The thing was, Jupiter was just trying to live a normal life like a normal girl. You know, a normal girl with a normal half-wolf winged boyfriend.
Normal. Ish. Normal adjacent. Maximally normal, given the givens. Because being queen of Earth all of a sudden was a lot to take in. Most days Jupiter kind of went out of her way not to think about it. Normal helped.
And okay, so she may have pulled a couple of strings to get herself a slightly nicer job, but most people wouldn't consider securing low-level temping work to be an abuse of global monarchy.
It was a nice, normal temp job in a nice, normal insurance agency. Jupiter wore cute sweater sets and ballet flats to the office and ate her packed lunch in the break room on cold days, and on a park bench when it was warm.
She saw as much of Caine as she could: dinners at the Greek place on the corner, weekend adventures. One weekend she took Caine to the beach—late summer, right before the end of the season—and snapped a cute picture on her phone of him eating an ice cream cone on the boardwalk. She got a print of it and put that print in a nice frame and brought it to her dim little cube at the agency and propped it up next to her keyboard. It was a really sweet picture. The afternoon sunlight gleamed in Caine's short, thick hair and he looked happy and relaxed, his shoulders curled a little, protective, around the ice cream cone. Jupiter looked at the picture a lot. Seeing Caine look happy was pretty much her favorite thing in the world.
And Caine seemed happy—really happy. At least at first.
In those first delirious days after they'd saved the earth, he'd stuck to her like a shadow, jumpy and joyful and anxiously attentive. And she'd been grateful for that vigilance, honestly. But eventually they'd both calmed down enough to start thinking a little about what came next, and Jupiter had declared:
Caine had tilted his head—so like a dog that Jupiter had to physically restrain herself from giving him a nice pat. She wondered if he'd even be offended.
"I need normal," Jupiter went on. "Now. I need a normal life, a normal job, a normal love life, normal everything. I'm gonna go nuts otherwise. It's all just been too much, you know?"
Caine was listening intently, trust written across his sweet, open, beautiful face, but Jupiter could see the moment he misunderstood her. All the contentment bled right out of him. He looked like someone had just stabbed him in the heart—like Jupiter had just stabbed him in the heart. But worse than that: he didn't look surprised.
Caine nodded woodenly and started to stand up. "I'm so sorry," he said. "I understand. Of course you want a normal—"
"No!" Jupited exclaimed, louder than she'd meant to, grabbing his hand and tugging him back down. Several people sitting near them suddenly looked pretty interested; probably McDonalds had been the wrong place to try to have this talk.
"No," Jupiter said again, and this time she gave into her impulses and reached out to smooth Caine's hair a little. He leaned into her hand almost unconsciously, his eyes fixed intently on her face, tracking back and forth.
"No?" he echoed, hopefully.
Jupiter looked around. Yup. They were definitely being live-tweeted by at least one fries-munching onlooker.
"Let's, uh, walk and talk," Jupiter suggested.
Outside, the sun was just setting. The wind was a little brisk, and Jupiter wished she'd brought a jacket. On cue, Caine leaned in, wrapping one warm arm around her. Jupiter snuggled into his side. He smelled really good.
They walked on in silence for a little while as Jupiter worked on finding exactly the right words.
"I want a normal love life with you," she said finally. "I want you to be my normal love life."
Caine nodded seriously.
"What's normal?" he asked.
Jupiter waved her hands helplessly. "You know," she said.
Caine shook his head. "I don't," he said. "You're the human queen of earth and also a Russian American cleaning-lady-turned-office-worker and I'm a canine hybrid interplanetary legionnaire. We might have different ideas..." he trailed off, looking nervous.
"...about what normal is," Jupiter finished. That made sense. "Okay. I'm talking about, like, dating. You know, going places together or hanging out together, and holding hands and kissing and stuff. And I guess I want to be exclusive with you. So we're only dating each other. And kissing each other. And, you know, eventually doing other stuff with each other."
Caine flushed a violent red. Jupiter laughed out loud, delighted. "Did I make you blush?" she said.
Caine flushed even redder and didn't say anything. Jupiter took pity on him and moved on. "Anyway, that's what I mean when I say 'normal,'" she said. "What do you think?"
For a moment, Caine stood looking into the distance, where the first stars would be rising over the rooftops if New York didn't have so much light pollution. His profile, thoughtful and strangely serious, looked like it had been lovingly carved out of Italian marble or something. It just wasn't fair, how beautiful he was.
Eventually he turned to her, solemn and sincere. He nodded, and Jupiter almost thought he looked sad. "I can do that," he said.
And then he grinned and planted the world's tiniest, most adorable kiss right on the tip of her nose.
