Issue 13: Faith, Hope, Love

The entire family was gathered, spread out in their six rooms along the north side of the Denver Coliseum. Blanca still had questions for Pablo, but once the nieces and nephews arrived, both of them were too busy enjoying the youngsters' antics and getting everyone dressed in their fancy clothes to find more time to chat.

Rene seemed almost too comfortable in his role of a childhood friend who had left the neighborhood after third grade but who had managed to reconnect with Pablo and keep in touch over the past ten years or so.

"...I'm afraid I don't remember you, Señora Ortiz. Lo siento..."

"...joined the Navy right out of high school. SEAL training is tough, you're right..."

"...with San Diego PD for the past eight years..."

"...keep trying to get Pablo to come back to California, but after meeting Andi, I see I'm fighting a losing battle..."

" brother is still in Chicago, sure. He's got six kids, can you believe it?"

Blanca snickered at some of the things she overheard. She knew a lot of what Rene said was true for the man he was pretending to be. He was either the quickest study in the universe, or he was as used to doing undercover work as Pablo... maybe even more so. She was keeping Melissa, Ladonna's youngest, occupied when she caught up to Rene after that last comment of his.

"Yo, Casper. You might want to downplay the fictitious nieces and nephews," she said as she held Melissa on one hip; the little girl was entirely focused on Rene. "We all know Andi probably can't have kids, and it's kind of a sore subject with Pablo." She eyed her niece as the toddler tried to grab the air around Rene.


Blanca raised an eyebrow. "Hmm. Lissa did the same thing to Andi when she came out to L.A. with Pablo."

Rene smiled at the little one and held out a hand to the tyke, who squealed with delight and managed to grab his thumb. She patted his palm and looked up at Blanca with her big brown eyes.

"Pretty, Banca! See? Pretty!"

Blanca grinned. "I believe you, sweetheart."

Rene chuckled as he wiggled his fingers for Melissa. "According to Andi, the youngest ones can see the Spirits because they haven't been brainwashed into thinking they shouldn't. The ability disappears for most of them at puberty." His smile faded a bit when he looked at Blanca. "Pablo's issues have been more a thorn in Andrea's side than anything else. I'm not sure if he wants to raise a baseball team or a soccer team or a bowling league this week. Andrea has been quite vexed with him."

He paused, looking across the room at his Brother before continuing.

"They've worked things out, I think. I haven't heard Andi threatening to thump him on the head with her stick lately, at any rate."

Blanca nodded. "Well, he just misses Juan so much that..." She shrugged.

"I know he does, Blanca," Rene replied. "Andi manages to get him talking about his wife and son — she truly does care about their memories. One of her more frightening abilities is to hold onto memories... not just her own, but those of people she cares about. I think Maddie and Logan's twins have been good for him in some ways. Em and Vin can be little hellions, at least according to Maddie. But watching them be themselves and having the chance to talk about Juan... Well, I think he is starting to understand that no matter how many children are in his life, no one can replace his son."

She looked at him as she considered his words; finally, she nodded. "That's good. You know that Justin coaches a soccer team in Chicago, right? He said Andi wanted him to talk to Pablo about getting involved in something like that out here. I think it would be good for him."

Rene smiled in the most innocently charming way possible. "Are you sure there's nothing going on between the two of you?"

Blanca thought about clubbing him over the head, but it wasn't practical when holding a four year old.

"I'll have you know, Mr. Smarty Pants, that I talk to Nicole almost as much as I talk to Justin. We're all family, and it's okay for me to do that."

Rene laughed. "Hey, just checking. It wouldn't be a very good idea to have discord in the Warrior's family."

"Uh huh. And I'm going to remind you later to tell me about this Warrior thing." She looked at the pre-teen boy walking toward them. "But not now."

"Hey, Tia Blanca, I'll take Melissa... Mama says she'll do up your hair now," the boy said.

"Thanks, Julio," she said, setting the toddler on her feet beside her oldest cousin. "You stay with Julio now, okay, Lissa?"

The little one nodded solemnly, then looked up at Julio's face while pointing to Rene. "Hoolee! See? Pretty, pretty!"

Julio laughed. "Señors are handsome, Mellie. Señoras y Señoritas are pretty."

Blanca could just imagine the ensuing conversation — Julio insisting that men were handsome, Melissa insisting that Rene was pretty — because the four year old could see what the eleven year old couldn't — and Rene finding the whole thing amusing. And imagining it was precisely what she was going to have to do — her eldest sister promised to French braid her hair. Blanca tried to do it herself on numerous occasions, she really did. But every single time, it looked crooked and more like a rat's nest than a braid.

Eventually, everyone was dressed in their fancy clothes and milling around in the corridor. All the women and girls wore bright, multi-colored, multi-layered dresses that were still popular in the region of Mexico where Poppa's family was from, and most of the men wore traditional embroidered linen shirts. Rosalia's poppa, however, wore an American suit that would have looked appropriate at every other wedding Blanca had attended.

There was a sense of nervous anticipation rippling through the family. Blanca looked over at her brother. Pablo wore a beautiful blue shirt that Justin had given him. All the jewelry was borrowed from various members of Andrea's family — cuffs at his wrists that were turquoise encrusted silver, a leather belt with more silver and turquoise, and a multi-stranded necklace of more turquoise beads. There were some reddish orange beads in the necklace, too, but Pablo had no idea what they were. Blanca never realized there were so many shades of turquoise!

The shirt was his to keep, a gift from his new brother. Everything else would be returned to the rightful owners at some point.

Apparently, all the cousins — the male ones anyway — had been bickering for months over what type of shirt Pablo should wear. They had stopped arguing for a while because one of the other cousins had declared that he was going to wear a tuxedo and that was that. Pablo hadn't had much to say on the matter, just that he'd wear something. Marrying Andrea was the important thing, not what he wore. Blanca almost sighed. Pablo had the heart of a romantic, but sometimes he definitely got a little too practical. Although... yeah, marrying Andrea was the important thing. Anyway, the cousins had started arguing again after Halloween. Pablo thought it was silly. Blanca agreed that it was ridiculous.

He had worn a tuxedo when he married Rosalia. Even though one of Andrea's cousins had declared that to be the attire of the day, Blanca had never been convinced it would happen. She and Elvia and Ladonna all agreed that the traditional linen guayabera would be appropriate — it honored their Mexican heritage, it was practical and comfortable, and the three of them would have a marvelous time embroidering it.

If Blanca hadn't been looking directly at Pablo, she wouldn't have noticed that Rene seemed to step out of a nearby shadow rather than a doorway. He said something to Pablo, which caused Pablo to grin like a ninny and adjust some of the jewelry he wore.

"Poppa Lorenzo?"

It was the sign they had all been waiting for. Conversations stopped, and the air crackled with excitement. Rosalia's father had been having an animated discussion with their mother, one that brought smiles and laughter to both of them. At the sound of his name, Lorenzo held out an arm to Maria, and they walked the short distance down the corridor toward Pablo.

The sight of them made Blanca smile. Momma had spent so many years being worried about Pablo. As it turned out, so had Lorenzo. Although they exchanged Christmas cards every year, Blanca wondered why they hadn't stayed closer. Momma had gone to Gloria's funeral Mass and had genuinely been saddened by the passing of her daughter-in-law's mother. She is in Heaven now with her Rosalia and Juan, Momma would often say. Perhaps Señor Delgado hadn't been ready to rejoin the family until now. He had always, always been welcome... Blanca knew that. It was the same for Ladonna's husband's family... Anton might be gone, but the Nazarios were always at any big family celebration that Ladonna and her children attended. And Ladonna loved a good party, so that was all of the festivities!

Rene interrupted her musings when he stopped at her side. He too wore a suit as Señor Delgado did, but now it was a different one than he' d been wearing earlier.

"Señorita, may I escort you?" he asked, offering her his arm even more elegantly than Señor Delgado had for Momma. At the look she gave him — hesitant and suspicious — he chuckled. "I promise to behave myself. And I assure you that I'll be thoroughly pummeled by both Andrea and my wife if they even suspect I've been less than a perfect gentleman."

