You’re Cordially Invited to Crossroads Station — Chapter 20

by Mary E. Lowd

An excerpt from You’re Cordially Invited to Crossroads Station. If you’d prefer, you can start with Chapter 1, return to the previous chapter, or skip ahead to the next chapter.

“This was just a flash in the string of moments that blurred and ran together and made up a whole life. A single bead that shone and sparkled more brightly than the beads beside it.”

After all the pictures were taken, including every person milling around under the draping branches of the karillow trees in some combination or other, Am-lei’s grandmother held her arms up high and announced, “Everyone follow me!  It’s time for the ceremony.”  A broad grin spread across her wrinkled, human face, and she walked backward, carefully leading the group to a karillow tree with small twinkling, colored lights braided into its draping branches.  It looked like a million fairies lived among those green leaves.

Everyone fit under the sparkling, glimmering awning of the karillow tree and awkwardly arranged themselves in a half circle, facing the tree’s trunk.  Grandma Amy positioned herself in front of the trunk and spread her arms out in front of her, holding out a hand to each of the brides.

Am-lei placed the talon of her uppermost right arm gently in her grandmother’s palm; Jeko took hold of Amy’s other hand with a gentle curl of the tip of her trunk.

Grandma Amy’s smile grew even wider, and she began talking about the history of Crossroads Station — how it was a place where so many different people came together, crossing paths during their journeys through the universe.  A place where some moved on, and others settled down.  A place where people found each other, people who would have never met otherwise.

“Centuries ago, all of our people looked up at the stars and thought, ‘I need to get there.  I need to claw my way up into the sky, even if there’s no air, no warmth, nothing at all up there…  I have to find out.  And when we got up here?  We found each other.”

Jeko’s trunk let go of Amy’s hand, brushed a tear from her own eyes, and then curled up around itself in a way Anno remembered meant she was overcome with emotion.  Jeko had been making that same gesture with her trunk since they’d all been children together.  Am-lei clearly recognized it too, because she reached out her middle left arm and affectionately uncurled Jeko’s trunk with her talon, letting the overcome elephant woman cling to her beloved instead of herself.

Anno tried to reach out and grab Drathur’s hand in sympathy, a mirrored gesture, but she found both his paws were already busy — he was holding Loi still on one side and Mei still on the other.  Both girls, being gently restrained, had their ears flattened in annoyance and looked like they wanted to be causing trouble.  Darsy, meanwhile, had sat herself down in the grass and was fitfully pulling out blades of green from the ground, making a little pile of them.

Anno wondered if she should try to stop Darsy… but she wanted to pay attention to the wedding, not mess about dealing with a bored five-year-old, and no one seemed to have noticed the child’s destruction of the lawn.  Or at least, to be too bothered by it.  Anno would let Darsy play with the grass and Drathur handle the other two.  This moment was important, and she wanted to stay focused on it.

After Grandma Amy finished her preamble, she invited each bride to speak about the other.  Jeko told the story of how she’d first met Am-lei, shortly after moving to Crossroads Station, and how she’d gone from terribly lonely to perfectly happy over the course of playing a single board game.  Anno remembered playing that board game with them — some old cardboard thing with plastic pieces representing spaceships and actual dice to roll.  She’d had fun.  But Jeko and Am-lei had been beginning a many year long process of falling in love.  Just thinking about it, having been there at that first moment, made her feel warm and good.

Next Am-lei talked about the way Jeko had been there for her, through endless video calls and messages, while she’d struggled with studying at Wespirtech, feeling like she didn’t belong and missing her home.  But mostly, missing Jeko.

They spoke so beautifully about each other.  It was a single snapshot of a whole journey; many years condensed down to just a few words, shared back and forth, traded with each other and displayed for everyone watching.

Anno would never see most of Am-lei’s and Jeko’s life together.  She’d been there at the beginning, and she got to be here now.  But soon, so very soon, the performance of their love for each other would be over, and Am-lei and Jeko would return to their actual lives.  Everyone here would.  This was just a flash in the string of moments that blurred and ran together and made up a whole life.  A single bead that shone and sparkled more brightly than the beads beside it.  The other beads were pretty too — but simple, everyday beads, made from polished wood.  This moment was a gleaming pearl.