"Boop," he said, and Jupiter spared a moment to pity literally every other girl and roughly ten percent of all the boys on earth because Caine was hers, and not theirs, and they would never get to hear him say "boop" very softly from nose-kissing range.
So they went hard on "normal," and normal was awesome. Jupiter plowed through her data entry at the office during the day and went out for dinner or movies or walks in the park with Caine at night and on the weekends. He'd found an apartment near her family's place, so getting together with him was easy. Jupiter was working up to introducing them, but gradually. Her family was a lot to take. And Caine, for all that he was a canine hybrid interplanetary legionnaire, could be a little shy.
After a couple weeks, Caine got wind of a corner where construction dudes hung out in the morning hoping to be picked up and driven to sites for a day's under-the-table work. He must have caught onto the work pretty fast because soon it seemed like he was getting picked up pretty much every day for some renovation or demolition or whatever. Jupiter liked to picture him walking across iron girders high in the sky like those old photos of guys building the first skyscrapers. He'd be safe because of his wings. But Caine told her he was mostly doing stuff with plaster in pre-war apartments. No wings required.
Caine caught on pretty quickly to earth standards of "normal." He found cute restaurants to take Jupiter to. He planned little outings for them on the weekend—the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, milkshakes at some hole-in-the-wall in the Bronx that were the best Jupiter had ever had—all sorts of classy-but-cheap-but-fun dates.
"You're such a good boyfriend," Jupiter said, half-teasing, planting a noisy kiss on his cheek. They were standing in line for a movie and Caine was clutching a bucket of popcorn the size of his torso.
Caine shuffled his feet awkwardly, staring at the popcorn and not meeting her eyes. "Well, I can't really take credit—I mean," he stammered, "It's not—"
Jupiter waited, wondering where this was going.
"The guys have been giving me tips," he said finally.
And it all came out: at a loss for how to be a "normal" boyfriend, Caine, had turned to the dudes he met on construction sites for advice. It sounded to Jupiter like he'd strongly implied he was dating the CEO of an insurance agency, not a lowly temp, but she was willing to let it slide since she wasn't exactly a lowly temp, after all. Or not entirely anyway.
And the guys—most of them recent arrivals from Guatemala and Honduras—had apparently taken pity on Caine and made it their business to improve his game. It had evidently been Martin's suggestion for Caine to take Jupiter out for milkshakes, and Jorge had suggested the Staten Island Ferry.
"I had to learn Spanish pretty fast," Caine said, and Jupiter did some math in her head. He'd only been doing construction work for about five months.
"I'll say," she said, but then the theater doors opened and they were filing in.
Sitting in the darkness, snuggled up next to Caine, Jupiter felt affection bubble up so strongly she almost couldn't sit still. Caine took being her boyfriend so seriously that he went out looking for advice—and found it! She found it weirdly, wonderfully moving.
Still, she wondered a little that his construction buddies hadn't given him more tips on... Well, on getting into her pants. Honestly, Jupiter was beginning to think she probably needed their advice on getting into Caine's pants.
They'd been together nearly 6 months—six months of holding hands, chaste kisses on late-night subway rides, and a few less-chaste make-out sessions at Caine's apartment, but Jupiter had never spent the night and she'd certainly never seen Caine with his pants off. And it was fine, it was fine, Jupiter didn't want to push and Caine was pretty clear—and sweetly bashful—about his limits. But still, she was beginning to wonder what was going on. Did he think she didn't want to go further? She'd made it fairly obvious that she did. Or maybe he wasn't anatomically...human? Down there? Or maybe he just didn't have a sex drive? But neither of those seemed right either—Jupiter had seen the outline of a very nice hardon against the fabric of his jeans the last time things had gotten a little heated. She'd been so worked up at that point that her mouth had actually watered, looking at it. And Caine had seen her looking, and she'd seen him see... seen his eyes get dark and eager—he wanted it as much as she did. So why was he holding back?
A week later, she finally decided to just ask. And it was as excruciating as she expected. Worse, actually.
"I'm sorry," Caine said, miserably, picking at the pilling fabric of his couch. He'd carried it single-handedly into his apartment after finding it on the curb outside the building one evening. "It's not normal, is it." His face crumpled.
"Nonono," Jupiter said, hurried, "no, you're perfect, you're great, it's fine." She grabbed his big hand, squeezed it between her own, trying to radiate reassurance. "I was just confused, I guess."
"I'm sorry," Caine said again, with a look of such absolute misery on his face that Jupiter's heart almost broke. "It's not that I don't—it's just—I want—I wish..." he trailed off, looking near tears.
Jupiter gathered him into a hug. He tipped into her gratefully, his big, warm body curling into hers.
"Jupiter, I just can't," he whispered into her neck. "I'm so sorry. I love you so much—"
Jupiter shivered. They'd never said the words before.