Blanca raised an eyebrow but accepted the gesture with grace.

"I'm discovering a whole different side of my sister-in-law that I never even suspected." They stood closer to Pablo, Lorenzo, and Maria than the rest of the family, but she spoke softly enough not to be overheard. "And when did you change your clothes?"

"A few minutes ago, when I asked Andi if it was time to start. She thought the other one was too stark. It's all an illusion anyway. She tried to get me to wear a getup like Pablo's." Rene shook his head. "It looks great on him, but it's not my style. My dear Maddie suggested the leather tuxedo, and I thought Andi was actually going to cry. Then they started going into a crazy place, talking about Leon's birthday party, and Andi said that SHE was going to wear a leather tux... Well, I got out of there then."

Blanca stared at him for a moment. "You're feeding me a line of bullshit, aren't you?"

"Oh, no. Definitely not! Just ask them later."

Pablo was walking through the tunnel-like entrance to the arena with Momma and Señor Delgado. Blanca and Rene were waiting in the corridor for them to actually step into the arena before entering the tunnel themselves. Blanca had asked Pablo — and even Justin and Andrea — what sort of procession the family should have. Was there a particular order to it? Should they enter the arena single file, or in pairs... or what?

Pablo had been patient, Justin had been considerate, but it was Andrea's giggling that had finally brought the point home for Blanca.

You're all coming to a party, Blanca. I've essentially invited you to my house. Walk, skip, do cartwheels if you want! Whatever makes you happy. I probably wouldn't recommend everyone running over to see who is fastest, but that's mostly because we won't know what kind of prep the City and County will have done on the floor for the next event. They're just fitting us in, you know? So whatever works for your family is perfectly fine. Well, Pablo needs to get there first. But the rest of you just do you.

Momma and Señor Delgado had decided to "escort" Pablo to meet Andrea's dad. And the rest of them were just... winging it.

As she walked through the short tunnel with Rene, Blanca could hear the children laughing and chasing one another; their laughter was interspersed with the voices of their elders gently admonishing them to be careful and to not get their fancy clothes dirty. Her grandparents were laughing as much as the youngsters, so Blanca figured everything was well in hand.

"I'm not sure what to believe anymore," she said to Rene as she watched her brother. "There are a lot of strange things going on, that's for sure." She sighed. "I don't think Pablo really understands all of it himself."

Rene looked behind them, but no one was particularly close to the two of them.

"You need to understand, Blanca, that Pablo has had less time than any of us to get acclimated to the oddness of life he's found himself in. Logan is older than you can imagine, and he's the sort of guy who will accept just about anything with what often seems an eerie calm — unless it threatens his family.

"Maddie is older than she looks and has seen the worst of humanity at a far too young age. It sometimes makes her sound harsh or cynical. But on the other hand, she loves fiercely — her children, Logan and me, Andi and Pablo. Like Andi, she's protective of anyone she considers her people. She's the best friend a person could have and the worst enemy.

"I'm... well, I had enough time to come to terms with being dead that being Maddie's guardian angel in this form I've wound up with wasn't so much of a stretch, really. I would have done anything to protect her when I was alive. It's no different now.

"Andi has known of the effects of the genetic mutations since she was a little girl when one of her friends shifted to one of the bird shapes and couldn't get back to human form. And she's lived with her own gifts since reaching womanhood. It's only completely new for Pablo."

Rene looked out across the arena to the hogan that Andi's family had constructed. Nelson was greeting the three of them warmly. Now, there was a man who loved life and his family!

"Don't ever forget, Little Sister," Rene continued, "that all four of us love your brother every bit as much as you do, and Andi loves him most of all. She's a lot like Maddie, and she would find a way to move heaven and earth — she already has, in fact — to save Pablo if he gets into something over his head."

He smiled at her as he moved so that he could hold her hand, something that echoed back through the years for Blanca to the days when Pablo had walked her to and from school. Then Rene tilted his head toward the corridor behind them.

"We should follow Pablo over to the hogan."

Blanca could only nod at Rene's impassioned request for understanding on her brother's behalf. So many more stories she needed to hear! He winked at her, and she smiled weakly as he called out to the rest of her family, "Come on, slowpokes! We want to make sure Pablo actually gets married today, right? Right!"

There was laughter and a few hearty exclamations of "Heck yes!" and "¡Si, si!"

Blanca wasn't sure if she walked sedately or slowly or even quickly... the children spilled out of the tunnel with all the joy children could muster. They had a tendency to skew time when they got rambunctious. Ladonna was right behind her, carrying Melissa. When the youngest one saw Rene, she started wiggling to escape her mother's arms.

"Down, Mama! Down!!"

Ladonna laughed as she walked abreast of her sister. "Do you mind, Blanca? She's taken quite a liking to Pablo's buddy here, this one even Elvia has a hard time remembering."

Blanca laughed and caught Melissa's hand as she was set on the ground. "No problem, Sis. Carlos and I will keep track of her."

Ladonna looked at her daughter affectionately as the tyke offered her other hand to Rene. "Nope. I think it's more like Melissa is going to keep track of Carlos. Maybe you should just make sure the two of them don't elope—"

Rene practically choked at that.

"—while I keep little Anton from dismantling everything in sight."

Blanca grinned as their pace slowed to match Melissa's. Charles and Elvia caught up with them a moment later.

"I'm pretty sure Anton Junior isn't going to try taking anything apart today," Elvia said to Blanca, nodding toward her nephew who was squealing with delight as his mother caught up with him and swept him up in her arms for a hug. "He'll probably grow up to be an engineer like his Tio Charles, though."

"Hey, I'm not the one who keeps buying him erector sets for his birthday," Charles said, chuckling.

"Excellent!" Elvia said cheerfully. "One more thing we can blame on Pablo!"

Blanca laughed. "Everything is Pablo's fault."

Charles nodded. "Absolutely. It keeps him happy — Pablo, I mean — to be blamed for every incredible thing that happens with the kids."

"However, I think this year, Andrea must have helped. He also got a great book... The Way Things Work." Elvia held her husband's hand the way they used to before they had so many children to herd. "It's a bit beyond his reading level right now, but Ladonna says he loves the pictures. You were sitting somewhere ahead of us on the plane, but that boy must have memorized a good half dozen different drawings, that's how intensely he was studying them."

Blanca grinned. "Pablo told you that both of Andi's folks are civil engineers, too, didn't he?"

Elvia's eyes went wide. "No! That horrible brother! All he said was that they were retired."

Blanca looked over at Anton Junior and giggled. "They'll love him."

Because they were walking at a four year old's pace, the only people who hadn't reached the entrance of the hogan before Blanca, Melissa, and Rene were the two sets of grandparents... but they weren't far behind.

Blanca could see Justin and Nicole watching a young man, certainly one of the cousins, bouncing up and down as though he was on a pogo stick. Well, one minute he was jumping up and down, and the next minute he was rubbing the back of his head. The sound didn't carry, but he was definitely saying, "Ow." She blinked several times, but the scene didn't change.

Rene leaned over and whispered, "That was Andi. Yes, she moves that fast."

"Fibber," she whispered back.

Rene just shrugged.

In front of the hogan, Nelson was beaming with happiness. "Yá'át'ééh! Welcome! The ceremony has begun... the groom and his family have arrived. Please, enter this home with the good wishes held in your heart that you have for Andrea and Pablo as they begin their journey together." He gestured to Pablo and Lorenzo. "Pablo knows enough of our ways to make a proper beginning to their journey." Then he nodded before turning and heading toward the entry where Justin and the rest of the family waited.

Pablo hugged his mother. "Momma, please escort me through the doorway to my next chapter in life."

Maria kissed his cheek and then smiled at him. "With joy, I do this, my son."

Pablo turned to Señor Delgado and embraced him as well. "Poppa Lorenzo, please escort me through the doorway to my next chapter in life, knowing that all previous chapters will be remembered for all my days."

"Of course, my son. I do this with much joy."

As they entered the building, Rene scooped Melissa up in his arms amid the tinkling laughter of a happy child.

"Ooops! Time to play Follow the Leader! We all follow Pablo in now."

