Gilly Craster [11:10am]: oh my god please get here soon
Gilly Craster [11:10am]: i just did a shot of something called fernet while hiding under sam's dad's billiards table
Gilly Craster [11:11am]: tastes funny, do you think its gone bad???
Gilly Craster [11:12am]: actually might be good if it did, can better hide from mrs tarly while in hospital
When Sansa arrives at Horn Hill, the sun is turning the beech tree leaves translucent green, the sky is cloudless, and the air is buzzing with summertime. All of the ice in her iced latte is melted, and her once-crisp poplin shirtdress is sticking damply to her back. She has been driving for five hours, and she desperately needs to pee, and her mobile is buzzing frenetically on the passenger seat with texts from Gilly—texts that started out sparse and reserved, as they usually are from Gilly, and have increased to a fever pitch as the morning has worn on.
Gilly Craster [11:15am]: i told mrs tarly her curtains were nice and she said THEYRE DRAPES and everyone looked at me funny
Gilly Craster [11:15am]: are u not supposed to tell people their curtains are nice??
Gilly Craster [11:16am]: sANSA HELP
Horn Hill looms at the end of a long allée of hazel trees, a pale Georgian mansion that has been in the Tarly family for generations and generations, crowned with spectacular rose gardens and an elaborate hedge maze with a stone fountain at its centre. When Sansa reaches the front drive, a valet dressed in tails is waiting to park her tidy mint-green Mini among the glossy sleek sports cars of the other guests.
"Oh, totally not necessary," Sansa promises hastily as she rolls down her window, flashing her kindest smile at the sweating valet. "I'm only here for the day. By the time you find a spot for me, I'll be on my way home again!"
Even from here she can hear the strains of violin as the string quartet prepares for the afternoon garden party, which is being held to kick off a week of wedding festivities leading up to the wedding next Saturday evening. Baffled and awkward, the valet fumbles before directing Sansa to a corner of the park, out of the way of the other cars. If it's this packed now, hours before the party is meant to start, Sansa can't imagine what the actual wedding will be like next weekend. Poor Gilly.
Maybe she should have agreed to stay the whole week, like Gilly wanted. Sansa suppresses a twinge of guilt as she slings her leather and canvas weekend bag over her shoulder, and shifts her garment bag holding her frock for the party. She shades her eyes, staring up at the mansion. Horn Hill has been featured in Vogue, Town & Country, and Harper's, not to mention multiple other posh magazines, and it looks like it would be. Other people, like distant royals, have paid to have their weddings here. Even Sansa, who grew up adjacent to this kind of wealth, is intimidated by it, so she can only imagine how out of place Gilly feels. Gilly, who still has the 'wrong' sort of accent (according to people like Melessa, who is actually technically Lady Tarly); Gilly, who until very recently worked three jobs just to survive.
Maybe she should change her mind. Gilly needs her; what kind of friend leaves their friend alone like this?
The thing is, she really, really needs to avoid the best man—and as big as this house is, she won't be able to do that if she stays the whole week.
And besides, even if she feels selfish for this, ruining Gilly's already stressful wedding with obvious tension and hostility would definitely be worse. Right? Right. Besides, Gilly's got her maid of honor, Morag, who fits in even less than Gilly does and doesn't mind it at all. Gilly definitely doesn't need Sansa that badly. It's fine.
I'm here, she taps out on her mobile, but at the exact same moment, Gilly bursts forth from the front door in a frothy, high-necked Zimmermann dress that is so entirely not Gilly that the effect is almost comical.
"They have so many tiny forks!" Gilly's voice is haunted and dark as she envelops Sansa in the tightest hug she's ever given. "Why do they need all those forks? What are they for? Also, I think Morag stole some candlesticks."
"Candlesticks?" Sansa blurts into Gilly's professionally-curled hair, which is stiff with hairspray and smells like expensive shampoo. "Is this Les Mis, or—"
"Sansa!" Talla Tarly, Gilly's soon-to-be sister-in-law, comes out the front door in a couture lavender frock, still wearing her boat shoes, with her brown hair half-done. Gilly groans into Sansa's shoulder before releasing her and pasting on the faint, frozen smile of someone who has been horrified into a state of catatonia.