"I love you too," she whispered, and Caine pressed even closer into her arms. Jupiter found herself petting his wings, stroking her fingers through his feathers, tracing gently around the seam where they emerged from his body, rubbing the thick muscles and tendons at their base. After a few minutes, Caine let out a shuddering sigh and his whole body relaxed. His hands crept around her waist, and Jupiter pressed a kiss to his temple.
They stayed there, intertwined, just breathing, for a long time.
Of course that wasn't the end of it. Jupiter would probably have been willing to live in a state of near-constant sexual frustration for pretty much ever, just for Caine, but even with their usual routine restored, Caine didn't seem happy. He made an effort to smile, almost selling it except for the sadness in his eyes. He did sweet, funny, unexpected things like taking her to a holiday craft fair and buying her new socks ("that my queen's toes may aways be toasty"). He talked her into renting a car and driving upstate to hike, and then talked her into scaling a near-vertical cliff with him so he could gather her in his arms and hurl them off the top, his shining, powerful wings catching the air and sweeping them up and out over the valley.
He made Jupiter very happy. But Jupiter couldn't seem to make him happy, and that was bugging her more and more every day. Caine deflected every question, every comment, that strayed to close to "what's wrong" or "you aren't happy," until Jupiter found herself staring at her ceiling at 4am one morning, wondering what options the queen of the world and an alien canid with wings had when it came to doctor-patient confidentiality with couples counsellors.
That was kind of the final straw.
So Jupiter put in for a personal day at work, rented a car for the day, and drove out to visit Stinger.
"I love him and he loves me and he's miserable and I'm desperate," she said, wrapping up the whole story where they sat at Stinger's homey kitchen table. Stinger stared down at the dregs of his tea. (Jupiter had watched with some fascination as he emptied nearly a third of the honey bear into his mug before drinking it.)
"Yeah," Stinger said finally, "I'm not surprised."
"Is it culture shock? Is it a class thing? Is it something biological? Because I'm really open-minded, and I'm really *really* stubborn, and I want to fix this—"
"You love him?" Stinger interrupted.
"Yes. More than—yes."
"Excuse me?" Jupiter said, her brain grinding to a halt for a moment. "That's not—what?"
"That's what he wants," Stinger said, finally looking up from his cup. "That's what'll make him happy."
Jupiter sat back in her chair, unsure of what to say.
"Unless you don't want to," Stinger said. "But if you don't want to, the kind thing would be to break if off now."
"I—huh," Jupiter managed. "No, I don't want to do that."
"Then marry him," Stinger said.
"And don't make it some kind of utilitarian courthouse thing either," he added, glaring at her. "That'll just break his heart worse than you stringing him along like this."
Jupiter frowned. "Explain," she said, and put a bit of Queen-of-Earth into the order.
Stinger rubbed his eyes. "Okay, listen," he said. "You know how canid splices are kind of the lowest of the low?"
"They're bred to fight and die," he went on. "They're less valuable—less valued—than animals. They don't even get names unless they claw their way up high enough in the Legion."
Stinger paused and drained his cup of tea.
"They get one thing," he continued. "They get one day. Their wedding day. A day to be a person—to be seen. To be beautiful and cherished. To be human. Splices have elaborate wedding rituals. Elaborate nuptial costumes. Most of their wealth—if they have any at all—goes into the wedding day. If Caine had lasted in the Legion he would have married eventually, and he would have had that day."
Jupiter opened her mouth to speak—she wasn't even sure what she wanted to say—but Stinger interrupted her.
"And that's another thing. You haven't deflowered him, have you?" he glared at Jupiter.
"Er," Jupiter said, taken aback, "no. He, uh, wouldn't let me."
"Good," Stinger said. "I'd say shame on you for even trying, but you didn't know."
Jupiter sighed. She knew she was going to hate whatever was coming. "Know what."
"Canid splices save themselves for marriage," Stinger said.
Jupiter put her head down and bonked it gently on the table.
"I'm a monster," she moaned.
"You have to understand," Stinger said. "A canid legionnaire knows his body isn't his. His body is a tool for killing, to be wielded by the Legion. There's one thing he can choose to do with his body—one thing that's not ugly and violent. One beautiful thing. So he guards it carefully. It's the only thing he has to give."
Stinger got up and took his cup to the sink. He rinsed it out and dried his hands on a cheerfully embroidered dish-towel hanging from the oven door.
He returned to the table. "Caine isn't in the legion anymore," he said. "But I doubt it matters. This is his culture. He's been waiting for his wedding day his entire life, and now he's being courted by the Queen of Earth herself and it hasn't even occurred to her to propose. He's probably too over-awed to bring it up. Or else he's trying to hard to fill some roll he thinks you want him to fill."
