Lanterns of Love by Susan Laine

January 8, 2015

Title: Lanterns of Love

Author: Susan Laine

Pairing: Bro and Lacey from The Sweetest Scent

Prompt: lantern

“I’m scared.” Lacey’s voice shook slightly as she stared at her reflection in the tall oval mirror. She swallowed, hoping her frayed nerves would calm.

“You look beautiful.” The hollow, low voice behind her echoed in the room, and she smiled at the encouragement. A strong hand came to rest on her shoulder, radiating warmth through her body.

“Thank you, Sebastian,” Lacey said, grateful of the praise, beaming at him from all her heart. “You don’t think it’s… too yellow…?” She signed the last two words to ensure Sebastian understood her. Over the past four years she’d learned how to sign adequately to converse with Sebastian who’d been deaf since childhood.

Sebastian cocked his head to the side, assessing her in the mirror. “No. It’s perfect.”

His hair was so black it glowed blue under the lights, adding to the blue of his piercing but always kind eyes. He had such an expressive face, concealing nothing, and when he smiled it was like the sun coming out from behind dark clouds. His appearance was almost identical to that of his younger brother, Bro—who happened to be Lacey’s boyfriend of four and a half years. But where Sebastian was slender, Bro was more muscular like an athlete.

Next to Sebastian, Lacey saw herself as petite, yet never weak. For a twenty-one year old young man who preferred to wear women’s clothes, Lacey was small in size. She was dressed in roaring twenties style, in a mid-thigh, gold-and-pink sequined vamp flapper dress, with a fringe hem reaching down to her knees. On her legs she wore glimmering fishnet silk stockings

Her vintage glamour look was crowned by a tucked, pinned hairstyle, with a few cascading honey-blonde curls to frame her delicate features. She had a golden-colored headband also with a yellow tea rose attached to the side of her head. The tea rose symbolized her relationship with Bro who gave her a yellow rose at their every anniversary as a couple.

The elegant costume was completed by a twice-looped long pearl necklace. Her full, pouty lips shone with pink lip gloss, and her hazel eyes had dark golden eye shadow.

Not many would be able to look at her and know she was a boy underneath her pretty dress. Well, she was twenty-one now, so she was more a young man than a boy.

Today was going to mix styles radically, but so what? This was her special day. Her dress signified the raucous jazz playing that would follow the ceremony.

With trembling hands Lacey checked herself once more from top to bottom.

Sebastian laughed in his hiccupy way. “Stop. You look beautiful.”

Lacey chuckled, her anxiety gone and replaced by bubbling happiness. “Thanks.”

The door cracked open with a minor creak. In peeked a handsome, muscular man with a head full of platinum-blond curls, mischievous emerald-green eyes, and loads of black and gray tribal tattoos. “Guys, you coming out eventually, or what?” He made a theatrical point of tapping his wrist watch, his eyebrows quirked in query.

Sebastian rolled his eyes. “Ignore the rushing joker at the doorway. Jordan’s opinion doesn’t count. Take all the time you need.”

A feigned disgruntled hey! came from the doorway. “It’s her day, yeah, but others are waiting too, honey-muffin.”

Lacey glared at him. “You didn’t just call me that, did you?”

“Of course not, sweetie-pie.” Showcasing cute dimples, Jordan flashed an irreverent grin, a gesture Lacey was sure he’d learned from Bro. The two men were so alike sometimes it was freaky. It was hard to believe they were brothers-in-law, not actual flesh-and-blood brothers. “Now hustle, you two.” Then he retreated quickly and shut the door, probably to escape scolding.

Lacey faced Sebastian. “You’re positive he’s the man for you?”

Sebastian laughed loudly, his unusual voice tinted with humor, tickling Lacey’s funny bone too. “Yup.” He gave Lacey one last once-over. “You look perfect. It’s time to go. Ready?” His long, elegant fingers moved in time with his words which he pronounced better than some people. He had a habit of speaking and signing at once sometimes.