"Talla! I love your dress," Sansa says too brightly, trying to make up for Gilly's silent horror. She does not know Talla well, but she does know she is exhausting. Every time she has met Talla has been on double-dates with Talla and her dull fiance, Robert, where Dickon and Robert stay awkwardly quiet and Talla drinks too much white wine and asks Sansa increasingly embarrassing, personal questions.
"Oh my god, you're so chic as always; have you lost weight? You look a bit more svelte in the tummy than you did last we spoke, that time we all went to Hot Pie's; you're one of those girls who looks better without any extra weight, I'm just the same, isn't it absolutely awful?" Talla gushes, doing the cheekbone bump that only the wealthiest families do. "Mummy is insane, Gill can tell you all about it, and half the guests arrived early to play golf with Daddy, and I think poor Sam is somewhere on the course with them, probably being humiliated by Daddy, you know how it is."
There are few things Gilly hates more than being called Gill. Sansa slings an arm around Gilly's waist as she smiles indulgently at Talla. "Cannot believe we'll probably be doing this all again next year, when you and Dickon get married," Talla adds carelessly as she turns to lead them inside. "And don't play dumb; I bet Marg ten-to-one that he'll ask you sometime this week. Dicky's not terribly competitive, ha ha, but Daddy does like to work him and Sam up—"
"Is Dickon with Sam on the golf course?" Sansa cuts in as they step into the front hall, a whirl of cool marble and gold-leaf cornices and bouquets of peonies and roses in chinoiserie vases. She can hear Melessa's cool, sweet voice from the kitchens, and the string quartet's louder now. On the back lawn, which is as massive as several blocks in King's Landing, there will be a striped awning, dozens of white-clothed tables with costly but tasteful floral arrangements on each one; there will be waiters ready to carry trays bearing heirloom flutes of French 75's around to the guests as they dine and talk about stocks and their children at Cambridge.
"Oh, of course," Talla prattles, and then she turns back to Sansa and Gilly with a flush on her cheeks. "And you know, Jon Snow arrived this morning, and he's there too. Good god, the calves on that man. What a thirst-trap, as the kids say. He's the only man who could make golf shorts look sinful. He's that hockey player," Talla adds at Sansa's carefully blank look—though this was her aim all along. "You know him; plays for the Direwolves, voted Sexiest Man of the Year last year, and I think he won some sort of hockey award, I don't know."
It was the Arthur Dayne trophy, and winning it put Jon solidly on the top ten hockey players of all time list. Not that Sansa has been following his career, because that would be weird. She's a sponge for news, is all.
"Right," she says vaguely, clearing her throat. "I don't really follow sports, but he sounds familiar."
"It's only because you're dating my brother," Talla says carelessly, "you don't feel pressed to go window-shopping. But it doesn't matter, because he brought his horrible supermodel girlfriend along, the one named Val something, frosty blonde, long legs, ugh, and she's not like us normal girls, obviously."
Gilly stifles a snort and Sansa merely smiles at Talla. "Anyway, let's get you settled so you can change. I can tell your hair went a bit flat, so you'll want a shower, of course."
Sansa represses the urge to fluff her hair self-consciously as she and Gilly follow Talla up the enormous front staircase, to a wing that is exclusively guest rooms. The walls here are covered in smoke-blue silk, and between every carved door is a crystal wall sconce that glimmers and shivers with their steps. As they walk, Sansa can hear hair dryers and couples chatting and laughing. "If you were going to stay, of course, you'd sleep in Dixon's room with him. Mummy and Daddy aren't that old. But since you're not staying," Talla sniffs as she pauses at a random door, "you might want your own space to change."
"This is so wonderful! Thank you," Sansa says sweetly, making Talla look pleased. The door opens to a luxurious guest room that walks a fine line between glamorous and stuffy. A fluffy robe hangs on a silk hanger at the door, and the air is heady with freshly-cut roses.
"I'll help her," Gilly informs Talla, not quite making eye contact. "She'll need a lot of help with her, erm, flat hair."
"Don't say that!" Talla titters at Gilly. "Don't worry, Sansa, it's not that bad," she reassures her.
