Some people might have found it trying to help plan a friend’s wedding (and shower, and hen night) so soon after a breakup. But to Astoria it was at least a welcome distraction and a way to keep busy, now that she had neither a job nor marathon makeout sessions with Cary to help her pass the time.
After the ceremony she’d hugged and kissed Sabina and said she was so, so happy for her—and she’d really meant it. Her eyes had welled up with happy tears and she’d laughed and cried at the same time but then she’d found it rather hard to stop. In the crowd of well-wishers she’d managed to discreetly slip away and down an empty hallway, where she leaned against the wall and wrapped her arms around herself and tried to sob very very quietly, because this was Sabina’s wedding, and it wouldn’t do to make a spectacle of herself. She still didn’t feel sad exactly—she didn’t know what she felt, except that she had the peculiar but certain feeling that if she could just cry it out for a bit longer she’d be able to collect herself and put on a smile and go fuss over Sabina at the reception like she should. She just had to get through it first. It was involuntary, like having a coughing fit.
She thought she heard footsteps approaching and she quickly held her breath and wiped away her tears, unknowingly smearing a dark line of mascara all across her cheek as she did so.
Cary paused in front of his weepy ex-girlfriend. Huh. These did not too like happy tears. If they were, she wouldn't be hiding.
"You've messed up your war paint," he said, pointing at his cheek.
Astoria was so surprised to see it was her ex-boyfriend who found her—of all people-- that it took her a moment to realise what he meant.
“Oh,” she said, wiping at her cheek and only succeeding in smearing it thoroughly. She was dressed far too nicely to even consider using her sleeve. “Thank you,” she said, and tried to think of something else to say to keep him talking to her. She hiccupped once but apparently his sudden appearance had been the jolt she’d needed to stop crying.
Cary bit back a laugh. He meant it affectionately but she probably wouldn't see it that way.
"You might need this." He waved a handkerchief in front of her face.
“Thank you,” Astoria said again, carefully keeping her composure. She was half-afraid she might burst into tears again any moment, and she kept her gestures and voice gentle, as though that would somehow prevent another emotional collapse. She accepted the handkerchief and dabbed delicately at her eyes. “I must have left my bag… It was a lovely ceremony, wasn’t it? Very moving.” That was her attempt to explain away her red, tearstained face, anyway. “Sabina’s been my best friend forever.”
She twisted the handkerchief in her hands. If she offered it back, he might leave, and she would rather he didn’t.
Cary shrugged. "Guess so," he replied. "I have no doubt they'll be together forever." Probably by failing to divorce, come what may.
"Shall we go find your bag, then?"
Astoria hesitated. She wasn’t feeling quite solid enough to go face the world, and she also didn’t really want to be seen with her ex-boyfriend whom she had broken it off with precisely because he wasn’t the sort of person she should be seen with. “How’ve you been?” she asked, ignoring his suggestion completely, and giving him a small, apologetic sort of smile—apologetic because the unspoken second half of her question was “since I dumped you?”
“Oh, fine,” said Cary, making a face. “Trying to get my old job back. But they’re stalling because they’re trying to see how many new terms and conditions they can fit in my contract,” he explained. “How are you? Still a lady of leisure?”
Astoria hadn’t really been asking about work, but she supposed it was nice to see that he wasn’t emotionally devastated. Although a little emotional devastation might have been nice.
“I’ve been helping Sabina with things for the wedding. Although I suppose that’s over now.” Astoria felt a wave of that freaked-out feeling come up again, and throttling Cary’s handkerchief more vigorously helped her fight it off. “I suppose I could start looking again, everyone needs extra help over the holidays. Although then I’m leaving to go home to visit my parents for Christmas, so I maybe I should wait until the new year. And I’m going to ask them to start asking round for another match for me.” Oh dear, why had she gone and said that? She wasn’t trying to be cruel to him, just chattering nervously. “Although I don’t want to rush into anything too fast,” she added, as though that made it any better.
“Well I hope they get onto that quickly or all the good boys will be taken,” said Cary lightly. He reached out a hand and gave her shoulder a pat. “You deserve someone special.”
Astoria’s eyebrows drew together in puzzlement at Cary's remark. "Yes, I do," she replied a bit haughtily. But a moment later she softened and added, "You do, too."
She bit her lip and then handed him back his handkerchief, now rather damp and stained. "Enjoy the rest of the party. I helped pick out the centerpieces."
“But that someone special is not you, is it?”
“Oh.” Astoria blinked. “No, I don’t think it is.” She bit her lip, feeling somewhere between guilty and flattered.
Cary tilted his head. Why did he find Astoria so alluring? She was so...hysterical. In a completely enchanting way, of course. God, she’d be such a waste on the arms of a Harper clone. Oh well. Que sera, sera.
“That’s a shame. I brought up the subject of how unfair it was that Idris would inherit everything and I think made a real impression. Dad says he’s now running the family as a meritocracy - which means whoever sets the fastest lap time on Snaefell now gets whatever Idris has managed to hoard in the family trust,” laughed Cary. “Not only that...but with my grandmother on her death-bed, or so we hope-” he held up some crossed fingers, “-I could be in for a real treat.”
“Cary, you-- you shouldn’t say that about your grandmother! And it wasn’t--” about the money Astoria was thinking, but didn’t say-- this felt like a dangerous topic of conversation. She abruptly swerved away from it. “I hope you’re joking, although it isn’t very funny.”
“Why shouldn’t I say that? Merlin, you should hear some of the things my mother says about her,” chuckled Cary. “We thought she had died a couple of years ago but it turned out she’d just moved to Majorca and didn’t tell anyone. She’s very much alive. She sent in a request for her usual Christmas card so we all have to go down to the DMLE next week.”
“Why do you have to go to the DMLE for a Christmas card?” Astoria was then distracted by the sound of laughter from outside, and realised with a jolt that they were still at the wedding and she was neglecting her duties to the bride. She turned her attention back to Cary but was starting to worry that Sabina might be looking for her.
“Oh, grandma has this thing where she’s obsessed with how tall we are, so every Christmas we take our picture in front of the identity parade wall so she can see how much we’ve grown,” explained Cary. “We also have to hold up boards with our name and what we’ve achieved during the year.”
He turned toward the laughter. “I say, does anyone know we’re here? I should give them a yell.”
“Oh no, let’s not, I’m sure I look a fright,” Astoria said, unthinkingly putting her hand on Cary’s arm in a restraining sort of gesture. She quickly drew it away again and added, “I really should be getting back to the party though. It’s my job to hold up Sabina’s dress if she has to… use the toilet.” She pursed her lips to keep from laughing at that absurd image and her own inappropriateness at sharing it with Cary.
“She uses the toilet? Next you’ll be telling me she also farts occasionally.”
“Cary!” Astoria gave him a smack on the arm, but she was giggling. She wouldn’t have admitted it, but this sort of thing was exactly why she liked spending time with Cary… and exactly why people like Sasha considered him inappropriate.
“I really do have to go,” she said, letting her hand linger on his arm just a moment. “But I hope I’ll see more of you?”
“Yes,” said Cary, with a firm nod. She could see more of him, up until Tuesday when, contract hopefully signed, he’d be going abroad again. But there was no need to mention that. “Au revoir, sweetheart.”
Good. Astoria didn’t want any hard feelings. Nobody said they couldn’t still be friends. Cheered, she suddenly leaned forward and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. Then she darted away down the hall, ready to face the reception.