Chapter 4 - The big day

The following morning a party of eight mice made their way to the Rat colony for breakfast. Along the way the Brisby children became better acquainted with Alma, who seemed less anxious than Cyril about making their good news public. The Brisbys promised to stand by them all the way, but Cyril insisted that they needn’t feel they had to “protect” them, positive by now that it wouldn’t be as bad as he’d believed last night.

As anticipated, those Rats they met along the way greeted them as courteously as usual but with curiosity over the Mice’s guest. As agreed, those who specifically wanted to meet her were introduced to her, not only by name but also as the one Cyril Ages was in love with. As anticipated, such statements met with great surprise, but no outright disbelief, at least not outwardly. In turn, this came as something of a surprise to Cyril, and with encouragement from the others he felt any leftover apprehension vanish almost completely. Johnathan suggested that they’d be giving everyone “something to talk about.”

“So let them,” Ages replied with a laugh.

This was borne out as more and more saw them at breakfast with a guest mouse, obviously a natural. At first their reactions appeared born of simple curiosity, but well before the meal was finished it became clear that the information passed on to those who’d inquired earlier was spreading quickly. Some had observed how Teresa, after she and Martin had joined them from their overnight sleepovers, reacted noticeably to what seemed to be a particular bit of good news. It was well known that Ages didn’t take well to being disturbed during mealtimes, and this one was no exception. But he and the Brisbys were well aware of the stir they were creating, and knew they’d have to satisfy everyone’s curiosity soon.

Accordingly, by meal’s end Cyril, nervous but determined, called the attentions of everyone present to announce that the rumors many had already heard were true, and that they could expect him to be keeping company with “this young lady” for the foreseeable future. Congratulations abounded, of course, but after only about a minute and to the surprise of few, Ages announced that he was leaving to begin his day’s work. After bidding everyone good day, he did so with Alma on his arm.

Alma spent the next several hours—Cyril’s regular “office hours”—observing him at work. His assistants Bernadette and Jemial immediately conveyed their congratulations to the new couple upon their arrival. It was a pretty routine day overall: a few regularly-scheduled physical exams and a few who came in for treatment of minor injuries. Alma watched it all with keen fascination, her presence having a calming effect upon Cyril, especially noticeable by his staff. They would agree, in later discussion, to some fascination of their own in the change in him, marked by greater patience and more kind words to his patients than usual.

During a lull, Justin and Isabella, who hadn’t the chance to talk to the new couple at breakfast, dropped by, bringing their two-month old twins Ferdinand and Greta with them. After the “first couple” offered their own congratulations, Justin took Ages aside for a private meeting.

Inside Ages’ office, Justin surprised him by drawing the mouse to him in one of his patented bear-hugs. Cyril reacted with predictable exasperation, but still accepted it gracefully enough.

“Cyril,” said Justin after releasing him, “I just wanted to say that I never gave up on you. I always knew you had it in you. Maybe it’s because we have that much in common: both of us waited longer than we should have, perhaps, before finding our special someones.”

“Well, thank you, Justin,” said Ages, adjusting his lab-smock. They both sat on the sofa. “I suppose…it was seeing you and Isabella getting married and having children that helped to inspire me, at least in part. That, and seeing Johnathan back with his family. Oh, I can’t explain it all, but…I’m definitely looking forward to spending much, much more time with Alma.”

Justin nodded, visibly impressed. “The rest of your life, perhaps?”

Ages looked almost taken by surprise. “Oh, I’m…we’re still taking it a day at a time, but…believe me, you’ll be the first to know on that front.” He looked directly at Justin. “I know, you probably still can’t believe it: Mr. Ages, the old curmudgeon, actually finding someone who…truly loves him. I have to admit, I’m not completely over my own disbelief. I’m…still wrestling with it.”

“Well…I suppose Johnathan’s already given you plenty of advice, but…you keep treating Alma the way you want to be treated, and consider her your best friend and partner as well as your lover, and everything should be all right.”

“Oh, I know, Justin, and I’m giving it my all, believe me. I do want…us to work.” The two continued the discussion for a few more minutes; and though Ages wasn’t ready to confide in Justin as many details of how he and Alma arrived at their mutual feelings as he did the Brisbys, the two felt more like true friends than they ever had by the time they’d finished.

