At the wedding of her brother to one of their distant cousins it should have been easier for Fiona to remember how many members of her family actually existed. It seemed any time there was a wedding or any sort of party the number of people who claimed a relation to her quadrupled. As the night wore on even the ones she'd never met at previous family gatherings were easy to recognize either by the look they gave some of the other guests or by how they all seemed to know who she was, that she was unwed, and that she clearly hadn't been asked enough when it would be her turn to marry.
When her plan to stay hidden in a corner didn't work Fiona set about to find someone to converse with that she wouldn't want to stab with any of the swords hung in the hallway outside the dining area. She spotted Charles across the room but Carrie was at his side and as much as Fiona was over it she wasn't feeling that over it especially after an entire day of defending her single status. Henrietta stood in her sightline and more interestingly in Charles's and her loud, obvious attempts to flirt with the man in uniform next to her showed a promising distraction from her own troubles.
"I think it's very brave of her to have come knowing Charles would be here."
Fiona turned her head slightly and gave a tight smile. "Matthew, you are truly too good for all of us. Our poor tragic Duckface is not being brave, she is trying to cause trouble. I suppose I should be upset with this being such a family affair but truthfully I hope she gives everyone something to talk about that isn't Poor Spinster Fiona or my new stepmother, the twenty year old."
"She isn't actually twenty is she?"
Fiona waved her hand in a bored manner. "Twenty, twenty one, twenty five, something like that. She's younger than I am which is all that matters to anyone. Though I suppose she at least wins over me for actually having a husband even if said husband is my father."
Matthew placed a comforting arm around her shoulders and gave her a quick kiss to the temple. "Why aren't you out there finding the Lord or Duke of your dreams?"
"You know I did try a little in the beginning but I'm related to over half the guests and Tom has already taken care of carrying on our proud intermarriage tradition. I don't suppose you would be interested in pretending to be interested in me so my family doesn't think I'm completely hopeless?" Fiona took a deep sip of wine and shot him a sideways looked that showed her request was embarrassing to her but a serious one.
"Fifi, I'd be honoured for anyone to think we were destined to be but I think there's too many people here who would know that's not true or could guess it. I've actually met two very lovely gentlemen already tonight who showed an interest."
Fiona wanted to feel sad that she couldn't even manage a pretend romantic meeting but Matthew actually talking about his love life was too important an event. They had all been waiting for this moment to come and though their love for Gareth remained true and strong there wasn't a one of them that didn't want Matthew to find happiness.
"Oh really? Do tell. I might know one of them and can help."
Matthew looked down at the floor but with one glance over Fiona could see the sad look in his eyes.
"Fi, I'm not there yet which is a good thing because I saw one of them leave with his wife."
He stopped whatever lecture was about to occur with a raised arm that quickly pointed at her cousin Harry.
"If it makes you happy that's the other one."
"Oh, Matthew, it does. That's Harry and he's one of the few members of my family I actually like. You don't have to worry about any unsuspecting wife though I'm not sure how many of our family has figured it out. He brought his roommate from uni home every single year during the holidays and his mother thought he was just a very good friend to someone who didn't have any family in this country. Aunt Violet went to her grave still pining for a daughter-in-law."
Fiona wasn't often distracted by good or helpful things so it pleased her that she might be able to spend her evening playing matchmaker instead of willing Henrietta to punch Charles on the other side of his face.
"I'm sorry for the loss of your aunt."
"Don't be. It's been almost a decade and she was an absolute witch. Now do I have your permission to arrange another meeting between you and Harry?"
"Your cousin is a very attractive man but I'm just not there yet. It feels too soon. I keep thinking I'll spot Gareth on the dance floor."
"Oh, Matthew." Fiona took his arm and led them over to the bar. Some conversations were best had with a fresh drink in hand and this felt like one of them. She ordered two gin and tonics and with drinks in hand they settled on an empty sofa in the foyer out of view of the dance floor. "Darling, I don't want to upset you but I feel I owe it to Gareth to state that he more than anyone wouldn't want you to be alone."
With just a couple of sips Matthew had almost finished his drink. "I know that. I tell myself all the time that he'd be so disappointed in how alone I am but every time I try to move on I end up comparing each one to Gareth and they all fail."
"That is an impossible test to pass but I do understand. I'm not at all trying to truly compare our situations but I do wonder sometimes if I haven't let someone special slip by just because he wasn't Charles. But my darling you are not alone. You have all of us and we all love you very much." Fiona finished her drink and let it burn down her throat as she brought up her next point. "It's just the two of us left in the sad spinster club with Scarlett's wedding to her American coming up. Let's try not to be too sad, shall we?"
"You know, Fifi, Gareth wouldn't want you to be alone either and nor do I. If we're talking cousins my cousin John is moving to London next month. I think the two of you would get on very nicely."
Fiona doubted it much like she doubted liking most people she met but it did give her an idea. "If he's still here for Scarlett's wedding you should bring him. I promise to be as charming and sweet as I can be if you let me bring Harry and you give him a chance."
