Years after it happened, after the events that changed her -- changed all of them -- forged her into something stronger, Ludi and Nat took a rare sojourn into town for some shopping and a movie. They were also going for supplies, things to lay in store for the winter, and for the events that would come with the rebirth of spring. And oh yes, they were going to mail four very important letters.
They didn't do it often, and almost never just for the hell of it. They might not be in hiding anymore, but some old habits were good habits. Some old habits kept them from dying hard.
A night at the mall and the multiplex didn't quite fit in with living mostly off the grid, but sometimes the call of civilization, of normalcy was too hard to resist. By now, nearly fifteen years since the Group had met, Nat and Ludi felt fairly secure, but still made sure they could disappear if they needed to.
The rest of the Group (and yes, even now it was still a capital G Group) had scattered, finally, making lives in different states. It had been nearly a decade since they'd all lived together full time, they all still thought of Spring Lake Lodge as home, and did their best to be there for holidays and anniversaries. They acknowledged both the day they became a group, and the day they became a family: The best and worst day all at once.
The invitations were hand-written on paper Ludi had made herself, Nat's strong arms behind her, helping to press out the excess moisture. Ludi loved the way they did things together, how even the most mundane or tiresome tasks felt important when they worked as a team.
Captured in the mesh were bits of leaves and other detritus found around the lodge. Ludi thought it was beautiful paper, imperfectly perfect. Nat had made the ink himself, boiling and distilling the berries until they were a rich Burgundy, a lovely complement to the greenish-silver of the paper. They'd long since discovered the berries were inedible, so it was fine to use them for this purpose.
This is what the cards said:
An Invitation to the Dance
Time for old friends
To learn new steps
For bonds to be forged
The pealing of bells
Tears that heal
Comfort and joy all around
Left feet and right feet
there are no wrong feet)
can all join in.
Gifts (and surprises) await.
This is what the rest of Group 6 were doing when the letter arrived:
Marigold , more professionally known as E___ R___, Adolescent Psychologist (though she still sometimes thought of herself as an orange-crayoned girl with more questions than answers), was listening to her 3:00 client. "Lisa" (also not her real name) was sixteen, covering her poor self-esteem with promiscuous behavior and recklessness.
Marigold thought she was very lucky her parents couldn't afford private school, because no scholarship student would have been accepted for Grounding, and after several fruitless family therapy sessions, Marigold was sure they were the kind of parents who would take that route if they knew it was available. She had no illusions that it was still being offered, somewhere.
Of course she said nothing of the sort, and hoped Lisa might discover the core of strength inside herself that Marigold had been forced to do at her age.
Her receptionist handed her the envelope when the session ended, giving her an odd look when she responded to the unasked question with "Friends from school. No, It's not a wedding invitation". Marigold supposed the calligraphy and sealing wax were unusual in this day and age, but then so were Nat and Ludi. She smiled as she read the contents, and had her flight to Vermont booked before she went home for the day.
There was a message on her machine when she did get there. Coke's measured baritone, the accent that was everywhere and nowhere at once. The voice that combined with his youthful good looks had brought him to a career of playing it falsely, asked just one thing. "Are you going?"
What Coke really meant, Marigold knew from past years' experience, was, "Are we going?". They hadn't been a couple in years, not since she'd gone off to grad school, and he'd gone out of his mind and moved to L.A. Not that she begrudged him his career, it was just that he ended up with the same kind of phony people he'd grown up with in the first place.
Coke was shooting a man when his invitation arrived. More specifically, he was firing a prop pistol ( silver bullets to be CGI-ed in post) at Tank Shaw, a has been action star, who was Werewolf of the Week on season 5 of Coke's teen drama, Darkside. Coke played a high school senior whose family had moved from the wrong side of the tracks, only to find that the 'right' side was populated with wealthy, beautiful demons and monsters. It was a big hit on the WB, and Coke hated it. Mostly, if truth be told, he hated that he really could convincingly play 17 .
He'd once tried to pitch a very fictionalized version of his story to Darkside's director, but had been told it was much too farfetched. "Parents paying a boarding school to have their kids murdered? Isn't that why most kids get sent away to school anyway? To get them out of their parents hair? Death seems a bit -- much. Thanks, but I think we'll stick to the werewolves." Coke didn't try again. It had been stupid to bring it up in the first place. It was nobody's business but the Group's. He didn' t know what he had been thinking.
Coke never brought his girlfriend to Spring Lake Lodge. It wasn't a premiere, or an awards show, or even an upscale mall opening, so Kayleigh (this year's actress) or Madison (last year's model) wouldn't have cared. Coke didn't care either, she was mostly his 'girlfriend' for show, and he saw enough of her on set, where she played (naturally) his step-sister/love interest. He wasn't all that interested, and he definitely wasn't in love.
He didn't bring his boyfriend, either. Not that he had a boyfriend at the moment, but even when he did, he wouldn't. The Group had been fairly unfazed when he'd let the whole bisexuality thing slip a few years back (other than Sully's joking "God, I hope it wasn't me who turned you, because I know you must have wanted me all these years."), but he still didn't feel comfortable. Why it was that he ended up with guys who were as much damaged good as he was, he didn't know. It was probably for the best. Going up to Spring Lake Lodge with someone outside the Group was awkward. Worse than, say, bringing your new wife to your high school class reunion, where they wouldn't get the jokes, this was like bringing your priest to an orgy. Hell, that was a bad analogy too, considering what some priests had been up to, but Coke knew what he meant.
Sara was 5 hours into a difficult birth, helping her patient bring her daughter into the world. Sully was home, though, and proud of himself for knowing immediately what surprise was in store. He imagined how happy Sara was going to be for them. He knew she would want to be there when the gift was delivered. He booked their flight from Oklahoma City before Sara returned. He was excited, too. He anticipated helping build a very special addition to Spring Lake Lodge.
When the door to Spring Lake Lodge opened, on that crisp December day the invitation told them to come, this is what Sara and Sully, Coke and Marigold saw: a beaming Nat, and a glowing Ludi, just beginning to show. They saw a future that once was denied to them. They saw hope.