The second time I got married was the happiest day of my life. It was illegitimate and secretive. It was born of utter foolishness, but the joy that filled my heart that day was unrivaled by anything done before the eyes of the familiar.
There was never a doubt in my mind that Céline was the love of my life. She was the one that I had been made for, not the man that I had been married to. Jacques treated me well; provided for me a home to keep warm and dry, and food to pacify my hunger. It is not to say I did not love him. I did so only in the manner in which someone may love a trusted friend. I loved him deeply in that respect, but he was not my companion in the way that is so often intended between a married couple.
Céline lived in the small stone cottage, so alike to mine, in the farm adjacent to Jacques’. She too was the wife of a shepherd, her tasks the same as mine. On the first day I arrived at the cottage, fresh from the wedding, she invited herself over. As Jacques opened the door, Céline and her husband entered our house with warm welcomes and introductions. I led her to the small kitchen in the back of our cottage. She brought with her a platter of baked mutton. When she passed me, under the sweet herbal scent of the dinner, I caught a wisp of rose from her. Somehow, under all her generosity, I could still find her.
The philosophers and poets tell us that opposites attract, like how a planet of water orbits the biggest ball of fire in the sky. Céline was my star, and I the planet. She was the sun to my rain, the energy to my demurity, the land to my sea. Where I was churning and restless, she was the shore that broke my waves. It was Céline who found the spot between our husbands’ properties.
A few months after I moved to the countryside, I was working in the fields tending to the sheep, when Céline appeared on her side of the rotting wooden fence dividing our flocks. With one hand she held a delicately woven basket, not deep enough to hold anything of a substantial weight. With her other, she beckoned me towards her. Curious not only of her shenanigans, I approached the fence.
“You looked terribly lonely out in that field,” she said with her honey sweet voice.
“I’m rather fine. I have the sheep and the dog, Berger—”
“Nonsense,” she cut me off with a wave of the hand. “You need the company of another intellectual being.”
“I fret that Jacques may be apprehensive of me leaving the sheep alone.”
“They have Berger to tend to them. Don’t you worry about them.”
It was the neighborly thing to fulfill her request, and though Jacques may have been truly upset by my actions, once again, I was curious about her.
“Well, I suppose I am happily obliged.”
She beamed and every ounce of her sunshine on Earth radiated from her. She looped my arm through hers over the fence and set off at a brisk pace. She led me to a break in the fence, and as I turned to check the sheep, I found that Berger had followed us. In suit behind him were several members of the flock.
It was reckless, but the spark inside my chest drove me forward to where Céline had extended a hand to me. I took it and followed her a short walk into the woods, our entourage trailing behind.
The small clearing was just large enough to fit the stone pillar topped by the carving of a lion. He lay atop his precipice, large paws crossed before him as he studied his kingdom of sheep bleating from the fields below. Flowers of every color adorned his pedestal. Roses, peonies, marigolds. As I absorbed the beauty, Céline moved to the flowers with a pair of clippers stowed in the basket. I gawked as she began inspecting the delicacy of the flowers, finding the perfect ones and snipping them. She turned to me and smiled once again, “I am simply doing my duty as a wife.” She held a chrysanthemum out towards me. I approached to take it, but she tucked it along with a lock of hair behind my ear. “Making sure my home smells nice.”
Her laugh was irresistible, and we were suddenly lost in a storm of giggling. She made me feel like a child again, satisfied and unworried by life’s trials.
At some point I took off my shoes and stockings to feel the soft grass beneath my feet. The earth still damp from a previous night’s rain. Céline stared at me with an unreadable expression, before following my lead.
The spot became our slice of heaven. Our own Garden of Eden. As the flowers bloomed, so too did our relationship. We would sit beside the lion’s throne and speak of our troubles. Speak of our joys and sorrows. Sometimes, we wouldn’t speak at all. If our husbands were aware of our courtship, I was not sure. I can believe they suspected at least, but I was never confronted. And if Céline was, she would have told me.
One day, as we lay languishing in the Garden, I turned my gaze to where Céline was resting her head on my lap.
“What if we were to marry?”
“Don’t be foolish,” her voice was leaden with sleepiness. “We’re already married.”
“No. What if we were to marry?”
She sat up with a puzzled expression. “That is not possible. We have husbands.”
“We could divorce them. I could pretend to be a man. We could be wed.” I had been pondering the idea for some time.
But Céline shook her head. “We could never divorce. Especially at the same time. It would be too suspicious and the Church would never allow it. Everyone would know.”
That was a risk neither of us could afford to take. Disappointment weighted my heart.
After a moment of silence, she spoke. “That is not to say there is no other alternative.”
“Such as what?” I asked her.
“We could be married here,” she whispered. “We could have a ceremony. Just the two of us.”
“It wouldn’t be acknowledged, but it would be real. Between us, it would be real. And we could be safe.”
I smiled at her and no star could outshine us.
The following day we met in our Garden. The flora and fauna of the clearing shone in the sun, which had reached its highest point in the sky. The light twinkled as it illuminated the spot where we stood, hands entwined, as to prove that He witnessed our union. That He had led us to this slice of His kingdom.
Berger and his sheep gathered at our feet. The flowers we had picked lay in a basket to Céline’s side. Two roses crossed before us. She pulled her vows, written on a folded letter of cream, from the pocket of her blushed silken dress.
I studied her as she read. Our names had been concealed behind those of lovers. My Dearest, My Love, My Sweet. Her face rosened, matching the color of her dress. Sunlight reflected off her locks of spun gold. She was a living contrast to everything of me, from my lavender silks to my brown hair.
Her words carried on the gentle breeze, sweeter than the song of doves. She spoke softly, yet not quietly. Her voice was proud and sure. Sweet tears fell down my cheeks as she finished the vow. I did not stop them as I took out my own. I couldn’t look at her as I read, for if I did a pool would flood our Garden. When I finished, she embraced me, our first embrace in marriage. A marriage valid only between her, and me, and God.
As we sat under the lion, she lay her arm across my shoulders, gentle and at ease. Céline had miraculously secured a pigeon so white it might have been a dove. We had sealed our vows in an envelope with rose-colored wax. I tied the letter to the bird with a blue-purple ribbon. As we released the dove, taking with it the letter to wherever it may land, to whomever may find it, we basked in the easy silence of confirmation. A lamb lay beside us, lazily warming himself in the dancing sunlight.
Heaven was here, with her.