The brides finished saying their pretty words, and Grandma Amy led them in exchanging tokens with each other — a gold bangle that Am-lei slid along Jeko’s trunk, until it fit tightly a few inches below her face; and another gold bangle, one that opened and closed with a clasp, so it could be fitted just above the elbow joint on Am-lei’s middle left arm.  Am-lei’s exoskeleton didn’t have the elastic give of elephantine skin, so hers had to operate differently.  Jeko’s usually shy smile, hidden beneath the base of her trunk, positively beamed as she closed the gold bangle around Am-lei’s arm.  After all these years, the timid, bashful elephant girl had finally claimed the brazen, bold insect as her own.  And Am-lei claimed her back, eyes sparkling like disco-balls.  Her mandibles couldn’t exactly smile, but her antennae waved in the air like a pair of conductor’s wands, leading a silent orchestra that must have been positively blaring with music inside her heart.  Or whatever organ lepidopterans had instead of hearts.

When Grandma Amy declared the two brides married, Jeko didn’t wait a moment longer before wrapping her whole trunk around Am-lei’s head, matching her hidden mouth to Am-lei’s mandibles and wriggling mouth parts in a kiss that made almost no sense to Anno… but it made her happy to see it, because she could see it made them happy.

Darsy threw fistfuls of torn up grass blades like confetti — fortunately they didn’t fly very far — and Loi and Mei wrested their paws away from Drathur to clap, beginning a cascade of applause from the rest of the audience.

Altogether, the ceremony had been short and informal, but extremely heartfelt.  A strange thing to cross star systems for.  And yet, Anno couldn’t imagine having missed it.

With the formal part of the occasion over, people took turns drifting closer to the brides, congratulating them, and talking.  Everyone was beaming with smiles or otherwise jubilant expressions that suited their species.  Eventually, Grandma Amy raised her voice again to get everyone’s attention and then led the group to another part of the garden — a sunny patch between the elegant curtains formed by the karillow trees, bordered by brightly colored beds of flowers, where several tables had been set up.

The tables were heavily laden with snacks, drinks, and treats.  Mostly finger foods and a lot of different drinks — little shot glasses of fancy, sugary juices in all different flavors of fruit and flower.  Adult lepidopterans didn’t eat solid foods; they only drank liquids through their straw-like proboscis.  Anno remembered that change had been a difficult adjustment for Am-lei after she’d emerged from her chrysalis, leaving her childhood caterpillar-form behind.  She’d missed solid foods terribly and had taken a portable blender with her everywhere for months, refusing to give up the foods she’d loved.

Anno was glad to see Am-lei had finally found ways to embrace her adult form’s nutritional limitations, and her kits were thrilled to take shots of fancy juices.  If you’d asked them, a table full of shot glasses of differently flavored sugar drinks was the best idea ever invented.  Even better than turning into an asteroid robot and floating through space forever.

High on sugar and sentiment, the guests and the wedding party, everyone sharing in the celebration, began to dance.  Jeko’s parents started the trend — two older elephant aliens with their trunks entwined, stepping to and fro, staring into each other’s eyes and twirling in a slow, somber yet beautiful way.  Their dance had gravity to it, and it pulled others in, even before Grandma Amy set up a portable speaker on one of the buffet tables playing suitable bright and sparkly music.

Anno recognized the music — it was something she’d heard Grandma Amy have playing in the background sometimes way back when she and Jeko would go over to Am-lei’s quarters to play.  She’d asked about it once, and vaguely remembered being told it was an old human group that played harp, cello, and flute.  She hadn’t heard this music since her childhood, and hearing it again felt like opening a time capsule in the form of a music box.  Memories and remembered feelings floated on the notes of music like dandelion fluff in a warm summer wind.

Anno took Drathur by the paws, and then he wrapped his arms around her.  They swayed to the music together, dancing and watching their kits dance both awkwardly and enthusiastically.

Finally, the brides joined in the fray, and everyone moved aside to make space for them in the center of the sunny clearing.  The lamplight above glowed like sunlight, and it lit up their white gowns like sun shining on sea foam.  Jeko held her trunk high above her, and Am-lei took hold of the winglike folds of her dress with her uppermost talons and held them high too.  The butterfly stepped lightly, circling her elephant like a moth circling a flame, like two moons orbiting each other.  Always drawn together.  Always moving together.  Always connected.

Continue on to Chapter 21

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