fifteen months later
“Ladies and gentlemen, please give a very warm welcome to your bride and groom, it’s Mr and Mrs Stowton!”
Eve gets to her feet and starts clapping along with the other wedding guests as the double doors at the end of the reception room swing open to reveal Kenny and Elena. Both wear smiles that fill their faces from cheek to cheek as they step into the room and walk arm-in-arm past all their friends and family to reach the head table at the opposite end of the room. As they pass, Elena makes eye contact with Eve and grins with yet more excitement, while Eve offers her a smile and a covert thumbs up in response.
Kenny, meanwhile, not wearing shorts for perhaps only the second time ever in Eve’s memory of knowing him, cannot keep his eyes off his bride. Eve hardly blames him. Elena looks gorgeous dressed all in white. Her dress is exquisite - a bodice that clings to her curves, delicate lace sleeves, and a skirt that trails out behind her as she walks.
“Daddy, is that a princess?”
Eve glances across the table at Bill’s daughter, now almost three years old and standing up on the chair between Bill and Keiko to get a good view as she watches Elena walk past, an expression of awe on her chubby face.
“She is today, sweetheart,” comes Bill’s reply.
As Kenny and Elena reach the head table and take their seats between Elena’s father and Carolyn, Eve follows suit and sits back down in her own chair again. She unfolds her napkin and places it carefully over her lap, then looks around at the people she’s been put on a table with and sighs with relief at the fact that she knows most of them. Eve gets on very well with Bill and Keiko, both of whom haven’t seen her for months while they’ve been off travelling and have much to catch up on, and Jess sits on Keiko’s other side with her husband and one-year-old son. The only other two people at this table are Hugo and his surprisingly male plus one.
Yet despite the abundance of friends around her, it is the empty seat beside Eve that seems to occupy most of the table. Eve’s eyes fall on the little placard that says ‘Villanelle’ in neat calligraphic font, then she spares another glance at the door, as if expecting Villanelle to burst through them with her usual flair for being the centre of attention.
No such thing happens.
“Trouble in paradise?” asks Hugo, from the other side of Villanelle’s empty chair. “Has she stood you up?”
“She’ll be here soon,” insists Eve.
Without Villanelle at her side, Eve takes the opportunity to catch up with Bill while they enjoy the starter and then the main course. Eve is appropriately vague about her work, earning a laugh from Bill when she tells him that she would have to kill him if she shared too much, deliberately not elaborating on the fact that the nature of Eve’s role means that she has the capacity to do just that.
In return, Bill tells her more tales of travelling with his wife and daughter, all about the trials and tribulations of potty training while on the road and the places they visited on the long journey back to London from the South of France.
“Tell Auntie Eve who you met in Disneyland,” Bill prompts his daughter.
The girl looks shyly at her father for reassurance, then says to Eve in a quiet voice, “Minnie Mouse.”
“Minnie Mouse?” repeats Eve, feigning dramatic surprise. “Wait, not the Minnie Mouse?”
Bill’s daughter giggles at Eve’s reaction.
“I am so sorry that I am late!”
Eve’s surprise is real this time as Villanelle finally drops into her empty seat, slightly out of breath.
“Hi, baby,” says Villanelle, pressing a quick kiss to Eve’s lips. “Traffic on the M1 was crazy. Overturned lorry.”
“It’s fine, I’m glad you’re here now.”
Spotting a little smear of dark red on Villanelle’s jaw, Eve picks up the napkin from her lap and reaches out to wipe at Villanelle’s skin before anybody else can pick up on it.
“What are you-?”
“You’ve got a little something,” Eve explains, rubbing at Villanelle’s jaw until she’s satisfied that the tiny flecks of blood have gone. She rolls the napkin up into a crumpled ball to conceal the evidence, then smiles at Villanelle and says, “Perfect.”
Villanelle, briefly smiles back, then looks down at her place at the table, empty where everyone else has a dessert.
“You didn’t ask them to leave one for me just in case I showed up?” Villanelle asks, pouting at Eve in disappointment.
“I did,” counters Eve, “but after they had to take away your starter and main untouched, they weren’t too pleased about giving you a dessert too. You can have mine.”
Eve passes across her own plate, barely touched.
“You’re amazing and I love you,” says Villanelle, diving in with her spoon before the plate even touches the tablecloth. After a few seconds of hastily wolfing down spoonfuls of ice cream and cake, Villanelle looks up with her cheeks full and says, “You must be Bill. Eve has talked about you a lot.”
Villanelle puts down her spoon and offers out a hand to Bill, which he shakes with a grin on his face.
“It’s very nice to finally meet you too!”
Eve reaches for her champagne flute and takes a sip, slightly worried that introducing Bill and Villanelle to each other will be something that she later regrets.
