An invitation

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I had deliberately put off this moment for many months. Many months of planning and dreaming and writing my vows, re-writing them, starting over once, twice, thrice ... Because none of them were perfect enough to speak aloud before our closest family and friends as the ultimate pledge of loyalty and love, directed at the most perfect of men. Especially since I knew that man - my prince, my best friend, my white tiger - would write a poem any vows I could come up with, would pale next to in comparison. That didn't stop me from trying though. I wasn't quite the poet he was, but I loved him just as much. I guess I just had to find the right words to articulate that feeling ...

But anyhow, that wasn't my concern right now. I wasn't writing my vows, I was laying down my offerings at the tiny temple dedicated to Durga we built at the edge of our lands, so we'd always be able to access her. Even though the statue of her we'd saved from the ruins of a temple in Northern India hadn't come alive since we'd completed the quest and the boys were full-time men again, I came here today.

I guess that was why I was so nervous about the whole thing. If she didn't come to life now, I'd have two very big problems on my bridezilla hands: the first, was the fact that Durga not accepting my offers and granting my request, would mean to me that she did not bless our union. Even though I'm pretty sure she actually did and there might be some divine reason for her to no longer appear to us the way she did when we were completing the four quests, it would feel that way to me.

Anamika had sort of become a big sister to me in the time we'd spent in the past, and Durga was almost like a 'stepmother' of sorts - even if they were technically the same person. She was a powerful female role model who came into my life when I was technically already an adult, but who helped guide me as much as if I were an infant taking her first steps. Her disapproval would cut like a knife and make me wonder: would my actual mother approve? I chuckled at the thought of Ren meeting my adoptive mother Sarah and knew that at least, she wholeheartedly approved. I chuckled again when I realized there were no less than three women in my life I called mother in one way or the other. I guess the universe was trying to make up for me losing my mom and dad in the only way it knew how to: by granting me Durga and Mr. Kadam, Sarah and Mike. I smiled fondly but sadly, imagining them all in the same room, alive and happy, for my wedding. The thought made me feel light and heavy at the same time.

I would have plenty of loved ones attend my marriage to Ren, even though my parents wouldn't be there. Nilima, who had become like a big sister to me. And of course Kishan, Rebecca* and Sam* - all of them the siblings I never had, growing up.

Well, I chuckled once more, I guess describing Kishan as a sibling is understating things a bit. After tomorrow though, he would be. My brother-in-law. Someone I couldn't imagine my life without. Imagining him being trapped in the past, as destiny had originally intended for him, I once again thanked my lucky stars - and Durga, for her generosity - that we had broken the prophecy and had managed to stay together, here, where we belonged.

I owed so much to Durga already. Was it asking too much, to help her accommodate my wedding? Was it too trivial a request? Did she have much more important goddess things to worry about, there where she resided when she wasn't granting us gifts and wisdom and priceless advice?

When I kneeled before the altar with my offerings that day, all lightness left me. My knees felt like lead, magnetized to the floor. For not only did I fear Durga's disapproval if the goddess would not appear before me today and grant me back the gifts we'd retrieved for her during the two years spent completing the quest, it would also leave me without a wedding dress ... and a caterer.

Oh, did I forget to mention the wedding is tomorrow? Yeah, it's tomorrow. Told you I'd been putting it off for months ...

Though secretly I suspected Nilima to have a back-up wedding plan ready to go once I'd storm back into the house, crying and disappointed, I hoped it wouldn't come to that. Well, only one way to find out.

I lay down my offerings one by one: a silk ivory hair ribbon, the first poem Ren wrote for me, one of his wishes from the Star Festival saying he wished me to be his wife even back then, a white lotus flower and my engagement ring with the winking blue sapphire stone. I hoped she'd give that last one back to me and accept the symbolic offering, more than the actual one. If she'll wake up at all, that is.

And finally: a personalized invitation cordially inviting Anamika/Durga and her tiger Damon/Sunil to our pending nuptials. A bit corny, sure, but a heartfelt gesture none the less. I hoped it would do the trick. Never a bad idea to butter up the goddess a bit, right?

Okay, showtime, Kells. I let out a pent-up breath and tinkled the bells attached to my anklet. I waited, and, as the minutes ticked by, began questioning my decision to come alone. Ren should have been here with me ... But my gut had told me to come alone, and Ren had agreed with me to follow my instincts on this. Now, my head was screaming at my gut for being a total idiot. If Ren had been here, surely Durga would have already ...

My patience was finally rewarded when my offerings disappeared, shimmering into nothingness. Durga's statue slowly melted into pink flesh, rosy cheeks, red lips and eyes with the knowledge of all that had passed and all that was yet to come gleaming behind them.

"Kelsey, my daughter", she spoke, and mesmerizingly so. "Your offerings have been accepted, and I know why you have come here today." Of course she did, an inner voice muttered. But was that a good thing or a bad thing? My unspoken question was answered when the Golden Fruit and the Divine Scarf appeared on the altar where moments ago my offers had lain. Then she bent towards me, glowing like the goddess she was, and held out Ren's poem rolled up tightly inside my engagement ring. "You'll be needing these. As early as tomorrow, if my invitation is not mistaken."

"Yes, Anamika. I mean, Durga. I'm sorry, I'm still not sure what to call you."

"I figured as much from the invitation", she smiled, warmly. I could actually feel the love and heat radiating from her as she gazed at me. So different from the human woman I met in the past, yet so alike that the mention of her human name had escaped me immediately upon seeing her. The goddess was a coin, and I was one of the few people to know both sides. With the Fruit and the Scarf tucked under my arm, it appeared she was a lucky coin indeed. "Thank you so much. I hope you can be there when we say our vows, in one way ..." I glanced at her meaningfully. "Or another."

She merely nodded before slowly returning to immobile stone once more. Guess I'll have to save her a seat at the honour table, I mumbled.

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