There was no delaying it any longer. She was on the other side of the door, waiting. Impatiently? Patiently? Afraid? Eager? Nervous? Curious? He had no idea. Those emotions had looped endlessly through his brain over the past few days.
The noise, the people, the lights, the smell of roasting chicken, all were gone. The moment was here.
He hadn’t even seen her face. It was covered in a heavy veil for the wedding. She had the advantage of knowing what to expect, having seen him, stiffly going through the ceremony, his face dark and inscrutable– at least that’s how he hoped he looked. He couldn’t hide the fact that he wasn’t handsome, nor terribly young. But, he told himself, I’m a decent man, a good man, and will make a good husband and father. That’s how he convinced himself that he had every right to go into that bedroom right now and have sex with his new bride, a complete stranger.
So he opened the door. A rush of warm air and the scent of candle wax greeted him. She sat on the bed in a turquoise robe, her hands in her lap. She looked up when he entered.
She was very pale, but that could have been the circumstance. Rather plain, with nice eyes. They locked with his. She did not exactly look happy, but rather resigned and maybe even a bit sad. Perhaps she had be forced into this arrangement against her will. Perhaps she had another, younger lover that she longed for. Perhaps he was a terrible disappointment, this 37-year-old man who looked his age. Perhaps she dreaded his touch.
He smiled. She did not smile back.
He said, It is nice to properly meet you, Lara. Finally! Are you nervous?
No, she said, and was still and calm.
Am I a terrible disappointment to you? he asked.
No, she said. Am I?
You are quite lovely, but you seem sad.
I don’t like this tradition. I feel like a cow ready to be milked, or a lamb, ready to be sacrificed. But, as long as you leave me alone except for child-making, give me enough money to buy the things I want, and don’t hit me, I will be a good wife, she said.
As long as you are kind to me, treat me with respect, especially in public, and don’t cry after we have been child-making, I will be a good husband, he said.
She smiled then; a natural smile, and it lighted up her face.
Our true vows, she said, and held out her hand.