Part 22: link
“Gwen, does your brother drive a blue Ford pickup?” Gaius asks, strolling casually into the kitchen.
Gwen drops her spoon and runs to the door.
“Apparently so,” Gaius chuckles, following with Alice, watching with amusement at Gwen bolts out the front door and jumps on her brother the instant he’s out of the truck.
Elyan hugs her, laughing, as she clings to his neck, her feet off the ground.
“I missed you, too,” he says, setting her down.
“Sorry,” she apologizes, laughing and crying at once.
“Elyan,” Arthur greets his future brother-in-law, extending his hand. Elyan shakes it warmly.
“Charlie,” he greets him. Arthur laughs.
“Why does he call Arthur Charlie?” Morgana asks Gaius.
“I don’t know,” Gaius whispers back.
“Merlin,” Arthur greets his friend, smiling. “Never thought I’d be happy to see your face,” he teases.
“Shut it,” Merlin says. Then he and Arthur hug tightly for a very brief moment. Then Arthur punches him on the shoulder.
“Arthur,” Gwen rolls her eyes. “Hi, Merlin,” she says, hugging him and s’embrasser his cheek hello.
“Come on, we’ll do introductions inside. It’s cold out here,” Gwen says, suddenly feeling the chill. The clouds are dark and thick and low.
“Here, this is from Miss Thea,” Merlin hands her the bag.
“You went!” Gwen exclaims, peeking into the bag.
“Of course we went. She’s brilliant,” Merlin says, smiling fondly.
“What did she send?” Arthur asks, eyes alight.
“Smell,” Gwen holds the bag over.
“Ohhhh…” Arthur groans.
“What is it?” Morgana asks.
They go inside. “Cornbread,” Arthur says, saying the word like it is a sacred thing.
“That good, huh?” she asks.
“You have no idea.”
“Uncle Gaius, Aunt Alice, Morgana, this is my brother Elyan and our friend Merlin,” Gwen says, pressing on, ignoring Arthur and his cornbread.
“Hello,” Elyan says. “Thank toi for waitin’ for us for dinner.”
“No trouble at all,” Alice says. “And speaking of, Gwen, we’d better get back to the kitchen.”
“It’s almost ready. Arthur, give me that,” Gwen says, taking the bag from Arthur.
“You can have some with dinner.”
“It’s nice to see she hasn’t changed,” Elyan says, chuckling as Gwen marches away.
“Not at all,” Arthur says, smiling after her.
“Merlin, that’s an unusual name,” Gaius says. “Come sit,” he invites them into the living room.
“It’s a family name, sir,” Merlin says, following.
“I like it,” Morgana says, smiling at him. Then she turns to her father and says, “You say that as if ‘Gaius’ is a normal
“Thank you,” Merlin says. She’s very pretty. She sounded pretty on the phone,
he thinks, trying not to stare.
“You don’t cook, Morgana?”
“Not really. I help once in a while, but I’m not very interested, honestly,” she answers, laughing.
“She can make grilled cheese sandwiches,” Arthur points out.
“Yeah,” Morgana says, nodding. “And I can scramble eggs, too.”
“You’d never survive in the south,” Elyan chuckles.
“He’s right,” Merlin agrees, laughing with Arthur.
“So you’re from Ireland, is that right?” Gaius asks Merlin.
“Yes, sir,” Merlin nods. “Me mum and I moved here five years ago.”
“Are toi happy with the move?”
“Yes, sir. I’m a musician, toi see, so America is the place to be for that.”
“Yes, Arthur mentioned toi were a jazz pianist.”
“He’s really good,” Arthur says.
“Thanks, mate. I understand Miss Alice teaches piano. And that is a beautiful instrument,” he says glancing over at it. Again.
“Perhaps toi could favor us with a tune after dinner,” Morgana says hopefully. “I’d l’amour to hear toi play.”
“I’d l’amour to play for you,” Merlin answers. Elyan looks at Arthur, a bit surprised. Is Merlin flirting with your cousin?