"I told him I wanted 'normal'," Jupiter said miserably. Stinger winced.
A silence settled in the sun-drenched kitchen, until Jupiter finally broke it.
"I've got to marry him," she said.
Stinger nodded. "You'd better," he said. "I've got this nice shotgun I don't have much cause to use, and I would rather not employ it in hustling you into a church. But I owe Caine Wise my life several times over and he's the best man I know, canid or apian or otherwise, and you'd better believe I won't hesitate—"
"I am the queen of earth," Jupiter said mildly.
Stinger deflated. "So you are. Apologies, Majesty."
"Also it isn't necessary," Jupiter added. "I'm going to marry the shit out of him."
The first step was obviously to propose. Jupiter had grilled Stinger about canid betrothal and wedding traditions and had been relieved to learn they tracked pretty well with the practices she'd grown up with.
So Jupiter told Caine she had a surprise for him, and pulled a few queen-of-the-earth strings to get them a dinner reservation at Jean-Georges. Champagne, a single rose at the table, the works. Jupiter had seen enough movies to know what the set-up for a proper surprise proposal looked like. And Caine loved it, she could tell: he leaned into the hand she placed on the small of his back as the waiter led them to their table in a private alcove in the back. He blushed sweetly when she presented him with the rose. And he sipped his champagne, his color staying high as they worked their way through the best meal Jupiter had ever had. Jupiter was a little more liberal with her champagne; she found that she was unexpectedly nervous, and had to excuse herself to the bathroom more than once to check that her hair was still swept up in the elaborate up-do the ladies at the corner salon had given her.
Caine, of course, was flawlessly and effortlessly beautiful in a simple suit that somehow disguised the bulk of his wings and flattered his figure, trim waist and long legs and all.
And then the meal was over and there was no more putting it off. It was time. Jupiter's heart started beating so hard she felt like she would rattle out of her seat. Good thing she wasn't planning on staying in it.
She slipped her hand into her purse and found the small black velvet ring box. And then she slid out of her chair and knelt at Caine's side.
Caine's eyes got very, very wide, and he sat very, very still.
Jupiter cursed her shaking hands as she fumbled the box open and presented it to him. Inside lay her grandmother's engagement ring—a gift bestowed after a (merited) scolding from her mother about the rudeness of "proposing to young men your family never even *met*."
(Jupiter had nodded and apologized and promised to bring Caine over right away for Sunday dinner, and had silently thanked the stars and the fates and pure random chance that she'd ended up with a mother who would yell at her for not having introduced her boyfriend but never say a peep about the fact that her daughter was planning on proposing to a man using a woman's engagement ring.)
Caine stared, transfixed, at the ring, a modest but brightly glittering blue sapphire. Jupiter had had it resized—she was reasonably confident it would fit him. She hoped it would fit him. Oh god, this could all go badly so easily. Her heartbeat ratcheted up another notch.
Jupiter cleared her throat, and Caine's gaze jumped from the ring to her face. Tears were standing in his eyes.
"Caine Wise," Jupiter said, her voice shaking. Suddenly she was so overwhelmed with emotion that she could barely speak. "Please marry me."
The tears welled over and spilled down his face. Caine's mouth was doing something that might have been a smile or might have just been him trying not to cry. Jupiter couldn't tell which. She was trying not to cry too.
"Also," she blurted out, "this was my grandmother's ring and my mom says you have to come over for dinner on Sunday."
Caine hiccuped a polite and—presumably—happy little sob.
"Please say yes," Jupiter pled. "Say yes. Say you'll marry me."
"Okay," Caine croaked. "Yes."
And then he was out of his chair and kneeling in front of her and then they were in each other's arms and Jupiter put her whole heart into the kiss and felt Caine melt under it, his mouth sweet and warm, his arms twining strong and urgent around her.
"We don't usually get standing ovations in the dining room," the waiter said when he brought them the check some time later. "So dessert's on the house."
Caine blushed scarlet and smiled down at the table. He'd been smiling ever since they had untangled themselves, stood to make a hasty and awkward bow, and sat back down at their table as the applause from the other diners went on.
The waiter swept away with Jupiter's credit card, and Caine moved his hand delicately over the crisp linen tablecloth, the light glinting against the sapphire on his finger. He couldn't seem to keep his eye off it, but that was okay—Jupiter couldn't either. She'd never thought of Caine's hands as particularly elegant, but the simple silver band and the shining blue stone drew the eye and made her realize how beautifully-shaped his blunt fingers were, how expressive their gestures.
A quiet smile was playing over Caine's face. He looked up from the ring on his finger and caught Jupiter's eye, and she thought he had never looked more beautiful than he did in that moment.
