Sorry about the lateness. And this'll be the last look at The Other Side of Light for about a month, as I have shut it away tonight to get some distance.
“Jake and I have an announcement,” my sister all but squeals. “A very exciting announcement!” She looks at Aunt Kelly, Dad, and me, but none of us says anything, so she goes on. “As you know, Jake and I have been dating for awhile -” Oh, God. “- and we’ve grown really close since we first met -” Oh, please, God, no. “- and we think we’re ready to take our relationship to the next level -” Please don’t say it… “We’re getting married!” OH PLEASE GOD NO!
“What is wrong with you, Lyddie?” Julie demands, glaring at me. I look around at my family (and Jake), who are all staring at me, and realise that I said that last one out loud.
“Sorry,” I say. “I don’t know where that came from. I’m, uh…congrats.”
Lie. A total lie. I think this whole thing is ridiculous. I’m all for love and marriage and stuff, but my sister is twenty years old. She may not be in school, but that’s no reason to run off and get married.
“Well,” Julie presses, “Anyone else going to say something?”
Another silence stretches for eternity until Dad chokes out, “Congratulations. We’re all really happy for you.” He looks over at Aunt Kelly and me. “Aren’t we?”
Aunt Kelly is staring at Julie with a strange look on her face. “Julie, could I see you in the kitchen for a moment?”
Julie’s smile doesn’t falter. “Come on, Aunt Kelly, let’s celebrate! This is exciting! Don’t you think it’s exciting?”
“Julia,” my aunt repeats. “Kitchen. Now.”
Sighing, Julie unwraps herself from Jake’s arms and follows Aunt Kelly to the kitchen door, throwing Jake a “my family is so silly sometimes” shake of the head before disappearing behind the door.
Dad and I are left alone with Jake, who neither of us have ever really talked to. We sit uncomfortably on the couch while Jake looks around the room with feigned interest. I have to know what Aunt Kelly and Julie are saying, so I get up and move toward the kitchen door.
“Lyddie, don’t,” my father warns, but I act like I haven’t heard him and ease the door open a tiny crack. I can only see Julie at this angle, standing with her arms folded and no longer smiling. I move a little closer to catch what’s being said.
“-know your duties and what’s expected of you. You’ve know them since you were seven years old.”
“I haven’t forgotten them,” Julie retorts.
“And yet you accepted the proposal of someone that you know you can’t marry?”
“I am going to marry him,” Julie say acidly.
“You can’t,” Aunt Kelly answers emphatically. “All the rules prohibit it.”
“The same rules that were bent for my mom?”
“And you know what happened with that.”
Julie raises her eyebrows and moves into her battle stance, shifting all her weight onto one hip, and I know that she’s ready to argue to the death. “No, actually, I don’t know what happened. Why don’t you tell me? My mother takes off when I’m nine and no one tells me why. So go ahead.”
“You know why.”
“No, I don’t.”
“It was too much for her.”
“That’s all you and Dad ever say. ‘It was too much for her’? What does that even mean?”
“I will not allow you to throw away all of your training for a boy you just met.”
“I’m not throwing it away! I never said I wouldn’t still do the job!”
“Julie, you know full well that the rules-”
“Screw the rules! They were invented by a bunch of scared old ladies in the dinosaur age. Times have changed and the rules need to, too.”
“The times may have changed, Julie, but the lanterns haven’t. It’s just as difficult to look after them today as it was two hundred years ago, maybe more so.”
“Then why shouldn’t I try to get as much help as possible? Jake would help me, I know he would.”
“You haven’t told him anything, have you?” Aunt Kelly’s voice has an edge of nervousness tinging the anger.
Julie rolls her eyes. “No, Aunt Kelly,” she chants like a schoolgirl reciting her multiplication tables. “I didn’t tell Jake about our deep, dark family secret.”
“Nothing. I swear.”
There’s a silence, and behind me, I can hear my dad telling me to come away from the door, but I wave away his order. I need to know how this ends. I shift so I can see Aunt Kelly, who is pacing in the small space between the island and the counter.
“It’s not too late to break off the engagement. It’s never too late these days-”
“Stop!” Julie cuts in. “I’m not breaking off the engagement. I love Jake and I’m going to marry him. I don’t care about the stupid lanterns.”
Aunt Kelly turns angry, wounded eyes to my sister. “You’re going to leave your family behind, just like that?”
“I’m not leaving my family behind. I told you, I’m perfectly happy to watch over the lanterns, after my honeymoon. I don’t want to let my family down. I just want to start my own.”
“Julie, you ca-”
“Stop telling me I can’t. I can and I will.”
“So is becoming a crazy cat lady, which is the only other choice I have. I am not my mother, Aunt Kelly. I have more training than she ever had, as a result of what she did.”
“I can do this. I won’t choose between Jake and the job. Either I marry him and keep the job, or I’m out. It’s up to you.”
Aunt Kelly stands quietly, bracing herself between the island and the counter. Finally, she says in a low voice, eyes on the floor, “I’ll consider what you’ve said. But I want you to consider, too, what the danger is if you go ahead with this marriage.”
Julie’s footsteps approach the door and I throw myself back into my seat just as she reenters. I can tell by the look she gives me that she knows I heard every word, but whether the anger I see is at me or just Aunt Kelly, it’s hard to tell. Either way, it’s gone the second she makes eye contact with Jake.
“So. Did you get to know my dad and my sister while I was away?”
“Sure,” Jake says. “We were talking about the lanterns. They look pretty old.”
“Oh, they’re getting there,” Julie says, shooting a scathing glance in Aunt Kelly’s direction.
“Julie,” Aunt Kelly warns. “How about you and Jake get some dinner? I think you have a few things to discuss.” She leans on the last word, but Julie pretends not to know what she’s talking about.
“Sounds great,” she exclaims, and I know she’s being overly happy to annoy our aunt. “Come on, Jake, let’s go.”
“Oh, uh… okay,” Jake says. He looks awkwardly at the rest of us, probably trying to figure out if he’s obliged to hug us or something, now that we’re his future family. To my relief, he doesn’t. Instead, he looks at my father and goes, “Uh, well… thank you,” before backing out of the room.
As soon as I hear the front door click shut, I let out a snort of laughter. “Did he seriously thank you?” I say to Dad. “Like, for Julie? He didn’t even technically ask your permission. Do people even do that anymore?”
I may find this situation funny, but Aunt Kelly doesn’t. Her arms are folded tightly across her chest and she looks deep in thought. “If this is to be,” she says pensively. “It’s going to take a lot of finagling. I don’t know if the rules will be allowed to be broken twice.” She ends the sentence there, but Dad and I know how it actually concludes: “After what happened last time.” We’re coming dangerously close to the subject of my mother now, something that never goes over well. Best to duck out now.