Arthur looks just as shocked as Elyan.
“Gwen says you’re a carpenter, Elyan?” Gaius says.
“Excuse me, I need to…” Merlin says, standing.
“I’ll montrer you,” Morgana leaps up. She grabs Merlin’s hand and pulls him from the living room.
Gaius peers after them, suspicious. Arthur tries not to laugh.
“Yes… I’m a carpenter, sir,” Elyan says slowly, almost as puzzled as Gaius. He shakes his head a moment, as if to clear it. “Independent contractor. I can fix anything and build almost anything,” he says proudly.
“Very impressive. What are toi working on right now?”
“Well, I got a job buildin’ a deck on a local surgeon’s home. It’s comin’ along nicely, even though his missus keeps changin’ her fool mind about what she want.”
“Women will do that,” Gaius nods, chuckling.
“And I’m workin’ on fixin’ up my own house when I got time.”
“Yes, Gwen told us that toi were able to pay for your parents’ accueil with the settlement money.”
“I’m turnin’ it into a single-family home. Gwen put the bug in my ear. I want it to be nice for Toya and me so we can have room to raise a family.”
“Elyan, toi old softie,” Merlin teases. “I didn’t know toi were gonna propose.”
“Was thinkin’ about doin’ it over Christmas,” he says, a little sheepish.
“Don’t do that,” Morgana says.
“What?” Elyan lifts his head suddenly.
“Sorry, I don’t know toi and I don’t know her, but I am a woman. If toi give her a ring for Christmas, that’s a cop-out. If toi want to give her a ring at
Christmas, fine, but make sure toi have another gift, too. toi don’t want to kill two birds with one stone in this case, even if that stone is a diamond.”
Merlin twitches the smile away from his lips. She’s really smart and she’s not afraid to say what’s on her mind. I bet she’s an amazing lawyer. I bet she and Gwen together are quite a pair, too.
“Really?” That’s all Elyan can manage. He looks at Gaius. Help me out, here.
“I’m afraid I’d listen to Morgana, Elyan. She is a divorce lawyer, toi know.”
“Oh, shit… oh! Sorry!”
Morgana is laughing hard now. “It’s all right, hon. Look: get her a nice collier ou something for Christmas and then propose on New Year’s Eve. That’s much
plus romantic. Do it right at midnight, if toi can.”
“Who’s proposin’? Elyan, toi proposin’ to Latoya?” Gwen asks, coming into the living room with Alice.
“I think so,” Elyan admits.
Gwen smacks his head. “Why didn’t toi tell me?”
“You better get Mama’s ring cleaned before toi give it to her,” she says, looking at him sideways.
“What makes toi think I’m goin’ to give her Mama’s ring?”
“Because I know you. dîner is ready. Go wash up.”
“This nourriture ain’t from that market with that racist checker, is it?” Elyan asks, starting right in after Gaius has a dit grace, thanking the Lord for family and the nourriture and that their guests have arrived safely and for the wedding the suivant day.
“Of course it is,” Gwen says, rolling her eyes.
“You shouldn’t be givin’ them your business.”
“Elyan, you’re thinkin’ about this all wrong,” Gwen says, setting her fork down. “Yes, Alice and I still go there. I go there alone, too. With my head held high. And if that woman is workin’, I go and stand in her line, just so she has to wait on me.”
Arthur smiles to himself. Morgana stifles a snicker, unaccustomed to seeing Gwen interact with her brother.
“It’s not about not givin’ your business to a place that happens to have an employee who ain’t got a brain, El. It’s about lettin’ them know that they’re not gonna keep toi down. Now eat your damn food.”
Elyan picks up his fork, then pauses. “You got any hot sauce?” he asks.
Gwen sighs. “Be right back.” She heads out of the dining room to the kitchen, returning a moment later with a bottle. “They didn’t have any o’ this in the house until Arthur and I came along,” she chuckles. “Somehow I think I’ll be takin’ it with me to our apartment,” she laughs.
