Hayat looked over the railing into the reception hall of the Signature Room. Ninety-five floors above the bustle of humanity below, and she felt a tinge of dread. She attributed her nerves to a fear of heights. A photographer paid to stalk her all day snapped photos of a pensive bride looking over Chicago at dusk. Her gown cascaded in perfect ruffled blooms, her ears twinkled with her wedding jewels. In the reflection of the glass, she thought she saw her mother behind her, but chalked it up to a figment of her imagination. Fear of the future and dread of the past mingled, disorienting her for a moment. Outside she noticed the helicopters buzzing above Lake Shore Drive.
Her father-in-law rented the entire restaurant. Almost five hundred guests waited to see the bride and groom enter the room. The thought alone made her queasy. Hayat did not know most of the people she would greet tonight. The vast majority of the guests attended out of respect for her father-in-law and the rest of the family. Most of the guests were dignitaries of the new world and the old world, of New Chicago and Illinois, even a couple of Feds. Yet, to an eighteen year old almost completely compelled into marriage, she would not have recognized many of the names on the list. She knew only that the Issa name commanded respect, despite the occasional scandalous incident. These calamitous events, though rare, attracted the community’s gaze. Likely, many attended anticipating a continuation of drama.
“Some are here hoping for an encore performance,” Aden whispered in her ear, in a rare moment of intimacy. Proximity during multiple traumas had created a false familiarity, or perhaps they really were falling love.
“They look so content. Talking to each other, sipping cordials, being kind. I almost don’t want to disturb them.” She faced him and forced a smile.
“Well, they are all kind of here for us. We should make some sort of entrance. I mean, I’m in a tuxedo. People need to see this,” he sniffed, spun on his heel. Aden had overnight become a charming suitor, and Hayat, his intended, his prize. “I clean up good.”
“You do! Wallah, you do. But do they really need to see us? Are they really here to see us? No, they’re here for them. For your father, particularly. We could totally bail on this. Get the limo. Grab Ryan and Ahlam. Maybe Noor and Dean. Hit the clubs. No one will card an Issa in a wedding dress.” She smiled and her green eyes twinkled, her strawberry blond hair offset with crystals gave added the exact right amount of bling to the moment.
“I am sorry. I know I need to do more than just say it. But, I am sorry about everything that happened yesterday.” He spoke with caution, as if she may flee, run away, leave him behind to sort out the madness. He would not blame her if she did.
“I know you are. There’s nothing to be sorry about. Yesterday is scorched earth. Nothing of it remains. Today, everything begins,” she offered, trying desperately to convince herself. COuld she put it all behind her? Could she move on with this man? Would she be able to put her childhood to rest?. She peered over her left shoulder. “Except this, of course. I think it’ll scar, but it’ll be a reminder of what we will never be. We will never be hateful or vengeful or petty.” She smiled at her husband and sought his dark eyes for affirmation, but only saw exhaustion. They were too young to feel so tired, but secession, then siege, and then honor and tradition all weighed so heavily on young souls.
“Let’s make a deal. We make an entrance. Shake some hands. Cut the cake with that giant sword. Watch some dancers. An hour. In and out. You’re right. This party is about them, not us. But it’s still a hell of a party. I mean, it is the Signature Room, not the VFW. We need to let that sink in. Let’s give them the show they’re waiting for. The rest of our life is ours. None of them can tell us anything.” He leaned over and kissed her bottom lip. “This time tomorrow, we’ll be flying to Paris. We’ll see the Eiffel Tower. We’ll go to the Louvre. We’ll do all the touristy stuff. But first…” He gestured for Hayat to go first.
“Fine,” she responded. “But one hour. Then out the door. We have things to do. Places to go.” She adjusted herself. Her floor-length lace halter designer dress of cascading romantic ruffles slightly irritated the bandage on her left shoulder. Aden adjusted it for her. “Have you looked out the window? Those helicopters are close. Are they news? Are we that important?”
“Those aren’t helicopters. They are drones,” Aden responded. His eyebrows furrowed in the way all the Issas did, creating a straight line of consternation. He heard that there had been an escalation in negotiations, that the UN had pressured the federal government to lift the siege, that the Interim Government had stopped taking phone calls. The situation had become incredibly tense, however, Aden’s father had assured him that all would be fine, that a wedding in the occupied city would not be a problem.
“Drones? Like with missiles?” Hayat asked, a bit shocked at the idea.
“Yeah, we’re that important,” he laughed. “No, they’re probably just some kind of techy spy drones gathering information for the Stateys. Don’t forget that we are a large group of Arabs congregating in New Chicago.”
“You make it seem normal.” She looked at him askance. When did all of this become normal? Drones and spies and death everywhere. When did their home become the center of an occupation? When did it become commonplace for Americans to live under siege? Grant it, the “siege” was more ceremonial than anything, and until recent months, barely noticeable to those living outside the New Chicago borders. In fact, her life had barely been impacted by the siege until yesterday’s attempt to cross into New Chicago. However, slowly, the people had started to feel the consequences of political movements.
“Normal? Ain’t nothing normal about us, hayati,” he laughed. He needed this day to go smooth. He needed this all to be alright.
“Are we going to be alright?” She stared out onto the setting autumn sun, her thin shoulders shuddered.
“We are all going to be alright. It’s all going to be ok,” he assured her with the steadiest voice he could muster. “Are you ready, then, Mrs. Issa?” He offered his arm, though the height differential was almost comical, she rested her arm on his and prepared to enter the party.
“Well, at least I don’t have to change my name,” she laughed. Her laugh was bright, infectious. The wound on her shoulder ached a bit, but she shirked it off. Tonight, there was no wound, no pain, no memory of a time before: Hayat and Aden Issa, a room full of well-wishers, some dancers, some champagne, photographers, family, and most of all, love.