* * *

The ensuing days proved to be a test for both the new couple and the doubters—those who had been skeptical of their relationship working, or even workable. Yet, every day they were seen together in public they were, by all appearances, a happy couple. They weren’t especially demonstrative—certainly not to the degree of the Brisbys—though a few times they could be observed kissing lightly in the corridors. This proves that it’ll work, some insisted; but others, knowing that Ages didn’t exactly wear his emotions on his sleeve, thought they could be only trying to keep up appearances, perhaps even having difficulties but keeping them private. But, the counter-argument went, that doesn’t mean Alma would have to be following his lead, since she was still largely unknown in the colony, her habits and tendencies still coming to be known.

The Brisbys, however, wouldn’t be deceived. They were positive that the new couple was experiencing just as much of a “giddy, crazy time” as they had following their reunion last summer; and though they kept this point to themselves, not wanting to embarrass their friends, they couldn’t help feeling some resentment whenever anyone expressed an opinion along the lines of “It’ll never last.”

But the Brisbys and anyone else that believed as they did were vindicated when the day came, only ten days after Cyril Ages made his pairing with Alma public, when it was announced that they had set a date: yes, a date to be married, it was specified for those remaining skeptics.

And so it was that, on January 28th, only 17 days after she had shown up on his doorstep, neither of them suspecting what the very near future held in store, that a very large crowd gathered in Oak Park to witness the launch of this major new chapter in their lives.

They’d been prepared to hold the event indoors in case of inclement weather, but conditions had been highly and obligingly favorable, most of the snow from earlier in the month having melted, with mostly-clear skies and temperatures in the lower 50s Fahrenheit prevailing. A handful of hardy souls even braved a frigid swim in Lake Nicodemus this day and yesterday. The last few weddings had been held indoors, so everyone was ready for another outside ceremony, with no one complaining about the weather.

As with many other couples in the community, these two opted for a basic no-frills ceremony: to the disappointment of some who thought something a bit more ostentatious would be in order, given his status, but to little surprise for those who knew him best. Basic or fancy, it didn’t stop this from becoming the best-attended event yet in Oak Park—in the middle of winter, at that. No one, it seemed, wanted to miss the wedding of one who had been a prominent citizen of Thorn Valley but also notoriously private—one who, it had been widely assumed, would always lead a single, celibate life. Even those few remaining doubters were amazed at the change in him. Some, however, still asked themselves, even now, if this could be too fast or too big a change.

Those same doubters might feel vindicated if they could see Cyril Ages as he was undergoing final preparations for the ceremony inside one of the two tents set up in the park for that purpose. He’d been mostly silent as two rats from the tailor shop made final adjustments on his formal jacket—basically a long dark tunic—but as soon as they were finished, he asked them to leave so he could talk to his closest friend alone.

“I must confess, Johnathan,” he said after taking a deep breath, “that I’m still…oh, I still can’t believe I’m actually going through with this.”

Johnathan smiled, patting Cyril’s shoulder. He’d seen this coming and was prepared to deal with his friend’s last-minute jitters. “Cyril…this is as big a life-change as anyone could be undergoing, and for you I know it has to be enormous. You just need to ask yourself: Do you love Alma? Do you want her in your life?”

“Yes, of course I do. I have no doubts about that. I suppose…if it’s anything, it’s that…” He sighed and looked squarely at Johnathan. “I remember well how troubled you were by…Madeline’s growing older than you, especially in those last months before you left us. It turned out not to be true, thankfully, but… Oh, I’m sure I needn’t spell the rest out for you.”

“Of course. But I was well aware of our differences beforehand, and I didn’t let it stop me. I realized it was still well worth it, even if I thought I’d outlive her. I hadn’t intended to put off telling her like I did, but…you’ve already leveled with Alma. She knows you might outlive her, and she still loves you and wants to go through with this.”

“Yes, yes, of course.” He began walking in circles around the tent’s interior. “‘Might’ outlive her… Do you still believe that’s possible, Johnathan? That I’ll be able to influence her as you did Madeline?”

“I do. And it may have already started. Maddie and I have both spent time with her, and we’ve been surprised by some of the things she’s said and expressed. We can’t say for sure that it’s solely due to her relationship with you, since we didn’t really know her that well before; but the point is…it would be the height of foolishness to pass up this opportunity for happiness. You know we all want this for you.”

“I know, Johnathan, I know. And…thank you.” Ages stopped pacing and looked at the tent entrance. “Well, then…” He abruptly turned toward Johnathan, looking determined, and to his friend’s surprise gave him a quick hug. Pulling away, he took a moment to relish the look of surprise on Johnathan’s face before saying, “Wish me luck.”

Johnathan did so and both of them headed outside.