“Pass that over,” Merlin says. “No offense, Miss Alice, it’s all really
good. But the hot sauce is just somethin’ we southerners do.”
“‘We southerners?’ Merlin, have toi gone native?” Arthur laughs.
“Finally gave in and tried it one some of Gwaine’s chicken. Aaron dared me. Now I’m hooked, and Mum thinks I’ve gone barmy.”
“That means crazy,” Arthur translates.
“Yes, thank toi for translating English into English, Arthur, we wouldn’t have known otherwise,” Morgana says sarcastically. “Oh my God, this pain au maïs, pain de maïs is amazing.”
“Ain’t it, though?” Gwen says. “I don’t know what she does, but it doesn’t crumble apart ou anything. Gotta find out her secret.”
“Woman on a mission,” Arthur says.
“Who is Gwaine again?” Gaius asks.
“Tavern owner down in Memphis. You’d l’amour him, Morgana, he’s a complete… Guinevere, what is he?”
“He’s the best kind of scoundrel,” she says, laughing. “No regard for rules, flirts with anything in a skirt, but he’s really a good guy. Cooks like a good old southern granny, too. And he don’t segregate, so it was the only place we could meet up to discuss the trial outside of Arthur’s office.”
“Meet up to ‘discuss the trial,’ right,” Merlin teases.
“Shut up, Merlin,” Arthur says.
“Gwen, pass me that fried stuff,” Morgana says.
“The okra?” she asks, passing it over.
“Yes. I cannot get enough of it,” she says, scooping some on her plate.
“One of my favorites, too,” Merlin says. “Pass it over.”
“What else did toi make, Gwen?” Elyan asks. “The gombo and greens I’m guessin’, and the sweet potatoes…”
“Dessert,” Gwen says.
Elyan grins. “Sweet potato pie?”
Gwen nods. “Pecan, too.”
“I am so
glad y’all waited for us,” he says.
After dinner, they all help clean up. Morgana doesn’t even complain. Probably because she’s too busy shamelessly flirting with Merlin,
Arthur thinks, watching how his cousin always seems to be near him, laughing a little too loudly at his lame jokes, and touching him whenever she can. He meets Gwen’s eyes and she shakes her head, rolling her eyes.
“So, Merlin, toi promised you’d play for us,” Morgana says, taking his arm as they head back to the living room.
“Actually, Morgana, Merlin and I have a surprise for Arthur,” Gwen says. “A little wedding present for the man who is impossible to buy for.”
“What? I ain’t impossible,” Arthur protests.
“Yes, toi are. Shut up and sit down,” Merlin says, going to the piano. He glances at Alice, as if he is asking for permission to touch it. She smiles and gives a small nod, settling in a chair beside Gaius.
Gwen stands par the piano, leaning over and whispering with Merlin, conferring quietly about something.
“Okay. Sorry,” Gwen apologizes, smiling.
Merlin starts to play, and Arthur recognizes the tune almost instantly. “Somewhere” from West Side Story.
Gwen sings from memory, the words burned into her soul.
“There’s a place for us, somewhere a place for us.
Peace and quiet and open air wait for us somewhere.
There’s a time for us, someday a time for us;
Time together with time to spare, time to look, time to care.
Someday, somewhere, we'll find a new way of living;
We’ll find a way of forgiving, somewhere.
There's a place for us, a time and place for us.
Hold my hand, and we’re halfway there.
Hold my hand and I'll take toi there,
Somehow, someday, somewhere.”
When she finishes, Alice, Morgana, and Gaius are weeping openly and Arthur and Elyan are even surreptitiously dabbing their eyes.
Arthur is the first to applaud, and soon their small audience is giving them a standing ovation. Gwen brings her hands over her mouth, laughing and crying at once. Merlin wipes his nose on his sleeve.
Arthur comes over and takes Gwen’s hands in his, holding them softly. “That was beautiful. Thank you.”
“I l’amour toi so much, Arthur,” Gwen says.