When Talla finally leaves, Gilly shuts the door and Sansa realizes her shoulders are shaking with silent laughter.
"Not like us normal girls," Gilly mutters. "She's like a twelve year old. Do you see what I've been putting up with?"
"In one week from now—"
"—eight days, actually—"
"—In eight days," Sansa acknowledges, "you will be sauntering around Pentos with Sam, wearing one of the fabulous outfits I picked out for you, sipping enough Aperol spritzes to forget this whole week, while he tells you everything he knows about feminist guitar makers, or his favorite podcast on frogs, or statue genitalia over the years, or something."
"Aperol spritzes," Gilly prays, closing her eyes and nodding. "Aperol spritzes and sunburn and flat shoes and absolutely no tiny forks. I wish you were my maid of honor. Morag's been useless. I think she's hiding in the bush maze, smoking."
Another twinge of guilt. Sansa clenches her teeth against the urge to change her mind, to promise Gilly she'll stay the whole time. She absolutely cannot do that; the fallout would be so much worse than this guilt, than this distance between them that both of them are just a little too polite and reserved to really bring to the surface. She knows Gilly is hurt that she isn't staying for the full week of wedding activities; and she knows Gilly, perceptive as ever, can tell she feels badly about it.
Sansa unzips her garment bag, her back to Gilly.
"Look, I'd be on my mobile the whole time, worrying about emails and clients," she points out, lifting her sleek navy dress out of the bag and hanging it on the back of the door. It is determinedly cool and aloof; she will not look like she tried too hard today. "I'd be way worse than Morag."
"You could never," Gilly says fiercely, but then she retreats, careful and considerate as always. "Anyway, um, I love the dress. And the shoes. And your hair's not flat at all. And I'm sure Dickon won't try to propose today," she adds, sensing Sansa's worries. "If he does, I'll accidentally spill my champagne on his head, or choke on a prawn, or something."
"Thanks. You know I'm not the marrying kind," Sansa says, glancing back at her friend as she takes the elegant heels out of their storage bag in her weekender. Gilly's lips twitch like she's said something funny.
"Well, not to Dickon anyway," she mutters, but before Sansa can correct her, Melessa's voice is coming down the hall.
"Gilly? Gilly, where are you, darling?"
"Wish me luck," Gilly says gloomily, before turning to leave.
"The men are almost back from golf, and we'll need to be ready," Melessa is saying as Gilly opens the door. Her impeccably-dyed and highlighted brown hair is soft around her jaw and neck, and she's zipped herself into a very tailored, very tasteful dusty-rose sheath that is likely custom. "Oh, hello Sansa, you look lovely as always," she adds absently. "Come, Gilly, oh, look what you've done to your hair, it's all a mess again..."
When they're gone, Sansa looks at her reflection. Her shirtdress is wrinkled across the lap from the ride, and her hair did go a bit flat and lank from the humidity, but instead of seeing that, she zeroes in on the ways she has changed in eleven years: her mother tells her that she looks more and more like a Tully every day, with her sharpening cheekbones and blue eyes, but she also sees the little signs of being overworked and overstressed through university, law school, and a prestigious but stressful job at Steel Street Chambers, where she works in criminal justice and human rights. She looks tired, more tired than she did at age nineteen, anyway. Her hair isn't waist-length like it was then, either. She was so proud of it, and she's embarrassed of that kind of vanity now. Now it hangs just above her bra line, freshly-cut and highlighted because she needed the confidence.
She won't see him. She'll make sure of it. She has no idea how he will react to seeing her, but she knows, at least somewhat, how she will react, and it would be enough to ruin this party. Sansa is just going to stay out of Jon Snow's line of sight as much as humanly possible, and hopefully if he does see her, he doesn't recognize her.
Because there's no good way to explain what they once were; especially not to Dickon, who is in love with her, or to Gilly, who loves her. There's no good way to explain any of it, even to herself.
So she showers and blows out her hair, and after wriggling into a bit of shapewear, she slips into the costly but simple navy dress. She spritzes on the perfume that Dickon gave her. It doesn't suit her, but it was a sweet gesture nonetheless, and he seems to like it, so. She applies a subtle lip and a bit of makeup, and regards her reflection once more.
"Let's do this," she mutters.