Dinner with Jupiter's family was horrible. Of course. But on the whole it went as well as it could possibly have gone. Caine arrived exactly on time—which meant nobody was ready for him. Jupiter was furiously peeling potatoes over the kitchen wastebasket, Aunt Nino was yelling at Vassily, the table wasn't set, and the dumplings weren't even made.
Jupiter started to set down her potato, but her mom stopped her with look. "I will go," she said ominously.
Jupiter watched anxiously as her mom headed for the door, drying her hands on a dish-rag. When she opened it, Caine was on the other side, wearing clean pants and a cozy sweater. He was holding a bunch of bodega flowers and a bottle of good vodka.
Jupiter's mom shamelessly looked Caine up and down. And up and down.
"Hi," Caine said. He smiled awkwardly, his nose crinkling up just a little. It was adorable, because he was adorable.
"Okay, I understand everything now," Jupiter's mom called to Jupiter in Russian without looking away from Caine. Jupiter felt her face heat. She peeled faster. The sooner dinner was on the table the sooner dinner would be done and poor Caine could get out of there.
Caine made himself extremely popular at dinner by eating four full plates of food, including at least eighteen dumplings. This also had the advantage of keeping his mouth busy, so he had an excuse for having very little to say. Jupiter mostly answered for him—well, she answered the reasonable questions and glared at the rude ones.
"What's with your ears?" Vassily's girlfriend Merlene asked and Caine stopped mid-chew, looking mildly alarmed. Most people didn't ask outright.
"Birth defect," Jupiter said sharply, "and he's very sensitive about it."
Merlene glowered at Vassily, who shrugged innocently. Jupiter guessed he'd put her up to it. Next to her, Caine hastily swallowed.
"Is there more barley?" he asked hopefully, and Aunt Nino beamed at him. "Of course there is," she said, passing the large serving bowl his way. "Why don't you finish it?" Jupiter raised an eyebrow—the bowl was more than half-full. But Caine dutifully went to work.
At last it was over, and Jupiter ushered Caine, clutching a huge carton of leftovers, out the door before Aunt Nino could make good on all her eyeballing and actually goose him. (They had polished off the bottle of vodka by dessert.)
Jupiter shut the front door firmly behind them and took a moment to breathe in the cold, crisp, night air...and the relative silence. God, her house was noisy.
"You did it," Jupiter said, holding her hand up for a high-five. Caine immediately complied, and then Jupiter pulled him down for a kiss.
"I did it," he agreed, smiling. "You shouldn't have been so nervous," he added. "Your family is great."
"You're just saying that because you like my mom's borscht," Jupiter said.
Caine shrugged, unabashed.
"Get out of here before I make you come back in and do dishes," Jupiter said, giving him a little push.
His eyes got wide. "I can do that!" he said. "You should let me help." He reached around her for the doorknob.
"NO," Jupiter said, laughing, and ducked back into the warm, bright house with its mountain of dishes before he could push his way inside with her.
"Bye," came his voice, muffled through the closed door. "I'm definitely leaving now."
There was an expectant pause, and no footsteps.
"Go away," Jupiter said, trying not to laugh.
"Not until I get another kiss," Caine said, and began knocking on the door politely.
Jupiter did laugh then. She pulled the door open just wide enough to poke her head out, and was rewarded with a very sweet, very lingering kiss.
"Get a room," Vassily yelled from the kitchen.
They settled on a Sunday late in April for their wedding, which didn't give them very long to plan. But Jupiter was the Queen of Earth, and while she was reluctant to abuse her powers on her own behalf, she had absolutely no qualms about abusing them to give Caine the wedding day of his goddamn dreams. So she retained an A-list wedding planner whose website said she was booked through the next three years. And she explained to her in no uncertain terms who the star of the show was.
"My fiancé's name is Caine," Jupiter said, sitting in Mahogany's exquisitely tasteful Gramercy office. She pulled up a photo on her phone and showed it to Mahogany, who nodded and murmured, gratifyingly, "My goodness."
"He is very special and very beautiful and I love him very, very much," Jupiter went on, "and I want him to have the perfect wedding day. I want all of his wishes to come true and I'm willing to spend a lot of money making that happen."
To her credit, Mahogany adjusted seamlessly, and suddenly every weekend was a whirlwind of menu tastings, flower viewings, venue visits, and garment fittings, with Caine being gently ushered to the fore. Jupiter learned: that Caine loved asparagus and hated caviar. That his favorite flowers were either white or the palest, palest pink. That although Jupiter was ready to put down a deposit for the Plaza, Caine wanted to get married in Jupiter's family's church—which was a relatively large and presentable Russian Orthodox Church, as far as such things went in Brooklyn. But when Mahogany saw the basement space where the reception would be held afterward, she paled slightly and began furiously shooting out a new raft of emails on her smart phone. Calling in reinforcements, Jupiter supposed.