“I l’amour you, too, Guinevere,” he says, leaning down to Kiss her. It is a soft, tender kiss, almost like the first Kiss they shared on Arthur’s canapé back in Memphis. They feel that same thrill run through their bodies, see the same fireworks inside their heads.
They pull apart, and hear Morgana whisper an awed “Damn” behind them. Arthur leans his forehead against Gwen’s.
“Should I sing something for toi now?” he asks, grinning.
“No!” Merlin answers. “I’ve heard him sing. No one wants that.”
“Play something else, Merlin!” Morgana calls.
“What would toi like to hear?” he asks.
“She likes Motown,” Gwen says.
“Ehm, I need plus instruments for that,” Merlin says, running his hand through his hair. “Too many voices, toi see. How do toi feel about rayon, ray Charles?”
“Excellent,” Morgana says. He could have a dit ‘How do toi feel about Burl Ives’ and she would have agreed,
Merlin smiles and launches into “Unchain My Heart.”
“I think Aunt Alice is in love,” Gwen whispers to Arthur, nodding over at Alice, who is rapt.
“I think Morgana is, too,” Arthur whispers back.
“Yeah, she could be a little less obvious,” Gwen giggles. Then she hears Morgana start to sing along softly, and she squeezes Arthur’s hand.
“Don’t sing, Morgana,” Arthur says. “You’re terrible.”
“Shut up,” Morgana shoots back. But she stops singing.
“Merlin, toi are amazing,” Alice gushes.
“He’s the main attraction at Gwaine’s,” Elyan tells her. “Toya and I go there a lot, and it’s always packed when Merlin is playin’.”
“I can see why,” Alice says.
Merlin stands. “Your turn, Miss Alice.”
“What? Me? No, I can’t follow that. Besides, I’m better at classical music…”
“No, no, I won’t hear it,” Merlin says, dragging her to the piano now. “I want to hear toi play.” He sits her on the bench and then he goes and plops down beside Gaius in the siège that Alice vacated.
“Command performance, I see,” Alice says.
“Do that one, Mom,” Morgana says.
“That bouncy one. The cake thing.”
“Sure, that one.”
“I l’amour Debussy,” Merlin says, nodding encouragingly.
“You know classical music, Merlin?” Gaius asks.
“’Course I do.”
Alice starts playing then, her small hands dancing over the keys, gray head bent as she plays from memory.
It’s a long and complicated piece, and she doesn’t miss a note. They all applaud enthusiastically when she finishes, and she blushes beet red.
“See, this is why I didn’t get into performance,” she says, trying to shush them. “Okay, I’m done.”
“No, you’re not,” Merlin says, hopping up. “Play with me.”
“Yes!” Morgana cries, clapping and laughing.
“What?” Alice’s eyes grow wide.
“Oh, come on, it’ll be fun,” Merlin cajoles. She relents, unable to resist his boyish charm.
It takes a few tries, but eventually Alice relaxes enough and they get used to one another’s styles. They play something slow and Arthur dances with Gwen, ignoring everyone else. They play something fast and fingers and feet tap.
They chat, plus musique is played, they laugh. But the night wears on and there is a wedding the suivant day, so soon the younger men start getting ready to leave, going back to Arthur’s apartment.
“I’m just going to use the restroom before we go,” Merlin says, heading down the hall.
Arthur is discussing something quietly with Gaius and Gwen is chatting with Elyan and Alice, discussing wedding details, so no one notices Morgana slip away.
Merlin comes out of the bathroom and Morgana is leaning against the wall, waiting.
“All yours,” Merlin says casually.
“Are you?” Morgana replies, stepping towards him.
“You’re very cute, Merlin. And talented. I like that.”
“Ehm, thank you?” Merlin says. Morgana is very close.
“Oh, nothing nice to say back? Shame on you, Merlin,” she says, dragging her finger down his chest.
“Oh… uh… you’re very pretty… and smart… and… forward,” he says, backed up against the mur now.
“That’s better. I knew toi were a gentleman,” she says. Then she leans up and kisses him, sliding her hands around his neck.