Not far away, the bride was undergoing last-minute preparations in her tent. Thus far she hadn’t expressed any outward reluctance or second thoughts, and had been happy and smiling almost nonstop the whole day. Even now, she was looking radiant in her simple but elegant white wedding gown, and was amazed at how she looked in it, continually looking at herself in the mirror, turning from side to side. Now, though, as Madeline and Teresa were going over last-minute details with her, Alma sighed and looked downcast.

“Alma? Honey, what is it?” Madeline asked, taking her arm.

“Oh, it’s just…I just wish that more of my family were here.” Any of the natural mice living in the north end of Thorn Valley had been invited to attend this event, and a few accepted, though most were reluctant to mingle very freely, opting to be spectators on the outer fringes of the crowd. Only one of Alma’s relatives, her sister Trudi, had shown up so far; and when Alma had talked to others of her family yesterday, they’d expressed reluctance, still maintaining that those “unusual” rats and mice made them uneasy. However, none of them, almost paradoxically, outright disapproved of Alma associating with them or even becoming the mate of one of them.

“I didn’t think…it would bother me this much. I’ve wanted to…be with Cyril from…the day I came to his door. I hardly…thought twice about moving away from my old life to a new one with him. But now…” She sat down, Madeline and Teresa joining her on either side. “I still want to marry Cyril, I love him very much. I’m just afraid that…I’ll never see my parents or siblings again after this.”

For Madeline, the words resonated deeply, instantly bringing to mind how her own emotional reactions had changed and broadened soon after becoming acquainted with Johnathan. She’d been well aware of those changes at the time and had accepted them wholeheartedly as part and parcel of her new, happy life; but it would be over three years before she understood more fully the reason why. Now, hearing Alma describe a strikingly similar change in her emotional makeup, she was all but ready to declare that Alma was indeed experiencing the same kind of changes by virtue of being mated to Cyril Ages.

For a brief moment, Madeline debated with herself over whether to bring up that very point; then it occurred to her she could avoid it and still compare her past situation to Alma’s. So she told her about how she’d lost her own parents not long before she and Johnathan met; and though she still missed them after that and did still, the love she’d found with Johnathan helped assuage her grief enormously.

“I may have lost my family, my old family…but before I knew it, I had a new family with Johnathan.” She paused, placing her hand on Alma’s. Teresa did the same. “And it can be the same with you and Cyril.”

“That’s right,” added Teresa, “and your family is still alive. You can still visit them, and I bet they’ll want to come around here after a while. Maybe they just need more time.”

Madeline looked over to Teresa, beaming with pride at her eldest daughter; and Alma thanked both of them for their encouragement, giving each a hug.

“So…” said Madeline, getting to her feet, “how about we get you married now?” Teresa followed, and mother and daughter each took a hand of the bride-to-be, gently pulling her to her own feet. Alma laughed, pretending to put up resistance before the three left the tent together.

With the appearance of both bride and groom from their tents, the musicians, led by Kevin and Lol, took their cue; and in short order, the ceremony began with a melodic flourish. The bride and groom proceeded from different directions toward the flowered arch where Justin awaited to recite the words that would unite them in matrimony. This is really it, he thought—as did many others, not the least of whom were the bride and groom. There had been times, Cyril’s friends had observed, when he seemed almost to regret coming to Thorn Valley to live, without expressing it in so many words. None, himself included, would have guessed how drastically his life would be changed here. If told that it was he who had made these changes come about, entirely from within, he’d likely argue the point, that it was Alma who had made him a new and better person. But he wouldn’t be where he was now without a desire of his own to share his life with someone—a desire that had lain dormant for years. Thus far, Cyril had shared his story about Regina only with Johnathan and Madeline, so Justin and many others wouldn’t know for some time, if ever, the full story behind his transformation.

As they laid eyes on each other’s approach toward Justin and the arch, both felt some lingering nervousness, but neither was about to turn back. They both stopped at the altar, the music stopped, and Justin began his opening address: “Citizens of Thorn Valley…we are all gathered here on this extraordinarily and thankfully mild winter’s day to bear witness to the union of our friends Cyril and Alma in matrimony. This is a day many of us thought would never arrive, but now that it has…let us proceed toward that golden moment.”

The two faced each other, smiling, both feeling any lingering nervousness fall away. As agreed, Alma began.

“Before I met Cyril…my life was different, so different that…I feel like I’m not even the same person as I was then. It’s like I’m seeing and hearing and feeling everything differently than before.”