Blanca followed Rene and was immediately struck by how practical and beautiful the hogan was. Pablo was pacing along the wall, going clockwise until he reached the other side of the room. Pointing out the seats reserved for his mother and father-in-law, he grinned at Rene and gestured for him to keep moving clockwise along the north side. There was plenty of room for the entire family, with chairs and benches pulled from various rooms. Andi's family had also provided thick woven rugs for those who preferred to sit on the ground. There wasn't too much jostling among the children; there weren't all that many of them, and there was more than enough space on the ground. Rene sat on the ground closest to the entry and Melissa immediately crawled into his lap and clapped her hands.

"Pretty!! Pretty!"

That brought smiles to the elderly faces and chuckles from younger folks. Melissa's cousins all laughed along with her.

Blanca sat beside Rene with Maralisa — Elvia's youngest — on her other side. Marcus, Julio, and Anton Junior finished out the row of children, and Ladonna sat on the ground next to her son.

Then the members of Andrea's family began entering the hogan, starting with her grandparents, who also moved clockwise along the wall. Everyone chose a place to sit; the only ones sitting on chairs today were the grandparents and... Blanca had to think for a moment. Yani? Yes, she was the who had the three week old baby. Andi was unquestionably well-loved for a new mother to make a journey like this with such a young child!

"Bahh-beeee," Melissa whispered.

"Bay-bee," Blanca whispered back. Melissa just giggled.

Another woman entered wearing the most incredible dress Blanca had ever seen. It wasn't precisely a dress, really... more like a skirt and tube top? Whatever it was, it was gorgeous and exotic and... well, she just hoped that there would be some point in the day to ask her about her outfit. Blanca was trying to identify the people she hadn't had a chance to meet last night. Some of them were obvious. The twins must be Emelia and Vincent; the man and woman who watched them without watching, protected without hovering must be their parents. The woman in the stunning outfit would be Madeline, then. Rene's wife. And Logan, her new... husband?

The air seemed thick and heavy when Madeline looked over and smiled at Rene.

Melissa clapped her hands again and laughed. "Happy pretty!"

Blanca grinned. If Melissa's reactions were any indication, today was going to be a very beautiful day. She recognized Andrea's dad, so the beautiful woman beside him must be her mom. The teens? Oh! Oh, gosh! It had to be Leon, Rene's son! Glancing at Rene, she saw he was noticing but not noticing — if that was possible — the lovely young woman beside Leon. Justin had mentioned her name, but Blanca couldn't remember what it was. She was still trying to work out who was who when Andrea stepped through the doorway.

Justin had said she'd be wearing a traditional Navajo wedding dress, but Blanca was not prepared for this sight. The dress was white and blue — several shades lighter than the blue of Pablo's shirt — at least where it wasn't covered with intricately beaded patterns. Even her shoes... boots? Footwear was beaded. She wore a shawl that matched the dress — the outer side white with beads and the inner side blue — and Blanca couldn't tell if the fringe was thread or strings of more beads. Her dark hair hung loosely down her back, and she only had eyes for Pablo. In her hands was a flat basket slightly larger than a dinner plate.

It's possible the entire world gasped at that point... everyone and everything except for Melissa, that is. The child just stared with obvious adoration in her eyes. Blanca barely heard her breathe out a sigh that sounded a lot like, "Ooooh, angel lady."

Oddly, however, Andrea seemed to have heard, and she looked at Melissa, then smiled and winked at the little girl, her eyes straying to Rene before she looked at Pablo again, and stepped forward.

Rene chuckled softly. "Andi's not an angel, little one," he whispered. "I am."

Melissa looked up at him and then at Andrea, definitely confused. She pointed a chubby finger at the bride.


Rene hugged her and nodded, as several people around them chuckled. "Yes. Shiny," he whispered.

"Did Andrea actually hear her?" Blanca asked incredulously.

Rene nodded. "Super hearing... nearly as good as Logan and Em. Insisted in no uncertain terms that she's no angel." At the look on Blanca's face, he almost laughed. "Telepathy, too, yes."

There wasn't any time for more discussion as the last person entered the hogan — Blanca wasn't sure she'd ever seen anyone as handsome as he was. That was saying a lot because her brother was good looking, and Mr. Sexy next to her was good looking too, and even Justin was kind of hot. But this guy? Wow! He wore dark blue denim jeans and a shirt similar to Pablo's and most of the men in Andrea's family for that matter, except his was a deep maroon. His hair was black as night, probably as long as Andrea's, and bound up on each side with leather strips, or so Blanca thought. It couldn't honestly be said that it was braided because it wasn't. It was just wrapped for about a handspan and then hung in front of his shoulders like braids. And he probably wore three times as much silver and turquoise jewelry as Pablo did. Blanca was fascinated. She barely registered the fact that Andrea had set her basket down and was kneeling beside Pablo... that the newcomer carried a pitcher of water and a ladle, which he placed on the ground near Andrea's basket.

He stood almost next to Andrea, maybe a little bit in front of her, and looked at everyone. As his eyes crossed Melissa's, the little girl giggled again.

"Welcome. I have the honor today of officiating my favorite cousin's wedding ceremony to a warrior of the Naakaii People. Ordinarily, when one of our people is married, the bride's father or uncle or a respected elder officiates. However, Andrea's father, both uncles, and our grandfather all insisted that the honor should be mine because I am a medicine man of our People, a keeper of our faith." He looked over his shoulder at Andrea. "Despite her extensive knowledge of our customs and her strong commitment to maintaining them, my cousin failed to object."

A ripple of laughter flowed through Andrea's family.

"For those of you who don't know me..." He turned to face Pablo's family. "...I am Thomas Dehiya of the Tódích'íi'nii Clan and born for the Tł'ízí Łání Clan. My maternal grandfather's clan is Dziłt'aadí, and my paternal grandfather's clan is Dibé Łizhiní. And this is how I know I am of the People." Then he grinned. "It's the traditional way we introduce ourselves, but I prefer to be called Tommy."

Blanca blinked. This was the medicine man Pablo talked about? It couldn't be! Pablo had made the man sound at least as old as Abuelo Alberto. And... and hadn't the medicine man's name been some kind of bird?

"Before we begin..." Tommy looked over at Pablo. "The mother of your wife wishes to speak to you." He gestured to a spot in front of Andrea's mother.

"I would be honored to speak to the mother of my wife," Pablo said as he stood up and walked toward his mother-in-law. He knelt again on the rug in front of her and rested his hands on his thighs.

Her smile was like something Blanca imagined the Virgin Mother might show those she favored.

"Once it was our custom that a woman's mother must never speak to or look at the man she married, for to do so gave the impression that a woman's mother might involve herself in the affairs of her daughter and son-in-law's household," she said. She gave the impression that such behavior was nonsense while acknowledging that such nonsensical behavior existed.

"The Holy Ones have given us a ceremony that allows us to communicate in the future. It symbolizes my desire to have a good relationship with you, my new son, and it is my promise to not interfere where I am not wanted." Her eyes sparkled with laughter. "Of course, I am always available to both of you when seeking my meager wisdom, and to you especially, my new son, when my daughter becomes a vexation."

It was evident that Pablo was trying very hard not to laugh. Blanca looked at Andrea, who had an expression that could best be summed up as it's a fair cop.

"In days long ago, we would share a smoke of mountain tobacco to seal this agreement, for it is a healing plant given to us by the Holy Ones. In modern times, we have made adaptations."

From her vantage point, Blanca could see Mrs. Yazzie crumble a large dried leaf onto two other leaves — well, they might have been leaves, it was hard to tell. Each was rolled and folded and then securely inserted into a small pouch, which was then tied tightly. She took one pouch and tucked it behind the sash she wore as a belt. Then she took one of Pablo's hands and turned it palm up, placed the other pouch on his palm, and closed his fingers around it.

"May you and Andrea always be blessed. May we always communicate in a positive way. You have brought joy to our family, Pablo."

For his part, Pablo knelt for a moment with his closed fist holding the pouch over his heart. "Thank you, Momma Sandra."

"Ooooh, good Pabo!" Melissa crooned.