“Mmph,” Merlin squeaks, momentarily surprised, but his eyes quickly close and his hands find their way around her waist as she presses against him.
Morgana’s tongue slips vers l'avant, vers l’avant and Merlin’s mouth opens automatically, s’embrasser her back fervently now, forgetting they are in the hallway.
“Oh, for the l’amour of God,” Arthur’s voice interrupts them. He is standing at the end of the hallway, hands on his hips.
Morgana pulls away from Merlin quickly, but she can’t stop the grin from spreading across her face.
“I was just comin’ out o’ the loo… she kissed me,
mate, honest,” Merlin stammers. His ears are bright red and he’s also trying not to grin.
“I figured that, judging par how she had toi pressed up against that wall,” Arthur says, smirking at them now.
“Good night, Merlin,” Morgana says sweetly, blowing him a kiss.
“Uh… ’night, Morgana,” Merlin says, ducking his head and walking quickly past Arthur, back into the foyer.
Arthur just shakes his head and looks at the ceiling.
“You and Gwen aren’t any better,” Morgana says.
“Yes, but we’re getting married,” Arthur says. “You met him three hours ago.”
“So? It was just a kiss. He’s a good kisser,” she says, pressing her lips together.
“Don’t want to know,” Arthur says, turning and leaving.
Arthur and Gwen say their goodbyes and Elyan and Merlin follow Arthur back to his apartment.
“All right, I warned my neighbors that toi two were goin’ to be here this weekend,” Arthur says as they head up. “So no one should be callin’ the cops on you. Well, try to steer clear of old man Dobschuetz, though. He’s cranky. All the time.”
“Did toi warn ’em that one o’ your guests is colored?” Elyan asks.
“Yes, I did, and they at least seemed fine. If it wasn’t so blasted late already I’d introduce toi to the couple across the hall. They’ve met Guinevere and they like her.”
“Good,” Elyan says.
The apartment has a few boxes scattered around, Gwen’s things that have been brought over already, but otherwise it’s clean and uncluttered.
“Gaius got a hotel room for Guinevere and me for the weekend,” Arthur says, avoiding looking at Elyan right now. “I’m checkin’ in there tonight, so one o’ toi can have my bed. The other will get the couch. It’s big and comfy, though. Y’all can sort out who sleeps where. Flip a coin ou somethin’.”
“You can have the bed, Elyan,” Merlin says. “You need a good night’s sleep to give your sister away tomorrow.”
“But ain’t toi the best man?” Elyan says.
“Well, yes… wait, toi don’t
want the bed?”
Elyan laughs. “Okay, I’ll take the bed. Thanks, man.”
“I’m just going to pack some things and then I’ll be going. But I’ll be back tomorrow.”
“Oh, good, you’re both in here,” Alice says, poking her head in through the doorway of Morgana’s room.
“Yeah, we’re just having a little girl talk,” Morgana says.
“Can I rejoindre you?” Alice asks.
“Sure,” Gwen says, moving over on the lit to make room for Alice to sit.
“I don’t like the look on your face, Mom,” Morgana says.
“That look that toi get when toi have something to discuss.
“Am I that obvious?”
“Only to me,” Morgana says, chuckling.
“Well, I just wanted to ask Gwen something,” Alice says.
“How old were toi when your mother died?”
“Nineteen,” Gwen says. “It wasn’t that long ago.”
“I am sorry for your loss, dear. For both your parents. It must be difficult.”
“Sometimes it’s plus difficult than others. Like now. I don’t know how they would have felt about me marryin’ a white man, but I’m still gettin’ married. Mama would be so proud that I’m wearin’ her dress. Daddy would have had some words for Arthur, toi better believe that,” she says, smiling.
“They’re watching over you, toi know that,” Alice says, patting Gwen’s hand.
“I do,” she nods. “At least I have Elyan.”
“He’s a good brother,” Alice says.
“Most of the time,” Gwen chuckles. “He’s got a short fuse sometimes, but he means well.”