At these words Cyril felt, ever more strongly, that Johnathan’s earlier words of encouragement reflected the absolute truth. His spirits soaring, he took in the remainder of Alma’s vow, eager to follow it with his own.

“…And not just differently, but better, because I’ve come to know this man for what he truly is: kind, gentle, always wanting to help his fellow mice…and rats. This is what fascinated me about him when we first met, and…that fascination turned to love. Now I want us to be together always.”

As she reached for his hand, Alma gazed upon him with the most adoring and desirous look he’d seen on her features yet, and Cyril felt all the more emboldened. Any remaining doubts he may have had, about not being worthy of her love, that this was a mistake, that they weren’t right for each other for any reason, fell away; and, exhilarated, he began his own vow. The words spilled out nearly spontaneously; he hadn’t made any notes or rehearsed.

“It’s no secret to anyone that…I was never expected to marry. And…honestly, I was no exception. But now…I am ready and willing to…to leave that part of my life behind for good…and for better. This young woman is…the first to truly find that special place in my heart since…what was almost literally a lifetime ago. And she is the one, beyond a doubt, that I love and want for my own.”

The two joined hands crosswise, as had become the custom, and looked toward Justin, smiling.

Justin allowed himself one more brief moment of disbelief before speaking the words that would finalize the ceremony: very much the standard question asked by countless human clergymen and judges—for richer, for poorer, etc.—and which Justin, and occasionally Johnathan, had intoned on other such occasions since last summer, when formal wedding ceremonies had begun here. But this one, many knew even now, would stand out in particular in their memories.

After the pair said their “I do’s,” Justin said, “Cyril…Alma…are you ready to begin this new chapter of your lives?” They both nodded and answered yes.

“Then, by the power invested in me by the good people of Thorn Valley, I now pronounce you husband and wife. Now…cross the threshold into your new life together.”

The newlyweds walked arm-in-arm under the flowered archway, then kissed briefly and embraced, to everyone’s cheers and applause. Throughout the crowd, there were many shouted congratulations…as well as the occasional sign that bets were being settled.

One of Ages’s colleagues, Jemial, said to his friend Clayton, “Well, have fun scrubbing those pots and pans tomorrow.”

Clayton just grumbled in reply. Everyone in the colony, including the elders, helped out in the kitchen and dining hall on a rotating basis; and now Jemial, quietly satisfied that he’d won his bet, got up to give his own congratulations to the new couple. Nearby, Bernadette, who had heard the exchange without knowing beforehand about her colleague’s bet, made a sour face. She didn’t generally approve of this kind of gambling, even though the stakes weren’t especially high, but was nonetheless glad about its outcome.

The newlyweds accepted everyone’s good wishes with many handshakes and hugs, though it was apparent to nearly everyone that, for Cyril, it was a something of a test of his endurance. He faced it all with great stoicism, and after some minutes he announced that he and the lady would like a few more minutes alone.

As they moved away from the greater part of the crowd, they were approached by Alma’s sister Trudi, who looked as one who’d been desperate for her chance to meet the couple. They’d noticed that she’d been one of those reluctant to get too close to the ceremony and assured her that no one here, mouse or rat, would ever mean her harm. Trudi agreed to remember that and try harder to be at ease among them. The Brisby family, who hadn’t actually talked with her at length yet, approached them, and Madeline and Teresa offered to show her around.

Many of the guests had begun heading back to the colony, and others had begun breaking down the arch and other decorations. The two tents, as well, were being prepared for dismantling until Ages approached the two rats who were beginning to take down one of them and asked them to hold off a few minutes.

After leading Alma inside, he almost immediately took her in his arms and kissed her tenderly. Alma was a bit surprised but quickly went with the moment, sighing contentedly.

Almost a minute later, Cyril pulled away to look upon his bride’s smiling face. “Alma, my darling…would you mind if we consider this our first kiss as a married couple?”

“No, I’d like that. Was it because…everyone was watching us out there?”

Cyril sighed. “Yes, I…I guess I’m still not comfortable with a big crowd watching. Even though everyone knows how I feel about you, it’s just…I don’t know, it’s kind of silly…”

“Oh, no, Cyril, it’s fine, I understand. I know Johnathan and Madeline don’t mind if anyone sees them getting lovey-dovey, but…I could tell from our first day together that you’d rather be more private about it.”

Cyril beamed, pleased at how well the two of them had come to know each other. “Yes, that’s right. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Oh, no, Cyril. You do and say so much to let me know how much you care. That’s all I need.”

“Well, then…that’s all I need too.” He kissed her again.

