and a lemon tree!”

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Sugar remembered her own elopement with Ren, also in a garden with a lemon tree.

Sugar felt grateful for this family. Each person a miracle–like every person, really–but these ones were part of her.

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J. P. spoke so softly that only Floyd could hear, whispered promises that made Floyd glow.

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Redbud remembered that overwhelming feeling of young love. She still felt that way, whenever Tomas’s spirit was near.

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“Look how good they are together,” Wade said to Miss Penguin.

“They’re adorable,” replied Miss P. “Simply adorable.”

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As J. P.’s oldest friend and best man, Wade stood beside him to witness the exchange of rings.

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Sempervirens had never seen such an exciting celebration–even confetti. She wanted to sing or cheer, but all the grown ups stood around with mouths smiling and eyes crying.

“Are you sad?” she whispered to her mom.

“No, happy,” said her mom. “Well, sad, too, maybe. Happy-sad.”

“Full hearts,” whispered her dad, and Sempervirens nodded. She was simply happy, through and through.

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Sabreene was the first to congratulate J. P. while the other guests raced upstairs to lay out the snacks for the reception.

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“This is such a happy day!” Sabreene said.

“That it is!” agreed J. P.

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