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Estella had only been married for a year, but she had, having grown up down the street, known Randal’s family for far longer than that – she had, unlike some women to marry into this family, prior warning. With Randal’s family – or, more accurately, Randal’s mother’s family – you needed that prior warning.
Estella could tell, looking around the church, who had that warning and who hadn’t. Many of these women were strangers to her; Randal’s family was large, and only truly came together like this for weddings and funerals. Asta, Estella knew, hadn’t been well-loved or much-befriended, but she had been an Aunt. Every family member who could make it would be here, probably three times as many as had made it to Estella and Randal’s wedding, thank heavens.
And the priest had that look on his face that they so often did when faced with the family. It was sort of like someone had made him eat a lemon and then told him, afterwards, that he’d be given blessings in heaven and a big fat wallet, all with the taste of citrus still in his mouth.
One row forward and a couple seats over, Estella picked out a no-prior-warning woman, clinging her three children – two boys and a girl, all in Sunday best – close to her as if terrified that one of the children would misbehave. She didn’t need to worry. In the family, children were forgiven so much more than, say, daughters-in-law.
Estella glanced behind her first – there were still plenty of family members trickling in. The priest would be grumpy, but he would wait until at least all of the older generations were seated, at least if he liked preaching in this town. There was still time.
She leaned forward, mindful of her own round belly, until she could speak to the likely-cousin-in-law without being overheard. “Did you ever meet Asta?” It was best to start with simple things, things they could pretend were normal.
The woman jumped. “Ah! No, no I mean, she was at our wedding, and I saw her at a funeral a couple years past, but I never was introduced. I’m not part of that branch – oh, you probably know that.”
“Not really.” Estella used her most reassuring smile. “The family is big enough that you lose track pretty easily, and I only married in a year ago. I’m still learning my husband’s first cousins, much less the second cousins and uncles and… Aunts.”
The woman shuddered. “It’s crazy, isn’t it?”
Estella gave that one some thought. “Which part?” she tried.
“All of it!” She’d started out quietly enough, but her voice got a little loud as she went. “The ‘Aunts,’ and all the superstition, and the way the old women…”
“Easy, easy.” Estella patted the woman’s shoulder gingerly. “Look, here is probably not the place.”
The woman flushed and, less surreptitiously than she probably thought, looked around the sanctuary. “I – yeah. Sorry.”
“No, no, it’s okay. I know the feeling.” This really, really, wasn’t the place. But. “My name’s Estella.”
“Look, Jocelyn, why don’t you give me your number, and then we can – I don’t know, talk, get together for coffee? Let the kids have a play date.” If the woman was still that freaked out after three kids… “You look like you could use someone to talk to.” And the family would do better if someone soothed Jocelyn – especially before her daughters were of age.
“Oh, that would be so nice. Someone who knows all the crazy and doesn’t buy into it. Yes, thank you.”
Oh, dear. Estella mostly managed to hide her wince: crazy? She definitely needed to talk to this one. “My pleasure.”
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