Before they were finished, both saw, in their peripheral vision, a figure at the tent-flap and saying “Oh” quietly before letting it fall back in place. Ages smiled and said, “It’s all right, Trudi, come on in.”

Trudi pushed aside the flap again, peering in shyly but also looking as one with important business. “What is it, sweetie?” said Alma as she approached her sister.

“Alma…they…they came!” When everyone was outside, “they” were positively identified as Alma’s parents, Jesse and Mona, and one of her brothers, Zack, along with Madeline and Teresa. Many introductions followed—actually reintroductions, since Ages had met her family on the goodwill tour two months past—and everyone, including the Brisby females, went back inside the tent. They were all, including Trudi, obviously still ill at ease among these unusual mice, but clearly maintaining a brave front for Alma’s sake.

Before any real discussion began, Johnathan joined them. When word had gotten around that more of Alma’s family had shown up, Justin had offered to accompany Johnathan to this meeting; but Johnathan believed that, for now at least, it should be mice-only. Though the Rats had actively tried to foster friendly relations with the locals since their arrival last spring, the results were a mixed bag. Some, like the Brisbys’ mouse friends Eric and Sarah, were comfortable around and even socialized with the newcomers (though primarily with the Brisbys and Ages); but many, like their mother Audrey, still kept their distance, regarding them with unease and distrust, with few if any able to articulate exactly why.

There was awkward near-silence in the tent for another minute, with Jesse and Mona saying they remembered Ages and the Brisbys from their visit weeks before, and appearing to be at a loss for anything else to say. Johnathan started to make the offer to take them on a tour of the colony, but Jesse cut him off in midsentence, appearing to all but ignore him.

“Alma, if you want to remain with these creatures, you may, but you will not be welcome in our home again.”

Alma’s jaw dropped in shock, and her new husband and friends and neighbors looked around at each other in disbelief. “But…but, Father…how…why?”

“Their…their ways are too strange, we don’t trust them, the way they just came into this land and took over, and drove out everyone.” Mona just nodded silently, apparently in complete agreement.

Johnathan and Madeline looked at each other, both having noticed the apprehension in Jesse’s voice. It certainly matched the attitudes they’d been met with from other natural mice, though to a higher degree than most. Neither could resist feeling some frustration, for all they’d expected this possibility.

Jesse continued: “If you’re mated to one of them now, then you can’t be one of us. Now…” He looked around at Mona and Zack and Trudi. “…we have to go.” Immediately he got to his feet, the others following suit.

Teresa was reminded of their old babysitter Auntie Shrew’s dismissal of the Rats as thieves and scoundrels, and began feeling almost angry at Jesse’s equally irrational declaration. She was on the verge of speaking up now, as she did with the Shrew during the family’s last meeting with her months ago; but instead turned to her mother, her expression matching her mood. Madeline recognized it and urged her to silence as Johnathan made ready to speak.

“Jesse,” he began as Alma’s father headed for the tent-flap, “we’re not monsters, we’re mice like you.” Jesse paused, appearing willing to listen.

“Sure, we have different ways than you, but we just want to be friendly. And that goes for the Rats, too. We want to be good friends and neighbors to everyone here. Yes, it’s true that we, or rather the Rats, may have forced some creatures to move; but there’s plenty of room for all. We’re perfectly willing to share this land with you.” He strove to sound as cheerful and earnest and unintimidating as possible, uncertain at this point whether he could truly win them over, but not yet ready to give up trying.

He was about to bring up the point about predators being driven out of the area when Jesse cut him off again. “You’re…you’re just too different, too strange. This…wedding, you call it? It’s the last straw. Come on, Mona, Zack, Trudi. We’re going home.” He glanced at Alma, face betraying no emotion; then all four mice went back outside. Trudi was the only one who looked back briefly, looking regretful, apologetic.

Alma could only stare at the tent-flap in mute shock, unable to believe any of this could happen on what started out as the happiest day of her life. Cyril took her in his arms, and she clung tightly to him, sobbing on his shoulder. He glanced at Johnathan, expression filled with frustration at what he couldn’t prevent. Madeline went to them to lend additional comfort.

“I…I wanted to say something, Dad,” said Teresa, with tears in her eyes as well, “but it probably wouldn’t have done any good. I…felt so angry, I would have just made it worse.”

“It’s all right, sweetheart, I don’t blame you.” Johnathan kissed her forehead, showing little of the frustration he felt over Jesse’s total dismissal of his words. Both of them went to help reassure Alma.