Sure enough, Bill proves her correct just moments later.
“So,” he says, leaning closer, a wicked glint in his eyes as he looks between Eve and Villanelle. “Will the next set of wedding bells be ringing for the two of you?”
Eve actually chokes on her champagne.
Villanelle quickly fills a glass tumbler with water from the bottle in the middle of the table and passes it across to Eve, who knocks it back gratefully.
“Oh, absolutely not,” Villanelle eventually answers Bill’s question. “The only good thing about a wedding is the massive cake.”
“What Villanelle means,” interjects Eve, “is that we don’t need a piece of paper to prove that we love each other. Anyway, I’ve already tried the whole marriage thing before and look how well that turned out.”
“Villanelle,” pipes up Hugo, from Villanelle’s other side. “While we’re on the subject of introductions, I’d like you to meet my boyfriend Rufus.”
Hugo’s plus one gives a jaunty little wave and Eve sprays champagne across the table from her mouth for the second time in as many minutes.
“Boyfriend?” she splutters. “You never told me he was your boyfriend!”
Hugo scoffs and says, “You didn’t think I’d bring any old platonic friend as my date to a wedding, did you?”
Eve eyes up Rufus now that she has this new piece of information. He’s remarkably similar to Hugo in the way that he presents himself, his curly hair blonde instead of Hugo’s brunette and his cheeks pink with a flush that Eve recognises as the telltale sign of somebody who probably has more money stashed away in a trust fund than she has earned in her entire life. His dress sense is similar to Hugo’s too, an expensive suit over a salmon pink shirt, and Eve spots the glimmer of a signet ring on the pinky finger of his left hand.
Now that she knows they are dating, Eve realises that Hugo and Rufus are probably a pretty good match for each other.
“There’s no need to look so surprised, Eve,” says Villanelle, lifting another spoonful of dessert to her mouth. “You don’t have a monopoly on bisexuality. Men can be bi too.”
“Yes, Eve,” agrees Hugo. “I’m outraged by your heteronormative assumptions.”
“Oh, piss off,” says Eve, rolling her eyes at the way Hugo and Villanelle playfully wind her up.
“I’m very happy for you, Hugo,” adds Villanelle. “You always had shit taste in women. What do you do, Rufus?”
“I’m a student designer at a local fashion house,” answers Rufus.
Predictably, Villanelle’s eyes brighten at this like a child who has just seen their pile of presents on their birthday.
“You do fashion? I think we will get along well. Who is your favourite designer?”
Much later, when the food has long been cleared away and Kenny and Elena have had their first dance, Eve finally gets the chance to speak to Villanelle alone.
“How was it?” asks Eve, as they watch the bustling dance floor, mostly filled with Elena’s vibrant extended family, from the edge of the room.
“How was what?” asks Villanelle.
“Seriously? The job.” Eve hesitates, then adds in a quieter voice, “The woman you killed this morning.”
“Oh, that. Good. Quick.”
At first, Eve thought it was particularly cold of Carolyn to order the murder of a political hacker in Nottingham on the day of her son’s wedding, until she pointed out that it was probably best for everybody’s future safety if Villanelle was not present for the photographs after the ceremony earlier in the day. Eve knows that Carolyn is covering her own back more than anything else in case Villanelle gets compromised on a future assignment, but Eve agrees with the general principle.
Eve’s gaze falls on Carolyn, who sits on the other side of the room, sipping on a glass of whiskey and clearly not listening to a word that her daughter, who sits beside her, is currently saying.
“Do you think Carolyn gets off on this?”
“On what?” asks Villanelle, with a frown.
“On ordering you to take a woman’s life on the day of her own son’s wedding?” clarifies Eve. “Like, is it some kind of power trip?”
“Maybe,” answers Villanelle, with a small shrug. Abruptly changing the subject, Villanelle asks, “Hey, do you remember the first wedding we went to together?”
“That was a fun day,” reminisces Villanelle. “You were lusting after me so bad.”
“I was not!” protests Eve.
Villanelle falls unusually silent, leaving Eve to wallow in her memories of that day, almost eighteen months ago. The main thing she remembers from that day is the kisses they shared - the very public one for the sake of their pretend relationship, and the much more private later on.
Eve’s cheeks flush at the memory.
“Okay,” concedes Eve, remembering the way that she followed Villanelle into a lockable toilet stall and all but begged to be kissed. “Maybe I lusted after you a little bit.”
“Do you want to find a bathroom to make out in for old times sake?” asks Villanelle, in a voice that manages to completely drench Eve’s underwear.
Eve grabs Villanelle’s hand and starts to lead her away.
“I thought you would never ask.”