Lacey loved him like a brother. She nodded. “Yes.” She readjusted Sebastian’s black tie an inch, then nodded her own approval, at which Sebastian grinned.

He held an arm out for her, and she took it. Together they stepped out of the room to outside and to the white graveled lane through the trees and bushes, past the flowerbeds and moon doors, the view to the artificial pond and the arched bridges over it in the distance.

The Chinese pavilion they were headed for was open on all sides. Though the day was cloudy and gray, drizzly and windy, the structure was large enough to block the elements. It was well illuminated by ninety-nine red paper lanterns hanging above them, from the roof beams and up-curved eaves. Red silk curtains with Chinese calligraphy—Chinese characters for words like happiness, joy, and love imprinted on them—hung from the rafters between the red-painted wooden pillars.

Lacey had seen it all before during their preparations and rehearsals. Today her sole focus was the gorgeous dark-haired, fair-skinned, blue-eyed angel waiting for her.

Bro, my love.

Unable and unwilling to keep the smile off her face, Lacey walked confidently to the young man waiting for her. Bro had grown a lot bigger since the two of them had met at the tender age of seventeen. His beefy, ripped physique was the result of him having gotten into the practice squad of the Washington Redskins only a few short months ago, right after his graduation from Howard University. But the wicked twinkle in his blue eyes and the open, blissful smile on his lips was born from his affection for Lacey.

God, but he looks yummy in that tuxedo. The James Bond outfit definitely suited him to a tee, showcasing his broad shoulders, narrow hips, long legs, and delicious bulge. Lacey’s heart skipped a beat and she damn near tripped over her high heels. Bro winked at her, as though he could read her mind and see all the saucy, naughty thoughts running through her head.

Lacey stopped in front of Bro, who took her hand. His grip was firm and feverish, like he too felt the current sparking between them. He looked as happy as she felt. There’d been a time when she’d feared they would never get to this point in their lives, that there were simply too many things pulling them in different directions.

But Bro was nothing if not adamant. What he wanted, he pursued with enthusiasm and vigor. And since their teens, Lacey had been Bro’s heart’s desire.

Exactly as Bro was Lacey’s heart and soul.

Faintly aware of her surroundings, Lacey knew they were surrounded by friends and family. They had all come here to celebrate on an autumn’s afternoon: Sebastian, Bro’s big brother; Jordan, Sebastian’s husband and detective in MPDC; Jack, Jordan’s younger brother and fireman; Kevin, Jack’s fiancé and Jordan’s partner in MPDC; Bradley, Bro’s best friend and offensive lineman for the Washington Redskins; Audrey, Bradley’s girlfriend, Lacey’s best friend, and paralegal at a private environmental law firm; Parker, Lacey’s other best friend and pianist, both jazz and classical; Deacon, Parker’s boyfriend; Luke, Jack’s best friend and fireman; and Ricky, Bradley’s twin brother and sous chef for a three-star Michelin restaurant in DC.

Last but not least, close by stood Roger, Lacey’s father. There was a good reason why it was Sebastian who escorted her to Bro, and not Roger—who was a recovering abusive alcoholic. On his formal jacket, Roger wore four bronze chips to mark four years of sobriety plus a single dark gold one for the additional two months into his fifth year. They were symbols that both reminded him of the past and dedicated the milestones of getting past his prior hardships. He even held a steady job at an accounting firm.

Their relationship remained enflamed and awkward most days, as the memory of hate-filled words and outright violence was too vivid and stark to forget. At least it was for Lacey.

Nonetheless, Roger was there, cleaned up and sober. His shy smile had a mildly rigid, insecure quality, since he still felt weird about his only son preferring female attire, appearance, and identity. He was trying to make amends, so Lacey tried to bury the past too.

Lacey smiled quickly for her father’s benefit, and then refocused on Bro. He squeezed Lacey’s hand, the soft touch at once a reassurance and a question. Lacey nodded firmly. I’m fine, I promise.

