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Even this early in the morning - half past nine - the sane shoppers had already sought refuge from the sun inside the air conditioned stores of the shopping center. In fact, most people hadn't even bothered to leave their houses in the heat wave, but Mary-Sue counted herself among the few willing to brave the rays of the sun.

She'd never had a problem with heat.  Donning a light sundress and a generous layer of sunblock, she said goodbye to Daniel with a quick kiss and drove downtown to keep her shopping date with Bella and Cassie.




It had been her idea to meet. First and foremost for the purpose of announcing her engagement personally before word got around, but also because she liked to meet up with her best friend whenever they got the chance. Between Mary-Sue's studies and Bella's social calendar they didn't get get together as often as either one of them liked.

So here she was, happily traversing the open square in the middle of the shops as heat from the sun bouncing back up at her off the bricks. While she walked her purse swung against her legs. Every once in a while her ring would twist and catch on the strap, reminding her of Daniel - her fiancé - and bringing a smile to her face.




She scanned the area ahead - mostly empty - and quickly spotted Bella and Cassandra, deep in conversation, seated under an umbrella in front of the bistro.




"Good morning, girls!" Mary-Sue announced, coming around the table and pulling out the third chair for herself. "I see you beat me here."

As she took her seat she was careful to keep her left hand tucked in the folds of her skirt, wanted to be sure to show off her engagement ring at the right moment. Bella always appreciated theatricality.




"Good morning, Mary-Sue," Cassandra greeted politely, swinging her feet under her chair and stifling a yawn.

"We dropped Mortimer off at the lab this morning," Bella explained, running her finger along the rim of her coffee cup. "We've both been up since six," she added in a strained, too-chipper voice.

Mary-Sue nodded in understanding and sat down.





"Mamma?" Cassie asked softly, poking her mother in the thigh. "Posso comprare qualcosa da mangiare? Ho fame."

Bella sighed, smiled at Mary-Sue, and reached down to pull her purse up onto the table. She unzipped it, dug though to find her wallet, and offered a few dollars out to her daughter. "Here, honey. Go into the bistro and buy yourself a snack if you're still hungry."




Cassandra thanked her mother and took the money, happy to be permitted to go into the store herself.

"Her Simtalian is getting really good," Mary-Sue commented once Cassie was out of earshot. "She doesn't speak it around me very often."

Bella nodded in understanding. "She's pretty shy about using it in public, but Mortimer and I have been encouraging her to use it more. We know it's still a few years away for her, but we are already starting to think about private school and two languages would really help her application stand out."




"What school are you two thinking about?"

"We're leaning towards SimCity Academy; it's within driving distance and it has a pretty good reputation. There is always Smuggsworth Prep, which Mortimer attended for a while, but it's been turned into a boarding school now and we're not sure we want her out of the house."

"It's a boarding school now?" Mary-Sue asked incredulously, thinking back to the few years that Mortimer spent commuting to what used to be the only private school in town. They were hard years his and Bella's relationship and Mary-Sue could remember comforting her best friend through many lonely nights.

Bella nodded. "Yeah. Apparently it was converted about five years ago. They demolished the gym and built student housing there."




"I can't believe I never heard about that!" Mary-Sue said, leaning back in her chair to stretch. She had to slouch down so that her bare shoulders were resting on the part of the metal that had been in the shade of the umbrella; the top of the chair was blistering hot from the sun.

"Mortimer said he remembered something about it. Said we got asked for a donation, but I don't think -" Bella broke off her sentence when she caught a glance of Mary-Sue's left hand glinting in the sunlight.




She slammed her hand down onto the table, "Madonna!"

Mary-Sue laughed and wiggled her fingers.

"Why didn't you tell me?"




"I wanted to show you in person!"

Bella held her hand out expectantly. "Well let me see it!"

Mary-Sue laid her hand in her friend's palm. Bella moved her wrist this way and that, closely examining the ring.




"Oh, the ring is gorgeous! Round cut, half carat diamond, 14 carat gold band."

"Spot on, as usual!" she chuckled.

"When did he propose?"

"Just the other night; after everyone left the graduation party and it was just the two of us."

"Perfect timing!"




"He'd had the ring since last Christmas," she confessed in a hushed tone. "Apparently he kept trying to propose but there were too many interruptions for him to ever get the words out! Finally he just asked, plain and simple."

"How plain?" Bella asked skeptically. "Like, he just blurted it out over a plate of leftover pizza or something?"

"Oh, no! There were candles and rose petals...and let me just say that, as part of it, he was rather generous in bed that night," she added with a wink.




"You lucky girl! He's so romantic. Sometimes I can't even get Mortimer to come up out of his study. There have been nights when he even sleeps down there!"

Mary-Sue opened her mouth to respond but closed it when she noticed Cassandra come out of the bistro, a bag of chips in hand. She and Bella exchanged a significant look that let both of them understand that they would continue discussing the more intimate details later; away from small ears.




Cassandra politely swallowed her mouthful of chips before asking, "What are you talking about?"

"Daniel and I are engaged!" Mary-Sue announced excitedly, bringing up her left hand and twisting it in the sunlight. See?"




"Nice ring," Cassandra said, spitting crumbs as she spoke. She licked the chip dust off her fingers and tossed the empty bag into the trash before coming up to the table to take a real look at the ring. "Round cut, half carat diamond, 14 carat gold band, right mom?"

Bella let out a hearty laugh. "Right on, Cassie!"




"Well, now that I have you both here and brought up to speed," Mary-Sue began, smiling. "I wanted to ask you something. Bella, would you be my maid-of-honor?"

"Of course!" Bella exclaimed, fluttering her hands in excitement. "I would be honored."

"And Cassie, would you be my flower girl?"




Cassie's face fell. "You want me to be your flower girl?! But I don't know how to be a flower girl!"

"It's not hard!" Mary-Sue assured her. "All you have to do is walk down the aisle and toss some flower petals."

"I'll just have to go to the library and do some research," Cassie said resignedly. "I need to be sure about my duties."




"That's fine, Cassie," Bella said, rising out of her chair. "We can stop by on the way home. But first..."



"Let's start shopping for dresses!"

--






































































--




The girls spent a productive morning in the bridal shop. Although the boutique hadn't offered appointments for drop-ins, they were more than happy to accommodate their surprise guests when they heard that Bella Goth would be buying.

They decided on the style of dress that Bella would be wearing but, because the wedding colors hadn't been decided on yet, they held off from purchasing. Mary-Sue and Cassandra both tried on several dresses but were unable to find one they liked enough before noon rolled around and they had to get going.

Mary-Sue met with the attendant on the way out and scheduled an appointment for two weeks following, promising to have a better idea of what she was looking for when she returned.




On their way to the parking lot, they stopped by the bookstore so Mary-Sue could pick up a few bridal magazines. Cassie scoured the shelves until she found a book on wedding parties that looked promising and proudly carried it to the register, telling her mother that they no longer required a stop by the library on the way home.







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