To be fair, the space was...very church basement-y. Dropped ceilings with stained acoustic tile, fluorescent lights, grimy linoleum flooring, putty-colored paint over cinder-block walls, the works. Caine didn't look at all concerned. He was deep in conversation with the priest, who was offering him stale coffee from an urn on a folding table that looked like it dated from the early 1960s.
"You can do it," Jupiter said bracingly to Mahogany, who actually sneered at her before she regained her usual poise.
"Of course I can," she said, thumbs still flying over her phone as she spoke. "I'm the best."
Her phone rang and she answered immediately. "Griselis," she barked, striding away from Jupiter. "I'm going to need your team. Fuck you, I know you're retired. You're unretiring as of now."
The last words Jupiter could make out as Mahogany stomped up the stairs in her 4-inch pumps were, "One last job, Griselis. The last job you'll ever need."
"Well, that's not ominous at all," Jupiter said and headed over to have some stale coffee with Caine and Father Albert.
In Mahogany's capable hands (or iron fist, depending on your point of view), the details for the wedding came together quickly and smoothly. The last thing to fall into place was the clothing. Jupiter found her dress pretty quickly. She knew what she wanted, and luckily what she wanted was easy to find: a simple cream dupioni silk gown, sleeveless, with a full skirt. But Caine's outfit was trickier. Mahogany shepherded them through a succession of tailors, designers, and "industry disruptors" until they found themselves in a crowded back-room in the garment district talking to a hyperactive Filipino guy named Arvin.
"I'm seeing space fantasy!" Arvin pronounced, prowling around Caine and sizing him up like a piece of very expensive meat. "I'm seeing gothic drama! I'm seeing structure, I'm seeing black glitter, I'm seeing sweeping lines, I'm seeing a floor-length sleeveless matte silver silk jacket over an asymmetrical paneled white linen singlet with a high neck and a hint—just a hint!—of lace at the throat."
He frowned. Then his eyes went wide.
"AND TIGHT-FITTING BLACK MILITARY FATIGUE PANTS," he said, in the voice of a prophet delivering a cosmic truth. "AND CUSTOM TACTICAL BOOTS WITH BLACK-ON-BLACK FLORAL DETAILING."
Throughout the whole diatribe, Caine nodded and nodded and nodded, his eyes wide. "Yes!" he said, when Arvin had finished. "Exactly!"
He turned to Jupiter, happily stunned. "Jupiter!" he said. "He gets me!"
"Finally," Mahogany muttered, and excused herself to have a cigarette outside.
Explaining the wings to Arvin wasn't as complicated as Jupiter was expecting. "The things they can do with prosthetics these days, amazing," Arvin said through a mouthful of pins, clearly not particularly impressed even when Caine extended his wingspan to its full 12-foot width. "Please be careful with those, it's a small room."
Maybe worried that he'd been rude, Arvin gave Caine's muscular shoulder a comforting pat. "They're very dramatic, and they'll complement the outfit beautifully. We can weave thousands of apple-blossoms into them and they'll make you look like you just stepped out of a 12-year-old girl's happiest dream."
Caine beamed. "That sounds really great," he said, a helpless smile on his face. Watching him, Jupiter found she couldn't stop smiling either.
On the morning of their wedding, Jupiter spent a surprisingly peaceful couple of hours with the small army of stylists Mahogany had dispatched to her house. She emerged from their care in her perfectly-fitting silk gown, every hair perfectly placed and smelling faintly of roses.
Mahogany met her at the door. A limo was idling in front of Jupiter's house. "Right on time," Mahogany said approvingly, and they drove a decorous few blocks to Caine's apartment building.
Caine's sparsely-furnished living room was a hive of activity. A team of florists prepped and primped several huge white buckets of apple blossoms for Caine's wings. Arvin hovered over a Caine-sized mannequin supporting the silver silk wedding jacket, making last-minute alterations and improvements, and a team of hairstylists buzzed around Caine.
Caine was standing in the middle of the room wearing a plush, nearly floor-length bathrobe. His posture was ramrod-straight and a stylist was tugging at a lock of his hair with great concentration. Caine stared into the distance, a faraway look on his face. When Jupiter moved into the room he spotted her and smiled a sweet, awed smile.
"You look beautiful," he said, hushed.
"Thank you," Jupiter said, suddenly self-conscious. She automatically reached up to touch her hair and Mahogany swatted her hand away before she could manage it.
"Are you ready for me?" Jupiter asked. Caine nodded. "They're almost finished with my hair," he said, casting his eyes at the gang of stylists, carefully not moving his head. The last guy fussing with his hair gave it a careful once-over and stepped away.
