As the sun set over the hillside of Bridgeport, a small, well dressed crowd gathered together in the back court of Ethan and Ivy’s home. Lamps were lit, flowers were scattered everywhere, the nectar was flowing and soft music was lilting from the stereo into the evening air.
Tristan took a deep breath, smiling shyly at his fiancée in her white gown. ‘I, Tristan Forest, take thee, Katya Jones, to be my wife. To have and to hold…’
The blushing bride beamed as Tristan gently slipped the golden band onto her ring finger, giggling as it slotted into place over her white glove. ‘Oh, Tristan,’ she whispered, smiling confidentially at her husband. ‘I’m so happy!’
‘You’re not the only one!’ Tristan whispered back. ‘Everything is just so perfect…’ He quickly wiped away a tear that was threatening to spill down his cheek; he’d spent the entire morning in tears of joy and had only just managed to compose himself in time for the ceremony, he didn’t want to set himself off again!
‘You may now kiss the bride!’
As cheers, applause, and calls of ‘give her a kiss, mate!’ echoed around the walled courtyard Tristan and Katya grinned at their captive crowd. ‘I’ve made an honest man of him!’ Katya laughed before leaning in to plant a kiss on her new husband’s lips.
‘I do love you, Mr. Forest!’ Katya said as she pulled back reluctantly, stroking her gloved hand down Tristan’s cheek.
‘Aw, wife! That’s so sweet. While we’re doing the whole “I love” thing, I must just say… I love cake. Our wedding cake, specifically. Come on, I need a slice!’ Bursting into laughter, Tristan dodged Katya’s mock-punches and ran over to the other side of the courtyard where the cake was stood on a table, being carefully watched by Dylan.
‘About flipping time, Uncle T! Congratulations on your wedding and all, but this cake has been calling me all the way through the ceremony!’
‘You’re not the only one, oh nephew of mine! Don’t tell your Aunt, but I’ve only gone through with this to get my hands on this beauty. Hey!’ Tristan laughed as Katya digged him in the ribs, having caught up with him. ‘You know it’s not true, my love!’
‘No, no, it’s fine. I accept it. It’s okay. I was only marrying you for the canapés anyway!’ Katya smiled sweetly, wrapping her arms around Tristan. Dylan rolled his eyes, realising that this cake wasn’t going to get cut any time soon while the newly weds were busy trading insults with one another, and looked around the congregation for his plus one.
‘Melody! Are you okay?’
Dylan leant in and placed a slightly bashful kiss on his date’s lips. He could still hardly believe his luck that she’d agreed to go on a date with him, let alone sort-of go steady with him. They still hadn’t got round to ‘that’ conversation yet, but for now he was happy just as things were.
‘Are you having a good time?’
‘Yes!’ Melody nodded, smiling at Dylan. ‘I am, actually. Everyone is really sweet. Your little sister’s adorable!’
‘You can’t have spoken to Robyn then! She’s a bit of a menace. Did I tell you, she’s got herself an…’ Dylan broke off as his father approached the couple, a friendly smile on his face, and cringed. Please don’t let him embarrass me…
‘Hello, you two! Are you having a good time!’
Melody smiled and nodded politely as Ethan beamed jovially at his son. ‘Dylan, you didn’t tell me you had a girlfriend!’
Dylan died a little. ‘Dad, she’s not my girlfriend, we’re just… She’s just…’ he stammered looking at Melody for help, who was looking just as embarrassed as he was.
‘We’re just… I… Er… Oh! I have to go!’ Melody smiled at Dylan as the rest of the crowd began to file out. ‘See you at school, Dylan.’ She kissed him on the cheek before walking up the steps and back into the house.
‘Bye, Mels! See you! …Thanks for nothing, Dad! You are so embarrassing!’
Ethan chuckled. ‘Now then, Dylan! What’s a Dad for if not to embarrass his eldest son in front of his date? Come, sit down.’
‘Be said!’ Reluctantly, Dylan followed his father over and sat down at the table next to him.
‘Now then. I’ve not met this Melody before. I just have a couple of questions. How long have you known her?’
Dylan fidgeted uncomfortably. ‘Ages. We were at Elementary together.’
‘Ah, childhood sweethearts!’
‘Okay, okay!’ Ethan lifted his hand to stop Dylan from getting up. ‘I was only having a laugh! Now, what is going on with this Melody?’
Dylan sighed, rolling his eyes. ‘Do we have to do this now, Dad? I’m tired! It’s a school night!’
‘Now now! You’re never so eager to get to bed on a school night when you’re on the computer or watching television, or out with your friends! Why so keen when your old Dad wants a chat? Now, what’s going on with this Melody?’
‘Oh, fine. We’re just seeing each other.’
‘You know what I mean!’
‘Do you like her?’
‘Of course I do, otherwise I wouldn’t be seeing her, would I!’
‘Dylan!’ Ethan looked at his son sternly, a quizzical eyebrow raised. Ethan sighed again.
‘Yes. I do like her. But I want to take things slowly. She’s way out of my league, so I’m just… Yeah.’
Ethan nodded, understanding. ‘Ah. I see. Well, just so you know, I don’t think any girl’s out of your league. You’re the son of a member of El Tigre, you’re a terrific catch!’
‘Dad, you are so embarrassing! Never say that in front of my friends!’