Blanca looked at her and smiled.

"Powerful magic that was," Rene whispered. "This place is going to get crowded if all the Sibling Spirits show up."

Blanca was about to ask him what he meant, but Pablo stood up again and went back to his place beside Andrea.

Tommy knelt in front of the bride and groom, but slightly off center... closer to Andrea. When he picked up the ladle, Blanca could see it that it looked like a carved gourd. After dipping the gourd ladle into the pitcher of water, he poured the water into Andrea's cupped hands. She, in turn, trickled the water over Pablo's hands and he symbolically washed them, allowing the excess water to soak into the earthen floor between the rugs. Then Tommy ladled water into Pablo's cupped hands, and Andrea performed the washing ritual.

Much of the next part of the ceremony was confusing to Blanca, although Melissa seemed thoroughly entranced by it all. Tommy untied the pouch from his belt and began sprinkling something that looked like dust over the mush in Andrea's basket. From the information Andrea had emailed to her, she knew both the corn mush and the corn pollen that Tommy was meticulously sprinkling on the mush had significance. That was something she had wanted to discuss with Andrea... she didn't understand the cultural history that made the ceremony so important to Andrea and her whole family.

Rather than worry overly much about it, she just watched Tommy make the lines across the mush — first, a front to back line, then a side to side one that crossed the first one in the middle. He was softly chanting something, too, as he did all this. It reminded Blanca of the time she went to Temple with Adrianna Stein back in high school, except Tommy had a more pleasant voice than the cantor at Adrianna's Temple.

After the lines had been drawn in the mush, Tommy made a circle around the outside of it, starting near the end of the line opposite Pablo and Andrea and going around the basket clockwise. It looked like he didn't close off the circle, though.

Blanca took a moment to look around at the other people there. Andrea's grandparents were sitting very close together, holding hands, and watching the bride and groom with tears of happiness in their eyes. The ceremony seemed to be a very emotional thing for Andrea's parents, her aunts and uncles, and her cousin with the baby and her husband. Even Madeline and Logan seemed touched by the emotional impact of the moment.

"Kitty cat! Kitty!!"

Blanca looked at Melissa; she was reaching for something in the middle of the room... although, whatever it was she was trying to grasp seemed to be moving.

"Shhh, Lissa," Blanca whispered. "Watch Pablo, okay?"

Melissa shook her head. "Birdie big. Not Big Bird. No yellow," she said sadly. "Kitty pretty!"

Blanca sighed.

Rene bounced the little girl on his knee a couple of times. "Listen to your Tia, niñita," he whispered. "You can play later, yes?"

She twisted so she could look at Rene's face almost sideways. "Promise? Doggie, too?"

He chuckled and resettled her on his lap. "Promise."

Melissa nodded once, quite emphatically. "Pretty angel man promise, Banca! Kitty later!"

Blanca rolled her eyes at Rene. "You shouldn't encourage her, you know. Her imagination is already off the scale." It was probably a good thing they were the people farthest away from Pablo and Andrea.

"I told you young children can see the Spirits," he replied as quietly as possible. "Cat is Maddie's and Em's guardian Spirit. Dog is... I think that's Sam. Haven't had much of a chance to get to know him. And Pablo's guardian Spirit is a big bird... it's Eagle. He's been given a high honor by the Spirits."

Blanca looked at him as though he was a crazy man... he just couldn't stop sharing the weirdest stuff. It was starting to get to the point where Blanca was going to need to concentrate on the names of all the bones in the body just to remain grounded in reality. If Rene drove her all the way to the point of mentally tracing through the nervous system, she'd be in real trouble. Or maybe he'd be the one in trouble.

She focused her attention once more on her brother, Andrea, and the entirely too attractive medicine man. She had missed something because now Pablo and Andrea were taking turns eating the corn mush with their fingers. It looked horribly messy! But they both looked like they were enjoying themselves. And Andrea's cousins were definitely enjoying the display.

"Tia Blanca," Maralisa said from her other side, "are they gonna eat all the mushy corn? Mama said we'd get to eat mushy corn, too."

Blanca looked at her niece and then the basket of mush. It really did look like Pablo and Andrea were going to finish it off. Not that it had been such a big portion, really. But Maralisa was right... the information Andrea had sent strongly implied that the groom's family — at the very least — would be invited to share the mushy corn, as Maralisa called it.

Tommy set the empty basket to the side, along with the water jug and gourd ladle.

"The ceremony of the cornmeal is one that was given to us long ago by the Holy Ones. The corn mush is made by the bride's mother or grandmother — and in this case, both of them took over Andrea's kitchen yesterday to prepare it, as well as the feast we'll have after the ceremony. It ties clans and families together, so it is not something that can not be delegated to someone else. The basket is made especially for this ceremony. It is a happy coincidence that we have a master weaver in the family — my mother, Sonia Dehiya."

While he had been addressing Pablo's family, for the most part, he looked over at his mother and smiled. "I know Andi has already thanked you, Mom, but some of us might have forgotten."

"Oh, you usually get around to it eventually, son," Sonia said as she returned his smile.

Tommy chuckled before continuing with the more serious explanation of the ceremony. "The corn pollen that is sprinkled on the corn mush represents, in essence, the many values that imbue a good home, and the journey of a new life together for Andrea and Pablo. The circle itself represents the journey of life, from beginnings to endings... for both beginnings and endings are part of life. Lastly, the pollen represents the spiritual connection to the Holy Ones, something that they have both come to appreciate in the past few months." He looked at the couple. "Haven't you?"

While Pablo merely nodded, Andrea looked at Rene, then toward Madeline and Logan on the other side of the hogan, as well as their children. "It has not always been easy, however, without the interference—"

Tommy cleared his throat, and Andrea laughed.

"Fine. Without the intervention of the Spirits in my life, it would not be as full, as joyous, or as fulfilling as it is right now."

She reached over and took Pablo's hand. It was probably Blanca's imagination, but they almost seemed to glow with happiness.

"Ooooooooooh." Melissa just appeared to breathe out the sound, but her whispered comment seemed to carry across the whole room. "Shiny pretty!"

Maralisa looked around Blanca to stare at her cousin for a second, then she looked at her Tio Pablo and new Tia Andi. "Ooh, Tia Blanca! They're so pretty!"

Rene cleared his throat softly and tried to look at the couple sternly. For some reason, they both noticed his look — Pablo chuckled, and Andrea giggled before saying, "Oops?" Then she leaned over and kissed Pablo's cheek.

Tommy shook his head. "If you two are finished goofing off, do you think I can finish this up?"

"Yes, please, Ha'atathli Dehiya," Andrea said without a trace of remorse.

He smiled at her, however. "Please don't ever change, Andi."

She glanced at Pablo before looking at her cousin. "Maybe a little?"

"Fair enough." He looked over the guests but focused his remarked to Pablo's family. "I'm sure you noted that our two young people enjoyed the ritual of eating the corn mush. It represents the teamwork necessary to create a good marriage and to raise healthy children."

He was once again interrupted, this time by one of the many cousins. Tommy sighed expansively. "Yes, Henry? Did you have something to add?"

"Oh, sure, Cousin Medicine Man!" he said as he grinned from ear to ear. "It's not even gonna be something Coyote told me either!"

"And I'm sure we're all relieved to hear that, Henry," Tommy said dryly.

"Yeah, me, too. That Coyote, man! Sure does talk a lot!"

"Like you don't," muttered Justin.

"Hoo hee! Cousin Justin, you are too right. But I'm trying to tell a story for your sister, okay? It's about this new word I heard about." He nodded as though... that was it.

Tommy exhibited great patience as he barely shook his head at all. "And would you like to share that word with us, Henry? Assuming, of course, it's an appropriate word for young ears."

Henry nodded enthusiastically. "It's a good word! I'll bet Coyote wishes it had thought up this word. But I found it in a dictionary! Who knew dictionaries had so many words?"

By now, most of Andrea's family were either trying to hide their smiles, or they were starting to chuckle.

"I think most of us know what a dictionary is, Henry. Maybe not the littles, but most of us do."

Maralisa raised her hand in the air as if she was in class. "I have a dictionary! I share it with Marcus."