It took so long for Matthew to respond Fiona was certain he was going to say no. "Fine. That's fine. I suppose I can try."
"Splendid choice. This should make for an even more entertaining evening than I already thought it would be. Do you know Scarlett wants me to wear cowboy boots with my bridesmaid's dress?"
"Aye, everyone in the wedding party is wearing them at Chester's request."
The pair of heels Fiona had hidden in the bridal suite were put on as soon as all of the official photos were taken. Tom and David seemed at home in theirs but Fiona observed that the rest of the non-Texan wedding party members had also changed into more formal shoes to the disappointment of Scarlett.
"Fiona, I can't believe you changed your shoes."
She'd snuck out onto the vestibule for a smoke break and contemplated staying out there all night when Scarlett appeared behind her.
"Sorry, Scarlett, but they just aren't my style. You look lovely in your ensemble, by the way."
Fiona meant it too as much as everything that Scarlett was wearing broke every rule she had regarding formal fashion. If Fiona ever wondered how she could be friends with someone as different from her as Scarlett she reminded herself of how in awe she was of the colorful way in which Scarlett lived and decorated her life.
"Thanks, Fi. Come back to the party. Some of my friends have this dance troupe they're a part of and they choreographed a dance for me and Chester."
"Oh, yes. I don't want to miss that. I'll be in soon. And, Scarlett? Congratulations. I'm so happy for you."
Scarlett ran up to her and the embrace left Fiona warm and content as she remained outside two cigarettes longer. When she finally returned to the reception she bumped right into Matthew's cousin John whom she'd done a horrible job of talking to like she'd promised. He hadn't seemed to mind but Fiona wanted to do her duty since from what little she'd seen of them Matthew and Harry were hitting it off.
"Fiona! I'd begun to think you'd run off. Can I get you a drink?"
"Some white wine would be lovely, thank you."
With glasses in hand they stood on the outskirts of the dance floor and tried not to let the awkward silence engulf them.
He laughed warmly and gestured for her to continue. "Ladies first."
"You seem very kind but I -"
"Alright, sorry, I do need to interrupt. Matthew was very frank in bringing me here to meet you which was very kind of him but the truth is I just started seeing someone and while it's looking serious it's not tell my family about her serious yet. I really just came because I haven't made many friends here yet and I thought I might tonight. So, friends?"
"I can try."
The conversation got easier after that and in spite of herself Fiona found herself enjoying the company. What she enjoyed even more was noticing that Matthew and Harry had remained deep in conversation for over an hour and Matthew hadn't looked at the dance floor once.
Charles & Carrie's Dinner Party
"Fifi, is that Harry with Matthew?"
Fiona rolled her eyes. "Do catch up, Tom. They've been seeing each other for two months now."
She hadn't even noticed Charles behind them until he put a hand on her shoulder. "Matthew's seeing someone? Who? Do we approve?"
With a hand laid over his she nodded. "We approve. He's successful and kind and clearly quite handsome and every time I've talked to Matthew lately he's laughed over something."
Charles tugged at his hair with his free hand. "I just can't believe I didn't know about this. Seems like one should notice when their best friend falls in love."
"Don't be too hard on yourself. I can imagine the whole soon to be a father matter has taken up much of your time."
"I suppose. What else have I missed? Has your knight finally shown up?"
Tom leaned forward in anticipation of her answer so Fiona gently pushed Charles towards the nearest door. "Can I talk to you in private for a moment?"
She received a strange look from both of them but Charles led her towards an empty corner of the kitchen. "What is it? Have you met someone and why don't you want to Tom to know?"
"I'm going away and I don't want to anyone to know."
"Fifi, where are you going?"
"Everywhere. I've got a month planned in Tuscany followed by Rome then Paris then Barcelona or Monaco, I haven't decided yet. I want to see Moscow if I can plan the time of year right or I might spend some time in Berlin." Even as she spoke she started to wonder if she should try for Budapest instead but Charles had the worried sort of his look on his face that she knew would be on anyone's face she broke this news to. "Don't look like that. I want to do this. I know I told you at your ill-fated wedding that I was ready to meet someone but I've tried and it hasn't worked. I don't think London holds much for me and you're all so settled into these beautiful lives. So I'm going to travel and learn to have adventures and eat food I can't pronounce and maybe I'll fall in love or maybe I won't but it will be so nice to get away from the pressure of feeling like I have to."
Fiona was pleased to see it looked like Charles was less worried and possibly like he even approved a little. "You will return to us at some point, yes?"
She kissed him on the cheek and whispered, "Yes."
As they sat around the table at dinner Charles stood with a glass in hand. "I know this is just a dinner party and not really a special occasion but when so many people I care about are in one room it becomes special. So before we eat I want to say I wish you all the greatest happiness possible in whatever form that takes."
He tipped his glass in her direction and she tipped her's towards him. "To happiness."