‘Thanks for everything, sis.’ Tristan hugged his sister one last time on the front steps of their house. He and Katya were moving into their new apartment in the city centre, so it was the end of his time living with Ivy and the rest of his extended family. ‘Thank you. For everything.’
Ivy smiled, holding her brother close. ‘Katya organised most of it!’
‘I don’t just mean the wedding! For everything. Thank you for everything. Especially for helping me to catch that minnow, all those years ago!’
‘Don’t mention it! Gnomes, if anyone had told me that day that the whiny little kid I was helping was my brother, I’d have thought they were insane!’
Tristan laughed. ‘You’re not the only one! I still can’t believe that happened. Of all the benches for you to drunkenly fall asleep on, hey!’
‘Hey! We do not talk about that, Tristan!’ Ivy grinned, ruffling Tristan’s messy hair. ‘Now go! Go set up a new life for yourself. I expect nieces and nephews within the year!’
Grumbling to himself, Dylan yanked his freshly washed pyjamas out of his dresser drawer and pulled them on. He could hardly believe his Dad! How could he have asked if Melody was his girlfriend, right in front of her! Couldn’t he have done what Dads usually do and just not ask at all!? What the hell was Melody going to say to everyone at school!
‘She’s never going to want to be seen with me again!’ Dylan muttered to himself, slamming his drawer shut crossly. ‘It’s so not fair! Why can’t I have normal parents who don’t take an interest in my life!’
‘Dylan’s parents are nice!’
Tensing up, Dylan tried to pretend he hadn’t heard the familiar voice pipe up from behind him and instead concentrated on pulling out the books he needed for school the next day from the pile on his desk. ‘Chemistry, Maths, Psychology…’
‘Dylan! Dylan’s parents nice!’
‘English… Not listening…’
‘Dylan lucky. Dylan has nice parents. Melody not nice. Puzzle no like her.’
‘What? Why not?’ Dylan looked over at Puzzle, who was casually resting on his bed, for the first time. ‘Why don’t you like her?’
‘Melody not nice. Puzzle can tell.’
‘Yes, but why?’
‘Melody not nice.’ Puzzle smiled at Dylan, who was growing more infuriated by the second.
‘Look, just sod off if you’re not going to give me a straight answer! What are you even doing here? What gives you the right to sit there and judge me!’
Puzzle tilted his head from side to side, the little light on his antennae bobbing about erratically. ‘Dylan and Puzzle best friends. Puzzle always here for Dylan.’
‘We are not best friends! Best friends don’t pull pranks and get their friend in so much trouble they’re sent to boarding school! Best friends don’t break things and get their friend kicked out of Arcadia! Best friends don’t bad mouth their friend’s other friends! Best friends aren’t bloody freaks! Look at yourself! What are you even still doing here, I chucked you out ages ago!’
‘Puzzle know…’ Puzzle’s face dropped slightly, his antennae drooping. ‘Puzzle sad.’
‘So what are you still doing here?’
‘Puzzle said… Puzzle and Dylan best friends. Puzzle always here for Dylan.’
‘I’m going mad’, Dylan sighed, massaging his temples. ‘Look, get lost. I want to go to sleep. Go!’
Pausing for a moment, Puzzle finally nodded and clambered clumsily off Dylan’s bed and across the room. As Dylan got into bed and closed his eyes, Puzzle stopped and turned to look at his old friend. They’d been friends for so long, ever since Dylan was a baby… Puzzle had always been there to look out for him, to look after him. What had gone wrong? Puzzle only wanted Dylan to be happy with him…
* * *
‘Ooo! You’ve managed to dig really far today, girls!’ Robyn stared transfixed at the tiny ants inside her antbox, gazing at the complex system of tunnels that were snaking their way towards the bottom of the box.
‘Amazing! You’ve only been in here a week! You’re nearly half way!’ Grinning, she leant forward on the table with her nose practically up against the glass. She barely noticed the sound of her door opening.
‘Robbie, you have got to be kidding me! All you do is stare at those bloody bugs! They don’t do anything!’
‘Yes they do!’ Robyn pouted up at her big brother. ‘They dig! Look! Look at all those tunnels!’
‘Oh, whoop de doo!’
‘Well I think they’re fascinating, and they’re my pets, so that’s all that matters! Keep digging, ladies,’ she said, nodding at the scurrying ants.
‘Oh, whatever! Anyway, it was pets that I wanted to talk to you about.’
‘What about pets?’ Robyn eyed Dylan warily.
‘Don’t look at me like that! Look, I was wondering… Shall we ask Mum and Dad if we can get a pet? A proper one, I mean, a dog or a cat or something. My friend Rory’s Mum has started to run an adoption service, they’ve got all sorts in!’
‘No, I don’t think so.’
‘What? Are you kidding! Why not? Wouldn’t you love a fluffy little kittykat, Robbie?’
‘No!’ Robyn shook her head fervantly. ‘No I would not! A cat or a dog might be really bouncy and might knock the girls over!’
‘The girls? Oh… Oh, fine.’ Dylan frowned as Robyn skipped out of the room, chattering back to the ants about the leaves she was going to fetch them for their lunch. After she’d gone, Dylan scrutinised the box.
‘I cannot believe she’d rather have these than a dog!’ He grunted.