Anton, who was shyer than his cousins, just nodded his head. Julio was looking at Henry as if he was trying to figure out what was going on.

Melissa clapped her hands happily. "Doggie!!!"

Henry looked at her and then looked at the floor next to him. Then he shrugged. "Okay, that never happens. Coyote says it don't mind if the little one calls it a doggie."

Andrea snickered. "Dear cousin-twin, I think you're getting lost in your own stories again. I believe we were talking about words and dictionaries. And possibly even Google."

"Nah, no Google, Andi! But I got a word for you and Pablo." He nodded sagely... or what he probably thought was sagely.

"And..." Tommy prompted again.

"Oh, yeah. Adoption!! Isn't that just a great word? I know Cousin Sam and Cousin Cynthia know it. They could probably tell you lots about it."

Pablo and Andrea looked at one another, both of them attempting to keep a straight face.

"You probably shouldn't shoot him," Andrea said.

"And you probably shouldn't thump him over the head with your stick," Pablo replied.

"Guess we'll have to let him off the hook this time, huh?"

Pablo nodded. "Guess so."

They both looked at Henry then.

"Thank you, Henry," Andrea said. "That's a lovely word and a thoughtful gift."

"We appreciate all the effort you put into bringing us such an excellent word and marvelous gift," Pablo added.

Henry beamed.

Tommy sighed. "Why did I ever think this would actually be a serious event?"

Andrea's grandfather laughed; his laughter seemed to fill the whole building with joy.

"I think it is because you forget all the varied ways your family can be, Grandson."

"I'm sure you're right, Papa," Tommy responded. He paused a moment to recollect his thoughts before continuing.

"As I mentioned, sharing the corn mush between bride and groom is a symbol that they will have a cooperative relationship. It is also part of our tradition to share with the family members who have witnessed their vow. In such a case like this one today, when there are many family members from both clans, the bride's sister will bring a second larger basket to share with all the guests. Andrea has been blessed recently with a sister adopted into her family and clan."

Blanca hadn't noticed when Madeline got up to leave the hogan, but she certainly noticed when she returned as Tommy looked toward the entryway. And she carried a basket of corn mush that was at least as big as Aunt Rosa's holiday platter! It couldn't possibly be light, but for all its size and weight, Madeline made it look easy to gracefully kneel and set the basket in front of Pablo and Andrea.

She almost expected another outburst from Melissa, but her niece was quiet. So Blanca stole a glance at her. Melissa's eyes were wide and she was... well, swishing her hands through the air like she did on paper when she was fingerpainting.

"See, little one?" Rene whispered. "That's what love looks like."

The tone of his voice tugged at something in Blanca's heart. "I wish I could see it too." Although she had hardly even said the words out loud, Rene looked at her and smiled.

"Maybe you can't see it directly, but look at Andi's face... look at Maddie's face. You can see the reflections."

Blanca watched Madeline walk back to her place beside Logan and tuck herself in close to him, the two of them exchanging an intimate glance before she looked across the room to meet Rene's eyes. Blanca had to look away from that intense and raw exhibition of emotion. As she turned to look at Andrea, Blanca realized that the bride was the only other person who noticed Madeline' s gaze... and the same expression was on her face. It didn't diminish in the least bit when Andrea turned to Pablo.

Tommy broke the spell then.

"By sharing this traditional gift we received from the Holy Ones, we invite all of you to become part of the support system that will allow Andrea and Pablo to succeed in their journey together."

He gestured for Pablo's mother and father-in-law to begin.

"First, each of you from Pablo family may share in this bounty. It is our way of welcoming you into our family, into our home, into our hearts." He paused and smiled at the children. "I think some of you have already found your way into our hearts, haven't you?"

It was completely different, of course, but in some ways, it reminded Blanca of going to Mass. The biggest difference was the reactions of the children — except for Melissa, who preferred to remain close to Rene, they crowded close together near the basket after their Abuela Maria sat down again. They watched with fascination as all of their elders came over to scoop some of the corn mush up and eat it with their fingers.

Blanca took Melissa from Rene's arms when they stood, and she followed him to the other side of the room. The mush was actually quite delicious, which surprised her. While the other children were relatively neat, Blanca had her doubts about Melissa's ability to keep from getting corn mush everywhere. She knelt down beside her niece and grinned at Pablo.

"Melissa, can you show Tio Pablo what a big girl you are now?"

The tyke nodded and held up one chubby finger. "See, Pabo? Neat!" Then she watched her finger — as though perhaps watching it would help it behave in just the way it should — as it slowly moved down through the air, make a groove in the mush, and come up again. Then she quickly stuck her finger in her mouth before any of the mush could flee.

"Mmm! Mmm!" She looked at her finger after removing it from her mouth and triumphantly showed it to Pablo.

"See, see, Pabo!! Neat! Yum. Yum, yum, yum, yum!"

"Good job, Melissa. You're as neat as your brother." Pablo reached over to ruffle Anton's hair.


Andrea laughed. "And you have made my Mama and Tita very happy. They make very good corn mush, don't they?"

"Best mushy corn ever," Maralisa proclaimed.

Melissa nodded. "Shiny! Pretty! Happy, happy!"

Andrea smiled; to Blanca, she had a surreal aura of serenity around her right now.

"Come on, Melissa. It's time for Tia Andi's family to have some mushy corn, okay?"

"Oh, oh, oh, kay!"

Blanca chuckled and went back over to the rug at the other end of the room, holding Melissa in her lap as they watched Andrea's family enjoy the corn mush, too. Despite her young age, Melissa seemed far more interested in what was going on around her than some of the adults. Of course, her imagination was running wild, as well. She was having a marvelous time pointing at invisible animals and telling Blanca about them. There were doggies and kitties of various sizes, a monkey, a horse, and a mouse. Some of the animals she described were... well, something from the imagination of a four year old. A pokey nose bird? A bird with a beard? Well, maybe that was a turkey. When Justin waved at her, Melissa couldn't stop laughing for a whole minute. A balloon face bird?? Good grief!

She wondered where Rene had gone. Maybe he could have translated some of the little one's more unusual descriptions.

Then Blanca stopped to wonder if she was actually starting to believe some of this stuff. It wasn't easy, that was certain. And if it was true... and if Pablo had been going through this same questioning of reality for months...

She turned to watch her brother for a little while. The way he interacted with Andrea was almost eerie — it as if they'd known one another their whole lives. But hadn't Pablo said they'd hidden so much of themselves from each other until recently? Some of Andi's relatives were telling them stories. Well, that's what it seemed like. One uncle was especially theatrical; maybe that's where Justin got his interest in the theater. Blanca wasn't so much paying attention to what they were saying, but now they were relating to Pablo and Andrea.

While Andrea father was talking with them — something that involved a lot of eye rolling on Andrea's part and respectful nods on Pablo's part — Rene walked out of another shadow and sat down next to her again.

"Nelson is pretty funny. It's funnier when he and his brother, that's Junior, and his brother-in-law, Doctor Leon, all get together and do their comedy routine. But this portion of the program — Advice to the Newly Married Couple — consists of solo acts."

"I was wondering what was going on. And did you just walk out of that shadow over there? Because that's creepy."

"Then, no... I didn't walk out of the shadow. I just materialized or became substantial or stopped being invisible." Blanca looked at him like he was crazy.

"Don't look at me in that tone, young lady. I'm part of Andi's family, too. I wanted to spend time with Maddie and Logan."

"Part of that makes sense."

"The part about being invisible, right?"

"No! Madre de Dios! You're as bad as Melissa. It's the part about wanting to be with the rest of your family that makes sense."

"I will have you know that I am far, far worse than Melissa."

He smiled oh so charmingly, and that only seemed to annoy Blanca.

"Uh huh. There are cats and dogs of all sizes and shapes wandering around the room, as well as bizarre birds, a mouse, a horse, and a monkey. Oh, and something that keeps bumping its head on the ceiling, a dancing bear, a snake and I think she believes there's a rat on Andi's shoulder."

Rene laughed. "There's only one Cat. And one Dog. Cat does whatever it wants, but Dog is with Sam. Didn't I mention that already?"