Caine's hair looked amazing: full and soft with just enough texture and the faintest hint of iridescence at the ends—they must have used some kind of space-age glitter wax on it or something.
"Done," the lead stylist confirmed.
"DONE!" Arvin declared from over by the jacket, tying off a thread and snipping it with a tiny pair of gold scissors, which he then tucked into an equally tiny scissors-shaped leather shoulder holster.
"And we'll do the flowers last," Mahogany said from behind her. "He's all yours for now."
"Okay," Jupiter said. She reached her hand out, not breaking Caine's gaze, and Mahogany plopped her makeup bag into it, unasked. "My turn."
"Clear the room!" Mahogany said, clapping twice sharply, and there was a brief hubbub, and then Jupiter and Caine were alone.
"Ready?" Jupiter asked again, zipping open her makeup bag.
"Ready," Caine said, smiling down at her.
Caine was a good foot taller than Jupiter, and he wasn't allowed to sit down if he could possibly avoid it because Arvin said it would crease his pants, so Jupiter ended up standing on a step-stool so she could be face-to-face with Caine.
"Hold this, please," she said, handing him the open makeup bag. He took the bag and she went to work, keeping things very light, very subtle, down to the barest hint of pink sheen across the plushest part of his lower lip. But she went more dramatic with his eyes, smudging dark liner around the outside edges, adding subtle silver highlights near the inner corners, and brushing on a light coat of charcoal mascara. The final touch was a few dabs of palest pink cosmetic glitter, adding an opalescent shine to the tops of his cheekbones, the delicate arch under his eyebrows, and, in a moment of inspiration, the very center of his bottom lip.
Jupiter leaned back, surveying her work. Caine stood with his face tilted up very slightly, his eyes closed and his lips parted. The light caught the subtle glitter, bringing out the angles of his face. He blinked his eyes open and Jupiter's heart skipped a beat. The effect was perfect—his eyes were smoky and intense, the dark liner making the green-gold hazel of his eyes stand out startlingly. His mouth, masculine and beautiful, glimmered with a thin layer of pink gloss.
"You're—you're perfect," Jupiter said, flustered by the results of her own work. "You look beautiful."
Caine smiled, and it was like the sun rising. "Thank you," he said.
Mahogany must have been listening at the door, because she swept in a moment later. She looked critically at Caine's face and nodded once in approval. "Good job," she told Jupiter, and ushered her away. Arvin and the florists bustled back in and the last thing Jupiter saw over her shoulder as Mahogany herded her out the door was Arvin dramatically flinging the bathrobe off Caine's broad shoulders and saying "Now for the fun part!"
"Bye—" Jupiter heard Caine say belatedly as the door shut behind her.
After that it was all a bit of a blur—the limo; her mom, tears standing in her eyes; the cramped family room next to the vestry in the church; clasping Father Albert's hand, her own hand unaccountably shaking and sweaty—until suddenly Jupiter found herself standing near the altar, anxiously wringing the stems of a tasteful bouquet of pale pink peonies and staring at the arched entrance at the back of the little church, where Caine would appear for his walk down the aisle.
Distantly she registered a smattering of friends and family in the pews—they'd decided to keep things small, so there weren't more than 50 people in the church, all told—but it was impossible to focus on anything other than the darkened arch.
At some unseen cue, the string quartet struck up with a quiet, solemn tune. Jupiter startled violently, her heart lurching. As a violin soared into a plaintive theme, she tried to take deep breaths. It only helped a little. The viola joined the violin, and soon a new, hopeful feeling entered the piece, racing towards a sudden crescendo followed by a breathless silence, a held breath, and then—
The cello moved into a joyful melody as Caine appeared at the arched entry at the end of the aisle. Stinger, dressed in an understated gray suit, took his arm and led Caine down the aisle. From her spot at the altar, Jupiter drank him in with her eyes. He was a vision—still purely himself, but a version of himself she'd never seen. The gray floor-length jacket had a regal cut, and it billowed gently as he moved, giving him an elegance and drama that sat naturally on his shoulders. His face was solemn and joyful and sure, and he was staring at her—into her very soul, it felt like. The light caught the faint iridescence in his clothes, his makeup, his hair, making him glimmer very subtly, like a creature from some other realm.
And his wings. Caine walked with his wings half-extended behind him, proudly arched, with the pinion feathers just sweeping the floor like a wedding train. The gleaming chestnut-brown feathers were densey interlaced with clusters of stark white and blush-pink apple blossoms peeking through the plumage. As he walked, stray petals cascaded and fluttered behind him.