The woman priest stepped forward, her smile genuine and kind. “Dearly beloved. We have gathered here, in the China Garden, today to celebrate the loving union of Bro Sumner and Lacey Adair.” A couple of loud claps and whoops, plus a distinctive wolf whistle accompanied the statement, and Lacey and Bro both giggled. Yes, this was only her second week as Lacey Adair, not Lance as she had been born. She’d had her name legally changed. “Bro and Lacey have written their own vows. Please.” The priest gestured for them to begin.

Bro cleared his throat, and for the first time in ages he appeared nervous, his hand hot and trembling, his forehead sweaty, and his voice cracking. “Lacey. The first time I became aware of you was through your music. I heard your violin’s sad song play in the high school halls. I had to meet you. It was fate, I think.”

Lacey could scarcely draw breath, she was so flustered and heady and excited.

“During your darkest hour,” Bro went on, soft and solemn, “I told you I knew you, heart and soul. That I’ve never known anyone as full of light as you. That you shine bright as the sun, blinding me with your brilliance. So… as you and I stand here, underneath these red lanterns that pale in comparison, I say to you again: You shine, Lace, and I’ll love you forever.”

Lacey blinked hard but the misty, blurry veil of unshed tears remained. She coughed to be able to speak from the heart. “Bro. In every dark hour of my life, you have been there for me. You never ask or demand, you always give, freely and without expecting anything in return. You are the best person I’ve ever known, and I’m proud to stand here with you, to tell you how much you mean to me.”

The sudden flash from Bro’s eyes, a sultry heat burning in blue flames, almost had her stumbling in her speech. But the vow came from her heart, so even with different words than what she had planned, they still rang true.

“We’ve been through a lot, haven’t we?” Lacey continued, a swift chuckle following her words. Bro wasn’t the only one to react with a snort. They all knew the details of the path that had finally led them here. “I admit, there were trying times when I was positive we’d never get to this point. But like you always said, love conquers all, and so does family. No matter how much time or space is between us, we’re bound together with unbreakable ties. Our own makeshift family of oddities and crazies.”

Bro grinned, a cocky swagger to his approach. “I’m just overjoyed you agreed to move with me to Fredericksburg, so we both have a reasonable commute.”

Lacey laughed. “One hour or so. We can both work with that.”

“And make our future work,” Bro said, his brashness paving the way for shyness.

It was true their lives took them in opposite directions. Lacey had finished her studies at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, and her career as a rising star with a violin was about to lead her to a six month artist-in-residency at a prestigious university in Italy. Bro, on the other hand, divided his time between the Redskins training camp in Richmond, Virginia, and teaching various ASL classes in the DC metropolitan area. They’d bought their small house smack in the middle, in Fredericksburg, to ensure their job commutes rarely were more than an hour, an hour and a half.

“Yes, to make our future work, together as a couple.” Lacey admired Bro’s strength and total confidence that everything would turn out okay. He was an optimist, and Lacey tried not to be a pessimist and ruin what they had. “I love you, Bro. Because of you, I have faith in the future and in us. You’ve changed my life for the better. You say I shine; I say you glow. When I look into your eyes, I see the light that guides me to you, always. I love you.”

Bro’s eyes shimmered with tears.

At that exact moment it started to rain. The big droplets pattered on the roof tiles, like nature herself serenaded in honor of their marriage.

Then Bro pulled Lacey into his arms, and they embraced one another with the certain knowledge that be it the sheen of the candles inside the paper lanterns or the brightness of the sun in the sky, their love would continue to shine and guide their path forward—together.

“And now, the rings….”

 

Did you enjoy Susan Laine’s story? If so, check out the rest of her books and take 25% off at checkout with the code SusanLaineFlash. Coupon code is good for one order per customer through February 8, 2015.

2 Responses to “Lanterns of Love by Susan Laine”

  1. Shirley Ann Speakman says:

    What a lovely story it was so sweet and it brought tears to my eyes just wonderful thank you.

  2. Susan Laine says:

    Thank you kindly, Shirley Ann :)

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