"Yes. I'm not sure I believe you."

"I get it. It's hard to believe what you can't see."

"It's hard to believe what's hard to believe."

Rene was silent a moment as he watched the newlyweds.

"Okay, you believe in angels and the saints and Jesus and Mary and everything that goes along with the Catholic belief system?"

"Yeah... mostly."

He nodded. "Well, you can't see the angels and the saints, but you have faith that they exist, don't you?"

She thought about that for a moment, then slowly nodded.

"Same thing here, then. Except that, in some circumstances, some people can see all of these Spirits around us."

Blanca was still skeptical. "So, what the heck is a pokey nose bird?"

Rene laughed. "Good question! Where did she see it?"

Blanca pointed her chin in Yani's direction. "By the mama and bambino."

"Hmm. Did she say the bird was dancing or not?"

"Not... I guess."

"Probably Woodpecker then. That's the baby's guardian Spirit. Her mama's guardian Spirit is Crane, which also has kind of a pointed beak... bill? Anyway, Woodpecker is fairly stationary... especially since Kai is still so little. Crane does love to dance, though."

"I wonder if you're trying to convince me you're crazy."

"Maybe I'm trying to convince you that you're crazy."

"Huh. Well, you wouldn't be the first person to try."

"I sense a story!"

She just looked at him with her Really? Seriously? expression. "You have met my brother, haven't you?"

"Point taken.

"You said there's only one cat. Melissa claims there are more."

Rene nodded and looked around the other half of the room. "Tommy's guardian Spirit is Puma; Panther is Sonia's and Vincent's guardian Spirit; Lion is Papa's guardian Spirit; Lynx is Nelson's guardian Spirit. And before you ask, she probably thinks Fox, Coyote, and Wolf are dogs. Those are Andrea's, Henry's, and Billy's guardian Spirits, respectively."

Blanca practically glared at Rene. "She said Baloo was dancing behind Andrea and a rat was sitting on her shoulder. Well, maybe a rat. Her description sounded like one, though."

Rene sighed. "Andrea has four guardian Spirits... yes, one is Bear, who has seen entirely too many Disney movies, and please don't ask me how that's possible. Opossum sits on her shoulder and Cobra is usually wrapped around her waist."

Blanca wanted to ask more questions, and at the same time, didn't really want to know any more of this weird stuff. But if Pablo's life was full of weirdness like this now, she should find a way to at least come to terms with the fact that supernatural stuff happened. And from what Rene said and implied, it happened a lot around Andrea. How else could she be a good sister to Pablo?

Fortunately, Tommy gathered everyone's attention again. He held the larger basket that had contained the corn mush, now cleaned out.

"It is also our tradition that the wedding basket is kept by the groom's mother for use in future celebrations for the couple's children. It is woven in a way that tells the story of the Navajo People." He held the basket so that those in Pablo's family could see it as he pointed to the different parts.

Wedding Basket"The center represents sip apu, the place where the Navajo People emerged from the previous world into this world. The inner coils are white and represent birth. As one travels outward along the coils, more and more black will be crossed. This represents the struggles and pains of life. Eventually, one reaches the red band, which represent marriage — the mixing of the blood of husband and wife to create a family. Red is pure; there is no darkness. But as the family band moves outward, you see it encounters more darkness. However, the darkness is interspersed with light, which represents increasing enlightenment. Finally, the path leads again to pure white, which represents the Spirit world where there is no darkness. The line of white through the design is a reminder that no matter how much darkness you encounter in your world, there is always a path to light."

He turned and handed the basket to Pablo's mother.

"Our Catholic cousins see the teachings of their faith in the basket, as well. May this remind you that your son is making his journey through life with a partner who will always help him find his way toward the light."

Blanca swallowed hard then. The beauty of the basket and its meaning touched her deeply; she could see that Momma felt the same way.

Momma held the basket reverently and smiled at her son and new daughter-in-law. Then she looked at Tommy and nodded. "Gracias, Tomas. Your basket tells of a lesson we should all remember."

"Usted es bienvenido, Señora Garcia."

He turned his attention to all of the guests again.

"On behalf of Andrea and her parents, I invite all of you to enjoy the feast they've prepared outside," he said gesturing toward the entry. "Chairs and more rugs are outside the hogan. Ordinarily, this would be an expansive feast, but to survive the day that will include another meal with the friends of the bride and groom," he said with laughter in his voice, "Aunt Sandy and Tita have made a light lunch for all of us." He looked at Pablo's nieces and nephews. "Including peanut butter and jelly sandwiches."

"Mama!" said the bride. "Save some of those for me!"

Amid laughter, Andi's relatives started drifting out of the hogan. Tommy stayed with Pablo and Andi to chat. The other children looked up at their mothers, who smiled and nodded, before getting up and leaving as well.

"You and Melissa might as well go, too," Rene said. "Andi and Pablo will be the last ones to leave." He looked across the room for a second. "Maddie and Logan would like a couple of minutes alone with them, too."

Blanca looked over at Pablo and saw the joy on his face as he stood with his arm around Andrea's waist. There was hope for him now... his heart had finally begun to heal. She would let all the weird stuff go for now and just give Pablo some time to enjoy this time of joy.

She nodded and smiled at Rene as she set Melissa on her feet to toddle after Maralisa. The slightly older girl waited for her and took her hand. "You saw kitties, Lissa? I want to see kitties, too!"

Blanca looked down at Rene as he continued to sit on the rug. "They're going to drive their mothers crazy now."

"I thought all of Pablo's siblings were crazy," he joked.

"Not that kind of crazy, Casper."

She practically flounced out of the hogan and found Justin and Nicole nearby talking to the cousin who was jumping on a pogo stick earlier.

"Billy, Andi has a way of knowing things. Can you just please try to stay calm for a little while?" Justin asked.

"But, Justin! I don't want to be calm!" Billy grinned at his cousin.

Justin sighed and shrugged. "I give up." He looked around, his smile returning when he saw Blanca.

"Hey, Blanca! What did you think? Not so weird, huh?"

She glanced around before answering. There was too much that Pablo needed to tell the family, and it would be a bad idea for any of them to overhear a conversation about weird shit with Andi's family.

"You know, some parts were pretty normal. Other parts?"

"Oh, you mean Henry? He's even nuttier than Billy here."

"That's true. My big brother is probably the craziest person in the family." Billy stuck out his hand and grinned happily at Blanca. "Hi, I'm Billy. Nice to meet you."

She shook his hand and chuckled. "He was pretty funny. I think I'd probably just classify him as goofy, though. Not weird."

Nicole nudged Justin's shoulder. "Told you. Henry might be a lunatic, but he's so lovable that you can't hold it against him."

Justin grinned. "Okay, okay. You win." He looked at Blanca again. "So if it wasn't Henry, what was it?"

Blanca sighed. "That friend of Pablo and Andi who was pretending to be a different friend of Pablo."

The three of them exchanged a knowing look.

"Rene," Justin said. "Yeah... Andi didn't bother telling me about him until I got out here." Then he glared at Billy. "And the family gossip about him never made it to Chicago."

"What? Why give me a dirty look? It's Charlie's job to pass everything on to you." Billy bounced a few times on his toes. "He's your cousin-twin, after all."

Before the crazy train could head off into another direction, Blanca asked, "What's this cousin-twin thing? That's the second time... or third time, maybe... that I've heard it."

"Ah!" Justin exclaimed. "An easy question! It's just cousins who are born in the same year. I think you have a set in your family, too, don't you?"

Blanca nodded. It was kind of a fun idea. "Yep. Anton Junior and Maralisa are both six this year."

"Justin has a work-twin, too," Billy said. "His friend Chris is just a day and a half younger."

Justin laughed. "I don't know who actually sneaked that information out, but the departmental secretary started calling us 'twinsies' about a week after he started there. He's really cool about it. Oh, did I tell you he came out to Denver with us? Well, not with us because we came out to spend Christmas with Andi and Pablo. But he'll be at the reception later."

"Really?" Blanca was surprised. "I think you might have mentioned it, but I figured it was just you guys goofing off."