Soon they had reached the altar. Stinger patted Caine's arm gently and let him go, retreating back to a pew, and Caine walked the last few slow steps to Jupiter, his eyes never leaving hers. He was purely beautiful, bewitching in a way Jupiter had expected, but hadn't quite been able to prepare herself for. Without meaning to, she reached a hand out as he stopped in front of her, her fingers skimming his jawline tenderly. He reached up and captured her hand in both of his, folding his broad palms around her fingers, and kissing the very tips of them. Her fingertips shone faintly pink when he let her hand go.
Later, if you had asked Jupiter about their vows—which they had puzzled and poured over together, refining them until they were both perfectly happy—she could have told you very little except that at one point Caine's eyes unexpectedly filled with tears and his voice shook just a little. The ceremony was brief but even so Jupiter managed to absorb almost none of it. All she could see, and all she would remember later, was Caine.
The basement was unrecognizable. The mythical Griselis and her team had worked some serious magic on it, somehow transforming it into a sort of nighttime sylvan fairyland. The stained acoustic tile was hidden behind layers upon layers of tiny, shimmering string lights hanging from the ceiling and intertwined with real creeping vines, their glossy, dark green leaves gleaming with a million tiny reflected stars. Springy turf—the greenest, densest grass Jupiter had ever seen—carpeted the floor from wall to wall, and an honest-to-god forest of potted trees gave the space a mysterious, maze-like feel. Elaborately carved dark wood tables and chairs were tucked here and there into little groves, and barefoot cater waiters wafted through the magical forest bearing gleaming silver trays of champagne flutes and exquisite hors-d'oeurves. In a large, open grove at one end of the space there was a grassy dance floor with banks of wild strawberries edging it, and the string quartet was playing from a tiny, mossy island set in a lily-pad-studded pond.
By the time Jupiter and Caine arrived, whisked along by an unsmiling but satisfied Mahogany, the guests had mostly filtered into the reception. Jupiter's mom, standing near the door, caught sight of her and Caine and hurried over, but she was cut off at the pass by a gang of guys Jupiter had never met before in her life. They swarmed straight for Caine, pulling him into a series of extremely enthusiastic embraces, talking rapid-fire Spanish while he responded, beamingly happy, his Spanish slower but perfectly fluent.
Smiling, Jupiter sidestepped the group hug and made her way to her mother.
"Hi, Mom," she said, suddenly shy, as her mother held her at arm's length, looking her up and down, a wide grin across her face. Then she pulled Jupiter into a fierce hug, and Jupiter hugged her back, breathing in the familiar scent of her mother's hair, her favorite perfume, her essential mom-ness.
Finally, her mother let her go. "Someday," she said archly, "someday you will have to explain to me why has your husband wings, and where did all this money come from."
Jupiter nodded. "Okay," she said, not even bothering to try the "cosmetic prosthetics" bullshit explanation they'd cooked up. Her mother was too smart for that, and they both knew it.
"But not today," her mother added, and Jupiter nodded again, gratefully.
And then Caine was there, borne on a wave of construction guys, who he introduced to Jupiter and her mom as Martin, Victor, Little Victor, Jorge, Estuardo, and Luis. And then Stinger was there, and his daughter, who was wearing a simple gown that made her look like an elf who'd just stepped out of the enchanted forest the church basement had somehow become, and then Caine had his warm, solid arm wrapped around Jupiter and she was leaning into him and the string quartet was playing a cover of "Walking on Sunshine", of all things, and Jupiter was pretty sure she'd never been happier in her entire life.
Around 1am, Jupiter and Caine tumbled, laughing, into their bridal suite, and Jupiter, soaring on champagne and good cheer, locked the door behind them dramatically. She spun around, nearly losing her footing, and announced loudly: "I have you now! You're mine, Caine Wise, all mine."
Caine had turned away and was carefully shrugging out of his exquisite jacket. But he turned around when Jupiter said this and crossed the room in three rapid strides, dropping to his knees at her feet.
"I am yours," he agreed, his beautiful face tipped up, his soot-lined eyes on hers. "All yours, Jupiter, forever and ever."
Suddenly breathless, Jupiter found she had no words. So she sank to her knees and pulled Caine in for a lingering kiss. It started relatively chaste, but quickly turned hot and urgent, the slide of his tongue against hers, the press of his body, the smell of his skin driving her wild. Suddenly, Jupiter found herself nearly out of her mind with lust, an urgent need coursing through her entire body.
She pulled away to say: "I want you. Caine, can we—?" and Caine nodded, nodded again, moving in for quick, urgent kisses as though he couldn't bear to stop kissing her for long enough to actually speak. Somehow they made it to the bed and out of their gorgeous wedding clothes, their hair mussed and their makeup smeared, and then it was just Jupiter and Caine, together, finally.
"I don't—" Caine started, a shy murmur, as he ran one broad palm up Jupiter's naked side. "I've never—"
"I'll show you," Jupiter promised.
And she did.