After another minute, Alma managed to say, “Thank you…all of you. I know Father thought…all of you were…strange, unusual; but I never expected him to…be so…so…” She looked at Teresa, smiling through her tears. “I remember what you said, Teresa. Maybe…do you still think that…they could come around?”

Teresa almost said that, given what they’d all just witnessed, there was probably little if any chance; but instead she said, “I guess…anything’s possible, Alma.”

“Yes,” agreed Madeline, embracing the new bride. “And in the meantime, you have all of us…especially Cyril.” Alma’s new husband spoke his quiet agreement, stroking her shoulder gently. There was more he wanted to say right then, but he decided it was best left for later.

After another minute of near-silent reassurance, the tent-flap opened. The other three older Brisby children, unable to contain their curiosity any longer, poured through. “Was that Alma’s family that just left?” asked Timothy. Johnathan looked up at them, nodding.

“Yeah, what happened?” asked Martin, scratching his head. “They looked kind of…” He paused as Teresa gave him a stern look. He looked back out past the tent-flap, looking for the departing family of mice, but was unable to see them.

Johnathan stepped in quickly to explain as best he could how Alma’s family had all but disowned her for marrying Mr. Ages. Cynthia immediately went to help reassure her.

Martin again looked at Teresa, as frustrated as her. Like the rest of his family, he’d taken a liking to Alma and now felt his anger rise, as much as Teresa did. “It’s not fair,” he said quietly to Timothy. “Why would they do that to her?”

Timothy sighed. “I guess some naturals are just…”

“…just gonna be that way. I know.” Martin looked back outside, fighting the urge to go out and find Alma’s family and give them a piece of his mind.

Timothy looked at Johnathan and asked, “That’s it, isn’t it, Dad? They distrust us just because we’re different from them?” He spoke with an air of resignation; though he knew this wasn’t the case with all naturals, as did his sibs, it was still disillusioning each time it happened.

Certainly they were aware of all this already and didn’t need further explanation, but all the same Johnathan spoke encouragingly to his sons, emphasizing the point that not all naturals rejected them, reminding them of their old creekside neighbors—Kory, Janice and their children—as well as Eric and Sarah. Martin and Timothy listened patiently; and though neither would admit it to each other, both couldn’t help wondering if a similar situation could occur in the future, involving either of them directly.

Presently Cyril asked to be left alone with his bride for a while. When it was just the two of them in the tent, they just embraced quietly for another minute. “Alma…my dear, sweet girl…I’m so sorry I…couldn’t do anything to…to prevent what happened.” He drew back to face her. “I feel like I should have been able to…I don’t know, do something. I knew I’d probably have to deal with your family, but I never wanted any of this to happen to you.” He realized that this was the first time rejection by naturals had bothered him this much, and that it was all the more significant because it was on behalf of one he loved rather than himself—something he wouldn’t have been able to say only a month ago.

Alma smiled through her tears. “Cyril…my love…I’m not sure that you could have…done anything. It’s sweet of you, but…I knew there was a chance this could happen. Father’s always been so stubborn. In fact…”

She swallowed hard, looking as one on the verge of a major confession. “…on the night I came to your door…or rather, earlier that day…I’d had an argument with him over…those ‘strange’ mice that had visited us, and what they were really all about, what they wanted here, and why they were friends with those rats. He didn’t really…forbid me to see them…or you. But…ooh! I just got so tired of him going on and on like he did, just ranting, saying things about you that…I knew couldn’t be true. And Mother, and Zack and Trudi just sat there, not saying anything, just going along with him. I just couldn’t take any more of it, I had to get away from them for a while. So I just went for a walk, and I didn’t really care where I was going, or that the weather was getting bad.”

“And…you got misdirected, and eventually found your way to me.” Cyril was actually not terribly surprised at her confession.

“Yes. I guess that…I thought I might run into the Brisbys, or just one of them, or you…or even some of the Rats, and tell them what Father was saying. I wanted so much to hear someone tell me that none of those things were true.” She sighed, looking out toward the tent-flap.

“Alma…maybe they will accept you into their lives again. But until then…you are accepted here, in my world. And as long as…both of us are alive, that’s how it will always be.”

She looked at him, again smiling radiantly through her tears. She took his face in both hands and kissed him. “Cyril…Mr. Ages…let’s go home now.”

Cyril grinned broadly. “Very well…Mrs. Ages.” They left the tent together. The crew of Rats who had already dismantled the other tent asked if they were through, then congratulated the new couple again and resumed their work.

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