"It was actually Andi's idea," Nicole said. "Chris has some weird stuff going on in his life right now, and she thought being with the family would at least help him feel less weird." She grinned. "You know... because the Yazzies are so weird anyway."

"Okay," Blanca said slowly. "I hope his weird is less weird than the weird I've been learning about today."

"You've been getting a dose of the Yazzie weird, right?" Billy asked.

"Well, it's mostly Pablo... and Rene. So, I guess... yeah?"

Billy nodded. "Other people might disagree with me, but I think Chris has less weird than we do."

"That's only because there are more of us, Billy," Justin retorted.

"Okay, so who's the least weird person in our family who's... well, weird?"

Justin considered that for a moment, then turned to Nicole. "Talia? I'd probably say Tommy, except he's a ha'athali and that probably makes him exempt from the weird standard."

Nicole shrugged. "Well, if you're going to take Tommy out of the equation, then it would have to be Talia. This one," she said, pointing to Billy, "is definitely weird and Andi is off the scale."

Justin nodded and turned back to Billy. "Your weird sister is the least weird of the weird people in the family."

Billy blinked. "Talia is spooky weird. Yeah. Okay. Chris absolutely has less weird than any of us."

"Now I'm afraid to ask about him," Blanca said. "Although I'm glad I'll get a chance to meet him. It will be fun to talk science with people who know what I'm talking about."

"Well, that's not fair!" Billy said. "If you nerds sit in the corner all night, I'll... I'll..." He paused and squinted his eyes at Justin. "Uncle Nelson and I will duel you with geeky computer talk!"

Nicole laughed and linked her arms with Blanca's. "These two could keep this up all afternoon. Are you hungry?"

Blanca smiled at the easy camaraderie and the playfulness of her brother's new family. "I guess I am. That mushy corn wasn't as filling as I expected."

"I know, right? But it was delicious! Mama is a great cook."

As they walked toward the two long tables laden with food and drink, Blanca tried to figure out how to ask the question that had been bothering her all morning.

"You know anything about this Pentad thing, Nicole?"

Nicole glanced at Blanca as they reached the table, releasing her arm so she could pick up a couple of plates, and then handed one to Blanca before answering.

"I'm going to guess Pablo hasn't said much of anything, and if Rene said anything at all, it was more confusing than helpful."

Blanca nodded as she picked up cutlery and a napkin.

"Andi didn't say much about it at the conclave with Chris yesterday, so most of what I know is second-hand from what Andi told Justin the other day." Nicole talked openly about the topic as if it was as ordinary as the weather. "The five of them — Andi, Pablo, Madeline, Logan, and Rene — have some kind of spiritual or psychic connection. Maybe both. Maybe it's even more than that. I guess Andi implied that for whatever reasons, she's gotten a lot more powerful than her teacher in China ever thought she'd be. So the others kind of act like grounding wires for her. But..." Nicole looked around and then pointed to an empty rug slightly off to the side. "Let's sit over there and chat."

Nicole picked up a bottle of water and then carried her plate of food to the rug in question. She didn't continue the conversation until they were both settled, although she greeted Andi's cousins as they passed by.

"It's more than just balancing Andi's power, though. Some of the metaphysical stuff is way over my head... I'm a business major, you know!" Nicole laughed. "But I'm not really sure I need to understand it to accept that it works. There was some sort of soul imbalance — which makes no sense to me, by the way — between Andi and Madeline. Some past life version of Andi was supposed to stay BFF with Madeline, but it didn't happen for whatever reason. So Madeline had kind of a shitty time of things, on top of a really hard life. But whatever the two of them worked out — again, I haven't a clue and neither does Justin — it made them both better for it.

"I know there isn't a way to diagram the relationship dynamic of the Pentad in two dimensions, and I'm not even sure it can be done in three. But..." Nicole shrugged and took a sip of water. "...I figure whatever makes them all happy and strong and healthy and able to do whatever it is they do when they're not acting like ordinary folks like us is all good."

Blanca had been silently absorbing Nicole's words, trying to understand while she ate. She swallowed the last of the potato salad and then took a drink of water before saying anything.

"On the one hand, I get it that the moral of the story here is to accept whatever it is that makes life better for them, and for my brother especially. But on the other hand, I'm a scientist, and I really want to understand how the universe works. And being a biologist, how does all this relate to physiology and brain chemistry and... well, everything?" Blanca sighed. "On top of that, I get the feeling that Pablo isn't so happy about some of it."

Nicole studied the other young woman for a moment. "That's... huh. That's an interesting observation, actually. He seemed perfectly fine talking about it yesterday." Then she suddenly looked in the direction of the hogan where the newlyweds remained. "He's a brat!"

"You're not telling me something I don't already know, sister," Blanca said dryly.

Nicole looked at her again. "It's his family that freaks him out."

"Yeah. I got that. And Rene said he hasn't had time to get used to all this stuff, and blah blah blah. But I'm his sister!"

Nicole reached out and rested her hand on Blanca's arm. "Hey, it's fine. I get it. Justin went through the same thing with Andi. He'd get even more frustrated than you are. I know it's hard to believe because he's always so calm and stuff." Nicole smiled sadly. "But it hurt him a lot that his sister didn't trust him. She's been doing her Ninja gig for nine years and just told him about it, all about it, this week. Pablo's been doing this for... what? A couple of months?

"I'm not making excuses for him, of course. My guess, though, is that he's scared and doesn't really know how to talk about it."

Blanca looked over toward the hogan, too. "Well... I can see where that might be part of it, sure. Still."

"When are you guys heading back to California?"

"Saturday, why?"

"Well, then you have all day tomorrow to nag the heck out of him," Nicole said cheerfully.

"But he and Andi will be on their honeymoon!"

Nicole laughed. "Nope. They're not going to Suriname until next week. We're all going up to Wyoming to take Jenny back to her folks' house first. I think Madeline is renting an RV. Or at least a bus. And... let's see... I think we're leaving Leon and Jenny in Wyoming after we celebrate the New Year. Then Chris and Justin and I will go back to Chicago on the second. The lunatic doesn't go back to Phoenix until the third. Oh, man. I feel so sorry for Wyoming. It is not ready for Henry Yazzie."

Blanca had been all set to be upset on her brother's behalf, but at Nicole's last statement she had to laugh. "He is pretty wacky, isn't he? Is he always like that?"

Nicole shrugged. "It depends on who you ask. But probably. His guardian Spirit is Coyote, the Trickster. I guess Coyote has a lot of different aspects because Henry has decided that his mission in life is to make people happy, to make people laugh, and if they're laughing at him... all the better. Andi tells one story of how he helped the people up in Commerce City around Halloween. Henry's story is completely different."

Blanca furrowed her brows. "Rene mentioned something about that. It was something that really pissed Pablo off. That whole thing, I mean."

# # #

Long ago — or not really all that long ago in the People's memory — the wedding hogan was meant to be the bride and groom's new home. This isn't the case anymore, at least not very often. Still, it feels right that Pablo and I should be the last to leave; even Maddie and Logan and Rene have gone out to join the party. But Pablo and I just stand together in the center of the structure, holding hands and grinning at one another like a couple of fools.

"It seems like a dream," he whispers. "I don't even know how long I've been hoping for this day to come, and now..."

"Since the first time you came by to check on me without Denise. That's how long. I think I've known almost as long as you have how you've felt," I reply, squeezing his hands and just... just be here now.

"Why didn't you...?" Then he chuckles. "Because I wasn't ready."

I nod. "And I was afraid."

"Me, too. But no more fear of this." He raises our hands and kisses my hand. "Promise."

"Of course." I pause, breathing in the peace of the moment. "You know, this ceremony was the equivalent of wedding vows. Each separate part has profound meaning. But if I were to verbalize a promise that would be understood by everyone, it would simply be that you will be in my heart for all eternity."

"I will be by your side for all your life," Pablo adds.

I know that I will outlive my husband, and having the reassurance that he will still be with me — just as Rene is with Maddie — makes the truth less painful.

"We should go before I get weepy."