“Yes, I could see that about him,” Alice laughs with Gwen, remembering Elyan’s commentaires at dîner about the grocery store. “But I… well, did your mother ever talk to toi about… um… when toi get married?”
Gwen smiles and looks down at her hands. “Not really. She told me, ‘Keep your knees together till toi get married, child, and don’t let no man tell toi what to do.’ That’s about it. I think she was waitin’ for, well, tonight, to tell me.”
“I’m sorry, Gwen.”
“I think she did try to, once she knew her time was comin’. But par that point she could hardly talk anymore, so it didn’t really work.”
“Well, the conseil she gave toi was sound, I’ll grant that. Is there anything you’d… like to know?” Alice asks. Gwen can tell that both Alice and Morgana are hoping she réponses no.
“I’m going to the bathroom,” Morgana says, starting to get up.
“Sit down, Morgana. Unless there’s something you’d like to tell me that I very much do not want to hear?” Alice asks, raising her eyebrows.
“No! Mom! Okay, I flirt a lot, but I’m a good girl!” Morgana protests, sitting back down.
Gwen bites her lip nervously. She’s really very good to make herself available like this for me. She doesn’t have to. And I do have a couple questions. Do I dare?
“Does it help if I tell toi I’m just as uncomfortable as toi are right now?” Alice asks.
Gwen giggles. “A little.” She takes a breath. “Does it hurt? I’ve heard it hurts.”
“The first time it will, yes. There’s no avoiding it. It may still hurt the seconde time, too, I’m afraid. Every woman is different, though.”
“A lot?” Morgana asks quietly.
“No, not a lot. It… oh, goodness, it’s been so many years…”
“Sorry, dear, but toi did ask. I think it stings. And it’s mostly irritating because you’re – hopefully – feeling really good and everything’s lovely and then bam.
“That sounds horrible,” Gwen gasps.
“It’s not, I promise,” Alice says, patting her hand. “If things go well, toi forget the pain pretty quickly. But that doesn’t mean that your first time will be as… oh dear… pleasurable as it should be.”
“Don’t explain further, Mom, I think we understand that one,” Morgana says quickly, glancing at Gwen, who nods.
They are all blushing. “If things go well?” Gwen finally asks.
“If he is gentle and understanding. I think you’ll be fine, dear. Arthur always was a sweet boy,” Alice says.
“I don’t want to think about Arthur that way, Mom,” Morgana says. “No offense, Gwen.”
“I don’t really want to, either, Morgana, but we must think of what Gwen needs right now.”
“Thank you, Alice. I know toi didn’t have to do this,” Gwen says quietly. “Um, I have one plus question.”
“It’s silly and embarrassin’,” she says, nervously picking at her fingernails.
“Stop that, Gwen, you’re getting a manicure tomorrow,” Morgana snaps. Gwen picks at the bedspread instead.
“I doubt very much that it’s silly, Gwen. Embarrassing, maybe,” Alice says, chuckling nervously.
“Okay.” Gwen keeps her eyes on her lap. “Is it all right to enjoy myself during… that?”
“Oh! Oh dear. Goodness. Um, yes, Gwen. It is definitely all right. toi should
enjoy yourself. As much as possible, in fact.”
“Well, it’s important, Morgana. I don’t want either of toi thinking that doing your ‘wifely duty’ is just that. It should be fun, not a chore. If it is a chore, then you’ve married the wrong man!” Alice says, crossing her arms over her chest.
Suddenly Gwen starts laughing. “I’m sorry… it’s just… the two of you… and I’m all anxious… and…”
“It’s all right, Gwen,” Alice laughs now, too. “You’re not nervous? ou scared?”
“Not in the bad kind of way. It’s like… Christmas Eve. toi know something good is going to happen the suivant jour so you’re all…” she shakes her hands in the air, indicating her current mood.
“Good. That’s how it should feel, Gwen,” Alice says. “Is your dress out? Does it need pressing?”
“It’s in my room, and I think it’s good. Come take a look, though. Just in case,” Gwen says, climbing off the bed.
Part 24: link