He smiles so brilliantly that I wonder if he's using his power of light — at least until I realize it's just the qi I'm seeing.

"The bride shouldn't be crying on her wedding day, you know."

"Even when the bride is a sap and is so happy that I either have to cry or start glowing a little too brightly?"

He catches me in a hug that only seems to underscore the reality that we are One. I can even sense Maddie, Logan, and Rene surrounding us with their love.

"Probably better that you cry a few happy tears then, love. Your family is used to your eccentricities. My family isn't, and our friends certainly aren't."

"True." I hold him for a moment longer before we step apart slightly. "We should go join the rest of the family."

# # #

Blanca and Nicole both look up as Andi and Pablo step out of the hogan. Andi's grandparents were waiting for them as they exited holding hands. Papa took Andi's free arm as they stepped forward, and stood beside her to face the rest of the family. Tita did the same on Pablo's other side.

"I know this has been just a bit different for our new grandson and his family," Tita said, smiling at everyone who had gathered with them today. "Usually, at such a joyous event like this, we would celebrate with a Dance, but my granddaughter thought that would cause this celebration to last so far into the night that their other guests would be forced to have their dinners without the presence of the bride and groom."

Papa chuckled softly, while Pablo and Andrea both smiled. "And our granddaughter is right, my dear wife. There is so much happiness here that we would sing to the Spirits until the traditional end of a wedding ceremony at dawn!"

Andi hugged her Papa's arm. "And I don't know that Denver is ready for a visitation from all the Spirits."

The look she gave Madeline was an odd one, though... something that only she and Logan and Rene would interpret as Denver isn't ready for the power that Ninja, that we, would raise during a Dance.

"That is why we will only Sing for you and Pablo, eldest of my eldest." He looked over at Tommy. "Grandson Ha'atathli, have you determined the order of singing?"

"Yes, Papa." Tommy laughed. "Pablo's grandparents are almost as stubborn as mine and have no desire to share their ages. But they will sing after you and Tita in whatever order they have worked out among themselves."

"Ah! Our new family members are wise!" He looked over at Charlie, who held his small drum in his hands and nodded.

Nicole practically leaped up and held out her hand to Blanca. "This is going to be great! You might want to find that special little niece of yours. She's a magical one."

The two families intermingled as though they had indeed become one family. Emelia left Billy's side for a moment to ask Mama Sandy a question. They weren't far from the bridal couple, and Andrea smiled when she heard her niece's question.

"Grandmama Sandy, Vincent and I are twins. May we sing together?"

Mama leaned down and hugged Em. "Of course, Emelia. Twins are very special and often do many things together." She smiled fondly at Em and Vin as they claimed Billy for their very own. Julio and Marcus, Pablo's two oldest nephews, looked at the three of them — almost wistfully as if they would like to join them but were too afraid to approach. But the wisdom of the ten year old Empath made both her mother and her Aunt so proud when she saw them and then beckoned them over to join the group of sillies. Julio was almost a year older than the twins; Marcus was a couple of years younger. Age didn't seem to matter — especially with Billy, theoretically an adult at twenty two, being part of the group.

Leon looked a little more awkward than his Jenny, but it wasn't hard for the bride to see the qi around them, to see how much they truly did love one another. Talia joined them, and Leon relaxed almost instantly. She had certainly impressed him when the family was in Nageezi.

Blanca, having captured the laughing, giggling, squealing Melissa, was beginning to feel the excitement too as she and Justin and Nicole held a whispered conversation.

Papa cleared his throat to focus everyone's attention on him. "This would be an excellent time to have your staff, Granddaughter," he said quietly to Andi.

"Yes, Papa," she whispered back. "But I don't think it's a good idea to have Rene fetch it now, do you?"

Papa chuckled at the wisdom of that statement as he looked at all the people loved enough by his granddaughter and her new husband to have been chosen to share this day with them.

"This is a simple chant that is from one of our most important ritual stories, the Blessingway. The Holy People sang this as they created all people. As my grandson will tell you," Papa said, gesturing toward Tommy, "it is a very long ritual and a very long story. Today, we only sing the words that will pray for Andrea and Pablo to always live in what we know as hózhó — harmony and beauty and goodness and balance."

He looked over at the littlest ones — Maralisa with her parents Elvia and Charles; Anton with his mother Ladonna; Melissa with her aunt Blanca — and smiled his kind grandfatherly smile. "If the words are too hard for you to say yet, your Mamas or Tia can sing with you." He nodded to Yani, who stood with her husband near her parents. "My granddaughter will sing for Little Kai because she has not learned the words yet either."

# # #

It always amazes me, despite the fact that it shouldn't, that my Papa has quite the talent for putting people at ease. After nodding once more for Charlie to begin beating out a rhythm on his drum, Papa begins the Sing and is followed by Tita. Several family members must have worked with Pablo's grandparents — for never having sung Navajo words before and coming so close to be beginning of the Circle, they sing well. Dad is the eldest of the next generation and, with an intriguing bit of harmony and balance, hózhó, Pablo's Momma is the youngest. Logan is the eldest of my generation, despite the fact that he is older than all of us. But Papa had asked him to join the family as his Grandson... and so it is as a Grandson he Sings.

Rene, pretending to be Pablo's close friend Carlos, and Maddie also confound the proper order of things. But I adopted Maddie into my family and clan as a sister; Pablo named "Carlos" as a brother today. And they look hardly older than Tommy. They Sing between Yani and her brother, first Rene and then Maddie.

There is a downside to having the Pentad participating — I can feel the Spirits gathering, even though they are not allowing themselves to be seen except by those who would ordinarily see them... all the children. Well, and me. Pablo squeezes my hand as he sings after Tommy and I feel Mother and Father joining in the celebration. After Charles and Elvia, it's my turn to Sing, and it feels as though the entire universe is showering us with love. Em blinks in surprise, followed an instant later by Vin, and then Melissa giggles joyfully; no one else outside the Pentad seems to notice.

Blanca is the youngest of our generation; she is pitch-perfect with her intonation. If the surprise on Justin's face is any indication, Pablo's little sister is going to be learning how to speak Diné Bizaad while she's in grad school.

Leon is the eldest of the next generation, followed by Jenny, Julio, and the twins. Em and Vin singing together adds joy to the Circle. Marcus has had plenty of time to hear the words and he, too, sings as well as his older brother. Anton holds Ladonna's hand tightly as he sings tentatively. His cousin Maralisa seems to take courage from his bravery and barely falters through the short phrase. The youngest, Melissa, looks at me — possibly both Pablo and me, but mostly just me, I think — as she sings along with Blanca. I smile and wink at her, and she bounces on her toes and claps softly. Someone needs to tell her mother about the child's potential. I'm going to nominate Pablo.

Yani sings through the chant once more. "I sing for my daughter Kai, who is too young to sing."

I squeeze Pablo's hand and pat Papa's arm that I still have wrapped in mine. And then I sing through the chant one last time as I look at Mama.

"I sing for our children who will come into this world after the Summer Solstice."

There is a moment of thunderous silence before the Coliseum rings with joyous bedlam. Mama can't seem to be able to hug both Pablo and me tightly enough.

"I told you to have faith, Andrea. You see? Your mama knows about love."

"Yes, you do, Mama." I hug her in return. "Thank you, Mama."

Elvia finally makes her way over to us and takes both my hands in hers. "I remember your visit to Los Angeles, Andi. This is a miracle."

"The miracle, Elvia, is an astonishing doctor I met through my adopted sister." Rumors to spread, and lies to tell. Poor Hank will find himself hailed a hero in this family. Ah, well... at least I warned him. "You will meet him at the reception. He is so good and kind! But he's..." I pause and then shrug slightly. "You'll see. I know my family can see beyond his appearance and know the truth of his character. I hope you and the rest of Pablo's family can, too."

She places a hand softly on my cheek. "Don't underestimate us, Andi. You have made our Pablo happy again. And we aren't ignorant and closed-minded like some people are. Don't worry about the strangeness of your friend. Love and joy conquer so much."

Placing my hand over hers, I just look into her eyes for a moment.

"Yes. Yes, it does, doesn't it?"

© Kelly Naylor